Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Trump vs Clinton

I've read a few of the reviews of this first debate, and listened to the assessments on TV and the radio. By and large Clinton gets the victory in the opinion of the reviewers. I have now watched a substantial part of the debate myself. She comes across as reasonable, rational, experienced, unflustered, refusing to be riled. An easy win when compared to the question evading, blaming, complaining, boasting Trump.

But winning a debate in the eyes of an intelligent, articulate, unbiased reviewer, is not the same thing as winning the votes. Many of the people who will cast those votes are feeling hard pressed, let down, frustrated and discontented with their political system. They see foreign countries as stealing their factories and incomers as stealing their jobs. They see violence in their cities as perpetrated by people of strange religious persuasion and having a different culture and outloook from them. I could be talking about the Brexit vote, and in a way, I am. The lead voices promised much, promised easy naive solutions, told lies, gave out sound bites of blame, and echoed the complaints in the hearts and minds of many. People remember those bits. They don't really pause to think about whether what they heard was a lie or not. They don't scrutinise the solutions for flaws. They simply hear them, and believe in them. Moreover, that way of talking, expressing yourself, echoes the way many people do. Complain, blame, resort to "if only.." Time and time again, that's what Donald Trump did in response to the questions asked. Hilary Clinton listened, thought, and responded rationally and reasonably. Trump has a track record of not paying suppliers, taxes, dues. People like his maverick buck the system approach. They think it will pay dividends in government. He'll be for them precisely because he's wide, likes the shady deals, and won't stand for stuff which doesn't suit him. Surely he'll do the same for me? Right? Moreover, he boasts, deceitfully. It never ceases to amaze me how often people are actually impressed by those who blow their own trumpets. (Excuse the mild pun.) "I got, I did, I am" were things we had to listen to many times from Trump.

I find the man deeply scary, untrustworthy, selfish, and ignorant. Sure fire win attributes if the mood of recent elections is annything to go by.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

In or Out Panic at No 10.

So here it is as reported by the Guardian today (14th June)

A source within the remain camp said Downing Street had shifted from being “utterly convinced” of victory in the referendum battle, to a “blind panic”. The source claimed that strategists had convened an emergency meeting on Friday, but a spokesman for Britain Stronger in Europe denied the suggestion.

The panic if panic there is, is totally Cameron's own fault. Of course there was going to be a campaign of the long knives leading up to this. Of course there would be issues tugging us in every direction. Admittedly the refugee issue was not as pressing when the maifesto for the last election was drawn up, but as has been noted, a week in politics is a long time, and to think that the country would sail smoothly through a referendum on remaining in the Europian Union to the status quo was wildly optimistic.

Not a single one of us more ordinary mortals will find this vote easy. For those of us who cleave to higher values like compassion, generosity, hospitality, justice, service, despite the fact that much of the leave campaign appeals to our sense of selfishness and might on that basis be repudiated, who's to say that we might not be enabled to be a more compassionate, outward looking country if we left? Who knows the twists and turns of the political landscape in the future?  

Personally, despite trying not to expose myself to overmuch of the rhetoric, it has of course reached me in various forms. I've heard decent sounding owners of small businesses, decent sounding economists, broadcasters, even a few politicians, on both sides of the debate. So on Thursday 23rd it's going to be up to a gut decision on whose leading figures in the campaigns I trust more, (there's a clue to my vote right there), and what will be more settling for our future and what will help us on balance to be a fair, open country.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

General Assembly Part 2

One of the more interesting debates featured the question, "Who gets to administer Communion?"

Churches which ordain their clergy tend to do so to "Word and Sacrament", however that may be worded in their ordination rites. The claims to Apostolic succession by the laying on of hands are hotly disputed and asserted by all parties, for in the great scheme of things, this is counted as very important by the big established denominations. But the point is, in the eyes of these Churches this ordination of the celebrant gives a validity to the dispensing of Communion and Baptism and if your Church sees it as a sacrament, marriage, which would otherwise be lacking. There are some compromises allowed. For instance, Baptism, if done in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is for the sake of the Biblical "one faith, one baptism, one Lord" declaration, seen as valid, even if done by a non ordained person, since none of the ancient great and orthodox churches would want to cast doubt on the saving validity of a Baptism done in the threefold name. This peccadillo does not worry Baptists and other groups and individuals who believe in believer's baptism, although, I do know of some Baptist Churches who have recognised the infant Baptism of some of their revered attenders, and allowed them to become members and even elders!That aside,effectively, if you believe in believer's baptism you are saying that that first (infant) baptism is invalid.

Now, it is the case for better or worse, that there has been a creeping invasion of sharing bread and wine in small groups in homes and other places over the past 50 years, in the more evangelical and charismatic parts of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches. Sometimes this is done under another name: fellowship meals, agape suppers and the like. Sometimes it is done under the radar, without the priest or minister's knowledge, and sometimes with their tacit approval.

This emphasis on "validity" is an interesting one. What is meant by it, and what does it impart to the process which it validifies? After all, it is the presence and benediction of the Holy Spirit which ultimately validates all that we do. We all know that the Spirit is not subject to our direction, e.g. John 3.8. Those who argue that the presence of the Spirit and the blessings it imparts are unquantifiable, unassessable, mysterious and various, but depend upon the valid dispensing of the Sacrament, can just sit on their hands and smile benignly from their lofty towers. Those who argue that there is no Biblical warrant for such a view, can take the same argument and smile back. What is true is that in both camps, there are many testimonies of people having been deeply blessed, uplifted, healed, comforted, inspired and more, by participating in communions both recognised and rogue. The opponents of lay people dispensing communion argue that blessings are not evidence of "validity" in the rarified sense that they give to that word with regard to the sacraments. This holding on to the mysterious authority of ordination is one of the last bastions of the great churches' claims to their own validity and necessity. Which is why they fight so hard to defend it.

But in the great scheme of things, in the plan beyond our little plans, the Church is changing. People who know little if anything about ordination and valid sacraments are entering the Kingdom through doorways far from the reach of the old denominations and true Churches.They are meeting together, worshipping together, celebrating, baptising, sharing communion together and bringing others to know the love of Jesus Christ. The Church of Scotland would do well to accept this and work constructively with it. The latest suggestion from the Ministries Council about hubs of ministry would be one way of doing this. It was in this context interestingly enough, that the debate arose.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2016

As usual I was both saddened and heartened by the deliberations of the Assembly. I'm saddened when I listen to people talking about the Bible as if there were only one God honouring and Bible affirming way of understanding and interpreting it, and that's their way. The divisions which have split the church in recent times which present as the different ways we respond to the question of gay people in civil partnerships or marriage (itself a same sex disputed area) are actually based on differences in Biblical interpretation. The Theological Forum wants to come back to 2017's Assembly with some thoughts on marriage, but unless we can begin to accept different ways of understanding and interpreting the Bible, different theological perpsectives will not solve our problems.

The Ministries Council gave us in a rather understated and minimalistic style, a glimpse of what must be the way forward in the light of the crisis which is the shortage of ministers now, and will be well into the future. They talked of having hubs of ministry, which would consist of several groups of congregations working iin partnership. The convenor was careful not to be pinned down on what hubs might look like in practice, but one sure feature will be that one minister will have ministerial responsibility for a number of congregations. This is easily possible if congregations can embrace the challenge to sustain their worship and service to the community from their own people resources, with help from lay readers, Ordained Local Ministers, the eldership, and the gifts and talents within the congregation. Many charges which have been vacant for years are learning to do this, and are seeing growth. The response to this idea from the Assembly by way of comment and additional motions was satisfyingly and disproportionately large to the emphasis they themselves had given it, showing an undercurrent of readiness for the idea and appreciation of it, "out there". This vision is a good fit with some of the schemes which the Panel on Review and Reform brought to us by way of the training and support of elders and members.

However, as usual there was a possible spanner in the works. It concerned the use of elders to celebrate the sacraments, and communion in particular. The theological and ecclesiological question is, "Who should be allowed to celebrate the sacraments?" Now, we all know that up and down the land small groups within the Church of Scotland had met together known or unkown to their minister, and shared bread and wine, and often understood that as having communion together. But to offically recognise this as legitimate would require a sea change in our thinking. I'll talk about this in another blog.

There was a good deal of debate around the issue of Global Warming, brought to us by the Church and Society Council. I get terribly annoyed when people a) challenge the concept as not scientifically proven and on the other hand, b) when they talk about the melting of glaciers or the dying of the great barrrier reef as a "warning".
To deny global warming is just daft. Whether as a phenomenon it has been scientifically proven or not is to miss the point. Climate change is affecting us all, people are suffering drought, poorer harvests, and changes in their way of life which are contributing to their poverty and vulnerability. Glaciers are diminishing, the ice cap is reducing. But on the other hand, to talk of the Great Barrier Reef's slow demise as a warning is also to miss the point. We are past warnings. The catastrophe is happening now. We are being hit by the avalanche. Our wee efforts: recycling, reduction in carbon emissions, alternative energy solutions are all in their way, good. But they ain't going to save us or stop the avalanche. We need to change the way we interact with the planet, and we need to start preparing for the consequences. When we build the flood barriers after the floods, it's already been too late for some. We also need to accept that we will need to embarace ways of making energy which can do so wholesale and massively and quickly. More technology not less as one pundit has said. 

 James Lovelock: (The Guradian March 1st) The current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable. He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy
"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."
Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.
Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."
I suspect there is much in what he says. I just don't know enough to know if it will all be as bad as he suggests. But I think the General Assembly needs to start trying to be a mover in the directions of preparedness. This may give some urgency to some of our thinking. Journeys which at one time could be spoken of as long, are going to start happening in smaller and smaller time frames.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

EU Membership. In Out In Out. IT's A CON!

Hold tight everyone. We are in for months of turgid debating around our membership of the EU which will leave none of us any wiser when it comes to the vote.

I don't know about you, but this kind of thing is why I elect politicians to government. I want them to make these kinds of decisions for me. How should I know whether we'll be better off in or out? The best brains are arguing with each other about it.

So why are we doing it at all? Here's why: David Cameron put it into his election manifesto as a sop to the euro sceptics and the potential Ukip voters. "Come to me and I will give you vote." He probably thought that Europe would be so alarmed by our having a referendum that its politicians would vote us a bumper package of goodies when he went in for the re-negotiation, thus ensuring a stroll to victory in the referendum. He was wrong. He got a package that is not criticism proof at all, and now he sees his party's strong men coming out against him. He is in for a tough, angst laden few months, and I for one do not feel at all sorry for him. He brought this on himself.

The issues?
For what they are worth, are sovereignty, defence, trade and commerce, control of borders. And by "for what they are worth" I do not mean to disparage any of them for one moment. What I disparage are the verdicts and conclusions which both sides of the debate will foist upon us over the coming months. So how will I approach this fiasco? I will choose one issue about which I care deeply under each of the topics. Let's take for example the issue of sovereignty. I will then decide what I want more: our nation's ability to make and dispense its own justice, OR, the fact that there exists somewhere a group which can hold even our laws accountable to the demands of human rights. And then I will try and avoid Question Time like the plague and read escapist novels and watch escapist films until it is all over. Keep it simple, right?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Split ends or what has happened at Gilcomston?

I hear on the grapevine that a prominent conservative evangelical former Church of Scotland in Aberdeen has been so careless as to lose its beloved minister of many years standing, with whom it made its exit from the ever-more-contaminated-by-liberalism national church. This is not good. I am not surprised it has been kept relatively quiet. Nor am I surprised that all has not gone according to plan. That plan presumably saw the church now uncontaminated rise soaring from the ashes of the national church and be free to pursue an unalloyed and pure calling according to its vision of the Biblical Way. Falling out with its minister cannot have been part of that plan. But then when you lose that accountability to anyone but yourself, (oh, and God and His Word of course, although that only seems to matter some of the time), then of course, like Israel of old, every man may do what seems right in his own eyes.

The framework with which working within a larger church institution provides us is a hugely important, and provides a much needed bulwark against many evils which can befall the church, including that of giving us a means of due process through which disagreements among the leaders can be sifted and decided upon, by others, under whose authority we put ourselves. Sure, it's a mixed blessing, belonging to a church which entertains a "mixed economy" (clever speak which means "all sorts"). The decision making councils may decide things which are anathema to us. But continuing to belong has never in the Church of Scotland been equated with the giving of assent to these decsions, even if sometimes we have to obey them, and we hold among our members and even office bearers people who believe in adult baptism and have undergone it (despite "One Lord, one faith, one Baptism"), and we have coped with that. Those who left were spoiling for a reason to do so, and the decision on gay ministers gave them that. But it was the tip of the iceberg of growing disaffection. They were wrong to leave. Their leaving weakened the Church of Scotland massively, left a huge hole in the centre of Glasgow, (although that was not entirely their fault), and has contibuted to the fracturing of the image of the church. And those who have left are now exposed to exactly the kind of thing we see happening in Aberdeen. One fracture line may lead to another. They closed the Forth Road Bridge because that happens, I hope no other churches will close or be lost and that more ministers who have served long and faithfully and acceptably, will not suddenly find themselves being hard pressed by Kirk Sessions who are finding their voice and a new authority unencumbered by Presbyteries or General Assemblies.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

So, the de-Christianising of our society is moving on apace. Christianity seems, according to some reports, already to be a minority religion. Perhaps this will get us the same levels of respect and consideration that are happily meted out to every other faith except Christianity. Already we have CE instead of AD and BCE instead of BC, and Winter Festival is appearing more and more as the pseudonymn for Christmas. What will happen to poor old Santa (Saint Claus)? Will this move signal his demise too, in favour of the Snow Queen or Jack Frost perhaps? Will Christians be allowed to use the word I wonder, in our secular future? I note a report which calls for the ending of the legal requirement to have a daily act of worship in Schools south of the Scottish Border, (We never had such legislation in Scotland because it was never thought to be needed, we were so thoroughly immersed in our presbyterianism up here.) I can understand the thinking behind moving away from an act of worship, which is after all an expression of faith, but I hope schools will still be required to teach and give majority time in RE to Christianity, as the faith which gives our society its context.

Maybe as we move further away from our Christian roots, we who still confess the Christian Faith, will hear less and less the name of Jesus being used as a swear word, or perhaps the powers that be will make it an offence to use it in such a way, to protect the rights and sensitivities of a religious minority. Perhaps someone should bring a case of religious discrimination against the use of the name Jesus as a swear word, as it is grossly offensive to Christians. And maybe too, the government will stop making us be the custodians of the country's religious architectural heritage.If you disown it, be prepared to lose it. Instead of Kirks up and down the land having to pay costly fees to keep their ancient buildings up to scratch, we'll be able to say to the government - if you want to keep it, pay for it. You know, I can see a stack of gains coming our way, brothers and sisters.

May all your Winter Festivals be merry and bright.
O, and merry Christmas too.