Friday, 31 December 2010

A New Year's Revolution

'Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la; la la la la! It is also the time of year when all good folk and true wrap themselves up in conditions for life in the approaching year.

Very often, the resolutions that mark the turning of the page to a new clear year are ones of lifestyle, and speak of someone's deepest levels of self-image. It is the time when we disclose most about ourselves, if only we knew it. For example, the whole 'I must eat better food and lose weight' is actually a statement, in shroud, that screams: 'I am a whale and I can't bear to look at my corpulent form in the mirror any more (or worse, I don't fit in the mirror any more)'. The urge to take out a membership in an overpriced gymnasium hollers the sentiment: 'I grunt when I bend at the waist, and walking to the shops ... well, I drive and as for the walks in the country ... I Google Earth the country these days'. We are not fond of ourselves I believe - and that is a shame. We never make resolutions that surround 'I did good last year, I made a difference, I improved my lot and that of others ... so more of the same this coming year please' - we have an appetite always to change, but in the oddest and most doomed-to-failure of ways. I suppose that is why diets founder, the daft Sleb Weight-Loss DVD's are dusty by March and gym memberships become secrets we don't talk about. Why? Because New Year becomes short-hand for wanting to be someone completely different.

Yes, progress in ourselves is good and it is healthy in its right measure. However, good progress and healthy change demands that it is the original person left at the end, not a facsimile of some celebrity or other. This New Year could usefully be one where we aspire to be more ourselves as God made us. Be a better model of the same, upload the Updates at midnight (and after all, none of us are perfect), but don't fork out on a new piece of hardware - aspire to realistic things. Aspire to things that are possible and not just levitous aspiration - or else they won't work (and the raft of re-bloated celebrities should be testimony to that). Aspire to improvements that add to the world around you, not just those that allow you to put on a different pair of jeans - there is a lot more to life than squeezing into a smaller pair of jeans!

In any instance, may I wish all of you a fruitful 2011, and one where you are granted time to be who you truly are. For my part, I don't care what shape you are!

Friday, 24 December 2010

From Me To You

The time has come to wish you well
For your Christmas joys to tell.
But please, I urge, do not be sad
For now I stop writing to be a Dad;
Putting the blog aside for family life
And to be a husband to my wife.

...for a few days, that's all.
I hope an order not too tall!

Some Festive Cheer

With thanks to the wonderful Gurdur, my friend an atheist - a constant source of challenge and reciprocity. I often wish half the people of faith that I know have as an open a mind as him.

This film is how I imagine myself in my inner monologue - except the blue. Never blue. No excuses for blue, ever.

A CatOlick Christmas

A message from a friend ... 

On a  seperate note: after 3.55pm today (sunset in UK), we move into the great feast of Christmas (as all fine liturgists will tell you, the next day starts at sunset the previous day - but that is perhaps why 'proper theologians' laugh at liturgists), and it thereby ceases to be Advent. As a purist, I determine that the time will then be right to post my Christmas cards and start my Christmas shopping. Excellent! Let's hope that Amazon delivers tomorrow before 5am when the kids rise for the Festive Morn!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

For Whose Sake?

A couple of my Twitter mates and me were having a little debate (as you do in statements comprising 140 characters or less) about the nature of blogging. We all blog, incidentally - did I mention that I blog?

Anyhoo - the upshot of our twitty-chat was the 'who' component. To whom do be blog; for whose sake? It revolved around the notion of tags and keywords. She had written a piece that involved pornography (well, discussed it, as opposed to featuring some - she is not among its greatest fans, you see) but used the term "P*rn" in her title, rather than "Porn". The question was asked why and she cited an article that suggested that use of such terms attracts the wrong kind of punter. I am aware that the same can be said for tags, and I am in the middle of an experiment of my own at this very time. Tags are the apparently random words that appear at the foot of most blog posts, under the box where this stuff is consigned - they draw attention to the key elements of the post in the wider ether. I have been tagging all my posts with 'Jesus Christ Son of God' recently as I am interested to discover if it increases the visibility of this site to those searching the web for all of some of the words involved in the phrase. We will see ... anyway, back to the story.

My learned and esteemed friend is not wrong about titling of posts, as I discovered when I cheekily (and quite deliberately) called a post "Naked Women Flesh" once - it gets visited by porn surfers quite regularly. About this I am not worried. My friend, however, would not value their visit. The reason she gave is that success (such as it is) is measured in blogs by 'bounce rate' (the percentage of visitors that leave via another website), and porn surfers would bounce out every time - raising the rate. I guess a low bounce-rate speaks of specific loyalty, because if a reader logs on here and doesn't leave the site for another, they came here for this material alone. However, most bloggers have a list of other blogs regaling their sites (not to mention embedded links that demand a 'bounce' when accessed), and use of those links will always increase bounce-rates. I remain unconvinced, therefore, that a blog's success is to be measured this way. Answers on a postcard.

The crux of our little exchange Twitter-style was about the value of visitors who did not intend to arrive on our sites. She regarded them as unwanted as they didn't form part of the blogging community to whom she writes. This is a valid perspective, though one I disagree with. One of my porn surfers has re-visited this site three times since landing here by accident. He didn't revisit the page he first found, and came here directly (that is to say, he landed here by typing the web address in or using a bookmark). S/he is very welcome here, and despite arriving here with a Google search for [I know the answer, but won't betray it - but please note, whatever you put in Google gets remembered] has come back to a Christian blog again for non-porn surfing reasons, presumably. That is why I write, for people like that, as well as the rest of you, of course!

So, why do bloggers write? Who do we write for? What measures the 'success' of a blog? If you are a blogger who reads this, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are visitors to our sites who didn't intend to be, unwelcome? Please let me know!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

When is a Font the Wrong Font

You know how it is. You talk about something once, and then it is all you hear about for weeks after. Well, during the course of the week, on a day when I made my escape from snow central, I found myself talking about none less that correct uses of fonts. As you do. 

No sooner has the breath dissipated upon which the word was carried did the subject arise again and again.

Now, I have so far led you down the proverbial garden path, leaving you to wonder what church masonary choices are available to me these days. But I tell you this: no. Not them fonts, these fonts - what like these words are writ in. 

I was working through a pack that prospective Headteachers would recieve when applying for the job (if you are a primary head and about the best in the world, you may apply) - and it struck me that over-use of Times New Roman seemed heavy-handed. It is not only the default for most wordprocessing packages (except Word 2007 when it is the rather crisp Calibri) and therefore a marker of lack of imagination, but becuase of that fact, grossly overused. It has caused me to ponder the use of fonts - as even the choice of font I use here is deliberate. I use Georgia from the limited stock that Blogger offers. Others include Arial (boring), Courier (Sinclair ZX Spectrum), Helvetica (let me nag you in words), Times (see above), Trebuchet (for shopping lists) and Verdana (church literature ad nausiam - but great for lysdexics).

A much-loved colleague of mine has a default setting, and it means that all his documents are set to Comic Sans, a font I personally loathe. Then a wonderful thing happened, I discovered a website that articulates my view perfectly: press here for the link.  You just know that it speaks the truth. 

The choice and use of fonts is, as the site itself will attest, important. The message and the font must be in accord or it will lose its way in its presentation. In other aspects of my life, I type sermons and essays in Palatino Linotype (delusions of grandeur) having moved away from Papyrus (cool until everyone else started using it). They are deliberate choices, but I wonder if I am alone. 

Do you use specific fonts, and if so, why? I'd be interested to hear [read].

My Christmas Message

As I sit here in my study looking out at a snow covered view, I concede that I am perhaps about to have my first (to the best of my knowledge) white Christmas. It has been a tough week for many of us in Britain, for reasons of cancelled holidays, late or cancelled deliveries of gifts, cancelled services in some of our churches, general inconvenience, families unable to reunite for the Big Day, those who are at home alone more isolated than before - and a whole array of other things.

"I'm Dreaming of A White Christmas"  - that rather beautiful song seems to sum up and typify our hopes and dreams, our wishes, for Christmas. That wish has now come true, though perhaps not with the end result that had been intended.

This realised Christmas wish caps off an interesting year. In Britain we have a  new coalition government that shows signs of stress at the joints as I write. For many, that form of our government is another wish come true. The Church of England continues to spat over incidentals and over significant matters like the realisation of calling and ministry. People have wished for their place on our governing body and those dreams have come true. In so many countries, we have wished an end to the financial melt-down that has afflicted us all, and our wish came true with the measures introduced in October by the Coalition - perhaps not what many of us expected. 

So many wishes - so many coming true in ways hitherto unexpected. All reasonable, none wrong - but a lesson perhaps about being careful what we wish for. 

As we focus on the empty manger in expectation of the coming of the Baby, let us hold on to the most important wish tightly, the wish that comes true for us every Christmas, that we start another year with hope, something about which to be joyful. Life sometimes seems to be a catalogue of the 'nearly', the 'almost', and the 'if only' - except the Incarnation. From that moment alone, all that is good spings forth. From this wish-come-true can we dare to make renewed wishes for 2011, for ourselves and our loved ones.

May I wish every one of you who reads this, a wonderful, peaceful and blessed Christmas. If you read this without the faith that I hold, may you too be granted a wonderful Winter Festival. May this time be for us all one of hope and joy and a gateway to a new year of opportunity.

Why Blogging is Not The Last Word

There is a tendency in the mind of pioneers that their pioneering ways are the very best and most laudable. Bloggers are no exception. Bloggers love blogging and, please don't be surprised at this, regard blogging as the very best thing since sliced bread. 

Well, sliced bread has its limitations, and so does blogging. 

Blogging is still a reasonably pioneering passtime, more especially in Christian circles. There is a small and ever-increasing circle of Godly Blogglies, but we are a mere soupcon of the expression of the church writ-large. This means that we are either pioneers or a marginal sub-denomination. The jury will remain out on this for some time to come. 

I am one who blogs, lest you hadn't noticed - and so I am one who supports it as a thing and as an expression of something far greater. I have typed many words about the art itself, largely in warm favour, so am writing this post by way of balance. We need balance, you see. 

Until a few years ago, if someone wanted to preach, they had to take a little training, the calling be discerned, recieve a license and given a pulpit (or equivalent) from which to peddle their evangelistic wares. The great and the good would say that this is to ensure that preachers are working with God's calling, not just hobby-horsing. This may have poured into inventive means of creativity as in the example of Baron Soper and his soap-boxing ways. He too was an accredited minister in the Methodist church. Now, of course, anyone with an internet account to thair name can create a blog, type stuff into it, publish it, and have it read by larger crowds than any standard preaching minister could dare hope for. What is the strength of blogging is very much its weakness, as people can (and do) say whatever they jolly well like - and sell it is God-inspired. 

Until a few years, being a priest involved being 'out and about' in the parish, on an aging bicycle, door knocking the parishioners. They would then spend time in their churches offering worship to those who sought it. Now, priesthood is starting to find its outworking on the screen. I sit in the privacy of my house to write - work that eats into 'work time' and not family time - time that perhaps is costing a real person in a real house with a real pastoral issue a visit. Blogging is a wonderful way to get to know people all around the world, but it is perhaps at the cost of some closer to home. 

Once upon a time, priesthood was about meeting people where they were in their lives, taking their hopes and fears on board, and also facing opposition or suspicion at times. This is changed in part for blogging priests - as a gentle gander through many blogs will tell you. On our blogs (this included) we broadly preach to the converted. We are followed by 'friends' who generally agree with our point of view and support us in our work. This is, of course, a good thing - but there is a danger in that. People follow blogs that appeal to them, and they often appeal because they are aggreable to them. In fact and in its terminology, we gain a following of the like-minded and it brings with it a danger borne of a lack of direct challenge or of a lack of having to meet readers where they are. In short, it is about the blogger, not the reader - and if priesthood were about the priest and not the parishioner, it would be a worry!

This is not written with any intention to upset or offend bloggers. I am still glad and proud to be doing this, and appreciate the blogs I follow. I have met some remarkable and good people, and still regard it as a powerful and edgy tool to bring the good news of Christ to life.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Remembering Young Carers

I sat in my study yesterday bemoaning my poorly lot because of the imposition of snow. I was replete with self-centred angst about how life could ever re-start, and whether the snow would ever thaw.

In the end, I resolved that I had a house full of food, even if not the menu items of choice for the festive day. I had wine and gin, power and heat, my health, a couple of cars parked with full tanks of petrol, a job that grants me flexibility more than most, and in the end, nothing so major that its deferral would cause anyone a problem except me. In short, I have it alright - snow or no snow.

Something then emerged on my own horizon which caused me to feel like something of an ass - as it gave rise to me thinking not just about those wonderful people who care for loved ones at home, but youngsters who are the primary carer for a parent or other adult relative at home. What must life be like for them in such adverse weather in the run-up to Christmas?

To my shame, I know no such young carers, or am unaware if indeed I do.This video is courtesy of Young Carers.

We are all tearing around (or not) trying to get Christmas Day perfect. It will be perfect, whatever we do about it - and a deficit of brussels won't hinder that. Please spare a thought for these kids who do so much real good for those closest to them, often unnoticed, often unthanked, often not understood by the world outside - and for the Christmas they are trying to bring together, that their family may enjoy the day too. Take our adult lives and the pressures of making Christmas perfect, subtract time, car, credit cards, hands-on help and add back the needs of an adult who requires so much help at home - then we might come close. 

... but only ever close.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Propagation of The Deathly Hallows

During the globally-warmed episode of snow and frozen tundric conditions that have assailed my little market town, I have found myself once again in the grips of a considerable sojourn. This has placed me in my house for extended periods of time, with a need to fill time for me and the ankle-biters. Some of the time, we have built a globally-warmed precipitation person, and at other times, we have watched the goggle-box. 

This weekend reminded me of something that  has troubled me on various occasions during the year, but which had been cast off the radar screen in favour of the next battle-royal with Twins Aculae and their domestic routine. After being forced to sit and watch Annie [Tomorrah, Tomorrah, Eyell Luvv Ya Tomorrah - bleh], I fast discovered that it was succeeded by the magnum opus that is Deal or No Deal. If you are unfamiliar - it is a quiz show; well, not even that. Some people open boxes and win cash depending on the numbers in said boxes - simple as that. It has an audience, which numbered four more this weekend, because we were imprisoned by a globally-warmed two-foot of snow and my creative juices had all but dried up.

Then something happened which upset me all over again. Its contestant of the day, a lovely girl I am sure, approached the place where she would be called to make her choices about boxes to open, and as often happen, was asked a little about herself. Then it happened. It happens in lots of places I have noticed, not just here. After a sentence, she got weepy and confessed to millions that she had fought and won cancer. Lots of weeping, spurious hugging from strangers, game commenced, she won twenty-grand. 

I am a very sympatheic human being. I am married to woman who lost two of her closest friends to cancer before any of them were old enough to vote. I have lost relatives of my own - rather a lot I think given the size of my family. I work alongside those who are dying or are facing that prospect - and I know how devastating and overwhelming it can be. I feel some flavour of their pain, and I even cry for them in private at times. I am not a cold-hearted soulless monster, but yet I am upset by the narrative delivered in the context of my mindless Sunday afternoon-in-the-snow TV. 

As I have said before, this seems to happen a lot. Once, a telly-contestant would tell a whacky story about meeting Rolf Harris (I met him once), or a daft anecdote about the dog dancing with the cat. Then you would go on to dance with chance and win a teasmade. Not now - it seems that the producers need tear-jerkers not whackos for their programmes, and I can almost imagine the application forms now. I do not doubt for one moment that all of these people are genuine and have fought and won against the worst of things, but I question the place of that account in a mundane quiz show. How are we meant to be left feeling? Why was that story just told? I try hard to fight my own battle with the niggling sentiment that it is the Tellyland's new weapon of choice to win ratings, but I am gently losing.

I think this speaks of time and place. Family time TV quiz shows are not a time, I would argue, for a woman to break down after being invited quite deliberately to tell her story of her fight with cancer. My kids don't understand why she is crying, and I am not equipped to explain why. She is on that programme to win some unearned cash - bottom line. Let's not convince ourselves that it is anything else.

Input and Output

A little while ago, I wrote on the subject of blogging etiquette (for priests), and like all good men, failed to practice what I preached!

Blogging is an ever accelerating thing for many of us. When I started this game last year, I posted once every couple of days, and was mind-set on not exceeding that. This has manifestly changed over the course of the months, and three posts every day is not wildly uncommon. However, there is only one time-cake.

One former habit of choice was sacrificed to the blog-gods so that I had more time, and the next hammer to fall will be upon the heads of my children, so I am required therefore, to make an adjustment now! This also falls within the scope of a life change that I wish to make in general. From the new year one day of every week will become a day of self-denial. In blogging terms, that means the intoxication of 'being read' can be put aside in favour of being a reader to others. 

In short, I am going to cease output on a day a week so that I can add input to the work of others. In line with my belief that [priest] bloggers are [morally] obliged to read [blogs] as much as they write [posts], I will change my own balance to more adequately reflect my own belief. I read other blogs very little, all the while hoping their their authors read (and recommend) mine. Not cool! I do this for three reasons: 
(1) I think it is the right thing to do
(2) Other bloggers are worthy of being read, and to miss them is often a crime
(3) My own words can only be augmented by reading more

HapHappity Birthday: Honk Honk Beep Beep*

Beat upon the timbrels, toot your kazoos, for today is a significant day for The Vernacular Curate. Let joy be unconfined, bring forth your effervescent gaity, for today is the Birthday of This Blog. Yes, my dear wearied Reader, you have tolerated this gubbins for a whole year.

This is where it all began, without imagery, and frankly - with a really dreary title. Still, it is best to set the standard high for such odd ventures as this.

I am not going to launch forth with reader numbers - I did that a while ago, and also because the support I have recieved for this little expression of my inner mentalist has far exceeded anything that I dared hope or pray for. This pile of slugpellets has been read in over 600 cities around the world and I have begun to discover that some of my own thoughts have been quoted elsewhere. I am bowled away by that, more especially because I have tried to be myself and with that be fairly raw.

I have learned a considerable amount about a lot of things while doing this. I know I look at the world differently - not in the sense that I seek material, but more that I reflect about the world around me more. I question things to a greater level, and I question myself in a similar way. The questions still exist about this being a meaningful medium for a priest (or anyone else for that matter) to communicate - but until they are clarified, I will persist (or until I get a 'nil' day of readers). I still don't really know if this is helpful of grossly narcissistic, and I still write this as a man who really rather dislikes talking about himself. Perhaps the humour is the disguise. This thing has bought me into contact with some stunning people whose presence is a great joy to me.

Anyway, the bottom line is that this is still enjoyable. Were it not, I'd be long gone because life is too short and I am no Prophet whose message must be heard. A lot of you read this, not sporadically, but very regularly and again, I thank you for walking this little journey with me. What you have learned about me I have learned about myself at the same pace. I find your support incredibly humbling - something that I think priests need at times (even to the extent of knowing that our spelling is apalling).

So, the next year: I will carry this on, and all the while thinking about the transition from curacy to (I hope, at the moment) an incumbency. My children will start school, we may move house, town and maybe even end of the country. So many changes ahead - and then this thing. Will I blog after curacy? That question remains unanswered, partly because I recognise the secure womb of protection that being a curate enjoys. Would I be able to blog this way as an incumbent? I am not sure. I hope so, but the jury will remain out for some months yet. So many questions, so few answers - so much to hope for. 

Thank you, all of you. May God (or whatever Guiding Light calls you on) bless you and those you love.

*title courtesy of Ren & Stimpy - my ffffffffffffffffavourite

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Life on My Street

This is broadly what I can see from my cell window after the falls of the last two hours. Global Warming, grrr

Friday, 17 December 2010

Carpe Diem

This week has proven to be a tough one for a whole manner of reasons, all of which have been thrown into relief by general fatigue. I am among many who are frazzled at this time of the year, and having reviewed my posts this last week or so, can see a pattern developing which I am keen to resolve or conclude.

I was at a military dinner this evening with the Air Cadets from the town where I live. I was their guest as I am in fact the padre to the Army Cadets, but enjoy a great relationship with this group too. They are well-behaved, funloving, motivated young people and an evening in their company has been a joy. In the course of a conversation, one of them piped up with the phrase "you have to live for the present", and before I had time even to think about it, retorted with "well, we are all dead in the future". Like something of a bolt, it just bounced between my eyes  - what we have is now. We have now to make our difference, make our mistake, learn our lesson, journey forth, hesitate fatally. This doesn't mean that I am suddenly humanist (God forbid), but rather that I will not languish in a self-applied state of abdication because 'God will sort it out later'. The moment, 'now', is a gift - nothing less.

Me sitting here and bewailing is a waste of that moment. Tiredness is as nothing compared to the burdens of some. As one week closes and another lies ahead, I will try to take with me this renewed conviction of the value of the moment. To waste one is a mistake, to waste more is criminal.

On a wholly personal note, I would like to thank those of you who have shown me care this week, through comments here and elsewhere. I really am a very lucky man - I cannot ask for more than I have in this life. Bless you all.

One Artist Meme

I asked a question on Twitter during the week, along the lines of what I should blog about. The previous post was born of one such reply - and so is this one. Thanks are due to Simon Robinson for putting me on the spot on this one!

Now this image is of the lead guitarist from my favourite band, Metallica, and is actually a near lifelike representation of how I imagine myself to be when playing my air-guitar on my steering wheel whilst driving. The similarities are uncanny.

Anyway, this is a simple process that is fun, and a helpful pause in an otherwise busy day! My answers are in italics - have fun!

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Try not to repeat a song title.

Pick your Artist - Metallica
Describe yourself – The Struggle Within
How do you feel – Shoot Me Again, I Ain’t Dead Yet
If you could go anywhere, where would you go  - The Frayed Ends of Sanity
Your favourite form of transportation – Some Kind of Monster
Your best friend is – Sweet Amber or Ronnie
You and your best friends are – Broken, Beat and Scarred
If your life was a TV show, what would it be called – Nothing Else Matters
What is life to you –Frantic
Your current relationship - Holier Than Thou (!)
Your fear – The God That Failed
What is the best advice you have to give – Don’t Tread on Me
I would like to die... - One or The Memory Remians
Time of day – Until It Sleeps
My motto – All Within My Hands

The Very Real Essence of Christmas

With thanks to the family who concocted this little ditty, and to my Twitter friend Craig Roters who suggested that I blog on this much debated subject. Craig, I am among you as one who serves - you ask, I deliver!

Incidentally, I love sprouts - though mine have been on the stove for two months already. Do not forget - if we don't eat sprouts at Christmas, they will become extinct and the sprout farmers will have to eat their children just to survive.

Fighting My Way Back

A recent post saw me yield to a rare (I hope) moment of self-pity. I have now had a word with myself, and am starting this very day with a 'fight-back' attitude.

Self-pity has its place, but not here, and not for me. I am richly blessed. 

It is a funny time of year. The celebrations and expectations of Christmas are matched only by a directly proportionate deficit in energy. Everyone around me is tired, frayed, at times despondent, but in the end getting on with it. We have no choice, and perhaps that is good. A fly in the ointment this year in Britain is rather adverse weather and what seem to be a proliferation of snotty sicky bugs. A school near me (with a roll of 300) saw nearly 100 absences on one day. They were  either poorly or there was a great party that I wasn't invited to!

Like prayer and so many other things that at times fall into the 'obligation' box from the 'choice' bag, there are times when all we can do is to reluctantly take the next step. Lack of sunlight, warmth and fresh air added to all of the above are no reason to roll over and give up. I hear the siren in my head now, that helpful voice that screams 'retreat'. No time now - we in collars have a Christmas to facilitate, a job to do, expectations to meet, obligations. This is our time, the time to which we were called to face down the harder days and the tiresome weeks. 

Another day, another 'dollar' ...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Disclosure III

It is time for another dip into the nosegay that is Revd. D M Cloake's dirty little secrets. I know you have craved a revisit to this thread, and is not your every dream and hope realised  in this very moment. Time for The Vernacular Curate to 'fess up.

Well, there is no really easy way to disclose this. I am not sure that I know anyone else who holds this little secret close to their heart, so I don't know what kind of response this post will generate. I can sense my mother blanching even now!

The thing is, I have no sense of left and right. It was ever thus, and probably the reason why I failed four driving tests before the winner. It might explain time spent in thorn bushes when learning to fly. 

The thing is, that when directed to turn left or right, I can't. I have little mnemonics that help me, so that the decision is an intellectual process rather than instinctive as it is for the rest of you, but I just can't judge left from right in the way I can with up and down. In all honesty, I almost always take the wrong side first - I have no default right or default left. Silly, huh?!

Well, there you go - social pariah!

Occupational Hazards

 a (b + c) / = despondency

All will be well soon

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Vernacular Curate Entertains


Because You are Worth It

The Difference Between Journalism and Blogging

In the lastest (two days late) copy of the Church Times, Andrew Brown makes the distinction between blogging and journalism. He said:

This [article] is a long way round to the difference between journalism and the blogosphere. But it gets to an important point in the end, which is that newspapers, however loathsome we often are, are slightly more restrained than “citizen journalists”. This is not always or often because we are nicer or nobler. It is probably because we are big enough to be worth suing. The fear of retribution keeps us honest as often as it compels us to dishonesty — perhaps more often. It also shows, I hope, the use of specialist and background knowledge, which is exactly what the average newspaper reader lacks on any subject. Nothing can be as misleading as a true fact on its own. 

This gave me cause to stop and think about what this thing is that we do - and that Mr Brown has made this assertion suggests that there are those who could confuse blogging with journalism in the classical sense. To me, it seems a statement of the obvious that one is not the other - but in the interests of calm balance, have reflected on that. 

In my own writings, a healthy sense of self-preservation precedes every key press. I try to be restrained, be careful of absolute statements about individuals that I cannot underwrite with proof, of making dubious claims (other than in conspicuous jest), and so on. This is partly because in the next 18 months I will be seeking new work and this blog will almost certainly be an invisible entry upon my application forms, and also partly to do with the ever present acknowledgement that once I press 'Publish', I can be quoted and pursued by anyone whom I may slight. Andrew Brown is, of course right, that individuals are not really worth the efforts of litigation - but that should also remind us that we are not immune to it. 

Blogging is refreshingly free, innately exposing of the blogger, and as Andrew Brown rightly states, unrestrained. The media of mainstream journalism have all been tempered by litigation, and so much scar tissue will bring restraint. They also have a job to do which blogs do not. They have to deliver stories that are broadly as-yet-undelivered. Blogs make their comments, speculate a little, draw conclusions perhaps. Those stories have to be researched to a greater or lesser extent in the mainstream media - for quality if nothing else. Blog posts are more instinctive, more reactive, and because they are written in homes largely by private individuals, lack any kind of raw sourcing. - other than in the case of stories at the micro-level. In short, and in line with what Mr Brown implies, blogs lack 'specialist and background knowledge' on the whole. Naturally, this is not a universal statement for all blogs - just the vast majority.

The thing that I hold in my thoughts is what does the reader seek? Readers who want to know about the events in Afghanistan will take those accounts from the newspapers or the television. If they want a comment about those events, an opinion, an angle perhaps, then they may refer to blogs. There are rare exceptions of course - but I have yet to discover the 'scoop' in a blog post.

I think that the difference between blogger and the mainstream journalist is the place in the pecking order that their material takes. Mainstream media will crack the nut having established that it is indeed a (or having invented the) nut, and bloggers will spend the time talking about what is inside its shell. This may one day change, we'll see.

[Not] Women and The Church

As I sat enjoying a Carol Service recently, my mind did what my mind does - and wandered. It wandered onto the subject of women and the Church (in a good way, so clean your mind out with soap and water). I reflected on the situation in the Church of England, and the organisation that represents women in the church. It caused me to snort audibly (during a prayerful silence, regrettably) when I noticed now unfortunate it was that Women In The Church would have generated the acronym WITCH - and I suppose that has a great deal to do with the slightly more detatched nomenclature Women And The Church or WATCH

My mind trundled along the towpath towards an organisation for Men and The Church, noting that it would bring to birth a perhaps suitably named group called MATCH. It then occured to me that '...And The Church' lent itself well to a whole array of appropriate acronyms:

MATCH - Men And The Church
MysMATCH - Mysogenistic Men And The Church
REMATCH - Returning Men and The Church [added]
CATCH - Cricketers And The Church
LATCH - Lockmakers And The Church
SWATCH - Sellers of Wallpaper And The Church
PATCH - Puppies And The Church
THATCH - Tile-less Houses And The Church
SATCHEL - Schoolkids And The Church et L'Eglise (an Anglo-French conglomeration)
DESPATCH - Death and Embalming Service Providers And The Church
SNATCH - Stealers, Nickers And The Church
ATTACH - Adhering To Tradition At Church
HATCH - Homebirths And The Church
BATCH - Bakers and The Church
RATCHET -  Restorers to the Automotive Trade and the Church to Enable Torque

...and taking the '...In The Church' model

DITCH - Diggers In The Church
BITCH - Bigots In The Church
LYTCH - Last time You visit The Church
TITCH - Tiny people In The Church
PITCH - Putters In The Church
GLITCH - Glory Lost In The Church
SNITCH - Storytelling Needlessly In The Church
ITCH - Irritation And The Church
NEITZSCHE - Now That's just Silly... random others

MUCH - Mis-Understood Church
BOTCH - Bloggers Of The Church
WRETCH - Weird Reaction To Eating at The Church
CROTCH - Central Regions Of The Church
ZILCH - Zoroastrianism In The Local Church
PREACH - Persistent Rehearsed Expulsion of AIR and The Church

...and so the list goes on. There will be many that I have forgotten or not thought about, and if you read this and think of any, please add them below. What's in a name, they say. Quite a lot it would appear.

Monday, 13 December 2010


I can't remember a time when I wasn't tired. It is as normal and ever-present for me as the nose on my face and the ears that poke out of the side of my head. It has had phases, all bringing a different breed of tiredness.

Teenager Tired - late nights, perhaps the odd drink and early mornings required of life at college and the paper-round retained for years for the cash it provided.

Retailer Tired - heavy days of manual handling, unloading rolls of carpets, a couple of tons of rubber underlay - single handedly, extensive hours, the adrenalin of sales, the lack of time to eat a proper lunch (lunch is for wimps, apparently) and the compensation to appetite of gallons of poor coffee - all fed a tiredness that was more physical than emotional.

Parent Tired - the crippler! The unremitting needs of twins, disturbed nights, woefully early mornings, no stopping, high energy, high stress (in a good way when worrying and willing on little ones), high physicality born of much lifting and carrying, few moments to pause - all feed a tiredness that is now becoming more and more debilitating. 

Ministry Tired - the mind of a minister never stops. We are reflecting on things, reflecting on reflecting on things, praying for people, hoping and wishing the best - added to by the exhaution of carrying worship for others, carrying their hopes and fear with them, feeling what they feel, journeying alongside - all these things feed an emotional tiredness at times.

Tiredness is the thing I hate most about my existence on this Rock. I love my life and all those in it, but tiredness is, little by little, crushing me. My arms feel heavier, my eyes sting at times. I am normal, and my life is normal - the tiredness, though, seems unremitting. I am one who needs a Straight Eight at night, takes a while to wake - and getting a Mixed Six with disturbance and a fraught 'first-thing' - all these things cause me to feel stress simply through the act of waking. Tiredness for me is a weight around my shoulders. I am an energetic man, but in the background, there is a deficit. So often, I get to a stage where a gentle voice in my head yells 'please just leave me alone - just for a minute' - a moment before I shake it off and carry on. 

Ministry is a perfect joy, and parenthood too - for me. However, the combination of the two is at times problematic. I am so blessed, but I wonder if need bigger batteries. I seek no sympathy, just a place to call out, and this is the place. Life with my beautiful daughters is everything I could ask, but it never stops. Were anything else so constant other than these two perfect little girls, then I would surely have fallen over by now.

Terry Jones and The English Defence League

You may or may not have heard that Terry Jones, a religious person from the United States, is in dialogue with that austere body - the English Defence League. They are apparently inviting Mr Jones to come and speak at one of their forthcoming rallies. This is generating some considerable interest, including the genesis of an entire organisation to quiet this handle-bar moustached geezer.

The English Defence League visited my town in May. Thousands were anticipated, and a mere 800 actually rolled into town and were met by a well-organised police operation (see video, I'm in there somewhere - and another to see what a visit looks like). Note the quality of its participants, the choices of flags for a day supporting England, and the wise and witty chants. The visit galvanised the town, the faiths in the town, and demonstrated that such activity is pointless, if entirely legal. 

Terry Jones, apart from being a very naughty boy, is the chappy who suggested that, upon the anniversary of 9/11 that the Qu'ran should be burned. The model of religious pluralism and tolerance is our Mr Jones. He is, in most quarters of intelligent society, a ridiculous figure. Yes, he has an audience, and I can see why the EDL would want to forge contacts with him. Islamophobia must be one of those things, like Tupperware, that precipitates parties. 

The EDL, it would appear, are becoming marginalised. Their visit to Aylesbury on May 1st did little for them and their reputation - gained them 12 arrests - and strengthened a town. What they brought with them was the backlash reaction which was formed around the notion of more hate (see post). The reaction would have been more dangerous and inflammatory had it actually bothered to turn up. It didn't. Terry Jones is a figure of relative irrelevance for most people, mindful as I am that some Muslims take him seriously. They needn't - he is not the voice of Christianity, really he isn't.

So, should he be banned? Nope - because to ban him gives him status and kudos. It is akin to trying to ban Mr Blobby - pointless. Should we ban the EDL? Nope - for the same reasons. They have a right in our country to protest, and if they can't then I can't if I ever wanted to. However, they are not the force that they had hoped, and are appearing to fizzle out. The nation is starting to come around to the notion that passively allowing Islamophobia makes them as racist as the active protesters, and the world is also closing in on Nick Griffin by the same token. Terry Jones: websites marking him out as the Anti-Christ grant him more power than he could ever hope to gain by his own words or actions. Don't do it - ignore fools and they soon go away! Bring them all into town, and bring them together. If we ever wanted a case to compartmentalise them for what they are, then that alliance will be our gift. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Dad, Junior and the Spook [Extended Version]

My original post was a summary of a paper that I wrote a few years ago. As this is my most frequently re-visited post, I am guessing that the material is of interest. I am therefore posting the entire piece for reference. 

The Holy Trinity: An Exploration and comparison of the theory of Augustine of Hippo with a contemporary alternative

David Cloake

The Father and I are one [John 10:30) is a pivotal Scriptural base upon which Bishop Aurelius Augustine of Hippo placed his work on the Holy Trinity. This work has permeated Western Christianity from the fifth century through to the pages of the most contemporary twenty-first century theology and liturgy. Augustine, born in Tagaste in AD354, naturally sought to bring the Spirit into the same sense of oneness with the Father and the Son, and this was the basis of his work De Trinitate which written over a number of years around AD400-28. As part of my own Christian spiritual journey, I have been steeped in Western Trinitarian theology, formulated comprehensively at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and its aftermath itself, the backdrop to much of Augustine’s own thinking. For me, training to be an ordained priest, the Trinity is intrinsic to my own belief structure, so I have given much thought to it and in particular the means by which to express something so abstract to those unfamiliar with it, and in terms that are meaningful to them. It is also my own way of coming to terms with my own theology of the Trinity. To this end, this essay will set out a summary of Augustine’s Trinitarian theology alongside my own simpler model, offering a brief comparison.

Augustine was unequivocal in defending the doctrine of the Trinity from those he thought of a mind to ‘assail the faith of the Trinity by use of reason’ (De Trinitate I, 1). He made his defenses from Scripture, in a stand against Manichaeism which felt at liberty to question plain reading of the bible. He believed wholly that the doctrine that he was to stand for, a doctrine that for the most part was articulated christologically at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the basis of the Creed used today, was based purely in Scripture and that one only needed to open its pages to see the Holy Trinity pour forth. However, as Augustine’s own preamble suggests, his work was brought into being as a reaction to the theory of others, most notably the ‘arch-heretic Arius’ (Kelly, 1989: p223). Simply put, Arius believed that only the Father was God, not the Son and certainly not the Spirit. It is to this apparent departure from the Scripture that Augustine, and others like Athanasius reacted. Alister McGrath makes that point that 'the Arian controversy of the fourth century is widely regarded as one of the most significant in the history of the Christian church.' (McGrath, 2001: p22). Little wonder that its Western re-articulation in the words and person of Augustine was to reverberate through the centuries.

Aurelius Augustine was born some decades after the events that were to precipitate his life’s work, the Council of Nicaea in AD325 and the Arian Controversy that ensued. Both events served to attempt to make sense of the nature and the persons of God, wrestling with notions of substance and equality amongst the figures of the Father and Son together with the Holy Spirit. Influenced by the writings of figures such as Hilary of Poitiers who had written on the matter of the Trinity, and specifically the Arian conflicts, some years earlier, Augustine came to the debate with the view that the assertions of the Orthodox Church against Arian heresy lacked requisite force in the arena. Augustine’s principal doctrine was that to which he devoted the last eight years of his life. He worked from the starting point that man is formed in God’s image, and that by logical deduction, the analogy of the Trinity is to be found in the person of man. His reliance on allegory was as a result of his time spent with Ambrose of Milan who taught this method as opposed to the Manichean biblical critical method. The God of Augustine’s Trinity is a relational one, that is to say, one based on and dependent upon relationship. Clearly the two-way relationship in focus is that between Father and Son. Augustine held that the Spirit was manifest in the love that binds Father and Son together. In his own words, 'The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit constituted a divine unity of one and the same substance in an indivisible equality' (De Trinitate 1, 7). This gives us the clue to the other aspect of his theology, that nature and form of the persons to whom he referred. The word with which he and Christendom wrestled was ‘homoousios’, or ‘substance’.

Augustine believed that ‘The Father, Son and Spirit are one is the same substance and equal in divinity’ (De Trinitate II, 4), a principal departure from Arius and others who held that the Son and the Spirit were both lesser in substance or divinity from the Father. In trying to reinforce his point, Augustine illustrated it with other ‘triads’, such as the nature of the mind with which he highlighted its intelligence, its memory and its will; three distinct aspects of the mind yet as one within it. And so it was with God. As I will later demonstrate, there are other triads that can be employed to make the same point if within the basic premise that the Trinity is a single divine God. Augustine preferred the term ‘essence’ to ‘substance’ as the latter term inferred separate matter. For him, the Son is the Word as referred to in Genesis, together with God the Father from the beginning. This follows into the Nicene Creed which states that ‘and the Word became flesh’, mirroring John 1 in its words ‘was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary’. Augustine was keen to point out that Father did not create the Son, implying subservience for the Son, speaking rather of the Son being ‘begotten’ of the Father. Indeed, as ‘the Word was with God’ it follows that the Word was not therefore created by the Father rather that it existed in the same space at the same time. Arguments against this notion, where found in Jesus’ statement that his Father was greater than he was, were dealt with by Augustine as illustrating Jesus’ humility and self-emptying servanthood. He also stated that the Son’s glorification of the Father did not infer subservience.

It is simple enough, Augustine would claim, to demonstrate the equality of Father and Son/Word scripturally, but he moved further to defend the equality and divinity of the Spirit, itself a less scriptural position. He held that the Spirit proceeded from both the Father ‘and the Son’ (the divisive Filioque Clause in the Nicene Creed that has continued to split Christians and churches of East and West), and in analogical terms, is represented as the love that binds the two essences. He said that '...the Trinity is the one, only and true God, and that one rightly says, believes and understands that the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same substance or essence' (De Trinitate I,4). He uses the language of gifts to illustrate his point, that the Spirit is a gift of love to the Son and the Son to the Father. 'The gift must reflect the nature of the giver' (McGrath 2001: p332). Therefore, the Spirit, as a gift of the Father must be of the same nature. However, this a factor of this theology that perhaps tests logic to its limit, as it can easily argued that gifts reflect the nature of the receiver, were their choice given proper consideration! Further, in taking account of the love that passes between God and his creation, that is to say humankind, together with the assertion that we are made in God’s image, that very love must exist within the Trinity.

As Augustine used psychological analogies to form triads to illustrate the nature of his Trinitarian model, I will attempt to do the same. Over a period of twenty years, whilst a practicing Christian in the Western Nicene tradition, I have endeavored to make sense of the Trinity, for my own consumption and faith journey, but in such a way as I can describe lucidly for others, especially those new to the faith. The equality of the three figures of the Godhead had never been a matter for question for me, simply the best expression of how such a three-part, one substance whole works.  In Grahame Greene’s novel ‘Monsignor Quixote’ (1982), the principal character analogized the Trinity in the model of three bottles of the same wine (albeit that he used a smaller bottle for the Spirit, in error by his own admission), separate in themselves, but one in the same in terms of substance. This failed for me because wine can be made by using the grapes from different places, thus rendering the claim that its substance is the same as false. At best it can be described as very similar, but not the same.

In working with the premise, together with Augustine, that man is made in God’s image and by virtue of that fact alone, that the Trinity is imprinted on the nature of man, I sought to find the Trinity in my own experience of human existence. For me, the Father can be analogized as the human brain; the source of the initiative, the co-ordination of the activities of the whole. The Son is represented by the fleshly human body, the ‘doer’, the aspect of the person that imprints upon the existence of others. The Holy Spirit is seen in the sense of the ‘nature of the person’, that quality of psychology and personality that specifically defines one individual against another. To take the analogy further, each aspect of the person illustrated here can be said to operate independently from the other, to a limited extent, and would certainly (were it able to express such a thing) be able to refer to the other part. As a man can speak of his hand or his foot, so the Son can speak of his Father. In speaking of his hand or foot, the man does not, by implication, state that he and his hands or feet are separate entities. This naturally is ludicrous. A man is the sum of his parts, hands feet head and legs; each is separate and uniquely identifiable, but none are self sufficient or able to function if not part of the whole body. So it is with my own model. The brain function (the Father of my model) can be regarded as acting independently from the manual or bodily functions (the Son of my model). Automatic response to stimuli could demonstrate this point, such as a reflex. It requires no conscious input from the person. The brain function can be differentiated from the personality (the Spirit of my model), particularly when such personality is said to spring from the heart. Bodily dysfunction can expand my analogy further. A brain can continue to function in cases where the body is all but dead (such as the Father surviving the bodily death of Jesus on the Cross, to invert the model). A corporal body can still function when cognitive ability is all but diminished, and both brain and flesh can operate perfectly well in cases of personality breakdown, or alternatively, in the form of new born babies who would clearly have not formed any kind of personality. Yet it is clear that were we to illustrate this Trinity triad using a well adjusted, rounded human being, we would see a harmony of the brain body and personality. The success of the brain would enhance the existence of the body and soul. Care of the body enhances the functions of the brain and maintains the well-being of the soul, and finally, a generally happy and well-rounded personality seals the bond between the cognitive and tactile.

The Trinity-models of Augustine and this Ordinand depend entirely on the premise that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). They turn on the assumption that analogies that can describe God’s form, and that of the Trinity, can be seen in the human form and experience. Augustine offers a model that is relational, my own being more interdependent. Augustine believed that each facet of the Trinity, be that the Father Son or Spirit acted in its own right, yet as three. He stated that of the Father sent the Son, then by definition, the Son sent the Son and the Spirit. One person acts, all three act as one. In my model, it can be easily seen that if the hand moves, then the brain is implicit in that, yet unmentioned, there being no suggestion that the brain ‘picked up the stick’ for example. In the same way, there is never the suggestion that God the Father was crucified, only the Son.

As I am not Augustine, I cannot pretend to formulate a model of the Trinity that stands up to all scrutiny. It is a model with weaknesses, and as such, will continue to turn over in my thoughts and prayers for the years to come. The obvious weakness in my model is that the brain is implicit in all the actions of the human, whereas the same cannot be said for the fleshly body or the soul/personality. For a human to think, there is no bodily aspect, though perhaps a background provided by personality. For that thought to turn into action, we simply add the corporal aspect. There is the danger that this could render the body subservient to the brain, or by implication, the Son to the Father. A way around this would be to look more closely at the physiology of the brain and determine that the brain is a bodily organ, and that if we speak of the mind instead, we have to have physical brain in which to think, and that the Father element of this particular model should therefore be applied more appropriately to the synaptic responses within it. However, with this and indeed Augustine’s view of the equality of the Spirit, it can be difficult to see how something that he illustrates as an outpouring of love or a gift can be equal to the Father and the Son. It could be determined that such love or such a gift depend on the Father or the Son acting in a given way, and that a lack of action could nullify the Spirit. To love could imply a choice, and it could argued reasonably by this model, that God the Father or God the Son have the ability (albeit untested, naturally) to make a choice not to love, or that love to fail, or not to offer the gift of the Spirit. Such is the weakness in any relational model. It infers choice, and when the aspect of the Trinity that is illustrated as the manifestation of that choice, its equality could perhaps be on faltering ground. Another possible failing in my model, in using the fleshly body to illustrate the Son, is that the fleshly body is finite, subject to decay, error or malfunction. A fleshly body can become diseased, and will ultimately degrade unto its demise. Such characteristics do not sit well with an analogy for God the Son. However, it cannot be forgotten that the Son took the form of a fleshly human so would, presumably, be subject to the rigors identified above. Certainly, we know that the fleshly body of the Son was capable of dying. Lastly, the Spirit parallel, the personality is another factor that is far from constant. It is unlikely that anyone could describe the Holy Spirit of having a ‘bad mood’ or other vagaries of the personality such as a psychosis for example. Yet, for all that I have said, there is no suggestion that any human analogy, be they in my mind or that of Augustine, can be whole and perfect examples. If we believe that God, in all his essences is perfect, then any analogy other that with another perfect example, will fall short.

As Henry Chadwick puts it, 'Augustine showed effortlessly that the concept of being both one and three is so far from being gobbledygook that simple reflection on the nature of human personality offers an immediate example' (1986, p95). For a man like me considering an ordained Christian ministry, this sentiment gives hope. The Trinity is often perceived as impenetrable by many Christians, both lay and ordained. Something being seen as three distinct parts, yet as one indivisible whole, can appear as a paradox that stands between God and the believer, an insurmountable barrier to a fuller relationship with God. Such barriers, I believe, are to be countered by the clergy, and that this work forms their role in the created order. Despite its apparent paradox, the Trinity is the very centre of Christian belief. Whilst the sense of mystery must always remain undiminished in such matters of faith, there still needs to be ways of penetrating these truths in an expedient and accessible way if the Church of God is to thrive in a world of computed and scientific logic. In making his argument from Scripture, Augustine gives the believer an anchor point, the place to make their enquiry. In making use of human analogy, he roots this enquiry in the person of the believer. In communicating his doctrine using the language of love and relationship, he uses examples that are relevant to almost every person. In making the three essences of the Trinity equal in stature and divinity, he removes any sense of or potential for conflict that can arise from inequality. In the way that a chord demands that its component notes are played equally, and that as a result it emanates as a single sound, so it is with Augustine’s Trinity.

The essential truth of my exploration into Augustine’s model of the Trinity, my own perhaps simplistic model and the many writings concerning the persons of God the Trinity is that it lies at the centre of all Christian thought. It might possibly be one of the most abstract concepts, one that defies language and conventional thought. In returning to Augustine’s own words, the misuse of reason assails the very truth of the matter at hand that the God of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension. It is, however, capable of being rooted in what we know and are as human beings, thus rendering it tantalizingly accessible. More importantly, Augustine raises more questions than he manages to answer, but does not apologize for maintaining this mystery, stepping away from cold reason and blind logic, and daring to use the frail and failed human as his Trinity model. Without Augustine’s audacity, it is likely that the church may not have grown in the way that it has, and gives us courage today to look to the place where we are for means of expressing the inexpressible regarding the Godhead.


Chadwick, H. Augustine – A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 1986)

Chadwick, H. The Early Church (London: Penguin, 1993)

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines (London: A&C Black, 1989)

Mackey, J.P. The Christian Experience of God as Trinity (London: SCM Press, 1983

MacCulloch, D. Groundwork of Christian History (Peterborough: Epworth, 1987)

McGrath, A. Christian Theology – An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001

Young, F. The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 2002)

Websites Consulted

(Scripture references were taken from the New Revised Standard Version)


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