Monthly Archives: February 2009

Sabbatical, Day 28: More Ear Woes For Mark

Coming home from Bristol has not been a soft landing. Yesterday, Rebekah didn’t make school, having been sick the previous night. Mark was sent home at lunch time, complaining of stomach pains. They morphed into earache, which he has had ever since.

Later this evening, I have to take him to the emergency doctor service. We felt we couldn’t just keep administering the Calprofen and Calpol over the weekend and wait for 8:30 on Monday morning when our GP surgery opens.A recorded message on NHS Direct said we would wait four hours for someone to phone us back. However, the pain is consistent, always returning when the medicine wears off. Debbie read up on his symptoms, and thought it sounded like otitis media. The medical dictionary recommended contacting a doctor within twenty-four hours for a young child where that is suspected. So we’ve put him to bed, but will be rousing him later for me to drive him to see the doctor. 

This means that – just like most of the days in half term when he was ill – I have had no chance to give attention to my sabbatical studies. Mostly I have been occupying Rebekah while Debbie looks after Mark. Thus today has mostly comprised of taking her to her ballet lesson this morning, and going into town this afternoon. 

I think on that note I’m going to sign off for the day: I’m sure you’ll understand. If I don’t get back too late and the situation is markedly different, I may be able to update this post. However, I’m more likely to wait until tomorrow.

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Sabbatical, Day 27: This Is Turning Into The George Kovoor Show

I met George Kovoor outside his office at 7:45 am for breakfast. One moment we were heading to a student common room to eat, the next we were going out for a fry-up at Asda. It was an exhilarating meeting. He told me about the impact of the context-based training at Trinity, where groups of students are based with a church long term. One congregation has grown from forty to a hundred and ninety in two years.

I heard too about the recovery of morale at a college that had slipped into the doldrums in recent years, and the exciting recovery. Certainly, there is a buzz around the place, and no-one had a bad word to say to me about George and his leadership. 

I had wondered why he was so keen to meet with me. He is keen to make use of alumni to promote the work of the college. I told him the amazing story of how God provided the money for me to study there. I’ve told it briefly once or twice on the blog. I don’t have time to do so now, as I’m typing this late at night. However, George would like me to recap it for the college mailshot. If I do PhD research, he is keen for me to do it through Trinity and knows exactly which tutor would be right as a supervisor. 

We covered other things too that are best kept private, much as they excited me. I could get him into trouble, and that’s the last thing I’d want to do for a visionary leader in God’s Church. 

George is such a vastly different person from me, one of the few people I have met of whom the description ‘larger than life’ is worthy. Yet he is sensitive to people of other dispositions. Meeting with him has been an exhilarating experience, and that is why I have written about him for three consecutive days. 

Final lectures followed this morning. Jerry Gilpin introduced us to the work of Meredith Belbin. I’d heard people speak of Belbin Team Rôles, but not done anything on it myself. Potentially very useful in putting together teams or diagnosing problems within them, if a little tricky to expect everyone to complete a questionnaire first!

Drove home this afternoon, giving a lift to a distance learning student who lives in east London. 

Glad to see the family, but time to sign off now for the night. More tomorrow, I hope.

Sabbatical, Day 26: George Kovoor Is Mad, Myers Briggs Is Sane, Worship Is Amazing

George Kovoor is mad. It’s the title of a Facebook group, and it’s true. I discovered the group last night when the man himself sent me a friend request and it was on his profile. He is a member.

As I thought, I wasn’t able to set up an appointment with him today, as he requested yesterday. When I was here in the 1980s, you needed to ask the Principal’s secretary two weeks in advance if you wanted to see George Carey. So when I went to see the current secretary, sure enough there was no window when both  GK and I were free.

However, she made a suggestion. Why not reserve a seat next to him at lunch? The staff and students here all have yellow chits they place on tables to reserve seats in the dining room. She tore up a piece of yellow paper, wrote my name on it and told me where George sits. I went and marked the seat next to him.

It was duly a crazy conversation. Just I am very clearly an introvert, so George is as clear an extravert as you are likely to meet. He conducted simultaneous conversations with about five of us. I referred yesterday to how he has a collection of projects all in addition to being Principal here. He referred to my bookmarking of Butler and Butler‘s fairtrade clergy shirts, and it transpires he has an involvement in the marketing of clergy attire himself.

During the meal, George asked for a bottle of tabasco sauce. We expected him to use it on his chicken and spicy rice. No. He drank it directly from the bottle. Tonight, I have learned from some of the students that it is his favourite party trick, especially in front of men. However, it has given the students an idea for something when they hold a ‘superheroes day’ here in a fortnight to support Comic Relief. Pastoral confidentiality does of course mean that I cannot reveal their plans on a public blog.

At the end of lunch, he said he was sad we couldn’t match our diaries but was still keen to meet. So I’m having breakfast with him at 7:45 am tomorrow, when he gets into college.

On a calmer note, the course today has been just what I wanted when I booked it last year. I’ve taken very few notes, but so much has fallen into place. Without turning it into the psychological equivalent of a horoscope reading, my personality profile under Myers Briggs makes so much sense of my strengths and weaknesses in ministry and in other relationships. Jerry Gilpin who is teaching the course is another former Trinity student. He was in the year above me. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up over coffee tomorrow. Already he’s given me some recommended reading on personality type and ministry. So far it includes Faith and Psychology by Leslie Francis, Growing Spiritually with the Myers-Briggs Model by Julia McGuinness, In the Grip by Naomi L Quenk, and he’s going to check on the title of a book by William Bridges.

I’ll sign off soon. I need to pack stuff ready for leaving here tomorrow lunchtime. Lectures start at 9:15 and I have to vacate the room by 10. I need just my morning stuff and laptop bag ready to go.

There won’t be chapel worship tomorrow morning, because the students will be worshipping in their pastoral groups. So I have worshipped together with the community for the last time. And I wanted to say this. Whatever nit-picking comments I’ve made about services this week (and that’s my personality type, too!), I have so far failed to mention the extraordinary sense of devotion and commitment to Christ that surrounds you like a magnetic field in the worship. I’m struggling for a way to express this gracefully and without sounding condemning of others, but I have missed being in a community like that. I believe that when you are in a group of Christians like that, then iron sharpens iron. Others lift the level of your discipleship. Sometimes they don’t know they’re doing it, but they do. I wonder how much of this energy gets dissipated when people leave.

I don’t know whether it’s as unrealistic to reproduce this in the local church as it is to bring back to a congregation the ‘spiritual high’ some people experience at conferences. I’m tempted to think there is a difference here, though, because this is an ongoing, day by day, week by week community, not an annual gathering of thousands. Am I crazy to have lofty ambitions for the local church? I always have been a (failed) idealist in that cause. One of my tutors at my Methodist college, David Dunn Wilson, picked up on my tendency in this direction and told me to remember that the Church is a company of sinners. Eugene Peterson has a similar tone in his book The Jesus Way, in which he stresses the importance of forgiveness from the example of King David’s life. I agree with both of them up to a point, but Christians are more than forgiven sinners. It’s something the Methodist tradition knew in its infancy with John Wesley‘s call to ‘scriptural holiness’. Somewhere I still believe that a community of forgiven sinners also needs deep intentional aspirations to holiness.

Or am I barking?

Sabbatical, Day 25: Ash Wednesday Soup

I’m going to be nice about Iona today. Specifically about one of their confession prayers.

Yes, you read both of those sentences correctly. The confession in chapel this morning was more refreshing – and challenging – to my mind. It was modelled on the verse in Isaiah 55 where God says ‘My ways are not your ways’. It thus consisted of a series of stark contrasts between the ways of God and of humans. So we got a clearer focus on God in the confession as a result, in my opinion.

Wednesday is not a normal lecture day here. After morning chapel, students keep silence until 10 am when they meet in their pastoral groups, then at 11 they all meet together with the Principal for Community Coffee. I’m not sure what happens in the afternoons – I think it must be free for study. I decided I would observe silence with the students before taking another walk into town to buy presents for Debbie and the children.

Trinity was the first place I ever observed any extended silence, on college Quiet Days. At first it frightened me. There is something terrifyingly loud about the way one’s own thoughts invade and clamour for attention. Yet silence, with the accompanying discipline of solitude, is a sign of health and vitality in the life of the Spirit. On one of those Quiet Days, I remember deciding I would read Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s ‘Life Together‘. Figuring it was only ninety or a hundred pages, I was sure I could get through it easily in one day. I couldn’t. Bonhoeffer packed such a punch with every sentence, the book kept stopping me like brakes on a car. What I most remember is him saying that no-one is fit for community life who cannot also embrace solitude. This morning, the silence was not a ringing in my ears but a recharging of my batteries.

Then I went off present-hunting. I found an art shop and bought some little models for the children to paint. I won’t say what I bought Debbie, because she occasionally reads this blog. I just hope she likes my purchase.

Lunch was suitably spartan for Ash Wednesday: soup and bread. But it wasn’t gruel. There was a choice between carrot and coriander soup (which I normally consume by the gallon) and a fish and cream soup. Both were accompanied by two types of bread: one was a tomato bread, the other I’m not sure, but it was good. I got through two bowlfuls of the fish and cream soup. Debbie dislikes both fish and mushrooms, and they are two things I love, so if I’m not at home to eat and I get the chance, I take advantage. This one had vague similiarities with the most wonderful soup I have ever tasted: cullen skink at Sheena’s Backpackers’ Lodge cafe in Mallaig, the fishing port at the northern end of the Road to the Isles in Scotland.

At the end of lunchtime, I had the joy of spending twenty minutes or so catching up with my old tutor John Bimson.

What to do this afternoon? Still feeling very disciplined after the morning silence, I read more of Goldsmith and Wharton’s book ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You‘, especially the chapters on personality type in the church. I concentrated on those sections specific to my own personality type of INTP. Time and again, I read paragraphs and thought the authors had met me. Yes, I am someone who likes to bring new vision to a church, because I’m more about the future than the present, more big picture than fine detail.

And – apparently, my personality type often gets frustrated with regular local church ministry and ends up in sector ministry. In particular, my type often likes to engage in research. I felt another underlining of the sense I’d had at Cliff College a fortnight ago about doing a PhD. Well, no, more than that: I felt like the research idea came up and mugged me again.

So to the weekly college communion service at 5 pm. Trinity is an evangelical college, but very much what is called an ‘open evangelical‘ college. It is not hardline Calvinist/fundamentalist. Secure in a commitment to biblical authority, it believes there is value to be found in other Christian traditions, too. Today that meant the Lord’s Supper conducted in a more Anglo-Catholic style, complete with incense, processing and the like, and of course an ashing ceremony. I don’t think a real Anglo-Catholic would have recognised it as a complete facsimile, not least because the music was mainly from evangelical and charismatic sources. But it was a genuine attempt to be sympathetic. And I find the imposition of ashes to be a powerful symbolic act. It sends a tremor through me every time. I’m glad we have it in the Methodist Worship Book, too. I haven’t washed mine off yet. The only pity was that just the first half of the words were used with the imposition of the ashes: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’, but they forgot to say, ‘Turn from your sin and follow Christ.’

On to dinner and another great conversation with the other former lecturer of mine who is still on the staff here, John Nolland, along with his wife Lisa. John has ‘a brain the size of a planet’ and authored the three volumes on Luke’s Gospel in the Word Biblical Commentary. More recently, he has written a highly acclaimed commentary on Matthew for the New International Greek Text Commentary on the New Testament. We learned from some top-class scholars here, and so do the current students, with staff such as Gordon and David Wenham here, to name but two of many.

During the Peace in the communion service, the Principal, George Kovoor, shared the Peace with me and then continued the conversation. He invited me to book an appointment with him to chat over coffee for half an hour. The only problem is, I shall only be able to offer tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he has space in his diary for then at such short notice. I’ll let you know tomorrow whether it comes off. I hope it will. He is a genial man, and if you click the link I gave to him above you’ll be exhausted just reading about him. I spoke to him on Monday, explained who I was and he told me he was a Methodist minister, too. It’s true. He is Indian, and was ordained in the Church of North India, which is a united denomination. Yesterday, he gave a notice to the community, saying that he was going to play a student at table tennis. He wouldn’t ask for prayer, because last time he played someone and asked for prayer he won, and he didn’t want an unfair advantage this time. Turns out he won anyway.

See you tomorrow.

Sabbatical, Day 24: No Sleep Till Brekkie, More Lectures And The Bristol Tourist Trail

I don’t do well on first nights in new locations. Not on the evidence of this sabbatical, anyway. Having barely slept before 4 am on my first night at Cliff College a fortnight ago, I didn’t sleep before 1:30 here, then woke at 5:30 with a vile headache. (Not that I know what a nice headache would be, you understand.) At 7 am, I decided I needed a large dose of tannin, so I took the pint-sized mug I’d brought from home and made my first tea of the day. The pain slowly subsided over a period of several hours, until it was gone by late afternoon.

Trinity does worship differently from my time. Twenty years ago, nearly everything was Alternative Service Book. Except when Paul Roberts inflicted chanted Book of Common Prayer services, that is. Though the ASB has been replaced in the C of E by Common Worship, the college seems to have themes for particular weeks. This week it’s Iona Community worship, widely popular in many parts of the British church but something that drives me nuts. I have no problem with a liturgy that emphasises social justice and makes no division between work and worship. However, I have found several of their liturgies and some of their songs hectoring and lecturing. Not only that, the confession used this morning was fundamentally inadequate. I like the mutual confession approach of Iona (service leader confesses and congregation pronounces forgiveness, then the process is reversed), so I’m not critical of everything. But this confession started from the point that we had hurt ourselves, then others, then the world. Absolutely no reference to the rupture between humans and God that is central to confession. Remind me never to use it in worship.

There were good things – not least the brief testimony of a student as to what God did in a prolonged experience of a spiritual desert. And the guy who read the Gospel reading did so with great feeling. Those were highlights.

Lectures were more relevant this morning. The operating paradigm (I’m at a theological college – out come the long words!) was still that of the large church, but I felt that more of today’s material was translatable or adaptable. We began with a session on team leadership and issues around teams. We then looked at how to run a meeting, largely taken from the old John Cleese video ‘Meetings, Bl**dy Meetings‘. Finally, a few thoughts about some common mistakes made by leaders.

This afternoon had an optional session. I opted out. It comprised some BBC videos on assertiveness training. While that’s an area I could do with improving in, I needed some air and some exercise to counter the effects of the much improved food. I decided I would try to find some old haunts. Off I went across the Clifton Downs, down two roads whose names may just betray Bristol’s slave trade past – Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road – and on down, eventually to Park Street, where I used to frequent three shops. I knew that SPCK would have been long gone after the business atrocities that have been inflicted on that chain of bookshops. Sadly, Rival Records is no longer around – I remember buying Bruce Cockburn‘s World Of Wonders in there during my first year. And the Evangelical Christian Literature bookshop is now a branch of Wesley Owen, stocking everything from N T Wright to Joel Osteen. Insert words such as ‘sublime’ and ‘ridiculous’ as you see fit. I think I’m right in remembering that ECL had been founded by George Mueller.

Not being home today means I’ve missed Shrove Tuesday with the family, but Debbie told me tonight she and the children had decided to postpone pancakes until Saturday. I’m glad they have. Pancakes and their toppings are one of those simple pleasures where it is a joy to see the fun Rebekah and Mark have. Two small pancakes with toffee ice cream here at lunch time were delicious, but no replacement for being with the children. As to toppings generally, I’m a fan of those English Provender jars – no, not the garlic, ginger or horseradish, rather the raspberry coulis or the Belgian chocolate sauce. The latter has been harder to find in the supermarkets recently, though.Looking at the website tonight, I’ve noticed they now do a Fairtrade chocolate sauce, though.

More seriously, I had to miss a hospital out-patient’s appointment Rebekah had this afternoon. Eighteen months ago she had grommets inserted in her ears after protracted episodes of glue ear and consequent poor hearing. They still haven’t solved the problem. One grommet fell out a few months ago, and today they could see congestion in it. She may have to have more grommets fitted, poor lass. Recently, we’ve let her start answering the telephone, but conversations with her are punctuated with “What did you say?”

Tonight, I’ve just spent the time quietly reading. Next stop a spot of supper then an early night, I hope, to catch up on last night.

Sabbatical, Day 23: Beginning The Course At Trinity College

I left home after the school run and by limiting my one stop on the 180+ mile trip, I got here at 12:45 pm, fifteen minutes before lunch. And on that subject, the food has certainly improved from my time here. (Pause to affect voice of elderly person:) In my day, we used to say that Trinity was the only place where you poured the meat and sliced the custard. We also lived a diet comprised fifty percent of apples, there being a surfeit of apple trees in the grounds. On the evidence of the shepherd’s pie and cherry cheesecake today, those times are gone.

A first year student called Andy has helped me find my way around, some things not being quite where or how they were back in the eighties – no surprise, of course. Given that I get edgy about getting into a new routine in an unfamiliar place, he has been a blessing. Not only that, his ‘college job’ is IT, and he got me logged onto one of the networks here with the appropriate password. He also showed me where to sit in the lecture room to be near a mains socket for the laptop. At Cliff College two weeks ago, there were extension leads trailing everywhere – a health and safety risk but it meant everybody could plug in. The same isn’t true here.

My room is better than at Cliff, though. Again, it’s a twin room, but it’s more spacious. Not only is there room for two single beds without a crush, there is also a travel cot for a baby and a z-bed.

I’ve also briefly met my old tutor, John Bimson, and we hope to catch up with each other more later in the week. John is a fantastic Old Testament scholar with a wicked sense of humour and a passion for social justice.

As for the course, I’ve had a double lecture this afternoon and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed on a couple of fronts. First of all, the element on ministry and personality type is just barely half the course, spanning Thursday and Friday.

Secondly, today’s material has largely been a baptism of management theory. It was justified on the grounds that all truth is God’s truth, and of course I believe that. However, I think we’ve had one reference in the PowerPoint slides to Scripture, and that was the obligatory Proverbs 29:18, a text surely much misused, and for some reason in this context limited to leaders, not ‘the people’, as the verse says. The lecturers also made clear that there are vast differences between a line management situation and a voluntary organisation. Yet the primary assumptions have been about large churches. Hence the person quoted more than anybody has been Bill Hybels, and I shall be watching to see whether what we are really getting is teaching on how to run a megachurch, something that will not be terribly applicable to many of us.

It isn’t surprising when the main lecturer is a former President of Hasbro’s European Division, and worships at a large church in Surrey. The other guy is part-time on the college staff along with being vicar of what was certainly a big church when I was here in the Eighties. I could be doing the lecturers a disservice, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll have more positive reflections to report.

Sabbatical, Day 22: Good News And Packing

Two pieces of good news today: first of all, Mark will probably be fit enough for school tomorrow. He wasn’t quite up to church this morning, but he is surprisingly self-aware for a four-year-old, so when he said he wasn’t up to it we were sure he was being truthful.

I took Rebekah back to St Andrew’s, where she enjoyed the Sunday School. I had the pleasure of hearing Linda the Reader (and a staff member at the pre-school our children attended) preach, even quoting a book I had recommended to her. It was also a delight to be in a communion service where Lee our curate neighbour presided. The congregation read the liturgy too fast for five-year-old Rebekah to follow, and perhaps that’s something many churches need to bear in mind if children are to be at the sacrament. They also didn’t have anyone giving directions as to when you should go to the rail for communion – again, how easily we think we all know the drill.

This afternoon Rebekah returned there for their monthly Activ8 for primary school children, which she loves. We took Mark for a short walk around the estate. He is big into cameras at present. It began with speed cameras and has now spread to CCTV. He’ll never struggle to see them in this country. Today, Debbie spread his interest to looking out for burglar alarms on houses. 

The second item of good news in addition to Mark’s health is that the broadband speed problem is solved. The speed tests with BT ultimately showed the capacity was present on our line for a normal speed (well, normal in our ‘up to 8Mb’ contract is ‘up to 2 Mb’), but the bottleneck was local. I traced it to the router. By the simple device of turning it off for thirty seconds and on again, regular service was resumed.

I’m glad that is fixed before I go away. Tomorrow I head off to Trinity College, Bristol for a week on ‘Management, Leadership and the Practice of Ministry’. I’m not entirely comfortable with associating the word ‘management’ with ministry for a number of reasons, unless by management we mean ‘stewardship’. However, my reason for attending the course is this is the one I’ve been building up to in the blog posts lately – it has elements about ministry and the minister’s personality type.

So right now, I’m throwing a few things into a bag ready for the getaway, and I’m burning some CDs to iTunes on the laptop in the hope they might transfer to the MP3 player on my phone. Then there will be all the last-minute stuff in the morning – all to pack while helping get the children ready for school – and then I hit the road as soon as I’m back from the school run.

For some reason today I’ve been quite nervous about this trip. I get quite anxious about getting through the first twenty-four hours in a strange place (and Trinity will be strange, twenty years after leaving), getting to know where things are and the nature of the routine. Maybe God has something good in store, though. I shouldn’t be surprised if he has.

Next post should be via wifi from Trinity!

Sabbatical, Day 21: The Farm, Air Miles, Slow Broadband And Good Bible Commentaries

We decided to take advantage of Mark’s improving health and a fine day to give him his first proper trip out since he contracted the tonsillitis. So with his sister we paid a trip to Marsh Farm Country Park. An hour or two there late morning was very pleasant. Once he said he’d had enough – around the time we were devouring jumbo sausages in rolls – we headed back. Mark and Rebekah played beautifully while we were there. Becky even gave her brother a ride on a tricycle made for two when he didn’t cope well with riding a solo trike.

All that good behaviour was to change when we got home. They turned into monsters, making the visit of Gemma, our family friend hairdresser, interesting. Both went within a whisker of losing their bedtime stories, but just about held on. At least it’s a sign Mark is a lot better. He just needs to regain some strength now.

In other news: the first credit card I ever had that came with a rewards scheme had Air Miles attached to it. There weren’t any other games in town at the time, so I signed up. Over the years, I racked up nearly three thousand air miles and didn’t fly a single one. Today, I had a letter from Air Miles saying they had changed the terms and conditions of the scheme. Those who didn’t add any miles in two years would have their accounts closed and forfeit their miles.

Not expecting to fly in the foreseeable future, I was about to put the letter in the shredding pile when Debbie noticed small print that said the miles could be redeemed for other things, too. Tonight, we’ve been searching the site so that we can use up most of the miles on a few attractions in London. The kids are desperate for a trip to London, especially Becky, who wants to see ‘the castle where the Queen lives’. But it looks like we could get ‘flights’ on the London Eye, along with a London Eye River Cruise, and keep some miles over to visit Thorpe Park and Chessington World Of Adventures. So if we can combine these with vouchers from Tesco Clubcard, then we ought to get a few good family days out – especially if there are any Clubcard vouchers for sightseeing bus tours in London.

On the technical front from yesterday, I’ve been tracking things down a bit more as to why our broadband speeds are so slow. Reading through support pages on our ISP’s portal, it looks like constant slow speeds indicate an IP profile that has got stuck low. Having performed various checks, I have to run the BT Speedtester three times at different times of day. However many times I tried on the desktop PC, and whether in Firefox or the evil Internet Explorer, the test got stuck. I was so thankful for my laptop. Connected via Ethernet cable to the router, the test worked first time. To abbreviate some technical statistics, our line ought to be able to connect at around 2.5 Mbps, but we have somehow been artificially limited to 0.1. Once I’ve completed those two further speed tests, I can give more information to our ISP, and hopefully someone will look into it.

Finally, one brief piece of the0logy. Anyone who sees my study will notice – apart from the mess – that I love to have a range of commentaries on the books of the Bible. I don’t have less than two on any one book, so that I can read more than one opinion (if I have time!), and in the case of John’s Gospel I have – ahem – ten. So there I was going through some old blog posts I hadn’t read, especially enjoying Chris Tilling‘s musings on theology and trivia, when I happened upon his link of the day from a fortnight ago. He had come across a website called Best Commentaries. It is in the process of aggregating reviews of commentaries. It has begun with some very conservative sources, but the webmaster left a comment at Chris’ post indicating he’s open to suggestions from other backgrounds, too. If you like finding good commentaries and dislike the expense of buying guides or subscribing to this journal and that, then this site might well be worth a look.

Sabbatical, Day 20: Libraries, Linux And Slow Broadband

If anything demonstrates a failure to understand different religions today, it’s this story: Bible moved to library top shelf over inequality fears. Muslims in Leicester had been upset to find the Koran on lower shelves of public libraries. They felt their holy text should be on the top shelf to show that it is above commonplace things. Librarians agreed to their request, but also moved copies of the Bible to the top shelf.

I’m prepared to believe they did so out of good intentions. Perhaps they didn’t want to look like they were favouring Islam over other faiths. Perhaps they thought all holy texts should be treated the same, as if the holy book of a religion occupies the same relative place in each faith. If so, they were adopting an approach that has been used in schools to teach about different religions. It takes the phenomena of various faiths, and directly compares them. It is a flawed approach. For, as reaction to this story shows, religious texts are treated differently. My research supervisor, Richard Bauckham, used to say that the place of the Koran in Islam was more akin to the place of Christ in Christianity, because it is revered as eternal, uncreated and coming down out of heaven. 

Christians do not treat the Bible that way, however ‘high’ their doctrine of inspiration. In the story, even the spokesperson for the extremely conservative Christian Institute is concerned that the scriptures are not placed out of reach. They are meant to be within the reach of all, a point understood by the spokesperson for Civitas when he called for libraries to be run on principles of librarianship rather than as places of worship. However much we honour the Bible for its revelation of God, we do not worship it. Only God is to be worshipped. The Bible is a holy tool. Like all tools, it needs to be close at hand.

How ironic this news comes in the same week that the atheist Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that children need to be taught the Bible or they will fail to understand our culture. As a Christian, I would of course want to make much larger claims for the narrative of Scripture than that, arguing that it is the framework to make sense of life, the universe and everything. However, I welcome his comments nonetheless.

Meanwhile, on the personal front, once again family circumstances have meant I’ve achieved none of my sabbatical aims today. I stayed in with Mark this morning while Debbie, Aunt Pat and Rebekah went into town. At lunch-time, Debbie and Pat left for a day trip to Sussex. However, Mark has been full of beans – or, more accurately even more pasta shapes – and we managed his first trip out this afternoon since he became ill. The local library was putting on a James Bond afternoon for children. If I took it seriously, I wouldn’t like it. Although I’m not a convinced pacifist, I don’t believe you talk about guns and poison casually. The visiting speaker was from a military museum, and was showing examples of equipment used by British spies a few decades ago. Thankfully, it went over our children’s heads and they were more keen to take out some of the books to which they normally gravitate. 

Finally, I’m trying to install some extras to the Ubuntu Linux partition on my laptop, ready for my next sabbatical jaunt on Monday. Some things install better on that Vista laptop than our Vista desktop – Ubuntu, for one! I might reboot into Windows and see whether the software for my Sony Ericcson Walkman phone will install properly on that machine – it doesn’t on the desktop. Everything so far has been immensely frustrating, because our broadband has slowed to a crawl in the last day or two. I tested it at and it reported a download speed of just 0.1 Mbps. I’ve been trying to find out tonight whether we’ve been throtted by our ISP for over-use, but so far I can’t find anything – not that it’s easy to find out. I’m going to sign off now and try again to find out some answers.

Sabbatical, Day 19: Skate Parks, Writing Styles And … Oh Yuck

I’m going to kick off with one or two links I found today. First of all, Malmesbury Abbey has been turned into a skate park. The BBC reports it as a novelty; clearly they haven’t heard of Legacy XS.

I took a ‘What kind of writer are you?’ test and got a bizarre result:


You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer


Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you’re from.        

And while you may have some problems being “normal,” you’ll have no problems writing sci-fi.

Whether it’s epic films, important novels, or vivid comics…

Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world! 

Mind you, Debbie often wonders what planet I’m on. :)

Like I said, I thought it was a bizarre result. I see myself rather more journalistic.

Having said that, Mark’s illness has again meant little or no chance for proper sabbatical study today. The vomiting returned when he woke up, and we took him back to the doctor, also reporting sore throat, ear and stomach, plus a rash on his thigh and other stuff. The GP was now pretty sure he had tonsillitis and so out came the prescription for the much-unloved banana medicine (a.k.a. amoxicillin). He advised us to alternate Calpol and Calprofen to keep the pain down.

Well, the Calprofen had an immediate effect, at least until about half an hour before another dose was due each time, and this afternoon he picked up considerably while his sister, Mum and ‘Aunt Pat’ were out ten pin bowling. He even wanted something to eat at dinnertime. Knowing that big sister was getting macaroni cheese, he said he fancied some pasta. Off he went to find the tins of pasta shapes, and came back with what he wanted: Heinz Disney Princess pasta shapes in tomato sauce. Which he demolished. And they stayed down.

Until after his bath, anyway, when he gagged on amoxicillin. That, Calprofen and pasta shapes ended up sprayed on towels and elsewhere. However, we’re quietly confident he’s turned the corner. We’ll see how he gets on tomorrow.

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