Monthly Archives: January 2009

Just Another Brit Offering Thoughts On Inauguration Prayers

Today’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth (what’s the obsession with numbers?) President of the USA was the first one I have watched on the Internet. Thank you, BBC. I guess it was appropriate, given the way Obama leveraged the web in his campaign.

Actually, I can’t remember the last one I watched on the small screen. Watching on the web was a pragmatic decision, knowing that if I put it on the television, the children would cry out for Nick Junior.

I didn’t catch the whole shebang, since I was dashing in and out of the study from the kitchen where I was cooking the family meal. What I saw of Obama impressed me. Yes, the words of his speech were very general, but I don’t see how they could be otherwise. I felt he communicated honesty and realism with his evident oratorical gifts. As everyone says, the real test will be in the days to come. Well, no surprise there.

I caught a fair bit of Rick Warren’s prayer, but again not all of it. The whole of it was inevitably up on YouTube rather quickly:

If I thought about it, there would probably be parts with which I would quibble. However, it seemed to me that the tone of Warren’s prayer was one of evangelical conviction combined with a reaching out rather than a tone of condemnation. You may feel differently – do say below.

I found quite a contrast with Gene Robinson’s prayer earlier in the week, also available on YouTube:

Now I admit openly that theologically I am far more likely to be close to Warren than Robinson. I also left a barbed comment on a friend’s Facebook page when she rejoiced that Obama had invited Robinson and that the bishop had promised not to be overtly Christian in reaching out to people of other faiths.

But having said that, I felt I owed the man a fair hearing in case I had been wrong in the heat of the moment. So tonight I watched the clip above.

And I’m still disappointed. I don’t want to get into the pro- or anti-gay issues here, there are larger questions about the theology and tone of the prayer. There are things in it with which I can happily agree, especially the importance of remembering the poor in the world rather than being triumphalistic. However, my concern about the tone is that it all sounds rather hectoring. It seems to fall into the category of prayer as ‘preaching with eyes closed’. Am I being unfair? I realise this is a rather subjective judgment. It may be his accent!

The theology is of rather more concern. His opening phrase is the one that sets up the idea of reaching out without being specifically Christian: ‘O God of our many understandings …’ You will not be surprised to know that someone of  moderately conservative theological persuasions has difficulties with this. Is belief in God a matter merely of human understanding? If so, where does the Christian belief in Jesus fit in? Granted, the doctrine of revelation has its problems, especially when some people claim a near-infallible understanding of the whole counsel of God, but I’m just not prepared to trade in the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ, especially focussed in his incarnation, his exemplary life, his atoning death and resurrection, and his reign at the Father’s right hand. Has Robinson merely baptised secular inclusivism with God-words?

I’d be interested in your opinions. I just ask that since Warren and Robinson are both the subject of passionate views for and against, that we keep our tone as civil and loving as possible, without compromising our convictions.

Some Surprising Medical News

Anyone who ever watched that classic 1990s comedy programme The Fast Show might remember one of the minor characters, Bob Fleming. He’s the man with the persistent cough – Fleming, geddit? 

I am Bob Fleming.

It wasn’t until my early twenties when I went to see my GP about something else and she said, “Good grief, you’ve got a horrible cough there” that I realised it was abnormal not to spend the first two hours of every morning clearing my sinuses and coughing. I kept Kleenex in business – what was so unusual about that?

She sent me to see an ENT specialist. “What’s your problem?” he asked.

“I don’t think I’ve got a problem,” I replied.

The frustrated consultant questioned me more until I explained the back story. “Well,” he said, “the x-ray shows you have a polyp in your left nostril, but it’s clearly been there from birth and it’s evidently benign, so if you’re not worried I don’t see the point of surgery to remove it. Besides, it’s a rather messy operation.”

Now if a doctor says an operation is messy, I guess it’s very messy. Being offered the chance not to have a grotty procedure, I was glad to be discharged from the clinic. Later doctors put me on a repeat prescription of Beconase to keep the polyp down and deal with the allergic symptoms it gave me (it’s like having hay fever all year round).

And that was my situation until just before Christmas. At our current doctor’s practice, all repeat presscriptions are reviewed every six to twelve months. I had a review of my Beconase with one of the GPs. I said I wondered whether we ought to look at the question of my sinuses again. He assured me surgery had come a long way, and we might even just be looking at keyhole surgery by now to deal with the polyp.

So this morning, I had an out-patient appointment at the local hospital ENT clinic. A specialist inflicted local anaesthetic on both nostrils and then sent a camera up each of them in turn.

The verdict? There is no polyp. I don’t have a sinus problem, but I have a genuine breathing problem. The reason is that my nasal septum is out of shape on the left nostril side, and this makes gunk collect rather than dissipate easily. And no, you can’t explain my damaged septum by cocaine use. I’ve never been near the stuff. The doctor thought I had been this way since birth.

It’s possible that all the years of Beconase have shrunk the polyp out of existence. The curious question is why the consultant I saw in my twenties didn’t notice the out of shape septum. But that’s mucus under the bridge now.

I have been changed to a new nasal spray in place of Beconase. I await an x-ray appointment. Three weeks after that, I shall return to ENT and discuss whether to have surgery that will correct the kink in the septum.

All these years I have been living under a medical misapprehension. It’s amazing how often we do live under misconceptions in life. Only yesterday, our daughter wanted to have a conversation with me about Jamie Oliver the footballer.

“He’s not a footballer, he’s a chef,” I said.

“No, he’s a footballer,” insisted Rebekah.

“Well, you might have seen him kicking a ball on television and perhaps he enjoys football, but really he’s a chef,” I replied.

She wasn’t convinced, so I got Debbie’s copy of The Return Of The Naked Chef off the bookshelf. Showing her some pictures of recipés convinced her I was right.

The preacher in me can make a sermon illustration out of this – how people live under delusions and need convincing of the truth. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to do that work of convincing.

So people live under the delusion that their goodness will earn them a welcome from God. The Gospel shatters this with a message of grace and mercy. Richard Dawkins publishes ‘The God Delusion’ and only proves he is living under the greatest delusion of all, where even human wisdom is foolishnes in the eyes of God.

And we still live under delusions in the Church. We are on a lifelong (maybe even eternal) journey of having our delusions shattered, as the Light of the World shines into our darkness. When we receive and pass on a tradition without understanding it, we fall foul of the old maxim that the seven last words of a dying church are, “But we’ve always done it this way.” We practise Einstein’s definition of insanity, in which we keep doing the same things while expecting a different result.

The delusion-breaking work of regeneration is essential. But it is not the last word. It is God’s first word. He who began a good work in us will complete it on the day of Christ Jesus, says Paul in Philippians 1: the shattering has only just begun. We need to welcome it as it continues throughout our lives, for it is a critical component of discipleship.

What Kind Of Leadership, If Any?

So a church member says to me, “The church needs leadership. We’ve had it up to here with namby-pamby enabling.”

And I think, I don’t think he’s saying I’m namby-pamby. But – since I’m going to think a bit about our understanding of ordained ministry and its relationship to missional Christianity and Fresh Expressions during my sabbatical – maybe this helps set some direction as I boil down my reading list.

Wait – because before I can think down any tangents, he dismisses Fresh Expressions. Since none of the examples on the (first) DVD were outright revival and because the Holy Spirit is the same today as in Wesley’s day, it’s a dead end. Fresh Expressions are clearly both namby and pamby. And furthermore, I’m fairly sympathetic to them.

And I make some connections with a brief conversation I had earlier that day with my friend Nigel, whose church has been growing numerically in recent years. We were talking about books on leadership. “Spend two days with Bill Hybels‘ ‘Courageous Leadership‘,” he advises. “You won’t regret it.”

Looking up the book on Amazon (see the link above) leads me to the solitary review of it there. The reviewer quite likes it, but there are a few caveats. One: can it be translated from American to British culture? Two: Hybels, as senior pastor of a megachurch, has the privilege of recruiting staff from a huge pool, within and without the congregation. Three: he quotes a senior churchman who says it’s a management book with a bit of Christianity bolted on. Hold that last thought.

Saturday comes, and my wife Debbie visits the local library, because the previous evening an automated phone message informs her that two books she had reserved were in for her. When she returns, I’m pleased to see that one of them is a book I’d decided to read during the sabbatical, but had saved money by ordering it on her library card. It’s one that is popular in missional and emerging church circles. It’s not a Christian book, but – guess what? – a business book. ‘The Starfish and the Spider‘ by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. Subtitle? ‘The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations’. Leaderless. That’s right.

So here’s the contrast, and it’s familiar to many. Megachurches have a business approach to leadership. The senior pastor is the CEO. Emerging and missional churches like to be leaderless and resist the ‘head honcho’ approach.

But … missional Christians are just as much taking their ideas from business books as megachurches.

Both would claim biblical support for their approaches. Megachurches would find some support for a directive approach. Missional churches can find enough evidence for a servant style (if servant leadership isn’t an oxymoron, but that’s a debating point).

Therefore, what makes one choose a particular school of business thought? Is it about theology or culture or both? Is it about what fits Scripture or what fits preconceived ideas – or both? And do we then try to fit this stuff to us, like Cinderella’s ugly sisters trying to wear the glass slipper?

And haven’t we been this way before? Theologians have often overtly adapted a particular philosophical school and done their theology within it. Thomas Aquinas framed his work within Aristotle. Rudolf Bultmann and John Macquarrie saw everything through the lens of existentialism. The difference this time is the unknowing adoption of secular philosophies. Earlier iterations of this debate about leadership led to concepts of clergy professionalisation that have become debatable and divisive.

Maybe missional Christianity needs to keep an eye out for when it is unknowingly adopting cultural preferences.

Meanwhile, the approach to leadership remains unresolved.

Children And Atonement

On Thursday, I took two assemblies at our children’s school for the first time – one with Key Stage 1 (a.k.a. ‘infants) and one with Key Stage 2 (‘juniors’ to oldies like me). I am doing this as part of a team from two or three local churches. We are taking incidents from the life of Jesus this term. Last week’s speaker, Helen, used the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I couldn’t get anything together on the visit to Jerusalem when he was twelve. So, with the aid of Scripture Union‘s rather decent Big Bible Storybook, I looked at his baptism. I also purloined a doll of Rebekah’s, which Debbie dressed in the very christening robe she and her sister had worn as babies.

Further, I borrowed a portable font from church. It was interesting to hear the children’s answers when I asked them what I thought it was. Some thought it was an urn (wrong end of life, I guess). My favourite wrong guess was from the child who thought it contained tombola tickets.

Without going into the whole of my talk, I got to the point where Jesus asks John to baptise him and John protests, only for Jesus to say it’s what God wants. I took that as an early sign of Jesus identifying with sinful humanity (it’s OK, I didn’t use that level of language). Therefore, I said, it was a sign of what Jesus would do in his death on the Cross.

Thus I asked the children how they would feel if they had done something naughty and a friend offered to take the blame for them. In both assemblies, the answer was the same: ‘Kind.’ No worrying about whether it was just or ethical for an innocent person to be condemned in place of the guilty, they saw the heart of such an approach was love.

I couldn’t help thinking they might be further on than many of us who discuss the atonement as adults. There are crude statements of substitution that sound like Jesus was placating an angry God, that overlook the rôle of the Trinity or that forget the Resurrection. Some fail to see that the word ‘sacrifice’ is about more than a sin offering in the Old Testament. There are other images of the  atonement in Scripture. (I owe use of the word ‘image’ to George Carey, who prefers it to ‘theory’.) Yet you cannot completely expunge some form of substitution.

And these primary school kids got the fact that it’s about love. Great.

For a more nuanced discussion, Tom Wright’s article for Fulcrum two years ago is always a good starting point. He is glad the church has not defined the theories of the atonement too tightly, yet he rejects both those who caricature and dismiss substitution and also those who hold onto it in a severe way.

Removing The Cross In Coronation Street

Last week we discussed the church that removed a graphic crucifix in Horsham. This week, a similar issue has hit British television. The Daily Mail, Times and Daily Telegraph all report the case of a wedding scene in soapland, where the television crew wanted to remove a cross from a church where they were filming said wedding. On learning that the cross was fixed, they obscured it with candles and flowers.

Why did they do it? It certainly wasn’t for realism. Dry ice wafted through the scene – so just like any church service, then. According to church sources, they said they didn’t want to cause offence.

I didn’t see the show. Not only do I see very little TV, I’m allergic to soaps. I’ve been catching up on the issue after two church members told me about it.

In fairness, the television company has since apologised for the error and conducted an investigation. They believe there has been a misunderstanding over their intentions and motives. I wonder how the story would have been reported if the church had protested directly to Granada first and not gone public until after this investigation.

However, my main interest here is this: it’s curious to see the language used by the church leaders in protesting, and what it might imply. I’m particularly interested in the language of ‘offence’. In the Daily Mail report linked above, Stephen Regan of the Diocese of Chester is reported as saying,

The cross is universally accepted as a symbol of Christianity, and should offend no one.

Er, hold on? The first part of his sentence is correct, but from the beginning of faith in Jesus the cross has been an offence. If the cross has been reduced to symbol in the sense of a corporate logo, then I suppose it wouldn’t offend, but that isn’t what we’re about.

Similarly, James Milnes, the rector of the parish, quoted in the Telegraph story linked above, rightly says that Granada Television had 

emptied the church of the very thing that makes it a church

in that the Cross is what makes us the community of God. Absolutely. I once wanted to design a church letterhead as not showing a line drawing of the building, but people around the Cross.

However, what is strange is the extended quotation from his church magazine:

How can people think it offensive to see a cross in a church, in the same way as you would normally see the Koran in a mosque or the Torah in a synagogue? That is the emblem of this faith.

This has a resonance around the country. It plays into who we are as a nation because I do not think we have a clear idea as English people. We do not really know where we are going.

There is constant attrition to our way of life. You can’t say this or you can’t say that for fear of offending. Who can we possibly be offending?

If ’emblem’ has become ‘logo’, then again one can understand the shock at the sense of offence. But the Cross itself is offensive to many who do not know the power of the Gospel. Muslims would see the death of a ‘prophet’ such as Jesus as being demeaning to the dignity of God. To traditional Jews, one thinks of Paul quoting Deuteronomy in Galatians, ‘Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.’ To the Greeks of Paul’s day, it was foolishness, and it remains that to many people today.

To Christians, it is the glory of God’s love and grace. And that is what I understand the Revd Milnes and Mr Regan defending. However, they cannot expect it to lack offence. Here’s just a thought: do they take things this way because they have an ‘Established Church’ mentality? I’m just guessing, and may be doing them a disservice. If I am, I will apologise. However, Milnes clearly links the issue to the confused current destiny of being English, so I don’t think I’m too far off the mark, even if I am wrong.

Yet as the Christian Church in the UK seeks a mission rôle as a minority group in society, I can’t help thinking that more helpful models of church are needed. I’ve spoken and written before, as others of a missional theological mindset have, of ‘exile’ as a helpful biblical model. From the perspective of church history, I find myself heading more in Anabaptist directions all the time. I don’t pretend that’s easy, in fact it risks being painful, but I do think the changed and changing society in which we live means we need to look for some different paradigms on which to model our witness.

In typing this, I am mindful of an interview in the February 2009 issue of Christianity Magazine, with Ann Widdecombe MP (the interview will probably not be online for another month). For anyone reading this who doesn’t know British politics, Miss Widdecombe is a Conservative Member of Parliament who famously left the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church in opposition to women’s ordination. In the interview, she is asked about the current vexed issue of the establishment of the Church of England. She replies:

I would die in a ditch for the establishment of the Church of England. The last people I would expect to find in the ditch beside me are the hierarchy of the Church of England. If we didn’t have an established Church, the last fig leaf in our claim to be a Christian country would have gone.

But there’s the problem. Claiming the UK is a Christian nation is a fig leaf. Widdecombe would doubtless wish to protect establishment (even though she went over to Rome) for political reasons of constitution, and certainly some of the reasons advocated by politicians for disestablishment are weak and unChristian. But right now establishment is not protecting the rights of Christians in the courts when religious freedoms are trumped by other freedoms, so that some Christians cannot exercise their consciences and keep certain jobs. In that atmosphere, it’s hardly realistic to expect that people won’t find the Cross offensive.

In saying all this, I may of course be putting too much weight on the use of the words ‘offend’ and ‘offending’ as used by Stephen Regan and James Milnes. Perhaps what Mr Regan really means is ‘surprised’. However, Revd Milnes uses his language in a context of objecting to ‘political correctness’, and so I am a little more sure that he really does mean to be concerned about the problem of offence. Certainly, the risk of offending people provided it is with the substance of the Gospel rather than just by being aggressive Christians (step forward Stephen Green of Christian Voice, who inevitably responded to requests for a quote) is a risk we must take today. If we do not, we shall not be faithful to the Gospel.

Interestingly, the Telegraph has this week carried the story of an Asian Christian minister in Scotland who claims he was sacked from an Asian community radio station for supporting Christianity and criticising a Muslim’s understanding of the Christian faith. The station disputes his account, and asked for questions to be put in writing. However, the Telegraph received no response to its fourteen points. If the case has been accurately portrayed in the newspaper (and I don’t think the station’s failure to respond looks good), then sadly this is the climate in which more and more British Christians live. Mr Milnes and his parishioners may have had a rude awakening into it, even if it was a misunderstanding and Granada Television meant no offence. This is not to seek persecution or develop some unhelpful persecution complex, which some Christians play on, but it is, I think, to be more realistic.

Over to you.

Sins Of The Drivers

On Wednesday morning, I had to drive to a school in order to take an assembly. The fog that had been around at the time of the school run had thickened, even on our suburban estate. Immediately, I put on dipped headlights. Within thirty seconds, I had amended that decision: fog lights were necessary.

Other drivers were on fog lights or dipped. A few had just side lights on. But what astonished me was the number of drivers who didn’t put on any lights at all. 

I say ‘astonished’, but it’s a fault I’ve seen around here quite a few times. Another besetting sin of local drivers is the desire to overtake on roundabouts. In Medway, where we previously lived, there was another example: many drivers there seemed to regard red traffic lights as purely advisory. It’s as if each area has characteristic sins – particular driving habits seem like an easy example to me.

These are not the first places where I have seen this. When I trained for the ministry in Manchester, I noticed that the city was infused with a spirit of rivalry. Rivalry with London, rivalry with Leeds (which was becoming a comparable financial centre in the north of England at the time) and rivalry with Liverpool. Indeed, I saw one visiting speaker effectively take down the smugness of some evangelical Christian leaders in Manchester once, when he told them there were more evangelicals in Liverpool, a city they had written off as ‘hopelessly Catholic’.

Some of my fellow charismatic Christian friends have an answer for this, in terms of the doctrine of ‘territorial spirits‘. Many years ago (again, while in Manchester) I did some research into the claimed biblical basis for this belief, which is particularly dependent upon Daniel 10, and concluded it was nothing like as biblical as is popularly claimed in some circles. I don’t have time to rehearse my entire argument here, but to give one quick example I find no evidence in Scripture that fruitful evangelisation of a city depends on binding the ‘ruling spirits’ of that place first. I don’t see either Jesus doing it in the Gospels, nor the apostles in Acts or the Epistles.

However, the topic was clearly of interest to some Christians at the time. Upon buying a book on the subject in one major Christian bookshop in the city, the sales assistant serving me asked, “So what do you think the spirits over Manchester are?” There was just an assumption in some circles that the theory was true.

Nevertheless, I am convinced both of the existence of demons (on the grounds of Jesus’ own testimony, which I find hard to demythologise) and that places seem to have a kind of ‘corporate character’. This has some similarities with a belief in structural sin, I guess, and I think there is something in that, although I don’t find it sufficient alone.

It has also been noted in similar ways by secular writers. One example would be Peter Ackroyd‘s history of London, entitled ‘London: The Biography‘. Biographies are about people, and Ackroyd knew that when he chose his title and method. There is a danger of taking this the wrong way and it turning animist, but I remain pretty sure that particular geographical areas exhibit particular characteristics.

What might explain the notion that a certain area has characteristic sins? Might it be something to do with the way the culture operates? And might it admittedly be possible for demonic forces to take advantage of that? Walter Wink took us so far with structural sin, but might we need to go further without swallowing the territorial spirits theology?

What do you think?

Tooth Extraction

This morning, I went for a tooth extraction. It failed. Not that I blame the dentist at all: she called in the senior partner, who confirmed that the roots of the tooth were, er, too healthy to come out. They were long and awkward. I have been referred to a specialist dentist for them either to cut into the gum or even into the bone next to the gum to get the roots out. It will be either more local anaesthetic or sedation.

It must have been bad, even my wife was sorry for me. I was sorry for myself, anyway – natch! I’ve kept trying to make the site of the work cold to reduce the soreness. After a couple of hours, I gave into the dentist’s counsel and took some ibuprofen.

The experience reminded me of something the Jesuit John Powell wrote in one of his books. Someone said to him, ‘When you have a toothache, who are you thinking of?’

‘Myself,’ he replied.

‘Exactly,’ said the other person. Powell drew the lesson that when we are in pain it is so easy to be consumed with ourselves.

When I remembered that story in the middle of my inconsequential gum discomfort today, I thought all the more of the people I know whose witness under extreme, chronic and sometimes terminal pain is quite extraordinary. I think of a woman in one of my congregations here who suffers from degenerative lung and skin conditions. Yet she and her husband are a tonic to visit. She has a compassion for others that is equalled by few. Her own pain is complicated by the fact that in the past she has received ‘miraculous’ healing from God. Not with her current conditions, though, at least not to date.

I long that she does not continue to deteriorate in the way she is doing, slowly. I hope and pray for her winsome witness to play out in a pain-free life. I would rather see any Christian eventually die ‘old and full of years’ as Scripture puts it, rather than from some hideous, yes evil condition.

Yet we follow One who thought of others in the midst of unmentionable physical and spiritual pain, the One who said, ‘Today, you will be in Paradise with me’ to the penitent thief and who ensured his own mother would receive care.

Sometimes pastoral ministry means a relentless contact with people in terrible situations. I can find my mind consumed with morbid thoughts of mortality as a consequence. But there is also an immense privilege in encountering those who know suffering I hope I never personally experience, yet who think not of themselves but of Christ and others.

Sermons, Worship And Stuff

My eagle-eyed reader will have noticed there was no sermon posted on the site this weekend. (My wife says you should be rejoicing. If you wondered why I posted about the dressing gown yesterday, I just wanted to get some writing out of my system.)

That’s because I wasn’t preaching today. I led some prayers in a Christingle service this morning at St Augustine’s followed by leading a short said communion, and some more intercessions tonight in a circuit service to commission three worship leaders.

The Christingle service was fun. Jane, my Anglican colleague, made a boy in the congregation into a human Christingle. I just hope he got the orange make-up off before his football game this afternoon. 

Tonight it was good to celebrate the gifts of three worship leaders. Berniece, sadly, couldn’t be with us, as she had been taken to hospital this week. But Joe and Dianne, both from churches I serve, are the sort of people any minister would want to have in their congregations.

Next week I may or may not post a new sermon. In the evening I’ll have a café church service where we discuss some clips from a DVD. In the morning I’m on a pulpit exchange to mark the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and so I shall be doing my minister stuff at a local United Reformed Church while a Catholic lay pastoral assistant fills my pulpit. It might be one of those weeks where it would be helpful to lift the pressure by repeating an old sermon, not least with assemblies at two different schools (including my children’s school for the first time), all sorts of other meetings and the minor detour of a tooth extraction tomorrow morning.

Come three weeks’ time and there will be a protracted period of there being no new sermons on the blog. It will last three months. On 1st February I start a sabbatical. Not that I’m deserting the family for long periods of times, so no burglars who know our address should contemplate an unfriendly visit. But naturally I am looking forward to it. My recent laptop purchase was ready for that experience, and hopefully when the sabbatical starts I’ll be able to blog my experiences regularly.

So that brings you up to date with things.

You Can Do Big Things With Love

Just found this Clay Shirky video rather belatedly via Bill Kinnon last month:

Shirky uses geeky stories to make the point that the old model of doing small things with love whereas large things need commerce isn’t the whole truth any more. There are plenty of applications to church and mission. See what you think.

Famous Last Words

Yesterday was the day Debbie and I had been waiting for since we moved to Chelmsford in August 2005. We had worked out when both of our children would finally be full-time at school, and it would be January 2009. Hence, with Rebekah having been at school since September 2007, Mark would step up from mornings only (which he’d done for the Autumn Term) to a whole day this last week. We had promised ourselves lunch out together, just the two of us.

And so it came to pass that yesterday we found ourselves in the first place we had earmarked for a lunch date: the local branch of La Tasca. Yes, it’s a restaurant chain but rather nicer than any chains we ever had in Medway and neither of us had ever eaten Tapas. We arrived with a voucher for fifty per cent off our meal and discovered they had a better deal: lunch for two for ten pounds (drinks and gratuity excluded).

So it was that we enjoyed chorizo sausage, squid (well I did, Debbie doesn’t like seafood), vegetarian paella, Spanish omelette and a beautifully dressed salad. Hungry, anyone?

Afterwards, knowing that we needed a new salt and pepper set, we headed for Debenham’s, trying to score a bargain in their sale, if any were left. Our old salt mill fools everyone because it has a plastic cover on the bottom to avoid a mess. Many of our guests don’t notice this if we forget to tell them and then wonder why they aren’t getting any salt. The pepper mill had – shall we say, ground to a halt. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.)

Having taken the escalator from outside the back of the store to the first floor, we discovered that the ‘home’ section of the store was on the second floor. As we climbed a flight of stairs, we were assaulted by lurid (if they can be in monochrome) posters bragging about all the designer labels the shop sells. I expressed my disdain about people who pay out just to be seen with a particular name on their clothing, and on we went.

Then the inevitable happened. Debbie reminded me my dressing gown was tatty and I needed a new one. She saw some in the sale. Twelve pounds. Excellent. Except they were a designer label. John Rocha.

So much for eschewing designers. At that price I caved in and dragged it around the store while continuing to look for salt and pepper mills. My big anti-designer words went out of the window at the sight of the price. I guess Naomi Klein won’t be signing me up that quickly. At least I won’t be inviting you around to see me wearing the dressing gown. You wouldn’t want to see me first thing in the morning. So I’m not buying it to show off. And doubtless there are those who would consider it inappropriate for me to own such a garment: perhaps the church is paying me too much.

The cruet set? Well, there was nothing in the sale. We settled on a cheap (by Debenham’s standards) set for ten pounds, passing on the sets that retailed for twenty or even thirty-six. That’s more like it.