Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Modesty Wraps E-Petition

Whenever we go into our local Co-Op, it has no facility to put anything high up on an aisle. That includes the magazines. My eight-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son are confronted almost at their eye level by the despicable excuse for journalism that is known as ‘lads’ mags’ – Nuts, Zoo and their ilk. Why they should face this message that the way for a woman to attract men is to strip off is beyond me. I really should speak to the manager of the store.

So while I’m not the biggest fan of e-petitions to Government, here’s one I want to support and have signed. It is a campaign to make ‘modesty wraps’ a legal requirement. That is, something should be wrapped around these magazines and other worse titles so that people are not assaulted by these images. We’re not going to get these trashy comics banned, but this might be the next best thing.

Sign the petition here. Follow the founder of the campaign on Google+ here. Join the Facebook group  here. From the Facebook group I have learned that the issue started with another Co-Op store, and it seems to be a particular issue with this company that makes such big noises about its ethical stances. They say they are ‘good for everyone’: let’s see whether they mean it. I hope they do.

There is an excellent blog post here on the subject.

Please sign the petition. Please make it known. Please encourage others to support the campaign.

Carol Service Talk

I’m doing a short talk at tomorrow evening’s carol service, using PowerPoint to go through some of the characters in the nativity story, to see where we might identify with them. The presentation is below from Slideshare: when I previewed this post, I couldn’t find the two tabs, the right hand one of which is for ‘Speaker Notes’ for each slide, where you would find the bones of what I am going to say. So if the notes don’t show up below in your web browser, go here to find them.

Going Away In A Manger

A Guardian journalist has spent a night in a stable, rented from a non-Christian family who are fed up with the commercialisation of Christmas. All money goes to Leukaemia and Lymphoma research; the wife, a GP, will spend Christmas on duty in a hospital A & E unit.

Something to chew on?

Coffee With Jesus

This video has been around quite a while now. Does it get too close to the truth about the practice of prayer as a shallow monologue?

You can buy and download it here, BTW.

Christmas Is Really For The … Er, Politicians?

More and more this year I’m hearing people say that Christmas is really for the children. Which always seems odd to me, however much I enjoy seeing the festival through my children’s eyes. Didn’t Jesus come for us all, and for all creation?

Many years ago, the poet Steve Turner identified this in his poem ‘Christmas Is Really For The Children‘:

Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrop
of spring.

Or they’d do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there’s any connection.

Yet if Easter is political, so is Christmas. In an article published ten days ago in the Telegraph, Dr Stephen Holmes of St Andrew’s University argues that the Christmas story is irreducibly political.  And while some may moan, even – especially! – in the same publication, surely Dr Holmes is essentially right, even if some might query certain details. The criticism to which I have just linked ludicrously puts Dr Holmes in the same categories as those who have previously poured sceptical waters on the supernatural elements of Christmas. Dr Holmes would be rather surprised by this, as someone theologically conservative enough to have been engaged at times by Spring Harvest and serves on the Council of the Evangelical Alliance!
He is right to protest against Victorian sentimentality that removes the contemporary force of the Christmas story. Mary was a single teenage mother, even if the circumstances were different. Joseph and Mary with the young Jesus were asylum seekers in Egypt. The politicians oppose Jesus. The religious establishment doesn’t get it. Power is inflicted ruthlessly upon the poor in the mechanics of the census.

Of course, some of the politicians will try to own Christmas, but they will do so with trite and inane clichés, if past form indicates anything. They too will seek to empty the story of its force.

There’s an N T Wright quote doing the rounds among Christians on Facebook right now that seems to get it right, in my opinion:

Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place… Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight.

As the old slogan puts it, if Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, then he is not Lord at all. That includes politics, and the whole shebang.

We’re Off To Deconstruct The Wizard

Andrew. Lloyd. And Webber. Three words that strike fear into my music-loving heart.

Musicals are just not my thing. But a week ago, we took the children for a pre-Christmas treat to the London Palladium to see Lloyd-Webber‘s staging of The Wizard Of Oz, complete with the additional songs that he and Tim Rice have written to fill out the famous Hollywood film into a full musical.

And I have to say, that while it is not my taste, I had to admire the quality of the production – the staging, the singing, the special effects, the lot. For our children’s first ever visit to a West End production, it was pretty unbeatable.

But me being me, I was sitting through it pondering deeper meanings. I have thought for a while that The Wizard Of Oz was a prime text for post-Enlightenment modernists, with its unveiling of the Wizard as a mere mortal, whose apparent supernatural abilities are unmasked as mere human trickery. Is this the musical the New Atheists would like? I know, I should have been enjoying the show, but my mind was exploring tangents. And furthermore, I was wrong anyway. Reading the programme afterwards, I discovered that L Frank Baum, who wrote the story, had a completely different meaning in mind. My response was a classic of reader-response theory, you could say.
Baum’s meanings were all to do with the economic and political situation of the 1890s. The brick road was yellow to represent the gold standard. Dorothy’s slippers were silver (they only became red in the film to promote the virtues of Technicolor) to stand for those who also thought free silver should play a part in the economy. The Kansas farmers were poor agricultural victims of the economic times. The scarecrow is the farmers, the tin man the troubled industrial workers and the cowardly lion is unsuccessful Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who refused to support the Spanish-American war. The Wicked Witch of the East stood for the evil financial institutions. The Wicked Witch of the West was the climactic conditions that ruined lives. The good witch came about, because Baum was a devotee of Theosophy and Spiritualism. The Wizard himself was almost any post-civil war US President, including perhaps William McKinley, who defeated Bryan. They were to be seen, in Dorothy’s terms, as ‘humbug’.

Which raises different questions today from the one I thought the story asked: why do we still expect our political leaders to be wizards? Why do we complain when their wizardry is unmasked? And can we ever expect more than humbug from them? What, in short, is a realistic expectation of our politicians, especially at a time of economic difficulty, such as our current circumstances?

What Would Jesus Do?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written a thoughtful piece in the Christmas double issue of Radio Times (some of which is reproduced here on his own site) where he takes on the way the Occupy movement has taken up the popular evangelical slogan, ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD). Dr Williams points out that Jesus is often more about asking people questions than giving them answers, and when religion is like that, it is often at its most constructive. There is further background on the BBC website in a piece by Stephen Tomkins of Ship Of Fools.

What do you think? How easy, possible or desirable is it to answer the WWJD question?

More Advent And Nativity Material

A bumper selection, collected and curated by Joanne Cox, is on BigBible.

When ‘Church Unity’ Trumps The Gospel

Reported in many places, but particularly well in USA Today: Kentucky church barrs interracial couples as members.


The recommendation “is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve,” according to the copy supplied by Harville to the Herald-Leader.

Yeah, right.

Not that we should be too smug. Churches are particularly good at elevating all sorts of things above the gospel as a false display of unity. This example is particularly vile, though.