Category Archives: Current Affairs

Sir David Frost, RIP

It was a shock to arrive home from worship at lunch time today and read the news of David Frost’s sudden death. Not that I knew him, of course, but for eight years of my ministry I lived in what was known locally among Medway Methodists as ‘the Frost manse’. He had grown up there when his father, the Reverend Paradine Frost, had been the local Methodist minister. (Hence David’s middle name of Paradine and his production company being named Paradine Productions.) If Sir David was at the forefront of the British satire explosion in the early 1960s, their roots were not in his Cambridge University days, as some might claim, but in his young character. I can think of a church member who was in Sunday School and Youth Club with him who said how mischievous he was then, and an organist at the crematorium who confirmed similar stories from his school days.

While I was living there, BBC2 filmed a tribute night to Sir David. It included a scene where he stood outside ‘my’ manse. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in at the time of filming, and I only learned about it later from a friend, Jen Doragh, who sometimes comments here.

One thing he deserves to be remembered for, I believe, is the deeply moral streak he brought both to satire and to political interviewing. Without That Was The Week That Was, there would be none of the moral critique you find in the satire of people like Ian Hislop. Although people will remember his interviews with Richard Nixon and with Margaret Thatcher after the sinking of the Belgrano, his 1967 grilling of the fraudster Emil Savundra was surely a landmark in broadcasting. He paved the way for the searing scrutiny of public figures we see today. It is a shame that not all of today’s political broadcasters have the subtlety that Frost showed at times.

Rest in peace, Sir David.

Happy St George’s Day


Scones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 23rd April, doubtless some politicians are preparing some patriotic soundbites for us English. And isn’t it interesting that just by typing this post, WordPress suggested I tagged it with the words ‘David Cameron’?

People will celebrate with quintessentially English things, like warm beer or tea and scones. Flags are flying, and this is the day when we are proud to be English. We even have our own superhero now. For normally to be English is to be subject to perpetual disappointment (our football team), or to reach the top and fail to stay there (our cricket and rugby teams). And how dare those naughty Scottish Nationalists think of keeping our pound if they get independence!

I am not ashamed of my identity: I love being British and English. But there is one thing I would like the jingoists and the racists to remember today: George was the son of a Greek father and a Palestinian mother. So maybe the best way to celebrate would be with some houmous and a kebab. Dragons, beware, he comes breathing the fire of chilli sauce.

Oh, wait a minute: that’s the scene outside Knaphill takeaways late at night.

Bombings – From Boston To Baghdad

Boston Marathon Finish Line.1910. Author: Unknown.

Boston Marathon Finish Line.1910. Author: Unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news overnight of the bombings at the Boston Marathon is horrible. Many friends on Facebook are committing themselves to prayer for those affected, and asking others to do the same. As the FBI investigates and no organisation has boasted that they caused the carnage – sorry, ‘admitted responsibility’ – many are left devastated.

Other friends are saying, ‘Yes, but what about the far greater atrocities in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq yesterday? Not three dead, but thirty-one.’

Still others are saying, ‘Why distinguish? Pray for them all,’ and I agree with that. Death is death. Violence is violence.

But it has left me with questions about why our news media and our society are more taken up with Boston than with Baghdad. Do we react more to situations where potentially we have more connection? Americans are more like us than Iraqis are. The Boston Marathon (the world’s oldest – more than a century old) makes us think of the London Marathon, which is due this coming Sunday, and security measures there are being reviewed as a result. Many of us know friends who have run in the London event – I certainly do. Maybe a few of us have been runners there (not me). That brings the fear closer home. For Brits, it will certainly recall ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, along with the way they spilled over to the UK mainland. And as Americans will recall 9/11, we shall think of 7/7.

So does ‘compassion fatigue‘ reduce our ability to empathise with those for whom we lack that kind of personal link? And if it does, how can we recover compassion without becoming so overwhelmed that we are crushed and left in a state of inertia? Is it not important for Christians to love those we don’t know, as well as those we do (or feel we do)? Certainly, Jesus had words in the Sermon on the Mount about not just loving our friends. He meant we also needed to love our enemies, but can we not also extend that to the importance of loving those unknown to us?

What do you think? How do you believe we should respond to these atrocities?

The Recession Is Hitting Everyone

Why, some people can’t afford to dine at The Ritz anymore.

Thanks to Sally Coleman, who posted this article on Facebook.

Truth And Lies About Poverty

Truth And Lies About PovertyToday, the Joint Public Issues Team representing the Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Churches and Church of Scotland publishes a report called ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths About Poverty‘. It’s an important report anyway, but its publication is all the more timely in a week when the Royal Bank of Scotland has announced yet another multi-billion pound annual loss yet has managed to pay £215m in bonuses to investment bankers.

Although I left working in Social Security to study Theology in 1986, it is sobering to see that over a quarter of a century later, many of the same myths still have to be exploded. The report lists six myths that are propagated by some members of Government and parts of the media, and which are sadly swallowed by some people.

Myth 1: ‘They’ are lazy and just don’t want to work
Myth 2: ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs
Myth 3: ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly
Myth 4: ‘They’ are on the fiddle
Myth 5: ‘They’ have an easy life on benefits
Myth 6: ‘They’ caused the deficit

In my experience, the vast number of benefits claimants wanted to work. Their pride and self-esteem were badly hurt by unemployment or chronic sickness. Only a few had addictions. A certain number would spend their money wrongly, but not the majority: this, after all, is also the week when schools have reported children bringing in poor packed lunches such as cold chips, due to poverty. And aren’t we the society that has lived on ‘rampant consumerism’? Very few are on the fiddle, but set that against how much money is kept by the tax tricks of the rich. The idea that a benefits life is an easy life is ridiculous: you try living on that income level. And most preposterous of all is the contemporary claim that the poor caused the deficit.

The report has gone to every MP. Suggestions for action by ‘ordinary’ people can be found here: they involve contacting our MPs and our local newspapers.

Nancy Duarte: Christian Values In Business Leadership

A while ago, I saw a great TED Talk video on ‘The secret structure of great talks’ by Nancy Duarte:

I didn’t need much persuading to buy her book Resonate, about improving your presentations. (It’s not a book of PowerPoint techniques, it explores the principles of good presentations instead.) I recommend it highly to all public speakers.

Now, I have seen an amazing interview with her on The Good Life Project. I wouldn’t normally sit through thirty-eight minutes of video on a computer, but this had me hooked. I had no idea Duarte was a Christian (that confession comes about twenty  minutes in). What is so wonderful about this interview is the way her Christian convictions have so permeated the way she leads and runs her business:

* She sees her job as to shepherd her staff. It is her duty to make sure the work is there so her one hundred employees can put food on their tables.

* She has a place both for the outgoing, quirky people who are good to put before clients and also the introverts who will hunker down and get a job done.

* Having been told by a coach that the two verbs applicable to her are ‘conquer’ and ‘liberate’, she uses these, not in what she calls an ‘Attila the Hun’ mode, but in terms of what she wants to do for others – again, specifically including her employees.

* When asked near the end what ‘the good life’ is, she emphatically rejects the notion of ‘bling’ in favour of generosity.

So put the kettle on, make a drink, and watch this inspiring video:

Steve Chalke’s Support For Faithful, Committed Gay Relationships

Steve Chalke

Steve Chalke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media attention is hovering around Steve Chalke’s article (due to be published in an abridged form in the next issue of Christianity magazine) in which he declares his support for faithful, permanent, exclusive gay relationships. The ‘extended’ article is here. For reasons of pastoral care – to protect deeply vulnerable, at-risk people – Steve takes the argument beyond exegesis to hermeneutics.

I have to say that on a first reading not every part of his biblical argument convinces me. Even his dear friend Tony Campolo writes sympathetically, but still committed to a conservative position.

Why do I think it’s too much to hope for that the result of this will be a thoughtful, respectful conversation, one which is more about light than heat? Please, Christian world, prove me wrong.

UPDATE: the Christianity magazine material is now online. In addition to Steve Chalke’s piece, there is a ‘taking the temperature‘ article by editor Ruth Dickinson, and a conservative response by theologian Greg Downes: this is the extended version. There is also a brief response from Steve Clifford of the Evangelical Alliance, with the promise of a longer response later and a theological one from Steve Holmes of their Theology and Public Policy Advisory Commission.

Poetry For The Australian Fires

Australian FiresAussie missiologist Michael Frost recently reproduced this cartoon on his Facebook page from a New Zealand newspaper. It rather sums up the extreme and dangerous weather going on in his homeland lately. Death, destruction and devastated lives are everywhere, along with amazing stories of bravery and heroism.

My faithful Australian commenter Pam has written a poem about her experiences of this, and with her permission I am glad to reproduce it below. It is based on what happened on 8th January. Please use it as a stimulus to pray for the people of her nation.

Catastrophic Warning by Pam Connor
Three phones in our house last night
Mobile VOIP landline.
“Have your emergency bushfire plan in place.  Catastrophic conditions for the Shoalhaven, Illawarra,
 Southern Tablelands tomorrow”
droned the non-human, inhumane voice.
Sydney Temperatures 130108Moments later, my friend in Ulladulla,
Her voice too calm,
“We should go and see The Hobbit tomorrow, three hours in an air-conditioned cinema.
 My treat for the choc-top”.
In the boot of my car, my shiny Honda,
Neatly stacked photo albums
my children grinning, black shoes shining,
First day of school.
My father at 21 years of age.
They tell me who I am.
A marriage certificate, my only one, must take that.
Some clothes, clean underwear, no holes.
Full tank of petrol.
My gardenias better survive,
Or there’ll be hell to pay.

Remembrance Sunday: Swords Into Ploughshares

At Knaphill this Sunday we shall hold our usual all age worship parade service for Remembrance Sunday. Our Bible text is Micah 4:1-5, especially the famous words in verse 3, ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares’.

With that in mind, we are using the video below, which has connections with Christian Aid, and which we found through Barnabas In Churches. It tells a remarkable story of putting this Bible verse into practice in a creative way in Mozambique. Watch and be moved.

Justin Welby And Social Media

Bishop Welby’s elevation to Canterbury was announced by Downing Street on Twitter:

In his press conference, the ABC-designate said, “I intend -if I am not stopped – to go on tweeting.” (Currently he tweets here, but that will change.)

If these are early signs that the incoming Archbishop understands the communications world in which we now live, that is a good sign.