Archive for September, 2011

Even for Oral Roberts’ grandson, it gets better

Friday, September 30th, 2011

For a guy whose own mother said at his grandfather’s funeral that he himself would go to hell, making a video like this must have been difficult. His uncle Ronnie, Oral Roberts’ son, was gay, and committed suicide. This is his gay nephew’s letter to him.

I hope that every young child of an Evangelical family who thinks they may be gay or lesbian will watch this video. It is very moving, and tissues should be handy.

Today’s Canine Video

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

If you’re a tired dog owner, you’ve probably encountered your dog, with a ball in his or her mouth, coming up to you, laying it at your feet, and waiting for you to throw it, just so the dog can catch it and do it all over again.

Well, the person who owns the dog in the video has made it easy to exercise your dog without actually moving a muscle yourself.

Talking about another Rowan, for a change…

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Last week Rowan Atkinson, him of Blackadder and Mr. Bean fame, gave an interview to the Times in which he slammed Church of England priests for being, among other things, smug.

Among other things, he said:

I used to think that the vicars that I played or the exaggerated sketches about clerics were unreasonable satires on well meaning individuals… But, actually, so many of the clerics that I’ve met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society… Increasingly, I believe that all the mud that Richard Curtis and I threw at them through endless sketches that we’ve done is more than deserved.

The Times asked the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford, for a comment before publication:

We take the hit and I am sorry that this has been Rowan Atkinson’s experience. But it takes no account of the thousands of self-sacrificial clergy who don’t fit this stereotype. I would be happy to introduce him to some.

Well, Nick published a blog post about the whole business, expanding on his comment above. However, the last paragraph, to me, is the real killer.

And I still find Rowan Atkinson’s film clergy caricatures funny. After all, they are caricatures – based on a certain acknowledged reality, but hopelessly exaggerated and wildly hammed up.


Which, of course, is totally true.

Today’s heartwarming story from Thailand

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Imagine, a single mother in Bangkok, faced with giving up her baby because she can no longer keep him. The gay couple down the street takes an interest, and someone suggests that they adopt the baby. But, while they’re at work, who’s going to take care of the baby? That’s right, birth mum will do it.

This is a really heartwarming story. The couple have now adopted the baby, named “Little” Ricky, and the Thai mum is their nursemaid. They are a happy family. And don’t miss the update—Ricky’s turned three years old and is cute as a button.

I love stories with happy endings, and this one is bound to go on and on.

For taking up the challenge of raising a little Thai boy and keeping his mother involved, Lee and Rick are my Bricks of the Day (sorry, MadPriest; I’m stealing this idea).

Why do software giants think they can decide what I want?

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

No, this isn’t about the recent Facebook débacle, although it could have been, I suppose.

This morning I found an email in my mailbox from LinkedIn. Now, I don’t believe LinkedIn is of much use to me any more, and as soon as I retire formally I’ll delete my profile and forget about them, but until I do formally retire I suppose that it doesn’t hurt to be on there. I belong to a lot of groups, and I get a daily digest of activity for most of them. The salient part of the email is pictured below:


If I’d wanted weekly digests I’d have asked for them.

No, I don’t visit the site very often. But, I don’t want to be told that I can only get news from them weekly. If it cost them anything to send the email daily, I’d say that they were justified. But it doesn’t.

On the other hand, if by sending me that email they wanted me to visit (if only to change my preferences) then it worked, as I visited and changed my preferences back. Presumably the high mucky-mucks at LinkedIn are now huddled in a secure conference room somewhere trying to figure out why I changed my preferences back.

Today’s Telephone URL

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

I don’t know whether this has ever happened to you, but occasionally I used to get calls for a business whose number was close to mine. I just would tell people “I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.” and hang up. However, Mark Evanier had a difficulty where a local art gallery commissioned an advertisement where their phone number was misprinted—as Mark’s number. He spoke to the art gallery and got the advertisement’s next printing pulled, in a most ingenious way.

Today’s IT Video

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

And you think that YOU’RE having computer problems…just watch this bunch of workers try to solve their IT problems.

Stabbie in the kitchen and at the computer

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

London Stabbie has been quite annoyed today. He has resurrected his old computer in order to ensure that everything useful is removed, and exported his recipe book this morning. Now there is nothing more useful in keeping and disseminating and sharing recipes than a computer. One would think that after many years of storing recipes on computers someone would have figured out a good way of exporting recipes and then importing them into another computer or another program. One would be wrong. Very wrong. As wrong as drinking shiraz with lemon sole.

Stabbie was amazed at the speed of the export from a very old version of Mastercook into a text file. Less than 5 seconds for 2MB of recipes (Stabbie has lots of recipes).

Stabbie then copied the file into his new computer and fired up Mastercook 11, guaranteed to work with Windows 7. Then he imported the recipe file, and while there were a few mistakes (reported by the software) most of the recipes seemed to be imported fairly well.

So Stabbie took at look at his mother’s recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. He was surprised to learn that it required no meat, no tomatoes, but a lot of flour and sugar and baking powder. Somehow Mastercook had slipped a gear and missed out several recipes, putting the wrong labels on the subsequent ones.

So Stabbie deleted all the recipes, and opened the text file with the exported recipes in it. He now has to import them 10 or 20 at a time and go through each. Some have ingredients misplaced, and others don’t have the instructions or notes correct. Stabbie has more than 1500 recipes in his database. He’s not looking forward to the next four months.

Cooking software is written by dweebs for noobs.

This is also true for geneological software.

Stabbie would like to get the programmers, and especially the people who arranged the user interfaces and the import and export engines, into a very small dining room, lock them in, and feed them chocolate cake iced with Ex-Lax. The toilets will not be accessible.

Paying the labourers in the vineyard

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Tomorrow’s sermon at St. John’s

September 18, 2011 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time/13th after Trinity
Sermon delivered at St. John the Evangelist, 10 AM.
First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9; Ps: 144; Epistle: Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Gospel: Matt 20:1-16 (Year A)

In the name of God, the one, the Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

Where I come from, in the school where pupils are 11 to 14 years old, which we call “junior high school”, we had to participate for the first time in what you would call “PE class” and what we called “gym”. It’s supposed to toughen you up, get you in good physical shape, and also build character. Whatever character is.

Unfortunately, character is often not something that’s built, but something that’s demolished. Whatever hopes, fears, aspirations, good and bad qualities that a child has, experiences in school will tear down the existing qualities and replace them with something else.

So when in gym class we were told to take part in a team sport, a captain was chosen by the teacher and then those captains chose their teams. The good players were picked first, and then those who were left over were, often reluctantly, chosen until, at the end, there were two unfortunates who neither team wanted but who had to be picked anyway. The same two children always turned out to be the last two picked, no matter what sport was to be played. Thus was character built.

As an overweight, left-handed child, I was normally in that group of two children always picked last. I don’t know whether that did anything to build my character, but it certainly made me feel worthless, at least at sport.

This parable in Matthew is a troublesome one, especially to those of us who have been raised with the Puritan work ethic. The principle of modern work and pay is that the longer you work, and the more work you do, the more you are paid. Ask any banker whether he or she is justly paid huge sums for what is essentially the business of buying and selling money, and the banker will of course say that a banker’s pay is commensurate with the amount of work he does.

Ask a worker in the local council whether her pay for, perhaps, helping an elderly person stay at home rather than go into a nursing home is just for the amount of work she does. She might say that it is a bit low but in these times everyone has to tighten their belts.

I’m sure you’ve read articles in the newspapers about a person who is working at a job he absolutely adores. This person often says that he would do that job for half the money, or even none, he loves it so much. Of course, no manager or owner of a business ever takes them at their word and lowers this person’s pay.

We’ve also seen stories in the news lately about the situations of interns. In many cases employers, even members of Parliament, advertise for interns who will, unfortunately, be unpaid except, perhaps, for travel expenses. The hope of the intern is that, eventually, the contacts she makes and the experience she gets will make up for the fact that her dinner menu consists entirely of Curry Pot Noodles and black tea.

And, of course, there are those who have no work at all these days. There is the necessity of cutting the government’s budget or the requirement that private employers trim down their costs in order to continue to pay dividends to their shareholders. These jobless people always have the hope that, ultimately, at the end of the day someone will hire them to do something to earn a wage.

There is a historical perspective to this parable, in that Matthew was speaking to the early Christians, just forming themselves into a church. One can imagine that those who became Christians early, perhaps even during Jesus’s lifetime, might be a bit annoyed that those who became Christians later on were taking some of the most important spots in the structure of the church. They might feel that being what marketers call “early adopters” should have entitled them to more privilege within the organisation.

What Matthew is saying to those people is that we are all equal in the church through baptism. Once we have committed to following Christ, we are all equal heirs to the kingdom and entitled to the same level of grace and the spirit that those who have been Christians for many years. While I think that Matthew wanted to damp down rivalries in the early Church through this parable, from my observations of the Church over the past half a century or so I doubt it had the desired effect.

While Matthew may have had one intention in writing this parable, the beauty of Scripture is that it’s a very deep treasury of symbolism and truth. The Gospels can be like an old gold mine, exhausted of ore. Sometimes just when you think the mine is no longer productive, some other ore is discovered in it that is as valuable as the ore it used to produce.

We often see among various types of Christian ones who think that Christianity is an exclusive club. It’s run by Christians, for certain types of Christian, and only those types are going to get everlasting life.

These people take it on themselves to pronounce on who will be saved, and who will be condemned to eternal punishment. In America there is the Westboro Baptist Church, celebrated for demonstrating at the funerals of soldiers, saying that they are going to hell because the US is allowing gay marriage. In fact, these people believe that everyone except themselves is bound for hell.

In my early years as a Roman Catholic, I was taught to believe that only Roman Catholics were saved; everyone else was bound for Purgatory at least, if not full-blown hell and damnation. This was the official line until Vatican II, and many still believe it.

This parable, for me, illustrates that the opinions of people as to who will be saved are utterly useless. You, or I, or anyone can declare that such and such a person or group of people is not going to be saved. We can say it as loud and as long as we want. We can get indignant that some other church asserts that they have the possibility of salvation when we ourselves are of the opinion that the other group does not.

All this is vain posturing. The parable tells us that only God can include us in the kingdom of heaven. It’s God’s free gift to us, and nothing that we ourselves earn, or deserve. As the landowner says in the parable: “I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own?”

So God chooses the team. Our belief, and our actions, are judged only by God, and it is God who includes us in, generously, at the end. Even the left-handed fat kid who can’t play sports can be included. And if that kid gets in, there’s hope for everyone. AMEN.

Today’s Fauna Video

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

I can’t say that I think much of taxidermy. But the most natural acting in this commercial comes from the stuffed animals.

And it’s comforting to know that the taxidermist doesn’t stuff pets. I can sleep better tonight.

Queen Anne’s Dead

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Chris Ambidge drew my attention to an article in the Sunday Telegraph by Jonathan Wynne-Jones saying that Rowan Williams was planning to resign next year in order to take up an academic post.

My first reaction was “Oh, Queen Anne’s dead.” (what you say in the UK when someone relates old news to you). Last year Rowan publicly stated that he would not serve until 70, and the current trend is for most bishops, except for those who love the office more than life itself, to retire around the age of 65.

The line about stepping down nearly 10 years early makes the assumption that bishops serve, unless they die or get very ill, until the age of 70 without exception. This is wrong and Wynne-Jones is being needlessly detailed about it. Bp. Tom Butler and Bp. Richard Harries retired on their respective 70th birthdays (as bishops of Southwark and Oxford, respectively) but they are the exceptions rather than the rules.

The machinations behind this are probably all speculation or on deep background. In my opinion, Richard Chartres has been a pretty ineffectual bishop of London and is in his mid-60’s, so he’s not in the frame as any eventual successor. I could just barely believe that he’s been urging Rowan to resign early. However, as Rowan’s already said he wouldn’t serve until 70, he’s pushing on an open door. Besides, Rowan’s natural place (and, it might be argued, the place in which he should have stayed) is in the groves of academe, and in order to make an impact in an academic institution, he’d have to get a post at least 8 years before he’d have to retire from that position, and that would be next year.

As for successors, Archbishop of York John Sentamu is a year older than Rowan, and has been a great lover of the publicity stunt, but his temperament is not what one would want in an Archbishop of Canterbury.

One thing that Wynne-Jones got right is that the tenure of an ABC revolves wholly around the Lambeth Conference. In recent times only Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher stayed around for two Lambeths (he had to be told by his secretary in 1961 that the time had come for him to make a graceful, if tardy, exit). Every Archbishop since has been appointed long enough before a Lambeth Conference to do effective planning, and resigned at a time before the next one that would allow his successor to do the same.

So Ramsey from 61-74, Coggan 74-80, Runcie 80-91, Carey 91-2002 all “surrounded” a Lambeth Conference, if you will.

Thus, if Williams resigns in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, his successor will be enthroned in 2013 and that will give him a 5-year run to the next Lambeth Conference in 2018.

My only comment on an eventual successor is that I believed that if Rowan stayed on until he was 65 (in 2015), Bp. Nick Baines, late of Croydon and now of Bradford, would be the natural successor. If Rowan does retire in 2012, the timing is wrong for that. My only hope would be that if Rowan resigned next year and Sentamu got it, Nick might just be able to squeeze into York and wait for Sentamu to resign in 2019.

The rest of the Bench of Bishops is a bunch of lesser men, and no one stands out as a natural successor except Baines, in my view. Sentamu would be the beneficiary of Buggin’s Turn, but neither Runcie nor Carey nor Williams were Abp. of York before Canterbury, so the natural succession of Diocese/Abp of York/Abp of Canterbury has been broken for decades.

You can take this Friday and shove it…

Friday, September 9th, 2011

It all started yesterday afternoon. A phone call came as I was about to tuck into my lunch. I answered the phone and the Indian voice at the other end of the line said that he was from “XXX Accident”. Ambulance chasers interrupting my lunch to find out whether I’d had an accident lately. I told him, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you piece of shit!” and hung up. I was so annoyed that I forgot to take my insulin and metformin.

I then did some surfing on the web when the phone rang again. The voice identified itself as “Leslie from the Diabetic Foot Clinic” and proceeded to ask me whether I could come in on Friday, as the nurse needed to give me an antibiotic. I asked her what the difficulty was, but she said that she “wasn’t medically trained” so couldn’t say anything. I told her I’d come in Friday afternoon, and proceeded to worry my way through dinner and a very restless night.

The only good parts of the day were a meeting with the Archdeacon this morning which helped us both get the Deanery Synod meeting and the minutes of the Archdeaconry Pastoral and Mission Committee (which should have been taken by the former Area Dean but weren’t) settled. In the middle of the meeting HWMBO called me and told me that he had lost his wallet on the bus—he was going to try to track it down. Bad news.

Then I went downstairs in the diocesan office building and attended a very fruitful focus group session with other tenants of housing associations in this area of London, talking about scrutiny of our housing associations and how we can be involved with it. Lunch followed. The session was a bit rambunctious because people came with specific complaints rather than thinking about the general procedures for getting complaints looked into. However, the leader was good and kept the bitching-and-moaning to an absolute minimum. Good session, especially since it was only 2 hours long.

Then I went home to find HWMBO’s wallet on the kitchen table with a note: he has gone home after he drew a blank with the bus people. So that was good news.

Then on to the Diabetic Foot Clinic, still in my suit and tie. I sat in the waiting room as usual, read my Grauniad, and waited for 1-1/2 hours for the nurse to see me. When he finally “noticed” I was there, he came over and said, “We need to give you some antibiotics—can you take erythromycin?” I told him that I could and he went away to scare up a doctor to write a prescription. It’s odd that in a hospital doctors are so difficult to find.

He returned without the prescription and I asked him which bug I had. It’s a kind of streptococcus, but I told him, “That’s what they found when I was here last week. I’m taking amoxicillin for it.” He looked at me, and looked at the bug they’d found, and said, “Oh, this one is sensitive to amoxicillin.”

I looked at him and said, “I see. So this entire visit was unnecessary.” He grinned sheepishly. I wasn’t grinning. “Well, while I’m here get the Professor to prescribe another 2 weeks of amoxicillin as what I have will run out in a week.” He got that and I left.

I have said before that the greatest problem with the NHS is not funding, it’s communication. The denizens of the Health Service do not communicate effectively. Obviously the podiatrist hadn’t put the fact that he’d prescribed amoxicillin last week into my file. When the nurse saw that this bug was still present, he thought I wasn’t taking any antibiotic and called me in.

So I went home and had a bourbon and Diet Coke. Some situations call for extreme action. I thought of calling London Stabbie in on this case, but he just can’t be arsed to deal with cold-call ambulance chasers and incompetent nurses and podiatrists. They are beneath his dignity.