Tuesday, 18 February 2014


I should make it clear, from the outset, that astrology is rubbish. The idea that the movements of planets millions of miles away can impact your life on a daily basis is ludicrous. Sort of.

In truth, the planets do impact us, as do the stars. Their alignments will impact the gravitational pull on you, but by a microscopic amount. The difference will be less than if you are upstairs or downstairs - less than if you are standing up or not. So yes, they do affect us, but far less than everything else.

But so many people seem to think that they do, it always makes me wonder - what is really going on here? It strikes me that pretty much all astrology is based on your birth sign, that is the time of year when you were born. I wonder whether this may be what is really at play here - your star sign does have an impact, but not because of the celestial bodies.

If you are born in mid-winter - say late December - then your early and very formative days, months and weeks will be short days, long nights, cold times. Parents may also find this a difficult time, with the pressures of Christmas.

If you are born in the middle of summer, your early experience will be different - long, warm days, probably outside more in these early days. What is more, the pregnancy will have been through the colder months, although the last few months may have been quite warm and difficult for your mother. So Easter - the most popular time for having babies - coincides with pregnancy through the colder time of year. Similarly, October babies mothers will have had - potentially - several months of hot uncomfortable pregnancy.

Then again, those children born early in the school year will spend their school time as the oldest in their year, whereas those at the other end will be the youngest - something that may have a significant difference in terms of social development through the crucial teenage years (especially). So the time of year you are born could have a significant impact on you throughout your life, in many ways, many aspects. What is more, there might be similarities between people born at a similar time of year.

All of which makes me think that there might actually be something in the principles of astrology, that the time of year you are born can have an impact on you throughout your life, in all sort of aspects. the point is, this is not because the celestial bodies are impacting your life. It is because our society, our structure, the natural order or the seasons affects us.

But then. of course, I'm a Gemini, so I would say that.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The house of bishops statment on same sex unions

The house of bishops has issued a "pastoral statement" on same sex marriage being reported on the BBC more simply. The reaction to this on my twitter feed has been painful to read, and my personal reaction is angry and saddened.

I did think the church had learned its lesson from the debacle of women bishops, but it seems not. When women were first ordained, some 20 years ago, it was broadly speaking bringing the church closer to up to date - they should have done this a decade or more before, and it would have been radical, dramatic, and made a point, as it was, it merely indicated that he church was trying to keep up to date.

The fact that women could still not be bishops was a problem that, ideally, should have been resolved within a few years, but has taken 20 years beyond to get close. When it is finally passed this year, it will not be a success, a mark of the church coming up to date. Some will celebrate, but I will not be one, not because I don't think women should be bishops, but because all this does is resolve a ridiculous anomaly in the church. It is important to fix this, but there should only be sadness that this has taken so long, that so much bile and hatred has been shown through this process.

And just as this is starting to come to a conclusion, the house of bishops puts out this statement. I have posted on homosexuality before, trying to look at it from a biblical perspective, and I am not going into that again. The statement, which does not permit clergy to be joined in a same sex union, or to ordain anyone currently in a same sex marriage, is a huge step backwards for the church.

Firstly, why do I care what a church which I am no longer part of says? The reason is that, like it or not, the church is seen to reflect English Christianity. It is seen as representing what Christianity means to respectable, normal people. What this has come to say is that Christianity is misogynistic and homophobic, which it isn't.

One of the core parts of the statements is the reassertion that marriage is between one woman and one man. While I accept that this has been the traditional teaching of the church, I struggle to find out why. Many of the significant figures in the bible, those who we are told to look up to, had multiple wives. People like Abraham and David, not to mention Solomon. And in the New Testament, while we don't get so much detail about the domestic arrangements of the main characters, we do have one significant statement, often used in support of this: Tim 1:6 "An elder must be the husband of but one wife". The clear implication of this is that there were those in the congregation who had multiple wives, and that they were considered acceptable, possibly eldership material - otherwise why would Paul need to put this in his letter?

I am not suggesting that we should be starting a campaign for polygamous relationships. All I am trying to say is that the idea of "one man, one woman" is not a biblical concept. Once we escape from that idea, should we not be prepared to consider same sex relationships as acceptable? Let me be clear, we are taking about two people who are prepared to commit themselves to marriage, with an intention of a long-term relationship, as much as different-sex couples.

As Rachael Mann discusses in her blog, she may, at some point, have to choose between a loving, committed relationship to another person, or a commitment to her calling as a Church of England vicar. Should it come to this, what is her option (or anyone else in the same situation)? I suppose, to not get married, to live together unwed. Is that really the message that the church wants to send?

At the end of the day, I suspect that this is bordering on illegal - if not already, it will be - to refuse a legal marriage to your employees. or to refuse to accept people based on their marital status. Then the church will find itself on the wrong side of a legal battle, which will make it look even more ridiculous.

Friday, 14 February 2014


I have just finished reading "The Book of Lost Things" by John Connolly, and it reminds me once again of the importance of stories - the book draws on a range of traditional fairy stories, and the appendix explores these stories more, which is worth reading through.

What I find most interesting is just how violent and unpleasant most fairy stories are. They seem to involve some or all of:

Step-mothers or parents who are wicked or evil
Witches - usually old people who live alone
Children wandering off and getting into trouble
Horrible and gruesome violence (Think of the witch being cooked alive  in Hansel and Gretal)
People not being punished for criminal activity, like breaking and entering (Think Goldilocks)

We know - and the children who we read them to know - that they are not true. They are not intended to be true. They are the myths of our culture, intended to convey cultural expectations. their messages are important, not because they are true in the sense of factually accurate presentations of babies born in events that actually happened, but because stories are the best way of passing on real truths.

Then I turn to bible stories. In reality, the tales and messages in the bible are stories, which is not to diminish them, but to enhance them. They are not all factually true in the way that we would understand it today. They are presentations of events that happened, incorporating the understanding and interpretation that the authors put on them. The stories are the truth as the writers understood it. They are ways of passing on the events and the meaning to us, so they are crucially important.

But unfortunately, so many of the bible stories that we tell, especially to the younger people, are sanitized. The violence, the blood and gore, the unpleasantness are removed, so that they are "pleasant" and appropriate for young people. But then, they lose all of their meaning.

Kids are OK with blood and violence in stories. We do them a disservice when we clean the stories out, and we make them boring, tedious stories. But they are not:

Daniel - the politicians and all of their families were killed by being eaten by lions. Gruesome and bloody.
Nativity - babies born in stables, traveling when Mary was pregnant, the killing of the innocents. Lots of blood, gore, nastiness.
Noah - we always focus on the lovely animals (probably stuffed and cuddly), and the rainbows, and ignore the hundreds of thousands of people - some innocent - were drowned. This would have included women, children, babies.

And so on - we tell lovely stories, and miss the reality. So the stories are baby stories.

That is wrong. Stories are powerful - that is why we tell them, why they persist, why storytellers are so important. By changing and destroying the stories, we lose the meaning. I believe we should tell stories a whole lot more - fairy tales, biblical stories, folk tales. Telling stories of what we experience, telling stories that our parents and grandparents have told us.

Tell your children about the animals that went in two by two if you must. But tell them the real stories, and let they understand the meaning. Stop making them pathetic.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The UK weather is God's judgement on us

Whenever there are natural disasters, someone seems to be there, claiming that they are God's judgement on us for some perceived sinfulness - usually about gays. Which is, of course, utter drivel, for reasons that I have been into before, and will probably have to go into again.

It is interesting that there doesn't seem to be anyone claiming that the storms in the UK are Gods judgement on us because of the governments appalling treatment of the poor, the disabled, the strangers, those in need. The continual pampering to the rich, the powerful at the expense of the poor is, from a biblical perspective, a far more common reason for divine judgement. Again and again, God tells the people that behaving in a way that is very reminiscent of the current government will result in judgement.

In fact, if you want to take one thing from across the bible that is repeatedly, universally condemned and criticised, it is not homosexuality, it is greed, abuse of the poor and needy.

That is, of course, a very simplistic reading of the bible, and I disapprove of proof-texting things I agree with as much as ones I don't agree with.

However, what is also true is that I don't believe in this concept of "God's Judgement" - that God explicitly sends bad weather to a country because of its failings. I think that the biblical material can also be interpreted in different ways - it is not that I don't accept the biblical texts, but that the way we understand them may be different. It is more that the judgement is a result of the failing to behave in a responsible way.

I think that the same can be considered in the UK. The chaos that we see in the West Country especially can be seen as a result of the failure to invest in those parts of the country. The collapse of the mainline into Cornwall is - partly - the result of there being a single line down there. There have been calls even before this to provide an alternative route down into Cornwall. Now, the results are that the county is cut off from the rest of the country.

Failing to invest in the Somerset levels has been part of the cause of the massive flooding, and the evacuation there this weekend. Failing to acknowledge the environment impact of doing nothing, and of doing some of the things that have been done.

So is the storm chaos a judgement from God? No, not as that is properly understood. Is it a judgement on the blindness, arrogance, the self-serving attitude that this government shows.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Lovin' you

I have to admit that I adore this song by Minnie Ripperton. Her voice is so strong, pure and beautiful, and she has such power even at the top notes that would make Kate Bush wince.

Last year, when Leah McFall did this song on The Voice, I knew that she deserved to go a long way, because she was prepared to tackle such a song, and she did it justice.

But I always have a problem with the lyrics. The core lyric is "loving you is easy 'cos you're beautiful", and I struggle with this idea. Loving is not easy - attraction may be, but love (even if it comparatively short term) is a bigger challenge. The implication is of a lifetime of love :

Stay with me while we grow old
And we will live each day in springtime

Now some people may say that I am being picky. Why can I not just enjoy the song as it is? Well the problem actually goes deeper than this, because there is also an implication that love is easy if you are beautiful, but therefore hard if you are not. As someone who is not - in all sorts of ways - I know that I can be hard to love. But if I was beautiful, the truth is, I would still be hard to love.

"Oh come on, just enjoy the song or not. Stop over-analysing it!" Except that I can't, because that's not the sort of person I am. It disturbs me, and I want to find out why - I want to know what is the problem.

I think the issue that disturbs me is the beauty myth problem - the whole idea that you need to be beautiful (according to whatever the culture has decided this means this year) in order to be loveable or loved. We have all seen some of the results of this beauty-myth in the crashing and deaths of some people who try to make it work out. Some of the celebrity burn-outs are the result of this, but there are also many non-celebrities who seek to make themselves loveable by making themselves conform. And so often find that they are still the same person, just as loveable and unloveable as before.

I have also experienced far too many people who - often unconsciously - believe that God cannot love them unless they are a more beautiful Christian, unless they are better, are cleaner. So they try to be better, try to hide their ugly parts, try to make themselves more beautiful according to the church culture they inhabit.

This is just as wrong. Let me make it clear - I am ugly, not only on the outside, but inside. I am not a good Christian person. I have all sorts of darkness - pain and hurt, that can make me a nasty person. I do things that are wrong, damaging, sinful, broken. In fact, I am a perfectly normal human.

And I know that God still loves me, as I am now today. He hurts with me in those places that I hurt. He wants some things to change, but - and this is crucial to my understanding of God - whether I change or not does not impact his love for me. I get things wrong, I cause him pain and hurt, and he still loves me as I am. That is because he is so much more, so much different from me.

That is something very special. That is a bigger God than some of the ones I have seen. That is a bigger God than the one who wants me to be beautiful to be loveable. That is my God.

Oh, and I will continue to listen to the song, enjoy it, and be disturbed by it.