Monday, November 27, 2006

A New Descendent of "Kennar of the Antarctic"!

On Saturday morning, last, a new Kennar entered the world. My brother's wife, Safia, has given birth to a boy - whom they have called Adam. He's as cute as a very cute fluffy cute thing who has won first prize in a cuteness competition. I know...I've seen the photo.

Congratulations to my sister-in-law (who did all the hard work) and to my brother (who is now looking very smug). Having failed, myself, to produce a male heir who can carry on the fast dying Kennar name, all our hopes for a continuing generation of Kennars rests on Adam, and his older brother Zachriya. And I want them to know that it is very important name....let me tell you why.

I discovered recently that at the turn of the last century, one of our ancestors - Petty Officer Thomas Kennar RN (I think I may have been named after him) accompanied Scott and Shackleton on a voyage to the Antarctic (1901-1904). I've been doing some digging, and have found some references to Thomas Kennar in a diary of the journey by one Charles Turley. According to that account, Kennar accompanied Scott and the geologist Ferrar on the first ever survey of the Quartermaine Mountains - and as a result, had a valley named after him. So - there is a Kennar Valley, down there in Antarctica. O it makes you proud!

Here's an extract from Turley's book "The Voyages of Captain Scott" - from page 159:

During this march Scott had determined to test his own party to the utmost, but seeing no necessity for the supports to be dragged into this effort he told them to take their own time. The supporting party, however, did not mean to be left behind if they could help it, and later on the night of the 21st they also reached the ship. In the hard struggle of the last hours some of the members of the supporting party, though determined not to give in, had been comically astounded by the pace which was set, and Kennar, presumably referring to Scott, kept on repeating, 'If he can do it, I don't see why I can't: my legs are as long as his.

So Zack and Adam, my boys...its up to you. The Kennar name (though obscure and pronounced in a variety of interesting ways by strangers!) is worth preserving.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

BA and the Cross - Christians Under Attack?

I find myself increasingly concerned to hear of attacks on Christians around the world. Below are just a few recent examples that I've gleaned from the Internet - primarily from an organisation called the Barnabas Fund.

These are recent stories - some of which you will have heard on the news...some of which you will not. Take a deep breath...some are very shocking... After the examples...see my comments.

1) An evangelical Christian from Twickenham, Nadia Eweida, has been told by British Airways bosses that she cannot wear a cross necklace at check-ins. BA says they are not banning crosses, but that their uniform policy requires that crosses, or other religious symbols, - especially jewelry - must not be visible. However, religious headscarves are permitted to be worn by Muslim and Sikh staff. Nadia Eweida was sent home on 'voluntary unpaid leave' because she refused to remove her cross, or cover it up.

2) Just a few weeks before Nadia Eweida in the UK was sent home, a teenage Christian girl in Pakistan was beaten by her Muslim teachers for refusing to remove a cross. On 13th September Kiran Shahzadi (15) was rebuked for wearing the cross and ordered to remove it from her neck. She refused, saying the “cross is our Christian religious symbol so I cannot remove it.” Her teacher began beating Kiran, then took her to the headteacher who also mistreated her. The cross was pulled from her neck and thrown in the rubbish bin. Kiran was then made to stand in the scorching sun for several hours without water until she fainted.

3) At the same time, a row is brewing about a number of Christian Unions around the country, which are being banned by various Student Unions. The controversy centres around the 'doctrinal statement' which office holders in Christian Unions are required to sign. These commit Christian leaders to affirming "The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God" and "is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour". That is, of course, a particularly evangelical understanding of the Bible - but not an unusual one.

4) Last year, in May, a crowd of some 300 Muslims burned a wooden cross outside the American embassy in London - as part of a protest about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanmo Bay.

5) On the 4th of October, this year, a bomb exploded in the mainly Christian district of Camp Sara, Baghdad. As people gathered round to help the wounded there was a second, larger explosion. Nine Christians were killed.

6) On 10th October Paulos Iskander, an Iraqi church minister, was abducted in Mosul. When Iskander’s family asked for proof that he was still alive the kidnappers held up the phone so that his screams could be heard. The family began trying to raise the $40,000 ransom, asking local Christians to help, and arranging several loans. Thirty large posters were placed on churches in the city, distancing the Christians from the Pope’s recent words - which had sparked the kidnapping. However, before the ransom could be paid Iskander’s decapitated body was discovered, on the 12th of October, dumped in an outlying suburb of Mosul. His body showed signs of torture, with cigarette burns, bullet holes and wounds from beatings. His hands and feet had been severed, and arranged around his head which was placed on his chest.

7) Thirty Christian families in Mosul received messages on their mobile phones on the 30th of September telling them to leave within 72 hours or they would be killed.

8) Mobs of angry Muslim youths rampaged through the Nigerian village of Dutse in Jigawa state, Northern Nigeria on the 19th of September, destroying Christian property and injuring several Christians. The riots were allegedly sparked by comments made by a Christian woman about the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral was burnt to the ground and the Bishop’s office destroyed. Many Christian shops and vehicles were set on fire and around 1,000 Christians took refuge in local police barracks and schools to escape the violence.

COMMENT: Matthew 24:9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."

Let us never retaliate; never greet evil with more evil. Let us love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And let us never be blind to the fact that real persecution is taking place, right now, throughout the world, for many loving, law-abiding Christians - who do no more than profess their faith in the God of Love.

Enough said.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Real Treasure

Christmas is coming, the Curate's getting fat
Please put a mince pie in the Rector's hat,
For the Curate is fat, and the Rector is thin,
And the Curate thinks the Rector should be just as fat as him!

I'm leaving in a short while to preach at our afternoon Family Service. This is a newish endeavour for us - a few months ago we started to provide a 5pm service, on the third Sunday of the month, to give an alternative opportunity for families to worship together (without the pressure of having to choose between church or sports-practice!). So far, the idea is proving popular - with about 120 people turning up last month.

This afternoon's talk is a sort of 'get ready for Christmas' one - thinking about the pressure on all of us to be greedy consumers at this time. It has a light-hearted feel which I hope will be enjoyed! To read it, click here.

Three Little Words

If someone asked you to sum up your faith in just three words, what would they be?

I gave the same challenge to our 8am Holy Communion congregation this morning. If you want to think about what I said, Click here to read this morning's sermon.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rowan Comes To Portsmouth

Rowan Williams came to Portsmouth today (for any non-UK people reading this...he's the Archbishop of Canterbury). The man has a brain the size of a planet - and he knocked the socks off a group of clergy and lay people who gathered in the Cathedral. Me definitely included.

What follows is an attempt to summarise the first of his three talks. If you don't have an appetite for deeper down the page to Wednesday's post...which was a silly clergy in-joke!

Today Williams was focusing on the question "Seeking the Soul of the Community". He started by asking us what we mean by the word 'soul'. In a community context he suggested that 'soul' is "that which gives form, shape and coherence - the centre of life - that which pulls everything together". The body, he suggested, is shaped by the soul. And if that is true for the body, what might a community which has soul look like?

First, he suggested, a community which has soul will have a consistent sense of what people are - and won't look to re-interpret people all the time. In a Christian context, that is partly about holding on to our 'story'. For Christians, that means holding on to the centrality of the idea that at a deep and fundemental level - all human beings come from the hand of God. We fail, but are drawn back by God's consistency. This action of God is under-written by a covenant which was pledged in Christ's life and death.

Treating people consistently with this underlying story (which the church holds for itself and the rest of the community) means, for example, not treating people as an adult in one context, then as an infant in another. The ABC (as we cheekily refer to him) didn't get a chance to expand on this - but found myself wondering how guilty the church in general is of doing that.

Are we guilty of treating grown-up, intelligent, self-possessed individuals as religious infants when they sit in our pews? Should we not, instead, teach (where education is needed) that there is almost always more than one view about many theological issues...explain the difference, certainly outline the reasons for our own preference, and then help people to arrive at their own intelligent judgments? I think that is what we do in my least that is what we try to do. It's certainly the approach I try to adopt as a Chaplain. But, I think sadly, there are many place where a much more dogmatic approach is handed down - places where preachers believe they have received a complete version of the Truth from God, and feel bound to lead their less enlightened flock down their particular path.

Secondly the ABC suggested that a community which has 'soul' will take the concept of time seriously - and give people the right to be heard while they develop. He had two striking examples of what this might mean:

a) Coherence and consistency in planning and funding processes: Crisp, short term funding is about the politicians saying "we will tell you what you need" - not about letting ideas and communities grow at their own pace, and in their own way.

b) Letting children be children: we tend to get bored by the fact that human children take a long time to grow and develop...and expect them to act like little adults. We turn them, prematurely, into little politicians, managers, and workers...and (these are my words) in doing so, stamp out the impression of God's hand which is on each of them and us.

Thirdly, Rowan Williams suggested that soul gives story to community life. Those, like churches, museums and oral history projects who hold story should not do so for the sake of simple heritage - but because they are guardians of the meaning of the life of the community. This is one of the mega-contributions that the church has made over the aeons. Depth, complexity, history, and community exisit in the church...and sometimes nowhere else. Williams quoted John Henry Newman who memorably said "without the church, the world would come to an end". Discuss.

I was fascinated to find myself discussing this idea with a couple of city leaders - during a break. They pointed out that for much of the last 500 years the primary story of Portsmouth has been it's Navy. So many people's lives in Portsmouth were inextricably linked with the Dockyard and ancilliary services. But now that the Navy's presence is significantly less, we wondered what Portsmouth's story will look like to the next generation. Will it be, like so many towns, a story of shopping centres and consumerism - or could it be something much greater, much deeper?

In summary, the ABC said that soul is not the vague evanescence we all cheerfully assume. To talk of soul is to talk of how God acts and how God sustains.

As a post-script, aimed I suspect squarely at us clergy, Williams made reference to the current debates which are tearing the Anglican community apart. Prophetically, I think, he said: "When the church gets caught up in its own housekeeping, it fails to engage with the critical task of being the soul of the community".

Well - that was just one of three speeches which we were treated to today. I won't try to summarise the rest for you. You've been reading for long enough if you have got this far! However, I wonder what you think about Williams' thoughts? Click on the 'comments' link below to start, or join, the discussion.

If you want to read a summary of the other talk that Williams gave, thinking about how China has discovered that an anti-religious society can become a society without soul, click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Ten Pound Note and the Fifty Pence Piece

Sorry I haven't posted for a couple of days. I've had a miserable little cold which has been hanging around for weeks - migrating from my head to my chest and then back again to my head. I haven't felt much like blogging...but here's a little in-joke, just to keep you clicking here!

Once upon a time, a 50p piece bumped into his old friend - a £10 note. "Where have you been?" asked the 50p piece. "I haven't seen you for ages".

"Sorry mate" replied the Tenner, "I've busy - getting out and about. I've been used to buy a curry, a round of drinks, a trip to the cinema, a new book, a pair of jeans, and loads of Christmas presents. What about you?"

"Oh, you know," grumbled the Coin, "same as, church, church".

Cough. Cough. Cough....

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How to Stop War Forever

Have you ever wondered what the Bible means when it talks about beating swords into ploughshares? After thousands of years of war it comes over as rather an idealised picture doesn't it? No more war, just living off the land, everyone in harmony.

But how is such a vision to be achieved? Well, I'm preaching on that very subject this morning - at one of our Remembrance Sunday services - focusing on the book of Micah (from where that stuff about swords and ploughshares comes from). If you are interested in reading the sermon, click here.

Essentially it boils down to this: Micah tells us to stop chasing after stuff. It is consumerism in all its forms which drives us to war. Greedy people take the resources of others, then those others have to fight to get back what is theirs. Simple really.

And what are we to do about this? Shrug our shoulders and say "it was ever thus" - or be courageous (as we are being asked to do with respect to global warming) and take one small personal step to curb our own consumerism.

Not a bad goal just before the orgy of consumerism that Christmas has become!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Who would Jesus Bomb?

Today is Armistice Day, and like many people, I find myself truly confused over the issue of war.

In case you, dear reader, are not aware, there is a whole philosophical discussion on what constitutes a Just War. If you are interested to explore that - as well as the debate around it - a good place to start is Wikipedia (Click Here).

The Men's Group of my Parish - all 37 of us - packed into a small room last night to debate this very same thing. Among our number were a few ardent pacifists, who believe that war in any circumstance is morally repugnent, and anti-Christian. They pointed out that Jesus spoke only of loving one's enemy - never of killing them.

However, we also have, in our Men's Group, a number of serving and ex-military guys (a product of being so close to Portsmouth Naval Base). Many of them are also Christians - and do not find a contradiction between their faith and their profession. They point out that Jesus never condemmed the army (in fact he commended two centurions for their faith), and neither did John the Baptist (who simply told soldiers who came to him for guidance to be 'happy with their pay').

The Bible is of course packed with wars - and one interpretation of many of the battles it contains is that God has used wars between nations to bring punishment on the wicked and establish Godly rule. (By this means, for example, he used the Hebrews to punish the pagan Cannanites who were sacrificing their children, and then used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish the Hebrews when they strayed from God's path). A modern parrallel might, of course, be God's supposed use of the British nation to lead an alliance of other nations to vanquish the evil of Naziism.

But I don't state any of this as fact. A perfectly reasonable alternative interpretation of all those biblical battles is that the middle east was (still is!) simply a mess of warring factions: a fact which was recorded for us by one of the factions, the Hebrews, along with their (perhaps flawed) attempt to understand what was going on theologically.

This is a thorny issue, to say the least. Our discussion last night, which was conducted with much civility and respect of opposing positions, demonstrated that much.

One of my good friends at the gathering expressed surprise that I would not come down on one side or the other. And I find myself similarly surprised (I'm not, as you probably know, backwards in coming forwards with an opinion!). But on this issue, I remain ambivalent, confused, undecided.

There is a large part of me that wants to believe that a pacifist position is tenable. I want to believe that if Christians would simply refuse to fight, that evil people would eventually be won over by their love. (Of course, many pacifists would say that the ultimate goal of pacifism is not to win over the enemy, but simply to be obedient to the call to love...whatever the consequences).

But I also find it hard to believe that Jesus - for whom the concept of justice was such a passion - would have stood by while millions were being hacked to death in Ruwanda. He was passionate enough in his opposition to hypocritical pharisees...what would he have said about Hitler?

Who would Jesus bomb? Perhaps any evil dictator who has caused the torture and genocide of the innocent? Is there, I wonder, a tendancy for us to focus too much on Jesus sense of compassion and forget that he also proclaimed justice...justice which (if the Old Testament and the New are to be fully understood) is often wrought through violent conflict. (See the Book of Revelation for the New Testament's war-like imagery!)

What do you think? Now is your chance to educate me, and help me make up my mind. Join the debate by clicking on the word 'comments' just below...

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Dawkins Debate

There has been another thoughtful contribution to the debate on Richard Dawkins which I started on Friday October 27th 2006. If you want to read it, and join in the debate yourself, please CLICK HERE - where you will be able to read the original posting, and the subsequent debate. At the bottom of the page, you will be able to click on the words "post a comment" to add to the debate.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Remembrance and White Poppies

The Christian Think Tank Ekklesia has today called for people to wear white poppies, to make an alternative statement with regard to war. You can read more about the background to this contentious issue, if you would like to, by CLICKING HERE

A previous Rector of my parish is reputed to have once outraged members of the local British Legion by wearing just such a white poppy - many years ago. (This is not a new goes back to just after the First World War when christian peacemakers asked the British Legion to print the words "No More War" on their red poppies...a request which was refused, resulting in the alternative white poppy.) It's worth relating, however, that this previous Rector of which I speak, Canon David Partridge, also succeeded in ultimately winning over many of his detractors by the sheer compassion of his personality.

I had a difficult task to perform today - that of going to our local church primary school, to lead an assembly on the subject of remembrance. I was conscious of a heavy burden - not wanting to in any way glorify or justify war, but wanting also that the youngsters in front of me would develop some appreciation that their own peace and relative security was, to a great extent, won by the sacrifice of so many.

It was a difficult line to tread - and I talked a great deal about the horror of war, and of how I hoped and prayed that people would learn to jaw jaw instead of war war (to quote Winston Churchill). I've often said to groups of young people that they are the next generation - and it will be up to them to make a better world than the one we are pasing on to them. But we also spent some time in silent tribute to those who have given up their lives (or livelihoods) for the rest of us.

Remembrance time is a difficult time for ministers. Many feel uncomfortable reciting the words of Jesus that "greater love has no-one than if they lay down their life for a friend" - being aware while saying it that Jesus was talking not about soldiers in war, but about himself, and his death of utter submission. Some pacifists accuse the church, and the state, of mis-appropriating Jesus' words. I don't know.

What I do know is that Jesus himself always advocated peace - "turn the other cheek", "Love your enemies" - and these (and many other teachings) sit uncomfortably alongside a culture of war.

And yet - I wonder what I would do if a marrauding army was coming over my hill, to kill my family.

Food for thought, and especially for tomorrow night's debate by our Parish's Men's group. More on this tomorrow I expect.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Personality types

I've had an interesting evening - Clare and I went to a taster session for something called The Enneagram. It's a personality-type indicator (a bit like Myers Briggs) but adapted to a Christian context. At first (not least because I have done Myers Briggs) I found myself somewhat suspicious of the idea that I could show strengths or weaknesses related to a particular 'type' - on a scale of 1 - 9.

It probably won't make much sense to you, dear reader, if I say what type I am...unless you already understand the Enneagram system. (For what its worth, I'm a bit of a 3/9/6, I think!) However, what has been fascinating is to think about how one's personality develops over time...what are the factors which lead to one person being caring and sharing, and another being the natural leader, or an agressive over-achiever.

Of course, it may just be that we are made like that...all of us, in our own way, a tiny facet of the image of God in which we are all made. But, I'm inclined to think that we are products of both our nature and our nurture. I can certainly think of events which have happened in my own life which come to the surface form time to time; and result in me behaving in a certain way.

The beauty, it seems, of the Enneagram system is that it helps you to identify and understand your own type, and how it relates to others...and where to look to make changes if you desire them (having understood yourself).

If you are interested in beginning to think about your own personality type I've found a website which offers a basic, free, test: click here. Alternatively, type "Enneagram" into Google, and you will find a plethora of possibilities.

This may be the start of an interesting journey for me and Clare. I'll try to keep you posted as the journey unfolds.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A.C.Grayling Responds

I've had a fascinating comment posted today by A.C.Grayling (Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London). See for his website.

Assuming it was him, and not someone assuming his identity, he was commenting on Terry Eagleton's essay which I linked to under my posting on Richard Dawkins versus Religion (see below).

Grayling has a very big brain - and has spent much more time exercising it than my career to date has allowed me to do with mine. However, I have tentatively responded to his comments.

To read his comments, and my fumbling response, click on the "comments" link at the bottom of the Richard Dawkins article below.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam's Conviction

So, Saddam Hussain has been convicted by a court of his own countrymen, of crimes against the Iraqi people. I'm not qualified to judge whether or not his conviction is fair - though I am concerned to hear that the highly respected Amnesty International think that there are major issues with the procedures. However, my principle concern is that he is to be executed for his crimes.

The debate has already started - between those who believe, (like Margaret Beckett) that it is appropriate for him to suffer the full force of local justice) - and those, (like Menzies Campbell) who are concerned that he will simply become a martyr.

My concern is more theological: it occurred as I've watched the news unfolding this afternoon, that there was another man, 2000 years ago, who was executed by his own people. Of course, I don't draw any parrallels between an evil dictator and the son of God - I simply wonder why, 2000 years later, we have not learned that executing people we don't like doesn't work!

The other - and perhaps main - point is this. Can it be right to treat one act of barbarism (the violence of Saddam) with another (the violence of the state)? Wouldn't it be better to keep Saddam alive, in prison, to meditate on the consequences of his actions, in the hope that one day he might be lovingly persuaded to confess his sins, and repent of them? Wouldn't that be at least one substantial way of interpreting the command to love our enemies?

I find myself deeply concerned about the use of the death penalty in all cases...and especially with Saddam. What do you think?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls Day

Want to know the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day? Here's today's sermon - to our Mothers' Union Communion Service. CLICK HERE to read it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Carnivorous Minority

Now that my wife and daughter have embraced vegetarianism as the only ethical choice, I suddenly find myself in the minority in our house. My daughter tuts at me as I enthusiastically tear into a piece of steak - reminding me that it takes ten times more grain to feed a cow than if one simply ate the grain.

My wife, sweetly, lets me off the hook - and doesn't insist that I too should become a vegetarian, not least on the grounds that I have never had too much affinity for vegetables. (Mind you, that doesn't stop her sneekily putting a quorn lasagne in front of me form time to time. I try to enjoy it...and usually fail.)

It does make one think though. I was mightily impressed, a few years ago, to visit a Hindu Temple, and to enjoy a vast array of wonderful food (thanks to their generous hospitality)...all of it tasty, and none of it provided via the sacrifice of an animal. I do wonder whether my preference for meat is simply something I was brought up with...and like many things we grow out of as wisdom accumulates, perhaps this too is something I will need to forgoe.

After all, we can't keep on tearing down the forests of the world just to satisfy our craving for flesh...can we?

Hmmm...I'll have to think more about this one. To never again savour a sirloin steak would be quite a sacrifice...