31 August 2010

Tuesday roundup

As yesterday was a Bank Holiday, my semi-frequent Monday roundup didn't happen. Here's a Tuesday roundup instead.

KP Skipped - I worked hard for a crisp related pun there, and I think I got away with it. It turns out that the out of form Kevin Pietersen has been dropped for the upcoming Twenty20 games against Pakistan. I applaud the guts of the England selectors in leaving him out, but I can't help feeling that his downfall was brought about by his disastrous spell as England captain. Since then, he just hasn't seemed like the player he used to be. I expect the selectors had something to do with his ill-judged promotion, so they probably need to take a share of the responsibility for his current state. Announcing the news on Twitter in conjunction with an expletive probably wasn't the best move though KP.

Lies and corruption - Having posted recently about the higher moral standards in cricket (compared to other sports), I am very disappointed to see the revelations about the Pakistan cricket team. It's not the first time the sport has been rocked by a betting scandal, and I would think that the explosion of online spot-betting has made life very difficult for the ICC's anti-corruption people. It's such a shame that the Pakistan team seem to have so many problems at the moment, and I hope they return to their position as a top test team soon.

Looking forward - Matthew McMurray has broken a 2 month blogging gap with a catch-up post, and his post makes me look forward to my own training. He recounts some of the events from his current placement, and I find myself itching to get stuck in! 

Speaking in tongues - This week, the Chaplaincy has hosted an exchange trip. We are linked with chaplaincies at the Universities of Oulu (Finland) and Braunschweig (Germany). Each summer, a group of students visits one of the three countries, enabling them to experience church in another culture and life in another place. A few years ago we went to the Finnish leg of the exchange, and it was fantastic! This week we have a bunch of Finns and Germans with us, and on Sunday they joined us for worship. In the service there was one of those special moments. When we say the Lord's Prayer at Chaplaincy, we often encourage people to use their own language or version of the prayer, but usually you can hear a very dominant lead from the English-speakers. On Sunday, though, there was a definite feeling that we are an international church! The sound of the different languages together was one of those moments when it felt like we were doing it right for a change. All were welcome, and all languages were welcome. We shared together, and our collective experience was broadened. Tonight is the farewell party for the visitors, so we sheall drop in to say farewell.

15 days

27 August 2010

The final countdown

In exactly two weeks, I will be winding down for my last afternoon of work at the University. I've worked here for over three and a half years now, but our connections with the place go back to 1997 when I joined as an undergraduate student (DrLanky (though she wasn't a Dr or a Lanky at that time) came along in 1998). We've worshipped at the Chaplaincy Centre for the whole time, and we really feel like part of the University community.

As we get closer, it's dawning on me how strange it will be to move away from here. Lancaster is home in many ways, and it seems strange to be preparing to move to Cambridge for just two years.

Jante's tales of packing have made me realise that we really need to crack on with putting things in boxes this weekend. We keep having a go, but seem to stall after a seemingly pitiful effort. In a way it will be helpful if the bank holiday weekend is a washout - at least we wouldn't be tempted to venture out of the house much.

19 days

24 August 2010

Taking religion seriously

Bishop Nick Baines has an interesting post about the debate concerning the case for a 'religion editor' for the BBC. In my opnion, he (along with others) makes a strong case based on the need for interpretation and balanced consideration in the news. Through the economic meltdown, we have been treated to the wise, if irritatingly voiced, words of Robert Peston. He has helped us to understand what has been going on in a balanced way - we don't just have to believe the government or opposition hyperbole, and we don't have to wade through the broadsheets analysis. We simply tune into the Beeb and Robert will walk us through it.

The argument continues to say that, as religion is such a massive and influential phenomenon in the world, it makes no sense to ignore it. Even if we disagree with it, we cannot deny its existence or its prominance in society. Rather than taking the atheist position as the objective and scientific one, a religious editor would see this as one of many positions - not the de facto 'thinking person's' view of the world.

My only problem with any of this is that I don't think it is possible for anyone (let alone those in the media) to be completely objective. We're kidding ourselves if we think that Peston is completely without prejudice and bias - we are all prejudiced and biased.

This could be an argument against any kind of mediated news on the basis that it is all prejudiced. I don't think I can successfully defeat that one to my own satisfaction! In reality, though, we rely on mediated news and we always have. Newspapers, even the local ones, have a political slant. They filter out the things they don't consider to be newsworthy based on circulation figures and pre-existing prejudices.

And you can take it back a step further. When I go home tonight and tell DrLanky about my day at work, you can guarantee that I will present the edited highlights; I won't spend 8 hours recalling every trivial occurrance. I will edit the 'news' according to my own bias and prejudice, and according to what I think she will find interesting (sound familiar?). I'm not saying that I will lie, I will just edit the truth - we all do it; we can't avoid doing it! We just don't think about it.

In the end it comes down to trust. If you trust the person giving you the news, you trust that they will tell you the things you feel you need to know, without avoiding any interesting bits. You also trust that they will not distort the facts (though we all* exaggerate to some extent).

It's exactly the same with the news. We choose our news outlets by the way they fit with our world view. This is why I don't read the Sun and I don't watch Fox News - their versions of the truth doesn't seem to match the one that I observe in the world, so I choose to ignore them. Instead, I read the BBC news website and dip into the Indendent and Guardian for my news. They don't always match with my world view, but they get close most of the time.

Once this relationship of trust is established, the viewer can start to trust (to a certain extent) the content being presented, and as long as the editor continues to play ball, everyone is happy. Our trusted editor tells us what we need to know and filters out the uninteresting bits. They also bring to our attention the important things we may not have noticed, and as such they are an important part of the news infrastructure.

The reason I read my news in a few different places, though, is because I don't trust the BBC in the same way as I trust my wife. I feel the need to check up on them to see if they are being faithful. Many people don't do this, especially those who read the red-tops, and this is where the real power of the editor lies. Many people trust the news (from whatever source), and to have a religion editor who brings balance to religious stories would be very welcome. 

*pun intended

23 August 2010

Time is a strange thing

Today is the 14th working day before I leave the employ of Lancaster University (looking forward to the Bank Holiday). All of a sudden, my mindset has changed from 'just pottering along', to 'how am I going to fit all this in? Aaaargh!'.

That's partly because this week sees my last management team meeting; a meeting for which I do all the leg-work. I'm in the middle of preparing my last set of papers for this meeting, and even after 2 years, I forget just how much work is involved!

So on that note, back to work!

23 days - pictures off the walls and packed. Now need to fill the holes.

19 August 2010

Thursday roundup

I know my custom of late has been to post a Monday roundup, but on Monday I didn't have anything of interest to warrant it. Today, however, I'm bursting with interesting thoughts.

A night at the opera - Until Monday I had never been to an opera, so when the opportunity presented itself I was keen to explore. Heritage Opera were touring with a performance of Puccini's Madame Butterfly, and a number of folk from the postgrad group went along for a bit of 'culture'. Like many, I have been put off opera for a number of reasons: language, musical style, class association... Despite my prejudices, I really enjoyed it (the subtitles helped). The production was hardly lavish, with much evidence of Gaffer tape and improvised props, but I was impressed by the way in which the cast coped with the very limited performance area. The venue was Lancaster Castle, in an actual Court room - Shire Hall. The 'stage' was assembled over the desks where the clerks would sit in a court case (I think), and due to the imposing nature of the Gillow furniture, the space they had was sparse. In the end, the success of the performance hinged on the skill and talent of the performers, and I was blown away by the quality of the singing! I know Madame Butterfly is not hardcore opera, but I do feel like my prejudices have been successfully challenged by my night at the opera.

The ban is ended - Not that a hosepipe ban has made a lot of difference to folk during a very wet August in Lancashire. When the rain comes down like it has recently, there is certainly no need to water the garden. Anyway, it's good that the stocks are back up to normal levels.

The end of a winning run? - Matt Prior and Stuart Broad came to the rescue yesterday to avoid an embarassing collapse at the Oval. England have now gone a long time without suffering a Test defeat, and I did think we were going to see an end to this run until Prior came to the crease. What we need now are favourable seam bowling conditions and a repeat of the recent successes of the fast bowling attack. Either that or Swann will have to work some magic towards the end of the match. This is the kind of situation England need to come through if they are to have any hope of retaining the Ashes in Australia.

Changing times, changing Church? - Bosco Peters posts about a wedding he went to where the rite included promises between one of the spouses and the child of the other spouse. This made me think that we really need to look at our rites and liturgies in light of the situations we actually encounter in the Church, rather than naively clinging to an ill-remembered image of how it used to be. It makes perfect sense to me to add something like this to a marriage ceremony where one or other party already has children; it reinforces the value and importance of 'the family' in the Church and wider society, and it reassures people that the Church is not blind to the changes in society.

18 August 2010

Funny Cartoon

Thinking about college made me think about this cartoon by Dave Walker:

Annoying little jobs

Today has been a good day. I've had a list of annoying little jobs which I haven't got round to, and it's been growing as we approach our move date. Today was the day when I managed to send 5 important bits of communication, including our new tenancy agreement. It feels good to be making some progress!

Tonight's job is to make a decision on a cassock-alb which won't result in me looking like a Harry Potter character or a plonker (or both)! I keep having a daydream about turning up to a service in the Westcott chapel looking like a Albus Dumbledore (complete with beard). Needless to say, everyone points and laughs at me (in good Christian love, of course) and I snap out of the daydream with a shiver.

I've finally decided on J&M because of a number of personal recommendations. Now I just need to make a decision on overall style, collar/hood type and fabric. As the nice man from J&M told me, buying things like these for the first time is "something of a minefield". I agree. Why doesn't someone make it easier then?

17 August 2010

More Mac converts

I've spent the last couple of years trying to persuade my parents that they need to convert to an Apple Mac in place of their sorry succession of windows machines. Thanks to a modest windfall, they were in the market for a new computer and came to me for purchasing advice. 

They are now the proud owners of a lovely new MacBook Pro (15"). I just need to set up their user accounts tonight, and they're off! 

At least when they phone for computer support I'll have the same operating system in front of me. Also, hopefully they'll need a little less support once they've got past the initial PC to Mac acclimatisation. I know most people find MacOS to be more intuitive than WIndows (though Windows 7 is meant to be better than XP).

What do you get when you cross a drunken Swann with a trapped cat?

An amusing court case?

I know drink driving is no laughing matter, but in this case I do confess to a small titter. It appears that England spin bowler Graeme Swann was on his way to Asda to obtain screwdrivers to free his cat when he was stopped by the police. It seems he was over the alcohol limit at the time. 

Police interest was sparked not by his wayward driving, but by the presence of his flashy car in an area where there had been recent burglary incidents. From what I've read, the cat was fine in the end. 

29 days to go - contract on the house sorted out today.

14 August 2010

Obama sticks his neck out

I just saw that Barack Obama has voiced his support for the controversial new mosque close to the site of the world trade centre twin towers. (I'll add the link later)

This was a bold and brave move by the president, given the strength of feeling shown in the press. American politics seems to be incredibly populist, and he must know that he risks a massive amount of criticism from the right wing media outlets and their followers.

It's nice to see principles take precedence for a change.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

11 August 2010

One for Lancaster residents

Did you know the arrangements for waste collection have changed?

This page on the Council website tells you more... here's the condensed version:

The black box with red lid will be used for newspapers, cardboard, junk mail, telephone directories and other printed paper.

The green boxes with yellow lids will be used for plastic bottles, glass, foil and cans - these items do not need to be separated.

10 August 2010

Top of the charts (well nearly)

If you look carefully you'll see something quite unique in this screenshot from the ICC's player ranking page. No less than 3 England bowlers in the world top ten for Test cricket. A good summer with the ball (so far) has helped Swann, Anderson and Broad (sounds like a firm of solicitors) to boost their ratings considerably.

Conversely, a low scoring summer by modern standards means that most of our batsmen have remained static in the charts except for new boy Trott and the in-form Matt Prior.

Looking forward to the Ashes, only one Aussie bowler makes the Test top ten, but there are two of their batsmen in there. I can imagine that Swann may continue his run of form down-under, but I predict that Anderson and maybe Broad might struggle with the conditions. Perhaps it will be time for Finn to make his mark with that extra height.

9 August 2010

Žižek on charity

If you have 10 minutes to spare and are looking for something to think about, have a look at this graphical representation of some words from Slavoj Žižek. h/t Maggi Dawn for this one.

I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Slavoj Žižek until now, but I have a feeling I may have to read some more. I'm not sure I agree with him, but he does make a compelling argument that there is a hypocrisy at the centre of charitable giving. Hmmm.

Monday roundup

Cathedral goes green - I saw this story on the BBC news site. Congratulations to the congreration of Bradford Cathedral for acheiving this accreditation from the Eco-congregations organisation. This is the first I have heard about this ecumenical organisation. I think I will read some more.

Temper temper - One of the things I like about cricket is that, compared with some other sports, it is a civislised affair. There are many reasons for this, and I think one of them is that players get fined for incidents that, in other sports, would be seen as very minor. I think this 'sets the bar' for the players in terms of acceptable behaviour at a high level. Of course, the other thing that makes cricket the most civilised sport is that they stop for tea.

Good old Catholic tat - I missed this one last week from the Church Mouse. It seems that Mouse is somewhat underwhelmed by the range of 'tat' on offer to commemorate the visit of the Pope to the UK. Since visiting Malta a couple of years ago, my eyes have been opened to a whole realm of 'Catholic Tat' (it's a recognised proper noun phrase in the Lanky household), and I'm actually quite excited by the tat potential of a Papal visit. My favourite bits of Catholic Tat are the snow globes (depicting scenes where it never snows) and glow in the dark statues of Mary, just in case you feel you need a ghostly, luminous apparition when you wake up in the night. Unlike Mouse, I will be actively seeking a bit of Papal tat for the Lanky household.

Well done Pakistan - It was beginning to look like the current test series between England and Pakistan would be something of a whitewash. Whilst it is satisfying to see your own team in a dominant position, it's disappointing to see the opposition buckling so easily. It was good, then, to see a defiant lower order batting performance from Pakistan yesterday. England will face stern tests in unfavourable conditions when they go to Australia later in the year, and it's good that they are made to work a little harder than they have done of late.
The death of British film-making? - In an unlikely show of support for the UK film industry, Clint Eastwood has written to George Osborne about the proposed 'axing' of the UK Film Council. I know times are hard - we're even reassessing the merits of 'milk-snatching' - but I think it is a bit shortsighted to start hacking so brutally at some of our major cultural organisations. Without the UKFC, a large number of recent UK films would not have been shot, and our cultural life would be weaker for it.

6 August 2010

Farewell Freddie

One final thing for this week is that Michael Vaughan has cast doubt over the chances of Freddie Flintoff returning to the England camp following his injuiry and subsequent surgery. I have to say, I'm surprised that this isn't already the assumed position. I'm not doubting Flintoff's commitment or application to his rehabilitation, but when you look at the way the current England team is performing, I can't see why they would consider bringing him into the side (and I can't think who they'd leave out).

The reality is that Flintoff's peak passed a long time ago. I don't doubt that he was influential at various points during the last Ashes tour, but he hasn't managed to sustain high level performances for long enough to be a serious contender for even the shorter forms of the game, where we seem to be excelling at the moment.

So I agree with Vaughan. I think it's goodbye to Freddie as an England player, but 'welcome back' to Flintoff as  Lancashire player (when he isn't playing in the IPL).

Reflecting on Rev.

A lot has already been said about Rev. and I don't feel I need to go over old ground by repeating every comment I've read recently. The Guardian have carried an interesting round-up of opinions from real clergy, which I found interesting, and the Church Mouse links to a number of reviews in his Friday round-up.

There are four things I'd like to add:
  1. Please BBC can we have another series? We need more of this kind of thoughtful and relevant comedy, even if the licence fee gets slashed. This should be the 'bread and butter' of the BBC's comedy output.
  2. I liked Dibley at the time it was broadcast. It was good fun and lighthearted, and the characters were appealing, though not in the slightest realistic. The arrival of Rev. has made me realise that Dibley didn't actually do much for the church (I concede that it wasn't necessarily meant to). It was so far removed from reality, that it was just comedy. In my opinion, Rev. is in a different league. It still exaggerates and caricatures the people of the church, but the characters remain believable. And it isn't just the characters; the stories are very real to those of us in the church. The reality of the characters and the stories mean that we aren't just laughing at comedy, we're laughing at ourselves. With the best will in the world, most of us would struggle to say the same about Dibley.
  3. I thought the final episode was the best, though I know some found it a bit bleak and dark. For me it spoke about some of the hard realities about ministry (such that I appreciate them). I've known a number of clergy over the years who have had to resign following affairs, one of them very recently and quite close to home. As part of my preparation for selection, this was an area that I explored with my vocations advisor (not that I'm thinking about having an affair), and I came to realise that the clergy are human, and humans often err, sometimes significantly. It doesn't make it easy to come to terms with when it happens, but I think it's the only conclusion I can get to when I feel let-down and disappointed by the actions of those I respect. So Adam's attempt at flirtation with the headteacher (right under his wife's nose) was a part of the programme that made me think a bit! 
  4. I thought that the way the writers concluded the episode was a reminder of the gravity and responsibility of the priestly vocation, and an affirmation of my own vocation. Despite the best efforts of the world, we seem still to need God. And most of us still need someone to help us to find the space to approach him amongst the business of our lives; especially at the times in our lives when we are facing change. I suppose Rev. has confirmed to me the potential difficulties of the path I'm following, and it's affirmed my motivation to carry on despite those risks.

Rookie mistake

I posted recently about my problems with Google Analytics, and after much head scratching, I posted on the help forum. Within 1/2 an hour, a helpful and more knowledgable user pointed me in the right direction. It turns out my tracking code was lacking a very essential bit of information. I'm hoping that does the trick and I can get my data feed back again.

3 August 2010

Vexed by vestments

One of the things mentioned in my information pack from Westcott is that I should probably invest in some liturgical vestments:
Though not essential, it can be very useful to have some of your own liturgical garments while you are at Westcott... The most useful article by far is a white cassock alb.
Having done a spot of internet research, I am underwhelmed by the web efforts of the UK's vestment suppliers! I suppose I have been conditioned by Amazon.com and the like, to expect that all the product information I need will be immediately accesible online. This isn't the case with many of the suppliers I've looked at. On some sites there are very dated photos showing clergy in typical 'catalogue poses', on others there are hand drawn pictures of garments with no photographs. 

Am I asking for something unreasonable? If I'm to invest £100 in a garment, it would be nice if a bit of effort has been put into the webpage so I know what I'm getting for my money.

Of course, the alternative route will be to visit one of the suppliers to see the vestments 'in the flesh' and try some on. The problem is that there aren't any in our area. The nearest would be a branch of Wippells in Manchester - maybe I'll give them a try, though they are responsible for the photo above!

Are there any wearers of cassock-albs out there who might be able to give me some hints? I've never done this before.

2 August 2010

Monday roundup

Rev. is 'rather good' - According to the Guardian, the AB of C thinks the programme is 'rather good'. This is one of several issues on which the Archbishop agrees with me. I do hope that the people at the Beeb who hold the purse-strings will find a bit of funding to continue the show for another season - hopefully more.

An Englishman in Wisconsin - Some of you Lancaster types will know the identity of this serial blogger. He's started blogging again, and his British perspective on American culture is already evident. One for the blog list.

James Anderson does it again - After a robust performance against the Australians, Pakistan looked set to provide stern competition for a buoyant England side. In reality, a low scoring game and favourable swing conditions allowed Jimmy Anderson to produce stunning bowling figures of 11 for 71. Quite rightly, and modestly, he praised the slip fielders for their reliable hands. Anderson's stock has soared in the ICC rankings, and he now sits at his highest ever place in the test bowlers' rankings.

TV licence under fire - Rev. may not get a second season if the licence fee gets scrapped, as suggested by the Adam Smith Institute. I'm a fan of the Beeb, and I think the licence fee has given us the best broadcasting network in the world. I know the independents feel hard done to, but I look at the output from the various channels, and it's the BBC that gets my vote every time; I hardly ever watch ITV and Five (though C4 is quite good sometimes). It's the same with radio - no commercial operator would run Radio 3 or Radio 4, but where would we be without them?

Flying Bishops? - Thinking Anglicans and the Church Mouse report this story about a letter from 15 Anglo-Catholic Bishops. I'm not sure it says anything new or moves the argument along any. An interestng aside is that I recognise a number of signatories as current or former Blackburn Diocese clergy (there may be more who I don't recognise):  

Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn
Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley (formerly Bishop of Burnley)
Rt Revd John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley
Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham (formerly at a parish in Accrington and Chaplain to my High School when I was a student)
Rt Revd Robert Ladds (formerly at a parish in Preston before consecration as the Bishop of Whitby - now retired)

Hmmm, not sure what this says about my home diocese! 5 out of 15 is a significant proportion.

Moving on - I'm not the only one going to theological college in a few weeks. Jante has received her bundle of information from Cuddesdon, and is counting down the days. I have returned my batch of forms to Westcott, and am waiting for the final removal quote to arrive.

44 days - must start packing!