Sunday, 20 August 2017

East West Street

One of the joys of being on holiday is that I have the time to tackle a book that takes a bit more out of me than my usual fare. Not that there is anything wrong with the stuff I like to read in my usual life but, if I have a bit more time, I like to use some of it on a book that needs a bit of effort. This makes me a) a cheap date and b) anti-social and boring. 
I bought East West Street because I don't think I have ever seen a book so highly recommended. The book is dripping with people and book reviews making a fuss of it. They are not wrong. 
The author, Phillipe Sands, is a barrister and Professor of Law. His family's roots are in the Ukrainian city of Lviv and he begins to dig into their history. He weaves the things he discovers into the story of two Nuremberg prosecutors who develop the ideas of both "Crimes against Humanity" and "Genocide". I found it - as they say - unputdownable. However, I did have to stop reading it late at night because - well it's about Jews, in Europe in the thirties and forties - it is very sad and bleak sometimes and it was keeping me awake. 
I would not claim to be the font of all historical wisdom but I had no idea that, before the Nuremberg trials, there was no personal culpability for crimes you committed as part of your state. I always thought that the defence that "We were just following orders" was so weak as to not be bothered with but it wasn't a weak defence. Before Nuremberg changed the game, there was every possibility that the people in the dock would be found innocent. It was the policy of the state, whether they agreed with it or not was irrelevant; they could not be held accountable. The book looks at how lawmakers and the testimonies of survivors changed this. It also contains less visible acts of bravery and defiance - such as Christian missionary Miss Tilney, who risked her life to hide people and to take children out of the country. 
I've also thought about the book this week as I have watched people march with Nazi symbols on flags. These people march in a country where protest is protected and legal. Having read stories of parents singing to their little children to try and distract them before they were executed, I look at these people and think - You have no idea what you are wishing for. You live in your protected little bubble and you have no idea of the evil that was unleashed. What happened would have eaten you alive. 
I don't think there are two side to this story. Once you raise a flag with a Nazi symbol on it you prove yourself ignorant of real history and disrespectful of the sacrifices made by those who went before us. 
I have no idea why leading evangelicals have kept quiet in the face of this. Some misguided idea about protecting Christian values possibly? More likely a protection of self interest. I'm always a bit suspicious of Christians in positions of power. I'm not saying that about every Christian but it seems to take a special kind of person who can take his humility and good judgement with him as he moves up the greasy pole. Jesus always seemed to go out of his way to align himself with the unpopular, the outcast, the poor, the disenfranchised. And when he needed to say something was wrong he said so. And we need to say so too. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


We are just back from our holidays. Well we are still on holiday in that we are not required to return to work yet but all the planned trips are over which is just as well because I am needing a good lie down. I am not sure how people jet off here there and everywhere. I admire their stamina. 
We returned to St Ives for a day. St Ives is really lovely and we are really blessed to live somewhere that means a trip to St Ives is a day trip. We basically just hung around in the sunshine and then ate. Then we went to the Tate. That was a bit disappointing though. I may not entirely understand "Modern Art" but I think I am quite open to the idea and I do have on my art appreciation CV, standing in front of a Rothko and filling up because of the sheer beauty of the thing. (My family will confirm this as they were all standing and pointing and laughing at me) However, I am not at all taken with the latest exhibition. Part of it reminded me of dust sheets that you take up when you have been painting.
I think you were supposed to be overwhelmed by the size of the thing but dust sheets are usually pretty large in my experience.
Then there was another room with lots of things made from clay. There didn't seem to be anything you could put a bunch of bananas in. I'm sure it's just me.
Then we went to Bath for a couple of days. I've never been before. I thought is was excellent. For me, being shown round an area of historical interest by an expert pretty much represents peak happiness so I loved the Roman Baths and the Georgian House/Museum. HOH was mind-blown by the fact that despite the Romans being all into washing and being clean etc (albeit in a lead lined swimming pool) the Georgians were untroubled by running water and bathing. This seemed to him like an unfathomably retrograde step and he proceeded to question each guide in each room about this abomination. However, it seems it was true and your basic Georgian was no stranger to the nit scratcher. 
Then we went to London for a day. We worked out that we probably paid an exorbitant train fare to have lunch on the South Bank and go in Zara. Not very environment friendly. We mentioned to Aged Parent that we were going. After a heavy silence...

AP    Be Careful in London
US    We will.
AP    Don't go getting in any fires or anything.

Also came across the chapel above - not I think a place of worship anymore unless it is highly unusual and doesn't bother opening on a Sunday. Am loving the full on evangelism though. 


Saturday, 29 July 2017


Time for a little update on me. Because it's all about me - as you know. We have (whisper it) changed church again. I may or may not have said that we had decided to accompany Aged Parent as she has tried to settle in a new church. She is very big on signs from God and so was very keen to attend a church which had the same name as the church she was christened in. This was all very well but the church in question had just been taken over by Holy Trinity Brompton which meant that lively and jiggy was the order of the day. I'm not too bad  with church jiggyness but Head of House isn't that keen. As I have got older, I have been more persuaded by the position of introverts in church, who sometimes have to accept people of  a louder persuasion informing them that their natural personality is, in fact, a fault in their spiritual make up and they need to get with the beat. Anyway, on top of all that Aged Parent didn't know any of the worship songs and she struggled to find anyone her own age. She decided she would like to back off for a bit and reconsider her options. 
We had also decided that, on balance, we probably weren't in the right place either. I really liked the preaching and the music was very professional. There were a couple of new experiences for me. As they would play pop songs as we waited for the service to begin, I can say with complete certainty that the Sunday morning that I sat in church hearing Justin Timberlake singing "Gonna have you naked by the end of this song" was a very definite first and having someone lean over me and ask "Red or White?" at the end of the dedication service is not something I have any memory of happening before. I can't say I was too bothered by any of this. I think it is refreshing that they are trying new things. It just didn't seem to fit us. Even though, as you are aware, I am as hip as it is possible for a person to be - especially with my knees - I never felt that comfortable. It may be unfair to say so but I felt that numbers were very important to them and that my age group wasn't really the target audience. I think it finished for me the morning the vicar encouraged the congregation to yell out their thanks to God and a small, middle-class and obviously uncomfortable lady in the row in front, felt she had to have a go at a loud Hallelujah and then, quite obviously prayed for the ground to swallow her up. I thought - you know - I'm too old to spend too much time trying to make my square peg fit into a round hole.
Anyway - I was having a coffee with a nice Christian chum who said - "What you need is a nice C of E where you can just sit for a while and find where you belong." So that's what we have been doing. We found a posh C of E. We have been going to the family service. It has been like cool water to be honest. The preaching has been excellent which was a bit of a surprise. (How patronising am I? It's just that last time I was in an Anglican church the preach was a lady sharing a "homily" about a bird in her garden. Didn't work for me. Sorry) The place is so beautiful. I come from a background of worshipping in pale rooms in Ambulance Halls. I thought that God didn't really approve of anything more fancy than that. Yet the place is full of God. I have to admit, I am finding the altar rail a bit daunting but I am not sure how important that is. We shall see. It's early days. If you are interested, I could keep you updated.
The photo at the top of the blog is my family - down from the North to visit. It all went very well. Aged Parent and her sister seemed to enjoy it - possibly a little too much - they are at an age where a little bit of wine can loosen tongues beyond what is usually advisable but all ended well. Handsome bunch ain't we?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


I have had a traumatic time. I demand that you feel sorry for me. I have actually unfollowed people on Social Media. Well I am still working out how to actually unfollow someone on Facebook but I am determined and I will do it (eventually). Instagram was easy so I ditched a couple there. I have replaced them with a few people who put up photos of their kitchen cupboards and I am at peace. My reason for all this chopping and changing is that I'm a bit bored by the lack of kindness. The latest hoo-ha is around Eugene Peterson. In case you don't know, Eugene Peterson, wrote The Message (Yes, I know, I know as it is a kind of Bible translation you could argue God wrote it but you get my drift.) He wrote things like this

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life (Philippians 4 6)

and this

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11 28)

He is, indubitably, a "good thing"

He is also 83 and, I would say, very much in the "When Jesus says 'Well Done'" category. Recently, in an interview, he was asked the QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS. All Christians who are being interviewed or have dipped their teeniest of toes in the waters of leadership must have a satisfactory answer to the QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS. The question being, obviously, "Where are you on the old same sex attraction thing?" (It will usually be phrased more elegantly than that)
Pastor Eugene's reply, when asked the QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS, was a bit non-committal. He had known gay people in his church. Some were in positions of leadership, their sexuality hadn't seemed to be the most interesting thing about them. He felt that he could do a same sex marriage blessing. 
Well, this certainly put the cat among the chickens/pigeons/other feathered things. In fact, there were probably more cats than there were clucky things. It was carnage. People on Social Media were queuing up to condemn, to stand up for "pure theology" and to generally make sure that right won out. A bookshop said that it would no longer stock his books. Within 24 hours Pastor Eugene had withdrawn his statement. He was then roundly condemned by the LGBT community. 
Now, as you know, I don't claim to have all knowledge about this subject. I have personal experience because my brother really struggled with church after he came out as gay, but I'll be honest - I dunno. I'm still working through it. However I do know that I am quite perturbed about the way we react to people who make any kind of statement we don't like when asked the QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS. Everyone rushes to take up their positions to defend their little corner of theology. You must all know where I stand and understand that "I am correct on this and God agrees with me." Then, when we are nasty with people (and some people can be very nasty indeed) it is excused because we are standing up for the Bible or for an oppressed minority depending on which way your particular mop flops. Reasoned person to person debate, where people can ask one another difficult questions without fearing the wrath of an entire community, seems to have disappeared. People could ask Jesus anything. They asked really stupid questions sometimes and they did make him sigh deeply but all genuine questions were answered thoughtfully without bullying. 
My old mother used to say that you should never wash your dirty washing in public. It's true. Christians are genuinely struggling with these questions and Social Media is not helping us to be rational or reasoned or even more importantly - kind. So I'm not engaging. I'm not joining in and I'm not watching. I'm not getting involved when "Conservative Christians" subtly suggest that their hotline to God gives them "Defender of the Faith" status and I'm not putting up a flag for those whose belief in "Progressive Faith" give them the right to smugly patronise those who are not "as far along the road" as they are. I'm not withdrawing from seeking or talking nicely. I'm just not very good at all the one-upmanship. Maybe others feel called to that. I don't. Rant over.

Our Father is kind; you be kind (Luke 6 36 The Message)


Monday, 10 July 2017

I rather like him

I came across a lady of advancing years (not Aged Parent) who informed us all that she "couldn't stand that Andy Murray." On further enquiry, it was established that she hadn't ever actually met him. This was not a surprise as she is a lady who has rarely left her home town and he is a man who has possibly never visited her home town. It is the way of the world. On enquiring about the reasons behind her negative judgement upon Mr Murray and all his camels, she informed us that she had seen nothing about him that made her like him. Leaving aside the question of whether it is Mr Murray's responsibility to get us all to fall for him, I have to tell you that, despite a dearth of face to face evidence, I rather like him. As it is Wimbledon fortnight, I thought I might tell you why.
1. The dog incident
In 2014, on the way to Wimbledon practice, Andy spotted a runaway labradoodle in the road. He immediately stopped his car, ran into the busy road and rescued the dog by pulling it into his back seat. This immediately marks him out as a top person.
2. Dunblane
In 2013, when speaking about the Dunblane massacre (Andy and his brother Jamie were actually in the school when it was happening) he didn't speak about himself although he did say that he had been affected emotionally by it, he only became tearful when he talked about the town and the way they had been affected and said he was so pleased that he had been able to do something for them. 
3. Losing in the Wimbledon Final
In 2012 after losing to Roger Federer, he fought back tears again and told the Wimbledon crowd "I'm getting closer" He managed to be graceful in defeat while letting us know how upset he was. 

He seems to me to have nice manners and I was very taken with his habit of wearing his wedding ring on his shoe laces. I was also rather charmed when, after winning Wimbledon for the second time, he collected his trophy and then found time to tell Benedict Cumberbatch that he was a big fan of Sherlock. So, he doesn't play the game of trying to make everyone adore him. I know he sometimes gets annoyed with himself  when he messes up but so do most of us. The difference is that usually only the dog sees me grunting with frustration whereas he does it with thousands of people watching. He seems to be a natural introvert and I am not sure why he should be any different just to please old ladies he has never met. 
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