Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Stop this abuse!
Good for you Chef Jamie Oliver! You've caught our imagination and stirred our consciences concerning the garbage rammed down our childrens' throats through parental collusion and mass marketing. (See this BBC Report). Goodness, you've even got our well fed politicians to sit up and pay attention! (But this is election year after all. Let's see what the situation is like in 12 months time shall we?)
Sometimes our school children in the UK only get 37p (70c) spent on the preparation of a school meal. At this sort of price and after the deregulation and cafeteria approach to school meal "reform" our children are being abused daily with nutritionless, carbo-rich, fat inducing c***. I should know. I teach. Every day I'm in school I see brown and orange, brown and orange. A few more enlightened schools provide sandwiches and fruit but they are a minority taste amongst our young, so long has the junk food agenda been pushed.
My contribution here though is a poke and a prod to teachers and heads everywhere. Bearing in mind the degree of nutrition abuse which has now afflicted two generations and to which you have been party through inaction, will you clean up your act and do something about this? I would like to hope so but to be honest, I look at what some colleagues are themselves eating in the classroom and I doubt it. The worst offenders are male teachers. I wonder why that is?
Anyway, come on now, let's save our children from premature death from obesity related diseases otherwise anything you do in the classroom will be pretty pointless. And while you're at it, let's have new dining areas attached to these new schools and new kitchens so that we can return to the socially enhancing and healthy former practice of having everyone seated together, served together and talking together. Eating is a sacred, holy activity. Let school dinners become eucharistic again! The nation's health, spiritual and physical depends on it. Rant over!
I have another sobering solution for the paradoxical question:- "ET, where is he?" Suppose a civilisation such as ours right now eventually develops the ability to smash microscopic bits of the cosmos together at such stupendous energies that something unforseen happens and a rip in space-time unravels the whole Universe. Such a "phase transition" as it is called happened in extreme conditions at the beginning of creation. We do not fully understand such processes. What if it happens again, but this time, we pull the trigger? If we ever inadvertently did that, then a bubble of destruction expanding at the speed of light would collapse this universe into a new state of matter, essentially a new Cosmos. Perhaps this has happened many times before and that's why as soon as a civilisation gets to our stage of development it tends to reboot the whole Universe. There are no aliens because sooner or later some species opens Pandora's box just a little too wide for our own good.
There are actually three disaster scenarios connected with such experiments:-
A. Creation of a black hole that would "eat" ordinary matter.
B. Initiation of a transition to a new more stable universe.
C. Formation of a "strangelet" that would convert ordinary matter to a new form.
A synopsis of a report on such matters in connection with RHI Colider at Brookhaven available here discounts such fears but no less than the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees has considered the possibilities, LINK.
In 2007 a new much more powerful European Large Hadron Collider at CERN will come on line. The universe may just yet escape its bottle when this is cranked up in 2007 or we might end up only with a fried solar system ... or not, as the case might be. The thing is, how can we know for sure? The stakes are rather high after all. "Behold. I have become death, destroyer of worlds." (Robert Oppenheimer)
I am not at all suggesting that there should be a moratorium on such research. It would be nice though if someone could convince me that the people at CERN or Brookhaven RHIC really do know what they are doing and that there are no nasty surprises lurking in their magic rings. There can be absolutely no margin for error.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Something to ponder ...
The World into a 100
If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:-
There would be:-
15 from the Western Hemisphere, north and south
73 would be non-white
27 would be white
70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian
95 would be heterosexual
5 would be homosexual
6 people would possess 23% of the entire world's wealth,
and all 6 would be from the United States or Europe
33 would live in substandard housing
16 would be unable to read
33 would suffer from malnutrition
(Note: There is an earlier version of these statistics which is inaccurate and has been going around the internet for some time. This is a reasonably realistic revision in accordance with official UN and other data).
Clearly we need to see the world from "zoom out." The truth is that most of us are only inclined to see the world from "zoom in," that little bit of turf and context that makes up our own life. It's understandable that this should be so in one sense for our immediate responsibilities are close at hand but if we neglect the bigger picture we are not doing anyone any favours. We live in an increasingly interdependent world. We need to engage in those actions concerning poverty, education and disease that will benefit us all, not just those who so obviously need it the most.
St. John taught that he who claimed to love God but in fact hated his brother was a liar, (1 John 4:20). Surely our faith means that we cannot continue to neglect our neighbour in his need? To respond to that need is to show our true love for God.
Friday, March 18, 2005
The Big One
This generation is as aware as never before of the multiple threats to humanity from the natural environment and from our own folly. In the 60's we all lived in the shadow of the Bomb. We still do. As long as nuclear weapons exist the unthinkable will still be thinkable by some. Since then, however, the threats to human survival have become much more evident to us and uppermost in our minds. The list is now quite impressive and growing ...
(1) Asteroid impact ... local devastation every few hundred years.
(2) Earthquakes and tsunamis ... as we know now, a devastating event just about anytime, anywhere. Apparently the recent shift in the tectonic plates in the Far East has made another major quake more likely and imminent. America appears doomed by the supervolcano lurking under the Yellowstone National Park. This could blow now or in a few thousand years with devastating consequences for 80% of the whole country and beyond. If that doesn't worry our American friends the volcanic landslide waiting to happen in the Canaries should. This would give just a few hours notice of a total devastation of the eastern seaboard by an Atlantic crossing tsunami.
(3) Global warming ... if average temperatures really do increase by the anticipated 10 degrees over the next 50 years then polar cap inundation, extreme weather and crop failure lie just around the corner.
(4) Global cooling ... every few hundred thousand years the solar system passes through galactic dust clouds that send the earth into a snowball freeze up. We are not talking here about being able to skate across the Thames in winter time but the long term and persistent total winter scenario of kilometres deep ice sheets covering most if not all of the planet.
(5) Magnetic pole switching ... we're overdue on this one, a reversal in the polarity of the earth's magnetic field punctuated by a fairly long period when the field is at a bare minimum leaving us naked before the life threatening ionising radiation of solar flares and cosmic rays. The atmosphere itself will provide some protection but the biosphere will be severely affected for all life.
All of this is quite apart from our startling ingenuity in devising new ways of threatening the planet and its creatures. The prospects don't look good. Eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, the most important thing happening next week won't be the fate of some hapless soap TV star but the challenge of whether or not there will be food on the table and safety from disease. In this, the non-western world will have a head start over its soft and self indulgent neighbour. Privation is already a daily experience for the developing world and unlike us, in the face of often unremitting suffering, there is a curious relative absence of secularism and crises of faith.
Where am I going with this one? I suppose I am reflecting on just how fragile human life and civilisation is on this planet. I am thinking about how unprepared we are for a major setback. I am asking whether or not our religious angst in the west isn't a function of decadent ease rather than a genuine engagement with life and death in the raw. Time will tell. Lord have mercy!
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
"O Heavenly King the Comforter ..."
The Scriptures and Holy Tradition are remarkably uninterested in the question as to whether or not God exists. This questions which seems to preoccupy modern minds would have seemed a very strange one to our forebears. They were far more interested in how one can know God rather than speculate about his existence; far more concerned over this personal encounter rather than any abstract exterior knowledge.
There are traditions in non-Orthodox Christianity that stress this personal encounter, this existential knowledge. The trouble with these is that they are so often individualistic and lite on sanctification, a weakness that can lead into all sorts of errors and dangers, the most catastrophic of which is spiritual pride, (hubris).
In Orthodox Christianity a believer's knowledge of God is always "in communion." We never relate to God alone but always in that communion of all the faithful, which is the Church. It seems to me that this is profoundly realistic as to our human nature which, in Orthodox thought, is not a solitary posession but a shared state of being. Truly, my salvation is bound inextricably together with the salvation of my brothers and sisters, the personal with the communal and, indeed, the cosmic.
The Holy Spirit, therefore, can be described the hypostasis of the Church's Communion with God. As we, (the Orthodox), enter Great Lent we could do no better than call to mind the ultimate test of all our disciplines:- "Is this increasing my love for God and neighbour?"
Friday, March 11, 2005
In western democracies such religiously inspired murder is, of course, illegal. Nonetheless, Muslims who convert to Christianity in the west might as well be dead for the violence, harrassment and persecution visited upon them. The authorities, not wanting to provoke community conflict in a post 9/11 era usually advise persecuted Christian converts to move out of the area. However, that solves nothing. The rule of law is eroded and in any case, the persecution invariably starts up again elsewhere. Word gets round.
This hidden suffering is now coming to light. This Times On Line article makes it clear that there are estimated to be 200,000 "apostates" in the UK alone, many of whom experience persecution on a systematic and continual basis. Shockingly, many Christian churches and ministers do not defend them. Either this is because political correctness cows them into submission or there is a naivete around that refuses to believe such things. Well, the truth is out now so the west had better wise up to this before it's too late. Islam is becoming more aggressive and it is no service to democracy, the rule of law and religious freedom to bury one's head in the sand and pretend it's not happening. So a challenge to the police, the courts and local authorities. When are you going to do something about this? To those churches who turn a blind eye ... shame on you.
For more information on the plight of persecuted Christians globally, visit the Barnabas Fund.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
The contemporary media publish for a mass circulation and what can't be immediately accessible and compressed into a sound byte just isn't worth printing or broadcasting. That's why we as Orthodox Christians, with a very rich heritage of symbolism, language and ritual, have to learn to "talk the talk." Some baulk at this preferring to remain instead unsullied by the world; but in this we only talk to ourselves. This is an indulgence and unjustifiable from the gospel. Our Lord made himself crystal clear to his audience and we must do no less.
This communication clarity is a real skill and it takes patience and imagination to make it work. It's a good discipline as well for witness ... deliberately to leave behind all the jargon, technical vocabulary and theological obscurities in favour of a very simple and straightforward delivery.
I believe that this can be done without sacrificing the mystery and the complexity that lies at the heart of faith and life. The trick is to leave your listener or reader with a question, not with an answer. Jesus was particularly good at that. "But who do you say that I am?" No one can shirk the simplicity, clarity and challenge of this way of speaking. This is the sort of language we need to use in the public domain.
I'm learning; sometimes the hard way!
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Speaking as a Christian priest however and one whose Mother Church exists on BOTH Lebanese and Syrian soil, Damascus and Beirut are and will remain spiritual brothers in the Antiochian Patriarchate whatever happens to the political situation on the ground. I take enormous heart from this, for a Christian belongs to a City whose lord is God himself, the One before Whom all kingdoms, empires and republics will bow. This unity and common loyalty to the Lord enables Christians to love their country and defend it provided that such love does not compromise their primary identity as members of one Church and servants of one God.
How this works out now for our Lebanese and Syrian brothers and sisters is up to them but we who do not share these nationalities but who do share the same Church must pray for them and support them in forging a new political relationship for a new century.
The map of the Middle East is indeed changing. If it doesn't happen without peace and justice it will change again less happily before too long. May God's will be done.
Friday, March 04, 2005
None of this should surprise Christians. Our Lord took special care to come alongside those in most need and those most neglected in order that they, hungry for the love and wisdom of God might find life in Him.
Teachers know though that this is no sentimental or idealised calling. Damaged people sometimes can only relate through their anger, despair and frustration ... and make no mistake about it; there are very many damaged children in our schools. Sometimes a school is the ONLY secure environment where attention and care may be found.
Today I taught in a particular school where, frankly, I came away just a little weary and dejected. There had been some good moments but you do wonder sometimes whether any progress has been made. Often, though, we just don't realise what actually has been achieved and for reasons I can't go into here my confidence has now been restored. I believe that there is a very real need to get more Christian teachers into State education. Wherever the need is, there our Lord calls us to serve ... as He did and does.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
For nearly 40 years Star Trek has kindled the imagination of young and old alike that humankind's future lies out there in the stars. It maybe many generations before we get there but this century will certainly see a more extensive human exploration and settlement of the solar system and perhaps a few long range probes sent to scout detectable hospitable planets in nearby stellar systems. What lies beyond that is anybody's guess. Star Trek has had an honoured history of stimulating thought about such issues and popularising the whole notion of space exploration. In admittedly lean times for public imagination and idealism about space perhaps we need Star Trek now to rekindle that great idea. Later in the 2020's perhaps the first human will step on Mars which will in itself be a vindication of that vision.
If all this seems too fanciful for you perhaps my old school chum Dr. David Darling will show you some amazing things on his award winning and excellent web site. Go here and be amazed!
The questions about human exploration of space and life elsewhere in the Universe do not stop here. There are profound theological implications in our quest for extraterrestial life. How will human believers adapt in their faith to first contact with sentient, intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe? How will Christians for example assess the significance of Christ in relation to other non-human saviours?
A long time ago I read a wonderful poem entitled: "Christ in the Universe." I can think of no greater testimony to an inclusive Christocentric faith and no better celebration of the importance of keeping the Trek idea burning brightly in the public imagination than this poem. "Make it so!"
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Today the BBC has broadcast another of its ground breaking whistle blowing documentaries following a undercover reporter working in a detention centre for asylum seekers. Some 15 employees have been removed from post during ongoing investigations. The racism, the violence, the hatred, the collusion to conceal recorded in this programme was truly sickening. Here at St. Aidan's we do a lot of work with asylum seekers and refugees enabling them to find their voice and confidence against a backdrop of tabloid vilification and prejudice. Some of the stories of our people are truly heart breaking. I can only pray that such incidents that the BBC has exposed, which are not exceptional, may prompt the racists and the appeasers of racists to be removed from post (be they warders or politicians) and, hopefully, reformed.
Now, I may happily and with a good conscience prefer to be dead than fettered but I cannot claim the same sacrifice from others in the face of weapons of mass destruction. So, we have to take reasonable steps, democratically mandated, for our mutual security.
The bottom line in any democracy is the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive combined with a common allegiance to a moral and constitutional code transcending both. When politicians see themselves as "managers" or "guardians" however, rather than representatives and servants we have trouble on our hands. When the human city attempts to subvert the perogatives of God, who in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is an ultimate respecter of personhood (even if HIS representatives often fail in that regard), then this is truly a demonic idolatry infecting the body politic. The end term of that progression is North Korea. We may not be there yet, (indeed, mercifully we are not), but it only takes a little sleep for the juggernaut to advance. We need to wake up, protest and act.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Let's start with a bit of a rant.
Magna Carta. Let's remember what it said all those hundreds of years ago and tremble (with rage I hope, not fear) at the ease with which this government is prepared to dismantle our freedoms and human rights simply by waving the terrorist bogeyman at us.
(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.Well done all you Labour backbenchers who resisted the Whips. Shame on you all those who didn't.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Thank you Mr. Churchill.
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