Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Controversial Hockey Stick

What sceptics like Christopher Booker fail to mention in their gleeful criticism is that there are newer, better, more robust hockey sticks out there. 

When he produced the 1998 stick (so called MBH98)  Mann was clear about the fragility of his starting data (“it’s hard to imagine how much more explicit we could have been”) but he has since been hard at work with more diverse sources of data, and more refined algorithms.  Mann and numerous other colleagues produced a new stick in 2008, and the head was still as pronounced.  We’re getting too hot for this just to be about the end of an ice age.  Something else is going on.  This is the hockey stick that BBC use in this graph here, and the article here.

Mann’s most trenchant critics remain unimpressed.  Analyst Steve McIntyre, often favourably quoted by Christopher Booker, has given up years of his life to breaking the hockey stick.  He blogs at and I am happy to agree that though he has a background in “mineral exploration financing”, his work should still be regarded on its merits.

The problem for the lay person is how to judge between the “warmist” Mann and the “sceptic” McIntyre.

When McIntyre writes

Their non-dendro network uses some data with the axes upside down, e.g., Korttajarvi sediments, which are also compromised by agricultural impact (M. Tiljander, personal communication), and uses data not qualified as temperature proxies (e.g., speleothem δ13C).

And Mann counters

The claim that “upside down” data were used is bizarre. Multivariate regression methods are insensitive to the sign of predictors. Screening, when used, employed one-sided tests only when a definite sign could be a priori reasoned on physical grounds. Potential nonclimatic influences on the Tiljander and other proxies were discussed in the SI, which showed that none of our central conclusions relied on their use.

The lay person is at a loss to judge (although Booker fancies himself perfectly qualified).  I just want to know if my central heating should be switched off, if I should take me lead from Jonathan Porritt or Jeremy Clarkson?  I haven’t got time to find out about Korttajarvi sediments.

So who to believe?

I think we’ve to go with Mann.

Firstly, the more proof must be demanded of the sceptics.  If there is even a 30% chance that we are killing the planet, that is enough to take global action.  If a chemical has a 30% of giving you cancer you stay clear.  The same applies here.

Secondly, for all McIntyre’s indepence, this may also be isolationism.  Even critics of Mann’s 1998 hockey stick, and supporters of McIntyre’s right to be heard state this:

McIntyre has not published a regular review paper on this issue in a peer-reviewed journal. We have advised Steve McIntyre several times that he should write a paper just on this issue, without blending many other aspects into such a paper. He has not done so, it seems.

and add

We would also like to emphasize that we consider Steve McIntyre often unfairly treated by the scientific community. He has, as everybody else, the right to be heard and to participate in the debate as long he is contributing scientific arguments. His GRL paper has demonstrated that he is qualified to participate. We have supported Steve McIntyre in his quest to be heard; that does not mean that we agree with all his views and knowledge claims. Indeed, we mostly do not.

I want to come back at Booker on this point “Why do you mention none of this?  You are sharp, pugilistic and combative, but underneath the dazzling rhetoric, I fail to find the truth.”

Understanding Flat Earthers

1. The earth’s current warming is, historically speaking, nothing unusual

2. The ice is not melting

3. Sea levels are not going to rise

4. CO2 emmissions have a limited effect on global temperature.

5. The IPCC is a corrupt organisation which does not truly represent the views of genuine experts

6. The UK Met Office not much better

7. We have been plunged into a new age of superstition (sounding like Hitchens here) where scientifc evidence no longer counts for anything.

The first of these is the evidence that the earth’s current warming is something unusual.

Derek Bingham on Keats

Listening to Derek Bingham on death and dying on William Crawley.

Bingham relates the story of Keats’ death (persecuted by the critics) and the note on his head stone:

This Grave
contains all that was mortal,
of a
on his Death Bed,
in the Bitterness of his heart,
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies,
Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone
“Here lies One

Whose Name was writ in Water”

Bingham notes that we should never take the verdict of our lowest moments.

On Psalm 23 he says that we are not unafraid of death, but unafraid of evil, which is a subtle distinction.

He talks about now looking at the world in high definition.

Realising the impact of our life

“Deeds of merit as we thought them

He will tell us were but sin

And little acts we have forgotten

He will tell us were of him.”

Can Smart People Believe In God

Menlo Park – 7th December 2009

Ortberg starts by talking about knowledge and knowability.  The idea being that moral knowledge, and knowledge of faith does belong to the same category of knowledge as sports technique, or science.

That our life has fundamentally four questions, which we all answer in some way, even if we don’t formally acknowledge.

1. What is real

2. What is the good life

3. Who has the good life – and this one is thrown in sharp contrast when we look at obituaries and compare them adverts.  The obituaries go for the the third question, the adverts look at the second; and the difference between the values in each is stark

4. How do I become good

These are the fundamental questions which ground our knowledge in seeking faith in God


Rob Bell – 6th December 2009

This is Rob Bell on the internallising of the Sermon on the Mount, that this is a life that flows out of us, that it is not just a new set of commands.

There is an analogy with being taught to ride a bicycle, and the lack of good that getting instructions gives you.  Its not instructions that is going on here.

This is basically an analysis of the hypocrite condemnations that happen in Matthew 6,

This is a refusal to accept the rewards that God has for us, the best kind of reward, and telling God to butt out so that we can receive our reward from other people now.

There are references to Jeremiah 31 and the shift from bad things to good things at about 5 minutes.

A point that Bell makes is that Jesus assumes that his disciples are generous, and that if anyone wants to understand God better then they should give, they should not arrive at God by hearing the answer that shifts things for them.

In the hypocrite section there is much theatre language and there is speculation that Jesus may even have been involved in the building of the theatre that has been excavated not far from Nazareth.

God’s reward is the best reward

God comes to the night shift

Being hard enough to cope with long hours in the chill

Being able to handle yourself when management gave you a hard time

Do a good job and look after yourself.

And these guys had their own culture

They looked out for each other

And didn’t have too much to do with the other workers in the store.

And the majority of them were men

I had just become a Christian in those days and decided to leave them all a copy of John’s gospel when I left

Some of them reached the bin

Others, a I think the respected my balls

I could be wrong

But I don’t think that many of them are currently serving as elders in the Church of Scotland at the moment.

Night shift workers have probably not changed a lot since Jesus came to earth.

God’s choice is always unusual

When he chooses the couple that will be Jesus’ herald he goes to a couple of pensioners who haven’t been able to have a family

When he chooses the parents of Jesus he goes to a poor couple, and a couple with no experience up to this point of parenting

And when he chooses a place it’s a shed for animals, the reason that Mary and Joseph are not in a guest room is because someone of higher rank is in there, even though she Mary is pregnant

And the people to share the message first will be the night shift workers.

Hard men.

In the Bible, Bethlehem farm workers have a reputation for giving women a hard time

The kind of guys that you keep your eye on

Shepherds were mistrusted because they grazed their sheep in other people’s fields

Because their work meant they didn’t take good care of their women

But these are the guys that God goes to first

With a tribe of angels

Good News

To you

To you

In David’s town today a saviour is born

And this is the sign to you

You will find him in swaddling bands – that’s not much of a sign, its like saying that you will find a baby in a nappy and a vest with poppers on it, not much

But you will find him in a manger – that must have been unusual

And the angels appear in the sky, singing praises to God

Glory to God in the highest

And peace on earth to all those with whom God is pleased

Which must somehow mean these shepherds, somehow

God is pleased with them

With their language, their reputation, their tattoos

And that’s it

So the shepherds have a choice to make

Stay with what they know, stay doing the job

Or abandon the sheep – in the night to whatever they need guarded from

And go on a search through Bethlehem looking for those odd thing, a child in a manger

And that seems to me how God works

He finds folk who say “Who me? We’re not into that kind of thing.

That’s for the woman, the nice folk”

He finds folk and gives them a hint,

And then says “Leave your cares behind, you have some looking to do.”

And then he gives these guys a moment when God is near.

And without their being angels here tonight

And even if you don’t have a tattoo or a conviction, or your not so good with pallet lifters

Do you think this might be the hint

And how do you do the looking – the searching for the place where God might be

And what is the thing that you leave behind, the risk that you take to do the looking

And God, God will do the rest

He started with the shepherds

But the unlikeliness of God’s choosing didn’t finish there.

Ten Things About Shepherds

And this is the point that the gospels are trying to make, that Jesus makes thing happen around him.

But the death and birth of Jesus are the opposite to this

The death of Jesus is about Jesus receiving the ill treatment of others,

And what that is about is that Jesus takes away illness of human failure

By receiving it.

1)   Swaddled – Jesus does nothing

But at the beginning of Jesus life, he also does nothing.

As Jesus is bound at death, so he is bound at birth


Jesus does nothing at all in the gospels until the age of twelve.

What the stories are about are about the reaction of the people around Jesus

How they deal with this encounter of God

2)   Shift

So many of them get moved about

  1. Mary to see Elizabeth
  2. Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem
  3. The shepherds into Bethlehem
  4. The wise Men to Jerusalem
  5. Mary and Joseph to Egypt
  6. Mary and Joseph back to Nazareth

And shifts in perception

Mary and Joseph to being unmarried parents

Elizabeth and Zechariah to being pensioner parents

Herod to realising that he is not the only king in Israel.

There is a provocation here, “How do you deal with this coming amongst us?”

So we are going to read through the closing of Luke’s story about Jesus birth

And in this we are going to be summoning ourselves

Let ourselves be pushed around a bit by the story, provoked, tested, invited.

This morning we are going to do this in the company of the shepherds and to a smaller extent in the company of Mary.

3)   Status – Bethlehem Shepherds

V8 There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks.[1]

There are two things about Bethlehem shepherds that come to this story.

The first thing is similar to the point that I made on Sunday evening at the Watchnight service, was that shepherds were at the bottom rung of the ladder.

They were banned from worship at the temple

They were regarded as scoundrels because they couldn’t keep your daughter properly if they married you

There is a story about Bethlehem agricultural workers in the Ruth in the Old Testament, in which they have to be told not to harass women.

Now which profession today are famous for their harassment of attractive women who walk past them, well imagine the same thing amongst the shepherds.

There is a double thing here though, because there is in the history of Israel a very famous Bethlehem shepherd called David (who was also an unlikely choice)

So there is a double thing – unlikely people, but if you know the ways of God you shouldn’t be too surprised.

There is thing here, the word for spending the night suggests staying out

Anyone else who isn’t in a proper home this evening

They are not in the guest room of the house because there is someone more important who is there

Who far down must Mary and Joseph be down the social scale, where Mary’s pregnancy is insufficient for her to get bumped up into the guest room.

So the birth of Jesus is about the camaraderie of the homeless

The gathering of those at the bottom

Whom status is low, and so where status is low, so too is pride and an open-ness to what God might be up to.

Humility is one of the most painful things that can be given to us

And yet few things do us more good.

Humility is the knowledge that we are not God,

And it is remarkably liberating, a deep sigh as we realise that we don’t have to be God any more, all our pretences and hubris and clamour and striving for status that doesn’t make us happy,

All that gone

Let God be God and stop trying to steal his job.

Note also, and I hate to break this to you folks, but if they were spending the night in the fields, then the chances are that this was summer.  But don’t tell anyone.

4)   Shock – Verse 9

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, [2]

I was listening to an interview this week with a guy called Dallas Willard, one of the most thoughtful defenders and thinkers on Christian Faith.

Someone asked him a question about why God is invisible, and in the background to the question about why God is invisible is the often given reason that God can’t just be with you all the time, because if that happened then you would be dominated by having God with you, and you wouldn’t learn to live for yourself.

It would be like driving all the time with a police traffic cop on your shoulder, you would drive to please the police, you wouldn’t learn to drive.

Anyway the person asked the question

“I get the thing about God not being with you all the time

And I realise that’s like me with my children, I can’t follow them around everywhere telling them what to do,

But I can still show up for breakfast every morning, be visible to them at breakfast time, and let them see me at breakfast, before letting them get on with the rest of the day.

I realise that God can’t be with me all the time, but he couldn’t he just show up at breakfast; that wouldn’t take away my freedom.”

And Willard said “I am not sure that God showing up at your breakfast wouldn’t take away your freedom, it would be like Tony  Soprano showing up at breakfast”

There is necessarily something truly frightening about the presence of God,

Because God is huge.

This galaxy is lit by thousands and millions of roaring atomic furnaces which we call stars, and there are 100,000s of galaxies, and this solar system is a tiny spec in our galaxy. And the physicists say that of the matter that we can see, that the visible matter is only 93% of the matter that there is, because you need dark matter.

And this universe is only the beginning of what God does.

And you can’t just have God show up, even in the morning for breakfast,

It would blow us away.

But just this once, the rules are bent

Because God is here on earth

And as close as anyone can to being singed with the glory of God

Come these shepherds.

And the glory of the Lord shows up on this hillside in Bethlehem

To these night shift workers

And how do they react?

They are afraid.

When the tiniest fraction of God, the glory of God, the weight of God shows up

You are blasted, you are afraid.

That God is so much bigger than us.

But still into a group of shepherds on a hillside.

5)   Switch – Emotional Switch

but the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. [3]

The phrase that the angel uses here is very important, “Good News” was a phrase normally used for Emperors, very important people.

I have a press release,

This is something that is going to happen all the time

Jesus is going to start taking up space that Emperors and Kings think belongs to them

And do you notice though the switch

This Jesus has come, and what is fear, should now be joy

This is the purpose of what the angel brings, and the Christ child

The transition from fear to joy.

6)   Saviour – Army of Angels

This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! 12 And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”


There are a few things here.

“Your saviour”

What do you “my saviour”, why do I need a saviour

It is my job to save sheep, I can handle myself,

What do I need a saviour for

There is something slightly offensive about being told that you need a saviour.

Some young kid who can’t do anything

He is your saviour.

People who need saviours are drowning people

People who need saviours are collapsing businesses

Relegation threatened football clubs

And they need saviours because the thing that they need most in the world

Is not something that they can do for themselves.

Jesus is the statement, the most important things in your life

You cannot do them for yourself

You need a saviour.

And then a great army of angels appears

What do angel armies do?

This band of angels, what do they do when they are not rehearsing their songs.

“Glory to God in the highest” there is something big about God that needs celebrated

When people encounter greatness, something in them wells up

This has to be sung about

It happens on the terracing

It happens in the National Anthem

Something so big here has happened,

We have to sing

At that point a great army of angels appears

7)   Search – What Do you Do with All This

You have had an encounter,

What do you do with this?

You can protect yourself from any sort of faith

By telling yourself that this is a hallucination

This is the road of no faith

Or you can launch your faith off from this point here

Make this the thing that has happened to you

This is the thing that sometimes happens in people who have experienced signs and wonders in their faith

Or one guy I think I told him about you before

Whose faith began the day he had a vision from God telling him that he was being going to be knocked off his bike

And when he was knocked off his bike

He knew that God wanted him

But the problem is, that day became the moment in his faith

And everything else could never quite live up to that moment.

You then have to conduct a diligent search

You have to seek this Jesus,

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us.”[5]

The phrase here is “Let us go through Bethlehem” there is the sense that there is some searching to be done here

See this thing that the Lord has told us about.

And do you see the dynamic here

“Sign” – “Search”

That is the thing that has happened to so many of you

Your coming to Church started with a deep rumbling in your souls

A sense that you just had to do this thing.

And then a search

You have to find the reasons, find the Jesus who meets you here

Spend time with him

How do you meet Jesus

You seek him,

And then you spend time with him.

That is a promise of Jesus “Seek and you shall find”

Give yourself to this Jesus

And get to know him

See if you believe that he is the person that he claims to be.

Spend time with his words

And speaking to him.

8)   Share – What The Shepherds Said

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. 17 When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. 18 All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said.[6]

And do you notice what the shepherds do, they tell others

The most effective agents that the Church has are those who have just joined its ranks

There is something fresh

And they are trusted by their friends

And there is something immediate genuine

It is not like you are having to retell all the same old phrases.

And there is also a great privilege that you do not have to have years of theological education to tell others about Jesus

So it is something like

“Sign” “Search” Share”

9)   Store – Mary

In this, you have a response by Mary which is something different from the shepherds

Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. 20 The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.


Mary through these thing into her heart and thought about them

It was like this intense experience, and she had to commit it to memory, and then say “I need to think about what this means”

Try and unpack all that this means,

Sense where God might be in life

One of the best things that you can do is journal and think about where God is

Or do a blog

Or write letters about what is going one

What it means in life

And what God might be up to.


10)         Sing

And the shepherds head back to the fields

And they are singing

Singing like the angels

They too simply want to acknowledge what God has done

Take a moment to let them be in the moment where God visits earth.

That God makes promises and he keeps them.

  1. Silence
  2. Shift – to make room for Jesus
  3. Status – the shepherds and the parents have low status
  4. Shock – the glory of God shines all around
  5. Switch – from fear to joy
  6. Saviour – you need saved
  7. Search – to move from a realisation to a journey
  8. Share – to share what we have found with others
  9. Store – to take experience and do something with it
  10. Sing – to praise God

[1]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[2]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[3]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[4]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[5]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[6]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[7]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

Participating In The Grace That Saved Me

You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his) but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.

Gilead – Part Two

Meeting in heaven

Key Words Heaven Restoration Redemption Body Disability
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 134
Quote I always imagine divine mercy giving us back to ourselves and letting us laugh at what we became, laugh at the preposterous disguises of crouch and sqiunt and limp and lour we all do put on. I enjoy the hope that when we meet I will not be estranged from you by all the oddnesses life has carved into me.

Hagar and Ishmael

Key Words Parenting Children
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 135
Quote Story of Hagar and Ishmael, about how God parents us
References Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:14-21)

The common-ness of sin

Key Words Sin Confession
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 139
Quote Ames talks about hearing supposedly terrible sins, and thinking “Oh that again” – that we are awful, but generally we do a good job of hiding it.

I think sometimes there might be an advantage in making people aware how worn and stale these old trangressions are. It might take some of the shine off them, for those who are tempted. But I have no evidence to suggest it has effect. Of course there are special and extenuating circumstances.

Transgression, that is legalism. There is never just one transgression. There is a wound in the flesh of human life that scars when it heals and often enough seems never to heal at all.

Avoid trangression. How’s that for advice.

Relationship as a question

Key Words Relationship Growth Friendship
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 141
Quote When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his) but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.

Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor and God is the audience.

Honouring parents

Key Words Honour Commandments
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 152
Quote Extended discussion on the commandments. In particular the commands to recognise the sacredness of God (First commandment), the sacredness of all time (the fourth commandment, tells us to begin with the seventh day), and the sacredness of all people (the fifth commandment tells us to begin with our parents).
References Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)

On earth

Key Words Blessing Providence Grace Heaven
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 190
Quote From Isaac Watts
Give me on earth what seems Thee best
Till death and Heav’n reveal the rest

Gilead – Part One

Knowing your father

Key Words Father Son Child Parent
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 8
Quote Well, see and see but do not perceive, hear and hear but do not understand, as the Lord says. I can’t claim to understand that saying, as many times as I’ve heard it, and even preached on it. It simply states a deeply mysterious fact. You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it. A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.
References Seeing and not perceiving (Isaiah 6)

Water and blessing

Key Words Baptism Water Blessing
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 32
Quote Reflecting on Baptism, Ames says
There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them… It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth… It is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual but who can know what they really are. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.

A good sermon

Key Words Preaching Sermon
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 51
Quote A good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation. It has to be heard in that way. There are three parties to it, of course, just as there are even to the most private thought – the self that yields the thought, the self that acknowledges and in some way responds to the thought, and the Lord. That is a remarkable thing to consider.

Like Troy

Key Words Heaven Earth Creation
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 65
Quote In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

Live long enough

Key Words Forgiveness Grace Greivance Enmity
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Quote It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire. Another reason why you must be careful of your health.

Preservation and creation

Key Words Preservation Survival Stubborness Resilience
Source Gilead
Source Author Marilynne Robinson
Location 126
Quote From George Herbert:
For Preservation is a Creation, and more, it is a continued Creation, and a Creation every moment.