Monthly Archives: May 2014

On the difficulties of implementation

The tendency to overlook implementation issues is not surprising, given how difficult, and unglamorous, it is to figure out the nuts and bolts of real programs – and how much more enticing it is for politicians and policy analysts to bandy about big ideas.  The implementation of policy is less visible and less dramatic than the framing of policy – and, often, frankly, more arcane.  The negelct of implementation issues is more than a simple intellectual mistake; it may be a rational response to the fact that our political system confers more rewards for the shrewd deployment of symbols and generalised arguments than it does for detailed realistic analysis and forecasting. – Theodore Marmor

A man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation.  – Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince

(both from the Preface)

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Being protected and sacred space

One of the themes at the General Assembly last week was our ideas of secular.  In particular people were keen to attack the secular as a hostile, abandoned place, and a place that we should have little to do with.  It does strike me that often the people who make the strongest attacks on the world’s values seem to drive the biggest cars.

In contrast, a minister I was with recently, who might be criticised for his stance on same-sex marriage, or his links with other faith communities, lives a life of simplicity in one of Scotland’s poorest parishes.

A friend of mine after was saying that if we constantly attack the secular, then we are in effect demanding a theocracy, which is incredibly dangerous.  The secular is an idea at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, and also asks us profound questions about the presence of God, and the place where we meet the stranger.

So I liked this clip as an example of the interaction between the spiritual and the secular.  Often these kind of clips happen in large metropolitan rail termini.  That this happens in an ugly, concretised side platform, next to an unpleasant bar, I kind of like.

Also out there at the moment is this picture, which made me think of protection, God being our Guardian and Psalm 121.

Farewell, Steve Chalke

A few things on Steve Chalke and his departure from the evangelical fold (is departure too gentle a word).

Here is his statement on a new way of reading the Bible:

Here is a statement from Oasis on their departure from Evangelical Alliance and the statement from Evangelical Alliance on his departure.

Here is a response from the Christian Medical Fellowship on the slaughter of the Canaanites in response to Chalke.

Here is a round up of recent excommunications, and all the farewell tweets that went with them (Rob Bell and World Vision were in the firing line).

And here is a post I am completely hated about trying to work out if you are an evangelical or progressive (because owning the right label is so important, above all is who gets to define them)




Evidence as Spectator Sport

This is a great article on Francis Spufford and Rowan Williams on why we believe, and its because of the fit, not because of some lack of evidence.  It’s great on why belief won’t go away and seems to come at the arguments in a much more human way.  John Lennon’s Imagine is the “My little pony of philosophical statements”, being a Christian is like Mozart’s clarinet concerto, which as the quality of God’s mercy.

Our story in two minutes

I had forgotten about this compression of our story into two minutes.  I hate some of the biases in here, towards 9/11 and America, but it’s prophetic at the end and the music works well, and as a piece of perspective, it’s a good reminder.

In a similar vein, here’s a comparison of all the sizes in the universe (I hadn’t realised that the universe was so much larger than the observable universe), and the size you have to get down to, to get near a superstring is frightening.  You either take this as evidence for God (this stuff could not come up with itself), or no God (no self appearing God could come up with this), but it is incredible.


Back in the days of Rob Bell

This is an old one which got me into the Danny McCaskill video (seeing preaching as an art).  Nice to see a Scottish biker feature so heavily in an internationally lauded video (our three greatest sportsmen are Andy Murray, Dan McCaskill and Dave McLeod, and we’ve only heard of the first one).

What I had forgotten about was the cash that was collected for the pastor who was fired during the conference for having attended it.  Those nice conservatives:

This was Ben Witherington, critiqueing Bell (this seems like a long time ago – not to be disparaging though, I love Rob Bell and still do).  He was particularly picking up on the Jewish rabbi stuff which Bell may have been over reading back into the gospel context.

And finally this nasty article about the Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and Don Miller.  It argues that full of hubris they burnt out in a crash of their own making.  I think they went on a journey and we weren’t prepared to let them go, and fails to understand why they did what they did.  Sure, there may be the self-love that goes with being surrounded by those who treat you like a rock star, but these three always seemed to rebel against such things.  I think there was something else going on:


Spiritual but not religious, dying Church

Spiritual But Not Religious

This is Tom Shakespeare – interesting things on the benefits of religion, and that spirituality without religion can be fairly harmful.  We need discipline and we need community, which kind of flies in the face of the culture I highlighted in the Scotsman.

Letters to a dying Church

This is from Sojourners, “to a dying Church”.  Which kind of reads like “you are dying, so could you just do the things I would like you to do”, but it could also be “you are dying, so give up on the self preservation.

I liked the things that alternatives you have – denial, shoot the messenger, curl up in a ball – are the ones that we often go for.


The sweetest sound is the hungry being fed

Probably worth listing the stories in here, because writing them out will not be easy:

The blessing of the apple tree – page 25-27

The kingdom is like learning the art of burglary – page 31-33

The kingdom is like killing an important Lord  – pag 36

Perhaps – p46-47

The monologue of the beggar – page 50

As big as an egg – page 60-63

The gift of the begging bowl – page 68-69

The sweetest sound in all the world – page 71-74




Darkness into light

I was stunned by the story of this miner who was underground for 17 years.  Turns out I was right to be, as the story is a fake.  But there is something about it that you won’t let go of, like why has this article gone viral, something about this that people would like to believe is true.

There is so much to think about here – about burying our dead in the land of darkness, of hoping, but never know if that hope would happen, about the new appreciation that you have of the light when you have lived in darkness for so long.

There is just something so profoundly moving about the man’s photograph.

Then at the end there is something stupid about the man who intentionally lives in darkness.

Ürümqui| A group of coal miners from the western province of Xinjiang, had an unbelievable surprise when the gallery they were excavating opened up on a section of an old mine, that was abandoned 17 years ago after an earthquake that caused some large sections of the tunnels to collapse. While they were exploring the galleries, they stumbled upon Cheung Wai, a 59-year old survivor from the 1997 accident, obviously in a rather bad shape. He was immediately taken to the hospital where a complete evaluation of his physical and mental states will be done over the next weeks.

The poor man had remained trapped underground with the bodies of 78 of his dead coworkers, after an earthquake of a magnitude of 7,8 hit the region and caused the wooden support structure of the mine to crumble and collapse. Somehow lucky in his misfortune, Mr. Cheung was saved by the fact that some ventilation duct still connected his underground prison to the surface, allowing him access to air that was  sufficiently pure to keep him alive.

He managed to survive thanks to an emergency stash of rice and water, stored in an underground depot, conceived especially for this kind of case. The man complemented his diet by catching and eating the countless rats that pullulate in the mine, as well as collecting large quantities of some sort of phosphorescent moss, which constituted his only source of vitamins. Even though he was suffering from great physical and mental stress, he managed to give proper burials to all of his comrades, spending almost a year in this great selfless act.

Mining accidents remain common in China despite growing measures by the government to reduce the problem, which killed more than 4000 miners a year at the beginning of the millenium. Over the last years, the authorities have been cracking down on many unregulated mining operations, which account for almost 80 percent of the country’s 16,000 mines. The closure of about 1,000 dangerous small mines last year helped to cut in half the average number of miners killed, to about six a day, in the first months of this year, according to governmental statistics.

The case of Mr. Cheung remains unique however, and constitutes a world record, according to  the universally recognized authority on record-breaking achievement, Guinness. The former record for surviving underground was of 142 days and was held by a british man named Geoff Smith. He had been voluntarily buried in the backyard of the Railway Inn, his favorite pub, with the intention of breaking the record.

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