Sunday, 16 December 2007

Weekend opinion

The Archbishop of York writes in the Observer I ripped up my dog collar to help topple this brutal tyrant.

Mark Vernon at Comment is free asks “Is philosophy just tinkering around the edges of science, or can a meeting of the disciplines give us deeper insghts into the universe?” in God and the multiverse.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed argues in the Guardian’s Face to faith column that Spiritual journeys like the hajj must challenge body and soul.

Christopher Howse in the Telegraph writes on Judging when you must fight a war

Also in the Telegraph Sarah Todd hears how one Christmas congregation found room at the inn in Fathers, sons and holy spirits.

Joanna Moorhead in the Times writes that in deepest Surrey, families are flocking to watch a cast of real people in a most extraordinary nativity play O little town of Wintershall.

Also in the Times Ruth Gledhill writes about a study that argues Plagues of Egypt ‘caused by nature, not God’.

In the Church Times Giles Fraser writes about US suburbs: the home of segregation.

Posted by Peter Owen on Sunday, 16 December 2007 at 3:40pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

As a U.S. American, I get to say, Giles Fraser is spot on about U.S. American racism. Why do you think TEC requires all clergy and as many others as we can convince to do so, to engage in racism awareness trainings, as often as we can get people to do it, because just once is just plain not enough.

And Wintershall, shades of The Vicar of Dibley, with Alice giving actual birth in their live nativity on Owen's farm. Maybe Dibley got their idea from Wintershall.

Happy Advent, everyone. One week, + or - , until Christmas.
Lois Keen

Posted by: Lois Keen on Sunday, 16 December 2007 at 6:09pm GMT

Sentamu is sharing an important lesson. There are leaders who can charismatically pull former freedom fighters to create a ruling body. It's not just Zimbabwe, there are many historical examples of military geniuses who then went on to have brutal and repressive regimes. One of Castro's geniuses is that he managed to create a relatively safe society (pity about the GLBT intolerances) that actually cared about his peoples' well-being.

We see similar examples in the bible. It was Joshua who entrusted to take the people into the Holy Land. The generation that was comfortable with striking the earth were to have no part. Moses could look, but he could not touch.

Souls fed by military infrastructure love just war theology. In the model Howse refers to there is nothing about acknowledging the cost of war and suffering, there is no awareness of breaking the covenant of peace, they have forgotten the commandment "thou shalt not kill" nor do their honor mothers and fathers when they consider souls as merely commodities. It is a theology that the ends justifies the means, no the means makes the fruits putrid before God, especially when they have invoked God's name to go to war based on greed and deceit.

Jeremiah 21:4 "the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands" Ecclesiastes 9:18 "Wisdom is better than weapons of war" Micah 4:3 "He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

Yes, the ten plagues could be natural events, but wasn't it a nice coincidence to have a prophet of Moses calibre swinging with such alacrity at all the right times? Yes the Red Sea might have parted as a natural event, but wasn't it amazing that Moses and his people happened to be at the right point at the right time to safely move through?

I don't have a problem with multiverse models, it gives a good dollop of humility to those "higher" unseen souls who think that God can't rebuke them. As Vernon points out, a broader appreciation can remind you of limitations and bring fresh insights.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Sunday, 16 December 2007 at 7:42pm GMT

Giles Fraser has got it right only half-way in his conclusion of the automobile being the mode to racism in the US. It is a mode to alienate one another in a private hell of selfishness, narcissism and security that has driven the country to a lifestyle that will eventually kill it.

There are drive through "live nativity scenes" where for the price of a ticket, families can watch Jesus in the creche freezing in the outfield of the local Baptist or Church of God in wherever in the comfort of their own Chevrolet, SAAB or Lexus SUV, making anything purporting to be similar in Surrey seem too chummy. (It's the twelve days before Christmas, isn't it?)

I am as much to be blamed as anybody, today after spending one hour in snowbound Interstate Expressway hell coming home from a singing gig in the closest RSCM church.

It is anything but of community. It is surrealistic "pretend before it gets too real" for the drive-in, throw-away, and want-it-all, ex-urbanized consumer "Christian" American.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Sunday, 16 December 2007 at 9:34pm GMT

re: Giles Fraser. American modes of transportation have developed differently from those in Britain in part because the distances in the US are much greater, and also because the systems mostly developed later than those in Britain. But even in LA thses days, great effort (and lots of cash) is (are) being put into the development of public mass transit (subways and light rail). As was the case in New York and London, completion of the system will take many decades, at least.

Professor Kruse notwithstanding, no mass demographic movement like that of Americans moving out to suburbs is simply explained. Nor is the relationship of public and private spaces in a country of 300 million.

"Europeans like flourishing, multi-purpose public space, full of wit, energy, and people. Outside New York, it does not exist over here. Things are compartmentalised." Or maybe "wit, energy, and people" are just organized differently.

"The language of civil rights — however historically significant — has taken the United States only so far." True -- and if you'd like to know what comes next, take a look at the rate of increase of interracial marriage in the US.

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Monday, 17 December 2007 at 9:58am GMT

I write with trepidation, having only visited the USA once in my life. (Little Rock, in 1999, when I was giving a paper at UALR.) It was a culture shock, to put it mildly. Dr Fraser's article matches my experience.

The utterly crappy +urban+ transport (where distance isn't really an issue) was the first shock. Little Rock is about the same size as my home town, but presumably rather more important as a state capital. Buses were infrequent, and in the evenings largely non-existent. Routes were few. Passengers were obviously poor and, even more obviously, almost all were black. (There's apparently one train per +week+ in each direction.) The city centre was the second shock. I'd expected "Main Street USA" with the cultural equivalent of Top Shop, Waterstones, Boots, Debenhams. It was a virtual desert, with one cheap shop and a few sandwich bars. Then there was the conference visit to the little museum dedicated to the desegregation of the high school. The museum arranged with the local police department to have an armed officer on duty to ensure our safety during the special evening opening.

It may be that Giles Fraser's piece isn't entirely fair, but I think it accurately represents the first impression that a "malled" American city gives to a British visitor.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Monday, 17 December 2007 at 7:30pm GMT

Re Giles Fraser's article.

It strikes me, a US American living in "Silicon Valley" in California, that Giles' observations are a mixed bag of accuracies and inaccuracies. His comments about the differences in civic spaces certainly rings mostly true, drawing from my only visit to England last year. I greatly enjoyed being in the city in both London and York. The west coast equivolents to New York are San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Los Angeles (where I was born) is a collection of suburbs with an atrophied "center".
San Jose built a strange shopping center called Santana Row that is a Disney-fied version of an urban street. The pity is there is plenty of real urban downtown in San Jose crying for the kind of development that was stuck out in the 'burbs. It's very nice, in an artificial sort of way (I hate it!). That said, there is a real revival of urban life happening in US cities, at least in the bay area. There is also the reality of ethnic communities. Caucasions are no longer the majority in California, and politics is changing fast. To see what's happening here, Google "Little Saigon San Jose." The Vietnamese community is emerging here as a force to be reaconed with.

Re Giles reference to a "new language," I recommend a new book by Juan Williams: "Enough!" He writes about the need for the black community to take responsibility for change. A good read!

Posted by: Lou Poulain on Tuesday, 18 December 2007 at 12:28am GMT

Alan -- the Fraser piece wasn't entirely unfair either. "Derogation of the public," "obsession with low taxes," "the inherent individualism of rights language" -- can't argue with that. There was the nascent development of a more adequate American social ethic in the early 20th Century (read Reinhold Neibuhr, for instance, or other so-called "Christian Realists" of the 1930s, or the earlier Social Gospel writers), but I suspect that the rise of America to global economic and military power after WWII put the development of such a social ethic on hold. Why change when everything seems to be going so well? Britain's power peaked in the 1880s, and after that new ethical and social ethical opportunities opened -- the same will likely happen in America. Might even result in a new appreciation of public space and non-crappy intra-urban public transport!

Your phrase "malled American city" pretty well captures life for many in America, too. (Maybe first impressions are indeed the most accurate.)

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Tuesday, 18 December 2007 at 4:35am GMT

"Your phrase "malled American city" pretty well captures life for many in America, too."

Sadly, I'd have to agree. A variety of causes. I have fond memories of being a child living in a near-burb of Baltimore and - with my parents - exploring the city. I have yet to find a sub to match the very first ones we bought in Little Italy, as well as the pizzas that predated the cardboard mass produced ones. We hung around the working harbor - watched banana boats unload, bought produce from the Eastern Shore that had beeen brought across the Bay by boat. Behind our rowhouse was an actual alley, and Black men with horse-drawn wagons called out "STRAWberies! RASPberies! FRESH green BEANS!" Now the Inner Harbor is a tarted up tourist trap.

The good news - some small cities, like Staunton, Virginia, about 20 miles south of me, have worked consciously and effectively to make downtown not just a shopping destination, but a cultural center and a place where people can live and buy groceries etc. and ride a free trolley. There's the world's only replica of the Blackfrier's Theatre, and a a fine resident Shakespeare company - I don't have the URL handy, but Google Blackfrier's or American Shakepeare Center [I think].

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Tuesday, 18 December 2007 at 8:37pm GMT

This is a follow up about small Amrican cities. Go to

The town has worked hard to be a livable place. A collegue of mine and her husband got very attractive loans to buy a 4 story building downtown. The groudn floor is rented to a coffee shop, the next floor is an apartment they rent out and they live on the top two floors. It's around the corner from the Blackfriar's and the American Shakespeare Center. To the consternation of outsiders, the town is pronounced as if it were spelled 'STONton.'

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 19 December 2007 at 2:10pm GMT

Thee are signs indeed that we are starting to wake up over here in the US, if not for the fact of no longer controlling the the capital for oil production in outside countries, as gasoline prices continue to rise, despite invasion efforts overseas by a mad aging bunch still (barely) in control of the US government.

The seriousness of mass transit cannot be denied on the US east coast. And towns such as Staunton, Virginia, are putting increasing controls on sprawl outside their historic centers, not unlike the National Trust in England.

It will take a few more spikes in fuel prices to finally convince the American public that it is living in a folly. I hope that our transit systems can be rebuilt (wrestling control through eminent domain, of right of ways from the private freight railroad companies is being talked about, Norfolk Southern has conceded to this in the same corridor as Cynthia Gillatt's Staunton).

And change is in the air politically. Bet on it.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Thursday, 20 December 2007 at 12:13am GMT

On the other hand... If Europeans are shocked by the decayed city centers of some American cities, I expect the suburbs of Paris are a bit of a shock to visiting Americans. Ever played a game called "Whack-a-Mole?" That's the poor for you -- always with us, somewhere...

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Thursday, 20 December 2007 at 4:14am GMT

Riding the RER from Charles DeGaulle was indeed a shock, as was St. Dennis when with a friend I was accompanying on an organ tour. Things were tense then three years ago.

We never learn do we?

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Friday, 21 December 2007 at 8:10pm GMT
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