Friday, 30 July 2010

I love Oxford, city of dreaming spires

Yes, I love Oxford. I love its architecture, its beauty, its history and its amazing charm.  I have so many happy memories of learning, lectures, libraries, leisurely luncheons, tutorials, fellowship, formal hall dinners, debates, discussions, candid conversations, college events, wonderful walks, reading books and spiritual experiences.

On Wednesday I took my elderly mother around some of my old haunts. It was another special day.
We visited the Oxford Union, Christ Church Meadow, the footpaths by the Cherwell and Isis, the alleged oldest coffee shop in the world (in the High Street), the Bodleian Library and St Giles. It's a pity we didn't have time to visit the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest public museum in the world.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Afghan War will not by won by NATO forces

The Guardian today has revealed the extent of the leaks from a huge cache of secret US military files. It is not edifying reading as it exposes the woeful behaviour of US service personnel and the success of Taliban fighters with deadly surface to air missiles and very effective bombing devices. NATO forces are in serious trouble.  They cannot defeat their deadly foe by means of modern warfare and they have managed to alienate and ostracize the civilian population.  They are hated and cannot repair the damage done by brutal bombing and inaccurate strikes which have reaked havoc among the local people.  There is moral outrage against immoral and amoral behaviour.

There appears to be evidence that elements within Pakistan's intelligence community have been supporting the Taliban and forces opposed to NATO.  This brings into question the whole aid for Pakistan package. Are Western funds being diverted and, in effect, spent on forces and movements sympathetic to the Taliban and their fellow travellers? Safe havens for insurgents and guerrilla warriors in Pakistan and along the Afghan border are most certainly an intolerable affront to US politicians and Pentagon pen pushers. There has been a steep rise in bomb attacks on NATO/coalition forces. This will continue as their opponents are committed to driving the foreigners from Afghanistan and the whole region.  The Taliban and their fellow travellers support the Islamic way of life and wish to see their opponents blown to death by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) known as roadside bombs. Ideologically they are strongly and vehemently opposed to what NATO represents, i.e. decadent Western values.  The Taliban and Muslim fighters resent the presence of unbelieving aliens, whom they regard with contempt and scorn.

With so much corruption and dishonest practices in this whole region, one wonders if any credible military and political enterprise, funded by Western governments, can succeed and flourish in a way that shows integrity and honest endeavour.  Can we trust the political and military leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Fair play would be great, but cheating is rife. It is time to review the situation and bring our troops home from this messy conflict.

On the front page of today's Guardian there is a photograph of an American soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division. On his left arm is the distinctive tatoo which reads: AND HELL CRIED AIRBORNE.  Well, in Helmand province US soldiers will, in all probability, experience the living hell on earth of warfare, as British soldiers did earlier this year. And we are told that the coalition forces are acting with the good intentions, but the path to hell is paved by good intentions.

Proverbs 16:25 is a solemn word of warning.

Harsh realities hit home: the Afghan war has been a disaster

Today's Guardian reveals the true and terrible cost of the war in Afghanistan.  What a mess! What a quagmire!

It cannot be won by military means.  Voices are crying in the wilderness.  The NATO forces cannot straighten out the crooked paths.  Crooks have benefited from the corruption and the bribes. False accounts have been told about the way the war has been waged and the terrible loss of civilian lives. The unacceptable truths are coming to light about dark and dismal realities.  When many more facts are revealed then the full folly of what has happened will be admitted. Sadly more troops will die before NATO forces will leave with their tails between their legs.  Some tall tales will no doubt be shared by leaders who do not wish the full and fair truth to come out.

For me, the true and authentic Micah challenge is concerned with justice, grace and humility.  Justice for the poor, the oppressed and the powerless, for those who are being denied righteous governance.  Grace to those who need love, compassion and tender loving care in a world of pain and suffering.  Humility in our dealings with others and in walking with God in humble adoration, praise and honest endeavour.  Christians will want to see fair play winning the day.  God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  The arrogant are cursed; they will not see God's blessing on their lives.  Glorious grace is bestowed on those who are willing to humble themselves and to discover the beauty of a holy lifestyle, living for God in covenant loving kindness.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Deliver us, O Lord, from bourgeois religion

Bourgeois religion passes in some places for Christianity or for Christian fellowship.  By bourgeois religion I mean a middle class religion which endorses certain conservative and re-actionary values.  It is keen on tradition and toleration, but it is a pseudo-toleration because it can get very intolerant of views and attitudes that do not accord with its cosy complacency and carefully worked out ways.  Bourgeois religion does not like anything radical or really challenging; it wants to confirm its prejudices, its safe and secure lifestyle.  It does not like true Christian discipleship, strong evangelical commitment, risk, living by faith, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints and fighting the good fight of faith.  Bourgeois religion does not like to take Christian living very seriously as it avoids talking about faith and sharing the Gospel, especially at work and at dinner parties. For bourgeois religion faith is a private matter and it does not really impinge on the comfortable, professional middle class way of life.  Family and career come first.  Matters of faith can occupy a space at the weekend, preferably on Sunday morning.  A gentle dose of religion is very acceptable.  It's very nice for christenings, weddings and funerals.

Bourgois religion is happy to have rules and regulations which have a religious veneer and are considered spiritual.  It is happy with traditional values and charitable works. Bourgeois religion is at home in Vanity Fair.

Clearly it's not Christian at all.  It has no place or time for repentance, conversion and commitment to Christ.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Day of the Jackass?

Last Thursday, 22 July, a driver managed to bring traffic to a standstill in Muswell Hill Broadway, London N10.
Other drivers were unable to get into the car park because this elderly driver had blocked the way and refused to reverse his four by four vehicle.  He wanted to make a point and did not mind inconveniencing other drivers who wished to park their cars in the town carpark off the MH Broadway.  So Jackass 838 Unreasonable Unhelpful Jackass caused a long tail back which stretched into the MH Broadway.  Other drivers tried to reason with him and some rebuked him for his selfish attitude and unreasonable behaviour.  A policeman was called to the scene of this fiasco and kindly asked the driver to reverse.  Three metres was sufficient. And under protest the Jackass eventually obliged.  "He needs to get a life!" said one observer.
Some people immature with age and delight in their petulance.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Time for tough questions on Afghanistan

Afghanistan is high on the corruption index and, according to the BBC News yesterday at 20:20 BST, corruption is a growing problem.  It seems that the UK Government has planned to spend £175 million pounds a year in aid.  How much will reach the right destination?

There are only about 48% of the Afghan children in primary schools.  Are we expected to pay for the education of Afghan children?  It may be better than spending it on military hardware.  Should not more money go to wives and children of our dead soldiers who have died in the tragic conflict?  Money is really needed in our schools.  We have lost too many highly trained army personnel.  In human resource terms this war has been a disaster, with fine servicemen dying, it seems, daily at this present time. Woeful!

Does not charity begin at home?  Can we afford to support such a corrupt country where we are not wanted and certaintly not appreciated in tribal areas?  And now there is talk of deals and negotiations with the Taliban and other groups.  They will be laughing all the way to the banks or where their money is deposited.  They will play things out so that when we leave then they will claim a mighty victory.  

Why do we have to spend so much money, sacrifice so many lives and put up with the bribery and corruption?  For what?  A special hold on a significant and strategic area? For reasons of power balancing and long term objectives?  This Government should be looking after its own people, their education and their future.  Let the Muslim community who are very rich, sometimes though oil revenues, put the money into education in Afghanistan rather than premiership football and playboy pursuits. Why does it have to be us who foot the bill and see too many young lives wasted and wounded by this quagmire, this mess, this awful Afghanistan project. Let us leave and  let the people of Afghanistan, with Muslim aid, live their way.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Such sweet uneventful countryside: Essex - willingly to Willingale

The late great poet Sir John Betjeman referred to the sweet uneventful countryside of Essex.  He had a fantasy of being a station master at Blake Hall station, near Ongar, then on the Central line, where he would write his poetry and enjoy the peace of the place.  I went for an evening drive yesterday near Ongar and enjoyed the glorious weather, the peaceful paths and looking at the fine fields.  The presence of the Lord was my portion as I walked in green pastures and listened to the wind in the lofty Lombardy trees.

I took many photographs of my pilgrimage to Willingale.  I hope you enjoy my selection of them.

St Christopher's Church, Willingale
St Andrew's and All Saints' Church, Willingale
St Christopher's Church, Willingale

The graveyard and former Bell Public House, Willingale

Cricket at Willingale

Thursday, 15 July 2010

British Army Major murdered in hellish Helmand by a rogue Afghan soldier

While he was sleeping a British Army Major was fatally shot by "a rogue Afghan soldier" serving as a non-commisioned officer. The Major died with two members of the Royal Gurka Rifles who were also victims of this man; the Afghan is currently being hunted by special forces. Not only is there a serious guerilla threat to Western troops, but there is the ever present danger of rogue attacks on perceived infidels and action against foreigners involved in military operations.  I wonder how much the military leaders of this conflict know or understand about religious resolve and an ideological commitment to a cause.  The opponents of Western forces are fighting, it seems, for clear values in an Islamic framework.  The situation has been exacerbated by the amount of weapons and bomb making materials which are available to Afghan fighters on the Taliban side; they are determined never to be beaten into submission by British soldiers and army advisers.

The deaths will certainly under-mind the resilience of the British soldiers and politicians.  Troops in Afghanistan willl continue to suffer and die in Afghanistan.  It is a great shame that we got into this mess of a quagmire and we are now hoping for an end to the conflict, which has gone on for years.  Success, which seems very difficult to assess, will not be possible if the Western forces are dealing with corruption, uncertainty and deep seated resentment.  The Western forces cannot win the hearts and minds of the people through militarism and spiritually bankrupt processes.

16 July

Britain would save an enormous amount of money by leaving Afghanistan and letting others deal with the situation.  Charity begins at home and we should be making our country better for people suffering from medical problems.  We cannot afford to continue fighting in the Afghan war zone for a number of reasons.  Politicians are giving us excuses and myths.  It is a myth that fighting in Afghanistan makes the streets of Britain safer.  I believe the reverse is true.  We will leave Afghanistan having lost many valuable lives and with very little to show for it in the overall scheme of things.  I contend that history will reveal in due course that we fought foolishly in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Poor schoolgirls in Ghana: sanitary protection boosts girls' schooling

In the latest edition of Oxford Today, the University Magazine (Volume 22 Number 3, Trinity 2010), there is an article on a new study concerning sanitary protection in Ghana. This study was carried out by social scientists at Oxford led by Professor Linda Scott of the Said Business School with Professor Sue Dopson, Dr Catherine Dolan and Dr Paul Montgomery. 

The team discovered that girls in Ghana were missing schooling as a result of poor provision for menstruation. Poor schoolgirls in Ghana, apparently, cannot afford sanitary towels so they use rags instead. As many schools do not have toilets suitable for changing or washing these rags/improvished pads,  poor schoolgirls decide not to attend during their menstrual period.

By supplying free sanitary pads it was found that absenteeism was cut by more than fifty per cent. It is stated, in the magazine:

Qualitatively, almost all the girls using pads reported that they were better able to concentrate at school, and  better able to socialise, participate in sport and help at home. They also reported a reduced sense of embarrassment, shame or isolation.

This study was well funded and supported.  Procter &  Gamble provided the sanitary pads. Hats off to all concerned!

My home church has links with Ghana.  I wish to share the findings of this study with members and regular worshippers of  the congregation who have been to Ghana in a mission context.  One man found the article interesting but would not pass it on to his daughter, who has visited Ghana, because he thought it was "inappropriate".  To me, that's sad.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Spain emerge as worthy World Cup winners 2010 in South Africa. And Jesus was on the winning side.

The octopus got it right again and Spain were victorious over heavy and hard Holland.  It was an intriguing contest between two great footballing nations.  Spain emerged as worthy winners by the one well taken goal scored by Andres Iniesta.  The Dutch were not happy when Iniesta's strike hit the back of the net; they were complaining about an earlier refereeing decision. Howard Webb had a very difficult match to referee but he showed great authority and common sense.  He did well in trying circumstances. And so did both goalkeepers (Stekelenburg and Casillas) in making some world class saves. The end result pleased the plaudits and the pundits.  Spain were the better side and triumphed over the Dutch spoilers.  Jesus was on the winning side. Jesus Navas came on in the 60th minute. De Jong and Van Bommel might have seen red cards in another game for their "challenges". Some would argue that Dutch team were exceedingly lucky to have had only one player sent off (John Heitinga).  They fouled and frustrated the Spanish soccer maestros, but Iniesta's goal was a joy to behold.  Arriba Espana, champions of Europe and now the World.  They played the beautiful game as it should be played. Viva Football, the beautiful game.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

What a sacrifice!

Today I gave a talk at the Women's fellowship at Salem Baptist Church, Romford.  It is the oldest Baptist church in Romford and it has been in London Road since 1836.  During the Great War, World War I, they lost a significant number of members.  I counted 72 on the main memorial board and another 16 on the inner board. So 88 were lost from 1914 to 1919.  Now that is a considerable loss and quite a sacrifice.  It is more than the total current membership of Hornchurch Baptist Church and certainly more than today's membership of Salem.  Romford Baptist Church has a large membership by today's standards but it did not exist in the Great War period.  It was founded in the 1930s.  Romford Baptists of the early 20th century, I salute your tremendous sacrifice for this great country during the Great War.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Grief for Ghana. Euphoria for Uruguary in the FIFA World Cup quarter final match

In Johannesburg this evening Ghana came so close to securing a semi-final place in the FIFA World Cup. Uruguay eventually won 4-2 on penalties in a very tense shoot out.  In the closing minutes of extra time Ghana were awarded a penalty when Suarez handled the ball on the goal line and received the red card.  The penalty was missed. The Uruguayians were breathing a sigh of relief and went through by virtue of their penalty shoot out performance after Ghana missed two penalties. Uruguay missed one penalty in the best of five penalties.  It was a sad day for the African team who had so many supporters and admirers.  The cruel method of deciding the result ended in tears of grief in Ghana but euphoria in Uruguay. Diego Forlan was the man of the match. He was outstanding and has had a brilliant World Cup scoring goals.

Kaka was kaka and the mighty have fallen

The smallest man on the pitch, Wesley Sneider, managed to head the ball into the back of the net, scoring the winning goal, while the big Brazilian defenders looked on. Kaka did not play to his full potential and was woefully poor in the second half. The experienced veteran defender Andre Ooijer played him well.  Around 70 minutes into the match Kaka tried to cheat and claim a penalty.  Frustration set in. A few moments later there was a disgraceful stamping incident by Felipe Melo and the red card was shown to the Brazilian defender. Down to ten men the Brazilians played with passion but they lost their shape and discipline. Van Bommel struggled at times, often fouling his opponents and was lucky to survive the full time whistle.  Dutch joy filled the air; the mighty Brazilians were sent out of the tournament, losing 2-1. Wesley Sneider was nominated as man of the match. Well done Wesley. You've had a great year.

Great news for Liverpool FC: Roy is the new manager

Roy Hodgson, who should be Sir Roy before long, has been appointed the new manager of Liverpool FC.  The Scousers could not have found a better English manager, though Harry might be a contender but I can't see him living up north on Merseyside, can you?  Harry is happy at Spurs. Roy is rejoicing at Liverpool.  It's going to be a great season in the Premiership with some really tough matches ahead for the Champions League places at the end of season in 2011.  Fulham fans and Mal Foulmouth Fired will be disappointed to lose such a fine Football manager/coach. Roy is a credit to the game and that knighthood cannot be too far away now.


River Stour