One of the most frustrating things about message thread/boards and other similar forms of interaction nowadays is to be found in a characteristically post-modern response.
I read a piece by Dr Mohler this morning, and it was, as usual, articulate and unhysterical. The comment thread beneath it was interesting, and I was fine until I got to one comment which I have seen variations of far, far too much to have any patience with at the moment.
Firstly, Dr Mohler was berated for sounding just like the fundamentalist Islamists. I'm not entirely sure what colour the sky is in a world where there's moral equivalence between saying 'I disagree fundamentally with the Pope' and 'Behead those who insult Islam'.
But then we got into the McClarenish sludge of critiquing Dr Mohler's comments because he was 'certain', and thus, obviously had no humility. The only way to speak about things is to underline that, even though you are so sure about something you would lay down your life for it, hey, you could be wrong, so you really shouldn't come across as very sure at all.
Now, this is a silly, and oft-refuted view, and I've particularly enjoyed Doug Wilson doing the refuting before now. But here's the frustrating bit - the complete lack of self-awareness in the follow-up statements, which are nearly always something along the lines of :
Certainty/Religion/Absolutes have created all the wars/suffering/chocolate shortages in the world.
I mean, honestly. It's like hearing someone condemning arson and then watching as they burn their own house down, and being completely unaware that this is what they've just done.
One of the most frustrating things about message thread/boards and other similar forms of interaction nowadays is to be found in a characteristically post-modern response.
I was thinking about temptations. Sometimes it seems that tempting sins can hit us with the full force of a runaway lorry. The sensation is immense and difficult to fight, and we have to muster all my self-control in defense. Acute temptations like that demand a response - either to press the on-switch or to walk away. We cannot be indifferent to them.
There are other kinds of temptation which assail us when we tired, weary and off-guard. I rather suspect that these kinds are more common. Too often recently have my temptations been strung on practically nothing - the merest hint of whatever might stoke my lust is enough.
I sat earlier, my mind only just registering that the path it had meandered down down was a sinful one. I had the slow dim realization that I was being tempted and could resist, that actually, resisting wouldn't be that difficult because the temptation itself was so feeble - but of course, feeble enough to slip under the radar. Such a little thing. A thing I'm sure that the longer I shine the twin lights of reason and holiness upon, the less attractive or even interesting it will become.
Yet, how many of these 'little sins' are the ones I have committed? I have confessed to some whoppers, that's for sure. They are easy enough to spot. 'Should I lie on this official form to get money that I'm not really entitled to?' It's not going to fly.
Too often, however, I am dully content to let the little things pass. It should not be. These little splinters should never be given an inch.
A landslide of such little pebbles is as an effective disaster as a few boulders rolling pell mell down a hill. The conscience is deadened by sudden impact or attrition, but the effect is the same. I do think that attrition claims more casualties than sudden impact.
I don't know how accurate an image it is, but I want my conscience to be a trained guard-dog, holding the fort against these little intruders as effectively as the big ones. I want to train him on the Word, and make sure he's not dozing on the job.
We ate chilli and rice last night, with some warm pitta breads. It's a recipe my husband does pretty well now. As I ate it, and watched my children spoon it down with aplomb, a really humbling feeling of appreciation came over me. How many parents all over this earth rarely have the satisfaction of seeing their children filled, warm and well?
I know it's a traditional thing to ask and be reminded of. My mother used to insist on a clean plate on account of 'all the children in Africa who didn't have enough to eat'. It was an effective ploy, calling for guilt induced greens eating.
It's so easy to let it slide over us - we see pictures of suffering, we hear statistics, and we nod sagely at any and every prayer for the poor - we may even give financial assistance to them.
But how often do you picture your own children with empty swollen bellies, crying for food from you and being powerless to help them? I'm not asking you to feel guilt about having sustenance to put in front of your young ones. I certainly don't.
And yet, as I put a spoonful of rice in my own mouth yesterday, I was really and truly grateful for being so lavishly provided for. The happy, mucky, chubby faces of my three girls were a powerful reminder of all I've have been blessed with - not just my family, but the wherewithal to feed and clothe them.
Love goes a long way, but dinner is good too. Be thankful today. Don't just say the words, or even nod in assent to them. Feel it, right down in your belly.
I read this today. It wasn't a huge surprise. Anyone with a few buzzing braincells can work out that increased sex-education has done nothing to dent STD rates or pregnancy or abortion rates, long term. Knowledge, in and of itself, is not the answer to the problem - because apart from anything else, the problem is way, way bigger than a few role-play games and a banana protected by a condom could solve.
I'm not going to argue the toss on that with any enlightened types who think the failure of sex-education policies means that we should turn our kids over for ever-more explicit styles of it, and earlier.
I wanted, instead, to highlight a couple of sentences from the report which I think point to the elusive real answer. The first is this :-
She suggested parents should be more involved in providing guidance to their children.
Well, goodness me, the earth just rumbled beneath me. Parents being involved in guiding their children? Shouldn't that be a job for the professionals? It does sound so old-fashioned that it's almost avant garde. I love the way it's a 'suggestion', as though the very idea of actually saying it needs to be temptered with a qualifier - 'it's just a suggestion!'
There are two things that come to mind. One is that, for an entire generation, society has been telling parents they really don't know what they're doing, being just bumbling amateurs, and they should let the experts take over. So it's hardly surprising that there has been such a breakdown in communication.
The other is that this shouldn't be a suggestion. It should, quite simply, be an expectation. You don't want your children pregnant and disease carrying by the time they're 15? Then ignore what the Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys says, and take full responsibility for it. Don't expect it to be a schools job in any way, shape or form.
The big question, among a generation so lacking in confidence, is "How?"Which leads me to highlight another key sentence in the BBC report.
Adults are not setting the best examples for children.
It's another earth-rumbler isn't it? Children learning from adult example? It's almost revolutionary. Someone should write a book.
The big issue is that sex-education is one teensy, tiny part of the big picture. The big picture involves a society that drips with pheromonally charged smut. If your main concern is a bit of embarrassment with having to use the correct anatomical terms for genitalia when talking to your children, you're almost sure to be missing it.
So, number one - set good examples for your children with your own behaviour. Don't behave in a manipulative way to your husband or wife, and don't fill your own mind with an endless gutter of filth.
And number two - don't set examples of other people in front of your children who are morally bankrupt. If you buy your girls dolls dressed like street-walkers (like the obscene Bratz-babies), you shouldn't be surprised when that's what they begin to think of as desirable clothing. If you let your girls watch videos of Girls Aloud, you shouldn't be surprised to hear the lyrics for 'Something kinda Oooo' coming out of their 8 year old mouths. (You should, however, be thoroughly ashamed). Don't buy your children clothes with obnoxious slogans on them, like 'It's all about me'.
Put things before their eyes and ears that give the good examples. Help them to have heroes who make good choices, rather than 'cool' choices. Be their heroes. As a parent, it is your responsibility to guide your children to being responsible, well-rounded characters - and sexuality is but a small part of that.
Parenting isn't about letting a steady stream of pollution into their heads and then fishing about to take out the worst bits. It's about not letting the pollution drench them, and instead training them to go after the pure, clear water.
You have the right, as a parent, to do that. More than that, you have a god-given responsibility. Don't ever leave it to anyone else.
I was pottering about today online and visited a message board that I rarely post on. There's a section for posts of a 'spiritual/philosophical/religious' nature, and in this section, there was a post from a lady who had been upset by the discovery that one of her friends thought she was going to hell.
The friend, it turns out, is a Christian, and the topic had come up in a discussion about Christmas. The poster was hugely offended, and gave a list of all the things she'd done to help the Christian who was in need. She also, to her credit, made a point of saying what a very lovely individual the Christian was.
Now, my first reaction was to be impressed that the Christian had obviously made a very serious attempt to bring the Gospel into a discussion about cosy old Christmas. My second reaction was that it was quite obvious that the poster hadn't taken it quite the way it was intended to be taken. This often happens, in my experience. Far, far too many people think that Christians believe that good people go to heaven, and bad people go to hell.
The third reaction I had from this message thread, however, was frustration. It was an able illustration of precisely why people have this misconception of good=heaven, bad=hell. A number of people came on the thread, cheerily claiming the name of Christ and denouncing the mean and nasty Christian friend for being judgemental and advising the poster to drop her because she was obviously an unpleasant sort.
It actually took a couple of self-confessed atheists later in the thread to explain the distinctives of Christian belief accurately and assure the original poster that her Christian friend wasn't gleefully judging her, but probably quite sadly explaining that being 'good' doesn't get you to heaven.
Now, I don't expect unbelievers to react well to the realities of heaven, hell and the inability of human beings to merit heaven. This is a hard teaching for people who are quite happy, thankyou very much, with their own level of goodness.
But I actually find myself quite angry when I see and hear professing Christians attempt to come across as all compassionate and thoughtful, when all they're doing is obscuring the warning sign and slandering their brothers and sisters.
I'm not saying you have to scream at people and point your finger angrily in their face. The very point of telling people about hell is because you don't want them to go there, so it is certainly important not to come across as if you do.
But, unless you're the kind of person who wanders onto beaches, painting out 'Beware, sharks' signs and berating lifeguards for trying to keep people out of the water, because, "hey, going swimming is a good thing", you really shouldn't have a problem with Christians warning their unbelieving friends of the wrath to come.
I don't care if he nibbles the fingers of the Bond girl, Bond is not supposed to look like a root vegetable. So, going to see Bond or not hasn't been much of a dilemma for me. This publicity pose clinches the decision, I think.
Picture courtesy of FishFood media
I am a woman who believes very much in modesty of dress and behaviour. A few days ago, some friends and I were talking about wedding dresses, and I said that my wedding dress was one of my great regrets. One of the reasons is that, as I put it, there's enough cleavage on show to justify a new ordinance survey map. There is no way I would be happy to display most of my wedding photos openly.
I preface this post with this to underline that I do, indeed, take the responsibility of modesty very seriously. I understand much of the reasoning behind conservative muslim dress, and halfway agree with it. I like that it asks women to take personal responsibility - I don't like that it assumes men have less responsibility. Should any muslims be reading this and want to point out that there are rules for men as well, in terms of how they dress, and 'the lowering of the eyes', I will be happy to acknowledge that. But the simple fact is that there is much more emphasis on women hiding themselves away than there is on male self-control, as ably illustrated by the Australian Imam who recently compared, not only women to meat, but men to feral cats.
That is hugely demeaning to humanity, never mind just women.
Now, the most recent kerfuffle has not been about the broader issues of modesty, but most especially about the peculiarly Muslim practice of the full face veil. The appropriateness of such an item of clothing in schools, courtrooms, buses, and even western society in general has been debated ad infinitum.
Now, I saw this picture today and was reminded of a very significant distinction between Islam and Christianity - not in terms of modesty, but in the understanding of our humanity. Looking at this picture, do you see individuals? Is there anything about them that is even distinctively human?
Muslim teaching on the niqab frequently plays up the idea that it is a freeing thing, making sure people address the person inside, not the face.
But we are not just disembodied personalities. We are physical creatures - mind and body. My face is as much a part of me as my thoughts on this blog. You might read it everytime I post, and you may have a good grasp of me from message boards, or even spoken to me on the phone. But you haven't met me until we're both physically in the same room.
Christian teaching is that we are made in the image of God - and that human dignity isn't confined to our thoughts, it's supposed to have an effect on how we treat the body, too. Granted, there is a way for a person to dress which damages that dignity. But to remove all the characteristics of an individual does the same. When the Lord made the human form, He said it was good. Even after sin had entered this world, and the Lord made it clear that covering had become neccessary, He still did not wrap the female up so that she was unrecognizable.
The fact that Christians believe that God Himself took on a physical form is probably the biggest single distinction between Christian and Muslim belief. I've had discussions with Muslims wherein they revealed a deep abhorrence for the idea of the Almighty born of a woman - and a big part of that abhorrence seemed to be a distaste for the simple physicality of the woman.
Now there's no doubt that Christians down the centuries have betrayed similar feelings towards women - Augustine is a good case in point, and I'm sure you can think of others. But the simple fact is, that, according to the heart of our Faith, women have as much physical dignity as men - and not just if they cover every last scrap of skin, from face to fingertips.
Indeed, the incarnation of Christ and the reality of the physical resurrection is vitally important to our understanding of redemption. To Christians, the fact that God became man, and understands our weaknesses is very precious - more precious still is that because He became one of us, He could take what we deserved, and give to us what we could not earn.
I am going to be 30 years old on Saturday. I have been brought up to treasure the day of my birth, because of what it represents. I was born on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11am, and my birth is pretty much because of the death of many, many others.
I come from a family with a military heritage - my grandfather, my mother, my aunt and her husband and at least one of my cousins have served their country in the cause of freedom. While I respect the conscience decisions of those whose principles will not allow them to take part in active combat, I do not share those principles.
It is sometimes very, very right to take up arms against those who would gobble up the lives of others. If I may be so bold, Neville Chamberlain was a foolish, gullible coward, and his cowardice cost many more lives than a 'warmonger' in his position.
I make no comment on today's conflicts, except to say that war waged by human beings is always the backdrop to misjudgement and deadly mistake. This is no reason to turn tail and run away from a foe who will take retreat as an encouragement to boldness.
I have been frustrated in recent years as Remembrance Day has increasingly been relegated to a quasi-religious ceremony on a Sunday, and the importance of the national 2 minute silence on the 11th itself has been quietly dropped.
This is not a religious celebration - it is a matter of simple human gratitude. And yet I wonder. 60 years ago, people understood that there were things worth dying for. Nowadays, that is not such a well-understood thing - to our peril. 60 years ago, a Christian worldview held sway, and it was a powerful buttress against tyranny. Now we have a vacuum of 'personal fulfillment', and noble death doesn't really fit into that world of 'lifestyle choices'.
I wear the Red Poppy, because it is a symbol of those who fell - yes, sometimes needlessly - but because they knew that going to war is sometimes the only way to ensure peace. Good does not triumph by inaction. I don't wear the white poppy, because the red blood of many young men - mostly brave, but utterly terrified - bought my freedom.
I wear a Red Poppy because it reminds me of the Blood that bought me eternal freedom, too, and I pray for all those who are prepared to shed their blood in defense of my temporal freedom. I hope you can too.
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago—
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
I watched a few of the political interviews yesterday, and noticed, as you'd have to be deaf not to, the 'approved refrain' that government ministers were trotting out in response to bad statistics.
60% of people, were, apparently happy with their last experience of the NHS, and yet a majority of people questioned also thought the NHS was in big trouble. The spin was "People's on the ground experience is good, they're just being influenced by the newspapers".
Of course the glaringly obvious issue with the 60% figure was that it meant that 40%, a sizeable proportion, were not happy with their experience, which is hardly something of an acheivement.
What frustrated me the most about the spin chosen was the ignorance of reality. I suppose cutting beds and staff and people up and down the country marching in protest at these things is scotch mist, is it?
Here's something for the politicians to ponder - I too would say my last experience of the NHS was good. And I do indeed think the NHS is in a big trouble.
Here's why. I'm English. One of the things the English do is root for the underdog. When we see people fighting against great odds, we instinctively want to support them. My last hospital experience saw nursing staff greatly under-resourced, demoralized by threats of closure, run off their feet, and having to transfer women in labour to another hospital because there weren't enough staff in the delivery suite for safety. Yet they did brilliantly in the circumstances.
In the community, my midwife and Health Visitor are pushed to the very limit because they are so few in number. And yet they have been a great support to me - largely, I suppose, because I'm not a case that can easily be left. I have no doubt that others have had to be shunted down the priority list.
See how that works? I can clearly see the NHS is facing huge problems, and yet I support and admire those working within it, because they are doing amazing things. I doubt I'd get the opportunity to say that to any of these ostrich politicians, though. Hey ho, that's why I blog.