Thursday, August 31, 2006

Disce Doce

I did both my undergraduate and postgraduate study at Sheffield University, whose crest includes an open book inscribed with the Latin words Disce Doce, or, Learn and Teach – a phrase that seems to sum up discipleship.

My good friend Ben posted his thoughts on discipleship yesterday. They are well worth a read…

, , ,

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Children Are Messy

Children are messy. I don’t mean, children make a mess – that goes without saying. I mean, the issue of ‘children’ is a messy one. On the one hand, hundreds of thousands are aborted each year in the UK alone; on the other hand, couples undergo thousands of fertility cycles each year in the UK. (Ironically, both the intervention to terminate life and the intervention to create it often – not always, in either case – share the same motivation: “Having a child would get in the way of my self-fulfilment” ; “I need to have a child in order to be self-fulfilled”…) And those who make it enter a lottery, where the pay-out is an emotionally stable home environment, to a lesser or greater extent; but for every ‘winner’ there are the players whose parent/s are unwilling or unable to raise them, those who grow up in dysfunctional or broken homes. Children are messy; and our society is ill-equipped to deal with mess – in this case not helped by the fact that there is no context, other than the lottery of our own childhood experience, where we are taught parenting skills.

Today the British Fertility Society is in the news for proposing changes to the way fertility treatment is offered on the NHS (our “free at the point of use” National Health Service). The BFS proposes that women who are underweight or clinically obese should be denied IVF treatment until they have addressed their weight issues; while single women and lesbian couples should have equal access to IVF as heterosexual couples.

Human fertility is a societal, and pastoral, minefield – and will only become more so as fertility currently plummets among men, at the same time as we are seeing a marked increase in unintentional female sterilisation as a result of STIs. As a father of three loved children – indeed, as a human being – I need to recognise and acknowledge and try to understand how painful it must be to want to have children and not be able to. But, I have also seen the incredible emotional toll of fertility treatment; the way Having A Child becomes all-consuming, even consuming the relationship that entered-into the process; the conversations that run, “If you loved me, you’d keep on trying…” “It’s because I love you that I don’t want to see you go through it all again. If you loved me, you’d be content with what we’ve got…” and on and on…For every lottery winner, there are far, far more tickets bought and hopes destroyed.

Hard though it may be to hear – and even harder to accept coming from a parent – having a child, or children, is not a human right. It is a responsibility – and, arguably, one often not taken seriously enough – and a privilege; but not a right. And that fertility treatment is offered at all on the NHS raises hard questions, even setting aside biomedical ethics. Should the NHS allocate finite funding away from making the sick well to creating more patients – patients who have an increased risk of being born prematurely, with the attending complications – and costs – both at birth and later in life?

Children are messy. And while there are no simple solutions, it seems to me that we need to foster imagination, not to solve the problem of un/wanted children, but to address the un/wanting; the unreality of the if-only; the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side. Policies and policy proposals fail at this, because by necessity they create standardised groups – obese women, teenage pregnancies, etc. – and cannot recognise individuals: people, with hopes and fears; burdens of guilt or failure; living in a complex mess. Not that any case is an exceptional circumstance, for which we must break the rules; but that every case is exceptional, and the rules don’t address the heart of the matter. Possibilities and policies will come and go. People, in need of pastoral encouragement, care, guidance and correction, remain the same.

, , , , ,

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On The Postal Service

I hate junk mail.

And yet it accounts for almost every envelope that falls through my letterbox. Birthdays and Christmas aside, I rarely receive a card or letter any more. It’s not that no-one writes to me; but they do so by email. For most of the decade-and-a-half since I left home, my mother wrote me – later, us – a letter every week; but even she no longer writes. (That isn’t a complaint: I never once wrote back, and we still speak on the phone almost weekly. But it is a personal indicator to me: if even my mother no longer writes letters, surely letter-writing is dead…) Even our bills and statements are increasingly transacted online. From time to time I get a special delivery – books from Amazon; jeans from howies. But if we get any regular daily post delivered at all, it is unsolicited generic advertising; and it sits on the worktop only as long as the next time one of us goes outside, before being thrown, unread, into the blue paper-recycling bin.

And yet, I wouldn’t want to lose the neighbourhood postal delivery, in exchange for, say, my going every few days to collect my mail from a rented box at a Post Office. The postal round ensures that someone is regularly walking through my neighbourhood, able to keep an eye out for old ladies living alone, or houses whose owners are away on holiday. Not that their presence absolves me from being a good neighbour; but that, in the course of their daily work, they have a reason to walk up and down every access path, that the rest of us simply don’t. (The same applies to that dying breed the milkman: we used to pay one, who has since given up his round, not least to help keep his role viable; his customers included elderly women living on their own, who, their heads filled with fear by the press, would only open their door to him from one week to the next. But the milk-round is fast becoming a thing of the past, undercut by the supermarkets. And while local butchers and bakers cling on, the supermarkets have long since killed off the butcher’s/baker’s delivery boy.) Among the rural dispersed, and the urban transient, this social role is even more crucial.

When the posties no longer walk their rounds, I think that we shall miss them. And if picking up junk mail off the doormat and dropping it unceremoniously into the blue bin is what it takes to keep them coming to the door, then I suppose it is a price I am willing to pay. For now. And who knows? I might even make the time to send you a letter…

, ,

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Birth Announcement

Elijah Samuel Dowsett was born at home at 10:16 pm on Friday 18 August 2006, weighing 8lbs 1.5oz

Susannah and Noah seem to be very pleased with their new brother, and both of them have enjoyed holding him today.

So far, Elijah is keeping to the time zone in which he began, rather than the one in which he was born. He kept his mum and dad up through his first night, and has slept most of today…

Sleep-deprivation aside, Jo is doing really well. The midwives were amazed at how calm she is in labour. She was amazing, and I am so proud of her. As for Elijah, he has won her heart from the first moment.

Welcome to our family, Elijah! You are much loved…


Monday, August 14, 2006

Play Hard

Recent high-profile reports have brought a sense of national dis-ease under the spotlight: binge-drinking is endemic, and (largely undiagnosed) sexually transmitted infections are thought to be at epidemic levels. It is hard to imagine a better night out than going from work to the pub until closing time, then on to a club, and ending the night having sex with a stranger in a dark alley – and being able to recall very little of much of the evening next morning. Though that may not sound attractive in the cold light of day, I’m not being ironic: it is hard to imagine an attractive alternative, because this is the predominant model held out, by every genre of the media, for us to aspire to. And it is easier to adopt a vision cast us so powerfully than to imagine one of our own.

It is no surprise, then, that a growing number of young British Muslims want to see Sharia Law adopted in the UK. But legislation is not the answer. The law is powerless to change behaviour. If I believe a law is meaningless – as a third of teens under 16 believe the age of sexual consent to be – then I will justify to myself my breaking of it. Even with a ‘moral absolute,’ such as the prohibition of murder, I will claim ‘exceptional circumstances’ in my defence. Such is human nature.

What is needed is not legislation – whether Sharia Law or the further extension of New Labour’s “Nanny State” – to impose behaviour from an external source of authority; nor a better education policy (how many of those have we seen?); nor disapproval and condemnation from those of a religious perspective; but imagination, to subvert our worldview from within.

Who will dare to imagine an alternative vision of society?
What might it look like?
How might it be spread?

Too great a task? If we can pass on STI’s…if one person can infect multiple contacts…

, , , , ,

News Links

Context-less links:

Archbishop of York’s peace vigil.

16-24 year olds sexual trends.

, ,

Excavated Worship

It is possible to orchestrate worship: indeed, this is what happens at church services week-in, week-out. But it is also possible to excavate worship: to uncover worship, or discover it already uncovered, ‘out there’ in the world. And that is what we did (though such discoveries cannot be planned) yesterday. Passing-up on the opportunity to attend a family service, we packed the kids in the car and headed-off to Magna, a Science Adventure Centre in a former steel mill in Rotherham…

First up, sung worship (which regular readers will know is not necessarily my favourite thing)…driving along the Sheffield Parkway, the radio tuned to Radio One's Ibiza Week…Vernon Kaye live from CafĂ© Mambo…and Jesus, true to form, partying with the beautiful and damned, lifted up at the centre of the dance floor:

Sometimes I feel like
Throwing my hands up in the air;
I know I can count on you.
Sometimes I feel like
Saying Lord I just don’t care;
But you’ve got the love
I need to see me through.

Sometimes it seems that
The going’s just too rough,
And things go wrong
No matter what I do;
Now and then
I feel that life is just too much,
But you’ve got the love
I need to see me through.

When food is gone,
You are my daily meal;
When friends are gone,
I know my Saviour’s love is real,
Your love is real

Every once in a while
I say Lord I can’t go on;
Every once in a while
I get to feeling blue;
Every once in a while
It seems like I am all alone;
But you’ve got the love
I need to see me through

My thoughts are brave and friends are few;
I cry out Lord what must I do?
I call up Master make me new!
You’ve got the love
I need to see me through.

Sometimes I feel like
Throwing my hands up in the air;
I know I can count on you.
Sometimes I feel like
Saying Lord I just don’t care;
But you’ve got the love
I need to see me through.

“You Got The Love” by The Source, featuring Candi Staton

Next up, an interactive Bible story…the massive ex-steel works at Magna houses four pavilions, each themed to explore one of the classical elements: earth, water, air and fire…visitors approach the Water Pavilion along a steel walkway that bisects a vast pool of water…the walkway is perhaps three feet below the water-level, lined by glass walls over which the water spills into overflow drains, to be pumped back into the pools…the effect is a scaled-down version of walking across the parted Red Sea…we stopped for a moment half way across to recall the story – only to be sprayed by a shower of driving ‘rain’ from sprinklers set overhead! But later on in the day, as my daughter watched me preparing our evening meal, we returned to the experience, thinking about how we felt, and about how the people who walked across the sea might have felt…

We didn’t ‘go to’ church yesterday. But it was a day (already made holy by God) marked as holy, nonetheless.

, , ,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Kester Brewin’s The Complex Christ blog is a great mix of serious thinking and light-hearted moments – among which was once his thoughts on pognophilia, or, growing beards for the love of Jesus

…I was reminded of this today, having taken Susannah and Noah out for hot chocolates. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” In amendment to Kester’s typology, I present the children’s chocolate beard…


Public Solitude

I took our kids to a couple of parks this afternoon. As we headed off around the fishing lake, I happened to look up, across the water, and saw this…

It made me think of the craving for solitude, and the craving for connection to others, and how the two might not necessarily be mutually exclusive; also of the blurring of ‘public’ and ‘private’ space, and ‘private’ and ‘public’ activity. It’s an image I want to reflect on further, so I’m storing it here…

, , ,

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Prayers For A Hot Summer


Exhibitionist Behaviour

I have submitted thirteen of my photographs for a local art exhibition being held at St Thomas’ Crookes Church Centre, August 7-18. I understand that there are about ten contributors in all, though I don’t know most of the others. It is the first time I’ve done anything like this, but I want to show photos in more public settings, so I hope it goes well. If you’re in the area, come along and take a look!


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lightning McQueen

Yesterday we took the kids to the cinema to see Cars, the latest offering from the Pixar studios. They loved it – and so did I. If you’ve got kids, take them to see it. If you don’t, borrow some and take them to see it. ALWAYS ask permission from their grownups before you do so…

, ,

Not Yet

When might a response be considered disproportional?
When 86,000 civilians have been made refugees because three soldiers were kidnapped by terrorists? Or not yet?

When might the claim to the right to defend yourself from attack wear thin?
When you have killed 750 civilians, and lost 19 in response? Or not yet?

When might Western politicians allow the global community to condemn actions by the state of Israel when they are indefensible?
Sixty years after the Holocaust? Or not yet?

Middle East Crisis.