Friday, 31 July 2009

Some depressing news from the U.S...

A couple of weeks ago The Washington Post ran a leader that was critical of the Methodist Church in Britain’s Conference resolution to ban BNP members from becoming members of the Church.

“If the Church is going to make gospel standards a requirement for membership, the BNP soon will be larger than the Church,” the article concluded cynically.

(Here it is in full:

Today I came across a story online featured in the American publication, Christianity Today, bearing the news that United Methodists have defeated amendments which would have made Church membership open to all Christians regardless of sexual orientation.

So, should the observation be: “If the Church is going to make gospel standards a requirement for membership, homosexuality soon will be larger than the Church”?

I don’t think so.

Daniel Burke, the Christianity Today reporter, goes on:
“Delegates at the United Methodist Church's General Conference last year approved the sexual orientation amendment…The amendment followed a controversial case in 2005 in which a Virginia clergyman denied membership to a gay man who would not agree to change his sexuality. The UMC's high court later backed the pastor's decision.”

Asking someone to change their sexuality is the same as asking someone to change their sex or the colour of their skin.

Daniel quotes Mark Tooley whom he calls “a Methodist and president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy” (

“'It is only thanks to the African and other international delegates that United Methodism has upheld biblical standards about homosexuality,' Mark Tooley, a Methodist and president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, warned in April.
"'Liberals increasingly resent the growing African influence in our church and know they cannot win when the African churches are growing and the U.S. church declines, unless they can at least partially separate the U.S. church from the African churches,' he wrote in lobbying against the amendments.”

I should point out that Mark is a United Methodist – which is a different Church to the Methodist Church – in case there was any confusion. That said, I feel for the United Methodists fighting against this mentality.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Fourth Plinth - One and Other

The deep theological question about whether Holy Communion is art was posed in Trafalgar Square this morning when a Methodist minister from Somerset stood on the Fourth Plinth and led a worship celebration of Communion. Ken Chalmers from Castle Cary was one of 2,400 people appearing on the Fourth Plinth between 6 July and 14 October 2009, picked from more than 28,000 applicants for sculptor Antony Gormley’s One and Other project.

It is an art project and the participants are known as the plinthers. So, is Holy Communion art and did Ken’s appearance on the Plinth answer the question? Ken told me he hadn’t:

“No, and I don’t think that can ever be answered,” he said. “I don’t think we ever wanted to show Holy Communion as art. Antony Gormley said that one of his aims was to explore the connection between people and, for me, worship is a connection. So, that is what we were using – the opportunity to connect with each other, with the wider community through our prayers and with God. Is Communion art? No. Is it right to do it in this way? I don’t know, but I feel deeply that it should be.”

Here is Ken on the plinth:

The great thing about the Methodist tradition is that you don’t have to be christened, baptised or confirmed to receive Communion, as you do in some other Christian denominations. This means people like me can receive it with no questions asked and no more commitment made other than commitment to the moment of sharing Communion. You don’t have to give your name or be declared “special”; everyone is equal in receiving Communion.

Here is glimpse of the crowd of onlookers:

Here they are again, lost in reflection:

And another kind of contemplation (spotted by photographer Anna Drew taking pics on behalf of Copyright Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes!):

Check out One and Other website here:

Monday, 27 July 2009

Swimming Championships in Rome

Yes! Well done to Brits Jo Jackson and Rebecca Adlington for taking the silver and bronze at the Swimming Championships in Rome yesterday. And Rebecca did it in a Speedo LZR (50 per cent polyurethane) while everyone around her went for the 100 per cent polyurethane suits (Jo in Adidas and Italian Federica Pellegrini, who took the gold, in Jaked). The swimming governing body, FINA, announced last week that the suits will be banned from January.

Here is what Rebecca had to say about the suits (I have taken this from The Guardian, but she is quoted in all over the place saying the same thing):

“Maybe I could have gone a little bit faster but I wanted to be able to compare my times last year, and I want to be able to come next year and know that I can hopefully go just as quick, so that’s why I chose to wear this. At the end of the day a suit is not going to swim by itself, it’s the person that is in the suit that’s got to do the work.”

What can you say? Rebecca is a true sporting heroine. Everyone from the Daily Mail to The Guardian loves her. It's a shame to hear the BBC reporting tonight that swimming in Britain is on the decrease. Well, build some more decent pools!

Meanwhile - great news that the Stratford Olympics Stadium is ahead of schedule. London Mayor Boris Johnson was all excited about it on Twitter today – and at the launch of the new high speed train traveling from Kings Cross to Stratford in under seven minutes. That’s great! Now, I wonder if the last Tube out of central London on Friday and Saturday nights could leave at 1am…

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Cigarettes and Honey

Spotted: Billboards on the London Underground advertising the release of Coco Avant Chanel have actress Audrey Tautou holding a fountain pen in her right hand and resting a journal on her knees. In the original poster she is holding a cigarette in her right hand and there is no diary to be seen. Stunning that a cigarette held by an actress in a film commercial didn’t make it past The Tube’s advertising regulations, but blown-up nightmarish pictures of preserved dead bodies advertising Gunter von Hagens’ Body Worlds at the O2 were plastered all over the place.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Ecumenical Vision: Catholicism

Catholicism has been given a bit of a rough ride in this blog, so I thought I would give it a break today.

It goes without saying that I am critical of the Catholic Church and that a certain amount of suspending disbelief is just about to occur between the lines, but - that said - there are things I like about the Catholic Church.

One of them is the theatrical display of High Church. Having attended a modest and modern Methodist Church as a youth, I was awestruck the first time I witnessed a High Church service with incense, elaborate robes and long liturgies. Catholic Churches tend to be amazing displays of artwork, so intricate and breathtaking, that they inspire expansive sagas from atheists like Ken Follett. Some of the stories of the saints, whatever you may think about them, can also be seen as exemplifying the yearning of the human soul. Bernini’s Saint Teresa d’Avila in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome is a cliché, Damien Hirst’s Exquisite Pain sculpture of Saint Bartholomew hasn’t been around long enough yet to become one.

Another thing is the obvious presence of a female figure in the Church. When I was still young enough to delude myself, I thought the exaltation of Mary in the form of chapels within Catholic Churches answered a spiritual need. Protestant Churches don’t tend to dwell on the notion of an impossible earthly figure – a virgin mother – but I never knew anyone who talked about the idea of God being female and, even when I did, it wasn’t clear how that was being imagined. The rosary also makes for the odd line of poetry, i.e. “blessed is the fruit of thy womb”. I will always remember seeing a cut-out picture of Mary stuck in the corner of a bedroom in a beloved friend’s home. She was an atheist and was quite vague about why it was even on her wall... I think she liked its mystical suggestions.

A friend who was brought up a Catholic told me that, while she rejected Catholicism, it did have some good qualities. She argued that confession was cathartic and that guilt could be a good thing. I think that depends on what you do with your guilt. Some personalities may internalise it, some may project it while others may externalise it on to a cast-out object relation (a father figure, for example). I was once made to feel very guilty by a nun who knew I wasn’t a Catholic and saw me receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church (when I should have folded my arms across my chest instead of accepting the Eucharist). But this same nun also showed me around her convent (I was curious) and told me to “take my time” choosing a book from the library while she sat and waited. (I eventually picked a book called A Theology of Liberation because I liked the title, but I never went on to read it. I don’t think she ever read it either.)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Coco (Avant) Chanel

Bow down and worship...

Except I don't like the pearls.

And Coco Mademoiselle stinks.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sexually Progressive Words from a Methodist

Great speeches from the new President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference at Wolverhampton's Civic Hall today.

Here is a taste from Dr Richard Vautrey, newly elected Vice President:

"Let’s just for a moment focus on sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Sex sells; it also has a habit of waking up a hot congregation. Any mention of sex triggers a Pavlovian response in the media and the related story is sure to get coverage. Mix sex and the church and you’ll hit the headlines.

"Now I don’t know what the after service conversation is like in your church, but talk about sex over the coffee and biscuits after the service is not commonly heard in the churches I’ve attended. Maybe I am going to the wrong churches. And yet according to the media, all churches are obsessed and divided by it. Now clearly we must challenge those that use sex in an exploitative way, in a degrading or dehumanising way. The excellent work done by Network highlighting the appalling situation of sex trafficking is exactly what we should be doing.

"However the Church is stereotyped as being riddled with homophobia. We’re also seen as hostile to sex, yet this is something that is one of the most natural and beautiful of God’s gifts. An image is created of the Church being almost less Christian and charitable than our largely secular society. Where society has made great strides to challenge discrimination and encourage equality and diversity, the Church is stereotyped as being bigoted, backward and blatantly obstructive to change. Yes these issues are important, yes they need to be sensitively and carefully handled, and yes, were the stereotype has evidence of some foundation it should be challenged, but my experience is that when Christians meet and get to know their neighbour, they reach out in love towards them. Their sexuality counts for little. Love breaks down the barriers that may have been there in theory but in the reality of a real relationship they melt away.

"So much for sex, let’s turn to drugs..."(it continues here:

Friday, 3 July 2009

New Delhi Court Decriminalizes Gay Sex

A New Delhi court has ruled that consensual gay sex is not a crime, The Times reports today. The Delhi High Court ruled that applying the 1860 colonial law, which ranked homosexual intercourse alongside bestiality and paedophilia as “sex against nature” and punishable by 10 years in prison, violated the constitution and international human rights conventions.

One small step for the 21st century and a giant leap for humanity:

There was a stirring article by Johan Hari in The Independent yesterday on the history of gay rights in this country ahead of London’s Gay Pride tomorrow:

If only the Church would wake up to the 21st century and sanctify civil partnerships. There is a lot of progressive talk at grass roots levels (in the more sophisticated circles of the Christian world, ie:, but at the decision-making levels there is still much coughing and buck passing. I am not up to speed with what is happening among other faith groups, but I imagine it is very similar. Meanwhile, humanism continues to live up to its name. Long may humanists continue to spread enlightenment.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Powerful Women of Fashion

There has been quite a lot in the press lately about the Devil Wears Prada icon that is Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue and hailed as the most powerful woman in fashion. Times 2 today sings her accolades – “Nuclear Winter”, “Darth Vader in a frock” – and quotes Barbara Amiel: “Anna happens to be a friend of mine, a fact which is of absolutely no help in coping with the cold panic that grips me whenever we meet.”

One of Anna’s recent revelations is that she wears shades indoors so that she can “sit in a show and if I am bored out of my mind, nobody will notice. At this point, they have become, really, armour.”

I wonder if Anna knows that she actually has a lot in common with the now-forgotten American radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson who also wore shades indoors as armour, who was passive-aggressive in the extreme and exhibited the same kind of high maintenance aura she does. (Using the past tense may suggest Ti-Grace is dead. She isn’t.) Maybe the two should meet.

Anyhow, I would much rather talk to Miuccia Prada than Anna Wintour any day of the week.