Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nicholas McCarthy Recital + more Welby/Wonga

Went last night to St Andrew's Fulham Fields to hear a recital by the remarkable one-armed pianist Nicholas McCarthy. This had been arranged by a member of the congregation, Margena Swingler, who is in Trinity Hospice with terminal cancer and wanted her friends to hear her friend Nicholas before she died.

He only graduated last year but has already established quite a reputation - playing with the British Paracorchestra at the closing ceremony of the Paralymics.  He began with his arrangement of a Liszt arrangement of a Bach piece for Organ. He also played a piece of Liszt arranged by his pupil Zichy who was the first one-armed professional pianist, the Scriabin Prelude and Nocturne Op 9 (which he wrote when he'd contracted tendinitis in his right hand) and, as a finale, his own arrangement of the Chopin B Minor Ballade(!)

It is thrilling how well Justin Welby is doing!  It's rare that The Sun and the FT have a lead editoral on the same subject, let alone that they agree.
BOLD. Imaginative. Forward-looking. Not words often used in the same sentence as Church of England. But it is the sort of praise Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s declaration of war on Wonga richly deserves.... His idea is a very modern take on the church’s centuries-old mission to help the poor and the exploited. Despite the C of E’s pension fund links with Wonga that the Archbishop was unaware of, it is a plan The Sun supports. As will our readers, be they Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, atheist ... or even Jedi. For too long the church’s endless rows over women bishops made it look hopelessly out of touch. Its new Archbishop vowed to make it more relevant to ordinary people. In taking on Wonga he has successfully proved it does have a role in the 21st century. 
I imagine The Sun realises that they haven't actually used the words in the same sentence. Now here is the FT:
The archbishop’s war on Wonga
Welby’s battle with payday lenders is a way to do good
Justin inviting money lenders to the temple... The archbishop hopes this will help them supplant for-profit payday lenders, whose interest rates of 5,000 per cent or more he has called “sinful”...The archbishop has poured scorn on the industry in the past (although, embarrassingly, the church’s pension fund owns a small stake in Wonga, the target of his criticism, through a third party). Now, he says, he wants to compete it out of existence. That is a brave announcement, and an admirable one....he should be commended for using his imagination, and the resources of the church, to try to cure what he sees as a grave social ill. Such action is worth a thousand sermons. It remains to be seen whether the church can wrest borrowers away from an industry that is spending heavily on promotion...The archbishop’s proposal is ambitious. Success would give savers a new way to help the least fortunate. Even if it fails, he has shown how the church aspires to be a potent force for good
It's also worth looking at Ian Martin's Telegraph post on how Justin responded so sure-footedly to the "crisis" when it was found that the CofE had a small indirect stake in Wonga, and the Mail's take.

They are looking for a new Head of Media Relations - sounds as though they don't really need one!

(BTW there is a very good interview of him by Nicky Gumbel on YouTube here)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Excellent Lambeth Partnership meeting with Justin Welby

Lambeth Palace Chapel
To Lambeth Palace last night for a meeting of the Lambeth Partnership. Justin Welby was enormously impressive - humble, self-deprecating, focused, decisive, optimistic.  Much of the discussion was un-bloggable but I think I can report his 3 stated priorities:
  1. Prayer and the renewal of the Religious Life. He points out that all revivals in history have begun with this.  He's particularly encouraged by the 24/7 Prayer movement and by Chemin Neuf.  
  2. Reconciliation. He spoke movingly about how in the Church we need to be "reconciled reconcilers" and of the great work done from Coventry on this which is a world centre of reconciliation.
  3. Evangelism and Witness. This is at the core of Christianity and he is very clear about this. As Chris Russell his evangelism adviser said "we believe that the best decision anyone can make is to become a follower of Jesus Christ". Justin says we must be "faithful in witness and hospitable in relationships."  He told us about his visit to Southall where he found was an excellent example of this.
He also paid warm tribute to Rowan Williams, and made the point that he is building on Rowan's foundations.  After the talk and a Q&A and an informal supper we all went to the Chapel for Compline. Highly inspiring.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jesus treated Mary as a disciple

Picture by Tinotretto - (thanks Wikipedia)
a BAD visual aid - see text
We went to Westminster Cathedral on Saturday evening since our daughter-in-law was singing, and then I went to St Paul's Hammersmith to my usual communion. In both cases we had Luke 10:38-42, Jesus and his disciples visiting the home of Martha and Mary.  As the AV has it Martha

had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

There is a really important detail here which is clear in the Greek but obscured by almost all the translations - though so much by the AV.  The it says:

Μαριάμ, ἣ καὶ παρακαθεσθεῖσα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἤκουεν τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ.
(Mariam, hee kai parakathestheisa pros tous podas tou ieesou eekouev ton logon autou)

kathestheisa means "sat",  parakathestheisa means "sat alongside".  Disciples "sit at the feet of" their master - this is not an attitude of adoration or contemplation but instruction.  So the passage should be translated  "Mary, who also sat alongside [the other disciples] at the feet of Jesus listening to his word [being formally instructed by him]."

Sadly both traditionalist Catholics and Protestants have their own reasons for glossing over this. Consequently the NIV has "who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said" - the RSV has "who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching" (which isn't so bad) and the JB "who sat down at the Lord's feet and listened to him speaking".  Tom Wright is very good on this in his commentary:
"When Saul of Tarsus 'sat the feet of Gamaliel' (Acts 22.3), he wan't gazing up adoringly and thinking how wonderful the great rabbi was; he was listening and learning...To sit at someone's feet meant, quite simply, to be their student.  And to sit at the feet of a rabbi was what you did if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Noble lecture is on Sat + congrats to Nowak (and the Standard Model).

Denis Noble's Presidential Lecture at the International Union of Physiological Societies on Saturday will be a cracker. Entitled Physiology moves back onto centre stage: a new synthesis with evolutionary biology it will be given just after Paul Nurse opens the conference.

It will be interesting to see how widely this is reported, but it should go down in history as the death-knell of the simplistic Selfish Gene nonsense. Interestingly the now famous Huxley - Wiberforce debate was hardly reported at the time, rather like the outcome of the Williams v Dawkins debate which was massively hyped in the press until Dawkins was trounced, and then the story went very quiet (and was removed from Wikipedia by the Dawkins Defenders).

I'm also delighted to see that Martin Nowak's co-authored paper on cancer treatment has got a News and Views article in Nature. It's harder to get a non-Nature paper to have a News & Views than it is to get a paper in Nature with a News & Views commentary so it's a major coup. It shows how mathematical evolution should really be done.

There is also an interesting N&V about a tough test of the Standard Model involving decays of Bs0 mesons. According to the SM the product of the CP asymmetry with the decay rate should be equal (to a good approximation) between the Bs0 decay and the B0 decay, and the paper finds that the difference is "- 0.02 + 0.05 + 0.04" which is 0 FAPP. Of course this does leave the puzzle of why we have so much more matter than anti-matter in the universe, but it leaves the Standard Model still standing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Heavenly meanings

Hereford Cathedral West Window
Back from a delightful few days in Shropshire staying at the excellent Lion at Leintwardine to see C's family.  It was ruined in the floods of 2009 and renovated by an enterprising local farmer who also does Radnor Hills mineral waters and soft drinks.  Very enjoyable country walks and runs and a thoroughly relaxing few days.  On the way back we went to Hereford Cathedral to look at Mappa Mundi - interesting that it shows China pretty much on top of the world

We'd had a Life Group on Monday evening where I was leading the study of the 23rd Psalm.  There is so much packed into the Psalms and they are the most quoted book in the Bible. Of course, like all scripture, they have to be read in the light of Christ - St Benedict gives my favourite example when he explains that the otherwise horrible verses in Psalm 137:8-9 refer to dealing with your sins, not killing human babies.

It's really salient that the Psalms are poetry, and the correct response to the variants in translation (eg Darkest Valley/Valley of the shadow of death) is "all of the above". Indeed when one of the group described a parable in the normal way as "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning" I took the liberty of saying that was wrong - it is an earthly story with heavenly meanings.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Interesting speeches from Cameron and Welby

On Thurs to a lunch event where the PM was guest of honour. By good fortune I was on the table right next to his, with fellow guests including a very successful entrepreneur, Priti Patel MP and Lord (Howard) Flight. A member of staff told me that Cameron was incredibly hard working and also very good at talking to all his staff - not just the "important" ones. Maggie was like that as well.

It was a private occasion albeit quite large so I won't blog the speech except to say that he was in a very positive frame of mind. After his speech Cameron went round to each table and personally said hi to everyone (about 400 people).

On Friday I visited to Diocese of London HQ and was very kindly briefed by the General Secretary on their Capital Vision for 2020.  This is impressive and challenging, describing a church that is Confident, Compassionate and Creative. Well worth supporting.

I read earlier today the very impressive speech that Archbishop Justin gave at the opening of Synod. He told a lovely story which is almost too good to be true, about a friend of his who had arrived at an airport "and everyone was in a grump and the flights were late. And when he got one from the front of the check-in, the person in front of him was incredibly rude to the poor check-in operator. And John, our friend, is always gracious and polite, and when he got to the front he said, ‘I’m embarrassed to be a passenger when people treat you like that. I don’t know how you were so patient.’ And she said, ‘Well, sir. I shouldn’t really tell you this. There’s sort of bad news and good news. The bad news is he’s sitting next to you on the flight to New York. But the good news is I’ve sent his luggage to Tokyo."

But here is the meat of his speech:
You don’t want a lot of baggage in a revolution. And we live in a time of revolutions. And the trouble with revolutions is once they start no-one knows where they will go. Of the most serious type, the physical type, the practical type… Bishop Angaelos, Head of the Coptic Church in the UK, whom I met in Egypt last week, and who is sitting with us today, knows exactly about revolutions. While we were in Egypt, we heard much talk of what would happen this week – and we’ve seen. And the grace and leadership of Christians in that country is something to behold.

But we live also in a time of many revolutions in this country. And as the Synod meets today, we are custodians of the gospel that transforms individuals, nations and societies. We are called by God to respond radically and imaginatively to new contexts – contexts that are set up by revolutions. I want to thank you, and to say what a privilege it is to share with you, in the ministry of shouldering the heavy burden of facing these changing contexts, and grappling with them in this Synod, now and over the years to come, and to thank you for your commitment in your work here you show to Jesus Christ and to His church. It is genuinely a privilege to be among you.

The revolutions are huge. The economic context and position of our country has changed, dramatically. With all parties committed to austerity for the foreseeable future, we have to recognise that the profound challenges of social need, food banks, credit injustice, gross differentiation of income – even in many areas of opportunity – pressure on all forms of state provision and spending: all these are here to stay. In and through the church we have the call and potentially the means to be the answer that God provides. As Pope Francis recalled so memorably, we are to be a poor church for the poor, however and wherever poverty is seen, materially or spiritually. That is a revolution. Being a poor church for the poor means both provision and also prophetic challenge in a country that is still able and has the resources to reduce inequality – especially inequality of opportunity and life expectancy. If you travel north from parts of Liverpool to Southport, you gain almost a year in life expectancy for every mile you travel. We are debating these questions in this Synod. But prophetic challenge needs reality as its foundation, or it is mere wishful thinking; and it needs provision as its companion, or it is merely shifting responsibility.

The social context is changing radically. There is a revolution. It may be, it was, that 59% of the population called themselves Christian at the last census, with 25% saying they had no faith. But the YouGov poll a couple of weeks back was the reverse, almost exactly, for those under 25. If we are not shaken by that, we are not listening.

The cultural and political ground is changing. There is a revolution. Anyone who listened, as I did, to much of the Same Sex Marriage Bill Second Reading Debate in the House of Lords could not fail to be struck by the overwhelming change of cultural hinterland. Predictable attitudes were no longer there. The opposition to the Bill, which included me and many other bishops, was utterly overwhelmed, with amongst the largest attendance in the House and participation in the debate, and majority, since 1945. There was noticeable hostility to the view of the churches. I am not proposing new policy, but what I felt then and feel now is that some of what was said by those supporting the bill was uncomfortably close to the bone. Lord Alli said that 97% of gay teenagers in this country report homophobic bullying. In the USA suicide as a result of such bullying is the principle cause of death of gay adolescents. One cannot sit and listen to that sort of reality without being appalled. We may or may not like it, but we must accept that there is a revolution in the area of sexuality, and we have not fully heard it.
 Stirring stuff. It will be great to see him again later this month and hear more.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Hughes, Hughes and Joyce

Last night to the Francis Kyle Gallery to see their show Jumping for Joyce because our friend Frieda Hughes was in it. What I didn't realise was that Philip Hughes would also be exhibiting.

Philip was a colleague of my late father at Scicon and left to found Logica which became the best and longest lived of the UK Software Houses, finally being bought by CGI of Canada last year for £1.7bn. However Philip stepped down as Chairman of Logica in 1991 and became a full-time painter and is now quite successful in this area.

Despite being represented by the same leading gallery and sharing a surname they had never met and it was a great pleasure to introduce them. In the picture they are standing next to Frieda's very striking The Idea of the Poet's Voice I which (sadly for us) had been sold.

Also exhibiting was Gerald Mynott who we used to know years ago - indeed his brother Laurence painted a portrait of C which of course we still have (and another which he kept for himself and I think sold). Delighted to learn from Francis Kyle that Gerald is doing very well and is one of their main stars. Sadly he wasn't there since it would have been great to see him again.