Category Archives: God-bothering

The Church of the Frightened Male

Yesterday I listened to an item on PM (radio 4) about a new church initiative.  It will come as no surprise to learn that most churches are concerned about falling attendance: what did come as a surprise was to be told that attendance is now predominantly female.  This does not accord with my experience; and according to at least one survey I found, more men than women attend traditional churches:

But even if the statistic were true I would question the attitudes of CVM or Christian Vision for Men.  They claim that to many men the church has been ‘feminised’.  Doyleys were mentioned; flowers were cited as reasons why these men do not feel comfortable in the modern church.  Leaving aside the question of doyleys (and haven’t flowers always featured in churches?) the idea of ‘feminisation’ is highly questionable.  We’ve had two millennia of the church being dominated and run by men.  The God of the Bible is male.  Yet barely a quarter of a century after the first women priests, we find that some men cannot cope.

Of course I want everyone to feel comfortable in church – but every place I’ve attended has managed to make that happen without needing to establish a separate space with hog-roasts and other male-bonding exercises.  The CVM website also endorses patriarchal ideas about the man as the head of the family (‘if you get the man, you get the family’ – in other words, women and children do not make their own decisions.)  Maybe there is an argument to be had about whether men need to hang out together and do stuff without women, the same as there is about women doing stuff without men – but come on guys!  If the mere presence of a doyley can put you off going to church, you need to examine your faith.

Here’s the programme anyway – it’s about 20 minutes in:




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Are You a Closet Christian?

It is generally assumed that if you’re a white Northern European, you are Not A Christian.  Anyone who’s educated, enlightened and forward-thinking is automatically presumed to be either atheist, sceptical or at the very least agnostic: with Richard Dawkins preaching on every (virtual) street corner, it’s not a good time to have faith.  And yet according to the Guardian last year 43% of the UK population identify as having a Christian faith

and according to a Gallup faith survey in 2014 30% of the UK’s population identified as ‘religious’.

However we unpick these figures, the trend continues to be downwards; and the assumption is still that if you have a brain you believe in science, and that if you believe in science you cannot possibly be religious.

If you do declare a faith you are likely to encounter one of two approaches: either people may edge away from you and regard you as a freak who is likely to jump on them and start speaking in tongues; or they come at you with a barrage of questions such as ‘what about homophobia in the church?  How can you believe in god when there’s so much suffering?’ or ‘look at all the terrible things done in the name of god!’  In other words, you become an apologist for religion, expected to answer for all the evil committed in the name of God, as well as being expected to have an answer to all the big questions.

As I have previously said I think ‘do you believe in God?’ is the wrong question.  I have developed an answer to this which I have outlined here:

Interestingly I’ve found it much easier since I’ve become a Quaker.  People seem to have different associations with Quakers than they do with Christians in general, so the usual response is one of interest, not fear or hostility.  But it remains difficult in certain circles to ‘come out’ as a Christian.  Tracey Ullman has perfectly captured this in a series of sketches in her latest show (it’s 16 minutes in:)

This in itself is interesting.  I don’t know whether Tracey Ullman has a faith or not, but for a mainstream comic to do such a sketch may indicate that the tide is turning, at least in favour of more tolerance.

Kirk out

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Quaker Blogging?

In some ways I approach this blog the way I approach a Quaker meeting.  A Quaker meeting is silent unless – and until – somebody speaks: and whilst you might think that describes just about any meeting, let me assure you there is a lot of silence.  This is because you are supposed to not only think before you speak, but speak only when you feel led to.  It’s not about saying something that’s on your mind, or coming to meeting with some things you want to get off your chest.  Speaking during meeting is called ministry, and it is supposed to be something you feel irresistibly led to say: as if it will burst out of you otherwise.  This is not a comfortable experience.  I have spoken a few times and it feels very much like somebody prodding you in the ribs until you can’t take it any more.  You are not in control of this process, it can come upon you quite unawares, and it can be nerve-wracking, even quite scary.  So that’s the first thing: speak only when prodded.

You are also supposed to subject your speech to various tests: to ask not only ‘is it true?’ but ‘is it helpful?’  We all know people who make a point of speaking the truth, but whether we find it helpful is another matter.  Kindness is another consideration and there is a fourth but I can’t remember exactly where to find it.

Why did I start on this?  Oh, yes: because I was thinking about blog posts.  I started this blog as a discipline, writing every day whether or not I had something to say – and that was good for me at that time.  But now, nearly nine years later (good god, is it nine?) I post only when I have something to say – and days or even a weeks can go by without that happening.  But do I subject these posts to the other tests?  Do I think about whether it’s kind or truthful or helpful?  Or do I think about whether it’s interesting, attention-grabbing or clever?


While I ponder that, I am getting ready to book my place at yearly meeting.  This is a national gathering of Quakers, and it will be interesting to find out the answer to my question: with thousands in the same room, will that result in more silence – or more talk?

Kirk out


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Lark Rise to Kembleford

Seeing as how I often involuntarily rise with the lark, when dusk approaches I tend to be tired, so I take a trip to Kembleford where Father Brown lives.  Chesterton’s detective-priest might seem utterly dated today but this adaptation, while preserving the setting, modernises some of the attitudes.  As the parish priest of Kembleford, a village where the murder rate is so extraordinarily high it’s a wonder they have any inhabitants left, Father Brown manages to insert himself into every investigation and inevitably finds clues the police overlook in order to crack the case.  A priest makes an unlikely detective but they do have things in common: like detectives they hear confessions and they have a pass to situations where the rest of us can’t go.  They are also present at the end of life.

The plots are highly improbable and most of the characters cardboard cutouts, but what makes this watchable is the character of Father Brown.  The central character is done just right by Mark Williams of The Fast Show (also Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series.)  He reminds me of the recently-deceased Rabbi Lionel Blue:

Though of different faiths they both exhibit the same patient, understanding manner; the same humility, the same essential faith. Father Brown’s belief in the potential of every human being for redemption causes him to stand alongside criminals and victims alike; a great antidote to these days of tabloid recrimination.

The episode where the character’s strength hit me most is The Eagle and the Daw, where Father Brown is wrongly accused of murder.  Instead of ranting about his innocence he sits patiently in his cell and waits for the outcome to unfold, even though these are still the days of capital punishment and the stakes are high.  Then when he is, inevitably, exonerated – and solves the case to boot – everyone gathers round to congratulate him.  But instead of lapping it all up he tells this story:

Once there was a jackdaw who was very vain.  He watched an eagle one day, soaring in the air.  ‘I can do that,’ said the jackdaw.  He watched the eagle swoop down on a baby lamb and carry it off into the sky.  ‘I can do that, easy,’ said the jackdaw, and he flapped his wings and flew high into the air.  He hovered over the flock, then swooped on a baby lamb and stuck his claws into it.  But he didn’t have the eagle’s strength so no matter how much he flapped his wings he couldn’t lift the lamb off the ground.  Then the farmer came along, caught him and put him in a cage for his children.  And there the jackdaw stayed.

There’s no vanity whatsoever in the character of Father Brown: he has no concern for his appearance, nor for social status.  Sometimes I wish I could be like that too – but it’s a bit of a tall order.  Still, inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places…

Here’s the latest episode:

Kirk out

PS  Like the title?  See what I did there?


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The Anti-Narnia

Far too much has been written about the over-commercialisation of Christmas.  People have been banging on about this ever since I can remember, but without success, for the phenomenon has now reached ridiculous lengths.  From the beginning of October I went through my Facebook news feed resolutely deleting everything that had a reference to Christmas and keeping it up until the actual beginning of Advent which this year fell on 30th November.  (Incidentally this reminds me of Nigel, the over-zealous curate in ‘Rev’ – can’t find the clip – who flounces into the office and announces ‘If I have to tell one more person it isn’t Christmas yet, it’s Advent, I shall go completely doo-lally!’)  I can’t remember exactly when the season of Christmas begins but I think it’s on Christmas Eve – and then it lasts, as the song says, twelve days after that.

But nowadays Christmas begins as soon as the summer holidays are over.  Barely is the harvest in; hardly have the children got their feet under a larger set of school desks, than the adverts begin.  You hear with dread the faint jingle of bells that announces the onset of yet another festive season; parents and teachers groan at the knowledge that they must deal with the children’s mounting excitement for another two and a half months before it can be discharged – and then the shopping begins.

Well – it seems to me that, with global warming, what we have here is the anti-Narnia.  The climate has changed so much; winters are now so much warmer than they were and Christmas so much longer, that we seem to be in a country that has fallen under the spell of some wicked wizard; a country where it’s Always Christmas and Never Winter.

I guess one advantage of not having money is that you can just ignore all the ads; the only offer I’ve been remotely tempted by is a subscription to Granta and sadly it’s too late to ask for that now.  Keep it simple is my philosophy: straightforward presents, not too many cards, and an easy Christmas meal without too many extras.  Enough food and wine to enjoy, presents under the tree and a few Xmas crackers – and I am content.

Would it were so easy to sort out global warming.  Then again, maybe it is: maybe if we apply the same criteria – cut out the extras, live more simply, have enough to enjoy and be content – we could find the answer.

Oh, and get me a subscription to Granta…



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Happy With Your Cosmos? Fine. If Not, We’re Here to Help

After yesterday’s post I found out lots about the author.  I’d assumed Jonathan Cainer was some American self-help guru but in fact he was the Daily Mail’s astrologer.  He died last year aged just 58 and apparently foresaw his own death.  Just like Leonard Cohen really…

Here’s the Mail’s rather self-congratulatory obituary of him:

I have very mixed feelings about astrology.  I see no reason why the stars at our birth should have any significance for our lives, and although I used to read horoscopes for fun I never set any store by what they had to say (this is typical of a Gemini, apparently.  LOL.)  And yet, despite this scepticism I am compelled to recognise that in terms of character, I have certain features in common with Gemini: I am mercurial, dual-natured, quick-thinking, and so on.  The ‘twin’ aspect seems particularly relevant.  And perhaps in the end there is more to us than we recognise; perhaps as the song says, we are stardust.

Even so, I would never dream of taking a horoscope seriously.  The Mail’s obituary is full of dire predictions of Cainer’s that came true: and I fail to see the point of it.  If I’m going to lose my house in a fireball or my husband is going to die or my friend commit suicide, what earthly good can it do me to know about it in advance?  I’d much rather live in ignorance, since presumably there’s nothing I can do about it.  If I did, it would create a paradox and prove the horoscope false: all that kind of prediction does is make you worry.

Much more enlightening were the words of Rabbi Lionel Blue.  Brought up in the Jewish faith, he came close to suicide on realising he was gay before returning to his faith and becoming a Rabbi in the reformed branch of Judaism.  A frequent contributor to the ‘Today’ programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’, he was always a comforting and thought-provoking voice.  In an odd parallel to the astrologer, he also foretold his own death (though, like Cohen, by the more usual method of realising that he was ill) and in a nice twist, he recorded his own obituary which was broadcast yesterday.  I can’t find a link to that one now, however, so here’s the Beeb’s own obituary:

Kirk out


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Cosmic Ordering: Have You Been Mis-s0ld? Compensation May Be Available

This is a review of a book which came to us via a friend.  It’s called ‘Cosmic Ordering,’ author one Jonathan Cainer, and the blurb says: Turn the universe into your obedient servant.  Cosmic ordering works for millions – and it can easily work for you.  Whether you seek love, money, power, luck or success, you can have it.  Often almost instantly.

The natural reaction to this is to say, what utter balls!  But, mindful of the fact that authors are not usually responsible for the blurb on their jackets, let’s turn to the text itself.  Purportedly written by your (or my) guardian angel, it states: ‘you want to know how you can fill your life with more of what you want – and less of what you don’t want.  I’m here to tell you that this is gloriously possible.  And what’s more, it’s easy.’

And, on the next page: ‘I am the genie of the lamp, your wish-granting fairy, your lucky leprechaun.’

Now, I have an instinctive dislike of self-help books which portray the universe as no more than a kind of giant Argos store where you can just order up whatever you want.  And so far, that’s what this book seems to be.  A page or two further on, my angel reiterates,’my job is to get you what you want…’ and then clarifies, ‘I did say want.  I did not say need.  Whatever you want, I’m here to supply it.’

Remember that, because we’ll come back to it.  Want, not need.  Chapter one goes on to say that unlike the fairy stories, you can have an infinite number of wishes.  You can wish for whatever you want, at any time you want.

Ah, but then we find there’s a problem.  Really?  You astonish me.  Well, the first caveat is that you can’t ask for something – like the Koh-i-Noor – that belongs to someone else.  Because that would put your angel in conflict with that of another person and result in a stalemate.  OK; I can see that.  Besides, I don’t really want the Koh-i-Noor; I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  But if I want to win the lottery I can’t do that either because that would put me in conflict with thousands – possibly millions – of others wanting the same thing.  This is not a new concept; in this scene of Bruce Almighty shows what happens when the all-powerful Bruce says yes to everyone’s request:

OK I’ll have to upload that later as I’m in the library right now.  But basically it’s chaos: nobody’s happy.

Right, so I can have anything I want whenever I want but I can’t win the lottery or have something that belongs to someone else.  But anything else I just ask for and it’s mine, right?  I mean, you are the genie of the lamp: my wish is your command.  Right?

Well, not exactly: in subsequent chapters we learn that if we want something hard or far-fetched we have to put in a lot of work to make it happen (it’s no good wishing to be a famous author if I haven’t written anything yet); that if you’re in a hole the best way out may be to crawl through a tunnel; that if you are in a terrible situation, contentment may be a better solution than being removed from your circumstances; that the dead cannot be reanimated but that you can be helped to accept their passing; that an attitude of gratitude is helpful and a desperate longing can drive away the thing you desire, and so on.  It’s all beginning to sound terribly familiar – and when I get to the final description of ‘how to order what you want’ it’s practically indistinguishable from many kinds of prayer and meditation.  In short, these ideas are not new: they are prevalent in most major world religions and practised in many kinds of prayer and meditation.  And it’s not that I have a problem with any of it: it’s just not what the book purports to be about.  And when, towards the end, we are told that most people don’t really know what they want so they have to dig deep and ask for guidance I begin to ask, how is this want, as distinct from need?  That of course is not defined.  Very little is: it’s not that kind of book.

It wasn’t a complete waste of time: I did get one or two nuggets from it.  And it could be worse; it doesn’t try to extort money for courses or enroll you in any kind of cult.  But if this book was PPI, I’d be calling my solicitor right now.

Still, if you want to – ahem! – order the book, here it is:

Kirk out



Filed under Book reviews, friends and family, God-bothering