Tuesday, January 29, 2013

old norse lightbulb

In the autumn of 1986 I was walking down Merton Street behind two particularly bulbous-headed scholars, when one turned to his companion and said:

"The problem with Old Norse is..."

And that was about the last bit of their conversation that I understood.

As I was sitting in the cafe in the Leeds art gallery today, I had a similar experience. My work iPhone buzzed in my pocket, and I saw I'd received a message from an academic I've been working with.

Tomorrow, I am travelling with a team from the University to make a presentation. It's a very exciting event, actually, and perhaps being a part of this project has been the best thing I've done here in this job. All universities sell themselves as world-leading and making a global impact and brilliantly innovative etc etc. But this particular research, coupled with the potential partner we are seeing tomorrow, will genuinely fulfil those numbingly platitudinous epithets. If it achieves what it sets out to do, this project has the capacity to affect everybody.


The message from the academic was entitled: So what exactly is (name of project)? I smiled as I read the message, which talked of finding that lightbulb moment in understanding something and was brilliant, deep, and totally over my head. I love being a part of something like this. It is frankly wonderful. In an instant I was transported back to Merton Street and my youth and those Old Norse scholars and their enthusiasm for something that I would never, ever get.

A moment later, another buzz from my iPhone. The team leader had replied. His precise words:

"Yes makes sense."

I think I'll just book the rail tickets, carry the bags & smile.

Monday, January 28, 2013

what's going on, Marcus?

Is it the way they use my name that makes the question so pointed?

It's a false familiarity. An unexpected jolt like the prize draw letter that you, Mr Green, can't quite put down, because you, Mr Green - yes that's right you, Mr Green - have been specially selected from over 500,000 people in your town/city/locale to receive it! Mr Green, don't lose this opportunity to change your life! (Ooh, slight hesitation, and it's in the waste basket.)

But with this one false touch suddenly FaceBook makes me feel guilty.

"What's going on, Marcus?"

Nothing. Honest. I wasn't doing anything. I have nothing to hide. Why, who said I did?

Somebody said I did, clearly. It's no longer just unwanted ads for Star Trek memorabilia and tickets to Doctor Who conventions, along with offers of signed photos of Ryan Gosling and demands from charities asking why I haven't yet saved three puppies today that assault me every time I flip over to FB.

Now there's an accusation awaiting me.

It might as well say: "OWN UP NOW AND STOP WASTING OUR TIME, Marcus." 

What's going on? Nothing. I haven't committed any crimes, defrauded the government, refused to pay corporation tax, defended the NRA, built a nuclear weapon in my cellar & sold it to Iran, helped the Chinese increase Global Warming, excused the US for not caring about the same, smoked anything (questionable or otherwise) all day, been binge drinking again, hacked into MI5's website, built a computer code to crack the lottery, or said anything (EVER) against Clare Balding.

See. I'm pure as the driven.

"What's going on, Marcus?"

And yet that last-beat leaning on my name means I feel guilty. I'm going to be found out, aren't I? Big FaceBrother is watching me.

I've got this sudden inexplicable urge to splurge, to tell all, to reveal my inmost, to let it all out and confess in the confines of the box provided.

Goodness. Is this what it feels like to be brought up Catholic?

Does anyone know if I can still join MySpace? Is it OK to convert so late in life?

Friday, January 18, 2013

guinea pig

I braved the cold this morning and went to see the doctor; I’m still coughing up gunk from my Swiss flu.

It was all very efficient. I was in the examining room within minutes of my allotted time. After disrobing myself of great coat, ski hat and thick red wooly scarf, she listened carefully to my breathing, asked me questions about the colour of the gunk (as if I'd know anything about the colour of anything) and promptly prescribed some magic pills. I swiftly re-robed and wandered back into the fresh morning air.

Goodness it's cold. There was a decent-ish snowfall last night, but this morning I think the clouds are sulking ominously until everything warms up a little.

Into the car. A quick drive around the corner in search of a parking space. Then the inevitable wait as the chemist serves the elderly infirm of Calverley who have descended in droves ahead of me out of pure spite.

Eventually it's my turn.

The chemist (smart, Asian, looked about thirteen) handed over my goody bag with the magic pills and said – “Ooh, these are like, you know, still really new and we ask people to tell us if they work or if they give you massive abdominal cramps & headaches; can I get you to put your phone number down so we can check up on you?”

Which filled me with confidence. I must have looked a bit shocked, cos he added:

“I mean, they’re great. They usually work really well.”
I signed on the dotted line and gave him my mobile number.

So far so good.

Of course, I don’t take the first one till tonight.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

common sense

Yesterday's surprise judgement by the Eurpean Court of Human Rights has delivered a genuine coup for Evangelical lobby group Reform.

Although lawyers from Lambeth Palace are still digesting the one hundred and forty three page pronouncement from Strasbourg, and have indicated that there may be grounds for a counter-claim, initial responses seem clear.

As the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace may only be allowed if they are purely decorative and pose no threat to others or raise any health and safety issues, in future all clergy whilst on duty should look like this:

And not like this:

In the first picture, the subject might be a bank manager or a junior sales executive. He is, of course, the chairman of Reform, the Revd Rod Thomas, dressed for work, in full accordance with European directives. In the second picture, both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope are wearing highly flammable robes close to a naked flame in full view of an antagonistic faith symbol. This kind of archane flouting of European Law is now clearly unacceptable, and such scenes (Lambeth's legal questions notwithstanding) will soon be rightly condemned to the scrap-heap of history.

Christian leaders from the Alpha Churches network have joined Richard Dawkins in hailing this "common sense" advance, although Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Scotland's highest place Roman Catholic, reflected that this was only to be expected from a court "steeped in the grotesque subversion of equal rights for foreigners and those who wish to promote same sex marriage".

Saturday, January 05, 2013

something singing

The kindness of friends is one of life's never-ending joys.

I have been suffering from the flu since arriving in Wengen a few days ago. And yes, real flu - I've had a fever since Wednesday evening, and eventually made my way to the local doctor this morning. I rang at 8am and with typical Swiss efficiency had an appointment at 9am. The doctor gave me the once-over, confirmed I was running a fever, did a few tests and decided it was simply a rough flu bug. I was presented with a series of medications (and my experience of receiving drugs from this surgery in the past gives me great confidence) and instructed to report back to her on Monday morning.

Of course, what this has meant is that I have both failed to be any real use to the local community as far as the church goes (and I'm supposed to be here for a week as Chaplain to the English Church) and I've also not even got close to thinking about doing any skiing.

However - in the few moments I've ventured outside the apartment, I've seen a surprising number of folk, and received a wonderful degree of kindness.

Let me give two examples of the latter.

Maggie, church warden here, is a wonderful friend. She has taken on some of the tasks I should be doing (looking after the church), and I feel terrible for adding to her schedule - but she is just amazing. Her generosity and readiness to help out never ceases. She's even taken some washing for me. Maggie is always for me one of those people who is able to see many different sides of life, and to hold very strong views, whilst being gracious and giving and demonstrating real Christian living. I depend on her here usually anyway, but this week she has been a rock. I know all the practicalities for church will be fine because Maggie will have made it so.

Then, this afternoon I got a text from Jane Petersen. She and her husband Paul Kaju and their daughters are a wonderful American family with a chalet at the top of the village. Paul had invited me to drinks yesterday, and I'd declined (goodness, I was rough yesterday), and then today Jane had bumped into Maggie who told her how unwell I've been.

Jane's reaction - if I was still unwell tomorrow, she was really happy to step in in whatever way I needed. Readings, prayers, leading, she even has an Alpha Course talk which she can adapt so that there can be some form of service here if I simply can't make it.

Again, I am so blessed by the kindness of friends. The fact is - my sense of duty means that I'd have to be pretty nearly dead not to be in church tomorrow; and I do feel better than I did, though the fever is up a little again this evening. But the offer is wonderful.

More than that, Jane & Claire & Sarah then trekked down the hill to bring me supper & goodies & to wish me well.

It is in the way we are loved by each other that we see something of the depth of God's love for us. Though I am physically way under par, in my inner being there is something singing tonight.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Church of England revises rules on Gay Bishops

The Daily Telegraph is amongst many news organs reporting on the Church of England's revision of its attitude to whether or not gay men in civil partnerships may be selected for episcopal office.

In fact, this momentous change came within the summary of decisions from December 20th's House of Bishops meeting. The Bishops, whilst waiting for Sir Joseph Pilling's upcoming report, are not it seems changing anything. Unless you read Fulcrum, in which case you understand that all created order is about to disintegrate. (I pick one link; last time I looked I think it had grown to 13 articles.)

Of course, the Bishops are telling the truth. It has always been the position that celibate men are able to be bishops. (Well, are able to hold the office; we've all met a few in that august office whom we had our doubts over as to whether or not there was anyone home, no matter how brightly the lights were shining.)

The prurient question that is being asked by well-coiffed churchmen now (and Rod - love the picture on the BBC site -  reminds me of someone - oh yes; would that I could still do that!) has been well put by a friend of mine on Twitter:
Celibacy: what's in and what's out?

Utlimately, we can only hope that Joe Pilling will get his act together and publish soon so that the whole debate can be finally sorted.


It so happens that I have been spending a little time over the last few weeks catching up with one or two people, and as this site is hardly Controversy Central, I don't suppose it will matter terribly if I flag up some of the early Pilling proposals which have gotten the House of Bishops very excited. You won't tell, will you?

1. The thing about celibate gay men in civil partnerships being allowed to to be considered is a smoke screen. For the first time ever, celibate straight married men will be allowed to be considered too. This is a radical advance for sexual equality, and removes in a single stroke the spectre of those awfully embarrassing episcopal children in Bishopsthorpe and the Palace.

2. After much deliberation, the moratorium will be lifted. Some church weddings may include music by Cher.

3. In one of the hardest fought discussions in the House of Bishops' history, actively gay men may be considered for the episcopate as long as they fulfil all the following terms:
i) Their surnames should begin with the letters 'H' through 'L'. Some felt that this will cause problems with those who enjoy double-barrelled surnames, but was finally voted through after it was argued that perhaps the relevant candidate could chose his favourite name. And place setting colours.
ii) They must be in a civil partnership of social repute. So, anyone partnered to a dustman or a journalist would not normally be considered.
iii) Their civil partnership should normally have been conducted within the fourth week of March - unless this was a Holy Week, in which case the Church of England would not recognise it. Also, any proto-'honeymoon' arrangements should not have coincided with Easter, which would demonstrate a lack of judgement.
iv) A potential bishop's partner should not be more than thirteen years younger than him. Unless he is very good looking indeed.
v) It is foreseen there may be parishes unhappy with such appointments. These parishes may wish to erect a thick pink line around them, and if so the newly elected Diocesan is to appoint a married female suffragon at the earliest possibility. She is to visit these parishes regularly, taking her whole extended family as often as is convenient. For her.
vi) The placing of pink crosses on the arms of bishops elected under this measure was quickly kicked into the long grass as simply insensitive. There were seen to be too many obvious difficulties with colour-clashes for episcopal robes generally, as well as all the complexities which seasonal variations bring. However, the placing of a small pink cross centrally on the license plates of episcopal limousines remains in the final discussion draft.

4. One very senior Anglican Bishop told me (and this is a direct quote): "In this compromise everyone fails to get what they want. As such, it is the perfect Anglican solution." Another Episcopal Source has said that, whilst not everything here was to his taste, and he understood others felt that some of the terms seemed unnecessarily arbitrary, he would place his reputation "on these proposals being in force by the end of 2013, with the whole thing forgotten by Christmas".

5. I'm off to the bookies...

Thursday, January 03, 2013

take me to your leader

On the principle of 'better late than never', I bring you my 20123 New Year's Message.

A word of explanation first. I was fortunate to be in conversation with a very significant politician last weekend. I know he was very significant; I told him so. He was complaining about every political Tom, Dick & Harry who are publishing New Year's Messages as though anybody anywhere actually cared what they thought & actually takes the time to read them or click onto the YouTube clip.

It made me stop and think - after all, my Twitter feed & email inbox have been filled both with these messages and also the religious versions of the same. Anyone who is anyone in politics and in the church (and is keen to tell me so) sends out a New Year's Message. It's de rigueur, as they say in Glyncoch.

Clearly I have missed a trick. Or I'm not reminding you of how important I actually am. So I should put that right.

Here goes...

2013 New Year's Message from Marcus Green

It is important at the turn of the year, Janus-like, to keep abreast of past and future. The very name, 2013, holds this tension within its compass.

We begin with '20', as we have done for some time, but not always. This new traditionalism goes to the heart of what goes on at the heart of all of us. We are all in this together, different communities and even other differences, but one number.

Except for the very strict members of other faith and non-faith communities who use other numbers and even mythological beasts to delineate the popular passing of time, but they too are welcome to embrace our number, and enjoy our fireworks, as we enjoy their food and interesting musical choices.

We move on to '12', at least those of us, and I count myself in that 'those of us', as I believe do most of us, and you, and we, who do so. Sorry - we move on to '13'. Which is more than '12' and demonstrates that time like an ever rolling stream adds another one, please, Carol. And a consonant.

'13' is for some unlucky, and for others, lucky. Which goes to show. But I would say this to you: It is for all of us the same '13'. No, there are no more Olympics, but there is legacy, and a rather nice DVD on sale at Sainsburys. No, there is no more Jubilee. Except for the Jubilee of the Coronation, which, if I have my way, we will celebrate with many boats being burned. Under many bridges.

But even then there are still many causes for celebration.

Many of them. You might like to reflect on them in a moment of national pondular reflection.

And others too.

So in conclusion, I wish you a Happy (though this is not to exclude the sad, criminally insane or just generally miserable, all of whom have an important part to play in the months ahead) New (though by now, slightly used, and without a receipt, I'm afraid we can't take it back) Year (being the remainder of 362 days, unless the Mayans were just slightly out; one can hope).

And all who sail in her.