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LIVING BELIEF: Being Christian, Being Human – John Barton

I’ve always thought that there’s something iffy about talk of ‘God’s plan’ for ones life. This book gives me reasons for thinking thus and it derives from addresses given first to clergy or those preparing to be clergy.

Many of its ideas were first tested with congregations with whom he has preached. But also, and more tellingly, because the book is in a sense a warning to clergy and the over-religious more generally of the perils of defining beliefs, and of thinking that if you have done that, all is well.

All Christians are committed to certain ‘credal’ beliefs about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, etc. But there are other beliefs that actually influence many people more which are not in any creed: beliefs about the sense made by human suffering in relation to the sufferings of Christ, about God’s plan for our lives, about how we minister to others, and about the place of sorrow and joy in the Christian life. Much of what is believed on such matters depends on differences of temperament, and on the style of Christian living encouraged in different churches, whether Protestant or Catholic. Christians can understand each other better by reflecting on such differences and by remembering that being Christian is a way of being human, and therefore allows for diversity of life style and psychological make-up., Explores some of the beliefs Christians have which, while not in any creeds, actually guide their lives. All Christians are committed to certain ‘credal’ beliefs about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, etc. But there are other beliefs that actually influence many people more which are not in any creed: beliefs about the sense made by human suffering in relation to the sufferings of Christ, about God’s plan for our lives, about how we minister to others, and about the place of sorrow and joy in the Christian life. Much of what is believed on such matters depends on differences of temperament, and on the style of Christian living encouraged in different churches, whether Protestant or Catholic. Christians can understand each other better by reflecting on such differences and by remembering that being Christian is a way of being human, and therefore allows for diversity of life style and psychological make-up.

The book has eight short chapters exploring four areas of this: Suffering with Christ; a divine plan for life; ministering to others; and Joy. The first chapter in each case starts from what has been received from scripture and the Christian tradition, whilst the second is more focussed on working with that and making some sense of it today. Barton is well read, and draws on a rich vein of literary resources, but he also writes movingly and illuminatingly of people he knows. He can be sharp about the harm well-meaning religious people so often cause. Wendy, a hairdresser who suffers from depression, says “that the majority of comments made to her by religious people made the depression rather worse. Some diagnose her problem as a lack of trust in God, and this simply endorses one of the elements in her own distorted thinking and helps her to feel she doesn’t deserve to get better… The idea that she was sharing Christ’s sufferings struck her as pretty incomprehensible, but she could get somewhere with the idea that everyone has a cross to bear, including Jesus, including herself, perhaps even including God, whatever that could possibly mean.”

Barton is suspicious of naïve statements about meaning, and the whole idea of ‘the meaning of life’. He stands with Freud rather than Jung, so beloved by many Christians. “The healthy person, for Freud, is not someone who has pondered the question of meaning and won through to a correct interpretation of the world, but someone who finds such satisfaction and meaningfulness in their daily life that such agonised questions do not arise in their mind in the first place.”


Strangely enough, “the beliefs to which the creeds bear witness are not always the beliefs by which Christians actually live from day to day…. On the other hand, there are many beliefs that animate the much Christian life but are not found in the creeds at all. For many Christians the heart of their faith is to do with making sense of the world, relating to the Christ known in prayer and action, living constructively with others, fostering certain kinds of attitude and relationship.

Perhaps the most obvious passage in the Bible that appears to deal with the idea of a divine plan behind events is Ecclesiastes 3.1-8, the famous poem about there being ‘a time’ for everything:

This evocative passage, rather like Psalm 23, seems to speak to people at all times in their lives, so that I have heard it read both at weddings and at funerals. Its exact meaning is rather elusive, which is why it is so versatile. One way of understanding it is as a great affirmation of the recurring cycles in nature and in human life. Certain kinds of events and opportunities come round in their sequence. This affirmation of the regular order of things is felt by most people to be good news. It encourages patience and fortitude, based on the knowledge that in God’s good time all will be for the best.

On the other hand the passage can also be read as a comment on the pointlessness of human activity, and this seems to be endorsed by the final verse (v. 9), which is never read when it is used at rites of passage: ‘What gain have the workers from their toil?’ Everything comes round on its appointed path, and all the work you do makes not one whit of difference to it. This is specially plausible if we think, as some commentators do, that the passage had an earlier existence as a poem about the cycles of nature but has been incorporated into Ecclesiastes’ pessimistic book precisely by the addition of that final verse. People who use it at a wedding would then be in tune with the passage’s original, pre-Ecclesiastes meaning, but would be turning their eyes away from the fatalistic, bored attitude that the author or compiler of the finished book wanted to see in it. On this reading the passage buoys us up and makes us feel good about the world and God’s ordering of it, only to let us down with a great bump at the end when we realize that these orders in nature go on their way without our being able to influence them in the slightest. This is very much the usual way of thinking in Ecclesiastes, and it may well be that this is how we are meant to read the passage in its final form.

Optimism and pessimism, however, are not the only two possibilities in the interpretation of Ecclesiastes. I should like here to introduce an interpretation by a German theologian, Gerhard Sauter. In his book The Question of Meaning, Sauter tries to show that the pattern of events described in Ecclesiastes is far from being deterministic or pre-planned. It neither rejoices that God fixes everything in advance, nor complains that he does so; it does not believe in a divine plan in that sense at all:

With these pairs of opposites Qoheleth [the Hebrew name for the author of the book] encompasses human life from its beginning — entry into the world — to its end, death. Thus he is not concerned only with the opportunities for decision on which every action depends. Equally, he is not saying that everything that happens is determined, in such a way that one can only accept it as fate. Granted that birth and death are not a matter of decision, planting and weeding are tied to the annual cycle, and the outbreak of war or the conclusion of a peace may well have struck those who belonged to a little nation that had become the plaything of the great powers as blows of fate, beyond their power to alter; still much else, many day-to-day events, were still subject to human choice — and yet at the same time determined.’

He goes on to argue that even the activities listed which are genuinely free nevertheless subject those who do them to the constraint that in doing them, their opposite ­which they might also want to do — is excluded.

Our world — the world of our experience and our action — consists of mutually exclusive opposites. In every action and in every experience the opposite of what gives it its meaning is logically excluded.

Thus, where many commentators see this passage as essen­tially an expression of ‘theological determinism’, Sauter prefers to understand it — surely more profoundly — as a reflection on the finite and contingent nature of human existence. One choice always excludes another, and time does not return for us to have a second attempt at making our lives. If there is ‘a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing’, or ‘a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted’ (3.5, 2), that is not because God fixes the destiny of each thing and controls each of our activities — so that our apparent freedom is a deception, and we are moved around like pieces on a cosmic chessboard. On the contrary, our choices are real choices; but they are subject to the constraint of linearity. tither planting or pulling up may be appropriate at any given moment, but we cannot have both, and the ‘cannot’ here is logical: no one, not even God, can do opposite things at the same time. To know the proper time is to discern which way our choices should be made, a task that requires all our skill and all the wisdom God can give us. It is not a matter of supine fatalism.

Thus Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament book that seems to many to teach a deterministic theology, is perhaps really the best source of insight into that creative use of contingency which is the heart of God’s own activity, and the greatest challenge to ours; for he is the great improviser, who is never defeated by any situation and can always bring good out of evil. The challenge to us is to do the same.

But the trouble is that if we take seriously this observed reality, whereby we can only act in a linear way in the light of all past actions, then to have a very high doctrine of God’s plan for us means that, with the best of intentions, our life can go completely and disastrously wrong because of one false choice. Whereas if the will of God for us is, rather, that we should make good and wise choices out of a large range of possible options, many of which are perfectly good in themselves, then we can be more relaxed about the whole pattern of our lives. We may make less than ideal choices, but so long as we are not making sinful ones, there is nothing with which to reproach ourselves. We shall not have failed to do the single thing God wanted us to do, because there was no such single thing: he gave us a range of options among which we chose freely. If we think of God as having one, and only one, pattern for our life that he wants us to follow, then there is in each situation only one good choice, and all the others are wrong: to misjudge what is the will of God for us today is potentially to throw away our whole life. This is why I said at the end of the last chapter that a strong sense of vocation can impart a great energy to the tasks we do in fulfilment of it, but can also result in a downgrading of all other activ­ities. They become either neutral and of no interest to God, or (more likely) they are seen as tainted with sin because they do not contribute to the fulfilment of the one thing he wants us to do. That way lies a lot of unhap­piness, not to say despair, if we think we have missed our vocation. We have all known people in the grip of a single great mission which may have been admirable in itself, but led them to neglect ordinary human relationships

this desire to discover ‘the meaning of life’ amounts, Sauter argues, to a desire for self-justification. Christians are not sent on a quest for life’s meaning. ‘Meaning’ in that sense lies beyond human sight, and is a secret that lives only with God. The danger is that in looking into the distance to discover it we shall overlook the present demands — and the present promises — of God, which lie before us. God himself, as the Old Testament hints, does not always act `meaningfully’, if that implies ‘according to a plan’. He does not have a fixed schedule of events that he contrives to bring about. For God works in partnership with his creatures, and their ability to change the course of events by their free choices is not an illusion. God is infinitely resourceful, not infinitely in control. How a mere created being can share in shaping God’s designs for the world is utterly mysterious

You can download it from here

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In the 1960s Polish People’s Republic, Anna, a young novice nun, is told by her prioress that before she takes her vows she must visit her aunt, Wanda Gruz, who is her only surviving relative. Anna travels to visit her aunt Wanda, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, sexually promiscuous judge who reveals that Anna’s actual name is Ida Lebenstein. Ida’s parents had been Jews who were murdered late in the German occupation of Poland during World War II (1939–45). Ida was then an infant, and as an orphan she had been raised by the convent. Wanda, who had been a Communist resistance fighter against the German occupation, had become the state prosecutor “Red Wanda” who sent “men to their deaths”. Wanda’s role alludes to “the political show trials of the early 1950s, when Poland’s Communist government used judicial terror (among other methods) to consolidate its power and eliminate its enemies.”

Wanda tells Ida that she should try some worldly sins and pleasures before she decides to take her vows. On their way to their hotel for the night, Wanda picks up a hitchhiker, Lis (Polish for “fox”), who turns out to be an alto saxophone player who is going to a gig in the same town. Wanda tries to get Ida interested in Lis, and to come to his show, but she resists until drifting down after hours to watch the little band wrapping up their evening with a song after the crowd has left. Lis is indeed drawn to Ida and talks with her before she leaves for the night to rejoin her aunt who is passed out in their room.

Ida wants to find the graves of her parents. Wanda asks her what would happen if she goes to where their bodies are buried and discovers that God is not there. Wanda takes her to the house they were born in and used to own, which is now occupied by a Pole, Feliks Skiba and his family. Wanda had left her young son with Ida’s family (Wanda’s sister and brother-in-law) during the war; the Skibas had taken over the home and land, and hidden the Lebensteins from the German authorities. Wanda, a former prosecutor, demands that Feliks and his father tell her what happened to the Lebensteins. Finally, Feliks agrees to tell them—if Ida promises that they will leave the Skibas alone and give up any claim to the house.

Feliks takes the women to the burial place in the woods and digs up the bones of their family. He admits to Ida that he took the three into the woods and killed them. Feliks says that because Ida was very small and able to pass for a Christian, he was able to give her to a convent. But Wanda’s small son was “dark and circumcised”. He couldn’t pass for a Christian child, and Feliks had killed him along with Ida’s parents. Jeremy Hicks describes some of the possible motivations for Feliks’ murders: “The implication is that he killed them for fear that he and his family might be discovered by the Nazis to be hiding Jews, and themselves be killed. But there is so much left unsaid here that the motivations for murder are left obscure. An understanding of Polish wartime history might equally push us towards explaining the murder through Polish anti-Semitism. The perception that Jews had money, or at least property, and that killing them would enable the murderers to acquire their property, is a motive that is hinted at too.”

Wanda and Ida take the bones to their family burial plot, in an abandoned, overgrown Jewish cemetery in Lublin, and bury them.

Wanda and Ida then part ways and return to their previous existences and routines, but they both have been profoundly affected by their experience, and nothing is the same. Although Wanda continues to drink and engage in apparently meaningless casual sex, she is also now mourning not only the loss of her son and sister, but the niece whom she has just met and who reminds her deeply of her sister. Ida returns to the convent but is visibly unenthusiastic about her life there, and even sees some of it with a new perspective of humour. Wanda’s melancholy deepens and she ultimately jumps to her death out of her apartment window. Ida returns to attend Wanda’s funeral, where she sees Lis again. At Wanda’s apartment, Ida changes out of her nun’s habit and into Wanda’s stilettos and evening gown, tries smoking and drinking, and then goes to Lis’ gig, where he later teaches her to dance.

After the show Ida and Lis sleep together. The next morning Lis suggests they get married, have children, and after that, live “life as usual.” After sleeping with him one more time, Ida quietly arises without awakening Lis, dons her convent habit again and leaves.

The character of Wanda Gruz is based on Helena Wolińska-Brus, although Wanda’s life and fate differ significantly from the real-life model. Like the character, Wolińska-Brus was a Jewish Pole who survived World War II as a member of the Communist resistance. In the postwar Communist regime she was a military prosecutor who was involved in show trials. One notorious example of these led to the 1953 execution of General ‘Nil’ Fieldorf, a famed resistance fighter. While Wolińska-Brus may have been involved, she was not the actual prosecutor for that trial. Pawlikowski met her in the 1980s in England, where she’d emigrated in 1971; he’s said of her that “I couldn’t square the warm, ironic woman I knew with the ruthless fanatic and Stalinist hangman. This paradox has haunted me for years. I even tried to write a film about her, but couldnʼt get my head around or into someone so contradictory.”

Some have argued that the Christian Poles in the film are portrayed negatively as being anti-Semitic and sharing responsibility for the Holocaust with the German occupiers. A letter of complaint has been sent by the Polish Anti-Defamation League to the Polish Film Institute, which provided significant funding for the film. A petition calling for the addition of explanatory title cards has apparently been signed by about 40,000 Poles; the film does not explicitly note that thousands of Poles were executed by the German occupiers for hiding or helping Jewish Poles. Eric Abraham, one of the producers of Ida, responded “Are they really suggesting that all films loosely based on historical events should come with contextual captions? Tell that to Mr. Stone and Mr. Spielberg and Mr. von Donnersmarck,” which refers to the directors of JFK, Lincoln, and The Lives of Others.

Conversely, others have argued that the character of Wanda Gruz, who participated in the persecution of those who threatened the Soviet-sponsored postwar regime, perpetuates a stereotype about Polish Jews as collaborators with the regime.

When Ida is in a church, the priest seems to be getting ready to say Mass and we see a versus populum altar, which didn’t become the norm until years later after Vatican II. The movie takes place in 1961 and the priest would have been saying Mass on the high altar.

Wanda: Do you have sinful thoughts sometimes?

Anna: Yes.

Wanda: About carnal love?

Anna: No.

Wanda: That’s a shame. You should try, otherwise what sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?


Lis: …come along then. You’ll listen to us play, we’ll walk on the beach.

Anna: And then?

Lis: Then we’ll buy a dog… Get married, have children… Get a house.

Anna: And then?

Lis: The usual. Life.


Wanda: What sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?


Lis: You’ve no idea of the effect you have, do you?


Lis: What are you thinking about?

Anna: I’m not thinking.

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Ethnicity: -The Inclusive Church Resource – M. Jagessar et al

As a student, I attended a church where it was assumed that black people didn’t want to be on the PCC – it hadn’t occurred to anyone that shift work meant they weren’t available. I’d heard the vicar thank ‘the ladies for making the teas – they really worked like niggers…’ And people were late because they kept ‘Jamaican time.’

This book is meatier than the previous ones in the series but the theology section is light and fluffy, lacking substance.

He mentions, but does not quote, as if we all know it, John Agard’s satirical poem `Half-Caste’* , a satirical take on the notion of purity, – why?


The rise of Black Christian churches throughout Europe, has given lie to the myth that people of colour do not desire or are not ready to accept church leadership. However, mainstream churches have been reluctant or unwilling to engage in honest dialogue on the issues that stem from ethnic diversity and such discourse is seen at best as a challenge and at worse as an accusation of racism. This leaves little or no place to discuss racial justice and racial reconciliation at individual and institutional level. In general the debate on ethnicity and the mainstream church has centred around inclusion, on counting people in. In many cases such inclusion has been focused on people of colour joining in and trying not to be seen to be different to the majority. However, inclusion works best when everyone can most be themselves.

I’m a woman. I’m an alumna of my university. I’m a Manchester United supporter. I’m a Londoner. I’m a journalist. I’m a Take That lover. I am … not very cool. So I would find it odd going to a Church of Women, a Manchester United Supporters’ church, the Church of the Uncool, or the Church of the Latter-Day Take t That lovers, for that matter. Heaven forbid.

But I was saddened upon realising — shock horror — that it is actually possible to pick and choose your church depending on your ethnicity or your country of origin. You can find Polish churches, Chinese churches, Spanish churches, ‘black majority churches’.

I don’t remember prejudice listed among the gifts of the spirit.

But I’m not sure that when Christ called us to ‘be one’ as he does in John 17, that he intended us to worship and fellowship only with those people who- look like us, who like what we like, who speak the same language or come from the same place. `When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place,’ we hear in Acts 2. In one place.

I used the term ‘mixed parentage’ earlier instead of ‘mixed race’ having been told quite sternly by a Black tutor at University ‘Nikki we all belong to one human race’. Who can argue with that?! My sister has also reminded me of how horrid the term ‘half-caste’ was/is, as if we were not quite fully finished or fully whole. She prefers (as I do now having heard it!) to use the term ‘dual heritage’, which does appear to say more about cultural background rather than colour mixing, especially as we are all of course a ‘mix’ of our conceiving parents’ genes.

I was so pleased when Black Theology was to be part of my theological training but was disappointed to learn it was only an ‘optional’ element that year and as most students had few ethnic faces in their congregations, most questioned, as I initially did, whether it could be ‘relevant’ to their congregation. The uneasy thought process of ‘we don’t have that problem because we don’t really have any ethnic minorities’ grew when I read Struggle in Babylon by Kenneth Leech.8 If it is a problem only when we have ethnic minorities in our congregation, does this not therefore imply that they are ‘the problem’, and that the issue is ‘out there’ and therefore not relevant to us?  Racism and exclusion is rooted in accepting a status quo that ‘doesn’t affect me’.

My new email provider as opposed to using `trustworthy’ and ‘untrustworthy’ for contacts has ‘white list’ (for trustworthy) and ‘black list’ (for untrustworthy). I have felt uncomfortable hearing preaching about the ‘blackness’ of sins, and how they can be washed ‘white’ and clean. I think I have heard a speaker say there are something like thirty negative uses of ‘black’ in our language, compared to only three for ‘white’

One evening Stephen and I were at a party given by a British diplomat. At that gathering, somehow an inner circle developed which excluded me. A White British doctor, a rather quiet and shy person, also found himself excluded from the inner circle. Standing on the margin of the group we found each other and engaged in a conversation. After a while the host came to us and said to the doctor: ‘Sorry to have left you all alone here.’ I was shocked: all alone! What about me, was I invisible? The host managed to insult both of us. The doctor said, ‘I am fine here talking with Mrs Barton’ and we remained where we were. The diplomat, who could not see me, was a member of our church. I was his vicar’s wife. We regularly worshipped together. I was really surprised that this diplomat could not see me. But it is common knowledge that power affects one’s eyesight in a real sense. Powerful people sometimes cannot see the person they consider inferior. There are many biblical verses about this phenomenon of sighted people not being able to see. Jesus said, ‘Do you have eyes, and fail to see?’ (Mark 8. 18, NRSV).

Over the years I have noticed that White people are often in a state of cognitive dissonance, in a place of anxiety caused by the incongruity between what they have been indoctrinated to believe and what they actually see and hear. The incident at the party in the house of the diplomat is a case in point.

In such parties, except for the servants, I used to be the only person of colour, invited as a White vicar’s wife.

In India British Christianity taught us to believe that White people were superior to us and that Jesus was White. The myth of White Jesus continues to be perpetuated through many things such as stained-glass windows, biblical films, theological book covers, Christmas and other religious cards.

when I was distributing communion, a man refused to take the chalice from me, shouted and stormed out of the church.

It is a great pity that most theological colleges are not teaching theology from ethnic and colour perspectives in a systematic way.

The birth of the Christian community (the people of the way) at Pentecost affirms ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity. The Holy Spirit descends in the tongues of the different nations, enabling friends and followers of Jesus to speak in a variety of languages. The new religious movement would not make ethnic homogeneity the price of admission. Instead it deploys a common message to increasingly distant and variegated people.

God assumed human form in Christ to heal and save all humankind. But this universal reach of the incarnation must be seen for its particularity. It happened in a specific country, among a specific people and at a specific moment. The incarnate Christ assumed the totality of human nature while at the same time becoming an individual person belonging to a distinct ethnic group — Jewish. He assumed ethnicity. In so doing, Christ has blessed the distinct and particular identity of each human being and, by extension, of each nation. In this way the incarnation embraces human nature in its universality while affirming the different expressions of that one nature in all their variety and specificity.

Ethnicity does play a role in the heritage of Jesus, a Galilean Jew, with a remarkable list of the hybrid mix in his bloodline that punctures insistence on the nonsense of purity!

*  Excuse me
standing on one leg
I’m half-caste.

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when Picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas?
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather?
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem don’t want de sun pass
ah rass?
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony?

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah looking at yu wid de keen
half of mih eye
an when I’m introduced to yu
I’m sure you’ll understand
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu must come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
an de whole of yu mind.

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story.

This is a poem about asserting your identity against others who would ‘bring you down’.   John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949, with a Caribbean father and a Portuguese mother (he is of mixed race).   In 1977, he moved to Britain, where he became angry with people who referred to him as ‘half-caste’.   Realising that most people who say this do so without thinking about what it really means, he tells off people who use this term without thinking.

The poem starts by sarcastically ‘apologising’ for being half-caste – ‘Excuse me standing on one leg I’m half-caste’.   He is not really apologising.  

 The next section of the poem argues that mixing colours in art, weather and symphonies does not make a half-thing

He writes: ‘I half-caste human being cast half-a-shadow’ – here, ‘half-a-shadow’ has a sinister vampire-like tone, and the author seems to be pointing out that by using the word half-caste, people are saying that he is not really human, but inferring that there is something sub-human, even evil about him.

 He finishes by saying: ‘but yu must come back tomorrow wid … de whole of yu mind’ – here he is pointing out that it is us who have been thinking with only half-a-brain when we thoughtlessly use the word ‘half-caste’.   In this way, he challenges the readers to change their thinking, and come up with a better word.

 He uses short lines (e.g. ‘Excuse me’) and almost no punctuation (he uses ‘/’ instead of a full stop) to convey the direct and confrontational nature of the message.   It makes the poem go quickly so it feels like someone ‘kicking off’ at you.
He repeats key phrases such as ‘Explain yuself’ (four times) and ‘haaaalf-caste’ to hammer home his message.


The poem does not rhyme, but the words do have a Caribbean rhythm which is reinforced by the repetition of phrases like: ‘Wha yu mean’ and: ‘de whole of’; this reminds you of Caribbean limbo dancing and sense of rhythm.

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The Thirty Year War: My Life Reporting on Education – R. Garner

This book reminds me how a fulfilling and stimulating vocation was ruined by successive political interventions that made it turn into a nightmare, sucking all the joy out of it.

There’s mention of OFSTED chief Christopher Woodhead claiming that there were 15,000 incomnpetent teachers, a figure hastily revised down to 3,000.

There is no index and the grumbling controversy about RE since GERBIL isn’t even mentioned and the subject only gets a look in on pp. 115 and 150 in relation to the EBacc.

Garner retired last year and wrote this book in a matter of weeks. He starts with his formative period at The Times Educational Supplement, before he moved to The Mirror and latterly The Independent. His first education secretary was Mark Carlisle, in the early 1980s, and we are taken on a tour through all the big names that followed – Keith Joseph, Ken Baker, David Blunkett, Estelle Morris – through to the present day.

Garner writes with journalistic detachment. He notes that he never felt part of the education community: always at the side of it, glancing in and noting down what he saw. Because of this, stories focus on the facts, told at speed, zipping over sometimes huge controversies and boiling down to their essence.

Charles Clarke gets a particularly kind write-up, while he ruthlessly labels all the policies that the “gaffe-prone” John Patten failed to implement.


from 1997 to 16 years I seem to have been reporting on the ‘language dunces of Europe’

and if I am to reflect on what was the most important advance in the education system during my 36 years of reporting, I would have to say the abolition of corporal punishment would rank highly.

Sir Keith was moved from the Department of Industry where he had agonised over the giving out of taxpayers’ money to ‘lame duck’ industries such as steel and shipbuilding. It was a policy that jarred with his monetarist principles – here was a complicated man full of compassion and deeply interested in the fight against poverty on the one hand but committed to support the harshest of economic policies on the other. At one time he was considered as future prime ministerial material but was characterised as ‘The Mad Monk’ earlier in his career after he had spoken out against the dangers of uncontrolled breeding amongst the poor.

He was probably best summed up by political adviser Stuart Sexton a couple of years after he had left office. Mr Sexton said Sir Keith spent too much time agonising over school closure decisions whilst in office, describing him as “a man who loves the debate but never the decision”.

Interestingly enough, it was stressed at the beginning that the level four target set for the test for 11-year-olds should not be seen as a pass/fail mark. It was set at the level that an average child should reach. Therefore, those politicians who have decried the fact that only 50 per cent reached the attainment target at the outset were missing the point – sometimes wilfully, I would say, in an attempt to discredit opponents of the reforms. One unnamed minister is said to have asked bemused officials at one point: “Why are there 50 per cent of kids who are below the average?” He was obviously not a candidate for a level four rating in maths himself.

At first sight, Mr Patten, an Oxford MP, appeared to have one or two things going for him. His daughter, Mary Claire, aged five, attended a state school – St Vincent de Paul primary in Westminster. It made him the first holder of his office since the Conservatives regained power in 1979 to have a child going through the state education system.

His appointment took most pundits aback. He had been a junior minister in the previous administration for several years and was not thought of as a high-flyer. Indeed, there were some who suggested that whoever had called on John Major’s behalf to offer him the post had dialled the wrong number – and had been meant to offer the job to Chris Patten, a former Schools Minister who later became chairman of the party and director general of the BBC, and who had been tipped for high office by most observers….. They dubbed him the ‘Invisible Man’ – a theme The Mirror was happy to exploit with a picture of him swathed in bandages. It was an epithet which stuck to him for the rest of his period in office.

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Riga, Latvia – houses

House of Blackheads Address Rātslaukums 6, Old Town Keyword significant house

The House of Blackheads was originally built in 1344 to house the Blackheads’ guild of unmarried foreign merchants. House of the Blackheads (Schwarzhäupterhaus): This architectural monument was first built in the 14th century, destroyed in 1941 and then rebuilt in 2001. It once hosted a brotherhood of foreign merchants.

The House of Blackheads, the impressive Gothic treasure of Riga, was first mentioned in 1334 as a building owned by the Great Guild and the place for public gatherings. In the 15th century Blackheads – an organization of unmarried foreign merchants rented it and later, in 1713 became its owner. The name of the brotherhood comes from St.Mauritius – imagery African moor whom they chose to be their patron. Due to the high social position the brotherhood had their headquarters became the center of all sorts of cultural events to which even Russian tsars were invited. It was also used as a concert hall and was visited by such musicians as R.Wagner and F.List. As a German merchant club the Brotherhood of Blackheads existed in Riga until 1939. Destroyed in 1941, it was rebuilt in 2001.There is a museum and a concert hall in the building today.

The quite striking, very colourful building called the House of Blackheads is in the southwestern part of the Old Town – a few seconds walk to the west of St. Peter’s Church. It’s an easily recognised building, popular with tourists – but definitely not my favourite one among all the lovely buildings of Riga. (It looks so *new* – and it actually is, it was (re)built from scratch in 2001!) Still worth a quick look, though… The Blackheads was an organisation of unmarried foreign merchants – the rather unusual name of the guild comes from their patron saint, the black st. Maurice. The building was first mentioned in 1344, it was then owned by the Great Guild. The Blackheads rented this building from the 15th century, and bought it in 1713. The building was partly ruined during World War II, and the ruins were completely destroyed by the Soviets in 1948. The House of Blackheads was rebuilt in Gothic style for Riga’s 800th anniversary in 2001. Open to the public daily, 10 – 17, except Mondays. Admission: 1,50 Ls

Mentzendorff’s House Address Grēcinieku iela 18, Old Town Phone tel: 2721 2951 (info)

You can see how wealthy Rīgans once lived at 17th-century Mentzendorff’s House.

His museum was the dwelling house of rich merchants in the 17th and18th centuries. The wall and ceiling paintings are unique.

Working Hours: 11:00-17:00, Mon, Tue – closed. Grecinieku 18 Old Town

Paul Mandelstamm’s Apartment Address Kalēju iela 23, Old Town

For a fix of Art Nouveau, check out Paul Mandelstamm’s apartment

Three Brothers Address Mazā Pils iela 17, 19 & 21,

Near the Dome Cathedral are the Three Brothers, Rīga’s oldest stone houses.

The tradition that members of one handicraft live on one street was in full force and effect in medieval Riga, too. So we can find three dwelling-houses surviving from the former Backer Street side by side to each other, perhaps this is the reason why these houses are called Three Brothers. The oldest brother was built at the end of the 15th century, it is the only premise that survived originally from that time, the next house is dated from 1646, but the last building is from the end of the 17th century. With the pediments facing the street these houses present the main principles of medieval building manner. Reconstruction carried out by P.Saulîtis and G.Jansons. Museum of Architecture is settled in 2 of these buildings.

Kaku maja – Cat House

 In the northern end of Livu Laukums (Liv square) you’ll notice a light yellow building, with a cat standing on top of each of the building’s two towers. This house is, of course, known as the Cat House, and it is definitely among the most photographed buildings in Riga… :o) In the early 20th century, the owner of this building was excluded from the powerful and prestigious Great Guild – their building is situated just across the street from the Cat House. He was pretty upset by this, and ordered the two cats to be turned around, with their rear ends towards the Great Guild Hall – as a way of insulting his enemies. An original way of protesting – and apparently it worked too, after a long battle in court the guy was admitted back to the Guild, and the cats were turned back.

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Personal well-being and sexual identity in the UK: 2013 to 2015

PEOPLE in the UK who identify as gay or lesbian, or bisexual, are more anxious, and therefore have a lower measure of personal well-being, than average, a report from the Of­fice for National Statistics suggest

This report analyses three years of data from the Annual Population Survey (APS) on per­sonal well-being, which measures levels of anxiety, happiness, worth, and life satisfaction, using various indicators. These include sexual identity, which is differentiated from sexual attraction or behaviour.

On average, between 2012 and 2015, people who identified as het­erosexual or straight were happier and more satisfied with life than those who identified as gay or lesbian, or bisexual.

About a third of people who iden­tified as bisexual reported high levels of anxiety; this was compared with 19.5 per cent who identified as heterosexual or straight.

Among other indicators of per­sonal well-being were age, gender, marriage or civil partnership. Previous reports showed that general health, employment, and relationship status have the largest association with per­sonal well-being,” the report says.

It-also- pointed to other factors that might affect self-reporting of sexual identity, and _ therefore the inconsistency of the data.

“The release Sexual Identity, UK 2015 showed that you are more likely to report identifying as lesbian, gay, or bi sexual if you live in London, and previous research has shown that personal well-being is generally lower in London.”

It’s online here

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ENGLAND’S SECULAR SCRIPTURE: Islamophobia and the Protestant Aesthetic (New Directions in Religion and Literature) by Jo Carruthers

I’m sure we’ve all heard the excuse for not going to church, on the lines of feeling closer to God in the garden. This book looks at the nostalgia, throughout post-Reformation literature, for England’s green and pleasant land.

This national myth excludes ‘foreigners’ and there is a direct line between it and the so-called ‘British Values’ to be taught in schools to counter (Islamic) extremism.

As I am not as well read as the author, I learned a lot about English literature but found it hard going at times.

Carruthers argues that the formation of English identities in early modern Reformation Protestantism influences English antagonism towards foreign identities, especially evident against Muslims. The book traces the transposing, and secularizing, of Reformation doctrines into a ‘Protestant aesthetic’ of simplicity, individualism, and rationalism in the literature of Spenser and Milton. Wordsworth, Hardy, Eliot and Orwell, among others, perpetuate this aesthetic, one that continues to shape English mythologies up to the present day. Carruthers sheds light on contemporary Islamophobia, helping us to understand that Englishness is not merely a secular identity (combating what is seen as an irrational fundamentalist identity), but one informed, paradoxically, by Protestant logic and history.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements \ Series Editors’ Preface \ Introduction \ 1. The English Reformation and the Protestant Aesthetic \ 2. Secularizing the Protestant Aesthetic: Wordsworth, Eliot and Hardy \ 3. Contemporary Englishness and the Protestant Aesthetic \ 4. The Protestant Aesthetic and Islamophobia \ Bibliography \ Index



Luther, in his opening to his commentary on the Psalms, available in English translation in 1577, advocates the reading of the ‘simple text’ of Scripture, ‘without further helpes’ as it has ‘matter enough to giue intelligence and instruction sufficient to the soule of man for saluation’ (although he does praise God for ‘commentaries & expli­’cations’, which are nonetheless ‘much requisite, & greatly needefull’ to quench ‘controuersies’)

Chapter One outlines the precise set of Protestant beliefs that were invested in simplicity: both anti-Catholic rejection of ostentation and hermeneutical assumptions of transparency. Through readings of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, simplicity is shown to be a key signifier that is the conceptual foundation to other characteristics of Englishness, namely rational­ity, self-control, and freedom. Simplicity becomes, in these works, a marker of the elect English. The continuance of the aesthetic of sim­plicity into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, and its ongoing dependence upon an unarticulated belief in transparency, is considered in Chapter Two. Here, simplicity is shown to morph from a theologically infused concept to one that comes to be an intuitive value that itself measures theological and moral positions. The theologically informed oppositional force of simplicity persists and it becomes a more general (rather than theologically specific) arbitra­tor of morality and a marker of the elite. Chapter Three continues the trajectory to twentieth- and twenty-first-century writings on Englishness, demonstrating how contemporary accounts of a nostal­gic Englishness are dependent upon the literary depiction of a simple Englishness based in the landscape, an Englishness that is still oppositional and in which simplicity acts as a marker of pre-eminence. This chapter also demonstrates the importance of those character traits that are indebted to simplicity (as revealed in Chapter One): rationality, discernment, self-possession, reservation and self-control.

The final chapter turns to a specific outworking of the oppositional force of the Protestant aesthetic of English simplicity that is appar­ent in articulations of Islamophobia. With the book covering such a large scope — the subjects of Eng­lishness, of simplicity and of Islamophobia, as well as an immense period from the early modern to the present day, there is necessarily a sense of speed to the book. I have no doubt that others are more suited to write different sections of this book and that they can be fleshed out with more nuance and therefore with greater panache than I have managed. These chapters are intended to sketch out the persistence of simplicity, and the ways in which its Protestant logics of transparency and supremacy are in force in contemporary expres­sions of Englishness and especially implicated in Islamophobia.

Transparency becomes coupled with the aesthetic of simplicity (exemplified in plain reading, but also plain clothes, simple rurality and the simple life) and signifies a wealth of interconnected qualities. As was implicit in The Faerie Queene, simplicity signifies rationalism in the elect’s newly superior discerning mind. The emphasis upon Protestant discernment leads to a widespread association of God-given perception with a God-given reason.

If we follow King in applying the Geneva Bible’s inter­pretation of the keys of heaven in Matthew 16.19 as ‘the worde of God’ (Spenser’s Poetics, p. 100) then Ignaro likewise has no access to the truth that the Scriptures hold. As such, interiority and biblical interpretation are implicated in each other.

Protestantism’s leading nation, as many English saw themselves.

the lineage of literary works that present England as the new Israel or Jerusalem.

Although never mentioned explicitly, it is simplicity that is indicated through his expulsion of the linguistic ornament of rhyme. Just as the throwing off of Catholic decoration in churches, and the eschew­ing of the more personal ornamentation of luxurious dress makes the Protestant free, so language is liberated by its eschewing of embellishment.

Dyrness notes that English taste for landscape demonstrates a Protestant veneration of nature. Importantly, the landscape that Milton renders is that of the garden — the enclosed space where wild­; ness is always within bounds and subject to cultivation. As England becomes ‘this Eden’, it is also markedly a tame, or to-be-tamed gar­den landscape. As such, the English as gardeners are controllers of the landscape in a way that corresponds to their assertion of self-control.

The Christian Socialist F. D. Maurice in 1855 appeals to the `witness’ of ‘simplicity’ in his ‘The Communion Service’ to verify his theological position:

But are we investing the bread and the wine with some magical properties? Are we supposing that they admit us into a Presence, which but for them would be far from us? Do they not rather bear witness, by their simplicity, by their universality, that it is always near to us, near to every one.

The apparently magical properties of the sacrament are transferred to simplicity as a sign of the unmediated presence of God, a guaran­tor of transparency and presence. Throughout his pamphlet, Maurice elaborates on the elements of the eucharistic service, asserting quite explicitly their mutual simplicity and transparency: ‘Surely what we need is, that they should be made a perfectly transparent medium, through which His glory may be manifested’. Maurice goes on to articulate the movement of the eucharist from an everyday context to one ‘purely sacramental’, in which it becomes a transparent commu­nicator of divine meaning:

For this end the elements require a solemn consecration from the priest [ . . . ] — that they may be diverted from their ordinary uses, ­that they may become purely sacramental. No doubt the world is full of sacraments. Morning and evening, the kind looks and parting words of friends, the laugh of childhood, daily bread, sickness and death, all have a holy sacramental meaning [ . . . ] But then they have another meaning, which keeps this out of sight. If we would have them translated to us, we need some pure untroubled element, which has no significancy, except as the organ through which the voice of God speaks to man, and through which he may answer, ‘Thy servant heareth.’

Such we believe are this bread and wine, when redeemed to His service. Let us not deprive them of their ethereal whiteness and clearness, by the colours of our fancy, or the clouds of our intellect.’

Maurice wants to set aside bread and wine from their everyday asso­ciations and instead present them as a ‘pure untroubled element’, separate from the world and made sacred, as identified in their ‘ether­eal whiteness and clearness’. Modified by his earlier descriptor of `simplicity’, the elements become unfettered, clear communicators of the divine.

‘Those who held the continental view of the Eucharistic Presence refused utterly to assume a garment which implied that Presence. Many insisted on ministering in th street clothes, or peasant’s jacket, and we have record of one priest who felt that he must wear his hat during the service

Muslims are seen as choosing and preferring insularity and Islam is increasingly seen as a threat to Western liberal democracy … Muslims are ultimately defined as decep­tive (hampering free speech), as aggressively public (through their clothing) and ultimately as unduly ostentatious when measured against a mythological reserved and simple Englishness.

she asserts ‘tolerance, politeness and com­passion’ as British core values, indeed as ‘Christian values’ that ‘pre­vail’ despite the decline in the ‘church-going habit’. It becomes clear that British values are based in a set of moral values that are attached to a specific religion (Christianity) ….. the veil on an issue that, privately, many will have admitted to finding disturbing’. The veil as metaphor signifies wrongful hiding and cover­ing, and its removal is an act of illumination, openness and honesty.

with a plea to those Muslims who may wish `to play a full role in British society’, that they ‘should realize that they are making that more difficult’ because of ‘the uniform they choose to wear’. By choosing to label the veil as ‘uniform’, veil-wearing Muslims become school children or an army. (Who describes their national or religious dress as ‘uni­form’?)

which Islam is represented as ‘A religion that promotes violence against non believers this induces certain Muslims into a rabid frenzy, these Muslims must be challenged wherever they raise their evil heads.’

You can download it from here.

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