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  • Thought Provoking Television

    Last night I watched the latest offering the BBC4 'war beneath the skin' series which was about the attempts of a Manchester doctor to respond to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.  It was, for me, a great watch, connecting my scientist, historian (never thought I'd use that word of myself!), theologian and lover of Manchester genes.

    My first interest was from a historical perspective, not so much what the story said, but how it was told and why (actually that makes me a historiographer not a historian).  This 'creative non-fiction' or 'docu-drama' approach cutting in archive film and photos with 21st century acting fascinates me.  The parallels with the current swine flue epidemic were obvious - so was any of this in the mind of the writers and producers?  The conflicts between social acceptability - a previous threatened epidemic that never came (cf bird flu) and the post WWI celebrations - and scientifically based approach of isolation, separation and closing down public places also had a contemporary ring.

    Enter my scientist head - I have constantly been irritated with the swine flu response, since it became clear this was not another false alarm. That we have failed to adopt basic control measures - even in the great plague a clergyman worked out the value of isolation (Remember Eyam?) and the data for the 1918 flu show that the doctor in Manchester got it, at least in part, right.  Do we never learn (oh, that's my historian head again!).  The use of statistical data and even the mortality curves were familiar (believe it or not similar techniques are used in probabilistic risk assessment!  I guess at least in 2009 we have tamiflu and vaccination but we still don't seem to have got our social heads around containment or isolation.  Thankfully swine flue has, so far, proved very mild in its effects, but what if it hadn't...?

    So to my theologian head and to my research work which is predicated precisely on this relationship of past-present-future.  Do we really have to reinvent wheels every time or are there principles and practices we can learn from how things were approached in the past that will inform our now?  How do we tell the stories in ways that enable people to engage with them, identify connection points and questions and work with them creatively and constructively?  In the dramatisation, a pious twerp refused to close his Sunday Schools to prevent spread of disease, justifying his action by saying that adults can take care of their own spiritual needs, children can't.  He may well have been right, but was he missing the point?  What do the actions of the churches say to people?  How should we really be reacting to swine flu - I'm not convinced that either the alcohol gel and wafer or 'God will protect us' extremes is great - but what else?

    So thank you BBC for making me think.  At the end of the programme I was left wondering if we'll ever really learn from our experiences, how much commercial and political agendas drive society (need to read more Marx obviously!) how much we really can predict from what we already know (e.g. will viruses return once, twice or a dozen times before they burn out?) and just what it is we try to do when we tell stories from the past.  Good stuff!

  • Decluttering Part Deux

    The Grand Declutter continues, well if not exactly apace at least it continues.  This morning my living room looks like Paddy's Market strewn with all manner of craft stuff ostensibly belonging to Churches Together and which needs to be rehomed or redistributed.  Having drawn up an inventory (for this I spent four years learning theology?!) and allocated 'core' and 'spare' stuff the list is now ready to go to churches and organisations who could use anything from glitter to funky foam to poster paints to embroidery silk.

    I presume there is a bottom to the heaps of junk, and that the stuff I take on with me will be less than I currently have...

    D'you reckon the early church had this problem?!!!

  • That's Plain Daft

    This morning I needed to book at train to London to meet a couple whose wedding I will conduct in Glasgow in December.  Despite what you might think, that's not the daft bit.  The daft bit is that it was cheaper to book two first class single tickets (£21 each) than one second class return (£65) - now that IS just plain daft.

    I'm quite chuffed to have a special event already in my 'new' diary - just need to get to grips with the differences between Scottish and English marriage law now!  It seems more straight forward in Scotland than England...

  • Contingency and Faith

    D+2 have invited my folk to join them for a picnic and short act of worship on Sunday 16th August, and most of them want to go, so we're cancelling our service to attend.  I asked the organiser what the wet weather contingency was , 'oh, we're praying for good weather' I was told.  Biting my tongue quite hard, I then asked 'and if God says no...?'  Esentially, it would be abandoned, there was not much by way of contingency.

    So now we are going to a picnic but if it is raining at midday we will instead gather at the manse for an impromptu service at our normal time.  Which means (a) mucking up my preaching scheme (mutter mutter mutter) and (b) having to have something to hand just in case.  So, do I capitulate and pray for sunshine (which feels like lousy theology to me) or have a standby sermonette on praying 'thy will be done'?!

  • Endings... have begun

    Two lasts today.

    The last service I'll lead at D+1 in the morning - to complicate things it was our host but as the school wasn't available we went there.  Caused minor confusion when I blocked off the back three rows to make people sit closer togther - but they actually seemed to quite enjoy it.  It all went well and was a good last.

    Then this evening last preach for the local Penties.  I have loved preaching there (typically 2 or 3 times a year) as they are a warm, receptive fellowship really working to bring hope to their local community.  Unusually among pentie churches they are tiny - less folk than dear old Dibley - but generous and hardworking.  They gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a card they'd signed with lots of lovely messages as well as laying on hands and praying for me.  It was a special moment, and I will miss them a lot.

    Lots more lasts to come in the next few weeks - which I guess is indicative of how I've involved myself in the locale.  The move becomes more real each day - which is exciting and scary in roughly equal proportion.