The point of irreversible bifurcation

One of the programmes I love to watch on the television is “Yes Minister”, and its sequel “Yes Prime Minister”. In fact I have two books, supposedly containing the diaries of ‘Jim Hacker’. Edited by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, the two books tell the story behind each individual programme. In an episode entitled “Party Games”, the entry in the diary for December 9th recounts the tale of a “frightful misunderstanding”. Sir Humphrey comes in to see Jim and informs him that their relationship is “approaching the point of irreversible bifurcation, and …. in the propinquity of its ultimate regrettable termination”. Jim, of course, fails to understand and asks for clarification, so Humphrey replies that he (Humphrey) is on his way out. He continues in terms of accepting what fate has in store and passing on “to pastures new, perhaps greener, to put oneself finally at the service of one who is greater than any of us”. The misunderstanding deepens, as Jim expresses his regret and asks if his wife knows, and then how long he has been given. Just a few weeks, he is told. Jim thinks that Humphrey is being very brave. Humphrey replies “Well, I am a little anxious, I must admit – one is always frightened of the unknown, but I have faith. Somehow I’ll muddle through”. It transpires that Humphrey has been appointed as Secretary of the Cabinet, but not before Jim has burst into tears and said how sorry he is. Obviously Jim had misinterpreted Humphrey’s words and thought that he had suddenly received news of his impending departure from this world.

This paragraph seems strangely relevant at the moment. Another relationship is fast approaching that same point of bifurcation. What a lovely word that is – bifurcation – my granddad always had “birfucated rivets” in a drawer in his bureau – but I’m not sure what he ever used them for. I still have them somewhere but don’t know whether I will ever find a use for them! The relationship of myself as Rector of Stourhead with my parishioners is also about to come to an end. I too, like Sir Humphrey, have to report that I am on my way out – though like Sir Humphrey, not from this world, I hope!  After seven years in this Diocese we have decided to pack up and move on into retirement.  My late mother was keen that I should retire at the earliest opportunity.

The last few months have been something of an emotional roller coaster.  I can look back across thirty-two years of ordained ministry, spent in two suburban curacies and three incumbencies.  In all I have served in twenty-one parishes.  I can recall various people I have known in each place, and have tales to tell of particular incidents from those parishes.  Ministry to people at times of the most profound joy and the deepest sadness has always been a highlight for me of the work I do, through baptisms, weddings and funerals.  I like to feel that these important family events have always been handled with care and sensitivity, reverence and dignity.  It is a privilege to walk alongside people and help them at such times of joy and of sadness, and to have played a little part in their lives.

Whilst going through (and clearing out) enormous amounts of paper accumulated over the years I came across the sermon preached by the late Bishop of Dunwich the Rt Revd Clive Young on the occasion of my institution and induction as Rector in Kedington on October 4, 2011.  The Bishop reminded us of the words of the Archdeacon, that this benefice is “a jewel in the crown of the Diocese…. with its beautiful churches and stunning setting…. Blessed with able and dedicated lay people”.  The Bishop quoted from the letter to the Ephesians “We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”. He spoke about the themes of that epistle, being unity, diversity and maturity. Seven years on and growth is very much part of the agenda for the churches in our Diocese.

Bishop Clive told us to “relish the maturity in our life together in Christ: we’re not perfect, not there yet, not fully grown.  But our relationships in church and communities, when we value each other for what we have to give, rather than what we can get, transforming selfishness into selflessness, we begin to discover that in church and community, it is better together, that many hands make light work, and that it can be fun.  It’s a great calling as well as a challenge, to be the church in these places at this time….”  He went on to question what the role of the Church is today.

“To bind up the so called broken society?  To break down barriers between people? Yes a bit. To smile a lot, love a lot, laugh a lot and be kind to our neighbours?  Yes. That we’re still on the ground in our parishes in 2011, is pretty amazing in itself.  It is not I think our job to enforce piety and strictness; that won’t work.  But a Church committed to God’s mission: to work for the unity that is God’s gift, in our life together, in the created order; to discover our dependence on each other, in parish and in world, to make this world work for the good of all, to discover that deep down now and in the end, we are somehow one with the very life of God who made us, the life of God which we share in Jesus Christ by the Spirit through the Church.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.  That’s where we start out and where we end up….


[“The Complete Yes Prime Minister” was pubished by BBC books in 1989, ISBN 0 563 20773 6]


Goodbye to an old friend

Today I feel as though I’ve said goodbye to an old friend.  My first Windows-based computer was bought in 1998 and replaced an ageing Amstrad 8256 word processor.  At the time I wasn’t interested in the internet (can you believe) and so the new computer came without a modem. In effect then it was another word processor, but more powerful.  I remember using it for the first few months entailed a “steep learning curve”.  I seem to recall having to have a replacement on-off switch soon after I had it, but it’s done very well to last these twenty years!  Occasionally it hasn’t wanted to boot up, or has made somewhat frightening noises during the start-up process, and I have thought more than once that the next time I used it might be the last.  With its huge monitor it’s proved quite a talking point sitting on the desk in my study, functioning still on Windows 95 and “Works”.  Right up until the beginning of this week it was still working, and continued to be quite fast.  I had lots of spare capacity on the hard drive.

In the course of the twenty years it’s sat there, technology has moved on.  In about 2004 I had my first lap top computer, and my first introduction to the internet, as I took on the job of Rural Adviser to the Bishop and Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.  Laptops have come and gone, and I reckon I’m now on my fourth.  Over the same time of course we’ve seen the advent of the smartphone!

I was sad to have to part with the old machine, which has been a faithful and efficient work-horse, and handled much of my work over the years.  The printer to which it was connected ran out of ink some months ago and so I’ve recently been taking the occasional file off as an RTF file and transferring it via a floppy disk drive to my laptop, simply to be able to print it off. My understanding of such things has also come a long way in twenty years!

As I prepare now to go into retirement, the old friend has had to be scrapped, because there simply isn’t room for it in our new home.  I don’t think there was anything confidential on it, but I took the top off the case the other day and took out the hard drive.


The Right Time

Via A Christian thought for today

A Christian Thought for Today

There is a time to speak out and a time to hold your tongue, there is a time to leap into action and a time for thoughtful consideration, there is a time to give answers and a time to keep your own counsel, the real wisdom lies in knowing which is which. Lord, reveal to us your wisdom to know how best to respond in every given situation. Help us not to be wise in our own eyes but to always look to you for the best way forward. Amen.

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Via “A Christian thought for Today”

A Christian Thought for Today

You cannot create an intellectual argument to bring people to a faith in God. It is the Holy Spirit who will draw people to faith in the Father through the Son. An intellectual argument (on its own) will simply bring people to a faith in their own intellect.

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China’s first Emperor

In mid July Sally and I were fortunate enough to be taken to see the exhibition at the World museum in Liverpool on “China’s first Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors”.  Discovered by chance in 1974, the terracotta warriors are one of the most extraordinary finds ever made.  Brightly painted and buried in battle formation, the life sized army would, it was believed, protect for eternity one of the most influential leaders of all time.  China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried in the most extensive tomb complex ever constructed in China.  Over the last forty years archaeologists have made further remarkable discoveries.  They have found that the terracotta army is only one part of the Emperor’s grand preparations for the afterlife.  The exhibition sets out to illustrate how Qin Shi Huang established the Qin dynasty and became China’s first Emperor in 221BC, to explain the success of this incredibly ambitious ruler and show how his adherents laid the foundations for the succeeding Han dynasty.

The exhibition introduced visitors to some of the hundreds of schools of thought which emerged across China.  The most influential schools of philosophy are known today as Confucianism, Daoism and Legalism. Legalism became prominent in the Qin dynasty, a philosophy based on the idea that people are self-centred and more inclined to do wrong than right.  Legalists believed that good social order could only be maintained through rewards, punishments, and the enforcement of strict laws.  Confucianism recognised the strength of human goodness, in contrast to legalism.  Confucius was one of the most influential philosophers of all time.  He believed that is people lived by moral and ethical principles they could reach happiness and bring peace and harmony to the world.  Daoism was another popular philosophy of the time.  People were encouraged to follow the way of nature (the Dao).  A universal energy flowed through all thigs that exist.  If people lived a balanced life in harmony with nature, they could achieve immortality.

The Emperor created a standard system of weights and measures, and coinage. He introduced an official script and imposed heavy taxation.  The same political and economic system existed across the Empire, improving communications, administration and trade.  Even the wheel axle of chariots and carts was standardised, so that travellers could use any road.  As a demonstration of his ultimate power and authority 700,000 convicts were put to work on preparing the Emperor’s mausoleum and burial site. The burial site of the first Emperor is designed like a city for the afterlife, with the Emperor’s mausoleum in the centre, surrounded by palaces, living quarters, offices, ritual buildings and stables, all enclosed within defensive walls, watch towers and gates.

King from the age of 13, the Emperor died at just 46 years old.  His childless concubines were killed and buried with him.  Historic documents record that thousands of officials were killed and thousands of craftsmen buried alive to keep the tomb a secret.    As he had grown in power the Emperor had become obsessed with the desire to become immortal, asking alchemists to make potions to extend his life, some of which contained mercury.  Despite his efforts to live for ever he died unexpectedly, most likely (ironically) from mercury poisoning. He had organised expeditions to the East China Sea in search of the mystical Islands of the Immortals, hoping to find plants and herbs which would bring him immortality.

The terracotta warriors – more than 8,000 of them – were equipped with real weapons, to be preapred for battle in the afterlife.

In the later Han dynasty too the Emperors sought immortality and looked for the ingredients for eternal life.  Emperor Wu believed that drinking morning dew and jade powder from a jade cup would allow him to live for ever.  The Rulers of the Han dynasty followed in the footsteps of the Qin kings showing a strong belief in gods, spirits and the afterlife.

The exhibition has whet my appetite to learn more about ancient philosophy.  Are people, as legalism would have it, more inclined to do wrong than right?  Do we need rewards and punishments, and strict laws, to maintain social order?  We might want as Christians to agree with Confucius about the strength of human goodness, and claim with him that happiness can indeed by found by living according to moral and ethical principles.  We might even go along with the Daoist idea that there is a universal energy flowing through nature, and strive to live in harmony with nature.

What is most evident though from the exhibition though is that a belief in the afterlife is an extremely ancient belief.

Saint Paul wrote in his letter to Corinth “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied”.

The Age of the Aquarius

First world problems… it became necessary this week to remove and move a dishwasher in order to put another one in its place. As I disconnected it the waste pipe had to go in a direction it didn’t want to go. Over the years the plastic of the pipe had become brittle and it snapped.

I ordered a replacement waste pipe and looked around online for information about how to replace the pipe. The video made it look easy, but the video wasn’t specific to that make or model.

This morning I started to take the machine apart but after removing the top and several panels I could see inside and knew this was too big a job for me!

The replacement part arrived with this morning’s post and I have (successfully I think) managed to join the end of the original hose – still safely attached to the pump, to the new hose and the outlet under the sink.

Brittle plastic must be a problem with the age of Aquarius. As in Hotpoint Aquarius…

Always the runner-up

It was not long after I arrived in Beckingham near Gainsborough that I joined the Beckingham Institute.  Originally set up as a reading room by local shipyard owner Mr Watson to try to keep his employees out of the dens of iniquity in the nearby town, the Institute evolved into a social club boasting two snooker tables, a dart board and various other games.  Card playing, any form of gambling, and the consumption of anything alcoholic were not allowed.

As I was young and enthusiastic, and as is the way in rural communities, I was soon asked to join the Institute committee.  I often went along in an evening to play a few frames of snooker and a game or two of billiards. I spent many happy evenings playing against friends from the local Methodist church.  One elderly gentleman was a local preacher who had been playing billiards (“that’s the gentleman’s game,” he would say) since he was nine.  One day I decided to go along in an afternoon and meet a few of the members who used the facility in the day time.

I used my member’s key to let myself in.  Both snooker tables were in use and there were a couple of elderly gentlemen playing on each.  I sat down to watch, my cue in my hand.  After a while, one of the gentlemen on the smaller of the two tables said to his friend “That young chap over there, I seem to recognise him but I can’t place him.”  “Is it parson?” “Aye, I reckon it might be parson.”  They didn’t realise I could hear them!  “Does he belong?” Yes, I thought, after all I had just let myself in with a key!

A few minutes later one of them asked me “Would you like to come over here and play with us?” “That’s very kind,” I replied. “Well, you didn’t come to sit and watch, did you?”  “We’re not very good, mind,” said the other.  “I’m only a beginner,” I answered.  And so we began. After a few minutes I hit a red, and it canoned off another red and fluked into the pocket.  “Now then,” said one of my opponents, “you call ‘im what you’d call me if I took a shot like that!  I bet you won’t call ‘im that!”

Every year the Institute held its knockout competitions, and a system of handicaps meant that the less experienced players had a fighting chance against the better players.

I came across my trophies recently.  Most of them have in common the words “runner-up”!  To my credit I was runner-up in the billiards a couple of times, but never the winner!  I did manage to win the mixed doubles at snooker on a couple of occasions too, playing together with one of my Methodist friends.




In Bible times going to the local athletics meetings was a popular pastime and Saint Paul wrote about sports in his letters.  To the Christians in Corinth he wrote “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one wins the prize.  Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  I’ve never been a runner, and playing snooker and billiards has been the only sporting activity I’ve ever attempted.  And try as I might to “get the prize”, I seem only ever to manage to come in as “runner-up”!

Some of us are destined only ever to be the runner-up, it seems.