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Reading the signs of the times in face of pandemic

I’m a lay person who worships in the Church of England. During the disruption of the pandemic the responses in the church haven’t convinced me that as a church we are reading the signs of the times.

In this pandemic I see a call on the church to resist utilitarian approaches, and to defend the inherent value of every person: human, entire – known and loved by God.

The scale of action by every sector in the face of this pandemic highlights how our response to the Climate Crisis is timid and ineffective. Our failing in the stewardship of the earth is wickedness. It is time to re think and to return to the transforming, crucified love that overcomes all.

Finally we need to stop the squabbling and sniping in the church. To see priests setting to, one against another more and less politely, on public social forums is unedifying and distracting.


Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

The present pandemic is a sign and warning to all of us of the weakness of our society in the face of an emerging infection. It also is a warning in regard our use, and mostly abuse, of the of the earth’s ecosystems and its many many peoples. Among the many evils of this exploitation, it increases the probability that new emerging diseases will jump from animal hosts into human populations.

I qualify this pandemic as a warning only because in the historic scale of past pandemics COVID19 is ‘only’ a moderately destructive outbreak. It is very different, may the Lord be thanked, to the Black Death Yershina Pestis which killed between 30 and 60% of the European population in the 1400’s. Drawing the comparison is painful, difficult and provocative because of the nearness of the grief, pain, loss, and bitter tears which this pandemic has brought. It is with that bitterness and pain that I start:

Resist utilitarian ethics

It is from that grief and those bitter tears that I draw the first sign for us as a church. We must wholly resist attempts to dismiss the lives of those who have died of COVID19 as lesser, or somehow unimportant, because they had pre-existing conditions, were disabled or old. Each and every one who died was human: whole and entire, known and loved by God. To fail to do so is to slide unknowing into utilitarianism. For the church this impermissible, because the love of God manifested throughout scripture is not based on utility, or any economic good but rather in the reality of God revealed in Jesus Christ 1. Other definitions of the ‘the good’ risk, in the limit, admitting evident evils such as categorising certain peoples as ‘sub-human’, or advocating eugenic policies.

Climate crisis

I draw the second sign from the scale of both state and non governmental response to this pandemic. We now see both how powerful, and how limited acts by the State, companies and individuals are in facing an emergency. In sin the church has participated in the contamination of the earth and the abuse of many peoples. These acts have delivered us into another emergency: the Climate Crisis. There is no stable solution for this evil that does not require massive action by State, company and individual. It is time for us to return to the crucified love: to pray and act for the coming of that subversive kingdom of love which undermines all life built on domination and power.

Set our own house in order

In good Church of England fashion, I end with a third point. The present circumstances call us to powerful and sincere action for the life of the world. Instead we are divided. Even if the purpose of the division is the seeking of the good and the will of God, the manner of its doing invites evil among us and is profoundly discouraging.

That our priests are squabbling among one another at such at time as this is profoundly discouraging. I feel great reluctance to cooperate with ministers, who though charged to be agents of God’s purposes of love, cannot navigate the differences within the fellowship without sniping one against the other.

Finally every part of our churches local presence is going to be affected, some drastically: just as every social, commercial and state provision has been by this pandemic. Our priests bear the charge to minister among the people of England, remembering that in this they serve Christ, before whom they will be held to account. This virus makes the flaws, failures and pain of the present distortion of parishes very clear. The parish system has been regularly changed to resolve difficulty or error in the 700 years of its existence. This CoronaTide is a good and necessary time for reworking and adjustment. Because truly we all – not just our priests – will be held to account by God for what we do.

Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

  1. ‘Christ, Reality and Good’ in Ethics / Dietrich Bonhoeffer: translated from the German Edition, edited by Ilse Todt, Heinz Eduard Tod, Ernst Feil, and Clifford Green’ English Edition edited by Clifford J Green,; translated by Reinhard Kraus,, Charles C. West and Douglas W. Scott. ISBN 0-80006-8306-4 ↩︎
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A migrant people

Humans are a migrant people. Before the land was marked, we walked into the furthest corners of the earth. By mystery even the furthest islands were settled.


It is the dust of the earth: carbon, that gives us life. In its abuse we make our stewardship pain. Pain for the earth. Pain for those who still walk. Truly we need forgiveness, for we do not know what we are doing.

The healing of our great act of earth harm begins in love. But the harm will not be swiftly healed. Among the consequences will be migrations driven by the earth’s own pain. Unimaginable numbers of people may move. Through love our own lives may be preserved; even if we too join the newly walking peoples. Love is the only security for the wanderer and alien. In love, they are not other: they are us.

Our love is powerful, yet we know its limit and passing nature. Absent love, hatred and evil grows. Evil tears our dreams, condemns people of good will, and grows in power through every insufficiency of love. The only certain hope is the love that is God. It is the security by which all peoples may live and breath, and in it is the defeat of evil from everlasting to everlasting.

Every disruption brings fresh life. Life grows in goodness and hope by means of the love which is God. God-loved life pulses with luminous joy. It is the warrant that harbour and welcome may be found. It is a living fire, to be seen, not hidden. It is needed now for our broken world.

Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon. Isaiah 55.7

First published in the Ampfield Messenger 5 September 2020

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Working age social care

Time and laterally the crushing impact of Coronavirus have destroyed any illusion that resolution of the social care crisis in England can be delayed. Proposed solutions must meet ethical tests around the essential value of all people – and also be just for adults of working age who need adult social care.

People of working age who need social care are faced with a system that financial pressure has optimised to barely meet the statutory obligations that Local Authority have to older people. For the working age community the combination of the crippling means test, and the inability of care providers to reliably meet incredibly basic needs; makes much Local Authority social care a disabling, trauma producing system.

Implementation of an effective social care reform requires primary attention to the solution must reflect the changing demography of England. The needs of older people must dominate the settlement. It would though, be remiss and inequitable to leave working age recipients of social care with a system that fails them as badly as the present one does.

Just social care for working age adults means ensuring that any solutions are able to meet basic life needs of people bringing up families, contributing to society or working. For example, at present it might be difficult to get regular care at a suitable time to allow someone to commute to work, to study, or to take their child to school. That isn’t ethical, or humane. It shouldn’t happen now, and it mustn’t in the future.

There has been tentative proposals that revisions to the social care system be funded by state managed group insurance paid for by a premium: bluntly a tax, paid by all over the age of 40. However it is drawn such a scheme must cover younger adults who need care – perhaps from the day of their birth, or who acquire disability early in life. Such a scheme must be mindful that there are injuries which occur for which no personal injury claim could ever be possibly effective.

Especially in working age adults good integration between health and social care is essential. Integration doesn’t mean one side owning the other though. In fact the NHS taking over social care in another ‘visible from space’ reform that medicalises models of care and strips expertise from Local Authorities is a potential tragedy. Social care has specific connections into the community which aren’t the competence of health care. Broadly Local Authorities are generally incredibly efficient in their delivery of social care through their own staff and contractors. They have to be. The long coming crisis in social care, has forced every efficiency possible to be made. It would be foolishness to hand the complexity of social care – so very different from health delivery to the NHS.

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Hiroshima 75

Down the rabbit hole into a crazy word:

75 years ago, nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This first sight of the weapons of light which bring only darkness was sufficient for the Word Council of Churches to declare war with atomic arms: “sin against God and a degradation of man,” For the life of the world which is from everlasting, the time for every nation: superpowers included prohibit nuclear arms, is now

A strategist: Bernard Brodie coined two axioms about nuclear ams in 1946 which remain true until today: First that they exist, and second that their destructive power is fantastically great. Those wizards of armageddon: closeted intellectuals charged with grappling military utility from this destructive power failed. The only end of attempts to create logical schemes for the employment of nuclear weapons is a rabbit hole winding to death, destruction and certain catastrophe. There is only one way to safely address the pair of axioms. Tackle the first, not the second: disarm, disarm entirely, and disarm now.

For most of the Cold War the military plans for the employment of Nuclear Weapons could be simply characterised: Massive Attack. There was it seemed no likelihood that either side could enter a limited nuclear war without spillover, in part because with weapons each 10 – 100 times larger than that dropped at Hiroshima no sane definition of a limited attack stood scrutiny. Unaware of, or unwilling to model the ionising radiation, fire-aggregation and other effects of nuclear weapons, US planners calculated using blast effects alone. They and presumably their USSR counterparts created a level of overkill which would have devastated the world and left the ruins bouncing.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shaken the globalised world. Every excess death is a tragedy. However a virus that kills around 1:1000 is in historical terms a moderate epidemic. The Black Death at its worst killed between one third and two thirds of Europe. Dreadful though that plague was, it did not poison the earth. Nuclear arms, threaten not only megadeath, but the killing of the wind and water, the earth and sky. A major nuclear exchange ends this civilisation.

In both Russian and US circles there is renewed interest and commissioning of smaller ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons. We are told the Russians consider that it might be necessary ‘to escalate in order to deescalate’ That is, the use of overwhelming force – with ‘small’ nuclear arms might stop conflict in its tracks. In the US the claim is that certain targets are now so hard to destroy with conventional weapons, that it would be proportional to use a small nuclear weapon. As mischief is worked, arms control treaties unravel, weapons proliferate to new countries, strategists are again looking for problems to which the answer are atomic arms.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted by the United Nations in 2017 has now been ratified by 40 states, albeit not by any state with or in the process of obtaining nuclear weapons. It enters into force, binding the signatories when 50 states have ratified the treaty. Will this uprising by non-nuclear states to declare the obscenity of these weapons illegal have effect in time? Nothing is certain save that, for the life of the world this is time to put our heart and soul into the effort – wherever we live.

Before I was injured I briefly served in the Royal Navy as a very junior officer. The Navy is responsible for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. At the time the idea that the knowledge that vengeance waited in the deep for any who struck the first blow seemed an uncomfortable, but just deterrent to secure peace. I no longer think that it is a peaceable way to make peace, and no longer a thing which I as a follower of the carpenter from Nazareth: Jesus can support.

Reading list

The Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford Nuclear Age Series) Fred Kaplan

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War. Fred Kaplan

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Daniel Ellsberg, Bloomsbury

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The Hillier’s meditations

Hillier’s Gardens, are full of life at the moment, and as spring tends to summer the plants are at their flourishing best. I’ve spent a few afternoons there recently, in part to explore making some mediative reflections for Disability and Jesus, who are a user led collective doing all sorts of transformational access stuff as well as the amazing An Ordinary Office project. Do check it out.

So here are some of the very little films, from a strikingly windy gardens, rendered apparently less so by the judicious use of slow(er) mo(tion), at least as much as the PXW-Z190 will provide. It’s fair to say it’s not one of the camera’s strong points.

The gardens were very much less busy and calmer when this was shot – all handheld, which isn’t an excuse, but was an opportunity to check out the handling on the camera, which doesn’t get off a tripod much.

And finally the Woodland Pigs which were very much full grown and seem to have ‘mysteriously vanished’ with replacements due soon. Sausages anyone?

https://vimeo.com/331461940″
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Music therapists in the wild

Meta Killick from Living with Harmony Music Therapy, has a side gig busking in Winchester. She finds it a non threatening and impactful way of engaging people and sharing the difference music therapy can make to wellbeing and mood. 

Living with Harmony is a specialist Music Therapy practice run by Alistair Clarkson and Meta. Together they have a formidable range of expertise, but a gentle and generous approach to the power of music fully participated in to change moods, health and ultimately lives. They work in a range of residential and community settings. 

In an innovative move they are engaged in a project to explore how Music Therapy can make a positive contribution to the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. In an innovative move they are engaged in a project to explore how Music Therapy can make a positive contribution to the safeguarding of vulnerable adults

Busking doesn’t just keep the pennies rolling in. Meta finds it a useful opportunity to engage people and educate them about the benefits of Music Therapy.

She said: “I’m here busking, it’s a magnet. People come and tell me how beautiful the Harp is, and I tell them how wonderful Music Therapy is. I engage people in conversation, People like the Harp, it’s a pretty sound, and if I’m sitting down, I’m non threatening.”

Meta Killick, Winchester 3 May 2019

Here’s a longer piece of relaxing harp busking, video in the street ambience of Winchester. 

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Remembrance 2017: do not withold good from those to who it is due

A talk, given at Chilworth: St Denys, on Remembrance Sunday 2017, in a service of BCP Matins. The reading was Proverbs 3.1-27 which concludes in the King James Version:

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.

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In the end the beginning

In the End – the Beginning The life of hope, Jürgen Moltmann, Translated from the German by Margaret Khol, SCM Press, ISBN 0-334–2961-9

In the End – the beginning explores what three beginnings: natural birth; new life after catastrophe, and resurrection teach us about the nature of God. In writing that retains something of the oral character of the lectures which were in the beginning of the book’s own life Jürgen Moltmann unfolds his views with simplicity and elegance.

Part one opens with a swift but stunning exposition of the ‘promise of the child’. Moltmann explores the biblical history of the messianic ‘child of promise’, reaching into the tradition of Israel to explore the implications of the idea of the’Wisdom Messiah’ which conflated the prophesied coming Christ with Wisdom who was ‘like a craftsman God’s side’ (NIV) during the foundation of the earth. The text then outlines how the birth of the Messiah in principle might abolish: patriarchy; the cultural tying of hope to male descendents and the religious necessity for procreation, while celebrating the validity of voluntary celibacy and shining the light of hope onto every new born child. He writes: “If children are God’s creation, they are also created for the future of his creation. They must be viewed and accepted in this transcendent dimension, in which they themselves exist and in which they can develop.”

Part two opens with a brief personal insight into Moltmann’s experience of war and his escape from the disaster of both the dictatorship of the Third Reich and the shattered and defeated Germany. He turns from this personal experience of catastrophe, in the aftermath of which he was born as a Christian, to the theology of catastrophes in general. The biblical account of the flood, the Assyrian conquest of Israel, and the death of Christ at Golgotha form the pattern for his discussion. These apocalypses are contrasted with the modern tradition of the apocalyptic about which the author says: “today we have to make do with self-made apocalypses, for which human beings have to take responsibility, not God”

He continues into an excellent discussion of the relationship between justice, righteousness and salvation. There is a swiftly sketched, analysis of some reservations about both the traditional Catholic and Protestant doctrines of Justification. The account of what God’s righteousness and justice means in practice for a world of victims and perpetrators embraces the perspectives of both solidarity and representative Christology. In an interesting, and possibly contentious, conclusion Moltmann ends by exploring the consequences of this fuller understanding for God ‘Justifying faith is not just a faith through which human beings are justified; it is a faith through which God is justified too’.

Part three, which physically accounts for the second half of the book, addresses death, which Moltmann sees as a ‘beginning without ending’, resurrection, and the Last Judgment. Included with some conventional questions about Hell, Purgatory, and the nature of the soul, Moltmann discusses the implications of belief in reincarnation, and addresses the question of what happens to humans whose life is apparently ‘cut short’. On this topic he writes: “I believe God will also complete the life which he has begun with a human being … So I believe that God’s history with our lives will continue after our deaths, until the completion is reached in which a soul … will find rest and happiness.” There is an interesting discussion about mourning, or the lack of it, in modern culture and this trends naturally into an exploration of the ‘community of the living and the dead’. Here the experience of the church in countries which venerate ancestors is explored. Addressing the common question about praying for the dead Moltmann writes: ‘I myself do not believe that we can or must do something for the salvation of the dead through our prayers. But I do believe that the Christ risen from death also has his means of salvation in the realm of death too.’

The final chapters of the book look at the Last Judgement and the promise of Eternal Life of which Moltmann says: ‘Where men and women perceive Christ’s resurrection and begin to live within its horizon, they themselves will be born again to a living hope which reaches beyond death, and in living love will begin to experience eternal life in the fulfilled moment’.

The book’s origin as lectures, which were given to both theological and secular audiences, is a mixed blessing. On the positive side there is something thrilling about watching Moltmann propelling his arguments with such drive. However some will find the lack of detail and almost complete absence of references a source of frustration. Equally because of the excellence of the best parts of the book the variety in the quality of the content of the chapters comes as a slight disappointment.

Jürgen Moltmann is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology on the Evangelical Faculty, University of Tubingen, Germany

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The end of memory

The End of Memory, Remembering Rightly in a Violent World interweaves personal experience and enlightened theological reflection to create a compelling study of the problems and possibilities that come with memories of violence loss and other wrongs.