Mr Bigg's Blog A blog about politics, theology, education and the rest…

30Dec/162

Christianity, Method and Doctrine

Posted by Mike

For Christmas I was given Brian McLaren's new book The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. I'm only 1/3 of the way through it but I'm enjoying the opportunity to read the efforts of a prominent "progressive Christian" (not a great term, I know) to articulate a "progressive" vision for Christianity in positive terms rather than simply defining themselves against conservative evangelicalism.

Method: Scientific and Christian

This may be old hat for many, but McLaren makes an instructive parallel between Christian "method" and the scientific method. I'd like to summarise something of what McLaren says about this parallel, and then draw out some of the implications of what he says.

McLaren's general theme is that Christianity needs to make a shift. Christians need to move from defining their faith in terms of assent to a set of particular beliefs (which no-one can quite agree on) to defining themselves in terms of practising the way of love demonstrated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is where the instructive parallel emerges. McLaren notes that scientists are deeply interested in facts and understanding those facts. They make use of observations about the world to develop theories and they test those theories in order to validate them. Similarly, Christians are interested in beliefs. They use sources of information (Scripture, reason, experience and tradition) to develop beliefs (or doctrines) that help them understand the world. There is a fair similarity between the function of scientific theory within science and the function of doctrine in Christian faith (more on this later). So far, so parallel.

Where the parallel breaks down is the primary commitment of both groups. Scientists are deeply committed to facts. Their observations about the world are the lifeblood of their work. However, their ultimate commitment is not to a particular set of facts, or to particular scientific theories, but to the scientific method. A basic premise of the method is that no theory is final and conclusive. If the evidence is there, then established ways of thinking are discarded in favour of theories that better fit the facts. I recall a story related by Richard Dawkins of an eminent and elderly scientist attending a conference at which a younger colleague delivered a paper. This paper presented new evidence, and a new interpretation of established evidence, that thoroughly undermined the life's work of the older, senior scholar. As the applause died down all eyes were upon the old man. Slowly, he stood up and wiped a tear from his eye. He approached the young scientist with a steely look in his eye. As the old man reached the younger woman he held out his hand to her and shook her hand warmly as he said: "For all these years I have been wrong and you have put me right. Thank you." The standing ovation lasted for several minutes.

The point here is that the prior commitment is to the method over the results. Results are important, but no result is beyond the probing of the method.

By contrast, says McLaren, Christians tend to cling to cherished beliefs. The beliefs are the essence of the faith. Evidence to the contrary tends to be explained away or avoided (indeed, it is often regarded as a badge of honour to keep faith in spite of evidence to the contrary). His argument is that Christians need to prioritise the Christian method over any particular set of beliefs. By "method" I think he means the conscious wrestling with God and his purposes through the lenses of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience, all in the name of seeking to walk in the way of Jesus. Christianity is not a series of beliefs, but a way of life, a method for living fully in the light of God in Christ.

Of course, a cursory skim through Christian history demonstrates that the Christian "method" has always been in operation. Teaching has developed and changed in the light of new experience or new understanding of Scripture. Christians have (largely) changed teaching about women, about slavery or about the nature of Jesus (certainly in the early church). However, McLaren's concern is that the method is not consciously applied in Christianity. While the scientific method is actively employed to grow and develop, the Christian "method" often seeks to deliberately hold back change. Perhaps we ought to be more conscious of being methodical Christians rather than doctrinal Christians.

Some implications and comments...

McLaren doesn't expand his analogy between scientific method and Christian "method" in any great detail but I'm going to try to fill in some gaps.

Firstly, in case it needed saying, it's only an analogy and all analogies are flawed. Scientific and Christian "data" are very different beasts. It's important to go with the spirit of what McLaren is saying rather than the letter.

St Nick punches Arius

St Nick punches Arius

Secondly, I don't think McLaren would therefore conclude that doctrines and beliefs are unimportant. Far from it. McLaren and other progressives would affirm the divinity of Christ and the centrality of his atoning sacrifice. Just as in science, the beliefs (or theories) we currently hold are crucial to how we interpret future data. Our doctrine shapes our worldview and we cannot and should not discard it lightly. Many doctrines are ones we can hold with confidence and it is good for us to do. Such doctrines are hard-won and argued-for. If you think current debates about sexuality are bitter then go back and look at Christological debates in the early church. Saint Nicholas is even depicted as punching Arius in the face. (This event almost certainly never actually happened, but it gives a flavour of how hard-fought these controversies were). The point is that doctrine should never reach the status of untouchability.

Finally, it is perhaps worth noting that scientists often go out of their way to seek out new data. Actively thinking about what might disprove a theory is encouraged. Do Christians follow suit? Do we make an effort to hear uncomfortable voices? I know I don't. If we're committed to wrestling with God then perhaps we should be committed to hearing voices from the margin; to hearing voices from the secular world. Some may consider this to be an accommodation to worldliness. I see it as dealing with the world as it actually is, not as our doctrine would like it to be. This doesn't just refer to "experience" of the world. We should also be committed to seeking out more data on how best to interpret scripture.

I wonder what Christianity would look like if we were committed to its core method above its doctrinal formulations?

24Jun/160

Morning has broken?

Posted by Mike

As I write, Britain has voted to leave the EU. The pound has been tumbling against the dollar all night, down to 1985 levels. No-one knows what will happen when the FTSE opens at 8am; anything from 5-10% wiped off the value. The Japanese are panicked because the Yen has suddenly surged.

I genuinely worry for our nation this morning. The simmering resentment that has been coming for a long time (if it's a wake-up call to anyone then you've been asleep for too long) has finally erupted. We'll need amazingly wise and compassionate leadership to hold us together. I fear for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society if we are beginning a bumpy 5-10 year journey to a new relationship with the EU (and the rest of the world).

And yet in Morning Prayer today we pray:

Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In your tender compassion
the dawn from on high is breaking upon us
to dispel the lingering shadows of night.
As we look for your coming among us this day,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.

It doesn't feel like the "dawn from on high is breaking upon us". It feels more like a creeping gloom. And yet, God's name is to be praised.

Today we remember the birth of John the Baptist. A voice calling in the wilderness. I'm sure lots of people feel like they've been calling in a wilderness this morning. And yet, and yet...

Morning Prayer was hard today. I didn't feel the words I was saying for much of it. But that only makes it more important. I hope we can all pray the Collect for John the Baptist today though:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth's sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen

25Feb/160

Using Facebook advertising to broaden access to your church

Posted by Mike

Hello world!

27Nov/140

“Good enough” never is

Posted by Mike

I had an hour or so to kill yesterday and so I took a wander around Hinchingbrooke Hospital. As I was leaving I noticed the Circle Partnership Credo emblazoned on the wall. I'll reproduce the Principles from it here:

Our Principles
We are above all the agents of our patients. We aim to exceed their expectations every time so that we earn their trust and loyalty. We strive to continuously improve the quality and the value of the care we give our patients.
We empower our people to do their best. Our people are our greatest asset. We should select them attentively and invest in them passionately. As everyone matters, everyone who contributes should be a Partner in all that we do. In return, we expect them to give their patients all that they can.
We are unrelenting in the pursuit of excellence. We embrace innovation and learn from our mistakes. We measure everything we do and we share the data with all to judge. Pursuing our ambition to be the best healthcare provider is a never-ending process. 'Good enough' never is.

As you can see, it is full of laudable ideas that are hard to disagree with. But look again at that last sentence:

"Good enough" never is.

I'll be 33 tomorrow and I'm tired. I'm not just tired because I have a slightly off colour child at home; I'm tired, in part, because of the well-intentioned but damaging "Good enough never is" (GENI) culture that has developed recently.

I'm tired for the staff in hospitals like Hinchingbrooke who are faced every days with words and phrases like "unrelenting", "continuously improve" and "never-ending process". There's an exhausting feeling that nothing is ever good enough, no amount of honest effort and good practice is acceptable, no quality of patient care is high enough. GENI.

I'm tired for teachers. Teachers face a constant sense that if you're not getting better you're getting worse. If your results aren't improving year on year there's a problem. If you're not constantly developing your practice then you are letting the students down. Hit that target? Here's another one to keep you busy. What are you doing to help FSM students? SEND students? G&T students? EAL students? Perfectly average middle-of-the-road students? GENI.

I'm tired for schools. When I was younger satisfactory meant neither laudable nor culpable, neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. A satisfactory school was precisely that. Not great, not terrible. No-one thought that "satisfactory" was great and people worked to improve things. Now satisfactory means "requires improvement". What an exhausting phrase (with all of the inspection and oversight that goes with it). Even "good" schools must be constantly striving and relentlessly pursuing outstanding status (even though only a few schools can be "outstanding" by definition). GENI

I'm tired for pupils in schools. I suspect that there are plenty of students in our schools who have almost never had a piece of work that simply says: "Well done! This is a great piece of work!" If teachers don't set targets for improvement (however minuscule) then we are "enemies of progress". Poor kids! Nothing they do is ever quite enough! I'm sure many teachers will attest an increase in mental health concerns, often among bright and well-motivated girls, because of that feeling. GENI.

Good enough for what?

If we say that "good enough" never is, then the obvious question that arises is "good enough for what?" What's this "good enough" not good enough for? I'm not suggesting for a moment that we should all put our feet up, do the bare minimum and say "it'll do" every day. There are thousands of things that can (and should) get better. However, we need to be careful of the messages we give out. If someone has genuinely and honestly done their job as well as they can, is developing and getting better in some way, and is committed to what they are doing then we can and must say: "GOOD ENOUGH!" In the early days of my career (when I noticed less GENI language) I wanted to improve and grow as a teacher. I read things to improve my practice, I tried new ideas, I put effort into my own development. Not because I was told to, but because I wanted to. Most human beings want to be good at stuff. Most of us recognise areas for development and seek (within reason) to act on them. The moment GENI-type language comes in (even implicitly) the incentive for self-development goes out of the window. Why bother trying to get better if it'll never be good enough?

All of this is to say that I'm worried about GENI-language. It's laudable intentions can often be counter-productive. While I'm sure that there are some for whom "good enough" means a vague attempt in the right kind of direction, I'd hope that for the majority "good enough" means exactly that and we should acknowledge it as such.

And so, some practical suggestions (first 3 for teachers):

  1. The next time you mark some work make a point of identifying students who have really worked hard and made progress. Set them the following target: "Enjoy a night off school work and tell your mum that Mr X says you deserve something special for dinner".
  2. The next time you observe a colleague teaching a really great lesson make a point of identifying all of the good things you can. If students enjoy their learning and are making progress make it clear that you were pleased with the lesson, mention all of the good points and leave it at that. Only identify areas for improvement if specifically asked.
  3. Challenge nit-picking targets once in a while. Ask the person setting the target: "Was this work good enough?" If they say yes, then suggest that they leave it at that.
  4. The next time you are tempted to complain about something ask yourself, "Was what I'm complaining about good enough?" If it was just a mistake or someone having a bad day rather than representing a systemic failure then perhaps just leave your complaint unvoiced.
  5. Be kind to yourself! If something you've done is genuinely good enough and you can't reasonably do any more, then let it be just that.

Let's try to put the GENI back in the bottle. (Sorry, I couldn't resist).

14Sep/141

5 things I’ve learned about healthcare chaplaincy

Posted by Mike

I was very fortunate to have spent a week with the chaplaincy team at Hinchingbrooke Hospital over the summer. I got to spend some time with Scott, the lead chaplain (and cracking good bloke), visiting patients and exploring the nature of chaplaincy in a healthcare setting. Here are some of the things I've learned. They don't all necessarily link into each other and they certainly don't form a coherent theology of healthcare chaplaincy but they are there as food for thought!

(Any names used are made up, but the stories are all real.)

1. Wholeness in healthcare

It's easy to treat illness as a purely physical phenomenon. Disease can be caused by bacteria, or we might break a bone, or have a chemical imbalance somewhere. We can therefore assume that these should all be treated in physical terms and nothing more. Of course the physical aspects of illness must be treated in appropriate medical ways but it is a mistake to suppose that medical treatment is (or should be) the only aspect of treatment. Human beings are complex psycho-physical beings and we inhabit influential social contexts, it is therefore important to consider psychological and social (and yes, perhaps even spiritual) aspects of life when looking for healing in the fullest sense.

Yes, we need our bodies patched up, but it helps when our minds and spirits are patched up too. Chaplaincy has much to offer here as a means of healing the person as a whole.

2. A ministry of presence

Glenda was an elderly lady. She'd been in hospital for some weeks. When I first went to see her she told me not to waste my time on her. Why are the hospital expending so much time, energy and money on looking after her when there were many more worthy patients. She'd had her time - what a waste to treat her at her age! Frankly, she felt like a bed-blocking waste of space. After chatting to her for several minutes it became clear that she was far from being a waste of space; she had a loving family, was good-humoured, had an interesting story to tell and had plenty of life in her yet. It was really difficult for the hard-pressed nurses to give her the time and reassurance that she needed but I, from the chaplaincy context, wasn't there to take her pulse or give her medication. Chaplains are there because they are there, simply to be a presence with people and to hear their voice.

Maud was also elderly and a little confused. When I saw her she was fed up and absolutely determined that she was going home. She was worried about her dogs back at home and swore blind that if her husband and son weren't looking after them then she was going give them an earful. I didn't doubt her for a second! It didn't take long to work out that her family didn't visit her as often as they might and this was clearly a source of great pain for her. A chaplain can be there as a simple presence. I couldn't be her husband but she was heard and valued (and wasn't quite so keen to go home).

3. Back to the roots of religion (aka. healing is more than physical)

I'll never forget the moment of revelation that came when the wonderful Mary Earl told me the etymology of the word "religion": re-ligio. The "re" bit means "again" and "ligio" is the same root as "ligament" (that which holds things together). Thus the word "religion" means something like "that which binds together again". At the heart of Christianity is the recognition that we are all broken and fragmented and we all need to be patched up and bound together again. In a hospital there is often a very obvious physical component to being bound back together and most Christians (rightly) leave this to medical professionals. However, it is often the case that our minds, souls, relationships and attitudes need to be bound back together just as much as our physical selves. Times of physical suffering can, perhaps, be triggers to reconsidering other aspects of our lives and chaplaincy work can be central on looking at this. However, there are also times when the physical is simply beyond binding. Some illnesses cannot be healed. Some wounds cannot be mended. For the bereaved death cannot be undone. At these times (more than ever) re-ligion offers a very different kind of healing and chaplaincy should be there to help that process along. (Michael Arditti's novel Jubilate explores this theme better than I could).

4. Our language can betray us

We (or I do, anyway) often use language carelessly, without really thinking through the implications. The example Scott gave was the use of the term "miscarriage". It's a word in common usage and it's fairly clear to all what it means - what's wrong with it? In most contexts, there's nothing wrong with it at all. However, when used with a woman who has recently lost her child it has the potential to have all sorts of connotations of failure or culpability. In that situation, pastoral sensitivity demands that we are aware of the possible implications of the words we use. It doesn't follow that the term "miscarriage" should be removed from regular usage (can anyone think of a better term?); however, a good pastor needs to be aware that such a word has the potential to bring to the surface those thoughts and feelings that may be underneath.

There are further implications here. I am persuaded that the way in which we use language is shaped by our context and serves to shape our future context. Consider the use of language in ethics: take euthanasia as a starting point. The term "euthanasia" itself means "good death" and the immediate implication is that the alternative is something less than a "good death". We could call it "mercy killing", the implication being that to oppose it would be merciless. We could call it "assisted suicide"; of course the term "suicide" has its own unhelpful baggage. None of these phrases are perfect, and that is precisely the point. Language is rarely value-neutral, particularly when related to sensitive subjects. This is not an excuse for ridiculous political correctness in which "failure" becomes "deferred success", but it is a call to awareness and sensitivity to the implications of the language we choose to use.

5. Being real

One final thing I picked up is the importance of acknowledging reality in the chaplain's role. There are times when it is both important and appropriate to offer hope of physical healing; there are also times when perhaps the chaplain needs to encourage the patient to accept that they are not going to get better. The healing of acceptance can be vital (in every sense), but it cannot necessarily happen unless someone is willing to call out the reality of the situation.

In a similar way, when someone has died there are times at which what has happened needs to be named as death. It's easy to use euphemisms to avoid the reality of death; sometimes these are appropriate and helpful, but at other times a chaplain may need to use the D-word in order to help friends and relatives move forward. There is a finely balanced pastoral challenge here: it is easy to talk of resurrection, but without dwelling in Good Friday for a little while the reality of Easter Sunday is just a white-wash. We can't jump the gun and trivialise death by skipping straight to talk of heaven - a good pastor knows how to be with someone in the darkness of Good Friday, naming it as such and supporting them through it.

To conclude...

One particular privilege of my time at Hinchingbrooke was to join Scott in distributing bedside communion. The gentleman in question was in critical care and he had made the decision to discharge himself so that he could return home to die with his loved ones around him. Before he was discharged he requested bedside communion and it was clear to everyone present that the short service (just 10 minutes) was likely to be the final time this man received communion. Scott didn't explicitly say so, but in his manner and inflection of some of the liturgy made the significance and poignancy of the occasion quite clear. At the end the man's wife was in tears and the man was at peace.

This encapsulated the privilege and importance of hospital chaplaincy for me. There was genuine wholeness and healing in the encounter, even though this wasn't externally visible. The man was bound back together as best as he could be this side of death's curtain; the language used was sensitive but profoundly real; at its root it was a simple act of being present and honest about what was going on. Not as easy as it sounds, and incredibly important.

12Sep/140

Diary of a Friday in Cambourne

Posted by Mike

I spent today at Cambourne Church. What follows is a short commentary on some of the things I have seen and noticed...

When I arrived shortly after 9am there are a good number of mums who've just dropped kids off at school. They have come to 19, the church-run coffee house. They take the opportunity to have a little chat and enjoy a cup of coffee (a bargain £1.20 for an Americano). How fantastic that there's a place for people just to pop in and enjoy each other's company in an open and airy space. I'd guess that there are people here who would, in general, never darken the doors of a church and yet here they are. There's nothing massively "churchy" here but people know where they are; isn't it good that this place can offer the simple ministry of being a space where people can gather?

By 9:30 the final few people are sneaking through the door to get into the first meeting of a new Slimming World group. All of us with bacon rolls (£1.40) feel a little guilty. The group is incredibly well-attended which is great, as the organiser looked a little worried that no-one would turn up. They are using the main church hall - a flexible space - and lots of the members had dropped by earlier to have a cup of (black decaf) coffee beforehand. This is a church which is genuinely seeking to serve its community and this is great to watch.

People come and go in small groups throughout the morning. One lady is a bit upset but can use this space to talk with some friends. An elderly gentleman pops in from over the road for a bite to eat and a drink. He chats to the people behind the counter and I have a little chat too (he's a Yorkshireman, friendly chitchat to all is an obligation).

Two businessmen in shirts and ties come in for a coffee and meeting. They are deep in conversation while some kids scream and play up and down the aisle as their mums sit down and chat for a few minutes.

By 11am the last few Slimmers have left the hall. I spot one or two ordering a bacon roll (brown bread) and they clearly take great pleasure in a well-deserved treat. A solitary lady enjoys a tea cake and a book as the light continues to flood in.

The staff here seem to know everybody who comes in and they take the chance to have a little chat with every one. Some of them have more involved conversations and get some support and advice. One volunteer has brought her toddler along while she helps. Her toddler has a fantastic time with some of the other kids.

Shortly after the coffee shop closes the space is filled with mums and toddlers (and a few dads). Everyone eats together, the kids play, parents swap stories and advice. There are some tears and some tantrums (mostly from the kids). Some music and some craft. It's a very congenial atmosphere.

Next is the youth group. Shortly after 4:30pm there are 20-30 teenagers filling the building. Some get a toasty or a milkshake, others play football, some play on the Xbox 360, one even takes me on at chess (and loses). A few of the kids are regulars at church but a lot of them would never darken the doors. Interestingly, there are a fair few who get themselves into a bit of trouble, but here they are involved and enjoying themselves. It's good to watch. There's lots of good banter.

Nothing groundbreaking or new happened today (although the use of Google Forms and an iPad to self-register the kids at the youth club was neat). Lots of things that happened here will have happened all over the place today. None of the things that I've mentioned involved the vicar (although one highlight of the day was to see him running down the high street this morning - a shame he wasn't wearing his dog collar). The day involved normal people doing normal things, and yet there was a real sense that God was at work in these very simple ministries. It felt like the exactly the kind of thing that a local church should be doing and encouraged me greatly.

11Sep/141

Review: Tado Smart Thermostat

Posted by Mike

Lots of so-called "smart thermostats" have been arriving into the UK market recently. BT have been marketing Hive (complete with nonsense advert), Google have put their money into Nest, if you've got the money then evohome will allow you to set a different temperature in every room of the house. For my money I've invested in Tado and their intelligent thermostat. Here's why and what I've found.

Control your heating from your smart phone

You can download the Tado app for both Android and iOS based devices. The neat little app allows you to control heating and hot water from your device wherever you're connected to the Internet. You can change the temperature, boost the hot water and all of the things you'd be able to do on your standard boiler control unit. So far, so fun. Not a massive value add though (how often do you change your heating temperature or schedule?) and won't save you much energy, unless you forget to turn the heating down when you go on holiday in the dead of winter. This is what Hive and Nest will do for you.

Presence detection

This is where Tado really adds value. If you have a fairly irregular schedule then it's really hard to know when to set your heating to come on and go off. Tado solves this problem by using your smart phone's GPS capacity. The Tado app lets the unit at home know when everyone in the house has gone out and can therefore automatically turn the heating down for you. It uses this geolocation service to estimate how long it'd take for you to get home and therefore lowers the temperature appropriately; when it senses that you're getting closer to home again it'll bring the heating back up for you so it's nice and cosy by the time you open the door. The further everyone is from home the lower it'll allow the temperature to get in order to save more energy.

(It's a common myth that it's just as efficient to keep the house at a constant temperature at all times. It's not just as efficient, it just means that you never come home to a cold house. If maintaining the temperature at an even level were as efficient as letting things go cold and then re-heating then we'd all leave our ovens on at all times to stop them getting cold.)

Other neat tricks

Tado is connected to the internet in your home. That means it can monitor what the weather is like in your area and use that information as a factor in how to heat your home. For example, if it knows that it'll be really sunny outside then it knows that it can leave the sun to heat your home instead of the boiler. Tado also learns how quickly your home heats up and this can help it to be more efficient too. It knows if the residual heat in the radiators will add another 1.5 degrees to the home temperature so can shut off the boiler before it hits the target temperature.

The box also includes a wireless thermostat so, if you like, you can ensure that the target temperature applies in whatever room you're in. Some rooms heat up more quickly than others!

Apparently, they are shortly to release Tado Care which uses the digital interface of the boiler to identify problems early before the boiler packs up. This is a free addition to the Tado package and will be great it if works!

How does it work and how much does it cost?

Tado comes in three bits: a router (which plugs into your router and connects the main box to the internet), a wireless thermostat (solar-powered), and the boiler control unit.

IMG_20140911_201120[1]

The unit was a bit fiddly to install and you need to feel comfortable working with mains electricity. The box replaces your existing boiler control unit and Tado provide comprehensive instructions. I'd never done anything like this before but had it working within about an hour. If you don't want to do it then Tado will arrange an engineer to install for you for £50.

You can get the unit under two payment models. You can either buy outright for £249 (+p&p), or you can rent for £6.99/month. They reckon it'll save £100/year so you should get your money back. When I last checked the voucher code richard_10 got a 10% discount at the checkout. I got mine during August when they were doing a £3/month summer sale, so look out for bargains!

So does it work?

It seems to, although the heating has been off... It successfully detects when both of us are out of the house and adjusts the target temperature accordingly. Had the temperature dropped below 20 in the last month we'd have seen some action!

App Screenshot

App Screenshot

You get a sense of how it works from the screenshot of the app's graph that was generated yesterday. The house temperature is on the y-axis and the time is plotted along the x-axis. The icons show the events that happened throughout the day:

  • The coffee cup at 7am indicates that the target temp moves from night-time mode to day mode. You notice that the temperature soon takes a quick rise because the day-time target is 20 degrees and overnight the temperature had dropped below this. You can just about see an area of solid blue under the graph at this point - this indicates times at which the boiler is actually heating the house.
  • Shortly after 7am is a symbol indicating that someone has changed the settings. Just so you know.
  • Just after 11am there's a green symbol with a person walking. That shows that at this point Tado detected that everyone was out of the house. I'd left at about 8am, but my wife didn't leave until 11am. At that point Tado knows to turn down the target temperature. In this case it knocked the temperature down to 18 degrees because neither of us had gone very far. If we went further it would knock down the temperature further. Tado won't allow it to get so cold that it won't have time to heat up again when you start to come home.
  • At about 3:30pm the "Home" symbol appears to indicate that normal service has resumed because someone has come home.
  • Then, at 9:30pm we move into night mode and Tado will allow the temperature to drop to whatever you set as the night-time minimum temp.
  • You might notice some yellow shading between about 8:30am and 4pm - this is where Tado is detecting that sunlight is keeping the place warm.
  • There's a little blip in the temperature at about 1:30pm - I think that's when the temperature sensor was in direct sunlight for a few minutes.
  • I like it a lot.

    Tagged as: 1 Comment
17May/140

“Thus says the LORD!” : Prophecy, discernment and Micaiah ben Imlah

Posted by Mike

Prophecy and Discernment
In order to complete my mini-series in homage to RWL Moberly I'm going to summarise some of his thoughts about a crucial contemporary issue. When lots of people claim to speak for God (prophecy) how can we go about separating the genuine from the false (discernment). A really helpful case study is that of the interaction between King Ahab and Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kings 22. What follows is an exegesis of the passage, which is the climax of the rule of King Ahab in Israel, paraphrasing Moberly's chapter on the topic in his excellent Prophecy and Discernment.

For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. 2 But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. 3 The king of Israel had said to his officials, ‘Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?’

4 So he asked Jehoshaphat, ‘Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?’

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, ‘I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.’

The starting point of the story is the narrator's observation that Israel is in a time of peace with its Aramaean neighbours. This is, implicitly, a good thing, but we learn straight away that Ahab has other things on his mind. His leading question to his fellow king suggests that Ahab has designs on the disputed territory of Ramoth Gilead. There's no particular indication of his motives but the implication is that the power and prestige of Israel (and its king) are more significant factors for Ahab than maintaining peace. Jehoshaphat seems to be aware that Ahab has, in effect, already made up his mind and so gives a diplomatic response.

5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, ‘First seek the counsel of the Lord.’

6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets – about four hundred men – and asked them, ‘Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?’

‘Go,’ they answered, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’

Whether to satisfy his own sense of unease or to ensure that appropriate process is followed Jehoshaphat does ask that Ahab consults his prophets to ensure that YHWH approves of the scheme. Ahab duly takes the advice (he could hardly refuse) and gathers 400 of his prophets in order to obtain the counsel of the LORD. It is obvious now that the king has made his intentions perfectly clear; the prophets know which way the wind is blowing and so tell the king what he wants to hear.

7 But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can enquire of?’

8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one prophet through whom we can enquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’

‘The king should not say such a thing,’ Jehoshaphat replied.

That King Ahab's prophets are nothing more than craven toadies looking to further themselves by currying favour with the king is now obvious. Jehoshaphat smells a Jehosha-Rat! This brings the problems of prophecy and discernment out into the open because we have people (a large group, in fact) claiming to speak on behalf of God and yet there is good reason to doubt their authenticity.

Thus, Micaiah ben Imlah comes into the scenario. There is one more prophet through whom we can enquire but the king dislikes him because he "never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad" (read: he never tells me what I want to hear). And so, King Jehoshaphat gently rebukes Ahab and reminds him that Micaiah may still have something worthwhile to say.

9 So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, ‘Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.’

10 Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing-floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. 11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, ‘This is what the Lord says: “With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.”’

12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. ‘Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,’ they said, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’

The narrator now paints a picture for us. The kings in all their splendour at the formal place of justice, with hundreds of prophets of one voice in support of King Ahab, is to be the setting for Micaiah's audience. This is no private audience which might make it easy for him to give his frank and honest view; on the contrary, there is enormous pressure on him to conform. This image will come back in Micaiah's words later on.

13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favourably.’

14 But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.’

To put the icing on the cake, even the messenger says to Micaiah: "Look, mate, just fall into line and everyone's happy. No need to make a fuss!" He knows exactly what is going on (as does everyone else in the royal court) and wants the easy outcome. However, Micaiah's only concern here is for the truth.

15 When he arrived, the king asked him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?’

‘Attack and be victorious,’ he answered, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’

16 The king said to him, ‘How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’

We are now left in no doubt about the king's self-serving self-deception. Unexpectedly, Micaiah parrots exactly what the king wants to hear! This demonstrates Micaiah as a masterful communicator, for by saying what is expected he provokes from the king a reaction that reveals that he is aware that perhaps his advisors are simple "yes men". The challenge for Micaiah is to enable the king to admit that what has gone before has been a sham. How hard it is for us to admit when we have allowed ourselves to buy into that which we know, deep down, to be false. How easy to pile deceit upon half-truth upon deception in order to save face! Part of prophecy is to communicate God in a manner than enables us to lay down our ego and acknowledge our failings. Can Micaiah achieve this?

17 Then Micaiah answered, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, “These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.”’

18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?’

Micaiah's oracle takes the form of a vision. The king makes two mistakes in understanding it. Firstly, Ahab fails to recognise that the vision is not about him but is about the people of Israel. YHWH's primary concern is for the people who will be left leaderless and the challenge here is to remember his responsibilities before it is too late. Secondly, Ahab fails to respond appropriately. The basic dynamic of Hebrew prophecy is that of response-seeking rather than presenting a fait-accompli; the warning of disaster is intended to provoke a response of repentance (that is, turning from a wrong path) in order that disaster might be averted (see Jonah for a classic example).

19 Micaiah continued, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing round him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?”

‘One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, “I will entice him.”

22 ‘“By what means?” the Lord asked.

‘“I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,” he said.

‘“You will succeed in enticing him,” said the Lord. “Go and do it.”

23 ‘So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.’

Again, Micaiah cannot get through to a deluded king by baldly stating that his prophets are only telling him what he wants to hear. The purpose here, again, is to provoke the king's repentant turning from a disastrous trajectory.

It's worth noting the parallel here between the court scene the narrator painted in v. 10. Micaiah is before an earthly court but now describes a heavenly court in which YHWH, not Ahab, is the king. This heavenly court is not intended to be separate, distant and unconnected, but is intended to represent the spiritual reality of what is happening in Ahab's temporal reality. The heavenly court is the spiritual counterpart to the earthly court; it is the other side of the same coin. YHWH's court interprets the true reality of Ahab's court.

Moberly identifies three different levels of interpretation for this vision. Firstly, there's a psychological level. The use of the term "deceive" is Micaiah's attempt to persuade the king that he is being duped by his prophets. By suggesting that God himself is behind the deceptive prophets serves to underline the severity of the deception taking place. Of course, no-one wants to admit to themselves that they are being deceived so by referring to God's involvement there is all the more reason for Ahab not to acquiesce to the duping.

Secondly is the moral level of the vision. Micaiah designates the content of what the 400 prophets say as "sheqer" ('lie', 'falsehood'); the prophetic support of the king's plans is self-serving and lacks integrity. They simply reflect back to Ahab what he wants to hear and in doing so expose his self-interest. There is thus a moral challenge here; not only should Ahab not be duped by the self-serving prophets but he should also recognise his own self-interest and lack of integrity in his ambitions towards Ramoth Gilead.

Finally comes the theological level. By ascribing the proposal to deceive Ahab to God, Micaiah's concern is that Ahab understands that it is not he, Micaiah, who has decreed disaster should this course be followed, but God himself has spoken thus. In continuing along this path Ahab confronts God. Again, the purpose of this "divine decree" is not one of forecasting inevitable disaster but is intended to avert such a disaster. The direct challenge to Ahab's self-will should provoke repentance in order that the divine compassion can be exercised.

24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. ‘Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?’ he asked.

25 Micaiah replied, ‘You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.’

It is the moment of truth. Zedekiah has an opportunity now to hear the force of Micaiah's words and own up to his self-interest. However, he has a lot to lose if exposed as a fraud and so asks him a challenging rhetorical question. (Indeed, it is the question at the heart of this entire discussion). He asks, in essence, how do we know that you speak for God and not me?

At this point, Micaiah probably knows that he can never argue the others into agreement. There is too much self-interest, too many reputations to protect, for anyone to admit their deceit. He therefore gives a rather cryptic reply. His words are probably best understood as looking forward to a time at which it all comes crumbling down for Zedekiah. The "inner room" is an obscure cubby hole, the kind of place one escapes to when avoiding others (see 1 Kings 20:30). Why would Zedekiah be hiding there? Micaiah's suggestion is that at some point Zedekiah will be exposed for what he is and there'll be some very angry people looking for him. At this low ebb, says Micaiah, you'll do some soul searching and come to acknowledge what you have really known all along; you'll be able to admit to your own lack of integrity.

26 The king of Israel then ordered, ‘Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, “This is what the king says: put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.”’

28 Micaiah declared, ‘If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.’ Then he added, ‘Mark my words, all you people!’

The King is not swayed by Micaiah and so Micaiah, in effect, signs his own life-long prison sentence. He acknowledges that if the king returns then everything that he has said has been empty. If he is correct then he'll remain incarcerated. It is surely this integrity that marks out Micaiah as the true prophet. The words of God come at great personal cost to Micaiah; he could so easily have become the 401st prophet and fallen into line (it wouldn't have made a difference to the outcome anyway). However, his acceptance of the implications of his own words and willingness to accept the appalling consequences for himself demonstrate his authenticity.

29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.’ So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle.

31 Now the king of Aram had ordered his thirty-two chariot commanders, ‘Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.’ 32 When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, ‘Surely this is the king of Israel.’ So they turned to attack him, but when Jehoshaphat cried out, 33 the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel and stopped pursuing him.

34 But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour. The king told his chariot driver, ‘Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.’ 35 All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died. 36 As the sun was setting, a cry spread through the army: ‘Every man to his town. Every man to his land!’

37 So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there. 38 They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.

And so, the king rides out to battle. It is notable that he does not act as a king confident of victory. He hides himself among the rank and file; a man in fear of his life and aware that he doesn't want to be a target. His end comes quite by accident and his final few hours allow him only time to see his armies defeated. This is surely the equivalent to Zedekiah's "inner room", the time at which the truth of Micaiah's prophecy becomes painfully clear to him in every respect.

Conclusions

So what are we to conclude about prophecy and discernment? It is surely the case that the genuine prophet speaks truth to power at the risk of great cost. The central dynamic of the story is around self-will and integrity. The prophetic call to Ahab is to dig deep and accept that his own intentions don't conform to the moral will of God. This isn't easy for any of us, and no-one likes to be told that they are being self-serving.

Who are you? Are you like Ahab? When you ask a question do you encourage people to tell you what you want to hear? Are you willing to listen when someone exposes your self-interest or do you do all you can to protect that interest? When you listen to the still, small voice inside are you able to change when it goes contrary to your own will?

Are you like Zedekiah? Do you tell people what they want to hear in order to feather your own nest? Do you carefully observe which way the wind is blowing and ensure that you catch that breeze? When someone challenges your ideas do you accept that you might be self-serving or do you seek to discredit dissenting voices in order to protect your own position?

Are you more of a Jehoshaphat? Are you aware that the wrong things are happening for the wrong reasons? Do you ask a few questions but then go along with it when the chips are down?

Or are you a Micaiah, willing to speak uncomfortable truth to power, even at great cost?

I'm pretty sure I'm primarily like Ahab and Zedekiah. It's so easy for me to know deep down that I'm wrong about something and yet prefer to dig my feet in and argue, shame and discredit nay-sayers rather than repenting and admitting my fault. It's always straightforward to tell people what they want to hear and avoid difficult conversations. I do it all the time, expecting someone else to take on the challenge. This is, for me, why church community is so vitally important. We (or I, anyway) need an environment in which people can be given the grace to enable repentance and change. It's vital to have a community of faithful critique in which we can, lovingly, challenge our brothers and sisters. This takes practice but, as Jesus put it: "This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." (John 3:19-21) Living in light is hard so let us be prophetically bold and humble in discernment.

Filed under: Theology No Comments
17May/140

Reframing KS3 – Critically real religion,  philosophy and ethics for inclusion and  progression

Posted by Mike

Zach Beamish-Cook and I were awarded a Farmington Fellowship last year and developed a piece of work around the theoretical underpinnings of our more critically real approach to KS3 RPE (or RS, RE, Beliefs and Values). It never really occurred to me until yesterday that anyone might read it or find it useful.

However, yesterday I received an email from a HoD in Norwich thanking us for the work and so I thought I'd post the work here for anyone else who might find it helpful. If you're trying to develop your RPE to make it more rigorous and inclusive I'd encourage you to have a read. Hope it's of some use to people! We've also found it useful for justifying and explaining the subject to those in senior leadership. (On that note, if anyone is going to this year's Farmington Conference you might like to hear my colleague Richard Kueh, whose fellowship has been looking at exactly the way we explain the rationale for the subject to senior leaders, governors, other departments and parents).

You'll find our full report here: Reframing KS3 – Critically real religion,  philosophy and ethics for inclusion and  progression

17May/141

OCR A2 Philosophy of Religion Notes

Posted by Mike

Attached below are some revision notes for OCR A2 Philosophy of Religion. Most of these are written be me and colleagues at Comberton Village College.

There are also some topic summary sheets:

You may also find helpful:

Enjoy!

Tagged as: 1 Comment