"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

The End of Faith?

I am reading a book at the moment that has me deeply worried. Not because it is in itself correct in its assertions, I personally do not believe that it is; but because it is unable to see the other point of view, and in so not doing, is perpetuating the same dangerous attitudes that it is so intolerant of in others.

The book is by Sam Harris, its title "The end of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason," and it rather unhelpfully and definitely sensationally quotes Richard Dawkins on the front cover, from the Guardian; "Read Sam Harris and wake up."

Now I have only reached page 36 and I accept I need to see how the argument unfolds, but I think I get the gist.

I think that the book gets off to a dodgy start by basing itself on some inaccurate assumptions. For a start Sam brings out the old hoary chestnut about most wars being the result of religious belief. I am not a historian, (in fact history O Level was the only exam I ever failed at school!), but I am told by historians whom I respect that this assumption is simply not true. I will be looking into this in some more depth.

Then he tells us that their is a fundamental intolerance between faiths - that only one faith is right, and of course we all believe that ours is that right one; that religious pluralism can only be a hoax. Isn't this what fervent atheists preach of their own beliefs?

He does accept that mostly we are spiritual beings and we find our spiritual sustenance in the dogma of different religions, but this, he tells us, is at a terrible price.

I will carry on reading Sam Harris. But I am also reading another book, (I usually have several on the go at any one time!) which I think Sam would do well to read himself. It is by Aidan Rankin, entitled "Many-Sided Wisdom; A New Politics of the Spirit." The essence of Rankin's book is drawn from ancient Jain wisdom, and reminds us that many different paths can all lead to the same spiritual truth, and there is a need for humility and respect between the followers of all such paths. This is a new political philosophy with ancient spiritual roots, and is called Anekant, literally meaning "many-sided." It logically leads to a position that the Jains call Jiva Daya: identification or sympathy with all creatures, not just our fellow humans. We are learning this lesson the hard way, as we see the terrible toll we are inflicting on the natural world through our hubris and our misguided supremacy.

As I write this there has been a terrible tragedy in Germany where many youngsters have been crushed to death at a festival. Today there was a church service in their memory, a service arranged out of a basic human need to find spiritual sustenance and support and hopefully some answers from religion, which many of us seek at such moments in our lives.

I will finish both books in due course. One thing is certain and that is the need by many of us for religion. No amount of angry discourse from atheists is going to alter that. We have to learn to live with our differences in whatever way we can, and that calls for Anekant, not angry atheistic protestations.

We have to stop arguing about right and wrong, black versus white, pluralism versus intolerance and fundamentalism. We should all have a common purpose, to save our planet for our children and grandchildren. The fundamentalist atheist does not help this cause. Or am I being naive?

Friday, 30 July 2010

Why I love Brittany

Images copyright Eleanor Stoneham 2010

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Rise and Fall of Civilisation: Perspectives of Moral Political Economy

We are in the midst of a crisis in values, moral and ethical, of an enormous scale - in a society desperately in need of cosmic spiritual values.

These are the words of the Reverend Canon Peter Challen, Chairman of the Christian Council of Monetary Justice - who opened a debate on The Rise and Fall of Civilisation: Perspectives of Moral Political Economy held on 20th July 2010 in London. Speakers included Moeen Yaseen, Managing Director Global Vision 2000, Daud Pidcock, also of Global vision 2000, Muhammad Rafeeq, Banking Consultant, Vijay Mehta, Lawrence Bloom, and Michael King.

The purpose of the debate was to "promote alternative holistic sustainable solutions which open the door to an era of prosperity within the framework of a moral political economy."

The human predicament is now dire - deeply deeply so, Peter reminds us - and we need a coalition for the common good of an inclusive justice - we are stealing from the future in our current behaviour - there is a fierce urgency of now.. Peter concluded a powerful 10 minutes introduction by calling for a new "world cup" of compassion and inclusive justice.

Please spend 10 minutes to watch this video and carefully listen to his words.

Clips of the other speakers are all available on You Tube.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 11 Mary Queen of Heaven

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia
For He whom you were worthy to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as He said, alleluia,
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

This twelfth century prayer is substituted for the Angelus throughout the Easter season in the church calendar. The author is not known, but one legend is that Pope St Gregory 1, known as St Gregory the Great, heard angels chanting the first three lines while he was walking barefoot one Easter morning in religious procession, carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary. He was inspired to write the fourth line.
Jesus Christ is Risen Today, we sing in the Anglican Church on Easter Sunday, a hymn which has its origin in this prayer.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Reflections and Ripples of Hope

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Robert Kennedy, in a speech he made in Cape Town on 7 June 1966

Photographs copyright 2010 Eleanor Stoneham

Monday, 26 July 2010

Even more about serendipity

Serendipity - it is all around us if we allow it to happen, if we are alive to opportunity, if we listen and observe with a lively and fertile mind, if we do more, in other words, than just lie back and let things float over us.

Or is it? Do we create our own serendipity? Are some people luckier than others? Do we make our own luck or bad luck? Can we significantly alter our destiny by our attitude to life? We certainly cannot have any control over the family and life circumstances into which we are born. And clearly some people have truly awful childhoods and many are born into abject poverty, violence and worse. But what about afterwards, in our subsequent journey through life?

I have written about Serendipity before - A seeming gift for finding good things accidentally - a word coined by Horace Walpole after the Persian tale of the Three Princes of Serendip. It is a subject that really fascinates me.

I think that for me it manifests itself from what I read, and in talking and listening to as many people as possible within my areas of interest, with the help of a fertile imagination. This I guess is what networking is really all about. And it can be very exciting. But energy and opportunity are both essential. And we can consciously create both.

People will often say - oh you are lucky - when I know I created at least a part of the so called "luck." What do readers think? I am collecting stories on serendipitous experiences for analysis. Please can you help me with these thought processes?

Images copyright Eleanor Stoneham 2010

Saturday, 24 July 2010


To reflect - to give back an image of... or to think seriously about something... or to cast blame or discredit upon something...
Reflection - contemplation, or a thoughtful idea or remark...
or simply beautiful images reproduced as in a mirror, as here...

Images copyright Eleanor Stoneham 2010

Notice in a church porch

Friday, 23 July 2010

Women of the Bible 10 Martha and Mary

"And Martha had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone?"

St Luke X, vv. 39-40

We've all been there, at least we women have! We rush around doing all the work while others talk, watch, and generally don't help. But Martha received little support from Jesus, who told her she was too distracted, worried and fussing around to fulfill her hospitable role, when she should also have regard to the need to listen to His teaching.

"Martha, Martha," Jesus says. "You are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."There is a balance, He is reminding us, between the spiritual and the practical sides of life. Both are equally important.

There is a further interpretation to be found in modern biblical commentary, to the effect that Mary is behaving as any man would in this Jerusalem suburb of Bethany of that time. She is listening to the Rabbi's teaching, so that she may impart that knowledge to others. And Jesus is accepting her in that role, albeit that she is a female. I leave that thought with you, dear reader!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

electric cars and noise

silhoutte of airballoons

Tidying our High Street for the final spruce up before our In Bloom judging day, I am appalled, stressed even, by the continual noise of the traffic rumbling by, not to mention the fumes belched out by the lorries, buses and cars as they pass, particularly by the lorries, spewing nasties out of their exhaust pipes at a level to hit the face of a baby in a push chair, or our volunteers on their knees weeding the pavement.

But no one else seemed bothered.

I was at the dentist yesterday. Reading a National Geographic magazine in a somewhat desultory fashion waiting for my turn I was stressed by the cacophany of chatter behind the open plan receptionists' desk; making appointments on the phone, declaring lots of personal, albeit anonymous, information on patients to the room at large, or idly chatting about everything under the sun to do with their personal lives. Incessant clatter. Shouldn't we be spared such noise in a professional reception of any kind?

But no one else seemed bothered.

Travelling on a train the other day half the carriage seemed to be on their phones, arranging business deals, fixing lifts, just chatting as friends. And next to me I could hear the continual jangle of music from the badly fitting earphones of my neighbour.

But no one else seemed bothered. Too busy making their own noise, no doubt!

My father in law was a lovely man. I miss him very much, we had some wonderful holidays together after his wife died. We were well matched then, him grieving his loss, me recuperating after illness, both savouring a quiet time away to read, walk, swim and generally enjoy silence together. On his 70th birthday we had given him a ride in a hot air balloon. His first comment on landing was how beautifully silent the air was up there above us.

I just love the sound of silence.

So imagine my dismay when I heard that plans are well afoot to put some noise into the design of the otherwise fairly silent electric car.

Now I know that we rely very much nowadays on the noise of our petrol cars - especially if we are pedestrians trying to cross roads or horse riders and cyclists being warned of traffic coming up behind us. And the boy racers love revving their sports cars for the sheer hell of it. But for most of us what has happened to good old fashioned powers of observation. Are we forgetting to use our eyes as well as our ears?

But to have artificially noisy electric cars? Suggestions have been pouring in for the type of noise to employ. People have suggested using the noise of horses hooves (confusing?), typewriter keys (obsolete?), bird song (nice but confusing again, to the birds themselves no doubt), Mahler Symphonies, and many more ideas - but guess what - someone even suggested mobile phone ring tones!!

Electric cars are here to stay. That is good. But the noise?

And I think I must be the only one bothered by all this!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 9 Miriam after Crossing the Red Sea

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Moses and Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously."

Exodus XV, vv. 20-21

A timbrel was a percussion instrument rather like our tamborine, played mostly by women.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 8 Miriam and the Birth of Moses

"And when she could no longer hide the baby, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the reeds by the river's brink. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. And the daughter of the Pharoah came down to the river to bathe... and she saw the ark among the reeds...Then said his sister to Pharoah's daughter, Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?"

Exodus Chapter II, vv. 3-7

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Scientific and Medical Network

I was in a conference centre in Hampshire last weekend for the annual meeting of the Scientific and Medical Network, and what a stimulating time it proved to be. Aside from the lively AGM, which provoked lots of discussion and ideas, we had a line up of excellent speakers for the theme; Towards an Integral World-View: Inner and Outer.

In addition to the scheduled speakers, one of the sessions at this conference gives members a chance to talk for a short while, half an hour or so, about their own interests, book, research, whatever, within the theme of the event as a whole. And one such member caught my particular attention. Jean Hardy is writing a book, A Wiser Politics, to be published by O Books in due course. In this, her third book, she draws on her own background in political philosophy, psychosynthesis and holistic ecology to explore the need for a wider vision in politics of values and spirituality, in other words beyond the usual pragmatic and managerial issues which seem to dominate political thinking of all three main parties. Where, she asks, is the wider vision. Can we really hope to change our policies to form a better world unless we view our current system from a different and more spiritual perspective?

I have expressed my own hope for more politicians who will not be shy or afraid of letting the world know their own faith -driven or spiritual values. We need such politicians who can reflect those values in policies in a way that still appeals to the electorate and does not antagonize them.
I know Barack Obama has somewhere made a similar observation. We need spiritual politicians
who are compassionate, indeed empathic to the needs of the populace. In fact we need spirituality, compassion, empathy and good old fashioned morality all round, in ourselves as well as in our politicians. And we need changes of heart and mind in us all.

Jean argues in her book "for a way of thinking that links, as many earlier societies have done, Cosmos, with Polis, and also with Psyche." If we are to change the political and world paradigm in which we seem to be stuck, we must understand where myths and stories came from that are established often deep in our psyche, she told us.

If Jean writes with the same easy style she used to talk to us, this book will be a joy to read and I look forward to its publication very much indeed.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 7 Jael

Jael was not a nice woman!
"Blessed above women shall Jael be the wife of Heber the Kenite, Blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked for milk, and she gave him milk; she brought him butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote through his head, Yea, she pierced and struck through his temples."

Judges Chapter V, vv. 24-26

This story is taken from The Song of Deborah, a song of victory, and one of the oldest examples of such a song in biblical literature.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The London Skyline

I heard someone observe the other day how the high rise buildings now being spawned in London overshadow the church towers and spires that were once such an important part of the London skyline.

Not only that, the voice went on to say, this reflects in a way the change of values in society, the importance now placed on the city as a financial centre and the decline in our faith and our spiritual values.
How very very sad - indeed worrying.

By coincidence I came across a video from Premier Christian Radio today - "Should bankers sign up to a moral code, like the doctors' Hippocratic Oath? TV historian Prof Niall Ferguson thinks so, and he's challenging bankers to get back to old-fashioned relationship-based banking." Do listen to it.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Fascinating Facts

I am enjoying my latest edition of Resurgence, the attractive magazine, edited by Satish Kumar, which is "at the heart of earth, art and spirit." On its website it is described as "a magazine for people who care about the environment, love reading, enjoy new ideas and are looking for inspiration on sustainable living." It is beautifully produced and a pleasure to read, with its wonderful illustrations, its poetry and its high calibre articles.

I have always worried about having to take pharmaceutical drugs - have never been sure about the long term side effects, which so often are little known.

But perhaps I need never have worried, or not so much anyway? According to an article in the Resurgence July/August issue by Joanna Eede a recent analysis of the original sources for the 1031 drugs approved world wide from 1981 to 2002 concluded that none were totally synthetic. The "majority of medicines are still based on structures found in Nature, and Nature still provides the best chemical leads ...for compounds that have a medicinal value for humans. "

And where does such knowledge come from in the first place? From the indigenous tribes, who have always relied on the plants around them for the prevention and treatment of illness, and have been in tune with the ecosystems around them for thousands of years.

If we ignore such ancient wisdom, drive such tribes and their ecosystems to extinction, we risk losing a vast fund of knowledge and perhaps losing cures that are yet to be discovered.

The photo is a view of the herb garden at Hever Castle in Kent, summer 2010.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 6 Hannah

The story of Hannah and her son Samuel is told in the First Book of Samuel, written between 931 and 722 BC.

This is a classic story of the oppressed woman; barren and as a consequence scorned in her own household, she cries to the Lord for a son and pledges him back to the service of the Lord.
Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah, the other being Peninnah. We are told that Elkanah loved Hannah more than Peninnah. Peninnah had several children, sons and daughters, but Hannah was childless and this grieved her very much. It didn't help that Peninnah mocked her. Women can be very cruel to each other.
Every year the family would go to the Tabernacle in Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord. There Hannah would become very miserable and would not eat, which perplexed her husband. Why, he said, didn't his love for her more than make up for the lack of children. Men can be very obtuse sometimes!
So Hannah silently prayed to the Lord from her heart for a son, and promised that if a son was born, he would be given back to the Lord.
Sure enough, a son was born to Hannah in the fullness of time, and she called him Samuel, and once he had been weaned, at perhaps the age of 2 or 3, he was taken according to her promise to the Tabernacle, together, we are told, with three bulls, (for ritual sacrifice), one ephah (about one half bushel) of flour, and a skin of wine....
...and Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord....

The First Book of Samuel: Chapter 1, and Chapter 3, v.20

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 5 Rachel

"Rachel came with her father's sheep...and Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept."

Genesis XXIX vv. 9,11

This needs a little more explanation. It was in fact a family reunion. The bit of the story missed out above is that Rachel's father was Laban, and Jacob's mother was Rebekah, Laban's sister. Therefore Laban is Jacob's uncle, and Jacob and Rachel are of course cousins. Jacob told Rachel of the family connection, and she ran to tell her father, and Jacob stayed with the family for a month.

The kiss was the traditional patriarchal greeting between man and woman, and Jacob's tears were almost certainly of joy at finding his family again.

The story goes on...Rachel had an older sister, Leah. But it sounds as if Rachel was the family beauty. Perhaps what happened was therefore inevitable. Jacob fell in love with Rachel, and it was agreed that he would work for Laban for seven years in return for her hand in marriage. Those seven years apparently flew by because Jacob was so in love with Rachel, but at the end of that time Laban deceived Jacob - after what must have been a wild feast, Jacob was tricked into spending the night with Leah. On tackling Laban about this afterwards, Laban explained that the first born must be matched up first, and made Jacob work another seven years for the hand of Rachel! The story continues in v. 31 et seq ... for another time!

Jacobs Sheep Pictures, Images and Photos

When I was a little girl I used to cycle the lanes of Kent in the summer evenings, and particularly liked stopping at a field where a small herd of black and white speckled goat-like sheep, with horns, used to graze. They had tinkly bells round their necks - and I loved the noise those made as the sheep moved across the pasture. My mother told me they were called Jacob sheep.

It is said that these Jacob sheep were so called after the story in Genesis Chapter 30, v. 32 et seq., where Jacob takes all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats from Laban's flock as wages for work done. That again is a longer story for another day...

Friday, 9 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 4 - Rebekah

"And Rebekah was very fair to look upon, a virgin... and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher. And the servant of Abraham ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I pray thee, drink a little water from thy pitcher... And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking."

Genesis XXIV vv. 16-19

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The rich get richer...

It is often dangerous to use quotations out of context. And never more so, I find, than when using biblical passages to illustrate a point.
A few years ago I wrote of our obsession with material things, our love affair with money, and how I thought spirituality was more important to us in the long term, and generosity with what we have now, and I used Matthew 6: vv.25 -34 ; ..."do not worry about your life...look at the birds of the air...they neither sow nor reap...consider the lilies of the field ......they neither toil nor spin... seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you... tomorrow will worry about its own things...."
Jesus is telling us that we do not need to worry about the future because our Father is ever mindful of our daily needs and will watch over and care for us if we seek first the Kingdom of God.
No one is saying that we should sit back, not work, and expect food to fall into our laps, or cash to make our next mortgage payment. No indeed. But my article met with howls of protest and some offensive and blasphemous comment. I will find it and post it again soon.

Meanwhile here's another one. "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer." This may well be true in our current economic model, but don't blame Jesus and God for that. Yesterday someone relied on Mark 4: v. 25 to again misquote Jesus and "prove" that life has ever been thus: "For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."

oil lampIn this parable, Jesus as so often is using analogy, in this case the light which should not be hidden away but put on a lamp stand and used to illuminate the surroundings. Do not hide your light under a bushel, we say, meaning do not hide away our talents, but bring them into the open, use them wisely for the good of all. Otherwise they are wasted and we waste our opportunities to expand and enhance or own abilities.

That is what Jesus is saying - to listen and heed - so that we may increase our understanding of His Truth and find greater spiritual perception, rather than continue in materially obsessed ignorance whilst withering spiritually.

Monday, 5 July 2010

East Anglia in Spring

Scenes along a country lane near Hunstanton May 2010

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 3 - Lot's Wife

"And it came to pass that the Lord said, Escape for thy life; Look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed... Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire out of heaven. But Lot's wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."

Genesis XIX vv. 17, 24 and 26

Saturday, 3 July 2010

To Change the World - Serendipity again

Sojourners Magazine
Yesterday I received my July edition of the Christian magazine Sojourners - Faith in Action for Social Justice. As I opened it the page fell open at an ad for a book that I had not come across to date but which is so close to my own interests, I must read it.
James Davison Hunter is the author; the title, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.
If we hope to heal this wounded earth we need to change our culture. I feel quite sure about this, but my preoccupation is with how we can achieve this? Hunter addresses this complex and vital subject. He looks at the question "how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative?" And he introduces a theology of what he calls "faithful presence"within culture and society.

I am looking forward to reading of his ideas and challenges and will be posting up a review in due course.

But I fear that the wealth of wisdom in books such as this do not reach the population masses - and if the subject matter does hit the popular media it tends to be sensationalized and therefore is dismissed too readily as over the top, scare mongering, unrealistic, whatever. Witness the popular media responses to James Lovelock when he wrote The Revenge of Gaia.

In the same magazine its Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief Jim Wallis has written an article "Is Christian Ministry Illegal in Arizona? (a quick free registration process is required to access). The answer in short is yes! Arizona's new and harsh enforcement law against undocumented immigrants is forcing Christians to break the law in their ministry of love and neighborliness to all, offered in a spirit of compassion and need rather than with regard to and questioning of an immigrant's status. "Arizona's law is a social and racial sin, and ... should be denounced by people of faith and conscience across the nation, " he writes.

Amen to that.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Women of the Bible No. 2 Sarah

Here is another contribution from our church flower festival "Women from the Bible." Credit must go to our sacristan who masterminded the festival, chose the biblical texts and had more than a small hand in putting together many of the arrangements. Note the metal stars and the fine sand - the latter borrowed no doubt from the drip tray below our votive candles!

"Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age." Genesis XVIII v. 11

"That in blessing I will bless thee and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore." Genesis XXII v. 17

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


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