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September 27, 2005

More musings, this time on auditions

Recently I've been involved in auditioning candidates for scholarships, based on organ-playing or singing abilities.

Before I start, I'd like to point out that my views are nothing to do with Cambridge University, or Robinson College.
  1. Why is it that I'm so nervous, when I'm the one doing the interviewing? Could it be that I'm just trying to come up with clever questions for the candidates to make me look smart in front of the more senior people present?
  2. They're all panicking about their big 10-minute chance. I am likely to witness a large number of 10-minute chances, which will all add up to several hours of listening to the same ear tests, and the same sight-reading pieces. And they wonder why I act blase and bored out of my mind?
  3. Why have the auditions moved half-way across the city, so I now spend most of the day walking to them?
  4. Why do I feel so guilty when talking to the candidates who were cr*p?

Musings on evangelism

One of the interesting things happening in the Church of England at the moment is the wave of alternative forms of worship which have been spreading across the country. Many people (including myself) still swear by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (revised 19 hundred and something). Since then it has been (a fair bit) superseded by the 1980 Alternative Service Book (now out of copyright), and (sometimes unwillingly) superseded by the 2000 "Common Worship."

The first observation I'd like to share is that people in England quite rapidly fall into two camps. There's the people who love the old-fashioned style of worship from the BCP, and there's those referred to as "happy-clappy," who prefer to sing and dance in their services.

Also interesting is the major attachment some people have for the BCP, to the level where they may despise the recent Common Worship. My (somewhat limited) experience of Common Worship shows that, in the hands of a sensitive preacher, it can be easily used to form very attractive services closely matching the old forms of worship.

So what is it that attracts people to old-fashioned services?

One of the major things I find is that I enjoy the tradition of old services. I like the idea that I can have broadly the same service every week. Yes I like it to vary, to refer to different parts of the Bible, and to embrace different points and prayers. But having the same structure every week is something to which I am quite attached.
This is almost certainly a comfort factor. I like to be able to come to a familiar environment and worship God in a familiar way. It's more tricky if I have to cope with strange orders of service on a regular basis.

I think this is a very powerful attraction. The ideal situation would be that I could visit any church in England and find a service mapped to the same form. I could follow the service however old I was, however ill or infirm. My years of experience with it would make the worship far easier to understand.

People often mention another great advantage to the BCP service. The original prayer book is centuries old, and the language has only been slightly updated. This means that the prayers and texts are formed in a poetic style, which embellishes and enriches the meaning. Quoting the Collect for Advent may be illustrative:

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Traditionally, the first Advent Candle is lit at the start of the prayer. What could be more appropriate than "cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light?"

People argue that the old-fashioned words are a hindrance, impeding understanding of what's going on. I would suggest that slowing down over the words is even more important in today's society, and that the words encourage a far deeper level of spirituality than those offered in many alternative services.

The fact remains that many people prefer old-style worship, and yet at the same time it is being superseded all over the country by music groups, rock bands, and multiple prayer groups.

Perhaps the nature of rock bands is that they'll always be loud, even if in the minority. There is a large swathe of people across England who find they cannot adapt to the new forms of worship, and simply disappear from the church. They often do not argue with the "inevitable march of progress," and form a silent min(maj?)ority whose wishes are never expressed. Even now there are many vicars who try to force their guitar playing on an unwilling congregation!

Prayer is important in Christianity, but I also think it is a very personal thing. I'm not going to be encouraged to sit in a group of people and create a new prayer. Almost certainly it will have little relevance to the others present. Not only this, but it teaches us nothing new. Surely the most important role of a Sunday service is to try and teach us something about God or about the Bible that will encourage us in our lives as Christians? Perhaps the most important ideal for a service is that we should leave it with something to think about, engaging our brains.

A factor I also found telling is the British stiff upper lip. Nobody is going to tell me to have fun if I don't want to. And I'm definitely not going to clap my hands on Sunday morning. Although I believe God definitely wishes us to enjoy life, I think I've plenty of opportunity in the rest of the week. I'd rather spend my time in Church contemplating His magnificence, without having my thoughts interfered with by drums.

Perhaps the most important aspect of an old service was that it invited thought and contemplation without being dull. Modern services often include long periods of silence to help greater absorb the significance of a passage of scripture. But I often find that this is completely useless; either there's not enough content, or I don't understand it anyway. I'd rather be reasoned with, and have different meanings examined in the wider context of the Bible. This should be simple for a well-trained preacher.

Well here endeth the ramble. If you want me, you'll find me skulking in the darkest corner of a Cathedral.

Death in the dome (2)

A quite well-reasoned post from a messageboard:

You know, not to be insensitive, but I wondered at the time if some of the horrors coming out of both places was (atleast partially) bullshiat. I mean, so you get a story of some 9 year old being raped and having her throat cut at the Superdome... Horrible, yes, and then the same story comes out of the Astrodome? I mean, I highly doubt that. Plus, nobody comes forward or presses charges when the cops show up and say "where's the asshat who did this?" Sure you're scared, but if some random idiot RAPED YOUR CHILD, you'd find the first cop who'd listen. And everybody's like "WE SAW IT HAPPEN!" except, you know, nobody DID.I mean, we also had refugees that swore, SWORE that the levees had been bombed in the poor areas to save the wealthy parts of the city and there were four explosions and somebody ate a baby and blah blah blah... It's amazing how far one rumor or half truth can spread...

Thanks to AdrienneEE at fark.com

Death in the dome

One of the things that struck me about the coverage of hurricane Katrina was the enormous death tolls reported from the "Superdome" in New Orleans.

Tracking this via. the BBC, we hear detailed tales of suicides, rapes, murder, gangland violence...

I've searched out several articles which may prove illuminating.

The first consists of eyewitness accounts from Britons caught up in the superdome. This tells of the inevitable suffering in the environment, of people with little food living in their own filth. It also begins to reveal a more sinister side...

"I heard stories of violence. I heard people were getting stabbed, getting raped... a guy committed suicide," he said.
"By Tuesday night you heard of some suicides, people had jumped from balconies, or people being pushed, there were all sorts of rumours flying around. I honestly didn't think I was going to wake up on Wednesday morning."

This is getting serious. The second article comes again from the BBC. It refers to many acts of evil:

"Stories of rape, murder and suicide have emerged."

"One guy jumped off a balcony," said Charles Womack, a 30-year-old roofer who was beaten and injured during his time at the Superdome.

"They killed a man here last night," Steve Banka, 28, told the Reuters news agency before he left on Sunday.

"A young lady was being raped and stabbed.
"And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing truck of them.

"He jumped up on the truck's windscreen and they shot him dead," Mr Banka said.

I have to say, that looking at this I do find Mr. Banka's testimony quite hilarious in a way. But hang on, surely these are terrible acts of great violence in the aftermath of a catastrophe, which are sickening and wrong. Maybe, but the latest article doesn't entirely agree.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies."I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying. The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide.

Ah, but now we have the question of whether to believe this latest article.

I have to confess that initially, it doesn't seem too good. It's origins seem obscure, and it hasn't been much reported elsewhere.

Interestingly though, it does mention something which is corroborated by mainstream news agencies: the suicide off a balcony. Both BBC articles mention this, though one goes on to say that loads of people were involved. This gives reasonable evidence that the article may be true, and also gives indications towards the real nature of the BBC reporting.

Looking back at the BBC article, hindsight clearly reveals a rumour-driven story-telling style of reporting, which is embarassing, to say the least. And you thought the BBC knew what was going on?

This article reveals two things of great interest.

  1. Human nature, as always, is to exaggerate and gossip. This aspect of our behaviour was clearly revealed in the tales of the Superdome. Many people report "tales of stabbings and rapes," though finding witnesses to these crimes is somewhat harder. It isn't difficult to believe that people exaggerated the dangers involved.
  2. News coverage of the disaster often mentioned that race was a factor in treatment of victims. One thing I notice, though, is that the perpetrators of violence in the Superdome were often referred to as "black," either explicitly or buried in terms like "gangland violence," or "ghetto culture." I think this is just as racist, and I think that those who moan at the government for "racist evacuation schemes" in the same breath as denouncing "superbowl violence" are fundamentally hypocritical.

September 16, 2005

America's Tsunami?

I'm sure someone will write in to complain about this, but here goes...

I was slightly uneasy when I first heard, on BBC News, comparisons being drawn between hurricane Katrina in America, and the Asian Tsunami disaster of Boxing Day (26th September for non-UK people) 2004. I was at first just unsettled at the concept of comparing national disasters, but later was slightly appalled by the term "America's Tsunami."

I don't think it is appropriate to compare a disaster causing (according to Wikipedia) 170,000 - 250,000 deaths, with one causing, at the time of writing, about 700. Sensible estimates suggest that Katrina is very unlikely to be responsible for more than 10,000 deaths.

Sitting here now, I am still unnerved about the fact that I can even sit here counting nature's severity in terms of numbers of lives. Now add in the fact that the Asian disaster was spread across more than 15 different poorly developed countries, whereas the US remains the most developed country in the world.

The US disaster, while terrible in terms of human lives and suffering, is nothing like as severe as the Asian Tsunami, and to compare the two is an insult to the memories of those lost in both disasters.

A new class system in Cambridge

Firstly I'd like to apologise for not saying anything for a while. My dial-up connection has shredded any hopes I may have had to keep up-to-date.

To break the silence, I thought I'd open with an observation on life in Cambridge:

The residents hate the students.
They in turn hate the tourists.

Everybody hates the beggars.