Divine Intervention

Now I’m certainly not the kind of Christian who believes that God is some kind of cosmic puppeteer, and that he will manipulate the rules of the world at the request of his followers. There are however some who do, check out this video from Stuart Shepard of Focus on the Family, the conservative evangelical group headed by James Dobson in the US. Here he is calling for a massive storm to hit the open air acceptance speech by Barack Obama – thereby sending a message as to who God wants to win the election.

As everybody now knows, there wasn’t any kind of storm that hit Denver on that night, but for those God fearing Christians who believe in an interventionist God who will show them who to vote for in the upcoming election, Michael Moore has pointed out that there is a big storm on the way. Hurricane Gustav is currently heading straight for New Orleans, a city which need anyone forget was decimated by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, whilst George W Bush and Senator McCain celebrated McCains 69th birthday in Arizona. Not surprisingly although some of New Orleans has been repaired, residents are once again fleeing the coast.

The interesting thing is the current prediction of when Hurricane Gustav will make landfall – just around the time George W Bush will be speaking to the Republican faithful at the upcoming convention. The timing isn’t lost on the Republicans either, who are even now talking about postponing the conference – whether it is postponed or not, the news media is already reporting that Bush will now not attend.

Now if I believed that God would manipulate the weather to influence the result of the US election, the idea of sending a repeat of Hurricane Katrina, something that produced significant criticism of Bush in terms of both preceding policy and over the response does seem to indicate a rather perverse sense of humour on behalf of the almighty. But seeing as this is hurricane season, as far as I am concerned it is just a rather ironic coincidence. Whether the Focus on the Family on the family crowd will have some great epiphany as a result I seriously doubt as well. All we can do is hope that the US is better prepared this time and that the loss of life can be minimised.

Not Quite Steam on the Met

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, for a number of years London Underground ran a number of successful Steam on the Met weekends. It all started with a celebration weekend in 1989 to commemorate the centenary of the opening of the Metropolitan Railway into Chesham, using Met 1, the last remaining operating Metropolitan Railway steam locomotive. That first weekend was so successful that the railway organised a number of follow up events, mainly running between Watford and Amersham, but including special parallel running of trains on the main lines up from Harrow. The event was all staffed by volunteers – believe me you’ve never seen so many of London Underground’s management as you did on those weekends, and it seemed popular with passengers and staff alike – so popular that they quickly got to the point of having to bring in mainline steam locomotives rather than Met 1. On the summer weekends when it ran you could sit outside in Mum and Dad’s back garden and once again hear steam trains working their way along the steep climb up Chorleywood bank.

The steam trains weren’t the only stars. All the trains needed a non-steam backup loco, and whilst for some trains it was a second hand diesel loco bought from British Rail, others used another Metropolitan Railway original, Sarah Siddons, one of the Metropolitan electric locomotives, which having been built in the nineteen twenties was older than some of the steam locomotives it was acting as backup for, was used for support.

Then in the mid-nineties the event was cancelled. There were a number of rumours as to why. Some cited health and safety concerns, but others talked about the management changes at London Underground in the lead up to the part privatisation, saying that the heritage weekends weren’t compatible with a commuter railway.

Since then, Sarah Siddons has been retained, and has run occasional special trains, however on September 14th, it’s not quite Steam on the Met, but London Underground are running a special heritage day using Sarah Siddons, and also a preserved train of 1938 Underground stock, following the Amersham, Watford and Harrow route that was used for the previous events. Based on some of the pictures coming through on Flickr they seem to be putting some effort into the event as well. Sarah Siddons has had a new paint job, and the set of retained heritage coaches (also picked up from British Rail) have all been refurbished too. Is it a prelude to resuming the steam events? I’m not sure, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this event.

Welcome home originally uploaded by routemaster_fan

How to Make a Christian

One thing I haven’t commented on so far is the final part of Make Me a Christian, the rumblings about which have even reached the hallowed pages of the Church Times, who published a news item about the programme last Friday.

The item treads a similar path to that of the earlier Telegraph article, focusing primarily on Joanna Jepson, who perhaps as expected has come out fighting against what she sees as a programme that portrayed Christianity in a wholly unbalanced way. Although she has apparently taken legal action to stop the programme, that failed to stop transmission, but apparently did have some effect on what was shown. A spokesman from Channel 4 described the purpose of the programmes as follows:

“The programme aims to demystify Christianity and introduce its basic teachings to a diverse group of people.�

Unfortunately Jepson hits the nail on the head with this comment:

“It was so destructive. The take-home message was almost that you can’t come to God unless you sort out your sex life.�

Perhaps one of the things to consider is that maybe with the way that Christianity gets portrayed in the media, especially with the massive arguments over homosexuality, the impression of the basic teachings of Christianity are being skewed in the public perception.

Anyway, on to the final programme. Interestingly it didn’t feel nearly so much like the George Hargreaves show. Thanks it seems to the intervention of Joanna Jepson and the Catholic mentor Father John Flynn, two of his targets from last week actually seemed to get a beneficial outcome.

Although it wasn’t shown in the programme, the Church Times report quotes a statement made by Joanna Jepson to the whole group about Laura, the lesbian participant in the programme. Jepson is quoted as saying the following:

“I said to all of them: ‘When God looks at Laura, he sees Laura, not a lesbian that we have labelled.’ I told Laura on the very last day, if you want to encounter God, forget about your sexuality for a moment; put that to one side, and then see what God says to you in the context of your relationship with him.�

The comment can be equally applied to a number of the other participants, all of whom were labelled to some extent by George. However, although there were a couple of scenes in the programme with George and Laura, Joanna Jepson’s influence seemed to be coming through. Initially Laura had discovered the Metropolitan Community Church, a small denomination which reaches out in particular to the LGBT minorities. Laura went to one of their services in London, but didn’t seem to get much from it – George of course dismissed the whole church. However after that Jepson suggested a retreat at a convent, to give Laura time to think. We didn’t hear the opinion of George on this, but from Laura’s point of view it certainly seemed beneficial, and by the end of the programme she seemed a lot more comfortable both with her sexuality, and her burgeoning faith.

Another significant change was again no thanks to George. Aaron, who had previously had an argument with George over sleeping with his pregnant girlfriend – being told that it was fornication – introduced Catholic mentor Father John Flynn to his mother, who was currently in the midst of a cancer scare. The big thing was that she was massively anti-Church, and really wasn’t that keen on her son being involved, however she was also obviously scared about the potential of having cancer. He didn’t try to convert her, or start preaching at her, all he did was sit and talk to her, and then wrote her a letter saying that he knew that she didn’t believe, but that did she mind if he prayed for her anyway. That seemed to open a door, and by the end of the programme she was sitting with the other participants in the programme.

There were possibly some successes that could be attributed to George. The badgering of Kevin, who was repeatedly cheating on his long-term girlfriend resulted in him admitting what was happening to her, and Faye, the lap dancer seemed to have made some changes too. The family included even threw a neighbourhood barbecue and sorted out a long time disagreement with one of their neighbours. The Muslim participant was largely forgotten for the final episode, which just leaves Martin, the atheist biker.

Certainly, George didn’t get very far with Martin in a religious sense, largely because George seemed incapable of actually discussing anything with him. The people who did repair Martin’s opinions of Christians were the Salvation Army. Despite some initial reluctance, he went along to a local Salvation Army old peoples centre, where he helped with transporting the pensioners to the centre, and then with serving them a meal. At the end of it he highlighted that these were one of the first groups of Christians he had met who were actually putting their faith into action.

There was also one final parting gift to Martin from George – a set of false teeth. One of the first things you noticed about Martin was his lack of teeth – this was because he had a massive fear of dentists, so much so that he had removed his own teeth with pliers rather than go along and have treatment. Whilst George singularly failed to make Martin a Christian, he did succeed in getting him to a dentist.

So did the programme teach anything about how to make someone a Christian? Whilst the overriding impression given is that Christianity will have a big thing about your sex life, hopefully for those people that stuck it out, the work by Jepson and Flynn maybe will show that there are other ways…

Hotline

Just thought I’d share a picture of a couple of little “den warmingâ€? presents to celebrate having a working setup in our new den, and give a quick update as to why it’s been a bit quiet around here recently. With regards to the den, it’s a great little space to work in – cosy without feeling too crammed. We’ve got the basic stuff we need all set up and running, although we haven’t quite finished the job of clearing out the front bedroom, largely because the routine trip to the hospital threw us a bit of a distraction.

On Tuesday we had the glucose test for gestational diabetes. We’d actually been given the test largely because we were on the observation list anyway, and the consultant suggested Beth take the test – the implication was that had we not been on the observation list anyway we wouldn’t have had this test. To cut a long story (and a lot of waiting around at the hospital) short the test didn’t come up totally clear. The result is a glucose level where between 7.7 and 11 puts you onto an extra observation list, and higher than 11 means more significant treatment is needed. Beth’s result came out at 8 – borderline, so a more stringent watch on what Beth is eating, and regular blood sugar checks. As one of the results of gestational diabetes is an increase in birth weight of the baby it also means that we get much more regular scans of the baby – once every four weeks, whereas by this point most other potential parents wouldn’t get another scan.

Anyway, I’ve digressed slightly – back to the “den warmingâ€? presents – the Dalek wall clock is a cheesy but pretty self-explanatory addition, although it does light up when you turn off the lights. The phone however is one of the Firebox.com Retro Telephones, which is precisely what it looks like a refurbished GPO issued original phone complete with bell ringer, and pulse dialling. It was a slight bit of a gamble as since we have a network cable into the den rather than a phone extension we’re using a little Vonage box to get a phone connection. The amazing thing is that the cutting edge VOIP box, in this case a D-Link VTA, is quite happily taking the old style pulse dialling without any problem. From a quick trawl around the internet it seems that it’s not consistent across all the VOIP adapters, and is dependant on the chip set being used, in this case the Texas Instruments TNETV1015. The phones come in hotline red like this one, and also in black, a snazzy/hideous (delete as applicable) target colour scheme, or for the pink lovers around, a tasteful two tone pink. Being pulse dialling you are going to have problems doing anything that involves pressing numbers on the keypad, but as a little bit of history that is still usable it is a great addition to the desk.