Snow in Wiltshire in November!

I woke up this morning to find it was snowing! A thin layer had settled over our garden. At lunchtime Radio 2 played the Christmas Carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.” All this is a bit unusual for November. I don't think I've seen snow in November anywhere that I have lived before: neither here in Wiltshire nor in Durham. I'm feeling for those in north of Britain who have experienced servere snowfalls.

What can be more fascinating than a religiously diverse world?

As usual, this week's copy of The Week draws to its readers attention some of this week's intriguing news stories:

a query as to why we allow Halal and Kosher meat in the UK when they do not in Spain and New Zealand
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-the-religious-excuse-for-barbarity-2137927.html 
and the story linked here about revering cows from the Daily Post in Wales
http://www.dailypost.co.uk/farming-north-wales/farming-news/2010/11/23/aftershave-made-from-cow-urine-goes-on-sale-55578-27696061.

While I was devotedly using Google (“cow's urine”) to track all these down for my avid readers, as The Week itself does not publish them online, I also discovered by accident an ethical debate about whether a Muslim girl should work at Ann Summers – http://forum.mpacuk.org/archive/index.php/t-27129.html

These are all important debates, and I was just going to post them on Facebook except that a message came up telling me that one of these links had been banned as “abusive or spammy” so I would have to go through a process of appealing against that. This turns out to be the one from the Welsh newspaper. Curious political correctness?

Impressed by Pope’s speech

The Pope's recent visit to the UK seems to have captured the imagination of many people and surprised the British press who found that their negative take on the event was not in tune with all public feeling. So, although it's taken me a while, I wanted to check out what he actually said.

His speech to politicians at Westminster Hall is worth reading. I like it because he puts across the importance of the Christian faith as a contributor to political debate in a very reasonable and reasoned way which I think only people who are unreasonable could reject! Take a few minutes to read it yourself. I read it in the Church Times, or it's here at the BBC.

As my Christian faith develops I find myself increasingly expecting the faith to seem reasonable to others, not just impressive on the basis of (say) experience of miracles. Afer all, since Richard Hooker, the Anglican Church has sought to weave together the authority of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

I also found it interesting that during the Pope's visit those opposed to the “intolerance” of the Roman Catholic Church seem at times to have made themselves look intolerant. (See my earlier article.)

Chile, the Pope, and British Atheism

During his state visit to Britain just now, the Pope has expressed concern that British values and way of life could be eroded harmfully by increasing aggressive atheism. His comments are informed both by his religious beliefs and by his formative childhood experiences in atheist Nazi Germany. So he has authority in what he says. It behoves any host to listen politely to their invited guest, so I wonder what we construe in the vitriolic opposition to his visit by Britons who like to be identified by their membership of humanist organisations. (Are they atheist?). They criticise the behaviour of the Pope, but are we to discern their values from their behaviour also?

I read a moving article* today of the plight of the miners trapped underground long-term in Chile. They see themselves as being on a long shift (much longer than the half-day shift they expected). They've appointed people to particular tasks. One of the miners is now pastor, and part of his responsibility is to lead daily prayers and to prepare sermons. It appears that these are recorded, and published, although I haven't found them online. I presume that the miners are Roman Catholic, as about 90% of the country are, and so part of the Pope's extended flock.

This leads me to my test of whether Britain is aggressively atheist and whether that is harmful to society.

If there were a similar disaster in Britain, would the victims appoint a pastor from among themselves? How do you feel about that? Do you think that any atheists in the group would oppose such an appointment aggressively? If the atheists did act in this way, do you think it would be harmful?

(Comments welcome, as always!) 

* The Week, quoting an article in The Guardian newspaper.

Troubled by the demise of Business Link

Last night I attended a meeting at Bowood. Wiltshire Council had gathered together about one hundred local business leaders to gather opinions as to how the council might improve support for businesses in Wiltshire. Many of the people there had been invited because they are members of local Chambers of Commerce (I am Vice President for Corsham).

The trigger for the event was the government's announcement that it will scrap Regional Development Authorities, Business Link, and Train to Gain. Although their plans are far from clear, it looks as if support for business will have to be provided increasingly by local councils or groups of councils (“Local Enterprise Partnerships”). The meeting was well organised, with discussion in small groups about concerns and priorities, and speeches from Council officers Steve Stone (Chairman of Wiltshire Strategic Economic Partnership Ltd), Andrew Kerr (CEO), and Leader of the council Jane Scott OBE.

Recent news items have highlighted that seventy graduates are chasing each graduate job at the moment, and that 10% of last years' graduates are still unemployed. Those who fail in a search for employment will either end up with less-than-satisfying jobs for which they are over qualified, become long-term unemployed, or choose to set up their own business. Young people, whether graduates or not, can no longer rely on stable long-term employment with a large employer as they could a few decades ago, nor is a degree or college qualification a ticket to a job, so increasingly starting a business is an important option. This means that young people need to develop a range of skills for work-readiness to equip them for a career which may include starting a business.

Therefore government support for business start-ups needs to be extended not abandoned, and organised nationally where appropriate. It troubles me that support for business start-ups may be reduced just at a time when it is needed more. (Business Link training is motivating and informative and, as well as covering marketing and strategic and financial planning, briefs people on all the national legislation they need to obey. National legislation seems to me to need nationally organised training.)

Other topics discussed included the need to balance education at different levels, develop apprenticeships, publicise Wiltshire's business good news stories, encourage Wiltshire people who go to university elsewhere to return to Wiltshire to work, develop careers information in schools so that young people think career rather than college, improve transport, and more. Such consultations have not happened before, so it is difficult to know what the outcome will be.

You and I will watch with interest. If Business Link's services do not continue in some way, then those starting up businesses, or seeking to develop them, will have to rely more on the private sector for training and coaching, such as your own Finding True North.

Letting go

It's good to read this morning Nick' Clegg's announcement that the new UK government see that the previous government introduced too much legislation. They are going to go through the statute book to see what can be repealed, and ask the public for suggestions.  He says, “We don't, unlike Labour, believe that change in our society must be forced from the centre.. we're not insecure about relinquishing control.” The previous government did introduce some good changes, however I agree with this entirely.

The government “big picture” has to be about increasing personal responsiblity, and so I hope that “letting go” at the centre, and a recognition that government is not synonymous with legislation, will bring about a greater calm in individual citizens' lives too.

Emotion at the gym

My regular evening visit to the gym is often a moving experience, but that is usually to do with the treadmill and not my emotions. It's a challenge working out and watching the television at the same time. Maybe I lost a few extra calories that way.

The hour that I chose to exercise contained the resignation of Gordon Brown, followed by the appointment by the Queen of David Cameron as Prime Minister and his arrival at 10 Downing Street. I found it surprisingly emotional to watch Gordon Brown give his resignation speech. I was impressed by his magnanimity and statesmanship. Maybe MPs of all parties are respectful colleagues when they are not fighting to win an election. He has had a tough job to do over the last few years, and some hindsight will be needed to see what help the policies of these thirteen years of Labour Government, and Gordon's actions in particular, have given.

So I hope and pray for success for the new coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, and like to hear David Cameron's determination that this is to be value-based and about politicians being servants not masters.