Monthly Archives: November 2013



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November 30, 2013 · 21:31

What did the Romans Really Think about Britain? (from “Prehistoric Shamanism”)


In 2008, a metal detectorist found a copper Roman knife handle in a field in Syston, Lincolnshire. It wasn’t very large and sold for a mere £1,000 but is now the centrepiece of the Roman galleries in Lincolnshire Museum. It has already caused quite a stir. You only have to look at the handle to see why. In the straight-laced way of museums, it is being described as an “erotic scene”. In reality, it shows a naked woman straddling an aroused man while she holds onto another naked man clasping a severed head. I am sure we have all experienced parties like that. But this handle is particularly special as it is not just an erotic scene but may also cast light on what late Roman soldiers thought of their posting to Britain.

The largest figure on the handle wears a distinctive cap with a flat top rather like a pork-pie hat. From carvings and frescos in other parts of the Roman world, the headgear would suggest he is a Roman soldier from around the late 3rd or early 4th century. Such flat-topped caps were very popular and the fact the soldier is shown larger than the two other figures supports the identification. Moreover, the crudeness of its manufacture and the cheap metal used suggests the handle was not grand; this knife was for a common sort. It was likely a soldier’s knife and, fittingly, it’s owner took the starring role upon it.

The man holding the severed head is clearly a Celt. The Romans often portrayed Celts as headhunters and this man, completely naked, is living up to his stereotype. Unlike the soldier, this man is not aroused.

The woman who straddles the Roman soldier is naked but for a few lines on her body. One, around her neck, may be a torc, possibly a crude sign of royalty perhaps. The draped lines across her body may represent chains (they do not take the form of clothing), suggesting the woman has been defeated and humbled. The most obvious identification is Boudicca, the warrior Queen who provided a genuine military threat to Roman conquest of these isles. Portraying her in chains and sexually available brutally demonstrates her utter defeat and the ensuing dominance of the Roman military.

But, and this is curious, the penis of the Roman soldier does not point towards Boudicca but between the two figures (or even at the man holding the severed head), as if the soldier would happily give it to them both. Perhaps he would.

A more nuanced interpretation is that this is not an erotic scene – no actual intercourse is going to take place – but a triumphalist scene showing Roman domination over the Celts and their most famous Queen. In this sense, Boudicca stands for Britannia, the country of Britain.

Possibly, the Roman soldier is about to give the island of Britain and her inhabitants a good seeing to, and perhaps this is the message contained in the knife handle. It may have been a satirical comment of Roman rule and carried by an indigenous Briton, but I think it’s more likely to have belonged to a Roman soldier, doing his bit visibly to “stick it” to the Celts. Following the famous words of Caesar, perhaps he would even describe his role as “Veni, vidi, futuō”.

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Vatican loos


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November 30, 2013 · 00:18

Homeless con

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November 29, 2013 · 22:16

Churches should perform gay blessings, CofE says

imageChurches should perform gay blessings, CofE says

In a historic shift in thinking a panel of bishops recommend the Church of England allow special services which will amount to gay marriages in all but name

In principle the Church of England is still committed to the belief that any sex outside a traditional marriage between a man and a woman is a sin

By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor
11:15AM GMT 28 Nov 2013

The Church of England is poised to offer public blessing services for same-sex couples in a historic shift in teaching.
A long-awaited review of church teaching by a panel of bishops recommends lifting the ban on special services which will amount to weddings in all but name.
Although the Church will continue to opt out of carrying out gay marriages, when they become legal next year, the landmark report recommends allowing priests to conduct public services “to mark the formation of permanent same sex relationships”.
The report repeatedly speaks of the need for the Church to “repent” for the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past.
In what will be seen as a radical departure, it also suggests that the Bible is inconclusive on the subject of homosexuality.

The report does not recommend drawing up special liturgies for the blessing service, although it suggests new “guidelines” are drawn up.
Unlike weddings, priests will not have a legal obligation to offer such services and the decision will be left to individual parishes.
The report insists that the Church continues to “abide by its traditional teaching”, but the recommendation undoubtedly represents a fundamental shift in practice.
Opponents have been warning that any attempt to change the church’s position in sexuality would lead to a split which would make the disagreements over women bishops pale into insignificance.
It would also trigger a major rift within the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion.
The review, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, a former civil service mandarin, and including four bishops, was ordered last year in an attempt to resolve years of tension over the Church’s approach to gay worshippers and clergy.
But it was granted a wide remit to explore all aspects of its teaching on human sexuality – an issue which has dogged it for decade on sex.
Although the report itself will not change Church teaching or liturgy – something only the House of Bishops and General Synod can do – its publication marks a landmark moment for Anglicanism.
The debate over gay marriage earlier this year was just the latest in a series of issues exposing growing divisions as liberals and conservatives battle for the soul of the Established Church.
Questions over remarrying divorcees, its approach to cohabitation have plagued the Church for decades.
In principle the Church of England is still committed to the belief that any sex outside a traditional marriage between a man and a woman is a sin.
Any official endorsement of lifestyles outside those limits draws anger from traditionalists who argue that the Church is turning its back on 2,000 years of teaching.
But opponents argue that an apparent obsession with people’s private lives is a distraction from the Church’s core mission to spread the Christian gospel.
In practice its position has shifted dramatically in recent decades and even leading evangelicals have acknowledged a need to accept massive social change.
Last year a new official handbook for vicars on conducting weddings made clear that they should expect most couples wanting to marry to be already living together and probably have children.
The House of Bishops agreed last Christmas that openly gay clerics who are in civil partnerships are now officially allowed to become bishops – as long as they claim to be celibate.
The approach taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, typifies that of the Church in recent years.
An evangelical who once opposed gay couples adopting children, the Archbishop strongly objected to the Government’s introduction of same-sex marriage when it was debated in the Lords.
But only weeks later, he used his first presidential address to the Church’s General Synod, to warn Anglicans of a need to face up to a “revolution” in attitudes to sexuality.
He later said that most young people – including young Christians – think its teaching on gay relationships is “wicked” and has angered traditionalists by inviting the gay rights group Stonewall into church schools to combat homophobic bullying.
The Archbishop of York, who led the Church’s opposition to gay marriage, has himself signalled support for some form of blessing for same-sex relationships.
Speaking in Lords in July, he pointed out that it already offers special prayers and services to bless sheep and even trees but not committed same-sex couples – something he said would have to be addressed.

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Japanese subway

Commuters PUSH train off a suicidal woman who had jumped in front of it on Japanese subway

  • It happened on the JR Yamanote Line at Shibuya Station in Tokyo


A woman trapped under a train was freed when commuters worked together to push it backwards.

The incident happened yesterday afternoon on the JR Yamanote Line at Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan.

The woman, reportedly in her 60s, was heard crying  out for help from beneath the train and she lay between the  rails of the track.

Dozens of people worked together to push a train carriage back far enough for station staff to be able to help a woman who'd got trapped under a train in Tokyo

Dozens of people worked together to push a train carriage back far enough for station staff to be able to help a woman who’d got trapped under a train in Tokyo

 Reports in Japan suggested the elderly woman had attempted to kill herself by jumping in front of the oncoming train.

Then, following an announcement over the  station’s public address system informing commuters that a woman was  trapped beneath the train and asking for their help, the crowd intervened.

Dozens of people managed to push the carriage back far enough for station staff to be able to help her. 

The woman was freed at taken to hospital for treatment.

Reports suggest that the accident, which occurred just before the evening rush hour, affected more than 26,000 commuters along the line.

In July earlier this year, Japanese commuters helped another stranger in need.

Busy: Commuters at rush-hour on the subway in Tokyo, Japan (pictured)

Busy: Commuters at rush-hour on the subway in Tokyo, Japan (pictured)


On July 22, around forty passengers at the JR Minami-Urawa station, just outside Tokyo, helped push a 32-ton train carriage to free a woman trapped in the platform gap during rush hour on a Monday.

They were able to pull the woman in her 30s out from under the platform, safe and uninjured.

Everyone in the station had applauded the ‘rescue effort’ at that time, and operations resumed, with just a slight delay of eight minutes to the entire Keihin Tohoku Line.


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The Church of Scotland Ministry Selection School (1970)

imageOK – I had changed my mind and didn’t want to join the ranks of the clergy; ministry was not for me

I had applied (after my MA) to attend Leicester University with a view to taking a year’s course in “Museum Studies” – was going to work in a Museum specialising in old artefacts……….

I guess that’s how it did turn out!  Here we are all these years later – working in a museum with a load of old artefarts!    🙂

The Church of Scotland runs a three day residential inquisition to weed out the wheat from the tares.  The pass rate isn’t too impressive for those being accepted for the ministry the first time round.

My venue for interrogation/participation/evaluation  was the former St Colms International College in Edinburgh.  It had been specifically designed as the United Free Church training Institute for the Lady Missionaries.  Dating back to the early 1900’s and designed by Gordon Lorimer Wright, an architect of great importance of this era, St Colms  was a remarkable example of an Edwardian building, with touches of the Beaux-Arts style

Let battle commence!  IQ tests, General Knowledge massively long tests (question: “Who wrote ‘The Group’? answer below… “Who was the Ettrick Shepherd?”  again see below)


Interviews with churchmen/women: (question: “If you didn’t wish to become a minister, what would you like to do?” 

 Answer: “go on a world wide cruise and, apart from fine wining and dining, would entertain passengers with my rock and roll band”

 “So you have private means?” 

 “No, not a bean!”

 “And you sing and play – what? – guitar?”

“No, I’m tone deaf and can’t even play a harmonica”

“but you just said what you’d like to do, if we didn’t accept you as a candidate for training?

“No, you asked what I’d LIKE TO DO – not if I could!)

{a similar answer to such a question was a friend saying that he’d like to play for Hibs…..  He’d LIKE TO; but when pressed, said that he had little co-ordination and couldn’t kick a ball in a straight line down a hallway!  I would have been tempted to answer that I couldn’t even score in a knocking-shop….. but that would have been a trifle de trop!} 


Also a couple of sessions with a  psychiatrist and industrial psychologist.

Psychologist:  “Come in! and take a seat”

Me: “which one?”

Him:” Why do you ask that?”

Me: “I’d prefer yours as it’s a swivel one – but you’re already sitting in it….. and you’re behind a desk which would put a barrier between us” 

Him: “Tell me about yourself”

Me: “Where do you want me to start?

Him: “Wherever you like”  (clever 0ne this – the answer you give shows what is most important to you – be it trivial or profound)

Me: “The beginning or the end?  The Alpha or the Omega?”

Him: “Why that last phrase?”

Me: “It’s Biblical – Greek for Beginning and End – I thought that I’d throw in some religion, since that’s what we’re here for”

Him: “And in between the beginning and the end?”

Me: “studying, socialising, snooker – not necessarily in that order”

Him: “Women?”

Me: “Off and on”

Suddenly – swivelling round on his chairHim“Do you masturbate?”

Me, noncommittally  “um”

Him:  “You should try it – it’s great!”   (actually, I made that up)

And there endeth the interview – sort of


We also had to chair and participate in a discussion round a table in a group of six (my topic – “Are the Arts more important than Science?”)  Had to chair and let everyone else have their fair share of input keeping them in order if need by; then summing up.  Onto another candidate (with another topic)  who chaired and the rest of us participated – as you can guess, it was a long afternoon.


Isaiah wrote “For the bed is too short to stretch out on, and the covering so narrow that one cannot wrap himself in it”   (Isaiah 28:20).

The bed in my room was like that.

Very narrow (presumably to prevent a previous generation of Lady Missionaries desiring to share with a gentleman caller – mind you, there are other ways, as well as the “Missionary Position”   😦   (not funny).

But this was bad – uncomfortable and a mattress manufactured from breeze blocks

Oh, and the half-opened window wouldn’t close – at night an Arctic blast of Embra air shivered me timbers.

The bed cover was so thin that one could – should one have wished to participate in such an idiosyncratic deviance – have shot peas through it.

So, I ended up in this fridge of a room, wearing my raincoat on top of my PJs, and socks on BOTH my hands AND feet!

Cauld! Cauld! Cauld!

Oh, and I got through and started some months later to study at the University of St.Andrews, graduating in the summer of 1973 – Bachelor of Divinity in Ecclesiastical History with Honours (Second Class, upper)

“The Group” was written by Mary McCarthy and the Ettrick Shepherd was a borderer who shagged sheep and wrote poems – James Hogg

McCarthy’s debut novel, The Company She Keeps, received critical acclaim as a succès de scandale, depicting the social milieu of New York intellectuals of the late 1930s with unreserved frankness. After building a reputation as a satirist and critic, McCarthy enjoyed popular success when her 1963 novel The Group remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost two years. Her work is noted for its precise prose and its complex mixture of autobiography and fiction.

James Hogg (1770 – 21 November 1835) was a Scottish poet and novelist who wrote in both Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, of whom he later wrote an unauthorized biography. He became widely known as the “Ettrick Shepherd”, a nickname under which some of his works were published, and the character name he was given in the widely read series Noctes Ambrosianae, published in Blackwood’s Magazine. He is best known today for his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. His other works include the long poem The Queen’s Wake (1813), his collection of songs Jacobite Reliques (1819), and his two novels The Three Perils of Man (1822), and The Three Perils of Woman (1823).

Strangely, having completed the very long General Knowledge test in less than two thirds of the time, sometime later one of the mentors said to me “do you think that your knowledge of culture could be a disadvantage when working with a congregation?”  Strange thing to say!

I replied that my concept of ‘kultyer’ was standing on the terraces at Tynecastle Park on a Saturday afternoon – there were no stands in those days – and having a half-time pie and Bovril at 3.45 p.m. (games were played on a Saturday with a three o’clock kick-off….. none of this pandering to TV schedules in those days!)

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How to Become More Compassionate

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November 28, 2013 · 10:08



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November 28, 2013 · 09:32