Sunday, 25 January 2015

Vicar's Study: Science and the Meaning of Life

As I've mentioned before my first degree, before studying Theology in my late twenties, was in Biology. I spent a glorious three years at Bristol University the first of which involved dissecting my way through the animal kingdom (gross but fascinating!). This was followed by another two years specializing in my main interests which ranged from animal behaviour to neuroscience to a frankly idyllic fortnight studying the plant life of the Mediterranean in Portugal.

I've always loved nature, always been fascinated by science and I've always been baffled by the raised eyebrows I get when I say that I have studied both Biology AND Theology. It's true that in the early days of study, when I was a signed up atheist of the Dawkins' tribe, that I did assume that the two were incompatible. One was evidence based, the other based on blind hope and fantasy. One explained life as it was, the other made projections onto the world of how we want it to be. I couldn't understand how Dinosaurs could have been part of the plan of the creation of human beings and quite how they fitted into the creation story of Genesis. Any talk of God was swiftly and effectively dismissed by our lecturers in Evolutionary Biology. This was not place to think about the question of God let alone talk about it.

It probably seems particularly odd, then, that in this context I first started to explore and became committed to the Christian faith. Science, rather than directing me to the impossibility of God, seemed to be doing the opposite. Rather it was opening up a world of wonder and awe. A world of beautiful laws and intricate mechanisms that showed life as an unrelenting and eternal force. While I was watching plants hanging on for dear life in the rocky crags of the Med or looking at deep sea images captured by fishing boats not just my mind but my spirit was opening up to something wonderful, the irrepressibility of life and the sheer wonder of our being here.
Of course many people experience this through science and never feel the need to ask the question of God or indeed answer it a different way than I have. But the idea that being passionate about science and believing in God are incompatible or that to believe in God you have to be fundamentally irrational and reject all evidence is plainly false. For one so many leading scientists are people of faith that this idea is immediately shown up for what it is, a prejudice.

I've recently been reading a book by another atheist scientist turned theologian, Alister McGrath called Dawkins' God – Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life that I would really recommend if this something that interests you. It took me right back to my uni days looking at Dawkins' Self Gene theory, the compatibility of the theory of evolution and ideas of a creator God in historic Christian thinking and a critique of the idea that faith is 'blind trust'.
Ultimately it raises the important issue of the relationship between science and religion and argues for a much more varied history than is popularly suggested today. To many thinkers of the past my experience of finding easy compatibility between my love of science and love of God is nothing new. Perhaps Biology and Theology aren't such an eyebrow raising combination after all!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Vicar's Kitchen: Spice Up Your Life!

Sorry, I am a child of the 90s. I couldn't resist that title! And what better way to introducing you to my New Year's resolution, to learn to cook curry.

I'm not really one for serious or praise worthy New Year's resolutions because quite frankly life is full on enough without burdening myself with yet more requirements. Instead I prefer to take on something that I have been wanting to do. Something that lightens the dark nights of January and gives life a bit more oomph.

I particularly favour resolutions that lead to good food. What's not to love with a resolution that involves eating? Particularly when everyone else seems to be entering into the sheer madness that is attempting to diet in the darkest and coldest month of the year. People, we need the promise of a nice biscuit mid afternoon and a glass of wine of an evening to get us through. Stop the madness!

Here, for your reading pleasure, are my lessons from this particular culinary adventure. Let's start a curry revolution...!

Lesson 1: One ransacking of Tescos = quite a lot of curries

I kicked off my year of curry making on New Year's Eve with a trip to Tesco's and what probably seemed to the staff to be a ransacking of the spice aisle. I brought about ten different spice but have found that they do the job for a massive range of curries and, so far, I haven't had to buy any new ones. I've been reading a fab book by Malika Basu called Miss Masala - Indian Cooking for Busy Living (buy it, it is fantastic) and her top list of spices to buy corresponded pretty neatly to my supplies and what I have found most useful for a whole range of curries.

One Splendid Spice Cupboard - Bay leaves, Black Peppercorns, Cloves, Green Cardamom Pods, Cinamon sticks, Cumin seeds, Ground Coriander, Ground Cumin, Turmeric, Hot Chilli Powder, Garam Masala.

Easy peasy and the jars look cute too. Bonus.

Lesson 2: All Korma need not taste like Ice Cream Chicken

We once went to an Indian restaurant and had a Korma that, no word of a lie, tasted like chicken swimming in vanilla ice cream. It was dubbed the 'Chicken Ice Cream' night and has put me off most takeaway Korma for the rest of my life. I do love a good homemade Korma though because, shock horror, it actually tastes of something. Deep, spicy, creamy loveliness to be exact.

 I'm pleased to report that my first Korma bore no resemblance to chicken ice cream and to my mind is well worth a go. I got the recipe from the Hairy Bikers Curry book, another great purchase (and currently a fiver in WH Smiths for you Brits!).

Korrr...what a lovely Korma!

Lesson 3: Making curry is a great excuse to drink beer

Another excellent facet to the cooking as New Year's resolution is that you get to spend a lot of time in the kitchen playing around with ingredients which nearly always requires a nice beverage of two. One for the cook and all that! Turns out making Lamb Kofta curry is much assisted by a Budweiser. One handy tip from my kitchen to yours.

Lesson 4: Making curry is a great excuse to buy new plates

Amidst all this curry making I also managed to do some charity shop shopping (I'm an addict, what can I say?) and couldn't resist these beauties which make all food look splendid and none more so that these fantabulous curries I am whisking up.

So all in all I can heartily recommend a foodie resolution. And hey, we're not picky here you can start now even though we are 11 days into January. Put down the lettuce, pick up the cream and have yourself a delicious January!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Vicar's Sofa: Call the Midwife!

No, I am not 'with child'! Rather I have spent the Christmas holidays doing what all self respecting adults ought to do, sitting around in my pjs until noon stuffing my face with Ferrero Rocher and working my way through a box set. This year I have been thoroughly absorbed by three seasons of Call the Midwife such that I now feel completely underdressed in jeans and a jumper and fancy myself a jaunty little hat and maroon cardigan to go about my business in.

Despite embarking on this particular DVD marathon for relaxation purposes I have actually been well and truly inspired. For those of you who aren't already fans the show, it really does take you through the highs and lows of the human condition and has moments of such kindness and dedication that it makes you want to weep (or actually makes you weep...every episode...ahem...). The series is set in the late 1950s in the East end of London and the midwives battle ever imaginable indignity of poverty in the women they care for as well as help to bring about innumerable triumphs in individual lives. 
What I found particularly inspiring though is how the characters all give so much of themselves to what they see as a vocation to serve others. As I advance on in years I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the key ingredients for a happy and fulfilled life is that sense of purpose and that the truest joy is to be found in looking to the needs of other people. Easier said than done, right? I know. But seeing this sense of vocation and hard going service at a time and in a place that could so easily be written off as hopeless is the kind of New Years boost I actually really needed.
So much so that not only have I ordered the original books on which the series was based but also a big bumper 'my life story' diary for myself. This diary is so huge that it can record 100 years of your life. I have to say it is pretty odd to hold in your hands something that you might be filling in until you die but nonetheless this seems like a great year to start documenting some of the adventures that are coming my way. This year, after all, is my ordination year. In six months time I will be officially starting out on my own journey blundering in where I am attempting to serve, probably getting quite a lot wrong, hopeful helping a little bit as I go.
I'm in full steam ahead mode now. So aware of all the things I need to learn and preparations I need to make before I arrive at my first parish in June. But I'm hoping my massive (!) diary will help me out and that each season as I record what has happened in those months that have gone by I will be inspired to keep going and do a bit more. If nothing else I am going to feel a bit embarrassed to write 'Watched another series of Housewives of Beverly Hills', not much going on at work'. But here's a little secret. My big hope for ordained life? That it will be long, full of adventure and full of love. 
I think I'll keep that box set, just in case I need a little extra inspiration along the way....