Down, or down and out?

It’s a ship that will continue to take on water and is likely to founder and disappear for ever

I rarely make any political comment here on JHM, largely because I don’t want to annoy or alienate a significant fraction of my readers. This blog is about other aspects of life.

But sometimes events demand some sort of response. This is such a time.

The Conservative party is in a state of confusion right now. The parliamentary party is clearly rejecting Boris Johnson as leader and Prime Minister, and the electorate is hugely critical of the party (recent byelection results illustrate that).

I believe two things need to happen as soon as possible.

First, the party must find a way to remove Johnson from his leadership position in the next few days or weeks, and they must elect a new leader and form a new cabinet and all the government machinery that goes along with that. So much is self-evident.

Secondly, they must call a general election as soon as possible.

They will need to do that because giving senior cabinet positions to people who supported Johnnson’s leadership for such a long time, knowing that he was – well, let’s say ‘a bit dodgy’ – is not going to pass muster with the general public. And it’s hard to see how a new government can be formed without including a significant number of tainted heavyweights.

Johnson has tarred himself with his own brush, but in the process he’s managed to splash quite a few of those around him with black marks. Not that they didn’t object to his behaviour, but that they supported him as Prime Minister for such a long time. I understand the difficulty, nobody wants to be the first to climb, suicidally, out of the trenches.

Somebody wrote recently that the sinking ship has abandoned the rat. Very witty, but it’s still a sinking ship. It’s a ship that will continue to take on water and is likely to founder and disappear for ever.

We need a new government, whether Conservative or otherwise. The electorate needs an opportunity to replace any MP they regard as tainted and untrustworthy. Two years is too long for a seriously damaged party to continue in power. Only a general election as soon as possible can remove the remaining spots and streaks of tar.

Most, including the crew, agree that we need a new captain, but we also need a new ship.

Climate change – What can I do?

By showering less often I’m cutting my water use to less than half, and turning down the flow rate reduces water use by about half again.

I’ve just watched the latest ‘Just have a think’ video from Dave Borlace. I really enjoy his videos – they are well produced, clear, uncompromising, polite, thorough … well, you get the idea. The latest one asks what we can do individually to help reduce the pace of climate change, and he describes a survey that shows most people are just waiting for someone else to do something about it.

That rings true!

Here’s the video, watch it, then scroll on down and read my personal take on, ‘What can I do?’ I believe we can have a large impact – if we all pull together.

What can I do?

I’m going to share one idea with you, something I’ve been doing for a long time now, and something I’m finding quite easy that also makes a big difference. Just remember though, this one idea is just an example. Maybe you can think of something in your own life that you could change that would also have a useful impact.

I used to shower every day, after all it takes less time, water and energy than having a bath and that has to be a good thing, right? Well, yes.

But for a number of years now, I’ve made a point of showering once every two or three days, turning down the water flow, turning down the temperature, and also minimising my use of shower gel. I still enjoy my showers, the temperature’s warm enough to be pleasant, I’m not advocating cold showers!

So how does this help?

Much more than you might think. By showering less often I’m cutting my water use to less than half, and turning down the flow rate reduces water use by about half again. So I’m using only 25% as much overall. Turning down the temperature a little combined with the reduced water use reduces the heating energy required to perhaps just 20%. I only use shower gel under my arms and around the more personal parts of my body, cutting consumption by 50% or maybe a bit more. Combined with showering less often my use of shower gel is therefore down to 20 or 25% overall.

Bear in mind that shower gel takes energy to manufacture as do the plastic bottles that it comes in, as does disposing of the empties. Add in the energy cost of producing and supplying water, and of removing and treating the waste water, and it all begins to add up.

I hope this illustrates the energy savings that can be achieved by one, small change in one person’s lifestyle. And there are other benefits too. For example, my skin microbiome is probably more healthy for the reduced frequency and coverage of shower gel. If we all did this, and thought of other ways to reduce our individual energy use, we could make a huge difference.

Don’t just leave it to others. Work out what you can do – and make a difference!

See also

Why did I leave the Anglican Church?

The message from the New Testament seemed clear to me, there was supposed to be just one church, not a multiplicity of flavours brought about through a long series of historical disagreements and splits.

I was asked this question some time ago, and at first I felt that it somehow missed the point because I tend to feel that I never was an Anglican. But it’s true that in my mid to late teens I would have called myself Anglican – perhaps.

My parents were Anglicans in the limited sense that they were not Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Salvation Army or anything else. Dad was quite dedicated, jotting brief prayers in his diary and during parts of his life often attending communion at the parish church. I doubt that he made a conscious decision on this, it was just taken for granted, it had been the family tradition as far back as anyone knew. Mum was different, she was used to village life in Northern Ireland and taught Sunday school at the tiny village church, a simple and plain structure. She was uncomfortable with anything remotely high church, but if you’d asked her what she was she might have said Anglican, or Church of Ireland, or just Christian.

I was Christened when I was little and was encouraged to read the Bible as a child, at home, but more so at junior school and later in RE lessons at secondary school. By the age of 13 I was familiar with the outline contents of the Old and New Testaments, and with many of the stories recorded there. In my teens I was expected to attend confirmation classes and went along out of obedience rather than a desire to be there. In due course I was confirmed, though it didn’t mean much to me and life continued as before. I had not yet begun to grapple with what I did and did not believe.

As I went through the processes of sitting my O levels and A levels and applying for a place at university, I began to form my own ideas about faith. I was intrigued by the Bible and began to take what I read there quite seriously. And I didn’t see much there to support Anglicanism or, indeed, denominations of any kind. The message from the New Testament seemed clear to me, there was supposed to be just one church, not a multiplicity of flavours brought about through a long series of historical disagreements and splits. And what about the many stories of healings, and the parables about how we should live, and the Pauline teachings about gifts of the Spirit, and the letters to churches in the Greek world of the time? I was taking all of this seriously, but saw little evidence that the denominations were doing the same. I explored more widely, visiting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, signing up for a Christadelphian magazine, reading books about the Mormons and Christian Science, but none of these avenues seemed to make much sense to me.

After graduating from university, getting married, and starting full time jobs, Judy and I spent our Sundays in Bristol doing some serious denominational exploration. We went to Sunday services at every church we could find, and never once had a sense of, ‘This is the one!’. We were searching, but not finding.

Zetland Evangelical Church in 2002

In the end, in utter desperation, we tried a weird place just down the road from our flat. In some ways it seemed more odd than any of the other places we’d tried. It had a large sign above the door in blue and gold reading ‘God is Love’, and didn’t look like a church building, more like a large house. This was Zetland Evangelical Church in Bristol, near the railway arches over the Cheltenham Road. We found to our surprise that we were instantly at home! The people there wanted to talk with us, and they shared some of our own thoughts about what we’d been reading in the Bible. We felt welcomed – as if by a large family. We’d found a real community, which is what we’d long hoped for. Not only that, when I went to a mid-week evening meeting I was blown away by teaching about David, perhaps from 2 Samuel, and a section I was familiar with. The fresh insights and explanations were very striking, here were people who knew their topic – and it all made perfect sense.

We still felt there was more, and we were joining one of those denominational ‘splinter groups’ that so perplexed us. But this was by far the best thing yet. At this point in our lives we would not have settled for Anglican or any other church tradition. We were particularly encouraged by the fact that there was no hierarchy at Zetland, there was no single leader, we were all equal, or so it appeared. There was no liturgy, no pastor, and once a month there was a delightful Sunday morning Open Meeting with nobody at the front and where all could contribute a prayer, a hymn, or some teaching. All, that is, except women and children. This was one of several niggling issues that we put to the back of our minds for the time being.

Eventually we discovered much more – but that’s another story.

Explanatory note – Please don’t think that I’m judging or disapproving of denominations and those who are involved with them. In this short article I’m describing how a much younger Chris Jefferies understood things. I have many non-denominational friends, but also friends from New Frontiers, Anglican, and particularly Baptist traditions. Particularly Baptist simply because at the time of writing I take part in a small home group that meets weekly and is part of Cirencester Baptist Church. I’m not a Baptist, I will not (cannot) become a church member. We are all part of one family, the family of those who follow Jesus. We are all brothers and sisters and we have individual perspectives and expressions of what that means. I honour and love each one as part of an undivided whole.

(This article has been cross-posted to Anglicanism.org)

A new Christmas song

This is a family song, it’s about gathering round and spending time with the people we love most. Enjoy it!

A still from Sarah’s YouTube video

While we’re on the Christmas theme I thought I’d post another song from Sarah Reynolds. It’s quite delightful and, in a lovely way, rather old fashioned. Scroll down, have a listen, and see what you think.

This song is quite different from Sarah’s other material, I suspect it was far more spontaneous. It’s a thoughtful song. She doesn’t accompany the words with one of her usual, excellent, multi-track compositions but with a pretty melody on the piano, and there’s a gentle, relaxed rhythm throughout. The video doesn’t provide the lyrics, but Sarah’s voice is clear enough and written words are not neccesary. The graphic is suggestive of a Christmas card from past decades, well-matched to the music and the choice of piano. The whole thing breathes close family enjoying the season together, burning logs in the grate, home made mince pies, warmth indoors with cold weather outside the house.

This is a family song, it’s about gathering round and spending time with the people we love most. Enjoy it, give it a like on YouTube, Spotify, and Facebook. Go on… you know you want to!

And wherever you may be, gather with your family and friends if you can, and enjoy Christmas and New Year together.

Christmas and New Year 2021

It’s good to be out and about to see it all and just as good to get back to a warm house.

Castle Street in Cirencester

Season’s greetings to all my readers! Cirencester is showing off its tasteful street decorations once again, the days are short, the nights are long, and it’s good to be out and about to see it all and just as good to get back to a warm house afterwards.

My thoughts are especially with those who have no warm house to come back to this year, there are so many – the homeless sleeping alone in shop doorways, refugees desperately crossing the sea and hoping for asylum, and people who do have a roof over their heads but lack money for presents for the children or depend on food banks for their next meal.

Life can be wonderful, fun, exciting. It can also be tough, exhausting, and depressing. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, my prayer and hope is that people will be kind to you, there will be new opportunities in your life, and that there’ll be reasons to hope and overcome the difficulties.

And if your life is comfortable and you have more than enough, my prayer and hope is that you will be kind to others, search out new opportunities for them, and provide reasons for hope and ways to overcome difficulties.

None of us can solve all of the problems; but all of us can solve some of the problems.

Some ideas:

And don’t forget to enjoy Christmas with your friends and family. Grace and peace to you all.

PS – As a reward for reading to the end, here’s a bonus – A Christmas Song!

The snowflake designer

I’ve always been interested in their symmetry, their beautiful shapes, and their infinite variety

Since I first saw a photograph of a snowflake under the microscope, I’ve always been interested in their symmetry, their beautiful shapes, and their infinite variety. But never had I imagined that it would be possible to create such snowflakes in the lab or control their growth to order.

Meet Ken Libbrecht, the snowflake guy. He began by investigating how they form, and can now build snowflakes more or less to order. Amazing! Watch this video in which Ken demonstrates his work to Derek Muller on Veritasium.

Ken has discovered so much about the conditions that cause snowflakes to form. He also understands the subtleties of humidity, temperature and so on that produce different kinds of snowflake growth, why they show the six-fold radial symmetry that they do, why they branch at particular places, and why individual ‘arms’ of a snowflake are almost identical to one another while different snowflakes are unique.

See also

Evolution and behaviour

A computer program that simulates coding and inheritance on the one hand, and neural function on the other, permits the emulation of simple animal-like organisms

Today I want to share two striking YouTube videos that I found recently. Maybe you’d like to watch them yourself.

Part of a DNA molecule (from Wikipedia)

Introduction – The animation shows the molecular structure of DNA, rotating so you can visualise it more easily. Watson and Crick famously published this structure in April 1953.

DNA contains the genetic information that specifies the nature of plants, animals and other life forms. Each species has it’s own form of this DNA ‘instruction book’. Amongst other things, a species’ DNA controls the basic structure of the brain just as it does for other body parts. But here’s an interesting fact: The coding and behaviour of DNA can be simulated by strings of characters stored in a computer.

Brains involve cells called neurons with connections between them, and neural networks running on a computer can behave in a similar way to a very simple brain. Building a computer program that simulates coding and inheritance on the one hand, and neural function on the other, permits the emulation of simple animal-like organisms, and there are applications out there that do just this.

First example – One such program is Minute Labs’ Evolution Simulator (check out their YouTube to see it in action).

Second example – Another program, and I want to focus mainly on this one, is from David Randall Miller. He wrote a particularly fascinating simulator, see his YouTube demo and explanation below for some quite deep insights. It’s a long video, but breaks into logical chunks for easier viewing; I suggest viewing the first section and continuing if it seems interesting.

It’s a really helpful approach for anyone wanting to better understand evolution. It assumes only fundamental levels of the topics, but will enhance your appreciation of maths and computing while also demonstrating the basics of genetics, inheritance, simple neural networks, and animal behaviour. That’s quite a lot of benefit from just one video!

Some questions to ask yourself…

  • What new understandings did you gain?
  • Did you disagree with anything?
    • If so, why?
  • What conclusions did you draw about the nature of living things?
  • Was anything surprising to you?
  • What questions do the videos cause you to ask?

Another great song from Sarah

Sometimes we struggle because we know we’re at a place of final defeat. Yet beyond that defeat, hope can still spring up.

Sarah Reynolds is a talented singer and musician in the Cirencester area and has written, performed, mixed and produced several of her own songs. A little while ago her latest song, Wilderness, was released and I’d like to share it with you. Here’s the version with lyrics.

So – What is special about Wilderness and why do I love the song? For me, Sarah manages to capture both the anxiety and the struggle of seeming failure, but also the hope and expectation of redemption. Sometimes we struggle because we know we’re at a place of final defeat. Yet beyond that defeat, hope can still spring up – sometimes unexpectedly.

This is surely an experience we’ve all had – I’ve been at the end of my tether but finally realised the way forward depends, not on my ability and strength, but on an external source of help. So have you! We’ve all felt this way from time to time.

So this song’s emotional engagement comes from reminding us that there’s defeat within us, yet ‘hope springs eternal’ from elsewhere.

Follow Sarah online:


Time flies!

I plan to gird up my literary loins and begin to put things right

It’s been a long, long time since my last post. I sent a hasty ‘Happy Christmas’ post on 23rd December 2020 and since then – nothing. I really have been rather busy, but also have somehow lacked the energy to make the effort. I don’t know why – perhaps I just needed a break.

In the next few days I plan to gird up my literary loins and begin to put things right. There are a lot of unanswered comments that I need to deal with first, I want to say something about a song I especially like, and I’ve been asked to write a little about my personal history. So watch this space.

Meanwhile, just for fun, here’s my friend Kevin and his daughters at the Cotswold Wildlife Park in August. (It’s well worth a visit, by the way.)

Kevin is taking a photo of a waterlily. Don’t drop your phone, Kevin! Don’t fall in, Kevin! He didn’t – but it looked risky for a moment there.

Christmas and New Year

Surely love and goodwill are appropriate not only at Christmas, but all year round

I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy and blessed Christmas holiday and all the best for 2021. The last year has not been great, one way and another, has it? Covid is likely to get the biggest mention when the history books are written. But Brexit has also loomed large for those of us in the UK and also for all our friends in Europe too. Whichever side of the debate you were on – leave or remain – the deed is done now and we will have to deal with the expected and unexpected impacts that it will bring.

For those of us who follow Jesus, our calling is to love him, one another, the people we live amongst, and even those who might wish us harm. And surely love and goodwill are appropriate not only at Christmas, but all year round.

The picture was taken earlier this month and may not seem very ‘Christmasy’. We have had no snow and very little frost (though more than enough rain). But the sunshine, blue sky, and light mist in the photo remind us that spring will soon be on the way. I’m hoping for a very much better year in 2021, and I hope exactly the same for you. Happy Christmas!

If you like the picture, you can download a larger version of the ‘card’, or a version without the words.