<![CDATA[d and J Ministries - Blog]]>Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:01:14 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Reboot]]>Sat, 07 Nov 2015 15:32:33 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/rebootPicture
There’s lots of reboots out there. Star-Trek, Bond, Bourne, Dr Who, even the modern writing of the Jane Austen novels…. You know the idea, take a much loved (and lucrative) franchise that’s becoming a bit jaded and reinvent it for a new generation. You keep the well-known characters, the in-jokes, the relationships. If you’re familiar with the old version, you recognise the new, you can guess at the plot, you can predict how the main characters will respond..

It makes sense of course. Whilst the credibility of the plot has never been uppermost in the Bond movies, a background of cold-war hostilities is remote to the experience of recent generations. Eventually, no matter how much fun the movie, the audience becomes older and the divide between the traditional viewers and new potential viewers becomes too great – and the latter simply don’t see it as their kind of thing. Cue reboot.
It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s the way scripture developed too. The classic stories of the Bible were the super-popular movies of the day. Told and retold by master-storytellers, just as todays movies come to life in the hands of gifted screen-writers and directors, so the well-known characters and events burst into life for their milieu.

But what happened when the milieu changed? What happened to those stories when the people moved from a place of tranquil security to one of imminent disaster, when they went from freedom to slavery, when they fragmented from one kingdom to two? Reboot. Same basic story, same characters, above all, same God. But with the whole, re-cast for the new generation.

For example, the books of Joshua and Judges are traditionally read as one sequential story: A united Israel’s lightning conquest of the land (Joshua), followed by the struggles to hold the land due to their disobedience and disunity (Judges). But even a superficial reading shows that it is much more complex than that. Victories attributed to Joshua are attributed to David in Kings. Cities listed as conquered, people described as destroyed in Joshua are still being fought in Judges. Even in Joshua there is a persistent voice suggesting it was anything but a quick and complete series of victories.

So what really happened? What emerges when we look at it not as two distinct and sequential histories, but as one history, is a composite view that matches much more of the archaeological evidence. A view that describes a few quick victories on the periphery of the land followed by a steady settlement over a long period of time. A process of quickly gaining a foothold, with repeated skirmishes against indigenous people. A process, not of a triumphant new nation, but of a loose federation of tribes desperately clinging to their identity and territory, coming together briefly to fight for a common purpose, but more often fighting each other and making alliances with anyone who would protect them. And in all probability, this is what is told, what becomes the oral and written histories, what becomes the standard for a people now settled and at peace in the land..

But as the Kingdom splits, as the consequences of sin loom, as the prophecies of defeat and exile come closer, a balanced history no longer seems relevant to the new generation. And so they do a reboot and ‘Judges’ is born. A reboot of what the compilers knew to be the historical sequence, re-written for the current milieu. The new is still anchored in historical fact: The people had been disparate tribes wandering nomadically, they did cross the Jordan and ultimately, take the Land. It is driven by the same undergirding view of God: Despite our failings, God is faithful to His promises, God is with us in our battles, He leads us from the place of slavery, the wilderness places into the land of promise and He gives us victory despite overwhelming odds. But these facts and truths are set against the backdrop of current situation: A broken Kingdom, fragmentation, unholy alliances, of being assailed because they had moved outside God’s protection. So the reboot focusses on those dynamics: How the people in the past tainted themselves, how their sin caused them to endure defeat, how God’s promises were thwarted and delayed. Judges tells the same story, but explains it to this new generation, providing meaning to their current circumstances and giving hope for the future; In times past, Israel’s unholiness had resulted in defeat, in battles and pain. But under God they had eventually become one nation and won freedom in the Land, so this new generation, facing the same problems, could experience the same.

In the same way, Joshua is a reboot for a new generation. A generation now enslaved in exile, the consequences of their sin and rebellion now unfolding. A generation that needs, not a warning of the consequence of sin, but a new hero, a new hope of rescue, a new dream of national identity. The story told from the old perspective simply reminds them of why they are now here, it offers little in the way of hope for the future. And so the reboot focuses on a national leader of a united nation. It emphasises victory against the odds, of divine intervention, of sin being defeated and holiness restored.

When you read each story, you recognise it is part of the same franchise. Just as in a Bond movie, the elements are going to be the same – the Bond girls, M, Q, the car chase, the gadgets, the near-death adventure, the sardonic one-liners, the ultimate victory. The same ethos whether it is the 1960’s Cold War version or the 2013 International Crime reboot – both recognisably Bond. So with Joshua and Judges, the same, God inspiring the writers, both versions rooted in historic reality, the same characters, the same plot elements. But each re-written for the needs of the new generation.

We do the same today of course. We don’t physically re-write the scripture, but we reinterpret it. The focus changes based on the audience, the understanding adjusts according to the culture of the day. We take the truth embedded in scripture and we communicate it in a way that is relevant to the people and the situation.

Welcome to the reboot.

<![CDATA[A Better EndingĀ ]]>Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:24:01 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/a-better-endingThe Observer's view

The teenage pregnancy that must lead to an abortion.
The betrayed husband who must seek a divorce.
The appalled family, scrabbling for stones to throw.
The former friends spitting as you pass.
The future is written. It's the law. This must lead to death.

And yet.

The pregnant girl and her husband, trekking to Bethlehem, away from the hatred.
The fear and pain of that first labour.
The slamming doors, the lack of help.
Here in the street, a carpenter and his wife.
It's inevitable. This must lead to the death of the mother and her child.

And yet.

A house at last, normality. But what did he mean 'a sword will pierce your side'?
Wise men might know the answer, but they bring attention of the wrong kind.
Herod's murderers, Jesus' friends. Gone.
All his power against one small child. Only one possible result.

And yet.

Great holiday, but where is Jesus?
Searched everywhere, but he's gone.
Thieves, slave traders, wild animals.
No sign, no hope, go to the Temple to pray against the inevitable..

And yet.

A trial, a corrupt judge, a rigged verdict.
Thirty nine bloody lashes, a crown and more nails.
There's the spear, in his side. Dead end.

Satan's view

Enough of your 'and yet'
Inexorable, inevitable, that it would end like this.
Darkness, leading to darkness
because that's what it does.
Law demands law, sin demands blood.
And it has drunk its fill, but sucks in more, demands every last drop.

You see?
'And yet'! Ultimately, there is no 'And yet'.
This is mankind's story.
Born at great risk, lives a life of futility.
And whether good or bad, if there's any difference, dies.
This is my right and this is the story that I write.

A girl who believes in a different ending? Pah!
Naive! That's not how the world works!
A man who loves enough to take the shame?
Futile! I'll kill them all.
Feel my power, Mary. Sin fuelling the law, they will all reject you.
Go ahead, have your baby, die in childbirth, as people mock.
I write the ending, it is my right.

You survived that? Does that give you hope?
It only serves to increase your despair.
There are others who's hatred and jealousy I can use.
Kill them all Herod, you who think you are so powerful.
A puppet in my hands.
I pull the strings, I am Prince of this pathetic world.

I hate dreamers! Always dreaming of what might be
Rather than what must legally be.
Go to Egypt then.
I enslaved a whole nation there for four hundred years!
That's what I do, what must, inevitably, be.

Twelve years old, thinks he's a man.
Thinks he's more than a man.
But I know men, knew that first man. This one is no different.
Lost by his parents, soon to be lost to this world.
That is my demand, my insistence, my right.

See? Where is your hope now?
Rejected by men! Rejected by God.
Inevitable. Legal. Mine.
I write in darkness. On the corrupt earth. On the frozen hearts of men.
In the despair. In the haunted places. In the sealed tomb of Jesus.

What's your story reader?
I write it. Every despairing twist, each tear stained episode.
Every pathetic breath, every forlorn hope.
A flickering candle and then gone.
Were you hoping for better?
Listen to my laughter, as your dreams turn to dust. Again.

Mary Magdelene's view

First light. A new day. The light is dispelling the gloom.
That's what light does. It is a good law. It lets you see.
So I take the Myrrh. They thought it was for anointing the dead.
Because once you are dead you are dead. That's the law.
But I know someone who breaks law.
Myrrh is for the eyes. It restores sight.
Vision, without the blindfold of the law.

No body to anoint. No dead to mourn.
Just the bandages of death, wrapped up.
'It is finished'. He said.
And 'Mary'
The voice of the true writer of my story.

See, the voice of the accuser is silent.
His power is gone, his rights removed. Truth has banished his lies.
The foundations of his petty kingdom shaken and his stronghold plundered.
Law wrapped up, he himself bound, awaiting that final trial.
His story is over, but yours, yours reader, is still in the writing.

Those inevitabilities. Those law-fuelled anticipated outcomes.
The 'it always happens like this' endings
The 'I never get to...' endings
The 'nothing good can come of this' endings.
The 'others are better than me' endings.
The 'I don't have the resources' endings
All, the darkness inspired endings.
Are burned from sight in his new dawn.

I know the author. He loves writing better endings.
Unexpected, impossible, endings.
King of Kings from helpless baby, endings
The blind seeing, endings
The estranged family reunited, endings
The lame walking, endings
The boy defeating giant, endings
The penniless widow to satisfied woman, endings
The order out of chaos, endings
The possessed prostitute to honoured woman, endings
The dead friend to risen Lord, endings
God with us endings.
Truly, Happy Christmas, endings.

The pen is in His hands,
Waiting to record what you choose to have written.
Waiting to rewrite the past, recast the present, and write a better ending than you thought possible.

Step clear of the grave-clothes that bound you
of the law that blinded you
of the lies, the inevitabilities, that enslaved you.
Lean close to Jesus.
Feel his hand on your shoulder, see the smile on his face.
And let him whisper to you, what he longs to write.

<![CDATA[Discrimination]]>Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:58:52 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/discrimination I am in favour of discrimination. I prefer good wine to bad wine, well cooked food to badly cooked food. I am discriminating in the media that I read, the TV that I watch, the people that I trust. I discriminate each time I vote, when I choose schools for my kids, the house I live in, the person I live with. None of this is controversial; discrimination is something we do, which we are taught to do – and in the case of our right to choose, something we will often fight for.

But let's move onto shakier ground. The workplace. Even here, I suggest we are rightfully discriminatory. We choose the candidate best suited, best qualified for the job. We would never employ someone as a brain surgeon just because they felt it was their right to be one – we would want evidence of their qualifications and experience. We would laugh out of court anyone who argued that we had unfairly discriminated against them just because they wanted the job even though they patently weren't qualified.

Still with me? Let's melt the ice under our feet a bit. What do we mean by 'qualified'? Clearly, the brain surgeon needs to have been to Medical School, needs to have passed the appropriate exams and be recognised formally by the profession. But what if they are basically, a horrible person with whom no-one can get on? What if the chemistry is all wrong with the existing team? Are those appropriate grounds for being discriminatory?

Now lets thin the ice out a bit. What if the job is project based, with tight deadlines requiring periods of long working hours, with very little tolerance for absence? There are jobs like that, right? For example, a Project Manager in a small company with few staff able to provide cover. What then? Can we assess the likely availability of the candidate? Can we take into account a person's previous attendance record? Even if they are qualified in every other way, could we discriminate against them on the basis of their health, their age, their marital status – all of which might give an indication of future availability? They might be the best candidate in other respects, they might do a splendid job, whilst they were there. But a 'poorer' candidate who is there most of the time might be a better choice than one who is great when they are there, but a pain when they are not.

Or maybe it's a job with a two year cycle. It takes a quarter of that time to become familiar with the role, even longer to build relationship and trust with the client in order to successfully execute the contract. Of course, anyone you employ might leave or get sick during that time. But can you discriminate on the basis of the probability of that happening? Could you choose not to employ a young, married man or woman, based on the risk of them taking maternity / paternity leave at a crucial time? Or the young parents on the grounds that they are more likely to take time out if the kids are ill?

I can feel the ground crumbling so let's remove it altogether...
What about the role that requires high levels of sustained energy? Can I discriminate against the Muslim candidate on the grounds that they may not be able to perform as well during periods of fasting? They maybe brilliant on all but 40 days of the year, but am I allowed to take the full picture into account? Can I legitimately ask them whether they would fast in alternative ways, to fulfil their religious sensibilities in a way compatible with the demands of the job?

In reality of course, employers do take all these things into account. They just don't write them in the HR records or rejection letters. Some 'acceptable' reason is found, but pretty much everyone in the process knows what the deal really is. 

And that's my problem. By being inconsistent in the factors that we are allowed to use in being discriminating, by being afraid of 'discrimination', we actually push underground a great deal of the very thing we are trying to avoid.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that the factors I described above should be the only grounds for making a decision, nor am I suggesting that they should ever be used as a blanket discriminating factor. Deciding ahead of time that a candidate is unsuitable, solely on the grounds that they female, male, young, old, Muslim, ill, gay, straight or Christian is always reprehensible.

I am suggesting that the suitability of an individual for a given role, should include all the factors that the individual presents. Isn't that nothing more than common sense? That a church might want to employ only those sympathetic with Christian values, a Mosque, those with an Islamic faith. That a hospital might want to discriminate against those without medical training for certain jobs. That a small company seeking to invest in a trainee might choose someone who was likely to be around long enough to repay that investment. Surely this is common sense, not discrimination.

Of course such evaluations need to be open, to ensure that genuine discrimination doesn't take place, that candidates are not being disqualified solely on the grounds of blanket prejudice. And of course the full reasons for a decision need to be disclosed, and if necessary, open to challenge.

Ironically though, as things stand, by treating some selection criteria as 'off-limits', we exalt them to the very prominence that we are trying to avoid. By making gender, marital status, age, health, religion, no-go areas, we prevent them being genuinely and openly assessed – and therefore hidden from accountability, except in the grossest cases.

That seems to me the real problem. Discrimination happens, some of it of the 'common-sense' type described above, some of it the knee-jerk hatred or fear of entire groups. But in either case it is covered up. And that leaves the door open to the truly hateful forms of discrimination, the ones where it isn't this individual's genuine ability being openly assessed, but rather on the basis of their colour, their gender, their religion.

Can we be courageous and acknowledge the right to be discriminating, in order to expose fear and hate based discrimination?

<![CDATA[Dual Citizenship]]>Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:59:49 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/dual-citizenshipWe have the privilege of knowing people from many different backgrounds. Some have been in the UK for a long time and have become British Citizens. Most of these have nevertheless retained citizenship of their original country. They have dual-citizenship. It makes sense of course. It means they don't have to apply for visas when they want to visit family, they still have the right to vote in elections and so on. They get extra opportunities to celebrate; their own national day as well as those of their new residence. As far a s possible, they get the best of both worlds.

As believers, the temptation is to do the same. Yes, we have chosen the Kingdom of God as our 'home'. We have adopted heaven as our new country. We love it, love the culture, the people, the language, the new traditions, the hospitality, the value placed on relationship, the hope and security it provides. But we hold on to the citizenship that the world offers too. We don't want to let go of the rights that gives us. The access to all that the world offers. We have stepped into the new, embracing it and enjoying it, but we haven't stepped fully out of the old.
The truth is, in Biblical terms, it doesn't work. You can't have dual citizenship. If you try, you actually end up with no citizenship. You don't feel fully at home in either, you become some sort of hybrid, fitting in nowhere. The culture of the world is at odds with the culture of the Kingdom. You can't mix and match, you will simply end up confused, dissatisfied wherever you put your feet.

God told Abraham to “Go to a land that I will reveal”, Jesus told his followers to “Go.” Both required a leaving, a process that often involves a change of geography, but which always requires a change of mind. A choosing to live in the place of destiny, of promise. A choosing to let go of all that is familiar and calls back.
Ruth typifies this. “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” She chooses to let go of everything she has known, the comforts and seeming security of the familiar. Instead she commits her future to a land she has seen in Naomi, a land she has glimpsed in faith, but to which she has never been. The result is more than she could ever have dreamed of. Welcome, acceptance, intimacy, security, fulfilment. In her legacy would be David, and through him, an even greater King.

So too for us. Stay as a citizen of the world, enjoy all it has to offer and die with its promise of decay and finality. Attempt dual citizenship and be dissatisfied with both, torn between two conflicting worlds, never giving yourself wholly to either, ending up confused and miserable. Or tear up the old passport. Renounce the old country. Give it up and go, with every fibre of your being, into the new country, risking everything for what you have glimpsed.
And enjoy it forever.
<![CDATA[The Culpable Majority]]>Sun, 14 Sep 2014 12:51:32 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/the-culpable-majorityIf the majority don't act to moderate the actions of a minority, they are complicit in the minority's actions.

The Minorities
It was only a minority of bankers who precipitated the banking crisis. But it was the banking system to which the majority also belonged, that permitted their recklessness. All bankers are complicit in the crisis.

It was only a minority of MP's who precipitated the expenses scandal. But it was Parliament, of which all MP's are members, that provided the framework in which it was possible. All MP's are complicit in the crisis.

It is only a minority of Muslims who are terrorists. But the one billion, non-radicalised Muslims are not exposing them, not handing them over to the authorities, not excluding them from teaching or preventing them from acts of terrorism. All Muslims are therefore complicit in the work of IS.

It is only a minority of Catholic Priests who have abused children. But the majority of the church remained silent, looked the other way, hid the problem. The Priesthood as a whole, and by extension, the Catholic Church and all it's people, are complicit in the abuse.

It is only a minority of people who are homeless in this country. But I have a spare bedroom, I have a voice, a vote. I have some money, some time. I choose not to use these to help, I have a different agenda, a different set of priorities. I choose to ignore, to pretend that I can't do anything. I am complicit in their homelessness.

Not only that, but I used a bank, wanted the best interest rate, didn't enquire into how that was being obtained. I voted for MP's but didn't complain when year by year their salaries were in effect, capped, exacerbating the temptation to make spurious expense claims. More, I haven't done nearly enough to break down the barriers of fear, in my town, between Muslims and others. In that way, I have contributed to the ghetto-isation of Muslim communities. Finally, I am part of the Christian Church, that has often sought more to protect its own interests, than to serve the interests of others. I too am a complicit majority.

Being the majority
I am a majority because I have a major share of the world's resources, education and health. Yet, I live in a world in which majorities have remained passive; silent or distracted by their own comfort, and which have thereby allowed the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, slavery, trafficking, FGM and poverty.

It is not enough for the majority to claim distance, to pretend separation, from the minority: “They don't represent us, we are not like them.” In which case, demonstrate your difference. Stop them, rise up together and put an end to the violence, the injustice, to whatever is besmirching the good name of your group. Otherwise you are party to the very violence and injustice you claim to be apart from. The truth is, majority is irrelevant, if it refuses to act. Democracy only operates, if the majority directs the agenda. Otherwise we abrogate authority, but not responsibility, to the minority who fill the vacuum.

Margaret Thatcher (though it breaks my socialist heart to admit it) was right when she said “There is no such thing as community, just individuals” What she meant was that without individuals taking responsibility and acting, community doesn't exist. There is no separate entity called 'society', 'community', 'the public'. It isn't someone else's job, it isn't the responsibility of some mythical 'other'. It is us. It is me. If I stay silent, I am culpable.

Mea Culpa.
<![CDATA[What is it?]]>Sat, 26 Jul 2014 14:05:17 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/what-is-itWhen the Israelites first saw the food that God had provided for them in the wilderness, it's the question they asked: “Manna” they shouted - literally, 'what is it?' The simplistic answer:of course, was that it was wafers of honey flavoured goodness! 
In truth though, it was so much more.

What is it?

"You are a perverse and rebellious people, always inclined to go your own way, throwing back in the face of God, all that He has done. But here His good response, at no cost to you. You don't have to hunt for it or cook it or store it. It is entirely free."
It is God's grace.

“You are in the wilderness instead of the land I promised you, because you would not trust me. Out of fear you are in this dead place. It is the consequence of your unwillingness to believe that I AM as I have said. By every token of justice, I should leave you to die as a consequence of your sin. But here it is, food to sustain and encourage you.”  
It is God's mercy

“By every right of common sense, you should trust me. Everything I have ever done, demonstrates my trustworthiness. From the reality of creation through the miracle of the Red Sea, that you experienced just days ago, I have consistently and persistently shown that I am faithful. Yet I know you live in a fallen world, with fallen reason and an enemy who sows doubt at every turn. So every day but one, I will give you a concrete expression of my faithfulness, and even on that one day, there will be enough.”  
It is God's compassion.

“I have made it clear that I hate sin, that it repels me, that it brings death to our relationship. Yet rather than run away from your poison, I will stay by you. I will continue to be your Father, lovingly caring for you, even though you have run away. Day by day, I will tend your need, matching the quantity precisely to your numbers, to your situation, to your needs. I will keep my promises.”  
It is God's presence.

“You are in this wilderness place, not as a punishment, but because of your own perverse choices. I am sustaining you with this food, through this period, waiting for a new generation able to make a different choice. It is a symbol of my hope for you. The sin of that first Adam and all since, has made a wilderness of the paradise I created for you. Now we must wait for another Adam to come and make a different choice. In the meantime, I will be with you, I will sustain you, this food is a token of the one to come who will feed you with His own broken body.” 
It is God's promise.

What is it?

Whether we are in a place of paradise or a place of wilderness, when we taste the goodness of God, let's be quick to give thanks. Then stop. Look again. It wasn't just the salary at the end of the month, it wasn't just the quick recovery from that illness, it wasn't just His protection in that accident. It wasn't just the peace in that anxious situation.
Whether it is the kind word from a friend, the glimpse of a beautiful sunset, the scent of a summer flower, the melody of a memory-filled song, it was His grace, His mercy, His compassion, His presence, His provision, His promise.

Give thanks for all that it is.

<![CDATA[The Space Programme]]>Sat, 24 May 2014 18:20:05 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/the-space-programmeSo here's the state of play in the US Space programme. There isn't one. Here's why.

The space race culminated with Kennedy's commitment to get to the moon within the decade. That meant stretching existing, 1950's ICBM technology rather than developing anything new. True, there was some innovation and some extraordinary engineering, but broadly, it was 1950's technology re-engineered. This culminated with a 365 foot tall rocket of which only about ten foot remained to return to earth. Spectacular and more powerful than anything built since, but already old, very wasteful and extremely expensive.

The Russians saw where this was headed and gave up on the race. They were left with a reliable but less powerful, and equally wasteful Soyuz launcher.

After Apollo, the Americans decided to go the reusable route and spent gzillions on developing the Shuttle. At the other extreme to old technology Apollo, the shuttle was cutting edge and, as it turned out, slightly beyond. Designed to fulfil exacting military as well as civilian criteria, costs and timescales overran, to the extent that it wasn't available to boost Skylab, a cheap but effective space station, into a higher orbit. Skylab burned up in the atmosphere, its replacement,  the International Space Station (ISS) was unspeakably expensive to build, at a time when NASA's budget was in any case being savaged.

The shuttle fleet of four civilian and one military orbiter was supposed to fly roughly once a month and drastically reduce the cost of flying people and satellites into orbit. It achieved neither.

The Russians watched and produced their own, remarkably similar looking shuttle, Buran, which had one unmanned flight before being cancelled as too expensive. Wise Russians.

The reality is that the technology wasn't quite there to make the Shuttle viable as a reusable vehicle. Servicing it between flights took much longer and cost much more than ever envisaged. But if the technology wasn't there to make it cost-effective, the management wasn't there to make it safe. Tragedy combined with difficulty to severely curtail the number of flights. And over 90% of these were used to build the ISS which itself was haemorrhaging NASA dry. 

The Russians meanwhile redeployed their energies into producing more cost effective and powerful versions of the throw-away Soyuz rocket, in so doing, they created some of the most advanced and powerful engines ever. At the same time, other former Soviet States got in on the act. In particular, The Ukraine used its experience in building missile fuselages to build new first stage structures for modern rockets..

As the Shuttle became more and more risky to fly and increasingly vulnerable to delay (now down to a fleet of three and barely achieving four flights a year), the cost of hoisting people and cargo into space was now higher than in the Apollo days. So, having completed over 100 launches to build the replacement for the space station that it failed to save, the Government decided enough was enough and cancelled the shuttle programme..

Which is all very good from a budget standpoint, but how are you going to keep the ISS going? How does the mighty USA keep a presence in space? The answer was to instruct NASA to develop the 'Constellation' programme. Designed to send people back to the moon, it was described as 'Apollo on steroids' It would use the Shuttle's solid fuel boosters (yep, the ones that exploded, taking out Columbia) and a derivative of the Saturn V rocket's F1 engine (ie the old Apollo one). Of course, all the people who had built F1 engines had long since retired, so there was much hunting around museums for F1 engines, so that they could be dismantled, in order for a new generation to work out how to build them. Embarrassing.

In truth, nobody could get excited about redoing Apollo, so when Obama was elected, he cancelled Constellation. Which left the old problem; how do we get stuff into space when the shuttle retires? Only now the problem is worse, because two years of development time have now been lost there will be a significant gap between the end of the Shuttle era and the start of any new US capability.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Elon Musk (founder of PayPal) had started a private rocket company called Space Exploration, SpaceX for short. They had built from scratch a small (it's all relative), single engined rocket, that succeeded in reaching orbit on its fourth flight. Shortly before the final Shuttle flight, they had flown their bigger version, a nine engined variant, which reached orbit on its first attempt. The Falcon 9 is a serious rocket, comparable to many of its competitors in lift capability, but at something like a third of their costs.

This encouraged the Government to instruct NASA to seek commercial partners to fulfil the mundane task of resupplying the ISS with food and water etc. At the same time, they agreed to pay the Russians $60 million dollars per person to fly up and down to the ISS. Embarrassing.

Unsurprisingly, SpaceX was one of the winners of the contract, which accelerated their ability to develop their 'Dragon' spacecraft. A lot like an Apollo command module (the bit that came back), the Dragon is capable of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and parachuting to a gentle splashdown. Only the Russian Soyuz and the Shuttle had the ability to return things to earth up to that point.

The other winner was Orbital Sciences, a long established company with an impressive track record of building satellites, and some success using non-commercial hardware to launch satellites to orbit. There is one small problem with respect to Orbital's launcher. Well, two really. The engines.

When Russia decided to focus back on Soyuz, it had a stockpile of around 40 engines that had been built for other launchers. They were very good engines, better than anything in the US. So Orbital bought the whole batch. Some, by now were around 40 years old, but had been well preserved. So with American taxpayer money, they fitted US control systems and the ability to swivel the engine and fitted them to their 'Antares' launcher. And where does the first stage for this all-American rocket get shipped in from? The Ukraine. It may be the only place in the world right now, where Russia and The Ukraine are united. As part of a rocket funded by US taxpayers to produce an independent US launch capability. Nice.

Well, so much for the commercial side. The military obviously have their own launch requirements. Spy satellites to keep an eye on enemies old and new. Russia for example. This has historically been defined as specialised work and only one supplier of launch services has been determined to have the ability to do it, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. They have enjoyed an absolute monopoly on military launches since the demise of the Shuttle. Fortunately, their rocket, the venerable Atlas 5 (that pre-dates the Shuttle era) is still available. Unfortunately, it uses Russian engines. Yep, every spy satellite now launched on top of an Atlas 5, gets to orbit courtesy of Russian engines.

All very expensive, all politically embarrassing. So the government, not unreasonably,instructed the military that it should put some of their upcoming flights to competitive bidding. This would reduce reliance on the Russians, and by avoiding a sole supplier, reduce the cost to the taxpayer. Reluctantly, the military then began a tortuous, multi-year process of certifying the only other possible supplier, the SpaceX Falcon 9. It should be noted, that the Atlas 5 never had to undergo any such certification process. As the F9 continued to succeed and pass the hurdles to become a bidder for military operation, the air Force pre-ordered a big batch of future Atlas 5 flights from ULA, cutting out SpaceX from the opportunity to bid and circumventing the competition process. At astronomical cost.

Enter Elon Musk, stage right. He pointed out that by now, his company had flown several successful F9 missions, including Dragon ones to the ISS and two to the same kind of orbit that the military typically needs. In doing this, SpaceX had demonstrated that the military needs were not that unique, and they were well able to handle them. He pointed out that if the military had ordered the same batch of flights from SpaceX that they had now ordered from ULA, the taxpayer would have just saved $15 billion. Now, it's all relative, but that is quite a lot of money.

Then Russia annexes Crimea and the US responds by placing sanctions on key Russians that it deemed to be directly involved. One of whom is the Deputy Prime Minister, whose responsibilities include overseeing the manufacturers of the Russian made Atlas 5 engines. Woops. Mr Musk now lobs in a grenade with the pin removed. He asks a Federal Judge to issue an injunction preventing further purchases of these engines. The Judge is persuaded that giving taxpayers money, to a man on the sanctioned list, in order to get engines from a banned country, with which to launch US classified satellites, designed to spy on said country, is not entirely reasonable. He issues the injunction. Embarrassing.

The government, presumably under some pressure from the military, decide the Deputy PM is a fine upstanding citizen after all and overturn the injunction. To which the aforementioned upstanding citizen says “Tough, we will no longer sell you engines for use with your military satellites.” Ouch. He goes on to say “And good luck with getting your astronauts to and from the ISS. Perhaps you should build a bigger trampoline”. I'm not making this up.

Which leads us back to the issue of people. Following the unqualified success of producing an independent commercial cargo programme, NASA embarks on a commercial crew programme. The three contractors who win some money to develop their concepts are SpaceX (no surprise, they already have a proven capsule in Dragon), DreamChaser (a small shuttle type of craft) and Boeing who have a conventional capsule design. All good you might think. Until you remember that Boeing are one of the two companies that form the United Launch Alliance who run the Atlas 5 programme. Hopefully, the US will have a non-Russian way of getting people into space again by 2017. Except of course that DreamChaser and the Boeing vehicles would be launched on guess what? Yep, good old, Russian engine powered Atlas 5's.

In the meantime, with all this time on its hands, what has NASA been doing? Glad you asked. Instead of Apollo on steroids, they have gone for Shuttle on steroids. There's progress. The key difference is that unlike the Shuttle, this will not be reusable. It will use stretched solid rocket motors based on the shuttle ones (yes the one that failed...) and two of the Shuttle Main Engines. There is only one intsy problem. There were four shuttles, with three main engines on each. That's 12 engines, but because the new launcher is not reusable, once you use, you lose. There are only enough engines available for six flights of the new, very expensive launcher. Given that they will have at least one test flight, that's a total of five real flights. After that, maybe it will be back to Russian engines...

So what are they going to launch on these five flights? The Orion spacecraft. A deep-space capable, capsule style design, built under contract by Lockheed Martin. Yep, that's the Lockheed Martin who are the partner to Boeing in the United Launch Alliance; the Boeing that is being paid as part of the commercial contract to design a capsule type spacecraft similar to Orion. You have to love the American definition of competition...

Still, it will be nice to have NASA flying astronauts again They won't need Orion to fly to the ISS because that will be the role of the winner of the commercial crew contract. So they are building this amazing launcher and deep-space capsule to go to... yep. That's right. They don't know. Possibly the moon, but probably not. Maybe to an Asteroid, but possibly not. Definitely not Mars. The only flight so far agreed is one that swings around the moon and comes straight back. So, only having enough for five flights may actually be ok. Their vision only needs enough engines for one 'mission'.

Is there a bright spot we can focus on? Well, Elon Musk has stated that the aim of SpaceX is to colonise Mars. Crazy eh? A private company with clear ambition? But outrageous, surely,  to think they could succeed where national governments have failed?

Well, maybe, but there were many who didn't believe a private company could design, build and launch to orbit at all. Then they said they wouldn't be able to get a spacecraft to the ISS. They've done it four times now. When SpaceX won a contract to launch a commercial satellite to the military orbit, 22,000 miles above the earth, there were many who said the complexity was beyond SpaceX. They have succeeded each time. When SpaceX announced they were designing a reusable version of their first stage, by flying it back to the launch pad, like Thunderbird 1, many laughed out loud. But their 'grasshopper' test vehicle has flown to 1km altitude and back to ground with landing legs. The last F9 flight was the first production rocket to launch with landing legs and successfully 'landed' into the sea. By the end of next year they are on course to fly an F9 that has previously been flown and returned safely. Within a year they expect to have flown a crewed version of the Dragon. In the same timeframe they will have launched the F9 Heavy – three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, developing more thrust than any rocket since the Apollo Saturn 5, and similar to the launch capability that NASA is building, only two years earlier. Nobody is laughing any more.

Until they heard that SpaceX were developing the 'Raptor' engine, based on liquid oxygen and methane. It would be the most powerful rocket engine ever developed, with nine of them powering the worlds biggest ever rocket, capable of sending 100 tons to Mars. It would use methane because you can produce that on the moon or the surface of Mars, from the rocks already there. Lots of laughter.

Until they announced they had leased the large rocket engine test stand from NASA. To begin component tests of the new engine, starting, well, today.

<![CDATA[Feelings & Truth]]>Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:41:59 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/feelings-truthGot up early today. Now sleepily on a train, coffee in hand, hoping for the caffeine to kick in soon. After 40 years of travelling, you'd think I would have the hang of it. But every time, whether it's a business trip in the UK, or an international engagement,  low level anxieties travel with me. Have I booked the right tickets? Have I left enough time, will I be able to read the reference number on my phone? Will the ticket machine work to print them? Will my phone be able to access the internet to read the email with the reference number? Or does it store some messages locally anyway? And if it does, is the one with the ticket reference recent enough for that to apply? Have I packed the things I need? Do I actually have the location address, a contact number even? Will I have time for breakfast? Will I make a fool of myself when they realise I am not the expert they thought I was?

In 40 years, I have never missed a train, let alone a plane. Never been late for a meeting, never had my incompetence uncovered, never missed breakfast for that matter... Yet every time, the anxieties are there - this might be the one time...

The truth is that I am organised, creative, capable. That's not a rash assumption, an arrogant surmise. It's the reality of 40 years evidence. That shouldn't make me casual or careless, but it should make me care-less. But it doesn't. Somehow there is a disconnect between the truth and my responses.This is a widespread problem. In this example, it robs my peace  Now, it maybe that I enjoy the frisson of excitement that the perceived hazards bring, but I notice it in other areas too. 

Without a conscious process, truth doesn't impact the reality of my life. It's like living in a Daily Mail world; one in which the absence of worry, the absence of an 'enemy' makes life dull, so we exchange what we could know as truth, for the convenient lies, the facile assumptions: Immigrants are taking all our jobs, Muslims taking over the world, benefit cheats personally stealing the bread from our mouths.

Yet, once we've bought the lie, the truth has little impact. When 'facts' match our preconceived worldview, they are accepted and reinforce the existing picture. Evidence to the contrary is mistrusted or ignored.

What has to happen is a willingness for the worldview to change. As Paul puts it, our mind needs renewing, we need new ways of thinking. Then at least we can receive and believe the new truth. But how do we connect that to our feelings, how do we get our hearts to line up with what we know?

Seems like the Psalms have the answer. When David cries out to God in his anxiety, his despair, his anger, when he rages at the injustice, he already knows what is true. He knows that it's his fault he is in the mess, or he knows that it is sin in the hearts of others that has him in this painful place. He knows God hasn't left him, hasn't given up on him. But he brings those feelings and honestly exresses them. This is how I feel, this is what it makes me thin about you, about others, about me. He holds nothing back, nor does he short cut the process by stuffing the emotions down simply because he knows that they are not based on truth. He just rages away. This IS how I feel. But he doesn't leave it there. Having expressed it, he brings, or allows God to bring, a bigger truth into view. He allows God to comfort, hears His words of love and care. Allows God to remind him of promises. And finally, allows truth to engage with the emotions. Peace comes.

Maybe I need to cry out to God. I know I am a competent, capable adult. I've found my way into civil war-torn African nations. I can get to Selly Oak this morning. But maybe I need to cry out to God. "Dad, I'm just a little kid, scared of disappointing, I feel daunted, overwhelmed by the fear that one day I will be exposed as that little boy, rather than the mid 50's adult" 

Maybe what I really need is not the organisation, or the knowledge of all those previous, successful trips. Maybe what I really need is to know the security of being loved, approved and cared for by my wonderful, loving God. Maybe then, the truth about the past, my ability and God's care, will have space to grow and push out the anxieties.

Rugby. On time. But who cares? I am loved, for ever. A cross, an empty tomb guarantee it.]]>
<![CDATA[Evolution]]>Fri, 04 Apr 2014 12:49:26 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/evolution
<![CDATA[The Old Testament: Suicide Attacks & Genocide?]]>Mon, 31 Mar 2014 14:09:23 GMThttp://dandjministries.weebly.com/blog/the-old-testament-suicide-attacks-genocideTwo Passages
Samson said to the young servant who was leading him by the hand, “Place my hands against the pillars that hold up the temple. I want to rest against them.” Now the temple was completely filled with people. All the Philistine rulers were there, and there were about 3,000 men and women on the roof who were watching as Samson amused them. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” Then Samson put his hands on the two centre pillars that held up the temple. Pushing against them with both hands, he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. So he killed more people when he died than he had during his entire lifetime.
The above is one of:

A. God judging wicked people
B. Samson's final victory
C. A Jewish suicide attack on a Palestinian place of worship
So Joshua conquered the whole region—the kings and people of the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills, and the mountain slopes. He completely destroyed everyone in the land, leaving no survivors, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded, Joshua slaughtered them from Kadesh-barnea to Gaza and from the region around the town of Goshen up to Gibeon. Joshua conquered all these kings and their land in a single campaign, for the Lord, the God of Israel, was fighting for his people. 
The above is one of:

A. God judging wicked people
B. Joshua's greatest victory
C. A statement from the prosecution at a War Crimes tribunal for genocide

What is God like?

If the above passages are actual events that God purposed, what conclusions would be reasonable to make about what God is like?

  • That he holds people culpable, even if they are women and children, who were not responsible
  • That he is focussed on temporal life rather than eternity; judgement is in the here and now
  • That he judges his 'favourites' with a different standard to other people
  • That he lacks self-control, lashing out with disproportionate anger on powerless people

Given that this isn't a fully Biblical view of Him, then;

A. Somehow, the obvious conclusions are inappropriate
B. Our less harsh view of God is wrong, he is as described in the conclusions
C. The passages are not intended to be understood as literal, historical fact