EU: some questions

Like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been fed up of the debate surrounding the EU referendum since before it started. One thing that has particularly struck me is the lack of engagement with any of the real issues, on either side. The Remain camp are solidly focussing on short-term economic issues, while the Leave camp occasionally make shots about immigration, but mostly stick to short-term economic issues.

There are two problems with that: it’s virtually impossible to predict the economic effects of leaving the EU and both sides have been told off for the way they have interpreted the evidence to try to make their point; but more importantly, this isn’t a question about short-term economic issues. It’s not a general election where we vote for the next five years and then we can change our minds if it’s not working. It’s a referendum on a question that I don’t anticipate having another chance to vote on during my lifetime. This is a decision for at least the next 20-30 years and potentially much longer. What happens to our economy in the next 2-5 years is irrelevant. I’ll tell you what’s also irrelevant: whether you like Boris Johnson and/or Michael Gove. If you make this vote about their political careers you are shooting yourself in the foot.

So if that’s not the question, what is? Here are some questions I’d like to be discussed and which I’d love people to consider when they vote:

Questions of principle:
1. Is there greater political accountability in the EU or out of it?
2. Are the curbs on political corruption greater in the EU or out of it?
3. Will the increasing economic ties between EU countries continue to force increasing political ties? And if so, what does that mean for national democracy?
4. Is there any inherent benefit to having a smaller government or a larger one?
5. Nation or empire? Superstate or federal state?
6. What is the role of the monarchy in an EU nation?

Questions of pragmatics:
7. Does the EU really give us greater national security?
8. Has the EU been effective in preventing armed conflict in Europe?
9. Is there any reason we couldn’t have generous and compassionate immigration policies if we left the EU?
10. Is there any reason we couldn’t establish good trade agreements with EU nations if we left the EU?
11. If we left the EU, how likely is that to trigger similar decisions in other EU countries and potentially cause the whole project to fail? What would the consequences of that be?

I’m sure there are many other questions of this sort that I haven’t thought about. I’m not an expert on any of this. But please, please, don’t let the dreadful campaigns fool you into thinking this is a vote about how much better or worse off we might (or might not) be in the next couple of years. Please.

Real art

A few weeks ago, my art teacher asked us all to choose a favourite artist for a Show And Tell. I chose Bridget Riley who has been my favourite artist since I was a student 25 years ago. I went to an exhibition with a couple of her works over Easter and had treated myself to a lovely hardback book full of pictures.

Having talked about our artists, we were then hit with the bombshell that for the next few weeks we were going to be working on pieces inspired by them. Gulp. Riley is (a) a genius and (b) incredibly precise and geometric in her work. I am neither of those things.  I thought about various ways I might try to get something similar to her style. Initially I was thinking stripes, but then I hit on diamonds and triangles which worked much better. And I had thought about collage of various kinds and different media, but in the end went with simple acrylic paints and lots of masking tape.

Today’s class, as always, was 10.30-12.30. My lovely teacher let me stay until I’d finished. At about quarter to three. I was quite happy with it and then the teacher went to hold it up at the other end of the room and I gasped. It looked like proper art. And it looked like my inspiration – looking up into the sky through a leafy tree. And I love it.



Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia

My hometown recently celebrated its 1100th anniversary*, so I had a lot of history to choose from for the Iron Craft ‘Hometown History’ challenge. I chose to honour Aethelflaed, the lady who founded the ‘burh’ (borough) in 913, established the castle and the pottery industry. She was the daughter of King Alfred the Great and ruled over the land of Mercia which at the time covered a huge swathe of the middle of England. She was a military leader and tactician as well as a politician who worked with her brother to unite all the English people into one kingdom. She was pretty darn awesome!


There aren’t any contemporary pictures of Aethelflaed. Mine is based an illustration from a book about 300 years after she died. It’s alcohol markers on aluminium foil which gives it a really fun stained glass effect.

*There was a settlement here about 200 years before that, but only a hermitage and possibly a chapel, not an actual town.

There has been crafting aplenty!

I’ve been doing an art class this term, on my day off, and it is SO MUCH FUN. It’s a perfect reason to get up, get dressed and leave the house. We laugh a lot. We play with colours and shapes and patterns. We sometimes make things we’re amazed by.

Here’s the sketchbook I made in the first week. Acrylic paint, finger and the edge of an old credit card:WP_20160115_002


And here’s the first pages of the sketch book, done the following week. Drawing ink and the wrong end of a paintbrush: wp_20160122_14_28_28_pro

This week we were making patterns:




This wasn’t in the art class, this was a screenprinting workshop I did a couple of weeks ago with some friends. Everyone made something really beautiful and they were all completely different. This was my giraffe. It’s called “Giraffe”.


Finally, I have finished this embroidery based on a doodle by a friend of mine. I sent her the finished piece as a surprise. I don’t seem to have a picture of it when it’s finished, so you’ll have to use your imagination.



At half term I went up to Chester one day for an RSN workshop at the cathedral. We were working on silk shading/needlepainting/long and short stitch, which is a technique I’ve never really got good results with before. I think I am starting to get the hang of it. This is how far I got during class:


And last but definitely not least, I AM DECLARING SPRING. Today I did a little bit of garden tidying and planted some spring flowers.


Phew. That’s a lot more than I thought. I’ve also been making some progress on the doll’s house – I’ve rehung the front so that the door is on the same side as the stairs which makes a lot more sense to me. I’m working away on my knitted hoodie, and I’ve started a new embroidery project.

Book review: Virtually Human

virtuallyuman Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital World
Ed Brooks and Pete Nicholas
IVP: Nottingham, 2015

First I want to say that this book is fine. If you’re looking for a way to start thinking about how you interact with different kinds of technology, especially online, as a Christian, you’ll find some very helpful things here. As I read through it, I agreed with pretty much everything the authors said, though in a few places I wanted a little bit more nuance. I also think it’s a difficult sort of book to write, given the constantly changing nature of technology, and on the whole I think they did a good job of being specific enough to be useful, but general enough to continue to be useful for years to come.

BUT, I didn’t enjoy reading the book, and I want to talk a bit about why, because I don’t think these issues are limited to this particular book.

I’ve read a lot of Christian books over the years. In particular, I’ve read a lot of this sort of book, aimed at the ordinary Christian in the pew, addressing a specific issue of doctrine, life or Bible study. I’ve never read one about Christians and digital media before, and given that my job is online, I was looking forward to this.

I was bored. Especially in the first part of the book, I was very bored. As the authors gave their version of a biblical theology I’ve read in practically every book of this kind, I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d chosen to focus only on the creation and fall in Genesis 1-3 and then leapt forward to the cross, as they explained their ‘yes and no’ to technology.

There’s an amazing thing about the Bible, which is that it is deep and rich and multi-layered and complex and glorious. Yet, so often, we reduce it to the same short summary. It’s not that the summary is wrong, just that it is limited. I think there would be a fascinating biblical theology to be told about technology. From Adam and Eve’s first ‘clothes’, through the construction of the tower of Babel and idols like the golden calf, as well as the proper use of technology in building the tabernacle. You’d still get the sense of human creativity and ingenuity, flowing from their creator. And you’d certainly understand the sinful ways in which humanity perverts the use of technology.

So that’s the first thing. I wanted a deeper, richer, fuller, more thoughtful and nuanced engagement with the Bible and technology. Every so often the book hints at more but doesn’t take the time to explore those questions.

The second thing I want to say about why I didn’t much enjoy reading this, is that the writing is (mostly) functional but far from beautiful. The prose is sometimes awkward, as if it has been transcribed from speech. There are far too many questions interrupting the flow for the reader. I don’t know whether some of these issues stem from the difficulty of co-authoring, or the admission in the acknowledgements that the first draft was written over the course of several late nights.

I do think that editors have a very important role to play here. Good books don’t just need good ideas, they also need good writers. And writers need the help of good editors to become good writers.

It’s as true now as it was when Ecclesiastes was written that ‘Of the making of many books there is no end.’ But please could we work a bit harder at making better books, even if that means making slightly fewer books?

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