Wednesday 15 December 2010

Melancholy and the finger poke that never was.

Tonight I was listening to the fifteen year old classic that is The Smashing Pumpkin's, Melancholy And The Infinite Sadness. A fantastic album full of themes of rejection and love, of faith and doubt. My love for the album was recently rekindled by Walsh and Keesmaat's discussion of it in Colossians Re:mixed. It is a truly superb and like a fine wine, it has aged really well.

There are so many good songs on the album but tonight I discovered a new one, one I'd never really listened to before; I had heard it, but never listened. Thirty Three. Full to the brim of evocative imagery, superb, slippery descriptions that have an overt religiosity, as well as playing n some key Christian symbols. (Check it out yourself!)
I want to use the song in Discipleship worship next term, it is so utterly beautiful and fragile.

Searching on the web I found so many different websites talking about whether Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins has a faith, or a spiritual belief, or more precisely, "has Billy Corgan made a public declaration of Christian faith?"

Now, I'm not saying that this isn't an important question. I'm pretty conservative with my evangelicalism, but I have to admit, sometimes I think we miss something.

Christians struggle with ambiguity. Christians of all theological persuasions.

In my tradition, at Easter we rush from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We have a cross and we have a risen Christ. If you are a protestant you may have the emphasis on the cross, if you are Orthodox, you may have the emphasis on the empty tomb.

Not many folk like to linger in the hushed, tearful and fearful rooms of Easter/Holy Saturday. Not many of us like to hover in such dark and terrifying ambiguity.

At a Church House Party this summer I preached on this theme for a good forty minutes: part of the Gospel we have to share, but too easily forget to share, is that within the salvation Gospel narrative lies a day when heaven and earth are held in something beyond expression. Something speaks powerfully to the broken in this world.

Maybe its because its beyond expression, or maybe it's because we want to preach the cross and resurrection before people get bored, but we rush from Friday to Sunday.

As far as I can tell, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness sits well on Easter Saturday. Perhaps that's why we don't really get it.

The apostle Thomas, one of the true heroes of John's Gospel, the apostle who isn't afraid to ask Jesus the big questions, is forever semi-slandered, for his daring to doubt.

And to add to Thomas' infamy, in his painting, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Caravaggio painted Thomas with his finger plunged deep into Jesus' side, as if to make clear that there is no grey area here, no room for doubt, never mind the fact that the Gospel of John doesn't record Thomas pushing his finger into Jesus' side, only asking for proof.

John 20 (NIV) records, (from
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Upon seeing Jesus Thomas proclaims, "My Lord and my God".
Upon seeing Jesus, not on actually putting his hand into Jesus' side.
What Thomas originally says, and what Thomas actually experiences are different.

Why is it that Christians are so scared to admit that questions, and doubts, and grey areas, and Easter Saturday, are all part of a life-long walk with Christ.

Its for this reason that Nickel Creek's song Doubting Thomas, is just about the only decent discussion of what it means to be Thomas.

So this ramble is coming to an end, drawing to a close, perhaps its best that it ends with ambiguity, with questions still to be answered, with half-chewed-over images and analogies.

There is too much going on to want to get straight from A - B.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

An over-simplified poetic rant written in 550 seconds about the nature of mission in a post-christendom society

Here is the church,
But where are the people?
Hiding in shops,
Not sat in pews,
Under the steeple,
Where is the meaning and where is the truth?
In bottles of vodka at 40% proof?
Look to the streets,
And look to the parks,
But keep out of sight,
If you’re out after dark,
Long-lost are the hopes,
We had for our kids,
If they don’t end up on drugs,
We’ll be out of our heads.....,
....With joy,
But who is to blame for this general malaise?
Who took the plug out and turned off the lights?
Too fast, too fast to self blame!
“Maybe it’s the culture,
You see, it’s just not the same,”
Tell that to the church in South Korea,
Of the lack of faith, around churches near here,
Where is the hope of the coming of the Kingdom?
“As long as it happens after the reality show’s final?”
Just hang fire with the wild cultural accusations!
Perhaps the problem,
Is more about us,
By “us”, what I meant,
Was quite plainly “I”,
The European Enlightenment,
And its focus on ‘me’.
That I am an individual,
Look can’t you see?
That I have my wants,
My hopes and my desires,
Because what is important,
Is the way that I’m wired,
But step back, surely history’s not to blame?
“Yeah, but what you’re saying,
Is from your individualistic brain,”
Perhaps it’s our ethics,
Because they truly suck,
If we lived out the words,
That Jesus actually said,
Maybe the church wouldn’t just end up dead.

Sunday 12 December 2010

virtue - without virtue

"Virtue", it is on the move,
There is a growing desire to express,
Something of profound importance,
That has been hidden and dormant,
Forgotten, shut tight,
Lost to the index pages of dank old books,
Whose library catalogue issue numbers have faded,
Buried at the back and beyond of theological journals,
Volume 1, number 5,
Pages held together more by mould than binding glue,

This "virtue" that could so easily liberate,
Could transform the lived life of faith,
Is under threat again,
But this time not from the stagnant despondency,
And lack of loving interest of many a potential imbiber,
Long forgotten and lost,
Not this time,
"Virtue" is under threat,
From gowns and hoods and conferences,
From beards and pens and PCs,
From tweed jackets and commentaries and symposiums,

This targeted 'topic' (sic),
which has the power to break bonds of slavery,
To mental anguish and the perils of flesh and blood,
That offers a new vision of life,
Life in fullness,
Life in togetherness,
Life in growing,
Faces a threat,
So potentially insidious that it will once more be lost,
Lost to silence,
Lost to noise,
Lost to many,
Lost to those hoping for transformation,

And indeed, this very act of typing,
Of laying bare, is open to this same corruption,
Of distortion and reduction,
Deconstruction and re-calculation,
"Do you even mean what you think you mean?"
"Do you even know what you think you know?"
"Can you even define what you think you can define?"
"Where is the solid ground of evidence on which your convictions balance?"
But this dialogue is to be refused,
This dialogue must meet a turned cheek and graceful hope,
Of willingness to sacrifice the wills and wants,
The instincts of snapping back,

For if those instincts are followed,
What is the worth of wondering in the ethereal realm...
And so, to find some conclusion,
We must,
We must take "virtue" and we must unmask it,
We must wipe clean the residues and decaying decadent dusts,
We must start a fresh,
Crack open the original pages of the original book,
And we must be originally formed,
Open and expectant,

We must open our mouths wide and eat the scroll before us,
We must lie on one side 390 days,
and 40 on the other,
We must be open to the Divine inspiration,
Open to service,
Open to the Divine's opulence and power,
We must seek the Spirit's revelation,
We must move away from abstraction,
For abstraction tends to lead to distraction,
And distraction can miss the point,

And so we must save "Virtue" from itself,
We must not discuss it in abstract terms,
We must pray for it in object terms,
We must seek to live lives of utter dependence on the Divine,
We must hope through prayer and reading to be formed,
Into a likeness,
The likeness,
Not for the sake of academy,
Not for the sake of success,
But for the sake of wholeness,
But for the sake of the entirety of creation,

Let us not name "virtue",
Let us not rationalise it,
Let us not try to define it,
Let us not re-brand it - 'faithful following',
Let us not cultural-ise it, - 'sixty-six steps to.....'
Let us not rhetorical-ise it,
Let us not prove it,
Let us not remove it's mystery,
Let us not sell it,

Let us not even seek it,

Instead let us read the word,
Instead let us pray with hopeful hearts,
Instead let us ask for the Divine's insight,
Instead let us live out charity,
Instead let us live out transformation,

Shall we move, 'After After Virtue' to the bargain bin?

"Virtue" is dead!
Long live something indefinable!

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Jonah - a poetic paraphrase


The word of the True Divine came powerfully to Jonah, Amittai’s son. The word shouted to him,
“Jonah, make haste, get up and go, stand before me, then move. Go to Nineveh, that bulging metropolis of sinful wickedness and indecent indulgence, that bolt hole of bilious bad thought. Go there and shout it down, shout out against it for the stink of their sin is too disgusting.”
Instead, Jonah got up and went, but not toward Nineveh, but Tarshish. He began his journey by fleeing from the True Divine’s presence.
Jonah went to Joppa and found a cargo ship heading for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and got on board, to go with the crew to Tarshish; away from the presence of the True Divine.
But the True Divine thrust down on to the waters of the sea a powerful wind, so powerful that the boat began to creak, as if to crack apart. The sailors were terrified and each of them prayed to their own ‘divine’ deity. Yet the storm continued and so their cargo they set to sea. Crates and boxes were thrown down into the waters, so as to make the ship lighter, and more likely not to break up.
Yet Jonah, had left the deck and headed deep, down into the boat, curled up in comfort and fallen into a deep, down sleep.
The captain of the boat found him and shouted out,
“What’s going on with you? How is it that you can get some shut eye in this chaos? Get up and call out to your own ‘divine’ deity. Maybe your ‘divine’ deity will actually hear us and do something to stop us being smashed upon the rocks! Perhaps your ‘divine’ deity will listen and we might live!”
And the sailors all got together in a panic, they shouted,
“Let’s play short straws to show us who’s to blame for this catastrophe.”
They drew straws and the shortest fell to Jonah.
The sailors urgently asked him,
“Tell us, here and now, who are you that this catastrophe has come to us? What is it that you do? Where do you come from? Which country? Where is home? What people are you from?”
Jonah replied, heart in mouth,
“I am a Hebrew, my God is the True Divine, that is who I fear. My God is the True Divine who made the land and the heavens and the deep, down sea.”
Terror go to work in the guts of the sailors and they snarled at Jonah,
“What is with you? What have you done?”
They were full of terror because they knew, from what Jonah had said, that he was running from God, the True Divine, no sham ‘divine’ deity, but the True Divine.
The True Divine.
The sailors turned in terror towards each other and then to Jonah,
“What should we do to you so that the sea would not totally tear us to tatters?”
The sea was growing ever more dangerous and ever more chaotic.
Jonah replied,
“Pick me up and throw me overboard, into the sea. If you do this the sea will soon settle and you will be safe. It’s my fault; it’s on my account that the sea has become this wild, foaming beast.”
But instead the sailors trusting in their own strength and experience began to row towards the land.
But they got nowhere fast, stuck stationary in the sea, battling with the winds and the waves. So the sailors shouted out to God, the True Divine,
“True Divine, no false ‘divine’ deity, don’t let us die for this! Not for Jonah’s life, and don’t make us guilty of spilling an innocent man’s blood! For you, the True Divine have done what you wanted to do.”
With that they picked Jonah up and heartily heaved and hurled him into the foaming face of the deep, down sea.
The sea calmed.
A new fear settled heavily on the sailors.
They offered a sacrifice to the True Divine and made many promises.
And the True Divine gave purpose to a giant fish to scoop Jonah into its mouth and to swallow him whole.
Jonah was in the deep, down belly of the great fish for three full days and three full nights.
Seventy-two hours in the fish, deep, down.

At this Jonah called out in prayer to the True Divine and shouted out,
“At my lowest ebb, in my deepest, deep, down distress I screamed out to the True Divine, and he did not ignore me, but brought an answer. Out of the very pitted, fetid stomach of the deep, down dead, I screamed, and you, you the True Divine above all false idols and ‘divine’ deities, you heard my pitiful, raw and terrorized cry. It was you who plunged me into the deep, down depths of the ocean, to its very core, amid the flood of your waters. Waves broke over me, ripples and currents were over my head.”
“And I called out, “I’ve been pushed away from your presence, from the centre of your focus, but I will, with my eyes, see your temple, in its magnificent glory.” The wild and unending oceans surrounded me on all sides, above and below, as if to push out all the air within me and to leave me dead. Weeds tangled themselves around my weak and weary head, way below the mountains, at the fractious rock roots of their foundations, I descended further to the place of no-dwelling, whose prison bars slammed shut above me, leaving me stuck in the deepest deep, down despair, for all eternity I was to be trapped.”
“But you reached down into the deepest deep, down depths, to the darkest pit, you reached down and pulled me up.”
“The True Divine, I remembered you, when every ounce of me was ready for death, when into a pale, weary and languid slumber my immortal soul was descending, slipping over, I remembered you and you heard my prayer, even in the glorious majesty of your temple my prayer was heard.”
“The people who give all their prime attention to the things of vanity and humanity, to the human-made shiny, tactile pleasures, lose sight of the true hope of never-ending, unconditional, all-surpassing, whole-life encompassing love of the True Divine.”
“But as for me, with a heart full of gratitude I will shout out loud in awesome praise and wonder to you, the True Divine. I will thank you with my words and what I say and with my sacrifices, what I offer to you and what I do.”
“What I have said I will do; I will do.”
“You are the True Divine, the True Divine of all and salvation is in your hands. You are salvation!”
And with that the True Divine whispered into the ear of the mighty fish and it retched and vomited Jonah up, so that he came to rest upon the land, laid out, on dry sand.

The True Divine again spoke to Jonah and said,
“Jonah, get up and go, go to Nineveh, that vast and bulging metropolis, full to the brim of people. Go there and shout out aloud the words I give you to speak.”
So Jonah got up. He got up and made his way to Nineveh, just as the True Divine had told him to. Nineveh was a bustling metropolis, grand in size and population. To take it all in would take days.
As Jonah entered the city he didn’t stop on the periphery of the city, but walked for a full day, into the heart of the city. Once there he, with shout out loud a voice proclaimed,
“Forty days from now and this mighty metropolis, Nineveh, will be brought to downfall.”
When the people of Nineveh heard this prophetic word, they listened and believed the True Divine. The crowds dressed themselves in the sack cloth of repentance and shouted out to all to fast. From the lowest of the low to the mighty and powerful, they all did these things.
The king of Nineveh heard about what was happening in the city and stepped down from his throne, took off his majestic royal robe and dressed himself in sackcloth. He went and sat in a pile of ashes.
While sat in sackcloth and ashes the king spoke a word to be obeyed. His words were spread throughout Nineveh; the message read,
“This law is from the king and his nobles. No human, no animal, no sheep, no bird; is to taste a thing. None are to eat and none are to drink water. But instead all of you, humans and animals, must be dressed up in sackcloth, from head to foot. And all are to shout out aloud to the True Divine.”
“All people are to do a one-eighty degree turn, from evil to good, from the violent intentions in your hands.”
“There is a chance, that the True Divine might show mercy, turn away from his angry show of power so that we all might yet live.”
The True Divine saw the people of Nineveh and their longing for forgiveness, their utter one-eighty degree reverse of behaviour, belief and thoughts. The True Divine saw and showed mercy to the people of Nineveh. The True Divine did not bring the city and its people down.

When Jonah saw this he was furious and frustrated. He turned to the True Divine and prayed out,
“The True Divine, above, beyond, below and behind, isn’t this what I said would happen, back before the fish and the boat, when I was in my own land?”
“That’s why I tried to run away to Tarshish.”
“Because every instinct in my guts told me that you are the True Divine, full to the brim, of grace and mercy. That you, the True Divine don’t get angry quickly and are full to the bursting brim, of ever-present L-O-V-E.”
“That you, the True Divine, won’t lay out disasters. And now, at this point, in this place, I find myself in this position and I ask you to remove my life from my feeble frame. Take it from me. It’s much better that I fall down dirty dead than to live on!”
The True Divine responded,
“And Jonah, how is that anger working out for you?”
Jonah walked away.
He walked for a full day and left the city, that vast sprawling and bustling metropolis of Nineveh.
Beyond the edge of the city, to the east, Jonah sat down and made for himself a place to shelter in and just be.
He sat under it, in shade and gazed back at the bustling metropolis Nineveh. He watched to see what would happen to that vast mass of people and animals and buildings.
The True Divine gave purpose to a plant to grow up and over Jonah’s head to bring shade and to release him from the hot glare of the sun. So Jonah basked gratefully in the dull shade of the plant’s bountiful foliage.
The next morning, at dawn, the True Divine gave purpose to a worm to eat at the plant so that it withered.
As the sun rose high in the sky, the True Divine gave purpose to a molten east wind. The wind blew and the sun shone fiercely onto Jonah’s head so that he felt weak and close to unconsciousness.
And Jonah called out a request for death,
“I’d rather die than live!”
But the True Divine responded to Jonah,
“And Jonah, how is that anger about the plant working out for you?”
Jonah shouted back,
“My anger is working out well enough to be consumed by death!”
And the True Divine spoke to Jonah,
“You have so much consideration, mercy and commiseration for a plant that you did not plant, or cultivate, or nurture, or water. A plant which sprung up one night while you slept. And then died one night while you slept.”
“And with that in your head, why should I, the True Divine, not show mercy to that vast, bulging metropolis, Nineveh?”
“Nineveh, where one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand live among many cattle, rich in possessions, but living without a clue, not knowing right from left and up from down?”

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Trains and tracks

What is it with trains that is so exciting? Is it the sense of adventure? Or of passively travelling (as a passenger) but in such a way as to see and recognise landmarks? On a plane travel is too quick and nothing identifiable is ever really seen except for huge landmarks.

With trains you travel at a speed where all things are viible but at a different speed and from a new perspective. Slightly aloft and different from the road but somehow remaining similar but yet different.

As the train passes through known and unknown places a glimpse can be had, but it is fleeting and all too quickly its gone again. There is no way to resist the sheer power and speed of locomotion.

Even if you wanted to linger, you can't and all too quickly you are moved on in your passive observation to whatever lies ahead.

Perhaps part of the mystery of the experience of travelling on trains is that a train can only go along a particular route. A route actively chosen by someone else to move people efficiently to some place else.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Looks like i'm staying.

Recently i registered a blog at a different blogging site, but it turns out that my little mobile phone isn't supported by that site. So it looks like my online identity will remain confused. God's lonely man, psalm 62 and the beat liturgist all rolled into one.

Its morning and i am drinking coffee while my amazing daughter sings and squeals with delight at a praise baby dvd while we have our "morning prayer" together. Who needs common worship?

Thursday 18 November 2010

Books to reflect on:

In my training so far, I have encountered a good few hundred books: I've read great chunks out of some of them and snatched at the purse strings of others, never really getting to know the book, just stealing quotations and the odd bit of inspiration. Over the course of a number of reading weeks I've touched down on the fertile ground of some incredible books and then had to swiftly lift off again to pick up the threads of other books that have needed to be read for assignments. On rare occasions I have been able to read a book from cover to cover for an assignment, such as the magnificent Colossians Re:mixed (which I'd wanted to read for about three years!) for a Biblical Literacy In A Digital Age course I am on. But these occasions are rare. With my undergraduate dissertation I managed to read some fantastic things, but not cover to cover.
I love reading theology books; I'm enthusiastic about it, but I am also a really slow reader: what I read isn't easily retained. So I often find myself having to highlight, underline and make notes on, if I want to have any chance of not having to do an immediate re-read.
It looks like the course load has provided a lot of opportunities to encounter a wide variety of texts of all academic levels: but less time to really digest them thoroughly. It is to this venture that this blog is pointing.
I'm really keen not to forget what books I've encountered that I want to read cover to cover; to scrawl on, highlight, underline and get to know. This may need to be done in curacy, or over the next ten years: but either way, the ever growing list can be found below:

John Howard Yoder, The Politics Of Jesus
Michael Frost, Exiles
Stuart Murray, Post-Christendom
Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination
Walter Brueggemann, The Word That Redescribes The World
Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes
Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character
Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens
Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence
Bruxy Cavey, the End Of Religion
Capes, Reeves and Richards, Rediscovering Paul
Tom & Christine Sine, Living On Purpose
Stephan Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology
Jurgen Moltmann, the Crucified God
Alan Mann, Sin In A Sinless Society
Nancy Eisland, The Disabled God
Walter moberley, Prophecy and Discernment
David Platt, radical
John Kavanaugh, Following Christ In A Consumer Society
Avery Dulles, Models of Church
David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship
Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation

Tuesday 18 May 2010

The flow of life

This last weekend I visited the Isle of Bute for a friend's 30th birthday. We stayed in a fabulous castle/manor house and had a fantastic time. The local pun really is true, Bute is beautiful.

On the drive up to Glasgow, we headed past forest after forest of well maintained pine (or fir) trees. Though seen from a distance it was possible to see the formation in which they had been planted, the space between each tree being pretty much the same. Gaps of perhaps, 10 metres flowed down the hill where no planting had been done, presumably to allow access to the uniformly growing forest.

Elsewhere, seedlings had been planted, thousands of them, in long rows. Amongst the seedlings were rotting branches, leaf litter, stumps, all there to slowly return to the ground, allowing the nutrients to support the next generation.

Elsewhere still, were empty barren patches, left as fallow, resting in preparation for the next planting.

I was fascinated; theologically interesting, but also personally. When I was fifteen I was keen to be a forestry worker, I very nearly applied to Askham Bryn(?) to do 'forestry studies', but rather comically, I had hay fever that reacted badly to rotten trees and leaves.

Which got me thinking about the situation I find myself in today. Not to get into too much of the old, "if a butterfly dies in Hong Kong....." cause and effect thing, but it's interesting, how a relatively small situation or issue can change a life direction.

This is obvious, this is known.

But sometimes it's more noticeable than at others.

Right now I could have been a number of things, including:

A forestry worker in Scotland.
A translator in Germany.
A teacher for the visually impaired in Manchester.
A community worker in a Methodist church in Darlington.
A missionary in Kosova.

But I'm here, and it's where I am, where God has called me to be, doing what God has called me to do. And I find it all vvery interesting.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Democracy in action.

So today is election day, (and oddly enough our TV reception has gone down the pan!)

In Durham the build up to the election has been rife with negative campaigning. I have voted Liberal Democrat all my life and was frustrated by the choice I faced today, their local campaign being marred by so much negative campaigning.

It's not often I'll start a sentence the following way, but here goes..... As a Christian, I really struggle with the whole negative campaigning thing. It frustrates me; it's like gossiping through letterboxes. Wave after wave of ridiculous bumpf has made its way through our letterbox since the election was announced.

The bumpf has been saying things along the lines of, 'the Tories can't win here' (which actually they could, it's very very unlikely, but they could, if everyone voted tory, they'd win... wouldn't they?)

Alongside this there have been the 'what have they achieved since they have been in power' argument (rather than the more positive "what I'd like to achieve if I was in power...")

Where are the policies?

And so at a local level the candidate for the Lib Dems has alienated me as a voter (and four others I know of, some from different communities within the constituency.)

So who can I vote for? My choices are to vote more centrally or vote more to the fringe. Sadly the fringe in Durham appears to be made up of UKIP and the BNP so that wasn't an option. The Green Party didn't have a candidate so I couldn't vote for them (don't get me started about "tactical voting", how tactical voting plays out across a democracy like ours is more complicated than just making sure the lesser of two evils wins.)

Nationally the candidates for PM add a further layer of confusion. Locally, no, I can't vote Lib Dem, my own scruples about negative campaigning and reinforcing negative patterns of behaviour stop me. Nationally, I'd like the Greens to have a reasonable showing (an encouragement to them and a sign of national agenda change). I'd like the Lib Dems to gain more seats (but maybe not Durham). I would like the Conservatives to lose badly (negative campaigning and where are the policies? and quite frankly, just no!)

So who do I vote for?

Who did I vote for?

When I went to the poling booth I stood for quite a long time with pencil in hand, praying to God that my vote would be one of integrity and a genuine desire for kingdom values to take their place in the political agenda. I prayed that I would not live to regret my decision about who to vote for and who not to vote for. I prayed to God for some insight as to how best hold in tension my hopes for Durham and my hopes for the UK.

I prayed for a few minutes and I did then wonder how long you had to take before they removed you from the premises.

And then I voted.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Spring Harvest - new ......

On my return from Spring Harvest a few things stand out to me:
1. I have missed the sense of expectation of Christian festivals.
2. I haven't really learnt many 'facts' or increased my 'knowledge'.
3. I have met with God and been challenged in ways I could not expect. These last months it has been easy to let discipleship slip and my own spirituality to amount to dry crusts, but I've been refreshed and challenged and I pray to God that he would give me the strength and endurance to step up and follow him with renewed vigour and passion.

Wednesday 24 March 2010


I've been reading Yevgeny Zamyatin's wonderful, 'We'. The book is a fantastic otherworldly, vision of a future planet where the laws of nature, God and love have been replaced by equations and mathematical laws. The book apparently inspired George Orwell to write, 1984 and Aldous Huxley to write, Brave New World.

In it the central character, D-503, begins to rediscover what life is meant to be. Through a series of experiences his horizons are broadened and what he once took for granted becomes confusing and meaningless.

There is a section of the book where a seemingly great rebellious act has taken place against the Benefactor (the ruler of the land). D-503's world is thrown into further turmoil as he struggles to know who to identify with. At one point he writes in his journal,

"I'd long ago lost track of who was they and who was we."

D-503's dilemma speaks into questions I have about identity, about what it means to be church, about what it means to be in community. I need to spend some time dealing with this, but not yet. I need to finish reading the novel first.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Apt liturgy, simplicity, complexity and the life of faith

Not got much time now, need family time, but will have to write more on this tomorrow, but just to say, this evening was fantastic. John's college, Durham hosted the annual Michael Vasey lecture where Bishop Steven Croft spoke about the role of liturgy in the life of a mixed economy church.

It was exciting to hear an Anglican bishop speak about what Ann Morisy calls apt liturgies and their place within the ever-evolving mixed economy of the Anglican church. It was also very exciting to hear Bishop Steven speak about five roles of liturgy.

There was much to think about from this lecture. Very engaging.

As more than just an aside, tonight I bumped into my old vicar at Holy Trinity Ripon, Revd. David Mann. We've not seen each other since I left Ripon in 2001, but it was great to see him again. He led the Alpha course in 1999 where I first encountered Jesus and started my faith journey as a Christian. When I left Ripon in 2001 I was still incredibly spiritually immature (even more so than now) and to see him was great as it some how connected some dots, helped to build up a picture of faith as a journey, and the encounters we have on that journey. Last time I saw him I was preparing to leave college and was not deeply rooted in my faith. This time, I'm training for ministry.

A pertinent reminder that sometimes we don't see what happens to the seeds we sow in ministry. Exciting stuff.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

I'm sorry but....

This evening I attended a memorial service for those who have had miscarriages or still births in the recent past. The service was led by the chaplaincy team from the University Hospital of North Durham. A Catholic chaplain and an Anglican chaplain led a single service that carried the weight of many tensions and was a vehicle for the expression of grief. An incredibly powerful service; so much so that to analyse the service would be to do it an injustice.

What I will say is that I was immensely privileged to be at a service, I grieved with the other members of the congregation and I took great comfort in seeing two ordained priests bearing the tension, pain and integrity of the occasion on their shoulders.

The Anglican chaplain's homily followed the reading of 1 Corinthians 13 and began with words something like, ""I'm sorry but......", "I'm sorry but........", where ever and however we heard that phrase, it changed everything, whether we'd had an inkling that something was wrong, or that everything seemed to be going well, after hearing those words, everything changed."

I was broken by the sermon delivered beautifully and eloquently by Rev. Kevin Tromans, and from his opening words I was taken back to the scan room where Clare and I were told we'd miscarried. For all the pain, the grief and woe Christ was there. Christ was with us and our little one and Christ was with those who attended the memorial service.

What services like these do to the concept of 'mission' is twist it to breaking and stamp all over it. From special care baby units to mumblings in a lonely chapel 'mission' speaks more loudly for itself than can be imagined. I am being challenged in ways I hadn't expected to be. I have been convicted by the Holy Spirit to pray for the work of maternity wards and special care baby units and I intend to do so.

Thursday 25 February 2010

180 seconds

At one of the places where I attend worship I have been asked to preach and so am preaching again on Sunday, as I have done twice before. The worshipping community there is transient and services are conducted with great efficiency. A Eucharistic service will take 30 minutes.

In the past, in other places, with other communities I have preached for up to 40 minutes. My preferred time is 20-25 minutes (if necessary). In the past I have also preached homilies of about 5-7 minutes. For the service I am preaching at on Sunday I have three minutes. A twentieth of an hour. 180 seconds. A short amount of time that brings its own exciting challenges.

What can I say in three minutes? What should I be able to say in three minutes? What is there to say in three minutes?

To say, 'repent' takes about a second, but to consider what that means in our context and in other contexts.... How long does that take?

To say 'The kingdom is here' takes only two seconds, but to draw anything out of such a phrase, how long does that take?

When preaching for three minutes the danger for myself is that I round everything down, smooth the edges, fill in gaping cracks and preach a word that has become all the more pleasant to swallow in such a short time. Another danger is that I don't saying anything at all.

But, how do I give a significant message, what can the Holy Spirit express through me in three minutes? Is it enough to leave people with a thought for the day? Is it too much to try to give them more than that...? To either give a soluble gospel that freely disperses into the everyday existence of life? Or a heavy tablet of challenge and cost, with no water to wash it down?

Let Jesus be my guide as I try in the Spirit's strength to find an honest, heart-felt, Spirit-led word for Sunday that doesn't just flatter or make laugh, that doesn't offend for no reason and that doesn't confuse.

Perhaps I should preach Jesus?

Thursday 18 February 2010

Politiking Jesus

Have been trying to prepare a seminar for Church History but my mind (and hands and eyes) keep drifting back to some classic Yoder, The Politics of Jesus. In particular his sparse exegesis of Luke's gospel. A community focused reading of the gospel that challenges assumptions.

I'm currently thinking through what Yoder has to say about the arrest, prosecution and execution of Jesus. In the evangelical circles in which my life and faith have lingered I've been relentlessly taught that the arrest, prosecution, trial and execution of Jesus was illegitimate and that as he was without sin, it must surely be unjust for him to be arrested.

It seems, if my tired brain gets this, that Yoder makes a different point. That Jesus was indeed without sin, but that his arrest could be legitimised by the Roman and religious leaders. Yoder's exegesis continually plucks out elements of the gospel narrative and extracts from them points that from the Roman view of the time could well have been seditious or incendiary; in total amassing to political insurrection.

Indeed I'll not read the cleansing of the temple in the same light again, the weight of the events in the eyes of the society leave a lasting mark. Nor will I look at Pilate's advocacy for the freeing of Jesus in the same way!

(p.s. not sure of the blogging etiquette regarding references to books, but basically the first 60 pages should do it!)

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Valentines Service In The Lakes

On Sunday morning I attended the 10:30am service at Holy Trinity, Chapel Stile. A beautiful church in the Lake District.

The service was attended by approximately 40 people, mostly in middle-age or later and it was one of the most profound church experiences I've had in years. The service was mainstream yet contemporary, aimed at an older generation yet relevant to most people present. Care and attention had gone into the preparation of the service and what could have been a mundane Sunday morning was transformed into beautiful and articulate worship. The Priest in charge, George Wrigley led the service beautifully and the warmth between him and the congregation was clear.

The service challenged my understandings of alternative worship and contemporary worship. It's easy to presume that contemporary worship must mean 'contemporary' to those in the 15-25 age group and not 'contemporary' to those in the 50-85 age group. It's also easy to presume that alternative worship only has a place at a festival, a fresh expression or a church reaching those in the 15-30 age group. The Valentine's Day Service at Holy Trinity showed such notions to be false.

The service made use of The Seekers, Turn Turn Turn whilst those who had lost spouses (unfortunately not partners) were able to take flowers and lay them before the cross.

The service also included intercessions that were beautifully led and cut to the heart of so many issues.

Thom Meredith, a singer from Harrogate sang a beautiful version of Love Changes Everything that was incredibly appropriate to the congregation.

After this there was 'An Act Of Recommitment To All Our Relationships' which addressed husbands and wives, parents and children and spoke more of commitment to each other than any liturgy I have heard in a long time.

The whole service spoke of community; of a priest who knows his congregation and their needs and interests; of a priest who was taking the opportunity to turn what could have been an everyday act of worship and push forward something that was really challenging.

An incredible service and an incredible privilege to worship with a community longing to meet God.