Tuesday 27 December 2011

Travel With Me. My latest poem/post.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Luke 2:4-7 TARGUM

So many people had journeys to make. And Mary and Joseph also had a journey to make. They travelled from Nazareth a town in Galilee, upwards to the village of Bethlehem in the hills of Judea. Whether or on a donkey, or by foot, the journey passed through lush olive groves and dry desert climes. Bethlehem was widely known as the “town of David” and Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, secure in the knowledge that Joseph belonged to the house of David, for Joseph was a descendent of King David himself. Joseph went with Mary to the village of Bethlehem, to register for Caesar Augustus’ census.

Mary was Joseph’s betrothed, his fiancĂ© who he was to marry. She was pregnant with a child to be born of God. They arrived in Bethlehem in the midst of busyness, people coming and going, travelling from far and wide to register for Caesar Augustus’ census. They found hospitality with Joseph’s distant family. The family already had guests in the guest room and so Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary found themselves sharing the family room with the cousins of a previous generation.

While they were staying with Joseph’s distant family Mary’s labour began. As her contractions grew more regular, women from the neighbourhood started to arrive at the house, they made their way through the stable and up the few steps into the family room with its assorted mangers. As the women arrived, the men of the household offered Mary encouragement and then left to await the news in a neighbour’s house. Then the nearest the village had to a midwife arrived and with the women from the community helped to deliver the baby. Mary’s first child, her son was born and swaddled in cloths and placed into a sheep’s manger. The women from the neighbourhood dispersed and the men returned. And so it was that the boy slept his first night in a room with Mary and Joseph, and some distant relatives as well.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Falling For Mary (an advent poem)

Mary, I am sorry, for the way I’ve acted towards you.

For the silent disdain I’ve held in my tradition, without ever really knowing it.

Ten years ago those words and prayers about you confused me and I just couldn’t understand,

Your place and role in God’s Father plan.

I never quite got what it was you did, but have a kid,

A kid who was God, but there was much more to it than I gave you credit for.

And then three years ago I re-read those words you said.

Recorded in that book.

And I read them again and again nearly every day.

Words about how God sends the rich away without what they came for.

Those things you said about the humility of a servant.

And how God is merciful, forever.

And I grew to appreciate you more.

Found something in you like a revolution.

And realised that your words held a power that was beyond who you were.

That the song you sang in all its magnificence,

Was itself a miraculous event.

Last year I saw your face, painted with oils deep and rich.

On an island off the coast of Scotland.

You were dressed in blue, your head covered, your eyes deep and penetrating.

And I couldn’t look away.

From that gaze, that,

Felt like it held time together.

And then this Spring I spent so many days with other pictures of you.

Brush strokes trying to tell the story of that moment.

When the messenger of God visited you.

And I wondered.

How you felt.

Whether you were scared?

Or pious?

Or submissive?

Or strong?

Or both.

And I think I started to fall in love with you.

When I realised that,

Beyond the pictures in their gilded frames.

And white lilies.

And red needlework.

And doves.

And prayer books.

Was you.



And resilient.

So resilient.

And I realised that those words you sang in that song,

Were sung from your experience.

And that the eyes with which you looked.

Upon the messenger of God.

Were eyes, just like, the eyes of every other.

And before it all,

I began to see you, for who I’d never let you be.

And since July, I’ve seen those eyes again, nearly every single day,

Eyes shaped out of coloured glass and penetrating in power.

And another gilded frame, with its golds and reds and blues.

And the boy on your lap.

The boy, held close to your heart,

The very same heart to be pierced,

As Simeon said.

And in the darkness of this growing winter,

In the midst of this season of waiting.

I am slowly understanding.

Just what advent means.

And I’m slowly understanding,

Just who you were called to be.

And I’m slowly getting a grip on,

What that is supposed to mean to me.

Monday 31 October 2011

occupy the Anglican five marks of mission

The more news reportage we get about the UK capital focused media preferred OccupyLSX the more intriguing the reporting becomes.

First off, we had the simplistic (and frankly expected) anti-capitalist label being thrown about the place, with no time given to actually thinking thoroughly about whether the label fits. Sure, there is a banner about capitalism, but one that really points to capitalism being broken. While many in the camp may advocate the end of capitalism, there are many other voices.

The second was the media reportage about the goals of the protest. An absolutely fantastic example of polarising media miss-focusing.

There must always be a right and wrong.
A yes and no.
A left and right.
A good and bad.


The binary-esque focus of the reporting was intriguing as the media tried to grasp what of this or that, the protesters wanted - wrong approach. - Not that kind of protest.

I think this was epitomised by the Bishop of London's invitation for the protesters to pack up and have a place at a debate in the cathedral. Not that kind of protest - not those rules - not that discussion.

So there has been a struggle to understand the point of the protest, who the protesters are, what they want as a resolution and what they stand for - not that kind of protest.

As my old hermeneutics tutor used to say, "the Bible isn't interested in answering those questions" - read that for the protest "the protest isn't interested in answering those questions".

So while the cathedral and media and politicians all implode in a bounty of  hyperbole and the protesters chat Gramsci and Christ we are reaching an interesting moment.

A moment when it seems even the beeb website has recognised that the goals of the protesters and the church .... might actually be the same thing.....

In fact everyone seems to have recognised this...... maybe.

Last year I wrote a presentation about the Bible and Adbusters.

Adbusters is a magazine/website/movement that has really been a key player in the occupy movement, with its issues from earlier in the year encouraging/preparing folk for this November's action.

The Bible is a book that is full of words and prayers about the poor and the broken and injustice and love and hope and resurrection and salvation.

I'm hoping that two pictures will appear on this blog.

The first is the five marks of mission as seen by the Anglican church, the ppt slide suggests which of these marks of mission adbusters might well be achieving, and the same goes with occupy movement, though it may come to be that, "responding by loving service" is being met by the protest too.

Just a question: how many of those marks does an "average" parish church meet. hopefully all of them to some extent, but from my own observations, there's usually a leaning towards marks 1 and 2.

Bishop Graham Cray is a huge advocate of the concept of integral mission. You can't have the great commission without the great commandment (and vice versa). I'm with him, read some Rene Padilla and get your brain involved.

The second picture is a scan of the very first Adbusters I bought, back in Winter 2000 in Ontario Canada, in a Border's, with a Starbucks in my hand.

But the cover picture is fantastic, Christian friends at the time weren't keen, but I think it says something about the current occupy protests, and in particular about the current St. Paul's fiasco.

If we're not careful, we end up chucking Jesus out with all the rubbish of consumption.

How about we stand the cross up in the middle of that rubbish dump.

How about we recognise mission is wide and amazing.

And how about we recognise that people we might not expect are fulfilling parts of the mission of God. (and vice-versa-maybe).

Tuesday 25 October 2011

a theology of post-place

I'm aware that what I'm about to write, may say more about my age and stage of life than other things. And they're half written thoughts, or is that, half thought writes? Years ago when someone left a place: they left. Went. And they'd still be able to be contacted, phone, mail, visits. Think particularly of school friends. As sixteen year olds, hanging out, going through the whole "exam experience". A connection that is built and promises to last. But then school turns into three or four colleges, or numerous employers, and suddenly that connection is shut down (or maybe just paused). After 6th form with a whole new set of friends, experiences, moments, another layer of potential life connections arise: and then: and then: and then: shut down, or maybe just paused, again. Then off to uni, or employment,.... And then postgrad.... And then jobs elsewhere... etc etc etc etc etc. Maybe all the above apply, or maybe only some, or maybe none. But the theme seems to be same. But sometimes something changes. As an undergraduate in approximately 1999 Friends Reunited appeared on my radar and suddenly, a connection could be remade - or at least a one way connection (unless you wanted to pay a fiver for two way communication). You could read what those old connections were up to. See from their point of view, who they were. A few years later, along came a certain book of faces. It became easier to keep in touch with those old friends you'd made such a connection with. It was possible for two way communication and to not only see how those "friends" saw themselves but how other saw them, which others saw them, and where and when they saw them (even to the point of them being able to log which shoe shop they were now at!). It also, it became easier to connect with the kids with the long face who sat three rows back in French in year 9. The conecpt of "friend" changed (and a whole host of other things........) From pre-internet, to Friends Reunited to Facebook the leaps have got bigger. Communication, digital and all that. But these leaps. Huge. Communication. Place. With each step the change in nostalgia, in memory, in experience, in choice jumped too. And with the ever expanding opportunities to return to past places via live streaming - a new leap has occurred. Obviously a change has taken place in what I'm writing about: people of connection, or places of connection. Sometimes both occur simultaneously , for a time at least. It is now possible to not only know what stage of life someone is at as in where they are and connect that way. But also to communicate two way. And to know someone through others. Or to know a place through others experiences of it. It now becomes possible to know a place or experience in a way that is distant, but also somewhat more closely connected. And I'm left wondering about nostalgia and connection and place and all sorts. The field has changed, perhaps its time for an update to John Inge's A Christian Theology of Place, to A Christian Theology of Post Place.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Matthew 20:1-16

A sermon I shared this morning at a 9:30 congregation.
The first half of the service is all-age.
The second half lasts about 20 minutes, with 5-8 minutes for the WORD section. Aimed at adults.
Not modelling this as 'good' sermon, but one I enjoyed writing and preaching.

PRAYER: Lord God, let my words be your words and our thoughts your thoughts. AMEN.

Page 987 in pew Bibles. Matthew 20:1-16

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. That’s what my Bible calls this parable, a name that wasn’t given by Jesus as he was talking to his disciples, a later added name for the parable: but this parable could so easily be called,

The parable of the grumpy, whinging, grumbling workers.

Or the parable of the really, overtly generous landowner.

But my preferred title would be, “the parable of the two kingdoms”.

Because really, that is what this parable is about.

A choice.

A decision.

There are two kingdoms: which one will you align yourself with?

God’s Kingdom in all its unexpected, confusing, grace-filled, extravagant and yet humble glory.


Humanity’s kingdom in all its predictable mundanity.

Our reading opens with the words of Jesus.

“For the Kingdom of heaven is like....”

That’s a pretty big clue,

A big clue that what Jesus is going to talk about isn’t just about a particular situation relating to employment contracts and workers rights and the ethics of agricultural labour.

As it happens, it is about those things: but it’s also about so much more.

From the outset we the reader, and the disciples, the original hearers are given a choice.

“What is it going to be, God’s way, or another way?”

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out....’

The choice is really simple for us. Jesus makes it clear.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner.

Whatever the landowner is about to do.

That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like.

As it happens the landowner acts generously,

Not just to the people he hired at 5pm, an hour before work finished at 6pm.

But to ALL the workers.

The landowner is generous to the folk who have worked all day because he pays them that same day, something that didn’t always happen – often people had to wait until the next morning.

And the landowner is generous to the folk who have worked all day because he pays them what he promised to pay them, again, something that didn’t always happen.

The landowner pays them their one denarius – not a huge amount, but critically, enough to get by on.

Not enough to get rich.

But enough to live that day.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven, give us today our daily bread....

Is that generous?

To earn just enough to live on?

Is this parable saying pay people the bare minimum?


It’s saying pay what is agreed and what is recognised as fair.

Because in Jesus’ times,

Just as now,

Day labouring is pretty tough.

Lines of people still queue up in Tanzania to work on farms for the day.

Or in South America, to mine for precious metals for a day.

Whether we get it or not,

In Jesus’ day, day labourers were worse off than slaves.

If you owned a slave you wanted to make sure they were fed and watered, that they stayed healthy.

But day labourers?

If they can’t afford food, or medicine, or shelter... and they get sick, or hungry,

You hired someone else.

So the landowner is generous to the folk who’ve worked all day.


And the landowner is generous to the folk who have worked part of the day.


And the landowner is generous to the folk who have only worked an hour.

And not just because they get paid a days wages.

But because they get paid at all.

The landowner is generous to these people in three ways.

The first way the landowner is generous is that he hires them at all. Typically the landowner hires the people he needs early in the morning. If he needs 30 labourers, he hires thirty labourers in the morning.

But this landowner keeps coming back to hire more.

And not because his vineyard has suddenly grown during the day.

Or because his work force weren’t coping.

But because he is generous.

The second way the landowner is generous is that he hires these people at all.

Who is normally left un-hired? Those who are unable to work.

The sick, the elderly.

In other words, the desperate.

And how can we know they were desperate?

Because they were still there waiting for work at five pm.

You have to be pretty desperate and seriously lacking in options to still be waiting for work when the vineyard is pretty much ready to shut down for the night.

Why are the workers who worked all day so annoyed that these late-comers get the same pay?

Because they didn’t do the same amount of work.

But more importantly, because the landowner treated these newcomers as the equals of those who worked all day.

Their equals.

These people.

The sick.

The elderly.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like...’

The third way the landowner is generous is that the landowner goes to the market place to hire his own staff.

The landowner does this.

I’m pretty sure that when Richard Branson wants to hire some more train cleaners he doesn’t go down to the job centre himself.

And it’s the same principle 2000 years ago.

The landowner would normally have sent a servant down to the marketplace.

But the landowner himself goes down to the marketplace.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who...’

Where have we heard that before?

Of someone being so concerned about what is going on, that they go themselves.

Or perhaps they send their son.

And the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit that remains with us, even now.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who...’

And so we’re left with a stark choice.

The kingdom of humanity.


Or the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of humanity where we really want to grumble at all the perceived injustices we encounter.

Where people around us seem to be treated the same.

Even late comers.

Even the broken. (mock shock)

How easily do we do this?


Or we chose the kingdom of God.

God is generous.

God always leans towards generosity.


It’s who God is.

So how will we respond when we see God’s generosity.

Will we grumble and be envious.

Or will we celebrate God’s generosity, in all its splendour?

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who...’

Let’s Pray: Lord, let your generosity reign in our hearts, let us learn to love like you love, let us learn to give like you give. Let us learn to live as your son Jesus Christ lived. AMEN.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

The Power of Words

Words are important. The meaning of words are important, but equally important are the associations held in connection with words.

Take for example the current “rioting”, “looting”, “protesting” that is taking place around England at this time.

What makes something a riot?

What makes something a protest?

What makes something a criminal act of looting?

Can a riot be a legitimate form of protest?

Can looting be a legitimate form of protest?

Can a protest happen without looting?

Can public protest be justified?

Can public looting be justified?

Can public rioting be justified?

As citizens immersed in a social-media saturated culture, where news is forever updated (even if there are no updates to make), it is vital that we do not let words become unfairly associated with concepts, ideas, actions and values that are not directly part of the make-up of the word.

Whilst we may want to condemn the looting that has occurred on a grotesquely pornographic level and portrayed as such, we must make sure that we do not condemn the legitimate right to protest.

News media easily and often purposely associate words with other words. Sometimes these associations are accurate. Sometimes they are not.

Sometimes a ‘bridging’ word is used to carry a concept load – to change an agenda surreptitiously. This use of metonymy is often illicit and inaccurate. (As is my working-definition of metonymy)

Take for example, the word “riot”.

A “protest” can become a “riot”.

A “riot” can lead to “looting”.

A “protest” rarely leads to “looting”.

And never without becoming something other than a “protest”.

Why does this even matter?

It matters because we as citizens, must not let our right to protest be damaged, belittled, or denigrated because of the action of looters.

Looting is very rarely, if ever justifiable. Perhaps the only exception might be the looting of food and medical aid, or indeed, the looting of goods for sale to purchase immediate food or medical aid – but then, does the illicit taking of food or medicine on a personal scale become an act of “looting”, or “theft” – the power of meaning and the power of words – again.

A protest never immediately becomes a looting.

A protest must change from the act of protest to an act of violent conduct, perhaps, a riot, before it becomes looting.

Even if the protest is against an electrical corporation, or global brand, in a protest that is leaning towards becoming a riot, the consumer goods produced by that global brand, might be destroyed, in protest.

But never “stolen”.

A protest wouldn’t “steal” the consumer goods, it might eradicate them, destroy them, but never take them for personal gain.

Again the power of words – I’ve associated “looting” with “stealing” because that is what it is.

Stealing or looting can never be the natural end product of protest.

A protest that becomes a riot (or something other than a protest ) can lead to looting: but that is not the end-product of the protest: if anything, it is the end-product of a corruption of the protest.

Stealing and looting are not the natural end product of all riots.

The right to protest must be protected.

The right to riot – that is a much deeper question: and yet no!

As citizens, we must be wary and aware in the days to come.

We must not let “protest” and “looting” become synonymous with each other without the inclusion of the word “riot”.

Protest – looting = Not without riot.

We must hold on to our legitimate claims to protest. We must not let protest be quashed for illegitimate fear of “looting”.

Once the right to gather in groups and peacefully speak against perceived injustice is curtailed (protest) – it is at this point that people may decide to take things further (riot).

We must not let “protest” be muddied with “looting”.

PRAYER: Christ, keep us safe from the temptation to over-simplify. AMEN.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Tuesday 17 May 2011

A Time To Talk and A Time To Listen

This evening, I had the privilege of hearing Chris Howson speak at St. John's College in Durham. Chris gave a mission lecture three years ago, and it was a really memorable occasion. In March this year I got hold of a copy of his book, 'a Just Church: 21st century Liberation Theology in Action' which is a fantastic little book. But this isn't what I want to talk about.

If you don't know Chris, then you could do worse than to hear him speak at Greenbelt 2011 or to have a read of his book. Chris is into mission in a big way and sees liberation theology being a key expression of God's mission in the world. But this isn't what I want to talk about.

Chris spoke to us about things he's been involved with in Bradford, things he describes in his book. Chris would probably be the first to admit that there are some real complexities in the campaigns he is involved with, Us and Them doesn't quite cut it, though it's sometimes where things end up. But this isn't what I want to talk about.

Chris has a really interesting take on mission and in his conclusion he says somethings I've read elsewhere, but in a down-on-the-ground-PRAXIS way that I really love. But this isn't what I want to talk about.

Chris' argument is strong, even if there is one big-ish area I disagree with him on and would love to have a chat over a pint with him about. But this isn't what I want to talk about.

As Chris spoke there was a buzz, of some folks agreeing with somethings and some folks disagreeing with somethings. It was really good. But this isn't what I want to talk about.

Because what I want to talk about, is sometimes we need to PAUSE, take a breath, and hold in the question, the thought, the minuscule bubble of doubt that will soon dissipate and let things just go.

With the approach I've just outlined there is a real danger that too many things are let slip and before we know it, we're either living out a heresy, or being pastorally naive, or even break relationships and doing damage to the cause we are attempting to support.

But sometimes, we just need to stop. And listen, and pray.

Because, sometimes, we just have to say, "thank you for what you are doing"

Not, "thank you for what you are doing, but I think you're not realising the implications of liberation theology expanded to the nth degree"

Not, "hmm, I like your point but how would that suggestion manifest itself on a global scale"

Those aren't real questions raised in Chris' seminar, but the danger is we too quickly belittle what someone is doing.When at the very least they are doing.

And at the most, they are building a part of God's kingdom, most of us don't even second glance at.

I suppose, I've been affected by Stephen Cherry's Barefoot Disciple (which Clare and I read over lent).

In that great little book, Cherry talks about the difference between grumbling and prophecy. Grumbling, simply is when we moan about something that is bad, but don't do anything. Prophecy is when we see that something is bad, and want to speak against it, to transform it.

It would be easy to grumble about things we read, or hear, or things that people do with good intentions. It can be easy to belittle the efforts of others.

Instead of grumbling, let's try being prophetic.

Or as the old phrase goes,


Thursday 5 May 2011


It's when prayer doesn't feel like "second nature"
that something needs addressing.

And what does that even mean, "second nature"?
Presumably it's some sort of second reaction, ingrained
like an instinct, too deeply embedded to be forced back
or repressed. It will happen no matter what.
In case of so and so happening, the physiological
entity in all it great complexities will respond in a certain
way, a particular fashion. Similar to fight or flight, perhaps.

When prayer isn't one of those first port of call options,
I wonder why. What is it that has taken its place.

Whatever the answer (and its usually grumbling or getting angry)
one thing is for sure. I would prefer that first instinct to be
to pray. Sometimes we need to pray for help to pray.
To pray for God to put on our hearts a hunger to pray.
So that, is what I think I need to do.
Goodnight to you all.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Monday 7 February 2011

Quietly Charismatic

The life of faith that the trinitarian God of creation and wonder calls us to is an ever-changing journey with (to coin a phrase courtesy of Margaret Silf and many more) many waymarks.

This journey at times is peaceful, at time chaotic. We walk, run, or crawl through varying degrees of opulence and tragedy, splendour and disdain. And in so many ways, our individual and collective walks with God bear the marks of our journeys.

Sometimes these marks are in a static symbiosis with the journey, sometimes they stand in a prophetic witness to our journeys.

More simply: at times of busyness, our spirituality can become busy with the buzzing of a thousand voices. In times of peace, our spirituality can echo still pools and thin-place ethereality.

And, on occasion, our spiritual journeys stand in deep contrast to our lived experience. This can be confusing, but also incredibly sustaining.

I find myself in this latter situation. Currently life spirals ever-deeper into a whirlpool of action and doing and busy-ness and work and life, where the different calls of family, work, preparation for ministry, creativity and devotions are muddling around in life's ever murkier waters.

Yet at this time, I find myself faced with an experience of God that is charismatic and at the same time stilling. For the past week, whenever I have turned to prayer, even simple, quiet prayer, I have experienced something of an enveloping charismatic experience of the Holy Spirit.

Not a charismatic Holy Spirit experience that has led to tongues, or being slain in the spirit, of prophecy or outward gifts, but instead, these charismatic experiences have been deeply quiet. With a warm, open stillness that has evaded me for much of my prayer life. As if something has just "clicked", I'm not sure what, or how, but I feel incredibly at peace in prayer in a way that I have rarely experienced before.

I believe that our walks with God cannot and must not be seen as individual expeditions, with each on their own quest, but rather a collective call to ramble towards the God of Creation and Wonder who calls us into a life of relationality, with Him and with each other. It comes as no surprise to me then, that the most profound of these experiences have been in times of community prayer.

I don't know how long this quietly charismatic revolution will be running on tip-toes through my heart, but I am grateful for it.

Tuesday 11 January 2011


Land of unspoken hurt,
Carrier of broken, discordant dreams,
What sorrows lie beneath your veiled shadows?
What tyranny is evoked in your proximity?
The day after and the day before,
Where time runs by a different clock,
And hope dances darkly with despair,
A moving slow waltz to and fro,
With glazed eyes staring pointedly ahead,

You barren land of unspent potential,
Broken bastion of revelry and concern in equal measure,
Who gave you this place of power over eternity?
Do you know the potency in your grasp?
Night becomes day becomes night,
Dull grey mourning, hopelessly pained afternoon,
Anticipatory fear at all that may happen,
Hushed voices and raised swords,
Or simply nothing, deathly quiet,

Pock-marked unease,
No foot-sure place to stand,
Will the brightness of this world arise again?
Can the light break through seemingly impenetrable darkness?
Gathering together dreams with friends and neighbours,
Tall tales shyly spoken in a whisper,
Hands gripped tight for all the will and want,
In the great slumber of one is found the heavy restlessness of another,
Prepare to awake O sleeper, for your day is nearly at hand.