Friday, 5 December 2008

Advent giving

It's hard to focus on Advent things today, because other pressing concerns have occupied my mind ... namely its my birthday.

I love birthdays ... mostly because like Christmas, I enjoy receiving presents. But unlike the festive season, on my birthday I don't have to sit and wonder:

'Did I get him a card as well?'
Did I buy something for her too
and if so ... did I spend as much on her as she has done on me?'

Of course I realise that this is not a healthy way to view the giving and receiving of gifts ...
but few of us seem immune from this.
So many of us seem to feel a perpetual need to balance the cosmic scales of our giving.

God has other ideas.
At the birthday of Jesus the world receives the greatest gift of all
God takes on the risk and vulnerability of flesh
And there is no way that we can ever balance the munificence of the giver of the gift.
At Easter time, God does it all over again, with another unrepeatable act of generosity.

It is a great moment of personal awareness when he discover and admit our finitude
when we confess that there is nothing we can give to God to balance up the abundance of heaven's giving. But somewhere in the bleak mid winter of this advent time I can hear the soft refrain of carols ... 'what can I give him ... give him my heart.'

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Today was World AIDS Day 2008
For 20 years now, 1st December has been universally recognised as World AIDS day, a time to reflect on the issues facing the 33 million people living with HIV /AIDS today. This year, as well as the established Welsh Civic Service that traditionally marks the day, Calvary Baptist Church played host to the first Christian Aid, HIV/AIDS Day Service. For a long time now, Christian Aid have been working in partnership with local community action groups, particularly in Africa. Much of the work involves supporting those living with HIV/ AIDS, or orphaned by this global pandemic, together with campaigning for better healthcare, anti-discrimination legislation and sex education.

So it was that some members of my church's Global Issues Group met with others from around Cardiff for an informal time of songs, prayer and storytelling that began by reflecting on our own experiences with HIV/AIDS over the last 20 or more years.

It was then a true privilege to listen to Moira Jones from Khayelitsha, a township outside of Cape Town. Moira is director of a group called Wola Nani ( Wola Nani is Xhosa for ‘we embrace and develop one another’. It was established in 1994 as a non-profit organisation to help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by the HIV crisis. Begun against a background of economic curtailment on welfare spending and a huge increase in the number of HIV and AIDS cases, Wola Nani initiated programmes to help HIV positive people in the local community cope with the emotional and financial strains brought on by the disease. I was staggered at the variety of practical support given by Wola Nani from a small budget funded largely by their own craft income generating initiatives.

Although those gathered for the service were small in number, everyone agreed it had not only been worth the doing, but the evening had been time spent on ‘holy ground.’

Monday, 1 December 2008

Putting the wanting back into waiting

Yesterday saw the beginning of Advent ... at last I can start thinking about getting ready for Christmas.

In this same week my new credit card arrived ... (new card, but same old number and sadly the same old balance) but it put me in mind of the old advertising slogan ...
'taking the waiting out of wanting.'
This Advent I want to try and turn all that on its head a bit ...
I want to put the wanting back into the waiting ... as I wait ... as God calls on us all to wait and watch and pray and get ready for his coming into the world ... I want to put God's wanting back into the next four weeks ...
what is heaven's desire for my here and now ...
and do I want it as much as God does?
inevitably the answer to that question is no,
but who knows what I might learn in the asking?

ps Check out the daily advent reflections on hopeful imagination

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Is there a green hill still?

Last week was a busy week with so much interesting stuff happening that I didn't get a chance to do much reflecting, let alone blog about it.

Last Tuesday the Evangelical Alliance, Tear Fund and UCCF met together at our church for a conference around the theme of 'Does God Believe in Climate Change?'

Thankfully the answer was Yes .. and not only that everyone seemed pretty convinced that God was asking the church to respond with a prophetic voice and to change how we live as individuals, families and church communities.

We were of course playing catch up with many environmental groups. (why is it that the church nearly always lags behind like this ... with God speaking through those outside the perceived sanctorum communio .. could it be that heaven had tried telling this to the church but in desperate the Holy Spirit had to go elsewhere to find someone who would listen? ... and what else are we not hearing ... on matters of justice, equality, inclusion etc)

Anyway the conference gave us both challenge and hope.

The Key note speakers included Sir John Houghton who started us off with Joseph's dream of seven fat and seven lean years encouraging us that God warned old Jospeh because he cares about people and wanted them, to be prepared ... and likewise the warnings coming from a changing climate are trying to say the same thing ... especially as it is the poor who will suffer most.

Sir John was followed by another John, (no knighthood yet but he is BUGB president) who talked about humanity's calling not just as stewards of creation, but as co-creators and more interestingly co-redeemers with God.

Later on it was a joy to see students from Cardiff and Swansea CUs engaging with the topic and with scripture ... the future feels a little brighter after the day. Maybe there is a green hill far away (or closer to home) that will stay both green and above the water line for a longer. I wonder what are the five things that people would most want to change in the life of their congregations to be more eco-friendly and keep the green hills green?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Bah humbug

I don't wish to be accused of being an unseasonable grouch, but in a week where Archbishop John Sentamu did a Radio 2 'Thought for the Day' on the angel visiting Mary with words of 'Do not fear', I also received my first Christmas card (from another notable Anglican).

What's going on ... It's still the middle of November!
We are still well over a week away from Advent, they must have been a fortnight away when the scripts and cards were written. The Anglicans are supposed to be the ones who understand the Church's Year, but it seems even they are being pulled further into the premature culture that see mince pies and charity cards in the shops long before All Hallows Eve.
Why are we in such a rush to get to Christmas and then in so desperate to leaver it all behind again just a few days later? It's not a day .... its a season ... and we are nowhere near it yet.
There is, says the Bible, a time and season for everything, maybe we Baptists out there could start a movement to reclaim the proper time and season of Christmas.

I guess this means I can still be accused of being a grouch but at least I'm not not an unseasonable one! The church in its wisdom has allowed four weeks of preparation for Christmas ...
surely that should be enough.
Unless of course God is coming early this year and only the Anglicans know about it.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Yesterday we gathered together to celebrate communion in our church and today we shall do the same among those of our fellowship who are scattered around our area but, who because of illness or infirmity, were unable to share with us as we came together.

We shall visit one lady today where I never know what will happen next.

She lives in a Care Home and like many other residents she is distinctly hard of hearing. Hence when we go the TV in the lounge will be at volume setting 11. To compensate for this, the other folk will shout to one another and the frequently ringing bells for telephone and front door are amplified in every room.

Into such a melee we bring scripture reading and the bread and wine to an elderly woman whose memory is now such that she may remember the eucharistic purpose of the elements (but not recognise any of us who go), or she may know who we are, but be bemused at the paucity of our picnic. Rarely will the two collide in their most positive potential.

The last time we visited, (I do not make this up) there were builders doing renovations with power- tools and an resident observer who shouted obsenities from the touchline of a neighbouring chair.

I can't believe there were quite so many audio distractions on the night he was betrayed, but these visits do remind me that the first Last Supper was probably not conducted in pious silence either.

It also reminds me that, as George MacLeod once said, Jesus was not crucified on a Cathedral altar between two silver candle sticks but on a nosiy rubbsh dump between two thieves.

Perhaps we need more space for public Eucharist as prophetic acts and mission in a busy, noisy world .

Saturday, 15 November 2008

I thought I'd kick off this blog with one of my favourite views: its taken from the library window in the Abbey on the island of Iona.

The title for the blog, 'Gathered and Scattered' is taken from the liturgy of the Iona Community, a dispersed group of Christians living by a Common Rule. The members of the Community and the Island itself have played a significant part in my life in the last ten years ... after all, it was there I met the woman who became my wife and then I spent over four years of my life writing a theology PhD that drew heavily on the work and worship of The Community.

Anyway, even though I have a wonderful view across the local park from my home computer, this is often my electronic wallpaper ... somehow I see life the better for it.