Monday, 21 December 2009

More Big Bangs

I was using my exploding crackers story (last post) as an illustration in last night's carol service ... how the glory of the lord shining all around the shepherds is anything but quiet and peaceful when all of a sudden our occasionally visiting teenagers slipped round the side of the church and kicked the emergency exit door an almighty Whack! The huge noise it made came just as I said 'angels are loud and scary" and before the next line in the sermon went: 'That's why God reminds us over and over, not to be Afraid!

I was going to reference Ireneaus, 'the glory of God is a human fully alive' and how sometimes our greatest fears are about being fully alive to who we are' but we had to give it a minute for the shock to die down. Funnily enough there were some seasoned church folk who were wondering if I'd actually planned it to happen. Wish I had now!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Have an explosive Christmas

The other day I wanted to give out Christmas Crackers as part of the responses in a worship time. I went to the local supermarket to purchase the crackers and seeing the large queue took the self service option for payment. The machine scanned in the boxes but refused to let me pay, it said 'Assistance Required!'
So I sought assistance and it came from a young man who with due respect to him looked about twelve years old. He told me that he had to confirm my age to make the purchase, as i was buying a potentially explosive product.

So having looked me up and down and coming to conclusion that my 18th birthday had indeed been and gone some years ago he presented me with my ticking Yule Tide time bomb. I have no intention of terrorising anyone this Christmas but it did remind me that so many people in the story were terrified ... Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and the Shepherds all at some time had to reminded: Do not be afraid!

So however it is God wishes to explode his glory in us or through us this Christmas may none of us be afraid.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

12 Days of Christmas

There's a lot of talk (and rightly so) about what Christians might do through Advent to make Christmas more meaningful, closer to the purpose of celebrating incarnation etc. But at a recent Renovare gathering we began to think about how we might reclaim something of the truths of Christmas by taking seriously the twelve days of the season and sharing through them some common acts of discipleship and mission. We haven't come up with a plan just yet but I wonder what others would do / or are planning to do this year?

In the meantime the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has a new poem on the 12 days which is worth the reading ... it is published in the Christmas Radio Times... verse twelve (usually the 12 drummers drumming) reads:
Did they hear the drums in Copenhagen
banging out their warning
On the twelth day in Copenhagen
was global warming stopped in its tracks
By Brown and Barak and Hu Jintao
by Meles Zenawi and Al Sabban
by Yvo de Boer and Hedegaard
Did they strike a match
or strike a bargain
the politicos in Copenhagen
Did they twiddle their thumbs
Or hear the drums
and hear the drums
and hear the drums?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Earth remains our mother

These were my thoughts on radio Wales this afternoon.

My two year old daughter has reached another milestone in her life. She's sorted out the walking and kind of got to grips with talking, so we reckon that she's ready for the next big challenge:
it's time for potty training.

But if that's a daunting prospect for my household it's nothing to what the Davies family from North Wales have had to cope with on the BBC One programme, Changing Lives.

For those who may have missed it this family of four are part of the Green Wales project, an initiative that's tested the nation to see how environmentally sustainable our lifestyles are. I now that Roy (Noble) and other presenters at the BBC have been doing their bit for this, but as world leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss the changes in our global climate, it's been the eco-skeptical Davies folk that I have warmed to, swapping their energy guzzling home to live amongst a green community in Powys. There they're learning to generate their own energy, recycle everything and live off the land. Recycling everything has included the challenge of re-using the very stuff my daughter is leaving in her potty.

Meredith and I once spent a week living with twenty other people on a similar project in Scotland. The toilets there were composted too ... the food was mostly home grown and the power sources mainly were sustainable. After seven days there was just one bag of rubbish to remove. On the wall there hung an ancient Celtic prayer reminding us that the whole earth proclaims God's glory ... that there's nothing in the sea, the air, the land that doesn't' contain and reveal God's goodness.

That is not reducing God to nothing more than nature, but it is acknowledging that traces of the Creator can be found in every part of the Creation. It's recognising as St Paul once said, that all things hold together in Christ. And that must means that every thing we see and touch is connected to God, each part deserves our respect, our care and our devotion.

The old prayer on the wall reminded me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once commented

The earth remains our mother just as God remains our father
and our mother only lays in the father's arms
those who remain true to her

Whether we are leaders of the world in Copenhagen
or families in Wales hoping there's a future for our kids
remaining true to the earth is a challenge none of us can avoid.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Fasting and Feasting in Advent

There will (I hope) be plenty of feasting tor me to enjoy this Christmas, but what about this Advent time, this space for preparation, ought I to be fasting now in anticipation of what is to come?

I'm thinking about this as I prepare a series on fasting for the New Year (or maybe Lent 2010) I've been reading, among others, Scot McKnight's new book 'Fasting', where he speaks of fasting as a whole body response to a 'serious or grievous sacred moment in life.' This is not fasting to cajole something out of God but as a response to something in life that iwe perceive to be amiss, some moment or period of what Walter Brueggemann would call our 'disorientation.'

In the midst of the reading comes a quotation that seemed so right for Advent: its from Thomas Ryan's book The Sacred Art of Fasting.

Fasting is one of the ways the servants of Jesus keep themselves alert in this future-orientated waiting until the bridegroom returns. To what could you liken their discreet, mysterious joy as they wait? you could say it is like the quiet humming or whistling of a choir member earlier in the day of a concert. it's like a mother and father cleaning the house and making up the beds in anticipation of the kids coming home home at Thanksgiving or Christmas, it's like standing at the airport terminal or train station, waiting for your loved one to appear. its' like a fiancee patiently addressing the wedding invitations. The long awaited event is not here yet, but it will come, and this is necessary preparation, In each case the energy is upbeat, forward looking and marked by the quiet joy of anticipation.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bonhoeffer, Fundamentalism and Secularism

Just published is this slim and slender (not) 424 page volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology Today: A Way between Fundamentalism and Secularism? It's not cheap, at around £45, but it is a great collection of papers from the International Bonhoeffer Conference in Prague 2008 and it contains lots of interesting material from people like Jurgen Moltmann, John De Gruchy and Martin Marty ... oh and it has a section from me too.

Things that Get in the Way at Christmas

Tomorrow evening (Victoria Pub, Canton, Cardiff, 7:30) sees me leading an ecumenical event that seeks to build on some of the common journeys our 'churches together' have made during Lent. I have used the picture above in the publicity material, (a Banksy pic where Mary and Joseph can't get to Bethlehem today because the Israeli Security Wall might get in their way) . The idea was to have a dramatic metaphor for how things can get in the way while we are on the way through Advent towards Christmas. However it has already generated some debate that I didn't intend ... and while I am happy to reflect with people on the issues of peace ,justice, security and poverty in Bethlehem, Palestine, Israel and the Disputed Territories that really wasn't the intention here.

Although clearly these issues are of great importance for many (including the creator of this display in a Vancouver,) that is not what i want to engage with on this coming Friday evening.

As with Lent I try to do less rather than more in these traditionally penitential periods ... but it is very hard
(especially if you are a religious professional).

There is, for better or worse, a lot more to be doing around this time of year and much of it does not help me actually prepare for the depths of the Christmas experience. I'll try and do some more pruning over the next four weeks but i wonder what gets in the way on the way back to the manger?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Civil Partnerships

BUGB Council spent some time this week discussing if and how a Baptist pastor might participate in Civil Partnerships. There was, as you might except, a wide diversity of opinion but I thought we had covered all the possible positions. Until that is, I listened to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 this afternoon. He had as guests a woman and man who do not wish to get married (in Church or civil ceremony) because marriage discriminates against gay and lesbian people who are denied the instituion under law. What the couple want is to have a Civil Partnership, but they can't do that because they are not gay. This they claim (not without some logic) is also discrimination. As a commitment to justice they wish no part in any arrangement that sustains such inequalities. I am not going to make any further comment on the rights and wrongs of this, except to say that we never thought of it arising when we were at Swanick.

Friday 13th: Put your money where your mouth is

This afternoon I have to see the dentist. And yes I know its Friday 13th ... which due to weird conflation of inaccurate Christian story-telling and natural superstition is said to be unlucky. When I spoke to the receptionist about the appointment I mentioned that Friday 13th was not a date I would have chosen to visit my dentist she casually checked her records to confirm the facts before her and then chalenged me
'But you're a Reverend ... we thought such things wouldn't matter to you.'

So off I go at 1 o'clock to put my money where my mouth is
and my mouth in someone else's hands.
Faith eh?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

This is not the light of the World

Carrying on from my carol singers last week I discover that tonight's the night when the Christmas Lights in Cardiff will be switched on. I do not want to be a perpetually whinging Scrooge, but it is not even Advent yet. If we complain that our weather no longer seems to know the proper season, is it any wonder, for we do not know the time or date ourselves. Surely we must do something to reclaim a proper rhythm and an appreciation of time as a discipline for ourselves and as a witness to a watching world. Pretty as it is ... this is not the Light of the World and i am not convinced that all the premature illumination will help us find it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

What is the measure of a friend?

Finally I have bowed to the increasing pressure of friends and circumstance and joined Facebook.
Having done so I am faced with the question of friendship ... people are being recommended to me as friends ... worse still, I am being recommended to others. It seems impolite to refuse someone who wants to be a friend ... but do I want to be friends with everyone on the planet who has a tangential connection to two other people I once knew? Is this friendship? Are these people for whom I would lay down my life ... would they reciprocate?
I want to value the friends I have (on Facebook and in real life) but like love, I wonder do we debase the meaning of friendship by using it so lightly.

I am reminded of Emily Dickinson

"My friends are my estate.
Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them.
They tell me those who were poor early have different views of gold.
I don't know how that is.
God is not so wary as we,
else He would give us no friends,
lest we forget Him."


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Remember Remember

I think Remembrance Sunday should always be a time for celebrating Communion For while this is a day when we should remember the sacrifices made in the past and things that make our present freedoms possible, it is also when we should remember the Day that is coming when the kin-dom of Shalom shall soak up every tear.

Tomorrow is surely a day when we remember not just the conflicts of the past but recall the peace of the future that is ours. It might even be a day when we dare to start acting in the knowledge that such peace is among us already. Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

Vanity Vanity

A Welsh guy on the run from police has sent a picture of himself to the South Wales Evening Post because apparently he disliked the mugshot they had printed of him as part of a public appeal to track him down.

Matthew Maynard is the man of the moment, helping the Police with their enquires but from a distance! The cheeky bit is the fact that he sent the newspaper a replacement photo of himself standing in front of a police van.

He might live to regret this I fear
and in case you're wondering the one on the right is his preferred photo.

What price vanity eh?

Friday, 6 November 2009

I don't beleive it ... Carol Singers!

Yes folks it happened here last night ... I came home from a church meeting at about 10:30 and as my wife had an early flight this morning I decided to get ready for a relatively early night ... whereupon at 10:47 pm the door bell rang, the knocker was knocked, and fearing some pastoral emergency I rushed down stairs to be greeted by two young women serenading me with Silent Night. I told them that it was not a silent night and that their approximation at carol singing was exactly the reason why but if they would remove themselves from my doorstep I would indeed retire for said nocturnal season free of external cacophony. (Well it was words to that effect).

But really carol singing, at that time of night and Guy Fawkes hardly turned to a crisp.
Its enough to make you go 'bah humbug'.
On which tangential note
my copy of the Atheist's Guide to Christmas has just arrived.
Always good to know what other folks are thinking

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Youth of today ... church of today

So I had just finished my preach on Haggai on Sunday evening (John Bell says that prophet sounds very Scottish ... think about it) focusing on getting our worship of God at the core of our lives and then I moved to the communion table ... to celebrate Eucharist ... just began the liturgy whereupon about 15 young people, (11-14?) burst into church seemingly full of the 'joys' of Hallow e'en. What to do now?
There is no pastor's remote control for such events (and I am glad of that) but what to do?
It had been a busy morning, a wet night and Cardiff City were playing at home with a five o'clock kick off, so attendance was a little low on Sunday evening ... the late comers effectively doubled our numbers. Imagine if it could be sustained I thought: 100% growth to nonchurched teenagers ... a new youth centre established ... we would be a feature in Transform Magazine!

Except that's not how it panned out. I was impressed with our welcome stewards ... they didn't panic ... they were indeed welcoming ... they invited the young people to come in (with or without bikes) ... many of them did ... and in fairness the boys were fairly respectful of what was going on (I was adding my welcome from the table, explaining what was happening and hastily editing the usual religious speak out of the liturgy). I took a certain 'theological risk' by letting them know that it was not my table or the church's table, I had no right to say who could come or not (some in church may not agree) it was the table of Jesus so if they wanted to participate they could. But it was the girls who were for messing about ... by which I don't mean surpressed giggles adn embarrassed shuffling of feet, it was deliberate disruption of the remainder of the service ... shouting ... mickey taking ... running around the balcony.

Now don't get me wrong ... there was no malicious damage ... no threatening behaviour ... just a lot of high spirits and disruptive messing about. What to do? We want to be welcoming and inclusive ... we want to be a missionary people who reach young people just like these for Christ ... you could pray for years before 15 young people would darken the door of a church today. I am not so dedicated a liturgist to think that the Communion must be preserved at all costs ... indeed in many ways it is the most effective symbolism we have for mission and it may have been that for some a connection there was made. I am also conscious that they may have been the Spirit's gift to us ... breaking our comfortable familiarity as surely as bread was lying broken on the table ... they may have been the gift we failed to unwrap or accept ... but in such a scenario ... when disruption is seemingly the only intent what is the right response?

The temptation of course is to focus on the ones causing disruption ... asking for some respect / (ie compliance with our norms), but surely the danger there is that we miss the one or two quieter people who were perhaps genuinely intrigued by what was going on. What to do? As they said in the 90s what would Jesus do?

What would you have done?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Just say No???

Welcome to November: although the greeting sounds a little strange to me. November doesn’t seem like a welcoming time of year. The ruby reds and burnished golds of early autumn have mostly gone, taking with them beauty of October’s ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ But the seasons of Advent and Christmas still seem a little far away. What lies between them is this new but unpromising month of November.
I think the poet Thomas Hood summed it up well in verse I remember from my childhood.

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon!
No dawn - no dusk -
No proper time of day
No sky - no earthly view -
No distance looking blue -
No warmth, no cheerfulness,
no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member
No shade, no shine,
no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers,
no leaves, no birds,

It’s not the whole of the poem, just the first and last stanzas, (I love the version recorded by the Art of Noise) but the verses in between offers up a similarly desolate view of the next 30 days.
But Christians need not worry about the gloom of the coming month. With God there is always the possibility of what George MacLeod once called the ‘Glory the Grey.’ There are wonders from God to be found, not only in the rage of thunderstorms or the splendour of sunsets, but in the most ordinary of moments, the most nondescript of days, glories in the greyest of times. I can’t help but wonder if it was in November that St Augustine once wrote:
How many common things are trodden under foot
which if examined carefully,
might awaken our astonishment.
So mind how you go this month,
For who can tell what glories might slip past us,
what moments of astonishment lie left asleep beneath us
if all we know of November is ‘no!’

Monday, 26 October 2009

Great fun with a woman... who is not my wife!

Yesterday's preach in the morning was slightly different: We were using the Tearfund material on Water, and the text was John 4, the woman at the well. I considered doing a narrative sermon based on the woman but as I reflected on this I felt it was not right for me (not least cos I'm a bloke) so I decided to tell the story from the perspective of the woman's 6th 'husband.'

Having taken the precaution of warning my own good wife as to what was coming up I proceeded to tell a story of how I had got rid of my first wife and taken up with Betty, having met her myself one hot afternoon down by the well, from where she offered me a drink but we settled on so much more. So imagine how I felt when she told me she'd met another bloke at the same well, the sort of mood i was in when I went off to meet this man who told her all she'd ever done. Anyway we went on from there reviewing her and his encounters with Jesus, linking his dreams of Jesus Kingdom of Shalom with the unfinished business of social justice today.

We ended with the thorny question of personal reconciliation too: as having introduced his sons to Jesus when he stayed in the village, the boys then want to go and bring the Christ to their mother, my ex wife ... and they want to bring Betty along.
What would Jesus do!

You can't preach this kind of stuff every week, it would loose the impact but as a piece of Lectio for me it was personally very revealing and I hope helpful for the congregation. Certainly I got more feedback than usual.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


I did enjoy reading Christian George's book God.ol.ogy, although I must admit it was often more because of the authors he quotes than what he writes himself.

I am not familiar with James Rohn, (I think he is some kind of motivational business guru in America) but I did like this comment quoted by George:

We must all suffer one of two things:
the pain of discipline
or the pain of regret or disappointment


I was doing a year nine assembly in a local High School last week. When I had finished my talky bIt, much to the surprise of staff and me alike there were no announcements, reprimands or congratulations to impart, which left us with 4 minutes to fill before the bell. The RE teacher filled the gap by announcing that he and I were going to do a quick soap opera serialisation of the bible, or at least part of it. (he turned to me and whispered but 'we'll have to end on a cliff hanger moment and then next term we'll carry on.'
A very hurried discussion led to him kicking off the background biography on David, shepherd boy, giant killer, poet, musician and King, all round good egg for God. Then one day something happened that would change his life forever ... and I'll hand you over to Rev Gardiner.
There were two minutes left on the clock but I managed to spin out the roof top voyeurism until the critical moment where David did the necessary calculations, (three streets over, second house on the left) and dispatched a servant to get her. So the class time bell rang just as Bathsheba announced 'but I can't, I won't, I'm married.. get your hands off me...'
Sorry year nine but you'll have to wait until after half term!
The students didn't want to leave, (ok I know the alternative was double maths) but it did make me think again about the power of narrative and how I tell our message week by week.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Glory, Glory

Jim at Living Wittily has reduced his blog output to a sentence a day, I enjoy reading his longer posts but already the 'one liners' are shaping up to be great provocations to thought. Coincidentally, yesterday in the pulpit a singular line returned to me unexpectedly from my reading the evening before. I think I even abandoned the script to use the phrase twice. It seemed an appropriate turn of phrase given the lectionary reading in Mark, where James and John ask Jesus for the best of seats in glory.

It comes from Christian George in his book God.ol.ogy.
He says:

Glory shines,
but it also bleeds.

Ears to hear but its the feet that vote

In days gone by (and still in other places around the world today) Christians would band together in close knit communities, each bearing the burdens of the other, and protecting one another from persecution that might lead to imprisonment, torture or death.

So how is it that we've come to this:
According to the Baptist Times a London church has recently been issued orders from their local council to lower the volume of their amplified praise and worship. This does not seem particularly like persecution to me, it more resembles the secular authorities reminding the church what it is to love their neighbour, but what has astonished me more was the claim from church leaders that this might lead to their congregations loosing members. I have no wish to criticise another fellowship of Christians but surely something is amiss in a gospel people when we have ears to hear when the volume's to our liking, but when it is not, we up and move to somewhere else, presumably either to the middle of a large field where noone can hear you sing or to another urban church where we may well still be annoying the neighbours. It seems we now have ears to hear, but its the feet that carry the vote.

Covenant belonging ought not to be so easily laid aside.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

When they say 'Its not about the money ...'

When I worked as a lawyer there was a general rule that applied in nearly every case: when a client said, ''it's not about the money, it's the principle ...
you knew that it was all about the money!
Harvest this year at church was not about the money, good as it was to raise the funds for BMS and needy situations round the world, harvest was about saying thank you to God for what we have and then standing in solidarity with those who have not. And it was good to be reminded of just how much we do have.
This happened of course in our offerings
in the Seeds of Hope we planted
but also in the display
And in the words of the Brian Wren hymn: Praise God for the Harvest:

Praise God for the harvest of orchard and field,
praise God for the people who gather their yield,
the long hours of labour, the skills of a team,
the patience of science, the power of machine.

Praise God for the harvest that comes from afar,
from market and harbour, the sea and the shore:
foods packed and transported, and gathered and grown
by God-given neighbours, unseen and unknown.

Praise God for the harvest that's quarried and mined,
then sifted, and smelted, or shaped and refined:
for oil and for iron, for copper and coal,
praise God, who in love has provided them all.

Praise God for the harvest of science and skill,
the urge to discover, create and fulfil:
for dreams and inventions that promise to gain
a future more hopeful, a world more humane.

Praise God for the harvest of mercy and love
from leaders and peoples who struggle and serve
for patience and kindness, that all may be led
to freedom and justice, and all may be fed.

23 kilos of money

Sorry it has taken so long since my last post but we have been busy counting the 23 kilogrammes of change we collected through the Seeds of Hope for BMS at harvest. Actually that's not true, my Treasurer and his family have been the ones spending their time doing the counting, which when added to our harvest 'lunch money' is going to be around £800 raised to help agricultural projects in war torn areas like Lebanon. Once again I am reminded of the huge privilege to pastor such a great bunch of people and how we connect into the wider unfolding purposes of God.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Harvest Hopes Part 1

Last night we had our Harvest Supper at Church, focusing on the work of BMS and their Seeds of Hope material, how hope is being sown in war torn, bomb strewn parts of Lebanon through help from BMS. In some ways, the supper was the usual stuff, lots of food and fun and conversation, but with lots more children staying up for the occasion, we were running out of space and seats in the church hall. Thankfully there was enough dessert with chocolate cake left over for Sunday (except Sunday is an austerity lunch). Anyway we watched the excellent DVD presentation and tried our hands at the quiz (although quiz was a bit hard and serious).

But there was lots more too. We were decorating plant pots with ribbons and stickers to use in symbolic offerings in our All Age Service on Sunday, (my daughter has made three already) and picking up the theme we were physically planting seeds as well. So out came the packets of cress seeds for what we are hoping will have flourished into a living crop of symbolic hope by Sunday morning.

Burning Bush and Floating Leaves

I am not sure it was as captivating as Moses' Burning Bush, but it held my attention for a good few minutes yesterday. Walking through Victoria Park, with only an ice cream for my company, there was a leaf, floating in the air. It was going to and fro a little, with a gentle lullaby-esqye feel, but it was neither going up or down, just hanging around, doing its own leafy thing.

Eventually, realising that I could be scuppering the magical moment i grabbed the air above it, expecting to find some fine spider's thread that had enabled its suspension, but nothing was there. It continued unperturbed my my violent interruption to just lay back and go with the breezy flow. For all I know it might still be there. I'm going on later and I'll let you know. As I watched it for a while I remembered reading once, (Eckhard or some Celtic saint perhaps) that to observe a beetle well could tell you all you needed to know. Maybe it works with leaves as well.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


The other day I had my regular check up with the dentist. Normally the questions he asks before I lie back and say ‘ah’ are as predictable as those from an airport check in desk. Instead of ‘did you pack this bag yourself?’ and ‘have you left it unattended?’ I am used to regular dental enquiries like, ‘How often do you floss?’ and ‘are you having any trouble with your gums?’

But this visit was different, this time I was asked: ‘on a scale of 1-10 how happy are you with the appearance of your teeth.’

The question kind of threw me even though I knew where it was going. If I answered less than the average 5, then no doubt there was a range of cosmetic adjustments to be offered, but no doubt also at a price. Coming from a very practical approach to dentistry (if it ain’t broke then don’t poke about in there) I didn’t want any such work undertaken, but I felt duty bound to be truthful and the present pearly whites didn’t quite meet the 50% mark: maybe 3.5, possibly 4 by a dim light.

Now I like my dentist very much so I kind of fudged the issue saying, ‘once upon a time the image might have been important, but I’m married now and she loves me 3.5 and all!’

But all the same, the powers of insecurity had begun to work their dark magic. Would a little work up here and there do wonders for my photos, my image and my self-esteem? How much would it cost to raise my dental profile to a 5 or 6? Of course what I am worth is not down to pearly whiteness of my teeth or a body that is tanned and toned to within an inch of perfection: and it’s just as well. Neither is it down to the size of my bank account or the heights of my IQ. Again we say, it’s just as well. Instead, each one of us is beautiful simply because we are created and loved by God. Each one of us is priceless because of the rich inheritance we have in Jesus Christ.

So often fears and insecurities over what we look like, what we’ve done, how we’ve failed to be the person that we’d like to be, can undermine our belief in this good news of God’s unconditional love, but for all that heaven wishes to transform us, still God accepts us as we are. As the song says, we can come no other way. And so again, we might all say that’s just as well. And if you don’t believe me then print and pin this to the bathroom mirror.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Retune your life

Every so often this week my television has reminded me that if I've got a Freeview Box I need to retune it tomorrow in order to ensure ongoing good reception. I don't know much about the digital revolution in television and I'm sure this side effect is not intended by the nice folks who send me the information, but every time the messages come on the screen I am reminded that so often its my Spirit that most needs retuning, if I am going to continue with good reception. Just a thought.

Monday, 28 September 2009

More refreshments please.

I have been catching up on the various blogs of ministers taken away for a few days of R and R courtesy of the most highly beneficent BUGB Refresher scheme. I have received such a time in the middle of my NAMS and another since then too i think (too many conferences) and I am looking forward to more of the same in the future. I think it is a vital part of our nurturing mature (and I don't mean old) pastors.

Like going to Assembly, some of the greatest benefits are in catching up with friends now flung far and wide across the country, but there has obviously been a rich array of studies and reflections this year which has left participants sufficiently enthused to blog on them. I ma sure this has happened in the past as well, but this year i was paying attention. Of course nothing beats being there, (even a second rate gig will trump a CD /i tune download) but it seems that there was so much to which a wider audience might listen that's its a shame to not share it all around.

So I am wondering if anyone thought to record the Bible Studies and Lectures and if so do they or BUGB have the technology to post them somewhere for us all to have a listen. I know the team from BMS had down loads of Tony Campollo on line within a day of his talks at the Joint Welsh Baptist Assembly which helped me capture a flavour of the time even though I could not be there. It too was a great refreshment.

I suspect that no-one did it this time but here's an appeal for next year
could we all share in more of the refreshments please?

So I say 'Thank you for the Music'

What a great day of Jazz in Worship we had on Saturday with Scott Stroman. Scott is a composer. musician /conductor at the Guildhall School of Music and came to Cardiff this weekend at the invitation of Kelvin Thomas and Cambrensis Ministries. It was a privilege to host the day in our church building. Scott brought with him the gift of music, he had us all singing and playing for hours on end ... not only enjoying every minute of it, but encountering it as a rich time of worship to God. High point for me was probably the fantastic Benedictus from his Jazz Mass and a setting of Psalm 65 that captured all the mystery of the Psalmist's prayer, but we also did wonderful arrangements of more popular songs like 'Is it Well With your Soul' and 'Happy Day.' You can listen to some of this at

But what will stick with me most is how Scott came enthused and passionate about what gave him meaning and joy in life (music and faith) and passed in on to us by getting us to join in. He didn't teach us very much that we were not actively doing ourselves within a matter of a few minutes. Although most of us could read music, he didn't distract us with black dots on pages instead he we caught the music from him, learning one another's lines by ear, watching for cues that led into improvisation, knowing how to listen to what others were doing ... even on occasion swapping parts around (some worried sopranos at the this point) so that we knew how to carry the music of one another.

This wasn't just music or worship (although it was all of the best in that) this was a whole lesson in mission and discipleship just waiting to be performed.
If he's not already coming, invite him to a church near you!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Free the dream

A few days ago I mentioned the naming ceremony I had attended (albeit late cos I was leading a service at church at the same time as the celebrations began). Although I may have missed many of the wonderful words that were shared by parents and mentor parents, I did get there to see a parable in action.

Guests were invited to write down their hopes and dreams for Phoebe and tie them to helium filled balloons which would then be symbolically released to fly free. The imagery is powerful ... but all the more so when it doesn't work .... when your child's dreams barely get off the ground because the balloons have got tangled in a tree. But greater love hath no dad but that he risk life and limb to ensure his baby's dreams will fly. So we watched as Pete climbed over a high wooden fence, located and borrowed both a a ladder and a big stick after which he balanced said ladder against said tree and precariously perched upon its top rung poked at the branches with the big stick. Eventually the balloons and dreams were freed and Pete returned to the family safe and sound.

It was what dads do after all, risk themselves to see the dreams for their children come true. I may have missed the promises made by mum and dad at the ceremony but this spoke loud and clear as to the vocation parents have and indeed we all have as human beings to help release and realise the dreams of others.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Name the baby competition

Choosing the name for a baby is an awesome responsibility. I always like to know what a person's name means. I was at a naming ceremony yesterday afternoon for Phoebe, a lovely name (it means radiant) for a lovely girl. It was followed by a lovely lunch as well (thanks Mel and Pete)

But then last night I continued the preaching on the Minor Prophets, this week it was Hosea. Many of you will know the story: God commands Hosea to marry a whore called Gomer because Heaven thinks it will make a good illustration of Israel's unfaithfulness to their covenant with God. There is no indication that Gomer is reluctantly 'on the game' because life has left her with little option, no hint that she would get out if she could, the whole idea of the illustration is that she voluntarily embraces her wanton lifestyle in parallel with the idols and false Gods to which Israel has given their devotion. Gomer has three children, the later two of which God tells Hosea to name Lo Rahamah which means 'No Mercy' and Lo Ammi which means 'No-body': in other words God has run out of compassion for the people and he will now treat them as nobodies to Him.

Which led to a discussion time in the sermon slot: who are the partners with whom the church has had illicit affairs?

And if God struck in the same way twice, what names would God suggest for our babies today?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Origins of Species

My 'Weekend Word' Reflection for Radio Wales this morning went something like this:

Yesterday I visited the National Museum in Cardiff for their exhibition on the Origins of Wales. It's a captivating journey that takes you through the land of our fathers and our mothers, beginning with the bones of one family who are now 230,000 years old. Walking through the years from then 'til now, I was struck not so much by the differences between us, as the similarities. People in every age have struggled for the same basic things: food and shelter for their families, trade and security for their tribe, art and other symbols created as reflections on their patterns of living and indeed their spiritual beliefs: these things appear again and again in the origins of any nation and Wales is no different.

But this national exhibition managed to get personal as well. I was fascinated by the reconstructed faces of four ancient Welsh skulls. Who were these people? In another life would we have been friends ... might we even have been relatives? Of course they say, go back to your roots in any family tree and it is not long before you uncover criminality, madness and even worse.

Searching for truth in our origins, in the family or the nation is always risky, especially when its personal and if it gets spiritual.

So I left the exhibition wondering what might happen if this weekend I did some archaeology on my Soul, what if you or I dug down through the layers of who we are what might any of us uncover half hidden in our hearts?

Of course we’d all find some unsavory aspects to our character ...
There’s none of us without such flaws ...
But a great truth of the Christian faith is that if we dare dig deep enough, we will discover that far back in our origins, each one of us has been fashioned to life in the Image of God. Heaven's love and goodness are planted more deeply in us than any hurt or sin or wrong.

We need to rediscover this vital truth about our origins, we need to believe this truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful we discover that we are.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Life After Festivals

So, the summer is over and the canvas festival season of Leading Edge, Keswick, Greenbelt and others is done and dusted for another year. But what is it that we come back to and have our trips away helped us any with what is to come?

I'm reading George MacDonald's Fairy Tales at the moment and in the one called The Shadows, a mortal has returned from a mysterious journey to the Shadow Church, and he reflects on what he's seen with this;
This made it more likely that he had seen a true vision; for instead of making common things look common place, as a false vision would have done, it had made common things disclose the wonderful that was in them.
May you have a wonder full day and may all your vision be beauty full too.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

I will believe the truth about myself ... no matter how beautiful it is.

I always enjoy keeping up to date with the life of my friend at Stuart's Nicaraguan Blog. On a recent post he mentioned reading Macrina Wiederkehr's book, Seven Sacred Pauses. Book recommendations from blogs is costing me a fortune, but this purchase was well worth it, for within its pages is this most wonderful and challenging prayer. I have been using it for several days now and it pulls me to new depths every time I try to say it.

I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is:

I believe in my power
to transform indifference into love
I believe I have an amazing gift
to keep hope alive in the face of despair.
I believe I have the remarkable skill
of deleting bitterness from my life.
I believe in my budding potential
to live with a nonviolent heart.
I believe in my passion to speak the Truth
even when it isn't popular.
I believe I have the strength of will
to be peace in a world of violence.
I believe in my miraculous capacity
for unconditional love.

I believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is.

Universalism Unmasked

Robin Parry has finally revealed himself to be the hitherto anonymous author of the book, Evangelical Universalist. It makes no difference to the stimulating arguments he makes of course, and although he has gifted the evangelical churches with much to think about, I kind of liked it when we went by the pseudonym of Gregory MacDonald. He reminded me of that old rabbi sent to tell the disheartened monastery that the Messiah was living among their monks. Every monk then spent so much time thinking that it might be brother So-and-So or Abbot Whatshisname, that every monk in the community was afforded the respect due to the Christ that really dwelt within them and the life of the monastery was thus enriched and restored. Now we all know that Gregory is really Robin, I hope the monastery of universalist conversation will survive.

Monday, 24 August 2009

U2: Magnificent

U2 on Saturday night in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium were, as the song says: magnificent. The much publicised 360 degree stage, dubbed 'the claw' for its four arms that encircled the stage and its lighted runways and from which hung hundreds of stretchy TV screens, was undoubtedly impressive ... but it didn't steal the show.
The night belonged to four guys doing what they have been doing for decades: being the best rock and roll band in the world. A healthy mixture of the new album along with some serious revisiting of the back catalogue gave a stunning performance over 2 hours of the most energetic music.

Front man Bono has always worn his politics (and sometimes his Christian faith) boldly on his sleeve and Cardiff was no exception. So the thousands who had gathered in listened not just to the music but to impassioned protests against the government in Burma and expressions of solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi. We were privileged to hear a short recorded 'sermon' from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, his beaming smile shining brightly from the many TV screens suspended from the Claw as he encouraged us to sign up to a U2 sponsored charity, One. (Have a look at their blog at So throughout the night we joined our voices to prophetic songs against war and poverty, we even sang Psalm 40. Amidst all the driving decibels and fast-paced illumination there were moments that felt quite genuinely sacred, almost as if Sunday (if not Christmas) had come early.
ps Liz, I hope you are feeling better soon.

Kenny MacAskill, Jonah and al Megrahi.

Notwithstanding my last post, lasty night I continued my sermon series with the Minor Prophets ... this week it was Jonah. It was an interesting week on which to reflect how the story of this obstinate prophet and events int he media touched upon one another. Forget all the stuff about the big fish the bottom of line of this biblical narrative seems to be that Jonah wanted only judgment on people he (and God) regarded as evil … but God offered mercy too and that was too hard for him to swallow.

The balance of judgment and mercy is never an easy one and never more so than last week for Kenny MacAskill Scotland's Minister for Justice. His deliberations and decision on the fate of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi has brought these tensions into sharp relief. So have the comments made from both sides of the Atlantic. I'll admit I've found the whole incident deeply problematic … it has left me with many unresolved questions and dubious answers … it has troubled me all week and still does, although on the grounds of compassion I cannot fault Mr MacAskill's decision. But I do know this much: There are many situations in the world today of barbaric behaviour that i would think deserve the judgment of God.

Some of these have undoubtedly come from nations like Libya who whether or not it was al Megrahi in person, as a nation have effectively admitted that they lay behind the deaths of 270 at Locherbie. But a few years before Locherbie the American Navy shot down Iran flight 655 with 290 on board. If it were an accident, even one where the crew got sucked in to what they call ‘scenario fulfilment’, then it seems to me that it due to some pretty reckless military behaviour. Yet the crew were subsequently decorated (along with all those who served in the Gulf at that time) and the captain awarded the Legion of Merit. Although 62 million dollars of compensation was later paid, America offered no apology and admitted no responsibility. In fact the then vice-president George Bush went on air to say: "I'll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what the facts are."

We already know that Britain is far from immune in all this. Our actions here and overseas have often been no better. The conviction of corporal Donald Payne for war crimes in Iraq seems to be only the tip of a huge and troublesome iceberg of systemic and racist torture in the military. It would surely be naïve in the extreme to presume that Iraq was the first and only theatre of conflict in which this kind of thing has ever happened.

I am not seeking to condemn men and women who go to places and face dangers that I do not and could not and in the process protect my freedom. I have much respect for them. But war is hell and those responsible for such acts of violence have often faced horrors themselves. War dehumanises everybody. Military personnel may well have gone through more than we can ever imagine before they snapped and did things that they would never have imagined doing. It is not just them and their commanders who are responsible … it is the governments who send them and the people who elected them and then did nothing to protest.
Ask not for whom this bell tolls it tolls for us all.

Just as no child is born a terrorist or with that hatred in their hearts. They become so by the horrors they experience in life. Their bell tolls for us all as well.

And we could pick on any country round the world and ask the same question: Who can come to God and demand judgment or plea for mercy with clean hands? Which nation is good enough to demand judgment from God? Which is sinless enough to expect mercy.

Or if we got personal again: What person thinks they can come to God and think they are on a par with the wisdom of the Almighty and so can demand judgement on another? Who is sinless enough to think they are good enough to expect mercy?

We don't know if Jonah become chaplain to First Church of the Withered Vine in Nineveh? He may have hopped on another boat to Tarshish or thrown himself under a passing chariot and finally get his wish to die?

Seems to me we don’t know … and we’re not supposed to. The story is supposed to hang around in mid air .It invites us to write our own response … our own chapter 5. In
doing so however we will need to ask how do we feel about a God who really loves the world as much as he loves the Church? How do I feel about a God who loves Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi as much as he loves me? How do we feel about a God who loves mercy as much as he loves judgment?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Educated beyond Obedience

Are we in the church being educated beyond our obedience?

The idea of being 'educated beyond obedience' comes from Neil Cole's book Organic Leadership and it struck a chord this week. Last Sunday evening my congregation began a series on the Minor Prophets. Week 1 was Joel, from which I suggested that in response to the world today we might need to gather the church and declare a fast from all that is harmful us and to others and the planet herself.

This week is Jonah ... and I'm thinking to myself .... why are we moving on to another prophet when we haven't really wrestled with what the last one said. So it struck me that maybe I and others should be fasting from preaching ... (at least on Sunday evenings) ... and instead of moving on to something new, acutally stay with Joel for a while, at least until we have not simply heard what he has said but put it into some kind of practice. Otherwise people will have been educated into knowing what the Word says, but not led into the obedience of it.