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.