Thursday, 9 December 2010

Breast-feeding in Church

The other evening I attended a talk by Mark Greene, it was organised by the Cymru Institute for Contemporary Christianity was entitled: 'Of Logic, Logos and Me Plc’. It was a look at what powers and forces help shape our culture today.

I like Mark Greene and have enjoyed listening to him and reading his stuff before: so it was no surprise that the quality of insight and humour was all there (although there were a number of points with which i would want to have taken issue along the way). Perhaps it all stopped a little short and a little early ... because I had one burning question about breastfeeding in church that never got asked.

In one of his illustrations Mark spoke of how a favourite teddy or toy is often introduced by a mother when weening the child off breast milk. The idea is that an object is introduced as a temporary substitute for the relationship that is being broken. Mark argued persuasively that this is often what happens in the contemporary advertising industry ... it seeks to offer us (sell us) objects that substitute themselves as the antidote to our longings for love, affirmation purpose and contentment when really these are only discovered through an encounter with God and grace. Thus the industry keep us in a perpetual infantile stage of life ... always seeking a quick superficial satisfaction to perceived needs rather than attending to what is of greatest worth in us.

All this I agree with ... except it seems to me that so much of church life seems to mimic the advertising agencies ... substituting themselves, their programmes and their busyness, their celebrities and their products along with their often over-simplistic systems of theology as the ready made antidote to our deepest longings ... stifling the space and time that might otherwise be used to enable a real encounter with God.

So it was I wanted to ask:
Are our churches keeping us perpeutually infantile?
Is there too much breast feeding of disciples?
When are we ever going to come-of-age
and what will church look like if we do?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Have we tested and tasted too much already?

With the numerous Christmas parties and activities well under way (including many of those organised by the church) it is easy to forget that Advent is supposed to prepare us for the feasting of Christ’s nativity by leading us, like Lent, through a period of fasting and penance. Given how easily the word ‘austerity’ has been recast as the universal bogey-man of western living in the last twelve months there seems little prospect of the High Street embracing a more penitential or self-denying Advent, but we might expect more of those who claim to follow the child who will be born with the government of the world upon his shoulders.

The hopeful imagination on which we reflect in this Advent blog is rarely nurtured at the table where people have already ‘tested and tasted too much.’ Knowing so much and being materially so satiated many lives can turn stale and cynical, bereft of hope or imagination. Tipped into the perpetual activity of tinselled light and jingling sound that so infects this time of year it can be difficult to anticipate the deep mysteries of Christmas or appreciate it when it finally comes, because ‘through a chink too wide there comes no wonder.’ But the virtue of a hopeful imagination is commonly found among those who inhabit the disciplined rhythms of fasting and feasting, silence and speaking, lament and celebration.

Patrick Kavanagh’s poem ‘Advent’ offers us the possibility of a wonder restored and indeed an innocence reclaimed … in these lines below he shares his own hopeful imagination for life lived not only in the spirit of Christmas but through the disciplines of Advent: Four weeks of reading will not exhaust its treasure or curb its challenge:

We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child's soul, we'll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we'll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We'll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we'll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won't we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason's payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God's breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.

Here is a truly hopeful piece of imagining worthy of the prophets and of our attention: that after Christmas, wherever life ‘pours ordinary plenty’ there will a new richness in our lives so that we might bin the ‘clay-minted-wages of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour’ and truly welcome the Christ who comes ‘with a January flower.’ In the mean-time we might try to test and taste with some restraint and let the wonder in.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Odd Shoes for Austerity

My reflections with Roy Noble on BBC Radio Wales this week began with the very true story of my trip up North the other week. I had to go to Newcastle for a meeting It meant catching a flight from Bristol at seven in the morning. Of course that meant being there by six, which involved leaving Cardiff by 5 so the alarm was set for half past four. Being considerate I got dressed in the spare room so as not to wake my wife, but I had forgotten to leave out some shoes. So I crept back into our room and under the cover of darkness slipped on my trainers and made my way down stairs.

Ninety minutes later I was in the queue at Bristol Airport. Security was tight. Laptops out of the bag, belts removed from trousers and shoes off, if you please. And that’s when I realised my mistake: in the darkness I had managed to put on two very different shoes.

Suddenly I felt sure that everyone was laughing at the fool with the odd footwear. I tried to hide my feet beneath my bag but even though my mistake seemed glaringly obvious to me no-one said anything … not even the security guard who then asked me to remove both trainers. On the way back people were too preoccupied with talking into their mobiles to notice what was wrong with me or no-one thought it was their place to mention it.

That’s an amusing story for the pub but of course it’s trivial when compared with all that goes wrong in the world, particularly the economic cuts that have been announced this week. But my escapade reminded me that as austerity begins to really bite there will be much that may go seriously wrong in the lives of those around us. And whatever the politics involved in all this, the harsh reality will be that jobs will go, bills will lie unpaid, homes may go without heat and tables will be empty of food.

And the temptation for many will be to say or do nothing. Some of us who really need the help will be too embarrassed to say anything about what has gone so wrong. We may try to cover it up even though it may be through little fault of our own. And people who are better off may be too busy with their lives to see what has gone wrong for others, or feel it’s not their place to do anything about it.

The world’s religions have always argued that we should care for the weak and the vulnerable in our midst. The Psalms speak of God as father of the fatherless, defender of the widows. Jesus spoke of bringing good news to the poor. On a day that announces so many economic difficulties we should remember that the quality of our lives in these times of austerity will be measured not by how we survive but on how we care for one another.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Nice rocks?

Just can't help thinking that the President of Chile must have had some other pressies already wrapped before he came to the UK giving everyone rocks from the ill fated mine. Can't help thinking the Queen and the Primeminister are wishing it had been a diamond mine.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Imagine all the people?

When in October 1971 John Lennon released his most popular solo album 'Imagine' the single of the same name quickly became his signature song and remains an enduring plea for a world of harmony and peace. In the chorus Lennon assumes that people will say he’s a dreamer and perhaps he is quite right, because it’s hard to imagine a world where there’s no countries or possessions.
But in Lennon’s dream there is no place for religion either. This is an understandable perspective when we look at the harm brought to the world by men and women acting in the name of religion. Wars have been fought, truth has been suppressed, ideas of Heaven and Hell have been used to manipulate social control: all this and worse may have been perpetrated by those who profess belief in God.

But to my mind religion, or better, faith in God, has also been a force for good in the world because believers could imagine a better way of living than that which they saw around them. When the ancient prophets spoke of a time when the wolf and the lamb would lie down together they were encouraging people to imagine just that: and to live with one another as if such alternative realities were actually possible. When Jesus brought all their hopes to life, bringing good news to the poor, the sick and the oppressed, it was not just a dream he had, the reality of what he did so upset the Powers that Be that they killed him for it. Some things are still worth dying for, John.

So while I want to live with no need of greed or hunger

With all the people sharing all the world as one

if it is to happen then I must not just dream about it

I must act and live not out of fear but in love

And maybe you will join me

Dear God help us to imagine a world

Where we do on earth

as it is done in heaven

And help us to believe

that such a world can be here today


Thursday, 7 October 2010

Prayer is like a telephone ... or not

Another prayer from Radio 4 this week

On my desk is a cartoon of a man talking on his mobile telephone.

The caption reads:

I am just calling to make sure you got my e-mail following the letter I faxed this morning.’

For many of us calls like that will be all too familiar. Technology seems to drive our life at a pace that few people want but equally now we are communicating with such momentum that hardly anyone can resist or stop it. And amidst all this is a myriad of changing social protocols.

We wonder how long it is reasonable to wait for an email to be answered

If it is appropriate to text a partner telling them the relationship is over

And should we accept our boss’s invitation to be a friend on a social network site

In an age where we assume an eager audience is instantly interested with our status updates, where seemingly every emotional response to life is a matter of public record, and others are encouraged to add their comment, are there changing protocols on prayer?

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he began by telling them to go into their room and close the door and pray in private … for God who sees what is done in secret would then reward them. No-one else need know what they told their maker or what their Creator had said to them. Anticipating our lack of patience in such an endeavour, he quickly followed the words of the Lord’s Prayer with a parable on persistence … assuring us that if we ask, then it will be given and if we seek then we shall find.

Jesus does not confirm a timescale for heaven’s answer

Nor indeed the method by which it may be communicated

But he leaves us with the promise - that if we knock upon his door then it will be opened for us.

Dear God

In this fast moving world of ours

Give us patience and persistence in our prayers

Open our hearts that we may hear you clearly speak today.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Happy (belated) Birthday Charlie Brown

Sorry the blog has been silent for so long ... lots of interesting things have been happening, going to worship with the Pope in Westminster Abbey, Stuart Murray and Roy Searle on Celts, Anabaptists and New Monasticism, and flying to Newcastle with odd shoes on, but so often away from my computer that i've not blogged them later. Some of this will out in due course no doubt. Anyway if you are up early or like the radio 4 shipping forecast then you will have heard these prayers for the day already ... I am doing this week's prayers ... so playing catch up a bit ... here's the one from 2nd Oct.

Today is the 60th birthday of Peanuts, the celebrated cartoon strip penned for so many years by Charles Schultz.

Charlie Brown and Snoopy may be the stars, but I love an episode that featured two other characters, Lucy and Linus.

They were talking about a baby called Sally.

She is pictured crawling slowly round the room and Lucy, frustrated at the baby’s lack of progress, asks ‘When will Sally start walking?

Linus replies,‘Let her crawl;

once you’ve started walking

you’re committed for a lifetime.’

There are not many things that people will commit to for a life time now.

We might give a year or two to this hobby or that job,

we may devote time to living in a certain city

or even to a particular religion,

but so much these days seems subject to the

possibility of moving on to something else.

We are often reluctant to dedicate ourselves like this because we fear if we do so

then we might be loosing out on something else

maybe something better.

But this is exactly what is needed if we are to make a difference in the world ...

if we are to see any real change in ourselves.

Many people liked Jesus when it was easy and exciting, but he needed disciples who would still be loyal when things got tough. When a would-be disciple asked to go and say good-bye to his family before signing up for good, Jesus told him straight: No-one who starts following me and then looks back is ready for where I am going.

Tough words, I know, But in a world of seemingly infinite choices, we need the courage to make tough decisions and know that we will remain steadfast for a life time.

Dear God, all of us are tempted to look over our shoulder

To wonder with regret at what might have been

Give us the courage today

To start walking towards the future you have prepared for us

Help us to be faithful for the life-time of that journey. Amen.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The First Victory of Peace

This post is A bit after the fact I know but I was doing Radio 2 Pause for Thought on VJ Day, Sunday.

When I was a child my dad used to let me stay up late to watch the war-time programme Secret Army. It was a lot more serious than the hilarious Dad’s Army, much more like the classic Colditz, for which I had the Action Man figures and the Board Game.

Even though it won Seven Oscars, one war movie that was not for viewing in our house was The Bridge over the River Kwai. It carried painful associations for members of our family and it was always switched off. The film tells the story of Allied Prisoners of War forced to build a bridge by their brutal (and brutalised) Japanese Guards.

Years later, when I was actually working in Japan, we were talking about the national stereo types we have of one another. I was amazed to discover that they thought that British people lived in the dangerous and foggy streets of Sherlock Holmes and they were taken-a-back to realise how much war time movies had shaped what I thought of them. It’s always a bit of a shock to see ourselves as other people see us, to hear what others say of us.

I’ve been thinking of those conversations recently and of the cultural clich├ęs we exposed and left behind, because today Britain will commemorate VJ Day: It’s 65 years ago that the war against Japan was finally brought to an end. I have huge admiration for those who gave their lives back then, but I hope we’ve come a long way since, especially in understanding one another better.

Because if the first casualty in war is truth, if propaganda encourages us to see the other people as being somehow less human than we are, then the first victory of peace should be for us to see each others as equal partners in a shared and redeemed humanity.

And maybe that’s why Jesus told us to love our enemies.

I think it was a challenge even in the midst of conflict

for us to see ourselves in others,

to value in them the identical image of God that lives in every one

And so for all we humans are different,

we’re really just the same

And I hope onm VJ Day we don’t remember just the victory of some

and the defeat of others

I hope we celebrate the chance for peace to overcome in the hearts of everyone.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

It's not about the money ... it's the principle

When I was a lawyer handling personal injury claims, my boss gave me a helpful piece of advice. She said when someone says to you 'it's not about the money it's the principle' you can be pretty sure its about the money.

Her words were in my mind this week as we sat down to review our Church Constitution, looking at the standard Governing Document for BUGB churches. In the section on 'Belonging to the Church' it talks about members giving financial support to the Church and there is a footnote which says 'Although there may be encouragement to give financially this is a private matter.' Why is this a private matter? Why should a people called together under God keep this information from one another. Why should we shrink from being financially accountable to one another, to those we love adn who love us? I understand the fear of a church developing a 'richest members league table' and the jealousies that may ensue, but surely we are called to be better than that.
Surely we can be better than that.
Why is money to be kept as a private affair in today's churches?
What purpose is achieved by such secrecy?

The poet Alice Walker says:

We alone
can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises

in the market place

Wherever there is gold

there is a chain you know,
and if your chain is gold
so much the worse for you

Feathers, shells
and sea-shaped stones are all as rare

This could be our revolution:
To love what is plentiful
as much as
what's scarce.

This is not about the money ... but it is about the principle.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Feed the World ... what Sir Bob didn't know.

A seminal moment in my experience of music was Bob Geldof's (and of course Midge Ure's) Live Aid Concert. It also was a foundational moment in rekindling my personal determination that politics and faith needed to kiss and make up ... (but not get married).

Bob and Midge and the many musicians at Live Aid encouraged us to 'Feed the World.' But there was something that they didn't know ...
something I discovered this weekend.
Putting aside recent questions as to how successful Band Aid was at actually delivering aid at the point of need, the shift in public consciousness here was undoubtedly immense. But many still went hungry in Africa.
I am pleased to announce that this need happend no more.
Because I have discovered a way to feed the world for free.
I went into a well known shop (it could have been one of so many) to buy and sandwich and a drink.
Total cost 3.49

But if I took a packet of crisps it would become a 'meal deal' and only cost 2.99

'But I don't want the crisps' I explained.
'No, crisps, no meal deal. Its not a meal without crisps', the cashier explained.

'Couldn't we just pretend ...
The shop would be a packet of crisps the richer? I asked
'No,' she said.

So I bought the meal deal and offered the crisps as a present to the cashier.
She declined my offer.
So did the near by security guard who had become curious.
But he did intervene when I went to replace the packet of crisps on the shelf.
Seriously, he stopped me giving them stock.
It would mess with the system he said

'But any system as crazy as this needs to be messed with!' I said.

So folks here's what to do.
Mess with the system.
Go to whatever local shop is offering a meal deal
Save yourself 50p and get your bag of crisps
proclaim to all the world that a meal is a meal without them
and then we can collect them all
and ship them off to Feed the World
The 50ps we save will even cover the cost of shipping.

If only Sir Bob had known.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Prayers for today that come from Yesterday

I heard this prayer many years ago, but had forgotten it until today when it was used by Rev Dr Pat Took at Momentum, the Assembly of Baptists in Wales.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

In case you're wondering, it's by Sir Francis Drake.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


Back on the radio sharing some thoughs on fathers' day I wanted to get my favourite father's quotation in there but it didn't really fit.

'A father never stands so tall

than when he bends down to help his child'

but anyway this is what was said.

In case anyone’s forgotten, this Sunday will be Fathers’ Day again, and this year it’s the hundredth anniversary. There’s no need to panic if you haven’t sent a card or bought your present, it’s only Thursday after all.

Of course like the corresponding Mother’s Day, this special anniversary brings mixed emotions into many of our lives. Some people get on well with their dad and they may be looking forward to a cheerful celebration lunch. But this happy picture isn’t true for everyone. There are many ways that the relationship between a father and his child may end up strained or even broken these days, and all the hype around a special day can just make things seem worse. And of course there will be other men who’d love to be a father, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened for them.

I sometimes wonder if these special days with their over-commercialized sentimentality don’t cause more hassle than they’re worth, but then I am reminded that behind this one anyway lies a century of people expressing their love for dads.

It all began when a young woman called Sonora Smart-Dodd heard a Mother's Day sermon in her local church. Her own mother had died many years before when Sonora was 16 but it was on that Sunday morning that she realised the sacrifices her father must have made to bring up her five brothers and sisters, including a new born baby, all by himself. After church that day she began to think about a way to honour how he and other fathers had so loved their children.

She’d hoped to organise the celebrations to coincide with her dad's birthday, on 5th June, but there wasn’t enough time to get everything ready and so that first Father’s Day took place on the third Sunday of the month in 1910. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength, winning the approval of US presidents and spreading from America right across the world. But it’s only been successful because time and again, sons and daughters want to say ‘I love you’ to their fathers.

I don’t know what bible text the preacher chose to speak about on the day that Sonora had her great idea. No doubt she’d listened to many a minister give a sermon before and her dad had probably done so too, but I suspect it didn’t matter whether the scripture came from Genesis or Revelation or any point in between. Because sometimes the greatest texts are those found in the people who love us come what may. Often the greatest sermons are those expressed in the touch of gentle hands and the power of a reassuring smile. Perhaps they come too in a calm voice of correction.

And maybe no-one does that more

Than our Father who is in heaven

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Character and characters

A church full of character
is not the same
as a church full of characters.

(Just a line from tomorrow's sermon)

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Women, God and the Baptist Times

I am posting this on the move so unable to put the whole letter to the BT from Simon, Andy and Neil and me, but check it out at the BT or on their blogs and let's carry on this conversation:

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Catching up with friends ... and catching up with God.

Just back, as are others, from the BUGB assembly in Plymouth.So many have agreed it was the best one for years. Which of course will give a problem for those who planned it ... what did we do differently that worked so well this time and how do we keep it good for Blackpool.

Unusually I was only an infrequent visitor to Prism, (which has been my venue of choice for a number of years now) but from what I saw and from conversations with others, it seems to have reclaimed its truly alternative status, being something distinct in itself again, not just the 'mini-me with a pint' it was threatening to become. So well done to all the others who worked so hard there. I will pledge my renewed patronage now.

However the Main stage events engaged me much more than over the last few years. I have not listened to the recordings of Friday night yet (so I will hold judgment on Amy's talk) but the celebration of difference in the style of speakers was most welcome. For me Anne Wilkinson Hayes had the most depth and resonated most distinctly but I found myself being spoken to by God through others on many occasions. So too did I appreciate the diversity of worship. The musicians showed themselves more than capable of a number of styles but for me a lot of this must go down to the great work of Chris Ellis, hardly on the stage at all but influencing so much with his care for overall development of the worship. I enjoy the Spring Harvest celebration stuff when it is balanced with world church, Taize, (thanks to Tony Ruth and Helen) as well as traditional hymns etc. Very well blended stuff.

So perhaps for the first time in a number of years I have come away not so much thinking that it was a good chance to catch up with friends ... but a good time to catch up with God.

Oh and an appreciative PS ... thanks for so many voting for the Public Resolutions ... whatever happens on Thursday i think there will be a chance for us to have a go at Trident next year.
Oh and a final PPS ... I really hope the final words from David Kerrigan on Monday were not throw away rhetoric but a first glimpse of genuine engagement with people too long unwelcome in our churches.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

First glimpses

The first glimpses of our new baby came thanks to the lovely people at Llandough hospital today. We don't know if it is a boy or girl just yet, frankly we were just relieved it was not twins!
Time to start thinking about names again.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day

At the moment I am preparing for the public resolutions at BUGB Assmebly in Plymouth later this month. Norman Kember and I are proposing a BUGB stance on Nuclear weapons and the Non Proliferation Treaty review: It is over 20 years now since I visited Hiroshima but the images and stories of what humanity is capable of doing to one another have never faded behind the fear mongering of deterance arguments. Recognising that such instant and decimating violence can be inflcited on those also made in the image of God and purposed for God's blessing makes the continued presence of 23,000 nuclear weapons (each more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb) in our world unncessary and immoral.

The BUGB resolution will say:

Recognising the continuing threat to peace posed by the existence and development of nuclear weapons, and the potential significance of the May 2010 conference to review the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), this Assembly:

· affirms its commitment to uphold the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

· calls upon the UK Government to join with others in taking courageous steps to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and build a secure future for all.

· calls upon churches to give support to the ‘Now is the time’ campaign.

If you don't know about the 'Now is the Time' campaign then have a look at Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Presidents Obama and Medvedev just signed a historic agreement to reduce their nuclear arsenals. With Russia and the US standing ready to lead, the following months could see the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons, but that will only happen if we seize this moment. To join me and the hundreds of thousands of people in every country in the world who believe in zero, click below:

We must now choose between two very different futures. In one, nuclear weapons continue to spread, increasing the chances that a country or terrorists use them, with catastrophic consequences. In the other, all nuclear weapons are eliminated according to a comprehensive global agreement for phased and verified reductions.

We want to show world leaders that the public supports the idea of a world free of nuclear weapons as they prepare to attend a special summit to address this global crisis.

If you are going to be at BUGB Assembly please don't skip the Public Resolutions, come and listen and debate and help us discern what God is saying to us and to the world.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Apollo 13

Forty years ago today the ill-fated Apollo Thirteen space-craft took off for the moon. Two days later the world heard those famous words:Houston we have a problem.’ An explosion left the crew stranded with limited reserves of power, water and oxygen. Back on earth NASA began a rescue mission: teams of workers improvised scenarios for survival and helped as best they could with the preparations to sling-shot the rocket round the moon and bring it safely back to earth. That was an audacious plan and it seemed like the whole world held its breath to see if it would work.

Recently I watched the movie that recreated the events. I was impressed at the efforts NASA made to get the astronauts home. No expense was spared. All their resources focused on just three men. And the whole world sighed with relief when they splashed down safely in the ocean.

Time and again in the face of trouble the human race proves itself able to overcome what seem like impossible odds. But sadly, just as often, we appear unable or unwilling to put the same effort and resources into events that may be less dramatic, but are no less tragic.

Maybe it’s because we do not recognise the face the one child who dies from hunger every five seconds in our world, perhaps it’s because we haven’t met the families struggling in extreme poverty, it could be that climate change hasn’t threatened the life of those we love just yet, and so these people and the seemingly inevitable catastrophes they face do not receive the urgency of care that we might extend to beleaguered astronauts.

Jesus told his followers, that where ever their treasure was found, that’s where their heart would be. Our hearts once went out to just three men facing an almost certain death in space. How audacious would it be if today we could treasure the millions of people facing a preventable death here on earth?

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

the secret is ...

A thought for today that stuck from Anne Lamott in 'Travelling Mercies':

The secret is that God loves us exactly the way we are ...

and that he loves us too much to let us stay like this.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sick of Church?

Sick of Church??? .
.. er ... umm ... well actually no.

Nicest thing I've heard for a while was last week when one of the children who is part of our church told her mum that she'd been feeling 'church sick.' By this she meant that in the same way as people may get home sick, the family had been away for two weeks and now she was missing being in church: she was therrefore church sick!

Makes perfect sense to me ...
wish it did to more people

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Letting Rima stay

If you've been following and supporting the campaign to let Rima stay with Robert and Alison in the UK here's the good news ... they visited the UKBA yesterday and came home with confirmation that no removal directions were being prepared and a review date is set at the end of June. Things are far from settled and it is still a stress to live under this shadow so do not give up campaigning, but lets give thanks for this blessing of respite. Don't forget

Monday, 8 March 2010

Before you give anyone your vote ...

The first ripples of election fever are finding their way through my letter box. I have decided to set a task for every prospective candidate I meet ... I will consider the proposals of their manifesto if they promise to read this book and come back and talk to me about it. I may even buy copies to give away.

The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett gets to grips with the central thesis 'Why Equality is Better for Everyone.' These two well respected epidemiologists name the way the quality of life diminishes for everyone when we value growth over equality. Looking at everything from crime to mental health, stopping on the way to review education and life expectancy it almost has the chapter headings of a political manifesto but it's central theme is simple: almost everything we do is affected not by how wealthy we or our nation is .... but how equal a society we live in. Cultures with a bigger gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' are bad for everyone ... including the well off.

I didn't always spend the time I should have on the statistical analysis and the graphs included (not my way of thinking) ... and perhaps I lingered much too long on the cartoons (but they are both funny and poignant) ... but the book remains compelling if disturbing reading for how we might shape our country in the future ... because here is the proof that we do life better when we do it together and do it as equals.

Of course it is not just about how the politicians might make this happen, it's what I (or you) might do about it too. So maybe I won't just give it away until I'm doing something more about this stuff myself.

Monday, 1 March 2010

No word has come ...

Today is Day Fourteen for Rima. Or Zero Days left of Border Agency grace remaining. The Facebook entry from Alison says so much: 'Today our home is no longer safe.'

In such a moment 'homes' often become no more than 'houses.'
but I cannot bear the imagining of Rima Robert and Alison being without a home ... left only with a house. The foundations of hospitality go too deep in them in their place of belonging for 'home' to be lost.

As I prayed for them all today it felt to me as if a robber had posted a calling card through their front door and said 'I might be back anytime soon.'
This may be an unfair image for the UK Border Agency or the Home Secretary but it is what came to me. And it came on the day when Wales celebrates its patron Saint, David. It seemed significant that Robert and Alison live as a Columban Home ... offering sanctuary ... as part of their commitment to the Rule of the Iona Community and it seems to me that whether it was Columba or David no-one I know is more in need of the protection of the saints, the angels, and all the host of heaven than this family. If St David could make the ground grow beneath him so better to speak to his congregation ... perhaps another miracle today ... that the words and prayers of those who have written and petitioned and spoken out would be raised high so that those in power and authority could hear better and respond well by doing what is right...

So today I did in private what I managed to avoid twice in the pulpit yesterday ... I wept for them. Psalm 121, the text for yesterday evening, promises that God will watch over us ... not that no bad thing will happen, but that God who made both heaven and earth is present even in the apparent absence ... in the darkness ... in the silence ... and so I bowed and knelt and offered my hopes and fears but as RS Thomas once said: for one who knelt no word came.

Except perhaps the word to keep on kneeling
and believing that goodness remains stronger than evil

Monday, 22 February 2010

If anybody's out there ... help!

I am never too sure who reads this blog (if anyone) but if you are then please do not just read it, today i am asking that you do something too. Something that could radically change three lives for the better. Those lives are Robert Swinfen, and Alison Phipps, friends of mine in Glasgow and Rima. This is Rima's story.

Rima, now 17 years old, arrived in the UK in March 2008, fleeing persecution in Eritrea and then racist neglect, destitution and physical harm in Italy. She came to stay with Robert Swinfen and Alison Phipps in Glasgow in March 2009, and they have become a close-knit family unit. Rima has a strong case for asylum from Eritrea, but under the Dublin Regulation is now liable to be returned to Italy.
She has come to love Robert and Alison as her Dad and Mum, and they have very strong parental feelings for her too. For the past year they, with some help from friends, have provided her entire support as if she were indeed their foster daughter. Rima is extremely vulnerable and in need of a secure family to recover from the trauma and chaos of the past three years of her life. She is doing very well, but is far from ready to live on her own and both wants and needs to continue living with her British Mum and Dad. Rima is now in real danger of being forcibly taken from her home in Scotland, in the next week, sent into Yarl’s Wood, and then deported to Italy.
You can make a difference by writing to your MP, MEP and the Home Secretary or even just by signing an on line petition to get the Home Sec. to intervene in this case to allow Rima to remain in the UK because she now has many strong relationships and a foster-family who will continue to support and love her for as long as she needs.

Rima will be 18 on 1st July this year, but the trauma and upheaval which she has suffered mean that she will need to be part of a family for some years to come. It would be so cruel to tear her away from parents for a second time, repeating the trauma from which she is beginning to recover, and so I am asking that you do what ever you can to help her to stay in the UK.
Please go to and or email me if you want a sample letter to send to the relevant people which you can do on line by
If you feel unable to do any of that and you believe in prayer, then please pray.

Friday, 12 February 2010

High Heels or Trainers

Yesterday I was sitting in St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh having a quiet moment or two, marvelling at the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows and how quickly the early morning sounds of the city disappear in sacred silence when I became aware of a teetering muffle behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and watched as a women in high clicky heels tried very hard, (but unsuccessfully) not to break the quiet. In fact the more effort she gave to hushing her steps the less she seemed to achieve.

I am not sure what it was she wanted to preserve from disturbance. Not my silence, I doubt thtat she had noticed me. I wonder did she fear that her stillettoed reverberations would awaken the holiness of God or perhaps the holiness in herself.

Either way this well posed icon of fashionable elegance seemed less in balance with her location than the curly haired three year old who refused to be shushed into being quiet by her father. As he whispered to her 'shh ... its a church... you have to be quiet' she climbed on a pew and decalimed with free abandon, 'Why do I have to be quiet when its pretty.'

Well that made up for missing Radio 4's Thought for the Day.
But she had more to offer.
The slip-slapping footsteps of this lassie as she then out-manouvred her father and cheekily ran towards a side chapel somehow seemed more at home with the joy of holiness than the self conscious tiptoing of the earlier lady. But for all that I'm sure God found pleasure in them both ... I know I did.