Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A day in the life

Today at the Minster, I looked around and observed that ‘All of life is here:

congregation members cleaning,

art students practicing perspective,

members of the public sitting and remembering a loved one,

a Scene Of Crime officer dusting for prints,

those who came for the 10am Eucharist,

someone who came in off the street to have a look around,

local radio station team scoping out a possible community festival...

I love the way in which these different lives converge, touch, and go out again; leaving traces, weaving connection:

that some are wiping away the dust that is inevitably brought in, while another is spreading dust in order to better-see fingerprints (yesterday two gentlemen tried to carry-off our heavily-weighted donations box, only to make their exit as a couple of police officers were walking past the building – the men were arrested);

that the slightly-dishevelled man wanting to look around might be genuinely interested in ecclesiastical architecture, as he claims, or might be casing the joint, and either way needs an attentive welcome;

that there is a man who loves to come in and sit in this open church whenever he is in town shopping, who seeks it out as life-giving, sitting alongside students who are struggling to see what is physically there, let alone what is more substantially so;

that we are not here simply for those who come to us, but rather, we are potential gift one to another; so that – in the pattern of Jesus – at times I am host in this space, and at times I am guest of those who come to us, and at times I am simultaneously host and guest

That is just one day. Today. But every day, this is a living, breathing, God-filled space; where people encounter one another and our perspective is changed…

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Painted sky

This morning I stood at my back door and watched the sky for a good ten minutes, breathing-in the cold air.

I didn’t know until later on that the ribbons of pink and green I was looking at were Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSCs; also known as nacreous clouds), but the sky has been shimmering all day, and it has been beautiful.

Note to self: most days don’t begin with nacreous clouds, but more days should begin with pausing to receive the gift of beauty, with gratitude.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


January at Sunderland Minster again sees the installation of artwork marking Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January; this year’s theme is Don’t Stand By), including ‘Babel’ by Barrie West.

‘Babel’, depicting businessmen (crafted from toy soldiers) climbing over a glittering tower constructed of guns, confronts us with the global arms trade. We have chosen to site the work at right-angles to both the birth of the Prince of Peace (the crib scene will remain in the south transept until the end of January) and his crucifixion (on the wall above the altar in the Bede Chapel). Here, it is held in tension, caught in the cross-hairs of love.

Here, we too are held in tension…

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The stars look very different today

Earlier today on Facebook I made two quick observations on the social media responses to David Bowie’s death, with the intention of reflecting on them more fully. Of the outpouring itself, it is worth noting the need to stop and express gratitude and mark loss that is personal if not relational, but beyond that I am struck by the clearly recurring content of the responses.

I wrote:

‘Firstly, Bowie created environments that gave people permission to be themselves, to be creative, and to not be alone in the world. Secondly, he demonstrated that in order to remain fundamentally the same person over time we must change our perspective again and again. Both insights feel profoundly biblical. Yet the Church is not known for creating such environments, nor for demonstrating repentance; is not a community people look to, in relation to these fundamental human longings...’

What might we learn through doing some thoughtful cultural exegesis here?

Biscop, and the Starman

Today is the commemoration of Benedict Biscop – also known as Benet, and Biscop Baducing – patron saint of the city of Sunderland, pioneering innovator, an iconic individual who changed the cultural landscape forever.

Musician, artist, producer and arranger of others’ work, creating and inhabiting a space that introduced generations to a whole new way of seeing the world and the possibility of reinventing themselves within it, Benedict Biscop died in the same week as David Bowie, but 1,326 years earlier.

In honour of both, I have added Ziggy Stardust’s face-paint to Charles Robinson’s 1904 illustration, from Percy Dreamer’s The little Lives of the Saints.

Benedict Bowie. David Biscop.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Giving Gifts

Gold is currency – top-end currency at that – and currency is simply codified influence. The first gift that I can give to you is to recognise, to acknowledge, that you have influence.

Everyone has influence, from the moment of birth – indeed, from before our birth. We can use our influence to exploit others (usually explicitly), to manipulate others (usually implicitly), to compete with others, to nurture others, or to cooperate with others – to take a stance upon, over, against, for, or with others. But I can only take a stance for and/or with you when I am willing to value your influence.

For whom, and with whom, will you exert influence in 2016?

Incense rising is the articulation of hopes and dreams in the form of prayer. The second gift that I can give to you is to recognise, to acknowledge, that you have hopes and dreams.

Everyone has hopes and dreams, by definition beyond our reach, even if we are content to let the present be enough for now, and however we choose to exert our influence to try to turn vapour into substance, or base mineral into gold. I cannot be your alchemist but, again, I can take a stance for and/or with you only when I am willing to value your hopes and dreams.

How will you (name and) nurture your hopes and dreams in 2016? Who else’s hopes and dreams will you nurture? With whom will you cooperate, finding overlapping common ground, in hope of a future more expansive than either party could have imagined?

Myrrh is balm, for the body of the dead and – more so – for the soul of the living. It represents the healing, in time, of our memories: wounds becoming scars; and scars, markings; stories, or landmarks, to navigate by. The third gift that I can give to you is to recognise, to acknowledge, that you have sorrow.

Everyone has sorrow. In time, we reach a tipping-point, after which we can never return: the discovery that life is bitter-sweet, as opposed to unrelentingly bitter (as we had imagined it must be, after our first unbearable loss). I can only take a stance for and/or with you when I am willing to value your sorrow.

How will the past you must leave behind equip you – and others – to step with confidence into the future?