Friday, December 31, 2004

Sleeping Beauty

Susannah woke up distressed this morning. Granny (when else do both parents get a lie-in?) went to her; apparently she couldn't wake Noah, and decided that he must be dead. He wasn't - just stubborn about waking up, like his mother - but, what do you make of a three-and-a-half year old in such a circumstance? Where does the assumption, "My brother is dead," as opposed to, "My brother is a heavy sleeper," come from? And, once it is clear that he is alive and well, does one ask her about her feelings, or let it pass? Parenting is a mystery at times.

Jo and I went into the city centre on the train, where I finally had to come to terms with the fact that I will never again get into the kilt my parents gave me as an eighteenth birthday present (how does a kilt shrink 5 inches at the waist, and even more around the backside?! Okay, denial is not completely dealt with; one step at a time...), and it was time to replace it.

On the platform returning home, a group of four teenage Goths; their conversation all discussing vampires and trying to remember the last time they didn't get drunk at the weekend. Everyone needs community, and community can probably only happen at the edges of 'mainstream' culture (although the downside of Goth, and other teenage - and potentially any other - grouping is the tendency to opt-out of, instead of reach-out to, the wider society in which it is located). Is it inevitable that the desire to create counter-cultural community declines with age? The need for it certainly doesn't! I wonder what expressions of community my own children will embrace when they are teenagers, and beyond.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Driving North

We drove north to Glasgow today, to spend New Year with my extended family. As we drove, the radio played in the background. Noah (2 in January) treated us to air-guitar accompaniment! Apparently the ability to play air-guitar is inherent to those with a Y-chromosome, not learned-behaviour...Picture a toddler getting satisfaction playing "All Right Now."

We hadn't been at mum and dad's five minutes before my brother turned up; and he hadn't been long gone when my sister, brother-in-law and nephew called round, distributing presents and precipitating a general giving of gifts. Somehow I'd thought it might be a bit more civilised, less rushed. But, it was good to see them. Living so far apart, sometimes you just have to catch the moment while you can! Even if it it easier on the extroverts than on introverts like me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


I took the tram into town today. In the shops, devastation. Abandoned, half-empty shelves and racks of whatever was left after Christmas shopping swept through. In M&S, a queue of dazed-looking people, herded in a snaking line towards Customer Services to return or exchange unwanted presents. I joined the queue, exchanging chat with strangers, trying to keep our spirits up...

...And staring from the front cover of the free newspaper under my arm, seven-year-old Swede Karl Nilsson, looking dazed, found wandering, holding up a card: MISSING PARENTS & 2 BROTHERS ... KARL NILSSON.

Apparently, about 1,600 Swedish tourists are still unaccounted for. I have friends in Sweden, Lutheran church leaders in various parts of the country; and I'll be making a third trip there in March. Although I can't articulate why, Sweden has a hold on my heart. Tonight my thoughts and prayers are with my friends there, and with those families within their neighbourhoods they will be reaching out to comfort.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Global Village

Once, when asked how we should live, Jesus responded that we should love the Lord our God with all of our being - heart/mind/soul/strength - and love our neighbour as we love ourself. And so he was asked, how should we define who counts as our neighbour? In other words, who do we need to extend practical expressions of love towards, and whose plight can we ignore with a clear conscience?

In reply, Jesus told a story. Once, there was a Jewish man on a journey. The man was ambushed by robbers, beaten, stripped, and left for dead on the side of the road. Not one but two of his fellow countrymen - more than that, both held respectable positions within their society - happened to be travelling along the same road, and ignored him. They did not want to get their hands dirty. Then a third man came down the road. He was a Samaritan. The Jews and the Samaritans lived side-by-side, had different religious and cultural views, and hated each other. [How contemporary.] But this man got down from his donkey, cleaned and bandaged the other's wounds, lifted him onto the donkey and took him to an inn, where he left him in the care of the inn-keeper. He himself could not stay to care for the man, but he left the inn-keeper with money to cover the cost incurred, asking that no expense be spared, as he would return and pay for any further costs later.

Jesus refused to answer the question put to him and, instead, turned it on its head: the important matter is not "who is my neighbour?" but "what kind of neighbour should I be?"

In the aftermath of the Asian tidal wave, please consider giving to the emergency response Red Cross appeal. Alternatively, consider giving to one of the other aid agencies listed, with links, on the BBC site. Thank you.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Bringing It All Back Home

According to the theory of 'Six Degrees of Separation' any two human beings can be connected by a chain of no more than half-a-dozen others. So, for example: my former boss previously worked in Arkansas, where he had dinner on occasion with then-Governor Bill Clinton; so, although I have never met any of them, I am only separated from President Bill Clinton by one other person, and from all the other living US Presidents by only two people.

Therefore, when 25,000-and-climbing people have been killed in the Asian flood disaster, the chances that I know someone who has been personally impacted by this event are much higher than I might have thought at first. We truly do live in a Global Village - in which the inhabitants are extremely mobile...

It can be hard to know how to respond when we see images on our TV screens. For all its immediate success, for most of us the original Band Aid eventually immunised our emotions. Perhaps our hearts need to be softened again. But we can't pretend that disasters such as this don't touch our lives too. Perhaps Band Aid 20 is timely...perhaps after we have bought the CD we will harden our hearts even more, as a survival mechanism of our own...There are certainly no easy answers - and trite ones are even worse than silence. But whatever else I may be able to do, I know that I need to find my personal connections to what has happened, and support those closer to events than I am, as much as I am able.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Hillsborough Park

Susannah, Noah, Grandma, Jo and I went for a Boxing Day Walk...around the corner to feed the ducks in Hillsborough Park. Susie carried the bread.

It's great having the park on our door-step. Today, it was busy: a steady stream of Sheffield Wednesday fans walking past us en route to the match; two boys on bikes, openly discussing how they were going to ambush two younger kids, who were on foot, and smash their faces in (Happy Christmas); the ubiquitous dog-walkers; families braving the cold just long enough to give the kids a push on the swings...

We had just got to the pond - hopeful ducks, and two brave coots, homing-in on us from all directions - when our friends David and Rosie came along the path. They've just bought a house less than five minutes walk from ours, and are hoping to move in some time in the next 4-6 weeks. Hurrah! Hillsborough is clearly the place to be: since we've been here, Rich and Anna; Jenny; Dave, Sarah and Ella; Ben and Helen; and soon David and Rosie have moved into houses in the area - not to mention various other friends who were already here.

Once the ducks were fed and we'd caught up with each other's news, we moved on to the swings. We hadn't been there two minutes when Matt and Berniece came by, Berniece on Matt's skateboard. So we invited them home for mulled wine and Christmas Cake, and a cup of tea.

That's one of the good reasons to live down here: you can't step out of your front door without meeting friends in the park, at the shops, waiting for a tram into town...And I like that. It feels healthy.

Friends on Christmas Eve; family on Christmas Day; and both on Boxing Day: a good festive season all round.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Family Values

Christmas Day. Jo's family descended on us, and we had a lovely time; a full time - people squashed in our house, food squashed in our stomachs, wrapping-paper squashed in our recycling bin; a day of rich blessings. Thank you, Jesus!

And I've been thinking about the Christmas story again, in a new light for me. (I hope I will see it in a new light every year...) I've been wondering about the inn, made famous by countless Nativity plays; the one mentioned in passing in Luke's Gospel, chapter 2, by way of explanation for Jesus' being laid in a manger: it was too full.

I've always known it was too full, and I've (thought I've) known why: Bethlehem's population had been swollen by those who had originated there returning for the Census. Of course the inn was full. But this year I was struck by something that has always been there in the story, but that I hadn't noticed before. Luke stresses that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem because it was "his own town...because he belonged to the house and line of David"...

So, what was Joseph doing attempting to check-in at the inn in the first place?

Why didn't they stay with any of Joseph's relatives? He must have had relatives there, and they should have been honour-bound to open their home to him. But they did not. Perhaps they didn't approve of Joseph - because he had left home and lived elsewhere - worse, in Galilee, which was full of foreigners; or because he was devoutly religious; or because he had brought shame on them by being foolish enough to go through with a wedding to a woman everyone knew was carrying someone else's child - a user; or, whatever...

And I'm confronted with my own prejudices towards my family - by those prejudices I am aware of; and by the knowledge that I (almost certainly) hold others that I'm not aware of. And of my feelings of being unable to reach out even as I want to do so.

Lord Jesus, who in your coming confronts both my prejudices and my sense of inadequacy, take these from me, even as I receive your embrace of others and of myself; so that I, in turn, may love the Lord my God, and love my neighbour as I love myself. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Full House

Christmas Eve was wet, and house-bound, in Sheffield. A bit rough on the kids...

We had Nick and Carolyn and Ana, and Matt and Berniece for a Christmas Eve Tea of crumpets and tea-cakes and jams and Christmas Cake. Jo made the cake, and it looked great, until Noah got on a chair to dig his fingers into the icing (right in the middle of the top - no hiding it). And Jo made the table - new cream table cloth, with a role of gold wrapping paper down the middle - which also looked great, until it, too, was Noah'd. Obviously any cream table cloth would look better with Marmite-covered fingerprints on it...Have son, have trail of havoc. But we wouldn't trade him in!

We're even more tomorrow: all Jo's side of the family are coming. That's one grandma, one grandad, two aunts, two uncles, one cousin (and another 'on the way' - very soon); or, eight adults and three children in total. This is the second time we've hosted an extended family Christmas, and Jo is in her element - she's been preparing food, and furniture, all day. I'm exhausted!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Peace on Earth?

Yesterday the New World Order* briefly came to Sheffield. Or, to be more accurate, it didn't.

The Bomb Squad was called in to deal with 13 'devices' found in a house in Netheredge. Netheredge is an interesting area, divided between very affluent whites and significantly less affluent West Asian Muslims, and Terrorist Cell was the 'obvious' first port-of-call for the local media...but it turns out the police think it more likely to be home-made fireworks. [Read the story on the BBC]

It makes you think though (unless, apparently, you're a journalist). There are real issues raised by two cultures living side-by-side; issues that get ever more complex the more cultures are added...And I don't think domestic nationalism (UKIP, BNP) or international aggression (Bush-Blair) are the answer! I do, however, endorse "A New Confession of Christ in a World of Violence" as a constructive contribution to the present climate. Check it out for yourself, and see what you think.

*exactly the same as the Old World Order; only the technologies change.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Go Ahead - Make My Day

Just nipped across the road to the newly-opened Tesco...a truly pleasureable supermarket experience!

Talk about a total transformation. I love the use of open space and light inside, and the refurbishment of the carpark outside too. But most of all, I love the staff: the age- and ethnic-mix is fantastic, and their friendly and helpful attitude outstanding. Yesterday, not one but two of them helped Jo pack her bags at the till - and their attitude impacts the shoppers too, with an elderly gentleman stopping at our car to help Jo wrestle Susie out of the shopping-trolley seat.

So I took the time to stop at the Customer Service point to express my enthusiastic appreciation. It really blessed several staff members, who usually just get complaints; and they asked me to fill out a feed-back form, so the rest of the team could be encouraged too, which I was very happy to do. So much gain, for so little effort. Everyone's a winner!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

'Tis the Season...

Had friends round for dinner tonight - great food; drink; and wide-ranging, life-affirming conversation.

As the time came to kick them out, I commented that this year the build-up to Christmas seemed more under-stated than I could remember in the past (though I admitted that my memory was probably selective). But the consensus was that this was, indeed, true - and a theory offered: the material build-up to Christmas has declined as the material build-up to Halloween has exploded. Time was when you'd be struggling to navigate your shopping trolley past the cage of Christmas merchandise in the centre of the supermarket aisle from September onwards (admittedly, too extreme); now, you're hard-pushed to find any Christmas trappings until well into November, after the post-Halloween stock has been sold off cheap...

Why the fascination with death and evil and the dark - with friends, we took our kids to the national tram museum at Crich this autumn, and Susannah was terrified by the ghosts and skulls hanging in the trees, and a young girl wearing a hideous witch's mask over her head - rather than with life and goodness and light?

There is a resurgent interest in spiritual things - witness two recently-opened magic shops in Hillsborough - but quite aggressively anti-Christian. (This coupled with the politically-correct "we can't publically endorse Christmas; it might offend people of other faiths" line The Sun has campaigned against this year. In fact, in a liberal and multi-faith society, each religion's festivals should be marked; it is the attempt to replace them with a lowest-common-denominator recognition of faith that is offensive to people of all faiths.)

Apart from any other factors at play, those of us who would choose to identify ourselves as Christians have failed to hold out the hope we have in a way that engages those around us; that speaks to whatever they are seeking to address elsewhere. And that should be cause for us to stop and reflect once more on what this season is really about - that God breaks in to our day-to-day experience, and lives it with us in undeniably empowering and transforming ways.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It has just started to snow outside my study window. Hurrah! And various people in the building opposite are waving at me.

Which is cool, because not long ago they wouldn't have been able to do that. I'm on the staff team at St Thomas' church, based at the Philadelphia Campus off Infirmary Road. Its a post-industrial site we are slowly transforming. And the latest stage in the process has been the knocking-down of several buildings in the centre of the site, to create a green and open space. Last week the big diggers were ripping walls down at an incredible rate - real 'boys with (great big) toys' stuff. Now there's a few remaing bricks and a lot of earth, and swirling snow! Watch this space, as they say.

I've lived in S6 for over eight years now, first in Upperthorpe, now in Hillsborough (and in Broomhill, Sharrowvale and Hunters Bar for five years before living in S6), and the urban regeneration that has gone on has been great to watch. But almost all of it has been housing, including the new flats completed and going-up on both sides of Langsett Road this year. There are still too many boarded-up businesses between where I live and where I work from...but there are also hopeful signs of life. Watch this space, too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Beyond shopping

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." The Gospel According to John, chapter 1, verse 14.

These are among the most awesome words ever written.

"The Word..."
is Jesus, but what does it mean to say that he is the Word? It means that he is the creative power and authority of God, as in 'And God said, "Let there be light!" and there was light.' (Genesis 1:3)
"...became flesh..." The power and authority that created the world can reside in human biology; it did in Jesus, and that's only the beginning...
"and made his dwelling among us." Literally, 'tabernacled' or, made a tabernacle - the tent where God's glory rested when he met with his people in ancient times, and the model for the temple that would be built by king David. Jesus' physical body is described as tabernacle; elsewhere, the New Testament describes the physical bodies of those who follow him as the temple. In other words, the power and authority that resided in Jesus in order to display God's glory is intended to reside in his followers, for the same purpose.
"We have seen his glory..." Literally, 'beheld his glory'. The apostle Paul wrote that, "we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord..." (2 Corinthians 3:18). That is, as we gaze on Jesus in wonder, like the angles, shepherds and wise-men long ago, we reflect his glory - not as a mirror reflects light but is not itself changed, but as the moon reflects the light of the sun and is transformed from grey to mesmerising silver, blue, blood red...

Jesus comes to us today, to live in us, transform us, transform the lives of those around us. That is the message and the hope of Christmas.

Around 3% of the people of Sheffield will go to church this Christmas. For the rest, the greatest adventure in the world will pass them by. Not dissimilar to how it all started, really. A few shepherds, living on the margin of their society, shunned by most - but with a story of what they had seen that they just couldn't keep to themselves.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Christmas Shopping

Got my Christmas shopping finished today. When I say finished, what I actually mean is I bought Jo's presents, as she had got everyone else's pretty much covered...

["Pretty much covered! Huh. Totally sorted, actually." from behind my left shoulder]

Found an unhelpful shop assistant - an aggressive "What's not to like about it?" is not a great way to close a deal on an undecided shopper - and a very friendly and helpful shop assistant in a rival store. No prizes for guessing who I went with.

I really enjoyed chosing some presents I know Jo will really enjoy receiving, and will give her a lot of on-going pleasure too. Receiving is good; giving even better.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Helping hand

Recently Susannah (3 1/2) and Noah (2 next month) moved into the attic bedroom. I'd promised that we would decorate it for them before Christmas, and last weekend we did. We thought Susie was old enough to enjoy helping, and sold the idea to her: I'd 'help' by doing all the cutting-in with a brush, and then she could do 'most of' the painting with a roller. Obviously, I held onto the roller too...

As we were painting together I told Susie, "You're a great helper!" She replied, straight off, "No, Daddy. I'm a great painter. You're a great helper."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Almost time to go home

Most days, I walk to and from work. It takes about twenty minutes, the route is flat, and now that several of the friends I work with have become friends who live near me as well - that's another story, which I'll tell sometime - there's a good chance of having a walking companion. But if it is raining, or I'm running late - pretty much every Monday morning, on both counts - I take the tram.

I live in Hillsborough, and there's a special moment on the walk home along Langsett Road. As you get level with the Barracks on your right, looking up you see Hillsborough rising up to the left ahead. And to me it looks like a village, and I get hit by nostalgia every time. Which is weird, because I've only lived there for just over two years. I'm an 'incomer' - and in the way in-comers are viewed, Hillsborough really is a village, albeit surrounded by Sheffield.

I guess in part it's because I know I'm nearly home - in my mind I can see the light coming through the kitchen window, and my girl (she's three-and-a-half) shouting "Daddy!" as I come through the door. But there's also something about the place, that makes me want to be more than a commuter who sleeps in a dormer village but works in the City; who shuts his work behind the office door at 5:00pm, and his neighbours outside the kitchen door at 5:20pm...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

first post

So, I've finally set up a blog, having looked at various friends' blogs for so long, half of them aren't blogging anymore. The bandwagon has well and truly left this town.
But hey, I never liked bandwagons anyway.

So why now? Some friends in my community recently moved to New Zealand and set up a blog to keep us up to date with their news. And I love the idea.

Why 6 good reasons [the original title of this blog]? Because I live in Sheffield 6, and I think there are good reasons to do so. It's not the most exclusive postcode in town, but it's a great place to live. Maybe I can show you why.