Monday, January 31, 2005

The God Of Small Things

My God is the God of big things, like the passing of one era of human history and the emergence of another, or global politics; and the God of small things, like it being a glorious day today, full of the promise of the spring to come, and Jo and I are going out to eat with Nick and Carolyn and Matt and Berniece this evening.

My God is the God of small things, like the passing of one era of human history and the emergence of another, or global politics; and the God of big things, like it being a glorious day today, full of the promise of the spring to come, and Jo and I are going out to eat with Nick and Carolyn and Matt and Berniece this evening.

Perspective is seeing the foreground, midground and background - and making sense of each in relation to the others.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

It's Behind You!

The 'form' panto - "Cinderella: A Life-shaping Experience" - was a triumph of creativity over good taste. Special mention deserves to be made of Ben Askew as an Ugly Sister and Owen Smith as a fairy. To think I could have been trapped on a plane for a lot of hours with both of them in two weeks' time (not to mention sharing a hotel room for a week; but as it turns out neither of them could do the Nepal trip this time round - a lucky escape, I [now] feel).

The performance was truly appalling...which is exactly what panto is supposed to be! Which is to say, it was a fantastic night out. (Oh no it wasn't! Oh yes it was!) And I believe they raised between £3,000-3,500 for charity in the process - which is pretty impressive over just two performances, on one day. Congratulations to all involved!

Saturday, January 29, 2005


I had to get a combined Hepatitis A - Typhoid booster yesterday, for Nepal. Stiff arm today...

We went into town on the bus this morning - the kids loved the buses - and ate lunch at Jalucy's on the way home (only five minutes from home, but it makes a change; we like Jalucy's, but they only take cash, which I didn't have by the time we got there, so I had to go out to a cashpoint, and the first one was out of order, so home would have been much simpler - but less of a challenge!)

I had the kids on my own while Jo went to the 'form' panto matinee (I'm off out to the evening showing in a mo, as we failed to get a babysitter). We played hide-and-seek (Susannah is either bold enough to hide completely in the open, or doesn't quite 'get it' yet). At some point, Noah, who was sat on my lap, leant back just as I leant forward. The meeting of his skull and my incisors chipped one of my teeth. I don't think Noah found it much fun either. Then he slept for an hour (concusion?!), and didn't appreciate being woken. Hopefully that won't stop him from settling quickly tonight, or else I won't be getting any sympathy for the tooth - still 'buzzing'; it doesn't hurt, but it is a very strange sensation - from Jo...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Good Economics

Hitler's Final Solution to The Jewish Problem was wrong, was evil. But hey, it was good for the German economy, creating lots of jobs - building, operating and maintaining cattle-wagons, camps, gas-chambers; digging mass graves; moving people along the chain...

The fact that today 30,000 people die every day for needless poverty-related reasons is wrong, is evil. But hey, it is good for the economy of the wealthy western nations - providing cheap produce for us to sell on at a massive profit; aid loans with interest-rates that ensure we get back more than we give away (in other words, the poor nations are supposed to give aid to the rich ones!)...

It is a mistake to believe that we are powerless to change the world, to oppose evil and extend good (which would include basic things like clean water for all, easily acheivable using a fraction of western defence budgets; and may well not include trying to enforce 'democracy' on every nation.) If you haven't yet joined the MakePovertyHistory campaign, do so now. The G7 Finance Ministers gather in London one week from today; they will determine what can be acheived at the G8 heads of government summit hosted by the UK this summer.

Speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Just Because You're Wrong Doesn't Make Me Right

(and vice versa)

Today we are asked to remember that sixty years ago this day the Russian army liberated Auschwitz. But the Russians had their pogroms and gulags, which raises impertinent questions as to what it means to be The Liberator. Was Stalin any better than Hitler? And forgive me for not being clever enough to understand why George W Bush's commitment to imprisonment-(and torture)-without-trial at Guantanamo Bay is any different from Saddam Hussein's behaviour...

What, exactly, are we supposed to remember? The ability of human beings to systematically destroy other human beings? I have The Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Ethnic Cleansing of the former Yugoslavia, the Genocide of Rwanda, the Twin Towers...and no need to look back beyond my own lifetime to learn this lesson - except to learn that no-one has learnt anything good from learning this lesson...

What do I learn from remembering? To hate Germans? To excuse Jewish treatment of Palestinians? To believe that I am better than these others (and so justify treating them badly)?

Remembering these (and countless other) acts of human cruelty does nothing to stop me, or anyone else, from being a human who acts - or is capable of acting - cruelly. Memory is powerless to change the past, the present, or the future. The only thing that can change both myself and my enemy - and therefore our past, present, and future - is to love my enemy, to pray for those who persecute me, to forgive those who sin against me - and seek forgiveness for my own shortfallings. For in forgiving, both the forgiver and the forgiven are set free - the one from bonds of bitterness, the other from bonds of guilt.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Killing The First-Born Sons...

Some friends (I'll call them Shiphrah and Puah) were sharing some of the joys and not-so-joy-ful's of leading an emerging generation church community with me this morning.

I guess the not-so-joy-ful's arise from the fact that the cultural context we find ourselves in is one of transition (between Modernity and Post-Modernity); transition that is still in its earliest stages. If we can learn from history, the transitions between earlier eras (Ancient World to Mediaeval Ages, approx. AD500; Mediaeval Ages to Modernity, approx. AD1500) have taken time (probably a good 200 years...), and frustration with the prevailing worldview must run its course - must play its essential role - before positive alternatives can be proposed and, in time, established.

In other words, we live in a negative stage of history. Which, if that were just chance, would be a crap deal. But if you believe that this is the time God has prepared for you to walk the world's stage - and that for a purpose - then living in negative times - and helping others to use these negative times positively, if that makes any kind of sense - is an exciting call. Being born is traumatic at the best of times, and midwives play a key role - especially, as in Moses' day (Exodus 1), when the babies are in danger from the vested-interest-groups of the threatened out-going era...

Though it's not always easy to keep in mind when you're fending-off a mother who is screaming and swearing at you with one hand and wiping-down a baby covered in blood and miconium (very sticky poo, that gets everywhere...) with the other, you never know what that child (or its mother, come to that) will become. There's potential in this moment like no other. So, be encouraged. You're doing a great job!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Parable

In Hillsborough Park there is an enclosed play area, with swings and slides and climbing frames, where little children can play and mums and dads get to recognise the other mums and dads over time, and often end up meeting friends. Some days you stay for a long time, other days just five minutes - it's always there, close to hand. Then there's the pond, where grown men sit and fish; some of them showing their boys how to fish too. And the bowling green, where senior citizens gather at their club-house and enjoy each other's company and a little gentle exercise - something to look forward too each week.

There's the wide open spaces, where you can kick a ball, or run, arms-spread-out-wide-like-aeroplane-wings, until you run out of breath...and the walled garden, where you can find a sheltered oasis of peace a stone's throw from the busy main road; and the nature garden where you can track squirrels through the trees, and find the memorial gates that proclaim: "You'll Never Walk alone." [In the Botanical Gardens there's the Bear Pit, which people only ever chance upon by accident; a surprise discovery; a secret to keep and to share with others.]

There's the childrens- and adult-library, where unimagined horizons open up before you on every page. And the old Coach House, waiting to be restored, transformed (into a restaurant?) - a future project yet to happen.

And even all of that is not to mention the tennis courts, the crocuses in spring, the line of stately poplars at one end, the paths that children ride along on little bikes with stabilisers, the...

The kingdom of God is like Hillsborough Park.

Monday, January 24, 2005

De/scribing God

We can only [fair dinkum, #1] talk about God and God-things in metaphor (e.g. Father) and similie (e.g. "the kingdom of God is like..."), allegory and parable* - which often [fair dinkum, #2] results in the use of idioms that themselves need explaining. But we are barking up the wrong tree [fair dinkum, #3] to try to define and describe God in dogmatic formulas.

We need new ways of talking of God. Or perhaps more accurately, we need old ways of talking of God.

*This does not mean that such things are not real, or true, of course - any more so than anything else we describe by metaphor and similie is not real or true. Metaphor is used where other forms of language are inadequate to the task. (Interestingly, it is also used where the empirical collection of data by the physical senses does not work - as deaf as a door-post; as blind as a bat...)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Lost In Translation

This afternoon we, along with several other families, took the kids to the Botanical Gardens in temperatures as close to 0 degrees C as makes no difference - a pecurliarly British form of child abuse (the sea-side is just as good; it just has to be damn cold), which is supposed to be "character building." Okay, fingers will thaw out again (painfully, if you go from the cold into too warm a house...); but the emotional damage has got to be lasting.

I've been thinking about communication (following on from yesterday's post), and about Jamie, an Australian friend from post-grad days, whose favourite expression was (the quintessentially Aussie) "fair dinkum." Fair dinkum has (at least) three quite distinct meanings:
1. Said quickly and with a stress on the fair, at the end of an improbable statement fair dinkum means "Straight up" - which in turn means "I'm telling the truth" and includes the rhetorical "Would I lie to you?"
2. Said evenly and in response to an improbable statement fair dinkum means "No kidding" - which in turn means "Who'd have thought that that would be true?"
3. Said slowly, with each syl-la-ble stretched out, in response to an improbable action (or, report of an improbable action) fair dinkum means something like "Bloody Nora!" or "Jesus wept" - which in turn mean "There's no accounting for/helping some people..." usually accompanied by a non-verbal expression of exasperation, such as shaking the head.

So in relation to credibility, "fair dinkum" can be a postive (I'm telling the truth), neutral (I guess I accept that to be the truth, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction sort of a way) or negative (I can't believe that is believable) statement. Complicated.

Communication is not just about what we say. Its about how we say what we say, and the context in which we say it, and the ability of the person we are attempting to communicate to to correctly interpet what we say according to how we say it and the context in which we say it, which depends on their familiarity or otherwise of the rules which we are communicating by (which are usually unwritten, as writing them - as I think I demonstrate above - tends to be complicated).

In other words, effective communication (of new information) takes place where there is a shared body of experience (of existing information). And not many people speak Australian in Hillsborough...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Laughing Matter

Today Jo took a pair of clippers with a #4 guard on them to Noah's head. Scalped. He really didn't enjoy the experience - though there doesn't seem to be any (immediately obvious) lasting psychological damage...

When I wrote my PhD (begun in 1995 - I'm getting old...) it was on pop/rock songs that re-told bible stories in their lyrics. I was interested in how the Bible was perceived, and portrayed, by musicians. If I were to do it all again today, I'd look at comedians instead.

Recently I've seen Ricky Gervais' stand-up show, Animals; and (the brilliant; genius, even) Bill Bailey's show, Part Troll. Both include takes on the Bible and Christianity. Both are really funny. And the significant 'extra' factor that you don't get with music CDs is the audience reaction - in both cases it is clear that the performer taps-into some shared cultural experience (Sunday School?), which significantly adds to the humour-value for those present. Which I find interesting in itself. And it asks a lot of questions of those of us who believe in the God of the Bible, and who believe that being able to be in a relationship with him is good news that we want to share with those around us.

"What we believe" is clearly no longer a taboo subject (okay for private views, but not the public arena). But the way the church has communicated what it believes in recent generations (in particular, dogmatically) derserves to be satirised...As we continue to shift from a modern- to a post-modern cultural context, how we communicate needs a serious re-think. And stand-up is well worth throwing into the mix.

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Change is as Good as a Break

A change is as good as a break. Allegedly.

1. Today - my day off - we met someone I work with (John Mansergh) while shopping at the B&Q Warehouse (you just can't get away...)
2. We packed the kids off to bed without a bath (because a bath often revives them, and we really needed them to settle quickly tonight - it's been a long week baby-bedtime-wise!)
3. This evening I opened a bottle of white wine, instead of red.

Hmmm. Okay, yes; a change is as good as a break. But whoever said it had to be an either/or decision? Memo to self: actually get round to booking this year's holiday leave.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Flying To The Moon

I'm trying to pull-together two trips in the next couple of months - to Sweden in March, which is coming together nicely; and to Nepal, at much shorter notice, in February!!!

I've not been to Nepal before, and I'm excited about the prospect of travelling with friends I'd like to spend some time with - as well as meeting up with friends out there. (I hope it all falls into place...) The Sweden trip builds on two previous visits, and I'll be taking Matt B along for the experience. I love travelling, especially flying (for some reason I enjoy airports - maybe I'm a big kid, wide-eyed at the bright lights and reflective surfaces in the Duty Free shop windows? - and airplanes; Jo, on the other hand, does not like airports, or flying, at all...) - though I hate being apart from Jo and the kids, and so I've put limits on it of late (other than family holidays). Being 'there' (wherever you were going) is good too, meeting people, seeing new places; and so is being home again - though I've often found making a good 're-entry' (such as appreciating Jo's having looked after the kids single-handed for several days, and her being tired as a result, as well as my being tired from the journey) the hardest part of the whole trip. But I think I like the travelling best. May be I'm strange...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Scheduled Spontaneity

Fran and Jen came round for tea tonight, which was un/planned (that is, we'd planned to have extra people round for tea, but didn't have any specific people coming at the start of the day; I happened to have a meeting with Jen in the morning, and invited them on the off-chance they'd be free) and really good fun - great to spend time with people we don't get to see much of...Thanks for coming, guys!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Weight of Words

I wrote a long-ish post this evening, and the computer crashed as I tried to publish it. Frustrating; though hardly worth getting frustrated about (I concede)...

Monday, January 17, 2005

On The Frontline

Last night we watched BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen's programme Jeremy Bowen - On The Frontline (BBC1 16/01/05), a one-off insight into journalists who cover wars, and how the experience impacts their own lives. Bowen is clearly very thoughtful (contrary to the popular perception of journalists...), and this was a fascinating and thought-provoking documentary. Among the colleagues - of different nationalities and news agencies - he recalled experience with was Fergal Keane, who covered the Rwandan genocide for the BBC, and whose book Season Of Blood: A Rwandan Journey (Penguin, 1995, ISBN 0-14-024760-2) is one of my all-time must-read recommendations.

Certain reflections really stood out for me (the 'quotes' below are not verbatim - I can't write fast enough! - but convey the gist of what was said):
"We were there because we thought our bearing witness would change became very disillusioning that our bearing witness didn't change things..." Allan Little, BBC Paris correspondent, on Sarajevo during the Balkan Conflict.
"If you want to report war properly, you have to report its impact on people...war is about is about thousands of acts of cruelty...the objective as a war journalist is to tell the truth...that's all you can do..." Jeremy Bowen.

I'm fascinated by the phrase "our bearing witness" [these were Allan Little's exact words], and whether or not it can change situations. I guess bearing witness of human cruelty cannot, in itself, bring about change - either by directly confronting the observed people with their actions, or by confronting other people (the global community) with their actions in the hope that those other people might confront the offenders. At the end of the day, we are all capable of the same - if this were not so, Bowen and his colleagues would not have had to report on so many wars in so many parts of the world. And yet, with the journalists, I don't think that this means we should stop bearing witness to human cruelty; in my case, in the hope that God might confront the perpetrators (and us, who are capable of the same) through the process...

...Which brings me to another bearing witness - bearing witness to God, in the midst of human cruelty (including that human cruelty committed in the name of God, whichever name might be being invoked). It is interesting that for many - including some war correspondents - exposure to human cruelty is considered as evidence that God either does not exist or does not care or is powerless to intervene or is behind the cruelty. Which is an incredible exercise in transferring blame from one party (with whom we are linked, by being capable of the same, even if we would not associate ourselves with their particular atrocities) to another (this game has been played for a long time, ever since Adam blamed Eve who blamed the serpent in Eden...). It is also interesting that the existence of a living, caring, interventionalist, blessing-bestowing God is rarely, if ever, deduced from exposure to human acts of selfless courage, overcoming devastating loss, rebuilding broken lives, and so on...For these, the human spirit takes the praise.

I live in a war zone - full of acts of little cruelties; little deaths; people whose lives have been constricted into smaller and smaller spaces...My responsibility to my neighbours is to tell the truth (yes, as I experience it; which is in part) and bear witness. I am a war correspondent.

(Bowen also interviewed journalist Anna Blundy, whose father was a war correspondent who lost his life reporting in El Salvador when she was 19, and who - obviously - has chosen a career that is the-same-as-and-yet-different-to his. Today is my son Noah's 2nd birthday. And yes, though I don't hope that he follows the exact path I have taken, I do hope that he too will follow in his father's footsteps.)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Eyes Wide Shut

The empty lot on the corner of the Barracks has been occupied; I think by Housing Services, although I only caught a glance as we drove past today, and I haven't looked at the local paper particularly recently either, so won't have seen any news of it there. Jo commented that she'd noticed it earlier in the week, so I must have walked past it without noticing...So much for being aware of what is going on in Hillsborough!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Finding Nemo?

Today we were over-run by six small boys and three small girls, dodging the knees of twelve grown-ups...This is more Jo's idea of a good time than mine, but the kids enjoyed it. In fact, Noah took his 2nd birthday party completely in his stride, while I stressed about this, that, and the other.

After everyone had gone, and the dust (more accurately, the adrenalin; most accurately, my adrenalin) had settled, we put on Finding Nemo. This is one of our kids' favourite films (one of ours, too - so many quotable lines), and we'd been given the DVD for Christmas. I can't remember how many times it's been on since...

Even later, after the kids were in bed, I checked out one of the bonus features: as the film plays in the background, the producer, co-producer and writer talk through the process of making the film, scene-by-scene - breaking to include material that was eventually edited out - from earliest ideas to finished movie. Their conversation is fascinating - exploring ideas of hope triumphing over fear; of how a father's self-imposed overly-safe boundaries restrict not only his own enjoyment of the world, and chance to fulfil his potential; but his son's enjoyment and potential too...In fact, though it is Nemo who is captured and must be rescued from a dentist's fish-tank, through his ongoing decisions to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances to rescue his son it is Marlin who finds freedom from too-narrow confines - and who, in the process, finds his true self.

The challenge of Finding Nemo is that in being overly-protective, you lose the ones you sought to protect; that in being overly-cautious, you live a life less full than life is meant to be. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10b; he also said, "...whoever wants to save his life [which surely includes striving to save the relationships that make that life seem worth living?] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" Matthew 16:25. Today I have been both overly-protective and overly-cautious - managing to largely miss out on the only opportunity I'll ever have to share my son's 2nd birthday party with him - and I needed to be reminded of the story of Finding Marlin, before I wake up one day in the not-too-distant future and realise that I have lost Noah...

Friday, January 14, 2005


A very big "thank you!" to Michal, Brian, Jules, Harry, and Rich, who came down to help us move (pretty much all our) furniture back-and-forth between rooms around three carpet-fitters, and with two trips to the recycling depot with the old carpets.

Special mention to Brian and Harry, who made great surrogate dads for the day. (They might not thank me for that remark, but most of our friends and neighbours seem to get their dads round to help with work on their houses, and our dads both live too far away...)

The house is looking fantastic. It might not last long, though - Noah's 2nd birthday party takes place here tomorrow...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Behind Closed Doors

We've been watching the latest TV import from the USA, Desperate Housewives. On the outside, it-never-rains suburban paradise; behind closed doors, dark deeds brewing. So far, we(terrestial viewers in the UK)'ve only seen the pilot and first instalments, but it is clearly shaping-up to be cult viewing; quirkily dark comedy (a la Twin Peaks), the unfolding events of her neighbours' lives narrated from beyond the grave by a woman who commits suicide in the pilot episode.

This is well-written, well-observed stuff. And the most striking thing isn't the 'big' secrets waiting to shatter the domestic idyll; but the 'banal' secrets that already have...Neighbours who would call each other friends and who share nothing of importance with each other for fear of being known. Four women each feeling desperately lonely, and each believing that none of her friends could understand. The irony that they are all in the same place, each thinking that the others have never been here; each choosing to accept the respectable front they all project, because that is easier than the alternative; each believing that the consequences of openness would be worse than the consequences of secrecy: Would any of my friends want to be my friends if they knew what I am really like? Would any of my friends stand by me if they knew what I was going through?

Secrecy - independence; going-it-alone - results in loneliness...not to mention the every-day-stuff of life, like dealing with the kids, just being so much harder. Openness results in friendships growing stronger (as I've written recently, the process may require sifting-through/cleaning-off mud, but it is worth it!)...not to mention the every-day-stuff being so much easier. That has certainly been our experience, most recently over last autumn when Jo was prescribed anti-depressants by our GP.

So, why do we (all) so often behave just like desperate housewives?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Today I feel strongly drawn to hibernate.

By which I don't mean 'go to sleep for a long time.' No, what I mean is more akin to the ancient monastic rhythm than to bears in the woods. The monastic communities lived by a rhythm that seems to me more in tune with nature than our lives today (where variations in daylight hours are flattened out by electric lights, and variations in temperature by central heating). In the winter, they would 'retreat' to their monastary, where they would study and reflect and copy out books by hand;* in the summer they would be sent out into the surrounding settlements, to establish local communities of faith.**

It is winter (last night storms swept across Britain, with gusts up to 100mph, and fatalities in Ireland and Scotland). And I feel drawn to spend more time reading, writing, eating (you need more calories in winter than in summer), and 'sleeping' (well, dreaming dreams).

Reading: most recently I've read Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. It's very good - a definite recommendation. I think I'll be re-reading John Eldredge's Waking the Dead, too; and then re-read A Generous Orthodoxy...
Writing: not least, here...
Eating: Jo and I are looking to host a fortnightly meal for the (local to Hillsborough) members of our (wider) missional community, starting very soon. I guess for many of us there's a flurry of socialising at Christmas, and an equal-and-opposite post-Christmas reaction...but eating together regularly is essential for building any community.
'Sleeping': I want to dream dreams and have waking visions; to see, and then do, what the Father is doing (not just jump-in-feet-first, or muddle along, or continue to plough a furrow after the soil has eroded away).

So, I'm off to hibernate. Enjoy your day!

*Monks played a key role in the development of European universities; producing wonderful cultural artifacts such as the 'illuminated manuscript' The Book of Kells - and nowhere more so than in Ireland, which was known as Hibernia...
**The retreat/go-out rhythm is even more marked at Lindisfarne, which is cut off from the Northumbrian coast twice-a-day at each high tide, and connected to it by a causeway twice-a-day at each low tide. There are daily, weekly, monthly micro-rhythms within seasonal ones.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Job's A Good 'Un

Big congratulations to my friend Will on being offered a job with the Forestry Commission, networking the links in an environmentally-friendly energy-production chain (producers, distributors, consumers). In a nut-shell, its all to do with the burning of wood pellets - that don't add to CO2 emissions like burning fossil-fuels does; there's no net gain in CO2 levels with wood - in boilers that can generate the heating needs of large buildings, or even 'clusters' of connected buildings, and can contribute their surplus to the National Grid. Moreover, the producer-distributor-consumer chains tend to be on a small enough scale to be good news for local ecomonies. Apparently, the field is in its infancy - all the more reason to invest in its future...

Honestly, few issues should matter as much as these. I'm really pleased for you, Will. You'll do a great job.

Monday, January 10, 2005

An Afternoon in the Park

I met up with some friends this afternoon, at The Curator's House cafe/restaurant in the Botanical Gardens. I've not been down there much recently, during the major re-ordering of the park. Part of me wanted to go regularly, to see the gradual changes of a work-in-progress; another part of me wanted to resist the temptation to 'peek' before it was completed - and I guess that's the part that won out.

Which I regret now. David Ducker and I got there before the others we were meeting, and decided we'd take a walk round. They've been really brave, clearing away a lot that has grown up over the years, creating much more light and space, resulting in some great views. It looks fantastic - I really wish that I had my camera with me. And David has been coming down regularly to see it all unfold...

I was struck by something I heard him say yesterday: that we have a 'built-in' desire to discover treasure (consider the audience-ratings of programmes such as Time Team or Cash In The Attic); and that treasure is often to be un-earthed in the field of relationships - treasure that is often in need of a good clean before it can be identified and truly appreciated, or accurately valued, but treasure nonetheless. We might want to by-pass all the mud, and come back when the treasure is nicely polished and protected in a glass case (or when the Gardens are restored to their original glory). But (even if that were possible) to do so would be to miss out on more than we could imagine. Because there is a wealth of riches waiting to be uncovered in each other, by each other; and there's something about the discovery that nothing else can quite match...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Parallel Tracks

I spoke at church this evening, a half-hour 'prose-poem' on Epiphany and the Asian tsunami. Afterwards, several people suggested that I should write a book of devotional reflections - and one day I might. [Really. I take unsolicited suggestions made independently by several close friends like that seriously.]

In the meantime, I thought I'd do something I've been meaning to do, and start a second blog specifically for occasional sermon texts, as these are too long to include in a daily blog. It is called a few inadequate words. Inadequate though they will certainly be, I hope you find them helpful.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Grim Up North

We travelled over to Bolton today. The dark, satanic mills (standing empty) and dramatic, open moors (also empty) were all-but-obscured by the driving frozen rain (very different from both snow - which is pretty - and hail - which is dramatic). It's grim up north. But there are some great views on a clear day.

Despite a strong wind, most of the wind-turbines (a very good thing; check out Ecotricity) weren't turning today. It's a funny old world.

View photos of Susannah and Noah with their cousins here.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Picture This

We bought a digital camera today, so now we just have to figure out using it. It's a good enough camera that we can work out the basics on Auto, and progress on to more and more manual settings once (if?) we're any good. (Hopefully I've understood enough to get some decent shots tomorrow, when we meet nephew/cousin Alexander; it couldn't be any worse than the last family get-together on Christmas Day, when we loaded a film into our pre-digital APS, and the camera rejected it. Any advance on 'nil' will be a bonus.)

Photography falls into the category of Things I've Always Said I'd Like To Get Into, But - up until now - Haven't. It never made it into the priority list(s: money, time, or effort). And then there's the old condemnation-trip over having a hobby: "Self-indulgent," especially when "You should be spending your time with your wife/kids..." A while back I made a choice not to listen to that line anymore (admittedly, it took me long enough), for the sake of my long-term health and family relationships, and I've been thinking through options for something recreational - such as painting lessons. I'm looking for something that redresses my rest-work rhythm of life, and also opens opportunities to meet new people. This might be it, especially as we already have a friend in the Sheffield Photographic this space:

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Feast Of The Epiphany

Today Jo's sister had her baby, a boy - Alexander George, a brother for Isabella. Hopefully we'll get to visit them on Saturday, bringing gifts.

We've just got home from a most wonderful evening at the Lovell's, celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany (which remembers the Magi's, or wise men's, journey following the star that led them to Jesus; and the gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh they presented to him) with other members of our community: John, Liz, Susie and her boyfriend Ged, and Sam; Sharon and Diane; and Jo and me.

Liz put on an incredible meal - to start, prawn-and-mixed-leaf salad with pine nuts; followed by ham bolied in apple juice before being roasted with mustard, sugar and cloves; with curly-kail, carrot, leek in a creamy sauce, and baked potato on the side; and rounded off with a mixed plate of stollen bread, Turkish Delight, chocolates, nuts, and tangerines. And all washed down with plenty of wine. Gifts fit for a king, no question.

The food was fantastic, and the company a lot of fun. But the thing that excited me most ("More than people, fair enough; but more than good food and wine?", those that know me well may ask) was the new (to us, at least) tradition Liz had introduced. When we were ushered to our seats, there were three gifts waiting, alluding to gold (sparkly nail varnish for the ladies; a yellow highlighter pen for the men - think 'making the ordinary stand out'), incense (bath pearls for the ladies; chocolate for the men - think 'pleasing aroma'), and myrrh (manicure boards for the ladies; a 'tip-ex' mouse for the men - think 'removing/covering-over our errors'), all individually wrapped. And cards, which passed right round the table over the course of the meal, with each of us writing something for the person to whom it was addressed.

I really appreciate Liz's thoughtfulness, and am inspired again by such prophetic acting-out remonders of the Good News we hope in.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Picture Speaks [Quite A Lot Of] Words

One of the presents Susie got for Christmas was a pack of creative materials, and while Jo's parents were staying with us, Susie and Grandma made a colour-in-and-stick-on-stickers picture of a clown. At the time Susie said that it was for me to take to work...and on the day I went back to work (10 days later?), she asked, "Daddy, you haven't forgotten that you need to take this to work?" And so to work it went. (And yes, I had needed reminding.)

This morning, I was asked if I would be willing to preach - at short notice! - this coming Sunday evening, at Philadelphia. I asked for half-an-hour before I gave my decision, and went back to my study. On the one hand, its an opportunity that doesn't come up so often you want to pass it up lightly; on the other hand, is that reason enough if you don't have a clear idea what you might say (especially as an introvert who writes sermons out long-hand, and would have to prepare at short notice...)?

And then I saw the picture of the clown, and I was thankful that it had ended up on my desk. Because once, a long time ago, my then-team-leader Mike had identified my role on the team as the clown - the one on whom the circus ring-master can call when everything is falling apart, who has the gift of 'saving the day' (a jack-of-all-trades; master-of-none). Perhaps not a thousand words, but choice ones that carry some weight. And right now, for a raft of reasons, I need to be called out again.

I said I'll preach. And I moved my daughter's picture from my desktop onto the wordsmiths lectern I stand at, overlooking the 'square,' as I prepare.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Bath-time Bob Sleigh Run

This evening, my daughter played a recurring game in the bath. Our bath has two handles, one on each side, half-way down the length of the bath. She holds on to the handles, and slides forwards and back: forward and back three times, "1, 2, 3"...then forward with a "Wheeee!", as far as she can go, feet ending up between the taps...forward and back, forward and back, now sliding up the sides of the bath - to one side, then the other, and back again and again, as she goes.

This is Susannah's game. She invented it, when she was 10 months old, having seen the bob-sleigh teams compete at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. 10 months old - and she still bob-sleighs in the bath at 44 months. (Even better, the bath is white! The game is fun when the bath is full, water sloshing with gathering momentum until it breaks over the end and spills onto the floor...even more fun when the water has drained away and the surface of the 'run' is lubricated by bubbles.)

I find it amazing that something she saw on TV as a baby should have such an impact on her all this time later. Who would have thought it? The human mind is incredible; and it is fascinating how images we see shape it. I'm not saying that she will grow up to compete on the bob-sleigh run (though, who knows?); that it will shape her future, or change anyone else's. Just that there is a deep - and sometimes highly unpredictable - connection between what we see and what we do.

And sometimes what we see causes us to do something that really does change our future - mine, my daughter's, and my son's; yours; and that of people we will never know, and of their children whom we will never know either. Please, please go to the Make Poverty History site, and take part in a monumental team effort - that will inspire countless children to dream big dreams in the bath.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Journey's End?

We returned home today, as did our Polish friend, Michal, who is living with us for a year, and who went back to his family for Christmas. He brought back a Christmas present for us, a 'coffee-table' style book entitled POLSKA - Zaproszenie do podrozy [the final 'o' and 'z' both have marks over them that I don't know how to insert in Blogger], which translates, POLAND - Invitation for a Journey.

It is full of exquisite photographs of Poland's natural beauty and rich architectural history. I remember reading somewhere once that Poland was (at the time) the most polluted country in Europe. Obviously the scenes chosen were selective, to show the country at its best (although the editors were rightly brave enough to include a shot of the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau among the human shaping of the landscape); but even so, there is enough here to show Poland is a stunning nation. Nature is both fragile - easily destroyed by pollution - and vigorous - 'bouncing back' time and again in an extravagant perpetual re-creation.

And I love the title - an invitation to a journey. Not so much inviting me to visit Poland as a tourist, as inviting me to see how I relate to any place as a journey of discovery, to find the stunning in the mundane. For me, that place is, first and foremost, Hillsborough and the neighbouring areas of Sheffield. Among the things I love are the rounded building fronts on either side of the road where the tramline to Malin Bridge sweeps away from the line to Middlewood, and the bridge over the River Loxley. In fact, strange though it may seem, to me these give humble Hillsborough something of the feel of great European cities I have visited, in countries like Hungary and Croatia. Journeys are a great adventure, even when you don't leave home!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Play Of Light

At the back of my parents' house is what estate agents would call a sun lounge. It is more of a lean-to than a conservatory, but very pleasant as a dining room, with a view over their beautiful - even in winter - back garden. As we sat eating lunch today, I found it hard to keep my eyes from an arch across the path, half-way down the garden, covered in a riot of clematis and Japanese honeysuckle. The flowers, of course, are not out in January - though there are several buds - and 'stripped back' the stems are beautiful, in reds and oranges. But it was the sunlight falling on the arch that transformed it from a mess of organic life into something that took my breath away - something that I could never hope to capture in a painting, or photograph, or words.

Nature is glorious, and it declares a glorious Creator. We cannot domesticate it; though we can seek to bless it, as by making an arch for the clematis to spread across. We cannot control it; as recent events remind us, should we have forgotten. Neither should we rape nature for our short-term pleasure (as westerners so often seem to believe it is there for - but which is to silence its voice, habitat by habitat, species by species), nor worship nature (as non-western worldviews often do, along with growing numbers in the west rightly dissatisfied with the rape approach - but which is to ignore its voice). Rather, we should join with all nature in worshipping the One who created both the world and those who live in it.

On a different (though not entirely unrelated) note, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' article in today's Sunday Telegraph is well worth a read.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Beyond Resolution

Happy New Year! If this event has any significance beyond a purely calendar one (when I created this blog, Blogger randomly - that is, inaccurately - allocated a star-sign and Chinese astrological birth year to my Profile; once upon a time, these deterministic approaches to life were allocated to us by birth date; now, apparently, by a computer programme...) then it is as an opportunity to take a look at ourselves and decide to make some changes.

Jesus called this an opportunity to "repent and believe the good news" of God's transforming kingdom, liberating us from the oppression of determinism (nature v nurture debate; horoscopes; politics; forces of nature; etc.).

To repent means to change one's mind (sadly, the term has been hi-jacked by those who have over-emphasised one aspect of its meaning - to acknowledge where we have been in the wrong - and ignored the wider sense, which includes recognition that it is time to move on from one positive or neutral activity to another - as in, there is a time and a place for a wide range of actions, and a skill to recognising a change in the season); to believe means to change one's direction, one's actions, as an active outworking of repentance - a dynamic activity that acknowledges both other people's support and God's empowering.

Both repentance and belief are, at least in part, communal activities: we need the insight of others to see how we should move forward in any given set of circumstances, and - crucially - to encourage us in, and hold us accountable to, acting on the decision we have arrived at. Which is why New Year's Resolutions - generally highly individualistic in both the identifying and the attempting - so often fail to see out January...