Monday, February 28, 2005

Virtual Community?

I've just joined an on-line virtual community of parents (mostly mums, but a few dads too; a national UK set up, but with a few from wider afield). Jo's been part of it for a while. It is fantastic, especially the discussions, which range from the downright silly (every stay-at-home-mum needs a silly time in the day, in order to stay sane) to relationship issues, depression (very common), to asking for and sharing advice about children at various stages of development, balancing jobs and fact, pretty much anything you can think of.

Perhaps the most striking thing is how many of the mums have very few friends or supportive family near by in "real life" (RL, in virtual-speak). For them, the virtual community is a real God-send, sometimes literally a matter of life-and-death - and these are not "cyber geeks" with no face-to-face social skills, who have chosen to opt-of of reality in favour of fantasy. These are real parents, with real kids, trying to be good parents, and raise good kids; and supporting each other in it. (Before I get animated comments: I'm not dissing cyber communities; just saying these people don't fit the stereotype many people think of when they hear the words virtual community.)

As part of a relatively small but globally dispersed missional community, my view is that we need to develop a strong virtual expression of dispersed community, as well as lots of strong face-to-face expressions of local communities (and occasional events when the dispersed community comes together face-to-face). That it is not a matter of either/or - or of one being better than the other - but of both/and. That is the reality of the mobile world we live in. And I'm hoping that we'll get an on-line "space" for that to happen up-and-running fairly soon now. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


At church this morning, I spoke about the transitions we make every day between home and work and work and home; of how we can move from one to another badly, or well; and how we might do so well, rather than badly. I've posted the transcript on "a few inadequate words" (warning: it is quite long!).

After the service, we headed over to the Fardon's home, to join a lot of other people for several Sri Lankan curry dishes made by Roshani Bagnall. The food was delicious; the company relaxed; the menagerie of small children doing jigsaws on the living-room rug, fun.

Once home, I got to catch Ireland beat England to complete a hat-trick of Celtic nation victories over the weekend. But, yet again in this year's Six Nations tournament, the result was marred by controversial refereeing decisions...

Then out again, to meet with Steve and Tracey, who are soon to become the first couple at whose wedding I will officiate, to run through the wedding plans. And on, to hear my old friend Mike speak about prayer, and the awesomeness of being able to relate to God as a child to their Daddy - which filled me again with thoughts of how much I love my children, and how proud I am of them (however much they exasperate me at times). And home again, with a few flakes of snow falling out of the sky - just as they had been doing, I remember, when we left the house this morning.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Picking Up Strangers In Bars

I didn't get to see Scotland beat Italy this afternoon (though on all accounts, it wasn't worth watching), as friends came over from Birmingham and we went out for a leisurely pub lunch at the Strines Inn. Although there hasn't been any fresh snow for two days now, the fields rising above the Rivelin and Loxley valleys looked fantastic - broken patches of dark brown and white - as did the moors when we got further out - wide, bleak, much more inviting than without the snow. And in close-up, fantastic contrasts of bright orangey-brown leaves against the white, as we drove past woods. The best views were from the road, where we couldn't stop; but I took a few pictures from the pub car-park.

At the pub, Noah adopted (imposed himself upon) the family at the table next to ours (but they were fine with it). They arrived after we had eaten our main course, and while we were thinking about ordering a pudding, and Noah went over and sat with them. Of course, we'd never met them before, but their three kids were all lightly ginger, and both families observed that, sharing their colouring, Noah fitted right in. I offered a swap, for a quiet, sensible child; but they were only prepared to accept a straight-swap for their loopy one, so it wasn't worth it.

We did get to see Wales beat France later in the afternoon, and what a truly exciting match it was. (Having had a Welsh grandpa,) I'm delighted for the boys from the valleys. And we had a lovely day with Clifford and Charis, who we don't get to see often enough. Thanks for coming over, guys.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Wet Day Measures

After the cold spell, a thaw: with H2O's no longer feeling the need to huddle together so closely for warmth, the melting snow trickled away all day in viscous rivulets...and so, instead of wrapping-up-warm and sledging on tea-trays in the park, we bundled into the car and headed for Meadowhall instead.

No weather there; just thermostatically-controlled same-old micro-climate all year round. Instead of the leaves, the window displays turn through the seasons: this season, the most up-market high-fashion end is, apparently, inspired by the art of China; and the slightly-less exclusive, slighty-more trendy bracket by the art of India...At least, that's what I observed as we rushed past in search of the toilets as soon as we arrived (which is what happens when little girls refuse to go before you leave home...) Too fussy for me. (The shop windows, not the little girl!) (Though she has her moments.)

Getting the children's feet measured was the excuse (as it turns out, neither pair of feet had grown - though we did end up getting a beautiful pair of bridesmaid's shoes for Susannah - stylishly simple, ivory, 'silk'); having lunch at PizzaExpress was a treat; Jo bought a great jacket to wear at this year's weddings/christenings - apple green, 60's-inspired, chic - and a skirt to go with it - peach, I've no idea how to describe the cut, but it goes well with the jacket, and Jo will look great in them; and I got some new shoes too (I've got 'funny' feet, that rip through shoes, and I hate shoe-shopping, but I've found this particular style to be relatively comfortable in the past). And Noah seemed perfectly happy to run around causing mayhem, and eat Susie's lunch as well as his own...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The More It Snows...

...tiddly-pom, the more it goes tiddly-pom... [Winnie the Pooh]

All the schools in Sheffield were closed today due to the snow, which was about two inches deep in Hillsborough when I got up (that's quite deep for Hillsborough; the story goes that it was about four inches in Walkley, and six in Crookes), but had already sunk down to about an inch by the time I left for work - the snow having changed from flakes, which build up in layers, to 'needles,' which drive tiny holes into whatever snow has settled. (There's a popular trivia fact that the Inuit - or insert other Arctic-based people-group - have six - or insert other, higher, number - different words for 'snow' - though I have no idea what the sources for these oft-heard statements are. Anyway, it turns out that you get at least two kinds of snow in Hillsborough. Oh yes, and slush...)

All day long the snow came and went, and not a lot happened outside - although at one point two children were playing on the open ground in front of my office. It's funny to see how the adult community hunker-down (emotionally, as well as physically) under the weight of it, falling down out of the's a little morose. Of course, if it would only settle, and the sun come out, the 'kid inside' might break out. It's my day off tomorrow. I can live in hope!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

In The Meadow We Can Make A Snowman...

...well, okay, it hasn't been that deep. But there were snowball fights on the Quad both before and after Chapel this morning (and, indeed, in the chapel too - eh, Rich?)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Caught In The Headlights

I love driving through snow at night, the falling flakes lit up by the beams of my headlights, swirling into view as if from no-where - like the distorted stars when the Millennium Falcon kicks into hyperdrive...

(Some people accuse me of having an over-active imagination. Actually, there are many similarities between the Falcon and our Opel Zafira - the main difference being the Opel is more reliable - so they are clearly wrong.)

I think I have posted this before, but it is a great quote:
"[God] says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,'...So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labour..." (Job 37:6, 7)

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Today was Noah's first morning at nursery. For a while now he's wanted to stay when he and Jo have dropped Susie off in the morning; and from this week he'll go too on Monday mornings. So today all four of us went along the road together. I'm very proud of my boy!

After dinner tonight I knocked a tub of cream out of the fridge, and all over the Dyson vacuum...

The kids didn't settle tonight (over-tired and over-excited...the downside of Day One at nursery). Jo and I were sat in the living room, catching breath before going out, when there was a crash from the attic, followed by silence. Jo headed up there to discover the three-drawer chest of drawers tipped over, a child stood at each side, both looking sheepish...turns out they'd decided it would be good to empty out the top drawer, both climb in it, and pretend they were going for a drive in their, we're talking about an Ikea pine drawer here, not a solid they-don't-make-'em-this-quality-any-more piece of furniture, and it clearly was never intended to store two small children (more's the pity). With a bit of distance, and given that neither of them were hurt, and having shared the tale with the friends we were with this evening, I'm just about ready to see the funny side (not to mention, hail the creative genius). But not quite.

How was your day?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Clouded Vision

I've just been stood at the kitchen sink, looking out of the window. A wren flew into the garden, hopping about, long tail bobbing up and down; but it flew off as soon as I stepped outside.

The windows at the rear of our house look out across open space: the rugby pitches immediately behind us, and the hill of Shirecliffe/Parkwood Springs - part municipal rubbish tip, part rich (though unofficial) nature reserve - rising beyond. And between the two, a line of tall trees on the other edge of the park. I love looking at those trees, framed by the sky; usually, clouds. The back-drop is always changing - just now, the sky was a very light eggshell blue; it still is, but indigo clouds are moving in; fluffy in their advance guard, but with a thick blanket following on their heels. My favourite view is when there is a thick bank of very dark grey cloud behind the trees, and bright sunlight directly overhead, which casts an orange-gold glow on the trees. But it only happens when there is dark clouds and bright light together.

Right now I'm feeling fairly down about certain, work-related, things. But depression (in this particular case, I'm just feeling depressed, which is not the same thing as depression at all; but I've been there in the past) is not the same as a lack of hope (plenty of people live without what they would call hope, but aren't depressed). Feeling depressed about a situation simply acknowledges that the situation isn't very good; or sometimes, is very bad. But in that, there can still be hope - hope of a saviour who can lift you high enough to see beyond the present into a future. Not that the present changes (after all, you don't hope for something you already have); nor that you are saved from any future depressing situations or circumstances; but that in each one as they arise we can be lifted; that light can fall that creates something beautiful, that wouldn't be there if the clouds were simply blown away immediately. And that might not be enough for everyone, but it is for me.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ups And Downs

This morning we all went for a walk along the Rivelin Valley: a small and insignificant river now, but the place where Sheffield really began, with small-scale cutlery mills all along the river. The weather was glorious; it was great to get out and about with the kids; Susie held my hand and imagined horses and lions and elephants...

This afternoon Berniece came round with the bridesmaid dress Susie will wear - and she looked beautiful, if somewhat over-awed and shy.

In the evening, I was 'jumped by' feelings of depression - unprecedented for years and years; I'll process them later on - despite it being very much a good day. But I went out to Ben's birthday party - from where I am posting, for the first time away from home - and it has been a tonic. Thank you to all who were there.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Moving Forward, Moving Backward

I just popped round the corner to the Co-op, to pick up some eggs to scramble for lunch. I like the Co-op; it has a strange forwards/backwards dynamic. Their products are very forward-looking - lots of organic and fair-trade stuff. And yet, their piped music is very backward-looking - always a journey back to my teens, reminiscent of Brat Pack movies like The Breakfast Club and St Elmo's Fire that we used to watch at youth group video nights, and not mind because the girls liked watching the films and the guys liked watching films with the girls (and secretly liked [at least some of] the films too, but were too cool to admit it)...The soundtrack to my buying six large organic free-range eggs today was "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds. Slightly surreal.

When I got home, Jo made Noah show me what he had done. Which was, draw on his face and hands with a thick red felt-tip pen. If you're young/old enough to be familiar with David Bowie on the front cover of his Aladdin Sane album, picture that and you're there...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

You Are What You Eat

Apparently this week is National Chip Week: as in, the British public don't eat enough deep-fried potato, and really ought to do something about increasing their average intake. Hmmm, not sure what the heart surgeons would have to say about that one. But anyway, dutiful citizens of the Nanny State that we are, we had fish 'n' chips for tea. No...I don't feel any more patriotic than before for it.

Jo took Susie and Noah to see their cousins again today, and they didn't get back till late. But I put the kids to bed, and read them a story each. Susie chose Little Bear's Numbers. That girl knows her numbers better than I do; I'm genuinely proud of her.

I walked home from work thinking about how, in the West, we tend to think of journeys - at least, regular, mundane, commuting journeys; perhaps not holiday cruises, or safaris - as simply a means of getting from A to B; with luck, in the shortest possible time. Whereas perhaps we should think of them as a succession of arrivals and potential opportunities in their own right; opportunities to see the Kingdom break in, bringing blessing to us and to others...And as I was thinking this, who should I meet but my friend Mark, waiting at a tram stop. Seeing him, and stopping for a chat while we waited for his tram to come, certainly blessed me (at the end of a slightly frustrating day, and on my way home to an empty house); and I hope it blessed him too.

Anyway, I like that out-look. It is open to the world, seen and unseen; not closed in on itself.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Trivial Pursuits

Ben & Helen and Ruth came to tea. Always a pleasure. Ruth brought along some sort of up-dated anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit. We played girls v boys. I thought I'd post that the girls won (all six categories, to the boys' four - and that was a late comeback on the boys' part...) before the girls get their gloating in elsewhere. Ladies, you really did have the easier questions.

I went to the Botanical Gardens this afternoon, to take photographs. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and it felt really good to take a light day and get outside. The park was beautiful today. I ended up taking 87 pictures, and a lot of them are pretty good for a point-and-press approach to photography. A bad workman may blame his tools; this nothing-special workman gives his Fuji S5000 the credit. To be fair, I think I've got a fairly good eye for composition, but beyond that...

I'm still having problems posting photos to the blog, but I'll put some of them on My Photos.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Hollywood actor Ray Liotta's guest-starring portrayal of a man dying of long-term alcohol abuse on last night's ER was profoundly moving.

I have long been a fan of the show - it's one of the very few things on TV that I watch with any commitment. And every so often it perfectly counter-balances the relentless pressure of emergency medicine (conveyed through the use of constantly-changing camera positions) by focusing-in on one patient (followed in real-time over forty-five minutes), and the emotional impact of that patient's predicament on the medics who attend him.

In this particular episode, our tendency to be over-quick to pass judgement on others (not least as we seek to survive in a pressurised situation...) was exposed - without (and this dignity adds all the weight in the world) passing quick-and-easy judgement on us. The character Charlie is variously, and wrongly, judged to be homeless by the hospital staff; to be faking illness in order to jump the queue by another patient; to be a waste of time and resources by Dr Pratt - alcohol abuse as self-inflicted condition v Dr Kovacs' understanding of alcoholism as a disease; to disqualify himself for care - again, by Dr Pratt, on the basis of being an ex-convict, and guilty of murder at that; to be a total failure as a father by his estranged son - 'phoned twice by the nurse, but not prepared to see his father one last time before he dies...

And yet as the story unfolds our prejudices are challenged by his story - of how he turned to alcohol after his wife was killed by a passing car, as she crossed the street on an errand he should have made himself; of how his drinking led him to stab another man in a bar, a horrific accident; of having his son taken away from him...And each medic who attends him is confronted by their own past - the father Dr Pratt never knew; the wife and children Dr Kovacs lost in the ethnic cleansing of the Balkan Conflict; Dr Lockheart's own alcoholism, being kept under control through attending the AA...

Ray Liotta played Charlie with a degree of dignity that deeply honours ordinary men and women who struggle to cope with what life throws at them; and who often screw-up; and who don't need our judgement to deal with on top of everything else - but who could use a listening ear to hear their confession, and gracious lips to pronounce the absolution they are longing for, and a strengthening hand to reach out and touch them as they face death. I'd like to be more like that.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Civil Disobedience

Empires rise, and empires fall. By the time of Claudius II (emporer, AD268-270), the Roman Empire was in serious decline. The whole culture was built on slavery. As long as there were more people to conquer (largely by conscipting already-conquered men into the conquerors army), the supply of slaves - and therefore the way of life - was secured. But once there was no-one else to conquer...the Romans were left with a lot of oppressed people groups, all intent on regaining their freedom; all armed and trained in the art of warfare by the Romans themselves (think: the USA arming Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians, and Saddan Hussein to fight Iran); and no fresh source of soldiers to resist them.

It would still take another 150-or-so years before The End arrived, but Claudius II had problems (in the shape of Goths and Jutes to the north, and Palmyrans to the east, if anyone is interested). And opinions. In Claudius II's opinion, single men made better soldiers - as married men did not want to leave their wives and children. So Claudius II made getting engaged and married illegal for his citizens.

A young priest, Valentine, opposed this edict. He continued to marry couples, in secret; until he was caught; and ultimately executed on 14th February, (approx.) AD270. Valentine believed that there was a higher authority than the poltical rulers of the day, to whom he was answerable, and with whom he must side whenever conflicts of interest arose. Even if it cost him his life - as he knew it would were he to be discovered. (About fifty years later, for better and for worse, his faith became the "official" religion of the Empire.)

Today is Saint Valentine's Day, a day for lovers to mark their love. Buried beneath the commercialisation - and layers of tradition beneath that - Valentine challenges our notions of love: for, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Putting The Boot In

Despite scoring two (excellent, very entertaining) tries to France's none, England contrived to lose 17-18 at home today. All afternoon, England's kicks at goal fell short* or wide of the mark; while at the same time they conceded too many penalties to the on-target French.

As I was originally to be in Nepal, and Michal is also away for a few days, Jo had invited Amy, the one friend from school days she is still in touch with, to come up from Birmingham for the weekend. We had only headed off to bed five minutes before Amy knocked on our door to ask whether water was supposed to be dripping from the light-fitting in her room? (What sort of a question is that anyway?!) So, she ended up sleeping on the living-room sofa. At least her being here meant the leak was discovered.

This is the same ceiling that was very badly rain-damaged last August, and which took the insurance system such a long time to sort out for us. At the time, the roofers couldn't find where water was coming in, and wondered whether it was actually coming in through our neighbours' roof and running along inside the roof space before leaking into our property, not theirs...So it looks like we're going to have to speak with them tomorrow and ask them to get their roof checked out. (And how do you do that?)

Some days you feel like someone is putting the boot in...

*"Falling short of the mark" is the definition of sin, "a sin" being a technical term originating - and still used today - in the sport of archery.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Normal Service Resumed

Having won (the moral victory) against France last weekend (only to be robbed by the linesman and referee), Scotland returned to form, losing 13-40 to Ireland this afternoon (with no-one to blame but themselves as they conceded an 8-0 lead to lose at home to the Irish by a record margin)...Like England leading up to the last World Cup, the current Ireland squad are a team playing with a sense of purpose and passion.

I spent this morning with several friends from church at a WorkTalk conference. WorkTalk is an excellent resource designed to equip people to "work well by working spiritually." Built around the seven sayings of Christ on the cross, the material addresses knowing how to handle stress; how to be good news where you - and your colleagues - are; how to have a sense of balance in your life; how to stand alone for what is right; how to be real, to be yourself; how to finish a job well; and how to be aware of God's presence all the time, while remaining fully engaged with the world.

Sadly, I think it is fair to say (that is, extensive research demonstrates it) that most churches do not equip their people for what is the most dominant and most demanding context of their lives: their workplace. Worse, while not supporting their people, many churches leave members with a vague but very persistent sense of guilt: they should be witnessing to their colleagues (usually in an artificial way), leading them to make a decision to believe in Jesus; not putting their heads down and getting on with survival...As it happens, I do believe that we should see our workplaces as our place of mission; but I would define that mission as seeking to see God's kingdom come, in all its diversity, not (merely) to see conversions.*

Of the many things that struck me this morning, I'd mention one here: that we should have a sacramental view of life (re being aware of God's presence all the time). Having a sacramental view means allowing ordinary things to take on a symbolism that points to extra-ordinary things (e.g. most Christians are familiar with the idea that bread and wine symbolise Jesus' body and blood). But everything can take on a sacramental purpose, if we see all of life as being (or, intended to be) holy, as being set apart for God's use. So as I iron my shirts I am reminded that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, s(m)ooths the worries of my heart; and as I delete junk emails I am reminded that Jesus cancels out my own unsolicited impositions on others - the comments I make, without thinking, that bring a little bit of death, as opposed to a little bit of life, to those who cross my path; my sin. This is not to trivialise what God has done, but to live out the consequences to greater and greater impact for my own life and the lives of those around me. And it is the every-day counter-balance to the special-day sacramentalism I wrote about yesterday.

*Because 1. how a person responds to the kingdom coming is their responsibility, not mine; and 2. bringing a person to the point of 'conversion' - and if we can speak of a point, as opposed to a process, I'd propose that only God can make the call of when that point has been reached/crossed over/whatever - is the Holy Spirit's responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is to seek the kingdom - to welcome God's blessings, for the benefit of those who embrace him and those who turn from him alike - and point out to others the invitation to enter-into those blessings more fully.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Special Days

This morning was a glorious spring day, though in true spring-day style it has clouded over since then. Jo and Noah were out at a birthday party, so Susie and I went out for coffee (technically, Susie had Ribena). I really enjoy daddy-and-daughter moments like that, even if at almost 4 Susannah's attention-span didn't allow us to stay very long!

When we got home, there was an envelope waiting for me, marked "On Her Majesty's Service" (which, having grown up with the James Bond franchise, I always and automatically read as "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). The contents informed me that I am now officially authorised to "solomnise marriages" (that's "do weddings" to most folk), in certain venues. Over the years several couples have got together in communities Jo and I have led, and it's always been a bit sad for me that I couldn't do their weddings. But now I can. Hurrah!

On another track, Ben has some great thoughts - and links to other resources - on Lent, a season I'm learning to appreciate more (having always been more of an Advent person). I love the liturgical calendar; the way it marks out the seasons; the symbolism of days such as Advent, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Ascension Day (more so even than the central festivals of Christmas and Easter and Pentecost). And I believe that the rich symbolism has the potential to re-connect my post-modern generation to the church in a way that modern, minimalistic Christianity never could. On Ash Wednesday, we invited people to receive the mark of the cross in ash on their foreheads - the ash symbolising their mortality, the cross the means of entering into eternal life - before taking bread and wine - symbolising Jesus' body and blood, broken and spilled-out; dead, and resurrected; re-uniting creation with the Creator; re-membering us with God and each other. I love serving communion, but always on this one day choose to ash instead (this year including Ben, and his wife Helen; and my wife, Jo). It is a moment that transcends even the most special of days.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Westminster's Loss, Canterbury's Gain?

I had lunch with "our* Ruth" today. She told me that her new ambition was to be the first female Archbishop of Canterbury, now that she has given up on her ambition to become Prime Minister.

At some point the conversation circled back to politics, and Ruth happened to suggest that most UKIP (far-Right United Kingdom Independence Party) voters were "above a certain age," and that this was perhaps a good reason to have a maximum voting age, as well as a minimum one...I laughed out loud, and pointed out that if her campaign manifesto to an aging population was disenfranchising pensioners, it was probably as well she has given up on being Prime Minister!

As for the See of Canterbury, go girl!

*Northern term of affection for a younger brother or sister (in this case, unofficially adopted).

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Extra Sensory Perception

As I stepped outside my door this morning, my nose was hit by a strong, sweet smell, being carried on the wind from the Cadbury-Bassetts confectionary factory just across the park and ring-road. It took several seconds to match, while the efficient (manicured?) secretarial fingers of my brain ran through the records stored in the "Nasal" filing cabinet...Pineapple Squares! Yum. Do you remember Pineapple Squares? I suspect the thought is (even?) better than the taste experience - never tinker lightly with nostalgia! - but what a smell...

I took the tram to work (I needed to get there early, and was running late - a not-unusual combination...), and enjoyed seeing two women reading books. I think reading a book on the tram is to be encouraged. But I fear that if I were to do so, I'd get engrossed in the book and go sailing past my stop, into town...but then, both women had a longer journey than me...

At prayers at noon, my friend Lindsay anointed my eyes with oil, to see as Jesus sees...

Today is Ash Wednesday, and I was struck by these words:
"...[God] has sent [us] to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair..." [Isaiah 61:1-3]

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Pancake Day

As my friend Jono observed at lunch today, Shrove Tuesday is supposed to be the day you use up your eggs and milk before Lent starts, by making pancakes; but these days people go out and specifically buy the ingredients (basic though they are...) for their party. Ah, the irony of life today.* I thought there'd be an annual peak in lemon sales, but Jo reckons most people buy little plastic lemons of concentrated lemon juice instead. (I'm familiar with them from my childhood, but honestly thought they were a last remaining hang-over from post-war rationing, long gone now...)

Jo made pancakes for dessert tonight. We all had two each (except for Michal - our additional, Polish, house-member - who was going out to a pancake party, and so only had one), and Noah was suitably impressed by his mother's pancake-flipping skills. The kids get chopped-up pancakes with jam for lunch on a semi-regular/occasional treat basis - a habit Jo picked up the year she au-paired in Bavaria. I'm a sugar-and-squeezed-lemon-juice purist. And while the rest of the Catholic world celebrates Mardi Gras (literally, Fat Tuesday - a pre-Lent carnavalesque celebration that goes way beyond Protestant England's pancake parties) Michal swears that in Poland they don't do Fat Tuesday, but they do do a day called (when translated into English, obviously) "Fat Thursday" at some other point in the year he can't remember. But we don't believe him...

*In fact, (ironically, given that last comment?) that ancient library the Bible is full of irony, to the extent that I think it is God's favourite form of humour. (Which might make it well worth cultivating.) I don't think he's very keen on sarcasm, though.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Difference Between

...legalism and discipline is that legalism dictates "one-size-[answer; way]-fits-all" while discipline accepts that different people are different shapes and sizes [I'm primarily speaking personality-wise here] and therefore one size does not fit all, but, regardless of your size, you do need to (learn and) wear the size that fits you.

Lent begins in two days' time - a six-week season of embracing discipline. Which is something that I'm not very good at, despite the fact that many areas of my life would be easier if I had a bit more discipline (not legalism) (for example, getting up earlier would make the whole getting-the-family-up-and-washed-and-dressed-and-breakfasted-and-out-in-the-morning thing much easier!). So this Lent, I'll be looking to build a few new small steps into my exercise routine. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Sixty Not Out

We headed off down the motorway straight after church, to Jo's dad's sixtieth birthday party. All three daughters plus families there, for lunch; then fathers and grandchildren to the village park (a cricket-ball's throw from Grandma and Grandad's) while the Marfell girls did the washing-up. A good time was had by all, as they say.

On the drive home, we decided we'd give up meat for Lent, which starts this Wednesday (Bob's actual birthday, as it happens). We've been eating a lot of really good quality organic meat of late - especially beef and lamb, moreso than usual - so it will feel like giving something up. Fortunately we're supplied by an excellent organic greengrocers (the multiple-award-winning Beanies, who deliver to Hillsborough on a Wednesday), and we're not giving up fish, as the oils are good for the children's brains (and there's a good fishmonger round the corner). It also gives us a chance to broaden our vegetarian menu - good (especially cheesy spinach pasta), but fairly limited (to cheesy spinach pasta...).

Saturday, February 05, 2005

So Close To Perfect

After Jo went out this morning, Susannah, Noah and I played hide-and-seek; followed by drawing at (and, in Noah's case, on) the dining-room table (don't tell his mother...); and a stroll to the park to feed the geese on the duck-pond, visit the swings (Susannah insisting that she wanted to go on the "big girls' swings, not the baby ones" - and find the new dragon sculpture; then on to the shops for a couple of newspapers and a packet of Rich Tea biscuits (come on - before you make any derogatory comments along the lines of, "typical dad's shopping," in my defence I am a dad!); and back home for melted cheese on toast for lunch. And we just managed to miss the rain.

After lunch, we watched the opening match of the 2005 Six Nations' Championship (alright kids, now it's daddy's turn) in an attempt to continue my children's rites-of-passage into the perennially painful existence of being a Scotland rugby fan, which is their birth-right (and responsibility) through their father's side. Which almost back-fired. For seventy-four minutes, Scotland (who lost to all five other nations in 2004) led France (who beat all five other nations in 2004), in Paris. Only after a Scottish try was controversially disallowed by the line-judge did France finally draw level, and go on to score again just 90 seconds from full time, to win 16-9. But it will be the French team who are licking their wounds tonight.

Then Jo got home, and decided she'd like to watch England play Wales. And Wales won, 11-9, in Cardiff. Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! (My grandpa was Welsh.) Today has been so close to perfect.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Survive A Day

Tomorrow I get to have our kids on my own all day, while Jo looks after some friends' kids...

I think a trip to the park is in order, perhaps some colouring-in. I hope the weather's good - not to mention the children!

Not much news emerging so far from the G7 finance ministers' summit, other than the US stating up-front that they are unwilling even to compromise towards European proposals.

I wonder what I'd be doing with the kids tomorrow if we lived in Mozambique or Zambia?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Open Invitation

I was struck by an observation my artist-friend Teri made this morning:
that, conditioned as we are by living in a dial-up society - dial-up to have a pizza delivered to you, a film delivered to your TV, your supermarket shopping delivered to your door - we tend to expect God to come to us when we call [not a bad thing in itself], and fail to hear his gracious invitation to us to come to him.

...Isaiah 55:1-3...Matthew 11:28-30...John 5:40...John 6:37...John 7:37,38...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"They Think It's All Over...

...It is now!" (for the time being)

This morning I had to cancel the trip I was planning to make to Nepal (a week on Friday), due to the dramatic deterioration of the political situation there (as of yesterday).

This morning has been one of adrenaline and mixed emotions: (primarily, at this point, I must confess) frustration re trying to sort out practical details such as getting the cost of the air tickets reimbursed (it is amazing how helpful an organisation can be when it comes to taking your money, and how unhelpful the same people - in fact, automated messages - can be when you want a refund...); relief, in that though I was happy to go on this trip, it wasn't one I'd pushed for, and the timing (half-term holidays) was far from ideal for Jo and the kids; more relief - if relief can be one-step-removed, on another's behalf - at not putting my extended family through worry; disappointment at letting down my Nepali friends - though for reasons beyond my control, so I'm not giving that emotion much time of day! - and disappointment on their behalf; concern for my friends, and their people at this time of crisis...

Adrenaline is good (admittedly, more useful when facing a physical threat than an automated 'phone service - which is the sort of office-based scenario that leads behavioural scientists to claim adrenaline is "a biological hangover from prehistoric stages of human evolution"...though I reckon they'd change their mind pretty quick if their plane was hi-jacked, or in countless other situations around the globe!). And emotions are good too - life would be very dull (not to mention impossible) without them. But they can be confusing, especially when they are mixed! And I don't want to be operating out of an adrenaline-emotion cocktail, especially when frustration is the emotion rallying the troops...

The psychological benefits of taking a lunch hour are not to be under-estimated...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Who Do You Think You Are?

I spent the morning with 'form,' the discipleship school at St Thomas' (this year, thirty-something twenty-somethings in the first year, plus a team of about six leaders; also, around a dozen, covering a wider age-range, in 'form2'). Every time I do so (this was, I think, the fourth or fifth time so far this academic year), I have a really good time. They are a great bunch of guys and girls, and I count it a privelege that they keep inviting this rambling fool to spend time with them.

Today I was talking about families, and how both curses and blessings flow down family lines. (This is not the place to go into the theology, but all those genealogies in the Bible are edited highlights that trace the flow of blessings and curses - ancestral names referencing family stories - and place a person in that context. It's not a simplistic, deterministic thing; but it isn't hard to identify repeated patterns - both destructive and constructive - in different generations of one family either...)

I got them to think about Jesus' family line, and how in Jesus the blessings flow on through, and the curses are not merely stopped in their tracks but redeemed so that further blessings flow there too. (Again, this is not the place to develop my points. But [I'm told] I do a good half-day on all this, if you've got one.) We also thought about what it means to honour your father and your mother that you may live long in the land God gives you, which I suggested might break down into thanking them for what they got right (from which blessings were able to flow); forgiving them for what they got wrong (we all get things wrong, and most parents carry a burden of guilt about their failings...forgiving allows God to work to redeem the curses that followed); and stewarding the blessings - including redeemed curses - we have received in order that others might be blessed through us (which is to live in the inheritance we have been given).

I got them to spend time on their own thinking about their family, identifying blessings - including blessings they found hard to receive, for whatever reason - and curses - including what it might look like for those curses to be redeemed; then to share their story in threes, and to pray for each other.

Some interesting things (make of them what you will, bearing in mind that every family is different, but also that as a group these are relatively mature and relatively positive young adults):
1. Over half the group listed curses first.
2. Over half the group listed more curses than blessings.
3. Around half the group had listed more blessings that they struggled to receive than blessings that they had embraced...

God put us in families - and didn't make a mistake with that strategy. But, looking at the state of the family in the C21 UK, we really need to receive the freedom Jesus came to bring. And that, for me at any rate, is definitely a work in progress...