Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hats Off To Benaud

Never mind the genius of Shane Warne's spin or the tenacity of Brett Lee; the best thing about Australian cricket is the greatest of commentators, Richie Benaud. This will be the last summer (after forty-two summers) he will commentate on a Test in England, and that is very almost reason enough never to watch cricket again, even if England win the Ashes this time around. Benaud comes across as a true gentleman, of the kind that are probably few-and-far-between these days in both England and Australia, and Jo and I could listen to his voice all day long.

Benaud has been present at more Test matches than anyone else, living or dead, and has gone on record saying that - regardless of whatever may happen in the final Test, yet to be played - this Ashes series is the best Test series he has ever seen. He'd be more qualified than anyone else to know! And he'll be sorely missed over here.

(After yet another thrilling match over last weekend, England are 2:1 up. Australia can't win the series, but if they win the final Test they will draw the series overall and retain the Ashes; a win for England, or a draw, will see England win back the Ashes for the first time in eighteen years. The tension is unbearable. If the final Test goes into the fifth day, we'll be on a plane and - potentially - won't know the all-important final result until we arrive in Perth. It is a result that could have a marked effect on what sort of welcome we get there...)

Monday, August 29, 2005


We went out to the Grosvenor cinema to see Crash - "moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other" - the other night. The Grosvenor, a two-screen independent cinema, is how cinemas should be: there is a bar (you can take your drinks into the film, if you transfer them from glass to plastics); the seats are leather armchairs set in twos; the screens are big enough to be worth not staying at home watching TV but small enough to be intimate, not overwhelming; likewise the capacity is big enough to be part of an event, yet small enough to feel a connection with those around you.

Crash is excellent. It is a demanding film to watch - not everybody's cup of tea - but well worth the effort. The main theme is racial tension, but this is by no means a one-theme story - it takes on tension between husband and wife, adult child and elderly parent, and work colleagues to name but three others - and none of the themes are dealt with in a simplistic (black-and-white) way. Jo's verdict was, depressing. While the storyline was depressing, I found the excellent script, cinematography, cast, and the fact that Hollywood should handle such a relevant issue at all, all incredibly hopeful. This is a film that confronts our own prejudices, that will make you feel uncomfortable, reassess your own attitudes towards others, and maybe even drive you to the cross in hope of transformation...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Changing Copper Into Wine (And Other Stories)

Well, as of today we no longer own a home...

In the clearing out of the house, we found £12.20 in 1p and 2p copper shrapnel, which we turned into red wine - a great improvement! Yesterday the removal men turned up, packed everything we are keeping into two wooden crates (600 cubic metres in all, though we didn't fill the second crate) and took it off to storage. We won't see any of it again for a while...This morning we cleaned the house, and at 11:30am handed the keys to the new owner. And that was that. I think the thing that surprised us was how unattached we were to the house, emotionally (despite the fact that Noah was born in the dining room - intentionally, not by accident, I hasten to add). And when we asked Susannah if she'd like to go through the house room-by-room to say goodbye, she replied, "No. I'll say goodbye out here, so the whole house gets it." Very matter-of-fact. Though tonight she said she wanted to go home, so I'm sure we'll have a few ups and downs to come...

Tomorrow we're off to Glasgow for 16 days. Apparently the forecast is for gales and driving rain all the way up there...roll on Perth! (We'll be in Australia three weeks today.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

All Hands On Deck!

We will move out of our home at some point today, into our friends' flat so we can do the final clearing and cleaning without having to live in the middle of it. A big thank you to David who helped with a tip-run the other night, Ben & Helen who have done various charity-shop runs today, Lorna who is having the children tomorrow, and Nick & Jane who are putting us up over the next few days.

We leave Sheffield on Wednesday morning, for Glasgow until 9th September, then Leicestershire until 12th September, when we fly out to Perth...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Defend Or Attack?

Australian captain Ricky Ponting mounted a defensive rear-guard worthy of General Moore's retreat in front of Napoleon's troops (1808) in the Peninsular War to secure a draw at Old Trafford today, denying England victory in the third Ashes test.

It could be said that a draw was a fair result, acknowledging how finely-balanced the two teams are in this series (one win apiece, and this draw, with two matches to come) - neither side quite good enough to beat, and yet too good to be beaten by, the other on this occasion. It could also be said that had they not lost almost a whole day to rain, the match would not have ended in a draw; but then, rain disruption is all part of the game. Whatever - and disappointed though I am that England didn't take one more wicket to win the match and go 2:1 up - it was just about as exciting a test match as one could wish for.

And yet, I never like to see a side play a defensive game, in an attempt to reach a draw instead of chase a victory. At one point, when Ponting and Clarke were at the crease, Australia did have a go at chasing the winning target; but once Clarke's wicket fell, and left with the tail-end, Ponting fell back on a defensive game. At one point he even had words with Shane Warne, who - true to himself - was attacking the ball, ordering him to defend his wicket instead. And here is a difference in approach: for Warne it is not enough to not lose to England; he hates to not win against them. Whatever he may say on the record, I reckon he would have rather attacked the target and failed, confident that his side could come back from 1:2 down to win the series 3:2, than accept the draw. My Australian friends may disagree with this opinion (and I may even be wrong), but it is, after all, the way he bowls - not minding how many runs he gives away in taking wickets, because he knows that he has taken more wickets than any other cricketer in the world...

Are you a Ponting, or a Warne? On one occasion I came in to bat with my team needing 8 runs to win, and the other team needing one more wicket. I was told to play defensively, see out the over, and allow the other batsman to score the remaining runs. But it is not in my nature to play defensively. The first ball I faced, I knocked for 6. The second removed my bails. We lost, by 2 runs. And had I played defensively, yes, we might have won. But I'd rather give it a go and fail than play it safe and possibly survive. Every time.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Made In God's Image

Several recent blog posts have got me thinking about masculinity/femininity and fatherhood/motherhood in the church: Ben on the male/female imbalance in emerging church; Hamo on how you deal with conflict; Steve on gender and leadership, and how the female approach to situations complements (is better than?) the male; and the rev's recent comment on my blog - how we always talk about churches as "mother," but what should we do with the fact that fathers feel differently about their children than mothers do?

Seeing as God made male and female in his image (and commissioned them to reproduce together), and that God's self-revelation is both in male and female expressions - including, but not confined to, father and mother terms - we clearly need to bear both the masculine and the feminine in mind when thinking about how we develop church family. But what ought those characteristics look like? The church is described in feminine terms as the Bride of Christ - but should that be problematic (as opposed to challenging) to fighters like The Rev?

Here's where my thoughts have got to: feminine and masculine snapshots to reflect on...

  • the hen: Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, that seeks to gather her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). This is a defence mechanism, a response to danger, where the hen will lay her life on the line to protect her offspring. It is a female image, and it speaks to us of gathering, protection, and self-sacrifice.
  • the eagle: God is decribed as a mother eagle, forcing her chicks to fly. The eagle does this by literally dismantling the nest and pushing the chicks, one by one, off the ledge to free-fall; swoops down to catch them on her wings; and repeats the process until the chick has figured out what to do with its own wings! again, it is a female image, but it is very different from that of the hen. It speaks to us of scattering, exposure to danger (within limits), and freedom.
  • the shepherd: the shepherd (Psalm 23) leads the sheep from the winter pasture to the summer pasture. He carries two sticks. One is used to prevent the shhep from falling over the side of the precipice: it is placed gently but firmly on the sheep's outer flank, and the sheep is steered back away from the edge. The other is used to beat the crap out of predators - lions and bears and wolves, that eye the sheep from the cover of vegetation on the other side of the path up the steep valley. Used in combination, the sticks give the sheep a sense of security, in the very prescence of danger. This is a masculine image, and it speaks to us of movement that is lead (in contrast to both gathering and scattering), of giving clear direction, and of being confrontational when required.
  • the one who blesses: blessing is about permission-giving, about having a dream of what someone else can do that takes them beyond what you have experienced yourself, and releasing them into that future to make of it what they will. Repeatedly God blesses, individuals, communities, and communities through individuals. I'm going to call this masculine, because in the part of the story of humanity's relationship with God that is recorded in the Bible, it was part of the role of a father to bless his children and grandchildren before he died. So, this is a masculine image, and it speaks to us of permission-giving, releasing others, and the 'passing of the baton' from one generation to the next (as, perhaps, does the image of the mother eagle).

One of the things I like about all of these images is that they are dynamic, involving some sort of movement or another - gathering, scattering, leading, and releasing. And I'd suggest that the church needs to be moving in all of these ways, at different times and in different contexts. Questions worth asking of our own context might be, in which of these ways ought we to be leading at the moment? And, how equipped are we to do so? And, if not very, how might we be better equipped?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Come Together And Disperse

Last night we went down the pub to see off Matt & Jo - fellow members of The Order of Mission. Like us, they feel it is time to move on from Sheffield, not knowing where'll they'll land next. Unlike us, they don't yet have kids. So, they're off on a round-the-world ticket, intending to spend some time with fellow TOM members in Charleston and Phoenix USA, and Rangiora, New Zealand; and with missionary friends of St Thomas' in Hong Kong and Mozambique. The gospel for those living in material wealth, and those living in material poverty.

It was a good night; a select gathering - including a "veritable smorgasbord" of Sheffield bloggers (as Dan, who wasn't present, might have said, had he been there). Over our drinks, I appreciated the chance to have a conversation with my friend (and erstwhile colleague, fellow TOM member; but non-blogger) John Mansergh. I've a lot of time for John. He asks really probing questions of you. And he's always listening out for the word of blessing, the affirmation, God wants to speak to you right now.

Today we got our plane tickets and visas for Australia. All things being well, we should arrive in Perth on Tuesday 13th September, in the early afternoon. The paperwork details on our house sale were finalised today, too: we complete on Tuesday 23rd August. Things are coming together...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Picture Me

Who Goes? You Decide!

I've been asked to provide a publicity shot for an event I've been invited to contribute to in Perth in October...

That's not the sort of thing I have on file! This is my favourite self-portrait, taken in a Swedish shore-line wood - but it probably doesn't fit the bill!

So, I thought I might post a few options, and risk a few opinions...

Monday, August 08, 2005

Little Kids On Big Walls

There's a saying, that I think originates with those crazy bungee-jumpers in NZ, that goes: "Feel the fear, and do it anyway..."

Recently Noah has started on the journey that leads to things like bungee-jumping (or surfing). He's taken to climbing up onto our garden wall, at a point where it is quite low, and walking along it to where it is higher. It's still not a very high wall, but he's still not a very big boy (he's two-and-a-half years old). I think the wall is higher than he is; certainly, he gets to the point where he doesn't fancy trying to get back the way he came, can't get down where he is, and carefully sits down and waits for his daddy to come and lift him off, and - via a great big hug - put him back on the patio...From a dad's point-of-view, it's not so much "Feel the fear, and do it anyway..." as "Feel the fear, and let him do it anyway..."

"Feel the fear, and let them do it anyway..." is probably one of the secrets of good parenting (not to mention of surviving parenthood!) - and of good church leadership too. So many church leaders seem to find the prospect of letting people have a go, releasing them to follow their dreams, giving permission to try, and permission to fail, and permission to succeed, something too frightening to affirm (or even allow). So many church members seem to get frustrated by that attitude, and walk away - not from God, but from church - and just keep walking...

Again, we've got something to learn from the little kids here. When they go exploring the Big Wide World it goes a bit like this:
  • first they wander off from mum or dad just a few feet and for just a few moments before coming back to the safe place/person for affirmation;
  • this affirmation gives them the courage to go a little further, for a little longer, next time;
  • and (so long as the affirmation they receive outweighs any trauma experienced "out there") so it continues, a little further for a little longer, until they've passed milestones like their first sleepover at a friend's and are off to college before you know it (or so I'm told by old timers!), and beyond, now only coming back for special occasions within the family.

That's the sort of church commuity I love to see nurtured: one that (for example) lets people go off in little missional communities and have a go, returning to a "mother" community regularly - though perhaps with less frequency over time - to touch base with each other. In other words, an ongoing, developing, dynamic, natural family relationship.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

King Freddy

Topping the whole weekend off was England's thrilling win over Australia by two runs in the second Ashes test. It really was the most entertaining of matches, from start to finish.

Australia are so far ahead of everyone else right now that England would have needed to win the series 5-0 to knock them off top spot in the test rankings. That was never going to happen, but neither was Glenn McGrath's prediction of a 5-0 whitewash to Australia. Weather-permitting, a 3-2 result, for either side, would seem quite possible. (Speaking of Glenn, we all wish him a full and slow recovery.) It looks set to be a great summer...

Wedding Weekend

It was great to see Alistair & Kathryn get married yesterday, in the company of lots of friends from uni days. (I'll get round to uploading some more photos, and link to them from here.)

It all started badly, though, when we arrived at the hotel to discover that they hadn't delivered on the adjoining rooms we'd booked. There just wasn't room for the four of us in the room they had allocated us, and the best they could do was give us a second room across the corridor. Jo took Noah, and I took Susie; two nights in a hotel and not able to be in the same room as my wife wasn't quite what we'd looked forward to...but the wedding celebrations were so much fun that overall we had a great time. Bell-ringers know how to drink real ale and ceilidh!

Alistair, and several of their other guests, shared houses with Jo when we were students. Ten years on from graduating, and scattered across the country, we've tended to meet up again once or twice each year, both "home" - everyone coming back to Sheffield for a reunion weekend of the Sheffield Universities Guild of Change Ringers, through which they first met - and "away" - hiring a Youth Hostel for a weekend ringing tour. Alistair was most unimpressed that we won't be coming back from Perth for the next weekend tour, in November! If we do end up on the other side of the world for the foreseable future, it will be strange not seeing them all for a while...


We've been listening to our friend Gareth[Noah: "Is it Daisy's daddy?!"]'s latest CD, be glorified, in the car to and from Bolton and Hull. Noah kept us entertained with his air-guitar-and-sing-a-long in the back of the car...and by singing "Glory to the Father! Glory to the Son! Glory to the Spirit! Three in One!" over and over very loudly at breakfast in the hotel!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bug-Eyed Monsters

En route to the hotel tomorrow, we'll stop off at The Deep for the kids. They might even come across a couple of deep-sea bug-eyed monsters like this...

Ashes 2 Ashes

A busy social calendar is transpiring to come between me and my watching the second Ashes test match. Sometimes there's just no consideration for introverts! Today we were in Bolton to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday (still managed to catch a lot of the afternoon and evening sessions of day one, though. A first innings of 407-all-out is a great improvement on England's performance in the first test; still, I would have preferred to see them still batting at the start of day two).

Tomorrow we head to Hull for the weekend, to celebrate the wedding of two of our friends. Two nights in a hotel, with the kids in an adjoining room...heaven! And on Monday (should the match still be going on by the fifth day) we're out again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ignorance, Tolerance, Acceptance

As I think I've mentioned before, children's TV presenter Justin Fletcher is set to become for my children's generation of British kids what - the legend that is - Brian Cant was to my generation. Threatening (in the nicest possible way) to be the ubiquitous face of CBBC, Justin provides the voice of Milo on The Tweenies; is one of the regular pool of presenters on Tikkabilla (Play School for the twentifirst century); and presents Something Special. Something Special is a brave project, bringing children with special needs to the mainstream children's TV schedule. (Something Special aside, other programmes are signed for deaf kids in the corner of the screen on Sundays; in Scotland, that's the Gaelic-language TV slot - I guess Sunday is minority TV day at the BBC.)

When I was a kid, whenever anyone did anything clumsy or stupid in the playground they'd be called a spaz or spastic. It wasn't that kids were especially hostile towards people with Cerebral Palsy; that's just how it was then. It was ignorance, not malice. I remember the BBC trying to address the situation back then, too: the Blue Peter presenters of the day "introduced" us to a man called Joey Deacon, who had Cerebral Palsy, and regularly visited him until he died. It was an attempt to combat ignorance with education - but education alone only results in informed bigots, and the result was that the very personalised "Joey" or "Joey Deacon" replaced the generic "spastic" as the playground term of derision. That is, in part, why I think Something Special is brave; and also why I'm glad the approach is somewhat different...

People who are "different from us" often create a problem for us. We see this clearly in England at the moment in regards to the Muslim population. There is widespread ignorance regarding the many different Muslim communities living here. As far as I can make out, education - in particular, education at school, through modules on Islam in Religious Education lessons - hasn't helped. (Perhaps it has focused to much on theory of belief and not enough on actually introducing white post-Christian kids to Muslim people?) Neither, to be honest, has tolerance: tolerance has allowed different communities to live side-by-side without actually getting to know each other. As a result, it only takes a few individuals - on either side - to stir up fear of "the other" amongst the wider community of which they are a part.

Whether in relation to children with special needs, or Muslims, or any other "minority" group, we need to move beyond ignorance and beyond tolerance to acceptance - and to discover appropriate levels, or expressions, of inclusion. [Our friend Matt made a very similar point in a Letter to the Editor published in last Saturday's The Times.] In relation to kids with special needs, I see this approach to a greater degree in Something Special than I have seen in the past - it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the playground. In relation to Muslims, I'm saddened and embarrassed and angry to hear from a friend about a Muslim lady who was assaulted in the street in the centre of Sheffield, and no-one did anything about it. If there's a way of making those who are different from us feel welcome and at ease, we ought to find it. I guess the first step is to move beyond our own comfort zone...

Fifteen Phones

My mobile came with the job; now I am post-employed I haven't replaced it, and am seriously considering not replacing it. My friend Christoffer is "abhorred at [my] lack of mobile phone enthusiasm". But then, Finland does have the highest proportion of mobile phone use in the world: a statistical average of 3 for every man, woman and child in the population. Christoffer and Johanna have just had their third child - so, statistically, they ought to have no less than 15 mobile phones between them...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Continuity And Change

I thought I'd change the title of my blog, seeing as "6 good reasons" is tied to a postal district that will only be home for another three weeks (see photo). I might go the Dan route of changing the title regularly; but then again...

"Kairos kisses" is a term Malcolm Potts - who we'll be spending our sabbatical with in Perth, WA - used in a recent email. I like it.

"Kairos" is the Greek word for "time" as in event or opportunity (as opposed to "chronos" - chronological time). It's the time Jesus refers to in his invitation: "the time has come; the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news!" A kairos moment is an opportunity to experience God's life-giving rule breaking into our daily experience, as we turn and embrace Him. It might be a major life event; or a small, everyday occurance; arriving with a fanfare, or so quietly it is easily missed. I guess "Kairos kisses" happen when people connect in such a way that God's kingdom breaks in to both/all their lives. Like I said, I like it...