Friday, December 30, 2005

The Great Big Pastry Chef In The Sky

...had got up early yesterday and dusted icing sugar through a sieve over the trees, fields, hills and hedgerows. Most of the journey down was a Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque winter wonderland. Today the roads have been treacherous, with vehicles having to be dug out of drifts. The 9am news already reported five crashes on the A1(M), and drivers were advised not to travel. I'm glad we chose to drive when we did.

We passed under several motorway gantries warning THINK DONT DRINK AND DRIVE - and one that read FINK SDOWN AND DRIVE. Drunk in charge of a telex?

I ventured onto the Bole Hills with S&N today, making four-inch-high snow families (S wanted to add a "big, fat grandpa"; I'm saying nothing), and seeing who could throw snowballs the furthest (me; sorry, I guess you're supposed to let children win; but, hey, it was a competition). They had fun, and were content to return indoors, with rosy cheeks and noses, after ten minutes fresh air.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Due South

We're heading back to Sheffield today, a little earlier than planned. S & N have been somewhat out of sorts in all that's going on, and it will be easier all round if we are surrounded by familiar friends and places. There isn't really anything we can do here, and we'll need to be Sheffield-based while working through our own future anyway. We intend to make regular, short visits to Glasgow over the coming months.

They are keeping Rachel in hospital at least until the psychosis passes - hopefully within a few days. She is actually tracking the anticipated arc of recovery; and at the moment it is her husband, who has to watch her go through this disturbing stage, rather than Rachel herself, who I'm more concerned for. Please do pray for Colin at this time.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks

Looking up Loch Lomond from Balloch, Boxing Day 2005. Beautiful.

Boxing Day Blues

Christmas Day was not very festive. My sister joined us all for lunch, but during the meal she lost the use of her right side, so was unable to use her knife. Things got worse from there, and in the afternoon she was taken back to hospital (again) in an ambulance; first to A&E in one hospital, then transfered to the hospital where she had the brain tumour removed just a few weeks ago. We haven't had much news since, other than that she has been hallucinating and that they did a brain scan and a lumber puncture (to help relieve the pressure in her head); but mum and dad are at the hospital now. They are both emotionally and physically worn out (physically, because they've had Rachel's baby Rosie at night since she first went into hospital); we'd love to be of some practical help, but they won't let us.

I wanted to say thank you, again, to all of you who have been praying for our family this Christmas; and to ask you to keep praying.

LATEST: 4:30 pm: It turns out that Rachel has a blood clot in her brain; she is also having fits; and they also think that she is suffering from steroid-induced pyschosis. Please pray.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Father Christmas' Communion

The children have gone to bed now, having set out the traditional mince-pie-and-glass-of-sherry for that great bishop of the Church, Santa Claus. It struck me how much they looked like the elements set out for Communion - not surprisingly, given that in their most elemental form they are (sweet) bread and (fortified) wine.

And that, in turn, got me thinking about communion, the coming-together-in-unity of God and humanity, Creator and created. We tend to view taking communion as an act of remembering Jesus' death on the cross - his body broken and his blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. But it speaks of Christmas as much as Easter - Jesus' body broken and his blood shed; the physicality of the Spirit; the visibile expression of the Invisible God; Emmanuel - God with us.

Panto Season

Everyone is familiar with the Christmas story: young woman raised as a boy by an old man in drag finds dusty old lamp / sells the family cow for three magic beans, and is granted three wishes by a genie / fights a giant who lives in a castle in the sky...

...but who would have imagined that the High King of Heaven would be found as a baby in a cave where the (familiar pantomime) animals sheltered? Not even the (traditionally-represented-as) three wise guys. The Prodigal Kiwi(s) have a great quote from everyone's favourite pantomime hero/villain, Bono: "That there is a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it, but the idea that the same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius. And it brings me to my knees, literally."

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Blessed Are Those Who Mourn...

...for they shall be comforted."

This Christmas it feels like we've been bombarded with a litany of pain and loss, from friends' serious illnesses, to friends and acquaintences losing unborn and new-born babies, to news this morning that a member of my parents' church was killed in a car crash yesterday...

Christmas seems to magnify what is unspeakable heart-ache at any time of year. But the heart of Christmas is not escapism from pain, but the decision to identify with the pain of others. That is what the Son of God did in becoming, also, the Son of Man - a baby born, to live as us, and wage war on our behalf against sin and sickness and sorrow...

And if Jesus chose to identify with the pain of others, as well as to experience pain himself, then those of us who choose to follow him also need to identify with the pain of others - regardless of whether or not we are naturally pastoral. We need to stand with those who hurt. And while I know that there is a heart-healing work that God alone, directly, can do on earth; and a heart-healing that awaits us in heaven; I also suspect that when Jesus proclaimed that those who mourn shall be comforted, he had in mind that his followers would play a part in that comforting.

That isn't easy. There's the delicate, often awkward, balance to be found between words and silence, prescence and giving space, practical help and prayer...But we need to recognise that hurt is as rightfully a part of Christmas as happiness. There's a good resource for doing that collectively over at Steve Taylor's blog, here. Perhaps taking the time for this should become as familiar a part of our Christmas services as carols around the crib.

Christmas Comes Early

'We' got our first Christmas present in the post today: 50 trees planted for us by Oxfam, from [Jo's sister] Laura and Steve. Oxfam unwrapped is a great gifting initiative, for all occasions. 'Our' trees will help a community become more self-sufficient, their fruit providing food and income; the trees themselves also working against soil erosion and air pollution. All round, a winner. We'll have to wait and see what else we get, but I know Jo is hoping for a goat...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Star Of Wonder

In all our moving around, we haven't been able to send out Christmas cards this year. So, I thought I'd put some images on the blog over the Christmas season instead; some - though not all - with meditations alongside.

This one was taken from out the back of my in-laws' barn conversion. You can see Venus in the sky, and a chink of light (it might even be car lights) at ground level. I like it because it translates the star that told ancient astrologers of a new king's birth, and the manger-scene, into our contemporary world - albeit a rural world quite different from the urban world I have mostly inhabited. (It also ties in with one of Steve Taylor's creative worship suggestions.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Relative Values

One day (yesterday); two sets of grandparents; two sets of two cousins; one-and-a-half sets of aunties and uncle. We've relocated from Leicestershire, via Bolton, to Glasgow. It was especially good to see Rachel at last, and to meet Rosie for the first time. Rachel's hair is starting to grow back; her face is swollen by streroids; and she is still very weak. But at least she is back at home again.

Home Ground

We've racked up plenty of motorway miles in the last week - plenty of opportunity to enjoy how beautiful rural England is in winter...

On Sunday we went to a Christingle service. A Christingle is a visual aid - an orange, representing the world; pierced with four cocktail sticks skewered with sweets and raisins, represnting the four seasons and the fruits of the earth; with a candle stuck in the top, representing Jesus the Light of the World; and wrapped around with a red ribbon, representing his blood shed on the cross to save the world. Each child was given a lit Christingle to process around the church - allowing for the minor miracle that was no-one melting their face or their neighbour's coat...In the anglican tradition of 3-point-sermons-each-point-starting-with-the-same-letter, it was Christmas, Children, organised Chaos. In other words, just how it should be!

Friday, December 16, 2005

{Either, Or, Both, And}

One of the issues we came across a lot in Australia was the Attractional v Incarnational debate (summarised/stereo-typed as: church that expects people to come to you v church that seeks to go to where people are; church that extracts people from their community v church that grows an indigenous expression within a community; etc...). More often than not, the issue seemed to us to be fairly polarised - incarnational church as a(n over-)reaction to attractional church. But I just don't see the two as being mutually exclusive, and I see working out how the two relate to each other in a given context as being part of the fun of the challenge of growing healthy churches. Another issue we came across was the Sodality v Modality debate (single-focus team v broader community), and who/how/when/why a mission team engages with the wider Church...To be honest, I think we saw a real danger of isolation in several 'sodality' contexts.

Having been part of the St Thomas' story for fourteen years, it was interesting to hear the latest chapters. I don't think St Tom's has ever said, "Here is the package" (though others might have seen it that way); the reality is much more, "This is what we've tried; this is what has and has not worked well; this is what we have learnt as we have observed, reflected, discussed; this is what we have gone on to do as we plan, account, act...

In my view, "missional" values embrace attractional and incarnational values, and sodality/modality - and transcend them. An attractional element is definitely part of the big picture, in the Jesus story 2000 years ago and today. Just last Sunday thirteen people made the decision to become Christians at a St Tom's carol service - and to those who don't like attractional church, I'd point out that the "incarnational" practice of having a meal and inviting others to join you is as "attractional" as inviting people to a service. As I understand it, the latest/current chapters at St Tom's have been about how incarnational communities relate to attractional events, and how small mission teams are supported/cared for/nurtured by bigger and broader (though still mission-focused) communities. And I am aware that it is a hard journey; that continually revising community is very demanding for those who are part of those communities. But I still believe that the result has been, and can continue to be, more rounded than models I have seen elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what grows in 2006 - from wherever I'll be watching.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


"We're one, but we're not the same...we get to carry each other..." U2

Today is the one-year anniversary of my blog. It is the most sustained journal I've kept. I have valued the discipline of writing; valued the connections it has given me with both 'old' and 'new' friends; valued the interaction with the thoughts of other bloggers and 'theoblogians'; valued the way in which the physical and virtual worlds have weaved together. Such as staying with Ben and Helen these few days.

We had lunch with my former senior team leader at St Thomas', Paul Maconochie, today. It was good to catch up, to hear something of what God has been doing in his life and the life of the church here in the months since we left; and to bounce future possibilities together. Although God has moved us on from here, this place is the source of those things that we are about; the place to which I think we will always return between one living-place and another (in the language of Orders, the monastic home of peregrini - wandering monastics). Just as the relationship between parents and adult children who have left home needs to be re-negotiated, so that it continues, but is not the same as before, so - probably in January - we will have to re-negotiate our relationship with the team here at St Tom's: not going back to what is was when we were colleagues, but not a dead relationship either. That's just part of being family; and a very positive thing, too...

My sister was able to go home last Saturday; but had to be re-admitted to hospital yesterday. She is still in too much pain to be managed away from the hospital, and they want to monitor her and hopefully be able to help her recover more fully and quicker. As far as we can tell, her vision isn't very good at the moment. Please keep praying for her, and the family around her, who are under a lot of strain. We are heading north to Glasgow on Monday. Pray for us, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmassy Now

We're back in Sheffield, briefly; visiting with the Gillingham's in Crookes, and heading down the hill to the Askew's in a little while...Driving through Sheffield earlier on was wonderful.

Since we got back, we've really appreciated it being dark by mid-afternoon (having never got very light all day - that orange light of the low winter sun); and the coldness in the air. These things are a part of the anticipation of Christmas, that we missed in Australia. It's not only a Christian festival; it's fundamentally a northern-European Christian festival - the Christ-story transforming northern-European pre-Christian culture. Advent makes sense at a spiritual level in the Southern hemisphere; in the North, it makes metaphorical, symbolic sense, too: light literally shining in darkness. That's important: a connection between Christ and culture. And it needs to be an ongoing connecting, across cultures - including both non-European and post-Christendom European cultures...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Just Because I Can

I'm blogging at altitude, 4 hours out of Heathrow, for free thanks to the lovely people at Boeing and Singapore Airlines...I've just watched LOTR parts 1 & 2 back-to-back, and now I'm going to watch as much of part 3 as I can - my own hobbit interuptions permitting - before they turn off the TVs for landing.

[date stamp, time on-the-ground at Heathrow]

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Counting down to heading to the airport...

This might shape up into an interesting conversation over at Alan Creech's blog...


*the study of the Last Days.

Today is our last full day in Australia. We fly out at 2am tonight...19 1/2 hours travel with small children - thank God for individual TV screens on every seat! The day we fly on a plane that doesn't have them, the hobbits are going to feel betrayed.

Today is also our host's birthday: happy birthday, Malcolm! It feels a fitting way to end this chapter of our journey together; and who knows when and where we'll meet next?

Yesterday was my brother's birthday: happy birthday, David!

Where next? Immediately, a couple of days with Jo's parents in Leicestershire; a couple of days with friends Ben and Helen in Sheffield; then up to Glasgow for Christmas with my family. My sister is doing really well after her brain surgery. Beyond that, we wait to find out: there are a couple of possibilities.

A big thank you to everyone we've got to know here; for all the ways you've blessed us as a family; for sharing our lives together briefly but open-heartedly; for God's kairos kisses...May He continue to bless you and lead you, and maybe cause our paths to converge again.

Oh, and if you have my Perth mobile-phone number, don't use it anymore!

Friday, December 09, 2005


[The sermon is not my favourite form of communication; I don't believe it is very effective for teaching - and so I try to teach in pre- and post-sermon forms, such as story-telling and engaging with all five senses. But sometimes I am asked to preach, as I was last Sunday at St Philip's, and then I am content to know that the Holy Spirit is at work in people both during and post-sermon. And it is in this sense that I use the term in the title of this blog post...]

We were at the playgroup Christmas party in the park yesterday. Various people wanted to thank me for what I shared on Sunday. But one lady's story stood out. One of the things I'd talked about was the Australian capacity for resentment, and how Jesus can heal you of the hurts caused you by others. It turns out that the local council had done some work adjacent to this woman's property, and, as a result their fence had fallen over. Her husband had contacted the council, and asked them to repair it; I think they resisted at first, but in the end they sent someone out, who did a very unsatisfactory job. The husband wanted the work done properly, but the council were not interested: as far as they were concerned, they had done what was required and the matter no longer concerned them; they refused to speak to their tax-payer when he called...After church on Sunday this man told his wife that he realised he resented the council for what had happened, and had decided to forgive them, to drop the matter and do the work himself. The very next morning he had a phone-call from the man who had done the repair, admitting that he had done a sub-standard job, and asking if he could come and make it right!

I'd also spoken about physical healing. This same woman had had a piece of glass stuck in her toe for about a year; the doctor did not want to try to remove it, as that might have caused more permanent damage than letting it be, and monitoring it from time to time. In response to the sermon, she brought her toe to God. It had flaired-up, and she went to the doctor again. Taking an ultra-sound, they discovered that the glass had started to move, withdrawing out of the toe: she showed me a little blister that had appeared, where it will pass through the skin...

I love it when God brings things together like that!

Poems For Advent

A Good League Hence

future – uncertain;
seeking a place
to live
the life of
Familiar ground.
I’ll follow.

Nativity Set (In Cool-Britannia)

Teenage-mum, toddler
Boyfriend (Not-the-Dad)
look on;
Pop Idol contestants,
to entertain the crowd;
Big Issue vendors,
Reminding them, “Good-will to all!”;
Three lads off EastEnders,
turn on the lights
of Winterval…

The cast,
All present and correct,
Just like last year –
A little shabby
Beneath the neon promises;
These script[ure]s of Very
English hopes
And fears
Are met in countless squares

Jindalee, Western Australia, 08/12/05

[the 'ure' is meant to be struck-through, not in editors brackets; but, I can't format that in Blogger.]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Rachel came through her operation well, and is recovering in the High Dependency Unit. The surgeon was able to remove all of the tumour, which was benign. Very soon after coming out of theatre, Rachel was aware of her family, and expressing concern for their emotional welfare. She also accused the surgeon of bringing in a horse to kick her in the head. So neither her compassion nor her sense of humour appear to have been impaired : )

What is needed now is for the swelling to go down, without any internal bleeding, and without Rachel contracting any post-op infections. Our whole family has valued the prayers of friends around the world, and we know that you'll keep praying now. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Around about now - 7am her time - my sister will be on her way to theatre prep. In about an hour's time, her surgery is scheduled to begin.

We wait, and pray.


We had a fantastic day out at AQWA – the Aquarium of Western Australia – with friends Melinda and Lucinda (the “inda’s”) yesterday. Our kids love visiting aquariums, and AQWA is excellent. The WA coastline is so long, and covers so many climate zones and ocean environments that – unlike other aquariums we have visited in the UK and USA – AQWA can afford to restrict itself to species found in WA waters, and still have the most diverse range you could care to imagine. The attraction is divided into different zones, each presenting species from different sections of coastline. One of the zones comprises of a slow-moving walkway that takes you around a large tank in which sharks, turtles, and rays swim around and over you, as you are carried along a Perspex tunnel. We’ve been in similar tunnels before, but without the moving walkway; and it makes a huge difference: no views blocked by a few people who refuse to move on! If you’re ever in Perth with children, make sure you pay a visit…

A week today, we’ll be back in the UK, sleeping-off jet-lag...


One of the areas we all enjoyed at Perth Zoo the other day was the orang-utan enclosure. In order to create an appropriate environment, researchers studied orang-utans in the wild to identify their primary activities – activities such as taking introvert time out to watch the rest of the family from a distance; climbing around the tree canopy; making nests; searching for food; and resting in the shade. Then, rather than attempting to recreate a rain-forest environment in the zoo, what has been done is an attempt to provide for all of these core activities in a habitat made of wood and steel and rope, which has a very urban feel to it. Indeed, it felt much more like creative human architecture than anything else. Information boards presented pictures showing what each core activity might look like in the wild, and how that same activity was paralleled in the enclosure.

This approach seems to me highly appropriate* for reconstructing church in a new world reality [post-Modernity; post-Christendom; post-9/11; post-]. First we need to decide what we consider to be core activities for a given community of Christians. I don’t mean minimum-requirement essential doctrinal statements – though doctrine does matter – but what any given group looking to be church in this new world considers to be key elements of their praxis. And it is important to figure that out, at least provisionally, before setting out: too many good ideas have floundered, to many pioneering spirits have become disillusioned, because this groundwork has not always been done.

Then we need to avoid the temptation of seeking to re-create the ‘original’ – or even last known – environment in which those activities were previously done. When the last natural habitat of the orang-utan is felled by loggers, it will be no good denying it – and, though that day can (and in this case ought to) be resisted, its inevitability probably won’t be reversed. In the case of the passing of one age of history into another, resistance truly is futile. Rather, what we need is creative models of how those same activities might look in a completely different, an alien, context. Orang-utans need to nest – but traditionally they haven’t built their nests out of plastic crates and Hessian sacks. Christians need to worship – but how they worship must take into account their changing context, as well as their un-changing God. That is not to say that there is no place for continuity – the orang-utans have a great deal of that. Pioneering expressions of church have often ‘thrown the baby out with the bath-water’ when it comes to continuity – but that’s as short-sighted as throwing the orang-utans into the fairy penguin enclosure and expecting them to adapt...

* and not only because Anglican bishops are also known as Primates ; )

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Advent 2

I preached at St Philip's this morning, sharing with them some observations we've made in the three months we've been here that might help them share the Gospel in their community. [I've posted the sermon text here.] The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative, for which I'm thankful: St Philip's is a very mixed community, and I was unusually nervous about speaking to them...

Before that point, we'd been asked as a family to light the candle and lead the prayers for Advent week 2. Susannah had read her lines word-perfectly without an audience, but we were expecting her to "corpse" (as stage-fright is called) on the day...but as it turned out, she did really well : )

Among the faces we've got to know while we've been here was one from the past...Adam Lee left Sheffield for the southern corner of New Zealand a few years ago, but his work regularly brings him over to Australia. Although we didn't know each other well - St Tom's is a large church - having heard we were in Perth he'd made the effort to look up where to find us: he'd never been to St Philip's before! We ended up going out to lunch together at Barista. It was one of those bizarre-but-very-welcome moments, and it was a fun addition to our day. Thanks, Adam!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

World Service: Headlines

This evening has been my first chance to net-surf in ages - luxury! - and, as I don't have much chance to post many theological reflections of my own at the moment, I thought I'd do some pointing in other directions.

At The Zoo

Last night we gate-crashed Chris & Coralie's Friday-night neighbourhood social, and then I went on to an art exhibition with Chris while the kids helped decorate the Kan's Christmas tree and watched Shrek 2. The exhibition was a uni Art School end-of-year bash, and we went to see the work of one of the other members of Chris' group, the Transfiguration Community. (Thankfully) I genuinely enjoyed Pete's wood sculptures, and would have bought one of his pieces had that been at all possible (which it wasn't, not least because it had already been sold); but over-all I was a little depressed at how little genuinely creative ideas I saw there...

And I got to show Jo Jacaranda trees in blossom for the first time. I'd come across them in Zambia a few years ago, and they've been my favourite tree ever since. Jo doesn't share my love of trees; but even she thinks the Jacarandas are pretty special...

Today, we went to Perth Zoo with Chris, Eliza and Noah, and 'Chelle who lives in community with them. Zoos are sure-fire winners with our two, and we had a great time.

I got to speak to my brother-in-law late afternoon (his breakfast-time). They're okay; Rachel just wants next Tuesday out of the way. It was good to be able to speak with Colin. We're looking forward to see them soon now.

I'm preaching at St Philip's tomorrow, at both services (7:30 am and 9:30 am). So Jo dropped me off in Cottesloe before heading back up the coast with the kids. I'm sitting in the dark, drinking red wine, with a Gregorian chant CD in the background. It almost feels Christmassy...but not quite (for one thing, the wine isn't mulled). It's truly bizarre the way the Aussies go in for such a northern-European Christmas, when there's a cat-in-hell's chance of snow!

Friday, December 02, 2005


The surgeon is intending to operate on Rachel this coming Tuesday (6th December). The procedure will probably last 10-12 hours. The medical team are suggesting a "best-case scenario" of her returning home after one week, and being able to return to work (Rachel is a GP) after three months (though I think she'll still be on maternity leave at that point), though not allowed to drive for twelve months. There is, of course, a spectrum of other possible outcomes, and Rachel and Colin are doing what they can to make plans right across that spectrum. The situation is clearly putting strain - both emotional and physical - on my parents.

That's about all I can update you with at present; it should give enough to be getting on praying into...

Whatever the outcome - even a "best-case" - it might be right for us to relocate nearer to the rest of my family for the next season of our lives (which might make it a "blessing in disguise" that nothing else has really materialised). Who knows? We're actively exploring possibilities in various other places; but if anyone knows of anything going in or near Glasgow, send me an email (not a comment on the blog, please). Cheers!