Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday


A poem written for Ash Wednesday 2024:

You have heard it said that you are too little, or too much, to be accepted;
and, taking those words to heart, you have been consumed by their flames.

You have heard it said that you are more deserving than others;
and, internalising that mantra, you have been razed by its fire.

But I say to you, rise up:
by the grace of God
arise from the ashes,
O Phoenix,
dust stirred to life by the kiss of love,
by the breath of God
that gives life to the dead.

You are the phoenix of Christ,
given new beginning in his name.
Neither too little nor too much,
nor deserving nor undeserving,
simply loved to life,
again and again.

Do not fear returning to dust.
Receive this mark upon your head,
a sign of hope, and trust.
And by the grace of God,


Tuesday, February 13, 2024



There have always been autistic people among us, we simply haven’t always understood or valued them. I love Ann Memmott’s take on Nicodemus, a friend of Jesus who displays autistic traits:

He is an expert in the scriptures – they are his specialist subject – and offers expert advice to his peers.

He first comes to Jesus at night when there would be less sensory stimulation and crowds of people to overwhelm him. In their conversation, Jesus offers him a metaphor, which he takes literally and therefore as impossible, so that Jesus needs to unpack the idea in a different way.

After Jesus has died, Nicodemus brings spices to embalm him, but he brings an excessive amount – wanting to help, but totally over the top.

All these things are common autistic traits, within the spectrum of lived experiences of autistic people.

I also love that as a neurodivergent, autistic vicar, who recognises myself in Nicodemus, I am Priest in Charge of St Nicholas Church. For Nicodemus and Nicholas are the same name - Victory of the Common People - in two different forms [nike demos, nike laos].


Thursday, February 08, 2024



In the Gospel reading set for Holy Communion today, Mark 7.24-30, Jesus visits Tyre.

Tyre is one of the world’s oldest cities, her ancient walls rising out of the Mediterranean, a jewel of the sea, a drop of human creativity in the ocean.

It was famous for two things: firstly, purple dye. The story goes that Tyre was founded by the god Melqart for his lover Tyrus. One day they were taking a romantic stroll along the beach with her dog, when it bit into a shell and its fangs dripped purple. Tyrus requested that Melqart make her a dress in the same colour: he gathered up every sea snail he could find, boiled them to extract the dye, and presented her with her prize. From then, it became the choice of kings and queens and emperors: Mark (and John) will report that at Jesus’ coronation as King of the Jews, the Romans will put a crown on his head and a purple cloak on his shoulders, a Tyrian robe.

The other thing Tyre was famous for was high quality wood from the cedar forests of Lebanon, that part of the mainland they controlled. This wood made the best ships – Tyre had two harbours, one facing north and the other south, and a fine merchant navy, crossing the Mediterranean, founding colonies on her shores, including Carthage and Cadiz, through trade not conquest, and even venturing out into the Atlantic – and the best temples.

David, king of Jerusalem, was friends with Hiram, king of Tyre. When David made the arrangements for the temple his son Solomon would build, he contracted Hiram to supply wood and purple yarn and cloth – including the great curtain that hung in front of the Holy of Holies – in exchange for wheat, Tyre possessing no arable land of its own.

Such alliances were often cemented by marriage, including Solomon, and the later king Ahab, who married Jezebel, daughter of a king of Tyre. Jezebel championed the worship of the gods and goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon, reigning in tumult and eventually being thrown to her death from a window, her blood licked up by dogs, reminiscent of the dripping fangs of Tyrus’ dog.

No one could capture the island, though many tried. Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Jerusalem but besieged and failed to take Tyre. Again and again, they withstood enemy armies, until Alexander the Great. They held out against his siege, too, until in frustration he had his army throw great stones into the sea, building a causeway they could march along, all the while the Tyrians throwing boulders and flaming arrows back at them. Eventually, causeway complete and a mercenary navy recruited from Tyre’s treacherous neighbours in Sidon, Alexander’s forces captured the city. The women and children had already been evacuated by sea to Carthage, but the men were struck down, including 2,000 who were crucified – the Romans weren’t the first or only ones to use crucifixion to make a point.

The Greeks settled the city, the Romans following, though all the while Tyre managed to emerge, Phoenix-like, from its own ashes – the word Phoenician, meaning worker-of-purple-red-dye, and phoenix, or purple-red bird, share the same root.

To this city, now connected to the mainland, Jesus came. Trying to lie low, the word gets out. A Hellenised woman of Syrophoenician origin (that is, the Phoenicians of this coast, rather than the Phoenicians of their daughter colonies around the Mediterranean) comes to see him. Her young daughter has been taken captive by an unclean spirit, and she begs him to cast it out.

The following exchange is enigmatic, a weaving of several threads of yarn. In saying that it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, Jesus may well be making the point (his own, or the view of his disciples) that he must attend to his own people before the neighbouring peoples. But the relationship between them has always been more dynamic than that. Perhaps we might hear, in his words about throwing down and dogs, in this Tyrian context, a concern about violence. He makes the point that young children should be fattened up first. Perhaps he is implying that the casting out of demons is a violent business – later, in Mark 9.14-29, we see Jesus cast such a spirit out of a boy, who is convulsed terribly, such that, at first, he appears left dead – and it would be better to wait until the young girl was bigger, stronger.

But the mother responds by pointing out that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table. Crumbs falling is far gentler than bread thrown or cast out. Perhaps she is indicating her trust that Jesus can cast out the occupying spirit without causing further violence to her little daughter.

And Jesus says, It is done, as you understood it could be when you came to me.

Jesus comes, not as an invading conqueror – not making a way, where there was no way, for control over another's autonomy and dignity – but hidden; proclaimed by a whisper on the wind; to restore us to our own self, and to one another, and to the God who made us in and for love: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. He treats all with gentleness and compassion, with concern for their dignity and choice and partnership.

He comes that we might all be Phoenicians, phoenixes, rising to new life from the ashes.


Sunday, January 28, 2024



Accompanied by her husband, a young mother brings her firstborn son to public worship for the first time, at forty days old. As they come into the space and look around, an older man approaches, takes the child in his arms (always ask for, and be given, permission before doing this; and don’t take offence if permission is not forthcoming) and sings a song of praise. First, he honours God; then, he blesses the father and mother, and their child. As he does so, an older woman joins them, takes up the theme, and extends it to include others who had gathered in that place.

Simeon was not a priest, not the public face of the faith. Anna was recognised as a prophet, an oracle who spoke words of godly wisdom; but she had no official role or office. They were simply human beings who were well-soaked in the ways of God. And uttering blessings is central to such a life—not something reserved for vicars. You don’t even need to be Christian.

To bless something—whether a person, or some other part of creation, or a place, or a tool, or a circumstance—is to affirm its essential goodness. From our faith perspective, that essential goodness is God-given.

Jewish blessings always begin, ‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe …’

Christian blessings, which derive from Jewish blessings, are similarly framed, ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation …’

If we are to bless, we first need to meet what we find, where we find it, and then pay it attention. Simeon meets Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the temple court, takes the child in his arms, and pays close attention. Then, he speaks out what he sees.

My back door faces east, and I can stand there a while and watch the sunrise. ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, giver of light and love. And blessed be you, O dawn, that paints the sky in pink and orange to welcome the day.’

Then, as I stand there, I become aware of the dawn chorus. ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, who feeds the birds of the air. And blessed be you, garden bird, who fills the sky with your song.’

Or perhaps this morning it is raining, and I can choose to be grumpy about that or I can choose to bless the rain. ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, who gives the water of life. And blessed be you, rain, that refreshes the earth.’

If we can get into the habit of blessing, it will form us over time, so that we meet all things open to the goodness hidden within them—even if that goodness is not immediately apparent. So, for example, if you fall and break your leg, ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, who has fashioned our flesh and bone. And blessed be you, O femur, who have borne my weight all these years, and who now calls me to rest and to heal.’

So, let us have a go, and together learn how to bless. Who, or what, might you bless today?


Sunday, January 21, 2024

winter wedding

I wonder what the furthest distance is that you have travelled to attend a wedding. In the straw-poll conducted with our congregation this morning, the top 5 distances were: 5. Toronto, Canada. 4. Lexington, USA. 3. Chingola, Zambia. 2. Kochi, India. 1 Melbourne, Australia. In our Gospel reading today (John 2.1-11) Jesus and his disciples and his mother Mary had travelled 25 miles to attend a wedding, which isn’t far by car, but cars hadn’t been invented.

Weddings are a big deal, and they were a big deal then. The whole village would turn up, along with other guests from miles around.

If you’ve ever been on any journey, you’ll know that often the first thing you want to do on arrival is splash some water on your face. In Jesus’ time, guests would be welcomed by servants pouring water on their feet and hands and splashing water on their heads, as a way of saying, ‘You are welcome; we are so glad that you have come to us.’ At this wedding there were so many guests that they poured out the equivalent of 900 modern .75l bottles of spring water, or wine.

Weddings are a big deal, and they were a big deal then. The whole village would turn up, along with other guests from miles around, and they would stay for as long as it took to consume all the food and wine. When all the wine was drunk, that was the social cue to go home. And so, eventually, Mary turns to her son and says, ‘The wine has all been drunk; that’s our cue to leave; round up your friends, say goodbye to the bride and groom, it’s time to go.’

Jesus replies, ‘Woman,’ Woman. What a beautiful, tender moment. It resonates with the creation story. God had made a human from the soil and breathed life into it; but whereas everything else God had created was good, or very good, it was not good for this human creature to be alone. God saw that the human needed someone to stand alongside them, to sustain them, at times rescue them. So, God drew it into a deep sleep, took it up, broke it in two, and gave each part to the other. And the man cried out, in delight and relief, ‘Here at last, this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman for she was drawn out from man.’ In my culture, to call your mother ‘Woman’ may seem dismissive, but when Jesus calls his mother ‘Woman’ that delight in their shared humanity, their intimate biological belonging to one another, and the sense that Mary is the one who stands alongside him and sustains him are all there.

‘Woman,’ says Jesus, ‘what has this social cue to do with us? My hour has not yet come.’ Other than the sense that he is not ready to leave, that is a rather enigmatic statement that will just hang there for the next ten chapters until, speaking of his imminent death and resurrection, Jesus reveals that his hour has come (John 12.27). Ah, now we recall the wedding at Cana, and see that it was the first sign pointing to this moment.

Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus asks of them. And what he asks them to do is something very ordinary. He asks them to refill the water-jars. Something they would have done many times. An ordinary task for a servant, involving a trip to the well; something they would undoubtedly have done later as part of the clearing up after the guests had gone. But instead, they do it now. And when Jesus asks them to draw out some water, it has been transformed into wine.

The master of ceremonies is livid. He calls the groom aside and gives him a dressing down: This might be your first wedding, but it can’t be the first time you’ve been to a wedding!? Everyone knows that you serve the best wine when the guests arrive and hold back the cheaper wine until they’ve had plenty to drink. You have totally messed up!

The master of ceremonies doesn’t understand what is going on. But what is going on?

The water of hospitality had run out. The wine of hospitality had run out. But this is not the end of the story, only a necessary moment within the story. Jesus demonstrates the principle of death and resurrection, of the new life that is only possible because the old life has come to an end. It is a principle we see at play in the world around us, in nature. It is winter, and the plants and animals have withdrawn deep into themselves. The trees look dead, but something profound and necessary is going on beneath the surface. Only we humans are hard-headed and hard-hearted enough to live as if every month, every season, were the same. It is winter, and yes, spring is coming; but we cannot force it to arrive before winter has done its work. The world is renewing itself.

Our youngest son is in his second (final) A-level year. And he is flying. He is excelling academically, he has an active social life, he is making hopeful plans for his future. But there was a time when, for over two years, he could not face leaving the house, didn’t leave the house. I can tell you, that was a long, hard winter. I don’t mean December, January, February.

Jesus is the God who became one of us, who entered-into the death and resurrection of creation. Who blesses the life that we cannot hold onto, and the life that we receive if only we let go of the life we had.

This happens to us over again. This coming Saturday, at a service at the cathedral, we will mark Bishop Paul’s ten years of service among us as our bishop, as he retires. And we will pray for Paul and Rosemary as they begin a new life, in a new place; a life that is only possible because this life and ministry is coming to an end.

Sometimes we have varying degrees of choice, sometimes not. No one chooses bereavement; but Jesus says, just as I was with you, just as I blessed, the life that has run out, so shall I be with you, and so shall I bless, the life that still lies ahead.

What Jesus does at the wedding in Cana is the first signpost on this road.

It is such a beautiful, tender, and hopeful gospel.


Here, then, are some questions for those who would consider following him:

Where have you experienced death? It could be the death of a dream, the death of a marriage, a literal bereavement. In what part of your life are you dying right now?

Where have you tried to resist death, or deny the reality of dying? It could be in resistance to change or by masking the natural process of aging.

Where have you known resurrection—new life, not necessarily better than what was before, but different, and hopeful? What did that awaken in you? Is there any part of your life where you are experiencing resurrection life right now?


Thursday, January 04, 2024



For most of his adult life, Jesus was a carpenter in an agrarian society. This meant that he would have built houses; and also constructed, and repaired, agricultural tools: ploughs and yokes for breaking the soil, sickles for harvesting, threshing sledges for breaking open the harvested grain. This, in turn, would have involved a process of development that included trial and error, the deconstruction of certain received practices, and the construction of new ways that built on tried and tested traditions.

Reflecting, many years later, on the experience of having known Jesus, one of his disciples, John, wrote that anyone who constructs justice is a child of God, while anyone who practices missing that mark is a child of the devil; indeed, the children of God cannot construct injustice, for God’s own seed (which produces a harvest of righteousness) is planted in them. (See 1 John 3.7-10)

It is possible to imagine two ways of being a carpenter, one that intentionally constructs justice and another that deliberately undermines it. The latter makes tools they know won’t last, so that their customers will have to return again and again; perhaps they also cut a deal with some powerful figure to ensure their own monopoly, preventing the community from seeking better. In contrast, the former works to develop their skill, their craft, to put quality tools that will last generations into the hands of those who worked the land, by the sweat of whose brows the community was fed. Tools made with love, given in love.

And whichever way you choose to put into practice becomes second nature in time.

The regular discipline of Confession is a disruptive practice that undermines the possibility of constructing injustice before we can get going. It prevents a habit from forming, or, indeed, weakens a habit that we want to break and move on from. But it also has planted within it the seed of a new habit, the habit of loving God with every part of our being, and loving others as ourselves, wanting for them what we want for us. This is the seed that, in the fulness of time, produces a harvest of justice.

Confession is the plough that turns over the hard soil of our hearts.


Tuesday, January 02, 2024



The fruitful vine is a metaphor employed by several of the prophets whose words are recorded in the Hebrew Bible. It stands for a community that has been restored, sometimes having been transplanted from one place to another, that has been re-established and is enjoying a new security, following a time of distress, defeat and (often) displacement. Isaiah sees it as something waiting three years from now (three being a symbolic number) with the grace of God and nature bridging the gap (2 Kings 19 // Isaiah 37).

It becomes a national symbol for Israel. On the night of his arrest, Jesus takes up this image, blesses it, breaks it, and shares it with his disciples, saying that he is the vine and they are the branches: alone, they can bear no fruit, but if they hide their lives within his life (which is about to pass through death, and rise again on the third day) they will bear much fruit.

As often the case with metaphors, living a fruitful life is easier to understand than to explain. And easier to see in others than in ourselves. But the world around us tells us that we should be fruitful and that the way to be more fruitful is by greater resolve, planning, and action; and especially if last year was a hard one, if our resolutions ground to a halt in the deep gravel run-off of February:

“2024 will be the year that I run that marathon/lose weight/become a better person/fill in the gap.”

In contrast (not that plans, or action are necessarily bad) Jesus says that the key to fruitfulness is connection to him, in whom humanity and divinity are joined.

I am grateful to those who reveal to me the fruitfulness of my life, expressed in what I write and how I live. For the person who wrote to me to let me know how helpful something I had written and shared had been to them at this moment in their life, something of which they trusted me with knowing. For the person who wrote to let me know that the decisions I had made and actions I had taken over the past year had inspired them. For the person who trusted me enough to ask to come and talk to me, that I might listen, and perhaps even offer some wisdom. All these, just in the final weeks of last year. All helpful, not to massage a fragile ego, but to reveal fruitfulness I myself might struggle to recognise.

I share this not to ‘big myself up’ but to encourage you that if you see fruitfulness in someone's life, let them know. And may someone reveal to you your own fruitfulness. Or, at least, point to it, waiting for you, three years from now, keeping hope alive.