I Believe

The various historic creeds fascinate me, and I have preached countless sermons and written different documents and reflections based on them over the years, but I am very wary of seeing them as extended shibboleths, guaranteeing entry into the Christian club, comprehensive lists of essential beliefs or as in any way transformative. I see them rather as historic windows on specific issues within the family of faith at particular times. Useful but only to a limited degree. I suppose that was on my mind when I wrote this a couple of months ago, but I didn't publish it at the time and the moment passed. But I found it again today when I opened a notepad I was using for something else and it resonated again, perhaps because of a news story today that has Jim Bakker, that paragon of Christian orthodoxy stating, in a pushback to the recent editorial in Christianity Today, that if you don't love Trump you can't be saved... and that only "saved" people love Trump... An i…

Epiphany Gifts

Treading ground that many others have covered before me. There has been much mockery about the impracticality of the gifts and suggestions that wise women would have chosen better, but behind the mockery there is a deeper question. The gifts are clearly seen as symbolic by Matthew and whilst the simple king, priest, sacrifice triad of "we three kings" etc is obviously way too simple it is by no means certain what was intended. Or indeed whether these were suitable gifts at all or whether the magi had not only misjudged the birthplace of the new king but also the nature of his kingship.

Gold. Suitable for a King. But probably one like Herod Or an Emperor like Augustine Not the King born in Bethlehem And crowned in Jerusalem With thorns.
Frankincense. Aromatic Arabian resin Might sweeten the smell of a stable Or enhance the smell of a sacrifice Offered up by the priesthood To ameliorate the bloodlust Of their god.
Myrrh. Another Arabian resin; A scent associated with temple…

Omphalos II

Starting 2020 in similar vein to where I left off in 2019,  thinking about how we deal with the past and with fear of the future. In this I pick up on the legend concerning the location of the Omphalos (navel) at the centre of the world by Zeus. He supposedly set off twin eagles from either end of the Earth and they met over Delphi, which was the site of the mysterious oracle of Apollo. In later Christian tradition the "omphalos" was said to be in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a place which again has not been devoid of conflict.

The place where two eagles meet Past and future fighting on the wing While down below The profound present Remains to be explored.

Poems and Ploughshares

This piece was initially prompted by my current parallel reading of Gladys Ganiel's "Considering Grace", dealing with how the Presbyterian Church handled the Troubles, Robert Harris's "The Second Sleep", which turns on the relationship between the past, future, presnt and faith, a book produced by my son Ciaran's archaeology department, and Avivah Zornberg's psychoanalytic, midrashic comentary "The Murmuring Deep" from which I posted the following quote by Osip Mandelstam on Sunday.  "poetry is the plough tearing open and turning over time so that the deep layers of it, its rich black undersoil, ends up on the surface.... Mankind ... craves, like a ploughman, for the virgin soil of time."  I took the liberty of stealing a particularly evocative line, but then I freely acknowledge that artistically and intellectually, I am little more than one of those birds that swoop in after the plough or the seed drill to snatch something tasty …


A poem prompted by reading Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's midrash on Rebekah and Rachel, a family birth, fears for the future with the New Year just on the horizon and the abiding inability to deal healthily with the past in this part of the world.

What binds us to what was,
Or what is yet to be?
Is it life-giving,  Or necrotic,  Poisoning both?  There comes a time  After the agony of emergence  That the cord must be cut.  Only then can both survive  And thrive.  A scar will remain.  A memory of the unremembered,
Both nurturing and traumatic, Too often disregarded  As a focus of selfish contemplation,  Seeing oneself as the centre of the world, Yet actually a relic  Of dependence and devotion.

But there is no going back  Nicodemus was right in that.  A new connection  Must be made and tended.

But first, cut... Selah

Wise Men? Wise Up!

Here is a monologue from the perspective of one of the Magi who came to worship the new King of the Jews. I was originally going to perform a simplified version of this, for an all all context last week but was flattened by a chest infection. It had no reference to the Jews in Babylon or the massacre of the innocents, but did start with the line guaranteed to win over an audience with a high proportion of children "My bum hurts!" I decided to ditch that for this version, which I am publishing today given the lectionary reading, although I am not preaching today, not because of illness but just because I'm getting a Sunday off. I am aware of the contrasting theories re the origins of the Magi, and whether they arrived just after his birth as nativity plays tend to suggest, or up to 2 years later (which seems to have been a long time for Joseph and his new family to have been hanging around Bethlehem. But I'm not getting into any of that here... pull at too many lose t…

Christmas Day: The Christ Candle

An alternate short candle liturgy for Christmas Day based on the less familiar lectionary reading for today from  Isaiah 62:6-12

VOICE 1: Clear the way!
VOICE 2: Remove the rubble!
VOICE 1: Raise  a flag for the world to see.
VOICE 2: The Lord God has made a proclamation to go out to the ends of the earth:
VOICE 1: Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Saviour comes!
VOICE 2: See, his promised reward is with him, and his blessing comes with him.
VOICE 1: They will be called his Holy People, those Redeemed by the Lord;
VOICE 2: The city long deserted will become a place of pilgrimage. All 5 candles are lit finishing with the central one. Let us pray: Lord we thank you that with the birth of your Son Your promised were proved true. Our saviour has come And we rejoice. May we live our lives as his Holy People. AMEN