Stumbling onto a Story Worth Telling

One of the joys of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is what my sister in law refers to as Fringe Roulette, where you just go to all sorts of random things. I spun the barrel today, having just got off the plane and went to a show on the basis that I was handed a flyer (by the person who turned out to be the writer and sole actress in the show, Susie Coreth), it was half price, it was taking place at a time that filled a gap before I had to be elsewhere, and it dealt with subjects that interest me for various reasons, not least dementia and the role of music in unlocking memories.  So at lunchtime today I joined a small audience in a converted shipping container in George Street (it is the fringe) to watch “Ivory Wings" and had the pleasure of watching an actor/writer on top form, painting a poignant picture of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease who had been a WW2 Air Transport Service pilot. It was a performance and script that avoided hackneyed mawkishness, but drew the audience int…


I have really enjoyed my first visit to the NW of the USA and am currently in Portland, Oregon, but the big shock is the level of homelessness here and in Seattle, Washington. It is a feature of every street in both city centres and is heartbreaking. Whilst this issue is increasing back in Belfast, for various reasons, it is a minuscule problem in comparison with what we have seen here. However, 12 years ago I made the same comments about food poverty here in the US in comparison with the UK in the light of the number of food banks I saw here on a fact finding tour. I fear that like much of popular culture crossing the Atlantic, the more our political masters mimic US tax and welfare policies (which can only increase in the wake of a no-deal Brexit) then I fear we will also import this aspect of American culture too.
Sleep in the daytime Beneath the view of passers-by: Priest, pastor, layperson and typically uncaring contemporary Samaritan. Sleep, because nightime is coming.
Sleep in …

Holden Village

Sally and I leave Holden Village today, but hope to return, as most who come here do, again and again... But whether we do or not this place of beauty and welcome will live long in my memory...
Fire birthed Phoenix In a mountain cradle Nurturing a new Generation Whilst honouring And challenging The old.
Listening to The wounded forest Standing up to Those who have raped The fragile earth And have poisoned The creek
Lingering scent Of damp charcoal by Glacier chilled stream Stripped of all life Picture perfect But behind the screen Lies pain
Welcoming in The weary pilgrim; Midst bear and cub And doe and fawns The foreigner Finds him/herself At home

Amos Rant

Each Thursday at Holden the Faculty Staff are asked to collaborate to produce a 20 minute piece for Vespers... This week I contributed my Jonah poem which I reposted yesterday, but last week my contribution was to interrupt the musical director as the congregation where about to sing the hymn "Let justice flow" with this re-imagining of Amos 5: 5-24 (ps. the worship here has actually been wonderful... really refreshing...)

Stop! I can’t stand your singing any more, it makes me sick to my stomach. That’s what the LORD has to say to you. Follow me and my way and live God says. Don’t bother with your religious retreats Or going to this mega-church or that faith festival, The latest spiritual fad or fashion Because they’re here today and gone tomorrow Without making any real difference to you or to the world. Follow the way of the Lord that you may live, Or He will sweep through you like a wildfire through this valley. Because you’ve turned justice into empty words And trampled righteousness…

Jonah's Story, Jonah's God

I've been lecturing on the story of Jonah for the past two weeks and the importance of story in scripture for shaping our stories, and this is a short poetic distillation of some of it. (Note: this is now a revised version one week further on with 2 extra verses and a few other amendments.)

The Word of the LORD came to Jonah
The capital L.O.R.D. Lord
The God who is
Rather than the God we might prefer

The Word which commanded light to be
Begins this story and all stories
That ever were
And all that are still to be written.

But will we respond to this command
Or will we just like Jonah resist?
No way Yahweh!
My story is never going there.

Is God prompting us to cross borders
And the boundaries between us and them?
Love the other
Whosoever that other might be.

Does God need to catch our attention
With sea monsters and swift growing vines
To turn us round
And reset our stories back on track?

Are we ready to change direction?
Not just to confess all our failings
But change our ways
And minds, knowing that God…

Ready for the Off

Well this is my last day at work before I disappear off on sabbatical. I begin by heading off to Holden Village, a Lutheran Retreat Centre in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State in the USA, where I will be offering some reflections on Jonah and Simon Peter under the title of "Preposterous Readings of Preposterous Stories", using monologue and art to cast fresh light on these perhaps over-familiar tales.
I have described these first two weeks as "altitude training" in preparation for a 3 day sponsored walk later in my sabbatical to mark the 130th Anniversary of BCM. It will be over slightly less mountainous terrain, 10am on 22nd August from the site of the former BCM Castlerocklands Residential Home in Carrickfergus, and ending at the new Copelands Dementia Nursing and Residential Facility in Millisle, via a few BCM projects and supporting churches en route. If you would like to sponsor me there will be the opportunity to do so via…

Down in the Depths...

I'm heading off on sabbatical to Holden Village in Washington State at the end of this week, where I am speaking about Jonah among other things. I was asked to preach at vespers there this coming Sunday. Foolishly I said I would do a responsive version of the set Psalm for that Sunday Psalm 42 or 43, which seemed appropriate in that Jonah found himself literally "down in the depths..." Unfortunately I now don't have time to prepare that together with everything else I have to do, so I slightly reworked this paraphrase of Psalm 42 and 42 that I wrote some time ago when I was in a particularly bad place. Thankfully I am no longer in that place and part of the means of escaping there was this discipline of lament and rehearsing the goodness of God. Today I have been with others who are in a bad place, and there will be many others there too... I hope these words help:

As a wanderer in the desert gasps for water, so my soul is gasping for you, O God, My heart thirsts for Go…