Showing posts from December, 2007

Nativity Overload

Just been to the last of umpteen Children's Christmas Shows that I've been attending this year, some in my role as a minister, and one as a father, and the good thing is that this year I haven't yet had to sing "Away in a manger" whereas in days gone by I would have sung it 14 times by December 3rd!
Things really have moved on - instead of the same nativity story and the bog-standard carols of years gone by, now every year-group competes to find the show with the cleverest twist on the Christmas story, and the most upbeat songs - so we now have grumpy shepherds, silly sheep, singing stars and all manner of interpretations of what the word C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S. stands for. Of course, just like the old-style nativities, these new ones are enhanced in ways their authors never anticipated - by elves spending the entire performance with their finger up their nose; or by the Angel Gabriel tucking her wings into her knickers in the inevitable toilet stop immediately before …

Risk Taking

The most recent edition of the Methodist Newsletter, that bastion of cutting edge Christian journalism, the back page includes an advertising feature from an insurance company masquerading as an article… And in it are listed, very helpfully, a number of things that we within churches should check before we start into this season of candlelit services and all the risks that they involve.
Now personally I understand the wisdom of that. Over the years I have watched Cub Scouts setting fire to each other’s carol sheets, scarves and even hair during Christingle services… On one occasion I managed to set fire to my own cardigan… an early Christmas present from my loving wife which I had put on for the first time that night… I have seen at least one advent ring go up in flames when one of the candles burned so low that the foliage around it caught fire… And a carol service nearly came to a premature end when a Christmas decoration caught fire, exploding and sending burning plastic all across …

Phoning Home

Joseph is speaking into a mobile phone.
Hello, Mother, it’s Joseph… Joseph… your son! Yes, I know it’s been a long time since I last rang, but I’m afraid I’ve been rather busy… (Joseph looks rather bored) Yes Mother, I’m still here… Oh, I’m fine, fine… Mary? She’s fine… The carpentry business… Yes, it’s fine… Look mother, I think I ought to come round and see you sometime soon… Oh, it’s no trouble, I’m actually in Bethlehem for the census… Ah, well, of course I would have stayed with you, but I, um, knew how busy you’d be with everyone coming home for the census, without the three of us landing on you… Did I say three? I did!? I was talking about Mary, me and the… um… donkey… That’s it… No its OK we got a room… well more of a stable really… Oh now, Mother, don’t get upset… I only said stable because it’s full of straw and animals and… (sniffs air) things. No what I should have said is “Stable-Like building…” extremely stable-like! Mother, are you sitting down? Well, its just that I’ve g…

Good Samaritans, Innkeepers and the Incarnation

Last week a member of my congregation, who we shall call Jay for want of imagination, was walking in Stormont Estate as is her habit, but she slipped and fell down a bank, and immediately felt a crack in her lower leg. She lay stunned for a moment or two, then gingerly go herself to a sitting position… She couldn’t get up. So she looked around for some help, and thankfully there was another lady walking the same path. Surely she had seen her slip and fall. But this other lady made no move to help her.

“Help!” Jay cried, but the other lady kept on walking. “Please help me!” she shouted from the bottom of the bank, but no more than twenty feet away, the other lady passed by. Someone today said that they probably had their “ipod” or some other such device stuck in their ears and couldn’t hear Jay calling. If that were the case wouldn’t it be even more ironic if they had their ipods in and were listening to some deafening “praise music”? But that is just speculation.
What actually happened …

Christmas Preparations

In my role as chaplain I constantly come across those who are deeply frustrated by the current policy whereby anyone going into hospital for scheduled surgery has to phone ahead for a bed in hospital. Thankfully it is a policy that hasn't extended to the Maternity Department.
I do feel sorry for the husbands that find themselves hanging around the Maternity Ward feeling totally impotent… Well… perhaps that’s not the right word to use, but you know what I mean… There is nothing they can do…
How much more was that the case for poor old Joseph… No matter how unprepared a father feels for the arrival of a child, Joseph must have felt worse... No matter how disorganised we are coming up to Christmas, just think how bad poor old Joseph felt that first Christmas.
His wife in the middle of labour, and no Maternity Ward to rely on. Nowhere at all to stay. If only they’d left home sooner. If only they’d packed the donkey the night before. If only they hadn’t gone back to check that they’d kock…

Child Protection

Just completed a day of Child Protection training at the Ulster Hospital where I work as chaplain, and I'm tired, so this is more of a brief question than a developed comment... When is Child Protection more about Worker Protection or Organisation protection?

But, while we are at it, would social services have called a case conference about a certain Jesus Bar Joseph, born in Bethlehem, Judea to a pair of feckless parents from Nazareth in Galilee?

Rainbow Day

I caught sight of it as I crossed the Albert Bridge across the Lagan, leaving Belfast city centre on the way home after a fractious meeting on the issue of Human Rights… (When are they anything other than fractious?) But anyway, I saw that one end of it was resting on the Titanic Quarter (the old Harland and Wolff shipyard which has now been zoned for major gentrification, for those not in the know) and I looked across to see where the other end fell… And there it was, resting on Parliament Buildings at Stormont! God must have been having a laugh with me, as I am sceptical as to either of these entities being all that some hope for them…

But, as is always the case, when I drove on and my point of view changed, the ends of the rainbow seemingly retreated… This time towards north Down, just like most of the Protestant middle classes in their pursuit of the pot of gold…

But the proverbial pot of gold, even if it were to be found via a programme for government emanating from Stormont, or fr…

Grace and Truth

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (ANIV)
It’s sad that truth and grace come as a surprise to us… Or even as an annoyance!
I was getting diesel yesterday and found that the tills in the service station kiosk (curious word that give the size of these places now) were staffed by two of the least competent assistants on the face of this earth… They will have many other laudable qualities but manning tills is not their thing… But just as I was finally getting to the head of a very long queue, a woman who had just left the shop came back in and squeezed ahead of me to inform the assistants that she had paid the wrong amount… a smaller amount than she should have, and that the older lady in front of me was going to be hit for her much larger bill… This of course sent the assistants into a tail-spin, and me, the fine, gracious, truthful Methodist minister that I am, into a huge huff of annoyance that this lady’s honesty was going to hold me…


Advent is a time of waiting, yet that noted philosopher Dr. Seuss states in his magisterial work "Oh the Places You'll Go" describes one of the places we might go as:

a most useless place. The Waiting Place... …for people just waiting Waiting for a train to go Or a bus to come, or a plane to go Or the mail to come, or the rain to go
Or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow Or waiting around for a Yes or No Or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. No! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape All that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places Where the Boom Bands are playing.
I’m not too sure its such a useless place, or that the Boom Bands would be quite so exciting without the waiting and anticipating…
We need to beware of filling every available moment with “useful” activity… And at this point everyone who knows me falls around laughing…
Originally submitted this as a comment on someone else's blog on Mockingbird's Leap

STOP PRESS: News for Cat Lovers

Just incase dog lovers think that I'm only getting at them... (see my post of last Thursday) I also think that cat lovers are insane too!!! Proof positive in this case is that you can now buy an Advent Calendar for your moggie... I hope our cat won't be too disappointed not to have one!

A Quick Word in the Xmas Rush

In the light of my earlier post, but in a much lighter and more trivial vein, here's a piece I wrote aeons ago (though have revised in the light of the world wide wonder web...) It is more than a little influenced by the monologues of David Kossoff in a previous generation.

Lord, Do you have a minute?
I hope so, because I don't see how I'm going to fit you in between now and the New Year.
You know what it's like.
The first three weeks of December disappear almost as quickly as my money...

I hate shopping.
I particularly hate shopping at Christmas.
Lot's of people with no time...
Lot's to buy and none of it's for me...
Bells ringing all around, on cash registers, devouring my money...
Seven days a week almost 24 hours a day, the song goes on
Glory to God in the High Street
And on earth, complete and utter chaos…

On every other street corner stands a Santa
In ill fitting red nylon suit and fake-fur trimmed wellies.
Wishing everyone a happy Christmas... Ho! Ho! Ho!
Shop at Wo…

No Room

Just been listening to Glenn Jordan's reflection for the beginning of Advent on Radio Ulster... Until 8th December you have the chance to listen again... But anyway, in a typically perceptive and challenging programme he included a reference to Thomas Merton's amazing piece entitled "The Time of No Room," as good a description of the era we find ourselves as any.

In it he says:
We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end. The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, power and acceleration.
The primordial blessing, "increase and multiply," has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror. We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshalled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by…