Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Going to the Dogs

I've finally come the the conclusion that either the world has gone barking mad or I have...
Today on the radio I heard someone announcing the "Pet a Porter" Fashion Show for four-legged fashionistas at Harrods in London. The catwalk has become a dogwalk for what is apparently the fifth year, with the theme this year being "Diamond Dogs" where leading designers, including Vivienne Westwood, Issa and Ben de Lisi have created canine fashion items incorporating pearls, sapphires, rubies and,of course, lots of a girls best friend on mans best friend. They are even launching a new dog perfume called (wait for it) "Sexy Beast."

Now many who know me will know that this man is not a dog's best friend at the best of times... but surely the most dedicated dogophile must think that this is beyond the pale... It is only a bit of fun you may cry... But it is a ludicrously expensive and pointless bit of fun. The fashion world is bad enough with the obscenity of models starving themselves to become size zero, while children clothed in rags starve to death in the developing world... and other children work for a pittance in sweatshops to produce high street copies of high fashion designs that retail for hundreds if not thousands of pounds. But pouring money into this is one step beyond...

But then, when I was googling to check out info on this event, on the same page of "View London there was advertised "The Penis Show" an exhibition of... well, it does exactly what it says on the tin... They even had a photo booth incase any visitors were inspired to leave a personal contribution. Sadly I have missed it as it took place in February... But this year London, maybe next year Belfast, if we are really, really lucky... Maybe we could combine both events and have a photographic exhibition of canine genitalia! We could call it the Dogs B.... or perhaps not...

These sort of events are defended on the grounds of "its only a bit of fun" or, by those who claim a higher purpose, as epitomising "freedom of expression". I'm not for curtailing such freedoms... just urging those behind such expression to grow up...

But I suppose it was ever thus. In the days of the Judges in the Bible it is said : "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25)
So if it isn't pooch parades or penis portraits there'll be something else next week...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Heavy Metal and the Church

When I was young (which wasn't yesterday) I liked heavy metal music. But with some of my Christian contemporaries and elders it was frowned on. The Satanic overtones of some groups never particularly endeared them to the Christian community... And personally I was never a great fan of groups like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and KISS (who I was reliably informed at the time were actually Knights, or Kids, depending on who you talked to, in Satanic Service). But some people tried to tell me that even the acts I did like recorded strange messages on their tracks that you picked up subliminally via back-tracks i.e. messages recorded in such a way that you could only hear them when you played a vinyl record (remember them) backwards... But in all honestly I could never hear these backwards messages until someone told me exactly what I was listening for... A bit like that dog on "That's Life" that said "Sausages!"

You don't know what I'm talking about now, do you? Perhaps I should move on.

Anyway, now the church is concerned with heavy metal again. This time the loss of it... Not the music... That's long gone (apart from a few diehard, greasy-haired fans). The issue is now real honest to goodness heavy metals... Lead from roofs... Bronze statues... For years, clerics like myself have worried about falling church attendance. Now we're encouraged to worry about some people turning up too often -- thieves.

In the past year there has been a sharp hike in the theft of lead from church roofs, triggered by the price of the metal quadrupling on international markets. Lead is now worth more than £1,700 a tonne for lead making it a major target for organised gangs looking to sell on to scrap merchants who trade into the booming markets in China and India. This has resulted in ministers and priests turning up at their church buildings to discover rainwater pouring through holes in the roof because someone, in the recent past, has stripped the lead lining overnight.

In 2005, Ecclesiastical Insurance handled just 80 claims for the theft of lead from the roofs of the 16,500 Anglican churches it insures in Britain. This year, apparently it has already handled 1,800 at a payout of more than 6 million pounds.

Churches are not the only target. Copper, tin, bronze, brass and zinc are also extremely valuable, making anything that contains them a target, from statues to railways. A bronze sculpture by Henry Moore, valued at $6 million, was stolen from an estate in December 2005 to be sold on for scrap, police said, even though it would likely have fetched only $10,000 or less for the thieves. In September this year a life-size bronze statue of Olympic champion Steve Ovett was stolen from its plinth to be sold for scrap. The railway authorities in France and Britain are also fighting an epidemic of thefts of copper wire from along the lines, rendering signals inoperative.

But while churches are not the only victims, it does throw up interesting issues for institutions which are supposed to store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)

It again raises the question as to the real worth of church property, and where our wealth and energies are invested...


Recently had a bizarre and very full week. From Saturday 10th November through to Sunday 18th my church, Dundonald Methodist, worked with the other 2 main churches in Ballybeen, namely St. Mary's Church of Ireland and Christ Church Presbyterian, on an evangelistic outreach programme, which we called "Connect". It was underpinned by the idea of the 3 churches 'connecting' together, to 'connect' with the wider community and encourage people to 'connect' with God. You get the picture.

We were supported in this by 3 evangelists: Roger Murphy, from Through Faith Missions, Paul Hoey of CPAS and Paul Woodman, an illusionist who is also a pastor in City Life Church in Southampton.

There were a range of events in different venues around the estate all week, reaching out to all ages and interests, a men's health event, a seniors' tea dance, an evening of salsa aerobics for women, a beach party for teens (which is a novel idea for Ballybeen in the midst of winter), a praise party for kids and much, much more. Each event culminated in a straightforward presentation of the gospel, and an invitation to commitment. All of the publicity made it clear that this would happen, so no one was there under false pretences. The settings and the technology employed may have been different from days gone by, but the format wasn't really that far removed from the tent missions of a previous generation. But then again, the message of the gospel is timeless. All in all it was a success, with a good arrendance at most events and an encouraging level of response. However, what was clearly evident was the shallowness of our connections with the wider community, as most of those attending and responding generally attended other church activities.

However whilst all of this was going on at a local level, I was also involved in a number of meetings and conversations that, at first, may seem to be a million miles from this unapologetic evangelical outreach. One of the hats I wear is as chair of the Churches Community Work Alliance here in Northern Ireland, which seeks to promote and support Christian community development work. Three mornings were taken up by meetings under that banner; the first with the national trustees discussing the future of the organisation here; the second meeting with the local reference group, a body of Christian community activists and church representatives who, we hope will take over running the organisation here; and finally a meeting of the CCWA Forum with the local Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie. Two further mornings were spent in chaplaincy work at the local general hospital.

Then finally the Friday morning was taken up by an informal meeting of local ministers and church workers with Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, otherwise known as the Rev. Leslie Griffiths, minister of Wesley's Chapel in London. He was sharing with us on his experience of urban ministry, which he described in terms of a series of interfaces:
City - Inner City
Local - Global
Action - Reflection
Present - Past
Church - World

It was this reflection that helped me to regain a sense of perspective in what was an insane week, because central to my sense of call to ministry has always been that interface between evangelism and social engagement: both unapologetic; both done because they are the right things to do; both expressions of the grace and mercy of Christ.

If the church is to live up to its high calling it must take seriously both of these dimensions.
It is only when we, as churches take seriously the issues that are important to local people, that we can expect local people to take seriously that which is important to us.

More than that, we must recognise that whilst we encourage people to connect with God in Christ, Jesus himself encouraged his followers to connect with him in other people and their needs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Healing Touch…

Pharisee: Although he insisted on associating with undesirables, we Pharisees didn’t wash our hands of him entirely… Various friends of mine invited him to their homes… But the rabble even followed their rabbi there… On one occasion a whore came into the banqueting room after the meal and knelt down at the bottom of his couch… She was bawling her eyes out… and with her kisses and her tears she washed his feet, before drying them with her hair and pouring perfume on them… It was disgusting… She was as good as offering herself to him as desert…
Woman 1: It was all I could offer to him… I had used my body to bring relief to men in the past… Some of them were round that table. But then they had paid me… bought me… used and abused me… But he didn’t. He knew what I was… But he said “Her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much.” Until that day I had never known the meaning of love…
Pharisee: How he could let such a woman even touch him was disgusting… But such things happened all the time. Once when he was on his way to heal the daughter of another friend, Jairus, the crowds were all pressing in on him trying to take hold of him… And in the middle of it all he stopped because some woman had touched him… It turned out she had been bleeding for 12 years non-stop…
Woman 2: It was my last chance… I had spent every penny I had on all sorts of quacks to make me well again… I had heard how he had healed others… So even if I couldn’t get him to touch me I was determined I was going to touch him…
Pharisee: It was awful… She was unclean… She shouldn’t even have been out in the crowd… Never mind going out deliberately to touch someone else…
Woman 2: As it was I could only grab the fringe of his robe as he was swept by in the crowd… But he stopped… Because he knew someone had touched him… He turned and looked at me… I thought… He knows… He knows that I am unclean…
Pharisee: Everyone knew… Everyone knew her… Except him… But when he found out… He didn’t care… He was much too casual about those he let near him, and touch him… Never mind those he reached out and touched himself… Sinners and sick people… Even lepers…
Samaritan: He didn’t touch me… Yes, he touched others who had been touched by leprosy… But not me and my friends… We stood at a distance and shouted at him… Asking him to heal us… He simply told us to go, and show ourselves to the priests. We did, and we were clean as a whistle… So although he didn’t actually touch us with his hands he touched us in another way… Even though he was a Jew he had healed me, a Samaritan, of my leprosy. Jews usually treat Samaritans like dirt… and vice versa if truth be told… But here was this Jewish teacher healing me, a Samaritan and a leper… My friends all went back to their families… but I just had to thank him… so I sought him out again and threw myself at his feet…
Woman 1: The others treated me like dirt beneath their feet that they wanted to wash off, so I suppose that is why I thought I would wash his feet...
Woman 2: I told him my story…
Pharisee: But he didn’t tell her off for making him and everyone around her unclean… For delaying him from saving my friend’s daughter.
Woman 2: He simply said to me "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."
Samaritan: He just reached down and said "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Woman 1: He reached down and raised me up saying "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Pharisee: Faith! Where was their faith? Where was his? What about staying faithful to the law? Staying pure…
An episode of the show "I Witness" written for New Irish Arts and the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, stage in the Waterfront Hall, September 2003, and adapted for a Healing Service as part of the "Connect" Evangelistic Outreach in Ballybeen in November 2007.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Channel 4 aired Penny Woolcock's film "Exodus" on Monday night past (19th November 2007). It was a, that dreaded word, "reworking" of the second book of the Old Testament, and like many Channel 4 Films, and films with a religious/Biblical dimension, it was both interesting and frustrating at the same time.

The director, Penny Woolcock, has a history of making films in avant garde ways, and are usually imbued with a strong sense of social conscience, from her first film When the Dog Bites to Shakespeare on the Estate and the drama trilogy Tina Goes Shopping, Tina Takes a Break and the controversial 2006 release, Mischief Night. She often uses "real" people rather than actors (as a former actor I am not sure about that contrast!), and that was very much the case here, with a number of the set pieces being filmed at a special Exodus Day Festival in Margate, a somewhat run-down seaside resort on the Isle of Thanet in Kent.

The broad gist of the plot is this, Pharoah Mann is a populist politician who has found the perfect solution for those refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants who have arrived in his country seeking the Promised Land. He dumps all of them, and the other unwanted elements of society - the long-term unemployed and petty criminals - into Dreamland, a derelict theme park.
Moses is the son of Pharaoh (does this sound familiar?) but when he reaches adulthood, he discovers that his birth mother is a poor Romany woman, Levi, incarcerated in Dreamland, who gave him away as a baby so that he might have the chance of a better life. He then gets involved with a young black serving girl from Dreamland, Zipporah, but his father dismisses her for pilfering. Moses visits Dreamland to find her and kills the guard who assaults her when she tries to approach him. The hue and cry goes up and Moses flees into the heart of Dreamland. He and Zipporah have a child together, but when her father, the wise and gentle Jethro is then killed by one of the "pest control" guards, Moses organises a huge funeral pyre of rubbish in the shape of a man, and hears God speaking to him, commissioning him to set his people free. He is then sucked into a series of increasingly violent acts of terrorism, culminating in the a school bombing.

I have no qualms in telling you most of the plot because it was so predictable, and not just because it was largely straight from the Bible with a modern/revisionist "tweak".

The writing was incredibly clumsy. The "real" actors, such as Bernard Hill, who played Pharaoh, could carry it off with aplomb (despite a ludicrous hairstyle which was probably there as a visual echo of the Egyptian Pharaoh's tiara), but the real people couldn't. At times it came across as a piece of bad 1980s agit-prop student theatre. And I know a bit about that having acted in and directed a fair bit of bad 1980s agip-prop student theatre.

Visually it was stunning at times: especially the the burning effigy, created especially by Anthony Gormley, the sculptor behind the Angel of the North, but I wouldn't imagine that Margate will want to use the film for their tourist information as it painted a fairly bleak picture. Indeed, between the publicity and the actual programme the word Margate was dropped from the title.

And just as the finished film probably alienated the people of Margate, it probably alienated a fair number of the audience too. There was nothing emotionally engaging about the whole thing. All of the characters were generally unappealling... So in the end you just didn't care. It also wasn't helped by a soundtrack that even Leonard Cohen would have found depressing.

Which is all a shame, because many of the themes that the film touched on, like immigration, how we deal with the marginalised, the theological justification of terrorism are all worthwhile considering.

But what must have made an interesting day of community theatre, made a disappointing 2 hours of television.

Next stop the Liverpool nativity apparently...

Friday, November 16, 2007

That's My King

For those who read the poem by Steve Stockman in my earlier post, you maybe interested in the amazing sermon/prayer by Dr. Shadrach Meshach (S.M.) Lockridge which can be found in various editted audio, transcript and a/v forms littered around the internet.
Even after many hearings/readings I cannot help but be inspired by it (although some of the a/v renderings of it are excorable!)

What God has Promised

I came across this poem in preparing for a recent service for families that have been recently bereaved in our area. It actually exists in a few forms, all attributed to the same author. I've posted the one I like best, with apologies if it was not as the author originally intended.

God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God has not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He has not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

Annie Johnson Flint

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Loving Da

Jesus: There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father,

Son 2: Hey Da!, Since it seems like you’re ne’er gonna die, gi’es my slice of the inheritance now, would ye!?'

Jesus: Surprisingly, the man divided all he owned between his 2 sons. But not long after that, the younger son packed his gear, and headed off across the sheugh and blew the lot on having a high old time. But just when he had spent his very last penny, a recession set in, so that the whole country was looking for work to put food on the table... So, in desperation he went and got himself a job with a local yokel who sent him out to look after his pigs. A great job for a good Jewish boy. But there he was sitting in the slurry with the pigs… Looking at the pigswill with longing in his eyes and a rumbling in his stomach. At last he woke up and realized how stupid he had been:
Son 2: What on earth am I doing? How many people of the people who work for my Da have more food than they can eat, yet here I am starving to death! I know; I’ll head for home and say to my Da:
“Father (he’ll like that!)… Father, I have wronged God and wronged you. I know that I don’t deserve to be part of your family, but please will you hire me to work for you.”
Jesus: So up he gets and hitch-hikes his way home to his Da. But while he was still miles from home, his Da got wind of him coming and was choked up with love for him; he took off up the road like an Olympic sprinter, regardless of what the neighbours would say. And when he reached his son, he hugged and kissed him in the most embarrassing way. Then the son starte into his prepared speech:
Son 2: Father, I have wronged God and wronged you. I know that I don’t deserve to be part of your family, but please will you hire me to work for you.
Jesus: But before he could finish what he had to say his Da said to one of his lackeys,
Father: Get a move on! Go out and buy my son some new clothes. Only the best mind you! And get him some jewelry… and shoes… Whatever he wants… And arrange a dinner… The fully monty… It’s party time! For I had given my son here up for dead and here he is large as life. I had thought he was lost for good, but I’ve found him again.
Jesus: So they began to party the night away. All except the older son who had been out on a job for his Da. As he came towards the house he heard music and laughter, so he asked his Dad’s foreman what was happening, only to be told that his brother had come home and that his dad was throwing a party for him. His nose was put so far out of joint that he refused to go into the house, preferring to huff outside in the cold.
So for the second time that day the father went out to meet with one of his sons, this time the older one. He begged him to come in but the older son said:
Son 2: Hold on there Da! All these years I've been slaving my guts out for you. Doing every single thing you told me to. Yet you never even gave me enough money for a carry out to have a night in with my friends. But when this idle waster of a son of yours, who has wasted your money on wild women comes home, you waste my inheritance throwing a party for him.
Father: My son, my son! Don’t you understand… You are always with me, and what’s mine is yours. But how could I not throw a party, because now I have two sons again. I had given your wee brother up for dead and here he is large as life. I had thought he was lost for good, but I’ve found him again.

Based on Luke 15:11-32

© David A. Campton 10/11/2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007


While preparing some material for a Bible Study on the nature of God, I remembered this old poem by Steve Stockman. The book it is in is no longer on sale, and he hasn't posted it on his own website, so here it is (with his permission)...

Come come away
Onto holy ground
And in the silence
Without a sound
We tasted life
Of a supernatural fashion
Increasing our vision
And holy passion
Souls in awe and wonder
The eternal now
We beheld the power and glory
The mighty spectacular wow.

Come come away
To the upper room
With mouths wide open
And hearts consumed
There we celebrated
With hands all raised
Heirs of the Father
On whom we gazed
Souls in awe and wonder
The eternal now
We beheld his holiness and love
The mighty spectacular wow.
Steve Stockman © 1990 Youth Dept., PCI.

Manchester Disunited

A few weeks ago I went to Old Trafford to watch the Scum (sorry, Manchester Utd) annihilate Middlesborough. The football played by Ronaldo, Tevez, Nani and Shrek etc was (and this is difficult for a Liverpool fan to admit) awesome, but the atmosphere around the so-called "Theatre of Dreams" was curiously flat. The banter for which British football crowds are rightly famous was muted, and there were only 3 chants of real note.
The first related to Solskjaer, a player who has retired (maybe the Man. Utd fans are so slow-witted they haven't noticed that yet!). The second was an affectionate tribute Nemanja Vidic, their Serbian defender suggesting that being from Serbia he's likely to "f*****g murder ya!" The final one was directed at the small knot of Middlesborough fans in the corner of the ground below where I was sitting. In it the Man. Utd fans suggested that their opponents were from "the worst place in Britain."

Now I wouldn't have expected football fans to be avid fans of Channel 4's Location, Location, Location, but that is where this description of Middlesborough originated. In the only league table they are ever likely to top, Middlesborough toppled Northern Ireland's Strabane... Which now (curiously) has a 5 star rating!

However, now is the chance for Middlesborough to get their own back. This week the Tory think tank (which as an unreconstructed leftie I tend to see as a non-sequitur) the Centre for Social Justice (another incongruity methinks) announced that Manchester was the most socially divided city in Britain... This is despite the fact that earlier in the year Greater Manchester was hailed as the U.K.'s fastest growing city economy... But actually, perhaps the two facts are not unconnected...

There is no doubt that capitalism has been the engine of economic growth and the provider of unparalleled comfort for many in the western world over the past half century, but I can think of no fast growing western economy which is not also deeply divided between the haves and the have nots. The trickle down theory of social wellbeing that is trotted out by Thatcherite and other right wing economic idealogues never produces any more than a trickle of economic well-being for those at the bottom of the pile.

I am not saying that socialism is the answer to all the poor's needs... far from it... history has demonstrated that the economies of scale that a socialist approach should produce are far outweighed by the competitive edge generated by market forces... The Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest is a evident in economic evolution as well as biological... with the weak getting trodden underfoot.

But this phenomenon is not new... it is warned against and legislated against in scripture, where Israel were instructed to look after the widow, the orphan and the alien… the weakest people in society. But the law was broken and the warnings were ignored, with disastrous results. God judged Israel and sent them into exile because of their injustice as well as their idolatry.
Our idolatry is just as serious as that of ancient Israel… but our injustices make theirs pale into insignificance… Just as the social inequalities within Manchester, pale into insignificance on a global scale. The economic policies of the western world are literally killing millions of people. And perhaps doing irrevocable damage to the earth itself.

I await the prescription for the ills in Manchester diagnosed by the Centre for Social Justice. Whether they will help or exacerbate the problem remains to be seen.
The Bible's prescription was clear. “What does the Lord require of us?” the Prophet Micah asked. Answer: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
That was true in ancient Israel, in modern Manchester, and wherever we may walk.

In the meantime perhaps the Middlesborough fans can chant at their Manchester opponents "You're from the most socially-divided city in Britain"... Or perhaps not...

Friday, November 2, 2007

With Open Eyes

Having finished one book earlier this week that encourages us to have open hands, I've now just finished another that encourages us to have open eyes.
Jim Lynch's "The Highest Tide" is the story of 13 year old Miles O'Malley, who lives on Skookumchuck Bay in Washington State, and makes a habit of finding extraordinary creatures whilst exploring the bay at low tide. It is essentially a coming of age tale, but the key element is the fact that this child, who is vertically challenged and facing the divorce of his parents,comes to be hailed as a prophetic figure by a religious cult following his naive assertion to a journalist that perhaps the earth is trying to tell them something. "God is within you," the cult leader portentously states.
But the only really unique thing about Miles is his interest in the life of the bay... an interest that causes him to be ready and willing to see what is there... Things that anyone could see if only they could be bothered looking.
Without spoiling the ending, Miles experiences a long hoped-for growth spurt, his voice breaks, and there is a foreshadowing of a possible romantic relationship to come... The unanswered question is whether he loses that ability or willingness to see what is there for everyone to see...
My Mum used to say to me when I was younger, in words that I took to be a proverb, but which I have never traced: "Eyes have thou but will not see..."
I think I'm worse now than I was then...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

From One Tree to Another

A monologue from the perspective of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, based on the story in Luke 19 v 1-10 and a bit of dramatic license on my part. It is largely based on some material I wrote for a show entitled "I Witness" performed in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in 2003 by New Irish Arts.

I almost didn’t meet him… First because as you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the biggest person around, and there were so many others trying to get a glimpse of him… But also because he was on his last journey south… Even though we didn’t know it at the time…
But I had heard so much about him… Stories told about him and by him... Right from the time he actually invited one of my sort, Levi the son of Alphaeus, to be one of his followers… Word of that quickly got out and about. Apparently the holy rollers didn’t like it and complained about him mixing with Levi and his friends… You see, people look down on me not just because I’m short… you get used to that… But people look down on me and my kind morally as well as physically… As traitors and sinners…
But not him… Actually, you could say that when we first me he actually looked up to me…
But anyway… I was intrigued by his stories. He seemed to be talking about riches and poverty a lot… Stories about rich men being thrown on to the rubbish fires in the Gehom valley while beggars rest on Abraham’s bosom… About riches kept safe from thieves and moths in heaven… and rich men trying to get into heaven by riding through the eye of a needle on the back of a camel or something like that… And I have to say those stories started to get at me… because, let’s be frank… I’m worth a shekel or two… But it certainly hadn’t made me happy…
So when word came that he was coming through Jericho, my home town, I was determined to get to see him, and maybe hear him, if not actually meet him.
But I knew that was going to be difficult… Because I wasn’t the only one, and, when you are my height, crowds are a bit of a problem, especially given that no-one is particularly inclined to let you through to the front… So I for the first time since I was a kid I shinned up a tree to get a better view…
I only wanted to see him… I didn’t expect him to see me… Someone must have pointed me out, because he stopped right underneath my perch and said “Zacchaeus, come down, immediately… For I must stay at your house today…” Me? My house? I nearly fell out of the tree in my haste to get down…
I knew what people would be saying… so straight up I promised to change my ways… to give half of all my possessions away and to pay back four times anything I had cheated… So what if it bankrupted me… I didn’t care… I had changed… I was prepared to give up anything to follow him through the eye of that needle he had talked about… Or wherever he went…
Wherever he went… Little was I to know where that would be… At first the journey to Jerusalem seemed like a victory parade… Especially that last Sunday with people waving palm leaves like flags and laying out their clothes in front of him like some kind of red carpet…
But what a difference a week makes… Friday brought another procession… another crowd, this time escorting him back out of the city… No palm leaves and praises this time. Again because of my height I couldn’t see much… Until we got outside the walls and they hoisted him up on the scaffold, between two other criminals. And as I looked up at him, he looked down at me and I thought again of our first meeting. Our places reversed. I had chosen to climb that sycamore tree of my own free will… but what about him and that sick parody of a tree? Had he chosen to be there? And if so, why? Why him up there? Why not me? Or anyone else? Surely anyone deserved that punishment more than he did?

David A. Campton © November 2007

Eye of the Needle

Just listening again to some Divine Comedy stuff this morning while working on Sunday's sermon on Zacchaeus, and came upon this gem. For the uninitiated Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon's father was an Anglican clergyman in Northern Ireland. He certainly knows a thing or two about church given the following lyrics:

They say that you’ll hear him if you’re really listening
And pray for that feeling of grace.
But that’s what I’m doing, why doesn’t he answer?
I’ve prayed ‘til I’m blue in the face.

The cars in the churchyard are shiny and German
Distinctly at odds with the theme of the sermon
And during communion I study the people
Threading themselves through the eye of the needle.

I know that its wrong for the faithful to seek it
But sometimes I long for a sign, anything.
Something to wake up the whole congregation
And finally make up my mind.

The cars in the churchyard are shiny and German
Completely at odds with the theme of the sermon
And during communion I stare at the people
Squeezing themselves through the eye of the needle.

By Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) © EMI Records Ltd. 2001

With Open Hands

Once upon a time I was a minister to a congregation which had suffered much in the little local difficulties referred to more generally as "The Troubles." Their once thriving congregation had dwindled to a mere handful meeting behind locked doors on a Sunday; their youth organisations had long since stopped meeting for fear of what might happen on dark winter nights; their premises had been fire-bombed and vandalised in many ways, and had fallen further into disrepair as income shrank with the numbers attending worship; and the local area had changed from one which was inhabited by both Roman Catholic and Protestant, to one where some of both communities had been driven out of their houses and there now existed a large wall that ran straight through the church premises themselves. The only problem was that the front door to the church building was on the "Catholic" side of the wall, and most of the congregation now lived on the other side.
But despite these adverse conditions, the church continued to function. They held on.
Time passed and by the time that I was appointed minister conditions were changing. Whereas in previous years all they could do was hold on, there was now a chance to open up and reach out. But as I gradually learned, and I believe my successor has also learned, all those years of holding on tight had produced such a rigor that encouraging that congregation to open up was difficult, if not humanly impossible. And as someone who had not been through all that they had, I had and have absolutely no right to criticise them.

However, recently I have been reading Henri Nouwen's classic on prayer called "With Open Hands" and in it I was reminded that the experience of my old congregation can be the experience of us all. He writes:
"To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive."
Let us open our hands to receive...

By the way for another reflection stimulated by Henri Nouwen's book read the brief post by Angela Stewart at