Showing posts from June, 2008

Open Doors

On arriving at Faith UMC in Grand Rapids I was delighted to see that the tag-line for the Congregation, proclaimed on 2 beautiful banners outside the front doors, is: Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. Certainly a sentiment I want to endorse.
But it reminded me of a recent experience when I was asked to do a presentation for an congregation in north Belfast about Church, Community and Change, a Bible-based community engagement programme developed by Tearfund UK and administered by CCWA (NI). It must be said that the congregation I had been invited to, are already doing a good job of reaching out to their local community in a very difficult area. They have already established an independent Community Charity, but I was struck by its name: Open Doors Limited. In the United Kingdom any organisation which has that wee word “Limited” in its title is an incorporated body with specific rules governing its activities and the liabilities of its board of directors, protecting them from the impli…

Cead Mille Failte

Cead mille failte... A sign that you see all over Ireland, although perhaps not in Ballybeen where I work, since Gaelic is not the lingua franca there. But it wishes guests a hundred thousand welcomes... And frankly I feel as if I and my family have received a hundred thousand welcomes since our arrival here in Grand Rapids. I only hope and pray that my exchange partners Geoff and Pam Hayes feel as welcome back in Belfast. Both Geoff and myself decided to preach on the theme of welcome this morning since the lectionary reading from the Gospel for today was from Matthew 10 when Jesus sent his disciples out telling them
"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10: 40 Revised Standard Version) But its all very well when the person you are to receive comes with a lot of notice and wearing a clerical collar, but how welcoming are we when Christ comes incognito and unannounced. A few years ago I spent a 3 month sabbatical going round …

Journalling a Journey

I am a hypocrite of the highest order...
I'll come back to that later, but first to say that I haven't posted anything for a week because I have been working flat out to get ready for my US exchange in Grand Rapids... clearing my desk... preparing material to take with me... cleaning house (well Sally largely did that, doing without sleep in the process)... preparing material for our exchange partners etc. Add to that the fact that I had another funeral (people die at the most inconvenient of times), had to dash back and forward to doctors and hospital with Owain (who not only has a broken arm but also tonsillitis) and I just ran out of time to even look at the internet, never mind post anything.
But now I am safely ensconced here in Grand Rapids, and I thought I would start as I mean to go on by posting some reflections... And in this case it doesn't reflect too well on me. You see, I'm forever telling people things like "The journey is as important as the destinati…

Shema and Response

A call to worship and act of corporate confession based around the Shema (Hebrew for "Hear..."), which is the call to worship in Jewish Synagogues (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5), and Jesus' incorporation of this in what he described as the 2 greatest commands in the Law.

Hear, O Israel
the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Which is the greatest commandment in God’s Law?
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your strength
and with all your mind'

The second is?
Love your neighbour as yourself.
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
There is no commandment greater than these.
From Matt 22:36-40, Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:27-28

O Lord our God, the one and only
We confess before you our lack of love.
We have not loved you as we should.
We have not loved others as we love ourselves.
We have been self-centred and self-satisfied.
Yet out of your eternal love for us you sent your son
To show us how to love and to reunite us with you…

Can't Stand Losing You (Not)

This week Stormont has hosted 2 acts playing what is likely to be their last gig in Ireland this week… And I was proud to be there for one of them. The second one… the Police Concert on Friday night… spending an outrageous amount of money to stand in the open air trying hopelessly to recapture my youth, when I could have saved my cash and listened to the whole thing from a hundred yards away where my house is! Ah well, the foolishness of middle age!
But I was not there for the first one, on Monday, when George W. Bush and his gas-guzzling, gun-toting entourage brought the whole of East Belfast to a grinding halt as he popped in to meet the Folks on the Hill… I couldn't be bothered walking the 5 minutes it would have taken me to get to the gates of Stormont, be it to cheer nor jeer. And, by the looks of the TV coverage, very few people, were there at all. There was a widespread feeling of “What’s he doing here?” And none of the euphoria which surrounded Bill Clinton’s visits, nor th…

Round Robin Religion

It's confession time again. Yes... I publicly admit it. Every year at Christmas my wife and I add to the unnecessary slaughter of trees by sending round a circular letter to all the people we haven’t managed to catch up with the previous year… We’re not the only ones who do it. I’m sure you send or receive them yourselves. Well last Christmas, someone (perhaps as a form of revenge) bought us Simon Hoggart’s book entitled “The Hamster that Loved Puccini” (Don't ask...), a second volume of extracts from Christmas Round Robin Letters… Extracts that do not show such letters in a very good light… And which reveal how much many of their recipients dread them landing on their doorsteps in the run-up to Christmas.
It has made me seriously rethink sending ours again this year… especially when I read the chapter devoted to specifically Christian round-robin letters. Full of pious platitudes and glib answers to difficult questions, the examples quoted from do not reflect the proud traditi…

But Meanwhile... Back at the Talkshop

Back to Conference then, and further reflections on Martyn Atkin's challenging address on "Sharing Faith Today".
Moving on from the assertion that, in the words of Donald English, lives and lips need to be in agreement, he quoted the words of Minucius Felix, a church leader from the mid second century, who reputedly said:
'Beauty of life... causes strangers to join the ranks... we do not talk about great things; we live them.' Minucius Felix c160ad
Not terribly familiar with the writings of Mr. Felix, but it does chime well with the Elvis Presley song, sexed up for Nike's 2002 World Cup Ad, A Little Less Conversation... a little more action please...
Now, on the whole, this is a sentiment I heartily agree with. I want to see a lot more action. But I don't want us to stop talking... I believe we can actually talk and act at the same time. The problem is that we don't EVEN talk about great things, never mind live them.
We talk a lot, be it in Conference, Ch…

May the Force be With You. And Also with You...

It isn't often that I directly cite another blog in mine... But this one amused me... It is on Ruth Gledhill's blog, Articles of Faith, on Timesonline. Generally her blog is almost totally interested in the "affairs" (and I use that word advisedly) of the Anglican Communion in all its forms, and so I don't visit it much. But I picked up on this one because it includes a short essay by one of my favourite writers, Garrison Keillor. It is his reflections on the American Episcopalian Church. Anyone like to cite a similar list of characteristics for their own denominational tradition? Cheers

Happy Birthday NHS

Haven't posted anything this weekend as I have been otherwise occupied. I was already operating at top speed trying to get everything ready for Sunday, and trying to clear up stuff in advance of us all heading to the US in less than a fortnight, but then I got a phonecall on Saturday night at 9.30pm telling me that our eldest son Owain was in the casualty department of our local hospital with a suspected broken wrist.
So instead of having a nice Fathers' Day lunch at a local hotel, Sally, I and Ciaran spent it in the hospital cafeteria, while Owain fasted, waiting for his surgery, which took place at 8pm last night. Thankfully everything went smoothly, and he was discharged today... Now we await the verdict of the fracture clinic this Friday, regarding the proposed trip to the US.
But it is always the same... In 3 out of the past 5 years we have ended up in the fracture clinic with Owain, before heading off on holiday. So it really shouldn't have come as a surprise... Indeed…

Spitting in the Loving Cup

I generally go to the Methodist Conference every year with the same joy that I go to the dentist... It is an important discipline, but can either seem to be time wasted, or extremely painful.

I certainly don't go expecting to have the President of Conference, recommend a song which includes a naughty word in it!!! But this year The Rev. Martyn Atkins, President of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, and hence President of the Irish Conference (more on that arcane arrangement another time) was speaking under "Pastoral Efficiency" (don't ask) at the Ministerial Session of Conference last Friday, and he referred to a line in a song by his favourite singer Joni Mitchell (I wonder how many Irish Methodist Presidents have had Joni on their ipods? I wonder how many Irish Methodist Presidents have ipods?).

It was a throwaway line referring to some of those who claim to proclaim the good news of Christ "spitting in the loving cup." Colourful image.

Yet that is what…

Number 1 Dad... Not!

Fathers, do not exasperate your children...
Ephesians 6:4
Well… that is yet another Biblical command I have broken…
This week I noticed that the number of unique hits on my blog had suddenly increased. That was unusual since I had been at conference last week and hadn’t been posting anything regularly… I will post a few reflections on the conference over the next few days, but I’ve been too busy until now… So I was a bit surprised to see so many new visitors in such a short period of time.
Then last night my poor, long suffering, eldest son, Owain, informed me that someone in his class had stumbled on my blog when googling the names of other members of his class, and, having found various references to Owain, had promptly circulated them around the whole class… So, at least temporarily my average hit rate is up, but the average age of my readers is way, way down…
But it made me rethink the reason I blog…
There is no doubt that part of it was originally a cut-price, electronic form of vanity…

Psalm of Penitence

Out of your unfailing love, O God, have mercy upon me;
Out of your grace, wipe out my wrongdoing.
Wash away my guilt
Cleanse me from my sin.
For I know what I have done wrong,
My sins are always staring me straight in the face.
You, above all, are the one I have sinned against.
You have seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you
So your judgement of me will be fair.
I have been sinful since my birth
A sinner born of sinners.
You want us to be true from inside to out.
Enter then, and renew me with your wisdom within.
Cleanse me with spiritual soap, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, so that I might be whiter than snow.
Let my ears hear songs of rejoicing and happiness;
Let my heavy limbs dance for joy.
Turn your face from my sins
Erase my errors. Create in me a new holy heart, O God,
Breath a new steadfast spirit into me.Do not turn me away from your presence
Or remove your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore within me the joy of your salvation
Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…

Seussian Theology

I am a huge fan of Dr. Seuss... The sad thing is that my boys are now at the age where they are putting such chidlish things behind them... So I'll have to wait another 20 years or so until I unearth them again... I have used a couple of them in various ways within talks and church events in the past, and have previously blogged a version for 2 voices, but I have never attempted to discern an overarching "Seussian Theology". However, Robert Short, tired of mining the Peanuts cartoons for theological nuggets, has, and has just published "The Parables of Dr. Seuss" which seems to read FAR too much into them (just as he did in his former books). When will people learn that good parables (e.g. those told by a certain carpernter from Nazareth) are generally metaphorical, NOT direct analogies, and are to be inhabited and appropriated by the reader!? Sorry, just got side-tracked into a litero-philosophical rant... The reason I was posting was to direct fellow Seuss fan…

Petrol Parables

At the end of this month I am heading off to the US on 5 week exchange programme with Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Hayes from Grand Rapids in Michigan, and one of the things I have been at pains to explain to him is the colossal price of fuel here… Americans are worried about it being just under $4 a gallon there, whereas it is thought that is may top the equivalent of $13 per gallon here by the end of the summer. So I hope his heart doesn’t give out when he finds that it might cost him as much as $140-150 to fill up my car…
Now for the sake of the planet we could probably do with burning less oil… But the world as we currently know and enjoy it is entirely dependent upon petro-chemicals… And its increasing price is creating huge waves right across society. Airlines are going out of business or putting enormous fuel supplements on pre-booked flights… Lorry drivers are protesting because the rising costs may cripple their industry too… causing knock-on effects at the supermarkets, who have essenti…