Showing posts from August, 2008


This has been a week for me embarrassing myself over words. For about a month now my wife has been regularly hammering me at a wordgame called WordTwist over on Facebook, then this week I was challenged by 3 other people to a game... The result was that I finished in a humiliating 4th place... Nothing wrong with coming fourth given the competition... the humiliating thing was my score which would have embarrassed a dyslexic goldfish...
But anyone who has persevered in reading this blog will know that my spelling can, at times be erratic, especially when I have been blogging late at night... Perhaps any American friends haven't noticed, since your spellings of most words are wrong anyway!!!
Last night, however, I committed the biggest blooper yet... I've had a very full week and didn't get round to editting my sermon until 8.30 pm. I finished that by about 11 pm, then set about putting together the powerpoint slides to accompany it.
By 12.45 am I was done in more ways than on…

What is a smile worth?

Just back at work one week and I am already checking my diary for when I can next carve out a few days off. I suppose because I was away for so long I was so self-consious about being percieved to be having a 7 week "holiday" that in actual fact I only really took 10 days actual holiday. But also the time since my return has been a fairly hectic whirl with some difficult situations pastorally and administratively arising. Indeed I joked with one group of corresdondents that I was seriously thinking of applying for the up-coming vacancy in Faith UMC, Grand Rapids. But I am only joking... Honest!
Last night I was involved in a particularly painful meeting, with a lot of deep hurt being expressed, and I, in this case, was the representative of the institution which was percieved to have contibuted greatly to this hurt. I tried to address some of the issues that stand in the way of healing, but I probably also opened up other wounds... old ones and perhaps new ones... I also trie…

Towards 2012

Well today the Beijing Olympics came to an end… And while the closing ceremony was not quite so over the top as the opening ceremony, it was still astounding, especially in terms of the lack of expense spared and the sheer numbers involved moving with split-second sychronicity. The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius." "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." And that has been fulfilled in these games… This has been an Olympics of superlatives. The performances of Usain Bolt on land and Michael Phelps in water… And the British athletes exceeding all expectations with their best performance in a century, the best performance by any cycling or sailing teams ever, and a medal haul which, in proportion to the size of population is 12 times as successful as China’s and over twice as successful as the Americans.
The only problem is… How can Britain top that when the show comes to London? We cannot hope to match the scale of the opening ceremony. We will be very fortunate to mat…

Crass Christianity

My sister in law Linda usually comes up with some bizarre and crass religiously themed Christmas gift for me each year... "Jesus Action Figure"... "Baptism Shampoo"... "Fire-breathing clockwork Nun" to name but three, but whilst we were in Niagara Sally pointed out to me a Christmas item to top them all... A nativity set with all the characters replaced by bears... In Sudan last year a British schoolteacher was almost executed for allowing her pupils to call a teddy bear Mohammed... Yet here is the incarnation of the Son of God portrayed by ceramic bears! Then I went online to find a picture for this rant only to discover that this is not an anomally. There are hundreds of variations on an ursine nativity theme.
But then, as I was checking Libby Purves' Faith Central page this morning I discovered this exercise in even worse taste...
Pin anyone!?


US Plus and Minus

So, hopefully... if all flights have gone according to plan and my family have not killed me because of the fact that I turn into a horrible monster through my travel schedule induced anxiety... I am back in NI after 7 weeks in MI.
So what will I miss about the US... Apart from the wonderful people we met that is (although if all of them take us up on our offer to visit 9 Rosepark will be very full! But don't let that stop anyone...)?
Well, first let me say a few things I will not miss... In no particular order... US DSL internet... It is dreadful... So slow. US cars... Big, bulky, all noise and no poke, with steering so vague as to be notional MI roads... People say it is down to the weather... freezing in the winter and roasting in the summer... but putting some tax dollars into maintaining infrastructure might be a good idea (even if it won't get you re-elected) US TV. We already get the best of American programmes in the UK, and after 7 weeks of American TV I will never complai…

Niagara Falls Short

A quick re-edit of a post I put up last week, whilst on my hols... I have just noticed that in the midst of my near fatal illness, I actually posted an earlier draft of the piece. Here is what it should have said...
Just a quickie, as I'm dying (or as Sally might suggest, I have a mild summer cold). Despite my imminent demise I (with the help of Maggie the satnav) managed to get the family to our hotel near Niagara after an 8 hour trip (including breaks). This morning we then headed in to see the Falls themselves. And was amazed, nay horrified, at the astonishingly huge gulf between the beautiful, awe-inspiring power and majesty of Niagara Falls (both American and Canadian/Horseshoe varieties, though particularly the latter) and the tacky, commercial, dollar-gobbling gungy-ness (if that is a word) of the town that overlooks it and shares its name. After a jaw-dropping trip on the Maid of the Mist we got out of town as fast as we could to the much more genteel Niagara on the Lake. But …

Looking Forwards or Backwards

Yesterday I was writing about the prominence of overtly Christian material on the supposedly secular airwaves in West Michigan... I don't know whether that is typical or not for the rest of the US but it is certainly atypical for the UK... even in the church-going area of Northern Ireland. One of the pieces that has been played repeatedly while I've been here is MercyMe's "I Can only Imagine," which is musically OK (typical Christian-AOR), but theologically worrying because of the emphasis that it, and many similar songs have on the hereafter without seeing the implications for the here and now. But here it is anyway...

The thing is, it is so anodyne, I had heard it forty times before I realised it was Christian... And that time I only listened to it because it was played at the second funeral I officiated at here. And it is (and was) very appropriate in that context. However, its words, and other events at that funeral, made me rethink what we are doing when we loo…

Swimming against the Mainstream

I was writing yesterday about saying goodbye to West Michigan Star 105.7, and more particularly Tommy and Brook in the morning. I'm reliably informed that they came from a Gospel Music Station 91.3 WCSG where they piloted their TOY programme under the less catchy title of "Drive Thru Difference." Star 105.7 is a secular station, but one of the things that I can't get over is the general prominence of explicitly Christian music on this and other commercial channels and the pop charts in general. It all seems to be part of a strange pseudo-christian cultural musical mainstream, which perhaps reflects the relationship of religion and society in general here. You have Marvin Sapp, who is both a chart topping singing sensation and pastor of the Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, then you have groups like MercyMe and their oft repeated "I can only Imagine", which I first came across at a funeral... More on that tomorrow... And then there was the r…

Take your Faith to the Ball Game

Just a brief note as an addenda to my earlier blog on the peculiar conjunction of faith and baseball in this weird and wonderful country. On the Tommy and Brook show last Monday they announced that anyone bringing the bulletin from their church service to the ballgame at the West Michigan Whitecaps ground, would get reduced price entry...
I can just see that happening at Windsor Park or the Oval!
I love this country!!


TOY Story

This morning we said goodbye to West Michigan... Hopefully not forever, but certainly for the forseeable future... Most of our formal goodbyes were said 2 weeks ago when we said farewell to the congregation at Faith UMC. Two of them, Ron and Shirley Marckini kindly drove us to the airport in Detroit...
But we also said goodbye to Tommy and Brook who were constant companions each weekday morning for 7 weeks (bar the 3 days in Niagara)... Because they are the breakfast show presenters on West Michigan Star 105.7.
Their programme is a fairly typical regional commercial breakfast show, with a playlist of current hits and "classics" from the 70s and 80s. But one of the features that sets this programme and the station as a whole is their TOY Program. TOY standing for Thinking Outside Yourself.
The idea is for listeners to do something completely altruistic, and anonymous... e.g. paying the toll for the person behind you at a freeway tollbooth, or buying a soft drink for someone behi…

Sunday in the Shed

With my first Sunday "off" since arriving in Grand Rapids, it was our first chance as a family to worship in the Shed, which, for those in the know, is the Sunday meeting place of Mars Hill Bible Church... the Rob Bell one... You know... NOOMA... Velvet Elvis... Sex God etc., not the Mark Driscoll one in Seattle... Don't, whatever you do, ever get them mixed up... Rob hasn't been there all summer so I didn't get the chance to meet up... I had planned to mosey across a few weeks ago when Walter Brueggeman was speaking, but something else came up and I couldn't... So that is why I was particularly keen to take this final chance to experience Sunday in the Shed. And a Shed it is. A big warehouse space with 2000-odd seats arranged around a central raised platform. There is nothing... Absolutely NOTHING, that marks this out as particularly sacred space... And the build up to worship doesn't help that... There was a distinct lack of welcome (indeed the only guy o…

Terrible Beauty

In the early 1800's much of Michigan was forested. Whilst there are still huge swathes of trees up and down the upper and lower penninsulas, much of the primaeval forest has gone. It fuelled the industrialisation of Michigan, was transformed into furniture for an expanding nation in the factories of Grand Rapids, and was used to build Chicago (and rebuild it after the great fire).
It also allowed the expansion of an already established natural phenonenon, producing a landscape feature of amzing beauty, but which also points towards both the power of nature and the limits of human ingenuity.
I am referring to the sand dunes on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. These have been developing as the great glaciers receded after the last ice-age and the Great Lakes emerged, but they have significantly encroached on the land in the wake of the 19th century deforestation. The State Govenment is now trying to protect the dunes from owners of Off Road Vehicles, with only the Dunes at Silver L…

Soft Medals

And another thing...
While on the subject of the American coverage of the Olympics, if I hear one more moan here about this being the last time that Softball or Baseball will feature I will scream. This probably hasn't been a major feature of British coverage, but it was mentioned every 5 minutes here last night (OK maybe slight exageration there...)
For the attention of all Americans: NO-ONE except yourselves, Canada, Japan and Cuba play these sports to any great extent... Well, we do, but only in primary school and we call it "rounders." That is why your laughably titled "World Series" never feature any teams that are not North American.
If the Olympics is to reflect sports played across the world, then these two essentially American pastimes are less deserving of a place than cricket is... And God forbid that it should ever be reinstated... Tho' perhaps they will try to introduce 20-20 cricket (or cricket for those who have more important things to do with …

Olympian Opening

After another day of serious fun (which I will post about anon) we all collapsed in front of the Olympic opening ceremony last night, getting an American-eyed view of the whole thing. We couldn't find any channel showing it live yesterday morning... and last night everything proceeded on the fiction that the whole event was live on American primetime...
And that just about summed up the whole experience... that everything revolved around America... Particularly when it came to the parade of nations, which as ever, was even more interminable than Eurovision voting. And because we were pretending that the whole thing was live, NBC didn't even take the opportunity to edit it. And when we had to go away from the developing excitement for the inevitable ad break (Don't get me started on US TV advertising) they had a recap of who we had missed... As if we cared...
Apart from a few trivia tit-bits (which were generally of the "aren't these foreigners strange!?" type)…

The Adventure Continues

Keeping my word in not posting regularly... I missed a whole day! During that day I was participating in an annual Campton tradition: going somewhere and giving people a lot of money to shake me about and flip me head over heels in the name of entertainment. Two years ago it was Disneyland Paris. Last year it was Port Aventura, on the Costa Dorada in Spain... This year it was Michigan's Adventure... And a jolly nice adventure was had by all.
Every theme park has its own characteristics: Disney in Florida is cloyingly saccharine, whilst Disneyland Paris is delivered with a certain Gallic shrug and "Boff!" Port Aventura is as well themed as any American park... And a good deal more so than Michigan's Adventure, which has a tenuous tie in with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and all the Peanuts gang, although you would never notice that inside (apart from in the gift shop). But that didn't stop it from being a thoroughly good day out.
The water rides got me as wet as I have ever…

International Lampoon's Vacation

OK... I lied... But the last 24 hours has been so weird that I couldn't resist putting them down on virtual paper. After clearing up 5 weeks of our debris from the parsonage, we packed our bags and headed north, in the midst of a thunderstorm, to Geoff and Pam Hayes house on Towline Lake. Now they had left detailed instructions on how to get there, but totally reliant as we now are on Maggie, our GPS, we followed her instructions... However, this house is so far of the beaten track that Maggie was directing us up non-existant roads, and telling us that we were careering across fields when we were travelling along what passed for roads in the area. The further that we got from the main road, the more I expected to hear duelling banjoes. Seriously... this was "Deliverance" country! We got to the house eventually (though poor Maggie nearly had a nervous breakdown in the process), but then we had to venture out again in search of food... That took us to nearby Lakeview, which…

The Holiday Begins...

Just a quick place holder to say that I may not be posting so regularly over the next few weeks as I am now on holiday and Sally will break my fingers if she sees me at the computer too much.
But just to say that we have had a fabulous time with Faith UMC. I only hope that Geoff and Pam Hayes have enjoyed themselves half as much with our folks back home in Dundonald. I will post a few more reflections in due course but for now we're now off to find what other sights Michigan and environs has to offer. First stop Michigan's Adventure... Once the thunderstorms stop... Typical... First day of my holiday proper and the unceasing sunshine of the past three weeks turns into a downpour.



Today we have travelled 170 miles (a mere jaunt in the eyes of the locals) to the Isabella Reservation outside of Mount Pleasant, MI, to see the Annual Pow-Wow of the Saginaw Chippewa Nation. My knowledge of Native American culture was largely based on John Wayne movies, and have previously only come close to real native Americans when the Canadian Native American Orangmen used to turn up for the Twelfth Parade in Belfast occasionally. I always found it odd that we essentially exported both Orangism and genocide to the Native Americans when our Scots Irish forebearers became the standard bearers of westward expansion! But there they would be in full regalia... Buckskin suit, feather head-dress and collarette.
Today however, couldn't have been further from the Twelfth if you had tried... with the exception of the unending beating of drums, with dance after dance in the searing heat and elaborate costume, putting to shame even the most exhibitionist drum major in a flute band at home…

Guided Tours

It is getting close to the end of our official time with Faith UMC here in Grand Rapids Michigan, and because of that, hardly a day has gone by this week without some kind member of the congregation taking us out to yet another part of the city that we haven't yet seen... Yesterday Kathy and Herb Ranta took us to the wonderful Mayer May House on Heritage Hill, a 100 year old home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and refurbished by the local furniture company, Steelcase, 20 years ago. It was beautiful... some of it very reminiscent of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work. The whole tour was free, and we were taken round by a guide who clearly loved her subject. But we are very grateful to Herb and Kathy as we would never have seen it if left to our own devices...
That was also the case with a tour today through Michigan Natural Storage, a cold strage facility in SW Grand Rapids, based in an old gypsum mine. They don't normally give tours any more because of insurance issues, but …