Showing posts from October, 2008


Cracked, clay pot
containing hard cold earth
beneath the surface
sits a seed-
stored life

A poem I found in a notebook whilst digging out receipts for my tax return.
Written in the manse of Wicklow Methodist Church on 17th September 1993.

Inspired by II Corinthians 4: 7


Dough Maker strikes out at other Dough Makers

Sir Michael Darrington is retiring.

Not heard of him? No. Neither had I. But apparently he is/was the MD of Greggs the Bakers, an outfit which, when I was a resident of Edinburgh, owned a few wee corner-shop bakers, but now seems to be taking over the world with its sausage rolls and cheese and bacon lattices.

But anyway, I blog briefly on this because whilst I was making my lunch I briefly turned on Radio 4's You and Yours, a programme which generally causes me to turn off immediately, but this gentleman was speaking very cogently about the excesses of the capitalist system. Whilst describing himself as a capitalist (and watching the onwards and upwards march of Greggs he could be described as a capitalist par excellance) he has been described as denouncing the excesses of the capitalist system in the manner of an archbishop, particularly those aspects of it that have caused the banks to lend money to speculators who have bought up foodstuffs to hoard them, driving the price up. Th…

Star Billing

When I was a child I loved an audience. I loved being the centre of attention, and so I did all I could to make sure that I was the centre of attention. As I mentioned in a previous post, I couldn't even blow my nose quietly! So when my Sunday School teachers or Cub leaders asked for volunteers to take part in a church service, I was always the first (and often the only) child with their hand up. And very soon I was a star.
Actually that was my first ever acting job. As a star in the church Nativity play one year. The next year I had gone up in the world. I was the Archangel Gabriel, complete with my father's shirt on back to front, a pair of tinfoil wings and a tinsel halo.
But my performances weren't reserved for Christmas. At the tender age of 11 I had risen even higher than Gabriel, or so you would think to hear some Methodists speak, playing the part of John Wesley in a "This is Your Life" presentation of his career for Aldersgate Sunday. Most of what I know a…

Welcome to Hell

There is a cartoon in the "Far Side" series by Gary Larson, in which there are two panels (I'm sorry! I know there is little that is more annoying than someone trying to explain the subtleties of a cartoon in words, but if you think I could afford to fight a copyright case with Mr. Larson's publishers, then you obviously don't know what a Methodist minister gets paid). In the first panel a queue of people is obviously entering the pearly gates, and are greeted by St. Peter, who says to them "Welcome to heaven! Here's your harp!" The second panel also includes a queue of people. This time however, the destination is not so pleasant, and the horned individual greeting them says: "Welcome to hell! Here's your accordian!"
I know where Larson is coming from.
My own personal hell would be made up of accordians playing a selection of Irish Country and Western style gospel music. I know I've probably alienated some people out there, but musi…

One minute Bible

The video equivalent of a one volume commentary of the Bible...


Taking Back the City

Love Snow Patrol's new single "Take Back the City."
However, had the misfortune to be out with my 13 year old son in the east of our city last night, and it was a genuinely, distressing, if not frightening experience. Not the fact that I was out with my son, but what was going on around us.
Used to be out and about in the university area late at night over the week end and that was bad enough... but this was a different order altogether, with under-aged drinkers everywhere, pouring in and out of a local hostelry with jumbo sized bottles of wkd.
I detest this aspect of modern British cities. But we cannot give up on the city and flee to the suburbs, for social, economic and spiritual reasons.
Socially, we cannot abandon the young people involved as lost causes... that will reinforce the development of a social-underclass and sow the seeds of social disintegration.
Economically the city, properly designed and managed, is much more sustainable than suburban living.
Spiritually, w…

Lo-Tec Lent

Now I'm the sort of person who fulminates because some people are advertising Christmas events and it isn't even Halloween yet, but let me go one step further and suggest something for Lent. I've tried it out on a few others and it has frightened the life out of them, but it was borne out of listening to late night radio last night and some of my experiences over the summer of technology going bad and leaving me feeling decidedly uneasy about my dependence upon it.
So here it is: A Lo-Tec Lent. 40 days without digital technology. No computers. No mobiles. No digital TV. No internet. No PDA. No Satnav. No pagers. No DECT phones. No ipod/mp3 player No digital radio No flights
If particularly daring one could add to that no cars with electronic management systems, no dishwashers, no electronic keyboards etc.
I propose it for Lent because it will probably take from now to then to sort out how I might manage without these electronic aids to existence. And the question is... would it be appro…

A Little Red PS

A brief ps to my post of a couple of days ago.

When I posted the Noel Coward song I was thinking to myself that the big thing separating us from the 1950s when it was written, or the last big economic downturn in Britain during the 1970s and 80s was the lack of what Coward refers to as the "reds and the pinks" making any significant comment.

What Thatcher had failed to do in killing off the hard left here in the UK was well and truly finished off by Tony "New Tory" Blair...

So, methought, the last verse of Coward's song doesn't quite fit any more... and I had briefly thought about omitting it...

However, my wife was telling me about a conversation with a mutual friend who, in the light of the current economic chaos had decided to look again at Marx's "Das Kapital" but couldn't find his copy (I wonder where mine is?). So he went into Waterstone's to by a new one, but they didn't have any. When he then went to the counter to order one h…

An Ode to Depression

Woke up this morning to learn that the banking sector and stock markets have just gone into yet another collective spiral of doom, gloom and despair. The pound is now at a 5 year low against the dollar (won't be holidaying in the US next year then!) and Nissan cars have just announced that they are about to go on a 3 day week. I thought I had been transported back to 1973!
The news is unremittingly grim. Which prompted my wife, Sally, normally of a sunny disposition, to start singing "There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner" a little ditty by the late great Noel Coward.
It's actually entitled "An Ode to Depression" (an illness that Coward himself apparently suffered from) and is to be found in 2 versions. The original British one, which was performed by Graham Payn, Dora Bryan, Joan Heal and Ian Carmichael at the The Globe Revue in 1952, and a later internationalised one which Coward himself performed at his cabarets in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Sadly I can…

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Embarrassment

I was a snattery child... One of those children who had a constantly runny nose. From September through to May I had cold, and from May to September I had hay fever. As a result, whatever I was wearing I had tissues secreted all over my body... In my pockets, up my sleeve, and on one occasion I even remember my Mum tucking a tissue into my sock. I think she had shares in Kleenex. I was also one of those children who never blew their noses quietly. I still don't. When I blow my nose today, fishermen in nearby ports turn around and scan the horizon for the fog bank they presume must be rolling in. But every week we went to church as a child, my Mum would warn me that I was not, on any account, to blow my nose during the prayers or Bible readings. So for at least four years I never sang the first line of any hymn. All through the prayers and readings my nose ran like a river, and as soon as the organ started up I would let rip. It was like having a tuneless trumpet fanfare at the beg…

Health Care and Good Deaths

Today, being the Sunday closest to the feast Day of St. Luke, is celebrated as Health Care Sunday in certain churches (I'm endebted to my friend and colleague Derek Johnston for the St. Luke's Day factoid). However, my thoughts about health care are currently coloured by a number of factors:

My participation this week in a major consultation among hospital staff in our Health Trust about the future of Palliative Care. The controversial death, by assisted suicide of paraplegic rugby player Daniel James. The death of a "parishioner" last night in the local Marie Curie Hospice. My continuing ministry to a lady who is visibly fading before our eyes and yet who still seeks to minister to others through prayer. The fact that today is the anniversary of my own mother's death 17 years ago.Death is, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, together with taxes, one of life's unnegotiables, yet we live in a death-denying, if not defying, society. We do all that we can to avert it, …

Changing Churches

I became a Methodist because of bus-strike. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. The Presbyterian Church that my family belonged to was about three miles from where we lived. Now today, in these days of two-car families, people would think nothing of travelling three miles to church, in fact there are certain churches I know which draw their congregations from within a 40 mile radius, which, given the size of Northern Ireland is quite a parish. It really should make us re-think what we mean by the local church.
But that’s now… I’m talking about then. The early 1970s in Belfast. Years of riots, bus-strikes, bombs, vigilantes, and no-car families. My Dad often had to work on a Sunday and my mum eventually got fed up dragging me and my brother down to the bus-stop to wait for bus which might or might not turn up, depending on whether the drivers were out on strike, the UDA had their barricades up or the IRA had burned down the bus depot. So she look us along to the nearest church which…

Endure Him Forever

For the first eight years of my life I was a Presbyterian. People (including myself) repeatedly quote that part of the Shorter Presbyterian (Westminister) Catechism where it asks "What is mans's chief end?" The specified answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Well my earliest memories of worship suggest that members of my childhood church had misheard this and were operating under the assumption that man's (and woman's) chief end was to glorify God and endure him forever. Because there was little obvious enjoyment. But actually... why should I single out the Presbyterian church of my childhood... The lack of joy is a sad feature of worship in many churches or all denominations.
But all I can remember of the church of my childhood was that I didn't like it. I never understood a word of what was going on... including in the so called "Children's Addresses" delivered in sombre tones from the high pulpit... T…

Better than Sex

Been a bit irregular with my blogs lately, due to the sheer pressure of work and a few football induced injuries... but in order to fill the virtual space and to lay down for "posterity" some material that I wrote some years ago without the aid of an "IBM-compatible" (do you remember the days when that was the standard!?) computer, I'm going to be raiding my paper archives for some material, including the series entitled "A Life of Worship" which begins with the post below. It was originally "comissioned" (with no money involved) by the Methodist Newsletter, but the eventually stopped asking for it when they got letters complaining about it... It was intended to offer insights regarding worship (from a vaguely humourous perspective) based on real experiences down through the years...

One of the most challenging statements about worship was made by the theologian Karl Barth, who said:
"Christian Worship is the most momentous, the most urg…

Worship with a Woof

Doing a blessing service for animals while I was on exchange to the US this summer was mildly amusing, and did make me think about the place of pets in people's lives... But once a year... if not once in an entire ministry, is quite enough for me!
But how about a church that has started a "Woof and Worship" service for parishioners with "pious pooches."
Only in America... And please God let's keep it there!


Faith Restorer

I managed to hurt my thumb at football on Monday night (and before another comedian says anything, yes I do know that I'm supposed to play with my feet), which resulted in me spending a couple of hours in the local A&E department... without the aid of any reading material! Bad idea. Particularly when I was already feeling hard-done by after a few weeks of working flat out, wrestling with bureaucracy and witnessing members of the church (not my own I hasten to add) behaving appallingly or accusing others of having done so... Too much time to think and wallow in my "poor me" mindset.
At one point during the waiting game, I found myself saying, as I have said before "God... I may never lose my faith in you... but it grows harder to have faith in other people... even those who are supposed to be your children."
He didn't answer... Not immediately.
But over the past two days he has.
When I visited a lady on her death-bed to have her stir only to ask about the w…

George! Don't Do That!

Regular listeners of Terry Wogan will have heard one of his TOGs (and if you don't know what one of those are I'm not going to start explaining), comparing the recent wide-eyed frenzy on the floors of various stock markets and legislatures, to a lot of pre-school children running around fuelled by sugar, E-numbers and fizzy drinks... What they need, said the correspondent was good old Joyce Grenfell to come in and say "Stop it you boys!" and of course, "George! Don't do that!" But frankly, George doesn't really know what to do for the best, and, I'm not convinced that many other politicians do either... But for your delectation and delight, here is a YouTube posting of the "Nursery School Free Activity Period" monologue, with an unnecessary naff animation. Just hit the play button, sit back, close your eyes and let the dulcet tones of Ms. Grenfell soothe the worries of impending economic meltdown away.