Showing posts from December, 2008

An Older Song (Take 2)

The theme that I am working on for my end of year sermon brought this dialogue back to mind... I posted it earlier in the year, but I thought it was appropriate for old year's night and the dawning of a new year. May the Light of Christ's Love burn brightly in your life in the coming year despite the gathering darkness of economic depression... The darkness will never overcome it.

WOMAN: A night for singing songs…
MAN: Old songs and new songs
All based on an older song…
WOMAN: THE song…
MAN: The song of all songs
WOMAN: The song of a lady for her lover
MAN: The Lord for his beloved…
WOMAN: A song which began before creation…
MAN: A song of love which called light into being
A song of love which breathed life into clay
WOMAN: A song of love which gave us liberty…
Yet pursued us when we went astray.
MAN: I have loved you with an everlasting love…
I have been eternally faithful to you.
WOMAN: If only I could say the same.
Yet I have not loved you as I should;
I have not lived the life I could.
I h…

An UnQuiet Disbelief in Angels

Not everyone sees things the same way. That's one of the ideas that underpins this book "A Quiet Belief in Angels" and I clearly see it in different way from most of those who have been writing about it.

People have been saying what a fabulous book this is... "beautiful... haunting..." claims Michael Connolly on the back cover... "Wow!" says one highly literate reviewer on Amazon, while another tells about sitting up half the night to finish this in a single sitting.

It took me ages to finish this... in fact, the thought of not finishing it haunted me (I'm one of these sad people who refuses to give up on a book once started... not something I am proud of... its an affliction rather than a positive attribute). I ended up reading late into the night to finish it, but only because I couldn't bear the spectre of it looming over me throughout Christmas... Because, despite the mention of angels in the title, this is no uplifting seasonal read, nor …

Down Bethlehem Road

A new song for Christmas. To the tune of "Raglan Road." A work in progress, but its my humble offering to Christ for his birthday this year.
Down Bethl’em road from Nazareth, Came Joseph and his wife Within her womb God’s promise bloomed His Word, the Light of Life. He came to take on flesh and blood
To show us all the way
And through the night a star so bright
Hailed the dawning of His day.
And on the hills round Bethlehem, Some shepherds heard the song, The angels sing of a new born King Awaited for so long. They find him midst the filth and grime In a bed of straw and hay, Ignored by the earth that he brought to birth
The Lord Almighty lay.
And from the east to Bethlehem Come men who saw the sign. These eastern seers travelled two long years To present their gifts so fine. Gold they did bring, fit for a king And a scent of untold worth.
But the gift of myrrh that they offer third Spoke of death and not of birth.
From Bethlehem his parents fly To save their son from harm But others die and mothers…

The Star

Before I became a minister I was an actor in the theatre... and I performed all sorts of plays, but I never became a star... It was maybe out of some sort of frustration that I wrote this monologue for a Christmas family service a few years ago... You have to imagine a grown man dressed as a star...

Good morning everybody, I hope I’m not dazzling you too much... Here I am the one you’ve all been waiting for... The star of the show... Well the Star anyway... And I’m here today to do a few impressions... What’s that? (Points finger like gun) Bang! A shooting star... (Spins round) A star turn... (Jumps up) A star jump... (Falls fown) A falling star... (Makes fish face) A star fish... No no don’t applaud... There’s no need... I’m always making quite an impression!!
Although the biggest impression I ever made was over 2000 years ago... It was the reason I was created... Most other stars are just there as pin pricks of light to make the night sky more interesting and give Patrick Moore someth…

I'm No Dreamer

I’m no dreamer… not like my namesake, the son of Jacob, and friend of Pharaoh. I work with nails and wood, things you can touch and shape and hit with a hammer.
And I did a lot of that when Mary first told me.
I couldn’t believe it… How could she do that? Who was the father?
All she would say was it was nothing to do with her, The baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, ordained by God himself.
Well I’ve heard some excuses in my time…
“Who do you think I am – a fool born yesterday!?”
But she seemed so genuine… so innocent… And, I thought… so na├»ve…
“Who has taken advantage of you? Who?” I asked… But she named no-one…

So I planned to drop the engagement quietly, leave it to her parents to ship her off to some relatives to have the baby… But I knew the news would get out… the shame would stick… To me as to her… And I took my frustrations out on the wood in my workshop…

But then, I had that dream… I hadn’t been sleeping at all… It was my first decent night’s sleep and I was annoyed to be roused… O…

The Waiting is Over

A short liturgy for lighting the Christ Candle on Christmas Day.
Voice 1: At last! The day has come!
Voice 2: The first candle encouraged us to wait, and it was a long wait. [THE FIRST CANDLE IS LIT]
Voice 1:
The second candle encouraged us to remember God’s promises.
Voice 2:
The third candle encouraged us to prepare the way.
Voice 1:
And the fourth candle encouraged us to make ourselves ready.
Voice 2:
But now the day is here!
Voice 1: Christ is come.
Voice 2: The centre of it all.
Voice 1: Now we light the central candle to remind us that Jesus, the light of the world, is with us.
Voice 2:
Isaiah promised:
Voice 1: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Voice 2: on those who living in a land of deep darkness light has shined."
Voice 1: And John began his Gospel saying:
Voice 2: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was…

Hallelujah anyway!?

Well, as prophesied last week there will be a Hallelujah chorus this Christmas... Unfortunately the Simon Cowell/Alex Burke version of Leonard Cohen's song rather than the Jeff Buckley version... Although Jeff apparently ran her a very close second... making this the first time in history that the same song has held first and second slot in the British single's chart. But anyway, thought I'd take the opportunity to post this little ditty by my mate Mitch Benn, from the Now Show on Radio 4 last Friday/Saturday.

Sadly not enough people rallied round, but then WhyNotSmile posted this wonderful little version, by our latest favourites the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Company on her Facebook site. It's my No 1!


Campton Elves Do the Christmas Charleston

Thanks to a "friend" in Florida, who shall remain nameless but she knows who she is, I wasted at least an hour on Elf Yourself last night creating this masterpiece!!! Turn the volume up and enjoy! (?) I really do need a holiday!

Is Jesus French?

In response to my declared prediliction for "Away in a Manger" a certain person over at the Ministry of Traybakes (who seems to be far too busy with other seasonal hostess-type duties to produce any more "traybakes" at present) sent this wee gem to me...

After watching it I trawled around in youtube for a short time looking up other items in their "advent calender" which are admittedly not as funny as this one, but which have been greeted with completely toxic vituperation in the comments... This is one thing I really don't like about the online community, there is far too much scope, afforded by the anonymity of the medium, for ill-mannered abuse. This may be the season of goodwill to all men, but clearly not on You Tube.


Blessed Brew

Just came in from my weekly (or at least as close to that as I can possibly manage) visit to the local pub quiz with some friends, to find another blog on my feed refering to an article in the Perth Press and Journal. It tells of a Church of Scotland minister who has convinced Inveralmond Brewery to produce a special ale to commemorate the decision of his church, St. Matthew's in Perth to hold a carol service in a local pub. I suppose it is going back to the monastic origins of much of the brewing in North Western Europe, a tradition carried on in the breweries of Belgium, but I'm not to sure that it will catch on here in Northern Ireland! And despite the fact that a certain Methodist Minister appreciates real ale, I particularly don't think it will be Irish Methodism which enters into the first similar agreement with a local brewing company.


Waiting, Remembering, Preparing and READINESS

The fourth of this year's Advent Liturgy in Dundonald Methodist.
Voice 1: This is the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Voice 2: We're glad that Christmas is almost here.
Voice 1: But the first candle reminds us to wait.
Voice 2:
The second candle reminds us of the promises of God.
Voice 1:
And the third candle encourages us to prepare ourselves.
Voice 2:
To prepare ourselves and others
Voice 1: To get everything ready.
Voice 2: Ready for the big day
Voice 1: for Christmas
Voice 2: For the baby
Voice 1: For the King.
Voice 2: So the fourth candle reminds us to get ready.
Voice 1:
An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and said:
Voice 2: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.
Voice 1: He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sig…

Inkheart Incarnation

Over on God is not Elsewhere, Gareth is giving us his rundown of disappointing films of the year... To which I would, humbly, like to add Inkheart, which I saw last night with my family.
Usually Monday nights are given over to kicking a spherical object and assorted friends and acquaintences, but I blew my calf muscle last week and so was h'ors de combat last night, and so decided to use it for some precious family time. All of us had been taken by the hype for the Inkheart film, and it seemed to have something for everyone (a family which includes both a teenager and an 8 year old is not always easy to cater for)... so off we trotted to the cinema.
Now, for those who have never read the books by Cornelia Funke, or witnessed the 300 interviews that the stars and director are currently doing, let me give you a bit of the background... Don't worry, I'm not going to give away the ending...
It all centres around a man called Mo (Brendan Fraser) who is a "silver-tongue" …

Hallelujah - No Christmas Number 1 for Cliff

The poor girl had won the X factor, but by the time Alex Burke had stopped crying (which was an incredibly long time according to some) the knives were already sharpened... Not only here in Northern Ireland, where Eoghan Quigg's failure was put down to some kind of huge anti-irish conspiracy... but also among those who loathed the idea of a Cowell-produced version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" being number one at Christmas. Now, to a large extent I am one of those people... her version was overblown, but it could have been worse... It could have been Eoghan singing it! Or worse still, Cohen himself!
But this has produced a huge surge of support for the threatened Christmas single by Peter Kay as the Northern Irish Transexual "Geraldine" which is unashamedly aimed at causing Simon Cowell maximum annoyance. After all this is the season of "Goodwill to all men - except Simon Cowell."
It has also sent a huge number of people scurrying to itunes and…

Super Gordon Saves the World

So Super Gordon has "saved the world". Has ever a slip of the tongue been so swiftly and cruelly pounced on? Instead of saying that his government had "saved the banks and led the world" on tackling the downturn, Gordon Brown managed to leave out a few words leading to howls of derision from the House of Commons and the accusation from David Cameron that he was "so busy talking about saving the world, he's forgotten about the businesses in the country that he's supposed to be governing."
A great soundbite… But a colleague of mine, who is generally relatively apolitical in his posts, rightly pointed out in a letter to Mr Cameron that “saving the world” is not such a bad aspiration, and that whilst we should look out for the disadvantaged in the UK, we must also remember those who are infinitely poorer throughout the developing world.
But whilst I will never cease to advocate and work for social justice at home and abroad, believing that it is integra…

God's Politics

Partly prompted by a disembowelling of this earlier in the year in another blog, I have been re-reading this book by Jim Wallis throughout the latter stages of the Presidential Election and over the period when the world economy has tanked.
It was written against the background of W's election for a second term, but it will be interesting to see whether the new White House incumbent follows policies that are any closer to this manifesto than the current occupant of the same residence.
My only problems with the book are that
1) It buys in unquestioningly to the idea that democracy is uniquely approved by God and that the United States of America is the finest flowering of that particular political ideology. He seems to have watered this down a little in the British version, but it still comes through loud and clear.
2) It is a tad self-beatifying and although I respect Wallis and his perspectives, I wish he wouldn't keep quoting himself!
In our wee country politics have, for too …

Carol Changes

Just a quickie with one eye on the preceding title and another on my previous rants re carols. Whilst I am not averse to altering the last line of "Once in Royal David's City" to remove the image of a colourless eternity of waiting around, I generally object to faffing around with perfectly good hymns for the purposes of making them comprehensible to "the unchurched" or "young people" or whoever else we think are too thick to work out what the words mean for themselves, or even worse, because of the all-pervading spectre of political correctness and a cock-eyed attempt at inclusion. Well over on "Ship of Fools" they are voting for the most annoying word changes in carols.
Click on over and get voting.



Things are definitely changing. Certainly in East Belfast. The writing has literally been on the walls for years... The fabled gables of East Belfast have been changing… Instead of pictures of King Billy you have more recent "heroes": C.S. Lewis, George Best and David Ervine... And where victory is celebrated it is of Norn Irn beating England at football rather than King Billy beating his father in law at the Boyne (although the artists in question still have difficulties with faces.) Then this week I went out for lunch with a colleague, to a pub which was, until recently a paramilitary drinking den. It has now, however, gone up-market and you are more likely to meet a Church of Ireland Bishop, (as we did) than a UDA brigadier, unless of course the Bishop is meeting a brigadier, which is not inconceivable these days. But anyway the bill came to £16.90, and my colleague quipped that he would remember that easily enough, but the waitress looked at him with total incomprehension…

Waiting, Remembering, PREPARING and Readiness

The third of my series of advent liturgies. Advent is not simply a time for passive waiting, but also for active preparation.
Voice 1: Advent is a time for waiting.
Voice 2: We light the first candle to remind us that we are waiting for God to come.
Voice 1: Advent is also a time for remembering God’s promises to us.
Voice 2: Advent is also a time for preparation.
Voice 1: We shop and decorate,
Voice 2: We shop and bake,
Voice 1: We shop and wrap,
Voice 2: We shop and cook…
Voice 1: We prepare for Christmas.
Voice 2: We prepare ourselves for Jesus to come,
Voice 1: We read his story, we pray and sing
Voice 2: We share with others
Voice 1: We light the third candle to remind us to prepare.
Voice 2: At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we read
Voice 1: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Voice 2: As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prep…

Top 50 Carols

And, now, as a counterbalance to my previous curmudgeonly post on carols, here's a list of the top 50 carols, as chosen by a panel of 51 eminent choir masters, as published in BBC Music Magazine (published by Timesonline for those like me who were too mean to buy the magazine...)

Its a fairly "highbrow" list, with a preponderance of Latin titles, and a sprinkling of other foreign offerings, but it certainly broadens things from the perennial list sung year in year out in most churches at this time of year. When was the last time your congregation sang "Jauchzet Frohlocket"?

"Once in Royal David's City" is in there... but I suspect that is because of many choirmasters have been caught up in the dewy eyed begining of the King's 9 Lessons and Carols with a single chorister starting the whole thing off with this hoary old favourite. No places for "While Shepherds watched", "The Holy and the Ivy" or "Christmas is a time to th…

5 Loathed Sings

OK... A few weeks ago I started a rant about hymns that I mildly disliked... But I promised that I would return to the special category of Christmas Carols... Strangely, I have no problems with the anomalous "bleak midwinter" type stuff... That is merely contextual. I'm also not refering to those songs that are explicitly a-religious. There is a place for them. No... my real ire is reserved for some very popular carols. So here are my five loathed sings:
5) While shepherds watched their flocks by night (Nahum Tate): Since this is sung to the dullest tune in history its 6 verses can drag somewhat, but my wife pointed out a few years ago that it can also be sung to "Lyngham" (the best tune for "O for a thousand tongues to sing"). Since then it has been back in the good books.
4) Once in Royal David's City (Cecil Frances Alexander): 90% of this offering by Stroke City's most famous hymnwriter is fabulous... But I can only assume she got bored by th…

Advent Anticipation of an Other Worldly Kind

I'm a bit of a closet sci-fi nut... In fact, I don't think I'm even in the closet about it... Don't read as much sci-fi as I used to, but I still enjoy a good sci-fi movie. That means that I am waiting expectantly for the release of the newest Star Trek film, which takes the whole franchise back to its roots, with Kirk, Spock, Scotty et al. What self-respecting sci-fi fan wouldn't be itching to see it after this trailer:

I'll have to wait until May to see it (probably even later in the UK), but as I have been telling my congregation this week the joy of Christmas should be increased by the anticipation of waiting during Advent. But I hearby serve notice that if they mess around with this old friend of mine I will be very, very annoyed... Mind you not half as annoyed as I'll be if they mess up the current sci-fi blockbuster release, a reworking of "The Day the Earth Stood Still", not only one of my favourite sci-fi films but one of my favourite films …

Waiting, REMEMBERING, Preparing and Readiness

The second of my short liturgies for lighting advent candles at the beginning of worship:

Voice: 1 Advent is a time for waiting.
Voice 2: We light the first candle to remind us that we are waiting for God to come.
Voice 1: Advent is also a time for remembering
Voice 2: for remembering God’s promises to us.
Voice 2: Promises of hope and healing
Voice 1: Promises of peace and justice
Voice 2: Promises of judgement and salvation.
Voice 1: The promise of a Messiah to Israel
Voice 2: The promise of a child to Mary
Voice 1: A promise fulfilled
Voice 2: A promise yet to come to fulfilment
Voice 1: Moses said:
Voice 2: 'God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Voice 1: Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?
Voice 2: And God said through Jeremiah
Voice 1: 'The days are coming, when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
Voice 2: …

Crying in the Wilderness

I wrote this last year, and I noted on the original file that it was influenced by someone called Janet Lees who writes a lot of liturgical resources, but one year on I haven't a clue how much, or little is her work or mine...
Anyway, I gladly dedicate it to her, and to the work of those engaged in Christian community development work, especially the inspiring urban transformation being proposed by the Skainos Project in inner east Belfast.

There’s a voice crying in the wilderness
In the inner city wastelands
And run-down sixties housing estates
And the voice says “Get ready for God.”
“Make the paths straight
Repair the potholes and re-lay the pavements.
Level the empty tower blocks
and use the rubble as the foundation for God’s new motorway
straight into the heart of the city,
into the heart of the problem,
into your heart and mine.
Bend and break the proud and the powerful
Raise up those who are bent over and weighed down
So that they and everyone can recognise God’s handiwork.
Praise God!


Leaping Mockingbirds, Batman! Its Advent Again...

Just a quickie too remind you that with Advent upon us Glenn over at Crookedshore has cranked up The Mockingbird's Leap for a second year. If you are a mockingbird virgin I'll let you explore the site itself to explain the origin of the name, but the idea is that a whole series of bloggers note the little glimmers of God's grace that they see around them during this Advent season. It may prompt you to be more attentive on your pilgimage to Bethlehem this year.


Fifth Rate Poetry Set to Sixth Rate Music

In the view of my rantings last week about hymns that I hate, I paid close attention when I read another blogger referring to C.S. Lewis' famous quote about certain hymns being "fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music." And that was before the "modern worship" explosion of the 1980s and the industry that produces the poppy praise pap of today. But reading the quote sent me scurrying back to find the context for it... his book of semi-catechetical essays entitled "God in the Dock", where he writes of his experience in gospel halls shortly after his conversion, a salutory lesson to any social, spiritual or aesthetic snobs (not that I would fit into any such category):
"I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. …