Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wakey, Wakey

A little piece of doggerel for the beginning of Advent, inspired by the parable of the Wise Virgins in Matthew 25.

Wakey, wakey
Rise and shine
It’s Advent
The season of coming to…
Him coming to us…
Us coming to him.
Getting ready for the big day.
The time of remembering what is yet to come
And preparing for what has already arrived.
Eternity breaking into time.
Watch out…
Time ticks by
to that point when it shall be no more.
Only seconds to midnight…
Trim your wicks, not just the tree,
So you might see.
Just you wait.

David A. Campton © 2008


Saturday, November 29, 2008

The BBC Bus and who "Owns" the Church

A final, wise word on the whole BBC/Brand/Ross affair came last night during Marcus Brigstock's weekly rant in the newly returned Now Show on Radio 4, quoting my friend Mitch Benn who said:

"The BBC is not a taxi, it's a bus, and paying your license fee and deciding that entitles you to dictate the output of the BBC is like buying a bus ticket and saying 'Right I've got this ticket therefore this is now my bus and it must drive me home and park outside my house and wait there until the morning when I need it again."

Now of course in saying this we're not suggesting that the BBC licence is a warrant to do anything they want... Were the Beeb to be an out of control bus, then we would have cause to wrestle the wheel out of the driver's hands... And where the service doesn't come up to standard we still have the right to complain... But the direction of the organisation should not be dictated by the loudest voices... What was it my Mum used to say about empty vessels making most noise?

The thing is, what is true of the BBC is probably even more true of the church, although I doubt that Mitch would appreciate the analogy. Sometimes it seems as if people think that the church should be run like "Celebrity Strictly Come Prancing" or whatever it is called... But what is right is not always determined by what is popular or dictated by the loudest voices... It is not a democracy (sorry to break that to those denominations who think that it is) it is part of the Kingdom of God... which is not a constitutional monarchy where the ruler is happy to sit on the sidelines and have words put in their mouth by the government of the day...

The question is not whether the bus is going our way, but whether we are prepared to get on the bus wherever it is going...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Donald Where's Your Solemnity?

Yesterday I promised to tell you the story of the unfortunate juxtaposition of and Andy Stewart song and a cremation. And before I begin let me assure you that it is 100% true, or if not then I have been the gullible subject of the greatest sick joke in undertaking history.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I was conducting a funeral at the crematorium as I had been doing alarmingly frequently, and I arrived there to find the undertaker giving the gentleman responsible for the crematorium a hard time. When they noticed me I asked what they were talking and laughing about, only to be told this story:

Apparently the day before there had been a funeral at which the bereaved family had handed the undertaker a home-produced CD of an old gospel standard (I think it was "The Old Rugged Cross" but I cannot be certain) recorded from an LP, to be played during the service. However, the crematorium had recently been renovated and new technology had been introduced, including a CD player that was particularly snooty about playing poor quality home-recorded CDs. When one of these was introduced into the multi-changer, if it couldn't read it, it simply skipped to the next CD.

So when it came to reading this particular CD the system rejected it and went to a CD that was still lying in the machine from the previous service. This had been the funeral service of an elderly gentleman who had served in one of the Scottish Regiments, and the family had asked that Andy Stewart's "Scottish Soldier" would be played. That service had gone without a hitch, but the CD had been left in the machine.

So when the machine could not read "The Old Rugged Cross" or whatever it was in the next service, it simply skipped on to the first track in the other CD, which was Andy Stewart's greatest hits...

So instead of playing "The Old Rugged Cross" the bereaved family heard the first track on that album: the immortal "Donald Where's Yoor Troosers?"

Apparently, they were not best pleased!

ps. If you would like to support Children in Need you can buy a copy of the Bandaged CD which includes a version of "Donald Where's Yoor Troosers?" by Ken Bruce and the mysterious Ask Elvis (whom I know personally!). But I wouldn't play it at a funeral!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

That's Life... Is it?

Was conducting a funeral yesterday that culminated in a short service at the local crematorium, and, as is regularly the case these days, the family decided not to have any hymns, first because time is so tight at the crematorium, and secondly because they didn't think that many of his, or their peers would actually know the words to many hymns, which is a fact of life these days. We had discussed, as I usually do, the use of recorded music; when it is and isn't advisable to play it (playing music as the coffin descends, for example, tends to heighten an already emotionally charged moment, causing an explosion of grief and loading the chosen music with associated grief forever more), and what is and is not appropriate... for example, although he was a rock and roll fan, "great Balls of Fire" would probably not be a good idea, although the deceased enjoyed a good laugh, so perhaps we should have gone with that.

But anyway, I left them the night before the funeral, thinking that they had decided against any recorded music, and I drafted the service appropriately.

When I arrived at the crematorium we were held up by the service before us, which had 2 speakers and 4 recorded pieces of music of mixed provenance. The presiding minister was a Catholic priest that I know, and when he came out, I was commenting about the choice of music and he said that one effect of tightening up what can happen on church premises in the funeral mass, means that families tend to "go a bit over the top" at the crematorium.

But I wouldn't have made any comment about the music at the previous service had I known what was to come. Apparently after I had left the house the previous night the family had decided that they would have some recorded music after all, and they picked 2 tracks by Michael Buble, who they thought was quite mellow and suitable for a funeral. Now I'm not a Michael Buble afficionado so I didn't have a clue! Until we started down the aisle to the strains of "Everything" a song which expresses the love of one person for another in hyperbolic fashion, but, I would say, is perhaps more suitable for a wedding than a funeral. We could have danced down the aisle! But, the service was billed as a celebration of the deceased's life so fair enough...
But worse was to come when, after the benediction was pronounced, the second of their two chosen Michael Buble tracks started: "That's life..."

The irony of it struck me dumb... When I checked the lyrics out later on I found them to be relatively trivial, so there was no point in posting them... But as I left the crematorium I thought "Is that life?" Is that what it is to most people? A short trivial ditty, which comes to an end with a short service on the crematorium conveyor belt!

I hope not, and I hope, as I pointed to Jesus' promise that he is the resurrection and the life, that I left the congregation with no doubt that there is more on offer...

But it set me wondering, what totally inappropriate songs have you heard played at funerals... Please, no urban myths of "Smoke Gets in your Eyes" or "Ring of Fire"... I want genuine, first hand experiences...

Tomorrow, if you're good boys and girls, I'll tell you the tale of the funeral and the Andy Stewart song... Intrigued? Tune in tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

WAITING, Remembering, Preparing and Readiness

This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. So here is the first of the Advent liturgies we will be using in Dundonald Methodist Church this year.

Voice 1: Advent is a time for waiting… [PAUSE]
Voice 2: Advent is a time for waiting;
Voice 1: for the postman;
Voice 2: for the end of school;
Voice 1: for family members to come home;
Voice 2: for standing waiting in a queue;
Voice 1: for waiting for santa for Santa to come and go.
Voice 2: Advent is a time for waiting for God;
Voice 1: for God who came in Jesus the Christ child,
Voice 2: for God who came unexpectedly.
Voice 1: We wait for God, who will come again in a new and surprising way.
Voice 2: We light the first candle to remind us to wait.
Voice 1: In Luke chapter 12 we read
Voice 2: "Be dressed and ready for action and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.
Voice 1: It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.
Voice 2: I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.
Voice 1: It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night.
Voice 2: You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
Voice 1 & 2: Let us pray:
All: God, in whom we hope, we wait for your coming to us once again. Help us to stay awake and watch for the signs of your coming, always being ready to open the door and let you in. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Different Ministry...

There's a new kid on the virtual block... Only one post so far but if you go visit she may decide to do more, although a little birdie tells me that this one took about 10 days to come to fruition, so don't hold your breath.

This particular post is about Ulster Scots, a subject I could rant at length about, but without any authority whatsoever... However this author is at pains to point out their credentials before launching out into the deep dark waters of vitriol...

and incase you are wondering why I would point you in the direction of this particular novice writer, well, in a misquote of Charlotte Bronte... "reader, I married her..."

ps. If you are very nice to her she may even explain the origin of the blog's name... Or perhaps she will maintain her mystique...

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm Going to Praiseland

A final word on the "Jesus my heavenly boyfriend" pap, that is being passed off as praise at present, owing more to Oprah than to the Song of Songs. In our discussions on this subject on Saturday night, my friend also reminded my of the line in the episode from series 12 of the Simpsons entitled "I'm Going to Praiseland," in which Ned sets up a Christian themepark.

During it he strikes up a brief relationship with gospel singer Rachel Jordan, but when he encounters her later on, he finds that she has gone solo because her band have gone secular:

Ned: So uuh, where's your band?
Rachel: They switched from Christian music to regular pop. All you do is change 'Jesus' to 'baby'.
Ned: Oh, how horrible.
Rachel: Oh, they'll all go to hell.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shake 'n' Vac Praise

Was discussing some of the issues raised in this week's strand on hymns and songs last night, and I remembered another entire category of praise that drives me demented, that being the short, inane songs that worship leaders insist on singing 403 times in a row. Not talking about things like the Wild Woose "Wee Songs" but those which are sung until the congrgation are in a hypnotic state... and I am not being funny about that, because often that is exactly what is induced and interpreted as "the Spirit."

But while we were discussing some of these a friend called to mind a line from a letter to the Sunday Telegraph on the subject of modern praise where the writer said:

"Most of the music we were told to sing would have disgraced a Shake 'n' Vac ad."

'nuff said...

ps. Anyone fancy taking a run at writing a praise song to the Shake 'n' Vac tune?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The End is Nigh

OK... Warning. I'm about to rant again...

This time it is due to a piece of junk mail that landed on my doorstep yesterday... The sheer amount of unsolicited mail that goes straight from letterbox to blue bin is usually enough to trigger a rant... But on this occasion it was because of a kind offer by Sarah Muggeridge to provide me with some assistance to deal with the implications of the government's "End of Life Care Strategy" published last summer.

Now I don't know whether this offer is coming to me in my role as chaplain to the local hospital, where I am actually on the multi-disciplinary palliative care education sub-group (the title is longer than the meetings), but the fact that it was sent to the church's PO Box address, suggests that the name and address was gleaned by some web-crawling bot, that has cribbed my name and address from either the local or national church website.

With that in mind... one general point... Any junk mail senders take note: If you are wanting me to pay any attention to you, my first name is David, NOT Rev. If you insist on using my title then it should be Rev. David, or Rev. David Campton, but NEVER Rev Campton, without punctuation or first name.

But back to the specifics of this wonderfully kind offer. For the ultra-cheap price of £125.44 I will recieve a CD-Rom and Handbook (with a single user license only) for a resource pack that will help me with cultural factors affecting death, dying and bereavement, needs assessment checklists, care planning records, case studies, resuscitation, verification of death and complaints policies (among many others), pain management advice, handouts on many subjects including wills and funerals, and quality assurance schemes.

What world are we in that any company thinks that a local minister needs such a thing? Even if it is directed to me within the hospital, do they not think that we have our own policies and resources?

My role in End of Life Care is largely to be there for the dying and the bereaved... A physical manifestation of the presence of our ever-present God (I don't mean that to sound as arrogant as it might... I say it with the utmost humility, and it applies not only to me, but to any Christian who comes alongside people at such a time). There are few things more important in pastoral meeting than helping people to prepare for and cope with the end of a life.

Yes, we can help people through the policies and practicalities that they face at such a time... but am I going to fork out £125.44 to resource that? Not likely... I would rather fork out that money on coffees with the bereaved, or books that I feel might help them...

So... Ms. Muggeridge, you have just wasted two sheets of paper, an envelope and the postage it took to send me this junk...

AND I've wasted 15 minutes typing this...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Heavenly Hymns

OK... I indulged my cynical side earlier in the week... And discovered an untapped reservoir of ire on the subject of hymns...

But in a spirit of contrition and in obedience to Paul in Philippians going on about "whatever is good... yada yada..." I thought I should also post a list of my twelve favourite hymns/songs... (Couldn't manage to thin it out to 10... I was actually doing it in my head while ploughing up and down a swimming pool and didn't want to waste any more time on it.) Doubtless some of these will appear on your most hated list, but that's the joy of variety... you can't all have taste (ps. have restricted my choices by a single writer to a maximum of 2):

12) Will you come and follow me (Bell and Maule): looks at discipleship as something challenging and with implications for how we deal with those in need.

11) Beauty for Brokenness (Graham Kendrick): one of the few songs to come out of the 1980s house church movement that genuinely wrestles with the issues of social justice.

10) O for a closer walk with God (William Cowper): a genuine expression of the ups and downs of Christian discipleship from someone who probably had clinical depression. Absent from our current hymnbook... after all, can't have a hymn expressing anything less than an onwards and upwards spirituality.

9) All I once held dear (Graham Kendrick): a straightforward paraphrase of Philippians 3: 7-11, but none the worse for that. Originally written specifically for Spring Harvest, but has outlived all the other ones written for the same event.

8) The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want (Townend): the newer version, as I sing the version to Crimond far too often at funerals (although it still has a real spiritual resonance apart from that... and the fact that the first line suggests that I don't want to have anything to do with this shepherd God).

7) Christ's is the world in which we move (Bell and Maule): as per their other one, and, as with all their material, coming out of an authentic folk tradition. What other hymn deals with the same issues of raw pain?

6) In heavenly love abiding (Anna Laetitia Waring): Another hymn based on the 23rd Psalm. Although I often use this hymn as an illustration of churches who proudly sing that "nothing changes here" the confident assertion that God and his love for us doesn't change, enables us to face change and chaos in the outside world. (I prefer the newer tune in Let's Praise though).

5) Love Divine all loves excelling (Charles Wesley): Writing as he was at a decidedly unromantic period in British history, this (and other hymns like O love divine how sweet thou art, and Jesu, lover of my soul) was shockingly intimate language to talk about a relationship with God, unlike the pappy, self-absorbed "Jesus wrap your loving arms around me" type nonsense being churned out at the moment. For that reason, and because it is about the Holy Spirit's role in the perfection of holiness within us, this is a particular favourite.

4) Your Hand O God Has Guided (Getty): Prefer Keith's version than Plumptre's original (better tune), though I would prefer (and frequently do) add in some of the original verses rather than just the two that Keith uses. Felt I had to include one of Keith's hymns (although he apparently doesn't like this one)... him being a mate and all that... And would like to have included "In Christ alone", one of the many he has written with Stuart Townend, as that is what keeps him in the manner to which he has become accustomed, but for 2 reasons: 1) It's now overdone. 2) Have problems with the unalloyed buy-in to the substituionary/satisfaction theories of the atonement within it, although Shored fragments wrote an interesting piece on this subject just yesterday.

3) Be thou my Vision (tr. by Mary Byrne, versified by Eleanor Hull): What Irish hymn list would be complete without this. As with my "hated list" there are versions where a little more attention could be paid to scanning! And I prefer battle-shield to breast-plate... partly on a poetic basis, in that it is more evocative, and secondly on a historic basis in that ancient Irish warriors were relatively lightly armoured and didn't have "breastplates" on the whole. Will have to check which is the most accurate translation. Anyone know a good ancient Gaelic specialist?

2) Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation (Neander et al): Not just picked because it was one of our wedding hymns, but picked as one of our wedding hymns because it was a favourite. Again have slight preferences re translation, but I won't fall ut with you whatever version you pick.

1) And can it be that I should gain (Charles Wesley): Almost the national anthem of Methodism (were Methodism a nation). I do have problems with the vigorous way we tend to sing the first verse, which should be a genuine expression of wonder that Christ could be bothered with me... Word to those who will outlive me... This MUST be one of my funeral hymns or I will come back to haunt you.

Look forward to reading alternate lists... Or your evisceration of mine...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Telling a Different Story

A lot of ink and its virtual equivalent has been expended the credit crunch recently... and, from a Christian perspective, what the church's response should be... I've been reflecting on it myself recently with my own congregation as we have encountered pertinent passages in the lectionary... It is remarkable how this liturgical tool provides us with appropriate resources for contextual preaching if we are willing to work with it... For example in its recent meander through Matthew's Gospel we have had:

The parable of the workers in the vineyard... which we often see as a parable of the one-size fits all grace of God, but which involves a situation where the employers employment practice involved promising and paying everyone a living wage regardless of the work they had done. The justice was not in paying proportional to work done, but according to need. (Matthew 20: 1-16)

The passage where Jesus instructs us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God what is Gods... remembering that while Caesar's image may be imprinted on the coins of the realm, God's image is imprinted on every human life. (Matthew 22: 15-22)

The parable of the talents... an endorsement not of cautious stewardship but of risky investment strategy inspired by the character of the master... In the story, a rapacious character... In our case a gracious, forgiving God. (Matthew 25: 14-30)

I suppose it is because of my recent thinking that I was particularly taken by a piece in yesterday's "Faith & Theology" by Scott Stephens originally written for an Australian Newspaper, which he concludes by saying:

"The onus, then, is on the church – not merely to pray in some benign way that God would mollify the effects of this financial crisis, but really to constitute that alternate form of community. To give the formation of Christian virtue and Christlike generosity priority over misguided “stewardship” (which so often is ecclesiastical code for white-knuckled miserliness). To have the courage to tell our congregations that participation in the Body of Christ means wanting less, using less, wasting less, so that we can distribute more."

We need to stop pontificating about the wrong-headedness that got us into this mess and start offering the world a tangible, practical alternative. Telling a different stroy than the newspapers... A story shaped by Jesus and his stories, and lived out in our everyday lives.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hated Hymns... the Countdown

Following on from my blog yesterday, I should also have said that there is a whole category of Christmas Carols that cause me to twitch uncontrollably... But I will return to them in due course:

But now praise-pickers here's my top ten hated hymns and praise songs (amazed that I kept it to 10):

10) One More Step along the World I Go: One more time I have to sing this song... I just don't like it because it has been sung to death.
9) Come ye thankful people come: Actually a superb harvest hymn, that actually does justice to the Biblical use of the harvest metaphor in the context of divine judgement... just have problems with us joyfully singing of the angels being given charge (at last) "in the fire the tares (i.e. sinful fellow human beings) to cast..."

8) I am the bread of life: Writers who can't be bothered getting their work to scan should not be encouraged!

7) Wind, Wind Blow on Me!: A mindless, trite little chorus with a jaunty tune that doesn't really go with the idea of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

6) God sent his Son (Because he lives...): Its the cloying sentimentality that gets me...

5) And Did these Feet in ancient Times (Jerusalem): No they didn't! Once had this at a wedding in Northern Ireland... I could barely contain myself...

4) Onward Christian Soldiers/Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus: I count these as one hymn because they are indestinguishable in my mind, betraying a militaristic Christianity that sat uneasily with the British Empire, and portrays a picture of victorious Christian living that is alien to many people... I hate them even more because they are so great to sing!

3) Jesus, We Celebrate your Victory: The tune is great... but the line "and in his presence our problems disappear" is patent nonsense. They may sometimes fade into the background for a short time, and one day WILL disappear completely, but not yet...

2) Moses I know you're the man: Not only does the first line sound like some tacky "Boyz in the Hood" parody, but the chorus is nonense... We are encouraged to sing joyfully about being a "travelling, wandering race..." Travelling - Good! I spend my life trying to encourage my fellow Christians to travel with God... But wandering... I don't want to celebrate the fact that we are a wandering people, that God has to keep seeking out...

1) Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild: Lets not leave Charles Wesley out of this... The greatest hymnwriter in history gets top spot in this list as well as many others that are slightly more complimentary. This particular gem by Chuck paints a picture in this one line of a fey, ineffectual fop, who bears no similarity to the Jesus I read of in the new Testament. Meek yes... Mild... Never! Thankfully in our hymnbook "Hymns and Psalms" the offending verse is omitted an it is billed under the first line "Loving Jesus, Gentle Lamb."

I've omitted many of the contemporary pieces that set my teeth on edge, largely because time will probably sort most of them out... I've only listed those that I fear we are stuck with.

Actually I sometimes pick some of the hymns on this list, even though they drive me to distraction, not because of some sort of musical masochism but because I appreciate that other people have radically different tastes to me (not everyone is perfect). However, where I have theological quibbles I will generally air them and change the offending lyrics if possible.

So, I am sorry if I have offended some people with any of the hymns on my list today, or my sweeping generalisations yesterday, but that is the joy of human variation. Just hope that none of the above are in heaven's hymnbook, or eternity could seem even longer!!

Any hymns you would add to the list?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hated Hymns

A colleague in Grand Rapids, Michigan sends out a weekly email to all the ministers in her jurisdiction, and one of my friends there is kind enough to forward it too me every Monday.
It is one of the regular emails I really look forward to.
This week was no exception as she confessed that her least favorite (sic) hymn is "How Great Thou art." In response I sent her this YouTube link to Eddi Reader's fabulous rendition of this old standard (I should warn you that she employs some weird hand movements but it is beautiful all the same).

Anyway... her confession set me off thinking about my least favourite hymns... after all, how could I possibly restrict myself to just one, given that I could rant at length on any number of them...
To help me restrict my list I first decided on some broad categories of the hymns and worship songs that cause me to inwardly (and sometimes audibly) groan:
1) The gore-fest "washed in the blood" stuff of the 19th and early 20th century revivalists, that really needs to be translated for a modern non-church goer lest they think they have wandered into some kind of sadistic sect.
2) Most hymns/praise songs written in the 1960s and 70s - trite & theologically illiterate
3) The macho-marching songs of the 1980s... too triumphalist for my tastes, so only to be used sparingly.
4) The cloyingly personal "Jesus is my heavenly boyfriend" stuff that has characterised so much that has emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, especially from Hillsong etc. Again, OK in small doses, but any more than that likely to cause a spiritual diabetic hypo!
That said (and if those opinionated sweeping generalisations don't generate some comments I don't know what will), I will leave my list of specifically hated hymns until tomorrow. Bet you cannot wait...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dr. Why?

On Friday night I did what I usually do on Children in Need night... I get offside and avoid watching anything that goes out on the Beeb in the name of entertainment. I would pay money to Children Need simply to prevent them churning out the load of half-baked humourless tosh that they usually do. (For those outside of the UK Children in Need is a charity established by the BBC for working with socially disadvantaged young people, and they have an annual telethon on the BBC which raises enormous amounts of money).

Now don't get me wrong... I am among one of the Beebs staunchest supporters generally. And Children in Need is a wonderful organisation, but then I would have to say that as they have been paying my wife's wages for the past 5 years...

But on Friday night a great injustice was done in the name of Children in Need on the BBC.

For weeks they had been trailing the fact that they were going to show the first 2 minutes of the Dr Who Christmas special on Children in Need night... Now we have an 8 year old son who is addicted to Doctor Who, and he pleaded with us that he would be allowed to sit up to watch this promised clip, and that was the arrangement we conveyed to the babysitter as we high-tailed it out of the house.

But when we came home 3 hours later, we found a sad-faced, bleary-eyed child still sitting up... because they hadn't shown the trailer on BBC1 in Northern Ireland... Instead they had filled the airwaves with Stephen Nolan (a man who fills a lot more than just airwaves) and assorted locally produced garbage... My children had watched every single solitary minute of this televisual junk food in the hope of seeing not only the Doctor Who segment but also the Ashes to Ashes sketch... But nothing!!! Why? Do they think there are no Dr. Who fans in Northern Ireland? Clearly they think there are no people with any taste or intelligence or the pap that they did inflict on us wouldn't have seen the light of day...

Eventually we persuaded my younger son to go to bed, promising that he would be able to see it the next day on BBC iPlayer... But he went to bed a very unhappy Pudsey...

Sorry for inflicting this on you... Just had to rant somewhere... Have complained to the BBC but I may as well try to do a Canute with the sea...

Anyway... for those who have missed it through being residents of NI or former British colonies... Here it is...

Roll on Christmas...

But next year Children in Need night is banned in our household...
ps. Apparently the link cannot be seen in the former colonies because of copyright issues.
pps. Apparently BBC NI did get around to showing it but only after 11pm... Probably around the time I was ushering a very disappointed boy up to bed...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Birds of a Feather

Last night I caught sight of something that took me back to my childhood.

As I was coming back over the Albert Bridge into east Belfast, ahead of me, in the dusky sky was a flock of starlings twisting and turning, sweeping and soaring. I would love to have got a photo of it but I might have caused a major traffic incident, so I will have to make do with the attached photo, which, sadly doesn't quite catch the integrated nature of the flock... It leaves each of the birds looking like individuals... But it is better than nothing.

It reminded me of the huge flocks of old that would have filled the skies in autumn over the three main bridges in Belfast, before the birds settled down to roost for the night. The flocks then were so large that, depending on the orientation of the flock at any one time, the sky seemed to pulse with light and shade. This one was tiny by comparison... but it was a welcome reminder of times gone by. Saying that, when I used to cycle under those huge flocks I wasn't quite so positive about them, as I was liberally splattered with guano.

But the organic, pulsing movement of the flock last night reminded me of the church... Or how it is at its best... myriad individuals responding as one... as if to some unseen mind... Slightly out of sync at times, but each individual contributing to the beautiful dance of the flock on the wing.

But again... Do we see it as much as we once did?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not So Old Church Square

Just spent a morning trying to get our domestic finances sorted out at our bank... I needed a strong coffee after it... Or perhaps a strong something else , but I have to function for the rest of the day. Anyway, one of the things we were discussing with them was the pros and cons about investing in property at present... An issue which we have not yet resolved. Any advice out there gratefully received...
But if we do decide to invest, one development we will not be buying into is one being marketed by BTW Cairns, an upmarket estate agent (realtor for my American friends), just around the corner from my current church. It's called Old Church Square.

The whole thing is based around what looks like a converted church building... all tall gothic windows, exposed stone walls and tall gables...

The thing is, that this has no more connection with a church than centrepiece of Walt Disney World has with a real castle. It is brand-spanking, from the foundations to the ridge-tiles, new. It is a fantasy. But then, so is the lifestyle being offered to those who click on the website. A Nissan 350Z sportscar, parked outside the door... if only...

The whole concept is absolutely, totally and completely bizarre. Why build something that looks like a conversion of something else?

A church conversion that is all about image and not reality? Hmmm!?

ps. Things have currently ground to a halt on the building site at the moment...

Mind your Step

It's over a week now since I told you of my first ever reading in church as an 8 year old cub scout... Obadobadiah 1-11.

Well it's a complete miracle that I ever wanted to be found in a pulpit again after that experience, because I made a complete buffoon of myself that morning. Not by mispronouncing the name of the book... No, my Mum had beat that out of me during rehearsals at home.

What happened was that after I finished I turned round and went to descend from the pulpit only to find the minister mouthing something at me in an exagerated fashion. "Argh!" I thought, "I've forgotten to say, 'Amen!'"

You see, during my rehearsals at home I kept forgetting to say "Amen!" as I had been told to, after the reading, because it wasn't there on the page...

So, having seen the minister mouthing this correction to me, I turned on my heel, went back to the lectern and leant into the microphone to say "Amen!" The only amen in history to be responded to by raucous laughter on the part of the congregation.

The thing is, some years later I discovered that the minister in question was not mouthing "Amen!" but "Mind your step" which is what he always said to people unused to speaking in that pulpit, fearful of them missing the step and falling headlong (which is something I did 7 years later, but that's another story).

Mind your step... How often does that describe some people's attitude to God? Keep your head down and watch where you're going incase you trip up...
So many people's lives are paralysed by fear... whether it be fear of seeming ridiculous, or out of step in the eyes of others... or fear of God, and we're not talking about the sort that is supposed to be the beginning of wisdom...
I wish I could recapture the confident naivety of that 8 year old cub-scout who wasn't put off by the laughter of God's people at his expense, and couldn't imagine a minister telling him to "mind your step."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Garden Guests

Just a quickie to note two new regular visitors to our back garden.

Bought a new birdtable recently after the last one finally gave up the ghost last winter. And were looking forward to the usual array of interesting small birds as well as the annoying magpies and assorted crows, pigeons etc.

But one of the first visitors this year has been the gentleman (or perhaps lady... haven't got close enough to work out which) pictured here. He was followed a few days later by a jay, who has been too fast moving to get a decent photo, but is a truly beautiful beastie. Being a member of the crow family he's fairly smart as well, so between our two new guests they are making fairly short work of the food we had left out for the smaller birds.

I post this today because I read a news story today from the RSPB recommending that you dust your nuts with chilli powder(!?) to keep squirrels at bay. Apparently this has no effect on small birds but really annoys the squirrels. Don't know whether it is effective against Jays, but regardless of that I don't think we'll be doing that just yet. They are still a novelty and a joy to behold.

But when is it that something amazing and beautiful, first becomes commonplace and then an annoyance?

We'll see how long it will take with our new garden guests.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


On this day any words by me seem trivial.

Instead I post the words of "Woodbine Willie", the Rev. G.A. Studdert Kennedy, a padre in the Great War. He published many poems, most of which were deeply influenced by his experiences on the Western Front. Some are profoundly anti-war. Some seem anti-church, or at least anti-the hypocrisy that seems endemic in churches.

But here's a short one for the day the guns fell silent... for a short while at least.

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth's most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God, -

Monday, November 10, 2008

See How These Christians Love One Another...

Did you see the big fight?
Not the Joe Calzaghe v Roy Jones Jnr bout from Madison Square Gardens, but the Armenian Orthodox Monks v Greek Orthodox Monks from the Holy Sepulchre. If you haven't seen it, you can find footage of it here. But you're probably better not watching it.
For once it was not Northern Ireland dragging the name of Christ through the dirt.
But it brought to mind this piece written by Arthur Leonard Griffith:
"At the centre of the old city [Jerusalem] stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, reputedly on the site of the original Calvary and the original Garden of the Resurrection. It stands, but only because ugly steel scaffolding permanently supports the walls inside and out. This church is one of the dirtiest, most depressing buildings in all Christendom. It should be torn down and rebuilt. This is not possible, however, because the Church of the Holy Sepulchre belongs jointly to the Abyssinians, Armenians, Copts, Greeks, Syrians and Roman Catholics, and their priests will hardly speak to one another, let alone cooperate in a joint enterprise of rebuilding. Each communion preserves its own separate chapel, and conducts its own ceremonies; and to make the situation ludicrous, the keys of the church have been entrusted to a family of Muslims, who, in order to answer the call of Allah five times daily, have turned the entrance into a Muslim Mosque. Nowhere in all the world can you find a more tragic symbol of the mutilation of Christ's body than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem."

He wrote this way back in 1964, and not having visited Jerusalem myself, I don't know whether his architectural critique still holds true. However the events of this weekend demonstrates that the stewards of this holy site are still behaving with admirable ecumenical cooperation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What Colour is your Poppy?

A friend sent me a white poppy on Friday… although I don't think he expected me to wear it.

Incase you haven't come across one before they are produced by the Peace Pledge Union… You can read a little about their history here.

My first encounter with such a thing was on the lapel of a member of the church we attended in Edinburgh, a bearded, sandal wearing gentleman who was a member of CND, Amnesty International, and took part in every peace protest going. But I never asked him where he got one for fear that he might sign me up for something.

There are many Christians who do not wear the red poppy because they believe it celebrates militarism and glorifies war… And certainly some of the military trappings of Remembrance Sunday tend towards that... Although talking to many serving soldiers they are the last to glorify war…

And for that reason some wear a white poppy instead of a red one…

In some places (including Canada) that has produced a backlash from those selling the red poppies, who have seen these interlopers as insulting the memory of the dead and infringing their copyright (and fund-raising powers).

But actually, I see nothing wrong with wearing both red and white poppy.
The white poppy as a prayer for peace… But the red poppy as a reminder of the bloody cost of war… and a means of raising money for the care of those who have paid that cost. Those who laid their lives on the line for their family, their friends and their country.

So... Whatever colour your poppy, wear it... not so much with pride, as with prayerful humility...

ps. I did wear the white poppy, with the red one.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Week That Was...

In a truly momentous week, what has tickled my fancy in the blogosphere?

Regarding the big news story (something about a new President of the USA incase you missed it) the blog that summed up the momentous nature of it all was Crookedshore's identification of the quote of the night. McCain's gracious concession speech and the inspiring words of Obama's acceptance, also caught the imagination of Crookedshore and others. William Crawley has posted the full text and visuals of the latter here.

This is also the first week of NaBloPoMo 2008, or National Blog Posting Month, for the uninitiated, and a lot of the posting has been to do with the presidential campaign, but Marramgrass, who introduced me to the whole NaBloPoMo thang has to get the prize for one of the most feeble first posts.... But at least he admits it!

Of course we're now rapidly heading towards season of Winterval, or whatever the loony leftwing halfwits want to call it this year, and the resultant waves of indignation eminating from right wing newspapers. The first website to point out the latest secularist nonsense this year is Faith Central, who have flagged up the brouhaha stirred up by Oxford City Council.

One item which will probably keep the right wing press and bloggers occupied at the moment is the continuing fallout from the Ross/Brand affair. For the record I think they are a pair of misogynist, boorish prats who (as they often do) went too far in seeking the cheap laugh that belies their intelligence and talent. However, using them as a tool to attack the Beeb and the license fee again, is pathetic. As Marramgrass and xetera point out the Beeb is a national treasure and should be defended against the assaults of the likes of the ultra-conservative Mail and the Murdoch media empire. But Maggi Dawn did come up with an interesting and fairly comprehensive piece on the nature of apologies in the wake of the whole affair.

On a different track entirely, ever wanted a better illustration of the trinity than the truly awful one of the shamrock, or the more recently in vogue ice/water/steam one (accused of being modalistic) then check out Why Not Smile?

Finally, in a week of inspirational news with regards to the events in the US, another totally unrelated, but equally inspiring post on Cheryl Wonders. It may have been doing the rounds of emails but it is worth another look.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Into the Valley

Found this gem while searching for material for our Sunday morning Remembrance Service. It's not appropriate for that but thought it was worth re-posting here. The story behind it's creation can be found here (I know... posting something from the Sunday Mail... I'll be struck off the pinko-liberal Christmas-card list).

Having been created in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday it depicts the 169 British servicemen and women killed in Iraq up until that point. an additional 7 have died since then...
Lance Corporal Sarah Holmes,
Sergeant John Battersby,
Trooper Lee Fitzsimmons,
Guardsman Stephen Ferguson,
Sergeant Duane Barwood,
Nicholas Brown.
Add to this the 122 casualties in Afghanistan, over 4000 US and other coalition servicemen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and innumerable Afghan and Iraqi deaths.
Will we remember them?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I Should Have Realised

I missed this cracker in the run-up to this week's momentous events... But given his gift of the gab it's obvious.
Everyone join in now:
O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara
There's no-one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

Thanks to a friend in Florida for sending me this one.
And thank you Florida for not messing things up this time!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Power of Democracy

Well the race is over and is only the analysis left to pick over. Then we've got about 6 months before things start gearing up for the mid-terms and about 2 years before the Presidential roundabout begins again. When do they ever get time to actually govern?

Anyway, I've made no secret of it in recent days in that I have been wanting Obama to win, and my boy gone done it! It's not just that his politics fit mine better than McCain and his co-pilot, but he's been a genuinely inspiring candidate, unlike Kerry and Gore, who really never got the pulse racing... did either of them actually have a pulse themselves? In both cases I was not so much pro-them as anti-Bush. This time it genuinely was different.

Obama personifies change... politically, racially, socially, intellectually and generationally. He seems to have a good sense of how America is percieved in the eyes of the wider world and how it might function better as an agent of the common good.

I've mentioned the quality of his speeches previously, and his acceptance speech was no exception. It began:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

However. A cautionary note, before anyone thinks I've been afflicted by Obamania. Whilst I believe that Obama and his message were compelling enough to take him to the White House, there are those who might legitimately say that what last night proved was the real power behind US democracy and the dream of the founders: Money.

The fact is that, as predicted by some before the race began, Obama spent around twice as much as any previous candidate for President, including the Shrub with his big oil backers, and significantly more than his opponent McCain, who was seen as too much of a "maverick" to draw down the traditional big business support that the Republican candidates have recently relied on.

Lets hope that it was money well spent...

America, Bless God

CountersA song to be sung in response to the Annunciation... whether the coming one is McCain, anointed by the religious right, or the quasi-Messianic Obama, let's get our priorities right and our loyalties straight:

Hail to the Chief of Chiefs!
Glorify God alone, with all that you have and are.
Rejoice in God, for he alone is our salvation.
He remembers the humble when others forget,
Bringing blessing for a single mother
When others only offer shame.
Doing great things for and through the accursed.
That’s why he is different from others.
That’s why his name is in a class of its own.
He is merciful to all who truly bow before him…
Who recognise his power and authority…
Pouring out blessings on their children and their children’s children.
He never stops performing miracles;
He still scatters the arrogant like the men of Babel of old.
He looks behind worn out words of faith to see thriving thoughts of pride.
He topples thrones and casts kings down into the dust from which they came.
But he lifts up the humble-hearted to sit by his side.
He fills the hungry with the finest of fare
But sends the bosses away without their bonuses;
The rich with nothing but a flea in their ear.

taken liberally from Mary's "Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-54

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hail to the West Wing

Young non-White senator wins democratic nomination against the odds, and picks old Washington insider with lots of foreign policy experience and campaign nous as running mate.
They run against a veteran moderate Republican, who is disapproved of by the conservative evangelical powerbrokers and so he picks a known conservative evangelical as a VP nominee.
They are running neck and neck until a crisis fatally wounds the republican campaign.

Not the the political soap opera which reaches its denouement today... But the storyline of the last few seasons of the West Wing. The only things they got wrong was the gender of the Republican VP and the nature of the crisis that proved crucial inthe campaign. In the West Wing it was the meltdown of a nuclear powerplant. In reality it was the meltdown of the economy.

But the similarities are striking... And actually some of the speechmaking on the Obama side has been of almost West-Wing standard... There are some who say that there was quite a bit of cross-over between the production team behind West Wing and the Obama campaign team, going back at least as far as this episode in series 4 or 5...

What and whichever, whatever happens today and whoever is determined to be the President of the USA tomorrow, this is the real world, not a TV show, and whoever is elected will not be able to operate of a carefully drafted script all the time... It's from here on in that we see if there is substance behind the style.

But in the meantime, here's another little post from YouTube, by someone with even more time on their hands than me, and an even bigger obsession with the West Wing (David Porter... was it you?)

Monday, November 3, 2008


Just the other week it was the Service at which our Scout Group all reaffirm their promises... So members of all the various sections were taking part, from the Squirrels to the Scouts. My youngest son, who is a Beaver, was asked to read the Old Testament reading... which was exactly what happened to me around the same age...

I actually remember what it was to this day. Obadobadiah 1-11. Actually, it was Obadiah verses 1-11, but when I reahearsed it with my mum the night before I added in a couple of syllables. But my main problem wasn't the title, it was the content with all its talk of pillage and ransacking... I hadn't a clue what it was about. Have you ever read the book of Obadiah... No... didn't think so... Go read it... it will only take you 5 minutes... But it would take you to then read a commentary of 4 times the length to understand it. So what chance had I, as an eight year old child, got when it came to understanding what I was reading?

Mind you, why should I be worried. So often it seems as if the Bible passages read in church mean nothing to the reader. It may as well be the telephone book for all the sense that is drawn out of it. Is this because people don't bother to read it, never mind read it out loud before doing so in church? Or is it because they really think that it is as boring as they make it sound?

If we really believe that the Bible is, or contains the word of God then we should read it in a way that affords it the respect it is due. That doesn't mean putting on a special "I'm reading the Word of God" voice. But it does mean a wee bit of preparation an thought going into what you are reading.

But the question remains, what on earth was the minister in question doing getting an 8 year old boy to read such an impenetrable passage in public? Indeed, why was it being read at all at what was effectively a children's service? Now I'm not for running shy of the more difficult bits of the Bible... we shouldn't simply stick to the miracles and parables of Jesus (although some of those are quite challenging if we are really listening), but there is a time and a place for introducing people to the delights of Obadobadiah... And a children's service ain't it...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Things Can Only Get Better (?)

Well there's 2 days to go, and I know that thousands, if not millions of people out there have been waiting for me to virtually express my opinion on the US electoral process... But I thought it unfair for a person in another jurisdiction to have unfair influence in the electoral process.

But then again... whatever happens on Tuesday is going to radically affect the whole world and most of us don't get a vote... Mind you given some of the voting registration scandals in the US that is true of many citizens there too... But selfishly most of what I will say is based upon an international perspective (let the citizens of the US look after their own backs!)

In the run up to the election most of my thinking was of the "Things can only get better"-type. 8 years of world government by the Shrub and his cabal of Big-Oil Representatives and Neo-Cons, has made the world an infinitely more dangerous place, largely due to their unwillingness to use diplomacy where a Cruise missile would suffice. They have acted as playground bullies, with the UK acting as the annoying little crawler who always follows around in such a bully's shadow. I still find it unbelievable that the US administration could have alienated the huge groundswell of support for them the world over that was theirs in the wake of 9/11. But they managed it. From victim to villain in a matter of a year. But isn't that often the back-story of bullies.

Anyway, my thought was, whoever is elected, no-one could be worse. But there was always the cost of the war to factor in, and the difficulty of disengaging without leaving an even worse problem... then the credit crunch hit, thanks to the Bush administration's mates in the banks and stock markets. So a combination of Bush's foreign and economic policies means that whoever is in power, their administration is going to be shaped by their illustrious predecessor's legacy. Thanks George...

So I'm not so sure that things can only get better... they may get a lot worse first! However, one would hope that whoever gets in would have a more mature relation to international relations. Obama has always been vocal in his opposition to the war in Iraq, and historically, although McCain supported it, he has previously advocated a much more multi-lateral approach to international relations. Yes, he may have sideled up to the Bush administration in the closing stages of the primary to get him the ultimate blessing of the Republican elite, but that's politics. He was sufficiently different from the current bunch to make me feel that even if Obama didn't get in there could be significant change under McCain (although his more recent comments on the soundness of the economy made me question that somewhat).

You see, Obama speaks more of my type of political language. Focussed on the poorest in society... Looking for social justice... Seeing morality as more than just applying to abortion and gay marriage... Seeing the right to life not just as applying to the unborn, but to the whole of life and the whole of society... indeed the world.

However, those of us who lived through the false dawn of New Labour and Blairite spin in the UK, know that words are fine, but they need to be translated into action. It was at the final pre-election rally in 1997 that Labour played the D:Ream track "Things can only get better." And in the ensuing 11 years many things have... But the shadow of Iraq looms large over us.

I do hope that Obama get elected. But I equally hope his promise of change is not just Blairite spin.

And that is where I stood on the issues. Pro-Obama, but not suicidal if McCain got in.

Until Palin.

Picked to shore up the conservative Republican vote and appeal to Moms and Evangelical Christians, her nomination gave McCain's campaign an initial bump. I do know Christians who decided to vote for the ticket because of her inclusion. Others continue to be drawn into the McCain camp by some of the scurrilous statements being by made by right wing Christians such as James Dobson about their brother in Christ, Barack Obama.

But Palin's performance in unscripted settings, be they interviews or press-conferences began to worry some, and she is now seen as a net vote loser... I hope to God that is true. I hope the American people have more sense than to put a septuagenarian in the Whitehouse, with Sarah Palin the proverbial "one heartbeat away" from the Oval Office. Her inexperience, her narrow political, economic, international and religious perspective scares me to death! Her willingness to buy-in to the racial and religious stereo-typing, and downright lies that have been told about Barack Obama, is an insult to the office she is running for. The sad thing is that while McCain himself has not stooped to such tactics, and indeed has distanced himself from them on a number of occasions now, he has not publicly corrected his running mate, and could be seen as trying to profit from her pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I've enjoyed a lot of the anti-Palin stuff floating around the internet and on Saturday Night Live... But I'm not posting it here... Because in many ways that is doing to her what she and her like, without a sense of humour, have been seeking to do to Obama. You want to see it, Google it yourself. She is my sister in Christ. And I'm not going to add to the public mockery. But I'm equally not going to advocate voting for her. Far from it.

So come on America - the world needs you to vote for Obama... Only then might things (possibly) get better...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Not too many saints revered in Methodism… with the possible exception of John and Chuck… And it only takes a news story about some recently demised Catholic being put on the “fast-track to sainthood” brings out the ultra-protestant in me, foaming at the mouth about scripture regarding all followers of Christ as "saints..."

Saints aren't a special category of Christian, with a backstage pass for heaven. We're all that curious mixture of saint and sinner... Struggling (feebly) with our sinfulness, but hopefully with the "Holy" Spirit, at work within and through us, perfecting us...

In the early church each local church had its own list of deceased saints who were celebrated at certain times of year. The reason for the development of a "canonisation" process was an attempt to standardise those saints revered and used as an example for aspiring saints. Yet there is an extent to which I think we should get back to that pre-standardised approach. To celebrate and give thanks for the local saints who now in glory shine, inspiring us. In one Methodist Communion liturgy the prayers of intercession end by saying:

"In you Father, we are one family in earth and heaven.
We remember in your presence those who have died...
giving thanks especially for those who have revealed to us your grace in Christ.
Help us to follow the example of your saints in light
and bring us with them into the fullness of your eternal joy,
through Jesus Christ our Lord."

So today, lets give thanks for that long list of brothers and sisters in Christ who have helped shape us, and have gone ahead of us to the next episode...

(ps. If you want cheered up... check out this previous post...)