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Showing posts from January, 2009

Mutual Moderators

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As a Methodist, I have kept my virtual mouth shut about the Presbyterian Mutual Society debacle, and will continue to do so. Others of a Presbyterian bent (a particularly debilitating problem experienced by Cheryl, Alan and Crookedshore among many others) have commented on it from the inside, and I will leave them to it, praying that the innocent will not suffer unduly, but despairing that the real culprits have gotten off scot free after whipping away their cash and leaving their mutual mates in a very deep hole...
But I do ask these two linked questions... and they are real questions that I would appreciate real answers to if anyone has them?
When was the last time 23, or more, former moderators put their name to any statement or request? Did they ever do so in a cause that did not solely benefit their own members or institution?


Selah

Mourning the Past

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OK... After getting the events of the last few days in Sligo off my chest yesterday, let me return to last week's overnight consultation with other folks involved in loyalist areas... Actually, if truth be told, I probably felt more mentally and spiritually stimulated in that 24 hours than in the 4 days I spent at Re:Call, but that is the way it goes sometimes...
But one of the questions raised a couple of times last week is what happens when we lose "sacreds"? Those solid, facts of life... Things that we implicitly and explicitly build our lives upon. In many ways the world economy is experiencing such a loss at the moment and the classic symptoms or stages of loss as identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are there to be seen: DENIAL: As exhibited by bankers and governments right up until and beyond the Lehmans Brothers Bank collapse. ANGER: see France! BARGAINING: see the big 3 auto-manufacturers in the US or our own little PMS crisis. DEPRESSION: see the look on most newsrea…

Images of Evangelical Community Engagement

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As someone from an evangelical perspective who has been involved in social engagement for years now... actually, probably the whole of my adult life, I am amazed that Christians and churches still need to be sold on the whole idea. I am also aghast at the fact that so many of my evangelical colleagues are only prepared to dabble in such activities if there is a clear pay-off in "souls saved." My own experience tells me that people in the wider world are not daft. If they think that we are trying to help them with their material needs only to have them come to church, or ultimately come to Christ, they will either run a mile, or shamelessly use us in the same way we have shamelessly used what they see as their most important needs as a means to hook them.
Rather, I argue, that whilst we should be open about why we engage in such activities (that we believe that God wants us to help people because he loves them) we must engage in the work with no hidden agenda, but simply beca…

Healing Spaces

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Today the Consultative Group on the Past, otherwise known as the "Eames-Bradley" group, make their formal puplic presentation of their proposals, although huge chunks of their report has been systematically leaked, including the controversial proposal to give £12,000 as a recognition payment (not compensation) re each person who died as a result of the Troubles. The leaking of this proposal in particular has prompted much conspiracy theorising regarding the rationale: was it the NIO letting the cat out of the bag early, so that the obvious suspects would get on their high horses and kill this proposal stone dead, so that they wouldn't have to stump up for it, or was it the group itself, hoping that this controversial item would give them cover to get the more important items through without controversy.
What and whichever, I'm not going to engage in such a game (although it is good fun, and no-one will ever be proved wrong)... Nor am I going to comment on the proposal…

Time to Stop Moping

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As I wrote in my post on Burns night, last week I was away with a group of ministers and Christian community workers on a residential consultation concerning the nature of working in loyalist communities, such as our own in Ballybeen. The quality of the inputs was tremendous. Hats off to Derek Poole and the folks at the LINC Resource Centre for pulling it together, and to the various contributers. There was enough material to keep me blogging for months...
But one of the themes that we kept coming back to was the tendency within loyalist communities, and the pressure in community work in general, to focus on the negatives.
A while back there was collective rejoicing in our own community programme, Dundonald Family and Community Initiative... Why? Because one of the electoral wards that we serve had just broken through on the Noble Indices into the list of the 10% most deprived communities in Northern Ireland. Why the rejoicing? Because such a statistic potentially unlocked charitable …

Lending a Hand

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The BBC Breakfast programme early last week included a feature on a child who, at the age of 14 months lost her hands due to meningococcal septicaemia, and has been fitted with cybernetic hands. Twenty years ago this was sci-fi stuff, and as far as the NHS is concerned it may as well be, because it is not offered free on demand at the point of need, and probably cannot be because of the sheer cost £24,000 per pair of hands. And as she is still growing, this requires at least one pair per year. Indeed, it seemed to me that the pair she has at present clearly has some growing room in them... Any parent does that in buying clothes for their kids... The Cub jumper that we bought for Ciaran a few weeks ago drowns him because it was bought with 3 years wear in view. But you can't do that with shoes, much less arms.
Buying my kids' school shoes every August sends me into a spiral of despair. Especially when they are seriously scuffed within 3 days of the start of term. Her mother has …

A Birl for Burns

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Posts have been a bit sparse this week due to being away for two days on a residential with some other folks from a churches and Christian community organisations who are working within a Loyalist context. I have spent the rest of the week catching up, and preparing for the fact that, my significant other has been away in Scotland over the weekend and I am away for 4 days this week on a compulsory "retreat" to Sligo with Methodist colleagues (bringing echoes of the phrase "to hell or Connaught!"). So I haven't had a lot of time to breathe never mind blog.
But today is Burn's Night, and a very special one. Because, as well as being the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his "Origin of the Species", this is also the 250th anniversary of the birth of the ploughman poet... Quite a year...
Now, like a number of those at the residential this past wee…

Is Change Gonna Come?

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Has there ever been an inauguration like it? Stupid question - answer no! Forgetting all the shattering of the "color-bar" stuff (as if you could) and the palpable sense of hope and expectation invested in him and the event itself, the sheer multi-platform coverage of the whole thing was mind-blowing... My poor little RSS feed couldn't keep up with everyone blogging about it (some more constructively than others)... Even the West Wing (the real one, not the comforting televisual one) has entered the blogosphere immendiately after the inauguration. Also my email inbox was suddenly filled with emails from American friends who seemingly felt that they could emerge out of hiding and re-engage with the world now that their nation had regained a sense of pride in itself and vision for where it should be going. "I found myself singing the words of the National Anthem no longer embarrassed to be known as an American" wrote one... While more than one echoed MLK Jnr in s…

From Blue Monday to Red, White and Blue Tuesday

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Yesterday was a travel agent's dream, indeed it could well have been dreamed up by travel agents in the first place in order to encourage people to book a holiday in the sun), because, we are told that it was statistically proven to be the most depressing day of the year, although we should always remember Mark Twain's dictum casting doubt on the veracity of statistics. "Blue Monday" it was dubbed by copywriters who had clearly lived through the most depressing decade in living memory (ie the 80s) with New Order as the backing track... It prompted a lot of lazy vox-pops on TV and radio news programmes. One particularly inane piece on UTV had a "Life Coach" suggesting that in order to escape the gloom and doom of yesterday (which the accompanying roving mike piece in the centre of Belfast did not support as everyone said they felt fine) we should think about all the good thinigs in our lives... Is there not a little children's chorus about "counting…

A Northern Irish O'Bama

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I'm writing this before the inauguration speech on Tuesday, which is being anticipated like no other political event in my lifetime... I hope it is not a letdown, and more than that, I hope that it is not mere rhetoric and that what comes of it is not a letdown... although I suppose against the backdrop of the current economic and international mess that the Shrub and his neo-con and big business mates have left, things can only get better... Although didn't someone come into power to that refrain about a decade or so ago!?
I'm sure there will be plenty of comment AFTER Tuesday, but what I'm reflecting on here is not so much the words and (hopefully) the actions that flow from them, but rather the man and the movement for change that he represents... Barack Obama has managed to position himself as the embodiment of a desire for change... Part of this is due to the skils of his team in using new media to court financial support and get out the vote amongst a demographic …

Memories are Made of This

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Just got about as wet as I have ever been with my clothes on yesterday, standing watching Ulster play Harlequins at rugby in the pouring rain and a howling gale. It was so bad that the temporary stand at one end of Ravenhill was evacuated because organisers feared that it might just blow away. But despite the weather (and perhaps because of it) it was one of the best afternoons I have had recently, in what has been a pretty annoying week/month... And although Ulster won (21-10 I think) it had little to do with the score.

No - it was good because it was something that I shared with my son... my eldest son Owain... Indeed, he had arranged it... I had tried to ge tickets earlier in the month but it was sold out, then a few days ago he heard that one of his rugby team-mates had a couple of tickets he couldn't use, and asked if I wanted to buy them... So thanks to him we spent two hours getting wet and freezing cold on a rugby terrace...

But it reminded me how few things we do together t…

Competition for Worst Month of My Life Award

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You just have them sometimes. Weeks, months or even years that you would like to not only eradicate from your memory, but also ceremoniously delete from all the world's diaries and calendars just to make sure that you would never, ever be reminded of them.
September 2002 was one of those for me. I should have seen what was coming when I came out of church on the first of September turned the key in the ignition of my car and nothing happened… It took a new starter motor at £140 to sort things out.
Then during the next week I was working in my study and heard howling from downstairs only to go down and find that my eldest son Owain had fallen off his bike and had split his chin open. I took him to hospital only to find that he had also broken his left arm. The next Monday I woke up feeling not quite right… My skin was tingling all over… and my joints were aching. I went to the Doctor’s to be told that I might have shingles, but that he couldn’t tell until any rash came out… But that …

Words... Words... Words...

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Pointless little piece of techno-gimickry... Virtual Methodist as encapsulated in Wordle.net... Thankyou Random Moos for forcing me to waste 10 minutes of my life!

Cheers

Corrie Cross Controversy

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Just as in the time of Paul writing to the Corinthians, the cross is seen as a stumbling block... (See I Corinthians 1 verse 18) Hot on the heels of the story about the church that decided to take down a sculpture of Jesus on the cross outside the building, comes a story today about a wedding scene in the ITV soap Coronation Street where the cross inside the sanctuary where it was being filmed was hidden for fear that it might offend some viewers. They had originally asked for it to be taken down completely but found it was bolted to the communion table, so, instead they obscured it by an elaborate candelabra and flowers . I might stop watching in protest, if it weren't for the fact that I stopped watching around 25 years ago.
A spokesperson for Corrie says "we chose the church because the characters of Molly and Tyrone wanted a traditional religious church wedding service in a quintessentially English church" - without a quintessentially Christian symbol of course! Needle…

What's the Point in a 25 Year Guarantee?

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I've reached the stage in life where there is definitely more in the rearview mirror than there is on the road ahead! Frankly that doesn't worry me as it is quality, not quantity that counts... And scripture teaches me that there is a whole stretch of road that I can't yet see...


But today as Sally and I were having a quick bite to eat in IKEA (another sign of my age!) the voice on the PA announced that all IKEA mattresses come with a 25 year guarantee, to which I said (in a statement aimed at winding up my wife) "Not much point in that for me! I'll be dead before I get full value out of it..."

Then I came home to find that Will Crawley had posted a link to a life expectancy calculator developed by Boston School of Medicine, and according to it I can legitimately expect to get full value out of a mattress with a 34 year guarantee! But then, it predicts that William Crawley will have a life expectancy of 89, so either he lied significantly more on the questio…

The 10 Amendments

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A dialogue written for a new series on the Ten Commandments, with apologies to Riding Lights and countless other groups and writers who have written similar pieces:
Voice 1: I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other Gods before me.
Voice 2: For a good hour or so every Sunday...
Voice 1: You shall not make for yourself an idol...
Voice 2: Various exemptions include, money, material goods and your favourite football team...
Voice 1: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain...
Voice 2: Except when you fall over and smash something really valuable...
Voice 1: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy...
Voice 2: To keep it wholly free from anything you don’t really want to do…
Voice 1: Honour your father and your mother...
Voice 2: Until they become impossibly senile.
Voice 1: Do not kill...
Voice 2: Your friends... Unless you've got a really good reason, a reasonable alibi and a decent lawyer.
Voice 1: Do not commit adultery...
Voice 2: Unless it really is true love this time.

Can I have My Kidney Back?

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Yesterday I picked up the story of Dr. Richard Batista's strange petition in his divorce case with his wife Dawnell: the notional value of the kidney he donated to her in 2001, before she allegedly had an affair and broke his heart. The cost of a broken heart and missing kidney: $1.5 million.
However, the conclusion to the story in the New York Local Daily News, says that if he had to donate the kidney all over again he would, recalling a visit to her room on the day after surgery:
"There was no greater feeling on this planet," he said. "As God is my witness, I felt as if I could put my arm around Jesus Christ. I was walking on a cloud."
Well, God is his witness and probably he is the only one who knows the truth about the whole story, but the reference to Jesus Christ, reminds me that because of his love he gave up his ethereal existence wandering around on clouds(?) and came to earth, to give up, not just a kidney, but his whole life for his bride, the church.
L…

ps from Mr. Buonarroti

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After posting the previous rant in the middle of the night, I came across this quote whilst catching up on some of my filing... its from a certain Michelangelo Buonarroti, who probably knows more about religious art than I do. He apparently got a bit indignant with his fellow artists who were forever depicting Christ dead on the cross. he said:
"Paint him instead as Lord of life. Paint him with his kingly feet planted on the stone which held him in the tomb!"
OK... Michelangelo didn't necessarily follow his own advice (which of us does), but it is a useful corrective!
Shalom

Don't Frighten the Children...

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I come from a church tradition that doesn't often have crucifixes with figures of Jesus on them, preferring an empty cross (whether that be because of an emphasis on the completeness of the atonement, a wariness of breaking the second commandment, or a simple tendency to be different from the Catholics... actually, even a cross is at times regarded as a wee bit "papist"... I am told that when our current church building was erected only 40 years ago there was a resistance by some to having any cross inside the sanctuary or outside the building). With that in mind I am wary of criticising Rev. Ewen Souter, the Vicar of St. John's Church, Broadridge Heath in West Sussex, who recently had the figure of Christ removed from the cross outside his church to avoid putting off people coming inside or frightening children, a story which has been picked up on elsewhere (including here, and in limerick form here), and which, doubtless, will be keeping right wing copywriters in b…

My Tiny Jesus

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In a blog on "BitemyBible", a site which monitors Biblical references in modern media, there was reference today to the "My Tiny Jesus" site, where "absolutely anyone can put their words into the mouth of the Saviour."
The thing is, we've been doing that for years... Now we've just found a technological way of doing it! It brought to mind the book by Martin Wroe et al "101 Things Jesus Never Said" which included such statements as "Blessed are the tee-totallers," "If there is one thing I can't stand it's adultery" and "Time's a great healer". Its a shame its not still in print... we could add another 101 or more!
The figure of Jesus they use on the site seems to be another version of the Jesus Action Figure portrayed here, which I have, still in mint condition in its plastic packaging sitting on my study shelf... An appropriate place to keep him. Where he can't get damaged. Along with multiple…

Faith in Evolution

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As well as being the 500th Anniversary of the birth of John Calvin this year it is also the 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin, and the 150th Anniversary of his publication of his "On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection" (a snappy title if ever there was one!).
A Methodist studying Calvin's Institutes may be a strange phenomenon, but some would believe that an evangelical studying Behavioural and Evolutionary Genetics, which was the the subject of my honours dissertation in my primary degree, is even more bizarre. I am increasingly dismayed by the tendency within evangelicalism (particularly in America and Northern Ireland) to hold to literal belief in the Genesis creation stories (even though the accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 are "literally" contradictory) and "scientific" creationism, as a touchstone of "soundness". Add to that the tendency of evolutionists such as Dawkins (whose "selfish gene" theory was core t…

A Celebration of Calvin (and Hobbes)

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2009 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jean Cauvin, indeed, I share a birthday with him. He is of course better known in the English-speaking world as John Calvin.

There are various events planned in both the physical and virtual world to celebrate this momentous event, which has helped to shape the theological landscape of the western world, and to a large extent the political and social landscape too, for good and ill.
Ben Myers suggests "So why don’t you join in the fun, and read Calvin’s Institutes this year!" He is referring to the generous offer by Princeton Theological Seminary of experiencing daily tidbits from his Institutes of Religion throughout the incoming year, but having studied this document in a Northern Irish Presbyterian theological college, this particular Methodist is probably not going to join in the fun...
My studies did suggest to me, however, that the Calvin of conservative Northern Irish Calvinism, is a gross misrepresentation. His emphasis on …

Pray It If You dare

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Why am I a Methodist? Partly a historical accident involving a bus-strike... partly an emphasis on evangelism AND social action... partly the hymns of Chuck Wesley... But a huge part is the service that I will lead tomorrow with fear and trembling... The Covenant Service.
The first Methodist Covenant Service was based on an idea by Richard Alleine, and was apparently held under the leadership of John Wesley on Monday 11th August 1755, at the French church at Spittalfields in London, with 1800 people present (although JW is widely believed to exagerate his estimates of people attending his events). Wesley published "Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God" in 1780 and from that time the people called Methodists have celebrated this service... Usually on the first Sunday in January, but rarely with the large numbers associated with that first service. Indeed, in many churches it is the worst attended service of the year. First because it is the last week-end of the winter…