Showing posts from February, 2009

A New Force in the Land

So the Conservatives and Ulster Unionist Party have finally confirmed what has been mooted since late last year, that is that they will fight elections in Northern Ireland on a joint ticket and under a new name. It has fallen short of all out merger, in a bid to prevent those not of a right wing tendency from breaking away, but for me it still raises the question of who left-leaning supporters of the union should vote for.
Apparently a lot of the discussions in the run-up to the announcement involved the use of the word "Ulster" in the name that this new "civil partnership" (since it isn't a marriage) will operate under. And yet after all their discussions the best they could come up with is the 'Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force'. Could I respectfully suggest that they might have spent less time debating the first word in this title and a bit of thought on the last.
"Force" conjures up either images of Jedi Knights (and although Si…

Is Forgiveness Cheesy?

I doubt that many readers of this blog would have celebrated last Sunday as "Cheese Sunday" or "Cheese-fare Sunday." For all you West Wing viewers, it has nothing to do with the "Big Block of Cheese Day." For all those who don't know what I am talking about ignore that last sentence. But were you members of the Orthodox Tradition then, last week being the Sunday before Lent, Cheese Sunday is what you would have celebrated, since it was the last Sunday you could have enjoyed cheese before Easter... I think that would stretch me as much as giving up technology.
During the liturgy they traditionally read the instructions in Matthew’s Gospel concerning fasting, in Matthew 6: 16-8. But they also read the two verses immediately before that, the verses after Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer which say:
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will no…

Not so Lo-Tec Lent

Way back in October last year I dangled a tantalising lure in the virtual pond, asking if anyone was interested in trying a "Lo-Tec Lent."
Didn't have many takers... Tho' I have noted that some others are giving up blogging...
However, Lent has sort of sneaked up on me, and so, feebly, I am not taking up the challenge myself this year...
Going to try giving up being a miserable curmudgeon instead... Anyone want to take bets on how long that will last?


The Road from Slavery to Freedom

Another piece I wrote back in 2004 but adapted for use in a retreat last week.

From slavery to freedom:
A long road through the desert.
No short-cuts but
Made longer by a lack of trust
And a longing for the past;
Pots of meat at the end of a day...
Ah! The good old days…
It may have been slavery,
but at least you got your supper.

But despite their disobedience
and their grumbling
You travelled with us.
We thought we carried you in a box
But you carried us in the palm of your hand
You provided for us
You protected us
You fought for us
Stood behind us to guard our backs
Went ahead of us to blaze the trail
You pitched your tent in our midst.

A tent
Not a temple
But a tent
A temporary stopping place
On the long road
From slavery to freedom.


Let's Dance

I don't dance - so don't ask me. My poor wife has only ever had a handful of dances out of me in the course of our 22 year relationship, and the current crop of "celebrity" (oh how I hate that term) dance shows is not going to change that...
The latest is "Lets Dance" where celebritys with nothing better to do are booked to humiliate themselves in front of the nation performing iconic dances from screen history. It's all in aid of Comic Relief, so I suppose that tells us how seriously we're supposed to take it, but I bet it will only be a week or two before there is yet another "BBC phone vote scandal!"
Anyway, through a combination of accident and design I managed to "miss" last night's offering, and I shall endeavour to do the same throughout its run... But the reason it has stuck in my consciousness and made it into this blog at all is the fact that I've been reading the late Dennis Lennon's book on prayer entitled…

Travelling On

I thought my travelling days were done… I’d had enough upheaval in my life… moving with my family from the centre of civilization to what I saw then as the sticks… Syria… Haran… But still it was a city… and I was a city boy… who grew into a city man… and was settling down to spend the rest of my days there… Surrounded by familiar faces… familiar places… familiar gods… Gods cast in gold and silver or carved from stone and wood, all around the city in shrines and temples… and miniature ones in our own house watching over us day and night with their cold eyes.
And under their gaze I had prospered. I had everything I could possibly need in this world… Or nearly everything… My wife Sarai and I had no sons… not even a daughter, to pass on my wealth to, but we were happy…
Then everything changed… When God spoke… Not one of our tame household gods… Idols without voices… Gods that we had made… But this was the voice of the God who had made us…
At first everyone thought I was mad… At first I thoug…

Canaries in the Coal Mine

At the recent consultation on working in loyalist areas, someone made the analogy (don't know whether it is original... it was to me) that young men are are like canaries in the coal mine when it comes to social and economic change...
Whether they be the hoodies dreaded by the Daily Mail, or the young loyalists of Northern Ireland's estates, there is a certain truth in that. Whatever malign phenomenon pervades society manifests itself first with young, undereducated men... even things that seem good on the whole, can have unexpected toxic consequences in the underbelly of society. And so the societal changes that came from the end of the industrial age, sexual liberation and equal rights for women, and the end of armed struggle, have all wreaked havoc among young "working class" men. However, even when things are going well, the canary may be singing cheerily, but it's still in a cage in the dark and may never know anything different...


Looking for Love

I suppose I was looking for love, but I got more than I bargained for. Everyone talks about love... But there’s precious little of it about. When I was a kid, my Mum and my Dad both called me “Love...” “Love, would you give me a hand to set the table...” “Would you run down to the market for me, Love...” “Look love, would you clear off and give my head peace...”
It’s an easy word to say... its not so easy to find. And let me tell you I’ve looked. I’m not blaming anyone else... I made my bed, and I lay in it... The only trouble was I lay in it with someone else’s husband. He told me he loved me... he promised he would divorce his wife, but of course that never happened, and when the God squad broke down the door, and dragged me out of bed, he just sat there... Said nothing. And why they just picked on me I don’t know... There were two of us in that bed... The law says we’re both guilty... But its one law for men, and another for women in the eyes of the Pharisees.
They dragged me out int…

Happy Birthday Chuck!

Yesterday was Charles Darwin's 200th birthday! So I half expected to be buried under assorted Darwinania and various mailings from the fundamentalist wing of evolutionary biology... But no, instead they stood back and left the floor open for "the other side." And true to form, the first piece of news to come across my RSS reader yesterday referring to Darwin was from the same brains-trust that gave us a NI Enviroment minister who doesn't believe in Man Made Climate Change... with a news story from the Guardian referring to DUP MLA Mervyn Storey who is threatening to mount a legal challenge to the Ulster Museum under equality legislation if they go ahead with a Darwin Exhibition...
I despair...
But... what if their bluff was called and, under equality legislation, they were given exhibition space proportional to the properly peer-reviewed scientific research in support of either evolution or Young Earth Creationism, or even Old Earth Intelligent Design?
I'm sure they…

Neither Saint nor Sinner

Just finished Ross O'Carroll-Kelly's book, "South Dublin: How to get by on, like, €10,000 a day" a very funny, guide to the the land of conspicuous consumption on the far side of the Liffey. It is not for those of delicate sensibilities... But then again that is true of so much of what passes for popular culture today, be it in South Dublin, South Belfast, South London, or to be fair, at any of the compass points in any of the major cities in these islands.
We may tut at the immorality on our TV screens, radios, newspapers and magazines... But it isn't so much immorality as amorality... As Lily Allen puts it in her recent song: "The Fear"
"I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore..."
There's no concept of wrong... Just what you are prepared to pay for...
It remains to be seen whether this phenomenon will survive the credit-crunch, but until it does, Allen's song, could well be a hymn to the god of the age... the one we see in th…

Sammy Wilson Addresses Climate Change Rally

The recent cold snap has lead to all sorts of jokes about the so called "greenhouse effect". If only climate were as easy to understand as saying more carbon in the atmosphere, leads to higher average temperature, leads to less snow. No... an unstable climate with an atmosphere saturated with carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" will actually lead to less predictable weather patterns... it may make for less ice at the poles during summer, but it could lead to a disruption of the jet stream and gulf stream, making us in Northern Ireland as snowbound as Newfoundland in winter.
In the light of that the announcement on Monday that, in contravention of his party's and department's stated commitments, Northern Ireland environment minister Sammy is seeking to enforce a NI-wide ban on Westminster-funded ads and programmes that are aimed at reducing carbon emissions, is not very funny.
His actions are apparently based on his personal belief that Man-Made Climat…

A Slight Frost...

Its been a wee bit cold here over the past week or two, with some snow and a fair bit of ice... In fact its almost as cold as "when I was a boy"... Although thankfully now we have central heating and double glazing. However, the sprinkling of snow that we had last week caused everything to grind to a halt, with a 20 minute journey taking me 90 minutes on Thursday, and schools closing left, right and centre. But what I want to know is WHAT ARE WE MOANING ABOUT!? Friends from the US sent us these pictures of the shorefront of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin...

Hardly surprising given that this is above the snow-line in the US. But another friend sent this one from sunny Florida.

We are significantly more northerly than either of these two places... So lets stop moaning, give thanks for the Gulf Stream (for as long as we still have it) and get on with things!

Plucking Brands from the Burning

The speaker at our service in Dundonald Methodist yesterday, reminded us that today the 9th February, 2009 is the 300th anniversary of the fire that ravaged Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire, and very nearly deprived the world of John Wesley, the founder of what became known as Methodism, then a mere 5 years old. His mother Suzanna famously described him as "a brand plucked from the burning" and had a strong sense that God had a particular purpose for his life. My Arminian theology causes me to ask whether John Wesley's subsequent life in ministry, was a fulfiment of God's purposes, or a product of Suzanna's sense of God's purpose, or a complex combination of both. Certainly the role of Suzanna in the lives of her two most famous children cannot be gainsaid, and, in the light of this week-end's 11plus results, and what I wrote yesterday, it emphasizes the role that key adults can have in the subsequent development of children. The key is not individual events s…

The Last 11 Plus

I’ve got a dictionary with an inscription on the inside cover… It says: “Congratulations David on passing the last ever 11 plus”
It was given to me by one of my brothers, I won’t tell you how long ago… But it wasn’t yesterday…
What did happen yesterday was that children all over Northern Ireland got their results from, what Catriona Ruane says will be the last ever 11 plus… Except it won’t be…
Because of political gamesmanship in which the lives of children are pawns, next year there will be a whole swathe of different 11 pluses being offered by different schools as entrance exams… And a completely chaotic system of transfer from primary to secondary schools. Unless a deal can be done quickly.
I did well out of the 11 plus… Because I passed it I was able to get an education that was second to none, opening all sorts of options to me, that were not open to the majority of my primary school pals. The sad thing is that the options that were open to them, which were mainly the Shipyard and th…

Truth, Grace and a Cat-O-Nine-Tails

Just before Christmas I was very taken by the description of the incarnate Word coming full of "grace and truth" (John 1: 14), and used that stick to liberally beat anyone who happened to transgress my view of how to graciously stand up for truth in the face of someone that you fundamentally disagree with.
But recently I have found myself falling into that deep dark hole... Won't bother with any kind of justifications, medically, psychologically, socially or spiritually, I have simply been horribly graceless... Both in the virtual and physical forms of reality.
Pot-kettle... Kettle-pot...
But here's a question that came to me while I was reading a rather famous episode in the life of the Word made flesh (John 2: 13-16). When is it OK to adopt the use of a "rope of cords" to beat all round you and still be regarded as full of grace and truth?
He didn't do it to the misogynist hypocrites who accused the woman (but not her paramour) of adultery (John 8: 1-11)…

Re Re:Call Revisited

Just a quick post to partially redress the balance regarding the retreat last week. I stand by all that I said about one strand of the event... It was appalling. But that happens sometimes... You book speakers with an international reputation, brief them appropriately, and they then don't come up with the goods... And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, except take them off your list of recommendations for anyone else. As for the rest of the event, it was extremely well organised and worthwhile, although personally I think it is something that we should do every 3 years, rather than bi-annually as it has been recently... The speakers and seminars are an important element, but probably more important is just the time spent sharing with colleagues, especially now that our annual conference in June is shorter, more condensed and business-like.
But to refer to the other main speaker at the event, Bishop Graham Cray of Maidstone, as I said in a comment after my previous pos…

Phew! Glad that's Over!

Just finished an event that I was dreading this morning. I was speaking at the launch of a booklet produced by the Centre for Contemporary Christianity, entitled "Divided Past: Shared Future" which consists of two essays - one by Rev. Professor Nigel Biggar of Christ Church in Oxford, which he originally delivered as the keynote address at the CCCI conference in November 2007 entitled "Divided Past: Shared Future", and the other by me, entitled " Divine and Human: Nurturing a Spirituality and Culture of Forgiveness."
Why was I nervous when I regularly stand up and talk in front of much larger groups of people? Well, for a number of reasons. First because I originally wrote the paper 3 years ago as a part of my sabbatical studies, which I spent as an intern with CCCI. That 3 year gap meant that I am not as conversant with the finely reasoned (?) logic of the essay as I was at the time, but also because the discussion of forgiveness is quite contentious in t…

How not to Engage

OK... I have breathed repeatedly into a brown paper bag before this one... but my head is still on the verge of exploding...
As a number of faithful readers may have guessed by now, there are any number of things that will send me into a spiral of barely contained rage... Including organisations who sell programmes and packages to churches as the answer to all their possible needs in a particular area... A tendency that owes more to the franchising movement of the commercial world, than to scripture... It produces fads and fashions in ministry and mission... Alpha... Christianity Explored... Cafe Church... Fresh Expressions... Seeker Sensitive Services... Purpose Driven Whatevers...
Most of these are great in their own right... And sensitively used can contribute to local mission... But they need to be carefully contextualised... Alpha, developed for the beautiful people of the dinner-party set around Knightsbridge and Chelsea, needs to be appropriately tailored for working class Bally…

The Foolishness of God, the Wisdom of the BBC, and the Genius of the Vatican

Who is allowed to say what on the Beeb these days?
On Friday night I turned on BBC1 QI which stands for "Quite Interesting"), with Stephen Fry et al, a programme which I really enjoy, being a trivia nerd, although some of the guests sadly often go for cheap and not quite so interesting laughs.
On this episode they asked a question concerning the number of commandments in Exodus 20 (answer according to Fry is 14... been back to Exodus 20 and don't quite get what he means), and during that part of the show Stephen Fry told the sort of non-PC joke that would have been common in the days of Bernard Manning. Apparently God went ot the French and offered them the commandments, but they weren't interested because of the command no to commit adultery... He went to the Germans, and they weren't happy about being told not to kill... He went to the Italians and they weren't happy about being told not to steal... He finally went to the Jews, only to be asked "How much…