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Showing posts from September, 2009

Funeral Service for the Church?

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Oops... Haven't been paying attention... This was supposed to go online on Tuesday, but I've been a tad busy over the past few days... However, it seems as if a lot of you had picked up on it already. It touches on some of the issues I raised in my post on Sunday, but was originally inspired by the fact that for various reasons I, and others have been looking back to significant anniversaries over recent weeks. You can find it online for the next few days at BBC's iPlayer at 26 and 86 minutes, but here is the original text.

Two weeks ago was my 20th wedding anniversary. Last week it was the 40th Anniversary of the opening of our church building in Dundonald. A few people remember the first of those 2 anniversaries… many more remember the second… But infinitely more will remember the events of this day 30 years ago…
Because today in 1979 Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to step onto Irish soil. Those who subsequently saw him at Phoenix Park, Drogheda or Knock will neve…

Who is My Neighbour?

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Here's a quick question for you that comes from my morning reading... Is James a hypocrite? As in James the writer of the New Testament letter...
I'm one of those who is fully signed up to the idea that in scripture we find a bias towards the poor (whether that significantly affects how I live my life is another question altogether, but I at least have accepted the principle). As a result I often speak about that, and in particular the implications of that for the ministry of my current church, which is in a relatively low-income public housing estate, set within a much more affluent suburb of Belfast, which in global and historic terms is part of the most prosperous societies in world history. Often when I raise this, one of my congregation challenges this analysis and reminds me that "God so loved the world" not just the poor and the marginalised. He is one of the more economically comfortable in my congregation, so it might be easy to write off his comments as defe…

The Bridegroom and His Bride

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Yesterday was our Anniversary Service, and in the morning, Des Bain was preaching from Revelation 21. So I wrote this short piece as an introduction...

I was waiting… it seemed like an eternity… I was waiting for her to arrive… I wasn’t nervous, as such… I knew she would be there… But I was excited… I just couldn’t wait… My whole life had led up to that moment… There were those who said she would let me down… some said she wasn’t good enough for me… But I knew different… I loved her and that was all that mattered… and the time had come for that love to be made known… That I was hers and she was mine forever… The waiting was over… The music struck up, and there she was… radiant with beauty… Now everyone could see her the way I always saw her…

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed f…

Back to the Future?

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Today the Church of England and other mainline churches were celebrating "Back to Church Sunday" (Patrick Comerford has been preaching/blogging about it here). According to Des Bain, the Home Missions Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the churches here in Ireland have been considering an extension of the campaign to this island. He spoke about it at our leaders' event yesterday in church, as part of our Anniversary Celebrations. In effect today was a bit of a "Back to Church Sunday" for us, as former ministers, members and friends joined with us to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the opening of our current premises, and it was great to see them.
However, if we do adopt this campaign, I truly hope that we at least find a different name for it. I don't want to encourage anyone to come "Back" to anything... Indeed, I would want to encourage the church to stop looking back to some mythical golden age, and instead look forward with a sense…

Church Anniversary

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This time last week I was looking forward to my 20th wedding anniversary. This week I’m looking forward to the 40th Anniversary Celebrations of the opening of our church premises in Dundonald. We’ve all sorts of things planned and I hope that it will be both enjoyable and challenging for all who join with us.
But one of the things that will be said, and has already been said a hundred times over, is that despite us celebrating the 40th anniversary of the opening of the church building… the church itself is NOT a building, but the people who meet within and minister from that building…
It was Winston Churchill who once said “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” I don’t think he was talking about churches specifically when he said that, but it is a statement that was never truer than when referring to places of worship.
On the negative side, church buildings can be erected to facilitate certain actions carried out in God’s name at a particular time and place… But time moves o…

The Coasters

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In the light of recent rioting in Lurgan and the Short Strand/Mountpottinger interface in East Belfast, the murders of soldiers and a policeman earlier in the year and the many manifestations of impasse at Stormont, the fact that this year is the 40th Anniversary of the start of the most recent batch of "troubles" in this little piece of green real estate should give us pause to reflect... Especially those who think that we have nothing to do with all of that... Last week at a meeting someone gave me a copy of this poem by John Hewitt, written in 1969... Some of us have continued coasting from then to the present day... Indeed in many ways Hewitt's analysis is even more pertinent today...

You coasted along
To larger houses, gadgets, more machines
To golf and weekend bungalows,
Caravans when the children were small,
the Mediterranean, later, with the wife.

You did not go to Church often,
Weddings were special;
But you kept your name on the books
Against eventualities;
And the parso…

Love and Marriage

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In my usual morning trawl through the news I came across two quirky stories... The first involves a young Taiwanese lady called Ya Ya Ching, who is blogging on her attempts to snog 100 different people in the romantic city of Paris... I won't be starting any such endeavour soon, largely due to concerns for my health... Sally would kill me. But if you are interested in seeing how this young lady is getting on, or indeed in helping her along, you can check out her progress here (so long as you can read Chinese)...
But if you are interested in more than just a swift smooch (although it may not last much longer given the age of the person involved and her past record) the second story involved another not-so-young lady who is interested in getting married again. Having got married to a young man 70 years her junior, who also happens to be a drug addict, 107 year old Malaysian, Wook Kundor (pictured above with her beau) is thinking about divorcing him and marrying someone else before he…

Blood is thicker than Water... But Oil is more valuable than Blood...

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I used to be a supporter of Gordon Brown. I've been left-leaning in my political sensitivities for decades, and while I supported the "modernisation" of the Labour Party under the leadership of Blair, I was always deeply suspicious of his grinning spin. Whilst I appreciated that he claimed a Christian moral compass, I believed that it deviated because of his proximity to the bigger, brasher version used by George W. Bush.
I believed that in Brown, you still had a profound sense of Christian (Presbyterian) morality, leading to his interventions on global debt etc., but that it was more substantive and less about surface impressions... that is, that what you saw was what you got.
Sadly, over the past months I am more and more convinced that he's just the same as Blair (and Cameron), just not as good at the game.
Almost since he took over as PM he has been flailing around like a drowning man. Some of the circumstances, such as the global recession and the wars in Iraq/Afg…

Music Lessons Were Never Like this...

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I am the musically inept member of my family. My wife and children can all play instruments, which I am incapable of doing because I seem to have retarded neurons connecting my brain to my hands, so I know what I'm supposed to do, just cannot do it fast enough. Insteas I get by with having a tolerable singing voice. But music classes at school were never like this experiment on the ubiquity of the pentatonic scale conducted at the World Science Festival by Bobby McFerrin. It was originally posted by Tortoise of Dissent over the summer, but I was too busy enjoying myself to notice it then, and just incase you were too, here it is...

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Cheers

Sunday on the Airwaves...

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For obvious reasons (being a Methodist minister) I don't get to watch much TV or listen to a lot of radio on a Sunday, but happened to tune into a number of interesting things today, before and after church...
Before charging out to an early meeting I did manage to listen to a bit of William Crawley's Sunday Sequence, which began with an interesting piece based on a survey by Ship of Fools. I would regularly check in with this site myself, but haven't done so much recently, but under the heading of "Chapter and Worse" they've been having a poll of some of those puzzling, perplexing and downright disturbing verses and passages in scripture... Its worth a look, and might perhaps be a good point for jumping off in a series of Bible studies with a more thoughtful group.
Then, honouring the 25th Anniversary of Powerpoint, the programme went on to cover similar ground to an earlier blog, and indeed one of those I cited, Alan in Belfast, was a prominent contributer…

Fallen Crumbs

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Tomorrow's Gospel reading in the lectionary, from Mark 7: 24-37 is the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, a frankly disturbing story where Jesus, at first seems to be responding in a somewhat racist manner to a woman in need. I say "at first seems" because many commentators are very careful to extricate the sinless Son of God from this accusation by various theological and sociological backflips, suggesting that he was only testing the woman (a fairly crass test in the face of need one might think), or that he was acting out the response she might have expected and would have recieved from the disciples to show them something, or that the term for dog he used was not an insulting one at all (unlike most Jewish references to dogs which are more akin to our use of the word "Bitch") but a pet term. Other, more liberal theologians suggest that this was a spiritual growth point for the human Jesus.
Me. I don't know what to think. But as on most first sunday'…

Molech is Alive and Well...

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There's a famous song by Paul Brady called "The Island" which is set against the background of the Northern Ireland troubles... in it he says: "Up here we sacrifice our children; To feed the worn-out dreams of yesterday"

With the exception of sporadic spats of sectarian violence like this week at the Short Strand/Mountpottinger interface, in which, as ever, children often become the front-line troops, those days are behind us. But the old tensions remain and the battleground between unionist and republican has simply shifted. One of the most pronounced is the area of education, where Sinn Fein Education Minister Catrina Ruane has pursued a dogmatic approach to non-selective secondary education, which due to an equally dogmatic response by Unionists and stakeholders in the Grammar School sector, has produced a chaotic scenario for those starting the last year of primary school this week.

Today all P7 pupils will receive a very helpful leaflet outlining their options…

The First of the Many

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This morning in a brief reflection on Downtown Radio, my thoughts focused on a gentleman I had never heard of until last week. I wonder if you have heard of him?

The life, and more specifically the death of Franciszek Honiok, radically affected the lives of millions of others including our own. According to the testimony of Alfred Naujocks at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trial, on the night of August 31, 1939, Honiok was taken from a German concentration camp, where he, a German Silesian and supporter of Polish independence had been interned. He was given a lethal injection, dressed in a Polish uniform and shot. His body was transported to the town of Gleiwitz on the border of Poland and Germany, where, after a staged attack on a German radio station (pictured), his body was left outside. This was then used as proof that it was Poles who had attacked that installation, which, in turn, was cited as the final straw which forced Germany to invade Poland on this day 70 years ago.
This man, whos…