Showing posts from November, 2010

Watch and Wait for God's Promised Peace

I've said a couple of times that I've been away for a few days and on Sunday I really enjoyed being with a friend at her church in East London, with no responsibility for leading worship... It was a good time of worship, teaching and ministry, but I did find it strange that there was no reference to the beginning of Advent...
As the years have gone by I've come to really appreciate the rhythm of the church year, and, while the rest of the world is rushing headlong towards the economic car-crash that Christmas has become, the liturgical calendar encourages us to put the breaks on... to slow down, if not stop altogether...
Well, while I was taking a break this weekend, I was, by the magic of pre-recorded radios, also conducting a studio "service" for the first Sunday in Advent...
If you want to stop for a while and reflect on what Advent is all about, you might want to check out the broadcast on BBC's "Listen Again" feature.
I don't want to hurry you,…

We Light This Candle

A short liturgy for the first Sunday in Advent.

We light this first candle...
to give thanks for Gods written word
Promising the coming of the Prince of Peace
A light bringing hope in the midst of the darkness of despair
Heralding a new Kingdom of justice and joy
Of righteousness and redemption
Of salvation and security.
We light this candle...
May its light overcome the darkness.

A Call to Worship

As I said yesterday, I am not here, if by here I mean at my desk in Belfast doing my usual last minute preparations for worship in Dundonald tomorrow. Instead I'm in London and going to sit anonymously in a pew with my wife tomorrow. But by the miracle that is scheduled posts, I thought I would share this gem by Kim Fabricius over on Connexions. He posted it a while back and I've been trying to think of an appropriate time to link to it or post it... This is as good a time as any

Why are we here?

We are not here to “do a bunk” from the world.
We are not here to “get in touch with our ‘inner selves’”.
We are not here to “recharge our batteries”.
And God help us if we are here to “make a deal” with God:
“Lord, if you do this for me, then I’ll do that for you.”

Why are we here?

We are here because the world is not right,
because we are not right,
and because we are angry about injustice,
sad about suffering,
and ashamed of ourselves.

Why are we here?

We are here because God so loves the world

London Calling

A few days ago Crookedshore posted a typically perceptive post on the situation being faced by yet another generation of young Irish people, heading to London, New York, Chicago, Boston and other big centres of ex-pat Irish in search of work. There are those who suggest that this time it may well be disproportionatly those with higher qualifications who leave the sinking ship of the Irish economy, an experience which the majority community in the occupied 6 counties have had for years with young Protestants tending to go to universities across in GB, rather than staying in Ireland, and never coming back. I did read (and post on facebook) an interesting article by Matthew Lynn suggesting that this likely outcome is one of the reasons why it may be better for Ireland to go bust rather than accept the EU/IMF bail-out. I'm not economically competent enough to comment on that in detail, but he raises some interesting issues...
But meanwhile, back at the Crookedshore, he cites one of my …


If you woke up this morning with more health than illness,
you are more blessed than the million who won’t survive the week.
If you have never experienced
the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment,
the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation,
you are ahead of 20 million people around the world.
If you attend a church meeting
without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death,
you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.
If you have food in your refrigerator,
clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep,
you are richer than 75% of this world.
If you have money in the bank,
in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace,
youare among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
If your parents are still married and alive,
you are very rare.
If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful,
you are blessed because the majority can,
but most do not.
If you can hold someone’s hand, hug them
or even touch them on the shoulder,
you …

The Black Seam

The news is full of the Pike River Mining Disaster, made so much more tragic in the light of the recent Chilean mine "miracle".
God forgive us glib comments about miracles and prayer and the sovereign grace of God.
God forgive us that we take the dangers that miners (and oil platform engineers, and deep sea fishermen) face, for granted.
The loss of these 29 lives is a tragedy...
But it has also raised for others the many livelihoods lost in coal mining areas in the last major recession in the 1980s... The work down the pits may have been hard and dangerous but it was all that the people of those areas ever knew... And nothing adequate has ever replaced it in most cases... Call centres and car washes... The same is true of all the old industries including the shipyard in Belfast...
In memory of those who have died, and in honour of all those who have worked in coal mines the world and the industries fuelled by it, here is Sting's "We work the black seam together..."


Characteristics of the Current Kingdom

A poem/reflection written in the light of the Rob Bell book I reviewed yesterday and Robert Plant's version of the old gospel blues song "Satan, Your Kingdom must Come Down". "Not exactly Sunday School stuff" as He says, but we've got to work out what Kingdom we are subjects of...

A kingdom of accusation and blame
Of guilt and of shame…

An empire of acquisition and consumption
Of fraud and corruption…

A principality of pride and presumption
Of hubris and humiliation…

Shadows and shifting sands
Darkness and dryness
Deception and disappointment
Disease, death and decay

A kingdom constructed from the corpses of the powerless
An empire erected on the gravestones of the poor
A principality without principles
Without compassion
Without grace

A kingdom defined by who’s in and who’s out
An empire defended by force of arms
A principality of oppression
What we want we’ll take
What we have we’ll hold

That kingdom will crumble
That empire will be erased
That principality will cease
With the c…

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

I don't usually post book reviews in the main body of this blog, as I generally post them on Virtual Bookshelf which in turn posts them on facebook and in the sidebar here. But this is a long one (not much shorter than the book itself!), so I thought it best to put it here in a slightly amended form.
In our church we have what we call a "Good Book Group" which meets on an irregular basis on a Sunday night after the evening service in various people's homes, to discuss books that we have read (or more often than not partially read). So far we have looked at:
"Simply Christian" by Tom Wright - a good start...
"Jesus: Safe, Tender Extreme" by Adrian Plass - universally regarded by the group as the waste of too many good trees.
"The Shack" By William Young - the group was interested by some of the issues thrown up but generally appalled by it as a work of literature.
"Living the Resurrection" by Eugene Peterson - not a good introduction…

Mid Life Crisis Meme

OK... This is another recyled meme from a friend over on Facebook, but this one chimes with me because at a certain time of life a not so young man's fancy turns to thoughts of what they would like to do on this planet before they shuffle off this mortal coil. So this is effectively a "bucket list"
What do I want to do before kicking that proverbial bucket?
Most of mine are to do with travelling... something I didn't do enough of when younger and with fewer responsibilities to/for others.
1) Visits to Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan (Petra) Rome and mainland Greece - largely shaped by my love of ancient history, and particularly Biblical and ancient church history.
2) Visits to India and Sub-saharan Africa: two areas of the world/cultures that I know far too little about.
3) Visits to Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef: to appreciate these 2 natural wonders of the world close up.
4) Direct a Shakespeare play again: probably Titus Andronicus with buckets of blood (literal…

Joy, Joy, My Heart is Full of Joy

In order to counterbalance last week's repost of Ben Myer's 12 Theses on Sadness, and to allay the fears of those who think I'm about to take a long walk off a short pier, here is his recent post on "Joy." Maybe it's just where I am, but I don't find his thinking quite so compelling as in last week's post, however I do firmly believe in something said by Gerald Coates (always one to say something interesting, even if it is completely bonkers far too often)

"If the joy of the Lord is our strength, it's little wonder that the church in Britain has been so weak and ineffective."
Gerald Coates (1984)

Anyway, here's Ben Myer's "Ode to Joy"

1. As icons are painted on gold, so the lives of saints are written on a background of light.
2. Evelyn Underhill knew a saintly man, Father Wainwright. ‘He was an indifferent – and in later years an inarticulate – preacher; people came to his sermons, not so much to listen as to look at his fa…


Memes are clearly a bit like buses, you don't see one for ages then 2 come along at once (and what a coincidence to be writing about memes the day after refering to the book that, I believe, coined the term ,Uncle Dick's "Selfish Gene"). Anyway, over on FB I recently forwarded a 15 influential authors meme that has provided people across the globe with discussion topics (and has set me on the hunt of a few new authors), and tonight I came across this "First 15" meme on Connexions.
The rules are:

1) Turn on your MP3 player or music player on your computer.
2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode.
3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up–song title and artist–NO editing/cheating, please (no-matter how bizarre or embarrassing the results are).
After listing then tag another fifteen people including me (so I can laugh at your results, although I know in advance that 12 out of 15 on Glenn Jordan's list will be Bruce Springsteen songs, while all of Stocki's list will…

Pious Plagiarism

I have often said that I have never had an original idea in my life, but I'm content with that given that one of the wise teachers of the Bible tells us that there is "nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1: 9), and I know that I'm not bad at synthesising other people's ideas, recombining them into something that LOOKS vaguely original and creative (and as a friend pointed out to me today, one of my favourite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin, is a creative magpie, stealing material wholesale from various sources which he then weaves into something wonderful). This has been true of my academic, theological and theatrical work over the years, and I'm generally very careful to attribute sources, particularly if I am lifting material verbatim. When I was in theological college I was frequently told off because my footnotes and references often outweighed the main text of dissertations and assignments, but this was probably caused by an awkward experience in my fir…

A Song in Time of Trouble

For various reasons I've been spending a lot of time, personally and professionally trawling throught the Psalms recently. Yesterday morning a friend pointed me in the direction of Psalm 27. Given my personal circumstances at present and Advent fast approaching the closing verses are particularly appropriate. Here's my take on it...

The LORD is my light and my salvation:
Who have I got to fear?
The LORD is the fortress for my life:
Of what shall I be afraid?
Though many enemies besiege me on all sides,
my heart will not fear;
though world war three break out against me,
even then will I be cool, calm and collected.
One thing I ask from the LORD,
this is what I’m looking for:
that I may live in the presence of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the glory of the LORD and to serve him in his holy place.
For when times are tough he’ll keep me safe behind his ramparts
He’ll lift me up beyond the reach of those who would pull me down
He’ll hide me in the folds of his tent,
high on the …

A New Version of an Old Song

The Psalms have repeated references to new songs. Perhaps the worshipping community in the Jerusalem Temple were as reluctant to try these new fangled Psalms as many are to try new songs today! What follows is my version of an old song, Psalm 98 that we used as a responsive call to worship at our praise service last night:

Sing to God a brand-new song.
Celebrate what he has done!
He rolled up his sleeves and saved us
With his strong right arm he rescued us.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Break into joyful song!
Play your instruments in praise
Sing songs to the God who gave you your voice.
Let your flutes, fiddles and trumpets
Fill the air with praises to God your King.
Let us join with all creation in praising our creator.
Let the waves of the sea breaking on the shore
Sound like applause to our God.
Let the barking, mooing, cawing and roaring of every living creature be a song of praise to the Lord.
Let the rivers speak of his ever flowing grace
Let the mountains speak of his eternal fait…

Frank's Prayer for Peace

A prayer that will be widely used today in Remembrance Services, either in read or sung form, will be the so-called "Prayer of Saint Francis." It is popularly attributed to the 13th-century saint Francis of Assisi, but I am reliably informed (and not just by Wikipedia) that the prayer in its popular form cannot be traced back further than 1912, when it was printed in French, in a small spiritual magazine called "La Clochette" ("The Little Bell") as an anonymous prayer.

Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.
Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l'amour.
Là où il y a l'offense, que je mette le pardon.
Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l'union.
Là où il y a l'erreur, que je mette la vérité.
Là où il y a le doute, que je mette la foi.
Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l'espérance.
Là où il y a les ténèbres, que je mette votre lumière.
Là où il y a la tristesse, que je mette la joie.
Ô Maître, que je ne cherche pas tant à …

Smiles, Sadness and the Silence of God

It's not often that I reblog someone else's piece in its entirety, but this is too good not to... I picked it up through Richard Hall over at Connexions (a great site for picking up material from across the blogsphere when it is not being assailed by Zionists) but it is originally by Ben Myers over on Faith and Theology. Its on a theme I've been touching on a lot recently (clearly my time of life!!!) but it isn't a theme that is covered by many Christian writers. It also mashes well with the song by Andrew Peterson I've posted at the end of the article.

1. The precursor of the human smile was the caveman’s savage grimace (Angus Trumble, A Brief History of the Smile, p. 3). The invention of dentistry is the main difference between this threatening grimace and the polite social convention of the modern smile.

2. In the Protestant West today, smiling has become a moral imperative. The smile is regarded as the objective externalisation of a well ordered life. Sadness is…


In a few weeks time Sally and I are heading over to London for a bit of a break and while we’re there we hope to take in an exhibition in the British Museum on the Egyptian Book of the Dead… It may sound a bit dull or maybe even slightly creepy, but I am fascinated by Egyptian culture… I was particularly frustrated not to get to see the Tutankhamun exhibits at the O2 in London a couple of years ago… Maybe I’ll just have to arrange a wee trip to Egypt to see them…
The name of Tutankhamun actually means “The living image of [the god] Amon” although it is thought that he actually changed his name from “Tutankhaten” meaning, The Living image of Aten” when there was a religious revolution which meant that Aten, the god of his father, the heretical monotheist Akhenaten, fell out of favour and the older deity Amon became the national god again…
While he was said to be the image of one god or another, it is ironic that we only know what King Tut looks like insofar as his image is reflected in t…

How Should we Remember?

Last week Channel 4 Newsreader Jon Snow got into trouble in the media over his reluctance to wear a poppy on TV ahead of Remembrance Sunday (actually he has form on this, so perhaps this isn't news at all!) A viewer left a comment on his blog admonishing him for not wearing the poppy and so dishonouring British war dead and our troops in Afghanistan…
Mr Snow’s response was to refer to this type of attitude as “poppy fascism” before going on to say that it was to protect our freedoms, including the freedom of when or if we want to wear a poppy that British soldiers died in the last world war and continue to die in current conflicts… He said he prefers to wear his on Remembrance Sunday in Church rather than for weeks coming up to that date on the TV.
I have to say that I agree with Mr Snow’s response… I referred last Sunday to the great price of our freedom have been purchased… And I will wear my poppy in proud remembrance of that fact both today and this coming Sunday (all be it with…

Education and Learning

Currently there’s is a lot of tension concerning the future of education in this country…
First there's the debacle concerning the local post-primary transfer tests, which condemns kids to up to 5 tests over the next 4 Saturdays in alien surroundings... and asking their parents to pay for the privilege.
Then there's the likely threefold increase in third level education tuition fees, resulting in the protests, peaceful and otherwise, in London today.
In both, people from poorer backgrounds will undoubtedly be affected more than others… Yes there is provision for those who recieve "free school meals" to have transfer tests waived, and there will, we are told, be no up-front costs for people going to university and graduates will only have to pay back their "loan" when their earnings rise above a certain level, but this ignores some key facts about those from some disadvantaged areas.
First, not everyone takes up the option of free school meals because of the per…


Massive losses for the Democratic Party in this week’s US mid-term elections, mean that President Obama will have to deal with a somewhat hostile House of Representatives for the next two years (although they did manage to hold on to the Senate, and some commentators point out that it wasn't all good news for the right wing Tea Party…)
I don't know why it came as such a surprise as, even from an observation point thousands of miles away across the Atlantic, that seemed to be the way it was shaping. Obama described the defeat as a shellacking, which produced a flurry of etymological debates... Where did this unusual word come from? Again, I'm slightly mystified as to the surprise and confusion, I've seen and read this in American sports commentaries and gangster movies for years. Originally I, like most of the current crop of internet etymologists, associated it with the "shellack" varnish, in the same way that we might talk about someone getting "pasted&q…


Last Saturday I noticed an amusing coincidence... I routinely listen to music while I read or write, and more so when I am doing paperwork, and I generally just set my substantial collection of music to shuffle itself in order to provide the audio-wallpaper. If I'm concentrating on what I'm doing I don't really pay much attention to the individual songs, but I was jarred out of what I was doing by the fact that two consecutive songs by different artists or different albums used exactly the same words in their introduction... the songs were "Becoming more Like Alfie" by The Divine Comedy, and "Michael Caine" by Madness, both of which use variations on the line "My name is Michael Caine". Bizarre! I can't imagine what the odds were... I'm sure I could calculate them, but I'm not that dull or devoid of more useful things to do...
It was an amusing, but essentially trivial coincidence...
But over the past few weeks more significant coinc…