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Showing posts from October, 2010

Lord Help the Poor and the Needy...

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I'm not preaching or leading worship this Sunday, but one of the areas of worship-leading I have greatest difficulty with is preparing appropriate prayers of intercession and petition (or as we call them in our local church "Prayers for Others and Ourselves")... part of that is my developing undertanding of how prayer "works" and what happens when people do (or don't pray). A misreading of the lectionary reading from a couple of Sunday's ago (Luke 18: 1-8), the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow, might suggest that we have to pester God with our prayers. However, one of the more helpful statements that I have come across in recent years is this quotation in the late lamented Dennis Lennon's book "Fuelling the Fire" which we studied in our book group last year:


"We must not conceive of prayer as an overcoming of God's reluctance, but as a laying hold of his highest willingness." Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trenc…

Time for Change...

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Platform for Change is a diverse group of people from across different sectors, political perspectives and communities across Northern Ireland who have come together for one reason... Wanting systemic change in the political and civic culture of this province... Over the past few years they have hosted a number of events looking at the education debacle, environmental policy, the economy and, core to everything here, community relations. Sadly, because of other commitments I haven't made it to a single event yet, but have followed and contributed to discussions via the virtual world...
With regard to community relations there has been a growing sense of foreboding that there is not much political will to get beyond the much touted "benign apartheid" that we currently experience (no matter what statements are made to the choir about Catholic schools by the First Minister). Many within the group have particularly expressed grave concerns regarding the current DUP/Sinn Fein-…

Care Of...

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I regularly, including today, get letters and emails addressed to me c/o various people and places, and others addressed to others c/o myself. The most recent instance brought to mind an excerpt from the "No.1 Ladies Detective Agency" book I am reading... "The Miracle at Speedy Motors". The context is that Mma Makutsi, Mma Ramotse's assistant is objecting to the address of their detective agency being "c/o Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors", and what follows is Mma Ramotswe's thoughts on the issue. (If you don't know what I am talking about, do yourself a huge favour and go read Alexander McCall Smith's deceptively easy-reading series... it may well be a fantasy but a helpful one...)

"Mma Ramotswe saw nothing undignified in being in the care of anybody. In fact, she thought it was rather reassuring to be in another’s care and, more than that, it was a very convenient way of describing how to find somebody, a way which we used in our everyday…

Lament

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In some ways this follows on from yesterday's post. As I said yesterday, the Psalms reflect the real feelings of God's people, even when those feelings include the desire to dash enemy children against rocks (Psalm 137: 8-9)... Always wondered how you actually sing a song like that within the context of worship? The fact that such thoughts are included within the hymnbook of the Old Testament does not make them laudable, but it recognises their reality.
Among the laments are what we regard as Psalms 42 & 43, although they are probably a single song, divided into two by someone who went on to be a programme editor for Channel 5. What follows is my paraphrase of these 2 Psalms:

As a wanderer in the desert gasps for water,
so my soul is gasping for you, O God,
My heart thirsts for God, the real God
for the living God of action, instead of the dead God of empty words,
a life-giving oasis, rather than the mirage that is always just out of reach.
I long to leave this earth and live wit…

O for that Closer Walk...

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Currently the methodist Church in Britain is gearing up to release a new "worship resource" or as it would previously have been called, a hymnbook. Entitled "Singing the Faith" it is the first official Methodist Hymnal in Britain since 1933, as the 1983 publication "Hymns and Psalms" was an ecumenical (and largely unloved) affair. Whilst many Methodists bemoaned the loss of many Wesley hymns from first the 1983 and the most recent list, I must confess that the hymn omitted from "Hymns and Psalms" that I missed most is not one by Chuck or JW, but the one below by William Cowper... And, unless my eyesight is failing me it has also been omitted from the most recent collection...
It was a particular favourite of my mum's, and I suppose it is in my mind because the anniversary of her funeral was last weekend, and it was one of the hymns we sang at it.
But I've often wondered why it was omitted, first from the 1983 and (less surprisingly given …

It's Later than You Think...

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As I write this it is my youngest son's 10th birthday... How did that happen? Where did those years, and a whole lot more beside, disappear? A few occurances and conversations recently have made me a wee bit more aware of the passing of the years and my own mortality than before... I suppose it's something to do with my own age...
Speaking of which, last night I was actually out enjoying my birthday present from my wife... OK my birthday was in July, but she bought me tickets for a concert (today she's bought me tickets for another concert in May as my Christmas present... There's a pattern developing here). It was a concert by Jools Holland and his fabulous Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, with Alison Moyet as guest artist. The whole night was great but it definitely stepped up a gear when she came on stage. I haven't seen her live since 1986 and was surprised to see that he's lost a heap of weight, but she's lost none of her vocal power. As I said over on faceb…

The Mirror

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Have been looking at what the Bible says about Creation and Evolution with my Bible study group this week and my mind went back to this performance poem written by me. I originally posted it on the 1st February back in 2008 in response to some stuff written by Glenn Jordan over on Crookedshore, but it was first written to be performed (brilliantly) by Sharon Morwood, (now Thompson), at the Waterfront Hall as part of "Genesis", a 10th Anniversary event by New Irish Arts, inspired by the first chapter of the Bible.
New Irish Arts continues to try and prompt and support Christians with a creative bent, and have now instituted a "Christian Creatives" event at the Oasis Cafe in East Belfast on the last Tuesday evening of each month. Haven't made it along myself yet but I hope to soon.

If the image of the creator is imprinted on us, male and female, then we are all, in one way or another created to create...

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror of a morning
a…

Good Company

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Earlier in the week I said that I wasn't feeling at my brightest and best. You'll be glad (I hope) to hear that I'm feeling a bit brighter (though I do have to learn from this and behave myself), and a big part in me feeling better is the support and encouragement of family and friends, some knowingly others not. I got an invite to coffee from one colleague just when I was at my absolute nadir, without him having any idea how low I was; I got a word of encouragement from two members of the congregation relaying the positive feedback of others (something that doesn't happen too often) and a friend sent me this reflection shared by their Pastor Vincent Buchanan, at the Good Shepherd Mission last Sunday... Its an adaptation of a piece that has been doing the rounds since long before the internet was invented (don't know whether Vince adapted it himself or not), but it was helpful to me at this time and hopefully it will be helpful to someone else... It stands as a use…

Take My Mother in Law... No Seriously, Take Her...

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According to a recently published 12-page cultural awareness guide the London Borough of Barnet has effectively banned that staple of old-style comedians, the mother in law joke… Of course I would never dream of making jokes about my mother in law… our relationship is no laughing matter…
This is a form of humour that has literally existed since Roman times… mind you they thought throwing Christians to lions was entertaining.
But the guide says “British mother-in-law jokes, as well as offensively sexist in their own right, can also be seen as offensive on the grounds that they disrespect elders or parents.” Old style comedians like Les Dawson would have been left with little to say without the mother-in-law joke, and whilst I’m not into jokes that stereotype or pillory people unfairly, I must say that I’m with the more surreal comedian John Sessions, who I doubt has ever told such a joke, when he suggests that Barnet has had a bit of a sense of humour bypass in publishing this guide.
But …

Grace and Truth

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Emotionally I'm feeling a bit fragile this week... Probably just exhaustion after a busy few decades... but if anyone were to say anything negative to me at the moment I'd probably burst into tears and run away and hide... That's not my usual state of mind... normally I appreciate robust debate and intelligent critique... always have done, whether in the theatre, in science or in ministry... but at the moment, I'm not too sure I could take it. Which is why I'm encouraged, and inspired, by an unexpected act of grace and humility that I became aware of late on Sunday night...

A few weeks ago our book group finished its latest project, "Total Church" by Tim Chester and Steve Timms, and, as is my practice, I subsequently posted a "review" on the "LivingSocial" site and in the side-bar of this blog... To say that it wasn't complimentary is an understatement, as there were parts of the book and its general tone than left me as angry as I…

A Woman of no Distinction

Don't often post other people's stuff here... But I found this so powerful that I thought I should. It's a performance poem based on John 4: 4-30, and I have attached the original YouTube video below. A word for women, and men, everywhere... "to be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known."


I am a woman of no distinction
of little importance.
I am a women of no reputation
save that which is bad.

You whisper as I pass by and cast judgmental glances,
Though you don’t really take the time to look at me,
Or even get to know me.

For to be known is to be loved,
And to be loved is to be known.
Otherwise what’s the point in doing
either one of them in the first place?

I WANT TO BE KNOWN.

I want someone to look at my face
And not just see two eyes, a nose,
a mouth and two ears;
But to see all that I am, and could be
all my hopes, loves and fears.

But that’s too much to hope for,
to wish for,
or pray for
So I don’t, not anymore.

Now I keep to myself
And by that I mean the pain
that ke…

Bad News, Good News - A Tale of Two Lone Star States

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For me, this week has been dominated by 2 news stories emanating from 2 states with similar, but not identical flags…
Being a Liverpool fan, much of my week was marked by the ups and downs of the attempts to oust former owners Hicks and Gillett and sell the club to the Boston Redsox owner John Henry and his NESV consortium... I know that exchanging one American owner for another may seem like a frying-pan/fire situation, but I'm also a Redsox fan and I like what they did there, and anyway, nothing could be worse than the gruesome twosome. However, to wake up on Thursday morning hearing that Tom Hicks had taken out an injunction in a Texas court against the sale of the club, raised in me an unbelievable antipathy to the so-called Lone Star State… Thankfully by the end of the next day the injunction had been lifted and the deal with NESV was done, but it was not a good way to start the day…
It stood in huge contrast to how the previous day began, with much celebratory waving of a simi…

Exodus Revisited

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A couple of weeks ago various news providers picked up on a supposed scientific model for the parting of the Red Sea in the Biblical Book of Exodus. According to a team from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, the waters could have been divided by an east wind of 63 mph blowing for 12 hours… not on the Red Sea proper, but the shallow, but still treacherous Sea of Reeds some miles to the north… Apparently such winds could have created a land bridge about two miles long and three miles wide for four hours. They don’t, however, explain how the Israelites could possibly have crossed this land bridge in the teeth of such a gale.
Given meteorologists inability to predict the weather tomorrow with any accuracy I’m not pinning my belief structure on the scientific truth of this fanciful computer model. Actually, I’m not interested trying to find modern scientific models to explain these and other events described in scripture, but to see what light such stories s…

Directions

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Do you know where you are going?
A fortnight ago I was in London for a conference… I had everything worked out in terms of how long it would take me to get from the hotel to Westminster Central Hall where the conference was due to take place… So I set out in good time only to arrive at the door of the conference venue and find that no-one was there except for a security guard…
“No conference on here today mate! Sorry!” he said.
I tried to call a colleague who was going to the same event, but while I was trying and failing to get through to him a message came through from him asking was I already inside?
Eventually, after a few failed attempts I got him and discovered that I had been mistaken... it wasn't Westminster Central Hall it was at, it was in Westminster Chapel…
"I know where that is…" I said, "I’ll be there in about 5 minutes…" and strode off boldly in the right direction, so I thought…
I then arrived at my second destination only to find that what I thought …

Not Omnipresent... But He's Pretty Fast...

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As I stated yesterday I do a monthly slot on Downtown Radio's "Just a Moment" every morning for a week and about four days a year when I am on Radio Ulster's "Thought for the Day". Today was one of those days when there was a conjunction of the two and so at 6.55am a fair chunk of the listnership in Northern Ireland couldn't escape my dulcet tones, as I was apparently in two places at the same time talking about two different subjects. Actually if truth be told I was in 3 places at the same time as I was lying at home fast asleep, since both talks had been pre-recorded.
However, this time last week I had a bit of a diary disaster resulting in the difficult task of trying to be physically in two places at the same time.
I have a weekly event every Thursday morning, but a few weeks ago I got a message asking me to speak at a local Primary School Assembly last Thursday morning. I said yes, but totally forgot to put it in my diary or rearrange my other appoin…

I'm a Celebrity... of a sort...

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Occassionally I go into Primary schools to do assemblies and my general principle has always been wind the kids up, walk away and leave the teachers to scrape them off the ceiling... Well, not quite, but almost... I try to make what I have to say as memorable as possible, so I try to do something a wee bit different each time...
What is interesting is the response I get for a few weeks afterwards... some of the children who are in the youth and children's organisations associated with our church will greet me with a cheery/accusatory "Hey Mister! Weren't you at my school!?" Others who see me on the street quite often do the classic double-take, or 180 degree head-turn... which could potentially cause an accident...
I rarely get the same response from adults... the closest would be when, as at present, I appear on Radio Ulster's "Thought for the Day" (I'm on again tomorrow for those who are interested). This happens about 4 mornings in the year... …

Daddy likes me doing it

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Last week I was chatting to someone about her young grand-daughter who has just started school, and she spoke with real pride about the child’s fearlessness… she had always enjoyed throwing herself headlong into the water at swimming… but more recently, on her first day at a gymnastics class she had scampered like a monkey up the climbing frame before launching herself into mid-air and landing flat on the big crash mat with a smile a mile wide…
Her mother’s mind was overcome with terror, watching her baby risking life and limb, but when Granny asked her grand-daughter why she enjoyed doing it so much the young girl said “Because Daddy likes me doing it!”
Apparently her Dad had always taken her swimming and being a strong swimmer himself, he had encouraged her to launch out into the deep, knowing that whatever happened he could keep her safe… His pride at her achievements was transparent, and so when she started gymnastics, her confidence in the water transferred to confidence on the app…

Words, Words, Words...

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I enjoy word games… for years my wife, Sally, and I have played "Scrabble" on holiday or late at night, then last year two American friends introduced us to another word game called "Quiddler" that is played using cards… they were with us again at the weekend and introduced us to another one called "Bananagrams" which is like scrabble on speed without a board or points. We also play wordgames online against the clock with friends. Im generally fairly good at word games where I have time to consider how to use my letters and words strategically, but in ones where the clock is ticking, I'm utterly useless… My wife wins the majority of them, as I just can't get the letters down quick enough… I’d love to say she wins the online ones because I can’t type as fast as she can, but whilst that may be true it is not the reason she beats me nearly every time…
But whilst I enjoy word games, words are not just playthings… I enjoy words and wordplay; I love to r…

Questions, Questions, Questions

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I don’t know what I’d do without internet search engines these days… When I'm in a hurry I generally use the ubiquitous Google, but if not I use Easyclick, which pushes a fraction of a penny towards our community project DFCI every time I use it. It's a long time since I've used Ask Jeeves, although it was the one I used most at first. A couple of weeks ago I came across an article about the 10 most unanswerable questions on Ask Jeeves… Perhaps my favourite was number three, which is “Do blondes have more fun?” Now, I ask you, who puts that sort of a question into a search engine and expects any kind of an answer… Or at least any kind of any answer which doesn’t lead you to decidedly dubious websites (and no, I haven't tried it).
But many of the questions are much more profound. Number 8 asks “What is the secret to happiness?” while 7 is “What is love?” I’d suggest that both of them are tied up with the top two questions, number 2 being “Is there a god?” and, number 1 “…

On Death...

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Today is national poetry day, and I've been struck by how many people have cited Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle" as one of their favourite poems. It is an amazing, emotionally charged poem, calling for defiance in the face of death. But it is one that speaks, ultimately of a sense of hopelessness.
I think that poetry, or that poetry put to music in the form of lyrics, enables us to address profound human, spiritual issues in a way that prose cannot. Perhaps it is the careful crafting of thought and emotion required for good poetry, I don't know why... But my own favourite poem on the subject of our mortality is a sonnet by John Donne. It is just as defiant in the face of death, but is suffused with the Christian hope of resurrection. So here's my posting in honour of National Poetry Day, and I post it partly in honour of my colleague Rev Wilfred Agnew, who, last night went to his reward after many years serving his Master in this sphere:

DEATH be not proud, th…