Showing posts from May, 2012

Sing when you are Brought Down by Doubt

Every Christian questions their faith at some time or another, unless they have a blind faith that refuses to engage with the world, a faith that is maintained in a sterile environment where questions cannot arise – but a sterile environment produces a sterile faith. It is perhaps this truth that Tennyson pointed to when he said that there is more faith in honest doubt than in all the creeds. There is nothing wrong with doubt as such, it is a question of what you do with it. As Roy Clements, whose book "Songs of Experience has broadly guided this short series says:
“Doubt is to unbelief what temptation is to sin. A test, but not yet a surrender.” Indeed in the book of James the issues of temptation, trials, doubt and sin are all interlinked, and, in his eyes trials, temptations and doubts can be used to hone faith.
In Psalm 73 the situation that has produced the seeds of doubt is the prosperity of the wicked and unscrupulous (vv2-12), a phenomenon that continues to the present d…


There's a short Brian Friel play beloved of younger actors entitled "Lovers: Winners." I performed in it many times myself until I was far too old to fool someone into thinking I was a schoolboy... Actually "Winners" also has a partner-piece entitled "Losers", but it is often performed on its own... What makes one set of "Lovers" into winners while the others are losers is that in the former, (SPOILER ALERT) the young lovers die early... while in the latter the lovers live on into an acrimonious old age... Towards the end of last week a news story all over the TV was that 12 town centres were "Winners" of a government initiative aimed at regeneration, dubbed "Portas Pilots", because of the involvement of TV retail-guru Mary Portas. She is now dubbed the "high street Tsar" - boy I loathe the use of the word "Tsar", given that Tsars were autocratic despots - just what you need for a sustainable grassroo…

Daily Bread

No Saturday supplement today as most of the stories that caught my eye this week were anything but edifying or encouraging, many of them marking out the church at its most divisive and toxic, and while I have put my lenten discipline of "whatever is good" behind me, I don't want to spread vitriol, animosity and shame on the name of Christ on a sunny Saturday morning. Instead I thought I would pass on my find of the week (with a hat-tip to my wonderful wife who pointed me towards it). It is a short series of 15 minute documentaries about bread on Radio 4... It is available here on BBC iplayer and, so far as I see it isn't on a timed self-destruct fuse. It looks at the role of bread in the history of society, culture, religion and science.
Although every nation has a different cuisine, with different emphases, nearly every nation has a form of bread as a basic. It may be a Mexican tortilla, Italian foccacia, pitta bread or nan bread, it may be German ryebrot, or Fren…

Sing when you're Afflicted with Anxiety

Last year when I was just coming out of a period of prolonged depression, and pronounced and unexpected anxiety (which is something I had never experienced before) I was involved with a discussion where someone suggested I read a book entitled “Respectable Sins” by Jerry Bridges, which describes many of the emotions that we have been discussing in the light of the Psalms as “sins” including anxiety. Now before my illness I might have done the same, and had preached, slightly glibly, on worry, more than once. But in the light of my illness I saw anxiety or worry not as a sin, but as an effect of being a limited mortal being living in a fallen world… Maybe I was making excuses for myself, but actually I don't think so and have come to believe that to describe those who cope with chronic anxiety as “respectable sinners” is, for me, pastorally and morally repugnant… God repeatedly tells his people not to fear, not because they are miserable sinners in this area, but because anxiety i…

The Youth of Today...

Here is a link to yet another video... but this is substantially longer than the others I have posted recently, and, as it leads to a programme on BBC iplayer, has a limited lifespan (only 3 more days as I write). I was feeling a bit off colour this morning and rather than pollute my brain with what passes for daytime TV I looked up this programme as I had heard some good things about it, and I wasn't disappointed. Too much of the media today portrays young people as feckless and feral, and programming aimed at them is usually aiming at double digit IQs (at best)... This, however, showed 9 young people between the ages of 13-15 tackling Shakespeare monologues in front of a large audience at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, and a panel of 3 judges: Sam West, Imogen Stubbs and Simon Schama. These were the best of thousands from across the country who had entered the "Off by Heart" competition and represented young people from all sorts of backgrounds. It was particularly pl…

Seen and Unseen

A continuing theme... this isn't quite a timelapse, but not far off one... This is a classic short film "Powers of Ten" which I first saw many years before the founder of fb was even a twinkle in his father's eye, never mind fb itself...
I had looked for it many times over the years without any success... but it was Roddy McDevitt, who also was the source of yesterday's gem, who posted it on Friday...
I can't watch it without thinking of the opening of the Nicene Creed:
"We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen."
Seen and unseen at both ends of the spectrum...


Stable Euro?

To follow on from the nuclear timelapse video on Friday, here's another one (or rather two for the price of one). Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, suggested last Wednesday that the Euro-zone was "tearing itself apart." This timelapse shows that Europe hasn't been a particularly stable place politically over the past 1000 years... It is interesting that two of the most unstable areas historically have been the Balkans (nothing new there then) and interestingly, up until the mid 19th century, Germany and northern Italy.
Take a look at both the shorter video (with the scary music) and the longer one, with much more information...


Saturday Supplement

No supplement last week as I was a little too-pre-occupied to collate the few things that had caught my eye... But here are a few from  the past couple of weeks... First is this news that, in the midst of the Euro-meltdown, the Greeks have apologised to the rest of the EU with a huge wooden horse...  I'm not an economic expert... indeed balancing my own chequebook stretches me to my limit (although I have to say I get a little frustrated with those who constantly compare maxing out their credit card with the management of sovereign debt... the two don't actually bear any relation to each other... unless we are using our credit cards to pump-prime potentially money-making ventures), so articles or programmes about economics and finance usually don't hold my attention for long... However, last September on Radio 4's More or Less I listened the whole way through a programme which explained the crisis in terms of Homeric myths and in the light of the above link I sought o…

A Terrible Beauty

I was going to include this in tomorrow's Saturday Supplement, but it deserves a post of its own, especially given that it is over 14 minutes long... But please don't let that put you off. I thought I'd put it on the blog because, rightly or wrongly I still see my fb posts as somewhat ephemeral... But if this picture is taken to its logical conclusion all human life on earth might be somewhat ephemeral...

What follows is a time-lapse representation  of every nuclear explosion on earth between 1945 and 1998... As Simon Conway, who I stole it from, wrote on fb, it starts slowly but hots up... It is by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, with the citizens of Japan being the only people to know first hand the dreadful reality of nuclear warfare.

I was astounded by the sheer numbers (and in particular the number initiated by France - you can see why Greenpeace and they fell out!) I also wonder, has it slowed down any since 1998.


Sing When You're Grappling with Guilt

Few of the Psalms are related so directly to the life of David as Psalm 51. Some include echoes of his life story: as a shepherd, a soldier being hunted by the then King Saul, and of events in his own reign as King. But none so specifically pinpoint any of the stories of his life as this one, which is directly associated with his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba and its consequences. We don’t know whether it was written by David, or simply inspired by his story, but it still speaks of someone wrestling with guilt. Unattended to guilt can be the grit that produces, not a pearl within the oyster of our hearts and minds, but a series of spiritual and psychological problems, that may also manifest themselves in physical illness. But even where we think that we have "got away with it" (much like David) we are assured that no wrong-doing goes un-noted, and we will have to answer for our guilt one day. David's story may be about sex, conspiracy and murder in high places, but th…

Week of Weeks

Today's offering on God Morning Ulster's "Thought for the Day", my last for a wee while...

Have you ever said “There aren’t enough hours in the day” or “there aren’t enough days in the week”?
Well now there aren’t enough weeks in the year… Because at the moment we are apparently in the middle of, not only the well publicized Christian Aid Week and Community Relations Week, but also, Choose Charity Shops Week - a nationwide campaign to encourage people to donate goods to charity shops; Dying Matters Awareness Week, aimed at encouraging individuals and organisations to take simple steps that can make a big difference to people when they are dying or bereaved, and International Food Allergy Awareness Week, an initiative of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Alliance… a group name that was a significant challenge to say live on radio at 6.55am…
All of these are important issues but it does speak to me of a world where, despite the proliferation of ways of communicating w…

A Voice Calling in the Wasteland?

Those on Facebook and/or Goodreads will already have read the guts of this post as it is largely a review of David F. Wells book "God in the Wasteland" Subtitled "The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams". You can imagine from that that it doesn't have many laughs in it, indeed as I posted on Facebook it is a tough read... I bought it nearly 10 years ago originally and it took me 3 or 4 false starts before I got through it. But it is worthwhile, because, again as I said on my facebook post about it, I believe when it was written nearly 20 years ago now, it was a prophetic word in the wilderness of contemporary evangelicalism... and one that has, sadly, largely gone unheeded...
On Goodreads I gave it a 3/5 rating, which, for those uninitiated in that site means "I liked it" but it also reflects the fact that throughout the book I found myself agreeing with the author and being frustrated by him in roughly equal measures...  Dealing with the fr…

Looking for Love (again)

Yet another reblog... But I've put it up here again as a number of people asked me for a copy after a brilliant performance of it, at short notice, by Sharon Thompson during our service this morning... It is based on John 8: 1-11, exploring what happened to the woman "taken in adultery" after her encounter with Jesus.

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…

Sing to God a New version of an Old Song...

This is my version of the Psalm from the lectionary readings tomorrow, Psalm 98. Once again, it's a reblog (with a slight revision) but we're using it tomorrow as part of our morning service. But given I'm constantly coming back to the Psalms at the moment a friend recently recommended a new anthology of different settings of the Psalms entitled "Psalms for all Seasons". I haven't checked it out yet, but all the reviews seem very positive... Anyway... here's a version that hasn't appeared in any such anthology:

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 barking, mooing, cawing and roa…

Lost in the Jungle

On Sunday Sequence last weekend on Radio Ulster, there was an interview with Dr. Daniel Everett, a linguistic anthropologist and former Bible translator/missionary, about his loss of faith and the negative consequences for his relationships with his family and friends. Over the past year our church "Good Book Group" read his book "Don't Sleep, There are Snakes" in which he describes his experiences amongst the Piraha people of the Amazon, including, in the concluding chapter, his loss of faith.
I subsequently gave it a relatively poor rating on the Goodreads site not because of his conclusions, but because it was a literary dog's dinner. As I wrote in my review of it, I wasn't entirely sure whether it was an autobiography, linguistic anthropology, critique of Chomsky's theories, or an anti-missionary apologetic?
The lack of a clear structure and aim to the book didn't endear the author to me, and the more I read (long before the final chapter)…

Sing when You're Stressed

Stress is a natural part of life. In physical terms, muscles etc. couldn’t work unless put under a certain amount of stress… but equally, in physical terms, whether it is a muscle or a metal, there is a difference between stress, and strain which ultimately leads to breakdown. This is true of our emotional and spiritual wellbeing too. A certain amount of stress in not only natural, but also helpful. My blood pressure is on the low side of normal, and I have often joked with the nurse who regularly measures it that it is only stress that keeps me upright!  But you can’t live under significant stress forever and there are times when the extent of stress leads to a catastrophic breakdown. The earth seems to shake and give way and those things that seemed to be immovable mountains, fall into the heart of the sea. Psalm 46 speaks into times of national disaster and personal catastrophe. I originally wrote the following paraphrase on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but it as I rebl…

Its a Funny old Game

This morning's Thought for the Day offering...

Well today the back pages of the newspapers have been filled with stories of my beloved Liverpool's all-too-late thrashing of a weakened Chelsea side. As  Jimmy Greaves used to say of to erstwhile Liverpool player Ian St. John, “It’s a funny old game, Saint…” And throughout this season it has been just that… Though funny in the sense of strange, rather than “ha-ha”. It has been on the front page of the newspapers as much as on the back… Allegations of racist language being used by high profile premiership players caused huge repercussions, not only to Liverpool, where it may have contributed to their lacklustre season, but also to the English national team, necessitating the appointment of a new England manager,  leading in turn to controversy about misjudged jokes in the press about the speech impediment of appointee Roy Hodgson… We also had the seeming suicide of Welsh national manager Gary Speed, which, briefly put the importance…

Job Lite

This, as well as being, in some ways, an update on my post for Friday last, was also, originally intended to be the basis of my Thought for the Day tomorrow morning... but it is of such epic length (reading a little like a "Book of Job Lite") I couldn't see any way of reducing it to the requisite 2 minutes and 30 seconds... So thought I'd post it here anyway as a form of catharsis...
Is being accident-prone hereditary? The experiences of my eldest son and I might suggest that it is… Especially this year… Since January we’ve had a number of sport-related injuries (nothing new to us, they've just happened slightly more frequently than usual)… First I cracked a rib at football, then a rugby scrum collapsed on him injuring his neck and shoulders… in March I was only back at football 2 weeks when someone kicked my in the back of the calf rupturing the muscle…  But the real fun and games began four weeks ago… I’d said on Thought for the Day that morning that I had dropp…


My son has had a rubbish week (and I am being polite in my use of words here). He's in the run up to his AS levels and may be forced to miss some of them because of a freak chain of injuries that ultimately have left him needing major reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder - and yes he is right handed. He's having an MRI this morning in preparation for that, but even before the full extent of his injury became clear he was having a hard time getting any kind of a fair deal from the examinations board, probably making his road to his preferred profession (ironically medicine) a much more protracted one.
And in the light of that NOTHING else that I have to deal with is a priority... (so if you are expecting some form or report off me in the next few days - forget it!) Indeed there is nothing else that I can do or achieve in this life that compares with the honour and duty of being the father to my two boys... That became even clearer today as I talked to a girl whose husba…

Sing When You're Down in the Depths

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems. It is reckoned to affect one in six people in the UK at some point, and that 5% will experience major, or clinical, depression. I am one of the 5%, although in Northern Ireland, this figure is probably higher.  A 2001 survey revealed that those directly affected by the Troubles were twice as likely to show signs of depression and other mental health issues as others.  Depression is, however, one of those illnesses that sits uncomfortably with Christian faith. Tony Campolo writes that years ago, one of his students tried to explain that he had been too depressed to study and asked to be excused from a scheduled exam. He refused and told him to get over it. Only hours afterward, the student jumped to his death from a high-rise apartment building, leaving behind a suicide note telling his parents that he just couldn’t endure the sadness that had been torturing his soul. Campolo never took depression glibly again. Many Christian…