Showing posts from December, 2013

Haass and Hopelessness, Leadership and Local Action

I've been offline for a few days... Partly holiday... partly the limitations of my computer having blown up... and partly due to illness... But I want to come out of purdah to make a brief comment in the wake of the lack of agreement in the Haass talks last night and what that means for Northern Ireland as we enter into 2014. I'm actually going to temper my reflections, first because I have long since learned that it is a bad idea to really let loose when I am as angry as I currently am, and second, I am telling myself that this was always an artificial deadline and it is not the end of this particular process... Indeed for a long time now the mood music suggested that the departure of Haass and O'Sullivan would not by any means be the end of the process, as the parties had booted the issue of flags further down the road in the form of yet another commission... But it now seems as if all three issues of flags, parades and the past "need more work." The cynic in …

Bethlehem Road

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas day. The rhythm of ours was slightly different with it being the first year in a new church. At long last, however, I did summon up the courage to perform this song which I wrote about 4 or 5 years ago, with Owain playing guitar. This was a special joy given how little he has been able to play over these past 2 years. It seems to have been well received and a couple of people asked me for the words. I have posted it a couple of times previously. But here it is again. The tune is "Raglan Road..."
Down Bethl’em road from Nazareth,
Came Joseph and his wife
Within her womb God’s promise bloomed
His Word, the Light of Life.
He came to take on flesh and blood
To show us all the way
And through the night a star so bright
Hailed the dawning of His day.
And on the hills round Bethlehem,
Some shepherds heard the song,
The angels sing of a new born King
Awaited for so long.
They find him midst the filth and grime
In a bed of straw and hay,

Into the Neighbourhood - The King and His Kingdom is Here

Here is the candle liturgy that we will be using in our brief Christmas morning service in Belfast South Methodist... Come and join us if you are in the vicinity at 9.30am this morning.
But wherever you are may you know the blessing of the King of Kings.

CHRISTMAS CANDLE LITURGY VOICE 1:      The Lord himself will give you a sign: VOICE 2:      A virgin girl will become pregnant and will give birth to a son; VOICE 1:      She will call him Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” VOICE 2:      The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; VOICE 1:      on those living in the land of death’s deep dark shadow a light has dawned. VOICE 2:      You have broadened the bounds of the nation and magnified their joy; VOICE 1:      they rejoice before you as the starving rejoice at the harvest, VOICE 2:      or as the oppressed rejoice when dividing the plunder from their defeated oppressors. VOICE 1:      You have shattered the shackles that bind them, VOICE 2:      You have removed the yoke…

Prophets of a future not our own

I promised earlier in advent that we would be hearing from Oscar Romero again... Here is his take on the hope that is ours in the promised Kingdom of God... Worth hearing in the wake of frustration regarding the lack of outcomes in the Haass Talks. Advent is our opportunity to step back and take the long view...

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, know…

Into the Neighbourhood - The Coming Kingdom of Hope

Here we have the fourth of the advent candle liturgies that we've been using in Belfast South Methodist Church derived from the Hope and History material. This is the only one that diverges from the current year's lectionary reading from Isaiah (we are using today's reading on Christmas Day)... By the way, today's illustration is one of the wonderful David Esler windows in our sanctuary entitled "Hope".

VOICE 1:      Behold, my servant, whom I endorse, VOICE 2:      The one I chose, in whom I take joy; VOICE 1:      My Spirit is in him and he will bring justice to all nations. VOICE 2:      He won’t seek publicity for himself, VOICE 1:      or raise the rabble with his speeches. VOICE 2:      He won’t brutalise the bruised VOICE 1:      or discount those who bring him no benefit, VOICE 2:      But faithfully he will work for justice; VOICE 1:      he will not let up or get down  until all things are set right throughout the earth. VOICE 2:      In his…

You Trample on the Poor and Laugh at the Plight of the Lowly...

I'm taking a brief break from the insanity that is my run up to Christmas and the series of "funnies" that I had set up to post this week as I reflect on this week's advent theme of the Coming Kingdom of Joy, to vent my spleen...
During advent we quote a lot from the prophets, and last Sunday, in a reflection based on Isaiah 61, I spoke about the good news for the poor that the prophet proclaimed... Amos, a prophet we don't often hear much from in advent, probably because his prophecy is not so much "tidings of comfort and joy" but "tidings of condemnation and judgement", by contrast speaks of bad news to the rich who oppress the poor... Among other things he says:
You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
There are t…

Dates for Your Diary - The Four Corners Festival

It is usually around this time of year that I have traditionally received gifts that many laypeople would be deeply jealous of... Funeral Directors' pocket diaries... One year I received 4. I offered them to members of my family but they thought them a tad ghoulish. But a member of my then congregation heard me commenting on this and asked me for one... And from there on in he sidled up to me in mid-December and asked had I a spare diary going. As the years went by I received fewer, but I had long since stopped using paper diaries anyway... Then two years ago my friend died... And this year I haven't received any Funeral Directors' diaries at all (just a pen so far, which my eldest son has purloined
In the days when I was receiving them, one of the most frustrating tasks was filling in the first batch of dates (including birthdays etc). With a rolling electronic diary backed up online I don't have that problem... But this year I have more dates than usual coming in to…

A Joyful Noise

I love the Carol of the Bells... one day I hope to sing it.
I love the Muppets... they are guaranteed to brighten up the grimmest of days. Joy is not necessarily about jollity (and certainly not about enforced jollity) but it is good to have a laugh some times...

So that said, here is a wee muppet gem...


A Black Dog is Not Just for Christmas, but he can be a particular problem at this time of year...

Over the next few days I am going to be a tad preoccupied with preparing for seasonal services and the sleigh ride of home communions and visits that are the rhythm of the run-in to Christmas. So for the next couple of days I've pre-posted a few interesting/amusing pieces that I have found elsewhere... Starting with this one on the "equal-opportunity mongrel" that I have had as a regular companion over the years... It is in tune with WhyNotSmile's piece that I referred to yesterday... Please take time to watch... You may not have such an unwelcome pet in your life, but I guarantee that someone close to you does and it might help you to understand and support them a little better...


Why Keep Christ in Christmas?

Around this time of year Christians are often encouraged to sign up in one form or another to a campaign to "keep Christ in Christmas." Depending on how contrarian I am feeling I will either endorse such a campaign or seek to debunk it... A key factor is often whether the campaign has any sense of humour...
One of my virtual friends who is consistently humorous (and I frequently laud her as such at this time of year in my VM Awards, which may or may not make an appearance this year depending on whether I can be bothered) is WhyNotSmile. Last week Mrs Smile took on an atheist campaign that, Grinch-like, seeks to take Christ out of Christmas... There isn't a lot of humour in her response, a lot of her characteristic wit, but not much to laugh out loud at... Instead there is a depth of feeling that is important to hear in the run up to this "season to be jolly..." Let me quote a huge chunk of her piece where she says why she needs Christ at Christmas even more tha…

Into the Neighbourhood - The Coming Kingdom of Joy

The third of the Hope and History Advent Candle Liturgies that we will be using in Belfast South Methodist this morning as an introduction to our "Gift Service", where members of the congregation bring gifts for the Belfast Central Mission Christmas Gift Appeal. These gifts go to help families facing less than "joyful" circumstances, and will hope fully brighten up some young people's lives this Christmas. But real joy is not to be found at the foot of a Christmas tree wrapped in gaudy paper, at the bottom of a bottle or on a table laden with food. Real joy, from a Christmas perspective is something that is independent of material circumstances, but one day we can know perfect joy when we are in tune with our creator and the rest of creation. That is as much of a sermon that I am offering here this morning. You will have to come to Belfast South Methodist if you want more... But if you scroll to the bottom you will find a wonderful rendition of "Joy to the…

The Census

One of the blogs I've been following through advent is Patrick Comerford's "Art for Advent", and a particular favourite post was the one on the ‘The Census at Bethlehem’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, first because I like Bruegel in general, and second because this picture captures the political import of the census noted by Luke...  Bruegel translates things to his own time and country, the Netherlands, at that time ruled, with a certain level of ruthlessness, by Spain. Snow has fallen (snow on snow), but that does not deter the census-takers.  We often miss the fact that Augustus' census, like any census, is not about keeping some sort of record for posterity, but is an instrument of policy... and for both the Romans and the Spanish whom Bruegel lived and worked under, it was tied to taxation and social control. Augustine's census was a marker being laid down that the Roman Empire was in charge (even if Herod the so-called Great was still ostensibly the King…

Christmas at the Foodbank

In honour of those running foodbanks and putting together emergency Christmas hampers in this season of conspicuous consumption and even more conspicuous inequality... Conspicuous to all but the government.


Words and Actions

I haven't had a good old fashioned rant in a while, so here goes...

"Selfies" and "onesies..."  Have there ever been two words and concepts that sum up a civilisation in serious trouble as powerfully as those two?
"Onesie" has been an acceptable word in the eyes of the OED at least since 2007 when it appeared in the Shorter OED, but it will never be acceptable to me, either as a word or a garment... As both word and garment it represents, to me, the infantilisation of the English language and western society... Adult baby-grows described in baby talk... So family members may take back any humorous Christmas "onesie" intended for me, as one would be Queen Victoria-like in one's lack of amusement if presented with one...
But I loathe "onesies" much less than the concept and word "selfie". Others have been ranting about this "OED word of the year" since it was declared such last month. I have only been moved t…

Doing what you can...

Yesterday a friend posted on facebook a link to the following excerpt from a 1988 recording of BBC TV's "That's Life", honouring Sir Nicholas Winton, a stockbroker and former banker, who, before World War II, almost single-handedly organised an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport. This involved the evacuation of about 669 children, most of whom were Jewish, to Britain from German occupied Czechoslovakia. 250 further children were due to leave Prague in autumn 1939, but the invasion of Poland and subsequent declaration of war stopped that. Winton kept quiet about his humanitarian exploits for many years, until his wife Grete found a scrapbook in their attic in 1988 listing the children, their parents' names (most of whom perished in Auschwitz), and the names and addresses of the families that took them in. This then prompted the telling of his story on "That's Life" where Winton finds himself surrounded by some of those whom he had saved... …

Romero on Advent

Further thoughts from Oscar Romero (and probably not the last this advent), this time explicitly on advent and the theme of last Sunday's "Hope and History - Into the Neighbourhood" candle liturgy - "The Coming Kingdom of Justice." 
Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to himself. This is what Advent is: Christ living among us. Archbishop Oscar Romero

On Animals and Advent

Yesterday in church we celebrated the coming Kingdom of Justice... and I was at pains to point out that, as with the concept of peace the previous week, the Hebrew concept of justice or righteousness is so much richer than ours, which is often reduced to a legal/judicial framework... I might come back to that later in the week as it is a live issue in this part of the world at present. But one of the aspects that our limited understanding of justice/righteousness misses out on is the idea of the whole world order being put right again... Every year my wife puts up an advent calendar... You might think that our boys are now beyond such things, but there is generally a scramble to see who gets to open the window each morning (even though there is no chocolate involved this year). I was mightily please however to see that this year's advent calendar includes a very prominent elephant (above)... It reminded me of our 20th anniversary trip to Munich four years ago when the city was get…