Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Invited to Follow...

The theme of our recent Irish Methodist conference and for our new President Rev. Dr. Heather Morris was "A People Invited to Follow..." With that in mind here is a dramatised reading I put together for another conference event 9 years ago, which we are using as  a call to worship this morning: 

Reader 1:        As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 
Reader 2:        "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
Reader 1:        At once they left their nets and followed him.
Reader 2:        As they were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus,
Reader 1:        "I will follow you wherever you go."
Reader 2:        Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
Reader 1:        He said to another man,
Reader 2:        "Follow me."
Reader 1:        But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Reader 2:        Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Reader 1:        Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
Reader 2:        Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Reader 1:        Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
Reader 2:        “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Matthew 4:18-20, Luke 9:57-62 , Mark 8:34


Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Swift Saturday Supplement

Too much to do... too little time... So today's round-up of pages that have caught my eye is more rudimentary that usual... But hope your find it interesting/entertaining/challenging (delete as applicable)...

The media has been filled with the very public unravelling of the relationship of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saachi, raising questions of what constitutes domestic abuse. So it was against this background that I was slightly disconcerted to find this piece in the Huffington post that purports to point to a site which advocates Christian husbands spanking their wives to maintain a Biblical marriage... So that is why Evangelical Alliance and others are advocating a "Biblical approach to marriage" in the face of marriage equality legislation!? Now I know my Bible fairly well, while I have never read any of the "Forty Shades of Grey" books, but this seems to owe more to the latter than the former. I have not actually checked out the original site (for much the same reasons that I haven't checked out "Forty Shades of Grey") and would have been wary of commenting, had I not also come across a reference to it on The Wartburg Watch which I came across because of another discussion I have been involved in regarding child abuse within the church. I'm not too sure that it is helpful to look at child abuse and what is little more than "Christianised BDSM" under the same heading however...

On the United Methodist Reporter and Rachel Held Evan's sites there have been two sets of paired pieces looking at the things from the perspective of pastors and people in the pew...
Rev. Sky Lowe McCracken, district superintendent for the Paducah District of the Memphis Annual Conference of the UMC posted "Things for United Methodist Preachers to Unlearn..." which actually includes things that many preachers should unlearn, especially the first that he mentions, the heresy of "professional distance" for pastors/preachers from their flock...
However, the partner-piece it prompted by one of Rev. McCracken's lay leaders Susan Sadler Engle, "Things for United Methodist Laity to Unlearn" was probably more interesting, and worth a read by both pastors and laypeople.
Rachel Held Evans was on a slightly different but complementary tack when she wrote earlier in the month "11 Things I Wish More Pastors Would Say..." which was swiftly followed by a piece entitled "What pastors want to hear from their congregations" which was largely culled from some of the responses to her first piece.
I suppose that as I move to a new station in a week's time, I would urge any of my new congregation reading this to have a look at these 4 posts, together with my own "Operating Manual for Ministers."

Four final, unrelated pieces...

And once again... Come on you Lions...



Thursday, June 27, 2013

In the Presence of the Lord

This may seem like the ultimate of lazy posts... But given that I am running around like a headless chicken trying to wind up things in Dundonald before moving across the city to south Belfast, and my eldest son is going into hospital for more surgery today, it is amazing that I have the time or energy to blog at all... But having remounted my horse I thought I should keep going... 
Below I've  posted an article by John Powell practically wholesale from Christianity today which was written 5 years ago, but with me not being a regular reader of that particular tome I missed it, until I had made a snarky remark on a friend's FB where he had uploaded this video of Blind Faith performing "In the Presence of the Lord"...

I've been a Clapton fan since my early teens, despite the fact he is not regarded as particularly cool among my peers... But the following piece captured my attention given the widespread attention that U2's Bono  recent received for his overtly Christian testimony on RTE last week... Bono has always been much more public regarding his Christian credentials and that may contribute to the fact that he too isn't always regarded as being as cool as he thinks he is! But over and against the overt, political and what at times might seem posturing faith of Bono, this piece was an interesting insight into someone who has struggled with issues of faith, which may speak more to the experience of many:

If testimony and evidence mean anything, Eric Clapton is in a good place. In February, he earned his 19th Grammy (forThe Road to Escondido) and reunited with Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood for three widely acclaimed concerts at Madison Square Garden... In 2007, Clapton completed a 133-date world tour, hosted the second Crossroads Guitar Festival to raise money for his substance abuse center in Antigua, and hit The New York Times bestseller list with Clapton: The Autobiography. He's been happily married to Melia McEnery Clapton for six years, and they have three little girls who think the world of their daddy, without a thought for his troubled past.

This all seems pretty sedate for the man whose work with a Gibson Les Paul led counterculture enthusiasts to declare on subway walls that "Clapton is God," the man "adopted" by Muddy Waters and commissioned to carry on the legacy of the blues. But his road has seldom been smooth. From the age of 9 when he learned that he was born out of wedlock to his "auntie" and an unknown Canadian soldier, he struggled to find a safe place. Feelings of isolation and insecurity haunted him throughout life, drawing him to the gritty alienation of the blues. But there is a spiritual side of Clapton that was scarcely known. It almost always influenced what he thought and did, and the kind of music he wrote and played.

Clapton never set himself up as a model of Christian faith, and admits as much. He grew up in rural Surrey attending a local congregation of the Church of England, and in his autobiography, wrote that he "grew up with a strong curiosity about spiritual matters, but my searching took me away from church and community worship to the internal journey." The foundation of his minimalist faith is reflected in the favorite hymn of his youth, "Jesus Bids Us Shine":
Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

That implicit recognition that we serve God individually — in our own "small corner" — made sense in a working-class neighborhood where Clapton found little spiritual encouragement.

By 1969 he was drawn to the genuine warmth of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, who opened for Blind Faith on their 1969 tour. Delaney's "persona of a Southern Baptist preacher, delivering a fire and brimstone message … could have been off-putting," observed Clapton, "if it wasn't for the fact that when he sang, he was … absolutely inspiring." One night, Bramlett challenged Clapton to start singing: "God has given you this gift, and if you don't use it he will take it away." Clapton, always unsure of himself, followed his advice.

Just days later, two Christians came to Clapton's dressing room after a show, probably drawn by the performance of "Presence of the Lord," the showstopper on the Blind Faith tour. To young believers, the song seemed like a tentative response to 1 Samuel 6:20 — "Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?":
I have finally found a place to live
Just like I never could before
And I know I don't have much to give
But soon I'll open any door.
Everybody knows the secret,
Everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord.

The two Christians asked Clapton to pray with them. As they knelt, he saw "a blinding light" and sensed God's presence. His testimony was open and honest; he told "everyone" he was "a born-again Christian." But the nature of his faith was tinged with a kind of superstition that would remain suspect in light of any systematic theology.

As Clapton's legend grew, so too did his destructive behaviors. Within a year of his conversion he became addicted to heroin, kicked it, but moved on to alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and a string of failed relationships. "Bad choices were my specialty," he said. In 1987 he hit the bottom. Failing through a month of rehab, he fell to his knees and finally "surrendered" to God, dedicating his sobriety to his newborn son, Conor. Four years later, when Conor died in a fall from the window of a 53rd floor of a Park Avenue apartment, Clapton admitted, "There was a moment when I did lose faith." Still, he found the strength to present a session to his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on "handing your will over to the care of God." Afterward, a woman confessed that he had taken away her "last excuse" for drinking, a confirmation to Clapton that "staying sober and helping others to achieve sobriety" is "the single most important proposition" in his life.

In his autobiography, Clapton elaborates on the beginnings of his prayer life — that 1987 rock-bottom moment at the rehab treatment center.

"I was in complete despair," Clapton wrote. "In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether … and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that … I had found a place to turn to, a place I'd always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do. If you are asking why I do all this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that."

I hope Clapton is still in as good a place, if not better, in the presence of the Lord...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tesco Ergo Sum - I shop therefore I am...

In response to my little rant about the Guide promise last week, one friend, and former Guide leader suggested that the quote at the top of my blog sums it up... I was just about to change that quote, and now have, so for those who (like me) had forgotten it was there, is was
"You become like what you worship."
Tom Wright: "Simply Christian"

It chimes well with something else I read today by Kate Muir, in the late Dennis Lennon's book "Fuelling the Fire" (which was also the source of the new quote at the head of the blog - good book, worth reading). I don't often reproduce huge chunks of text on this blog, but this struck a chord with me... It describes her experience in an Argos store... They have changed a bit since this was written, but I am sure anyone who has experienced the joys of shopping in such a store will know what she is saying:

"I was there again last week, on another errand in the hellish glare of the store, its Soviet-shortage emptiness belied by the fullness of its catalogue. It contains 13,000 articles... As I watched the concentration on the faces of those contemplating the laminated catalogue before annotating their purchase slips,, I had a fresh inspiration. The shoppers reminded me of monks standing at lecterns in a mediaeval library, reading an illuminated Bible, glossing in the margins."
Lennon himself continues:
"Argos isn't the danger; things of themselves are not a threat; but faith in the phantom ability of possessions to satisfy, and the almost religious power and function of consumerism feeds into the atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being."
Today, a mere 8 years after this book was written we might substitute Amazon for Argos... And indeed the title of this post is out of date... Tesco is not the peerless temple to the consumerist Gods that it once was, although I see that the larger stores have their own TescoDirect catalogue shopping section. But the principle remains the same no matter which conglomerate is the commercial flavour of the month... A consumerist, capitalist, materialist, mentality is corrosive to healthy Christian spirituality.
It is interesting what registers with people in the course of a period of ministry... in the past weeks some have noted my emphasis on "community" (some would say less generously "hobby-horse"), but others remember me going off on a rant about "Nike..." and ethical consumerism...
I still argue for ethical consumerism... But even more for less consumption full stop... 
Our governments may want us to shop ourselves out of recession, but the conscious decision of government to slow down the recirculation of debt through cutbacks in the public sector will mean, particularly in Northern Ireland, that there will be less disposable income out there for a while... But that may not be a bad thing. It may nudge us in the direction of long forgotten virtues of thrift, mutual-support and (dare I say it) community. 
And in spiritual terms, perhaps we will look beyond the material to the maker...


Monday, June 24, 2013

Celebrate good times...

I was speaking from Luke 5: 33-39 yesterday morning, and referred, among other things about the image of wine as a metaphor for the Kingdom (and the new wineskins required for the new wine).
Certainly wine, and alcohol in general has a bad press here in Northern Ireland. Our drinking culture is NOT healthy and we all know of the damage it can do... This has led many Christians to make the choice of having an alcohol-free lifestyle, and that is entirely legitimate and indeed at times to be encouraged.
Sadly, some take it further and try to sanitise scripture by saying that what was being referred to was unfermented grape juice... Not so much wine as Shloer... (indeed I've heard one speaker actually substituted the word Shloer for wine when reading from any passages that contain it). But that is nonsense... It is alcoholic wine being referred to, and to deny that makes us miss why wine is used to describe the Kingdom of God.
Ask a biochemist and he’ll tell you that biochemically alcohol is a depressant. So is the Kingdom of God going to be depressing? Full of miserable people wallowing in their own misery... No laughing on a Sunday... No smiling if you’re in church... Christianity is a serious business...
Nonsense... Biochemically alcohol may be a depressant, but you take some and the first thing it depresses (most of the time) are your worries and inhibitions... That’s why people often have wine at parties... Not so that people will get depressed and morose, but so that people will loosen up and enjoy themselves...
God uses the image of wine to describe his Kingdom because his Kingdom should be marked by joy and celebration...  In the book of Nehemiah just after the law had been read in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem for the first time in decades - a very solemn occasion, Nehemiah tells the people:
"Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Nehemiah 8:5-10 (ANIV)
This should be even more the case for us as Christians. But as Gerald Coates once said:
"If the joy of the Lord is our strength, it’s little wonder that the church in Britain has been so weak and ineffective."
You could echo that for the church in Ireland... There are times when we have been a miserable bunch!
Yet we were reminded at the Methodist conference last week that John Wesley said:
“A Methodist is one who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him… He “prays without ceasing…” in leisure business or conversation his heart is ever with the Lord… He “rejoices in the Lord always”… And he who hath this hope “in everything gives thanks.”
Joy and gratitude should be the mark not only of Methodism but of Christianity.
However, all this talk about wine does not imply that we should all go out and get full... Rather, I am with Paul who wrote:
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit."
Ephesians 5:18 (ANIV)
Because although alcoholic spirits may make you feel good in the short term, the Holy Spirit offers you so much more... All of the joy and none of the hangover!

So it was good to come home after saying all that, and having a good time with my church family at Dundonald Methodist (even though it was a lunch "celebrating" my imminent departure) to find the following video, being circulated by a few friends...

Get your glad rags on and come on and celebrate... Christ the bridegroom is inviting us to a party...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Supplement

It has been good to be back on the virtual horse again this week- an appropriate metaphor for a Virtual Methodist given our founder's horse-riding prowess - I suppose had he lived today he may well have read his kindle on horseback, or had a special bracket made so that he could read his iPad while behind the wheel of his car, leading to his arrest for dangerous driving... But I digress... This current seam of productivity may not last with my upcoming move and frustrations in attempting to arrange for a transition of internet provision... But, in order to keep you, my recaptured audience, entertained and informed for today, while I try to pack more boxes (and watch the Lions match), here are a few of the miscellaneous bits and bobs that have caught my eye this week, grouped in my own idiosyncratic fashion.

PEWS etc
On yesterday's Methoblog site I came across this piece "In Praise of Pews". I suppose I was interested, first because I am moving from a modern (1960s) church building with pews, to a brand new one without, but also because it appeals to my contrarian approach to things, and a belief I have that any debate about church furniture/music/liturgy/vestments is an exercise in missing the point... It also brought to mind another piece that I read whilst on sabbatical, with a photo of abandoned pews and a caption "Pews: Stop filling them." Its title was 'I'm done "Growing the Church"' and it expressed perfectly my frustration with the programmatic approach to "church growth" that is all about quantity and rarely about real quality of relationships between people and with God... if it were then perhaps the concerns expressed in Lisa Robinson's piece in praise of "pew-sitting" would be addressed... 

A lot of fb/twitter/blog feeds this week has been taken up by, first the apology of Exodus International Director Alan Chambers for the hurt that Exodus affiliated "ex-gay" or "reparative therapy" ministries caused for people in the LGBT community, and the subsequent announcement that the organisation itself is shutting down. There has been much comment on this (eg. Kathy Vestal on Tony Campolo's Red Letter Christians site and on Huffington Post, with many skeptical of motivations and asking whether an apology is enough, but the shutting down of this organisation is not even close to the end of the debate on issues of faith and sexuality, particularly in more conservative corners of the church such as here in Ireland. 

I doubt that Westboro Baptist will change its approach in the wake of Exodus International folding - indeed Exodus was probably too liberal for them. Some time ago Equality House was established across the road from WBC as a deliberate counter-measure to their "gospel of hate", but this week I enjoyed reading about the initiative of five-year-old Jayden Sink, who held her first "Pink Lemonade for Peace" event on the lawn of Equality House last weekend. WBC apparently responded with obscenities... Just the way Jesus would!(?)
A friend also sent me a link for an encounter between Russell Brand and representatives of WBC on his American cable talkshow... Now I am not a bit Brand fan, but in 90% of what takes place on this video I'm with him (although not necessarily the way he says it)... Like the representatives of WBC I am not a fan of "Hallmark" Christianity but while there is a modicum of truth in what they are saying regarding the importance of warning people you love if you think that they are doing things that are self-destructive, their judgemental demeanour, their narrow definition of sin (they didn't respond to Brand's justified concerns regarding the environment) and their understanding of God's judgement and hell is not a "brand" of Christianity that I, or indeed many people would buy. Russell Brand, by contrast is, on the whole, gracious in his handling of these guys who clearly hate him and all that he represents to them... 
But that, again, is another example of why Alyssa Rosenberg suggests that we should stop being surprised by how smart Brand is. I, and many others noted it a number of months ago with his powerful but nuanced response to the death of Margaret Thatcher, and his gentle evisceration of the shallow and rude media hacks on Morning Joe was truly deserved... but they probably didn't understand what he was saying, not because of his accent, but because he is clearly speaking from a depth that is way beyond them. I wonder what he would make of the coven that gathers together on ITV's "Loose Women" or the right-wing hacks on FoxNews?  
If only contemporary Christian commentators were as charismatic, compelling, perceptive and gracious.

I'm not a great fan of grafitti art, but was gutted yesterday when it came to light that the DSD, in a feat of uber-irony, given that this year has seen the release of the Terri Hooley/Undertones film "Good Vibrations", and on the very day that the second city and home of the Undertones was celebrating being "Music City", had unilaterally decided to delete the lyrics of the Undertones' greatest hit that had been painted onto the Sydenham flyover at the bottom of the Newtownards Road. As Duke Special said on Twitter:
"The one slogan that makes you smile as you are entering east Belfast and they paint over it."
They're not in a great hurry to paint over the murals of balaclava clad thugs armed with semi-automatics further up the road... I suppose that's because music fans aren't likely to come out and threaten the workmen...
Maybe this is another job for my friend Chuck Hoffman and his merry band of helpers from Genesis Arts Studio... 

Meanwhile, come on the Lions...


Friday, June 21, 2013

Polonius joins the Guides...

So apparently Polonius has joined the guides, while poor old God has been kicked out...
Indirectly I came to faith through the Scouts. So it was with a certain amount of sadness that I saw that Scouting's sister organisation, Girlguiding UK has completed the trajectory it set out on a few years ago in first changing the promise from loving "God" to loving "my God" and now, as from September removing all reference to God. The new promise apparently reads
I promise that I will do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve the Queen and my community
To help other people
To keep the Guide law
Perhaps the Queen will be the next to get the heave-ho if some campaigners have their way, although isn't it strange that God was pushed out first... 

As Richard Hall wrote, over at Connexions, strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with me. I am not and never have been a girl guide. I am currently however, the minister of a church that hosts a guide unit, and, had I been staying beyond the beginning of July, I might have had a sticky situation on my hands come the next Thinking Day Service when the girls traditionally reaffirm their promise. There are many among my church's leadership that might have problems with this decision, and indeed the leadership within the guide movement leadership in our unit may be split... But as I said to one guide leader when the news first broke on Wednesday, my objection is not to the removal of the word God (capitalised or not, mine or whoever's) but the usurpation of God by the self... "To be true to myself" may be a phrase that owes it's origins to Shakespeare's Polonius, (although I wonder if they actually realise that), but despite it's literary origins its inclusion here is ultimately vacuous new-age nonsense, when allied with the promise to "develop my beliefs". This is not simple secularisation, but is rather an elevation of the individual over and above God and others, at its worst actually celebrating selfishness, an idea completely at odds with the founding vision of the Baden Powells, The Scout promise currently is
On my honour, I promise that I will do my best
to my duty to God and to the Queen
to help other people,
and to keep the Scout Law
This may have overtones of Empire and the colonial past that made Robert Baden Powell the slightly strange man that he was, but as Richard Hall says "at least [it] has the merit of directing the scout away from themselves and towards others."
The Guide leadership have made great play of their extensive consultation and the fact that this is all about inclusion, but actually it may end up losing them a lot of venues and ultimately may exclude as many as it now encourages into the fold, because although it is optional you cannot gain the highest honours in Guiding without taking it. 
Currently UK Scouting is also engaged on a comprehensive consultation akin to the Guiding one. I do hope they don't come to the same conclusions.
But as to what happens next Thinking Day, well, I'll be leaving my successor with that joyous decision...

Ooops... I should pay more attention... while cutting and pasting this piece yesterday I managed to lose the first line... It is now restored...

Thursday, June 20, 2013


A brief reflection on a number of diverse experiences that lifted my spirits in the midst of a difficult day.

in music
in the virtuosity of a guitarist
and the emotive power of a choir

in science
in the intricacy of genetics
and the vast scope of cosmology

in sport
in the precision of a golf putt
and the raw strength of a rugby scrum

in conversation
in catching up with a dear friend
and a casual encounter with a stranger 

in words
in a funny turn of phrase
and a carefully crafted argument

in the post
in a generous and unexpected gift
and a heart laid bare in gratefulness

in sunshine
and in shadow
on the wing 
or perching lightly

but if it falls within your grasp
don't hold it too tight...
let it fly on
to brighten another's day


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Self-care for Bits of the Body...

Following my post yesterday I had a number of colleagues and friends contact me to see if I was OK... It was very welcome, and I was able to say that I was, indeed, the fact that I felt able to post what I did spoke of me feeling somewhat less vulnerable than I have done at times over recent years...
I also have had a number of people contact me expressing similar feelings, be it the experience of feeling somewhat redundant or overlooked within the church, particularly those with interests and abilities in some aspects of the arts, but also those who for various reasons feel dislocated from the body... and indeed on the verge of complete amputation.
To prevent these things can I suggest a number of self-care strategies - sadly you may have to initiate them yourself as, my experience tells me, that the institution that goes by the name church will rarely seek out those who are feeling at odds with it... 
  1. Identify ways to exercise your particular skills and interests even if it is outside the official bounds of church - be that in a para-church organisation or, perhaps better, in a completely secular setting - you may find your abilities better appreciated, but also it may become an arena of mission. I used to do this a lot with my interests in drama, working in para-church settings like New Irish Arts and Commission Christian Radio, and a couple of self-starts with other like-minded friends, and in the secular world including at Queens University. However, in taking up my current post 9 years ago I began to scale back on these because of increasing local and connexional responsibilities... BAD call... not only has that led to me becoming de-skilled (on the age old principle of use it or lose it) but also a part of my spirit has, frankly withered within me. I'm going to be seeing if I can start to nurture some of those links again in the wake of my up-coming move...
  2. Join a group of like-minded people who share your interests who are working in different spheres to use as encouragers and sounding boards... In the arts there are a couple of initiatives on the go at present, the Faith and Arts Cluster Group facilitated by Contemporary Christianity, and Christian Creatives, a programme of New Irish Arts. I haven't made it to either of these, but hope to do so under the new dispensation...
  3. Identify a group of friends/colleagues who can: a) encourage you when you are feeling low and alone and b) point out when you are being more of a rectum than you need to be. You don't need flatterers, but rather those who will speak the truth in love. If the body was functioning properly you probably wouldn't need to seek such a group out, but sadly the Body of Christ is not as healthy as it might be... We may all be part of the body, but it is the local one-on-one connections that will be the most important to us in helping us feel connected... The knee-bone being connected to the thigh bone etc. I am particularly grateful of the select band around me who act as my checks and balances, including those I bounced yesterday's blog off before posting. Actual meeting in the flesh is good, and all the better if you can meet as a group, mutually accountable to each other, but in the absence of being able to do that, social media is a wonderful thing.
  4. Don't take yourself too seriously... Neither your highs or lows are probably as extreme as you think... And God is with you in it all... Remember Tim Vine's alternative Footprints story...
One night a man dreamed that he was walking along the beach with the LORD.And when he looked back at the footprints in the sand.He noticed that often there was only one set of footprints,and that was at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it:"LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way.But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life,there is only one set of footprints.Why when I needed you most did you leave me.”
The LORD replied:“My son, my precious child,When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I thought it would be fun if we both hopped for a bit".

ps. I nearly entitled this blog "Self-Care for Rectums" but them thought I had better not...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Part of the Body

“Even the rectum is part of the body…”
In an exercise early on in the 2013 conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland, we were looking at Paul’s image of the body of Christ, and I scribbled the statement above on the front of the notebook we had kindly been given to record our thoughts. It clearly was a redacted form of what I actually thought, but that is what I wrote down…
A colleague sitting behind me later said, “Forgive me looking over your shoulder, but I saw what you wrote, and I laughed because I know what you mean…”
I was glad he wasn’t shocked or appalled, but actually, I suspect he didn’t actually know what I meant… Because I wasn’t actually referring to anyone else as a “rectum” but reflecting on how I felt about my own place in the body of Christ and particularly the Methodist Church in Ireland
Frankly, there are times when I feel that I am one of those bits of the body to be treated with “special modesty” as the NIV puts it… Out of sight, out of mind… We all go to the toilet (if the body is healthy) but we don’t talk about it in polite company, and we certainly don’t parade the products…
It wasn’t always thus – there was a time when it seemed I was the flavour of the month (an unfortunate mixed metaphor if you carry over the analogy from earlier on, but we’ll go with it all the same)… I was asked to chair this, convene that, speak at this, be on this, that and the other committee… And because I was flattered to be asked I often said yes. But two or three years ago I began to feel that I no longer had the energy or enthusiasm to do all of that… It was taking serious toll on my physical, mental and spiritual well-being, so I started to say “No” more frequently and to resign from some of the things that I was doing… And clearly the message got around because very soon I didn’t have to say no, because I stopped being asked to do anything…
Mind you, when I think back over the years of wider service, generally it was, however, in spheres that, while I am good at, are not those that I am best at and enjoy most… My professional background is in theatre, yet in the 23 years since I walked away from that in response to the call of God into ordained Methodist ministry, I have only ONCE been asked to exercise those particular gifts in service to the wider Methodist church (and for those who think they remember that event, it WASN’T the event at conference in Dublin 9 whole years ago – I volunteered for that, it was actually the production of Hopes and Dreams 5 years previous to that again). I suppose this is partly a function of us undervaluing the arts in Christian ministry… or should I say, some of the arts… If you can play a musical instrument or sing in Methodism you are right at home – Methodism was born and continues to thrive in song… but not in theatre… Sadly… Even in this year's "special" conference there was little dramatic content, with the notable exception of one comedy sketch video ripped from the internet without the royalties being paid!
There is also the fact that, frankly, I can also be a bit of a rectum… I am not always the cheeriest, most upbeat of people… I tend to think in shades of grey rather than either black and white, or bright Technicolor hues that seem to be the default palates of many others in the church… I, personally, think that is a gift from God, if an uncomfortable one at times, (indeed, as one colleague who read this before I posted it said, the rectum is essential for the healthy functioning of the rest of the body)  but it doesn’t tend to endear me to people… I also have difficulty in hiding my frustration, nay, anger at times, which again, I am sure can be wearing for others…
We read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and his analogy of the church as a body. We affirm that not every bit is an eye, or an ear… But there are times when I’m not sure that we believe it. We actually DO want every other bit of the body to be like us… A weird mutant body only made up of cheesy smiles… twinkly eyes… or muscular biceps. I am at least aware that a body made up solely of people like me would not be desirable or attractive.
Which means that often, to tweak the analogy slightly, I feel like a slightly dislocated limb at times (see above x-ray)… For those who have been privy to the Campton saga over the past year you will be aware of the travails of my eldest son, who first experienced a rugby scrum collapse on him last year then a fall down a mountain three months later which combined to leave him with a shoulder that just wouldn’t stay in place… Over a period of 5 months he had over 10 episodes of either full posterior dislocation or subluxation, which is effectively where it isn’t quite out and isn’t quite in… He was in theatre 5 times during that period (including once to get his tonsils out, but that is another story) and finally had emergency reconstructive surgery at the beginning of October… Well, I say finally… he then fell in the run up to Christmas (in Tesco through slipping in a puddle of blood – you couldn’t make it up) and this has dislodged one of the screws they had put in to secure a bone graft from his hip… The head of this screw is now lodged in the shoulder socket, causing chronic pain and repeated spasms, and necessitating surgery in a fortnight’s time (prayer appreciated).
So I know a wee bit about shoulder dislocations and the pain and upset they cause… And at times in recent years I have felt wholly or partly dislocated from Christ’s body, the church – It could be worse… the arm could be amputated and lost to the body… The body would live on but the arm would not… So feeling dislocated is better than that – although having lived with the nagging pain and the feeling that because I am “out of joint” I cannot function as I was created to, there are times when I have considered amputation… And I have been frustrated, nay bitter at a church which prides itself on its connectedness or “connexion”, to use the archaic term, that there has been little recognition of that. A few individual friends and colleagues have been there and have helped, particularly in the darkest times, and I am grateful to God for them, but not sure that I have felt as important to the wider connexion while in pain as I did when firing on all cylinders. And I don’t believe that I am alone in that.I have witnessed it among some clergy who don’t quite fit the expected norms, and at times among individuals in local congregations... Indeed I can recognise it in some people among the bit of the body I am supposed to minister to… And in the light of this reflection, I hope they will forgive me where I have not adequately addressed that experience of dislocation.
However, I believe that this conference has the possibility of being the beginning of healing, not just for me but for many within the connexion. Radical surgery may still be needed as well as the prayer that has been such a prominent and welcome part of this conference, but this has been a good few days, despite difficult debates and, in my humble opinion, wrong-headed decisions. Not just the agenda, but the tone and emphasis… with pastoral and missional perspectives running through the whole thing, has made all the difference… That is partly down to the gifts, personality and perspectives of our new president Rev. Dr. Heather Morris, but also the planning and prayer of the organising committee and others, and MUST be carried on beyond this conference and Heather’s presidency…
So thank you to all who have prayerfully prepared this conference, and to those who have prayed for and with me in it…(particularly the younger members of conference… your role in this conference will long be remembered). Your prayers have been and are being answered…
However, I fully expect to remain a rectum…


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Inherited Traits

Today is Fathers' Day... It also happens to be the closing day of the 2013 Methodist Conference. 
As I was reflecting on the latter and remembering my own Father, or my Da as I am more comfortable calling him, I remembered that whilst he had many fine qualities, including the love of gardening that is captured in the included photo, he also had at least one unfortunate trait...
Whether you had a new car, a new motorbike or a new suit, if you brought anything to my Da for approval, he would look at it and say "Its very nice... BUT..." before going on to outline one, two or two hundred short-comings in the said item...
Sadly I have not inherited his green fingers, but I have inherited his diabetes and a certain element of that trait... Whether it is down to nature or nurture, I tend to see negatives quicker than positives... It doesn't mean that I am a pessimist... I'm with Pete Grieg in believing that pessimism and realism are not the same thing... But nor are glib optimism and enduring Christian hope to be equated... There is a time and a place for identifying and recognising and seeking to address deficits... To see that whilst the glass is half full, not half-empty, it doesn't mean that God wants us to make do with a half-full, that will do, attitude... There is a time for everything... But going straight to the BUT all the time is discouraging... taking the shine off times of celebration...
Today we should be celebrating what has been, for me, the most encouraging, inspiring, challenging, and healing conference of my entire ministry. I usually look forward to conference like most people look forward to a root canal... This was however genuinely more like a time at a spiritual spa... I have actually enjoyed being there, most of the time. It WASN'T perfect, but I don't want to focus on that... Instead I want to celebrate...
  • the prayers of our young people over the ministers at the close of the ministerial session...
  • the worship in all it's forms... old and new... acappella and accompanied...
  • the preaching of our new President Rev. Dr. Heather Morris at her installation...
  • her pastoral sensitivity in chairing the rest of our business...
  • the inspiring and incisive input of Phil Meadows and Pete Grieg...
  • the attempts by the organising committee to prompt searching questions regarding the future of Methodism on this island...
  • being able to spend time catching up with brothers and sisters in Christ that I don't see enough of... 
  • and having meals and conversations with some I don't know at all well...

for all these I want to put on record my thanks to the organising committee... and to my Father, God...


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Listening to the Word

A brief reflection in the light of some happenings at the first day of the 2013 Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland...

Too many words, drowning out the incarnate Word
That enters the world in silence
In stillness

A background hubbub of business that just won't wait;
The buzz of silenced mobiles demanding attention

Be still
Be still and know
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I am God

Don't speak - listen
Don't do - be