"Leadership is the issue. Leadership must have a vision based in justice and hope, so that everyone at every level is committed to change…"
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Thursday, December 26, 2013
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,
Ignored by the earth that he brought to birth
The Lord Almighty lay.
And from the east to Bethlehem
Come men who saw the sign.
These eastern seers travelled two long years
To present their gifts so fine.
Gold they did bring, fit for a king
And a scent of untold worth.
But the gift of myrrh that they offer third
Spoke of death and not of birth.
From Bethlehem his parents fly
To save their son from harm
But others die and mothers cry
And wail in their alarm.
The powers that be had come to see
That child as a source of strife
His birth meant despair to the people there
But his coming brought us life.
From Bethlehem to Jerusalem
Is not so very far.
Thirty three years on, on a cold spring dawn
He died on a wooden spar
From he first drew breath ‘til his cruel death
For him there was no room,
He took the blame for our sin and shame
And was laid in a borrowed tomb
But on our streets and roads today,
The Lord can still be found,
Wherever we will bend the knee
The angels’ song resounds.
To heaven raise God’s glorious praise
And on the earth be peace
Where once again Christ comes to reign
His grace will never cease.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
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, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Glens of the north, rejoice;
river and moorland-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing:
Christ comes, the promised Prince of Peace;
To rule and make all conflict cease.
Hills all across the south
Welcome the coming king,
Hear the words of his mouth;
Justice and peace they bring:
He comes the humble poor to raise,
Let every voice proclaim his praise.
Lands to the east, awake,
soon you shall all be free;
the chains of slav’ry break,
and rise to liberty.
In all your towns, cold, damp and grey,
will dawn that promised joyous day.
Shores of the farthest west,
Land of the setting sun,
Welcome our heavenly guest
The hope of all has come;
He is the never ending light,
That triumphs o’er the darkest night.
Friday, December 20, 2013
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 those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.
Seek good, not evil, that you may live.
Back in 2002, because I was doing a series of Bible studies on Amos I rewrote the whole book looking at things then as if through the eyes of that shepherd from Tekoa. This passage came out as:
You trample on the poor and the powerless at home and abroad;
You force him to give you coffee beans when he should be growing grain for his children. Therefore, though you are building great glass office blocks,
No business will build a secure base in them
Though you are erecting fine new waterfront apartments
No-one will occupy them;
though new restaurants and bistros have opened across the city,
you will not long enjoy their good food and fine wine.
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
You ridicule those who stand up for what is right;
All you care is that your bank-balance is healthy.
The police and the courts are there to keep things quiet,
Not promote justice;
And all wise men keep quiet in such times.
These times are evil.Seek good, not evil, that you may live.
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
"I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
Let it flow...
Thursday, December 19, 2013
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 January, because I am involved with the group organising the second year of the "Four Corners Festival" based around Belfast at the time of Christian Unity Week.
The theme for this year's Christian Unity Week is "Is Christ Divided?" The question might also be pertinently asked "Is Belfast Divided?" The answer to both to a certain extent, sadly, is yes... But this festival is a way of both demonstrating and promoting unity in the church and our wonderful wee city...
Here are confirmed dates for your diary so far... You can get more information at the 4 Corners Festival site, and can sign up there for facebook or twitter updates:
WED. JANUARY 15th – 4 CORNERS FEAST
in conjunction with Simon Community, Vincent De Paul, Welcome Centre and Salvation Army
THU. JANUARY 16th @ 4pm – PEACEBUILDING NETWORKING (South and East Belfast)
FRI. JANUARY 17th @ 7pm – 4 CORNERS, 4 STORIES
with politicians in STORMONT LONG ROOM
SUN. JANUARY 19th @ 7pm – THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PEACE in THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
with RODDIE COWIE in FITZROY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, University Street
TUE. JANUARY 21st @ 4pm – PEACEBUILDING NETWORKING (North and West Belfast)
WED. JANUARY 22nd @ 7:30pm – TENX9 with 4 CORNERS
FRI. JANUARY 24th @ 7:30am – 4 CORNERS PRAYER BREAKFAST
in 174, Antrim Road
FRI. JANUARY 24th (time TBC) – AN ALTERNATIVE BURNS’ NIGHT
with PHILIP ORR and MIKE GASTON in SACRED HEART CHURCH, Old Park Road
MON. JANUARY 27th @ 7:30pm – 4 CORNERS, 4 STORIES
with Church leaders
WED. JANUARY 29th @ 7pm – SORRY FOR YOUR TROUBLES
with PÁDRAIG Ó TUAMA in AN CULTÚRLANN, Falls Road
THU. JANUARY 30th @ 7:30pm – LISTENING TO YOUR ENEMY
with PAT MAGEE and JO BERRY chaired by Rev Lesley Carroll in SKAINOS, Newtownards Road
SAT. FEBRUARY 1st (time TBC) – PRAYER FOR ALL CORNERS
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
So that said, here is a wee muppet gem...
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Monday, December 16, 2013
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 than at other times of year (but don't just read this bit - read the whole thing here):
- I need Christ because Christmas fills me with dread. At the darkest, coldest, most difficult time of the year, I'm expected to be merry and bright; I'm expected to go to parties; when all I want is the safety of bed and quiet and warm...
- I need Christ because I often don't like myself; I hear criticism where none is meant; I hear sarcasm and anger when I need gentle words and compassion; and every time the fear rises and the anxiety comes and I need Christ because, Oh God, I don't want to cut again, but I need to let the feelings out...
- I need Christ because I don't always love my husband as well as I could; because love is not a feeling, but a series of choices, and a lot of the time I need help to make the right one.
- I need Christ because I've made mistakes this year. I've hurt, I've lied, I've let down, I've judged, I've condemned. My best efforts have missed the mark. I need Christ because I need to hear "You're forgiven. You will always be forgiven. And you will overcome."
- I need Christ because I've been lied to, I've been let down, I've been betrayed and abandoned, and I need to hear "I am with you always".
- I need Christ because my friends have been beaten, abused, raped, cheated, widowed; they've had miscarriages and cancer and depression; they've been hurt and belittled and seen their dreams ripped up and their stories trampled. I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is healing; there is hope; there is peace and joy and love for those who cannot even dare to imagine it".
- I need Christ because my friends have cheated, lied, stolen; they've had affairs, fought, and gossiped, and I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is redemption and restoration, and there is forgiveness and there is reconciliation, and sin is never the most powerful thing".
- I need Christ because all the willpower in the world can't make me less afraid or more patient or give me any hope of transformation. As Robbie Williams sang, "You can't manufacture a miracle", and yet, a miracle is exactly what I need to hope for, in my life, and in my friends' lives, and it would be nice to have a machine to churn out miracles on demand, but instead I can only hope and pray and hold on to the promises with the tiny grain of faith that keeps living when it should have died.
So have a joyful Christmas when it comes...
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
Thursday, December 12, 2013
"Selfies" and "onesies..."
"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 therein lies my problem not just with the word, or even the practice, but also the mindset behind it... That whatever the place or event, our presence there is the most important part of the story... Even when it shouldn't be...
The story SHOULD have been about the memorial service, but it turned out to be about "selfies" (together with the competence of the "signer for the deaf" and those organising the somewhat shambolic event who employed him)...
The modern mobile phone with its two lenses is a perfect object to illustrate how this world has gone so badly wrong... there is usually a really good lens which we can use to look at the wider world... And then a dreadful grainy one that we can use for "selfies" and "facetime/skype"... Eventually phone manufacturers will realise that they have got it the wrong way round... We are so self-obsessed we need a lens facing us that is perfectly calibrated to focus on the centre of the world... at arms length from the camera...
"Selfies" and "Onesies..." Infantile words for a society where people, like pre-social children, assume that the world revolves around them...
Words are so important... but the mindsets they describe and the actions they inspire are so much more important... I long for a world in which, as another friend put it, 2014 is described as the year of the "unselfie..."
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
My friend then posted after the video...
"You make a difference every day to those you love around you. Save a life, give a hug."I was just about to mount a very high horse and send a message to my friend that included the use of the word "banal", when a post came in from Sojourners entitled "Would It Be Okay If You Hugged Me? What a Tearful Teenage Boy Taught Me About Advent." Not the catchiest title... but the content moved me almost as much as the Winton video... And it reminded me that we might not be a Nicholas Winton, (or as I said on Sunday, a Nelson Mandela) but every kindness that we share with those around us, every act of compassion and righteousness, be it saving people from death or giving a young lad a hug and the assurance that he is loved, is an expression of what Oscar Romero was saying in yesterday's quote... Seeing Christ among us... and being Christ to others...
So, let's dismount our favourite hobby horses and get on with the business of turning the word of God into flesh and blood wherever we are... In whatever way we can...
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Monday, December 9, 2013
The whole of creation (elephants included) is straining on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the coming Kingdom... and given the mess that we have made of it you would understand the eagerness...Mind you, I don't anticipate seeing any elephants at a neighbouring church's live nativity next Saturday... Nor indeed a camel, even though there is one on their advertising leaflet...