the advent sessions // spiderman

23 12 2013

This week our church was protected by Spiderman. Which to be honest was a lot more comforting than all this baby-talk. It’s a lovely story, great for the children. But it’s all a bit… twee. The nativity I mean, not Spiderman. You want a story about unknown local boy made good. It’s Peter Parker. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.

If Mary and Joseph had grasped that, they would have had him born somewhere safer. Raised somewhere cleaner. Tutored in using his powers for the good of all, you know. By which I mean people of influence. Not just the unseen and unknown. Then the good would trickle down. And wouldn’t end in ignominious death.

Then there’s branding. Spiderman has his web. The baddies see that, they quiver. Batman has the bat. Even Spiderman has the “S”. Jesus? A manger, or a cross? If churches had a symbol that struck fear into their enemies, now that would be better.

But. I suppose the story isn’t so twee once you look at it. Strip away the trimmings and you’re left with teenage faithfulness, courageous parenting, fearful refugees, and the murder of children by a despotic King. The unbelievable risk of God, the risk not to come in power with angel armies, not to leave his terrifying mark on the door frames and be the harbinger of fear and doom. Not to be a one-man superhero show.

Maybe living among and loving your enemies is more courageous than frightening them. Maybe taking a risk and living the daily pain of forgiveness is more courageous than revenge. Maybe including unwelcome shifty shepherds and astronomers of a different religion at the birth of the Son of God was a remarkably brave and unexpected thing to do. And a sign of things to come. 

Maybe the manger and the cross are better symbols than the spiderweb. Maybe the church is protected by something even greater than power.     


the advent sessions // panic

20 12 2013

“Advent. Contains drama and mild peril.” That might be the rating description. There’s no violence (yet) but if people hearing voices, seeing angels and falling unusually pregnant doesn’t have your hand hovering over the panic button, I’m not sure what will.

Christmas angels have an pretty fairy-like quality in our art. But always begin their greeting with “Don’t panic!”. Why? Because they cause panic. Why panic? Ask Joseph. The forgotten character in the drama, the tough guy carpenter who said “I’m outta here”. Until he trusted an angel in a dream. Explain that to your mates at the Bethlehem Tavern.


The ‘my girlfriend’s pregnant’ problem causes panic even in our culture. Hence this leaflet I found on the pavement. If he’d had a phone, he would text OMG. Or OMY. God had a name. And God said don’t panic. 

Panic. What’s God asking us to do that makes us panic? Who’s baby is he asking us to care for? It’s not irony that later on Jesus says: when you care for the poor, naked, and homeless, you care for me. Like his dad did. You can’t get much more helpless than Jesus. And much more selfless than Joseph. 

So, again, what’s God asking of you that is making you panic? Think carefully, because that will be the thing that truly matters.

the advent sessions // floorboards

19 12 2013


Have you ever been in a house with bare floorboards? Not the intentional ones all buffed and polished, smoothed to a shine to be cared for and cherished; but cracked and splintery and dark and unfinished.  Have you ever been in social housing before? To visit people with no pennies to buy themselves carpets or curtains so it’s unintentionally spartan; this is rarely a lifestyle choice, I’m certain.

On the subject of poverty I come over all cynical and my opinions may well not be typical; inside my head I’m so angry like the prophets of old my language is not holy and spiritual but shouty and physical with lyrical rage at how we seem to accept Foodbanks as natural.

Well they are a natural result of the free market that lines the rich with deep pile carpet and hold the poor in the deep pit of hopelessness and bare boards and I know some will say that the poor are deserving with their whiny subservient scrounging taking advantage of the generously benevolently incidentally wealthy and I say so bloody what.

Because for every  person who is taking advantage there’s a thousand others without a vestige of boldness to take what’s not theirs. Have you ever been humiliated enough as to walk into a handout and manage to walk out with your head held even higher lifted by the kindness of strangers who lift you from the dangerous pit of despair not asking how you got there by fault or circumstance but giving you a chance to get through 3 days without a glance askance but seeking to enhance your life from existence to living.

I hate the Foodbank not because it’s not a good system but because the society we live in should damn well not need them so if you’ve never used one put yourselves in the shoes those who do before dismissing the few who abuse them before suggesting we lose them or with it the entire welfare system.

So what has this post got to do with advent; well the prophets spoke of one who would be finally sent to deal with the malevolent, the bent, who with cruel intent that stinks so pungent cause an ancient fermenting lament; and this is what’s meant by the arrival of the pregnant, the silent, the unlikely regent, the beginning of the celebration of the benevolent. The Prince of Peace.

Kindness with longevity not just seasonal generosity. Long may it reign. For many need it so desperately.

This is part of a series called the advent sessions, using local images to help reflect on advent.  Previous posts are:
the advent sessions // fork handles
the advent sessions // for candles
the advent sessions // rebuild
the advent sessions // despair    

the advent sessions // despair

15 12 2013


The often forgotten partner of hope in advent.
Captured, I thought, in this discarded lottery ticket by the church door.

Despair follows hope and tries to drain it of colour.
John the Baptiser. Radical preacher. Dramatic prophet.
Cousin of Jesus.
From prison asks
Have I got it wrong?
What are you doing?
Where there was hope
Now there is despair.

Jesus replied. I am he. This is what is happening.

Great, thought John, immersed in the irony
Of an ascetic repentance-preaching
anti-establishment prophetic fire-brand
Beheaded for sport at an opulent royal feast.

Capture the despair of advent.
The pain of waiting.
When the bottom falls out of your world.

Because things do not always turn out well.


This is part of a series called the advent sessions, using local images to help reflect on advent.  Previous posts are:
the advent sessions // fork handles
the advent sessions // for candles
the advent sessions // rebuild

the advent sessions // fork handles

10 12 2013


Preparing the ground.
Digging in.
Turning it over.
Turning lives over.
Elizabeth. Zechariah. 
Nobody believing.

Preparing the ground.
Digging in.
Turning himself over.
Turning his very nature over.
Father. Son. Holy Spirit.
Nobody believing.

Imagine the conversation
Even in the omnipotent mind:

We must prepare the ground.
We must dig it over.
We must be safe.
But nothing that grows in nature is safe.
We know that.
We made that. 

So we dig.
We prepare the ground.
We choose faithful people.
Unexpected people.
Unexceptional people?

Take hold of the fork handle.
For the triune God
Preparing the ground is not static.
It is not safe.
It is not clean.
And it is not done alone. 

This is part of a series called the advent sessions, using local images to help reflect on advent. This picture is from my garden. It may be the last with the four candles/fork handles reference, but who knows. Previous posts are:
the advent sessions // for candles
the advent sessions // rebuild

the advent sessions // rebuild

8 12 2013

scaffolding houses_snapseedThe local housing association are doing a massive improvement project on local homes. New windows, doors, roofs. Scaffolding everywhere. More hi-viz jackets than you can shake your staffie’s stick at. And it’s about time. A lady I know is in a house that still has bomb damage. From WW2. And she has to pay the bedroom tax.

It reminded me of this promise from Isaiah:

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:4 NIVUK)

In church it can be easy to talk in Advent about awaiting the return of the King to transform the earth like it’s some kind of fairy tale, wishful thinking, the end of a Disney movie with rousing music and glowing sunshine. Get outside amongst scaffolding and skips and hard-working labourers in freezing cold wind and it makes it more earthy. Who knows what the end will bring but in the meantime the transformation of which we are a part is dirty, cold, and hard work. Which is basically what John the Baptist said.  

His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” [Matthew 3.1-11 The Message]

This is part of a series in Advent using images from the local area. See also: the advent sessions // for candles 

the advent sessions // for candles

4 12 2013
for candles

for candles

Are essentially interwoven through Advent.
But they are not Advent.
Are not the point, but they point to the point.
Are not holy, but they point to the holy.
Are not sacred; but they point to the sacred.
Are not God; but they point to God.

May we always keep the love in focus
Not the candles. 

Yet may these advent candles be the light
that lights our journey from
Abraham to Isaiah to Mary
from birth to death to resurrection
from peasant to cross to coming King.

This advent I will be using pictures to explore Advent and it’s meaning in my local area. This first picture is the Advent candles in Bishop Andrewes’ Church. Previously I did the Lent Sessions, some of which you can see here:

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