I am the lost innocence 

5 06 2017

I  am the van driver on the bridge, I am the Manchester bomber, I am the lost innocence of an evening walk on London Bridge

I am the bombed, I am the broken body, I am the shattered mind, I am the lost innocence of the right to the absence of death

I am the terrifying realisation that I am no better with my my insidious creeping anger, plots of intrigue and revenge 

I am those we call them, the evil, the inhuman 

I am a million steps from love

I am but another frail and hopeless and broken human in need of more. I am the scandal on the shoe of all that is beautiful 

I am in mourning for my pride and arrogance and self-centred posturing about being better

Take it so it is gone. Because

I am asking for forgiveness. I am no longer editing out the deaths of the perpetrators. I am standing with Manchester and Kabul and London and Baghdad and all those who suffer at the hands of I, of us, of humanity in all our terrible disposition towards evil because

I am no better. I am only saved from giving in by the strength of the love of Jesus of Nazareth and his Holy Spirit. I don’t always want to be saved from myself or my evil side. I am me because of who he is, as he holds back my anger and dissolves my rage into a unwanted love for all who break and are broken even when I want to embrace its fierce and forceful drive to the destruction of what ends up being

 me. Us. 

We are us. We stand with them. All the thems. We stand for love. Because he is love. #lovewins





kindfulness

8 02 2017

Kindness is considerably underrated as a characteristic. Not as elegant as love, as risqué as passion, or as productive as activism, kindness often sits somewhere around beige in the colour-spectrum of attributes. It just sounds a bit… boring.

kindness-inspire-others

Kindness. It’s so everyday, though. Love is special, passion is exciting, activism is life-changing, but kindness…? Those little everyday things. Holding a door open. For the third person that pushes through. Not scowling when the parent pushes the pushchair out from between the parked cars to cross the road – smile and wave them across. Clearing away someone else’s coffee cup in the staff room. Checking the person you fouled in football is ok. A kind word, a hello, noticing people.

Like the socks that prevent your feet from chafing, the sip of water that eases your voice, or a glimpse of sunshine on a dull day. Nothing major. Probably not many people will notice.

But these everyday little things are so very important. That’s why kindness is nestled in the middle of the things called the fruits of the spirit in the bible, between patience and goodness. It’s not a hierarchy. It’s called living, in community, living looking outwards, seeing others, noticing them, and just being kind.

We live in a busy world amidst so many demands and so much impatience and so much unkindness. To live well within this world, and to challenge it, I think it is good to practice inner calm, through mindfulness, but also to spread calm through it’s outward-looking twin, kindfulness. It’s only small. But small is good. Start now.





5 things to thank Trump for

31 01 2017

It might seem early days to mark a debt of gratitude, but in a spirit of generosity and hope there are several things about this Trump presidency, even after a week like this, to be thankful for.

  1. people suddenly care about refugees
    Following an EU referendum campaign and US election campaign that shamelessly played heavily to fear and xenophobia about refugees, suddenly there are mass protests saying “let them in”. This rebalancing of public opinion – and the reporting of it – is a good thing.
  2. people suddenly care about racism and sexism
    For a long time we have pretended racism and sexism were relics from a bygone era, whilst knowing they really weren’t, especially those of us who are white middle-aged men. After all, we are the least affected. But Trump’s behaviour and policies have forced us to be vocal about challenging both, clearly and confidently, because they are wrong. This is a good thing.
  3. people suddenly care about news bias
    We know the news we read is filtered through a bias all the time, but we conveniently forget. The Trump presidency has highlighted the issue of ‘fake news’, aka lying, propaganda etc…, and made us reassess everything we read. Once we know that whether we read the Daily Mail or the Independent, watch Fox or the BBC, everything is given an angle and we need to switch our brains on. This is a good thing.
  4. people suddenly care what is Christian  
    Huge debates are being sparked in the Christian world, as the ‘evangelical right’ is hijacked by Trump to an extreme even they can’t handle. Old divides are cast aside as Christians stand together to condemn xenophobia and racism, and claim Jesus’ words about love and welcoming the stranger. Can you really claim to be pro-life, yet condemn the living to death? The old ‘moral majority’ are no longer the vocal majority. This is a good thing.
  5. people suddenly agree that some things are just wrong 
    In our increasingly relativist culture people have found it hard to say things other people do are wrong. Live and let live, it’s up to them, everything happens for a reason… Well, thanks to Trump suddenly people are rediscovering a confidence to say some things are just wrong. Claiming to grab female genitals, boasting about sexism, lying, not paying taxes… some things are just wrong, morally, and people are being more confident in saying so. This is a good thing.

I find it hard to agree with much of what Donald Trump says or does. He is not my enemy though, because that language is not helpful; but I have found myself talking about him as if he is, getting enjoyment when things go wrong for him, and feeling self-righteous that I am not like him.

So, I offer these as reminders that whilst we can’t change him, we can change ourselves; that how we behave matters and what we do matters; and if a Trump presidency can raise us from political apathy and despair into a force that challenges oppression in all its forms then let’s celebrate that, even as we check Twitter again.

Because we have all fallen short and need grace, not just him.

93736387_washingtonmarch

The Women’s March. From BBC News, Getty Images 





the pregnant pause | a Christmas poem

25 12 2016

The Christmas story always appears to me to have two distinct sides
that we emphasise differently depending on what we are looking for
On the one side there’s the wondrously mystical-sounding story
of wonder and excitement and angels singing about glory in the highest
on a hillside to fluffy white sheep
waking up the good-natured shepherds from their sleep
while a magical star lights the sky for exotic camel-riding astrologers
who’ve been crossing borders
for months or maybe years to see this stable tableau
bathed in subtle angel glow

the word became flesh
the divine enmeshed
he who created light in the beginning
is spinning a new kind of story
of darkness overcome
and they have come
to be among
the birth of the divine son

this almost magical tale suits best this candlelight
of Christmas night
a beautiful ethereal sight
in softer sight

but there is a flip-side

like a kite string that prevents this simple story from drifting off
becoming disconnected
alienated
separated
from what it is really all about
these simple words that put the mythological-story brakes on
There was a man sent from God.
He was called John.

Suddenly our story is about a person, not an idea
It’s about a real family being terrified and escaping to Egypt in fear
It’s not about the eternal cosmic battle between darkness and light
Well – it is, but rooted in history
with dates, places
real times and real faces
And you know as well as I do the centre of the story isn’t John
but that’s where the story starts from
in the gospel of John
anchoring the ethereal mystical word
preventing it from drifting off into the absurd
because the word was God
but the word became flesh
the divine intertwined
into the mess of us
in the body of a baby called Jesus

two sides to a story
light versus darkness
taxation and a census
angels and dreams
newborn baby screams
stars leading astronomers
God becoming one of us
Herod’s indignation
a refugee migration
innkeepers, animals, strangers with gifts
you can’t pin down this story it constantly resists
being claimed, held down, owned
controlled

this is a truly beautiful night
an amazing night
beautiful with candles and songs
but not because of candles and songs
they are just handles to open the door
to a humbling, life-changing
transforming birth of a King
not born on cushions of velvet and set on a gold-plated throne
not in a self-named luxury hotel with a lift made of gold
but born among the poor
born for the forlorn
the care-worn
set only on straw

So join with me in celebrating with awe
this story
of glory and wonder
and rooting it firmly in the fact
that god slipped under the radar
in so much more than a fairytale fable
but got itchy in a stable
to enable
the untenable
the indefensible
us
to be holy with him
to be holy as this holy night
that we might have eternal life.

And that is the third of the two sides sides of this transforming
heartwarming this-night-dawning
don’t let me catch you yawning
absolutely never boring tale of Jesus born in
a stable with donkey’s ee-or-ing
because the character
you may have never before seen
in that nativity scene is you
this is a story that you’re in

Come, kneel in this story with me
Come, join the wealthy travellers and shepherds fighting off poverty
Come and see Joseph so weary and Mary,
Come sit with Mary
Come, gaze upon this child
come and sit in this pregnant pause
for all that Jesus came to be and to do
all his inheritance as creator, King and son
can be yours

so much more than a fairytale fable
he was born to enable
the untenable
the indefensible
us
to be holy with him
so be holy as this holy night
for he was born that we might have life.

Happy Christmas


This was my spoken word for the Midnight Communion 2016. It works better when real aloud!





the crowd

23 03 2016

This is a spoken word piece that I used on Palm Sunday, when we had over 100 guests for a baptism. It begins with the first 45 seconds or so of Chariots of Fire…


There’s something about this music that makes you want
to do everything in slow motion
you picture yourself running along the beach in a white t-shirt
the wind is blowing, there’s the wet sand and the ocean
and if you remember the London Olympics opening ceremony
Mr Bean is about to trip you up

It’s music that speaks to us of triumph and success
beyond the white shorts and white vests
I can’t even remember what the film was about
but the music still makes me want to cheer out loud
even just to be in the crowd…

To be in the crowd.

Today’s Bible reading was a lot about crowds
crowd’s being loud
but the thing about crowds is if you don’t want to be loud
well, that’s allowed, after all, you’re in a crowd
keep your head down
keep yourself moving around
Just a face in the crowd.
Like the boy over there selling lemons,
just watching

Where are you in the crowd?

Jesus went into Jerusalem with a crowd like this
Some of whom were his friends and followers
Other’s were more cautious, just hangers-on
Some just had nothing better to do
So as the crowd grew they stayed because
who knew, there might end up being a riot
or just something more interesting
than watching the lemon seller
juggle lemons

Where are you in the crowd?

Some of those in the crowd with Jesus were pretty sure
that Jesus was special
more than just a street magician
or clever politician
not just your average preacher
or rabbi-style teacher
but the Messiah, a King
that sort of thing

so they served him and helped him
and gave up their lives for him
even when their families said they were crazy
and told them not to join the crowd

Where are you in the crowd?

Some of those in the crowd were sceptical
Frightened of being heretical
and so were being tactical
in keeping their distance
don’t get involved
or the roman soldiers
might get too close

Some in the crowd were intrigued enough
to be near the front where the jostling was rough
and near enough to get the occasional shove
but they were not convinced that God was love
and so were frightened
their eyes widened with the thought
of actually pinning their hopes on this man Jesus

they said to themselves I’m not religious
whilst staring at the man called God With Us
but could not bring themselves to hear the invitation
of the disciples to join with us
because they thought they were not good enough
or convinced enough
or just hadn’t really reckoned it could possibly be
true

Where are you in the crowd?

Jesus didn’t charge around
with Chariots of Fire playing in the background
but he took his time
he let the people think and make up their minds
as well as turning water into wine
and healing the eyes of the blind
and being actually, really God.

Where are we in the crowd?

Maybe we have got questions…
which is fine because there’s no suggestion
that the disciples didn’t have questions
Maybe we’ve never thought about Jesus
actually being real
Maybe we’ve never even been a face in the crowd
until today
right now

and maybe today at this baptism is the time
when you see the light of Jesus in your eyes
and an ancient faith is awakened
a dormant sense of God is shaken
and you realise you’ve been looking for the meaning of life
and the meaning of life has been standing there all along

Jesus, who sees all of us in the crowd
as his friends
whether we come with knees bowed
or are so far away he needs a long lens to see us
Jesus waits patiently.
What he offers us is new life
being washed whiter than white
when we pledge to follow him
to trust him

And this is a big deal
the whole Jesus being real thing
it changes everything
So I invite you
join the crowd, have a look
don’t just be like the boy selling lemons.
So when Jesus says come,
you are ready
because he gives us a future and a hope
to me that seems worth a go.





top corner second lap

31 08 2014

Top corner second lap. Even the words make me shudder. Or at least, they used to. I regularly do the 5k Banstead Parkrun which is 2 lopsided laps through the woods. And the top corner second lap, about 3/4 of the way around – I used to hate it. It’s just after a long hill, with a steep start. Physically the legs and heart are struggling – but more than that, for me it was psychological. At that point, the self-doubt creeps. The negative voices in my head telling me give up, stop; you’re no good anyway, you’re a rubbish runner, just walk, go home. Did I tell you you’re also a rubbish vicar? And don’t get me started on how you’ll cope with that adoption idea…

But part of maturing is knowing that when things are tough you don’t just give up. And part of being a Christian who writes is knowing that running metaphors are very biblical, so no-one can tell you to stop going on about it. Pushing on through the self-doubt, chronic though it is sometimes, is essential to living fully. When you believe in something, you are prepared to suffer for it. Life as a follower of Jesus is like a long-distance race, just as Paul said it was. Moments of self-doubt, moments of cruising; moments of pain, moments of feeling unbeatable; moments of loneliness, and moments of needing to run together. As the African proverb says, if you want to quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. 

 

Why don’t I fear the top corner second lap anymore? Because I’ve taken on a challenge to run Man vs Mountain, 20 miles over Snowdon, which is further and harder than I’ve ever run before. For this south Londoner, Snowdon is about as similar as Saruman to Neville Longbottom. Why? Because I love a challenge. Yes. But also because I am raising money for Sutton Schoolswork, our local Christian schoolswork charity. So I have been training. Hard. I have run more, and further; I have sought out hills; and my time at the Banstead parkrun has come toppling, culminating in three PBs in a row (17.34), taking a minute off my time in 3 months, and winning it this week (yay to me!). 18 miles over Box Hill no longer scares me. 20 miles over Snowdon? Ok, yes that does. 

Funny how putting the work in gets results though. I firmly believe in Christian schoolswork. It is not about covert evangelism; it is not some sinister underground movement. But it is about putting the Christian faith on the radar for our children and young people, a faith as real and lived, not as taught in books by people who usually just don’t get it. How can you understand the world without understanding faith in God, even if you don’t believe it yourself? We have a lot to say about the things that young people need to hear; and we have ears to listen to what they have to say. We teach on lifestyle and ethics and history and knowing yourself; we open people’s eyes to justice issues like human trafficking and bullying. And we are invited by pretty much all the schools in Sutton, because they trust us: 45 primaries, 11 Secondaries, 35,000 kids. And currently just 2 schoolsworkers. 

If you want to sponsor me and support Sutton Schoolswork, then click here to donate by text, or send a cheque; you can also pray for me on Saturday 6th September, beginning at 8am! And more than that, pray for your local schools. Get involved. Support your local schools workers. Thank you. IMG_3432

 

 





things jesus didn’t say #7 | other

10 06 2014

Now that all the furore over the European elections is dying down, it’s time to reflect on the idea of othering. I know this is a delicate area, but to listen to lots of people claiming to be followers of Jesus, or to speak for those who are, you’d think that Jesus had said “And the second greatest commandment is this: other your neighbour as you other yourself.”  thingsjesusdidntsay7otherHe didn’t, of course, he said “Love your neighbour as yourself”. He said that loving God with all your heart and believing your neighbour is as important as you is worship – more important worship than offerings and sacrifices. Despite politicians ramblings about us being a nation of tolerance, so many seem to be actually causing us to do the opposite: to label each other as ‘other’, as different. Which cannot be good. Whether we are pointing at those out of work, those with spare rooms, those who work in finance, those from Romania, those who are Muslims… the list goes on… we seem to be retreating into greenhouses and throwing stones. 

Jesus didn’t say the EU is a good idea, or that it isn’t. This isn’t about that. You can be anti-Europe, or Euro-sceptic, and still love your neighbour. To be against the corruption and interference of Europe does not equate with being racist; to be worried about immigration doesn’t equate with being racist; yet they seem to be being conflated, conjoined.

We as followers of Jesus should be prime examples of those who love and embrace our neighbour, because we are citizens of a kingdom in which Jesus is Lord; we must not be equated with those who ‘other’ each other, making differences between us our defining characteristics. We must not demonise, or let the media soften our resistance to demonisation, and we must not allow casual racism to become respectable again. 

Let’s be careful with our words, careful with our votes, and generous with our actions.

(And have a quiet giggle at the new UKIP local councillors as they realise they are dealing with suburban bin collections and dog poo, not mass immigration.)

 





2013 in review

3 01 2014

WordPress.com automatically prepare an annual report for the blogs they host. If you’re interested, take a look and see what I wrote about this year, and who read it. 

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.





saying goodbye

4 05 2013

One of the most poignant things that I do is take the funerals of those who have lost children, especially those they have never held alive. This is a time to be with people in grief, where there are no easy answers, no memories to treasure, no life to recall. Just silence. 

It so happened the day I got the call this week, I came across this spoken word piece from the excellent Dai Woolridge, written for the charity Saying Goodbye, who provide support for those who grieve the loss of children. 

I thoroughly recommend it. 

If he seems familiar, I featured Dai’s spoken word Christmas Chord before, and we used it in our Carol Service. 





let’s get ready to mumble

28 04 2013

I want to celebrate small church. Big churches get noticed. Most of what happens in churches is small. Because most churches are small.

A small thing is like a mumble. Brief, barely audible. Lost in a puff of wind. Except. Except that I walked past the Big Top at Spring Harvest before the session started, what a noise – 5000 humans mumbling in a big tent turns tiny noise into big noise. That’s lots of small churches, all together.

Our little church on our council estate doesn’t have a massive list of ministries. But what we do we try to do well. Through coffee morning and play group we try to build supportive friendships in an environment where they can be rare. We talk about Jesus, when we feel brave, and invite people to church, and sometimes they come. Sometimes they keep coming. Small church matters. 

Coffee morning Christmas dinner

Coffee morning Christmas dinner

Some mums from other church have helped us start a new group called Mumbles. This is a 5 session group run by mums from different churches with the aim of supporting mums struggling with motherhood and who have questions about God. It’s based around a prayer mumbled by many mums when life is tough. One person came to the first session, and it was so important for them. Small church matters.

Another local church has a Saturday football session and I help out. We we have 15-20 boys aged 7-21 playing together, learning football skills, yes, but also teamwork, maturity, life skills, and holding the vicar to his own no-swearing policy. Why do we allow ourselves to be sworn at and run ragged on a Saturday morning? Because of Jesus. Small church matters. IMG_1527_Snapseed

At vicar college we were encouraged to think of new and radical ideas and ways to be church. They are all well and good. Here I have learnt that the classics can still work.  Coffee morning matters. Playgroup matters. Home group matters. Scouts matters. Football matters. Giving lifts to old ladies matters. Bothering to do Sunday school for 2 kids matters. Talking to people matters. Supportive relationships matter.  Small church matters. Because of Jesus.

The kingdom is full of small things. Be encouraged by the small things. One mumble on its own is barely heard. It can be disheartening. But many mumbles together can change the world.

Let’s get ready to mumble. 








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