Saturday, August 01, 2015

Ministry Tips 76-100

76. Diary reading and study time.
77. Bereavement visit. Not good to get embroiled in arguments about how the church has changed. Remember comments for later.
78. All invitations to become a disciple of Jesus should be accompanied by a health and safety warning.
79. There is nothing wrong with MBHA (Ministry By Hanging Around) but be conspicuous. MBH (Ministry By Hiding) doesn't work.
80. If you speak the truth it is easier to remember what you said.
81. There is no difference between really caring and apparently caring as far as the cared-for are concerned.
82. Most of us, most of the time, have no idea what we are doing.
83. Sometimes you should appear to have nothing better to do than wander around picking up litter.
84. The things you are in charge of should require most thinking time and least physical time.
85. Have a dirty-hands job you do without seeking accolades.
86. A good celebrant and a good referee have a lot in common. Create atmosphere, control proceedings, completely unnoticed.
87. Ministry is not all about doing; sometimes simply being is important too. Don't fill every hour with things to do.
88. Empty your filing tray then destroy it. Put all paper away at once.
89. Each time you file a piece of paper in the filing cabinet try and throw one or two pieces out.
90. Follow @johnnvtruscott for regular tips on all things admin.
91. It is probably worth paying someone to do your tax.
92. To work out whether to employ someone for a job you could do, cost yourself per hour and see if you can do it cheaper.
93. It is not a sin to spend extra time on the bits of your job you really enjoy.
94. Talk to children. Make the adults wait in line while you finish.
95. Stuck for conversation starter with children? Try 'I like your shoes'. Only use with adults if you actually like the shoes.
96. When someone shouts at you, respond in a quieter-than-usual voice and don't touch them.
97. 'Vision is the ability to remember the purpose of the work.' (C) Clucas The Fruit Game
98. No-one ever got criticised for dressing too smartly for an interview. Clergy should wear clerical collars.
99. Close files in the cabinet with paper clips. Remove them when using file. After a year archive files still clipped shut
100. If someone else is leading a service or office less well than you would have done, let them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Conversation that never happened.

Liz: This leadership contest is creating a lot of negative publicity Jeremy. Do you think it would be a good idea if we had a smokescreen?

Jeremy: What, something to take the headlines away for a few days?

Liz: Yes. Any ideas Andy? Yvette?

Andy: Ooh Yvette.

Yvette: Is that you René?

Andy: No, it is Andy with the 'andle of the 'oover.

Liz: Wrong script guys. But you have given me an idea. We need someone to make some ridiculous sacrifice. Maybe drugs, prostitutes. Perhaps some old Lord no-one has ever heard of.

Lord Sewel: You called.

Liz: Yes. Please do not take this personally John but we need you to be photographed snorting cocaine off a prossie's arse cheeks.

Lord Sewel: Tough gig, let me think about it, OK finished, yes.

(Three days later)

Liz: Jeremy, we still have a problem.

Jeremy: I noticed. It seems that no-one believes anyone in the House of Lords is anything other than Tory and snorting cocaine whilst chairing the Standards Committee is exactly the sort of behaviour expected. They're still talking about me.

Liz: Ah well. Good try everybody.

Yvette: Maybe we should have used the fallen Madonna with the big boobies.

Andy. Ooh Yvette.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Supper's Ready?


Interior day. A man sits on a sofa reading the paper. A black labrador dog 'Diesel' pushes its head past the paper and licks the man.

Diesel: What time is it?
Man: 5.45
Diesel: Yay. Supper time.
Man: No.
Diesel. What? I always eat at 5.45.
Man: Here you eat at 6.

(Diesel walks round table twice)

Diesel: What time is it?
Man: 5.45 and 30 seconds.
Diesel: Yay. Supper time.
Man: No.

(Diesel fetches coloured scrunchy slobbery thing and places it on man's bare knee)

Diesel: What time is it?
Man: 5.46.
Diesel: It's not supper time yet is it?
Man: Take a wild guess.
Diesel: Suppose you forget.
Man: I don't think I will.
Diesel. Still, better safe than sorry. I brought you some slobber.

(Diesel lies at my feet and looks mournful for 45 seconds)

FX: voice off in next door garden.

Diesel barks.

Diesel: I saved you from attack. Is it supper time?
Man: Eight more minutes.
Diesel: 'kin joking.
Man: Language
Diesel: I may die of starvation in seven.
Man: I'll risk that; your owners already gave me the beer.
Diesel: Anyway, I've been thinking. How come you eat five times a day and me only twice?
Man: My gaff; my rules. Beer?

(Diesel walks round the table twice more)

I get up to get food after six more minutes, delayed only by tripping over a dog on the way and on the way back.

FX: eating noises

Man: What time is it?

Close up of dog and empty bowl then of clock showing 6.01.


Jurassic World

There's a moment in this film where the owners of the Jurassic World attraction discuss the motivation they had to genetically modify a dinosaur. They lament the fact that the visitor numbers had reduced and the boffin reminds the owner what he had said 'We need more teeth.'

Jurassic Park was a new genre of disaster movie but pretty much the only disaster that could occur was escaping creatures. It was well done but the premise was established. I never went to the sequel.

So one can well guess that the teeth conversation also happened in script meetings, in re-imagining the franchise. Numbers are down. How can we get every school kid in the world to see this in the summer holidays?

This latest effort is film-making by numbers. We pretty much know that the new big baddie is going to get out. We know the kids will be in trouble. We try to guess which of the supporting cast will be dinofood.

There are some questions to ponder. The creationists are nailed in scene one as it is made clear to the audience that this team reckons birds are descended from dinosaurs. As most scientists do. We are invited to wonder if genetic-modification should be controlled by ethical limits rather than money.

But it didn't need a film to do that. Take a movie-cliché bingo card with you and tick off everything from Mum telling the kids to be careful to the happy couple walking off into the sunset.

If you like escapism and have never seen screaming crowds running backwards and forwards in panic, go now.

Empire (4/5) and Roger Ebert (3/4). Usually reliable guides. They can't have been paid off? Maybe the 3D is better.

Pants on Fire

I am a liar. I have always been a liar.

That's better. Get it all out there.

Right. To business. You know those personality profile tests you can do? I always come out as highly intuitive. In Myers Briggs terms, if it is N or S I get 30-50 N every time.

My interest in statistics is because it is good for me; they are counter-intuitive and I have to stop and think (favouring T over F it is not all sacrifice). Daniel Kahneman's 'Thinking Fast and Slow' has been a helpful companion to me, reminding me to check my preconceived ideas regularly, challenge assumptions I have made and yet not lose the essential quick-wittedness that helps me get on and get stuff done.

But if you ask me a question - say cheese or ham in your sandwich - I will not think about it. There will be a day for ham and a day for cheese and a day for both and I'll just know. I may decide at the last possible minute, which scares some people. A colleague once asked me in a queue in a sandwich shop what I was going to have and was bothered that with my turn coming next, and before his, I still didn't know. I was almost tempted to ask the assistant to 'Make me a sandwich' on the basis that it was a sandwich shop and I like almost all sandwiches. I order food without over-contemplating and act as if the decision is correct from then on.

If you ask me which way a room should be set up for a meeting I will know and I will tell you. If you ask my why I chose that I will have to look at my decision and work out what reason there is and discover that, intuitively I went through a process of eliminating all the ways it would be wrong for the chairs to face and coming up with an answer. Sometimes all the ways the chairs could face will be wrong in some way so my answer, intuitively grabbed from the sub-conscious shelf, will turn out to be be the direction that has the least wrong about it. I have set out rooms a lot. Only occasionally do I re-check the working.

Showing my working involves analysing how I got there.

As a child I used to tell the truth. This got me into trouble:

Parent: Why did you do ... (Insert wrong thing here)?
Me: I don't know.
Parent (or sometimes a teacher): You must know. Everyone knows why they do things.

And so I discovered that life is easier for others if you have a narrative structure. So I invent stories that explain why decisions are right, after I have made them. Since occasionally my decisions are wrong my stories may well be lies.

Never was this more challenging than in the obviously right decision to encourage one of my church's PCCs to spend over half a million pounds on the old rectory next door during a clergy vacancy rather than see it fall into private ownership.

Almost everyone wanted to know the thinking. What was the vision? Why should we do it?

It would never have happened if I, or any of the other intuitives on the team who also got it, had insisted it was because we knew it was right. So visions were cast, stories were told, possibilities were discussed but at the end of the day it was a no-brainer. Even if it turned out we had no use for the building whatsoever we could always sell it, probably for more than we paid for it.

Asking an intuitive to show working is asking them to tell you something that doesn't exist. It is asking them to lie. And we are very good at it. We tell stories to fill the gap between our grasp of reality and yours.

Our stories are excellent because we have much experience. 'Was that true?' No, but the narrative demanded it at that point.

It follows that some of the stories I have told over my life, to show working or explain things, were not true, but with repetition I almost believe them myself.

By the way I don't mind my decisions being challenged. As long as you can explain to me what is wrong with mine and better about yours. And if you're intuitive too? Well we probably won't disagree but if we do we will really enjoy the exploration of the truth, probably over beer.

How do you feel about that? Before you answer take a moment to ponder how much you hated, and continue to hate, the parental/ authority answer to the question 'Why?'

Because I say so.

You always wanted a reason, and always will.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden

Somewhat renowned for the very late review I want to talk about an album from 1988. Why? Because I only heard it for the first time last Friday. Forgive me.

In the early eighties Talk Talk were, for me, a perfectly adequate synth-pop band. A slightly unusual vocal style gave them an edge over all the other Yamaha DX7 bands out there. The Party's Over, the debut album, has some fine singles on it but I didn't feel compelled to become a long-term fan or purchase any further works.

Recently Spirit of Eden has been cropping up on many music magazine lists of essential albums. I usually know the albums in such lists well and if I don't own them it is because, despite their essentialness, I don't like them. Spirit of Eden, I realised, I had never heard.

It is wonderful. Why is it essential?

Let's imagine that you are not a music lover and twice in your life someone has given you an album, 'Because you must have something to play at parties.' They have tried to please you but to keep it mainstream.

Your collection consists of Miles Davis' jazz classic Kind of Blue and Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid. The former because that is what everyone owns if they think they ought to like at least something and the second because you accidentally watched the performance footage of One Day Like This at Glastonbury a year or two back and liked it. I believe this is a credible scenario.

You play the albums from time to time, wondering how music got from there to here, from 1959 - 2008. Although not enough to increase your collection.

Spirit of Eden fits in the gap. You can hear jazz chord progressions and shades of volume unusual in a 'rock' album that hark back to Davis. There are times of almost completely silence. But there is a strength of song-writing, a theme to the whole album and an up-to-dateness that, for 1988, was remarkable. Twenty years ahead of its time.

It would have been difficult to perform publicly. Rock venues are notorious for the volume of the audience. Rock audiences do not behave well in quiet passages. An Elbow gig I once saw suffered badly with this.

Spirit of Eden is haunting, beautiful, melodic, structured and its brief lyrical content has a poetic quality rarely heard in pop. Nothing lengthy but every word made to count:

'A gilded wreath on reason
The flower crushed conceives
A child of fragrance
so much clearer
In legacy.'

My next twenty years will be much improved by its presence.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ministry Tips 51-75

51. Take parcels in for neighbours. You are around during the day. It makes up for your visitors parking across their drives.
52. Be sure you have understood the question. If in doubt, repeat it before answering it.
53. If faced with criticism try 'What precisely is it that is worrying you?'
54. If you are an introvert, check that you said 'Thank you' aloud. If you are an extrovert, check that you meant it.
55. Hospitality prevents hunger, dirt, discomfort and tiredness from spoiling the conversation.
56. Find out what radio stations your parishioners listen to and, even if they are not your bag, listen to them occasionally.
57. Every now and again buy a copy of every newspaper and compare.
58. If you have a reputation for awkwardness get things done by asking for the opposite of what you want (a friend told me).
59. @RevJFletcher 'Rules for Reverends' (BRF 2013) has good stuff in. It's funnier than this and Dave Walker done pictures.
60. Try and tell people what you think you just heard them say.
61. Remember that if you ever feel arrogant enough to be able to write ministry tips you will be held accountable to them.
62. It feels weird to be paid to pray but it is rather that you are compensated for not having a job in order to pray more.
63. When people say, 'You only work on Sundays' agree and laugh. Don't get defensive.
64. Beyond safety, don't have ridiculous expectations of tied housing.
65. Vicarage gardening is work.
66. When you stand up in front of any group of people, tell them who you are if you haven't been introduced.
67. Ministers get treated as very minor celebrities. This means being willing to be humiliated sometimes. Be OK with that.
68. If you ever think your life is tough remember that Randy Vickers really exists and is ordained.
69. Bishops get to speak the truth to power; most of us get to speak the truth to the powerless.
70. Remember these are not #ordainedministrytip or #professionalministrytip - anyone can join in.
71. Don't form a church badminton club if there is an existing one in town.
72. The welcomers should be in the car-park, whatever the weather.
73. If driving across a drawbridge into a palace for a ministerial review doesn't make you laugh you are in the wrong job.
74. If you have a personal freshness problem you will probably be the last to know. Ask someone you trust, from time to time.
75. Hospitality happens at the convenience of the guests, not the hosts.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Decorating Vicarages

How much care does the Church of England take over its housing stock? I have lived in tied housing for seventeen years of my ministry so have a few insights.

The quinquennial system, a five-yearly survey, ensures that properties are maintained to a reasonable standard. They are provided unfurnished although some properties include an office/study with some church stuff in it.

We used to be provided with a cooker but I don't think this is the case any more. I will find out soon as my cooker, an intrinsic part of a fitted kitchen, is near the end of its life.

I have found that work identified by the quinquennial is carried out promptly. I have also found that any safety issues are tackled quickly too. Blocked drains, leaning walls and sharp-edges have all been rapidly fixed.

But there are gaps. My vicarage has under-cupboard lights. They kept blowing the bulbs and an electrician advised replacing them. My diocesan property department told me they took no responsibility for such lights. So I replaced them at my own expense, saving me money on bulbs but also investing in a property I do not own. It would be churlish of me to refit the dodgy lights when I leave; but I would be quite entitled to.

And so to decoration. This is left to the parish and incumbent. Generously, local churches often redecorate houses between occupants. Mine had three or four rooms plus the hall etc painted in 2006. The Diocese have a small budget (£60 a year) to cover materials, which is great if the house is occupied by people who have plenty of free-time to decorate.

Three problems:

1. Most parishioner decorating is competent but not thorough. Doors are not sanded and refitted. Radiators not removed to paint behind. Walls not properly cleaned, primed and prepared. My pre-moving-in gang did quite well but they are unusual.

2. Houses with a quick throughput of ministers get redecorated more often than the long-stay versions.

3. A professional quote for hall, stairs and landing has seen three workers in my house for seven days. This cost is outside the scope of most clergy and also involves a substantial investment that cannot be withdrawn on leaving.

So I just wonder if there isn't a way to maintain the interior of a vicarage better without incumbent expense?

Thought for the Day

Today's thought, delivered at BBC Radio Bristol:

As I heard of heart transplant patient Kevin Mashford cycling from Bristol to Newcastle another name popped into my head. Louis Washkansky. Followed by that of Dr Christiaan Barnard. Hidden in my mind, but stuck there by constant repetition. In 1967 Washkansky was given the world's first heart transplant; Barnard the surgeon.

Washkansky died after eighteen days. He knew the risks. Without the transplant the future for him was very bleak. Today the complex operation is relatively routine.

In one of the Nailsea churches I serve there are several wall memorials to children. One eighteenth century family lost three under fives, probably to illnesses simple treatment could today cure. I never cease to be grateful that I have survived chicken pox and measles to be here.

And I've been stitched up a couple of times without pain. Thank you anaesthesia.

We are blessed to live in a time of amazing medical progress.

From ancient times we have had a simple mantra that health is good and illness bad. The stories of the Bible, especially of Jesus, all show disease or death interrupting the action and having to be dealt with. Take up your mat and walk again.

The people then asked 'Who is this man? Sickness obeys him.' Astonishing.

Broadcaster Garrison Keillor always ended his Lake Wobegon monologues with this. 'Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.'

It is not possible for all our hospitals to be above average. But we do well to note that all are getting steadily better, as indeed, are we.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

1970s Rock primer

After a brief Twitter exchange last week a few of us got to wondering what eight tracks might best introduce someone to 1970s rock. Given that we then came up with a possible eight different sub-genres of rock (in the seventies - there are more now) here is a suggestion for a primer in the decade. Comments welcome, and indeed, expected.

Pub rock
Steve Gibbons - Johnny Cool

Prog rock
Yes - Roundabout

Rock and Roll
Quo - Rockin' All Over the World

Heavy Metal
Black Dog - Led Zeppelin

Fleetwood Mac - Don't Stop

Doobie Brothers - Pursuit on 53rd Street

Brinsley Schwarz - Surrender to the Rhythm

Rory Gallager - Tattooed Lady

Anticipating that this will cause more debate than theological posts.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Priest or Leader?

Interesting article by Graham Tomlin in the Church Times about balancing the two words 'priest' and 'leader'.

It is well argued with the suggestion at its conclusion that '...priestly leaders are those whose one goal is the blessing and flourishing of those in their care.' Well amen to that.

But what about anyone who feels their call is to one or the other? Is there any other way forward than squaring the circle?

Of course there is, but it requires a change of heart and mind.

For those, often but not exclusively, evangelicals who want to lead I say, why not? Get leading. Your view of priesthood is functional not ontological. What you need is to be able to appoint, and indeed anoint, local priests who can preside, forgive and bless. You can still exercise a prophetic ministry (although so can anyone in the church). But then you will not be side-tracked by the need to scrub around for eucharistic cover when you have a weekend off. You need permission to have an order of Levites.

For those who want to exercise a solely priestly ministry the answer is nearer at hand. You need to be a priest and allow your church leaders (Wardens in the C of E) to lead. If you want to block any of the things they want to do then you are more of a leader than you think you are.

There is usually, within the church, a simple, answer and a complex one. But we never reach for the simple one.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning on BBC Radio Bristol's Breakfast Show:

A few years ago I was absent-mindedly glancing down the list of the Queen's New Year honours in the newspaper when I spotted a name I recognised. A friend from a previous town had received an MBE for services provided during the London bombings.

I won't name him because he is incredibly modest and wouldn't want me to.

But on the 7th of July 2005 he was on one of the tube trains that was bombed and in the next carriage to the bomber.

It took some time to squeeze the story out of him. He had told very few others up until the announcement of his medal. It turns out that as people were running down the track escaping he climbed into the damaged compartment to help.

I thought about him the other day when I heard of the courage of the Tunisian hotel staff, shielding guests from the gunman.

You don't anticipate that, as part of a normal day, you might be expected to put your own life on the line, or climb into a burning tube train and see what you can do to help.

Jesus told a story of a guy who had such an abundant crop of grain he built extra barns to accommodate it so he could take it easy and live off the profits. In the story God says to that man 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.'

Complacency, in the Bible, is the enemy of all the things God intends.

And a willingness to value your own life as no more important than that of the person in the next carriage seems to me to be the ally of all that God counts good.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Ministry Tips 26-50

26. Don't mess with the flowers.
27. Don't mess with the Mothers' Union. They know people.
28. People who have pet services should be familiar with the juxtaposition of a mop and bucket.
29. You can go to the cinema on a working day.
30. Become a regular in one or two pubs and cafés.
31. Ask people how they like to receive feedback.
32. If children point at you in the street and tell their parents they know you, stop and tell their parents who you are.
33. Read the local free papers. Send them news. Expect it to be mangled.
34. Be decisive on all trivial 50/50 calls - it makes you more friends than prevaricating.
35. Clarification. Even if you're a trained professional florist, don't mess with the flowers.
36. Be vaguely familiar with popular culture
37. Socks, sandals. Same sentence OK. Same leg not.
38. Be sufficiently generalist to know the next question to ask after 'What do you do?'
39. Give your own opinion rarely; ask others their's a lot.
40. Leave all hired property tidier and cleaner than you found it.
41. Let the bride and groom make their own rings comfortable after the vows. If it don't fit, don't force it
42. Learn a few graces, blessings and ending prayers.
43. 1st joke you thought of won't be original; 2nd not funny. Try the 3rd. Only ignore this advice if you have great comic timi
44. People see more of your fingernails than most other professionals. Keep them nice.
45. Carry a handkerchief for your own use.
46. Come to terms with your own mortality.
47. Make your own book of quotes. Nobody else will use those ones.
48. Keep a record of what you preached, on what passage, when and to whom.
49. Have an adaptable talk of the month, ready for when you have to 'Say a few words'.
50. Trust your next door neighbours with a key as soon as possible. Then you will rarely be locked out.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Thought for the Day

In the light of the suggestion that teachers should do more to try and spot young people in the process of being radicalised, here is my thought for the day from this morning as delivered on Breakfast with Steve and Laura on BBC Radio Bristol:

I like working with young people. Once, before the word was hi-jacked, I would have been happy to say I was radicalising them.

Young people push back on authority, examine rules to breaking point and assert individuality. The way to help development of character is to expose teenagers to all the conflicting ideas in the market place.

We must encourage questions, share discussions and never, force anyone to do anything they don't want to.

Someone once asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment. Pick one of the ten. His recorded reply was that we should love God with all our heart (cleverly summarising the first four) and our neighbour as ourselves (the last six pithily expressed).

He refused to be bound by the assumptions of the question.

But if we don't discuss what he meant by love we are in trouble. For some people say they love God so much they will shoot anyone who doesn't.

Rabbi Lord Sacks reminds us in a new book 'Not in My Name' that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all rooted in Abraham. He calls this a humanising force.

By that human radicalism we insist on the dignity of every life, permit all to be people of faith in freedom and we stress that conflicts get resolved as peacefully as possible, however they start.

Whose fault is it that teenagers get radicalised by the wrong causes? All of us, for not allowing each and every radical opinion in the world to be heard, discussed and, if necessary, ridiculed and rejected. That's free speech. That's democracy. And that's why you can phone in and say the guy who did thought for the day this morning was an idiot, without fearing for your life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Que Sera Sera

Guess what happened to the priest?

Gozo feels more like a building site than usual this year. For reasons best known only to the gods of local planning, three major development projects are taking place in three of the largest towns - Rabat, Nadur and Xaghra - simultaneously. These are three centres where a pavement cafe and a people-watch has always been a lovely way to pass a morning.

But the thing I really like about the island, and always have, is the sense of inevitability. Fatalism almost. Faced with a bit of a problem - a blocked road, a broken down car, a weather phenomenon - the average Gozitan will have a ten second rant, wave arms around a bit, and then work out how to make things better for everyone. There are no recriminations here. 'You drove down a one-way street. What the hell. OK. I will move my car. Keep coming.'

Here health and safety has not gone mad. It hasn't even visited the mental counselling team. It is not unusual to have to swerve in the street to avoid a builder in flip-flops up an unfooted ladder wiring up the Festa illuminations. Indeed this is probably an important initiation rite for trainee electricians. The hard hat is mainly used as an ashtray.

So we are not disheartened by the builders and have been back a couple of times to a super restaurant at the far end of the island which we often miss out of our tour. Every cloud.

I discussed this with a local a few years back. There was a news story about injuries to a young apprentice builder who had failed to walk around the top of the walls of a newly-completed house as challenged by his seniors. He said, and it has stuck with me:

'Last week a priest fell down a hole; what can you do?'

If even the priests (and this is place is incredibly Catholic) fall down holes, what indeed can you do?

He didn't know I was a priest. I hope they pulled him out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Holiday Reading Recomendations

Here is what I got through on holiday this year. The mark out of ten indicates the enjoyment I got from it at the time and is no reflection on its literary standing:

Lee Child - Personal (5)
About two thirds of the way through this a poolside companion asked if I was disappointed. She said she loved Child but had found this one uninspiring. Strangely, the last third was disappointing. Loose ends were tied up a little too easily and Reacher headed off into the sunset less scathed than usual.

Joel Dicker - The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (8)
Lots of pre-match hype about this one which has been staring from the populist shelves for a few months. Well, believe the hype. A blocked writer heads off to visit his old college professor and in doing so finds a story to write about. Multi-layered and twisty. Loved it. Last 100 pages or so a real lesson in the art of the page turner.

Jim Crace - Being Dead (9)
A couple lie dead on the shore. Crace holds our hand as he tells us, with gentle beauty, who they were and what becomes of their bodies before they are discovered. Forensic, pathological, beautiful. Every sentence a joy.

Robert Harris - An Officer and a Spy (7)
Based on the story of the treachery that was almost buried and the innocent man who nearly took the blame. It is France, the 1890s, and some people think the Republic is more important than the truth. A spy novel set at a time when the speediest communication was the telegram, telephones were rare and people read the newspapers for the news.

John Updike - Rabbit Redux (8)
Updike's four-book Rabbit series is set at the turn of the decade every ten years from 1960. Here, the second volume, we learn of a new America as racism, Moon-landings and sexual liberation act as the cultural baggage.

R.J.Ellory - A Quiet Belief in Angels (8)
It is Georgia 1939. Joseph Vaughan is growing up in a small town where children are being murdered. We focus not on the investigation but on the effect this has on a community, looking for someone to blame; scapegoat if you like. Growing up and escaping from all this Vaughan finds it has its claws deep into him. We know from page one that Vaughan is eventually going to shoot the person he thinks is to blame. But we don't know who he is looking at as he tells his tale.

Nell Freudenberger - The Newlyweds (5)
George, an American man, and Amina, a Bangladeshi woman, meet on the internet through a dating web-site. They meet and settle down in the States but she wants an Islamic wedding on top of their civil ceremony and has set her hopes on getting her parents to join them. First half is set in the U.S. as Amina adapts culturally. Second half is the story of her returning home to arrange her parents' travel. I didn't like the characters. I also felt the story unravelled too slowly and got nowhere. Worthy but dull.

Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan (8)
In the early 1970s Serena, a promising Cambridge graduate, is recruited by the secret services to run and promote the work of a promising writer, Tom, who might end up being read in communist countries. This is part of 'Operation Sweet Tooth'. But their relationship develops and she is left wondering how long she can keep her real work a secret. As with all McEwan there is a great pace to this narrative and no real clue as to how it will all work out. The ending is clever.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ministry Tips 1-25

1. On a day when you don't have very much to do, don't do very much.
2. Repeat people's names back several times after first being told them.
3. Diary the travelling time before and after meetings.
4. If meeting is likely to generate things to do, diary the time, to do them.
5. Take a lunch break.
6. Do the things that need most concentration at the time when you concentrate best.
7. Put paper away, even if you haven't dealt with it yet. Make a note on your 'jobs' list if you need to deal with it.
8. Walk round the lake (
9. Don't value the person you're with more than the person you should be with. Be punctual. Leave on time.
10. Be available to people you have delegated to but don't interfere.
11. Do things outside church
12. Doing ten things well enough is better than doing one thing excellently. Excellence is a fraud.
13. Projects need a champion; you can't always be that yourself.
14. Find something specific and pathetic to be angry about; it will save you being inappropriately angry elsewhere.
15. Treating people as if they are pleasant makes them more pleasant.
16. Know that 1 in 10 upset people write complaints; 1 in 100 pleased people write thanks (source Julian Richer 'The Richer Way')
17. Take something to think about to a meeting where you won't be involved in every item.
18. Make yourself popular with wedding photographers; they will tell others.
19. Learn the names of the undertakers' bearers.
20. Use the names of the supermarket check-out staff.
21. Become especially knowledgable about something. Chapter of the Bible. Birds in your garden. A particular illness.
22. If you drive like a maniac it will get around.
23. Don't skip breakfast.
24. Don't read emails in the last part of your day. Certainly don't answer them if you read them by accident.
25. Reply to communication using the same means or make it more personal - never less. Don't email in response to a phone message.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol half an hour ago:

How easily we fail to appreciate progress. In twenty-five minutes time I will be eight miles from here posting a copy of this thought online so everyone in the world can see it.

'What?' says my younger self. 'Are you completely mad?'

And my great-grand-parents ask how I can get eight miles in twenty five minutes with a fifteen minute walk to the station.

'What's a station?', ask their grand-parents.

Progress. Regularly unnoticed. Often good.

But sometimes it comes at a cost and we have to discuss that.

Nempnett Thrubwell is a place every radio contributor should be required to pronounce in their audition piece. There, as we heard earlier, developers have observed the possibility of harnessing the energy from a life-giving ball of burning gas 92 million miles away. Some of the villagers say, 'Not here, thank you.' A solar farm would be ugly.

Who are the custodians of beauty standards? Is energy that is almost free more or less beautiful than attractive green fields while the houses are warmed by the coal from distant mines making others' homes grubby?

The psalmist reminds us that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. That mountains and fields praise their maker and rivers clap their hands. The psalmist probably didn't have to watch the local sparrowhawk eating a pretty collared dove on my lawn the other day.

It's tough holding faith, beauty and reality together. Tennyson, creator of the expression 'nature red in tooth and claw' included these lines in the same poem:

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

Beautiful words.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

A clergy friend of mine posted on Facebook at the weekend. 'If this post gets 100 likes I will preach wearing a bikini.'

His post was followed shortly by a note-to-self not to leave his mobile phone lying around in church.

219 likes so far and rising rapidly. I'll let you know.

But here we go. A warm, dry June day is on the cards. Scimpy clothing weather although maybe not for preachers on duty.

But I wonder? Are you the sort of person whose mood responds to the weather forecast; or do you take each day as it comes whatever the conditions?

Do you tune in to the spirit world better in a thunderstorm, a heatwave or on a dull day?

I spent several years as a child in Birmingham looking forward to my one week holiday in Weston-super-Mare. In those days it was at least a three hour drive and I'm sure my sister and I moaned, 'Are we nearly there yet?' every ten minutes or so.

One of the sure signs we were nearly there was driving across Clifton Downs and then dropping down to the gorge and passing under the suspension bridge.

Well it's a warm and sunny Thursday morning and I've driven in the opposite direction of my childhood dreams to be here. The weekend weather is promising. We are 'nearly there' in flaming June.

The Bible tells us God can use weather effects to communicate. But watch out if he doesn't speak through the earthquake, wind or fire. There may be a still small voice of calm whispering in your ear. It may not be telling you to display your flesh in the pulpit, but do try and listen to it.

Monday, May 25, 2015


I wrote down the name of this little film a few months ago having read a review somewhere which obviously intrigued me. Then I forgot all about it until I saw the DVD for sale. I commend this particular practice for this particular film. It would be good to watch this film without knowing how it is going to work. It is better if it dawns on you after a while.

It has a very unusual premise. About ten minutes in I remembered what it was. Trust me when I say that this film is worth watching. It is a suspense film. It is a thriller. And in case anyone has ever said to you that something is about as exciting as watching concrete dry then they are wrong. This is about laying concrete and it is exciting.

We meet Project Manager Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy in a brilliant performance) as he drives away from a deserted site. We learn very early on that he is going to be missing on the most important day of his working life (tomorrow) because something more important, personally, has come up.

Can he talk other people calmly through the necessary complexities of a massive concrete-pour whilst battling the inner voice of a father who deserted him and explaining the circumstances of his absence to his family?

The answer takes eighty-two minutes. Locke is in every scene. Gripping. And breaks a lot of the rules of movies to be so.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Before I heard you play at all
Your face adorned my bedroom wall
A pull-out poster which came free
With Sounds, or was it NME?

But then, with no appropriate shoes
I learnt the simple twelve bar blues
Your grimace looked down from afar
At bent notes on my air guitar

An anthem from the southern poor
Played on the step outside the door
You woke up every morning down
The dog had died; the girl skipped town

You proudly told the newsroom hoards
You'd never really mastered chords
So U2's Bono, your new chum
Did Rattle while you offered Hum

Not for you the rock or roll
The blues is meant to take a toll
So now you're gone; we'll grieve away
A slow one in the key of A

That Gibson is at least unplugged
The road crews' gear no longer lugged
The final feedback fades and falls
There won't be any curtain calls

Love came to town, you caught the train
We'll never see your like again
Your peers acknowledged you number one
Woke up this morning BB - gone

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Salt and Light

Have been asked to make the text available of my sermon for Trendlewood Church, 10/5/15. It's in note form but may help. The recording should appear on the web-site at some point.

Matthew 5:13-16

Living the Vision 4 - Good News for our Local Community

Fourth of six:

1. Body of Christ - all different, all play our part, all one body.

2. Values - hospitality, welcome, inclusiveness, exporting - to which you helpfully added sacrificial giving and commitment.

3. Being Christ-centred in all we do.

Jeff Whatley principle - Christian groups, if corrective not exerted upon them, tend to stray away from the Gospel.

4. A Christian church, if it is doing what it should do, will make a local community a better place than a community that does not have one.

Salt and Light

I have three points today Truths, Weapons, Distinctives.

I want to share four truths. Six weapons and three distinctives. So only thirteen points. Let's get going.

Four truths:

1. Christians must be radically different - lighting the dark: preserving the decaying.

2. Christians must permeate society - lamp on a shelf: salt rubbed into meat. So if we fancy a game of badminton, to use an example, we don't form a church badminton club and only play with Christians, but we join one.

3. Christians must influence and change society - dispel darkness: hinder decay.

4. Christians must retain their distinctiveness - salt salty: light brightness. (Vanilla salt). Some things flavour the salt, rather than being flavoured by it.

Six Weapons:

1. Prayer (no-one can stop us doing that, alone, small groups, prayer meeting, daily office, weekly services, prayer diary, people diary),

2. Evangelism (let the evangelists evangelise; clear their diaries)

3. Example (if our words and example don't match people will learn more from our example than our words)

4. Argument (listening and correcting misunderstandings)

5. Action (doing stuff in the community, some people working hard in polling stations this week)

6. Suffering (not per se; but making it clear that we cope differently. It is our expectation not a surprise. Seneca)

Three Distinctives:

Why might a Christian on Trendlewood estate be different, distinctive?

1. Greater righteousness than others, I hope. 248/365 serve God every day of the year with every bone in our body.

2. A wider love than others, I hope - enemies included.

3. A nobler ambition than others, I hope - God's name, kingdom and will (Lord's Prayer)


Will you make a difference?
Will you start to shine?
If battered and bruised, will you go again?

Political ideology

No stop. Don't go. I'll be interesting - but the title has to stay.

I have been trying, over the last forty-eight hours, to find contacts who are consistent voters for one political party and can nail their political ideology in a sentence or two. I have failed.

The ruthless (and therefore brilliant) campaign run by Lynton Crosby for the Tories has been about avoiding ideology completely. He campaigned in poetry, as the saying goes. He kept his man away from controversy, bigoted women, bacon sandwiches and non-supporters. Even the West Ham versus Villa moment caused no damage because no-one really believes Cameron is a football man; Miliband even less so he couldn't capitalise.

I am not overly critical about this since it was Tony Blair himself who said that a traditional battle between right and left in this country will have a traditional outcome - the right will win. So he understood that the rebranding to New Labour and not mentioning traditional values was the only way to get traditional left values (a heart for the poor and the low-paid worker) into legislation. Alan Johnson said yesterday, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, that the way Labour now talked about Blair you'd think he had lost three elections, not won them. 'Of course I'd borrow money to invest; interest is at 0%.'

Those who are Conservative have, in their title, a natural desire to conserve things. They are, by and large, traditionalists. It was less than two days before the return of fox-hunting was on the lips of some. Now they get to govern in prose.

One of my friends, a Conservative party worker, was bigging up the election result as a triumph for Christian values. I have had to walk away from commenting. If you want to research there is a site where the number of people of faith in each party, from Timms to Pickles and all points in between, has been counted. They are pretty evenly distributed. There is no agreed set of Christian values in any one party and, thank God, politics here has not become a pro-life versus pro-choice matter.

The people who have been willing to own up to being Conservative voters on my time lines have talked about things such as hard work, debt-reduction and opportunity. Good things, but I know of no political party that would fail to espouse those.

On the same Today programme Simon Hughes, a good Lib(Dem) MP for over thirty years, now unemployed, made a good case for traditional liberal values - freedom, internationalism etc. I doubt if Labour or Conservative could do that. My Conservative MP is a Unionist, Atlanticist, Euro-sceptic, Thatcherite but he has enemies in his own party for these. Scottish National party values are, er, go Scotland. I think that's it. UKIP values are go away eveyone else.

So I think it is true to say that pragmatism has trumped ideology.

Now I am no mug (stop sniggering). I know you can vote for a candidate based on careful study and analysis of the party manifesto and election leaflets. But you can also do so because she has a good pair of legs. The wisdom of crowds reckons to even those things out. Indeed the BBC exit poll, so derided at first and now seen as pretty impressive, extrapolated from the wisdom of 20,000 people to almost exactly how we voted, in a way that the daily polls of 1,000-2,000 people didn't and even the closing YouGov poll of 6,000 missed. The more people you ask the closer you get to the truth. Which is why democracy rocks.

Those of us who take ideologies and values into an election and seek to see which party will best preserve them are having a harder and harder time. In terms of local issues I couldn't pick between four of the five candidates in my constituency. I reckon they would have made good constituency MPs.

So what does the election result tell us:

In the UK more people are suspicious of change than embrace it. So we stick with the devil we know until forced to rethink. We were not sufficiently enamoured by the Labour alternative.

In Scotland the English elite were punished by the voters for something but I'm not sure what. For agreeing with their majority about the Union? It is said voters bought the SNP's anti-austerity plan. But the representatives of the English elite were LibDem and Labour. Gordon Brown's seat went to the SNP. What a wise choice he made to stand down.

In England all tactical votes for the LibDems were stopped (mine included) and their votes redistributed pretty evenly.

Whilst UKIP (a party with an ideology, whether we like it or not) got a huge number of votes that made almost no difference to any result. We note however, that they made inroads into the Labour vote in the north, suggesting that a party on the side of the poor will represent them better if they give Johnny Foreigner a kicking, something Labour will not do.

Where to end? The next five years will be interesting.

I don't know if Conservative ideology is to be Europhile or Eurosceptic. I suspect the latter. I reckon we may be committed to a referendum on a matter that is too important to be left to the people, which blows my democratic credentials out of the water. It may be too complicated for the people to decide, a bit like a major fraud trial where a jury cannot possibly be trained to understand.

And I really don't know if universal free education and health are safe in Tory hands. One of my Conservative friends chose against Labour, inter-alia, because 'You can't just chuck money at the NHS.' But I heard George Osborne promising to do precisely that without being able to say where the money was coming from. Labour wouldn't match it without doing the sums.

And I don't know if compassionate conservatism really exists, has a genuine heart for the poor and will direct its work thus. I hope it will. I fear division and riots but wish them well and hope for the best.

The late Tony Benn set five key tests for democracy and power. Test four is this; if you have power:

On whose behalf have you exercised it?

I would like to see the current leaderless parties have good, public conversations about ideology.

If you read this far, thank you.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Music Revolutions

I am fascinated by the news that long research and analysis by British musicologists looking at the American Billboard top 100 over the last fifty years has identified three major music revolutions since the birth of blues and jazz.

The three key years identified are 1964, 1983 and 1991. The thing that interests me is that I have lived through all of them and can clearly remember the years.

In 1964 they noted that the change we get from the rawness of blues and free forms of jazz to something tight yet epitomised by vocal harmony in the Beatles is revolution 1. At the time the Beatles climbed to the top I was seven. It happened in 1962 in this country but the research was done on the US charts, where they broke two years later. Suddenly, in a way I had not noticed before, everyone was talking about popular music. Older folk bemoaned the hairstyles and the screaming but the Beatles were setting the news, not just the music, agenda.

In 1983 the ubiquitous sound of the simple drum machine and the Yamaha DX7 synth taken on by new wave and the new romantics was definitely new, but felt more like a post-punk settling down than a revolution. Again the older folk moaned about the clothes but the sound was less controversial. It is interesting that the sample Radio 4 chose to use to illustrate this was the drum break from Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight'. A break done by a real drummer with real drums.

Musically speaking it is clear from the research that punk was of no significance. In fact a friend of mine just dismissed it as 'rock done a bit faster'. I don't buy the argument that punk had a greater impact in this country than the States. The Ramones, New York Dolls and MC5 all had a fine punk pedigree pre 1976 when we got the Pistols.

Next significant moment turns out to be the development of hip-hop from 1991. Musically it is clear that rap (in effect speaking rather than singing) was a step-change. Looking at the research in the States CNN concluded that this latter development was the biggest change in musical style in the last fifty years. It would be hard to disagree. From 1991 onwards the editing of record collections into new sounds becomes a possibility for anyone, musician or not. The logical conclusion of this bedroom creativity has been dubstep.

The fascinating question is, if there have been no major musical developments since 1991, aren't we due a new one?

Bishop of Maidstone

We come to terms with the news that yesterday it was announced that Rod Thomas, Chair(man) of Reform, has been appointed Bishop of Maidstone. Although the person appointed might be a surprise, the principle should not be. The Archbishop of Canterbury had made clear his intention to appoint a 'Headship Bishop'. That is to say a bishop who holds the view that headship, in a Christian community, is a responsibility only a man can discharge.

Although this places in the heart of church leadership a man with whom a huge number of people disagree I think it behoves those of us who dissent to do so gracefully. He represents views. Many of the churches who hold these views are growing. Voicing disappointment is not clever.

That said his supporters need to watch their words too. The suggestion that this will ensure that the leadership of the church is more missional and more biblical is offensive. I stand proud on my missional credentials and happily insist that I have a biblical ministry. It is just that my biblical exploration took me in the direction of a more liberal approach than I found in the tradition that nurtured my faith.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Off with my head...

Forgive me but...

Would it be a great stretch of the imagination to guess that somewhere on the Mediterranean today, in a crowded boat of asylum seekers, a woman gave birth to a baby, salty water the only aid to hygiene.

And maybe in some deprived inner-city area across the world the words of Elvis remain true as child number six arrived:

For if there's one thing that she don't need
It's another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto

And perhaps somewhere on a Nepalese mountainside a mother gave birth to a healthy daughter just days after she lost her other children, crushed under rubble.

And also, somewhere on the continent of Africa, a child was born with HIV because the retroviral drugs necessary were simply not available to a family of their means.

And the world's press concentrates its energy on a child the least likely, of any child born anywhere in the world today, to come to harm.

I wish the royal family and new daughter well, but really...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Decisions, decisions

Nice little piece in the Guardian Weekend the other week  suggesting how nice it would be to be one of the forty passengers stranded, although safely, on a cruise ship stuck in an ice-flow for a few days. Once, the author said, everyone realised that they were going to be OK there would be no alternative but to celebrate the lack of choices and enjoy the party. In a life where choices often overwhelm us it is good to have some of them taken away. Really?

I think I may be the opposite. I am speedily decisive. I note that quite a lot of the choices that come hurtling towards us are not between good and bad but simply between two ways of progressing. It is failing to make a choice that slows us down. Carrying on, in any direction, is good.

I often have no idea what I want to eat in a restaurant until the last minute but never slow everyone else down. I just plump for something as the order is taken. I will have eliminated everything I don't fancy so what is left must be something I want to eat today. Who cares which I choose? You don't. And I act as if the decision was perfect so it was.

We don't need our choices reducing. We need to understand that in many choices there is not right and wrong but two rights, two alternative ways of making progress.

That will be twenty pounds.

Nailsea Hustings

Nailsea Christians have a reputation for putting on one of the hustings events which candidates absolutely must take seriously. So it was good to welcome all five to Nailsea School last night for a well-tempered, decently-chaired event.

In my experience it is usually the audience who are badly behaved and tonight was no exception. One questioner hid a comment in a question and segued from the minimum wage to gay marriage in two sentences. The chair, wisely, ignored him altogether.

All of the candidates were middle-aged white men. All wore jackets. Two wore ties (Labour and UKIP).

Four of the five seemed to speak human and would, in my judgement, have the interests of all the constituents at heart if elected, whether we voted for them or not. The UKIP candidate worried me that he might have a kidney in a jar in his bag and a set of surgical knives. No idea where that thought came from.

Liam Fox (Conservative and sitting MP) is incredibly smooth, a nice bloke and knows how to appeal to the audience. He got more rounds of applause than anyone else. That said it is a true blue constituency so he would have to go some to lose the seat. He chose not to respond to criticism but to leave it dangling and not to get embroiled in a discussion about the ethics of MP behaviour. In fact since all he could do was lose he chose, probably wisely, to be quietish.

The LibDem was proud of the work of coalition, or at least used the party line that he was. I think they're stuffed here. Last time they came a good second 27,000 to 20,000. This time they'll be lucky to get five figures.

The Green candidate wore green but had little chance to shoehorn green issues in. In fact, with five candidates each giving an opening and closing statement and commenting on all the questions, plus feedback from the audience, it is amazing how few issues we discussed.

Questioners were concerned about keeping our overseas aid budget as it is or better but only UKIP wanted to shrink it.

The discussion boiled down to whether we prioritise the poor or opportunity. It matters not how many times you aspire to be a culture where anyone can succeed; you still have to work out how to act appropriately towards those who don't. It matters not how kind you want to be to those who don't succeed; if there is no revenue, government cannot pay for it so some people must make money and pay tax.

We have had a yo-yo (see-saw better?) approach to this over the years. A coalition has prevented it going too far in one direction this last five.

In our constituency we would only (possibly) get a non-Tory MP if all the opposition candidates withdrew bar one.

It was good to hear all the candidates but in our democratic process it is tough to not be blue in this part of the world. You don't feel your vote really counts. Still, you don't want any other voting system since first past the post gives you strong government. Eh?

The people always win. A good and worthwhile evening, ably chaired by my colleague James Pennington.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

From a very early age I can recall having a profound sense of gratitude that I lived in England. I meet, and respect, people with the travel bug - but I don't have it. I like it here and have to be dragged abroad for holidays where insects bite and the sun burns.

England's not too hot and not too cold so the colour of the landscape is green and pleasant. Not too frozen; not too scorched.

It's not too high and not too low so most of it is habitable and little of it floods. Yes Somerset, I know some of it does.

That temperature again means we have few dangerous critters or wild animals that try to kill, poison or infect you.

And we have good management of potential health hazards. It's a sanitary country.

Natural disasters are few and far between - hurricanes, tornadoes, becoming snowbound or forest fires are all pretty unusual.

Last night I was listening to the candidates for election to Parliament in my constituency set out their arguments. I remind myself that democracy is not a privilege all enjoy. I can disagree with the authorities without being jailed for dissent.

We celebrate food heroes because many of us live with a choice of meal.

So a respectful moment's thought, and perhaps a prayer, for those who have lost their homes, or friends, in earthquakes. For those who are threatened with death if they don't change their faith. For those who have no choice about their leaders.

We are lucky. Some might say blessed. And along with that comes a God-given duty to share. We should respond in gratitude. When you have a chance to give to relieve suffering, try and be generous.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Worship and Personality Type

Using Malcolm Goldsmith's little book Knowing Me Knowing God (in which there is a longer and more complex version of the opening quiz) I produced a short Bible Study on worship and personality type for my small group last night. One or two people have expressed interest so here it is:

Get answers to the following questions. Discuss any interesting differences:

1. When listening to a sermon do you prefer:
a) Your heart to be warmed
b) Your head to be challenged

2. When there are periods of silence in services do you:
a) Wish they went on longer
b) Wish they were shorter

3. Do you think the church should proclaim:
a) The unchanging historic faith
b) A faith that requires a different expression in each generation

4. What do you prefer to get out of worship:
a) A variety of colours, shapes, smells and experiences
b) A variety of ideas

5. What do you look for in a minister:
a) Practicality and being down-to-earth
b) Vision and idealism

6. When conflict arises at church do you think:
a) This is an inevitable part of being human
b) This is a regrettable failure of Christian love

7. Are you mainly:
a) Appreciative of your church and its ministry
b) Critical of your church and its ministry

8. A good approach to spirituality is one which addresses the subject in:
a) Considerable depth
b) Considerable breadth

9. Which image of the church do you prefer:
a) A pastoral community
b) A prophetic community

10. Does your Christian faith offer you:
a) Assurance, security and structure
b) Adventure, unpredictability and insecurity

Bible study
Read two key passages:

Romans 12:1-2
Luke 10:38-42

Which one says more to you about worship?
Which do you instinctively prefer?
If Luke, are you more a Mary or a Martha?

Describe a perfect worship service for you.

Which would be better, for everyone to contribute to every service or for each of us to devise a whole one every now and again?

Pray first for our churches and those with responsibility (wardens, clergy, PCC, staff, treasurers, project managers and ministry leaders) before doing our own list.


We have discussed here before the whole problem of writer's block. Some writers just put it down to a lack of discipline; others can only get the words flowing when they are 'in the zone'.

In my ten years producing Bible-teaching resources for CYFA (Church Youth Fellowships' Association) and four years as a part-time freelance writer, I had precious few days when the words didn't flow. I think the sheer joy I felt at finally doing a job where I could sit quietly and write was a great motivator. But it is also true that in both those periods of my life I had other jobs - at CYFA I was a trainer as well as editor and when freelance writing I was a minister at a local church four days a week as well.

Having other occupations for my time gave me a wealth of situations and characters to write about. Not that that sentence convinces.

Why do we restrict the 'blocked' idea to writers? I don't have very much writing to do at the moment. But I do have a number of things I really need to get on with and I'm finding it tough.

I think it might be one of those times where living in the introvert/extrovert borderland leaves me running out of ideas when I spend too much time internally.

This seems to be true because in a couple of sessions with small groups of people yesterday evening I was really extrovert - fired and strengthened by the presence of others in the room.

The best advice I can offer to anyone blocked by a particular task, writing or otherwise, is to spend some time doing something completely unrelated and trying not to think about the blocked thing. It often helps.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol earlier this morning:

St George's Day today. A Roman soldier, martyred for not renouncing Christianity in the fourth century, is the patron saint of England, dragon-slaying myth and all.

The red and white cross of St George has been used proudly by English football fans and misused badly by racists.

What does it mean to be English? I have been terribly confused. With England making up the greatest population of the union of kingdoms I have, over the years, celebrated English success when I meant British.

We have Team GB at athletics, one Irish rugby national team for the Republic and Northern Island and five separate national football sides.

In various invasions over the first thousand years of Christianity it is likely that many of the occupants of England fled to the Welsh and Scottish hills. Romans came and went. As did Vikings. And Normans. The population of England, so modern DNA testing tells us, largely represents a people movement from continental Europe. Yes, we're Anglo-Saxons, all immigrants in a cosmopolitan melting-pot.

Yesterday we celebrated the joys of cuisine this huge mix of people groups has given us in multi-cultural Bristol.

Today we remember a man, probably from the Roman Province of Syria Palaestina, born to Greek parents, who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Jew, and became the patron saint of a distant country full of people from everywhere except there.

So forgive me being confused. And to quote St Crocodile of Dundee - maybe the land doesn't belong to the people; the people belong to the land.

On this day of all days may we celebrate that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

A brief discussion followed about the national symbol of England needing updating and presenter Keith suggested a pie. So the Keith Gooden Pie of Patriotism was born.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sensitive Skin

Shocking as it may be to regular readers and listeners, but there is a part of me that is sensitive. Ever since a bout of pitiriasis rosea (I think I recall the spelling) in 2007 the skin on my torso has been eczematic. Now I have a good regime of moisturising and can control it well.

One of the particular problems is having very artificial fibres next to the skin. I therefore cover up with decent cotton T-shirts and thin-knits. The more natural the garment the less likely it is to cause a rash after a few hours. This is slightly annoying but gives me an excuse to wear expensive clothes. I probably didn't need one.

On purchase my first task is usually to remove the label and washing instructions since they are made of nasty scratchy material. Here's the thing. The more expensive the garment the more carefully the label will be stitched in. I'm talking to you Reiss, John Smedley, T.M. Lewin. It is very hard to get your labels out without having to restitch. I don't ask my wife to do much for me but she is an able seamstress and has a stitch unpicker which she employs dextrously.

Why spoil an expensive garment by putting cheap labels in them? And why not put a big label in the shop saying 'If you are too stupid to work out how to wash this you don't want to buy it'?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Special Easter Greeting

Courtesy of the Campaign for Real Liturgy ©, here is the Easter all-age opening we used at Trendlewood Church:

Leader: Alleluia. Christ is risen.
All: You say that every year.

Leader: You're supposed to say 'He is risen indeed, alleluia'.
All: No-one says 'alleluia' these days. You're so out of touch.

Leader: So what do you want to say?
All: Jesus is alive. Yeah!

Leader: Really?
All: No. We're not that trendy.

Leader: Big up to Jesus init?
All: Now you're being silly.

Leader: OK, you're in charge.
All: Let's just start with a moment of quiet.

Leader: OK.
All. Shhh!

It led into a very good, and well-observed time of silence. The Campaign for Real Liturgy is delighted to have its material stolen, adapted and unacknowledged. Which pretty much makes the whole © thing a waste of time eh?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


Won't Get

Gotcha, fooled ya, big leg-pulled ya
Didn't see me come to getcha
Took a while to get things set so
You like daft and I look better.

Even worse to fool in rhyme
But it don't work; I haven't time
Instead it looks as though it works
But that's just metre and it's murky

Take me for a ... not again
I am the easiest led of men
Fools like me don't grow on trees
Gullible's travels on the seas

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered today at BBC Radio Bristol, a day when the six month anniversary of an eloping to Syria was being remembered and also the engineering work on utilising the hot springs under Bath to heat the Abbey was being discussed:

Have you ever felt a compulsion to travel? An inner voice you could not ignore?

My Bible is full of people who heard a voice which they identified as God-inspired to go places. Amos from Judah to Israel. Philip to the Gaza desert road; Paul and Luke to Macedonia. There are other examples.

It may depend how you respond to foreign news? Are they the pages of the newspaper you skip? When BBC Radio Bristol talks about Syria how do you feel?

It is perfectly possible to be interested in the rest of the world without wanting to leave home. But clearly some people have the travel bug and some don't.

My younger son and his girlfriend have it. They see their working lives as a way of funding their journeys. India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan - all done. Yesterday they returned from Morocco.

These days almost all news from around the world is with us in an instant. Terrorism relies on that. It makes me a nervous father when they are away.

So, on hearing stories of ISIS, of Ebola, of famine or strife, some feel a compulsion to go and help or join in; others to stay and pray; still others turn to the sports pages.

On a day when we discuss the application of progress to the work of some heating engineers who travelled over from Rome to Bath a couple of millennia ago, maybe we should stop and think.

Our world is very much more joined-up than it used to be. Which gives us the opportunity of caring about what happens to people we may never meet. Do you?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

EE Sold Us Out?

When we first took out a mobile contract some years ago we used Orange. We were relatively pleased with the service apart from one small and quirky piece of behaviour - despite many corrections being offered they insisted on spelling my wife's name as Elizerbeth.

Now Orange became EE (and I gather are soon to be BT so what goes around comes around it was them we were escaping) and amazingly heeded the advice that they had got the spelling wrong. In the shop they corrected it. At least we thought they had. The next bill was addressed to Eilzerbeth.

We gave up moaning. But it has interestingly provided us with the information that our details have been passed to a third party. For yesterday Elizabeth (nice conventional spelling of this fine and ancient name) received a phone call from an organisation telling us we were entitled to compensation for the motor accident we had been involved in. Really? As far as we are aware we have been unharmed in accidents for thirty years or so.

But the caller asked if she could speak to Eilzerbeth. Gotcha. We will be tracking the movement of this address list.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Garden Bird Watch

A bit later then usual I have managed to analyse the figures for 2014. It was a disappointing year for garden birds - fewer species than previous years and numbers of regular visitors well down.

The only numbers that were up were magpies and house sparrows; an encouraging little gang of sparrers who seem to have the measure of the two local cats.

Only saw the sparrowhark a couple of times - its existence obviously makes the smaller birds (up to collared dove size) warier.

No greenfinches, chaffinches, bullfinches or jackdaws. House martin numbers reduced. Winter not cold enough for fieldfare or redwing to visit from the fields.

Feeders all charged though so I'll keep watching. Robins, dunnocks and blackbirds all nesting very locally.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cultural Islands

I have mused less on culture recently than I did in the mid 90s and early 00s. I found a definition of culture which I loved, and have never seen improved. It has not proved necessary to say much more. Until today. I have a new thought. But first the definition.

Musician and producer Brian Eno says that culture is 'Everything you don't have to do.' Thus food is not culture but cuisine is. Clothes are not culture but fashion is. And so on.

It means it is not a cultural decision to eat rice if rice is the only thing on the menu. But once there is a choice of two foodstuffs, or about how to prepare the one, the decision being made about food is cultural.

I've had one or two discussions with folks who don't like this over the years but their arguments against have never seemed to take us beyond 'I don't like it'. I like it.

How we worship the one we call God as a church is, above all, a cultural decision. A church represents the attempts of a local community, perhaps in the context of a national church's guidelines, to worship God and serve others in God's name. It will develop a culture. It follows that the smaller the Christian community gathering on a Sunday is, as a percentage of the community it is there to serve, the less likely it is to be culturally relevant to the non-attenders. The choice of day is also a cultural decision.

Now I am the minister of a planted church which was set up in 1989 to be a worshipping community in a particular new-build place. Many people who moved onto this estate joined this church and established its habits. Two things happened. Well OK, lots of things happened but I am going to talk about two.

Firstly this community established ways of doing Sunday church that were a bit different. To begin with it met in a pub, which got some publicity but did not last a year. Meeting in a school enabled an informal style which people bought into more easily. Movable chairs and a light airy atmosphere worked well for this. Musicians played instruments other than an organ. This attracted outsiders from beyond the boundaries of its area becasue they liked that sort of thing. It became eclectic. To some extent it also neglected its mission to its area of the parish in which it existed. To some extent. Don't worry about giving me examples of how it didn't so neglect.

Secondly, a group of people who joined the church from another place, geographically speaking, who had rejected the cultural style of the nearest church as 'not them', asked if we could enable them to set up another community nearer where they lived. We are doing this.

I have returned again this morning to a determination not to allow the cultural preferences of the church community to jeopardise the relationship with non-attenders as I listen to an illuminating and helpful set of talks on hospitality. Because hospitality is one of the key values I have tried to ingrain in the church. Hospitality not simply us giving books to people and telling them where to sit, but a real welcome, a helpful accompaniment of stranger plus coffee and biscuits that are free. Followed up by a visit to newcomers by someone not the vicar and an invitation to eat with people as soon as possible.

I have repeatedly said that hospitality is not welcoming people when it is convenient for you but when it is convenient for them.

But it is more, I now learn. For hospitality, in its strictest sense, is a meeting of equals. The provision of warmth and nourishment is not the hospitality; it creates the environment in which a genuine encounter can talk place where both bring something to the meeting. The Old Testament, I discover, had no sspecific word for providing food and shelter. It didn't need one since it was a part of what you did automatically.

Your church should be changed every time someone new walks through the door. Ours hasn't been, enough. But if that were to happen we would never become a cultural island in which people say to us 'We don't like your style' the way they have to the other local church. For our style would be up for grabs to anyone who wants to join us. Strangers come and contribute. What a massive vision. And what a massive culture change for the church to adopt it.

Thanks to Nick Jepson-Biddle, Precentor of Wells Cathedral for sparking these thoughts at a chapter quiet morning. Grateful.