Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Sunday 2015

Christmas turns up about now
Screams to a halt - tyre rubber in the road
Look at me

Advent walked here, carefully holding a candle

Christmas bares its soul about now
Make me happy with food, fragrance and fashion
Buy me

Advent cradles its light from the breeze

Christmas accessorises everything about now
You need two of those, extra glitter and ribbons
Box me

Advent speaks of a truth beyond packaging

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Religion and Violence

I have found this an incredibly useful book. No easy answers but lots of excellent analysis and insightful stories and illustrations.

The central section revisits some of the Genesis family narratives with great gentleness and scholarship. What did the compilers of the stories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers think they were doing? And have we, in going down the road of the scandal of particularity where God apparently chooses one over another, missed the point that always both parties get a blessing. And apart from the first example, where one party dies, they do not become enemies.

Wisdom usually whispers. The hard work of interpretation is to be preferred over the fundamentalist desire that religious texts be simple and taken at face value.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity have a common ancestor in Abraham - our future peace may well come from looking at these texts together and seeing what we have missed.

'When religion divests itself of power, it is freed from the burden of rearranging the deckchairs on the ship of state and returns to its real task: changing lives.'

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coming Out Christian

This book deals with the way Christianity took hold in the Roman world. Not, as some might think, after three centuries of persecution and then the conversion of a Roman Emperor.

Written by an archaeologist who has made the study of Roman times his life's work, Douglas Boin shows that Christianity expanded far more subtly until Christians found themselves in positions of authority. Many continued worshipping Roman Gods and Jesus Christ.

After Constantine it is often thought that the whole of The Roman Empire turned to Christ but that is equally untrue.

This book is short, scholarly and direct. It also describes New Testament letters attributed to Paul but not actually written by him (e.g. 2 Thessalonians) as fakes. I liked that. Sometimes it was an honour to take your master's name for a scholarly work, but not if you used his name for your own polemic.

And I like that my Bible contains this kind of thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disposable Poetry

Last night at Café Create we revived the poetry challenge competition so I could win it. Here is the task. A poem about ketchup to include the words:

Naughty dog

And here is the winning entry. Will take humility pills later.


Without sauce the taste of pork would
Almost certainly be awkward
Nothing red the bacon kissing
Bland and dry - there's something missing

If unadorned with sauce you ate it
You'd be discombobulated
Cowering like a naughty dog
Beneath a tasteless lump of hog

A BLT is posh nosh sarnie
But if you don't wish for a barney
To reach for sauce is automatic
Makes your butty charismatic

You bash and shake and hit and dent the
Gravity-hating condiment
I think it don't need to be proved
That all this leaves the sauce unmoved

You want a spot, you get a dollop
Hits your breakfast with a wallop
Not a pretty red-smeared tranche
It poured down like an avalanche

Which is why you all know the ditty
Long ago from some far city
'Tomato ketchup shake the bottle
None will come and then the lot'll.'

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I lost my locker key at the gym. Not for the first time, but normally retracing my steps enables me to find where it has fallen out of my pocket. I retraced. No trace.

Earlier I had been on an exercise bike. It faced a TV screen and a number of mirrors. I saw that some women were doing Pilates on mats beyond the mirror. I noticed them because the combination of a couple of protruding upper bodies and a mirror made it appear as if two of the, not especially small examples of the female type, looked as if they were struggling to get out from under treadmills and rowers. I had chuckled. To myself, obviously.

I had finished a complete lap of the gym and covered all my tracks. I asked a number of people now on equipment I had been using if they would mind me checking. All were courteous, but no key.

I contemplated asking a guy, now on the vertical bike I had used, to check again. Standing behind him and contemplating this I noticed the floor had been mopped. I went and asked the cleaners, in my best eastern-European, if they had found a key. I found myself showing them a pair of fingers clutching a small, non-existent key. I mimed absence. Weird. Anyway no. They had found no key.

The next step, as other members of my gym report, is to go to reception and get the man with the hacksaw to come. Not yet. I hadn't properly thought like a golf ball yet.

I went back and stood behind the man on the bike. Plucking up courage to ask him to search again I raised my eyes and saw the mirror. The mirror. A mirror image. Are you there yet?

Yes folks I had clearly record the positioning of the bike I had used from the mirror. I knew where the key was. It was on the next bike. Accepting the humiliation of the look of the guy who had already been asked to search unnecessarily and was still on the next door bike, I asked a kind-looking woman to check if the cup-holder on the front of her bike contained my key. Of course it did.

It occurs to me that I have always known that things get wrongly fixed in the eyes of witnesses for all sorts of reasons. I have found another one.

Church News

This is my favourite church notice of all time:

Breakfast Run

On two Sundays per month teams from named church serve food to homeless people in named city. We are in need of toiletries, dog food and new men’s underwear. If you can help please leave your donations with the church office. If you’d like to join one of the teams please get in touch with...

We appear to serve dog food to the homeless and then cover the odour and replace the underwear.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Easter and Mark

I have an idea which I have shared briefly with a few people. It is this:

Mark's Gospel has sixteen chapters. A person of average ability, reading it to themselves, would probably be able to do it in about an hour.

Some of you are very good at images, particularly photographic. How about if we showed a slide transition of thirty-two images, two per chapter while people were reading? Thirty seconds each transition.

How about If we collated these images by asking for anyone to submit photos for consideration and releasing copyright for those so chosen?

How about if we then invited anyone to use the set with their own local music backing in Holy Week 2016?

Comments, assistance and further ideas welcome but I hope this may be achievable without a lot of people having to do a lot of work. It would be crowd-sourced.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

In the American political drama 'The West Wing' news of a coup in the imaginary African country of Equatorial Kuhndu reaches the White House. President Bartlett asks Will Bailey, one of his speech writers, 'Why is an American life worth more to me than a Kuhndunese life?' 'I don't know sir' says Will, 'but it is.'

He is commended for speaking a hard truth to power.

Last week there were terrorist atrocities in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris. The highest loss of life was in Paris but the other events were not insignificant.

Two things diminish our capacity to care - distance and repetition. A suicide bomber in a place far away where these things seem common doesn't move us the way a local one does.

Now the French are our obvious neighbours and friends. It didn't happen so far away.

A man once asked Jesus who was his neighbour. As reply he got the well-known but often misused parable of the Good Samaritan. A priest and a Levite pass by a wounded Jew but a Samaritan, a traditional enemy, does the decent thing and looks after the victim.

Jesus turns the question round. 'Who was neighbour to that man?' 'The one who had mercy on him', says the questioner. 'Go and do likewise' says Jesus.

If you want to know who your neighbour is find someone to whom you can be merciful.

My condolences, of course, to any who are personally affected by tragedy today. Maybe the most solidarity-inspired action we can take in response to the harm suffered by our neighbours in Paris, Baghdad or Beirut is not to seek vengeance but to have mercy on someone. Anyone who needs it. Go on. Pay it forward.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Ministry Tips 176-200 (That's All Folks)

Here are the final 25 tips. There may be more and I will collect them and publish if I get enough, but too many were repetitious or too closely linked to previous ones. Thanks for reading and sending comments. I am talking about a publishing offer. Nothing in writing yet.

176. Trust the projector operator; try not to look round to check what is on the screen behind you.
177. In meetings, try and make your points in two sentences. Then let someone else speak.
178. If you say 'The point is this...' the next thing that follows should be the point, not an anecdote.
179. Don't know how many points you are about to make? Go for a large number and stop short; not a small number and over-run.
180. When you say 'Any questions', collect a few before answering any.
181. Don't lead a church into reflecting your preferences; lead it into being more able to decide its own.
182. Priests don't consecrate things; they ask God to.
183. Getting people to stand in birthday order non-verbally is the finest icebreaker. Other orders are available.
184. If talk is being recorded, explain visual aids. Or make images available to the recording listeners. (Thanks Ruth Jolly)
185. When you take questions in front of large audiences, repeat them over the mic if there isn't a roving mic. (Thanks Richard Owen)
186. If you are tall, possibly intimidating, sit to chat with someone small. Also with wheelchair users. (Thanks Tim Sudworth)
187. 'I don't know' is a valid answer (and always better than bluffing). Thanks @ruth_hw
188. When bluffing, first establish the absence of expertise around the table.
189. Always make the distinction between your church and your church building. Thanks @yernaninakettle
190. Notwithstanding tip 120, best to wear your clerical collar a lot for the first six months of a new post.
191. In meetings, if you have nothing to say, don't say anything but...
192. It is not only the chair's responsibility to keep things moving.
193. When visiting non-church members do offer to pray, but always ask if that is OK first.
194. Have a good leaving do for everyone who leaves, even if you have been praying the bugger out for years.
195. Get out of the hearse when the undertaker does and accompany him/her on the last few yards walk.
196. Tell the bride and her father to walk 'as slowly as you dare'.
197. Don't display visual aids that make the opposite of your point. Visual aids help retention of the 5% of gold in your talk.
198. The God of the Hebrew Bible and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ are one ... Whatever Richard Dawkins says.
199. Don't get too precious about precision in nativity plays or theology in carols. Stick on the tea towel and sing.
200. 'In the thrombosis of the church the vicar is often the clot.' (Anon) Thank you and goodnight.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, a day when they were discussing a joint meeting of four local councils to consider future housing needs in the area:

The Canadian author Douglas Coupland said:

'When someone tells you they've just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they're locked into jobs they hate; that they're broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they're fifteen pounds overweight, that they no longer listen to new ideas.'

It's amazing, with publicity like that, anyone would want to settle. But we need somewhere to live.

I grew up in a house my parents inherited from my grandfather, a man I never met. He went to prison for business fraud. I was in my mid-forties before I realised I may have benefited from the proceeds of crime. My Dad had never spoken of it.

Jesus, equally down on homes, is reported as saying, 'Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' Emphasising that the lot of a travelling preacher is much more about faith in God for food and shelter than about home-owning. Not living the dream but certainly living the message. And he knew - people are more suspicious of travellers than settlers.

Where should we put new homes? I don't know but I'm glad it's being discussed. I was fortunate growing up and feel for those who want a place of their own.

The Bible speaks of welcome, hospitality to the stranger and inclusivity as key Christian values. I commend everyone to drop any knee-jerk opposition to newcomers. Nimbyism is selfish and, just maybe, a sign that Coupland was right. If once we've settled down we become reluctant to invite new people, with new ideas to join us - we shouldn't.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

RIP Don Humphries

Sad to hear of the passing of the man responsible for my coming to faith and being ordained. This is not an obituary. It is an appreciation of someone who I was profoundly influenced by for about fourteen years but haven't really stayed in touch with. I think my story may be echoed by many others.

When I first met Don I was sixteen and he was a curate in his late twenties. He was serving his title (as the expression goes) at my home church of St Stephen's, Selly Hill. I did not go to church but responded to an invitation to a Youth Service, run and promoted by the church youth group he led called Cross Section. The week after the service Don called round to my house to follow up. He invited me to a games night and a Bible Study. He also spent most of the time watching Wimbledon on the tele, specifically asking my Mum not to turn it off, and, when he came in from work, arguing with my Dad about the proof of the existence of God. Don wore a leather jacket which made me think he was cool for a vicar and my unconvinced Dad must be wrong.

The curate's house at 114 Cherrington Road was a semi-detached with three bedrooms. I was once there for a Bible study with 78 members (we counted them). We broke into three groups - one in the lounge, one in the dining room and one in Don's bedroom. I think some people sat in the front garden and smoked. Do not read 2015 Safeguarding advice back into 1971.

In the holidays (when not doing houseparties) he got the youth group to do decorating jobs around the church and hall. We even decorated a probation hostel.
The Cross Section programme card for the summer I joined and a venture badge
Don managed to get young people from Selly Oak Boys School and King Edward's (direct grant, examination entry) happy in each other's company. There are probably more people in full-time ministry from a non-Christian background as a result of Don's ministry than any other clergyperson in the C of E. CYFA groups do not have to be mono-cultural.

For his thirtieth birthday the girls of Cross Section took Don shopping and bought him a second pair of trousers. He wore them for many years.

Don was an evangelist. He challenged everyone to Christian commitment. Everyone. His methodology was delightfully simple. He ran CYFA (Church Youth Fellowships Association) houseparties, now called Ventures, in the school holidays. He persuaded you to go. If you were too old to be a member he got you to help cook. He knew that on the houseparties you would hear two talks a day on aspects of the Christian life with one strong challenge to turn to Christ and a further one to wholeheartedness. He gave these two talks himself. He wanted you to reach such a stage of committed faith by age 18 that you could become a leader. He told Liz not to commit to me until I shared her faith.

Once 'promoted' to leader he trained you as a leader. After a few years of leadership he asked you to consider ordination. He did this to me in a gym equipment store room in 1978 as we were putting chairs away.

He insisted that speakers keep to a precise length but never managed it himself.

Here's the funny thing. There is a small army of us out here, who learned things under Don's tutelage and pretty-much decided never to do most of them that way. I have an image in my head of me doing lunchtime notices at Clarendon and Don snapping his fingers to make me go faster. I was trying to learn wit while he taught speed. His houseparties ran to a tight timetable. We also joked that his gift of encouragement ran to 'Steve, may I encourage you never to do that again.'

But we did learn that he hated stuffy rooms. Entering any room we could usually anticipate the command to 'Open the windows'.

He taught us wisely how to set up a room for a meeting. Chairs should face the dullest wall.

We also learned that once the houseparty leaders had got all the young people to bed those not with them in dorms went out for Chinese food.

His Bible study methodology was to ask a million questions. If he didn't agree with an answer he'd ask what anyone else thought.

The inside pages
In the leaders meeting after the morning meeting on the venture everything from the previous day was reviewed. So that we learned from all the mistakes and so that speakers learned to take criticism. It was a harsh environment but we learned not to be too defensive about errors.

Throughout his next three appointments, as chaplain at Warwick University, Vicar of Christ Church, Bedford then Holy Trinity, Cambridge, recruiting people to houseparty work continued to be the thrust of his evangelistic ministry, alongside recruiting teams to run missions around the country. Others will say more about that period of his life, his family and ministry.

Don did not enjoy good health. A nasty pancreatitis in the mid 70s required major surgery. In later life he endured Parkinson's Disease. Brandishing a knife, with a hand tremble, to cut the wedding cake at his marriage to Sarah he remarked to us all, 'There may be casualties'.

Don was a third generation of houseparty leader following Eric 'Bash' Nash at Iwerne Minster in the 1940s and 50s then Ken Habershon at Limpsfield in the 1960s and 70s. In 1985 Bob and Ann Clucas, Dunc and Gilly Myers and us Tilleys joined generation four (begun, I believe, by Steve Allen and Steve Wilcockson) when we started Great Ayton. I stopped in 2002 but Bob and Ann continue, although the venture has moved sites many times.

Don taught us to be leaders by joining in a project to do something for young people. We were taken away not for lectures and reading but to work in a team. We worked ridiculously hard and faced some unbelievably difficult situations. We learned to work out what to do because we were trusted at a young age to get on with it. In 1984 he was unwell on day one so he told (not asked, told) me to lead the venture. He had prepared me for this moment in a thousand brief conversations. I wasn't overawed. He also told the team I was in charge. I was then the same age he had been when I met him.

We discussed and prayed a lot. You will note the regularity of prayer on the term card for Cross Section.

Don's commentary on our work was often critical, but he made good people great. He ironed out the minor faults with direct words.

I am profoundly grateful to him. What Would Don Do? has been a helpful question to accompany thirty years of ordained ministry.

OK everyone. That's enough reading.

Washing up.

Don's funeral will be on Tuesday 10th November.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thought for the Day

I used to be quite intimidated down at my local gym. Everyone looked so fit.

I expect there are tired limbs today. Some of the 6500 runners in yesterday's inaugural Bristol-Bath Marathon were equipped and experienced enough to wake up without stiffness this morning.

Others will have strained every sinew to do something remarkable for themselves.

Yesterday our church was looking at one of Jesus' stories. After the parable of the rich fool, where he criticises a man for building bigger barns to store his surplus when he could have been generous, Jesus tells his listeners not to worry about tomorrow, food or clothing.

Not - don't plan. Not - don't care. Not - don't act.

But, don't worry. Easy to say; hard to hear.

It is true that you can't add an hour to your life by worrying. Whilst you can add several days to it by eating well and exercising.

Is the massive upsurge of interest in getting sponsored to run marathons a way of not worrying? Particularly in situations where I cannot do anything to help.

I can't do anything about my friend's illness. But perhaps I can raise money for the cancer charity which means so much to her. Certainly more use than worrying.

I may not be able to do much about my family finances right now. But running in the countryside is free and good for me.

I may not be able to do much about improving my image, fashion-wise. But everyone looks the same in running gear.

I used to be quite intimidated down at my local gym. Then I realised that we are all united in doing something good for our health. Worrying - no. Caring - oh yes.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Forgive me

Forgive me for I may have sinned. Or I may have simply been speaking on behalf of the whole of the rest of the world. Here is the conversation that just happened to the best of my memory:

Me: Hello, Steve Tilley speaking

Caller: Could I speak to Mr Tilley please?

Me: Yes, Steve Tilley speaking.

Caller: My name is calling from Lloyds Bank. I'm ringing in connection with a letter we sent you about Payment Protection Insurance in December 2013. Before we go any further can I ask you a couple of security questions? What is your date of birth?

Me: I'm not going to answer security questions to a complete stranger over the phone.

Caller: If you ring 0800 1510292 it will confirm who I am.

Me: Look. I did make a PPI claim which was handled and settled by an agent. If you want to talk about it that is fine.

Caller. I'm sorry Mr Tilley I cannot proceed with this call unless you answer security questions. You need to phone that number first.

Me: I don't have time to waste doing that. You have my address so you can write to me. You have my mobile so you can text me.

Caller: I'm sorry I'm not allowed to do that.

Call ends.

For the record, I have been a customer of Lloyds Bank for 42 years.

Monday, October 12, 2015


The way American lawyers go at a corporate negligence case is a wonder to behold. A wolf-pack cornering a wounded prey is not a strong enough image.

And in some cases this is good. In the manner of a John Grisham thriller (only a good lawyer can fix anything) American attorneys have moved the world on. Only American lawyers seem to have managed to corner FIFA into admitting that perhaps all was not well with an organisation most of Europe thinks is corrupt but no-one in Europe has been able to lay a glove on. That is excellent.

But there seems, from my distant view across the pond, to be no difference in their approach to such an adversary and a company such as VW. Now I love VW. I have owned five in my life and have also had two Audi A3s, which are just VWs in better clothes.

This crisis over emissions-test fixing (not qualitatively different from painting the walls before the Queen visits or preparing a better lesson for Ofsted) is a slur on a company with an otherwise excellent reputation. My mind understands why all such cases should be treated the same; my heart wants to allow the investigation to be done gently because reputation counts for something and when the chief of VW says this was done by a couple of rogue engineers I tend to believe him. Because of reputation.

To put it another way. I am almost always punctual. When I am not I find people tend to ask if everything is OK rather than telling me off. In this environment I find it easier to tell the truth if I have erred. I am usually forgiven. And it makes me determined to keep my reputation for the future.

Hard questions can, I put it to you, be phrased in a gentle manner without losing their power.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ministry Tips 151-175

151. Putters & leavers. Putters find things where they put them. Leavers wonder where they left them. Thanks @RonJichardson 
152. 'Ideas have wings' (Anita Roddick). Talk about things lots before writing down. These days, treat social media as talking.
153. Do everything as if an expert in the field is watching, or may walk in on you.
154. You don't have to visit all the sick - just make sure the sick get visited.
155. You are allowed no more than two 'rebuke' sermons a year. One or none is better.
156. One sermon a year on stewardship is enough unless you offer a short series on different aspects. Only one on money.
157. To engender guilt in a congregation try saying 'You do not take prayer seriously enough' in some form.
158. However hard you try most ordinary people will not understand the clergy's relationship with free time.
159. Interns, placement students and visitors will ask you great questions. Listen to them and thank them.
160. Everything needs fixing. Best to do it before it's broken.
161. Re-organisation is the illusion of progress.
162. Tradition is the illusion of permanence. (Woody Allen)
163. Try and avoid too many sermon illustrations that accidentally ostracise single people.
164. Pray for people more often than when they are sick.
165. Always review everything. It's the first part of planning.
166. Pioneers have the gift of not fitting in. (Jonny Baker) Try not to make them. There's gold in them there hills.
167.  You can do a legal wedding in about seven minutes; everything else is a cultural preference.
168. If you are punctual leave the seats near the door for those who are not. Thanks for reminder Jeremy Fletcher.
169. Keep sentences short and avoid too many three syllable words in communication which sells your organisation.
170. Vicarage decorating is work.
171. When fixing a pastoral appointment tell people how long they have got.
172. Prepare a couple of emergency assemblies.
173. Try and have as few things as possible you object to at weddings and funerals.
174. Try and make a Sunday the last day of your holiday rather than the first.
175. #ministrytip 7 applies to your email inbox too.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The nicest ever... 1. Cuppa

Sometimes, when a nice cup of tea is particularly nice, my mind goes back to the benchmark for nice cups of tea. It was forty six years ago.

I was an army cadet aged fourteen. At the end of what is now called Year Nine we went on a week's camp to Watchet. After a particularly gruelling morning we had a break and queued up at a canteen booth to buy drinks. It turned out that the only drink I could afford, disappointingly, was a mug of tea.

The woman in the booth praised me (whilst giving the eye to my wealthier friends with their cans of pop). 'Well done,' she said 'a nice cup of tea will refresh you.' Funny how some memory memes stay with you. I can still hear her slightly posh accent. Maybe it was a WI stall or something. I also felt like one of the soldiers (who all had tea) rather than one of the cadets.

Thing is, she was right. After a hot summer yomp a sugary tea did refresh me. It was brilliant. I dispensed with the sugar within a few years of that but still recall the experience whenever a cup of tea hits the spot. Few do.

Next week. The nicest ever potatoes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Meeting Up

We had a lovely new family in church last Sunday all the way from Belfast. It was great to meet them and at the same time slightly odd.

In the midst of all the warnings about meeting people on the internet it is worth remembering that we often make friends in real life by hanging out where people hang out and going back there to continue the conversation.

If you go to the same cafe at the same time every week you will probably make some acquaintances. Likewise health clubs, holidays and holding sporting season tickets.

Ali and I bumped into each other about ten years ago (we can't remember exactly when). We were both bloggers in the relatively early days of blogging and left comments on posts each other had written.

As Facebook came along we became Facebook friends. I recall being vaguely aware that I ought to meet people I had taken this step with. But in the sense that Facebook is a place to share more personal information we began to see photos of each other, become aware of each other's families and, in a gesture of absolute connection, Ali took Jesus on Wheels on a few adventures. (He now has an alarming habit of singing Irish rugby songs when bored.)

So, in this new way the world works, we became friends before we had met. And although we could never be certain, we became pretty sure that we would like to meet, that neither of us was an axe-murderer using an alter-ego, and that this had somehow become a 'proper' friendship before we had ever been in the same room.

And of course, seeing as how I am male and she is female and we are both married, it was important to involve our partners in knowledge of this friendship.

So Ali and her family came to town, being nearby for a rugby match, and afterwards we shared a hasty lunch before they had to get a plane back.

I'm sort of writing this as a corrective to the idea that you should never meet people you bump into on the internet. We got on well, it was a bit like old friends and a bit like new ones.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol an hour ago:

I was once a member of a small theatre company. One warm up activity was a trust exercise. Can you fall backwards trusting that I will catch you? Can you stay absolutely rigid, without cheating and looking round?

It introduces the whole concept of trust, essential in drama. Will the other actor enter when they are supposed to? And get their lines right?

Life involves trust. This week's main stories have been about breaches of trust. Will my VW (yes folks I have a VW diesel) really be low emission? Will the holiday company keep my details private? Will the medical test be carried out competently?

In church we often use the word trust. The minister will ask people to affirm their faith - to say what they believe. One standard reply is:

This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, it is not enough simply to believe. I must act on that belief. Trust.

I believe that putting my trust in God is to trust the one who is absolutely trustworthy. I believe that putting my trust in people is to take the risk that, from time to time, we will all act in an untrustworthy manner. Maybe through negligence, perhaps weakness or even our own deliberate fault.

And the trick, if trick is the right word, is to trust again. Of course we can all make a judgement to withdraw our custom, find other friends or change our car. If we want to. But we can also forgive. Accept that occasionally people will make mistakes. If we don't, we expect higher standards of others than we do of ourselves.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Thought for the Day

On the day the Rugby World Cup begins and the day before Gloucester play in the one day cricket final at Lords, here is today's thought, as delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

It's a while since I played contact sport. Gave up rugby in my teens after a couple of encounters between nose and big people. Played football until mid-forties and cricket a couple of years longer. Today it is all non-impact stuff at the gym.

There's an odd verse in the Bible. David is becoming a serious rival to King Saul because of his success on the battlefield. Saul hears women chanting:

Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.

It's like a football chant - a reminder to the opposition of the score when you're winning.

We read that Saul was very angry when he heard this refrain. He imagines that David is only one step from taking over his kingdom. From that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

Yes, war was once the sport of kings. Gladiatorial combat, jousting and the like are all a step in the direction of fighting with rules and spectators. War-lite.

Can't imagine playing rugby in today's climate - I am not the bulkiest of men and may well snap.

But I like the freedom in a framework found in competitive sport. I enjoy watching the combat.

Sporting success is good for morale in a country, county, city or town. Sporting failure is a gentle way to learn that life isn't all about winning. It teaches humility, perseverance, strategy and psychology.

With several local and national sporting stories about to begin let us treat those imposters of triumph and disaster just the same. Humble in victory; gracious in defeat. Or as David later put it himself, speaking of God:

May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.
Amen to that.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How not to negotiate

I had a really weird conversation the other day. Really weird. I'm still reeling from it some days on. I wish I had a tape recording of it so I could listen to it again and see how it all happened.

Anyway, without in any way suggesting this as a negotiating gambit, and given that my vision for saving the Church of England is already a matter of record, I asked a 'What if' question of someone, based on someone else I had met having an interesting idea.

The speech in response extrapolated from my question all the things I was then going to do with which the person disagreed (which, not being a strategist, I hadn't thought of so I'm grateful for the hints) and then, as it continued, negotiated with me, without inviting me to join in and eventually gave me almost 90% of the things I hadn't yet realised I wanted and so hadn't asked for. They also told me what I should have done although, had I been able to finish my little suggestion, it was something I was going to do anyway

They then listed all the ways they were not a pushover like another person I hadn't had a battle with and all the spiritual credentials they shared with me (although I don't have them).

I think I had lit the blue touch-paper and then had to listen while an imaginary version of me was sent flying into space. When I suggested that the response was quite upsetting I was accused of using emotional blackmail.

This is absolutely marvellous, although quite distressing to be in at the time for it feels like you are making an enemy.

Most of the people I have met who said they were prophets almost certainly weren't. The still small voices in the corner usually have more insight. And I'm certainly not claiming that I am, but I have a strange sense of being in the middle of enacting a parable right now. When someone, in your presence, has a conversation with a version of you you don't recognise without you needing to contribute it is stretching, painful and strangely exciting. Like watching the Assyrians do God's will. Best just to let it happen.

Oh and this. As taught me by the wonderful Richard quite a few years ago. When someone names the price the only thing to do is wince.

Art Questions

I love this mug. I love it because it came from a lovely shop my wife worked at full of quirky Italian ceramics and with interesting staff who could hold a conversation. I love it because it is the right size, not too fat not too thin not too short not too tall. I love it because it has two colours and they are black and white.

I don't love it because it has a black and white image of a piece of classical art on it and indeed have never paid any attention to the detail. I love it in the way one might love a great tune and only notice the lyrics several years later.

I love it because it is twenty years old and therefore family.

A few years ago I was talking to a guy at a large restaurant table and, although we both knew we were playing opposite sides in order to find the truth, we did it in such a way that the other eight occupants of the table all found other things to do and left.

The topic was art snobbishness. He took the view that we needed to be guided by people who understood art in order to keep standards up. I think Jack Vettriano was the artist who started the argument. He is much loved by many non-experts and derided by the opposite.

I think I took the view that if someone wanted a picture because they were seeking a particular shade of blue to complete a room's decor then why shouldn't they.

So this is an arty mug. But that is not why I like it.


I'm a sucker for a travel book about my own country. Having a great pride at being English, yet basically no idea what that means, has left me an enthusiastic explorer and reader.

My essential reading list, avoiding weighty tomes and text book feel, would be:

Paul Theroux - The Kingdom by the Sea (1983)
Bill Bryson - Notes from a Small Island (1995)
Jeremy Paxman - The English (1998)
Simon Jenkins - A Short History of England (2012)

To which I now add my current enjoyment, pictured, as Matthew Engel offers a chapter on each of the English counties. I was born in Warwickshire but then found out I lived in the West Midlands, without moving house. Annoying. Still irritated.

It has started a little head game which you might like to join in with. What is the first word that comes into your head when you hear each county name? Some of them just don't bring anything to mind. Many are food. For what it is worth here is my list:

Bedfordshire Luton
Berkshire downs
Cambridgeshire university
Cheshire cats
Cornwall pasty
Cumberland sausage
Derbyshire dales
Devon cream
Dorset blue
Durham town
Essex girls
Gloucestershire old spot
Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire accidents hardly ever happen
Kentish man
Lancashire hotpot
Leicestershire Tigers
Lincolnshire poacher
Middlesex Lords
Norfolk broads
Northamptonshire cobblers
Oxfordshire dons
Shropshire blue
Somerset brie
Staffordshire bull terrier
Suffolk punch
Surrey trees
Worcestershire sauce
Yorkshire pudding

National Anthem

To the tune 'Barwick Green':

England is a lovely place
Full of hills and green stuff
A people of amazing grace
From monarchs to the dog rough
On an island
North of Europe
Fading days of Empire
History's not been kind to us but
We look to the future.

Not too hot and not too cold and
Nothing tries to eat you
Courts are fair and doctors free
The police tend not to beat you
Pies and chips
And cheese on toast
And tea to soothe our worries
We don't need the rest of you
(But thanks for bringing curries)

Monday, September 07, 2015

Ministry Tips 126-150

Still haven't worked out how many of these there are going to be but they are definitely slowing down:

126. Work out how to have a high theology of people and a low theology of things.
127. 'While there's death there's hope' is sometimes the best you can say.
128. Always accept resignations.
129. For interruptions use GRACES - should I Greet, Receive, Accompany, Confer, Engage or See off?
130. Send hand-written thank-you postcards to people as often as you can.
131. Occasionally buy people a gift for no reason. 'I remembered you liked this album at my house' sort of thing.
132. Occasionally get people together who all joined the church under the same previous incumbent.
133. Pick a few people you trust (not all those who agree with you). Ask them how they think you are doing every now and again.
133. Apart from your day off have at least one evening a week when you don't work.
134. When someone complains to you about the weather tell them you are in sales not management (Bishop Gene Robinson).
135. If you get in financial difficulties tell your boss / diocese / manager at an early stage.
136. Have something at hand you know will cheer you up when you feel down (depression is different).
137. If you begin by running to the 1st minor pastoral problem you will spend your ministry running to minor pastoral problems.
138. Spending all your time visiting the congregation leaves you much-loved and numbers only changed by birth & death rates.
139. Take a double day off once a month. Other people get weekends. Why not you?
140. If you absolutely have to eat a slug, slice it real thin and add flavour.
141. There is nothing intrinsically evil about fast food, PJ days, box-set binging, beer, rock and roll or a lie-in.
142. Ask members of a new congregation how many straws they are currently carrying and their maximum straw-bearing capacity.
143. Don't tinker with stuff too much once it's good enough (see 12).
144. You will do better after a break for prayer.
145. You will see things differently after a rest/break/sleep.
146. The results are God's business not yours. Sowers sow seed. Then stuff happens.
147. Look for people to work with who have got 'It'. You cannot describe what 'It' is but you will know when it is missing.
148. Look for people to work with who are 'one of us'. You cannot explain what this means but you will know when they are not.
149. Accumulate bitter-enders and second-milers. The only way to do this is to be one.
150. It is not evil to plan things on the back of an old envelope; but don't lose it.

The Gospel in Three Limericks

Wrote this years ago but don't think it has ever been shared.

There was an old feller called God
Who found it exceedingly odd
That each generation
Of every nation
Should tread where they shouldn't have trod

Not wanting to count it all loss
(And seeing how he was the boss)
He sent to earth Jesus
To try and appease us
But we nailed him onto a cross

Three days later the people were led
To a place were some witnesses said
They'd a story to tell -
The deceased looked quite well
And not in the slightest bit dead.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Thought for the Day

When teenagers, my sons embarked on a mission to buy me the worst-taste birthday present possible. I have clockwork toys from this period including Stunt Grannies, Racing Nuns and a battle game with old folk called Zimmer Wars. My favourite of all I have in the studio this morning. He is Jesus on Wheels. Four inches tall with ball-bearing base and adjustable arms.

You can see his photo on the BBC Radio Bristol Twitter feed.

Bored with the game I fought back. What if I turned this toy into a popular icon? I began a process of sending Jesus on Wheels with any friends who were going to exotic locations. I have photos of him at Victoria Falls, Sydney Opera House, the Commonwealth Games and he has even played percussion in Paris with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Obviously today marks the pinnacle of his journeying career.

Two thoughts. Firstly, not being a great traveller, I have loved seeing the world this way, as photos of his exploits are sent to me. And accepting the slight risk that one day he may not return.

Secondly, it reminds me never to limit what something can become. If a small toy can explore the world how much more should I long to become all that God wishes me to be. Bible says we should let God transform us by the renewing of our minds. Then we will know his will, and obey it, just as this toy obeys my will.

I'll have him with me at the Trendlewood Community Festival in Nailsea tomorrow afternoon. Come and meet him on Golden Valley Fields from noon (I promised the organisers I'd crowbar that reference in). Go on. Be photographed with a true globe-trotting celebrity.

Monday, August 24, 2015


I am mainly talking to church leaders here but feel free to overhear.

Do you think we should stop for more than a second to consider the idea of not thanking someone because there are others who will get upset if they are not thanked?

Are there people in your church - long-standing members indeed - who have heard so little about what it is to be a Christian that they will waste emotional time and energy on being upset if they are not thanked?

I think of two recent examples where this had a devastating effect. In the first we were coming to the end of an induction service and the new priest was giving the notices. He chose to thank people who had contributed in any way. In any way. After five minutes we were listening to his gratuitude for the people who had built the church in the fiteenth century and were wondering if the guy who serviced the office photocopier was feeling miffed at not being singled-out. Then I spotted the priest's face. Clearly he had stepped off the edge of his notes and was now plumetting to a place where he could not face the idea of his ministry beginning with an overlooked unthanked person anywhere. We got out alive but the tea was cold.

Secondly, there is a church I know where the leadership have forbiden any people assisting with communion from offering the cup to anyone by name. This is, apparently, because it is embarrassing for those who are not addressed by name. They will feel left out. Christians are particularly good at guessing how others might feel about certain things and missing by miles.

So let me say this to members of the various churches where I serve:
  • I will usually thank lots of people after a service, event or programme but inevitably I will not get round everyone. Read nothing into this.
  • From time to time I will be rushing to get somewhere else and won't have time to do thanks. Read nothing into this.
  • Occasionally I will have so many people to thank I simply issue a general thank-you. Read nothing into this.
  • I will forget some names sometimes. Read nothing into this.
  • I will single out some people on some occasions for particular thanks. Read nothing into this.
In the same way as the workers in the vineyard didn't notice anything wrong with the terms and conditions of their employment until someone came along who apparently got a better deal so let us all work happily without acknowledgement and not be freaked out at the point where someone else gets acknowledged.

Any day you are not crucified is a good day. Everything else is a bonus.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered just now at BBC Radio Bristol on the day of GCSE results.

GCSE day has arrived. Many young people around our region are waiting in some trepidation for their results.

I remember the day I got mine, although they were called O Levels in those days. I got some good results and some disappointing ones. Quickly I had to renegotiate my A level courses and, to the relief of the scientific community everywhere, became a historian and geographer for the next couple of years.

Eventually, after a short career in insurance, I went to university slightly later than most, studied theology and became a vicar - a job I have loved for the last thirty years. But not what I expected at sixteen.

If you find yourself comforting someone who is disappointed today it may help them to know that there are many back doors to success and happiness.

Who can add a moment to their life by worrying about it? Who can predict the turn their career will take? How hard it is to find someone with absolute clarity about the future at sixteen.

'Listen,' says James in the Bible, 'You do not even know what will happen tomorrow ... you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.' Realists, these Bible folk.

Disappointing results may simply be God's way of eliminating physics and chemistry from your enquiries.

As my final tip to those who are happy today - if you want to be in the papers tomorrow try and be female, standing near a water feature and leaping in the air clutching a piece of paper.

Me. I have more time for the ones hiding behind the fountain in tears. It's not the end of the world and you need to know that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ministry Tips 101-125

101. Don't lean back on an unfamiliar chair.
102. Park in a distant parking place and leave the nearer ones for latecomers and poor walkers.
103. If you drink alcohol, designate drinking hours, say noon-3 and 6-midnight. Never drink outside these times.
104. Keep your house in such a state that you could show round a prospective purchaser in 20 minutes time. Or the Archdeacon.
105. Try and read something irrelevant to next week's sermon; be amazed how often it isn't.
106. Learn some generic open questions. If you don't know what this means, find out.
107. You learn things by looking out of city café windows.
108. Clergy saying psalms, canticles and responsories in the congregation are usually too loud.
109. Learn to welcome, enjoy and act upon all feedback; it is the only way to grow.
110. Praise good behaviour loads more than you criticise bad.
111. All the other people in the world also think the world would be a better place if everyone was more like them.
112. 'Most people overestimate what they can achieve in 6 months and underestimate what they can achieve in 5 years.' (Anon)
113. Improve the coffee if it is bad. It will take you 10 times as long to change the church as it takes you to do this.
114. New liturgical experiences are created when someone gets old liturgical experiences wrong.
115. If you have time to read a book on time management then you don't have a problem with time management.
116. None of us is as smart as all of us. Crowds are wise.
117. Try to have healthy refreshment options available at church events - fruit slices instead of biscuits or cake.
118. Be kind to people. It is amazing how many reports bishops receive of clergy being cruel.
119. Tell people how long the event will last. Don't over-run. It is all they will remember.
120. If you choose to wear a dog collar be aware that people will talk to it, not you.
121. If you end up having a pastoral conversation in the supermarket, don't block the aisle.
122. Build relationships with your natural communities - school gate, dog walkers, pub regulars, sports watchers...
123. If you hate ice-skating don't offer to take the youth group ice-skating. Etc.
124. There is a school of ministry that says it must be hard, painful and sacrificial all the time. This is bollocks.
125. In meetings, events and gatherings as far possible the audience should set the mood.

Friday, August 14, 2015


A few years ago I was taught a simple mnemonic to help assess how to deal with an interruption. For the sake of this it is assumed that I am in the middle of something important and am trying to decide if the interruption is more important than what I am doing:

Greet - say hello politely and do not continue the chat. Works for when passing people in the corridor or street.

Receive - take the letter or parcel they have given you, do not open it in their presence, and tell them when you will deal with it if they need to know.

Accompany - take them to the colleague they need to see if it isn't you. Or the underling who can handle it for you. Or the boss if it is above your pay grade.

Confer - set aside five minutes to assess if this is something important or not. Then do one of the other things.

Engage - drop everything. This interruption is your new priority. Take five minutes to renegotiate the deadline of the other thing, call and reschedule or diary time to complete.

See off - chase them out of town, call the police. Shout for help, hand over your wallet. Not necessarily all of these and maybe not in that order.

(This post builds upon #ministry tip 129)

(Thanks to Bryn Hughes of Marc Europe at the training course 'Management Skills for Christian Leaders' 1990)

Odd Socks Anyone?

There's a Facebook-connected game called Odd Socks which I play a lot. To get the truth out there, I have made getting on for 40,000 moves in this low-skill game over the last year or so.

If you haven't seen it don't worry. There is a washing line with socks on it. Touch two that match and they disappear. Random socks then appear from a washing-machine. You can swap socks from other players' discard piles and also with a gamebot called Susie. Swapping with Susie can only happen once a minute.

After discarding five socks you have to use game points to clear the bin. These points are built up 10 at a time by each matching. Clearing the bin costs 250 points. It is a well-designed and delicate game balance. If you don't want to pay real money to continue (I don't and never have) you will get about ten minutes play twice a day. Or one minute twenty times a day.

Why am I telling you this?

Back in the early days of PCs offices were full of people playing Minesweeper, Solitaire, Freecell and the like - during lunch breaks or while waiting for slow printers to work.

A chance chat with a colleague led us both to realise that we were using the games differently. Those games - and Odd Socks is the same - use just enough mental activity to keep your mind keen. But they also allow a lot of free left brain to ponder and think about other things.

I use these games, Odd Socks being the current help, to solve other problems. Whilst playing my mind is wandering over the day to come, anticipating things to look out for, stuff to say and tasks to do. I don't like surprises so try to avoid them. There may be something of the lawyer about me.

It is neither distraction nor displacement.

All non-players mock. They call me a time-waster. They joke that they would never have time for such a thing. Nobody who doesn't get it, gets it.

But I am a better-equipped person for playing. I almost don't expect you to believe me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Curious Incidents

Mark Haddon's novel 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' was a highly original piece of writing. The unreliable narrator has been an interesting literary device for many years. Haddon's narrator was a teenage boy, Christopher, with Asperger's Syndrome. Not unreliable but one who saw the world very differently to most of us.

Adapting the story for the stage has led to this current tour of a remarkable piece of physical theatre, cutting edge technology and amazing props on a minimalist set.

Using the premise that a teacher has spent her time with Christopher persuading him to turn his journal into a play, we find ourselves watching the play he will eventually write.

If it is touring near you do try and see it. It is one of my top five theatre experiences of all time. The set-pieces at the end of each half are outstanding and it is worth not leaving your seat after the curtain calls (as a promise to the audience, made earlier in the play is delivered upon).

It has left Bristol now but will doubtless be around for a while.

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning on Steve and Laura at Breakfast (with Vernon standing in for Steve) on BBC Radio Bristol:

What makes you mad?

The cartoon character Popeye was portrayed as a down-to-earth sailor man until something, usually the dastardly activities of his nemesis Bluto towards his sweetheart Olive Oil, pushed him to the edge. At which point he would shout 'I can't stand it no more', neck a can of spinach and come out fighting.

Well it seems as if the people of our region have a lot of things that are leading them to say 'I can't stand it no more.'

Whether it is the presence of undesirable activities in Portishead, or the absence of desirable facilities in Hartcliffe or football-related issues that have driven Hallam councillors to resignation - it seems like you are all up in arms. And if those don't do it then traffic hold-ups or parking problems will often be the last straw.

My mind wandered to the Michael Douglas film Falling Down in which an unemployed defence worker frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.

And then I thought of Jesus - well I'm a vicar you'd expect me to. In the Bible he sees the money changers and pigeon-sellers in the temple courts blocking the space where traditionally strangers were allowed to enter - the Court of The Gentiles. And he can't stand it no more. Animals are whipped and tables are over-turned.

Gentle Jesus meek and mild. Oh come on.

Christians, a wise old clergyman once said to me, should not be in the business of shouting for their rights, but of shouting for the rights of others.

So, to end with the worst sentence I have ever constructed. What can't you stand, no more?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Missing Scripture

One of the joys of Daily Prayer is following the readings systematically through scripture. As one who does not give a glance to festivals such as the Feast of the Transfiguration it annoys me intensely if I find myself saying Morning Prayer with people who are strict about the lectionary rather than simply working out which readings to drop in. The sequence is broken.

Thursday was a case in point. We have started reading Mark's Gospel. It is a short gospel, perhaps the first to have been written down and worth reading in one go if you ever get a chance. Because it is short (sixteen chapters) almost every word is important. Missing out a section such as Mark 1:29-end (which we did) places you in some difficulty in understanding.

Mark has a question he sets for his readers. It is, 'Who is this man?' he wants us to work out who Jesus is for ourselves. In his account the first person who 'gets it' is a demon-possessed man.

 The crowd ask. 'What is this - a new teaching with authority (over demons)?'

So by the end of chapter one, when Jesus has gone to the home of a relative of a disciple to heal her, his reputation as a faith-healer is developing. Next day he gets up early to pray alone. When he gets discovered and is told he is being sought he says, and this is astonishing, 'Let's go somewhere else.'

He eschews healing for preaching. 'That is why I have come' he says.

If we omit these verses we may well feel that setting up healing ministries, doing Healing on the Streets, making healing the focus of our ministry would be a good thing. If w do read them we discover, as we will again and again in all the gospels, that healing is usually a response to an interruption, not an end in itself.

But we wouldn't let ourselves be so duped. Would we?

Thursday, August 06, 2015


In Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan 2004) there is a chapter, towards the end, called Why I Am Depressed -Yet-Hopeful. It is a remarkable piece of writing and in the final paragraphs he implores the reader not to read on without pondering, praying, reflecting or taking a walk to breathe.

About what? Well many of us repent in order to forget. We say a quick sorry and put the offence out of our mind. McLaren's thesis is that the stories we tell, from individual, community and nation should, if they are to be helpful, include stories of repentance.

So he points out that Jews constantly remind the world that the Holocaust should not be forgotten but that actually this should be Germany's job. Afro-Caribbeans want the world to recall their origins in the slavery diaspora, but it should be the white westerners who do that.

So what are the stories of my past that I should constantly tell to remind the world that I am part of an individual and corporate repentance?

There are two. Firstly I live in the Bristol area. Much of the wealth of the city was built on slave-trading. Our stories about how we got here should always include that, with appropriate shame and penitence. It should leave us a strong desire to use our wealth, indirectly-generated, for the good of all people without exception.

Secondly, a grandfather I never met went to prison for business fraud in the 1930s. It is quite possible that some of the things I enjoyed as a child in the 1950s were, at least in part, ill gotten. I cannot undo this. But I can be open and honest about it and be as sure as I can, as my father did before me, to live generously and nowhere near such a crime.

It gives me a whole new angle on repentance. It also reminds me that the more I tell the stories the more they lose their power to harm me in the future. For nobody can drag up my past if I have walked with it as a constant companion.

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.