Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Alternative Career

I was ordained pretty young, by today's standards, although at 29 I felt I had been made to wait too long. I have now been thirty years in this ministry. I have tried to follow the Spirit's leading and to take good advice and this route has meant that I have never been an incumbent (Rector or Vicar) of a parish.

But I have done some interesting jobs which were useful, to some extent successful and bore some fruit.

It is clear now what I should have done. To all intents and purposes I was a bright young thing who could have achieved seniority within the Church of England.

After my first curacy (during which I should have stood for election to Diocesan Synod) I should have either undertaken a short chaplaincy, a five year team vicar post, or served abroad.

I did a long second curacy which might have been called Team Vicar in different circumstances. I should have done a Masters during this period.

After this, eight years in (and trying not to swap diocese too often), I should have done an incumbency with more synodical responsibility, including standing for General Synod, and taking an interest in a specific area of diocesan work. I should have avoided being outspoken, critical or terribly effective the while, leaving any church exactly as I found it with goodwill from the Usual Sunday Attendance. I should have chosen to generate a particular area of theological expertise and never avoided using such services as are authorised by canon. I should have developed liturgical, rather than informal worship, expertise.

Age 42 I would have been ready. It may have taken a while, it may not have happened at all, but that would have increased the likelihood of my getting on a preferment list.

In fact I then worked for a home mission agency and spent ten years helping the Church of England with youth ministry. Then, drained and ill, I wrote for four years whilst working part-time for a parish. A conservative-evangelical by background and training, my theology became more liberal as it became more biblical. I reached the age of 51.

For the last eight years I have been doing missional stuff back in the front-line and at grass roots as minister of a planted church which is now hoping to plant again.

Every post has involved investing time and energy in future leaders and growing the Church of England's talent pool. I can, off the top of my head, name eleven people in ministry and leadership as a result of this work - roughly one every three years.

Think how good I would have been if groomed for future major responsibility? That's right. Not at all. Those who are worth giving further responsibility to have already invested a considerable amount of time and money in their own development.

By the way, I am really happy in my work.

Hot News

The Christmas Letter 2014 is available.


Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning at BBC Radio Bristol:

A Bristol GP recently told me he had never known a period so busy in his surgery. Not with any particular ailment. Just a lot of patients with different problems.

So we try to relieve pressure on our Health Service. Don't visit your doctor with a cold. Don't take bumps and bruises to Accident and Emergency if you're tipsy. Buy your own headache remedies.

Many of us see the doctor seeking reassurance - tell me this lump isn't cancerous - sort of thing.

Ambroise Paré in the sixteenth century said the physician's duty was 'to cure occasionally, relieve often, console always.'

So we might applaud local businesses coughing up cash for a Drink Tank - a place to keep inebriated people safe while nature takes its course. People who don't need a doctor; they need a sleep.

Jesus, amazingly, was quite short with the sick. He is reported as arguing with one Canaanite woman that he didn't heal outsiders. St Mark writes of an occasion when Jesus came down to a crowd of sick people at his door. His reply 'Let's go somewhere else'. He had something more important to do.

Our National Health Service has left us all feeling as if we ought to be well all the time.

I wish you the best of health in this week before Christmas. It's rubbish being ill at this time of year. But also a sober and realistic assessment of what it means to be well. I have known some very poorly people who simply didn't let their illness be the most important thing about them.

Health, someone once said, is what you have when you don't notice it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol an hour ago:

My worst night's sleep ever followed a midnight call from the custody sergeant at the police station. 'Your son has been arrested for burglary.'

As we may well recall, Jo Yeates, a young Bristol woman, was murdered four years ago by Vincent Tabak, who is now in prison for the crime.

The film about her landlord, Christopher Jefferies, a two-part TV drama which concludes tonight, has been the subject of much conversation.

So although only helping police with their enquiries, having been arrested on suspicion of murder, a lot of journalistic digging took place, as if he was guilty. Can you remember what you thought at the time? The Sun called him 'Strange Mr Jefferies'. Unjustified rumours about his sexuality were published. He was described as a peeping Tom.

Jefferies has received an apology from the police for the distress caused during the investigation. He has successfully sued a number of newspapers and given evidence to the Leveson Enquiry.

My son was not charged but released, within 18 hours, having been caught up in something bad a crowd of young men did. He slept with the door open for a few days after that - because he could.

The police were great. CCTV cameras were part of the process by which innocence was proved and no journalists asked me about the gap between my example as a vicar and my parenting skills. Thank goodness.

Being eccentric is not a crime.

Being a young man near a crime is not a crime.

And crucially, being arrested is not a crime.

Beware of jumping to conclusions of guilt.

'Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' A persecuted, innocent man said that.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

You probably wouldn't sleep very comfortably with your head in the cooker and your feet in the fridge, but if a statistician came along they'd soon convince you that on average you were comfortable.

Well? How do you feel about your personal finances? Hot or cold? Warm or cool? Or does it all depend where you decide to stick the thermometer?

One of the difficulties of responding to an autumn budget statement is that of arguing from the particular to the general. If you have lost your job recently it is hard to be convinced that things in general are picking up. A mugging victim will be slow to agree that crime figures are down.

Rainy spells are good for umbrella makers. Doctors earn money because we get sick. Self-curing concrete (an invention highlighted on the programme) sounds astonishing, but, if successful, it will force the manufacturers of conventional concrete to change.

So politicians look at the country on average - in general - regardless of who is doing well and who badly.

When I had dependent children I looked forward to the day when I could have more disposable income. Now I am fortunate enough to be able to save but my money earns next to no interest. And anyway, even thirty something children ask for occasional handouts.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

I hear Jesus' words as told by Luke, 'Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person's life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions.' And I remember that, as we approach Christmas, it is better to give than to receive, nicer to contribute than to moan, and far, far more comfortable to sleep in the bedroom than in the kitchen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Not liver but Allen keys

A while back I posted about a strange set of circumstances in which things had gone wrong. Read it at

It involved a particular person turning up at one of my Quiet Days brandishing a bag of liver. No, really.

So yesterday the same person told us at lunchtime that he had decided to go for a cycle during the first period of quiet. But, getting on his bike, he reached into the pocket of his coat and found a set of keys he did not recognise. After a bit of a ponder he realised that he was wearing the wrong coat. One of the other guests had a similar one.

He swapped coats and all was well.

At going home time my bike-riding guest said that If I happened to find a particular Allen key around the house it was he who had lost it. At which point (are you there yet?) the coat-swap victim suggested 'Have you looked in my coat pocket?' He did, and there it was. We all chuckled, knowingly.

What will live with me for a while is the look on the face of the person who had come to fetch one of my guests and joined us for a cuppa. 'What sort of a meeting is this?' his expression asked, without words.

We didn't say, immediately. Better to leave the mystery sometimes.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

RIP Phil Hughes and some thoughts on his passing

So sad to hear that Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died following a blow to the head by a cricket ball. A cricket ball travelling at ninety miles an hour is a dangerous thing but the huge advances in protective equipment worn by players makes such occasions incredibly rare. But if you have never cradled a cricket ball in your hand you ought to. It is a very solid projectile. One once broke my ankle. I look down at the scar between the fingers of my right hand where a ball split the webbing. I caught it though.

I have been pretty focused on the Old Testament for the last few months. Morning Prayer lectionary readings took us through 1 and 2 Samuel then 1 and 2 Kings. My church has been studying Exodus and my small home group, Genesis.

Many people observe dramatic differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. I observe dramatic differences between the people of the Old and the people of the New (and the people of today). A collection of books (which the Bible is) containing stories spanning two millennia will inevitably show some major cultural change.

The sport of the Middle Bronze Age was war. You tested your strength against the neighbours in a time when land boundaries were being stretched, established and fixed.

What does Goliath say to David? Not much more than 'Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.'

Saul has killed his thousands
David his tens of thousands

This too is a football chant.

Our leader is better than the King.

The sport of kings is a description often made of hunting pursuits. The Romans fixed combat as a sport by building huge stadia in which people gathered to watch warriors try to kill each other. Combat, jousting and contact team games are all anteceded by warfare.

We have moved on. We (by which I mean society) still like team games and one-on-one competition. Boxing and wrestling are the two where the focus is most on hurting each other but subtle rules make sure the pain is limited and the potential damage minimal. But boxers are maimed and die from time to time.

Rugby has an unbelievable care for rules and opponent. Witness the huddles after games of mutual appreciation. But when the whistle blows there is much made of the 'big hit'. Hugely perfected physiques try very hard to stop each other with extremely violent blocks and tackles. American football is the culmination of this process; guys hit each other much harder than they otherwise would because their own protective clothing becomes not a defensive matter but a shock-absorber which allows them to thud and crunch into each other with greater power, velocity and personal safety.

Football also has its nuances. It is often forgotten that page one of the introduction to the game specifies that football is not a physical contact sport but the nature of the game makes some physical contact inevitable. And we are discovering that brain injuries caused by heading an old water-soaked case-ball were more common than we thought. (See the 'Justice for Jeff' campaign re the West Brom striker who died relatively young, probably as a result of heading footballs too often.)

But cricket is complex. Much is made of the failure of outsiders to understand the rules and subtleties. But when a fast bowler has, in his armoury, the possibility of projecting the ball at great speed at the opponent's head, deliberately, you have to say that this will only serve to intimidate or unnerve the opponent if it carries with it the prospect of serious injury or death. Hard to imagine that players used to face such a barrage without helmets but I am old enough to remember the days.

So, did Phil Hughes die because of a failure of protective equipment? Possibly, and it may be the case that even more protection will be offered. But this will greatly increase the weight of a helmet and may make avoiding the ball harder.

No. Phil Hughes died because part of the game of cricket, and some other games, involves trying to kill each other. It rarely happens but it is a possibility. It is sad but true. I am sure he knew the risk. Combating a dangerous bowler who was trying to maim him was part of the attraction.

I wonder if the bowler will be wanting to try and kill again though? Because if that's not what he's trying to do, why aim at the head?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Quote of the Day

Thank you for being with me. I have now finished the job of indexing my quote book. It loomed at me as a massive job I would never get done. But by chopping it into small bits and indexing ten a day for five days a week I have finished in about a year.

Now all I need is a weekly reminder to transfer any new quotes into my book and to index them when ten are there.

I call this system 'Eating a slug'. If you absolutely have to eat slug you want that critter thin-sliced.

1227. Modern agriculture, with its push toward vast monocultures, is as likely to produce environmental harmony as a call centre is to produce social harmony.
(Guy Watson, Riverford News Letter 19/5/14)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guess Who is Coming?

Readers with stamina will recall that my best friend is Bob. We conduct this relationship without feeling it necessary to communicate or meet for great chunks of time, then go and live near each other for ten years or so until we're sick of each other. We go away on reading breaks together and carry on where we left off. We're fine with that. Whoever dies second will conduct the other's funeral incorporating a flip-chart exercise of suggesting words that could not be used to describe the deceased. If it's his funeral then 'organised' will probably be suggested. If it's mine he'll forget the flip-chart.

Bob is able to disappear from society for great lengths of time then come back with a sentence or observation of such precision and wisdom that you wish he'd go away more. Mind you the second sentence is often almighty drivel so don't wait around for that.

Anyway, to cut a longish story shortish, I have spent some chunks of my life waiting for Bob, knowing that it would be worthwhile.

It is almost Advent, a time when Christians look forward to the return of Jesus Christ with hope and expectation. As this is a bit weird we pretend that we are looking forward to Christmas.

In the local Wetherspoons pub, The Glassmaker in Nailsea, where a pint of 'Sorry not available' is quite cheap, I was visiting for breakfast (I know, I have a tough life) when I observed that 'Sorry not available' has been replaced with a friendlier sign.

Wikwar Brewery of Gloucester produces a beer called 'Bob'. (You can guess where this is going.) The sign on the tap says 'Bob is coming soon'.

The reason for this post is that I texted him today to point this out and enquire about his health. No reply. His wife will see this and read out any amusing bits. It may lead to us communicating. It's a long shot but it's his turn to arrange the next retreat.

Quote of the Day

1209. Socrates, in Plato's Phaedrus, argued that the invention of writing meant people would '...cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful'. It seems likely that we'll get over internet distraction soon enough.
(Oliver Burkeman. Guardian Weekly 21/6/13)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

1199. In a democracy there is not that class with the leisure to acquire discernment and taste in all the arts. Without that class, art is produced to suit the taste of the market, which is filled with its own doubt and self-importance and ignorance, its own ability to be tricked and titillated by every bauble.
(Olivier in Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Seasonal Produce

Is this how the retail world sees the year?

January 1st - February 14th
Valentine's Season

February 15th - March Sunday (annual variation)
Mothers' Season

March Sunday (annual variation) - Easter Day (annual variation)
Easter Season

Easter Day (annual variation) - 3rd Sunday June
Father's Season

3rd Sunday June - mid July
Currently vacant

mid July - mid August
Silly Season

Mid August - last Sunday August (or first September, regional variations)
Back to School Season

Last Sunday August (or first September, regional variations) - mid September
Currently vacant

Mid September - October 31st
Halloween Season

October 31st - 2nd Sunday November
Fireworks Season (overlap Poppy Season)

2nd Sunday November - December 24th
Christmas Season (colloquially marked by launch of John Lewis advert)

December 25th - December 31st
New Year Season (overlap Holiday Season)

The criticism of displaying Christmas produce too early is avoided by labelling such aisles 'seasonal'. The commercial understanding of such displays has been that, for the purposes of retail, 'seasonal' means 'next season'.

Quote of the Day

1186. We think the purpose of a child is to grow up because it does grow up. But its purpose is to play, to enjoy itself, to be a child. If we merely look at the end of the process, the purpose of life is death.
(Alexander Herzen, quoted by Edward St Aubyn in 'Mother's Milk')

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

1175. ... religion ... - it is the asylum to which all poor crazed sinners may come at last, the door which will always open to us if we can only find the courage to knock.
(James Robertson, The Testimony of Gideon Mack)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Quote Book Index

1166. In a world where entire meals are consumed in forgetfulness, there's something powerful and evocative about focusing attention, gratefully, on one tiny morsel.
(Dave Tomlinson, How to be a Bad Christian)

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Bedsit Disco Queen

It is not easy choosing music as a couple. If you both like music but one is much more enthusiastic and generally curious than the other it is likely that that one will do a lot of the choosing. But then to keep a relationship going it is best for that choosing to be exercised in the interest of both parties, when both are around. It follows that I have a number of albums that must not be played in the presence of Mrs T.

It further follows that we have a few 'special' acts who have accompanied us on our journey together. In about 1996, when we took our first holiday for some years without children, we were accompanied by the Everything but the Girl album Walking Wounded including the Todd Terry remix of Wrong.

We had a sort of where-have-we-been? moment. We had kind of ignored the lo-fi acoustic stuff this duo had produced before but from that day on with the light drum 'n bass feel we were hooked.

We saw EBTG at Wolverhampton Civic Hall which remains the finest experience we've ever had in Wolverhampton and that includes Baggies away wins.

Tracey Thorn (half the duo with partner Ben Watt) is an English graduate and writes like a dream. The prose never gets in the way of the story.

What I love is the ordinariness from which this catalogue of dreamy pop emerged and to which, in order to raise a family and do conventional household tasks, it returned for a while. There are now solo projects which we have enjoyed though.

I've recently read part two of Danny Baker's autobiography and he too demonstrated a wonder that he became who he was without having to do too much to make it happen.

What is it that makes this occur for some people? Of course there is talent. That pretty much goes without saying, but there is also a sense that no decision was ever taken to try to be a star; just a decision to do the next logical thing that came along.

I love Tracey Thorn's pop career so much more than the ones of those wannabees who queue to audition for the latest audience elimination programme; as if saying 'I've never wanted anything so much' makes it more likely. Because what she did was have a voice and some songs and got them out there and we liked them. I'm delighted there was some success but, reading the book, get the impression it wouldn't have mattered that much if there hadn't been. The music demanded it be made.

It was about album seven that the world took notice (the one we heard). She says, 'My greatest stroke of fortune was to be given success when I was old enough to enjoy it and not take it for granted, or fritter it away, or be contemptuous or arrogant or supercilious about it.' I love that. It's a humble book.

Over the last few years I have followed Tracey (@tracey_thorn) and Ben (@ben_watt) on Twitter, have had occasional inter-actions about things as disparate as recipes, footie and bird-watching and feel delighted that they seem to take as much pleasure in the ordinary things of life as the sublime music they have gifted me.

This is a very good book.

Trying not to be Frustrated

The meeting is due to start at 7.45 and finish at 9.45. Opening, the chair suggests that this short agenda will not take too long and we should finish early. We over-run by twenty minutes.

A reminder to all who ever have to chair meetings containing people not likely to be energised by the meeting itself:

1. After two hours reluctant attenders will vote for anything to get home. They will have no emotional energy left.

2. Never raise expectations of a shorter meeting than usual unless you are sure you can deliver.

3. If you have to go over two hours, take a break at some point.

4. Limit the amount of time you are going to spend on trivial items.

5. Charge smaller groups of people, or individuals, with doing some tasks and reporting back if not everyone needs to be involved in a discussion now.

6. Editing is not a committee job.

7. Neither is proof-reading.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Quotes of the Day

For those not appreciating this exercise, can I reassure you that we are within two years of the end of the book I am indexing. Two to ponder:

1121. Retribution is of two kinds: first, social, also known as justice; and second, individual, also known as revenge. The mark of a civilised society is that it promotes the messy frustrations and delays of the former over the false and instant consolation of the latter.
(Amol Rajan, theIpaper 19/4/12 on Norway's response to Anders Breivik's court behaviour)

1135. ...there are many kinds of wealth money cannot buy. You can buy education, but you cannot buy intelligence; you can buy designer clothes, but not style; cosmetics but not beauty; sex, but not love.
(A.C.Grayling, The Heart of Things)

Saturday, November 01, 2014

It Didn't Really Happen.

Having been converted by conservative evangelicalism I was pretty wedded to the 'All the Bible is history or it wouldn't be true' party. I didn't know any better. Trouble is, I was never very convinced by talking snakes, whale-stomach prayers and a God who kills people on the basis of a bet with the devil. Not really very godlike that.

Nobody helped me. It was skirted round at college. I was even told by one evangelical Christian organisation that people don't get out of bed worrying about historicity in the Bible. As if that clinched it.

But slowly and surely, through study, researching and repeat reading the texts I have become what my conservative evangelical mates would call a liberal and I would call more biblical.

I think it was largely due to my improving as a short story writer and teller. I saw, for the first time, the power of story to influence. So a prototype story of how evil got into the world, such stories told by almost all cultures that have ever developed in some way or other, is more meaningful, more powerful and more influential if you do not insist on its historicity.

I have done this before so read back if you want to know my theology of Genesis 1-11, Jonah and Job.

But, because I was a convert and have no deep Sunday school background full of stories - where they are told as stories and work best - I still come across the great handed-down myths in the Bible which are so clearly fiction it blows my mind that anyone has ever been asked to believe they actually happened. In fact it appals and disappoints me in equal measure.

Here's the latest. In Genesis 19 there is a story about Lot's daughters getting their Dad pissed and taking turns in having sex with him so they can get pregnant. They both succeed, first time, and give birth to children. One of these families becomes the Moabites and the other the Ammonites.

In my, English, western culture we do this from time to time. As a rather crude example, sex using an unusual orifice has been described either as the French way, or the Spanish way. The insult doesn't need cashing out and it is rarely used these days, although I chanced to hear it during a documentary on the sex industry a few months back.

So what is the answer to the question, 'Where do Moabites come from?' It's what happens if you have sex with your Dad, says the Bible. It's a local joke. It also explains why the Bible, which usually redeems itself if you pay attention, later makes much of the goodness of a Moabitess called Ruth, who is listed as one of Jesus' ancestors.

I love that. The Bible is more real and true for me than ever before because it includes a racist insult or two. These are real people we are talking about, not saints. And of course, in case you are really slow, that is not where Moabites came from.

Why can't we admit it? I have just been reading Lesslie Newbigin's excellent commentary on John's Gospel 'The Light Has Come' as preparation for a speaking engagement. On John 17 he says:I

The prayer is not a free invention of the evangelist; nor is it a tape recording of the words of Jesus. It is a representation of what Jesus was doing when he prayed in the presence of his disciples during the supper, a re-presentation which rests upon the authority of the beloved disciple guided by the Holy Spirit in and through the continuous experience of the community which gathers week by week to rehearse again the words and action of Jesus on that night when he was betrayed.

It is as if Newbigin can creep up on the words 'Jesus didn't actually say this' but can't quite bring himself to say it so bluntly.

I think we should. People would respect us more. More people should get out of bed worrying about historicity. It is OK.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quote of the Day

1114. When we contemplate the cross of Christ, we are always living with fragments. Not literal splinters of wood, but fragments of understanding, glimpses of heart, mind and experience. As long as we recognise they are only fragments, they can help us.
('Touch Wood', Meeting the Cross in the World Today - David Runcorn)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

1106. Blaise Pascal said, 'Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?'
(Quoted by Brian McLaren in A New Kind of Christianity)

Thought for the Day

As delivered just now at BBC Radio Bristol:

It's St Jude's day today. Based on one of the final lines of his letter, 'Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire to save them...' he is called the patron saint of lost causes.

Are libraries becoming a lost cause? Not enough of us using them.

I recall the excitement I felt as a child when I discovered books. Matched by the wonder of being able to go and borrow three at a time from Selly Oak library, to read as quickly as I wanted. Jennings the schoolboy. The adventures of Biggles the aviator. Summer holidays' stories Swallows and Amazons or Coot Club.

In those days buying and owning books was not the family habit. The only books on our shelves at home were reference books.

I used to work as a writer. One day a week I would be at the library researching. Not yet was all information in the world available from my mobile phone - in those days the click of a mouse would have sounded like some weird magic spell.

E-readers, tablets and other devices have replaced books. I can't easily buy my wife a book for Christmas. She reads electronically so I don't keep up with what she has read.

Maybe book-libraries are disappearing, relics of a by-gone age along with old-fashioned pubs where you simply drink and the sort of churches that smell of Evensong and pigeon.

But the surviving pubs learned to do food and live sport. Growing churches are more guitar than organ. If libraries are information-exchange centres maybe it's not all about books. My local library is popular for internet access.

We don't quite need St Jude yet. But we have him on stand-by.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

1092. You're worse off relying on misleading information than on not having any information at all. If you give a pilot an altimeter that is sometimes defective he will crash his plane. Give him nothing and he will look out the window. Technology is only safe if it is flawless.
(John Lanchester, Whoops! quoting Nassim Taleb)

General Ignorance

If the three possible ways of going wrong are ignorance, weakness and deliberate fault, I have a marginal personal preference for ignorance. I have indeed found ignorance a much misunderstood skill in ministry.

For instance, I am way smart enough to learn to operate a sound desk, but I have never done so. Likewise the computer projection system in our church. I remain profoundly ignorant. I am never called upon to solve problems with these items, both of which would distract me from the more important work (for me, not in the whole scheme of things) of praying and readying myself to preach or lead a church service.

I can also fall back on the excuse of ignorance when forced to do something which I get wrong. I can either learn to do it right next time or, and this I prefer, the press-ganger can learn never to ask me again.

A few months back I was assisting at a service when our Archdeacon was visiting. Nobody had arrived to set up communion. This is another area where my ignorance is deep.

When people ask me how they should set up communion for me (a question often asked when I am the visiting president at another church) my reply is always 'However you normally do it.' If this is followed up by 'We wouldn't want to do it in a way that would be difficult for you', I quietly explain that that would not be possible, I have no preferences whatsoever about positioning of elements, books and thing. If pushed I often crack and tell the sacristan, or server, or whatever that church calls the setter-upper, to try and upset me and betting that they can't. I cannot say this strongly enough. There is not, for me, a right way to do communion but if there is for you I will try my hardest to do it your way.

So I asked the Archdeacon the question I often get asked. 'Is there any particular way you would like this set up?' He told me what I tell everyone else, to do it as I usually do it.

It may come as a bit of a surprise to many of you ordained readers but apart from my first curacy I have never regularly set-up a communion and I do not have a usual way. I am also unfamiliar with any legalities.

So I put the stuff out in a way with which I would be personally happy and then got this response:

'I think you will find a lot of people will be upset if you do not put everything on a fair, white, linen cloth.'

Really? I could not imagine being upset at this and, although Anglicans have the capacity to become turmoiled rather easily, couldn't think of a single person who might moan. This is probably one of the several hundred reasons why I am not an archdeacon.

I did it again and hope the Archdeacon learned never to ask me again. You can wipe wine stains off the varnished communion table at this particular church, but bio-detergents are necessary to clean a no-longer fair, or white, linen cloth. Ain't that a bit daft?

Ignorance really is bliss. Embrace it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quotes of the Day

Missed yesterday so had to catalogue twenty of my quotes today. Here are two of the best:

1079. For the fathers of the Church, scripture was a 'mystery' ... not just a text but an 'activity'; you did not merely read it - you had to do it.
(Karen Armstrong: The Case for God)

1090. Great art exists in the spaces between the certainties. Economically, culturally and artistically, Music Theatre can't afford spaces, only certainties.
(Stewart Lee, Esquire 10/04 quoted in his book, 'How I Escaped My Certain Death')

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


If you haven't read volume 1 of an autobiography series that is going to run and run then head off now and get a copy of Danny Baker's Going to Sea in a Sieve. You'll not regret it and, if you don't laugh, I'll consider giving you your money back. Shouldn't cost me that much as only people too stupid to work out how to contact me will fail to laugh.

I am reading Going off Alarming which is volume 2. I was unable to wait for the paperback or Christmas.

If you are unfamiliar with Danny Baker the broadcaster then, seriously dude, what is the matter with you? Radio Five Live on Saturday mornings - make that an appointment.

But if you are that dude you may not know that he offers a segment called 'The Sausage Sandwich Game' in which callers attempt to match the answers of celebrities to various questions, the last of which is about the colour of sauce that person would have in a sausage sandwich.

Now in chapter two of the book Danny Baker (calling him Danny sounds like I know him, calling him Baker sounds too formal, my entire life consists of these minor dilemmas) introduces the idea of a sausage and egg sandwich.

It is funny what catches your attention. Where do our prejudices come from? A bacon and egg sandwich would be good (no sauce at all). A bacon and sausage sandwich would be lovely (brown sauce, although my former colleague Mark insisted, and argued well, that the sauce should be red as it needed to match the bacon, the purer meat product - I can't agree but the logic is compelling). But a sausage and egg sandwich is just wrong. I was so bothered by the idea I had to stop reading for a bit and post this.

If forced to eat a sausage and egg sandwich or die I wouldn't go to the grave, although I would resist firmly any suggestions of sauce with same.

I expect my reader will have stronger opinions on this than any of the recent political or social matters I have attended to.

Volume 3 is promised and I expect the tweets from @prodnose will be entertaining during the wait.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

1064. ...fundamentalism is in fact a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misinterprets the tradition it is trying to defend.
(Karen Armstrong - The Case for God

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

1051. Atheism must be free to say to Muslims, Christians or Jews: 'Your mind would be much more free if you gave up your ridiculous belief in God.' Believers must be free to argue back, 'You would have a more profound sense of personal freedom if you did believe.' But neither is entitled to demand that of the other as a condition for participating as a citizen in a free society.
(Timothy Garton-Ash, The Guardian 29/11/07)

Albums of the Year

I've often thought about the whole question of album of the year. Around Mercury prize time it comes along. Sometimes I agree with the award; others I get the impression it is either being awarded for longevity (back catalogue taken into account) or some act of great PR on quite ordinary work (I'm looking at you Klaxons).

But looking back over 40 plus years of enthusiasm for popular music, what, I wondered, have been the albums each year that could best be described as game-changers? Genre-busters? Or just completely new? Picking only from the albums I own.

Choosing one album a year has produced an interesting result, a sort of top fifty of my life. And of course they are not my top fifty albums for that would involve two from the same year. 1973 and 1997 were a very tough call.

Aware that all such lists do is generate comment storms, here is my discussion starter for ten:

1959 Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
1964 Sounds Incorporated - Sounds Incorporated
1967 Ten Years After - Ten Years After
1969 Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II
1971 Traffic - The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
1972 Roxy Music - Roxy Music
1973 Herbie Hancock - Headhunter
1974 Supertramp - Crime of the Century
1975 John Lennon - Rock 'N' Roll
1976 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
1977 Ian Dury and the Blockheads - New Boots and Panties
1978 Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music for Airports
1979 Joe Jackson - Look Sharp
1980 Talking Heads - Remain in Light
1981 The Police - Ghost in the Machine
1982 Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
1983 The Thompson Twins - Quick Step and Side Kick
1984 Howard Jones - Human's Lib
1985 Big Audio Dynamite - This is...
1986 Sting - Bring on the Night
1987 U2 - The Joshua Tree
1988 Dan Reed Network - Dan Reed Network
1989 Neneh Cherry - Raw Like Sushi
1990 The Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
1991 Massive Attack - Blue Lines
1992 The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprasy - Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury
1993 Crowded House - Together Alone
1994 Blur - Parklife
1995 Black Grape - It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah
1996 Everything but the Girl - Walking Wounded
1997 Alabama 3 - Exile on Coldharbour Lane
1998 Faithless - Sunday 9pm
1999 Moby - Play
2000 Lexis - Branch of Knowledge
2001 Zero 7 - Simple Things
2002 Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head
2003 The Shins - Shutes Too Narrow
2004 Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
2005 Roots Manuva- Awfully Deep
2006 Burial - Burial
2007 Jazz Liberatorz - Clin d'oeil
2008 Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
2009 The xx - The xx
2010 Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
2011 Radiohead - The King of Limbs
2012 Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio
2013 Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
2014 Metronomy - Love Letters

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Disability and the Minimum Wage

A bit like trying to have a sensible discussion about drugs or rape, to name but two, is the problem of daring to suggest, in this day and age, that different people might be treated differently.

I have only heard the rubbish audio version of the, presumably illegally-obtained, comments by Lord Freud. And, as ever, various easily-smelling-a-bandwagon-to-jump-on people are condemning him. Hold those stones while I tell you a story.

Paul used to help out at my last church. He spent his days at a Day Centre for adults with learning difficulties. They tried hard to find work for people such as Paul. We had him in once a week to hoover the church carpet, deliberately asking our cleaners not to do this and to leave it to Paul.

Paul couldn't easily communicate. He knew my name and would say Steve when he saw me, then 'work' and occasionally mention the names of others he knew. I liked the way he called me my name. Yeve. Yeve.

We paid him £3. The Centre implored us not to pay him any more, for large amounts of money worried him. But he could learn to budget his £3. He was lovely and, I believe, often used his money to buy flowers for a grave of a family member.

Hoovering two carpets was a half hour job. Maybe ten years ago £3 was a fair wage for that. But it took Paul all morning. Maybe he wasn't paid per hour, but to do a job.

I wrote about him once in an old post on this blog.

Now could it possibly be people such as Paul to whom Lord Freud's questioners were referring? And if so, let's have a grown up discussion about that.

I understand where he is coming from, if that is what he was talking about.

Quote of the Day

1048. If our lives have meaning it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come equipped.
(Terry Eagleton - The Meaning of Life)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Quote of the Day

1016. ...without anyone leading them or directing them, people - most of them not especially rational or farsighted - are able to co-ordinate their economic activities.
(James Surowiecki on why supermarkets have orange juice in stock, taken from The Wisdom of Crowds)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Quote of the Day

1005. In settling an island, the first building erected by a Spaniard will be a church; by a Frenchman, a fort; by a Dutchman, a warehouse; and by an Englishman, an alehouse.
(Francis Grose - Provincial Glossary - 1787)

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning to BBC Radio Bristol. It was my first trip there since the breakfast show became 'Steve and Laura at Breakfast'. Now in a different studio (very cold, all presenters wearing warm clothes) but the two-voice presentation makes for good chemistry and an improved listen. I was asked, as part of their 'question of the day', what I say when I am exasperated or stub my toe. Had to admit that the truth was unbroadcastable.

Fun also to notice how hard it is to remember a single digit change in the contact phone number when you have broadcast the same thing, fifty times a day, for several years. There is now a system of £1 fines for anyone who says 0845 instead of 0345. I think they'll need a collection bucket, not box. Good craic:

A friend once came to work with his arm in a sling. Explained it had happened in a car accident.

After gentle probing he admitted that the injury had occurred not in the crash but in the discussion on blame. Too much talking.

So listen. What can you hear?

When you start deeply listening you get beyond the immediate.

Perhaps you can hear traffic, rain, birdsong or the cat purring. Maybe the fridge is making a noise or the washing machine is rumbling and tumbling. Is there a little static or interference, radio not quite tuned?

Is someone talking to you, unaware that you are trying to listen to me?

Is there road noise because you are driving along, or the sound of the train tracks as you commute to work, headphones blocking out most other sounds.

Listening is a skill. We can practise it and get better at it. We have twice as many ears as mouths after all.

'You haven't listened.' I hear that three or four times on this station every week. Truth is, one of the hardest skills of leadership is to convince people you have listened when you are not going to do what they want.

Disciples Peter, James and John once accompanied Jesus up a mountain. The Bible tells us they heard a voice from heaven saying, 'This is my son. Listen to him.' They must have, or we wouldn't have heard of him.

At the end of political party conference season, who should we believe now we've listened to them all? How should we listen to the speech of someone held hostage declaring his home state evil

Well there are no easy answers, but I'm convinced more listening will help not hinder.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day has been on holiday but is delighted to return to examine quotes 990-1000. Here is the best:

997. Tony Benn's guide to democracy and power:
What power have you got?
Who gave it to you?
To whom are you accountable?
On whose behalf have you exercised it?
How do we get rid of you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I was ordained at Michaelmas 1984 in Hucknall Parish Church so today is the 30th anniversary of that occasion. It's been an interesting journey to Nailsea, via Nottingham, Chester-le-Street and Leamington Spa.

The Festival of St Michael and All Angels, 'You have ordained the ministries of angels and mortals in a wonderful order...' is one of the few occasions where the church thinks about heavenly spiritual support rather than opposition or earthly ministry. A good day to be ordained upon then.

I'm not sure what my take is on it all. On the one hand if there is any spiritual support going out there I'll have some of it. On the other there is little evidence of such support that is not explainable by rational means. I guess that leaves it down to the believer. Faith or not?

The unseen world is a great comfort to many. Who am I to muck up their well-held beliefs? The rational world is a great comfort to many. Who am I etc?

I've spent a fair bit of today listening to people whose journeys are so much more demanding than my own. They need the angels. I have been blessed (or am lucky to have) a certain adaptability that just plans/reacts, plans/reacts. I quite like it when things go a bit wrong because work is more interesting and challenging then. Maybe that's why I don't see the angels. They're helping more needy people.

I'd like a visitor in white to come for a chat. It would be good to cut through the border fence with a subtle knife.

Mick's Metaphor of (possibly) the Decade

This blog has, from time to time, posted language into the car-crusher and smoked the remains. Fair enough. None of us is perfect. But this interview with Portsmouth FC's Chief Executive Mark Catlin had me reaching for the calculator to count the metaphors. He is discussing the club's early settling of its debts. See if you can continue to visualise what he is saying, and in particular which direction the club is going:

'Pompey is completely legacy debt free but that is just the start ... It is a fantastic achievement and a weight hanging over the club since coming out of administration 18 months ago has been removed. We are at ground zero now. This club was in a crater and we are out of that now with foundations built. The club has turned itself around and got itself on a level playing field. We are debt free and keep moving forward and progressing, never taking our eye off the ball. It is important we stay under the microscope and cannot allow ourselves to go to that level again.'

(As told to the Portsmouth News and reported by The Guardian, today)


2006 - date

Associate Vicar - Nailsea Local Ministry Group

02 - 06

Associate Minister - St Paul's, Leamington Spa

94 - 02

Head of Church Youth Fellowships' Association

92 - 94

CYFA Trainer/Editor

88 - 92

Curate, Chester-le-Street

84 - 88

Curate, Mapperley

Michaelmas 1984

Ordained deacon at Hucknall Parish Church

There will be no concelebrations. Happy anniversary to me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

An Ideas Person?

I have published, edited or written four volumes of books to help churches with their youth ministry in a practical way. The 'Know Ideas' series was written in response to the regular requests from youth leaders for help. I took the best of some older stuff called 'Mines of Information' and then added some new things.

How did we generate ideas? We responded to the researched truth that only one person in twenty ever has an original idea. So when someone asks the question 'Anyone got any ideas?' if there are fewer than twenty people in the room the odds are stacked against. They should rephrase the question: 'Which of the things we have done before should we do again in this situation?

I am one of the twenty. I have loads of ideas. I need to be surrounded by checks, balances and vetting procedures. That is good and appropriate. But I also put myself in a position where I am able to be creative. I need space. Input. The occasional company of other creatives. The social media will often do. Spending time sitting in bars or coffee shops and calling it work is because it is work. It is what gets the results.

When we reached volume four of Know Ideas I invited a bunch of fellow creatives round to my office for the day. I gave them food and drink and some things to play with. I gave them some headings - ice-breakers, games needing no equipment, discussion starters. Then I watched and recorded the good stuff. Everyone loved taking part and got a writing credit in the book.

Fast forward a few years and a colleague and I wondered if we might be able to run a training tour helping people to tap into their own creativity. We took the 'Know Good Ideas' roadshow out on tour. We did our idea-generating workshop, charging people to attend, and stole the best ideas (which was a bit brazen). We encouraged some people not to need our books any more (not brazen at all).

Last night a woman I live with (chosen career - retail) came home after a twelve hour day preparing to do a few more hours after a quick supper. She was filling in some new forms because changes at her workplace now mean she must do the work of the HR department which has been made redundant. (If I have understood right.)

About 11 p.m. I was going to bed and was asked if I had any ideas to improve sales tomorrow. I said no. Mainly because my ideas involved a lot of people breathing no more.

Today, after a little contemplation, I have offered to reprise my seminar day (at a charity rate of £300 a day) for any people in the company that still feel it appropriate to ask employees doing twice as much as their contacted hours (yes, Mr Farage, European work-time regulations have no effect here so save your breath) to come up with ideas. Late at night request for something BY TOMORROW.

She was rebuked in a conference call this morning for a lack of ideas.

Remember when Michael Caine's character said 'Hang on a minute lads; I've just had an idea.' The film ended there right? We started our training tour evenings by showing the clip and then asking people, working in groups, to tell us what the idea was.

Well maybe saving your life from a teetering, cliff-edge coach crash will give you a bit of adrenalin. But for most people you need to change the stimuli. If you have things to do all day you will not have ideas about those things.

We are on holiday for a week tomorrow. I bet we come up with some good ideas. That's how it works.

No charge for this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


The title of this post is what my predicted text thinks the Gideons should be called. On the basis of a letter my colleagues and I received today I am tempted to agree.

You may recall that the Gideons are the folk who put Bibles in prisons, hotels and hospitals. I suspect their usefulness is coming to an end given that it is possible to get a free Bible app on most modern mobile phones. But they don't give up.

Their Bibles include a very conservative guide to reading them. The text isn't really allowed to speak for itself.

But the main problem my colleagues and I have with their invitation to nominate potential reps to come to a breakfast meeting is that the invitation is to think of men, who may bring their wives if they wish.

Our brief discussion, which ended in fits of laughter, involved pondering upon whether men in civil partnerships would be welcome. And if that isn't biblical enough for Gideons then perhaps I will take eight wives and some concubines. And Abishag the Shunamite - if she's available. Thoroughly biblical, that.

Hideous. In this day and age.

Quote of the Day

979. We live in the age of the victim: everyone can be excused his or her failings by appeal to something nasty that once happened or still happens.
(A.C.Grayling, The Mystery of Things)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

I love the late Frank Zappa. He produced a huge range of styles of music and thus has a back catalogue it is almost impossible to tire of. What is less well known is what an interesting interviewee he was, once he was pinned down to a proper conversation:

966. The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents - because they have a tame child-creature in their home.
(The Guardian, 'Family' 29/7/06)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

960. The ethos of Room 318 was one with which all BBC bosses should be tattooed: 'We're not here to give people what they want but what they didn't know they wanted.'
(Andy Kershaw, The Independent 7/10/05 on John Peel and John Walters' office)