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  • And now for something totally ridiculous!

    Yesterday the NBC Class of 2002/2003 EMBA-HEBA deeply serious theolgoical reflection (not) group met for our occasional 'retreat.'  In the ladies' loo those of us permitted to enter encountered the following sign on the door - as far as I know the gents' had no such sign, which may speak volumes, but about what I hesitate to contemplate. 

    Apologies for the poor quality image - combination of camera-phone, giggling photographer and a cold day!  It reads 'if you require toilet paper please ask at kiosk' - and they meant it - we had to ask for and then return the loo roll!!!

    Anyway, it caused us much mirth and of course we then had a very in depth discussion on Deuteronomy 23: 12-14 - I don't think.

  • Advent Adventures!

    This year Advent is an interesting experience.  With only one service rather than two, and the need to juggle a carol service, Churches Together Christingle, a Christmas Eve Communion and a first ever ecumenical village Christmas Day service, to say nothing of a 'non-preaching Sunday' with a desire to have an Advent journey has been interesting.

    My congregation has a long established tradition of supporting Christian Aid's Christmas appeal, so I have rehashed the 'Home for Christmas' material to fit into Advent 1 and 2 (hence yesterday we had Jose and Tabita, next week Evalina and Edouard).  I had hoped that Christmas Day might draw on the same theme since the church 'up the hill' from our defunct edifice also has this practice.  Alas the church 'down the hill' does not & will not, so it may not come to pass - this year anyway.

    Advent 4 will be our carol service and a totally new experience as we use the BBC local radio Real Christmas broadcast in the local community centre.  Lots of wonderful ideas are emerging and we are anticipating a hint of Narnia with twinkling lights, a free 'bran tub' for kiddies, a festive tea for pensioners, and lattes, luxury hot chocolate (both fairtade of course!)  and Jamie Oliver style mulled cranberry juice for adults (don't want the temperance league down on us like a ton of festive bricks).  The absence of nativity play, collection plate and notices will be a challlenge to some folk but many 'little people' are getting involved.  It feels good. 

    Christmas Eve Communion will be a gathering in a family home and I am looking forward to creating something a little different for this.  There is something quite fitting about gathering in a real home to share in this way, as we hopefully have to cram in to a living room rather than our normal 'home'.   

    The ecumenical services are a great source of hope for us clergy types - and many of the folk in the congregations too, just not all, not yet.  The vicar grins incessantly at the thought of the shared Christmas Day service he's wanted for ten years, and the Methodist minister is delighted to be part of a functioning ecumenical scene.

    So, with only one sermon left to write this year (plus the 'talk' for the christingle) I must be an unusual preacher.  Instead I am freed to help others create acts of worship that will allow us all to experience a fresh sense of wonder at the story of new beginnings in borrowed rooms - something that resonates with our own story.

    Enough waffle, back to preparing for my wonderfully rewarding Advent Lunchtime reflection & prayer meetings which necessitate the making of large vats of soup...

  • Getting Out of the Saltshaker

    In my student days (first time around in the early 1980's) one of the 'must read' books seemed to be Rebecca Manley Pippert's 'Out of the Salt Shaker.'  It sticks in my memory because of its frank comment on how we tend to feel about evangelism - along the lines of it being 'something you wouldn't do to a dog, let alone your best friend.'  Not sure what the RSPCA might make of that, but it does have a ring of truth and it's stuck with me for two decades.

    Recently the phrase 'out of the salt shaker' has featured regularly in emails from one of my deacons who feels we are now, finally, starting to engage with the community around us.  Bit drastic having to actually smash the salt pot first, but there you go.

    Of course 'salt' is a metaphor which is no longer entirely helpful in a British context since we are being advised to use less and less of it.  Indeed, along with sugar, it's one of those things I buy about once in ten years (literally).  We no longer salt meat to preserve it or use salt to cleanse wounds, instead it seems to be used to kill slugs and melt the ice on our paths or driveways.  A little bit of salt might enhance the flavour of food, but too much could kill you.

    So, can we still use the Matthew 5:13 'you are like salt for the whole human race' (GNB) text related to mission?  I think we can, because our contemporary understanding of salt and its risks if overdone provides a helpful check in our approach to mission and evangelism.  We need to judge how much 'salt' we add - too little and the distinctive flavour of Christian hope is absent, too much and our evangelistic zeal becomes poison.

    Without the safety of our salt pot, we find oursleves automatically sprinkled more liberally (and evangelically!)(pardon the puns) in our community.  We have to build relationships with the staff of the premsies we book for worship or the 'mobile lunch club.'  We have to go out to where people are rather than waiting for them to come to us (a very long wait).  At the moment we are trying to work through some of the challenges this brings - some folk are concerned that as I get more involved with community roles my 'proper' church work will suffer; others see that the distinction is a nonsense.

    As we are forced out of our saltshaker, touching dogs, people and anyone/thing else in our path with the love of God, I feel that the 'salt' image is still valid.  I guess the next challenge is work out whether the salt should dissolve into its context or remain in granular form.  Answers on a postcard to the usual address!

  • Where does the comma go?

    It's almost Advent and the time to go back to those lovely familiar readings from Isaiah and friends.

    Today I have been mulling over Isaiah 40: 2 - 11 and finding myself challenged by the call to 'comfort my people' - i.e. to be gentle with my congregation - not always an easy balance with the challenges of life 'in the wilderness' as good old Moses shows us.

    I was also struck, for the second year running (was it prophetic last year?  Hmm.) by verse 3: -


    'A voice of one calling, "in the desert prepare the way for the lord"...' (NIV. similar NRSV, GNB)


    and its contrast with the synoptics


    'A voice of one calling in the desert, "prepare the way for the Lord"...'


    In the KJV the apparent discrepancy is absent.  So have the later translators changed the sense of it, did good old Q (or whoever) misquote Isaiah, is the LXX different from the Hebrew, or what?  Hopefully some clever Bible scholar out there can tell me (my Greek is bad, my Hebrew non-existent).  And if the two do differ, how does it matter?

    For my congregation, the 'placing of the comma' becomes significant.  It is in our 'wilderness' our desert place of seeking and wondering that we are to prepare for God's coming.  Perhaps somewhere in this sense of God coming into our wilderness experience are the gentle words and loving arms my folk need to receive?

  • To nuke or not to nuke? Power, that is.

    So the UK government has finally woken up to the fact that within 20 years we will have no power stations left. Amazing! When I began work in the civil nuclear industry two decades ago this was already a well-established fact. For the record, those within the nuclear industry pressed the ‘powers that be’ to invest in development of something – renewable sources (wind and waves), bio-fuels and even nuclear plant that far back. Many of us even supported the coal miners recognising the diverse benefits (including pharmaceuticals) that derive from carbon products.


    As a ‘tame nuclear professional’ I guess it is pretty obvious which side of the fence I stand on the issue. The truth is that the industry has been allowed to decline to such an extent that if we ordered a nuclear plant tomorrow it would probably have to be an imported design (like Sizewell) rather than home grown like my beloved Torness. Suffice to say, Sizewell has lots of features not found in US reactors because it would never have got licensed in this country without them. Further, you would never, ever, get away with a Chernobyl style reactor in this country (and never would have) despite the fact the real cause of the disaster was not the design but human wilfulness in breaking rules (is that what we minister-types call sin? I think it is).


    Before people start quoting all the old myths at me….

    Yes, there are leukaemia clusters around some nuclear sites, but also around many coal mines and even, reputedly, Arthur Scargill’s home! There is good evidence to suggest that, sadly, leukaemia and other cancers are more common among the ‘migrant worker’ populations that tend to gather around large industrial sites. If you are really concerned about the effects of ionising radiation, give up the trans-Atlantic flights and visits to Aberdeen or Cornwall! Oh yes, and stop drinking coffee, which is sufficiently radioactive that it would constitute low-level waste at a power station.


    Yes, nuclear waste does last for thousands of years – but so do thermo-set plastics, industrial chemicals and all the non-degradable stuff we put in landfill sites. It is a much bigger issue than one type of waste.


    Yes, nuclear accidents can kill and maim incredible numbers of people. Alas the internal combustion engine and tobacco kill far more every day of the week – yet we are happy to allow the former and struggle to outlaw the latter. Having worked in nuclear safety with its “belts, braces, safety pins, and a spare pair of trousers to boot’ mentality I am dismayed that we are blind to the inherent (and often unchosen) risks from other sources. Don’t move more than half a mile further from a nuclear site or the risk of being killed on the road will outweigh the benefits. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?


    Yes, it is true that wind farms and wave-powered systems are CO2 neutral, but don’t be fooled into thinking they have no environmental impact. Why do we put breakwaters on beaches – to stop long-shore drift. Anything we put in the way of wind or water affects its flow and will have some sort of impact. I doubt it’d be catastrophic like the greenhouse effects, but I don’t know what research has been done to think it through. Maybe you do and can tell me.


    The sad truth is that in the western world our electricity consumption is ever increasing – despite so-called energy efficient equipment – as we have TV’s in every room, several computers, endless kitchen gadgets and the like. If we are to sustain our current life styles we need to act and act fast. A new power station of any kind will take up to 20 years from design to commissioning – I don’t think HM government has time to prevaricate in this one. In the meantime I’ll start stockpiling nasty NiCd batteries…(or not).