By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

  • Nothing I Planned...

    Today I have done nothing I planned to do, but feel that I have, after all, achieved more than I hoped for (even in sabbaticals, the interruptions can be the most meaningful, it seems).

    All of which reminded me of this prayer:

    I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.

    I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

    I asked for health, that I might do greater things.

    I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

    I asked for riches, that I might be happy.

    I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

    I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.

    I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

    I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.

    I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

    I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.

    Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

    I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

  • Rubbish?

    I am getting back into the swing of starting my day with PAYG... how easy it is to let 'spiritual disciplines' slide, especially in an age of instant everyhting.  Anyhow, today's passage was part of Philippians 3, including Paul's assertion that:


    For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil 3:8b NRSV)


    Oh dear, sorry Paul, I cannot regard all things as rubbish, not even if I restrict that to the material, and absolutely not if I allow the more abstract things that delight...


    Thank you, God, for Pauline rubbish:

    For the warm, soft fur of pussy-cat cuddles

    The sunlight playing on the chimney stacks of Victorian houses

    The summer breeze tousling hair and tickling skin

    The soaring crescendo of birdsong, and pop-song, and symphonic works


    Thank you, God, for Pauline rubbish

    For the laughter of a shared ridiclous experience

    The 'aha' moments of new knowledge or insight

    The heartaching privilege of sharing others' pain

    The gentle silence of contentment


    Thank you, God, for Pauline rubbish

    Your outrageously geneous gifts of grace





    Better is one day lived in a Pauline rubbish dump, than a thousand elsewhere.

  • Wheat, Tares and the Inner World

    This morning PAYG centred on Jesus' explanation of the parable usually referred to as 'wheat and weeds' as found in Matthew's gospel (ch 13).  It's a parable I have preached on a few times, drawing out the justification for leaving the weeds/darnel in place until harvest (pulling them out would risk uprooting 'good' plants) and the divine acceptance that pulling them out has consequences ('good' plants may be choked or their growth inhibited, the 'good harvest' is less than it might otherwise be). 

    What PAYG offered today was another angle, that, as well as referring to the world as that which is 'out there', the parable could refer to our own 'inner world', our hearts and minds.

    This inner focus is, I think, both helpful and challenging.  It is helpful because it precludes any kind of 'us and them' attitude - it is not simply the case of 'Christians (my kind) = good; everyone else = bad', rather it recognises the inner blend of good and evil within each one of us.  This must surely force us to be a little more humble and a little less judgemental.

    Reading the parable this way offers a more gentle counterpoint to the extreme approach of amputation mooted in Matt 5 (hands, eyes etc. to be removed to prevent sin) suggesting instead that we are all a complex blend of intellectual and emotional factros, that we are influenced and shaped by our context and our epxeriences.  As a result, it isn't straight forward to 'dig out' that which may be 'bad'; indeed it may be preferrable to allow the 'good' to be less than it might be rather than risk losing it all together.

    When bad things happen in the world - as they do all too often - the cry goes up 'if there is a God why doens't he do something' or 'I can't believe in a God who would allow this to happen.'  But this parable, understood personally or corporately offers us a hint of a response.  It's not that good needs bad in order to flourish (that would be crazy), but that routing out bad as soon as it popped up might take with it actual, or potential good.  This does not mean. lest anyone wonders, that bad doesn't matter nor that we should adopt a fatalisitic attitude towards evil.  On the contrary, evil needs to be named, injustice addressed, lessons learned.

    What it does mean is that we acknowledge that in our broken and disordered world, and in our frail and finite lives, the two can be so closely intertwined, and sometimes so similar in appearance, that identifying and dealing with sin is not always so easy.

    This feels like a clumsy reflection, one very open to the 'ah but' type questions... I think what I am mindful of is that at a personal level, it may be that God allows my 'tares' to remain in place for now because to excise them might damage or uproot the 'seedlings' of hope or good that coexist.  Rather than complacent, or lazy, that makes me look at myself more realistically and perhaps a little more kindly -  and that's no bad thing.


  • Reflecting and Writing

    This week I need to concentrate on working with the results of my research questionnaire.  This morning I have spent a good three hours doing that, albeit with a half hour break after the first two in order to make, spill and mop up a mug of tea!  Note to self, large mugs full of tea, cluttered desks and the search for a pencil sharpener (failed) do not go together all that well.

    My questionnaire was quite long and it was mostly qualitative - in hindsight that may not have been so clever for many reasons:

    • anyone suffering from fatigue or going through intense treatment would struggle to get through it (unfortunately the £200 version of the software didn't allow partial responses to be saved and revisited - bah)
    • tick boxes are much, much quicker to collate and interpret, and would possibly have given answers that more directly the questions I thought I was asking - as it is I find that the answer to what I menat in, say, question 7 is actually given at question 15, or vice versa.
    • Exporting the results to suitable software to do any electronic searching, whilst possible, is not ideal - I seem to spend a lot of time reformatting the results to make them legible/usable.
    • A lot of time is needed to correct typos, not because I feel a need to but (a) because if it is ever published and I have quoted someone I don't want them to feel embarrassed if they recognise themselves and (b) someone left a comment about my own typos and gramamtical errors, maybe tongue in cheek, but I found it hurtful and lacking empathy.
    • I'm sure there are others but I forgot them - that's not me being flippant, it's something that remains true: I still find, after all this time that ideas fall out of my head before I can write them down; that as I reach the point in the sentence where I need to put the 'good word' I have forgotten it and can't find it; that my brain may be 90% recovered but the 10% that's addled was actually rather useful.

    At the moment I am undertaking a largely mechanistic approach, bringing into dialogue snippets from my own experience with the questionnaire replies.  It is proving interesting and lots and lots of thoughts, ideas  and questions are finding their way onto one of the few pieces of paper that escaped the tea-deluge (poor old BPW got drowned (baptised in tea?)for the second time since I bought it back in 1999).  I am sure there are more creative and more interesting things that could/should/will be done, but for now it's a case of plodding on... well as much as I can when Holly decides to lend her assistance to the procedings:


  • Pros, Cons and Walking Trees

    I have a soft spot for small churches, tiny churches even, and I knew when I set off this morning to visit one ouf our 'daughter' churches that she is always small and today may be tiny.  So tiny in fact that my presence accounted for 11% the congregatinn.  Still, substantially above the smallest I've been in which was three...

    There is nowhere to hide in a tiny congregation, and as three of the people there know me, no point trying to be incognito.  My tendency to 'sing out' did mean that no-one else could be heard, and I was  kindly complimented my singing.

    Worship was gentle and unhurried, with songs and hymns I have known for a very long time, and the majority of which have strong (positive) associations, not least my Baptism-cum-Ordination hymn.  Gathered in the hall (?) that lies between the front door and the sanctuary, we still rattled around a bit, but there was a nice atmosphere.

    The opening prayers were carefully and thoughtfully constructed and, for me, the high point of the service.  The sermon was a thoughtful exposition of Mark 8: 27 - 38, though I am not sure the excursus to explore the subtleties of 'confession' versus 'profession' was entirely successful (sorry!).  Etymology suggests that con-fession is 'acknowledged - with' and pro-fession is 'acknowledged - forth'... I think if I'd wanted to play with these words I'd probably have looked at the 'con' as corporate and the 'pro' as personal, and to be honest I'm not sure I'd have gone that way at all.  Nonetheless, there was good stuff to ponder, notably the paralleling of the immediately preceding story of the blind man whose sight was restored in stages (people looking like trees walking about) with Peter's declaration of Jesus' messianic identity closely followed by his equally strong rebuke.  That Peter had a decidedly blurred image of what a messiah might be, that needed to be further developed, was a valuable thread to explore, and to relate to our own ongoing disicpleship.  What do we envisage when we say 'Jesus is Messiah' and how much is that actually an walking tree rather than the real thing?

    Being the second youngest person present (by a not insubstantial number of years!) took me back.  These are good, faithful people, whose hearts are in the right place but, I fear, have become tired and disillusioned over the years.  As we drank tea and were offered a good selection of biscuits and cake, I chatted to the three people who moved from their seats - which happened to be the three I already knew.  The others took their tea back to their places (maybe they needed to sit down, that's fine) and chatted to those they already knew. I honestly don't think they meant to be unfriendly, indeed they may have been intimidated by this loud-singing she-preacher, but it would have been hard for a real stranger to feel much of a welcome had this been their experience.

    When I arrived at the church, deliberately close to start time, the solid front door was pulled almost closed; indeed, a casual on-looker would have assumed it was closed.  Pulling it open, I was greeted by a friendly door steward and shown in to the room, he then went to find me both a Bible and a hymnbook.  At the end, most people chose to leave by the back door - slipping through the sanctuary and away.  I left via the main door, which was pulled closed behind me, just as it had been when I arrived.  One of the things that has struck me with the two Glasgow-based visits has been the closing, even locking, of doors, and the leaving by alternative routes that only insiders know about.  I will need to give spome more thought to this, but physically closed outside/storm doors do send an undesirable, and unintended message, I fear.

    More positively, this church, like ours and like the other Glasgow church I visited, serve tea into the room in which people are gathered - there is no need to 'find' the hall or 'follow the crowd' (who never actually are a crowd) to get your refreshments, so you can't get lost or feel embarrassed  if you don't know the system.

    It takes a very real call to serve a tiny congregation, a very deep commitment to put to the work week by week and refuse to be disillusioned or disappointed to the extent you give up.  I admire the young minister of this congregation, and his willingness to walk with them.  Our little daughter is vulnerable and, preversely, older in some ways they we are, but you always love your children... May God bless you, minister and congregation as you continue to witness to Christ, and may God give you renewed energy to fulfil your calling.

    I know this may well be read by the minister of the church, and I hope it does not read too negatively, I enjoyed worshipping with you, was given something to mull over and felt welcome.  These visits as an 'outisder' allow me to spot thingss I wouldn't notice in my own church, and so give me lots of 'food for thought'.

    For any Gatherers reading - so far we still win the 'coffee and cakes' stakes!!