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  • What...?!

    IMG_0395.JPGI arrived at Usahw on Thursday to find that one of the courses running in the confernece part of the facilities was this one.

    I hope it doesn't mean what it says!

    But the extreme smell of disinfectant on that corridor the next day did leave us wondering...!

    And was the power cut on Friday evening an omen, a sign or judgement upon us heretic proddies?  Hmmm.

    An interesting couple of days - though not down to the material being presented it has to be said.  Lots to ponder in the next few weeks methinks.

  • Well-loved tales revisited 2: Feeding the 5000

    This week at Dibley we are revisiting this miracle of Jesus by trying to see through the eyes of participants.  What might happen if we gave what little we had to the service of Christ without being too logical about possibilities...?



    We’d been together a while by now, my twelve apprentices and I.  Travelling around from village to village, town to town, we always drew a crowd: people who longed to hear my stories; religious folk wanting to check out that what I said was ‘sound’; sick people who longed to be well; lonely people, marginalised people and outcasts who just wanted to belong.  It was demanding work, tiring, and sometimes I just wanted a bit of space, time to think, time to pray, time to relax.  This day, like so many other days, the crowds who followed us everywhere gathered on the hillside – hundreds, no thousands of them, each one hungry for a new story.  As the time passed it wasn’t only their minds that were hungry – their bellies would soon be rumbling too!  I looked at my closest friends and wondered if they had yet begun to grasp what I was teaching them – I wasn’t sure they had so I asked one of them, Philip, a question, “where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”



    I was astounded when Jesus asked me that question!  Where would be buy them food?  It was late in the day, we were halfway up a mountain and who knew where the nearest market was to purchase bread or fish to make a simple meal?  And had he really realised how big the crowd was?  Must have been thousands of them, spreading out as far as the eye could see, young and old; men, women and children… I started to work it out… the price of fish, the cost of bread, it would cost…. Well at least 8 months’ wages!  Thousands – just to give them a little snack.

    I wonder sometimes about these crazy ideas Jesus has.  He doesn’t always seem well, practical, when it comes down to it.  Things like money or security or family ties, they just don’t seem to be in his list of priorities.  Even time out just for us seems to get squeezed – we set off into the hills for some much needed rest and prayer and then people come and he tells them stories, blesses their babies, heals their infirmities.  It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes he doesn’t seem to understand the limits of what we can do.

    Go and spend eight months’ wages on a picnic?  Even if we had the money, which we probably didn’t, though I’d have had to ask Judas to be sure, where would we find that much food at this time of day?  He’s just not very practical is he…?


    A Boy

    It’d been a great day, running though the grass, chasing my friends, being chased, watching the birds in the sky and gathering flowers to take home for mother.  Best of all had been the stories told to us by the rabbi Jesus.  He wasn’t like other people, he always had good tales to tell – about buried treasure or people who went to far away places – and he seemed to have such wonderful adventures himself.  I was tired by the time we sat down – a long day out in the fresh air had wearied me, and I was ready for my tea.  I opened my pack and took out my bread and fish.

    Just as I was about to take the first bite, one of his friends came my way, looked at my food and called out ‘look, here is a boy with five loaves and two fish – but how far will they go among so many?’

    I paused, and looked up.  Wow, Jesus was standing just feet away from me!  And it seemed as if he wanted to share my picnic!  What a story that would be to tell mother when I got home.  Quickly I gathered up the food and handed it to the man – Andrew he was called – who passed it to Jesus.



    Five loaves and a couple of fish – a child’s picnic.  How ridiculous!  That’s what I was saying when I spotted it – Philip is right, Jesus hasn’t a clue about practical matters it seems, a massive crowd, a command to give them a meal and all I can see is a child-sized meal.

    He seemed a nice enough lad, still young enough to believe he could change the world, that his dreams would come true, not enough knock-backs yet to realise that life just isn’t like that, that you have to be realistic about your expectations if you want to avoid getting hurt or disillusioned.

    But he was so excited!  The very idea that Jesus might want to share his picnic had him up on his feet and rushing to hand it over.  I’m not sure what he thought would happen – maybe that he and Jesus would share tea and a chat and that he’d have something to tell his family when he got home.  But none of us could have imagined what happened next!


    Woman in the crowd

    Suddenly people gathering in little groups and sitting down on the grass.  It seemed as if the walking was over for a while.  To be honest, I wasn’t sorry to sit down for a bit, it had been a long day.  Higher up the hill something was happening – it looked as if Jesus was holding a loaf in his hand and it sounded as if he was praying.  He broke off a chunk of bread and passed it one of his followers who did the same.  Soon it seemed that everyone was sharing food – bread passing from hand to hand, cooked fish being shared with friend and stranger alike.  I don’t know where it came from – perhaps people had had the foresight to bring picnics and were sharing them, perhaps a miracle was happening as Yahweh once more provided bread for his hungry people.  What I do know is that I had plenty to eat that day, and then when we’d all eaten there was so much left over that people came round with baskets collecting it up to pass on so that it wasn’t wasted.  We began to wonder who this man Jesus was – could he be the Prophet?  Almost as one, we found ourselves wanting him to be our King – perhaps we could make him King and then life would be so much better… but while we were discussing this it seemed he simply walked away.



    I still can’t get my head round it, I’ve no idea what really happened.  All I know is that suddenly everyone was laughing and eating and marvelling at who Jesus was and wanting to make him King and it was all so very exciting… and he just said, right, we’re going now, and off we went.

    Leaving the crowd still talking excitedly, we went down to the lakeside while Jesus went away to pray.  We waited ages for him to come but eventually we set sail without him – after all he could always take the coast path and meet us later.  It was hard work rowing through the night, but thankfully the lake was calm, no squalls to worry us. But what happened next certainly did!  Looking up we saw him walking on the top of the lake and saying in that way only he can, ‘don’t be afraid.’  He seems to say that a lot, usually when he’s about to terrify us one way or another.

    I’m still trying to make sense of it – it’s impossible to walk on top of water, you just can’t do it.  It’s impossible to feed a whole crowd with a few loaves and a couple of fish.  Yet Jesus did both of these.  I’m not entirely sure I understand why – when the people got excited and wanted to make him their king he walked away, that wasn’t what it was all about.  It’s not about personal gain or personal glory, it seems, but about bringing honour to Yahweh, to God.


    The Boy

    What a day that was!  I mean, I’m just a child, a nobody, and all I did was share my picnic.  No one will remember my name, no one will known what I’m really like (which is perhaps as well because sometimes I’m actually quite mean and often I get things wrong) but I know and he knows what happened.  I just did what I could.  Some people say that if you pray hard enough and long enough God will make everything right; some people say that God helps those who help themselves.  Me?  I say my prayers, well most of the time anyway, but I think you have to do things too.  All I did was give away one meal – but look what happened when I did!

    ~ " ~

    To him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine according to his power, which is at work within us, to him we give our little that he will multiply it greatly to the glory of his name.  Amen

  • Summer School

    SeminaryFront.jpgOff here tomorrow to learn to be a Catholic priest, no that can't be right, can it?

    Off to my DPT summer school at Ushaw College, the north of England RC seminary in Durham (no jokes about Pink Panther tunes please)

    The advance reading has not exactly inspired me greatly - a paper on why male Anglican clergy enter health care chaplaincy and one on linguistics finding a terminology to describe how Bible study groups talk about authority and interpretive liberty.  Hopefully what we do with said papers will be more enthralling!

    At least it's a chance to take a few days out from sorting heaps for shredding, recycling, binning and keeping!!

  • Well-loved tales revisited 1: The Good Samaritan

    Now this may come as something of a shock to some readers, but parts of the Bible are made up!  Jesus told tales - stories - to get people thinking.  A lot of the time he didn't explain them, centuries' worth of scholars and preachers have done that (or tried to anyway).  It never ceases to shock me that there are people who think the parable of the Good Samaritan is an historic event, but there you go.  All of this is by way of saying that since this is "just" a story no-one should get concerned that I dare to put words into the mouths of the characters trying to see things from their perspective.  Jesus is not recorded as having made any value judgements about the robbers, priest or levite, yet we tend to think of them as 'bad people' in one way or another.  Were they?  Was it really that simple?  Is it really that simple for us?

    The ideas aren't exactly original, but it's my attempt and may spark off ideas for others wanting to play in this way...


    The Man

    It’s a real nuisance having to do so much travelling for work, but there you go, it pays the bills and enables me to allow the children a few treats. The wife isn’t too keen – says she never sees me except every second weekend, says that the roads are dangerous with all these reports of bandits and robberies, but what am I to do? The boss says ‘go’ so I go. I know the road well by now, travel it every few weeks; it’s a familiar routine. Maybe too familiar – maybe I’m such a familiar sight walking along that stretch of road, carrying the same large pack that they knew I’d be coming. Who knows? Anyway, that particular day as I rounded the bend by the big boulder they pounced. How many? I don’t know. At least two, maybe more. To be honest when the fists are flying and the knives are out you don’t look do you? It was over pretty quickly and they’d gone – taking my pack, taking my robe, taking everything and leaving me lying there, beaten and bleeding by the road side.

    Representative Robber

    I’m a robber. Lowest of the low? It’s alright for you, nice house, donkey, holidays at lake Galilee, good seat in the synagogue. Some of us aren’t so lucky. As for those Romans and all their taxes to say nothing of the Temple – what a rip off that is, talk about daylight robbery! Take my hard earned cash and pay through the nose to swap it for temple coins to buy a lamb to purify myself…. I’ve got a wife and six kids to think about, never mind all this religious malarkey. Losing my job was the last straw, we need to eat like anyone else, and when my child got sick how was I meant to pay for medicine and doctors? What else could I do? And it’s not without risk, oh no. If the Romans catch you it curtains –nailed on a cross and left to die… who’d care for my family then? So I can’t get caught – have to make sure they can’t tell anyone who it was, and if that means a good beating…



    I was travelling towards Jerusalem that day on my way to the Temple to undertake my duties.

    This is what we do, why we are born, why we live… I am a priest, my father was a priest, his father before him and so on all the way back to Aaaron. There isn’t a choice about it, it’s just the way it is. Kept apart from other children as a boy lest I defile myself, I learned that it is a lonely life – a powerful one, a privileged one, but one with few friends. Indeed, the only people I was really allowed to mingle with were other priestly families, and then only after careful checks on cleanliness had been made. Keep yourself clean! Keep yourself clean! This was the phrase that haunted my childhood. When my best friend died I wasn’t allowed to attend his funeral because that would cause ritual uncleanliness…

    So when I was on my way to the Temple, needing to be there in good time to fulfil my obligations, to help others regain their own cleanliness you can see that I had no choice but to stay pure. Seeing a beaten, possibly dying man on the road terrified me. As he looked towards me I felt so guilty but those words rang in my mind ‘keep yourself clean, keep yourself clean.’ I had to get to the Temple clean-people were depending on me, so I carefully crossed away from him and hurried on to offer purification sacrifices on behalf of others…



    I was going out from Jerusalem that day, travelling part of the Jericho road on my way to visit relatives. We are not like other Jews, my father used to tell me, God gave us no land of our own, instead we were a special tithe, paid by the other tribes out of the bounty of the land. Our role is to support the priests and we have many tasks to fulfil, which mean we have to stay clean. It can make life difficult, but you have to do it, there’s no choice – people are depending on you. Just suppose you had come to the Temple to offer the sacrifice for cleansing after childbirth or illness and the priest said ‘I’m sorry I can’t offer your sacrifice because the Levite, who must wash my hands, is unclean.’ You wouldn’t be too pleased would you? I may not go out to work like the rest of you, and I may seem to have quite a privileged life, but carries a heavy weight of responsibility – I have to be very careful how I live because it impacts on so many others.

    I felt for him, that man lying by the road, bleeding and beaten, but there wasn’t anything I could do – time out from Temple service because I’d deliberately made myself unclean? Unthinkable. I had no choice, I carried on walking, carefully keeping a safe distance.



    Jericho to Jerusalem – yeah, I go that way quite often. I know the best inns to stay at, where the hay is fresh for my donkey and the food good. I know the spots to keep alert – where the bandits hide to leap out on unsuspecting Jews with more money than sense. I’m not so likely to get robbed, I’m a Samaritan – might as well have a big tattoo on my head saying ‘dirty foreign scum’! Not that there are no dangers, and the verbal abuse can be hard to cope with at times…

    Anyway, there I am minding my own business, when I come across a body lying in the road. Well I thought it was a body, but as I got nearer I could hear it groaning, so I knew it was alive. Another victim of the bandits, I thought, as I went over to take a look.

    Well, I did what anyone would do, didn’t I? This was a fellow human being in need – half-dead maybe, but still half-alive! How he squealed when I washed his wounds! By the time I’d got them all bandaged up – tearing my spare tunic for the purpose – he was sitting up and taking notice. I heaved him onto the donkey (who wasn’t too impressed) and set off for one of my favourite inns. The inn-keeper was surprised, to say the least, but took him inside and made him comfortable. I paid the going rate for a couple of night’s stay and promised that on my way back that way I’d pay anything extra.



    Surprised? You could say that! I knew the Samaritan well, one of my best customers: always paid in full, donkey well cared for and well behaved, great traveller’s tales to tell and exotic things to sell. Never seem him with a half-dead Jew before though! I mean, it doesn’t happen does it? They’re sworn enemies, won’t speak a civil word to each other, never mind get involved with each other’s messy lives…


    The Man

    After a couple of days rest in the inn I felt well enough to return home. My wife was a bit shocked by the sight of me, and gave me ear-ache about the dangers of travelling that road alone, but she was relieved I was alive. My boss wasn’t too chuffed about the lost merchandise, said I’d have to pay him for the losses. I have often wondered about the people I saw on the road that day. What was it that drove the robber to a life of crime and violence? Why does religious observance make people behave in ways that seem inhuman? Why would a foreigner stop to help his sworn enemy – goodness knows I’d have run a mile if I’d been able to when I saw him come towards me! I used to think it was easy, that I knew who was ‘good’ and who was ‘bad’ but now I’m not so sure…


  • Busy

    It has been a busy few days and the jetlag/carlag is starting to take hold even if I haven't crossed any time zones or international borders.

    Thursday morning was a 5a.m. start - I have long forgotten what these look like, though once they were a regular part of life when I used to join the Monday morning long distance commute which sees people travel half the length of the country to do their work (no, I don't understand the logic either).  East Midlands airport was incredibly busy with a queue for security the entire length of the check-in halls (so probably about quarter of a mile) despite the fact that all channels were open and staffed.  Progress through the queue was slow but steady apart from punctuations to allow those who had purchased queue-jumping tickets at £3 to push in ahead of us before being whisked through a dedicated security channel.  I'm not sure of the morality of money buying queue jumps - it just seems like someone cashing in on impatience and/or misery.  Anyway, the queue kept moving, via a very Alton Towers style maze (whereby you feel you're almost at the front of the queue then it twists and turns away again) and I passed through security just in time for the 'go to gate' message to appear - the furthest away gate of course which was probably quarter of a mile or so up and down stairs and along corridors.  I arrived at gate with about 2 mintues to spare - having arrived 90 minutes before boarding time!  Hey ho.  A good couple of days in and around Glasgow, sorting paperwork, looking at temporary accommodation and so on.  Amazing weather - I returned south (without the enormous queues for once) with more sun tan and more midge bites!

    IMG_0391.JPGSaturday's wedding went well and apart from some light drizzle the weather stayed fairly good  even some sunshine at one point.  Bride and groom enjoyed the ceremony and only managed to muff words with no legal significance (though the groom did say something about becoming the wife at one point!).  Some fun gifts illustrated my talk including an orange triangular boomerang - to symbolise the loyalty, love and trust that the couple pledged each other in their vows - a wedding candle and a Welsh love spoon (not to stir with!).  Decided I must be getting old as I found the disco way too loud, but it was a fun and joyful occasion.

    Yesterday I began a short series of sermons I am calling 'well-loved tales revisited' which picks up some of the best known parables and miracles of Jesus and looks at them afresh.  It's a bit of a cheat really - I looked at the lectionary and could not face preaching on the execution of John the Baptist so I used the Year C reading (the good Samaritan) for this week, and then spotted that next week year B has feeding the 5000.  My sermon used an idea pinched from the racial justice course of a week or two back, and had each character (except the donkey) justifying their actions and the man wondering why they each acted as they did.  I pointed out that in telling the tale Jesus did not judge the religious folk for behaving as they did, that is our eisegesis (reading in), and in telling their perspectives I drew on Torah references to priests and Levites, however our challenge is examine our own motives - are we more worried about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law?  As I had the man in the story say, 'why is it that sometimes religious people behave in ways that seem inhuman?'  Hmm.  It went down well and one of the folk who is a primary school teacher asked for a copy of it to adapt for her class assembly next term... wow!

    Two and a half hours driving later I arrived in Manchester to attend the service of the little church closing their building.  I took with me a card my folk had signed as a token of support.  It was a lovely service, rich in symbolism and reflecting the character of the fellowship there.  It was good to see some of the folk whose lives have been touched by this little congregation with a big heart, and a privilege to share this moment with them.  Any church that sings 'I am the church, you are the church' ('the church is not a building...') must have a healthy grasp of ecclesiology in my book!

    So, home again.  Today involves a 'pastoral lunch', contacting a potential preacher for my induction service at the church which isn't in Balamory (a suggestion made yesterday!) nor yet Glen Bogle or Brigadoon, and drawing up a massive 'to do' list for the process of moving.  All good fun - even if what I really feel like is sleeping for a week...