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  • New Year's Eve 2016

    The Marmite jigsaw was a birthday present. It's double sided... On the front is a photo of a jar of Marmite, on the back a Warhol style montage of colourful Marmite jars.


    I completed it with the large image upwards... not easy and there were parts of the neck of the jar where I. "cheated" and assembled small areas upside down. Having completed the jigsaw, I carefully flipped it, to discover about a dozen pieces in completely wrong positions! A few minutes later and it was fixed, flipped and photographed. Great fun and totally blocked out any thoughts of church.


    They tell me there's a sermon in every experience. Not sure about that, but it did seem like a half reasonable metaphor for an end of year reflection. You get to the end, look back, spot some bits that are not properly aligned, then there is time to recall the memories, realign the insights, re-evaluate, whatever it is. You can't change what's been but you can work it into the picture in a more constructive way.... Well, that's what it seems to say to me.

    2016 has had it's share of challenges, struggles and disappointments, it has also had it's share of joys, happiness, laughter, love, good news  and more. As I sort the pieces and make a"jigsaw" of the year, the emergent picture is a good one.

    Wishing all readers a peaceful, hopeful and healthy. 2017.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - Christmas Day 2016

    This probably seems an odd choice of photo with which to end my 'Advent Calendar of Sorts'... a photo of me with my Mum taken during the summer of this year as she was settling into the care home, and I had been busy sorting, packing and clearing her flat.

    So why did I choose it?

    I chose it because it is the photo that most closely, however imperfectly, reflects three very special "gift" moments in the last twelve months.

    The first was 31st December 2015, when I took her out for lunch at one of her faovurite cafes in Northampton.  She ordered a veggie-burger and chips - much to my surprise (and indicative in retrospect that her mind was not as it might have been) - then looked up at me and smiled the most beautiful, beatific smile I have ever seen.  Within 24 hours she would be in hospital, and within two weeks a second emergency admission would spell the end of her independent living.  What a good job I could not know then howthe year would pan out.

    The second was the photo above.  It was a glorious summer day and we sat in the garden of the care home.  She agreed to the 'selfie' and smiled a real smile... another fleeting moment of happiness.

    Then on 12th December I made my December visit - a day that did not begin well as she was in high dudgeon about something!  Her room had been rearranged to a much more homely configuration and she really did seem to be settled, content and moderately happy.  It wasn't a "good" day and it wasn't a "bad" day but it had that fleeting moment when her face became radiant... and that was a gift.

    I think maybe that's what Christmas is about... Not everything magically made better.  Not even about significant changes or expensive gifts.  Christmas is about those fleeting, precious moments when heaven breaks through into earth... in the smile of an elderly woman or, indeed, the cry of newborn child.

    However your year has been, and whatever Christmas Day feels like for you this year, I pray that you, too, will be granted the gift of glimpsing the God who surprises us all simply by being born.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 24th December

    Christmas Eve.

    The morning was spent in a joyful time of excited children and welcoming parents as a family opened their home for us. Precious memories for the children, a few minutes relaxation for (some of) the parents.

    This afternoon was spent with another group of people making ready a room to welcome around 50 folk for Christmas dinner tomorrow.

    And this evening a dozen or so folk will gather in my kitchen (I think I've settled on the kitchen rather than the living room!) to share in a simple act of Communion.

    Christmas Eve

    When the exictement of small people is palpable

    When the stresses of last minute preparations stretch even saints to near breaking point

    When people gather in cathedrals and chapels, at hospital bedsides and in prison cells to remember a deep mystery

    The waiting is almost done, the shops will soon close and all will, for a day or so, be still and quiet.... at least outwardly.

    So now I pause with a hot cup of tea and choose to draw breath ... somewhere unobserved God is breaking into human experience with the gift of love and hope and peace and joy...

    Whatever Christmas Eve means for you, may it be blessed with love and laughter.


  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 23rd December

    The good ship oikumene (the Christian ecumenical movememt) can be a little wobbly sometimes... a small boat on a stormy sea, beset by squalls, sometimes leaky, sometimes people jump ship... but it's still good and I remain a fan.

    This year, because of how the Sundays fall, we'll be joining two other congregations, one on Christmas Day, the other on New Year's Day.  I am happy not only that these services are happening, but because, at least to a degree, they are really being shared.  So in each of them, I've been invited to read the gospel, and in each of them I will be entrusted with some of the prayers.  This is all good, and make my heart glad.

    For much of the time I was in Dibley, by force of circumstance, our Christmas Day service was a village affair (the Anglicans had silly o'clock communion first) and it became quite integrated, with clergy and people sharing in the planning, preparation and delivery.  I'm not suggesting that is the only model, or the best or right model, but it is a model.

    So, anyway, this year on two Sundays, Baptists and Presbyterians will join together to worship the one whose birth we are recalling... and that has to be good.

    Best get those prayers written for Sunday then!!

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 22nd December

    I found this RLS quote when looking online for a picture that described 'joy'.  I liked the quote better than any images I found!

    I have preached about joy, and blogged about joy, many times before: about how it is not the same as happiness, about how it is resilient and defiant without ever denying reality, about how sometimes it is uncontainable, about how sometimes it is like that tiny candle flame that defies the darkness.

    Yesterday morning came some good news that made my joy very effervescent!  A young woman in her thirties, who I got to know following her breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, gave birth to a son, her first born, conceived naturally despite chemo and hormone therapy... he really is a 'miracle baby' and from his first photo is really gorgeous.

    Today my joy is different, because another young woman in her forties who I got to know at the same time had a very different story.  With probably the best predicted prognosis of the entire group, she was left infertile and, tragically, her cancer progressed to Stage 4, a journey that ended two years ago today.  A kind, generous, funny, wise woman who never complained about her lot and whose friendship was, and is, a deep and lasting joy.

    When the news is full of tragedy, when people we love suffer and die, it can be hard to find joy... but the need to seek it is no less.

    And the mystery of joy is, that even in the darkness it sometimes bubbles up, unexpected into delightful giggles, exuberant dancing, beautiful music... or simply a quiet, inner smile.