Tuesday, 22 December 2009


I’m down in lymington, hants, at parents’ new house and near brother’s family. Cousin Ian’s wedding in dorset on Saturday.
Was at Carl and Gail’s church yesterday, Lymington Baptist. A very creative audiovisual presentation of the Christmas message of the incarnation. Apparently there are seventy ‘sextillion’ stars in the known universe (who said science couldn‘t be racy!). The point being made that God the creator must be pretty big. Now hold fire, atheists. I myself sometimes feel the connection between ‘awesome universe’ and ‘big God’ can be made a bit too easily and sound a tad trite. What followed was the point that at Christmas, the lord of the universe was humbled to a baby in a manger. Contemporary christian apologetic and communication has for some time treated such ‘radical paradox’ or ‘extreme dramatic irony’ as a one of its hottest playing cards, unique selling points. Another favourite is the concept of grace, that you begin with acceptance by God as a platform for joyful service and pursuit of holiness - reversing the widespread idea of ritual and discipline as a route to or condition for acceptance. No question that these counter-intuitive reversals and paradoxes are at the heart of Christianity’s attractiveness - what help make it a ‘big idea’. Perhaps their emphasis is a key way to break down prejudice and barriers?

I’m thinking about the nature of Cn witness, trying to grasp more of the big picture. I’m engaged in a constant process of integration, endeavouring to see how the message of the gospel intersects with vast and inevitable human processes, eg the reality that people get set in their thought patterns and views, as adults, and become increasingly closed to change, and are daily swept away in their thousands by the grim reaper. Cheery eh? The human heart gets wrapped up in material comfort, and as my minister uncle put it, it takes ‘hard times’ to recreate an openness to spiritual reality.
I’m reading Richard Holloway’s ‘doubts and loves’. he advocates a theology of praxis instead of a theology of positivism, by which he means it’s more important to follow the way of Jesus than to believe the right things about him. He’s inclined to regard much of what the bible says, including the resurrection, as metaphor. A problem here is that the gospel narratives themselves contain earthy, flesh and blood detail. And he is suspicious of doctrine about Jesus, wary of folk who insist on regarding him in a particular way, or as ‘Lord of all’. Behind this is a suspicion of totalising systems. Paul though - his imagination was clearly captured by the idea of Christ as all-encompassing, and it‘s difficult to see how you can be passionate about believing in and following Jesus if you limit him as holloway appears to do…

Sunday, 6 December 2009


What has been going through my head lately? Have been watching ‘the history of Christianity’ on bbc4. The final part will look at the future of the faith in western Europe, where it was acknowledged there is currently widespread indifference. ‘should God be worried?’ I’m interested in rob’s comments under previous post considering how the life of faith is best understood in process and action. I agree that truth is often seen most plainly when it is embodied and lived out.
I’m intrigued by how all sorts of things that engage the public imagination relate to what life is ultimately about. Take strictly come dancing. Why is it so popular? (I watched it last night with a friend for the first time - won’t be making a habit of it, but…) so what are the elements? Well it’s obviously beautiful and spectacular to watch - well, some of it. I’m looking for the synthesis here, what are the core human desires, motivations, and how do they fit in the big picture? (obviously the x factor mines a similar well). The celebrity factor. What is the draw of celebrity? I’m a celebrity get me out of here? What is the magnetic attraction? Why am I not so drawn to it? People you see in the public arena, you get to know them, my life is ordinary, this person has an extraordinary life, a larger than life persona, and so I want to follow the person, their journey..
The endeavour. There’s a pursuit of excellence, a competition, a striving to overcome hurdles, to be the best.. We enjoy witnessing the human effort to excel. The judges. These are the authorities, the experts.. What did they think? Their view is the one that matters. My friend commented on the fairy tale quality, the escape. Escapism - what’s that about? The desire to see a world of beauty and drama. These are just freewheeling thoughts, but I’m intrigued by how they relate to larger but perhaps dormant human aspirations - for heaven..?

I read an article in Christianity magazine October suggesting that ways of doing church there may not work here since the spiritual climates are so different. It suggested the US is in nt terms like Jerusalem at the time of revival, Britain more like sceptical Athens.

And finally, also been watching ‘life’ on the beeb. The beauty of a jellyfish, pulsating lace of infinite delicacy. Ethiopian wolf stalking a mountain rat, it’s low slung body a taut spring, ears pricked, a model of focus and precision in nature’s no safety net struggle to win and survive. Nature’s spectrum, elements that entrance and captivate, elements that disgust…

Saturday, 21 November 2009

a hell of a dilemma

A recent post of Jonathan’s, ’babies in hell’ on his musings blog, has prompted me to offer an initial salvo of response. being in the missions business, in the arena of commercial radio, I guess it’s important to have a grasp, even if it’s a developing one, on what I think about such big picture concepts as hell.
At the root of the problem is the question of how we square the apparent bold simplicity and clarity of nt teaching that salvation is found in turning to Christ in repentance, and the complexity of the real human situation. For me intellectually to accept such a concept as hell, it helps to at least have some sense of how it relates to people‘s actual lived experience.
What is hell about? The bible does talk in places, in the nt especially, in apparently quite aggressive terms about eternal punishment and being thrown into a lake of fire‘ - this language is there. But who will go? The thrust of the nt is that this teaching is directed at those who reject the love of God, and eg in revelation 20, 21 it lists those who are hardened in an array of sins… Now this resonates with reality. Thinking, speaking, doing wrong does have a progressive, cumulative hardening effect on the heart, you lose sensitivity and joy. Eg I recall hearing teaching on the effect of habitual porn - it deadens and isolates cos it cuts you off from relationship, you become a shell of a person, as jesus warned about the path begun by a lustful look if not checked… so in real experience hell begins to be comprehensible.
God is not always and in every way obvious. It’s easy to caricature him as an evil sadist if you want to. But I can at times have a sense of the numinous, that I’m not alone, and of ‘eternity in the heart’, I feel drawn into a spiritual relationship, and yes I believe JC clarifies Who it is I’m relating to. But I have to follow that beckoning of awe and allow my whole being to unfold in response, not make an idol of science or rationality and so dull and close my sense of the spiritual. Parts of the bible are not easy to grasp, and without a willingness properly to engage with it, I can take an intellectual scalpel to it and set up my own horrible caricatures of a God as a baby torturer and so on. But with an open heart it is a vast house of light and treasure. And I don’t think you need me to tell you it actually says nothing about babies and hell.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

remembrance day thoughts

In his remembrance day message this morning, our minister Robin Gamble at holy trinity idle described a visit to the Somme and referred to the inscription to all the men who had died unidentified, simply ‘known unto God’. a powerful moving thought. It also brings to mind a reason john piper in ‘desiring God’ gives for believing in heaven and eternity, that he finds it inconceivable that something as beautiful, complex and mysterious as the human personality, should at death simply cease to exist. Like the suggestion that there can be no ultimate or purpose or meaning in life because no God, the idea that death is the end, kaput, that’s it, is the kind of assertion made by atheists that stretches credulity because it flies in the face of what our deepest intuition suggests to us. The atheist of course can and does respond that this is a mere comfort blanket, that the believer is taking refuge in a delusion. But this is where the broad picture needs to be surveyed: the evidence that God has communicated, and the experiential testimony that he does prove faithful and meet need.

Robin also delineated three broad stages in the bible’s portrayal of and thinking about war: the accounts of apparently pretty blood thirsty behaviour in the early OT, around 3 and a half thousand years ago when the Israelites were carving out a place for themselves, and when cultural norms were very different. But then the later OT, the prophets, when a consciousness emerged in the jewish nation that they were called to model a radical peace - ‘swords into ploughshares’… culminating in the high point of Christ’s ethical teaching of forgiveness and love even for enemies. The question is, does this model of an evolving ethical consciousness have to conflict with the idea of a God who is eternally the same? Progressive revelation?

Saw some of the secret life of berlin on beeb 2 last night, about the years leading up to the fall of the wall. Struck by the prominent role of the churches in stimulating a peaceful revolution.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

a spot of lit crit

I’m reading a book that has been talked and raved a lot about by Christians in the past year or so: ‘the shack’ by William P Young. It’s very readable and offers fresh revelatory perspectives on God, especially the persons of the trinity and the relationship between them, and on some of the riches of the life of faith; but as fiction and writing I’d say it’s not great. There’s too much tell and not enough show, so that many of the depictions, especially of Jesus relating to Mack, are saccharine, a bit cringey, cheesy, and leave me cold.
I’m struck by the contrast with the powerful emotional effect of the last half hour especially of the recent bbc ’emma’. now jane austen cd be considered a bit girly, but getting past the frocks, bonnets and other period frippery, I have to say, I was impressed, and I’m interested how the story achieved its effect. The crunch comes when emma learns that her less sharp-witted friend harriet has feelings for the gallant and principled mr knightley - life long friend of emma - and when she’s given reason to believe the feeling may be mutual. The threat reveals to her her own love of knightly, and she laments that she’s been so busy looking after other people’s hearts that she’s neglected her own. The girl who has up to now been rather snobbish and feels immune to the currents of love ordinary flesh is heir to, is suddenly vulnerable, her heart exposed. She had taken a significant step toward humility in her penitent response to knightley’s rebuke over her treatment of miss bates, and now her journey is completed. So we as the audience has moved from dislike to sympathy - our heart goes out to her, and the stage is set for the happy resolution.
Anyway that’s my lit crit over for one day. I studied this one at uni, that’s my excuse.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

the big move

Like buses: no post for two months, and then suddenly two on one day. I’ve just been up at my parents’ old house in bridge of weir, near Glasgow. They finally moved south to lymington near Southampton today, after nearly 27 years at The Laurels in BOW. A father and son team swept through the house like a force of nature, driving us on to clear stuff as fast as possible from shelves and cupboards. Mother was somewhat flabbergasted how much stuff there was in all kinds of nooks and crannies.
I wonder what they made of us? In churning through all the stuff, they quite possibly picked up that we’re a ‘religious’ family. I’m struck by the contrast, between their ruthless practicality and efficiency, and the sheer impracticality, inefficiency, apparent intangibility of the ‘religious way’ as it CAN so easily be lived. Strikes me it’s so easy to make religion a fantasy land, a comfort blanket. To some extent I feel I lived it like this a lot in the past. You don’t feel any kind of ‘practical pressure’ from God - that comes from other people and the circumstances of life. But Christianity could lay claim to being a very practical faith, and Jesus was a man of sweat and blood and tears. How do I work out my faith so it engages, is relevant to, has purchase with people who are by nature ruthlessly practical?

alone in the wild

i wrote this a month ago but then my laptop broke down, so here it finally is...

I recently watched the channel 4 three parter, ‘alone in the wild’, following the experiences of a scot called ed wardle who was (of his own volition) deposited in the Yukon wilderness in Canada and left to fend for, and film, himself. Have to admit I was hooked from the start. Apart from anything else, he sounded intriguingly like a friend from Helens burgh who’s currently in New Zealand. I’d seen another solo tv explorer Benedict Allen wandering around Mongolia with a camera attached to his body with a similarly intriguing contraption, in ‘edge of blue heaven’ a few years ago. Now my sister and her partner who’s a mountain leader were of the opinion that this guy ed might have enjoyed the experience rather more if he’d had a companion, and they of course have a point; as it was he spent a lot of time feeling hungry, afraid (of bears), lonely and generally miserable. But on the other hand, his condition of aloneness, the vulnerability that engendered and the sense of watching a human being in an extraordinary situation being pushed to his psychological limits, for me made a very compelling programme. In the end, he gave the impression of being subject to an experiment into profound aspects of the human condition (not to put it too grandly!). One friend has commented that he cried too much, and he was indeed pretty distraught by the last episode. All I would say is, how would any of us be feeling after forty plus days on our own in the wilderness! (sorry racheJ). it’s funny how different things move us or leave us cold (or irritated). There’s plenty of emotional stuff in tv and films that I find pretty saccharine, but I’m not ashamed to say I actually really felt for this bloke in his distress! Witnessing a person undergoing perhaps the worst kind of emotional/psychological trial - prolonged solitude - for real, no acting. Solitary confinement is after all used as a form of torture.
But of course it’s hardly news that we need people. What left me pondering more was his comment about the wild itself, how he came to feel it was indifferent to his needs and suffering, it was just there. Interesting how his perception of it was affected starkly by whether he was well-fed or hungry (the latter most of the time). With food in his belly, he could see its utter beauty; famished and deteriorating, he saw it as ugly and hostile. This gave me a fresh perspective on nature, its relationship to God and man. In its lone raw ferocity and grandeur, it can feel like an enemy, yet in the religious view it is considered to be the creation of a being who cares deeply and tenderly for humanity. It’s not easy to reconcile these perspectives on God.. and yet could not a proper pondering of them lead to a richer, synthesised and ultimately more satisfying view of God? Quite possibly methinks…

Saturday, 17 October 2009

halloween party

radio script- revised

FX: halloween party atmosphere

A: What is it about Halloween that brings out the strange human urge to look like a complete freak?

B: What ya talking about?

A: Well just look at her – big nose, wart - I take it she’s a witch. I mean, if you're gonna turn up as a woman with supernatural powers, why not go for the hot pants and the bullet deflecting bracelets? She just looks like an extra from the Addams family.

C: D’you mind? That’s my girlfriend.

B: Lighten up mate. It's just a bit of fun.

A: And what’s THAT? Looks like it's come back from the dead – and what’s it eating?

C: That’s my girlfriend!

B: It's a zombie y’thicko.

A: Ooh, scary. But they’re not real though are they.

B: No. Hang on though. Supernatural power? Coming back from the dead? Sounds a bit like that Jesus bloke dun’it?

A: Yeah. An’ he WHA real.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Something for the summer

A couple of radio thoughts in the pipeline for august...

Now last time I checked, we were supposed to be in for a barbeque summer. I had the flowery shorts, the sausages ready, everything. So what happened? Looks like it got rained off. Can you rely on anything these days? Well hang on, I just read something about a steadfast love that lasts forever. Wasn’t talking about the missus. Or the dog. Or my relationship with Facebook. It was about the love of God. Solid. Strong. Reliable. Like my new barbeque set. I think. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

music bed: always take the weather with you- crowded house

While we’re all a bit strapped for cash, we’re happy to do without some things, like nights out, and the trip to Barbados. But we don’t want to miss out on stuff that helps us stay in touch, like the mobile phone and black berry. We like to be connected. Some people are looking for a spiritual connection as well. Exciting to think the feeling could be mutual – that God might just be looking for us. King of the universe, just a prayer away. 24/7, waiting to hear from you, and from me. For free. (pause). You won’t get that from your average network provider.

music bed: valerie- steve winwood, or connected- stereo mc's

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

cruel nature, percolating spirit

Watched south pacific on bbc4 last night. some brutal instances of nature red in tooth and claw: man o' war birds with hooked bills plucking isolated tern chicks from cliff edge, then waving and snapping them in mid-air, helpless rag dolls. tiger sharks ambushing ungainly albatross chicks from below; nightmare from the deep, a ton or so of raw sinuous power thrusting torpedo-like to the surface and seizing the frail bird in its vice jaws, engulfing the doomed creature that flounders like a broken kite. but then the other, glorious side of nature, a super-pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf against backdrop of lord of the rings new zealand peaks, looping and jumping with the joy of being alive.

been pondering the stumbling block that can be posed by considering the bible to be the 'word of God' in a neat, boxed-in way. so conceived, it is all too easily blown aside for many by the stormy complexity of life, like a house of cards. it's only as i enter it with the expectant questing spirit of a child exploring a broad enchanted country, that i can submit to its wisdom, allow my spirit to percolate and revive in its truth, and then go out to be an agent of change in the world, broken bread and poured out wine. it's something to aim for anyway.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

High days in Haworth

Last Sunday afternoon, solstice, visited the Bronte mecca of Haworth. Bizarrely, a sixties weekend was in full swing; the home of the world's most famous literary family, was taken over by Bee Gees impressions, pink flares and bad Elvis wigs. Brilliant.
Hiked up to Top Withens, remote farmhouse ruin and supposed inspiration for gothic masterpiece Wuthering Heights. The stone plaque, placed there by the Bronte society in 1964, assures 'in reponse to many enquiries' that the farmhouse could only have been an incidental inspiration, as even when intact it bore no resemblance to WH. ('wuthering' apparently describes the kind of turbulent weather found on the yorkshire moors. Fortunately when I went, it was sunny).
On the way up I passed two friendly young women out to get trim. And then I passed them on the way down. Took a detour, and passed them again. And again. At one point I even back-tracked, thinking I hadn't come the best way, so passed them in reverse before revising my decision and overtaking them again. Frankly, it all got a bit silly. But we laughed about it.
Back in Haworth, stopped at the Old Hall Inn for a slap-up bangers and mash. As the outdoor table I sat down at was on a bit of a slope, the gravy flowed inexorably to one end of the plate and had to be marshalled with some dexterity.

On a (recently rare) spiritual note, I'm reading through Oswald Chambers 'My Utmost for his highest'. Let's be honest, for both atheists and Christians/people with a faith - we have some common ground here - God's reality and presence is far from 'obvious' all the time. It's quite possible to get through a day giving Jesus or the divine barely a thought. But OC constantly challenges me with the message that the spiritual is real. And that by 'doing the duty that lies nearest', taking a step with the little light you have and thus living in dynamic relationship with God, life can become a scene of constant unexpected delight, wonder and surprise. Rock and roll.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Wimbledon church

Radio script (with tennis and crowd sound effects). Go to www.audiopot.org to listen to a sample...

And welcome to church. Break point. Ethel to serve. First act of service. Oh and it’s big, WARM hug at the door, picked up well by Stacy, returns nicely. Arfur, drop shot compliment, nice touch, placed beautifully, back hander but that’s ok, well received. Excellent conversation over there, deep, wide. Ooh and that’s a savage attack on Nigel but he blocks well, gentle reply, all smoothed over. Stacy almost slips through the net but picked up, great recovery. Oh and look at Ethel, great speed across the court, full stretch, going the extra mile. And a parting shot from Nigel, ‘I forgive you’, struck sweetly, absolute winner, Arfur left rooted to the spot, quite speechless.

Umpire: Advantage church

Commentator: Well that was a joy to watch, absolutely glorious. This game certainly isn’t over yet.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


Much of last weekend was spent in the capacious Peel Park, soaking up the atmosphere and contributing to a good cause at the world famous (well, sounds as if it should be) Bradford Mela, 21 this year. I joined a group of young christians, some with mild hippy leanings, who go to a groovy-sounding church called 'soulspace'. They were representing a campaigning and networking charity called 'Speak'. The event title: 'Little Big Dress' - a spin-off of a fair trade campaign years ago called Big Dress, which involved the production of thousands of tiles of fabric stitched together into a giant lady's garment. They'd assembled a Mongolian style yurt (large round tent structure presumably designed to withstand the ferocious conditions of the mongolian steppe) and covered it with this colorful patchwork quilt. Now why didn't I take a picture of that?
All of which served to remind me - except the dress - of a heady trip 11 years ago across vast expanses of nothingness on board the Trans-Mongolian Express. With a travel agency which charged the earth called, suitably enough, 'Monkey Business'. Sharing a cabin with two English lads who'd been teaching English in Hiroshima and were now heading to the Paris World Cup. Of a large male American passenger who, upon realising somewhere several hundred miles from anywhere that the train was running a day late due to striking Russian workers, declared that he was being 'held against his will' and insisted on leaving the train and being escorted to the nearest airport. I wonder whatever happened to him.
But I digress. Amongst the attractions of the Speak venue was a drumming workshop, where an enthusiastic African in trad dress sat in a circle of bongo drums and diligently tried to instil a sense of rhythm into an optimistic cross section of the general public. Also a very popular face painting corner which drew kids and their parents like bees to a honey pot. And a short drama about fair trade, in which I played the personification of an evil multinational corporation bent on squeezing as much out of poor exploited developing world workers as I possibly could. And cackling diabolically at appropriate moments. What can I say. Typecast as usual.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Vulture networking

Weekend before last, when high pressure was melting the country, did a couple of nice walks. One with a group taking in Kirkburton village, Castle Hill and Emley Moor TV tower near 'uddersfield', tallest free standing structure in the UK. Fine aerial view of a cricket match from the hill as well.
And then Sunday afternoon, a solo tramp across Ilkley Moor, which sports what's called Yorkshire's unofficial anthem, Ilkley Moor bar 'tat (i know i've spelt that wrong..) Well, I went with a hat - a very fetching sun one. The moor ends abruptly at a road and Dick Hudson's pub, where I stopped for a shandy. A shimmering of black manes in distant field as a posse of horses cantered off.
Mon to Weds just gone, churches' media conference in Swanick, Derbyshire, examining the impact of the media, and potentially of people of faith within it. Some pretty high-powered not to say esoteric discussion. And an array of high-powered media types to boot. One of the trickiest christian events I've been at to just go up and talk to people over coffee. At one point I sat down and said hello to someone who also seemed to feel a bit outside the goldfish bowl. She turned out to be one of the fringe event speakers and a 'Dr' no less from the Faraday institute of science and religion in Cambridge. She introduced me to the term 'vulture networking' which, as it suggests, means to circle round particular individuals with a view to getting what you can out of the encounter. Apparently the key is to network in a spirit of generosity, trust and respect, and so be a 'star networker'! Rock on.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Bala weekend

Seem to have been struggling to fit the old blog in of late. So just a few lines today, catching up on one or two recent activities. A couple of weeks ago was at Lake Bala in North Wales for a weekend. Beautiful spot, mixed weather. Took part with a group in a high wires course, run by some rugged outdoor types in a company called 'Get Wet'. Discovered I'm perhaps not quite as terrified of heights as I'd though, skipping from rung to rung like a monkey (and probably looking like one). The whole escapade ended with a rope slide.
Then there was a cycle round the lake, past a picturesque Welsh railway station. And that evening, after some worship, watching Jade do her thing and get poked in the face by the violinist, and a drink or two, a few of us found ourselves in an welsh pub under the quaint delusion that a shot or two of the local brew somehow qualified us to be rock stars. I belted out Daydream Believer followed up by I'm still standing (happily I was), rounding off with Englishman in New York, which the karaoke master insisted I adjust to Englishman in Wales. One or two of us also tried to help some more intoxicated punters make it through a couple of fast moving and by no means straightforward Queen songs, namely Don't stop me now and Killer Queen. They really needed help.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Another radio piece based on Britain's got talent, which will have Britney Spears Toxic running underneath it...

So, another year, and another run of Britain’s favourite talent contest is drawing to a close. Well that’s a relief; I’m not sure how many more singing dogs and dancing hamsters I can take. Of course, it’s had its moments. A certain feisty Scottish lady’s showed us you don’t have to look like Leona Lewis to carry a tune. And, no surprises, we’ve had a string of new show-stopper put downs from Britain’s favourite talent scout. So what can we take away from it all, besides the memory of a bloke farting his way through a Strauss waltz? Well, I’ve been thinking about those poor deluded souls who wind up on stage doing something they can’t do very well – and getting panned for it. About the words of the judges they listen to. Crikey, if I had to put up with the barbed comments of big Mr C, I think I’d be cowering in a corner. So it’s a good job there’s one voice out there that’s got something a bit more positive to say about me - and about YOU. God says you’re the apple of his eye, and that you’re written on the palm of his hand. Not bad eh? Hmm. Maybe I should think about entering that talent show next year after all…

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Everyone's got talent

Radio script idea based on 'Britain's got talent'.

Simon Cowell:

Hello sweetheart, and what do you do?

Contestant A: I remember people’s birthdays.

SC: Ok, and how long have you been doing this for?

A: Since I was about twelve.

SC: Right, and is it just family birthdays, friends?

A: Everyone’s really, neighbours, pets, lolly pop lady.

SC: Well, it’s certainly unusual. So how did it all start?

A: I gave a birthday card to my teacher once, she was chuffed to bits. That was it, I was hooked.

SC: And do you have any special methods?

A: Not really. Just the colour coded diary. And a fluffy pom pom page marker.

SC: You're certainly taking this seriously. Ok, you’ve got two minutes to remember as many birthdays as you can. Bonus points if you remember mine.

Tag line: In God’s eyes, everyone’s got talent. What’s yours?

SC: (under breath) Just don’t remember the year.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Ruby milestone, Mission net

Ensconced in the summer house, at home In Scotland on a fine April morning.. Brother’s family also up for the week from sunny Lymington. Iona, now four, has recruited me to bedtime story duty; and first time to see young Rose at six months. So a family affair.
The pretext: parents’ ruby (40th) wedding anniversary yesterday. A certain Kaiser Chiefs song has been running through my head. Also struck by the variety of high class cards designed specifically for this occasion, and that somehow all the senders had managed to select a different one. Well done everybody.

Mission Net, Germany: the once every three years or so European youth missions conference, held this time in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. I was recruited from the HCJB UK office, along with one of our missionaries in Ecuador, to join German brothers Marco and Stefan to staff an exhibition stand for HCJB, in an exhibition jungle. HCJB’s slick new banner design features a yellow sofa with big black arrow pointing up from it, to the slogan ‘Be the voice and hands of Jesus’. A fellow exhibitor’s first impression was of an Ikea advert; not quite the clarion call to save the perishing we were after then. Back to the drawing board? Or maybe just a bit of tweaking.

Marco and Stefan, a priceless double act, relentlessly cheerful, both tech wizards, great fun.
A closer reflection of the spiritual impact of this event will have to wait, for now it’s just broad impressions: world mission dynamo George Verwer with his ‘world atlas jacket’ and giant inflatable globe. Spanish mime supremo Carlos Martinez, speaking an international language. Brilliant translators. Crowds. Worship. Buzz. Sourkraut. (actually, not that one). More to follow…

Monday, 16 March 2009

Barden Fell

Saturday, a group of us went for a hike on Barden Fell, near Skipton. Mix of sun and cloud produced some beautiful light effects. High stone bridge over broad shallow river, the kind where you could imagine a fly fisher’s line creating calligraphy in the air. Great noble ridges bathed in milky light. Dry slender leafless trees caught by rays through cloud. A landscape of wild rugged romance; ‘God’s own country’, the land of Wuthering Heights. That said, it was also baltically cold at the top.
Its hills and views are also a key part of Bradford’s charm, especially the descent from Wrose. A city full of panoramas of stone terraces and blackened wool mill chimneys.
Saturday night at HTI (Holy Trinity Idle), the ‘100 days’ celebration of the arrival of new vicar Robin Gamble. Bradford born and bred, a natural evangelist who set aside 100 days to listen - to God, the church, and the community. Seeking to strike a balance between cherishing the church’s history and each member of the congregation, and moving forward into a bold new future. The vision for the coming year, to be a beautiful community of people, free of power politics, who truly love each other. How does that sound?

Monday, 9 March 2009

Final answer?

Draft radio script based on 'Who wants to be a millionaire?', for a Yorkshire FM station, hopefully for Good Friday... 'Millionaire?' type tense music bed to go underneath.

CT (Chris Tarrant): Welcome back to the show, where Derek is already sitting on a big prize… Del, you know what’s at stake here. You ready for the final question?

D: Ready Chris.

CT: Let’s take a look.

CT: What’s going to be the NUMBER ONE goal in your life? Will it be: A – a fabulous body? B – a happy family? C - to get stinking rich ? Or D - friendship with God?

Del: Crikey.

CT: That’s one way of putting it. (audience titters).

D: Well, let’s go through them.

CT: Take your time.

D: The body‘s certainly tempting. Envy of my friends. Women falling at my feet.

CT: Now Derek, I’m sure that’s happening already. (audience titter)

Del: I wish.. But then, I’d give a lot for my family to be really happy.

CT: Wouldn’t we all.

D: ‘Get stinking rich‘... Lot to be said for that too. Not having to worry about the future. Keeping up with the Jones’s .

CT: Not to be sniffed at. Specially in these times.

D: Yeah.

CT: So I take it you’re ruling out friendship with God?

Del: Tricky one isn’t it? I suppose considering He’s the one running the show, it couldn’t be a bad thing.

CT: Can’t see him though can you? Money, good body, those are things you can see and touch.

D: Yeah… But a great body’s not going to stay that way is it? And money can buy you stuff, but can it make you happy?

CT: This is getting a bit deep for a quiz show (titter). Ok Del, but happy family, your nearest and dearest. Surely that’s gotta be number one.

D: I dunno. I’m just thinking about, you know, Jesus on the cross, how much he put on the line for me. I’ve just got a feeling that if you’re friends with God, that might take care of the other things too.

CT: Sounds like a gamble to me. It’s your decision Del.

D: Think I’m gonna go for it Chris. Yep. D Friendship with God.

CT: Final answer?

D: Final answer.

CT: We’re gonna take a break, be back shortly. (audience groans)

(Out music)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The turning world

Foothills of the French Pyrenees, late December. Early morning, sun’s radiant ball peeks shyly over world’s horizon to kiss the earth hello. Gentle curve of cornfield, chill, dun-coloured, dormant, imperceptibly transfigured to golden hue by breath of warm life. My shadow forms from thin air, tall field sentinel.

Midday. Southern European latitude. Sun higher in the sky. Noon light heavy, flat, oppressive... Then towards day’s farewell, shadows lengthen, colours deepen, landscape is reclothed with intrigue, enticement. Distant rose-tipped peaks kiss the eye and awaken longing. Lilac cut-out mountain chain: outline of peak against sky, stark and jagged, a fairytale battlement, a playground for the children of giants.

Tea time, and a scene change, imperceptible and huge, on nature’s stage. Garish loud sun has sunk to slumber. Night: sleight of hand, thick, black, felt. Safe, daytime rhythms and murmurings cease… a vast hush. Chill cavern of darkness pricks nocturnal denizens to twitchy, saucer-eyed alertness. A fox‘s screechy bark. Owl‘s ghost call, warm, wise. From another world, preternatural, comforting: an echoing tunnel of ‘o’s, smoke rings of sound.

Stars. Beauty unimpeded by urban glare. Churning, boiling, nuclear engines hurtling through space; but to the human eye, winking, beckoning friends. Their array familiar and unchanging, across aeons. Mythic constellations, vast epistles delicately suspended. Eye rests, mind expands and contemplates. Earth, this sapphire gem, this wilting greenhouse: a speck of cosmic dust spinning in vast immensities. What ineffable power, what deep wisdom, holds together these two universes, starry vault and human mind, in this communion of awe?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Off the naughty step

I'm on a bit of a roll with these radio thoughts, so may as well make the most of it.
(And I have still been reading those comments, including today one from Rob about 'allowing yourself to be drawn limitlessly into a fuller and more wholesome approach to yourself and others' through 'the ethics of Jesus'. Nice.)
So, to that radio thought, with Jackson Five's 'Want you back' as music bed:

Someone showed up recently who’d been missing for months... Think floppy hair, flash ties, endless line of celebrity guests...? That’s right: Mr Jonathan Woss. Like him or loathe him, he creates a buzz doesn’t he? And let’s be honest, Friday night telly WAS starting to get a bit dull.

And then out of the blue, he actually said sorry. Three months earlier he’d made a prank phone call that offended half the country. Now here he was, welcomed back with cheers and applause, just by eating a bit of humble pie. I nearly dropped my horlicks. (And my pie.)

Now let’s face it, Mr Ross isn’t the first person ever to mess up. (I nearly strangled the cat yesterday, before I’d even got out of bed). It made me think though, what ELSE do I do that upsets people? And more to the point, GOD? Quite a lot actually. Which makes me rather glad there’s some good news too. That if I say sorry and mean it, then I get a warm welcome back. From the Lord God Almighty no less. Wow. It’s enough to make me want to go on TV and tell everyone about it.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Your neighbour needs you

Still catching up with comments, but meanwhile, another radio thought that hopefully taps into what's being bantered about over the water cooler. Music bed: 'Gonna make you a star', David Essex.:

Now there’s one question that’s been keeping us all awake at night the past few weeks. Well, me and my flatmates anyway. That’s right: who’s going to win ‘Your country needs you’ and take Britain to Eurovision? And if you‘ve been watching the show you’ll know there’ve been a few other pressing questions too. Like, how many teenage girls will swoon over Mark this week? And have Jade’s legs actually stopped growing?

It’s been edge of your seat stuff watching them all face the public vote as well. You can see it written on their faces: ‘Will I make it? Does my country need me?’ The funny thing is, this is the kind of question we ALL ask ourselves from time to time. Does anyone need or want me? And you might be surprised to hear that the answer is, yeah. You see, in God’s scheme of things you don’t have to be able to sing like a nightingale to have a job to do, a role to fill - and probably one that no-one else could do half as well as you. Even if it’s simply cooking a nice dish or helping someone who needs it. So go on, be the star you were always meant to be. I can’t speak for your country. But God wants you, and your neighbour needs you. So what are you waiting for?

And this marks, finally, my 100th post. Do you get a telegram from the Queen?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama Superhero

A radio thought (with crowd noise and star spangled banner added) for The Full Breakfast show on Pulse 2 in Bradford this Sunday morning, a few times between 730 and 10am. Also available for member download on Audiopot, the UK's online library of Christian audio.

Now unless you’ve been living under a stone or practising to be a hermit, you’ll know that something rather momentous has happened across the pond (and I don’t mean the one in your garden with carp in it). I’m talking of course about Barack Obama becoming head honcho of the United States. It’s all created a bit of a stir hasn’t it? (more than when we got a new president for the local darts club anyway). In fact, the last time I saw this amount of expectation surrounding one man, he was running out of a phone box in a red cape wearing his pants on the outside. Leader of the free world, for goodness sake. Imagine waking up on a Monday morning and suddenly remembering THAT was your day job.
Obama’s got a lot going for him. He’s also got problems waiting in his in tray that would make most of us reach for the valium. It's encouraging that he’s a man of faith, and that he sets such store on that little word HOPE. Hope is bigger than optimism, carrying on despite setbacks. It’s got a stronger foundation. But actually, there’s only one man who’s ever lived who CAN carry the hopes of the whole world. Jesus didn’t have laser vision or the keys to the White House. He showed that powerlessness, and a cross, were what’s needed to REALLY get things sorted.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Parris revisited

I should clarify why the Matthew Parris article impressed me. Jonathan mentioned DR had 'crowed' about this article and I didn't mean to give that impression myself. I don't think, oh here's the promise of a scalp for the Christians! I find this you/us, your gang/our gang thinking that is sometimes conveyed - and I'm not referring to J there - fairly fruitless. It doesn't take a degree in human nature to know that any kind of 'who's winning the argument?' approach tends just to make people defensive and hardened in their own stance.

What impressed me was this: a person being ready to acknowledge and humble enough to express a reality - not mere argument - that posed a challenge to his world view. And one of the most powerful realities there is: the profound observable - note, those of you keen on observable evidence - change that sincere personal Christian faith has wrought in the life and character of the Africans MP witnessed. The open-ness, the boldness, the freedom from former bonds - including that of abject fear of men in a tribal culture.

It's evidence of the raw spiritual power of the faith at work, in a continent riven by brutal conflict and dark forces. The reality and presence of the living Christ bringing peace, wholeness, sanity and love to people 'with all kinds of hang-ups'. A world away from the intellectual chess playing of constructing arguments against the existence of God in comfortable western sitting rooms (my apologies if you're an atheist reading this in your bedroom). Isn't it slightly odd that these should be the effects of a 'delusion'? If you're not grappling with the awesome weight of the power of religion in people's lives across the globe, including in cultures very different from our own such as MP observes here, then it strikes me you're missing a trick somewhere along the way.

And before I close, who's been watching Christianity: a History, C4 Sun nights 7pm, and Around the world in 80 faiths, BBC2 Fri nights 9pm? Both pretty interesting and informative.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

An atheist reflects

This is superb: an intelligent atheist writer honestly expressing the unsettling effect on his worldview from witnessing real Christianity at work in people's lives in a context where it can be really seen to make a difference. I've read quite a lot of Matthew Parris before. An example of honest profound reflection that I can really respect. See what you think.

From The Times, December 27, 2008:

'As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God'
Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A radical goodness

A couple of points from comments made on the last post have got me thinking. First, Rob saying that there are good and bad people in both the atheist and Christian/religious camps. There is of course a bridge-building value to this point: it's always good to critically reflect on your own viewpoint and those in your own camp, and look for the good in 'the other'. But the thought opens up a huge issue, which Jimmy touched on in acknowledging himself a sinner in the sight of God. What is the path to true goodness? Here the radical, searching 'joints and marrow, soul and spirit' nature of the Christian message kicks in. If you can handle the concept of seraphim, Isaiah 6:1-7 is worth a look on this score: the record of an experience of holiness and power that forced a man to exclaim 'Woe is me, for I am lost'.

Let's not be coy here, if Christianity doesn't have something distinctive to say about what it means to be good, and a source of power to produce deep radical goodness, then what's the point of being a Christian? But we (that's not meant to be royal by the way) believe it does - that an encounter with the divine can make a person aware of how oriented they are towards self. This challenges me; eg a good definition of true gentleness is 'power under control', but 'gentleness' may also be self-protection in disguise. In how many other ways can 'virtue' be a cloak for self-seeking?

This is one of the things that draws me about Cnity: that it searches and lays bare, strips away the illusions we can entertain about ourselves. We talk about being decent and moral, but scripture uncovers our state in light of the divine majesty, : 'All your righteous acts are as filthy rags'. Not a moral code, but a path through self-recognition to transformation.

God on a cross, weak to be strong, the first shall be last: the Christian ethic is counter-intuitive, turns things on their head, constantly surprises. This is part of its magnetism 'for those who have ears to hear'.

I'll get to the latter comments... think I've seen the muslim programme before Rob, I'll check it out. Heading south for the winter; well, weekend. To Devon.

Friday, 2 January 2009

A hidden power

Hunkered down and holed up in Bridge of Weir till the 5th. Just watched Ryan's Daughter cos it's five stars and described as a bleak romantic epic; directed by David Lean. Good in its depiction of a young girl's yearning for passion, and the mob cruelty and cowardice, but lonngg... Yesterday, embarked on The Spy who loved me but simply stopped caring with half an hour or so to go, though Jaws's grin and the corny lines hooked me in at the start.

Interacting at close quarters with folk who don't share my faith can be unsettling. I've recently spent time with some people close to me who are not 'in the Christian fold'. But they espouse and practise worthy values of unselfishness, caring, good relationships and communication. Sometimes, particularly in the realm of practical, helping tasks, I have felt put in the shade by unbelieving peers whose character and actions appear to outshine mine. It prompts me to reflect on the complex web of influences that shape an individual's personality and the fruit of their life. Believing in God, I guess I regard all such influences as having their ultimate source in... Him? the Godhead? (I wonder if English will any time soon acquire a non gender specific personal pronoun...) But I don't mean that to sound glib. It's striking how far off the radar any sustained thought about God is in the minds of many decent, moral folk in western society. We watched 'The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe' on Boxing Day. It was followed by Eastenders. A family member commented on the incongruity of this Christmassy magical fantasy and the gritty realism of 'the square'. Narnia, sandwiched between soaps. Did anyone, I thought, recognise or entertain the possibility of a link between Lewis's fantasy land, and reality? That Narnia might symbolise an unseen but accessible and extraordinary spiritual world that could impinge on our ordinary workaday world? For how many did the magic of the story crumble to dust as the credits rolled?

I'm reminded again of what former thinkers have noted of God's 'hiddenness'. The story of Christ's resurrection, if real, must have the power to transfigure a life, and ultimately the world. And perhaps in cultures more open to spiritual reality than ours its power impacts more readily. Here the seed in large part lies dormant. When I read a word of scripture in the morning, when fresh, eg the other day, 'Your hearts must not be troubled, bleieve in God, believe also in me...' John 14:1, I sense its radical power... all those things I need to learn not to worry about... So if I allow it to change me, maybe it can at least start to change my world.

Happy new year.