Friday, February 29, 2008

Fifth Saturday in Sabbatical

So the weather is sunny. It was a little cool in the middle of the week, briefly, (as you can see, my Uncle Michael & Gill felt the need for jackets, but actually the morning sun already had reached the high 60s by this time!) and now has warmed up again. Which is a shame. Because tomorrow I fly to Fort Wayne Indiana, where right now it is snowing!

This week always looked like it might be hard to fit much writing in. Firts there was flying back from DC on Monday (and that's the next picture - straight down the centre of Washington out of the plane window), then it was Gill (my sister)’s birthday on Wednesday, and my uncle Michael and his wife Margaret flew in on Wednesday evening as well for a few days. Then today I am meeting up with my good friend Chris Berryman who lives down the road in Orlando.

So given I am aiming at 20,000 words a week, somehow I have managed almost 18,000, and am now at a total of just over 95,000. Which is not quite the 100,000 that was my target for today at the beginning of all this, but close enough to say I’m still very much on track.

But are these words any good? What’s the point of just churning out words? Well, that’s the question. I guess in part I just have to get to the end of this and then bravely let one or two others have a look and see. I find that everything I have hoped for, all my organising and working out, the basic plotting of the whole thing if you will, is working perfectly. I am hitting all my targets. Getting to where I want to get when I want to get there. Saying what I want to say and occasionally finding myself laughing and crying along the way.
So I am enjoying the process of writing still, very much. And at almost 80% through now, at least I can say that I will most likely finish the first draft on time! Thank you for your prayers. This is being an amazing experience. Please pray on.

Family time this week has been great. To be here for Gill’s birthday was lovely. I took her out for lunch as she had the day off work. Ben, my nephew, had not bought her a card or gift I discovered the night before. So I took him out and we put that right with a bunch of flowers. I guess as it has always just been the two of them, there has never been anyone to tell him that he should buy his Mum a birthday gift: she is the one who buys everything for him. And when he went into her room in the morning and gave her the things, she was really amazed and touched.

Also, although you are getting ready for Mothers Day in the UK, it doesn’t happen here in the States until May. So Gill never gets a card to my Mum on time, and Mum always resigns herself to pulling out last year’s card. This year, she was feeling miserable because she felt that she would have to do it with my card as well. Ah, but I’d thought ahead and taken cards for all of us to sign over here, which I posted at the beginning of this week. Mum called yesterday, thrilled.
And an Aunty of mine, Joyce (see picture - at cousin Howard's wedding last October), is very ill in hospital in Manchester. Probably the closest member of the family outside the immediate parents/sister/nephew circle. Please pray for her; I hope to see her when I get home. She may not be there.

As will not Cleo, a member of St Catherine’s, who died this week. A wonderful lady of strength and courage, whose ever present smile hid constant pain, and who will be sorely missed by her very many friends. Rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oh, that concert

The first time I saw Michael Buble he wasn't very good. Though the encore was terrific.

The second time I saw him was the most phenomenal singing I have ever seen in my life.

This was somewhere in between. He has a great voice, an awkward stage manner that varies between a walk so strange it comes from the John Cleese school (though I think he thinks it's cool) and a presence that is genuinely quite magnetic, and an ability to project the inner meaning of a song in a way that is totally compelling - if he can be bothered.

The second half was better than the first, but at times it felt mechanical, and having seen him be so unbelievably brilliant I was knocked off my feet, watching him simply be great was OK but no more. I should be so talented.

The band was the best I've seen them. The staging fantastic. A US audience rather more vocal than its Cardiff counterpart!

And I did enjoy it. Just, well, you know. I wanted one the best concert experiences of my life, and instead I got a merely excellent one. How hard to please am I???


It is always a total joy to spend time with Tory and Elizabeth Baucum.

I am here in Fairfax, Virginia, in their new home for the first time since they moved last summer. Tory is now rector of Truro Church, a large Anglican church just outside Washington DC. The Episcopal Church in the States is a political minefield, and Truro Church is struggling with this, but Tory is a man of peace, a bridge-builder.

Listening to his story of faith and integrity, and worshipping with his Saturday evening congregation, I am filled with a sense of gratitude that I have been granted such a friend as this. We met quite by chance eighteen years ago in Little Rock Arkansas, and of such small coincidences is grace built.

Tory's sermon tonight, from Philippians 2.12-18 was a reminder of how we as the Redeemed become the Redeeming in the world, how we are to take on the responsibility for being the body of the Christ who dies to save, and how we are to cherish and value this awesome responsibility. We share in the task he gives us. It is a wonderful thing - though he has done it all, yet he gives us a share in it.

And before church, Elizabeth and I spent time talking about the value of writing, the creativity and imagination of it, the way in which the Creator God asks us to revel in being made in his image by displaying that image in the acts of our lives - the creations of our own imaginations.

Again, I am thankful for the gift of friends such as these.


So by the end of the morning, I had listened to Tory preach the same sermon four times. I think numbers 1,2,3 & 4 were the ones that had the most impact on me.

Here are some thoughts from that sermon, which was all about working out our faith.

1. Tory said, you thought that when you signed up to church you signed up to stability; but actually you signed up to a journey, to dis-equilibrium and change and transformation. When you don't like the journey, the company, the venue or the menu, don't get so caught up in the problems that you lose sight of the goal - where you are going - or of the one who is leading you home.

2. Here are 5 "How to" books: How to win friends and influence your neighbours; How to Crochet; How to not look older; How to succeed in business; How to play jazz. The last is the only Christian one, because in jazz, the musician is as much played upon as playing, allowing the music to influence the person, remembering that there are no bad notes, only bad resolutions. So too in our faith: it is a co-operation with the Holy Spirit working in us, not just what we do, and though this moment may have been what seems to be a mistake, how we let God take us on from here is the real test.

3. Remember who you are and you'll know what to do. How are we to live out our faith at this post code? (My job is to worship God, his job is to grow the church, anyone?)

4. You who are redeemed are now the redeeming. You are the unblemished, the sacrifice, the means by which God brings his love to the world. The first sentence of this point was something I said to Tory over a sandwich yesterday afternoon as we talked about the passage he was preaching on; he then made it a key point in his sermon. After I had heard it the fourth time, I felt the Lord say to me really clearly -
"You said it to him; now I have said it to you FOUR times; have you heard it yet? Am I getting through?"

Also at the service was George Kovoor, principal of Trinity College Bristol, and we had lunch together afterwards. He is a remarkable man, and it was good to spend time with him. I liked him enormously. I hope to get in touch with him when I get home. He may yet be able to help us at St Catherine's with my ongoing quest for a form of evangelism that matches outreach with worship. We shall see.

A great day.

P.S. As you can see from the photo, the forecast deep snow for the weekend did not happen: thanks for the prayers re the weather!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Coming Out To Play

The Sun has got his hat on
Hip hip hip hooray
The sun has got his hat on and is coming out to play.

Given what my completely unreasonable target was for this weekend - 80,000 words - I’m just over 3,000 shy of that total. If I get anything done at all on my Washington trip, I’ll make it. I’m not sure if that will happen. The next section is really important, and I think I want to be able to focus completely on it, rather than do it in bits and pieces.

I am so looking forwards to the next couple of days. Tonight I go to see Michael Buble in concert in Tampa. And in the morning it’s back to the airport for the next flight, and then off to see Tory and his family at Truro Church. Wonderful. I think that it will be a very inspiring weekend - everything Tory says about the church sounds great, and it is so good to hear him so enthused about his church.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Though pray for the travelling - the weather is rough on the Eastern seaboard, and I may get stuck...

Thursday, February 21, 2008


So here I am, safely arrived at Gill's house in Florida.
You'll have to wait for photos of Gill and Ben - Gill's at work and Ben's at school. So for now that's just me and Lucy the dog. More family shots will come!
The routine is working well. I get up ridiculously early, 11am UK time (ah, but do the time zone thing and you'll see that it is early!), in order to sort out Ben for school, and then I am ready to work whilst the house is empty.
Today was kind of interesting. I am getting near the two-thirds mark in the writing. At that point I hit a real change in the structure of the book. There is a surprise in the telling of the tale. I have the detail of how that works all planned out now. And there is an emotional punch in it - at least for me, so I hope also for the reader, if there are ever readers of this great work. For a little while I had to pause as I reflected on what I am planning to say. And it's not even as if I've said it. I'm just planning on it. I do hope the reality works out as well as the intention.
You'll be glad to know the weather is overcast. In Florida. And that at the weekend as I head to Washington DC the forecast is for heavy snow. Of course, I only brought my small leather jacket; so no big expeditions whilst I'm there... I hope! I'll tell more when there is more to tell.
Blessings to all. After all, I am being so blessed here, it would be rude not to pass them back. Put your hand to the screen and just feel them coming right at you!!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The In-between Time

Or – this is what happened on the third Saturday in Sabbatical! Because this weekend I am in between journeys. On Thursday I got back from Switzerland, got back to England that is – I don’t make it home to Wales till all this is over in mid-March. Where in England? I’ve been in Chorley, where my Mum lives, and where Matty is staying for the duration. The picture is Matty helping me re-pack my suitcase in one of the bedrooms in my Mum’s house. You can see how helpful he is being. Though right now I’m sitting in Manchester Airport. Very in-between.

The trip from Switzerland was uneventful. And the stay here has been likewise pretty dull – washing clothes, doing bits of shopping for the next stage, trying to fit in a few blocks of writing, a nice meal out with Dad and Lorna and a lovely lunch today with Mum.

Highlight? Man Utd thrashing Arsenal 4-0 in the FA Cup, I think; the victory was expected, the margin a delight.

Church this weekend? St Catherine’s on the MP3 player, one of last year’s radio broadcasts. So much moving around, and getting ready to fly down to Gatwick in preparation for the Florida leg that I had the option of a depressing hour in the local Anglican church here or the chance to walk the dog and enjoy the sunshine. Guess which won.

So I’m at Manchester Airport because tonight it’s off to Gatwick, near where I will stay with Owen and Liz, former neighbours of mine in Ponty (and the best chefs I have ever known) till I disappear off to Florida early Tuesday morning. This is the messy bitsy bit of the sabbatical, but at least I got to see family and Matty and now I get to see O&L, with whom I haven’t spent any decent time for far too long. They were the people who kept me sane when I first moved to Pontypridd. I owe them more than I can say – they were such a godsend.

So – I’ll tell you more when I get to the States. Keep praying! Blessings to all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Moving On

Last day in Switzerland today.

The sun is still shining, and I am still writing! But I thought I'd include a photo of me actually on skis, just to show that I don't just take photos of views...

The group from St Catherine's are here now, and having fun. It has been great to see Andy and Esther and Steve and Julie and all the Youth Group/Kids as well. Also, Miles is in town with a different group, and I spent yesterday morning skiing with him.

Actually, I spent yesterday skiing everywhere! From 8.30am till 4pm. I just about wore my skis out. It was great fun. And today it has been a solid writing day to make up for it. Lots of progress there - though I need to do a bit more, which is hard, because I have reached a sort of break point, and to start again today would mean beginning a new section which needs to have its own momentum. Hmm.

This photo is Joanna and Al Copley. Al is the pianist at the Falken Hotel, and and it has been my great pleasure to eat with them these last few evenings, and to talk about faith, and to listen to Al's wonderful jazz and boogie woogie piano playing. He is a phenomenon, and their friendship has been a genuine gift aswell. One of the joys of coming here regularly is the renewing of friendships, and this one has been special this year.

But in the morning I leave. A brief trip back to England, and then on to the States.

Two further things to record before I finish for now.

As I walked across at Mannlichen yesterday, basking in the warm afternoon sunshine, glorying in the mountains, rejoicing in the freshness of the snow, I poured out my thanks to God for this whole experience, and I felt the presence of his Spirit gently lift my own. I record this because I will confess that it has been a while. With all my heart I know that his Spirit is always with me, helping, sustaining, guiding, speaking - these things I know and see. But I just haven't felt it for a while. The weight of work, responsibility, the sheer pressure of life and the intensity of a timetable. And yesterday, I felt it. It was simple, brief, wonderful.

Second, I had a remarkable dream the other night. About three years ago, a friendship I valued ended badly. I have many times since reminded myself to forgive that person, and prayed that I might be forgiven. Don't ask. In the dream I was speaking of this to an older, wiser person, but not just of this - we spoke of the many years of friendship that preceded; and towards the end, the older, wiser person spilled his glass of red wine over me. A clumsy act? Or a symbol of forgiveness, the blood that cleanses all. And I was suddenly aware that over many years there was much to forgive. And to be forgiven. In writing about forgiveness, I suddenly saw in this one friendship a microcosm of a whole world of relationships: we think one thing is the problem, and there is so much, it never ends, it all ties together, and we have to constantly work out hearts and lives where forgiveness is everyday speech and thought and life. And I can't make one person forgive me; but I can make sure I have forgiven them, holding nothing back, by forgiving time and time and time again. Till it's all gone. Till it's as natural for me as it can be.

Because then, I think, life looks different with the restraints removed. It's not about the past - it's about the future. And suddenly I think I'm getting a sense of what my sabbatical is about.
And tonight I went back up to Wengen with Andy and Esther and Matt Jones to see Maggie at the Falken, to enjoy Terry's bar one last time, to listen to Al's piano one last time, to remind myself that saying goodbye here is one of life's temporary impermanences. As I said, it's about the future.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Second Saturday in Sabbatical

...Or, Update Number Two!

Right, so how are things going then? Well, the book is progressing nicely. This week has been a bit slower, but that’s for two main reasons. First, I’ve been going back over last week and tidying up, as well as just doing a bit more research as well as writing. Even so, I’ve hit the 40,000 word mark, which is half way. That’s a false mark, obviously. I intend to write about 120,000 words and edit it down to 80,000 in the end, so really I’m a third of the way, which is about where I ought to be right now. But I need to keep this rate going, which is going to be pretty intense.

Secondly, I’ve been a bit less prolific this week because I have actually been skiing! Yes, I decided to relax a little as well as work, work, work. So it’s been up early, out before the crowds, and get two or three hours on the slopes before eleven. Then back to the computer and off we go.

Church has been lovely. There have been some super people in resort this week. A lady who became a Christian here 25 years ago and was visiting again with her husband. Jennifer is a piano teacher, and I have seen her a few times. Antoinette is from Edinburgh and belongs to a tremendous church there, and has been very encouraging. Antony and his wife from Oxford know friends of friends, and time with them has been great. Then there has been evangelism, and that has been really good, with several wonderful people, in all of whose lives I am sure the Lord is working.

The weather has been varied: some fresh snow earlier in the week, and some strong winds, have given way to more blue sky and sunshine. Actually, the lower slopes saw rain one day, and this followed by a freeze and then snow led to quite treacherous conditions. The bottom parts of runs all turned to ice, and the Down Hill Only Club’s MacMillan Cup had a couple of casualties as early finishers careered off the course and into the car park. I spent a treacherous morning that day getting down to Grindlewald, feeling I needed ice skates more than skis, and treated myself to a large piece of apple tart in the rather fine backerei in town afterwards.

Prayer requests? Same old same old. Discipline and creativity in the writing. Creativity at good times of day, also, as I did get up in the middle of the night on one occasion, and fine as that was... Plus a real edge to my preaching this weekend, to touch the hearts of all who come to church, drawing them to Jesus. That’s what it’s about.

This is such a gift. Such a joy. Such a privilege. Nearly two weeks gone! It is flying by.


I had the great pleasure of watching England beat Switzerland 2-1, the first match of Fabio Capello’s reign as manager, in Rock’s Cafe, a little bar here in Wengen. In fact, it’s where I am right now as I post this on the web.

Rock’s shows a lot of Premiership games, and so as you can imagine is very popular with British football fans. And, it turns out, with the Swiss, who came in cheerily shouting “Up Schweiz!” one by one during the early stages of the match. (Pronunciation guide: Oop Schweetz is as close as I’m going to get. Many of the Brits had no idea what they were saying, and cheered it with them!)

2-1 is a win. Better than that – it wasn’t like watching Steve McLaren’s England. Everyone seemed to be playing in position. They knew what they were there to do. They passed the ball!!! When someone passed the ball to Peter Crouch’s feet, I felt like standing and cheering. It was the 91st minute before the long ball appeared. Sure, Wes Brown looked a bit dozy; he does at Man Utd. Ashley Cole looks a shadow of himself. Wayne Rooney isn’t a lone striker. These are quibbles.

It was a different ballgame entirely to this.

And I spent it very happily in the company of a couple of Scots, Graham and Lynn, who had come to church on Sunday, and who then turned up again in the piano bar in the Falken last night. Most agreeable.

Fabulous Fabio? Not quite, not yet. But a great start in a friendly the manager wanted to win, which showed the right attitude after too many meaningless such games in the last few years. We look forwards with anticipation.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Finally, I made it out onto the slopes today (Tuesday).
Yesterday we had another blizzard, a terrific dumping of fresh snow, and the forecast for today was good, so I got up good and early, took my skis to be waxed, bought my lift pass – and off I went.

A beautiful clear sky, amazing snow under foot, a sharp fresh wind. Stunning. Down the Mannlichen, then across to Kleine Scheidegg, running through the trees to Brandegg, and finally down the long trek back to Wengen. Two and a half hours of blissful skiing in perfect (if cold) conditions.

For a first day back on skis, I feel remarkably fit, and my technique wasn’t too appalling. Decent rise and fall, decent control, good speed, no mishaps. I have a weak right knee at the moment, but it’s strapped up, and it gave me no problems at all.

Then it was a brisk walk to the Hunenfluh, where Jutta van Eeghen lives. Her husband, Ernst, died last year, just after I visited. So it was strange to see her alone in the house. She asked if I could recall what we talked of, and actually I could. We had a lovely hour together, and she provided me with a super lunch. We prayed before I left. The Lord bless you, Jutta.

This evening it was supper with Maggie Gerber, good friend and church warden here in Wengen, and her husband Ulle, who cooked rabbits for us. His own rabbits. Also there was Karen Jones, my original ski teacher too (for those of you who have read Salvations Song the book – she gets a mention there), and two other of Maggie’s friends, Paul and Sarah, who were really good company. Paul writes books on vintage racing cars. Fantastic food, splendid wine, and far too much of Ulle’s homemade schnapps. Quince schnapps. Blackcurrant schnapps. Apple schnapps. It’s going to be a slow start on Wednesday, I feel.

On the writing front, just a couple of thousand words today. But I did a word count on a couple of novels. First novels often come in at maybe 70,000 or 80,000 words. I’m at 31,000 or 32,000 after one week and only about a quarter of the way into the story. So it looks like I’ll have plenty of editing to do later on...

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Sun and snow, pleasure upon pleasure, endless gifts and joys without ceasing. Saturday is here and already I have to check each day which day it is - oh the joys of life away from a desk and a routine and a life of responsibilities!

Here's a photo of St Bernard's Wengen I took this morning. The cloud was down and the snow was falling, though as I look out now the sun is already breaking through again. There is a pristine beauty in the freshness of each morning here, whether there has been new snowfall or not. Each morning I pull back the curtain by my bedside to see what kind of day it will be: blue sky and sun, or wondrous, magical snowflakes falling like blessings from the sky.

I still haven't actually been skiing yet. Maybe Monday. I am enjoying writing too much. And day by day, my output is remaining high. Yesterday was a long, hard day. I hit an important point and wanted to just get it right. It will need re-working, and the end was rushed. But I was pleased with a solid day's work.

A book on forgiveness needs light and shade. You have to deal with things that need forgiving. They have to be faced. And if everything gets forgiven too quickly, everyone looks at it and goes, "but my life isn't like that", which won't do. Yet the power of what Jesus has done for us has to shine through, or the weight of what we face is too much. It's a balance. There will be time at the end to adjust if I need to. Yesterday was a day to face tough things. Today will take that further. Tomorrow - is Sunday, the joy of worship and Matthew 17, the transfiguration, which will be great.

Thanks for the prayers. I appreciate it.