Saturday, November 28, 2009

another year

Ryan Giggs shares my birthday. He prefaced his 36th birthday by scoring his 100th Premiership goal yesterday: congratulations Ryan! Though Wayne Rooney took the plaudits with a hat-trick, and so United won 4-1.

Hat-tip too to Cas Timmis and Simon Davison who share the day - Simon also being the same age as me today. I'm not aware what either of them did yesterday. I had a fairly ordinary day, waiting for a postal delivery and preparing for a quite Sunday - quiet because Esther is speaking this morning so I just have the evening to look at, though the passage is an obscure bit of Revelations...

The day is also the eve of tomorrow, and Rob's funeral. I am looking forwards to seeing friends there, and to celebrating friendship with them. It will be a time to say what matters - and what matters is this: God gives us many gifts, but the most valuable are each other. I am who I am, and for all sorts of reasons am the kind of person who doesn't wear emotions on my sleeve. But were it my funeral tomorrow, I would not want "achievements" mulled over and rehearsed for all to consider; it's the friendships & relationships we are given and which we create that make life so rich. Rob was a rich man. So, as I celebrate this day, and am again touched by so many good wishes, am I.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Moving On

I started to write this, to say that I have been unable to write anything since the previous post, because I am unable to get past Rob in my thoughts this week. I have done and said things, but to move beyond my dear friend seems somehow not right.

I started to write this - when the phone rang and it was George, Rob's Dad, calling me to say that Rob's funeral has now been set for Monday November 30th at 1pm in St Phillip and St James Hucclecote, followed by a service in the crematorium.

So. I will write soon of other things. But not just yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Strangely, I do remember Toby Scott being there. Toby is now Director of Communications for the Methodist Church of Great Britain and writes occasionally for the Guardian. And Richard Bowker too, former head of National Express, now building railways in the UAE. And author Mike Hampson. He was there.

But Rob Graham? I've never recalled him. Yet he says I was responsible for his coming to faith that weekend our school Christian Union spent in Grassington Congregationalist Church.

How typical. Rob wasn't about flash and surface and being noticed. He was a worker - someone who made things happen, who got things done. I'd see him do the things I did sometimes and want to plead with him not to: why would he want to trade in all the qualities of life he had and add to them the flighty things that I had?

After QEGS, I went to Merton college Oxford. He followed three years later. After Merton, I became lay-assistant at St Aldate's. Rob followed that too. After St Aldate's, I went to Wycliffe Hall to train for ordination. Rob stayed a while at St Aldate's, being an administrator for the student work, though he really wanted to be a worship leader. A pastor. A preacher. And sure enough - he then went to Wycliffe Hall to train for ordination.

George (Rob's dad, who I think I met first when I cycled over to Rob's house in Garstang one summer, when we were both still at school & George and Elaine were running the Methodist church there) said to me this weekend "I don't think you realise how much he thought of you".

But it was I who was the silent one in this friendship. I, the eternally taciturn and unemotional, who would have left no clue of my feelings for such a good and broken and imperfect and wonderful friend.

He came to me when his marriage was in trouble - and sought my help. I fully understood. I fully grasped everything he said. And yes, eventually, having promised him no judgement, I fully judged him in the end by losing patience with him. When someone you trust highly lets you down it's never easy; I let him down. And he cut the communication. I don't blame him. And when he tried to re-open it, I was slow to respond. Pride, you see.

Eventually we slowly thawed, with bits of internet chat. I was looking forwards to seeing him in due course. We had all the time in the world.

Till a Mercedes outside Chesterfield on a rainy, windy night ploughed into Rob's car, and then there was no time for any of us any more. His final act was to keep his children safe, but not himself.

It's not the guilt for having been imperfect in a friendship. It's the pure sadness at not being able to say how much I value him to his face. It's the shock of discovering the truth of this only when it's too late. Stupid, stupid.

Memories of of singing in York Minster & of recording together with Indra's choir, of school, of St Aldate's, of his licensing in Nailsea, of praying with Rob and Catharine Morris and having lunch together, of Ruth and Rob's wedding - where I played trumpet in Merton Chapel (and yet we remained friends - how much punishment can a person take!) and of all those terrible sweaters he wore.

But now my friend you have gone before me and it is my turn to be the one who follows in your footsteps. The roles are reversed. You see face to face the One I see only by faith, dimly; but though I tarry, I shall be there one day. Our paths have been linked too long, so accept my sadness at our recent silence, and know how much I think of you.

Dear Lord Jesus, grant to Rob a peaceful rest and a glorious rising. And to all of us who have been robbed of our Rob, your Spirit's comfort, please.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Public Service Blogging

I bought two new CDs for the long car journey down from Lancashire to Pontypridd today. The Pursuit and The Performance. Any similarity in the CDs kind of stops in the titles... although I did enjoy both of them. And, in the interests of public service blogging, I thought I’d share my reaction to them.

Firstly: Jamie Cullum. I think that to get this guy, you have to enjoy pop and jazz. He writes nice simple pop that is so intelligently jazzy it blows your head. And such good jazz that has amazingly sensible pop credentials it makes jazz musicians swoon with envy. Time and again I loved the way he melded the two together. I couldn’t see how it would happen – and yet it did, either by rhythm or piano or vocal inflection or just feel.

His lyrics are pop, not jazz. But the whole package is an amazingly brilliant combination, in a way that fellow pianist Peter Cincotti completely failed to do recently.

Just listen to I’m All Over It – it’s a pop song that is jazz through and through. Or If I Ruled The World – a Harry Secombe song, not even jazz, but turned into thoughtful and wistful pop at its best.

Jazz lovers ought to buy it just for the brilliant opening track – Jamie Cullum playing with the Count Basie band on Just One Of Those Things. Everyone else enjoy everything else – I think this is an amazing intelligent album I will go back to many, many times.

And then, a guilty pleasure. Well into her eighth decade, Dame Shirley Bassey has produced a stunning CD. Stunning. I mean – vocally she sounds twenty years younger throughout (well, almost - there's one track where for me she slightly sounds a little older; but still not 72), and at times DSB genuinely manages to completely roll the years back to days when she was just a slip of a lass from Tiger Bay. And the songs, all new, are great! By turns gentle and reflective, and then effortlessly slipping into pure bombast – and if one or two are forgettable candy floss, even these are gloriously high-class candy-floss. Tom Baxter’s opening track is a thing of beauty; Gary Barlow’s This Time a sub-Sondheim (and that’s real praise) classic; David Arnold and Don Black’s No Good About Goodbye is the best Bond theme never used in a movie (and I had to re-listen to it straightaway – “no solace in a kiss, no comfort in a sigh, no good in goodbye” – fantastic). Richard Hawley adds a fragile After The Rain, and the Pet Shop Boys finish it off with style. And I’ve left out tunes that may be your favourite.

Goodness, Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode had David Tennant on the radio – the four hours in the car were an absolute pleasure.

Sleep Exercise

Just a little dream I had that might entertain you.

I was lolling on the floor, waiting for something to begin in my dream when (realising that I was actually asleep and this was a dream and I had nothing better to do) I decided to see if I could do press-ups in my sleep.

Oh yes.

I got to twelve (and they were quite hard going – the technique felt really tough) before actually waking myself up, laughing with the effort...

How Do You Cope?

I have been saddened to read of the suicide of Robert Enke, the German goalkeeper this week. Suffering from depression beyond his ability to deal with or share, he ended his life under a train at a spot where he often walked his dogs.

A successful footballer. Rich, married, though he had lost a young daughter some time ago, he and his wife had recently adopted a child and seemed to have so much in life. As if that mattered – which is what the reports all say.

Anyone who has suffered deep depression has been at that point of giving in. Most get past it. I’m told Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Apparently 20% of the population suffer from depression in some form, and 10% actively find themselves under its grip today.

I’ve chronicled here before how depression plays its part in my life. Reading about Enke brings tears to my eyes. I’m pretty sure most of the reports I’ve read don’t really get it; but those of us who live there do. Have I ever reached that point? Of course. So how have I coped?

You know, I often say that the point of being a Christian is not the eternal insurance policy – the going to heaven when you die. No – I mean, I believe in eternal life – but the real point is the having Jesus now. The difference knowing God makes today.

I don’t know how people who don’t have that hand holding theirs, that voice speaking softly in their ears, that smile comforting them, that light breaking through the dark, dark, darkness – I don’t know how people without all this can possible begin to cope. I couldn’t. Really, I couldn’t.

I could recall specifics. I’m not going to – perhaps apart from the blessed gift of sleep which has sometimes got me through the very, very worst hours. I will say this: “there but for the grace of God” is not a phrase I use lightly or meaninglessly. I live as best I can a life that tries to worship Jesus every day because the fruit of the acts is in the living – and when push comes to shove, at the really crucial moments, he has always been there, and somehow I have managed to see that. The seeing in the darkness, my, that's the trick.

So I write these few words as an encouragement in the light of this week’s news story to anyone reading today needing a little hope. God still loves you, even if you are feeling unloved and unlovely. I have no cure to offer – but I know that I am not alone, and that Jesus stands with me when I am lowest; so I know he is with you too. We have company – of one who understands, and loves, and listens, and stays right here.

In the midst of depression so often it's the loneliness that's the killer. But we are not alone.

Only a Vicar

So Mum has had her cancer op. Tumour removed, everything sorted, surgeon happy, Mum safely home.

As a retired nurse she is the very worst kind of patient. She gets terribly stressed before anything happens, and then doesn’t listen to a thing afterwards. Her blood pressure was high (but not as high as when she had it done at her GPs) before the op. Of course – she was so stressed, I’m surprised it was low enough for them to do anything. That stress might have heightened it before-hand and relief lowered it afterwards... perish the thought I was offering a sensible suggestion; I am only a vicar.

After the op, Mum was shivering. It’s the general anaesthetic wearing off, I said; do you feel feverish? Yes, she said. Well, there you go, I said, that’s it.
Then the sister came in. “I feel shivery,” says my Mum. “What’s wrong with me?” And she gets the same explanation. Of course, I’m only a vicar, so I couldn’t have been right, though I have had a general and know exactly what it feels like.

She had no pain killers last night. She didn’t sleep well – she had a pain. Amazing. They cut into her, and she had a pain. She accepted the pain killers this morning (“bit of overkill, all these,” she said, grimacing) and then called me at lunchtime to say she was feeling much better. Except – it turns out she had palmed some of the painkillers because she thought them a bit much, and it wasn’t till her friend Maureen told her it was the right dosage that she accepted them.

I tell you, it was like this when she had her heart op, and that time I was often alone coping with her. Nurses. The worst patients.

But she’s fine and as you can tell, very much herself – and for all that I am very grateful. Thank you Jesus; it’s been a worrying time, and I am grateful for all her little ways. Long may they continue (preferably with her in Lancashire and me in Pontypridd).

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Remembrance Sunday again. The hardest preach of the year, and as I am feeling the pinch and not so up for the fight, I opted for a fairly straightforwards talk with remembering, freedom and the cross lifting us to something greater, interspersed with some poetry and a little 1 Corinthians (adapted).

The singing group, the Tuesday Homegroup (which the Thursday Homegroup calls "the larks", they being "the crows") had their first public outing. They were excellent. They sang before the service - and laid a marvellous bed of worship on which everything else could rest. During the service "proper" they sang Wesley's "Lead me, Lord", and were fantastic. I was so delighted.

The weather was wonderful - the opposite of last year's downpour. And the turn-out? We say we are full at 350. But our figures record twenty more than that today.

It's interesting at a time of remembering to read back in this blog. I came across this. It made me smile bleakly. Two years ago. I could have written it yesterday; though I am feeling the pinch and not so up for the fight.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Dame & The Dog

Ain't YouTube grand?

Here's a clip of that Graham Norton show with Harry Connick, Katherine Jenkins & Rob Brydon. The whole show is there on YouTube - Harry sings in part five if you find the related clips - but at about six minutes in, Katherine duets with a little black dog via Skype. This is what we pay the licence fee for.

I've just re-watched it and re-loved it. A televisual gem.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Yes and No

Last night we had a special Diocesan Conference to discuss the future of the Archbishopric of Wales.

Still awake?

Actually, it was a good evening. People were engaged, and there was a genuine discussion, with real opinions expressed and debated. It's not the most fundamental issue facing the world-wide church today, but for us the Archbishop is an important figure, and it is right that we seek a way to ensure the post is constituted in the way that serves the church best and enables the holder of the office to live and breathe without being crushed by expectations that conflict and destroy.

For those who don't know, the Archbishopric in Wales is not currently fixed in one place. Any of the six diocesan bishops may be the Archbishop: when the post falls vacant, the remaining bishops vote amongst themselves to decide which of them should next be Archbishop.

However, with the development of Welsh society, the advent of the Welsh Assembly, and the increasing importance of the broadcast media in Welsh life, drawing the Archbishopric permanently into the Cardiff area makes more sense than ever.

Yes - we agreed with that. By a heavy majority.

But the proposal before us was to make the Archbishop the Archbishop of Llandaff, our diocesan bishop always the Archbishop, with a badly defined assistant bishop elected seperately as his assistant, potentially in conflict over major ideas of mission and pastoral care, especially as the two could overlap from one Archiepiscopate to the next.

No - we disagreed with that. By a larger majority.

Other ideas were bandied about; the assistant could be a better defined "area" bishop; the Archbishop could be a "presiding" bishop without a diocese and able to be based in Cardiff but also to travel throughout Wales more freely without being tied to Llandaff. The way the Archbishop is elected needs to be examined - also any assistant.

Bishop David, our current assistant, was delightfully humorous. It was asked what his status was in this - what would happen to him when Barry retires? He answered with delightful cheer that he didn't mind, he was pleased to be ministering today. He was asked about his experience in York, where the Archbishop has area bishops working with him. He replied: for one Archbishop, he wrote the letters, and the suffragons licked the stamps; the next was happy for the suffragons to write the letters; and for that Archbishop's successor, if the suffragons had dared to write letters, they'd have been stamped upon. This received perhaps the biggest laugh of the evening!

The opening meditation by the retired bishop of St Asaph will be my abiding memory of the evening. Speaking on 1 Thessalonians 5.24, "The one who calls you is faithful", he reminded me that this phrase is present tense. God is the one who calls us. Calling is not past tense - a moment in the past, to which I look back to receive affirmation and comfort in the ongoing work of ministry. In the context of the meeting, it was clear we were seeing that God has not called us to be his church in this land once - in the past - and now we are trying to work on, in the wrong age, in our own strength, not entirely clear how to apply something outmoded in the modern era.

No. The one who CALLS us is faithful. He still calls us. He still loves us. He still has a purpose, an ongoing calling, a calling for today to which we must listen and respond.

For me, personally, it hit a deep note.

I am tired. But he calls me. Even today. He has not finished with me. And he is faithful - so though I am tired, his calling is fresh, and his faithfulness refreshing. He did not call me to this work in the past and leave me to it; he calls me each and every day. Today too.

The one who calls us: how wonderful. There is no "no" here, only a glorious and eternal "yes".

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More Harry

...Oh yes. This week's Graham Norton Show, available on the iPlayer for seven days for UK viewers is a must for Harry fans. He chats with Graham alongside Welsh duo Katherine Jenkins & Rob Brydon (not that they are a duo, but they are Welsh and there is two of them). Harry is obviously taken with KJ and bemused by RB; well, maybe it's a Welsh thing...

It's quite fun - the competition of who sang at the most famous birthday party (Sinatra, Streisand, er...Brydon) is very amusing; as was the throwaway revelation that Ioan Gruffudd has a Welsh Bar in his garage in LA where he invites friends around to watch the rugby, with KJ singing the anthem - for real.

Oh yes, it's very Welsh, invite a few friends around for the rugby, and get a major singing star to sing the anthem. Actually, in the village that is South Wales, it is very believable behaviour!

And though I thought the "dogs singing opera" extract was going to be dull, the "live" via skype duet of Katherine Jenkins and a Westie from Canada on O Mio Babino Caro was pure genius.

PLUS - Harry sings All The Way from the new CD at the end, and is excellent.