Tuesday, April 29, 2008

St Emillion

I'm at the New Wine National Leaders Conference in Harrogate.

Whenever I come to these things, I have this sneaky hope I will find someone to teach me the Bible better than I can teach it to others. And three times so far I have found this. Fantastic!

First: John Coles, in his introduction, had an amazing power point slide about the opening sections of Mark's Gopsel. Using NIV headings, he found truths about God's Kingdom which the world and the devil try to confound, and it is hard to explain - but I caught him and he has promised to email me his powerpoint files because it was brilliant Bible exposition, and only tangential to his talk but it will be a major talk of mine soon!

Second: Ellie Mumford did a stunningly good exposition of 2 Chronicles 9, the Queen of Sheba this morning. With good humour and self-deprecation (and in context a wonderful mis-use of the word 'caravan' which anyone who knows the New Wine conferences will appreciate) she told us the the QoS came to the right place (Jerusalem, v1), came with the right attitude (to ask questions, v1), and came to the right conclusion (that Solomon was ruling for God, v8). But then she concluded by taking us to Luke 11.31 - now one greater than Solomon is here. If 2 Chronicles 9 shows us God's kingdom in the Old Covenant at its height, his people at peace and happy, then now there is more: for us who are his people living under the reign of King Jesus in the New Covenant. Wonderful.

Third: my old friend Crispin Fletcher-Louis took a seminar on Theological training, and spoke of how good education had to be matched by integrating the academic insights with practical outworkings... for example: he gave us a class on Jesus and ritual purity laws in Mark's Gospel. Sound exciting? It was the best theology I have ever heard for the laying on of hands.

Jesus heals the leper, the menstruating woman and the dead girl by touch. Numbers 5.1 forbids such touch. Does Jesus therefore (a) keep the law, (b) break the law, or (c) ignore the law? A few raised their hands for (a) and none for the others, with most people keeping their hands down. As he continued I raised mine.
"The girl wasn't dead when he touched her," I said.
"The text says she was dead," replied Crispin, looking a bit perturbed.
"No - when Jesus touched her she was alive again. And the leper was healed. And the woman stopped bleeding. Therefore he wasn't breaking the law."
Cripin took what I was saying and tried to twist it a bit, and I wouldn't let him.
"No," I said, suddenly seeing that he was trying to stop me, but it was too late for that, "the reason you can't touch people with contagious dideases is that you catch the disease; but Jesus health is more contagious than their diease, therefore it goes the other way."

Which, it turns out, was his argument.
But what he then did with it was brilliant. Taking stuff from the Levitical code he showed how the priests' garments made things they touched holy just by touching them. And how objects in the temple made stuff holy by touching them because they were from the temple. Priests and temple convey holiness by touch: like a contagion. In a weak sort of way. But with Jesus this is amplified - for he is our great High Priest, and the living embodiment of the temple.

And we who believe in him are made into a royal priesthood, and become a living temple in his Spirit. We carry his contagious holiness. By touch. That's why we lay on hands when we pray.


Quite enough input for the day.

So I spent the earl part of the evening watching Paul Scholes put Man Utd through the Champions League final. Glory. And then Harry Latham texted me when it was time for prayer in the main meeting and I went back in.

A chap named Ben prayed for my knee. It's been playing up for ages. And genuinely it feels better - though the test will be when I have to sit still with it somewhere. And he prayed for my stomach/rib/bowels etc as well. Which have been really sore today. No joy there. Harry spotted us and came and joined in, and at the end of the meeting urged me not to give in but to find a member of the team at the front and ask again.

So I did. Why not? What's the alternative? Months of pain and discomfort. It was time to ask; there was nothing to lose.

As they prayed, I could sense the presence of God, I could feel an amazing heat in their hands, but I could also feel my physical pain and felt that nothing was happening. I knew God would be with me through it, but thought we might not see anything.

Then one of the people praying with me asked if I had any bitterness; and the other if I needed to forgive anyone. And in my mind had been the person who was the subject of the dream I wrote about here on Febraury 13th. So I said yes - I was struggling with this, but really did want to finally forgive this person, though it was hard. They insisted I confessed my unforgiveness, and did it there and then, and actually I knew they were right.

And I knew I finally had forgiven somebody who rarely meant to hurt me. But who often did. Very much. And it really is all right. I really do forgive. I really do pray the Lord will bless them. I really bless them.

And I felt better. Not totally physically well; but a whole lot better. Straight away. Something lifted off me.

We'll see how all this works out. But as I sit here in my hotel room now, I can read the words in my profile at the top of this page: "Heaven is... a great bottle of St Emillion". There's a certain amount of very deep theology there you know. And I want you to realise that I am not just using word play when I say that New Wine has given me more than a taste of heaven today.

(The day after)

Physically, today has been much like yesterday. So was the healing prayer a failure?

No. The forgiveness has taken. And, as the one or two people who know how much this has hurt realise, this is a deep wound suddenly and amazingly cured. I am genuinely surprised and grateful.

Friday, April 25, 2008


OK, I don't have cancer.

You didn't know I was worried? I've had a week of tests. Ultrasound, bloods, and best of all Barium Enema, which is 'uncomfortable' in the way Hitler is 'unpleasant'.

But Mike Lewis (whose daughter I married just before Christmas - I know, I know, I married so many women last year you forget these things - this was the surgeon's daughter - is all becoming clearer now?) has been a star and whisked me through all the tests I needed.

I needed? Stomach pains. Strange bowelly things going on. More stomach pains. And suddenly all that weight loss begins to look a bit less thrilling.

The results: I am in great health. I genuinely have the metabolism I had in my early twenties, and it's a good thing. The bloods show my diet is good, there's nothing nasty hidden away, everything is tip-top. The ultrasound shows all is working properly. The enema reveals no nasty cancers lurking, no diseases, no blockages. All is well inside the vicar.

Except - I'm in pain, and quite a bit of it.

Mike prods me about and discovers that there is a strong pain just above the stomach pain on the costochondral junction of my ribcage. Which he thinks is sending a dermatone pain down to my stomach. (Think - like shingles travels down your nerve system.) Tietze's Syndrome. It doesn't explain all the bowelly stuff - but maybe I just had a bug; coincidence. He gave me a local anaesthetic and the pain for a while subsided. The bad news? It may take 3 months to heal, but the good news is - heal it will.

Glory. What an answer to prayer. It has been a worrying few days. Weeks. Some of you have known, and I thank you for your prayers - for the rest, just join with me in gratitude. God is good; this is genuinely painful, but no more than that. I am officially healthy.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Touch (Torch)Wood

So here am I, visiting Torchwood's Cardiff base. I was showing two good friends from Orlando around for a couple of days last week, and it seemed fitting to let them see the Bay & all the sights there.

No sign of Captain Jack's team. Or RTD. Or the Doctor on one of his occasional visits.

It's great to show your home to people from another culture, especially so soon after receiving the same hospitality in theirs. You do feel embarrassed that you have to drive ten minutes to show them a castle because there isn't one in Pontypridd (and round here that's a faux pas - good grief, we even had one in Oxford; there was even one ten minutes away when I lived in Accrington). Road signs warning of marauding badgers amused them no end, though they were genuinely shocked by the signs we have with pictures of the elderly on the loose (too un-PC for the States I guess).

The most un-PC moment came at lunch at a pub in Tintern, when Kurt ordered something he had never come across. The barmaid took his order (which is fairly standard around here) and then brought it to the table, asking who had requested it by simply naming the dish.

"Faggots?" she asked.

Chris & Kurt felt that had she accused anyone in such a manner in their country she would have been arrested. Apparently you can't order faggots & peas in Florida. Not that I would really do so here, and took them on to the Bunch Of Grapes, Ponty's finest pub, where we had much better fare. (Hmm: Lamb sweetbread starters anyone?)

Tintern, Brecon, Cardiff, Caerphilly - in two days. South Wales is a beautiful place. All of you who are far away - come visit soon! (And the local food is certainly not dull...)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Must Try Harder

Free IQ Test Score

And of course I'm disappointed. Doesn't everyone get 150? Einstein got 160; what was so special about him? Wretched internet fraud stuff. They build up your hopes and knock you down. Apparently it's possible to get 200. But I don't see how off the test I took.

There goes my hope of a Nobel Prize. Though they haven't seen what I've done with the Mothers Union: Northern Ireland must have been easy compared to that... (And here I am kind of hoping that members of the MU are not regular readers of this blog or my crazily low IQ rating won't be the only reason for no Nobel Prize!)

Good thing I have a day job and stuff to keep me occupied. Time to fold some notice sheets.

P.S. Before you take this too seriously, the quiz came from Facebook. So I'm reckoning that to be told you are a genius there automatically questions the whole thing. Still, if you need your ego stroking too, click on the link and have a go!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


From Ben Sternke's blog:

The Pope is going to the USA next week. An Archbishop at the Vatican said this about the trip:
"The key to this trip will be to listen to Benedict’s speeches in their entirety. He is not a man of blah, blah, blah. He’s a thinker, and before speaking, he thinks. And he prays a lot.”

The Pope isn't "a man of blah, blah, blah". That's a great soundbite! Especially as it warns us against looking for soundbites and commends the long haul listen of whole intellectual reasoned sermons.

But I think the ironic juxtaposition of the style of the comment and its content are beaten hollow by the final five words: "And he prays a lot." Just an afterthought. A final throwaway reason for giving a spare hour to consider what the spiritual leader of a large number of the world's Christians has to say. Every one needs a press man like this; but I'm wondering if he has a day job as well as being an Archbishop...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Now that's what I call Church

At the same time as the two blogs below, amongst all the things that come in the post I received a couple of things which caused my equable mind and heart temporarily to lose a little balance.

Silly things. Stuff that doesn't matter, but which just knocked me a bit.

And for a week I did my best to cope, with the two things below and the other things preying on my mind which I couldn't quite shake. We all have these moments. And I'm doing the strong silent leader thing. I'm a man, I can take it. More - I'm a vicar, so I have to; I don't want to burden my poor people with a sense of being human.

Sleep is good. But after countless broken hours and stressfilled dreams, I was so far off form last night that after church I sat here and felt that I had to do something. It struck me that I was unable to lead everyone into the presence of God last night because I was slightly frightened of going there myself lest I came a bit unstuck.

And with all my vaunted talk of "my church is my family", I was acting as if I had no church, no family, no friends.

So I rang Andy and Esther, went round to their home, chatted, unburdened; they prayed, I felt God's peace and their love; we drank some whisky and I came home and slept well.

Now that's what I call church.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wish Me Luck

Heart of the family, loved by all, with an unerring ability to make each person who knew her feel special: my aunty Joyce died this week. The life and soul of every party, bringing laughter in every situation, she was a tremendous lady.

This picture comes from a wedding last October. She is 84. She was still (till very recently) running a Tuesday night club "for the old folk" (most of whom were younger than she was) though age was slowing her down. I played a set for them last year, and she was delighted I took the time out to do so.

If ever my Dad and I failed to se eye to eye, Joyce was on the phone. And, curiously, though I know she had some strong opinions about one or two people - those people still felt the need to be loved by her. She was a hugely charismatic, big-hearted person.

My Mum often joked that she and Joyce were at the front of my fan club. But I was at the front of hers; except - that queue is so big, I'm jostling for position with a hundred others. And if children are a testimony to their parents, then my cousin Pauline, one of the kindest people there is, speaks volumes of her mother simply by who she is.

The funeral is next Thursday. The last thing I shall be able to do for her.

And the title of this piece refers to the music that shall play as we leave the chapel, a song by her beloved Gracie Fields (whom Joyce impersonated marvellously!)


I've had a problem with my insides for a while. I wrote a blog about it before going on sabbatical and decided not to publish. My doctor had done a test which came back showing that something was up, but as that was about it I decided to stop being so paranoid.

But it has got worse. Whilst I was in the States I made sure I was on an aisle seat near the loo each time I flew. This became important. And then the pain in my side increased. On Monday I saw my doctor again.

Those who know what kind of examination you get for these kind of issues can imagine the scene. Think Nazi torture techniques. Actually, the bit I found embarrassing was when I was asked if there was any blood in my stools.

(I'm the guy who, on his driving test, when asked to read the number plate of the red car, couldn't actually see a red car. That's colour blindness for you. And why this should make me feel embarrassed given everything else going on... Aren't people strange?)

So my answer was evasive. How would I know? It could be green & I'd be none the wiser.

The doctor said it was probably something with my colon. Diverticular something. I remember thinking, "That's awful - I'm a writer and I have a disease of my punctuation." And then I thought - "Isn't that a kind of big truck? Like you'd hear on the radio after a traffic accident? 'The M5 is closed at junction 4 following a seven vehicle incident involving a diverticulated lorry'." I was waiting for an emergency phone number for relatives to contact.

"It's your age," said the doctor comfortingly. I wondered as I lay on my side if I could lie about that, too. Would it make me feel better?

My sister was helpful on the phone. "You need a better diet." I've had a pretty good diet. Lost a lot of weight, though the doctor regards that as potentially a sympton. Hopefully not. Might make it something else. "More fibre," says Gill. "And tablets." Well, I take tablets, but probably not the right ones. And given the fresh veg, pasta and disgusting muddy-brown bread I eat, there's plenty of fibre in my diet. Still, here's to more fibre.

Will moral fibre do? I have quite a line in that.

So now I am waiting to see a specialist who will decide if I am a lorry with punctuation problems. Or whether this pain in my side is from laughing it all off.