Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fifteen Love

Unless I am much mistaken, today is the fifteenth wedding anniversary of John and Clare Hayns. Happy anniversary! I was best man to them, back in my twenties. Gave a very outrageous speech - to which nobody listened, mercifully, as Clare's father had given the greatest Father-of-the-Bride speech ever and so there was no interest in anything that followed.

Clare has just been approved as a likely candidate to become a vicar. John, for those of you as don't know it, is a juggler. Well, children's entertainer. Well, corporate schmoozer. We used to do a bit of street theatre together, many moons ago.

Just before the wedding, John & I drove up from Oxford to Stratford to see King Lear. Clare had gone with her father, and John was missing her. Hadn't seen her for hours. I was a student at Wycliffe, John a lay-assistant at St Aldate's church, but his NUS card was still valid. We got to the RSC to find it wasn't King Lear at all, but the Merchant of Venice. John was sure it should be Lear, but we decided to get tickets anyway. At 7.28, two minutes before curtain up. (Obviously, Doctor Who wasn't in the cast for that Shakespeare play). With our student passes, we got front stalls for peanuts.

And, as we sat down in our shorts and T-shirts, in the best seats in the house, John was thrilled to discover that Clare and her father (dressed up to the nines, having paid a small fortune) were fortuitously sitting directly behind us.

In the interval, Tom looked forlornly at his drink, and then even more disgustedly at me, standing where his daughter should have been (John and Clare having vanished), and I practiced my pastoral skills on him: "Cheer up pops, this is what life is going to be like from now on!"

Hmm. Perhaps that speech at the wedding fifteen years ago today wasn't just for his daughter. I'm just wondering if there might have been the slightest element of "Best man? BEST man???" going on there...

Congrats, both.

Fools Seldom

You see, it wasn't just me confused by these two stories. I found this in The Times. Thank you, Peter Brookes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Surely Some Mistake?

This is not the Archbishop of Canterbury fretting over recalcitrant American Episcopalians, apparently, but the missing Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic who has been hiding at Lambeth Palace for the last ten years.

Or have I been confusing two stories in the news today?

That's Hymn!

This is a photo from my trip to the States earlier this year - my good friend Kenn Hughes directing the orchestra and choir at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Kenn sent me an email a couple of weeks back, "because we have had a church contact us and they would like to do a “Hymn Tour” in the UK for the summer of 2009" (his words). He thought I might help set an itinerary and be a guide for them.

Now, those of you with your UK heads on will appreciate how I felt when two or three emails later Kenn continued: "I don’t want to scare you but we are talking about the largest Southern Baptist Church in the US and they are talking about a choir and orchestra numbering approximately 200 people."

Not quite what I had expected.

But it sounds like a really interesting & fun idea, and I've just finished a first proposal for them which I hope they might like. It will take in London, Salisbury, Gloucester, Worcester, Oxford, Olney, Bedford & Cambridge, and feature a variety of hymn writers from Elizabethan times to the present, though there is a strong weighting to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Did you realise that "The Lord's My Shepherd" was written by the Speaker of the Barebones Parliament under Cromwell? Or that the composer of the tune for the US national anthem came from Gloucester? Or that George Herbert's church will need seven visits in order for everyone on this tour to get inside it once?

I hope it all works out. If it does, they will be performing concerts in five places which I hope they will enjoy, and which hopefully will be opportunities to share faith in Jesus through the music and the words of these songs of praise. I'll let you know!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The first time I saw Paris

Here is my Mum, in Paris, where we took her for a birthday treat last week. None of us had been before, so it was a bit of the blind leading the blind, but we had a great time, and most imporatantly, Mum thoroughly enjoyed herself.

I witter on here from time to time about the importance of family, so here is an unashamed family blog! Me, Mum, Gill (my sister) and Ben (my nephew) enjoying two days away together in Paris. It was Gill's idea. She was coming over from Florida for two weeks, and thought that Ben should see somewhere in Europe, and we could combine it with a treat for Mum. I knew that Mum was really keen to see Paris, and so the idea was born. The three of them flew from Manchester, and I flew from Cardiff, and we met on the Gare du Nord!
First stop, the Arc du Triomphe. Ben wanted to go to the top - so we did. Well, he and I did. Gill & Mum stayed on the ground (quite wise) a pattern repeated later at the Eiffel Tower. We took buses, metros, trains, and we actually walked places. The Musee d'Orsay was my favourite stop - all those Monets, and what a fantastic building - though Notre Dame as the sun set was pretty good too.

No. Tell a lie. The two patisseries we found, and the six cakes I ate - those would be my personal highlights. I realise that the Louvre and the Mona Lisa was interesting, and but you can't get a decent Mille Feuille for love nor money in Pontypridd.

Ben had a wonderful time - and did a great job in climbing all the stairs up the ET. I love spending time with him, and can't wait to see him again in August when I fly over to Florida. Gill was on good form, insisting that her sense of direction was better than mine. She did find the hotel; but couldn't then count the bridges on the Seine and made us walk for ages to the Musee d'Orsay!

A wonderful trip, and a great family time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Colours to the Mast

Interesting times for the former Bishop of Monmouth, pictured here on the December night he priested the former curate of Glyncorrwg.

You know, for me the Anglican church is a big house. Lots of us live here. Like any community, we have opinions and disagreements. Regularly I find that I am right and many of my housemates are wrong.

But the moment I think that this means I can push them out of the door, or force them into my room in order to stay in the house - that moment I have just exiled myself, because I have forgotten what being an Anglican is about.

Important note to self - Total number of church members who agree with me on everything: One. Me. Apart, of course, from those issues where I disagree with myself. And then I am in real trouble, because if I can only worship with those with whom I am in complete agreement, I don't know where to turn.

(Though as a church by definition needs more than one person, I guess that doesn't matter anyway. I'm still stuck in a corner jabbering pointlessly whichever way I look at it.)

It's a BIG house! And sometimes those housemates - the ones who are wrong, because they are different to me - surprise me because God loves them and they have a life with God and I learn things from them. And I am enlarged by being allowed to be part of the same family. This is part of an ancient and venerable doctrine that Jesus had a thing for; it's technical name is "humility". It's not so popular these days. I'm not so good at it, myself, though I note with dismay that I may have caught this from my betters.

For of the 880 bishops invited to the Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of Bishops across the Anglican church world-wide, 230 have something better to do and have said, "No thanks".

Women Bishops is the issue for a very few. Homosexuality for more.

Tosh. It's selfishness and pride and self-advancement and arrogance. It's a lack of godliness and a frankly amazing rudeness that beggars belief.

Here am I trying to teach my folk about living in Righteousness - living in right relationship with God - and those who would present themselves as leaders in Biblical teaching and authority (over those they say would question the Bible) choose to flout page after page after page of grace and authority and humility and other clear Biblical virtues over tiny secondary issues that amass all of two or three lines of script in the whole of the Bible text. Matthew 23.23-24 was written for these men, good men, kind men, misguided and now misleading men.

My Archbishop here says stupid things. So do I. We disagree with each other. We are both wrong - him usually on a bigger stage and with bigger consequences. Do you know what? He's my archbishop and I love him dearly, and pray for him, and like him, and as an Anglican if he asked me to do something for him I would do it if I possibly could. We might have a ding-dong row in private (it's happened!) but then life goes on. I might continue to oppose his views on certain issues (including the headline, terribly non-essential stuff that's flying around now: for the record, Jesus matters, bishops don't, and that's that) but I won't live my life in that place.

This is the Church of God!

Hello LOVE! Hello GRACE! Hello GENEROSITY! Hello TRUTH! Hello FRIENDSHIP! Hello PEACE! Hello the wonders the Spirit pours upon us all -


I just thought I'd nail my colours to the mast. And though no-one has ever invited me to Lambeth, and never will, as a Christian my calling is to be an Anglican. So I would never dream of saying no.

Friday, July 11, 2008

High Praise

As many of you know, we are working our way through Romans at the moment. On Sunday mornings, in my Wednesday Bible group, even sometimes with the Mothers Union.

It's my teaching style to try to take the complex ideas and put them in words that everyone can remember. Through Romans 6 I teach that Sin and Righteousness are presented as alternatives, and that as Righteousness is primarily "Right Relationship", Sin has to be seen as "Broken Relationship", or as one keen-witted person put it - Wrong-teousness.

What I'm trying to do is get away from Sin as judgemental-morality-failure, which is a terrible reading of Romans. And right here, right now, I'm not going to go into the whole argument -

Except to say that on Wednesday as we were going through Romans 7 in some detail, and I was explaining how this all related to the person trapped in Sin, the broken relationship, seperate from Christ, one of my congregation actually said to me those golden words, those preacher's promised-land syllables of High Praise:

"Well, we certainly didn't know what sin was till you came."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Amen & Prayers On Top

MMP, a regular commentator here, published this a few days ago, with reference to the current struggles in the Church of England. At a time when I find that some of my Anglican friends are speaking to me far more than usually, and some have gone very quiet, all I can say is - read it. And then: Amen. And prayers on top.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Funny Valentine

Another track from that May filming evening with MGQ at St Catherine's. MFV is one of my favourite songs: sweet, reflective, yearning, and amazingly adventurous harmonically for 1937. We give it a slow start and then a gentle lilt. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Story Telling

Ricky blogs about Doctor Who episode by episode, and I often comment. But at the end of a terrific season, it's time for a small entry here on this site.

You know, I really enjoyed it. Good stories told well. I love story telling. I love characters that are clear and interesting. I always enjoy the lonely Doctor and the friends he draws around him - and I love that here has been a whole series of Prime Time TV where the focus has been Friendship. Not romance, but friendship. And that, in the end, the cost of the friendship was sacrificial made it all the more valuable.

Stories make sense of life; they allow experience and emotion to collide into a narrative, and that narrative pushes things that sometimes defeat us into shapes we can comprehend, and comprehending take power over.

A smile of recognition, the words " I know what you mean", a certain (although often nameless) feeling of familiarity - these are the gifts the story-teller grants an audience, gifts with which to face life and the battles it brings, and sometimes to fight those battles a little more successfully.

This is of course one of the reasons why Jesus teaches in parables. It's why the Bible is recorded in narrative form so often.

It's why movies and TV shows and plays and operas and books and even video games work so powerfully: in stories we see ourselves. We are supposed to. In good stories, we see ourselves bettered, freed, lifted, taken on. And when we leave the story, the bettering, freeing, lifting, taking on - it stays with us. Fable only works if it comments on reality.

For me, this series of Doctor Who worked. Thanks to all involved.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


My good friend Andy Booth is a really creative guy; he has just posted on his blog the most beautiful thing I have seen in a long time. It is a video clip of the end of a sermon at his church. Click here for the link and then click again on the little video screen to see the clip, and watch the whole thing - it takes about seven minutes. I am literally sitting here weeping.