Saturday, June 27, 2009

Memories of Michael Jackson

I guess the death of Michael Jackson has been a major news story all around the world. I have to confess that his music never really did it for me - well, the really early Jackson 5 stuff maybe, you know, "I want you back" & "ABC".

But I do have a story of a personal encounter with Michael Jackson. For six months he was my landlord. Really.

After finishing at Wycliffe, I didn't get ordained straight away. For a little while I stayed in colege, and then I house sat for Branse & Barbara Burbridge in Marston, and then I worked for HMV for a while. I got notice that there was a house for rent in Oxford, 104 Marlborough Road, 3 bedrooms, and the guy who was letting it out was looking to sort it quickly. I had two friends, Chas & Andy who were also looking, so we spoke & agreed to look together. I rang the contact number, and was told to go on a certain day and the landlord himself would show me the house as he had strict rules.

The landlord himself was Michael Jackson.

No entourage. No weirdness. No big deal. Very softly spoken. Wearing black. This was 1994. We agreed a rent, a deposit, and I was given a contact number and a document to sign so that I was the person responsible for the house, and I alone met Michael. Chas & Andy never saw him. He came once more during the six months I lived there before being ordained: a daytime call. To make sure we were keeping the place clean. I think he rang the day before & I was in a frenzy for hours making the place spotless!

The photo is the front room of that house. The night before I left to come to Wales, with a group of friends who prayed with me.

Oh - not that Michael Jackson. This one was a lovely Irish guy, and chaplain of Christ Church. You didn't really think...???

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ecumenically Speaking

Thanks to George (again) for this picture from Pope Benedict's recent return to his home country. Good to see local variants in liturgy being embraced. The (off camera) oompah band were also a big hit; punctual worshippers from other parts of the Catholic church were surprised to find the front rows already had towels on them as they arrived.

Perhaps regulars might think of other ways to utilise local customs in our worship?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fifteen Love

On June 25th 1994, fifteen years ago today, I was first ordained in Llandaff Cathedral. Here is a photo - surrounded by twenty good friends who came to cheer me on as I first ventured into Wales, knowing nothing of my new home country and pretty much the same of the life and ministry to which I was committing myself.

But I knew the Lord who was calling me. That was enough.

I see in that photo one friend who beat me into the ministry and at least five who followed me. There are two others who serve full time in ministry without being ordained, one as a missionary. At least two clergy wives, which is a more-than-full-time calling.

I see yesterday and wonder where it went; I see tears and laughter and triumphs and breakdowns and people and service and glory beyond words. I see a life lived that I would not swap for all the world.

I am grateful to be here. And to be going out tonight with friends from St Catherine's who want to be grateful with me. I've had a couple of lovely cards, and I'm a bit emotional. I pray there is far more to come than I can imagine; and that I shall have the common sense always to cling to Jesus so that I may last the course and do some good.

(The Next Day)

Fifteen of us (how apprpriate) went to the Grillhouse for steaks. Here are various photos. We were joined later by Dan & Gemma, who struggled to find it, hiding behind the Lanover.

I was really touched that everyone came out for the occasion, and we had a lovely time. Kev, who runs the place, is having his daughter christened with us in September, so it was doubly nice to hold the gathering there.

It made me remember some old stories. Joyce, Annamarie, Jane & Yvonne were clearly enjoying themselves enormously from the amount of laughter at their end of the table. "It's the Holy Spirit," I commented. (Not sure how true...) But that reminded me of taking communion in St John's Cymmer, year two of ordination.

I looked at the communion table as I was saying the communion prayer that morning, thinking to myself, "there's something odd about this, something not the same..." As we got to the Holy, holy, holy, I realised what it was. There was no bread & no wine there. I was consecrating thin air.

For a moment I wondered if anyone would notice; could I get away with just miming the whole thing? Then I spotted the bread & wine on a side table, so as we sang the Holy, holy I walked over to the side table, picked up the bread & wine, brought them back & placed them in a religious manner as if I had always intended to do it this way.

I would've got away with it too - if I hadn't looked up & seen Ange, the church warden, with an ear-to-ear grin on her face as she stood at the back of the small Valleys church. She'd seen right through me. And as I tried to continue the prayer, I giggled. "Terribly sorry," I said, paused, and tried again. But you know what it's like when you aren't supposed to laugh & you just can't help it? I did it again. I paused again. The third time, despite my pinching my fingers in order to produce pain to try & stop the laughter (I failed), one old lady, half way down the church turned to her neighbour, and in the loudest stage whisper imaginable said: "It's the Holy Spirit!"

And then I really did laugh out loud - and they joined in.

I take it back - I think when we have such pleasure in each other's company, such friendship & joy, then (though it may not be obvious at the time) maybe it really is the Holy Spirit after all. That memory is one of my fondest of that congregation - there's lots more to it, and I can still see the general joy on each face, and feel the wonder of that morning's worship. We take it for granted; but the gifts of God come in many shapes and sizes & are things for which we say "thank you" however they come.

So I say a fresh "thank you" for last night, and for those who came to bless me!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Singer of the World

I spent a couple of great evenings this week at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition (I know, it's a great title, isn't it). For those who may not be aware of it, it's one of the world's top singing competitions - we're talking opera, not American Idol - and, as you get from the title, it happens on the doorstep. I took Dick & Curly France last Monday night, when we saw Russian soprano Ekaterina Shcherbachenko (easy for you to say) win her round: she won the whole thing tonight, and was a worthy winner. Outstanding.

Her Gounod was great, her Stravinsky really quite something, but it was her Puccini that did it for me. I think that link will work for everyone, but the video may only be available in the UK. It is beautiful - beautiful. Apparently one of the BBC presenters couldn't speak afterwards because she was in tears - absolutely the right response, and if a competition entrant does that at this level, they deserve to win.

And Andy Murray won Queens. And England beat India. And the sun shone all day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't spend it all at once

So this is it; we're finally seeing the back of Ronaldo. Fond memories, and eighty million reasons to find them sweeter in the recalling.

No-one is bigger than the team. This last season, at times, we have seemed like the CR7 supporters club: and when Ronnie has been in a bit of a mood, the whole side has failed to gel. The focus has been lost.

Don't get me wrong; the lad's a marvel. But in all honesty, I'm quite happy for him to be someone else's marvel if it means we can get back to being a better-balanced unit again.

The Real Deal? Certainly a good deal for us, well struck. Don't spend it all at once, Fergie.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Archiepiscopal Seal

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing Rowan Williams (a great supporter of Salvation's Song) speak on the place of mission in the 21st Century. He gave an excellent exposition of Matthew 10.1-10 and Matthew 28.16-20 at the Intercontinental Church Society's Annual General Meeting. Here's my notes.

Where do we start in mission? We should start where God has already started - not wasting energy on things God is not doing, remembering mission is God's before it is ours.
What do we say? That God is nearer than you think - not distand & shy, needing to be introduced to people he doesn't know. He reminded us of Herbert's poem of Easter, which points out that God is always up first -
"Thou wast up by break of day/And brought thy sweet along with thee".
What are we doing? Bringing Christ-shaped change into every situation (healing, release, cleansing - transforming whole environments, not just beliefs).
Why do we do it? Gratitude! "Freely you have received, freely give!" We have received a gift that will not sit still in our hands.
How do we plan it? Initiative comes before resource, meaning that mission travels light. What we think we need sometimes stops us from responding to what people around us actually need.

And then -

Go. Mission travels, not expecting people to arrive. Mission is not just hyperactivity, hoping someone will notice. It asks questions - what do you need? Where is hunger?
Make disciples. Shape people who are willing to go on learning - bring people in and give them time. People are members of the body, not just and organisation.
Baptising them... Jesus immerses people in his life, sometimes before they fully understand everything. Doctrine is really important, but mission is not an exam to be passed. Relationship with Christ is a life, that leads to understanding.

We need to know this missionary God reaching out to us before we can reach out to others.

And from this Rowan gave 4 practical hints:
1. Good mission needs good local research.
2. Funding should be flexible.
3. Mission needs deep breaths and long views: a long term perspective and superhuman patience.
4. Mission needs a solid three dimensional liturgical life - teaching and symbol, making the rhythm of Christ's life second nature to us, the great story unfolding freshly year on year.

And yes - that really is him really holding a copy of Salvation's Song, which he describes as "a liberating and exciting book, which has the potential to open up some very new channels in mission." Here we are together, making the point clear:
Holiness is godliness in accessible humanity. Rowan is a wonderful, godly, holy man. His grasp and communication of Jesus is for me a golden thing. I think he has the worst job in the world, but is the best man in the world to hold it. It was a joy to see & hear him.

Incidentally, I was voted onto the ICS council - another privilege, and an honour. I had a great day, meeting Ambrose, a fellow Welsh man, Paul & Kay who I had spent time with one Wengen trip, and Nabil Shehadi, the ICS sponsored chaplain in the Lebanon; he describes his country as a cross between "club Med & world war three". To proclaim Christ there takes a special man - he seemed truly amazing to me.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Moral Victories?

The Tories won in Wales, & almost everywhere else, but with such a small percentage of the vote they'd have fewer MPs in Westminster than they do now if this was a General Election. UKIP beat Labour across the UK as a whole. The BNP have twice the Plaid Cymru representation in the new European Parliament. A third of the electorate bothered to turn out & vote.

Moral Victories? Across Europe, the far right advanced. Even Mosley's fascists never got elected to anything significant in the '30s, and this weekend saw something in our time and in our land that we might try to ignore - but we'd be foolish to dismiss.

Tell me I'm a fool to repeat my warnings about twelve years of diminishing civil liberties now. This doesn't mean anything. It's a protest vote. A fluke.

But if I was in power today, I'd be cancelling ID cards, restoring habeus corpus, and putting cast iron guarantees on every civil liberty I could think of. Because this weekend the unthinkable happened; and instead, all I hear of is individuals working out how it benefits them, and how to protect their power/advance their claim on power.

Does anybody actually care about society any more?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

French Lesson

Dick France came to church today and took four sessions on how the Old & New Testaments work together. He was great!

We have never before done a day like this here - a day's Bible conference. And we certainly have never brought in anyone of Dick's standing to take such a day! The whole thing came about because Kirsty & Rhian have read a couple of Dick's commentaries and loved his work, and when we started to look at Hebrews in one of our groups, they recommended Dick's book. I said I'd organise for them to have tea with him if they were so keen, half as a joke - Dick was my principal at theological college, and is now retired in North Wales, and so I had his email somewhere. They replied - "Could we?" And I began to wonder if we could do a bit better than that...

I go to various conferences, and often hope that I'll be taught the Bible by someone who does a better job than I could. I often end up inspired & disappointed all at the same time - I hear great preachers who actually aren't great Bible teachers. But today I heard a great Bible teacher giving great Bible teaching.

(It's both the scope, the knowledge, the ease & the throwaway lines - Hebrews 11 verse 1 can be summed up as "look forwards & look up!")

I was hoping we'd get at least a dozen of our folk to give up a Saturday. Saturdays are precious, and I didn't know how exactly it would work. Two dozen came. Fantastic. And they loved it - at least, the ones who have emailed me so far!
Everyone pitched in - our catering team did a great job in keeping us well fed & watered through the day, and spiritually I feel totally energised.

It was quite high powered; Dick holds no prisoners & makes no apologies for presuming his listeners are intelligent. His clarity and openness to questions, and the way he took us through an amazing amount of stuff - in a totally different way to how I would have done - were all fantastic.

We'll do it again. If you missed it - watch out, we'll hold more of these. This was a first try. Next time, we'll open our doors a little wider!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Thanks to George for the following:

As anyone who has seen a score of a Mahler Symphony knows, the music is simply littered with German directives. In the interest of finally enlightening musicians as to what the composer really means, someone wrote the following glossary of all common phrases (this was anonymously posted on the Chicago Symphony musician's bulletin board recently):

Langsam = Slowly

Schleppend = Slowly

Dampfer auf = Slowly

Mit Dampfer = Slowly

Allmahlich in das Hauptzeitmass ubergehen = do not look at conductor

Im Anfang sehr gemaechlich = in intense inner torment

Alle Betonunger sehr zart = with more intense inner torment

Getheilt = out of tune

Von hier an sehr allmaehlicher aber stetiger Steigerung bis zum
Zeichen = From this point on, the spit valves should be emptied with
ever-increasing emotion

Hier ist ein frisches belebtes Zeitmass eingetreten = Slowly

Hapttempto = Slowly

Noch ein wenig bechleunigend = slowing down with a sense of speeding up

immer noch zuruckhaltend = with steadily decreasing competence

sehr gemaechlich = With indescribably horrific inner torment

Etwas bewegter, aber immer noch ruhig = Somewhat louder, though more
inaudible than before

Gemaechlich = Intermission

Ganz unmerklich etwas zuruckhaltend = Slowly

Etwas gemaechlicher als zuvor = Slowly

Zurueckhaltend = Gesundheit

Von hier ab unmerklich breiter werden = As if wild animals were
gnawing on your liver

Ohne cresc. = Without toothpaste

Immer noch zurueckhaltend = slowly

Allmaehlich etwas lebhafter = Screaming in agony

Ohne Nachschlag = Without milk

Kraeftig bewegt = Slowly

Alle = Second violins tacet

Mit dem Holze zu streichen = like a hole in the head

mit Parodie = Viola solo

sehr einfach und schlicht = Slowly

Daempfer ab = eyes closed

Den ersten Ton scharf herausgegeben = Do not play until buzzer sounds

Am Griffbrett = As if in tune

Aeusserst zart aber ausdrucksvoll = Radiantly joyful despite the itching

Wieder zurueckhaltend = Increasingly decreasing

Noch breiter als vorher = Better late than never

Nicht eilen - No eels

Allmaelich (unmerklich) etwas zuruckhaltend - Much faster (slower)
than conductor

Lang gestrichen = Heads Up

Lang gezogen = Heads down

Die ^ werden allmaehlich staerker und staerker bis zum fp = In the event
of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as flotation device