Friday, September 24, 2010


On the BBC 2 Review show, I have just heard a poem by Seamus Heaney, read by the poet, which I felt was beautiful and so I record it here. It's part of his new collection, Human Chain.

Miracle Seamus Heaney

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in –

Their shoulders numb. They ache and stoop,
Deep locked in their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

more work, more progress

Same song, but a little better recorded, so hopefully Richard can hear some of the words now! It's a bit more finished too, though there's still work to be done. It's been a while since I was in a song writing mood.

Monday, September 13, 2010

work in progress

Sometimes I just write songs for the pleasure of writing songs. I've had the chorus of this in my head for ages, but it's needed a verse. I've been playing around with it, and this is the closest I've got. Still work in progress.

Friday, September 10, 2010


My holiday has hit the end of the line. It's just another airport. I hate airports. Fake shops and frustrated families and business men with impossible tans and posh luggage. Stale air. I loathe the stale air. Do the ship it in specially to every airport everywhere?

We've been told to go to our gate. But there's a door that says only staff can open it. So we are standing here like lemons. I might lead a revolt soon. The plane will go without us... This is Italy, no-one will question why every single passenger disappeared...

And then London. The M4. Home. Matty.

Well someone has opened the door. Rebellion averted. Time to board. Who knows what adventures tomorrow will bring?

On the other channel

I'm wide awake tonight - still it gives me a moment to point out (in case you missed it) that over on my other blog channel, the St Catherine's News blog, there are a couple of videos that might be of interest.

At Easter we began the process of honing our mission statement as a church - both in order to come up with a simple sentence everyone could know which encapsulates what we are about, and also to flesh that out a bit and to be increasingly clear as to our role.

You'll find the video here. The sentence we are all challenged to take to heart is simply this:

We at St Catherine's are called to love God and our neighbour in Worship, through Evangelism, and with Compassion.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


So I've been wandering around Florence with a smile on my face, happy. This is a beautiful, lazy, ugly, intoxicating warm temptress of a city. I love it. The familiar streets and sounds and the glorious, impudently brilliant buildings which abound and both make you feel totally insignificant and as if you rule the world all in one go - all this by itself would make Florence one of my favourite urban sprawls.

But then I turn my feet with fixed purpose towards Santa Croce, hoping yet again to find with ease the ridiculous back alley wherein is hidden Vivoli's, simply the best ice cream parlour in the world.

Of course I get there with no hassles at all. My legs are on auto-pilot, or divinely inspired. Who knows?

And then the choosing. First the price bracket. I went for a middle of the range 5 euro cup. And then the flavours. Always start with old favourites. This is no time for experimentation! So it was raspberry, chocolate mousse & a dab of meringue.

Taste buds dancing. The sky a little bluer. Crowds parting and clearing a bench so I can sit before my legs give way. Somewhere in my mind's ear, an orchestra plays Italian love songs.

I buy a second. And then walk and walk around the city, partly in guilt at the amount of ice cream I have just eaten, partly to walk it off, and partly because I am just simply happy. I climb up to Piazza Michaelangelo for the view. And back. And what the heck, it's ages till supper. And I won't be back for who knows how long. Should I get my third and experiment a little this time?

What do you think...


I have just been served the biggest steak I have ever seen. 3lbs of it. It didn't say it was big on the menu, just that it was "special". You will be relieved to hear I only managed half. The rest has come back to the hotel with me & will be lunch tomorrow! Though that still makes it pretty expensive... What the heck. I'm home tomorrow night, so I'll stop eating again soon enough.

Open eyes

So it's Thursday morning. I'm about to board a bus for Poggibonsi and then Florence. And then it's Vivoli's, and ice cream heaven. Nirvana. Whatever.

I had an unusual night last night. Deep sleep, vivid dreams. The kind that stick with you. And this following on from a day when I felt a couple of internal priorities reverse. I do find holidays good for this - I am useless at turning off from the things that fill my mind in ordinary time, but allowing those thoughts space sometimes turns them on their head and brings a new clarity. Opens my eyes a little.

So I thank God for sunshine & walks in Tuscan countryside. And for the prospect of seeing differently. And for ice cream. Oh yes, bring it on

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


So I went into the basilica here to enjoy the murals. They have a lovey presentation guide book now with pictures of everything, which is new since I was last here three years ago. They are massive and medieval and incredibly impressive, though a few panels are incomplete.

It was one of those panels that grabbed my attention.

The resurrection panel has almost nothing in it. In the midst of all the colour and detail and flashing eyes all around, there is just bare plaster - and two solitary moments that have been restored.

First, everyone who walks past it sees the foot of the risen Christ, still bearing nail prints, standing firmly on the devil who is being squashed and consigned to a coffin. Second. Jesus' outstretched hand is lifting someone from the grave and giving them life.

These tiny fragments on these huge walls reduced me to tears. Christ stands triumphant over the things that defeat us. His foot is stronger, even maimed and bloody, than any enemy or foe. O Lord please crush the things that crush me so effectively. Help me see this picture and trust this truth.

And then realise that your hand holds mine. Your hand pulls me up. When I feel destroyed, you are the one who makes me alive again. It's not just about the end of all things. Its not just about death. It's about the hundred deaths we all experience too often. And your foot is strong enough to finish them off. And your grip firm enough to lift even me.

So often religious art just makes me squirm. And then I see something that makes me soar.


I'm sitting here in the Piazza della Cisterna in the middle of San Gimignano. I'm sorry, but as this is coming from my iPhone (courtesy of the free wi-fi the ceramics shop opposite is kindly providing) you are going to have to wait for photos. Or use the twitter feed. Or look at my facebook page. See, I just give and give.

The sun has blown away some early clouds, though there is still a rather wonderful breeze playing on the back of my neck. Everywhere people are taking snaps or sipping wine or standing there consuming hungrily their extravagant ice creams. It appears to be German week here. Even in my countryside palace all the other guests are Teutonic. And yes, one of them was out very early to place his towel on a sunbed by the pool. I kid you not.

The walk from Il Castagnolo into town is a good 40 minutes. And stunning. But that stroll gives me an excuse for a little holiday excess... I found a lovely little tratorria last night, just outside the town walls. No German spoken. No English either- clearly this is where locals go. So it wasn't fancy, and it wasn't expensive, but it was good. And the rabbit with olives was excellent. As was the house white.

I popped into San Agostino earlier. They have a painting of St Sebastian (praying for his faithful people) which is the spitting image of Robert Powell. And shortly I will wander over to the little cathedral here, which has fantastic murals. Wonderful. Then I shall sit in the sun & read a paper.

I hope you are all having a lovely day at work, and the weather is equally kind where you are. God is good. Now - ice cream.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


This night, ten years ago, I became vicar of St Catherine's. Well, actually, priest in charge. I didn't get the free upgrade to vicar for another fourteen months. But this is when my time here started, and the good folk here chose to mark the day with a few words and a spot of champagne.

Of course, the reading this evening was from Isaiah 43 - "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" So it was appropriate to think of the last ten years... hmm...

And yesterday, a lovely member of the church, Barbara Hargreaves, passed away after a final battle with cancer. She was very dear to me. She took part in that service ten years ago, and her husband, who had died before I came, actually went to the same primary school I attended in Accrington. I had spent a little time with her on Friday, and we had prayed together, and she had asked me to read to her from Phillipians 4 -

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

We took our leave of each other. I promised I would see her again; we both knew it would not be this side of Glory. She told me she was at peace.

Ten years.

I think of the saints who have gone before. Ken & Hilda & Phil & Gwyneth & Cynthia & Edith & Mabel & Gladys & Mac & far too many others to mention.

I think of worship and sermons and Bible studies and lights going on over people's heads and in their hearts. You do get to see it sometimes. I think of prayer groups and home groups and Alpha courses and countless hours of practical work done around the place and the fellowship of the saints that happens in the rough.

I think of sleepless nights and pain and loneliness too. It's all part of it.

"Does it seem like ten years?" I was asked, several times.

What does ten years seem like? I've never been anywhere for ten years before - not since I was a kid, growing up in Accrington, anyway. Does it seem like that? No, not really. And yes, I suppose. Ten years is both forever and about half an hour, isn't it? I had hair when I came. And about twenty pounds more around my waist. Matt was born the day after; not that he came here for another 18 months - Charlie was the Springer in Residence back then.

Goodness. I wouldn't have swapped it for the world. I came because I felt the Lord whisper in my ear that we could grow a church here.

But anniversaries are strange things. They focus on us, and they focus on the remembering. But God is not in the past. Hence that reading from Isaiah. Don't get stuck in yesterday. He's doing something new. Now. Here. Today. There are people here today he's working in. Look! See! And there will be more people along tomorrow for him to love as well. So as long as I'm called to be here, I'm called to be a part of this - in my very simple sort of way. I'm just a short bald guy trying to follow Jesus, and seeing if anyone wants to come along with me.

My job is to worship God; his job is to grow the church. That was true on September 5th 2000. It's still true today.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Greenbelt 2010

They gave me a free pass. What was I to do? I stood chatting to Simon Hall, old Oxford acquaintance and now a trustee of Greenbelt, who commented that at Soul Survivor he feels like he is seen as a bit wooly & liberal, whereas at Greenbelt he's a token fundy. Context is all. And Greenbelt stll felt like it did the last time I was there 23 years ago - theologically anything goes, but preferrably a bit rebellious and although many folk seem to have some connection with the evangelical church, they are there to cut loose. A little. It walks a fine line between being naughty and provocative.

Example: the headline speaker was a guy called Richard Rohr, a Franciscan. The talk of his that I caught ("looking sideways at the church") was presented as a forward looking manifesto for the "emerging church" as it seeks to do better than the monolithic denominations that struggle to work in the post modern world- but actually it was simply a re-working of fairly standard Franciscan anarchy. Of course, there were those who lapped it up; it was the right crowd for it. And I'm not going to do an in-depth critique here, but I did feel RR was a little dishonest - dressing an ancient Christian idea in Emperor's New Clothes for an audience who would be delighted by it, without pointing out why Franciscan anarchy has so very often gone very seriously wrong - both in the falling apart of local initiatives and in the reverting to the monolith it so assiduously attempts to subvert. Ho hum. Naughty or provocative?

Speaking of which - Peter Tatchell. He paid tribute to Anglican Mainstream for giving him good publicity... (definitely naughty) and critiqued Rowan Williams very strongly (definitely provocative) but actually rather well. I am a supporter of Rowan's unity policy; but PT's critique was that Rowan has been silent on human rights (we're not talking the sideshow of gay bishops here) - human rights where 46 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality, often at the behest of the churches, and half a dozen of those have the death penalty for it. And Rowan keeps unity with those churches as a more prized goal than the rights of the people who suffer. That was a powerful critique, and one I hadn't heard in such terms before. You don't get this guy at too many Christian events, and though I think his understanding of the Scriptures is limited, I was impressed by him.

Provocative, naughty - downright weird. I spent a wonderful hour (courtesy of Andrew Powell) at the Greenbelt Folk Club. Some of these people actually were attractive human beings. And yet they were in this room that was the very definition of "sub-culture". If you have been to Greenbelt and not been in that gathering, you have not really been to Greenbelt. Until you have heard a man stand up & say seriously "I'd like to play my current favourite Morris Dancing tune" and then do so on his accordion, you haven't really experienced everything this festival has to offer.

Though most of the music is a bit different to that. Courtney Pine on mainstage was glorious - I didn't know whether I would like him; he's not really my kind of jazz. But actually - I totally loved the whole set. Fantastic. He can certainly work a crowd, and though he was a bit squeaky & lets-play-a-million-notes jazz at times, his band was extraordinary, and the whole thing worked. Big time.

Similarly, I totally loved the Dodge Brothers in the Big Top on the last evening. A skiffle band most famous, I think, for it's bass player (film critic Mark Kermode), they were high energy fun that had the whole crowd dancing from start to finish. At one point near the start the generator blew - so in the dark they shushed the crowd and played acoustically, amazingly, till power was restored. And then went full pelt for ages. Exhausting. Who needs circuits in the park to keep fit?

I was told I had to experience Beer & Hymns. The guy leading it in the on-site pub (The Jesus Arms) started off by saying "We like.." "SINGING HYMNS!" shouted the crowd; "and we like.." "DRINKING BEER!" everybody hollered. So we did both. It was a lot of fun. Especially when most of the hymns were in 3/4 time, so we had a good sway going on. There was a limit on the number of people they let in, so there was a huge crowd outside just enjoying the event as "...& Hymns". And though I'd gone alone to this, I met up with Hannah Powell from around the corner here, who introduced me to Joy & Dave & Andy, and it was great fun to get to know them & spend a good part of the weekend with them.

Oh yes. I was camping. In a tent. It's true. I am receiving counselling for this. Thanks to John & Clare for hospitality, and especially to John for helping find me when I arrived & for ferrying me back to the carpark at the end!

One last thought to finish with.

I heard theologian Stanley Hauerwas. He was reading from his memoir, and honestly, I was a bit disappointed, but then in the questions he offered a one-liner that I hope I remember always. He was speaking about intercession and the power of praying for each other when we are going through the mill. He said:

Other people praying to God for me made God present to me in a way I could not make God present to me.

I saw tons of friends, people I haven't seen for ages, and made some new ones as well this weekend. I also saw a couple of folk with whom my relationship has become tense over the years, and when we saw each other we were unable to communicate. I was deeply, deeply upset by this. I don't know how they are feeling spiritually. But I wish I could tell them I am praying for them; that I am asking God to be present for them. And I hope I can believe they are doing that for me - Lord knows I need it too. And maybe one day soon, with God answering these prayers, that truth will make enough difference to restore us again.

Provocative, naughty, weird, glorious, fun, disturbing, inspiring, sometimes very cold - but I'm glad I went.