Sunday, January 30, 2011

O my word

I enjoy reading various blogs. Those from friends at Asbury are amongst my favourites. Of course, if you are a regular, you'll know the links down at the right hand side of this page. Chad Brooks is a great blogger, and I think that the current (Jan 30th - though it's been there for days, and I've just had it brought to my attention) snippet from his site Outside is Better listed there is neither intentional, complete nor typical.

Still, it is funny.

In case he removes or updates, I will record exactly what is there right now. Sometimes the internet has a wonderful way of editing life:

Outside is Better
" I have spent some time over the last few weeks updating the feel of the site and launched last night. Since I will be transitioning from the role of a stud..."

Glorious. And you thought I just gave you worship site links.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

less than human

There are things you want to write sometimes and can't. Or don't know how to.

I have discovered that when someone consistantly treats me as less than human over a period of time, there comes a point at which I do not know what to do.

I want to remain able to talk and to speak as if all were well. But I am so grieved, I cannot speak at all. It is not anger. I am not angry. I have been angry - for sure; but I have faced raw anger across from me and I do not want to share in it. It's not who I am; it's not who the Lord allows me to be. I see and understand the pain in faces that reduce me to this sub-human status, this less-than-life. I have tried to reach out, to help, to bring peace. But peace exists between peoples. For there to be peace here, it is not up to me any more; others have to see I too am a person and begin again to learn how to treat me as one.

So I do not know what to do. In a social setting, in a chance meeting, even by email, I find myself speechless. Unable to communicate. Frozen, inarticulate, unacting. Aware I appear to be blanking people; I am not blanking people. It is beyond a question of choice.

CS Lewis once wrote - "How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?" I do not know what to do; but here is my prayer. That those of whom I write and for whom I pray, for whom I pray dearly in their own situation, would see again I too have a face. That we may one day yet again meet face to face.

Friday, January 28, 2011

signs of the times?

As some of you are not football fans, and some not from these shores, I'll begin with a brief run down of what has been a major - though strange - news story here this week. Andy Gray & Richard Keys, both in their mid-fifties, main presenters of Sky Sports football coverage for twenty years (ever since it began) have lost their jobs in the last seven days over off-camera sexist remarks they made about a female match offical not being able to understand the basic rules of the game simply because she was a woman. (There's a lot more - click here for a BBC version of it all.)

Almost no-one has defended them. Newspapers condemned them for prehistoric attitudes. Footballers (who you would have considered fairly neanderthal in their approach to life) issued tweet after tweet in support of Sian Massey, the official in question, and saying that the kind of locker room banter that Gray & Keys engaged in was unacceptable. Here's Robbie Savage (in the twighlight of his career, plying his trade at Derby County in the Championship) from his twitter feed:
"You have to judge the person on ability and decision making and having played in games where she has officiated she was excellent !"
Again he wrote,
"I spoke to miss Massey the same I did to a male Lino it's irrelevant the gender !"

A discussion on Radio 5 was the only place I heard anyone begin to suggest it wasn't all bad. And this was from Lawrie Sanchez, former manager of the Northern Ireland national side. He wanted to make sure there wasn't a crime of thinking impure thoughts, and that people were allowed to have different opinions, and he pointed out that there was a generational shift. No-one was much convinced, though it was accepted there had been a generational shift, and attitudes to women in sport that had been prevalent and acceptable twenty years ago were not acceptable now. In the same way that almost no professional sports person would smoke today.

It reminded me of a press conference a few weeks ago about the succesful Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup, when a journalist asked Sepp Blatter (in his seventies), President of FIFA, about gay football fans going to a country where homosexuality is illegal. Blatter sniggered (along with others in the room) and then said: "I'd say they should refrain from any sexual activities."

There was a moderate outburst against this from some gay rights groups, and in some western footballing countries (including here in the UK), but Blatter (unlike Gray & Keys) remains in post.

The world is changing. Old men of a previous generation are finding that attitudes that have been safe forever are no longer universally acceptable. Good thing too. It is not just boys who can travel first class. It is not just those in the safe majority who can treat everybody else how they please, and speak about others without respect or regard. This change is long and slow in coming. It is happening in so many areas of life. We should seek it out and foster it.

This is a Christian imperative. In Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female. Jesus dines with sinners and tax collectors - because they are human. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.

The problem is that we are human too, and we live in a culture, and we are more shaped by it than we know. Those older than us for whom expecting women to do the dishes was the norm (rather than officiating at top flight football matches) or for whom homosexuality was instinctively wrong are not evil for having these attitudes - they are of their generation. But we are not. We do not need to read the Scriptures with the lens of the past, no matter how long that lens has been in place. Culture shapes how we read the words God has given us - we must understand this humbly, so that we can use the lens we have to find the purest light. And understanding this humbly, as we seek to change the lens for a better one, we must do so carefully. Heaven help us - those coming after us may be left with what we choose for as long as we have suffered the attitudes that have gone before us.

Churches today are beginning to work out that women and men are both human. That the Creation story places a remarkable equivalence upon us, as does the Resurrection narrative. Because we in the Church have worked (frankly) with the superiority of men for so long, this change is harder for us than for Sky Sports. It is not done with in a week. We are not submitting to "the spirit of the age" as we take this equivalence on board, but rather freeing ourselves from the spirit of too-long ages past so that we better reflect the truth of God as revealed in his word, liberated from a cultural prison whereby some people are worth less than others - a state of being that can never, never be Gospel.

I have enjoyed Andy Gray & Richard Keys as they have brought football match after football match into my front room over the years. But if their departing is a symbol of the world losing something awful, much as I have loved them, in their going, we have gained much.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I thank you

1.       1. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still
2.       2. Sign on the lawn at drug rehab centre: Keep off the grass
3.       3. A midget fortune-teller escaped from prison. Police are looking for a small medium at large
4.       4. A soldier who survived mustard gas & pepper spray is a seasoned veteran
5.       5. In democracy, it’s your vote that counts; in feudalism, it’s your count that votes
6.       6. When cannibals eat a missionary, do they get a taste of religion?
7.       7. A vulture boards a 747 holding 2 dead racoons. “Sorry sir,” says the stewardess, “Only one carrion per passenger”
8.       8. A dog that gave birth to puppies at the roadside was cited for littering
9.       9. A hole has been found in a nudist camp wall. Police are looking into it
10.   10. A man sent ten amusing wordplays to ten friends in the hope that at least one would make them smile. No pun in ten did

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I am undergoing the joys of having a new roof on the vicarage. It is a vulnerable experience.

Scaffolding everywhere. Tiles to the left, tiles to the right. Rubbish mounting up & the driveway needing to be swept of nails before I can re-park my car at the end of the working day. People all around the house & garden doing their own thing in my personal space.

Recognising the kind of bloke I am, I love to be with others, to serve, to laugh, to work, to play, to pray, to be and to do - and then I need my bolt hole, my private home in order to recharge again. I know the stuff that's being done on the house is in a good cause, but I am not enjoying a process and the timing of a process that has been imposed upon me. I'm trying to keep some boundaries in order to function, but others are doing their best to erode as many of those as they can, viewing my presence as an inconvenience to their work (which doubtless it is) so there are little skirmishes errupting from time to time. In my vulnerability, I think I am far from handling all of these skirmishes gloriously.

Life lesson: don't live in a house whilst they put the new roof on it. Unless you enjoy stress, or need to feel more vulnerable than is naturally comfortable.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He guides me into paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Lord - shepherd me, provide for me, calm me, lead me, restore me and please help me walk better in the relationships all around me than I am managing just now. I feel vulnerable; but I know you care.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

gate keeping

Today I prayed with a saint of God, a 103 year old lady by the name of Margaret Rees. We read Psalm 23 and a part of Philippians 4, before I blessed her and then we prayed the Lord's Prayer.

I say "we" did these things. Margaret has gotten ill since I last saw her on her birthday, and though she held my hand, she did not speak. The picture here is of her hundredth birthday. She is accompanied by her daughters Carol and Barbara, and I took Barbara's funeral just a few months ago. I loved Barbara dearly; she was very kind to me, a great support.

Back to today.

One of the staff came in and chatted to me. We looked at the photos in the room. Margaret's cousin, who stowed away on Ernest Shackleton's ship. Margaret's daughters. The Queen, and the greeting she had sent three years ago. Then I sat again to complete my task. 

For as I visited Margaret, I knew this was a "gate keeper" moment. She was ready. I was preparing her for her crossing. It is the most precious thing I do. So I assured her of God's love. Of her sins forgiven. Of the Lord her shepherd caring for her and of her place in his house for evermore. And I took my leave; promising we would meet again, another day.

A great and glorious day. A day when the tear in my eye would be wiped away, and all the pain of the years would be taken from her aching limbs.

I signed out of the nursing home at 3.45pm; six hours later Carol called me to let me know her mother had died.

And my thoughts are with Carol, missing her mother. And my thoughts are with Margaret's grandchildren and great grandchildren. And my thoughts are with Margaret - resurrected, restored, renewed, ageless and magnificent, worshipping her Lord in the company of those who have gone before her. There will be singing in Heaven tonight.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

everything is gift

Back in November, I was chatting to Catharine Morris on the phone, and she told me of her plans for her birthday - skiing with a Goldhill holidays group at Lauterbrunnen.

Lauterbrunnen is in the valley beneath Wengen, my usual skiing spot, and although I bought a new pair of skis on ebay after my last trip, one thing and another has meant I am not on the rota for running the church in Wengen this season, and I thought I wouldn't get a chance to see how good they were. But after speaking with Catharine, I called Clive at Goldhill, discovered they had spaces on the holiday - and booked.

I have had a wonderful week.

Now - don't fear, this isn't just a holiday blog, I hope there's going to be more to this than that; but please, enjoy the snaps. The Jungfrau region is one of the wonders of the world. Truly glorious. Just being there is a gift.

The Goldhill group is made up of (mostly) Christians from all over the UK, with varying degrees of winter sports experience. We get lessons in the morning, ski for fun in the afternoon, and then eat together in the evening before worshipping together, hearing a short talk, and decamping to the pub. In the past, I've taken groups from St Catherine's, but this time the only person I really knew was the aformentioned Catharine Morris and then I had met some of her friends before. You go hoping that there will be a decent crowd. These folk were just great - from retired pilots to university professors to a couple of students to nurses to doctors, from north to south, Scotland, England and Wales, it was a great group of people. I especially enjoyed time spent with folk from Derby, and with the speaker for the week, Ian. More of him, and his compassion, later.

Everything is gift. Going (basically) alone - how was this going to be? Wonderful.

Gift number two: those new skis I mentioned. I bought them on eBay sight unseen. I bought them cos I'd seen a pair like them in Wengen, and cos they were a serious upgrade from my old skis. Volants. Gold Volants. Handmade in Austria. I knew I'd had a bargain, but on Thursday evening I enjoyed a birthday meal (gift number 3) with Paul & Sarah Parker (whose marriage blessing I conducted a couple of years back in Wengen) and a couple of the other guests work in one of the ski shops there and were interested to hear what skis I used. When I told them, they were surprised. "EBay," I confessed, knowing that this is not something you say to folk who work in a real shop. They wanted to know how much I had paid, and I told them, thinking I'd paid about a third of what I should have. I was in error. Their current shop price simply adds a zero on mine...

I tell you, I have never experienced skiing like it. And though I had a slight accident on the last day (I skiied into a cliff on a sharp corner - but the helmet took most of it; gift number 4, thanks Dad & Lorna, thanks Gill; otherwise it might have been nastier than the small scar I have on my right cheek) even that would have been far worse without the incredible response and power that these skis produce. Amazing.

Gift number five. One morning I just wanted to be alone for a while. I had a lot on my mind, and being with 50 people all the time gave me no time to pray and think. I needed head space. I wanted to be miserable for a short time, and to be able to enjoy it. So, I let everyone else leave, and then caught a later train to Wengen and headed on up the cable car - where a guy called Sean saw me and greeted me. Sean is working as a ski school instructor, but I know him as the other half of Sheridan who runs the DHO (Down Hill Only Ski Club) in Wengen. He asked what I was doing - "Skiing by myself today," I replied, and before I knew it he had his mobile out of his pocket and was calling Sheridan. "She's just working in the office," he said to me, and then to his phone, "Sheridan, Marcus is here & he's skiing alone, why don't you come & join him?"

So she did. And I lost my time alone. I wilted inside. But you know - Sheridan is a lovely, lovely person, and an amazing skiier, and she knows the mountains thoroughly, and one way to improve your skills is to follow someone brilliant. So I was given my own personal ski guide for the morning. Fantastic. Everything is gift. Then we ran into four other folk, three of whom are good friends from Wengen, and ski school teachers, including Karen, my first teacher. One amazing person to ski with was not gift enough. I was given five. I didn't get my headspace/misery time. I got something far more precious - friendships renewed and an incredible opportunity to ski with experts. Wonderful.

Gift number 6. I had some great conversations with folk during the week. One night stands out when three of us bunked out of a group activity and found a pub together, and just talked into the night. Two of us continued a bit later, and I had the chance to talk again with the other guy the day after on a train journey. We talked of ourselves, we talked of Jesus, we talked honestly and with laughter and with the odd restrained tear. Such moments are precious.

Gift number 7. Eating in the cold outside a restaurant on Catharine's birthday, because she always eats outside there. Sometimes gifts are bizarre! But it was a delight to be with Catharine & to see her this week. A million years ago, she & I prayed with Rob Graham in a prayer triplet, and we remembered him this week.

Gift number 8. The accident. The Helmet. The skis helping to slow me down so that when my head hit the wall it wasn't as bad as it could have been. And the humour of Ian skiing past me as I was plastered to a cliff face in agony, and he carried on all the way down to Wengen station... You can imagine I did not let him forget this. I told the group: "I'd like to tell you a story of compassion. I'd like to... but unfortunately..." Yes, the preacher just skiied on by on the other side. We had a great time - and had just done the Brandegg run from the top of the Eigernordwand lift in exhilaratingly fast time. The whole thing was fun - and that helmet was indeed a gift, as were all the jokes afterwards. At both our expense. You can read Ian's version of events here. (Seriously - it's a scar, not a scratch, don't believe anyone who says otherwise.)

Everything is gift. So much is unexpected. It would have been easy to focus on the negatives - being alone in a crowd, having to lock up my skis, scratching the new helmet, losing time alone, feeling like I get to have such conversations so rarely these days, and actually having an accident which left me feeling rather shaken - but every one of these things was part of something wonderful. It depends where you look. Eyes on the mess, eyes on Jesus? In my heart I am praying and working through so many things that seriously trouble me and steal sleep away night after night, yet even on a simple holiday week I see God pouring out his goodness. So why stare at the problems and worry without the ability to solve a thing? He is here and he is good.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Happy New Year!

In all honesty, I have avoided sending texts and tweets and leaving facebook updates wishing my hundreds of friends and followers (followers? like we're all mini-messiahs on Twitter) the pleasantries of the rolling calendar. It's just another day, bah humbug.

Don't get me wrong. I am open to receiving good wishes and kind thoughts on any day of any month. Strike that. On every day of every month. I just don't much care for this particular festival, with its cunning mix of nostalgia and delusion.

"Oh yes, 2010 was a very good year for us. Daniel received his knighthood for services to the chicken industry, Mathilda cured the common cold and little Percy got five A stars. We holidayed in Mauritius, Morocco and St Moritz, and were able to found a children's cancer home in Mozambique even though the economy did hit us quite hard. How was 2010 for you? Let's hope 2011 is even better!"

For me 2010 had some really awful bits in it, and looking back, I'm afraid I am still close enough for them to be the things that come to mind first. It had some real challenges, and some of them were successfully negotiated, and others remain ongoing. And yes, there were highlights; renewed friendships, good time spent with my Dad, a month at Asbury Seminary amongst them. It's good to recall those. But honestly - 2010, I'm glad to see the back of you.

So much for nostalgia. As for delusion...

It's not the concept of "resolutions" that I object to. I ignore these things, so they simply don't register for me. But if I profess to be glad a year is over, then sure enough this sentiment will follow on - "Well then, here's to a better year ahead!"

Why better ahead? Why, after all, should this last year have been so challenging? And then - what's wrong with challenging? Just because I didn't like it doesn't mean it was bad for me, does it? Why presume disike & difficulty are bad for me? In the grand sweep of things, what doesn't kill you can make you stronger, and 2010 might turn out to be one of those periods that proved invaluable. Not much fun, but invaluable - rather like theological college was. So why should I want next year to be "better" when really what's meant (kindly) by that is "easier"?

I'll confess - there are days I want easy...

But more: I want to live this life well. And when this life is not easy, I want to live the difficult days well, to get the most out of them, to make the best choices and to live this life well. Life is a gift from God. Not to be wasted. It is not measured in triumphs and prizes and wishing it away but in the quality of the living - and that is something that can only be measured against the standards the days we are given throw at us. How we live through tough days and how we live through glorious ones ought not look, feel, taste, sound or smell the same.

And I want to be able to have my hand held by God through every day and look him in the eye and say "thank you" each night. The days I love, the days I understand, the days I fear and loathe.

I don't need a "Happy" 2011. I don't wish one upon you - I fear you may be disappointed, unless you live in a fairytale. But I'd like a hopeful one; one where the hope of a good life, a life with Jesus remains and grows and shapes me and makes me better - one where such hope deepens beyond my understanding. And I pray that for you, too.