A prayer for New Zealand

22 February 2011

I was asked today to write a prayer for use in the Diocese for those caught up in the earthquake in New Zealand:

Heavenly Father,
whose love and care embraces all people
as our lives weave through the opportunities and dangers of this dynamic world.
Tighten your embrace we pray on those who are victims
of the powerful forces of this planet:
be comforter for those who weep,
an encourager for those who search,
and a strength to those who support the lost and bewildered;
and to all the people of New Zealand at this time,
give the assurance of your presence amid the devastation and loss,
for the sake of Jesus our Lord, Amen

Happy New Year?

1 January 2011

BBC Radio Humberside – New Year’s Day

Well I wish you a very happy New Year . But, having said that  I realise that we start 2011 with many problems before us – the weather, the economy and those myriad of personal issues which can so weigh us down.  So what does it need for us to be happy in this New Year?  Oscar Wildle that great manufacturer of sharp quotations observed that “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go”

But I am much more drawn to the anonymous observation that “Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.”, because unless that’s true, then we are doomed to unhappiness, because throughout my life I have never known a time when there haven’t been problems to deal with and I suspect that’s true for all of us.  Indeed it is the problems which give life a texture and responding to them can bring out some of our best qualities.

There was a fashion for imagining a world which was problem free, one of the most famous versions was a book  by Sir Thomas More written some 500 years ago which he called Utopia – a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean where there was no poverty or misery and all lived in harmony.  As we grapple with the recession, unemployment and all that comes with them, Utopia sounds a good place to be.  Of course the story of Utopia echoes the story of the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the Bible, where God places Adam and Eve in a paradise where there were no problems. An experience of harmony and peace which they can enjoy as long as they used their freedom of choice responsibly.

The story goes on that once Adam and Eve misused their freedom of choice, then paradise became an impossible place for them, because paradise requires a depth of responsibility which enables harmony to exist.  But as we look over human history and read our headlines today, it is clear that such a depth of responsibility seems beyond our capacity to achieve.  The distinctiveness of Jesus is not really so much about him being ‘good’, but about the depth of responsibility which he lived out – to such an extent, that those who met him had the experienced that something of paradise had come close to them.

In wishing you a happy new year, I am not offering a meaningless phrase, but a hope that we will each find the ability to deal with the problems and concerns which lie ahead, whilst at the same time discovering an inner sense of responsibility in the way in which we make our choices, so that something of paradise is found within us to enrich our lives in 2011.  So I do wish you a very happy new year…….



New Year Aspirations

30 December 2010

The Grimsby Telegraph gave me 200 words to express my hopes for 2011

I suspect that in 2011 the effects of the spending cuts will dominate our lives and I am most concerned that it will be the weakest who will bear the greatest pain.

So my number one hope for 2011 is that politicians will discover a vision for the society they are creating and especially a vision to generously support the marginalised and most vulnerable.  Expedience appears to be driving the way we shape the future and that is a perilous path.

My second hope is that the ‘Big Society’ becomes more than a slogan to avoid Government spending.  Jesus Christ was a proponent of a Big Society, with love driving how we live together. But he knew that such a society has to be built on what is going on in people’s hearts for the generosity and commitment required to reach out and meet the needs of others.

My third hope is more personal, I want to slow down a little to have more time for the people I encounter.  The constant rush and demands on our time can make us careless of the time which we need to invest in each other – so 2011 will be the year when I accept that second cup of coffee!


The Christmas story is full of depth

28 December 2010

Christmas message on Compass FM

Even though my childhood was some time ago, I still love the excitement of Christmas day. There is stillness around with people just pausing in the constant rush of life to appreciate family and friends – the presents, a lunch and for many of us the carols and prayers all serve to touch base with something beyond our preoccupation with the problems which challenge us the rest of the year.

At the heart of Christmas is a story – the story of the birth of a baby some 2000 years ago in a troublesome part of the Roman Empire. Some people only ever touch the surface of this story and remain in themselves untouched by it, or relegate it as something for children. Yet, like all of the best stories, the story of angels, shepherds and a young girl giving birth in a stable invites us to go deeper, beyond the concerns of fact or fiction, to go deeper into the mystery of life and the possibilities of God.

The Christmas story draws us into its power because in no small way it is our story. Each of us has been a baby coming into the world with all the risk, vulnerability and uncertainty of birth. In the same way, each of us knows the sheer complexity of love and being loved.
The wonder of the Christmas story is that we are drawn into the possibility that there is within the child Jesus a glimpse not only of the nature and heart of God, but also what it means to be human. And it is that possibility which Christians continue to explore and study as we embrace the possibilities of God into our lives.

Christmas 2010 finds us beset with problems – with the weather, with the economy and with the absence of any convincing political vision for the future. The recession and the Government’s response to the financial turmoil is creating many victims and causing much despair. At times it almost seems that the poor and the vulnerable are being punished for the inability of the economy to bring the sustained prosperity which politicians had promised and for the recklessness and greed of the bankers.

The story of Christmas doesn’t offer quick and easy answers to these challenging issues, instead it offers us a quality of life to shape a different future. The child of Bethlehem grows up to reveal that love, forgiveness and lives filled with God’s character are the qualities which shape the future. It is why the story of Jesus and the story of Christmas continue to fascinate the world, drawing us back again and again, Christmas after Christmas to the mystery of love wrapped in the risk and vulnerability of a baby. It is the only story which holds out the simple truth, that it is through love, sacrifice and a Godly heart that you can transform the future – such a vision is not on offer anywhere else, for it can only come through the risk and vulnerability of the love which came down at Christmas.

Fruitful Growth

10 December 2010

I have recently been involved in a number of conversations with congregations deeply concerned with how to ‘grow’ their church.  It sometimes feels as though they are looking for ‘the’ answer to this concern, or a formula for them to follow.   Such conversations have encouraged me to recover a paper which I wrote following my last sabbatical, where I looked at what we really mean by Church Growth and the foundations which are needed for real growth in the life of the Church.

You can find the paper on this site – “and he cursed that tree…”

Happiness – beyond Government

16 November 2010

So the new government is going to conduct a survey to discover the levels of happiness in the country.   At last politicians have realised that there is more to life than the economy – a reality which many of us have promoted for a long time.  I just hope that given politicians habit of wanting to measure and control everything, we don’t end up with ‘targets’ for being happy – with pictures of smiling citizens lining the roads whenever a ‘beloved leader’ passes by!

Yet the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing is fundamental to being human.  I can’t recall meeting anyone who has set out either to be miserable, or to be unhealthy.  It is the changes, chances and realities of life which erode our sense of wellbeing and undermine our happiness – and this is something which politicians need to understand.

If the government is really committed to happiness then they have to accommodate the simple truth that it is very difficult to be happy if you have lost your job; it is hard to be happy if your benefits have been cut or removed; it is impossible to be happy if the chaos of poverty becomes your everyday experience.  But most importantly they need to understand that for many of us, we cannot be really happy ourselves when we know that others are suffering and have become victims of the need to balance the budget.

But ultimately happiness is an inner and spiritual quality beyond the reach of legislation and politics. Happiness is something about how we shape our lives and order our priorities.  Indeed we can do much to promote our own happiness and well being.  Learning how to love, to be loved and forgive are sure foundations to a happy life.  Discovering how to value others and preserve one’s own dignity are each ways of securing our sense of wellbeing.  Controlling our anger, greed and sexuality each contribute to stability in life from which we can live at peace with ourselves and our neighbours.

Governments have a responsibility for providing a context and an economy which promote happiness, but in the end it is how we live our lives, relate to each other and share out the good things of life which secures our future.  It is all summed up in a verse from the Bible written many centuries ago, it just says – do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

Developing a collaborative model for beginning public ministry

23 September 2010

We are exploring new patterns  for formation and training in the first four years of public ministry for the stipendiary ordained.  The paper supporting the two pilot schemes can be found on the pages of this Blog at http://wp.me/Pg5Vx-7k

Let’s party!

4 July 2010

Article for the July edition of Crosslincs

I often feel that it’s not what you say that matters, but how people hear you.  It is something which I see played out again and again in the media as politicians, religious people, and experts comment on vital matters of our age.  Some have the knack of exciting and interesting us, while others just can’t do it and leave us none the wiser – swamped in a flood of words.  Yet the views, understanding and votes of many are based on such brief encounters.

As a church we put an enormous amount of time and effort into deciding what we want to say, but I wonder how often we stop and consider how we are heard?  I suspect that many hear us as being serious people in a state of anxiety about the world and constantly preoccupied with internal problems which are of no interest or consequence for those who are outside the conversation.  There is of course some truth in what they hear.  We are serious about being the people of God; the world is far from being ‘right’ and we have theological and financial issues which need addressing – yet is that all we have to say? Is that all that people need to hear?

It is no easier when we turn to the words of Scripture – we hear these precious words in so many different ways and respond to what we hear.  A good example of this is Luke 15.  It is a wonderful chapter containing three of Jesus’ parables about being lost – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.  We can hear these familiar stories of something precious first being lost and then being found, as stories of God’s response to those who have sinned.  We can also hear these stories as an encouragement to evangelise those who have got life wrong and to assure them that they are precious to God.  Yet is that all that we need to hear from these familiar stories of being lost and being found?

I often use the stories in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis as something of a key to understanding what’s happening in the rest of the Bible.  In Genesis Chapter 3 we have a story of people becoming lost.  Adam and Eve choose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and become lost to the blessings of paradise. Because of their choice, God has to search for them and calls out “Where are you?”

The story of God then seems to reveal a divine restlessness to recover us from our ‘lostness’.  That becomes God’s passion and purpose – to restore us to the real blessings which come with the gift of life.  So Jesus’ three parables are about so much more than finding something precious that was lost. They are about hearing the reaction of the one who has been searching and has found what they were looking for – “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” verse 6, and again “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin” verse 9, and then more explicitly in verse 32 “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.

These familiar stories enable us to hear something of the party that is going on in heaven when God recovers what is lost. They let us hear God in party mode, celebrating with us whenever we have grasped the gift of free will and used it to make choices that are infused with the quality of love and thus moving us closer and closer to those blessings of life which God intends.  When we are found, recovered by the God who is restless to find us – then it’s time to party.

I wonder how often we radiate that sense of celebration in what we say and do as God’s people.  When we follow Paul’s calling to the Colossians to”seek the things which are above”, are we looking for a party, and does it sound as if we are having a good time?  If there is a party going on in heaven, then that’s what needs to resonate from the life of our church.  If we are caught up with a God who rejoices, then are we living that out in our worship, witness and ministry?  Are we inviting the community in which we are set to a party? We may think we’ve told them, but what have they heard?

25 June 2010

Cleethorpes Chronicle June 2010

Next week’s emergency budget is going to be a sharp reminder that we have to work together if we are to get our economy back on track.  For me, however, the essential question will be how far the more vulnerable in our community can be protected from the effects of the recession.  I suspect that such protection will only be possible if we are prepared to accept additional sacrifices to our own standard of living being included in the budget.

Working together and making sacrifices are at odds with the ‘culture of self’ which seems to dominate our society, with its high awareness of our own needs and focusing on the individual rather than the community.   It has been a way of life where we have become observers of other people’s problems, yet have become unwilling to bear the cost of finding solutions.  The immediacy of television takes us to the heart of tragic and challenging situations, but then moves us swiftly on as the next headline clamours for our attention.  The ‘culture of self’ has eroded so many aspects of community and made redundant the language of working together for the common good.

I recently visited the grave of Valentine Joe Strudwick, a rifleman of the First World War. I found him in the Essex Farm Cemetery just outside of Ypres, lying amongst his comrades from the 14th (Light) Division.   He had been killed in action on 14th January  1916, just one month short of his 16th birthday. He was one of 50 from his Division to be killed that January – yet it had been a “quiet month” with little action.  I wonder what this 15 year old farm labourer, “of tall and well built stature”, from Dorking in Surrey would have made of our ‘culture of self’?

In the Christian faith we find love and self-sacrifice held together in the man Jesus. The baby of Christmas ends up dying nailed to a cross and becomes the ultimate expression that love without sacrifice is a very shallow, selfish and hollow emotion.  Next week’s budget may well help to balance the books, but unless we learn how to work together as a community – to make the personal sacrifices needed to balance the community – then I suspect that little will be changed by the Chancellor.  We hear so much about love, but so little about sacrifice – we have much to learn from that 15 year old rifleman lying in Flanders Fields and even more to learn from that young man who died on a cross 2000 years ago.

Faith – the casuality of excessive independance

17 January 2010

Cleethorpes Chronicle  article – 14th January 2010

The last couple of weeks have been quite a struggle as we have learned to live with the snow, ice and cold. It has been a particularly challenging time for the sick, the elderly and the housebound, as well as for those who have to travel in the course of their work.  Mercifully, however, the electricity supply hasn’t been too affected and supplies of oil and gas have been sustained.

As ever, when the normality of life is interrupted, there have been many stories of neighbourliness, care and support within communities, with much to celebrate about the way in which we can and do care for each other when the ‘chips are down’.  I have cause to be grateful to two strangers who came to my rescue when my car became stuck on ice trying to get up a slight incline. I had been getting nowhere for about 15 minutes when my helpers came and pushed me onto firmer ground – I really did wish them many blessings for their kindness.

Awareness of those who live around us increases at times such as we have experienced recently. The sad thing is that such awareness of each other seems to run against the way in which our society is going. Independence is seen to be a virtue and much of life is directed towards enabling us to be ‘entire unto ourselves’. Yet such independence is a very modern feature to life and runs contrary to human history where we have worked together in communities. There is actually very little evidence that independence makes us happier – in fact it seems to feed a ‘therapy culture’.

Independent living sounds attractive and is a good slogan until the snow comes, or the normality of life is interrupted for whatever reason – then family, friends and neighbours become essential features to our survival. What price independence in the face of an earthquake such has been experienced in Haiti?

Of course true community is really built upon ‘faith’ – believing in and trusting in others.  One of the great challenges of our age is to recover that sense of faith within our communities, so that we can work together not just in the exceptional times of need, but in the normality of the everyday.  Faith is a casualty of excessive independence, for faith is rooted in the humility of accepting that we cannot make it through life on our own.  Without faith in others, how will we cope when the cold realities of life break through the illusion that we can ever be independent?