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

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…”

Good Friday – what’s good about it?

10 April 2009

Over-to-you  BBC Radio Humberside  10th April 2009

zurbaran-crucifixionI suspect like many children and probably quite a few adults I was always confused about Good Friday – what was ‘good’ about it?  It is the day in the year when we mark the story of Jesus who, having been betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, tried before the ruling powers and condemned to death by the Roman governor, is nailed a cross an left to die in agony.  How can this possible be called ‘good’?

Well, the explanation for why it is called ‘good’ is either that it became known as ‘God’s Friday’ which through usage ended up as ‘Good Friday’, rather like our phrase ‘Goodbye’ has its origin in the phrase ‘God be with you’, or the alternative explanation that it was called ‘Good Friday’ because it is the day on which we remember the powers of Goodness triumphing over the powers of evil.  Either way, the significance of the day is to remember the suffering and death of a young man who offered a new and fresh way of knowing and understanding God.  In churches around the world there will be services to mark the event of Jesus’ death and its meaning.

That battle between good and evil was understood as a very real and spiritual battle in the time of Jesus.  Down the ages and still today for many that spiritual battle rages on – to Christians the victory in that battle was won by Jesus through his death and resurrection, but we are still engaged in ‘mopping up’ operations as units of evil refuse to accept their ultimate defeat.

In our modern world such imagery has less and less hold on our culture.  But we are still very alive to evil and will quickly adopt the phrase to describe those whose acts and behaviour we find unacceptable or which we cannot understand.

Trying to understand evil has been the subject of much philosophy, theology and psychology, but in the end it is a difficult concept to capture.  At its simplest,  evil is the consequence of excluding God – in which case there is a lot of potential for evil around.  Whilst in a more complex analysis, the term evil is adopted to justify the punishment of wrong doers and I think that’s why it is quickly adopted as a term by the tabloid press to describe criminals, even young children, as though the use of this word can capture the complexity of those who resort to violence and perversion.

The reality of evil is however all around us, as we encounter the ways in which human flourishing is undermined by violence, abuse and poverty. Whilst we may use all the force of the law to curb evil, Good Friday reminds us that the only way to overcome evil is for goodness to prevail.  In the face of evil we all need to become do-gooders, lest we become part of the problem ourselves.

You can’t measure prayer

7 April 2009

Over-to-you  BBC Radio Humberside  Tuesday 7th April

Yesterday, high above us in space, the European Goce Satellite switched on super-sensitive instruments which will make ultra-fine measurements of the Earth’s gravity.  The purpose of the Goce mission is to study the oceans – to understand better how gravity pulls water and heat around the globe and goce-satellitethus improve our understanding of climate change.  The satellite is an amazing feat of science, technology and engineering which will enable us to understand more about earth our home and the gravity which keeps us on it.

It was a tragic irony that on the day on which these super-sensitive instruments were switched on, miles below the residents in and around  L’Aquila in Italy were woken by the devastating effect of our globe’s most destructive force. The tectonic plates, which relentlessly grind together around Italy, moved suddenly causing an earthquake which brought devastation and destruction to the town and the power of gravity wreaked death and injury to the citizens of that region as buildings and infrastructure collapsed around them.

Our hearts go out to those who are caught up in this devastation – the bereaved, the injured and the homeless and we wrap them in our prayers along with those who continue to search for signs of life amidst the rubble and recover the victims of this natural disaster.

Science enables us to understand more and more about our planet and the life it sustains, with projects such as the Goce satellite extending that knowledge.  Already there are questions about why the scientists were not able to give any warning of this impending disaster as the energy built up under the epicentre of this earthquake.  Yet in the end we live on a living planet with the movement of the continental plates being part of the 4.5 billion year history of our world.  The victims of yesterday’s earthquake are tragic victims of this reality.

There are ever those who want to drive a wedge between science and religion. Artificially introducing conflict where there is none.  Science gives us an understanding of how this world works and how life is sustained; religion gives us an insight into the human dynamics of life, the purpose of life and the preciousness of each and every life.  As we wrap the victims of yesterday’s earthquake in our prayers we can do something which science can never offer, nor should it, we can for a moment become involved in their suffering and grief – we can’t change it, nor can we remove it – but in our prayers we avoid being indifferent to their plight – in prayer we are drawn into it.    That’s what makes us human and God makes possible – an ability to relate to each other in a way that science can never measure, no matter how super-sensitive its instruments may become.

Invest your tuppence wisely in the bank!

15 October 2008

Life is never going to be quite the same again for those of us who were brought up on the solemn advice given to Michael Banks “If you invest your tuppence wisely in the bank, safe and sound, soon that tuppence, safely invested in the bank, will compound! And you’ll achieve that sense of conquest, as your affluence expands! In the hands of the directors, who invest as propriety demands!” Whilst Michael Banks was but a character in the film ‘Mary Poppins’, that fictional advice captured a common sentiment, namely that our banks were solid and wise institutions upon which trust and confidence could be built.

In just a matter of weeks we have witnessed the collapse not just of the international banking system, but also of the trust and confidence which that system had built up over generations.  In the real economy that breach of trust is beginning to have a devastating impact on jobs, families and communities. Now trust and confidence have been replaced by guarantees offered by the Government, bringing for us all a very different relationship with our bank.

Trust and confidence are the stuff of relationships – between banks, within businesses, with customers, between friends, in families and for lovers – and they are precious commodities.  The banking system appears to have sacrificed these precious commodities for the sake of maximising their profits.  It is going to take time for all this to unravel, but before the banks can regain our trust, they will need to find a way of repenting of their folly.  In fact they need our forgiveness.  They need us all to offer that precious human attitude which enables us to find the future when our trust has been betrayed and confidence lost.  As Desmond Tutu puts it, there is no future without forgiveness.

But can we forgive institutions such as banks?   Well perhaps this is where something the Christian faith has discovered over the centuries may help – forgiveness is not cheap.  It requires recognition of wrongs done and the harm caused, with a desire for a different future.  To rebuild trust, there would need to be a soul-searching reflection on what is driving the banking sector – excess profit for shareholders or service to the whole economy?  If the banks can’t engage in a process of repentance so as to rebuild our trust and confidence, then we had better all start singing, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious….!

This post was from an article which I submitted to The Cleethorpes Chronicle

Olympic fever

11 August 2008

I hadn’t realised that having a “red button” could be quite so addictive! Yet since the opening of the Olympics in Beijing, I have been moving from event to event with an ease which would have totally baffled my grandparents. But in these digital Olympics, one minute it’s archery, then cycling followed by a quick check on the rowing, before moving on to the semi final of a sport which, at any other time, I would never have dreamt of watching. I think that I have a dose of Olympic fever and at this rate it is going to be an exhausting two weeks.

Whilst most of the time I recoil at the way in which our lives have become dominated by a culture of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ – when it comes to sport, healthy competition is right at the heart of it all. It is about striving to excel and that can only be measured by running, jumping, throwing or whatever it is – faster, higher or further than everyone else.

Most of the competitors in the Olympics are youngsters who have discovered the drive, determination and self-discipline to excel in their sport. They have learnt how to believe in themselves and in their potential. In an age when we have endless headlines demonising youngsters, it is just so refreshing to see young people from around the world celebrating the self-belief which has been awakened in them through sport. Behind each of them are scores of others who didn’t make the grade to be in their national team, but who also have much to celebrate.

Of course it is not just about the Olympics. Around the world there are countless numbers of young people who have learnt how to believe in themselves and in their potential – not just in sport but also in their work, with their friends and in their communities. It is this self-belief which is the key to their confidence. Such self-belief comes from the adults – parents, coaches, teachers, friends etc – who have encouraged them. Behind each and every one of these athletes there has been that essential positive attitude and celebration. Such an approach to life won’t have come through disapproval, criticism or the much vaunted Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) – but through the encouragement, approval and commitment which young people need if they are to believe in themselves and take their place in our world.

As we can see on our screens, when youngsters receive this, their potential is released and they jump high.

Lambeth Day 15

31 July 2008

The conference ends in four days time and concern that there should be a ‘product’ from the Conference is mounting.  I find it ironic that whilst such concern comes from across the spectrum of opinion here, it includes those who are convinced that the church must not be influenced by contemporary culture.  Yet this idea that you cannot meet without a purpose and an outcome is totally driven by contemporary culture, influenced by an economy which only values an activity if it ‘feeds the bottom line’.

It is regrettable that over the years The Lambeth Conference has become associated with some kind of legislature for the Communion, with its resolutions being given the status of law….the question “do you subscribe Lambeth 1.10?” has at times taken on a McCarthyistic character.  So an expectation has developed that on Sunday evening we will be coming down the mountain (well, hill actually) on which this campus is set, with tablets under our arms having solved questions about the use and interpretation of the Bible which have challenged the church throughout its history.

In a world which falls so far short of what God intended and with so many people, each made in the image of God, not sharing in the God-given blessings of life, we need to value people of faith coming together to renew their commitment to God, to each other and to building the Kingdom of God.  We will have totally sold out to the ephemeral values of our age if we fail to celebrate the intrinsic value of worship, prayer, study and the recommitment of bishops in mission to their leadership of the church, as it works for the Kingdom of God.

The work to gather the reflections from all the Indaba Groups goes on and the panel, which has been drawn from the groups, has been working into the night drafting a communiqué which will reflect the work which has been done within those Groups.   It will provide an important record of what has taken place here – but for me, the real product has been what has occurred within the Conference, which has no cash value, but ‘feeds the bottom line’ of a Church which works in the power of the Spirit.

Lambeth Day 12

28 July 2008

This morning some Bishops went to parishes in and around Canterbury to share in their Sunday worship, whilst others were at the Cathedral.  I joined that latter group and stayed to enjoy the hospitality of the Cathedral with a buffet lunch served in the precincts.  I get the feeling that we are all in need of a quieter more restful day.

We have had a week and a half of building relationships and trust, now we need to capitalise on all this as we map a way forward for the Communion.  We are here as leaders of the Communion and that means more than just being friendly.  The key question is how do we structure the Communion without creating a centralising ‘magisterium’ of teaching and order,  which would undermine the nature of the bonds which holds us together as a worldwide Communion.

Although there has been much attention on issues in human sexuality, which are of course important, in many ways these discussions have guided  us to the complex questions about the Anglican Communion and its comprehensiveness.

One of the gifts which the Anglican Communion has offered to God and to the world has been our ability to hold together a diversity of responses to the God whom we have encountered in Jesus Christ.  Diversity which has been worked out in the way in which we have made our decisions about the order of the church.  We have been a Church which has been held together by belief, as contained in the historic creeds and the historic formularies, and not by agreeing to particular statements about that faith in each generation.   This has always frustrated those who like clarity and structure to the content of faith.

There is pressure from those in the Communion who would be happier with statements or confessions of faith, but many of us are wary of such a move as that requires churches to ‘opt in’, whereas a family is something from which you choose to ‘opt out’.   So it is going to be a busy week, but my observation is that we have been well prepared for it by the worship, prayer and personal engagements which have been the substance of the Conference thus far.