Saturday, 31 December 2016

Facing the New Year

In the last scene of the film of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione says to Harry and Ron;

"Everything is going to change now isn't it". 

After the unexpected ending of the Tri-wizard cup as Voldemort grows in strength, the three of them see that life is never going to be the same again. 

The Harry Potter films have been on the TV over the last few nights and I started by half watching them but now I am hooked again.... As I was watching the Deathly Hallows last night I wondered if Harry Potter would be able to save 2016...... he seems to find a way through all sorts of adversity. 

There has been a lot of good stuff happen in 2016, yes, but there has also been a lot of life changing and world changing stuff. The political climate is not the same as it was 12 months ago. As we look forward to 2016 being over we embrace the uncertainty of 2017 where the two big stories of the year - Brexit and Trump - will be rolled out in all of their uncertainty and unknowns. 

Everything IS going to change now...... 

2016 has been a rocky year where celebrity deaths have overshadowed the deaths of so many more in natural disasters, terrorist attacks and war. Where we have celebrated those humans we see as heroes because they have achieved some kind of success we have forgotten again those who every day struggle to exist in a world that is working against them. It has been a year where our Olympic success was made all the more successful because of immigrants who have chosen to call Britain home - and we celebrate them as we create a hostile environment to keep any immigrants out who can't give us anything similar....

2016 has been the year of post-truth. Where lies flashed about on social media have become more important than the voices of the experts who have an in-depth knowledge of their field. Where a president elect can say what he wants and then can delete it the next day, diverting our eyes and ears to another set of half truths.... so confusing we either put our whole selves in to believing everything or we become such cynics everything becomes a lie. 

I'm not sure 2017 is going to be any easier. As we watch the events of the world unfold and Toblerone loses more of its triangles and we grow in concern about the price of marmite I'm not sure we can predict much of what will be. 

Harry, Ron and Hermione kept going in the adversity of Voldemort's growing strength because of their commitment to the truth of what is good and what was right. It would have been easier to join in, but they did not. 

In the post truth world of 2017 - what should matter is not joining in because it's easier, but what should matter is the truth in which we are grounded in. If we live in a world grounded in lies then our foundations will only become more unstable. In the parable of the Wise men, Jesus talks about how if you build your foundations on the sand, eventually the storms will come and we will fall. However, if you build your foundations on the rock, eventually the storms will still come, but you will stand firm. In post truth society, what matters to me is that I am grounded in Christ - because it is in him I have certainty and it is in him I have truth. It is in him I know that there is more to life than the storms that are coming. 

Yes everything will change but....

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" - Hebrews 13:8 

Happy new year (I think).

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Build a Wall

"Build a wall," he said, "let's keep the problem out, let's make ourselves safe by barricading ourselves in...."

"Build a wall" he said, "build the foundations on fear; the other, the different they are not welcome here..."

"Build a wall," he said, "and trust in me, I'll stand up for you and fight with hatred and lies...."

"Build a wall, " he said, "then I'll make it great. Look at me... just look, aren't I great, yes I am...."

"Build a wall," he said, "keep the women in their place; get your own way, it's the same as my way, don't you see....."

"Build a wall," he said, "send that black man back home. He's a liar and a cheat. I'm RIGHT, look at me...."

"Build a wall," he said, "send that woman to jail. She's a liar and corrupt. I'm right, look at me...."

"Build a wall," he said, "and keep the guns, ready loaded. We'll be safe, don't you worry, look at me...."

"Build a wall," he said, "let's barricade ourselves in, I'm your saviour, I'll protect you, look at me, look at ME...."

"Build a wall," he said. 

So they did. 

Lord have mercy. 

Today we woke up to the news that Trump, who ran in one of the most divisive and, frankly, ridiculous presidential races in the US has been voted in as the next President. I'm gutted. I really am. I don't know what will unfold in the days to come, but Trump's record in his campaigning on how he spoke about 'the other' - Mexicans, Muslims, women.... and others has been awful. 

I'm not sure how to respond at the moment except to pray... for the future, for America and for the impact on the world. 

"God is our refuge and strength
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge"    Psalm 46:1-7

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Baptist Cake.... as you do

A couple of weeks ago in the Baptist Collaboration group on facebook where we discuss all things Baptist and all other things to... well when I say we, I'm normally lingering in the background listening in. I'm one of them... a lurker.... 

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago in that group someone asked what would Baptist cake look like....? All sorts of suggestions came in and I considered getting involved considering I love being Baptist and I like all things cake.... but I didn't... but then someone (no names!) then tagged me into the conversation as someone who knows.... 

Not to avoid a challenge when it comes to cake baking, I decided to take up the challenge to come up with the ultimate in Baptist cakes. I wanted to combine this with my habit of making fairy cakes that taste a bit like sweets.... (although one of the cakes is not a sweet, but hey ho...).  

Now I am one of those Baptists who loves what unites us - our Declaration of Principle, which is at the bottom of this post. There are some people who get a bit embarrassed by it and the fact that we have to say we love it when we get ordained.... but I love it... it's part of the reason I'm excited to say I am Baptist. It's three things that to be a member of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and to say it's 'our union' that you kind of have to agree with. As this is what is common to all of my brand of Baptists then I decided to base the cakes around this. You might call me weird or a bit of a geek... but this is me.... Here goes.....

Baptist Cakes 1 - Revels Cakes

Revels are like the Russian Roulette of chocolates... you never know quite what you are going to get.. (although it's got easier because they got rid of the peanuts and made them different shapes) but one thing unites them - chocolate!

It's the same with Baptist Churches. The first part of the Declaration of Principle says that Jesus is the sole and absolute authority in all matters of faith and practice (like the chocolate), as revealed in scripture which is interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit by the local church.  

Every Baptist church is different because we all have slightly different ways of doing stuff - but there is one thing that unites us - that's that we can say Jesus is Lord.... or wear chocolate, like the revels. 

Baptist Cakes 2 - Coffee Drizzle

Drizzle was not the most popular choice on Baptist collaboration -we're called Baptist because we like to get wet and the argument was drizzle is a bit pathetic - however if you drizzle properly and make a massive mess as I do you get very wet...... that's why it's my choice! The second part of the Declaration of Principle is about baptism - that baptism is for believers, by full immersion, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

I chose coffee drizzle - not a sweet, but a drink..... because I know I am not alive without that first cup of coffee in the morning.... and baptism is about declaring publicly that we are alive in Jesus.... Coffee changes me... so does faith. 

Baptist Cakes 3 - Sherbet Fountains

I love sherbet fountains - the way they explode, the taste of the liquorice - the way they get everywhere. The third part of the Declaration of Principle says that it is every believers' responsibility to go out and tell the world about about Jesus - to explode with the good news like Sherbet and get everywhere. I added stars because shining like stars is part of that - twinkling brightly..... 

So there you go.... Baptist cake. Feel free to disagree as that's a very Baptist thing to do.


Declaration of Principle

The Basis of the Baptist Union is:

1. That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the HolyScriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.

2. That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day'.

3. That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Two Mermaids, Two stories.

In Walt Disney's story of the Little Mermaid, Ariel ends up marrying her handsome prince and lives happily ever after. 

Sorry to give it away....

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Copenhagen was seeing the Little Mermaid statue sitting on a rock. When I was in primary school I was in a play about Hans Christian Anderson, and I've found his stories fascinating ever since. They are fairy stories.... not the 'all lived happily ever after' Disney type but stories that talk of mistakes and naivety, of bad choices and struggle. 

While in Copenhagen I also went to see a group of statues called 'Paradise Genetically altered' by Bjorn Norgaard. One of these statues is a genetically modified Little mermaid. Sitting on a rock in the canal her appearance is of stark difference to the gentle statue of a mermaid that attracts crowds of people. This mermaid speaks of a life of pain and struggle, where dreams are not met and where pain and suffering is a part of the every day. It, in many ways, seems closer to Hans Christian Anderson's original mermaid story which doesn't end quite as happy as the Disney version.....

I think that Disney has a lot to answer for. It has changed stories that speak of you can't always get what you want to stories that imply happiness in the end is possible if you are good.... Its versions of Pinocchio, the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and others leave aside the gruesome bits where parts of the body get cut out, where every step is painful, where main characters are attacked, abused and even raped. 

It's understandable that a lot of this stuff might not be in children's films.... but by taking it out our understanding of what it means to have a fairy tale life, what we aspire to as perfect, is unreachable. I will never be a Disney princess, and if I was and the true fairy tale stuff came out.... well I wouldn't want to be one. 

I like the genetically modified mermaid best. Not because it was more attractive, but because it was more truthful. It spoke of how if you go out of your way to do everything to get the perfect life, it's not going to always be happily ever after. A fairy tale life includes hurt and pain. It includes sorrow and loss. It includes a reality far different from a Disney princess. 

Behind every Disney fairy tale there is a real tale that is more painful...

Behind every happy picture there are stories that hurt....

When we talk of the Christian life we can make it more Disney than reality. We are to be joyful and happy and dance and sing and dance..... but the reality of a fallen world means life is more like the original fairy tales. We don't know why it's so hard sometimes, but it's in the darkness and in the lonely places that we can reach out, we can listen and hear and feel the breath of God as he holds us close, his love never going away. 

'Be Still, and Know that I am God'  Psalm 46:10

Monday, 18 July 2016

All the Rowboats

I recently re-discovered a song by Regina Spektor called “All the Rowboats”. The song starts with these words:

“All the rowboats
In the paintings
They keep trying to row away”

The song then goes on to talk about how those rowboats will never row away because there is always a frame in the way.... however much they want to get away they will get stuck as they can’t see life beyond the edge of the painting where the frame obscures their view.

When people thought the earth was flat, their fear of falling off the edge prevented them from exploring too far.

When you discover life beyond the edge of the frame.... when you discover that the earth is spherical and not flat... it opens up possibilities much larger than your brain can often comprehend. Your world view suddenly expands....

Our tendency to limit our experience means however, that we fill up with fear when the possibilities grow. We live with fear when we see possibilities we have never seen before.

We should never be surprised when we see things beyond the edge of the frame that we have been living within. There is life beyond our own experience that we might find difficult to comprehend, yet is out there for us to explore. I believe in God, who is bigger than the frames we use to limit ourselves, yet we often forget to look beyond our own frames to see what he is doing through the things we don’t engage with.

The world does not revolve around our own picture, limited by the frame we choose to put around ourselves. When we see beyond to the other and the different, the possibilities are endless. I read an article in the Guardian this morning about a church in Stoke where a number of refugees from a Muslim background have been converting to Christianity. Sadly as this has happened some of the traditional white congregation in the church have left, failing to see life beyond their tidy frames that narrowly define what church should be. 

Where do the edges of your picture frame lie – where is your experience and your learning limited by your own barriers? Push them out a bit.... row your boat a little bit further.... you never know what you might discover.... you never know what God might be doing..... adventure is an exciting thing. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

I will not stop singing......

Something happened in the last week that made me really angry, and really sad, and really disappointed and just really..... well....

The repercussions of that decision to leave the EU have continued to stir up in me those feelings and many more as I've felt deeply unsettled at what is going on right now..... 

After what I don't want to mention happened, the reactions on social media were passionate... and people lashed out....

And then the voice of Michael Winner came out..... (well not actually his voice but it felt like it).... 'calm down'. A number of posts appeared within a couple of hours that said that the decision was made and basically us remainers needed to 'get over it and move on'.

And that made me even more angry..... 

Because I believe that lament, that expressing emotion, that expressing frustration, is important for our well being. To be told to calm down and get over it when such a huge decision that plunged us into the unknown is challenging to our very core.....

On Saturday I attended the annual Street Choirs festival. Thirty plus choirs from across the country got together to sing around the streets of Leicester and to hold a concert in the evening. I was told that this festival was a bit political at times (but I wasn't told how political!!) - a number of the choirs that attended are committed to protesting and expressing issues of justice through song. I heard songs expressing frustration about the break up of the NHS, the austerity cuts, justice, TTIP... and of course, a specially written song about the referendum decision which was beautifully sung with amazing harmonies and spoke into the very core of my frustrations. 

Being there I was reminded of the importance of expressing how we feel.... of standing up and saying (singing) 'no' when we disagreed... of expressing anger and lament when it's necessary and of expressing joy and solidarity when that is needed too.... 

It reminded me of those Psalms where the Psalmist expresses their grief and frustration over their own situation and over the situation of the nation as they look to God for help and protection. It reminded me of those songs of lament written in exile that we pick and choose from to miss out the difficult bits.... By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept..... we sang.... and we were angry, so angry (read Psalm 137 to the end, it's unsettling.....). 

There are many people who are writing at the moment who express how I feel better than me (like here) I'm not going into the whys and wherefores of why I'm so sad...... 

But, yes, I will continue to express my frustration..... I accept that I am going to have to deal with it as together as a country we move into unknown territory and tackle the issues of racism that have come to a head because of the decision and watch while biting fingernails as we face uncertainty in our government..... I also believe we've got to pray and I believe we have got to seek peace as we step ahead.

But I also believe we need space to lament. 

And I will continue to sing songs of protest...... I will continue to have moments where I feel like weeping and I will continue to feel on edge..... 

How do we sing the Lord's song in this strange post referendum land? 

I'm not sure.... I'm working that one through......

What I do know though is that I will never stop singing....  

Monday, 1 February 2016


Imagine if.....???

Imagine if life was different to how it is now? Imagine if we weren't held back by bureaucracy and form filling and finance. Imagine if we weren't held back by our own hang ups and ideas of how things should be...... 

Imagine if we could see beyond the obvious to dream of the non-obvious to something better.... Imagine if we could look at a dry patch of ground and picture what it might become. 

Some of us can do that.... some of us find it much harder..... but imagine if....?

Imagine if we launched ourselves out of our comfortable place into something new.... who knows what might happen? 

Imagine if...... 

Yesterday at our church meeting I began the meeting my reading a story called Not a Stick . I came across this story in a session on change at college in September.... It's a story of imagination, of dreaming, of seeing beyond the obvious to something much more exciting and bigger. 

It tells the story of a pig who has a stick..... The pig is told to 'be careful with that stick', 'watch where you are going with that stick'....... And the pig keeps telling the narrator 'it's not a stick'. 

The stick is more than a stick.... its a fishing rod, a sword to fight dragons, a spear.... For the pig, the stick is really these things, their imagination dreaming of so much more than is there straight on. 

As I read the story at our meeting three of the children who are part of our church family were playing with a big box in the overflow room at the back of the worship space. As I led the meeting I watched their imagination run wild - making windows and doors.... a chaotic crazy (what looked like a) mess becoming something new and 'not a box'. It was coloured and altered and thrown around...... pens were used as scissors and the glitter left over in the box from Christmas was thrown everywhere..... 

In that 'not a box' moment the children were living out 'not a stick' for real at the same time we were all dreaming what were quite big dreams about the future of our church community cafe. 

If we are to enter the kingdom of God like a child (Matt 18:2-4), then maybe like a child we too should dream 'not a box' and 'not a stick' dreams as we see how much bigger God is than what we can see right in front of us.

What's God asking us to do? What's God saying? Are we missing it because we are being very careful with that stick and missing its not-a-stickness? 

Imagine if...???

"See, I am doing a new thing!
Not it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness 
and streams in the wasteland"         Isaiah 43:19

Monday, 18 January 2016

Making time, growing slowly, being still, waiting.

When Greg goes to meet his girlfriend's parents in 'Meet the Parents' he takes a gift - a pot full of dirt. When the parents open the present they are disappointed.... as you would be!

However, Greg tells them that the dirt contains one of the rarest seeds in the world and it will grow into a beautiful flower. I can't remember what it is,  I don't know whether it grew, but the potential was there if only they were prepared to wait, care for and nurture that potential for future beauty. 

When you plant a seed you can't see the roots growing under the surface, but you trust they are growing. You water the seed with the hope that they are growing but you don't know for sure if they are until the shoot begins to poke its way through.

As you wait the roots take their own path to reach the best nourishment and the best source of life so that the seed can bloom.

It's in those roots that the potential for growth begins to be realised. 

It's in those roots that a future becomes a possibility.

If you don't want to wait for the roots to establish you could stick in some cut flowers to make it look like its something, but without roots it will wilt and fade. 

Nothing beautiful and lasting will grow if roots are not given time and peace to establish. 

We can measure seasons and dream about when it might happen, but we don't know exactly when it will. 

We can look for the signs.

Watch and wait. 

Give time.

Give space.

Live wisely, plant deeply.

Be Still

Go Slow

Wait on God. 

"There is a time for everything, there's a time for everything that is done on earth". Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, 4 January 2016

Moving beyond fixing.....

Bottom set Year 10 in a difficult school - a girl, with problems at home. She suggests to her friend who is pregnant that she'd quite like to have a baby too because then she will have someone to love her. The teacher overhears this, ignores it, carries on teaching. The observer (me) overhears it and mulls it over for a while. 

Later on in the week the girl won't stop talking. The teacher stops. Again. Again. Again. The girl won't stop talking. The teacher says 'you need to stop talking' the girl says 'that's not what I need'. They argue for the rest of the lesson it seems. 

Next week there are exam papers lying on the teacher's desk. The girl - she asks what they are about. The teacher says they are for another class - but that if she wants she can help count them. The girl picks up the papers, she puts them in piles and she quietly listens as the teacher continues with the lesson. 

That series of incidents from when I was learning to be a teacher has never left me. The needs of the girl - at home and in school are evident. The teacher knows that getting a grade in maths will make a huge difference to the options for her future. The girl - she has other things on her mind. 

What can the teacher do to fix it? Not ignore her - that is what seems to happen all the time. Not make her conform - perhaps she is sick of being told what to do. She's different. Deal with it. 

But, perhaps the teacher's role is not to fix, but to welcome, and in that welcome, help guide her on a path to a better life. As she is invited to participate by counting exam papers and her contribution valued, she then begins to feel like this is a place she can belong. She's there. She's needed. She begins to journey forward as she chooses to participate.

Our initial reaction is too often to fix. How can I make this person's life better? How can I make them fit in to expectations so that they can get on in life? What can I do? What difference can I make? It becomes about 'me' and that's emphasised when we make sure we write down what we've done on social media for everyone else to see. 

We like to fix. I've had people try and fix me. I don't talk much, until I know I am in a safe place. But then when I talk, I occasionally encounter people who want to fix me. And that makes me angry. I don't want to be fixed. I just want to be. 

And I think that 'being' word is the key. For the girl - belonging, being there in that classroom with purpose was what she needed right then. For me, when I talk, I just want you to be with me, listen, help me learn to trust you, go at my pace. 

When we look at the world around us, often our response is 'how can we fix this?'. Then we jump quickly to fix - which is sometimes needed, but often reactionary, short term and doesn't offer long term solutions and reach down deep into the roots of the problems. 

I've been reading a book called 'Making Room' by Christine D Pohl. It's about hospitality in Christian tradition. I've been struck by her reflections on how Christians today offer hospitality. Our offers of hospitality are often about doing stuff for people or to people - fixing people through resources - and then when we are drained, we hide away from those who are different to us to build up our resources again. Pohl writes that Christians today are much better at collecting and providing for needs than we are at welcoming people into the community. We become people who fix rather than people who 'be'. Providing for others is good, and important, but when that becomes an 'out there' thing and not a 'welcome in' thing, when we 'do to' and forget to 'be with' we miss something of the hospitality of God's Kingdom. 

The early Christian communities were radical, rebellious and counter cultural because of equality within the community - no society reflecting hierarchy or privilege or special food for special people. They recognised the need and importance of fellowship and friendship.

As we recognise that same need within church community, then perhaps we need to be thinking about how we be with people and journey together. As we serve, invite others to serve with us. As we provide food, invite others to share in the distribution and then sit alongside them to eat. As we sit down, put an extra chair at the table. As we prepare, invite others to count exam papers. Small invitations to belong, to taste and to experience the love of God together.