Friday, 6 December 2019

20-20 Vision!

With a quick backward glance Café Church looked forward to possibilities for silicon and carbon. We started by agreeing that endless arguments about the Big Bang were rather pointless.

The Higgs-Boson was discovered in 2012, and promptly called the 'God Particle', but who put it there? As I understand it, this enables mass to be created. Or in other words we've seen the firework display that is our universe, now we've found the firework. By the way, all are welcome to Café Church or any other worship for that matter.

Looking to the future [something natural at the beginning of a year], we asked the question: if carbon and silicon are right next door to each other in the periodic table does it mean they have a future together? Could that be part of our natural evolution? What was in a laptop a few years ago is now in a mobile phone, and artificial intelligence [AI] is making itself at home more and more.

St Paul wrote that Christians should be marked by renewal of their minds, not changing opinion sporadically but considering possibilities for the future. Jesus talked about young people having visions, and elders dreaming. In other words we look back to see forward and come to clear judgements. Discoveries won't be put back in their box, but just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.

A very Happy New Year, with peace in heart and mind. Here's to 20-20 vision!

Monday, 4 November 2019

How should I vote this Christmas?

It would be wrong to tell you which political party to vote for but it's appropriate to suggest things to consider in making a choice. Here's a list which might help in choosing who to support:
 1) are they taking green issues seriously?
 2) do you trust that their promises will be honoured?
 3) are they balancing justice with mercy?
 4) do empowerment and aspiration feature?
 5) will they be a good constituency MP?
 6) and are they addressing Brexit?

As I shake hands after worship in the Church it's not unusual to hear a wide range of opinions about party political issues. That's great because it demonstrates that faith brings with it responsibility to vote, to play a part in the community, our nation, and through appropriate world-wide causes.

Going back to my suggestions [and of course there are many other factors], let me argue for those who are not old enough to vote but are clearly expressing their concerns through demonstrations right across the world. 1, 4 & 6 have vital long-term implications in a world largely controlled by vested interest. Our votes should represent those without an electoral voice. Incidentally, I think 16 would be a good age to begin voting; after all it's when you can get married without parental permission!

2, 3 & 5 are about the integrity of the candidates. Being a Member of Parliament is an amazingly difficult role to fulfil, with instant social media reporting or distorting responses to questions. However Jesus was a master at responding to those trying to catch him out. A classic response to a binary question was to ask for a coin. Are you on God's side or the emperor's? He said a coin had two sides, and so our allegiance is both to state and to God.

The miracle of Christmas is that God showed himself to us in human form through the baby Jesus. He was the ultimate constituency member because he grew up to become involved in all aspects of life, and that gave him the right to be our Representative.

So lastly, do vote for those who take faith seriously, and a very Happy Christmas to you.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Life and limb

I was horrified to be reminded recently that only 80 years ago World War II began. It seems that we've only just finished reliving World War I. But of course that's exactly what it must have felt like. I remember being taught that more died in Europe from war last century than in all previous conflicts. And many were damaged in mind or body so they could only really exist afterwards, not thrive.
peace bench by Jurassic Roundabout cycle track

My generation didn't fight in the wars but do have uncles, aunts, and parents who did; or who grew up during the horror. This means first hand memory of those times is fading, and that brings the risk that we take peace for granted.

Sadly since then many have been killed or maimed in Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan to name a few. It has been great to see Help for Heroes emerge alongside the British Legion as a way of recognising this amazing sacrifice, but still we often take Her Majesty's Forces for granted.

It's important to remember the Reserves who make a significant commitment in training so that they are ready to serve if called up. Those working in intelligence are vital in thwarting acts of terror, and giving politicians information on which to make decisions. Our ambulance, police, fire, and coastguard services play an important part too. All in all the numbers involved are huge.
Jesus told a story about a king honouring those who didn't feel worthy of praise because their acts of kindness were natural and spontaneous. 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' [Matthew 25.40]. The costly commitment to peace is made on behalf of all of us.

With whatever Brexit throws up next, lets make sure we act and speak for peace, to honour the fallen, and recognise all those who work to keep us safe. May we live life to the full as we treasure the extraordinary gift of peace.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Fruit counts

Against my better judgement I had to admit that when I worked in the Central Electricity Generating Board [CEGB] the ruthless managers often achieved more than others. That meant cheaper bills for consumers.

CEGB logo

Jesus taught that judging people by the fruit of their efforts was important. He was quite relaxed about things, even though the political climate of his day would make Brexit seem straightforward. He put it like this: 'Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit [Matthew 7.17]. Some make great claims which result in little, while others achieve beyond expectations. Leaders need to bring the best out of the teams they head. We are held to account for the fruit of our labours.

I might be tempted to write to the Prime Minister as Mr Dominic Cummings, and congratulate him for controlling Boris Johnson so effectively. He is certainly a ruthless manager. Both Cummings and Johnson will be held to account by the fruit they produce. That might be through Parliament, or via social media, or through the ballot box. Whatever the outcome of a confused time in the UK, fruit will tell.

Jesus was no lightweight because his teaching made it clear that diseased trees are cut down and burned. It's a powerful image for all of us. Voting and influencing those in authority are important, but so are day to day actions. We never get this opportunity to make a difference for good again.

In a time of national confusion, we can be crystal clear about our words and actions. Have a good day!

Friday, 9 August 2019

Voluntary victim?

One of our choices in life is between letting the past haunt us, or letting go into future freedom. Easier said than done, but Jesus Christ taught about forgiveness as liberation. One of his well known stories involved different quantities of wood.

He exaggerates to make the point. It's no good trying to get a speck out of someone else's eye if you have a plank of wood in your own eye. Sort that out first, and then you'll be able to see straight to help someone else. All of us make mistakes, so being honest about our own failures means we can advise others without being self-righteous hypocrites.[Matthew 7.1-5 has the full quote]

Seeing straight isn't just for now, it's about past hurts too. Over the years I've had many conversations with those who have been deeply hurt, and some seem to cling on to the pain. It traps them. Where can liberation be found?

Sometimes it can be as simple as letting go of an object, and in so doing symbolically breaking the bond that has ached for many years. I find this particularly helpful, and it's perhaps no accident that Jesus gave us symbols to help us grow in faith: bread and wine for holy communion, water for baptism, and his presence at a wedding [more wine!].

I might put a stone on a windowsill and let it accumulate all the angst that might otherwise eat into me. Then when it's 'loaded' I throw it out to sea. We're not machines as if we could just throw a switch, so sometimes the 'letting go' has to be repeated perhaps in a different way. Over the years I've become better at not carrying unnecessary burdens, even if they were hurtful at the time.

Healing prayer can help, for example the Tuesday and Friday 7.30pm candlelight services at St Andrew's often have [check page 18 in the Register for details] healing prayer received by everyone there, including the leader. Candles can be lit too. You are warmly invited to join these half-hour services which are a real tonic.

Forgiving others is vital too, but sometimes forgiving ourselves is harder. I imagine sitting at a distance from the cross, and witnessing the innocent Christ humiliated in public, hurting beyond words. But he does speak, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do'.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Pool of trust

Whenever I see someone operating a speed camera I thank them. It might seem odd since I was once caught doing 35 mph past a school, but ever since I've driven more carefully and changed down a gear in restricted zones.

It's important our driving is held to account, and all other actions for that matter. Why? If we keep our collective behaviour on the roads to a high standard, we'll be safer for it. Several local speed restrictions have been lowered to make just that point. It's like a pool of trust.

Imagine if a small minority get away with dangerous driving, it would allow normal behaviour to drop to a lower standard. It's as if the banks of the pool of trust have sprung a leak, and the overall level of trust is going down. On the other hand, if our standards are kept high then the level of trust rises and we're all safer.
A betrayal of individual trust in any sphere of life also reduces the value of trust for all of us. If I fiddle my tax return then everyone else has to pay a bit more to cover the shortfall. We rightly should challenge each others behaviour, not in a self-righteous way because we all make mistakes.

I've noticed local electronic road signs have sometimes been flagging up the message 'Take your litter home like everybody else'. It's a reminder that works because if someone tips stuff out of their car window as they drive along, the verges become polluted for everyone.

And of course this trust pool works at every level including our local and national government. Broken promises, false claims, and downright lies all drain trust from political life. Some of Jesus' strongest words were used against hypocrites. Careful decision, accountability, and clarity help build up trust.

You and I can make a huge difference through our actions, and the quality of our speech. We can increase the level of trust so everyone lives richer lives.

And finally, can you think of any part of normal life that could continue if there was no trust at all?

Monday, 3 June 2019

Dung beetles and humour

Someone in the Post Office has a sense of humour because 1st class stamps celebrating Dad's Army have been issued to coincide with what might have been Brexit.

Our politics seem jammed in ways that maximise division and breed intolerance. Media of all sorts, mainstream or social, have become unsocial. Genuine leaders receive death threats and are at risk of harm. Officers of state across the world throw insults at each other, and will do anything to gain attention.

We might well feel like calling all of them 'stupid boys', and want to encourage each other 'not to panic'. We could shrug our shoulders, sit back and treat the whole thing as an international soap opera, or give up all together.

Or we could take a lesson from an apparently daft insect. You couldn't make him up! He's one of nature's jokes. Job description: collect refuse, roll it backwards [how do they see where they're going?] until you get home, use these balls for supplies of energy and nutrients which nurture your offspring. And by fulfilling these instructions you'll leave the place tidier and cleaner!

These humble beetles show great persistence, and they get the job done against all the odds. We can learn from them to refuse truth-tiredness, and find the energy of hearts set aflame by God's Spirit. The book of Proverbs 6.6 invites us to 'Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise'. Nature can teach us a few tricks.

And it's no joke because hate and fake are stalking our planet. Let's not forget that they are transient threats to eternal truth, and the power of love.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019


Wiki is everywhere. Wiki-Leaks makes a vast amount of information available to all. Some argue that we're safer because some secrets are now in the public domain, while others think we've been compromised. That debate continues.

Wiki-How gives peer reviewed practical advice on a huge range of everyday challenges. Wiki-Pedia has become the first port of call for many an enquirer. Some thought that it would be unreliable and a forum for fake or hate. Clever algorithms keep content in check, although it shouldn't necessarily be taken as gospel.

So what? Wiki-Whatevers show that together the world community can produce reliable accessible truth. It's important to celebrate these remarkable achievements because [as I argued last month] we should confront false behaviour or information without feeding their massive appetites for attention.

Jesus didn't have Wiki to hand but he was skilled at using stories and symbols. These encourage our imagination, interpretation, and often engagement with each other. They stick in our minds to inoculate us against dis-ease. Often ordinary happenings are the setting for Jesus' yarns, where truth is woven [excuse pun] in at every level. It must be part of our conversations too.

In April the candlelight services [St Andrew, Preston 7.30 - 8.00pm every Tuesday and Friday] focused on St Paul's invitation to soak in whatever is honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy [Philippians 4.8-9]. By the way, you are very welcome to join us. These times have an amazing homely awesome resonance.

In a world where we're showered in endless fake, hate, sad, and bad it can be great to bathe in all that's positive. Incidentally St Paul had integrity because he said we should note his actions as well as his words.

Good on you!

Friday, 29 March 2019

Challenging, without feeding

If I want cheap publicity all I need to do is say something outrageous, then others react and it feeds my influence. Of course I can get people to forward on [re-Tweet] my comments, or perhaps invite a machine to do so. Something like 60% of Trump's Tweets are forwarded on automatically by bots.

So how do we challenge lies, hate, confusion, unrealistic demands, and so on without feeding the frenzy and giving them more air? It's nothing new of course, many films have flourished by being banned. The difference is scale. The messages bombarding us everyday are staggering.

But we are a staggering number too, and the conversation out shopping + telephone call + chatting to a neighbour + text message + any number of times/ways we communicate add up to a considerable direct voice which doesn't feed falsehood.

There are times when a public opinion demands a public rebuff. A candidate for local elections claimed to be a Christian, while at the same time taking part in hate speech. Jesus Christ made it clear that everyone is of equal importance to God. Hating anyone is un-Christian, in fact Jesus told us to love our enemies!

For example, there were some who made a great show of their works of charity while a poor widow gave a penny. He said she'd given more of herself than they had. He spoke to religious and political leaders, but also to the marginalised: lepers, in many cases then women, thieves, bereaved, differently-abled. He loved sinners but hated sin.

He also told a story about a farmer who planted good seed, only for an evil neighbour to contaminate his field with weed seed. The two grew up together, and his workers asked if they should pull out the weeds. The farmer pointed out that in doing so they would pull out the good crop too; they should wait until harvest to sort things out. In others words, there are times we should concentrate on what is good without dissipating our energies on what drains us.

The Brexit saga might be more wholesome if there was focus on the good. Adversarial parliamentary debate is becoming tedious. It may be that we need a new way of making quality decisions. You and I are unlikely to be part of that debate, but we can sweeten community life here.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Making connections

"I know just how you feel". No you don't, you've no idea because you've not experienced what I'm going through!

A rough hug around my shoulders without words [tigers excepted] might be from someone who understands what it's like. Sometimes our connection with others is incredibly strong, at other times we just don't know what they are going through. This is true of amazing celebrations, and also of ghastly trauma.

Because Jesus was a man, some have argued that only men can be priests. He was a carpenter, murdered aged 33, never married, and was circumcised as a baby. So does that mean priests must be good with wood, have short careers, be of Jewish stock, and be celibate? Of course not. I was honoured to have the first woman ordained as a priest in Salisbury Cathedral as a colleague.

There are many connections can we make with Jesus' life. For 30 years he lived an ordinary life, apart from an unusual fascination with the teachings of those in Jerusalem Temple. His teachings are in ordinary language, usually illustrated by everyday occurrences: finding things, losing things, sorting out values, sowing seeds, family events, and so on. In fact his listeners complimented him on using language they could understand.

He never grew old, and was strung up on a horrific Roman gallows at the age of 33. Nailed on that cross he knew what it was to be trapped in a body, unable to move. Those with strokes or other disabling events or diseases can relate to that. He was a strong man, but sleep deprivation and torture weakened him so much that he was unable to carry the cross-beam to the crucifixion site. Simon was compelled to carry it instead, and in so doing carried out one of the greatest acts of worship ever.

Jesus never married or had a family, so there are areas of his life which might not link directly to our experience. However, he got caught in a 'domestic' between two sisters. He related well to children, and treated them with huge respect. These are examples which may give us indirect links.

The real thing is that God, who created and sustains the universe, became like one of us and knows what it is to be human. That's one reason why the cross is so powerful a logo: love and suffering intertwined, access to God's amazing gift of forgiveness.

So, Happy Easter!

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Man-wrapping, exocets, and focus

By man-wrapping I don't mean wrapping up men, but men wrapping up presents! Some males I am sure will craft beautifully presented presents, but most make it pretty obvious it's not in their skill set. I discovered the solution: reusable bright bags of different sizes with ribbons and labels ready.
Select size, attach label, and pull ribbons ~ all done. And what's great is that I'm not adding to the mountain of paper collected after each Christmas. Incidentally, let's hear it for all the teams tidying up after us each year. They have such little time off themselves.

Jesus hardly preached any sermons. Why? It's because stories are often more powerful. With those generating fake-news [re-Tweeted far more by robots than people], a strong reaction only feeds the frenzy [generating more income for social media platforms]. So what do we do?

One option is to let lies go unchallenged, but then people start to believe them. It may be far more effective to get beneath the media radar by telling true stories, honourable yarns, and parables. The exocet missile was used to devastating effect in the Falkland's Conflict because it sneaked in beneath defence systems.

The open-air Carols and Baptisms at Sutton Poyntz were fantastic. It was a still night, with 350 or so gathered. Great hospitality was shown by the Mission Hall Gang, and even the donkeys joined in by baying during Away in a Manger.
But the Salvation Army were key, and it was fitting to introduce the new Captains Simon and Victoria Rowney to our community. Before she read the first lesson, I asked her how on earth she managed to keep going with all the music as well as looking after the destitute. She replied that it was by focusing on the heart of Christmas, God touching earth in the babe Jesus.

Nothing fake there.