Thursday, December 30, 2004

Widow's might

I have just been looking at the horrifying news that the death toll is now 114,000 but known to be set to rise still further. In the face of this disaster we all seek to do what we can. It is not for most of us to rush to volunteer to go and help. No doubt a vast horde of well-intentioned amateurs would cause more problems which would outweigh any benefits. So surely for those of us with means the task is to give and to give according to our means.

If you want to do that (from the UK) you can either call 0870 60 60 900 or visit From elsewhere in the world I think this link to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent should work.

Today I am proud to be British and indeed European because the United Nations has published the money pledged by various countries. The UK shows a generosity that is pretty exemplary for such a relatively small country. If I were Indian I should be even more proud as the government has declined help and declared its intention not only to provide for those in their country affected but also to send help to Indonesia.

So here are the figures for intial pledges from the BBC, courtesy of Reuters and the UN:

World Bank $250m
UK $96m
EU $44m
US: $35m
Canada: $33m
Japan: $30m
Australia: $27m
France: $20.4m
Denmark: $15.6m
Saudi Arabia: $10m
Norway: $6.6m
Taiwan: $5.1m
Finland: $3.4m
Kuwait: $2.1m
Netherlands: $2.6m
UAE: $2m
Ireland $1.3m
Singapore: $1.2m

(These changed as I typed this blog entry so they maybe out of date when you read.)

As someone who works for a church I know the difficulty of discussing levels of giving with people. My understanding of international economics is not what it could be but I'm sure I'm right in thinking that the US is a bit bigger than us. Could they maybe not dig a little deeper. I'm currently watching Season One of West Wing and I'm sure President Bartlett would be a little more generous!

To my American Friends... this is not a dig at your country really. Well ok maybe it is a bit. Justified though, surely?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Post Diluvian thoughts

Life goes on as normal here and yet still we hear of more and more dire news from South East Asia. 50,000 now thought dead. Almost the population of my town. Yet the busy rush of the SALES continues. I had to take back a shirt my Dad had bought me in not quite the right size and was overwhelmed by the vastness of the hordes of people bustling around the things they don't really need and may not really want and still lining up at tills to buy them.

I may think I NEED a winter coat, another pair of jeans and a pair of smart trousers yet what is that compared to the people needing housing and consolation. I sit here in my warm house and consider the possibilities of various boxes for Christmas chocolates and yet I know that there are people out there, across the seas, asking reporters if they have any clean water or food they can spare.

So my challenge, once again, to those in the blogosphere who read this is to consider what exactly they really NEED from those sales. Even the small donation we might make of sending our money rather than spending it in the sales is a poor example of us showing Christ to the world.

The BBC site offers a list of places you can give money:

Care International
International Federation of the Red Cross
Medecins Sans Frontieres
Save The Children
World Vision

To which I might also add
Christian Aid

The situation reminds me of that parable of the kingdom in Matthew 25(35-40).

"for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "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.' "

Monday, December 27, 2004

Driving home for Christmas

After the morning service on Christmas day I drove my friend over to her family near Henley and then carried on to my brother's house in Abingdon. On my journey I had the privilege of seeing the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside on Christmas morning. It was so beautiful. Once in Abingdon my sister-in-law served us a most splendid Christmas dinner and we had a wonderful family day of presents and card games and chatter. Being a church youh worker I then had to drive back for our Sunday service yesterday and having rediscovered my car form the snowball that encased it I drove back through an even more picturesque frosted Christmas card scene. There were merry carols on the radio and then the news came on.


During my drive home I heard the dreadful news of the tidal wave in South East Asia. They thought thousands might have been killed but the numbers of confirmed deaths was then 500 in Sri Lanka alone. Later in the day it had risen to 2,000. Then 5,000. This morning I awoke to hear the figure was 10,000 and at lunchtime it was 20,000 now the BBC says 23,000. Words cannot describe the terrible times these people must be going through. The devastation, the not knowing who is alive and who is not. The clear up after this will be a long drawn out, painful and expensive process.

Words may fail us all at this time but at a time whe we have all been with our families or missing those who are not with us we can surely empathise with those people whose lives have been shattered over these last days. Yet more than that, at this time of giving we can spend a little less in the sales and send some of our great plenty to the vast need of these people.

The way to do that is through the Red Cross. You know you need to. So do it.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas Actually

Ok so I'm doing the Bridget Jones-esque pre Christmas viewing of Love Actually accompanied by Lebkuchen and brandy and trying to work out whether it is an excellent film or a terrible one. Of course when we watch a film we often seek a character with whom we canidentify. So which one is more like me?

Well one of them seems a kinda obvious choice because she is named Sarah (she has a crush on some gorgeous foreign guy - named Carl I think). Then there's the writer hiding himself away from the world and typing his book (at a French villa with an amazing view - if only). The ever so caring Emma Thompson who is marvellously matter of fact and full of down to earth wisdom (I wish!). I think the young people I work with might suggest that I'm like Hugh Grant as the prime minister - well when he's dancing badly anyway! I rather like the boundless optimism of Colin Frizzell heading off to Wisconsin to find his perfect mate (especially the fact that is works out in the most LUDICROUS way possible!)

Yet in many ways I wish that I were more like the youngest character in the film. I think the film really reflects the words of Jesus challenging all of us to become like children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Many people find this concept a little strange but as someone who works with young people, I think I know that what it means. Jesus' message surely is that we need to return to that simple, honest wisdom that young people can possess. Sam has what Ian described as the best line in the film:

"What could be worse than the total agony of being in love?"

The film is very much about that kind of love... romantic love. Well at least it is on the surface. Beneath the soppy love stories and passions of forbidden office romance, the film talks a lot about the love of family and of friends and it is this LOVE, actually, that I think is the real hidden treasure of this film. Emma Thompson's love for her children and brother as well as her wayward husband is a splendid example of selfless devotion. The relationship between bereaved stepfather Daniel and his stepson Sam is just wonderful and a great example of work with young people that pushes the boundaries. The friendship between Billy Mack and his life long friend and manager is a fabulous example of enduring love not only despite people's foibles but in fact because of them. This is the greatest example of love in the film for me; an enduring faithful, through-it-all kind of love. The fact that it is not a romantic love is good news for those of us who are single. It reminds me of the wonderful love of my friends and family. It is also contrasted rather clearly with Alan Rickman's evident lack of fidelity to his wife. No scene compares to that dreadful image of Emma Thompson being oh so together and then bursting into tears in the bedroom before returning to being the perfect wife and mother.

The other curious thing is that the film talks a lot about Christmas being a time when we tell the truth and a time to be with the people we love. Now much as both of these are excellent sentiments, as I was discussing with our lay reader last week, neither is the TRUE message of Christmas. Maureen had heard about one of the many schools that was not doing a nativity this year. One of the teachers defended the decision saying that they had, of course, focussed on loving each other "which is what Christmas is all about." Well, in fact, no, it's not. Loving each other isn't THE message of Christmas. The message of Christmas is that God gives us SALVATION because God loves us. The coming of Christ is not a lovely little story about a baby and everyone being smiley. The coming of Christ is the continuing story of God's plan for the world and the offering of God's son as an example of selfless service and sacrifice to secure the world's redemption. So Love, actually, is not what Christmas about. It is about welcoming Christ into the world and welcoming Christ into our lives. The schmaltzy song near the end of the film says it all (though not as it means to!)

I don't want a lot for Christmas,
There's just one thing I need,
I don't care about the presents
underneath the Christmas tree
I just want you for my own
more than you could ever know
make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is You.

A Wing and a Prayer

A friend of mine ordered me the first season of The West Wing on DVD for Christmas and Amazon were so efficient that it arrived at my house a few days ago. Unfortunately I was expecting a delivery so I opened it and it wasn't gift wrapped (despite his specification that it should be!) so I figured I could start watching them!

I love the The West Wing but I only picked up on this during the second season. So currently I am exploring the joys of the undiscovered territory of a series I've not watched. Right now I'm watching the Christmas episode which is rather pleasing but last night I caught an episode in which Josh (the deputy chief of staff) is given a card with instructions as to what to do in the event of a White House evacuation to Air Force One during a Major Incident such as a nuclear attack.

Josh's first question really showed the depth of care in this guy. He said "So do I let my staff know where to go or do they have their own cards?" The blank look from the NSA man said it all and Josh slowly realised that his staff would not be joining him, that he would leave them behind. In his angst he breaks all protocol and speaks to his colleague Sam to ask him how he had reacted when he was given the card. Unfortunately Sam's response is one of bewilderment. He has no card. Josh is forced to recover the situation whilst realising that yet another friend is not one of the elect.

This made me think about the idea of the Rapture.

I've had occasion to discuss the concept of the rapture with some of my friends from my theology course and with other colleagues. Sometimes these discussions have been rather flippant and light-hearted including jokes when a handful of us have been waiting for the others and wondered whether they have all been "taken up" and at other times the discussions have been a little more serious and debated what we actually think about the whole idea of atonement, the afterlife and what happens at the end of the world.

The idea that a few elect will be taken up when others are left behind is something I find difficult to reconcile with the God whose love I feel with me at all times. Human parents almost invariably find it impossible to be angry with their children forever no matter what they've done and I think God LOVES us more than any human parent loves their child. I can't imagine the idea of a loving God leaving people behind. That's not even considering the repurcussions for families and friends of some being taken and some being left.

Josh's reaction for me exemplifies the reaction I would expect of anyone who would be worthy of being of "the elect". He hands back the card. He says that if there is going to be a disaster he wants to be with his friends, with his family, with the people that he loves. He doesn't want to be saved without them. This is not the petulance of a child saying he doesn't want to go if his friends aren't going. This is a deep and true expression of love. The self-sacrificing love which God shows us and which God calls each of us to offer to Him and to each other.

"For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Golden Years

This evening our church celebrated the golden wedding anniversary of two of our parishioners. It was a wonderful service which talked of love and hope and joy. I found it rather refreshing to be singing something other than Christmas carols. However the whole concept of a GOLDEN WEDDING ANNIVERSARY was something which I found both encouraging and the tiniest bit depressing. This is something so very rare in a society where one inthree marriages end in divorce which is very sad. On a more personal note it's something I'm rather assuming I will never do. I'm thirty and currently single. For me to reach such a milestone would necessitate me finding a life partner within the next few years AND surviving to beyond the age of eighty. Of course it also requires me finding a life partner of equal longevity (or a slightly younger man with a few spare years I suppose!). Some big challenge. However it's not about the length of time but about the devotion. I admire Ellie and Percy, without ending, for the fact that they have devoted themselves to loving someone and loving God for all that time. Through my life and my words I try to show God's love to those around me. Yet I think there is no better way to evidence God's love than through a long marriage which has ridden the waves of trouble and surfed the froth of joy. I hope to partake in that some day but for now, to all those of you who are married, can I urge you to see it as a sign of God's love to those aroudn you not of lovey-dovey cuteness but of an enduring through-it-all love which is what God grants to us all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Easy as pie

Well I am sitting in the living room covered in flour and surrounded by wrapping paper with the prospect of a "pass the parcel" to wrap still before me. However I am the proud creator of what must be some of the finest mince pies ever crafted by human hand! Four dozen of them too (less one - which broke I might add!) Unfortunately I have more to make tomorrow or on Thursday as we need some for our Crib service on Christmas Eve, some are for our most excellent verger (without whom Christmas would just not be happening at All Saints') and others are for friends and family as gifts.

This may not seem like much of a success to some but, for me, successfully making pastry which doesn't require water to paste it together and which actually tastes not only not disgusting but actully delicious is something of a success. I have always been apalling at making pastry. This apparently has something to do with having warm hands (though I've never thought they were that warm!) I had almost given up all hope of being able to make pastry when a few years ago I discovered that you can make pastry in a blender. I did succeed in making some at my parents' house with the blender there a long time ago but I hadn't been able to repeat this since I moved into my own place as I didn't have a blender. Now however, courtesy of the lovely Ami who gave me a blender for my birthday I have now been able to make a semblance of being a pastry chef! Thank you sweetie! I shall of course be bringing some round for you.

A Star is born

The local Church of England primary school came to church today for their last assembly of the term and as they were focussing on the story of the Magi, David used the star I made for the top of the tree as part of his talk. Apart from getting a round of applause for it which was rather funny, he said it was new and wonderful. So it was a SPECIAL star just like the star the wise men followed to find Jesus. He urged all the children to follow special stars like that rather than just anything that shines and sparkles. I rather liked that.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Carols and Lessons

Well it was our church's Nine Lessons and Carols last night and it had more than NINE lessons for me!

The additional lesson was one in dealing with nerves. I had volunteered to sing a solo in the last carol the choir were singing. Now I can stand up in front of a church FULL of people and read, lead prayers, preach and even do an impression of a big monster. Yet singing fills me with adrenalin fuelled terror. However I know that God gave me a voice for singing and therefore I know I should use it to God's glory.

I am told that the solo sounded "excellent" and "wonderful" so I think it must have been worth the wobbling knees and the lightheaded clinging to the choir stall to stay standing.

Yet aside from THIS lesson... there are others there too.

We sing Christmas carols at this time of year and the words are very familiar but do they have lessons for us? Is there a decent theology to be explored in carols?

Some crackers.... (and that's "good ones" not biscuits, or treat-filled theologically sound additions to the Christmas dinner table!)

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient good as he

Well let's "unpack" that shall we...

Jesus says that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must all become like children so this applies to ALL of us not just the under 12s. Mild... Jesus as MILD? Now Jesus being kind I can believe. Gentle, yes. MILD? That implies a lack of gravitas that just doesn't reflect the character of Jesus for me. Obedient. Unquestionable. Yes. Obedient even unto death. "Good as he". This is where I have the real trouble. Christians must all be as good as Jesus. That's just not possible. Yes we should all AIM for this but we KNOW that we are weak, and that we've all sinned in our lives. Not one of us could EVER be as good as Jesus.

Here's another one...
"above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by"

Now my knowledge of astrophysics isn't up to the second part. Are stars silent? I always think that they make a kind of twinkling small tubular wind chimes kinda sound but I know that's rather fantastical. And blogging of fantastical... Jesus in a dreamless sleep. Really? Did he not have dreams? As someone fully divine and fully human surely he MUST have dreamed as humans do. Just imagine what those dreams might have been.

Ok another quick one to finish...

Away in a manger...

AWAY? Away where? Am I missing something?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Wit crack away!

Ok the challenge to find a theological justification for crackers was taken up by Ian with great enthusiasm. Though I do have to say the justification for the little jokes (and the recent addition of trivia questions which confused people intothinking they're jokes which really AREN'T funny!) is still lacking. Any takers?

I'm all out of blog...

I'm afraid the blog is suffering from the fact that I've been doing a bit of book writing today. I found myself more in the mood for writing one of the characters so I did some of that. Unfortunatley, ladies and gentlemen it means you don't get much from me on here. You'll just have to start saving up to buy the book!

Cracking news...

Ok I've just heard from two sources that Americans don't have Christmas crackers. How strange is that? I know that the pathetic nature of cracker jokes is probably uniqely British but surely we could manage to export this tradition? I mean, does this mean that Americans don't sit wearing silly paper hats after their Christmas dinner? Where do they get those handy little screwdriver sets for glasses that seem to appear nowhere but in crackers? I just can't imagine a Christmas dinner without a succession of crummy jokes and where would you get those except from a cracker? In our small group this morning we discussed all those things that we do at Christmas that don't actually relate to the Christmas story and it really is most of it and of course crackers was on that list. Well I couldn't find any theological justification for them! Anyone willing to have a go?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Hallelujah Caught us

An interesting discussion arose this evening when we were at The Royal Albert Hall waiting to hear Handel's Messiah.

I've never been to hear it before (though I have sung it and performed sections from it) but Mike and Wayne reliably informed me that it is traditional to stand for the Hallelujah chorus. Apparently this is because George III stood when he first heard it because it moved him so much. I had no recollection of this custom (of course when I sang it I was standing anyway!) but didn't remember seeing people stand for anything except the national anthem. Fortunately when the moment came the conductor in fact indicated that we should all stand and we duly did so.

The interesting thing is I am used to standing for the Hallelujah as I do so every Sunday when we sing Alleluias before the Gospel reading at the Eucharist. The idea of this being that standing is a sign of respect. Is this what the audience was doing this evening? Who was it for? What was the standing ABOUT?

The other thing the evening taught me was that some people clearly didn't get educated in theatre and concert going as I did when I was a child (I sound like such a granny!). My parents brought me up to know that ou only clap at the END of a piece of music (hence only twice in the Messiah; at the interval and at the end) and that you don't HUM along to music at a concert no matter how tempted you might be. Also if you need to pass people to get to your seats you FACE them and thank them politely and apologise for the inconvenience.

I have to admit that the Americans were right in saying that the British were deeply lacking in manners!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Mrs Fiona Charming...

I was chatting with one of the young people this evening and our conversation turned to the different attitudes of men and women to relationships. It reminded me of something that I've often talked about with female friends with frankness and with male friends to looks of horror.

All the women out there will KNOW that, at least once in their life, they have wondered what their name would sound like with the surname of some guy, a friend, a cutie they've just met... It's a thing we do. It's inane. It's plain BIZARRE really but we do it. I know I did it when I was at primary school and more embarrassingly have done it within the last five years (I won't confess to anything more precise!) More than that... women (and it really is NOT just me here) have this curious tendency to leap ahead and start considering what lies in the future with someone they may not even have begun dating.

Guys just don't seemed to be wired the same way. Well for a start they don't NEED to consider what their name would sound like with a different surname but I'm sure they don't even begin to consider how some woman's name would sound with THEIR surname. It's inconceivable. Men certainly don't appear to be doing the pie in the sky future planning either. For them the question is "how's it going?" not "where's it going?" It seems a terrible stereotype but the men I know seem to be far more logical about relationships and we women do seem to get all emotional about them.

Which attitude is more healthy? I've seen lots of women go through heartaches because the futures haven't shaped up. The "happy ending" hasn't turned up. Yet do women benefit from this activity? Well it can be wonderful fun to dream about happy futures. Surely it's half the fun of the dating game. This means the guys might be missing out. Of course seeing dreams fade or shatter is not pleasant and the guys are fortunate to miss out on that.

As much as I know that I've indulged in this kind of craziness in my time, and I know it has been painful at times, I wouldn't trade places with the guys for anything. They can keep their cool logic, I think. Give me the emotions any day!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

We Tree Kings

Mike, Wayne and I decorated my Christmas tree this evening and I must say it looks FABULOUS. This is no surprise as the baubles were positioned with much greater precision and meticulous care than usual. Mike spent ages putting the lights on and Wayne acted as the tree ornament police not allowing two ornaments on the same branch!

 Posted by Hello

It was also handy having a tall person to put up the decorations in high places as my step ladder went walkabout at the church hall a couple of months ago.

However the transatlantic divide kicked in when we were listening to carols to "the usual tune" or "not the usual tune" depending on your country of origin! It's amazing how wedded we are to the things of our upbringing. We like thngs the way we have known them. This also came out in the "star first" or "star last" debate. Our family has ALWAYS put up a particular star before any other decoration and always put the star on the top of the tree before any other tree decorations. Mike said his family always put it on last and I INSISTED that the star HAD to go on first. Yet when he pressed me for a reason I REALLY couldn't think of one other thna some vague muttering about the Star of Bethlehem. I realise this was MY justification for why we always did it but I don't know if it was THE reason!!

 Posted by Hello

The saga continues

Well I was VERY excited today as I received THREE parcels! Well one of them was at 7.35 which was a little TOO exciting for this sluggabed! Two of the parcels were in fact things I'd ordered other people for Christmas but ONE of the parcels which actually came to the office was FAR more thrilling...

It was an ordinary looking jiffy bag with my name and address written on it in large friendly letters but what was on the inside was FAR from ordinary. For inside that white jiffy bag was something I have been waiting for... something extremely cool. Perhaps I should say someONE extremely cool.

You may have guessed it! PRAYER BEAR II has arrived!

The timing is perfect because I was hoping to involve Prayer Bear in my Christmas talk to the young people and now I can - YAY!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Sixpence none the richer

My bible study this morning was all about possessions and wealth. Certainly a good choice for the approach to Christmas. I left the house feeling relatively confident that I'm NOT that materialistic... but it went down hill from there really.

Firstly I got to drive my friend Mike's car which is a lovely sporty Honda. It was fabulous fun. 5 gears of "heavenly" power! I admit that getting into my sweet and much loved fiat panda really did feel a let down after that. Charlie (the car) is my pride and joy, a great down-to-earth sensible and reliable car despite much dissing by some people and a curious veneration as being COOL by some of the young people.

This feeling of being rather poor was dashed, however by a look at Care International's Rich List and discovered that there are 5,369,961,190 people poorer than me. Woah! I am, apparently the 630,038,810 richest person in the world in the top 10.5%. Somewhat humbling indeed.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Burnfest VII

Just back from BURNFEST VII which is the seventh in a series of fireworks parties. This term totally undersestimates the magnificence of BURNFEST however! It is USUALLY some time around 5th November but this year it was "LATE BUT GREAT" because Coz is only just back from a year in Oz.

After two years of arriving late as a result of getting LOST I managed to be EARLY this year. The trouble was I got there by a VERY strange route the first time, having gone wrong quite early on and then asked some lovely people (unsuccessfully) for directions to Tom's Farm (only to discover later that this wasn't the name of the farm just the name of Coz's friend who lives there, hence it's his farm!!!). The SECOND time I drove there I could only remember getting there the strange getting lost way and so got lost again but in a DIFFERENT way, curiously enough!!!

Fortunately this year I had it sussed!

The evening began with the merriment of sparklers (shiny, pretty!) and lots of catching up with my old students. Then a guy started doing some fire stick juggling which was rather cool. Even more cool though, when one of the fire stick end went out, my handy youthworker-who-has-light-candles-in-church lighter came to the fore! I was only a little unnerved as I stood there hold a lighter under a parafin soaked baton and he said "the parafin might drip a bit"! I escaped unscathed however!

After that was munching on bangers,of the sausagey kind. Scrumptious!

Then the huge bonfire, complete with Red Dwarf characters and a rather sad looking reindeer, was lit to the accompaniment of "I'm a Firestarter" and the chill of the December night was off-set rather splendindly.

After much gazing at the wonderfully flickering flames, we wereled by torchesto the field and standing at a "safe" distance of indeterminate length we watched a cracking display of fireworks, courtesy of Coz and the Committee of Burning. There were some girly ones for the girlies (oooooh.... ahhhhhh) and some EXTREMELY loud one's for the tough guys plus a Catherine Wheel for Catherines! It was just glorious.

After that we went back to the now somewhat smaller bonfire for the toasting of marshmallows. The bonfire was smallER but still required a stick of at least 3ft to hold a marshmallow and cook it without cooking your arm! It really was VERY WARM!

More chat with my old students and the usual chance to chat to Coz's rather curious collection of curious friends including those of dubious nicknames - USW you know who you are! This led into a fantastic rubbish joke telling contest which Ruth DEFINITELY won with her "3 men walking into a bar" joke!!

Well I am now home and theproud owner of my second Burnfest Polo Shirt! This year I learnt my lesson, however, and ordered a large shirt so it could fit OVER my many layers for the occasion!

Follow that star...

Ok just a quick one to let you know I've had some more feedback on the star...

From a young person:
"Its... well... odd"

However I am resovled that the star STAYS.

David the vicar says:
"I think it's great. I'm with you!"

So the star shines on. Hurrah!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Blog diss

I absolutely LOVE doing my blog. It gives me the chance to make sense of the day a little, to reflect on everything that has happened. I can cherish and rejoice over the good, untangle the mess of the rest and consider where I might improve on things if I can. Blogging also give me the opportunity to WRITE which is something I love very much and yet... and yet there are problems with blogging. So I will now, if I may diss the blog!

There are times in one's life when it is just NOT possible to blog away something that has happened. Times when the blog just isn't the place. Being a public medium, I simply can't write about EVERYTHING that happens, not only in my job but also in my personal life (or what there is of one, as someone in ministry!).

Of course, BEFORE I began blogging, I didn't have an opportunity to unpack stuff at all in this way and yet now that I DO have my blog, it is sometimes a little strange for me to be unable to use the blog for some things.

Today is one of those days. I have STUFF (as my young people would call it) that is just not bloggable and as is so often the case with STUFF it just gets in the way of the rest so I can't think of anything else to blog about. Even watching Cool Runnings with the young people has just left me NEARLY able to blog. There's a little blog tickling at the back of my brain but not materialising as yet.

Sorry guys... you'll have to wait. Anyway, the sermonette for tomorrow's all-age service calls. It may be on the SUBJECT of waiting but it can't wait any longer!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Non Angli sed Angeli

Ok I've had SOME feedback on the star from two of our flower arrangers. Now these must be ARTISTIC people, yeah? With an eye for design and style, wouldn't you think?

Well Liz and Pat thought the star looked good and were SHOCKED that anyone had dissed it.

Feeling pretty much better now.

Then I'm reminded of a rather unnerving fact... I volunteered to sing a solo at the Nine Lessons and Carols service next week. Eek! What was I thinking? I'm not BRAVE! 300 people and just me singing. Reading, sermon, making an idiot of myself doing a monster impression, admitting to a lifelong desire to be a pirate (that was in front of 500 actually!) all no problem... but SINGING? So why does singing make me so much more nervous than speaking? I'm not entirely sure but three or four years ago I would NEVER have done the solo but I've gradually gained in confidence for doing them. Though I am STILL nervous about it!

Well I've done it now. No backing out. It's a lovely tune in fact. Cool, funky medieval discordant thing. Just hope it's discordant in the right places!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Angles on the top of the tree

OK so this afternoon, the wonder that was the Blue-Peter-esque star, which I created out of three coat hangers, a rope light and a lot of frustraion, was finally attached to the top of the 5m tall Christmas tree we have in church.

There can't be many churches that can boast a "map of France" on the top of their tree. Yes indeed the "STAR" element of our tree topping is not entirely clear as a result of the difficulty in making rope light make an angle instead of a curve.

Although it didn't look exactly perfect, Hazel the Verger and I were rather please with our efforts (despite the large number of pine needles falling in our hair and sticking in our jumpers.

One difficulty with it is that the lights seem to return to "FLASHING" every time we switch them off, even if we LEAVE it set on "STEADY ON". This means that whenever we first switch it on it looks VERY tacky! Switching it off and on again does seem to make it change mode... sometimes. Oh dear.

However we have had some other feedback so far...

From one of my young people who was in playing the organ as we put up the star:
"It's ... modern!"

From a friend (ha!)
"Sarah I have never seen a more hideous adornment on a tree. Ever! It's tacky and oh my word it's FLASHING!"

From a diplomatic primary school teacher:
"It looks like a very young child has drawn a star and you have copied it in lights."

From another young person:
"It's er... brave!"

From another friend:
"I like the freehand shape BUT I think it would be better in just white. You could put it in your front window."

Indeed I LOVE my star, even if it is and maybe BECAUSE it is flawed. I will await further feedback and if it is all negative then it WILL be adorning my front window.

We're not putting the decorations up in my house until Monday anyway so the star has at least until then to receive judgements. Anyone wishing to view, please do pop in to All Saints'.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

AIM for Pastoral Care

I am a regular user of MSN and AIM to keep in touch with fellow youth workers, young people, friends and colleagues.

The curious thing is that SOMETIMES you can get very deep over MSN, often in a way you can't if you're face to face with someone. It's like being on the phone but even less vulnerable. Not ony can the person at the other end not SEE you, they can't HEAR you either. This can make communication difficult but it can also make it easier if you're discussing something deep and personal.

In the last couple of days I've been held by some very deep convos on MSN. Whether it's discussing women bishops, celibacy and the Immaculate Conception with my friend Ben, hearing about a break up with a boyfriend or discussing Christianity and homosexuality, I find I can have time to choose my words carefully (though I don't always manage to type them as carefully as I'd like). I can refer someone to a website with information (or indeed read yet another Roman Catholic tract! - Thanks mate!)

What's actually amazing about being in touch with my young people via MSN is that, when I am sitting at my desk planning youth events or reflecting on things, I have the tangible presence of the young people with me to keep me with them in mind. On a very basic level I can ASK them for their opinions about things (ok today's was do you REALLY want to play sleeping lions at the Christmas party?? really????). However on a deeper level, it helps me to avoid that administrative spiral that one can get into when planning an event which forgets the PEOPLE and focuses only on the EVENT. I am reminded that what youth work is ABOUT is about building relationships with young people so that we can encourage and inspire them and that it is NOT about WHAT we do, rather the FACT that we do it or even just the fact that we are THERE.

One of my young people said tome today:

"u no since our chat i been feeling alot beta dat gd int it?"

I was thrilled.

This week so far I have preached, produced, the newsletter for next term, created a flyer for our next event and sent that out to all the young people, I've spent the day planning and reflecting with the vicar, I've been to morning prayer, I've written a letter with details of some forthcoming services yadda yadda...

Yet all this is NOTHING (a clanging cymbal you might say) ...

For one young person I made the day better. Wow!

You don't get many jobs in life where you can list that among your achievments.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Bishop to King's Fore

Reading the book I bought for a friend on Randall Davidson (a biography from 1938) while on the train home this evening, I read a lot of the correspondence surrounding the huge controversy that surrounded the proposed appointment of a bishop, with a notable role played by the Bishop of Oxford.

People may well tell me that they already knew about this whole thing but it wasnews to me. I don't know much about any bishops who were alive after the thriteenth century so it was new for me!

Interestingly the objections to Henson as proposed bishop of Hereford were not surrounding his personal life (as in more recent times) but on the basis of his supposed disagreement with some of the fundamentals of the creeds. There wasdoubt as to whether he believed in a virgin birth and the ressurection of the Jesus. Not to knock the recent press submissions by notable church leaders but I was deeply impressed by the rhetoric and discourse of the people involved.

The big difference with this early 20th century episcopal controversy was that agreement was reached and Henson was consecrated as Bishop of Hereford and indeed soon thereafer Bishop of Durham, in fact.

Actually what really made an impact on me were not the public letters to the Times, as impressive as they were. No, what really touched me were the private letters, particularly those between Henson and Archbishop Davidson.

Despite all the ecclesiastical wranglings and politics, these letters clearly reflect two men seeking to serve God, the Church and the people.

As he approached his sometime much opposed consecration, Henson wrote of his sorrow that his relationship with is future fellow bishops would be more problematic as a result of the vehemence of some of their opposition to him but he resigned himself to forgiveness:

"To forgive an injury of that kind is a duty which I shall endeavour to fulfil, but to forget is hardly in my power."

An honest human response there.

He went on to look towards his preparation for this new stage in his service to the Church:

"Ordinarily some measure of devotional retirement is permitted to a man on the verge of so momentous a new departure. That has been denied me, and I have instead to carry to my Consecration a mind harrassed and fatigued, and a wounded heart. Were it not that Consecration carries me into a Presence where a Higher Equity and a more Generous Charity than that of the Bishops may be counted upon, I could hardly stand it at all." (30th January, 1918)

Such a heartfelt openness had a great impact on me. It makes you think that retreats really ARE important, eh guys?

The Archbishop responded with some advice for his early days as bishop. He does not recommend a great display of authoritarian wisdom but a veritable model of servant leadership:

"... watch eagerly for any who among the clergy or laity are in sorrow or sickness and go quietly and unobstrusively to see them - say parents whose son has been killed [in the war] - or clergy who are ill, and if they happen to be among those whose criticism of your appointment, or whose protest against it, is known to you I should doubly be anxious - in absolute simplicity and privacy and without fuss - to tell them now of Christian comfort. I believe that to do this would be in accord with the dictates of your own heart, even though the 'natural man' in any of us might give a pull the other way! It is an hour when the 'natural man' has to be pushed behind us, and the servant of Christ do his true part." (10th February, 1918)


Davidson's letters had me captivated all the way from Canterbury to Victoria and again from Marylebone to High Wycombe but I think his reflections on touring the Western Front were most notable as displaying his incredibly engaging humility. After his time there he concluded:

"I thank God for all the lessons of these nine days, and I trust I may find it possible to do my work a little less inadequately in consequence." (May, 1916)

Canterbury Sales

Went to Canterbury today to see my friend Craig and do a bit of the ol' Crimbo shopping.

Posted by Hello

Having thought I was well progressed in my purchases I sat down last night to look at what I had bought and realised I was nowhere near half done - oh dear!

However I made great progress today. I also managed not to buy anything for me (well nothing for me personally, I did pick up three youth work resources!!!)

The WORST thing about Christmas shopping has to be the fact that I cna't blog about any of the really cool things I bought cos I know some of the people they're for read this (some regularly, some from time to time).

All I CAN say is that Craig can testify to the total COOLNESS of the gifts for Kathryn and Colin and for Mark and Sarah!!!

Fellow bibliophiles will be pleased to hear that in my browsing through the second hand stock at SPCK, I managed to find a most EXCELLENT book about Randall Davidson for my friend who is studying the church in the First world war.
It's always really cool to find a book that is USEFUL and readable (to which I can attest as I read a lot of it on the train home). More on that in the next blog.

Youth workers out there may giggle (so Ian will be pleased!) when I say that I found a book from the 80s on PARISH YOUTH WORK. I thought I'd see how much things have changed!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Saga of Prayer Bear

I'd like to tell you a little story. Are you sitting comfortably?

Once upon a time, a new youth worker travelled many miles to a place called High Leigh to join with other youth workers. They journeyed there for a conference which was called Matrix.

The new youth worker spent many happy hours learning about youth work and meeting exciting new people during the day and in the evenings she and her friends talked for hours, getting to know each other better and better. It was a happy time.

While they were there, the people organising the conference ran a contest. They asked all the youth workers in the land (well all those who were there!) to tell them about any mistakes that had been made during the conference and offered as trophies two piggy banks. Now many youth workers endured trials to reach the box in which these comments were stored and the new young youth worker was one of these. She went on a long search and finally found these so called piggy banks to discover a great mystery.

They were not in fact piggy banks at all but two money boxes one shaped like a cow and the other like a bear. In a moment of pure inspired imagination she wrote these words and placed them in the box for answers.

The dawn of the last day came, crisp and frosty and as the last sessions finished, the youth workers gathered in the great hall for the final farewells. Before that great company of youth workers, the host announced that the time had come to announce the winners of the contest. First, the cow was awarded to someone who had made a very witty comment and then a hush descended on the room as the second winner was announced. The winning comment was:

The greatest mistake was in this competition because you said we could win a piggy bank but in fact they’re a cow and a bear

The new youth worker stood up to face all her fellow youth workers and the bear was launched into the air and flew towards her. Had she been one of those sporty youth work types she would probably have caught the bear but the poor little bear was fated to be won by a less than spatially aware youth worker and so plummeted to the floor and bounced pathetically on the hard floor. Yet soon the new youth worker swept the bear up in her arms and all was well.

The bear travelled home with the new youth worker in her battered black carriage and as she journey an idea grew and the bear received his name.

“I shall call him prayer bear”, said the new youth worker, “and young people will write their prayers on paper and place them in the bear and the bear will keep those prayers close to his heart.” She wasn’t sure but she thought she saw the little plastic bear smile.

And so it was that Prayer Bear was named.

And Prayer Bear came to meet all the young people at a place called Pulse. He had a special place, just for him with his own sign. Quietly, young people would come and would write their prayers on little pieces of paper and they would give them to Prayer Bear and he would keep them by his heart.

So life went on happily for Prayer Bear. When he wasn’t at Pulse he lived on a shelf where the new youth worker lived with a lovely view of trees and sky.

Then one day at Pulse, some of the young boys had a naughty thought. They thought, “what if we hide Prayer Bear? We could hold him to ransom.” And so the boys hid Prayer Bear behind a curtain and left a note for the new youth worker demanding the purchase of certain Play Station games “or Prayer Bear gets it!”

Now the new youth worker knew that these boys were not bad. In fact she thought it was slightly amusing that one of them had somehow smuggled Prayer Bear out of the building and waited to see what they would do next.

She didn’t know that Prayer Bear was hidden. She didn’t know that Prayer Bear was so near. She didn’t know.

Prayer Bear was a little confused. He still had a view of sky, though the trees were different. He couldn’t see the new youth worker any more, as she sat at her desk. He was a little cold right by the window but he was happy enough.

Then one day, someone saw him there, behind the curtain and took him away to a new place but where he went, we do not know.

When the new youth worker saw the young boys next she smiled and she asked them where Prayer Bear was. They grinned and went to the place where they had hidden Prayer Bear but he was gone. They looked shocked and although she thought, at first, that they were kidding, she soon realised that they really had thought Prayer Bear would be there. The new youth worker was sad but knew there was little she could do. She only hoped that Prayer Bear found a good home and that, maybe, one day he would return.
Years passed and Prayer Bear was still absent and the new youth worker began to be the not so new youth worker. The time approached when she would again travel many miles to a place called High Leigh and her thoughts turned to Prayer Bear. She thought, “I believe he must be having some marvellous adventures somewhere but perhaps he has a brother out there somewhere?”

And so the not so new youth worker began her quest. She searched the Internet for moneyboxes. She scoured the web for bears. Yet nowhere could she find an image of Prayer Bear or the chance of finding one of his siblings. She was very sad.

Then inspiration struck once again. She decided to look not for Prayer Bear but for the friend he had been separated from at that place called High Leigh. So she began to search for the cow. She scrolled through images of cow moneyboxes on the Internet and saw many bovine novelties. Then at last, she saw a face she hadn’t seen in many months. There was the cow she had seen at that place called High Leigh. The cow lived with some people called the Strawberry group. She followed the trail to the cow and there, right there on the screen, was the twin brother of Prayer Bear.

And so the not so new youth worker sent word to these people called the Strawberry Group, that she would like to invite Prayer Bear’s brother to come and live where his brother had lived. Then she waited expectantly for the day that Prayer Bear II would arrive.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The importance of being SaraH

OK this is just a quick one. I've had that rare opportunity to watch TV a lot as I've been off sick. This evening after the delights of Little Britain (Extremely funny with the bonus of Antony Stewart Head AND Nigel Havers appearing - does life GET any better???) I switched over to QI on BBC 2 with Stephen Fry, Alan Davis and guests. One of the discussions was about abbreviations used by doctors and nurses on patient notes. Now I have a friend who's a nurse so I knew about this phenomenon but I learnt a few new ones tonight. A special one for my friend William is NFN (normal for Norfolk!) but the one that rather unnerved me was SARA (Sexual activity related accident) Now, in true Anne Shirley style, I'm always fairly particular about the H on the end of my name and I get a little bit niggled when people miss it of. With this new knowledge, in future I will be even more insistent!!!

Day two in the big bunged up house

Well I'm feeling a lot better today, although a brief trip into work to ensure cover for some thnigs I should have been doing showed me that I really wasn't up to it all. Forty minutes and I needed to keel over and sleep.

My voice is more reliable but I still don't dare try singing. Hopefully it should be back for my preaching on Sunday. The irony of this is that I'm going to be talking about John the Baptist and "the voice crying in the wilderness"!!! I might just be adding something about losing my voice. I'll let you know how it goes!


Apparently a friend of mine was unable to make an anonymous comment on the blog today. I hope no one else has experience this problem. This blog is set up so that you should be able to comment even if you don't have an account on . Of course the way to ENSURE that you can comment is to get your own blog! This also means I can check out who you are and where you're at philosophical and all that jazz which is kinda fun.

So anyway, apologies to Ian. I have double checked it and the system says he SHOULD have been able to comment but perhaps was exercising some kind of editorial veto. Were you trying to be TOO funny, Ian? ;0D

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A voice in the wilderness

Well today has been a rather curious one as I've been off work with a hideous cold. I spent the entire morning sleeping fitfully and the afternoon resisting sleep so that I might have the chanc of sleeping tonight. My head is feeling much clearer now, most of the time but my throat is still horribly sore and my voice curiously changeable. It is quite unbearable not to know exactly what sounds is going to come out when I open my mouth. This must be what it's like for teenage boys when their voices break (though for a much briefer period I hope). Guys I don't know how you coped. It's truly unnerving.

As a result I have spent most of the day without talking (thank God for the joy of the occasional text!). Those of you who know me will have no difficulty unerstanding how much of a change this must be! Worse still, I am supposed to be preaching on Sunday morning and indeed singing with our church choir at the local theatre in the evening. Currently I can't envisage being able to do either but I remain hopeful. There is even less hope of me being able to be at all useful when I'm supposed to be visiting the Scouts tomorrow night!

Work commitments aside...

The worst thing is that I have to stop putting on CDs that I like a great deal as my inclination is to sing along to them and this only results in a poor rendition of the frog chorus and then protracted coughing.

For those of you wondering... yes I am VERY bad at being ill. I get extremely fractious and bored if I'm not up to reading, writing, talking or any of my other favourite pursuits! At least I can still listen to my friends' tales of variable blogness!

So anyone out there who's nearby, do pop round! Or you could call!!!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Day After Tomorrow

No this isn't a blog about Friday!

I had Hazel and Ashley round this evening to watch the DVD of The Day After Tomorrow with me. I bought this so that the young people could watch it whilst I was in Canada (otherwise I would certianly have RENTED it rather than purchasing it!).

Now the basic premise of the film made me a little dubious to start with but watching it only increased my disbelief, rather than suspending it!

Ok this might be the influence of knowing some climatologists at university and having some especially sceptical friends with me when I first saw the trailer but come ON... was it even VAGUELY convincing?

Well putting all that lot aside...

There was an interesting division of the audience this evening.

At the end of the film, the survivors are being taken down to non-ice age Mexico where the American government is operating out of the consulate. In the helicopter there's one guy with his dog. My friend was REALLY pleased that the dog survived (thousands of people died but.... in Independence Day style the dog's ok!). However SHOCKINGLY I was pleased to see that the Gutenburg Bible survived - rather than being burnt to keep them warm (to be fair they did have a WHOLE library of other books to keep them toasty!).

Ok so which one of us is more sad? I leave it to my blog readers to judge! Ashley concluded we both were!!!

Interesting aside though... and ok it's not about the dog but about the book!

They were there in a library burning whatever they couldto keep warm in the scary sub zero temperatures and two of them started arguing over the merits a a cople of authors and endeavouring to justify saving them. Forestalling their literary angst, another guy points out:

"There's hundreds of Tax law journals down here we can burn for sure!"

However let's play the game....

Ignoring the rare books.... (and the Bible)

and considering that ALL the decent libraries in Europe have gone so the collections in the US might be the only place to have these books...

Which books in that library would you have saved from the life giving flames?

For me I think I'd have saved C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet series, some Agatha Christie - classics! The Dream of Scipio and An Instance of the Fingerpost, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, Winnie the Pooh, ... ok I'm getting in danger of freezing to death - what about you?

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Christ Alone

This evening at SAOMC we concluded our course on Interfaith and Secular Culture with a discussion about mission and evangelism in the context of people from other faiths.

The question we were asked was:

If a close friend of yours was a Hindu/Jew/Muslim would you want them to be a Christian?

Interestingly we didn't answer that question so much as what we would DO about it. Ultimately I think we mostly agreed that we would WANT that person to be a Christian because, as Christians we believe in the centrality of Jesus to our faith and salvation. However it was the outworking of that desire that led to conflict and debate.

Would you actively evangelise someone of another faith?

Would you share your faith with them?

Would you be prepared to have them share their faith with you (and, as some put it, risk being persuaded of THEIR conviction?)

Well I suppose simply asking those questions isn't much of a blog is it?

I find it a very tricky situation. We generally agreed that NEVER discussing your faith with people, whether they're of another faith or no faith, is not true to the Christian faith. However, by the very nature of being a Youth Minister, I witness to my faith whenever someone asks me what I do. Where I go after that point is another matter.

We pondered whether we could share faith with people at any poit in a relationship or whether it was necessary to earn the right to share faith with people. Certainly in my work with young people I share my faith but do I share it at a great depth one to one with young people I hardly know. Well, surprising as it is to me, yes I have shared faith with some young people I'd only just met at our large town-wide youth event simply because I was asked to. With my regular young people I share my faith with the whole group on a regular basis but in one to one relationships I do tend to wait until we have developed our relationship to the point of sharing opinions or openness. This is a bit of a cop out because, by the very nature of my job, it is KNOWN that I am a Christian so it is expected that I'll talk about it. However I do remember talking about it all when I was a university lecturer but it was on a basic level with a large group and again only after a relationship had developed with individual colleagues or students. I did actually have some fascinating discussions with an atheist colleague who was trully interested in understanding where I was coming from as a Christian though fairly convicted in his own position.

Ok I'm skirting round the issue of whether I'd evangelise those of other faiths. I know for certian that I am extremely uncomfortable with missions focussed specifically on those of other faiths. However I find missions and evangelism which target the whole community (which may include those of other faiths) such as visiting all the houses in the parish an acceptable practice.

For me I think evangelism must come from LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbour. What are we seeking to do through our mission? Persuade those of other faiths that they are wrong? Or show God's love to them and our love to them because of our faith?

Our church's simple mission statement is:
A place for our whole community to encounter God.

This is, of course, inclusive of all our community; those of our faith, those of other faiths and those of no faith. The aim of our mission therefore is clear: to enable people to come to know God. My wise fellow student pointed out that we are not called upon to convert anyone. God does that. It is simply for us to share our faith and then let the spirit work.

Someone in previous years on the course had argued that it was far more sensible to evangelise those who have no concept of a spiritual dimension to life, the unchurched, than to seek to convert those who have already opened themselves to an experience of God. I think, in sheer practical terms I agree with that view.

Perhaps, once we have shared our faith with ALL those within our pastoral area who have NO faith, then we will have earned the right to evangelise those of other faiths?

What do you think?

Amnesty Interbloganal

Having discovered the whereabouts of my Love Actually DVD by commenting regularly in various places that I remember lending it to someone but not remembering who, I thought I might use the blog as a way of doing this with more people for some of the other DVDs that have gone astray.

Currently I am missing

Bruce Almighty
Pirates of the Carribbean

and also About a boy on video!

Anybody remember if I leant you one of those?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Who needs theology?

One of my young people this morning asked me what I do during the weekwhen I'm not working directly with them. When I told him that I go to a theology class on Tuesdays, he asked why and I explained it was so I could learn about God as theology is literally that the study of God. He responded, "oooh! I thought it was like therapy or something!"

It made me laugh, in that way that you sometimes just can't stop yourself even though you know it upsets someone when they've made a booboo. Of course then I thought that actually he wasn't that far off. I mean sometimes studying God is a kind of therapy for the soul. Certainly in our summer school our group work did sometimes have the air of group therapy about it! Yet it's not only that. Surely theology is in some ways therapy. What is it we are seeking by studying theology?A greater understanding of the nature of God, of course, but also a greater understanding of ourselves in relation to the universe and also a greater understanding of our purpose. This sounds a bit like therapy though I have no first hand experience of it. Any thoughts?

I don't like Mondays

OK so here is the weirdness of the coming week. I am WORKING on Monday which is normally my day off. The silver lining to the cloud is that I am therefore OFF on a Saturday. Yes a SATURDAY - you know that day when the normal people in your life ALSO have a day off so you can actually see people you know! I am looking forward to this enormously BUT the realisation dawns that I will be working rather more days in a row without a day off than I'm used to! Also my accustomed Monday lie-in is not on the cards (unless I get off to a really bad start!)

The next oddity of the week is that I will be going to my theology evening class for the last time. This will be an occasion filled with mixed feelings. As a person with lots of evening metings, losing a regular evening commitment will be a blessing. However I will also be losing time with some amazingly wonderful people. I'm not sure how many of them will be reading (I know some of them have checked out the blog at least once) so I can't really go into details about how great they are... oh of course I can.

Firstly to my mate Mark - sorry I won't be there to make inclusive pro-Methodist comments. Seriously though sweetie - I'm GONNA MISS U!

Next to my excellent tutors Mike, Alan, Marilyn and Gerald. Thank you so much for opening my mind and heart to the richness of the church, its heritage and philosophy.

To William - In a sense, it could be argued that... I have no idea what to say! Simply remember that in fact you ARE an essentially good person even if you do have, as you put it, hidden shallows.

To Paul - I hear that there was evidence at the weekend that you really can blow your own trumpet but from me, hear this: Stay as warm and real as you are. I've found your quiet pastoral support extremely enriching. Thank you.

To Roger - Thank you for all your wisdom, support and prayer. I know you've prayed for me to stay but as Mike as said in a past sermon: "Why do you ask for that... there is something so much better?"

To Ian - Slough isn't that bad really is it? OK who am I convincing? Keep laughing about it though.

To Chris - I'm so pleased the gender balance has improved now, it means I feel less guilty about leaving.

To the St Albans crowd - You guys have been just amazing and welcoming. THANK YOU.

To my prayer group. Words can't express how much I have valued the care, the meditation the sheer tangible LOVE that have filled our times together.

Ok I'm going to have to stop before I get all emotional at the ending off it all!

Not to be served but to serve

Today was my first time administering wine at the Eucharist. It's an extremely humbly activity. Aside from the worrying about dropping the chalice, spilling wine, bashing people's teeth or just plain MISSING their mouth, the very act of serving people, of literally offering Christ to them is incredible. The action is so much about God and Christ's sacrifice and so entirely NOT about ME. Add to all that the choir singing some Taize music during communion and I was away completely! It was just out of this world. Wow!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

I'm a STALLION baby!

Ok so we watched Shrek 2 at our youth film night this evening. When we first started these we would have about 10 people. This was pretty cool. Occassionally we'd have a night when only 3 young people showed up. Over the last year we've bee getting a few more. Well this evening we had THIRTY young people. THIRTY! We ran out of chairs! I had to sit on the table. I nearly did my back in carrying the takeout pizza up the stairs. On a practical note... it was lucky that I'd asked a third leader to join our usual quota of two.

Now I'm not playing the numbers game... the BIGGEST error in youthwork.

I remember some of the film nights when we had only three people and recollecting those evenings with those three have been an important part of building and consolidating relationships. Tonight didn't offer that. It DID however give me the chance to advertise our forthcoming events to a wider audience and to get some feedback from them about a new idea we had.

Tomorrow we'll be discussing the film in our small group after church. I'm not thinking we'll get thirty for that. I know we'll get some of those I see every week and maybe I might see some of the others too. I don't know.

We're going to be talking about real love and how Shrek and Fiona love each other for who they really are not what they look like. We're going to talk about materialism and STUFF and we'll also have a look at doubt. Well probably. No we will, we definitely will!

Open house

I took my two American friends to a National Trust property today: Waddesdon Manor. It was all decked out for Christmas with twinkling lights and wonderfully opulent trees ponderous with baubles and ribbons. The various dining rooms were laid out with amazing sets of silver and crockery (including some crockery turned into an incredible candelabrum). It was a wonderfully warming pre-Christmas activity. The mulled wine certainly helped with the warming! Advent Sunday tomorrow and I'm feeling Christmassy already. Oh dear!

Moving on

I realised that yesterday's blog may have worried some of those who think I may have been a bit down. To them I say: hey, it happens. I have since had a fabby evening so worry not!

More anon....

Thursday, November 25, 2004

In the Mood

Tonight I came home feeling the teensiest bit mopey and stared blankly at my video and DVD collection trying to figure out what to watch.

It made me think....

I have films that I particularly like to watch when I'm feeling perky, giggly or romantic. Yet I am always stuck about what to watch when I'm feeling down. Do I go for something weepy to weep AT as an alternative to just getting weepy? Anne of Green Gables always a good one for that I find! Do I pick a romantic comedy to make me feel worse (How To Lose A Guy in 10 days seems appropriate at the moment!). Bridget Jones ALWAYS a reliable choice (thoughcurrently my sofa is looking un-Jones-like). I tried Serendipity the other day - BAD idea! Or how about Pride and Prejudice to make me hope that my Mr Darcy is out there somewhere [and if not then at least Mr Darcy is ON there to ponder! ;oD ] Toy Story as a bit of a sugar-soaked "you got a friend in me" pill. Some random action film (the Rock, Die Hard, Bond) just to get my mind off it all? Working Girl to remind me that life can change and get better? Pleasantville to bring out the colour in life? Matrix to make me think about existence? Star Wars to make me think... about something I'm sure... something other than Harrison Ford that is... definitely (for THAT I'd be watching Indianna Jones and the Last Crusade!)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Saving time

It was that time of the month again to be stuffing envelopes with newsletters for young people. This takes at least an hour and can be fairly tiresome so I have got into the habit of watching something whilst I do it. Today I selected a random video tape that said BUFFY on it. I am a big fan of the show but haven't watched any for ages. It happened to be the last two episodes of Season Six (Two To Go and Grave for those of you who like precision.)

Any fans of Buffy won't be surprised that it's the end of the season and so it's ALMOST the end of the world. This time it's because Willow has lost Tara and in her grief she turns away from all that is good, seeks vengeance on those who killed Tara and decides that the world is such a dreadful place that she should end it all to end everyone's pain.

So what is it that stops her? Is it the incredible kick-ass action of Buffy? Is it some amazing plan from the delectable Giles? No. It's Xander. Simple, human, nothing special Xander. How does he save the world?

He goes to Willow as she's pouring all her anger and hate towards the world. She channels all the evil energy she has to destruction and Xander stands between her and the world and says "I love you." It's awesome. The simplicity of it. For me, of course, the parallel with Jesus' gospel of love and his all-loving sacrifice just screams out. Xander even uses humour to emphasise his message. Of course he doesn't succeed at first. Willow inflicts some nasty injuries on him but no matter what she does, he gets back up and his message remains the same. His message of love.

In an episode where we have had incredible demonstrations of power, magical, intellectual and physical we're shown that the greatest power out there is the power of LOVE and of course, as we know GOD is love. So the series really is giving that message (deep-down!)

The episode also ends with Sarah McLachlan singing a version of The Prayer of St Francis which is just mind-blowingly wonderful:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive-
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Of course the episode can tell us that we can ALL do this. If Xander - who really must be the world's greatest uber-muppet - can exhibit that kind of certainty of love then we all can. It doesn't require huge gestures or amazing powers. It only requires somethign we can all do.


Here's a transcript of the scene courtesy of somebody with more time than me!

WILLOW: You can't stop this.
XANDER: Yeah, I get that. It's just, where else am I gonna go? You've been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end ... where else would I want to be?WILLOW: (scornfully) Is this the master plan? You're going to stop me by telling me you love me?
XANDER: Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but ... it seemed kinda cartoony.
WILLOW: Still making jokes.
XANDER: I'm not joking. I know you're in pain. I can't imagine the pain you're in. And I know you're about to do something apocalyptically (glancing back at the statue) evil and stupid, and hey. (spreading out his arms) I still want to hang. You're Willow.
WILLOW: (angry) Don't call me that.
XANDER: First day of kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You've come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love ... scary veiny Willow. So if I'm going out, it's here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I've earned that.
WILLOW: (upset) You think I won't?
XANDER: It doesn't matter. I'll still love you.
WILLOW: (angry) Shut up.
Willow gestures with her hand. No magic bolts of light, but Xander's head jerks to the side as if he's been hit. Three parallel cuts appear on his cheek, bloody as if scratched. He puts his hand up to them, looks at his fingers.
Willow watches, panting and looking a bit nervous. Xander looks back up at her
XANDER: I love you.
Willow makes another slashing gesture. Xander doubles over and falls to his knees. Panting, he gets up again, and we see that his shirt is ripped open over the heart, more scratches visible on his chest. He pants and grimaces from the pain but faces Willow again.
XANDER: (panting) I ... love y-
WILLOW: Shut up!!
Now she does throw a blast of magic at him, and he staggers backward but doesn't fall down. Willow still holds her hand out, a little bit of magic crackling around it but not as much as she had expected. She looks surprised and anxious. Xander moves slowly toward her.
XANDER: I love you, Willow.
She sends another magic blast, but it's weak and barely hurts Xander at all. He continues walking toward her. Willow continues holding out her hand and making the magic gesture, but nothing happens. She starts to get teary.
XANDER: I love you.
Willow starts to cry and, as Xander gets right up to her, she starts hitting him with her fists. Xander just stands there and takes it. After a moment she stops hitting and starts to cry for real. She falls to her knees and Xander kneels with her, puts his arms around her and holds her while she sobs.
XANDER: I love you.
As Willow continues to cry in Xander's arms, the veins fade away from her face and her hair returns to its usual red.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

chocolate or coughee?

You wouldn't expect a serious response to a news story from me normally... and be not disappointed!!

In this morning's news I heard that apparently chocolate is good for getting rid of coughs.

There is an "active ingredient" in it which does something to the cough impulse in the brain apparently! I always find it pleasing when chocolate is attributed with a useful quality. Today was not the first. In August 1999 we were told that chocolate can help prevent cancer In October 2000, Novemebr 2001 and November 2004 we were told that the anti-oxidants in chocolate can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

However, I don't really need to be told of the benefits of chocolate. I've been aware of its many benefits for some time! Though perhaps the above are just some added bonuses.

However it does somewhat remind me of a rather excellent sermon I heard once at St Alban's Abbey. The preacher (one of the resident canons or someone - apologies that I don't remember who!) focussed on a reading about flowers from a somewhat obscure (and apocryphal) book like Baruch (scholars enlighten me please).

His point was that flowers are inherently pointless. That, in fact, pointlessness IS their function. In other words pointlessness is their point.

I have always rather thought the same about chocolate really. It has NO real function. No-one really NEEDS chocolate. It is the very fact that you don't NEED it that makes it a pleasure and a very welcome one at times. Do we need to know it has benefits to enjoy it? Can't we just love it for its pointless pleasure, just as we sniff the beautiful but rather pointless flowers that we are sometimes given and occasionally indulge in buying for ourselves? (Anyone inspired to indulge me with a gift of chocolate or flowers will be much appreciated!!!)

Of course a balanced argument must make at least SOME reference to the negative things about chocolate.

There must be some...

hang on....

I'm thinking....

Ok we all know that choclate may contribute to an over-indulgence in calories but really, in the grand scheme of things, is eating chocolate really measuring high on the richter scale of sin? I think its pointless pleasure is enough to outweigh the wight gain. Do we not all need a little pointlessness sometimes?

Monday, November 22, 2004

What can History teach us?

I spent the evening with some friends recently and one of them who is an historian demonsatrated the ability to make the case for pretty much anything. I can't recall what he first argued in favour of but it was FAIRLY untenable. This first argument led us to challenge him to make a reasonable defence for various appalling incidents in history. He managed to make cogent and sometimes shockingly reasonable defences for both the Holocaust and the treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas at the hands of the European settlers.

It was shocking how convincing he could be just through his training as an historian. Clearly I don't mean CONVINCING as such. I was not persuaded that either of those things was acceptable. It made me think quite a lot because I was also trained as an historian but I think my arguments were always tinged with some kind of personal response and pastoral concern. I remember reading about the Black Death in fourteenth century Britain and the appalling levels of deaths (though the exact extent of those figures is still the subject of intense debate). When writing my essay I really felt shocked by the individual situations of particular people. One man lost his wife, mother, sister, three children uncle and sister-in-law. That whole concept just blew my mind and made my essay a bit of an impassioned rant about the trauma involved. I never really managed to be dispassionate about those kinds of issues. I think that's why I ended up studying much EARLIER history because I lost a lot of academic objectivity when I looked at issues closer to our present.

Of course now I'm in a job where being empassioned about issues is part of my role. I was even accused of criticising the American government in one sermon about Trade Justice - though fortunately this was a slightly cheeky criticism by one of my American friends. Of course in issues of Trade Justice the US really aren't covering themselves in glory. As to other issues about US policy and politics well... I leave those discussions to others for the moment. I don't want the blog getting too empassioned!

Life in all its blogness

Well I don't know if you've ever had that experience where someone is preaching and you think, "Woah... that's ME s/he is talking about! I've been in that situation*... that's how I feel*... I've done that*"

*delete as applicable

That was my experience on Sunday but this time the preacher really WAS talking about me. I know it's a bit of an occupational hazard when you work in a church.

So what was it that caused me to feature in the pastoral message to our congregation?

Well David began by asking a question...

What would you do if you discovered the answer to all the mysteries of the universe?

He suggested that we might keep the secret to ourselves or we might tell peopel about it. We might talk about it, write letters or in this modern world we might BLOG about it (you're just going to have to imagine the glance in my direction!).

So have I discovered the answer to all the mysteries of the universe? Well I don't think so. I rather like mystery though. Not sure I WANT to know ALL the answers. However do I talk about things as deep as the MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE....






Of course David's point was that Jesus shared his message in a relatively SMALL geographical area, in a time when there was no web, no telephone. Jesus spread the Good News by one to one contact, by relationship.

Now I know a few of the people who check in and occasionally the odd friend comes out of the woodwork of admitting that they have a look now and then but my little area is rather small. Much smaller than Jesus managed to reach in his lifetime, even though I have the advantages of rather superior technology. Curious that!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Older and wiser

Ok I've remembered what it was now....

I was going to talk a bit about my sermon on Sunday. It does actually link in a bit with Ian's blog on learning from mistakes. I once heard the excellent piece of advice:

Learn from other people's mistakes... you haven't got time to make them all yourself!

And yet I failed entirely to learn from a common sermon mistake. That grand old CLASSIC, a positive CORKER of a trap...


On Sunday I had to preach ever so briefly as we had to be out of church in time for the Remembrance service afterwards to start and get the 11am silence at the correct time. The gospel was Jesus describing the signs of the end times from Luke. His message beign that horrible things will happen in the world. Horrible things will happen to you. That doesn't mean it's the end of the world. These things happen. Do not be afraid My message was that through all the things that fill us with fear God is with us. Had I been able to find one I would have started with some little story abotu being afraid but instead as we were short of time I asked the congregation:

"What are you afraid of?"

A little cub scout in the front row SHOT his hand in the air. Never being one to ignore such eagerness I trotted over and asked him. I said, "So what are oyu afraid of?"

"Nothing" he said

"Nothing?" says I thinking Bridget Jones like thoughts that are unbloggable

"Nothing" he repeated

"not even a big scary monster" says I doing an impression of a big (well kinda) scary monster.

I wasn't entirely convinced by my recovery but I'm told that it worked fine. (Anyone who was there... feel free to comment!)

Of course what the little cub showed was what I was TRYING to get everyone to discover. There is no need for fear. God is with us always.

Oh Lord I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to the young!

My mind's a blog

I was chatting with Mr youthblog himself today at lunch time (and yes he WAS wearing the Tshirt!) and an absolutely MARVELLOUS idea for a blog came into my mind. Unfortunately being as I am now old and ancient... I can't rememembr what it was!

Perhaps I was daunted by his awesome blogness... perhaps it was the lack of sleep after watching the new Battlestar Galactica until late and STILL getting so hooked into the Da Vinci Code that I didn't get to sleep until an hour I don't really want to disclose!

I know I'm a bit behind with the whole Da Vinci code thing but I am finding it MOST engaging. As someone who... ok prepare yourself for the sad academic throwback moment... has actually taught a class translating the documents from the Trials of the Templars, I always find books about their EVER SO SECRET practices quite amusing. There are little bits you just WAIT for You just KNOW they're going to mention particular things at some point. I am still in waiting...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

God's eye view

I had a fantastic experience today. I climbed up a rickety ladder to the top of our church's interior porch and from there up another short ladder to the parvys over the outside porch. It was a marvelllous place (where the church's Christmas decorations live!) and - although I did get a bit of a scare when I suddenly realised one of the kings was looking at me!! - I also had the opportunity of seeing the church from an elevated position. I could see out through the clear windows onto the shops outside. I could see the stained glass windows in greater detail. It was a refreshingly new outlook on life and on the church. It was also a wonderful place to sing from but I imagine the choir won't be taking advantage of that!

Taxing the brain

Fascinating discussion last night with my friends. One of them has the theory that tax should be a completely flat rate. The same for everyone. No grades. then if you earn more you pay more. If you earn less you pay less. An intriguing concept. Anyone got any thoughts on that one? It just deosn't seem right to me. I think there would have to be a higher tax allowance at the bottom for that to work. There is a basic level of income you need and in order to get enough taxes surely the government would have to put it higher than the basic rate now. Mike's point was that if the rich don't have so much of their money taken away in tax then they put it into the economy which helps the economy. It sounded mostly sensible but I still couldn't agree with it. I just don't think it makes for a fairer or better society. I think that probably stems from my philosophical standpoint on politics. Let me explain that...

When I was studying politics in the sixth form I came to the conclusion that an anarcho-syndcalist or communist society was ultimately the most FAIR and Christian. Unfortunately both systems were also fatally flawed in that they do not allow for the basic human falibility to desire some kind of ownership of something. We all have our favourite mug or spoon, even if they all LOOK the same. Also if you were an artist in such a society and you painted a picture it is YOURS by its very existence. There was no satisfactory resolution of that problem for me. So I resign myself to living in whatever political set up we happen to have and hope that we can imporve bits of it here and there. The Single Transferable Vote system would be a start but that's another story!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Maya Gold

We had a visit from a fascinating chap this evening talking about Hinduism. I got the feeling that we could have heard him talk for five hours and still not get a good handle on the whole matter. He explained it as being a problem of Western concepts of philosophy. In the west we have such a fixed mindset that separates theology and philosophy that we find it very difficult to encompass some of the Eastern concepts of theological philosophy.

So if the western world separates theology and philosophy... what moved? Did the church abandon philosophy or did philosophy abandon the church?

I know there are certainly some very NON-Christian philosophers yet I also know that there are now a lot of Christians who would reject the whole idea of philosophy, the idea of a love of wisdom over spirituality, the bible and experience. Is that it? Does the church reject an overly academic gnostic approach to religion and theology? Is it a part of the dumming down? The political correctness which seeks to reduce even theology to the lowest common denominator so that it may be understood by ALL even if that ultimately means that WHAT is understood is lacking in meaning?

Philosophical theology is something which draws me in two directions. Part of me loves the academic exploration of it, relishes the intellectual exercise of trying to grasp complex constructs and intricate models of trinitarian theology or christology. However another part of me also sees the intellectual exercise as merely that. An exercise. Not something which actually determines or even supports faith. I find the ideas of Barth, Moltmann, Rahner, Pannenburg and others fascinating and yet their attempts to define exactly who God is seem ultimately a little pointless to me. I know who God is. I endeavour to communicate with God regularly. I have known God in my life for as long as I can remember (not quite the full one score years and ten I've lived but pretty close) and definitions of what the exact nature of that person are intriguing but not necessary to my knowledge of God's love for me.

So are these academic discourses merely escape paths and distractions for intellectual Christians or useful philosophical exercises?

Far too late for me to answer that cogently!

What do we think?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The boundaries of the blogosphere don't push themselves back, you know!

I discovered another reader of the blog this evening. Always pleasing. It reminded me that my subject matter is ever so variable. If I had a marketing manager I'm sure she'd tell me to focus in on a single audience rather than diversify into theology as well as the other more humourous and off the wall entries. Yet the diversity of blogging is what makes it such a unique medium. I love it. I can write random thoughts on so many different topics and it is still acceptable. When I'm writing a sermon, a parish magazine letter or part of the novel (still going well by the way!) I am restricted as to what I can write. However in the blogosphere I can write about any topic. It doesn't have to go with the readings for the day or fit the thought world of my characters.

I know the curious mix of topics might be a little off-putting to some but one of the greatest compliments ever paid to me was a reference to my curious mix of inconsistencies. Apparently that is what makes me such a fascinating person. I liked that. Fascinating. Good word. I suppose there might be some people who would hate to be described as fascinating; those who do not like to be fascinated themselves, perhaps but to me it was deeply flattering. I like fascinating people myself. Yes I like the people that you can get to know very easily but give me a hidden depths person any time - someone with an intriguing sideline or an off-the-wall past time. Marvellous!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

New Blogs on the Bloc

Well I'm afraid a lot of my creativity is being directed towards the book (which is coming together quite nicely so far!) but it has occured to me that I haven't EVER mentioned the places that I get my caffeinated inspiration. At least twice a week I indulge in the excellent provisions of our church's own Coffee Shop. The best kept secret in High Wycombe. It sells fair trade goods and serves delicious homemade cakes. However there is also a place for going out into our comunity - especially as we're a town centre parish. So Hazel the Verger and I (and indeed the vicar and various others!) regularly enjoy the fantastic provision of our local coffee and cookie house Bloc 3 (Blocs 1 & 2 are in Henley and Berkhamstead). The cookies are baked freshly every day and the sandwiches are made by hand on the premises by David and his fabulous team. So if you're in High Wycombe, or indeed Henley or Berkhamstead and feeling a little in need of a cookie fix, do check it out. Of course if you need some fairly traded goods you'll need to go to the church coffee shop in Castle Stree instead andmight I recommend the fridge cake!

One theology or many theologies

I had a fabulous evening yesterday (with Mike and Wayne - thanks guys if you're reading) discussing all kinds of stuff from literature to science fiction, politics and theology. As two Americans the guys wanted to know what I thought of the Anglican theology or as we came to agree the THEOLOGIES of the Anglican church. We discussed the merits of having a single theology or having a multiplicity of theologies. We ended up mostly with a consensus that a breadth of theological understandings is acceptable but that the starting point of these theologies should be united as they are (supposed to be) in the commonality of the Gospel reading at the Sunday Eucharist. We felt that a church certainly needed a common baseline of belief (indeed we agreed quite wisely with the fathers of the early church that we should all share common credal statements!)

The question is...

Where DO we draw the line? What are the absolute FUNDAMENTALS of our faith? Of your faith? What can we be flexible about? What can we NOT compromise on?

I'm not entirely certain that we ALL have to agree on the answers to the above BUT I do think we all need to have ANSWERED them for ourselves.

Gosh there's a bit of a challenge for us! I think I need togo away and THINK and PRAY a lot!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Let the God see the Rabbi

I realise that in my jet-lag haze last week I didn't even mention the fact that our theology evening course spent the evening looking at Judaism. For the first half the evening we were visited by a rabbi from London. It was fascinating to hear about the normality of modern Judaism not the archaic Judaism of the Old Testament and indeed the New Testament. Some of his first words were... "Judaism has moved on in three thousand years since the Hebrew bible". I realised that, in fairness, I often have thought of Judaism solely in terms of the faith known to Jesus and his disciples or to Esther, Jacob, Isaiah and the rest. The rabbi showed us that Judaism has had to deal with the self same issues that face the Anglican church; the decline of the traditional family, the question of women in leadership and issues in human sexuality.

Of course, as open as we were to hear about his faith, it was not a faith we could share. He could not encompass the idea that God could be divided into a trinity or that God could come to earth as a human being in the form of Jesus. I could see that he spoke from his faith and that he was a man serving God and yet he also spoke of a faith that wasnot consistent with my own. It was a real challenge. How could someone of the Jewish faith speak to me as a Christian. I was reminded of the words of (of this is quite embarrassing) one of the members of the Spinners at their Christmas concert when he introduced their performance of a Jewish song Avenu Shalom alechem (apologies ofr spelling anyone who knows better). He said that people always asked why they sang that song. His explanation was simple; "The Man Himself was a Hebrew."

In the next few weeks we will be hearing from other leaders of different faiths. I wonder what challenges they may present to us?