Saturday, 30 May 2015


In late April I was in northern France, near to the Belgian border, for our annual ministers' Spring School.  As part of the centenary marking of the 1914-18 Great War, we were visiting some of the sites and also spending some time reflecting on relevant issues.  Amongst many other things, we considered peace-making, pacifism and the just war theory.  Visits included both a Commonwealth (Tyne Cot) and a German (Langemarck) Cemetery, the Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper, the place where the 'Christmas football truce' is marked and the Pool of Peace, beside which we celebrated Communion.  It was fascinating, moving and challenging.

Remembrance has gained an increasing relevance in the lives of our communities.  How can we, in the church, better serve the community by helping that engagement?

PhotoPoster at Talbot House

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Gazing and Staring

One of the great descriptions of Jesus is as the 'Light of the World'.  It is often used, and in many contexts, not least in the New Testament itself.  It's a reminder that God helps us to see things as they are.  Without light we are in the darkness.  Without light we cannot see.  Of course, how we see and what we choose to look at may say a great deal about us.  I have been reading on in John O'Donohue's "Anam Cara" and he makes that very point - "Yet, in a wonderful way, the eye as mother of distance makes us wonder at the mystery and otherness of everything outside us.  In this sense, the eye is also the mother of intimacy, bringing everything close to us.  When you really gaze at something, you bring it inside you.  One could write a beautiful spirituality on the holiness of the gaze.  The opposite of the gaze is the intrusive stare.  When you are stared at, the eye of the Other becomes tyrannical.  You have become the object of the Other's stare in a humiliating, invasive and threatening way."

I find this contrast between the gaze and the stare really helpful.  A gaze carries such a positive connotation.  We imagine ourselves looking at something beautiful, something that moves us.  We might describe this as marvelling at the wonders of God.  On the other hand, a stare carries the notion of being offensive.  What are you staring at?!  It is probably not going to happen, but I like the idea of being gazed at.  It may involve the same amount of looking, but it comes in a different way, and so I am clear that I do not want to be stared at.  If we look to God, we will get our gazing and our staring sorted out.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Value The Difference

It is true that things would not work if we were all the same.  The apostle Paul's image of the body, where we need the different parts, makes the point well.  I have been reading John O'Donohue's "Anam Cara".  The first chapter says some fascinating things about friendship and love and the depths it can reach.  We need people to whom we can get close, but it only works well if we also value our differences and allow sufficient space.  I know that I tend to emphasise unity, and I think I want to keep on doing so, but not to the extent that I can't recognise the value of difference and diversity.  We all have our part to play - and it will be different.  As O'Donohue says: "One of the most precious things you should always preserve in a friendship and in love is your own difference." He goes on to really encourage us to value space, citing Kahlil Gibran - "That which grows needs space.  Kahlil Gibran says: 'But let there be spaces in your togetherness, let the winds of the heavens dance between you.'  Space allows your Otherness to find its own rhythm and contour."

Monday, 11 May 2015

Called To Serve

We rightly and importantly emphasise that the Gospel brings freedom - but what does that mean?  We also say that we are called to service.  How do we balance service and freedom?  Perhaps the important word in the question is the word 'balance'.  It seems to me that so much of life is about appropriate balancing.  I am currently reading Walter Brueggemann's The Covenanted Self (Fortress Press, 1999).

Brueggemann makes reference to the Israelites being freed from Egyptian slavery - only freedom brought a whole new set of difficulties.  He points out how - p. 24 - "Yahweh had consistently said, "Let them go, that they may serve me.  Consistently the governing verb is "serve" (abad), "enter into my service".  (Occasionally the alternative verb hag is used, "make a festival.")  Yahweh never said, "Let my people go that they may be autonomous," or "Let my people go that they may enjoy unmitigated freedom."  "That they may serve me" means to come under a sovereign command.  Thus the "freed slaves" have a freedom that is a new servitude, under new commands and new demands."

So what is the service to which God is calling us?  It is in such serving that we will discover freedom.  That is how we get the balance right.