Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Man who Hoovers your House

I have been continuing reading Ray Simpson's "The Cowshed Revolution".  I love the story he retells about the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, dating from when he was Archbishop.

"The story run the rounds that the wife of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, admits that housework has 'never been high' on her list of priorities.  It seems the Archbishop sometimes steps into the breach.  Once, the Williams' son Pip was watching TV with a friend when Archbishop Rowan appeared on the screen.  'Look,' said the friend, 'there's the man that does the hoovering in your house'!"

Simpson goes on to cite a whole bunch of examples of Christians who have very deliberately chosen the path of service.  We know that we are called to do that but, a lot of the time, that is not how we see life lived out in the church.  Questions of respectability, status and role are too often prioritised over our engaging with the messy things that make a difference.

It is right that we value and use those resources that are available to us in the service of the Kingdom - but it is not always easy to achieve the balance between proper stewardship that appropriately protects the facility and proper stewardship that appropriately offers the facility for use as it is needed.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Celebrating Me

Here's the text of my opening worship address at today's 'Eastern Synod Big Day Out' -

Psalm 98 verse 7 – Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause, with everything living on earth joining in (The Message).  

I don’t know about you, but I always have found faith exciting.  That doesn’t mean it is never a struggle.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the full range of emotions.  Sometimes my faith makes me incredibly happy, joyful, overwhelmed by a sense of awe.  But things happen too that challenge my faith, that make me sorrowful, frustrated or angry, or sometimes all three.  But, even when that is going on, I know that God is with me. 

Back in Old Testament times, the prophet Nehemiah persuaded the Persian Emperor to let him go back to Jerusalem to supervise the rebuilding of the city walls which had got broken down when the people had been carted off into exile.  That was a pretty tough job.  But they got on with it.  And they did it.  It was pretty emotional when they had a sort of grand opening of the walls.  Actually it was all tied in with their celebrating a thing called the feast of shelters – a special opportunity to remember how God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  They were all getting a bit sad.  And so Nehemiah said to them: Don’t feel bad.  The joy of God is your strength.  The joy of God is your strength.

Sometimes people ask me how things are in Eastern Synod, sometimes even how they are in the United Reformed Church.  And sometimes I get a sneaky feeling that they want me to say that they are bad, or, at least, not too good – but I never do.  Because I don’t believe that’s the case.  We have a good God.  Of course things are good!  It doesn’t mean that there aren’t the struggles, the difficulties, but there are so many exciting things going on – churches relating to their communities as they offer a range of facilities, holiday clubs, all sorts of exhibitions, cafés and café churches, new and different ways of telling the message of Jesus, messy churches – though I believe that all true church is messy – and so on.  And so we say with the psalmist: Shout your praises to God everybody!  Let loose and sing!  Strike up the band! 

God doesn’t want us to do what we can’t.  God wants us to do what we can.  One of my favourite story-book characters is Elmer the multi-coloured elephant – and when my daughters got past the Elmer stage, I rescued our Elmer and he now lives in my study.

One day Elmer decided he didn’t want to be himself,  He knew that elephants were supposed to be grey.  And so he got some paint and a bit of help.  And he turned himself grey – which was fine until it rained!  His elephant friends felt sorry for him.  And so they got paint as well – all different colours of paint.  Bright swirls and squiggles, colourful lines and circles, incredible patterns in all sorts of shades appeared on the elephants.  It was great – only they had the same problem when it rained again.

Elmer and all his friends needed to learn, as we do, that what matters is to be yourself.  God loves you just as you are.  Now, isn’t that something to celebrate.  It’s there in verse 3 of our psalm – He remembered to love us, a bonus to his dear family Israel – indefatigable love.  Now there’s something to celebrate.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

It Began in a Cowshed

I have just begun reading Ray Simpson's "The Cowshed Revolution" in which he expounds the desirability of being downwardly mobile.  He looks to point out what can be achieved by bucking the trend and challenging the conventions that are around.  Right at the beginning he quotes the Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  She has become a symbol of the search for liberation as she has been denied freedom.  Simpson quotes her as pointing out that influence does not need to come from the expected places.  As she once said, referring to Jesus' birth at Bethlehem: "After all, didn't one of the most influential movements in the world begin in a cowshed?"

How are we using the influence that we have?  Do we recognise the realities and possibilities of being counter-cultural?

Monday, 1 June 2015


The festival of Trinity offers us the opportunity to contemplate the nature of God and marvel at it – though, of course, we will never fully grasp it, because God is not made in our likeness, but we in His.  We cannot quantify and contain God’s reality.  It’s a bit like looking at a rainbow.  Our eyes can only perceive certain colours, while others are beyond our power of vision.  The trinity suggests numbers, but as soon as we try to nail down God mathematically, we are bound to run into trouble, and the whole trinity concept reminds us that all our models and shapes are only rough guides to help us.  The reality is always more, and different.