Friday, 12 December 2008

Recommendations….

I often find myself amused if not a little perplexed by the recommendations for future purchases that Amazon sends my way. Given that they are supposed to be personalised to each individual shopper you would think that they could manage a little better than their latest suggestions…

Top Gear 2009 Annual (I don’t drive…)
The Pig That Wants to be Eaten (I am vegetarian…)
and believe it or not….Conversion to Judaism: A Guidebook…

Amazon, Sherlock you ain’t….

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Nobody told me....

... that this was part of the job...


and they wonder why people think the church is out of touch...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

On being watched....

This last Sunday I preached at the evening service. Not in itelf an unusual experience, but made so this time by the fact that it was my "assessed sermon" where 5 fellow students and 1 member of staff came along to listen and then to critique it with me afterwards.

There is nothing that induces nerves in me more then people assessing what I do and then reporting on it - so I am profoundly grateful the group for the tender and loving way they helped me to unpack the sermon and look at ways that it worked well and areas were it could have worked better. They left me feeling very uplifted and inspired - no easy task in the circumstances - thanks guys :o)

Matthew 28:16-20.

When it comes to last words, timing is everything. something that General John Sedgwick, the Union Army commander who was killed in battle during the American civil war didn’t have time to discover – immortalised, as he know is for his final words “They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist. . . .”

Jesus, fortunately for us, was not cut off in the midst of his final message and so we have here in Matthew, Jesus’ last words The Great Commission, the passage that for 2000 years Christians have read as their marching orders – their mandate to mission. As such one of the most famous passages in the bible– but also I think, for a lot of us, it’s also one of the most scary!

I think this fear comes from the fact that its one of those passages that seems to whip preachers up into an absolute frenzy of exhortations for people to be immediately spurred into action to go out and help everyone they come across, whether they like it or not, and to convert everybody and everything to the cause of Jesus Christ immediately. Indeed, such can be the pressure to get out there and do something I sometimes wonder why these preachers bother to write a concluding paragraph to their sermon, because surly they don’t expect anyone to still be in church at that point do they?

But you may be glad to know that’s not my plan this evening, apart from anything else because I think it ignores an essential truth of this passage and that is that this great commission actually starts with worship. In this passage the disciples go back to the mountain where they were first called by Jesus and there they worship him. Whatever we are called to do by Jesus it is essential that it is grounded in worship. However we choose to do that, whether it’s in an ancient and beautiful setting such as this with words and symbols that have echoed over the centuries or whether it’s with drums and guitars and words that come from the moment that’s not the issue. It’s about us being drawn into the presence of God and through our worship being lifted up, restored and filled by his presence.

The image that kept repeating in my mind when I was thinking about this passage was of a Well. A well that is continually replenished and re-filled so that it is always a source of fresh water. But the thing about a well is that this fresh water is not there just for its own sake, its there to be drawn on, to provide nourishment and sustenance for all who have cause to draw water from it. Thus, though it may be tempting to make worship the be all and end all, to live life in a holy bubble of beautiful music and prayer that is not what Jesus asks us to do. For worship is not the end, in fact it is only the beginning for after the worship comes Jesus’ stark command – “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

Now if this command sends fear coursing through you, you are not alone for as we saw in the passage some of the disciples doubted too, they held back not at all sure about risking themselves so totally.
As one commentator I read put it “It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it there hearts must have failed them.”

What’s interesting is the Greek word that is translated here as doubt is the same word as was used to describe Peter’s attitude when he tried to walk on water but only really succeeded in falling in! It’s often said that “if you want to walk on water then you have to get out of the boat!” but stepping over the side of that boat is for many of us terrifying, we don’t have the confidence or the belief that we will succeed…. But that’s the thing with Jesus, he often invites us to step beyond our inhibitions but in doing so he is right there with is and most importantly he never turns away from us if we fail. You know what I think the best bit about the story of Peter walking on water is? It’s when he gets scared and starts to sink, at that point the gospel tells us “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” He caught him and you know what he will catch us to if we need it!

And so the eleven were commissioned – or as I like to think of it empowered - to go from there out into the world. But now they were not on some restricted and very well defined mission like they were first sent on. Back in Matthew 10 we see the disciples told by Jesus where to go, what to take with them, what exactly to do when they got there, how to deal with payments, what to do if they weren’t welcomed etc etc… micro-managed in the extreme, and quite frankly they probably needed to be, and yet we see none of that here. For here we see the words of a leader who knows that he has taught his followers well, who knows that he can put his work safely into their hands for they would know what to do with it. They were to do all that needed doing, in all the places that it needed doing in, that’s the task and it’s the task from which the universal church was and is formed.

Again the fear can well up at this point for this is an overwhelming prospect – there is so much to do, what I can do in the face of all that is needed, I am not able. Well if that is what you feel then I have news for you – you are quite right, we are not able – at least not in our own strength.
Thank goodness then that we don’t attempt to do this in our own strength but rather we do it in the strength of Jesus. We are given the necessary strength by being empowered with his authority and what an authority it is because as we have heard it is not just any old authority it’s “all authority in heaven and on earth” its total and its there backing up all that we do and say.

And all that we do and say is the final section of this great command for it is a call to action to live out our lives in love and service to all around us.

And that service is this “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

How we go about fulfilling this commission is going to be different for each and every one of us. There is no way I can stand here and in all honesty tell you what to do, believe me, many days I struggle with knowing what I am supposed to do let alone anyone else! All I can say is that each and every one has a part to play, we are each commissioned and I believe that through our worship, through liturgy, prayer, bible readings, beautiful music, in these God will show us, each of us, what that commission is to look like in our own lives.

Whatever our own personal commission looks like one thing we can see from this passage is that it will involve teaching but the original Greek is probably better translated as “make learners of” – yes that is right – the schooldays of a Christian are never over.

We are to be and create a company of learners, brought by baptism into union with the Trinitarian God. Just as we are these new Christians are to be enabled in the strength of this divine fellowship, to live for God and in doing so be a living witness to those around them. So he doesn’t want us to create a new generation of Christian automatons blindly obeying strict teachings that we have laid down about the way that things have to be done. No he wants us to enable a new generation of people that know and love God and live their lives freely and openly for him. Continually growing and learning in faith to the extent that it overflows into all aspects of their life.
And I can’t emphasis enough that this is a call to enable a new generation of Christians is for everyone! not just a select few
“Though the details of what we are to do has changed over the 2000 years – the call to a practical outworking of our faith continues –
“Jesus still wants committed people!”

And so this most challenging of passages finishes with arguably the greatest of promises and probably the greatest ever last words – “I am with you always, to the end of the age” Day after day after day – Christ is with us. In all that we are called to do, whether it be great or small, whether we help bring Jesus into the lives of 1 person or thousands Jesus will be with us in it. The disciples were sent out that day on the greatest task in history but they had with them the greatest presence in the world, our task is no less great but the good news is that Jesus’ presence with us is no less great either!

Amen

Saturday, 15 November 2008

if...

...priests really looked as delicious as Martin Shaw did in the TV show "Apparitions" on Thursday then I have no doubt that church attendence figures would sky rocket!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Goodbye Mama Afrika…

I was sad to wake up to the news today that Miriam Makeba has died. Like many people I am sure, listening to Miriam’s music was my first exposure to non-western music. Her blending of traditional African songs and rhythms with jazz and blues seemed so exotic and beautiful that it has remained a firm favourite of mine ever since, indeed her songs Mbube and Pata Pata feature among my favourite songs of all time.

She is a reminder of the power of music to transport and transform. Through 30 years of exile from her beloved South Africa she never lost her commitment to bring about reform and justice through her music and her witness. Similarly for so many people African and Western alike her music is the embodiment of a continent and its people.

Walking back from a lecture today through a cold, wet and grey Cambridge I put some of her songs on my Ipod and was immediately transported to the plains of Africa, such is the power of her music – her talent was unparalleled, her generosity to the next generation of South African musicians was legendary.
Mama Afrika, you will be missed.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Playing with your food...

I think these people take it to a whole new level...




For more of the same check out their website

Friday, 7 November 2008

What next?

On one of my extended procrastination sessions avoiding my latest essay I came across a book I bought yonks ago entitled 99 things to do between here and heaven… sadly since reading the book was not one of the 99 things I had not got round to it yet...

I found that I was already covered on 50 of them having visited Africa (#33), listened to a choral masterpiece (#57), taken part in a Passover meal (#91) and other such delights in life. Mind you I feel that I should do #48 “walk the stations of the cross” again to really count it as we were in a bit of a rush and so did them at rather an accelerated pace and also backwards as we were on the wrong side of Jerusalem to start them the right way around. Much as it was heartening to have finished up with Jesus is such good health at the end I am not sure that was the experience we were supposed to have…

Anyway I figure that, assuming I live till 88, I could cover the rest at the nice and leisurely pace of 1 per year (though I suppose I had best not leave such challenges as “attempt an extreme sport” till the end!) so that begs the question of which of the remaining 49 to do this year? The limited time left this year rules out many such as #15 – Learn New Testament Greek and the British winter definitely rules out #74… so which of these (carefully selected for their do-ability in what remains of the year) do you reckon I should do – The one with the most votes I will attempt in my next procrastination session!

#3 – read a gospel in one sitting
#40 – pray the rosary
#49 – contribute to wikipedia
#60 – Analyse yourself with Myers-Briggs
#68 – read religious poetry (if so, what??)

Over to you…

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Denver reflections

I was going to write a post about the many and fantastic things we did on our mission to Denver... but the very talented Rachel put together a video for the college meeting that is waaaay better then anything I could say - so crack open the popcorn, pull up a comfy chair and enjoy Denver 2008...


Saturday, 20 September 2008

Mile High Club…

Bet that got your attention!
The title of course is referring to the fact that I can now claim to be among the people that have visited Denver, the mile high city :o)

We are now onto day 4 of our mission and have a welcome day off – hence this post as it means I have managed to find some wi-fi when I am out and about doing some retail therapy!

The trip is going fantastically well. We have all more or less adjusted to the altitude, but it was a little ropey to begin with. You have to drink shed loads of water and if you don’t you tend to get tight chested and breathless. Apparently your body compensates for this quite rapidly by producing more red-blood cells that give your body more energy ,,, the positive side of this is that when you get back down to ground level you have bags of extra energy until your cell count returns to normal. Our tutor Dave is rather impressed with this as he is running the Great North Run shortly after returning, a race he is now confident of winning :o)

Our primary task whilst here is to work with a church called “Scum of the Earth” and its senior pastor, Mike has put together a fantastic program for our stay here. We have been learning about the church, its mission and how it works and are all looking forward to worshiping with them tomorrow. We have also met with various other church leaders and attended some events at Urban Skye, a group that works primarily in the arts community. I will post more about these groups when I get back home and back a regular internet connection as the work that they do is diverse and fascinating.

It seems like meeting over meals is very popular – which given the size of American portions is challenging, to say the least. Yesterday we had a brunch meeting at 10 which lasted about 1.5 hours. We then had about 20 minutes to do a brisk walk around the block to try and work some of this food off before returning for our lunch meeting at 12! It’s a hard life being on mission I can tell you…

So our day off today should be great, including the great American shopping mall experience and a drive out to Boulder (Na-nu, Na-nu) and tonight a concert by Phil Keaggy. We also have a day up in the mountains to look forward to on Monday – can’t wait… We will of course also be doing lots more work – honest!

Monday, 15 September 2008

American Elections

... Say what you like about the American's but their elections are just so much more spoofable then ours....

Sunday, 14 September 2008

lost and found…

The ever wonderful Maturest Student in the World has been reflecting here about the loss of identity that can come from leaving behind one life to begin another. This is a topic close to my own heart as, like her, I find myself struggling these days to know how to answer those inevitable “what do you do” questions that seem to be the foundation of all modern conversation. Like many people I suspect, I found a great deal of my esteem in my working life. The fact that I had worth to my employers, gave me my identity. Each pay rise or new job was a boost to the confidence that I couldn’t seem to find for myself, I had an identity in my profession that was the framework to how I understood myself.
Loosing that external validation of worth when I gave up that profession has been hard and yet… it has taken me to the start of an amazing journey to discover my worth to myself and more importantly my worth to God. It’s taken me all year really to come to the sense that my old identity has gone, that an essential part of the training process is this stripping away of all the scaffolding of the past. Doing this enables us to be free to build anew, to work with God to come to a new sense of who we are and of his purpose for us…. a process that I know will continue long after college has finished.

This whole issue of identity has been at the forefront on my mind of late as I reflect on my parish placement this summer. There I witnessed one of the most heartbreaking things I think I will ever see. The funeral of twins, born extremely premature, long before there was any hope of independent life outside their mother. Born before the 24 week deadline that legally sees life begin these were not, in any official sense, children. Their identity, if you could call it that, was as unviable foetus’ subjected to a spontaneous abortion as a result of an infection. Yet, you only had to listen to their mother to know that whatever the law might say these were her children, much loved and much wanted, grieved for with the intensity that only a parent that has themselves lost a child could fully understand. They were her children. They each had a unique identity, named and known in the few days there was to say hello before the grim task of saying goodbye began. For the first time I really began to understand the importance of a funeral in declaring the full personhood of the deceased. This is never more so than here were the simple naming ceremony that preceded the committal put the identity of these children, as human beings known and loved by God, front and centre for all to see. Never have the words “a person known to God” seemed more real. Whoever the world may say we are, whatever identity we claim for ourselves or others claim for us it can never be more important then that.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Lord above…

The critics weren’t joking when they said that Pierce Brosnan couldn’t sing. But that aside Mama Mia (which I finally got around to seeing this week) is definitely the best feel good movie that you will see this side of Christmas. Go on, take yourself along for 2 hours of deeply silly but magical movie making – bet you will be singing along to the songs by the end :o)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Modern dilemmas

So do you go to Café Nero and get a decent cappuccino but have to pay for wi-fi… or do you go to MacDonalds that has lovely fast and free wi-fi but lousy cappuccino….
Decisions, decision…

Thursday, 14 August 2008

You are only as old as….?

How old is God?

That’s what I love about 8 and 9 year olds they have a knack of asking seemingly simple and yet at the same time complex questions, particularly about faith.
Well, I said, he’s been with people for thousands of years, even since we began so in that sense he is very old indeed, and yet in another sense he isn’t any age at all, because he lives outside of time.
Slight tilt of the head sidewise and a few moments in thought whilst carrying on colouring…. So how old are you then? comes the follow on question… Well I am old I say, I am nearly 40. Oh that’s not old he says with all his 9 year old wisdom. My gran’s 47 – That’s old….

Oh good, that’s alright then…. I have a whole 7 years until my youth runs out!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Interesting questions

The intern at one of the churches I am working with at the moment seems to specialise in asking odd questions. It seems to be his way of getting a handle on people... but what he will make of me with the likes of....

What is your favourite book and why?
(Always an impossible question for me to answer, its like asking a parent to choose their favourite child!)

If you were a Jane Austin heroine which one would you be?
(Definitely not Fanny Price from Mansfield Park, she was a total wimp!)

What weather forcast would best describe you?
(That totally threw me, I can't say that I had ever given it much thought! But I decided on "Changeable weather ahead" after all how can one thing describe a person?)

If there were a movie made of your life who would play you? Who would play your boyfriend? and what would be the theme tune?
(Kate Winslet, chance would be a fine thing, and anything by Ennio Morricone because he is a genius with film scores.)

If you were a road, what kind of road would you be?
(Definately one of those winding B roads where you have a destination in mind but you are perfectly happy pottering along enjoying the view out of the window...)

I wait with baited breath to see what I will be asked next...

Friday, 25 July 2008

Galilee

It’s an odd dichotomy being up in Galilee. On the one hand as a pilgrim its easier to feel closer to Jesus here, as everywhere you go there are connections to Jesus and the gospels and yet we are staying at a lovely beach hotel on the shores of the lake, are program is lighter leaving plenty of time at the end of the day to swim and relax and it can feel rather to like we are on holiday!

Thursday saw the start of the Jesus tour… first stop the Mount of Beatitudes – where it was lovely to have some time for quite and reflection on these most challenging of verses – The problem is that this is one of the main stops on the tourist trail and so there was a constant flow of people coming and going often noisily, many not really that interested in worship or reflection. But then what do you do? Its always a problem here that those who are here on pilgrimage are cheek by jowl with the tourists interested in antiquities, sunbathing and shopping This can lead to a conflict of interest at the Holy Sites. For example when we were at Armenian Vespers the other week in Jerusalem, there was a tour group in for whom this was clearly not a time of worship but a rather quaint sideshow that had been put on just for them. They were wandering around during the service trying to find good camera angles for their video and taking photos all the way through and thought nothing of going right up to the monks at worship and taking a flash photo of them at prayer – it was deeply offensive to those there to worship and deeply disrespectful to the monks. But at the same time many of these same churches have extensive gift shops and café’s – understandable as a fund raiser to maintain these wonderful churches – and yet surely giving mixed messages as to what they are about?

So having snarled at some noisy Taiwanese tourists (me that is, not the whole group…) we headed down the mount to Tabga to see the rock that the loaves and fishes were multiplied on and then next door to the Church of Peter’s Primacy to see the rock on which Jesus declared to Peter that he would be the rock on which the church was founded. Though both lovely churches I do find it amazing that in the fields full of rocks around here they can tell which were the exact ones on which these events took place!

By now it was nearing midday and it was incredibly hot – with the added joy we have come up against here of incredibly high humidity, so when we got to Capernaum and found the place jam packed with tour parties it was hard to get enthusiastic. It is an amazing site – the base for much of Jesus’ ministry and a place he spent a great deal of time, but of course this draws the crowds, It has done since the very early days of pilgrimages. The site of Simon Peter’s house, the place that Jesus lived, is placed with a deal of certainty as people have been visiting this particular house and leaving Christian messages on the wall since the 1st century less then a hundred years after Jesus death, when the site would have still been well remembered. Not that any of the house is left these days it was ripped out in the 4th century and a church built on the site and a modern church has since been built over that ancient one. So I must admit my attention at Capernaum was mostly taken up by trying to get a space in the small areas of shade that the site afforded!

Things got a lot cooler after this as we took a boat ride across the lake, stopping for a scripture reading half way – thought not an attempt to replicate the walk mentioned in this passage! and then on to a late lunch were all the non-vegetarians got to try the local speciality St Peters fish. – which was apparently tasty but I was rather distracted as it was served with its head and tail still on which I can’t say, as the tables loan vegetarian, I was too pleased about.

The best part of the day – definitely when we got back to the hotel and at last were able to dive into the cool, clear waters of the Sea of Galilee. As a place to swim its unparallel, the view is divine and the waters crystal clear and like nectar at the end of a long hot day – blissful!

The signs are getting stranger...

Jesus presumably wouldn't be welcome then!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

And you thought you had got rid of me for a while…

Apologies if you were hoping for a blog free few days but it turns out that our hotel in Tiberius has Wi-Fi access for £1 a day :o)

The view from the window’s not bad either...



Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Unexpected delights

Sadly most of the Israel museum is closed at the moment for major renovation, so when we went along to look at the dead sea scrolls I was not expecting the most exciting of afternoon. If truth be told I was feeling pretty grumpy as this museum has a superb art collection including a particularly good selection of Chagall’s which I would have loved to have seen.

So having seen the scrolls (old bits of parchment with very small writing) I wandered off to find something to do for the hour before the coach returned. In my wanderings I saw that they had a small temporary exhibition of Israeli art produced in the last decade, since they had air conditioning I thought I might as well pop in… Well God was smiling on me that day because it was an extraordinary show with some incredible pieces, so much so that I had to leave way before I had had my fill. One piece in particular really caught me



you don’t get to good an impression of it from this image due to its size but imagine if you can that its on an enormous canvas on its own on a stark white wall. I think it was especially poignant because of all that I have been learning these past weeks about the conflict here…

The photographer is Adi Nes and you can see more of his work here – Its definitely worth checking out.


On a different note entirely, tomorrow we head up to the Galilee for the final days of our trip – much as this will be fantastic it does mean losing access to the lovely free wi-fi I am enjoying here – so it may be a case of bloggus interuptus until I return to the UK at the weekend.

Sing to the Lord…

Whilst here in the Holy Land we have had the opportunity to experience a wide range of worship styles and traditions. Each day at Tantur there is morning and evening prayer led by people staying here (which in itself has been a feast of variety!)

On the first Sunday we headed to Abu Gosh a crusader church with fantastic acoustics where nuns and monks chant Catholic mass in French, Latin and occasional Greek. Apparently, so those that understand French tell me, the sermon was fantastic… but since the only word I picked up was Jesus I will have to take their word for it! The music was heavenly though and in such beautiful surroundings it was a real winner.

We have also been to Armenian Orthodox vespers where I had absolutely no clue what was going on but was seriously impressed in the military precision that the acolytes had when going out in pairs to sense all the icons. Crisply clipping across the church in a liturgical military two step they swung their thurifals in perfectly matched timing – its was a sight to behold!

My absolute favourite those was this last Sunday when we attended Immanual Evangelical fellowship in Bethlehem. The church meets in a basement but they have got it well set up with projectors (yes they still have the cheesy Powerpoint backdrops when projection Arabic worship songs!), a full band, sound system etc. The service was in Arabic but they provide simultaneous translation into English via wireless headsets so we were able to participate. The congregation was a whole mix of ages, but with lots of young families that gave the whole things lots of energy. Lots of worship songs were sung – (we joined in loudly with the hallelujahs as that was the one word we could recognise in the songs!) and some really good and sound teaching was given – though the preacher had clearly been taking tips from American tele-evangelists as he could certainly ramp a crowd up!

Particularly moving was his teaching from Psalm 27 (Here is you are not familiar with it.) Given the state of siege that they live in and all the difficulties they face being Christians let along Palestinians in this land their total faith in the Lord, their desire to forgive their enemies and live at peace in the land is incredibly moving.

Also wonderful was the children who had been given the teaching slot that week. The younger ones sang songs and recited memory verses – they were sooo cute and the older ones put on a dramatic presentation of all the issues that they face as Christians. This was actually a pretty sophisticated message for ones so young and there was a definite sense that they don’t shy away from the tough stuff when teaching the children’s groups, there is a real sense of needing to equip the children well for the many challenges they will face ahead.

But best of all…. well that prize had to go to the wonderful man at the back who was providing the simultaneous commentary. It started off quite staid, translating the opening greetings and the words of the first few songs but it rapidly descended into what can only be described as the religious equivalent of Terry Wogan commentating on the Eurovision Song Contest – When the children came up to do their slot they starting shouting their song into the microphone as small children are want to do and all we heard in our headphones was “They are shouting, why are they shouting I have no idea what they are saying!” and when they were reciting memory verses instead of the verse we heard “oh he is trying John 3:16, that is good, oh he is doing well, amazing he has managed to remember it all – how good” rather then actually having the text translated. We also got the various asides to other people at the back about such topics as the state of the batteries on our headphones “we need atomic batteries these are no good they should be atomic” and we also got to hear is excitement at what the preacher was saying and so when the preacher was ramping things up and starting to shout so was our translator such was his excitement - bellowing in stereo - its amazing we didn’t go deaf. Needless to say we kept getting fits of giggles at all of this – it was great.

For all their difficulties there was a real sense of the presence of God in that place, among that congregation. It was spirit filled, true and courageous and it was an honour to be able to worship alongside them.

Monday, 21 July 2008

And it’s all thanks to Gordon Brown….

… Which those of you that know me well know is not something that I would often say, especially not in a positive context! However yesterday I had every reason to be grateful to him as he inadvertently helped me to experience more fully what the Palestinians have to go through on a daily basis – or at least those who are fortunate enough to have passes to go into Israel.

Well there we were, having spent the morning at a wonderful church service in Bethlehem (of which I will say more in another posting!) heading back to the checkpoint so that we could get back to Tantur for lunch. There were 10 of us ambling down the road when we get to a group of people stopped in the road and a large number of armed soldiers and policeman blocking there way. Asking around we discover it’s because Gordon is about to come into Bethlehem for trade talks and so they have not only closed the barrier but stopped anyone who was walking or driving in its vicinity. We were stood there for around 10 minutes in the very hot sun with all these guys with guns looking far to seriously like they were prepared to shoot them at any minute when an enormous motorcade screeches past at high speed. Another ten minute wait and then the same motorcade, having picked up Gordon and party at the checkpoint, screeched back at equally high speed taking him to his talks. We did wave but decided he hadn’t seen us since he didn’t stop!
Eventually the solders clicked the safety catches back on their guns and we were allowed to continue on our way… only to be stopped a few hundred meters up the road by a blockage of armoured cars and barbed wire across the road – this not moved for another 15 mins or so. By the time we made it to the checkpoint what should have been a 10 minute walk had taken us nearly an hour – We had given up hope of making it for lunch at that point but were still hopeful of making the bus at 1.30 that was taking us on our afternoon trip to the Israel museum. That was until we saw the queue at the checkpoint – because of course having closed the checkpoint for well over an hour there was now a tremendous backlog of people trying to get through – added to which security was particularly high and so passage through was slower than we had seen before. The hour we spent getting through was a salutary lesson of the reality of life here. We had the chance to talk to many locals in the queue all of whom were amazingly resigned to this sort of thing, many saying that an hour was nothing compared to some times when passage through the checkpoint could take 2 or 3 hours – no joke when you only have a 6 hour pass, the time of which starts ticking down as soon as you enter the checkpoint. How swift passage through the wall is seems to be at the whim of the guards, most of whom are army conscripts and so in their late teens. Tales were told of how, having just got to the front of the queue you find the booth you were queuing at suddenly closed and that your queue is re-routed to another one and so you are suddenly at the back again, or of the air system being turned on or off at random so that it could be unbearably hot then cold then hot again. The people we talked to said “I suppose we should thank the Israelis for teaching us patience” but I am not sure I am able to be so charitable – To me it smacks of people being given to much power at too young an age – and these are people who are instinctively wary and mistrusting of those that they are dealing with. It’s no wonder that such an awful situation has been the result.

So thanks to Gordon we experienced a little of the daily frustrations that face the people of the West Bank and for that I thank him, as I do for speaking out against the wall and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories - It is my prayer that the 30 million pounds he has pledged to help the Palestinians will be the start of something bigger – something that can bring some measure of resolution to this situation – and do so soon.

Sponsorship opportunities.

We have become used in Israel to seeing signs all over the place honouring those who have contributed to the setting up of various institutes and sponsoring their buildings…But this one at the Israel museum did take the biscuit…. Do you think that he didn’t like his brother much??







Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Hot to trot…

On what was reputed to be the hottest day we will have this week we are of course scheduled to do probably the hottest thing we will do – such is the joy of organised tours!

An early start saw us heading down the side of the Dead Sea until we reached Masada. For those of you unfamiliar with the history of this place the wikipedia entry is good as background. Thankfully there is a cable car as the 60 minute uphill track would have been a killer in temperatures that were already past 30 degrees at 8.30 in the morning. The main structures on Masada were built by Herod as a place for him to flee to should his enemies gain the upper hand. You can see why he chose it as its defensive position is probably one of the best I have ever seen and the views weren’t bad either! Not wanting to spend a time of siege in any form of discomfort Herod build an enormous palace with every available luxury including a state of the art bathhouse, a synagogue, a swimming pool and terraces hanging off the edge of the cliff to make the most of the views and any breezes that there were to be had.

The ruins have been thoroughly excavated and in some places partially reconstructed and so it’s a great place to explore as you can get a real feel for what it must have looked like in its heyday. Herod never needed to use Masada as a refuge in the end but it earned its place in the national consciousness due to events of 70 years later. Thats when a group of Jewish rebels fled there and holed up atop Masada for seven months defying the best efforts of the Roman army to get them out. When the Romans finally did break through they found that all the people on the hill (nearly 1000) had committed suicide rather then be taken into slavery, the idea of death before slavery has been built up into a noble sentiment that’s so imbedded in Jewish culture that all recruits into the Jewish army swear as part of their joining up oath that “Masada shall not fall again!” Well given that the only invasions it seems to have these days are from coach loads of tourists – I think that’s a fairly safe oath to make.

After Masada we had a lunch stop at the side of the Dead Sea and we took the opportunity to go in for a float (it’s not possible to swim due to the buoyancy, floating is the best you can manage!). I must admit it was an incredibly peculiar experience. Firstly because the sea is no longer anywhere near the beach – The sea level has dropped considerably in the last 40 years and so getting in the sea now involves quite a hike down steep and rocky slopes. Secondly because once you get in you realise it’s the most ungainly thing going - you are lying on your back in the water with your feet poking up and then when you want to get out you realise that you can’t actually put your feet down as the salt content is to high you are too buoyant – you are reduced to sculling back to shore and sort of shuffling out on your bum! Still at least I can now say I have floated in the Dead Sea!

From there we went on to Qumran to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered – I must admit by then we were all wilting pretty badly and as the scrolls are no longer there it was hard to be that interested. I think we are looking forward to seeing the scrolls on Sunday in the air conditioned comfort of their current home at the Israel museum.

Though a long and tiring day it was really interesting and it was amazing to be exploring the lowest place on earth – I am looking forward to Friday when we are down there again exploring the Negev – thankfully we have a easier day tomorrow to rebuild our strength!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Going underground….

Monday was a day of tunnels. We started off in the Western Wall tunnel that runs along, funnily enough, the western wall of the temple platform. The main part of the tunnel was dug by archaeologists in the 1980’s to try and get a better understanding of how the temple was built and it is a great way to do this. You really get a sense of how large the base stones of this platform were, the bottom few layers of cut stone are made up of blocks that weighed over 500 metric tonnes – to put this in context the largest stones in the Pyramids weigh around 50 metric tonnes so this temple had some seriously big blocks in it!. Fortunately the quarry was next to the temple site but even so moving these blocks was an incredible engineering feat.

Part of the way long the tunnel we came to an area were there were a great many women praying, apparently this area is the closet that Jewish people can now get to the place that the Holy of Holies would have been on the temple platform. So similarly to the orthodox Christians in the Holy Sepulchral there is a real sense of needing to be as close as possible to where events happened. This sense of “theology of place” is not something that I really feel and so it intrigues me as it’s clearly very important to others. *sigh* yet another topic to add to the ever increasing list of things I want to read about!

When we left the tunnels we spent some time at the Western (wailing) Wall which is a place much changed since I was last here. Then you could just wander into the plaza and saunter around and move from there up to the temple platform and visit the Dome of the Rock. Now the plaza is sealed off and to get to it you need to pass through metal detectors and bag checks. There is no direct access to the temple platform anymore, you need to move to another area to get up and sadly non-Muslims can no longer enter the Dome of the Rock. I feel really sad that such a holy place has needed to be sealed in so much, that fear is rife even here, a place of prayer.

After a move around to the Southern side of the temple mount to look at the excavations there we went down into the Jerusalem of David’s time which was sited in the valley below the temple mount close to the local water source. The amount of archaeological excavation that has been done and is ongoing there is astounding and new knowledge is being, quite literally, uncovered on a regular basis. But the highlight of this afternoon in David’s city had to be the trip through Hezekiah’s tunnel (2 Chron 32:30) . This is an amazing feat of water management dating from 701 BC that diverts a local spring through a 533 meter, hand dug tunnel, that would have led under the city walls and kept the city supplied with water during times of siege. The entrance to the tunnel is down a steep spiral staircase and then it’s a case of roll up the trousers, turn on the torches and plunge in – for the tunnel still carries the spring to this day. It was a little worrying at first as the water quickly reached hip height but thankfully it levelled of at mid calf for the remainder of the journey. It was an amazing walk that seemed to pass in an instant even though the reality is it takes over half an hour. We were wading through clear cold water in tunnels barely wider then we were and not much more then 2 meters high and often lower – When I had to stoop I knew it was getting low! Towards the end we turned off our torches and walked in total darkness till we turned a corner and quite literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It may not have done much to aid my understanding of Middle Eastern politics or Biblical ecumenism – but boy was it fun!

Mind you so was the shower when I got back – it’s extremely hot here and set to get hotter this week – eeek!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Another brick in the wall…

Crossing through the “separation barrier” into Bethlehem is a depressing experience. Passport checks, metal detectors and x-ray machines are a daily chore for the Palestinians that cross the barrier each day to work. This inconvenience pails into insignificance though when we face up to the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinians cannot get permits to travel thought the wall and so are effectively trapped, unable to visit family, seek medical treatment or work in Israeli territory.

We visited the Holocaust museum at Yad vashem a few days ago, a profound place that has probably the most comprehensive collection of holocaust information in the world. There was a gallery there documenting life in the Warsaw ghetto and how harsh life was for those imprisoned within its walls… Its hard to imagine how a people who have survived such a thing as this can now effectively be perpetrating the same thing on others … for many Israeli’s the barrier its seen as a necessary evil that has brought some measure of peace to their land. That is as may be, but surely there must be some other way?

Images from the barrier wall










The Fifth Gospel…

No I haven’t gone potty in the heat and decided I have discovered a whole new book of the bible, rather it’s what some people round here call the land of Israel.
We were told this when we first arrived and I must admit I didn’t get it… but I think a week in I may just be starting to…

There is something about being here, being in this place, seeing for yourself the places that are talked of in the bible that brings a whole new perspective to what we read. There is a real sense that we can never read it in the same way again.

An example… on Friday we went down to Jericho and on the way we stopped on the hill leading down to the city at a place called Wadi Quelt. Here, in this dried up river valley, runs the ancient road down to Jericho from Jerusalem. It was here that the Good Samaritan cared for the pilgrim in desperate need whilst everyone else crossed to the other side. When you are there and you see the absolute desolation of the landscape, the total barrenness that stretches for miles around you suddenly realise the utter peril that that pilgrim was in, this is not a landscape to tarry in and anyone injured would not survive long. The other thing you realise is the large effort people would have had to make to avoid the injured man. This is no two lane highway with a convenient pavement on the other side to cross to – this is a narrow track at the bottom of a dried up gully. To “cross over to the other side” would have meant scrambling up a dry and dusty slope and climbing along it for some distance, a difficult and uncomfortable task. This was a very deliberate and telling act. This is what is meant by the “fifth gospel” it is the one that alters how we read the other four.

On another note entirely I was very impressed by the Palestinian authorities facilitation of us all to sin – Thanks to American grant money a cable car has recently been built at the Mount of Temptation… no more must we struggle up the mountain to our temptations, rather we can be whisked there in a matter of minutes in air conditioned comfort and they even sell ice creams at the top – isn’t modern life wonderful!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Jesus Wept…

Today was a day when we visited some of the sites of Jesus’ grief.

We began the day at Bethany, at the tomb of Lazarus were Jesus wept for his friend. Of course, you guessed it, there is a church that’s been built on the spot! just above the tomb. Ironically the weight of the churches over the years has caused the tomb below to collapse and so the tomb that you can now go in to is shored up with modern stone and there is little of the original left!

From Bethany we went to the Mount of Olives were of course Jesus wept for Jerusalem. You get really great views over the city from here and from this angle particularly you can really appreciate just how vast the temple complex would have been. For travellers who approached the city they would have crested the hill to see the city laid out before them dominated by this vast temple complex at the centre of which was the Holy of Holies. This was totally sheaved in Gold leaf, shinning so brightly that trying to look at it was like trying to look at the sun. It must have been totally awe inspiring!

We walked down the mount following the road that Jesus would have taken. It was pretty steep in places and I was grateful for the tarmaced surface and stout walking sandals. It was very moving to be walking down the route that Jesus himself used. Though of course it would have been rocky then and he was on the back of an untrained colt – literally trusting his life to the sure footedness of that animal. At the bottom of the hill we entered the Garden of Gethsemane a place where again he trusted his life another. I had such a sense this afternoon of how perilous his life was and yet how much he trusted – it was a humbling.

The garden was lovely – the olive trees were about 1000 years old and there was a real sense of history and antiquity there. Sadly you can’t go into the garden – how wonderful would it be to sit in peace under one of these trees but you could sit around the edge in the shade which was a lovely place to reflect.

Next stop was the pools at Bethesda. For some reason I had always imagined that these were fairly small, sort of like a large garden pond – don’t ask me why! But in reality these pools were vast. There were two main pools which served as resevoirs for the temple, each incredibly deep and wide. The current church on the site is a lovely simple church with the most amazing echoes. We sang “Amazing Grace” in the church and it sounded wonderful – apart from the verse where we all mumbled because we couldn’t remember the words! Its funny how natural doing such things seems, normally I would be embarrassed by doing such things in public but here, in the Holy Land, these things seem somehow very normal!

From Bethany we went to the Garden Tomb – the second site that claims to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The guide we had was well versed and was incredibly passionate about the garden and it clearly meant a great deal to him that this was the place. In many ways I wanted this to be the place as this fitted my stereotype of what I thought the tomb should be, a peaceful place, a hill, a garden an empty and un-adorned chamber that has been left in its natural state. Was this the place? It doesn’t have the following that the Holy Sepulchral has that’s for sure and its “pedigree” is much more recent but does this mean its not? and does it matter anyway? Whether this was the tomb or not it certainly gave us a better idea of how the place that Jesus died would have looked, something that isn’t possible at the Holy Sepulchral church.

So we have four contenders for the shepherds fields and two for Golgotha, thank goodness there is definitely only one Sea of Galilee!

It’s Wednesday so it must be…

Its only day 3 and I am already behind myself… The program is so packed with visits and lectures that finding time to think and reflect is at the moment hard to come by.. so I was intending to combine day 2 and 3 into one post but it was getting way to long so I shall have to get back to day 3 later,,,

Day 2 saw us head into Bethlehem. This of course required us to pass through “the wall” – the 8 meter (24 feet) high security barrier that separates the Israeli and Palestinian territories. This was in itself a profound experience, and one I want to blog about at a later date when I have had a chance to re-visit it both in terms of thinking about it more and physically going back through it.

Our first stop of the day was Bethlehem Bible College were we had a chance to look around and to talk with some of the people that run it. This was a fantastic opportunity to get a real insight in to what life is like for the Palestinian Christians who live in the West Bank. The Christian population, once 70% of those living in Bethlehem is now only 30% and forms only 2% of the population of the Palestinian territories as a whole. The college aims to support those who continue to live in the territory through education, the provision of public services such as a library and through job creation schemes to try and help people who want to stay in the territories but have no way of earning a living. It’s an amazing place, full of committed people and full of hope. We were fortunate to have the chance to talk to some of the people that work there and to hear a Palestinian perspective on what is happening in Israel. Again this needs to be a separate post, as I want to wait until we have had a chance to hear all sides of the story as we will later in our stay have a chance to speak with Jewish and Muslim people.

From the college we went to the shepherd’s fields, or should I say one of the shepherd’s fields – for there are at least four claimants to that particular title, each promoted by a different religion and each, of course, with a church attached! We went to the Greek orthodox one and jolly nice it was to, though singing “while shepherds watched…” on a boiling hot July day was somewhat surreal, even if we were supposedly standing on the spot that the events described took place!

The tour proceeded ever onwards at a pace and we were duly dispatched to manger square and the Church of the Nativity. Again a nice old church and it was good to see that the tiny door that you have to enter by really does exist and is not just a preachers construct to make a point in a sermon!… but I was struck by the same problem I had at the Holy Sepulchral church that the elaborate ritualisation of these sights leaves me spiritually cold. They are interesting and I am really glad that I have a chance to see them, but I feel like a tourist, not a pilgrim when I visit them and that makes me sad…I am at the (supposed) birthplace of Christ – should I not feel something?!?

Day 3 was a little better on this score, perhaps because it involved some of the smaller pilgrimage sites and it was easier to reflect in the simpler, quieter places? But that’s a tale for another post….

It’s another sign I tell you…

Apologies for yet another sign but I saw this on the portico of the Gethsemane church and couldn’t resist bloging it… Fill in your own jokes about Gafcons recent “pilgrimage” in Jerusalem, the Lambeth conference or any church you know…





Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Its a sign I tell you.....


Do you think the wise men had trouble getting their camels up there??

Israel – first days

Being back in the Holy Land is in many ways familiar, walking through the Jaffa Gate into the old city on the first morning was instantly recognisable from my trip here in 1998. At the same time it’s very different. In 1998 I was here on a Guide and Scout conference, my focus was secular and when we visited the old city it was as tourists. Now we are here as a pilgrims. Our days start and end with prayer, we read the scriptures at various points and 10 years and half a theology degree later I look at things through different eyes.

That said I am wary here of thinking that I have any clearer picture now then I did then. In our first lecture – where we were introduced to some of the cultural and political issues you come across in this land – it was rightly said that the longer that you are here the less you know, and I am conscious of that fact especially as I will be blogging as I go along. So I start my musings with a health warning (or should that be a reality check?) that what I say at the beginning may differ from what I say at the end – but then I suppose that that is what this trip is all about :o)

So the first morning we went to the old city and among other things we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a real eye opener and is a great introduction to the myriad differences that exist within the Christian community. It’s a great sadness that, at this most holy of sites, the church that is believed to encompass the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and his tomb, division is one of the things that hit me first. We came into the church through the back way, over a low roof where the Ethiopian Orthodox monks live, having been kicked out of the main church several centuries ago, in a disagreement that is somehow is still relevant and ongoing many generations later… then into the body of the church where each of the five Christian groups that are guardians of the church have their own areas and chapels, that they guard jealously. Worst of all though is that the keys of the church are in the guardianship of two Muslim families, because the various Christian factions cannot be trusted to deal with access fairly…. whatever the rights or wrongs of this situation, the witness it is to those looking in is anything but positive about the Christian faith.

Inside the church are several holy sites – The hill of Calvary, with the hole in ground into which Jesus’ cross was placed, the slab on which his body was anointed and of course the tomb in which he was laid.

To be honest these sites don’t do a great deal for me, I struggle to find any sense of Jesus through the vast ornateness of these monuments. I think that a lot of this is tied up with my Anglican and British sensibilities that looks for God in silence and simplicity, that can’t quite get away from the fact of questioning how do they know that was the actual hole where the cross was? or Indeed that this was even the hill of Golgotha? What you can see however is how much these sites do mean to other pilgrims there, especially those from the orthodox Christian communities. Everywhere around the church you see people reverently touching the artefacts, rubbing photos on them (to bless those who couldn’t make the trip perhaps?) and in the tomb of the Christ emotions run especially high. Kneeling before the stone slab said to be where Jesus body lay many people weep and in some cases sobbed in an almost hysterical manner, there was a real sense that, to be there, to be able to physically experience these places was the pinnacle of their lives. It was both humbling and moving to be among these pilgrims but also to some extent sad, sad because somewhere along the way in the western church we have lost the sense of the physical in worship. This is particularly so in the protestant churches and I think, based on what I witnessed, we are in some way lesser for it.

So something for me to ponder, the first of many things no doubt! It remains to be seen what effect they may have on me and my thinking over the coming weeks and months…

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Useful phrases..

Having arrived safely in Israel, I thought it would be a good idea to try and learn a little of the local language. What I love about phrase books is the seemingly completely random phrases that they think are top priority. Witness the phrases that Lonely planet think are the most likely to be needed on a trip to Israel

Joseph eats falafel, Joseph’s fat.
The cappuccino is for David.
Are koalas from Australia?
Ilana studied Chinese in Paris.
The student is as stupid as a wall.
Don’t drink all the vodka!
The opera singer that sang all night is my friend.
I don’t mind watching, but I’d prefer not to participate.

Somehow I think I may be sticking to English…

On an entirely separate note Blogger is to clever for its own good. Sensing that I was in Israel it decided to very helpfully give me all the log in information in Hebrew… case of guess which button you press to log in!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

It’s amazing who you run into…

When sitting out on your steps!



It’s been quite a year for meeting people, first breakfast with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and now a conversation with HRH!

We had been told that he would walk around the college court and then go into tea with a few selected staff and students and so we were sitting out fully expecting to just catch a glimpse of the prince as he walked past. When he actually stopped to talk to us it took us totally by surprise but he was quick to put us at ease and was really nice, he even apologised for intruding on revision time and said we could blame him if we didn’t get good marks!

I know that the Royal family often get bad press but I have nothing but admiration for the Prince after seeing him at work. We were his fourth visit of the day and yet he was still full of enthusiasm and took time talking with people, especially the children. I think even the more cynical college members were won over!

So I wonder who will I meet next?

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Worrying developments…

… I think I am turning into a vestment-a-holic.

I entirely blame my attachment church who have a robe cupboard that is every little girls dressing up fantasy with vestments in every shade from deep green to rose pink and enough fringing, tassels and delicately embroidered silk brocade to sink a whole fleet of battleships. When you witness that week on week I think it starts to effect your perception of what is normal. It started off innocently enough, I bought a second hand clerical cloak last term, an absolute bargain as it had had only one careful lady owner and was less then half price. I consoled myself with the fact that I was merely being practical, thinking ahead to the time I will be performing internments in cold, wet churchyards and besides it would also be useful should anyone need to go to a fancy dress party as Count Dracula!

However this week I found myself racing to the reception after an email came out saying that the college had been given a set of stoles by the family of a recently deceased cleric and they were available to students on a first come, first served basis. I managed to acquire this ….

… which is just wonderful. I think it was made in the late 1930’s or early forties and the quality of the embroidery is exquisite and its all hand stitched. I tend to be very romantic about history and so I love the fact that its slightly scuffed and faded – it just adds to the sense that it has a great story to it….

However given that a few years ago I didn’t even think that the wearing of clerical collars was a good thing I am getting worried about my increasing love of clerical bling. I can but hope that should I ever attempt to buy a berretta some kind friends will stage an intervention and bring me back into the evangelical light!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

It seems like my "avoidance of essay" tactics have been found out....

I was wiling away some time using stumbleUpon on Firefox and this came up... ooops
Better get back to the grind I suppose still another 7000 words needed by next Tuesday :o(



Wednesday, 30 April 2008

New definition of stupid…

…is, I have decided, a whole bunch of Ordinands, people who normally slouch around in jeans and trainers dressing up in suits and standing on wooden benches in the pouring rain trying to look happy for the camera so that in years to come we can look at the college photo and think “what possessed me to wear that jacket/tie/shoes (delete as appropriate)!”

However, I do take great comfort in the fact that we would have to get a whole lot stupider still to give Miss South Carolina, a run for her money…



Monday, 28 April 2008

Rogation – The craze that’s sweeping the nation…..

….. or so I was assured by friends last year, but I have to say I had seen little evidence that it had until… . yesterday when I discovered that there are pockets of the Anglican Church that still go all in for all the fun of Rogation Sunday and my attachment church is one of them.

So after the briefest of pit stops for coffee after the morning service the massed ranks of the church – i.e. those who hadn’t managed to make a quick getaway on some flimsy pretext set out to beat the bounds.

I wish I could have taken some photos but alas I think that would have been deemed out of keeping with the seriousness of the occasion so you will have to imagine…

The procession was headed up by the verger with her staff of office (very handy for stopping traffic as we crossed roads!), academic gown and wonderfully lacy white gloves, followed by the aspersory bearer who was the chap in cassock and cotta swinging the thurifer full of incense round for all he was worth. He was followed by two taperers carrying the processional candles, then of course the cross then the church banner complete with wonderfully kitch Madonna and child sewn on it and its two attendants. All these people of course also in cassocks and cottas. Next came the choir in their choir cassocks and the cantor who had the most splendid gold cope on. Following was the master of ceremonies (though he spent a great deal of the time not in place but running up and down the procession making sure everything was going to plan (not an easy thing to do in a cassock and full length lacey cotta I can tell you, I though we were going to have a disaster at one point when in his hurry he slipped in the mud but he thankfully managed to stay on his feet – just!)

Are you still with me? – right well we now have the church wardens, also in academic gowns and carrying their staffs of office and then the vicar in quite the most magnificent get up of cassock, very lacy cotta, gold stole, gold heavily embroidered cape and his berretta with a red pom-pom on top. He was attended by two cope bearers whose job it was to hold up his cape to stop it dragging in the mud. He was followed by the Assistant priest and deacon also in gold and then the rear was taken by the congregation.

I can, hand on heart, say I have never seen anything quite like it in my whole life and judging by the shocked expressions on the faces of the people we passed, neither had they!

We walked round the whole parish boundary in this way stopping to pray for various things on the way. There was a worrying moment when we got the fields at the far end of the parish where we were due to bless the beasts only to find that the cows hadn’t been put out to pasture yet. I was wondering whether we were going to have to bless the nearby ducks in abstentia of the cows but thankfully a cow was spotted at the back of the next field and so all was well even though it did test the arm strength of the vicar trying to sprinkle the holy water that far…

The bounds were dully beaten towards the end when the building marking the boundary with our neighbouring parish was ceremonially struck with the churchwardens staffs and then all done for another year we retired to the church hall for a well earned cup of tea (and fantastic chocolate brownies…)

So will rogation sweep the nation? Sadly I doubt it – but I think I shall try and bring some bound beating to my churches in the future as it was wonderful to be out and about praying for the parish in this way – though I may well leave the gold cope at home, I wouldn’t want to overdo it after all…

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Scrabulous…

I love playing scrabulous, I really do but its hard not to get disheartened when you end up more then 100 points behind anyone else in the game :o(
But honestly who knows words such as otoliths, venae and didies?

I really need to make myself some less educated friends…

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Walking with God in today's world...

...is the title of the sermon series we have been running at the evening services during Lent. It basically a fancy title for various people to give their testimonies about how God is working in their lives. Tonight was my turn….

“Seeking to walk with God in today’s world”.
Matthew 20:17-34
Evensong Sunday 9th March 2008

My mother always said I was destined to be a Librarian. I tried very hard not to be, I wanted to do something much more exciting then that! As a major league film fanatic I wanted to emulate the lives I saw on screen, but lacking the space flight needed to be Luke Skywalker or indeed the “license to kill” needed to be James Bond I instead settled on another great hero of mine and duly went to university to study Archaeology fully convinced that I was going to be the next Indiana Jones. Destiny is not something to be thwarted though it seems. My path was set early when I was elected the class librarian at the age of seven and I spent many happy hours re-arranging all the books into a classification scheme I had devised. By the sixth form I was 10 years into the job and had free reign of the schools book budget to order all the new stock and probably spent more time in the library then I did in my classroom. At university I spent weekends and evenings shelving and filing, classifying and labelling the diverse collections of the university library. There really was no question that this would be my career path It was only I that refused to see it!

I did give in, in the end of course and had 15 wonderful years working in a variety of libraries before I had to leave it behind to come to train in Cambridge.

I tell you this story, not as an advert for the joys of a career in librarianship, though it is great and I do heartily recommend it to any of you considering your career path! but rather because when I think of title of this series I came to the conclusion that my journey with God has been conducted in rather the same way as my journey to my initial career. For me I was less about “seeking to walk with God” rather I was usually to be found running as swiftly as possible in the opposite direction to him, determinedly set on a path of my own choosing, ignoring the rather obvious signs on the way, rather then walking at God’s side where I belonged.

The passage from Matthew we had read to us tonight tells us of Jesus and his disciples walking to Jerusalem – walking towards their destinies, walking towards the horror of Jesus’ passion. Jesus is clearer with his disciples then he has ever been. Time is short and he needs them to understand what it is that is going to happen. Nothing is more important on this journey surely then Jesus getting his point across? Well apparently it is, for he is diverted by the mother of two of his disciples who’s only concerned seems to be that her sons future is secure and settled.

Jesus’ question to this woman and his subsequent reply had real resonance for me as I reflected on my walk with God.
What do you want? To which his reply was - You don’t know what you are asking?
so true isn’t it – so often we go to God with a list of things we want, things that we are convinced are just what we need for everything to be just great – but the reality so often is that we “don’t know what we are asking for.”

I turn 39 next month – I first heard God call me to ordination when I was 26. I wasn’t joking when I said I ran in the opposite direction! Being a vicar was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I had just finished my library training and had an interesting and well paid new post. I had just got my foot on the property ladder and was engrossed in DIY projects transforming my small flat into the home of my dreams. I was settled at church and amongst family and friends I had no intention of disturbing that, thank you very much! I knew exactly where my life was going and managed, most of the time, to convince myself that this was the path that I was supposed to be on, really it was. I was focused and driven, the childhood dreams of being Indiana Jones being replaced by a desire to one day run a library of my own, preferably something nice and prestigious like the British Library or the Bodleian,

The problem was, there was, as the years past this persistent little nagging sense that I wasn’t on the right road, that this was not the journey I should be taking.

And so we have Jesus’ second walk of tonight’s bible passage. The walk from Jericho. The one where the noisy hecklers on the sidelines could not be quieted by the orders of the crowd. Over the years I tried every trick I could think of to get rid of the nagging sense I carried. I thought that if I got more involved in church God would be satisfied and I could keep my life as well as serving him. I joined the PCC, started to help with the youth group, helped out with small group studies and eventually started even to lead services and preach, trained as a Reader, I was putting in anything up to 20 hours a week at the church on top of a full time job ….and yet the nagging just shouted louder.

It came to a head in the summer of 2006 – I was approaching sheer exhaustion. I was so determined to walk the path that I believed was right for me, had put in so much effort to make it work I just couldn’t understand why God still seemed to want more – How could I give more – I had nothing left to give.

It was at this point that I found myself, through a curious set of circumstances, walking a prayer labyrinth. You may have come across such things before but for those of you that haven’t it’s an ancient way of Christian meditation that invites you to take a walk with God physically and prayerfully by following a complex set of intertwining pathways marked on the floor. During this walk for the first time in a long time I found myself rather then going to God with a list of all the things I needed him to do for me, that I was opening myself up to God to ask him “what do I need to do for you.”

The answer came so clear, he didn’t want more, he just wanted different – I was taken back to the day I accepted God as my saviour, I was put back in the chair I was sitting in then, I could feel and smell and hear that day so clearly – but now I could hear the additional commentary – “you gave me your life that day” – “Its mine now and I want it.”

I wish I could say I was gracious with my acquiescence. I wasn’t. I argued with God for nigh on 2 hours trying to counter each request with a perfectly good reason why not. But he persisted “you gave me your life” but….. “you gave me your life” It is mine, I want it.

In the end there were no more buts to be found. Exhausted I knew that from then on I needed to walk this different path, a new path that was mine alone but a path not decided by me.

The journey to being accepted to ordination is a strange one, not least because you, as the candidate, have virtually no say in the decisions being made. A long line of diocesan ordination directors, bishops, selectors and college admission officers are the ones that decide the course of your future. By the processes end I has this piece of A4 paper with a yes on it – a yes that would change my life forever and yet the reality was that my life had changed forever the year before – It changed when I finally allowed God to guide the route, to choose the path.

Just as the two beggar’s on the Jericho road had been I had been touched by Jesus, my sight was regained and I followed him.

I don’t know how well you know the Indiana Jones films but for those of you that do there is the famous scene in the film the “last Crusade” where the path that Indiana Jones is on leads him to the edge of a deep cavern. There is no way across and yet the map he has shows he is to step out. After much hesitation he does so only to realise that there is a bridge there painted in such a way as to be invisible until you are standing on it.

So in a bizarre way I did get to be Indiana Jones because each day now feels like that scene from the film. Each day I step out on the walk knowing that I am not sure where it is going to take me, but trusting that the path will continue underfoot.

It took me a long time, and wanderings up several cul-de-sacs for me to get onto this path but now that I am finally on it I know that it is the right journey for me, for no matter how hard it gets I know that God walks along it with me, and there can be no greater contentment then that.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Never let your pets stay with friends....

.... they will only embarrass you!


All I can say is its a good thing P wasn't in a hurry to get any work done that afternoon.

Monday, 3 March 2008

O Happy day?

It was announced at 11am this morning that Chris Cocksworth, principle of Ridley Hall has been appointed Bishop of Coventry. While its fair to say that all at Ridley were sure that Chris would one day be made a bishop we were all probably secretly hoping it would not be whilst we where students here.

It’s a great day for the Church and of course for Coventry, Chris is a man of amazing gifts as a theologian but also as a man of great pastoral sensitivity. The fact that he has been appointed directly to be a diocesan bishop, the youngest that will currently be serving, shows that the church has recognised these gifts as well. But for us at Ridley this it is a day touched with sadness as it’s a great loss to the college. It’s hard to imagine coming back next year and him not being here. Still we can take heart from those that have been through this before. When the previous principle left to be a bishop there were similar feelings said to be expressed then of him being irreplaceable and yet God was gracious and brought a principle that has also been a blessing to the college as his successors were. I have every confidence that God shall do the same again.

So please pray for Chris and his family as they prepare to take up their new post and pray for the college as they begin the search for a new principle.

(Please also pray that we are gracious and not stick our tongues out at those ordinands from Coventry Diocese who are jumping up and down with glee at the appointment!)

Just noticed that my friend Jeremy has also posted on this but has the addition of a rather fine photograph. Somehow I don't think this will make the offical press releases!