Category Archives: Link

Link – November 2018:
A Canine Pirate Kingdom?

My daughter was bought a little soft toy dog for her second birthday. It was wearing a stripy top, had a patch over one eye and a red bandanna emblazoned with the skull and cross-bones. Pirate Dog has sparked an interest in piratey things as much as anything can hold the attention of a two year old. She now has a pirate hat (or two), a pirate flag and loves to play ‘pirates’ which is basically climbing stuff, sliding down poles, and making a hook with a finger and going, “Arrrrr!” There’s been a lot of fun and enjoyment, beyond just playing with Pirate Dog, for her – and for her parents and grandparents, forced to join in.

A long time ago, a friend gave me a sign-up code for an online journalling site, saying, “I thought you might like to write a bit more.” I did indeed like writing a bit more – and, over the years, the things I have written have made people laugh, think, cry, ask questions, and (I hope) pointed them towards a more loving God than maybe they’d been expecting. That code led indirectly to me writing this column for the Link.

Towards the end of my time in junior school, I was bought a new translation of the Bible to replace the Good News Bible I’d had for the previous six years or so. The NIV was a more challenging read, which encouraged me to look at passages afresh and, if memory serves, was the first Bible I read through – from dark brown hard cover to dark brown hard cover. Eventually, at university, I would pass this Bible onto a friend who was in the early stages of coming to faith, and would eventually go onto to be ordained and introduce countless people to the news about Jesus contained in the Bible. Although we’ve both moved onto more up-to-date and accurate translations, that Bible served us both well as we grew into the faith we have today.

Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this…” and talked about small things that spread and grew: yeast, working its way through dough until a whole batch of loaves would rise; a mustard seed, growing into a massive tree that filled the sky. These were everyday images in the first century but are a little less commonplace today.

Maybe, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a soft toy, Pirate Dog, that was given to a girl, who played with it and around it, drawing in her parents their friends and their friends’ friends until the whole world was playing at being a pirate.

Maybe, The Kingdom of Heaven is like an invitation to write, and the words spread out through the world touching lives and inspiring everyone to write their own, better stories.

Maybe, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a book (The Book), passed from hand to hand, leaving wisdom in its wake and changing those who briefly give it a home.

What small thing could you do to start The Kingdom of Heaven filling the world?

This article originally appeared in Newcastle Diocese’s monthly newspaper the Link

Newcastle Diocese Link Article – December 2017

Wiping the King of the Universe’s Bottom

Every year, thousands of words are written about what the incarnation means for us but comparatively few on what it might have meant for God.

A new, physical vulnerability. From the very beginning, Jesus had to rely entirely on his parents for everything – nappy changes, food, clothing, shelter – all of this is a very marked difference for the creator of everything, a being unbound by the space and time he had created, finding himself tightly wrapped in bandages. Jesus found himself prone to hunger, tiredness and disease (although, whilst there’s no record of Jesus being ill and his treatment of people suffering from infectious diseases showed that illness was not something he feared), and eventually being murdered by occupying forces at the behest of the religious leaders who thought they were doing his work.

A newfound ignorance. By the end of his ministry, Jesus knew that he was God  – “I and the Father are one.” But, had he always known or was it something he gradually came to realise over the years? (Perhaps beginning with the voice from heaven at his baptism.) I like to think that, despite the best of efforts of his parents to raise him as a normal child, there would have been occasional moments where a certain otherness began to make itself known – such as the time after a visit to the Temple when, his parents unaware, Jesus remained behind talking over weighty matters with the teachers of the law – he seems to have taken it in his stride “Where else would I be?” (a polite, first century, “Well, duh?!”) I wonder when Mary and Joseph first told Jesus about the strangeness surrounding his birth, the visitors, the gifts, the words of wise, old Simeon and Anna following his presentation at the Temple, the angels, and the dreams – and how often they’d talk it over, trying to make sense of it all.

A new set of relationships. We believe that God exists already in relationship amongst the three persons of the trinity – from that perfection to ‘normal’ human relationships with their pettiness, squabbling & jealousy. Again, having parents to look after and nurture him (previously having been the one who set up the universe and kept it running). We imagine he must have made friends as a child, the Bible says he had sisters and brothers and we know he considered his disciples to be friends, even knowing that they would desert him.

Newly subject to law. From the very start of the gospels, the presence of the earthly powers was part of the story, with the census taking the Holy Family back to Joseph’s ancestral home. They continued to feature heavily in the gospels, culminating in the  “Judge of all the Earth” submitting to the whims and judgements of petty tyrants and going to his death knowing that “all power in heaven and earth” had been given to him.

It has been said that all stories end in death if you follow them long enough but that’s not the case here – after the death, resurrection and, after that, the Ascension, when all this and more went back into the Godhead in a startling reverse of the incarnation – God to man and back again.

Newcastle Diocese Link Article – November 2017

Are We Nearly There Yet?

An Autumn Triduum

Towards the end of the church year, three days follow on, one from the other, forming a dim reflection of a very condensed Lent. On All Hallows’ Eve, there is chaos, carnival and celebration to parallel Mardis Gras – mocking and chasing away the powers of darkness, as opposed to using up all the soon-to-be-fasted-from produce from the house; All Saints Day, celebrates and looks to those who have gone before, and reflects on what can be learnt from their experiences; and on All Souls Day – we remember all those no longer with us, both saint & sinner, as Christ went down to the dead on Holy Saturday, leaving us looking back to the formerly-living until the seasons change and new life is ushered in.

These three days help clear the air and point us towards Advent – preparation for a time of preparation.

And Lesser Fleas To Bite ‘Em…

Every year, it gets earlier. It was mid-September when I saw this year’s first complaint about how early in the year people could be seen complaining about Christmas getting earlier every year. It seems that we live in a perpetual state of complaint and irritation – like children asking “are we nearly there yet?” before the car has gone further than the end of the road – always Advent but never Christmas…

Janus, One Month Too Soon

The two-faced Roman God, for whom the first month of the year is named, looks back to the past and forward to the future. Advent is both a time to prepare for the jubilation of Christmas, looking back and celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that the incarnation means for all of us, and also a time to look forward – to Christ’s coming again – and think about the changes we should be making in our own lives to get ready for his return, it’s about much more than decorations and presents.

Are We Nearly There Yet?

Not really. But the oil and the tyres have been checked, the bags have been packed and everybody’s in the car. We’ve made it past the edge of town and, if we read it correctly, this autumnal triduum will point us in the right direction. Look out Advent, here we come!

Newcastle Diocese Link Article – October 2017

Playing Hide and Seek with God

Have you ever seen a Godly Play presentation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd?

In it (as I remember it told), the parable is slightly expanded to provide more opportunity for reflection and identification with the flock rather than the shepherd, who is is presented quite faithfully in terms of the original Gospel story – more or less strictly in terms of what he does and says. We see one sheep gradually fall behind, get lost, trapped and eventually rescued when the shepherd realises that it’s missing. Reflective questions are asked about how both the ninety-nine non-lost sheep and the single lost sheep might feel, what they’d be thinking, and what may have led the individual sheep to become lost in the first place.

I sat and watched and listened as the single sheep fell behind and found myself identifying a desire to have a bit of space to myself and dreading the impending “being found”. The idea of an inescapable God became terrifying – and the identification quickly went from “gone astray sheep” to “criminal miscreant, on the run from an inexorable, hard boiled gum shoe”. Old, comforting standards like Psalm 139 (“If I make my bed in the depths, you are there”) now added to the claustrophobia and, rather than coming away with a fresh appreciation of the titular Good Shepherd, I left the session a scared and shaken sheep on the run.

Putting the boot on the other foot…

In the first book of Kings, a scared, shaken, and on-the-run Elijah encounters God on Mount Horeb. The Lord has already spoken to him and told him to look out for a further encounter. As God is approaching, in quick succession, a mighty wind, an earthquake, and an impressive-looking fire go before the terrified prophet. But God isn’t in any of these phenomena – choosing instead to reveal himself in a gentle whisper. Admittedly, the gentle whisper says some terrifying things.

Following the resurrection, Jesus revealed himself in several surprising situations: in the Garden of Gethsemane, to Mary who had mistaken him for the gardener; on the Emmaus Road, to Cleopas and his travelling companion who failed to recognise him until he shared a meal and broke bread with them; and to a locked room full of disciples, hiding from the authorities.

More recently, one Maundy Thursday, following the stripping of the altar (and indeed the whole of the front of the church, including the host from the aumbry – leaving it bare and dark with no visible signs of God’s presence), I went to the front, to the place where God no longer was meant to be and knelt at the rail, expecting and hoping to experience some of the emptiness and desolation felt by Jesus. Instead there was a sense of God being there already, welcoming me, and a feeling that the desperate, long forgotten game of hide and seek was over. For now.