Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Good morning God,
The talk in the newspapers this morning is all of cuts.. the need to address the county's deficit (which apparently is almost as bad as the Greek deficit).
The charge from the Institute of Fiscal Studies is that none of the political parties are really being honest with the electorate about the extent of the cuts needed to come anywhere near to balancing the country's books.  Well of course they aren't - they have an election to win - but to be honest, most of us don't want to hear it either.  If we think about it, we all KNOW that cuts have to happen, taxes will inevitably rise, redundancies will result - so austere times lie ahead - but we would rather not have to face that now thank you IFS - that's tomorrow's news, and to quote a good book 'sufficient unto each day is the evil thereof'.

The same is true of course, of the Church, which also has a massive deficit (Spiritually speaking) and which is also painfully trying to claw its way out of a serious recession caused largely by propping up failing institutions who were/are grossly overextended.

The parallel between Church and state is quite marked. My guess is that although Church members will protest, most of us actually know that whatever Conference decides about a presidium this year, and whoever it appoints or elects to office - the end result will have to be the same - cuts. The different factions in the Church might argue about where the axe should fall, and where we should prioritize our spending and investment, but those things are just the dressing on the wound:

Unless of course... new sources of Spiritual capital can be found - and no, I don't just mean financially.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An honour?

Good morning God,

Do you weep at our egotistical fancies or laugh at them?

I only ask because I can't quite make up my mind whether I am weeping out of sorrow and shame for my Church or out of embarrassed laughter and relief at the fact that British Methodism boasts an honorary Bishop.

The truth is that having sat on many ecumenical committees I find I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed that the role still held by the majority of Christendom to be one of the highest of spiritual offices, one rooted in centuries of theological discussion, debate and controversy, can be reduced to an 'honorary position'.

But I confess, I am also relieved, I have never been comfortable with the idea of Bishops in British Methodism and this little step provides the best illustration of all as to why not!

Wesley's comment to Francis Asbury is still one of my favourites on the subject of Bishops in British Methodism:

“ How dare you, how can you, suffer yourself to be a bishop?  I shudder, I start at the very thought.  Men may call me a knave, or a fool, a rascal, a scoundrel, and I am content; but they shall never by my consent call me a bishop. For my sake, for God's sake, for Christ's sake, put a full end to this.” (Letters, Vol 8, p. 91):
I am a realist, I realise times are changing but if or when there are Bishops in British Methodism, would it be too much to hope that it would be because Conference has discerned that this is your will for the whole Church after having heard the theological debates and voted to take this step in response to the ecumenical call for greater unity with the world-wide church?

And if such a day should come, would I be wrong to pray that those ordained (rather than named) Bishops would then be chosen by the people of God because of their love of God, their knowledge of Scripture, their pastoral or missional gifts and the wisdom that the Holy Spirit has given them, and for no other reasons?

I know and appreciate that different cultures see things differently, but surely the most important part of any cultural exchange is learning from one another how to share appropriately those things that we all value. Declining certain offers, especially on the grounds of humility can be very honourable too!

In all honesty God, it gets harder and harder to see where your Church is headed or why. It just gets easier and easier to appreciate the ridicule of the secular world.

Which is why in the end, all we can do is laugh - surely?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 'nice' lie of ministry.

Good morning God,

Having incurable cancer has definitely changed me.

I am, for example becoming increasingly publicly intolerant of those who either knowingly or unknowingly abuse the Gospel by playing on the genuine Christian care and concern of others in order to get what they want. You know the sort I mean God, they have all the religious language and Bible quotes to hand about love and sin and Satan.. and they use them to manipulate others to achieve their own aims regardless of the cost to others - the main weapon in their arsenal being religious guilt.  

I grieve for the hurt that they cause others, for the damage they do to faith and the lost opportunities for others to grow in grace with you. Nonetheless, it still feels like a lack of grace on my part to be so intolerant.

I can and do feel considerable compassion for such people, whether lay or ordained. I can see how desperate they must be, and I think it is terribly sad that they only tend to have a relationship with the Church and not with you. I  genuinely grieve for their plight, for their self-centred obsessions with status and power, their need to be needed, or their need to hide (even from themselves) their real insecurities and failings.  Yes - they are worthy of my prayer, and you know that we have talked often about them. But since being diagnosed, it seems that my compassion is no longer enough to stem the flood of anger I feel at the real hurt and harm that they cause.

I realise, of course, that the main reason for my anger is that they expose the lie at the heart of my life's work.

Cancer has given me cause to reflect on my life and especially my life as a minister. This has led me to recognise and acknowledge my part in the damage caused to the faith of others by allowing such people to  succeed in their distortions of your grace or the Scriptures. There have even been times when I have been guilty of trying the same thing myself in order to stop or reverse the destruction such religious bullying causes.

WE are the body of Christ - I am not separate from it - and I am a long way from perfect.

The hard but simple fact is however, that whenever in the past I have lacked the courage to name and shame in public, to address the lie or expose the half-truth (often for no other reason than it is not polite or 'nice' to call someone a liar in public) then I have been as guilty as they are of abusing your people and your gospel. When I think of the pastoral encounters, the Ecumenical gatherings, the Conferences, Synods and Church meetings I have sat through or even chaired.. I can't help but blush in shame for allowing so many lies, distortions and half truths to pass unchallenged.. for the sake of a quiet life..

So what of the calling to proclaim your truth?
or of the calling to minister your grace?
or the calling to work for your kingdom and to challenge injustice?

All a lie?

The worst of it is that in the long run, what results is anything BUT a quiet life. What actually happens is still greater hurt and distress to the body of Christ because people have been led to believe and live the lie that went unchallenged. Ministry is ultimately reduced to all that is 'nice' and 'good' rather than what is 'true' and of you God. Worse, on a larger scale, the Church often ends up doing what it does for the sake of a few select individual's concerns rather than out of Gospel concerns.

The terrifying thought is that a significant part of what I have spent my life doing may have been 'nice' and 'good' but was undoubtedly unworthy of you - or of me.

This is painful knowledge God - far more painful than knowing I have cancer.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Emerging ministers and the Liturgical Calendar

Good morning God,
Don't you think it's ironic that so many ministers are tired out by Easter and that far from being energised and inspired by the discovery of the risen Christ, they tend to be exhausted and drained by the demands of Holy Week..
It's about now that most ministers are beginning to  emerge again... but emerge to what?
The Church places great store on its  two great times of preparation - on Advent and Lent
We invest an astonishing amount of time and effort into waiting and on being ready to receive you when you come to us as the baby Jesus or the risen Christ... with our lent study groups, and advent calendars, lent liturgies and advent rings, Christmas trees and advent crosses..
We even manage to turn Easter into a time of waiting - Christ is alive - now wait for the Spirit...
another 40 days...

But when the Word becomes flesh..?

and when that same flesh is risen?
and when the Spirit is given?
What then...?

There is something comfortable, reassuring and faith affirming about the rhythm of the liturgical year, but there is also something deadening, numbing and faith destroying. We are lulled into a sense of order and conformity by the routine expectations.. Christ will rise on Easter Day,  the Spirit will come on Pentecost - and once that's done we will be once again in  'Ordinary time' - until Advent of course...
And we know what to do, we have the right words to say to take us from Advent to Easter and back again. 'We've always done it this way before'.

Christ is risen..
he is risen indeed, 
so what?

So we can get back to the business of being Church week in and week out..?
So we can wait for Christ to come again?
and again..
and again..

The challenge that we face is the same as the challenge that has faced every generation before us: how to turn the liturgical calendar inside out: how to and use the wonder, amazement and joy of Easter, the fire the passion and the power of Pentecost to ignite the spark of faith so that you can turn a Church full of comfortable 'Ordinary time' Christians into a world changing, life-giving, miracle working, band of disciples?

Christ is risen -
He is risen indeed..
What should our response be?
To wait and see what happens next?
To carry on doing what we have always done?
Or to let the story unfold in our lives..
As the Acts of your modern day apostles...?

I am convinced God that the Church emerges best when it participates in your determination to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary: when it is prepared to risk what has always been in order to participate in what will be by responding in the power of your Spirit to the fact that Christ is risen - he is risen indeed.

Risk-taking God..
as I emerge from the tomb-side of Easter, 
shake me and disturb me,
and form me again as an apostle,
ready and willing to act for the sake of the gospel,
for I know that Christ is alive;
what was has been changed.
I want to be a part of what will be.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Alive to God

Good morning God
Christ is Alive! (But of course YOU know THAT!)
Easter never fails to remind me how good it is just to be ALIVE. 
I don’t mean alive in the body, I mean alive to YOU.
Being alive to YOU is all about being open to the joy of what is possible in this world, believing and knowing  that miracles really can happen, that life is everlasting, and that nothing, but nothing, can separate us from YOUR love in Christ.
Some would say that living in resurrection hope today means being unrealistically optimistic. They ridicule the joy and the hope that we have,  especially  in these times of global warming, earthquakes, wars and famines. There is just so much pain and suffering in the world they cry. But there always has been. Throughout human history, there have always been those who have been so distressed by their life that they have believed death to be the only possible answer. The call for changes in the law concerning assisted suicide and euthanasia are evidence that this is still the case for many today. 
It’s not difficult to understand how pain can destroy the desire for life and how grief can rob people of the will to live – but your Easter message changes all that.  
Easter is not your denial of the pain or suffering of death, it is your answer to our fear of it, and to the mistaken belief that in the end, death is all that is left to us.
By his resurrection, Christ proclaimed that LIFE, not death, is the final and lasting answer. It is this that justifies the hope and optimism of those who are alive to you.  
Being live to you means knowing that life really is stronger than death, hope is more powerful than despair and joy is more lasting than grief. There is more.
Christ is alive! 
In spite of pain, in spite of suffering, in spite of the violence hatred and fear that tried to kill the love he wanted to share with us – Christ is alive. The empty tomb stands as silent witness to the failure of death to keep the truth of life buried.
Christ is alive and calls us to live a new life with him. A life of faith and hope that can be lived confidently in the knowledge that death will never be your final answer.  No matter what the world throws at us, we can step boldly into the future that you has planned for us knowing that we cannot be destroyed or denied by something as small as death.  Because Christ lives, we too can live.
Easter is not a call from you to believe in life after death, it is to believe in life instead of death.
Christ is ALIVE – and so are we.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Walk of witness?

Good afternoon God,

I have a question - its about this Good Friday walk of witness habit..

Am I alone in thinking that it's more like an accusation than a witness?

Can you explain to me why we walk in silence, stopping traffic with our sombre stares, accusing those who are going about their busy lives with our solemnity and misery until they too feel the burden of guilt...?

Please Lord, tell me..what image of your love and your grace are we witnessing to?
What child would instinctively want to follow such a march?

I can't help thinking that the image we present to the world on such walks is exactly what we are accused of by the press and secular society - miserable kill joys, unnaturally solemn, sinful and seriously out of touch..

I need to know God - how many times will we crucify you in a vain attempt to look good to ourselves?

But perhaps I've misunderstood..
Perhaps this walk of witness is not to witness to our faith, or to your love
Perhaps it is supposed to witness to how we repeatedly need you to be crucified
Perhaps its our walk of shame to witness to how we fail to understand what

'Once - for all' 


So like a crowd of Sisyphus we are doomed to endlessly roll the burden of our guilt and shame to the top of Calvary over and over again, only to watch it roll back down again in time for next year.. or 


we finally understand and in understanding are set free from our guilt,
saved from our self-obsession and allowed to see through to Easter Sunday.


If we must walk to witness to our faith - I cannot for the life of me understand why we don't we do it on Easter Sunday - with song and laughter - handing out chocolates and balloons..

Why don't we make it a big joyous parade with trombones and drums that will make the toes tap and persuade the children to tug at their parents hands until they follow the band - right into a service of joyous thanksgiving?

And invite them to hear the Good News...

No matter how many Fridays there are - Sunday will still come.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

30 pieces of Silver

Am I the one God..?
Of course I am, I know it, you know it..
But there's always the moment of doubt, of uncertainty..
Will I go through with it
Will I sell you out

not for 30 pieces of silver
(although heaven knows the property committee could do with it Lord)
I'm tempted to sell you out for something far more mundane than silver

the complement of the service,
the reward of a 'nice' Easter..

Not as expensive in one way
hardly a hanging offense
But just as deadly

Just as necessary?

Would Easter happen without our small betrayals
After all..
you wouldn't want to die unnoticed would you God?
And what's a candle or two, some incense between friends..?

Am I the one God ?
God forbid.
As I break bread with you,
Hear my prayer that this year
you will enter my heart
and the hearts of all those who long to tremble at the events of this night

Let me stay and recline at your breast as the disciple you love
And not venture out into the night.
Let me stay and weep as the drama unfolds
except in prayer.