Monday, January 30, 2006


We all look for seamless connection, for natural compassion and empathy with fellow humans that overflow with gentleness and insight....

The Dr has departed

His time here has now passed and he goes to London for a dinner date he is both thrilled about and terrified of, mind you, i suppose it's not every day you get to have dinner with a Hollywood legend!

For those who don't and couldn't know what one of the Dr's many hats are, he is Chair of a peace initiative in Belfast called Zero28. The Zero28 project is a group of people trying to take peace making and social justice seriously, wherever they are. They commit themselves to living the change they want to see through non-violent action for peace and justice in Northern Ireland and beyond. People who beleive faith, life and work need to connect with each other, who care about actively addressing issues of peace, justice, social ethics, the environment, and how they are expressed through art and culture.

I met many of these wonderful people when I was last in Belfast, I will be back with them in a couple of weeks - my soul will be once more be stirred by the greening of Belfast.

I left him at the airport this morning with knots in his tummy....poor sure he'll be fine, but think of him tonight at 8pm all the same

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Despair - where are you God?

The Dr and I had level 5 tonight and decided that sometimes the journey is bloody hard and confusing. We fuck up period.

I never found out this woman's name. I met her in Ghana 4 years ago...her existence seemed to torment her, then again if I had to walk 7 miles for water....

'My mind cannot encompass You, but my heart longs for You. It is the pain of my emptiness that I glimpse You. I long for You, but cannot grasp You. That is why you are My Dearest: I long for You most, but You are the most costly. I know You are not harsh, but most gentle, that Your generosity is without limit, and there is nothing You will not forgive, that You let Your sunrise on the just and the unjust alike. It is because You are so attractive that You are also a source of pain, of terrifying darkness, for to lose You is to lose everything, to be separated from everyone and everything I have ever loved and cherished.'
Gerard W. Hughes

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Wishful thinking?

‘The place God calls you is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet’.
Frederick Buechner

Tanzanian Odysseys: African Diary of a Lost Soul - Part 3

Day 4: Into the Mountains
So, to work, with our partners UMADEP (Uluguru Mountain Agricultural Development Project) who have been operating in Mgeta and Mkuyuni since 1993, and work as an integrated agricultural development programme using a multidisciplinary approach to education.

We visit the office of Chuo Kikuu Cha Sokoine Cha Kilimo Mradi Wa Knendeleza Kilimo Millma Ya Uluguru (Kimu) and as is custom introductions and thanks are reciprocated. Whilst there seems always to be a slight nervousness, almost shyness to these early exchanges, they do not express embarrassment or mere sentiment. Quite the contrary, there is deep appreciation on both sides of our partnership for the commitment to one another, and more importantly the benefit that brings to the poor of this world. Today is no exception; in the silence before words there is an understanding and gratitude between two groups of people who in many respects are worlds apart, and yet at the same time inseparable.

Emmanuel Malisa (Agricultural Officer Supervisor) tells us initially what we already know, that this is a partnership whose projects are in their formative stages. He explains that the sunflower crop trials found their beginning in 2003 alongside sesame seed and groundnuts, with an objective to see which one was adaptable to the environment as a consequence of its performance.

It seems that the growing of sunflowers surpassed all expectations with sadly mixed results from sesame and groundnut. Part of the brilliance of this project though is the way in which the farmers groups are involving primary schools so that the practices passed on by UMADEP to the farmers can in turn be taught to the children – who will in turn inform their parents. We visit one such school whose students would have us believe that they prefer to learn of agricultural principles than play football…. I do not judge the comment; I just smile and become thankful for the spirit of African children.

We then go to visit a project that shows just how partnership can transform the lives of those who have so little. Freddy is a wonderful example of someone who has benefited from the improvement of sunflower processing for oil. With his new machine the process becomes economically more lucrative – the practice is quicker and produces better quality oil so fetching a higher price at market. So much so, he can now afford to send his two daughters to school. The pride in his somewhat shy eyes moves me very much. I leave Freddie with a warmth in my heart.

Over the next two hours of driving we climb most of the 2650m high luxuriant Mountain Range, and there, we meet many farmers who are fortunate to have nature on their side, with the mountains natural resource of water allowing the land to be more fruitful. Refined development models are practiced with the careful guidance of UMADEP, with a keen emphasis on empowerment and enabling beneficiaries to be agents of their own change.

We find it refreshing to see evidence of productive engagement between NGO and government services with good capacity to engage with communities through a range of activities: farming, schools, NGO education programmes, savings and credit schemes, economic enhancement such as sunflower processing and seed potato sales. The local hospital at Mgeta houses demonstration energy saving stoves, so that the relatives of patients support the recovery of dependants and learn the value of appropriate technologies at the same time.

UMADEP has been operating in the Mgeta and Mkuyuni divisions since 1993 and works as an integrated agricultural development programme using a multidisciplinary approach which is implemented with the collaborative efforts of the Department of Agricultural Education, Sokoine University of Agriculture, the District Co-operative Office and Farmers Groups Networks in Mgenta, Mkuyuni and Mvomero.

We learn from Emmanuel that their aims and objectives are that the projects assist and so ‘consolidate the rural society in its complexity to constantly play an active role for its betterment in the changing overall socio-economic environment.’ Its purpose is to improve the productivity of labour of small-scale farmers in the Morogoro District in a sustainable way. To associate the university with the rural communities so to enable the promotion of the small scale farmers movement and to train farmers, students and professionals to develop a methodology that constantly that links and informs reflection to action.

As the sun sets over the stunning mountain range I reflect rather philosophically about the people we have met today. I think particularly of Freddy, and I smile as I recall his own smile. Freddy is a happy man because he now has a future. Surely we all entitled to that…

Friday, January 27, 2006

Soul friend...

The Doctor has arrived..........

Thursday, January 26, 2006


'One best becomes a Christian - without "Christianity"'.

Soren Kierkegaard

Tanzanian Odysseys: African Diary of a Lost Soul - Part 2

Day 3: Road trip to Morogoro
The Hotel International was an accident, at least for us. Thankfully our previous 2 chosen hotels were full before our cab driver, Mushin Ali, decided to take matters into his own hands and transport us to what can only be described, according to the Rough Guide to Tanzania, as an attractive option resembling a ‘giant cuckoo clock.’ This four storey former palace has 20 rooms, which are graced with four-poster beds (complete with box nets). Robert and mine also has a balcony that overlooks a town full of broken coral filled walls, and corrugated roof tops dovetailed with red tile, interspersed with numerous Indian imported Ashok Tree.

As I was showering this morning I came across, that was in hindsight a comedy moment - in truth it was only amusing once I was out of the shower. As I squinted through the shampoo covering my eyes I noticed that the electrics for the hot water were situated 1cm from the pluming of the shower. Now, I’m no plumber or electrician, but this seemed to be a real catch for health and safety me thinks! Suffice to say, I got out pronto!

The jewel in the crown of the hotel though is surely the roof top gazebo, which gives a breathtaking full 360-degree panoramic view of the Stone Town. On a wall to the right of my room a poignant message found its home:

One God and Muhammad the messenger of God
Don’t lose track of yourself
Mujahidina Palestina

Our time though in Zanzibar, and Dar, is now over and we must take the 3-hour drive to Morogoro. As we approach our destination to our left lay the Uluguru Mountain range. This is a strikingly beautiful location with the town nestled at the foot of the granite satellites of the Uluguru. We meet Athman Mgumia, Agriculture Officer Co-ordinator, who tomorrow will take us into the mountains to visit partners who are trying to consolidate the rural communities in all their complexity to continually play a functional role for the betterment in the overall socio-economic environment. The excitement of finally getting to work is marred though by England losing their 3rd six nations game in a row 19-13 to Ireland – even my friend Stocki says they were lucky!

Tanzanian Odysseys: African Diary of a Lost Soul - Part 1

Today's talk on the Street children of Zimbabwe has brought back painfully beautiful memories of my own trips to Africa. Over the next few days I will post my African Diaries from last Years trip to Tanzania with Christain Aid....

It is late evening, 24 February 2005, and I find myself a good mile or so nearer heaven than is normal or what I am comfortable with. I am travelling with two fellow troubadours, Marion and Robert. I don’t like to fly – the idea of such a hulk of metal staying in the air for so many hours is beyond my understanding – and consequently, over the years, a world of fear rushes into my existence every time I step inside one of these air born communities for a few hours. I have left behind a world I care about deeply, to again visit one that is part of my own and yet somehow distant and somewhat removed. A place that has become to me, in the words of Bono, the most regal of countries: Africa. Tanzania to be precise.

This morning I said goodbye to the most beloved and cherished human I know, my boy Samuel. I wept when I left him at nursery. I won’t see him for another two and a half weeks, the longest I have ever been away from him, and I don’t like the feeling. At the moment every sensation I have seems to be heightened to one degree or another. I want to feel sunlight on my face and see my boy dance, to capture the heart of life: to look existence in the face and run headlong into the mystery. I suppose I’m telling you this because of my fear of flying, and for a man who will make about 60 flights this year that is, granted, a strange confession. Still, I think it gives the majority a glimpse into a world that most of us dare not admit to let alone embrace.

What do I mean? Well, sometimes we have to look beyond the troubles of our own. We’re all lonely – the world keeps on turning even as we stand withering away – but there are so people who are not able to fight their own battles. In blunt terms, they have no voice. Actually, that’s not particularly accurate, they do have a voice, it’s just that it’s very very faint, and nobody seems to be listening – even worse most don’t even care.

We can drift away from whatever reality we choose, but eventually the wild places catch up with us, they tease our tender hearts, and beckon our goodness to recapture the souls we surely have lost. There’s a heaven on earth that so few ever find and part of our brief is to enable the rivers to be crossed and instil a lost wisdom for those outside the sheep pen of the carpenter. Where exactly are we found and where precisely blessed?

This year is a critical year for Africa. The G7 finance ministers have already met, and on July 6 the UK Prime Minister will have a unique role as he hosts the G8 summit of the world leaders. He also this year holds the presidency of the European Union. Urgent action from Mr Blair brought on through pressure from the likes of you and me could improve the lives of millions of poor people around the world who live on less than 60 pence every day. We can urge world leaders to Make Poverty History, to change the rules and practices of unjust trade, to cancel poor countries’ debts and deliver more and better aid.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu suggests that 2005 ‘is a year of great opportunity. If everyone who wants to see an end to poverty, hunger and suffering speaks out, then the noise will be deafening. Politicians will have to listen’. But without trade justice for the worlds poor, poverty will remain at the scandalous levels it is today.

When you are frozen out of all the conversation around you. When you’re only worth 10% of all your possessions then, I suppose you need some help, you need someone to be on your side, because lifetimes can’t be lived out in a day. A mournful sigh echoes in the dark 35,000 ft above North Africa as I think of the task ahead.

I awake rather confused. I never sleep on planes. Yet somehow, miraculously even, I seem to have been out for the count for some 4 or 5 hours. I suspect though it was more to do with the numerous bottles of British Airways finest claret I consumed than a newfound karma of air travel. Either way I’m grateful (though I did miss a glorious sunrise complete with Mt. Kilimanjaro poking her head through the clouds).

Having left Heathrow an hour late due to the de-icing of our steel carriage (minus 2 degrees) we walk into a blast of hot air. It’s 7.25am and 28 degrees already. By midday it will have risen to 38. I am taken aback at how less exuberant Tanzania is compared with Ghana (maybe it’s an east coast thing). No pushing, shouting and grabbing of bags for money, just a laid back, “Jambo…jambo.” (Welcome… welcome)

After a slow ride into town we arrive at the Pembroke Hotel, rather grander than Christian Aid is comfortable with, but we’re not complaining, as we’re knackered and ready for some food and a little sleep.

After a simple and brief tour of Dar, Robert, Marion and myself find a bar and talk of what we have seen. Robert was first here 25 years ago, and is dazed at how developed Dar now is. There does seem to be a rather strange juxtaposition though. I for one started to feel a little uneasy. It’s as if (even with the development) some part of a rich culture has somehow gone missing, as if old wine had been poured into new wine skins. I think it has much to do with a language that finds itself devoid of meaning. Or as Shiva Naipaul more eloquently observes, ‘progress that has been confused with possession’.

As the first day draws to an end I sit in a bar and listen to a couple of guys serenading their captive audience of 15 with what I can only describe as a cross fertilisation of African and Cuban rhythms…I think about this as I quaff a few beers. It’s good, I conclude, to be back in Africa again.

Day 2: Zanzibar and Allah in Surround Sound
Breakfast can be a liberating experience in Africa, if you wish it to be. Beef soup and Chicken Gizzards were the dishes of my first meal, and a spicy octopus for lunch, but the most charming moment of the day came when our waitress at the Zanzibar cafĂ© (which consisted of two rough wooden tables with matching benches and an old counter – slung together with such abandon we were sure was going to collapse with exhaustion any second) brought us the menu. It was hand written, meticulously well I might add, in an old school exercise book. These indeed are as my boy says, ‘happy days’.

We have a free day at the beginning of our travels and decide to visit Zanzibar before leaving for Morogoro and our partners UMADEP. Travel, for me, has always been about experience dovetailed with education, and there is much to learn about Tanzania. Scarcely a tribe of East Africa was left unaffected in one way or another from a suffering unimaginable when the slave traders arrived from Arabia backed by their European financers. They travelled many miles into the African Plains to abduct their slaves before heading back to the coast toward Zanzibar. The last stop on the mainland was (and still is) an eerie place called Bagamoyo.

Legend says that Bwagamoyo takes its name from the two Swahili words, bwaga and moyo. Bwaga means to throw down or put down, and during the long safari (journey), the leader of the group of slaves would, at certain times, shout to the other porters, “Bwaga mizigo” which means put down your loads. Moyo means heart. Bwaga moyo therefore translates to put down your heart.

As we stand at Bwagamoyo awaiting the arrival of our ferry to Zanzibar earlier this year I realised the enormity of its name. It was the place a captured slave, after his gruelling journey from the plains of East Africa, would lay down his heart, it was the place all hope was lost, because this would be the last time he would stand on the soil of his homeland before his trip to Zanzibar and a lifetime of cruelty and despair.

As evening falls I am sat on the rooftops of the Hotel International on a balmy evening with the aroma of spice filling the air as the sun gives up her fight on another day. The Stone Town of Zanzibar is a labyrinth of magical twisting streets and alleyways. It is in fact very cosmopolitan. Influences range from Indian, Asian and Portuguese to Arabian. Much of the restoration of the old town through economic liberalization came to pass as a consequence of the election of President Mwinyi in 1985; a few years later he declared it a conservation area.

Yet as I relax above the rooftops of Stone town a surprising, yet intoxicating experience is filling the air. There are in Stone Town 51 Mosques, and it seems that we have evening prayer in surround sound. At first it seemed abrupt and confusing, but as it progressed I found it most soothing, therapeutic almost. A calm had descended now devotions have come to a close, I wonder if it was the prayers or just my imagination?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Level 5 in Zimbabwe

Am numb. I have just sat through a very moving talk given by a wonderful human about a charity called 'The Just Children Foundation'. The Revd Mike Kierle is a trustee of the charity who work with street children in Harare, Zimbabwe, a non denominational Christian Charity that was begun in 1996 by a man called Moosa Kasimonje, who will be in Guernsey in March. In 1996 Moosa owned a fast food outlet and at the end of each day he noticed children coming to him for food. So moved by their need and desperation he sold his business and in 1998 began a small overnight shelter for the children on the streets. Today there are 4 centres around the country. the aims of the charity are very simple:

To provide care and shelter where possible to children in need

To re-unite children with families where possible and appropriate

To offer education, couselling and life skills

To be advocates for the right of children in Zimbabwe and to endeavour to change attitudes toward children in need

Am moved, disturbed, angry, challenged, inspired by the talk. The irritation has once more, as my missed friend Yac used to say, been irritated.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is currently the lowest on our planet - it stands at 36 years of age!

Those suffering from the Aids pandemic is anything between 33% and 56% of the population

Inflation in Zimbabwe is currently 586% (yes five hundred and eighty six) and rising.

A kilo of courgettes will cost over a month's wages for the poorest.

Unemployment runs at 80%

Toward the end of last year, Mugabe's government embarked on Operation Murambitsvina, which means 'clear out the trash'. He sent in police and army into what he claimed were shanty towns and illegal dwellings and bulldozed homes, instantly leaving over 800,000 people homeless.

Fuel has gone up by 480% overnight. A colleague in December told Mike that in order to get a tank of fuel for the Just Foundation they had to queue for 22 days!!

To give you some idea of the economy in 1995 the exchange rate was $13 to £1. Yesteday was $170,843 to £1 - today it is a bloody staggering $225,000 to £1!!!!!!!!!!!!

Words fail, but at the heart of the work of this foundation, is the fact that JCF provides a place for children to belong. They become part of a family and they have a place where they can know security for the first time in their lives. Evidently it is quite common when children come to the centres that they don't speak for some time - they are completly traumatized - and it is quite simply because they are not used to being listened to or cared for and most certainly not used to feeling secure.

The irritation has been refreshed to go clear the land for a new culture. As Douglas Coupland suggests in 'Girlfriend in a Coma', "If you are not spending every waking moment of your life radically re-thinking the nature of the world - if you are not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order - then you are wasting your day."

It's time we started sifting our souls of the muck and mire of our spritual ego's and think very hard what it means to take up the basin and towel in today's world. As the wonderful Desmond Tutu says, "God says to you, I have a dream. Please help me realise it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, whose war and hostility, greed and harsh competitiveness, alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Eternity Missed

"We spend our lives missing eternity by a second" (G. Greene)

Not sure it's wise to try and interpret a parable, but I think what Mr Greene is saying is that when grace dances we should do our best to show up...

...speaking of moments of grace - this was the view from my window when I got into work this morning...

Stories and Jesus

In truth, I always thought that Jesus believed storytelling was nebulous enough. What I mean by that is that He spoke in parables, which by nature are hazy and call upon us to peel off their layers - the consequence of which is that they tend to stick around our souls for a long time - they journey with us, sustain us and nourish our hungry hearts. All the songs and stories I loved as a boy I still love, those my grandparents told about anonymous people; miners, steel workers, farmers and builders really interested me. I loved hearing tales about the struggles and hardships of the labourers, the pioneers, and I loved the old gospel spirituals that my grandfather adored so much – songs with tragedy born out of hardship but that looked forward to a better day and a more redemptive time – they echoed his own struggle, a struggle I am proud to be connected to in some way to this day.


Had a wonderful gift from a beautiful human recently. It is now my latest read, and a wonderful one at that. This latest novel, written at the peak of the author's fame, is yet again an intoxicating illustration of tranformative power. 'Memories of My Melancholy Whores', by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, moveingly contemplates the tragedies and misfortunes of old age whilst at the same time celebrating the joy of love.

It is described as 'amorous and sometimes disturbing' but it is a journey that is told 'with the grace and vigour of a master storyteller'.

A rich gift and a great meditation on life...


Me and my little girl.... Hannah Rachel Grace.... am knackered and want to be how I look in this pic.... very tired

Pip, you are beautiful too.... thank you x

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Rule of Confession

Am surrounded by Bishop's, Dean's and Cannon's today - lots of purple and large rings!!!

Anyhow The Dean of Guernsey just made me laugh by explaining the Anglican rule of confession:

All can
Some should
None must

Just thought you needed to know....

God's Moment of Regretting

For once I don’t know where to start. My mind is awash with images of unspeakable tragedy, cowardice and hatred. At this time I am struggling to see a future filled with hope and love at all.

I try very much to understand the human soul, to try and get to a place where I can come to terms with something of why people do what they do. Whilst often being dismayed by the actions of so many (myself included), I think before last week I have been able to get to the point of understanding most human behaviour. But not when it comes to the abuse of children. I mean what in the name of all that is good and decent drives someone to rape a twelve week old girl and film it?

Someone described me the other day as a smiling pessimist – I think I prefer cynical optimist. I try not to close my eyes to the horrors of this world, rather allowing sensitive, intelligent, compassionate engagement to allow at least an understanding of what brings so many to acts of despair and duplicity, which in turn bring hurt and pain to others. Yet I have never felt so unable to comprehend the cruelty we have seen in recent days.

I’ve got to a point where I don’t so much like to read the Bible; I like the Bible to read me. And so it is over the last week or so two stories from Scripture have screamed at me. Firstly one of judgement, where Jesus says it would be better for people who committed offences against children to have millstones put around their necks and be cast into the sea. And if that’s not sobering enough there’s a passage in Genesis that I have never heard preached on, but that haunts my soul to its center.

God has just finished creating his world, and initially his comment is that he sees it as something good. Then along come we humans in all our glory. By the time of Noah God seems to be pulling his hair out. In fact he is so angry the Bible says this:
“And God regretted that he had made man on earth and it grieved him to his very core.”
I’m not sure there is another sentence in Scripture that bothers me as does this one. It begs us all to ask questions, questions that just might save us from ourselves. Does God still have days where he asks the same? And if he does what’s our responsibility in the equation? I am thankful there is a Carpenter in heaven bending God’s ear on our behalf, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play.

In my concern that God still has these kinds of regrets, I have a theological observation. There are two ways that religion has been brought into public life in Western history. The first way – “God on our side” - leads inevitably to triumphalism, self-righteousness, bad theology, and, often, dangerous foreign policy. The like of which we are seeing more and more in today’s world – no names mentioned. The second way - asking if we are on God's side - leads to much better things, namely, penitence and even repentance, humility, reflection, and even accountability. We need much more of all those, because these are often the missing values of politics and faith.

Abraham Lincoln was right. Our task should not be to invoke Christianity and the name of God by claiming God's blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side. Jim Wallis explores this idea superbly well in his book ‘God’s Politics’.

I grieve the madness of this world, and I lament that for reasons that for many just don’t add up, bad things happen to good and innocent people. Most of the time this causes me to stumble after a mystery I do not understand, but it is a mystery I do not want to live without. For from within this mystery of faith there does lie hope. I take heart from the Man of Sorrows and the best moments and lives of those who follow him. One such person is Desmond Tutu. Amidst the chaos and heartbreak I do believe good will in the end prevail.

No matter how desperate the situations Archbishop Tutu must have found himself in those dark days of apartheid, he never stopped believing in a bigger picture and love. And so it was that through the actions of those willing to live out the legacy of Christ good did overcome the darkness. I therefore close with the words and wisdom of Archbishop Tutu:
“God still is ready to jeopardise the success of whatever divine enterprise he undertakes. He is willing to limit the power and effectiveness by waiting on the willingness and ability of his human partners. God is as strong as the weakest of his frail collaborators. God is as successful as we care to make him…”

The Art of Travel

Came across this fantastic quote during my busy morning of sitting:

“I’d say that one of the great dangers we all face in life is numbness. We cease to notice we’re quite alive. We forget our own potential, the richness of others and the complexity of things. In this numb state the world seems predictable, known and boring. One of the advantages of travel, and love and literature can do this too, is to reawaken us, to remind us we didn’t know what we thought we knew … “

Alain de Botton
The Art of Travel

Man flu

It's official - I am a pain in the arse. i have that dreaded and much feared disease - man flu. Ok I have a common cold and am useless (as all men are with colds). Feel like my head needs to be removed, and I've got the Bishop arriving in an hour. Is 9.35am too early for a tot or two of brandy?

The Medication of the soul

Found a wonderful thin place in church this morning - a choral eucharist - choir again so helpful to enable mere mortals like me to engage the mystery for a while...

great sermon on the wedding where the wine ran out and Jesus gets pressured from a typical Jewish ma to kick start his career as God.... lovely moment when my priest talked of the significance of why there were 6 water pots rather than say 7 or 2 or even just 1. The beloved one of the twelve uses numbers to signify such a wonderful truth of grace.... 7 is the complete number - 6 is the human number attributed to to all that is ordinary (and even evil 666) - but here John sees that the carpenter in his first miracle says that the purposes of the divine are worked out through knackered, incompetent, flawed, inconsistent pilgrims like you and me... was one of the most kind sermons I've heard, and it's not often you hear a sermon described as kind.... sadly, but I do like the idea that God still manages to get things done inspite of us rather than because of us...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Laying On of Hands

Major problems with the wirless thingy today so not been able to get on line until now - kinda scary how much time we spend in cyber-space me thinks. Now I am on line i am a little none-plus as to what I want to say. Maybe I should say nothing, nah! what's the point in blogging if you say bugger all?

Just read Alan Bennetts' 'The Laying on of hands'. A really wonderful 'hour on a plane read', and coming from an evangelical charasmatic tradition the title alone did it for me. Mr bennett is a kind of upper class 'Masks and Shadows' Mike Riddell (that book scared the shit out of me!- and Stocki), he sees the sort of stuff you only see when you look with more than your eyes....

Clive dies in Peru and the circumstances make his friends uneasy, at the memorial service questions are finally addressed. Funny, perceptive and very very cheeky. Here's one of my favourite paragraphs....

"The truth was memorial services were a bugger. For all its shortcomings in the way of numbers a regular congregation was in church because it wanted to be or at least felt it ought to be. It's true that looking down from the pulpit on his flock Sunday by Sunday Father Jolliffe sometimes felt that God was not much more than a pastime; that these were churchgoers as some people were pigeon-fanciers or collectors of stamps, gentle, mildly eccentric and hanging onto the end of something. Still, on a scale ranging from fervent piety to mere respectability these regular worshippers were at least like-minded: they had come together to worship God and even with their varying degrees of certainty that there was a God to worship the awkward question of belief seldom arose."

Very insightful and a heavy-weight level 5 question...... one I think I need to sit with for a while

Friday, January 20, 2006

Disappointment with God

For Centuries human beings have been haunted by fundamental questions, and I have to say this afternoon I am haunted too. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Is there a God? And more importantly if there is, how do we connect with that God? Theodore Roethke suggests to us that in a dark time the eye begins to see. For many of us the world may feel remarkably dark at the moment, and the idea that some deity may be ‘out there’ holding the ‘royal flush’ hand of life for us may seem a little distant. But in the same way a map never just shows you where you are, where you want to go, and how you get there, faith is more than just communicating verbally with a transcendent God. Faith evokes travel, exotic places and the allure of the unknown. The big question it seems is; do we deny ourselves the chance to hide from this?

Hope it seems is, in some sense, about how we invest universal spiritual acts and truths with particular meanings. In his painting, ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ the artist Paul Gauguin seems to be wrestling between the often disorientating nature of human life and nihilistic despair. There is a wanderlust and disappointment in his questions which many of us will relate to. But here’s the thing. No-one truly understands ‘hope’ found in the light until they have had to remember it in the darkness. If the gospel is hope then it has to start reaching into those dark places we would rather not visit. Not just the geographic dark places; but those dark places of the soul where our resident demons and Pharisees cause havoc.

For within our humanity something Divine is at stake. It seems to me that God is hiding in our world and our task is to let the Divine emerge from our actions. Is it not true that all of us, at some time, have experienced moments in which we have sensed a mysterious ‘waiting’ for us? Maybe meaning is found in sensing that demand and responding to it in some way. This type of faith is essential for daily living. It is the courage and tenacity to move forward despite both darkness and disappointment. Leonard Cohn frames this concept beautifully when he suggests that, ‘there are cracks, cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.’ Rabbi Niles Elliott Goldstein even goes as far as to suggest that ‘if God doesn’t exist in the shadows as well as in the light, then God doesn’t exist.’ And if that makes us feel uncomfortable then I suggest we return to the Psalms, particularly 139.

The truth is there are no easy answers when it comes to explaining dark times and disappointment – there may in fact be no answers at all, and the last thing I want is to dampen anyone’s faith, but I fear we may be missing the point. For if we yearn for the power of the prophets - their signs and wonders – then we yearn for the wrong thing. For if the prophets teach us anything, they teach us how to articulate aloud our disappointments, our big questions, when we feel abandoned by God. For in essence they deal with the apparent silence of God, and within that they also include God’s response to their own disappointment from dark times. Philip Yancey says that faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse. So emphasising that in fact we don’t love God because of what He gives, but rather for whom He is, and the darkness is a defining part of that. Just maybe we need to spend less time thinking about what we see, and more time thinking about why we see it that way.

Which in thoery is all well and good, but the practice of that this afternooon seems a little out of my reach...

Happier Days

Poor little fella has more spots than the eye can see or count, bless him, He's very clingy and there is more cream on him than a sun tan shop in summer. Here we were in happier days when he was aquiring a taste for the blood of Christ - apologies to those who are not familiar with Christianity's family meal. Strange really that the one who reaches out from heaven should suggest that to remember him we should think about eating his body and drinking his blood. As I've always thought, Christianity is madness, but it's a madness I don't want to be without...


Well, it's nearly the witching hour, and i have to say the night has been kind (ish)

Thursday night is boys night out - the animals (Rudi, Alister, Grant and myself) play tennis and then hit town for a curry and bad, yet wholesome, behaviour. We are aptly named 'the animals' by others at the tennis centre as evidently we do behave like them (can't see it myself, although some say when the 4 of us are on court it's like McEnroe, Nastase, Connors & another McEnroe are present - personally i feel that sometimes adolescent behaviour and passion are confused - semantics, maybe?!)

Anyhow a full on hour and a half of balls being hit as hard as possible (at one another) followed by a myriad of indian delight was very much enjoyed - happy to hear Samuel did get to sing to his grandad - though his spots have nearly tripled, and are now starting to itch, poor thing!

thanks to all who care and have either in the physical or through cyber space caressed my weary soul today. As my friend and mentor likes, here are my 5 words of now:


love love love, more love and beer.... always x

Thursday, January 19, 2006


It seems I owe you an apology. Just been home to see the little fella and evidently dad is wrong, I stand corrected - He has chicken 'pops' - just thought you ought to know

The Pox

Awoke to a surprise this morning. My boy Samuel, has the pox of the chicken kind.... 16 spots so far..... with only the wisdom a nearly 3 year old has, he announced that 'my body will make me better'. How much we forget and how much they know.....
It's funny isn't it how you can fool yourself and at the same time fool no-one!

Felt such a sense of pride over the last few days about my little site - my little 15 fifteeen minutes of fame - then what do i do today? Forget my dad's bloody birthday. I forget to call him until 11pm - what an asshole! I suppose i did remember in time, but not enough time for him to hear his grandson sing happy birthday! All this philosophical and theological bullshit means nothing unless you actually embody what you rant's been a sobering hour.

happy birthday dad, just wish I'd remembered sooner....

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Communities grow strong when old men and women plant trees whose shadows they know they will never sit in.

Being aware of peoples spiritual needs, and nurturing practical yet diverse ways in meeting those needs is what this community is about.

Nowhere else have I found companionship like this.... for my latest rambles go to

Community is a strange concept. It’s something we all crave for but few of us experience in its purest form. Many of us talk a good theology of it, but in practice? That’s another story all together. Part of the problem with the lack of complete community is that we, as individuals, usually gravitate toward people who are like us, and shy away from those who are different. There is a good reason for this. As humans we have inherited an innate fear of difference.

Belonging is an essential component to living “life in all its fullness”, but so often this is marginalised and corrupted by our incessant (though quite natural) desire to belong to groups who are like-minded.

To prarprase the wonderful Adrain Plass, there are days when I worry and am confused about the Church (about community)
- maybe even a little frightened at times, but as we sit in the darkness every August bank holiday, i know in my heart of hearts that the church will be alright in the end.

Because there will be people like you (out there in cyber-land) who when the tongues have stopped, and the prophesies have ended, and the kangaroo-hopping has come to a stand still, and the religious posing and posturing fools no-one anymore, will still be ready to share the burdens of the little people who are close to them.

We are one but not the same.......

Monday, January 16, 2006

Church in a pub: Spirituality for our times?

I was remembering today a conversation I had with His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Over a drink he said that he saw ‘the failings of the Church in very stark terms’, and that, ‘the Church must always be reformed.’ Moreover, he stated that ‘the Church has nothing to lose by admitting its faults.’ Cormac is a remarkable man, and I find his humility intoxicating.

What impressed me most about him when he stayed in Guernsey was that even in his position he had lost none of his compassion for ordinary people. I found him to be at his most influential when he was out of the limelight - perhaps sharing a beer at the bar with those everyday folk he seems to have a real pastoral heart for. I say this with good reason.

The passive majority expect the church to be guardians of the Christian tradition. Most do not attend church themselves, primarily because they wish it would change. Few sit back and expect the church to perform various tasks on their behalf. Most post-Christian people no longer describe themselves as religious, but they do feel the need for a place of community that allows an articulation of their spiritual impulses. The wave of interest in spirituality from our post-modern culture has caught secularists by surprise. It’s as if (using evangelical language) we are in the midst of a revival.

As John Drane notes, ‘it is fashionable to be green and spiritual.’ We must stop castrating the emerging culture and become the incarnate community we are called to be, and so live among it. Too much Christian spirituality contains Hellenistic dualism of body/spirit. Mike Riddell suggests that the result of this is, ‘a spirituality which is disembodied, disengaged and ill at ease with normal human existence.’ If, as His Eminence suggests, the church should be willing to reform, it will need to find both the spirituality of physical life, and the physicality of spiritual expression.
I have friends who pioneer a remarkable church in Belfast. What is so extraordinary about it is this - it is a pub. I would describe it as a place specifically for those on the fringes of, or dropped out of, church for whatever reason. ‘Ikon’ aims to provide opportunity for expression of and enquiry into the Christian faith in a relaxed pub environment. It opens its doors to all comers. It is for those on the edge. It has attracted those who are hurting, those who have lost their way, and those who are unsure where they fit.
It has aimed to provide a forum that fosters friendship, listens to questions and strengthens frail faith. If anyone is now feeling a little uneasy it might be helpful to return to the life of a God-man who roamed this planet a couple of thousand years ago. Whilst Jesus was certainly someone who learned to let go of everything (including life itself) he also gained a reputation as a glutton and a drunkard. Now, ask yourselves how one earns that sort of reputation.
The truth is public houses have always been a focal point of community – a place of conversation, of feasting; in short, a place of celebration and belonging. Sure they’ve had their problems and dark days, but what hasn’t? To celebrate is to transform, to make the ordinary special – or maybe to recognise the extraordinariness of the everyday. Maybe, even today, as people sit around a bar, suddenly there is another punter, another voice, another presence…just maybe.
For those who are looking for a rhythm of spirituality that has roots but is not too ‘churchy’ Ikon seems to be a helpful signpost pointing on beyond itself. I would describe it as an excellent idea for connecting and relating to those who feel threatened by traditional church, and for those who have a had bad experiences and been let down. It also brings credibility to those who think that churches today have lost touch with modern times, and are stuck in the past. Ikon is an encouraging example of reformation, and those precious humans who nurture it are to be commended in encapsulating dynamic vision whilst holding a fresh vitality lacking in many churches today.

Quite naturally we judge the authenticity of the church by experiencing the community and mystery within it. What is it that people experience within church, and does that differ with what people share in the public house? Do both provide a sense of security and inclusiveness? Is one characterized by a concern for boundaries and controls, where most of the people are very much the same? And is the other characterized by its embracing of diverse types of people, who might be at different stages of their journey, but who are bound together by their commitment to one another? I am not suggesting any answers here, but merely provoking questions.

We often describe church as the community of faith, but all too often (because of inherited definitions of institutional membership) it is the one thing that many people fail to find. Douglas Coupland alludes to this in much of his work, but particularly in Shampoo Planet, where he suggests that church community has ‘too many experiences but no relationships.’ Ultimately the search for an authentic spiritual life is to discover and feel part of something greater than ourselves. Whether that is found to a greater or lesser degree in church than public houses I’m not sure. I suspect it may be found in both. Maybe the most important discovery here is that we have much to learn from one another?


"Love one another. It's not too late" Michael Marais

What can I do to feel?

I was thinking this morning at how historical and sociological insights urge us to look hard at situations where church praxis is worked out. Ideas in isolation are not enough. Theology needs to be seen in relation to the events that will eventually shape it. It is wisely taught at Alcoholics Anonymous that the only person you change is you – it is a good place to start. The kind of unity expressed in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew has to do with people living together in freedom and love. These are simple words, but they are not simple actions. Genuine Christ-like love requires some very hard decisions and unity neither comes naturally nor is it purchased cheaply. This will involve dropping our ‘them’ and ‘us’ categories, and greeting people as equals. When we do we continue to learn what God is doing in a changing world.

Unity surely has to be a two-way street. As Mike Riddell says, ‘to go with the expectation of having all the answers for other people’s questions is a form of arrogance. It is among ‘them’ that we learn who God is, and why they remain part of ‘us’. Let me tell you a story. A while ago now, a friend of mine was walking through her hometown and was numbed by a piece of graffiti on a wall facing her. It simply read, “What can I do to feel?” Tragically this is the cry of many a spiritual refugee.

Some things, for reasons most of the time, we can’t put into words, disturb every fibre of our being. This particular cry for help has, for me, been one such moment. Within my work I receive many letters and speak with many people who just don’t fit, who are looking for a place to belong. Most have sad and tough stories to tell. Their struggles so difficult and numerous it’s hard not to feel it all, almost to the point where their struggles consume you. In fact it would be wrong not to feel it all, and I do.

Deep within us all is the capacity to love beyond what we dare to dream or imagine. Life though steals this treasure from us while we are still so very young. Innocence, vulnerability and compassion are taken from us, and once gone, these graces become extremely difficult to re-locate. Part of the problem is that when we suffer loss it leaves a void of great magnitude – a void that can, at times, feel deep and wide. These days I am tired of being told by the religious right what the party line, or should I say party formula, of how one should deal with such a void. Permit me to explain.

Just recently a friend of mine lost his father. The trouble was that his father wasn’t just a father; he was a friend, and a close and treasured one at that. The day after his father died he described it as so. ‘Last night I felt the sky fall, and it just kept on falling, relentlessly out of my control.’ His father was gone, he was gone to a place I’ve heard of, a place I’ve even allowed myself to dream of, even journey toward, yet in my dreams I always return, my friends father cannot. I talked with close friends concerning how we might best deal with this kind of loss. We concluded that just maybe we need to look into the void that remains, be still, and sit with that emptiness for a while.

This life we lead is not the kind that gives us any peace of mind. I’m not sure it was ever meant to. There are times when I find myself enveloped in circumstances which beg me to ask of God the question, ‘Why?’ Less cynical people might counter the question by asking ‘why not?’ I think, from a place that is not often visited, I know what they mean; but I am not in a place where I can neither say it with any conviction nor own it. I’ve heard it said that there are three sides to every story. There’s yours, mine, and then there is the cold hard truth. Sometimes though truth can feel a long way from home, and yet both truth and home continue to draw me to their heart.

These things can’t be explained; why it happens, the providence of God and the mysteries of life and death are the very fibre of our faith. They were gifts of love and life, and so are we, let us not turn our backs on them. A friend penned the words that, ‘love is as strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it when it’s true.’ The bible talks of love being set as a seal on our hearts. These are beautiful and affirming words, until that love somehow seems to be erased in some fashion. There are those who now stand before the abyss, not knowing how to put one foot forward for fear of falling. I suppose the fear is that you just keep on falling, and that you’ll never make it back. Some journeys though are harder to make than others, and for the broken hearted who mourn, the journey may seem impossible.

Philip Yancey suggests that, ‘sometimes the only meaning we can offer suffering people is the assurance that their suffering, which has no apparent meaning for them, has meaning for us.’ Our real power lies in our brokenness and pain, and it’s a power that even the angels in heaven do not have. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but Jesus ruins our lives, yet out of those ruins he does make something more beautiful than we can imagine – it’s just a different kind of beauty than this world is ruled by.

Bebo Norman sang, ‘It was not your time, that’s a stupid line. A fallen world took your life.’ This is a hard truth to face though when the void you stand before is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Maybe that’s what living for a cause greater than ourselves enables us to do – to face eternity with the strength that comes from faith. For those left behind, somewhere deep inside, I believe there is an assurance, even today, in our culture of isolation and death, of hope in a Nazarene who embodies a bigger picture and a bigger love. My prayer is that we all have the courage to find it, regardless of what the journey holds. Jesus always had a very special place in his heart for the broken…and I do not believe for a moment that anything has changed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Swimming with God

Am reading a book by Donald Miller Called Blue Like Jazz at the moment. A really earthy and intoxicating piece of work which stirs the soul and leaves a fragrance of something beautiful that is both within us and beyond us.
He says: I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself...I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened

The opening paragraph is the most beautiful I have ever read:
I once listened to an Indian on television say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered at how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze. I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect on these days, these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road, walking toward me. Years ago He was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear His singing. Soon I will see the lines on His face.

Oh to be able to write like that and somehow express the inexpressible...

Memories of New Years Day

John Muir, the Patron Saint of Wilderness once said that; ‘There is a love of wild nature in everybody…Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares drop off you as autumn leaves…In God’s wilderness lies the hope of the world, the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.’

Just a few days ago on January 1st I, and a couple of mates, went into the mountains for an ice climb to welcome in the New Year. We climbed Blencathra by Sharp Edge which, with its high exposure, is one of the most difficult ridges in the Lakes – throw in Freezing snow and ice and it became a veritable tour de force on a beautiful clear but cold day. I’ve been climbing trees for years but mountains are something else, still, the two guys who were climbing with me weren’t exactly novices.

I was sandwiched in between two Marines, my brother-in-law Craig, a Sergeant, who having served in Bosnia and Iraq (twice) has now called it a day because of his disillusionment with our presence there, and Darren (aka Swifty), who is one of only fourteen people in over a hundred years to be awarded the ‘Stand Hope’ Gold Medal by the Royal Humanic Society. He was given this honour for rescuing a man on the summit of Everest two years ago. Due to head for the summit some time during the following 24 hours his team became aware of someone in difficulty. He sacrificed his chance at the top of the world at 7,600 meters at Camp 5 to save another. It still is the highest rescue that has ever been made on Everest. Suffice to say, I was in pretty good company on the extremity of ‘Sharp Edge’.

Soren Kierkegaard called God ‘the absolute frontier’, believing that it sometimes takes a journey to the wild to locate Him. It's a strange paradox that in the loneliest landscapes, as spiritual refugees, we can find healing by encountering the brokenness within us all. Jesus himself embodied this kind of wilderness pilgrimage – a man of no fixed abode, with nowhere to rest his head, who wrestled with questions and sweated blood.

Why, for instance, (to take another biblical heavyweight) was Moses called to scale the 9,000-foot peak of Mount Sinai on foot before he could experience the abundance of God? It wasn’t just to discuss the weather. The climbing was a profession of faith. Mountains, forests, and even labyrinths function as metaphoric and symbolic holy space of encounter. In their geographic remoteness from the inhabited earth, these places provide a space in which our minds may not be so prone to wandering. Where we empty ourselves of everyday clutter, and are still in the presence of that which longs to draw near. When we drift along the margins we become part of their story – we come face to face with God, closer maybe than a lover – and so consequently we find we can temper our inherent obsession with destination.

For me wilderness matters first and foremost because it humbles us – we realise how very small we are and, more significantly, how incredible and vast the love, heart, and creativity of God is. It also provides the purest of environments to experience a direct connection with God. But maybe even more importantly it provides us with something the Jewish tradition calls Yirah, which translates roughly as awe and wonder. Another meaning is fear. Wonder, mystery, attraction, fear and danger are all vital signposts to the gateway of an awe-filled encounter with God.

It's tempting nowadays to see fear as a negative force rather than a positive one. But the Bible tells us that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10) It's a healthy part of life, which we should embrace, because its gift to us is the knowledge of our own insufficiency, and so consequently this sets us on a path of humility (filled with questions) rather than arrogance (where we are full of answers).

And yet wilderness is not the end of the journey. What I have discovered is that a stay in the wilderness should inevitably direct one’s attention outward as much as inward. It is impossible to dwell in the margins without our mystical encounters calling us to the position of engagement – engagement with community.

It was Bruce Springsteen, as he searched the mystery of love, who said that ‘in the end nobody wins unless everybody wins’. The call of the wild is always with certain people, but it only becomes useful when we, having gone into the wild, share the knowledge and experience and incorporate it into the lives of the rest of those who are part of our communities.

It is a Protestant myth that salvation is only worked out individually. We need to get back to inclusiveness, friendships, belonging and community - these are the catalysts for effective spirituality from within our post-modern, post-Christian culture. Spirituality has to reach into those dark places we would rather not visit. Not just the geographic dark wilderness, but also the wilderness of our soul, where our inner demons and resident Pharisees cause havoc. The pastoral needs of faith far outweigh the theological niceties. Philosophies in isolation are no good to anyone.

The wilderness is as discomforting as it is seductive, but I have hunch that it is from within these wastelands that we start our journey to spiritual maturity, so allowing a spirituality that will be earthed in the reality of the, at times, mundane, and broken lives of each other.

So, as we quite naturally pause and reflect at the beginning of this New Year on the issues of the day so, just maybe, we can put more energy into the more cerebral aspects of life. We are by nature ritual makers and there is something profound in that rite of passage that allows us to learn from and let go of the past. I am not talking here about some emotionally charged resolution that will be disregarded when normality once more reigns come mid January. Rather I am speaking of our duty to the wilderness of the soul. It may be time to go back to the drawing board, and begin to reconceive church as a by-product of following Jesus rather than a multinational with a gospel franchise.

Blue Like Jazz

So I finally succumb. Finally I join the world of Blogging - not sure I like the word at all though, still, who am I to judge? I have decided that this will ultimately save me from seeing a shrink and so become some kind of cyber therapy - a journey inside my soul to the landscape of the cathartic. Father O'donohue suggests it takes a whole lifetime to take our place in our own life - so hopefully this just might be a place where I can finally create sacred space to receive myself. In other words its a simple place for have a bloody good moan or rant on the struggles of living!

And so it begins from a bohemian bum who might just figure out life when he gets to the end of it.... blessings and beer on all who draw near to the mystery...