Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Doubting Thomas

I have always believed the story of thomas is one that was intended to reveal something positive about faith rather than something negative...i think his gift is his doubt...

'what will be left when i've drawn my last breath
besides the folks i've met and the folks who know me
will i discover a soul cleansing love
or just the dirt above and below me

i'm a doubting thomas
i took a promise
but i don't know what's safe
oh me of little faith

sometimes i pray for a slap in the face
then i beg to be spared 'cause i'm a coward
if there's a master of death i'll bet he's holding his breath
as i show the blind and tell the deaf about his power

i'm a doubting thomas
i can't keep my promises
'cause i don't know what's safe
oh me of little faith

can i be used to help others find truth
when i'm scared i'll find proof that it's a lie
can i be lead down a trail dropping bread crumbs
that prove i'm not ready to die

please give me time to decipher the signs
please forgive me for the time i've wasted

i'm a doubting thomas
i'll take your promise
though i know nothing's safe
oh me of little faith'
(nickel creek, from the album 'why should the fire die')

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Things hidden...

'Now - here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openess of heart that I doubt i shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need god to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.'
Douglas Coupland, Life After God


The Uluguru Mountains, Tanzania

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Would we?

Just heard something remarkable on the Jonathan Ross Show. Don't know who it was that said it, but the statement he made was that if Christ came back again today what would we do? He said that we would kill him again (something I and many others have said often), but it was what the gentlemen said next that stopped me in my tracks. He said the only difference now would be that we would sell advertising space this time round...tragically, having pondered this for a while, I think he may be right.


Every 3 seconds a child dies of stupid extreme poverty

Friday, February 24, 2006


In his famous poem, 'The Dark Night of the Soul', St. John of the Cross suggests that our spiritual journey culminates in a freedom that allows us to live beyond the 'imprisonment of our own obsessions'. At the end of the poem he expresses this by saying:
'I abandoned and forgot myself...
Leaving my cares
Forgotten among the lilies.'

In my experience though it is not always easy for us to distinguish between a moment of dying and the moment of freedom given in new birth.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


'Reality might not be all it's cracked up to be, but it's still the only place you can get a decent steak.'
Woody Allen

Fish Symbols on Cars...and so the laughter begins

It's not a resolution, not that I don't believe in them, i'm just very very bad at keeping them. It's more of an art of seeing, a kind of concerted effort to be less of a morose cynic and more a smiling pessimist. Anyhow, whatever the bloody hell it is, I want to share a paragraph from a book I'm reading. Given to me as a gift by two wonderful humans at Christmas, the work is aptly (and some would say prophetically - for me anyway) titled 'Is it just me or is everything shit?: The Encyclopedia of Modern Life.'

Written by Steve Lowe and Alan Mcarthur it is evidently designed for anyone who thinks they have mislaid their soul in Coffee Republic...hmmm, make of that what you will. This particular paragraph concerning Fish symbols on cars though really made me smile

'Early Christians used a fish symbol to identify fellow believers during times of persecution. These days, to let people know they are really into Jesus, many Christians stick a fish sign on the back of their car. Like Baby On Board Stickers - but with God-knobs on.

In the US, these symbols have caused belief-system-related mayhem. This is because the symbols don't just mean 'I'm the nice sort of Christian who sometimes distributes hot soup to the homeless', but are more likely to mean: 'Science is witch-craft and you're all going to hell.' To underline the hard-right/anti-science/anti-abortion intent, some fish contain the word 'Bush' inside indicating that George W. is 'doing god's work'.

Incensed, humanists created their own bumper fish symbols with the word 'Darwin' inside hoping to irritate the Christian right. It worked. They didn't like it. It got nasty. Chris Gilman, the Hollywood special-effects whizz who apparently invented the darwin fish, said: 'Here's a religion about forgiveness, peace and love, but i can't tell you how many times I've heard about darwin fish being torn off of cars and broken.'

The Christians retaliated with a bumper sticker depicting the darwin fish being swallowed by a larger 'Jesus', or 'Truth', fish.

The humanists shot back with a reversed version of the sticker.

Then the Ring of Fire website produced a sticker depicting the Darwin fish and the Jesus fish forming 'what Shakespeare jauntily termed the beast with two backs' (they were at it, like knives).

Nothing will wind up a right-wing Christian more than piscine penetration faith denigration. and so it proved, with yet more car park/highway altercations.

Actually, this is possibly a good way finally to settle the evolution/creation debate: a demolition derby on the highway with the loser ending up bleeding in a ditch with bits of car stuck in them. if the Christians won, they could shout back at the twisted wreckage: 'What's that you said about survival of the fittest? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!'

I suppose humour (however cynical it may be) does in the end point out how ridiculously far we have fallen...God help us

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


...they say is the best medicine for hope. Evidently its all to do with the release of endorphins from our brain into our body. I wonder whether or not fear and laugher are close cousins - both have the same sensory experience - I suppose somewhere between loneliness and isolation we all feel the same human experience, and yearn to laugh once more. It's a bit like a frequency - and laughter maybe is the frequency that energizes hope rather than despair. Maybe I should laugh a little more than I do...


Can anyone please tell me what the 'great loss' in the fabulous blogger Jen Gray's life was last year - it will help me make sense of her struggles.

Answers on a postcard

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


'A friend's compassion naturally lessens our suffering. If I am consoled when another person shares in my suffering, then I will be comforted even more if it is God who suffers with me.'
Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings

Monday, February 20, 2006


Have been thinking that maybe we need to break down walls that our ego's protect. We surely must try not to hide our own loneliness, our brokenness, our doubts and our fears from those around us - the idea that we are strong in truth is folly, it's bullshit. Maybe that's what confession is all about - not separating the inner work and struggles of our souls to the outworking of our relationships...maybe

Body and Soul

'Today I know I was right and I know why. The adolescents of my generation, greedy for life, forgot in body and soul about their hopes for the furure until reality taught them that tomorrow was not what they had dreamed, and they discovered nostalgia. My sunday columns were there, like an archeological relic among the ruins of the past, and they realised they were not only for the old but also for the young who were not afraid of aging.'
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Learning and seeing

Crazy day back at work having had a very enjoyable and productive time with my friends in Ireland. Always good to see the Dr and Cary and their bohemian friends, and really great to hook up with Jim Wallis and go on the road with him for a few days...

Am listening to Stocki on BBC Radio Ulster and should be doing other things but a line in a song has just thundered into my heart...'Everybody learns, everybody sees, I guess everybody's just smarter than me.' That's how I feel most of the time. It just seems that most of the time I'm the slow one dragging his heels. I remember Father O'donohue explaining that Meister Eckhart fascinates us today because there are few thinkers whose thought is so complex and challenging - and yet so easily misunderstood. What is it? Is it that my mind is prone to wander or I'm just not that bright? Sometimes I think I get it - it being life in all its complexity - then a few minutes later all I'm convinced of is that fact that I'm really not sure anymore.

I feel like going to the mountains and breathing fresh air, maybe I need to go to the sanctuary, to the altar, to the eucharist, the last great mystery of life, knowledge and faith. I think when all is said and done, as Prophet Wallis said last week, when our life is hazy and confused we should go neither to the left or the right....instead we need to go deeper to the place where we learn not with our intelligence and we see but not with our eyes...

Friday, February 17, 2006

It's a feeling not a word

Bob Dylan once wrote that, ‘if today was not an endless highway, if tonight was not a crooked trail, if tomorrow wasn’t such a long time then lonesome would mean nothing to me at all.’ I am surrounded by people, good people, and having some moments with a real prophet of the Almighty, yet I feel lonesome. Can’t really explain it – it’s not a depressing morose feeling, more a yearning for something not yet complete – and just maybe that’s a good place to be, maybe.

Yesterday I listened to Jim Wallis, drank with him and ate supper with some wonderful people from Zero28 here in Belfast. When the Dr and I got home I was struck by the loneliness of ‘the journey’, even when we are surrounded by friends. I think it may be something to do with something Augustine said, that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. And you know what, I think the trick, the quirky irony of the Almighty, is that we will never find that rest this side of some better place. I also think there’s goodness in the cruelty. If we do actually find what we’re looking for, then what do we really do with the rest of our day?

In some odd way I think I like the fact that the destination stays just out of reach, it keeps me moving forward rather than standing still and not searching anymore – but I admit it’s nice to sometimes hear the heartbeat of love slightly pounding – the echo of the eternal.

Innocent When You Dream

Intoxicating morning with the Dr, Stocki and Prophet Wallis, but before I get to that I must tell you about the surreal surprise the Dr and I were blessed with this morning. Awaiting the arrival of a certain gentleman named Jim we were waxing lyrical – talking shite to be honest when out of arrivals bumbles Dickie Attenborough. Not much taller than a hobbit he, complete with tweed hat, ambled and stuttered toward us smiling in some eccentric but sweet way. In no time he’d popped to the loo before disappearing as quickly as he’d appeared. It was though a lovely moment…one I won’t forget.

There is much to communicate regarding what the prophet has said so far, but he has much more to say and so I will ponder in my heart the sound bites of the soul he has bestowed this day. Instead this doubting Thomas will share a little from a book I bought this afternoon. I took an hour to myself to contemplate the depth charges of the morning and early afternoon and surprise surprise I found myself in a bookshop. They’re I found a treasure – ‘Innocent when you dream: Tom Waits, the collected interviews’

Waits has long held my attention with his genius drunken bohemian persona. There are few who are so loud and uncontainable, heartsick, lonely and confiding. He is the whiskey-warped but tender voice of the forgotten, the desperate and broken – his work has always given hope and a voice for the fragile and depressed – and for that I have always loved his work.

He has never written an autobiography so I guess this collection of interviews may just be the closest work yet to draw near to the heart and psyche of Tom Waits for those intrigued by the enigmatic artist. Just got time for a Guinness or three to read a little before the next talk by Mr Wallis, I shall drink deeply…

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Common Grounds

Am sat outside the City Church, Belfast at the wonderful cafe 'Common Ground' and miraculously I have picked up someone's wi-fi signal - perhaps their is a God!

After 2 of the worst flights I can remember I am here, have had lunch in the Dr's new house and have just had coffee with Level 5 Cary. We talked about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tom Waits and Frederick Beuchner, now there's a trinity, not quite THE trinity but not a bad alternate. She also wants me to explain 'men' - may as well try middle east peace while I'm at it!

Anyway, as we were talking about Mr Marquez I remembered a couple of quotes from his latest and beautiful book 'Memories of My Melancholy Whores'. Enjoy and drink deep....

"When the storm had passed I still had the feeling I was not alone in the house. My only explanation is that just as real events are forgotten, some that never were can be in our memories as if they had happened."

"In the end, it is impossible not to become what others believe you are."

Simply breathtaking, when I first read these words I had to stop - I was paralysed by them - and I don't think I want to try and explain why, it would be a disservice to the great man who is without question for me the finest writer that perhaps has ever lived (and I am fully aware how strong a statement that is - still, this is my blog and I'll say what I want)

ps, thanks to whoever on this street has left their wi-fi on and allowed me a lovely moment of warmth in the cold of Belfast.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


There are no words to describe the horror, heaven is lamenting tonight

Poetic Genius

"I believe in the poetic genius of a creator who would choose to express such unfathomable power as a child born in straw poverty."


When I fall asleep in my dinner there are scowls all round, when Samuel does it everyone smiles and says 'Ah'

Just one of life's great mysteries I suppose

God and Malaria

I bought a beautiful CD yesterday by 'beulah' titled Mabel and I. It's so beautiful it took my breath away. Intelligent, seductive, challenging lyrics interwoven with remarkable melodies - it made me smile, weep and think...

One track particularly moved me called 'nevermore'. here are the lyrics.

You took my baby away from me
Don't understand Lord
When you close your eyes at night
How do you sleep
With all that on your mind?
It's like you gave me eyes
But you made them blind

And still, the world dances around
A million soldiers, women and children
Falling to the ground
Without a hope at all
That you can feel their pain
Or hear their call

How do you suppose that I forgive you Lord?
Tell me, how does life begin again

I need a tidal wave
To tear me from this place
And deliver me to your door
You'll show me inside
And open my eyes
I'll see the light once more
And I'll know if it is time
To question why

The sun is shinning
It's early June
The cradle's empty
And it's standing alone
In the corner of the room
And all I can do is cry
I cross my heart and hope to die

How do you suppose that I continue Lord
When life will never be the same again

Hold me while I fall asleep Lord
Or just until the morning comes
If I can make it through just one night
I can move on

I wept as I listened to this painfully beautiful ballad and thought of my children, but more than that my thoughts were taken to a small boy I met in Africa last year...little Elea...here is the story...as I write through my tears I wonder if he is still with us...and if he isn't how his mother feels...whether she needs her own tidal wave to see the light, and know if it is time to question why...nevermore...

Day7: The Tyranny of Distance: Malaria
There is a difficulty to enact effective development for sustained periods in the rural areas of Tanzania rather than the urban city. This is mainly due to the huge numbers of people who live there. In fact 85% of the population live in the countryside here, and this does beg the real question of what aid and development can and can’t do?

We meet today with DCT (The Diocese of Central Tanganyika) Dodoma Region, who have been in partnership with Christian Aid since 1998. We take a 100km drive north over the kind of terrain Chris Rea must have had in mind when he wrote ‘The Road to Hell’. As I gaze out of our window I see a weary, worn people desperate to carve a life out of this rural jungle. Even in open space this wilderness is claustrophobic. Bits of wood, mud and tin and stone thrown together are the ingredients of that sacred space called community.

I’m beginning to understand that real poverty is not about having no home or no food and clothes. Real poverty is where there are no choices. As we drive toward our destination we pass through a dust village, where children at best walk around in old dirty under pants, I realise that this community has been robbed of the greatest seed planted deep within each of us – choice. I have lost count of how many children I have seen with a lost distant look in their eyes. They look for a tomorrow that may never come, somehow dazed, confused and exhausted by their very existence.

Arriving at Chendee we continue with the now common custom of signing of the village visitors’ book, it becomes an in-joke smiley moment, but to the people of the places we visit it is important. The signatures become a sign of hope, proof if you like that there is somebody real and tangible in this world who not only cares for their plight, but more importantly, somebody is willing to do something about it to make a difference.

Over the next few hours we see how the projects are helping improve the low agricultural productivity, malnutrition – particularly in children under five, environmental degradation and the shortage of water supply to cover the 8405 rural households in the 8 villages in Lamaiti area of the Dodoma Region.

Tragically, no matter how good the knowledge and ideas for development are, if the rains don’t come, the crops fail, and sadly that is what has happened with much of the maize crops of Chendee. Thankfully last season was good and the people can live off their stored resources, but if the rains should fail again? Well, I don’t think you need me to explain what will happen. Erusha, whilst being an upbeat, glass half full lady, knows this all too well. It obviously troubles her; you see it in her eyes.

Then something happens that catches me completely off guard and disturbs my whole being. An explosion deep within me like some kind of spiritual depth takes place. I suspect my life will never be the same because of it. Moleni Ndumizi walks towards us with her four children. We are told her youngest Elea, who is three years old is unwell. I have a two year old and at this point I just assumed in my Western mind-set he had some virus, and would be well again in a few days. So when Moleni uncovered him to show us her boy and he started to throw up so much he nearly passed out and has to be carried into the shade I realised it was something a little more serious. Little Elea has Malaria, and he needs medicine and he needs it quickly. The trouble is this costs money, something Moleni doesn’t have, and it’s a 15km walk in 38 degrees to the medical centre.

In this moment my soul becomes thirsty for the intimate embrace of compassion, mercy and justice. How I long to hold my own boy and not let go. I put my hand on Elea and look into his eyes, and I wonder how we came to this – and more poignantly, I wonder how long he has to live. My emotions finally get the better of me and I have to walk away. Life is painfully tenuous and fragile here. We quickly put the two members of the Ndumizi family in one of our vehicles and drive them the 15km to the medical centre at Lamaiti. There, she gets the free drugs her boy so desperately needs. DCT pay for the ones that cost. Relief is tangible. Sadly though, this won’t be the end of the story. Elea will need more drugs, and it may not always be possible to obtain them. Robert gently says what we all know but don’t want to admit; that little Elea may not be here the next time DCT visit Chendee.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Simple things

Sometimes the best and most enjoyable things in life cost nothing. Me and my boy are sat in our dressing gowns watching Tigger the movie...the aches and pains of yesterday are slowly disappearing...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The alternative friday night

Last night didn't quite go to plan. Instead of a quiet night in I ended up in A&E. After the night routine with children I was heading downstairs (wooden stairs i might add) when I went as we Brits say 'arse up' head first into a granite wall. So the evening was spent at the hospital being prodded and x-rayed - thankfully no fracture - just lots of drugs to numb the pain and my arm in a sling! happy days...

Friday, February 10, 2006

While you were sleeping

There was no light in the tin shack. None at all, except when the moon was shinning, but the moon wasn't out tonight. The boy shivered and pulled his little sister closer, wrapping the flimsy worn blanket tightly around them...

I dreamed last night I was back in the townships of East Africa. I woke feeling both sadness and relief, grateful, lucky even as to why I was born where I was, into what I was and not, well, you know...

Maybe we just have to accept it as some quirky twist of fate and open our hearts and minds to the time we are given. What was it Gandalf said to Frodo? ‘All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given you.’ This morning one question remains at the forefront of my psyche; what am I to be? As I write I realise that I am no further forward, just further along.

Every year seems to pass with greater speed and my concern as each closes has to do with what both I have accomplished in those 365 days. After all life is not about just being good, surely its purpose has to do with being good for something. My worry is that we so easily suburbanise our souls with theological band aids out of a duty to be faithful to Christianity, and as a consequence our faith becomes parched and dry.

Theologian Walter Bruggemann prudently observes that, ‘in Christian practice it is worth noting that in this season of cultural displacement in the Western church, the “exilic” voices of the Old Testament take on new authority and pertinence, among them the lament tradition that was never needed before in a Western church tradition that characteristically enjoyed hegemonic support and favour.’ New rhythms rooted to rich traditions of the past, yet expressed contextually for post-modern people must be encouraged and experimented with. We must have the courage to journey into the emerging church.

All I am saying here is that we will have to find new expressions of church in order that the Incarnation might be made apparent and real to people. The post-evangelical debate makes the point that relevance involves almost constant willingness to reshape the tradition, given the rapidly changing nature of our current context. Furthermore it stated that if the church neglects the reshaping then consequently we preserve a gospel which says something quite different from what Jesus actually communicated.

It just might be that we are called to enter the new land to tell the inhabitants the story of the Christ. I think I need to go to the edge again, to look in and in hearing the whisper re-connect with the broken and the poor - in doing so I may find God, and in finding God, find myself...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Love actually?

'Take love away, cease from presupposing it - then there is no one who builds up nor is there anymore who is built up'.
From the cantankerous old saint who left his fiancee 2 weeks before their wedding, Soren Kiekegaard


Being the local religious correspondent for the paper doesn't quite qualify for Tony Robinson's (Baldrick, Blackadder) 'Worst Jobs in History' but sometimes the subject matter does make me scratch my head...this offering will appear in Saturday's paper, thought I would let blogland see it too...

I remember a time when cartoons were a source of laughter and joy, a moment of escapism and innocence for child and adult alike. For some reason ‘Tom and Jerry’ spring immediately to mind from some safe place of childhood happiness. Not so this week. Sometimes I think we need to leave the people who we are and move into the people we will become, people who embody some kind of sense of beauty, compassion, respect and trust. At the moment much of the world has been thrown headlong into some of the deepest human questions, and you know what? All I can think is that as a race we are pretty hopeless.

It was Albert Einstein who suggested that, “only two things are infinite – the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.” And after reading the papers and watching the news these last few days I find myself warming to his observation.

Headlines on the BBC News 24 read:
• Four die in Afghan cartoon riot
• World figures deplore cartoon row
• Muhammad cartoons – ‘global crisis’
• Nigerian Mps burn Danish flag
• Boycotts sweep Mid-East
• Denmark-Iran tensions rise

Lets be clear on one thing. Muslims take blasphemy far more seriously than do Christians or Jews, and statements (or drawings) that denigrate Islam and its prophet elicit extreme visceral reactions among the majority of a billion-plus people of the world who identify themselves as Muslim.

One of the cartoons shows the Prophet wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb. In another he says paradise is running short of virgins for suicide bombers. Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet or Allah. Religious affairs correspondent Karen Armstrong suggests that we are, ‘seeing a clash of two different notions of what is sacred’. I think she may be right.

Whether we like it or not this is what the secularised world invites. Even (especially) religion is satirised. Freedom of expression though shouldn’t be used as a tool to abuse and provoke hatred and division between communities. Freedom of expression isn’t a licence to attack a culture or religion. Again, Karen Armstrong prudently advocates that these cartoons ‘have been an absolute gift to extremists – it shows that the West is incurably Islamophobic’.

In truth I think it reveals something worse – that so many in today’s secularised world just plainly do not have an ounce of respect for any world view different to their own, showing we are clearly not a compassionate culture. Armstrong further suggests (and rightly so) that depicting Muhammad as a terrorist is utterly inaccurate and that this further feeds an Islamophobia, ‘that has been a noxious element in Western culture since the Crusades’. It only inflames matters at this very crucial juncture of our mutual history.

Yet Christians (though I use that term loosely as any Christian worth their salt would not behave in such a way – Christ’s teaching and Yahweh’s commandments leave no space for discussion on this one) and Muslims for the last thousand years have been comparatively harmonious. Mohammed himself never meant for Christians and Muslims to be at such odds with each other. Moreover he taught that all Muslims should protect the Christians who lived among them as 'people of the book’.

As I write I am reminded of the reconciliatory story of St. Francis and a Sultan. Late in the year1219 whilst travelling to Egypt Frances of Assisi’s avowed task was to communicate the love of Christ to the great Sultan Al Kamil. Both Arabic and English sources tell of how Francis won the Sultan’s respect and yet more than that, further still, his heart. Records suggest that the lives of both men were never the same again. Francis stayed for an extended time in the Muslim camp and Kamil gave permission for Francis to preach the gospel in Muslim lands. It is said that Kamil once acknowledged to Francis that, ‘if I ever meet another Christian like you, I will become a Christian’. Then again Francis did have the finest evangelistic methodology I know of – go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel: and if necessary, use words -something we Christians would do well to remember.

I close with some final thoughts from Ms Armstrong. She says that ‘Modernisation and secularisation has this bumpy ride…we are all living in this multicultural society cheek-by-jowel with one another, not even within a single country but we are linked to one another in our global village’. Surely’ she says, ‘we have to learn to live side by side better than this’.

Funny moment

Terry Wogan provided a moment of light and smiles as I drove into work with my boy Samuel this morning. He and his posse were busy putting the world to rights when he announced the height of political correctness in Europe. I quote:

"We no longer spend a penny, we euro nate!"

Well, it made me smile anyway...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lost Souls

I know I'm throwing lots of quotes out there to the world that is blog, but sometimes, because of circumstances, you just can't find the bloody words yourself! Here's a great quote from my Jewish blood brother...

'Martin Buber defines a miracle as an event that instills us with a feeling of "abiding astonishment'. The experience of being lost in the shadow side of experiencing something miraculous: Both are bewildering, both transformative. Over time, if we are sensitive and perceptive, we will come to view all of life with a sense not of shock but of wonder. With wisdom, we will shed our doubts and fears, regardless of the challenges or hardships we must confront. We will welcome the adventure, for it is life itself, with all its ambiguity and mystery, that is the hidden miracle - overlooked, omnipresent, waiting to be discovered and explored'.
Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein

I just wish it wasn't so damned hard to get there...maybe that's what makes the journey so great?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jesus - the streetwise poet

Try as we might to break free from the cultural masks which drive and form us, it is surely time we invested in the wide cultural differences of the streetwise poet to somehow allow us to transcend our restrictive mind sets. Do we react to a place or person or engage with it, or them? Do we become part of the landscapes, or do they become part of us? I am sceptical and rather uneasy around Christian things that glitter and I certainly don’t subscribe to the ‘Church of personal gain.’ G.K. Chesterton once said that, ‘One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.’ It just might be possible those epiphanal moments of struggle act as possible vehicles for the ongoing work of sanctification. I am also tired of the didactic approach to proselytising. Dialogue with people genuinely needs to be two way. God can never be encompassed wholly by human understanding, so who are we to exclude those who just happen to come at faith from a slightly different paradigm of thought?

I ask these questions because I am again off to Belfast next week, and the great light of this world is stirring my soul once more. My first visit was 3 years ago and as I walked the Shankill road with its houses adorned with their sectarian murals I felt a long way from home. I remember being driven from Cuan Parade, situated by the Peace Wall, and we hit a road block. Eight intense looking gentlemen with automatic weapons surround a house. I asked my friends what was happening. They told me that either the Army was raiding the house, or that a ‘hit’, by one faction of the Paramilitaries, has been put on someone, and they are actually there for that persons protection. I was uneasy, but not sure why. Although personally I didn't feel in danger, I suspected collectively, we all were. My question on arriving in Belfast for the first time was not; is there hope? It was, what is the right question to ask?

I realised I was a sojourner in a foreign land – it was time for me to shut up and listen. It seemed that the deeper roots of conflict in what has become Northern Ireland lie in the Seventeenth-Century plantation of the Northern Province of Ulster. English and Scottish Protestants colonised the land previously held by the Catholic ‘Old English’ and Irish natives. On, through the ‘Cold War’ (1928-1962), where Northern Ireland’s economy was heavily dependent on the markets of the British Empire, which gave birth to the civil rights and civil state movement (1963-69). With the collapse of the 1920 Settlement with the rise of the Provisionals came the long war (1976-96), where Northern Ireland has been governed by a Secretary of State. Coupled with the inability of warring parties to find an acceptable political settlement, Northern Ireland found herself amidst the entrenchment of direct rule as the least unacceptable form of government.

This is a land where the price of freedom is high. When everything goes, anything is allowed, and idealism it seems, is a dream that once was. But where is the land where the constraints of tradition and oppressive history are healed? Most people in Belfast don’t have a problem believing in God. Their difficulty is how the idea of God affects their harsh everyday life. In other words it’s ideology versus experience. But for those who know their inner chaos, nowhere is close - every bone it seems is sore. There is a deep bloody scar on the landscape of Belfast. Northern Ireland’s self appointed PR agents shout such encouragements as ‘The Protestant Reformation was the work of God, but the Roman Catholic Church is an apostate Church.’ It’s like Freddy Kruger promoting Kleenex tissues. The real skill of the streetwise poet is in the profound understanding of the contradictions of contemporary Belfast. It seems to me that there is much more than just principles at stake – faith itself is on the line. There is a need to reach into the heart of the mundane and allow love to enable people to live alongside a community that historically they have been told not to trust. Otherwise much more than political agreement is jeopardised – faith in community itself just maybe lost.

Gone are the monolithic empires; maybe the frontier is identity politics of faith for the building of Christian community. For surely we can’t love God to make a point! Uncertainty in the pressure of vivid hopes and fears is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of manipulative ideologies. The true impact of the Christ on our social behaviour points to a specific kind of pacifism. As the theologian John Howard Yoder suggests, ‘the cross of Christ is the model of Christian social efficacy.’

Following Christ doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice effectiveness, nor does it mean we have to forfeit liberation for the socially oppressed with some weak theology that favours delayed gratification in heaven. More than this, re-birthing the streetwise poet brings forth causation for the kind of community building revealed in the gospels. Faith it seems is usually found among the unclean and unacceptable - the paralysed man, prostitutes, bleeding women, lepers and blind people. Who are today’s equivalent? As I visited Bombay St. and Madrid St. I began to wonder if maybe some suspect faith wasn’t the answer. I suppose the streetwise poets are the kind of people who just might be able to persuade them to think again.

So, what is the language of the streetwise poet? What is it that He can impart? I would submit parables – the small stories with big points. The parables of Jesus are more persuasive than his miracles. They hold a strange dichotomy, part sad, part funny –culminating with the sting in the tail. Yet the thing about a parable is this; if you’ve got to explain it, don’t bother. Ben Okri suggests that the poet is one who inspires far more than the one who is inspired, the one who remoulds so that the world becomes transformed.

Maybe we all need to be fools who care too much, and remind others from time to time of forgotten higher things...maybe

The Bible as art and imagination?

"The Bible is essentially an open, artistic, imaginative narrative of God's staggering care for the world, a narrative that will feed, nurture and build community precisely by for the liberty of the Christian man or woman...

...The real issues of Biblical authority and interpretation are not likely to be settled by erudite cognitive formulation or appeal to classic settlement, but live beneath such contention in often unrecognised and uncriticized ways that are deeply powerful, especially if rooted (as they may be for most of us) amidst hurt, anger, or anxiety...

...real decisions about Biblical meanings are mostly not decided on the spot, but are long-term growth of habit and conviction that emerge, function, and shape, often long before recognised. And if that is so, then the disputes require not frontal arguments that are mostly exercises in self-entertainment, but long pastoral attentiveness to each other in good faith".
Walter Brueggemann

When all is said and done...

Tired....not been a good day....have turned to the wisdom of a lovely man with crazy hair...

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.’
hmmm.... goodnight world, wherever you are....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Being guided by a hand we cannot hold...

The more I know the less I understand. Life, with all its concurrent struggles and painful beauty, has brought me to the point where all the things I thought I knew I am now having to learn again. In the long run (and the long run is all there is), when everything is said and done, James was right; by their fruit shall we know the truthful ones. Shaped by the practice of church culture it just may be that we have limited the context of the road to God. What do I mean by that? I mean that we have made God way too small and faith into some kind of crux.

Life is not so much full of contradictions; rather I think it overflows with them. Faith is a part of life that brushes up against us every now and then, a world within a world, the no space between all of us and all of God – the see through – at one with God and yet invisible. What am I rambling about? What do we no longer know that was once so obvious? What is it that our hearts are trying to break into? What is the name of that world beyond language? Put simply, it is the complex matter of faith.

I have been thinking about faith a great deal of late because of an intoxicating book I read by David Maine titled ‘The Flood’ In this brilliant debut novel, Noe's family - his wife, sons and daughters-in-law - tell what it's like to live with a man touched by God, while struggling against events that cannot be controlled or explained. For when Noe orders his sons to build an ark, he can't tell them where the wood will come from, just that God will provide. When he sends his daughters-in-law out to gather the animals, he can offer no directions, money or protection. Just faith.

But once the rain starts, they all come to realise that the harshest test of their faith is just beginning of a never-ending journey. The Flood is a wickedly funny, wildly imaginative retelling of one of the most dramatic stories known to mankind. At its core it's about a family caught in the midst of an extraordinary event and David Maine infuses this timeless tale with humanity, tension and wit.

But it’s this difficult notion of faith that has been hounding me. Faith in people who you can touch is hard enough, but with an almighty deity that we can’t sit down to dinner with, well, that’s a different kind of difficulty all together. Why? Because ultimately faith is about being guided by a hand you cannot hold.

Faith is the space where God and humanity touch, and is best symbolised by a journey, a journey to the safety of home. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks concurs with this allegory in his book ‘Faith In The Future’ where he suggests that the way though is always further than we thought and the route more complicated and beset with obstacles than we could ever have imagined.

As I said, faith is no crux, it is hope, a map of charting our way through a confusing world. Faith is surely all about restoring that which we have lost – a sense of family and community. If faith has a message and purpose for our time it is this. That faith will shape the future and rebuild the ruins of heaven here on earth.

Having devoured David Maine’s book once again I am reminded about what really matters, how I want to live out the rest of my days, and how I only want to surround myself with the good kind of love, and that ultimately faith is not a word spoken but rather a journey to be made.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Hope within us all

'I get the whole "They are weak but He is strong" thing, but I still want to know why...'
Mike Yaconelli

The Godfather of Level 5

Every now and then someone comes into your life and they fill it with a beautiful fragrance that leaves memories so rich you almost have to brush them from your face. Pipdaddy is one such human. Full of vulnerability, wisdom, strength, compassion and so much fun. He is also very partial to a good cigar. In his level 5 company I feel like I am Luke Skywalker and he is Yoda...he is to many, and should be to all, a national treasure, ney ney, and thrice ney, a global one. I think maybe the only difference we have is that he favours league and I prefer union...

....anyhow he is at present with his sheilas drinking champagne in the country of stripy t-shirts,bicycles, berets and onions around necks...enjoy my friend, enjoy...

for those not aquainted with this Godfather of level 5 visit his site and daily blog


As my friend Terence said as the 6th try was scored, 'A magnificent afternoon' was had in my local. Plenty of the black stuff, mates and a powerful display by England against Wales to cancel out the depression of the result of the same fixture last year.

I love this game, always have...such passion and respect. I mean in football you have a bunch of multi-millionaire prima-donnas who fall down if you so much as fart, and if the ref says anything he gets ambushed. Whereas yesterday you had 6ft8, 18-stone giants crashing into each other, loving it and then getting straight up, and when the ref blows, there's no argument, just apologies and respect....

In the end 47-13 was about right me thinks...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Times of Transition

Simon Mayo once said that 'if you have the wisdom to see life as a journey...Mike Riddell makes for one heck of a guide'. Mike is a precious friend who I don't communicate with nearly enough. He describes himself as 'a wordsmith and raconteur, screenwriter, novelist, playwright and poet'. It is said that guru Riddell 'mines the vaults of the psyche in search of stories which are capable of helping us embrace our humanity'.

The last time we spent a few days together (too long ago now) we talked of change and the difficulty in dealing with it - as we quaffed first a few beers and then some whiskey his wisdom flowed. Here is an example of such insight:

'None of us has precisely the same path to follow, and yet all of us are summoned to follow a path...For many of us, the understanding emerges clearly in mid-life, at the very time when we suspect it is too late for us to do anything about it. Our soul knows better; it is simply time to wake up...So let us go then, you and I. Forging our way into the undiscovered territory of the mystery which constitutes our living. It is the most ancient of all human undertakings - the journey...It is the adventure we have been made for, and we will never know ourselves or others while we ignore it'.

Friday, February 03, 2006

If you build it...

Moments of beauty, of redemption and love that are far beyond what we can imagine let alone live out have chased me tonight - in truth it felt like i was a fox with a blood thirsty pack of bloody hounds on my tail. - ok I know, I'm prone to a little exaggeration!

Anyhow, after my daughter screamed for 2 hours and then finally fell asleep in my arms I needed some help for my soul. The film 'Field of Dreams' always takes me to the edge of myself - provokes me to search the most vulnearble, ignored parts of who i am...and tonight it was a tonic worthy of the finest Bombay Sapphire.

I guess we are all fucked up in some way or another and are all just trying to figure out a way home to a place of belonging, restoration and peace. It's nearly 20 years since I first watched and was profoundly moved by this work of art and it has lost none of its power to move and centre me...it's a glimpse into possibility and the miracle of second chance. In short, a piece of cinema we all should see in our lifetime

My friend the Dr says this; 'Field of dreams reminds us how it's possible to make a mess of things, and then find yourself doing something for someone else.' - maybe that's the only way to find healing....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Drinking with God

"People are always forcing you to make decisions between flesh and spirit, whereas I want to dance myself in the direction of God. I go out drinking with God. I am flirtatious in the company of God. I am not a person who has to put God out of his mind to go out on the town. it's a key point. The divided soul of Marvin Gaye, Elvis - these conflicts tore them apart. They don't tear me apart. I reckon God loves all of me."

As my dear level 5 friend says....loveitloveitloveit...

The need of our time

"The need of our time is not simply for 'kerygma', the preaching of the gospel; nor for the 'diakonia', service on behalf of justice; nor for 'propheteia', the challeging of the king. The greatest need of our time is for 'koinonia', the call simply to be the church, to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of the world."
Jim Wallis (Sojourners)

I love this but I do think it requires a reconfiguring of the Church's socio-cultural frameworks. From a missiological perspective it requires us to affirm other people's starting points - and that just may be the most difficult challenge of all. just as Paul did at Mars Hill in Athens, we will have to look around to find what John Drane describes as a 'touching point', so as to establish a moment or place of connection. the Church needs, with some urgency, to ask how much risk it is prepared to take in order to help others to engage with the mystery of the gospel; for if 'missio dei' teaches us anything; it is that God will most definitely be found in places some people think He/She doesn't belong.

A friend remebered

Today has been a bitch and for some surreal reason I am remembering someone who I miss so much....I don't think I will ever get over his death, maybe one day I will learn to live with it...maybe...

This is an article I penned after his passing..... I hope he's sat with Jesus smoking a fine cigar enjoying the company of the one he yearned to be like...I guess there will be plenty of chardonnay too!

Messy Spirituality – The Life and Legacy of Mike Yaconelli

Theological band-aids are fast becoming the bane of my life; I loathe them with a passion. What am I ranting about? Well, the kind of nonsense that for too long now I have heard from the archaic halls of Christendom, that if you come to Jesus everything in life will be a bed of roses. Nothing I believe could be further from the truth. A year ago my spiritual mentor and dear friend Mike Yaconelli was killed in a car crash. He was 61 going on 16. Mike was one of those people who filled other people’s lives with big moments. If you were ever in his life once, even for a short moment, you were always in it. He had this incredible gift of making even a fleeting moment of connection feel like a lifetime of friendship. I lost count of how many cigars we smoked together. I lost count of how many bottles of his favourite chardonnay we drank together. But I never lost count of how many times we cried together, and I say that with good reason.

Mike never believed in covering up cracks. Rather he believed in redeeming those landscapes of brokenness and terrifying loneliness and difficulty that we often find ourselves traversing. He fought hard to give back to the little people of this world that which this world had taken so remorselessly from them. Mike said of himself, ‘I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness. I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the living-a-consistent-life thing.’

Thank God (and I mean that literally) for a heavy weight of faith to be so engagingly honest. To actually come out and verbalise what most of us think every day of the week and twice on Sunday’s. Mike often used to say that; ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.’ This empathetic take on the Christian faith allowed anyone who felt odd or slightly misplaced, to feel very much at home. He had a gift for making the way of faith seem possible for amateurs. I remember him saying that Christianity has ‘a tradition of messy spirituality. Messy prophets, messy kings, messy disciples, messy apostles, from God’s people getting in one mess after another in the Old Testament to most of the New Testament’s being written to straighten out messes in the church, the `bible presents a glorious story of a very messy faith.’ When I asked him what he thought that meant for the likes of you and me, he replied, with a wealth of mischief and wonder in his eyes: ‘Sounds like you and I are in good company.’

Mike persistently refused to accept the intolerable and continued to the last to dream that the impossible was actually in some mystical way possible. He invited us all to dwell in the house of freedom, and throw open all the doors and windows, and in doing so his life embodied how it is possible to be free, to be fully human and fully alive. Always a big believer that no matter how messy our lives seemed, regardless of how incomplete we were, Jesus was not discouraged by our humanity; in fact it was the very thing that drew us closer to his indiscriminate love.

I meet too many people who find church more a prisoner of rather than a liberator of culture. Greenbelt Trustee and dear friend of Mike, Martin Wroe, prudently observed that ‘Yac’ was a ‘cultural rather than a political radical.’ For me he offered much more than a cultural/theological sound bite. With Mike Yaconelli theory became practice, and truth took on a life of its own. I have a feeling that’s all God really asks of us. I remember the last time we saw each other, he told me to ‘refresh the irritation.’ I asked him what he meant. He told me to ‘go figure it out.’ I didn’t understand at the time…I think now I do.

Why do I write this? Well, I miss my friend. I suspect many of us do. I miss so many things, but what I miss more than I can explain is that he was one of the few people in my life, who just by his presence convinced me more than ever that Jesus was alive and well in this world. As Steve Stockman said in similar circumstances seven years ago when we lost Rich Mullins, ‘Our hearts are feebly attempting to temper it. We lost so much more than skin and bone…you are the world as I best remember it.’ Mike Yaconelli, a man who filled my life with big moments…and who, even now, causes me to refresh the irritation and be proud of my messy spirituality.


'Why am I afraid to tell you who I am...'
'...... because if I tell you who I am, and you don't like who I am, that is all I have.'
Pip Wilson

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Morning coffee with a spoonful of wisdom

I have just had my morning visit from by far the most eccentric but wonderful priest I know. Old in years and carrying the scars of many a struggle, sill weary with his fight with the bottle this beautiful imperfection makes me smile and think every morning when he pops his head into my office and shares a coffee and a story of two.

In his usual mad and tangental (is that a word?) way he was talking about one thing then suddenly said, 'You know, we've come a long way from where it all started' - a spiritual depth charge!

He's left now to go walk his dogs - though in truth they walk him - and he's caused my mind to be busy. in my worst moments, when I look at the way those who wear the name Christian bicker and fight over the small stuff i wonder if there's anything in it at all.

For what it's worth I do believe the Word became flesh in carpenter, unfortunately we've spent the last 2000 years turning Him back into words again.... lets not deny the questions from the very ones who need to ask them.

Life in Slow Motion...

.....as David Gray says, 'life in slow motion, somehow it don't feel real' - and the truth is, that's how most of us live day by day (the painfully beautiful mundane) - as if we are waiting for the moment where we might actually start for real... maybe we will one day, but I suspect that day will only occur in some far better place beyond this world, with long lost friends, where snow flakes fall, but won't turn our hands blue with cold...

Here's a scary paragraph from last Saturday's 'Guardian' by the writer Simon Gray:

'Life will trick us if it can, innocence is no guarantee against punishment. The self can't be trusted. "The thing to take in," Gray says in one unusually bold passage, "is that there are billions of subjectivities, which represent themselves to you as objectivities and which, when I'm alone in my study, as I am now, can be thought of as one massive objectivity, which we call the world. Sometimes the world is only me, at other times everything except me."'

A steak to chew on, there's no way this is milk...

Oh, by the way, the Dr had a 'beautiful' time, but then again the Dr does make the universe a brighter and better place, which reminds me, i must ask him if i can have a ride in his tardis...

The Violence of Love

“The great need today is for Christians who are active and critical, who don’t accept situations without analysing them inwardly and deeply.”
Oscar Romero