Companions on the way

Those who read this blog regularly will have noticed that it has been a little quiet on here lately. Those of you who read this post will know why.

You may also be aware that things have ben very quiet so far as the progress of my book  Journey: the way of the disciple , is concerned. The typescript is now making its way through the editorial process. However, I had some really exciting news yesterday about the book’s illustrations.

Back in February I put out a plea for illustrators to help me bring the book to life. A number of people got in touch, and every chapter is illustrated. I received confirmation yesterday that these illustrations will now find their way into the finished work. The artists who have joined me are:

Max Ellis – a photographer and illustrator, working on everything from majestic photographs of stags to caricatures of musicians.

Ryan Cartwright – a computer worker by day and an illustrator and children’s book author by night.

Ashley Fitzgerald – a multi-media artist whose Jewish roots and personal experiences inform his art.

Rachel Morrison – an artist and illustrator living in Teddington.

Danielle Somerfield – an independent graphic designer and artist.

Maureen Kerr – an illustrator currently working as a cook at the Army Base on the island of St Kilda

You can see a snatch of their images below, although you will have to wait for publication to get a feel for how captivating, warm and imaginative they really are.

Today a brave young woman, the wife of a friend of mine, will be laid to rest. In the past two years her faith has been radiant to the point of brilliance in the face of adversity. As I look at these images again, I find myself re-reading a segment from the book’s penultimate chapter ‘Scattered ways and new monks':

When these secret pilgrims find that journey’s end hoves in sight they will point it out to each other instead of looking the other way.  They will remember, like the imprint of a forgotten childhood moment,  that this is where they were heading all along.  It will not seem so strange, or foreboding or dark as they might have imagined.  Rather, their spirits will soar at the prospect of it and they will urge each other on.  When at last one or another walks through the city gate into the city the others will wave fondly knowing that the footsore pilgrim is home, and that their turn will come when the time is right.

I look forward to sharing the rest of the book with you when the time comes, and pass on my thanks to those wonderful artistic companions who have helped to bring it to life.

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For #Richard100

Yesterday I preached a rather unusual sermon. It was not unusual in that I preached from a small passage of scripture. It was not unusual in that I illustrated it from ‘real’ life. It was unusual in that I used my experiences of Ride London as a lens to examine this particular passage of scripture in Hebrews 12 v. 1- 3.  Last week, as I travelled across London at 6am in a train packed with bikes and nervous cyclists I told the man in the seat next to me about my ‘day job’ and confessed that it felt rather illicit to be missing church. Having ‘bunked off’, the sermon was a way to make the experience count.  The letter to the Hebrews was written to people who had risked everything to follow Jesus, and for whom the race of faith was at times almost too much to bear.

1. Witnesses

I came to faith in my teenage years, and it seemed that the word ‘witness’ was used almost exclusively to describe our interaction with those outside the church. If I were to accept too much change in a shop, that would be a bad witness. Conversely, if I could hold it together and not panic during my A levels, that would be a good one. We seem to have vastly under-estimated the value of our witness to each other.  Having spectacularly failed to print my own name on my jersey for Ride London, I found that people would shout out “Go Tommy’s” as I sped by. At about mile 40, with the hills yet to come – somebody shouting exactly that was just what I needed. Equally, a church member shouting “Go on Richard” at the top of his voice at around mile 82 was a tremendous boost. On the last hill I implored the lovely people on the Save the Children cheer point to ‘give a shout out for Tommy’s’ and they jumped up and down and shouted until I made it to the top. Sometimes YOUR word of encouragement to a fellow Christian can be all the difference between them giving up and pushing on. The race has been long and they are not at all sure they can make it to the brow of this hill, let alone the one after that – and they need you.  The picture below was taken by a young man whom I now mentor as a church worker. I had no idea he would be there at mile 80 – but his shout of ‘go Richard’ was very welcome!

Go!

Go!

 

2. Each individual’s race

Ride London is a mass participation event, with some 28,000 riders. Everybody was there – from elite club cyclists to retired people to those only just old enough to participate to amateur charity cyclists like me.  Along the way there was lots of camaraderie, and I lost count of the number of times I saw a cyclist pull up alongside another and ask whether they were doing ok. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how much encouragement there is from the sidelines or the track – every single cyclist must complete their own 100 miles. They must turn the wheels every time, they must make every single pedal stroke and nobody can do it for them. The writer to the Hebrews talks about the race “marked out for us”.(12 v.1) From the day we ‘sign up’ to follow Jesus until the day when we tumble gratefully through the open gates of Heaven – we must complete our own race.  We should neither envy another’s talents nor query another’s destiny – we must complete our own race.

My view for 700+ miles of training

My view for 700+ miles of training

3. Fix your eyes on the goal

I have to confess that by about 4.40 pm on August 2nd I was ready to quit. Everything ached, my legs felt like lead, and I was crawling along Millbank slower than at any other point in the ride. Then I turned left under Admiralty Arch and something amazing happened. The barriers down the Mall appeared like a funnel focusing on the finishing line; the crowd were beating on the barriers and cheering, tears came into my eyes – and I stood in the pedals and sprinted to the finish. Having the right goal to focus upon can enable us to transcend our own weakness and humanity. The writer in this letter urges us to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’ just as he had once fixed his eyes on the cross and the glory beyond it. For centuries, all the way back to Stephen at the moment of his martyrdom – Christians have found this to be true. Their focus on Heaven’s rewards enables them to transcend earth’s sorrows.

 

Early on Sunday morning, I handed in my kit-bag at Olympic Park, assured that it would be there and waiting for me at the end. Inside were a change of clothes and rewards for a race completed. Sure enough -there it was at the end -exactly as promised.  Not one tiniest bit of the promises made by Jesus to those who complete the race of faith in his name will be lost.

At the end of the day, I was given a medal for this race. It is probably made of base metal and I shall maybe lose it one day. There is a prize, though, that will never tarnish – and I look forward to receiving it on the finish line one day.

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Meanwhile…

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…big message

Take a message which everybody knows, then find a way to communicate it which captures an often jaded imagination.  Fellow preachers will not be unfamiliar with that particular challenge, and may take inspiration from a small creative agency in Lithuania. Clinic 212 were charged with the task of communicating that urban spaces are shared by many creatures, including humans. There tiny road signs draw attention to this more than any amount of carefully crafted prose could ever do. Click on the image below to see for yourselves.

Preaching tomorrow? Don’t forget the little signs…

CLICK to see more of #tinyroadsigns from Clinic 212

A tale of Ride London

After all the months of preparation, and 7 hours 41 minutes in the saddle, I finally crossed the finishing line of Ride London yesterday afternoon. It was an emotional moment, and the deafening beating of the crowds on the barriers even spurred me on to a sprint finish! It is hard to encapsulate quite what the day means, and to ‘gather’ all the impressions in any meaningful way. Instead, here are some ‘snatches’ from the day.

  • Stopping outside Richmond station at 5.30am to chat live to BBC London about the ride.
  • Talking to BBC Surrey and BBC Sussex live from the start pen at 8.15. (With a follow-up this morning including an enquiry live on air about how my ‘nether regions’ had survived the day!)
  • The thrill of setting off under the starting bridge and heading off in a big group, bells dinging and whoops of excitement through the first tunnel.
  • Sorrow for the people caught up in an early crash on the Strand and a later calamity on Leith Hill.
  • The incredible power of encouragement, spurred on by people cheering from the roadside.
  • Feeling surprised that the last 10 (flat) miles were the hardest.
  • Choked with emotion on coming under Admiralty Arch and seeing the finish line ahead.

My two most lasting impressions, though, are of persistence and partnership.

Persistence – this is a mass participation event, with some 26,000 riders taking part. There is much camaraderie along the way, with practical roadside help and encouragement to each other as you pass by. Having said that, it is a massive individual challenge for every participant. When it comes down to it, every rider – from the novice to the experienced club cyclist, must ride their own 100 miles and nobody can do it for them.

Partnership – from the day I signed up to ride this race for Tommy’s, it has been a partnership. They have provided advice and encouragement every step of the way – from a welcome email, to encouraging phone calls, and even Jelly Babies after crossing the finishing line. Having done a similar event before with another charity – I can truly say that this makes all the difference.

In the end, though, my partnership with Tommy’s is not the one which matters most. It is a partnership with un-named parents who will lose their precious baby today, or others who are frightened to try again because they lost the baby last time. Every one of my 28,000 pedal revolutions was for them. Turning the wheels is so much easier than all that they go through – and I was glad to do it for them. Tommy’s will be caring for them today, and tomorrow, and every day after that – and I am so pleased to have made some contribution to their work.

blogbuckhouse

 

 

Nearly there for Ride London

It all began with the loan of a bike. My eldest son was deploying abroad and he lent me his carbon road bike to use ‘if I wanted to’ whilst he was away. With great trepidation, and under his watchful eye, I “clipped in” and tentatively cycled round the park. Almost immediately I was hooked. All those boyhood memories of whizzing down the road on a shiny red bike came flooding back – and I took to cycling in earnest.

A few months later I signed up to cycle Nightrider for a local hospice. All kinds of people got involved – from the cartoonist who designed my #richard100 logo, to the t-shirt printer who printed it on for free. Lots of lovely people sponsored, local businesses sponsored too, with me proudly wearing their logo as I cycled. In the end, over £3000 was raised, which was almost six times in excess of the figure I had expected. Another of my sons then rode it himself in 2014.

Ever since that ride in 2013, I have had my eye on Ride London. To go from Nightrider’s 70 miles to 100 miles is quite a leap. Another son gave me just the impetus I needed – Tommy’s.

As a pastor I get the privilege of stepping into life’s sweetest and most bitter moments. I get to pronounce two people who love each other ‘husband and wife’, I get to hold a new-born baby as parents beam with pride, and I get to give thanks at a funeral service for a life well-lived. One of the hardest pastoral visits I have ever made was to a side room in a hospital ward. There sat a young couple whose hopes and anticipation through all the ups and downs of pregnancy had been dashed by a premature still birth. There was a sadness and disappointment in the room which was palpable – and who could wonder at it?

Tommy’s know all about that room. They know about the sadness when it happens. They know about the crushing fear for couples where it has happened once and they fear it will happen again. They know, and they are doing something about it. They are supporting couples through the experience, and they are funding research to reduce the number of times it happens.

Training for this ride has been tough. I have cycled over 700 miles. I have made some of the steepest ascents (and exhilarating descents!) of my life. I have had to fit in training around many other needs. It has, though, been worth it. To help that couple…or another couple like them, I would willingly cycle another 700 miles – though maybe not this week!

If you would like to help the miles count, please click here. Thank you.

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A promise comes of age

Over recent years, the promise in Isaiah 45:3 that ‘I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD’ has become very important to my wife and I.  Some translations use the phrase ‘treasures of darkness’ and we have taken it to mean that we have discovered aspects of God and his provision in the harder times which we might not otherwise have known.

This week we find ourselves returning to that promise again as it has been confirmed that Fiona will need surgery for cancer in her left lung.  She has been referred back to the surgeon at the Royal Brompton Hospital who operated on her right lung previously,  with the expectation that surgery will take place in the late summer.  After the operation, the need for further treatment will be reviewed.

One of  the ‘treasures’ we have prized especially has been the love and prayers of many, both near and far. If you feel able to add yours to them, we would be most grateful.

Richard and Fiona

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Fragments of glass, Burano

A review of ‘Prisoners of Geography’ by Tim Marshall

Long ago, before Power Point existed, people used to use acetates on overhead projectors. Just like their digital successors, people often used too many of them, or used them ineptly. A friend of mine in local government got so sick of them that he would refer with glee to an A.F.T or ‘acetate free talk’.

However, there was one really good use for them. A skilled geographer could project the familiar outline of a country on the screen, and then overlay onto it all kinds of details hitherto hidden from the audience. Historic battlegrounds, physical features, ancient lines of tension could all be added. With each new deftly placed sheet the country would spring to life afresh.

This is exactly what Tim Marshall has done in his book. For somebody with a limited grasp on physical, let alone political geography, this book has been an eye opener in every sense. I now understand in ways that I never did before how much impact physical geography has on political reality. Within these pages you will find a heady mixture of accurate analysis and almost poetic description. Consider this, for example, from the chapter on the Middle East:

The Europeans used ink to draw lines on maps: they were lines that did not exist in reality and created some of the most artificial borders the world has ever seen. An attempt is now being made to redraw them in blood.

I challenge you to read such a sentence only once! Memorable phrases such as the description of the EU being set up in such a way that France and Germany ‘could hug each other so tightly in a loving embrace that neither would be able to get an arm free with which to punch the other’ stick in the mind too. This is neither a political book about geography nor a geographical book about politics – it is both.

Chapters are included on Russia, China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America and the Arctic. There is also one final chapter which may bend your mind a little – but I shall leave that particular surprise waiting for you. If you are worried about the dumbing down of news but want to find out for yourself what lies behind the international headlines, this book would be a great place to start.

 

 

CLICK for details

CLICK for details

 

 

 

The tale of a Tweet

I have a confession to make – I loathe promoted tweets. They feel like an intrusion, as if someone were to break off in the middle of a face-to-face conversation and read out the script of an advert. Just recently I have taken to blocking everyone who sends them out.

Funnily enough, I don’t mind promotional tweets. If someone with whom I have chosen to connect wants to tell me about their latest project or something on which they have been working, I am every bit as interested as I would be in the course of a conversation. If they can tell me in a way which is witty, or captivating, or illustrated with a photo, so much the better.

Stuck on the front of our large church building are two very small ‘smiley’ bricks. I have indicated the position of one of them in the photo below:

   Just for fun, one week ago, I decided to tweet a photo of one of them, asking whereabouts in the town of #Teddington it was to be found. To say that I was “surprised” by the response would be something of an understatement. Maybe it is because social media is intended to be interactive and …social. When we try to make it carry content which is too heavy for that medium, it starts to keel over like a little boat and tips its contents out into the sea of data never to be seen again.

CLICK to see full size

CLICK to see full size

We have just started a review of current communications here in the church where I work. Some of the communications which score highest are the most unusual ones – such as the donkey, the prayer post-its…and now the smiley brick.

Why do you think that is?

 

A tale of powerful intercession

Over the past few weeks, I have been working through a very practical preaching series on the problems associated with prayer. We have considered how it only comes unnaturally to us, how praying with others can sometimes be a challenge, and how readily we are both distracted and overwhelmed. The thing is, we just have to do it -because the need is so great. I started with the description of a distinctly uncomfortable session of TV viewing:

All I was doing was watching television. Well, not so much watching as staring really. And as I stared, they must have found their way in through an open window or door -two huge vultures, their wings making a chill draft as they beat- one settling on each shoulder as I watched.As scene after scene of starving children, bombed houses and black Isis flags played out before me, they dug their claws in deeper and deeper to my shoulders.The one the left was called “fascination”, and the one on the right, “helplessness”. They weren’t exactly pets, but they’d been to the house before. They had watched with gimlet eyes as human need and misery flowed through the living room.What could I do? Something, surely I could do something? We never invite them in, these grim creatures with their sharp eyes and sharper talons – but still they come. Whatever can we do to shoo them away?

From there we made our way to Numbers 16 v.41 – 50, and one of the most powerful descriptions of intercession ever recorded in scripture. At this point tens of thousands of people are in mortal danger, with punishment about to fall from the heavens as it had done the previous day. This great tide of needy humanity laps at the feet of Moses and Aaron – like King Canute’s tide of old. Just like the legendary king, they cannot command it to go.  Straight away, Aaron is dispatched to the tabernacle to fill a censer with hot coals and incense and then to hold it aloft to stem the plague as it spreads.  Standing  there in the gap it is tempting to see him as looking a bit like Evelyin Venable – the actress who supplied the voice of the Blue Fairy in Disney’s Pinocchio, and who then featured in the Columbia Pictures emblem:

Image: timeentertainmentfiles

The thing is, it is much more serious than that. In the time it takes Aaron to run from the entrance of the tent, to the incense altar, fill a censer and then run out into the crowd – 14,700 people have died. In the end he stands there, censer aloft, between the dead and those who are terrified of dying. Like the boy on the burning deck – he is the last man standing in the gap. This is intercession.

If we wanted an actual picture, Evelyn Venable won’t do. Perhaps something like Turner’s Field of Waterloo might be better. Next time you feel like saying you can ‘only’ pray – take a long hard look at it and remember Aaron – the archetypal intercessor, standing in the gap.

Image: farm4.static.flickr.com

 

Not just for selfies

Readers of this blog will know that I am not the biggest fan of the selfie. Quite often it smacks of atavism and seems to treat some of the world’s finest buildings as no more than a backdrop for a grinning picture of themselves. When Anker supplied the product below, I was not altogether sure what I was going to do with it.

Initial results were every bit as daft and awkward as I expected them to be.

    However, once I started experimenting with the stick as a 1-metre long arm, all sorts of possibilities came to mind. I could capture the spectacular architecture of the building where I work:

I could even photograph a whole room from one corner.

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If you want to extend your photographic reach, I can recommend swallowing your bias against such things ( as I have had to do) and giving them a try.

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