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.

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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

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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.

Reflecting on 7/7

At lunchtime on July 6th 2005, I was working in my office with the door open onto the atrium below. Unusually for me, I was working with the radio on, as I wanted to hear the announcement of the Olympic city for 2012. As the news came over the radio, a cheer went up from the small crowd in the atrium below, and I rushed out to smile and wave at them. It was a snapshot moment.

Another came the next day. It was my day off, and I was out shopping early as we had guests arriving later in the day. Turning on the radio in the car, news came through of one ‘electrical problem’ and then another and another on the London Underground network. By the time I had made the short journey home the Number 7 bus in Tavistock Square had blown up, and it was obvious that the Tube problems were not electrical faults but bombs too.

Never before had a story been covered by so much ‘guerilla reporting’ with news services awash with mobile phone images and handheld video footage shot in situ by members of the public. After that, came the wave of comment and analysis from the experts. However, for me the sound of two voices rose above the crowd. The first was that of George Psaradkis, driver of the ill-fated Number 7 bus:

A Week ago I took my No 30 bus out from here on a journey which ended as a nightmare…With quiet dignity and respect we show our deep contempt for those who planted the bombs and those who masterminded them.

The other was that of Marie Fatayi-Williams , a mother who had travelled all the way from Nigeria to find her son, lost in the bombings. With just a scrap of paper in her hand, and tears of impotent rage and sorrow on her cheeks, she addressed the cameras:

I need to know, I want to protect him. I’m his mother, I will fight and die to protect him.  To protect his values and to protect his memory.  Innocent blood will always cry to God almighty for reparation.  How much blood must be spilled.  How many tears shall we cry?  How many mother’s hearts must be maimed?

It is that last question, surely, which remains unanswered? Alongside this Nigerian mother there are others who have lost sons and daughters in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere. Others have lost their daughters across the border from Turkey into Syria and are unlikely ever to see them again. How many mothers’ hearts…

I hope the #walktogether campaign got a good response today. The sight of Londoners taking that little extra time to walk the last stop to work together in a kind of shared solidarity may be just the kind of ‘dignity and respect’ for which George Psaradakis was calling 10 years ago.

Image: citizen.co.za

A sermon in five pictures

When I am teaching groups on preaching, I generally confront them quite early on with opposing view of what it is all about. Consider, for instance, these two very different definitions:

‘To preach: to give advice in an offensive, tedious or obtrusive manner’
What am I doing here? Hilary Brand

A sermon is: ‘the most fruitful and powerful form of public discourse.’

-Leslie Griffiths in The Preacher

We generally move on from that to looking at different ‘pictures’ of the sermon.

   Comment

In some traditions. with the pulpit built off to one side, the sermon serves as a ‘comment’ on the main event, which is the liturgy.

Recycling

In others, the sermon may be seen as an opportunity for the preacher, or indeed other members of the congregation, to pass on (or recycle) insights they have gained from the Word in their daily living.

Meeting point

In some traditions, especially the Black Majority Churches, the sermon is the meeting point where dynamic word and needy people encounter each other in a moment of powerful interaction.

Authoritative

In some traditions, with a solidly constructed pulpit built front and centre in the church, the Word is delivered from on high to the waiting congregation.

Which is it in your church, I wonder…and which would you like it to be? Reading from Romans 10 v. 8 – 17, we went on to look at the role of the Word in worship.

It is an intimate word: close to the beat of our hearts, the conflicts of our minds, and the messiness of our lives, which so often seem far from God.

It is an indispensable word, without which worship is denuded of its power. It is the word of God which brought the universe springing to life in Genesis 1, and it will be the word of God which brings down the curtain on the apocalyptic chaos as described in Revelation 21.

It is an incarnate word, for in the end it is all a ‘word about Christ’ (Romans 10 v.17)

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Behind the colossal statue of Martin Luther King erected in Washington DC in 2011, there is a granite wall bearing 16 of his most famous quotes. They ring with the tone of God’s word and echo its timbre with every syllable. The man who famously said ‘I have a dream’ said so many other truly prophetic things. We often mock somebody by saying that they sound like they have ‘swallowed a dictionary’. A Christian should sound like she or he has swallowed the word. This is not because they quote it all the time, but because it has invaded their very soul until they sing with its hope and speak with its poetry and breathe with its promise. I have a bit of a dream about that, as you can probably tell!

Image: wikipedia

 

 

When a President sings

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation online with a friend in North Carolina about a feature of the Welsh Revival – the hwyl. In the Preacher’s A to z, I describe it like this:

Some describe it as the word for sail, whilst others describe it as the kind of whoop uttered by followers of cock-fighting when their bird is winning!  It encapsulates that moment when the preacher becomes so caught up with his theme, that the Spirit of God seems to carry him along, like the wind filling the sails of a huge sailing ship and sending it skimming across the waves.  During the revival, a particular feature of this was that the preacher would move from an ordinary speaking voice into a kind of song, where he would begin to intone the sermon in an almost sing-song way.  Each preacher would have his own distinctive tune, and when he moved into it he was said to be preaching ‘with the hwyl’.

When President Barack Obama segued from speech to song and back again in his funeral address in South Carolina last week, was this the phenomenon we were seeing? It is tempting to be very sceptical about this. Obama and his team are past masters at judging mood and tone for every crowd and occasion. This is a man who can stride energetically to and fro in shirtsleeves for a College audience, or speak with measured statesmanlike tones from the White House lawn as the world’s cameras turn. Was this just another outing for the consummate pro and a true communications chameleon?

I would be tempted to say that it were, except that the song in Obama’s address started long before the music began. Consider this segment, for example:

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

The timbre of these words is such that for anyone from certain traditions breaking into song would be almost inevitable. From such heights and depths of speech, where else would you go?

To see a British politician do such a thing would be almost inconceivable. Maybe it is because they do not ‘do’ religion in the same way that American politicians do. Maybe it is because our own scepticism would not allow us to believe that such a thing were genuine. Are we really capable of singing… or hearing such a song in public discourse, I wonder?

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