Buzz Lightyear and Revelation

Regular readers here will know that translation in all its form is something which matters a lot to me.  Simply put, translations can vary from formal equivalence at one end of the scale to dynamic equivalence at the other. For more on this click here. Formal equivalence leans more towards the form of the source text, and dynamic equivalence concerns itself with the dynamic impact on the target audience or culture.

Maybe it is because I have studied translation in various forms over the years, but sometimes I cannot help myself looking for a dynamically equivalent translation when I read the ancient text of the Bible. Sometimes that translation slips unbidden into my imagination, as if a door had been left ajar. That is exactly what happened  this morning as I read the letter to the church in Philippi, found in Revelation 3 v.7 – 13.  The faithful believers in that church are promised by Christ that ‘I will write on them my new name’. On the face of it, that seems like a rather tame promise.  After all, we tend to write names on things rather than people. That is the moment when the image below popped into my mind from Toy Story:

Revelation 3 v.13

The writing of Andy’s name on Buzz Lightyear’s boot is the moment when he wakes up to himself. It is the moment when he realises that he need not yearn to be a real action hero. His is a toy, loved by the boy who plays with him – and that is enough.

Thank you, Buzz Lightyear, for translating an ancient document for me today. armed with that insight, I can go ‘to infinity and beyond’!


More than rocks and steel

In 2013, Florida-based artist Celeste Roberge created an artwork based on a steel mesh framework filled with 4000lb of locally-sourced stones. The frame is a rough outline of her own body, slightly bigger than life size, and the stones are all jumbled inside.  It is an evocative piece, capturing the movement of the human body, the rigidity of the steel and the enormous age of the stones. The steel framework seems at once to give the stones form but also to imprison them, like a cage. Rising Cairn is a powerful piece of art in anybody’s book:




However, now add in the power of words, and it becomes something else entirely. This past week, I have seen exactly the same sculpture referred to as The Weight of Grief, and immediately its power is magnified. A recently bereaved friend looked at it yesterday, and took a few moments to respond. She talked of how grief can feel like a heavy burden, trapping the individual and weighing them down. Rising Cairn would have passed her by, but Weight of Grief left her profoundly moved. There is no doubting the extraordinary skill of the artist – but how amazing that the addition of a title can make such a difference:


Image: CLICK for full-size

Those of us who wield words for a living should take due note!

Thoughts on creative collage

When I was at Primary School, my heart used to sink in an art lesson when the teacher would say that we were going to ‘make a collage’. All that sticking and pasting made an awful mess – and anyway, it wasn’t ‘proper’ art. ‘Proper’ art was a picture or a painting, or even a story which I had made by myself – mistakes and all. Many years, lots of creative projects and a number of books and broadcasts later – I am no longer of the same opinion!

I spent most of yesterday as the guest of the staff at Lion Children’s, and was able to see first hand how much difference a committed, creative team can make to any project. My little book, launched in a remarkable 29 days in 2011, has now undergone enormous changes:


Everywhere I looked, there was evidence of the creative energy which has been poured into this project. From the posters which will go to the shops…

newposter…to the mock-ups of different versions, and even a cake!


In the end, though, it is all about the story. Yesterday’s highlight was definitely the moment where a group of literary professionals became children, just for a moment – and savoured the story:


In the hands of such people, I have no doubt that the Littlest Star will fly again – further than it has ever done before.



On weaving words

For any preacher to write about mystery is a dangerous thing – since the real mystery with many sermons is why people bother listening to them at all. Linguistically slim, conceptually flat and tonally monochrome – they do little to engage or inspire. I know, because sometimes I have preached them.

At this point, enter Eugene Lowry with his potent little book The Homiletical Plot. Originally written over 30 years ago (and since re-issued) , this slender volume still has an impact, and I continue to promote it whenever I can. Lowry’s plea to preachers was to take a leaf out of the book of those who write stories for a living – playwrights, screen-writers and novelists. He urged his readers to note how those people keep their audience on the edge of their seats. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat – so there is more than one way to tell a story. The writers of the best stories forebear to deliver everything at the start, but rather they pay out their material, like a rope to a drowning man , over the length of their story. Writers like Amanda Jennings, whose latest book I reviewed on here recently, are past masters at this.

When I published Jonah: poet in extremis, in 2013, it was intended to draw people back to an old story that they might appreciate its true worth. Jonah is not a cutesy story for children – it is a scary story for adults. Whales and storms not withstanding, it is the story of every person whose big moment has come along and they have run from it rather than embracing it.

Knowing my love of the story, somebody bought me a gift back from America this week. As you can see – it is a beautifully crafted hardwood whale:


CLICK for full size


Look a little more carefully, and you will see that it is in fact a puzzle. Like the best of stories, it is intricately put together – each piece lovingly crafted to sit alongside its neighbours so that the whole thing fits together. Skilful novelists will know what this is all about:


CLICK for full size

Here’s the best bit, though. As with the novel I mentioned above, there is a twist in the tale. To be precise, it is a twist in the belly. Hidden in amongst those pieces, invisible to the naked eye when the whole thing is put together, is a teeny-weeny Jonah, just waiting to be found.


CLICK for full size

You will see that he has a smile on his face – but then again why wouldn’t he? Of course, for all we know,  the smile may not be there when he is hidden inside the puzzle. That is like the tree falling soundlessly in the forest, which is another story…

An Easter encounter

Uncertain, once again, about the possibility of the mortal speaking on the Immortal’s behalf, I kneel to pray. As I do so, I hear a nervous cough and a please-notice-me kind of shuffle behind me. There is quite a crowd, as it turns out.

There is Moses, the palace runaway too nervous to speak, with his brother-in-law at his elbow.

There is Amos, a shepherd thrust summarily into the limelight to deliver judgement.

Jonah stands there too, a little apart as others wrinkle their noses at the odour of failure and fish.

Peter, looking as awkward as a footballer in his suit, stands beside them – net trailing from his hand.

Paul, doing his best to turn a frown into an encouraging look, and not quite pulling it off.

Ruth who would not flinch, and Mary who said yes are there too. Gideon the hesitant warrior, Samuel the boy prophet, Isaiah the baffled spokesman – a flash-mob of the chosen.

I wait, hoping for a word at least. None is forthcoming – but they all look past me to the place where I am needed next. Somehow I know that when I turn and walk towards it, they will walk behind me – which feels like enough.


Haiku on Easter Saturday

At the start of Lent, the team at Things Unseen announced a competition. Participants were invited to submit a Haiku for Easter. A Haiku is a traditional Japanese poetry form, consisting of three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables. Entries selected would be professionally recorded and aired as part of a special Good Friday podcast.

Yesterday, the podcast aired – with a lovely discussion by Alison Hilliard and poet Stewart Henderson. It is well worth the investment of 26 minutes of your time today if you would like to click here.

I was delighted to find my two contributions amongst the entries, and you can hear them both below. There is an elegance to Haiku, I believe, a focus in few words which is lost in many. Maybe Easter Saturday, the day when a silent Father grieved for a buried son, is a good day for few words.

Image: BBC

Click to hear Nicola Walker read my Haiku ‘moss’

No moss on this stone
All of that rolling away
Must have rocked its world

Image: Rye and Battle Observer

Click to hear Anton Lesser read my Haiku ‘grave clothes’

Grave clothes are for sale
Suitable for recycling
One careless owner

A meditation for Maundy Thursday

Every year at the Maundy Thursday service I try to take a slightly different approach. Last night I decided to use prayers from the Didache, discovered in 1863, and possibly written less than a century after the death and resurrection of Christ. Why bother using such ancient prayers? The reason was to evoke a sense of connection with those who have gone before us on the journey of faith. To underline this, we passed a scarlet thread, secured to the communion table, from person to person before the words below were uttered.


A scarlet thread...

A scarlet thread…

There is a scarlet thread, wrapped tight around and around a deeply-rooted tree in a garden of unparalleled perfection.God, who planted the tree, wound it there when the tree was less than a sapling even in his imagination.And nothing will tug it free.Adam carries it with him when he walks, sadly from the garden – head bowed and heart heavy.High on a mountain, when God stays the hand of a man ready to slay his own son if that is what is needed, it snags upon a briar. Isaiah’ s vision of a servant king, greyed out owing to distance, nonetheless has a streak of scarlet here and there in the pattern of his words


John the Baptist will have it wrapped about his waist as he wades into the Jordan. It will dangle from his wrist as he raises an arm to point out the sacrificial lamb of God. It will curl around the feet of the disciples as they sit in a deeply shadowed upper room and share a meal together. Splashes from a cup of wine held aloft serve only to deepen its hue. It will be wound around and around the foot of a tree once again.. and carried with its occupant into the tomb


From there, with him, it will emerge again, grasped hungrily by the hands of those who thought him gone forever.Bound to them it will cross borders and rivers, oceans and continents. It will plunge with them into deep holes in the earth where they must hide from sight for their safety. They will carry it with them to the deepest jungle and up to the thin air of the highest mountain.

Others will carry it to worlds unseen

  • Above
  • Below
  • In the mind
  • In the as yet unimagined

And one day the Father will take its end and wrap it around and around the base of his throne. And all  in all, shall be complete.

Give a gentle tug to that scarlet thread.FEEL how all are joined, each to the other. The repetition of ancient story. The lifting aloft of a cup, or the breaking of bread as generations have done before us. THESE things keep us linked, all part of the thread of God’s mercy. In using ancient words as we share communion tonight we are not being clever, or arty, or fanciful. We are reminding ourselves that we are linked by a thread of faith-to those who went before;to those who will come after; to all who lift the cup and break the bread as they remember the mercy of God

Review of In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

For a tale featuring mermaids, babies and the Cornish coast, this is not a pretty book. Rather, it is hewn from the tough granite of human experience. Look carefully at the unforgiving face of granite, though – and you will find little veins of quartz in there – compacted by unimaginable forces into shafts of rock-light. There are many such veins in Amanda’s book. In amongst the ugliness of what human beings can do to each other you will find flashes of goodness. Like the veins of quartz, they are simple things- but they transform all that is about them.

The plot of Amanda’s book will keep you reading, without a doubt. Not only that, but her ability to place past and present, reality and imagination so close that each can be seen from the other separated as if by a thin veil is genius. In the end, though, it is the characters in this book which will make me read it again. There are no utterly bad people and no utterly good people in this book. There are good people who do bad things and bad people who lean towards good things. Like the coastline full of contrasts where the story is set – strength and fragility; altruism and selfishness sit side by side. I could not do the job I do every day without believing that this were so.

Read the book because you want to be distracted, by all means. Read the book because you want to relish its twists and turns, highs and lows like a roller coaster. Read it, in the end, though – because you are a human being cut from granite with little flecks of quartz. You will not be disappointed.


CLICK for more details on the book



A review of The Ultimate Classic FM Hall of Fame

Back in the days when an album was something in which you stuck your stamps, a track was the place for my clockwork train and a stylus was not something with which to write, least of all on a tablet – my parents had a record player. It was not a music centre or a deck in a separates system – it was a record player. My father had built a wooden unit to house it and run cables beneath the floorboards to the speakers. Housed in the cabinet below the player were all the records. A few of them were soundtracks from the musicals, but most were classical recordings. Buying them was an experience all of its own. Once selected, a record could be taken to the counter, whereupon the sales assistant would slide it from the sleeve and indicate a numbered booth where it could be heard before deciding whether or not to buy it. The net result of all this is that I grew up with people like Dvorak, Beethoven and Mozart playing in the background somewhere – along with a small smattering of Oklahoma!

I came to this book as someone not afraid of classical music, but not well versed in it either. Not only that, but with 300 entries, I was bound to encounter people of whom (or from whom) I had not heard. I was not disappointed. The 300 includes everything from early baroque to 21st Century film scores and even music composed especially for video games. Each composer is introduced with a short biographical piece, and information is given about the particular items from their oeuvre which follow. For the aficionados there is even advice on the best recordings to select. Having said that, this is not really a book for aficionados. Its bright, almost childlike, cover will not attract the serious musical scholar. This book is an introduction, a lever to prise open a narrow view of classical music and reveal the treasures within.

I have been relishing the contents of the treasure chest ever since the book arrived. With its gorgeous illustrations and high quality paper it is a tactile as well as an intellectual treat.  However, I have not done this alone. Perched on the page of the open book below is my phone – not a combination of which I would usually approve. Read on…

CLICK for full size

I have read the book with the help of Composed, a relative newcomer to the apps market. Using the app, I have been able to listen to each piece of music as I have read about it.  The book’s description, for example. of Smetena’s ‘beautiful, evocative musical painting of the rolling river’ makes so much more sense when listening to his Ma Vlast. In this way, book and app become a shared gateway to a rich multi-media experience, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The app is as easy to use and as attractive as the book itself. Like notes perfectly placed, they work in harmony together.

Click here to read more about the book from publisher Elliott and Thompson. Better still, click somewhere to buy it right now and let the notes wash over you. Then again, I should probably declare a bias- I cannot resist a Note.

Cognitive dissonance and Christian worship

Yesterday I was listening to a psychologist on the radio talking about cognitive dissonance and body image. Not to put too fine a point on it, she was encouraging listeners to stand naked (or as near to it as they can bear) in front of a mirror and take a look at what they see. Those suffering from a negative body image should try to find even the smallest aspect of what they see which they like and say so. This might start with something as trivial as liking the shape of your eyebrows or the angle of your ankle bone and work from there. The theory behind this is our desire for consonance rather than dissonance. We all love our beliefs and actions to be in line with each other, rather than at war. The naked mirror-lookers are adjusting their behaviour (by saying what they like in what they see)  in the hopes that their belief about themselves will follow. This is cognitive dissonance theory at work.

It strikes me that this is not so very different from what we do in Christian worship. The belief that we are creatures of God and therefore imbued with an unshakeable dignity sometimes fails to pervade our behaviour. By the act of worshipping God (whether we feel like it or not), we aim to bring behaviour and belief in line once again and achieve the consonance for which the soul cries out. In this scenario, the preacher is the voice at the mirror, declaring what is there but which cannot be readily seen.

I think I shall be praying for consonance in my preaching and worship today.



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