This time its for Tommy’s

Click, click, click, tap – just like that it was done. A few clicks later and I was registered for my place in the Prudential Ride London cycle-ride along the 100 mile Olympic route from Olympic Park out to the Surrey Hills and back to London again. All being well, I shall pedal up the Mall some time on the afternoon of August 2nd. I am looking forward to it – my memories of Nightrider 2013 are still with me, and I am ready for the challenge. It will be hard work, of course. I am expecting to see a lot of the view below over the next 100 days. I am anticipating sore knees, a stiff back, and a cyclist’s behind! The thing is, we all put up with discomfort for the sake of the things we love, and we rarely expect gain without a degree of pain.

What happens, though, when the pain brings no gain? What happens, for instance, when all the months of discomfort and weariness associated with pregnancy fail to produce the exultant joy of childbirth? It happens too, too often. Parents who have made changes, bought buggies, decorated nurseries and held their breath for far longer than my 100 days (280, on average) find that the moment never comes. The sadness of a pregnancy which fails to go full term and the numbing grief of a still birth defy description. And yet it happens far too often. 4000 babies are stillborn in the UK every year, many without explanation.

Tommy’s, for whom I am cycling, are committed to funding research into still birth, early miscarriage and premature births. Not only that, but they provide all manner of support for parents affected by this issue. When the months of anticipation turn into something very different, Tommy’s are there -offering support, advice and a cast-iron commitment to reducing the number of times this happens.

Last time #Richard100 made an outing, I was able to raise an amazing £3000 through the generosity of my lovely sponsors. Could you help me this time, I wonder? Please click here to sponsor #Richard100.

Thank you.


Social interaction writ large

When we had the first truly warm of Spring last week, somebody tweeted ‘on behalf of the internet':

Leave your computer alone, come outside and play -I’ll still be here when you get back

They were quite right, of course. However, when you look at the mind-boggling graphic below, it makes you realise quite how much life is on the internet, every single second.


Click the animation to open the full version (via PennyStocksLab).

Its all a far cry from the internet as depicted on a certain sitcom:


CLICK to watch as “the internet” is revealed…


Strong light and weak glass

There’s an awful lot of the science I learnt at school which I have forgotten, for which I apologise profusely to Mr Berrington, my science teacher. I do remember, though, the weeks we spent learning about the behaviour of waves. We learnt all about reflection, refraction and diffraction. Today, as I contemplate preaching on a subject which is liable to touch many raw nerves, I am reminded of refraction – those scattered rays of light broken up by imperfect glass and spilling across science room benches and ceiling:

I often feel as if the Word is a brittle thing

With my boxing-glove hands I hold it up for inspection

Hoping to catch some light

And petrified of dropping it

In truth it is not so

It is preacher, rather than word, which is brittle

And it holds me.


CLICK for story behind this image



Interactive insights

Whenever I am training preachers, one of the things I talk about is the need for every preacher not only to provide inspiration for the people in their charge, but also to draw it from them. I have been doing just that this morning as I review the ‘homework’ sent to me by a group of young preachers whom I was training in the Philippines (via Skype) at the weekend. Consider this, for instance, from Angel as a picture of preaching : the preacher is like the fist ant…passing the truth onto one, who passes it to another and another. Who would ever have though of seeing it that way?

CLICK to see the detail

CLICK to see the detail

Over the past twelve months or so I have been experimenting with interactive learning in the (smaller) evening services at my own church. We have done everything from round table discussion to interactive games. However, having not done it for a few weeks over the Easter period, there was a degree of scepticism from people when they arrived and saw the tables out last night. This was to be the launch of a new preaching series on ‘problems with prayer’ – and each table had a number of the aplphabet cards displayed below on it.

   After an initial talk about the reasons why we maybe don’t pray, each table completed five or six letter cards with insights on prayer. The results are below. As you can see, it was a rich ‘seam’ which brought far more depth and colour to the service than I could have done on my own. Cards were then returned to the tables later so that people could use them as prompts to pray for each other’s prayer life.

Adoration Bless Believing Christ Celebration Confession Closeness to God Communion Comforting Challenging

Diligent Devotion Deliverer Daily Extol Easy Emotional Exhausted Excited not Exhibitionist Exasperated Faith(ful) Frequently (God as) Friend Friends (praying for)

Grateful Greatness Help – for me, for others Intercession

Joyful Jesus not Judgemental Justification Justified Kneel Know (who you’re praying to) Laud Love Longing Learning Life Light Longsuffering Long

Majesty Mercy Mystery Nearness Not yet? Obedience

Please (very British) Praise Perseverance Patient Private Pounding the door Pleading Quiet Question … why? Repent Regular be Real

Supplication Short and to the point Sacrifice Salvation Self-judgemental Silence Shouting at God  Trust Thanks Time Understanding Unique Useless

Victory Virtue Worship Watchful (for answers) Will (act of) Whenever Wherever (you are) X … love ( “kiss”) EXalt

Yourself Yearning Zealous


…but close

Some time in the 16th Century a poor pilgrim dropped his badge within the precincts of Hyde Abbey, Winchester. It wasn’t much of a badge – just crudely fashioned from a piece of old bone.  In the late 20th Century somebody excavated it from the site pictured below, and in September 2013 I first saw it in Winchester’s City Museum. Today, after extensive correspondence with one of the museum’s curators, I paid a visit to a nondescript building on the edge of an industrial estate so see and photograph a beautiful line drawing made of it when first excavated. Click on the audio segment below to hear me tell the tale live on location.

Hopefully, that image will find its way into #journey…and so the story continues…



Good advertising

I have just watched an advert for a Christian conference which made me want to cringe. I am unable to embed it here, but you can watch it for yourself by clicking here if you want. I am sure it is meant to be funny in a knowing, post-modern ironic kind of a way. To be honest, though, I just found it silly…and a little insulting.  If ‘smashing idols’ is a serious business, then does it not deserve a serious treatment? A video with what appears to be a clown sits uncomfortably with Old Testament descriptions of the fool, I feel.

Meanwhile, I have stumbled upon the street advertisement for homeless charity DePaul pictured below. It is is elegant, simple, and thought-provoking. Christian communication should aim for all those things, don’t you think?


What is it the Bible says about being as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves? I know which of these adverts I see as being the wiser. Oh, and talking of doves...

A review of ‘A World Transformed’ by Lisa Deam

A Chinese painter from the Tang Dynasty (7th Century) and a medieval historian from contemporary North Carolina are not two people whom you would necessarily expect to share the same page.  However, for the past week they have been jostling for head space during a week of hectic creativity.

Lisa’s book, ‘A world transformed’ has just been published by Cascade Books, and it makes for fascinating reading. It starts, quite literally, with the tiny pinprick at the centre of Hereford’s Mappa Mundi, and works outwards from there.  Lisa opens the reader’s eyes to the geography and spirituality of medieval maps in a way which I would never have believed possible before opening this accessible volume.  There is a disarming honesty from the author about her reasons for writing:

I wrote it because sometimes we feel lost on our journey of faith: we need to pause, pull over to the side of the road, and reach for a map to guide us.

Keep an eye out, too, for such memorable phrases as ‘walking the world with God’ which are sure to linger long after the book is closed. Unsurprisingly, all the references to the practice and theology of medieval pilgrimage are of particular fascination to me. However, where this book wins out is in its ability to apply such apparently distant lessons to contemporary Christian experience:

Like medieval pilgrims, we’re trying to close the distance between Jesus and us. We want to be closer to him and to become more Christlike each day. So we make the journey to Jesus, the center of our world, the very center of our heart.

Some will find that the level of detail in the book takes them into uncharted territory. Not only that, but the discussion about maternal images of Christ is sure to stretch the grey matter of the Christian mind. However, as Lisa herself would say ‘our pilgrimage roads point in the same direction’ so a little bit of unfamiliar material may be no bad thing.

CLICK to order the book from Amazon

CLICK to order the book from Amazon

And what of the Chinese painter? Wu Tao-Tzu lived in China between 689 and 758 AD. The story is told of the day when he called all his friends around to see his latest masterpiece. It was a long, vertical scroll with a painting of mountains, hills and a river valley. The twisting path in the picture led away into the mountains, before arriving at the door of a tiny temple in the distance.  When his friends turned around to congratulate him on the painting, he was nowhere to be seen. Turning back to it, they saw the tiny figure of Tao-Tzu walking up the final slope of the path towards the temple. At its gates he turned, waved, and clapped his hands before disappearing inside.

Tao- Tzu has gone – but if you would like to walk into the world of medieval maps, I cannot recommend a better guide than Lisa.

Interactive Easter service to cut out and keep

Just before I ‘tidy away’ Easter, I thought I would offer an Easter idea to anybody who would like to use it. Knowing tat numbers were likely to be small for Easter Sunday evening, I wanted to do something interactive – so came up with the idea of ‘Easter mysteries’, as detailed below. The small congregation were offered their pick of six hollow Easter eggs, each containing a ‘mystery’ from the Easter story. There were only two provisos. The first was that they should read out the clue contained within the egg, and the second was that they should leave the green and gold egg until last. Each mystery was then dealt with in turn, as listed below:

1. Peter’s private meeting with Jesus (Luke 24 v.34)

When did this meeting take place, and what was said at it? Maybe Peter needed a private moment of forgiveness and reconciliation after his o-so-so public denial. Like Zaccheus earlier on in Luke’s Gospel, there are times when God must deal with each of us very privately.


2. The lying soldiers (Matthew 28 v.11-13)

Did they ever get to enjoy this hush money, or even to live?  Maybe the survival of the story indicates that at least one of them did. Here we see proof that the resurrection divides people from the very first second, just as predicted.


3. The Cleopas revelation – Luke 24 v.28-32

We looked at Caravaggio’s spirited rendition of this scene, and speculated as to how Cleopas knew it was Jesus. Was there something familiar about his voice or his gesture? In fact, v.31 tells us that it was none of these things. Theirs was a miraculous binding and an equally miraculous restoration of sight. We should not always leap to the rational explanation of things which may be miraculous.


4. The undead of Jerusalem – Matthew 27 v. 51-53

We looked at Stanley Spencer’s depiction of the resurrection in Cookham, and puzzled over this strange passage. Nobody knows whether these resurrected people lived again until death took them a second time, or were simply a temporary apparition. However, the most significant word in this passage is ‘after’ in v.53. The graves may have split open at the moment of the earthquake, but nobody rose until Jesus led the way. Matthew reminds us here that after the resurrection of Jesus a new world order was begun.


5. Who counted the fish? (John 21 v.11)

Using a whiteboard, we looked at various complex calculations about the early church fathers regarding the number 153. These included seeing it as  factorial of 17, which could then be multiplied by 3 and three again for good measure to reach the total! The simplest explanation is that somebody wanted to remember this remarkable day in every detail. When God does an amazing thing – we should do our best to remember it.


6. The other things – John 21 v.25 

We looked at the Darlington Testament – all hand-written in different styles, and recognized that this verse is the one bit of the Easter story which includes us today. The story continues…


Feel free to plunder this little basket of eggs another year…

Encounters beyond photography

I am in the midst of the mental acrobatics which usually accompany my Easter.  I am thinking about the cross whilst writing about the tomb, and the crowd’s shouting from Palm Sunday is still in my ear as I contemplate the quietness of the Upper Room. In short, I am always glad to hoover up inspiration.

Today, I found it via a Belgian museum , courtesy of an American Photographer.  The Musea in Brugge is hosting an exhibition by Los Angeles photographer Andrew George entitled ‘right, before I die.’ This project is the fruit of two years’ hard work talking to patients in the palliative care department of a California Hospital. He not only took beautiful, dignified, photographs of the patients, but also documented their hopes, fears and recollections. Some of the most moving items in the book and the exhibition are handwritten testimonials of what the patients were feeling. Many of those now pictured have died, but their stories live on through the exhibition.

Maybe this all seems a little morbid for a man writing Easter sermons?  Not at all. The glory of Easter is precisely that in it death and life, despair and hope are to be found cheek by jowl. Faith must inhabit the world in which the ordinary people pictured by George live and die – or it cannot serve us.

I shall return to my Easter preparation with renewed vigour now, and I suggest you visit the collection via the photo below if you would like to do the same.

CLICK to see more of Andrew George's remarkable work

CLICK to see more of Andrew George’s remarkable work


A musical moment

Palm Sunday is one of those moments in the Christian year when we are struck with the curse of the familiar. How do communicate the importance of this story without either monotonous repetition on the one hand or careless novelty on the other? This year I wanted to preach on Palm Sunday as

– a celebration of God’s tendency to confound our expectations

– a warning against spiritual incompetence so that we do not find ourselves looking the other way when God is on the move ( as the Pharisees did in the Palm Sunday accounts)

This is what I did with the children to set the scene

  • Played a (30-second) fanfare and asked them on what kind of occasion it might be played. (Most said to welcome a King or Queen)Certain pieces of music are just ‘right’ for certain occasions – and they tell us what to expect.
  • Put a set pf pictures up on the screen from the Peter and the Wolf story- cat, bird, duck, Peter and wolf.
  • The relevant tracks were played, one by one, and the children were asked to identify which track belonged to which creature.
  • I then offered to play the music for the children which announced the arrival of King Jesus in Jerusalem – silence.

I concluded by warning that sometimes God creeps in quietly without a fanfare – so we have to keep an eye out for him. This was a point to which I was able to return in the ‘adult’sermon, to what appeared to be good effect.  You can find all relevant pieces of music in the video below, if you want to have a go yourselves…


« Older entries