A Good Book

Worthy rules

I have just bought a book. Although I bought it for 24 times the original cover price, I think I have a bargain. After all, who could fail to admire a book with claims such as these?

This code is put into your hands in the sincere hope that the study and observance of its provisions will make the roads safer and more convenient for you and all others who use the King’s Highway. …In every human activity there is a standard of conduct to which in the common interest we are expected to conform….Respect for the code and for the spirit underlying it is so much a moral duty that its practice should become a habit and its breach a reproach.

There are priceless illustrations too. Look at this gentleman motorist signalling his intentions to a Police Constable.

forward 001

Not only that – but look at the road sign for a school. Is that back in the days when they were ALL beacons, I wonder?

skool 001

In case you haven’t guessed by now, the book is a very old Highway Code. Originally sold for 1d, I picked it up at a car boot sale for the equivalent of Two Shillings (10p).

A bargain, don’t you think?

Just the job

A review of ‘Job for everyone’ by John Goldingay

‘Job for everyone’ sounds a bit like one of those manifesto promises made by politicians which they never fulfill. In the case of John Goldingay’s little book, I believe it delivers on the promise. In all honesty, most Bible readers find Job to be amongst the Bible’s most challenging books. Not only is there the problem of its name, and whether it should be pronounced Job (as in ‘hob’) or Job (as in ‘robe’) – but also its content. In it we see a good man brought down with God’s consent, and a bunch of his supposed friends proffering him theological platitudes dressed up as comfort.

As I have dipped into this book, I have found a blend of  scriptural analysis and pastoral wisdom which makes the contentions surrounding Job recede into the background. Each segment of the Bible book is printed (so you don’t need to have Goldingay’s book in one hand and the Bible in the other), and is then followed up with a pastoral application in an anecdotal style. He writes in a sympathetic tone out of deep personal experience with a disarming honesty. Here he talks about his fist wife’s twenty-five years of living with multiple sclerosis, and compares the experience to weight-lifting:

You learn to lift one weight, and you can’t imagine that you could lift one which was twice as heavy, but gradually you learn to lift heavier and heavier weights.

If you are looking for an in-depth theological analysis of Job from which to preach, then this is probably not the book for you. If, on the other hand. you want to reacquaint yourself with a Bible book which you have avoided – then you could not do better.

job FE FC

‘Job for everyone’ published by SPCK ISBN – 9780281061372, 224 pages. Paperback – £9.99



On tweeting with your knees…

…rather than from them

I love Twitter. I love the elegance and linguistic economy of its 140-character limit. I love its accessibility via handheld devices – which means that you can tweet from a sunny beach, the edges of a storm, or the middle of a riot. I love its democracy – where anyone can join in the debate and contribute their ‘two pennorth’ without stricture. Sometimes, though, it is precisely these things which lead to knee-jerk tweeting, from which nobody benefits. Sadly, religious people can be the worst offenders when it comes to tweeting with their knees.

In the overwhelming flood of Twitter reactions to the machete attack in Woolwich last night, many of the religious tweets showed the worst kind of reductionism. My primary school teacher used to tell me that ‘if you can’t say it nicely, don’t say it at all’. Maybe the same applies here? One of the grossest offenders was a smug Christian tweet along the lines of “you never see someone attacking a person with a machete in the name of Christ, do you“? Had they never heard of the Crusades, I wonder?

Those of us with a profound faith would do better to pray from our knees, rather than with them, I feel.


Ventriloquist theology and the Bede

Good companions

One of the great delights of being on sabbatical is the opportunity to spend time in the company of different people. Yesterday I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with different friends in Central London. As I travelled to and fro, I was accompanied on the journey by the two gentlemen below: Kosuke Koyama and the Venerable Bede.

Kosuke Koyama was born and raised in Japan, and later spent time teaching in America,  Thailand and New Zealand. His book, Three Mile an Hour God, was first published in 1979. In it he concerns himself especially with issues of identity, authenticity and simplicity. Given the technological revolutions which have take place in the thirty-four years since the book was written, some of his warnings about the dangers of technology ring shockingly true:

“How much technology can we use without being victimized by the technological Maya”? (Where Maya means “illusion”).

“Technology is like a fire. It can cook rice for our enjoyment and nutrition, and it can also reduce our house to ashes”

He also points out the motto of the World Fair in Chicago in 1933: “Science finds, industry applies, man conforms”

For me his most startling image is that of “theological ventriloquism”, where the Bible is made to speak with the voice of those who hold it or manipulate it.  As a person who preaches, and trains others to do so, I am constantly on my guard against that particular pitfall.

Images:NYTimes and limpav.com

Images:NYTimes and limpav.com

With Koyama’s book read, I have turned to a very different tome – Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People , written in the Eighth Century. With my hopes set on walking part of St Cuthbert’s pilgrimage route later in the Summer, this ancient tome is part of my homework. As you can imagine, it abounds with fantastical descriptions of healings and miracles. It overflows too, with commons sense. Consider, for instance, Aidan’s advice to a fellow preacher: “methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been” . Sound advice indeed. No room for any ventriloquist theology in Aidan’s pulpit!

Squeaky legs and sponsors

Wearing the community T-shirt

On two wheels for Princess Alice Hospice

Those who have been following the story of my forthcoming #richard100 ride will know all about the special cycle jersey I shall be wearing. For more details click here. Designed in Sussex, funded in Teddington, printed in Wales…and yet to be worn in Central London on June 8th.

Over the past two days I have been visiting some of the delightful business sponsors who have donated over £200 between them towards the cycle ride.  As you can see from the photo below- we had a lot of fun. If you are wondering what that is in the background, you can click HERE to find out – a kind gift from a well-wisher!

CLICK for full size image

CLICK for full size image

I feel privileged to wear this cycle jersey for so many reasons.  In the first place, it is an honour to support the life-enhancing work of the Princess Alice Hospice as they devote time, love expertise and creativity to enhancing end of life care for so many. Secondly, it is a reminder of the vibrant, colourful, friendly business community in Teddington, amongst whom I am glad to work. I am not seriously expecting them to be there to cheer me on at midnight, but wearing their logo will be the next best thing.

During our photo stop at Moore’s cycles yesterday, a kind friend shot this little video. It is NOT pay per view, but if you felt like adding to the £2000 already raised, you could do it here.

Using the wrong ruler

Measuring church impact

Just been listening to yet another discussion of church attendance figures on the radio.  Every time these things are published there is a flurry of comments from either side.  On the one hand there are the pundits who shake their heads knowingly and say that this is evidence of the inevitable decline of an anachronistic religion. On the other hand, there are the church spokespeople who say that the figures do not mean what they appear to. On this particular occasion, some have pointed to poor Christmas church attendance on account of bad weather…and sound a little desperate as they do so.

I find this argument, from the Diocese of Portsmouth, a little more persuasive: ‘The impact a parish is having on its local community is only partly measured by the number of people in church for Sunday or midweek services’. Whilst we cannot dismiss attendance figures as irrelevant, there are other scales which might provide a better measure of why (or if) the church matters locally. At this point my thoughts have turned to Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg, who devised a scale for measuring the seismic impact of earthquakes. Although largely superseded now by more sensitive equipment, at the time it led the way. Non -specialists still use it to compare the relative impacts of different earthquakes on their surroundings:

Image: blogspot.com

How big an impact does your church have on its immediate community, I wonder?

Cassette tapes and lemons

All for love

Just this week I have been tidying out a whole load of old cassette tapes from home. As they clanked and clattered in the bag on the way to the charity shop I was struck by how clunky they seem in comparison to Cds…or to downloads. The other thought they inspired was the memory of a sweet old lady in the church where I first came to faith.

At the time we had a lively youth group with twenty or more teenagers, and she had a tiny cottage. At her invitation, we all squeezed into every nook and cranny of her minute sitting room two weeks’ running to listen to a ‘tape’ on her mono cassette player. The tape was the two-part testimony of greengrocer-turned villain-turned Christian Fred Lemon. Although the story was gripping, the sound quality was barely audible and there was nothing visual to keep our interest.

So why did we come back, twice, to sit uncomfortably and listen? The answer is simple – because she loved us…and the feeling was reciprocated. Thank God for those who love the teenagers in your church – simply, artlessly and unconditionally. They are priceless, and their investment will pay unimaginable dividends.

Image: creative commons

Image: creative commons

To be a pilgrim – 2

First Steps

I have just been writing a sermon about persistence – a topic which comes back again and again when you start to investigate pilgrimage. In doing so, I was trying to remember where my fascination with the subject first began.

It all goes back to a visit in the Summer of 2007 to the little port of Port a la Duc  on the North Brittany coast. The port is now largely silted up, and consists of a string of pretty cottages, one of which is pictured below. Just to the left of the cottage is a grassy path, and beside it stands a sign. Click on the picture and you can see it for yourself, courtesy of the Cap Frehel Tourist Board.

port duc1

Don’t forget to CLICK

Hundreds of years ago, pilgrims, blessed by their Bishop back home, would arrive by rowing boat from Weymouth in this little port.  Stepping out onto an unfamiliar shore where people spoke a strange tongue, they would begin their long journey on foot all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Along the way, watched over by Templars (see above) they would face all manner of dangers. Ever since then I have been seized with a fascination about what made them do it then, and what makes people do it now.

Some of the elements of pilgrimage which spring to mind so far are:

  • Discomfiture – an unease which makes the pilgrim leave home and look for something more.
  • Discomfort – in the rowing boat, under a hot and unfamiliar sun, reliant on the kindness and provision of strangers.
  • Uncertainty – little or no certainty about where each night would be spent and where each meal might come from.
  • Conspicuousness – by name, outfit and language the pilgrims were sure to stand out. Modern pilgrimages, such as the annual Northern Cross walk to Holy Island, emphasize this aspect.
  • Homesickness – how much did the pilgrims long for the home they had left..or did their thoughts turn increasingly to the home to which they would one day come?
  • Tenacity – to sustain a journey of up to 1000 miles on foot would have taken real endurance.

These, surely, are all qualities and challenges faced even by the most modern of disciples?

Watch this space…

Confessions of a Chronological Agoraphobic

Fear of wide open diaries

Over the past few days, one of my companions on various planes, trains and trams has been Peter Stanford with his fascinating book  ‘The Extra Mile’.  I shall doubtless return to it, both in my mind and on this blog, many times over the coming weeks. Here is a juicy quote to whet your appetite:

Cities can be rather like particle accelerators –

they take people predisposed to be in a hurry and entice them to go even quicker.

I do not work in the city, but I know exactly the symptoms he describes. For the past seven years I have been accustomed to a busy diary. There is even a certain buzz to the plate-spinner’s art of adding things to it in order to extract the most from life. Occasionally we fall prey to the myth of our own indispensability and that just sends the plates spinning even faster. I am now fortunate enough to be on sabbatical, and everything looks different.

Today was my first unplanned day since this change of pace began last Wednesday, and for a diary-driven person I could feel a slight panic rising to the surface. There are so many things I want to do: jobs in the house, jobs in the garden, things to read, things to write, people to pray for, cycle training to do…oh and some pause for rest and reflection too! For a chronological agoraphobic, the prospect of an unplanned diary can seem a little scary at first.

In the end, I opted for a small amount of admin and an hour or so of combative gardening. I’m not sure how effective it was, but my companion (pictured below) seemed grateful for the prospect of new snacks it provided. He seemed to fix me with a particularly knowing expression between mouthfuls. Maybe, like the sparrows, he knows he is precious…or maybe he just recognizes a fellow busy addict when he sees one?


I would love to know – does anyone else out there recognize the symptoms of chronological agoraphobia, or am I alone?