Accidental theology

And not a filter in sight

A gentle daytime TV watercolour programme is not the place to which you would naturally turn for theology. However, for many years I have been struck by what the programme’s ‘resident expert’ had to say about the light before a storm. She explained that the reason colours look more intense just before a storm breaks is that millions of tiny droplets of water are suspended in the air – each acting like the bead on an old-fashioned beaded screen. The overall effect is to intensify light, colour and drama.

Many of us know what that feels like – an uncomfortable clarity about the way things will be just before the storm breaks. In that moment we see both the challenge we face and the presence of God with searing clarity.

Just yesterday I spotted the intensity of the light a few moments before the dark rain clouds unleashed their contents over the town where I live. To coin a phrase, there is #nofilter here. All I have done is to crop them slightly. The rest of the work is done by those millions of suspended droplets. Given the results, I am grateful to them.

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Washington DC is not the world

Twenty-five square meters

Just when you might be forgiven for believing that everything of any consequence is happening in Washington DC comes a reminder from a Norwegian branch of a Swedish store that it is not so.  Families living in the scraps of a Syrian home like the one portrayed below are in the same state of pathetic anguish today that they were yesterday. Whilst their long term future will one day feel the seismic shock from the American election, today it is ‘business as usual’ and that business is survival.

Hats off to the Norwegian Red Cross and Ikea for restoring a little perspective. See below:


In the blink of an eye

A star is born?

I have commented many times on here about Christmas advertising campaigns. For the most part I find them to be clever, insightful and thought-provoking.  The launch of the Christmas ad campaign from all the major retailers is like a 21-gun salute to a commercial Christmas, filling the air with the heady cordite of spending. The campaigns often take the best part of a year to finesse, and budgets well in excess of £1 million are considered money well spent because of the revenue they generate.

Given all of this, I love the offering below, from A-level student Nick Jablonka. Submitted as part of a coursework piece on the power of John Lewis advertising, it was created within a two-week window on home software:

It is a credit to Nick’s skills that the advert was mistaken by many for the real thing. Instead, it is a home-made homage, which has garnered him an appreciative audience way beyond the classroom. Perhaps it is skill, rather than money, which speaks…



Curl up and get out

A review of ‘Winter’ edited by Melissa Harrison

Every good book is a door to somewhere else, don’t you think? To open its covers is to open onto a landscape which you have not yet crossed and to feel yourself beckoned in. It might be an intellectual landscape – littered with strange formations of thought-rocks you have never encountered. It might be an emotional landscape – bathed in the colour of an unfamiliar sky. It might even be a spiritual one, animated by the sound of an unheard yet strangely familiar melody.

Open the covers of this book, and you might feel your eyes smarting from the bitter cold of a sharp and spectacular winter’s day. Screw them up against the icy blast and you might catch sight of a beautiful mountain hare – ears pricked up and eyes looking back at you. This book will take you from mountain heights to urban jungle, and from the back of a cow shed to the slippery deck of an 18th Century sailing ship.

Let the rich vocabulary play with your senses as you consider ‘the static scroll of winter’s radio’ or the role of the ‘cloud-gatherer’.  As with all the other three volumes in the is series, Melissa Harrison has gone out of her way to wedge the door of this book as wide open as she can, admitting poets, naturalists, young writers of whom you have never heard and old writers whom you had forgotten.

If you want a book to help reduce your heating bills this Winter, this could be it. The cosy effect of curling up with it will work wonders.

In all honesty, I have only one criticism to level at this series. It has taught me to appreciate the world in which I live and the seasonal colours it sports more than I would ever have thought possible. Regrettably, though – I am left with a problem. Could we not have another season so that there could be another book?


CLICK for details of the book from Elliott and Thompson

1795 days

In praise of teamwork

I have never quite got my head around the concept of ‘light years’ – although I think it is a way of measuring enormous distances in such a way as to seem accessible. Thus an object which is 100 light years away is the distance which it would take light 100 years to travel. Given that light travels ‘at the speed of light’ that would be a very long way. The other day I met a (relatively) new dad who was still measuring the age of his infant son in days. At a point where most people would have switched from weeks to months, he was still counting in days. Somehow, it registered just how precious every day was in the presence of this little person.

Today, it is 1795 days since Littlest Star was written – at first scribbled on a bit of A4 paper, then typed up for me to read from, then made into a little booklet. You can find the details here. After that came the Slovak translation, the fuzzy felt depiction, the German translation, the radio appearances – and eventually the introduction to Lion Children’s. Today, the book goes on sale.

I have written extensively elsewhere about the story of the story. Today it is time simply to say ‘thank you’. I am grateful to every gifted hand and every generous spirit and every fine mind which has helped this story on the way. May it find its way to many a child’s heart this Christmas. Like the new dad -if I am counting in days, it is a way to remember how precious they are, and to marvel at how this little one has grown.


You did what to your Bible?

A review of the Hodder Journalling Bible for colouring in

I was brought up in a household with books. Often to the amazement of my school friends – there were shelves and shelves of them. There were new paperbacks and old embossed hardbacks. There were novels and guidebooks and history books and natural history collections and everything in between. Growing up in such an environment, there are certain rules which go without saying:

  • Never turn down a corner to mark a page – use a bookmark!
  • Never write in a book, unless to write your name neatly on a flyleaf.
  • Never, ever write on the pages of a book.
  • Do not draw, or colour on the pages of a book.

The experience of studying for three degrees and almost 30 years as a Pastor has relaxed some of those rules. I often pencil notes in a theological book which I can then ‘hoover up’ afterwards to summarise its contents. I have owned a string of increasingly messy Bibles – and encourage others to mark them with notes, underlinings and dates. That said, to take coloured pencils and colour in a Bible is a new thing entirely.

With some degree of unease, I bought a box of coloured pencils and set to work:


With a children’s talk to give on Ruth, I decided to start with an illustration of her story, and was quickly absorbed in the task.


In some ways, the absorption is the point. Ever since artist Johanna Basford was asked in 2001 to switch her talents from designing wine labels to designing colouring books for adults a right-brain revolution has started. Colouring books for adults are a huge marketing opportunity, so maybe it was only a matter of time before somebody brought out a Bible which could be coloured.

The Hodder Bible has 32 plates which can be coloured, and its ivory pages have wide margins to allow for notes, annotations, or even doodles on the pages where the text itself is printed. Whilst this necessitates a very small 7.25pt font, the text is clear – and I suspect that most people who own this Bible will have access to others anyway if they wish to study the text.

This is not a Bible to study, though. Rather, it is a Bible with which we are encouraged to interact. Those wide margins are just crying out to be written upon, and Stu McLellan’s illustrations have enough charm to intrigue without dictating how they should be completed. His illustration for Colossians 3 v.17, seen below, is typical. Where else would an artist think about bringing glory to God but…on a desk cluttered with art materials?


Much of the emphasis in contemporary communication is on speed. Those who can provide the quickest transfer of information and those who can accelerate the speed of downloading it are winning the communications game. As a man who spends his life encouraging others to absorb what God has to say to them, I have been looking for the handbrake! This Bible will encourage all who use it to go a little slower, absorb a little more and think a little more deeply – which can only be a good thing.


More than a rainbow

A moment of glory

There is something inexplicably captivating about rainbows. A couple of days ago I was privileged to see this one arcing majestically across the Vale of the White Horse:


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A little later on I was in the lobby of the local cinema – surrounded by all the artificial glitz and glamour of movie-world. Without exception ,every head was turned away from the popcorn and flashing lights to gaze at the rainbow against a darkening sky from the upstairs lobby window.

Every time I see a rainbow my thoughts go back to Scottish Minister George Matheson. Ever since the age of 18, his sight had been declining. Despite the odds, he gained his degree, graduated from Glasgow University, and went on to serve as minister at parishes in Clydeside and Edinburgh. At the age of 40, his proposal for marriage was turned down as his fiancee felt that the obstacles imposed by his blindness were just too great. It was in that year that he wrote his great hymn, O love that wilt not let me go’. In its original version it reads ‘I climb the rainbow though the rain, and see the promise is not vain – that morn shall tearless be’

Like the rainbow below, such words of faith can illuminate the darkest landscape:


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Fruit and nuts

A foraged sermon on forgiveness

One of the elements which we have lost from the preaching and storytelling of Jesus is the extent to which they were drawn from his immediate setting in time and space. Thus, for instance, he uses the moment when a child is thrust at him for a blessing to talk about childlike faith. He uses a shouted question from the crowd about the latest news story to talk about the brevity of life and the need for repentance. Some commentators would have us believe that he used the nickname of a narrow gate in Jerusalem’s city wall to talk about rich men entering heaven like a ‘camel through the eye of the needle’

Yesterday morning, I preached on the subject of ‘forgiving one another’, and went foraging in the church car park for my visual aid. A heavily laden walnut tree, some of whose boughs currently adorn the pulpit, gave me plenty of scope.

I love walnuts – but to bite into the hard outer hull would be bitter at best. If I were to pierce it successfully with my teeth, the resulting juices would stain my skin indelibly. Even if I succeeded in removing that hull – I would still be faced with the unyielding walnut shell.  Inside very Christian man or woman there is goodness, God-ness and the rainbow-coloured grace of God to rival the sweetness of any nut. The trouble is, it gets overlaid by layer after layer of unforgiven slights and resentment. Each adds to the last – until a hard shell is formed disguising the beauty of God underneath.

Walnut to one side, I could then talk about setting habits of forgiveness and giving that goodness inside a little more chance to shine. Click here for more details

Years ago, there was a poster in the Youth Lounge at my church reading ‘God want spiritual fruits, not religious nuts’! Hopefully these particular nuts may lead to some fruit.


Fruit or nuts?

Out of the mouths…

The story of a mini-induction

Yesterday was my induction service as Senior Minister of Newbury Baptist Church. It was a lovely occasion – joyful, humbling affirming and visionary all in one. To stand there, surrounded by members of my own family, my new church family, the wider church and those from other churches where I have served was a moment whose joy will linger for many months to come.

However, perhaps the most special moment of all was being ‘put on the spot’ by representatives of the children and young people of the church. I had especially asked that they should play a role in the service, since I am as much their pastor as anybody else’s. Below is the text in full of my ‘mini-induction’:

Young person: We give you this plant to remind you of today and we have three questions for you.

Child 1: Please will you teach us all about Jesus by telling us lots of stories?

Richard: I will

Child 1: This pot has all our names to remember who we are and that we will listen and learn

Child 2: Please will you help us to get to know God as our Father by answering all our questions?

Richard: I will do my best

Child 2: Please take this plant to remember how we want to grow, we promise to ask lots of questions.

Young person: Please will you lead us and guide us in the spirit that so we can learn to have all the fruits of the spirit?

Richard: I will

Young person: Please accept this Olive tree and its fruit as a reminder of the fruits of the spirit we will use together

Youth person: Now we want to pray for you….


Of all the promises I made yesterday, I’ve a feeling it is these ones which will challenge me the most in the years ahead.


To believe, serve and lead

On the eve of an induction

It is now 11 months since I first began negotiations with Newbury Baptist Church about the prospect of becoming their new minister. In between then and now a river has flowed under the bridge. In its flow it has carried the challenges of relinquishing a 19-year long pastorate, the upheaval of moving house, the joys of a new home and the exciting possibilities of a new calling. I have been welcomed in my new church by the youngest and the oldest, and other local church leaders have embraced a new colleague with warmth and faith.

Tomorrow, the whole thing becomes official. Of course, I am the Minister of Newbury Baptist Church already. However, tomorrow at 3 pm, witnessed by members of former churches and of this new one, I shall take my solemn vows. I shall answer questions about what I believe, about my willingness to serve this new church, and about my charge to lead it. Like the vows at a wedding service – they change everything and nothing. All these things are true already. Vowing to keep them before witnesses, though, is an important acknowledgement of the hand of God in all that has been and all that will be. Keeping these vows is impossible without God’s help. With it, though, they are just the beginning.

The young people and children will be asking me to make vows too.  They involve stories, questions and an olive tree. More about that next week on the blog.

In the meantime I leave you with a beautiful banner which will gaze down on tomorrow’s events. I pray that they, like the banner itself, might reflect a little of God’s beauty. If praying is what you like to do – then your prayers tomorrow would be hugely appreciated. Thank you.

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