Thursday, 24 October 2013

Why I haven't been blogging much

This is my first post for 6 months so I thought I'd better explain why.

Put simply another part of my body has stopped working and I've found doing anything a bit of a struggle; be it physical or mental activity.  This all started around Easter 2012 when my wife and I both caught a virus that laid us low for several weeks.  I eventually got over the virus but I was left feeling tired and drained so I did less and less, put on weight and did even less.  My GP was puzzled so in April 2013 referred me to the chest consultant - who I saw in July!

The good news is that he quickly found out what's gone wrong - the bad news is they can't do anything about it.  The virus has damaged the nerve to the right side of my diaphragm so that side no longer responds.  This has cut my lung capacity by about 10-15% but, sadly, it has done this to my healthier lung - both have asthma but my left lung also has dead patches (bronchiectasis.)  Apparently there is an operation that may repair the nerve but it kills 10% of the patients any way so is rarely used.

The consultants instructions were to lose weight (excess weight pushes the lung up higher) and to exercise more and while I have managed to loose about a stone in weight (that's 14lb to any readers in the USA) I have yet to get the exercise going as I still feel very tired.

If you have managed to read this far you may be wondering what this has to do with my lack of blogging.  The simple answer is the brain is fuelled by oxygen so any time my lungs misbehave my mind goes all fuzzy and stops working correctly.  As a result I have found it hard to think and, sadly, even harder to read anything more than a newspaper.  The good news is the weight loss seems to be working and my mind is beginning to get back to normal; hence this post and, I hope, a few more in the coming weeks.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Do you ever mishear something and think it made more sense than what was actually said? Well this happened to me when I was listening to the radio in the car and they were talking about the undergraduate students at Jesus College Oxford paying £3.90 a term to enable a young woman from Gaza to attend their college. (full story here:

My initial reaction was that it was good to have a story about Oxbridge (collective for Oxford and Cambridge for those outside the UK) students which wasn't about drunkenness and bad behaviour.  As both my children went to Cambridge I know they play hard but that is only one side of the story - they work exceedingly hard at the same time.

The words that caught my attention were said by the young lady from Jesus College who had set up this scheme and I thought I heard her say "We all know He is Risen" which I thought was sensible given the name of the college.  It took me a moment to realise that she said "We all know fees have risen"  which made more sense in the conversation about students giving money to help someone who wouldn't otherwise be able to join them.

However as I thought about it my initial mishearing started to make sense as well.  Jesus, when announced his ministry quoted Isaiah when he said "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor." and what is this but an example of good news to the poor?  So, in a way probably not recognised by most of the students involved, I think it is quite right to say "We all know He is Risen." for this is indeed the work of His Kingdom.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Does the Church Need Defending?

This morning this headline caught my attention and made me stop and think:

Los Angeles archdiocese pays $10m to settle abuse cases 

(Read more here

A church rightly ends up paying $10m to victims of abuse when so much good could have been done with that money?   I have no reason to doubt that  Cardinal Roger Mahony is a reasonable God fearing man who has acted out of the best of intentions so what had gone wrong?

It appears that in this case, and others, the Roman Catholic Church has put the defence of itself and its institutions before the needs of the abused and downtrodden.  At that point it would be easy to write this off as a problem with that church, to tut, and to carry on but I think there is a lesson here for all Christians.

The Church has, over the centuries, developed many organisations forms to help administer and direct its work.  Whether this is right or not is irrelevant because that is where we all are be we Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or even Baptist.  The problem arises when we react to defend the institution over the individual and in doing so we lose sight of our original objective to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.  We do this by discouraging troublemakers and try to maintain unity at all costs in order to protect 'the church.'  An example of this is the efforts made in the Anglican church to keep everyone in the fold over the issue of women bishops; the church has got so caught up in trying not to upset some people that it is prepared to disadvantage women over a matter of justice.

Churches are, generally, good places full of people trying to do God's work but we need to be careful that it remains the way to God's Kingdom and not the Kingdom itself.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

How Prayer Works

A Thought Prompted by the Book of Tobit

Fairly recently someone asked me if I read the Bible and to my answer of 'Yes' they replied 'Including the Apocrypha?'  Now they were teasing me but it did make me think about why I hadn't read it.  For those of you who don't know the Apocrypha is the bit of the Bible written between the Jewish exile and birth of Jesus which isn't in the Jewish scriptures and was removed from the Bible by the protestant reformers because it appeared have been written in Greek and not Hebrew - although they may have just disagreed with its theology.  I had owned a copy of the Bible with the Apocrypha since the early 1960's when my grandparents bought us all a copy of the brand new translation - The New English Bible - although I suspect this has had something to do with my not reading the Apocrypha as I find the NEB even harder to read than the KJV.

Having armed myself with a more readable translation and an introduction to the Apocrypha I started reading it with no clue to what I would make of it.  So far I have read Tobit and for a story about a devout man blinded by sleeping under a nest of sparrows, a woman who is haunted by a devil that has killed 7 men who married her as soon as they got into the wedding bedroom and the angel Raphael I found at least one thing that made it worth reading.  Raphael has been acting in disguise and towards the end of the story he reveals who is and says:

So now when you (Tobit) and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, ... God sent me to heal you and Sarah your daughter-in-law. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord.
(I've left part out or I'd have to include most of the preceding 11 Chapters)

What I want you to notice is that when Raphael brings their prayers before God the only thing God does is to tell Raphael to go and sort it out.  This made me wonder about how often we pray to God about situations when what we should be doing is sorting it out.  I know this isn't always the case, e.g. when praying for a sick friend, but I suspect it is true more than we would like to admit.

So there you have it, a lesson from the Apocrypha.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Dancing Gorilla

When you go to a service in a church with a very different background to your own do you see the dancing gorilla?  Yes I know that sounds mad but let me explain.  In an experiment radiologists were asked to look for cancer cells in lung scans that had the added bonus of a picture of a dancing gorilla but 80% of radiologists and 100% of unskilled observers failed to see it. (see here for more details

This got me thinking how often do we only see things the way we expect them to be and how often when faced with something strange do we look at it through the lens of our experience and fail to see what is really there?  If, like me, you were brought up in a church that had plain walls you may find a church that is highly decorated with statues rather discordant and possibly idolatrous.  However to someone used to that church it helps them see God's Glory and they would wonder what type of God you worshipped if they came to your plain church. Similarly someone used to a worship band style of worship may find a liturgical service over organised and stifling whilst the person who is used to a liturgical service may find a modern service chaotic.  In both these cases instead of not liking it why not ask the people who go there why things are done that way.  The liturgical service may help remind people of God's constancy whilst the freer style of service may give room for the Holy Spirit to work. No matter what the service you may just find your preconceptions being stripped away until you see the dancing gorilla that you missed at first sight.  Of course the answer may be "I don't know, we've always done it like that." which could be the spark that church needs to start looking at itself.
So next time you go to a strange place of worship just stop and ask yourself "Where is the dancing gorilla?" you may be surprised at what is right in front of you.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

New Lamps For Old

Today I saw this headline "Pope Benedict XVI posts first tweet in Latin" and it caught my attention rather more than I expected.  In one way it doesn't concern me at all as 1) I'm not a Roman Catholic and 2) I don't speak Latin but it caught my attention because I had recently been involved in a couple of on-line discussions which centred around old v new in Christianity.  Now this, unfortunately, has been going on in the Church at least as long ago as the Council of Jerusalem (50AD?) and it remains so to this day; what new thing should we be doing and what old things have passed their sell by date?

As I pondered this a verse sprang to mind:

"In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams."

In particular the bit about young men having visions and old men dreaming dreams seemed to be relevant. Why that way round?  Why not young men dreaming and old men of visions?  Of course young men (and women) are renowned for being full of ideas and plans as they set out on life so it is easy to see why they are people of 'vision' but where do the old men's dreams come into it?

To look at this I want to go back to the Pope Tweeting in Latin.  As I have already said this, to me, is irrelevant as I don't follow the Pope and my knowledge of Latin is limited to bits used in English and the words used in church music; not that I often know what I'm singing about.  So my first reaction was that this  is just an old man hanging onto an outdated tradition (Latin - not Tweeting) for the sake of it.  However I think I can see some reasons why preserving Latin in the Roman Catholic Church may be useful; it gives a worldwide church a common language, it encourages it's priests and bishops to wrestle with ancient texts written in Latin and, at times, it is just so much more beautiful than English.  This old man's dream of holding onto Latin may, in fact, be sensible so it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand and run over by 'progress.'

There are a lot of great things that have been handed down to today's church from our forefathers that we need to value and preserve so that they are still there to delight and enlighten future generations.  Liturgies, sacraments and music spring to mind.  There is also a lot of cultural baggage that we hang onto even though it    is no longer anything to do with the Church's mission to the world; if it ever was in the first place.  From my own experience the protestant church in the UK does, at times, appear to think that Victoria is still on the throne and not Elizabeth II.

As with so many things it is all about a question of balance and for this we need the Holy Spirit to lead us with Her wisdom.  The impetuousness of youth does, at times, need tempering by the steady voice of experience but equally the old man dreaming dreams needs to be reminded that sitting back in a comfy chair just because it's comfortable doesn't get much done either.

New lamps for old?  Sometimes.  If you have an old lamp that no longer works properly you need to replace it to shed new light on your situation.  However the story of Aladdin should warn us that sometimes an old lamp is something extremely valuable that should not be thrown away.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Pet Hate

There are many things that I like and love about communal church worship but there is one thing that drives me mad - it's the amount of rubbish words that are spoken.  I'm not talking about the preaching but about the singing and congregational responses.  As St Paul said "So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and enquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?"

It seems to be a particular problem with modern worship songs where the lack of punctuation often results in people putting the breaks wherever they want and so making no sense of the words.

However my main gripe is with the way the Lord's Prayer is said:

Our Father who art in heaven.

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done.

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

and forgive us our sins.

as we forgive those who sin against us.

and lead us not into temptation.

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

For some reason everyone speeds up at the end and makes sense of it but what on earth do we mean by "on earth as it is in heaven." or, even worse, "as we forgive those who sin against us."

Please, the church has some wonderful hymns, songs and liturgies so let's try to at least use the words properly so that they make sense to a stranger ... and us.