Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

I love the late Frank Zappa. He produced a huge range of styles of music and thus has a back catalogue it is almost impossible to tire of. What is less well known is what an interesting interviewee he was, once he was pinned down to a proper conversation:

966. The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child, receive adulation for being good parents - because they have a tame child-creature in their home.
(The Guardian, 'Family' 29/7/06)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

960. The ethos of Room 318 was one with which all BBC bosses should be tattooed: 'We're not here to give people what they want but what they didn't know they wanted.'
(Andy Kershaw, The Independent 7/10/05 on John Peel and John Walters' office)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

942. Science has supplanted religion as the chief source of authority, but at the cost of making human life accidental and insignificant. If our lives are to have any meaning, the power of science must be overthrown and faith re-established.
(John Gray: Straw Dogs, page 18)


Wednesday 10th September - Deanery Chapter (regular meeting of Anglican clergy)
Thursday 11th September - Christians Together in Nailsea and District leaders' lunch (monthly meeting)
Tuesday 16th September - Christians Together in Nailsea and District leaders' away day (annual event)
Thursday 18th September - Anglican Local Ministry Group clergy breakfast (monthly meeting)
Thursday 18th September - Deanery Synod (def: a group of people waiting to go home)

A bit like those cicadas who have prime number breeding cycles leading to occasional plague years. It's been a very co-operative week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I read this recently on Andy Mort's Sheep Dressed Like Wolves site.

I scoff at the idea of experts. I don’t believe that anyone is even close to being an expert. Absolutely, other people have more experience than us and we can learn from these great teachers, but the idea that anyone has all the answers/the assumption they have finished learning or growing, is laughable.

It reminded me that a few years ago I spent some months collecting some of the definitions of 'expert' which I found being used. Here are some of my favourites:
  • An expert is someone who has the ability to hang on for five seconds after everyone else has fallen off.
  • An ex is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure.
  • An expert is someone from more than fifty miles away with a briefcase.
  • An expert is someone who is also wrong but for more sophisticated reasons.
  • An expert is someone who has made more mistakes than you.

Quote of the Day

940. ...human knowledge is always provisional, and always demands some form of personal commitment. In this respect, at least, the human race is one big faith group.
(Nick Spencer, LICC, 'Consenting with Culture' 26/8/05)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

That's Right

Somewhere along the line I started saying 'absolutely' when I meant an enthusiastic yes. I don't know if I am bored with this constant refrain or if I fear others may be, but it is proving difficult to eradicate. I must have been doing it for quite a while.

A friend of mine plays a game with cold callers. Such people like to ask you questions where the answer is yes. It gets you in the mood for a positive reply, allegedly. So this friend tries never to reply affirmatively twice in the same way in a conversation. He plays telephone Boggle, awarding himself a prize for original words. I do it too now. It's fun. You should try it.



Quite so.

I agree.

Absolut... I mean you're right.

That's it.



But I have a colleague who is addicted to another word. It is quite clever. When You are right he says, 'Correct'. Correct is a nice thing to hear. It feels like you have pleased the teacher. We all like pleasing teacher. So we, perhaps inadvertently, try to make statements in his company that are correct. We fear the response, 'Incorrect'.

I don't think he is deviously manipulative. I think he may have the same problem as me with a different word. We all get locked in to programmed responses with junk conversational DNA. Can we cure ourselves? Absolutely. But it may take time and we may need help.

Quote of the Day

928. None of us asked to be born. And I still believe it's up to our parents to make life so attractive to us that eventually, we feel grateful for having been born, and not resentful.
(Virginia Ironside, The Independent Review 28/2/05)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quote of the Day

How about this on the future of the church?

917. Religion certainly hasn't had its day and spirituality hasn't had its day. The problem with the church is that institutions get calcified, and anything that doesn't bend breaks.
(The World According To... Rex Weyler, The Independent 5/10/04)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Judgement Day

I may have read too much Grisham or watched too much Good Wife, but today I caught a few minutes on Sky News of the live proceedings from the Pistorius trial in South Africa. And my one thought was how desperately slow it all was.

This was not born out of a desire to cut to the chase, nor to read the last few pages of the novel first. It was a sympathy for the defendant. Pistorius knows what he has done. He alone does. For when two people walk into a room and only one walks out there is an inevitable bias in the record of what occurred. But he has been found, at the time I write, guilty of culpable homicide and not guilty of murder.

And now he waits while legal arguments are made about the bail possibilities pending sentencing. During this period his current address was broadcast to the world. Again that seems odd to a Brit.

How can one sit calmly for so long awaiting sentence? An attribute of civilised society is that we are not cruel to offenders. We aim to punish them without undue cruelty. We take away liberty not fingernails.

In the absence of a jury, which is how this case has worked, the judge hears arguments then heads off to ponder and research. But presumably she already has a good idea of what sentence to impose. Yet Pistorius must wait. Until mid-October. It takes forever. And that seems harsh.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bible 3

The very wonderful Brian McLaren is talking of the idea of Bible 3. In fact not so much an idea as a description of the era of Bible-use we are now in.

In Bible 1 culture very few people had access to the scriptures. Only significant spiritual leaders did. They told the people what the Bible said and the people responded. So whole nations became Christian, because you did what the king/emperor said.

In Bible 2 culture local communities had their own spiritual leaders. So churches developed with a particular outlook. It is one of the reasons the Church of England has liberal Catholic churches next to charismatic evangelical ones. The local priest told the people how to behave, what to believe and they followed.

This culture lasted longer than it should. It was one of the reasons Philip Pullman's criticism, that the church was an organisation designed to keep people in order, hit the mark. It was. We didn't let people think for themselves soon enough.

In Bible 3 everyone has access to everything anyone has ever said everywhere about all passages all the time. If I preach something unpopular the congregation can google seven different interpretations of the same passage before Sunday lunch.

Bouncing off this thesis, it seems to me that the job of the preacher is now much less to expound one particular model of certainty but to explain the options. And Christians will need to become much more comfortable living with people of opposing, or complementary, views.

So I may say, of an early Genesis passage, there are Christians who take this historically and those who believe it is fable. You need to decide what you believe, and if that makes a difference to the truth it contains.

Of sexuality I need to say that some people feel the Bible's stance against same sex behaviour is fixed and immutable for all time. Others feel the Bible models a developing understanding of same sex relationships and knows little of exclusive, lifelong same-sex marriage so cannot affirm it. You may need to be welcoming to people who do not agre with you that they are sinning.

It's one of the reasons why I am keen to start a 'Questioning the Unquestionable' group soon. I have a few guinea pigs for a meeting next week and, if it is a goer, will advertise more widely. It may be that some who are not church members, because they feel some things cannot be be questioned, might find it a useful route in.

Quotes of the Day

Missed yesterday so two today, as a punishment (for me, not you).

Anthony Grayling returns, here quoting Lichtenburg:

896. ...a book is like a mirror: if an ass peers in do not expect an apostle to look out.
(The Reason of Things, page xiii)

And the musician Carlos Santana:

910. 99% of life is God's grace and 1% is personal effort. It's stupid to say 'I did it my way'. Can you imagine dying and going to heaven and singing that song? The angels would leave you belly up.
(OM The Observer Magazine, Easter Sunday 11/4/04)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Quote of the Day

There are some lovely lines in the movie 'The Life of David Gale'. Kevin Spacey plays the eponymous lead and at one point he says:

885. You can tell you're in the Bible Belt when there are more prisons than Starbucks.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Quote of the Day

872. There is nothing resembling a uniquely American worldview. America is too vast, and ultimately too unknowable, to give birth to one way of seeing things.
(John Gray. Al Qaeda and What It Means To Be Modern)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

RIP Brenda Tilley

My Aunty Brenda died on Wednesday. She was 94, or maybe 95.

When I was a child she lived with my family. She was my father's sister.

Brenda caught viral meningitis aged twelve. She recovered but mentally she developed no further. I image the diagnostic skills and help available in 1931/2 were not that precise.

My mother tells of the day she first encountered Brenda on being taken back to my Dad's home to meet his family. 'How old is your sister?' she asked, 'Fourteen or fifteen?' She was looking at a girl wearing a pinafore dress and playing in the garden. She was twenty-six.

Thanks to the goodwill of her father's business she was able to work in an office, without qualifications, for many years. She did basic filing and secretarial work, retiring in her late fifties.

The house I grew up in was left jointly to her and my father after their mother died in about 1958 or so. The living arrangements, which had seen me and my parents live on the first floor as a separate flat and Brenda and her Mum live downstairs, were changed. Brenda lived in a two room bedsit on the first floor and we lived in the rest of the house, joined by my sister about the same time.

Having an Aunty Brenda, who popped her head round the door two or three times a day, was normal for me. She usually coincided her little trips to family mealtimes - she liked to see what we were eating.

She was a creature of habit. She visited her sisters on particular days of the week, joined us for meals on family celebrations, ate at the same time each day. When she went to Selly Oak, a Birmingham suburb, she was one of the last people I knew to refer to it as 'Going up the village'. She attended St Stephen's, Selly Park for the evening service each week, sitting in the same pew all the time.

I won't pretend this was an easy arrangement for my folks - there were rows about tidiness and cleanliness. She wasn't very good at cleaning her cooker so upstairs ponged a bit sometimes.

She loved the TV soaps, adored the pianist Russ Conway but beyond that was a person of simple taste and few diversions. For many years she prided herself on not eating chocolate but in later life her willpower flagged.

She was my godmother. I still have, and use, a copy of the Book of Common Prayer she gave me as a baptism gift (aged 4 months).

Don Humphreys persuaded her to come on a CYFA Venture (holiday houseparty for teenagers) at Clevedon as a cook. She did it once only though.

After Dad died my Mum and Brenda sold the house. Brenda lived independently for a year or two but then had a hip operation from which she did not fully recover. She ended her days in Selly Park Nursing Home. Her remaining family gathered for her 90th birthday, which she seemed to enjoy, but since then she has barely communicated or recognised us. My cousin Gordon, many years older than me, has been a great support to his Aunt in her last years.


Quote of the Day

863. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives but none about his or her own.
(Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Quote of the Day

856. ...all the really good ideas were thought up by men idling about at home, sitting in the bath or watching the kettle boil.
(Richard Ingrams, the Observer, 11/5/03)


Where do you think one might find the most uncomfortable pews in the land? There are surely many fine contenders for what would be an award if I could be bothered with a prize. I have endured many of them. Great Alne in Warwickshire sticks in my memory. Nearby Christ Church, Nailsea's pews were designed for people with a shorter distance between hip and thigh. But on Monday I attended an induction at St Andrew's, Clevedon and was required to robe and sit in the choir stalls.

The first thing I did, on sitting down and leaning back, was to smash the back of my head on a sticky-out bit of wood. My taller colleague next to me was not so afflicted and therefore chuckled. Scott Smith - you have been warned.

But after a few minutes the short distance between hip and thigh problem occurred coincident with a knobbly protrusion sticking into the base of my spine and doing its work.

I spent the whole service sliding down, yelping, levering up and smacking my head - in turn. It was particularly nasty to have people sing 'Brother sister let me serve you' during some of this.

Any challenges?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Quote of the Day

About the turn of the millennium I began to discover the writings of Anthony Grayling. His little collections of philosophical essays on various subjects were, by and large, wonderful and occasionally a great challenge to think. How dare I feel a doctor of philosophy at the University of London might be wrong and the followers of a once-dead Galilean carpenter and his fishermen friends right.

But some of the sentences are a joy:

839. ...there is more danger to one's hopes, one's mettle, one's pride, in venturing into the battle of ideas, than in murdering a man who disagrees with you - and that doing so therefore takes proportionally more courage.

The Meaning of Things (Phoenix 2001)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Job Opportunity

Sting and Mrs Styler have been advertising for folk to help on their Italian estate with the olive and grape harvest, apparently for €262 a pop. Got me thinking:

Authentic North Somerset autumn garden experience.

Cut back the overgrown shrubbery

Remove bindweed

Regrout patio flagstones (bring own grout and trowel)

Deadhead under the guidance of head gardener

Clean and store summer tools

Tidy shed and garage

You only pay £100 a day to include bed, breakfast and a pint of cider

Lifts to station provided

Cash up front; no time wasters

Daft Sayings

This morning I'd like to nominate 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' as the most unhelpful expression ever tossed about by politicians. I've heard it a few times from the Darling mob (although not from him to be fair) and it is a recipe for disaster. Now I am not saying that devolution is definitely the answer - although it would be for an independent, non-unionist England I would vote if given a chance. Yes I know that would stick the Labour Party in the doldrums short term but we would sort it out eventually.

No, my problem is this. A far better mantra is 'Everything needs fixing'. It is the model of ministry I have worked with for the last twenty years at least. Things that are going well need as much attention as things that are broken.

Successful home groups need to multiply before they become too big for individuals to contribute.

Successful churches need to plant new ones or add congregations before they are too full.

Great youth ministries with a good team of leaders need to recruit more before the existing ones stand down.

Good preachers train, read and practice.

Complex bell-curve diagram drawn by me
And so on, and so on...

So it is pretty clear that, whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, there will be roughly 40-49% of the population who did not get what they wanted. And that will need fixing.

There is a bell-shaped curve to competence.

Starting out
Over the hill

All tasks and ministries and organisations follow it. Just before it peaks is the best time to intervene to improve.

If it ain't broke; fix it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

There were several quotes I came across today from John Armstrong's little book 'Conditions of Love' which I appear to no longer own. Here is one of the best, summarising Aristotle:

830 ...on the whole people who are intelligent, generous, self-controlled, sociable and courageous (who don't give up too easily) are more likely to end up happy than those who lack these qualities. Happiness, therefore, depends to a large extent upon your personal qualities.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bonus (and long) Quote

I get a weekly e-digest of the news and associated media stories and quotes. Today this cropped up:

Michael Phillips Moskowitz writing for Monocle notes that too often in business, basic kindness is eschewed in the name of efficiency, speed or tooth-and-claw competition. Nice is seen as evidence of nativity (sic). Yet in all professional relationships there is such a thing as a currency of good deeds - simple favours, personal introductions, proactive generosity and pre-emptive connections. The soft power of personality and informality can outperform harder deliverables. The strongest bonds in business are often fortified through acts of personal kindness. It won’t be long before this notion of goodness becomes part of our business identities, whether they’re corporate or personal profiles. If success is increasingly determined by who and not just what you know then the manner in which we treat people may - and likely will – soon prove the key arbiter of prosperity. Celebrate other people and their accomplishments and opportunistically seek out chance to aid others. It’s not about quid pro quo but almost selflessly demonstrating an interest in others. Success, like staring at stars, is best enjoyed obliquely, even if we intuitively think it’s a straight path.

I thought it was magnificent. Last time someone went round saying be nice to each other they nailed him to a cross (Douglas Adams noted) but it may just catch on.

To receive the digest contact Editorial Intelligence Ltd by email or call 020 7759 1850. Registered in England No. 04763083

Quote of the Day

814. I am retiring as a satirist due to unfair competition from real life.

(Tom Lehrer - on hearing of Kissinger's Nobel Peace Prize)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

801. We trained hard. But it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising and a wonderful method it can be for creating an illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.

(Petronius Arbiter. Roman Governor of Bithynia 503CE)

(Thanks for comments. Now attributed to Charlton Ogburn 1957 but apparently frequently misattributed.)

Spinning David

By the time of Jesus the verdict on Israel's great king, David, was fixed. Here is the man against whom kingship standards are measured.

So although John's gospel goes out of the way to say that Jesus comes from Galilee, and shows Jesus demonstrating from Isaiah 9 that this is just as much a messianic expectation as Bethlehem, it is still important that he is of David's line for the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Which might mean we would find good things in the biblical account of the history of David. And indeed we do, in the commentaries upon it. But in 1 Samuel we find an account of a king doing as a king does - beating up the little guys, choosing the best women for his harem and holding grudges.

Consider one of the three accounts of the beginning of David's coming to the notice of the Court of Saul (there are three, and none of them makes reference to any of the others) - the story of Goliath. A later hint that the giant was killed by someone other than David and then the narrative placed in David's life (2 Samuel 21:19) is rarely referred to by preachers. Indeed 1 Chronicles 20:5 smooths over the inconsistency by suggesting Goliath had a brother. 1 and 2 Chronicles do this sort of thing a lot.

Taking the account at face value, what is the first thing that David says as he strolls onto the world stage? In the narrative of the choosing and anointing of the youngest son of Jesse, David has no lines. In the account of the harp-playing, trouble-soother of Saul's demons he has no speech either. Only in the Goliath story of 1 Samuel 17 does David speak. How does he announce himself?

'What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine?'

Yes folks, that's right. David wanders in with the line 'What's in it for me?' He may be a good-looking shepherd-boy but he has a mercenery's heart. He wants a reward.

David's ability in battle is, however, more than just legendary. Whether or not he actually discarded his bronze-age armour and used his stone-age weapon to defeat his iron-age adversary, he eventually becomes the subject of a chant 'Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands'.

And in a world where we are rightly horrified by beheading, the habit of collecting the foreskins of the vanquished is a bit of biblical history we also wander quickly beyond.

Cue another bit of unspun action. David asks his best mate Jonathan to lie to explain his absence from a royal banquet.

This is seen as perfectly normal behaviour by the authors. It warrants no criticism.

And so our account of the life of David proceeds. Mistresses and wives collected. Adultery committed. The husband of one of his female conquests bumped off by placing him on the front line. And by his death bed a list of enemies for his son Solomon to continue beating up on.

The judgement of history from the letter to the Hebrews, where great heroes of the faith are listed, is this:

'I do not have time to tell about ... David ...'

So he was not everyone's cup of tea. Our Morning Prayer lectionary walk through the life of David as told by 1 Samuel is the story of kings doing as kings do.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail the king arrives in a village. The Pythons announced him with this timeless two lines of dialogue:

How do we know he's the king?
He ain't got shit on him.

That's the truth about ancient kingdoms. The boss avoided the shit. Others protected them from it, and once you were the king all matters of right and wrong are judged on the basis that the king must be right. And only occasionally will a prophet brave the court to challenge in the name of The Lord. Samuel, Nathan and the company of the prophets are going to be our heroes and heroines.

Yet I give the last word to musician Bono who, writing an introduction to the controversial, but brilliant Pocket Canons, said:

'That the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort.'
(Introduction to Psalms)

Wet noise

A gentle grace
Whooshing into wet
Tiny patter of little pitters
And soon the sound
Surpasses the radio
In my conservatory of percussive precipitation
Whilst on the patio
A bird bath bubbling
Water table rising slowly in this
Green unpleasant land

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

This is a very topical quote, although thirteen years old, given the current focus on terrorism and atrocity around the world:

796 ...change is only possible if the powerful understand the rage that moves those who hate us so. It is certainly necessary to pursue those who commit evil acts: but it is equally important to taste the bitterness of their hatred.
(John Kennedy, Independent on Saturday, 3/10/01)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

A few quotes in the latest batch of ten I indexed were from Matt Ridley's excellent book 'Genome'. Here he quotes James Watson:

784. We talk of gene therapy as if it can change someone's fate, but you can also change someone's fate if you pay off their credit card.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

This from Kevin Spacey's character Buddy Ackerman in the wonderful movie 'Swimming with Sharks', where Hollywood turned in on itself with a critical eye (see also 'State and Main', 'The Player'):

775. If you aren't a rebel at twenty you've got no heart - but if you haven't turned establishment at thirty you've got no brains.

I'm aware that various versions of this have been around for a while but Hollywood allows its characters to quote without attribution; chiefly because that is what a lot of people do.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

Tony Parsons was a wonderful social commentator in his 1990s heyday. He is now, mainly, an excellent novelist. Interviewed in Christianity Magazine by Gareth Sturdy in September 1999 he said this of evangelical Christianity:

765. I think the evangelical side of the church can especially frighten people away. The ones I met were really decent, likaeble people. Just their rituals - well it's a bit like canned laughter. You know, people being a little bit more ecstatic than they really are. Feigned ecstasy. It always seemed a little bit overdone to me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Examination Time

Archdruid Eileen of The Beaker Folk of Husborne Cheney publishes regular, and hilarious, examination papers. Start here.
I have no wish to gazzump her brilliance but recently found this paper, which was for the Oakhill Extension Studies Course of Chester-le-Street in 1991. Some words have not scanned but you're an intelligent lot. I guess I would have published this wider at the time if the internet had been open.
Section 1 is General Bible Knowledge and then moving on:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

No-one was reading posts entitled 'Quote Book Index' so I've changed it to the above. Here is the best of 751-760:

754. I believe in hybridity. My own better Britain is an extraordinary mix of nanny state, individual liberties, absence of deference, respect for heritage, anti-racism, meritocracy, environmentalism and belief in the transcending power of education. ...there is no party that encompasses it.
(David Aaronovitch, The Independent, 29/9/99)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

I am working my way through my quote books indexing them, ten at a time. It is a task I neglect and then pick up again. Here is the best of the latest ten:

743. To say that God guides by his Spirit is to say that God guides by God. It doesn't answer the real question.
(How Does God Guide? The Briefing 72)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mr Who?

I have never done drugs. OK, OK coffee, tea, alcohol, cigarettes, cigars and a pipe. I think that's it. Never done any of the ones that are illegal although I did start smoking tobacco at an age that would have been dodgy today.

It often surprises people but I never tried cannabis. Ecstasy wasn't around when I was a yoof. There was no temptation to experiment.

I have no tattoos. Vaguely pondered the idea from time to time but never saw any idea I liked the thought of displaying permanently. My body is more like a gallery to me with a regularly changing seasonal exhibition called clothes. So the same argument deals with why nothing is pierced either. That and the dislike, generally, of unnecessary pain.

Mr Nervous?

I get addicted though. To subjects in rotation. To new games. To authors and film directors. Sports.

I recall almost bursting at school when, the night before, a friend had introduced me to a new strategy game. I couldn't wait to get home and play again, and again, and again.

When I finally retire I may get the Subbuteo out once more and play through a league season (10 minute matches - strict rules to keep goals down when playing for both sides).

Or I may do a maths degree. I was good at it once and still love numbers.

Mr Bounce?

I often wonder if this state of affairs is a matter of personality type or simply luck. I read back into my teenage self some of the things I do and prefer today. Today I love solitude but in my teens that was boring. Or was it? I could spend hours in my room playing board games whilst listening to music. Not unhappily. Today is the same.

Mr Quiet?

But I did spend several hours staring out of the window wondering where a girlfriend might come from. Eventually sussed out that in some circumstances you absolutely have to go out and meet people. Now I meet people for a living and can work in a room full of strangers.

Mr Chatterbox?

A history essay used to take two and a half albums - about 100 minutes for 500 words. The music was the only way I could cope. I find it hard to believe that I worked for several years as a writer and turning music off helped me to do 4000 words a day. But I got a history A Level.

Mr Clever?

The thing that most terrified me at school was public speaking - a class presentation aged 17 kept me awake all night. I eliminated any line of work that involved that from my enquiries at an early stage. My teenage self is amazed that I can now stand on a platform and talk to anyone, about anything, without notice or nerves.

Mr Impossible?

I like reading but do it better when in company with one other person who likes reading. Just that brief break every couple of hours to talk about what you are reading or share a drink.

Yesterday morning I wanted to listen to the radio but sensed that Mrs T didn't. She said it was fine to turn it on but after a few minutes I got uncomfortable. I either like doing things alone or in the company of a fellow 'addict'. I hate the thought that I have conscripted someone else into my world; even someone I have been married to for 36 years. (Predictive text just changed 'married' to 'hatred'.)

Which may mean, despite the insensitivity that is the occasional tax the audience pays on wit, I am, to my surprise, quite sensitive. I want to make things better for those who want to be helped, or who don't yet know they are better off with me than without me. As soon as someone comes into the fold that is 'friendship' I, almost perversely, try to put them off by showing them what I am really like unplugged. It keeps the results down to a manageable level.

Mr Mischief?

Over the years fewer than a dozen people have opted to stay close enough for that to happen (family have lost the idea of 'opted'). In fact, helped by this thought from Ian Russell a long time ago, I transition my friends into the 'family' box. It means I make friends in the churches I lead and have no problem with this. I cannot understand those who believe distance should be kept.

Although the idea of specialist clergy has been given a lot of focus in recent years it is being a generalist - able to converse with a variety of people about many subjects - that stands you in good stead. It doesn't mean you need know anything about the subject; just enough to ask the second question and make the other person talk. My own specialism - growing missional Christian communities - is actually a generalism.

Mr Nosey?

Why am I telling you this? Well first and foremost I am telling me this, not you. I am thinking about the ingredients list and methodology that produced the dish that is me.

Secondly I was prompted by one of those twenty questions quizzes on Facebook which asked which Mr Men character you are. I know why I got my result. My answers did not make sense in relation to each other. People who like red as a colour should like garish hats and parties.

One of the strange conclusions of all this is that all the personality and team-type profiles in the world have never improved upon my horoscope. I fit 'Gemini' thoroughly.

I came out as Mr Topsy-Turvy.

I think I will charge myself twenty guineas for the consultation.

Don't Eat the Honey

For those who enjoy the weird and wonderful stories of the Old Testament, Monday's lectionary threw up a belter.

Saul's troops, led by his son Jonathan, are pursuing Philistines. Saul, who is going slowly bonkers, has commanded his men to do their work on empty stomachs and not to eat until sundown.

They are walking through a wood dripping with honey. The men resist. Somehow Jonathan does not know of his father's decree and takes up some honey with his staff. He guzzles the sweet stuff. He describes the experience as 'like brightness returning to my eyes'. He needed sugar.

Trouble is the men know the rules and tell him he is in deep trouble. Jonathan suggests otherwise and after another victory the exhausted men, following that example, eat Philistine-plundered meat, urgently 'with the blood still in it'.

Later, enquiring of the Lord as to how to proceed with the campaign, there is no answer all day (which reminds me much more of my prayer life). To find out why the Lord is displeased Saul casts lots. First between the men and the leaders (him and Jonathan). Then, when the lot falls on them, between the two of them. Two heads in a row (or equivalent) point the finger of blame at Jonathan.

Saul plans to do his son in - it's the rules - but the men dissuade him. The reputation you forge amongst those you lead, if you are a leader, will stand you in good stead on the occasions when you screw up.

It feels such an authentic tale. Why would the editors keep in the history books a tale in which the king (being bonkers) and God (being silent) are seen in such a bad light?

Truth is that the world may well be God's earth but it is in the stewardship of us idiots and we stumble along a lot of the time, seeking the will of a supreme being who is often strangely silent when we most feel we need to hear from him. Not because his word isn't available to us but because we don't listen.

The juxtaposition of a Luke passage, where Pilate throws Jesus on the mercy of the crowd and they choose against him, shows that the wisdom of crowds is not always super-smart. Even if Jesus had been found innocent Pilate would have had him whipped just for causing the inconvenience of being arrested and time-wasting.

Life is a heap of dung sometimes. You will not be judged by what you smell of but how you bear it.

Thought for the Day

As delivered on the Radio Bristol Breakfast Show this morning:

Well? Would you go to Gaza?

A businessman friend of mine routes some of his company profits into building schools and hospitals in Kenya. Another couple I know give up holiday to serve on a Mercy Ship offering treatment to people for a range of common complaints. Things we can have easily dealt with in our country but which become life-threatening in sub-Saharan Africa. I know others who serve on summer camps for disadvantaged children, paying their own way and giving up holiday. They always return physically exhausted and sign up for next year at once.

Today we have another to add as a Bristol anaesthetist heads to Gaza instead of vacation.

I rejoice at the sacrifice and goodwill of so many excellent contributors to a better world, especially in a week where, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said, despair seems to dominate our news.

Why do some seem to contribute hugely whilst others do nothing?

Perhaps it is because we feel so helpless. That our little bit of money or time won't make any difference.

But the privilege of being part of a crowd where all are good is that we only have to do a little.

St Paul suggested that we have different gifts. If it is serving, he said, then serve; if it is teaching then teach; if it is encouraging then encourage; if it is giving then give; if it is leading then lead. We should all do our bit. Today as we leave the house, let's try to make the world slightly better by the time we return.

The eighteenth century Irish Statesman Edmund Burke said 'Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.'

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quote Book Index

Continuing my trawl through my quote books and indexing them ten at a time:

739. I would rather be watching Liverpool lose than be at a conference on postmodernism ... a scam thought up by intellectuals to keep themselves in a job.
(Greg Valerio in a letter to Third Way, quoting Noam Chomsky)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Quote Book Index 721-730

Joan Smith on journalism:

724 ...Eve got off lightly. These days, the Garden of Eden would be mobbed by reporters, desperate to get the serpent's side of the story.
(Independent on Sunday 12/4/98)


Diesel in action
A friend remarked how Steve turns into Diesel-Steve when his doggy chum comes for his holidays. I do, I guess, go on about him a lot. Maybe it is because he is ever present at anything I do at home and requires an investment of an hour or so a day for walking.

Fact is I like dogs, especially labrador retrievers, and particularly black ones. Other breeds are available.

Looking after a friend's well-behaved dog for a few days reminds me of something I really miss but also a few things I don't. The company of a loyal, obedient dog is brilliant. The sight of a retriever bombing into a bush and returning, against the odds, with a slobber-covered tennis ball is a wonder of the world. A warm body on your toes is a nice way to watch TV. But dog hair everywhere, cow-pat eating, carrying the black plastic sack of disgust and the lack of flexibility to go out all day - these things are not so good.

Diesel arrived without anything to fetch. No ball. I took his favourite plastic bone with me on the first walk. Its strange shape made fetching a bit complicated as he couldn't anticipate the bounce. After about half a mile he left it for me to carry and disappeared into the bushes. He re-emerged with an old tennis ball. Probs one he had lost last time he was here.

This ball was our plaything for the next few days. In the open fields he fetches it when thrown but then on the footpaths he carries it.

I have noticed that he is much better at not losing it these days. He runs ahead of me, puts the ball down, sniffs about a bit then picks it up as I pass him again and runs off a bit further.

Today is day six. All is going well until he runs up to me without the ball, as if I have it. We have a conversation. I speak fluent labrador:


Idiot man. What have you done with my ball?

(I gesture with empty palms. Diesel dashes back along the path)

(I walk on. Dog returns with no ball)

This is one of your jokes isn't it? Like when you pretend to throw it one way then throw it the other.

(I gesture again. He dashes back and doesn't return)

(I reluctantly walk back to an area of long grass by a ditch. Diesel has been known to get in the ditch, and drop the ball but as it floats he can see it and find it. He is sniffing the long grass where he has obviously left the ball. I try to find it but can't)

Idiot man

Come on. We'll have to leave it.


Are you mad?

Idiot man

(Stern voice) Come on.


Well if you're going to do your disappointed voice I'll come and cheer you up. You haven't heard the last of this.

(Walk proceeds until we get to the point where we normally play throw and fetch again.)


Where's the ball? I want to fetch the ball. Throw the ball. Go on. Throw it. Go on. I'll run a bit then stop. That normally helps you remember.

(I give the empty palms gesture)

You lost my ball!

(I dangle the lead)

OK. I'll just run on a bit and wait for you to remember where you put it.

(10 seconds pass)

Got the ball?

(8 seconds pass)

Got the ball?

(6 seconds pass)

Got the ball?

( I put him on the lead)

How come I am being punished for something that is clearly your fault?

(We return home. I go to the pet shop and purchase two new dayglo balls and, as a treat, a small bone.)

(I hand over the bone)

Open the door.

Idiot man

I'm going out.


This is torture. I'm not allowed to eat bones in the house. It's me that needs to go out; not you.

Idiot man

This house is different. Here. Eat it on your bed.


Are you mad? I'll puke.

(I go out and leave Diesel with the bone)

(I return. Idiot woman had returned first)

Idiot man

Where's the dog?

Idiot woman

He's in the garden eating his own vomit. I've cleaned his bed up.

Idiot man

He told me that would happen.

(Idiot woman makes gesture. Idiot man goes to his basket)

Monday, August 04, 2014

Quote Book Index 711-720

Indexing my quote books ten at a time and choosing the best of each ten. Hear Henri Nouwen on 'community':

714. The place where the person you least want to live with always lives.
(quoted by Christianity Today in The Briefing 189)


It is a long time since my friends and I at a 1970s church youth club remarked at how many Christian songs were about getting girlfriends - you shall go out with Joy; you will be saved by Faith.

I came to faith, aged 16-19, in a Christian environment that was full of fun and laughter. We had setbacks and disasters but we laughed more than we cried. It was 1993, when I was a conference organiser for the Church Youth Fellowships' Association (CYFA), when someone told me that an event I had organised was 'too much fun'. I had been specifically tasked with easing the debilitating seriousness the Reform / Proclamation Trust gang had inflicted on CYFA conferences. One of their number said I had gone too far.

Those thoughts came back to me last night but another quickly replaced it as a preacher, speaking on number two in a series about the fruits of the Spirit, asked the question, 'What is joy?'

In a question and answer session we quickly established that laughter wasn't joy - although joyful people often laugh a lot. We also felt that joy wasn't quite the same as happy, although joyful people might seem happy a lot of the time. The ubiquitous Pharrell Williams got played. The congregation made a mess of clapping and dancing. Just not used to it.

We ended up, I think, because my mind went a wandering on this, concluding that the word joy was about a deeper, inner contentment. It is related to certainty and assurance more than a sense of humour. It is often the case that English translations of Greek words do not do justice to their depth of meaning. Chara, the Greek word translated 'joy', also means happiness and gladness.

So far so good but then one of the conclusions, if I heard it right, was that we should look happier; that people will be more attracted to our church if the members smile. Really? Are outsiders (hate that term but feeling too lazy to do better) so shallow that they will turn away from a church event if the percentage of smiles is too low.

There are some people who always look happy and smile a lot - I am married to one and it is nice - but most people don't. I am happy. I am deeply content with my lot and in my own shoes. I like being me. I do jokes. I tell a mean story. I love craic (note spelling). I look forward to the day, enjoy problem solving and am pretty sure I cheer up more people than I depress. On Facebook yesterday there were some comments from people who love that Trendlewood Church (my responsibility) is characterised as a place of laughter.

Although there are commands to put off sad faces the word smile only appears three times in The Bible. All three references are in the book of Job and two are negative - smiling at another's misfortune. Job is not exactly a bundle of laughs although I am more convinced than ever before that it is meant to be black comedy.

Maybe it is because I am a Brummie (we tend to save smiles for emergencies). Perhaps my self-consciousness following facial injuries in a road accident aged 14 has something to do with it. I don't know. All I can say is that I will never judge your joy level by your facial muscles and ask that you similarly do not treat me that superficially.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


'Well' says the Aussie in the ad ' wouldn't want a warm beer now would you?'

No Bruce. We wouldn't. You simply don't understand.

Bottled lagers of the Becks, Carlsberg, Fosters type are ice-brewed. For a fuller flavour, they say.

But have you ever noticed when drinking say, a pint of Stella, that about half-way down it starts to taste worse? This is because, as it warms up, nothing happens to the taste. It is no longer cold but has no new complexity of flavour developing.

Whereas a real ale, stored at the correct cellar-cold temperature, will continue to develop in the bottle and when exposed to air (being opened) the full flavour comes to the fore.

So the bottom of a pint of, say, Butcombe will taste as nice, if not nicer, than the first sip. The first gulp of ice-cold beer is magic, often, but that is as good as it gets. Bottles of that sort of lager should be very, very small. A whole pint of cellar-cold real ale will develop and become more magic as you drink it.

'Well' I reply ' wouldn't want a dead beer now would you?'

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mummy Search

Comedian Jon Richardson says the world divides into two sorts of people - leavers and putters.

Leavers say 'Where did I leave my car keys?' They then have to search. Putters go to where they always put their car-keys on returning home and miraculously find their keys there every time.

I am a putter but last week I lost the church emergency phone. It wasn't where I always leave it.

But I want to discuss the concept of search. How hard have you looked when you say you have looked?

Parents are all aware of children explaining they've lost things. They will say they have looked everywhere and the universal parental response is, 'So if I come into your room I won't be able to find it either.' Cue last minute checking to avoid the opprobrium of a parent finding the lost thing too easily.

My friend Ruth of this parish calls this a 'Mummy search'. All reports of lost things by her children would only become her business if a Mummy search had already been undertaken.

In our household this was called a 'Daddy search' for a couple of reasons. Firstly Mummy was often the person doing the searching for her own property with children helping, or without if it was they who had been mislaid. Secondly because, after a day alone with two lively boys aged two and four, I often came home from work to have to search for Mummy (cowering in the wardrobe with the gin bottle the favourite place).

I did a Mummy search for the lost phone, twice, with a sleep between the two.

My friend Bob, not of this parish, thinks differently. The paragraph could easily end there but I'll plough on. He invites those who have lost things to think like a golf ball.

We used to run a holiday for teenagers every year on a public school site which had its own golf course. At the end of the let we had to pay for lost golf balls and so we sent a small team onto the golf course to find balls. We encouraged them to think like a golf ball. Where would it hide if it wanted not to be seen?

After three years of this we no longer had to hire balls for we had found enough to have our own stock.

I searched thinking like a mobile phone, twice, with a sleep between the two. Recalling it was a phone and could be contacted I rang it, twice, with a sleep between the two. The call went straight to voicemail. Since I never put such a divert on the phone it was clear evidence that it had been abducted.

I fessed up and my colleagues embarked on the annoying and long-winded process of cancelling it and replacing it. This included contacting a previous administrator to ask what the account password was, working out how to change the church office out of hours message and identifying and calling the account provider. I already think I have helped us become better organised.

But I think you know what happened next.

This morning (seven days on) I opened the car glove compartment. This glove box had been previously searched twice including removing all its contents, for Mummys and Daddys know that modern technological design has made phones thin enough to slip between two pieces of car user manual. Thinking like a phone you would also imagine that a car glovebox was a safe place to be.

And there, right in the middle of the box, in clear sight, in a place it had not been during the previous two searches, was the missing, now cancelled, phone.

It was still charged (just) and although showing no service provider there was no evidence of any locks or diverts.

Sometimes there are genuine wormholes. No other explanation. Unless, of course, the phone was caught up in in the glovebox mechanism until jolted out.

Life. No way could I eat a whole one. Instead of an emergency phone which causes more problems when lost than when phoned I am publishing my mobile number.

Some of this piece may be true.

Thought for the Day

Slightly weird Thought for the Day experience today. As part of the 'Right up your Street' series, where BBC Radio Bristol focuses on a different part of the region for a week, I was asked to go to the Parish Wharf Leisure Centre in Portishead. On arrival it became apparent that nothing was set up so Tim, the reporter in charge, asked me to make a recording using his iPad. This I did. Nothing was ready by the time my slot arrived so the recording was played rather than me doing it live or inter-acting with the presenter in the studio (an encounter for which, given that it surprised me last time I was outside broadcasting, I had prepared by arriving early and thinking of things to say about the surrounding area. So at the time I would normally be delivering I was in the car driving home and I heard myself on the radio.

Today's key story was about the possibility of offering volunteers a Council tax rebate:

My late father was in the RAF. He told stories about war, avoiding the death and destruction and sticking to comedy, as many of his generation did.

On one occasion a senior officer came into the mess and announced, 'We're a bit short-staffed in the kitchen so we need some volunteers to peel potatoes.' Then, pointing, he added 'You, you and you. Off you go.'

In the RAF you had a job to do. Obey orders. The joke was the officer's use of the term 'volunteer'. Yet my Dad wasn't called up. He volunteered.

What is a volunteer? In the middle of the Commonwealth games we recall London 2012 and the brilliant job of the games makers. All volunteers.

I had to volunteer to be a vicar but then had to have that calling tested by older, wiser Christians. Now I get paid. Isn't that - a job?

Jesus once sent his disciples ahead of him. He gave them a vision for the harvest of changed lives but he offered no wage, or tax rebate. He described the work as being like lambs amongst wolves.

I applaud ideas that encourage more community involvement. Too many people keep themselves to themselves and see that as a desirable quality. And also the generous treatment of all who have served above and beyond the call of duty.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote a great prayer:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.