Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Thought for the Day

You might wish to check today's script against delivery because the story developed during the show so that even the corrections I scribbled on my script at 8.42 a.m. were rendered out of date by an interview immediately before delivery, leaving me ad-libbing to get more accuracy. BBC Radio Bristol keeps me on my toes from time to time:

A small, low carbon home, for one person is being built in Hillfields. They're called 'snug' homes. You can fit 190 of them onto a football pitch, yet they meet the UK's minimum housing standards.

Lizzie, a friend of mine, is an architect. She has developed a design for quickly manufactured shelters for victims of natural disasters. Over the years the quality of such emergency shelter has become surprisingly good. They are hardly luxurious, but the choice between a flat-pack home and living in the packaging is not a difficult one.

Lizzie is a Christian. It is her Christian conscience that pushed her in this direction.

Yet a glance at the teaching of the founder of Christianity is arresting.

Jesus was notoriously depressing about housing, saying, 'Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.' He was downbeat about possessions, pointing to heaven as a place of treasure. He sent his disciples out two by two with no spare clothes or cash and told them to beg accommodation and food.

Whether the decision to live in a small home is a lifestyle choice or a necessity, for Jesus the mission is more important. To walk with him there was no time to be looking back. He likened the journey of the disciple to 'taking up your cross'. In those days, if you took up a cross, you weren't coming back.

I have a nice home; a place of security and comfort, a safe base from which to do my work. It does me good to remember those who sleep in packaging, whose homes can blow away. Take a moment to give thanks for the roof under which you sit and, perhaps, to pray for those who wish they had one.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

New Skills for 2019

There is a lot of waiting in the Bible. How long O Lord, how long? is often a refrain of a suffering people.  'In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions' (1 Samuel 3:1). There are 400 years or so between Malachi and Matthew.

A social media post over Christmas wished all the best to families who might fall out over Brexit Christmas lunch discussions. It was posted by someone who is at the heart of their community and has a huge range of followers.

One comment, from someone I don't know, was along the lines of  'We're all no deal leavers round this table so no falling out here.'

So here's the problem. Although different party political voting intentions seem to be able to exist round the table, we don't tend to sit down for meals with people from the opposite side of the leave/remain vote to us.

And when we do, how can I put this nicely, all my carefully-honed debating skills are irrelevant. This debate never was, and still isn't, about logic. It's about emotion.

How do you change someone's emotional mind?

Hold that thought for a while because something quite odd happened to me last year. The Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers FC) are the sworn enemies of the Baggies (West Bromwich Albion FC) and I have been rude about them and their fans most of my life. Earlier this season the black and gold was awarded the accolade 'best kit in the Premiership' by a decent newspaper and strangely, for all my hatred of the old gold scum (I also support Leamington FC but will only buy an away shirt because the home kit is gold), I found myself agreeing. Their white change strip is pretty decent too. What's more they have been playing entertaining footie and I have enjoyed watching them. I hope they stay up.

You need to understand that this has not been a logical change of mind. Hatred of the Wolves was never about logic. This is about something emotional clicking. That which I hated I now appreciate.

So it is possible, although I may need to give myself a harsh word or two. And I may change back.

I believe our country will come round to a common sense and logical point of view where the division over Brexit is a thing of the past. But we will have to wait for that click moment. We probably don't know what will cause it. We may need to wait for a fair while. I don't believe we have taken a great step forward for sovereignty and independence but I respect those who do. I will contribute to trying to value the alien and the stranger, sharing the wealth and being part of whatever European and global community develops.

Don't get me wrong. I am still sad and angry about Brexit. But that won't move anyone forward.

After an Advent of posting a daily musing on the theme of waiting I feel a big wait is coming along. Maybe a biblical wait.

The social media discussions about Brexit/Remain have not, largely, been edifying. It has felt like being in a zoo and watching neighbouring animals throw excrement at each other. This is not a fault of social media. It has allowed many more people than usual to see life as it actually is. It has reminded us that a fair bit of demarcation in society is not a bad thing. And, as on all occasions when I have found myself caught up in heated exchanges on the edge of violence, the only way through is to take the emotion out of it and step back. Shouting at shouters has never worked, and never will. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed Christmas round a table where everyone else was proudly a no-deal leaver. Not because I hate disagreement - I have regularly over my life been in a minority of one over some issues - but because I would have been robbed of companions who listened to reason.

Hugo Rifkind in The Times this week wrote, 'I remain a Remainer and I probably always will, but I cannot pretend not to notice that a streak of Remainersim has developed, particularly online, which is as stupid, paranoid and exclusionary as any other populism. Its adherents ... wanting little more than to scream "get over it, you lost!" at those who have had so much fun  shrieking it at them.'

He went on to suggest that the future will have to involve getting on with those we consider to be stupid or liars.

(The Times , Tuesday January 1st 2019)

New Labour found power by finding a Third Way. They were Conservative Lite and slightly left in appearance. They embraced wealth vociferously and publicly. They kept quieter about the bravest attempt since 1947 to move masses of people out of poverty.

In 2016 someone took the political cake which had been sliced in roughly the same way for years and cut it across the middle. If nothing else the maths of a new third way is now complex.

Next time I am asked to vote, assuming the candidates are the likely suspects I will have to take a deep breath and place a cross next to the name that I least hate. I do understand how people felt about Trump/Clinton now.

We now use democratic process rather than asking the prophets to anoint or announce God's chosen leader. Which usually happened after a long wait. But the responses to the opening questions I posed were Moses, Samuel and Jesus. I may not see them in my lifetime, but I pray for the leaders who are to come.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Garden Birds 2018

Not a very exciting year for garden birds. The wood pigeons had three broods, I think, and were seen several times with immatures in tow. Blackbirds and collared doves both had two broods. Two wrens were spotted in the garden at the same time. House sparrows continue to do healthily well round these parts. Saw more swifts than ever before. House martins had a poor season and left early (mid August). The single sparrowhawk tends to keep everything else on its toes.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Football Quiz of the Year 2018

Slightly different format to the quiz this year. Goal-line technology has left studio guests unable to demonstrate their lack of grasp of parallax, leaving them only failure to understand the laws about the tackle from behind as a subject in which to announce their ignorance. But, up until the point that Curtis Davies appeared and started getting order in the right words, the punditry on televised football left the English language utterly manglamated (as a former secretary of mine once put it). So, can you match the mixed metaphor with the manager; the aberration to the expert? And yes, Stephen Warnock does appear twice. I could have used more.

1. 'The wheels fell off last year and they're kicking on.'

2. 'He scores goals and that's why he's a top goalscorer.'

3. 'He couldn't miss from there; he made it look easy.'

4. 'A great goal; he never fails to disappoint.'

5. 'That's the passion which transpires, I mean transcends, into the players.'

6. 'Clean sheet away to Brentford; it doesn't get better than that.'

7. '...behind the scenes he's steadied the ship.'

8. 'In this war of nutrition of the Championship.'

9. 'You can't underestimate how important...'

10. 'It's come to him quick; he's got a lot of time to think.' 

A. Lee Johnson
B. Chris Iwolumo
C. Dean Ashton
D. Stephen Warnock
E. Clinton Morrison
F. Stephen Warnock
G. Martin Keown
H. Mark Noble
I. Lee Dixon
J. Ian Holloway

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Laibach - The Sound of Music

This is not a review of an album I expect any of you to like. But I would encourage you to sample a little, for it contains an important lesson.

Our story begins in the beautiful county of North Korea where western culture is frowned upon and only certain set texts are allowed to be used by the nation's musicians. One such text is The Sound of Music.

This is a lesson about creativity. If you tell a musician that they must only use the lyrics of the Sound of Music but are othewise unclear as to the limitations you are imposing, something like Laibach's version is almost inevitable. Click on the link to open in Spotify.

When these guys sing 'Climb every mountain...' it holds such a weight of threat that you seriously consider leaving the house at once. This is The Sound of Music that nobody will ever singalong to and many listeners will want to employ professional protection by the time track 3 is reached. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Laibach know people. I'd call them. They may play tunes from Carousel to drown the screams. So long. Farewell.

They have, I'd bet, managed to smuggle some Velvet Undrground tunes into their country. They have a Nick Cave album. Laurie Anderson would be proud.

A delight in so many ways.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Advent Thought 23

It gives me a lot of pleasure to finish my Advent thoughts on number 23 because that is the length of Advent this year starting, as it did, on  December 2nd. And so it finishes with a surprise. Chatting to my local undertakers a few weeks back they let slip that they would be dropping off complementary bottles of wine for Christmas as ever. I think they could tell that my face, twelve years into its stay in Nailsea, said, 'What wine?'

Turns out it had been delivered to the offices of the various churches I work with but had never actually reached me. This year I got my own, labelled bottle. Tonight I drink the health of those professions who will be on duty over Christmas. Thanks undertakers especially. You do a fine job. Cheers for the wine.

Happy Christmas everybody.

Advent Thought 22

There comes a time when, despite careful thought and preparation, the arrangements for one day take over the whole house. The normally pristine dining room table has two extension pieces in and is covered in lists. When did 'peel potatoes' ever have to go on a list before?

The thing is, and this takes most of us by surprise most years, the carefully thought-through plans for Christmas usually crash into real life - a relative taken ill, a complexity about travel arrangements, a missing ingredient.

Let's face it, coming home from church and cooking lunch for nine does not normally cause me to break sweat. Why this one?

Advent thought. Leave some space in your planning for the thing that hasn't happened that you are not expecting.

Angels might not literally pitch up with news, but it is as well to be prepared.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent Thought 21

Niger seeds, peanuts, sunflower hearts and fat balls. I spend a lot on my pets. I look out for them, scare away predators and keep them fed in the winter. I provide nesting sites and water. I record the different species that visit each day (nine today).

None of us has the reach to fix the whole world. Yet for me nine house sparrows, three wood pigeons, two collared doves, two blackbirds, a robin, a blackcap, a magpie, a blue tit and a dunnock were a little bit of the world I could look after.

My twelve year garden survey submitted to the RSPB every January adds to the data about bird population growth and decline. It also makes my looking out of the window slightly more useful than it might otherwise have been.

How are you making your bit of the world better?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Advent Thought 20

I swear we only really get to grips with the fridges and the freezer at Christmas. Today, answering the question 'Do we need to get some more butter?' rather than simply putting 'butter' on the shopping list, because you can always use butter, we actually bothered to check.

Well it turns out we don't. We have enough.

In trying to survive whatever version of the apocalypse comes our way next March I feel sure that there will be enough in already opened jars and packets in the corner of the fridge to keep us going.

We've become quite good at not wasting food, but clearly not good enough. We are so wealthy there is food we forgot we had.

What do you have too much of?

Advent Thought 19

A few years ago we realised that normal people tended to play Christmas music in their houses at Christmas and we had never done that. So we set off down to the local music emporium and purchased some weird and wonderful bits of unpopular Christmas music. None of your Mariah Carey or Michael Bublé  but some less well known stuff. Completely on spec I bought this album and loved it, mainly because it included some jazz piano shapes I have been able to copy.

It was never part of our Christmas tradition as our boys grew up. It first hit the home at around the turn of the millennium. Yet it is still asked for when visitors come, even family.

But it is now compulsory listening around this time and we have just had a first run through with a couple of drinks post #Mumwatch. Very relaxing.

So, what do you do at Christmas that everyone else thinks is daft? And is it 

By the way you needn't buy it to check it out. Stream it on Spotify.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent Thought 18

Sooner or later during Advent, Christmas carnage sets in. The tidy lounge becomes a present-wrapping hub.

It reminds me of a  passage by the late David Watson. He said that often on a summer's day he might long for a fresh breeze through the study window. But then, if he chose to open the window, it would blow all his papers all over the place. (You remember paper, surely?)

He related that to those people who said they desired God to be at work in their lives, but then when they allowed it to happen, their lives were turned upside down and they longed for the breezeless neat paper again.

I like giving gifts but the piles of gift-wrap, cards, tape and ribbon, not to mention the array of presents themselves, creates some temporary chaos.

Towards the end of the Advent waiting comes Christmas preparation. Still not the moment, but we need to sacrifice a little sovereignty over our tidiness in order to share a neater experience later. And that works on many levels.

Gifts are now wrapped and waiting in tidy piles. But the deeper spiritual untidiness has been part of my life for years.

Thought for the Day

I was on TFTD duty at BBC Radio Bristol this morning. Asked to make it amusing I think I crow-barred a funny middle section into a news item to which it had no relevance. That said it went down well and thanks to Producer Nicki for finding an instrumental version of the song I was ruining as backing music:

Travelling is a Christmas tradition. Today stories about Bristol airport, community transport and returning to hospital with thank-you gifts. We even hear of someone walking home for Christmas. Take a hint Chris Rea.

Barring tragedy, most journeys have a known outcome. We like our traditions to be er, traditional. That said there's some updating needed:

The partridge was run down as I swerved to avoid a pear tree felled by the wind.

Turtle doves have been humanely destroyed in view of their many diseases.

Due to Brexit only British hens are available.

Calling birds have been vocally modified to avoid upsetting country dwellers of a non-rural background.

Gold rings can be bought off that Dave who pops into the pub every now and again with interesting stuff know what I mean.

Orders for live and fertile geese could not be fulfilled at this time. One frozen goose, giblets included.

Swans belong to the Crown. Anyone in possession of seven should be reported.

Non-gender specific milking persons please. Do not threaten the human rights of male milkers.

Vote now to save your favourite dancers and their partners.

Lords are mainly too old to be a-leaping.

Sequenced piping samples playing dub lang syne on heavy rotation and Hammerhead 1.0 rhythm programmes can be downloaded via Windows media player to conclude your 12 days.

Well it's amazing how things move on isn't it? What was once a cool list of gifts from a true love now becomes either controversial or out-of-date. The knack for those of us with faith, if I may call it that, is to talk about Jesus in an updated and interesting way whilst remembering that the old message is not old-fashioned. I trust your Christmas journey contains many deity-specific tidings and wish you a happy one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Advent Thought 17

I don't spend much time on cards but I do spend a ridiculous amount of time on our Christmas letter.

A lovely friend here was spied out of the bedroom window a few years back. He was in the road opposite with a sketch pad, although at the time I didn't know if he had responsibilities as a surveyor or recorder of social information.

A few days later all became clear as a personalised, hand-drawn Christmas card arrived. This has been happening for ten years and we display the set, trying desperately to arrange the story in chronological order.

One of the cards even includes an exact depiction of my dressing gown, which is worrying. But we love the investment of time, in us, that the cards represent.

Advent is a funny time for remembering people. Having just worked my way down our Christmas card list I have had several moments of wondering if we have been sending a card to the wrong address for a number of years in some cases. How do people tell you of their change of address these days? So many possible ways.

So, practical Advent thought; if you get an update on family details, note the info down now in your Christmas card file (tell me you have one, please).

And spiritual one. Spare a payer for all those you send cards to, and all you receive them from.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas 2018

Make yourself a coffee
Put your feet up
Don't expect to understand
And embrace the
Christmas News you have been waiting for.

It's been a good year for black comedy.

Advent Thought 16

In one of his rarer moments of lucidity prompted by the Christian tradition, Bob Dylan once said that no-one does what is right; they just do what they want and then repent. If he was channelling his inner St Paul - all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God - then the boy done well.

As an insight it has followed me around over the years. I have been fortunate enough to lead a number of Christian communities and I have seen at first hand the many occasions on which the whole community has spoken as one to agree on a course of action and then stepped back from the job of making that thing happen.

Which links nicely to another quote I rediscovered yesterday:

In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us to overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.
(David Foster Wallace)

So the hurtful thing (which I have never allowed to hurt me because that is my choice) is when I see things that need to be done, and take people with me to a place where they agree they should be done, yet find it almost impossible to get people to join a team to do the thing, let alone lead it. It is potentially hurtful because, as the quote makes clear, it is always my fault. Vision casting needs to take people beyond nodding in agreement to rolled up sleeves.

There was an old story about a vicar who went to the railway track every Sunday morning and waited for the early train to pass under the bridge. At this point he gave a litle dance of joy and walked home. Questioned about it he acknowledged that since it was the only thing in the parish that moved without him pushing it he got pretty excited.

Don't worry. This is not a Christmas rebuke to my lovely church. It is an observation applicable as much to a country and Brexit as a church and its vision. It is one thing to agree on a vision. It is another to agree to contribute to the necessary work to make it happen.

20% of the people do 80% of the work. The somebody, anybody, nobody, everybody story also springs to mind which, if you know it, will not be as good as my version which contains mildly poor language.

A thought. A thought? Ah yes. If you think it is a good idea, get involved. If you don't think it is a good idea, say so.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Advent Thought 15

Very few products advertised as life-changing are truly that. But this tablet and I have been company for each other a few years now. This is my diary, my notebook, my social media accounts, my email and more.

The previous post, written largely on the tablet during a church service would previously have had to be transcribed from a notebook.

The knack, I believe, is to use labour saving devices to improve your quality of life; not simply to get more done.

If you get things done quicker you have more time to rest, hope, wait and pray. Which is what Advent is all about. Gaudete.

Jesus Growing Up - A Wondering

It was a privilege to be a vicar in church with no duties today. Unexpectedly I found myself wondering as I heard a service themed on the obedience of Jesus' mother. If, as I believe, these accounts are not exactly history as we know it, how did it all work. Well maybe like this...

Aged 9
Maybe it was because from time to time he looked at me strangely. Perhaps it was because carpentry didn't exactly capture my imagination. Or even that when we heard the stories from Moses and the prophets I found a depth of curiosity which people said nine year old kids shouldn't have. Not sure when precisely, but that was when I began to wonder. Mum acted as if she knew more than she told me, but she let me be.

Aged 12
I asked a lot of questions. It was just curiosity. The teachers tell all these stories and tell us to learn them but they really like it when they are asked to explain what they mean. I asked so many questions, sometimes getting distracted from what I ought to do or where I ought to be, that people called me wise. Maybe a wise person is one who want to be less stupid.

Aged 20
From time to time I wandered out into the wilderness, when I wasn't making disappointing table legs and getting awkward looks from an increasingly frail Dad. My brothers seemed to master it. I never got the knack. Day-dreamer they called me, but I was trying to pray and listen to a deeper voice. In the wilderness there were no distractions. But there were competing voices in the wind and in my head. They told me I could be amazing if only I grasped the power I had. I was hungry and wondered if I could turn stones to bread. I tried a few times. Never worked.

My cousin John liked the wilderness too but he was a hunter-gatherer. Could make insects taste nice. Make clothes out of stuff lying around.

Aged 30
John had started getting attention. He was shouting at people. Really shouting. He called them broods of vipers. He hated cheats - Jew or Gentile. He pushed people under the water as a way of being forgiven. I knew he must push me too. But when I saw him his face changed. It didn't seem quite right. He said I should dunk him. We had a bit of a stand-off until something got through to him and he knew what he had to do. And when he did it I knew. My job was to save people not fix their furniture and carts. It hit me like a giant life goal. Save these people from their sins. Whilst I was still taking all this in some say they heard a voice in the clouds.

I went back to the wilderness, trying to sort the voices. That's when I knew. The one I needed to hear was going to take me where I needed to go, one step at a time. Listen, trust and wait. No trying to fly, no turning from the God I'd been raised with and any bread should be baked not conjured. I think I may have stretched this one a bit a few months later but the crowd looked hungry.

So I downed tools. My brothers were happy to see the back of me.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Advent Thought 14

Long-standing readers of this blog will have bumped into my observations about Christmas trappings before. Suffice it to say that decorating trees is a bit modern, we all do it too soon and yet it is a nice custom.

I grew up in a big old house with a mother who knew how things should be. They should be the way she did them.

Mum took a relative back-seat most of the time but at Christmas she became very much in charge.

One tradition slightly awry and my Mum would announce that Christmas was ruined. It was always ruined, but in a slightly different way each year. Pick from:

  • We always had a large tree with dodgy lights
  • Two dogs who tried to eat any gift-wrapped food.
  • Grandma crushing the Wolverhamptom Wanderers Subbuteo team underfooot
  • Missing the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
  • Lunch not starting until 2 because it wouldn't all fit in the oven
  • 12 days sweeping up pine needles.

The cul-de-sac opposite our house (pictured) is going a bit stir-crazy with the outdoor lights and is fast becoming a visitor attraction. We like to think our tree in the window is a tasteful counter to all this garishness.

We try not to peak too soon so this weekend is as early as we ever put up a tree.

Where is the Advent thought? I guess it is this. Don't get so swept up in the having to do Christmas things just so that you forget to look forward to it and then enjoy it. And remind yourself afresh that memories are more easily recalled of those things that didn't go quite according to plan.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Advent Thought 13

This is an agroove by Kreafunk. Great names for a great piece of kit and fine firm. It is a bluetooth speaker and has given me an inordinate amount of pleasure. From its sleek design you might guess it is Scandinavian, Danish to be precise, although assembled in China.

I remember the days when, if I read a review of a piece of music that sounded interesting, I had to either listen out for it, find someone who owned it or buy it on spec.

Now I use Spotify on my phone and can sample reviewed music from the comfort of my own bed whilst avoiding cutting myself off from the world with headphones.

All mortal flesh may be currently charged with keeping silence but this merry gentleman is agrooving.

And this is one way the world is getting better. What has come along to help you enjoy life while you wait? Consider all the words in this piece that would have been meaningless 10, 100 and 1000 years ago.

Posts on ways life is getting worse are available but not the current point.

Advent Thought 12

Two fine looking younger people. What's going on? A kiss? A conspiratorial whisper? I think we can tell who is in charge, for sure.

We tend not to be the sort of household where portraits of the family are displayed. So this picture is not available in the public rooms at Tilley mansions. It is a detail from a larger collection which we invested stupid money in around the time of our silver wedding anniversary. We keep it on our bedroom wall.

What happened to those two? They moved house, changed jobs, saw their children leave home, gradually became the older generation and yet also, nothing changed.

We all need a bit of stability in order to find our way though turbulence. Blessed? Fortunate? You decide. We'll take either description.

In so far as a picture can be true it was true once and has been true ever since. Freeze frame now. Is it true? Is it universally true or just true for the moment?

Journalistic pictures, like advent hopes and longings, are always telling a deeper truth. What do you see? What does it say?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Advent Thought 11

It's taken me a while to come to terms with being a glasses wearer. The first signs of deterioration came when, aged about 45, it was commented that if I held the newspaper any further away it would be in the next room.

Off I went to Specsavers, returning with a prescription for reading glasses. From then on, every couple of years, I had to remember that if I was finding it hard to concentrate on reading it was probably because I needed an eye test. Cheaper than an arm extension.

Wind forward to about 2007 and I had become the sort of person who put their glasses on and off a lot, or kept them on the end of my nose and looked over them. My Dad wore his glasses on a chain round his neck. Never liked that look.

And so it was back to Specsavers again to embrace varifocals. It was, as many have said, weird at first. My peripheral vision was full of kaleidoscopic fault-lines for a couple of days. It takes longer for others but your brain soon works out how to interpret the images.

I became a permanent glasses wearer and now I can't do without them. That said, many years of being comfortable walking around the house in the dark have meant I don't need to put them on to pop downstairs in the night for whatever you need to pop downstairs in the night for. But otherwise I wear them all the time.

I have a terrific advantage over many generations of ancestors for whom the end of eyesight would have meant the end of close-quarters work.

Advent. A time for seeing things as they really are. What do you take for granted? Devote a moment or two to gratitude.

Advent Thought 10

This little alarm cost me £5 about 20 years ago. Many of the function buttons now demonstrate age - for instance I can only scroll through numbers in one direction. If I wake before it is due to go off and want to disable it then removing and replacing the battery is the quickest way.

It has one major attribute which I like in an alarm. If it does reach the designated time it can be silenced with a smart blow to the top. Being capable of being hit and surviving is an essential feature, in my opinion, not just for an alarm clock but for all humans.

It has a second redeeming quality. It is part of the furniture. I know how to deal with it in the dark.

Recently the Mike Tyson boxing strategy was revisited in the light of the rebirth of Tyson Fury. Tyson (M) said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Well, now is the time to wake out of sleep, preferably without being punched in the face or hit over the head. My alarm clock has survived the relentless onslaught of TCMT's visual merchandising of my entire life.

Today's pondering. Style or function? Which cuts the mustard for you?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Advent Thought 9

No-one can ever find the garage light switch. It's the middle one of these three as you come into my study. All our houses have quirky bits that only the initiates can understand.

Are you looking for a switch to turn your life on but worried that anything Christian might be too weird? I have news. It's quirky outside as well as in. Bring your quirks, mix them with ours add a touch of Jesus and watch things illuminate.

Remember to turn the lights off when leaving. We never do.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent Thought 8

The first entry in my first proper journal begins 'Finished POT for good.' This was 1987. POT is Post Ordination Training, known affectionately as potty training in the clergy club. It takes a further forty years or so to realise that you know nothing and trusting God is all there is.

I am now on volume four. I think I've got the magnification of the image right but some clever person may be able to work out how to read it. I am giving you a thin chance to read some details and asking you not to.

On a school trip to France in 1968, aged 12, my diary was discovered by my alleged friends. They entertained each other greatly by reading it to each other in my presence and laughing. It was another small step into the real world for a sheltered kid and put me off writing personal thoughts down for the next twenty years or so.

I have journaled regularly, but not daily, since 1987. The deal is this. My family know I do it. They can read it if they want to. I would prefer they didn't. It works on trust, as indeed does my life. Even though people are going to be stupid I trust them not to be. So I am trusting you all.

The existence of the journals is a picture of this in some small way. I work out what I think and feel by writing it down and living with it. Consecutive entries can contradict each other. I also record what I read, gigs I go to and movies/ podcasts and box-sets I see.

Who knows you as you really are? I don't think I even know myself very well. Now we see through a glass darkly; then we shall see face-to-face.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Advent Thought 7

As someone said the other day, 'They've put the decorations up while Chris Rea is still looking for his car keys.' It's worse than that. Chris Rea's family haven't even finalised the arrangements for Christmas.

So, as the cul-de-sac opposite which I live makes its renewed attempt to be a Nailsea street which gets visited because of the splendour of its lights, even the street light outside my house is out. Don't tell. We sleep better when it's broken.

Yet in the dark streets shineth...

This year we have gone for tokenism. Our young friend Elliott makes reindeer each Christmas. I think Dad does a lot of the work.

This is Ron, an early arrival at the Christmas Ball. He is waiting by the fire. I like to think he is getting prepared not being decorative. As should we.

We will put up a tree, in the front window, next week. It will be splendid. How good are you at waiting when everybody else isn't?

Friday, December 07, 2018

Advent Thought 6

There is a certain necessity of patience about an orchid. Fragile, delicate and beautiful, this one thrives in a warm bathroom. The petals look lovely for a while and then gradually drop off. At this point all you can do is wait. It is resting. It is gathering up its botanical willpower to go again. You have to resist the desire to over-water it during this waiting time. Orchids don't exactly thrive on neglect but putting them in the right place is very important. Once that is done they are easy to care for. That window stays shut in the cold weather.

Your poinsettias may win the Christmas beauty pageant, but the orchid will be back.

If your life is in an ugly place right now you might have to wait it out for a bit before it can be beautiful (again).

And if you've been busy flowering for a long while then take some Advent time to build up your strength. Preferably before bits begin to drop off, in your case.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Advent Thought 5

My mother-in-law used to do a lot of embroidery and she made this for us as a Christmas gift shortly after we were married. It goes up every year and involves no chocolate whatsoever. We don't put up decorations until about a week before Christmas but an advent calendar is fine.

It is a nod in the direction of Christmas whilst continuing to wait, patiently.

Only one member of our current household of two can do the ribbons to the required standard (but she is rubbish at stacking the dishwasher).

Visiting sons expect to see it. It says something about all being well with the world. I guess family traditions do that.

Mother-in-law is unwell this Christmas and facing tough decisions about the future. A quick prayer for Ann each time we pass it is in order.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Advent Thought 4

A short break from gripping glimpses of our beautiful home. There are many benefits to being the vicar of a church without a building. But every now and again our home is the only place where something that needs doing co-operatively can be done.

We have been collecting food and small items in order to make a gift of a hamper to all our local CAP (Christians Against Poverty) clients who have been accepting help with debt management. Those who have committed to an austere Christmas as part of becoming debt-free get a little light in their lives. It's a great thing to do.

Tonight our conservatory becomes the hamper-packing zone (I'm out for the night; TCMT is in charge).

Even in one of the wealthiest parishes in the south-west there are folk who need rescue. And they have done the hard thing. They have picked up a phone and said, 'Can you help me; I'm in a mess'. I had to do that once and was treated well. I've never forgotten.

If you're in a mess ask for help. If you can help, help. Harder than it sounds.

(The basket full of corks is nothing to do with this.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Advent Thought 3

One of the things I have learnt from my visual-merchandiser wife, and endless TV design shows, is a nice little trick of bringing the outside space in. Match the autumn colours of the garden with the colours of the conservatory and you will feel as if you are in a bigger space.

I was quite pleased with this bowl of autumnal Virginia Creeper leaves a few weeks ago but the garden has moved on and soon, so must the mood in the house. It is now December and the indoor space will turn first wintry inside and then Christmassy (but not for a couple of weeks yet).

We are in Advent - a now and not yet moment. To some extent we always are. We know a deeper truth but we also know it is to be concluded. We sit here with memories of a past and hopes for a future.

Whether or not your vision for the future revolves around the person of Jesus and how he revealed God to the world, be ever mindful that your past in memories and future in hopes both exist here, now. We are upside down, outside in, future past and whole.

Maybe a bowl of dust on the table would be appropriate.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Advent Thought 2

This is a stove-pot coffee maker.

In my ten years at CPAS (Church Pastoral Aid Society) we tended to drink at the pace of the fastest. So it felt like every fifteen minutes or so someone said 'Do you want a drink' and woe betide you if you got a reputation for not making a round often enough.

My major contribution to the life of the team during that time was the purchase of a teapot and the elimination of instant coffee.

Moving on to semi-freelance for four years I realised I could make myself a drink for me only, whenever I wanted. The temptation to over-consume reared its ugly head. No cure for writer's block and no way to calm a busy brain.

So it was about this time I decided to make the coffee nicer and the experience of making it last longer. So, I got a good break and enjoyed my coffee.

I still do it. It is a good way of staying calm. Enjoy the wait for the coffee. You could maybe read an Advent thought during the wait.

Thought for the Day

'What do you like doing best in the world?'

Christopher Robin once asked Winnie the Pooh that.

Yesterday was Advent Sunday. First of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We remind ourselves that Advent is about waiting. Waiting for one who is to come.

Not simply waiting for Christmas but about waiting for a bigger truth to be revealed. Christians believe that what was begun in Jesus will, somehow, one day be completed in him.

Few people have left a bigger mark on human history than Jesus Christ. In our nativity plays we celebrate his birth, adding to a story that is based on pretty flimsy biblical evidence.

And that is great. Universal stories are allowed to be universally interpreted.

But maybe in telling the Christmas story of Jesus we're jumping a bit and we're not being very good at the waiting thing. Whether it's waiting for a doctor's appointment or for a railway to be built or for the fund-raising to reach the target, we want to get on with it. We want the denouement, the coda, the end.

Advent says hey, slow down. You should enjoy the wait. It's OK in the queue.

Back to my opening question.

'Well,' said Pooh, 'what I like best...' and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.

Well, have I got news for Pooh. It's called waiting. Hoping. Resting. Eager anticipation. Looking forward. But enjoying the moment just before.

Have a great day waiting folks. If you are in a queue you are in a good place.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Advent Thought 1

These are very nice pieces of glass. They are not unlike Nailsea Glass but pre-date our arrival in Nailsea and are from Gozo.

They hide in the corner of our bathroom and are a daily reminder of a place we love very much and always look forward to revisiting.

Advent is about waiting, hoping, resting and praying. We recall that these are good things in their own right, not simply the difficulty to be endured before the fun.

I like this glass and yet don't care for many other examples of the type. I like to look at it. It is ornamental, not functional. So it points to a positive future experience but can be enjoyed for what it is, now.

During Advent 2018 I will post a daily glimpse into the hidden images of my life and home and ask the questions each time - what are they for and to what do they point?

Journey with me.

Never Work With...

I recruited a child to help me in church today. The job was to pick up an old book and tell us as much about it as possible. The book was my old school dictionary. I asked if there was any clue as to who it might belong to and, as hoped, the name in the front 'J.S.Tilley' confused him.

I explained that it was me and did he have any idea what the 'J' might stand for?

Clear as a bell everyone heard him say 'Well we know it can't be Jesus'. And somehow everyone was looking at me and they knew why it couldn't be and it was nothing to do with nomenclature.

Laughter subsided after about ten minutes.

The point of the illustration is no longer relevant.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol just now:

What's the connection between 20 mph zones, Christmas lights, lock gates and milk deliveries?

Good question.

A favourite Bible story is the illustration from St Paul's letter where he compares the church to a body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

The body works because the parts are different. An organisation works because it has different people. If a retail outlet consisted entirely of accountants it would have great spreadsheets but no money. If it consisted only of sales staff it would have many customers but organisational chaos.

I sometimes use Bishop Gene Robinson's answer to the question, 'Why can't you do something about the weather?' He used to say, 'I'm sorry, I'm in sales not management.'

I'm a church leader and a communicator by gifting. Please don't ask me to do the accounts.

So what is the connection between 20 mph zones, Christmas lights, lock gates and milk deliveries, apart from the obvious that they have all been stories on today's show.

What they share is that they are all important to someone right now. We're all individual; unique and special. We get passionate about different things. We make our livings in different ways. We contribute our skills. The world would be in trouble if nobody knew how to repair lock gates. But it would be in worse trouble if that is all we knew how to do.

Today, try and notice someone doing something you can't, or don't want, to do. And if you can't thank them personally then try and find a space in your heart, a prayer if you like, to be grateful.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Thought for the Day

Apologies for minimalist posting here recently. Got a bit swamped in admin if I'm honest. I can do a brilliant job of the day to day admin of ministry unless some family admin intervenes, on top of which bleaugh for the last three days. Anyway, managed to squeak out a TFTD at BBC Radio Bristol this morning and here it is:

The Bible is big on remembering. A theme of the Hebrew scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, is the assumption that if things have gone badly people must have neglected the Law. And vice versa.

In a shorter piece called 'History Lesson' the poet Steve Turner wrote:

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No-one listens.

This week we move clumsily from one piece of recall:

Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot

To another:

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

Are we listening to history?

My Dad joined the RAF in 1941 aged 17. He could fly before he could drive. He flew Wellington bombers and Dakota passenger transporters. His emotional relationship with Remembrance Sunday was complicated. I never sussed it. My family didn't do conversations about feelings.

I reckon he missed his mates who died, dealt with the trauma of war by forgetting and forced himself to watch the wreath-laying service from the Cenotaph every year. He behaved disrespectfully to any wreath-layers who hadn't served as he did. And he had no time for anyone who voiced the idea that they were showing more respect than others.

I wonder what he would have made of the recent tendency to make art of poppy installations.

Strangely, it has become my job to try to articulate the complex emotions of remembrance. What is the lesson of history that we need to learn? Before we even think about telling someone off for not wearing a poppy let us take time to be silent.

In fact two minutes quiet to stop and think might be a great way to respond to anything we disagree with.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Bible Book Club - Further Reflections

Bible Book Club met for the third time last night. A group of six of us met in a pub and discussed the Book of Jonah. It has been harder to put out of our heads our apparent familiarity with the story this time and the group did well in spotting that a better title than Jonah and the Whale might be Jonah and the Assyrians.

This brief reflection is on one question which our group has found more fascinating than we expected. A classic Book Club questions is, 'If this were a film, who would play the parts?' It leads to much discussion about how people see the characters in their mind's eye. I for one, have Robert Powell's Jesus stuck in my head from the 1970s movie Jesus of Nazareth. When I read the gospels that is what pops into my head. So an answer to the question does impact your future reading.

Who plays Jonah? A young man? A fit man? No. A man who is grumpy. A man who jokes without laughing. A man who finds humour in the relentless inevitability of the nature of God. 'I knew you'd forgive them. Kill me now.'

Our Jonah, is Jack Dee.

We are moving on from the great Hebrew stories. Our next book is the Gospel of Mark. We meet again on December 12th. Contact me if you are interested. Steal the idea if you are not local.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Need Resources?

I have no idea when it happened, but some time over the last thirty years we, where we are the people of the Christian community, have managed to convince ourselves that we need a 'resource' in order to do anything.

It's been quite a handy thing for me since, having never used someone else's resource in my life without completely redesigning it, I have spent some of my ministry selling the things I have already done to the Christian market so others could do them too. I even sold a book twice by rewriting it in a different order and, get this, the people who paid me the second time knew that was what I had done.

Still, I have no truck with resources. Jonny Baker used to be fond of telling people that only 5% of people ever have an original idea. I think he might have got that from the same place that I got '67.3% of all statistics are made up', but we'll let it pass. Come to think of it that was another Johnny, the Vegas one.

Later I heard h-less Jonny say that originality is forgetting where you found something. So I guess we can add him to the list of self-deprecators we know.

My point, my point? Ah yes. If you need a resource then there are plenty about. I've no idea how you tell which one to use but I want to pass on this bit of wisdom. When faced with a group you want to train, a problem you want to solve or an idea you want to generate, try and have a go yourself first as if no resource exists. We all hate preachers who have read every commentary and background book but not the Bible passage. We all recognise guys wearing badly fitting off the peg suits. Likewise it is easy to see through the person who has bought a resource that is not quite the best fit and then they train a group in not quite the right thing.

Talk to some people who are stakeholders. Find out what the problem really is and what sort of solution people might buy into. Use space, prayer and tea as your main tools here.

Write up an idea for an answer and see if people can add to it, tweak it or bounce off it. Be open. Leave ideas up in the air and accept lots of contributions.

Assume that the wisdom to solve the problem might be in the room rather than the Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE), for now.

When staffing the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) stand at CRE a wise old sales manager (Hi Clive) taught me a great open question to use to greet people who visited our stand. It was 'What area of ministry are you looking to resource today?' It took me into many fine conversations but also helped me to point people who were on the wrong stand, seeking something we did not sell, to a more likely source of help. Their only memory of CPAS will be that a nice young man (I was then. Young I mean; I'm still nice) saved them wasting time.

But if you spend a good chunk of time detailing what you need you will always stop short of buying an inadequate resource marked 'Ready to use'. It will only be ready to use if your situation matches exactly the one the writers envisaged. And you may realise that you can fix the problem yourself. Then you save money and everyone feels better about not needing help.

Steve Tilley's book 'How to avoid buying unnecessary resources' has been remaindered.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Narrow Wins

I got called an elitist. I think I may own it for a bit.

A narrow sporting triumph has stayed with me over the years even though the specific details are hazy. It was a Team GB rowing eight in the Olympics, winning a final against Australia in the 1990s. Sir Steve Redgrave was one of the crew. What I recall is this. The two leading boats were neck and neck but not taking their strokes at the same time. So the lead alternated. If the race had been either 1995 or 2005 metres the Aussies would have won. But at 2000 metres it was Team GB who were ahead, just. This struck me as a brilliantly exciting way to decide something as arbitrary as the colour of a medal, when it was the sport of rowing that was clearly the winner.

However (I've been watching Great British Menu, forgive me). Is it really the most sensible way to decide anything of national or international importance?

I do not feel able to comment on how Brexit is going or how we should progress it. Watching something happen I all along thought was a stupid idea and still do leaves me feeling frustrated, sad and pretty empty. I am fuller of  'if onlys' than I have ever been.

If only Cameron hadn't staked his country's future on a single throw of pitch and toss.
If only it had been treated as an advisory referendum.
If only the closeness of the result had influenced the way the government responded and used it as a chance to deal with the issues people felt the EU was to blame for.
If only the new PM had not said 'Brexit means Brexit' so soon.
If only the new PM had said 'No Brexit is better than a bad Brexit'.
If only we had some big hitters with power and influence and not oh I'm bored but you get me.

I don't believe it would be particularly sensible to change our minds and go back because I think the Brexiters would not take defeat as democratically as the remainers. We can't go back because the less smart people will throw things through windows if we do. Shout project fear and anti-people all you want, but everyone I know who wishes the referendum result could be changed wants it done democratically rather than by turning cars over and setting them on fire.

But I guess my question is this. If a second referendum is deemed to be against the spirit of the Brexit vote for the moment, then when is it not? How soon is not too soon? If it doesn't go at all well, when is the right time to have another think? The fittest rowers have another shot every four years. The 2016 referendum was the second after a 40 year gap. So the answer must be somewhere between about two and forty years.

I know the spirit of the smarter people in our country will prevail and we will somehow make the most of this. We will never know if the most of this is better than the what we had. Why? Because I'm part of the liberal elite that's why. We talk. We vote. We make messes better. Bloody elitist me.

Light the bull touch-paper. It's red and raggy.

Thought for the Day

In the mess of the ugly, untidy industrial landscape, James Tilley and Rachel Willetts ended up living next door to each other in 1873.

Last week I went to the wonderfully named Bumble Hole in the Black Country where James and Rachel, who became my great grandparents, lived. I liked the idea of my family being mineral prospectors searching for wealth. But, I discovered, that as the Dudley coalfield was explored, all sorts of service occupations moved in. There were many Tilleys in the area - painters, shopkeepers and publicans. Not many of my family did mining or foundry work.

I live near Tyntesfield now and love its time-capsule nature. There's nothing romantic about the Gibbs family heritage either. It's built on guano. Bird poo to you and me.

Recent discoveries under the floorboards, we hear today, have added to that sense of the house being a place in which real people lived and worked. Bits of old magazine and a dropped box of matches are interesting - because they reveal actual humans to us.

In my church we've been studying some of the great characters from the Bible who heard God give them a mission - Abraham, Moses, Samuel and Isaiah all got serious jobs to do believing God had given them that task.

It's weird, having such a sense of calling. Not many get it. Most of us just follow the money.

So how did I end up a vicar in North Somerset? Well if you believe my family history it's because it's indoor work with no heavy lifting.

Although I carry with me a deeper sense that I know a bit more about where I come from and have arrived where I am meant to be - for now.

Friday, September 21, 2018

But is it really work?

A few years ago I wrote a piece about the weirdness of clergy work. Find it here. It is based on a number of conversations with my friend and previous training colleague, Bob Clucas. The early Apple spell-checker suggested he was Reboot Clichés - I wish that had stuck. As with many of these ideas, which I usually wrote down but he also initiated, neither of us remembers, or cares, who deserves the most credit. So we tend to share it.

I have read a few posts on social media recently from new clergy trying to make sense of activities such as doing the laundry or cleaning on a day off and what to do when the mind wanders, during such activities, to work-related matters.

Firstly, well done for spotting it. And now to the idea. It is the difference between real and apparent work. And this, if my previous experience is anything to go by, will transform the lives of about 20% of the people who read it, whilst the rest will say 'That's crazy.' To the 80% I say, please allow the 20% to be crazy but happy. What follows ain't illegal. Here we go:

There will be things you do that come under the heading 'duties of office' (clergy are office-holders, not employees) which you enjoy and would do anyway, paid or not. For some this will be hanging around in coffee shops or going to parties; for others writing improving articles in the church press and for still others fixing guttering. These are work, apparently, but don't feel like it to you.

Then there will be things you do in your down-time or on your rest-day that you would rather pay someone else to do. For some this will be gardening; for others ironing, washing or shopping. These are leisure, apparently, but don't feel like it to you.

The trick, if trick it can be called, is to recall that clergy do not have to avoid domestic chores every day they are on duty. If ironing is work for you and it has to be done, do it on any day except your rest day. Glebe management is part of your responsibility so it is OK to do gardening whilst on duty. In fact it is required as part of your duties.

If you cram all the leisure activities that feel like work into your day off you won't feel like you've had one. If you trade them for one or two bits of your duties that don't feel like work you will.

To summarise, try and make sure your duty days are a mix of real work and real leisure, or apparent work and apparent leisure. And fill your days off with real leisure and, if necessary, apparent work.

I once shared this with a group of clergy who were what is known as 'training incumbents' (TIs). One guy, who I know for a fact had ruined the lives of several curates, responded, as if it were the last word on the matter. 'Well that wouldn't work for me.' He seemed quite shocked when I suggested that I was not asking it to work for him but that it might be an option he shared with his curate in case it was helpful for them. At this very idea, sharing something he didn't personally find helpful, he gave the room a look which encompassed all the ranges of amazement in the known universe. Teaching the doing of things exactly the way he had done them for thirty years wasn't the only thing that worked? Really?

If you were his curate I doubt he told you this. Sorry if it's late.

Same time next week?