Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Icons and Tree

Four stunning new icons have recently been installed in Chelmsford Cathedral. The icons depict from left to right, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, St. Peter, and St Cedd and are sited above the semicircular arch in the four blank clerestory windows of the Chancel. Through the arch another piece of artwork the Tree of Life mural is visible. These are just some examples of the many interesting artworks in the cathedral.

The icons have been created by Orthodox icon-writers who wish to remain anonymous as an offering to God.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Big Swap – Lent (4)

Fairtrade Fortnight runs from today until 7th March and during this period we are being asked to take part in The Big Swap. Fairtrade describe the idea as follows:

For this year's Fairtrade Fortnight we're asking the nation to join us in The Bfairtrade_logo[3]ig Swap. For two whole weeks we'll be asking you to swap your usual stuff for Fairtrade stuff. Your usual bananas for Fairtrade bananas, your usual cotton socks for Fairtrade cotton socks, and your usual cuppa for a Fairtrade cuppa. Whenever you pop to the shops, you can use your wallet to make a stand.

The Fairtrade site has a section for people to register their swaps and they are looking to register one million and one swaps during the fortnight; they have already reached the 100,000 mark on the first day. You can follow Fairtrade on Twitter at @FairtradeUK.

Looks like a really simple and effective idea and another good way to mark Lent by taking time out to reflect on how what we consume affects others. Of course if you’ve given up chocolate for Lent then you can’t really switch to Fairtrade; I haven’t so I can.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Time to sweep and clean the room – Lent (3)

A helpful reminder from Archbishop Rowan about the meaning and purpose of Lent (in 3mins 58secs).

But it's important to remember that the word 'Lent' itself comes from the old English word for 'spring'. It's not about feeling gloomy for forty days; it's not about making yourself miserable for forty days; it's not even about giving things up for forty days. Lent is springtime. It's preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death. And as we prepare ourselves for Easter during these days, by prayer and by self-denial, what motivates us and what fills the horizon is not self-denial as an end in itself but trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.

A full transcript of ++Rowan’s video recorded for Lent 2009 can be found here.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Loss is indeed our gain – Lent (2)

The pushing and shoving of the world is endless.

We are pushed and shoved.

And we do our fair share of pushing and shoving

in our great anxiety.

And in the middle of that

you have set down your beloved suffering son

who was like a sheep led to the slaughter

who opened not his mouth.

We seem not able,

so we ask you to create the spaces in our life

where we may ponder his suffering

and your summons for us to suffer with him,

suspecting that suffering is the only way to come to newness.

So we pray for your church in these Lenten days,

when we are driven to denial –

not to notice the suffering,

not to engage in it,

not to acknowledge it.

So be that way of truth among us

that we should not deceive ourselves.

That we shall see that loss is indeed our gain.

We give you thanks for that mystery from which we live.


A prayer for Lent from the ever excellent Walter Brueggemann. Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Fortress Press, 2003.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Passion – Lent (1)

What is my passion? That’s a question I’ve been reflecting on as we enter the season of Lent and as I’m reading The Last Week by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. The book explores the final week of Christ’s life as recorded in Mark’s Gospel and in the preface the authors make a comment about Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ:

Borg_Crossan_The_Last_Week_sm The movie had an additional effect. It reinforced a widespread but much too narrow understanding of the ‘passion’ of Jesus. Mel Gibson called his film The Passion of the Christ and based his screenplay on Anne Catherine Emmerich’s The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Both authors understood the term ‘passion’ in the context of its traditional Roman Catholic and broader Christian background. ‘Passion’ is from the Latin noun passio, meaning ‘suffering’.

But in everyday English we also use passion for any consuming interest, dedicated enthusiasm, or concentrated commitment. In this sense, a person’s passion is what she or he is passionate about. In this book we are deliberately playing those two meanings against one another. The first passion of Jesus was the Kingdom of God, namely to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel. It was this first passion for God’s distributive justice that led inevitably to the second passion by Pilate’s punitive justice. Before Jesus, after Jesus and, for Christians, archetypically in Jesus, those who live for nonviolent justice die all too often from violent justice. And so in this book we focus on ‘what Jesus was passionate about’ as a way of understanding why his life ended in the passion of Good Friday. To narrow the passion of Jesus to his last twelve hours – arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion – is to ignore the connection between his life and his death.

Now I may want to challenge the authors concerning their definition of the Kingdom of God, I think it is much more than fair shares for all, but I am grateful for their reminder that Jesus was passionate about the Kingdom of God and spent his life proclaiming the Kingdom. So I find myself asking what is my passion? Looking at my life, my priorities, my values and my commitments what would others think I am passionate about? And where do the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God fit in?

Chariots of Fire is a film I never tire of watching. It tells the story of a group of athletes preparing to compete in the Paris Olympic games of 1924. One of the athletes is the Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell, a devout Christian who was later to serve as a missionary in China. There is a scene in which Liddell and his sister discuss the impact of his running on his studies, his ministry in Edinburgh and his preparations for China. Liddell tells his sister that he believes that God has made him for a purpose, for China, but he goes on to say that God has also machariots_of_fire_04de him fast and when he runs he feels God’s pleasure coursing through his body. Liddell’s sister struggles to accept what he is saying and it is as if she cannot accept that his passion for running might be from God in the same way as his vocation to be a missionary. I wonder if the church is sometimes experienced as a place where people's passions are undervalued rather than seen as God given.

Over the last few months I’ve been involved in developing some resources on Vocations for use in Chelmsford Diocese. The material is called Your SHAPE for God’s Service and is based on a course developed in Carlisle Diocese. The course encourages people to reflect on their SHAPE; their spiritual gifts, heart’s desire, abilities, personality and experience as part of discerning God’s call to ministry in the Church and in the World. What excites me about the material is that it recognises that our heart’s desire, our passion, is as important in understanding who we are and what God may be calling us to do as the more obvious aspects, for example, our gifts and abilities.

So the question I return to is this; what is my passion and how can that passion serve the Good News of the Kingdom of God?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

It’s Pancake Day

A piece of T.V. genius from Maid Marian and her Merry Men to celebrate a culinary delight.

And for an excellent pancake recipe check out Delia’s Classic Crepes Suzette.

h/t Callummay for the clip and Sarah Fay for the Delia link (both via twitter).

Monday, 15 February 2010

U-bend Theology

I finally watched Slumdog Millionaire at the weekend and there is one image that I can’t shake from my mind. The film tells the story of Jamal, an 18 year-old orphan from Mumbai, who is one question away from 20 million rupees on India’s version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’. In an early flash back scene a very young Jamal is locked in an outdoor toilet by his brother. Jamal is desperate to escape so that he can get the autograph of a famous film star who has just arrived in the area. The only way out is to jump into the pit full of excrement beneath the toilet in order to see his hero. Jamal takes the plunge, emerges from the pit covered in liquid faeces and pushes through the crowd to gain his prize of the star’s signature.

slumdog-millionaire The toilet scene is a powerful metaphor for the whole film; Jamal’s life is a perpetual struggle through all the crap that the world can throw at him: his mother murdered, scraping a living on the refuse tips of the city, exploited by others for financial gain, humiliated for public entertainment and continually betrayed by his older brother Salim. The publicity around the film gave the impression it was a comedy and the cover of the DVD quotes a review saying it’s ‘the feel good movie of the year’, but there is nothing funny about the grim realities of life that Jamal has to endure. A film in which children are deliberately blinded to increase their begging potential is no laughing matter, though there are great touches of humour throughout and a moving portrayal of love and faithfulness in Jamal’s relationship with his childhood sweetheart Latika. The film is well made and brilliantly acted, yet, the underlying theme of redemption and freedom through money is disturbing.

trainspottingAnyway, back to Jamal and the toilet. This is not the first time toilets have featured in a Danny Boyle movie; in Trainspotting Renton, a drug addict played by Ewan McGregor, dives into a filthy toilet to retrieve his bag of heroin. The scene is also reminiscent of Andy in The Shawshank Redemption finally escaping captivity via the sewage system of his prison.

What the scene from Slumdog Millionaire brings to mind is a comment made by a speaker, I think it may have been Gerard Kelly, at Spring Harvest a couple of years ago. He spoke of Christianity having a U-bend Theology, like the U-bend of a toilet. It is through the dirt and mess of the world that God has shown us his love and made known his grace and forgiveness in Jesus. Christianity is not a faith of escapism for it is founded on belief in one who entered the world in all its beauty and filth and went through Good Friday, executed on a rubbish tip, in order to reconcile us to God. Observing the season of Lent reminds me that it is in and through the realities of life and death that we move towards Easter and resurrection. Christianity is a U-bend Theology.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

In praise of OG!

No, not the Amorite King of Bashan slain by Joshua at the battle of Edrei, but Manchester United’s secret weapon deployed to spectacular effect this season. Last summer Sir Alex Ferguson signed little Mickey Owen on a free transfer from Newcastle, though he has yet to make a consistent contribution. Owen Hargreaves has been languishing in the treatment room for years after making a great start for Utd. What journalists, pundits and commentators didn’t spot was that SAF had made another signing, not an Owen but Own as in Own Goal or OG as he is affectionately known around Old Trafford.

OG is a real star at the Theatre of Dreams and is Man Utd’s second highest scorer having racked up 10 goals so far this season. OG’s latest goal came in a pulsating game against Aston Villa last night, however, his best performance so far was last Saturday when he scored a hat-trick against Portsmouth.

There has been much debate as to why OG is so prolific and there are several explanations. The first is the quality of Utd’s crosses from their wingers and full backs, especially Evra, Giggs, Valencia and, to the astonishment of all, Nani. Then there is the sheer panic instilled in opposition defences when they see Wayne Rooney dashing into the area snorting steam from his nostrils. Another possible reason is that defences know that they will have to carry on playing into injury time until Utd score, so they might as well get the job done so they can go home and see if JT has left a message on the answer phone.

Anyway, OG is a fantastic coup for Utd and let’s hope he stays fit until the end of the season. Who knows, perhaps Fabio Capello has him pencilled in for the England World Cup squad in the summer? And here is yet more evidence of Ferguson’s genius; he gets the opposition teams’ managers to pay OG’s wages!

David James David James, Portsmouth and England goalkeeper, after his defenders score another goal for Manchester United.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Shalts and Shan’ts

Caught up with the third programme in Channel 4’s series The Bible: A History on the Ten Commandments. I was interested to see what issues were covered as I am just finishing ploughing my way through the book of Exodus. The episode was presented by Ann Widdecombe and maintained the high production standard of the series; plenty of photogenic locations and an interesting mix of characters. The format began with a retelling of the Exodus account of Moses and the giving of the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, before going on to explore the place of the Commandments in Jewish life, in the development of Christianity and in English history and law. 10 commandments

All very straight forward except that at various points the problem of using well known personalities as presenters for the programmes was clearly exposed. Widdecombe has a passion for the Ten Commandments and believes that a society is better off with them than without them. However, Widdecombe is no theologian and at various points she seemed to have real problems in grasping some of the basic insights and questions of Biblical scholarship. The fundamentals of source criticism and Biblical archaeology seemed to take her by surprise; she struggled to maintain her belief that everything happened exactly as recorded in the Pentateuch and was authored by Moses. I’m not quite sure how Moses wrote Deuteronomy 34 which gives an account of his own death.

At one point in the programme Widdecombe briefly interviewed Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on their attitudes towards the Ten Commandments. Unsurprisingly both men were vehemently hostile and Widdecombe seemed to lack either the intellectual capacity or the debating skills to take on their arguments. A good example was Fry’s argument when he demanded to know why God had not banned slavery. Exodus 21 has quite a bit to say about slavery and some of it very radical in an Ancient Near East context but Widdicombe seemed unaware of this. At another point Fry challenged the tenth command about covetousness, suggesting it creates little more than a thought crime; I’m not sure the youngster mugged for his trainers or mobile phone would agree with him. For much of these snippets (they didn’t last very long as Hitchens flounced out) Widdecombe sat open mouthed as if she just couldn’t believe what her opponents were saying and struggled to marshal counter arguments.

Widdecombe was more effective in highlighting how society is impoverished through its rejection of the Ten Commandments. She goes on to suggest that we ‘would have happier, more fulfilled lives today if we still followed biblical law’ and this is where the programme concluded. I don’t agree with her statement about biblical law given the content of some of the other 613 commands contained in the Law of Moses. Though the 613 commands were mentioned, Widdecombe didn’t explore why she is happy to accept some commands and to ignore others, including the food laws which were featured in the programme.

stephen fry Strangely, because I’ve never been a fan, I found myself warming to Widdecombe as someone who does have a genuine concern for the moral wellbeing of people and her faith and passion are evident throughout the programme. There was one segment where she explored the issue of assisted dying that was sensitively handled and quite moving. Although I felt she didn’t hold her own against Hitchens and Fry, I nevertheless found myself siding with Widdecombe in their encounters. There is something deeply irritating about the preening and posturing of the ‘new atheists’, whose arrogance seeps through in their smug disdain for anyone stupid enough to believe in God. This is becoming a regular feature of the series.

Two reviews of the programme that are well worth a read are by +Alan Wilson who considers the programme in the wider context of religious broadcasting and Doug Chaplin who is more critical than I have been of Miss Widdecombe.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Now a Christian

Came across this interesting resource from the Church Army. Now a Christian is an email-based course aimed at helping new Christians as they begin their journey of faith. The course involves a daily email for five weeks, with a link to an interactive website on the fourth day of each week. It is designed to encourage discussion about what being a Christian means and to get to grips with some of the issues new Christians may want to explore.

The Church Army also runs Make Jesus Famous with links to useful resources and ideas including videos like this telling of The Good Samaritan from UCCF.

h/t Charlie Kosla

Monday, 8 February 2010

the missing bits – the Message (2)

Still on track with reading through the Bible in a year as part of our parish Bible challenge. As previously mentioned I have been using The Message translation/paraphrase which has given a fresh perspective on familiar and not so familiar passages. The first thing that has struck me is how certain passages of scripture seem to have been excised from the canon. Not that these passages have been removed from the Bible, but they might as well not be there for all the attention they are given. Joseph logo

The story of Judah, Tamar and Onan (Genesis 38) pops up in the middle of the story of Joseph and his brothers, just before Joseph is taken off to Egypt and sold to Potiphar. I know the story but had forgotten that this is where it is placed and I am struggling to remember the last time I read it; I’ve certainly never heard it read in church or mentioned in a sermon. Most people will know the story of Joseph courtesy of Messrs Rice and Lloyd Webber. Joseph and his ATD was the first show I drummed for at school and I’ve lost count of the number of versions of Joseph that I’ve sat through since. I have yet to see a version of Joseph which has an interlude featuring Judah, Tamar and Onan. The only modern cultural reference of note is from Dorothy Parker who named her parrot Onan (google it if you can’t work it out).

Of more serious concern is the deliberate excising of sections of scripture that the compilers of the Common Worship Lectionary have indulged in. Peter Ould has highlighted this problem in Cutting Out Scripture. Last week during Morning Prayer Peter noticed that a significant section of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) had been left out. Here’s the bit:

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. (Genesis 19:4-11)

lot Now I’m at a loss to work out why this passage has been removed as the redaction renders the rest of the text meaningless. I’m not concerned here about arguments over how we are to interpret the story, or what the sin might be that leads to judgement on the cities, I just don’t see how we can reflect meaningfully without reading the whole story. The comments following Peter’s blog begin to discuss how the story may be understood but they presuppose knowledge of the missing passage. I'd be interested to know if anyone has compiled a list of all the Bible passages the Common Worship lectionary has omitted.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to rediscovering and reflecting on other parts of the Bible that don’t get much of a look in or have been deliberately ignored, including the nasty bits and the passages that make for uncomfortable reading.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Spiritual Fitness

Spent an interesting and challenging afternoon yesterday at a theological society seminar led by Graham Tomlin. Graham’s theme was taken from his book Spiritual Fitness in which he explores how we can build Christian Character in a consumer culture. The approach Graham shared compared and contrasted today’s gym culture and preoccupation with physical fitness with the church as a place to develop spiritual fitness. The session explored Biblical, Patristic and Reformation sources as well as different spiritual disciplines and other contemporary material.spiritual fitness

Graham argued that we need to see the building of Christian character as part of a theology of mission. The gym is seen as a place where people go to experience physical transformation, enabling them to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. The church should be a community enabling transformation and the cultivation of those virtues which our communities so desperately need to experience.

There were some interesting quotes from Stanley Hauerwas to reflect upon including:

Churches spend far too much time thinking about those who do not come…

The most important social task of Christians is to be nothing less than a community capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God’s truth in the world…

the most important service the church does for any society is to be a community capable of developing people of virtue…

The second part of the seminar suggested approaches to how we might develop communities building Christian character.

  • Indentify the virtue you need
  • Relate theology to character
  • Give practical guidance
  • Suggest spiritual disciplines
  • Build a culture of character formation

The subject is one I’ve been reflecting on for some time. As I look around church on Sundays I wonder how many have actually come expecting to experience transformation; for the experience to make any difference to their lives?

David Keen posted a blog recently on a new book that Tom Wright is bringing out called Virtue Reborn on the theme of Christian character and how it is formed.

I’ve been reading some fascinating findings from recent research on preaching published as The View from the Pew. The research revealed the following:

  • People respond positively to sermons in terms of looking forward to them.
  • Sermons do not tend to be well applied in terms of making a frequent difference to people’s attitudes and behaviour.
  • Respondents think sermons should challenge, encourage and motivate.
  • There is an interiority about the reception of sermons which does not express itself in attitudinal/behavioural effect – that sermons affect us on the inside of our lives rather than the outside.

These insights suggest that many do not see our churches, and the preaching offered in them, as places of transformation and character building. How much more attractive and challenging would they be if they were places where people really believed they would be supported and equipped in being transformed into the image of Christ.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Simeon and Anna

This is probably my favourite picture from my trip to Jerusalem in 2008. It was taken at about 6:30am in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Edicule (the tomb of Christ) and is of a Coptic priest reading the scriptures by candlelight. When I saw the priest I immediately thought of Simeon faithfully waiting for the consolation of Israel in the Temple.


Today is Candlemas when we celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and remember the witness of the devout Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:22-40).

When Simeon saw the Christ child he uttered the words known as the Nunc Dimittis. Anna responded by thanking God and talking about Jesus to those who were waiting for God’s deliverance. Two elderly, faithful servants of God, trusting him and waiting for his time and glimpsing the glory of God revealed in Jesus as they approached the end of their lives.

Candlemas is one of those pivotal Christian festivals when we look back to the birth of Christ and forward to his crucifixion. This painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo is titled The Infant Christ Asleep on the Cross (1670s). Christ child

The shocking image depicts the Christ child asleep on the cross with a skull lying beside him. Both these symbols directly refer to his forthcoming sacrifice and are intended to emphasise the notion that Christ was born in order to die for the world.

Doug Chaplin has created his own images for Candlemas. Maggi Dawn and Tim Goodbody have also posted interesting reflections on the festival.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Nunc Dimittis 1662 Book of Common Prayer

Monday, 1 February 2010

year planner

In my room at the Diocesan Office I have a large magnetic whiteboard on which I place important pieces of information and occasionally doodle. The board displays two vital planning charts for this year. The first is my 2010 World Cup wall chart and the other a 2010 Six Nations Rugby Union chart. Unfortunately, the space occupied means there is no room for my original work year planner, so I am relying on my secretary to remind me of other appointments and work related events. My wife is very good at reminding me about the family stuff. Discretion prevents me revealing which Archdeacon emailed me the evening the England World Cup fixtures were decided to point out a clash between a semi-final and our Course in Christian Studies presentation service in the cathedral.

wallchartIt goes without saying that other important dates including Champions League fixtures and various cup finals are diarised as soon as they are published; sadly this year the FA Cup final is of no further interest. In recent years my board has displayed pull out souvenirs of Manchester United triumphs in domestic and European competitions too numerous to mention. They are a constant source of pain for my work colleague who is an Arsenal supporter.

The other item enjoying pride of place on my board is a copy of an excellent Dave Walker cartoon which I commissioned for a vocations resource we are launching in the diocese; I’ll be blogging about that soon.