Thursday, 24 December 2009

a meaningful ministry... and the best is yet to come!

It wasn’t NewDay (that would start the following summer), but it was a New Frontiers summer youth camping event, with a schedule of worship and preaching and seminars and all the usual stuff. Except that this was the first year I’d been sidelined.

For well over a decade I’d been involved not only with local youth events in my church, but also with national youth events through the various Bible Weeks and the two very special events at Plumpton Racecourse in 1989 and 1990.

this year, despite making my availability very clearly (and pointedly) known to the chap in charge of recruiting the teaching team, I discovered I was surplus to requirements. I was no longer flavour of the month and was clearly too advanced in years to be a part of this. I sat down with the programme magazine, and flicked idly through, wondering what they should have asked me to do… when, gently, kindly, but very firmly, God asked ‘Why do they need you?’

I looked again at the list of familiar names: Joel Virgo below (leading the team) and Phil Wilthew were (among others) featured speakers, while Tom Foster & Keith Gamon were part of the list of characters speaking at seminars. All of them had been part of the youth group where I had faithfully ministered. As I read, I began to weep at my own self-centred foolishness, and God gently (no need to be firm, this time) said ‘Remember what you asked me to do?’

Years before, when I became involved in youth work with the 11-14s at Clarendon Church, I prayed ‘Lord, if I have anything to pass on to these youngsters, help me to do it well. And when I have passed on the baton, let them run ahead of me and do things for you that I could not ever do…’ And I realised that this was exactly what had happened.

A baton had been passed, and now these chaps were running on, most of them elders in their churches, each of them dynamic for God in a way I had tried to be yet able to have a po
werful ministry in more locations and with different skills and using a range of gifts…

I am prompted to consider again the way God has answered my prayer. Each of these characters were part of the Dunamis youth group as youngsters (many of them were members of my PowerCell)

Joel Virgo - now lead elder in Brighton
Matt Sweetman above right – lead elder in Chicago
Keith Gamon – lead elder in Macclesfield
Phil Wilthew – elder in Newcastle
Steve Boon – elder at CCK
Simon Virgo left – lead elder at Kingston
Anna van Rhyn – married to lead elder, Capetown SA

And then I worked alongside some pretty stellar characters, too:
Alan Rose right– elder in York
Tal Fahy – leadership team in Brighton
and of course,
Russ Lowman – leadership team here in

That’s one of the many advantages of having a little bit of track record... These people are trophies – not for any glass cabinet or hall of fame which reflects upon me, but precious gifts for me to offer to the Lord Jesus when I meet him face to face. Obviously I’m not solely responsible for how well they have done (and most decidedly not for their mistakes!) but I have played my part here for the sake of the Church and for Jesus’ sake.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Much more than that!

The Scriptures employ a wide range of pictures to help us grasp the many facets of our relationship with God. If you consider them in a sort of ascending order, there is a noticeable and utterly breathtaking progression.

Formerly, of course, we were enemies of God, subject to judgement and condemnation. We were dismissive of God or outwardly rebellious; yet he has wooed us, won us, drawn us, called us and saved us. We were running way from him; but in his love he revealed himself to us, encouraged us to turn around and run towards him (repentance) and has changed our hearts so that instead of resisting him, we yield to him. From our former state we have been raised from one degree of glory to another.

We are the clay and he is the Potter. We start out as little more than a clod of earth; perhaps distinctive in colour and texture, and with some potential, but without much glory or use. His loving, creative hands shape us, mould us, form something beautiful and worthwhile from an otherwise unpromising lump. He puts form and character into our random rawness. The firing process purifies us and we end up as a vessel into which he will joyfully pour his Spirit, to the point of overflowing, and will continue to do so. And from within this vessel of clay come streams of living water, an outflowing of refreshing for the world.

Moving up a notch, we are the sheep and he is the Shepherd, which is a little better position on the food chain but hardly flattering; sheep don’t have a reputation as the most graceful and intelligent creatures in the world. However, it has to said that sheep work well as a team, knowing how to follow their master, and serve a valuable function for society in terms of wool for clothing and blankets, milk and later meat for nourishment and with a helpful lawnmoving service thrown in. Yet he cares for us, watches over us, counts us out of the fold and back in again. He knows us by name, will protect us from enemies such as thieves and wolves, will lay down his life for us. He will seek us out and rescue us when we go astray, bringing us home with great rejoicing.

Moving upward, we are the servants of the Master, which at least lets us into the house, even if we have to wipe our feet, watch our manners, and not talk too much. We have the dignity of belonging to the household, of work and of serving a just and honest Master. Our tasks may be lowly, but we know the Master is concerned to keep us healthy; he does not beat us into submission but deserves our respect by his faithfulness to us.

Are you content to be a servant? The ladder of metaphors is about to make a swift ascent.

God also calls us his children and calls himself our heavenly Father, which brings us into the privileged possibility of real emotional closeness — love is not one of the things a drinking vessel or chamber pot and its craftsman share together, nor does a sheep truly know the heart of the shepherd, though it may enjoy the fruits of his kindness a servant may be granted access to the home, but a child truly belongs. A Father loves and protects and trains and seeks the best for his children; a Father gives good gifts, nurtures, teaches and disciplines his little ones. He gathers them around him and tells them his secrets and shares family life with them, communicating to them that they belong and are valuable. So precious. And provides an inheritance of more riches than they can imagine. He would shed his blood for his own. Still, there is something more than even the best parent-child relationship.

Friendship levels the playing field in a way family never can, at least not until the kids have grown up; perhaps not until they have attained adulthood themselves. Friendship opens a level of communion that a five-year-old can’t know with his mother and father. Friendship speaks of two-way flow, mutual trust and support, honour and esteem. There may still be elements of discipleship, and there will certainly be a pooling of strengths and weaknesses, with one providing assistance to the other. In this friendship, the support and help always flows from God, but he esteems us as friends, granting us the honour of that title. We were once enemies of God, rebelling or careless about him; now we are friends.

Do you rejoice in eing a friend of God? While this is completely amazing, there is san even higher and deeper level of intimacy and partnership awaiting us at the top of this metaphorical ascent.

We are lovers. The courtship began with a honeymoon in the Garden. It deteriorated into disaster and unfaithfulness for a long time but has culminated in the wedding feast of the Lamb. ‘I will take delight in you,’ he says to us, ‘as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will I rejoice over you.’ This is so that we might say in return, ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me; his banner over me is love.’ The ultimate level of closeness and intimacy (considering we were once enemies of God) is reflected in this title. Let us not be dismissive of the role of the Church as the Bride of Christ, but rejoice greatly that we are to be comforted, caressed, protected, loved, esteemed, honoured, welcomed, sought after and nurtured as a bridegroom with his wife. How glorious is that! And it's the first time that the phrase so often used of newlyweds is actually appropriate: they live happily ever after.

Judge/enemy - Ephesians 2:3
Potter/clay - Jeremiah 18:3-6
Shepherd/sheep - Psalm 23:1
Master/servant - John 13:14
Father/son - John 1:12
Friend/friend - John 15:14
Lover/lover - Song of Solomon 7:10

I enjoy the process of reviewing; here's the latest post on my website - the excellent new album from my dear friends Phatfish.

In Jesus
It is with great anticipation that I place the new Phatfish CD in the tray and press the correct button. But what’s this? Robert Palmer? Eric Satie?

Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself.

What we have here is a new release from a new line-up, having added two guitarists, a brother-in-law and two sister-in-law’s brother-in-law to the band. Confused? Now read on. So here I am expecting a flashback to the days of Alan Rose, with a lovely raw Les Paul rasp, plus the twang of Telecaster to help fill in any gaps. I’m also expecting Lou’s quality vocals, the best rhythm section in Christendom, Hammond pyrotechnics and class poetry to transport my soul toward the throne of God. Did I get my money’s worth?

Darkness into Light
The cover is clean and simple, with a stage lighting motif, (close-ups of par-cans) which is
thematically sprinkled throughout by the crisp design of Jules Burt. God is the light in the darkness, which perhaps inspired her design. An inlay card pic of the band in a boozer, obviously waiting for their drinks order to arrive, shows all the boys in subdued dimness, but Lou sympathetically illumined, which is one way of looking at them.

The title track and opener combines Addicted to Love with Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much, but not in a crossover Country ‘n’ Western way. (And not in a way that makes me consider the men in the band doing that knee-waggling dance, either.) But the gusty power chords and B3 provide a instant hook for the content-packed lyric that Nathan’s songs always deliver. Great to hear the angry wasp solo guitar sound again (oh, how I’ve missed it!). It’s a song that will run and run, becoming a loved anthem for big crowds.

Whoops - I did it again
By contrast Who is like the Lord our God may catch a few congregations out, with the inclusion of a few surprise 2/4 bars, which means the lyrics come in a breath or two before you expect them. This gives the song a measure (half-measure, if you’re a yank) of urgency, and demonstrates the signature Phatfish grown-up approach to music, not settling for the easy listening middle ground beloved of so many also-ran worship-song writers, but prepared to give room for something a little inventive or unsettling. Lou’s double-tracked chorus vocals send me misty-eyed as I recognised a sound I love and will listen to for a long, long time.

But then something rather unexpected begins to happen. It’s positive, so, so welcome, almost forgotten and really very skilful. More of this later.

Lou’s close mike technique, clarity of diction and superb breath control are to the fore in Come to Jesus, a simple but powerful declaration of Christ’s ability and desire to be at the centre of our lives. The rhymes in verse two are much more satisfying to my ears (secure/poor/cure/more) and the middle eight is a magnificent piece of work, deserving perhaps of more development, restatement etc.

The good, surprising thing continues, quite splendidly.

Stairway to Heaven
Mission starts with a Led Zep-esque lick, drawing us into a song of grand scale and purpose. Big bee-vees turn up in the chorus, which is reminiscent of There is a Day, which is fair enough and probably a good idea.

The surprising thing – oh, I can’t keep this up, and there’s no reason to keep you in suspense any longer.

The addition of a pair of axemen made me anticipate the rasp of multiple humbuckers, with acoustic strums and sweet arpeggios and perhaps the occasional twang and maybe a grind or chug or even a rip, as well as the licks and powerchords. And all of those are delivered superbly. But what this album also features is quite excellent Sandem
an keyboard work, brought once again to the fore, when I had not expected it to be there in such prominence. His Hammond chords are always reliable, but here are hugely interesting synth sounds, piano skills aplenty and interpretive additions and themes which add vast depth to the sense that this album has been produced with time, care, thought, not a little money and considerable musicianship.

Most Phatfish albums have a poetic highpoint beyond the already high standard of writing; often these are the Sandeman tracks. But Lou has penned If I have not love, a powerful creative reworking of part of 1 Corinthians 13, using contemporary examples of behaviour and attitudes which are empty without heart-expression of love. ‘I could look as though I’m listening or cry at my tv/But it really stands for nothing if it’s only serving me.’ Bertie supports alone to begin with, joined by acoustic guitar strumming and then by the rest of the band, which builds the song towards the bee-vee second chorus, middle eight and then an outstanding but disappointingly brief Lightning Seeds-esque piano solo.

Larger than Life
Sandeman theological heavyweightness powers through the anthemic Pardoned, with a huge chorus and glorious statements of Bible truth, accompanied by all-stops Hammond, thrash-all-you’re-worth tambourine and full-on bee-vees, as well as power chords and some understated guitar solos. Nathan’s controlled but appropriately busy work around the kit stands out as well.

Magnificently, we’re back to Shania, with a Man I feel like a Woman lick underpinning No one like our God. Again, it’s not in a bad way. It’s in a way that also reminds me strongly of Bryn Haworth’s No Time, but I suspect that’s just me and wasn’t intentional. I like the way the lick is given room to breathe between chorus and verse in ways that worship songs rarely allow, as they usually feel the need to rush on to the next chunk of worthy lyric. This song also has some experimental moog-style knob twiddling, which is shockingly fresh and inventive, although probably achieved by on-screen slider manipulation via a large black box of electronic trickery.

Strength of Character
A three-way collaboration between Jos, Lou & Nathan has generated There is Mercy, which drives along like a Road Trip soundtrack, complete with angry wasp. A great signature Phatfish tacit moment at 3’09", with a big, explosive re-entry at 3’15”. Fantastically good song, with great musical strength. Will probably open many a festival worship time this summer, and perhaps long into the future.

Bertie stands out again in the tender worship song God you are my God, focussed on the Father’s compassionate understanding that life can be really tough. ‘Though the pain is strong/You give me strength to hope through the storm.’ Knowing about some of the agony Sarah-Jane (to whom the song is dedicated) has had to face this year makes this warm, almost haunting expression of genuine friendship without empty platitudes a moving piece. Hopefully other listeners will appreciate it as an expression of strength for those in various kinds of pain. The piano motif throughout is strongly memorable.

A dotted rhythm and uncharacteristically empty verse arrangement sets up He watches over me. Luke’s almost-walking line is thoroughly engaging, and the middle eight is another triumph of fascinating chords with worshipful expressions of delight. And then, disastrously, it’s over… I was left wanting more, which must be a good thing. So I listened again and enjoyed it even more the next time around.

There’s a maturity about this album that reflects the complicated journey on which the guys have been recently, yet their dependency on God and joy in his mercy shine through all the sadness. It’s not Bride of Heavenbound, understandably, but it’s right up there among the top two Phatfish abums. And in the top five worship albums of all time; oh yes, it’s that good.

Top Five Worship Albums of All Time
1 Phatfish Heavenbound
2 Kate Simmonds One Day
3 David Fellingham In Power Resplendent
4 Phatfish In Jesus
5 Israel & New Breed Real

Thursday, 21 May 2009

And there was great rejoicing

So, at last, someone has bought my car. It’s been stationary since 23rd November, when my eyes became officially inadequate and my Driving Licence expired. Except of course for the trip late in January when HD drove it to Birmingham and parked it outside my new house.

Thanks at last, after several expensive weeks’ advertising, to AutoTrader, a garage in Hull has taken it off my hands.

Admittedly, they trimmed the price considerably, but cash in hand is worth nearly four grand in the bush, as they say.
It was quite an adventure, what with the scam-merchants who offered me a vast wedge (way over the advertised price) and then sent me a Bankers' Draft. But this disappeared into the system never to be seen again, and the whole deal turned out to look like a scheme to get the car and some cash out of me, leaving me with nothing. Nat West Bank is yet to get back to me to explain where the Draft went, however.

Anyway, then this garage contacted me and I did the deal. I had to take the car to a motorway service station and meet hm there. 'But I can't drive the vehicle,' I explained. So I asked for help at my Life Group meeting. 'I need someone to do a driving job for me.' The chap leading the group added 'Just back the transit up to the window of the jewellery shop, and we'll do the rest...'

Someone did volunteer, however, and I said I'd talk to him later so that everyone else would have deniability. I worked out the arrangements, and then managed to get muddled between 'this week' and 'next week' and it all looked in jeopardy. But to my rescue came a chap from Church Central who had just quit his job to move to Manchester to become a church leader there. He was willing, so I sent him with the motor, keys, log book, instructions, FSH and maps.

The car started first time and went off very smoothly. It was sad to see it go, but joyous to see this bloke at my door a few hours later, with a vast wedge of £20 notes in a plastic bag.

I spread them out on the bed because I'd never seen that much cash all in one place at the same time ever before. Meanwhile, there’s now a space outside my house, several grand in my bank, a bicycle on the horizon and some credit card bills that don't look so frightening.

Monday, 20 April 2009

A prayer for growth

And all God's people said 'Saxifrage', although some said 'Aubretia' (actually, they pronounced it 'Or-bresher'). While others muttered 'Fuschia bush plants'. The rest simply wondered with wonderment at the potting compost.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

New location, new direction?

Hallo again. Yes, what you see here are pictures of this morning's labour (and I do mean spine-shattering effort, which will be playing havoc with my comfortableness for a while yet).

You see, having bought a house with a garden is all very well, but the trouble is, it's spring now, and not only do I need to mow the lawn, I have invested in a few implements and some items of a plant-like nature.

I am being discipled by the excellent John & Mollie Oldfield in digging, sorting, composting and re-potting, and hope to revive my rubber plant and keep the new purchases alive for a week or two at least.

Check out the telly, as well, with vast leaves emerging from behind. I am very pleased with this set-up.

So you're looking at a frame I have constructed for the tomato plants, alongside the growbag of spinach I'm laying hands upon.

And then there is a blackberry bush (kind of) and another, which is destined to produce either loganberries or frustration.

And the front garden is destined to get the full-on herbaceous treatment, in the fullness of time. The fuschia's looking horticultural.

On reflection, it does seem slightly odd to have planted soft fruit bushes under a bird table, as encouraging sweet/fruity growth in the same location as encouraging avian visitors seems somewhat in conflict. As does establishing slug-lunch at such cost. But that's just the start of the battle, I'm guessing.

Who knows, all this could lead to spiritual growth, illustration and physical health. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the process of learning, being trained and discovering new things about myself. All morning, as I dug through thick, cloying Midlands clay, the tune of the The Great Escape was playing in my head.

Meanhile, church life continues. I feel very settled here, knowing already one or two of the purposes for which God has uprooted me, having prepared the ground and fitted me into me-shaped spaces. See, the gardening metaphores are starting.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Another day, another bit of British Manufacturing

Hallo everyone. Sorry I've been a little bit quiet, but I've been keeping shtum for so long so that you can join with me in experiencing the long wait I've had for my new sofas to arrive.

And here they are.Prada 3-seater in Mocha leather, along with a Collins 2-seater in a similar but different leather.

Wrong style (actually, a bit nicer, but not the one I ordered as it
wasn't the one in the sale).

Meanwhile, the delivery man said I can treat them as my own and they will deliver a matching pair in the fullness of time – hopefully not 11 weeks, but it doesn't matter since these are mine to use and sit upon and lie upon and cuddle upon (with a bit of luck, smoothness & co-operation...)

Upstairs, thanks to the previous weeks' delivery, and a near-superhuman effort on my part in construction, deconstruction, construction, fiddling, changing, deconstruction and construction – mostly down to unclear instructions and my inexperience – there is now a double bed in the double bedroom, which is lovely and fills the space rather well.

Thus I am open for guests. Form an orderly queue, no pushing, no shouting.

I've been making friends here, which hasn't been difficult, since I'm so gregarious and the people here are so in need of someone older, wiser, more spiritual and with a natty line in tasteful remarks. The Alpha course has been a good thing to do, as I've been thrown in at the deep end with some guests, as well as having the privilege of working with some excellent team-mates. Tomorrow I am giving the How to be Filled with Holy Spirit talk at the awayday. On Sunday I'm attending the How to Join the Church afternoon. I'll become a member officially once the form is signed, I guess.

First guest arrives on Tuesday, as HD pops in to take us both to see MFIT in Abergavenny. So, life here in Birmingham is busy, exciting, spiritually challenging, and has at least three items of furnture on which I can relax (two of them to the point of unconciousness).

Meanwhile, I've discovered a lovely bunch of people in my Life Group, which is larger than feasable and more friendly than a really friendly place. The standard practice is to each bring elements of a meal, which is consumed with gusto and garlic bread, usually, amid fellowship, chatter, laughter and caring concern. After the notices, someone will review the sermon from Sunday and ask some questions (frankly, questions of variable quality, I have to say) and then someone else will lead us into worship (with guitar or CDs) this is followed by prayertime.

I have also joined the local Fat Boy Club, to try to do a bit of course correction as my manly frame was tending towards the bloater phase once again. I have met three really decent chaps and the LighterLife Coach, who is a bit of a mystery. Recent careful action on my part has resulted in the loss of a stone.

Well, that's enough chatting for now.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Settling in, but not settling down

Well, it’s been a bit busy, which explains the lack of blog. Apologies to those of you who are eager for more news.

I think ChurchCentral is a bit splendid, as the prayer times this week have had a strong sense of the presence of God, and I’ve felt so at home and relaxed and a part of what is going on… Somehow my heart is being turned from caring about a seaside-resort-lovin’ arty-saucy city to a multi-racial landlocked heart-of-the-nation second-city.

Most of my at-home-ness is due to the wonderful welcome I have received from so many lovely people (and several of them are truly, deeply lovely), expressing friendship to me. I think I’ve settled on a Life Group (we meet on Thursdays for food, fellowship, worship, discussion of the Word and prayer) in a variety of homes, with a great bunch of people, many of whom are pregnant, it seems. Most of the others have recently (and I mean since Christmas) become engaged either to each other or to other members of the church.

In addition to Life Group, I have also been recruited onto the Alpha (local curry house), to share the leading of a Table (whatever that means) and to give a talk as well on the AwayDay. I’ve contacted one of the musicians and may become part of a band for Sundays, and I’ve started discussions which may lead to an invite to speak to the student group. Not bad for just 6 weeks or so… and the first two were pretty quiet, since many people were away for Christmas.

In my new house, most of the boxes are opened and emptied, although some ‘deep archive’ ones remain. The big bedroom is still a dumping ground, although it’s ideal for the ironing board and all that sort of laundry stuff. My office (illustrated) works well, and the lounge is a constant source of delight to me. Most evenings I stroll around it, marvelling that it take 10 steps to get from end to end, and that all my books, DVDs & CDs are stored there, along with a table & chairs. My sofas are on order (more about them, later, perhaps) and a flat-screen telly is featuring strongly on my To Purchase Once Thoroughly Researched list.

Since it’s winter, the garden makes no demands. Long may that circumstance continue.

Now I need to sell my car, which is parked outside the house and mocking me a little.

Oh, yes, this is all throwaway chatty stuff, but I never promised a theological treatise or even anger about roadusers every time, did I?

Friday, 2 January 2009

New home, new broadband connection

The First Fortnight

So here I am, cosily tucked away in a green, quiet, safe, pleasant part of Birmingham. It still fills me with a sense of purpose and joy to wake up in my new home; the past few months have been a whirlwind of planning and hoping and waiting and delays and rush and goodbyes and sadness and expectation. As you can imagine, this has left me feeling a little confused and on an emotional roller-coaster. Having long-term friends queuing up to say goodbye is really very odd indeed; what’s worse is when you have done the leaving thing but then you see them at church the following week, because you didn’t quite get away yet…

Anyway, the last piece of the jigsaw of the sale of my flat fell into place on Tuesday afternoon, and by the same evening, the removals man was delivering cardboard cartons and I was in time trouble. His crew would arrive, he said, at 8am on Friday and get my stuff down and away into the van. He kept saying ‘van’, when I felt ‘lorry’ would have been a more reassuring word to use. Two solid days of frantic packing ensued.

As it turned out, the jigsaw relating to the purchase of my new property was not only far from falling into place; it was still in its box, with the cellophane seal around it, and packed deep in Gamley’s warehouse.

At last the lorry was stuffed and the back door sealed, so I walked round to Fox & Sons (Estate Agents) for the last time, to hand over my keys. There was also a chance of catching a final glimpse of the lovely Kerry, resplendent in one of her magnificent jumpers… but sadly she wasn’t there.

And so I no longer lived in Brighton. More than fifty years were over; twenty four of them at the same address.

But we arrived, a little later than anticipated, at Corn Mill Close, and the keys were miraculously ready for collection. I rendezvoused with my dear friends Russ & Alex, and they ferried me across town to the local estate agent.

Walking in to my new home was a voyage of delightful discovery; I’d last been in the place ten weeks before, and had really been looking at the rooms in a general way; ‘good size;’ ‘usuable shape;’ ‘one or two surprising extra bits.’ This was starting to sound a lot like Kerry again…

Anyway, now I was able to examine the rooms I owned in minute detail, and see where the power points were placed (usually in the least helpful places, naturally), look at carpet quality/pattern/stains, and become frustrated at the 40W eco-friendly bulbs in all the light fittings, which took the best part of a week to get up to full strength, which was jus about sufficient to cast dark shadows, but that’s about all.

Russ fired up the central heating while Alex and the boys settled in the lounge/diner for running races. I checked out all the rooms, making snap decisions about which ones would serve the various functions I had in mind. ‘This can be the office/study, just as I’d thought, while I can sleep in there. So, let’s put all the boxes in the big bedroom for now and I can sort it all out as I go along.’

There were a good number of nice surprises. There was a working tv, quite a lot of crocks and things in the kitchen; lamps; several brooms, a mop & bucket, and a dustpan & brush; a collection of cleaning materials in the cupboard under the sink. I was later to discover that I am now the owner of a wheelbarrow and an electric lawnmower, which came as a surprise and a bit of a wake-up call. This was Grown-upsville, Adult City. No longer a first-floor-flat dweller, me. I had grass, hedges, shrubs and a washing line.

The removals men set to with gusto and great endurance. Suddenly, they wanted decisions about furniture, unmarked boxes, things I didn’t recognise…

At long last the final box, package, bag, carton or crate had been brought indoors. The big bedroom wasn’t just full of stuff; it was completely rammed, and it took an hour’s hard slog to move things around sufficiently to get into the room. Meanwhile, my bed and desk were in place; the shelving units were there and the chest of drawers packed with crocks, spice racks and packets of soup was ready to be pressed into a new realm of service as a clothes storage unit.

After a while, it was time for me to be on my own with my new place. There was so much to do, but I was hugely tired.

So, a few days later, I rediscovered the floor of the big bedroom and managed to get all the boxes to range around the edges, which meant I could put some things away in the cupboards and start to sort things out.

But the quantity of crates rammed with books, CDs and DVDs means that I can’t get them out of the way until the bookcases arrive. Meanwhile, the washing mounting up, and the washing machine installation men haven’t yet come. My broadband is ordered and booked for plugging up, but not yet. The new sofa is on order and paid for, but might not be here until the end of March, according to the small print.

That said, I keep tripping over essential everyday things, like my collection of Dinky Toys and large numbers of back issues of various magazines and periodicals. The number of times I’ve checked one particular box in case my nice boots are in there, only to be reminded that this is the one with empty bottles in bewilders me. My system of writing on the carton once I’d put things inside it almost works, except that I can’t read my writing, and when I work it out by examining the contents, I keep noticing that I’ve been less than diligent in listing everything inside each box. And many seem to a be something of a Jamboree Bag.

There’s so much else; voyages of discovery to church meetings and to visit friends; being picked up and taken to fellowship gatherings; having a go at walking to a friends’ home, only to discover that the route I selected, while efficient in it’s way, failed to take into account a road built more recently than the publication date of my map – a road which shortens the journey by about a mile… Then there’s Bus route 29, which takes me from here to a decent shopping street with a good selection of stores; I’ve yet to discover how to get to other places. I suppose I need a good reason to go there, and I’ll be willing to make the effort.

I’ve been invited to get involved with so many things already, which is brilliant. I feel I’m making new friends (or at least meeting people who will probably turn out to be friends in the longer term).

There is sometimes the heavy aroma of burning boat about the place, but that’s only to be expected. God has called me to this place; it’s now his call to lead me in the path everlasting, and to direct my activities from here. I know what I might do, and I know what some of my strengths are. But maybe he has some changes up ahead for me, as well as some things with which I’m familiar…

Sunday, 14 December 2008

As witnessed by millions

On the Sports Personality of the Year show tonight, the winner was trying to find a collective term to describe the child of his sister. So he had to turn the sentence around and describe him self as someone who had 'just become an uncle' which covers the relationship irrespective of the gender of the child (nephew or niece). Yes, he admitted eventually that his sister had given birth to a little girl, and that therefore she was his niece. And it would have still been his neice even if his sister-in-law had given birth. And, given the way some folks carry on these days, the actual wearing of a ring or ownership of a licence is immaterial.

But that's my point.

There is no accepted word for such offspring.
Consider the following options.
One's first Grandchild/Granddaughter/Grandson
One's first child/daughter/son
One's first nephew/niece BUT there isn't a generic term.

That's why I have been campaigning (okay, fairly quietly) for Sibskid as that term. My sibling's kid, geddit? It's friendly, easy to use, applies equally to boy or girl born of sister or of the seed of brother without argument, and is easy to remember (which is why it beats SibsSpring, which is harder to say, or NéeBoth, which is arguably more etymologically excusable).

Let me know what you think, unless you disagree.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Book Reviews:
Blink by Ted Dekker
Black by Ted Dekker

West Bow Books (a division of Thomas Nelson)

I’ve been reading a manuscript for a dear friend recently, and have had to apply some rules for this as she’s just learning the skills and techniques required. She has a good story and a good way of approaching it, but struggles a little with writing believeable dialogue, with maintaining the point of view and with developing character.

But it’s such a promising story idea that I’m prepared to point these weaknesses out in a gentle way. Indeed, in order to encourage in her the grace she shows in receiving my comments, I have asked
her to read my recent manuscripts, and I’ve been hugely enriched by the story ideas she’s suggested to improve them.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about reading the Bible is the principle of approaching with Ontological Hermaneutic Presupposition (impressive, eh?). This simply means that we assume the Bible writers are correct, and that any weirdness or plot discrepancies are a function
of translation, inaccurate reading or a misunderstanding of God.

For example, where Luke mentions in 24:15 that Jesus approached
the two men making their way to Emmaus, we should not assume (as we might if it were not the Bible we were reading but the flawed manuscript of a storyteller) that the writer has forgotten that his character Jesus had died in the previous chapter, and therefore couldn’t be there.

In the case of Scripture (once we have ensured reliable translation), we read carefully and then bring faith to the party. This must mean that Jesus isn’t dead. So is this a flashback? No, not according to verse 1, which sets the incident in its timeframe: Easter Sunday. So what has happened?

Well, obviously, other scriptures back up the slow-dawning theory that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Eventually, we come to clear statements such as v34 and then v46, and it’s starting to make
a bit more sense: the problem is that we had too small a view of God, and failed to believe him when he promised to send his Son to die and be raised to life on the third day…

However, and it’s an huge however (practically an HOWEVER), Ted Dekker cannot hide behind this sort of approach. He’s a flawed human being (he won’t deny it) and has, despite what
they may tell him, a deeply flawed publishing editor.

Despite the claim that ‘Ted Dekker’s novels deliver big mind-blowing, plot-twisting page turners’, both of these books utterly disappointed me.

Blink is supposed to draw on breathlessly fabulous themes of science fiction, wrapped inside an enigma which unravels at breakneck pace… oh let the publisher gush: ‘An intoxicating tale set amidst the shifting sands of the Middle East, Blink touches on geopolitical conflicts as ancient as the earth itself. The page-turning plot follows a Saudi Arabian princess fleeing a wretched forced marriage for the promised land of America. A brilliant American graduate student discovers a mysterious power – giving him glimpses into the future. Thrown together, they become pawns in a struggle for power and must manipulate the very future in order to save themselves. In his most riveting novel to date, Dekker brings the story to a dramatic climax that will change the future of fiction in the blink of an eye.’

A pseudo-spiritual prophetic gift is the cheap (and over-used) deus ex machina plot device that helps the 2-dimensional good guy rescue the damsel in distress, and they both discover things about God that we knew years ago. If this were didactic fiction, it would fail as it’s not all that insightful. It’s not spectacularly evangelistic, and the pot-boiling story is predictable. The
poor quality of the writing left me annoyed, and the characterisation failed to happen. This book changes exactly nothing... the future of fiction is likely to be impoverished if this chap produces much more, unless someone is honest enough to tell him the truth.

Black describes itself as a novel, but actually it’s the throat-clearance of a trilogy.

Brace yourself: Blackness is symbolic of evil, which is the sort of racist issue
that I thought we’d eliminated in the fifties. Our ‘hero’ has a game-show Gladiator name (Thomas Hunter) but keeps falling asleep, which provides him with a gateway to the past (or is it the future?). This is the breath-taking science fiction, folks. What a crock! He gets confused between beautiful girls in each of the realities he visits, and has to battle insurmountable odds against the clock, which he does with impassive stolidity.

Once again, a fairly promising story idea gets mangled in the plot-driven action, as I failed utterly to engage with any of the characters.

And it's so not a novel. The last few pages fail utterly to resolve any of the plot threads or even deliver an anti-climax, so it's just a set-up for the sequel. Hugely irritating once I'd ploughed through so much grey text to get there, and still am left with our hero in trouble, our heroines pretty-much unkissed (despite the poor writing that suddenly made me believe one of them must be immaculately pregnant) and our enemies still in the ascendency. I know some people find this sort of stuff exciting and neeeeed to devour the next installment as soon as possible, but it left me deeply unimpressed and not really bothered.

This isn’t science fiction at all – not if Phillip K Dick or Kurt Vonnegut or Isaac Asimov or even Douglas Adams are to be considered in that genre. And it’s so sub-Christian it lacks any edge or worth in that field, as well. All you end up with is a religiously-tangential adventure yarn populated by people about whom you care not one whit. Reminded me a bit of The daVinci Code, which I hope is understood to be a serious put-down.

0.5 out of 5 leonandys

Saturday, 6 December 2008

And another thing...

Third in a series on noticing stuff when you should be concentrating

As I approached the CCK church building in good time for the early morning prayer time today, I noticed a small puddle of liquid on the pavement. Scattered around this was the remains of a glass bottle; an extra virgin olive oil bottle. The tell-tale aroma wafted mouthwateringly and I wondered if someone had dropped their shopping and lost this precious liquid.

Then my imagination kicked in and I started to see it as perhaps the detritus from a failed torching attack on the church building from some sexually abstinant macrobiotic-wholemeal/health/fairly-traded pressure group who had made a feeble sub-Molotov Cocktail... (Molot-olive Cocktoil?)

But in the end it seemed more likely it was the last remaining evidence of members of an highly over-spiritualised hit & run squad, who had been participants in some bizarre drive-by attempted healing service.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

No news is bad news

Mssrs Hurry, Up & Wait, solicitors

Dear Sir

our ref

Thank you for yours of the 12th ult.

Sign this at your earliest convenient return of post, enclose cheque for several hundred pounds and then we'll go really quiet again for a few weeks, until the next form with lots of small print has been prepared by our office Junior, who has been appointed chief executive of Squew-Whiff Photocopying & Uneven Folding.

We remain your humble and faithful servants

Yrs Faithfully
pp (illegible scibble)
Conv A Ensing
Senior Partner

Oh, it's not so bad. But I'm champing at the bit, learning lot about patience (good quality) which quicks leads to passivity (not so good), and the opposite dangers of proactive firmness (good quality) which can lead towards anger (not so good, especially if you sleep on it).

It's a right old balancing act, this obeying God malarkey.

The lovely comments, encouraging prayers and vivid prophecies keep on coming, and it's those which help me stay focussed. My moving day has come and gone and I'm still here. I'm praying for the glorious 12th (not to go gouse-shooting, but to remove my belongings to my new home), as it seems that further delay will find everyone taking their Chistmas break while I'm still living with boxes and uproar and 'maybe' and unsettled and not in the city and church God has been calling me to join since June.

That can't be right, can it?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

And so it continues, both day and night

How wonderful to be surrounded by friends!

I hoped this was going to happen; I would have been hurt if it didn't. But the reality of leaving this church (CCK) and this town (Brighton) is beginning to come close.

Before, it was a wild, adventurous concept, but when you spend the day dealing with Removals Firms and sendng cheques to solicitors and seeing an Estate Agent and then go to a meeting when folks spontaneously gather around you and start prophesying and having brilliantly vivid and perceptive pictures for you, it all gets a bit certain!

Having expressed my alarm about the amazing garden at Corn Mill Close, and also having had a meeting with Jonathan Bell, the elder overseeing Church Central in Birmingham...
A dear friend had a picture of a tree or shrub which was mature and precious being gently uprooted and prepared for transporting. The roots were wrapped in cloth, with the right amount of soil. It was then taken to a space perfectly landscaped to be the best place for the tree to flourish and play its part; a space set aside with that particular tree in mind.
While he was sharing, I could see those shrubs in the new back garden...

People are great, aren't they? They express their gratitiude and love and faith and admiration and it's truly the activity of the family of God.

There are days when this huge change in my life seems too much; there are other days when I can't wait to be in my new house, sorting out furniture and bookcases and establishing myself in the place God has carved out for me.

But there are also days when
Nothing much
Seems to be happening or
Seems to be stirring within, either.
Living in the promise is an uncomfortable place.
Things that will be are not yet;
Things that are now over tarry.
Meaningful friendships take on greater meaning;
Future friendships will bring great joy but currently are on hold.
Opportunities beckon but hurdles intervene;
Hurry up and prepare for further delay.

Lord, grant me patience, keep me keen, stir my vision, encourage my obedience, speed my solicitors, help my unbelief, bolster my flagging excitement, calm my nerves, help me enjoy the process, remind me to live in the present.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Update 2

I'm starting to think that my Estate Agents go from their office into their staff room to salivate over a cork notice board with a big headline This Week's Sale, and a photo of me underneath it. They make me feel like Royalty.

Good afternoon, Mr Back, have a seat, cup of coffee, packet of Plain Chocolate HobNobs, please wipe your shoes on my expensive suit, can I mop your brow with this old copy of Property News?, oh do have some cake or I could peel you a grape or two?, please be aware that we may be letting off Party Poppers in a moment (we wouldn't want to make you jump with the sudden noise!), thank you for breathing oxygen in the same building as us, take care since we would not want you to trip upon these palm fronds and rose petals our receptioniste is strewing before your path, may I prostrate myself before you?, please receive these flowers/certificates/shredded overstock of Mortgage Application Forms, and thank you, thank you, thank you.

Anyone would think I was the only source of income they had for this week.

And they may very well be right.

Be that as it may... 4

H'mmm. Fireworks night, eh?

I have many times wondered about the wisdom thereof. So many injuries, disfigurements, opportunities for people to hurt themselves (and, more importantly, each other); it's expensive, trivial, momentary, intrusive for those who would prefer not to have vast explosions of extreme volume rending the night sky (which may be many parents of small children, come to think of it) and almost impossible to police to prevent careless folks bending breaking and ignoring the safety procedures, leading inexorably to a desensitisation about the dangers of playing with fire.

But these are the least of the issues. Much more important, imho, and fundamental is the whole rationale behind November the Fifth and what it celebrates.

We think of the political activist Guy Fawkes and his colleagues in the cellars under the House of Parliament, plotting with their barrels of gunpowder to kill the king when he came into the chamber. But they were discovered, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to... death by burning at the stake. H'mm yes, that's our history folks. We used to do that to people. The English way was to treat our political dissidents with brutal forms of execution. It should be something to be ahsamed about, like our historic involvement in unjust wars, piracy, the slave trade, shocking treatment of children and women and the poor and the mentally ill...

No, we don't ritually make a public humiliation and spectacle of those who challenge our institutions these days. (In some cases, we rejoice and make merry over 'celebrities' immoral choices to have a family of children outside of marriage, to have serial lovers, to behave irresponsibly with dr
ugs or booze or - but that's another topic, really). Anyway, some might argue that the pendulum has swung too far towards care and kindness, seeking to get the criminal and the psychopath back into society as quickly as possible.

Yet we set aside time, money and rational thinking to celebrate the barbarity of our long-extinct laws of execution by a seriously cruel method. No, we don't have a Drinking Hemlock Week or a Hanging by the Neck Until Dead Afternoon; perhaps these are not adequately spectactular. But we do gather up combustibles into a pile, shove a dummy on top and make a great family night from the savage punishment meted out to this man who. after all, would probably have voted LibDem, if he had been given the opportunity, commenting on the authority of the monarchy and being disapproving of the two-party system.

And don't get me started on Lewes, and the way they do things there.

But it's a great evangelistic opportunity, Andy, they tell me. Harrumph, is all I answer. Surely we should have had our big party the week before, inviting families up and down the avenue to sit around dressed as characters who populate the occult - ghosts, skellingtons, ghoulies, the undead, evil spirits, witches, warlocks, elves, hobgoblins and all things demonic, while sending the children out to break with the general rules and for one night only to talk as many strangers as possible, to beg, to accept gifts from unknown and unsupervised grown-ups and stay up late, wandering about, and to provoke nightmares and fear and nasty surprises...

There's something wrong here, surely, with both of these dangerous 'opportunities'.

Evangelistic events should be focused on fun, friendship, conversation, food, civility, times of appropriate celebration (may I tender the following ideas: Christmas, Easter, start of the school holidays, birthdays, anniversaries - let those whose marriages last make a fuss about it, I suggest - exam results, homecomings, harvest, housewarmings, weddings, births, christenings & dedications, baptisms, etc etc).

Let celebration be restored to things worth lauding.
For goodness' sake.

Friday, 17 October 2008

A Psalm of grateful thanks to God

Psalm 20
For the director of music. A psalm of David

1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.

3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners
in the house of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.

6 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

9 O Lord, save the King! Answer us when we call!

More about my new home...

Counting Chickens? Maybe, but I feel very confidant

The current appearance of the 21' lounge, showing the long, useable dining area and double patio doors to the back garden.

I can't say the regency stripes are really me; and the 3-piece suite doesn't exactly float any vessels of any kind. Good job that's not included! I find the huge fire place a little grand, also.

There's obviously a kitchen, which is a good size 9'7 x 8'3, plus two storage rooms and a downstairs wc.

Here's the master bedroom, complete with frilly bedlinen and floral curtains... H'mm. Perhaps something more manly is required.

But the room's a good size 12'7 x 9'9 and has those handy fitted cupboards. The other bedrooms are 11'6 x 11'5 (square, without chimney breasts or funny extrusions) and a very useable single 11'11 x 6'10.

At this stage, I'm planning to rent out the Master, leaving the square room as an office and having the single room for myself.

There's also a bathroom, with a separate wc.

Ah, now, the garden...

H'mm, looks like some serious hard work has gone on here, and (much more alarmingly for this first-floor-flat-dweller), will be required in days to come. Anyone know a decent gardener?
But the patio certainly looks like an option for barbeques or maybe, in time, a hot tub.

One of the most attractive features of this property is that rather than the current deal of £50-odd per year for a Residents' Parking Permit which entitles you to go and park somewhere else because all the spaces near your home are occupied already, this house is in a quiet close with plenty of opportunities for vehicles to be left unattended.

Be that as it may 3/3

It's been fun trying to get a leaving do organised.

21st November 2008 at 7.30-10pm at the Clarendon Centre,
New England Street, Brighton

All welcome; please bring a bottle to share; light refreshments available.

So far 50 people have confirmed, and there's still a month to go! I'm getting the mesage; my time in CCK has carved a big hole with my name on, and I shall be missed. I know I'm not irreplaceable, but it's great to know I'm not instantly forgettable.

Friday, 10 October 2008


And the news at the end of the day is that I have made an offer which has been accepted, and I've accepted an offer on my flat. So let the solictor two-step begin!