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April 2021

May 2021

MY WEDDING DAY POEM - ON OUR 25th SILVER ANNIVERSARY

Stocki  Jani and Fair Head 21

 

I've got a circle of gold on my finger

It speaks of promises and trust

Seems love doesn’t last too long these days

This ring reminds me that ours must

And if everything is burning down

And if everyone is falling apart

The vows we made and the prayers we prayed

Should give us strength deep in our hearts

So would you come and spend some time with me

Would you make that time forever

Would you lift me when I’m feeling down

And rebuke me when I’m not clever

Would you be my partner in this waltz

My companion in this mystery

Would you be my hope through TV news

My touch of grace in the misery

Would you let me come and dry your eyes

Let me be there to share your sorrow

Marriage is more than a wedding day

It’s the hard work of tomorrow

So come away on our adventure

By the soul mate by my side

Tapping the potential of you and me

So His love won’t be denied.

 

25 years ago today I wrote those words.

Promises. Commitment. Romance. Companionship. Resilience. Hope. Vocation. All the words that make up a marriage.

"Love is not these lovely 25 years but the..." Words still to be lived. 


AM I A GOOD ANCESTOR?

China-coal-plant-1280

Am I a good ancestor?

I read Tim Winton’s gripping novel The Shepherd’s Hut on a recent short holiday. As I like to do, I found an interview with Winton to help me into his story. It was at the Edinburgh Festival. During the interview, discussing planet earth, that can almost in novel’s like The Shepherd’s Hut become an extra character in his work, Winton used that line - Am I a good ancestor?

It is one of those lines that just drops so deep and lingers. It has such weight of wisdom that It might ripple out for the rest of my life. 

‘Am I a good ancestor?’ is a question so rarely asked that when I posted it on social media my friend Gary asked if it shouldn’t read ‘Am I a good descendent?’ I understood. I have never considered this question. Yet, it might be one of the most important I ever ask.

We spend a lot of time thinking of our ancestors. Personally or even as nations. In Northern Ireland where I live we spend so much time talking and arguing and, God forgive us, killing over the past. 

Most of our political decisions are affected by a love, near worship, of past events. There are many who would look to other culture’s and their ancestry worship as un-Christian, even uncivilised and yet… we have a form of it that paralyses our movement into the future. It is one of the few things that unites us all! 

Is it a blind spot in the human psyche or a more deliberately evil force in the universe that prevents us from considering our descendants? I mean I love my own children and friends love their grand children in ways that we never loved even our own grandparents yet we do not live our lives in ways that leave a better world for them. 

It almost seems that the question on the forefront of all our hearts and souls and minds should be ‘Am I a good ancestor?’ What we do cannot impact our ancestors at all. They are gone. All our daily decisions will impact our descendants and yet we are not considering it.

Is that because of the cost to ourselves? Is it a symptom of am inherent selfishness? If we concentrate on the past we don’t need to pay any price in the present. If we look forward and consider our legacy as ancestors we might have to rein it on.

That is indeed the case when we talk about the environment which was what provoked Winton’s line. If we want our children’s children to have a planet or not have to deal with apocalyptic conditions we are leaving behind then carbon emissions need drastically cut. That, however, would effect the size of our car, the number of holiday flights and even the amount of beef we eat or plastic we use in packaging.

Are we prepared to sacrifice our own comfort and luxury for our loved ones coming after us? I watch parents do so many things that they think will be for their children’s best. Leaving them a planet surely sits as the major priority. 

Our own ancestors will certainly not judge us for what we have done after them. They are manure for daisies. Our descendants though? The quality of their lives will be decided on whether I am a good ancestor or not.


TIM WINTON - THE SHEPHERD'S HUT

Shepherd's Hut

I have been a fan of Tim Winton for thirty years. 

A few pages into every novel I have asked myself why? They are often stories about bleak characters in bleak circumstances in bleak western Australian terrain.  

BUT… there is always little snippets of redemption. Like an Australian Flannery O’Connor - vivid, lyrical, earthy prose that are always God haunted. God is omnipresent.

And so The Shepherd’s Hut. Jaxie is a teenager that Winton describes as a ‘feral ratbag’. Taking off across the western Australian salt lands on foot without the equipment or experience needed we are gripped by this bad boy’s adventure. Place is like an extra character with Winton and never more so in this tall tale.

Eventually in this nowhere place Jaxie meets a nowhere man, Irish priest Fintan. We never know why he has been exiled out there but the two start the strangest of fractious relationships that eventually becomes a bond. 

The elderly educated Fintan is all words and song and books whereas Jaxie ain’t! In their strange conversations the spiritual is opened up. Religion. God. Prayer. Hope. Peace. Finding yourself an instrument of God.

As I said, utterly gripping with an almost wild west cowboy ending that I could not possibly spoil here. 

Back to why I love Tim Winton. His redemption is never simple testimony of sinner to saved. It is messy, realistic, incremental; ordinary broken humanity groping in a shadowy world for grace and peace and God… just a hem of the garment. Nobody does it better.


WINN COLLIERS - A BURNING IN MY BONES; The Authorised Biography of Eugene Peterson

A burning in my bones

Psychological relief. Page after page. Winn Collier’s biography on Eugene Peterson was like a retreat of soul healing for this near sixty year old minister.

For most of my 33 years ordained I have felt a little odd, eccentric, black sheep. I thought I was alone. That there was someone else out there like me was consoling in itself but that it happened to be Eugene Peterson made it utterly joyful. I was close to tearful during paragraphs.

Winn has done an amazing job with Eugene’s life. For those who somehow don’t know Eugene Peterson, he was a pastor, author and college Professor. He is perhaps most famous for his paraphrase/translation of the Bible that became known as The Message.

Winn Colliers was given permission by Eugene to trawl through his entire 86 years on the planet, with access to diaries and letters and whatever was available. He has somehow edited that to just over 300 pages and given a deep and wide story of a unique human being trying to follow God as best he could with all the grace gifted him.

Of course I was drawn to Peterson’s relationship with Bono though I feel that David Taylor’s short film about Bono and Eugene discussing The Psalms had given us a real feel for their friendship.

I was also delighted that included in the book was the story Eugene told the night he embarrassed me as his interviewer by not answering any of my questions in a sizeable tent full of people back in the 90s. Unable to get a word of Eugene, the main speaker at a Presbyterian Special Assembly, my friend David Montgomery rescued me from the piano stool and asked me to ask about the filling in reports for the New Church Development committee. Eugene lit up like a comedian. Read about that evening here - Surmising The Life Of Eugene Peterson

This was all good but it wasn’t what Eugene did as much as why he did it that most excited me. Winn tells us of a man who had no time for sectarianism among Christians, even suspicious of the evangelicalism label; he was more interested in the outworking of faith rather than the correctness of doctrine, quoting “Barth wasn’t indifferent to “getting it right” but his passion was in “getting it lived”; he saw the God-part of people and was short on judgementalism as a result; he saw holiness in his dad’s butcher’s shop and in the mountains and lakes of his childhood and later life Montana; he heard God speak in novels, even using novels to teach his theology; he always felt an outsider with no desire to join any broad movements; he loved the Scripture, not to debate as much as enter into and feel and learn and love.

I could go on and on. This is not your common or garden pastor and I needed to hear about him. I loved particularly an idea that he found in the works of Nobel poet Czeslaw Milosz. Milosz survived Communism in Poland by employing “Ketman” - “a stance of outer compliance but inner dissent”. “Ketman” could be my middle name over 40 years of ministry.

Another poet to give Eugene spiritual understanding or at least understanding of his own spiritual journey was Denise Levertov. Her picturing a dog following its nose caught the imagination of a man who grew up in love with dogs and animals and lakes and mountains. Winn writes, “His life and work had been more like tracing a scent than following a map”.

I have struggled my entire ministry with 5 year Church mission plans. I do not understand the language or idea. That doesn’t make me any less a visionary but my process echoes “tracing a scent” perfectly. I read the paragraph and my weirdo soul screamed ‘not mad’! At least the only one not mad!

No doubt the big talk about the book will be how Peterson wrestled with the LGBT debate. All of his sniffing scents and being a little suspicious of “some people who took themselves too seriously a were certain of ‘what God is doing’” led him to a place of pragmatic pastoral care that will no doubt ruffle many feathers. 

What Winn Collier has done is to give us the honesty and integrity of a life given over to follow and serve Jesus and to share the Scripture in word and pastoral care. It is the story of a human being consumed by something way bigger than himself or the mountains of his Montana childhood. It is the story of a man who had a “hunger for something radical - something so true that it burned in his bones.” 

I am thankful to have met Eugene Peterson, to know his work. My soul is leaping for joy at Eugene’s earthed, authentic sense of the transcendent. I am left yearning to sniff out the same holiness! Thank you Winn Collier for a wonderful biography. 


THE FINAL LINE OF DUTY - PROPHETIC OR PATHETIC OR BOTH?!

Line Of Duty

Line Of Duty? Prophetic or pathetic? Certainly we were not starved for opinions on social media!

I am wondering if had we set ourselves up for disappointment? I mean, who did we think it might be? That final twist? Ted? Well, we have been led down that garden path with a wee donkey for series after series. It would have been too obvious. It would have been wrong.

Carmichael? Goodness, she is a cold fish. We certainly never felt she was on our guys’ side. When she looked across from her office as the prisoner was being brought in to that final interview. She had guilty written all over her smugness. Again too obvious. It would have been nice but… too obvious.

Osbourne? Head of all. Again, it always looked like him. Too obvious?

Which left us with… that tense moment when he sat down for the interview and the camera turned to show us… Ian Buckells? What! The wrong kind of shocker.  There was a twist we never saw coming. It certainly wasn’t obvious. Slimey averageness who couldn’t spell ‘definite’ as the mythical H! Well, it was a surprise… even to the actor who played him! It was a little anticlimactic!

To think that those bent coppers were meticulous to keep all that evidence in a box beneath the floor BUT no one at any stage, not even a good software spell checker, would have suggested, “Continually spelling definite with an A might give you away H.” The serial miss-speller!

It would seem to me that over 6 series and 42 episodes the Line Of Duty team put together the most popular TV drama in many many years but the length of time had left them with few options; clean out of surprises.

It is a downside of box set television that has in recent years overtaken the movie. I am ever amazed at film stars taking on TV roles. There has been a shift from big screen to binge watching of  TV series. It is obvious where the new money is. We love it but think about it. 100 minutes in a movie or maybe 7 hours in a box set. Tough job to hold a last minute twist.

I guess that was my disappointment. The drama itself fizzled out.

The message though could not have been more poignant. “Truth and integrity,” Ted kept repeating like he was thumping the pulpit. This and the idea that Buckell as an average bureaucrat "failing upwards" (surely too close to Richard Rohr’s "Falling Upwards" to be a coincidence?) to power & downwards to murder seem very on the money  if we watch the News after the episode finishes. 

Indeed “truth and integrity” might be the headline of a Prime Minister who has been asked about those things all week in reference to the furnishing of his flat. Who knew when the TV schedules were cast… though if not Boris’s flat there would have been another challenge to “truth and integrity” somewhere.

Like Ted’s sermon preached we should ALL be standing for “truth and integrity”. Not just in the police or in the government or big business. It should be the baseline of all that we all do every single day. 

Like Ted we should all realise that as the good book preaches “all have sinned and fall short…” All of us must take Ted’s post sermonic moment for a confession. All of us must put ourselves at the judgement and the mercy of “truth and integrity” 

So, for sure there was more reality than dramatic twist to the last episode of Series 6 of Line Of Duty. The reality is that badness is riven through everyone and everywhere and finding an H scapegoat does not clean it up. It’s even in the good guys like Ted, Steve and Kate who fight for that truth every day. 

If that is the aim then I might well be convinced for a seventh series. Certainly the addiction of spotting which street they are at in Belfast helps. 

But Line Of Duty is not a sermon or a philosophical podcast. It is a Drama series. No, I don’t want it to be just an escape but I do want to be entertained. It’s Sunday night at 9pm. It is prime time TV. The reality was prophetic for sure. The dramatic conclusion was not a match.

Maybe the writers were trying to out do Reality TV by putting some real reality into a drama. Maybe writer Jed Mercurio grew up on U2’s “Fact is fiction and TV reality”. No harm there. U2 have been known to preach a little too… and I on them! It is just that… when they do it best like on the afore-quoted Sunday Bloody Sunday there is a good melody and guitar riff!