Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Word as a Wordle

Here is Advent Sunday's (29th November) Gospel from Luke 21:25-26 as a seaonally coloured Wordle.

Hope it proves inspirational!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Go into all the [virtual world] and make disciples - why I use social networking sites...

Many of you will be aware that whilst I like to blog, I am also a regular user of social networking sites, especially Twitter and Facebook. Now I could perfectly well see why some of you might think that they are a waste of time, as the relationships forged on them are as virtual as the internet driven world itself. Some of you might also be thinking, hasn't he got enough to do? Is he just a lazy priest, swanning around on the internet all day, and not visiting the lonely, the housebound and generally spreading the word?

My response could be, in a way... fair point. But, I do believe that the use of these new media are essential to us as Christians, and to me as a pastor and priest, essential tools in the ministry which God has given me to exercise in His name.

My entry into the social networking world began out of necessity. When our church put on a special service or a special event our activity we were reaching a certain group of people - the 'regulars' we shall call them. Advertising these events is tricky, physically. Our church noticeboard is of the 'drive-past-able' variety. Some of the local shop keepers were willing put up the odd poster or two occasionally. This seemed effective only to a point. Was there a way of reaching others locally?

I decided to sign up to Facebook to see if there were others locally who had some contact with the church, perhaps through an occasional office, that might come back to something else that we were doing, as I was sure that people were sometimes not coming to these things because they did not know that they were on.

Very quickly I discovered there were many people that I knew locally, that I could invite to things, pray for, and do some pastoral support through this excellent tool. Now we have a church Facebook page, with a growing number of members who are both regular and occasional attenders at Sunday worship.

Facebook has also given us another spin off. In having to RSVP to an event that we might advertise, we also have a good idea of the number of people who will attend, and you can see straight away why that might be helpful.

Facebook has also been the entry point into pastoral care, prayer, and support too for the local community and I am thankful for it, as it gives an insight (however mundane or facile) lives. But, at times, it has provided the beginnings of real support - leading to prayer or a visit. A personal example is when son #3 had swine flu and we were able to post updates on Facebook and we were supported in prayer all over the world.

I also blog, and you wouldn't be reading this if you did not know that. I blog for a number of reasons:
  • It is my diary - a place to record thoughts and experiences primarily for me
  • It is a repository of sermons and sermon prep - I post past sermons for your delectation and delight, and workings on current ones too. With the introduction of my Word as a Wordle - which I hope helps give a new take on (usually) the Gospel reading for the week. It certainly helps me to prepare, and to have some notes as 'work in progress I find helpful. If they inspire others too - result.
  • I use this blog - Rectory Musings - to also highlight the existence of my other blog Five Minutes Space and other assorted web based bits that might prove helpful - other blogs I read, Daily Prayer from the CofE etc...
I also feed my blog entries onto Facebook to ensure that the people I tried to reach out to locally have some sources of spiritual inspiration from their local church too - and the feedback I have from parents of football playing children for whom SUnday worship is an occasional thing - it is a good thing. It is a God thing...

Relatively recently, I have learned to 'tweet' and now use Twitter regularly. Twitter is not a social networking tool like Facebook, but a micro-blogging site. It allows the user to record, in 140 characters, what is going on for them. It has taken me a long time to 'get' Twitter. But now, with the right software (Tweetdeck is my personal fave) I have found it to be an invaluable tool.

Twitter is very immediate. There are some contacts I have there, who I also have on Facebook. There are some there, who I know personally. Many of my Twitter 'friends' I have never met and perhaps I am never likely to meet, and yet, there is some sort of community there.

There are a number of Anglican clerics who Tweet and we have been grouped together with other 'tweeting' Bishops as the Twurch of England. This network, for me, has been a network of shared interest, support, prayer and encouragement. A couple of weeks ago I tweeted that I was off to do, what could have been a tricky visit and I asked for prayer. Almost instantly, tweets came back from others in other places assuring me that I was held in prayer. I felt supported by The Church and by God through prayer.

In to the midest of all this positivity comes the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who recently caused a bit of stir in the blogsphere with comments about social networking and blogging which you can be found here.

I take his point.

The other main reason that I use Facebook, tweet, or blog is about accountability. It can be clearly tracked what it is I have done and when. You can see the progress that I am making on a sermon etc. As church, you have some sense of what your cleric is up to. Sure that is open to abuse, but so was the banking systems that are the backbone of global business and look what happened when that was abused - global recession.

I accept that blogging, Facebook and Twitter may not be for you, but I am clear that they are part of the tools of my trade - making known the love of Christ - and that God uses them to reveal His coming Kingdom in the [virtual] world.

What more Advent?

Wow! I am really getting into the swing of this again, but I am supposed to be hoovering! Anyway, I have just added something else Advent blog which I got from a friend on Twitter. It is a a few minutes of utter genius... Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Minutes Space 2009

I have just spruced up my Advent blog - Five Minutes Space - for Advent 2009.

I hope that you might read it and perhaps even find it inspirational. I will be updating it daily.

I will link the blog here for your delectation and delight...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More thoughts on Christ the King

Here is the basis for what I intend saying on Sunday. it will be changed between now and then. I might make reference to soemthing I saw on the news last night as the illustration. Either way, what follows are some reflections on what it means for Jesus Christ to be lord andking of my life...


Today, the Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church year. Over the year we have recalled the promise of Christ’s coming, his birth, life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. Today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today also marks the end of our annual training programme on how to be Christian disciples.

The conversation between the Pilate and Jesus revolves around the issue of kingship, with Pilate determined to discover whether Jesus poses a real political threat or not, and Jesus determined to redefine the notion of ‘kingdom’ and kingship.’ Again Jesus reminds Pilate that it is he who defines Jesus in political terms. “You say that I am a king.’ Even though Jesus was not a problem for Pilate - he believed he held Jesus’ life in the balance - Pilate was determined to get to the bottom of this and so should we - what does it mean for Christ to be King?

Christ’s kingship is God given and has a universal and personal reign. Universally Christ is king of all creation. When God sent his son, he did so to complete the work he began when he said. ‘Let there be light!’ Christ’s life, death and resurrection are about God taking all that it means to be created, broken, hurting, incomplete even sinful, to heart, and on the cross’s eternal embrace, to allow the eternal effect of sin and death to die with his Son. Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates every thing into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present,

Personally, Christ is King of our hearts. As Christ dies, the eternal affects of sin and death are annihilated. With his cry of ‘It is finished!’ Christ is not defeated, but victorious! Christ is King of creation because in his death and resurrection he he deposes the power that holds all of creation captive - he liberates every thing into a new freedom in the presence of God and releases eternal life into the present. Christ is King in me, for just as he took sin and brokenness to his heart, so I must take Christ’s kingship to heart. Christ is King in me by my faith in him. The liberation beginning to experienced in creation, can be experienced in my life, in yours only when we pay due respect to the king, when we listen to his words, and as loyal subjects, carry out his will.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who lay ourselves open completely to the will of God, we need to become a trusting people, we need to ask him to help us to become a faithful praying people. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows even Jesus found it hard - Gethsemene still rings with Jesus’ ‘Father if it is possible, take this cup from me!’ Yet when we do, even our deaths become resurrections and the problems and worries that might keep us awake at night pale into insignificance. It’s not that they disappear, but that we entrust them and ourselves to the will of God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who are filled to overflowing with the love of God. Just as God’s love for creation overflowed into the coming of Christ, so our love of God should overflow into our relationships with others. The hallmark of the Christian community in Paul’s day, back as the church was beginning, was the way that Christian’s loved one another. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the well where Jesus encountered the Syrophonecian woman still stings with Jesus’, ‘Is it right that the children’s food is thrown to the dogs?’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Jesus, even the most deepseated difference with our neighbours, friends or family pale into insignificance when we see all people made in the image of God and loved by God. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship.

What does it mean for Christ to be King in my life? As Christ has given his all for me, so I must give my all for him. We need to become people who know that we are loved personally by God. If you were the only person on earth, God’s love is so great for you, Christ would have come - did come - just to restore the relationship between God and you. Hear Jesus’ words in 3:16 from God’s point of view - God so loved N so much that he sent his only son so that if they believe in me, they would not perish but have eternal life. God calls us to love ourselves too - he does. This sort of radical obedience is hard - God knows it’s hard - the seashore is still lapped with Jesus’ words to Simon and his response, ‘Do you love me... you know that I love you.’ Yet when we do even our deaths become resurrections, like Peter, our self-worth is restored. Friends it is then and only then that we will experience true joy, true peace, and we will see our lives and the lives of others filled with Christlike kingship as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Friends, today rings with the words of Jesus from the cross - ‘it is finished!’ - as today marks our renewed recommitment to be Christian disciples, seeking Christ’s kingship, the love of our redeemer, brother and lord, in our lives, in our loves, in our world. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Word as Wordle

Here is the wordle of John 18:33-37, the gospel reading for the Feast of Christ the King (22/11/09). Sermon thoughts to follow... but I am struck by the importance of the words king, kingdom, world, Jesus, Pilate and answered...

Reading the passage again, I am struck that the lectionary compliers did not have the courage to give us more of the text as believe that we can only really make sense of Jesus' words by setting them in the wider context of th rest of John 18.

That said, even in the confines of these few verses, Jesus is mystifying, enigmatic, enlightening and confrontational all at once.

Pilate asks Jesus about his kingship. This is a question about geography, politics and military might. We will never really know what Pilate was gettig at or what his notion of kingship meant. Did he have Caesar or the puppet-king Herod in mind? Either way the Messianic connotations will not hav been common parlance for him, but he must have been aware of them.

Either way, Pilate throughout John 18, is constatly looking to do the right thing. So we join him trying to make sense of why Jesus has been sent to him and to give Jesus a chance to defend himself.

Jesus, as he usually is especially in John's Gospel, starts to be infuriatingly allusive. 'My kingdom is not of this world' says Jesus. What on earth?

But then that's maybe the point. Jesus is perhaps trying to expalin some Messiah theology to a non-Jew. You have no need to be threatened, says Jesus, as my kingly power is not about politics or the exterior world of geography and place.

The kingdom says Jesus, centres itself in the realm of truth and values. The kingdom of God is not therefore about the exterior world but about the inner landscapes of the human heart - the place where truth, love and values reign and rule our lives and lifestyles.

If you want to understand the way that kingdom is run, Jesus says to Pilate and to us, then listen to God speaking through me...


Well folks that's the beginnings of where the sermon is going. I will try to post more as we near Sunday!

Anish Kapoor and the Via Negativa...

I have just watched the first of a new series of the BBC series 'Imagine.' The programme tonight was handed over to the work of British artist and sculptor Anish Kapoor. The excellent program is available to watch here.

Over the years I have become familiar with his work - especially his voids. These have been set everywhere for me, most notably in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern with his enormous 150m long 'Marsyas' and as part of the exhibitions in the Sir John Soane museum.

The thing that struck me about Alan Yentob's interview was Kapoor talking about his use use of colour. He went on to talk about his use of 'black' an example of which is above. The 'black' of course is a dark red. But it is the sort of black that you see as you close your eyes - blackness tinged with the redness of blood.

This all got me thinking about how Anish Kapoor's work therefore is an external expression of the inner world. In other words, his art, some of it massive, reveals something of what is going on inside him and each of us. Kapoor like Bill Viola is a true apophatic postsecular artist... an interesting article can be downloaded from here...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who do you trust?

Below I copy a version of what I preached at All Saints on Sunday. It was good service and I am beginning to feel quite at home there.

The day before, I spent a day at a conference called '

The Future of the Planet: Wilderness or Promised Land?' From the Diocesan website:

The St Albans Diocese Board for Church and Society's second Environment Conference

Since the first in 2006, the debate has moved on to practical measures for tackling climate change.

Can we as individuals and as members of local churches really make a difference?

Our 2009 Energy and Climate Change conference is a joint project between the Environment, Europe and World Development groups.

It takes place just weeks before the vital UN Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen. The conference is introduced by the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, Bishop of Bedford and the theme of Exodus will run throughout the day. The morning session will consist of talks by eminent speakers on environmental matters:

  • The Revd Professor Ian James, meteorologist - Climate change science
  • Richard Howitt, Labour MEP - European energy policy and its effect on business
  • Mark Dowd, Head of Campaign Group Operation Noah - Our response as Christians
  • Chris Goodall, environmental author - Future energy opportunities

The afternoon of the conference will focus on how individual parishes can take practical steps towards the aim of the Church of England in “Shrinking our Footprint”. There will be an opportunity for discussion in small groups about measures we can take in our personal lifestyles, our churches and congregations, our local communities and in the wider world.

The afternoon was very practical and held together by Benedict Southworth, formerly of the WDM. All in all it was excellent, challenging, rewarding, mobilising day. Well done John, Alice, Helen, Sue and everyone else concerned...

Here's the sermon for Kingdom 3:

I love going away on holiday and when I do I love to go and visit some of the sights. One of the best places I have ever visited is Chicago. It is beautiful - right on the banks of Lake Michigan. It has loads of really amazing buildings - some quite old by American standards with nice bricks and stone and carving; some really new with smoked glass and chromed steel. Some of the most successful companies in America have been and are based there.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem doing a bit of sightseeing. The disciples are amazed at some of the things they see. They are particularly taken with the size of the Temple - they notice how big the stones used to make it were. Jesus warns the disciples that one day these great buildings will be destroyed. That’s sad, especially if they were as amazing as the ones in Chicago are. Jesus’ point though is: these buildings might be used by companies who make all sorts of amazing things that we might really want, that help make life good - PS3, drums, trainers - but if we have the best trainers, a fantastic drumkit and a new PS3 and don’t trust in God and listen to Jesus then we have missed what life is all about.

So where do place our trust? What do we hope for? What makes life good for us? Lower taxes? A new car?? Aromatherapy???

Back in Jesus’ day, people were pretty anxious. They were people living in an occupied land, kept ‘secure’ by foreign soldiers. They longed for freedom. There was also a strong feeling that they were living in ‘the end times’ the end of the world was near. The metallic taste of fear was in the air. There were sections of Jewish society that played on that fear - the tax collectors who helped to finance the political status quo - the all encompassing influence of one nation, Italy and the Roman system of government - oh and line their own pockets too! Another such section of society was the Temple. Instead of being a place where God was worshiped, and people were liberated to live for him - they were being crushed by the weight of the letter of the law, and being tithed financially dry. This suited the religious leaders - it kept them in jobs, in the lifestyle they loved, and in the respect of the masses.

Jesus deplored this. It stood rank and file against the coming kingdom of his God and father, with it’s inverted values that benefitted the many not the few. Whilst the Temple and the rest of Roman influenced society was an amazing structure, there was a time coming when God would tear it down and raise it to the ground. This, along with the persecution of Jesus’ followers would lead ultimately to his return.

Jesus is unnervingly specific in his predictions - in the future, disciples could expect to face famines and earthquakes, wars, the break up of families and community strife. This is just part of the process of freeing that the Son of Man will himself complete.

Yet this is an unnervingly contemporary gospel. We too live in anxious times. Whilst our land may not be occupied, in many places we are the occupier albeit in the name of peacekeeping. Yet we are occupied, or at least our political leaders are pre-occupied with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. With that threat and nuclear programmers being developed if not in Iraq then certainly in Iran and North Korea then we maybe also feeling a bit apocalyptic. There are also those in our society who play on our fears - offering us loans we cannot repay, health remedies that may not work, legal advice to sue when what happened was a genuine accident - and the all encompassing influence of one nation America, her MacDonalds culture and ‘democracy at all costs.’

An anxious people look for surety in all sorts of places and some find it in religion. But if the church is ever a place where people are drawn in and all your gifts, talents, time and money are used up here, then it makes us no better than the Temple enforcing the unenforceable.

The church should be a place where we are encouraged, where we meet with God and are empowered by him , where we are sent out to face earthquakes, wars, family break up, community strife.

It is here where we learn what suffering means - or put a better way, where life is headed. Jesus doesn’t try to down -play or explain the sufferings he talks of - except that we see later that he himself would walk the same road, being rejected by the same institutions of power and influence, taking suffering to it’s conclusion. And yet his death marks the death of those who play on our fears - the Temple curtain tears in two. Not one stone will be left one on another.

We have no way of knowing whether any of what Jesus talks of here will happen. Except... the things Jesus predicted happening to him happened. Except... men and women around our world have been and will suffer in exactly the sorts of way that Jesus suggests.

Go on - place your faith in the institutions of power; see if that massage helps long term not just for you but for others; long for the Iraq or Afghan war to end or Gordon Brown to resign - or place your trust in a God who made the world, loves it, suffers, dies and rises again in it, and who is freeing it’s anxious people from fear one at a time. Amen

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

John Lawson - 1932-2009

Today was John Lawson's funeral service in church. My own feeling was that there could not have been a more full and fitting celebration of John's life, faith and work. It was a privilege to lead.

Below I firstly enclose words of Dom Lawson, John's son, from his blog, paying tribute to John. Dom's tribute was mentioned at the service, and hope Dom does not mind me sharing it here:

Being a writer and all-round opinionated bore, words don’t often fail me, but I’m finding it extremely hard to describe how I feel this morning. Last Friday night, my father passed away after what we are, I suppose, obliged to refer to as “a long battle with cancer”. He slipped away in the night, at home and in bed with my mum (just as it should be), and he leaves a yawning chasm behind, not just for me but for my entire family and anyone who ever knew him.

I know almost everyone thinks that their parents are infallible, but my dad really was a wonderful human being. He was a kind, generous, gentle and fiercely intelligent man who never knowingly said or did anything that caused pain or sadness to another living being. Most remarkable of all, he seldom spoke unless he had something to say. God knows, the world could use a few more people like that.

In some respects I didn’t have a huge amount in common with my dad. I didn’t share his religious faith, his political views, his taste in music or his calamitous dress sense, but those things are utterly trivial when you love someone as much I loved him. The important thing is that I always knew that my dad loved me and was proud of me, despite my many faults, and that he knew that I felt the same way towards him. And I admired him immensely. I’m lucky enough to do what I love for a living, and my dad was the same. An insanely talented artist, he designed stained glass windows for a living and leaves behind an astonishing legacy of beautiful creations that, with luck, will survive for many hundreds of years. I can only hope that I will be able to make such a lasting and worthwhile mark on the world. I also hope that I can become a little bit more like my dad along the way.

I miss him terribly and will carry his memory in my heart forever, as will my mum and my two sisters, Rebecca and Helena. We all love you, Dad.

I also enclose my own brief tribute, picking up especially John's life of faith:

It seems most appropriate that we gather together to give thanks to God for John today - Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day is a day filled with many memories for generations of people and over-flowing with a hope that events past should not be repeated.

Today is also a remembrance day for the Lawson family and so many others of us, as we give thanks to God for John, treasuring many memories. But our remembrance of John today must also be a day over-flowing with hope because of the faith in God which was John’s quiet and sure centre.

I first met John as I moved to be Vicar of Leverstock Green nearly 6 years ago. I have to be honest that it took me some time to begin to get to know him. He was always faithfully here, but we didn’t do chit chat. But what I did quickly discover was that whilst John didn’t say much about his faith, it could almost tangibly be felt flowing from him. John was a man of few well chosen words, and this man of few words lived out a quiet but sure faith, and he would not want to be centre of attention today, yet this church with so many many others shout aloud about his life and his faith.

John’s faith journey begins at at St. Saviours church, St. Albans as a boy, becoming a server as a teenager and marrying there as a young man before moving to worship at Holy Trinity when his first child arrived.
John’s quiet faith was lived out as he served God over the next 40+ years at HT - as a Server, Reader, Sacristan, Sidesman, Chalice Assistant, all done with the quiet dignity and lack of fuss that was needed and was just John.

Where John did publicly express his faith was in his art, and what a God-given gift John had! In this church some of the kneelers, the altar rails, the Stations of the Cross, the tea-towels, notelets and the window in the Benedict Chapel are all John’s handiwork. But John expressed his faith, especially in stained glass in windows in many churches as diverse as Elmore and Westminster Abbies. It was in glass that we saw something of the depth, colour, shape, beauty and yet simplicity of John’s faith.

Describing John, I would feels like I do him a disservice when I say what so many others have - he was 'a lovely gentle man' yet his quietly held faith centred on the love of God was a hallmark of his life - the characteristics of that love were described so beautifully by St Paul in the reading Martin will read for us later. Whilst John’s faith was a personal & private thing to him it was a wellspring of resources for him throughout his life. John was involved in planning the content of this funeral service and in the light of this his family wish to remember John by letting the music, art and words speak, not just of him, but of the God who gave purpose, direction and meaning to his life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Word as a Wordle

Well folks it's back to the scriptures following a deviation into song lyrics by Marillion (thanks for the idea Merlin!)

Here is this Sunday's (15th November - 2nd Sunday before Advent or 3rd Sunday of the Kingdom) Gospel reading (from Mark 13:1-8) as a Wordle.

I hope and pray that God may continue to use this medium to bless us as we read His Word...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Word as a Wordle... with a difference!

Instead of this Sunday's readings Wordled... I enclose a Wordle of a song called 'A Voice From The Past' by my fave band Marillion. The words move me and speak politically right into the demands for action by those with the power for action on global poverty and climate change.

The lyrics read:

A voice from the past
Entered my head today
Fresh and alive. Full of life, passion and pain.
A voice now past.
A beautiful soul.
Gone, gone, gone.

Speaking clearly - clearer than the living
Talking perfect sense
Used to not being understood
While talking perfect sense to the next generation

Have we caught up yet?
Is it time?
I think it is.
Enough is enough
Enough is enough

A voice from the past
Entered my head today
Tiny child sighed in my ear.
Giving up breathing in
Over and out
Over and out
Taken by bad luck and the ill fortune of geography.

Common cold. Dirty water. HIV.
Common apathy. Common crime.
Perfect nonsense to the next generation

Dead yet alive
Dead yet alive
Gone but shouting anger
Gone but talking perfect sense

Have we caught up yet?
Is it time? Well I say it is. I say it is.
Deaf and dumbed-down
Enough is enough

Give me a smile. Hold out your hand.
I don't want your money
I don't want your land
Gimme a smile. Hold out your hand.
I don't want your money
I don't want your land
I want you to wake up and do
something strange
I want you to listen
I want you to feel someone else's pain
Someone else's pain
Someone else's pain
Someone else's pain.

Deaf and dumbed-down
Deaf and dumbed-down

A tap with clean water

Words by Steve Hogarth that echo the sentiments of the Jubilee 2000, Drop the Debt, Stand Up, 10:10 and countless other campaigns... As a Christian my desire to act is one driven by a God-given cry for justice. We cannot sit on our hands.

See you at The Wave on December 5th...