Monday, December 31, 2007

Slang names

This may be giving the game away as to where I work but the slang names our scummy club patrons use really do grate on me.
The old favourite of 'big man' is relatively inoffensive, it's not wrong and though familiar isn't demeaning.
'Mate', 'Bro' or 'Brother' is just too familiar and won't get me on my best side.
The ones that really get my goat and raise my heckles are 'Mush' and 'Gadgee'. 'Mush' becoming more popular than 'gadgee' of late. The fashionability of certain terms comes and goes. These two really get me writhing. They're far too familiar, they're far too nonsensical and worst of all they suggest I'm part of a social group that includes their users. This I am not. The mere suggestion that I might be will get you seeing a whole nasty side, not just the little bits I let out every now and then.

Stick to 'Gent', 'Man', 'Fella' and 'Lad' or if you're a little older 'Bouncer'. If you start calling me 'Sir' I'll worry that you're still at school, in the forces or just out of prison. Only reasons to watch your movements with a whole load more caution and be even more sceptical and cynical than usual.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas: these things I know....


* I tire of chocolate easily.
* Christmas is a feminist issue. I know this to be the case as my wife repeats it frequently each year.
* Family expectations are a nightmare as is attempting to keep everyone happy: can't be done!
* We are locked into a cycle of Parents and Parents-in-law which satisfies no one but no one wants to cause offence.
* My mother believes she cannot be hospitable unless we stay for several nights. We live half an hour away.
* My Father-in-law becomes more irascible each year.
* My daughters have learned to say thank you and smile at the trully hideous gift.
* I eat because its there.
* Every year we say we want to, but fail not to buy into the stuff that gets in the way of fully celebrating the incarnation.
* T.V. gets more disappointing year on year.
* My Brother-in-law is a star.
* My younger daughter's vegetarianism is flexible.
* I have the same genes as Scrooge.
* Too many people will get into serious debt again to buy presents that their children do not appreciate.
* At least one child will be savaged to death by a totally inappropriate family pet. Who keeps a rotweiller and a toddler in the same house?
* I love Christmas Carols: proviso - they may only be sung by good choirs.
* The people who increase their electricity bills by £500 by lighting their homes like the Blackpool Illuminations have poor taste and are responsible for the ice-caps melting.
* We should open our gifts on 6th January.
* It is mad to preach on the Epistle on Christmas Day.
* I would like to go abroad - Prague - and miss the whole thing.
* I have reached the age where ties and socks are appreciated gifts.
* Lent should immediately follow Christmas.
* We should all be ashamed of ourselves that we let it get this out of control.

Have I missed anything?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

H.R.H and the Christmas Message


This is our first Christmas in twenty four years without parents or parents-in-law. We decided we would like to initiate some of our own family traditions. I suggested me eating and drinking too much, but everyone said it needed to be something new. Naked Christmas dinner was rejected by the daughters, funnily enough and so we settled on the Queen's Christmas message, at which point both girls voted with their feet and left the room.

Young people today eh?

I am neither a republican nor an ardent monarchist but do secretly tend to think that H.R.H. (if not necessarily the rest of her family) is a bit of a sweetie and I think her broadcast, which started and ended with footage of her first televised broadcast in 1957, was rather good.

"One of the features of growing old is a heightened awareness of change."

"To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime. It also makes you aware of what has remained constant.

"In my experience, the positive value of a happy family is one of the factors of human existence that has not changed.

"The immediate family of grandparents, parents and children, together with their extended family, is still the core of a thriving community.

"When Prince Philip and I celebrated our diamond wedding last month, we were much aware of the affection and support of our own family as they gathered round us for the occasion.

"Now today, of course, marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Among other things, it is a reminder that it is the story of a family; but of a family in very distressed circumstances.

"Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn; they had to make do in a stable, and the new-born Jesus had to be laid in a manger. This was a family which had been shut out.

"Perhaps it was because of this early experience that, throughout his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people whom others ignored or despised.

"It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that, in the end, we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.

"The Christmas story also draws attention to all those people who are on the edge of society - people who feel cut off and disadvantaged; people who, for one reason or another, are not able to enjoy the full benefits of living in a civilised and law-abiding community.

"For these people the modern world can seem a distant and hostile place. "It is all too easy to 'turn a blind eye', 'to pass by on the other side', and leave it to experts and professionals.

"All the great religious teachings of the world press home the message that everyone has a responsibility to care for the vulnerable.

"Fortunately, there are many groups and individuals, often unsung and unrewarded, who are dedicated to ensuring that the 'outsiders' are given a chance to be recognised and respected.

"However, each one of us can also help by offering a little time, a talent or a possession, and taking a share in the responsibility for the well-being of those who feel excluded.

"And also today I want to draw attention to another group of people who deserve our thoughts this Christmas.

"We have all been conscious of those who have given their lives, or who have been severely wounded, while serving with the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The dedication of the National Armed Forces Memorial was also an occasion to remember those who have suffered while serving in these and every other place of unrest since the end of the Second World War.

"For their families, Christmas will bring back sad memories, and I pray that all of you, who are missing those who are dear to you, will find strength and comfort in your families and friends.

"A familiar introduction to an annual Christmas carol service contains the words: 'Because this would most rejoice his heart, let us remember, in his name, the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved.'

"Wherever these words find you, and in whatever circumstances, I want to wish you all a blessed Christmas."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Cavalry

Once more the boys in blue have been dropping by.
They've taken the sensible step of being out in big numbers this last week and have taken alot of work off our hands.

When we reject or eject someone sometimes they just don't want to wander on. They just keep coming back and they get more and more unruly as they return to the door. We can't just carry them off, we just have to put them off our premises and get back to work. This can get pointless, tedious, sometimes hilarious and occasionally dangerous.

This is when the boys and girls from blue light taxis come in handy. They usually just pop along and have a chat. Starting nicely, they ask what's up. They don't like swearing, they don't like threats and they don't have a lot of patience. In that way they're a bit like us.

They have what we don't, a big battenberg van that can whisk folks away to be forgotten about 'til morning. Would be cool if we got to play with cs and batons too but I think that could get messy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A salutary tale of Christmas stress courtesy of the church


A friend of mine, a lay Reader, told me this sad tale: Some months ago at a PCC meeting, when Christmas services were being planned, he agreed to assist the curate with a Christmas Eve celebration of readings and carols. He offered to look at the readings and said that it might be nice to have some non-traditional ones amongst the Gospel accounts. The Vicar announced himself pleased.

"I shall sit in the congregation and not be involved in the organisation." he said

Several weeks later my friend put together a draft of the evening including a selection of carols and music to be played on C.D. (It is a small congregation with a good organist but little singing ability). My friend put it on the church noticeboard, gave a copy to the vicar and e-mailed one to the curate who he was working with but who was proving difficult to contact.

Some time went by and on one Sunday my friend asked members of the congregation to sign up for readings, which they began to do with enthusiasm including one lady who expressed keenness to read one of the non-traditional readings, from A Christmas Carol by Dickens, the section which deals with the Cratchit's Christmas dinner. My friend also noticed in the bulletin a comment about the service needing readers and that those interested should contact the Pastor. He felt a little pang of resentment.

A few more days passed and the curate rang. My friend wasn't in so the curate promised to ring back. He didn't and so my friend rang him.

"You can't do the welcome." My friend was told. "I have to do that as I am the curate. Also the programme seems a bit longer than the hour we are used to."
My friend was surprised as no-one had mentioned timings to him, although he didn't believe it would go on much over the hour. "Also, the thing about staying afterwards for mince-pies and mulled wine. People usually go straight home afterwards." My friend was feeling a little put out at this point having done all of the work so far, but bit his tongue and pointed out that the draft had been on the noticeboard for two Sundays and that the vicar had his own copy and there had been no adverse feedback, so things would be fine. The curate accepted this, but didn't sound particularly mollified but agreed that they would meet up to go over things after that fantastic Lord Mayor's Carol concert at the Town Hall which they had agreed to go to.

My friend continued to plan and took the final version to work where he used his employers facilities to print and laminate the readings and print the service sheets in festive red and green.

My friend, you will agree, had put a lot of time and effort into this, and if he did occasionally wonder what the curate had contributed, he pushed those thoughts aside.

The next day my friend had a message on his answer phone. The curate would not now be able to meet with him after the Lord Mayor's carol concert.

The evening he finished work for the Christmas break (and therefore had no further opportunity to change any printed material) and a whole two and a half weeks since the vicar had been given his personal copy, the vicar rang my friend. "I see you have not finished the service with Silent Night. We always finish with Silent Night. Didn't anyone tell you that?" My friend acknowledged that no-one had told him that. Also the Von Trap family always come and sing during this service and I see you have not mentioned them in your running order. Didn't anyone tell you about them?" My friend acknowledged that no-one had mentioned that either. "I'll just sit in the pews and not be involved in the organisation." the vicar told my friend.

On the day before the Christmas Eve service, a Sunday, my friend was at church and told the organist about the changes. He was grateful that the organist didn't mind at all and my friend was also happy to have passed on the final readings, so nicely laminated you remember, and each printed on a different colour paper, (including the copy of the Dickens to the lady who had been so enthusiastic about a non-traditional reading).

That afternoon my friend was surprised to receive a phone call from the vicar who chided him gently about the intercessions my friend had spent a lot of time preparing. They weren't, it seemed. totally appropriate for a Communion service.
"While I'm on, I need to tell you that the lady who was reading from the Dickens doesn't think it is appropriate as it is about stuffing the fowl and she is a vegetarian. It isn't a sacred text, so we'll just leave it out. I didn't think it was appropriate either." My friend thought fondly of his nicely produced running order, now in tatters. "Also, you know that the congregation will want to have just the hour as their tradition is to go home to their Christmas Eve, so no-one will stay for mince pies and mulled wine. The curate has to get away too. Didn't anyone tell you that?" My friend, through gritted teeth said that, no, no-one had told him these things. "Still" the vicar continued "I'll just sit in the pew and not be involved. Did you and the curate not meet up?" My friend said that they had not. "You two need to get your communication together." the vicar said. My friend thought that this was rather unfair as he felt he had done all the communicating so far.

So, a tale of woe. I am so glad it is my friend who has this problem and not me because I would no longer be able to take any pleasure in the occasion.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I am officially in the Christmas spirit


I have spent some time over the last few weeks avoiding the pseudo Krismas spirit.

"But, Sir, its Chrismas." my pupils keep telling me.

"No, actually its Advent."

They hate me. They certainly don't "get" me.

But I digress. It is officially the start of Christmas for me since last night when as every year, The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, of which I am proud and honoured to be a member, took part in the Lord Mayor's Carol Concerts in the Victorian splendour of Leeds Town Hall.

Two performances to packed houses and what an atmosphere! We led the usual selection of Christmas favourites, with organ and the wonderful Fine Arts Brss Ensemble, and performed some lovely Christmas Choral set pieces. If you have never heard Philip Wiby's "The Word Made Flesh" then beg, borrow or steal a copy. (If the latter, then I will absolve you: It is in a higher cause).

Then to be called the Jewel in the crown of the city's civic life: well what more could a singer ask for?

I went home ten feet off the ground.

The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus

Surprised

I was pleasantly surprised after all my bitching about changing staff, that a couple of good ones have bobbed to the top of the barrel. Some have proved capable so far and I feel they may even have a future in the job.

After some quiet and tedious nights on the unpredictable run up to christmas I'm bracing myself for "mad friday". The one day of the year when you just don't know who's going to be walking in through the door and when. It'll be mad and it'll be friday, contractors, builders, office workers everybody but retail and hospitality will be in causing mayhem as they drink their christmas bonuses and start their holidays with sore heads and possibly a few dealings with the police.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Spirit of Scrooge is alive and well!

I arrive at the Knowledge College today to discover printed notices all over the staff areas saying that normal lessons, containing meaningful subject content, should be taught up until lesson two on Friday when we break up.

The staff is up in arms and I smell rebellion in the air.

I have taught my classes assertively and worked them very hard all year. Even in a High School, could I not treat them to something fun in their last lesson before Christmas?

Guess what I was going to show them today? Actually, guess what I am still going to show them today. (Oh you rebel!)

If you have never seen any Wallace and Gromit - they win an Oscar every year - you have missed a treat and if there is anyone who is stuck for a Christmas gift idea, then Wallace and Gromit films are for you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Liverpool Nativity



On BBC 3 last night was a delightful promenade performance of the Nativity, filmed in the city of Liverpool, and with pretty well everyone who lives there in the vast crowd of an audience.
The story was updated to the present and Joseph was an asylum seeker and Herod, now Herodia, a Govenmemnt minister on the lookout for a crowd-pleasing policy which would also satisfy the tabloids, so on the intelligence from the Magi, (foreign ambassadors), she goes on a witch hunt of refugees and asylum-seekers, using the threat of terror and regime-change as her tag lines.
This is pretty controversial stuff here given the high public profile of a deeply immoral press campaign against such vulnerable people, characterised by misinformation and a pandering to public ignorance, fear, prejudice and xenophobia. Nevertheless it was spot on and very thought provoking. It was also rather fun as the whole thing was sung to carefully chosen Beatles lyrics. (Well, it is Liverpool, what did you expect?)
I took the video to school today as the end of term treat for my classes. What a waste of time. They didn't understand.
What is this? What's it about? I don't get it?
Well, it has Mary and Joseph, a star, angels, wise men, shepherds... can I give you any more clues?
Duh...
Its the nativity story.
Why is it in Liverpool?
Because its the LIVERPOOL NATIVITY.
God give me strength!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why Bother?

It's reached that point again this year when I wonder why I keep doing this shit. It happens every year, usually when about this time. It's the flood of new faces that only emerge clubbing when the christmas party season and the time off associated brings them out from under their rocks.

Why am I still telling alcoholically retarded people to keep their drinks off the dance-floor? Why am I still advising the drink addled punters that they really shouldn't take their drinks onto the street? Why am I still telling the habitual idiots that they can't come in and then have to tune them out as they rant on and on in a most irritating way? Why do I have vomit, beer and brightly coloured high sugar alco-pop eating the nice polish off my boots each night? Why as a grown up do I still wear a clip-on tie? Why do I relish dirty kebab based foodstuffs when cold, sober and in need of my bed? Why do I do six nights of this shit and can't remember one day to the next?

Well they pays not bad and I really don't like mornings.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The final score: The World 179, America 1


Yes the climate change summit and the very public booing of the American delegate by the 179 other nations there. I don't want to offend any U.S. Citizens, many of whom in the blogosphere make it clear that they have no love for Bush and his policies, but it was an utterly spine tingling moment of humiliation. I hope it played on U.S. T.V. and I am fascinated to know how it went down.


I almost felt sorry for Paula Dobrianskey at that moment and I actually did when she made a humiliating climbdown. I wonder what caused that?

In Memorium


I heard this morning that Michael has died. Michael is a member of my congregation who I had been getting to know recently. He, I was surprised to hear, was a Romanian of German descent. When Romania was invaded during the second World War, Michael, along with others of German descent was reluctantly drafted into the German Military. At the end of the war he was delighted to give himself up to the Allies and eventually found himself in England where he met and married Heidi, who had also found her way here and was working as a domestic.


They always sat together at the back, by the organ: a small, gentle, elderly couple who had chosen the English language congregation over the German language congregation. They always made the tea and coffee and were always very happy to stay and chat, were funny and kind and gave me much encouragement and support.


I was only just getting to know them and I instinctively liked them. Michael's death was unexpected and I feel very sad. Please pray for Heidi and their family. I can't begin to imagine her anguish at losing her life's partner.

Advent and the Hajj


My friend Halima is very excited. She is preparing to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, as is the duty of every Muslim at least once in a lifetime. This is no easy holiday: she will dress in a simple white robe along with the countless thousands of other pilgrims to show that she is one among many souls in the presence of God, where social standing is unimportant. She will go out into the Arabian desert and she will search her own soul and ask for forgiveness to be at peace with her creator. She will throw seven stones at three stone pillars which represent Satan, each of her own stones representing a carefully chosen area of her life where she recognises shortcomings and which she wishes to wipe away.


All of these symbolic actions will impact on the reality of her post Hajj life and she will be a different person, as she returns physically, emotionally and spiritually drained.


Ritual, symbolism and a changed life. These are all common themes for Christians at Advent. I know from experience just this week how easy it is to be distracted by the increasingly frenetic preparations for Christmas which get in the way of what should be a time of contemplation and preparation for the Nativity of Christ.


Halima will be drained and tested to the limit, but she has no doubt she will be spiritually refreshed and exhilarated. I will also be drained and tested to the limit. Whether I end up being spiritually refreshed and exhilarated remains to be seen. I am not holding out too many expectations.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Nativity Angel


All this Christmas preparation has put me in mind of an incident from last year. The four year old daughter of a friend of mine was an Angel in her school nativity. To her mother's great surprise she stood with great presence and a beautific smile all the way through the performance.

When her mother congratulated her, she also asked her how she had managed to keep her smile for so long.

"I had a secret. I didn't have any pants on and no-one else knew."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Preparations 3 (Bah Humbug)

It’s already getting dark. But we’ve barely got back home when the children take a sudden interest in my driving them back into Leeds to see a mystery celebrity turn the Christmas lights on. Off we go again, and 15 minutes later we are in town, following the unmistakable noise of people pretending to enjoy themselves. And sure enough we find ourselves in front of a big stage being expected to clap along to Shakin’ Stevens and Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants, while a troupe of alarmingly energetic dancers in Santa Claus hats audition to an imagined throng of TV talent scouts. Still, it’s all part of the fun, and the DJs are soon tossing fantastic prizes into the crowd to get us into the festive spirit of untamed consumer frenzy. We miss the Aire FM baseball hats, but my elder daughter does surface from the brawling mass clutching a fragment of a family ticket to the Vue cinema.
‘DO YOU WANNA DO THE YMCA?’ the DJ is shouting.‘Er . . . do you want to do the YMCA?’ I ask my nephews.

No way,’ mutters the eldest. ‘It’s a gay song.’ He clamps his arms firmly to his sides, as if any sudden movement might transform him into a priapic leather-trousered construction worker sporting a large moustache. I offer him a short lecture in low hissing tones on how a civilised society is judged by its celebration of sexual diversity, though obviously an ability to run the railways comes into it, too.“Anyway,” I say, “listen to the words. It’s not about being gay, it’s about young men having a good meal, and doing whatever they feel.”

At last it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for as the DJ asks us to give a big Leeds welcome to: a Victoria Beckham lookalike! Victoria gives us a few songs and could easily pass for the real thing, from a distance, with the light behind her, if you didn’t have your hearing aid turned up. Eventually she switches the lights on. Mmm. It’s not exactly Las Vegas. On the upside, at least we didn’t get stuck behind the family who decided what riotous fun it would be to wear red flashing antlers on their heads for the duration of the event.

And the real meaning of Christmas in all this? Well, the Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special repeat, Christmas Day, 8.15, BBC1, of course.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Advent 2: A Time of Waiting and Searching


Isaiah 11 v1-10
Psalm 72 v1-7 and 18-19
Romans 15 v4-13
Matthew 3 v1-10

This is the time of not yet, not yet.
The stable is yet empty of human company,
the star is not yet risen,
shepherds mind their own business,
sages divine nothing unusual in the heavens,
and babies in Bethlehem sleep soundly in their cots.

Soon it will be the time for bated breath,
for a sense of the world beginning to stir from hibernation,
for a tingling down the spine of the soul,
for the feeling of being on the brink again.

Yet now is still the time of not yet.

(Imagining God: Trevor Dennis)

ADVENT: a time of waiting and searching:

In the first year of the Premiership of Gordon Brown, in the fifty fourth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the second term of president George W. Bush, when Walter Jagucki is Bishop of the LCiGB and Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury, a man is waiting and prophesying the coming of a King who will usher in God’s Kingdom, another man is waiting quietly in the wilderness, asking that we change, and that in turn we change the world, and yet another man is waiting and instructing his flock in unity and hope so that the Kingdom of God will be realised.

I am going to tell you an Advent joke. I feel compelled to tell you that it is a joke so that if you don't find it funny, like my daughters didn't, you can pretend and laugh in the right place. Work with me here. So, two new ordinands were at theological college and giving the lecturer problems because they didn’t seem to have a very sound grasp of their Lutheranism. (Neither of them were me, by the way.) The lecturer had tried everything to get through to them. Finally the ordinands were sent to see The Bishop. The first went in and sat in a chair across the desk from the Bishop, who asked, "Do you know where God is?" The ordinand just sat there looking perplexed. The Bishop stood up and asked again, "My Son, do you know where God is?" The ordinand trembled a bit but said nothing. The Bishop leaned across the desk and again asked, "Do you know where God is?" The ordinand bolted out of the chair ran past his friend in the waiting room, and legged it back to his room. He got into bed and pulled the covers up over his head. His friend who had followed him back to the student hostel asked, "What happened in there?" The ordinand replied, "God is missing and they think we did it!"

O.K. Maybe "joke" is an overstatement. Anyway, we could say that God isn’t so much missing at this time of year as expected in Jesus. We are in the season of Advent, the season of waiting and searching, waiting and searching for God, waiting and looking to the second coming of Jesus. As much as we are waiting and searching for God, can you imagine how much God, as represented by the Father in the parable of the lost son, is waiting and looking out for each of us, waiting and searching the horizon for our return to him during this season of reflection and preparation, which we call Advent? We have heard so often of God’s love. Do you ever think about God’s love searching for you, longing for you, wanting no hindrance or obstacle between you and him?

As much as we are waiting and searching for God, God is waiting and searching for us far more. Do I wait for the Lord or is the Lord waiting for me? Is the Lord something like the child who hides in an obvious place like behind a branch without leaves and is all excited when found? Am I the one searching? Am I the one being sought? Where would Jesus hide? An inn? A barn? A cave? A crib? I think we need to ask that question about ourselves. Where and how do we hide? At work? Busy, busy, busy? In the church? Busy, busy, busy? At home? Not busy enough if you ask Hannah, but you get the idea. We could focus on any of those. Advent should be a prayerful time of waiting to see who finds whom? Would you not wait so that the Lord might meet you?

Another year winds down; the days grow ever shorter, and this Advent seems especially grey. Despite exhortations and efforts to get on with life as usual, it is difficult to be people of hope as St. Paul exhorts us to be, when our consciousness is flooded with one warning or dire prediction after another: terrorism, runs on banks, tsunamis, earthquakes and so on all marketed for popular consumption by the slick editorials of the media, leading to panic, doomsday fantasies and conspiracy theories. And yet it was in a period just like this that Isaiah forged the beautiful poem of hope in today's first reading, a vision of a messianic age in which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.

A more recent Jewish "commentator," Woody Allen, has cautioned: "And the lamb and the wolf shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep." Even Margaret Thatcher used an adaptation of this Isaiah prophecy in an after dinner speech in Germany. She told the story of the Western visitor to a Soviet zoo who was very impressed to find a wolf lying down with a lamb, with a sign above them extolling this example of peaceful coexistence. He asked the keeper how this miracle could be achieved in the Soviet Union. "It’s perfectly simple if you have a fresh lamb every morning" he replied.

Well, cynical comments apart, Isaiah is reminding the people that real peace comes from God: this is an image, a metaphor of the Kingdom to be ushered in by the one who was to come.

So as we begin the church year, we not only have Isaiah's prophecy of the ideal ruler for whom they waited, but we also have St. Paul's letter to the Romans, with its revolutionary promise to include the Gentiles in God’s covenant.

Paul addresses the Roman Christians in the spirit of Advent. He reminds his hearers that the Scriptures were given to invite enduring hope in God. This hope points them to a waiting time in expectation of future promises, while providing assurance that they already experience God’s grace now because God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. Paul articulates his longing for harmony among believers and that has to be a lesson for the Church today.But Paul’s readers know exactly what he means when he calls them to live in accordance with Jesus Christ. The desired unity among diverse people (at his time Jews and Gentiles particularly) can be found in Jesus Christ, whose faithfulness in accepting crucifixion dramatically revealed God’s love for all people.

How does this speak to us in Advent, then? Few of us face deep disagreements like the Roman Christians over food choices, circumcision, or the proper day on which to worship, so we need to bring this into the present to have relevance. Like the Roman believers we are part of a church with jarring diversity. The lines of division change through the years, and from generation to generation; but there are always divisions: human sexuality, the authority of scripture, women bishops have all grumbled on in various parts of the church in the last year. Yet in the midst of disagreement, the life of the church goes on and we have no choice but to continue to get on with it while others have the big conversations of the day.

Advent calls us as Christians to rest from focusing on our differences, to wait and to search. There is a time to discuss the issues that sometimes invigorate and sometimes threaten the bonds we share. For this season, though, we look instead to the legacy of faith that we all share. The promises of the past and the promises for the future are bound up for us in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ of the Gentiles, in whom we place our hope. During Advent we anticipate Jesus’ coming, knowing that Christ is already in our midst, yet awaiting also the completion of what God in Christ has begun, and participating, hopefully, in a worshiping and welcoming community of hope! We wait and we search.

And, finally, we have St. Matthew's account of the beginning of the ministry of St. John the Baptist. John the Baptist, another Advent figure of expectation: In all of these passages, signposts of Advent, we are being directed to recognise that something unique has been accomplished and yet we wait, too, for its fulfilment.

Every Advent we hear the story of the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist and it is always a ministry in the real world of his own time. Matthew's words for today set us in a particular time and a particular place. The reader and listener find themselves with John waiting and searching in the wilderness after being told in a very challenging way about the world of their time. And, John is proclaiming that the particular world in which Matthew has just placed us is about to change. To be ready for that world to change, people must themselves transform and be changed. John invites people to do this by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (not John's forgiveness but God's forgiveness), and then, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, he calls out for a change in the natural world, for a modification of the earth, so that all shall see the salvation of God because only when we know the reality of our need for forgiveness, for the action and the grace of God in our own lives, can we be in any way prepared to understand the reality of Jesus’ coming into the real world, into flesh exactly like ours.

This year, like every year, we celebrate that Christ, the salvation of God, is coming. And, in Christmas, we celebrate the reality that Christ really does come. So, we are merely weeks away from celebrating the truth that Christ will indeed come again. Christ will come again, this year as in all of our liturgical years. Christ is coming soon and the conviction of God’s presence in our midst is the basis for the peace of which we speak at Christmas, the peace for which we all so earnestly yearn.

Isaiah's vision, John's prophecy and Paul’s hope were not fulfilled in the way they expected. They lived in hope and died in faith. Despite all the progress on social justice the light of hope for those who suffer throughout the world seems dimmer day by day. There is work to do: Isaiah prophesied the coming of a new kind of king who would be “a signal for the nations.” John points to a mighty one who will baptize and renew people with God's spirit, and in Romans St. Paul exhorts us to that work. Our unity and love for one another and for those around us brings the long awaited return of Christ nearer.

In the first year of the Premiership of Gordon Brown, in the fifty fourth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the second term of president George W. Bush, when Walter Jagucki is Bishop of the LCiGB and Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury, a man is waiting and prophesying the coming of a King who will usher in God’s Kingdom, another man is waiting quietly in the wilderness, asking that we change, and that in turn we change the world, and yet another man is waiting and instructing his flock in unity and hope so that the Kingdom of God will be realised.

Let us learn from each of them how to wait and search and how the waiting and searching should move us on.
Amen.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Water Hazard

No, not golf, the horrors of the toilets in most busy nightclubs.

Imagine one thousand people in a nightclub. Imagine an average of needing at least 3 toilet visits, 10% may go for a long sit down, and somewhere about 1% go to vomit.
In total thats 3110 visits minimum, 1555 for the pink door and 1555 for the blue door.


This means they smell, are usually wet floored and are the home to some of the nastiest parts of the job. We're compelled to check them regularly to see what our punters are up to in places we can't see. Worst for business is flooding, when some retard has dropped their bottle or glass into a bowl or slung a wad of loo-roll into the urinals and flushing does the rest. The whole place gets messy fast. We have to close them off and direct full bladdered folk to the other ones conveniently located at the furthest point in the venue from the closed ones. The bar-staff then get the big gloves on and get to go fishing in the poo-fish bowl for the source of the blockage. That's one job they don't pay me enough for.

The snorting of drugs is attempted on the toilet seats but we WD40 the beasties every night and apparently that spoils all of the fun.
If we find two lads in a cubicle, they both leave the venue, it's either drugs or sleazy romance but we don't want it going on where we can't see it so it's out into the night for them.
I'll often find the student's vomiting or recovering from vomiting in the toilets and depending on the amount of vomit covering them I either guide them to the door or just verbally direct them if I really don't fancy smelling of alco-pop vom for the rest of the night.

Sadly the toilets are also the most likely place for us to get our head caved in. They're an enclosed space where you don't always know who's in there when you walk in. It's off camera and far too easy to get trapped. If you want to keep at this game for long, you keep you eyes and ears wide open when you visit the smallest room.

The most entertaining water hazard are the unconscious. If they've sat down or knelt to hurl, they can find themselves far away in the land of nod. I'll unlock the door if there's no response and try to open it. This is made alot harder if their sheep counting has led them to fall against the door. I'm heavy and can usually provide enough grunt to a cubile door to rouse even the heaviest sleeper. Once awake, and rising, never try and put a hand through the door. It's really easy to break even a thick wrist with a slip or shove to the inside of the door.

The best are those who, having had a quick shut eye on the bowl, are roused by the shouting or the opening of a door onto their head and proceed to get up. They accept your invitation to walk out only forgetting to raise their underwear or trousers from round their ankles. The shuffling naked bottom, with our without loo-roll garnish will emerge from the cubicle and it's really only our high standards of professionalism that forces us to remind them to remember what they've forgotten before they re-enter the busy club bare arsed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Here I Stand - I can do no other...


....because of the little bastards who interfered with a teacher's chair and I sat on it, having alrady pulled a back muscle!

So I am at home, in pain, drugged up to the eyeballs, unable to bend or sit easily and probably off work for a week at least. All because some teenagers thought they'd play a trick on their technology teacher by removing some of the wheels on his scoot-around computer chair.

Unfortunately that teacher was away and I drew the short straw for the cover lesson. I thought they looked startled when I walked in. "Er... have we got you, Sir?"

Teenage humour eh?

New Blood

There have been some fresh faces joining my bag of spanners at work over the last couple of weeks and it always poses a few problems. With most doorstaff who join the firm I work for, they've picked up experience working elsewhere and moved to us for better pay, longer hours etc. You'll often know about somebody before you get to work with them, you'll have some idea of their credibility. Thankfully my bosses up to now have been capable at at least picking a fair calibre of new recruits.

Now we're getting some very young fresh faces who've not really done this work before. They've got their licenses but still have lettuce ears and I think are seen as cheap staff for the company. They're wheeled out on quiet nights and we don't really get to see what they're capable of. This nags at you. When you expect all the members of your team to be up to certain standards and willing to back you to the hilt if needed.

You don't want to be heading into something not knowing if you're gonna get anyone flying in after you or if you're going to have to pull them off someone before it all ends up out on the street.
Not knowing about the new lads plays on your mind's time. In a job that's 99% boredom there's a lot of time even if there's not much mind.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The strange case of the Sudanese Teddy Bear

So, Gillian Gibson has arrived home safe and sound and seemingly not much the worse for wear for having spent eight days in a Sudanese jail where she was, she maintained, very well and kindly treated.
How does a middle aged English lady find herself in a Sudanese jail in the first place? International terrorism? Espionage? Drugs running?
No, Gillian Gibson was employed as a primary school teacher and in one lesson allowed her young charges to choose the name for a teddy bear. Sudan is a Muslim country and the children overwhelmingly voted for Muhammad. Now it may have been as much her ill-advised introduction of her pupils to the concept of democracy in Muslim Sudan that got her into trouble, but Gillian Gibson was arrested for insulting Islam and imprisoned for sixteen days. The other options included being lashed and possibly being sentenced to execution. At the start of her period of imprisonment there were those who protested at the leniency of her punishment and demanded for her to be shot.
Now, perhaps it is because I am not a Muslim and therefore don't fully appreciate the nuances of these things, but people name their children Muhammed and I, as a teacher, have met some fairly unsavoury children over the years. Could you not argue that that is an insult to Islam? As children generally love their soft toys to bits, isn't calling a teddy Muhammad likely to foster a subconscious love and respect that is carried into adulthood and is therefore deeply appropriate?
Gillian Gibson is at home today because of the good offices of two of Britians Muslim Peers, Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi, who flew to Khartoum to negotiate a pardon and here in lies the issue. Where in all the vile demands for death and retribution that so often characterise the Muslim voice, at least as far as the Western media and public opinion are concerned, are the voices of the reasonable, moderate Muslim majority?
Just as scriptural references to stoning and flogging are cited by countries such as Saudi Arabia as justification for their practices, in these same texts, we find that the Prophet Muhammad reprimanded his followers for stoning a person who attempted to flee. He also condemned those who killed innocent people. By drawing on these lessons, mainstream Muslims must illustrate that compassion, humanity and sense should override scriptural rigidity understood to justify anger and revenge.
Is it because those same moderate, reasonable Muslims also fear the retribution of those who follow a medieval theology of hate and dare not be seen to break ranks?
I often tell my pupils that when dealing with bullies, those who remain silent collude with them. Is this such a hard idea to grasp? But more than that I am amazed that so many Muslims seem perfectly happy that the case of Muhammad the Teddy has turned the world's gaze on them again and condemned them to sniggers and insults as if all believed that to call him after the prophet, peace be upon him, was a blasphemous insult. Do I not live in 2007?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Reflections on a Residential Weekend

This weekend saw another residential: we were busy and active with some challenging theology (and challenging delivery) on the issues of marginalisation and globalisation followed by practical workshops. We had experimental worship, guided meditation, prayer times, a Eucharist and the opportunity to join the Brothers in their wonderfully atmospheric worship - incence and chanting. At the same time there was far too much food, a fair sloshing of alcohol and a quiz night. (We was robbed!)
As usual I was taken by the wonderful group dynamic as the eighteen of us worked together, developed and deepened our friendships and learned more about each other. I have noticed a pattern on these weekends as one particular friend and I stay up far too late after the others retire, talking and drinking and putting the world to rights. This is real male bonding stuff and encompasses quality conversation. I have been really privileged to learn about his journey of faith and self discovery and to share mine as we each come to a closer understanding of who we are and the influences that have shaped us.
I'd also like to introduce you to Barry, above, our elder statesman ordinand. Barry is a Geordie and a kinder, warmer wittier man it would be hard to find. Barry is also quite poorly, having picked up a nasty chest infection some months ago that won't shift. Every time we see him he is, and looks, worse and now he can hardly breath and keeps himself awake at night caughing, and this after medical intervention.
God has called this lovely, gifted man to ordained ministry. Please pray for healing and wholeness for him.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Go away

When somebodies been ejected they can really get on your nerves by just hanging around. Again and again they'll come back to the door. Again and again they'll get refused and told to go away, go home, go crawl under whatever rock they crawled out from under.

They just don't go. Whatever expectations they had of the night it's not happening, but that message seems to be the hardest one for them to understand. It's cold, dark and miserable, why stand around in it futilely when warmth and sleep are available elsewhere.

Go away and we'll both be having a better night. You because you'll not keep feeling rejected, me because I'll not have to write up the fact you've left in blue light taxi's for the night.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Festive Frolics

The time is once more upon us when tinsel is wrapped around any possible protrusion and snow-flakes and other non-denominational symbols are hung from the ceilings.
I've been working all over the shop recently and I've found out a few things.

Drunks are more prevalent this time of year. With the sun going down early and various christmas get togethers going on people are getting more drunk, earlier. This just means more vomit, more staggering and stumbling, spilling drinks, and more escorting to the door, more rejecting on the front door and more poorly targeted verbal abuse.

Young ones are under the belief we are stupid. Those in their final year of school are suffering from the fact that the older of their classmates can go out and legally drink. This places a social obligation on the younger ones to join in the tomfoolery. The UK driving license is not easily forged. The UK passport even harder to forge. Anything else we take with a strong pinch of salt, UK/GB/EU ID cards are just ridiculous and we do laugh about them. We also like photos to look like the people who present them, just call us cynical but it could so easily be your brother, sister or other close family relative.
What gets my goat is young ones, who show their driving licence with their real date of birth and it shows them as under-age. It gets the whole flock, goatherd and the grazing.

I've noticed that with the worsening weather, chavs are taking to layering in a big way. Two T-shirts followed by a sweater, then a jacket, with hat, scarf and gloves. It's becoming a fun little game to see how many visible brands you can spot on any individual. The down side is that when you eject or reject a spanner they can alter the layering sequence and try again in a couple of minutes. Not too difficult to reject them, that is 'til theirs more than a dozen of them at it. Then it's just a sea of horizontal stripes and chav labels everywhere.

The final thing to note is, it's bloody cold. I've been snowed on, sleeted on and rained on, all in one night. Not a great night, but at least it keep the chavs at bay.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

In praise of mentors, again.

I finally get a sneaky shot of the Revd. Jim, via daughter two. Jim is another member of the Curry and God club, where we put the world to rights and share experiences of vocation, church, life, the world and the universe over a beer and a madras. Jim describes himself as an Evangelical Anglican. He is an Anglican and he is an Evangelical, but he is not at all what I understand an Evangelical Anglican to be. At one stage he had the choice: professional rugby or Clergyman. Impressive, huh?
Jim is a father of two at pre-school stage, approachable and cheeky; a former Doorman, rugby player, shaven headed; Evangelical but nowhere near as conservative as he thinks he is and refreshingly unaware of his charisma. Has all the building blocks to be insufferably arrogant but isn’t; humble – a showman but humble none-the-less.
Curry time soon, I think.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Preparations for Christmas: Part 2

It’s Saturday morning, which means I have to shoot off to the school Christmas bazaar: how good to give something back to the school by exchanging all your unwanted rubbish in that relaxed period in the run-up to Christmas when no one has anything very pressing to do. This is good, because in addition to my two daughters I have my two teenage nephews to entertain.

Business is slow, though it is not long before the takings start rocketing, as a result of the children’s ingenious sales technique of buying everything themselves with my money.

Certainly by the time we have hung around for hours and assiduously avoided the blandishments of a marauding Santa, the little scamps are loaded down with more than enough 91-piece jigsaws and single-mother packs of Happy Families to start practising getting bored ahead of the official gift disenchantment date of 27th December, and at only a fraction of the cost. Why, I hardly have enough money left to try my luck at the ‘Bring a Bottle’ tombola, with its array of beers, wines, Advocaat, east European turnip liqueurs and (as it turns out, when my ticket finally comes up trumps) Radox Herbal Bath, with its essential aromatic ingredients, none of them, sadly, being alcohol.

‘It could have been worse,’ says another parent, as we head for the cars.‘You could have won the paint stripper.’

O joy!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Christmas Preparations Part 1:

On the bus, during our Christmas shopping trip into town, my elder nephew makes the slightly alarming announcement that there might be time to visit SegaWorld in The Corn Exchange and use up the virtual-ride vouchers he won in the Leeds Metro phone-in as a chance result of knowing what the capital of France was, though only on condition, I stipulate, that the children bring to a speedy conclusion their vigorous public debate over a) who was the last person to vomit on public transport and b) what happened to the bag of sick afterwards.

By the time we surface at the Town Hall we are straight into the shopping scene from Ben Hur and are fully horde-acclimatised, though I am a firm advocate of tides of humanity being where they belong – i.e. on page 1,875 of the Old Testament – and not on the stretch of pavement separating us from the entrance to Primark.


In that oxymoron – “Christmas Hell” which is Marks and Spencer food hall, I notice a hand dip into my basket and remove a pack of mince-pies. “Well?” the culprit challenged. “There aren’t any left on the shelves.” It occurs to me at this point that “Mary’s Boy Child” has been on a continuous loop in the background. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Harry Belafonte is a lovely man and is probably on the verge of a UK comeback tour but enough already.“But it’s Christmas” the vacuous sales assistant beams. Her name badge proclaims her as PAGAN (Happy to Help) which seems oddly appropriate.“No, Pagan it isn’t Christmas: it’s Advent.” The smile doesn’t flicker but the eyes show real fear. A result!


At last we emerge at SegaWorld clutching our free vouchers, and although the whims of my younger daughter could be met simply by staying on the escalator, it’s a blow to find that, due to circumstances beyond the passing interest of whoever owns this place, an astonishing four out of the five virtual rides are out of action, with the remaining one in the incapable hands of someone with all the communication skills of a person who spent his childhood locked in a cupboard.


Understandably, this ride is very popular and we spend the rest of the week queuing for it, which then means having to leg it back down the Headrow, assisted by the younger nephew with the slightly irritating habit of elbowing his way to the front and then causing a pile-up by stopping to complete an important move on his handheld entertainment facility. We miss the bus by the skin of our teeth. Excellent.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jerry Springer the Opera and the unrepresentative nature of "Christian" protest

About a year ago I went to see Jerry Springer the Opera in Bradford. I was aware of the controversy surrounding this production and the fact that it seemed to be polarising people, both churched and unchurched. I probably wouldn't have bothered but for the fact that a friend organised a group and also because I was angry at an organisation called Christian Voice who had followed the televising of the show here in Britian by publishing the names and addresses of BBC executives on the internet in a deeply irresponsible and sinister act.


Following this I had contacted Christian Voice - hereto called "Christian" Voice - to object to their behaviour and to their misappropriation of the name Christian to express a view. I have had this same issue with the so called Moral Majority.


Who gave any of you the right to speak on my behalf and in doing so use a name that implies that all right thinking people must subscribe to your view?


A few days later I received thanks from "Christian" Voice for my support. I contacted them again and told them in no uncertain terms that I would "rather lick my own arse" than be associated with their self important little organisation.


It was in this spirit that I headed to Bradford for the show. I had to run the gauntlet of picketing Christians - none of whom had seen the show, but all believed they knew what its content was because they had read the (frankly ludicrous) leaflet that they were handing out. I told them how much I resented their making assumptions and pointed out that I was a Christian too, but that I would make up my own mind. "Its people like you who give people like me a bad name."

The show was a blast. I tried so hard to be offended but couldn't manage it. On the way out there was no "Christian" presence to debate with on the basis of first hand experience of the show, which was a shame as I was ready, able and willing to refute the silly and totally misleading claims in their leaflet.


I mention this today because I have read in the newspaper that "Christian" Voice - there they go again claiming a mandate to speak on my behalf - are intending to sue the Producer and Broadcaster of Jerry Springer under Britain's outaded, little used and discredited Blasphemy law, (discredited because in our multicultural society it only protects Christianity).


I pray they lose and I pray they lose big-time and are forced out of business. I suspect, though, that other pious but ignorant book-burners will put their hands in their pockets to fund the significant legal costs that will accrue.
Talk about a storm in a teacup.


Christians eh? Don't you just love 'em?

Meet the clan


Time to stop being coy about identities. I am pleased to introduce Katherine, Leo and Louise at a recent wedding. They do scrub up well don't they? Mrs. D.P. declines to waive her right to anonymity.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oh maybe

From reading the musings of a doorman over the pond I read this and it got me thinking.

How often do I see lads squaring off on the dance floor where they know we'll be watching. How they'll look up to our fixed points and non-verbally plea for us to get down there and split them up. It'll save them face and in the end make less work for us to do so nine times out of ten I'll wander down or make my presence known and that'll just leave it as pointed stares and muttered threats. I'll keep my eyes on them but that'll be it.

Now the one time in ten I let it develop is more interesting. If there's a chav who's been a dick before, or a care in the community who looks like they've gone off their meds I'll watch and wait.

The chav will either clock I'm watching and leave it out or do enough to get himself barred, probably with a ripped shirt and a sore shoulder or two by the time he's taken a rapid trip through the nearest fire doors with 40 stone of momentum.

The special lad, thats always interesting. Not likely to go off, more likely to run away and be adamant about getting out of there. Can be surprising if they just hug everyone or insist on making up and buying a drink but then spending two hours trying to talk at their new best friend. Always entertaining and far less effort to watch and be safety net than get in early and find I've got a new best friend for two hours.
Made that mistake before. There's so little I want from someone who lives in sheltered accommodation on benefit with so tenuous a grasp of reality and proportion that nothing they say can be believed and is so unlikely to be interesting.

Getting in early is usually the lazy option. You can walk over and get your message across and wander back without raising your adrenaline level above nearly asleep. If you let it stew you'll be shouting down the radio and arriving at full tilt across a busy club with spilled drinks down your shirt. Those alco-pop stains soon to be joined by aerated blood from shouts through bleeding noses and split lips. Not necessary or worth the effort unless it's been a night so boring you'd let anything happen rather than have your eyes drawn again and again towards the minger and the special need couple 2 minutes from needing condoms and a private room.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday 18th November. Luke 21.


There is always a great deal of emotion in anticipation of “the big day,” whether that’s a wedding day, the first day of a long anticipated holiday, the first day at a new job or whatever. In such cases, we don’t just enjoy the day for itself; it also promises many more such days.

On the other hand, there are some days that strike fear and dread in our hearts, such as the day we lose our job, the day of the death of a loved one or the day our country goes to war. These days thrust us into sadness and struggle with little or no light at the end of the tunnel.

Today’s readings, which deal with the big day: The Day of The Lord, fall into that second category I think, and these readings leave many Christians ill at ease and puzzled. Partly, I suspect, because the interpretations we hear most loudly are the voices of fundamentalist street preachers shouting their version of the coming of the end of the world.

Malachi thought that the day of the Lord was coming, and it did not come; Jesus said that “this generation will not pass away” until all the predictions about the return of the Son of Man were fulfilled, and Paul expected still to be alive at the return of Jesus. None of these expectations would be fulfilled, and ever since then even the most fanatical predictors of the Last Times have regularly had to revise their timetables.

Now, for the Jews, the Day of the Lord was always a day of anticipation, originally perceived as a day of fulfilment. It was that moment in history when all of the promises of God would come to completion and the people of God would enjoy them forever: promises of peace and prosperity, of contentment and harmony. Many of the prophets looked forward to that time and Jesus claimed that this long-awaited day was dawning as he inaugurated the reign of God.

A lovely picture, but sadly not that simple.

You see the sinfulness of the people required that there be a period of purging before that fulfilment could come to pass. For this reason, some of the prophets warned that the Day of the Lord would first be a day of suffering. They even compared that suffering to the pangs that preceded childbirth: a symbol of new life coming out of suffering - and today’s readings focus on the painful aspects of “that day.”

Our Gospel passage begins with a prediction of destruction: the temple renowned in the ancient world for its beauty would be destroyed. Now for Luke’s hearers Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the temple had already become a reality; in addition they had already experienced the death of the first Apostles, and even betrayal by loved ones.

So the only possible sense that could be made of that destruction and persecution was that in some way God's will was being accomplished, and most importantly, God's people would have the opportunity to witness to their faith because Luke’s Jesus promises that their perseverance will sustain and save them.

This sort of apocalyptic language is most often seen in the Bible in times of national crisis and often among persecuted people. Its purpose was never to foster speculation about when God would intervene, but to encourage dispirited people by proclaiming that God is in control of history and that punishment of the wicked will come about by God’s doing.

Of all the Evangelists, Luke grappled most with the tradition of an imminent Second Coming. But as this expectation began to wane, he developed instead a growing sense that discipleship would be played out over the long course of history and, of course, that includes us today. In Luke the Spirit will guide the church during the time of Jesus’ absence but it is Jesus remembered and Jesus present by his Spirit, rather than Jesus expected, which began shape their communities as it should ours today.

O.K: enough context.

What does it all mean for us today? Because unless it has some relevance its nothing but a bit of specialist history for University Challenge. It needs to have the power to touch us and make a difference to us. How can we apply this passage?

First of all, I think, we need to consider whether we are suffering in any sense in the language of these passages? And I would venture to suggest that we are not.

So how does one preach apocalyptic literature to people who are not suffering? If this type of passage was written during periods of great persecution and suffering to encourage the believers to remain faithful through the ordeal, can it speak to comfortable people like us today?
That assumes, of course, that we are still able to be totally comfortable after earthquake, tsunami, war, car bombs and our continuing struggle against terrorism? Could such evil be a sign of the end times?

Well, Luke links past sufferings and prospective sufferings together. Together they generate the cry: how long? When will deliverance come? People today who are pushed to the extremes of despair are perhaps best able to connect with our passage. We need to walk in their shoes. Burma - how long Lord? Zimbabwe – how long Lord? Darfur – how long Lord?

So, during this Advent perhaps more than many in recent history, Jesus’ predictions of the destruction of the Temple, war and natural disaster—all bringing persecution in their wake—seem hauntingly contemporary.

Coming so early in this new millennium - following the events of September 11th in New York, July 7th in London, the South East Asian Tsunami, the attempt to blow up Glasgow airport, runs on banks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - the bright skies of our consciousness have been darkened with threatening thunderclouds. A culture of fear pervades, heightened by round-the-clock media saturation and rampant Islamaphobia.

The point Luke is making is that we should not be panicked by such events: the time of our text has always been present. When haven't we heard of wars and insurrections somewhere in the world? When haven't nations and kingdoms fought against other nations and kingdoms? When haven't there been great earthquakes and famines and plagues on earth? The same danger exists today except that the reports come via the media and are sometimes packaged by the media for good viewing and interpreted by following someone’s editorial agenda. The panic whipped up is highly volatile and has the potential to ignite and explode into irrationalities, religious and otherwise. The casualty is usually truth as racist and other generalised claims are made and people drive themselves into doomsday fantasies and conspiracy theories.

Perhaps we need to recognise this more, and that it is most likely that we live between the times, not in anticipation of the end of time. T. S. Eliot may better express our thoughts: The way the world ends (for us is most likely to be) not with a bang but a whimper.

In the same way that Luke gave words of wisdom to his community, the church is summoned at this critical time to find words of hope for the future and a wisdom that will guide our lives. And that wisdom comes from God’s Spirit. It is a way of saying: let your responses to the hype and horror of accumulating disasters not be determined by the one-liners of media editors or by slick religious leaders, but by the same Spirit who is now the centre of our lives.

Trust in God has profoundly personal implications. It also has important political, social and religious ramifications. Luke still wept for Jerusalem and longed for its liberation. He was prepared to tackle the madness of fear and hate and the fanatical theologies it also generated. He keeps our feet on the ground about abuse and oppression. He stands in a tradition which tackles enmity in a way that is not distracted by hate or fear, but informed by the stillness and wisdom of the Spirit. The shift is then away from pointless discussions about the quantity of time left before the End Times to the quality of being in whatever time is left.

Today’s psalm response yearns for a God who will govern the world with justice and equity. Human suffering and even human sin can offer a privileged time for renewal, reflection and new directions that may give birth to the hope that in Malachi’s words “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays”.

Terrorism, war, natural disasters and financial instability should give us the opportunity to reappraise where we are as individual disciples and as a world-wide Christian community.

So, to conclude: as we face the wars, the hurricanes and the revolutions, and as we fear the end times, we can give into those fears, follow leaders who promise us safety when there is none, or we can trust this person who is called Jesus who, as God's gift, came to help us understand that God has never deserted us, will never leave us, even when death comes close. He confronted all of that. He has destroyed death and he has said that we should trust him and him alone.

It is Luke’s reminder to live lives of trust in God because our future is in God’s hands whatever that might mean in reality, but ultimately we do believe it means that we will be taken into the heart of the God of Jesus, the God who loves and, therefore, even in the worst adversity, we can set our faith in Him.

Amen


Saturday, November 17, 2007

The winter

That time of year is upon us again where the long coats, hats, leather, wool or fleece gloves come on. The sight of doorstaff shuffling their numb feet on the frozen front step is ubiquitous.

Don't be surprised if we're short with you when you prat about in the opened doorway as you try and rally your drunken herd into moving to another bar.
Don't be surprised if you find we won't lend you our ears as you whine about the unfairness of life after we've declined you entry.
Don't be surprised if we're more interested in where that hot cup of tea we were after half an hour ago has gone rather than your claim that your mates are all inside and you really are 18.
And don't be surprised, offended or threateningly violent when you ask and we decline for the n-
th time in our shift, if you could have our hat, coat or gloves.

It's cold, we can't head inside and warm up, we can't wear beer jackets, we can't sod it and get a warm cab home. We don't find lines we've heard a thousand times before interesting, funny or serious. If you're going out on a night in winter, wrap up warm or get
anesthetized on mulled wine or stronger, don't bitch about it to us. We bitch about it enough without you chirping up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Eschatology

I was preparing a sermon and I got confused. (Fancy that - and me being literate and all.) I started to discuss the end times and realised that I wasn't exactly sure when they began/begin. I also realised that this is something of a theological nightmare and an issue about which feelings run high. It seems that your personal understanding of Eschatology is deeply revealing and is likely to hold you up to ridicule if you let it slip in the wrong company. Fortunatley the company I keep is largely athiest and so couldn't give a stuff.

Looking into it further I realised that somewhere along the way my own understanding had slipped from one view to another taking in a third along the way.


So easily led.


So, which is it?


  • Realised Eschatology: It has already happened with the incarnation.


  • Inaugurated Eschatology: It has begun to happen for each of us through our receiving of the Holy Spirit.


  • Future Eschatology: It is still to happen at the second coming.

Ah. I see.

Weddings


At choir on Thursday Gerard said "I've got some news. I'm getting married on Saturday." Consider the backs of your legs well and truly slapped for sitting on that for four months and then telling me when its too late even to get a card for Saturday (12.00 noon)!

Gerard and Cal have been together for some years and have two young daughters so they wanted a low key family affair. Knowing Gerard's absolute horror of making a fuss or being the centre of attention, I am not surprised by this low key arrangement. Good for them and prayers ascending.

This followed close on the heels of Nalayini and Frazer's engagement and it occurred to me that all my unhitched friends have suddenly realised that I will soon be available to officiate at their nuptials, which is clearly such a horrifying prospect that they are falling over themselves to get married now. Still, I can be grown up about this.
Bastards!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Evening Moment for Peace



Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5.1)

A Prayer of Commitment:

Lord, we believe that you have called us together to broaden our experience of you and of each other.
We believe that we have been called to help in healing the many wounds of society and in reconciling man to man and man to God.

Help us as individuals or together to work, in love, for peace, and never to lose heart.
We commit ourselves to each other in joy and sorrow. We commit ourselves to all who share our belief in reconciliation, to support them and stand by them.

We commit ourselves to the way of peace in thought and deed.
We commit ourselves to you as our guide and friend.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World,
the light no darkness can overcome.

Stay with us Lord, for it is evening,
and the day is almost over.

Let your light scatter the darkness,
and illumine your church.

We light a candle

We attend to the sound of a bell

We listen to music that speaks of the futility of war

The earth is full of anger; the seas are dark with wrath.
The nations in their harness go up against our path:
Ere yet we lose the legions, ere yet we draw the blade,
Jehovah of the thunders, Lord God of battles aid!

High lust and forward bearing, proud heart rebellious brow,
Deaf ear and soul uncaring, we seek thy mercy now!
The sinner that forswore thee, the fool that passed thee by,
Our times are known before thee, Lord grant us strength to die.”

(Hymn Before Action: Karl Jenkins “The Armed Man”)

We pray with words inspired by Psalm 121

May help come from you, O God,
You made Heaven and Earth.

You do not let my foot be moved,
You watch over me.

You are my keeper, my shade.
The sun shall not strike me by day,
nor the moon by night.

You preserve me from all evil,
You keep my life.

You watch over my going out
And my coming in,
From evening until morning,
now and always.

Amen.

We listen to a short reading from scripture:

He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest.
“Let us build up these towns," he said to Judah, "and put walls around them, with towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side." So they built and prospered.
(2 Chron 14. 5-7)

May we remember the lesson of this reading that peace and prosperity came to your people when they sought you, the Lord their God. Give us, too, your rest on every side.

As we meditate on this passage, we listen to some music: The Agnus Dei from Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man”.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give us peace.

God our Creator and Protector,
you illumine the world
and breath life into us.
You heal the world with your outstretched arms.
You rescue creation and inspire your church.
We thank you for this day.
Let us remember your gifts and your promises
in our thoughts and actions,
in our homes, our workplaces, among friends and in this congregation.
Amen.

On our hearts and on our Houses,
The blessing of God.

In our coming and our going,
The peace of God.

At our end and new beginning,
The arms of God to welcome us and bring us home.
Amen.

Go in the peace of God.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pockets (ptI)

You find all sorts of things in peoples pockets.
Occasionally I'm at the special table by the front door asking people if they would mind having a random search. I ask them to empty out their pockets onto the table and after a great deal of faffing about I'll ask them if that's everything out of their pockets. I'll look through what they've placed on the table, pat them down and ask them to properly empty their pockets. This I repeat til either I'm satisfied that I've thoroughly searched them or I find something interesting.

Most folks are familiar with the idea, and I don't find anything on them. Sometimes I just wonder about the sanity of folks.
Most notable has been, 6' of steel chain in the back of someones trousers, the police picked him up quickly after that. Not the kind of thing you'd ever want to see wielded in anger in a crowded area.
Some folks have actually placed first time on the table, a bag of magic mushrooms, film wrapped cannabis resin, small bags of pills, pre-rolled joints and just hoped they'd get over-looked. They didn't.
Some disguise their naughty goods. A lip-salve dispenser that rattled, full of little white pills.
A silver bullet on a keyring, that unscrewed to show white powder and small spoon.

Also when checking a wallet, I'll run the edges of cards along a finger to see if white powder remains. I'll check the bill fold sections to see if grains of white have fallen off notes, I'll tip cig packets up to see that only baccy falls out. I'll turn phones on or take the backs off and get to see what could be hiding inside.

It's not perfect, if you're serious, you'll get it past us. If you're stupid, you'll not be getting in, you'll more likely be getting barred.