Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Barely A Woman

Here are some words in song, poetry and prose that we hope will help you have a truly happy Christmas!

Catherine Writes

You were barely a woman
you were barely a woman,
you were barely a woman
yet you trusted in God

Frightened and lonely,
at the news you just heard,
what would it look like
unmarried with child?
Death sentence hanging,
the need to confirm,
that Gods truth was speaking
and not just your own.

you were barely a woman
you were barely a woman
you were barely a woman
yet you trusted in God

At Elizabeth’s house
the babies leapt
spirit and son
reunited again.
The news confirmed,
relief that its true
yet scared at the future
God's got planned for you

you were barely a woman
you were barely a woman
you were barely a woman
yet you trusted in God

Journeying back
to your husband to be
he might want to stone you
or run and flee.
The shame on the family,
the load that you bear.
Who will believe
that Gods son is in there?

David Writes (From “Mary’s Diary”)

How Can I Explain? [audio:http://marysdiary.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/How-Can-I-Explain.mp3|titles=How Can I Explain]

Extract 15: It's awful. At first it was lovely - everyone pleased to see me again, lots of hugs - the wonderful sense of being part of family. But in my heart I kept wondering if they would share my joy at what God had done. Eventually I got some time with Joseph. Everyone thought we were catching up and planning for the wedding. The wedding that isn't going to happen now. At first he thought it was some kind of  story. Then when he realised I was serious, when he looked at me and knew, then he was angry. 'An angel, sure he was an angel'. But it wasn't his anger that broke my heart. It was his disappointment, the thought that I'd betrayed him. I had no words - what could I say that I hadn't already said? I couldn't bear his pain. What a fool to think that others would share my joy. All they see is the shame, all they assume is the worst. And why not? Wouldn't I? Tears aren't enough to express how I feel. 12 weeks from joy to devastation. Where are your promises now God? He's a good man, maybe the best of men. Even in his despair he wanted to spare me. He'll visit my Father tomorrow and agree the terms of the divorce. He said he'll do it quietly - I'll have to leave Nazareth of course - it won't be safe to be here branded as a harlot.

All generations will call me blessed? Right now my name is a curse.

Extract 16: Joseph arrived at the house early, I didn't see his face, couldn't bear to look. I heard my mother open the door. 'Good morning Ann', his voice sounded calmer than I expected. I waited, dreading what was next, the conversation with my Father, the shouting, the shame. But the storm never came. 'Can I see Mary' he asked. We walked together, I fearing some onslaught, some accusation, something even worse than was already waiting. But he turned and looked me in the eye and said quietly. 'I saw him Mary - I saw Gabriel last night. He told me that I should have trusted you, that it is all true, that you are carrying God's son. He asked me to be his earthly father. To be your husband. I almost fell, the relief flooded through me - whatever happened now, I had my Joseph, my kind, strong Joseph to be by my side.

Extract 19: We argued about it - the first time in 5 months of marriage. In the end I won, I'm going to go with him to Bethlehem -  we're going to go with him. I know it seems crazy,  weeks of traveling when I am almost due. But being pregnant with God's son is crazy anyway, and God gave me my strong, kind Joseph for a reason - and it wasn't to leave me at the mercy of these people I once knew so well.

Extract 20: Tonight is the first night that I've been able to write anything. Joseph thinks we should make Bethlehem before dark. He seems nervous - we know news of my 'condition' will have reached his family - we don't know how they will react when we arrive on their doorstep. But even if they are ashamed of us, who could turn away their son and his wife when she so needs a normal bed?

Back to Catherine:

You were barely a woman
you were barely a woman,
you were barely a woman
yet you trusted in God

Your time comes
in no comfortable room.
Not even a stable
with hay on the floor.
But there in the square
in the centre of town
your shame is public
as they stare and frown

I find the Christmas scenes around me, nice, comforting. Great I think, lovely stable, a place of great peace, no turmoil, pretty, quaint. Jesus should be in this place I think... the son of God arriving - nice welcomes from everyone around (shepherds, kings, wise men etc), even if it had to be a stable because all the inns were filled up for Christmas......

But.... it wasn't a stable. This was Joseph's home town... yet none of his family welcomed him in, not as we nicely put it that the rooms were full....but because no one would have them in their house.... they had been rejected by their own family, effectively cut off from them.

This was not a 'nice place' Jesus was born into. But a place of hostility, unwelcome, rejection, pain, shame. The Prince of Peace arrives in the heart of battle. Not the still waters.. Jesus comes into the place of battle, the reality of the world. To parents rejected and shunned, to public shame, to a place of danger, to a place away from the Father.

This is the good news!  Because of this, I know that Jesus is willing to come into my darkest moments,  my struggles... this is where he comes in... Not in comfort, but to a place of difficulty..into the battle.

And finally:

Donkey’s hooves; the ceaseless rhythm of the night,
echoes of another rhythm deep inside.
Pain gripping, the infinite constrained to a womb.
No room.

 Girl crying, men laughing.
Pain drowning all but fear.
Doors slamming, people staring.
Oh God, anywhere but here.

God crying, people mocking,
naked in the street.
Pain engulfing, strength failing.
Shepherds come to greet.

Baby crying, mother laughing,
Joy of heaven come down!
Then crowd shouting, Pilate washing,
Thorns make a crown.

Barbed whip tearing, nails piercing,
Heart bleeding for her son.
God weeping, silence reigning, darkness falling.
What have we done?

The battle didn’t end with his birth in humiliating squalor. The battle didn’t end with the scorn of the religious elite. The battle didn’t end with the betrayal of a friend or desertion of those he had come to save. The battle didn’t end in the agony of Gethsemane or the unspeakable pain of the cross. The battle didn’t even end with the victorious risen Christ.

It ends when we share his humility, engage in the battle and welcome him fully and unreservedly into our lives.

Indeed, happy Christ mass.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

There was this wierd guy...

I spent a few days in York this week with friends from the YWAM team. Strange journey there - set off from Luton at 8:10 to get the 9:30 train from Stevenage. Missed it. That's Google Maps for you. Just as we were getting close, the road it said we should take just wasn't there. Maybe it was a prophetic road, a visionary road, a metaphysical road. Whatever. It wasn't there, doesn't yet exist, except perhaps in cyber-space... There's probably a blog in there somewhere, a little sermonette... Here's the entirely useless map in case you want to try it, or write a blog around it... (the bit after it crosses London Road is actually a farm track with a no-through road sign...)

View Larger Map

Anyway, that's not what I want to write about, the more interesting journey was the one home. Full train, all reserved seats, lady in her forties sits next to me and begins a conversation. 'Good' I thought, being an extrovert, this will make the journey much more pleasant. 'Are you going to Kings Cross' she asked by way of an opening gambit. 'No, I'm getting off at Stevenage' I replied (mainly because it was true...) 'Oh, I'm going to Luton' she said.

Now, at this point the story changes and if you find yourself cringing at 'The Office' or similar, you might want to skip to the final paragraph.

Most of you will know we're involved in c2b, a 'Beacon Group', a kind of church-plant, with my fellow-blogger and her family and a bunch of other friends. It's become normal for us to live in a more extended family way than is perhaps usual. We've got used to it, it's become normal  - we have appropriate boundaries, but we share a lot of life together; meals, food, child-care, highs and lows, laughter, tears, prayer, lifts....

So out of this normality, as soon as I heard 'Luton' I naturally said 'Actually, that's where I'm going, a friend is giving me a lift from Stevenage...'. At which point, I should have seen the panic in her eyes, but I'm really not that observant.... I did notice then that the she didn't actually respond to the question but after a nervous non-commital laugh, changed the subject and then went silent.

That was when my phone rang. It was someone else from c2b. We chatted very normally about stuff - and stuff of course includes God and prayer.... Being a man, I don't multi-task very well, so I put down the book another friend had lent me - face up and therefore showing the title 'Secret Scars - one woman's story of overcoming self-harm.  (It's a great book - click it for the Amazon link).

Listening to half the conversation and seeing the book must have completed her half-formed view of me. A glance would have shown me this poor woman looking up and down the carriage, seeing if there was anywhere else to sit...

But I didn't glance, instead my mind was focussed on the fact that I would be in Luton an hour or more before her. The offer was free, no strings, no cost (well except for sharing the back seat with Joshua aka 'Mike the Knight'. So I tried again. 'I've talked to my friend, she's very happy to give you a lift, you'll be there an hour earlier with none of the hasssle!' For the first time I saw the panic, the cogs whirring. 'Mid-life crisis male, at best a religous nutter, offering me a lift to who knows where with an unknown conspirator. It's Luton, a hotbed of terrorism and who knows what else. Even if it's ok, will they expect petrol money, how would I approach that....' Fear and stereotypes combining to make the offer of help a complete non-starter.

So in true British fashion we talked about the inconsequential, until absurdly, I got off the train at Stevenage, arriving in Luton as she was alighting at Kings Cross. Sad that its come to this. That an ordinary offer of help, a simple act of kindness should be viewed with such dread.

Yet that's what Jesus faced. The free gift of life, viewed with suspicion, rejected because it didn't fit the stereotype, spurned because of fear.

But why am I saying 'faced'? Still faces.

How many times do we take the long route round because we didn't have the faith to accept the lift. Not from a slightly dodgy middle-aged guy, but from the Father of lights.... The Children of Israel, 40 years in the desert instead of an 11 day walk, 400 years in Egypt instead of 3...

When I had set off for York, Google map in hand, I had felt the nudge from the Holy Spirit 'go via Hitchin, I know it looks longer, but go via Hitchin.'  I didn't accept the help.

I missed the train.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Feeling Good

Feelings. Great things aren't they? Life would be, well, dead without them. Robotic, puppet like, going through the motions without e-motions. Personally, I'm a thinker so if someone asks 'how are you feeling?' I tend to say 'hang, on let me think about that'....

I had a lunch appointment with a friend. They didn't show. I felt hurt, devalued and a bit angry. A few hours later I realised I had written down the meeting time wrongly, that in fact the missed arrangement was my fault!

But guess what? My feelings didn't change! In my head I knew the fault was mine not theirs, but my feelings stayed the same! Outrageous I know, but worse, I carried that sense of disappointment into the future of the relationship, even though, in truth, they did nothing wrong!

This got me thinking (spot the irony). I know that there are times when I think wrongly about me, about God, about others. We're told because of this tendency to 'take every thought captive to Christ'. It's so important to live out of the truth. But what about our emotions, does something similar apply?

The Bible tells us that 'the heart is deceitful above everything else'. In other words, our feelings can be a terrible basis for deciding what is true, yet often that's exactly what we do! We feel aggrieved, therefore we have been aggrieved. We feel let down, therefore we were let down, we feel unloved, therefore we are unloved. We take the feelings and we assume that they indicate truth. But what if they don't?

This is the profound truth that God has been showing me...

Emotions that are based on truth bring life and courage

Feelings based on lies kill us and our relationships. 

If this is the case we should be asking 'is this a valid emotional response to the truth about the situation?' rather than blithely believing that what we feel must be valid and therefore true.

Back to the lunch. I felt let down. I couldn't believe that this person that I trusted, who I had given myself to, could do such a thing, missing that lunch I had so looked forward to. Grrr. Oh, yeah, I had the date wrong... These feelings of hurt, anger, bitterness - all very real and powerful - that building desire to hurt them back, to make them feel as devalued as me... are utterly ill-founded and inappropriate. But I still feel them! If they came in the room now, far from apologising to them for my mistake, I'd likely throw something at them! 

What should I do? How can I reset these powerful emotions onto the right track - to bring life rather than kill relationship?

Like with untrue thoughts I reckon. Just good old Biblical basics. Confession, repentance, forgiveness, cleansing and restitution.

Right Lord, I repent / change my mind from the way I am now thinking about that person. I confess / agree with your perspective on the situation. I was wrong, it was my error not their lack of care that is at the root of the issue. The truth is they are kind, loving and my good friend.

Lord, forgive my quickness to judge, my vulnerability to the temptation to feel aggrieved. Please release me from the age old insecurities that cause me to leap to the wrong conclusion - that I am unlovely and rejectable, the pathetic and lying thought that my friend wouldn't want to meet with me and was looking for any excuse to get out of the arrangement.

Lord, cleanse my heart from these inappropriate feelings that are erupting. I acknowledge that where there is hurt, anger and bitterness, there should be warmth, kindness and joy. Please rekindle these as I choose to resist the onslaught of these false emotions.

I choose to think rightly about my friend, I choose not to be motivated by these false feelings. I choose to act in the opposite spirit - instead of hatred, I choose to think and do something loving.

Guess what? As I spend time with God going through that process, the lies are exposed, light shines in and the peace of Christ comes, settles the volcano and laughter and lightness of spirit return. And the emotions swing back in line with the truth.

Here's a song from Catherine which says it nicely:

When my feelings they are leading, they tie me up in rope
they speak that I'm a failure, alone and have no hope
I see the pain around me and it overwhelms my soul
I feel you cannot save me and doubt the truth I know

But your truth stands firm when chaos overwhelms me
in the storm of my emotions your truth stands firm to me

I'm gonna stand on the truth and not all the lies,
on the power of your word not what I see with my eyes
not the whirlwind of emotion that floods me inside
I'm gonna stand on the truth gonna stand on the truth

and the truth says I am good
and the truth says I belong
for the truth says I'm a child of the king,
and truth cannot be wrong

and the truth says I am saved
and the truth says I am loved
and the truth says I am pure in your sight
All because of Jesus's love

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Long days, relaxed holidays, carefree childhood. Sunshine, warmth, picnics, bbq's, fun, freedom, laughter. Shirtsleeves, shorts, warm breeze, evenings outside with friends.

Summer days - when you're in the middle of them they seem endless. Hard to imagine how it could ever be different.

Most of us have phases of life like that. Especially when we are young, or young in faith. Full of optimism, hope for the future, confidence in our selves, our bodies, our immortality.

The sun still has warmth, the evenings are still pleasant. Sit round the chimnea with a nice glass of wine, enjoy the fruit from the trees, the fresh produce from the garden. As it progresses the beauty of the fall colours takes our breath away. The rolling mists, the glorious sunsets, the wonder of creation. A beautiful season.

Just like those key years of fruitfulness. Marriage, children, career... Ironically, although we can't run as fast as we could, we do seem a little more prone to catching things! But we're assured, have status; youth is still a nearby memory if not a current reality!

Things are good, maturing well.

But suddenly, the chill in the air that was refreshing now sends us scuttling indoors. Now the wonderful twilights have started in what seems like the afternoon. The truth is clear.

Winter is encroaching.

Even here there is a stark beauty at the beginning. The spider's webs shimmering with hoar frost, the bright sunlight reflecting off the frost. The delight of being cold outside and the warm snuggly security of  a place by the fire.

But the fun melts sooner than the snow and the harshness pervades. Anxiety leads to fear as the stories of shortages, pandemics and poverty force us to face the reality. Soon the statistics will include us.

We too are mortal.

Of course the seasons don't just represent an ageing process. The two men on the road to Emmaus had been with Jesus, had experienced his warmth. They had enjoyed a summer, basking in his presence, feasting on the teaching, celebrating the miracles. A season full of hope, of optimism, of expectation. Each day getting better than before, the future mapped out with clarity and joy.

Then that final evening of fruitfulness. The fire blazing, friends and family celebrating, everyone expectant for the next few days. The memory of Palm Sunday, the anticipation of kingdom, the presence of the passover meal. And in the centre of it, Jesus, re-writing history - 'this is my body, this is the cup of the new covenant'. The marking of the end of a season and the start of a new one - a better one.

But all too quickly, winter comes. The icy wind of betrayal, the bleakness of the trial, the desolation of the cross, the darkness of death. And in desperation, the two friends leave the place of peace - Jerusalem - for the place of dead familiarity. It is a wearying journey, as they tell the stranger 'we had hoped' but now they hope no more.

So often disappointment, pain, suffering makes us world weary. We walk slowly, disconsolately away from the place that we had hoped would bring peace, to the place that is familar, even if it offers no hope of anything better. We taste the wonder of faith, then the enemy comes, circumstances change and we turn away, sad, disillusioned, a little cynical and walk back to the world we knew. A world that we know offers nothing, but which, because of that, cannot disappoint.

Yet there is this stranger. A man who knows nothing of the disappointment, betrayal or death. A man who seems to be rooted in summer, who, as he walks through scripture, lights the way and warms their hearts, reminding them of all that they were walking away from. As strength and daylight fade, they reach the illusory safety of the familiar. But it isn't home for the stranger and he makes to walk on. They invite him to come in with them. Finally, this stranger is offered hospitality and welcome. From somewhere he once again produces the fruit of autumn; bread and wine. He breaks the bread and with it the stronghold of winter. Spring floods their hearts and minds. The stranger is gone, in his place stands the hope of all the world. What was impossible in their frozen soul becomes a joy with him beside them. They turn back to the place of peace with this on their lips. 'Jesus is alive!'

For everything, there is a season
Here's some great footage from the BBC production of Narnia. Whatever season you or those you love are in, the truth is this: there is no winter deep enough or harsh enough that the resurrection power of Jesus cannot break.

Truly, 'this is no thaw, this is Spring'

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Emperor's New Clothes

We all know the old joke. 'if all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion'

For all the sophisticated models and academic prowess, isn't it really a matter of the Emperors New Clothes? We keep whizzing money around the system at faster and faster rates to hide the fact that there isn't enough. Provided nobody says anything, all is well! But then someone has the audacity to point and say 'not enough'. Then everybody shamefacedly grabs the money that happened to be in their hand and look miserable. At the same time, the wise economists who were yesterday laughing all the way to the bank now utter the dreaded 'r' word. It's the adult version of pass the parcel. Pass the debt. Round and round it goes, faster and faster. Much jolity had by all. Until the music stops. Iceland, you've got the debt, you must pay all of us now. 'Won't, can't , shan't'. Right, you're not in our euro party any more. Not going to buy frozen veg from you now. Let's play again. Oh, Greece, you seem to have it. Naughty boy. Pay up, sack your workers, pay your way. Otherwise those nice Italians might have to pay. And they can't and then were will we be?

It seems like we are all in debt. We owe the bank for our mortgage, the bank owes me for the money we tax-payers gave to the government to pay the CEO's their 49% pay increase. The government owes the European bank in order to pay for Greece's debt. The European bank owes China money to cover the cost of Italy's debt. China isn't really part of the system so nobody knows who it owes money to, meanwhile, the US's credit rating has slipped because of it's enormous debts....

Now I may not be an economist, but one thing seems clear to me. We can't all be in debt. Somebody somewhere must actually be the one to whom we owe something. The balance sheet of the world economy cannot be negative - the assets and liabilities cannot be worse than zero! Unless there really are aliens to whom the earth is in debt, the issue ultimately is not of overall debt, but of distribution.

And in the meantime, the psychology of it all means only one thing. The rich get richer - although there are fewer of them, and the poor get more widespread and poorer. And as we all feel the anxiety rise, generosity is the first casualty. Most Britons in a recent survey argued that foreign aid should be cut.

The blinkers move. Instead of being blind to our own financial profligacy, we become blind to the appalling injustice of a world in which people die because they have no clean water, because we are innoculated and they are not.

I'm reminded that God 'owns the sheep on a thousand hills' that it is him from whom our help and security comes. Shall we be counter-cultural and trust, not in the size of the European bail-out, not in the wisdom of the world's economists, but in him? And out of that genuine security, can we become a channel of God's love and blessing to others, opening our hands, our homes, our resources to generously give to those who will otherwise have nothing?

Because there is one indebtedness that we cannot avoid. The debt we owe to God for our being, for our salvation.

"Father, forgive our debts as we forgive others"

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


I have friends.

I know this will shock many of you, but it's true. Anyway, I've discovered this about my friends - they are dependable. I can rely on them and I trust they know that they can depend on me.

So I was somewhat bemused when I was warned off such crazy behaviour by a professional the other day. It seemed that interacting with a friend when we meet on a Sunday and the odd skype conversation during the week could put us at risk of becoming dependent. (He whispered it so as to minimise the shock, rather like the way  people say 'cancer'). Now I suppose that he has in mind a scale of 'dependency' where at one end we are completely self-sufficient and independent (perceived as good) and at the other where one person is completely reliant on the other and cannot live without them (wickedly unhealthy). When he in hushed tones said 'dependent' I guess he meant something close to the latter.

Now, I get that if someone has a deep seated insecurity that meant they couldn't live without feeling needed, if they engineered situations so that others depended on them because that made them feel good, then that is unhealthy, abusive and needs to stop! But other than that, isn't the command to love one another directed against such an island mentality? Aren't many of the problems we face as a society precisely because of the importance placed on independence? Isn't what most people crave a sense of community, don't people bemoan the loss of  supportive extended family? In fact, aren't there are lots of situations where even extreme dependency is not only healthy, but essential - the patient undergoing surgery depending on the surgeon, the foreigner in a strange and alien land depending on the interpreter, the person who is injured emotionally or physically depending on their friends...

The baby is not to be abandoned because of the "unhealthy" dependence on its mother, the ageing parent should not be isolated because of an "unhealthy" dependence on children. The husband should not be divorced because of an "unhealthy" dependence on his wife for affection, encouragement and occassional rebuke! This is absurd! Doesn't the truth that we are collectively the body of Christ tell us that we should depend on others? The eye is not a fully functioning body, nor is it intended to be. It is only complete when part of the whole, when it relies on the other parts for what they and only they can do!

Obviously if in providing something for someone we suffocate them, or prevent them reaching maturity in that area of life, that is wrong, but its the opposite tendency that is the bigger danger. The lie that says we are all supposed to be completely independent, that reliance on others is a sign of weakness. The fear we have created that inhibits genuine support, engagement and friendship - leaving the vulnerable (and many others) isolated, lonely and hopeless?

Isn't the the example of the baby precisely the right one? Of course we don't always want to be feeding and clothing the child! But for the period where it cannot do these for itself, dependence is life giving! As it grows, we alter our approach from one of purre provision to one of training and encouragement in order to develop the skills and confidence that lead to a healthy independence in those areas. We still retain the bonds of love, still provide the occasional recipe, the family meals, but they are appropriately capable of doing it themselves. Eventually the time comes for them to leave home - it isn't leaving the relationship, isn't leaving the love. It is leaving the shelter of proper dependence and moving to a place of healthy interdependnece.

So perhaps the key is for us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in agreeing what areas we should be mature and independent in and those areas where we are supposed to be relaxed in our interdependence. Under God's guidance, it is to provide the unfettered support that's needed through the period of healing or transformation. Then to find healthy ways to develop maturity in those areas until they are ready to 'leave home'.

We are not called to be God in our or other people's lives.

But we are called to love one another.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

take 2

Catherine writes
This year david was given 3 more tomato plants to grow, and 2 pepper plants as a present from his fellow blogger. Last year the tomato plants did a kamikaze leap off his conservatory windowsill, without setting a single fruit. He has learned this year, and has put them outside on hot days, lovingly watered them – possibly talked to them (though he denies this). The plants are now starting to set fruits, tiny tomatoes can be seen, David is growing in confidence as a gardener, and feeling rather happy that his tomatoes are bigger than mine...
Got me thinking about mistakes and failure, and how we respond to these... We often see failure and sin as the same thing. We have been taught that both are somehow a 'falling short' of that which is acceptable. In everyday life we (or the world around us) set targets for success - if we don't reach these we have failed.  

David writes
But maybe we've bought a lie.  Maybe the criteria for 'success' is not measured by achievement alone. Maybe we should take note of Jesus' words as he advised us for life. The Father's words of approval are not 'well done, high-achiever' but 'well done good and faithful servant'. In the Kingdom, it is goodness, godly character that counts - and a life lived based on faith. This might just be radical! Faith is 'the substance of that which is not seen'. In other words it is acting as if something were true without first having conclusive evidence that it is. Faith is inherently risky!

Yet, if we take risks, sometimes it will go wrong - that's the very nature of risk and faith. The problem is that this looks horribly like failure, so aside from the inconvenience and pain of getting the faith-step wrong, of taking the risk and discovering it didn't work as expected, we also have the world (and ourselves) berating us for failing.

We did a blog on Wimbledon recently - there is really nothing wrong with being the fourth best male tennis player in the world. It is a fantastic combination of natural ability, dilligent practice and a tenacious character. But lurking behind the applause is that sense of it not being good enough, because it isn't number one, because he hasn't won a grand-slam, instead of it being praiseworthy it is counted as failure.

Shouldn't we look at our lives in the same way? Not 'did that faith step succeed' but 'did I step out in faith?', not 'do I accomplish everything I set out to do' but 'am I exhibiting godly character in the process and irrespective of the outcome?'. Instead of getting our self-worth and approval from 'good' outcomes wouldn't it be healthier to learn to receive these from taking steps of faith, from responding in godly ways? Maybe we need to reset the criteria for success if we are going to 'succeed' in the Kingdom.

Catherine writes
It would have been easy for David to avoid growing stuff this year based on last years failure, to decide that he couldn't grow stuff because he was not green fingered. But (after a little bit of persuasion) he didn't.

Maybe that's how it's supposed to work. Maybe last year was only a failure up to the point he decided to have another go. Maybe the act of faith, the risk of trying again turned last years attempt into a part of this years success. Most entrepeneurs have several business 'failures' before they 'succeed'. In the end, it's what they learn through the earlier attempts that enables them to 'succeed'. And it's their character, their willingness to keep taking the risk, that gets them there in the end.

David writes
Had tuna mayo sandwiches for lunch. With tomato. The sweet taste of success. Lets keep taking risks, lets be people of faith, lets rejoice in our 'failures' and celebrate our success!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Life & Death

A short blog - it touches sensitive areas (sex, pregnancy, abortion, contraception...), so we've tried to strike a balance - hopefully there's enough here to spark a debate without upsetting people for whom these are difficult issues - if you do want to read more, there's a link at the end, but be warned, it is deliberately provocative!

Anyway, to kick us off, here's some statistics... because I know how much everyone loves statistics.

There's a one in thirty chance that unprotected sex will result, eighteen years later, in another independent adult (possibly having unprotected sex, but that's another blog entirely)

So, at the start of this journey, celibacy or contraception reduce the prospect of an independent adult from one in thirty to zero.

Moving on in the journey to adulthood,  69% of all confirmed pregnancies (US statistics) end up as 18 year olds. That's roughly seven in every ten pregnancies that result in an independent adult. In other words, an intervention at any point after pregnancy is confirmed reduces the chances of an independent adult from seven in ten to zero.

What are the moral implications on contraception, abortion, embryo research?


(If you want more fuel to this fire, click here.)

life & death - the detail

Before conception
What about contraception?  It reduces the probability of intercourse resulting in an independent adult from one in thirty to close to zero. That's the whole point I hear you cry! One in thirty may not sound very high, but it's infinitely greater than zero... To put this in concrete terms, a couple who marry in their mid 20's and subsequently have three kids and then use contraception would statistically have ended up with seven independent adults had they not used contraception. Thats four more independent adults than they actually have. Now none of us would gun down four seventeen year olds to prevent them reaching adulthood, but by using contraception the result is the same. Four adults who would in all liklihood have existed, now don't.

Before birth
In our heads we have persuaded ourselves that we are terminating this thing called a foetus. It has no feelings, it might look a bit like a baby, but it isn't. It hasn't developed - and there's always the chance that it wouldn't have made it anyway. But here's the truth - there is a small chance that tragedy might intervene between now and their 18th birthday. But it is statistically very unlikely. By far the biggest risk to it becoming an adult is the decision to terminate the pregnancy - to kill the potential. In all probablity, what we are terminating is in 18 years time, an independent adult.

We might argue that ending the process to protect the mother whilst this potential adult is in the womb is an acceptable, if difficult trade. But what about the child who's behaviour threatens the mother's mental health a few years later? Of course there are other options by then - foster care or whatever. But what if there weren't? What if the choice was either the mother's health and safety or the child's? Where is the difference? In the first instance the safety of the mother is deemed to over-ride that of the life that is dependent on her. Yet no-one would argue that the same applied in the second case. Why? 

Now, I occasionally hear distraught mother's shouting at their kids 'If you do that one more time, I'll kill you' but very few people would advocate that as an actual form of discipline... In fact, no matter how inconvenient, disruptive or risky they are to parental health, no one suggests the execution of the child as a solution. Yet stopping the natural growth process at any point after two weeks has statistically the same outcome. Instead of a 98+% chance of becoming an adult, it now has zero chance.

What about embryo research? Isn't every conception, however caused, statistically a potential adult? I know how important stem-cell research might be but aren't we taking what would otherwise have the potential to be an adult and deciding on its behalf that it will not become one? Created, not to become an adult but to serve those who had the privilege of becoming adults. Does it not sound like that old prophecy: 'One man, for the sake of the people, must die'

These aren't easy issues. We are not anti-abortion and we are not against contraception! What we want to encourage is a debate on why these are acceptable and under what conditions - in the full knowledge that adult lives do not exist as a direct result of these choices.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


Tennis, Tennis, Tennis, all day every day.... Got to be Wimbledon fortnight! So time for a tennis blog.....
Scene: Centre Court, Wimbledon. An ageing Sue Barker is interviewing the new champion.
It’s hard to make myself heard above the sound of the crowd here.
Actually, they’re quiet now, think you need to turn up your hearing aid...
Oh, thanks – that’s better! Well, Stew, tell us how it feels, the first British man to win Wimbledon  for over 300 years!
Amazing! I can’t put it into words...
That’s great, we wait 300 years and you don’t know what to say...
Well, obviously it’s amazing. The crowd were fantastic.
Indeed, they’ve stuck with you through the difficult times...
Yep, losing semi-finalist 8 times!
And the injuries...
Yep, you can never be sure after a hip replacement...
So talk us through this extraordinary few days.. when did you start to dream this might be it?
I guess getting a wildcard at the last minute and a bye into the third round was a lucky break
And talking of breaks,  just a thought for poor Michael Smith... slipping on the banana skin you had just discarded..
I know, terribly hard to play on with a broken leg, so you have to applaud him for taking that set, but really there was no way back....
Which of course got you to the semi-final which you have really made your home!
I know, but this year I had an extra motivation
Ah, the birth of your grand-daughter..
No, I just couldn’t bear another year of inane questions and comments: ‘Do you think you’ll ever win a grand-slam event? How does it feel like, losing again? What changes will you make? Are you going to come back stronger?’
So, about the final – do you think the circumstances devalue your victory?
I don’t think so, you can only play against the opponent in front of you...
But that’s the point really.... he didn’t turn up did he?
Well we’d been waiting three days for the rain to stop long enough for them to fix the roof and I guess he just got bored waiting – after all, the only thing to watch were re-runs of Fred Perry getting beaten by  Bjorn Borg in the 2022  simulated final...
Well, unconventional it may have been, but the wait is over at last, Britain has another Men’s Champion at Wimbledon!
Yeah, just one sad note really – I’m no longer a member of that even more august group. The Motram, Bates, Lloyd, Rusedski, Henman, Murray club.
Ah yes, great British losers every one!

Catherine writes about reaction times
Can't believe how hard they hit the ball. The other day David did some calculations on how long you would have to react to a fast serve. (You know he loves a spreadsheet!) Apparently, you would have .38 seconds reaction time in tennis with a 140mph serve, .45 seconds in cricket with a fast bowler at close to 100mph. Scariest of all though is Josh (my 2 year old). When he bowls to you from 4ft, at 20mph you only have 0.14 seconds to react.... Have you ever noticed how you find yourself dwelling on stuff? Processing, thinking about things without actually wanting to? I find myself spending way too much time and energy with my brain power over stuff that is at best irrelevant to now and at worse, actually counter productive. We're told to 'take every thought captive to Christ'. Seems to me that key to that is having fast reaction times. If we grab the rogue thought as it enters our mind, we can refocus on healthier things. If we are slow in our defence, it gets in and takes root and is much harder to dig out. Back to tennis. Serve, volley, win the point, don't get involved in long baseline rallies they take too much energy and we don't always win! I'm praying that the Holy Spirit and my conscience give me faster reaction times!

David writes about champions
Apologies to anyone who thought the sketch at the start of the blog was disrespectful. Being the 4th best player in the world is a marvelous achievement. The problem is less to do with Murray, Henman and the rest and more to do with commentators and us in general! Strange tribe the British, very conflicted! We have this inate idea that we should be the best (witness the unrealistic expectations for the England football team), but we hate actually being the best (hence our love of the underdog). We're embarassed by the person who does well and is comfortable with their success, we're angry with those we expect to do well who then don't. I have a suspicion that Murray is actually the best tennis player in the world. If he plays at his best and Nadal plays at his best, I think Murray wins. Honestly. You don't quite believe me do you? And here's the crux of my argument - nor does he.

Scripture tells me that I in Christ am a winner - in fact I win an 'overwhelming victory'. In the battle I fight against the enemy over sin, over every effect of sin, it should be a straight sets victory. But I believe the incipient, insiduous lies of the enemy. 'You can't do it, you'll never win, it's for others not you.....' It's not lack of power that stops us being the champion, it's lack of belief.

Catherine writes about grunting
So to my second entirely unrelated thought on tennis.... The grunting, shrieking, uggghhhing - its getting louder, think in a few years time it might cause glass to shatter. Reckon they do it to put off the opponent, as a tool to try and win the battle. As christians we are in a battle, and sound of the enemy is often loud. He shouts and screams and grunts to distract us from the truth. If you want to beat Sharapova, you'd better wear ear-plugs. They're a great invention - many of you will know that I suffered for a long time with a sleeping disorder. My brain was hyper-alert and woke me up many times an hour. What I needed was something to bring silence and peace. Bizarrely, ear-plugs did the trick! Even though there was little external noise, they somehow fooled my brain into a calmer place! In the end of course prayer is the bigger key - praying for God's ear-plugs for the soul! Protection from lies, from the incessant noise from the world, allowing the still, calm voice of God that says 'hush child, I'm here, go to sleep, be at peace'. 

Catherine writes about follow through
Have you seen how hard they hit the ball these days? Amazing new technology in the rackets, new more aerodynamic tennis balls, stronger more athletic players. But I reckon the real key is all about follow through...
Thats what gives real power to the shot. If the swing is stopped as you hit the ball, there is not much power, if you follow through, it's all there!

It's so much like faith and vision.... So easy to stop halfway with what God has said to do. We get the thoughts like 'this is too hard, I am no good at this, maybe we heard wrong, was that really what God said...?' Then the exciting adventure God has called us to is missed, because we sit on the fence, mither, bring up worries etc... Its like stalling mid swing. But, if God is calling us to do something even if it seems tough, even if it looks nearly impossible, he is faithful, he will be with us, he will provide. Where things seem impossible or too difficult he helps find a way - the narrow path through it. This might be on a personal level - something seeming too hard to change, or it might be on a level where more people are involved, a vision God giving us seeming too large, there seeming to be too few people, it not seeming logical in our mind, too risky...

David sums up
So I guess Wimbledon was good  after all! Lets believe what God says - we are winners, champions, victors, let's be secure in that, look the world and the enemy in the eye and say 'In Christ, I win'. Then when the enemy comes with his lies and his distractions we will be quicker to identify and deal with them. Much less chance then of stopping short, of not following through on the vision God has given.

Cheesy end; friend pointed out today that tennis is a game that starts with 'love all' begins with someone serving and allows for a second chance if we get it wrong. Hmm, maybe I still don't like Wimbledon....

Monday, 20 June 2011

Slut Walk

Ok, this blog was requested by Brian Jose, so we're expecting some erudite comments BJ! It does follow on nicely from two topics we've covered recently; Ken Clarke's comments on rape and the last post on 'freedom'.

For anyone unaware of what we're talking about here, this is Wikipedia's take on it:

The Slut Walk protest marches began on April 3, 2011 in Toronto, Canada and have since become an international movement of rallies across the world. They are a protest against the belief that any aspect of a woman's appearance might explain or excuse rape.

It begs the question 'To what extent does person a's action mitigate person b's response?'

There is a general principle in our (and many other) justice systems that a lesser charge or lower sentence applies where there are mitigating circumstances. The person who inadvertantly kills a burglar is charged with manslaughter not murder and often given a short or non-custodial sentence. The person who smuggles drugs under genuine threat of personal harm or harm to a family member may be treated more leniently than someone who did it for personal profit. The man who has sex with a woman against her will but who dressed provocatively is guilty of a lesser crime than rape.

Of course in our evangelical world, we are often encouraged do this when someone 'sins against us'. Yes, they hurt us badly, but consider their background, the problems they had as a child, the difficulties they have faced - forgive them.

But there is a flaw in these arguments. Human beings were created with the ability and the imperative to say 'no' to sin. There is no mitigation. We have fallen for the lie that says the external circumstances are so powerful that they over-ride or limit our choice. We are not then responsible for our actions, it is the fault of the external force, the mitigating circumstances. But the truth is that we are capable and we are expected, to say no to temptation. And it is an entirely reasonable and fair expectation because someone has shown us that it is possible. 

Coming to this world fully human, not exercising his own divine power, facing the same temptations we face - and more, Jesus lived a life utterly without sin. In other words, Jesus, just like us, faced what he could have seen as overwhelming temptation. Yet even though he sweated blood with the effort, he exercised self-control. When every fibre of his being screamed for him to choose the way of escape, nevertheless, he chose the cross. The truth stands. We are designed, called and capable of choosing that which is right, even if it costs us our life. Jesus did it without recourse to his own divine power, so can we. Jesus did it relying on the word of the Father and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. So can we. There may be some temptations that are harder to withstand than others. The actions of others may lead us to temptation. But 'with every temptation there is a way of escape'.  We are without excuse, there is no mitigation. The perfect life of Jesus stands in judgment of us when we fail to be like him. So of course we are 'not to cause our brother to stumble', we will be held to account for every time we lead others into temptation. But that is no mitigation of the one who then freely chooses to stumble.

The man is looking to have sex. The woman is dressed in a way that she knows will arouse. She's dressed like that not because she wants sex - and certainly not with that leering guy, but because her friends are and it's the uniform to get into the club. He tries to have sex with her, she says 'no'. He won't listen....

We make it too complicated, we try to judge. But actually, we don't have the whole picture, only God has that. From our perspective all we can say is this. 'You were unwise to dress like that - it increases the temptation and sadly there are many weak-willed men in the world. You should and could have withstood the peer pressure. Your identity is not rooted in who your friends are or your physical ability to allure. It breaks God's heart that you would think otherwise, he is desperately sorry for what has happened and offers his unconditional love and healing.' To the man we can say 'You are not an animal who has no control over his instincts. Your hormones may be powerful, but you are stronger. No matter how provocatively someone is dressed in your eyes, it does not constitute permission. She said no. You submitted to lust. That is both pathetic and wrong. You are guilty without mitigation of rape. Your identity is not rooted in the number of women you have sex with or how much you impress others. Love is not found in possesing, having power over or the kicks you get out of an encounter. You need God to set you free and give you real life.

So, Slut Walks. Are women free to dress as if their identity is rooted in their ability to sexually arouse men? Of course, but it doesn't make it anything less than profoundly sad. Are men less guilty if they fail to control themselves in the face of such folly? No, of course not. Do women make themselves more vulnerable by dressing provocatively? Self-evidently and sadly, yes. 

Are 'slut-walks' an appropriate means of re-estabslishing the dignity and respect women deserve? Well, what do you think?

Saturday, 11 June 2011


We love it when people comment on the blog - that's the idea, for us to 'Think Allowed'. Recently, we took the unusal step of deleting a comment - and that sparked some comments! One of those suggested that we should do a post on freedom - and we freely decided that was a good idea!

We love to think of ourselves as these amazing, independent creatures, evaluating options and freely coming to our own mature, sure we are right, decision. Freedom of choice, freedom to speak, free to live the life we want is many peoples highest goal. 'I did it my way' is the iconic song.

In reality of course, no choice we make is completely free. There are influences on every decision we make, consequences that have to be taken into account. For example, I am writing this from a cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I'm here because I chose to be, but it wasn't a 'free' choice. In fact there were a number of costs - financial was but one; there's the long-haul flight, the heat and humidity and of course the time away from those I love.  On the plus side of course there's the opportunity to be somewhere I've never been before and the chance to input into the lives of the leaders and trainees that we had invested in during our time in Carlisle. Sometimes the influences can seem overwhelming - as if we have no actual choice. But scripture tells us that 'a bruised reed, I will not break', 'a smouldering candle I will not extinguish'. There are boundaries around the influences, no matter how powerful they seem, we always have choice. Love does not insist on it's own way.

So how do we choose? So often we don't ask 'who is trying to influence us, what other self-interests are in play?' We simply take the costs and benefits; weigh it up, make the decision. Do the benefits seem to outweigh the costs, if so do it, if not, don't. Of course, it isn't always as explicit as that, we don't sit down with a spreadsheet and evaluate it this way... often it will be a gut feeling rather than an intellectual process, nonetheless, that's what in our heart and mind we have done..

It's a seductive process, it gives the illusion that we are in control, masters of our own destiny, but of course it just isn't true. One persons freedom to comment on a blog may result in someone else not having the freedom to be at peace. If everyone chooses what is best for them, at some point their choices will not be good for me and given there are more others than there are of me, this cannot be good news! Similarly, the influences from some quarters may seem plausible, but behind them may be malicious intent - whether mildly in advertising, more dangerous in propaganda or fatally, the direct lies of the enemy.  But even if we are able to accurately assess and give appropriate credence to the influences, we do not have all the facts - ever.

We don't have the full picture, we have no clue as to the full consequences and implications of our choices. So often, we make our choices on the basis of narrow self-interest, based on incomplete information, blind to the mailcious intent behind some of the influences!

In society, democracy attempts to mitigate some of these issues. It provides a crude means for taking into account the interests of others. It provides a legal framework in which individual freedoms are curtailed for the benefit of the whole. But that still leaves the problem that we are poor judges of what is good for us. The internet provides the illusion of personal omniscience, but in truth, Wikipidea is a poor substitute for God's knowledge. It would surely be good to make decisions in the light of a broader wisdom than ours alone.

So what about decision making, freedom in the Kingdom?

Jesus, faced the hardest decision ever - to go to a cross or call on the Father to destroy the world with 'more than 12 legions of angels'. He made the decision based on the full picture. A picture only available through the Spirit and only believable through faith. Human insight and demonic influence all pointed a different way. 'You want to die for people who want to kill you?', 'God has deserted you, make an end to it now'. It was an agonising decision, one which flew in the face of seemingly overwhelming influence. Yet, 'for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame' In human terms, the shame and anguish of the cross, the death it guaranteed far outweighed any benefit. Yet because of this divinely revealed bigger picture, Jesus was able to over-ride the cost and choose instead the way that would bring real freedom for us.

We can do the same. We can choose against self-interest. We can make choices on a divinely revealed bigger picture. We can choose the hard road, the narrow path, the shadowy valley. We can go from Albainia to India and spend our life serving the outcasts. We can go from Middle Class Britain to Albania and serve people there. We can choose against the mere economics of what's in it for me. We can lay down our rights to our freedoms and be like Jesus.

Strangely, in this topsy-turvy Kingdom, as we lay down our life we find life. As we make ourselves vulnerable we are protected, as we empty ourselves we are filled, as we make ourselves poor we become rich. As we submit our will to that of Jesus, we become freer than ever before.

If the son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.

Feel free to comment.