Anyone Fancy a Game?

On Sunday night Paul thrust a newspaper cutting into my hand saying he thought it might interest me. In the centre was a photo of a set of bookshelves filled with boardgames, staked from floor to ceiling. Yes, this did interest me! The article was about Draughts Café, one of a number of new cafés recently opened in the country that offer alongside coffee and cake, the opportunity to try out a huge range of games (they for example have over 600). There has been, according to the industry, an increase in the sales of boardgames over the last year, with the suggestion that 20 somethings are turning to them alongside computer games. Apparently, according to the article, these boardgame cafés are not only a great place to try out a new game, but also a great place to go on a date – if you enjoy the same games and can get on even if you lose, then chances are you’re well matched…

As a child I was brought up playing boardgames, it was a regular weekend family activity. At Christmas most years, we got a new game, The London Game, Articulate, Trivial Pursuit and so on. Over University years I didn’t play so often, other than the occasional game of RISK which usually ended for me very quickly in a blaze of glory that was rapidly quelled by those around me. In recent years, however, I have rediscovered the bug, finding that in the meantime a great range of games have been developed on the Continent, offering much more fun and tactical challenge than Ludo and Monopoly. My shelves might not look quite as full as Draughts Café, but they’re getting there!

So what’s behind their recent resurge in popularity? Simple. It’s not just that they fun to play and it’s satisfying to win (not that I do so very often), but boardgaming is a very sociable hobby. In an age when so much of our time is spent in front of screens, or in our cars, or in our homes, boardgames bring us together around a table for an hour or so of face to face time. Priceless. In a fractured world, these are deliberate ways of building community and friendship.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my plan is not to convert the church to boardgaming, as much as I’d love that, but to get us thinking about what we can do to proactively build up our relationships and sense of community. This doesn’t happen on its own, we have to work at it. Only as we grow in our friendships will we learn to trust each other, open our lives to each other, be open to learn from each other and to challenge each other.

Anyone fancy a game?…

Church Newsletter article 22.06.16

Remembering and Celebrating

The last few weeks seem to have been a mixture of loss and celebration. We’ve said goodbye to Victoria Wood, Ronnie Corbett and Prince, three entertainers who brought great joy to many with their writing and performances and were for me part of the backdrop of growing up. Incidentally, do you know where the word ‘goodbye’ comes from? I heard it explained at a funeral last week when we said goodbye to a family friend. Apparently it’s a contraction of the phrase ‘God be with you (ye)’. Did you know that every time you’ve said goodbye to someone that you’ve been praying for them? Perhaps it might take on new meaning next time you say it.

As a Liverpool fan, the news from the Hillsborough Inquest has of course been significant, with the verdict of the jury being that the fans were not at fault for the tragic events of that dreadful day when 96 of them went to watch a football match and did not come home. Perhaps at last those families who have sought justice and truth about those events can say goodbye and begin to look forward.

There have been more positive celebrations though. We’ve been celebrating the 400th birthday of Shakespeare, someone who maybe has played as great a part as anyone in shaping our culture and language with his plays and poems that have stood the test of time. I enjoyed his work as a schoolboy, although his work became our work! It’s only recently, however, that I’ve come to love it. Maybe the main reason for this is going to The Globe and watching his plays live (at £5 for standing tickets go and watch for yourself, at that price there’s nothing to lose!). The Globe’s a magical place and every time I’ve been I’ve found the plays have come alive and transported me to another world for those brief hours. I am a passionate believer in the Arts as well as other areas of human endeavour, I believe in them we reflect the image of our creative God. In a sense they are acts of worship.

Another celebration has been the Queen’s 90th birthday. As Jeremy Corbyn, a republican said, whatever you think of the monarchy as an institution, the vast majority of people have admired the way she has conducted herself. It’s not a job that I’d want – there might be luxury and privilege that comes with it, fame and international recognition, but to receive this you have to give up your personal freedom, the freedom to come and go as you wish, to express your opinions and to be yourself. Over so many years the Queen has done this and done it well, a real servant of the nation.

Of course, as a Christian, I see these things as reflecting God in his Son, one who to be ‘God with us’, one who came to stand up for the oppressed and downtrodden, the one who came telling stories and captivating the crowds with his messages, and who came as the Servant King. May he be with you this week!

Easter: Where Do You Stand

ChurchAds.Net have produced another catchy campaign for Easter this year, continuing their tradition of provocative adverts such as the Che Guevara-esque revolutionary poster of Jesus (Meek, Mild, As if), and ‘Surprise! Sais Jesus to his friends 3 days after they buried him…’ This year’s effort can be seen at It has a film noir vibe to it with a couple exploring a room lit only by their torches with all sorts of hints about who Jesus may be in the images that they see. The closing line ‘we should look into this’ leads the viewers to consider where they stand on Jesus – is he Man, Myth or Messiah? – before casting their vote.

This is a vital question to ask. I’m writing this on Wednesday with the precise nature of the events in Brussels this week still emerging and being clarified. These horrific acts of terrorism provide a stark backdrop to this question, and how we answer the question may affect how we respond to such events and tragedies.

Man? Was Jesus just a human revolutionary who set out to kick the Romans out of Israel so that his people could reclaim their homeland? Perhaps this is how Judas saw him, and why he betrayed him when he failed to live up to that promise, possibly in an attempt to provoke him into action. The suggestion that might or military action can bring peace like this is called the ‘myth of redemptive violence’. History suggests it doesn’t work; you could look at Western efforts in the Gulf and Afghanistan to demonstrate this. It could also be argued that Jesus was a different, not taking up arms but celebrating love in some sort of 60s hippy kind of way. Again, history suggests that love on its own doesn’t last; 60s love was trampled on by 70s punk and 80s materialism.

Myth? Is Jesus just a story – either an inspirational example at best or a cynical deception at worst? You know me, I love a great story. I believe that stories can change us and can change the world for the better. A story, however, cannot fix the brokenness of humanity, the part of us that is self-centred and has a tendency to damage relationships. Could a story bring an end to the violence of the so-called Islamic State, the greed and materialism of the West or our own brokenness?

Messiah? Could it be that Jesus is more than just a good story, more than just a human? This is the claim of Christianity and the heart of the Easter story. The Easter story is that of a human revolutionary being put to death for unsettling the powers that be with his call to servant leadership and humble selfless love. But this is where the story departs from other stories, for Jesus we are told was not merely human, but also without sin. And here’s where things get really relevant, on Easter Sunday morning, God the Father validated everything he said and did by intervening and raising him from the grave to new life. Where Man and Myth both start with hope but die out, Messiah ends with hope, hope that Jesus’ way will finally one day bring an end to our strife and suffering.

The Riddler

It’s been a while since I last posted a newsletter article, perhaps it’s time to do so again!…

There’s a character in Batman called The Riddler, a villain who delights in incorporating riddles and puzzles into his criminal plots for Batman and the authorities to solve, his outfits often incorporating a question mark motif, the same punctuation adorning the top of his walking cane. There’s something about puzzles that lures us in, teasing us with a sense of mystery and appealing to our desire to prove ourselves and come out on top. As a scientist, puzzles were what motivated me – how does something work? What lies behind it? Why does this happen? A similar intrigue was one of the paths of enquiry that led me to faith – why are we the way we are? Why do we exist? What’s the purpose of life?

I’m writing this having just got back from the Christian Union at St. Mary’s High School where rather than trying to solve puzzles we’ve been setting them. Our plan is to create a guerrilla advertising campaign for the group – a set of Easter Teasers around the Passion story with a prize of a chocolate variety for any who get all the questions right. Seven riddles leading to seven letters which make an anagram for them to solve. The answer is a significant word for the season, but I can’t let on what it is, just in case there are spies in the camp…

Creating the questions has reminded me yet again of the mystery of Jesus. In many ways we’re spoilt looking on from this side of Easter Sunday. We know how the story pans out. I wonder however what the disciples really made of Jesus? I wonder if he is the real Riddler! Who did they really think he was? Why did he seem so bent on heading to Jerusalem and provoking the authorities? What did they think he was trying to achieve? What happened on Good Friday? And what on earth did they make of Easter Sunday! Reading the Gospels without knowing the ending and they make puzzling reading. There is definitely a mystery here, a mystery which the rest of the New Testament spends trying to work out. I do wonder sometimes whether we spoil it a little too when we share the good news with others. Sometimes we reduce the mystery and this earth shattering story to a few neat and tidy phrases about Jesus dying in our place, bringing us forgiveness and eternal life. Sometimes I wonder if telling the story is much more powerful and profound. Such a story lures us in with its questions and enigmatic hints, teasing us promises just out of sight, and bringing us to the place where we find not a tidy and convincing argument but the outstretched arms of the one who died for us and longs for relationship rather than intellectual assent.

Church Newsletter 28th February 2016

Review: A Delicate Truth

A Delicate Truth
A Delicate Truth by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On a bit of an espionage binge having recently discovered far too belatedly John Le Carre and enjoyed various recent TV series/films of the genre. Although this isn’t set in the Cold War era of his most famous books, I thoroughly enjoyed it. With the Russians no longer the ‘enemy’ in this time of international terrorism, just who is and what is our relationship with them as a State? The answers, as you might suspect from Le Carre, are not straightforward with various layers to peel away in order to find the answer beneath. Can’t say more out of the fear of spoilers, but definitely worth a read if you enjoy the genre!

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A Gripping Yarn

There’s no doubt about it, the Nativity story is a great yarn. In the hands of even a poor story teller it quickly takes on a life of its own as it’s glorious cast assemble. It starts with an angel. Forget girls in tinsel halos prancing about a stage, this is the mighty Gabriel revealed in all his fearsome glory. Before him all are awestruck and afraid. He comes bearing a message from one before whom even he pales into nothing, the Lord Almighty, but this is a message not of judgement or condemnation but hope.

The lead parts and recipients of his message are the couple Mary and Joseph. Mary, a young woman with an open future ahead of her, Joseph, her fiancé, loyal and righteous. To each Gabriel comes with the same story; Mary is to have a child, God’s Son, the promised and long awaited Messiah to whom Scripture pointed. Every Advent I am struck again by their acceptance of what is happening, Mary’s joy at the news and Joseph’s willingness to keep her as his wife despite the obvious bump… Would I have been so accepting? No doubt the majesty of Gabriel helped.

Then we have the donkey (absent in the Bible but we can’t help but including him) and the laborious ride into Bethlehem. I imagine journeys are never that comfortable at nine months gone, but on a such a stubborn stead? Decidedly bumpy…

On arrival the innkeepers in turn announce that they’re full, “No room! No room! No room!” (hints perhaps of what was to come) but one takes pity (or perhaps has an entrepreneur’s eye for squeezing out a bonus profit) and rents out the room round the back where the animals are kept. And so finally we come to the most famous birth of them all; the birth of Jesus the Christ. No much is said of the process, perhaps out of respect to Marry and her son, he simply arrives, God himself born through the anguish and joy of childbirth.

Before we know it an assembly develops around the God-child. Shepherds, Wise men, innkeeper, animals and angels. At the heart of the tableau, Immanuel, God with us, our Saviour born to bring God’s blessing and peace. OK, that might not be exactly how it is described in the Bible, the Wise Men of course come later and no animals are mentioned, but the image is the same – at that moment the whole world revolves around this vulnerable child born in a stable in Bethlehem.

As I said, it’s a cracking story, one that so many of us listen to and are onlookers on as school nativity plays are enacted. The Shepherds were like that once. As the story folds out, they are looking in from outside on the mountain, outsiders living on the edge of society. Gabriel changes all that with his dramatic invitation to come and see, to come on stage and play their part. The same invitation echoes in the skies for us – don’t be onlookers, viewing the story from a distance, come in and make this story your story, play your part, come and see the baby, God’s Son, born to us. This is not some news-story happening to someone else, or some historic event which is done and dusted, but is our story – the same Christ invites us to join him still.

Church Newsletter Article 20.12.15

Talking Christmas…

It’s that time of year again. The hype-machine of the market place has begun churning out the plethora of adverts that will spew all over the place over the next few weeks, calling us to celebrate Christmas by buying this item or that item. The meaning of Christmas we’re told, is found in the purchases we make, the value of the gifts we receive and the look and taste of the food we eat. Christmas is a consumer celebration. The market place has hijacked our festival and ripped the heart out of it. Queue the customary grumpy old man moan. Bah humbug!

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh and moany. If I’m brutally honest, I enjoy giving and receiving gifts as much as anyone. The little boy who woke at 5am if not earlier all exited and demanding to know ‘if he’s been yet’ lives on in me. Although a lot of the season as it is celebrated now is about making money and getting gifts, there is something inherently right about the concept of giving to others. There’s more to the modern celebrations that that as well, there’s also in there a focus on relationships; Christmas we’re told is a time for children, for getting the family together, for visiting friends, for doing things together. Again, there’s a lot that is good about that, even if the pressure to make it perfect and spend lots of money on it is perhaps not in line with what our faith teaches us.

Truth is, of course, as Christians we have another story to tell. Our story begins even earlier that the hype machine of the modern advertising age. Is November too earlier to start thinking about Christmas? October? God started thinking about it before the beginning of time! He always had in sight the plan to send his Son to become one of us, an astonishing gift of grace and love, expensive beyond compare, in order to bring us into relationship with him as his children. We had a great discussion about this at the Bible Study on Wednesday (8pm, Slipe Lane, most weeks – please do join us!) when we found ourselves expectantly pondering this very issue. What is the right way to respond to the story our culture tells about Christmas? Do we accept it wholesale? Do we reject it? Or do we look for overlaps with our own story, opportunities to take what we have in common and build on it to share what has been shared with us? What do you think?

Church Newsletter 14.11.15

Book Review: Preaching as Testimony

Preaching as Testimony
Preaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked up this book for my DMin research (Doctorate in Ministry) as I’m looking at doing a project based on encouraging people to share their stories about their experiences of God in their daily lives, ‘testimony’ if you like. The title seemed to support that. At some point I shall be writing a proper review of this, but for now suffice to say I found this a challenging and encouraging book both for myself as a preacher and for my thesis. In some ways it feels like three distinct books, a theological overview, a biographical survey of three female examples of testimony preachers, and then a section on ‘how to’. This is a deliberate move by the writer to echo the journey she went on in her thinking. Is that helpful? Hard to say. There were certainly sections I think I could have done without, and some spoke to more more than others, that said, the journey helped to earth the book and to make me ponder on how it reflects my own journey.
So what’s it about? It’s her presentation on an approach to preaching based not on explaining the text or proving the text, but living in the text and sharing what you encounter there – a confessional approach. This is what I encountered in the text and this is what that means for me in my life. This is a liberating approach, you don’t need to be a theological or Biblical expert to engage in it, and a challenging approach, if your encounter with God is shallow or absent, that will show up in your preaching, and if you avoid saying the hard things in that encounter, taking a risk in what you say, then you will be preaching a lie.
The practical notes at the end are fun, and I shall certainly be trying some of them.
One note that particularly hit me was her insistence on this not being primarily for preachers, but an encouragement for all people to ‘preach’ their experiences of God in the text and in their lives, but a recognition that for many this is a big step, therefore as preachers we have a duty to practise this in our preaching to help our congregations make that step.
More to follow when I’ve had time to deliberate further in the course of my studies, but I think this book has been a great place to start.

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Take a Break

Let me be honest with you, coming up with ideas for the newsletter each week can be a bit of a struggle. Some weeks I have some notes jotted down from something I’ve heard or seen, but often the allotted slot in the timetable comes along and I stop and think and …nothing comes. In fact that’s a lie. It’s not nothing that comes, but a shed load of distractions; the phone goes, I remember an email I must send, browsing the internet for some ideas I get distracted and so the list goes on. It’s like going to bed at the end of one of those days that doesn’t stop until the head hits the pillow and as it does the brain refuses to switch off but continues to whirl over all the things you’ve been dealing with throughout the day.

Earlier this week I read an interesting article about the rise in aimless walking. The title caught my attention. So much of what we do is purposeful these days, done with an objective in mind. The problem is that this can only go so far before it starts to become inefficient. Some of you know the annual saga we have with our car when the filters in it get blocked. The idea is that you’re supposed to drive it normally most of the time, but regularly you need to drop the gear and take it for a spin at full pelt to heat it up and burn clear the filter system. Trouble is our kind of driving doesn’t suit this and most years just as it gets cold our system gets all bunged up. Humans are a bit like that except that rather than upping the revs to clear the filters, we need to slow down and let the mind unwind. The idea behind aimless walking is to go for a wander, with no particular route or objective in mind and no headphones on or mobile in hand and let the mind wander. This is one of the reasons I like to go for a spin on my bike each day, I find it helps me think better afterwards and work in a more focussed and creative fashion. In case you’re thinking this is just mumbo jumbo or wishful/lazy thinking, God says the same thing; that’s why he gave us the pattern of the Sabbath.

Our midweek Bible Study group were thinking about prayer this week and different ways to develop our prayer lives. One of them relates to this and maybe sharing it is a good way to round up this week – perhaps you’d like to try it with us? Here goes: ‘03 Time Out – We are surrounded by constant distraction and noise. Create space for silence this week by turning off the radio or your iPod on your journeys so they become a place to find quietness and listen to God. If you walk the dog – resist the urge to listen to music. Instead observe, look and listen to the sights and sounds of nature. Just find space, even for 10 minutes each day to be alone and quiet with God – even if that means getting up a little earlier each day or staying up later at night.’

Church Newsletter, 21.06.15

All Creation Worships God: The Impact of Science on Theology

Catching up with a few articles from this blog which directly speaks into my life as a scientist which is where my career path started out and my life as a Christian minister which is where it ended up!

Science and Belief

Woutergroen, 2008; Jens Maus, 2010. Wikimedia Woutergroen, 2008; Jens Maus, 2010. Wikimedia

If all truth is God’s truth, then science must have an impact on our theology. This was the central message of theologian Steve Motyer’s seminar in the God in the Lab evening series at London School of Theology (LST) earlier this year.

Having taught theology and counselling for a number of years as part of his role at LST, Motyer is all too aware of the connection between mind and brain. Neuroscience is showing that everything we call ‘mind’, including feelings, instincts and intuitions and spiritual apprehensions, is rooted in brain function. Various parts of the brain are active when we pray or have spiritual experiences. If those parts are damaged, then we can lose the capacity for certain spiritual activities and feelings. So the spiritual and the physical are not separate, but intersect completely with each other.

Motyer then used evolutionary biology as…

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