Thursday, October 25, 2012

Proper 25 - Year B

Pentecost 23

You'll find a recurring character both in stories about Jesus, and in the parables which Jesus told: It's the man or the woman who will not shut up - even when they’ve been told to.  

In the Gospel parables we meet such characters as the widow who hammered on the judge’s door until he delivered justice to her (Luke 18:1-8), or the neighbour who arrived at midnight asking for bread to feed a traveling friend and would not be turned away until the door was opened for him  (Luke 11:5-8).  

In stories concerning Jesus there is the Canaanite woman looking for healing for her daughter who shouted out and caused a fuss even though she’d been told to stop disturbing the master (Matthew 15:21-28).   In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, the role is played by blind Bartimeus who, when he heard that Jesus was walking by, made a complete spectacle of himself in spite of the disciples’ protests until Jesus walked over to him and healed him.

Politeness and goodness we oftentimes conflate with silence.  We do this particularly with respect to children.  Concerning ourselves, we worry perhaps that we might appear dependent or lose face in the community were we to express our needs openly and passionately?  

And yet Jesus seems to find that this very importunity - this same honest expression of need is something akin to faith - some part of faith - an example of faith - on the part of those who come to him openly and honestly and even loudly.

Tell someone, then, what you need.  Go ahead.  Tell God what you need.  

Not all silence is golden.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Annual Convention!

The annual Convention of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe is taking place in Clermont Ferrand this week.  Representatives include lay and clergy members from Belgium, France, Austria, Germany and Italy as well as the Convocation's missionary in Romania.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Over forty varieties of dry sausage were available at a market stall in Place de la Victoire here in Clermont-Ferrand France (where I live now - if you haven't been keeping up).

France is not any easy place to maintain an imported lifestyle. You will forever be looking for habitual things which are impossible to find.

If, however, you are willing to adopt what is novel and dissimilar to what you've lived with before then you're where you need to be.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sermon Notes
Mark 10:17-31

I have not travelled extensively in the U.S. One of my memorable trips there was to visit cousins in New Mexico - Albuquerque mostly - with a couple of side trips to Santa Fe, Roswell (of course!) and chunks of the Chihuahuan desert.

I confess that the first few days were spent wondering, frankly, what the point of the place was.

The usual indicators of beauty - lush vegetation and abundant water - were conspicuously absent. I suffered from a delay of several days before desert colours started to jump out and desert creatures began to be noticed.

The spirit of the place, its beauty and its order, only made an impression once I had divested myself of my expectations and prejudices. The painted mountains of the Bosque del Apache took some time to sink in. Flecks of life and colour drew attention to themselves because they were not swamped by the monochrome green of a west coast rain forest. They maintained their tenacious hold not only on the desert floor but also on the consciousness of this observer who had learned to look out for them only when he had left something else behind.

More sharp and unequivocal words from Jesus in this week’s Gospel reading: We must divest ourselves of those things which obstruct and prevent our entry into the Kingdom of God. We are asked to divest ourselves of what stands “instead of” God’s Kingdom. This will include the things we have built for ourselves and earned for ourselves and padded ourselves with.

When we have ceased to rely on the well-worn path and left behind the familiar things we will find that we have entered a landscape not of our own making. It is no wasteland. It contains people, challenges and adventures. We are not alone there. We have brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. We have work to do.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sermon Notes
Mark 8:27-38

Back in the day, if anybody asked me what a particular thing "meant to me" the hairs on my neck would rise up. I frequently felt manhandled back in college by people who would insist that I examine the subjective experience of things rather than their objective status or existence.

Surely what things "meant to me" was less important than what they actually were. No?

Well, perhaps not. It's taken thirty years of arguing or seeing people argue about the obvious things in front of them to admit that, no, the universe is not full of rocky little atoms wanting to be identified by somebody clever.

The subjective experience of things is important. Pablo Neruda can write a poem entitled "Ode to My Suit" and find, in his threadbare daily garment, a universe of meaning which would pass over the head of his tailor or his dry-cleaner.

In the reading at hand, from Mark's Gospel, Jesus is concerned to ask what his disciples think of him – who they believe him to be. A variety of opinions are being bruited about in the marketplace - that he was the reincarnation of some historic prophet or, perhaps, John the Baptist brought back from the dead. No, says Jesus, sod the competing opinions, I want to know who you say that I am.

This would appear to be something more than a mid-term exam. Nor is Jesus asking how the disciples are feeling.

We are prompted, like them, to declare what we know and believe. Ignorance and the darkness are too often safe and comfortable states and places in which to hide. If there is any connection at all between faith and "saving knowledge", it is that such knowledge involves allegiance. We step forward and reach out to the person known or believed in.

Jesus being God's Messiah means something to us. We do not acknowledge that merely as a fact, but must follow that knowledge and wed ourselves to it - even if the path that knowledge leads us along includes a Cross -

Jesus' Cross or ours.

Friday, August 24, 2012


One comes across a number of interesting tidbits in the course of preparing a sermon which will have absolutely no place in the finished product. More's the pity

from Gabriel Sylvan's "More Bible Mistranslations and Curiosities"


Miles Coverdale, who published the first complete edition of the Bible in English, utilized the more distinctly Protestant translations of William Tyndale (1530-34). Coverdale's Bible owes its nickname to the fact that Psalm 91:5 is rendered Thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges [Hebrew pahad] by night. The archaic term bugges (whence our "bogeyman" and "bugbear"), also used in Matthew's Bible (Antwerp, 1537), was justly re- placed by "terror" in the Authorized (King James) Version of 1611.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sermon Notes
July 29th, 2012
John 6:1-21

My parents knew an old Dutch carpenter who, when you asked him if he could provide you with a particular wood screw, clamp or word-working tool, would generally say that he had "Yoost da dinks" (Just the Thing).

There are things which we all need: food, drink, safety and security or a roof over our heads. We hunger without them. Our lives become complicated because we don't have them. All things being equal we may eventually get them. We then promptly forget about these good things until the next time we find ourselves in need.

The fact that we often take the things we have for granted, or that we are largely unmoved by the fact that other people in the world don't have them, might indicate that we understand "things" but not what these things "mean".

Jesus feeds a hungry crowd with bread and fish that are fantastically multiplied in his hands.

The technical problem which the disciples encounter in having allowed such a large crowd to follow them into the wilderness without any logistical support is solved but this is not the issue. Crowds begin to grow in the future because of the possibility that they will a) see a miracle and b) be on the receiving end of a magical picnic lunch. Jesus later chides the crowds because this is not the point.

Food in the wilderness "means" that the ordinary things of life in God's hands become nourishment for the world. A small basket of bread and fish providing a banquet for so many "means" that our ordinary talents (such as they are today) and our life situation (such as it is in 2012) is sufficient raw material for a rich spiritual engagement as a member of God's Kingdom.

We don't need to be different people than we are. It's not necessary that we live in a different place with a different family or with a different set of gifts and attributes.

Where we are, and what we have in our baskets right now, is sufficient. It is, in fact, "Yoost da dinks".

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sunday the 22nd of July
Sermon Notes
Ephesians 2:11-22

The congregations Paul visited and wrote to were often quite mixed gatherings: Those with a background in Judaism were thrown together with people from gentile backgrounds. Wealthy (or at least comfortable) citizens in the congregation counted themselves fellow members with servants and slaves. Foreigners mingled with locals. The leadership of women was acknowledged to a degree which made non-Christian onlookers uncomfortable.

In such a mix there is a tendency to quietly wonder who makes up the "core" of the church and who is "outside". Some of the controversies lurking behind the New Testament letters stem from just such an attempt on the part of one group to establish themselves as the earlier or better members of Christ's flock.

Paul's words to the Ephesians remind us that our backgrounds, our national identities, our personalities and our individual attributes are merely the raw material from which God creates something new and better. As individuals we not as important as what we will become when we are gathered together with people from the other side of the railway tracks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sermon Outline
Mark 6:14-29

Mark's Gospel shows us a picture of Herod Antipas as a man divided between his sin and his salvation.

As brutal and arbitrary as any ancient ruler Herod, nonetheless, cultivates a residual place in his heart for the preaching of John the Baptist - his consistent and fiery critic - who he has imprisoned in the dungeon. One thing leads to another and Herod is forced, because of his passions and the public vows he has made, to behead John in his prison and to present the prophet's head to his stepdaughter - known to us, traditionally, as Salome.

The prophet John is finally silenced. The message he preached, however, has only begun to make itself known.

A painting by Peter Paul Rubens called "Herod's Feast" hangs in the National Galleries in Edinburgh. It's a ghastly rendering of the very moment when the head of John the Baptist is brought on a plate to Herod's table.

 It is, I might add, a particular favourite of Edinburgh schoolboys brought on outings with their classes to the Galleries.

In the painting, the assembled guests look down the table to where Herod is seated as host. He, and not the severed head, is the focus of attention. On Herod's face is written the anguish of a man who is sorry that he has silenced his opposition - his small channel of grace.

Our enemies, you see, are not always our enemies. Sometimes they are the only people able to speak the truth to us.

There are moments when we would do almost anything to be rid of the trouble we sense within us - the unrequited longing, the dissatisfaction and inner turmoil - or the critics around us.   Cut the head off, we might, mutter - put it out of our consciousness, forever.

And this would be a good and efficient thing to do unless, of course, things were seriously amiss in our households and in our souls. That nagging voice would the be the best thing about us and not the worst - a voice which we would silence at our peril.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 09, 2012

Pause For Thought
BBC Radio 2
June, 2012

It’s a religious platitude that we bring nothing into this world and carry nothing with us out of it at the end. As anyone knows, however, who has moved house we seem to do our level best to compensate for this state of affairs by accumulating an incredible weight of stuff during the middle bits between our arrival and our departure.

Where does it come from?

There are presents given to us by people who obviously don’t know us very well: Books we have no interest in or executive toys which we are too busy to play with.

Then there are the outdated things. Our interests were different, once upon a time, and we collect things associated with a particular hobby and pursuit. And then we moved on and lost interest but all the trinkets, the tools are still there in a box marked “Miscellaneous – Very”. Outdated too are the ill fitting clothes which we once looked good in before the outward development of the belly out front and the backside out back. We’d be embarrassed to try and shoehorn our way into these old clothes.

In both cases these things no longer match our shape or our interests. They are no longer part of who we have become.

Moving house – like many forms of spiritual discipline – is a stripping back of the illusion of who we – or other people – thought we were. We get rid of what is not us – and so we get closer to the truth – the truth of what we have genuinely become.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Pause for Thought
BBC Radio 2
June, 2012

I have construction going on next door.

It’s never much fun for the neighbours - the incessant clatter and the work vehicles blocking the road.

I live up at the end of a quiet street. The quiet was always something very attractive about this posting. All that ended when they started gutting and rebuilding the house next door. We’re told that they couldn’t get planning permission to raze the place to the ground. The Council insisted that something of the old remain. I imagine the construction costs are just as large. They didn’t rip the house down and build again. It will be a new house based on an old frame.

Many of us are given the option to reinvent ourselves a couple of times in adult life. Following a major life change, a divorce or a bereavement – or because we arrive at a point of life where we recognize that we could change tack completely.

The children have moved out. The dog has died. And so we take up the challenge.

How do you rebuild yourself when you have the option? You may want to keep a few things

When you remove the mouldering wallboard and strip off the roof, rip out the mixed hedge, knock down some of the interior partitions and make larger more functional rooms – is it the same house just because the exterior walls are standing.

We are all something old and new – there are a few fundamental principles which we want to retain – a few basic ideas about the universe – about family – about love, faith and generosity which we will continue to anchor ourselves in. Our house is not something so much like a house of cards that one change will cause the whole thing to tumble down.

The dreadful wallpaper, however, is optional – as is the layout of our small rooms which were never adequate to house all the people we love or to host the experiences which we value.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Pause for Thought
BBC Radio 2
June, 2012

It’s my baby!

Not, of course, that it’s an actual baby complete with pram and rattle.

It might be our job we’re talking about or the book we’re writing. It might be our role as chairman of some local committee or our involvement with some activity or group of people that we’ve committed ourselves to for a period of time. There’s nothing there, mind,which excludes the child we’ve raised, fretted over, chided and bored to death with our stories. It’s just that the metaphor is moveable. It can be widely applied.

As is the case with all things or people we are important to, we sometimes forget that we are not indispensable. If we suggest to ourselves and others that without us they could do nothing – that we are their beginning, middle and end – but this, more often than not – provides an occasion for us to be dropped gently on our backsides.

We announce that we are moving on and find ourselves surprised how quickly our former colleagues and our employers put the ad in the papers advertising the position and call a meeting where they discuss our attributes and our shortcomings. They make an honest assessment of the past few years and decide that not only do they want to do as well when we are ultimately replaced. They would like to do better. It is no longer our baby.

And what about our real honest-to-goodness babies? Even they – it would seem – need to develop apart from us. Too soon they begin receiving sustenance from sources other than us – start keeping their cards close to their chests. They discover mentors who are not their parents and ways of life which are not in keeping with what we want for them.

All good work takes on its own life – and a building block of wisdom, it would seem, is that we are participants in the Cosmos and not the authors of it. The people and the areas of work we love have their own life – they always have – and we would be happier keeping a light grip on it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Peace Unto Zion

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pause for Thought
The Richard Allinson Show
BBC Radio 2 
Sunday, June 17th, 2012

It’s a religious platitude that we bring nothing into this world and carry nothing with us out of it at the end.  As anyone knows, however, who has moved house we seem to do our level best to compensate for this state of affairs by accumulating an incredible weight of stuff during the middle bits between our arrival and our departure.

Where does it come from?

There are presents given to us by people who obviously don’t know us very well:  Books we have no interest in or executive toys which we are too busy to play with. 

Then there are the outdated things.  Our interests were different, once upon a time, and we collect things associated with a particular hobby and pursuit.  And then we moved on and lost interest but all the trinkets, the tools are still there in a box marked “Miscellaneous – Very”.  Outdated too are the  ill fitting clothes which we once looked good in before the outward development of the belly out front and the backside out back.   We’d be embarrassed to try and shoehorn our way into these old clothes. 

In both cases these things no longer match our shape or our interests.   They are no longer part of who we have become.

Moving house – like many forms of spiritual discipline – is a stripping back of the illusion of who we – or other people – thought we were.  We simply get rid of what is not us.  In packing up a box to take down to the charity shop we get closer to accepting and even rejoicing in the truth of who we have genuinely become.

Pause for Thought
The Anneke Rice Show
BBC Radio 2
Saturday June 16th, 2012

At our final assembly at one of the local primary schools I addressed the subject of “moving on”.  I don’t always have a lot in common with small children but this time and at this assembly I felt I had a foot to stand on.   You see, my family and I are moving, ourselves, in the next few weeks to central France where I’ll be taking a new church and we’ll be starting a new life. 

The school children, for their part, will be moving up a grade or, in the case of the Primary Sevens, will be heading off to High School in a neighbouring town.  The smaller children will all see themselves reorganized into new classes.  Friendships will be reorganized too.  Children will come back from their summer holidays and will start the year by breaking old alliances and making new ones.

As for the Primary Sevens – they will go from being the oldest, the tallest and the most admired of the students to being the smallest and the least experienced.  As I outlined some of the changes which would take place for them in the coming year a number of faces were truly solemn.  A few can hardly wait for the changes to happen.  Many, however, find themselves caught between the promise of an enticing future and the loss which they will incur by seeing the old way of life – known and comfortable – ending or at least at risk.

I might have told them that at 54 years of age it doesn’t get any easier to move.   The same questions hold sway: 

Will I have friends? 
Will the new people like me?
Will the new work prove to be difficult?

And the same resources will need to be called upon – an openness of spirit, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a degree of trust in the people around us.
Audio available HERE.  PFT begins at 0:19.20 on the audio bar

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thought for the Day
Good Morning Scotland
BBC Radio Scotland
May 18th, 2012

The Scottish government hopes that introducing a second and even a third language to children’s education will allow Scottish young people to “…flourish and succeed in (a) globalised (and) multi-lingual world…”

Scottish young people should find themselves at home in that world.

A week this Sunday, we will celebrate God’s gift of language to the early Church on the day of Pentecost and His equipping of the early apostles for their mission amongst different peoples and cultures.

I struggled with languages in High School back in Canada. My teachers may have thought I was thick. Others understood all too well that, perched on the edge of the Canadian west where pretty well nobody spoke French, I simply saw no reason to invest much energy in parsing the verbs ĂȘtre and avoir. And so I did the bare minimum - at the very last minute – and it seemed enough to scrape by.

My French – the language I can now work in, sing in, make friends in – I learned as a young adult – climbing off a Greyhound Bus in Quebec City with two suitcases and almost no ability to converse or ask meaningful questions. What followed was months of hand signals and garbled phrases. Eventually I could say intelligible things and people would respond with intelligible answers.

My wife and stepson have both studied French in Scotland in the way that I studied it in Canada. It’s their turn now - to move, with me, at the end of June, to the town of Clermont-Ferrand in central France where I am to be the parish priest in an Episcopal church there. While there are plans for their formal instruction to give them a base in conversation, their education will begin on the day they need to get themselves out of a jam in a train station or need to ask a question in a market.

By trial and error, with words which are misunderstood, partial and half-baked, we live and minister in communities which are not the places of our birth but which are places where will learn to belong.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting close to halfway through my pilgrimage from Leon to Santiago de Compostela. Blog posts aplenty in the works

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Thought for the Day
Good Morning Scotland
BBC Radio Scotland
Thursday, April 5th, 2012

In the Christian calendar this week is called Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday. On the evening of this day, Jesus broke bread and poured out wine into a cup and said that this act of his, done at a dinner table, was the way he wanted God’s love for people to be remembered. Re-enact this, he said - “do this” - as a way of remembering - even embodying - what God’s love is and what human love can hope to be.

Love is broken and poured out for others.

Love needs to be demonstrated. We find that out the hard way. Those who’ve not been loved or not loved appropriately will tell you that.

Strong feelings don’t count for much. They’re a fluid thing. They move on. They’re not what love is. Love translates into care – it builds, protects and nurtures. I know you love me because of what you did – not because of what you said.

The Galilean Springtime at the beginning of Jesus' ministry - the excitement, the crowds, the novelty - have been replaced in Holy Week by something darker. The story is mysterious and symbol-filled. It can’t be embodied in a parable or a speech from a hillside.

Many Christian churches do not, so much, preach the message of Holy Week as they will “walk through it” – walking around the church or the streets bearing Palm branches or carrying a cross. Churches of different denominations in small towns will often do rather a lot together this week – leaving aside the things which separate them in order to gather as one community around a common story:

What Jesus did in those dark days leading to Easter,

The way he showed what God’s love was like.

When we are full of years, the words spoken to us by the people who loved us will begin to recede but we will always remember that we were cared for and valued at a cost.

That love made us who we are. It gave us the ability to or at least made it possible for us to love others like that.

Audio link available HERE or a while. TFTD begins at 1:21:47 - about halfway along the audio bar.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thought for the Day
Good Morning Scotland
BBC Radio Scotland
Friday, March 30th, 2012

Gaffes are in the news today...

Critics have accused David Cameron and one of his Cabinet Ministers of unnecessarily alarming Britons by suggesting that they top up their tanks or store jerry-cans of petrol "just in case" the tanker drivers go on strike.

Here in Scotland our First Minister has been criticised for the decision to invite some recent Lottery winners - and future SNP donors - to a Tea Party at Bute House.

Gaffes - a french word referring, generally, to acts or words which do not demonstrate good judgement and which subsequently cause offence or bother.

I am rather prone to these. One of the wardens in my congregation refers to the "Canadian School of Charm" when I have come out with something, on the spur of the moment, which causes faces to fall and even me to slap my forehead and say "why the hell did I say that..."

My lady wife refers to it as "opening my gob and letting my belly rumble".

I do it rather a lot.

One of the few places I don't make many gaffes is here on Radio Scotland at 7:24 in the morning but, then again, I have a producer with whom I discuss scripts beforehand.

A producer who, I might add, resolutely refuses to accompany me to all my meetings, to vet my announcements in church or to apply a red pencil to my sermons. She won't look over my emails to vestry members before I press the send button. More's the pity.

And this is the conflict - for bank managers and clergy, for doctors and politicians, for people speaking on behalf of their clubs and organisations: they are asked questions and are given full marks when they speak freely and openly.

But they are asked to remember the power that words have and the meaning of the acts which they perform on behalf of the people they represent - whether in the form of parables or sermons or diagnoses, or solemn warnings about petrol queues.

And that people, who could be hurt by what they say or do, are taking them seriously .

Audio link available HERE. TFTD begins at 1:21:55 - about halfway along the audio bar

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pause for Thought
The Richard Allinson Show
BBC Radio 2
Sunday, February 26th

As I prepare over the next few weeks for rather a lengthy hike through northern Spain – nearly five hundred miles to Santiago de Compostella – the question in my mind is not

“what do I need to take with me” but rather

“what can I leave behind”.

Anything I take with me has to be carried on my back. I find myself thinking strange thoughts about the weight of underwear – which seems a silly thing to be thinking about except that it will all add up. It’s all going to need to be carried.

We accumulate things – which we move around with us around the country or around the world. Our loft contains items in boxes which we never unpacked after our last move and which we don’t feel able to part with. We have become heavy-laden – not only with items but with accumulated responsibilities, with the weight of habit and with an ever-increasing appetite for stability and regularity.

I know any number of young people who feel very tied down to particular lifestyles and to a set series of steps ahead of them. It collides with what we oldsters imagined “ought” to have been the trademark of youth - mobility and lightness of step.

We do know that when the telephone rings with news of a sufficiently urgent nature we’ll drop everything at the drop of a hat. We’ll sort out our finances in an instant. We’ll streamline our lives. We’ll make the time. If it were urgent enough…..

Part of the message of this season of Lent, as it is understood in the Christian tradition, is that the news is urgent. Men and women need to live a leaner life because our overconsumption has been to the peril of others.

And, if we look at what we have collected about ourselves we may find that we have compromised our freedom to walk lightly on the trail.

This is a good time to offload that baggage – to do it urgently – to be less of a burden to the earth and all its peoples. At the same time we might just experience the world around us more fully, and win back our freedom to change.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pause for Thought
The Anneke Rice Show
BBC Radio 2
February 25th, 2011

When I was seventeen years old I took a course in bush craft. I was living in the southern Yukon Territory which, notwithstanding the adjective southern, is still pretty north by Canadian or anybody's standards.

One of the concluding tasks was to spend three days (two nights) out in the woods in substantially subzero temperatures living in a shelter you had made for yourself and eating only what you could catch. Some of the details are less palatable now on British radio waves than they would have been in Canada in the seventies, so I'll spare you the details. At some point an instructor would hike in from the road to where you had pitched your camp. He’d inspect your shelter, your reflector fire, and see what you had caught to eat.

That would be your only conversation for those three days. Other than this you would be alone - in community with that part of the animal world you had elected not to eat. You'd listen to the high pitched yaps and wails of a pack of coyotes in the valley behind you or the solitary baritone of the lone wolf howling at the other end of the lake. As the darkness set in you'd witness the utterly silent swoop of an owl along the trail as it hunted for small mammals. During the day you'd make use of the habitual trails of the snowshoe hares which would provide some ease of passage through deep snow.

You may have been the only creature in the forest equipped with matches, snare wire and opposable thumbs but it was driven in to you, by your time alone, that you were a creature and that you were vulnerable.

During the coming season of Lent, Christians will hear the Gospel story about Jesus, following his baptism in the river Jordan, being driven out into the desert by the Holy Spirit - into a place where the purpose of his ministry would become clear.

Things can become clear in the wild. Men and women have always taken time by themselves on retreats in monasteries or on long walks in the forest to sort things out - to listen to a quieter voice within them which makes better sense of the world.

An audio link is available HERE. PFT begins at 0:20:57 - at the beginning of the audio bar.