Monday, 24 November 2014


Some of you may have read the recent Report commissioned by the 6,500 family lawyers about the effects of divorce on children. I would have expected the findings to be dismal, but they were worse than I thought they would be. The survey covered 500 young people and reveals the emotional distress and its effects. Almost two thirds of children said that family break up affected their GCSE results, a conclusion long known to teachers in schools. Divorce appears to trigger drinking disorders and possible drug abuse.

Each year there are 230,000 divorces in Britain, involving 100,000 under 16 years of age.Nearly one in three claimed that one parent attempted to turn the children against the other parent. Almost one fifth said they never saw a grandparent again. So the distress is clearly widespread, and apart from the devastation for children, the wider effect (e.g.the grandparent one) is very sad.

Lawyers and family arbitration specialists urge a larger awareness of the problem and recommend better arrangements to make possible more comfortable, less upsetting consequences. It left me wondering about this sort of family situation in the life of the Christian Church?In the first place there are clearly not as many, proportionately that is given the minority going to churches these days. But apart from that, is it also true that the 'norms' of Christian life facilitate readier understanding, and possible reconciliations? Why , you may ask is this so? In response to that I offer two Graces of a Christian's faith.One is forgiveness, the other humility. I have quoted previously  grandparents who had fallen out with children, and as a consequence did not see their grandchildren. I urged on them a humility that allowed them to be wrong. I also suggested that forgiveness of things said in haste(and probably not deeply meant) would be helpful.

I know this is not divorce, but it was a family dispute causing much pain. So once again I return to my familiar theme that Christianity is a way of life, a code of conduct, an application to life each day, and if practised can iron out some of life's perplexing situations. We should not be ashamed of that. Instead we should be proud of who we are and all that we stand for.There is another aspect concerning children and divorce. Whilst the parents split and grandparents may end up in a wilderness place of separation, membership of a big and lively church (usually of the evangelical variety) offer a large extra family of love, belonging and care. There are not many churches like this, but how wonderful when they do exist. It reminds me of an idea I had several years ago- a 'Night Club' for teenagers, with the best music in town, exciting decor , desirable but guarded membership. I only lacked the energy,  the money and the premises!

On Wednesday I am to talk to our fellowship group about the challenges and joys of Advent. So you can expect to hear much of this from me, mainly how desperately we need the joy and light that Advent should bring.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


I have been thinking about  trying my hand with a paint brush. Not the sort I have been using this week on the kitchen ceiling, but the smaller variety that paints pictures on paper. I was inspired to think about this(thinking was all I am up to so far) by reading two famous  men who found painting extremely therapeutic. One was our war time Prime Minister who, on being defeated in 1945, needed something to distract and calm him.It was in 1915 at a very low point in his life that wandering through his garden the future prime minister saw someone painting. He was immediately attracted and from that point on it became an important part of his life and sanity.

Indeed his daughter wrote about him that she was convinced that the therapeutic aspect of painting played a fundamentally important role in his life, observing that this hobby played a real part in renewing his great source of inner strength. It enabled him to confront storms, ride out depressions and rise above the rough passages of political life.

And only recently I read about a recent past President of the United States who now paints several hours each day. For him the painting has enabled him to deal with a new way of living when the weight and responsibility of office was removed from him.

And what are they but distractions,albeit in both the cases above major ones. Perhaps I am looking for distraction too, underlining how important they are. Distractions sound trivial matters- they are not. Used correctly they are a major weapon in the search for peace of mind and happiness. But we do have to search them out.

I know that the former prime minister drew inspiration from another painter, but do not know how the former President was inspired, But we all need inspiration, whose close relation is encouragement.God Bless the world's encouragers. They have so much to answer for. It seems that some people find encouragement easier than others do. Perhaps their past has not brought encouragement to them. or they do not recognise how powerful it can be. Occasionally I think that proud people cannot bring themselves to encouragent lest it raise others at the expense of themselves.

On the other side of the equation, there are many people who badly need encouragement. Sometimes just an affirmation of something said or done, a recognition of a contribution or worthwhile effort.I have come to recognise that just to say to someone who has coped with difficulty, hardship or responsibility is a form of encouragement.(I recall telling a young minister that she had been asked to do the impossible. She said 'You are the only one who has said that to me'; it was a form of encouragement to her). Encouragement helps people overcome self doubt, and may strengthen them in what they are about. Certainly when someone has coped valiantly with difficulty it is an encouragement to recognise this. They may not realise it themselves.

I suppose encouragement is all about rebalancing, in that attitudes and conduct move between what we think of ourselves and what of others. To encourage is to take a little off our own stock and add it to that of another.

So keep on encouraging. It can change people's lives- and our own as well.

And finally.....another cause for my encouragement and celebration. Robin Knox Johnston arrived in Guadeloupe tired but well. 20 days after setting out on his 4,500 mile solo voyage.Nor did he simply arrive- he came third.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


I read a tragic report in today's newspaper about a 42 year old woman who apparently took her own life after her beloved 20 year old horse had to be put to sleep. It seems that she was found in the stables with a strand of the horses mane in her hand. This news takes me into all sorts of thoughts about humans and their animals, be they horses, dogs or cats. I have lived in two areas of life over the years of ministry so in that sense can understand those who do not have pets, and those who do. I recall being told that so and so had just lost their dog or cat. I recall feeling sorry, but thinking that it is only an animal.Then we had a dog of our own and my understanding of pet owners was transformed.

I can understand the devastation of the woman cited above. The same thing happened this week when a neighbour called to tell us that their 14 year old spaniel had died.Both man and wife were very, very upset. And two years ago we had a young psychiatrist came to see me (note the order of this!) because she was so distraught when her dog died when she was away on holiday. Then I was told of an elderly lady whose beloved cat died. In the months that followed she went steadily downhill and is now in a nursing home.

There are so many people where we live who own a dog, and often they are single. Clearly the pets mean so much to them, company in lonely lives. This is not to mention the dogs that lead the blind, or are hearing dogs. For some time I have thought how inadequate our pastoral understanding is if we have no feeling for the bereaved. 

But what does it all mean? I think it says more about the owners than the animals. It tells me how much love we humans have to give, most usually to family and friends, but other times to their pets. I suppose all I am saying is that we need to understand those whose main love is an animal. Loneliness is a terrible problem often deeply hidden from view. We need to realise how much people need to give and receive love.

From many years ago I recall a young woman on a chat show. She was on her way to a  far Eastern country and intended to work on the streets of the capital city. The people she would help were nicknamed 'The dust of life' because they literally blew from street to street. She was asked why she wanted to do this. I recall even now her reply: 'What is life but the giving and receiving of love?' Exactly.

Friday, 21 November 2014


My regular music magazine arrived today, the main theme being 'A Choral Christmas'. Now me, who complains about early advertising in this season of joy and peace does not mind this at all. And why? Because the sacred is for once coming first and I will be able to celebrate something the magazine describes as 'Britain's Glorious Cathedral Choirs'. So far I have only had time to glance at the articles, but one in particular caught my eye. It was an interview with a world famous violinist who suggested that audiences for live classical concerts would decline unless the performers proved their passion for the music rather than than looking bored with it.

Leaving music aside, I think that in our work in the world we too need passion. Recently I wrote about 'Imaginitis' as a recurrent complaint from which I suffered. It refers to a feeling for people I will never know who are hungry, cold, in pain, homeless, tired. I wish I had that feeling more often than I do because it becomes a springboard for action. It is very closely related to having passion, the close relative of compassion. Over the next few weeks we are going to hear many appeals for funds(and some strange devices to secure our money like the free gift tags that arrived in the post today). But the appeals, whilst necessary and worthwhile lack one thing- passion.And taking on the Christian perspective which, I guess, many of you share isn't it about new wine rather than cold tea.

The blandness of so much around disturbs me. Today I have had a conversation with a trustee of L'Arche, who directed me to the Liverpool Workshop  where they make cards and candles. She was obviously full of passion for the work of this wonderful worldwide community, and as I warmed myself in her enthusiasm I hope I returned a little of my own. I explained about the beginnings of Just Connections almost 35 years ago. I described how it began with a baby. It is  a small world, and this lady meets regularly with a L'Arche member who was the first headteacher at the school where our now 34 year old son first attended.

I will turn a corner  on to another topic, but one still imagination related. I have been following the fortunes of my 75 year old sailing hero who should have reached Guadeloupe this week after sailing solo from France. In following this up I saw an interview with the harbour master in Guadeloupe who spoke of the benefits the transatlantic race brought to the island. Investors were knocking on his door anxious to invest in harbour development. In this month of November my imagination has fed on the picture- a sunny island; a brave sailor; possible economic development for a poor country. I must find out if there is a L'Arche community on the island!

And, who knows, one day soon I may well be saying: 'Is there anyone out there who will join a team to build a .......?'

Thursday, 20 November 2014


We have recently had the kitchen re-tiled, a long overdue operation. We had a chuckle this morning because the cooker has fused and the electrician can only come on Monday. By 'fuse' I do not mean one bang and usual adjustment but keep popping. A campfire in the garden will take me back to childhood adventures.We also think that the fridge freezer must be nearing the end of its life. We chuckled because beyond the superficial there are hidden problems. and life is like that. people present brave and smiling faces but beyond there is problem, perplexity and pressure. Like our kitchen, the superficial view is misleading.

I have been painting in the kitchen, probably the one aspect of DIY I can perform with a modicum of satisfaction.But I recognise my severe limitations in these matters.And there is a psychologically important word...recognition. Its uses and implications spread in many directions. I suppose it means thinking again(i.e.cognition) about something we have encountered before. For me it means seeing something clearly, and this morning it was my DIY limitations.

Kitchen thoughts then. First in the recognition must not be defeatism. It is all too easy in life to simply give up because we cannot find the will to try.I could easily close the door on every DIY activity but I must not. Nevertheless it is so important to come to terms with what we cannot do.Only this morning a friend told me he had decided reluctantly to give up on an enterprise dear to his heart but felt he simply could not continue.

Then there is the tendency we sometimes have to blame everything else(including God) for what might just be our fault. In my illustrious DIY career I have often blamed the brush( too supple) or the paint ( too runny) or the hammer(hits things at the wrong angle). We need to take our fair share of blame in life's little adventures. I recall the story of a three generation family living under one roof. There were many arguments and one day the grandfather brought a wooden box for everyone to look in. 'In here' he declared 'Is the likely problem and solution'.In the box was a mirror.

The other reflection from the kitchen is that having completed my marathon painting session(30 minutes was all my patience would allow) I reflected on work done. Not too bad...but no bad thing to review who we are and what we do. Criticism from others may be hard to take, but gentle self criticism can help and lead to further improvement.

Surprising where a little painting can lead us.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


How misleading the television news can be. The predominance of chosen bad news, rather than good. The 'here today, forgotten tomorrow' way the news is handled. The dismal lack of perspective and proportionality shown by the editors. These thoughts are provoked by a conversation the Queen had with a top epidemiologist, concerned that ebola deaths so far were just the weekly total of deaths from malaria suffered by (mainly) children. Did I realise that? Did you? Probably not on both counts so a warning; we must not sit goggled eyed in front of the television news, unless we have plenty of 'pinches of salt' to hand.

Today I am wearing odd socks, but it does not matter because they are the same in their upper(visual) part, but one has a grey 'foot' the other a black one. We are often like that. Institutions can be like that, even governments. Of course we all have our private selves which demand great respect. But the matter needs balance. I do not want to know details of this and that when I meet someone(unless it is a part of their essential story, the telling of which might bring healing). But I do want them to be open about some things, and in that openness can come help.For example, how many people I have met who had hidden fears about which a factual response and sensible reasoning would demolish.

The other day I was referring to resources and inequalities. I confined my comments to the international scene, but the same issue is true in this country. Here are some interesting statistics: (1) The richest 10% of the Uk had more than 100 times the wealth of the poorest 10% (2) If the minimum wage had kept up with the growth of top industry salaries, the minimum wage would now be £18 instead of £6.50 (3) the expenditure of government per head of population in London is ten times that spent per head in the North East of the country.

I know these are just statistics. They would make a good topic for a class of statistics students under the theme 'discuss'. I put no interpretation on them save that inequalities do exist.

Another topic that I raised recently was the Christmas charity blanket. They often seem to be about 'funds' and 'causes' which are vitally important. But I do not want to lose sight of what really matters...the people at the far end of the appeals. I have always attempted to work the Just Connections Fund in this way, and soon I hope to accelerate this process.If I make any approaches(always in writing) then it is simply to 'join our small community of caring'. So you can imagine my delight when a response to a recent letter about 'imaginitis' brought a response in the form of a standing order. This makes my day, and as ever I will write by post(e mail too casual and easy) to say welcome and thank you.

It is often about encouragement, a Christian Grace we can so easily overlook. Another is unselfishness. I guess that we overlook them because they are not chapter and verse in the Bible, but result from the question 'What are the unstated implications for my life?' Yes, encouragement. I suppose our ability to encourage might depend on how we were encouraged along life's way, and the extent that we need encouragement because of low self esteem. But it is a grace with fireworks attached to it. It can be life changing and life enhancing. Go for it. I will return to this important line of thought before long.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


We decided to devote an hour last evening to 'culling' the recorded television programmes which were putting the storage near its capacity. 'Proms' (from the Summer) and 'Songs of Praise' are mainly to blame. But which did we want to keep? Hence last night's undertaking.

We concentrated on 'Songs of Praise'. It was quite an inspiration too. I wish there was a way to select three minutes from a programme and keep it in a special place. And it is always interesting to take a total view of some things, given that we have often to concentrate on the detail. The phrase 'bird's eye view' describes that nicely. But what is this perspective that last night's view offers? It was quite clear- the songs and the people interviewed were about joy that ran through the lives of the people we saw, a joy in good times and yes, in bad. It was an inviable quality.(I am not referring to the occasions when various secular choirs are featured- to me songs of praise is about the people of God celebrating faith in times of cloud and sunshine).

There was the lady who set up a music group for disadvantaged children. Then there was the singer who established a choir for those suffering various forms of dementia, a choir that included carers as well. There was the lady who took place in 'the' calendar girls calendar, a project that kept her going as her husband slowly deteriorated in health. The story of the refugee escaping tyranny and finding a home in this country. Many people who had not been near a church for many years but found a warm welcome. Then several reports from churches finding life in new ways of service, with coffee shops, community centres and other surprising experiments.

Last evening's editing reminded us of the story of the lady suffering a terrible spinal disease ( for which she was undergoing chemotherapy) and how she found peace in her local countryside. There she felt close to God. One day a lady she had not seen before joined her on the bench where they had a conversation about the variety and beauty of clouds. The lady's illness came up and before she left the stranger said " Don't worry,Margaret, you are going to be alright". They bid one another goodbye, and after a few yards Margaret turned round to wave. The stranger had completely disappeared and there was nothing behind which she could be obscured. In addition to the amazement at the 'disappearance'  and the authority with which the stranger spoke those final optimistic words, there was something else; how did the stranger know that the lady on the bench was called Margaret? Well, the stranger was right and Margaret is alive and well some years on.

The television is full of bad news. These programmes speak of a joy that is far richer. It is not here today and gone tomorrow. It abides for ever. We really need to rejoice in that.