Tuesday, 1 September 2015


Officially it is the first day of Autumn, but most of us cannot easily use this word because we are ever hopeful  for sunny and warm September days. I cannot speak for where you live but here the ground is extrememly dry and as we look out on the huge trees in our garden it is amazing that they drink up enough water to keep them green and fresh. Rather like the human spirit in  times of dryness needs the means by which it is possible to drink deeply of the resources it needs.

This last weekend brought news of the death of perhaps the world's most famous neurologist and certainly the most prolific and popular writer on matters of brain and mind.  Some years ago disease had robbed him of the sight in one eye and it is interesting to read that in those days of drastic adjustment he had letters from the completely blind theologian and educator I wrote about a week or two ago.Now both have passed away but there was an obvious sharing of experience at a level only those who have walked that way can enter.This is why I try not to use the words 'I understand' if it is somewhere I have not been.

The neurologist who has just died ( Oliver S) suffered another rare disorder. He could not recognise faces and proved it vividly when a large photo of the President was held up in front of him. Some faces we might not wish to recognise or remember, but I hope that is an exception! Mind you, the whole matter of how we view our own facial image is a hugely involved matter. I recall a minister coming to my church many years ago who obviously didn't think much of his image declaring on his first Sunday:

My face I don't mind
For I am behind
It's you folks in front get the shock

Yesterday we watched an interesting programme which featured famous people going back to childhood and earlier holidays, attempting to retrace their steps. In yesterday's programme a nuclear power station had been built on the beach where happy childhood memories remained. Sometimes it is something missing rather than something added.On Saturday a friend brought me the results of his searching Isle of Man bookshops for information on a hotel in the Island where my first love and I met. There it was, but it has now been demolished. I think in both cases the memories are strong enough to get past an ugly intrusion or a demolition. I think the same thing could be true of churches, perhaps where we once attended and grew up. In my terms that involves two Methodist Churches in Bolton, both still there but use changed. The more recent one- where I went at the age of 12 - is still fortunately a place of Christian worship and work.

Yes, memories are strange things, just another area of our thoughts that need careful management

Monday, 31 August 2015


As planned we attended the final Service conducted by our minister, an occasion that signalled the end of his active ministry. We knew that many would be in attendance so had to decide how early to arrive. It became an interesting, if minor, exercise in what economists call 'cost/benefit analysis'. If we went at ten o'clock with a full thirty minutes to spare the cost would be the loss of 15 minutes over our normal time.But with that cost would be the benefit of not having to sit in a remote corner. The assurance of a good seat would have cost a mere 15 minutes of time.

And this is how it worked out. when we arrived there were many empty seats so we needn't have bothered going early. But we could not know that so it was worth the risk. It is a useful technique to use when we just cannot decide what to do or which way to choose. Simply weigh the costs against the benefits of each possibility. As it turned out by 10.30 the church was overflowing and we enjoyed the Service, inevitably a mixture of joy and sadness. Now the church will adapt to a new regime, new priorities and new ways.

I have been reading an article about the Pope, and what a reforming Pope he is. His relentless focus is outward, emphasising that the church should not be a self-referential institution that lives in its own light, but a missionary evangelising church that identifies with those on the margins, offering concrete acts of mercy that allow God to convert hearts. He speaks of a church that is poor and for the poor, priests who smell of sheep, not the sacristy, a church that is a nurse not a policeman, a battlefield hospital rather than a custom house.

In a striking phrase the Pope wants to purge the church of 'spiritual worldliness'(?) in order to create spaces for the Holy Spirit to act. Where the Holy Spirit is present there will be  constant surprises, joy and fearlessness in speaking out. The Pope discerns the need  for parrhesia , a Greek word than can mean apostolic courage, prophetic directness, bold proclamation. The Holy Spirit is in charge of the church and it must be allowed to flow more freely by opening new spaces, building bridges and unblocking channels.

I do not know what you think, but it comes to me as remarkable and refreshing. Something for all Christians to learn. There are plenty of bridges still to build, many channels to unblock. I wonder if the Pope thought about the cost of his honesty and the benefits to follow? I am quite sure he did.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The changing scenes of life

We are on the edge of August and about to enter the new world of September. Autumn is   not yet and I cannot really use or think that word until much nearer October. Nevertheless, we need to start preparing our minds once again, at least I do. But I do not  think the worst feature is the colder weather or storm or tempest. I think it is the loss of light, those days when darkness is about us. 

I know many people who dread the approach of the light-diminished days and they will be wise to make their preparations, or such as they can.I will be doing this.. I have to. And because one of the main reasons why I keep preparing these daily offerings is to be helpful I will share them with you. But for now my principle is to take from each day all that I can. If we have a burst of sunshine we grab it and head for the garden. No opportunities must be lost to fill our heads with light and sunshine. Someone said that life was often 'sucking honey off the thorns'. That may be a bit too extreme but I know what was meant. Get all the light we can in every way we can.

If I was a town planner there would be included in every shopping centre a large glass enclosed garden, rather like, but bigger than, the one we saw at the holiday centre in the Lake District. It would have water, many plants, ample seating, a relaxed atmosphere and, of course, so constructed as to let every inch of light through. It may even have a retractable roof to let in pure sunshine. We do not call them shopping centres for no reason- commercialism is everything. Buying and selling- kept alive by voracious advertising of unnecessary things- are the only realities that seem to matter to bored minds. But some folk need more. Summer in the depth of winter. Light in the season of darkness.

This morning we attend our church for our Minister's final Service. I keep going over in my mind what it is and will be like for him. The congregation will suffer a form of collective bereavement and Barrie will feel- I know from experience- a sense of emptiness that will hopefully quickly pass. I recall the words- fit for every time in our lives: 'Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy,The praises of our God shall still, our hearts and tongues employ'

Saturday, 29 August 2015


This week has left me more determined than ever to explore what I can best call my 'Essence Philosophy'.Words and images in everyday life are always subject to the essence of themselves. Sounds complicated but isn't. We live in families where words and meetings are shared. They are  not the real core...the essence, the over arching principle is the love that binds it together (or sadly in some cases its opposite).The heart of faith is not the words of the Bible, rules of the Church, activities of people, even tradition and history. The heart of faith is what we describe as the love of God. It is this by which faith should be judged, opinions formed, life conducted.

This may get easier to see if I express it this way. If love was regarded as God then it would make us see the evils and disasters of life very differently. We can easily blame a 'God' who is that person in the sky, but if we go through that and see only love, then how can love send disease, disasters, terrible things. We know enough about life to know it could not, even if our poor human love is the judge.

It may get easier to see by imagining all the horrible things over the centuries that have been done in the name of God. But they could not possibly be done in the name of love. That is why we have to double think...yes God is love but Love is God.

It may get easier to say that the Bible must be interpreted by love. It is the code by which we read everything there; it is the reality by which things happen (or don't when evil is present). I wish I could locate a little book I wrote some years ago dealing with some difficult Biblical topics, but which explained them all simply by making the essence of love the key and the code.

People have all sorts of pictures of God, but I would like to rescue many by replacing them with  purest, unimaginable, beyond human comprehension divine unearthly love. It would bring with it so much liberation in so many directions.

Yes, perhaps I will find time to write another little book. I know what I would call such. Words taken from a hymn: Interpreted by Love.

We are still glowing over our lovely visit to Liverpool. It was so good to see our 'Liverpool Three' and we look forward to when we go again.


Friday, 28 August 2015


This morning we set off to Liverpool to see David,Denise and 12 year old Daniel. We are to go by train, take them out to lunch and hopefully find time to visit a National Trust house and gardens. It will good to see them on a rare visit to Liverpool. It is not a journey to do happily by road, at least at the Liverpool end and given that 75 minutes sees us delivered without having to change.

I have been thinking about the need for warmth in life and how cold some people's lives must be. Warmth is one of those qualities hard to describe but one we recognise more easily in its presence than in its absence. This is a feature of human personality that does not feature (as far as I know) in any textbook on psychological matters. Nevertheless it is a key feature of human interaction and one of great importance to me.I need warm people around me, but I grant that some folk are endowed by nature with a much larger cerebral or rational faculty than emotional. Warmth cannot be manufactured, but by contrast,we  can create and practise kindness.

I have written about 'thoughts' and how we need to control them whenever we can. Very occasionally and quite suddenly  a big thought will seize me and take me over. You will know this for yourselves- a sudden fear, a great idea, a particular memory. I had one such experience in the middle of the night. So what do we do? Well first of all I do not lie there and let it take even more control. I cannot avoid it, but can distract.This is when I need to summon perspectives. Put that thought in its place, see it from a wider angle, give it the importance it deserves. And within a few minutes the 'big' thought stole furtively away into the night

Back from Liverpool and a happy day behind us. The train was crowded but the £27 was worth it to convey us to Liverpool and back without hassle was well worth it. We do not often travel by train but it is surprising the different people we see. Invariably the young are on their various devices and seem completely oblivious to everything else.The Rosebay Willow Herbs along the embankments were lovely although beginning to look a little tired. On arrival at Speke Hall a house martin or swift kept flying in with food for its little family, their heads peeping over the nest above us. But mostly it was good to see David, Denise and Daniel and to share a cup of tea in their immaculate garden later.

Having sat among the noisy crowds on the train and been driven through Liverpool's very busy inner roads it is good to be back in the quiet again. Peace after pleasure>

Thursday, 27 August 2015


LIfe is hazardous isn't  it, especially for the young who have no experience to help them negotiate through its storms. A young man we know was out recently, not too long after passing his Driving Test, when a lady accused him of bumping her car and causing £900 of damage, which she would be claiming for. His story was different- if there was any impact it was so little as to cause no damage. Indeed no visible damage was to be seen. The insurance company came to inspect and found nothing. Then they visited the accuser and found no damage there either. Someone seeing an opportunity with a young driver to gain a reward. And she fell flat on her face and although I do not know how the insurers closed the case, I hope that some warning was issued. What a pity the young driver involved had not called the police.

Opportunists. Bandits. Self seekers everywhere. My advice remains always the same. Leave no unguarded place.

Last evening we had our discussion as I wrote yesterday.But sadly two tides of theological opinion met. My approach to these matters is always the mystery in which we live. Always the birds eye view that gives the essence of situations, the only way mystery can be approached. But we had among us newcomers who were all about chapter and verse, quoting the Bible at me on every occasion. It was a struggle  to hold on to my agenda and I could see the bewildered faces of the majority as I looked round. Having reported the jumbled text in yesterday's piece I had in mind how easily words down the centuries and through many translations could rarely mean exactly how they were first written. So...fly over them...see their essence. And for us the rule is ever the same...God is Love...Love is God.

I do think that the 'sense of essence' or the bird's eye view is liberating for many, helping them to bypass the detail and find the beating heart of Faith. Fortunately, should anyone have been afraid, the newsletter summed up my more kindly and open view of reality that was all but drowned in the evening's discussion.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015


Our daughter,Janet, was tidying her loft and sent a message by text to a friend. Things obviously went wrong because her friend had to read between the lines that she was doing this, but the message said 'typing my lift' and 'sorting your left'. It just goes to prove how easily words prove themselves to be quite inadequate means to convey what we want them  to do. If this is true about everyday duties then how much more about the far bigger things of life, not least matters of belief. The very words themselves provide pictures and they are often poor representations of the reality they attempt to convey. 

I find the phrase 'reading between the lines' itself an interesting description. What does it mean? Where did it come from? After all between the lines there is space, so perhaps the suggestion is that the space, the absence of words, what is not said is the real clue?

Tonight it is our meeting we call the 'Church Fellowship'.I intend to introduce a chat (discussion perhaps too strong a word for our happy meanderings) about the difference- aired already in these pieces- between what might be called prayerful thought and thoughtful prayer. I also intend to present a Petition asking for our signatures that calls on the British Government to find suitable homes for Christian refugees.
The situation really is dire in every way, not least regarding Christians. In 2003 there were 1.56 million living in Iraq, but now there an estimated 300,000.At the beginning of the current conflict the number of Christians in Syria was around two million. By last August at least half a million had fled their homes.

Certainly we need to take account of the plight and persecution of our fellow Christians in distress. We do take things for granted, not least the freedom of worship and faith we enjoy.