sometimes I miss the blue hymnbook

I probably write the same things over and over again, like a bluebottle banging his head against the kitchen window and I’m not going to let that stop me doing it again.

Sometimes I just don’t know what is going on with my life, or more specifically with my church life, which can sometimes seem like my life.

Here I am living in a manse, in a pretty middle class area, married to a minister (a female minister), in a church that is mostly Methodist, where most if not all of the children are African-Irish, with lots of single parent families, and asylum seekers, and people from different parts of the world on the edge of an Irish speaking region, in a city that pulses continually with tourism and students and so on.
There is often a conversation going on in my head on whether all of this is great or terrible.
There is just too much coming at my senses sometimes, too much to get me thinking or reflecting or angry and frustrated.
Sometimes the frustration comes from just wanting everything to be in its place and organised and familiar, for people to be like a good old Presbyterian church of my past where you roll up and roll out no alarms and no surprises. It has happened recently that I’ve craved the grey suit and tie of my past, the efficiency of the soup lunch that has been served and cleaned up in under an hour, the same person sitting in the same pew for 40 yrs and no new faces, everyone living a few minutes away, the same old badly sung but familiar hymns from the blue hymnbook.

On the other hand it’s great because lots of my preconceptions about Christianity or the church are being challenged by the collision of cultures and by meeting people from around the world.
For instance my view of other churches and particularly the Roman Catholic church is being  gently prodded. I don’t remember meeting my first Catholic until I was about 10 yrs old. He was the neighbour beside where we briefly had a mushroom farm. He came over the fence with a football wearing a Celtic top and we briefly played football in a rushy field.
My next memory of meeting a Catholic was in the minibus going a cross community hike up a mountain organized by the RUC in 4th yr at school. All I remember is that despite being a Catholic she was cute. There was another cross community trip in lower 6th and a nun, Sister Rose was present. I was wary and kept my distance. So we’re up to 3 Roman Catholic experiences by 18. It was time to take things to the next level…

I briefly lived for a year with a bunch of Catholic in student halls at QUB, lads from Strabane and Derry. Yes, that is right. I actually lived with Catholics for about 9 months.
They took the piss out of me buying ‘The Daily Express’ (and rightly so) and asked searching questions like ‘Are you coming out with us tonight or are you going to hang out with your real friends?‘. By ‘real friends’ they meant the people I knew in halls from Christian Union, people like me and possible Christian snogs or links to snogs. Female snogs of course.

I escaped into a house with my real Christian friends in 2nd and 3rd year. Once a Roman Catholic girl in my chemistry class called Maria invited me into the Roman Catholic chaplaincy for a carol service or something. I am not sure if I even set foot inside the building such was my fear of the papists doing something to me. It was a no go area that large building on Elmwood Avenue. What happened beyond those doors was anyone’s guess but after reading Chick tract literature in my teens I was aware that it could only be badness.
Catholics where dodgy when it came to religion. About the same time an elderly man my mum did home help passed away and there was a discussion about how to go to the funeral in the chapel. I think my parents went but stood at the back of the chapel.
A ‘mixed marriage’ was something that was foreign to my experience.
Basically a Roman Catholic wasn’t really a Christian because they went to a false church and was a member of a false religion and a believer shouldn’t be yoked to a non-believer.
So I grew up with a deep rooted suspicion of Roman Catholicism that is almost part of my DNA and still flares up.

Yet that is being gently challenged. Nothing major has been said, no great event just watching for example the love of  some couples in ‘mixed’ marriages. Growing up in my evangelical Protestant circles with all the politics the impression was that these really where recipes for disaster, something bad or far from ideal. There are other things to challenge my thinking as well, but it’s not really the place to talk about them.It’s just good to be challenged.

One of the local ministers told us how he gets pissed off (not sure that those are his exact words mind..) about the missionaries,outreach types, church planters etc he encounters from time to time who say things like ‘We just want to bring Jesus to the west… ‘.
He gets annoyed because he is in charge of church which has been used since the 1300’s right in the centre of city. I probably thought the same last year. There where not many churches here, we could be missionaries to this city that needs a vibrant Christian witness.
Is this not an arrogant thing to think? That meant  for example I was discounting the large and active Roman Catholic church I can see from my bedroom window as being a church.  I walk past it multiple times in a week and rarely think of it as a church.
If I’m being honest I’m still not completely comfortable with saying it is. There are suspicions and issues and things that I think wrong.
But what makes a church or what doesn’t make a church? Why am I Presbyterian? What does it mean to be a Presbyterian here? Does it matter? Are you saying that your branch of Christianity is without its fault and heresies? And so on.

a superhuman decision?

I had one of those moments on the bus earlier on reading these words from Aleksandr Solzhenistyn which are taken from one of his books ‘The Oak and the Calf’.
(I wasn’t reading them in that though. I was reading them in a study book by Os Guinness which I had grabbed quickly of a shelf in one of those moments when you feel that you you should buy something to show support for the small shop that you had wandered into)

‘From dawn to dusk the correction and copying of Gulag went forward; I could scarcely keep the pages moving fast enough. Then the typewriter started breaking down every day, and I had either to solder it myself or take it to be repaired. This was the most frightening moment of all: we had the only original manuscript and all the typed copies of Gulag there with us. If the KGB suddenly descended, the many throated groan, the dying whisper of millions, the unspoken testament of those who had perished, would all be in their hands, and I would never be able to reconstruct it all, my brain would never be capable of it again.
     I could have enjoyed myself so much, breathing the fresh air, resting, stretching my cramped limbs, but my duty to the dead permitted no such self indulgence,They are dead. You are alive. Do your duty. The world must know all about it.
    They could take my children hostage – posing as “gangsters,” of course. (They did not know that we had thought of this and made a superhuman decision: our children were no dearer to us than the memory of the millions done to death, and nothing could make us stop that book.)’

It was those last lines about making a ‘superhuman decision’. One of the questions Os Guinness asks is:-

‘ What was Solzhenitsyn’s decision about his children? How does this compare with the common modern maxim that “work” never comes above “family”? Which of the two is closer to the teachings of Jesus?’


some things to be aware of


1 Be aware that we are materially rich compared to the vast majority of people who have lived before or even now.

2 Be aware that everything we buy has been made, grown, processed somewhere by someone. The things we take from granted do not materialize from thin air.

3 Be aware that turning on a tap to get clean drinking water in a warm, secure home is an incredible privilege.

4 Be aware that governments and big business are harvesting our online activity.

5 Be aware that our riches and high standard of living may depend on our global neighbours being treated like slaves.

6 Be aware that we can’t control some natural disasters. We can’t stop tsunamis.

7 Be aware that we may be contributing to and influencing other natural disasters.

8 Be aware of nature. Learn the names of creatures.

9 Be aware that the human lust for power and control is a deadly thing.

10 Be aware that just because something costs us little doesn’t mean that it was cheap for someone else to provide or make.

11 Be aware that our western lifestyle depends completely on access to cheap oil.

12 Be aware that the world is infinitely complex with endless variations.

13 Be aware that loneliness and alienation is deadly.

14 Be aware that we depend on the health of the soil.

15 Be aware of nationalism and tribalism in all its forms.

16 Be aware of how much we waste and needlessly throw away.

17 Be aware of principalities and powers.

18 Be aware of the loss of character and individuality in our towns and cities.

19 Be aware of our addiction to technology. Don’t believe that it will make life easier or better.

20 Be aware that matter matters just as much as the spirit.

21 Be aware of the history and stories of your locality.

22 Be aware that you mightn’t get paid for good work. It’s value doesn’t depend on it being noticed.

23 Be aware that you don’t need the latest iphone.Companies are only telling you you do to grow company profits and increase like on like sales.

24 Be aware that the most important thing isn’t the economy and economic growth.

25 Be aware that Google doesn’t have the answer.

26 Be aware that we live by gift and grace. You did nothing to be born and didn’t earn it.

27 Be aware that PA systems and speakers, microphones change the tone and character of your voice.

28 Be aware that you are not a robot or a machine. Your brain is not a computer.

29 Be aware of the poor and oppressed. Stand up for mercy and justice.

30 Be aware of miracles and mystical experience, things that can’t easily be explained by science.

31 Be aware of how constantly looking a computer screens changes our perception of reality.


‘We have lost the testimony of a profound life, action which comes from the heart, which is the product of faith, and not of a myth, or of propaganda, or of Mammon! What matters is to live, and not to act.  In this world,this is a revolutionary attitude, for the world only desires (utilitarian) action, and has no desire for life at all. We cannot exaggerate the significance of the fact of being spiritually alive. We must cease to believe that life depends only on vitamins, hormones, and physical culture’

Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom

why bring an ad into this world?


There was an advertisement on before Christmas that you may or may not have seen.

It used to appear a lot on Youtube just before the video of a juggling cat on a unicycle or some trampoline going off shopping in Asda or the footage of a referee in Brazil getting tickled to death by angry footballers with a baguette after a contentious disallowed goal.

I think it was for Unilever but can’t say for sure as I never actually watched it the whole way through. I hated it.

It starts with some of that  tinkly-emotional-scene-in-a- movie-piano then the words appear ‘Why Bring a Child into this World?’

I hate/d this ad because it assumes that it is an option for the people watching, like deciding whether to buy a new lawnmower or some other consumer product.
It shows little tact for the viewer watching the video who would love nothing more than to ‘bring a child into this world’ but for whatever reason can’t.

Perhaps the single lady watching in the cinema would love nothing more than to bring a child into this world but has never met the right guy, or perhaps circumstances just didn’t work out for the couple watching in the cinema.

Life isn’t that simple for people, things don’t work out sometimes like we like. Have a look at your Facebook friend list and see how many people might struggle , will struggle, have struggled.

Thinking of a family I know I count the numbers. 11 brothers and sisters, 2 unmarried and no kids, 2 married and no kids, 7 with kids and those numbers  aren’t going to change now.

Most people would agree babies and children are wonderful, beautiful, we love to journey with them growing up. I love my nephews and nieces, the kids in the church. We celebrate the joy of families. We love friends and family. We love children.

Still, what is it like to sit through Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day in church when you’re not one? Or if you are single  and have always wanted a family and the church is having a Family Day? Baptisms? Singing lines in songs like –

‘How sweet to hold, a new born baby, and see the pride and joy he brings’

What if you can’t hold a new born baby? Shame and despair?

Or if you continually see pictures of happy mums, families with smiling babies on Facebook, scans? You want to journey with people and see kids growing up, new babies, etc but it might be sore for people, maybe for more people than we realise because it is hard to talk about, a taboo subject.

Part of the reason I left Facebook was that I didn’t feel particularly free to say something like this.  Despite Facebook saying that it has revolutionized our social interactions over the past 10yrs it is hard to say that you might be struggling with something whether it is depression or eating or gambling.

Again, this isn’t necessarily about me/us, more about ‘us’ in the larger sense – people for who to ‘bring a child into the world‘ is more than an advertising campaign but may be a struggle and hurt or complicated, an impossibility, or who knows?

Blogging with even a small degree of anonymity helps, even though most of you reading know who I am. If you are reading this and have kids, or are expecting a child I love you and your sprog or future sprogs. I hope you know that as well!

evangelicals autocomplete

Evangelicals are annoying.
Evangelicals are a cult.
Are Evangelicals a national security threat?
Are Evangelicals and Pentecostals the same?

Evangelicals are bigots.
Evangelicals are brainwashed.
Are evangelicals born again?
Are evangelicals Baptists?

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Evangelicals are conservative.
Evangelicals are cults.

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Are evangelicals declining?

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Are evangelicals fundamentalists?
Why evangelicals are fooled into accepting pseudoscience.
Evangelicals for Mitt.
Evangelicals for social action.

Evangelicals are going to hell
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Evangelicals who are gay

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Evangelicals are idiots.
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How many evangelicals are in America?

Evangelicals Josh Jones
Evangelicals Jerusalem
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Evangelicals Kristof

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Are evangelicals Lutheran?
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Evangelicals are morons.
Are evangelicals missing God at church?
Are evangelicals mentally ill?
Evangelicals who are masons.

Evangelicals are nuts.
Are evangelicals non denominational?
Evangelicals now.
Evangelicals now Vaughan Roberts

Evangelicals are often distinguished by the following emphases..
Are evangelicals on another planet?
Are evangelicals for university professors more irrational?
Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail

Evangelicals are Protestants
Evangelicals are Pharisees
Evangelicals are Pentecostals
Evangelicals who are pro-choice

Evangelicals question the existence of Adam and Eve
Evangelicals quotes
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Evangelicals are terrorists.
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Are evangelicals turning Catholic?
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Evangelicals in Canada.
Evangelicals are uneducated.
Evangelicals in Uganda.
Evangelicals UK.

Are evangelicals voting for Romney?
Why evangelicals are vulnerable to cults?
Evangelicals vs fundamentalists
Evangelicals vote for Romney

Evangelicals are wrong.
Evangelicals are weird.
Evangelicals are white.
Evangelicals who are they?

Evangelicals Youtube.
Evangelicals you don’t know.
Evangelicals Yahoo.
Evangelicals yoga.

Evangelicals Zionism.
Evangelicals zip.

living with the tension

DSCN1743Over the years loads of my Christian friends have spoken of their desire to see real change in the world and communities, to dream of making it a better, fairer place. From healing divisions in Northern Ireland to campaigning about tax havens to climate change to human rights to homelessness to treating animals better to ____ there are things that push our buttons and make us want to fight against injustice and oppression. I recognise this side in myself as well, a belief that the older generations and other people just don’t get it, have failed and that it is up to me personally to ‘be the change that you want the world to be’. Maybe there is an air of arrogance that I can really change the world.

So I have been wondering a little about this quote from Hans Rookmaaker:-

‘The Christian’s task is not to change the world – wonderful as this would be if it led to better morals, better justice, better management of the world’s resources – but primarily to keep the world from decay and corruption, evil and suppression.
            The Christian lives in tension. On one hand, knowing that man is sinful, he does not expect a Utopia. He accepts the world as it is after the Fall,knowing that it is unnatural, subject to pain and death and crying out for removal of the curse. He knows that only Christ can bring renewal. On the other hand, the Christian can never merely accept this malfunctioning, this pain and suffering. He may never abandon his duty, but is called to follow Christ’s example, to relieve or fight the effects of evil. In this sense the Christian is a protester, but his is a protest in love. It takes wisdom and know when to accept the less than perfect, and when to press on for something better’

The Creative Gift, Hans Rookmaaker

Are we sometimes unrealistic in our dreams of changing the world?  Are we reluctant to accept the less than perfect?
Do we sometimes play down how deeply broken our human hearts are and think that things can be turned around if just do a, b or c?

Or  are Christians generally more guilty of not pressing on for something better?