Unfortunately I’m becoming such a cynical, sneering scornful person especially perhaps with people in church or my particular denomination.
It is a horrible way to go with people (and myself) as Jacques Ellul reminded me last night.

Help me change.

‘To scorn is to condemn the other person to complete and final sterility, to expect nothing more from him and to put him in such circumstances that he will never again have anything to give. It is to negate him in his possibilities, in his gifts, in the development of his experience. To scorn him is to rip his fingernails out by the roots so that they will never grow back again. The person who is physically maimed, or overwhelmed by mourning or hunger can regain his strength, can live again as a person so long as he retains his honor and dignity, but to destroy the honor and dignity of a person is to cancel his future, to condemn him to sterility forever. In other words, to scorn is to put an end to the other person’s hope and to one’s hope for the other person, to hope for nothing more from him and also to stop having any hope for himself’


‘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

married to the minister No.5 -‘You Gotta Walk that Lonesome Valley’

When you’re a minister in a large congregation death, pain and suffering are unavoidable.
Obviously death, pain and suffering is unavoidable full stop as ‘You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley’

In a church the minister is a sort of reference point for people in their pain. Marriage break-ups, cancers, funerals, job loss, ill health, addictions, abuse, adultery, the list goes on and on. This is one of the things that church should be doing, binding up wounds and proclaiming that the kingdom of dark doesn’t get the final word.

H____ (like most ministers) spends a good portion of her week visiting people and often these visits are to people going through hard times, very hard times.

So whenever H___ comes home and I say “You OK?’ and she sighs and mentions that she has been visiting someone (usually nameless) who is going through some type of pain experience
a) you wonder how do they carry around so much pain from different sources and does the tidal wave ever relent?
I often wonder the same about counselors and social workers. Part of you marvels, part of you wonders.

b) you can get depressed or dragged down because you are only too aware that pain and death are out there. And of course that plays on your mind.
Every minor ailment could be first sign of the disease that plunges your life into tragedy or pain. Or pain and disease are waiting to pounce on those you love. ‘Have I got a tooth ache or is it a brain tumor like so and so had? He only thought he had a toothache but the found a etc etc instead and he was dead with a month…‘ etc

The reality is that we can’t avoid these things, but if you hear about them day after day (whether first hand or from hearsay) the darkness out there seems over-whelming. Add to that the things you might hear on the news report and you can get scared and wither away from life.

I don’t want to wither away from life. Simone Felice was on the Bob Harris radio show the other night talking about having open heart surgery and how it has brought clarity to his life. Bob asks him (about 2.26mins in) how this experience has effected his art and Felice says
‘I sing every song as if it was my last night on earth and I’ll try to wake up every morning and feel like it’s my first morning on earth – you know So just trying to live for the moment and give praise for every breath…’

Those words seem like wise advice and of course we believe that there is redemption from the kingdom of death, which is the good news (or else it is nothing at all)

Still, if you’re naturally melancholic, partial to a bit depression or pessimism it can wear you down sometimes.

dreading the wedding

Family wedding tomorrow, which I am dreading.

‘She’s feeding you well!’
‘Would you get that hair cut!’
‘So what are you doing with yourself?’
‘Did you ever get your driving test?’
‘Would you ever think of becoming a minister yourself?’

Basically I’ll feel like ‘the idiot’

Yes, family weddings, you have to love them.
When people come at me saying such things I feel instantly attacked and defensive yet without a backbone. Perhaps I should just brush such stuff off but it gets to me and leaves me feeling crap.

I know tomorrow that the first question that people who I haven’t seen in years, aunts and uncles, old friends etc will ask me is ‘Well, what do you do with yourself?’
It won’t be their intention to piss me off of course (I think) but it will undoubtedly go straight towards many of the hurts and insecurities I’ve had the last number of years, right to the jugular and doubts I’ve about myself.

They will ask me why I haven’t trained in anything to get me into what I want to do and I’ll either get defensive or brush them off.
I can see this discussion playing itself over and over tomorrow and each time it will feel like I’m getting a kicking, even if it isn’t anyone’s intention.

The reason I haven’t trained in any courses is that there have been no courses that I’ve seen around Belfast that I thought would help me do the sort of things I think God has called me to do. It’s often that simple and that hard.

Also, there is a general attitude of ‘up’ which gets to me as these are generally Christian people telling me to retrain or to get out there and kick some neighbour ass and prove that I’m willing to work much harder that my neighbour and am more worthy of a job than they because basically ‘I’m a better worker‘ than my neighbour.

I’ve said it before but I’m not sure how reconcile this all if  you are trying to be like Jesus.
Fundamentally I believe that we have everything we have because it’s a gift of God’s good grace.
This is why we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’.
It’s a recognition that God provides our daily bread.
Of course it’s our duty to work to get that bread, to gather the manna from the desert,to sow the seeds, harvest the grain etc etc.

But surely the way we look for work matters as well?
My relations (and you I suppose)  might think that it’s good to fight tooth and nail for a job, to do whatever it takes so that when we get a job we’ll be able to do good, but I tend to disagree.
That’s not to say that I’m not a bundle of sins and pride now either (because I am) but there is something about ‘up’ and trying to show that we’re more suitable for jobs than other people that doesn’t gel with the Jesus that I see in the Gospel.

I was re-reading this bit in Colossians Remixed and although it is talking about the education system it was making me think about how I’m supposed to live life

Interesting metaphor, isn’t it -“up”? …Wendell Berry has some comments on this metaphor….” Berry wryly notes, ” Well, I think that I hardly need to document the consequent pushing and tramping and kicking in the face” involved in getting to the top and staying there. He muses that perhaps “up” is ‘the wrong direction.” We would add that “up” is the wrong metaphor and misshapes the imagination of our young. Rather than instilling in them a desire to get to the top, to move up, we want to encourage our children to develop a sense of calling and service, including an awareness that this may require a process of downward mobility, a decision not to strive for the top but to care for those who are on the bottom’

That’s part of the problem. When I was in primary school I won a couple of awards for being bright so I guess that people like my gran, parents thought that their eldest boy was going to turn out to be a model citizen. Over the years they’ve watched that unravel until this point where he is flailing around and going to weddings like he is a bit of failure, hair too long, lazy and good for nothing.  Even when I did have a full time job as a church youth worker they seemed unimpressed because to them it was a waste of time or taking the mickey job. I used to hate it when an uncle would ask over Christmas dinner ‘well what do you do in a typical day?’ My brain would freeze over and I couldn’t give a coherent answer, which no doubt looked to him as if I did nothing.

Sometimes I think all that stuff they’re thinking about me about myself, I take all their words on board as well and get down in the dumps about it.

But at other times I’m content with who I am and happy in my own skin.  It’s just that I find it hard to communicate those sorts of things to them because I’m not great with off the cuff words over a vol-au-vent and glass of Shloer.

But all that wallowing in self-pity shouldn’t obscure the fact that tomorrow si about my youngest brother and his bride to be, a celebration of two becoming one.  Tomorrow we will celebrate and raise a beaker of Robinson;s fruit cordial in their honour. And perhaps there will be a sly gin & tonic or two consumed to deal with the relatives

rainbow at easter

Today has been a strange day.
It’s the day when Christians gather to celebrate the rising and victory of Jesus over the grave, a day for celebration if ever there is a day to celebrate for a Christian.

Yet to put it simply, life still feels shit, the same as it did a few days before, in fact much blacker and horrible than I’ve had in a while. It’s a day of lead feet and an awareness of how ‘off target’ I’ve been with so much of my life, of confusing strength with being proud, of feeling let down by God while being very aware that I’m a let down as well.
In other words, I’m feeling crap and anything like celebrating despite it being Easter Sunday.

It’s hard. But you probably don’t me to tell you that as you’ll know that yourself, life is hard. This was going to turn into  another post about struggles and wrestling but I briefly  looked up from the computer and could see the tail of the rainbow out the study window. Some may put that down as a coincidence, but not me.
It happens on occasions that God whispers to me through creation, rainbows from windows and buzzards at the exact time I would need to see a buzzard, creepy crows and blackbird nests in the garden.

So yes, life is hard and I don’t feel like celebrating much, I often can’t see how the resurrection is going to help me find a job this week, or be a better husband, or why church is like grinding teeth sometimes or why the good news doesn’t seem very much like good news but today I’ll cling to the rainbow out the window, because it’s a whisper in the dark of something bigger, or perhaps it’s creation celebrating it’s future redemption and restoration and telling me it’s all going to be alright.

Of Gods and Men (and hope?)

H_____ really wanted to go to the cinema on New Year’s Eve and the film that she really wanted to see was ‘Of Gods and Men‘. I wasn’t overly keen to see it as it seemed a bit of  a downer for what is traditionally a day that doesn’t need any extra help to be a downer.
But it was either that or have a domestic downer around the streets of Dublin. So away to the cinema we went.

Coming out of The Lighthouse after watching the film I felt a strange sense of despair. It was a very well crafted film (based on  true story), dealing with faith and Christian suffering in a realistic way. I loved the scenes of the brothers farming the land, going to the market, going about their daily business of housekeeping and the good Christ like lives they lived day in, day out in the small rural village in Algeria.

Yet the final scene of the film, where these ordinary, good Christian men walk and trudge in  a line silently before disappearing into the mist and snow of an African mountain filled me with emptiness and left me despairing.
I don’t know how to explain it except its like they followed Jesus in life and to the cross and died, but where is the good news at the end?

It would be like watching  a very well made, thoughtful and beautiful film about Jesus and the disciples and the final scene of the movie was a beautifully shot image of Jesus being marched up Calvary to be executed then the credits rolling.
I’m not one for happy endings, easy answers and Sunday School but if the best we can aim for in death is a walking into some  beautiful, cold and silent Christmas card scene after struggling and living as best we could  in our community it doesn’t give me any sort of peace or hope.
What about a Promised Land, resurrection and good news?
Where was the hope?

Song Drawing No.5 – Charlie Darwin, The Low Anthem

(found drawing  from charity shop on Lisburn Rd, Belfast. )

‘Set the sails I feel the winds a’stirring
Toward the bright horizon set the way
Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower
Haven from the world and her decay

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land

Oh my god, the water’s all around us
Oh my god, it’s all around…’