Monday, 6 April 2009

Palm Sunday







Palm Sunday in the Minster was as usual a grand event. The visitors, the music, the colour, the choir singing, the priests processing in, all clutching their dried palm branches which were then ceremoniously plunged into a large container of sand, looking not unlike Christmas trees in a strange way except of course, they did not have baubles on or a fairy on the top….by the way, has anyone seen the Easter Crackers you can now buy in Tesco – what is that all about?
The thought occurred to me that when our Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, palm branches would be ‘the’ things that you waved around to mark something spectacular happening –the equivalent of football scarves or even underwear if you are a fan of Tom Jones (I am not suggesting anything here!). ‘What’ I pondered as the Passion was sung, ‘would we greet our Lord with today?’ I was not oblivious to the fact that there were two other ‘waving’ opportunities in the news this week – on the one hand the G20 protests where we have seen those who waved their banners in protest carefully managed or ‘kettled’ I think is the phrase used and hidden away in corrals by those in authority, where they sought solace in each other as they were trapped for hours until later when they allowed to travel on. On the other hand, the funeral of Jade Goody which looked remarkably similar to the funeral of Princess Diana in many respects with flowers being thrown onto the car which carried her body and the service in which last respects were paid and testimony given was relayed to the crowds waiting outside. The crowds there were not ‘kettled’ and neither were they hidden as they sought solace in each other.
I found myself wondering how one could square the circle of grief that overcomes those who feel moved to protest because our world is on the brink of ecological and financial disaster, a world that sustains and nourishes us and yet are silenced and those who grieve so publically about someone they have never met yet, becoming part of some surreal family, the head of which has shared their living and their dying in such a voyeuristic fashion …where in all this would I be waving my palm?

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Christmas fast approaches and as I wander through the City streets, I am left pondering on the question of just how many people know who this Christ is that we celebrate with a frenzy of spending and eating and drinking and being merry. How much of the life of Jesus is known to the world beyond the cute nativity scenes played out in schools and churches across the land, where damp eyed parents adoringly watch their offspring place a fluffy lamb or a shiny gold present at the foot of a crib? Are they aware that this is the family forced to flee from their ‘plush’ stable because the security services were after them...that the babe lying in this manger is the same boy who ran away from home to hang out in the company of older men to try and learn a little more about life, God and himself terrifying his mother in the process....and the same man who lived at a time where troops from another country occupied his homeland and where corruption and injustice were a way of life... the same man that had this big religious experience, setting off with a rag-tag group of folk to try and persuade those he met to see with their own eyes what was really happening around them and to seek the way of God once more....the same man who upset local community leaders, particularly the older men he used to hang out with, and caused trouble where ever he went because he befriended the poor and the powerless, encouraging them to challenge the systems they were living under... the same man who caused riots and who was arrested and executed because he was a threat to national security. This babe lying in the manger would grow up and know what it was like to be homeless, lonely, and depressed...know what it was to take a beating, to be without food and the object of ridicule and hatred. But, he also would know that God loved him and because God loved him, he loved others. He loved others so much that it would cost him his life for fighting their corner. As Christians we all know this story well but I still meet those who are disciples of this babe, this man, this Christ child who are not quite able to bring themselves to believe that God loves them so madly, deeply that Jesus died fighting their corner too...those that cannot quite bring themselves to believe that there is nothing they must do to make God love them more, or, that there is nothing that they can do that will make God love them less.
I often say to people ‘I shall stick you on my prayer mat’ from time to time. This is not a passing platitude to bring a pastoral conversation to a neat end nor is it an idle threat! I actually do have a prayer mat – a gift from a Muslim friend in Bradford many years ago and it is similar to many prayer mats found in Mosques or Muslim homes all over the world. I do not actually kneel on it – mine is on the wall of my study and serves as a symbol and a reminder of the need to pray constantly and on it there are post-its with people’s names on or situations that I am holding before God in particular at that time, so when I say ‘I shall stick you on my prayer mat’ that is exactly what happens. Your name goes on a post-it and is stuck on the prayer mat. Each New Year’s Eve, I try to spend the evening in prayer, holding those people and situations that I have encountered over the past year before God, seeking out the times when I have felt God most present and also those times where I felt the presence of God least; giving thanks for those time of abundance and joy and also seeking forgiveness for those time where I have not responded well or behaved in such a way that causes me regret. I also try and pray for others, and my prayer this New Year will be that we can know afresh the deep, passionate love that God has for each one of us and that in turn, that love may release in us not only a love for other, but for ourselves too. So, how can I pray for you? What is it that you would like me to pray for? Drop me a line – it does not have to have your name on it if you would rather not – and let me know how I can pray for you and I shall stick you on my prayer mat.

‘In two thousand years, millions have followed the star, searched for the stable, discovered the newborn child...and yet, from generation to generation across the passing centuries, the joy never dies, the good news never loses its power to bring us to our knees in adoration...for each time a searching heart finds Christ the Saviour, the angels sing, heaven rejoices and Christmas, blessed Christmas come again.’ B.J. Hoff

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The beautiful game shamed...

I am the only one left scratching my head in bewilderment as the world of politics and tribal warfare is increasing played out on the football pitch?

Last nights news of another Arab royal family buying a football club, pledging their unlimited wealth to make it the biggest club in the world, immediately signing a player for an unspeakably obscene amount of money was breathtaking in its speed.

Premiership football is arguably one of the biggest world stages and on it we find that battle lines have been drawn for world domination....Arab royal family v's Arab royal family, Arab royal family v's Russian oligarch, Arab royal family v's USA businessmen... Wake up people to what is happening here.

What has happened to the beautiful game...what of your average fan turning up faithfully each Saturday to support their team, squeezed out by corporate 'hospitality'?

The only winners in this seem to be the players who sell themselves to the highest bidder. When women do this they are called prostitutes.

Mixing with prostitutes and accepting hospitality was something that Jesus was famous for. There was always sting in the tail however....prostitutes had to go away and sin no more, ceasing what they were doing because it was devaluing them as human beings. As for hospitality...well, when the rich and the famous were bored or no longer had the time to come to the banquet, the beggars off the street are given pride of place.

Monday, 1 September 2008

New beginnings....

Each August, there is the great Methodist tradition of the annual game of musical chairs, but without the music and involving houses not chairs. It goes like this....the removal van turns up at the Manse (home of the minister and family however one might want to define family) and the residents - minister, family, cats, dogs, etc. all decamp to another Manse somewhere else in the country ready to begin a new appointment and ready to begin the new Methodist year which runs from September to August. This is called ''itinerancy' - another great Methodist tradition in which ministers submit themselves to a process around every five years which could see them working anywhere in the country. When our golden years are upon us, retirement some call it, we cease to be itinerant and seek permission from the Methodist Conference to 'sit-down'.
A quaint tradition which means new beginning are always just around the corner.

I am conscious that the new Methodist year is now upon us...new staff are in place, newly painted homes occupied, new telephone numbers remembered and there is much change afoot as many ministers consider whether they want to remain in their current appointments or travel once more, and other having made that decision wait upon their Lord (and the stationing committee!) to direct and guide them to new appointments.
Yet more wait, anxious because this is the first time they have entered this process and do not know quite what to expect.

I am reading a volume written by the Irish poet John O'Donohue called 'Benedictus' and in it he offers a timely reminder to me, to us all about new beginnings.

He writes...'Beginnings often frighten us because they seem like lonely voyages into the unknown. Yet, in truth, no beginning is empty or isolated. We seem to think that beginning is a setting out from a lonely point along some line of direction into the unknown. This is not the case. Shelter and energy come alive when a beginning is embraced. Goeth says that once the commitment is made, destiny conspires with us to support and realize it. We are never alone in our beginnings as it might seem at the time. A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us. To refuse to begin can be an act of great self-neglect.'

God bless our endings and our beginnings

Friday, 22 August 2008

Christ have mercy...


I took myself off to Edinburgh for a couple of days, enjoying the atmosphere of the Festival even though the rain came, and then the rain came, and then the rain came again....found myself in the Scottish Parliament (escaping from the rain). If you like your architecture contemporary and brutal, angular and in your face, this is the building for you. It is quite stunning although not sure many of those who have had to pay the bill for this building would agree. However, as you walk into the large foyer, you are greeted by a space which has a low vaulted ceiling - not unlike that you might expect to find in the wine cellar of a large vineyard, made from polished concrete. It had scattered randomly over the ceiling large crosses in relief and to me made made a very clear statement about the Christian influence in Scotland. This was a Christian nation it said.

As this is Festival time in Edinburgh, the Parliament had joined in too and there was a Festival of Politics going on which included amongst other things, an exhibition of the 2008 world Press Photo competition winners. These photographs were stunning and disturbing. Painful to look at yet compulsive viewing. This was not a collection of snaps that you could just glance at then immediately forget. More than once I found myself in front of an image with tears flowing down my cheeks as I engaged with the photograph - 80 year old Thabita carries her cat, the only possession she was able to salvage when her home burned down in Mathone, Nairobi during the recent unrest there; Benazir Bhutto addresses the crowd from her vehicle just as the bomb explores that kills her; Philomena waiting for an abortion having been raped twice...so the captions go on. These images that violated humanity juxtaposed with the crosses cut into the ceiling and I found myself saying 'Christ have mercy...' as I prayed through the image now carved into my soul.

To look at these photos yourself, either jump on a train to the Scottish Parliament or, follow this link.

http://www.worldpressphoto.org/index.php?option=photogallery&task=blogsection&id=18&Itemid=187=bandwidth=high

Lord have Mercy.
Lord have Mercy.
Christ have Mercy.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Corrymeela


It has been a long time since I wrote anything here....life gets in the way and you loose the habit!

Still, back again having just returned from a week's volunteering with the Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle being what is called the 'cover' person. What this involves is basically being responsible for the Health and Safety and hospitality in the Centre. If there's a fire, the Cover sorts it. If there is an accident, the Cover sorts it. If there are visitors to the Centre wanting a guided tour, the Cover sorts it...so on and so forth - a support person who is watchful rather than busy. I say a week's volunteering but what I really mean is a week of listening to some of the most heart rending, love filled, hope inducing stories I have heard in ages...a week of witnessing love in action as teenage boys are shown 'good touching' by being taught to massage their mums; as young children experience gentle care at the hands of men when significant male figures are either missing or are the cause of great pain in their lives...a week of leading and being led in simple acts of worship where the presence of God was palpable even when the name of God was never uttered. What joy - what unspeakable joy and I am left wondering who was the volunteer here...me or the groups that came to Corrymeela. I certainly felt more cared for than caring...and the fire alarm never went off once!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Monday, 25 February 2008

think deeply, speak gently, love much, work hard, give freely and be kind

Someone sent me a chain email today - these are things that I usually do not read but on this occasion I did. Here it is reproduced and adapted in to something more 'Sue shaped'!

'The other day a young person asked me how I felt about being old. I was taken aback, for I do not think of myself as old. Upon seeing my reaction, she was immediately embarrassed, but I explained that it was an interesting question, and I would ponder it, and let her know.
Old age, I decided, is a gift.I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. I sometimes despair over my body, the wrinkles, the stretch marks and the saggy boobs. And often I am taken aback by that older person that lives in my mirror but I don't agonize over those things for long.I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, or my loving family for less grey hair or a flatter tum.
As I've aged, I've become kinder to myself, and less critical of myself. I've be come my own friend. I no longer chide myself for an impulse buy or for eating a bar of chocolate, or, for that matter drinking an extra glass of port! I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon, before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.
Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4AM and sleep until noon? I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60 & 70s; and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love... I will. I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is a comfortable fit over a curvaceous body, and will splash about in the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the ‘beautiful people’ …they, too, will get old one day.
I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the import ant things. Yes, over the years my heart has been broken but broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.
I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning grey, although you would never know amid the blonde streaks my hairdresser so lovingly put in my hair, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into the lines on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.
As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don't question myself harshly anymore but I do make myself responsible for my own actions. I've even earned the right to be wrong but not to judge others.

So, to answer your question, I like being older. It has set me free and I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day, buy port and chocolate and trashy novels. I shall think deeply, speak gently, love much, work hard, give freely and be kind.'

Monday, 11 February 2008

Sing for Joy

Copied below is a blog by Ruby Beech. http://www.methodist-presandvp.blogspot.com/


Ruby is the Vice President of the Methodist Conference and, more importantly, one of the people whose life Joy had touched. Joy and her husband Philip used to run a Youth Club and Ruby was 'one of their girls' (Philips words not mine!)



Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sing for Joy
Yesterday morning found me back in Mansfield for the funeral of a wonderful godly woman, Joy Johnson. We had visited her back in October when I went “home” to the Nottingham and Derby District and had a lovely few hours with her. Joy had contracted ovarian cancer in 2005 and eventually this spread with the bone cancer giving her the most pain. She died peacefully on Thursday 31st January.We arrived early at Bridge Street Church and this banner on the wall caught my eye. It seemed so appropriate as Joy had been a music teacher and after having her own children had carried on working with children and young people in churches and schools to spread the Christian message through music.For me Joy and Philip had given real support and encouragement in the early years of my Christian life when I was a teenager. Joy was so calm and so loving, a very special person.The funeral was very moving and many a tear was shed. I found that singing “All for Jesus” was particularly poignant for me. I had not sung it for years and then I had sung it twice in a few weeks – the previous time being at the memorial service for Rob Frost. What a lot I owe to so many people who really gave their all for Jesus.My prayers are with Philip and their children Wesley, Iothe and Matthew and grandchildren Isaac and Seth and all those who mourn this amazing woman who gave her All for Jesus.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Joy...

Joy's life with us drew to completion last night.
She slipped away peacefully about 10pm.

I know that we have no need to fear death and this last event in our lives leads us to something richer...but on the other hand, when we have loved deeply and received love, especially when this love has been lasting, the grief and pain felt is extreme.

'If we live, we live for the Lord;
and if we die, we die for the Lord.
Whether therefore we live or die,
we belong to the Lord.'
Romans 14:8