Saturday, 8 December 2007

In the beginning, darkness...

Last week, Becca and I walked between the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle and Ronnie's house just up the road...just a few hundred yards. No problem one would have thought...except it was around 8pm and the sky was pitch black, and it was windy, and we could not see a thing, and we heard strange noises, and we clung onto each other in fear as we took each step up the was scary and I do not mind admitting, I was glad to reach the safety of Ronnie's home because this encounter with the darkness had frightened me. It got me thinking about the darkness and how mostly, we are no longer afraid of the dark because most of us literally do not live in literal darkness in this part of the world anymore. The reverse in fact - we complain because we can no longer see the stars at night because of light pollution.
I have recently be reading a small volume by John Hull, a Professor of Religious Education in the University of Birmingham (In the Beginning There was Darkness SCM 2001) who has totally changed the way I read my Bible and think theologically about 'walking in the light' see, John is blind after being sighted and so has had to re-think the world through eyes that no longer see as most of us see and also enter into conversation with the Bible in a new way...God created darkness as well as light and that the darkness was part of the day and is not abolished or separated by the light but that there is a relationship between the two - and God saw that it was good.
As we light Advent candles, I wonder how many of us think of the darkness as being blessed by God as something good and therefore not something that is to be feared.

Monday, 19 November 2007


I was in-between appointments so took the opportunity to walk down Regent Street and into Oxford Street in London where I rubbed shoulders with those, who judging by the bags they were now carrying, had very damaged bank accounts and those, who judging by their behaviour had damaged minds and were finding life difficult to cope with without alcohol or drugs. I walked into a very well known department store and witnessed a young woman buying a ordinary handbag, but a Louis Vuitton handbag...a bag for which she paid the equivalent of what would have been for me one months' stipend. I heard her comment on the length of time it took her to save for this purchase, so it was not something that was done on a whim, but something that she had longed for and planned for.
Just around the corner from this department store, there was a street trader selling almost identical bags for a smidgen of the price - fake of course.
It got me thinking about what we were 'selling' in terms of church... do we encourage people to desire the gospel so much that they will hunger for it, putting aside other things in order to grasp it, or, are we so frightened of falling church attendance that we sell the gospel cheaply on the market stall equivalent...

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Requiem Mass

My eldest daughter, Katie, came home to stay a while which is normally a time for celebration and gravy dinners, of laughter and shopping, of shared secrets and girlie stuff but not this time. She came home for some TLC because she had just said goodbye to her friend at a requiem mass. Her friend had been diagnosed as having leukaemia and three weeks later, she had died. This was a great shock to Katie, who like many of her generation have been brought up with hospital drama's in which almost everyone gets better, and even if they don't, death is managed and beautiful and everyone gets to say goodbye and make up their differences...but this experience of death was not afforded to Katie who carried guilt about the usual things surrounding death...did I do enough...did I visit enough...if only I had done this, that, the other...and to compound the matter, of all my children, Katie is the one who finds the harder side of life difficult to cope with.

As Katie shared her feelings about the service, even though she was upset, she was clearly able to articulate the difference between this funeral service in which most of those attending were Christians from the Roman tradition, and funerals in which those attending did not have any faith. It left her with a sense of hope as well as a sense that death definitely was not the end.

Yet Katie, a child of the Manse, would not describe herself as a committed Christian...not that she has deliberately chosen to rebel against any form of faith commitment. Again like a great many of her generation, faith is something that has just past her by...become an irrelevance...something that Mum does as a job.
I was struck by the great sense of responsibility that I, you, the rest of Christendom, carry in making faith relevant to the 20-somethings of this world. That is a heavy charge to answer if we fail to do so.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007


I have been recently introduced to the benefits of the social networking sites which have recently become very popular, and have registered with Facebook. Before I knew it, I was launched into a virtual world where people poked each other, threw hot potatoes at you, super-poked you, spanked you, invited you to cocktail parties and a whole host of other 'virtual' activities, some of which have more merit than others if you get my drift. I have had graffiti written on my wall, been spanked several times (deservedly some would say!) and been contacted by people I had forgotten I ever knew. I now have a large network of virtual friends, who clearly do not require as much attention as the real life versions - just a poke every now and then. I have also been pleasantly surprised and intrigued that my daughters friends want to be my friend too and have quickly been blessed with 'Mummy Sue' as a term of endearment. The downside of this is I am now party to Cyber conversations and learning things about my children and their friends that I would be probably safer not knowing!
I have also been utterly amazed and bewildered at some of the things people will publish about themselves...will they live to regret this in a few years I think to myself, particularly as prospective employers are now frequently using these sites to do a little research on applicants. I guess this is the fast moving IT life we now inhabit and in which we shall all have to learn new rules about.

I wonder if Jesus had this problem when he made friends?

I wonder what the theological equivalent is to a 'super-poke'?

I wonder where cyber space actually is and whether or not there is a cyber heaven and a cyber hell?

I wonder if all this wondering is good for me.....

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Swing Low - Shosholoza!

Last night I had dinner with two Methodist students and their partners. Nothing strange about that except that these are pre-ordination students training for ministry in the Methodist Church and I am arranging a placement for them in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever visited - except for Yorkshire of course. These students and their partners are very nice people - kind, gentle folk who mind their p's and q's and will be no trouble what so ever to their placement host.

Now, we all know that there is a very important rugby match coming up on Saturday when England take on South Africa in the finals of the world cup.

Having read what their placement host has to say about the this match, particularly his prediction for the result, I am beginning to wonder about the wisdom of sending such innocents half way across the world in the care of a person who clearly lacks sound judgement. I shall enjoy sending him an England rugby shirt as a gift when we win...just as a reminder!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Happy Birthday!

New life has come to this house....on the 8th October, Dora our Patterdale Terrier, presented us with three puppies:
- Abraham (Abe for short, dark velvety black and a real bruiser),
- Polly (the colour of chocolate, quiet and gentle) and
- Peggy (fat as butter with a dark stripe down her back).

I would just like to wish everyone who shares 8th October as their birthday, many happy returns.

Anyone want a puppy....

Wednesday, 26 September 2007


On platform 3 of York Railway station, there is a bench to sit on. Nothing strange about that you might think, as benches are present on all of the platforms, their curvaceous shape inviting the traveller to sit and ponder the meaning of life whilst waiting for a train to arrive...if indeed you are brave enough to sit on them as they are often cold to sit on…the cold metal seat stings the back of your legs, especially in winter, and the wind pokes her fingers through the holes that are part of the design making you feel colder still. However, the bench I am referring to is not one of the usual benches. It is a wooden bench and you could be forgiven for easily passing it by without noticing it as on first glance it is fairly non-descript and plain although to parody the television advert, this is not just an ordinary wooden bench.

To the careful observer, it is instantly recognisable… the golden honey patina of English oak…the adzed finish to the seat and back… the exquisitely crafted joints…and if you needed a final clue, a mouse scuttling up the leg as if to try and hide under the arm away from the curious gaze of passers by. This is a Mousey Thompson bench….a commissioned piece of work from the workshop of Robert Thompson, the famous furniture maker from Kilburn in Yorkshire whose tell-tale signature is a mouse carved somewhere on each piece that leaves the workshop.

The bench carries an inscription, a memorial to Kate Dunphy who died in 2005 at the age of 38, and according to the epitaph, is ‘still travelling’.
I have no idea who Kate Dunphy was but I know that she was loved - the bench is testimony to that.

I am a Methodist and there is no tradition within my denomination of praying for the dead but I do know that in the Islamic tradition, it is said that Allah has special concern for the traveller. So, every time I sit on this bench I trace the letters of her name carved deep into the oak and seek out the little mouse with my fingers, and pray for her as she travels… and I pray for those closest to her, those who loved her and want to share that love through the gracious gift of a bench for other foot-sore and weary travellers needing a place to rest awhile…and for the skills of those who work with wood so lovingly…may we all travel safely to our final destinations on time, enjoying the journey as we go…insha’Allah.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

What's in a name...

There has been chaos at the place I work...we have had to have a big change around in offices to make room for new members of staff which means I have for the first time a door with my name on it. Let me explain. For the past four years I have technically had two offices - one in Ushaw College in Durham and one in York St John University. Now I am not being greedy here - it's just that I had until very recently two half-time appointments in different theological education institutions. However, I work from my study at home so did not inhabit either place in any meaningful way so apart from the symbolic meaning of not being named, it was not something that I spent much time considering...until now...

I find myself pondering on what it means to have a name...what it means to be named...what it means to be publicly owned. There is a bit in the Bible that tells us that our names are written on the palm of God's hand and that we will not be forgotton - this is a verse that I use a great deal when I pray for people that are close to my heart for whatever reason...their names too are written on the palm of my hands and when I wash my hands, when I massage them with hand cream, when I examine the lines and the scars of life and living that are on my hands, I am drawn once more into relationship with the Divine and those that I pray for.

Do you need to be prayed for? I have space on the palm of my hand...

Monday, 20 August 2007

Wild weekend in whitby....

I have just returned from the most amazing weekend in Whitby where I have been wined and dined (well, a couple of lagers in the pub and fish and chips on the habourside) and been overwhelmed by an amazing co-incidence.

I have to admit to being a bit of a 'Hilda-babe' in that, St Hilda is one of my personal spiritual favourites, one of the church's spiritual giants, and someone whom I admire for lots of reasons, not least, that as an Abbess, she ordained a few bishops and priests in her time - not that you would get many in the Church acknowledging that particularly at the moment.

Sneaton Castle, home to the sisters of the Holy Order of the Paraclete, has hanging in its Conference Centre five very large paintings depicting the story of St Hilda - her baptism in York in 627 by Paulinus; her gathered community which included King Oswy's daughter Aelfleda; her discovery of Caedmon, the hymn writing goatherd; the Synod of Whitby in 664 she oversaw with King Owsy, for which we now have to thank for the setting of the date of Easter and finally, her death on the 17th November 680. Quite a woman by any account.
These paintings have played a huge part in my own spiritual development and I have spent many an hour meditating on each painting, seduced by the use of rich vibrant colours and drawn in by the use of movement.
Where is the co-incidence here you might ask? Well, I was in Whitby to receive a gift from friends and collegues at the North East Oecumenical Course (NEOC) in Durham. I have just left there after four years service as their Director of Residential Learning. They all chipped in and bought me an 'experience' as it was badged although I had no-idea what this 'experience' was until a few days ago. I was taken to Stills Photography where I was given the full make-over treatment and photographed - photographed in formal evening dress, casual dress and what the photographer, John, euphemistically called 'romantic shots'....I will leave that to your imagination but suffice to say, I did not have many clothes on! I had a wonderful time and never thought for one moment I would look so nice on celluloid. It was such fun and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly you ladies of a certain age who watch everything heading south day by day.
Still, how is this a co-incidence...? My husband John, would had arranged all this, had also booked us into Brunswick Bed and Breakfast for two nights - an arbitory decision based upon availability via a website. We got there and as I lay in bed that night pondering on my fate at the hands of the photographer the next morning, I was also looking at a painting that hung on the wall opposite. I realised that I knew the signature on the was the same artist that had painted the St Hilda paintings, Juliet Macmichael. Juliet was also our host offering hospitality through the provision of bed and breakfast.

I was stunned to realise that I was staying with the same artist whose paintings I had so admired and whose paintings I would never have seen had it not been for the fact that NEOC used Sneaton Castle as a venue for some of its residential weekends, and whose students and tutors had all contributed to my 'experience' in Whitby....truly and experience in more ways than one. Co-incidence....God-incidence....does it matter what kind of incidence it was because it clearly was an 'experience' I shall never forget.
You can view all of the St Hilda paintings by logging onto
You can view my photographs only be very special arrangement!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

most wanted criminal...

Today I had an interesting discussion with a policeman who stopped me in Tesco's and tried to convince me that I was not wearing my seatbelt whilst driving. I insisted that I was - he insisted that I was not.

What struck me was that it was my word against his and guess what, he won...I got a ticket and informed that if I paid £30 it would all be sorted and the matter forgotton, otherwise I would have to fight it out in court....mmm......

What to up...go to court....either way I think I would get the rough end of the stick and he would simply be believed because he was a policeman and just doing his job and me, well just the whinging motorist. I think I have discovered just how much of a small fish I am in a very big pool, and that sharks swim in it too!

Ho hum...I bear the policeman involved no ill will or malice - maybe he made a mistake and could not admit it...maybe I made a mistake unwhittingly...eitherway, no one wins in this.

I still wrote to his boss asking for clemancy though!

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Football's coming home

Well, the football season is upon us once more....I raise a glass in solidarity to all the other football widows out there who watch the results anxiously to see what state their men come home in!

Friday, 10 August 2007

This is my grand daughter Tilly - Sunday name Matilda Susan - with my son David.
She, like all my children are the joy of my life and makes me think of eternal life in a whole new way...imagine your genes floating around in a new life....I am so proud of her mum and dad (Rachel and David) for bringing this beautiful person into this world and I love being a grannie!