Friday, 29 February 2008


Great quote by Jeremy Begbie, 'Every church is profoundly biblical – that is, marred by hypocrisy and heresy, frictions and factions.'

So it comes as no surprise that despite all the rhetoric about becoming healthy churches, most of us could do with some some help. And it's because of this that Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, a British Baptist, serving as a Regional Minister in Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia, created Fit4Life. It consists of a number of units looking at the issues of:
• Church health and self awareness
• Healthy communication
• Handling differences in healthy ways
• Healthy decision making
• Clarifying roles and expectations
• Covenanting for health
and it draws upon the work of the London Mennonite Centre's Bridge Builders material.

We've just finished a series of five events, introducing the resource, giving some pointers as to how to use it, but also doing a session on 'healthy communication'. It's been good fun and people have been very responsive. It confirmed what I thought already, that this is an excellent resource: it's accessible, realistic, practical, and can make a difference.

Consistently, what generated a lot of feeling was addressing the skill of 'Using ''I'' rather than ''We'', or ''People''', as in 'People are saying that the services are going on too long.' Stories abounded of deacons meetings and church meetings hijacked by individuals speaking on behalf of an anonymous collective. Probably I added to the fuel to the fire by describing this as a 'pernicious tendency'!

In terms of taking things further, there was a considerable desire to do some work on conflict resolution which is an encouraging outcome.

The material is available on CD Rom from the Anabaptist Network for £10. But if you're interested, I can do you a deal ... !

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Retreat, vulnerable relationship, and passion

This morning we held one of our theological reflection groups for newly accredited ministers (NAM's). I look forward to these occasions as they are a good group of reflective practioners and invariably I come away enriched.

Sometimes I will provide some input, or invite someone in to speak on an issue, but also we invite the ministers themselves to contribute a paper on an aspect that they are exploring or raise an issue for discussion. Today we thought about the 'advantages and drawbacks for preaching of the use of the lectionary'. For many Baptists, the use of the lectionary isn't the default position and so this was more stimulating than it may sound and Malcolm, who provided the input, did a great job. And then Tom raised the issue of the place of leadership in the process of discernment within our congregational way of doing church. Again, this was thought-provoking.

Then, over lunch, Malcolm related an encounter with someone at his church. The man who had only recently started to attend asked the sort of question upon which you know a lot hangs! He asked, 'What are the three things critical for a healthy Christian life, and don't include Bible study and prayer?' How would you answer that question? I loved the answer Malcolm gave and was really impressed that, unlike me, he didn't need twenty-four hours to think it over! He said, retreat; vulnerable relationship with other believers in some way; and passion.

I guess that the person who asked the question didn't want stock answers, and was looking for some depth. I think he got it. I'm still wondering how I would answer, and it would be great to hear the thoughts of others, but remember 'don't include Bible study and prayer'!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Car with iPod

A few weeks ago I replaced my car. I went to the showroom and stated my wish-list: Ford Focus, 07, diesel, 1.6, black, with iPod adaptor. I had to make two slight concessions: 1.8 and no iPod adaptor, but a guarantee that it could be fitted.

And it just has - and it's brilliant! I do a lot of mileage and the plus-side of this is that I listen to a huge amount of music. Now, instead of changing CD's I can listen to 'shuffle' - which on my iPod is a bit like listening to 'Late Junction' - or I can compile play-lists for particular journeys. Pure joy!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

What's the one thing that you want to say to musicians in worship?

Next weekend the Regional Ministry Team(RMT) of the Central Baptist Association (CBA) are providing a 'Barnabas Weekend' in the Buckinghamshire Forum. As the name suggests, the purpose is for the RMT to bring some encouragement to the Baptist churches in that particular area. On the Friday evening we are holding a Quiz Night, and then on the Saturday there will be various workshops - Children's /Youth Work, Web sites/communication, Caleb Challenge: working with older people, and I'm doing one on Music in Worship.

There was a time when I did a lot of music and worship stuff, but it's been a while. I'm looking forward to it, and giving some thought to what I want to say to what is likely to be a fairly diverse group who are involved in music and worship.

My aim, in keeping with the weekend, is to encourage the musicians who come, and I have some things to say that I think are important in the present music/worship culture. If you were in my position, what's the one thing you would want to say? I'd love to hear from you on this. I'll return to this.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Matisse, The Dance

The centre-piece of the Royal Academy’s 'From Russia' is Matisse’s 'The Dance'. And seizing the opportunity of holiday I went to see it again with Cazz.

The exhibition as a whole is diverse with four main sections and a number of smaller sections, and includes many great pictures. But 'The Dance' stands out in both size and impact, commanding attention, taking hold of you – it’s only a huge act of delayed gratification that makes it possible to look at any other picture in the room before settling upon it!

The thing that does it for me with this painting is the way it pulsates and moves before your eyes. If you look away and then look again, it’s as though the dance has moved on. The colours 'zing' adding huge energy to the overall effect of joy – this is no sacrificial 'Rite of Spring'. There are limbs galore and yet it seems that few are actually connected with the ground giving the impression that the dance is virtually airborne. And only two of the hands aren’t quite joined, giving the smallest gap for you to leap in and join the dance!

Jürgen Moltmann speaks of God's future as 'an ever-varying round dance of the redeemed in the Trinitarian fullness of God, the complete harmony of soul and body.' This seems fitting for this enthralling work of art.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Moishe’s Bagel at the Stables

Last night we went to The Stables in Milton Keynes – great venue - to hear 'Moishe's Bagel'. With a name like this, I found the prospect irresistible. The blurb describes their music as, 'Rip-roaring, foot-stomping, jazz-inflected klezmer and Balkan music... An intoxicating, life-affirming mix of Eastern European dance music, Middle Eastern rhythms and virtuoso performances.'

It was something else! Each of the 'bagels' (five in all) are superb musicians who play this intensely rhythmic, passionate, hypnotic, highly stylised music with absolutely no holding back. I loved the keening violin! It was humorous – 'Tantz Glassidic' is the piece that Philip Glass might have written for them, if he’d had the chance; and 'Flying by Jewish Radar' is the imagined soundtrack to a not-too-successful Jewish bank robbery. But it was also tender, as in 'Lament'. And 'intoxicating' and 'life-affirming' seem a pretty good way to sum up the experience.

The only small disappointment is that for me the CD 'Salt', doesn’t come near to the live performance. It’s very good, but tame by comparison. They’re still on tour so it’s not too late to hear them.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Eric Whitacre, Cloudburst

On the way to church this morning (I’m on holiday so it was one of those rare occasions when I went to the church where I’m a member) I listened to the CD of Eric Whitacre’s, 'Cloudburst', performed by the choir Polyphony under their director Stephen Layton.

I first encountered this music nearly two years ago. It was shortly after my Dad died and we were with some close friends for a meal. I remember the occasion clearly as we listened to the first track, a setting of e.e. cummings, 'i thank You God for most this amazing day'. It was like entering a new sound world, and the effect of the music which was overwhelming, oceanic even, came as a gift which spoke wordlessly and deeply to my soul.

Whitacre writes for chorus with a strong sense of vocation, and speaks of 'a real calling'. His music communicates directness, purity, and a keen sense of tension and resolution. It’s characterised by soaring melodies and cascading harmonies, and to describe it as ecstatic, or sublime, isn’t excessive.

One feature of Whitacre’s music which fascinates me relates to time. There are points where it’s as though time takes on a different dimension, not as in timelessness, but a quality of time that perhaps points to a future experience of time, a 'new creation' time, a redeemed time, a time-but-not-as-we-know-it. Jeremy Begbie in his new book 'Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music' is brilliant on this!

It’s been terrific fun to introduce this music to friends, and witness the effect it has, especially 'I thank You God', but also 'When David heard' which rips out the heart, and 'Cloudbursts' with its simulated rain-storm. Some of the shorter tracks are available on iTunes but this is an album which is highly recommended.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

A day which exceeded high expectations

I had a brilliant day in London this week. I went to the launch of the Bible Society’s new resource, 'Using the Bible in Christian Ministry'. I was impressed by the material, met some excellent people, enjoyed a good lunch, and heard a predictably splendid address by Bishop Tom Wright, which was far-reaching, penetrating in depth, and took less than twenty minutes!

But this wasn’t the only highlight. I used the opportunity to take in some art. So as soon as I arrived in London, pre-Tom Wright, I headed for the Tate Modern, primarily to see 'Shibboleth', the crack in the ground. I have to say that I was really looking forward to this but was somewhat underwhelmed and a tad disappointed. However, courtesy of a friend’s membership we went into the Juan Muñoz retrospective exhibition. This was my first encounter with this sculptor which was intriguing and engaging. Additionally I managed to sneak a few minutes in the Rothko Room as well as take a leisurely look at Matisse’s snail - I bought the print recently.
But this wasn’t the only other highlight. Post-Tom Wright, and well fed, we headed for the Royal Academy. Hearing that there were queues for the 'From Russia' exhibition, I decided that now was the moment to grasp the nettle and become a Friend, and so three minutes later, we walked straight in. The exhibition is fascinating with four clear sections, but the greatest wonder is undoubtedly Matisse’s 'The Dance'. I was so looking forward to seeing this and wasn't disappointed, but I was startled at the force of impact that it had on me, and so at the end of the visit we just had to go back and look again. I want to reflect on the Matisse again in due course but for now suffice to say it was gob-smacking!
My friend, with whom it's great fun to look at art – it’s like standing next to an audio art encyclopaedia – took us, en route to the station, by some private art galleries which were the icing on the cake. And the cherry on the icing on the cake was going to a shirt-maker on Jermyn Street and buying a fantastically expensive shirt that was reduced to £25!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Inaugural blog

Why the title?
'Wonder' because of my delight in its experience, which is reinforced by my overuse of the word 'wonderful', as well as an occasional, quirky, but hugely enjoyable use of the word 'wondrous'!

And 'wondering' because of my discovery of 'wondering' as a noun, as in 'a wondering'. Sam Wells, in 'Power and Passion' writes, 'Wonderings stimulate responses, meditations, sharing, explorations, or further wonderings. Wonderings are not questions. They have a full stop at the end, not a question mark. To address them, one has to leave aside the determination to get the right answer and instead has to open oneself to responses that invite further engagement.'

Why blogging?
I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, having been inspired by a number of blogs over the last few years - thanks especially to Maggi Dawn, Andy Goodliff, Living Wittily, Razzamajazz, and jonnybaker, to name but just a few. But recently, in the Central Baptist Association (CBA), one of my colleagues set up a social network, 'CBA Ministers', and this gave me an opportunity to dip my toes in – and it was alright!

It confirmed something I sort of knew already. If I experience something that creates a sense of wonder, I find it hard to keep to myself and want to share it, to describe it, to enthuse about it. And in the process I find that sometimes, often, the experience is extended and even increased, and may also become contagious. CS Lewis, in 'Reflections on the Psalms', addressing the issue of the praise of God, articulates something of this when he says, 'I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise ... the world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game ... I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least... Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible ... I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.'

I have many opportunities during the course of Christian ministry and in conversation with friends and family to speak of 'wonders', but I wonder (my first 'wondering' on this blog) whether writing about them, with some regularity, in a different medium, will bring a different dimension, especially with the possibility of some response.

So, to cut to the chase, here goes!