Monday, 27 October 2008

Fell running makes the news

I was amazed that fell running not only made the headlines at the weekend but remained there for 24 hours. In the careful statements issued by the police and mountain rescue, clearly they advised against going ahead with the Original Mountain Marathon event and in retrospect they were right. But I'm not surprised that it took place. Fell runners are a strange breed.

There was a time when I had aspirations to be a fell runner, and I ran in three fell races. Looking back they were amazing experiences, although time is a great healer and I also recall them as gruelling in the extreme. If it was a road race I was normally two-thirds down the field, but in a fell race I came close to coming last, certainly in two of the events. It was made worse by the fact that I wore my club running vest with Stilton Striders on it! Obviously we were not a fell running club, unlike the White Peak or the Dark Peak clubs.

What was good about it? A very relaxed approach to the race. 'Off you go' were the words that began one race. This was preceded by, 'Run to end of field, turn right, cross river [there was no bridge], go up hill ...'. There were marshalls, of sorts. Once you'd got to the top of the hill which always seemed considerable, running along a ridge was absolutely fantastic. Another thing that was good was finishing, when the endorphins kicked in with a mega-hit. Also, the camaraderie over tea and cakes in the village hall, with people thanking us lads for coming over.

What was bad about it? Running up the hill, or rather feebly attempting to do so. And even worse, running down for which you need a peculiar mentality which seems to have no care for personal safety. I was pathetic and one competitor described me as mince-ing down the hill. [For 'hill' ordinary people would speak of 'mountain'.]

Fell runners really are a different breed. Read their training programmes and by comparison marathon runners appear as wimps. But read the Fell Runners Association magazine, to which I subscribed for a while, and you will encounter elegiac poems penned by those musing on their experience on the hills. There are legends like Joss Naylor, a Wasdale sheep farmer, who in 1975 bagged 72 Lakeland peaks in 24 hours. The record was broken in '97 by Mark Hartell who bagged 77. There are gripping stories of unbelievable feats of human endurance.

This is most definitely a thing of the past for me. But I continue to enjoy fell running vicariously as I chat to my mate Simon, with whom I ran my first fell race. He's gone on to run several mountain marathons and has some great stories to tell. It was a genuine relief to discover that Simon wasn't in the Lake District at the weekend, and that this was one story he won't be telling.  

Friday, 24 October 2008

Theology through music

Thursday was a very stimulating day leading a quiet day for Workplace Ministry, an ecumenical team of ministers offering chaplaincy wherever people work.  We created some rhythm to the day with the Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer of the Northumbria Community.  And in between we did some theology through music, so it wasn't a typical quiet day, although the music provided space and there were moments when the music had the effect of creating a quiet, if not a silence.

I reflected on the reality that 'so much music seems rife with rumours of God'.  And then went on to explore a spirituality of the psalms through music.  I used Walter Brueggemann's scheme of grouping the psalms into three basic types: psalms of orientation, disorientation and new orientation. 

We then spent the rest of the day looking at each type, reading the psalms but listening to how they have been treated by a variety of composers.  In all we must have listened to about twenty pieces of music, of different genres, including music by Mozart, Martin Taylor, Verdi, Boney M, U2, Allegri, Acoustic Triangle, Eric Whiteacre, Louis Armstrong, Arvo Part, Bernstein, and Stravinsky.   

There was plenty of interaction with the sharing of insights, many moments of tingle-factor, showing again that one person's tingle-factor isn't necessarily an other's!  And because of the huge capacity that music has to gather associations, there were several moving stories connected with pieces of music. The icing on the cake for me was the privilege of being able to exist in the two worlds I know best at one and the same time!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

An extravagant hope

Thanks to my good friend Colin for these words, especially the last line, which he passed on to me.  

Those who would transform a nation or the world
cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent
or by demonstrating reasonableness and desirability
of the intended changes
or by coercing people into a new way of life.
They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope.

(Eric Hoeffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, New York, 1951, p 18.)

To kindle and fan an extravagant hope seems to me a pretty good description of the task of pastoral ministry.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Luton Airport with sector ministers

I spent the day at Luton Airport, not plane spotting, but as part of an event that we put on for sector ministers.  The aim was to gather together to listen to stories about chaplaincy and to share insights and good practice; to hear about the particular work of airport chaplaincy and have a look around the airport; and to think about how we might develop this group.

We had full-time chaplains, part-time chaplains, ordained and lay, serving in education, health and industry, together with some members from the CBA Council who simply wanted to support the day and find out more. It resulted in some stimulating discussion covering a number of important issues, and speaking for myself, my understanding of this expression of ministry was expanded.

I jotted down some notes and picked up a couple of great quotes. 'I've come to see that the local church is genetically inward looking' said with slight exasperation. And more hopefully, 'In God's kingdom every contact leaves a trace.'

I'm full of admiration for these people who bring a range of gifts and skills to situations quite separate from the church. They have much to teach us in terms of incarnational ministry, simply being a Christian presence, although of course it's never that simple. 

Monday, 20 October 2008

Shenley Christian Fellowship, Intelligent Design and Wayne Rooney

On Sundays I can drive long distances to preach.  Yesterday it was just one mile to our nearest Baptist church, Shenley Christian Fellowship.  When we moved to Milton Keynes, Shenley CF wasn't part of the CBA or BUGB.  It is now, and on the two occasions I've been I've been impressed by the warmth and vitality of this congregation.  Chris Doig is one of our Baptist ministers and is doing a great job.

I spoke on discipleship, but early on in the service, for about ten minutes sitting in easy chairs, I was interviewed by Tim Cutting, with prepared questions from the audience.  This was a fun experience, as I had some idea about the questions but knew that there was at least one surprise.

This came from one of the young people, 'There's been a lot of discussion about creation and evolution, and particularly 'intelligent design'.  How can I explain to my school friend a biblical approach to creation, taking into account my Calvinistic, pre-millennialism, and second blessing position - with particular reference to Wayne Rooney and the missing link.'  They have a sense of humour as well!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Baptist monk

On Saturday I presided at another induction, and while all inductions are different, this was significantly different.  First of all it was at one of our ecumenical congregations within an ecumenical parish in Milton Keynes, Christ Church, Stantonbury.  But what made this very different was the speaker.  Chris Howden, who was being inducted, had invited Brother Graeme, a Baptist monk from a Baptist monastery in Australia, to preach.

He was wonderful!  I can't remember hearing many sermons at an induction which included quotes from Irenaeus, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Simone Weill and Carl Jung.  He reflected at depth on the verse in Psalm 23 'He leads me to waters of stillness, he restores me to my self', to use his translation. And connecting this to the seventh day of creation, he spoke of the rest of God as 'a deep, abiding, healing, fertile stillness'.  

He gave a tantalising glimpse of his understanding of the Transfiguration of Jesus making a distinction between two kinds of glory: the glory that surrounded them, and the glory that emanated from Jesus, which was not about his divinity but his humanity, cue Irenaeus, we are not made for the glory of God but to be the glory of God.  To follow Jesus is not to ape Jesus but to be who we are meant to be.  

Brother Graeme is part of the Community of the Transfiguration and having Googled it, this is what I discovered:
Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a center of renewal in Breakwater, a working-class neighborhood of Geelong, a city of 200,000 on the west of Port Phillip Bay, in the state of Victoria in Australia. A compelling adaptation of historic Christian monastic traditions to contemporary life, the community is unique in that it continues the life and witness of a 135-year old Baptist congregation while drawing on classic sources of Christian monasticism.
To read more go here - fascinating stuff.  So welcome Chris & Brian Howden, and thank you for introducing us to Brother Graeme.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Burning bush

I've said before, I'm not a gardener, but over the next few weeks something will have to be done in the way of pruning and tidying, and in fact I've made a few brief forays.  However, amidst my general lack of energy for things horticultural, this tree/shrub really does it for me.  It's a rhus or a sumac, and most of the year it's fairly ordinary, and if anything a bit of a nuisance because it grows at an amazing rate and new sprouts emerge in the soil and the lawn.  But at this time of the year, it comes into its own, and for me is a high point of Autumn.  The photo wasn't taken this year as it's past its best, but still it displays its glory.  And as with many of the trees at this time of the year, it speaks of beauty, even in death.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A Gospel for All Nations

From Monday to Wednesday of this week we held our annual CBA Ministers' Conference, and following on from last year when we looked at 'A Gospel for All Ages', this year we took as our theme, 'A Gospel for All Nations'.  These gatherings can be occasions of rich fellowship and personal refreshment, and my sense, together with feedback so far, is that this was so.

We had my colleague from the London Baptist Association, Pat Took, lead our Bible Readings and she was simply brilliant, which didn't come as a surprise! She took as her theme, 'Signs of Glory' and explored with us John 4, 11, and 21. These passages are well known, and well preached upon but Pat brought deep insight and fresh perspective.

Dorothy Selebano, the Baptist World Alliance Women's Department President, travelled from South Africa to be with us, and spoke on 'Mission from a Global Perspective'.  Dorothy was compelling in her passion for the gospel for everyone, and she brought a fresh and invigorating dimension to our Conference.  John Smith, our BMS World Mission Area Co-ordinator spoke on 'The new C4:World Mission and the Emerging Church'.  His address with an enigmatic title, was his swan song as he takes up a pastorate in Godmanchester in the new year, and as we've come to expect it was pacy, informative and challenging.

The final session, when we might have been flagging, was presented by Kumar Rajagopalan, 'Developing a Mindset for Cross-cultural Mission'.  This session was superb as Kumar challenged us about the manner in which we relate to our black and Asian neighbours.  I quote from him, 'Our attitude in serving a missionary God should be humble, careful, circumspect in our claims about God, and in awe of God's missionary endeavours.'  His gracious approach to other cultures is to affirm them; to be careful in how we practice our faith; to work with other faiths to achieve kingdom purposes; to embrace different cultural expressions of Christianity; to accept and apologize for past mistakes of church and society, and to have an openness to see and affirm aspects of God that are absent or lost within the Christian tradition.  I'm expecting a hand-out to be available on the CBA Website, together with one particular acetate which was awesome!

We didn't just sit in sessions!  And actually this year I think we got the balance right with each session finishing in ample time for breaks and meals.  The Tuesday afternoon, we had a number of Conversation Points where people could host a conversation around a current interest.  

My colleague, Colin Pye, led worship creatively and sensitively. Communion gave opportunity for people to receive prayer with the anointing of oil. And then, probably the main reason why people come, there was opportunity for leisurely conversation over meals, coffee, and a drink in the evening, with much laughter as well as sharing of concerns.  

It takes a lot of planning and organization, and there's a sense of relief when it's over, but pretty soon we pick up on the ongoing planning for next year.  And this will be a conference with a difference because I've asked Roy Searle from the Northumbria Community to lead the whole conference but as a retreat.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Mark Greene on Mis-Lit and Modest Mission

I've just received an email from LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) and was drawn to two excellent articles by Mark Greene.  This guy tells a great story and writes in an entertaining way that explores an issue with insight and at depth, and in the process inspires, encourages and provokes, all with a disconcertingly light touch.  I guess the articles have appeared somewhere else, but if you haven't seen them, go read.  One is, Mis-Lit for Miserable Times, and the other is A Plea for Modest Mission. Great stuff Mark!  

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Encouraging but realistic about ministry

An ordination on Saturday and a commissioning on Sunday were occasions when I had the opportunity to hear some fine preaching.  On Saturday it was Rob Ellis, Principal of Regent's Park College, Oxford, and on Sunday Juliet Kilpin, from Urban Expression.  Both were refreshingly realistic about ministry, and offered some nuggets which I've continued to reflect upon.  

On Saturday, reflecting upon the contemporary situation in the light of the experience of the church at Philippi, Rob commented, 'With church attendance generally in decline we manage to find ingenious ways of putting off those who come!'  Juliet spoke about taking risk and had some hilarious slides showing how risk averse we are as a society.  She said most movingly, 'When we become followers of Christ we gave up the right to self-preservation'. Both Rob and Juliet, brought some encouragement and challenge at these significant milestones in the lives of ministers and churches.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Melton Mowbray Pork Pie gains special European status

We lived in Melton Mowbray for nine years prior to moving to Milton Keynes.  And one of the delights that we quickly discovered was authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie.  These were so good that I would put them in the class of delicacy, not a term usually associated with pork pies.  

Today I heard the news that at last the Melton Mowbray pork pie has received special protected geographical status.  This means that it is now in company with Arbroath Smokies, Cornish Clotted Cream, Welsh Lamb, and further afield Parma Ham, and Champagne.  And that only producers making pork pies using a traditional recipe and in the vicinity of Melton Mowbray can use the town's name.  Wondrous news!

One irony is that Matthew O'Callaghan, who has worked tirelessly for the status of the pork pie, is in fact a vegetarian!

For those who haven't yet lost the will to live, a proper Melton Mowbray pork pie consists of the finest fresh, uncured (hence the grey appearance), British pork, with pastry that is hand-formed giving a slightly irregular appearance, and with the final ingredient of natural bone-stock jelly.  These delicacies appeared at all Melton Mowbray social gatherings we attended, and as the finest pork pies, made by Dickinson & Morris since 1851, can be purchased in a number of supermarkets, they appear regularly at our regional ministry team meetings, and on other special occasions. Probably they are now most enjoyed in our home for breakfast on Christmas Day (and Boxing Day), maintaining what is an established Leicestershire custom.  

Friday, 3 October 2008

Rothko at the Tate

I've had a day off and been down to London to see the Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern. Often when I visit the Tate I go to the Rothko Room which contains several large abstract murals featuring dark reds, maroons and blacks.  A space has been created which has a contemplative feel about it.  These works were part of a commission in 1958 for an exclusive restaurant, the Four Seasons, part of the Seagram Building, in New York.  Rothko came to doubt the appropriateness of the setting and withdrew from the commission.  I have to say that I can't imagine them in a restaurant!  And while the restaurant would only have been able to accommodate seven of them, he produced thirty.

In the 60's, the Tate began discussions as to the possibility of displaying a group of them as 'an immersive environment' and selected nine of them for the gallery.  This new exhibition, among other paintings and murals, has united eight of the Tate's Seagram murals with a selection of those from other galleries.  The largest room where these are displayed is stunning and although less intimate than the Rothko Room, still has that contemplative, immersive effect.  

It comes as no surprise - except that it did - that there is a non-denominational Rothko Chapel in Houston, an octagonal building which was constructed with his paintings in mind.  And while none of the particular paintings are displayed, similar works from that period are displayed, known as Black-Form paintings, which are as suggested predominantly black, and hugely impacting.

This latest exhibition focuses on his late works which consist mostly of vast canvases of simple solid fields of colour, often very dark, but made up of layers of thinly applied colour which create a luminosity or fluorescence.  Gazing at these works is akin to contemplation - you're drawn in, immersed in the colour and a sense of depth.  And there is a definite emotional dimension to engaging with them.  The word 'spirituality' seems never far from any comment on Rothko's paintings.  

It was an excellent experience and in the words of Rothko, 'If it's worth doing once, it's worth doing again.'