Thursday, 30 December 2010

Slaughter of the Innocents

I saw this card on the notice board in my local Catholic Church. The message comes from a place that might be difficult culturally and theologically for some. I do, however, think abortion is wrong. Yesterday was the memorial day for the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod.

In my own life I have had long periods of illness which were at times horrendous and I would not wish on anyone. Doubtless you have had your own health struggles. However, if someone had asked me before I came on earth ‘as you are going to suffer badly in your life wouldn’t it be better if you did not live?’ looking back I would be appalled. We all have the option to learn and use our suffering. I know of a girl, born in poverty, who has no arms who was abandoned by her parents. She is a joyous girl, without bitterness, who plans to study psychology to help other children.

Also, if a child is an inconvenience to one set of parents it may not be to another. I am going to pick up a kitten tonight and give it a home. The kittens were unexpected and the owners of the mother cat have no room for two more cats. However, I and someone else will not see these lives as a nuisance but as a blessing.

For thou didst form my inward part, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139.13

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Wednesday, 8 December 2010


I like to take photographs and I recently had a camera which uses lithium batteries. To be honest I don't like them. I prefer the common or garden double a batteries ( the ones above.) The reason for this is that you can get them anywhere so if your batteries are drained you can just buy some aa ones at any shop or stall. Also you can buy rechargeable batteries which take a few hours to recharge ( as in the photo.)
You can feel a prayer analogy coming on. You are right. You can pray a quick 'crisis prayer' anywhere and God will be there. However, better is to make sure your batteries ie your soul is well charged by regular periods of sustained prayer.
Don't try and do God's work ( or anyone else's ) on empty batteries!!!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Money and misery

I was talking to my neighbour just now about the news story about the man who did not trust banks. He was moving his life savings, £80,000, over 100,000 dollars, and put it on his car roof in plastic bags. Yes, he did, drove off and the money came off and went missing. My neighbour said his best option was to kill himself which I thought was a sad take on the matter. It is terrible that money can mean more than life itself to some people.
Our Lord warns us that money can be stolen. Store your treasure in heaven is the alternative.
I would really like to know how that man now assesses his life now. Does he count his blessings and think he can still smell a rose and can still enjoy a sunset? Who knows?
St John Chrysostom says this, 'Sojourn with the rich and see how plentiful are their sorrows, how bitter their complaints.'
I remember asking another neighbour of mine about the people who lived in the flat above me, what were they like. He said three words, 'money and misery.'

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Post restante

The photo may seem a bit mundane. Let me explain. I was in the local priory when I noticed the pile of letters. They were for a priest, Fr Brendan, who died two years ago. He was a dear man and much loved. It was rather poignant but reminded me as a believer, a ‘saint’, he is still with the rest of us saints waiting to take his place in eternity. He is not in some far off place detached from us. He is also still considered as being part of the religious community he served and was a member of. Each year on his year’s mind a photo of him is placed on the altar.

Perhaps amongst the community of the saints death is a rather meaningless dividing line.

St John Chrysostom called the body of believers the faithful throughout the whole world, those who are, and those who have been and those who will be.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A Time To Dance

Though I am wary sometimes of the motives of ‘inter faith dialogue’ there are times when I feel an empathy with other faiths. Yesterday, I went to the HIndu Dawali celebration in Trafalgar Square. A band came on stage and got everyone dancing in a circle. It was an overcast day but the rhythm and music and the sheer enthusiasm of those there to just have a good time was impressive and seemed to link us all momentarily. The MC said that Dawali was about recognising the past and looking forward to the good things of the future. There was nothing liturgical or sectarian and the dancers just embraced the moment. We seemed to be joined by our common humanity. Enjoying music and dance became a common bond.

Sadly on the radio was news of the Catholics in Iraq being killed in their own church.

When in the 17th Century the Portuguese came into contact with the Hindu Indians on the coast, as they opened up trade routes, they thought the Indians had already been converted to Christianity. They thought their gentleness was a result of Christian belief.

Though Hinduism with its very different symbols, an elephant headed god, may seem remote to us our own scripture says there is a time to weep and a time to laugh and a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastese 3.4

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

God in Man

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who is a Catholic priest. He is very involved in a community political organisation that works for the rights of poorly paid workers in London. I asked him if he felt any problems working with an organisation run by multi faith and non faith groups. He told he saw no conflict at all and that he saw Jesus in everyone.

Though I am not a Catholic and this is not an exclusively Catholic viewpoint I am impressed by the Catholic view of the Godness of Man. It is a contrast to the saved and unsaved demarcation that can exist in some areas of the church.

Fr Tom said Catholic doctrine says this:

Our resemblance to God lies in our very being; not merely in our memory, understanding and will, but in the totality of what we are. Being an image of God each of us is loved by Him. However far we stray, God wants us to return to Him. In other words each of us has a destiny in God. This is the foundation of the idea that every human being has equal dignity with every other.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I was just talking to one of my neighbours. I was saying to her lightheartedly that some people seem to have the gift of being able to make money but I didn’t. She said that as long as I was happy and healthy then that was all that mattered. Fortunately I am both those things.

I have been reading a book called Affluenza by Oliver James.

‘One study ( regarding materialism ) showed that those with materialistic values, such as wanting money or prestige, were far less likely to be religious, and they were unhappier, drank and smoked more, and in the case of women were at greater risk from smoking disorders. Compared with non-believers, the only sort of religious people who are not protected against depression, are ones whose involvement in faith is guided by self seeking end, seeing belief an investment, such as those who think that prayer would be instrumental in making them successful in work or love.

I know the man in this picture, sadly no longer with us in the flesh, and he had it both ways; he was rich and religious. By the way, as you can tell from the photo, he was very happy!!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Still small voice

Last night I decided to go and see the Pope. The last time a pope visited was about thirty years ago so I thought I may never get the chance again. I had heard him on the radio and found him wise and gentle.

I got to Hyde Park Corner and there was a reasonable crowd and I thought I should be able to see him. My ears, however, were assailed by a discordant noise. A group of Moslem protesters, cordoned off by the police were in full voice. One man had a microphone. He was attacking the visit, my faith and my country among other things. He was condemning all who did not turn to Islam to hell. His voice spoke of God but it was a voice full of anger and hate.

I wandered away to be out of earshot. I got chatting to a nice guy who was taking photos. He pointed out some snipers up on the monument at the corner of Hyde Park. I had not noticed them.

I asked him if he was Catholic and why he was attending. He said that he went to church as a child but had not been since. He said that some kind of inexplicable yearning had brought him to see the Holy Father.

This, I thought, is how God communicates. I thought of the still small voice that spoke to Elijah. I compared it to the ranting man on the microphone.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.

1 Cor. 13.4

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Taste and see

How often do we long for something or wait expectantly only to find we tire of the thing after a while? We will sometimes jump through hoops to get something material but put off seeking a spiritual pleasure.

St Gregory has it about right.

There is a great difference, dearly beloved brethren, between corporal and spiritual delights in that the former, when we are without them, enkindle in the soul a strong desire to possess them, but once they are are attained, they quickly satiate us. Spiritual pleasures, on the contrary, when unattained, produce a certain aversion; but once we taste them the taste awakens desire, and our hunger for them increases the more we taste we see that, if we do not taste these delights,we cannot desire them, because their flavour is unknown to that the psalmist says ’Taste and see that the Lord is sweet’ ( Psalm 33.9 )

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A Thing Of Beauty

Have you ever gazed upon something lovely like these altar flowers or spent a day in the countryside and felt your spirit lift? St Paul talks about the joys of thinking on worthy things in Phillipians 4.8. St Theodorus takes up this theme.

To be concerned with the nature of created things has a very purifying effect. It frees us from passionate attachment to them and delusion about them; and it is the surest means for raising our soul to the Source of all. For all beauty, miracle, magnificence reflects what is supremely beautiful, miraculous and magnificent-reflects, rather, the Source that is above beauty, miracle and magnificence. Theoretikon. The Philokalia.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

You don't miss the water...

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is not a believer and he was talking about his brother who tends to isolate himself. ‘We are social animals,’ he said. He is right.

However, I have just spent two weeks with hardly any time on my own. I was on holiday. On the last day I my cousin and I had to kill a long time in an airport together. I always thought airports had chapels and eventually I found a meditation room. It was called this so it could function as multi faith prayer room. No problems. After two weeks without much privacy and being almost exclusively with people of no faith, finding this room was like a drink of cold water in the desert if you will allow a bit of hyperbole.

I just wallowed in the quiet and sanctity of this plain room. Next to me a Moslem was at his devotions.

My friend is right, we are social animals, but we are also spiritual animals as well.

You don’t miss the water, the old saying says, till the well runs dry.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Making an ass of yourself

The BBC recently ran a very interesting radio programme on the philosophy of science. It sounds deadly dull but it was not. The presenter interviewed researchers who spend most of their time in a cubicle peering down a microscope or amassing seemingly never to be used data. The researchers were asked whether they lost their sense of self in this situation and could they still see the bigger picture of what they were working towards, in this case, finding cures for various medicines.

I was taken by one interviewee. He spends much of his time in a wood doing research into the biology of trees or somesuch. He said how fortunate he was. When we are amongst people, he said, we are always stressed to a certain degree as they are demanding something of us. When he is in his wood there is nothing demanded of him and he finds himself blissfully peaceful.

Recently I spent a week in semi rural part of Hertfordshire. I had to be part of a team and also minister ( well, sort of ) a small group of people. I did not sleep well at first and found the demands of a new routine, new people and new challenges a bit wearing. However, I had the days mostly free and found walks along a canal bank with birdsong, greenery and the company of a pair of donkeys that I found in a field nearby restored whatever the demands of the week took away. This is not the first time I have found these chaps therapeutic.

Of course all this is something our Lord knew all to well. Retreating to the quiet of the hills was how he coped with the demands of the people he was ministering to as in Mark 6.46. As Christians we have all been given ministries and a responsibility to others. However, we have all, I believe, been given a responsibility to preserve ourselves. Incidentally, this is why donkeys are so ‘stubborn’ sometimes and will not go where they are led. It is because apparently they have an acute awareness of situations that might endanger them eg they see the danger of the mountain ledge they are asked to travel along. We humans, however, go blithely on putting ourselves under more and more stress, taking on punishing schedules until sometimes we crack. In the light of this I am not sure why we use the word donkey as a simile for stupidity!! I rather like the fact that donkey was our Lord’s preferred means of transport apart from Shanky’s pony of course.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bit part player

I was in the actors' church in Covent Garden, the atmosphere of which I find very prayerful, and was looking at the plaques of all the famous actors who are remembered here. I came across this sign. How rarely I thought do you hear of people especially in the arts, where big egos can be the norm, who are willing to be well down the cast list. It is election week and on Monday I went to the hustings and I listened to three men, Brown, Cameron and Clegg, who want to take on the biggest part in UK.

I then thought of Ananias who has pretty much a walk on part in Acts ( 9.10 to 17) to anoint Saul to his ministry as Paul. After that he just gets a commendation from Paul and that is it as least as 'reviews' go. What I like is that Ananias who is called via a vision is immediately up for the work though he does show a bit of nerves at the part he is asked to play. Who wouldn't considering Saul's reputation for repression of Christians?

What I have found important in life is that we do not take on situations beyond our ability. I work with a woman who every year takes on a role that is wrong for her. She flaps, panics and makes life for herself and those around her difficult. When she takes on or is given a lesser role she is relaxed and good company but in the harder role she is stressed and not good company.
Basically, she goes beyond herself.

God knows what Ananias and Paul are capable of. The small role he plays is important. It is possible that Ananias was the only one brave enough or worthy enough to go and see Paul and he has the honour of anointing one of the greats of Christendom. Also he gets his name in the billing. Not at the top but he is there for sure as an enthusiastic player of small parts.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


One of my hobbies is photography. What I like about it is that it gives me an end product to spending a day in the country. The other week I went to the London Harness Horse Parade. I have a great fondness for horses especially the humbler beasts of burden rather than the pampered race horses.

A rather posh horse carriage stopped and when we 'snappers' started photographing a man on the top of the carriage started berating one of our number in a rather self important, pompous manner. His gist was that he only wanted bona fide photographers snapping his rig so that it would be seen in a quality newspaper or magazine. If he was trying to be humorous he certainly did not pull it off. He seemed to be trying to humiliate the photographer.

I saw red and was all for pulling this man off the carriage and giving him a humbling experience at the end of my boot. Later I talked to the photographer that had been targeted and reminded him of the incident. He told me his name and it being double barreled I joked that he was probably posher than the carriage driver. He was in fact an old Harrovian. That evening I went to his website and I could see that he was a photographer of great talent having travelled the world capturing horses on film. His name is Rupert Sagar Musgrave. I had seen one of his photos in a quality daily paper. I personally would have created a scene but he showed composure and with this and his talent rose above the situation. I do not know the carriage driver’s name. I did not even keep the pictures of his carriage.

A friend knowing my rather mercurial nature lent me a book by Daniel O’Leary.

Even if it is only for a split second, you will discover that there is an instant when you have the chance to choose- between the immediate, negative, thoughtless reaction or the aware response that changes the personal, hurtful charge into a mutually life giving moment. This is the only loving and wise thing to do. from Travelling Light

My reading that night was.

Be friendly with everyone. don’t be proud and feel that you are cleverer than others, make friends with ordinary people. Romans 12.16

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Finishing The Race

I write this the day before Easter, the most joyous day of the year for Christians. Yet, a sad note I must introduce. Twice recently I have been amongst friends from churches I used to attend: one where I was baptised and one where I spent thirteen years. I asked after those I knew. ‘ O, he doesn’t come to church anymore.’ ‘O, I think he lost his faith.’ The fallout seemed highest amongst those who had married non believers.

There was a time when I was keen to see which celebrity had embraced the Christian faith. It was all about beginnings. I was not so much interested in the finishing tape. I came across a little booklet called ‘Finishing The Race’ by Peter Gillquist.

‘The heroes in modern evangelism are the living, contemporary Christians: the famous authors, evangelists, Bible teachers, born-again athletes or politicians, who are in the public limelight with their stirring testimonies of initial conversions. But in days gone by, it was those who had finished the course, those who- living still, to be sure- had gone home to glory, who were counted as heroes of the Faith.’

I would stress that I am not referring to people going through a challenging time, questioning what they believe, doubting or even backsliding. Competitors in a race go through all sorts of mental and physical trials. I am talking about folks quitting the race.

St Paul writes, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith ( 2 Tim 4.7 )

I implore you, whatever the fatigue, whatever the cramp in the leg, whatever the temptation to stop, cross that line! Eternity is a long time to be a loser.

O Lord our God,

You reduced our human lifetime to a little while

because of our weak and defenceless nature;

but in return,

if we overcome the assaults of enemy,

you have promised us eternal joy

Eastern Orthodox Prayer

Friday, 26 March 2010

A Tiger's Tale

A Tiger's Tale

A while back I was in a pub having had a very pleasant lunch in good company. It was mid afternoon and I noticed people looking intently at the tv screen. I wondered what had captured their attention. It was the confession by Tiger Woods of his infidelity. Apparently USA came to a halt briefly with people listening to this confession. I heard more of this man in contrition yesterday.

Cynics say that he needs to appease the public and his sponsors to carry on playing and earning. However, having just had a year of British politicians mealy mouthed and self justifying when caught redhanded I found it refreshing to hear a full and complete confession. James 5.16 encourages us to confess our sins to one another (not just in the confessional ) and pray for one another so we may be healed. Confession is meant to be part of a process that leads to healing not to feeling humiliated.

What interested me was that Woods said looking back he saw the person who committed the infidelity as if they were another person. That is not that strange perhaps as we sometimes say to others, using the English idiom, ‘I don’t think you have been quite yourself lately.’ Of course we are technically always ourselves but I was taken by his sense of detachment. After confession perhaps we have transcended our own selves. Only time will tell if Woods has used the confession for his own ends and only God knows the secrets of his heart. To be honest golf fails to entertain me but I will see Tiger Woods as a different man from now on.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

To the glory of God

The other day my friend and I who is a photographer went to the National Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition. We went for lunch in a MacDonald's, in Leicester Square, as mundane an activity as one could find. However, even in the most common place the divine can poke through the clouds.
One of the men cleaning the tables and taking the 'empties' away was a smartly dressed black man. I noticed how he was engaging cheerily with the diners at the next table who responded. I thought I had to talk to him.

He was from Nigeria and had worked in other European countries. I asked him about the trouble in his country where Moslems were brutally killing village men, women and children in revenge for atrocities by 'Christians' against Moslems. He had a diplomatic reply which now eludes me.

This man was a Christian. He seemed to want to just show his faith through his work. No empty rhetoric to make people uncomfortable.He really enjoyed engaging with the customers. I doubt if earned much more than minimum wage. His joy was infectious.

I thought of Brother Lawrence toiling cheerfully over his pots and pans.
I thought of the verse 1 Corinthians 10.31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Peter and I went back to our lunch. As we went out he was still chatting merrily to diners on another table. Peter, as usual, had his camera on him and the man was happy to have his pic taken. And yes I did write to his boss to commend this man to him. Good news, they say, spreads fast.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

me, me, me

Recently I went to see a performer called Mariza. She is Portuguese and sings fado which is a very mournful type of music; Portuguese blues if you like. However, she takes this type of music and makes it very accessible. Her band are excellent and she goes out of her way to make sure the person in the audience gets a great performance.
Towards the end of her show I realised that the most important person at the performance was not Mariza but me. This is the sign of a great performer. This is very refreshing in an age when one is made to feel a nobody if one is not a celebrity. Yet here was a true performer; someone who puts the people in the audience first.
I found a sort of parallel for the Christian life. We have made ourselves more important than our fellow human beings and more dangerously, God. We have made ourselves the centre of the universe. Walk past a graveyard and you will see a field full of people who may have thought the same. However, the grandiose tombstones after a few generations begin to be neglected. Thinking of your own demise is a good way to put your life in perspective.
The truly liberated man or woman is he or she who gives up his or her life for others.

By making himself his own goal and objective, man became 'his own idol' ( according to St. Andrew of Crete ) Of his own free will he broke off his iconic relationship with God and impeded his movement towards Him. He made himself autonomous, limited himself to created time and space, to his created nature, with the physiological result that a spiritual famine broke out within him. Panayiotis Nellas.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


When I was young the Anglican Church had a tenuous hold on my life. I was told about Lent as being a time when you gave up something like chocolate or chewing gum. Fasting was never fully explained. Like many others I tried it for a week and gave up. I think fasting is one of the most misunderstood practices in the Christian Church. This is not meant as a swipe at the Church of England by the way. I come from a generally apostate generation.

One aspect of fasting is that we give up on some of the regular elements of our life to show our dependence on God for all provision. I feel sorry for those who can not thank God for the good things in life like food ( Give thanks in all circumstances 1 Thess. 5. 16 ) In this respect I think Harvest Festival that I remember from my Church of England days is a joyous reminder of God's provision.

I just came across this:

So far from making us look on food as a defilement, fasting has exactly the opposite effect. Only those who have learnt to control their appetites through abstinence can appreciate the full glory and beauty of what God has given to us. To one who has eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, an olive can seem full of nourishment. A slice of plain cheese or a hardboiled egg never tastes so good as on Easter morning, after seven weeks of fasting. Bishop Kallistos

I have one egg in my possession which I intend to enjoy it tomorrow. Happy fasting if you are!!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

King of the Road

What surprises me about people we might call tramps, bagladies, hobos and other terms is how much stuff they carry around. Dispensing with the commitments of family, jobs, mortgages ( or maybe having had these taken away ) they still toke around large burdens. I suppose we are defined to a certain extent by the things we have built up and the familiar possessions.

The other night I went to the South Bank to see a concert. I was surrounded by the well fed and well dressed. Tickets to concerts are not cheap. The eateries were filled with diners. In amongst the rich and cultured were little piles of clothes and humanity begging. Though I am not naive about those who beg, some chose it as a career option, I am also aware how easy it is to fall off the 'cliff of comfort.' We are all so fragile. A period of illness, the death of one we were dependent on, the end of a job, a marriage break up can suddenly wrench us from our comfort zone. I know because I have been there. One minute I was going along nicely thank you and then a string of unforeseen events changed my situation totally.

In the excellent film, The Game, the friends of Nicholas Van Orton, played by Michael Douglas, a cold and ruthless financier, decide it would good for him to be humbled and contrive to take away all his props: job, money, possessions and status to see if it will change him into a better human being. The ease with which these things are taken away is disquieting.

What I have always liked about Catholics is that they stress the idea of seeing Christ in everyone. When we look at even the most miserable wretch we should still see Christ. It is a biblical truth. Spend some time with Matthew 25 31- 46. See how the King, Jesus, is enshrined in the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger. Perhaps when we see someone in reduced circumstances we should see them as the king who will return to sit on a glorious throne to judge us. The role reversal in this passage is arresting.

Perhaps the bags this man is carrying contains a list of those he has encountered and how they have treated him. Maybe he will pass this list on to our King.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


I was recently walking around Hatton Gardens which is the diamond district of London. One can tell by the skull caps that many of the people who work here are Jewish. I once asked a Jewish friend why many Jews had great skills in business. 'Insecurity' was his answer and inferred that when you have been expelled from countries and persecuted you try and find something like land or money to give security.

We know that Zacchaeus was Jewish. Our Lord refers to him as 'a son of Abraham.' We know that he was rich. Maybe he was made insecure by the invasion of the Romans. Maybe he had been persecuted or lost his former status and now looked to find security in riches. It does not seem that it gave him true satisfaction. We have to assume a certain amount. Read the story in Luke 19 1-10. What comes over to me is the sheer joy that Zacchaeus had for the new life that Christ was offering. He rushes to the tree to see Jesus and he immediately offers to make restitution. He receives Him joyfully ( verse 6 ) He was lost but is now found. The security of his riches now have less meaning.

We are all lost. But our Saviour seeks us. He is inviting Himself today to our house, though we be sinners. Let us give ourselves to the needy - to Christ. Atheistic governments have prevented us. Yet under governments of freedom we have prevented ourselves by indolence and by the delusions of busy worldly pursuits. Johanna Manley

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Not another festival!!

Around now probably the last thing you need is another festival. However, today is the feast of Theophany. Falling just after Christmas and before Epiphany it is little wonder it is not celebrated much- bit like having your birthday at Christmas.
However Theophany concerns God becoming man. The story of the early Christian Church is partly one of the struggle to establish a true theology. Preachers could build up huge followings by espousing variations of the gospel that they thought were the truth. Bishops and archbishops held what we would now call seriously heretical views. We are not talking here about minor points of theology but big shifts away from what we would now consider orthodox.
The Arians, who held sway in large parts of Germany, believed that Jesus was not God by nature while in the east Nestorians ( who are still very much around today ) believed there were two forms of Jesus, not two natures, and one form was really just a prophet. This the Moslems still believe.
Some may say the struggles of the early Church to defeat heresy were destructive. However, to believe in the wrong Jesus is dangerous. Negation His humanity can
have serious consequences for us. If God was not fully human then He can not understand our weaknesses and temptations. It is important that we have a Jesus who knows what temptation is. He knows first hand how the Devil is trying to pull us of course. He knew how seductive he could be. Rememer Christ's dialogues with the Devil in the desert?
If He was not fully human it suggests He did not suffer fully; His divinity acting as a sort of anaesthetic. This idea seriously demeans what Christ did at Calvary.
There was even a belief going around in the early Church that God put another person on the cross to suffer. A sort of CIA dirty trick. There were some pretty wacky heresies floating about.
Now thankfully we have the printed scriptures and church catechisms to turn to.
Happy Theophany!!