Thursday, December 12, 2013

Staying home

We're all going on a summer holiday, sang Cliff Richard. Not us. Not really. Not this year. Just a few nights away visiting distant family members. But hardly a holiday.

My wife remembers asking herself as a girl what holidays are for. What are you meant to do? Where to go wasn't a problem then. Parents decided. If lucky, you were taken.

As a boy I always knew what holidays were for. Escape, in a word. Escape from routine, especially the dreaded routine of school attendance. I never liked school. To wake up free of that ghastly obligation - what bliss!

At my age novelty makes me feel sad. Why have I never done this, been here, before? Revisiting old acquaintances, places, experiences is more satisfying. Moreover since retiring from parish ministry I have nothing and nobody to escape from. My centre of gravity (and how I love gravity) is here at home.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Not Being Asked

I wasn’t asked
Whether I would like
To be born.

I should have been.

It was that important,
Awkward, Painful.
I cried, I’m told.

No wonder.

Loud, and then louder.

If only I had known
What was to come,
But by the time it did
I had learned
To count my blessings,
To look on the bright side

Of life
That was given to me

Without asking.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Something to believe in

That's what I need: something to believe in. 

The big question for me about Christianity is not just "What is the Good News?" but "What could possibly be Good News in a world that entails such terrible and gratuitous suffering?" What, in other words, would make human life worth living in spite of all that is painful and wretched about it - not only worth living but worth propagating?

What I come up against whenever I try to answer this question is not only my own suffering, nor even just the sufferings of others. What disturbs my attempts to make light of, rationalize, or avoid thinking about our adult traumas are the tears of pain and grief on the faces of children encountered in the flesh and depicted daily on page and screen, innocent and uncomprehending.

Woody Allen is quoted as saying that if God exists he'd better have a good excuse. But can an excuse, even the best, be good enough? And is anything better than an excuse imaginable? Is Good News possible?

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

We're not going

We're all going on a summer holiday, sang Cliff Richard. Not us. Not really. Perhaps a few nights away visiting our more distant family members. But hardly a holiday.

My wife remembers posing the question as a girl - What are holidays for? What are you meant to do? Where to go wasn't the problem back then. It was for parents to decide. If lucky, you were simply taken..

As a boy I always knew what holidays were for. In a word - Escape. Escape from routine, especially the dreaded daily routine of school attendance. I never liked school. To wake up in the morning free of that ghastly obligation. What bliss!

But now, at my age, novelty makes me sad; leaves me asking why I have not done this, been here, before. Revisiting places and experiences, even reading again much-thumbed books, is more satisfying. In particular, since retirement from parish ministry I have nothing and nobody to escape from. My centre of gravity (and how I love gravity) is here at home.

A sober contemplation is that one day I will indeed be taken, bodily removed, from my home and the blessed company of those who share it with me, for a long, long holiday, an endless rest. Too long. Too soon.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

It's harder when you're old

One of the things I've noticed about being old - did I tell you I've just turned seventy? - is how hard it is to avoid the company and conversation of those who only want to talk about their ailments and their holidays. Lacking curiosity about the first, and having little appetite for the second, can put you at a social disadvantage. 

Which is why we started our own Book Group.

I've always been a non-fiction type myself but in the group we have been mostly reading novels. I'm presently convalescing after a bout of exposure to Erin Morgenstern's 'The Night Circus'. Reading it I found was like being caught up in a magical whirlwind. As with the circus of the book, leaving it you are left wondering whether the dream is on the inside or the outside.

Some religious traditions seem to recognise that the external world may be hallucinatory. European philosophers of the Enlightenment acknowledged as much. The imaginative work of writers like Morgenstern awaken us to a strange reality we too easily take for granted.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


I figure I must be one of these. I wasn't even sure I hadn't made the word up.

You know how St Paul describes his approach to Christian witness as becoming all things to all people - to the Jews a Jew, to the weak as weak - in order to win people for the gospel? Well I seem to swim instinctively against the tide. I suppose that means I'm anti-Pauline.

Whenever I'm in the company of people who are sure of themselves and present a united front or a unified view of anything I just automatically want to oppose them. With other clergy I'm anti-clerical. In the company of Christians or other religious people I become the most sceptical secularist. When I'm with atheists, new or old, I want to be an apologist for God. I'm left-wing in deliberation with right-wingers, but to like-minded lefties I can come across a bit 'Ayn Randy'.

And those closest to me will tell you that I am always and everywhere vehemently anti-homophobic. Trouble is I'm also anti-homophobia-phobic - and that's when it starts to get complicated.

Something in common

I sometimes think that my main reason for becoming vegetarian was to have something in common with Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Gautama Buddha, Pythagoras, Plato, Leonardo Da Vinci, Voltaire, Mary Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, George Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein.

Or was it to be different from most other people?

As if just not wanting to have anything to do with the cruel and wasteful way we farm and slaughter animals isn't a good enough reason in itself.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Suburb of the Soul

"I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that's my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again ... the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul."

I have no context for this quotation from the work of J G Ballard. All I know is that it touched me in a way that brought me back to blogging. Whether the effect will prove lasting, time will tell.

How the world has changed in my lifetime. What spectacular advances have been made since the birth of my grandparent in the nineteenth century. But only in the sense that things - the same things - have got bigger, smaller, faster, more accessible, more measured. There are a few more things that we know, and rather a lot more we can do, within the compass of an imagination hardly stretched or challenged by these most recent accretions.

Friday, May 03, 2013

On Midwives

An item on Breakfast TV this morning seemed to be predicated on two assumptions: 1. It's good to have babies. 2. It's good to have as many babies as you want.

The item was about cuts in the midwifery service and in childcare. Of course these will not result, as they should, in fewer babies being born, because we don't first check that resources are in place and then go ahead and have babies. We have them anyway - because babies are unconditionally a good thing.

Apologies for using the word "we" a bit loosely here - like Neville Chamberlain when he announced to the British people in 1939 that "we" are at war with Germany. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I suffered from this all my working life, which for a parish priest was a quite crippling handicap. It was like agoraphobia which is an anxiety disorder, often precipitated by the fear of having a panic attack in a setting from which there is no easy means of escape. For me that setting was a pulpit, especially a pulpit which was both elevated and restricting, where I could feel trapped and exposed in equal measure.

The sense of panic was not mitigated by the belief that the message I delivered was soul-saving truth. I learned this in my youth from the Reverend Father F W Osborn who preached as if your eternal life depended on it. It felt like that to me too as I hung on his every word, and so I could never rid myself of the feeling that someone just might be listening to me with the same intensity of expectation.