Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Reading: Stories, Not Lists

As I wind down coming up to Christmas, I like to read a solidly non-academic book that will not help me in any way to achieve study or work-related goals.  So, a few weeks ago I headed to the Oxfam Bookshop to choose such a read.  I was sort of hoping to get a second-hand copy of Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' (we're going to South Africa in April) but the closest thing I could find was Ffyona Campbell's 'On Foot Through Africa'.

I remember the author being on TV in the early '90s, after her mammoth trek from Cape Town to Tangier.  She persevered through illness, attack and war zones to make sure she took every single step along the way, never taking a short cut even when it seemed justifiable to do so.

This adventure/travel book won't help me with work or study, so it meets the Advent and Christmas holiday reading criteria.  But even such carefully selected easy-on-the-brain literature can touch on spirituality.

"feel excitement about where you are,
not about where you will be."

Yesterday, on the train, I was struck by Campbell's words on page 144: "feel excitement about where you are, not about where you will be."

Very apt for the season of Advent!

The past 24 days have been like a long walk towards the exciting destination of Christmas.  I think it's really good that the church tells us to value waiting, preparing, journeying, and not just rush straight into Christmas. There are lots of voices telling us we can have it all now, instant gratification, instant cash, ... including (sadly I think) some voices within the church that we call prosperity teaching.

'On Foot Through Africa' is such a good read, precisely because it is far more than a list of successful arrivals in linear fashion across the map.  Campbell integrates experiences of suffering, defeat, sickness and fear.  She isn't scared to admit when she's the cause of her own troubles, her self-absorption or insensitivity to her fellow adventurers.

Integrating the hardships along the way turns her book from a list into a story.  And stories are way better than lists, if you ask me!

I think if our lives are all about the destinations, then we are like lists.  And lists are not the most exciting (or human) of documents.  Lives that are just lists of successes, are fragmented, indigested lives, sort of semi-fictional accounts selected carefully to project our best side in the hope of getting a job.

It's the long times in between successes that make our lives into stories.  The journey.  The long hours waiting, hoping, persevering.  That's what makes a good novel: connecting fibres, texture and depth, shade and light.

I like what Ffyona advises herself.  She won't make the journey, let alone enjoy it, if she can't choose to be excited about the now.

I have to learn to be patient along my path to finding out if I am to be trained for ordination or not.  It would feel great to be relieved of the wait, but the journey itself is good for me.  I dare say the same has been true during times of illness - I've learned more from suffering than from the cure (great as that is when at last it comes).

God's long, patient pedagogy can only be experienced fully if we learn to wait.  Advent is good for that.  And good for us.  It trains us for the hard bits of life we often want to pray away, fast-forward past to the end.
I've enjoyed my Advent reading, and letting an unlikely author speak to me about my faith journey.  Has the makings of a good New Year resolution ...
... but for now, I'm off to enjoy The Christmas Story.  Merry Christmas!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Morning Walk

Between services at the Muff and St. Peter's churches yesterday, I enjoyed a bracing walk through a much underrated park in Derry, along the river from behind Sainsbury's to the steps under the Foyle Bridge.  I couldn't even tell you the name of it!
I don't often blog about walks (food, yes) but this one was spectacular.
The grass was crystalline with frost; the winter sun hung low and searching; the sky looked limitless, big, bright and blue.  Perfect morning's weather for a good old think.
So I thought.  And prayed.
The thing weighing most on my mind was a course mate who found out recently that she won't be sent to Dublin in the spring time to be considered for ordained ministry.  I don't know if she saw it coming, but I sure didn't.  I felt pretty floored by her news, so I can barely begin to imagine how she must be feeling.
Because even if we couch plans in very tentative terms, remembering to say all the if's and should's when we share our future dreams with other people, inside I think we can't help but become attached to those plans.  I know I have it all mapped out in my imagination.

What if I get bad news, too?  What if I get a 'no' and have to reconsider what I do with my life?  It'll be painful if the path I end up treading doesn't take me via the place I've imagined.
I'm doing a foundation course with a view to training for ordination in the Church of Ireland.  My bishop recently agreed to send me to a selection conference just before Easter.  I think I should hear either way within a couple of weeks of that.  I suppose I've kept it quiet because there's always the chance I could get a closed door at any stage, and realize I'm going no further in this direction.  And because I find it easier to share good news afterwards than risk making myself vulnerable!
Or to put it another way, it's easier to blog about chocolate fondants three years later when they work, than when they don't! (For obscure reference, see previous post!)
I think I'll be OK, eventually, if they say no.  Hugely disappointed, because as I continue to journey with others on a similar path, and as my course progresses, I realize I want it more and more.  But OK, because there are actually few things I want to do in a dog collar that I can't do without one.  Lay people can preach and teach, visit, pray, lead worship, train and equip others, ...  I would see it as a great privilege to say the prayer of consecration and declare people husband and wife, but these in themselves are not burning desires of mine.
So, I'm still figuring out why exactly I want to take this next step.  Release from paid employment to give more time to the church?  Indeed.  Chance to do an MTh?  Absolutely!  But neither of those quite justifies the drastic step of ordination!
If it is a 'no' next year, at least I'll know.  And I'll think of other ways I can satisfy my craving for theological study, and other ways of serving.
So, for now, I'll keep wrestling with that little voice.  The one that asks more questions than it answers.  How annoying!  But ultimately very, very satisfying.  "What are you called to do?  What about ordained ministry?  But then, why would you need to?  And why would you want to?  And if they turn you down, what then?"
More walks required on frosty, clear mornings ...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Four Chocolate Fondants

Three years ago (Sarah says it's more), I promised to make her chocolate fondant.  I used some friends to practise on, and served them some nice, if heavy, individual chocolate cakes.  I was beaten.

Three years (or over) later, Sarah was poorly and I decided chocolate fondants were the cure.  It was time to face my nemesis.

The trick, they say, is the preparation of the ramekins.  Upward strokes of melted butter, chill, repeat.  Mixture is at the right temperature and comes out easily.  You don't want to take any risks with these tricky little buggers.

An added challenge... this week is Masterchef final week.  So I am feeling all cheffy and inspired!

Fondants one and two: I make a batch of four, although I use an extra few dozen bowls and utensils to make one fondant gluten-free.  The GF fondant struggles to find its legs, but tastes yummy.  Looked a mess though.  I'll have to experiment with adding xanthan gum or vitamin C powder or one of those faffy ingredients that makes GF baking vaguely possible.  Sarah's, however, slid effortlessly onto the plate, held up strong with all that gluten no doubt, and score!  The centre was gooey and oozed out all over the plate in a very pleasing way.

Fondant three: If this were Masterchef, how could I ponce about with this recipe and impress Michel Roux?  I know!  Cut out some paper stars, add strawberries cut into flowers, and dust with icing sugar.  Fondant wobbles menacingly tonight, so it gets an extra one minute in the oven.  Capricious things, they are.

Fondant four: Out of strawberries.  What have we got?  Aha, tonight is clementine and pistachio night. Peel and de-skank clementine segments, make a wheel shape, and throw over a few salted pistachios.  Dust with cocoa powder.  Sorted.  Fourteen and a half minutes - that's what they need in our oven.  Maybe it's the big ramekins.

Next time: how can I booze them up with a good glug of brandy?

Oh, and Sarah is feeling much better, if a little full.  But she has requested no chocolate fondant for dessert tomorrow.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Martine's, Galway

"Martine's Heart Coeliacs", says the menu. 

I Heart Martine's, too.

We arrived at the bar downstairs, waited for a small throng in front of us to be turned away disappointed, and proudly announced that we had a reservation.  We were immediately shown up an unglamourous staircase ('Oh rubbish, they're going to stick us in the overflow') into an intimate, low-lit space ('Score!').  Offered our choice of table, we selected one at a jaunty angle to the bay window so both of us could look down onto colourful Quay Street.  Our coats were taken from us, and we were left comfortably to ponder the menu as well as some fun art by Martine herself.
In Galway, you just have to go for oysters.  Shunning the baked alternative, I went for six plainly presented Galway Bay oysters, served with parsley and a wedge of lemon.  These bad boys were fresher than fresh, barely a briney scent; they tasted minerally and then sweet and perfumed.  I was in heaven.  Sarah had the chicken liver pâté, which she awarded a confident 8/10.
Martine's excels in both turf and surf.  Cuts of steak and catches of fish vary daily, and are displayed on a chalk board.  Our waitress recommended the cheapest fish dish on there, wild plaice, for its buttery, flaky flesh - and man alive was she right.  Served on a bed of mushroom risotto, it sang an uncomplicated but beautiful solo.  'For research purposes', I sampled Sarah's steak - robust flavour and cooked perfectly, served with sweet slow-cooked onions - and chips - earthy, chunky, golden, a solid B+ grade from a tough marker.
Filling fare to restore and comfort at the end of a frosty day's exploring the West.  No dessert required (the bill was presented along with mini chocolate brownies), but we enjoyed a glass of wine each.  Sarah had an easy-drinking French Les Jamelles 2010 Merlot, and I surprised us both by opting for a crisp, dry Italian with a name I can't remember.  Very decent wine list. 
All in all, a quintessentially Galwegian dining experience: friendly, self-assuredly Irish with a Latin twist, top-notch local produce from land and sea, and memorable for all the right reasons.

Martine's menu is mostly coeliac-friendly or can be made so with a few minor tweaks.  Staff are helpful and knowledgeable about gluten-free food.  Highly trustworthy and coeliacs won't feel limited in their menu choices.

Starters €5-12, Mains €12-30, Wine by the glass €5-7.50  (Lunch menu also available)  21 Quay Street, Galway, Ireland  00353 91 565662

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Women Bishops: They Think It's All Over ...

Sorry for the long absence.  I've had two essays to write, and I read far too much and it took weeks to get under control.

So, women bishops.  I won't lie to you, I was bitterly disappointed.  But we (if I can include myself as a CofI not CofE member) are not back at square one.  By the sound of some reporters and commentators, you'd think the church had just decided a woman's place is in the home.

First of all, the vote was lost only very, very narrowly, and it will most likely pass next time round.  Pity that's a few years off, but hey we have to work with the system we're in.

Secondly, in all three Houses (Bishops, Clergy and Laity) there was a strong majority in favour.  The Church is overwhelmingly pro-women bishops.  Support is strongest among the most senior figures in the Church, with both Archbishop Williams, Archbishop Sentamu and Archbishop-Elect Welby.

Thirdly (aren't I organized), the very fact that the CofE is talking about a change that is monumental in its history, speaks volumes about its willingness to change and learn.

Fourthly, isn't it great that the Church has the opportunity now to work even harder to get things right and bring opponents along with supporters?  If this were to be pushed through earlier than people are ready for it, then it might cause more conflict.  Bear in mind also that the arrangements for espiscopal oversight for people who can't accept a female bishop have to be got right.  If the wrong arrangements are made in order to get this through faster, we could end up with women as a lower tier of bishops.

Conflict and diversity of opinion are inevitable, and mature people and organizations can handle them.  So, hats off, Church of England, for talking it all through.  Critics are talking of a dead church, but as Sentamu said yesterday, dead bodies don't talk.

The same issues were around in Paul's time, and he knew that as a secondary issue (not meaning unimportant, but not fundamental to proclaiming Christ) different cultural allowances and checks might be necessary for the sake of unity, all the while maintaining his firm belief that:

              There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither
              male nor female; for you are all one in the Messiah, Jesus. (Gal. 3:8)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Christian country? Litmus test

Ancient Israel was called to be different, an example of God's priorities, indeed God's character.
In the past few thousand years, have we learned the message of the Old Testament prophets?  There are two litmus tests for a godly nation.  One is commitment to God, not idols.  The second is social justice.  How does the UK stand up to litmus test two according to this week's news?
1.  Are we looking after the poor?  Save the Children this week starts a new campaign for children, not in Africa or South-East Asia, but in our own towns and cities.  This, in what's still one of the world's richest nations.  So yes, a charitable organization is looking after poor children here.  But how can there be poor children in a 'developed' country?  (Even if we object to the use of the word poor, as some have, it's certainly inequality.)
2.  Are we caring for the most vulnerable in society, e.g. the sick?  The sick are being told we can no longer afford to keep them.  A private company, ATOS, has the government contract to make the decision previously taken by family GPs - whether or not someone is too sick or infirm to work.  Increasingly, the weakest and most vulnerable in society are being told to earn their keep.  The mentally ill in particular are having their benefits taken off them, with ATOS assessors by their own admission under-trained in mental health.  They ask a seemingly innocuous question: Do you watch Coronation Street?  If you say you do, they conclude that your mind is clear and your concentration is good enough for a desk job.  If you're having cancer treatment and your appointment happens to be between cycles of therapy, you might just look well enough on that particular day to be told there's nothing stopping you from getting a job.  On appeal, a majority of decisions are overturned.  It seems ATOS, in order to reach targets, is hoping some won't have the fight in them to challenge their wrong decisions.

3.  Are we looking after immigrants?  No country can take in everyone who'd like to live there, or have completely open borders.  But nobody's asking the UK to.  Yet, desperate for votes and popular support, the UK coalition government has allowed the Border Agency to change and apply rules retroactively.  They don't answer questions, they make instructions deliberately ambiguous, and the government admit the agency is not fit for purpose.  Yet they are allowed to jeopardize the futures of overseas students who have paid tens of thousands of pounds in fees and poured their family's savings into the UK economy in living expenses.  Students just months away from graduating have been told, because their university London Met made mistakes (allegedly, although it's impossible not to since the Border Agency changes goalposts so often) they can't continue their studies, with immediate effect.  This is punitive, and directed at innocent victims.  Why not decide London Met can't take any more overseas students from now on, but allow current students to continue?  Because Cameron wants easy figures to wave at voters. 
We are told we can no longer afford our welfare system, yet there are more of us are paying into the system than in post-war Britain when the ravaged economy was struggling to get off the ground again.  For some, sadly, news of recession has been a great opportunity to forge more of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest society.
When I came back from Latin America in late 2009, and news of a credit crunch was everywhere, the conclusion was that greed and unregulated capitalism were the causes of the mess, not generosity and equality.  It took very little time for the powers that be to turn that message on its head, and convince us that we can't afford to care for the poor, the sick and the immigrants among us.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Great Birthday Bake-Off

It was Sarah's birthday last month, and we had a few friends around for afternoon tea (actually more like evening time, so it was pretty much cake for dinner!)

My birthday present to Sarah was to make a plurality of cake for her party, and since some people asked for the recipes, here they are ...

Blueberry and lime cheesecake gateau

1.  Blueberry and Lime Cheesecake Gateau

- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 200g caster sugar
- 200g butter (room temp or softened)
- 4 large eggs
- 2tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp milk

For the frosting and decoration:
- 400g medium-fat ricotta
- 100g icing sugar
- 200g blueberries
- grated zest of 2 limes and juice of 1

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C.
2. Beat together flour, baking powder, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla.
3. Whisk hard while adding ilk.
4. Bake in two deep 18cm round cake tins for 40 mins.
5. Cool, then split one or both sponges in two.
6. Beat the ricotta until soft, then beat in the lime zest and juice, and the icing sugar.
7. Sandwich the sponge layers together, spread remaining frosting on the top, and decorate with blueberries.

2.  Raspberry Scones

- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 heaped tsp caster sugar
- 50g butter, diced
- 200 ml buttermilk
- 100g raspberries
- clotted cream, to serve

1. Heat oven to 220C.
2. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, and stir in the sugar.
3. Rub in the butter to resemble breadcrumbs.
4. Make a well, add buttermilk gradually until it forms a soft but not too sticky dough.
5. Push raspberries through the dough with your hands.  They'll break up, but that's OK.
6. Tear the dough into six clumps and shape roughly.
7. Bake on a floured tray for 12-14 mins.
8. Cool on a wire rack.

From left to right:  millionnaire's shortbread, chocolate toffee brownies,
cheesecake buns, raspberry scones, and almond lemon shortbread

3.  Almond Lemon Shortbread

- 250g butter, softened
- 140g golden caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- zest of 2 lemons
- 300g plain flour
- 100g ground almonds
- a little milk to brush and seal
- 3 tbsp lemon curd
- flaked almonds

1. Heat oven to 190C.
2. Beat together butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, zest and a pinch of salt.
3. Fold in flour and ground almonds.
4. Roll out on a flat surface to the thickness of a £1 coin(on a warm day, chill in the fridge first). 
5. Cut out rounds with a 7cm cutter, and brush with milk.
6. Spoon blobs of lemon curd on half; the remaining disks are the tops.  Gently press to seal.
7. Sprinkle with caster sugar and flaked almonds.
8. Bake for 15 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

4.  Millionnaire's Shortbread


For the biscuit base
- 140g butter, cold and diced
- 175g plain flour
- 25g cornflour
- 50g golden caster sugar
- 85g blanched almonds, toasted and chopped
- seeds from 1 vanilla pod

For the caramel
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 140 ml single cream
- 50g btter, diced

For the topping
- 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- 85g butter

1. Heat oven to 160C and butter a shallow 20 x 23 cm baking tin.
2. Sift flours into a bowl, and add sugar, almonds, and a pinch of salt.
3. Run in butter and vanilla seeds.
4. Press firmly into the tin.  Freeze for 5 mins, then bake for 35 mins.
5. For the caramel, put sugar and 100ml water in a heavy based pan.
6. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat and boil until it goes dark amber.
7. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring all the while.  Take care, it will hiss and fizz!
8. Add the butter and half a tsp salt.
9. Pour over biscuit base and let cool.
10. For the topping, melt chocolate and butter together and smooth with the back of a spoon.
11. Cool and cut into slices.

5.  Chocolate Toffee Brownies

- 350g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- 250g butter
- 3 large eggs
- 250g dark muscovado sugar
- 85g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 160C.
2. Butter a shallow 23cm tin.
3. Melt chocolate and butter. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Whisk eggs until pale, combine sugar.
5. Fold chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mixture.
6. Sift in flour and baking powder, and combine.
7. Bake for 30 minutes.  Mixture will be gooey but will solid up when cool.
8. Cool in the tin on a wire rack for at least one hour.

6.  Individual Cheesecake Buns

- 100g butter, room temperature (or softened)
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 140g elf-raising flour
- 50g blueberries

For the topping
- 250ml soured cream
- 30g icin sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Butter a 12-hole muffin tin.
2. Cross 1.5cm strips of baking parchment in each hole.  Make sure ends stick up, so you can lift the cakes out after baking.
3. Heat the oven to 180C.
4. Beat butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. 
5. Gradually beat in the eggs, then lemon zest and juice.
6. Fold in the flour.
7. Divide among muffin holes, smoothing over the tops.  Sprinkle 3 blueberries on each.
8. Bake for 12 mins.
9. Meanwhile, whisk topping ingredients together.
10. Remove muffin tray from the oven, and press down the risen sponge with the back of a spoon.
11. Spoon topping on each sponge base and scatter with remaining blueberries.
12. Bake for a further 5-7 mins.

Running Mate

I think about a lot of things when I run.  I often plan essays, make decisions, organize my workday, ...  Whereas I used to think I didn't have enough time to exercise, now I wonder how I ever got anything done without it!

Since I started in February, I have only run once with other people, and that was a Parkrun event in London with lots of strangers.  I already felt pretty anonymous, but I made sure my earphones were visibly in, just in case.

It was mainly Sarah's encouragement that led to my run with Rachid last week.  Would I be able to talk, or would I be embarrassingly breathless?  What if I had to ask him to slow down or stop?  What if he sprinted off ahead of me?  What if he thought, 'didn't Chris say he's been training for months?!'  Running for me has always been a private, solitary affair. 

We met by the old Foyle Railway train tracks, at one end of the Craigavon Bridge, to run towards the border and Carrigans, a route I love.  You can see counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone all converge on the River Foyle.  I put one earphone in, and tucked the other into the neck of my T-shirt.  And we set off ...

Before long, we were in nature, sometimes making small talk, sometimes in silence.  At times one of us would edge ahead and make the other pick up pace, and at other times we ran shoulder to shoulder.  I should say, this was Rachid's first run since fasting over Ramadan, which was very, very impressive.  There probably was a smidgeon of healthy competition, something I normally shun, but I must admit, it made me less much likely to slack off!

'Twas a big step for me, making myself vulnerable by running with Rachid.  And I'm very glad I did. 

In his book, John Donohue popularized the idea of 'anam cara', or soul friend, in Celtic spirituality.    The anam cara is someone with whom we can be vulnerable and let into the solitary, doubful, private parts of us.  As so often the case, spirituality plays out in everyday life, like running along the old Foyle train tracks last Saturday.

So, thank you to my 'rith cara' (running mate) Rachid!  See you at the start line in a week for the Derry Waterside Half Marathon!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Number 46

So, my application to enter the Derry Waterside Half Marathon has finally been processed.  My runner's number is 46.  I feel now like it's time to talk about this.  And by doing so, I am committing myself to actually going through with it!

My fancy new trainers, a kind birthday presie from my in-laws

I decided back in February that if I don't get into shape this year, then it's only going to get harder.  And by chance, I came across a series of NHS podcasts called Couch to 5K.  In just nine weeks they took me from gentle one-minute runs interspersed with recovery walks, to running a solid 5K in 30 minutes.  To see the beginner's programme, go to  They recently added a series of three improver level podcasts.

It's a great way to see the great outdoors (even the wilder nooks of Kilfennan Urban Park!).  When I've been away in Dublin on my course and visiting Sarah's family in Berkshire, I've enjoyed getting the runners on and seeing new places.  This weekend we're off to Switzerland for a wedding, and I'm looking forward to planning a route around Wolfhausen on

I never take a mobile on my runs - so please don't mug me.  It's so wonderfully self-indulgent to be uncontactable and just be with my thoughts for three hours.  Ha ha just kidding. I can't run for three hours.

Now, for the past couple of months I've been training for a half marathon and so far so good.  I'm not too worried about how long it takes me to get round, I just want to finish it (and ideally not come last).

I'm running to raise money for Latin Link, who I worked with in Bolivia.  We're all suckers for pictures of cute little children, and rightly so.  But when young people in orphanages and social care projects turn 18, there often isn't anything for them to go to for support.

Tunari Treasures is a project that our friends Gray and Andrea started to support unemployed young men.  They are taken in, mentored, trained and employed as metal workers.  It's a brilliant project, providing the guys with life skills as well as a viable means of income.

Half the money raised will go to Tunari Treasures, and the other half to help with running costs in the Britain and Ireland office of Latin Link.  Running costs don't sound just as exciting as the fantastic things they do in South and Central America, but without the office in Reading, the Irish and British members can't do their work.  (Latin Link have a brilliant website with lots on what they do,

"How do I sponsor you?"  I hear you cry!  Easy.  Just go to for a fast, safe way to donate.  If you pay tax in the UK, tick the Gift Aid box to increase your donation courtesy of Her Majesty's Inland Revenue.

If you can make a contribution, thank you!  And if I mention in three weeks' time that I think I've picked up an injury and might not be able to run, please tell me to wind my neck in and get myself around those 21.1 km!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Awl for one

See what I did there?  It's a funny Old Testament word.  I actually heard a pretty good sermon on awls once, so good I completely forgave the preacher for it having zero to do with the context of Deuteronomy.

Actually, now I mention it, this post isn't about awls specifically, not at all, to be honest.  But hey, got your attention!

I'm reading through Chris Wright's commentary on Deuteronomy.  Not my normal Thursday night shenanigans, it's mainly due to an essay deadline coming up.  But man alive, is Deuteronomy more fun than I expected it to be!

Basically, God has made his covenant with the people, and they have to decide if they want to sign up to the Ts & Cs.  And it's not all cloven hooved abominations and genocide - they feature, but the great Ulsterman of the Langham Trust (Wright) suggests there are bigger, more relevant things to focus on.

Israel has to decide what kind of community it wants to be, and what values define them.

Just like we have to decide what kind of society we want to be, as we readjust to the new economic realities of spending less money (individually as well as a country).

When we claim we can no longer afford to protect employees, and care properly for the poor and the sick, then what we are really saying is that we don't believe in the God of Deuteronomy who promises prosperity and long life in the land to those who follow his command to act justly and mercifully.

Deuteronomy has lots of great advice that I'd love our politicians to read ...

1.  God's ways work best.  Just because we read them in a very old book, like Deuteronomy, that doesn't make them irrelevant.  And God says we are to have no other gods before him, or (just as bad) alongside him.  So, we have to consciously choose NOT to worship 'The Market'.  We are not blessed by, provided for, protected by or created for 'The Market'. 

2.  Slash-and-burn is a bad policy.  Agriculture, business, everything has to be done sustainably.  We should let things lie fallow sometimes.  It's not necessary to squeeze every last bit out of our resources.  It'll still be there on Monday.

3.  There should be provision for the regular cancelling of debts.  If you're stupid enough to talk someone on a low income into an unnecessary loan, then you should accept that one day the debt may have to be written off.  People in debt should get regular breathing spaces. For set periods of time, red letters should stop coming in, interest should be capped, and the debt-stricken should be allowed to remember what life is like free of debt.

4.  The nation's resources should be equitably distributed, so everyone has a home, food and family life.  Not everybody can work, and not all work grows the financial budget.  But value does not lie in economic contribution.  All sorts of people are valuable in all sorts of ways, and we have to organize things so we can provide for them all.

5.  God guarantees that looking after the poor will not adversely affect a nation's economy.  To avoid huge national debts in the billions and trillions, look after your poor.  Don't turn on them after you've gotten the country into a huge mess. 

6.  We're one big community.  'The' poor, we say in English.  In Hebrew, it's 'our' poor, 'our' widows, orphans and immigrants.  We're responsible for them.  People in God's covenant are not to be out for themselves.

7.  Hard work where someone feels like they 'belong' to an employer should be strictly time-limited and followed by a chance for rest.  Hard work is good, and sometimes long, exhausting days are part of the job.  But that's no way for anyone to live long term.  It's crazy for some to be stressed at having too much to do, when so many are depressed at having no employment.

8.  Social justice isn't an optional extra for fuzzy liberals.  It's legislated on in God's law.  Provision must be made for the most vulnerable in society, in a corporate, organized way.

9.  It's OK to shut up shop for a day.  The world won't end.  If people need it, they know where we are (or if we're at the beach, they can find us tomorrow).

10.  At festival times, everyone should eat and drink and be merry and have their fill.  Nobody should be miserable or left out on their birthday, or at Christmas, or any other big community event.  Scraping by is not a human(e) way to live.  We all need a good party once in a while.

If Israel follows the covenant Ts & Cs, then there should be no poor.  Sounds like something our elected representatives ought to read and take inspiration from!

Budgets are moral documents, as Jim Wallis says, and we have to decide what kind of society we want to be.  Things are tough for us all, but it is never the time to cut services needed by the most vulnerable in society. 

I've taken these 10 points from Deuteronomy 15 and 16, with the help of Chris Wright's excellent commentary.  Bet you can find more!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Broadens the mind?

'Oxford graduates, who would not be remotely interested in getting to know British working-class people on council estates, find it uplifting to go sightseeing among the poor of the Third World.'  (Jack Shamash, Mindless in Gaza, (C) The Guardian)

I actually taught today.  I covered another teacher, and pulled an old lesson off the shelf ready to go, one of those old stand-alone photocopy-in-case-of-emergency ones.

We read an old article from the Guardian, 'Mindless in Gaza' by Jack Shamash.

Shamash disparagingly does violence to the belief that 'travel' is a romantic, lofty, noble pursuit, far superior to tourism.  I suppose it made me squirm as I remembered the times I've said smugly 'I've never been, nor will I ever be, on a package holiday'.  (Which is actually not even true, because I paid an all-in price for a tour of the Holy Land in 2000).

I first taught this lesson in 2005, and it is one of the few articles I could instantly name as a text that has changed my attitude to something.  Shamash argues that travel in fact narrows the mind.

It's meant to be provocative, and it is.  Comfy old views are poked and jibed for a reaction.  Clever examples are selected as supporting evidence: days chewed up looking for the cheapest hostel, tedious pontification by the  travel-wise about how to haggle prices right down, uncomfortable journeys alongside people who are obviously in constant motion because they're avoiding real life back home ...  Huh.  At least tourists are honest about their motives, and are probably much less self-aggrandizing, argues Shamash.

One example left me pondering during the first flush of my teaching career, and still has me perplexed.  Look back at the quote above, the paradox that noble Travellers experience poverty a thousand miles away but ignore grim reality a mile and a half down the road.

'I just had to get out there and see the poverty for myself.'  Heard (or said) that before?


We see it on TV.  Isn't that enough?  Do we have to smell poverty as well?

Do we confuse 'poor' with 'cosy, simple and rustic', thinking we're going to experience the Good Life?  'They're poor, but oh so happy' - that's what the national romantic artists depicted and it made the establishment all the more secure that people have their allotted place in life and shouldn't move beyond their station.

Is it neo-colonialism?  A saviour complex?  A chance to live like royalty with tiny prices, and a feeling that all my shopping for textiles and trinkets is 'making a difference'?  (Disparaging?  Eat your heart out, Jack Shamash!)

I don't know what the answer is, but feel free to comment!  (Seriously, please comment!)

Sarah and I have both gone on short term mission trips, mainly to Latin America.  There's no doubt that the experiences have marked us, and our connections with the communities we stayed with are an important part of our marriage.  Bolivia, in particular, will always be part of us.

Why did we go?  I don't have a big catch-all reason.  Maybe I thought when I was 21 that I could save the world, but when I returned aged 30 I definitely didn't think that any more.  In fact, I went wondering what on earth little I could possibly do.

I suppose I half-expected 'poor' Latin America to be 'poor but happy', which is largely true, but of course that's no reason for it to remain economically disadvantaged.  And I was as seduced as the next gringo at enjoying the sudden rush of affluence when I exchanged pounds for pesos.

It's not that hard these days to go to other continents and see the poor.  It's much harder, I suppose, to come back home a changed person and especially to remain a changed person, having seen poverty first hand.  For myself, returning to Ireland was definitely Plan B.  But here's the challenge ...

... to be prophets in our own homes.

How often has the same passion to see poverty (and implicitly, I hope, challenge it), ever moved me to take a walk around deprived streets in my own town?  It seems easier to be a socialist on Che's own patch, and more attractive to be a missionary in sunnier climes.

There's poverty here too. Economically, of course, and socially too. We're much poorer here than in Latin America in lots of ways.

We come home, the tan fades (in my case, the sunburn peels).  Hopefully, though, other changes might last.

If you went on a mission trip or gap year, it would be great to hear your comments on why you went, what you did and how it affected you.

'Fra Hardanger', by Gude.  An example of a beautiful national romantic painting that, wittingly or not, expresses how happy the simple, rural poor are when they remain at their station in life.

More from Jack Shamash at

Want to read more?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

It's only words

It's been a while since I posted.  Eugh yuck, I never wanted to say that.  I hate it when blog posts start like that.

The truth is, I've been busy with school.  No nine-week summer break for us English language teachers.  It's been a tough few weeks, with huge student numbers arriving for short courses, and a very thorough school inspection.

A typical introvert, when I am a bit overwhelmed by all the busy-ness, I tend to say less.  I find solace in the two things I enjoy that involve minimal listening, speaking, reading and writing: cooking and running.

I've experimented recently with a new sesame and brown rice salad, beetroot soup (mixed reviews) and a simple ricotta and spinach pasta sauce.  And I missed a few runs during the busiest week of all, but am back on my training schedule for the half marathon.

I've found recently that, whether in the pews or up front, it is a very soothing experience to have time set aside in the week for a church service.  And it reminded me of when I first came to Christ Church, much in need of some R&R time, and found it in a surprising place - a very surprising place for me - in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

I was not brought up to value written prayer.  It seemed such an oxymoron - written prayers?  Written prayers?

Now, I will never earn a crust with my looks or my athletic prowess.  Words are my tool.

When I came to Christ Church three years ago, as I say, I was looking for some rest.  I found myself empty of words, too tired to produce them, and too uninspired to look for them.

But someone else gave me the words to say, in the form of the prayer book.  And if I couldn't muster the will to say them, others did and it carried me along.

As the weeks passed, I waited for the boredom to set in - after all, why would anyone bother coming to church if they knew in advance half the words that would be uttered?  But I haven't got bored yet.  Probably because the words are really, really good.  Nobody says 'I love you' expecting the reply, 'Say something else, you say that same thing every day!'  Some words bear repetition.

Words can create, and transform, and shape. For good, but also for ill. And it's so easy to vomit them. They can be mass-produced and cheap, just as they can be charismatic, spontaneous yet inspired.

Our society values certain things: authenticity is one, a very good one.  Others include entertainment value, efficiency, and hyperpersonal choice.  Hmm.  Good or bad, good or bad ... probably 'open to abuse and probably unhelpful if applied uncritically'.

The BCP is not very strong on hyper-personal choice, because rubrics are reasonably fixed, although there is more flexibility built in than many of us realize.  Efficiency?  Hem.  And entertainment value?!  In a world that values entertainment, efficiency and extremely it-must-absolutely-fit-me-and-my-personal-preferences choice - (pause for breath) - you could almost say the prayer book is subversive!

But the prayer book is very valuable in that maverick leaders can only move so much within the structures.  The book ensures balance over personality.  Wise people with many years of personal and pastoral experience have reflected deeply to put together the rubrics and collect the texts.  They have taken great steps to ensure that we neither go down the route of worm theology ('I'm such a terrible, sinful disappointment to God, why did he ever make me?) nor the humanistic self-help pseudo-gospel ('10 Biblical steps to a better, smarter, fitter, new you in your marriage with lots of money').

Without the structures and guidelines of liturgy, it's so easy for words to bubble up and be out there, with little critical or theological sifting, doing what words do - creating, shaping, transforming.  Without liturgy, my feelings that day can dominate my theology.  Without liturgy, my misinformed ideas and agendas can slither into my prayers.  Without liturgy, we can do all the talking and very little listening to the Holy Spirit.  Our churches can easily be corrupted by some very un-christian values and assumptions. 

Ever heard phrases like 'Let's do business with God'?  I find that one particularly unhelpful.  I'd do better to let Him do the talking, and listen to His ideas.  I'd find myself in a weak negotiating position doing business with the Almighty.  The BCP understands that listening is as important as saying lots of words.

I've been quiet, blog-wise and other-wise, because I feel like it.  I've been too tired to be crafting words.  But maybe I could take advice from the proverb below, and let listening and more considered speech spill over into the next few months too ...

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” (Proverbs 10:18-21, ESV).

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Restoration Work on Ageing Temple

Poor thing has taken a lot of abuse over the years.  Structures are basically sound, but very rough around the edges.  Significant wear and tear.  Has been neglected for far too long. 

I turn 33 tomorrow.  I'll be in the 'year of our Lord' - hope that's not as ominous as it sounds! 

I thought that approaching 33 would make me think of how much/little I've achieved in life, or have some big existential crisis.  Instead, I'm trying to make sure 'reparation' work gets done to this rather unworthy temple of the Holy Spirit (my body).  If I don't sort it out now, it'll only get harder to get under control.

The main thrust of this maintenance work is running.  It's free, it's easy, there's no ball to catch, and you can daydream while doing it.  Perfect fit for me!

I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on healthy living based on the doctrine that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Plenty of 'oooh that's naughty' depending on what the preacher was against at the time: smoking, drinking, cavorting etc.

But never against refined sugar, nutritionally empty 'white' carbs, addictive MSG loaded snacks, caffeine overloading ... things that are doing us real, lasting damage.

We can be very selective in our interpretation of Scripture, and cultural glasses filter out lots of otherwise clear messages.  In Scandinavia, so the joke goes, the Norwegian was so shocked to see a Danish Christian drinking beer, that the cigarette fell out of his mouth.

What would an Irish equivalent be?  The Ulster Christian was so shocked to see the Frenchman smoke, the Spaniard drink wine, the Greek dance ... that the fried sausage, bacon and egg feel out of his breakfast soda?  (Stereotyping is so easy ... !  I'm not having a go, really, I have plenty of my own vices - cheese?!) 

Maybe, just as green theology has made an impact on our spiritual values and worldview, we need to be challenged to listen to the Holy Spirit within about the physical state of our temples as S/He inhabits visceral fat and feels the strain on our briny kidneys and choked livers.

Here I go again, I know, I know, and next month it could well be another hobby horse.  But I hope not.  Because if I'm to serve the church, and glorify God in my life, then I don't want to compromise that with self-afflictions caused by lifestyle.

So why are we afraid to preach against transfats and supersized fast foods?  Are we scared we'll make people uncomfortable?  Are we cautious to demonize one issue, especially a very personal, seemingly non-spiritual one?  Or aware that the overweight are probably feeling bad enough without adding guilt to the equation?  Guilt is a very bad motivator, in my experience. 

And it's a complex issue.  How free are we when the food industry manipulates neuroscientific research to get us addicted?  What about the emotional dimension?

The body is amazing, when it is looked after and works well.  Wonderful temples, we are, walking round, little God-breathed creatures, each one unique.  We wouldn't graffiti a church building, or desecrate a sanctuary, or leave a church to gather dust and rot.  It's special.  As are we.

So, my resolution as I enter my 34th year, is to get on with some restoration work: eat right, sleep well, limit caffeine, worry less about things that don't really matter, and keep on running.  Because humans are very, very precious.  And because the Holy Spirit deserves a more appropriate place to live than where I have him cooped up right now.

For better reflected thoughts than these on simplicity and controlling the body, I recommend Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline.

Monday, 18 June 2012


It's not a metaphor.  It's just cheese.

We were in Dublin over the weekend, and I should be writing about running or something cultural, but I'm writing about cheese.

Sarah and I went to Sheridan's Cheesemonger's in Anne Street South.  They made us an amazing four-tiered cheese cake (i.e. cake of cheese) last year for our wedding and shipped it up to Co. Donegal for us.

How many French cheeses can you name?  How many Italian?

Now in an island with this number of sheep and cows ... how many Irish cheeses can you name?

Our little traditional producers are finding it tough to beat the commercial competition.  We must be the only nation in Europe where most people can't name a traditional cheese of our own.  So let me introduce you to four smelly friends ...

First, we have Mount Callan, an aged cheddar-style hard cheese from Co. Clare.  It's made of milk from a single herd of Montbelliard cows.  It's very sharp, take a bite, chew ... wait for it, wait for it - boom, tastes boozily punchy.

Then we have Ardrahan from Co. Cork, oat-smoked and soft, it's a washed cheese which means it's smelly and oozy and yummy.  Despite the whiff, the Corkonian actually tastes quite mild and nutty.

Next up, we have Crozier Blue from Tipperary.  Like it's cow's milk cousin, this ewe's cheese is veined with dusty blue mould, tangy and ripe, bathed in a creamy soft meltedness.  It's a Gaelic Roquefort.

And to finish it off, then there's a cheeky little St. Tola sitting on top, a French-style soft goat's cheese, again from Clare.

But try getting any of these in Tesco, Temple Bar or Sainsbury's here in Derry!  Or anywhere in Derry, for that matter.  So when in Dublin, we just had to drop into Sheridan's to reacquaint ouselves :)

So, support local produce, learn that Ireland has fantastic cheeses to rival France and Italy, and give those arteries a good work-out, visit

Now to research local Irish beverage-producers!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Photo Album

Some thoughts on studying theology ... I remember the pre-digital age as a child on school trips to Edinburgh and York, with my beloved camera. I was so excited to be seeing new things and I wanted to remember them, so that old Canon 110ED instamatic was an important piece of equipment. And an expensive one. There was one roll of film to capture the essence of a five day trip. That meant 24 exposures – every click counted, and snap-happy people found that they had no film left for the last few days. The flash was bigger than the camera itself, a translucent plastic thing like an ice cube tray with individual little cells, maybe eight of them. It clicked into place on top of the camera itself, meaning eight indoor pictures might turn out visible. Each flash shot was accompanied by a sound like an ice cube breaking and the faint smell of smoke.

There was no panoramic function on the old camera, and sometimes there was a view that was worth two or even three photos. Say for instance Edinburgh Castle and that part of the Royal Mile and New College viewable from Prince’s Street. That was a big investment out of a 24 exposure film. At least it was outdoors, i.e. no flash required. So I’d photograph one side, then move the viewfinder to contain a landmark turret or spire as a shared landmark to make it easier to create a panoramic view later from two or three photos. My panoramic view was made by carefully overlapping prints and gluing them in place in a scrap book or photo album.

Other times, say from a height like the Castle Walls, there were beautiful and therefore photograph-worthy scenes below, but maybe not enough of a view to justify a prit-stick panorama job. So I might snap the view from one side and then another, taking in north and south, say, but ignoring the less exciting east and west.

I wonder if other school children employed these low-tech photographic solutions?!

I was thinking the other day how the Salvation Story of the Bible is a bit like leafing through a photo album. Often leafing through reminds us of important things in our past that we do well to remember, good times and bad. Albums, well constructed ones at least, tell a story, perhaps missing out lots of less remarkable days and emphasising significant milestones in our lives.

But it’s another similarity with photo albums that I pondered recently. It’s the way they are designed. We flick through. We might start looking in detail and then skip more superficially over a few until one catches our attention. Think about the way the mind works. We find a picture that stands out, or that chimes with us, and we look at it, start to drink it in. Probably, we look at the centre first, or the subject in the foreground, and then let our eye flit around the sides and the background as we place the subject in context.

In the written Word, there are lots of pictures. There is a surprisingly small amount of theological exposition. There’s lots of theology, but it’s mainly presented through stories and images, analogies and metaphors. St Paul develops theology in embryonic, logical texts, but even these are found in pastoral, practical letters addressed to young churches and particular leaders with problems to deal with and decisions to make. The Bible did not descend from heaven, and was not dictated word by word by an angel or disembodied voice. It was written by many people from varied backgrounds across centuries, all inspired to write through their grappling with faith, trying to make sense of their life experiences and open to the prompting of the Spirit to see the sacred in everyday life and events and to discern deeper, more eternal purposes. No wonder it isn’t an easy book!

Here lies a problem for us (I say problem, but I could equally say advantage). Different people notice different photos. Everybody has their own favourite. Sarah and I had a hard job choosing which of our wedding shots made the album, and relatives and friends who wanted copies for themselves all chose different ones. In the Christian community too, people are drawn to different pictures. Some like clear, practical shots, others like mystery and symbolism, more or less arty ones, real life or posed. Within Anglicanism, we have Catholics who like mystery and holiness, a sense of Otherness. We have Evangelicals who like clear, concrete answers (and others who like ambiguity!). There are liberals who just love portraits of people smiling. We have traditionals who like the picture to be composed just so. We have innovators who want something different. And we have lots of people who don’t easily fit into any of these caricatures! It’s part of the wonderful diversity of the church, in terms of theological perspectives, and probably temperament and personality as much as anything more doctrinal!

I think when we see the Bible as more of a technical user’s manual, we can get into trouble. When we force metaphors into procedural, literal boxes, we really get into trouble.

A clear example of analogy is the Church as the Body of Christ. The church is like a human body as far as it is made up of different parts that function in a coordinated way. It has a head that basically governs what the rest does. None of us get ourselves in a twist about the literal meaning of being a body. Maybe because ‘body’ has come to mean ‘organization’ or ‘team’ in addition to its basic meaning of torso, limbs and vital organs.

A much more debated metaphor is the legal view of Christ’s death that some call penal substitution. We were guilty, but we go free because Christ took our place. As a literal doctrine, this can be hard to understand for a number of reasons – legally, how can one person’s punishment be acceptable in lieu of the punishment of many individuals? What is the role of forgiveness if the wrath was simply unleashed on an innocent person? . But there it is, an image in our Album, this legal process, whether or not we call it ‘penal substitution’. It’s not for any of us to remove it.

So how do we handle it? We look at this image, let it confront us, let it change us. We try to make sense of it. All sorts of mental associations fire impulses from our own life experience, the court system of where we live, crime statistics on the news today, our feelings about mercy versus justice, a time when we got the rap for something someone else did. All the sermons we heard preached on the topic. It’s hard to drown out all those associations when we look at the image as framed in Scripture.

In our desire to make more sense of penal substitution, we look around the subject for clues. How does this fit into the bigger picture?

We might be tempted to ‘fill in the gaps’ and speculate what doctrine knits this into a whole systematic theology. I think there’s a lot of speculative theology about the harder doctrines – predestination, say, or the chronology of end times. We spend a lot of energy arguing about it, too.

Anyway, back to this difficult photo. Penal substitution (at least, that’s the caption some write underneath it). On the same page, there are related images: ransom, redemption, atonement, re-birth and renewal. Another temptation might be to take the closest other image and to overlap them, push them together, and glue them in place. But they don’t quite match up. There are lots of these bumpy bits in systematic theology. There are lovely smooth lines of thought, and then bump – we have a problem.

(Anglicans tend to be above average for tolerating the bumpy bits and the gaps!)

Translating these images to text, a scientific copywriter would approach it in a very different way to a poet. I would suggest that images – analogies, metaphors – in the Canon of Scripture are more like poetry than physical, five-sense descriptions. Saying that x is y, or calling Jesus a shepherd, or explaining the cross as penal substitution, these are ways of understanding eternal realities using cues from lived experiences on earth.

I am not advocating a platonic understanding here, claiming that a table on earth is just an attempt at making the great, ultimate table out there in the spiritual realm. It always struck me as a bit of a random philosophy. But I am suggesting that much theology is based on images rooted in the created world, while the truth behind them is much, much more ancient, from before creation. But how can humans understand except in language and images we can relate to?

Let’s take an example. God is our Father. If we take Father as a metaphor, we understand that there are aspects of ‘making’ us and giving us life, sustaining and caring for us, being wise and leading us. Over the millennia, and from one culture to another, the exact idea changes but basically we get the idea.

Unless – we project onto God our own ideas based on taking the metaphor too far. Say, ‘God is male because he is Father, not Mother’ or the dangerous idea that a father can invoke God’s right to judge and punish in whatever way he sees fit, confusing rage and frustration with God’s holy anger. For far too many people, God as Father is not an immediately comforting thought.

Thematic photography, you might call it. Bible analogies are ANALOGIES. Not saying one thing is another, but one thing is like another in some ways. Anthropomorphic language, especially male-centric language, has to be understood as it is – analogy. Father doesn’t mean God is male. Penal substitution can’t become doctrine beyond what writers wanted to draw as analogies with secular law. Every analogy breaks down at some point.

There is plenty of diversity within God’s collection of images of his Salvation Story. Different lenses, techniques, styles and genres. No surprise there – he created diversity, he loves it. We needn’t worry that he sometimes zooms in on one nation and at other times pans out to take in the panorama. That he shows us pictures of the same thing seen from another angle. Some people will be drawn to prophetic images, others to practical advice, others still to stories of miracles or songs or even scary apocalyptic stuff about giant locusts firing from their tails.

A cell can be dissected and understood accurately in terms of its structure, its functions and processes. But as soon as it is dissected, it dies. Art too – words, images – can be dissected and understood, but at a cost. Understanding the images in the Bible is important; our brains are a gift from God as much as our hearts, souls and every other bit. But doctrine is not the ultimate aim. The eternal purpose is the worship of God, and for us union with the Holy Trinity in the Reign of God on earth as in heaven.

Here’s the way I see it ...

In the beginning: God.

At some point in eternity, God made space and time.

At some point in space-time, creation reached its pinnacle and God made humans as sentient beings, in his own image.

Things went wrong at the Fall and humans messed up the relationships with God and each other.

God started a long, slow, patient pedagogy, reaching into our encultured lives in ways that we would understand, all in order to bring us back to him and make things good again, like it was supposed to be in the first place.

In communicating with us, he used images that are anthropologically quite universal, such as father, fire, wind, rest. And he used images that are quite culture-bound like shepherds, bread, tents and wine. These images are placed in a Great Narrative, the Salvation History of the Bible.

Images help us on our way. Our response to these God-revealed pictures should be to fall down and worship. Understanding may come, even fleetingly, questions may be answered. But confronted with Great Salvation Story, we fall to our knees in grateful worship.

I hope as I continue to study that I can keep admiring the wonderful images in the Scriptures, enjoying them and being transformed by them, and not get too distracted by the bumpy bits where we add two and two and make fifteen, and the rough sketchy bits we've added because we're scared by the blanks.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Kitchen Table

Welcome to my blog!  I've been talking about starting a blog for a very, very long time.  It's a four-day weekend so I reckon the time has come to commit words to screen.  I feel OK about it, because there's an edit button.

I'm sitting in one of my favourite places, at the kitchen table.  Sarah and I have decided that we are getting into a rut with the meals we cook.  So, we are flicking through Rick Stein's Spain, Nigella's Feast, and some of my many low-GI, wheat-free, lentil-centric cook books, for new ideas.  By the way, the hippy-style cook books are there more to make me feel better than to be used day to day!

So far we have decided to eat more prawns, and that we want to make lots of recipes.  But still no shortlist.  To make the choice easier, we are automatically discounting all recipes that have no accompanying photo.  I'll let you know how we get on!

Anyway, I'm not just here to tell you about our lazy Saturday morning.  Gosh, I'm not doing very well at not making this blog post self-indulgent.  That's not meant to be the point at all.

I suppose I'll only know myself once I get started what I decide to talk about.  I predict food will feature significantly.  Hopefully travel will too.  And if all goes to plan, as a born-again runner (used to run, took it up again in February this year and have kept it up because I was obedient and followed the plan unlike all previous attempts the past 4 years), I hope to be brave enough at some point to say out loud what distance/event I am aiming for.  If you think it's a marathon, please lower your expectations ... by about 50%.

And I expect a lot of my rants and raves will be about the 'state of the world'.  I often rant about apostrophe use and the like, but you probably wouldn't be reading this now if the last paragraph had been about apostrophes.  So I'll try to refrain.

I'm doing a course at the moment called 'Christian Ministry' with the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin and St John's Nottingham.  That's what really made me want to start a blog, actually.  It's a brilliant course, and makes me think about a lot of things.

So if you would like to talk about any of them with me, thank you for stopping by, and please feel free to keep me accountable about the running, to ask me to tone down the rants, and to have a chat about the big issues and small ones too.

OK, got to get back to my cook books.  Chat soon!