Thursday, December 1, 2016

Silk Screen Printing

Recently, Kettle's Yard (housing a notable Cambridge art collection) held a local 'Open House' in a nearby church which had opened its doors to celebrate our neighbourhood.  At its heart was a print studio where we were invited to create our own silk screen prints of a limited edition print by the artist in residence - Isabella Martin.  She called it A Collaborative Map of North Cambridge 2016 featuring the past, present, future and imagined, green public spaces and waterways.

At different times I have lived on four different roads in the area and my father pastored a church here. The map contains many comments from long-standing residents when much of the area was fields: 'courting in the haystacks', 'coronation party on Green's Road', 'Chivers apple and pears orchards'.  Some went way back - chalk bedrock and mining',  'an iron age fort' and others imagined 'Spiderman on Kendal Way' 'Unicorn on Arbury Road'.....!

Carol and I were guided in our print making as ink was strategically placed on the screen and we dragged a large blade slowly over the surface.  Raising the screen to see the finished products produced gasps of delight.  Mine was blue (102/250) and Carol's was green.  While they were hung up to dry we enjoyed some refreshments and wandered around a small exhibition of some Alfred Wallis paintings.  Living in Cornwall, he was a na├»ve artist who only started painting in his seventies when his wife died.  Oh, the memories they brought back! When I was a student I used to visit Jim Ede at his home Kettle's Yard long before it became a famous art museum.  One term he loaned me an Alfred Wallis picture to hang in my college room.  He said that he liked art to be part of daily living. Now such pictures are in galleries all over the world and sold at huge prices!  What a risk!

Both of us felt exhilarated by our participation (in very small ways) in this collaborative project and enjoyed the moments of creativity.  Another reminder of the power of collaboration!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving hospitality

On Thursday Carol organized a US style Thanksgiving Day in our Cambridge home for six friends.  By US style I mean the full works of turkey, mash potato, green beans and other vegetables with pumpkin pie to follow.  Procuring pumpkin pie proved difficult and this problem assumed increasing proportion as obvious avenues to purchasing it turned into dead-ends. Alas, the success of Thanksgiving seemed to become highly dependent on getting pumpkin pie one way or another.  Then Carol remembered the US serviceman who sometimes works at our local corner shop.  Calling him she asked if her was going to be on the air-force base and could go into the stores for a pie.  To her joy, he said he would try and a couple of days later announced his success.  There was delirium.  Thanksgiving would turn out OK after all!

Our friends arrived and the first course went swimmingly.  Carol announced we were having genuine pumpkin pie and our friends duly showed amazement.  None of them had tried it before.  Carol brought it in on a large platter.  However, as she cut the first slice, one observant guest noted that the pastry crust did not seem to be cooked, nor the very runny contents. Rushing to the bin and fishing out the discarded box with instructions it became clear (too late) that it needed to be cooked for 65 minutes.  There was instant mirth and it turned out to be the day's highpoint of jollity, and continued to echo as sub-theme for the next few hours.  Fortunately, Carol had some back-up desserts and the cooked pumpkin pie made the rounds with a cup of tea later in the afternoon.

The back-ups required ice-cream which I took out of the freezer and dispensed with aplomb.  However, while replacing it I failed to notice that it fouled the freezer drawer. I thought I had closed it firmly but 18 hours later, as ice cream dripped on the floor, I realized my mistake.  Some freezer contents had melted, others were past redemption in their soggy packages.
We shall remember Thanksgiving 2016 for some really good sharing as well as other things!  Hospitality is to be commended but just occasionally it has unforeseen consequences.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Postage Stamps

Yesterday I was preaching at Harston Baptist Church - a village church just south of Cambridge.  It was their 230th. Church Anniversary and the congregation of 70 plus really celebrated (with a great bring and share lunch afterwards).  Because I wanted to emphasize the theme of 'Jesus the King' in my sermon, I told a children's address about my six year old grandson Anton who won a BBC Blue Peter Competition to design a stamp for the Queen's Jubilee.  The prize was to gather with other winners for tea at Buckingham Palace with the Queen.  I think I blogged a post at the time - it was such great fun hearing him tell us of the secret doors in the palace, and how the Queen had come up to him and told him 'Your design is fabulous!' Of course, in retelling the story I emphasized the much more overwhelming experience of meeting King Jesus and living in his story over 230 years.

After the service an older couple came up to me.  He introduced himself as Ian Loe a former student at Spurgeon's College but said he really wanted to comment on my stamp story. 'I don't want to boast,' he said chuckling, 'but I also have been to the Queen because of stamps! I have designed over 550 stamps since the 1970's'.  His wife chimed in: 'He was awarded the MBE for his work!'  Apparently Ian is one of the world's foremost wildlife stamp designers with a particular focus on butterflies. A large volume was recently published of his work. What a delight it was to meet him in a small Baptist church!

Later, over lunch a lady told us that her son had a friend whose boy also entered that same competition. When they showed the winning designs on TV he saw his but a different name had been attached to it.  It required urgent correction to ensure the right designer met the Queen which they achieved in time! Had I been preaching successive weeks I think I could have made a series out of congregational stamp stories!  You just never know a congregation's stories.  That's one of the reasons why I plead for preachers to be good listeners and collaborators!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


On Sunday the preacher's text was 1 Peter 4: 1-11.  He concluded by brief reference to the various outcomes of living for God.  They really do deserve attention (especially the qualifying comments):
          - Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray
          - Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sons.
          - Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling
          - Use whatever gift you have received to serve others........

Later that day, we discovered an email with an urgent plea for someone to host the local Baptist ministers' wives group meeting on the evening of November 14th.  This is a group Carol has only attended once before, but I noticed she was tapping away on her ipad. 'What are you doing?' I said. 'I'm saying that if no one else volunteers the group can come here.   It will be a squeeze but it would be giving hospitality!'  We chuckled as we remembered the sermon challenge and the rider - without grumbling.

And, because no one else has come is happening!  An immediate opportunity to offer hospitality.  And there had better be no grumbling!   As Carol said: 'You can go upstairs!'

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Happy Day

Yesterday evening, as I went into the room for our mid-week church prayer meeting, the leader Andrew asked me: 'Well, have you done it?!'  I was surprised that he was so in tune with my latest crisis but he had read my last blog and knew the pressure of these last few days. The best part was that I was able to answer, without wishful thinking or fudging (which have characterized recent responses as to how I was getting on!), with a heartfelt  'Yes - I've sent the document off!'  It is heartfelt and I am so grateful to God for energy to keep going and the patience of dear Carol!

It was wonderful to hear someone pray about the manuscript later in the meeting giving thanks and asking that it might prove of value to God. That, of course, is the most important issue - that God might approve and bless all the effort over this last year of planning and writing. As a resource book for the New Kind of Preacher project in the US it will only be of use as God blesses its ongoing journey. A few new peer learning groups of pastors are starting this month.  For the first of two years, as they covenant to work with each other, they will work through the eight modules of my book using an accompanying workbook.  So much depends upon how helpful they find it! Their second year as a group is called a 'freedom year' when they will support each other in seeking to implement one major issue of a New Kind of Preacher!

I am glad to have met one prayer target but now a far bigger one looms ahead.  One of my tag lines has been: 'renewed preaching comes from renewed preachers.'   Renewal is God's gift and we must keep seeking it.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Extended essay crisis

The phenomenon of the 'essay crisis' was a recurrent feature of my undergraduate days.  Set weekly assignments to write with deadlines to reach I knew exactly what the targets were.  Always there was much reading material to wade through followed by reflection and then....action, as pen was put to paper.  And that's how it used to be!  Pen to paper.... with every major mistake, paragraph out of order, just plain bad English grammar requiring fresh sheets.

Too often the sequence I followed enjoyed the first parts....absorbing the reading and even reflecting on its contents.  Often I mapped out a structure for my assignment and opened my argument with a confident first page or so.  But then I read it and realized it could do with so much more cogency and flow.  Paper was scrunched into a ball, thrown into the waste paper basket and another start made. Hour after hour, often starting very early in the morning especially on the day it was due.  It is not that I am a perfectionist.  Really. I have always practiced that 'good is good enough' but it does matter that it is at least good!

Why am I recalling those days of 50 years ago?  Because I am in the midst of the same phenomenon. No!? Of course it's not with pen and paper today though I still like to print out sheets for editing by fountain pen. But in other respects it is the same.  I have until Nov 2nd. to complete the last 30 pages of my resource book A New Kind of Preacher/Leader.  I know exactly what the target is. And I am living in the same cyclical pattern...hour after hour.  I have structure but always I want more cogency and flow and liveliness with page-turning wonder etc. etc.!

Carol has been very patient because the essay crisis has already lasted twelve days.  I try and make Sunday a day of rest so that leaves me just three days left.  Who would have thought such excruciating history would repeat itself? Maybe I will let you know what happens next!  It all depends.....

Friday, October 14, 2016

Angel in a jeep

Flying out of Chicago early Wednesday morning meant driving through dense early morning traffic to O'Hare airport in order to drop off the rental car. Already at 7:15 am traffic was choked up in slow crawling lanes.  I decided to avoid the busiest route and drive a road less traveled across the suburbs to join the expressway south of the airport.  Unfortunately, I chose the wrong road! Even less traveled than I imagined! Approaching the expressway I realized to my horror that there was no access to it as we drove straight under.  Stopping in a garage I asked (trying to keep desperation in check) which way was the quickest to the airport.   A man in the queue told me to keep driving until a main intersection at which I should turn right and keep going.  He gave me little confidence by indicating with his hand that it was left we should turn.  Help!

Traveling to the intersection and turning left (!) we joined an enormously slow moving line of vehicles. One traffic stop after another we began to lose heart after several minutes with no evidence that the airport was any closer.  In the lane next to us was a young man in a jeep.  Carol wound down her window and shouted across: 'Is this the right way to O'Hare?'  'Yes,' he answered. 'How much further? we asked. 'About 5 miles....twenty minutes or so. I am going there, you can follow me!,
'' We are going to return this car to you know where that is?'  'Yes' he said as he moved off and we tried to nose in behind.

Following as close as we dared he led us through a maze of roads and eventually passing under a bridge he waved his arm pointing across the road where we saw the welcome sign: Hertz car returns.  We couldn't believe he had actually led us there.   With whoops of joy Carol almost forgot my catastrophic mistake of choosing the wrong road in the first place.  But what a marvelous act of a Carol said:  An angel.   In a jeep!  Sometimes really good things happen, don't they?