Tuesday, June 6, 2023


Interrupting thoughts on funerals I am glad to report that I preached my first sermon this year last Sunday. Yes, it's been a lean year for preaching. Carol has agreed to monitor my levels of competence as I shuffle through my late 70-s.  She deemed it acceptable though, because it was Trinity Sunday and doctrinally somewhat heavy, she said she would have liked more illustrations.

Interestingly, my son saw me preach on zoom.  Before I began I greeted everyone on zoom by a wave which pleased him as a personal gesture.  He commented on the way I had preached on the Acts 2 sermon and brought out the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But he said he could remember one of the illustrations and picture it.  On our back lawn, worn in places by the boys playing football, the verges were full of tall grass, brambles, weeds.  Our contribution to wilding.  I found a deflated football flat in the weeds. To my astonishment a little further on I found another. Even more astounded I found a third.  I cleaned them up, stuck them in a bag and was ready for the Pentecost Children's talk.

As I pulled them one out of the bag one-by-one and dropped them splat on the floor the point became obvious that they needed air.  Filled with air they would have bounce and purpose again.  This led to connecting with one aspect of the Holy Spirit is that he is the breath of God. But the point of my illustration was that we needed to see the fuller picture that Jesus gave in John 16 of the Counsellor being being sent once Jesus was ascended as God to work everywhere, all the time just like Jesus.  

Oh, how difficult Trinity Sunday can be!  But understanding more of who God is shouldn't be easy! Worshipping him should! Someone said to me afterwards that most Christian heresies have come from people oversimplifying God. Anyway, I passed Carol's test to be able to preach again.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Last Funeral (2)

In panic I immediately said 'No, I'm sorry but I can't.'' It's painful to recall what happened when I was first asked to take a funeral.  I felt  so desperately unprepared and overwhelmed. In my defence, I need to explain that this was within a couple of days of moving to my first church in Lancashire. With Carol and our one month old baby we had been transplanted from warm Oxford to a cold Blackburn. Visitors were surprised that we were huddled around the gas fire.  Everything was new. Family life, our new town, and first ministry. Yet, among my new responsibilities, this request to take a funeral totally threw me. Didn't I expect that to be part of my job? Well, yes, but somehow, in my training for ministry which had given me plenty of experience in leading worship and preaching, preparation for leading funerals had been an absent theme.  

It was a local undertaker who called me, welcoming me as the new minister, and and asking me whether I was free later in the week to conduct a funeral. He blithely assumed that I had some competence. I excused my panicked negative answer by saying that I had not yet begun officially. My induction service was still a couple weeks away. I didn't reveal I had never taken a funeral service before. I couldn't disclose my sense of dread at having to cope with finding the right language and expressing the right kind of help for something I had never attempted before.  Never mind the mechanics of learning how burials or the crematorium works. 

Of course I couldn't delay involvement for long!  My church served as a community church for north-west Blackburn which meant nearly 50 funerals every year.  The undertaker was soon on the phone again and this time I shared my inexperience and nervousness.  Arthur was an old hand, and he took me under his wing, explaining that many funerals would begin with prayers around the open coffin in the home.  That I would lead this short time of reflection before indicating the coffin lid should be replaced and the cortege leave for the church service.  

What he couldn't explain was how to help people in grief. The sensitive pastoral process from the first visit to the family. Whenever I knew the family, and the deceased my relationship with them helped immensely, especially when it was clear that the person had Christian faith.  But often, when I didn't know the family, I felt so inadequate coping with the overwhelming sadness, listening to stories about the loved one, bearing with grief, anger, sometimes denial.  Gently working towards planning the service.  I confess that this dimension of ministry has never become easier   I wonder how many other ministers feel that same?

Monday, May 29, 2023

Last Funeral (1)

Before Covid struck, in 2019, a long-standing friend asked me to take the funeral for his wife.  Visiting the family, working on the service, preparing my words was an experience that from one point of view was familiar. All my ministry, visiting the dying and bereaved with responsibility for the funeral and pastoral aftercare was a significant dimension of my work.  This 2019 service with a full church and a large turn out from the regional Guides organization (of whom she had been leader), expressed Christian hope with celebration for her life.

But, from another point-of-view I felt something unfamiliar as though this marked the end of the road for taking funerals.  Sadly, I know that attending them would continue ever more frequently.  Yet, the process of undertaking pastoral responsibility for them seemed too much to bear.  

In January, a friend asked Carol and me to visit him. It was clear that he had something serious to share.  Recently he been diagnosed in the last stage of cancer with only a few months to live.  Deliberately, he did not seek further details about how long.  He would live each day as fully as possible.  And, yes, he asked me whether I would take his funeral.  Perhaps you can imagine my tension, feeling that this aspect of my ministry had closed...yet.

Carol, unawares of this inner tension, which in fairness I had never clearly defined, lovingly answered that she was sure I would.  Those who know Carol will not be surprised at her being spokesman!   Of course, she was absolutely right. 

Through these last months I have been visiting him as he became increasingly frail. On Saturday, surrounded by his family, he died.  As we spent time with his widow and sister yesterday, I recognized the familiarity of praying and preparing, yet also knew the unfamiliarity that this will definitely be my last funeral. 

It will be a big funeral.  Robin Page is a local controversial character with a national profile. I need to share some more details about his action-packed life in another post. He truly added to our lives. So, importantly prayers and love go out to his family at this sad time. But this moment in my life has brought me to a whole set of  pastoral reflections. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Coronation connection.

The coronation of King Charles III on the previous weekend with all its pomp and circumstance had some highlights including the child's welcome in the name of 'children of the Kingdom', and the stress on not being served but serving others.  The Archbishop's message emphasized the same theme very effectively.  As is true of so many of us living in the UK, we have many differing views which we have shared these last few days since.

But imagine my surprise when my daily devotion began on the Monday after the coronation with the story of King Solomon with headings to readings in 1 King's chapters 1-4:  Coronation Day, Walking in Faithfulness, Good Governance for all, Long to reign over us. Each section resonated not only with details of the anointing (with Zadok the priest given prominence in 1 Kings, and later by Handel) but several of our current aspirations as a new reign begins.

What astonished me most was that this choice of Scripture, with its commentary work, was commissioned from a writer of Encounter notes over a year before we had any idea of King Charles' coronation.  Indeed, I was asked several weeks ago to write some notes for early 2025!  18 months away!

One of the delightful aspects of working on spiritual tools is the way that sometimes (and it is only sometimes) they connect so dramatically and appropriately. God's word strikes current affairs.  However, we should remember that His word is living and open hearts and minds should always hear his voice when the immediate connection is far from clear. Prayerful listening will always find personal relevance. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Surprise repeat


Frequently I receive downloads from the US Preaching magazine.  I confess I don't often read them in detail but yesterday's reported on a poll from the Wall Street Journal which found that 39% of Americans say that religion is very important as compared with 49% in 2019.  This is a marked decline from 62% in 1998. That is a disturbing statistic.

Anyway, the paragraph below had a preacher's illustration entitled: Strength from weakness.  I couldn't believe my eyes. 

I recently came across a story Michael Quicke told in his blog a few years ago: “Last weekend I went to an organ recital in Histon Baptist Church. I have been attending for three years and have never once heard it played. Forlornly shuttered away on one side, it has been replaced by the music groups who accompany our worship services. Apparently, no one in the congregation is proficient enough to play it!

However, last Saturday, Dr. David Rowland, the Director of Music at Christ's College Cambridge and also (most propitiously) the father-in-law of our Youth Minister, gave an organ recital. After opening remarks, he sat at the organ with his page-turner at his side and launched into the famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I could not believe it. This instrument took off with amazing timbre and volume. I have heard this played so often, but here in my own church was a glorious surprise. I was astounded at its quality and said so to my neighbor, who agreed.

After this colossal piece, David explained the concert was in aid of refurbishing the organ.' Isn't it odd to give a recital on an organ that needs refurbishing', he asked. ‘Well, yes, but I have practiced to try and compensate for where pipes no longer work. Some of the pedals are inactive. Some of the keys stick. It requires a heavy touch, and you cannot be sure whether it will run out of air...but we shall see!’ As he continued to play Vivaldi, Franck (and Couperin on the harpsichord) I marveled that he had so compensated for the instrument's faults that the music worked beautifully with barely a hiccup. At the interval, one of the visitors said: ‘A really good musician can really make even a poor instrument to work well.’ Certainly, he did.

And it doesn't take much of a preacher to see a parable here about how in our own weaknesses, God can also work out His glory. We can make far better music for Him than we realize!”

I read it with amazement.  Written a few years ago, the Editor Michael Duduit had found it and even repeated it. What an encouragement to a slowing-down blogger to keep going!

Friday, April 21, 2023

A recital

This week I was pushed to give a recital. No, it's not what you might guess.  I was at hospital for my regular botox injections when my gifted consultant Jane Anderson (who has cared for me since I returned to Cambridge ) introduced a younger doctor sitting next to her.  She explained he was shadowing her and shortly would be operating his own neurological clinic.

She introduced me as one of those who was included in the very first clinical trials in the UK for this botox treatment, and then asked me to share my history. Going back to 1986 when, at first, no one could diagnose my severe disability, I briefly sketched how it was eventually diagnosed as dystonia with no treatment available.  Twisted in body, wracked in pain, after months of failed trials with different drugs, I was examined in the National Neurological Hospital, Queens Square, London as to whether I could be chosen as a test case for botulinum injections.  I realized to this young doctor this was living history. What he has come to accept, and practice, as the main procedure for dystonia was as yet untested. I was a genuine Guinea pig!

It was strange retelling those first steps with this experimental treatment because it not only seemed to be fresh news to this doctor how the botox story began, but it also forced me to reflect the sheer wonder of going through a process that gave me back my public life.  How grateful I am for the successful outcome. I know I have told the story elsewhere. To do it justice needs a large space in the story for prayer, Carol's advocacy and several God-incidences.  But, having this surprise opportunity this week awakened me again to the gratitude I owe to God, Carol, praying friends and the medical profession. I should never take it for granted. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Hope you had a joyous Easter

As I look back on these last days of worship with glorious sunshine (as compared with a very wet Bank Holiday today) several moments stand out.

On Thursday evening a group organized a communion service with Taize worship. Taize (should have a grave accent!) is a Christian community founded in 1940 by Brother Roger. His vision was to draw together a monastic community with both Catholic and Protestant brothers in ́́Burgundy France. It would become a place of pilgrimage, of encouragement, silence and work. Since, it has drawn young people  in their thousands (actually over 100,000 each year) for prayer, Bible study, sharing and communal work.  Its worship style consists of repeating simple songs, specially written to accompany periods of silent meditation and prayer.  

Our Thursday service was beautifully prepared around a central table on which stood a large loaf, wine in a jug, a chalice, and a bowl of water with a towel.  A series of candles were lit at stages throughout the service and at the end we all lit individual candles, passing on the flame to our neighbour. The order of service contained music, prayers, set in sequence so that the service proceeded without extra words.  Its power lay in the silences and prayers with the music shaping worship by its repetitive biblical words.  We really could meditate. At the end we were instructed to leave the worship space quietly without conversation as we thought ahead to the darkness of Good Friday.

Moving out of the building without the buzz that usually ends worship times took the silence much further. I went straight to the car and it was dark.  The next day, when sharing with others someone said that for them the most striking moment was the tearing of the loaf apart and the pouring of the wine into the chalice.  How in the silence the reality of sharing communion with Jesus came powerfully into experience.

Yes, to find such quiet for contemplation was one of the profound moments this Easter. I hope you benefited from some too. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

A Holy Week Prayer

 I wrote a prayer for the end of my Toronto piece.  Perhaps it can act as a Holy Week prayer .

Gracious God, whose love for the world sent our Saviour Jesus:

We praise you for the vastness of your love, pivoting on Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem,

where the horrors of Friday will be overwhelmed by the glory of Sunday, to bring a lost world back to you.

We marvel at his courage and obedience right through to the end for our sakes. 

Gracious Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We rejoice that with a whole world to love, when anyone humbly cries out, ‘Lord, have mercy’ you hear and call us to yourself.

You still work one to one, giving assurance that however far off we may be, or insignificant in the tide of world affairs we are, you reach out with compassion and healing. 

With wonder and thanks for Bartimaus’ story, we come humbly before you asking that you will have mercy on us today,

In Jesus’ name.      Amen.


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Spot in Toronto

It just so happens that my life has travelled more widely these last few days, courtesy of the internet.  Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto, Canada, is one of those places happily lodged in my past ministry.  I first visited in 1980 and since have been a Summer interim preacher on several occasions, with extra opportunities like the Lester Randall Annual Lectures.  Carol and I have many friends and much history there.

A little while ago the church started its own online daily devotional guide called Walking Together Weekday Devotional. (You can access it online). Following the lectionary readings, they invited a range of writers to contribute.  Considerable freedom is given in terms of length. So, my turn came on Saturday March 25. Three texts included Mark 10:32-34. 46-52. Separating these texts made me focus on how these different events relate. The second part about Bartimaeus I have often preached on, but bringing verses 32-34 alongside changes perspective.

Verses 32-34 contain Jesus' third prediction of his impending death.  It's stunning. Some scholars say that it must have been written later by the church when the full Easter story is known.  That seems the common sense explanation. Otherwise you are driven to the quite extraordinary possibility that Jesus really did know the cruel details of his death. That he was fully aware of the awfulness of his mission.  Now doesn't that open eyes of faith?....Jesus really is the unique Son of God.  In full health, he strides out at the height of his powers to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) Willingly, with high intentionality, he goes to his death choosing to make it inevitable. What physical, moral, and spiritual courage he shows.

The second reading tells of the blind beggar who hears the crowd as Jesus leaves Jericho. People tell him that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.  He knows enough that this Jesus is a healer. When he shouts out : Jesus, Son of David' people around try to quieten him. Just who does he think he is- the lowest at the lowest end of productive society.  You can picture the story as he shouts even louder.

Bearing in mind the singlemindedness of Jesus' conviction about facing his death, what happens as Jesus calls the man to himself shows how Jesus works. Always works. His big mission is for little people. For him nobody is of little significance. Jesus works on the one-to-one principle.  He makes time on the road for just one. This last miracle in Mark's gospel speaks volumes about his compassion to humble, needy requests.  And I love the fact that Mark's account is the only gospel record that names the man Bartimaeus. As he followed Jesus did he become well known - a nobody, now a friend of Jesus?

When you spend time looking in detail as Easter draws nearer it deepens the wonder and worship, doesn't it? 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Speaking in S. Carolina

This week I met with a group of PhD students at Anderson University, S. Carolina. That's the wonder of zoom!  The group had read and discussed my book 360degree leadership: preaching to transform congregations.  It is surprising that this book, published in 2006, is still worthy of any attention.  As one of the students commented "You wrote that some time before it was published, so it's nearly twenty years old!  How would you write it today?"  A very good question.  Much has happened, especially with the advent of missional theology.  Undeniably the book is too prescriptive and church-centric.  Actually, I did write an update in 2014 but its publication is unlikely to see daylight.  That's another story.

But, sharing in conversation I realized that in 2006, as one student suggested, this book was 'prophetic'  It dared to join together leadership with preaching in challenging ways.  Especially as it critiques thin-blooded preaching that omits leadership - that it is, among other things, individualistic, generic, avoids conflict, suffers spineless theology, is cowardly and is missionally defective

Towards the end of our session another student questioned whether I had evidence that preachers had actually benefitted from my book and its challenges had changed any ministries. What an acute sobering question.  I know from  conversations since that it has made some impact.  But who knows?  It's humbling to realize that so much ministry is offered without seeing fruit.

I really enjoyed my interactive session with a bright group engaged on the front line.  I owe much to the Dean, Dr. Michael Duduit, who aligned himself ( perhaps too strong a word) with my vision back in 2006 and who supervises these students.  He gave an old preacher an engaging time.  

Friday, March 17, 2023

Still preoccupied

The saga with my son's book accelerated this week as he returned to Cambridge, via Iceland, for another intensive week on the next chapters. Would you be surprised to learn that the project has rather lost its lustre.  Enthusiasm has dialed down considerably. 

Sadly, his enthusiasm has been sabotaged by frantic days at his University, as the demands of ten yearly accreditation, when both federal and state inspectors examine every aspect of the school, have thrust him into mountains of extra work.  When I was at Northern Seminary I remember enduring a similar process when each faculty member was given an institutional task.  Mine was to write an extensive paper which tracked all the changes in our teaching syllabi since the previous accreditation visit ten years earlier.  Boxes of stuff needed examination.  And I was trying to write a book at the same time.  So I do know how miserable things can get.

He worked in the University right up until a couple of hours before flying out, and even though it is spring break he receives daily requests from his Dean. Fortunately, he remains optimistic and we have made some progress this week.  Whether its enough as the deadline nears is still a big question.   As a student I lurched from essay crisis to crisis. Nearing the deadline, pressure squeezed effort into hours of concentration.  I was an early morning person, finishing mid-evening and setting the alarm for 5:00 am for last minute effort. Early mornings are no longer a productive time, but living with a continuous essay crisis sums up my situation well. Still, only two more months! 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

On the substitute's bench

 A first today. The week before I was asked if I would stand by with a sermon for today.  The text was fixed - Psalm 51 - but the scheduled preacher had suddenly been given a hospital appointment for a much needed procedure.  Wisely, he wanted a Plan B, if he felt unwell.

But being on the bench means being match ready.  So I plunged into Ps 51, - an extraordinary psalm when David comes clean before God.  It  is prefaced by an historical note that gives its context as the confrontation in 2 Sam. 16 between the prophet Nathan and David.  David seems to have somehow justified to himself his adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent cynical murder of her husband, Uriah, by orchestrating his death, sending him on a front line suicide mission.  How he could delude himself and appear to live blissfully in continuing relationship with Bathsheba is one of the greatest warnings.  The most spiritual person (just look at his other psalms) can fall so deeply into sin.

It needs courageous Nathan to rebuke him in God's name  Only then does he see the horror.  Ps. 51 is his horrified response. Yes, he's sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, but it hits him how he has sinned first and foremost about God. This is deadly serious. You shall not commit adultery, commit murder...he knows he deserves death.  In fact, though he doesn't die, his son does and his kingdom will never recover.

His recognition of his sin, of his need for cleansing, of his offering of a broken and contrite heart is such a powerful preparation for the only hope of cleansing for broken and contrite hearts in the gift of Jesus' sacrifice for us. Only there!  Like all the psalms, which formed Jesus' own prayer book, only Jesus can bring the cleansing we need.

So, I was on the bench ready, wondering if I would be called right up until 6:00 pm on Saturday. Then in answer to my query to the preacher I heard I would not be needed.  Sitting on the bench in church was a strange experience. He did preach a challenging sermon. But at least I have the luxury of a blog to use some of my prep.   

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Pivots (2)

The first pivot turned me from a disinterested schoolboy into an enthusiast for geomorphology.  So much so, that entering my last year at university I really wanted to continue in academics. To my joy, a Christian organization working with colleges in Asia offered me two or three years teaching students. The college was in India at Serampore and I was thrilled to think I could continue my love of geomorphology in a far-off exotic land. Dots seemed to join up wonderfully. 

Then came the second pivot.  An unimpressive small brown envelope arrived in which a duplicated letter had been stuffed.  The old Gestetner machines used wax stencils through which typewriters punched letters.  Frequently, as in this case, some of the type face was worn so that every e or f, for example, was illegible. Additionally, ink splodges marked the paper where the typist had hit keys too hard. This messy letter told me that the whole organization had closed with all its arrangements null and void.  Little apology, no explanation and suddenly my planning was turned on its head. The dots had been disrupted. 

I did just wonder what God was doing in all this.  It had all seemed to work out so neatly. Having nothing else planned, I heard about an experimental full-time job working in the Baptist Union headquarters in London. Termed "Secretary for Student Work' it was all about encouraging students and their chaplains in different parts of the country, plus representing student work more widely, I felt I could do this. It was not what I wanted.  It meant working for the church which I had early rejected as a career choice!  

I have written elsewhere how this sudden shift from one direction into another led me to the biggest decision of my life when God called me into Christian ministry. 

In the men's meeting I invited them to reflect on pivots in their own lives when their direction of travel suddenly changed.  And to reflect on God's working through such pivotal changes.  It led to some interesting questions afterwards.  Perhaps you have some pivots too!


Monday, February 27, 2023

Pivots (1)

Last Friday I spoke to a local Men's Meeting which gathers men from different churches in the area. It was a delight to meet up with several friends. My talk focused on the significance of pivots in our lives. Those moments when something unexpected happened - we met someone, circumstances suddenly shifted, or an event occurred which in retrospect was a changing point. A pivotal point. At the beginning I mentioned that recently I had to write about my life as a Baptist minister and how that forced me to reflect on such moments.

And I admit this setting with a local audience allowed some self-indulgence.  I chose two pivotal points. The first occurred in 1961 when my father moved from a church in Gloucester to Cambridge. As a sixteen year old I found myself at a new school - the County - now Hills Road Sixth Form College.  My school career in Gloucester had been uninspiring, as was my academic record.  But suddenly I was plunged into a completely different ethos.

Because I had failed Latin and French O levels the Head Teacher, Mr. Eagling, told me to retake them and the Deputy Head, Mr. Laing, offered to teach me Latin at lunchtime. As soon as I mentioned these names heads nodded with smiles of recollection. This is what I meant about the setting allowing self-indulgence. Several men had been there around my time. Actually, one man said he failed both Latin and French and the same thing happened to him!  

They also laughed at my mention of some characters there.  Martin began the same time as me and sat behind me. I thought we might be friends as newcomers but that failed totally. Later when I read his autobiography did I see just how much Martin Amis, son of Kingsley Amis, truly hated the County. A year below me was Syd Barratt of Pink Floyd fame. A delightful charismatic figure he was a brilliant artist and our paths happily crossed when I did A level art. 

But it was two teachers above all: George Barlow (history) and Peter Bryan (geography) who set the nods and smiles going.  Peter gave me a passion (that's not too strong) for physical geography.  For the first time in my life I was captivated by a school subject, and the field trips to Wales and Yorkshire. To be able to look at landscapes and understand the influences on their formation just thrilled me.  So strong was my focus  that Peter said I should study with one of the leading geomorphologists, Bruce Sparkes, at Jesus College, Cambridge.  It's an extraordinary pivot that took a fairly disinterested schoolboy into genuine passion for a subject on a surprising journey......

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Diligent and honest

A few weeks ago I noticed a donation in my bank account.  Most of the entries were debits but this credited me with over 100 pounds  A cryptic explanation alongside mentioned a church that I had preached at many months before, with a note about church flower expenses.  Somehow, the details for paying my expenses directly into my account had been used to pay the florists who provide church flowers.

I contacted the church and the surprised Treasurer replied with the church bank account details for reimbursement. She said the florist was also called Michael so wires crossed. I immediately returned the money and in her reply she congratulated me for being diligent and honest. It worried me that she had maybe experienced dishonest Baptist ministers!  Perish the thought!

I received a Christmas present with a note saying it was a joke. It's a wallet with imprinted words on its face including my name.  With wealth and power Michael comes great responsibility.  Oh yes.  With diligence and honesty of course.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Music, if you please

The saga with my son's book continues until May. In an effort to supercharge its writing, he visited us for eight days in mid-January (which I mentioned in the last post).  An exhausting trip from New York to London via Iceland!  I wondered how many days he would miss owing to jet-lag causing a shrinkage in our writing time.  However, he bounced into life quickly and suggested that we should target 5-6 hours every day! 

I had turned my garden study/shed/sanctuary into a serious work space, shoving books and papers to the side.  On one side tall IKEA racks hold my CD collection next to my old record player, speakers and vinyl collection, started 60 years ago.  He announced that he cannot work without music.  I am the opposite. Direct opposite!  Silence is essential for creativity.  But on the first day as I entered the study I found he had selected Holst's Planets and the CD was letting rip with Mars. 'Wow, Dad', he said,' I know nothing about classical music.  All my life has been spent with music. but classical music is a closed book. Can we play some of these while we work?'

How could I resist such a request?  I told him I would select some of the CDs and vinyl that his family loved.  Like his grandmother who loved Mozart, especially the piano concerti like No. 23.  I found the vinyl record she loved (with Alfred Brendel playing) and so gently, powerfully,Mozart wove his magic.  'Hey, Dad,''he said, ' I'm bidding for that very disc on eBay!'  And so he did.  JS Bach's double violin concerto, Elgar's cello concerto, Dvorak's New World Symphony were all new.   All, totally new!   How did he miss hearing them in our home when they were my constant companions, plus tens of others?  Well, in his own room he had his own (loud) music.

I am not sure listening to music really helped my writing, but I shall long treasure opening up some wonders to my son.  So this is a hard writing season but there have been some delights along the way. 

Monday, January 23, 2023


The gap between posts is widening. I know.  My most recent excuse is the emergency my son faces. His book project of 110,000 words has been struck by misfortune.  When he signed the contract he had the prospect of a 6 month sabbatical from his U.S. University, Sadly, the university has removed sabbatical privileges for all faculty while, at the same time, firing many faculty and staff as the institution has lurched into decline. Pleading for two extensions until May 2023, he has exhausted his publisher's patience. So, only 4 months remain in which to complete the manuscript.

Twenty-five years ago I would only have been able to wring my hands in sympathy,  However, when I joined Northern Seminary in 2000, my Seminary President informed me that the institution expected me to write a textbook on preaching that would be widely used  The writing/re-writing process over the next two years scarred me and left me battle hardened.  So, instead of hand-wringing, out of this hard-won experience I have committed myself to share the writing task.  My son came over from the US just under two weeks ago and we disciplined each day for work on the book.  And it took some discipline! 

My daily habits of doing the crossword, napping, reading are suspended. My blog posts are suffering too, as is Carol.  I have just shared a zoom session with him as we slowly move on.  Will we be successful? The jury is out. Hopefully, I shall keep some blog presence.

Monday, January 9, 2023

A slow start

Since both legs now operate fairly successfully, I was on coffee duty after our morning service yesterday. We served well over 100 hot drinks and a fair number of cold....so full-on customer service.  One man, returning after suffering a nasty bout of Covid, mentioned that my blog had gone quiet.  It was a double jolt - first, that I had a reader who noticed (!) and second, that 2023 had advanced quickly without me noticing. So, a slow start.

I admit the new year seems to have taken off at supersonic speed and left me behind.  But, with sciatica now, thankfully, in the rear view mirror I should pay tribute to another church member.. When the pain was severe and I was housebound, this friend called me on a Sunday afternoon and suggested that he visit me the next day with some exercises for me. Frankly, exercising was the last thing I wanted to do. I thanked him and declined his kind offer as graciously as I could.

It made no difference. He came round on Monday anyway. Apparently, he once suffered from severe sciatica and had been given exercises that really helped him.  He lay down on our wooden floor and splayed out his arms before pulling up his knees and twisting them from side to side.  Then extending his foot he held it mid-air counting the seconds.  'This is the best exercise for sciatica', he declared. I then realized that it was my turn next!  

Getting down on the floor was an effort itself and I needed a cushion behind my head.  He supervised my attempts to repeat the exercises.  With minimum flexibility I tried hard as he made encouraging and sympathetic noises. And he helped me stand up again afterwards. 

Is this a good story?  Most definitely yes.  Among other things these exercises helped me on the recovery road. And I really want to say thank you to my friend who took the time to breeze through my negatives, give a personal demonstration, and actually make a difference.  That's a real challenge to how to help others in 2023.