Sunday, October 16, 2016


I am a palm-reader, and I can read people’s fortunes in their palm.

I get to see a lot of hands. To touch them, gently, and examine them, closely. Sunday by Sunday, people come forward and hold out their hands in front of me. Some are regulars, some here for the first time; but these are my people, the people God has asked me to care for, asked me to feed. This in itself is a holy mystery: they are not mine in a possessive sense, but the One who is their Lord and mine has called me to partner with him in feeding them: we do it, together. As I press a communion wafer onto their palm, making the intangible tangible, I am deeply moved by the privilege.

I am a palm-reader, and I can read people’s fortunes in their palm.

I get to see a lot of hands. To touch them, gently, and examine them, closely, and as I do, I read their fortunes. Not ‘their fortunes’ in the sense of foretelling their future, but in the sense of seeing into their lives.

I notice the rings, that speak of covenant relationships: the wedding band on the widow’s hand; the ring she inherited from her mother; the ring his father gave him; a few bands worn so thin that they are more held-together by the integrity of love than by the integrity of gold.

I notice the fingers gnarled by age, overlapping its neighbour, or thrown out crooked by injury or arthritis: this, too, tells me something about their fortunes, not in a predictive sense but in a holy moment where animated clay recognises bones of its own bone, recognises our oneness and is glad. Their fortunes and mine are intertwined, and the richer for it.

Then there are the hands held down, clasped together, hands indicating that the person has come forward not to receive bread and wine but a blessing. These hands are mostly Iranian. Every few months, we baptise another twelve or so disciples; and only after baptism do they take bread and wine. This is a precious thing approached with reverence, many weeks of study and preparation. For our Iranians, sharing in the Eucharist – Holy Communion – is so precious in part because it transcends language, unites English- and Farsi-speakers. And as they approach baptism, they come forward week by week for a blessing.

I bless them: ‘the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.’ Whether the words are fully understood or not, what they evoke comes to be known, the weight of glory settling on their lives. I bless all-comers, Christian, Muslim, each made in the image of God, each made to experience God’s blessing.

I wish that those who have never met our Iranians, who have to pass judgement on their asylum tribunals, deciding whether their faith is living or not, would come and stand alongside them week by week over the course of, say, a month. I wish they would look not only into their scared eyes, but on their hands.

And in hands held out to receive Jesus – the Body of Christ that is the Church touching Christ’s body that is the bread – and the hands waiting with anticipation to receive Jesus, I can read that their greatest fortune is laid-up not on earth, subject to corrosion and decay and theft, but in heaven.

I am a palm-reader, and I can read people’s fortunes in their palm.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Church Growth

With others, I have shared oversight for a growing church.

We are growing older, as – reflecting our national population – many of us are living into old age, and our youth go off to university or employment in other parts of the country. Aging is deeply challenging to everyone, and for society as a whole; yet it is an opportunity to keep journeying with Jesus and to discover grace in the struggle.

We are growing more ethnically mixed, as to the white English demographic and a sprinkling of Nigerian and Asian postgrads, we now include Iranian asylum-seekers. In a big shift over the past year, now roughly a quarter of our congregation are Farsi speakers, with limited English language. They are a wonderful gift to us, but also a real challenge as we wrestle with the language- and culture-barriers, a fear-mongering media, the lack of compassion in the way those who seek asylum have their claim processed, and always a high turnover. Again, these challenges are an opportunity to encounter Jesus and be transformed – all of us.

We are growing weaker. Pensioners, and those who have fled their homes, are not resource-rich; at least, not in material resources, or in influence. But in the upsidedown Kingdom of heaven, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. So we are learning to trust in him and not in our own abilities.

I share oversight of a growing church. It is deeply uncomfortable. By definition it involves death and resurrection, again and again. Not everything that has grown in our midst has been healthy, and often such growth cannot be addressed in haste, lest good things that are emerging alongside be uprooted. But in this, too, Jesus is faithful.

I share oversight of a growing church.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

International Day Of The Girl Child

The lectionary reading at Morning Prayer was from 1 Timothy chapter 2. In it, Paul, who like Jesus is unashamedly pro-women, makes several points:

men are to ditch macho posturing, and instead come before God in praying for the world;
women are not to be seen, or see themselves, primarily in terms of their looks (that is, objectified) but their character (that is, having agency);
women are to be permitted and encouraged to learn, neither excluded nor excluding themselves, for if they will submit themselves to diligent engagement this will benefit the community;
women are to exercise authority and oversight of the community, including men, but in so doing they must not abuse that position to put men down – this is for the good of all;
women and men are equally vulnerable to deception and self-deception, and should view themselves with honest humility;
yet women have played, and continue to play, a crucial role in Gods plan to redeem humanity (which includes childbirth, and childbirth as an illustration of labour, but is not restricted to bearing children).

That this passage has been translated and interpreted in ways that carry the very opposite spirit, that subjugate women, casting them as second-rate citizens – not least in their own minds – is a tragedy.

I will continue to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as spread by Paul; good news for women and men, of every background.

Mike Frost linked to research by Save the Children into where it is hardest to be a girl today, based on five key predictors of the ability of girls to thrive:

rates of early marriage (child marriage triggers a cycle of disadvantage across every part of a girl’s life);
adolescent fertility (teen pregnancy impedes a girl’s ability to thrive);
maternal mortality (complications during pregnancy or childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls);
women in government (indicating a girl’s freedom to speak out and influence decisions);
lower secondary school completion (a limited education also limits employment options).

1 Timothy 2 speaks out on education, representational leadership, and, in recognising the perilous and God-honoured reality of childbirth, maternal mortality. In re-framing women as equal to men, not objects for men, these verses also speak to rates of early marriage and adolescent fertility. That is to say, this scripture is timely.

And because this passage has been so widely mis-used to put women down, in a world where male public figures can speak so contemptuously of girls and the women they grow up to be, we must refute and contest such abuse of power, rather than exorcise the life-releasing gospel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In the dark

God does God’s best work in the dark.

In darkness, God called out light.

But darkness, not light, is the birthplace of all creation. The story continues, “And it was evening, and it was morning; the first/second/third/etc. day.” In other words, the six ‘days’ of creative activity are, in fact, nights, ushered in by evening as the light fades and drawn to a close by morning as the light returns.

It is in that same darkness that God draws out femaleness and maleness from within humanness.

It is in the dark that God enters into a covenant with Abra(ha)m, having led him out to count the stars (long before light pollution), if that were possible, for so many would Abram’s descendants be.

Elsewhere, it is in the dark – physical and metaphorical and psychological – that God reveals to Job the extent to which the ongoing activity of creation still depends on the darkness within and from which it first responded to God.

It is in the dark that God reveals to Abraham’s run-away grandson Jacob the very gate between earth and heaven, busy with angels passing in both directions; and in the dark that God wrestles with Jacob all night, when he returned again to face his brother, his fears, his self.

It is in the dark that God speaks to Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph, in dreams beneath a starry sky, and the interpretation of dreams in a prison-house.

It is in the dark that God comes to lead his captive people out of slavery in Egypt; in the dark that they cross over the Sea of Reeds; in thick darkness on Mount Sinai that God meets with Moses and gives the Law, the shape of loving God and loving your neighbour in the same way as yourself.

It is in the dark that God teaches David to sing, Solomon to love, Elijah to hear the awesome sound of silence, Jonah to hope, Jeremiah to lament, Ezekiel and Daniel to foresee, Nehemiah to see.

It is in the dark that Jesus is born; and in darkness that shepherds and magi are led to worship him.

It is in the dark that Jesus goes to meet alone with his Father God.

It is in the dark that Jesus faces arrest and trial, strengthened by whatever it is that God is doing regardless of what people are doing in the darkness; and it is in darkness so thick that Jesus feels forsaken that God receives his spirit as he breathes his last.

It is in the dark that Jesus is brought back from death, in resurrection life.

In the dark, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

If you find yourself in the dark right now, take heart. You are in good company.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A tale of two goats

Leviticus 16 tells the tale of two goats, who play a crucial role in a ritual of national healing and reconciliation.

The two goats are, together, taken for a sin offering. ‘Sin’ refers to all that divides us from one another; a ‘sin offering’ refers to a symbolic act of reconciliation.

The first goat is slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled in the tent that symbolised God living with his people. The reason you slaughter a goat is to extend hospitality, to serve up a meal for someone who has come to you, someone who by definition is ‘other’ in relation to you. This act is not done to appease God, but to honour God. It is done as a reminder of God’s mercy in choosing to remain with this people, even though they are totally undeserving, even though their habitual actions would give reasonable grounds to leave.

The second goat gets to live. This is the goat known as the scapegoat. The priest is instructed to lay both hands on the head of the goat and to confess over it the sins of the people, all of the ways in which they have offended against one another. Then the goat is led out into the wilderness and set free.

This is the exact opposite to how scapegoat is used today. Today we look for a ‘scapegoat,’ for someone other than ourselves, who is in no way to blame for our woes, and blame them. But that is not what a scapegoat is. The goat was not blamed for the sins of the people. The scapegoat was a symbolic mechanism by which the people owned their own sin, their own falling-short in their dealings with one another, and then let it go. Letting it go is not saying that it does not matter (if it did not matter, there would be no need for this ritual), but symbolically freeing one another from the relational debts we have incurred.

This morning I wake up in a nation that is bitterly divided. We desperately need the goat of hospitality extended to those who live in the same community but are distinctly ‘other’ to us, allowing hospitality to cross the divide. And we desperately need a scapegoat: a public acknowledgement of the ways in which we have hurt one another; and a public commitment to forgive those who have sinned against us, even as we ask them to forgive us for the ways we have sinned against them.

Monday, June 06, 2016


There is wax spilt on the floor of the chapel. I will need to get down on my knees and scrape it up. Or leave it for someone else to get down on their knees and deal with. I can only speculate over who spilt it, but I can do so one way, or another. Perhaps they were oblivious, careless in their action. It is of no matter to them that someone else will have to come along behind them and deal with the mess. Or were they aware, but in a hurry - unable to wait until the wax hardened and could be dealt with? Or were acutely embarrassed but, to their perceived shame, did not know where to lay hands on the necessary tools to do the needful task? I can allow myself to be irritated by this unknown person; or I can hold them before God today, as my brother or my sister, one as oblivious, as careless, as hurried, as spoilt by shame at their own lack as I am in turns?

Let the wax be my teacher. May it bring me to my knees before my God, there to look into the eyes of another. And may even our shortfallings leave a trace of our devotion, of the light we choose rather than cursing the darkness.

Blessed be you, o wax, for you have pointed me to Christ who reigns in heaven. And blessed be you, o Christ, for you have melted my heart.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Take the full amount of paid annual leave you are entitled to. The full amount. It is there in recognition that while work matters, the worker matters too. It is there in recognition that while work matters, other things matter too. If you think that the effort you need to put in at work before you go and after you come back means that taking holiday is not worth it, revise your view of work. If you feel that your going on holiday inconveniences your colleagues - and that their going on holiday inconveniences you - revise your view of what it means to be colleagues. Take your leave. Go away, or stay at home. Do that thing you always meant to do, but never had the time. Give yourself to your community. Do nothing at all. Push through the dis-ease of not contributing to the economy at this precise moment in time, in order to participate in life.


Try to honour everyone. Regardless of what they have done with their life. Regardless of whether you like or dislike them, agree or profoundly disagree with them. Look them in the eye, see another human being, another you. Recognise their inherent dignity, even if they don’t. Treat them as you would want them to treat you, regardless of how they actually treat others.

Respect, on the other hand, is something that must be earned. Never respect someone because of their position, or what they have done; but for how they inhabit their position, and the way in which they have done what they have done. Never respect anyone who demands that you show them respect; and never demand of anyone that they show you respect, either. But live in a way that you yourself would respect others for.