30 December 2013

Advent photo-a-day The Final Few

This week's photos for the Advent photo project.
(Find more on both Instagram and Twitter using the hashtags #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas)

Day 22 :: sign
I was dusting these cuties on the morning of the 22nd December whilst cleaning some of the rooms in the house in preparation for the arrival of family over Christmas. Time was evaporating to get everything done, presents wrapped, cleaning, music to be prepared for the evening service and the service on Christmas day. But I was able to pause for a moment and be thankful in the midst. Grateful for the 22 years shared, ups and downs, joys and sorrows, gifts and grace. And most of all for God who this year has particularly helped me stop and be mindful in the every day things that His gifts are continually raining down on me and on us
On our 22nd wedding anniversary a few years ago The Scotsman gave me these ducks. If I have to explain too much it's pretty pointless, and it might not be aimed at you. But just think 22 and the shape of the ducks in profile..

Day 23 :: neighbour
In my photo collection is this one from the Manchester Day Parade in the summer this year. A woman proffers the 'panda' a drink of water on a warm day, the essence of what it means to be a neighbour unintentionally captured in a moment.

Day 24 :: joy
On the journey to work on the last day before Christmas, patches of light were beginning to poke through the darkness as I travelled on the last stretch of the commute. This was a quick mobile camera shot from the train window. The view reminded me of the contrast of JOY that comes after times of weeping and the contrast that any light has against that particular darkness.

Day 25 :: light
A winter sunset on Southport beach
Light of the world is come to us once again

23 December 2013

Advent photo-a-day Week 3

This week's photos for the Advent photo project.
(Find more on both Instagram and Twitter using the hashtags #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas)

Day 15 :: rejoice
The praise window at Dornoch Cathedral. I have a tiny, tiny percentage of Scottish ancestry and the Barclay family were born and lived in Dornoch at the turn of the 19th century. I love the way the sun shone straight through the windows when I took this photo. It enhances and illuminates the beautiful glasswork even more.

Day 16 :: strong
The family will verify that I do not function well without a good strong cup of this first thing in the morning. The strength recently went up to 6 from 5..

Day 17 :: free
Still on a bit of a learning curve with the new camera, finally caught a co-operative butterfly and made it look just a little bit stunning (well I like it)

Day 18 :: mercy
Mercy is written in and between every word in this hymn. I love the recent Phatfish version which sadly I can't persuade my church to sing but it gets good airplay at home

Day 19 :: patience
Some days inspiration for these photos as well as time has been short. I was thinking on this day's word as I was travelling home and walked towards the waiting room on Platform 13. I catch two trains to and from work and spend alot of time waiting on this particular platform, with time to think, catch up on twitter or read, depending on connection times. And on these cold winter evenings I am particularly grateful for somewhere warm to wait.

Day 20 :: good news
This little fella was waiting in the Christmas Card pile when I got home. I may have made a sarcastic side-swipe on instagram about round robin letters, because such missives can be over long and a little tedious, even though it is lovely to hear from people. We have an 80-something friend who could teach many people the art of writing engaging Christmas letters.. So this birdy made my day on many levels.

Day 21 :: prophet
My favourite carol is 'It came upon the midnight clear'. So a few key words from this are gathered around our much loved Christmas tree angel. Inspired by the words 'For lo the days are hastening on, by PROPHET bards foretold'

15 December 2013

Advent photo-a-day Week 2

This week's photos for the Advent photo project.
(Find more on both Instagram and Twitter using the hashtags #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas)

Day 8 :: widsom
Often when I see still water where the mirror image is almost perfect it's not always possible or convenient to photograph. But I briefly struck lucky here at Douglas Water, Lanarkshire, Scotland, before the wind picked up. Goes perfectly with the verse from Proverbs 20

Day 9 :: delight
We spent a weekend in Liverpool in the summer and during an evening walk we found ourselves in a prime position to watch the Liverpool Fiesta pass by. Joy of the performers and musicians was highly infectious.

Day 10 :: holy
I was trying to be ultra clever with this one and looking (in vain) for a clear starry sky to photograph. But all too often I forget that the most holy transactions take place in the most ordinary places. 
So my work space. 
Which is actually moveable because we hot-desk frequently (mug and pens move with me.)
Still, it is essence of where God does the every day holy.

Day 11 :: steadfast
Deep, ancient, strong roots on the Tatton Park Estate, Cheshire

Day 12 :: hope
Again on the Tatton Park Estate and we visited on an early spring day. I still have not quite got into the habit of remembering that flowering in the north happens a few weeks later than in the south and often requires the help of a little warm sun. So I was disappointed that we were too early for the majority of daffodil and narcissus carpets. But the beauty of these odd emerging colourful buds contrasted effortlessly with the dull greys and browns.

Day 13 :: justice
Again under my nose, in the kitchen..

Day 14 :: gather
On 14 December 1985 we were married the Scotsman and I. A day when our family and friends gathered to celebrate with us.

8 December 2013

Advent photo-a-day week 1

I'm a sucker for a photo project and was delighted when a twitter friend posted a link to this one for Advent via @umrethinkchurch  

There is a word prompt each day leading up to December 25. I am posting the photos daily on Instagram and Twitter and will post weekly here on the blog with short thoughts/explanations.

Find more on both Instagram and Twitter using the hashtags #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas


Day 1 :: go
The boys bought their dad a race track experience for his 50th birthday and here is the Scotsman accelerating off round the track in an Aston Martin Vanquish (in slightly a more tentative manner than some of the other drivers and much to do with what you have to pay if the car gets damaged in any way.) But yes, those cars certainly did go.

Day 2 :: bound
A carol that appears in carol books is Adam lay ybounden. When looking for and preparing music for Christmas I often flick past it. Fifteenth century words and set to music here by the twentieth century English composer Peter Warlock, I'm not entirely sure what all the words mean since it is in macaronic English and full of arcane medieval theology -  that Adam was supposed to have remained in bonds with the other patriarchs in the limbus patrum from the time of his death until the crucifixion of Christ (the "4000 winters").

Day 3 :: peace
At this time I had just acquired a new camera and was shooting anything and everything at random. This has an 'it is well with my soul' feel which to me is the very essence of peace.

Day 4 :: time
This is the curfew bell in the lead mining village of Leadhills, Lanarkshire, Scotland (home of a large number of the Scotsman's ancestors.) It was built in 1770 and was used to ring shift changes for the lead miners, children to school, warnings of accidents in the mines and also when people were lost in the hills. Today it is used to ring in the New Year. 

Day 5 :: flood
Last autumn we were fortunate to have an unexpected holiday in Southern Spain. A few days before we flew out the area experienced torrential rain and once-in-a-generation flooding. Flood waters had washed away this road across the river in the village where we stayed.

Ironically at the same time as I was posting this photo to Instagram, I was reading tweets reporting on the damage caused by once-in-a-lifetime tidal surges in coastal parts of the UK. And the damage repair continues following catastrophic floods in the Philippines. Let's not forget.

Day 6 :: awake
Awake and alert to see everything that is going on. Be awake to what is going on in your heart, what God is doing. It might be in the least obvious place or in the least obvious way. Sometimes we are aware of things in hindsight and know that we have caught a glimpse of 'the backside of God'.

Day 7 :: ready
Ready, ripe, expectant. I struggled with this photo because it is a many faceted word and particularly so at this time of year. A state of mind and not an obvious picture.
In the west we have an abundant array of ripe fruits available in the shops, ready to eat, where the work of ripening has already been overseen by the farmer or producer. It's all to easy to forget where our food comes from and take it for granted.

1 December 2013

a letter to fill you in


I’ve not written on the blog in a while, save for a few short offerings in the last couple of months. Posting has dwindled gradually since I went back to work full time in May this year. There are plenty of half-written snippets littering folders in MS Word, considerably more thoughts than that have been chewed over in my mind and not committed to being thrashed out via qwerty keyboard. 

Some appear here..

a reflection on a reflection

Objects are reflected beautifully on water when it is calm and still. As soon as there is any wind the reflection becomes distorted and the reflection less recognisable. Like those rounds on game-shows, Guess the Object, how much spinning or clarity do you need before your brain tells you it is identifiable? 

(Or to flip it on its head “do not adjust your horizontal” was the Scotsman’s comment on a friend’s impressively busy patterned tights).

I took this photo during a walk at Douglas Water, Lanarkshire and for a short time the water reflected beautifully. On the return trip the wind had picked up a little so all the images on the lake were impressionistic and indistinct.

I was puzzling on the words of a hymn I used to sing in childhood ‘It is a thing most wonderful’. These lines specifically:

It is most wonderful to know
His love for me so free and sure;
But ’tis more wonderful to see
My love for Him so faint and poor

Not many conclusions, more indicative of my recent state of mind than anything.

And a blog is always incomplete without a pretty picture.


deck the halls

It is December now and we have decked the halls with... boxes. Actually during the last month the hall has decked itself with filled boxes, the lounge with empty boxes waiting to be filled and things in boxes waiting to be labelled.

The sign outside the house says ‘let’. We are still waiting to move and a number of things beyond control have slowed down the buying of a place completely of our own, for the very first time.

There have been plenty of prayers of the ‘God are You deaf?’ variety. Doesn’t He know that if this one will just get answered snappish we can move ON? That we have been in limbo for nearly three years and that hanging on isn’t much fun any more.

Even defective senses can sometimes lead to an unexpected opening.

This week we were at a training session for something at church and there was one of those ‘crowdbreaker’ moments to make us talk to someone we didn’t know (cue introvert awkwardness.) 

We had to think of a number that was important to us to share and explain to the unknown person. As usual in these circumstances due to an early morning weekend start (decreased brain function) and a lack of thinking time, at the ‘go’ instruction I was still fumbling for a number and an intelligent reason. I quickly decided on 20 the date of my mother’s birthday.

I didn’t know the lady I spoke to but I recognised her as the person who had prayed for me in a healing service a few weeks before. She had picked up on a physical manifestation of something that has been stirred up emotionally again of late. We got chatting and it turns out that 20 was a gateway for us both to open up about bereavement.

Even clutching at straws can open up meaningful dialogue.

And I’m continually thankful that God delights in surprising us when we least expect it.

Linking up with Ruth & Sabrina at #LettersTo (at Sabrina's place this week)

22 November 2013

fly (fly-ve minute friday)

Joining with the writing flash mob that is Five Minute Friday at the home of the lovely Lisa Jo Baker. #FMFparty

I have not written for a while and was recalling some of the things I had written in the past with my counsellor last night. As I recounted them hope started to seep back in. 

Five minutes on fly


My office is situated on an airport complex. The other evening as dusk descended a large flock of starlings swooped past the window, a truly mesmerising sight as my colleague and I watched. And after, a reality check, that should the birds have been several hundred metres off their course it could have been catastrophic in the vicinity of the large, metal winged machines that take off every few minutes.

It makes me sad to hear of many friends who cannot fly right now.

Weighed down by sickness, pain, anxiety, discrimination, wordless and wingless.

I long and hope for the day when we can find our wings and all fly together.

Where there will be no more sickness, no more pain, freedom from fear, justice overriding discrimination, words flowing freely and wings beating rhythmically. Spurring each other on and feeding off the mutual exhilaration.

In the words of that Doctor let’s allons-y!


By happy coincidence the new boots I bought this week (to stop me flying in an undignified manner when ice arrives) are fly 

5 November 2013

#3goodthings [3 November 2013]

The path is littered with abandoned, half-written blogposts
His love endures forever
#3goodthings has fallen off the wagon
His love endures forever
I have started counselling for a few weeks
His love endures forever
Not going to beat me up
His love endures forever
He is faithful


24 Oct
nephew's safe return from Afghanistan
spectacular early morning sun on the journey into work
achieving time with my Dad

31 Oct
first counselling session
realising the need to keep journalling and pick up#3goodthings
thinking through some deep, longstanding things

2 Nov
tea with a friend
not too many fireworks in the neighbourhood
finding a photo frame for our son's wedding photo

3 Nov
a good evening service even though the speaker didn't show
a friend sharing important things about when God doesn't heal
central heating providing warm cosiness indoors

282 gifts

24 October 2013

singed in the middle

Addie Zierman has written a book that I can’t wait to read ‘ When we were on fire’. At the time it was launched a couple of weeks ago Addie hosted a synchroblog on her blog How to Talk Evengelical. I missed the boat on #WWWoF synchroblog, but reading some of the submissions helped with the writing of this post. Please check out some of the posts on Addie’s blog and BUY HER BOOK!


Middle class, middle England, we were and just up the road from the Midland Oak. That’s our Youth Group heritage. It’s fair to say for a number of us, church was something parents did with a kind of quiet persistence, turning up faithfully week in and week out, but not with a demonstrable, on fire excitement. A small core of us went to the same school as well, thrown together in the 6th form after five years in the single sex grammar schools. Heck we were even all in the same tutor group at college too, navigating our way through the fug of hormones, dating each other in turn, debating life’s eternal questions, parties, nightclubbing and sneaking under-age into wine bars and inappropriate films.

Our Youth Leaders were two of the dads, two high class professionals. They treasured us as people and had good, willing hearts. Their dressing down with the yoof on Sunday evening was always jacket, tie and trousers. We mercilessly teased the one who attempted the guitar and his dogged determination lead us in singing ‘We are one in the Spirit’. The chord changes were always playing catch up to the singing and the bottom end of his jacket flapped increasingly he shifted on the seat adjusting his position, as if that would somehow enable his fingers to get the chords out on time.

There was a period when we had a small gang of town centre kids hanging on to the group. They came back and piled bovver-booted, into the back corner pew and fidgeted noisily during the evening services. Volleys of tongue clucking and tutting from older members of the congregation, flew backwards in their direction. At the language, values and behaviour that was alien to most of us, never mind the oldies. They made all of us youngsters at least question our comfortableness and gave us an itch to scratch. I wonder if they ever found what they were looking for after they left us?

We were no more mature. What on earth is it with metal communion cup holders on pews? Are there or have there ever been any of these anywhere else in the world? When we crammed two too many in a pew it made the person at the end twang the cup holder when we sat down, and we always snickered helplessly at the loud comedy boing.

I felt the love of God most deeply at outside events. At the local youth evangelistic rallies we went along to occasionally. And a few of us ventured to Spring Harvest in the early days and caught the fire which elevated us in our own eyes. We convinced ourselves that we had stumbled across ‘the way’ and rightly irritated the others with our ‘holy’ ideas. It tainted the word holy for quite some time but in the end the draw, comfort and loyalty of the middle was always greater and ultimately the end point of spiritual hokey cokey.

Sterile, hymn sandwiches out of the 1969 green Baptist Hymn book were a major dietary element in services; some of old melodies that screeched thinly at the top of the soprano range or others that crammed an absurd number of syllables of arcane words into as few lines as possible. Not more than once at the time (and since) have I felt strongly about pipe organs, poor organists and fire in the same breath. But something beyond the particular singing ridiculousness kept drawing us back and thankfully so. In spite of antipathy and boredom, words and ancient truths from the better hymns were finding their way in, burrowing deep along with the chord structures which were crucial building blocks in my musical memory from early days.

Worship songs of the time were still finding their way, and enthused us mainly because they were new and shiny. We had and lost the customary arguments with church leaders over their suitability for corporate worship. Although most of them have now largely fizzled out and have had their day they too were crucial in the early development of a piano playing style that still I use today in leading worship.


But the old good hymns, they have lasted, they are the ones insistently still around. Each time I sing their words now, either ones we don’t sing that often or ones we sing more regularly, there is always a fresh nuance, a change in weight of a particular word, and a much deeper understanding of Jesus’ love. That is the way at the moment God speaks most often, from those places where the deep things have been in storage, From where steady, quiet and persistent fire burned the words in, in the years gone by.

And I was back in the middle town these past few days with the Scotsman, visiting surviving parents who are now more frail of body and mind. Driving along the beautiful tree lined avenues, the tunnels of burnished browns and oranges that come around during the autumn season, with leaves on fire. Most of the rest of the group also have ageing parents in the same place a quarter of a century on, and although these ties call us back during the year we mostly pass as ships in the night. We could even be driving down the same avenues and not even know it. Our wings are now spread all over England, older, mostly rounder, greyer and enough baldness for a fair contest among the men (the very same competition that went on with our leaders in the Youth Group days.)

Most of us are no longer close friends but we are loosely connected by the fine threads of social networking. For me I look back and see times when making friends was uncomplicated and relatively easy. At that time the actual making friends with Jesus personally bit didn’t happen right into the heart for me, mainly because the middle was too comfortable. That came much later, after disappointment, failure, tiredness, brokenness and everyday living finally pushed me off the fence and out of the middle. He was the one who turned up persistently, whatever and He needed me to learn that.

For a long time I looked back on these things of the early days and looked down on them, as something you learn as a youngster and move on to better things as you get older. But lately the realisation has dawned that I am now grateful for the heritage of all the ‘on fire.’ That which came from both the very slow burn of persistence within and the flames of excitement that licked from the outside. 

13 October 2013

my heart will go on

I’m not a Celine Dion fan although I did once go to a concert of hers because someone had a spare, free ticket. And by virtue of tagging along I discovered the music of The Corrs, whose music I do love, so clouds, silver linings.

When our children were in primary school I did a little piano teaching. Celine’s song ‘My heart will go on’ sprang up everywhere at that time, making it a piece that a number of pupils wanted to learn to play. It was actually a great piece to teach balance between hands, with the aim of making the melody line sing against a flowing accompaniment. All too often as students wrestled with mastering notes, fingers and pedals the efforts sounded more like the deep, dark depths of the ocean that Jack Dawson sank into. But occasionally a pupil would master it well enough to perform in the end of term concert.

As the teacher teaching those who were not quite able to master it, the lessons were something of an endurance feat, and sometimes could not end soon enough. I’ve not been put off the song for life, but neither is it top of any playlists.


2 Chronicles 7: 1-3
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.”

This morning we sang the Matt Redman song based on this passage ‘Lord let your glory fall’. And we sang it twice during the service, second time after an excellent message on Praise and Revelation. I was leading worship from the piano today, so given the time spent practising in preparation at home, warm up practice prior to the service and repeating it during the service I’d ended up singing those words quite a few times.

I’m never bored of hearing these things. It is one of the best ways in which God enables His goodness to sink into my bones, in repetition and rhythm, allowing thankfulness to diffuse into my heart and to know that His love endures.

Not endurance as in long-suffering, resignation, tolerance or sticking it out, but enduring timeless love as constantly encountering, meeting with, persisting and holding on.

Without resorting to cheesy song, He says ‘My heart will go on’ long after yours has given up, cooled off, forgotten or wandered off and I am committed to running after You, whatever.