What shall it be today
Will it be rebellion,
Or shall I wear conformity
Like an old coat?

Oh that I could
Shake free
The grace you hid inside me
And set loose
The hounds of love
To harry the worn heels
Who left their shuffling footprints
Close by me

I have seen things
Whither and die
Behind a veneer
Of politeness

And can live this life
No more.


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Lambeth and Gene

gene-robinson.jpg (JPEG Image, 350×350 pixels)

I heard the controversial Bishop Gene Robinson speaking on Radio 4 this morning. He was asked some pretty searching questions, including one about whether he was being deliberately provocative in order to force the Anglican community to change their position in relation to homosexuality. I thought he responded graciously and was impressed with his suggestion that he was testifying to what he felt God was calling him to.

Agree of disagree- this is a brave man. He apparently has bodyguards, and wears a bullet proof vest because of death threats against him, and he runs the gauntlet of abuse wherever he goes. Check this out-

The bishop is a fellow blogger, and you can check out his own story on this link-

I have had quite a few discussions about homosexuality recently. I have Christian friends who have recently had to face up to this in a real way as close family members have come ‘out’.

This is such a divisive, polarising issue. For many, the Bible is categorical- homosexuality is an abomination, full stop. Any suggestion that openly gay people should be shown fellowship and love is then accommodation with evil. I could never agree with this. Philip Yancey in his book ‘Whats so amazing about grace?’ describes his own reaction to the ‘outing’ of a Christian leader in the USA as gay. His description of Christian protestors at a gay rights march is hard to feel anything for but shame.

Yancey also makes another gentle but hard hitting point. There are about three verses that make specific reference to homosexuality in the Bible, but several more that forbid marriage after divorce. Most Protestant churches (but not Catholic ones of course) over the last 30 years have moderated their position in relation to re-marriage, despite what the Bible clearly says. Don’t get me wrong- I am glad they have done this- and given people a second (or third) chance at happiness after the trauma of broken relationship. I have never heard a satisfactory theological reason why this is OK however, and other specific commandments remain inflexible.

In even asking this question, I suppose I will already be typecast as a liberal heretic by many. But I have no fixed opinion in regard to the theology of sexuality. I suppose this is a bit of a cop-out- but there appear to be many variations on this- not just the polar opposites represented by Robinson and the Anglican ‘Evangelicals’.

  • Given the increasing (if hotly debated) scientific basis for homosexuality having a significant genetic component- not a ‘lifestyle choice’- then many would point to the need for Christians to understand more, and pathologise a lot less. This has led some (Tony Campolo for example) to suggest that to be gay can not be regarded as sin- but that homosexual sex should still be regarded as unacceptable. In short, Gay people can not help who they are, but should remain celibate.
  • Others would suggest that openly gay people should be tolerated by the church, even as priests, but not as leaders- hence the fuss about Bishop Robinson.
  • Still more are like me- unsure and wondering what the next generation will make of all this. Will theology be shaped by culture- with all the attendant risks of allowing such a thing (as if this has not always happened!)? Is it possible that we will just have to leave this to God? But this does not change the fact that it is still the cause for much prejudice and conflict.
  • Then there are those whose motivation is towards the poor and broken. Who point out that the voices of Christians should never be raised against a persecuted minority- that rather we should be the peace makers, the ones showing love and forgiveness. I have even heard the Good Samaritan story retold, with a gay person cast as the Samaritan.

Faced with people whose sexuality is different from ours, who might (Lord help them) seek to attend our Church- what should our response be? Would you rather they were inside, or outside?

Faced with a real person, hurting and seeking after the living God, would you make relationship conditional on sexuality?

I think my answer to these two questions is yes, and no. How I work out the rest will be an adventure with God.

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Holy Mary, mother of God

This is a duplication of a post from the Aoradh website, and also on the Emerging Scotland Face book group. There was much (heated) discussion on the latter, and you can check it out here

I post it again with some trepidation, because entirely predictably, it has got me into trouble. Scotland still feels our sectarian separateness deeply. I have come to believe however, that despite genuine doctrinal disagreements, sectarianism has become a kind of sickness for us.

Not just the obvious football tribalism, but also within our churches.

I am from a Protestant background. Many things were given to me as absolute truth. Some of these I cherish, but many others I question and wrestle with.

One of the issues that was self evident to those from my church background was the fact that the Catholic Church was built on, at very best, very shaky foundations. There were debates as to whether it was really possible to be a Catholic AND a Christian. I lived in England, and these ‘truth-wars’ have mostly died down, but here in Scotland, there are many places (even outside football, and inside the church) where we still fight over the same battle lines.

Some of the sectarian positions Christians take up on this issue I can not begin to understand. Politics and social history are mixed in, along with the legacy of hurt and pain from previous generations. This has stained religion on both sides of the sectarian divide. Theological rationalisation for this hatred is very hard to bear though- all the stuff about the Pope being the anti-Christ, and the demonic influence on the formation of various monastic orders. I have heard these things rehearsed by otherwise rational and caring people in my town.

Back to my own prejudice however. When I was younger, these were the facts I knew about Catholics;

  • They prayed to saints, not God.
  • In particular, they prayed to Mary, and appeared to worship her.
  • They did all sorts of things according to Papal edict, not through their own direct study of the Bible.
  • Priests controlled access to God, through confession, absolution and the mass.
  • They had lost the vibrant influence of the Holy Spirit that was so important to my tradition.
  • They lived in a dead religious world of incense, Latin and gold leaf.
  • Rome wields political clout for its own interests.

All these facts I knew because someone told me them. I did not know any practicing Catholics- although I knew a few ex-Catholics (who were a bit like evangelical ex-smokers!) Likewise, it was possible to find evidence to support a negative view of the Catholic Church. Like most large organisations, it contains much that is rightly questionable.

But as I have become older, I have had to re-evaluate this narrow and blinkered view of Catholicism again and again. It is just impossible to avoid the evidence of God at work within and through the Catholic Church. I read and wept over the stories of the courage of the priests who lived out liberation theology under persecution in South America. I met Charismatic Catholics. I saw the immense depth and power of the contemplative traditions from various Catholic Orders, and the beauty in ancient liturgy impacted me perhaps for the first time. I have seen at close hand a Priest who operates in grace and love.

I also became less and less secure in the absolute rightness of my own traditions. I see the Reformation and subsequent Protestant project, in all its messy fervency, as richly blessed by God. But I am also aware of its dark side- the divisive self defeating squabbles, the constant battles of ‘truth’, the condemnation and judgementalism that has allowed our faith to co-exist with rampant capitalism, slavery and imperialism.

I am not Catholic, but now I have great Christian friends that are. I am proud to share my journey with people who have such a rich and complimentary understanding of who Jesus is, and how the Kingdom of God can be made real. I found I had much more I common with these friends than many from my own tradition. They confounded my prejudice, and joined me in my prayers to the Living God. Saints are barely ever mentioned, apart from as examples.

And then we come to Mary.

There is a wide variety of veneration of Mary across the Catholic Church. Many do pray to her directly. It is for those people to decide how that brings meaning to their worship, and not me. To those of us from a different tradition, perhaps we can even learn something from this.


The bearer of the Saviour of history.

Virgin who risked all to carry Jesus to us.

This young girl was greeted by an Angel, who told her she was highly favoured

Despite her fear, she said ‘I am the Lord’s servant. Do with me as you like’.

In a burst of prophetic song, she sang this

From now on all generations shall call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things in me!

Witness to Angels and Stars and Shepherds and wise men.

Protector and refugee in Egypt.

Real woman, wife to Joe, and other kids too.

Proud proud mother of the miracle maker.

Listener of sermons.



Observer of arrest and trial.

Follower of the Cross on the way to Golgotha.

Broken hearted as the nails drove home.

Hearer of these words from a dying son

Dearest woman- here is your son (and to the man who Jesus said was the rock on which he would build his Church) Here is your mother.

Taker of the broken body.

Airbrushed out of the faith story by the Protestant reformists as reaction-formation?



Michaela loves that time when evening turns to dusk
When streetlights shine with purpose
But people have not yet drawn their curtains

There laid naked by approaching night
The secrets of some other sitting room
Are shelved
Are stored in boxes from Ikea
In two dimensions
Animated by the ubiquitous TV sets
Flickering from the corners.

Arm in arm we share clandestine glances
Whispering our words of approval or approbation
And walk on into our own lives.

There was a time when we watched in aspiration
Building middle class castles in our minds
Safe within suburbia
Dreaming of a day when we too would know the security
Of ownership.
A solid sideboard
And stripped pine floors.

Like the moths flapping at the amber streetlights
We are drawn to the artificial arc
Of convention
And conformity
Tied down to the temporal
Walking to stand still.

Michaela and I
We sometimes transcend the tramlines
Or at least we try
We catch a glimpse of another way
The scent of freedom on the breeze
Blown there from another Kingdom
And we start to fly.

I do not believe that Icarus
Melted his wax wings
I think he mortgaged them.


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Today I received my bouzouki.

I ordered it many months go from Freshwater folk instruments, and it seemed like it would never come. When it did, there were some problems, which I have yet to sort out with Dave Freshwater, but it is a beautiful thing.

I have wanted a bouzouki for ages… I love the sound they make. For the uninitiated, a bouzouki is a guitar sized Mandolin- 4 strings, each doubled, with a fret board around the length of a guitar fretboard. It makes a sound that, once heard, is very different to guitars, and opens up all sorts of other tonal possibilities. It was originally a Greek instrument, restrung and adapted into Irish folk music by people like Donal Lunny.

One of my favourite bands, ‘A Show of Hands’ use them a lot, and I love the driving energy the closely grouped strings give to fast folk.

For the purists, my instrument is tuned to G D A D, which gives lots of ‘drone’ strings, and lots of lovely open chord sounds. It has been hand made from solid woods, and has a Fishman pick up system.

And it makes me happy to sit in the fading light and fiddle around with the strange familiarity of such a beautiful new instrument.

But, gnawing away at me is this word…. idolatry.

For musicians (not sure if that really includes me, but stay with me…) instruments easily become objects of drooling worship. A good guitar does not make a bad guitarist good, but it certainly makes him/her a whole lot cooler.

Did I NEED a bouzouki? Of course not.

Does owning one improve the quality of my life, or enable me to serve others more effectively? Not really.

So, Lord forgive this man and the grasping teenager within.

And let me learn again that what I have, you gave me, so that I in turn, may be a blessing to others.

But thanks

For bouzouki’s

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Blessed are those whose spirit
Rises to meet mine

And who are never satisfied with

Easy compromise

Blessed are they who lay down their rights
To look for my righteousness

Blessed are they who quest

Beyond dogmadogma1.gif

Into me

Blessed are they as they as they escape
The confines of what is known

To search for more

Blessed are those who are vulnerable
And whose necks are stretched

To my sword

For it will fall


And blessed are those dirty streets
Where rests

My manna

Blessed are they

For there I am planting

My Kingdom

Worship list 2. Motivation

What might turn our minds to God?

What brings us to worship? What motivates us within it?

I have not go this sorted yet. But the seeking seems very important. It was this that became the centre of the group called ‘Aoradh‘ that I am a part of.

I started to make a list that was relevant to me, and to some of my friends;

  • An encounter with the transcendent, which left us hungry.
  • The desire to live out this worship in a way central to the whole of life.
  • Jesus.
  • A desire to break down barriers between the so-called sacred and the real world.
  • Dissatisfaction with what has been, and longing for more…
  • A longing for creativity, colour and vitality in worship.
  • A longing to be authentic and true in our worship.
  • New ideas freely available – just a mouse click away.
  • Freedom taken or given, so that we can make our own worship.
  • The experience of community, with worship as a natural consequence.
  • An interest in art as a theological and spiritual tool.
  • An appreciation of the many rich traditions of Christian worship.

Worship list 1

I have spent years participating with, and leading, groups of Christians as we worship God.

We always reminded ourselves that worship was a personal decision, made out of relationship and dynamic interaction with the Spirit of the living God, not something that just (or even always) happens in church meetings.

But it is clear that something special can happen when we gather together and make our worship collective…

But what is this?

After all the years of trying to understand this better, I have more questions than answers. Here are some of them

  • Why do we do it? Yes, I know we are supposed to, but what really motivates us?
  • How do we take our private offerings of worship, and collectively present them to God?
  • Or should we allow our worship to travel on the security and safety of tradition?
  • Is it good to be relevant and progressive in the style of our worship?
  • When do we do it, and what does it look like? Does it always have to be formal, ‘churchy’, and dominated by ‘worship professionals’- in my experience, these almost always have a posh guitar.
  • Is there more than music as a way of collectively worshiping?
  • What practices or attitudes of body and mind might HELP us to worship?
  • What might we expect Him to do as we worship? Is he distant, or active? Is he particularly active as we worship?
  • How much of our worship arises from individual choices or decisions?
  • What might we aspire to, how do we measure the worth of our worship?
  • How much arises as a response to that which is collective and shared – or even proscribed?
  • Does God inhabit the praises of his people, and if so, how can we meet him there?

Some of the answers to questions like this already have the shape of answers given to me by my church tradition. But these answers are rarely complete, but only partial.

How we work out our collective answers to these questions may be different for all of us. But if we do not ask them, my experience is that something in the middle of us starts to whither and die.

Perhaps we become bored and stale.

But could it be that God is bored too?

I have come to think that the enemy of faith is stasis. Even if not everything around us needs to change- we always do.

Blessed are the peace makers…

An excerpt from ‘The Beatitudes’. The rest can be found here;

Blessed are the peace makers…

Blessed are those whose find themselves
No longer vindicated

By the failure of others

Blessed are those whose borders lie open

And whose cartographers no longer


Blessed are those who put off
Their badge of office
And reveal who they are

Not who they want to be

And blessed are those

Who lie down like a bridge
For others to walk upon

Whose sinews take the strain

Of two way traffic

And blessed are those who seek peace
In an age of war

And speak of love
In a time of revenge

Blessed are you

Sons and Daughters

Of the Most High God

Agents of

My Kingdom

Osama, how the other half see him…

My friend Ali turned up this evening- he had been house sitting for his sister while she had been on holiday so I had not seen him for a few days.

Ali is a singular kind of guy, who has a taste for the kitsch… and his sister found something in the souks of Marrakesh that she knew she would have to take home for her brother. More of this later…

There is a phantom shadow on our age, cast by the missing outline of the twin towers of Manhattan. This shadow has unleashed a new kind of warfare that has global impact- the ‘war against terror.’ On the one side we have the big battalions bent on imposing rough justice in the name of democracy, and on the other, those who have come to see the west as representing everything wrong with this world of ours.

Many things define the difference found between the supporters of the different sides. One side is mostly rich, the other, mostly poor. But perhaps above all, the defining difference is that of religion. One side is predominantly white, Protestant Christian, the other, Muslim.

It is important I think, to understand the other– to walk a while in his shoes and mark the blisters on his heel.

Otherwise, we may fall to that familiar base human default of dehumanising those who are different, and even demonising those who disturb our understanding of normality.

It seems clear that the Muslim world has a different way of seeing this ‘war on terror’ than predominates even in my liberal, left-of-centre world view. For them, this war is a manufactured, imperialist, brutal assault on a whole way of life- a whole faith group. It is the logical outcome of a long line of injustice perpetrated by or supported by the west (and the USA in particular.) Israel, Kosovo, Somalia, Iran, the Kurds, Chechnya, Israel again, and again…

In this way of seeing the world, the ‘war on terror’ is all smoke and mirrors, behind which is OIL. And religion.

That is not to say that people necessarily condone terrorist violence, but they may understand it, and its root causes in a way that we are not able (or willing) to. Many may resent the further trouble Bin Laden has brought down upon the heads of the Muslim world when he attacked the ‘great Satan’ on September the 11th. But his motivation is clear, and his continued defiance of the whole might of the USA continues to give almost univeral satisfaction.

Back to Ali’s present.

With great ceremony, he began to set up some cheap plastic track on our coffee table. He then placed on the track a tank, driven by a bad representation of George W Bush, and in font of this, Osama Bin Laden, on a skateboard. The tank was battery powered, but the skateboard had a magnet whose polarity opposed a magnet on the tank, so as the tank whirred round the track, the skateboard was propelled in front of it, always out of reach.

Here is a phototof the two protagonists, for your viewing pleasure, and education…