… and Lent begins …

I’ve been musing for days – weeks, probably – for something to do on here for Lent. I thought about posting music; I thought about Bible studies: I thought perhaps another attempt at ‘poetry’. I thought about a film a week or so for Lent (I still might do that, actually, if I can get the time). I thought about reflections on giving things up or taking things on as a discipline for the period. I thought about my frustration with how far we seem to have drifted from Jesus’ instructions on fasting, especially when it comes to fasting from social media: advertising it rather it than hiding it (the latter being what Jesus explicitly prefers).

I thought about advertising a just cause every so often for Lent. I thought about green issues, carbon fasting or recycling more. I thoughts about reading book for Lent – a Bible book or something else. I thought about using the period more intentionally to get to the gym. I thought about dieting. I thought about fasting from food once or twice a week.

I thought about chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, shaving, not shaving, my language, my thought life, television, social media, music, films. I thought about dog walks, about cooking, cleaning, saving, giving, buying presents, doing favours, being more welcoming, being more generous, being kinder.

In sum, I thought about a lot.

Then I realised that Lent had actually started, and I hadn’t noticed.

As far as I could tell, God didn’t seem to mind.

On her birthday

It was my wife’s birthday this week, so I wrote this. 

uslondon2012Happy Birthday to Bev, my favourite human being.

42 years of fun, championing the poor, challenging others to be more, courageous honesty, beauty, fearlessness, wisdom, and changing hair colours.

She’s even better than you think she is. After all she’s still married to me despite being on the other end of the bullying, rumours, scheming against us and general nastiness that comes along with the good parts of my calling.

She supports me through Ankylosing Spondylitis, chronic depression, anxiety, PTSD, two learning disabilities and inspires me to keep going.

She always sees and expects the best of people even if they can’t see it themselves.

She dreams impossible dreams and makes them happen.

She drags the future into the present.

She defends those who won’t or can’t defend themselves.

She’s not worried about reputation or approval or being good by the standards of a broken world.

She’s always learning.

She’s a brilliant photographer.

She’s an organiser.

She’s kind and good and true.

Some seem to insist on believing the worst of her and still she keeps going and keeps being who God calls her to be.

She’s a blessing in the truest sense of the word.

If you don’t know her, or don’t believe me, it’s your loss.


It’s disconcerting when the news of your childhood becomes the historical movies of your adulthood. Pride did nothing if not confirm for me that I have officially hit middle-age.

It’s a British comedic-drama about events during the Miners Strike in the UK of 1984 (I was 11, just about aware of what was going on in the wider-world). It focuses on two small communities: one is a small mining town in Wales of the sort that suffered most during that time. The other is a London-based group of gay and lesbian people who form LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). They take on the small Welsh community as a project for which to fundraise. The film is that story, of unlikely friendships and culture-clashes. In tone it is closes to British comedies like The Full Monty or Brassed Off; an edge of social realism and a triumph of underdogs storyline.

There’s some fine performances – Bill Nighy is at his understated best, drawing laughs at times without uttering a word; the comedic tone sits well with some serious themes of social distress and prejudice and it’s hard not to leave the cinema without at least a small air-punch of satisfaction at the film’s feel good narrative arc.

It’s not without flaws though. Some things just seem a little too easy to be true; did they really, for instance, break into singing that easily in the minibus? At times the adventures of the London-based characters come off too much like a school outing rather than engaging with one of the biggest social issues of the day. More seriously is an overly romantic view of history. The miners’ strike was a brutal and painful period of British history for all sorts of reasons, not least because it fractured families and communities. The film presents to us a picture of communities and towns united in their stand; I can’t speak for the individual town in question, but the brutal reality of the strike is that it was opposed from within the community of miners as well as by the government. Members of families fell into bitter, lifelong dispute; strike-breakers were, and maybe still are, ‘scabs’. All this because some felt they and their families couldn’t pay the price of their families’ well-being. It’s tempting to, as the film does, to play the strike as a unified struggle; but it wasn’t and it does a grave injustice to the complexity of real people in unimaginably difficult situations to pretend otherwise.

None of this detracts from the joy of the film; it should also be noted, though, that the nature of the film means that the humour is broader than The Full Monty (it really is); and sometimes that too (especially towards the end) seems a bit too easy to be true. The film also suffers slightly from Return Of The King-itis in that seems to have about three endings. By the time the last one rolled around I was ready for the film to actually end.

It doesn’t out-stay its welcome, though. The reservations are real, but not major problems.

I rated this film 4/5 on rottemtomatoes.com and 8/10 on imdb.com

Lessons on the Way 8: The Hero Trap – what if I’m Goliath?

The Old Testament is a pesky document. For a start it’s often blamed for many of Christianity’s PR problems – it’s claimed by its critics to present a picture of God that’s all smiting, vengeance and wrath as opposed to the fluffier, grace-filled God of the New Testament. Anyone who’s spent any serious time studying the Bible knows that this is a woefully simplistic misreading of very complex texts but it’s still easy to see why people do tend to fall into this all too obvious trap. In an instant age it’s easy to avoid some hard theological work and take the headline-grabbing response.

That doesn’t really concern me, though. There’s a more insidious type of trap that Christians of my flavour are in danger of falling into. It plays to my flawed vision of myself, appeals to my sin-ravaged self-esteem and is especially toxic to someone who’s paid to lead Christian communities. I call it The Hero Trap.

The Old Testament is full of derring-do, of larger-than-life characters doing larger-than-life things in ways which give lessons for life and insights into the way God deals with people. There’s a Promised Land (I know that in itself is problematic to many, but that’s a subject for another day) to take, and it’s occupied by an army so fearsome that they look like giants. There are people who fight lions, there’s visitations from angels, there’s vengeance and there’s war. It’s all exciting stuff, and preachers of my tradition often like to use it to draw parallels: we too have land to take, we too face opposition that appears to be over-whelming and we all know that we’re in a battle against powers and principalities too much for us by ourselves. There’s truth in there, but it’s not the whole truth.

Consider one of the most famous stories of them all; David and Goliath. We know it well from Sunday School and sermons galore; young David is the only one brave enough to stand up to the overwhelming and overbearing Philistine champion. Armed only with a sling and stones he takes out the enemy with one shot (incidentally, Malcolm Gladwell’s take on this story in his book David and Goliath should be essential reading). We know, I’m sure, how we’re to read this story: we’re all puny in front of our enemy, but in the power of God we can overcome any opposition.

There’s truth in there, but not the whole truth. You see, as much as I may be a David, I could also be a Goliath. The Hero Trap is appealing because it casts we in a heroic role that will stir the blood in film adaptations and sunday school stories. My ego is fragile and it needs to be rubbed and nurtured.

The trouble is that my ego also needs to be kept in check. The Bible’s actually quite good at that, reminding me that without God I’m dead; I can do nothing and I need Him if I’m to do or be anything, if I’m to have a life worthy of the name from an eternal perspective. So this should give me pause; might I not, sometimes at least, be the giant in the land, the one who causes fear and who needs to be opposed? What if I don’t need to conquer, but need to be conquered? What if I’m learning the lines of the wrong character in the script?

It’s a slightly less inspiring thought and somewhat harder to preacher appealingly. However the reality is that I’m more naturally capable of opposing God’s purposes than I am of being the one through whom they come about ; I’m more likely to stand in the way than I am to be used to remove problems. That’s not going to change anything eternally – to be blunt, God will still win – but it should at the very least make me less eager to cast myself as the hero in the story.

Peter is often said to be one of the characters in the Bible to whom it is easiest to relate. There’s good reason for that:  he may end up as a formative figure in the life of the early church, but he gets there by way of denial, being called Satan by Jesus and a brush with a watery grave. He’s a funny sort of hero, one whose weaknesses are appealingly real. At my best I’m Peter flirting with disaster. I, and we, would do well to remember that next time there’s ground to take. It may just be that we’re already occupying the ground; and we may need to vacate it.

Put that in a Sunday school lesson.

Also In This Series:

1: I Don’t Have To Do It All

2: How To Make Sure Your Church Leader Doesn’t Turn Into A Psychopath

3: The Dangers And Offensiveness of Grace

4: Tables and Chairs are Spiritual

5: I’m (a bit) Like St Paul

6: Nothing’s That Important

7: It’s Probably Me