Monday, December 28, 2009
From a distance, it looked promising. Nestled on a rocky and weathered outcrop, buttressed against the Atlantic waves by craggy cliffs it warranted further investigation. However there was disappointment ahead. Some property 'developer' had constructed perhaps some of the most ugly and out-of-character-with-the-landscape block of flats that I had ever seen. I had to check the map to make sure we were not in Soviet era Stalingrad. I wanted to be sick.
Perhaps one of the blessings of post Celtic-Tiger Ireland is that these brown paper envelope developments will at least temporarily come to a halt.
What is it about us humans that we have to ruin God's beautiful Creation? Of course there are many examples of buildings that fit the character of the landscape in which they exist. Natural and local materials (rather than reinforced concrete) put together in a way that is sensitive to the surroundings can actually enhance a landscape. God made us to be co-creators, to make things that reflect the great skill and talent He has given to so many builders and architects. But how many of us do things for God's pleasure and glory above the desire for short-term satisfaction and profit?
Before I get too carried away I'll stop right there!
Happy New Year to everyone (hopefully more than one) reading this and may you know the fullness of God's love, life and blessing in 2010...
Sunday, December 27, 2009
It was icy. Very icy. So I left with plenty of time to travel from the Rectory to Kilmalooda church for the 9.00 am service on Christmas morning - in second gear. When I got there it was still fairly dark. I parked the car without managing to slide into the wall and got out (without managing to slip on a frozen puddle). It's a quiet area at any time, but there was a very special hush this Christmas morning. I appreciated the moment of stillness to gather my thoughts about the busyness of the day ahead. Then I noticed a special steak of light in the East as the sun gingerly poked its head above the horizon. The day had begun.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and Earth
Shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The lord God almighty,
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the beloved
With a kiss.
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
What I can I give him,
Give my heart.
Christina Rossetti (1830-93)
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
One of the great things about being among the few strange people who still like to take pictures using 35mm film is that film cameras are now worth a fraction of what they once were. Ten years ago there is no way I could have afforded a Nikon F100, a camera used by many professionals as a back up to their F5's. What cost around £1200 in 1999 can now be bought in mint condition for under £200! Yes, I could buy a plastic pocket-sized digital camera for that money today - but I chose instead to buy perhaps one of the very best 35mm SLR's ever made. There's no pocket large enough for this beast! It's big, it's metal, it's heavy, it's a serious piece of kit. The autofocus and film advance are scarily quick (it focuses and meters much more quickly and accurately than my D70s) and did I say it is a lot of fun to use?
So I took it with us when we went on a family trip to Cork last weekend. For part of the day we went to Fota wildlife park, which was very quiet on such a cold and overcast day. The above picture I took while we were waiting to get the train back into the city.
Because I have only a flatbed scanner I cannot get the best quality from film negatives. A close inspection will show that the picture is quite grainy and lacking in detail. In other words the reflection is an imperfect one. This reminded me of how each of us are made in God's image and yet oh how so very imperfect we are. We've all met people who seem to radiate God's love ... I think of a Pentecostal Pastor I once knew who seemed to glow with God's love, an incredible man, I think of a Franciscan brother who came to my school and got us cynical teenagers interested in contemplative prayer and I can think of many people, often the quiet ones who inhabit pews Sunday by Sunday who in public are shy but behind closed doors are the real 'prayer warriors' of God's Kingdom.
All of us to a greater or lesser extent reflect God's glory. Every day my prayer is "More of You, less of me." Though I'd be the first to admit that God has His work cut out when it comes to me :-)
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor.3:18)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
This is the view taken from our back garden this morning. I was hoping for something very bleak to illustrate the Budgetary fallout, but there was more light than I was expecting...
Perhaps the government did a very good PR job preparing us beforehand but the fear that we would be in some post-Budget economic Armageddon today does not appear to be the case.
I did spectacularly badly in my economics A-level so I will not even try to pick over the bones of the budgetary casualties this morning; such as those who work in the Public Sector, the unemployed, and just about everybody wondering how they will afford Christmas. Perhaps the most bizarre thing is that in an attempt to stop people travelling up to Northern Ireland to do their shopping, the tax on alcoholic drinks has been cut! So a pint of beer will have 12c less duty on it and a bottle of wine 60c - I fear though that this will not make any difference at all. The traffic-jam between Dublin and Newry is not going away just yet.
And then even more bizarrely, I heard on the radio that because we are one of the economic 'bad boys', we are linked in with the economically renegade Greeks as far the ECB is concerned. So in some ways we are dependent upon the Greeks sorting their economy out in order to be on firmer financial footing ourselves. It's like two mountaineers roped together - if the Greeks fall, they drag us down with them. Imagine if the €400 million that the government are borrowing every week came to an end - now that really would be a Greek Tragedy.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I'm finding my way around the parish the hard way! Occasionally I kid myself that I know which road to take to get home again after being out visiting. The result is often that I end up in the middle of nowhere (see picture). It wasn't always this way - when I was a curate in East Belfast it was possible to do nearly all my visits by parking the car at one end of the street and then working my way along from door to door. The contrast with rural ministry is considerable.
Coincidentally I was reading (in the Message Bible) about Jesus being "The Road":
I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life.(John 14:6)
In life there are so many roads to take yet Jesus tells us there is only one Road that leads to God and eternal life and that is found in Him...
Thursday, November 26, 2009
We always expect rain, especially in the winter, but the amount of rain we've had in recent weeks is more than anyone can remember. The floods that have resulted are also worse than any living memory can recall. We were driving through Bandon on Sunday evening and the mop-up was well underway. We passed a newsagents where row upon row of soggy magazines were draped on ruined shelving propped up against the window. As we passed the entrance to the shop we could see there were people inside. I expected downcast faces, but no, there were perhaps three or four men of good cheer sat on plastic crates drinking pints of the black stuff - good ol' Irish stoicism!
I took the above picture last Saturday near Sandycove, which itself is near Kinsale. It was cold and windy, though the rain was (temporarily) holding off. The menacing swirl of cloud above the hovering seagull captures the mood of these times for many. (If you can't see it, turn up the contrast on your monitor!)
Of course we are now on the cusp of the Advent Season; we celebrate Christ's coming and there are all sorts of symbols about Light coming into the darkness. Just this morning I was reading these wonderful and encouraging words from chapter 1 of John's Gospel:
3-5Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn't put it out.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Panasonic LX1, f4.5, 1/250 sec, ISO 80, 85mm equivalent (click to enlarge)
OK, for nearly the past month we have been without an internet connection, our only access to the www was with a mobile phone, which was rather frustrating and slow to use. Yesterday the broadband connection was connected at last. On one level this has been a pain in the ****, on another it has been a useful exercise in remembering life before the internet - it's hard to imagine that at one time we were perfectly happy going about our lives without any knowledge of or need to check emails or our favourite web sites and blogs. Webs were only for Spiders and Bloggs was the surname for someone called 'Joe'. Oh yes and we were perfectly happy without mobile phones too.
And now I'm addicted to both, but I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to 8-0
Oh there's probably too much to write about our settling in to life in West Cork, except to say that everything is good, very busy and we're all well.
Managed to take a day off last Saturday and we headed down to Barley Cove and Mizen Head. It was a beautiful clear day and prayer was easy in the midst of such sublime surroundings.
Monday, November 9, 2009
In the meantime here's a photo I took on the way into church in Timoleague yesterday morning...
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sony Ericsson K800i mobile Phone
I said farewell to the pupils and staff at Cobh Mixed National School this morning. This has to be one of the best views from a school in the country - imagine trying to pay attention in Irish or Maths and having that view to look at instead! I only had my mobile phone to take the picture but it came out okay.
Monday, October 19, 2009
One of my favourite T-shirts has printed on the front the words “First-class honours” and then in smaller writing underneath it says “from the University of hindsight”! As I look back over the last 6 ½ years I can think of many things which if I could go back and do them again I would perhaps go about them differently, but then that is why old people are so wise, there is no substitute for experience!
It really is such an incredible thing, moving to a Parish as more or less a complete stranger and then in no time at all getting to know (and know about) a lot of people. It has been a great honour and privilege to be a part of your lives, whether it just be a chat over coffee, or a significant milestone of life, such as a wedding, baptism, confirmation or funeral.
I can remember on the drive down from Belfast in March 2003, stopping for Petrol in a now closed petrol station outside of Youghal and the price of fuel being 79.9 cent a litre and thinking that was really expensive! Back then the US invasion of Iraq was only just beginning, the most popular search term on Google (apparently) was Britney Spears! We didn’t have broadband, Mahon Point was only just starting to be built and the Jack Lynch tunnel was still quite new and not leaking as much as it does today! The planning for Cork as the European city of Culture was still in it’s early planning stages (some might of course say that it never really got beyond that) and of course in sport Cork lost to Kilkenny in the hurling final, Munster lost to Wasps in the Heineken Cup semi’s, Ireland came second in the rugby six nations, but that’s all OK because England won the Rugby World Cup with Jonny Wilkinson’s last gasp drop goal!
In many ways the time has gone very quickly. You’ve all been so incredibly good to me and my family. When Sonja and I arrived here, it was just the two of us and a cat! We were in our very early 30’s and I had a lot more hair and none of it was grey! Now, as well as a cat and a goldfish, we have two lively and wonderful boys who have only ever known this place as their home.
You have all been so good to us as a family, the level of care and support you have shown us, particularly when the boys’ were born was just phenomenal. I remember too how loyal you have been to me as a Rector, when I have organised things you have come along to them, even though at times it was probably the last thing you wanted to do. The best thing though is how we have grown in our faith together – I’ve learnt so much listening to your stories of faith and commitment to Jesus through good times and bad, it’s been wonderful to see God at work in your lives and for us all to journey together on the road of faith.
Since I have been your Rector there have been 35 Baptisms, 10 Weddings and 21 Funerals. Of course the Baptisms and Weddings have been a joy; the funerals have been very hard. To be with you, there along side you through the whole process of saying goodbye to one you love who has died is not only a massive responsibility, it is holy ground. To say it is a privilege is an understatement, it is a deep honour. I cannot help but look out on Sunday morning and remember those who used to sit in certain parts of the church who are no longer there, or as I drive around the parish past houses and farms where people used to live and work and find it hard to believe that that if I knock on the door they will not answer. I don’t know how anyone can grieve without God’s help in the whole process; it must be the loneliest experience in the world.
One thing perhaps more than anything else I have tried to do is get us all to realise even more and have confidence in the fact that Christianity not just for Sundays but for every moment of our lives, that the Lord Jesus not only died for us and rose again but wants to be our very best friend, our soul mate too. He wants to share every moment with us and for us to share every moment with Him.
I’ve tried also to get us to have confidence in the fact that He’s given us all gifts, every single one of us has something (at least one thing) that we are good at and that we could use to serve Him. What we need though is an environment to make that happen – W4 (home groups) tried to be that environment as did Carrigtwohill Praise, as did Bible Study and prayer meetings. It was great to see some people have the courage to run with this and to start doing things for God because they knew that God had given them a gift and they wanted to thank Him for that by offering to use it for His glory.
One thing I see in not only in my own life but also in the life of every Christian is that God is a God of new beginnings. Because the Christian life is a journey, we are always moving forward, on to the next thing that God wants us to do or requires of us. It is a fantastic thing to watch that spark of faith come alive in someone’s life. They may have been going through the dull routine of coming to church out of a dormant sense of duty for years and years and then it’s like the penny suddenly drops and they realise what it is all about – a living relationship with God. It’s been so great to see that happen in different people’s lives and then to see them start to be used by God to make a difference in whatever way they let God use them.
For a little while now I have had the sense that God wanted to do something new in this Parish and that he also wanted me to move on to somewhere else. At first this was not really what I wanted, I was happy in what I was doing and my family were happy and settled too. I worried about where we would go but had to remember that God had always looked after us in the past so He would now and in the future also. It is a little unnerving knowing that to move is the right thing to do but without actually knowing where you will be going. To cut a long story short it has worked out well. I am happy to be going to somewhere not too far away from here and that the upheaval for my family will be a lot less than if we were off somewhere far away and very different. However, it is difficult to say goodbye. Sonja and I have got to know many of you well and I as your pastor have a deep bond of affection for you. I have worried about you, prayed for you, tried to help you and most of all learned from you a great deal – and of course I’m deeply humbled by the way you have been so loving and patient with me, whether it be enduring many a long boring sermon or not getting too stressed out with my mistakes and failures.
I will of course continue to pray for you, as individuals and as a parish, until such time as you get a new Rector, and then when that time comes I will pray for him or her too. Be assured that God will bring you a new Rector in His own timing. You may have a short wait or a longer wait and whoever it is, trust that it is God who has brought this person to you, even if you might have preferred someone else!
Sonja and I would appreciate your prayers for us as we make this move and for the people of Kilgariffe Union – I hope they are as nice as you lot!
God bless you all with every blessing and may each of you always fully know the height and depth and width of His love for you in Christ Jesus, Amen.
Early yesterday morning my wife found our dear cat "Sticky" dead on the road outside our house, having been knocked down by a car during the night. We've had him for eight years and he was a constant part of our lives. We're all very sad.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This picture of the moon was taken a few days ago in the early afternoon from the front garden. Nasa have been up to things crashing two unmanned spacecraft on to the moon's surface to try and see if there were any signs of water in the past. An interesting experiment or a waste of money? I'm not sure.
It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever-flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.Psalm 74:15-17
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Sometimes the words of Jesus are very difficult to accept. When they are we need to have the courage not to run away and pretend we never heard or read them but to face them head on and WITH HIS HELP seek ways that we can let Him transform us into the person He made us to be. Hopefully this will become clearer in a few minutes.
At the Prep school I attended there were a number of boys who had very wealthy parents. On a Sunday evening when we were brought back to school by our parents after a weekend at home, there was an expectation on the parents to come to the evening chapel service, which most did. We had a very godly School Chaplain and I remember one evening he spoke on the passage of scripture that we have for our Gospel reading for this morning, about the rich young man and the bit about how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Thereafter, there were a few parents who no longer came to chapel when dropping their sons off on a Sunday evening. I happened to be there when the chaplain quietly asked some of the boys why their parents no longer came. One of them replied that it was because of his teaching that rich people can’t go to heaven!
Of course there will be many rich people in heaven! What Jesus is teaching is something more subtle than simply how wealthy we are, He is warning us to have a correct attitude to wealth and possessions. Money should not be more important to us than God and money should not be more important to us than helping our fellow human beings in need.
The rich young man in our Bible reading falls on his knees before Jesus and says:
“Good teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In response the Lord gives him a summary of the Commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your Father and Mother.’
To be honest, I find it hard to believe the man when he responds to Jesus, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus though looks at the man and loves him, “One thing you lack,” he said, “Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me”.
God can ask us to do some very uncomfortable and very difficult things but when He does so, we can be sure that we will get infinitely more back from Him then we could ever give up.
I think we can have a lot of sympathy for the man at this point. In response to what Jesus asks of him, his face falls and he goes away sad because he had great wealth.
J.C. Ryle describes Jesus’ attitude towards this rich young man wonderfully. He writes:
“Just as we look with sorrow at some noble ruin, roofless and shattered, and unfit for man’s use, yet showing many a mark of the skill with which it was designed and reared at first, so we may suppose that Jesus looked with tender concern at this man’s soul.”(1)
I suppose it’s not hard for us to imagine Jesus looking at us like that too. He looks at us with a great deal of love, mercy and compassion, yet like a ruined house he sees that we are far from a completed work and there is so much that needs to be changed and transformed in our life, so much renovation is required. We are indeed ‘human becomings’(2) and it is up to us whether we let the Great Builder work away at our hearts and lives or whether we resist Him at every turn. Sometimes it might be painful, maybe He needs to demolish an area of our lives before He can build it back up again but let us always be confident that God knows what He is doing, even if at times it is a struggle for us to understand.
You can just imagine the expressions on the faces of the dumbstruck disciples as Jesus turns to them and says:
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
A Sunday school teacher was telling about a little girl who had gone to the zoo with her Sunday school class. There, she had spent an inordinate amount of time at the camels' enclosure. Her teacher finally made sense of her fascination when the girl asked, "Where do they keep the ones who can go through the eye of a needle?"(3)
Perhaps one of the most misquoted verse in the whole Bible is the first part of 1 Timothy 6:10 which is often quoted as:
Money is the root of all evil. (Including by the band Pink Floyd in their song “Money”)(4)
But in actual fact is:
For the love of money is the root of all evil.
Having money is not the problem; it’s what we do with it that matters. It might well be that we don’t have a problem with money, our master well be something or somebody else. For this young man, it was his wealth that was getting in the way of him becoming a disciple.
It is said that in Jerusalem at the time there was a narrow gateway and because of its shape it was called the “eye of the needle”. If you tried to get a fully laden camel through the gate it would have got stuck. You first had to unload the camel before it could pass through the gate. So it was with this young man, he could not pass through the door to God’s kingdom, because he was fully laden with the love of his money. He first had to take off this load before he could pass through the doorway to a new life in Christ. And of course the same is true of us. If we are to pass through the narrow gate to eternal life, we first have to shed our load of all that hinders us. We all carry baggage, and that baggage is no doubt different for each of us, it might well be money, but it could just as easily be something else, but before we can be truly born again we have to shed our load, lay it at the foot of the cross, and then, only then can we pass through the gateway.
As usual, Peter is the spokesman for the disciples, and he says to the Lord:
“We have left everything to follow you.”
There seems to be an element of doubt in what Peter says, yet where the rich young man had failed the disciples had not. Each one of them had given up a lot to follow Jesus and as we know, many of them would later even give up their lives for Him. Peter himself (according to tradition), was crucified upside down because he insisted he wasn’t good enough to die the same way that his Master had.(5)
Jesus’ reply to Peter and the other disciples must have been a very comforting one to them:
“Yes,” Jesus said to them, “and I tell you that anyone who leaves home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel, will receive much more in this present age. He will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and persecutions as well; and in the age to come he will receive eternal life.
It is clear that this is a promise for all believers, not just the original disciples. For all who have put Christ first, over their possessions and even over their relatives, for all who have made a sacrifice to follow Christ motivated by love for Him and for the Gospel, they will be reimbursed many times over for what they gave up. In these uncertain times, where financial investments are so fragile and once great banking institutions are being artificially propped up by tax payers money, it is good to remember that one investment is sure and certain and guaranteed – investment in our relationship with God through Christ.
A very sobering thought indeed is that one day we will have to stand before Christ (Heb.4:12)
What will we be able to say that we gave up for Christ? Will we be like the Rich young man and walk away in sadness, or will we be able to stand up like Peter and say “Lord I left everything to follow you.”
(1) J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Mark, Banner of Truth, 1985, p.209
(2) Phrase attributed to John Macquarrie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Macquarrie
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
How long have these wooden posts been here trying to hold back the inevitable progress of the sea? Presumably there would once have been planks between these upright posts, yet this once sturdy and proud structure has been reduced to a few stubborn, highly worn posts.
So much that we build and strive for in this life ultimately comes to nothing. ‘Time and tide wait for no man.’ I seem so slow to learn the lesson that is repeatedly played out before me; today’s shiny new gadget is tomorrow’s piece of junk! I think of my first computer, An Acorn Electron, which had 32 kilobytes of RAM – (one photo today can be 5 megabytes meaning it would need 150 or so Acorn Electrons’ memory to store it)! Of course it didn’t have a hard drive, programmes were loaded from and stored upon an audio cassette tape that you plugged in and waited many minutes for it to load or download. I am writing this on my Apple imac that has a 360 gigabyte hard drive, 1 gigabyte of ram and more processing power than probably all the Acorn Electrons that were ever made put together. Yet the day will inevitably come when this computer too will be of no more worth than a large paperweight!
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Monday, September 28, 2009
We had a very enjoyable weekend going over to Llanelli for my Aunt and Uncle's Golden Wedding Anniversary. It was great to see them and many other family members, some of whom I had not seen since I was a toddler! It was lovely to wake up on a Sunday morning, initially in a panic about getting ready for church- is the sermon ready, what to mention in the prayers etc. and then remember that it was not for me to worry about on this, one of my precious four Sundays off per year.
Happy childhood memories were rekindled as we took a walk around Burry Port harbour yesterday afternoon. The places where I built many sandcastles and went hunting for cockles with my Nanna and Grandad just the same as they always had been. Looking down onto the sands I could almost see myself thirty years earlier digging and building away in childhood reverie...
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Our favourite tree is one that we grew from an acorn brought back by my stepfather from Canada. It is a Red Oak or Quercus Rubra (please feel free to correct me on that one). We planted it first of all in a small pot and it has graduated every couple of years to increasingly larger pots as it slowly but surely matured. Now we have it in an old wooden barrel that's been sawn in two (the kind you find in any garden centre). I doubt we could find a bigger pot so it is going to have to be planted soon.
Here's the thing. When it's planted that is it, no more moving. It will literally put down its roots until the day eventually comes (hopefully several generations in the future) when a storm, or disease or a need for it to be chopped down comes. What will the world be like then?! The tree has moved as we have moved house and in the same way that it has only partially put down roots so have we, settling but always in the knowledge that it will not be permanent, that the time will come, don't know when, but it will come that we shall be on the move again.
One of our dreams is to have our own place, a small cottage somewhere to escape to. I would be happy to plant our tree there...
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I had the great pleasure last Sunday of being invited to the Harvest Thanksgiving service in Mallow, north Co. Cork. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that this might be a very rural and very traditional parish and of course, in some ways, it is. What they have managed to do though is something quite special. In the past few years, a number of Nigerian families have moved to the town and have got involved in the church. The Rector made the very canny move of appointing one of them as church warden and has expertly involved them in all sorts of ways in the life of the parish. The singing is phenomenal. With colourful clothes and infectious smiles our African brothers and sisters have brought a level of joy and celebration that is seldom seen in most parts of the Church of Ireland. My favourite part was the presentation of gifts, where several families danced up the aisle bringing baskets of fruit and other produce to the front of the church to thank God for all His blessing and provision. What is wonderful too is how this has all been warmly welcomed by those who have attended this church all their lives. I was happy to join in too - my clapping maybe not quite in time and my voice not quite in tune and my body not quite in rhythm but the whole experience made me more grateful for the harvest (and all God's blessings) than I had been for quite some time.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Panasonic LX1, f3.6, 1/100 sec, ISO 80, 28mm equivalent (click to enlarge)
Last Thursday I 'popped up' to a place called Dromantine just north of Newry for the introductory day of the Arrow Leadership Course that I have just started. Leaving Cork at 4.30 am and returning home just before 9.00 pm, and driving 740 km, it was a long day but well worth it. The Arrow course is just what I need - in a nutshell it is:
"To be led more by Jesus
To lead more like Jesus
To lead more to Jesus".
Sounds pretty good to me!
Friday, September 11, 2009
But do you know what, I never felt so appreciated in my work as when I made the phone calls. People reminded me of weddings, baptisms, funerals (oh there have been so many, too many of those) and other high and low points in their lives where I had some privileged access or responsible part to play. To be involved in so many lives, often in very painful, stressful or joyous times is an incredible (here’s that word again) privilege.
It’s impossible therefore not to get really attached to people and so it will be very hard to say good bye. What can you do though, when you feel with such clarity in your spirit that it is time for a move? When God is so clearly leading, one is compelled to follow.
As we move west to Kilgariffe Union (Clonakilty) we will be sad, but we will also be very excited at a new beginning, so many opportunities ahead, new people to get to know, a new home to live in and all the many minute changes to every day life that on their own don’t amount to much but put all together form a quite different life to the one that was lived before.
I’m sure I will read over this tomorrow and not understand a word I wrote, but this is a big thing for me and my family and it’s going to take some getting used to. To be both sad and excited at the same time is a strange feeling...
Monday, September 7, 2009
I was delighted recently to unearth a copy of “Prayer” by Ole Hallesby in the second-hand section of a Christian Bookshop. It’s one of those books that has for a long time been in my mind to read because it is so often quoted by other Christian authors, especially in books on prayer.
Usually when I pick up a book and get going with it I have a pen to hand so that I can mark sentences or ideas that resonate with me. I might have to take a different approach here though as there would little else but pen marks on the first few pages!
I really like this bit on page 10:
“The results of prayer, therefore, are not dependent upon the powers of the one who prays. His intense will, his fervent emotions or his clear comprehension of what he is praying for are not the reasons why his prayers will be heard and answered. No! God be praised, the results of prayer are not dependent upon these things! To pray is nothing more that to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting Him to exercise His own power in dealing with them.”
Great words from Dr. Ole.
Monday, August 31, 2009
A farmer said to me recently that for every day the rain continues to prevent him from harvesting his crops he is losing hundreds of Euro. It must be incredibly frustrating watching your ripened fields get increasingly worse and not being able to do a thing about it.
Let's spare a thought for farmers at this time and pray that they will get the weather they need very soon. (Of course, now that the children have gone back to school the sun is sure to come out!)
"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."(Genesis 8:22)
Saturday, August 29, 2009
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
I was reminded of this wonderful verse recently when I saw it printed out on the cover of someone's Bible. I occasionally read it out to people when visiting them and it always brings hope and encouragement. I never cease to be amazed at the power of God's Word.
The above picture has to be of the 'luckiest' I've ever taken. I noticed that the sunrise was quite spectacular, so I grabbed my camera and stood out the front of the house hoping to get a shot across towards Fota Island. As this bird flew towards me (not an eagle unfortunately) I just managed to get a picture before the moment was gone. That's one of the great things about photography, the ability to capture a moment in time and enjoy it afterwards. Of course, if that picture causes the viewer to marvel at God's creation, then all the better. Soli Deo Gloria - To God alone be glory.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
It's sad to see so many people affected by the mess that is our economy. I know individuals and families in my parish who have lost their jobs, businesses that have closed and people who only a short time ago were comfortably off now struggling to make ends meet.
This reality has hit us all on many different levels. Last week, my favourite place to get films developed put up a 'closing down' sign. I'm sad most of all for the kind, knowledgeable and helpful lady there who is losing her job. The service was brilliant - I would drop off a film and within the hour it would be ready - simple and efficient. If I didn't want prints but just the negatives developed, no problem, she would do it in fifteen minutes and only charge me €2! "Sure I'll just run it through the machine and it will be ready", she would say.
The thing is I don't know of anywhere else that will do this. I reckon I'll have to wait days in other places and be charged considerably more. Shooting film will now be less of a joy and more of a hassle. Of course it has been on the back of my mind to set up a mini darkroom at home. I did a bit of black and white developing and printing at school and then when I was a student I worked nights in a photo lab (those were loooong nights, in the dark and breathing in the fumes of nasty chemicals).
All I would need would be a small developing tank, developer and fixer etc. and I could use a dark bag rather than take over a whole room. Hmm maybe I'll give that some further thought, I wonder if Father Christmas is accepting letters yet?
Monday, August 24, 2009
I've had great fun this summer playing cricket in the back garden with our eldest son. It's only a matter of time though until a window gets broken!
Monday, August 17, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
It’s probably an urban myth, but supposedly in China one of the ways that they keep unemployment levels down is through division of labour. For example, you go into a shop and buy something – one person will put it in a bag for you, another will take your money, a third person will hand you your receipt and a fourth will open the door for you and wish you ‘good day’. Perhaps someone in Cork City council has taken Chinese philosophy to heart…
Of course it’s all very well for me to sit here and have a bit of laugh at these guys’ expense, but I’m sure there are many who would question the value of what I do too. Is there really a place for Christianity or any kind of traditional religion in the 21st century? Is it not all just superstition and a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ mentality?
If there is one thing I’m certain of it is this:
Here's a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I'm proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy.Every day God is changing people’s lives. From the very second we look over our shoulder and want Him to come into our lives, He is there. Seeking proof, or assessing the relevance of Christianity is found not in scientific, quantifiable study, but in countless hearts, minds and lives that have been transformed among all those individuals who can say:
(1 Timothy 1:15, The Message)
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
Monday, August 10, 2009
It seems that when you live somewhere, even for quite a time, you still don’t get to see things that tourists would take in their stride even in a visit of just a couple of days. I grew up near Cambridge and took all the magnificence for granted, of course it wasn’t until I left that I began to appreciate the place in its proper context. So walking around Cork the other day we decided to have a look at things from a tourists point of view. We hopped on the open-top tour bus and took in the sites and learned much that we didn’t know about the history of this fascinating city.
One of the several highlights was a stop at Shandon, where I took our eldest son up to the top of the tower of St. Anne’s church. With the bells ringing you have to wear ear protectors. Wearing these whist negotiating low wooden beams and narrow stairs makes the trek to the top all the more challenging, but well worth it once you are there.
This photo is looking west. Like with the previous post I’ve been messing around with the perspective – hopefully this time giving the picture the slight illusion of being like a model.
Looking down on the city from on high is a strange experience. I could not help but think of so many people living out their lives, many of whom having little or no knowledge of the God who loves them so much that He gave His one and only Son. The church (of all denominations) has in so many ways let the people down. How many will enter eternity not knowing God because they were forever put off trusting in Him by the hypocrisy of so many Christians? Oh dear I’d better stop here …
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I get to travel around in some very beautiful countryside as I go out visiting people. This field of ripening wheat caught my eye during a trip to the far side of Great Island. The wind was blowing up from the sea, moving the wheat in sea-like waves towards me. A special moment.
For those interested in the technical aspects of the photograph, I used the Gimp (a free photo editor) to mimic the effect of a 'tilt-shift' lens. If you would like to try it yourself, here's a helpful 'how to' article.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Found this wonderful place today near Kinsale. It was a bit scary walking along the cliff top but we had a lot of fun. There are so many caves and other interesting bits to explore here that we shall have to return soon. By the way, if you look closely just beneath the horizon on the left you can see a sailboat (click the picture to enlarge it if you are interested.)
Sunday, August 2, 2009
These thoughts and the above picture were on my mind as I awoke this morning. It's all about the Light! Look at this leaf, now if there were no light shining through it, it would be dull, flat and uninteresting. More to the point, this leaf, like all green plants needs light to produce sugars and other nutrients though photosynthesis. Without light, it is only a matter of time before this leaf withers away to nothing. Not only is the leaf affected, but the rest of the plant to which it is attached is affected too.
O.K., here's the deal. We need light too, yes sunlight but more than that (I'm not talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder), we need Light. Jesus said:
"I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
Without the Light of Christ shining in our lives, we become dull, flat and lifeless - and we produce nothing worthwhile. Imagine how different today would be if Christ was shining in us and through us, in all that we said and all that we did and everywhere we went. Contrast that with how dull and flat and lifeless our day would be without Christ's Light. Yeah we can get by on our own for a time but just as much as a green leaf (if not more so), we need the Light....
Monday, July 27, 2009
A couple of Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of meeting up with a bunch of photographers for a "photo walk" around Cork city, organised by Donncha O Caoimh as part of Scott Kelby's Worldwide photo walk. I'd never done anything like this before at all and it was really great fun. Normally when I start talking to people about available light, aperture, hyperfocal distance and so on the yawns come even quicker than during one of my Sunday sermons. But here I was, able to converse in photographer's gobbledegook and learn so much from others who knew a lot more than me.
The city was very crowded with various events that were happening, so the group dwindled as the afternoon wore on. I lost them after about two hours or so but by then I'd managed to take 88 pictures and went home happy.
You can see everyone's pictures on a Flickr group. I can't wait until the next photo walk, when hopefully the sun will shine for a bit longer than the 5 minutes it did on this occasion!
Friday, July 24, 2009
June 22 was a sad day for many photographers, for it was the day that Kodak announced the "Discontinuation" of Kodachrome - perhaps the most famous slide film of all and which had been in production since 1935!
Fortuitously , just a couple of weeks earlier I had bought a roll of it to try. The results came back in the post today from Dwayne's Photo lab in Kansas, U.S.A., via Switzerland - the only lab left in the world that does the tricky job of processing the stuff.
I have to say that from an amateur photographer's viewpoint it's hard to work with. You have to get the exposure spot on, there's not the tolerance that you'd get in a normal print film. But when you do get it right the colour, sharpness, detail and dynamic range are far greater than my digital camera can come up with.
So long Kodachrome, I'm sure that many of your slides will last a lot longer than the hard drives, C.D.'s and flash drives that most of our photos are stored on these days...
Friday, July 17, 2009
I don't know why but I'm in a black and white phase at the moment. I think this happens when there are lots of shadows and textures in the pictures that I want to emphasise, something that often is not noticed in a colour picture.
OK the first one was taken at a place called "Cae Du", near um well not near anywhere really, but obviously on the coast and looking west and north towards Snowdonia.
The Rickety old bridge is near Barmouth. It was one of those "do you think we'll make it moments", but we made it, having to pay 60p for the privilege - quite a contrast from our journey to Dublin port to get the ferry, where we had to pay €12 to get through the tunnel!
Before we had two little ones in tow, my wife and I had greatly enjoyed climbing England and Wales' highest mountain, Snowdon, complete with a cold beer in the restaurant at the top! Now though we have to get the train so this picture was taken out of the window on the incredible hour-long journey.
Finally one from Shell Island again (see last post), on this beach there are apparently 200 different types of shell, we managed to find about 20 or so...
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Shell Island is a remarkable place located on the Snowdonia coastline in North Wales. There is a 300 acre camp site, which although it can be very busy and very tacky is large enough that it is possible to escape the lager-swilling-trance-music-listening hordes at weekends.
In the photo of the beach you can just about make out my wife and eldest son far down at the bottom of the vast sand dune - our youngest is balancing atop my shoulders while the picture is being taken :-0
The views are spectacular as the seascape across to the mountains of Snowdonia show ...
By the way, this is my 100th post in just under a year of blogging - hardly prolific but perhaps a little better than I had hoped for when I started :-)
Saturday, July 11, 2009
We’re back from a great holiday in England and Wales. For the last two years we’ve had to abandon our camping holiday due to heavy rain and flooding, so it was a nice change to try to avoid getting sunburnt instead. As usual I took about a gazillion photos (well about two hundred or so), which is quite a change from when I used to think that four rolls of exposed film was a bit excessive!
For the first few days we enjoyed meeting up with relatives and friends. The above picture was taken on a walk up the embankment at Trimpley Reservoir in Worcestershire. The clouds remind me of cartoonish thought bubbles that might come from someone sitting on the bench – well it was very hot and maybe my brain was overheating a little!
Saturday, June 20, 2009
I can remember one time when I was a boy going out to a meal with my parents at a restaurant in Cambridge. Everything was going well until my mother ordered the Apple Crumble. She was halfway through eating it when she made a horrible discovery – a slug; a great big fat juicy slug was there behind a bit of crunchy topping. I laughed, I think my parents laughed too, but not for long. It was a bit like a scene from Fawlty Towers. Mum demanded to see the manager of the restaurant. The waiter tried to placate her by offering another bowl, this time without the slug, but my mother stood her ground -she wanted to go to the top. The manager eventually came with a face like he was about to stand before a firing squad. Anyway my extreme embarrassment was tempered by the fact that there was hardly anyone else there and that we got our meal for free. A few weeks later walking down that same street I noticed that the restaurant had closed and I couldn’t help but think that my mother might have had something to do with it….
Poor Job had a much more serious problem that a slug in his food. In a series of tragedies he lost all his sons and daughters, then he lost his wealth and then finally his health too, becoming afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head (2:7). From being a man with a happy life, a large family, large wealth and good health, he became lonely, sad, poor and wracked with pain. Job was a godly man and this fact remained despite his suffering and despite the desperate questions he had of why God would allow his terrible misery to not only happen but to continue.
When we were children we got used to the idea of being rewarded when we were good and punished when we were naughty. We soon learn the idea of justice and mercy. Naturally we extend this same principle to God – we think that God will reward us if we are good and we are sometimes tempted to think that when something bad happens it is because we have done something wrong. Well the story of Job shows us that nothing could be further from the truth. Here was a deeply religious and godly man – who had not done anything wrong and yet he was suffering terribly from the tragedies that had befallen him. As we get older we realise more and more that if anything the more good we do the more we suffer, we do right and we get knocked down, we do our best and something comes out of the blue and shatters our life into pieces.
If we allow it to, this kind of suffering causes us to be angry. For some it is too much and they turn their backs on God and blame God for what has happened and give up even wondering why He didn’t do anything to make things different from the way they are. If anyone had cause for complaint it was Job. He was a better person than any of us could ever be. He had more wealth and more land and a larger family than any of us will ever have. Did he get angry with God? You bet he did. Have you ever been angry with God, have you ever shouted aloud at Him about something? There have been times when I have seen pain and suffering in people and even at times in my own life when I have very strongly asked God the question “Why?” Job speaks to God with such eloquence, with such unnatural strength and wisdom, but he doesn’t beat about the bush. For chapter after chapter he asks God why, Why WHY? For a long long time there is no answer.
If we turn to the book of Job and expect a nice, neatly packaged answer to the question of suffering we will be disappointed. Of course Job’s three friends try to give him neat, stock answers but none of them work. In so many ways the question of suffering is a very complicated and messy one, no amount of human wisdom will even begin to approach an answer. We do however get a peek behind the curtain. At the beginning of the book we see the character of Satan at work and we understand that Job’s pain and suffering and loss do not come from God, but rather God allowing Satan to inflict Job. Rather than answer any questions though, this raises a whole lot of new questions, such as why on earth would God allow Satan to do such a thing? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Finally after all the silence from heaven there is a great storm and God speaks at last. But then what He says is not what Job (or we) were expecting to hear. We were expecting something along the lines of an explanation, an “ABC” of suffering. Instead however God takes a different tack entirely, We read:
Then out of the storm the LORD spoke to Job. “Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant empty words? Now stand up straight and answer the questions I ask you.” (38:1-3)
Instead of getting answers, Job is getting questions! But perhaps in those questions there will be the beginnings of an answer. The Lord continues:
“Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it… Who laid the cornerstone of the World? In the dawn of that day the stars sang together, and the heavenly beings shouted for joy. Who closed the gates to hold back the sea when it burst from the womb of the earth? It was I who covered the sea with clouds and wrapped it in darkness…” (v.4-9)
Frederick Buechner writes: “God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wanted explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a little-neck clam … God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself.” (1)
Pain makes people react in different ways. Some people in their pain grow closer to God, some drift bitterly away. The main difference seems to lie in where they focus their attention. Those who become obsessed with questions about cause such as “What did I do to deserve this, why am I being punished?” often turn away from God. Those however who lean on God and like Job trust God though the suffering are much more likely to find, somehow, a way through it all.(2)
God’s speech goes on to remind Job of the wonders of Creation with some of the most beautiful poetry in the whole Bible. The message becomes clearer, that even if God were to explain to Job all about suffering and evil and pain, he would not understand it; it would simply be beyond his ability to comprehend. In reminding Job of the majesty of Creation and God’s power, it is as if God is simply saying to Job “Trust me”. Parents know this full well, there are times when you have to convince your children to trust that you are right – you are not able to give a full explanation that they could understand, so you say “because I am your Father”, or “because I am your mother” trust me.
In response to our pain, our misery, our suffering, God holds us tight and says “trust me” and as we look up from that promise we see a cross on a hill and we begin to understand, (not as much as we would like to understand, but nevertheless it is a beginning). We know that the only way forward, no matter how hard it may be is to say, “Yes Lord, I trust you, I trust you no matter what.”
(1) Quoted in Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts, Zondervan, 1990, p.106
(2) Ibid., p110
See also: “The Message of Job”, David Atkinson, IVP, 1991.