Saturday 19 November 2011

It's really exciting to have just published some poems with The Five! Our new book, Five Squared, is available at £12.50 from It's called Five Squared because it has 5 x 5 poems, each of us has contributed five.

Here's one of mine as a taster, hope you like it!

A rose garden

So I planted the garden for you.

To guard it, a hedge of sweet myrtle,

Within it, lily of the valley, rue and rose

To keep me scented of you till you come.

All through it of course there must flow

A stream of limpid water,

Running and singing and shining

From a broken jar of clay.

And come at last you do – but why must you

Ignore my gate, break down my hedge

And trample my flowers?

Why could you not linger

on the lawn I laid for you,

but must go straight ahead

(my hedge again!), leaving only

an irresistible scent, and the

faint echo of a call?

So I followed in your steps, that led

After many days to a high rugged hill

And a torrent that thundered

With the sound of many waters.

Far away and small my shattered garden.

It seemed you had a wider field to walk,

Immersing me into a deeper stream.

And at the summit, you at last,

Plainly waiting for me. “Lie down here.

Gaze into heaven till it becomes a sea,

Until the tall trees reach down as roots into the deep

And the eagles swim an abyss of light

And you too play in love’s empyrean.”

So I awoke – and you were not there.

Only the footsteps leading down.

Grumbling and longing I follow –

Don’t you know how hard you make it?

Down into a valley and a dour city

And a pressing, depressing crowd.

And is it true that here at last I will find you

Among the disappointed and averted faces

And the wandering uncertain steps

And the least of these my brethren?

And your long unfathomable look for which I long

Must be looked out of my own shrinking eyes?

Sunday 13 November 2011

Arrogant? Moi?

Ouch! It was a bit of a downer to read in The Times recently that Rowan Atkinson thinks vicars are arrogant, smug and conceited. That's Rowan the comedian of course, not Rowan the Archbishop – it would be even worse if it were our own boss who thought so! I wonder what could have made Mr Bean say such things…

Of course there is a priestly desire to pontificate which doesn't always come across well. Sometimes on Thought for the Day a well-meaning vicar feels the urge to lecture us about the latest headlines, oblivious of the political, social and economic experts on the show who know far more about it than he does. "Why doesn't he get off his soap box and tell me about Jesus?" I find myself rebuking the radio. "That's what I need to get me through the day!"

Arrogance is particularly unwelcome in the church because we are supposed to favour humility. It's because of Jesus that Christians think humility is so important. At Christmas Jesus humbled himself. He gave up His glory to become a human being, to seek for us, serve us and save us. He even went to the cross to bear our sins. Just as he humbled himself for us, we have to humble ourselves to receive him. "Lord, I have let you down. I've failed to live how you wanted me to. I've hurt others. I need you. Please come into my life and help me change…" Arrogance is actually bad for you. It stops you learning new things – "I know it all already." It shuts out others – "Who needs them?" It's anti love – "It’s my life and I'll live it my way!"

And humility is not what you think. It doesn't mean crawling, being bland, pretending to be useless when you're not, or denying your worth as a human being. Look at Jesus – he asserted who he was as the Son of God, threw out money changers, confronted authority. Life with him was an adventure! Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? As if! Humility really means being ready to admit when you are wrong, open to others and willing to serve them.

Just like Jesus when he came in humility for us. He came at Christmas – to seek you, serve you and save you. This Christmas could be the start of an amazing adventure if you will ask him in. In the meantime you'll just have to make up your own mind about those arrogant vicars…

Tuesday 16 August 2011

After the fire came a still, small voice…

As I write this article, the country is still reeling from the August riots. Over two thousand looters have already been arrested. Emergency courts are dealing with the surge in cases. Shattered communities are doing their best to clear up the mess and start again. For families who have lost sons and brothers the process will be much longer.

Now that the immediate danger has been dealt with, it is right that we embark on some serious soul searching. How did we bring up a generation who do not know it is wrong to wreck the lives of others for the sake of a bigger TV and some new trainers? Is it our casual rejection of millennia of wisdom about loyal, stable relationships as the best environment for children? Is it the lack of respect for teachers and elders? Or the lack of integrity in our bankers and expenses-guzzling politicians? Is it the rampant commercialism of our age: you are what you consume, so if you haven't got it, go and take it? Is it the shallow, me-too atheism that says we are just animals with no meaning or purpose to life - and then gets all surprised when we start to act like it?

Good questions and I think we should chew them over and take them to heart. We need to be careful how we answer them. Get them wrong and we might end up living through the same nightmare again. For example, those who want to evict every looter's family from their homes and cut off all their benefits will create a feral class who roam the streets with no possible source of income but more robbery…

But I believe in a God who is bigger than the riots, so I believe there are answers. I'd like to tell you about two of them - answers where I believe actions speak louder than words.

Even as the riots first started, we led a children's holiday club called Have I got News for you. 75 young children heard a wonderful message about how much their lives matter because God loves them. I wish you could have been there to see the spontaneity and openness with which they explored the love of God. What a contrast to those who feel their lives are worthless, that they are not wanted by anyone and have nothing to lose.

The second answer came as the riots were at their peak. Some twenty of our young people set out on a summer mission to bless and serve the people of Walsall. They washed cars for free, picked up litter, gave a free barbecue, and ran participative activities in sport, art and music. Their motive? They want to follow Jesus and love their neighbour. What a contrast to the things appearing on our television screens.

We need to rebuild, not just our shops and streets, but our hearts and our values. Start with Jesus, as our amazing young people have done, and you won't go far wrong.