Apathetic is pathetic…

Excellent blog from a culture that I do not understand but a human plea that I know I CAN empathise with. How could I not?

don of all trades


It doesn’t seem so long ago that death was something shocking and emotional.

What happened to us?

Several months ago I responded to a house for a baby in distress, but by the time I had arrived, there was no more distress.

The baby was dead.

A formerly healthy two month old baby was dressed in her onesie, laying on her back with her arms to her side, eyes closed as if she was asleep. One could imagine she was asleep, without having to use much imagination.

As teams of first responders made their way through the house, the mother, a teenager herself, pecked away on her phone with enough seeming disinterest that part of me wanted to slap her upside her head. The baby’s grandfather couldn’t wait for all of us to leave, because he had to water his flowers. He left at one point to go and…

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Salta to Alta: the breadth of Christianity


Cathedral of the Northern Lights

On Sunday, I visited the town of Alta, the capital of the northernmost Norwegian county of Finnmark. This was where the Northern Lights was first studied scientifically, so the Evangelical Lutheran church (formerly the state church until a separation from the state last year) built a modern ‘Cathedral of the Northern Lights’, with a basement display of the history of the folklore and scientific understanding of the polar phenomenon.

My wife and I were on a cruise in lieu of our previous 30th anniversary to see Norway, and being winter, hoping to see the Northern Lights for the first time. We were not disappointed! A young member of this church told us we had witnessed one of the most ‘dynamic’ displays they had seen, as I remarked to him that I found the lights to be changing more rapidly than I had first believed: I was right to be surprised! Bucket list ticked, but I wish to see them again in even greater splendour.

What was also most memorable, for me, was the brief conversation I had with Philip, the tall young blonde Nordic lad. He revealed that he had come from a pentecostal background and had spent three years at Bethel, the source of much of our modern worship songs which we use in church. That surprised me since I found the Lutheran service in the cathedral very liturgical and ‘high church’: the priest (though female) was in robes, knelt behind the table while praying, recited a liturgy with interspersed singing from the congregation prompted by the choreographed pipe organ… although it was all performed in the Nordic language unknown to me, I was able to recognise the Lord’s Prayer by the rhythmic chanting they all engaged in together. Since my wife did not pick it up, it may well be my linguist’s brain deciphering that, but I felt a resonance, amidst the ignorance of the wording of the service, that here was yet another expression of faith from fellow followers.

I had a very similar experience in 1989, on my Bible College field term in Salta, Argentina, with the Anglican church: the archbishop of the northern diocese in his robes, reciting in Argentinian Spanish at a time I was only learning the rudimentaries of standard Spanish. These two places could maybe not be more strikingly different in many ways. Salta was a town in one of the southernmost countries of the world, bathed in 35C heat, in a culture of heated passion (the birthplace of the tango, one of the hottest ballroom dances you will witness). Alta was in one of the northernmost countries of the world, frozen in -14C cold, in a culture of pragmatic survival and ‘coolness’ in the face of potentially fatal winters. Norway have just confirmed their dominance on the Winter Olympics medal table, and noticing the practice of placing lights in all the windows and not closing curtains tells me they have a culture that thinks of the stranger in the snow who might need that beacon of hope to find safety on an unfortunate night.

But the commonality of faith pervades. In Argentina, I discovered a pentecostal church more enamoured with healing and ‘signs’ to be performed, than with simply reaching the lost, healing the soul and feeding the poor. The Anglican church had taken up that mantle, being more ‘evangelical’ in its outreach to the community. Philip represented a young generation in Norway that appeared to me to have experienced pentecostalism but had decided to join an ‘old’ church and seemed to be happy, balanced and outgoing. He also assured an old disestablishmentarian that their separation of church and state had been received very well on both sides. I cannot make a decision on all Norwegian youth in churches based on one brief encounter, but I sensed that this church, despite the service being undecipherable, with some ceremonial parts quite alien to me, was open and friendly, and felt like a welcoming place.

The congregants in Alta belonged to that community,


Inside the Alta Cathedral

and whatever ‘ceremony’ gave them a sense of unity as they participated in it, is the same as the ‘ceremony’ we perform in our church in Belfast; even though we like to think that we are non-liturgical, we do have a choreographed service – just in a different way… in the worship team I receive the order of service email every week.

When we travelled further north on the ship around the North Cape to Honningsvåg, we discovered another little church, much older, that was truly a centre of the community: after the retreating Nazis evacuated the town and burnt it to the ground before the Soviets arrived, the only building they left was the church. Maybe they still had some sense of reverence for ‘holy’ things! The townspeople elected to allow able men to occupy the church and live there until they managed to rebuild it and they all could return. Today it is a warm and welcoming community in the far reaches of the snowbound land.


My participation in these places, so far apart yet so closely linked by the congruence of communal experience, has helped to cement in me that feeling that we do share a common faith in Jesus. Whatever doctrinal, liturgical or musical differences we may have (I didn’t recognise a single hymnal tune in Alta), what we do have are the uniting and binding hands of love and grace that were nailed to that cross.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

– John 17: 20-23

Grace be with you.


Jeremy Hunt gets cocky – then gets schooled. #NHS

I don’t think there is ANYONE I enjoy seeing get taken down MORE than Jeremy Hunt!


Very few people who know anything about the NHS would dispute the fact that Jeremy Hunt is the most unfit and damaging Health Secretary in history.

For most, it’s a relief when Hunt does one of his frequent vanishing acts – usually when there’s a crisis he’s created. When he does surface, it’s generally to insult, outrage and exasperate those who work in the NHS and those who care about it, with some nonsensical or spout frank untruths about what’s left of our nation’s greatest treasure.

Given Hunt’s recent rebuke for his utterly fallacious claim that the Tories had brought in thirty thousand additional people to work in mental health since they took office in 2010 – when the real number was fewer than seven hundred – you’d expect a little humility from anyone with any integrity.

Not so with Hunt – instead, he’s decided cocky and smug is…

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Holding space

Me at my desk!

Sometimes things occur in such a sequence or a timing that I’m almost converted to hyper-Calvinism! ALMOST, but not quite!

One early morning recently I was flicking through my Facebook feed. I came across three posts from entirely different sources, in this sequence;

First, one of the many posts I have read from my friend Patrick. We were friends before Facebook, even though I’ve never met him. He lives in the US, and we were members of a Yahoo writing group, spread across the UK, Ireland, Norway, Brazil, Canada and the US. Now most of us have become Facebook friends and the group on Yahoo is hardly used. Many like to belittle ‘Facebook friendship’ and while I agree it is no substitute for ‘real friends’ whom we meet in person, I know that I have been able to experience empathic emotions of joy and sorrow for many through social media that I have not physically met. The people at the other keyboard thousands of miles away are still people!

Patrick shared a beautiful piece about love. I thought it was his own words since he is a great wordsmith, but he assured me the bulk of it was a well-known and oft-quoted piece. His addition were his words to his late husband, Thom. You see, they were together for about 13 years, but took up the chance to marry when it was legalised. Shortly after that, Thom died from a heart attack, in Patrick’s arms. His grief was tangible. I shed tears for him, real tears – they’re even returning right now; damn empathy! I know he loved Thom, and counted him as his soulmate. He is still grieving over him, after many months. Who knows how long his healing will take?

The second post I read was this truly beautiful blog. It’s short, give it a read:


The third one, which must have been posted by one of my atheist friends (yes, I do have friends of many persuasions!), was a humanist blog having a go at a Christian Facebook page (it’s short too):


Here was my original thought which I planned to posit as an answer to the ‘Warriors for Christ’:

Yeah, if you’re preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, you need to point out all the ramifications of it. That includes listing sins as Jesus himself warned us about, so start proclaiming warnings to the very rich; the millionaires who might wish to come and join the church. You might not be thinking about what I mean since it’s not something that is prevalent (or even counts as extant) in our peculiar wee subculture, but it was the clear warning that Jesus gave to his disciples after the ‘rich young man’ left him, unable to give up his wealth;

Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23,24)

I’ve said this a lot in previous blogs, simply because I read it in scripture. Jesus said it. Greedy people are condemned right alongside the ‘sexually immoral’ and Paul even commands the Corinthian church to not have anything to do with them, and not even eat with them! (1Cor. 5:11). Yeah, I can hear all your excuses now before you even comment, so please don’t bother. If you’re adamant about following the Bible and doing what Jesus did, you’d simply want to warn rich people, because ‘in love’ you’d want to make sure they would know if they continue in their sin, Jesus has given them the sternest warning!

So before I posted this, I had to ask myself if I wanted ‘The Warriors’ to start shouting to the world about the sin of greed and excess wealth? Actually, no!

I’ve known people who have faced the gauntlet of the screaming faces as they approach an abortion clinic/ advice centre, all telling them they’re murderers. I’ve known people who have entered churches to be told by a red-faced preacher what awful sin their sexual orientation causes them to do. However, I do not know of anybody who has wealth to be challenged so openly by any church! I’m always calling for preachers to list all of the sins they can find in our holy book, cause I’m sure there are a few we all need to be told about ourselves; nobody’s perfect. In light of of all this, I have no desire for anyone, rich or poor, straight or gay, Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist, to face a blanket condemnation as they visit any church, or encounter a Christian organisation on the internet. While I often place blame for the world’s woes on the super-rich, the real blame lies not in those people, but in the sin of greed that is prevalent in them.

So I decided not to reply to the Warriors.

One of our church leaders came across a homeless man outside the building, who was thrown out of his parents’ house when he ‘came out’ – I’ve often heard of ‘come out and get thrown out’ but here was a real example! He was gay before he came out, now he’s gay and homeless! Kudos to the parents and a high five!

Whatever problem there is in my life, Jesus is working on it, through his Spirit in me. He can do the same with every other follower who goes after him. I just want to be the one who heals the church from this abject hatred of certain people/ things (that is what it is, face it!), by holding space, as Kaitlin so succinctly blogged it.

Grace be with you.

Why do people leave a church? It’s their own fault of course!!

This was written four years ago, but it is a point to make and to be considered that is timeless…

Enough Light

An article by Thom Rainer has really set me off. I’ve been walking around my house tense and muttering. My dog wonders what is wrong with me. Here is the article: The Main Reason People Leave a Church.  Grrrr… Where to start? I am angry.

In a way, I have already thoroughly responded to this article! See my post: Does your church make people jump through hoops? Stop it!.  And this article by another blogger expands on my post with some analysis: My wish for the contemporary Evangelical church.

Essentially Thom Rainer is saying that the reason people leave a church…is their own fault! Isn’t the point of an exit interview to listen and learn? And not to just “go on the defense” and place all the blame on the leaver?

Certainly there can be demanding people out there with unrealistic expectations – I do agree…

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Something I need to repent from…

trump1I had a hunch,

so I looked through all four gospels.

I was right!

Which means that I was wrong originally,

and also that I have to go back to that part of my book to rewrite it!

Let me explain: I had a dilemma in reading through the Sermon on the Mount. Well, just one of the dilemmas Jesus throws at us when we seek to examine his words. This bit:

‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt. 5:21,22)

Strong words indeed! Calling someone a fool will place us in danger of hell!!!? That’s what he said! This is a command to his followers, which we must heed. Why say we follow him but not do as he commands? Actually, we can’t, or we would be liars!

However, Jesus himself did get quite insulting at times, calling Pharisees and other religious people ‘vipers‘, ‘whitewashed tombs‘, said their father was the devil, for not accepting him, even violently ejecting those he called a ‘den of robbers‘ from the Temple! This is often excused as ‘righteous anger’, and so it’s easy to take what Jesus said about anger and place it in the context of his actions and come to a conclusion that if your anger is ‘righteous’ i.e. it comes from a sense of right and wrong, and is in response to something unjust, wicked or evil, then it is perfectly fine and excusable.

So I continued on my quest to oppose such things and allow myself to get angry with people who were unrighteous and particularly those who were inciting, encouraging or legislating for others to do unrighteous acts. This of course, meant mainly politicians. All along, though, the words of Jesus kept ringing in my head. Do they not ring in yours? Surely there are situations and times when you look at yourself and realise that your behaviour, your attitude, even your thoughts (which wsub-buzz-26075-1475600325-1as a major thrust throughout the Sermon on the Mount) are not in keeping with his commands… if you say you’re a follower, yes? Righteous living is about more than who you hang out with and what you eat or drink! In fact it isn’t even that at all! I was being told by a few people, my wife included, to stop getting angry at Trump, or Theresa May, or Jeremy Hunt (whose name is prone to abuse!), or… well, there’s a fairly long list!

[The great thing about Trump is that he can produce sheer bundles of mirth from me! I’ve found that laughing at all the things he says is much more edifying. Laughter is good for you. Try it.]

What I kept trying to do was an exercise I made myself do some time ago; try to look at everyone through the eyes of Jesus. Everyone is made in the image of God and is loved by that all-loving God. While it is sin and behaviour that God does not love, his love for the individual is unswayed and beyond our comprehension. Each of these people that annoy me are each a human creation, capable of receiving the love of God. So also should my attitude towards them be.

That’s when it hit me, and I searched Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Jesus never personally insulted anyone! Any individual who came to him might have felt rebuke or admonishment, and certainly received teaching from him, but there was never any name-calling or abuse. With one exception: when Peter took him aside to tell him that he would not let Jesus go up to Jerusalem to be killed, Jesus rebuked him sharply with the infamous “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter was very familiar and dear to Jesus, and had only just been praised for announcing that he believed Jesus to be the Son of the living God. While Peter would have felt the sting of that rebuke, he would have known the deep love Jesus had for him, like a parent has for a child they rebuke. He had overstepped a mark in trying to interfere with Jesus’ intentions. However, Jesus was never that way with anyone else, unless they were in a group! All the insults hurled as I listed above were in the plural! Jesus was getting angry with a group for good reasons, since they were meant to be religious people and users of the Temple, but they were ‘blind guides’ leading people in the wrong direction or lining their own pockets from the proceeds of religion. Any one of these individuals could come to Christ and be redeemed, as happened with Matthew the tax collector (an utterly despised group of social vermin in the Roman period), and Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee.

To go back to Jesus’ command, as I must do, we can set it in context: Jesus was talking about murder, and then likening it to anger, as if he’s labelling that as the root cause of murder. We can go right back to the first recorded murder, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Note what God said to Cain…

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’ (Gen. 4: 6,7)

Cain was not right in his heart, which God knew, with sin ‘crouching at his door’. In which way? We know he was angry towards Abel. This led to him murdering his brother. God knew Cain’s heart, and so his sacrifice meant nothing. Cain’s acceptance was based on him ‘doing what is right’. Anything we do for God means nothing to him if our heart is not right! It is repeated right throughout scripture, particularly from the prophets and in the Psalms. Cain was angry with Abel and that anger grew. He did not ‘master’ it as God warned him to do, and it grew into the act of murder. Thus why we have Jesus stating that anger towards an individual, even silently within our heart, is to be expunged from the true follower, or we will be judged for it.

Seeing an individual among a collective is what Jesus did all the time. The woman in the pushing crowd who touched him in faith, little Zacchaeus who climbed into the tree to see Jesus in the middle of the throng, the blind man who called out to him as those around him told him to shush… and it is what we all must do too.

I can ground this back into the 21st century by going back to Star Trek again! Yeah, Trekkies will line up to tell me I should be saying the 23rd century, but I’m going to talk about the Borg, so it’s actually the 24th century. Ha!

6c0aea8b77658dcb0aeab96940263d1a4281bf5ba026d0ee1b65e4e77c66475cI am reminded of Hugh. Hugh the Borg drone. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the Borg were the most merciless enemy the Federation or anyone could face; a collective ‘hive mind’ thinking rationally and unemotionally as one, with their effervescent greeting: “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated into our collective. Resistance is futile.” In the ST:NG episode ‘I, Borg’ (which is a great one to watch for the current debate the West is having with extremism), the Enterprise takes on board an injured one of their drones, a half machine cyborg, that behaved as a bee separated from its hive would: only seeking to get back to the collective. The crew were given orders by Captain Picard to implant a stealth computer ‘virus’ into its programming and release it back to be collected again, and so infect the entire species with the virus that would crash their system and bring an end to them. However, as the drone lived on, away from the hive mind, it developed a personality, and even said “I” instead of “we”. The crew realised he was becoming an individual again, and even named him ‘Hugh’. They managed to change their view of the collective, and did not infect him, but allowed him to go back, because this was what Hugh wanted; he was able to decide he belonged with his own kind. However, his sense of individuality was released into the collective mind. It took on a life of its own, grew in the programming, and created an underground ‘subculture’ within the hive, much like the concepts found in ‘The Matrix’.

Seeing the individual within any collective grouping is the way of Jesus, as I said. In doing this, following in those footsteps, I see the likes of Trump, Hunt, Bush, Blair, etc. (all my political ‘enemies’) as those people whom God loves and can reach out to, just as he did for me. This assuages my anger, and redirects it at the collective. I hate the Borg, but not Hugh. I hate the alt-right agenda, but not Trump. I hate the destroyers of our NHS, but not Hunt.

When we empathise with ‘freedom fighters’ and understand their cause, and their anger at the injustice they see, we feel that pain, but also that wrath. Too often, such anger leads to the destruction of human lives, which is when they become ‘terrorists’ – were they to grasp the concept of the unique rights of the individuals they are impacting, would they not stop short of violence? It is the same with governments leading us to war; they, like those who radicalise young idealists, attempt by propaganda to control our minds as a hive to hate that which they want us to kill. Stop! Be the individual who will say ‘NO!’ to hatred, and see the individual on the other side.

While I continue to attack injustice and unfair policies, and evil attitudes, and try to make others aware of such things, I will seek to stop short of hating the individual. In the current political climate, I know this will not be easy for me. I value your prayers.

Of this I repent, Lord.

Grace be with you.


The Women’s March – A Different Perspective

I’ve been expressing support for the Women’s Marches, but from the ‘wrong’ body (though I will always argue that empathy is universal). Here’s the opinion of an old blogger friend who inhabits the right body…

Everyone Has A Story...

Dad's mother and his best Father's Day gift ever, me. Dad’s mother and his best Father’s Day gift ever, me. There’s a lot of debate going on about The Women’s March, which has, to some degree, fueled the very harsh reactions to Donald Trump’s presidency. There’s the assumption that only Hillary Clinton supporters, or pro-choice people were lining those streets. That’s actually not true.

There’s one letter in particular circulating where a woman named Christy says, among other stuff, that this march wasn’t hers because she is anti-abortion, and if all women made good decisions in their lives, like she did, they wouldn’t need this extreme form of birth control. Yikes.

After my last rant, I prayed that God would remind me how to write womens-marchcorrectly, and not fly off the handle like a ranting lunatic. Wisdom from above is always gentle and encourages peace between us, and clearly, I wasn’t being gentle or peaceful when I wrote those posts…

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