Wednesday, 30 September 2009

These are a few of my favourite Kings

With apologies to Julie Andrews & Sound of Music fans. I've been remiss in waiting so long to provide with a few of my favourite Kings.

In date order -

Alfred the Great (871)
More a Monk than a warrior, he led at a time when the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Wessex was reduced to a small rabble trapped in a marsh in Somerset. From this low point, he managed to fight & negotiate his way to becoming the first true King of a united England. Alfred alone is responsible (in my view) for preserving the Anglo Saxon culture & language which was about to be lost forever at the hands of the Danes.

William the Conqueror (1066)
William gets on the list because the mention of his name is the only legitimate reason in our house for the children to say the word 'bastard!' William the Bastard (to give him his full French title) spent his whole life being reminded of his dubious origins, until Harold gave him the swift opportunity for a change of surname.

Henry VIII (1509)
An arrogant monster, terrible mood swings, changed his mind like he changed his wives/religion/weight (delete as approprite). By the end of his life, the gangrene in his thigh smelled so bad that courtiers standing downwind would gag into their puffy tudor sleeves! And yet this contradiction of a monarch genuinely believed he was God's voice to the world & oversaw the break from Rome which allowed England to hear the gospel.

Edward VI (1547)
Unlike his Father, Edward really had caught the reformation bug. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only bug this sickly boy-king caught. Had he lived a few years longer his English Book of Common Prayer with Cranmer, & other reforms would have led to a true church of England rather than the compromise that his sister Elizabeth allowed to evolve.

Charles I (1625)
Lost his head with dignity after the Civil Wars, having spent his whole life with his royal head up his royal....well, in the sand maybe! He took the divine right of Kings to the extreme & realised too late that the people didn't agree.

Oliver Cromwell (1649)
Never King, but Lord Protector of the new Commonwealth for just a few short years. In spite of his reputation, Cromwells freedom of religion act & his social reforms amongst the masses have only been surpassed in the last century in more progressive societies. Had he lived another 10 years we would never have returned to the monarchy.

William III (1689)
William of Orange drove his own Father-in-law James from the throne when he arrived with his Dutch troops. Christmas round the family table was never the same after this! James fled in the night & bleated for a few years from exile in France, but the danger of a return to Catholicism was now finally over.
William never really liked it here, preferring to spend as much time back in the Netherlands as possible. It's ironic that a Dutchman was the last 'true' king of England, giving away powers to Parliament that reduced the monarchy & set their rule within ever tightening boundaries.

Feel free to add to the list!

Friday, 25 September 2009

What makes a man? Part 2

Since putting up my 'useful things I can do' list, many of you have commented to me how useful I would be in your life - thanks for the encouragement. But you'd still call the Action Man with the eagle eye function (not the Sailor with the beard & no grip) rather than me in a crisis!

In the big story of mans beginnings we are given a glimpse of real man made in God's image. Here we catch something of our purpose which has become buried under the twin opposing forces of manbags & moisturising or chest thumping muscle headed neanderthalism. (You can tick your own box here!)

The first man, Adam, is given the incredible assignment to rule & subdue, to fill & multiply. He's given land, he has to tame animals, make his own tools - no wonder boys young & old get bored sitting at desks all day. We were made for adventure! Here is the whole earth; Explore it, cultivate it, care for it - go find the equator, build some cities, invent some stuff!

At this point in the story, only Eden is on the map. Everything else that google earth has made so small, is still actually wild & uncharted. No oceans crossed or mountains climbed.

My friend Neil is slowly but surely getting the boat in his garage ready to sail around Britain with his boys.
Fella's - this is what we were made for! Get out this weekend, get dirty, climb a tree, build a camp, come home with sore muscles & begin to rediscover your calling on planet earth to live with the kind of risk that crosses barriers. You'll look the same to everyone else next week when you sit back at your desk, but you can feel the grazes under your suit trousers & smile to yourself!

Part 3 coming soon.

Friday, 18 September 2009

What makes a man?

This week I cleared out my garage & discovered a workbench & a vice. This equipment is what every man should have & I am now the proud, masculine owner of a workshop.

However, I have no idea what to do with it. I have realised that all the things which make us feel like real men have become hidden away in this manner. As we pull the wraps from them we feel a deep stirring to manliness within us, but can't quite work out what we're supposed to do next.

There are so many voices in this generation which have rightly released women, whilst we men have sat back & forgotten how to live ourselves. We've either become over feminised & distant from our roots as men, or we observe the other macho extreme.

'What makes a man?' is the question in my mind as I try to turn my rusty vice. I think the answer may lie somewhere buried in the idea of man made in the image of God. I'll return to that in the next post. In the meantime, I've selected a list of useful things I can & can't do as a modern man to get the ball rolling.

Useful things I can do
1/ Be nice to people
2/ Make/change a bed
3/ Dig a small hole
4/ Write sermons
5/ Sing tenor
6/ Read a map
7/ Drive a car
Hmmmm, not really up there in the Bear Grylls stakes.

How about, useful things I can't do
1/ Chop down trees to make a shelter or for firewood
2/ Ride a horse, train a dog, tend a herd of animals
3/ Grow or produce my own food
4/ Handle a boat without panicking the others on board
5/ Bowl a good consistent line & length
6/ Load, shoot, clean a gun / or bow & arrow / or use either of them / or a spear, net, catapult to obtain food.
7/ defend myself with my bare hands.

Feel free to add to the list.

Monday, 14 September 2009

There's no 'I' in team

Today we had a staff team day. Somewhere deep inside I still flinch when they approach in the diary, a buried reflexive response to some horror shows in the distant past.

Geoff was a director in the Manchester office of our multi-national insurance corporation who made Ricky Gervais look like a balanced & considerate boss. His leadership style seemed to shift at rapid tangents, dependent on the courses he'd been on, the articles he'd never quite finish reading, or his own instinctive nous for a 'winner' of an idea.

On reflection, & with the benefit of much hindsight, I can thank God for Geoff & all that he has taught me about leadership, mostly through the medium of negative experience.

His team high point came in surreal fashion. Having been informed of our failure to reach targets & thus secure a performance related pay rise, Geoff knew all we really needed was to have a little sing song. Stay with me - it gets better. So Geoff disappears in the lift, only to emerge moments later with a guitar around his neck & a bandana,giving the faint impression of rock stardom to his otherwise follicly challenged pate.

Whilst some of us cynics put our heads in our hands at the back of the department-Amazingly, others found this the perfect outlet for their pay worries, & joined Geoff in lusty renditions of all the Oasis tracks they could remember the words to from the classic 1995 album 'Whats the story morning glory.'Geoff, thanks for the memories!

Today, the insurance world & Ricky Gervais wannabee bosses are light years away. Today, I loved my team day. No ego's, no pride, no Billy Big Boots. No insecurity driven affirmation junkies. Just 12 men & women who really want to see their team deliver the kind of things they used to just dream about.

Hybels talks about the 3 C's of team - character, competence & chemistry. Today, the chemistry clicked, the ideas flowed, the friendship deepened. This is the privilege of serving on a team which, though imperfect, in some way models the way we were designed for mutual dependence on a task which is impossible alone.

Thanks guys for helping me to lose my 'team twitch'. As Geoff would have sung....'I said maybeeeeeeee, you're gonna be the one who saves meeeeee, and after all, you're my wonderwaaaaal........'

Friday, 11 September 2009

What is Britishness?

The Year 9 homework that I got roped in to help with last night was asking this question. It's a bit of a conundrum really, in spite of the best endeavours of the politically correct class who talk of cohesion but can't produce it in reality.

The reflex response is to talk about good old British values, fair play, trust, tolerance, decency. You only have to scratch the surface though to see through this veneer.

Fair play - Does that explain our ability to be plucky losers in most major sporting competitions? Happy just to be taking part & getting stuffed by the Germans/Australians (delete as appropriate). Our society is about as unfair & class divided today as it's ever been with the rich getting richer & the poor, well...poorer. More than poverty, it's the lack of opportunity, the closed doors to developing your destiny, that which became the American dream is a British nightmare.

Trust - I'm not sure how we have ever been able to claim this as some unique British characteristic? Does a society based on trust fill it's cities & town centres with CCTV, or require Dad's taking their lads to football to have CRB checks?

Tolerence - Hmmm....I remember the race riots in Oldham, just a few streets away from us. Neighbour against neighbour solely because of culture, colour & creed. Never mind race, anyone who is different really is fair game. Gordon Brown today apologised for the hounding of Alan Turing, who took his own life 53 years ago. This brilliant Cambridge Mathmatician of the Enigma Code fame deserved plaudits, but instead was prosecuted for being a homosexual. The French, the Germans, the Irish, the Asians, Gays, Chavs, MP's, Estate Agents, Bankers.......tolerent Britain?

Decency - Thanks to all those CCTV cameras in our town centres, we can at least watch 'Indecent Britain', live on a Friday or Saturday night. Even if you escape it all by going abroad, you're likely to encounter the kind of Brit who loves to party, fight,vomit & copulate all over the resort. Indecent Britain means we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates, terrible stats for marriage breakdown, all kinds of exciting new STD's that never existed when I was a boy, & a favourite leisure pursuit of internet porn. Happy days!

Before this sounds like a message board for the Daily Mail, let me tell you that I think there is plenty that is good about being British. Every society has something positive to offer, some glimmer or spark of humanity made in the image of God, however deeply it is buried in the mire.

This is surely a challenge for the church to rise to, that we could build true community based not on any national characteristics, but on our new shared identity in Christ. We have a promise to chase, that even in degenerate, broken Britain, we might shine like stars & show people a better way to live.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The kids of today!

It came to my attention with horror this weekend, that the kids who are off to university later this month weren't born until 1991! For me, 1991 seems like last week. In fact, come to think of it, I can remember more about 1991 that I can about last week!

It got me thinking that we have a generation here who are going to shape our nation & society, & yet they never watched Bagpuss, or public service announcements like the Green Cross Code. They never lived under Mrs Thatcher, & if you said 'Jolly green Giant' to them, they would picture Shrek rather than a plate full of vegetables.

So (with a nod to James Emery White, USA culture guru), here is my stab at how our class of '91 see the world around them -

They think TV's have always been flat.
They believe that Chelsea always were a top 4 team.
They have never written a letter, posted it, & enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for the reply to drop back onto the doormat.
They have never watched the evening news without already knowing what the evening news is.
They think tattoos have always been in vogue & that rap has always been mainstream.
They would call the Police if Jimmy Saville asked them to sit on his knee.
They never lived alongside the Soviet Union, never saw the Berlin wall, never knew Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine et al as anything other than independent nations.

Lists like this are depressing. They show us how impossible it is for each generation to understand the one which has gone before it. They share none of my key moments, they relate to none of my reference points, they have no shared memories to anchor their understanding of the world to mine. It's no wonder they don't listen to us & we can't comprehend them!

How do we communicate into this culture, without sounding like the archetypal trendy Vicar? Should we just leave it to the kids? Well, I do believe there are a few things we can teach them, but it involves us learning too. We have to make an effort to understand their worldview & to some extent keep pace. More importantly, we mustn't move from the key places we are anchored to in our own story. Or, to put it another way, there are some things in our message which cut across any culture - we've just got to find the right package to send them in.

Feel free to add to the list!


Friday, 4 September 2009

Scandalous stories

It's outrageous that a man who only works for the last hour of the day should get paid the same money as a guy who slogs himself all day in the heat.

Remarkably, it's a scandalous story that Jesus told & I shared it today at Aubrey's funeral. This is the story that changed his life on 6th August when, with 2 weeks to live, he gave his life to Jesus, right at the finish line.

What a cheek! It's like hopping off the tube at Green Park in your running gear & racing up the Mall to cross the marathon line & pick up a medal!

Actually, those of us who have toiled away for years at trying to work out what it means to follow Jesus have one of two responses. We can either dance for joy at this scandal that is grace, or we recognise the gangrenous stink of legalism & the spirit of the elder brother stirring up in our hearts........'...but we've worked for you all these years & never been rewarded like this!'

As for me today? I've already told you - I was born to dance, & I had a little jig for Aubrey earlier.

Speak soon.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Gather around the wireless

We gathered around the wireless (internet) this morning to listen to a replay of Neville Chamberlains famous declaration that Britain is now at war with Germany. As Chamberlain outlines the German failure to comply with their deadline to withdraw from Poland, the fear in his voice is as clear today as it was 70 years ago.

Today we fight on a number of fronts & the slogan 'Not in my name' has become a banner of protest with which I hold some sympathy. To this day, I still can't fathom why we are in Afghanistan.

However, listening to a 70 year old radio broadcast this morning, I felt the swell of pride at a just & noble venture to fight alongside France & liberate the Poles from Nazi occupation. Perhaps Chamberlain was viewed with the same disdain & suspicion as our politicians today, maybe it is just the passing of years which ennobles his words with such gravitas? Churchill is rightly idolised for his later role, & Chamberlain was certainly on the way down, but his tone on this day 70 years ago was as statesmanlike as it is possible to be. Listen to it yourself on

I wonder about my great-family, huddled aound a real wireless to hear the news. Did my Grandad know that day that he would fly planes? Did his parents realise with a chill that they would lose sons?

All I know is that we have lost a little perspective. In our town where people are mobilised with aggression over the wrong kind of parking meters & housing developments, isn't it time we got our heads up & remembered what Chamberlain led us so reluctantly into?

That's all for today, speak soon