Apologies for the rather self-indulgent nature of this post (like that's new!). The first print competition of 2012 is simply entitled "My Favourite Image of 2011", the idea being you pick what you liked best of what you took. I think it is one of these - any feedback on which I should enter?
Yesterday was a dry day and my day off this week so we went to breath some fresh air and get away from phones and screens and computers for an hour or so. Inspired after reading Bear Grylls' account of climbing Everest, we set out. Crook Peak is the hill near Weston Super Mare that you see on the left as you pass by on the M5. Good to get out.
Only 191 feet tall (and we parked part way up as it was) but the walk was rather spoiled by the thought in the back of my mind that each section of the Cotswold way would be five or six times further.
The light was pretty hopeless and this was the best I could do.
Christopher Hitchens lost his battle with cancer today at the age of 62. It's sad for anyone of his age in the Western world to die so young and you feel for his friends and family. I have to confess to not having read him really, unless you count 15 minutes in Waterstones while waiting for the rest of the family to finish looking for books. I was looking through God Is Not Great and thought it was a bit flimsy to be honest. But then you would probably expect me to say that.
I heard of his death on the radio this morning when Richard Dawkins was interviewed about him by Nicky Campbell on Radio Five Live. I checked out the interview again on the BBC website when I was more awake to verify that I wasn't misquoting at all.
Dawkins described Hitchens as...
wonderful orator, a great thinker, a great intellect, a great atheist”.
He went on to say...
hated tyranny of all kinds.He was
against Stalin, he was against Mao, he was against Kim Il Sung and he was
against God.He hated tyrants of all
kinds, whether real or imaginary”.
he saw, as a supernatural tyrant, a supernatural dictator”.
I can understand that some people do believe and some don't. What I struggle with is that a few (certainly not all) of the new atheists are so set against religious faith that they attack it so forcefully. To bracket God with Stalin and Mao and Kim Il Sung is very odd to me. People like Dawkins ppear to be very angry about faith and yet their atheism doesn't seem to bring them any happiness. Sometimes they come across as the superior boy on school who sneers and looks down at the others and then wonder why they have so few friends.
This is not a fresh or new or clever opinion. I find myself echoing the thoughts of Marcus Brigstocke (who I very much like) who says the same in his book God Collar. He may tend to agree with much of Dawkins says but he ackowledges that Dawkins doesn't do atheism many favours in the way he comes across as a know it all. I think I'd like a debate over a pint of lemonade with Marcus (who is teetotal) where as I don't really fancy the thought of seeing Dawkins for a drink.
Banksy's latest is this sculpture for the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It's called 'Cardinal Sin', and he offers this Christmas greeting, “At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of
Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.”
Merry Christmas everyone!
Footnote - Cardinal Sin was the real name of the head of the Catholic Church in the Philippines at the time of the overthrow of Marcos after crowds of people refused to accept the corrupt elections. Some of those leading the line were nuns who sat in the path of tanks. Grrrrrr - those pesky Christians, nothing but trouble!
... or should it be 'Pac Lunch'? I wasn't sure, to be honest, but the thing is that only a month after my first placing in a monthly competition I managed to go one better and was the joint winner of the Food themed competition at the club last night.
In common with a lot of organisations these days, the church is facing a hole in the budget that will take quite a lot of filling. It was already looking grim and then on having our electrics examined we find that we are not earthed and suddenly the question of what to do about the lighting in the main hall becomes a more pressing and more costly concern. We have little in the way of reserves to fall back on and no central body to bail us out.
So last night we voted through a budget with a deficit that is larger than our reserves with the huge provisos that we all need to reconsider our giving and that we need to monitor the situation monthly and take even more drastic action if necessary. One of the savings we are making is that I will be paid as part-time from January 1st. As a family this is fine, we are able to do that. It is for an initial three months period, though I suspect it will be for longer. We'll see.
The interesting pastoral situation? I suspect that I need to help people to come to terms with the decision. I think there is a tendency for some to feel that the church is failing because they can no longer afford a full-time or "proper" minister but actually, perhaps what we need to do is find a new way of doing church.
We face an uncertain future as a church and I suspect that a number of churches will face this in time as well. Suddenly we are forced to consider things from a completely different viewpoint, what the buildings are used for, what we are about as a church, and who does what. It's a little bit scary. And it's quite exciting to. Who knows what God will bring out of this?
Had a minor crisis yesterday (one of a series) when all the videos disappeared from the database of the computer we use for projection in the church building. So I've been hunting round for stray copies of things and lo and behold found this. Hardly remember doing this four years ago and then showed it once in a service. Since then it's laid forgotten and neglected on a hard drive.
So, time to let it fly (or flop) on the interweb. It's a series of scenes from the film Miracle Maker together with Stuart Townend singing In Christ Alone. Very much an Easter piece rather Christmas but I was surprised at the job I did on this. Not at all shabby.
I've been thinking about it for a while and it's time to put it into print. That way I can't chicken out. Next spring I get a sabbatical for three months from my day to day responsibilities and as well as visiting other churches and researching new ideas for ministry here, I get to do some things that will replenish me.
Hence I have decided to spend some of the time walking the Cotswold Way. This doesn't involve mincing around or wandering around with a vacant stare whilst sucking on grass stems. It's the 102 mile route which runs from Chipping Camden down to Bath. I've wanted to do it since I was a kid and so here's my chance. Nothing heroic (unlike my friend Natalie who walked the 630 mile South West Coastal Path with barely a day off) but I plan to take it in two day sections, taking eight days to cover the whole thing. Having said that, I will be taking my camera and knowing me that will slow me down considerably, so it might take longer.
Today I was in Taunton with my favourite parishioner and while searching the shelves at Waterstones for a walking guide to the Cotswold Way I found Part One of a two volume work on the walk from Canterbury to Rome. Felt like my stroll was very small beer in comparison but then it's probably frowned upon for Baptist ministers to go to make the journey to Rome on a sabbatical.
Looking forward to it immensely though and just wanted to tell people in case I felt like backing out nearer the time.
Called out to do a favour for a parishioner, last night. Light bulbs blown and she was unable to get up to the light fitting to replace them; all the sort of thing that you get taught at Bible College. Still, so easy that even a Baptist Pastor could fix it.
As I left she thanked me and joked, "Let there be light". Then she stopped and looked genuinely puzzled. "Now who was it who said that?", she asked.
After clocking off from youth club on Friday night I had a really great weekend this week.
Saturday: Breakfast with the family, met a friend to pray, met up with family and friends to watch my team win 3-0, food at Nandos and wine and talk with an old friend.
Sunday: Enjoyed church with no responsibilities in the knowledge that I was in the safe hands of good leaders and preachers, huge lunch, watched the big game and then missed the evening service to take the teenagers group bowling. And won. Drop or two more wine and more great conversation. Fall asleep grateful for the weekend, a day of rest that actually felt like one and, I admit it, just a tiny bit envious of others who have weekends off on a regular basis and perhaps take the blessing for granted.
What's not to love? The Nativity as you've never heard it before, explained by a real-life vicar. Already think about how I can use this in a service. This was pointed out to me at 607 views on YouTube - think there will be a lot more before Christmas is over!
Hey, after a year of trying, for the first time I was actually placed in the top five in the monthly competition. Tonight's competition had the theme Numbers and it was a stretch to know what to actually try to photograph. This was the best I could come up with and I got placed second.
Some time ago we employed a researcher to come to church and give us some honest feedback, we did this through the Church Check scheme run by Christian Research. I was contacted recently by The Baptist Times for comments on the scheme, so the article appears in this week's edition.
Going through Ephesians in church and the chance to preach on Ephesians 5.21-33 this week - it's dangerous stuff folks! Wonderfully, Tim Keller publishes his book on this very passage (The Meaning of Marriage) next week. Or so it says on the websites. I pre-ordered mine and got sent it last week. As a result I have had the chance to read most of it before Sunday. A true pleasure.
Enjoyed putting this together as well. It's a sequence of pictures and great marriage quotes that I have done for service. All with the uplifting sounds of The Proclaimers too, can't be bad. Take a look and see what you think.
Did something yesterday that I had never done before and watched a live game of rugby. Only ventured round the corner for Burnham-on-Sea's game against Matson but had a great time. 17-0 to the home side and got a few pictures into the bargain.
...or at least learn how to use the clone tool in Photoshop better. A friend at camera club blew us all away with a Little Planet view of the sea front and so I have been trying to work out how. It isn't actually all that hard. What is hard is to do it well. I'd never used the cloning tool before and clearly need a great deal of practice. Meanwhile, here are two of my first efforts.
This is taken from a bird hide on the Somerset levels just this afternoon...
This is the cricket ground at Taunton, taken earlier this summer...
I know, I know, snappy title for a blog entry...
But anyone know where this quote comes from? Is it even Wesley? I see it attributed to him all over the place but cannot find a reference for it. Most of the references I have found on the internet are from people like Kenneth Hagin, Creslo Dollar, and others, who, frankly, are the kind of word of faith / prosperity teachers that make extremely cross.
Thing is, I don't think the sentiment of the quote is true. I'm all for spurring people to pray but God can't do anything unless we ask him to?! I find that hard to accept if God is all sovereign and all powerful.
Hence I want to find out if anyone knows where the quote is from as I think I would like to see it in context. It's a long shot... but you never know.
Finances being an issue this year, this was the first league game I've attended this year. A bit scrappy at times this one until the end when Exeter played some good football. The general consensus is that, in a game of two halves, the scoreline flattered Exeter a bit. However, the win sees us soar to 23rd in League 1.
I have no goals to show you as I had an interesting conversation with the Head of Security at the ground about 20 minutes into the game which resulted in me having to put my camera away. He was very polite and reasonable but apparently my zoom lens is too big to be allowed. Ordinary cameras and smaller lenses are permitted, which will be a challenge for future games, but a challenge I am ready to embrace. The concern was that I could be selling the shots tonight. Sure there's a huge market!
Bit frustrated as I have never had a problem before but on checking the ground rules you aren't allowed to take any kind of camera in and so will have to abide by smaller lens rule next time. Especially frustrated as I was perfectly positioned for Nardiello's penalty for 2-1 and the final goal for the particularly impressive Jake Taylor.
So what do I hear bid for the final pictures I managed with a zoom lens...
Stephen Darby - on loan from Liverpool
Troy Archibald-Henville is comprehensively outjumped by Jean Louis Akpa-Akpro. Great names!
All City can do is watch as the ball hits the post as 0-0
As I haven't been under pressure to produce a sermon this week I have been able to take it a bit easier this week. Do some reading, visit a few people, make arrangements for when I am away, and play an atrocious round of golf. Oh yes, and we started a new congregation which attracted about 55 brand new people to the church.
We started a variation on the Messy Church model of church, which centres around whole families coming to do craft and games together, a short (typically 20 minute) worship service and then tea or some sort of food afterwards. We are aiming to do this in the new year. In the meantime we have started with half-termly Messy Toddlers.
Most of the work came from a committed team of people at the church here who planned about ten different craft activities and catered for the food afterwards. All the activities were based around the theme of light and so was the completely chaotic service part of the morning, though how many heard a word, I wonder - especially when the musical instruments came out. As I tried to make myself heard above 30 toddlers I couldn't help thinking how different it was to the old pram services that I was taken to as a child. One of the great ideas for the service was to take photos (with permission) of the children as they did their craft and games and put them up on the screen at the beginning. It worked really well.
But, you know what? Lots of Mums thanked us for doing it. Some commented that they had done more with their child that morning than in the previous week and hopefully they went home with the feeling that church could be fun and informal and welcoming. That's quite a barrier to overcome for a lot of them. They also took home a lot of craft!
So we have a new congregation of 55 (plus the team which takes it to just under 70) and I'd wager that 90% of them have no other congregation. It's an occasional thing at the moment but who knows? And when we start our monthly Messy Church....
They say that you only get one chance to make a first impression and the importance of this was shown to me again over the last couple of weeks. We have been doing the rounds of options that my daughter has for next year and sixth form college, and the first two colleges provided a great contrast.
College at Weston didn't have her name on the list despite her preregistering (though they later sent her an email saying it was a shame that she hadn't come). Of the five options for A level she was looking at, two of her favourites were not attending the evening at all and everyone kept apologising for the lack of literature which was still being printed by the office an hour after we had arrived (though to be fair we had got there early). A couple of very enthusiastic lecturers there although one simply started the conversation without introducing herself or anything about the course by asking, "so, any questions?"
First impressions at Bridgwater College very different. It started in the car park where the attendants helped us find a space to park - mine even ran off, beckoning me to follow him, to find a space. Impressed I wound down the window to thank him and he replied, "It's a pleasure sir". This is not typical behaviour in the UK.
There was quite a queue at the entrance to register but there was a woman at then end of the queue to greet us and apologise for the queue and explain that if we had preregistered we could join the fast track queue. Their preregistration system worked and we were on the list and from there we were given the first of our detailed directions as to where we wanted to go. Every time we needed to ask staff or students we were given friendly, helpful and excellent directions. So impressive on every level. All the lecturers bar one that we wanted to see were there and were, overall, probably just a bit more helpful than the guys at Weston.
Two questions rise from this for me.
How good are we as a church at welcoming people on a Sunday, or to anything that we put on? Speaking for me and mine, we have some way to go on this. It's particularly important given the second question.
Where do you think my daughter wants to go?
Having said that, none of them compare with the college she visited at Oxford University the same week though. Having visited the Great Hall there she came back giggling, "I've been to Hogwarts". Not sure she's quite cut out for the dreaming spires.
Spent a couple of days at a good conference in the heart of Bristol this week, in Stokes Croft. More details in a future blog. Stokes Scroft is best known recently for the recent riots after Tesco opened a Tesco Express there - which was kind of asking for it - the place has a vibrant culture of street art.
This is the only one that I knew anything of, an original Banksy on the side of a building just down the road from where we were meeting. Didn't know it was there before I stumbled upon it during a lunchtime stroll.
All of the following photos were taken within about 20 yards of each other, on one of the junctions of Jamaica Street and a couple of side streets.
The great thing is that on the same crossroads you had the Elim @ Bristol church building displaying this reproduction of a Banksy. Thought that this was so cool, as it fits with the street art around it and at the same time gives something of the Christian message of love, peace and hope in an area which has seen people throwing more than flowers around recently. Very cool.
And inside we were greeted by the friendliest welcome team ever, a group of black, white and oriental brothers and sisters. The conference was off to a good start before the first session kicked off!
Due to reasons of budget this was my first game of the season, but the promise of an early kick off (a good move to get some kids in) and reduced prices made it worthwhile to come down to the game.
What a contrast in styles it was too. I made the mistake of not bringing my camera and the getting seats behind the dugouts. One cultured, measured, calm and collected, the other passionate, demonstrative, fiery and, at times, comical. Not talking about the teams but the managers and their contrasting styles. It must be a good job that Paolo Di Canio eats a healthy Mediterranean diet, otherwise he'd be a surefire candidate for a heart attack. I think he put in more effort than some of his players.
Actually, not true. His side deservedly came out on top tonight and on this showing things are looking good for the side - if he can contain his frustration with his side. I get the impression that as a genius on the football pitch he might struggle with lesser players who cannot do what might have been instinctive to him.
Exeter, on the other hand, have a bit of a job on this season. They have lost the spine of their team - captain Matt Taylor, playmaker Ryan Harley and last season's top scorer Jamie Cureton, and are clearly struggling. Early days and there are worse teams than us in this division but Paul Tisdale has his work cut out. With Keith Millen being given the boot at Bristol City there is talk of Tisdale being one of the people on their list. They'd be daft not to look seriously at him and I fear it might be a good move for him. We certainly don't owe him anything but immense gratitude if and when he leaves. But I do fear that the task will be much, much harder without him at the helm. We'll see how it all pans out.
At least this wasn't a league game so nothing really lost in the end. Though a small boy behind me was heard to bemoan the fact that we only have the FA Cup to play for now this season. So, no pressure Paul!
We have just had the most ridiculous (and welcome) weather to start off October this year. Over the weekend the temperature was in the eighties both days, with the local website saying it reached 27 degrees in the shade and 30 degrees C (86 degrees) F on the sunny beach here - the hottest October days since records began.
Not surprisingly the beach was busy as we walked it with friends who were visiting for the weekend and more ice cream was consumed than you would normally expect. I now have a summer cold in October - a first!
The forecast for later this week is 14 degrees - back to normal!
Inspired by a visiting speaker at Camera Club recently, David Clapp was urging us to get up and about to capture pictures of the mist at sun rise. So yesterday I got up very early try. I've been yawning ever since.
Missed the mist (as it were), I really must plan a vantage point before I leave next time (Duh!). Found this instead but suspect that I need too much sleep to ever make it as a landscape photographer.
My friendly local iron man is visiting us for the weekend to run a half-marathon here and so I have been reading Marcus Trescothick's autobiography in order to finish and return it as I have had it for about two years now.
Found the battle of Marcus' depression especially interesting and these words which he paraphrases from something he read to make sense of his condition:
"Depressive illness, or at least the commonest form, which is caused by stress, nearly always happens to one type of person. He or she will have the following characteristics; (moral) strength, reliability, diligence, strong conscience, strong sense of responsibility, a tendency to focus on the needs of others before one's own, sensitivity, vulnerability to criticism, self-esteem dependent on the evaluation of others.
This person is the sort to whom you would turn if you had a problem to sort out upon which your house depended, a safe pair of hands you can trust with your life, though often somewhat taken for granted. People are usually very surprised when he gets ill, indeed he is the last person you would expect to have a breakdown.
But it isn't so surprising when you consider that depressive illness is a physical condition. Think about it; give a set of stresses to a person who is weak, cynical or lazy and he will quickly give up. So he will never get stressed enough to become ill. A strong person, on the other hand, will react to these pressures by trying to overcome them. After all, he has overcome every challenge he has faced in the past through diligence and effort. So he keeps going, absorbing more and more until, inevitably, symptoms emerge. At this point most people will say, "Hang on this is ridiculous. I'm doing too much." So they pull back from the brink before it is too late. But the sensitive person, without a very solid sense of self-esteem, can't stop struggling, because he fears other people being disappointed in him. Even more than this he fears being disappointed in himself. So he keeps on going, on and on and on, until suddenly: BANG! the fuse blows" (pages 253-4 in the hardback).
This rings true of my one (very old) experience of a moderate depression and is, I think, a clear warning to all of us. I guess, reading it from the point of view of a pastor in a church, it is a reminder of how dangerous it is to our health if we think that we can fix everyone and forget that only God can, and how it is equally dangerous to look to other people for approval when it is actually only God's approval that truly matters. And you don't earn that, it's a gift. Sometimes we know that in our heads but it gets stuck before it hits our hearts.
A lesson from a cricket batsman with a Test average just shy of 44. I think it would be wise to take note.
Had my worst result so far in the monthly competition last night, 15th out of 21. Knew I wasn't going to win but thought it was better than other people did. Shows what I know. I don't think I helped myself by covering the mount and edges of the picture with glue mind you, made a real pig's ear of it.
The standard was particularly high last night, nature photography being the strong suit of a number of the members.
Here is the winner from Ian, a very talented chap who spends a lot of his time with his camera on Exmoor:
Second place went to a picture taken by my friend Mark in his back garden:
Back to the drawing board for me - I have so much progress to make! But maybe one day.
In anticipation of the next Reel Issues film, Minority Report, the owner of our local cinema asked to borrow my DVD copy in case the 35mm version that he has booked isn't up to scratch - or, more to the point, is very scratched. So I popped it round and left it with the helpful person on the desk.
About an hour later, I got a phone call from the cinema owner - who does all the projection, has a laptop and DVD projectors in the room that he is calling from, and is clearly reasonably technical - asking for help. You see my copy of Minority Report has a bonus disc with it and he was ringing to ask which disc had the film on it.
Tough one, how are we going to figure this one out?
It's an age thing. Another sure sign of middle age. I have taken to buying music from adverts on the TV. Not the K-Tel type "remember this record is not available in the shops" kind of music. Things that I hear in an advert and want to investigate further.
Anyone who knows me in 'real life' will be unsurprised by my love of Big Things by Fiction. Someone on You Tube describes it as The Talking Heads meets China Crisis, which is pretty darned accurate. It was used to advertise a car or petrol or something. As you can tell it, it worked on me. The link in the top right hand sized box will take you there. Enjoy!
The church took a bit of a punt on Saturday night and booked Tom Elliott, a magician and comedian who also does a nice line in telling people why he believes in Jesus. It was a bit of a punt as we hadn't seen him perform before but it turned out really well.
Right from the off he had the audience engaged and his combination of jokes and tricks kept everyone entertained. He did about three quarters of an hour followed by a break and a further twenty minutes afterwards when he simply explained, in an engaging and very clear way, why he was a Christian.
We were really pleased with him and - in common with most of the people we have had for something like this in church - he was a delight to deal with. I was half expecting objections along the lines of the dark arts in a sacred building but as Tom made clear right at the start of his act, he's not into Black Magic, much preferring Quality Street.
It was also pleasing that we had more than 90 people come along, lots from outside the church. We'd timed the booking to come quite soon after the Mission Rescue week - see earlier posts with the intention of inviting families and children from that week. We kept the tickets ridiculously cheap and planned to make a loss. It was worth it. Tom is working on a new show and we plan to book him again when that show is ready.
I'm a middle aged man, a Baptist Minister, and more to the point an evangelical Christian. I have a great family, the best wife, an interest in music (mainly the sort of things that a middle aged man should like) and media in general. I like my sport and hardly ever play any. Will watch Test matches very happily and have a love of football, Exeter City are my club of choice.