Friday, 30 September 2011

Somerset Sunrise

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.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Depression and stress

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.       

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Nature Photo Competition

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. 

Help - which DVD is it?

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?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Fiction - Big Things

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!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Magic moments in church

Laughing With Tom

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.   

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Its his church, he can handle it

It sometimes feels like two of my great loves are aging fast and in danger of extinction.  Look around any county cricket ground and the age profile will have you fearing for the future of the four day county championship.  Visit a lot of churches and its even more worrying.  And in the church we don't the option of selling hospitality packages in marquees. 

The follow up to the Mission Rescue Holiday Club has been very encouraging: record numbers of Primary School kids at our Friday club, more than ever in Lighthouse Club on Sunday Morning and plenty of interest in the magician / comedian we have booked for Saturday evening. 

Like plenty of churches we have a lack of people of my generation and the generation below it.  Which means that, not far shy of fifty, I am one of the younger people in my church.  A bizarre thought.  So I confess to some excitement that a couple of younger couples with families have just announced that they want to join us.  It feels like we are beginning to take small steps of growth. 

But then a loved and valued family announced that after seven years with us they are going to go somewhere else.  They handled it really well but its still a blow.  Two steps forward, one back? 

We part as friends and I'll still see lots of him, for a start he works in a sandwich shop down the road.  Last Sunday they came for the last time and it gave us the chance to thank them publicly and pray for their blessing as they begin the next stage of their journey.  It gives everyone the chance to hear why they are leaving, that we part as family who still love each other, and, of course, people get to say goodbye.  Something I learned from a wiser pastor a few years ago, it was good way to round things off.

My fear is the couples just joining will be discouraged by one of their own leaving.  You need a few people of that age if others of that age are to stick.  In the lead up to the service I did begin to wonder about the wisdom of what I was doing, even though I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do.

I need not have worried.  We are eating with one of the couples after the service and they compare us favourably with their previous larger, far groovier church, saying that they didn't think the leaving of a family would have been handled like that where they were from. 

I'm humbled.  Trying to do the right thing doesn't always work out but this was a good reminder to try to be as faithful and as true as you can and leave the rest in safe hands. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Playing around with post processing

I bought Photoshop Elements 9 a while back and, if used well, it seems to give a real punch to some pictures.  Usually the effect that I am after is far more subtle than this but I nevertheless enjoyed playing with these two.  I don't really know what I am doing but fiddle around and see what happens.  I like these but appreciate they won't be to everybody's liking.  

Splashing Around - Pop Art


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Tree of Life - some thoughts

Contains spoilers...

We had a great response last night for Reel Issues, when the church hires the local cinema and puts on a film with discussion afterwards.  Terrence Mallick's The Tree of Life is a film to divide people.   Booed and jeered at in the Cannes Film Festival this year, it also won the Palme D'or - go figure.  Some critics give it 5 stars, some 2.  One comment we had last night was that 2 seemed generous.  Empire Magazine's verdict is: "There is simply nothing like it out there: profound, idiosyncratic, complex, sincere and magical; a confirmation that cinema can aspire to art."

And it truly is beautiful to watch.  I'm so glad that I saw it on the big screen, I'm sure that on DVD it will inevitably lose some of it's punch.  It is beautifully and expansive photographically and real treat, as Mallick explores the every day glory of the world.  One of the character's laments about life is that he "dishonoured it all and didn't see the glory". 

It looks lovely, but what does it mean?  Peter Bradshaw, reviewing the film in The Guardian, comments, "The Tree of Life may well come to be seen as this decade's great Christian artwork."  It opens with a quote from the book of Job.  In Job 38: 4,7 God asks Job "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth ... when the morning stars sang together?"   The context is that Job has lost pretty much everything and is asking God why.  God basically pulls rank and reminds Job that he doesn't know nearly as much as he thinks - who died and put him in charge?  God alone knows the answers to some things.  The question of suffering in the film is mainly in connection to the death of a boy and the effect that it has on the surviving family.  "Lord, where were you?"

So Mallick looks at the question of suffering and meaning - not to mention where we come from and where we will end up.  You can't say that he is unambitious.  His 17 minute sequence showing the creation of the world is quite something to see on the big screen.  Where we go after our life on this planet seemed more confused to me but I would be the first to admit that I didn't understand everything in this film.

I've not seen it mentioned elsewhere in the few critics I have read but it should be noted that The Tree of Life is first encountered in the Bible.  Mainly at the beginning and end of the Bible (Genesis and Revelation) with some less important references with regard to the film (I think) in Proverbs. 

In Genesis the tree of life stood in the centre of the Garden of Eden (2.9), but once human beings started doing their own thing and ate from the neighbouring tree (of good and evil) they needed to be kept away from the tree of life.  So in 3.22-24, God expels Adam and Eve from the garden and places a guard on the tree of life, it's now off limits.  

At the end of the Bible it's clear that believers in Jesus have access to the tree of life as part of their reward.  (Rev. 2.7, 22.2, 22.14).  In other words, the tree of life symbolises eternal life with God.  We lost it in the garden, we can get it back in the end, so long as we are on the right side. 

But how do we know we are on the right side - what do we have to do.  A strong theme of the film was of two different ways to live.  The way of grace and the way of nature.  The film explains grace as to carry on loving, giving, helping - whatever and to whoever.   A memorable line is that "The only way to be happy is to love.  Unless you love, your life will flash by".  We see the Mother very close to her children, giving a drink of water to a man in handcuffs - an allusion to Jesus' words - and forgiving and loving pretty much throughout the film.  Nature is the way of Dad, seemingly distant from the kids and instructing them to get ahead by their own means, even at the expense of others.  It brings them into conflict with each other. 

The film contrasts grace and nature and makes a strong case for grace.  It's the word the Bible uses for the kind of love and kindness that we get even if we don't deserve it.  It's what the Bible says we get from God if we accept that Jesus was punished instead of us for the wrong, dumb, and dirty things we have done.  And we all need that - even the mother in the film messes up sometimes.

I'm sure there is much more that could be said, it was certainly interesting to get up and try to lead the discussion afterwards - the first time I have had to do so without having seen the film first.  If you haven't seen it on the big screen I would say it is well worth it.  Others, of course, might disagree! 


Monday, 5 September 2011

Playlist for 'The Tree of Life'

Tonight we kick off a new series of Reel Issues (a monthly film and discussion at the local cinema) with 'The Tree of Life', which I am really excited about. The critics are deeply divided on the film, so it should be very interesting. I am leading the discussion not having seen the film before so slightly nervous. Makes for fun in putting together a playlist but here goes anyway:

Boo Hewerdine - Graceland (Live)
Jellyfish - Family Tree (Demo)
Terence Trent D'Arby - I'll Never turn My Back On You
Peter Gabriel - Shaking The Tree
U2 - Grace
Gary Clail - Human Nature

I'll report back on the film tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Mission Rescue - Sunday Service

Last week we followed up the Mission Rescue Holiday Club with our Mission Rescue Sunday Service.  It has been our practice for the last six years to give the following Sunday service completely over to Holiday Club.  Feel this is very important, the rest of the church get to see what we have been up to and many of the kids come back and bring their parents to see what they have been doing.  

So on Sunday morning we only sang songs that we had been singing at Holiday Club - complete with actions and jumping around - silly sketches, games (taking jelly babies out of cold porridge with your teeth), puppets etc.  My talk was just ten minutes trying to make the link between Moses as a rescuer and Jesus.  One of our teenagers made an amazing cake for everyone to share afterwards and we had a great time.  This is often our biggest service of the year, attracting even more than our most popular Christmas service, though this year numbers were a bit lower. 

Today - one week on - we carry on with the first 30 minutes of the 75 minute service given over to very child friendly activities.  We sang one of the Mission Rescue songs, read to them from the wonderful Jesus Story Book Bible and played a game with coloured balls and hula-hoops.  Not sure the game worked very well (that was down to me) but over the years have come to the realisation that we need to be lively and attractive to kids and families through the year, not just once every 52 weeks.  

As a footnote, my biggest fear was that such a move would alienate and upset the more elderly in the congregation, so I took it slowly at first.  Realised a couple of years ago when no-one complained about the custard pies that they didn't mind at all.  In fact, they love it.  They love to see children in the church and a bit of life about the place. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Mission Rescue

As I try to start back blogging after the best part of a month away from it, time to catch up on what I should of blogged about.
First up is one of my favourite weeks of the year, kid's Holiday Club.
This is the club the church runs for 5-11 year olds on five mornings and then cap off with a related service on the Sunday. This year we ran through the last week in August (which was a cool way to celebrate a birthday) and the theme was spies - Mission Rescue being the title.
Through the songs, messy games (taking jelly babies out of bowls of custard, rice pudding, cold baked beans, mushy peas and cold porridge - without using hands) craft, drama, dvd and general mayhem we tried to communicate something of the story of Moses and the way that God helped him rescue the people of Israel out of Egypt.
It was a great week! We had between 62 and 67 kids each day which is a little down on previous years but actually makes for a better week in many ways; you get to interact with them rather than spend all your time trying to get them to listen / calm down / stop hitting.
Part of what I love about the week is working together with a large team - 26 volunteers aged between 13 and 78 (I think - it would be rude to ask). So much of my work is pretty solitary and so this is something I particularly appreciate. I also like the fact that I am not leading the team. Someone much more capable does that! My role this year was to co-host the session when we were all together and to lead the 9 year olds. They were a terrific group of girls - we had one boy but for some reason he didn't come back on the Tuesday.
The week was really good. If I had one criticism of it (or of myself) it was that having learned so much about Moses as a rescuer from Monday to Thursday, it was a big leap for them to learn about Jesus as an even better rescuer on the final morning. With hindsight I would have sowed in little bits and pieces throughout the week.
Tomorrow I want to blog about the Mission Rescue Sunday service that we followed up the week with.

Friday, 2 September 2011

A day in the life

Sometimes I get asked what I do on a typical day. Truth is there is no such thing but this is what this minister did today.

Get up, exercise bike, breakfast, shower, read a chapter of a good book.
In the office for 8.15, answer emails, finalise ceremony for lunchtime burial of ashes. Final touches to Sunday Morning's service.
Meet with church secretary, home, change, burial of ashes.
Have lunch with widow and family.
Phone calls including quite a long one with another deacon.
Visit to a woman going into hospital (she is out), a woman who has just come out of hospital (I wake her up), and a family that has just moved to the town and seem keen to join us.
Twenty minutes in the garden with a cup of tea at 4.15 - the first break of the day.
Then more phone calls, some admin and a good couple of hours on a sermon. Eat tea and watch the first half of the England game. Put together the first draft of the PPT for Sunday morning. Complete a twelve hour day when the sermon for the week is about life being too busy. Hmmm.
Glasses of wine, episodes of House.
Blog. Bed.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


And so it came to pass that today, the first of September, saw the blogger take a day off and spend the morning in hot sunshine at the beach with his family. In ten short minutes he passed three separate advertisements for Christmas meals in different pubs.

The kids go back to school tomorrow.