Monday, July 31, 2006

Running from safety

Cool (true) story from last night’s gospel meeting:

Recently a man reported his car as stolen.

Nothing wildly unusual about that and usually police would do little with it apart from register the details and other formalities.

Nevertheless, on this occasion, police mounted an acute and widespread search for the vehicle and its thief, alerting other stations, posting details, deploying officers to join the search from several different forces. Of course, the car thief did everything possible to avoid detection!

Why such unusual effort to find this stolen car and its robber? The car was not unusual – just an ordinary VW; the car contained nothing of any great value and it didn’t belong to anyone famous or unusually influential – just an ordinary man.

However, this ordinary man had left something in the car: a packet of biscuits. The biscuits were laced with poison, specially prepared by the man to kill some rats that had infested his house.

He was very concerned that the thief may eat the biscuits and die. The police shared his concern – and that was why such an unusual search was mounted. Unknown to the guilty party who was trying so hard to avoid detection, his pursuers were actually trying to save him.

Sound familiar?

(Thanks to ‘Killer’...)

Friday, July 28, 2006

That's just silly!

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

Tonight I’m doing something silly. But it’s worthwhile. My brother, who lives in Liverpool, graduated with a master’s degree in Social Work this week and my Mum mentioned that they were going out for a family celebratory meal tonight.

Of course, I’m not expected. I mean – they’re in Liverpool and I’m in Coventry. And tomorrow is our Annual Church Convocation (big busy meeting in Northampton all day). Liverpool and back in one evening is 3½ hours driving. It would be silly.

But I’m going to do it. As one of my closest friends put it, ‘It may be silly; but that doesn’t necessarily make it stupid’.

It’s all planned with my fellow-conspirator mother: I turn up outside the restaurant, phone my brother, congratulate him, ask him what he’s doing to celebrate. As he answers, I say ‘What a coincidence, I’m there too’, as I arrive at the table in the restaurant! Poetry!

It’s done me good to have an opportunity to demonstrate my love for my brother. Being a busy Christian leader means I rarely get a chance, at least in such a demonstrative way. And that’s fine – Jesus said plenty about how true commitment to Him would cut across natural ties.

But I’m relishing this opportunity just to say (in the actions that speak louder than words), ‘I’m really proud of you – and I love you’.

(As for tomorrow: I’ve made a mental note not to be tired and irritable and certainly not to let my wife pay for my northward jaunt! God’s grace is sufficient...)

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Friendship meal at White Stone tonight. So, in honour of the event, here's a poem by a very dear friend of mine called - Friendship.

Give me your friendship.
Not an over the newspaper
Back in a minute
what was that you said
nod of the headship.

Not a see you later
alligator, maybe tomorrow
hang on a mo
just wait a tickship.

Not a sure, but
just for a short while
polite as you like,
love you and leave you
shake of the handship.
Wish you were deadship.
Do in your headship.

I want straight as a die
don't like you but love you
right between the eyes
tell me no lies
you look a real stateship.

I want sharing a room
here when you need me
are you coming back soon
over the moon!
You're making us lateship!

Give me sworn to be
true. Devoted to you.
Truly, madly, deeply:
Over the topship.
In a tight spotship.
Tying the knotship.
Until we both dropship.
I love you a lotship.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New generation

We were praying last night. Two things stood out for me.

Firstly, encouragement: we have a church. Many of our disciples are in a mess of one kind or another, but most of them are travelling towards God in their journey, rather than away from Him.

(Someone pointed out to me recently that the direction is really the most important thing. You can be a core member of the church and a mature Christian and be moving away from God; you can be a newborn disciple without much of a clue about your faith and be moving towards Him.)

The second thing was sobering: we desperately need a new generation of leaders. Peers of the younger disciples, but truly embracing the kingdom and, well, leading.

Tonight I’m meeting a nineteen year old lad who I’ve got a lot of time for, a lot of respect for. He’s a Christian. He’s wondering what to do with his life.

Could he be one of these leaders? And how, oh how, oh how do I meet him and listen to him and be with him without bringing an agenda to it all? (Falling on my knees and sobbing ‘Oh pleeease join us, we neeed young leaders’ may be rather unseemly in public – and then there’s the more subtle dangers of manipulation or understated coercion.)

So maybe I’ll just chill out and enjoy his company.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bottled water - while stocks last

In London for a couple of days and struck again by the enormity of the place. It's like fifty cities in one. A million people in Westminster alone. Just about every ethnic group I can imagine. Vertiginous wealth and profound poverty within spitting distance of each other...

Yesterday, in the baking sun, Oxford Street was a mass of hot humanity scurrying from shrine to shrine in the devotions and oblations of the religion of the West, Materialism (which could be said to be the fastest growing religion in the world - neck and neck with its Middle Eastern chief rival, Islam).

But what satisfaction is there in this frantic faith? Beyond the golden arches, there are only dying rainforests and CocaCola is certainly not the real thing.

‘People, people everywhere and not a drop to drink’ (Adulterated Coleridge…)

‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (Unadulterated Jesus)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gender defender

One of the things about this life in community is that we’re freed up from some of the mundane everyday activities which necessarily loom large in most people’s lives.

Take shopping for instance. Yesterday evening, my wife and I went shopping. Which, for us, is unheard of and kinda, well, weird.

(For the uninformed, let me explain. Almost all of our weekly necessities are ordered and supplied by our community ‘FDC’ – Food Distribution Centre – which supplies not only food but household goods, toiletries and so on. Even clothes can be bought from the FDC though sometimes they will advise that something ought to be ‘bought out’ if they haven’t got it. So, the hassle of the weekly shop; dangers of endless consumer ‘choice’, dragging us out of simplicity; the likelihood of inequality – all are overturned by the genius of the FDC.)

But last night we needed a couple of clothing items that the FDC couldn’t supply, so after dinner we headed off to a local cluster of stores for some late night garment hunting.

Now, it may be a cliché that women love shopping and men hate it, but I have to say that my wife was curiously excited about the whole idea (‘wow, we’re going shopping together’ – I was appreciating the ‘together’ bit, but ambivalent about the ‘shopping’...) Anyway, my wife got herself a pair of bright summery trousers (in which, I’m bound to say, she looked lovely) and I failed to get anything. The sandals I’d seen in the shop a couple of days ago had gone and there were no others like them, and the pair of trousers I looked at were too thick and... oh, FDC where art thou?

The funny thing was (as I reflect on the difference between the sexes) on the way home there was a programme on Radio 4 in which a panel were debating gender roles. Apparently, breakthroughs in genetic science mean that it may well be possible fairly soon for women to have babies without men being part of the process at all! The ensuing debate turned on whether men serve any useful purpose (now that the provision of sperm appears to be unnecessary) particularly in the family, but, by implication, in any sphere at all.

One strident feminist appeared to take the line that the huwoman race would be better off without men altogether (after all, all they ever do is have wars, oppress the weak and beat women). She reluctantly conceded that some women may chose to have a man in their life (like a pet Chiwawa, it seems) though she quite obviously found such a preference baffling. Pressed on the point, she allowed men to continue to exist as long as they became more like women.

They had a Christian bloke on (unfortunately he was male so unlikely to get anywhere with our feminist friend) who tried to point out that fathers bring certain essential things to their children (sons and daughters) beyond their mere existence and that there were reasons why God had designed the human race male and female and families to include a father and mother. But his piercing common sense and insight were largely ignored.

So what d’ya think? Any point to men? Or are we – or should I say you, female readers – better off without them – er, us?.. oh, you get the point!

Now, I need to ring the FDC about a pair of trousers...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


At last night’s Agape meal, we were invited to spend half an hour ‘together in solitude’ listening to what we sensed God was saying to us as a household. We shared our inklings over our meal and what emerged was a rich cord of truths which bound us together.

God is purifying us, making us foundational, cutting us with the exquisite sharpness of Zion’s jewels, calling us to call a wild variety of people to quality and to see beauty in others even when their flesh obscures it; calling us not to administer death but to know Him, to rise on eagle’s wings and be free.

It’s a privilege to be part of White Stone.

I found not one in all that company whom I did not love and by whom I was not confident that I was loved. I was filled with a joy so great that it surpassed all the delights of this world. For I felt as though my spirit was transfused into all of them and that the affection of all had passed over into me, so that I said with the prophet: ‘Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity'.

- Aelred of Rievaulx, eleventh-century Cistercian

And now to live the life...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Land meets sea

Look: we’re going here tomorrow. Ah, the coast, the sea, the hills, the cliffs, the sun, the breeze, the cry of gulls, salt on the air, green, white, grey, brown, golden.

Can’t wait.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Face the music and dance

Okay, confession time. I’ve been in a bit of a state over the last few days and it seemed to be getting worse. By the end of Agape last night, I was ready to quit my job and resign as household leader.

I was rescued somewhat from this grim state of mind by a timely word from my ‘Supernatural’ brother, a passing comment from a sister that sometimes the best thing to do is ‘go to bed’ (I did, shortly afterwards) and a short conversation with the same brother about one of my favourite stories, which he’s reading at present (A Wizard of Earthsea: it’s a corker – like a lot of wonderful, wonderful tales it’s ostensibly for children...)

Why am I like this? And should I be going public? (What will it do to morale? Shouldn’t a leader always be on tippity-top?)

Well, on the basis that honesty is a good thing, I’m being honest. And as for the reasons for my low ebb? Well, a combination of things, each one not worthy of too much angst, but put together... uncertainty as to my role in the congregation and church (prophet? pastor? liability?), a tricky relationship that’s trickily enough been a bit tricky recently, a fairly long fast with no discernable result apart from hunger and feeling depressed, no time for things that are important at home, too much time for things that seem relatively unimportant at work, words that were said to me that have made me lose my confidence, and sins of the heart and of the mind.

Any advice, dear reader? Pull myself together? Beat myself until morale improves? Get out in the wild outdoors? (As luck would have it, we are going to the Welsh coast on Saturday for a household jaunt, which I think will be a tonic).

Or I could just dance – that usually does the trick: makes others laugh too...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Angels and dragon fruits

Last night the ‘house family’ – those who live at White Stone – had the evening in, to spend deliberate time together and ‘be’ – and to bless each other in a purposeful way.

After a long drawn-out meal (table bedecked with candles, flowers and all) and a celebratory fifteenth birthday sing-song for one young sister who is staying with us this week, we got together in our lounge and exchanged presents: one for each person. (Every one had drawn names of others in the house family out of a hat a few days before.) The rules: no-one must spend more than £2 and the gift should be accompanied with a prayerful encouragement, word or wisdom for the person (which may or may not be connected in some way with the present itself).

A marvellously eccentric, thoughtful and imaginative collection of gifts were unwrapped over the next hour – chocolate-covered bananas, a flowers photo-cube, a box of beautiful pebbles, a key-ring wrapped in a parchment message, dragon fruits (what fruits? I’d never heard of these fascinating red, exotic-looking things) and so on…

‘It’s just like Christmas,’ piped one excited sister, gleefully – a somewhat politically incorrect remark since, as a church, we take a pretty dim view of that particular festive frenzy of materialism (with its dubious claims to have something to do with Jesus). But we knew what she meant and she was right. Somehow, yesterday evening managed to capture everything that a celebration of family should: intimacy, generosity, humour, good grace, peace, tenderness, eccentricity and love.

Later this week, the doors will fly open and our wild and wonderful crew will return to fill the house with noise and life. We’ll be glad to see them all. But it’s because of times like last night that we have the strength and the inner substance to make White Stone a worthwhile place for them to come at all…

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post Script blues

I spent today editing Together. (For anyone who doesn't know Together is our national church news bulletin, a six page jobby...) I don't usually do it, but the normal editor was away today. It's usually fun(ish) doing Together: a bit creative, a bit technical, and you get to hear all the news from around the church - first!

But today, come 5 o'clock, I find myself suffering from numb bum and brain inertia. Why? - ask the computer. Go on, ask the pesky thing! Yes, it's all the blithering machine's fault. When I came towards the end of the editing process and wanted to export a page of the bulletin to a PDF file, the computer decided it didn't want to let me do that. So it spat up a helpful window onto my screen with some computernese gibberish about the PostScript output having failed (the post what? Does that have anything to do with the Royal Mail?) Anyway, after having got the ICT chap in (he had no idea), I then got my boss (who has a brain a bit like a computer, so I thought he might be able to help...)

So, what was the problem, I hear you ask? Are you ready?


I'd put commas in the filename of the document.

And the computer, poor, sensitive thing didn't like them. So it refused to do anything with the document.

Now, I have to admit, I'm not keen on the overuse of commas myself (I was an English teacher for seven years, so I know what 'comma-itus' is - that strange disease in writing which kills all other punctuation marks replacing them with an outbreak of commas so virulant that the piece of writing ends up being one extraordinarily long sentence...)

But, to refuse to do anything, just because of some - perfectly reasonable, I thought - comma usage in the filename? That's just the sulks, pure and simple.

Anyway, incredulous with disbelief, I changed the filename, used some full stop instead and - as if by magic - little diddums poor old abused computer worked a treat.

I have a friend - an expert in computers as it happens - who tells me that computers are female. I'll leave you with that thought.

I'm off to eat some coffee...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Celtic knot work and cotton wool beards

Last night at White Stone, we broke all records for packing people into our main lounge - there were about sixty people there (well, my wife counted fifty-five at one point, but a few people arrived after that). What's more, we did it on the hottest day of the year so far! Windows open, fans on...

The reason for the crowd was that last night we held a 'Community Vision' evening. We put on such events two or three times a year with the aim of exploring and promoting Christian community as an excellent way of following Jesus in the 21st century. Last night, we took a lightening tour through the history of Christian communities (well, I say 'lightening' - the whole thing took about an hour and a quarter: there was a lot to cover!) Then, after a break, we watched a video extract about New Creation Christian Community (i.e. our own!), a brother told his fairly remarkable story of how God called him to belong to our community, and we had some Q & A with a specially chosen ‘panel’.

Highlights for me: seeing two dear brothers ludicrously dressed up in dressing gowns and wigs (plus cotton wool beards) acting out an ancient and quirky story of two Desert Fathers who decide to have a quarrel and find they can’t; watching a slideshow about the Bruderhof (including two Bruderhof women playing hide and seek in their large kitchen pots!); everyone singing a song in harmony; and perhaps most memorably of all, everyone colouring in a small piece of Celtic ‘knot work’ design which was then displayed in full splendour on our dining room wall in a display of the words ‘Community, Unity, Eternity’.

For me, that last one really spoke louder than words about what community is truly about: everyone contributing their small but unique part to something that – when it’s all put together – is far more striking and beautiful than isolated individuals could ever achieve.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Flower power

Last night, we got into yet another discussion about whether it's okay for men to like flowers. Seems to be a perennial issue in our household. It all started several months ago when I made a passing comment that I thought it was unfair that flowers are given to women and not to men. Why shouldn’t men appreciate exquisite beauty that God has made? (In fact, it’s just occurred to me that since men are generally built to appreciate women’s beauty, perhaps it is more suitable for them to like flowers?!)

Anyway, it got me into trouble, particularly with one young White Stone disciple: she insists that it is totally unthinkable for men to like flowers… in fact she gets almost hysterical about the subject. (‘Plants, yes, but flowers?!..’)

What do you think then? Cast your vote! Is it acceptable for men to like flowers – even enough to want to be given them?