About Me

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Mullavilly, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
A child of the early 60's. Married with three children, two of which are at Uni. I have been the rector of Mullavilly Parish since 1993. I enjoy travel and animals, and I look after three dogs, four cats, and a snake.

Saturday, 26 November 2011


Cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.

there are times when decisions have to be made. Perhaps its the pressing of the final button on your computer when making a purchase or booking a holiday. The finger hovers and you think, maybe there's still a better deal, have I accidentally bought 10 of these, is it the right date?
Or which way will I drive into town today – Mahon Road or Tandragee Road – and you need to decide before you get to the junction.
Life needs decisions and commitments. We can't always get through by hedging our bets, maybe, what if, lets wait and see, it can wait. We must have the courage to push the button.

Today's collect – a summary or collecting up of our prayers – for Advent is a prayer of decision on our part. It is a prayer asking for change but that, of course, implies a willingness, a desire to change:
Almighty God, Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

This is a prayer for the present – the clue lies in one little word – NOW!
This is a prayer about what has already happened. Note the Old Testament reading – “O that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Sadly,I think many people are still praying that prayer – not just the Jewish people who have decided theologically that the Messiah has not yet arrived, but Christian people and agnostics who behave and pray as if the Messiah had never arrived.
We hear the pleas – if only God would intervene, if only God would do something, if only God would show himself, if only God were one of us, he might understand better. Of course, you've guessed what I'm about to say! He has done all these things – your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility.
This means we are no longer waiting for this to happen, no longer waiting to hear the starting pistol. We are not sitting in the darkness waiting for the light to come – the light has come into the world and we must put on the armour of light and cast away the darkness. Its a powerful picture and a life-changing decisive prayer! The works of darkness are all those things you might associate with godlessness – too numerous to mention but the obvious ones are hatred, malice, pride, deceit, envy, selfishness, unholiness, all of which work out their own symptoms in each of us personally. The armour of light, on the other hand, shines brightly. We choose to become knights in shining armour! It is holiness and love; it is faith and commitment. Its not a weak crutch – it denotes strength and courage. And its NOW. It has an impact NOW in this life.

Its a decision to be taken NOW so that we are not taken unawares later. This is the teaching in Mark, that we be always alert and awake to welcome the King in his glorious majesty and rise with him in glory. This future event impacts on our lives now. We are not a product of our past – that is fatalistic negative psychology. We are the product of what we shall become. That realisation is perhaps part of the grace given to us – it the hope, the purpose – which enables us to cast away the works of darkness NOW in the time of this mortal life.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

It would seem that the rain is determined to follow us around. Although warm and dry yesterday, it is once again wet. We are now in Bloomington Indiana at the home of the Thomas family. We drove down yesterday from Chicago and the trip was really the dawning of Spring in a day. Chicago is still in winter mode but as we left the city, we began to see some green on the trees, then a little blossom on the black cherries. As we travelled, the green became greener and  the trees burst into life. We stopped twice on the journey - once for a quick lunch at Wendy's which was uneventful, but prior to that we stopped at a rest area. The story of the rest area cannot be told within the confines of a blog but it involves President Obama, lots of African-American laughter, and the greatest paper chase of all time!
Tiffany ceiling in Macy's
Thursday and Friday in Chicago were good days. On Thursday, the temperature plummetted so we wrapped up and took an open-top bus tour with our guide, Claudette. By lunchtime we were frozen solid and deboarded at Navy Pier. Most of this was indoors so we had the chance to thaw out and walk to the end of the pier where there were some beautiful views of the city.Neither Heather nor I had any interest in lunch as the deep crust pizza from the night before was stilll clinging gelatinously to the walls of the stomach. We returned by the Tour Bus (staying inside) to State Street and explored a few of the shops. The most impressive was Marchall and Field (now Macy's) The architecture and design of this store was a amazing. At least 13 stories high with a variety of spaces open from roof to floor, including a walnut restaurant and glass-tiled Tiffany ceiling. Thursday evenings are free at the Art Institute so we called in there for some wonderful culture. By 7:30pm , we were finally ready to eat and enjoyed the faithful reliability of the largest McDonalds restaurant in the world.
a geocahe hiding in a tree in Lincoln Park
Friday was a beautiful sunny day. We spent most of the day in Lincoln Park, walking, geocaching and visiting the zoo (admission free). Here, we saw the usual famliar exhibits but a few that were totally new, including the beautiful sand cat, the strange Sichuan Takin (giant goat) and the white-lipped dear. The beaver were active and it was fascinating to watch them swimming.
the Sichuan Takin (google it)
We finished the day with another visit to Millenium Park (in the sun this time) and then returned to our hotel, enjoying a beautiful meal in a Turkish restaurant.

So now we're on the road. Our car was so easy to collect and, with automatic gears and cruise control, a very comfortable vehicle. This morning, we're off to church and then doing a geocaching tour of Bloomington. Tomorrow we head for the horse country of Lexington.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

I'm afraid our weather experience in Chicago pales into insignificance with the tornadoes that have ripped across the South-East - almost 200 killed. The pictures on television are horrendous.
The flight from Dublin to Philadelphia was long and uneventful with rubbish movies. However, Philly airport was a beautiful building, which was just as well, as we had a bit of a delay in clearance due to thunder storms and wind in Chicago. The 2-hour flight certainly had its moments. There was constant light turbulence and an event I had never seen before when the stewardess shouted out "Is there a doctor on-board?" a young girl a few rows in front of us had a seizure. thankfully, there were about 5 doctors and a plethora of nurses willing to help. The descent was very turbulent but the highlight was when the stewardess screamed from the back of the plane and began a sprint to the front. a little old lady had decided to leave her seat in an emergency totter to the loo. The crew managed to rugby tackle her, get her sandwiched securely between themselves and shoved her into the bathroom. A few minutes later, they used the same procedure to get her back into her seat before hastily strapping themselves into their seats on the point of landing.
We exited Chicago airport in about 5 minutes and into a taxi. The driver was one of the most honest, pleasant and helpful taxi drivers I have ever encountered. Our hotel is beautiful - great breakfast and cookies in the afternoon. Our room was "upgraded" to one with a computer/TV which isn't a lot of use as I've got my lap top with me!

a wet Wrigley Field

Yesterday morning, in the rain, we took our travel passes and headed to Water Tower mall - a 7 storey upmarket mall downtown. The "El" is a very efficient transport system and its great to see the amazing buildings. Chicago has an architecture all of its own. We then wandered round Millennium Park for an hour before heading to Wrigley Field. The El was solidly packed with Cubs fans who were in for a disappointment. after an hour and a hot-dog later, it was announced that the game was posptoned until June 27th. :(  Much as everyone was disappointed, their was still a good atmosphere as people gathered up their coats and went home. 

As for us, we went back downtown and shopped - Filene's Basement, American Eagle, Aeropostal. It was late when we went to find something to eat and we finished up in Chicago's top Pizza restaurant - giordianas. As expected, the standard of the service was outstanding and us Brits could learn  a lot. However, the food didn't really match up. the starer was delicious - mushrooms, zucchini and mozarella - all deep-fried in breadcrumbs. It was tasty but why deep fry good food? The pizza was a traditional Chicago stuffed. We ordered one small between the two of us and only ate half" basically, it was a loaf of bread (not cooked through) with bacon on the base, a large slab of tasteless cheese, a slither of tomato sauce and herbs scattered with tinned pineapple chunks. One slice would have been tasty but two was a killer. Most customers left with a doggie bag, as did we - leaving it where we hoped someone homeless might find it!
deep stuffed pizza - small portion
deep-fried everything
Today, the temperature will not rise above 50F but it should be quite dry. the plan is to head into town and take a trolley-bus tour, hopping on and off as the day proceeds. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Brian and Heather's Big Adventure

The proposed route from Chicago through Kentucky and St Louis

There are now only two sleeps left until Heather and myself head to USA to explore Chicago, Indiana, Kentucky and a bit of Missourri. We might even be able to add Tennessee to the list. The plan is to stay 4 days in Chicago, taking in a baseball game at Wrigley Field. We will then hire a car and drive to Bloomington, Indiana where we will meet our friends James and Amy (we have actually never met them before!). After that, its a free-running, unplanned road trip which might include Kentucky Horse Park, the homestead of Daniel Boone, the KFC museum (finger lickin good), a quaker village, and most likely a shopping outlet. This trip will finish in St Louis and from there we will drive Route 66 back to Chicago. The bags are in the process of being packed, the satnav has been uploaded, and there are just a few parish duties left to complete. Do check in here to see how much, or how little, we actually achieve.

Friday, 5 November 2010

From Earth to Heaven 3rd Sunday before Advent. Luke 20:27-39

People can be very limited in their understanding! Its nothing to do with intelligence but rather in what information we have been given, or (more sinister) in what we want others to believe. We see it in politics when prejudices and myths are promulgated to ridicule te opposition or promote an attitude. For example - most benefit claims are fraudulent or the French are unreliable.
It was ever thus and therefore there's a social and historic background to this morning's gospel reading. The history of the Sadducees is a bit vague and may itself be coloured by the prejudices of those who passed on the information but it seems that they were a small group of Jews who focussed on a literal and basic interpretation of Scripture without any allowances. Also, for our purposes, they did not believe in immortality or resurrection. These two attitudes explain why they challenged Jesus in the way they did. It might have been a deliberate attempt to provoke ridicule or it might have been a genuine concern, rooted in their very literal approach to the teaching of the past. They simply couldn't handle anything that was new.
As they saw it, heaven, if it existed at all, was simply a continuation of this life and that the rules of this life would continue to apply.
The Sadducees may be gone, but the attitude still remains among us! Not in any malicious sense, but simply because we, as humans, have such great difficulty trying to understand what heaven will be like. Even the descriptions in Revelation are limited to things which we can understand – a city of gold, a river, a tree, a throne room, a large gathering. You might have in your mind heaven as a place in the country, or a cloud, or a place where you will have a mansion in which will live all your past generations – the great reunion. People get anxious about who or what will be there – the dog or cat? What about Roman Catholics, what about criminals, what about Sadducees. And it gets so confusing.
And it will continue thus for our little minds cannot, in this life, comprehend heaven.
At its very simplest and broadest, the words of a chorus come to mind:
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with glory and grace
I’m gonna see my Saviour's face
For heaven is a wonderful place
I wanna go there.

To the Sadducees, Jesus makes two points.
First, he says, remove your limitations. Set aside the regulation on marriage because it is a gift for this age – there is something greater. This doesn't do away with the hope of reunion but rather tells us that there is something even greater. My soul will meet with the souls of grandparents and more but the relationship will be even better, even deeper because we are children of the resurrection, God's children.
Second, Jesus tells the Sadducees, this is not actually a new teaching, the great fathers of our faith, Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive under God. He is the god of the living, for to him all are alive.

This is a big encouragement to us this morning. And a big challenge. We are encouraged by the hope of resurrection but also challenged in our understanding of heaven. We don't always want to deal with such issues and this is something so great that writers, artists theologians cannot help us but maybe only increase our limitations of thought.
We can only catch a glimpse, through Scripture, through worship, through seeking the presence of God here with us now – a little bit of heaven breaking into earth. Setting aside our prejudices and misunderstandings and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us enough of what we need to know so that, despite the rubbish that we hear around us,we can truly rejoice and find comfort today in what is yet to come.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Liverpool Cathedral at Halloween

Every so often, the opportunity comes along to try out something new. The tag line for the Halloween event in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral was "Night of the  Living Dead". The comments on the Facebook event suggested that it wasn't suitable for children and that we would be asked to stare face in the face in this Gothic space.
The event had already attracted some local radio publicity and the evangelical wing were already very suspicious that the cathedral was engaging in something pagan and nasty.
we arrived a half hour early and were quickly ushered to our seats. The cathedral interior was lit with green lasers, strange white lights, candles and lots of white ice. The sounds were suitably atmospheric. to my amusement, the cathedral staff, in their capes and gowns, looked as if there were part of the set!
The service started with the funeral march and a coffin was carried up the aisle and set in front of the communion table. Actors screamed out words of fear and terror. then Richard, the (genuine) priest, dressed in bright white alb, stepped out of the coffin. he introduced us to what was about to happen - a celebration of Holy Communion with the theme of overcoming our fears. There was a powerful and moving dramatic presentation of Peter stepping out of the boat towards Jesus - "walking over the waves, walking over his fears" , and then being distracted by those fears and sinking, with only Jesus able to save.
Richard then elaborated with a sermon appealing for people to abandon their zombie half-life for fullness of life in Jesus. this was succinct and well-delivered to a congregation sitting in silence as we thought about fear and weakness and the new life that Christ could offer.
The communion part of the worship was simple and straightforward. A beautiful highlight was the way a spotlight was used on some of the stone carvings of the last supper and crucifixion. We were invited to respond in any of three ways. we could take communion, we could initial the coffin as a symbol of putting to death our old self and we could sit for awhile in an area occupied by a large cross. This was one of those special moments as the congregation wandered from one area of the large cathedral to another, spending time in their response.
The whole was brought to a close by a powerful live solo rendition of Matt Redman's "You never let go"
This wasn't the usual celebration of light that Christians usually opt for at Halloween but it embraced the darkness and the fear and leads us through the valley of the shadow to the cross and to peace. it was a superb use of the space of the cathedral, of contemporary technology, of drama, of Scripture. it was a simple point well-made and it allowed all those present to to walk on their fears and reach out to Jesus. It was a privilege and a blessing to be there. 

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sermon notes on Transfiguration Sunday (Feb 14th) 2010

I’m not sure whether to tell you the good news or the bad news first this morning. Actually, it’s the same piece of news; it just depends where you’re at.
Although the later congregation at the Family Service will be thinking about St Valentine’s Day, our allotted task in this act of worship is to focus on the Transfiguration – that event on the mountain top when Jesus visibly changed from being “just” Jesus to  someone, we assume, more obviously divine and glorious.
The good news (small initials intentional) is that Jesus is glorious. In the midst of our mundane ordinariness, we have the most glorious saviour. In the midst of tragedy and suffering and sorrow and humanity, our God is still awesome. In the midst of anxiety and worry born out of human concern, our Lord is the bringer of peace and comfort. Many regular worshippers tell me than their presence here on Sunday is what gives them the strength for week ahead. This is the mountaintop (or maybe a little hill) which is precious to them.  Others have a more frequent reminder in daily meditation and prayer and some less frequent.
This reflects the importance of regular and disciplined worship. You do not know when you will see something different. It could be when you least expect it, when you are feeling at your most human, your most cynical, your least believing. Peter and James were wrecked after climbing this mountain. They were possibly wondering why they had followed Jesus all the way there when they could have prayed just as effectively from the comfort of their beds. Yet it was on that mountain that they witnessed an event that would stay with them and be a pillar of their faith forever. In whatever situation they may find themselves, Jesus has the power to transform, to be the presence of the glory of God.

The bad news stems from the same event, the same realisation. Jesus is the Son of God, therefore the Son of God is Jesus! God became human and lived among us. He did not keep his distance from this awful world, he did not draw his followers out of this world, but he came to be with us in this world. We cannot hide away behind our worship in this place. We cannot separate ourselves from a suffering world. We are in it – in work, in family, in community – we live in a fallen world and God challenges us to be there, just as Jesus is there. Peter and James caught a glimpse, but they were not allowed to stay there. Jesus brought them down from the mountain, they faced the suffering that existed then, as now, and Jesus touched those broken lives.
I said this was bad news, it’s not really – it’s challenging news. It is bad news only to those who seek to use their faith as an excuse to hide away from the world.
We see in Jesus a glimpse of the Glory of God, we know that He is the Messiah, our Saviour, Emmanuel, God with us. This gives us hope in the midst of sorrow. It also turns us around to look at the world, to look at the suffering, the sin, the hopelessness. Indeed, not only to look, but to go back there and to carry with us the knowledge of the glory of God.