Paradoxes ~ Endings and Beginnings: Hopes and Fears. Thoughts at the Turn of the Year.

To all my many friends, a hope-filled new year to you and your kin.

After eventually moving into our new home just before Christmas and enjoying a wonderful time of gathering the family to be together to share in the festivities, spending some quality, unrushed time together, relaxing and exploring our new but not unfamiliar surroundings.

I do however find Christmas such a paradoxical time. The Advent story echoes deep in the consciousness with its themes of light and darkness, despair and hope, birth and death, good and evil.

For us, the joy of celebrating Christmas with our sixth grandchild. The love, security, comfort and care with which she is wrapped contrasted with the millions of mothers around the world for whom there are no such things other than love to offer their children. For the babies for whom there is no breast to succour their empty stomachs and pain-filled cries. For us, the day playing in the snow and making a snowman brought lots of fun and laughter. The walk up the hill to deeper snow a pathway laden with pleasure, the only threats to us coming from an unsuspected snowball. A stark contrast to the millions of refugees for whom a journey escaping their homelands where war, genocide, famine and suffering holds so many dangers and fears. Where bullets and bombs threaten their very existence. Where their fears and hopes are often met with indifference and hatred. Where the longing for hope and help is met with hostility. Where their cry for help provides us with opportunities but are viewed instead as troubles we could do without, or feel no responsibility for. Where our indifference, busyness or accepted attitudes and policies would sooner reject and ignore the cry of the world’s poor and suffering.

As I look back on 2017 it was a paradoxical year and contemplating this new year, 2018, I do so with a mixture of some hopes and several fears.

After another lovely day with the family, as our time together draws to its conclusion and they will soon return to their own homes, we toast in the new year a little before midnight and I find myself listening in reflective mood to Radio 4’s Something Understood as the clock approached midnight.  I am delighted to listen Rowan Williams exploring the theme of Storms and Stillnesses. What a gift Rowan is and he put so perfectly what my heart and head were feeling and thinking:

Can we in a year that is about to begin hope to discover that balance of that deep stillness and trust in the centre of things and a ready willingness to act and support and build the confidence of our human neighbours? Storms literal and metaphorical are not likely to stop anytime soon and we aren’t likely to find any magic formula to make this world safer. But it is a start to make it saner, refusing the feverous pace of reactive emotions and the lies that tell us we can be secure at each others expense, without ever noticing the other. Challenge the lies, build the connections, walk forward trustfully with eyes and ears open , listen for the heartbeat… Unless we remember how much of a lie it is that we can make ourselves completely safe, we shall train ourselves not to notice how the majority in our world continue to live.

He tells us that at the heart of our experience of storms is a religious revelation that there is no guarantee of safety but a promise that we shall be held through it all and not defeated.

According to Dr Williams, “When we show ourselves ready to stand alongside those who face the worst upheavals, trials and pains, we reflect just a little of the steady presence at the root of everything that never disappears, the pulse that continues to beat even when we can hardly discern it – the presence we call God.”

Thank you Rowan. And thank you Lord for giving us hope to embrace the challenges and opportunities of this new year.

I pray this same God-given hope will be yours; my family, companions, friends and readers of this blog or post.

I turn soon to sleep with the words of Day 31’s Meditation, from our Northumbria Commmunity’s Celtic Daily Prayer in my mind:

We have to be candles,
burning between
hope and despair,
faith and doubt,
life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place
where people must always find us.

And if our life means anything,
if what we are goes beyond the monastery walls and
does some good,
it is that somehow,
by being here,
at peace,
we help the world cope
with what it cannot understand.

William Brodrick



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Christmas Eve Reflection

I appreciate the rhythm of the monastic day and the seasons of the liturgical calendar. I’m indebted, not for the first time, to the writings of Tom Wright, who has provided me with a series of Advent Bible readings and commentary, journeying with the apostles Peter, Paul and John and linking his reflections to the Sunday readings in the Lectionary. They have provided me with an inspiring companion and comfort as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

I have also enjoyed the wonderful Bethlehem Rhapsody video that is to my mind pure joy:

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Having just returned from a Christingle service with some of our children and grandchildren I have grateful for the opportunity to have worshipped over the four Sundays of Advent in different church settings and sing with various congregations familiar yet still remarkably powerful Advent hymns, the words of which have enlightened, reminded and brought comfort and joy as I reflect on this last year:  O Come , O come Immanuel…O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here, disperse the gloomy clouds of night… and close the paths to misery….


They herald tidings of comfort and joy to a world that is troubled and turbulent.

No serious thinking person could surely doubt that we are living through some very turbulent times. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime that has been so disturbing or threatening. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot speak peace, peace, when there is no peace. I believe that we are witnessing the emergence of a new dark age, with attitudes and actions, policies and programmes that run counter to the values of God’s kingdom, the consequences of which are fearful. Whilst Western consumerism continues to distract or blind us to many of the realities and issues facing the world, the choices and directions which have been taken in recent years, will, to my mind, reap a harvest of destruction that will bequeath to our children and our children’s children a terrible legacy. The narratives of protectionism, nationalism, sectarianism and racism, allied to the ‘post-truth’, ( last year’s Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year) have catapulted exploitative, deceitful and opportunist leaders into power and should send a shudder of fear and concern to anyone seriously contemplating what the future may look like. The narratives of the biblical story, in an age of post-truth lies and spin, escapist myths and fantasy legends, stand out in stark contrast for their graphic and real portrayal of truth. God’s story that goes to the heart of human nature and the consequences of living contrary to his loving purposes, not only records the historical happenings surrounding that first Christmas but remind us of the present realities of violence and brutality, power and the suppression of anyone who dares to resist or oppose, the lack of compassion meted out upon the world’s poorest, the vulnerable; children, orphans, disabled, refugees and asylum seekers and the scapegoating of people leading to their demonisation, exclusion and victimisation.


These are dark days, when, for example we can endorse the sale of British arms as export successes and then try to suppress the truth that British cluster bombs, banned by an international treaty, have been used by Saudi Arabia to kill innocent victims, including women and children in the Yemen.

images-1  AFP_DD413

Dark days that have seen us turn a deaf ear to the cries of the child refugees and adopt a hardline attitude that has abandoned more than half of the 1900 children seeking refuge after the Calais jungle refugee camp was demolished.

It is a small measure but we look forward to helping the church where we will settle following our moving home last week, to participate in a Syrian refugee resettlement scheme. The town where we now live is taking 28 refugees from Syria in the new year. A small but important initiative which sadly has had to take into account the prospects of abuse and threats being made to refugees as they settle. A stark contrast to the remarkable welcoming and integration of over 4,000 refugees into Arnhem in the Netherlands, recognising the need to respond to the global refugee crisis. Lord have mercy upon us….


Dark days when we have added fuel to the poisonous politics of fear that will threaten to tear the heart out of Europe, divide its nations and give opportunities to extremist groups on the Left and Right, including neofascist parties who are able to capitalise on the decision here in Britain to leave the EU. I was with a Nigerian/ Scottish pastor recently who described Europe, not Africa, as a ‘Dark Continent’. Dark days when the President of the USA behaves as he does repeatedly threatening to undermine democracy, decency and efforts to resolve conflict by peaceful means.

Dark days that are seeing an alarming and increasing gap between the rich and the poor of the world. In the words of the late singer/ songwriter Leonard Cohen; Things are going to slide, slide in a directions. Won’t be nothing, Nothing you can measure anymore. The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul…… There’ be the breaking of the ancient western code. 


Turbulent days….. now and as in the days of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed a promise of hope; The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Never has there been the need to recapture the Good News of the Christian narrative that speaks of light amidst the darkness, hope to transform despair and peace to counter the violence of this emerging new age. Within that promise, revealed in Jesus, is the prospect and the call for a different way of living, where love reigns, where compassion motivates and determines attitudes and actions, where justice and mercy are extended to all, where gentleness, generosity, empathy and kindness govern our lives, neighbourhoods and nations. The reality of God’s love for the world and the coming of his Son to redeem, transform and heal enables us to hold a flickering but inextinguishable light in the ensuing darkness.


May the hope of Christ and his inextinguishable light illumine your paths throughout this Christmas and the coming year.

The peace of all peace be yours this night and throughoyt the coming year.


Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to its tune today. Peter Kuzmic, Croatian theologian

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Advent Horror and Hope

Advent Sunday: I woke and listened to Sunday Worship on Radio 4 from Cardiff, recognising the voices of friends Roy Jenkins and Susan Stevenson reflect on finding hope in the wilderness.

Remembering the words of John Muir, founder of the National Parks in the States that he would “rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains” we went for a lovely, quiet, reflective walk in the grounds of Conyngham Hall and by the River Nidd in Knaresborough.


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The winter in its stark beauty longs for spring and new life. The prophet Isaiah described the people of Israel walking in darkness who shall see a great light.


My heart and prayers reach out to all those who live in darkness. Like the 5,000 people who are locked up in one of the 11 UK detention centres; men, women and children, incarcerated in conditions that have repeatedly been condemned by the United Nations and other human rights groups. There is clear evidence that the present Government is creating a hostile environment, sweeping up, detaining and deporting hundreds of people with little regard for their basic human rights. Two thirds of those imprisoned have no criminal record and have been on average in the UK for over 10 years.

Brute exodusLUCYEDKINS

The barbaric attitudes, policies and actions sanctioned by the Government are a scar on conscience of Britain and described by Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development Secretary as a “dystopian stain on our democracy”. 5,321 EU nationals were forcibly removed in the first nine months of this year, a 13% increase and the highest since records began.

Marcin Gwozdzinski, a 28 year old Polish man, made a final plea for help. Begging with officials inside Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, he told them he could no longer cope. Distressed he asked for help from those who held him captive.

He was crying, begging for help from the guards, telling them to call an ambulance, that his mental health was an emergency,” said another detainee. His translator said, “They told him he would get no help and to stop calling for an ambulance….He broke down like a baby. Still they did nothing.” Within hours he had taken his own life. His death was one of several suicides in a month in our UK detention centres.

Tonight I went to an Advent carol service, ( and didn’t think about any mountains) led by young people who at one point in the service asked us focus on one of the lights in the church building and pray for someone. So I prayed for those whom I will probably never meet who we as a nation have forced to lanquish in detention centres, who are denied acccess to help and whose futures are bathed in fear and uncertainty.

For those who walk in today’s darkness, here and throughout the world, I pray that the light of Christ may dawn to dispel the misery, end the suffering and bring hope to all who despair.


O come. O come Emmanuel….. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night… and death’s dark shadows put to flight… and close the path to misery.



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For the beauty of the earth

I’m on the road again.

on the road again willie nelson

A preaching, teaching and conference speaking tour sees me for 10 days in the south of England and with it traffic congestion and hold-ups. Yesterday the M40 between Oxford and London suffered serious delays following a car fire on the southbound carriageway. Thanking God for satnav traffic reports I was able to divert my route and by doing so, altered the pattern of my day very positively. Instead of racing on down the motorway and joining the slow moving car park, the M25, I rerouted and as a consequence called in to see good friends and fellow Northumbria Community Companions Philip and Rosemary at Bridge House, Shillingford.


Following a brew and a delightful catch up, conversation and prayer around the farmhouse kitchen table I then drove through the beautiful towns, villages and countryside of Oxforshire, Berkshire and Surrey, arriving in Horley relaxed, interested and enthralled by the journey. It added 45 minutes to my drive but with no hold-ups and passing through spectacularly beautiful landscapes as summer gave way to autumn, the time spent in the car was very enjoyable.


As Gandhi said, There is more to life than increasing its speed, something I will take up and share this weekend at Ashburnham in Sussex where I am speaking. The relaxed nature of the journey allowed me the time and space to reflect, think through and pray about the many happenings and experiences that summer has presented.

Among the eclectic mix of songs on the playlist that accompanied my journey in southern England was John Rutter’s For the beauty of the earth and Louis Armstrong’s, What a beautiful world“. My spirit was lifted as I listened to the words and observed the beautiful surroundings I passed through on my journey around London, beyond yet parallel with the M25.


The only sadness came as I reflected on what I had been reading the night before, all of which reminded me of how we are scarring the beauty of the earth with our consumerist lifestyles and disregard for the consequences of the way we live and treat this sacred planet.


The remarkable photographs that were heralded on BBC Breakfast News on Tuesday, their beauty and fascination extolled by the presenters but who so singularly failed to see the tragedy in such images. The seahorse carying a cotton bud! Marine life is dying and the whole oceanic ecosystem is threatened. Plastic, so much a feature of contemporary life does not rot away. Every piece still exists on our planet’s surface, billions of tonnes of it ending up in the sea or on the ocean floor. Ocean currents gather to form ‘great nations’, masses of plastic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ocean roughly twice the size of France, is a mass of floating plastic waste, up to 10 metres deep, which has been collected by the currents.

There are beaches on Pacific islands that appear to be covered in multicoloured sands but under close observation, the blues, yellows and red grains are not sound at all but tiny fragments of plastic.


The plastic that gets dumped into the seas around the UK is carried to the Artcic within two years where it does enormous harm to the fragile polar environment. Plastic is frequently mistaken for food by fish and birds, causing damage to life throughout the seas.

As I pulled over the car and went for a short walk to take in the wonderful woodlands of leafy Surrey I recalled leading a group of family and friends on nightjar spotting walk on my cousins farm in Norfolk this summer as part of my special birthday weekend festival party. It was like leading a pilgrimage as we entered the dark wood and walked slowly to the Heath, stopping, ears cupped and eyes intently gazing out on the night sky. (On this ocassion we neither heard or saw any nightjars – perhaps the cool ssummer had triggred their early departure). But the walk in the woods at night felt special, sacred. It is an area designated as a site of ‘special scientific interest’ but that term doesn’t capture for me the beauty of the place and the awe and wonderment that accompanies it.




There is great power in words, in the vocabulary and language we use, including how we name and describe things. So for my bit, as a friend of heaven who should be at the forefront of being among the Friends of Earth, I think we should name those oceans that we have polluted as the ‘Great Polluted Artic Sea’, the ‘Plastic Killing Waters’ or the ‘Poisoned Plastic Drift’.

And for those areas that in contrast remind us of what the world could and should be, let’s not be too clinical and over technical in describing them as ‘areas of scientific interest’ but let’s put up signs describing them as; ‘You are now entering an area of outstanding beauty‘ with warning signs declaring, ‘keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared to be awed and wooed by the wonders before you


For the beauty of the earth…

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Aftermath of Election

I am intrigued, encouraged and challenged by the election results.
For the Prime Minister, it was a bad judgement call, exposing her weaknesses as a leader. She and her party got what they deserved and she should sack her manifesto and campaign advisors and the “dark master of political strategists” Lyndon Crosby whose attempts to portray and destroy Jeremy Corbyn’s character failed.
Corbyn has discovered that wearing a suit and tie makes him look more ‘prime ministerial’. Whatever people may think of his policies, he has had a remarkable campaign. The gathering of thousands at his rallies were in stark contrast to the orchestrated, ‘invitation only’ small meetings that Theresa May attended. Refusing to debate and being ruffled when scrutinised by journalist’s interviews exposed her fallibilities whereas Corbyn grew in confidence and was at ease with the public, interviewers and in debates.
Following the results, chaos now reigns but also the opportunity to change and find new ways of responding to the challenges facing Britain and the wider world.
There is undoubtedly a desire for change among many people.
The results are a wake-up call for politicians to listen to the public, particularly to those who have been adversely affected by seven years of austerity measures. Policies which have been unfair, some of them cruel and have disadvantaged the poorer members of society. The savage cuts to public services have been so damaging to the NHS, education, welfare and the environment.
I see in the results a call for a fairer, more compassionate, more collective society and a desire to realise that we are, to quote Scripture, “our brother’s keeper”.
I rejoice and give thanks for the demise of UKIP but remain concerned with the Conservative Party moving further to the right to accommodate UKIP sympathisers. Theresa May said several years ago that she was worried about the Tories being seen as the “nasty party“. If she and her party really do care we need to see some evidence of it. Her tough and emotionless speeches and hardline policies are being rejected by the public. Her assertion that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” when negotiating Brexit has done nothing in my eyes to commend her or her approach to what are going to be very difficult negotiations. Talks that will affect the lives of people for generations. Whoever advised her to keep going with the mantras, (weren’t we sick of “strong and stable leadership“, particularly when it wasn’t being seen) and the nauseous, “Brexit means Brexit” which engendered as much enthusiasm as saying “cardboard boxes mean cardboard boxes“!
Theresa May Seeks Queen's Permission To Form A UK Government
These are dark, disturbing and turbulent days.
The prospect of another election in the near future is wearisome as it will not be easy for the Conservatives to work with the DUP. They may fail to gain a majority of support in the House of Commons for the Queen’s speech. If they can’t formulate an agreeable proposed legislative programme, we would be forced into another general election before the summer is out.
I love the Rend Collectives song which includes the chorus:


Build Your kingdom here

Let the darkness fear

Show Your mighty hand

Heal our streets and land

Set Your church on fire

Win this nation back

Change the atmosphere

Build Your kingdom here

We pray

And in the words of a pray for those who govern us:


Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all humanity; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.


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Who will get my Vote and Why

Regular readers of my blog will not be surprised at my political leanings, forged years ago in the 1980s on Teesside where I witnessed first hand the political decisions and economic policies that destroyed communities, damaged people’s lives and accelerated and endorsed greed and selfish consumerism. Seeing the film Brassed Off again recently brought the memories of those dark days in the 1980’s.

When you’ve lived and worked in an area that was ravaged by unemployment, (from 11% to over 50% in four years on one of the estates), seen the consequences of government policies result in an increase mental health issues, family breakdowns, domestic violence, crime, alcohol and drug dependency and a loss of hope and aspiration, you cannot, if you claim to be a follower of Christ, turn a blind eye. When people suffer injustice, where the poor are neglected and others, often through lack of opportunity, or who’ve been born “on the wrong side of the tracks”, are marginalised, no true disciple of Christ can remain silent.

I have written previously about the dangerous rise of popularism and the frightening consequences of people like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin who have carefully and skilfully exploited the masses and exercised a malevolent influence in the world. Thank God that much of mainland Europe have seen the error and dangers of populism and the renaissance of nationalism in Britain and the States and have begun to reverse the tide that threatens to undermine civic society and sow the seeds of conflict and war between nations. Thank God for the Dutch, French and the Germans who have decided that hope not fear, cooperation and collaboration not contesting and isolation, will determine their political and economic policies. The political naivete, arrogance and damaging consequences of last year’s Referendum and the incredulous hardline that is being taken by the present government is poor and damaging our relationship with our European neighbours. What are the values that are driving such combative language?

And it’s that which brings me to thinking about the manifestos for the own General Election here in Britain. I took part in the survey recently where you had to answer a whole series of questions about what you would do, what attitudes you had to certain issues and the actions you would take in response to a number of situations. The answers were then formulated to reveal which political party you were more naturally aligned to. Apparently, according to the survey, I should be voting for Plaid Cymru, the only problem being that they are not putting up a candidate in North Northumberland!


I am a member of the Labour Party and seriously considered not continuing my annual subscription. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the present leadership of the party and particularly in some of the people who are surrounding its leader. But, just because things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped, it’s no reason to abandon ship so I am hanging in there. In the same way, Middlesbrough’s abysmal season in the Premiership and subsequent relegation does not mean that I no longer support them.

But when it comes to values, more than any other political party leader, I do believe that Jeremy Corbyn lives what he believes. That he is a man of principle and he has lived consistently with those values throughout his political life. He has been a champion of the poor, has consistently represented and spoken out on behalf of those who are marginalised, has been a dedicated envoy for peace and reconciliation, for cooperation and solidarity with other nations. He has refused to follow the party line when his own party’s policies have contravened his values. His consistent opposition to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, have to my mind, shown strength of character and commitment to the values that he lives by.



Far from being weak, he has been strong on so many of the issues that matter to a civil society. He is a different kind of politician and I would contend, lives what he believes. I want a Prime Minister who thinks deeply about the implications of possessing a nuclear deterrent, who is prepared to speak to opponents, even enemies in the pursuit of peace and justice. I like the idea of having a Prime Minister, who lives simply, who didn’t go and do PPE at Oxford, (Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite and so many of our current political leaders who I believe have become an out-of-touch ruling class. A privileged class who make the right connections and climb the ambitious political career ladder who will then retire and sit on the boards of several lucrative corporations. In contrast, Corbyn is someone who is in politics because he has witnessed poverty, injustice, exploitation and seen the need to make a difference. Someone who left school and went to serve others with the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). I like the idea of a politician who lives in a very modest house, grows vegetables on his allotment and makes his own jam. As a leader of the Opposition, he has been disappointing. He has missed opportunities and is clearly not a great organisational or strategic leader. Despite these traits, he is not a weak or unstable leader. On the contrary, he is a man of strength and integrity. His team have not been great at handling the media and managing his public image. This has certainly not helped his or the Labour Party’s cause but there is something within me that admires somebody who disregards the notion that the medium is the message and who possesses a disdain for spin and manipulative propaganda. There is something refreshing about a politician who says things and commits to things that they really believe in? And there is no doubt that wherever he goes he is very popular and draws huge crowds.


Tonight on Tyneside, in the pouring rain, thousands of people have waited to hear him. Whatever the outcome of the election he has had a good campaign and got people talking about the things that matter; the kind of society we want to live in, the values that matter.

The attacks on his character reveal more about Lyndon Crosby, the man masterminding the Conservative party’s campaign strategy. He has been successfully employed by political parties all over the world and has been described as a “master of the dark political arts”. He knows that you influence the masses by appealing, not to reason but emotions. Persuade through reason but motivate and determine through emotion. If you can’t connect with peoples’ emotions you can’t win. You have to be able to trigger an emotional response from people to win their votes. Portray Corbyn as weak and you appeal not to peoples reasoning, (how many people know what Jeremy Corbyn really stands for?) but to their feelings. Keep preparing the ground prior to the election by casting doubts on his character and portray him as weak and when the campaign is launched immediately counter it with the carpet bombing strategy, ‘Strong and stable leadership’.

The last Prime Minister’s Question time saw sycophantic Government MP’s preface every question to their leader with the phrase. Crosby had given the ammunition, Teresa May and her Chief Whips had issued the orders and each one fired the phrase with sickening regularity. So why was it used? Well Crosby knows that brute repetition works, that by deploying bland, vapid slogans over rational arguments people’s emotions are taken in. The lies on the Brexit bus about the money the NHS would receive if we left the EU worked! So many people were captured not by the truth and reasoned arguments but how they felt. It was appalling that some of the Leave campaign messages appealed to those elements of nationalism and racism that won people over. In the same way some of the Remain campaign tried to use fear to win over voters to their position. Such manipulation of feelings allows a post-truth society to flourish and seriously undermines democracy.

What is going on under the surface of British politics is very disturbing and those who understand the dark arts of persuasion are capitalising on a relatively unthinking or superficial and poor reasoning of the general public.

So, back to the manifestos. I’d rather have one that is put together by people who actually stand for something, (even if I don’t agree with everything they propose) than those whose goal is solely to achieve power. Jeremy Corbyn may be naive but he will not substitute principle for power. He has been consistent throughout his political career and has not changed his values or convictions since becoming the leader of the party. You may disagree with him but of all the leaders in this election, he and Carolyn Lucas of the Green Party, to my mind, are the most transparent about what they stand for and what they would do if elected Prime Minister.

The likelihood of Corbyn being our next Prime Minister is very remote. Nevertheless, he will get my support. I will vote for someone whose party’s policies offer the greatest hope not only for Britain but for the wider world. Someone who will seek diplomacy, negotiation and international cooperation in the efforts to resolve conflicts and wars scarring the world. Someone who would only go to war as a last resort. Someone who is prepared to build bridges not walls between people and nations. A leader who is more aware of the needs, concerns and plight of ordinary people than most. A party leader who is willing to discuss, debate and talk with anyone. Someone who leads a party that was formed in 1900 to represent the interests of everybody in society. A party that after the Second World War wanted to end austerity, remove the cloud of the economic depression that had cast its shadow over Europe in the 1930s and contributed to the Second World War. After that terrible war, Labour was swept into power and founded the National Health Service and a cradle to the grave welfare state. A party that introduced the nationalisation of transportation and public utilities. A party that was committed to building better relationships with its European neighbours and playing its part in seeking to build a better world for all its citizens. A party that recognised that the days of the Empire, the British Raj were over and that it was time for us as a nation to rethink what Britain in a changing world could offer. A party that would not turn its back today on the plight of refugees nor renege as the present Government has done on its commitment to taking 2,000 child refugees. A party that will seek to end the hideous and growing gap between the rich and poor, that will endeavour to redistribute wealth to serve the many and not the few.

It’s a party, for all its weaknesses, that will get my vote because I believe its principles more closely reflect the values of the Kingdom of God and serve the common good for everyone, the many, not the few in society.

As George Monbiet said recently, I would love to elect a government on June 8 led by someone both competent and humane, but this option will not be on the ballot paper. The choice today is between brutal efficiency in pursuit of a disastrous agenda and gentle inefficiency in pursuit of a better world…. The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean, and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation. I know which I favour.

Me too!


In concluding, I had the privilege on Saturday to preach at an induction service where during the worship we sang the Rend Collective song which included the verse:

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

I pray and will be voting with the hope that God’s kingdom will be served and that the darkness, that has enveloped places like Manchester and London in recent weeks, will be pushed back; that hope not fear, love not hate will bring healing to our streets and land and that we might discover a gentler and different way of doing politics and living as a society that serves to change the atmosphere.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer and build your kingdom here.


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Rydal Reflections


I wander’d lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils,

Beside the lake, beneath the trees

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


Lines from William Wordsworth’s most famous poem, inspired by his sister Dorothy coming across a ‘long belt’ of daffodils as they walked by the water’s edge in the Lake District one April day in 1804.

Britain was very different then from what it is now but so much of the landscape here in the Lake District remains the same. I am back for the annual Northern Baptist College retreat at Rydal Hall. In probably my favourite Lake District location, Rydal Water, the Hall’s setting in the naturally beautiful landscape is couched with mountains and beside the lake is enhanced by the wonderfully designed gardens and grounds of the landscape architect Thomas Mawson. His creation of terraces and viewpoints, balustrades, lawns, topiary and paths, together with the planting of ornamental, exotic and native trees, orchards and ponds highlight the breathtaking views of the lakes and the surrounding fells which make this a very special place. Not just a beautiful place but a ‘thin place’ a sacred space. Through the estate run woodlands interspersed by streams and a series of waterfalls which have through the years drawn and inspired artists such as John Constable.


Cumbria Oct 2012 114

In the 18th century the Reverend William Gilpin, one of the originators of the idea of picturesque which he defined as ‘”that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture” and began to expound his “principles of picturesque beauty”, based largely on his knowledge of landscape painting. He travelled extensively in the summer holidays and applied these principles to the landscapes he saw, committing his thoughts and spontaneous sketches to notebooks. He popularised a whole series of essays and books that demonstrated how landscapes could be viewed to show the grandeur, complexity and beauty of nature. He advocated certain ‘stations’ what we might call viewpoints where the natural world could be best appreciated. The Rydal Hall Grot was the first of these ‘stations’ that Gilpen cited.

The Grot far from being grotty is described in Wordsworth’s, ‘An Evening Walk’, published in 1793. He had moved to Rydal Mount near Rydal Hall, in 1813 and it remained his home to his death in 1850. Towards the end of the poet’s life his nephew Christopher Wordsworth went with him to The Grot.  “He accompanied me to the gate and then said if I had a few minutes longer to spare he would like to show me the waterfall which was close by – the lower fall of Rydal. I gladly assented and he led the way across the grounds of Lady Fleming (Rydal Hall) which were opposite to his own to a small summer-house. The moment we opened the door the waterfall was before us. The summer house being so placed as to occupy the exact spot from which it was to be seen. The rocks and shrubbery around closing it in on every side. The effect was magical. The view from the rustic house, the rocky basin into which the water fell and the deep shade in which the whole was enveloped, made it a lovely scene. Wordsworth seemed to have much pleasure in exhibiting this beautiful retreat.”


It is in this place of retreat that we gather, alone and as a college community, to seek God, to reflect and pray and to value the opportunity of being together and sharing something of our lives and calling. The retreat is beautifully led by Leslie Sutton who invites us to awaken our senses to the relationship between art and faith, to explore those places of liminality, vulnerability and paradox. Stories, images and photographs of installations and other artwork open up windows on the soul and of the world in which we live and the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

A free afternoon affords me the opportunity to visit and pray for a dear friend and close companion in community who is in that last chapter of their life here on earth. He is alive and well in spirit but his body is failing. We reminisce, recalling times and experiences shared ‘on the road’, there is laughter and moments of quiet where reflection and space allow both for the sadness of parting and quiet thankfulness for a life well lived.

Gordon & Margaret Shannon Boat Pilgrimage 2007 copy

Endings and partings, echoed in the sharing of those who this summer will graduate and begin their new ministries as they conclude their studies at college. Leaving and saying farewell but embarking upon new journeys and adventures. Just as it is for my dear friend and companion who must soon journey through the valley of the shadow of death to his eternal home and resting place where there is no more pain and suffering, cancer, grieving or tears of sadness but a place where there is fullness of joy.

I hope and pray for those who are beginning their new ministries that at their conclusion, that the end of their life’s journey here on earth that they will, like my dear friend be able to look back at a life well lived and that the memories and reflections of life and ministry, through all its paradoxes, challenges and unpredictability, will nevertheless be cause for thankfulness and a sense of fulfilment.

A morning walk around Rydal Water triggers mixed emotions; sadness at the impending loss of a dear friend and joy in listening to a young and gifted leader whose ministry is growing and developing, whose life and energy, passion and heart for God and his kingdom is so heartening.

After lunch I sit back in the meeting room with staff colleagues and students and am profoundly grateful to God for the privilege of serving, inputting and imparting some of the wisdom of experiences that I have gained over many years that I pray will encourage, inspire and enrich them in their own lives and ministries.


A diverse group of young and middle-aged folks, men and women, with differences of theological outlooks, perspectives and experiences of life, following and fulfilling their calling in different ways. Different streams; charismatic, exuberant, prophetic and radical, contemplative, social activists, some more at home in contextual theology, others applied theology and others just wanting to get on with ‘doing the stuff’! Each one known and loved by God, each one by God’s grace and enabling, called to live out the gospel in their varying contexts. Many of them broken and bruised but whose buffetings have become sources of blessing; their scars providing the tributaries through which the love and light of God flow to others. I am enthused by the passion of those who are determined and confident that they will make a difference in the church and the world, whose ministries I and many others will hear or read about and I pray that they will not grow weary or lose their passion in the ensuing years. I am encouraged and challenged by those who will go to the forgotten places and people, of whom little will ever be written or heard of but who will carry the light of Christ to the poor and marginalised, to the abandoned people of our society.

I take delight in the cohort from Cranmer Hall, Durham for whom I have some responsibility. As the first batch of people able to train for Baptist ministry in the north-east they have set a great example and created a benchmark for a new and fresh generation of Baptist pioneers, church planters and missional leaders. They did not need to buy me a pint at the local pub at the end of the day to gain my approval, (although it was much appreciated!) They are a joy and delight to tutor. When so much within our denomination’s life and work is turbulent and troubling, mirroring the disturbance within happenings of the world, there is hope to be gleaned and shafts of light to be seen in the lives of those whom God is raising up for such a time as this.

Another walk around the lake takes in the daffodils and my favourite folk singer Johnny Coppin’s beautiful song, Rydal accompanies me along the lakes western shore. The birds are singing, the buds are emerging and the first blossoms are seen on the trees and hedgerows.


Winter has passed and spring is in the air.

After winter comes spring.

After death comes life.

Light follows darkness.

Resurrection conquers crucifixion.

Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer God be praised.


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