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Joy in others when you reach ‘a certain age’

Recently, two events coincided:  the first left me bemused, the second left me enthused.

The first concerned a health matter.  The past two weeks have not been fun: I had a bout with a horrid stomach ‘flu (and, for female readers, this wasn’t “man ‘flu”).  My doctor is a family friend.  She was visiting my wife one evening and, in passing, asked how I was feeling.  I answered in a typical bloke fashion: I gave her all the details!  She wasn’t fazed.  What she went on to say, however, fazed me.   She recommended that I receive the “‘flu shot”.  I responded, “Huh.  But isn’t it currently reserved for vulnerable people and the elderly?”  My doctor (did I say she is a family friend?!) looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yes.”










The second concerned a much younger guy.  For the past four years I have met with him from time to time.  I have spoken at a few meetings he’s arranged.  One of the many projects he’s been working on is his first book.  He asked me to read the first draft; our friendship could have fallen apart due to the comments I made about the manuscript.  To his credit he took the criticism on the chin and kept going.  We continued to meet up occasionally for lunches and some superb coffee.

This week I read his revised book manuscript.  I was thrilled: but not because he incorporated anything I had earlier suggested.  Instead, I was thrilled to see a younger man’s written work mature.  This book, I anticipate, will be hugely important and helpful to readers.  But, again, it had nothing to do with me.  And, for one of those rare moments, I experienced a joy — a joy in another’s good work by the Lord’s grace and enabling.  I found myself wanting to give a punch in the air victory cheer.  If I could have done one of those footballer flips or rugby player’s slide — without putting my back out or bruising my shins — I would have done so.  It is a joy to experience unalloyed happiness in another’s labours under God.

Which makes me think that such joy is precisely what an older person should have when watching younger friends and colleagues.  Surely, one of the tasks of a pastor upon reaching a certain age and stage in ministry is to train, encourage and, then, take joy in younger workers.  To be sure, there are inevitable dissapointments and hurts (all around).  There is risk.  On the other hand, to take the SAS saying in a different direction, ‘He who shares wins’.  Better, as King David put it:

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

Psalm 145: 3 — 7

I’ll gladly take more of this experience at my ‘certain age’.  The jury is still out about the ‘flu shot.


Africa United (2010)

Africa United (2010)

This film was a delightful surprise to me.  I hadn’t heard much about it until I read a prompting from the always helpful and insightful Damaris Media Nick Pollard on Africa United.

The plotline involves an almost Chaucer-like collection of young people trying to make their way to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  Their exploits are both comic and poignant.  It is this feature above all that intrigued me.  The story is able to capture some of the horrors of AIDS, child-soldiers and the sex trade without either sentimentality or soap box lecturing.

The acting is delightful and the tight photography, in my opion, captured the actors’ skills.

Don’t miss this film if you have the chance.  For fuller and better details, click the link above at Damaris, for information.

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words














If you like words and languages, you might find the following link enjoyable.  I confess to recognising only two of the words.

2o Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World

Preaching and ‘The One Thing’

Here’s a question primarily asked to Bible Teachers (Preachers); but, by all means, others’ comments are welcome.

I was asked recently, ‘Don’t you think all sermons should essentially have one main thing to walk away with?’

(Don’t be a pedant like me and rush to correct the dangling preposition!  Few understand the correction and even fewer appreciate the correction)

Almost immediately, I answered ‘yes’; but, in my characteristically annoying fashion, added, ‘Well, yes, more or less, er, but with some qualifications…why do you ask?’

When I started off over 30 years ago in what I consider the best but most humbling job — Bible teaching– I was trained according to a model forwarded by Perry Miller.  Miller claimed the preacher is an expositor (so I wasn’t misled into thinking a sermon is to be a devotional chat, systematic theology lecturer, mystical message or Garrison Keillor-wannabe ramble).  Let the text, in its context, drive and shape the sermon.  Summarise your message in one ‘thesis statement’.  Whatever subordinate points you employ they should ONLY exist to further your thesis statement.  By they way, Miller strongly insisted that application should never wait to the end of the sermon but run throughout the entire sermon.

Many years later, when I returned to teach at a US Anglican theological college (US = seminary) students were using the expression ‘Big Idea’ which comes from the excellent work by Haddon Robinson.  As I listened to the method in practice (and one of the finest, clearest Anglican preachers in the States I knew at the time was Peter C Moore), it seemed eminently correct.

But here’s my question: on what grounds do we accept this assumption?  Stay with me here, please.

First, is this assumption largely a matter of rhetoric?  Is it largely a late-modernist device (Yikes! I hate using this cliche because some people love to blame everything on the Enlightenment and celebrate everything postmodern).  But for the sake of conversation, how much should the genre of the text suggest the rhetoric or homiletic?

Second, while a thesis statement/big idea is clearly helpful, do ALL Biblical genre lend themselves to this method?  For example, does narrative, poetry, apocalyptic or parable?  I want to be clear (although most people who hear me would privately tell you I am not) I think clarity is vital.  But is it possible that in my laudable desire for clarity I end up delivering a kind of reductionism — reducing the text to simple propositions which, in turn, could become either moralisms or trite cliche?

Third, what do people mean by the expression ‘one thing’?  Is it a thing to do?  A thing not to do?  A thing to think?  A thing to feel?  If the original question is a poorly phrased request for more application, fair enough.  On the other hand, and I don’t wish to be controversial here, could it be that sometimes, some people, want me to do their thinking/reading/reflecting and tell them ‘here is this week’s one thing’?  They don’t want irony, complexity, or, er, hard work.

So, what do others of you think?  Let me know…

In Memory of a Great Man: Mark Ashton

This past Saturday (3 April 2010) a friend of mine, Mark Ashton, vicar of St Andrew’s the Great Church, Cambridge, went at last to be with his Lord and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.  I appreciate this sounds too much like a cliche but it is the rock solid basis of Christian hope.  For those of you who also knew Mark, and knew him far, far better than I, you will know that Mark was no cliche and his confidence in the full gospel of Christ was no commitment to a superficial cliche.

I first met Mark around 25 years ago.  Tremendously insightful, strongly opinionated, not a little intimidating but consistently encouraging and caring to me (and others).  Several years later, we worked together at a preaching conference in the States and I remember how careful, gracious and patient he was with American Episcopalians (not known for either an interest or skill in expository preaching).  He was inspiring and encouraging to the Americans.

Throughout the years I had occasional contact with Mark, including a visit he made to the theological college in the States where I taught and was vice-principal.  Some of my colleagues there also knew Mark and highly valued his ministry.

It was in 2005, when we finally returned to the UK after our time in the States, when I saw best Mark’s huge gifts.  We met in Cambridge for a Chinese meal lunch.  I had some personal issues and questions to discuss with Mark.  Once again, he was patient, caring and insightful.  He didn’t need to meet with me; he had far more important things to do; but he did so nonetheless.  Both then and now I am thankful.

But intriguingly Mark has done one last thing for me (and, assuredly, for thousands of people who knew him at StAG).  His death in Christ on Holy Saturday speaks huge volumes of the hope and promise given to all who trust and believe in Jesus.  Mark’s death is a “life well lived”.   He died well in that he pointed all of us to Christ.

How will we deal with London racism?

Yesterday, my wife, Janet, was in a conversation with a young employee of a major department store here in London.  Initially, it was about makeup, skin care and colouring.  As the conversation furthered, however, they commented on one another’s non-British accent.  After 25 years in the UK, Janet’s accent suggests somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  The young woman whom Janet met that day spoke flawless English but came from another European country.

As they chatted the woman mentioned to Janet that she finds living in London very hard.  In particular she finds life in England lonely.  Janet asked her what she meant by this.  She went on to say that she finds London people cold and unfriendly, rude even.  The young woman immediately pointed out that Janet is one exception but then qualified her comment by saying, “But, of course, you aren’t British!”

What took Janet aback, however, was when the woman went on to express her sadness concerning her experiences of racism in London.  Apparently, she reported, because of her skin colouring and her accent she believes Londoners treat her dismissively and, she said, with occasional disdain.  She ended up saying to Janet, “I wish I could meet nice, friendly English people!”

Janet said she’d be delighted to introduce her to folk we know who are wonderfully friendly and welcoming.  Truth is, we are privileged to meet and know lots of very kind and friendly English people.  But, as she later told me, the one part of the conversation that troubled her was the comment about perceived racism.  How is this countered?

One film especially deconstructed my self-belief that I am free from all racist problems — Paul Haggis’ Crash (2005).  Some time ago I posted some thoughts about this film.

If you’ve seen the film you’ll recall how artfully this film reveals the sub-level propensity towards racism in just about all of us.  On one hand, therefore, what the young woman said to Janet about her experiences in London (whether she is correct or not, I don’t know; but it is her perception nonetheless) ought not to surprise us.  Racism has not been eradicated despite efforts to promote multi-culturalism and greater tolerance.

On the other hand, countering racism (in whatever form) cannot be accomplished by legislation, exhortation or compulsion.  Civil liberties and legal accountability are necessary and in this limited scope legislation is vital.  But telling someone to do something or be something isn’t ever ultimately successful.  “Laws” or “rules” cannot change the human heart, redirect the human will and promote human society.  There is, frankly, something about us that is profoundly out of sync that can only be corrected, healed and transformed by something or someone greater and more authentic than legal or rule imposition.

This means that while I’d like to hope that Londoners can make a difference by civility, politeness and courtesy (all of which are virtues), I suspect all of this could result in self-efforts (however good they be initially) that simply go only so far.  Truth is, a more radical and more profound change is necessary in me and others here in London (and, of course, elsewhere).

Once again, I am struck and intrigued by what the Jew, Paul, who was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, wrote to his fellow Christians who were non-Jews but sharers with Paul in a new humanity/new society brought about in Christ:

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:10-14)

Turner and the Masters

This past Saturday, Janet and I went to see the current exhibition at Tate Britain (Millbank in London) entitled, Turner and the Masters.  See Tate Britain

"Self-Portrait" c. 1799 (c) Tate Britain, 2002

JMW Turner (1775-1851) is one of Britain’s most important and influential artists — after whom the prestigious Turner Prize is named.   He is sometimes identified as a Romantic painter but I also see that he is also called an Impressionist and Landscape artist.  I’m left with the conclusion that Turner is hard to pigeon-hole.

What I did not appreciate is his biography.  Turner was the son of barber and wig maker, from whom he probably received his strong work ethic.  While there is no suggestion of any class anxiety on Turner’s part it is, nevertheless, not impossible to imagine that much of Turner’s competitiveness and inner sense of being driven to exceed arose out of his own upbringing.  Thankfully, however, the curators at the Tate did not indulge in any of this kind of psychoanalysis.  They offered us something far better and more interesting.

The Tate exhibition deftly shows the relationship between Turner and some of the Grand Masters of Europe (such notables as Rembrandt, Van De Velde , Poussin and, especially, Claude Lorrain.  Turner looked back to these European greats and “emulated” some of their techniques and touches.  Turner’s use of light, some of his themes and some of his subjects are directly borrowed from these earlier artists.  Emulation was an important statement of respect and appreciation.

'Norham Castle, Sunrise" c. 1845

Yet Turner also was willing to attempt things on a grander scale: he emulated or borrowed from the past out of an aspiration to show not only his indebtedness to the past but his equality with the past and, even, his superiority to the past.  This is a particular feature of the exhibition at the Tate: it shows us the complex nature of Turner’s respect for the past and his own drive to show his equality with the past.  Evidently, Turner was driven by the need to show his patrons and wider “audiences” that he too could be classified as a “Great”.  Turner went even so far as to “compete” with his contemporaries (Constable) and those younger than he to show his own prominence.

Turner unquestionably was a hugely gifted artist — there’s little doubt of this.  Nevertheless, as the Tate exhibition reveals, he did not always succeed in substantiating his equality with some of the Great Masters.  Turner, in some cases, simply couldn’t “come up with the goods”.  Personally, when I compared Rembrandt’s use of light and his painting of windmills to the imitations of Turner, my vote went to Rembrandt.  This isn’t to take anything away from Turner!

Here is a link to a video about Turner and the exhibition from one of the Tate’s curators:

\”Turner and the Masters\”

If you have the opportunity to see this exhibition, by all means do so!  It is worth the admission price and the Tate Britain should be commended for this level of exhibition.

One thing I did notice and it made me ponder for some time: I didn’t see that many young people (under the age of 30) at the exhibition. Of course, one Saturday’s attendance does not an irrefutable fact make — the place may have been heaving with young people on other days.  Still, I did wonder if young artists are encouraged to view the Grand Masters and their heirs.  Is emulation an important feature in today’s training?  Or is novelty and the iconoclastic more highly prized?

I don’t mean to pose a facile question here.  I simply wonder if some of the ways we educate and train people today ends up falling short because: (a) We think the past has nothing really worth considering (b) We indulge young people in believing  they already “have artistic gifts within them waiting to be released” and so rush them on to this moment of “actualisation” or (c) We, ourselves, have lost contact with the past.