Category Archives: Personal

Cornwall Holiday Highlights

One reason for light blogging in recent weeks has been pressure of work. But we have also had a fortnight’s holiday in East Looe, Cornwall. One night near the end of the two weeks I jotted down some of the highlights. Here goes:

Food – a supermarket that sells Dark – yes, dark! – Chocolate Hobnobs again.

The Smugglers’ Cott must be the best carvery we have ever visited. A choice of four meats. Not just beef, pork and turkey, but lamb, too. And the beef was offered in rare or well done joints. The kids asking for ‘a piece of crackling for my mum, please’.

Being introduced to the Baobab fruit at the Eden Project, especially when its powder is added to a Pineapple and Coconut Smoothie. The most refreshing drink of the summer, and apparently an energy booster. Will it help us keep up with Mark?

Kelly’s award-winning fish and chips. Beware the Trip Advisor reviews, many of which are based on the over-priced eat-in restaurant: the takeaway is excellent.

Moomaid ice cream: when a dairy farm made losses on milk sales, it decided to use it’s milk production differently. They tried cheese, and then struck gold with ice cream. Cornish ice cream is great anyway, but this beat anything else we tasted. No additives, so the choc mint crisp flavour is white, not green. Shame the Eden Project stopped selling it, because Moomaid wouldn’t drop their prices to uneconomic levels (they must have learned their milk-selling lesson, but how ethical and Fairtrade was the EP on this issue?).

WorshipSteve Wild trying everything to involve our children in worship at Riverside Church. Bringing Horace the Frog with him. Asking them to pick a favourite hymn (a lost cause when the church only used 1982’s Hymns and Psalms and still the 1936 Methodist Hymn Book). Purloining Jaffa Cakes for them from the refreshments area before the service ended. Mark hearing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic‘ as an actual hymn for the first time, but nevertheless singing, ‘Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur‘.

Place – I’ll mention it again: the Eden Project. Stunning is an inadequate adjective. We want to return. Twice.

Looe itself: even with all the tourist shops, it retains an old charm. Fishing trawlers share harbour space with pleasure boats.

Rebekah's sand art with the word 'family'

Rebekah’s sand art

Family – aside from the four of us and Rebekah’s sand sculpture of the word ‘family’, the good was to see cousins. My cousin, his wife  and son. Debbie’s cousin , his wife and children. The bad – my mum falling and fracturing her hip on our second day here, the burden falling on my sister and her family, and us powerless at two hundred miles’ distance.

Father’s Day

Call me an unreconstructed softie, but this post by Chance Scoggins could cause the fall of precipitation on the faces of even the most hardened of Dads. (HT: Vicky Beeching.)

Well, OK, not everyone; one commenter on Facebook described it as

Complete mush and the usual patronising Internet twaddle that gets over emotional people interested. Thank goodness there’s plenty of love in my family without this ‘Barney The Dinosaur’ drivel.

While that guy returns to his Chuck Norris DVDs and his Mark Driscoll books, I’ll tell you why it touched a nerve with me. Yes, there is some gooey stuff in the article, like the point when Mr Scoggins’ little daughter says, “Daddy, when I was still in heaven, I wished for a Daddy like you.” But give the little lass a break. It may be inaccurate, but hear the heart of a small girl who feels utterly safe with her father.

It’s like this for me. I didn’t get married until I was 41. I had had the odd girlfriend and one broken engagement, but mostly I was the kind of man who attracted the “Let’s just be friends” response from the fairer sex. For me, it was never a case of when I got married, but if I got married. And then to marry at an older age meant lengthened odds in the parenting stakes, and shortened odds in the disabled baby stakes.

For a long time, I’d wanted to be a Dad. I have a sister and no brothers, and I felt that strange male desire to keep the family name going. I would have felt like I was a failure if it hadn’t happened. I know that’s irrational, but that’s how I felt. I wanted children, and I especially wanted a son. For different but equally strong emotional reasons, my wife wanted a daughter.

As some of you know, we had a daughter, and then a son. I never knew how much I would adore having a daughter, and I don’t think my wife knew how much my wife realised how much she would love having a son. I love having a son, too: we have a common understanding. It’s great to go to football and cricket together, or watch rugby. I love the fact that he has inherited my talent for Maths. My wife gets on a wavelength with our daughter, and I see them connecting in special ways, too.

Childbirth is precarious, and we certainly saw that with our two. Both were born by Caesarean section. In our daughter’s case, it was an emergency section. Debbie was a week and a half overdue, and was taken into hospital to be induced, but little or nothing happened. The medical staff increased the hormones being pumped in, hoping this would bring on labour, but all that happened was that our daughter’s heartbeat started going all over the place. We went to theatre quickly.

In our son’s case, we had booked an elective section for health reasons with a supportive consultant, and were relieved to have done so, because the cord was around his neck. We could have lost either of our children at birth.

So I never care on Father’s Day whether Debbie has organised big presents from the children, because nothing can beat two blue eyes looking into mine and saying, “I love you, Daddy. You’re my real Daddy, my only Daddy, not a step-Daddy and I won’t have another Daddy.”

Inside, I blub. Even though I too can’t bear Barney the Dinosaur.

Happy Father’s Day.

Mistaken Identity

Can I just say, please? This is not me.

There are several vital differences. He’s good looking. I’m not. I wear glasses. He doesn’t.

Most importantly, he can sing. I can’t. When church audio-visual teams fit me up with a radio microphone, my first question is whether they will fade me down during the hymns.

I write this, because I am starting to get Twitter followers who think I am this singer. They will be disappointed.
It’s not the first case of mistaken identity I’ve had. In my late teens, when I wore NHS glasses, I was once mistaken outside HMV’s Oxford Street store for Elvis Costello. In my mid-twenties, I visited an evangelical church, only for some of the  young adults there to think I was Clive Calver, then the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance.

Like anyone, I have namesakes, and that seems to be the issue here. Believe those people are me, and I’ve had an interesting life. I was a member of Great Britain’s gold medal winning Olympic hockey team in 1984 and am now performance director for England Hockey. I was the lead singer of Aussie rock band the Hoodoo Gurus. I have been in politics, having led Newcastle City Council and head of highways for Flintshire County Council. I am a criminologist, which is ironic, given that I was also an American police officer, murdered in 1981. (Yes, I know that last one is ‘Daniel Faulkner’, but he seems to come high in Google if you search for my name. I’ve no idea why.)

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? Are there any interesting stories out there?

My Unfunny Valentine

Vicky Beeching has written a great blog post, ‘Why I struggle with Valentine’s Day‘. In it, she shares some of the reasons (and not just the obvious ones) why she, as a single woman, finds 14th February discomfiting every year.

She talks about the privileging of eros love over other forms of love, and its reduction to fairy tale, fantasy and sentimentality. And to that, as one who peruses Valentine’s cards every year, I would add, its reduction to crude lust. There is much more in her post, and I commend it to you.

I submitted a comment, and I’d like to relay it here. I feel like someone who sees both sides of the coin on this one. Yes, I am married, but ‘the man to whom this miracle happened was over forty years of age’ – I was 41 when I married Debbie. Even now I have to put an annual recurring appointment into my diary to block the evening of Valentine’s Day, otherwise I accidentally schedule church meetings or pastoral visits. I can assure you, that does not impress my lovely wife.

And indeed I remember the way in which being a single adult in the church means being treated as second-class, or being viewed with suspicion, those whispers about what my sexuality might be supposedly just out of my hearing. The one time in my twenties I received a Valentine’s card it was an unfunny joke by a young woman at church.

The one time during those years that Valentine’s Day meant anything to me was while I was at my first theological college. That morning, my Aussie mate Steve led chapel worship. “Good morning,” he said, “and welcome to morning prayer on Valentine’s Day.”

“This,” he continued, “is the anniversary every year of the day Lynda and I lost our first baby.”

Of course I would never have wished that experience upon them, but for the first time I heard someone who understood that 14th February was painful for many.

If you love someone, I hope your Valentine’s Day is good and beautiful. But let’s be good news for those who will have a sick feeling in their stomachs.

Who Changed Your Life, And How?

Right now as I’m typing these words I shouldn’t be at home. I should be in a Methodist church building in Clevedon, Avon, for a memorial service. However, icy conditions have prevented me taking the journey.

The one being remembered is the Reverend Howard Ashby. Howard was my minister in those formative years of mine between the ages of twelve and nineteen. He and his wife Ida had something special about themselves. They were somehow different from the typical churchgoers who, while nice, seemed to my teenage mind to treat church like a religious club. At an age when rebellion was on my agenda, Howard and Ida had something indefinable that kept me questioning.

It was in his manse study that I found Christ. It was Maundy Thursday, 1976 – 9th April that year. As I’ve said from time to time here, I grew up with the mistaken idea that faith equalled believing in God plus doing good. As he took me and a few other teenagers through the promises and professions of faith in the Methodist confirmation service, I finally discovered that it was about faith in Christ and that the good works stuff only followed as a sign of gratitude.
As a family, we had such fond memories of him. My grandmother lived with us. She had had a stroke, and thanks to a medical error was treated for years afterwards with that evil drug Valium. Under its malign influence. Nanna retreated. She barely went out and she spent most of her time in her room. Whenever Howard visited, he always ended by saying, “God bless you – and he will.” I’ve used those words sometimes with people in my ministry as a result of his example all those years ago.

I’m sorry not to be in that service this afternoon. I would like to mingle with others who have fond memories of him, and reasons for gratitude. I would like to meet again members of his family. Howard’s son Paul was my ‘assisting minister’ at ordination, so the wider family is special to me, too.

But if Howard had that effect upon me, who was it for you? And how?

On Making The Most Of Your Life: A Lesson From Bill Gates And Steve Jobs

Bill Gates
was recently interviewed on the Nightline TV show in the USA. He had some interesting things to say about the effect Steve Jobs‘ death had on him. Here is an extract from one report:

Gates is now no longer the world’s richest man, having given much of his money away. Since 1994, the Gates Foundation has given grants totalling more than $26bn to various charities and projects. But Jobs’ death served as a reminder to Gates that he needed to push on with his philanthropic efforts, he said in the interview.

“Well, it’s very strange to have somebody who’s so vibrant and made such a huge difference and been kind of a constant presence, to have him die. It makes you feel like, ‘Wow, we’re getting old.’ I hope I still have quite a bit of time for the focus I have now, which is the philanthropic work.”

“And there’s drugs we’re investing in now that won’t be out for 15 years – malaria eradication, I need a couple of decades here to fulfill that opportunity. But, you know, it reminds you that you gotta pick important stuff, because you only have a limited time.”

Christians may have eternity, but we only have this life to make a difference. Do we need that sense of urgency and prioritisation that Gates outlines here? I was thinking about that recently when going through a few months’ worth of blog posts by Michael Hyatt. He talked one day about how to avoid the power of the drift. The next day he asked, are you living your own dream or someone else’s?

How easy it is to stop being intentional about our lives. He made me pause. Is my life just going by, because I just do the day-to-day stuff and don’t think about the longer term? It’s easy to do when you’re caught up in busyness and pressure. I realised I’d got as far as knowing some of the things I don’t want to achieve in ministry – most of which involve a distaste for climbing the greasy pole of the religious hierarchy. But I hadn’t fully explored the obverse. What are the positive things I want to do and to contribute? What gifts can I offer that will make a difference?

I realised that ‘ordinary’ circuit ministry only goes part of the way to answering that question. I enjoy it and I don’t disdain it, but I need something more on top. I’d still like it to be have an academic slant, but the doors aren’t open at present.
I can write, though, and if you’ve wondered why the number of blog posts has been increasing lately, that’s the reason. Some might think that writing is a poor relation to Gates’ philanthropy, but words have power to sway hearts and minds. And yes, I need to back up words with my own actions.

So I’ve been starting by trying to use the down time I’m allowed each day (our big bad rule book encourages us to spend up to an hour a day away from ordinary ministry) to research and write a blog post, such as this one. At the very least that will be good discipline. I’ve ordered a book that is recommended in some circles to help explore the more creative side of my personality – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and happily that came in the post today. So let’s see how we go!

But it has to be a question for each of us: are we maximising the gifts we have been given and following our call to change some corner of the world? We may not have Gates’ billions, but in other ways we have all that and more.

So –  how are we making a difference? Have we started? Why not? Let’s drop the excuses.

On Recycling And Moving Home

How is house moving for you? It’s stressful for most, if not all people. In the case of a minister, you are not just moving home but work base, too, if (like me and probably most British ministers) you work from home. In our forthcoming move, we are bringing together the following factors:

There are minimum standards for a Methodist minister’s house, but they vary hugely (that’s inevitable). When we moved here, we downsized from an Edwardian house with six bedrooms, two reception rooms and a huge kitchen that had once belonged to a Navy Admiral to a small three-bedroom house with a lounge-diner. We became Mr and Mrs eBay as we prepared to move. Now, we are moving back up the scale to a four-bedroom house with separate lounge and dining room, plus a conservatory. Whereas here it has been difficult to offer hospitality, in the new manse it will be eminently possible, and we need to kit ourselves out to that effect.

To do that, we need to rid ourselves of certain items, such as the small sofas we bought to squeeze into this house, a redundant wall unit, the current dining table and chairs and several other smaller things. We need to replace them with a new three-piece suite, conservatory furniture, a sideboard, and miscellaneous other items. How can we afford this? We have been given some generous financial gifts by the churches here, and we are sourcing good second-hand pieces on eBay. In some cases, we are using an excellent website called Shiply to arrange economical transporting of them. So this morning, we took delivery of the conservatory furniture we wanted, which came 150 miles, and which we could not reasonably have collected.

Next, we tried the local branch of Freecycle. If you don’t know Freecycle, it’s a great way to offer items you no longer need, or request things you do need. It’s all done by an email to a list that circulates around people in your geographical area. With our local branch, however, all emails have to go through moderators and can take up to two days to appear. When you do get rid of something, it also takes that length of time for the email you circulate telling people the item has gone to go round. In the meantime, you have to tell maybe ten other people that what they want is no longer available. However, most of the people who have collected from us have been grateful. Only the odd one or two have expected us to dance to their tunes.

In fact, Freecycle was so slow when we first started using it that in our frustration I rang the local council and booked a delivery slot for them to take away some of our stuff. I didn’t want to do that for two reasons: one, it would go to landfill, and two, I had to pay! Thankfully, as of tonight everything I had asked the council to come and take next week has finally gone on Freecycle. Tomorrow I get to ring the council again and see whether I can get a refund.

I can’t help thinking all this could be a lot simpler. Maybe you could strip the moderation out of Freecycle and just ban those who break the rules. All I do know is that I’m glad we have a three-week break between me taking my final service last Sunday and our actual moving date! Right now, I wouldn’t have time for ministry!

So – do you have any tips to share on successful ethical disposal of possessions? Do you have any stories about moving to share? I hope nobody has had incidents like this one.

The Picnic

Yesterday (Thursday), our children finished at their primary school before our forthcoming move from Essex to Surrey. The other week, the mother of one of our daughter’s friends texted us to ask whether we would be free to share a picnic with her today. We were, so we agreed.

At 11 this morning, we made our way over to the park where we had agreed to meet. Only it wasn’t just this one family. It was a whole collection of families. And more turned up over the next couple of hours. We were deeply touched by their affection for us, and their gratitude for the part we had played in the community.

It reminded me of a story from a previous sabbatical, when Debbie and I worshipped at a Church Of Another Denomination. The pastor was a friend and a good preacher, but one Sunday morning a lay elder preached. He pranced around at the front like an evangelical superstar, and pronounced in his sermon that when non-Christians ask you how you are, they never mean it. Only your Christian friends truly care about you.

“Idiot,” we both thought. We have both had good reason to be grateful for our non-Christian friends. Sometimes they have been far better friends than some of our Christian acquaintances.

Whatever I believe about the need for everyone to follow Christ (and I do believe that), we need a theology to cope with the goodness of non-Christians.

Regarding The Missing Sermon

This is another week when I am not posting a new sermon. I find myself having to look through my digital files and retrieve an old one to preach tomorrow.

The reason is this: although I had some rough ideas in my head for a sermon this week, everything changed on Thursday. I began bleeding and could not stem the flow – or at least it took hours for it to slow down. My GP referred me urgently to the local hospital’s Emergency Assessment Unit. After waiting over six hours to see a surgeon on call (they were all in theatre) I was told it was not sinister and not the kind of blood loss to need surgery, nor had I become anaemic. I just needed a non-urgent referral to an out-patients’ clinic. Hence they sent me home and I went off to hail a taxi.

So it was quite a fright. As is usual with me, although my rational mind told me it was all OK, my imagination kicked in and my body reacted by playing a game of ‘How high can we send Dave’s blood pressure?’ Not my favourite game, and it certainly concerned the nurses at the hospital.

Anyway, I am all right, but I lost a lot of time at a critical juncture of the week, and especially with having to attend Synod today (why do they always have them on warm, sunny days?), I cannot realistically come up with something fresh for this weekend. I hope those of you who enjoy the sermons will understand. Those who don’t enjoy them can appreciate the break!

It Was * Years Ago Today

Thirty-four years ago today, I found faith in Christ, when the Holy Spirit used the promises and professions of faith in the 1975 Methodist Service Book to make the heart of Christian faith come alive for me.

Sixty-five years ago today, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenburg.