Free stuff

The Lectionary…
The opening verse of the Isaiah reading, after millennia of interpretation, is what we churches think we are offering. We are offering people something free, the love and mercy and forgiveness of God, as seen in Jesus Christ, a way of life, and much more beside.
But it doesn’t look free from outside: there is a cost. I take my cue from some apprentice gas engineers in Blackbird Leys many years ago. “I wouldn’t go to church — it’s not worth it.”
This implies there’s a perceived cost. Here’s some suggestions;-

  • The time it takes out of a precious weekend.
  • The cost in self-respect.
  • The mental contortions of believing something that goes against the grain.
  • The cultural shift required (what’s all this with the smoke that smells of burning rubber — or, from my tradition, this public singing of strange songs).
  • The stress of not knowing when to sit/kneel/stand.
  • Being an outsider.
  • Doing something only old people do.
  • etc. — you may have other suggestions.

Note that going to church isn’t necessarily the same thing as believing in Jesus – many people do one without the other.

Won’t be long before we head south now, for the start of Janet’s journey. To get us in the mood for Cornwall, we went to see Fisherman’s Friends. Excellent!

Night thoughts

This time as I lay awake in bed, I invented double skin stained glass. There’s a fair gap between the two skins, maybe enough for people to walk between, and the thing resolves into different small images or words, depending on the time of day and year. The sunny side is smooth and the inside side is frosted. It could be modelled on a computer. As it turns out, I didn’t invent it — Janet tells me there’s been something similar at the National Memorial Arboretum.
See the effect of light coming through coloured glass here.

Wonky lamp post

I can see from the window a telegraph pole and a lamp post which are wonky in opposite directions. I could take a picture, but it would have to include other people’s windows, which is intrusive.
It is still raining: the weather is improving, so I think this must be a warmer, more drizzly kind of rain.
The Bambi is still a non-runner, but Janet has some plans about how to get it going. Meanwhile, preparations for her walk continue, assuming fixed accommodation for at least the first quarter.

The Lectionary

There is a kind of logic that goes: if you do right, you will be rewarded, and if you do wrong you will be punished. Therefore if you are doing well, it must be because you are doing right, and if things are going wrong for you, it must be because you are doing wrong. Jesus takes a sledgehammer to this logic in the Luke reading. It doesn’t work like that. The Galileans were all wrongdoers, even the successful ones. Actually, reading elsewhere what Jesus is reckoned to have said (e.g. according to Matthew 5:48 – “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”), we are all wrongdoers. We hurt other people, we hurt our planet, we are part of a network of hurt. God’s dreams for us are so great, and we just haven’t got the oomph to fulfil those hopes. We have to change our ways, seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness. The good bit is that forgiveness is possible – it is always possible.
It feels as if Jesus is talking to the Galileans en masse. We are all individuals, yes, but we also share in the messed-up nature of all humanity, and of every group and organisation we are part of. What would a new beginning look like? I am white, West European, male – what would it look like if people like me could relate better to the rest of the world? I was never a fan of Brexit – but I do remember the misgivings I had when we first joined our European partners … it felt like dumping the Commonwealth. Maybe now will be an opportunity to make the Commonwealth a thing again, a thing that does what it says on the tin: dream on, Bob!

Thank you God for Lent,
a time for turning,
a time to think again,
to get the first intimations of change
in the grey world:
a time when all things
become possible.

Also, I lay awake in bed for a bit last night, thinking maybe there I things I should do that I’ve never done before. After about fifteen minutes’ deliberation I decided against Marmite in porridge.

Changes of Plan

The Bambi is a non-runner and stands outside our house covered in a green shroud. Thank you very much to Janet’s friends who brought it here on their trailer! Bambi is not done for yet.

Meanwhile the plans for Janet’s walk go ahead. We now have accommodation as far as Bristol.

It’s a good day for being indoors: storm Gareth is doing its thing.

Sunday’s readings:
The key to unlock some of this may be the idea of citizenship … “3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven….” in Philippians.
The promise in the Genesis passage has been used by many peoples to claim the right to lands where other people were already living. (Citizenship becomes greedy, grabbing – one person’s jealous protection of their citizenship leads to another’s statelessness). But Paul turns this on its head in Philippians – our citizenship is in heaven. For me that goes with his new idea of the people of God. It’s hearing and accepting the good news of Jesus Christ that makes you one of the people of God, rather than genetic inheritance. And the territory is the territory of the mind, of the will, of the spirit, rather than earth.
However place is still important. We read in Luke 13 that Jerusalem is to be the stage where Jesus will do what he has to do. But Jerusalem itself is not without sin. Neither is Washington, or Brussels, or London BTW.

Not well

The Bambi is not well. Treatment options are being considered. Meanwhile, at least the first phase of Janet’s End to End will be done by Youth Hostels and Independent Hostels.

…What kind of Messiah was Jesus going to be? A time of testing can be a time of discovery, it can be a creative time – but it’s hard. Also there’s a sting in that last verse, “4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” … “You haven’t seen the back of me yet, mate.”

Ash Wednesday

It’s the first morning properly in our house. We handed back the manse keys yesterday, and all our possessions are here now (and don’t we know it) … although the Bambi is at the garage and we are waiting for news.

It’s a new beginning, and maybe all new beginnings have to start with repentance, turning around and thinking again. Junk the clutter in order to move forward. And we have done this literally over the last month, although there’s a lot more dumping to go, more at our leisure this time.

Repentance should set us free, not bind us to an endless cycle of saying ‘sorry’, like what the sound engineers did to Nick Clegg.

Living God,
set us free.


Today we went to the Oakley Arms for lunch. Very nice. I can’t remember going there to eat in the days when I sometimes used to come to work at the nuclear power station. The long gone Abbey Arms and the station canteen – that was about it I think. Although I think I did have some chips in Blaenau Ffestiniog, and I went into a pub in Trawsfynydd village, though I can’t remember why: all I remember is that the conversation switched from English to Welsh as soon as I went in the door.

I used to stay at the Abbey Arms. One time, I thought I’d arranged to get back in in the small hours of the morning. It turned out I hadn’t and I was locked out. I don’t know why, maybe it was the onerous security demands of Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s bodyguard.

So, with the light of a May dawn just creeping into the sky, I decided to go for a walk. I walked up the road which overlooks Manod Mawr and watched as it changed from a sketchy silhouette to a solid form.

On the way down the road I met a stray sheep. I didn’t want to force it down the road away from its field – that would have been good neither for the farmer, nor for the gardeners of Llan Ffestiniog. So there were a few minutes of a cat and mouse game, with me trying to hide in hedges in the hope the sheep would walk past me back into its field.

This didn’t work. The sheep kept going down the hill.

I thought the sheep was trying to get away from me, so I decided that if I could get past it, it would then run away in the correct direction, back up to its field.

So I ran as hard as I could down this hill at about five or six in the morning, and with a supreme effort managed to get past the sheep. I ran on and turned round. The sheep was still running towards me. Only with a lot of jumping around and waving my arms did I eventually persuade the sheep to head for home.

My point is that the sheep persevered in running down the hill, even when it shouldn’t have done, because of the changed circumstances. If you think this makes sheep stupid, then so am I, because I have done the same thing.

Some time back, I used to live round the corner from an elderly gentleman. One time, he rang, telling me of symptoms I thought might be a stroke. I rushed round the corner, and when I got there it soon became apparent that this was just a bit of an aggravation of a long standing medical condition. But I rang the ambulance anyway, because I couldn’t change my mindset.

And I want you to consider it possible that churches are like that too. We keep on trying to do the same thing, even when it isn’t working. Don’t give up on the gospel. But if it isn’t working, just try doing it differently for a change.

Across the mountain

Today we walked, under gathering cloud, and buffeted by a rising wind, up the Roman Steps. Not all the way though – you’re allowed to be careful at our age. Another 500m and we’d’ve got to the top of this mountain pass, to be treated to the view that the mediaeval traders would have had*, of the lush plain of Trawsfynydd. ‘Across the mountain’ lies a better land. Maybe. At any rate, the power station which used to operate there kept me and hundreds of others in bread for a few years.

We returned to Cwm Bychan the way we came, lingered in the mossy wood, and watched how eddies of wind moved across Llyn Cwm Bychan, kicking up clouds of spray.

* Not exactly the same view – the remains of the power station are still there, as well as the lake, which continues to feed the hydroelectric power station in Maentwrog. OTOH, looking at the map I see that the power station and lake would be invisible around the corner from the top of the pass.

We praise you God
for the dark hills,
the gathering storm, 
for the power of nature. 
We thank you God
because you have created us able
to harness the power of water, 
to use the energy of nuclear fission. 
We pray for your help, your justice, 
your wisdom, your love, 
that we may use our power for good
and not for ill. 
We are in awe, great God, 
because there still is, 
there always is, 
something in nature
that cannot be tamed


Yesterday was St David’s day. I think my first encounter with the Welsh language was seeing ‘Aberystwyth’ on the destination boards on the carriages of trains that went past our house in West Middlesex. I just couldn’t then work out how it made a word you could say. Fortunately I didn’t miss out on encountering more of a language with the same dark beauty as shining wet slate. Maybe this’ll be a retirement project: learn Welsh.

Yesterday, Aberystwyth, nice place, sea relatively benign so far.

Lectionary… Psalm 99… When God doesn’t seem to be in charge so much, is just saying “the Lord is king” enough?

Normal service is resumed

Today more of a normal mild, damp February day. The air is soft and comforting. Paths are wet underfoot.

Yesterday, Bala and near Dolgellau. An ancient Abbey and a fun little train. A car ride with the huge bulk of Cadair Idris in view much of the way. It’s a lot more impressive than this picture suggests.

Today, Port Meirion and then Porthmadog for shop and chips. Port Meirion is quirky, exuberant. It was started between the wars and finished in the fifties. The bright colours and fun were probably just what was needed as the country emerged from wartime austerity.

Creator God, we thank you
For they greyness and the rain.
We thank you for

the all-enveloping comfort
Of the damp that nourishes the crops, 
Feeds the reservoirs, 
Forces people to come close

Together for shelter. 
We thank you for the relief
From the emptiness of dry weather. 

We pray for people in dry places
Struggling with drought

or climate change. 
Christ, who knew thirst, 
Who knew suffering, be with them. 
Christ who taught forgiveness, 
Reconcile us all 
With one another
And with our planet. 

Spirit of God, 
Move in us all, 
And grow in us
The hope of change. 

One God, help us to live right
In this your world