New Every Morning

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In addition to my daily Bible reading, reflection and time of prayer, I now have two years worth of poetry to read (specially selected for each day of the year) thanks to two very thoughtful Christmas presents. You can read about them here or click the picture. This poem by Susan Coolidge has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients, and is clearly suitable for the first day of a New Year, and the title also calls to mind Bible verses from Lamentations 3:22-23Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

See also Second-hand presents? Discuss!

To Do List For Any Year

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I had a burst of creative energy before settling down last night, so I scribbled all my thoughts in a notebook and added to them (or amended them) several times before finally getting off to sleep. They were inspired by a number of negative things I had read or seen during the day. These are all things we can all do at any time to make the world a better place, read them below in a more coherent and better-organised list.

Build bridges, not walls.

Seek to understand others.

Talk to someone of faith, another faith, or no faith.

Visit a mosque, synagogue, or another place of worship.

Talk to someone of a different political persuasion.

Listen to children.

Don’t define others by race, colour, gender, sexuality, faith/no faith, or politics.

Visit a food bank or refugee charity.

Value everyone.

Celebrate and embrace difference.

Value cooperation.

Question everything.

Challenge fake news.

Value integrity.

Oppose all injustice, stand up for truth.

Be less judgemental.

Encourage others.

Understand mental health better.

Forgive willingly.

Say sorry easily.

Love unconditionally.

Be generous in spirit.

Smile more and talk to strangers.

Make a difference where you are.

Please feel free to add suggestions to my list.

Resolutions anyone?

New Year's Resolutions

It’s said that New Year resolutions are a to-do list for the first week of January; we might smile, but many a true word is spoken in jest.

I asked some friends on Facebook for their thoughts on New Year resolutions, and I received some interesting responses:

I don’t bother making them.

I made one many years ago, it was never to make any more. I’ve stuck to it.

I make the same one every year and break it at that exact moment. I resolve to not make any New Year Resolutions.

Are they not just a bit of a joke? I’ve never taken them seriously. I find making small goals throughout the year is a lot easier.

I see them as a declaration of good intent, sometimes purposeful but often lacking in any real commitment.

If you want to achieve something, and you are serious about it, simply set the goal whether it is New Year or not.

One of my friends followed up their initial comment with these helpful words:
I do see January as a time to start afresh and perhaps pick up things that have been dropped throughout the year. So, for example, I’m planning on starting running again having let it slip through autumn and winter. But I don’t like the pressure of New Year resolutions and the feeling of failure for having set unrealistic goals because of the apparent expectation of society to do so.

If we are going to make resolutions, we need to be realistic and set achievable goals, describing them in specific terms. Maybe large goals are best split into smaller ones, with a planned starting date and time period. It might be helpful just to focus on one or two things, rather than a whole list. Ultimately it’s about aiming for things that are important to you, not what you think you ought to do or what others expect of you. See also here.

As for my resolutions, get back into the habit of running and aim for better sleep.

Thank you Hannah, Tris, Leanne, Mark, Paul, Stephen and Emlyn for your thoughts.

Second-hand presents? Discuss!

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This Christmas I’ve been reflecting on commercialisation of the season, along with general consumerism and materialism in society; have these three things brought us greater happiness, or should we be more aware of their dangers to the cohesiveness of family and social life?

One thing you certainly realise having children is the amount of packing that surrounds toys, as well as the amount of human effort and ingenuity needed to extract them. Not to mention all the plastic (both large and small) that comprises the packaging; plastic that is increasingly becoming a problem in our finite world.

With those thoughts in mind, I was delighted to receive two wonderful books. They’re second-hand hardbacks, and (in my view) are perfectly acceptable to give as presents. I’ll treasure them and read them every day for two years. Discuss.

See also New Every Morning.

2018 Favourite Albums

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I don’t know about you, but for me, 2018 hasn’t been the greatest year for new commercial music; but of the 91 albums I’ve listened to, here are my top ten (in alphabetical order):

David Byrne: American Utopia
Johnny Marr: Call the Comet
Mogwai: Kin [Soundtrack]
Nils Frahm: All Melody
Ólafur Arnalds: re:member
Paul McCartney: Egypt Station
Paul Weller: True Meanings
Roger Eno: Dust of Stars
The Good, the Bad & the Queen: Merrie England
Tony Bennett & Diana Krall: Love Is Here to Stay

Although not a particular favourite, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by the Arctic Monkeys deserves special mention. It features a rich sound embodying lounge pop, space pop, glam rock and psychedelic pop, as well as elements of jazz. It’s a major departure from the band’s previous guitar-heavy sound, an album less accessible than their previous work (which I prefer) and one which has divided fans.

My favourite live album is:
David Bowie: Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78)

Despite what I’ve said about commercial albums in 2018, it’s been another great year for independent music and (out of the 45 albums I’ve listened to) here are my top ten (again in alphabetical order):

Cousin Silas: Short Stories, Short Stories 2 & Short Stories 3 (3 albums as 1 choice)
Cousin Silas: Unlimited Boundaries
Cousin Silas & Kevin Buckland: Sacred Space
Cousin Silas & Kevin Lyons: The Fortean Project
Martin Neuhold: Embraced by Dusk
Martin Neuhold & Cousin Silas: Piano 2
Mixtaped Monk: Vacant Earth
Øystein Jørgensen: Sea Of Thoughts
Phillip Wilkerson: Reveries
Scott Lawlor: Remnants of Winter Memories

You can find my Bandcamp music collection here.

Let me know what you think about my favourites, and maybe share your favourites. Here’s already looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

Note: Another Bowie release might possibly have been my favourite live album had I heard it during the year, you can read about it here.

The New Doctor (Carol Service Talk)

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I’m a big Doctor Who fan, and I love Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor. She was a great choice and for many children she’ll be their first Doctor; this is the case for Freddy and Matilda, as we let them see a recent episode that wasn’t too scary. How wonderful to see a woman in that role! (See also here).

How far back do you go?
Who was your first Doctor?

Show selected PowerPoint slides of past Doctors.

William Hartnell was my first Doctor, and I can vividly remember watching the first ever episode as a nine-year-old boy on an old black and white television.

I have my own particular favourite Doctors, but I’m loving the new Doctor; a perfect combination of courage with compassion, confidence with humility, and strength with vulnerability.

Having those characteristics in balance is really important; not just for the Doctor, but for all of us in life. And we see that balance of qualities in the life of Jesus.

• In his life he had the courage to fight for what he believed in, but it was always done with compassion for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcast. We see him fighting the oppressive religious and political system, yet having time for those who were victims of it.

• He was confident in his mission of bringing God’s Kingdom of love and grace, but it was always expressed with humility. We see him firmly setting his face towards Jerusalem and certain death, but never forcing himself on people or using violence to get his way.

• He had a resilient strength about him, yet at the same time he was vulnerable. He willingly faced great suffering and death, yet chose to go through with it for us.

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-11) tells us to be like Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus became one of us, as the Apostle John (John 1:14a) puts it, in a modern paraphrase:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

Born into Poverty (Western School)

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My talk given this evening (12/12/18) at the Western Community Primary School Christmas Performance, attended by the parents, families and friends of pupils, along with the Wallsend Corps Salvation Army Band. My theme was suggested by the headteacher and some of my inspiration was drawn from here.

We all know the traditional story of Christmas, of Jesus born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. Mary and Joseph had to leave home, along with many others, and there was nowhere for them to stay or for Mary to have her baby.

There was no beautiful cot, only the animals’ feeding trough to place him in and make him comfortable. The word ‘manger’ comes from the French ‘to eat’ as in ‘Pret A Manger’ (Ready to Eat).

Let’s imagine Jesus was born today, and his parents were homeless and in poverty, maybe as a result of war, famine or economic circumstances. Maybe he would be placed in a cardboard box wrapped up in dirty blankets, and where would his parents find food for him?

If he was born into poverty to homeless parents in this country today, he might be placed in a supermarket trolley (poetic licence, but please come with me). The symbol of food and drink becoming the cot for the Son of God; food and drink which would normally be placed in that trolley being unaffordable for his parents.

Sadly, food and warmth can’t be taken for granted by many families. So it’s important that we help those who are less fortunate today.

It’s wonderful what this school is doing to help such families this Christmas. This is something we do because it’s the right thing to do, whether we’re Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus (for example) or of no faith.

Christmas brings out the best in all of us, as we celebrate a God who sent his Son as a vulnerable baby to be our Saviour and Lord. He brings love, joy and peace to those who welcome him; that’s the Christian message at Christmas.

So thank you for your generosity in helping people and families less fortunate, this is really appreciated. But we have to keep looking out for those in need, both at home and abroad. This is something the Salvation Army does all year round (not just at Christmas) because God reached out to us in Jesus.

The peace of God be in your heart
The grace of God be in your words
The love of God be in your hands
The joy of God be in your soul
and in the song your life sings.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.