Epiphany Chalk Inscription

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In our worship meeting on Epiphany Sunday, I asked the congregation (from North Shields, Shiremoor and Wallsend Corps) how observant they were. This was because I had chalked something outside the entrance. But what does it mean?

Well, it’s an ancient custom in the Christian Church, especially amongst the Eastern Traditions. Chalk is blessed for everyone in the parish, and this is then taken home, and used to make this inscription on or around the entrance to your house. This is a sign of the Christian faith being lived in that home, and a sign of God’s blessing. 20+C+M+B+19.

You might have guessed that 20 & 19 refers to the year, but what about the C+M+B? The three letters have two meanings: they are the traditional names of the three Wise Men; Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, ‘May Christ bless this house’.

It’s a way of witnessing to the world that in all our comings and goings in 2019, we will always be in search of the truth found in Jesus, the Word made Flesh, who the Wise Men search for by the light of the star.

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.