Archive for the 'church' Category

On the poverty of our worship

Kevin linked to this piece by Ben Myers and it’s great, but this is my fav:

When the church’s singing is structured around Israel’s psalms, there is a constant reminder that worship is not primarily a matter of personal choice; that the experience of worship is not primarily my own private experience; that the voice in worship is not even primarily my voice, but the voice of Israel, the voice of Christ, the voice of Christ’s people gathered across time and space, learning together how to transmute all the varied raw materials of human experience into the praise of God through the alchemy of Jesus Christ.

As someone who is involved in leading worship, this helps articulate my frustration and desire to do better.

The Politics of Jesus – 4

Yoder ends with talking about how modern social ethic is obsessed with meaning and direction of history and making sure it heads in the “right” direction.

He suggests this in itself makes 3 big assumptions

  1. the relationship of cause and effect is measurable and visible. If we make the right choices it will move the way we want it
  2. assumes we are adequately informed to set the direction
  3. movement toward these goals is itself a moral yardstick.

He highlights church history as a good example of how every time we work this way it seems to go badly wrong.

He concludes with this simple phrase

Vicit agnus noster, rim sequamur

(Our lamb has conquered; him let us follow.)

This highlights something pretty substantial about how I think about the church. Something my wife has hammered home in me (via Stanley) that the church is primarily called to be faithful.

Perhaps that much seems obvious to you. But it seems in stark contrast to how we actually seem to live it out. We live as if our job is to change the world. When perhaps that is not our “job” but the “job” of the one we follow.

If we are faithful no doubt the world will be changed but that is somewhat different.

Pictures in an exhibition

The woman who in a moment of drunken madness agreed to marry me organised a youth arts festival in Maynooth the other day.

The teenagers from our church gave their utmost to the whole thing and the church in general baked and painted themselves into a festival creating mass and it was really cool.

There was some  music in the evening which I partook in. Below is a wee video of me singing if you can tolerate it. [Filmed by our very own Catriona Mitchel]

[I have some videos of some of the other performers but won’t put them up unless i get permission from the lovely ladies themselves.]

Beauty dies young

Ugliest church building ever – North Uist

Perhaps occasionally used as a squash court

Sam Hall

I grew up in the church of Ireland. We sang psalms. Or rather the choir did and the congregation mumbled along behind.

I now go to a Presbyterian church. Where they also sing psalms.Though they use four rather than the COI’s two notes for the melody.

Simy pointed out an amusing thing to remember while choking your way through a metrical psalm:

It is entirely possible that Yoda composed the wording for the metrical psalms

Mission of GOD – 1

This has been somewhat of a blogging hiatus. Blame global warming, blame spending my time to and from Maynooth, blame the economic downturn. Whichever way you look at it that trip to Texas was a while ago now.

I have not been inactive. I perhaps have not paused enough to reflect on any of it.

I have been reading this however:

A simply cracking book by a Belfast guy I saw speak about 3 weeks ago.

It is not exactly easy going – not so much big words and lots of Hebrew, more that it has big ideas that need chewed over.

It has reinforced with me how much my understanding of GOD, the church and my relation to it all has changed quite spectacularly (at least from my perspective) over the years.

I am up to chapter 8 (out of 15), so I figure i’ll give you an update on the salient points so far. If i feel particularly enthused I might start a Scott McKnight/Patrick Mitchell walk through each chapter.

To begin:

He uses the word missional a lot. Missional is one of those words that church people throw around. A word that I felt confused by till I realised I’d understood it for years and just never had the word. A bit like church as community having a bit of a revival even though it’s stuff my Dad’s generation had been doing in Muckley for years without the terminology.

To summarise his view on missional:

Israel had a missional role in the midst of the nations – implying that they had an identity and role connected to GOD’s ultimate intention (or mission) of blessing for the nations

In the new testament setting this meant churches with a mission mindset, willing to engage the culture in order that GOD might fulfil his mission through them.

He describes our mission as:

our committed participation as GOD’s people, at GOD’s invitation and command, in GOD’s own mission within the history of GOD’s world for the redemption of GOD’s creation

Wright’s goal is to help us read the Bible with a missional hermeneutic – or in more simple terms (casue i still have to look up words like hermeneutic and soteriology in Wikipedia every time I read them…) – to read the Bible from the perspective of GOD’s mission. And if we do this we will find great reward in understanding the grand, over arching narrative of the Bible.

He also spends some time trying to shift focus away from us in mission and towards GOD:

it is not so much the case that GOD has a mission for the church in the world but that GOD has a church for his mission in the world

He provides a useful framework for understanding what the Bible tells us of the mission of GOD

– the GOD of purpose in creation

– moves on to the conflict and problem generated by human rebellion against that purpose

– spends most of the narrative journey on the story of GOD’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history.

– finishes beyond the horizon of it’s own history with the eschatological hope of new creation.

I also love his description of GOD as one who wills to be known to the ends of the earth.

As an old testament scholar Wright spends a lot of time there, examining the statements of mission, perhaps most clearly seen in the words spoken to Abraham in chapter 12 and how these words are continually drawn upon throughout the history, literature and poetry of the people of Israel. And when this is seen it makes much more sense of what Paul was trying to say.

He also describes well both the particularity of GOD’s relationship with Israel as his covenant people but also the overwhelming universality of GOD’s purpose towards humanity – expressed from the earliest to the latest pages of the Bible.

I hate to say that I’m not sure I have heard teaching like this often in the church. If it was spoken then I didn’t actually hear it. I heard a lot about my sin, about grace and faith and lifestyle, and even a lot about telling the story of the gospel. But without this view of what on earth GOD is actually at, it all seems quite narrow.

It has been a huge joy and awakening (over about 3 or 4 years) to realise that there is more to salvation than redemption from sin. Yes GOD does this, but it is almost the tip of the ice berg in terms of what he is doing.

Promises, promises

I have been surrounded and involved in Christianity since i was born. It was in many ways the air i breathed.

As much as being a middle class protestant in north armagh, with a good dose of  rationalism and the growing critique of modernism…

I am everything I am because of everything I am – to try and simplify faith into a simple indoctrinating process shoots away the ground you stand on.

I remain surrounded by and involved in Christianity. And lots of interesting and exciting and lovely and horrible things have happened along the way. I plan to live a life surrounded by and involved in the Christian faith.

I cannot put a definite time on the beginning of my faith. I remember feeling strongly about it and praying with my family shortly after one of my child hood friends was killed in an accident. That meant something. I’m not sure what.

I’m not sure a distinct point of salvation means anything. I imagine time looks different from the perspective of infinity.

I grew up in a Church of Ireland church but was never baptised. My parents were unclear about baptising babies and so they figured they’d let us grow up and decide on baptism ourselves.

And I suppose I did decide about baptism – about 14 years ago about. Yet I only just got round to it sunday past.

It was cool. Not that covers the theological aesthetics of it all. But it was.

Our place mainly baptised babies but has been known to baptise adults when the need arises.

I figured me and Simy would go for the baby option and he could scream through the service and I’d wet myself and vomit over the minister.

Standing at the front of the church with Simy was weird. Just the two of us and a minister. I felt we should be holding hands or I should be wearing a dress. Maybe next time…

We each got a minute or so to introduce ourselves and a bit of our story and why we were getting baptised.

Then we knelt and got slightly damp and I cried.

These are powerful things. The church – this disparate bunch of legalists, sinners, lovers, haters, bored and zealous – this church is the most powerful thing in the world. Broken and ugly GOD loves his bride. This makes me cry.

Da was not there. Understandably. And most people there knew it. And most people there felt it. They’re a good bunch to cry in front of. I’m grateful for them.

Storm in a teacup

My church had a special wee service to commemorate the 1859 revival that happened in Ulster in… well 1859 i suppose. I know very little about it. I wasn’t born at the time.

The original plan was to have it down beside the wee bowling green in town. You would think in the midst of the Northern Irish summer that you’d be guaranteed a clear, dry summer’s day and there’d be BBQ’s and jumpers for goalposts and it would all be lovely.

Not quite.

There was really quite a lot of thunder and lightning. Some people used to see that as an omen of the gods. When it comes to running a PA rig outdoors then I suppose I still do.

So we packed everything back in the van and went back to the church and unpacked it all in the hall (this was plan B).

Of course at that point it then became very sunny and pleasant. And being the nice, enthusiastic church people we are, everyone plodded back down to town to stand in the sun for a few minutes and hear the moderator speak.

And of course the thunder and lightning came on again and they all got very wet.

I stayed in the hall with the sound monkeys eating the biscuits.

Anyhow. After all the wetting and drying and the singing there was the obligatory cup of tea and a chat.

Standing on the stage packing up the drum kit I decided that there is often more grace and humility and love in a bourbon and a cup of tea than there is in so much of the rest of what we do.

This is a radical concept, but during this point of our time together, people actually smile. They laugh, they even embrace. It is perhaps at this point more than most that we seem together.

As cynical I can be about how the church does the business of church – it is often in the cups of tea and dear old men and ladies wiping tables and young guys packing up sound gear that I find myself most content and happy to be part of all this.

Yes, as zoomie rants, it would be easier to walk away, to gripe and to moan and disengage but under (and it may really be quite far under…)  the politics, and the bureaucracy and the conservatism there is pure gold. And surely that’s something worth sticking around for.

One love people get ready

As Col 4:15 would put it, a few of us meet on a sunday morning, before all the real chruches get going and take a wee look at the book of Acts and spend some time trying to work out “what it all means” so to speak.

Today we were covering what i always thought of as Christian communism, (before i had much of an idea of what either “Christian” or “communism” meant…) and in particular its application to how we live our lives.

And the phrases that kind of struck us most were “…the believers were one in heart and mind…” and “…they shared everything they had…”

Which led to a few genius suggestions by Fin:

1) we’re in such disarray and disagreement as a body of believers that we spend all our time trying to reconcile the church to itself instead of spending time trying to reconcile the world to GOD.

2) we may actually be better (or at least more comfortable) with sharing our possessions than sharing our lives together.

As a group of people we are not particularly materialistic, we have the usual young, enthusiastic Christian aversion to money and materialism – not that we necessarily live that out particularly well, we’re just uncomfortable with it in a distant sort of way.

Most of us do have a bit of an issue when it comes to doing life together. The people i love the most and count as my closest friends are exceptionally busy people. Life is there to be lived, and the world there to be changed and they are doing their very utmost to bring that about. I envy and applaud them for it. They put me to shame.

As a result they are often quite tricky to get round for dinner or get out to the pub for a night.

I miss them.

Too often, i have no idea what is going on in their lives. Yes, i know they are doing this and that, and that so and so’s married, and so and so’s having a baby, and so and so’s doing this job, but that doesn’t tell me very much about what is actually going on in their lives.

We need to figure out some way of doing this better.

If we do not figure out how to love each other then we are useless to the world around us. Though of course it’s also true that unless we get round to loving the world around us we’re just a bunch of narrow-minded self-preserving bastards.

It is interesting that amongst us (in our wee group so to speak…), different folk have different issues. Some need to learn that loving those outside the church is no excuse to avoid loving those inside the church. And there are some (like myself) who need to learn to take it outside so to speak. Just because I find it exceptionally difficult to make contact and relationship in the current context does not give me reason to hide behind my books and blogs.

What i meant to get round to but will save for another day (it’s 1am, i’m on call and the only people sober in the department are the staff – at least they were when i left), is something that has been bothering me for some time. I love my theology, and my books and erudite ideas by what seems like the whole (or at least important part of the) population of Maynooth. But when it comes to the 23 year old with 5 kids, no GCSEs, a life time of benefits and an alcohol problem (never mind an individual, how about a whole community…) – how do i explain the gospel? And more than flippin words – what does the gospel even look like from their point of view?

To protect the family name

I take part in a bible study on a Sunday morning in the house at the crazy early time of 0930. We’ve been running through the book of Acts and after 3 months we’ve made it to chapter 2. This could take a while.

Anyhow we’re at the bit helpfully entitled the fellowship of believers in the NIV. Which has this wonderfully radical bit about the believers holding the finances in common – which we have somehow managed to either spiritualise or edit out somewhere along the line.

But it also has this use of the word koinonia, translated as “fellowship” or by some as “the common life”.

I’ve been brought up in the culture where fellowship is either a cup of tea and a bun after church or merely as Christian banter – whatever that may be. So forgive me if i have a somewhat dim view of the word. Though I think we can redeem it a bit.

Anyhow we were chatting through today what we thought was meant by the common life of the believers in the early church (so early they hadn’t even worked out the name Christian or the word Church).

We figured this was a lot of things, including the financial aspect but perhaps the analogy of the family was the best. [Another clue that all the basic things than human beings do (marriage, family, kids etc…) point towards something bigger than themselves.]

When something in a family situation goes spectacularly wrong – divorce, alcoholism, unwanted teen pregnancy, unemployment, financial crisis – then it is the whole family’s problem, even if it is only the mum that has the drink problem or the son that got some girl pregnant. Families (in general) do not walk away from each other. They do not hold each other at a distance and view an individuals problems as just that – the individuals problem. Your problems become our problems. This is simply the way families work. Blood is thicker than water and all that.

And so when it comes to the church then is this the model we should be striving for?

[as a brief aside I am not so naive to think all families are like this – I just see this at work in mine and lots of others]

Going nuclear

“the church’s mission began as the radioactive fallout from an explosion of joy…”

Leslie newbigin
The gospel in a pluralist society

Little drummer boy

I am not a drummer. Not really anyhow. I was best defined by Skeeno‘s Da – whether i like it or not – as a frustrated country guitarist.

But I’ll have a go. I started drumming in my church cause they’re didn’t seem to be anyone else to do it and i really quite fancied having a go. There was somehwhat of a steep learning curve to that approach.

I used to get nervous drumming – I never got nervous playing guitar or singing (though I should be with the singing) – but with the drumming I was so totally aware of how loud and significant all the mistakes were. With the guiatar you could fluff a note or simply not play the bits you didn’t know. With drumming you have no such options.

People say if you hit one or two wrong notes then you’re crap but if you hit three wrong notes then it’s jazz. I’m prett sure that doesn’t apply to drumming.

I’m getting better and realising that it’s probably the most fun instrument in a band. Well it is for me, if not the most fun for the rest of the band who have to listen.

So here we are

I usually have rules about coffee after 7pm. Generally it all goes wrong when I don’t follow them. I end up awake all night with the head buzzing. Oh well, too late now, the coffee’s in the system so I’ll do whatever I usually do when I can’t sleep. Clean or blog. I’m not sure the lads would appreciate the former.

I’ll start with a bit of background.

I live in Portadown. More specifically I live in the middle of the Garvaghy Road area of town. Portadown is famous for very little – though we do seem to do a good line in sectarian violence. Most people know Portadown most famously for Drumcree and the Garvaghy Road came at the centre of that.

It is just far enough in the past (at least the worst bits) for it to become partly history. It doesn’t inflame the same passions it once did. Most are thankful for that.

Whether I like it or not, I am in Northern Irish terms a Protestant. This is how I would be viewed by many definitions. Again I say – whether I agree with that definition or not. As a Protestant I am also expected to subscribe to a number of national past times – being British, Bible bashing, and wanting orangemen to walk down the Garvaghy Road.

I travel on an Irish Passport, politically speaking I’d prefer a united Ireland, I think a lot of people made a lot of mistakes about Drumcree. I think the church in Northern Ireland was either co-opted into the loyalist agenda and in other cases was simply drowned out in the noise.

Portadown has issues in its past. All of Northern Ireland does – in many ways ours maybe aren’t even as big. Reconciliation is a big, tough word. We’re not there yet.

So as a Protestant living in the midst of the Garvaghy Road I realise there’s a bit of history and background that I can’t simply walk away from.

More background.

About 6 years ago I got involved in helping to run a youth club in town for a bunch of kids – from both sides of the spectrum. This was back when it was simple, you were either a Mickey or a Prod. Nowadays we’ve all the overseas guys are making our bigotry all a little bit more complicated.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – I grew up in nice sheltered middle-class suburbia in a stable 2 parent family with endless opportunities ahead of me. Some of these kids weren’t so lucky. It was somewhat of an eye opener.

I remember chatting with two other folk in particular thinking that why is it that all the Christians live in certain areas of town, while very few live in others. Thinking that if the church was doing what it should then maybe the church should be moving into certain areas, and indeed maybe I should…

So that’s how I ended up here. 6 years but I made it here eventually. Good thing GOD isn’t in a rush.

Now I’ve never quite understood the concept of calling or vision in the Christian life, maybe I’m a bit better with vocation. Most of the time I am doing what I think most people are doing – making it up as they go along.

But being here, living here is about the one thing I’ve ever felt called (which is a big, complex, hard to explain type of a word and I’m not gonna try that)… to do. That and medicine. I think so anyhow. Glad that’s as clear as mud then…

In particular I’ve always been excited about the idea of a church based on the Garvaghy Road, filled with and for the people of this area.

The evangelicals involvement in this part of town in the past has largely been “ship lots of folk in to do something and then leave at the end of the week.” Which has not been all bad by any means but hardly satisfactory.

More worryingly we have often committed that most heinous of crimes and tried to make good old fashioned Northern Irish Protestants out of them. We have not always covered ourselves in glory in that regard.

We are very bad at grasping other people’s point of view. That maybe not everyone is as keen on the Union with Britain as we are. Maybe not everyone is a big fan of the orange order and maybe everyone isn’t a big fan of some guys coming in and telling them that their mother Church is the anti-CHRIST.

So maybe if we’re talking about church and JESUS and all that we need to see it from their point of view.

People, generally known as missionaries, have been doing this in the church for years, but generally in some foreign country where us Prods can’t see them doing it. We’ve never quite learned to apply the same lessons at home.

And so that’s what we’re kind of about. To put it simply – trying to plant a church here. That term of course carries a lot of baggage and you will no doubt have pre-conceptions of what I mean by that. We are in the process of working all this out.

I think I’m beginning to understand what “working out your salvation with fear and trembling means”. None of us claim authority or all the answers. Anything we proclaim, we proclaim with humility and an acknowledgement that what we are doing we have not always done well in this place.

I get very excited about church. I mean the concept of the church, the big, universal, holy catholic church that they used to talk about back when I was growing up anglican where they had nice things like liturgy.

There are not very many people in Ireland doing this. At least not that I am aware of, though that’s maybe not saying very much. I know Zoomtard does this for a living in many ways in Maynooth and seems to be doing very well.

The North is one of the most churched places on earth though we’ve not always been renowned for being innovative in how we do church.  Hopefully we’re learning.

At the minute we’re still only beginning. There’s a group of us living here, with the same vision, the same heart for the place and the people. We meet on Sunday mornings in this house to chat and pray and eat bacon. Kind of simple but it’s a start.

I was thinking i could clean up for christmas

Thanks to Zoomy

I hate fecing christmas anyhow, so any chance to run it into the ground – or maybe i missed the point…

What happens when the heart just stops


So it goes.

I sit in the by window of the bedroom, listening to him breathe. Noisy, rattly breaths. He wakes only occasionally now. To pee. To take a few sips. He knows us. He knows what’s happening. He even makes the odd sarcastic one-worder (not having the energy for a full one liner).

But his voice is slurred and weak and he hasn’t even the energy to get the blankets off him on his own. This is what the sickness does to you. Leaves people the shell of what they used to be. I’ve seen it happen before. Just not to him.

So it goes.

Not like we didn’t know it was coming. Either from 4 months ago or even last year. We’ve thought about this. We’ve talked about this. We’ve planned for this. I don’t mean it makes it easier. I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure I have to.

Slowly (insidious as medics would say) he’s gone down hill. As the cancer grows and robs more of his energy and leaves him with more and more nausea and kinks and twists in his gut. As tiny blood clots lodge in the blood vessels in his lungs. As his poor starved liver stops making protein and all the fluid collects wherever gravity will draw it to. Week by week he could do a bit less.

There was of course the odd notable exception. Like the day they went to Newcastle and he ate a steak sandwich. Or the day the palliative care consultant came to see him and he was outside cleaning the drains. As mum said to the consultant: “this is gonna look bad…” I told dad they’d take his Graseby off him.

We’re grateful for what we had. He was glad to be here and we were glad to have him. I think that’s changed now.

I am remarkably calm. Though that’s not the right word. I’m not freaking out for some reason – I know I have done previously. The whole thing is a decidedly odd (and equisitely painful) experience.


And now he’s gone.

In the same way I’ve watched them all go before. We looked after him at home. We did everything. No nurse cared more than we did (and the nurses were great), rarely have I been so proud of my family, doing what they’ve had no training or experience to do before. I do this for a living in many ways, it is completely foreign to them.

I could watch all the signs that go with the event of dying. All the medicalised aspects of it. Knowing that there wasn’t enough blood and oxygen to his brain to deliver any kind of conscious awareness of what was going on. He was already gone. I knew this, but still… it’s my Da. He looked like all the other poor dying souls I’ve watched, but still… this was my Da.

Watching someone die is a strange and profound enough experience to start with, never mind watching it happen to someone you love dearly. I think this is part of why it has such a profound experience on people, and perhaps why it didn’t have such a big effect on me. His act of dying (the three or so hours form when he wouldn’t wake up until he was gone) wasn’t anything special. It was, as we’ve described it to people: “peaceful”. The bit that gets you is the sheer finality of it all. That the eyes won’t open again. That there’ll not be the sarcastic comments and the steely determination.

Amazing how quick something can go from being someone you have an intimate relationship to an odd looking body that bears little resemblance to the man you once knew.

I don’t understand emotion – I’m a man, none of us do apparently… But I mean on a physiological basis – the constriction at the back of your throat, such that you can’t even swallow, the pain, the sheer physical pain in your chest, the headaches, the inability to complete sentences, the way your face curls up like (to quote dear Ronnie…) “a bulldog chewing a wasp”. Why does loss affect us poor creatures so?

I wouldn’t want to have kept him here. At least not the last week or two, they’ve not been pretty. In some ways there’s this selfish desire just to keep them here, even if it’s only for a smile and a word. But you think about it and then you realise you wouldn’t want to keep them, not like this anyhow.

And then we were sitting there. With all that was left of Da. And what do you do. Where do you start? Simon phoned the doctor and all the important people, I sorted out Dad and all the medical stuff. Mum baked a pie. What else would you do? I was hungry. I don’t know why, but I was hungry. It was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

The undertaker asked us would the house be “open” or “private” – Though according to Ruth ,when it says “private” in the paper it actually means anyone can come to the house, but if it says “strictly private” then it’s private. That seems perverse. But it is Norn Iron I suppose.

People started to turn up at the house. And then more people, and more people. And here’s the difficult bit…

I am glad that so many people turned up to wish us well and grieve and tell stories. I am truly grateful for the hundreds of cups of tea and buns and sandwhiches. But there were frequent points when I was very close to standing up in the middle of the room swearing loudly “would you *&^%$£$% all go home and just leave us in peace…”

I didn’t.

Instead I went out to the garage to stroke the dog. The dog is therapeutic. Safer and cheaper than drugs and booze. The dog helps us cope. The dog has been walked and stroked within an inch of its life in the past few weeks. The dog is the single most happy and contented thing/creature I have ever met. Like colin the robot in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy after Ford has rewired its pleasure circuits (for those who’ve read Hitchhiker’s then you’re with me, if not please read it…) Dog’s are good listeners. We could learn a thing or two…

I am sorry for thinking about such thoughts about such dear people who would come only to “pay respects” and encourage. In one of those odd ways I am both glad that you were there while at the same time I wished you weren’t. I think i’m allowed such confusion.

We bury them quick in Ireland. Two days later. I like to think it’s on the third day and all that… I don’t know why we bury them two days later. Makes the whole thing a bit more intense, but I think it’s a good idea none the less. Though how should I know, it’s not like I do this a lot…

We had a short service in the house before the trip to the church. 25 of us – pretty much the whole family, well those of us old enough to know what was going on – packed into the living room. An unbreakable and terrible tension in the room. Me and Simon waited outside for the minister to come. Both of us in our suits, white shirts and ties, greeting mourners as they arrived. I remember thinking we looked like bouncers. Like a skinny, more weedy version of Max and Paddy.

And then we followed the hearse.

To the church, along the road that Dad walked every sunday afternoon when he was a kid, turning just before we passed the house he grew up in, up roads where he walked every sunday morning with the aging BB old boys.

To the church he’d gone to since he was a baby, that both his and mum’s parents had gone to for all the generations we can trace. [And all of a sudden I realise why roots are so important. Da always said, as if stuck on repeat, “who you are, where you are from, to whom you belong…”]

Carried under the flags of the BB he’d been a founding member of, where he’d served for 40 years. Carried down the same aisle that he’d watched mum walk down on their wedding day so many years before. [Funny how funerals are so like, and unlike, weddings…]

To lie in his coffin at the front of the church filled with the 500 or so people who came to say that they knew and loved him.

To listen to the hymns that neither, me, Simy or Liz could even begin to sing without choking up on tears. We just stood as if the sheer volume and meaning from the crowd behind us could hold us up. [“From life’s first cry to final breath..” is always a killer – i have watched lots of “life’s first cry” waiting to resuscitate babies as they come out. I have watched my own Fathers “final breath” – this is a lyric with depth and meaning…]

To listen and watch as Dad’s best friend gave a eulogy where we all got reminded who he was – someone who loved well and was first class when it came to taking the piss out of people. People got insulted – Da would’ve been happy, he wouldn’t have had it any other way…

And then carried. By those who knew and loved him best, by those who were his family, as we walked behind, careful to look only at the coffin and not side to side, knowing that if we made eye contact we’d come to pieces. Odd that – on the one day designed for mourning, you spend the whole day trying to keep it together for the sake of those around you.

Then taken. Out into the pissing rain (good day for a funeral…) And me and Simy take the coffin, down the path to where we’ve buried the rest of his family. And I just repeat over and over in my head “thank you for the life you gave me, thank you for the happiness, thank you for the discipline, thank you for what you made me, thank you for everything… I’m gonna miss you.”

This and the horrible practicality that if I have to walk much further on a slippy path in these shoes then I’m gonna drop the coffin.

I remember my Granda’s funeral, the same grave, 15 years before. When, as they lowered the coffin they struggled to fit the coffin into the hole and I remember it being remarked that it was just “Billy (Da’s Dad) – stubborn to the last…”

Dust to dust, just like every funeral.

[Liz is for being cremated- she says she’s scared of enclosed spaces and scared of being buried alive. I’m being cremated to save space. Or possibly cut up into tiny pieces by inept medical students with my stolen fingers being used in tasteless pranks… I fugure if GOD raises the dead, then the spread of my individual molecules, atoms, protons, electrons and Higgs Bosons throughout the diaspora shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge…]

As we walk away, the BB old boys gather round the grave to do what they always do, to do what I’ve done before, and “bury their own”.

In the hall, there is tea. Cups of tea like you’ve never seen before. Trolleys of buns and huge vats of tea, all arranged and moving with military precision. There is nothing quite like dear church folk doing catering at a funeral.

We took up a position in the corner and waited for the onslaught. Two hours of handshakes, embraces and tears we were still there as the queue slowly diminshed. Most of it was a bit of a blur. People I had never met, hugged me, good country men shook my hand till the bones cracked. Almost everyone called me Simon. I developed a layer of foundation on my shoulder from all the embraces. It was, in the strangest way, enjoyable. Listening to people tell me stories about Da, from long before I was born.

You see, this is what I didn’t get. I considere myself an authority on my own Da. I had reason to think so. But I forgot that Dad had this whole other life before I turned up. He had 20 years before he even met Liz. This life where he met and loved people and did all kinds of stuff that I knew nothing about. People knew Da in all kinds of ways that I didn’t even think were possible. I am humbled.

For most of the time I was OK. I smiled and laughed and joked and practised our “funeral soundbytes” – it is impossible to say something original every time someone asks you a question about it so you come up with a few choice truths which somehow lose their depth of meaning with repitition.

But every now and again someone would appear in the queue who I hadn’t quite expected or someone who didn’t even know Da and had come solely for my benefit – and then I’d begin to wobble a bit. It goes down as one of the strangest experiences yet.

Your wedding day is cool cause you know and love everyone there, your funeral is the same, except you don’t get to be there. Da would’ve enjoyed it. Just shame he wasn’t there.

We only seem to get this many together if someone gets born, married or dies. Odd that. Odd, the traditions we have.

That night we all got letters from him. We knew we were getting letters. And that wasn’t the easiest. To read his handwriting, with all the nice things and him taking the piss (“Andrew, you knew you were always meant to be a girl…” Cheers Da) and at the end he’s signed it and I can’t go downstairs and say thanks. That’s the tricky bit…

Cheers Da.

Ronnie Neill

Born 29-3-48

Died 2-10-08


Tonight I want to be anglican again. Not that i was ever properly anglican anyhow. And not that the anglican church i went to was ever particularly anglican either. Which i suppose was one of the nice things about being anglican – that they weren’t always that easily pigeonholed.

And now that i’m presbyterian – well sort of. The people I love happen to be part of a presbyterian church. I am more presbyterian by accident than choice. Anyhow, now that i am whatever i am (which is of course different from being “i am who i am), whatever that may be (goodness this has started badly) I realise more and more how the presbyterians seemed to get stuck with all the crappy old buildings (though i confess I quite like church house). I suppose it’s their own fault, in over-reacting to catholicism by being petrified of anything even remotely pretty in the church in case some one mistakes it for some kind of a idol and before we know it we’re selling indulgences to evil, rich English kings…

At least the anglicans have retained some of the sense of mysticsm and importance of aesthetics and location and architecture. Though I suppose us presbies think that they’re what my dad used to call “the thin green white and gold line between protestantism and catholicism” (my dad was anglican, again more by accident of birth than choice. His dad was probably more of a socialist).

I blame this on all the heretical, hairy lefty books i’ve been reading (tom wright and brian mclaren both have beards) which have no doubt left me with something of a reawakened appreciation of lots of the other traditions of the faith. This along with the fact that it turns out we don’t go to heaven when we die (a statement which requires some qualification which I’ll not go into right now, but it’s OK I’m not a heretic… honestly… ) which came as a bit of a surprise but is actually remarkably clear when you read the bible without the old plato/gnostic goggles on.

So anyway.

Tonight was the first night of the Portadown Christian Convention

[we do odd things, a convention to most people is a business or work thing. (On the one occasion i met zoomtard he said that he wasnt going to a New Horizon meeting cause if his dad found out he went to hear a christian preacher in a big blue tent that would be a step too far). When you think about it, we do a lot of odd things, like all meeting together in a big building on a sunday evening, singing a few random songs, listening to a guy talk about an old book and a “dead guy” and then doing this remarkably strange thing where we all close our eyes and “think stuff” – this whole religion thing really is most bizzare when you look at it from the perspective of those outside the church. That implies nothing about it’s value or truth, simply that it’s unusual.]

Anyhow it’s laudable, most of all for the fact that it’s one of the rare opportunities that the Church of GOD in this town manges to (mostly) get together without bickering and moaning quite so much as usual. There’s always so many people (most of the churches cancel their evening services) that they normally hold it in the big church of ireland in the centre of town.

And i suppose this is what makes me want to be Anglican. They got all the nice buildngs in protestantism. Huge arched ceiling, stained glass, a sense of awe and presence associated with, i suppose, the presence of GOD…

Makes me feel a part of this place, this community (perhaps my favorite word of the moment, along with resurrection), this group of people who love and struggle to follow JESUS. Reminds me I’m a part of the Kingdom and I have a role to build it, to help see GOD’s justice and mercy goodness begin to rule here in part, as it one day will in totality.

Things to make and do

This, I think, is the gist of it when it comes to our role in the new creation, what it means for us to be in, and help build the kingdom of GOD:

“Every act of love , gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of GOD and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and of course every prayer, all SPIRIT-led teaching , every deed which spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of JESUS honoured in all the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of GOD, into the new creation which GOD will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of GOD.”

NT Wright
Surprised by Hope

My first born for a song

There are many things I love about church on the traditional model (whatever that means) as opposed to a more modern church service (again whatever that means…) like some of the liturgy, the reverence and respect given to our humble position before GOD, the mind numbing lifelessness of the congregation that reassures me I’m there for JESUS CHRIST and not my own entertainment – well maybe the last one is an unexpected side effect as opposed to something you might actually want.

But I will never quite get over the ability of a congregation to murder a perfectly good song. I’ve been doing music in the church for over 10 years. I have played in all variety of churches, all variety of songs with all varieties of quality.

Let me make plain that how we do the music is the least point of church (well not the least, probably what color the cushions in the pews are is less important but I’m just making a point) – we have so many more important things to do, like loving one another, learning what it means to love and follow JESUS, understanding what the Bible teaches, choosing the colour of the cushions in the pews etc… errr…  Maybe the music and the nature of the service can sit somewhat comfortably under these issues of priority.

But there comes a limit, that when you can ruin/massacre/throttle such a tune as In CHRIST alone then that’s something special. Tunes and melodies and (dare I mention it) the rhythm of a song and their effect on the emotions are not unimportant. Talented people have written these songs so that points of theological interest with significant implications are highlighted by certain chord movements (maybe the same is even true for Father Abraham though that may be pushing it…). To neglect these as mere artistic indulgence (and in some way putting your soul in danger of hell) is a big mistake and robs the song of much of its impact. Maybe we should just come out of the closet and declare ourselves reformed presbyterians and abandon the music altogether. Though maybe even the melody of unaccompanied music may be too much for us.

Even the fact we can’t have a good laugh about it all (and ourselves of course) cause we’re such repressed Presbyterians annoys me, in the same way we’ve lost the ability to applaud anything that happens in church.

We are so scared of making an idol of what the hand may make or the ear may hear or what the eye may see that we need to sit for a while at the feet of Galatians 4:15

Rush hour soul

I suppose it’s bout time I did a wee blog again for the old CE site. They have been sorely lacking of late. Indeed the sheer volume of requests for new blogs has taken me so long to get through (yes Nic I did get your email, consider it answered…) that I’ve simply not had time.

Anyway where did I last leave you – it appears to have been pre-christmas. Pre-the donegl trip, pre-the sufjan Christmas album, pre-the new mac, pre-the 8 hours a day mixing and recording Ferg’s songs, pre-getting a job, pre-a lot of stuff really. But that’s all by and by I suppose.

What looms large in front of me is a full time job, a proper job with regular hours and rotas and that kind of thing. It’s been a while. I fear it’ll come as a bit of a shock to the system. That mid-week trips to the north coast will be off the menu, along with prayer meetings, and friendships and reading books, and church, and meeting people for coffee, and Kids Club, and being slightly less of a horrible person. I come out in a cold sweat come to think of it.

See the last 6 months of enforced waiting/bumming round have been so good for me in so many ways. It’s nice to realize that there’s a life and a world beyond the doors of the hospital (not that I didn’t believe this before I just never took the time to consider it too much. I realize that there’s all kinds of ways to be of use to the Kingdom that don’t involve medicine. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I somehow hadn’t noticed that before.

I have noticed that there are these simply wonderful people around me called friends and family who have been covering my ass and keeping me right for years and whom I have quietly ignored in the pursuit of my own agenda. I’ve noticed that some of them could do with a bit of a hand and some time now and again. When you take your foot off the pedal for a while you begin to notice the scenery a bit more.

Of all the things I’ve learned (correction, in process of beginning to think about and consider learning…) perhaps it is that above all else lies my relationships with CHRIST. That being and appearing busy doing lots of apparently useful and ‘pious’ things bears no relationship to the state of your heart. When I get busy I retreat into a little shell of my own self-importance. GOD goes out the window (I laugh at the impossibilty but you get what I mean), my family, my friends go out the window.

I can do many things badly or I can do a few things well. Less is more or some equally non-sensical paradox.

Some of you need to start saying no to things, to know that being involved in every extra-curricular activity going isn’t always the best plan, that you’re simply using the activity to patch over the holes in your life. Some of you will need to get your asses off the sofa and stop using activity merely as a means of self-promotion and work out what it means to serve each other. Some will have it like Goldilocks and ‘it was just right’. I know I’m not there yet anyhow.

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box


Such was the view I woke up to this morning. Well that was the view on my left side. On my right was Gaz:


He must have got out of the wrong side that morning…

And no I have not flipped out and fled the country back to NZ. Such scenes do exist in NI. I tended to block stuff like this out when I was in NZ, how beautiful a country we actually live in. Autumn rules. Though it is a tad on the chilly side. All I have to do is compare the strand in Newcastle:


with Napier:



Though perhaps I’m being unfair.

No, in fact I’m only in sunny Castlewellan castle with a crowd of 170 miscreants from CE. This is fast becoming an annual tradition of dragging a crowd of folk up to the castle and abandoning them in the basement with bunk beds to see if they can find all the hidden passages. There is of course the obligatory trip to Newcastle on the Saturday afternoon to see how slow the dodgems really are and but tubs of ice cream in Mauds and keep up the good Norn Irish tradition of eating ice cream while dressed in 4 layers and walking along a windswept beach.

There was a lot of bant, the craic was good, there was a deficiency of sleep. There was a lot of good teaching, there was a lot of singing, a lot of prayer and many a long, meandering chat on the state of our souls. Good times.

There was a lot of me feeling almost intimidated by large groups of people, most of whom I don’t know. I regret my rather backward social skills, my fear of small talk and my inflated sense of self-importance. I spent a lot of time listening to Gilly tell me their stories and finding myself in rather illustrious company. Somehow it still surprises me that GOD does such work in other people’s lives. I still live in a rather Nelly-centric universe.

library-5382.jpgMore importantly there were 22 people in the Volvo (incidentally you can see in the photo that someone stood on the wiper controls). Though this was underplanned and suffered due to a lack of commitment from the participants – I mean what was all that moaning about needing to breathe all about? I despair for the youth of today…

I think the only way is to get them all lying flat in rows in the back, and possibly consider the removal of a limb or two. I mean two hands is just indulgent…

I think we could make 30.





August 2022