Monthly Archives: July 2013

To kvetch or not to kvetch?

Piles of work!

Piles of work!

Maybe it’s just me, but I still get really excited when I come across new words. When I was reading Betsy Kirk’s blog* a few days ago I noticed that she had used the word kvetching. At first I thought it was a typo, but curiosity got the better of me and a quick google came up with a definition and it turns out to be Hebrew slang.

1. verb (used without object) – to complain, especially chronically
2. noun – Also, kvetcher, a person who kvetches

The next challenge was to find out if it appeared in any passages in the bible. Again a trawl of bible translations came up with a verse in The Complete Jewish Bible

Do everything without kvetching or arguing– Philippians 2:14

Can’t you just imagine Paul pacing up and down as he dictated his response to the church at Philippi’s moans and groans, pausing to search for that exact work he wanted to use and coming up with kvetching! Trouble is it turns out it has its origins in 1960’s America from the Yiddish word kvteshn.

So biblical Jews did not kvetch – yet their ancestors, the Hebrews, certainly did lots of complaining and chronically so! The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are littered with their gripes – ‘Why have you brought us here to starve when back home we had cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic… I don’t think much of this flaky bread and there’s no meat in our diets…. (21 days later) What quail again!… I’m thirsty…. let’s go back… we’re all going to die…. etc… etc.’ No wonder Moses retired to his tent a lot – probably with his head under his pillow, mumbling something to Aaron to go and sort them out because he’d had enough!

The fact is it’s really easy to complain about things, it doesn’t take much effort and you get to blame everyone else for what is wrong. Maybe instead of kvetching then we should become kvetchants; there is a difference. Actually I think I just made that word up – try complainants instead. The latter means that some action is taken to rectify the problem.

I can sit and moan about being too hot or I could move into the shade; I can carp on about the fact that there’s nothing good to watch any of the TV channels or I could turn it off and read a book, I can whinge about young people hanging about on the streets or I could volunteer to help out at a youth centre.

Complainants can also act on behalf of other people, to complain about their situations; the lack of facilities for youth in our area, I could get in touch with the local council; the devastating effects of benefit cuts on older people, I could write to my Member of Parliament; the appalling lack of opportunities for every child to have an education,  I could sign a petition to our world leaders.

Returning then to Paul’s reason’s as to why the Philippians shouldn’t be kvetchers:

Do everything without kvetching or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. 

As Christian’s we are called to shine as lights in the world – to uncover the dark places and flood them with sunshine and we can’t do that if we sometimes remain sitting in a darkened room waiting for someone to come and open the door and show us the way out, because someone else has obviously forgotten to feed the meter!

No doubt over the next few months there may be many times when I will be tempted to indulge in a bit of kvetching – ‘I’ll never get this essay finished in time…. how am I going to find 500 words to cut out of this presentation…. is theology meant to be this difficult to understand? In which case you have my express permission to gently, but firmly remind me to quit whinging, get on with it and trust that whatever happens, God will be right there in it with me…

*Betsy Kirk’s blog can be found at


Books, books, books

 “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”  ― Jorge Luis Borges

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges 

I am sat here with a book list in front of me. It’s a fairly long list that was sent to me by the college. Not a list of the books that will be needed for the first term, instead a suggested pre- course reading list.

Of course, as is explained in the accompanying letter, you are not expected to read every single one, but for those of us who may never have undertaken or have been out of formal higher education for a long time it can help to ease us into the way of things to come… On the other hand it’s like a gauntlet has been thrown down!

The thing is I love books – I love the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. For me, entering a bookshop like Waterstones* is like letting Augustus Gloop loose in Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory! A well stocked library of books can be a work of art and a chance to scour the shelves can reveal the most unusual titles and topics. Even when a visit to the local bibliothèque is not possible, all I can say is thank goodness for Amazon’s penny booksellers!

There will, of course, be many different sorts of books that will need to be read and studied but one that will stay at the heart of all this literature will be the Bible. We will be required to perform exegesis (drawing the meaning out of a text) and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) all without a safety net!

One might wonder how we are still trying to understand what the Bible is all about – after all theologians have spent thousands of years talking and arguing about it. This book, or more accurately 66 books in one volume, has led to the exile, to the persecution, even to the political execution of those who have strived to explain what it’s really saying to us

For some the very act of trying to make it available to a wider audience, to allow them to discover its meaning for themselves, has been  a selfless act of courage and determination. In the early 16th  century William Tyndale paid with his life in order to fulfil his mission statement that, “If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he doust”, referring to the Pope and clergy of his time, many of whom were probably not even skilled enough to read their own Latin bibles,  and which set him on translating the Bible into English and thus allowing ordinary men and women to be able to ask, ‘What does that mean?”

There are now over 50 different English translations of the bible and a quick count around the house reveals that I have a least a dozen of them. So we now have a choice of reading God’s word in a way that is in tune with our own ‘linguistic ear’

Hopefully, most people will hear or read a least a passage of the bible each day, whether in formal worship or daily devotions. If not there is always a chance to do so during the weekly church service. In the Church of England the lectionary runs on a three year cycle which is intended to cover a very large proportion of the bible, although not all as some people believe

What amazes me, as someone who has to prepare talks or sermons, is that after a few years you find the passages repeating themselves and there is always some concern that you won’t find anything different to say about them. What you actually find happening is that the passage can speak to you afresh and become appropriate to the present circumstances of both yourself and your congregations.

Perhaps then there is plenty more time and reason for us to continue studying God’s word. So if you see me with my nose in a book this summer it probably won’t be the latest Robert Galbraith novel but something much more thrilling!

*Other bookshops are available

Getting Out of the Boat

The Sea

The Sea in Aran Island Sound

Sea Sunday is always an opportunity to remember those, who for one reason or another, decide that life on the ocean wave is not as jolly as the military marching bands would have us believe. For many it is a dangerous necessity to put food on the table whilst enduring months and years of hardship and separation from families and loved ones

Many of these merchant seamen would indeed love to get out of the boat, if not permanently at least whenever they call into port. However, with the mechanisation of the docks and the swift turnabout demanded to meet maximum profit margins, this is all too often not possible – despite the best efforts of organisations such as the Mission to Seafarers

Despite the working conditions there is very little alternative employment – getting permanently out of the boat is therefore rarely an option for thousands of seafarers. Indeed for anybody contemplating life-changing decisions they often, quite rightly, fear what will happen if they choose to do so – the justifiable financial and emotional implications often outweigh any perceived benefits

This got me thinking about the moments when you suddenly realise and have the courage to do something which could potentially change your life.

All of us have a comfort zone in which we very happily operate. It’s that place where things are familiar, where we don’t have to do too much thinking, where you know exactly what is likely to happen day to day. However, occasionally there are points on our life maps when we have to make a decision – are we going to stay in the boat or do we attempt a bit of water walking

The fact is, as John Ortberg so cleverly points out in his book of the same title, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat” For each of us there are moments like these. What makes them significant is the effect they have on our lives if we have faith that God is working in us, nudging us, supporting us

For me there were several times spread over many years when I cautiously dangled my legs over the side of the boat as if to test the water. Then there were the scary moments when I took a few hesitant steps onto the deeps – the moment when I decided to pop into my local church on my own one Sunday morning, aged 35 with no previous church experience; the moment I dared to speak openly about my faith in front of work colleagues; the moment I tentatively wondered out loud to my parish priest that I thought I might be being called to some form of church ministry…

He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’     Matthew 14:29-31

Like Peter, my initial timid attempts did not automatically result in remaining on top of the waves. It took a lot of sinking and bobbing until I understood that it was having faith to attempt the act itself that would keep me upright on the water, not doubting my ability to actually do it.

So, if you find yourself looking out of the boat on which you are travelling through life, wondering if you are being called to join Jesus on the water, but unsure if you have the courage to step over the side – take a deep breath, look straight ahead and put your faith that God will be there in the rescue boat

Sea Sunday was celebrated on Sunday 13th July 2013. If you want to find out more about the work of Mission to Seafarers visit their website


Where is God on the Streets?

God on the Streets

God on the Streets

As part of your preparations for Ordination training, you are advised to lay some things aside – at least for the duration of your training – and it’s one of the things that I am finding it difficult to decide about. Having spent the last couple of years actively increasing my ministry – I now have to review everything and push to one side the feeling of guilt that some things will have to be relinquished. There is one thing however, that I hope very much to continue with.

As a firm believer that God is not just found in Sunday worship but is found wherever Christians reach out into their communities, my work with the Street Pastors has proved this time and time again. There are also sound theological reasons for doing it as well.

As part of my BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel) I was asked to prepare a short reflection and I share it with you now

Where is God on the Streets?

In 2012, Paul Rowlinson, a Street Pastor in Bangor, spoke about the work he and his colleagues were doing. He commented that “Street Pastor’s doesn’t have any particular theological or social standpoint. We are there to offer pastoral care and practical help and to listen to people. We are not out there to preach or anything like that.” As a Southampton Street Pastor, I would generally agree with this overview. However, I would argue that many facets of theological thinking are demonstrated in abundance within the work of Street Pastors.

At its heart, the work is both pastoral and practical.  The people that a Street Pastor meets on patrol are usually at their most vulnerable. The homeless man sitting in a shop doorway, who for one reason or another didn’t get an overnight hostel place, needs a drink of hot chocolate (and maybe a biscuit for his dog) before making his way to the multi-storey car park to find a hidden corner in which he can feel safer than sleeping in the open. The nightclub reveller who, having been thrown out of the establishment which earlier sold her bargain 50p vodka shots, wending her unsteady way barefooted on the glass littered and vomit splattered pavements, needs a pair of flip-flops. The young man slumped down on the frozen floor, and who proceeds to empty the contents of his stomach, not quite over my shoes, needs a space blanket and his face wiped.

Practical theology in practice? Street Pastors see what is going on, know why this is, what ought to be happening and respond to it. As they become better known in the community they gain credibility. People know that the Church is there for them in a practical yet unconditional way. As MP David Burrowes put it Street Pastors is about Christians rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in practically responding to the problems of crime and safety.” God becomes known in our actions; a modern day application of the Good Samaritan parable.

But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:25-37)

Practical theology answers the how, but what about the why? We should remember that people who become Street Pastors are not there as government employed social workers. They are Christians willing to give their time as part of their mission,  or Missio Dei – ‘sending of God’  and instituted by Jesus, first to his disciples (Matthew 10:1) then to a larger group (Luke 10:1-4, 9) This type of work puts into practice many strands of Mission theology including sociology, communication  and ecumenics.

Coats, caps and rucksacks declaring in ‘Hi Vis’ letters the fact that we are ‘pastors’ – not police – not medics –  prompts the inevitable questions. What is a pastor? Why would you do this? This is our chance to ‘evangelise’ in the gentlest of terms. “We’re from local churches and we’re here to help people; to keep you safe. We do it because we believe we’re called to do it”. Sometimes the discussions go deeper and give people opportunities to explore their own theological wonderings and experiences.  It’s then that the Holy Spirit seems to appear, in these five minute ‘chats’.

Ecumenically, Street Pastors have to be willing to work with fellow Christians in collaborative ways, helping to develop trust, to acknowledge and value difference and to bring about the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’

Perhaps the most poignant statement I’ve heard was from a slightly tipsy young woman, who declared, “You must hate us!” Her own self-appraisal of society’s apparent need to indulge in these sorts of behaviours and assumption that we would judge people because of that,  simply confirmed the need for our pastoral role and for a wider engagement by the Church in clarifying and spreading its message in this way

Phoning back as each encounter arises, develops and concludes enables the Prayer Pastors to pray ‘into’ the situation, underlining the fact that we are not dependent on our own strengths and skills but need the intercession of Christ and the Grace of God.

What we do as Street Pastors is not dependent on whether it earns us ‘brownie points’ towards eternal rewards; the theology of Grace is that it cannot be earned but is given because God desires us to have it. We often, therefore, have to almost make an unconscious decision to put aside the reason why we are doing what we do so that we can honestly answer,

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  (Matthew 25:37-39)

Where is God on the streets? He’s wherever he sends Street Pastors!


Charles Van Engen sums this up in his definition of Mission ‘Mission is the people of God intentionally crossing barriers from church to non-church, faith to non-faith, to proclaim by word and deed the coming of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ’ (1996). Mission on the Way; Issues in Mission Theology

Stepping out on a new journey


Every life is a journey. We start it the moment we are conceived to the moment we die. Each person’s journey is unique – which is what makes each of us unique. Some days we get to run ahead, others we are sat indoors with our noses pressed to the window pane. On good days we feel totally in control on others we sense we are being swept along hoping that someone will be there on the river bank to throw us a lifeline. All the while we get to make choices – that is our humanity.

Yet spiritually we shouldn’t worry if we have true faith in God. The psalmist tells us that God is there with us on our journey, from beginning to eternity,

You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.                             Psalm 139:16

The wonderful mystery is that we don’t get to see what that journey will entail, because I certainly wouldn’t have imagined that my journey would bring me to this particular point in my life.

In a few weeks time I will be starting my training as an Ordinand, having been through a rigorous process of discernment. I am excited and fearful. Yet I know that whatever happens in the future will be because that’s where God wants me to be.

You are welcome to join me on that journey from time to time, because maybe that’s the point where our paths are destined to come together and we walk side by side for a while. I look forward to your companionship along the way

In the meantime may God bless you wherever you are on life’s journey