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The Meaning of Crisps..


As you may know, I am on the rota for the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot on BBC Radio Bristol’s breakfast show. At some point the day before, I receive an email telling me what subjects are going to be discussed the next day…usually three or four topics.

This week, there were several interesting topics but the main one that stood out was….crisps. A man from Fishponds is running an all-you-can-eat retro crisp buffet featuring a range of snacks such as Monster Munch, Skips and Discos.

There are many mornings when a Thought has to be serious because of world events, so it was nice to have the opportunity to do a fun one. But what to write? I had no idea. I decided to ask friends on Facebook, who were amazing and provided no end of brilliant ideas and puns.

So, in a not-very-serious tone, and to be read with a huge pinch of salt (and vinegar)…here’s what I said (with thanks to Emma for being so lovely about the idea of a group-think!)

Breakfast Show with Emma Britton Sept 13th

(if you skip to about 2hrs 10 mins in, I’m on nearly at the end)

Here’s the text version:

Good morning Emma,

This may be the first Thought for the Day slot which has been written by more than one person.

Last night I decided that I wanted to write a thought about crisps, because of the fantastic story about the retro all-you-can-eat crisp buffet being organised in Bristol.

But then I thought….what do I write? How can I reflect about crisps? What on earth can I say that would make any sense? And in desperation, I turned to my friends on social media for help.

Here are some of the best responses:

“Write something about flavouring, and the Bible passage about being salt and light”

“Talk about nostalgia and how it makes us feel good”

“There’s a flavour for everyone”

And, from a friend with a very cheesy sense of humour: “Crisps? wotsit all about? I’m all of a quaver whenever I think about it.”  (thank you Darren…)

In the end it was my friend Rob who came up with the best line.

“All different sizes, shapes and flavours but God loves them all – just like crisps.”

It may sound cheesy, also just like some of the crisps, but what I appreciate about my friends is that they are diverse. They have different political views, they spend their Sundays at church, in bed or out for a walk, they like different films, and music and they live all over the country and sometimes the world – but they are still all my friends.

Crisps, at the end of the day, are all made of potato, whatever size or shape they are.

And we are all connected by the fact that we are human – loved and valued, even if we feel a bit lumpy or twisted up or lacking a bit of zing sometimes.

So thank you to my friends this morning who answered my plea for help – Jo, Darren, Jonathan, Bex, Julie, Rob, John, Debbie and others. Looks like I’m going to have to buy a huge sharing bag so that you can all have whatever crisps you choose.





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Looking Up

Today, Major Tim Peake became the first Briton to complete a spacewalk from the International Space Station (others have done so but with dual UK/US nationality).

Here’s my Thought for the Day for Radio Bristol about today’s events:

It’s very easy to look down at your feet – but some people make you look up.

Tim Peake is one of those people. He’s preparing to become the first Briton to complete a spacewalk which will be broadcast live on TV later.

I’ve never really been that interested in space. Going to see Star Wars is about as far as I’ve got.

But Tim Peake’s story has gripped me. It’s not just because he’s British – it’s not just because he is a great communicator – it’s not just that he describes his experiences as “just another day at the office.”

I think it’s because he is doing something  which does not just benefit himself but it expands our horizons too – he helps us to look up and see beyond our everyday experiences – and realise that extraordinary things ARE possible.

This week we have lost two other extraordinary men – David Bowie and Alan Rickman – who were both exceptional in their fields – men who helped us look up and see beyond the everyday, who through their particular gifts enabled us to see excellence and originality.

So who is it that helps you look up?

Jesus once looked up during a visit to a particular town and spotted a man in a tree called Zaccheus. Zaccheus was a crooked tax collector;  Jesus saw beyond his dishonest ways and believed that he could be a better person.  Zaccheus was so inspired by meeting Jesus that he gave back all the money he had stolen from his customers; and much more.

Jesus looked up and saw that Zaccheus had the potential to be a better person.  As we watch Tim Peake walk in space; as we give thanks for David Bowie and Alan Rickman; let’s also give thanks for those people, recognised and unrecognised, who help US to look upwards and outwards and enlarge our view of what humanity means.

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Pentecost/Aldersgate/Wesley…(A Methodist Mash Up)

On Pentecost Sunday, the Church tells the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem and the amazing things that happened to them (see here for the story from the Book of Acts)

This year, Pentecost Sunday also fell on May 24th, which in Methodist circles is also known as Aldersgate Sunday or “Wesley Day” – the day on which Wesley recorded that he experienced an evangelical conversion, describing in his journal how his heart was “strangely warmed” at a meeting in Aldersgate Street, London (see the full text here)

I think in liturgical circles Pentecost always takes preference, but at the New Room there is always an afternoon service marking Aldersgate Sunday/Wesley Day. This year it was a privilege to take it and to preach in Wesley’s pulpit. Here are some thoughts:

flame 2

Last weekend, Niall and I were in London to meet up with friends and we visited the Museum of London.

It’s a very good museum which tells the story of the city in imaginative ways – but of course one of the main attractions for us was outside.

The Aldersgate Flame is a modern bronze sculpture, unveiled in 1981, which stands at the approximate location of John Wesley’s conversion in Aldersgate Street on May 24th 1738. It is positioned outside the entrance to the museum (although according to this week’s Methodist Recorder, the museum is moving in a few year’s time)

On it is engraved the entry from John Wesley’s Journal for May 24th 1738. It recalls the profound experience of God’s grace and love which John experienced at a society in Aldersgate Street, three days after his brother Charles.

As we heard, he wrote: I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley’s words, carved in bronze outside the museum, provide a permanent reminder of an encounter with God through the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit which was very powerful.

And of course the Museum is located very close to many other special places of interest to Methodists – including Wesley’s Chapel in City Road and Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, which contains the grave of Susanna Wesley. (as a plug – there is a Methodist Heritage walking tour which contains many other sites of interest around the Aldersgate area and it is very good).

But as I stood and had my picture taken with the Aldersgate Flame and read again the words from the journal of John Wesley set in bronze, I started thinking about words and language and how Wesley would have hated it if his words became static and set, like the bronze inscription.

Wesley was a man who used words extensively – in his preaching, his writing, his publishing, the hymnbooks, the sermons, even the collection of natural remedies.

In fact, in a discourse about the Sermon on the Mount, he wrote: “Let there be no guile in your mouth; let your words be the genuine picture of your heart.”

Words were the means by which he communicated his love for Jesus and the way that he communicated his faith and beliefs. Words were his tools; just as he covered many thousands of miles in travelling, I wonder how many words John wrote during his lifetime – there’s a research project for someone with a lot of spare time!

Many of Wesley’s words are still republished and used today; to inspire, to challenge; to guide. They are quoted and sometimes misquoted. But as I continued to reflect on words and language, I wondered what the Wesleys would make of today’s hyper-connected world.

It’s interesting that now, in a world of emails and tweets and posts on social media, people do ask the questions: “Would Wesley have approved of using Facebook? and “ What would Wesley tweet?”

Coming from a time when even photography would have been a novelty, I am sure John and Charles would have been intrigued by technology, computers and the internet. They would have heartily disapproved of some of the darker recesses of the  web, but I also think that if they were around today they would definitely harness the internet to further their Gospel message that “all can be saved.” Imagine what it would be like for them to realise that they could preach the Gospel to millions of people around the world at the touch of a button!

As John used all the means available to him in the 18th century to communicate, I am sure he would take to using new forms of communication with gusto – but my guess is he would also issue guidelines to Methodists on how to behave well online.

Maybe he would have a blog – heartstrangelywarmed.co.uk perhaps? The jury is out, however, on the possibility that if Wesley were around now, he would be taking selfies on his mobile phone of all the places he visited to preach in!

The point I am trying to make is that Wesley was savvy; he knew the power of words and language and he probably had no idea that all these years later we would be quoting his journal and remembering his Aldersgate experience.

However I think it also poses a challenge to us – especially on what is also Pentecost Sunday – to consider all the ways and means that WE use words and language to communicate our faith. St Francis may have said “Preach the Gospel; Use words if necessary.” But sometimes words are very important. Do we encourage or criticise – build up or tear down – dismiss or include? Do we moan too much?

What words are outside on our gates and noticeboards? Do they say “welcome” or “keep out”? I visited a church in Dublin once (which shall remain nameless) where the overriding image in the porch was a notice informing visitors that they were being watched by CCTV cameras. No words of welcome, just a warning not to steal anything. I didn’t go any further because I didn’t feel welcome at all.

Language was one of the defining factors at Pentecost, which was a feast for all the senses. The sound of rushing wind, the sight of tongues of fire, the intensity of receiving the Holy Spirit, the absolute exhilaration of the disciples going out into the streets and speaking in all kinds of languages to the culturally diverse crowds of people around them. Words were central; the Spirit enabled Peter and the others to speak with authority and clarity so that (most) people were amazed by what they said and drawn to their messages of faith.

The Spirit took them over; they may have had no idea what they were saying but they became part of a bigger picture; a picture of a world where everyone was included and everyone was welcomed; all the barriers were coming down and this was a new way forward.

And so it works that this year we celebrate Pentecost and Aldersgate together – because it was through the experience of the Spirit that Peter and the disciples, and John and Charles Wesley were all met by God and enabled in their weakness. They still wrestled with doubts, “fears within and without”, they still suffered and struggled but at the centre of their lives was not just the love of God but also words; words of life, grace, encouragement and hope.

Wesley’s words should not just be static proclamations from the past but words which we return to again and again because they speak to us today. A fortnight ago I visited St Mark’s, an Anglican/Methodist primary school. They use the famous “do all the good you can” quote  (although I know there are questions about whether Wesley wrote this or not!)

The school has adapted the quote into a prayer “Lord, help me to do all the good I can, in all the ways I can”. This for me was an encouraging sign of words being used creatively in the school environment in a way which was very accessible and understandable for the children, yet linked to the Methodist ethos they were trying to foster.

What about us? One of my favourite verses from the New Testament is from James chapter 3. “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”

Whether written or spoken, printed or typed, words are a great gift but we still need to consider how we use them. On Aldersgate Sunday, we give thanks for the words of John and Charles Wesley, which still resonate today, and at Pentecost, we celebrate the words which united people from different cultures and backgrounds who all heard about the resurrected Jesus.

Prayer: Loving God, may our words, however we express them, point to you. Warm our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may speak of your love, write of your hope and share your grace, through Jesus Christ our risen and ascended Lord. Amen

wesley outside

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International Women’s Day or Mothering Sunday?


I’ve had one of those moments. A moment when a question pops into your head for no reason and suddenly it makes perfect sense. A moment when you want to see if anyone else thinks it makes perfect sense as well.

So here goes: March 8th was International Women’s Day. According to the official website, IWD2015 represented “an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.”  

(For those asking, yes there is an International Men’s Day too, it’s November 19th)

On IWD I read great stories being shared on social media; stories of female achievement, struggle and triumph; stories like that of Emmeline Pankhurst, Harriet Tubman, scientists, astronauts and police officers. Many contributors paid tribute to the women in their family who had inspired them – mums, grandmothers, aunties, sisters. Even saints of the church, “those who had gone before us” were remembered.

Is it time that the Church switched to celebrating International Women’s Day rather than Mothering Sunday?

This year, Mothering Sunday is on March 15th, exactly a week after International Women’s Day. At this point I have to say: I KNOW that the origin of Mothering Sunday is to celebrate Mother Church and to return to the place of your baptism; I know that traditionally, servants were allowed home to visit their mothers; I KNOW that it is a great opportunity for churches to engage in mission and outreach and community work; I KNOW that it’s also a great opportunity to celebrate the divine feminine.

I know all that. But Mothering Sunday has also been completely hi-jacked by Mother’s Day and secular sentimentality. We are urged to celebrate Mums, the kids make cards in Sunday School and then there are the endless bouquets of flowers, given out to the ‘ladies’ at the end of the service (although to be fair, where I was last stationed, all the men got them too)

Even if we gallantly refuse to call it Mother’s Day, insist on calling it Mothering Sunday and focus on the divine feminine, I fear we are fighting a losing battle. And then there’s the pastoral nightmare that surrounds a service for a congregation which will possibly contain mums, mums-to-be, those who have lost children, those who can’t see their children, those who have never had children through choice or circumstance, those who are longing for children, going through IVF, seeking to adopt. Then there are the other painful experiences of members of the congregation – their mums have died, or are estranged, or have never been known, or there are ongoing relationships with mothers which cause hurt and pain. And there are plenty more categories, I’m sorry if I’ve missed a few.

There are plenty of people who avoid coming to church on Mothering Sunday for a whole heap of reasons. I preferred to widen out the theme so the service was about “God’s Love for Everyone” or “Made in God’s Image” but even with widened themes you can’t get away from the name of the day. And all those bloody posies.

Wouldn’t it just be better to celebrate International Women’s Day instead? Of course there’s another argument – women and men should be equally celebrated all year round, we shouldn’t need special days. But while issues like FGM, sexual exploitation, trafficking, domestic abuse, rape and the online trolling of women stlll exist, international events like this do make a difference. They enable voices to be heard and stories to be told. IWD celebrates strong women – some of them are mothers, some of them are not, but there is a much wider range of role models to choose from; more and more heroines to inspire us.

You may agree with this or think it’s a pile of knickers. But is it time for the Church to change?

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Today’s Thought for the Day, regarding the Ofsted inspector in a school assembly:

“On Tuesday I was due to visit a local school to take an assembly.

I had everything planned and prepared, but then I got a message – “We’ve had THE PHONE CALL – the Ofsted inspector is coming in”.

My initial reaction was “help!”However, the deputy head explained that it would still be really helpful if I could take the assembly. But one more thing – the inspector would be sitting in on it.

Now I’ve taken assemblies before but this was the first one at this particular school. I checked my preparation, and checked again – then arrived at the allotted time with extra chocolate biscuits for the staff – an essential Ofsted remedy!

The good news is that the assembly went well. The inspector said it was good and he enjoyed it.

I was so relieved! All the staff seemed very calm on the day and I hope they get a good report – they deserve it.

It would have been easy to be unnerved by the changes to the day. Generally, I don’t think that human beings are good at coping with change. Sometimes we try to resist it, sometimes we manage to avoid it.

But in its many forms, change is probably an inevitable part of life and we have to find a path through it, even learning to embrace it.

I’ve always liked this quote from a Brazilian Catholic archbishop called Dom Helder Camara. He wrote: “Accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams or give a completely different turn to your day…and who knows…to your life. It is not chance. Leave the Father free to weave the pattern of your days.”

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The Everlasting Arms (for Becky Watts)

Mexican Circle of Friends

This morning’s Thought for the Day had to be prepared carefully and delivered sensitively.

On February 19th, 16-year-old Becky Watts, from St George in Bristol, went missing. Her family live about a mile away from Kingswood, where we live. Today (March 4th), her stepbrother Nathan Matthews was charged with her murder after body parts were found at an address in Barton Hill.

(The full story about the unfolding search for Becky can be read on the Avon and Somerset Police website https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/newsroom/help-us-to-find-missing-rebecca-(16)/two-charged-in-connection-with-becky-watts-investigation

Writing the Thought was a challenge. At the time of the Radio Bristol breakfast show, people were in custody but had not been charged; the details of the investigation were almost constantly being updated and social media was going mad; names and judgements were flying around well before any charges had been made.

What to say? How do you say something meaningful and reflective about such a huge, horrific event in 90 seconds? I was writing something last night when a phone call came from the newsroom – churches were opening their doors for the community today. And that really fitted in with what I wanted to say.

Thought for the Day – March 4th 2015

At home in our living room we have a Circle of Friends Mexican candle holder (like the one pictured above)

Four metal figures stand on a base, forming a circle by linking arms. The figures look towards the light, which is provided by the candle in the middle. They support the others and in turn are supported themselves.

I lit a candle in the holder last night for Becky Watts and for those who love her. I said a prayer. Both acts felt small and insignificant in the face of dreadful news, but it felt important to do something, even if it was a tiny gesture.

That’s why I’m glad that churches in Becky’s community will be opening their doors today for anyone who wants to come in, pray, remember, light a candle. Small acts perhaps, but acts which demonstrate a community wanting to surround those who are grieving with support and love.

There’s a verse in the Old Testament of the Bible which says: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

I used to think this was a strange verse but in the face of tragedy it makes sense. Sometimes, in the middle of grief, pain and anger we need others to support us and lift us up, others who can hold us up with love, with practical support, with prayers.

Sometimes the devastation of a situation cannot be changed but a circle of love can be formed – just like the figures on my Mexican candle holder. We link arms and together, we look for the light.

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Prawn Cocktail Pancakes….anyone?

This week my Thought for the Day fell on Shrove Tuesday. This was also the day that a nostalgic feature on Berni Inns was being discussed on the breakfast show. The Rummer Hotel, (site of the very first Berni restaurant) was staging a Berni Inns Revival Night. The menu comprised of classic retro food – prawn cocktail, steak and chips and Black Forest gateaux.

Original story here: http://therummer.net/event-registration/?ee=28 


To my knowledge, I have never been to a Berni Inn. However, there was a classic song about a visit to one in Victoria Wood’s brilliant musical, That Day We Sang. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s an absolute cracker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYNMW-wcQWk

So here’s my thought about pancakes and prawns…

Thought for the Day February 17th 2015:

Victoria Wood is one of my all-time favourite comediennes.

Over Christmas her musical “That Day We Sang” was shown on TV – a heartwarming story of a middle-aged couple, Tubby and Edith, who found love at a reunion of a children’s choir.

One of the scenes revolved around Edith’s boss and his wife taking them out to a Berni Inn. For them, this was the height of class and sophistication – and if you saw the musical, you know there’s a whole song that they perform dedicated to the greatness of this particular eatery.

So I LOVE the idea of the Rummer Hotel  in Bristol– the site of the very first Berni restaurant – going retro and reviving the classic Berni menu of prawn cocktail, steak and chips and black forest gateaux tonight. I wonder if all the diners will turn up in vintage outfits?

Today is an important day for feasting – it’s Pancake Day – or Shrove Tuesday.

This is the day when traditionally, all fat, sugar and meat in the household was used up before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.

Lent lasts for 40 days and is a time of ‘giving things up’ and reflecting before Easter.

So it makes sense  that Shrove Tuesday is a time of feasting before the fasting; Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday and Carnival before the more sombre, thoughtful days ahead.

Whatever we are feasting on tonight, we give thanks for what sustains us in a physical, mental or spiritual sense.

But I’m sure that the Berni brothers could have added one more thing to their menu – a Prawn Cocktail pancake perhaps?