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Never Forget


This morning my Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio Bristol was a serious one. It is Holocaust Memorial Day  and also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz in 1945.

Jewish humour is renowned; but it didn’t feel like a time for jokes today. It felt like a time to hear important stories.

Jonathan from Radio Bristol met a remarkable woman called Hella Hewison. In 1939, at the age of 14, she was evacuated from Berlin and came to Britain via the “Kindertransport” to live with a family in Knowle. Her parents were murdered in the Holocaust. Hella kept many of the letters her family sent to her, including the last letter from her father and a translation of the instructions the Nazis gave to her mother, telling her she was to be taken away.

Hear her story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02hrhg1

I was also struck by a piece that journalist Hugo Rifkind wrote for the Holocaust Educational Trust. (in fact I quoted him in my Thought) Read his blog about why it is important to remember http://www.het.org.uk/index.php/blog/entry/holocaust-memorial-day-2015-hugo-rifkind?template=het_blog 

After powerful words from both these people, my Thought for the Day feels inconsequential. It’s hard to truly reflect on the horror of the Holocaust in less than two minutes, but I guess you can explore why it’s important to continue remembering. Memories of visiting Auschwitz a few years ago flooded back and, coupled with talking about my mum, made it one of the harder Thoughts to deliver.

(I’ve slightly changed Hugo Rifkind’s quote so that the bit about remembering at the beginning of his last paragraph is at the end of mine – apologies Hugo)

Thought for the Day, January 27th 2015: 

How do you remember difficult events?

Last week someone asked me what I could remember about my mum, who died when I was fairly young.

I had to think about what to say. Because I was only nine when she passed away, I had to be honest and reply that I do not remember much. I do not remember many specific conversations or experiences.

That seems sad, but what helps is that I have many many photographs of us together.

I have pieces of embroidery that she created and things that belonged to her.

Most importantly, I have stories – anecdotes and descriptions about my mum, passed on by other family members and friends. Through all these channels, I can remember.

It may feel difficult to remember today, on Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is hard to think back to the dreadful events which led to millions of deaths and sometimes we would rather forget. That’s why we need stories like Hella’s  – to bring distant events much closer to home.

Trying to pretend that events in the past did not happen betrays the experiences of those who died and those who survived.

We need the power of these stories to remind us what humanity is capable of in its worst moments so that we can choose better ways.

In the words of journalist Hugo Rifkind: “To remember is to remain aware that we, as humans, balance on the very lip of the unspeakable, always far closer to toppling than we might wish to admit. This is the point of remembering the Holocaust.”

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How Much Is Enough?

I haven’t blogged for nearly a year. A lot has happened – leaving circuit ministry, starting a different kind of ministry at the New Room, buying a house, selling a flat – we’re just about catching our breath.

But it is time to get back on the blogging wagon – so here’s today’s Thought for the Day from Radio Bristol’s breakfast show.

The Thought is based on a news story that a cafe in Portishead is now offering a “monster breakfast challenge” of 8,000 calories. The original story is here. The reporter in the pic is from the Bristol Post but the Radio Bristol reporter who took on the challenge (but didn’t quite make it) was Tim McSweeney.


Thought for the Day, BBC Radio Bristol, January 13th 2015

WHEN do you know that you’ve had enough?

I really felt for Tim McSweeney yesterday when he was faced by a giant breakfast. I love a good bacon butty but the mammoth plate he was facing just seemed – well – TOO big.

Is there such a thing as too big in this world? There is competition to build the tallest building, the fastest car, the most luxurious boat. When do we stop and say – enough?

I am sure that there are some hardy (and hungry) souls who can’t wait to take on the breakfast challenge but it makes me wonder about where our limits are set.

When do we say – ‘enough is enough?’ In a world where there is plenty to go around but massive inequalities between countries and communities – why do we constantly want more and more and more?

We have evolved from being cavemen and women, we don’t need to stuff ourselves to survive. There is not some secret competition that someone can win by being the biggest and the best.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel had escaped from slavery in Egypt and were wandering in the desert. They had no food, so God sent a bread-like substance called manna, and small quail for meat, to keep them sustained.

However  – just enough was provided to sustain people for each day, and no more.

If the people tried to stockpile the manna, it went bad. Was this a lesson in anti-gluttony, travelling light, or relying on God day by day?

Now we have fridges, freezers and store cupboards. But do we know when we truly have enough – and when to stop?

 NB – the update to the story is that Tim got a doggy bag of food to take away after failing to finish the meal. He tried to give away the leftover food – but no-one would accept it.

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Hot Cross Buns


A Thought for the Day on Radio Bristol – Good Friday 2014


I was talking to my friend about hot cross buns.

“I’m not going to eat one until Good Friday” she said.

”But I just went out and bought a fruit loaf – is that cheating?”

There is of course not much difference between the ingredients of a fruit loaf and a hot cross bun. They probably taste quite similar too.

But there is one significant difference. The cross on the top of the bun, painted there by the baker. The cross which tells a story.

Supermarkets have been selling hot cross buns for ages, so we’ve all been eating them plain or toasted or with butter and maybe not really thinking about what the cross means.

But today is Good Friday – a day in the Christian calendar when the cross comes into sharp focus.

You may see a group of people carrying wooden crosses or holding a service in your local High Street today. They are remembering the journey that Jesus made to a mound outside Jerusalem where he was crucified. He died a painful death.

That doesn’t make Good Friday sound very ‘good’ – but it is on this day that Christians believe Jesus shouldered the weight of all our wrongdoing and took it with him – so that we might be set free. An act of selflessness and love – hence the goodness. And of course we look forward to Easter Sunday when we celebrate his resurrection.

Today, the cross makes a difference. If you see a procession feel free to join in. Or if you eat a hot cross bun, take a moment and remember the meaning in the marking which makes it much more than simply a baker’s print.

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Book Review: When God is Silent by Barbara Brown Taylor

This blog has been silent for a while for various reasons. Maybe it’s appropriate then, that the first post for a while is about silence. This is a review that I wrote for the Methodist Recorder which was published this week:


When God Is Silent – Divine Language Beyond Words by Barbara Brown Taylor (Canterbury Press)

 Living in a world of words and constant communication, we may expect God to talk to us all the time. But what do we do when God appears to be silent?

This thought-provoking little book from Episcopal priest and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor explores that very question and takes it in new directions.

Dividing the book into three sections – Famine, Silence and Restraint – Taylor debunks the popular assumption that God is silent because we have done something wrong. Instead, she asserts that silence is PART of God’s language.

We live in a world which is now so awash with words that they start to lose their power. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s chip papers.

In the church, people are hungry for words which lead them to God but instead, Taylor suggests, we surround ourselves with “piles of dead words” which do not nourish us. “We do all the talking because we’re afraid that God won’t – or because we’re afraid He will.”

Taylor talks about the voice of God, which in the Old Testament was so powerful that the people of Israel couldn’t cope with it. And so God spoke less, instead using prophets and leaders as mouthpieces – until his voice was heard clearly again in and around Jesus, the Living Word.

Our response? Taylor urges restraint in preaching, using simple, honest words; conquering our fear of silence in worship; and being ‘courteous’ – being respectful to those who listen if we are preaching or teaching.

This is not a long book but it is a thoughtful one which brings a new slant to the idea of God’s silence and how we engage with it. Taylor’s words are worth a read – and a listen.

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These Words Have Been Waiting


These words have been waiting.

One Friday in late June I was due to go into Radio Bristol to do a Thought for the Day. On Thursday, a call came from the newsroom: “Nelson Mandela is critically ill in hospital. We don’t know if he is going to survive the night. Can you prepare two Thoughts – one to be broadcast as normal, but also one we could use if he does pass away?”

In the end I wrote one thought and tweaked it slightly. The version which went out in June spoke of the people of South Africa standing in vigil for Nelson Mandela. Now that he has died, completing his long walk to freedom, here is the second version:

Sometimes there aren’t enough words.

There aren’t enough words in a Thought for the Day slot, or even in a whole breakfast show, which could adequately sum up the person and character of Nelson Mandela

It would be understandable if we did not have a Thought for the Day today. A time of silence might be more appropriate, a chance to pause and give thanks for a long and full life which included activism, imprisonment, freedom, politics, reconciliation, statemanship and family.

But find words we must, for we seek to remember a remarkable man. He will be not just be mourned in South Africa but around the world for his passion, commitment, leadership and ultimately, his wisdom and grace.

Nelson Mandela was an activist who battled apartheid but also a leader who championed a new South Africa, dubbed ‘The Rainbow Nation’ as it sought to unite people of all ages and cultures. And, ultimately, he also became an elder statesman to the world.

His autobiography is called Long Walk to Freedom. Today, the world which once campaigned for that very release pauses to consider a transition through death to a greater freedom – a walk to a destination described in the book of Revelation as a place where there is “no more tears, crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” A place of peace.

As we consider the words by which we might remember Nelson Mandela, it might be more appropriate to hear some of his words, from a speech he gave in Johannesburg in 2002:

“It is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference that we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”.

We give thanks for a significant life and for a leader whose words and actions have made such a difference to the world.”

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Have Yourself a Really Real Christmas…


The run-up to Christmas feels different this year.

I’m writing this on the last day of November. Tomorrow will be December 1st, the first Sunday in Advent, time to open the first shiny new door of the Advent calendar and enjoy the (appropriately Fairtrade) chocolate inside.

We briefly went to Cribbs Causeway today and it was heaving; crowds of shoppers loaded with bags and boxes, every outlet groaning under the weight of festive offers, tinsel and treats. There’s a castle and an ice skating rink outside as well. The castle changes colour – it could be straight out of Disneyworld.

So you probably think I’m going to launch into some grumpy tirade now about how shops do Christmas earlier every year and it’s an outrage and bah humbug – but I’m not. I have friends in retail – I know the Christmas “window” lasts for roughly three months before December 25th. Christmas cards in August make me want to complain, but in the main, any time after Remembrance Sunday is OK by me.

What makes me uncomfortable is the creeping influence of events like “Black Friday” – the American term for the first day that USA citizens start seriously concentrating on their Christmas shopping. I originally thought that Black Friday meant the day was bad for businesses because they put on so many special offers, but apparently it refers to the fact that the amount of cash spent means that many companies go into the black for the first time in months. I’m willing to be corrected if that isn’t the case…

Trouble is, stores like Wal-Mart and Amazon are bringing this tradition over here. Apparently someone got themselves arrested in Asda Walmart in Cribbs because everything got a bit heated over some cut-price tellys – blimey, it’s just STUFF, surely not worth getting nicked for, surely??? I meant every one of those question marks…

I wrote at the beginning of this post that the run-up to Christmas feels different this year. I guess it’s because I want to step away from the madness a bit. I enjoy shopping and celebrating and seeing friends and family as much as anyone but this year I don’t want to pretend that everything needs to be perfect. For most people it’s just not like that.

Earlier in the week we were driving up the Cheltenham Road in Bristol on the way to a hospital appointment. As we passed the Polish Church, I noticed that someone was curled up on the church porch, covered in a pink blanket. What will Christmas be like for him this year?

A friend of mine volunteers at the Julian Trust in Bristol and every year does shifts at Caring for Christmas, a shelter which runs from December 23rd to New Year’s Day offering warmth, food and friendship to anyone who visits. Caring at Christmas also helps people through the year by publishing and distributing The Survival Handbook – key info for homeless people about help and support available around the Bristol area.

I’m also aware of others for whom Christmas is difficult; those separated from family, those who are terminally ill and possibly facing their final Christmas; others who won’t see another soul on December 25th.

Sometimes us clergy want to fix those situations and make everything better but we can’t; and even though we can put on lunches and friendship groups and the like we’re only really scratching the surface. And at Christmas there is pressure even for us; pressure to see the family, pressure to write cards and send presents while also doing loads of prep; pressure to present the Christmas story in new and relevant ways; how many times do you WANT to sing Away in a Manger, actually?

And yet I wouldn’t change a minute of it, wouldn’t change all the services and carol singing and extra things – and even Away in a Manger can be quite special when sung by 100 children and parents clutching Christingle oranges with the lights turned low so that the flames of their candles burn bright and for a moment everything is transformed….

To be real this Christmas for me means trying to understand how Jesus, the Light of the World, can transform dark places and bring hope to the world, to our communities, to us. I’m not even close to understanding that yet but these words are helping:

From the Message Bible: (John 1:9-13)

“The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten.
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.”

Happy Real Christmas..


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A Thought About Giving

This is today’s Thought for the Day on Radio Bristol. It’s a big day for giving, but why do we do it?

“Tattoos, tightropes, singing and sponge throwing!

All over Bristol and Bath, thousands of people are gearing up to raise money for Children in Need today. Pudsey Bear is turning extra cartwheels at the very thought. It puts  the fun in fundraising – and gets massive support.

Thousands of people are also giving very generously to the appeals which have been launched to send aid to the people of the Philippines. The islands are far away but many here and indeed in many other countries have been moved and motivated by the heartrending pictures of devastation and need.

Why do we give to help others? There are so many reasons. Compassion, care, a desire to make a difference in some small way, a sense that this is something we CAN do even if we don’t actually work in a children’s centre or can’t physically take aid to the Philippines ourselves.

Giving provides a bigger perspective on the world, that it is not just about me in my little corner and I’m all right thank you. If we only look at what we can get and not what we can contribute, then that is a very limited place to be.

Of course giving is a very personal thing and we all have different reasons why we give and who we give it to. No-one should be forced to give when they don’t want to or actually can’t.

But St Paul once said: “God loves a cheerful giver” and for me that is a good thought. Our giving does nothing when it is grudging or forced; but when it is exuberant, cheerful, intentional and positive then that really does start to make a difference.”