Monday, April 30, 2018


Colm Cille. "church dove" is my name
but I am no peaceful dove and
I leave Ireland trailing bloody footprints
clutching a book of peace I stained with war

my penance fractures the heart in me
this journey north across the sea in
a coracle crib of hazel and willow frame and
stretched leather, births me again

not mothered to sea or sail we fight the currents
to reach Rathlin. Stars shine down. Then
a hot day to Islay. Blistered hands. Sun-baked head
eyes drawn backward to the home that spurns me

wind tossed we spiral through whirlpools of Corryvreckan
sea and islands, wind and waves
I feel the untamed power of the Almighty and
know myself impotent in His palm

a foreign landscape smudges the horizon
a different language waits on my tongue
The weight of three thousand dead presses on my soul
His power to transform fills me

His purpose shouts with every roll of thunder, is
written in the chasing clouds, in strands of grey
new birthed by the coracle, baptised by the sea
I am, at last, His Colm Cille, His peace herald dove

Here, in Iona, I make a new home

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Four and a Half Days

I forgot to take my heart pressure tablets yesterday. I needed them!

The article in the “I” was about a school in Northampton proposing a four and a half day week. Yes, Friday afternoon off. The headmaster said it was all about time for teachers to collaborate and improve the curriculum.

The Secondary schools in my city adopted the four and a half day week this session. Some schools had been doing it already. The Friday afternoon was about cost cutting I think. The council could  make a saving by switching off lights and heating a few hours earlier. It wasn’t something teachers opted for, although clawing back that Friday afternoon might now be a challenge.

The hours we teach haven’t changed. The pupils get what they are supposed to get. We start a little earlier in the day and finish a little later. They’ve pinched a little of the lunch hour too. It is a rushed four and a half day.

The argument against was presented by one woman not happy with the idea of finding money for childcare. One man did the maths and insisted that 9.5% of his children’s education would be cut. He went on to say that it was all about teachers needing more chill time. He pointed out the already long holidays and ended up with the challenge – “They should work in the real world and then they’ll realise how lucky they are.

Is that not a man that knows no teachers? Is that not a man that has no idea what happens in the classroom? Is that not a man that really doesn’t know about the average 60 hours a week teachers do to keep their heads above water? Is that not a man that has to take a holiday in school holiday time when every travel agent on and off line increases prices significantly?

Let’s start by saying that I have worked in the “real” world. It wasn’t all that it was hailed to be. I admit it was an office job, filing paper and occasionally updating how-to manuals. I loved the politeness of it all – people saying “Thank you” and opening a door for me. That’s not something teachers get a lot of. It was also me and my own desk and any encounter with another human being was entirely voluntary. That’s not something teachers get a lot of either. It was, on this one occasion, mind-numbingly predictable and not the least bit challenging. I’d been in teaching before then for a few years, worked abroad, come home to changes in the way schools operated, had a body clock that insisted it was time to get married. I took a break and office temped for a while.

It might have been someone’s real world but it wasn’t mine. Put me in front of a classroom of pupils, something to teach then – I quite like the Martin Luther King unit some of them are doing at the moment, and I thrive. I shine. I perform. I inspire. I laugh sometimes. I cry sometimes. I argue. I challenge. I mark stuff. I shift known a trusted Microsoft power points into the google drive and spend hours after school trying to make the links work!

That’s what I do. That’s not what “my clients” do. They play with their mobile phones on their laps and snarl at me when I tell them to put it away. They write down a single word, maybe two or three, if pushed, to answer a question that needs a paragraph. They flaunt the uniform rules and wiggle gem encrusted bellies and crop tops at me. They complain about the heat, open windows, close windows, open windows, close windows. They borrow pencils and don’t return them and get declare “Well, I just won’t do any work then, will I?” when you tell them there’s no more pencils left to borrow – not that having a pencil in the first place meant they would to any work. They watch the clock and they sigh.

And why are they so rude? Because the man who did the maths and worked out that his child might be losing 9.5% if his family’s education doesn’t talk about teachers with any respect in the home.

I say to that man – you couldn’t do my job that’s why you pay me to do it.

BY all means step into my world and be me for a day or two.

You are right of course – I am lucky. Who would not want to be there when the penny drops and the child knows something they didn’t know a moment before and you made it happen?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Walking with God

In the absence of a set of Bible study notes I am working my way through a book I picked up in the sales sometime earlier this year.

The book, “Walking with God” by E A Johnston (I always liked the idea of publishing my poetry books under the name of M J Kerr), looks at the life of Enoch. I preached a sermon on Enoch a long time ago. I was kind of encouraged that it wasn’t until he was 65 that Enoch began walking with God. There’s a side of me that tells me that I have another five years before I need to take my walk with God seriously if I am to be like Enoch! There’s another voice that tells me not to be so silly – scripture isn’t meant to be read like that.

The book doesn’t just talk about Enoch but mines the seams of Christian history over the last two or three hundred years, picking out one gem after another. Christians can probably tell you a lot about Abraham and David, Nehemiah and Paul but I wonder if they could tell you much about Robert Murry McCheyne or C T Studd. I know them from my theology degree and the years I spent with the Plymouth Brethren Church where reading the latest best sellers in W H Smith was not encouraged. At the time I had collected and read every Dick Francis novel going. It broke my heart when I felt compelled to get rid of them.

The book doesn’t tell you much about these men and women who stand out as remarkable men and women. Each person gets three or four paragraphs. It makes mention of getting up at four in the morning, of asking God for a big heart, of looking at the sky and the clouds and having a greater sense of the divine, of spending time with others in worship and prayer and being refreshed, of crying out to God to be filled, of eloquence God-given in their preaching, of letting God do what He will do, how and when He wishes.

We have a habit of labelling these people, and the Bible heroes, as super-spiritual and out of our league but they were people who made the decision to walk with, talk with, chase after and catch God – no half measures. We are all capable of doing that.

One of the chapters in the book was dedicated to Duncan Campbell who was a part of the revival on the Isle of Lewis in the late 1940s and early 50s. To anyone who says that he started it, Duncan Campbell insisted that it was happening before he arrived and it wasn’t him at all, but totally God. He was just there. He also talks about the place of prayer.

Reading the book, so far, has made me dissatisfied. I would like to point a finger at the church today and say it’s at fault. I am sure they are out there, the men and women like Duncan Campbell and the like.  But that’s the problem – we look for the men and the women like them and fail ourselves to be those men and women like them. We think it’s someone else’s job, someone special, someone with the time to spend with God, someone not holding down a full time job, someone in full time ministry, someone obviously gifted – someone not me. And the enemy wins when he has us thinking like that.

I have a picture that often comes to mind when I think about Enoch. I see a boy sitting on a wall swinging his legs and looking down the lane. Someone, an old man, walks slowly towards him. A smile lights up the boy’s face. He jumps down from the wall and begins to walk in step with him.

“Can I walk with you a while, mister?” The boy always asks and never presumes. I’m not sure it the man ever answers, but the two of them walk down the path together talking sometimes, silent sometimes, but always together.

Every day the boy is waiting, sitting on the wall, knowing his friend will come by and wanting so badly to walk with him. Every day he jumps down from the wall.

There’s never a day when the boy is not made welcome.

That’s how I picture Enoch and God.

How I picture God and I is sometimes like that. Sometimes though, I’m not sitting on the wall waiting. Sometimes I’m doing something else entirely. I’m not looking down the lane. Sometimes God walks by and I’m not sitting on the wall. God misses me. We are not together talking sometimes, silent sometimes.

And my day is a little less bright because of it.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

My Richest Praise

The opening lines of the hymn for Easter Sunday’s Morning Prayer in “A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer” are:-

“Bring, all ye dear-bought nations, bring, alleluia
Your richest praise to your King, alleluia”

“Our richest praise”. I wonder what that really looks like. “Our richest anything” given to God – I wonder, too, what that looks like.

We make a big deal of the big celebrations of Easter and Christmas. We pull out all the strings. And yes, so we should. Those are the days that people who are strangers to churches and to worship make an appearance.

It is in the day to day ordinariness of life that we make our biggest impact. Our richest praise is not pulled out of the drawer and brushed off on special days – but every single day. The middle of the week Wednesdays as well and the end of the week Saturdays should see us demonstrating richest praise.

I felt very keenly some of the words from Malachi 1:-

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name. But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ By offering defiled food on my altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’….

When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty. “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

I get the impression that if Jesus had his own way as he watched the widow carefully put her two copper coins into the offering at the temple that day, he might have pulled out the heavy bags the rich had so carelessly tossed in and handed them back. He might have said to them, “I am not pleased with you and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Sometimes I find it easier to give what’s not always the richest. Sometimes I convince myself that I can’t afford to give what is the richest, as if I will end up with too little myself. Like some of the rich people giving their offerings, I toss in something that I can afford to let go of. I don’t always count out what is precious and surrender it to God’s hand cheerfully. I know people that do and the joy that fills their faces is all too evident.

Over the weekend I have had my fill of the nod to Easter in TV programmes. I began watching a three part drama on the life of Jesus. I barely made it to the end of the first episode. The absence of God in the narrative annoyed me. There was no dream to tell Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to safety but just a feeling something was wrong. There was no dove fluttering down, no voice of God claiming His Son at the baptism of Jesus – just John and Jesus alone in a river. There were no spoken words rebuking a demon or a command given, just a hug and a holding close and a quiet recovery from something not clearly identified as demon possession.

God has been erased from the story and Jesus, in the first episode, was not dynamic or charismatic, God-soaked or vibrant.
“What’s so different about your life?” said God, “Do the words dynamic or charismatic, God-soaked or vibrant apply to you?”

Ouch!  I have my moments. Too few of them.

The programme might have been striving not to offend, not to come too clearly down on the God side of the fence. Jesus never lived His without causing offence and sometimes deliberately so. His words take a sleeping man by the shoulders and give him a good shake to remind him that he is only sleeping and not dead, and he needs to wake up. Offence wakes us up.

In George Hebert’s poem “Easter”, which I also read this morning, his chosen method of praise is the lute. His heart, the strings and the Spirit combine to bring about his richest praise. My chosen method is poetry – my heart, the words and the Spirit combine as I weave a poem.

My richest praise. My richest everything given to God. Today.

Resurrection Morning

I thought the colour and sound
The texture and taste of the world
Would be less

I thought the sun would crawl above the horizon
Dressed in mourning robes
Yet she strides in radiant garments
Burning bright

I thought there would be silence
But the wind chases a melody through the trees
Birds chatter and sing
In noisy celebration

I thought this morning would be different
Because You are not here
Friday’s horror
Changed everything

How can the world be as it was?
Creation cast out The Creator
And silenced the Word that
Nourished all

But the world isn’t as it was
The fragrance of Eden
Before she fell
Is in the air

The cord of sin and death
That binds creation
And ties her into the cycle of decay
Has been severed

Nature sees the promise kept
She stands on tiptoe
Holds her breath and waits
For man to awaken

Eden’s crimes are forgiven
God sweeps away what’s broken
And invites me to step into
Something new