Category Archives: Lent

Black Sheep and Prodigals

Religion poses many questions that have troubled theologians through the ages. “Is there a God?” “What is the nature of God?” “What is the Trinity all about?” “Why is there a sheep on a skateboard at the front of St Marks?” [1]

A partial answer to this last imponderable was that we had a well-attended talk last night (4th Feb.) from Dave Tomlinson, promoting his latest book, “Black Sheep and Prodigals”. As for the others, and similar questions, Dave’s main theme was concerned with avoiding black and white answers. Most of us do not experience the blinding light of revelation on the road to Damascus. At best we may experience an unreliable, intermittently flickering bulb, more often off than on. Indeed, it’s a good idea to be wary of those who purport to have all the answers. This instantly creates a divide: you can’t belong to our club unless you believe what we do.

Dave was at pains to stress that none of us have exclusive access to “The Truth”. We should encourage doubts and tolerate dissention, for that is how new insights may emerge.

We had forty minutes or so of these and many other thought provoking ideas, followed by an extensive question and answer session. I’m not going to deal with all the ideas here – buy the book, it’s the one we will be using for Lent discussions anyway!

Dave finished his talk by quoting my other favourite writer on religious topics, Karen Armstrong, “Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the Trinity, or original sin…. He went around doing good and being compassionate.”

Or, to paraphrase Dave:- there is little point in asking what Jesus would do if he was around today – discover Jesus within yourself and act on it!

“Live passionately, believe sceptically, Love extravagantly”


Bob Shatwell 5th Feb 2018



[1] It’s to look as equally cool as the sheep with sunglasses, grazing nearby.

Lent Groups

Lent groups will be running again this year, studying Dave Tomlinson’s book “Black Sheep & Prodigals”. First meetings will be in w/c 19/2. Sign up sheets are at the back of church or email Remember that Dave will be visiting the parish on 4th Feb at 6:30 to talk about the book (and give an opportunity to buy it).


Count your Blessings for Lent

Lent starts this year on Valentines Day – 14th February. Lots of people choose to do something special for Lent. In this parish one of the charities we support is Christian Aid and for Lent they are encouraging us to count our blessings each day with these special reflections and actions. Click on the below links to find out more:

Count Your Blessings 2018 adult

Children’s Count Your Blessings



Fridays in Lent

During Lent, as well as the Lent Groups, there will be the Friday lunchtime services at noon, this year, unfortunately, with no lunch.  The theme is taken from the Mission Agency ‘USPG’ and is about “All things are possible: exploring how faith can change the world”; the preachers are:

16/2       Bob Skinner – What does it mean to prosper?

23/2       Michael Hopkins – What does it mean to care for the environment?

2/3         Patrick O’Ferrall – What does it mean to love our neighbour?

9/3         Philip Simpkins – What does it mean to live in partnership with God?

16/3       John Edwards – What does it mean to fulfil our potential

23/3       John Evans – Summary

Fridays in Lent


I am posting this after sundown (UK time) as the final Lent post, but also as an Easter one.  I have enjoyed and benefited from doing this so much that I am going to continue when I return from leave!

Lesley and I recently watched a film where two bereaved single parents fell in love by first becoming friends, and we agreed that this is the best way for it to happen (we may be biased as that was how it was for us).  We had earlier watched another film where the woman said that he wasn’t her type at all, but they had fallen in love anyway.  Today many people seem to use apps for dating, and the assumption seems to be that you have a list of all the things that you want in a partner, and ignore those who don’t fit.

If you want to be happy, the best bet is not to focus on being happy, but to do other things.

Increasingly businesses are looking at “leading indicators” rather than “lagging indicators”.  When Lesley and I checked into a Travelodge we got chatting and were told that the company had stopped measuring room occupancy and started measuring room and hot water availability as well as other measures.  One measure tells us what we did – the other helps us improve.

I have heard one person complain that when they tell dates what they are looking for, the dates start trying to be that person!  What might a leading indicator for dating be?  Perhaps instead of only dating those who match a predetermined set of criteria it would be better to meet a wide variety of people (OK, I know that isn’t easy), not dating but just meeting, and see who you click with.  Marriage is a compromise, and if you only date people who meet all your criteria when things change and push comes to shove as a couple there is no experience of compromise.

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

This quote came to mind as it suggests to me focusing on the wrong things.
So what has this to do with Easter?
With God the same can be true.  When we look hard straight ahead we can miss what is in our peripheral vision.  What are leading and what are lagging indicators?  Services attended, or prayers said are surely lagging indicators.  If we live our lives aware of what is happening around us, looking for signs of resurrection in the every day, of the hope born from despair (I don’t endorse all of the views here, but it is a great example of hope born from despair), perhaps we might just see the risen Christ in action in the world, and then find ourselves drawn to worship and prayer in thanksgiving more often.
Happy Easter


At some point I intended to blog on atonement, and here I am on Good Friday – so that seems very appropriate.

In church many will have heard that “Jesus died for our sins”, or “to save us from our sins” – but how does this work?  There are a number of different theories of the atonement.  Some churches will hold strongly to one theory, to the extent of raising it to a condition of belonging, but the Church of England does not endorse any one to the exclusion of the others.

If you recall, I believe that we cannot speak about matters of religion except by metaphor – we are trying to explain someones inexplicable experience, which they have written down as best they can – so I believe that our job is to extract the things that are of value from each of the different theories, whilst rejecting the unhelpful.

So, looking at each of the theories:

Moral Influence

Ransom Theory



Penal Substitution



Each has bits that I find helpful, but each also has bits that I find unhelpful.  As an example, with Penal Substitution, I find the idea that God has to kill someone, and chooses his son unhelpful – I do not believe that a loving God has to kill anyone.  However, remembering the Trinity – which makes Jesus=God (poor phraseology, I know) – then I find it helpful to think of us deserving punishment, but God stepping in and taking it for us.

We are trying to describe something indescribable, and different people have used different explanations – but we should not take them and stretch them farther than they will go.  Taking the best bits from all of them gives us a fuller picture – but we still don’t have the whole picture!


…not my will but yours be done…

Many will know the phrase with which I have titled this post.  But what do you think it means?

It is a nice phrase, which I have used frequently, but what do we mean by it?  Looking at it in context, what is God’s will in this situation?  Do we think that the choice Jesus is facing is between walking away, or facing the arrest trial and crucifixion – where that is God’s will?  Or is God’s will letting ourselves go into an unknown future?

In her commentary on the Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister writes:

The question, of course, is how do we recognize the Will of God? How do we tell the will of God from our own? How do we know when to resist the tide and confront the opposition and when to embrace the pain and accept the bitterness because “God wills it for us.” The answer lies in the fact that the Jesus who said “I have come not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent me” is also the Jesus who prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this chalice pass from me:” The will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it.

If we think that the will of God is Jesus arrest, trial and crucifixion, where is free will?

And yet, sometimes a parent knows what is good for a child, even though for the child it may not seem so at the time.  Joan Chittister again:

It is not supportive to take away a person’s heart medicine simply because they do not like the taste of it. It is not supportive to fail to set a broken leg simply because the setting will be painful. It is not supportive to deny people the right and the environment to think a situation through, to recommit themselves, to gain perspective, to work things out without dividing the community over them.

But again, this ignores free will.

For me, free will lies in being open to hear what God might be saying in a situation, and listening and following – not necessarily knowing where it will lead, but trusting that wherever it leads, God will be with me there.

Joan Chittister once more time:

We are not the last word, the final answer, the clearest insight into anything. We have one word among many to contribute to the mosaic of life, one answer of many answers, one insight out of multiple perspectives. Humility lies in learning to listen to the words, directions and insights of the one who is a voice of Christ for me now.


The Power of Touch

Last night at our Lenten meditation Hannah gave us a handful of coins as we thought about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and I found myself more moved by this than I expected.  It set me thinking about the place of touch/physical actions in prayer and worship.

Within some kinds of church/worship people will kneel, genuflect, cross themselves, and bow at particular points of the service; within others they will raise their hands while singing.  Neuro Linguistic Programming, whilst scientifically discredited, has a technique which might explain this.  Anchoring allows emotion states to be tied to physical actions.  The idea is that if you feel an emotional state and carry out a physical action a few times, then in future carrying out the physical action can create the emotional state.  This seems plausible, as it is very reminiscent of Pavlov’s Dog (a well loved joke runs: “knock, knock”, “who’s there”, “Pavlov”).

There are also a number of learning styles, which suggest that people have different ways of learning; one of these suggests that some people learn or take in information kinaesthetically.

Church is very often based upon hearing or seeing, less so on touching (although for some who live alone the Peace is the only time in the week that they might touch another human being), perhaps it is time to bring more touching or movement into worship.

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