Proud of yourself?

A homily for Trinity 15

A River runs through it – Cardiff

“They said nothing, because they had been arguing which one of them was the greatest”   Mark: 9:34

Just last week we came home from a few days away in Paris –

(hey, it was only for a few days!)

So I had that lovely feeling you get when you return home

from a big, international place  like London or Paris

and Cardiff just feels like a comfy pair of slippers.

It doesn’t have a Belgravia or Montmartre,

but it’s our home, and I’m proud of it –

of its streets, parks, rivers, people

Yes, proud.

I cried, earlier this year, when I saw the film ‘Pride’ – the film about the gay community from London who supported the Welsh miners during the 84-85 strike.   I cried at the very end, at the scene that showed all the miners coming with their bands and union banners to walk in the 1985 Pride march.

Yeah, I like pride, especially in people who’ve been humiliated or made to feel worthless or second best just because of who they are.

Charlie Marx once said, ‘the working class don’t need to be taught snivelling Christian humility.  They need strength, self respect and pride’.

Yep, I know where he’s coming from,


I also agree with C S Lewis and the great Christian teachers

who say that the very worst sin,

the one that feeds and enflames all others

is pride.

Hmm….can I explain the contradiction?

Well, I admit:

I don’t quack, but I do duck questions….

A duck
A duck, unavailable for comment (Janusz Lesczynski, Wikimedia Commons)

Like the word duck, pride is one word that has very different meanings.

Basically, there’s good pride, and bad pride.

The good kind is like when you feel an innocent warmth and admiration for your home, your family, yourself – it’s just having a deep, celebratory affection for these things.   You *should* feel that kind of pride in the person God has made and adores – that’s you.

As John O’donahue says, always hold “you” – yourself- with deep affection.

That’s good pride.  Bad pride is like a twisted version of that.    It’s the pleasure at looking down on others on the basis of who you are, what you are, or where you’ve come from.  Bad pride is all about ego, all about expecting great service from others; it’s always making everything in life a competition.

The best friend of bad pride, is false humility – thinking you have to beat yourself up or make yourself a door mat for Jesus.   Bad humility and bad pride both want to keep you from God:  one by telling you that you’ll never be worthy of Him; the other by telling you that you’re far too important for Him. Both are from the devil.

‘Ah, but I was so much older then – I’m younger than that now’  ~ Bob Dylan

So the disciples of Jesus were having an argument about which one of them was the greatest.    (bad pride).    Jesus, rolling his eyes, prays, ‘give me strength’.

Here, and throughout the gospel, Jesus says, “in my kingdom, that silly game is cancelled for lack of interest on my part.   I turn it on its head:  the greatest is the littlest, the last become first.   You wanna be a leader?  Then be a servant.   You are never greater than when you are kneeling down, looking up to honour another soul.  In fact, here’s a child.   Hasn’t written anything, solved anything, fixed anything –she just gives love and accepts love -just because.    Let her humility show you that your real life is never about competing, performing, comparing:  no, it’s all about  delight in the sheer, shared, fragile existence of yourself and everyone else.

That’s true humility, and it’s the friend of good pride.  It teaches you that we are all naked underneath, that we are all little, that we all have an oceanic need for God and others.  Humility will make you feel so much better about yourself.

In that crowd of arguing adults, the one closest to Jesus,

The one in His arms,

Is the littlest:

a child.

Humility teaches you that,

Humility will always lead you home.

With Emily


Tree of Life-Way of Life

Homily for Trinity 15, September 13th 2015


So, last Monday, I was part of an amazing training day for clergy led by a psychologist called Rob Archer.

We learnt lots of useful stuff, especially

about  male baboons.


Do you know what a male baboon does if it loses a fight with another male baboon?   Have a guess.

Does it run away?  Hide?  Put one of those needy status updates on facebook?  (‘Why????’)

Nope:  what a male baboon does, if it loses a fight, is find another baboon that is weaker than itself, and then beats it up.   After it’s done this, the Baboon’s stress hormones go right down, and it feels sooo much better.

What a heart warming story.

Sound familiar?

I’m sure we’ve all seen it.

Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of it.

‘I’m hurting, so someone’s gonna pay!’

Then again, let the person who’s never been moody or sulky with others after being yelled at by a boss, cast the first stone.

It happens to all of us.

Humanoids like to transfer their pain to someone else – often, whole groups of people – Jews, migrants, people on benefits – so much choice!   We feel bad, we feel pain, so let’s pick on someone else.

It makes us feel sooo much better.

In first century Palestine, many of Jesus’ fellow oppressed Jews felt like this too.  They dreamed of a king, a Messiah, who would turn the tables, and smash ‘them’ – the Romans, pagans, foreigners, half Jews, failed Jews.

People had very definite expectations about what Israel’s Messiah should be, and they were keen to make Jesus fit into these expectations.

But Jesus wanted no part in it.

Mark’s gospel is 16 short chapters long. The first 8 chapters involve Jesus doing amazing works of healing, and then saying, ‘but shh, tell no one, just thank God’.  (It’s been called Mark’s ‘Messianic secret’.)

And then,  bang in the middle of his Gospel, in chapter 8, the explosive secret is revealed:  Jesus is the Messiah….

….of non-violent, suffering love.

‘The only violence will be done to me, not by me’

-says Jesus,

‘and, here’s the thing guys,

if you want to follow me, that’s the way we’re going to do it.

My kingdom, my world, will come

through cross-shaped, non-violent love’.

Jesus’ way of being the Messiah is just unbearable.  ‘God forbid, that you should do this’, says Peter.

The toxic stream of psychic, human waste, yours and mine, will come to Jesus, and He will hold it, bear it, and burn it with love, and not pass it on – except as love.

And that, says Jesus, is how we’re going to change the world.  The cycle of pain and sorrow will come our way, and we will break the circuit.  The interminable, wretched game of I hurt so I’m going to hurt is going to stop, with us.  We’ll take suffering, and we’ll give back love.

It won’t be easy.

As S. James says, faith without love, faith without guts, is dead.

So, with defiant, cross-bearing love, we are going to heal the world.

Now, who’s in?

‘Who do you say that I am?’   Jesus, Mark 8:27

It can look something like this:

Tree of Life, British Museum (WikiMedia Commons)
Tree of Life, British Museum (WikiMedia Commons, photo by Jean-Pierre Delbéra)

The civil war in Mozambique came to an end in 1992.  It left the country full of guns – and hurt, abused young men (with guns).  So, Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane and the Christians of Mozambique set up a project called ‘Transforming Arms into Tools’.  People could come and hand in their AK 47 assault rifles, and in return, they’d receive tools for gardening.   But then, God and Bishop Dino went one better.  They gave the handed-in weapons to a group of artists, who started making sculptures with them.  One of those sculptures is called ‘The tree of Life’.

God and the Church took weapons from people’s hands, put tools for growing and healing in those hands, and then made something beautiful out of those weapons.

The cross is the tree of life,

a way of life,

And the Truth and Heart of that Life,

is Jesus, the Messiah

This Space is Free

A homily for Trinity 14, Sunday 6th of September 2015


So I’m on a train to Manchester and the seat next to me is empty (joy!)

I have my book.

All is well with the world.

But then….   Passengers arrive and dump their bags in the little space reserved for wheel chair users….

Since my brother Joe’s accident a few years ago, I’ve begun to look at the world through his eyes, and that world is pretty scary.   Where before I saw normal, now I see a million things that shout out, ‘inaccessible. Go away.  You don’t belong here’.

So I’m bothered by what I see happening and it makes me commit the ultimate sin in British culture – far worse than murder or genocide:  I make a scene

I say, out-loud, before I can stop myself, ‘excuse me, you’ve just put your bags in the place for wheel chair users’.

As soon as the words leave my mouth, I feel like a complete idiot.  The people who’ve dropped their bags look at me as if I’m speaking Martian.   I just want the ground to swallow me up.  But then, praise the Lord, a miracle!  – Truly.  A young dad brings in a wheel-chair bound little girl.   She even looks angelic.   The bag-dumpers sheepishly move their stuff – not because of me, but because of her.

I whisper, selfishly, a prayer: ‘oh, thank God, oh thank God’.

“They brought to him a deaf man, who could not speak”

In our gospel the disciples bring to Jesus someone who has no seat, no space, who can neither hear nor speak.    For a first and twenty first century deaf person, deafness can mean exclusion, isolating silence and having no voice. Of course, it doesn’t have to mean any of these things, but often does, because that’s how we like it.  People like to dump their baggage in the personal and social spaces needed by disabled people.

In ministering to this man, Jesus makes a social space for him where there was none before.    It says that Jesus ‘takes him aside, in private’.   Love always creates a safe intimacy where healing can occur.    Jesus creates a space for this comrade who, maybe, has never received a word about God’s oceanic compassion for him; who, told that illness is a punishment, maybe has never yet been caught up in a communication that’s all about love and delight in his sheer existence.

But that isolating silence ends the second he encounters Jesus.

Because, with Jesus, silence is for one thing only: wordless connection  between souls,  between God and a soul.   Silence is for delight, not fear.

Then it says Jesus ‘put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle’.


you wanted  incarnation!

It’s body speaking to body; God’s preferred means of communication.   God loves to sign:   with nailed hands, with broken bread, with touch.  Because the body always gets it,

way, way, before the head ever does.

Then Jesus cries:  Ephphatha!  Be opened !  And, the prison doors swing open, healing occurs, and the man encounters the grace that he needs.

Jesus makes space for all who are shut up, ignored, overlooked, edged-out of our world.    His presence is on their side.   Jesus, creates space to breathe, space for unheard voices, untold stories.

We can’t all perform works of dramatic, healing love, in the way that Jesus does.  In the presence of incarnate compassion Himself, signs of healing happen in an accelerated way – like in those speeded up videos that show us how nature works – in this case, how super-nature works –  but we can all follow the Spirit of  Jesus.

We can all, in solidarity, with deep respect, with guts, stand with disabled sisters and brothers, shout very loudly when they are shut out,  when their space is filled with baggage; we can ensure that that they too get to receive the word, the love, the touch, that,

God knows,

we all need.

My hearing aids. They cost thousands.  A nation bought them for me.