Resurrection Politics


It’s been a busy week, and we all know that a week is a long time in politics. Between the US and North Korea and the announcement of a general election in the UK there is a lot going on. And the general mood on the internet seems to be that we have politics-fatigue. Having had our fill of Trump and Brexit the last few months some other news would have been a welcome change, but May’s announcement was not met with much enthusiasm.

Maybe we are still reeling from the dramatic political events of 2016 and the campaigns for both the referendum and for the presidency in the US which seemed to signal a shift in political culture and ushered in an age of alternative facts and alternatives to experts. The result, among many other foreseen and unforeseen outcomes, is a nation punch drunk with politics. And this is fertile breeding ground for cynicism. What’s the point in another election when there is no one worth our vote, and we are all going to hell in a handcart anyway?

This week was also a busy week for Christians as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  The Easter story is one of light out of darkness, love that triumphs over hate and hope that will not be defeated. The story of resurrection is the story of God’s love bringing transformation even when it seemed like the story was over. So whilst I am sick of politics, hate the thought of enduring another campaign and cannot muster up any enthusiasm about putting my cross next to any name on the ballot paper, the events of Easter tell us of the transformation a cross can bring.

There is a great temptation to flounder around feeling hopeless and helpless, but despair is a vice and not a virtue.  Our calling is to live as Easter people; to hold on to the hope of transformation.  However messed up and frustrating the political situation – or any other situation seems –  faith, hope and love remain.

The empty tomb that Mary and the other women found on the first Easter morning might not seem like it has a lot to do with turning out to vote when you would rather turn off the TV and pretend none of it is happening, but that’s kind of what the women did. Jesus who they loved had been defeated, humiliated. He had brought them all to a place of danger, let them down, and it was over. There was nothing to show up for after his crucifixion, it would have been safer to hide away. But they showed up anyway to anoint the body of Jesus who they loved. They showed up to carry out their duty towards their deceased friend. They showed up to make him fit for death after his degrading execution. They showed up and discovered transformation, enduring hope and inextinguishable love. They found out that it all still mattered.

The resurrection didn’t bring perfect justice to every situation on earth. It didn’t make people consider the common good in all of their actions or desire peace or love their neighbours as themselves. But it did mean that all of those things are a real possibility. When other things come to an end, faith, hope and love remain and the promise of that transformation is worth showing up for.


Flattery, Destruction and shouting stones

Palm sunday

When Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem and the crowds go wild for him that must be a huge moment of affirmation. They know who he is and they are celebrating the Son of David, the King of Kings. In Luke’s version of the events we know as Palm Sunday, some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to silence his followers, to stop them shouting their praises and he responds “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40). Jesus knows who he is, not because the people are waving their palm branches at him and lining his route with their cloaks, but because it is the truth. Regardless of whether anyone recognises him as the Messiah or not, the whole of creation knows that he is God with us, and so even if the people don’t celebrate it, the stones will shout aloud.

The thing about Palm Sunday is that it very quickly turns to the events of Holy Week, and as many a preacher will say this week, the cries of “hosanna” will soon turn into the cries of “crucify him”. There is nothing as fickle, or as scary, as a crowd whipped up into a frenzy. If Jesus is looking for affirmation, he doesn’t find it in the crowd, he doesn’t even find it in the 12 disciples who betray him and desert him. I once heard June Osborne, the Dean of Salisbury, say that in ministry you get a lot of flattery and you get a lot of destructive criticism and that it’s really important not to absorb either. Jesus’ journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday embodies the extremes of flattery and destruction. The people who flattered and cheered were the same people who spat and jeered.

So it really matters that Jesus knows who he is. I don’t necessarily mean that at that moment he knows that he is fully God as God is and fully human as we are; but he knows that he is the Messiah. He knows that what he does will affect all of creation. And he knows this is true whatever anyone else is saying. When we try to discern what God is calling us to, we listen to the voices around us. The voices that flatter and the voices that criticise might be the loudest voices, but they are not the ones to rely on. Sometimes the voices that flatter and criticise are ours, we tell ourselves things that can get in the way of hearing what God is saying. What is it that is true, regardless of what anyone else says? What is it that the stones are shouting? What is it that in both the times of greatest affirmation, and the worst rejection and betrayal is still true?

As we journey with Jesus through the events of Holy Week, as we share in his crucifixion on Good Friday and in his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, what is it that we are being called to? As we experience the lows of vulnerability, rejection, humiliation and defeat, and the highs of victory, triumph and love which conquers death, what is true throughout all of that? What are the stones shouting, and what shall we do about it?


Options Evening


The other week  we attended our son’s GCSE options evening and, apart from the process seeming far more stressful and complicated than it was when I chose my O levels over 30 years ago, it caused me to pause and think.

The first part of the evening consisted of a welcome and introduction followed by an explanation of the process and what the young people could and couldn’t choose.  The member of staff then proceeded to ask the pupils to consider two questions in choosing their options:

“What subjects do you do best at?”

“Which of them do you enjoy the most?”

This started me thinking about what we do when we consider our calling.  Do we consider what we are good at (our gifts) and what we enjoy doing when we think about what God is calling us to do or to be?  Whilst God may ask us to move out of our comfort zone He is the one who gave us our gifts and made us who we are.  When we say to our children that we want them to do the best they can so that they can meet their potential do we allow ourselves to do the same?  Do we use our gifts to serve God?  We all have gifts even if we don’t acknowledge them.  This should be our starting point in thinking about vocation – what are we good at?  What are we passionate about?  Starting from this point of view we can then consider how we may be called to use them.

When my son has chosen his options it won’t be the end of the choices he will need to make, and those two questions might be useful further down the road.


Maximise Wealth Retention

Fox Hole

‘Maximise Wealth Retention’ – the headline leapt out from the leaflet lying on the doormat, one of the day’s collection of junk mail. The flier was advertising a seminar, the subject of which was protecting your assets in the event that you would need to go into care. A further strapline argued that what you had worked hard for should be passed on to your loved ones, not used to take care of you in your old age.

My reaction to the headline was a gut one – a rising sense of distaste. Whilst I fully recognise the need for the elderly to be properly cared for, what caused a bitter taste was the implication that we should keep what we have earned and let somebody else bear the cost of our care as we grow older, that passing on an inheritance to our own was deemed to be a right, regardless of the cost to society as a whole. Contrasted with an earlier conversation where a colleague had shared the delight of marching with thousands of others for the NHS the two attitudes were striking in their contrast.

I fully appreciate that many people have worked hard for what they might have accrued but during this season of Lent, when we are meant to focus more fully on being disciples of Jesus, the ‘maximise wealth retention’ mantra seems to me to be at complete odds with Gospel priorities. If we are followers of Jesus what is it that we pursue and where do we find our security? Our priorities determine our decisions, our actions and the routes we take; are we being called to re-evaluate what they might be, and to walk a different path?



Living Ministry

Desert Flower

The Living Ministry project is a Church of England project researching clergy flourishing. The project is exploring two aspects of flourishing: wellbeing and ministerial outcomes. The hope is that the results of this ten year study will enable the church to support the flourishing of the clergy, and of all people, better so that together we can live more and more of the fullness of life God invites us to. I think we are all called to flourish, to blossom into fullness of life. In a blog for the Living Ministry project, I reflected on human flourishing. To find out more about the project, visit the website at

Human flourishing is fundamental to Christian living. God has called each one of us to fullness of life, to be the best version of ourselves.  To be the ‘you’ God knows you can be.  For much of human history, the majority of people have lived hand to mouth in subsistence economies where the main enterprise of all was the survival of the group. Most humans that ever lived didn’t experience luxury, or substantial leisure time, or have a whole lot of choices about how to spend their lives. But even without those things there have always been humans who flourish.

Flourishing isn’t what we do when we have everything else taken care of; it’s not an icing on the cake sort of thing. It is fullness of life that comes from knowing who we are and whose we are.  It is about purpose, relationality, belonging and a whole range of other things that contribute to a meaningful life.  It does not require any specific set of circumstances, as the Zimbabwean author Matshona Dhliwayo says “If a flower can flourish in the desert, you can flourish anywhere.”

And yet there are so many things that limit our ability to flourish; sometimes the very things that should be life giving. Christian community should be how we flourish together, but the many pressures of church life and challenges of ministry can damage flourishing. And that isn’t ok. The Living Ministry project is a serious attempt to understand what supports flourishing in ordained ministry and what diminishes it so that as a church and as individuals we can make choices about training and ministry development that are more likely to encourage the wellbeing of clergy and of the whole church.

Jesus’ invitation to abundant life is manifested in the church but all too often, that isn’t what is heard by the wider world or indeed by members and leaders of the church itself.  Rediscovering fullness and flourishing and investing in the things that encourage them are vital to the wellbeing of clergy, the effectiveness of ordained ministry and the life of the church.




‘Everything begins, always begins, with a lump of clay and me sitting by myself.’

 This quotation from ceramicist Edmund de Waal was positioned next to his sophisticated ceramic work Arcady in an exhibition of modern ceramics. At the entrance to the exhibition was a potter’s studio where  a potter was working at her  wheel;  hands, arms, floor, table, covered in wet clay. But as the wheel turned a pot was taking shape.

Clay is the most basic material to work with, dug up out of the ground, shapeless, ugly, but capable of being formed into something beautiful. Like God, potters make things that are both beautiful and useful out of the most seemingly unpromising mud. But clay is not just another medium: it  symbolises the origins of humanity and life itself.

‘I was first drawn to the basic, sensual pleasure of making – that simple enjoyment of squeezing a bit of mud and giving it shape.’

(David Jones)

On the shelves near the working potter were some of the pots made by children and adult participants  in the practical workshops (‘Clay Time’). They were lop-sided and lumpy, very different from the finished pots  created by the professional ceramicists.

‘To make pottery is an adventure to me, every new work is a new beginning.

(Lucie Rie)

 Videos showed the artists  making the works that were actually  on display. They worked with the clay with confidence, knowing both its limitations and its strengths: the clay, as it were, cooperating with the potter until the form was beautiful, as though potter and clay were in an equal,  covenantal process.  And if necessary  the pots were remade, not thrown away.

‘I become part of the process.’

(Hans Coper)

 Not all of the exhibits were pots. Some were architectural or sculptural forms. One display, by Jenny Stolzenberg was of many beautifully modelled shoes: a dancing  shoe, a T-bar sandal, a slipper. These were all modelled from from the shoes of concentration camp victims.

‘I can create beauty out of the unspeakable.’

(Jenny Stolzenberg)

 Edmund de Wall’s exhibit  is called ‘Arcady’ , evoking  utopia or Eden, a beautiful unspoiled place. It consists of  eighteen white porcelain  vessels of slightly different sizes and shades in a metal case. None of these pots can exist separately They belong with each other and they are placed in relationship with each other. Even the subtle shades of the glazes on the pots are in harmony with each other.

Originating from a lump of clay, each artwork in the exhibition had become so much more.  They were  creations that were beautiful in their  form, proportion and space. They were complete, satisfying, finished. They originated in earth, but belong to heaven.

“It’s an inscrutable material in the sense that it comes from earth but seems to aspire to something else. It seems closer to glass – closer to air – than the earth.’

(Edmund de Waal)

 ‘Shaping ceramics’,  was an exhibition of 13 ceramicists who were themselves, or were the descendants of, refugees from Nazi Europe, at The Jewish Museum London, November 2016- February 2017.The quotations are from the artists whose work was displayed.


Encourage Festival


When employers ask you to fill out a section on an application form about your hobbies and pastimes, they want to get an insight into what sort of person you are. What you like to do when it is your choice, what you are passionate about, what you think is fun. I never really like that question because I feel like there is an expectation that you have really defined hobbies – whether it’s sky diving or stamp collecting at least those things are identifiable and have a name. What I actually love to do is spend time with family and friends, eating and drinking, listening to music, having “heated debates” in the style of Mrs Merton. And however you try and dress that up I think it makes you sound like a teenager. Say in a Kevin and Perry type-voice: “I just want to listen to my music. And I hate you” then slam the door.

At the beginning of the year we were talking about holding a Vocations event; something that would reflect our belief that everyone is called. We wanted it to be a way for us to encourage people to think about what they are passionate about and to celebrate what God has called us to, individually, and together. And we wanted it to be fun because living the life you are called to live is joyous, exciting, challenging, stretching and fun. So we thought about the things we enjoy. We embraced our inner teenagers as we thought about music, discussion, friends, food, drink, poetry, film, and decided that we would combine all of those things in a mini music and arts festival. A day of performances, speakers, activities that would celebrate the things people are passionate about. That would be a chance for people to share their vocation, whether it is to play music, write poetry, create good food or whatever it might be. Seeing other people being passionate about their work and their life is a great spur to reflecting on what we are each passionate about.

So the idea of the Encourage Festival emerged, and we are so excited about it! There is loads of information on the website and we’d love you to come along and bring your friends.



caged bird.jpg

It’s World Poetry Day. Whether you love, like or are indifferent to poetry, there are those who feel compelled to write it and whose words become a shared way of expressing something that otherwise is inexpressible. The poet Robert Frost said “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” There is a story I really like about a journalist asking the ballerina Anna Pavlova if she could explain the meaning of a dance she had just performed. “If I could explain it” she said “I wouldn’t have bothered to dance it”. Poetry (and dance) aren’t just alternative ways of expressing something, they are ways to express things that can’t be shared in any other way. They give us glimpses of truth that can’t be grasped in other ways. According to Plato, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”

Poetry can be a powerful way of connecting with who we are, who we could be and what the world is like. Maya Angelou called the first part of her autobiography I Know why the Caged Bird Sings and in her poem “Caged Bird”, she compares the free bird “Who names the sky his own” and the caged bird who “stands on the grave of dreams”. The poem is a beautiful exploration of the opportunity and challenge of freedom and the constraint of being pigeonholed, or bird caged. Angelou writes that she knows why the caged bird sings, “The caged bird sings / with a fearful trill / of things unknown / but longed for still … for the caged bird / sings of freedom.

We are not constrained to what and where we are now. What we can imagine, what we sing of, what we long for are part of our reality. As someone who burst out of various cages, Maya Angelou expressed through poetry convictions that could not have been expressed otherwise.

Caged bird by Maya Angelou is at

LH and JH

Did you ask a good question today?


Isodor Rabi, the  American Nobel laureate in physics,  famously credited his mother with his success.  When he came home from school she would always ask him, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’

We are inexorably moving  towards the busiest time for BAP conferences and their three interviews, based,  as all ordination  candidates know, on the  nine criteria. It can feel  a little bit like mugging up the answers for an exam; working out which topics will come up in this year’s  exam papers.

‘What questions are they going to ask?’

‘What answers will they expect me to give?’

‘I don’t know enough’

Candidates often worry that  they will be expected to have all the answers. Questions are dangerous, answers are reassuring: if I’ve  got the answers I will be OK.  In any situation it takes a lot of nerve to say,  ‘I don’t know. I’m still working on it’, because between the question and the answer is the time of uncertainty that  the poet John Keats called ‘Negative Capability’, that being in a state of ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’.

At its best Christianity welcomes  both questions and answers. The bible has a golden thread of questions running through it.  A question even became the name of God’s life-giving food when the Israelites were starving in  the desert: ‘What is it?’

Easy certainties make us feel secure, but the visionary leaders of the future whom  we want to nurture and support  today are those who look beyond what is safe to what is still to be discovered. Not grabbing the  superficial answer like a life-jacket but thinking, ‘what does it mean for me?’, ‘how do I understand this?’  Cultivating the the mind-set that can question the tabloid headline, the current sound-bite, the presidential tweet.

For them a question mark is not a burden it is a liberation and  every  answer is a platform that enables us to reach the next question.

In ‘Benedictus’, his book of blessings,  John O’Donohue  gives a  A Blessing for a Leader, with the words,

            May you have a mind that loves frontiers

            So that you can evoke the bright fields

            That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.

How sad it would be if we thought there were no frontiers left to discover.


Top Tips for World Book Day


In celebration of World Book Day we thought we’d post some of our favourite books. Some are on vocation-related topics, most are thought-provoking if not plain entertaining and all probably for grown-ups!   So, from the Vocations & Training team here are our recommendations.

Theodora: actress, empress, whore  a novel by Stella Duffy.

This novel is about Theodora, born in  500AD in Constantinople, the daughter of a bear-keeper. Before she was 16 she had been a prostitute, a dancer and had a daughter.  She may have been a spy, or a saint. She embraced Monophysite Christianity and lived an ascetic life in the desert. But when she was 21 she met Justinian …  This novel evokes the world of Byzantine Constantinople, exotic, erotic, and passionately religious,  and tells an amazing story of a woman who was destined to be Empress of the Byzantine Empire.    DS


Ottolenghi: the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

A book of wonderful recipes, as are all of their recipe books. Yotam and Sami tell their own stories in the introduction to this book. Both discovered a passion for cooking as boys, both had to leave their homes in order to pursue their vocations. Yotam was at university studying literature and philosophy but decided to do a cookery course in London.  ‘I just need to check this out,’ he said to his mother, ‘make sure it’s not the right thing for me.’ Both want to share their passion for food and the joy of bringing people together.  DS


Do Purpose: Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more  by David Hieatt,  (
A short read on why brands that have a purpose beyond profit matter more in today’s world. It has stuff to say about culture, managing time, getting started now rather than waiting, and how to look after yourself so you’re able to run the marathon, not just a sprint. There’s also some pretty good artwork to look at whilst you read.    JW


To Kill A Mockingbird   a novel by Harper Lee

I know it’s really unoriginal to say that TKAM is one of your favourite books, but there are good reasons why so many people love it. Amongst the many things that could be picked out, I will just say that I love the character of Atticus. His exploration of what it means to be a single parent, a lawyer, a man of integrity, a pillar of community, to do what is costly because it is right, to teach without being heavy handed, are questions that go well beyond Atticus’ own person and circumstances. That all of this exploration is both stark and hugely understated is why it is one of the best books of the 20th century!    LH


Angels and Men  a novel by Catherine Fox

 One of only a few novels I have re-read. Fox tells the story of Mara, a postgrad at Durham studying sects and cults and dealing with the loss of her sister. As Mara becomes part of a college community and begins to learn to trust and form friendships, lots of questions are explored about the meaning of life, love and faith. The book is quite atmospheric and whilst it has all the predictable ingredients of romance, obstacles etc. the characters are endearing and many of the themes really resonate for anyone who has wondered what God is like, and what that means for how we live.  LH


Another Day in the death of America by Gary Younge

Journalist GY goes in search of the 10 young people all shot dead – some by accident –  in a single day.  The shocking statistic is that, on average, seven children are killed by guns every day in America.   I hugely admire Younge’s decision to take on such a gruelling and sadly contemporary problem – the lack of gun control in the US.  The book shows Younge’s determination not to just get the facts, the ‘story’, like any good journalist but to analyse the ramifications for each family and in considerable depth.   JC

The Vanishing Man:  In Pursuit of Velazquez by Laura Cumming

NB second edition (paperback) is a must as it includes an important afterword

One of my books of the year 2016 –  a completely absorbing (true) tale about one man’s obsession with a portrait and his determination to keep it, exhibit it and prove it was by Velazquez. There’s no doubt that John Snare was a driven man but this riveting story is also beautifully told by Laura Cumming who persevered over a long period to assemble all the facts. (And for anyone the least bit interested in Velazquez himself then a fabulous insight into this artist as well.)   JC