Tuesday, 26 April 2011

An 'improbable' CYCLE2KENYA

The painting is based on a photo which I saw in a magazine last summer, when I started drawing and painting.

I am dedicating the picture to two mad cyclists, Tim and Matt, who are planning to Cycle2Kenya to raise funds for Turning Point. My daughter, Jo and another son, Jonny are going there with Graceworks this summer to help with a Kids Summer School. In fact all our kids have been there. But the sponsored cycle is for the farms, to help resettle people out of the slums and into a new life. Matt's sister, Emily works there. Read her excellent blog: God in the Slums

It is a long way, around 5000 miles. But the problem is that the democratic movements and protests in the Middle East are making cycling through Syria and even Lebanon/Jordan difficult. And it will be during Ramadan! And if they go from Turkey to Egypt by boat then there is still the Sudan to negotiate. Wars and rumours of wars......

My old lonely planet copy of 'Middle East on a Shoestring' (1997) puts it quite clearly:
'while there are a few places and occasions in the Middle East where a bicycle would be useful, there are many more where it would be a distinct liability. Many long distance routes in the Middle East are arduous, even for motorists and for a cyclist they would be both difficult and dangerous. The distances the climate, the terrain and the politics all make cycling a most improbable method of long distance transport'

They have been loaned a very sturdy Tandem to make it even more 'improbable'. So that got me thinking about 'improbability' and so I found a few inspiring quotes:

"Aim for the impossible and you will achieve the improbable". Camillo Särs

"Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities"
-- Aristotle

At first, dreams seem impossible, then improbable – and eventually, inevitable.’ -- Christopher Reeve ("Superman")

I for one am right behind them in their improbability and am supporting them in any way I can. But that's inevitable...

You can follow their exploits on Facebook and Twitter, read their CYCLE2KENYA blog and donate online at Just Giving. They are seeking to raise over £11,000......

Monday, 25 April 2011

Out with the Angels on Easter Saturday

'Angel of Light' is another picture I had seen that I decided to paint. It was inspired by the idea of the Street Angels.....

We were on duty on Friday night/Saturday morning (10pm to 4 am). This is the dark time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which is traditionally viewed as the time when Jesus descended to the place of the dead. The Harrowing of Hell. This is based on the concept of the gospel being proclaimed 'to the spirits in prison' (1 Peter 3:19-20) 'even to the dead' (1 Peter 4:6).

I remember a few years back visiting Ypres on the Easter Saturday, to see the battle fields of the 1st World War and the vast cemeteries, full of the fallen. And the Menin Gate for those who have no remains, but are still memories. Hearing the 'Last Post' being played by Belgian buglers is very evocative. It seemed strangely appropriate to be exploring the remembrance of such carnage on such a day.

And in a different way it seemed right to be on the street of Woking on such a night.
A very different scene, not of carnage, but of revelry and merry making for most. Violence and drunkenness for some. The police are out in force, because of incidents that inevitably happen when people have been drinking heavily. Arrests are often made, which is one of the reasons the police are so supportive of the Street Angels - they help to bring down the crime rate.

It was not a particularly dramatic night. We spent a lot of time talking to East European bouncers, and Pakistani taxi drivers. Plus staff at the late night fast food joints. And giving our lollipops to youngsters. Some took liberties. One 18 year old man had about a dozen and kept on nicking them from others. He was very flirtatious with my companion angel, who took it all in her stride. Another female angel, was told "you're f***ing beautiful, for an older woman"! That is, more or less, what you might call a compliment! So they angels are having an impact on the streets of Woking, one way or another.

Maybe the evening was marked for me by a long conversation with a older man, Paul, in an old combat jacket, somewhat worse for wear. He seemed more than happy to talk. He joked and talked about his alcohol problem, a took occassional swigs from his cider bottle. But he went on his way a little more cheerful, after nearly an hour's chat.

Some of our number picked up lots of bottles and also reported a council waste bin that had been set alight. The fire-brigade soon put that one out. One of my growing concerns is where people go to the toilet other than watering the council plants. (I can feel a campaign coming on.)

The Street Angels seek to be a presence on the streets offering support and conversation to those who want it. Clearing up bottles and broken glass. Trying to ensure the streets are safe, so people can have a good time. And I do believe talking to people helps to defuse potentially dangerous situations, so they do not get out of hand. I wonder if things would be worse if we were not there, but that would be difficult to prove.

I suppose Easter Saturday is also about putting out fires, coming alongside people, shining in the darkness ...... Not so sure where the lollipops fit in.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

my soul is quiet within me

This is a painting I did (based on one I saw on google images) inspired by the Lectio Divina experience I mentioned previously. It is based on Psalm 131 'as a child lies quiet in its mother's arms so my soul is quiet within me' There is something about 'divine reading' that has the effect of stilling the soul. It is about resting. I wrote a blog before about Lectio Divina as the ladder of monks - and the sense of ascending into God's presence.

The following are some of the materials we used in our sacred:space evening
"Lectio divina is an authentic source of Christian spirituality recommended by our Rule. We therefore practice it every day, so that we may develop a deep and genuine love for it, and so that we may grow in the surpassing knowledge of Christ. In this way we shall put into practice the Apostle Paul’s commandment, which is mentioned in our Rule: “Let the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, live abundantly in your mouth and in your hearts; and whatever you must do, do it in the name of the Lord.” Carmelite Constitutions (No. 82)

"Lectio Divina", a Latin term, means "divine reading" and describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described the stages which he saw as essential to the practice of Lectio Divina. There are various ways of practicing Lectio Divina either individually or in groups but Guigo's description remains fundamental.

He said that the first stage is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer but the passage should not be too long.

The second stage is meditatio (reflection) where we think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us.

The third stage is oratio (response) where we leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.

The final stage of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (rest) where we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within.

"To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches." John Chrysostom, 347-407

Monday, 18 April 2011

Lectio Divina: the ladder of Monks

The painting is a version I did of Jacob's dream (based on a pic I saw on the net). It can be seen as an analogy of a spiritual journey and has been used as a metaphor to describe Lectio Divina.... based on the story in Gen 28:12 when Jacob dreamt of a 'stairway to heaven' Read more about Lectio Divina as a ladder with 4 rungs:
The ladder of Monks by Guigo the Carthusian

I mentioned sacred:space and my encounter with Psalm 131 through Lectio Divina in a previous post Caroline complied the following instructions - Try them out with one of the suggested passages. The suggestions come from a website soul shepherding

Genesis 18: 1-15; Psalm 23; Psalm 27: 1-6; Psalm 42: 1-8; Psalm 46:1-10; Psalm 63: 1-8; Psalm 84: 1-10; Psalm 131; Isaiah 43: 1-4; Isaiah 53: 4-8; Ezekiel 34: 11-16; Song of Songs 2: 10-14; Matthew 5: 3-12; Luke 6: 37-42; John 1: 1-5; John 14: 9-20; John 15: 1-10; Romans 8: 31-39; 1 Corinthians 13: 4-13; Galatians 5: 22-26; Ephesians 3: 14-21; Revelation 7: 14-17; Revelation 21: 1-7
Firstly, prepare yourself. Get comfortable and allow yourself to become calm and silent. Perhaps focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Submit yourself and the exercise to God.

1) Read the passage through slowly, several times. Be attentive for any words or phrases which particularly connect with you; which seem to be for you today. If you wish, underline or write down the words which have caught your attention

2) Take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories and ideas. Notice any thoughts or feelings which arise during this process.

3) Speak to God. Whether you use words or ideas or images or all three is not important. Offer to Him whatever thoughts, feelings or memories the passage has stirred up in you. This may involve confessing a sin, confronting a struggle or a past hurt, or recognising a longing within yourself.

Allow God’s Spirit and His Word to dialogue with you about the matters you have raised, bringing His acceptance, forgiveness, comfort and healing. Allow Him to inform and transform your ideas and memories.

4) Simply rest in God’s presence, experiencing His love and grace, His joy and peace. You are tasting His goodness. You may have no need for words. You may wish to return to the words of the passage, or to note a particular invitation or affirmation which you sense God is giving you.

Do not worry about assessing the quality of your lectio divina as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures

Saturday, 16 April 2011


These are the images I will be using for the 3 hour Good Friday Meditation as part of sacred:space. They are by Dutch artist Huub Bogaers. I like them a lot. They add meaning and context to the seven last words of Jesus.

A version of these images is available here: Crosswords Anyone using them is asked to let the artist know and make a donation to Mission. (contact details on the website)


“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)


“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43)


“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold your son! Then he said to the disciple, Behold your mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:26-27)


“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over a# the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama, sabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46).


“After this, Jesus knowing that a# things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst” (John 19:28).


“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished” (John 19:30)


“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father into your hands – I commend my spirit; and having said that, he gave up his spirit” (Luke 23:46)

Friday, 15 April 2011

Creating Social Capital

This is my version of a painting of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, by Sieger Koder the German painter-priest. It is based on the famous sunday school passage and the little boy who provides for 5000 plus:

Matthew 14:16-18 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" 17And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." 18And He said, "Bring them here to Me."

Read the complete account in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6.

This is a story of a miracle. Some would say a parable. But it illustrates a principle of provision - of taking the little we have and using it and somehow in the process there is multiplication. Maybe by example as others also shared what they had brought with them. More likely by the unexpected, the miraculous, by divine intervention.

This is really odd math: 5+2 = 5000 + 12 ! A lot of people fed and a lot of leftovers (one basket per disciple) Each one with more than they started with...
The story has inspired many in different ways - Just 2 examples: eDevotions for Growing Christians and a clever New Zealand website of resources for evangelism called simply 5loaves2fishes

To me it says something about the creation of social capital and the power of participation. How the resources of the crowd can be utilised once they are realeased. About how weare not alone and must always expect the unexpected. God will provide

For some reason it reminds me of the 5 Venn principles of CMS (maybe its just the number 5 thats the link) I've added my 'commentary' on the principles (in brackets and italics) from the story.

The five founding principles of John Venn, in founding the Society for Missions to Africa and the East (later to become CMS) in 1799 were:

  1. Follow God’s leading; (doing just as Jesus instructed)
  2. Begin on a small scale; (just 5 loaves and 2 fish is a small beginning!)
  3. Put money in second place because money follows ministry; let prayer, study and mutual converse precede its collection; (they prayed and talked and collected - not money - just 5loaves&2fish)
  4. Success depends on sending people of the highest calibre; (The disciples were high calibre - in God's eyes)
  5. Depend wholly upon the Spirit of God. (which is what they did...then the miracle happened)

Friday, 8 April 2011

Robin Redbreast

I came across the poem by Wordsworth and it reminded me of the friendly Robins we have in the bottom of our garden. Very familiar and interested in what I'm up to, especially when any digging or wood-chopping takes place. They are particularly interested whenever I play birdsong on my i-phone! It confuses them a bit and they respond. It almost feels like we are having a conversation.

The painting tries to capture the curiosity of a robin listening intently (in a sort of Van Goghesque style). The poem is about a Robin chasing a butterfly.... which I have not yet witnessed. I like the cultural bits about the bird's name in different countries. And the dilemma and tension around two aspects of nature that mankind enjoys, at obvious odds with each other rather than in idealistic harmony. a bit of 'nature raw in tooth and claw'

The Redbreast Chasing the Butterfly by William Wordsworth

Art thou the bird whom Man loves best,
The pious bird with the scarlet breast,
Our little English Robin;
The bird that comes about our doors
When Autumn-winds are sobbing?
Art thou the Peter of Norway Boors?
Their Thomas in Finland,
And Russia far inland?
The bird, that by some name or other
All men who know thee call their brother,
The darling of children and men?
Could Father Adam open his eyes
And see this sight beneath the skies,
He'd wish to close them again.
-If the Butterfly knew but his friend,
Hither his
flight he would bend;
And find his way to me,
Under the branches of the tree:
In and out, he darts about;
Can this be the bird, to man so good,
That, after their bewildering,
Covered with leaves the little children,
So painfully in the wood?

What ailed thee, Robin, that thou could'st pursue
A beautiful creature,
That is gentle by nature?
Beneath the summer sky
From flower to flower let him fly;
'Tis all that he wishes to do.
The cheerer Thou of our in-door sadness,
He is the friend of our summer gladness:
What hinders, then, that ye should be
Playmates in the sunny weather,
And fly about in the air together!
His beautiful wings in crimson are drest,
A crimson as bright as thine own:
Would'st thou be happy in thy nest,
O pious Bird! whom man loves best,
Love him, or leave him alone!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Shaken, not stirred

A personal reflection on the UN killings in Afghanistan

"Diatribe never gets anywhere"

(Painting: © Phil Simpson/CMS)

This article is from the CMS website
The painting is an oil pastel I did, based on the photo used, which was taken by Simon in Korea

I followed the events in Afghanistan with shock and horror. The brutal murders in Mazar-e-Sherif and then protests in Kandahar and Jelalabad – all in response to a fundamentalist pastor in Florida and the ‘trial and execution’ of the Qur'an.

The image of the burning Qur'an inflamed minds all around the Muslim world.

It struck me that the Bible could similarly be tried and found wanting, because it is how the text is interpreted and (mis)used that is the real issue.

Unfortunately, careful debate of our sacred texts is not a factor in these situations. What concerns me is the typical pattern of people in the mosque on a Friday being stirred up by the preaching to retaliate.

What may start as a peaceful protest so easily escalates and gets out of control (and the same dynamic happens in London when students take to the streets to protest against tuition fees) until you have a frenzied crowd seeking revenge. That appears to be what happened in Mazar.

What is needed but so sadly lacking in Afghanistan is interfaith dialogue – even more than the usual condemnation of such provocative acts as the Florida Qur'an burning. The trouble with such condemnation is that it provokes an equal and opposite response. And leads to escalation.

Diatribe it seems to me never gets anywhere.

CMS is involved with partner organisations in Afghanistan and has been for many years. There are team members working there in various humanitarian roles. I have visited many times over the past 15 years and seen their excellent work.

One of our people based in Mazar-e-Sherif wrote shortly after the crowd stormed the UN compound and killed staff there:
“We are ok. Shaken up but ok. Gunfire all afternoon off and on. We are staying inside and just waiting to see what will happen. Really devastating that so many UN workers were killed in such a terrible way, so brutally…. It changes how you view people. I am sick of all this senseless killing. The building was our side of town, some people one street away had bullets land in their garden. We will probably just keep a low profile for a few days while the facts of what happened comes out.”
That’s the problem with senseless killing – it makes you sick, tired and weary and can erode your commitment. 'Compassion fatigue' can apply to workers as well as donors.

Like the apostle Paul, we are at a loss to understand but not despairing (2 Cor 4:8–9). Shaken by events but not stirred up to participate in the cycle of revenge.

The challenge is to ‘hope against hope’ and to just keep going.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

VISION CITY: Stars and sand

We stayed at Vision City, the training centre of IMA for our faith2share consultation. It is still being built in a remote area on the outskirts of Hyderabad, but it was an opportunity to expand our vision, as they are building theirs, and see the stars and the sand. But it was cheap to stay at, one of the cheapest consultations I have ever attended. And great food....

Someone gave a talk on leadership using Abraham as a model, so these thoughts were stimulated by that. The painting Abraham is copied from and inspired by the German, Catholic priest-artist Sieger Koeder He has some fantastic pictures of biblical scenes that seem to come alive and are 'Glimpses of the Divine'. Other books are also available.

In the talk it was suggested that: "what dominates your mind rules your heart"

Abraham's mind was filled with "Stars and Sky : Sand and Sea" which represented his nomadic lifestyle and were metaphors of the infinite mercy of God. Impossible to count.

He has been promised (Genesis 12) that through him God would bless the Nations - 'in you all the families of the earth will be blessed'. And later as he looked in the heavens and saw the stars he was reminded 'so shall your descendants be' (Genesis 15:5)

He obeyed the (mission) call to 'Go forth' and was known as the 'Father of Nations'. 3 great religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - are grouped in the same family of 'Abrahamic faiths'

In the picture, Abraham seems to be in open submission to God as he looks up at the stars in the sky. It reminds me of Mary in the Annunciation, submitting to the voice of the angel - 'be it unto me according to your word'

Abraham kept going wherever God told him to go. He ended up being called 'a friend of God'. He is listed in the great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11. He believed and it was credited as righteousness'

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Heb 11:8-10

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age — and Sarah herself was barren — was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.

And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Heb 11:11-12

I like that. He was 'as good as dead' He was past it. But Abraham is a reminder that faith does not come to an end - it keeps on going. Maybe it manifests itself differently at different stages of life. Abraham was the first AWAMer ! 'Age with a Mission' - not just modern day YWAM.

I like Abraham. I'll probably do more reflections and pictures on his life .....

He was the original 'wanderer for the love of God'

Monday, 4 April 2011

'mother & son day'

Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent) is the UK version of Mother's Day (second Sunday in May). So it is a day to remember mothers and give small gifts as an act of appreciation. In our church, flowers are given to all the ladies not just the mums. That's 'cos we try to be inclusive. And what woman does not appreciate flowers (and chocolates)?

One of my sons always thought it was 'Mother & Son' day, which made it extra special for him.

At our recent sacred:space in our Lectio Divina I focused on Psalm 131: 'as a child lies quiet in its mother's arms so my soul is quiet within me' For me it was a reminder of my own mother (bless her) and also the 'motherhood' (not just the fatherhood) of God

Hence the picture (one I had done earlier) based on Van Gogh's 'The man is at sea' (After Demont-Breton) painted in Oct 1889 in Saint-Rémy. It is very evocative. I love the way the mother and child are asleep - sprawled out - in the glow of the fire, the source of comfort as well as warmth. In that respect it's similar to one I blogged on earlier: Old man of sorrow

Maybe it is that child-like trust that in the end delivers us from despair, letting go of concerns and worries, so we do not end up like Van Gogh's 'Old Man of Sorrow' (at Eternity's Gate).

My heart is not proud, O LORD,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

or things too wonderful for me.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul;

like a weaned child with its mother,

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD

both now and forevermore.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Chetan Bhagat: cricket, call centres and culture

I recently returned from India. At Hyderabad Airport I managed to pick up the 4 copies of Chetan Bhagat's books for 95 Rs each (just over a £5 for all). And I read them all whilst on the trip. He is India's best known and most read English writer, having written 4 books - two have already been made into movies.

five point someone - what not to do at IIT - the student days of Hari, Ryan and Alok (the film is therefor called '3 idiots') as they navigate a life at the bottom of the rung at India's prestigious IIT university they discover a little more of what life is about. The Bollywood film is called '3 idiots'.

one night @ the call center follows the lives of a group of call centre operators who get an unexpected call from God which forces them to re-evaluate the meaning of their lives and what they want to achieve. The film is simply called 'Hello'

the 3 mistakes of my life follows Govind a young entrepreneur in Ahmadabad in 2000 as he sets up a cricket shop with 2 close friends. Everything is challenged as he comes to terms with three big mistakes he makes in the face of life's unexpected twists and turns.

2 States: the story of my marriage is what happens when Punjabi boy meets South Indian girl and they discover that a love marriage involves more than just 2 people. Its about 2 extended families indeed 2 cultures coming together.

I've had a couple of reasons this week to think of the books - India winning the cricket World Cup - which reminded me of Govind in 3 mistakes and the boost to his business when India won the cricket
I also had reason to talk to a call centre in New Delhi recently over a lastminute.com airline ticket re-booking. And the staff could not have been more helpful. Mind you, having read the book I was all the more polite and sympathetic. It really does make a difference how you talk to people. And One night has made me think more positively about call centre workers and even the possibility of God intervening in their lives .... So next time you're connected to Bangalore or New Delhi, say a little prayer....