Friday, 25 April 2008


Tomorrow I will have been back in work for a week. In fact, on the Friday I had gone to Belmont Abbey for our annual Youth Department retreat. It's only an overnight stay and it's not really a rigorous retreat: it's a healthy combination of reflection and recreation. It was good to start back with that. It put me back in touch with the people with whom I work and was a reminder that I now really had to get back to work.

It hasn't been that easy, mind! Monday morning was spent replying to e mails that had built up over three months, and sorting through paperwork, and by the early afternooon I was, well, bored! So, there was only one thing for it: stop working! I decided I needed to ease myself gently into my duties! No point in overdoing it. But I know that by the end of Sunday, and our first 'e' event since I have come back to work, I will know that my sabbatical is well and truly over.

However, having said that, I think that the experience of my Sabbatical Leave will give me more of a healthy balance in the future. I have decided that many of the things I did and achieved on my sabbatical I will continue to do in some small way. I will read more, write more and make more time to go to the theatre and do other things that I really enjoy. I have recently revisited Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters and was struck by the last lines of the first poem, Fulbright Scholars: 'It was the first peach I had ever tasted/I could hardly believe how delicious/At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh/By my ignorance of the simplest things.' Just like my short time at Belmont Abbey, there needs to be a healthy balance of reflection and recreation, work and play, intensity and relaxation, sacrifice and serendipity...and the odd peach!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Sacred Siesta

There is, for me at least, an empty space in the middle of the day - the mid afternoon time, I mean - between, I would say, 2.30 and the early evening. Yes, it's a rather vacant time for me - not my best time of day! If I have been able to get up (fairly) early and do what I can up to post lunch, I am left with not knowing what to do or not having the impetus or enthusiasm to do the things I want or should. And so I find myself longing for the middle of the evening - usually about 8pm - when there seems to be a reason and permission to do certain things. It may be that the end of the day is ticking closer and so it gives that added impetus to get on with things and get things done. Alternatively, it also gives you permission to do nothing: the day's work is done and it's time to relax in a slumber in front of the TV and wait for the time when tiredness makes you unable to do anything!

Yes, it's the middle of the afternoon that's a useless time for me. Of course, it's rather different when you're in work or in a routine but when there is no routine or work forced upon you, or you are able to work to your own rhythm, things are made more difficult by the afternoon slumber. So, I propose a major change to the way we live! It will mean a number of things, I think, including a change in the weather which I think will be the most difficult thing to achieve! You see, the Mediterranean countries have got it right. At the hottest part of the day things begin to close down and slow down, and people take to their siesta time. Of course, each country that takes a siesta has its own specific practice or tradition but the idea is much the same. In parts of Argentina, for instance, it occurs between 1 and 4 pm and the time is held as 'sacred' - nobody wants to be disturbed!

I'm glad I found that word 'sacred' attached to my plans! My mind turns back to the words of the Psalmist: 'He gives to his beloved sleep!' (Psalm 127). In fact, I've just done a quick cross reference on biblical texts on sleeping and it rather supports my cosmic plan. Of course, sleep doesn't have to be about laziness. I wouldn't want to step on St Benedict's toes for whom laziness is 'the enemy of the soul' and who had a healthy and helpful work ethic. I've got some back up plans as well. If the weather doesn't change I may have to move to Spain or Italy in order to justify my Siesta! of course, I'm not averse to that option - it would be rather nice! But, since neither the weather nor the climate will change today, nor will I be magically transported to Rome (not today, anyway!) I think I may just switch off my mobile phone and go to bed.

Saturday, 12 April 2008


The only plan I had today was to be sat down at 6.20 pm to watch Doctor Who! I never succeeded. But it was good to see Equus again! A few blogs ago I said I would love to see the play again. Indeed, next day I bought a copy of the play in Waterstones and read it through a few times and wallowed over some of the scenes and lines. But this afternoon, whilst talking to a friend about the play we decided on impulse to go to the theatre tonight. When I phoned the New Theatre this afternoon I didn't actually check to see if Equus was still running - I was working from memory (not always reliable!) We could have turned up to find we had bought tickets for Ballamory!

Ballamory wasn't there (maybe next time, heh?) and so it was another round of Equus! We were actually seated in the same row as I was sat on Thursday, two seats across. The rest of the row to our left was empty except for one person who turned out to be Keith Allen (actor, writer, comedian,director, etc etc and father of Alfie Allen who played Alan Strang in Equus). I didn't talk to him but one of my friends (always star struck and ever ready!) 'accosted' him outside the toilets and introduced himself. He tries to do the same when we see Russell T Davies sat down the bay having a coffee - I've always managed to restrain him! (My friend - not Russell T Davies!) Unfortunately, I was upstairs in the bar at the time and so he was left to his own devices!

Meanwhile, Keith Allen's son, no doubt, was busy preparing backstage for the second act - or recovering from the profoundly moving, and energetic ending to the first - maybe both - performed with amazing sensitivity and raw emotion, beautifully acted, delivered and directed. My friend's work done at introducing himself to celebrities during the interval it was time for the Second Act. I'm so glad it wasn't Ballamory!

Friday, 11 April 2008

I'm So Privileged!

I've often wondered who my Assembly member is! Sounds staggering, doesn't it, that I haven't got a clue! Well that didn't last long - I've just done a little search! And I discover it is a fellow native of the Rhondda, Lorraine Barret who, by some coincidence, has been quite vocal on the Archbishop of Wales' recent comments on the Welsh Assembly. Maybe it's not so bad that I didn't have a clue who she was. After all, being a Christian, I should keep my political opinions to myself (that's not my opinion by the way but my Assembly Member's!)

Lorraine Barret - yes, that's right, my Assembly Member (well done, you're keeping up!) said this. "The archbishop can have his own views but I don't think he should use his position to try to influence society on a religious basis. I don't think religion should have any privilege in our civil society,." Now I must admit to getting a little hot under the collar at comments like that. Why? Well, not because I necessarily agree with the Archbishop. neither is it because I'm some kind of religious extremist but simply because it's not a privileged position that I want as a Christian and a priest, above and beyond the rights of everyone else. I simply want an equal voice without anyone putting me down or taking away my privilege as a citizen in Welsh (and, yes, British) society. And by that I mean the privilege of freedom of speech, the freedom of viewing the world from my perspective (or, hopefully, from God's perpective - if that's possible - we try!) and being able to say, with conviction, that I believe something is right or wrong because of the particular belief I have in God.

You see, I find this whole argument tiresome. Yesterday I stumbled across the recent attempt of Chris Bryant (Labour MP for the Rhondda) to bring political pressure on the Church England to ordain women as bishops. Now, taking away the internal 'politics' of that issue within the Church, I find the whole thing quite flabbergasting. Politicians (or at least some of them - hiya, Lorraine!) say that religion and politics don't mix and shouldn't be mixed and, if you don't mind, if you are religious and you have something to say about society (or about politics or politicians or life or anything else for that matter!) then please take off your religious shoes at the front door if you don't mind, (I've just hoovered!) But they seem to have a lot to say about us! Now then, now that I have taken a new political step up - I'm looking forward to the next Assembly elections. I wonder who I shall vote for? Someone who says I should keep quiet or someone who offers me liberty and freedom and a voice to express what I believe? I've got a few years to think on that one! What a privileged position I'm in!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Being Disturbed

I love the theatre and I don't know why I don't go more often (money, maybe!) And it's just like me that when I do get around to going I go twice in as many days. Mind you, the visits couldn't have been more different. Last night I went to see French and Saunders at the Millennium Centre and this afternoon I saw Equus at the New Theatre starring Simon Callow and Alfie Allen. I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences but obviously for quite different reasons!

The ending of French and Saunders was, as you would expect, wonderfully absurd and hilarious with two of their most well known characters taking to the stage for the last time. Before the final punchline Jennifer Saunders had to hide her own laughter: she and they and we knew what was coming next. Things can be funny the second and third and tenth time around. Well, that's good comedy for you! Meanwhile, I would love to see Equus again, and although it has some funny moments the play is far from funny. It's the story of a disturbed 17 year old boy who blinds six horses for no apparent reason, and a psychiatrist who is charged with getting to the bottom of his behaviour. There was so much dialogue (and monologue) and it was packed, of course, with psychological insight, religious imagery, comments on society and what it means to be human, and all the time dealing with a rather disturbing subject with power, sensitivity and understanding. It was an exhausting journey and one that I can thoroughly recommend. At the end of the play it is the Psychiatrist who leaves us with his own baggage and issues: a strange reversal of fortunes.

When theatre leaves you with the wow factor, when it plays with your emotions, when you are on the edge of your seat or you can forget about the people around you and that person in the third row who coughs through the performance then it has done its job. Whilst I was entertained today there was also something else going on. Drama can deal with issues and open up conversation that debate and tired statements often fail to do. Often there is a truth that cannot be easily grasped but is all too well received. You may not know how or what or why but it meets us at a level that is often somewhere hidden away. I could, I suppose, write a summary of Equus and go into more detail with the issues and imagery and detailed dialogue, talk about the great performances (and they were great) but there is something more. Of course, I went to the theatre to be entertained, and entertained I was. But I was also disturbed. Don't get me wrong - we often use that word 'disturbed' to mean something quite negative (a disturbed individual, disturbed sleep, disturbed from work, Do Not Disturb!). But being disturbed can also be a good thing. When we are disturbed we are lifted from where we are or turned around to see the world in another way and pushed or prodded to look at things differently. Equus in that way disturbed me. How wonderful!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Of the Moment!

I am coming to the end of my Sabbatical leave. Three months off from my duties as Youth Chaplain are, in many ways, beginning to look like they never happened! There was, in the beginning, both the daunting and pleasant prospect of having three free months to do what I had planned to do. They have passed quickly. I have not, by any means, achieved everything I wanted but then there will always be loose ends and I guess I will never be satisfied!

The idea was that, for three months, I would just write. I had a few ideas up my sleeve and a few things that I had started in my spare time that I wanted to complete and I'm almost there...but not quite. I could do with another three months! It's difficult to know when things are complete. Or perhaps I mean perfect. If that is the case then I will never reach my goal! So, it's not perfection I'm after - just satisfaction! I think things will only be complete after I have become bored by them and had some reason for letting them go and not attending to detail. I'm not entirely certain what I have to show at the end of this three months. I think I will only discover that when I can look back on it. The gift of retrospect is something that we have to wait for. Looking back is good. Meanwhile I am caught up with moving from one piece of work to the next, chasing perfection and never getting there, trying to make the most of less than two weeks left, as though the others never happened!

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to prepare myself for my return to work and looking at ways in which the return can be a new beginning. In truth, I have not really given an awful lot of thought to the next stage of things: that would have defeated the whole motive behind taking a Sabbatical in the first place. I have kept as strictly as possible to the reason I requested the leave. In fact, in the first few weeks there was a rather interesting and tempting job prospect that raised its head and, after a week of serious consideration, I dropped the idea because I didn't want it to distract from the sabbatical! There have been moments when I think that perhaps I was wrong not to have chased that opportunity but in other moments I think I was most definitely right. But who knows! After all, it's retrospect that allows you to see things a bit more clearly and by then it is too late! But that's how we make decisions - in the moment, trying to discover what the future may hold, weighing up possibilities and trying to see things clearly - before they've even happened! It's important to remember that God is 'of the moment' and 'in the moment'. I think it was Karl Rahner (although I may very well be wrong!)who spoke of the Sacrament of the Present Moment but whoever first came up with that phrase has presented a little gem. We worry so much about the past, we often fear or anticipate the future but it's where we are now and what God is giving now and how he is revealing himself now that is often overlooked and undervalued. So, as I chase from one piece of work to the other, as I try to look back at what I may have achieved or not achieved, as I anticipate the future and think about how I can move on I think I shall just continue to enjoy the moment! Now that's satisfaction!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Bishop and the Bill

Of course, it was always going to be the case. Someone would be disappointed. Yet, there is little elation on either side of the issue, if the truth be told. The vote taken by the Governing Body of the Church in Wales as to whether or not women should be ordained as bishops is one that has many claims attached to it. It's a matter of justice and equality, a matter of mission, a matter of tradition, a matter of unity, a matter of being the church in the modern world, a matter of conscience, a matter of fact. So, where are we now? The so called 'traditionalists' are waiting for its return; those in favour of the motion are waiting for its return. Of course, it was always going to be the case.

Read the newspaper reports, glance through the various blog entries and email comments on countless web sites, read the editorial in the Welsh newspapers (sorry, the South Wales Echo!), listen to the Bench of Bishops, even, and people will suddenly say that having women in the episcopate is no different from a woman being a bank manager or a headteacher or a Member of Parliament or even the prime minister. It's all about equality! Of course, it was always going to be the case. Someone would be disappointed. But the disappointment (or one of them, at least, and in my mind, at least) lies in viewing the episcopacy as a human institution that happens, by some great coincidence or happy accident, to accomplish something within the church. Yet the episcopacy is far more than that. In fact, it's not that at all! Which is why it was sad that the Archbishop, in presenting the bill, did not really talk about the theology of the episcopate at all. So, let's leave the bishop and the bill at the podium for a moment and sneak into the streets and ask the people what they think. 'Do you think women should be bishops?' a woman in the street is asked by a TV news reporter. 'Well, yes, you can have women doctors and prime ministers and bank managers and headteachers? So why can't a woman be a bishop.' Ahh, but what is a bishop? That would have been the interesting question to have asked. Because there is something more, here. And we are missing the point. But of course it was always going to be the case.

So what is the case? What's the point of the episcopacy? What on earth (not to mention heaven) is a bishop? What has a bishop got to do with Jesus? What has it got to do with being an apostle? (And what is an apostle anyway - ask the woman in the street!) What has it got to do with mission and what has it got to do with the end of time? What has it got to do with male and female? What has it got to do with being human? What has it got to do with the designs that God has for the church and the world, for you and me? What has it got to do with being the Church? What has it got to do with transcendent truths that are hard to see in the street? What has it got to do with grace and failure, what has it got to do with anything we know and everything we would like to know? What has it got to do with the way that God shares his love with us? What has it got to do? What has it got that other means of 'leadership' haven't got? Alas, in a society that says it seeks (its own versions of) justice and equality you don't hear those questions asked on the street or in the pub or by TV reporters or even by many bishops and debators at the Governing Body. But of course that was always going to be the case.