The Coming by R.S. Thomas

And God held in his hand

A small globe. Look he said.

The son looked. Far off,

As through water, he saw

A scorched land of fierce

Colour. The light burned

There; crusted buildings

Cast their shadows: a bright

Serpent, A river

Uncoiled itself, radiant

With slime.


On a bare

Hill a bare tree saddened

The sky. many people

Held out their thin arms

To it, as though waiting

For a vanished April

To return to its crossed

Boughs. The son watched

Them. Let me go there, he said.

RS Thomas


The Lord’s Prayer and Terrorism

Some people have asked for copies of my last week’s talk “Terrorism and the Lord’s Prayer”. I completely reworked the structure of it this morning, having remembered that the original idea came from noticing that 11th September this year fell on a Sunday, (tomorrow).

I hope you find it interesting and thought provoking.

You can either download it as a printable a5 booklet terrorism-booklet or as a straight a4 version: the-lords-prayers-and-terrorism


Why Christians Should Vote Remain

Some people have asked me if Christians should vote a particular way in the Brexit referendum.
My answer is YES: we should vote REMAIN, and for the following reasons.

1. Protection of the poor and vulnerable. Regardless of whether you are politically on the left or the right, it is clear that the policies of those leading the Leave campaign do not favour the poor and vulnerable in our society. Those of us who work among people in such situations know how difficult life has become in recent years with the threats to Human Rights, slashing of benefits, the destruction of Legal Aid, the unjust rise in Home Office fees, the Right to Rent, and so on. Under a government led by those favouring Leave, indeed under any government operating in the political climate of a Leave result, things would only get worse for those who are most vulnerable.
Christians, along with Jews and Muslims, have an explicit Scriptural duty to protect the vulnerable as a matter of utmost importance, (Ps 82:3).

2. Peace. The European Union was borne out of a desire for peace. Being part of it would never be easy, but Remaining is the Peacemaker’s option. 70 years of peace in Europe has been a wonderful gift, but let’s not forget that our hunger for war has merely been displaced to other arenas: notably Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. The EU has not stopped unnecessary war, but it remains a major force for peace in Europe – a peace that should never be taken for granted.
Christians, along with Jews and Muslims, have an explicit Scriptural duty to “seek peace and pursue it”,(Ps 34:14). Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”  When I look at the two campaigns in this referendum, I do not see peacemaking on either agenda. But the Leave campaign in particular is not one which makes for peace.

3.  Collaboration. The EU is all about collaboration – and of course this is not always easy.  The Leave campaign talk about losing our sovereignty, but of course we do have representation at the EU; and let’s not forget that every international treaty is by definition a curtailing of sovereignty:  Think of the start of WW1 – a war which we “were obliged” to enter because of an alliance with Belgium.  Sometimes the Leave campaign seem to want Britain to exist in “Splendid Isolation”. But there is nothing splendid in isolation. It leads to weakness and lack of options.
Collaboration can be challenging. We don’t always get what we want. But collaboration is how God has created the world to flourish, so leaving the table is a retrograde step in living up to the human calling God has for us.

4. Immigration.  Difference is may be challenging from time to time, but above all it is enriching.  The bottom line on immigration is that it is a very good thing.  British culture has been built upon it from the earliest times. There are specific challenges arising from immigration. But the real problems we face in this country are not caused by it, even if they are exacerbated by it in localised situations.  When Boris Johnson paints the spectre of “70 million Turks” arriving here, he is deliberately appealing to our fear of difference; by calling them “Turks” rather than “Turkish People” he’s using a word that emphasises this further.
The Christian vision to which we are called is one in which the gifts of all nations are celebrated together., (Rev. 21:24). We need to rise above using migrants as scapegoats and create a culture in which we rejoice in thriving together.

5. Reality.  The option to Remain is firmly based in the reality of here and now.  But the Leave campaign is fueled by nostalgic dreams of a past that we cannot return to – even supposing that it ever existed. An example of this is the belief that by leaving the EU we can “make Britain great again.” Does this mean rebuilding a global empire?  Such an enterprise is both questionable and impossible. It is not only a fantasy, but one based on avarice and pride. Other more specific examples are beliefs such as that leaving will “solve” immigration, keep terrorists out, deal with the housing crisis, fill the black hole in the NHS. None of these assertions have any real credibility, but are largely wishful thinking.
The Christian faith is all about living in the real world, (1 John 1:1). In Jesus, God was enfleshed in human history. His life and death were real. As Christians, we continue to practice our faith by serving real people in the real world. Our faith is not about isolation and domination, but about playing our part and taking our place. We have no interest in fantasy.

To Conclude:  In sharing the thoughts above, there are countless other arguments and angles I could have taken, joining the speculation on winners and losers. But, as a teacher of the Christian faith, I have chosen to focus on five principles which I believe should at least inform, if not guide a Christian vote.
For me, the issue is very clear – but you must decide for yourself.

New Album

Here are six tracks remastered from the Love Songs Album. Take a listen, and leave a tip if you like.

Six Preaching Essentials

What is necessary in a good sermon?

Here is a checklist of five essentials.

1.  It must be interesting.  If people aren’t interested they won’t listen very long.  Interesting includes funny along with many other possibilities.  If you want to know what’s interesting, have a quick look through the main TV listings.  TV budgets are huge – they only want to show things people will be interested in!

2.  It must be Biblical.  I am assuming this is a Christian sermon.  The New Testament is our key source for Jesus’ teaching – if we ignore it then we may be simply creating a new religion from our own heads.  So what have people come to hear – the best thoughts of “me” or something from Jesus?

3.  It must be true.  Yes – it can be both “biblical” and “interesting” and “untrue”!  Gossip may be very interesting and totally untrue.  A series of assertions may be bolstered by Bible verses (proof texts) but it still may be untrue.  Is it really true in the real world or is it only true in my fantasy faith world?  Is it what I “want” to be true?  Am I missing something important by not facing what is really true?

4.  It must be relevant.  Not everything “true” or “interesting” is “relevant”.  Interesting irrelevancies are trivia.  How does what I say connect with, and affect, the actual lives of my listeners?  If I have the privilege of an audience, then I should certainly make sure my words are relevant to them.

5.  It must be motivating.  A sermon is not a news bulletin.  Nor is it merely the next installment of a teaching course.  A sermon is intended to produce change – ie the cycle of reflection, prayer, action.  Sometimes this is called “application”. Clear, specific pointers are not always necessary, but they can help as long as they are not presented in a prescriptive way.

6.  It must be Spirit-Filled.  A sermon is a message from God.  When Jesus spoke, the people pressed around him, hungry for the word of God, (Luke 5:1).  It was because he spoke in the power of the Spirit that their hunger was satisfied. The Bible promises that God will bring his word to us through his servants, and when we preach our aim is to serve him.  We should not presume that each of our words is a word from the Lord, but in preparation and delivery, we offer ourselves to be used by him.

What would your six essentials be?

And why did angels sing?

Here’s a great poem by my friend Jeannie Kendall who is minister at Carshalton Beeches Baptist Church.  You can read more about it on Jeannie’s blog, Marvellously Made

And why did angels sing

Not weep

At all the sacrifice

Of glory channelled

Into fragile flesh?

And why did angels sing

Not weep

If they but saw ahead

The tiniest glimpse

Of total darkness on a Friday

Where evil seemed to laugh?

And why did angels sing

Not weep?

Because they saw

Behind the pain

That was to come

The love

Beyond all else


Jeannie Kendall

The Missing Verses

Back in the mid-1990s a woman in our church filled in the verses missing from Robin Mark’s anthemic song: “These are the days of Elijah”.  They highlight some of the female heroes of the Bible, and also offer a chorus looking for the coming of the Holy Spirit or Breath (feminine word) of God. The effect is not only inclusive but incredibly rousing. The lyrics get to the heart of our gospel mission in a way that is both grounded and inspirational.  Highly recommended – here it is.  Try it out and let us know what you think.  (For a discussion on adding or changing the words to other people’s songs, see my previous post).

These are the days of Elijah,

Declaring the word of the Lord;

And these are the days of your servant Moses,

Righteousness being restored.

And though these are days of great trial,

Of famine and darkness and sword,

Still we are the voice in the desert crying,

‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord ‘.


Behold He comes riding on the clouds,

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call,

Lift your voice in the year of jubilee,

Out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.


These are the days of Miriam,

Dancing with praise to the Lord;

And these are the days of your servant, Esther,

Protecting the people of God.

And though these are days of endurance,

Of waiting and mystery and doubt,

Still in our hearts is the Spirit’s whisper,

Rising to victory shout.


Behold She comes, mighty rushing Wind,

Stirring Holy Breath, Spirit on the move;

Listen to her voice, it’s time to hear her speak,

Open up your ears God’s word will come.


These are the days of Deborah,

Creating God’s justice on earth;

And these are the days of your servant, Rahab,

Rebel who sides with the Lord.

And these are the days of empowerment,

Of risking and making a stand,

We are the agents of transformation,

The Kingdom of God is at hand.


Behold She comes, mighty rushing Wind,

Stirring Holy Breath, Spirit on the move;

Listen to her voice, it’s time to hear her speak,

Open up your ears God’s word will come.


These are the days of Ezekiel,

The dry bones becoming as flesh;,

And these are the days of your servant David,

Rebuilding the temple of praise.

These are the days of the harvest,

The fields are as white in the world,

And we are the labourers in your vineyard,

Declaring the word of the Lord.


Behold He comes riding on the clouds,

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call,

Lift your voice in the year of jubilee,

Out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.

Additional verses © Ruth Dormandy

Hallelujah – or is it?

What do you think about changing words to songs?

There are broadly two schools of thought:

(1) the song is out there and offered to the community; it is available to be translated into other languages; it is also therefore available to translated into other cultures; but what about changing ALL the words to a song?

(2) the song is a piece of work belonging to the writer and its integrity and intent cannot be compromised.

Read on, while you listen to this complete re-working of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

I have a big problem with the second position – and I say that as a songwriter.  How far does this “integrity” stretch?  Logically it means there could never be, for instance, reggae, jazz, or instrumental versions of a particular song; there could never be alternative arrangements.  Yet this flies in the face of the whole way in which music evolves.

I also have a problem theologically. The Bible was not dictated, but written in collaboration with the communities God inspired. Consistent with that is the fact that it continues to be not only verbally, but also culturally translatable today.  So to make the Bible understood to new cultures fully and faithfully, words and phrases must be used that simply are not there in the original texts.

So, in our church, we often translate the words of ancient hymns to a more contemporary idiom. And we sometimes meddle with modern songs to make them more inclusive.

How about changing the meaning?

In v.3 of Reginald Heber’s great hymn “Holy Holy Holy” we have the line: “Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;”  I can see what the writer is getting at from a Deist, Old Testament point of view, but it is completely contradicted by the New Testament revelation of Christ – of whom John writes, “and we have seen his glory.”  In our church, we therefore sing, “Through your grace with sinful eye, your glory we have seen.”  It’s slightly cumbersome, but I was trying express the wonderful truth of the gospel whilst retaining a nod to the words of the original.

Reginald Heber is no longer with us to take issue with me.  But Stuart Townend, I believe, does take issue with people who change “For on that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” to “the love of God was satisfied.”  I can see why he may find this annoying because a different theological point is being made in his name.  Yet changing that one word is making the song singable in a different Christian culture.  The song has been culturally translated.  And the change is not incompatible with the original intent.

Ian Smale (Ishamel) apparently tried to stop people changing the words of one of his songs from “now I am your son” to “now I am your child”. Yet surely this kind of inclusion is all about cultural translation.

Such translations (or are they adulterations?) can be noted by citing the songwriter as “Stuart Townend – adapted”.  Whilst this doesn’t specifically highlight the portion which has been changed, it does at least alert the participant to the fact that a change has been made.

How about inserting extra lines of music?  The song, “When I was lost” by Kate and Miles Simmonds is a great blues-Gospel style song with a clap-along beat.  But it also has a bridge that in my opinion is almost unsingably vague (even though repetitive) for most congregations.  In our church we added some lines and gave it a more recognisable, singable shape.  I don’t know what the authors think as I haven’t been able to let them know.

In the case of “Fall” by Nicki Rogers, we also have our own way of singing it.  Before taking it to a conference, I did contact the author, who was happy with the variations as long as it wasn’t recorded like that (for which we would need to go through through proper legal channels)

So how about Hallelujah?

I think this “Christmas” version is very good.  There is nothing particularly striking about it, but there is nothing cringey about it either.  It is a decent hymn lyric that fits a fantastic tune.  The tune was released to the world by its writer, and it’s widely loved.  Yet the original poetic words are hard to comprehend. It’s one of those songs in which people sing the verses in a fog of mystical unknowing and then bellow the chorus – which is the one word they really connect with.  Leonard Cohen may decry the “dumbing down” of his poetry – for the Christmas version certainly lacks the literary depth of the original.  Yet it will enable thousands of people to take hold of a great tune and really own it for themselves.

That this Christmas version of Hallelujah completely changes the meaning and intent of the original is in no doubt.  But I think that’s the risk you take in releasing a creation to the wider community.

What do you think?

The Stretcher Bearer

The stretcher bearer (1916)

Tommy Crawford

My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
And as I tries to scrape it clean,
I tell you what – I’m sick of pain,
For all I’ve heard, for all I’ve seen;
Around me is the hellish night,
And as the war’s red rim I trace,
I wonder if in Heaven’s height
Our God don’t turn away his face.

I don’t care whose the crime may be,
I hold no brief for kin or clan;
I feel no hate, I only see
As man destroys his brother man;
I wave no flag, I only know
As here beside the dead I wait,
A million hearts are weighed with woe,
A million homes are desolate.

In dripping darkness far and near,
All night I’ve sought those woeful ones.
Dawn suddens up and still I hear
The crimson chorus of the guns.
Look, like a ball of blood the sun
Hangs o’er the scene of wrath and wrong,
“Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!”,
Oh Prince of Peace! How long, how long?”