Secret admirer?

You wouldn’t necessarily think it’s deserved from the way humanity conducts itself, but it transpires our race has, and has always had, a secret admirer. When I say always, I don’t mean since, say, first grade. No. Since before the dawn of time. And when I say humanity, that means you, and me, individually and personally. This is no part-time lover we’re talking about, but one who’s in it for the long haul. In no hurry. Plays the long game, has a plan. In all of human history, and on a smaller scale in every human life that ever was.

In some regards the most secretive admirer who has ever lived (and has lived forever). But persistent. Willing to face rejection any number of times, if only the pursued will sit up and begin to take notice…

An unconventional lover. Invisible, for one thing. Not much of a talker. Strong silent type. If you could see this lover… might be tall and craggy, with rugged good looks (made the Himalayas). But perhaps also hints of mystery and femininity (made Venus too).

Down the aeons, this lover has sought to woo human beings in a myriad ways (the original hopeless romantic), without wishing to make any of it too obvious. The big set piece stuff is hard to miss, particularly a nice line in awe-inspiring natural wonders. Massive mountains, spectacular sunsets, towering trees, amazing animals. Human beings have often had a good eye for the gift itself, and the cleverer ones like to turn it over and over and round and round, prod it and see what happens. Not always quite so good at discerning the giver behind the gift. Nor quit so adept at picking up clues. Not always so subtle.

This secret admirer further sought to capture human attention through an infinitely varied web of signs, hints and ‘seductions’, often uniquely tailored to the individual. Curious concatenations of circumstances. Words read or heard. Trains of thought sparked by works of art and literature, strains of longing from particular pieces of music. Sometimes something hard to put your finger on – but which had the desired effect of setting a heart seeking.

Perhaps more than anything, a love letter has the power to melt defences and soften the hardest heart – and the one proceeding from this lover’s mind was unsurpassed. In the long march of history, it has gained an esteem and affection that has never been lost – even if parts of the human race have at times considered themselves too sophisticated and clever for its overtures and appeals. But where this letter has been taken to heart and pored over, its recipients have been captivated by the story of the great Lover’s love for humanity, and the lengths he would go to in order to secure their affections. They have caught a glimpse of the Personality present in these pages. Caught a taste of the presence of the living God.

And not just on Valentine’s, but every day of their brief lives, human beings have the opportunity to let go of their own feeble attempts to find an ultimate love, meaning and significance – and abandon themselves first to the pursuit and embrace of the greatest love, expressed in this, the greatest story ever told.

Valentine poem

I saw a man, one Valentine’s day, and woe betide if you got in his way,
As his frame darkened that restaurant door, he didn’t look so kind – though he wasn’t poor,
It’s no surprise, it won’t amaze, she was the focus of his gaze,
The sole recipient of his flowers, the one he doted on for hours and hours,
But it made me wonder, a hunch you know, did his love stretch further than this nice warm glow?
It made me think how small and narrow, our love can be despite Cupid’s arrow…
Do you think you’re alone in this universe? Might hold too tight to your loved one or worse,
Be wary and jealous, to that one person cling, not care much for strangers- a worrying thing
But if I see myself (not a fashionable idea), as deeply loved by the One who’s far and near,
The one who holds each person in his care…
Well such revelation is a game changer right there,
It gives a security deep down in my being,
Lets my love grow and expand – a fresh way of seeing,
I’ll love in deeper, richer ways, and not just on one day,
Nor just my loved one, family, friends – but each person on the way.


Image by Bing N. from Pixabay

Climate catchin’

Guess what, we’re a month into year Twenty twenty
And of big stuff to ponder there’s a pile, yeah there’s plenty,
And top o’ the list, for both planet and primate
Is the elephant in the room (‘s going nowhere): the climate.
In Davos, at World Economic Forum (or WEF),
Teen activist Greta must just think we’re all deaf,
Cos the troubling point that makes her bold speeches sing
Is her view the politicians are doing next to nothing,
And in the week that we learned to eat a fifth less of meat,
Guess what, I attended a lecture – on peat!
Yeah in Bradford, the science and media museum no less,
‘Healthy peat bogs’ – not everyone’s cuppa I confess,
But the more that I hear about things clean and green,
In the news, all them views, in the paper, on screen,
I tend to get mad and then desperately sad,
Think it’s all getting worse, yeah spectacularly bad,
But in some deeper place beyond the obvious scope
Of wild angry feelings – I can’t help but feel hope,
Cos I know that this world in its marvel and beauty
Was given us to care for, on our watch, it’s our duty,
And God doesn’t throw up his hands in despair,
But he wants us to stop, think – have a heart – and just care.

Voice audio with music:

Image by Tibor Janosi Mozes from Pixabay

Bat Nativity

Themed scripts for Christmas, audio below.

1 Resistance
I’ve been tasked with a mission that’ll strain even my bat powers to the limit: to retrieve and deliver the true meaning of Christmas: a message that can liberate humanity from all that binds and afflicts. Can I penetrate such powerful resistance? The constant stream of shallow entertainment, so many purchases and possessions – stifling, strangling. I must reach them – before it’s too late. The meaning of this baby, born for all – and for all time.

2 Crime
I’ve been tasked with a mission that’ll strain even my bat powers to the limit: to retrieve and deliver the true meaning of Christmas: a message that can liberate humanity from all that binds and afflicts. For years I’ve unmasked crime in Gotham City – but not even my gadgets are a match for the darkness that lurks in the human heart. What light can shine brightly enough to bring them freedom? Perhaps this baby really does hold the clue.

3 Truth & Justice
I’ve been tasked with a mission that’ll strain even my bat powers to the limit: to retrieve and deliver the true meaning of Christmas: a message that can liberate humanity from all that binds and afflicts. I’m used to fighting under the radar for truth and justice. But this confounds even my vigilante instincts – that God could infiltrate such a messed up world in secret as a child – and bring a new order of freedom and peace? It’s – extraordinary.

Audio (self-voiced):

Image by Daryl Govan from Pixabay

Faith, hope and little people

I heard a surprising and original connection drawn between the recent UK General Election and Christmas. We were familiar with the anticipated inconvenience of polling station venues being already booked up for nativity plays. But this radio vicar highlighted a less obvious parallel: between the national vote and a Roman census that Luke tells us took place around the time of Jesus’ birth: ‘everyone went to his own town to register’. Though backwater Judaea presumably didn’t face the same problem of absent students.

It got me thinking about other parallels between the election campaign and Christmas. First up, the appeal to ‘little people’. The single greatest factor identified as propelling the Tories to a landslide victory, was their success in toppling the so called ‘red wall’ of historically Labour-voting northern seats. The Tory messaging machine managed to convince swathes of a normally hostile electorate that Boris Johnson was the strong man who would finally deliver Brexit and improve their lot. Many of these new voters live relatively tough lives – low incomes, poverty, possibly food banks. They felt ignored by the urban political elite – their desire for change thwarted.

Judaea in New Testament times was also full of ‘little people’, under the yoke of an oppressive power. The nativity narratives highlight some of them: Joseph and heavily pregnant Mary, struggling to get a roof over their heads; the shepherds – low status night shift workers. Mary’s song of praise following the birth of Jesus – known as the Magnificat – powerfully expresses God’s concern for such individuals. She exults that in his might and mercy he has scattered the proud, filled the hungry and left the rich empty. It’s a radical, revolutionary, upside down manifesto for change, that not even the boldest political one could match.

Second, there’s the appeal to simple, childlike faith. Boris’s persona is cartoonish, and his party’s campaign slogan ‘Get Brexit done’ is now infamous for its cut through clarity – memorably displayed on the front of a digger that Johnson drove through a brick wall, or in his promise of an ‘oven ready’ deal. A message readymade to appeal to a sizeable portion of the electorate with little time for politics. And, of course, it ‘worked’. But Johnson’s relationship with the truth is contested to say the least, and even with the best will in the world, his ability to live up to shiny campaign promises will be sorely tested.

The nativity narratives present an entirely different scenario. Mary and the shepherds respond with simple faith to a word delivered by an angel, and an angelic host. It stretches credulity for the modern mind, though angels are a popular feature of contemporary spirituality. But this is not gullible trust gleaned by a snake oil salesman. The shepherds are initially terrified, not seduced. It’s reminiscent of Beaver’s perception of Aslan in ‘The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe’ – “of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

The prime minister is regarded by many as a dangerous liar. CS Lewis hinted that Jesus isn’t ‘safe’ either, while also famously observing that he could be more readily labelled a ‘liar or lunatic’ than a mere respectable teacher – concluding that neither are as likely as ‘Lord’.

Angels, dreams, magi, myrrh… Strange elements abound in the nativity, but when we check our over-zealous critical, questioning faculties and instead allow the narratives to speak for themselves with a receptive heart and imagination… they have power to transport us beyond our everyday perspectives, and reveal a hidden spiritual kingdom. For these are not the mere guardian angels of popular spirituality, but dramatic agents in a far bigger story. A story that’s not domineering or oppressive, as Christianity is sometimes perceived in our post-religious culture, but radically attractive and invitational, revealing God’s coming as a helpless, vulnerable child.

Finally, the election campaign appealed to people’s hopes – for change and improved lives. Mr Johnson may have at least some sincere desire and intention to “repay people’s trust”. But whatever the results, they will still be decidedly temporal. Contrast the awesome expectations expressed in Luke’s gospel, of what Christ would bring: salvation, forgiveness of sins, light for darkness – and true peace. ‘A new hope’, to quote from Star Wars… and a stronger one, since inner, spiritual transformation can empower each of us to be active, engaged citizens, nor just passive consumers.

The Conservative campaign promised to ‘Unleash Britain’s potential’; while the gospel has been compared to a caged lion, needing to be not defended – but released. Faith and hope… for the little people.

Image by benhoefer from Pixabay

Nature Nativity

(David Attenborough style commentaries):

1 We’re about to witness one of the best known yet least understood annual rituals of human behaviour: the nativity play. Adorable infants have gathered at the front in their distinctive plumage: a dressing gown here, a tinsel halo there. Parents coo over their little darlings, disguising petty rivalries that simmer just below the surface. It is a spectacle unparalleled in the natural world, to see little Johnny as a sheep – and Chloe with a tea towel on her head. They are here to enact a story unique to the history of their species – the birth of baby Jesus. But when it is finished, many will forget all about it. The transformation that could result, if they allowed its hidden power to impact their lives the rest of the year, is a phenomenon we have yet to fully appreciate.

2 I’m here to witness a extraordinary human spectacle: the candlelit carol service. Deep in this vaulted cavern, young and old congregate in their hundreds. Flickering candles illumine the darkness, creating both beauty, and considerable fire risk. Parents endeavour to keep their young ones quiet, while a white-plumaged alpha male emits mysterious mutterings at the front. What makes this event so fascinating, is the sheer variety of song on display. There’s fierce competition, and occasional doomed efforts to reach the top notes. Humans are drawn here by their love of togetherness and cosy lights in the darkness – pointing to the deeper meaning of the one they call Jesus, ‘light of the world’. How far that light may infuse the rest of their ‘life on earth’, is yet to be fully seen.

3 I’m deep in the heart of one of the human animal’s favourite festive habitats: the ‘nearly a pound shop’. They browse among piles of tat, like magpies homing in on the shiniest, tackiest stuff they can get their claws on. Squabbles occasionally break out, quite without warning. The whole process of excessive present buying has evolved primarily for pleasure, status, and to maintain the delicate equilibrium of friend and family expectations – in short, so Granny Mavis doesn’t get royally cheesed off with yet another cook book. How far they can reconnect to the true source of spiritual contentment, the real gift and meaning of Christmas, remains to be seen.

4 This Christmas finds me deep in the heart of a typical human festive home, fraught with fragile family politics, and disputes over cracker jokes. The precise makeup of this particular group has been carefully negotiated, and simmering tensions remain. Juveniles, in a heightened state of excitement, constantly threaten to push someone over the edge. Meanwhile, ensconced in his armchair is the silverback, jealously guarding the remote. The complex dynamics involve excessive turkey consumption, mountains of wrapping paper, and in extreme cases, charades. The very human hunger for acceptance and belonging, links to a deep desire for spiritual connection at this time of year. The message of Christmas offers that; we can only hope they will find it.

Voice audio with music & sound effects:

Advent audio poem

It’s the first Sunday of December, that’s Advent you know,
Last dash to Christmas, the calendar – but wait just a mo,
We use this word advent in loads of modern ways,
Advent of tech, social media, whatever it is, latest craze,
But do you ever just wonder what it originally meant,
The one to do with Christmas, yeah that one, where it went?
You might remember that December’s about Jesus as a baby,
The stranger in the manger, kings, shepherds, star – or maybe
It means nothing but the calendar – and each enticing door,
Sweets and treats and funny tweets – but is there something more?
We love a door of mystery, like the wardrobe, Narnia, snow,
A route to an enchanted world… and just before you go,
Think a moment of your own heart, you can open it – like a door,
So why not take the chance to do that – to God, to others, to more?

Voice only audio (radio version has stirring Narnia soundtrack!):

Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

Remembrance poem

Why do we remember, what is it for?
The annual reflection on conflict and war,
Why buy a poppy, drop coins in a tin,
Then struggle to fasten it with fiddly pin,
Two minute silence, think of those who have died,
Not always easy, so here’s an aside:
I find myself thinking, this chill autumn day,
Can I find fresh perspective, maybe another way
To breathe some new meaning into this event
So it resonates right, and I don’t have to vent?
Something to ponder this day in November
Is who we recall, and how we remember.
This year I can’t help my mind being filled
With thoughts of civilians, the innocent killed,
Direct or indirect, through weapons, malnutrition,
How can we accept them being put in this position?
We remember the soldiers who sacrifice and yet
The young, old and vulnerable, we tend to forget.
So this Remembrance day, let’s give some thought
To the frail forgotten ones who in conflict get caught,
In the two minute silence, when your busy thoughts cease,
Give some time to think how we can better fight – for peace.

To be broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds on Sunday at 7am approx.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Light beyond the lantern?

Black cat, pointed hat – silhouetted flat,
Against a yellow moon; all gone too soon,
Door to door mischief, ah yes, trick or treat,
Cherubic children seeking out something sweet,
Adult time too, dressed as goblin or ghoul,
Freddie Kruger perhaps, or something more cool,
We’re drawn to the lantern with jagged mouth glow,
Turnip burns red, candlelight flickers low…
But what do we find at the heart, at the root
Of this season of ducking in barrels for fruit?
What does it say about your plain human being,
That we so love the dark, with mere candles for seeing?
What was it that led my friend to have chosen
To dress as a werewolf, or Elsa from Frozen?
Does Halloween afford us an opportune place
To face dark inner things that we find hard to face?
A day that feels fitting and timely and right
To rediscover in darkness, the power of light?
But to make Halloween really special, a keeper
Why not take time this year to seek truth that is deeper,
A more ancient story – long ago unfurled,
Of one who is known as the Light of the world.

Voice audio:

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Tree huggers unite?

Bruce tree hugger Aug 2014
It’s tricky being the primate – that has power over the climate.
Issue of our time, it occupies a prime place in the TV news
An unfolding crime scene, well it’s a view – one hard not to choose.
Global strikes, a billion likes, on news feed, reflect a need,
To now arise, open our eyes, confront the lies; it’s no surprise
That it’s youth that are leading, when it’s their futures bleeding,
And we really don’t yet know how many mouths will need feeding.
In the Big Apple, UN summit, they tried to halt the plummet…
Not of temperatures, it’s clear they could go through the stratosphere…
No, to stem the fall of political will and hope, that’s all,
To get some concrete plans – that’d win politics some fans,
If we can pull an idea so drastic, out of the realm of the fantastic.
From the point of view of Greta, things ain’t getting noticeably better,
She scowled at the orange clown – then gave them all a dressing down.
A howl of pent up rage, fury belying her age.
But what I really want to ponder, my time here not to squander,
Is our collective sense of care for nature, from ant to anaconda.
I saw a Youtube video you know, with Spooks actress, Nicola Walker,
On climate I can tell you, she’s one compelling talker,
She speaks of how our attitude is fundamentally rotten,
Bit like one of those corpses from her crime show, ‘Unforgotten’.
It imagines her reporting back from the future, twenty fifty,
Which, whatever way you look at it, as a trick is pretty nifty.
She tries to make us understand that now, which’ll then be past,
Bit by bit we shape a future that’ll crumble, or that’ll last,
Yes through our little choices every plain and ordinary day,
We build and make the future now, which is another way to say,
Let’s try to live eyes open, and not be blithe or blind,
To protect this fragile home, the earth, not watch it fast unwind,
Not live in sweet delusion, hiding, shirking, in denial,
But turn on planetary awareness, and turn off Jeremy Kyle.
(if he comes back).

Voice audio: