"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Monday, February 28, 2011

There's one in every class

I am a great fan of Catherine Tate: she is a very gifted comedian and her Donna was a great companion for Dr. Who. I am less keen on the schoolgirl Lauren. This grotesque is so well observed she is only just a caricature and a hair's breadth away from reality.

Every class has its Lauren: in training if not yet fully formed. I can laugh at her on screen - and, indeed, I use her in my work with student teachers - but it is slightly uncomfortable laughter because I deal with her acolytes on a daily basis. I wonder, too, to what extent Lauren has set a standard and made her own unique contribution to classroom management issues up and down the land.

British comedy doesn't (yet) have its male Lauren: Harry Enfield's Kevin is far too gauche to be taken seriously, but I have my male Laurens too. Consider this Yr 10 incident:

Chris, come and sit here please.


Because you don't sit there.

I've always sat here.

And every lesson I move you to here.

But I haven't done anything wrong.

But you will if you stay there.

What have I done wrong?

You talk when you sit there.

I don't.

You already have. Come and sit here.

But I didn't do anything wrong.

Just come and sit here.

You can't move me.

Yes I can. I'm in charge.

I'm not moving.

Come and sit here please.

And so it went on from bad to worse. Remember too, that while this little floor show was going on, twenty other kids were waiting for their lesson to start.

I'm not moving. I haven't done anything wrong.

Well, you're disobeying my instructions for a starter.

I'm not moving.

Do as you're told.

(The outcome becomes inevitable.)

O.K. Chris you have to leave.

You haven't given me three strikes!

When a student is sent to another room he must take a form with him which he must complete and which invites him to reflect on the incident and on his behaviour. The first question asks: What happened? Chris's answer was: I was sent out for no reason.

Later that day I had a Yr 9 class. We are studying Revelation - as in the phenomenon, not the book. It is a killer topic and we do well to stay on task. Beckie, who needs no encouragement to be off task, is staring at the door. There is a face framed in its window. There should be no one there: everyone should be in lessons. I move towards the door and the face disappears. When I open the door a Yr 10 boy called Mark is standing there.

Move away from the door.

He ostentatiously moves one step away.

No, right away. Back to your class. What lesson should you be in?

None of your business.

(This is going well then. Behind me twenty seven fourteen year olds are getting restless.)

You need to go back to your class.


I change tack.

Come into my room then, off the corridor.


So you won't come in or go away.


So, let's be clear what's happening here: you are choosing to disobey the direct instructions of a member of staff.


(Oh good. I resist the temptation to slug him one.)

Then you have a problem.

Who are you to tell me what to do?

A behaviour support worker arrives. Come away Mark before you get into trouble.

It's too late for that.

I return to my class having achieved the last word and I leave Mark to the tender care of the BSW. There are raised voices outside the room.

It transpired that Mark should have been in Art but had been sent out. This is a regular occurrence. The only problem is that he refuses to go to where he has been sent and ends up on the wander. One wonders how this state of affairs has been allowed to continue without some appropriate resolution - ie, one where Mark is told in no uncertain terms what to do, no options. Having an unpredictable and provocative boy like Mark on the wander unsupervised puts others like me in a potentially vulnerable position.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Problems with Predictive Text

It is the half-term break here and that means I get to meet up with my friend and colleague John, the mad Physicist. ("I'm terribly sorry, he's from Wakefield.")

As I am thinking about setting off I ponder what I can do to wind him up. Given that he is generally sartorially challenged I send him a text: Try to look smart eh?

Almost by return I get the response. "In on ink you cheeky twat."

I have no idea what this means.

Picture this: I am sitting in the bar waiting for him, drinking a cappuccino and gazing idly out of the window, when the man himself shows up wearing a sweatshirt fleece and looking a mere three steps up from the homeless. As anticipated he berates me for my temerity in asking him to smarten up. I'm really sorry, but I didn't understand your text. The sentiment, yes, but not the actual words. I show him the phone which he holds at arms length and squints at.

I was in bed and I didn't have my specs. It says "I'm on hol you cheeky twat."

Actually it doesn't.

It's supposed to. Why didn't you look at the other letter combos on each button?

As if! In on ink too! Well that's my alternative career as a psychic out of the window then. Interesting how the insult got through but not the rest. John sits down in front of me and then unzips his sweatshirt to reveal a great deal of grey and untamed chest hair. I try to rise above it but fail to his great amusement.

It's going to be a long lunch hour.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The things they say

Another gem from the classroom.

I'd been talking about third world poverty and had been mentioned cholera.

At the plenary I asked. What C is a water-borne disease?

Sir, Sir!! Chlamidia!

I sometimes wonder whether my pupils and I have been in the same room.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Inspector is expected

We are suffering from OFSTED Fever. I don't know whether that is a real condition but it should be. My prescription is calmness and not buying into the hype or, failing that, copious amounts of alcohol when other people do.

OFSTED are expected soon. I have been through this five times now and I have noted with a certain degree of irritation how suddenly we are expected to stop the normal routine of teaching to jump through hoops imposed on us by some senior managers.

Yesterday I experienced a "drop in": a member of our Senior Management Team dropped in unannounced and proceeded to observe my lesson for twenty minutes in the last half of the lesson. I don't have a problem with that: I've been teaching for twenty eight years and am confident in my ability and know my worth. I also feel instinctively that we should have an open door policy and should be willing to accept peer observation. I love watching my colleagues in other subject areas teaching.

He did not ask for my lesson plan, whci I thought was odd.

Ah, but he had a check list. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

He "dropped in" again later to give me feedback.

I'm sorry. It's bad news. I graded you as a four which means unsatisfactory.

I smile non-commitally.

You see some of the kids said they weren't enjoying the lesson. OFSTED would be concerned about that.

I smile again. So my worth is judged by the fact that not 100% of my pupils enjoy my subject. What, I wonder, are the chances of that ever happening in any lesson? Not impossible but very unlikely in the real world of the classroom I guess.

Your marking is up to date but you use smiley face stamps and the like and you use code letters that the kids have to look up in their decoder to see their target. There were hardly any personalised comments.

I'm becoming irritated now.

Do you know how many students I teach whose books need marking?

That's not really the point.

Oh, but I think it is. I have 448 pupils on my timetable. That's 448 books to mark. And you want each one to have a personalised comment each time? That's why I've devised the marking decoder and its grades. There aren't enough hours in the day.

Well that's what OFSTED are looking for.

Then they're applying unreasonable criteria when it comes to R.S. teachers. One size fits all isn't a good policy.


Anyway the kids said you didn't often do group work.

That's not strictly true. I NEVER do group work. Well, not with Year 9.

My colleague looked horrified.

They're too immature. I need to keep them on task and until they're ready to take it seriously - which I will use my professional judgement to assess - there will be no group work. Every time I observe group work elsewhere about a quarter of the kids are actually working and the rest are opting out and chatting. I don't do teaching styles because someone thinks they're of educational value when everything in my experience tells me otherwise.

But it's what raises you above unsatisfactory.

They'll see what they'll see.

But the lesson was too teacher led.

Yes. I am the expert and they learn from me. I don't like this sharing of ignorance: "Let's have a discussion." O.K. you start and I'll join in. What? "But we don't know what to say." Exactly. That's because you don't know anything to discuss yet.

I log on to my computer and bring up the powerpoint I had been using. In the first half of the lesson we did this pairs exercise I show him a creative writing tool designed to encourage pupils to evaluate from two perspectives.

But I didn't see that.

Then you should have come in the first half of the lesson. Are you suggesting that I should compromise the continuity of my lesson content to throw in a sudden group activity - out of context - because an inspector comes in the room?

Well if that's what it takes. They say they do a lot of copying from the board.

Now this one really irks me. If I could guarantee they'd absorb everything I say in lessons for all time, then I'd never require them to copy anything down. But I can't, so they will. How will they revise for the exams - which we are put under incredible pressure to get top grades for, by the way - if they've nothing to revise from? This is an information and content led subject. I show him some of the other activities on the powerpoint, all of which are designed to be a break from writing and all of which are designed to reinforce learning.

Did you use them today?

No. I use one or two per lesson depending on the circumstances.

Ah, but I didn't see them.

So I'm judged on what you didn't see, even though I've shown you what I do?

There was no evidence of pupil peer assessment.

We did that last lesson when they marked each other's answers from a past exam question using the exam board's marking criteria.

Ah, but that wasn't in the twenty minutes I saw.

I transcend the moment. Thank you God.

I shall smile sweetly and do what I always do. Isn't it amazing how my groups get such good grades from an inadequate teacher?

In my time as a teacher I've seen all these trends come and go and reappear rebranded for a new generation. Some are better than others and some are just gimmicks. I look at the assessment criteria I have for my Student Teacher, provided by his university and one leaps out at me: "To avoid the substitution of fun activities for purposeful teaching."

I rest my case.

I relate the incident to a couple of colleagues at the end of the day. I'm not taking this at all seriously but my geographer friend is incensed and the colleague who teaches Social studies is resigned: That'll be me too then.

My student teacher goes home perplexed by the possibility that his mentor is an inadequate teacher.

There is outrage at this morning's Humanities Faculty meeting.

My career, it seems, can be summed up by one snapshot, twenty minute observation that takes no account of the unique demands of my subject area nor any sense of the context of that part of the lesson.

What a great system!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The horriderist teacher in school

Mr. Mohammad was taking my Yr 7 class today. They are sweethearts but rather needy. I want to gather them all up and take them home. Mr Mohammad has been teaching them about Muslim prayer - well, it makes more sense than me teaching it to them - and he has devised a board game for them. They had a ball. (I notice they've stopped asking me when I'll be teaching them again.)

Year 8 were different. They came in in a very odd mood. I think it may have been windy out. Seriously: that's all it takes.

Mr Mohammad was also doing Muslim prayer with them and wanted them to learn the movements. He is a gentle man in every sense and I felt what he was doing with them looked rather good fun. The girls were certainly up for it.

Not Marcus.

I aren't doing that! (They're from near Bradford remember.)

I am working in the office next door with the door open, struggling to put together a powerpoint presentation on religion and prejudice for Yr 10 and I overhear all this. (Mr. Mo is so close to the end of his teaching practice now that I just pop my head round the door every ten minutes or so.)

Marcus continues to argue.

I aren't religious. You can't make me do it. That's gay, that is.

Mrs. Carol, their support assistant, looks about to have apoplexy so I decide to rescue Marcus before she gets to him.

Come with me. You can work in the office on the desk next to mine.

Strangely the little chap isn't at all grateful. And me having saved him from certain death. Mrs. Carol is a saint, but even she can be pushed so far.

Marcus come with me. That's not a request, it's an instruction.

But I've not done owt!

Yes ... maybe that's the problem.

It's not fair.

I can see this is heading towards a claim that his human rights are being infringed.

Yeah, now about that ... that's not strictly true is it Marcus? You've upset people and you didn't like it when that teacher called you a knob the other week did you?

That was you.

Really? I don't remember. But you're missing the point. It's not nice to be upset is it? Now just sit there.

I'm not doing any work.

As you please.

And you can't make me.


I get on with my powerpoint which involves doing a Google-image search for gay policemen.

I'm bored.

This is me not caring.

For God's sake!

Stop whining Janice.

For God's sake!


I'm not called Janice.

Then stop behaving like one.

You can shut up.

Oh now that's just being rude and not at all grown up.

Well you're not being grown up.

Ahh but I am grown up.

I'm grown up too.

You're twelve and three foot two. Don't make me laugh.

I'm bored.

And boring.

Can I go back next door now?

Oooh, let me think. No.

It's not fair.

That's life, that is. Think on.

You're the horriderist teacher in the school.

Ahh. Thanks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Year 10 and Transcendence

I've been having a problem with some of my students. They don't get God. Years ago there used to be a book called "Your God is too small." and I think of that every time a child says to me with all the wisdom and arrogance of a 15 yr old, "But Sir, I don't believe in God. How could one man create a universe?"

Right Fans, I'm a man and I've not created many universes recently.

They look at me inscrutably.

O.K. What I mean is, I've never created a universe. Do you see the point?

Impassive stares. I consider instituting a seance on the basis that I'm not having much luck with the living so I might as well try the dead.

I don't get it.

(Now there's a phrase that irritates me beyond measure. It is usually intoned with a whine and translated means "I'm too lazy to think it through.")

Why do we even have to do this? (This from William. When the going gets tough the tough ... No that's not right. When the going gets tough my kids moan about having to do the subject.)

Look. If God exists - and I know that's a big if for many - that God must be beyond and above our wildest understanding. When we begin to use descriptors we immediately diminish God because we have to reduce him to something we can understand. We are describing the indescribable and not doing it justice

I show them the picture above.

That's my idea of Transcendence.

Is that God then?

NOOOOOO! (Pause for deep breath.) That's supposed to be us representing our awareness of our insignificance in comparison to God and surrendering to the Transcendent.

I throw my arms wide as if in supplication and the sudden movement triggers the lights to come on. I stand there bathed in the glow as if I was caught in the spotlight of the Berlin Wall.*

Wow Sir! Now I get it.

* Note to my American friends - that's a reference to history. It was in Europe so you won't know about it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Year 8

I don't have a lot to do with the younger kids in school. I just have this one Year 8 class once a fortnight. They crease me up and I get a glimpse of what it must be like to teach in primary education.

They are at the bottom end of the mixed ability spectrum and if they are all in school - rare - there are about fifteen of them.

Today we started the life of Gautama the Buddha. It was a bit like carpet-time: I read them the story and then they had to sequence slips of card with the story on in the right order. The mistake I made was in giving all the pairs green card rather than a different colour per pair.

Tim, why have you got 27 slips? You should have 10.

Casey: don't put them in your ear, O.K? ...... No, it's not nice.

We then set out to draw the story in eight pictures.

Right Ashton, too much noise from you. I'm putting the three minute timer on for your silence. We need respite and I don't want to go home having killed another pupil.

Sir, can I draw sponge-Bob Square-Pants?

No. Why?

You said Gautama met a Holy man.

No...still not getting it.

Well, Sponge-Bob is full of holes.

O God.

Ashton: well done. A whole three minutes. Why didn't you do any work during that time? What....? What do you mean you can't multi-task? No. Being quiet and not working is not multi-tasking.

Jonny: why have you drawn Shrek?

I haven't. You said Gautama met a sick man. I've drawn him green because he was sick.

Sir, Sir, I didn't understand that bit. I've drawn someone being sick.

Oh yes. So you have Zoe.

I have too. I used that lady off Little Britain as my model.

Yes, O.K. Perhaps when I said sick I should have said ill.

Vikki why have you drawn a stick man?

It says so on the board.

Read it to me.

Gautama met a stick man.

And again.

Gautama met a sick man. Oh.

Got it.

A year 11 boy called Dean arrives in my doorway in disgrace from another colleague.

Got some work to do? Good. Sit there and get on with it."

Jessica: Why have you drawn Gautama as pregnant in every picture? No don't tell me. Let me guess. Because you can only draw stick men and then you got to the bit where he wasted away from fasting and you couldn't tell the difference between that picture and the others so you put a belly on him. Am I right? Thought so.

Sam: Why is that lady carrying a skateboard? Oh...Right. That's the baby Gautama. O.K.

Tim. Don't do that.

Sir: this crayon box has got blood on it.

Ah, Jess, you found me out. I used that tupperware box to kill the last pupil who got on my nerves.


No. I think you'll find it's ink.

No Dean. You can't come back next lesson. I don't care if it's more fun in here. Turn round Casey. He's too old for you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Take the Vicar to school day

I took my friend and spiritual sounding board, James to school on Friday. James is an Anglican vicar in pioneer ministry. He is young and charismatic. When we were having a beer I said Do you fancy coming to school with me for the day? never seriously expecting him to agree. He did and in the cold and sober light of morning it still seemed like a good idea. I told him what classes I would have and what topics we were studying and he said he'd give it some thought and see how it went.

Well, they couldn't fail to like him. He'd sit at my desk while I did the register and set them a starter activity and in the end one of them would ask me

Who's that man?

Ask him yourself.

Who are you?

James. (Without looking up.)

There followed a silence while they'd digest this piece of information while James busied himself with something on my desk. Then eventually ...

What are you doing here? (Or in one case - with some anticipation - Are you taking the lesson today?)

I've just come to see what goes on in a High School R.S. lesson.

Are you a teacher then?


What are you then?

I'm a vicar.

You're not are you? Do you believe in God then? Do you go to church? Why aren't you wearing that collar thingy? How do you know Sir?

I am. Yes. Yes. I don't really bother much with it. He's my Dad.

Is he? Sir you're a Vicar too aren't you? Does it run in families? I can see the likeness.

The lesson progressed and I did my bit and James chimed in helpfully. Then the temptation to go off topic was too much for them...

James, do you pray?

And with no embarrassment James would go on to tell them about his spiritual life which they listened to attentively and with respect while I encouraged them to jot down some notes from the board on the lesson's official topic.

So you two talk about God? How does that work then?

Well, it's usually in the pub over a few beers.

You're allowed to drink alcohol?

At one point we drifted into a mini discussion on the afterlife.

So who goes to Heaven then?

Between us we talked about discipleship and I was miffed because we'd studied life after death but when I gave them the answer they were sceptical. James had them eating out of his hand.

I've been baptised. Does that count?

Well, there are some churches that say it does. Baptism is a sacrament and faith follows.

James looked sceptical

One of the girls told us that her mum had been baptised but she wasn't religious.

Ah well, faith hasn't come yet.

Snorts from James. Is that Lutheran?

The lessons felt a bit schizophrenic. I'd be encouraging them to discuss abortion (Yr 11) or Characteristics of God (Yr 10) and then suddenly ...

What do Christians think about sex then, James? (What? And I couldn't have answered that question?)

Hmmm ... we like it. In fact we like it a lot.

Are you really his Dad, Sir?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The State of Play

Without wanting to be (too) self-indulgent here, I thought I'd let you know how things currently are with me.

Please feel free not to read.

I went back to my old church last Sunday following the principle of getting back on the bike you've just fallen off sooner rather than later. It was good to be back in that worshipping community and a number of folk greeted me with hugs and a number of whispered conversations of support and incredulity. "Please don't leave us. It would be our loss".

I returned this week for my final service as Lay Minister where I led the service and preached in the absence of any clergy. It felt right to be there but ironic that I was fulfilling this function in a relaxed, natural and more than competent way - or so it felt to me - for the last time. I am not sure how many members of the congregation realised that, but the feedback was very positive and encouraging. It will, indeed, be their loss. I don't write this to big myself up (and I recognise how self-centred that last sentence might sound) but because I was at ease in the role: this is what I do. It's what I've been trained for and it's what I'm good at and I felt confirmed in that ministry again today.

I'd not been to church much since before Christmas but I had been to All Hallows a couple of times with Rachel and Anna. On both occasions I was asked to administer the chalice which I saw a real desire to recognise my calling by that community and their determination to stand in solidarity with me. In this Anglican Church the congregation have been more vocal and more proactively supportive of me. It almost feels as if this group wish to see a resolution and a good outcome more than the folk at the old place. I don't think it is that, though: at All Hallows there is a greater sense of possibilities and new beginnings - not just within that congregation but within Anglicanism itself.

I have been lucky of late. I have eaten curry, eaten chicken salad, and drunk beer with good clergy friends - so much so that I might just burst. The level of support and quality advice has been wonderful and I have been privileged to have been in such good and wise company. In addition I have been reading the wonderful range of advice, comment and discussion which has appeared on my friend's blog relating to my recent experience - something in the region of 122 comments all told: all valued, all helpful and many incredibly perceptive. If you made any contribution to those comment threads, on whichever blog, I thank you too for your kindness, your concern and your support. I have passed those on to my former church authorities. I know this will probably be interpreted as mischief making but I felt there was material in there that needed to be heard and reflected upon.

I have also taken the step of exercising my right under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act in requesting copies of all material held about me by the authorities of my old denomination. It may be a pyrrhic victory to discover that the balance in my references, reports and testimonials is positive and in my favour but as that is the only sort of victory available to me at present I'll be happy to take it.

I have reached the stage where if it were to transpire that my journey into ministry should remain stalled at this point, I could live with it. The journey has most certainly not been wasted.

I do find it difficult, though, to believe that my journey into ministry is to come to this abrupt end. I can not conceive of why God would have brought me this far only for His will to be (admittedly, as I see it) thwarted by men and women. This hiatus does seem to be an unnaturally abrupt interruption of the natural rhythms of ministerial formation thus far.

Going back to my leaving of All Hallows to seek my spiritual fortune, so to speak, around 2001/2002; to my growing sense of a call to ordained ministry; through James Barnett's motivating sermon in 2005 that spurred me into action; via my return to the Lutherans; a validation of my sense of calling; talking in hushed tones to Gerard Aylward in the back of a coach on the way back from the BBC studios so that I could actually hear myself say it all out loud; through two years on the Yorkshire Ministry Course and a fabulous parish placement in Tallinn; imbedding in the lovely community at my old church; through graduation; a period of Lay Curacy and "time of reflection"; through continuing IME and additional Lutheran theological training and finally to a successful navigation of my Final Examination with the Lutherans. God has brought me to this point only to say "No"? I don't think so.

I don't know what the future holds but I am quite buoyed and have a sense of anticipation at what God might do next.

I appreciate having been upheld in prayer but when you think of me be reassured that am in good mental and spiritual health. I think the Lord has work for me to do yet. Keep praying, please, that between us we figure it out!

With Much Love

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sunday Sermon: The Salt of the World

Matthew 5.13-20

The Sunday school teacher had just finished the lesson. She had taught the portion of the Bible that told of how Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Liam raised his hand. “My mum looked back once when she was driving and she turned into a telegraph pole!

Ah, salt. Good old Sodium Chloride. Even though humans require a certain amount of salt for survival, most of us take in too much, and ingesting excessive amounts has been linked to major health problems. Individuals who eat too much salt are at a risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even stomach cancer. A friend and I were talking about food over lunch yesterday and we both acknowledged low salt diets. I don’t know about you but we no longer add salt to cooking, haven’t done since I can’t remember when, and there’s almost a sharp intake of breath if a guest asks for it now. Those of us trying to eat healthily quickly learn the need to limit daily salt intake to an amount equal to one teaspoonful.

Salt is very inexpensive in our culture. In addition to small amounts of salt for the table, we buy it in big bags for use in the dishwasher or on icy pavements and by the lorry load to melt ice on motorways.
Of course, the way in which modern people view salt – abundant everywhere – is very different from those of centuries ago. In Biblical times salt was rare, hard to obtain, and considered a very precious commodity. Perhaps we can better understand why Jesus used the image in today’s gospel story: “You are the salt of the earth.”

Jesus used an analogy people could easily understand to let them know he expected something extraordinary from them for the sake of God. He placed a high value on his followers and on what he required of them – just as the first-century culture placed a very high value on salt. He taught his followers to act for God in ways as important and varied as salt was in their world. For us today the meaning has lost a lot of its impact because of how easily available salt is to us.

Now I don’t know about you but I’ve heard this story of Jesus’ countless times and when I was mulling this morning over I was asking myself what the salt analogy means for us. What is the practical application?
It sort of works like this: salt does such-and-such/has such-and- such qualities therefore we, as latter-day Disciples, should also do such-and-such/have such-and-such a quality.

Right: over to you. Let’s see if your minds are working in tandem with mine. There’s a piece of paper and a pen on the seat by you. Just jot down a couple of qualities of salt that Jesus wanted us to emulate.

For Flavour: Salt brings flavour to food. I came across someone else's sermon on this topic: “Christian faith can provide spiritual seasoning that gives life joy and meaning. To keep life from being bland and unrewarding, we season it with Christian commitment and understanding of God’s love for his children. Being salt to the world means adding flavour to life wherever and whenever possible. It means adding a zestful spirit to life and love. It means pursuing meaning in all we do and in all we encounter. It means acting in love with all whom we touch.”

So, that last bit’s not mine. I read it in a commentary and thought, “How true but how unutterably twee! Sounds lovely but how do you do it?” Right. Let’s try that again. What do I - and what do you - add to the world around us by being “salt”? I make a difference. I make a change because I’m new to the receipt, if you like. There is impact just by virtue of the fact that I am there when I wasn’t before.

I remember going out for a meal with Rachel once and ordering crab chowder. It was inedible because it was so salty. Let’s be clear: if we're not careful, the change we bring isn’t necessarily positive and we can be too much in certain circumstances. Too brash, too in-your-face in our religious certainties; too lacking in sensitivity to the needs of those around us; too unaware of where people already are in their searching for spirituality and answers. That restaurant got the receipt wrong and the food was a disaster. Let’s not forget the optimum amount of salt: it seasons. It doesn’t dominate or we shall be a disaster in God’s name in our turn.

When I was a great deal younger I was very much in awe of a group of other young Christians. They seemed to have got it all sown up: they were slick operators and incredibly holy but entirely humourless. Theirs, I realised, was not a joyful faith. It was a legalistic piety and they wound people up. I look back on it now and it was a little like I imagine Iran to be, with its religious police. Those young people were the God squad and I sometimes wonder whether they caused more damage in the name of Jesus than they caused good.
On the Yorkshire Ministry Course we were taught about mission. The one thing that really struck me from that module was the idea of Missio Dei – God’s mission. We take the initiative from God: we see where he is already at work and we join in in whatever way we can. We become the additional flavour in that situation. Mission flows from God: too many people take their own initiative, albeit on God’s behalf, but they overpower the recipe because they’re trying to lead God and not follow.

To Purify: Back to the sermon I read ; “In Jesus’ day, salt was often connected with purity. The Romans believed that salt was the purest of all things, because it came from pure things: the sun and the sea. It was used by the Jews to purify their offerings to God. If we modern Christians are to be the salt of the earth, we must accept a pure and high standard in speech, thought, and behaviour – keeping ourselves unspotted by the world’s self-centeredness. Jesus calls us to be a cleansing presence, constantly witnessing to the good that is found in God and the values of God’s realm.”

Again, faultless logic and a wonderful idea to work towards.

I know what is being got at here but it sounds a bit self-righteous. I think there are people in Tahir Square, Cairo right now who have understood this aspect of salt – it’s purity. They stand up to violence, injustice and intimidation, as do those who protest against countless acts of governments, both overt and covert around the world, against right-wing and fascist groups; against abuses both public and private. Think of those folk who turned out on the streets of Luton yesterday to protest against the English Defense League. To me that’s more about moral purity than swanning around being ever so Christian, like the old God Squad used to do, and to me that links salt with its cleansing and healing properties. When I was preparing I read a sermon by Pastor Niemoller, delivered just days before his arrest by the Nazis. It was a sermon about standing up for what was right in the Third Reich. Scary stuff. Not at all twee.

Healing: The other sermon writer goes on: “Salt was also used to aid healing. As salt in the world we can promote healing through prayer, caring for others, and supporting the least, the lost, and the lonely – holding hands with one another and administering the holy oil of anointing.” And this time I agree but let’s not misunderstand: we aren’t all Florence Nightingale. We aren’t all going to do the high profile stuff that gets us the attention. We are going to heal in quiet unobtrusive ways: we’ll be the listeners and mediators, the shoulders to cry on, the friends in need.

How frightning is the idea of being a healer in God's name? God can release from those fears to do the work Jesus commands us to do – to make a difference in the world: giving hope where there is no hope; forgiving where there is sin; embracing where there is loneliness and despair; challenging where there is prejudice; reconciling where there is conflict; bringing justice where there is wrong; providing food where there is hunger; giving comfort where there is distress or disease. I think most Christians do that. We just don't recognise it and often we don't value it.

The power of God supports and sustains us and stands with us if we risk whatever it takes to become salt to the world. And when we fail in this effort, God will raise us up and renew us and give us strength to persevere, again and again. The need will always be there.

Unlike many modern people whose health depends on moderation in eating salt, we are charged to become the salt of the earth. Let us ask for God’s strength and guidance to reach out to our various groups of friends and colleagues, our families and our neighbours in a world in desperate need of what Christian seasoning can provide and let us accept the responsibility to be a congregation more and more aware of our calling to discipleship.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The things they say

It was parents' evening last week and I was fairly busy, years 7, 8 and 9 all at the same time. Niall from Yr 7 came to see me with his Dad.

Have you told your Dad what we do in lessons Niall?


Well I'm not teaching you at the moment am I?


So who is?

Er ... Mr. Muhammad.


I don't know.

Yes you do. What's he teaching you?

Er ... about Islam.

That's right. And why him and not me?

I don't know.

Yes you do. Come on, think about it. Brown skin, big beard, robe. All the clues are there really.

Is he a Sikh?

On another occasion my colleague Ron was talking to kids about food and nutrition.

So what did you have for dinner then sir?

Well, my wife cooked a nice pork loin in cider.

(Startled pause.)

How did she do that then sir?


Cook it inside her?

Then a group in circle time. If you were an animal what sort of animal would you be?

I'd be a lion ... I'd be a bear ... I'd be a horse ...

I'd be a hedgehog.

Why Liam?

So I could be a right prick!

Sir, sir. My sister's having a baby.

Oh. (Neutral tone. you never know what's coming.)

She's going to call her Kylie-May. Two names with a python in the middle.