Bethlehemian Rhapsody December 30, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas.
Tags: Bohemian Rhapsody, Christmas, Queen, Video, YouTube
add a comment
Best Christmas Video ever; enjoy:
Reclaiming Marriage: What it is, what it isn’t, what it will finally be December 22, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Church, Current Affairs, Life.
Tags: Church of England, Equal Marriage, Faithfulness, Insane ramblings of a deranged Christian, Marriage, Marriage Equality
MARRIAGE: We’re hearing a lot about it these days as Her Majesty’s Government crosses swords and angry words with the religious right and the Church of England’s officialdom in particular, an ecclesiastical officialdom that appears to be increasingly out of touch with its own people, who are the Church. Whilst the government seeks to make marriage inclusive and available to all irrespective of gender and orientation, these self-appointed guardians of public morality seek to restrict it as an exclusive preserve of heterosexuals. Marriage, they declare, is sacrosanct: the government has no right to govern it. Marriage, they insist, transcends government: it is ordained by God, the union of man and woman, given by God to provide a stable family life in which children can be brought up.
To which God, to anyone prepared to listen, replies: balderdash and piffle! And does so in no uncertain terms as he begets a bastard to save the world: yes, Jesus, the bastard babe of Bethlehem, born to an unmarried woman in poverty, dependent upon gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee on the run from the authorities; and this child grows up, remains single, owns no property, befriends prostitutes and others outside mainstream society, ends up framed by the religious leaders of his day and gets murdered. That, my friends, is the true Christmas story: no fairy lights, no romance, no happily ever after as the hero carries his blushing bride over the threshold. Instead, God eschews marriage both as Father and as Son, and delivers a whole new twist to the meaning of “stable family life” — all our precious human conventions tossed aside as eternity breaks into time.
In engaging with humanity, God sets himself outside marriage, for marriage is a human institution, one of the ways that our society has developed — not so much ordained by as approved by God, God’s gift to humanity, like the Sabbath; and if we would but heed his voice, I suspect we’d hear Jesus saying, as he said of the Sabbath, ”Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.”
What, then, is marriage? To marry is, quite simply, to join together: it’s a term used in the construction industry, in carpentry, plumbing and engineering as items are bonded to one another. “I’ll marry up that joint,” says the carpenter. We don’t hear the religious right objecting to the use of the term in these contexts, only when it comes to human relationships. I wonder why?
And what is marriage about? There is an absurdity here: those who claim they want to defend the importance of marriage seem to want to reduce it to nothing more than a sexual union. Really? Is that what marriage is about? A licence to have sex? Of course it isn’t: marriage is about far more than what people get up to in their bedrooms; if you dare, ask any couple, married, cohabiting or partnered, what proportion of their time is spent having sex — I’ll wager few apart from newly-weds make it up to even 5% of their time, and for most it will be far less than that.
What, then, is marriage about? Above all, it’s about faithfulness, about commitment; about making that commitment under the terms of a covenant: a covenanted relationship. Faithfulness is what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; in the Commandments; in the Prophets as Israel is lambasted for her unfaithfulness to God; in the New Testament as the church is called to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!
What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — a repeat of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God. Just as God once used an outsider, Cyrus, to restore Israel, it seems — irony of ironies — that God is now using the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular to restore marriage.
Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it, says the Lord, therefore I will find a people who will honour it.
So, at least, it seems to me. Many will disagree; and no doubt numerous marriages of gay couples will fail just as they have done for so many straight couples. No matter: because the story is not over until our hero carries his bride over the threshold. I said that in this story that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I spoke too soon, for the final threshold is death; and our hero, Jesus, tenderly carries his bride — the Church, his broken, bleeding bride, ravaged by her own self-harm and self-interest — in his own broken, bleeding arms over that final threshold into a place where marriage is no more, where questions of gender are set aside, because all are one in Christ and love wins.
Marriage: here we have the Church being precious about it, trying to put a hedge around it, and all the time Christ calls us beyond it to something far deeper — an eternity of love. Marriages are not made by church or state; nor are they made in heaven: they are made in the heart, forged in the home. Church and state, heaven and hell, can only look on in wonder at a covenanted relationship of love that culminates in God and, for those who will, in that glorious consummation between Christ and the Church, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
And what a party that will be!
I’d like to acknowledge the following, whose recent thought-provoking posts have helped to shape and clarify my thinking in this area. Those named, however, bear no responsibility for anything here written; that responsibility is mine, and mine alone.
- Gary of The Not So Big Society; specifically: Does God Need A Make-Over?
- Gillan Scott of God and Politics in the UK; various posts but in particular, Today is the day the Government seizes control of marriage and David Cameron, gay marriage and the betrayal of democracy
- Laura Sykes of Lay Anglicana; in particular: Let’s Cut The Gordian Knot of Language!
- Members of the Christians for Equal Marriage (UK) facebook group for thought-provoking conversations too numerous to list.
GroomNews Christmas 2012: A Year Like No Other December 15, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Family, Life.
Tags: Christmas, Christmas Greetings, GroomNews, Phil & Sue Groom, Phil Groom, Sue Groom
to everyone who has already sent us Christmas cards: we’re sending out a few to close family but otherwise we’re making another donation to WaterAid in lieu of cards; please accept this news roundup instead.
The beginning of the year seemed to slip by quietly and uneventfully until a dramatic turn of events landed Phil off work for three months with his left ankle strapped up in a “Beckham Boot”. You can read all about it here: The car didn’t get me, but the cardboard did… — to cut a longer story short, he skidded on a piece of cardboard at work and broke his ankle. The three months weren’t wasted, however, as Phil used the time to carry out some long overdue updates to UKCBD, the UK Christian Bookshops Directory: christianbookshops.org.uk
Not to be outdone by Phil taking three months off work, Sue did likewise in the autumn: from September to November she was on sabbatical. Unlike Phil’s time out, though, Sue’s was planned and we take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in making it possible, from those in the diocese who took on DDO responsibilities to those in the parishes who kept the respective shows on the road. She spent most of the time in Durham, working on her DThM thesis on the language of formation in ordination training. Staying with religious communities and worshipping at the Cathedral provided her with wonderful spiritual refreshment.
At the end of October — two thirds of the way through Sue’s sabbatical — we celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary by booking into a hotel in Durham, from where we proceeded to sample the city’s cuisine with visits to different restaurants each evening, interspersed during the day by various outings. Another vote of thanks, this time to everyone who sent us cards, gifts and greetings on the day as well as for your friendship and support down the years.
Repaint for Almost
And how better to celebrate that anniversary than to commission a repaint for Almost? If you’ve seen us out & about on the waterways in recent years, you’ll have noticed that her paintwork leaves much to be desired. It was easy to keep on top of it when we lived afloat: whenever the sun was shining, one of us would be out there with a paintbrush; but since she’s been a holiday home rather than our main residence, it’s been more of a challenge, so we’ve at last called in the professionals: as we write, she’s with Colin & Kevin at Spiderworx (www.spiderworx.co.uk) undergoing a complete repaint and getting new signwriting.
Last year we reported the birth of our great-nephew, Oliver. This year it was wedding bells as niece Ruth married Ashley; and more wedding bells are planned for 2013: niece Claire to marry Simon, and nephew DJ to marry Nat: congratulations to one and all; only another 10 to go … not sure how we’ll ever keep up with them all! That’s all on Phil’s side of the family: over on Sue’s side, Alison, her sister, has left her job as a chaplaincy assistant in Plymouth to set up on her own as a counsellor, Cuthbert Counselling — if you’re in the south west and looking for counselling (or know someone else who is), do give her a shout: www.cuthbertcounselling.co.uk
Health & Fitness
Sue has added Aquafit and Pilates to her regular exercise routine alongside all the swimming, and the routines are paying off, keeping her supple and, on the whole, free from aches & pains in her joints: doing very well, in fact, for someone who hits the big 50 in 2013! Phil has resumed cycling to and from work, and since his work itself is a matter of constant physical activity, he too is pretty much as fit as ever.
Christmas: it’s all about God taking time out from eternity to be God with us. This year we’ve realised how important that is, and in the year ahead we’re determined to take more time out to reconnect with our friends. We look forward to seeing you! For now, however, as always, this comes with our love, best wishes for Christmas and prayers for peace in 2013,
GroomNews Christmas 2011 December 16, 2011Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Life.
Tags: 5 Quid for Life, Almost, Biggles FM, Christmas Cards, Christmas Greetings, GroomNews, Henlow and Langford, LST, Phil & Sue Groom, Phil Groom, River Nene, Sue Groom
A Card Free Zone
Last year we invited you to vote for the charity that would receive our Christmas card money: the charity you chose was WaterAid, so we’ve gone with the flow and designated them for this year too — a much better cause than Royal Mail, we hope you’ll agree…
2011: A Year of Years
10 years since UKCBD, the UK Christian Bookshops Directory, was launched. Christian booksellers are suffering along with other retailers, with dozens of shops closing down.
15 years since Sue’s ordination, and still going strong — from ordinand to DDO: see below!
20 years since we set sail to London on Almost to become students at London Bible College, now London School of Theology. Sadly LST is still struggling to balance the books, with more redundancies kicking in over Christmas/New Year: please pray for those leaving, those left behind and those with the unfortunate task of liaising with the staff affected.
50 years since Phil’s Mum unleashed him on the world: it’s all your fault, mother!! We celebrated with a few days away in York, and you’ll be relieved to know that the city survived the experience.
Church, Work and Research
Sue has now been formally appointed as St Albans DDO, Diocesan Director of Ordinands, which is keeping her busier then ever alongside parish responsibilities and research. DDO work is supposed to take 21 hours a week but in practice it’s nearer 30 — not surprising since her predecessor was full-time. The parishes have been growing in responsibility if not numerically: we now have a trained baptism preparation team and a bereavement visiting team who work across the benefice. Find out more on the church websites, which Phil is now looking after: www.henlowchurch.org.uk and www.langfordchurch.org.uk
The DThM has taken the hit from the workload: Sue has been unable to do as much as she would have liked and now that she’s in year 6, it gets scary. She has, however, negotiated a sabbatical (Sept – Nov 2012) and aims to produce a full draft of the final thesis during that time.
Sue also gives a ‘Thought for the Day’ on our local radio station on the first Thursday of each month: tune in to Biggles FM 104.8 if you’re in range!
This year we set off along a waterway we hadn’t visited before: the River Nene. It’s a lovely stretch of water: Almost fairly flew along and we found some very pleasant moorings along the way. Two weeks gave us enough time to make Peterborough and back. Almost finished the year with a week in dry dock and now has a spendidly shiny black bottom.
In May Sue joined some of her friends in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis for a pilgrimage to Assisi. It was a wonderful week revisiting some of the well-known churches but also getting out into the countryside to see where Francis escaped on retreat. For her own annual retreat, Sue returned to Alnmouth Friary in Northumberland and renewed her acquaintance with some of the writings of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, two of her favourite spiritual writers.
A New Generation
We’re delighted to report that we are now a Great Uncle and Aunt to Oliver, born to nephew John and his wife Laura in October. Oliver is already taking swimming lessons and is expected to win Gold in the 2012 Olympics: Oliver, we salute you!
A Super Slimline Sue!
Over the summer Sue realised that she was slowly but surely putting on weight (a factor of increasing age apparently!), so she increased her swimming to five mornings a week bright and early and is now slimmer, fitter and healthier than she has been in years.
5 Quid for Life
5 Quid for Life is a new charity launched this year by Phil and a group of friends to support people with mental health problems whose lives and livelihoods are under threat due to changes to the UK benefits system: discover more online at 5quidforlife.org.uk.
Thank you for being there with us through 2011. This comes as always with our love, best wishes for Christmas and prayers for peace in the year ahead,
O West Bank Town of Bethlehem December 9, 2011Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas.
Tags: Bethlehem, Christmas, Christmas Carol, Kevin Mayhew Ltd, Martin Leckebusch, O Little Town of Bethlehem, West Bank
add a comment
THANK YOU to Kevin Mayhew Ltd for publishing the full text of Martin Leckebusch’s version of the popular Christmas Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem — offered, they say, “as a more realistic description of Bethlehem today” than the traditional words. I couldn’t agree more:
O West Bank town of Bethlehem,
how still thy victims lie;
the grieving weep, deprived of sleep;
militiamen roam by;
for through thy dark streets rageth
the never-ending fight:
such hopes and fears, such bitter tears
are met in thee tonight.
O morning news, O papers,
report the dreadful dearth
of saints who sing to praise the King,
of peace across the earth;
where Christ was born of Mary
‘midst wondering angels’ love,
in anguish deep, sad mortals keep
few thoughts of things above.
How violently, how violently
the hope of peace is riven;
can God imparts to these torn hearts
the blessings of his heaven?
Who now recalls his coming
to this dark world of sin?
Where harsh words still promote ill-will,
can Christ now enter in?
O Child once born in Bethlehem,
draw near again, we pray;
you died to win this world from sin -
yet sin persists today.
May we, like Christmas angels,
till all are given a glimpse of heaven
and not a taste of hell.
- Martin Leckebusch
Copyright 2010 Kevin Mayhew Ltd
Reproduced, complete with typos, in accordance with Kevin Mayhew Ltd’s fair use copyright policy.
GroomNews Christmas 2010 December 18, 2010Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Life, News.
Tags: Biggleswade, Café Mocha, Christmas Cards, Christmas Greetings, GroomNews, Henlow and Langford, LST, Phil & Sue Groom, Phil Groom, Sue Groom
Which Charity Would You Choose?
Like last year, instead of adding to the carbon-footprint chaos caused by billions of ultimately unwanted Christmas cards, we’re sending most of this year’s Christmas greetings without a card or by email only. But this time it’s your choice: where should we donate the money we would have spent on cards & postage? The charity which gets the most votes wins £50, as that’s the amount we think we might otherwise have thrown away: vote here today!
2010: All Change Again
We’ve settled in well to the semi-rural lifestyle and we made good friends with the wild birds last winter, but not sure where they’ve all gone this time around. If you see Bedfordshire’s bird population, please tell them there are seeds, fat balls and more waiting for them here.
Sue’s role has changed in the diocese following the retirement of her boss — no, not God, the DDO. Sue is now Interim Acting Diocesan Director of Ordinands, which keeps her very busy interviewing would-be priests and helping them as they find their way through the discernment process. At the same time she continues to be Priest-in-charge of Henlow and Langford. She does seem to have a habit of being appointed to jobs which subsequently double in size! Somehow, in between DDO interviews and parish work, Sue has also resumed her DMin studies, except it isn’t a DMin anymore it’s a DThM. Due date is 2012, which should be possible if she takes a sabbatical to write up. This should be feasible thanks to the arrival of the Revd Patsy Critchley as part-time Assistant Curate in November this year.
If you follow this blog or Phil’s twitterfeed @notbovvered you’ll know that he left LST in September. Things came to a head in July when LST initiated redundancy proceedings against him and several other members of staff, but rather than wait around to be shown the door Phil managed to find another job: he’s now working for Sainsbury’s in Biggleswade. Started in September: so far so good. A simple routine: go to Sainsbury’s, take stuff off the shelves, give Sainsbury’s money; go back to Sainsbury’s, put stuff on shelves, Sainsbury’s give Phil money. Less pay for less responsibility but immensely liberating and as Biggleswade is within walking distance of home, a substantial saving on travel. Please pray for others made redundant and for those left behind at LST battling their way through the education sector’s financial crisis.
Before starting at Sainsbury’s, Phil spent a while working as a volunteer at Café Mocha, a Christian-run community café in Biggleswade. Whether you fancy an Americano, a Gingerbread Latte or Mocha Snowball, Café Mocha is the place to get yours: the friendliest and best fairtrade café in town! Find out more at cafemocha.org.uk or facebook.com/CafeMochaBiggleswade
Almost is now moored closer to home, at Milton Keynes Marina on the Grand Union. This year’s summer holiday took us from the Kennet & Avon, up the Thames and via the Oxford Canal to the Grand Union. Most enjoyable, especially catching up with a few friends along the way. It was too hot the first week and too wet the second: typical British weather — but at least it didn’t snow!
It’s been an interesting year for Phil’s parents, with his Dad having a mini-stroke and his Mum having a hip replacement. The net result is that Dad has slowed down and Mum has got faster. Please pray for them as they readjust to one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
This year Ed, one of our nephews, was posted to Afghanistan with the RAF. Please pray for a speedy resolution of the conflict and a safe return home for him and all the troops.
Thank you for your friendship over the past year: this comes with our love, best wishes for Christmas and our prayers for peace in the year ahead,
Vote now for the charity you’d like to receive our Christmas card money! We’ve selected 5 but feel free to nominate another via the comments below: if other readers shout out for them then they might win instead!
Epiphany? Ask the Camel January 3, 2010Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Short Story.
Tags: Camel, Epiphany, Short Story
add a comment
I wrote this story a few years ago, and it’s appeared in a couple of church magazines since. I think there’s still a bit a mileage left in it so I offer it afresh to you, my friends here in the blogosphere. It occurred to me that the word epiphany sounds rather like the noise I guess a camel makes when it spits. Maybe that’s where the word comes from? Or maybe you know better?
We were Tired. And when I spell a word with a capital letter, I mean it: this was a T bigger than Nero’s Nose. Okay, okay, so Nero wasn’t around then – but you’ve got to realise that we camels don’t necessarily look at things the way you humans do. Future? Past? It’s all the same to us – we remember both ways, and a lot of your lives have been saved because of that, because we know where the next oasis is as well as where the last one was. In the desert, it’s a question of survival – and we survive.
But as I said, we were Tired. Almost as tired as God was when He invented the Sabbath. And now we were running scared, tripping over ourselves, nearly breaking our legs on the rough ground in the dark. I don’t know what scared my master most, the angel that warned us, or the warning he brought. But that mad king – Herod “the Great”, he styled himself – was after our blood. Because of the Child.
We’d been on the road for two years. It would have been a much shorter journey if our masters had let us find the way, but they were Magi – Magicians, or Astrologers as you’d call them. So-called ‘Wise Men’ without the wisdom to know that camels don’t make mistakes. My master had cursed me for most of the journey because I’d kept pulling in different directions. Phtui! In the end I just spat in disgust and let him have his way. He’d regret it later. And now, as we ran, he did. Sometimes I almost feel sorry for you humans – until I think of the Child. But you still haven’t understood, have you?
So after travelling more than twice the distance we needed to, we’d arrived. At the wrong place: Jerusalem. I spat angrily and snapped at the stable hand who came out to meet us. And after meeting with His Royal Bloodthirstiness, our masters had been redirected to Bethlehem – we were on the right road at last.
The star reappeared, right on cue, above the house. His mother brought Him out to see us and, ignoring my master completely, He looked me in the eye and winked. Only two years old, but He Knew. I knelt in front of Him and for the first time in my life, I swallowed my spit. And for the first time my master didn’t shout a warning about me – he was too busy kneeling himself.
It was going to take a long, long time and an awful lot of pain, but Things were going to Change. And I’m not talking about me stopping spitting.
Mum, I’ve got a problem… December 15, 2009Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Short Story, Theological Reflection.
Tags: Christmas, Mary, Mother of God, Unplanned Pregnancy
“Mum, I’ve got a problem…”
“Oh no, what’s Joe done this time?”
“It’s not Joe, that’s the problem.”
“What’s not Joe? Whatever are you twittering on about this time? Just give me a hand with these sheets, will you?”
“But Mum —”
“I’m listening, dear. Hold on tight to your end whilst I give it a shake.”
“Whatever’s the matter, dear? Why are you crying?”
“Mum, I’m pregnant.”
“I always thought Joe was a bit keen, dear, but —”
“Mum, it’s not Joe’s baby.”
“Do you remember that film with Hugh Grant in it, dear?”
“Mum, Hugh Grant hasn’t been born yet. They haven’t invented films yet.”
“Mother of God, child, will you just listen to your mother??”
“Mum, that’s blasphemy!”
“This is a more immediate problem, my girl, so just you let your old mother think about it…”
“OK, but what about the film?”
“Oh yes, the one about the weddings and the funeral: do you remember the opening line?”
“Well that’s us, girl. Does Joe know yet?”
“I’m scared, Mum. I don’t want to lose him.”
“You won’t lose him, girl: he’s totally besotted with you. So — who’s the father?”
“It’s hard to explain…”
“No, dear, these things are very simple. It’s biology: 1 + 1 = 3.”
“I’ve got an idea, Mum.”
“That’s my girl: come on, out with it.”
“If 1 + 1 = 3, that might explain something about God that’s been puzzling me…”
“I thought you were worried about Joe?”
“Joe can wait: I think we’re about to solve one of the most puzzling mysteries about the nature of God that’s haunted humanity since the dawn of time.”
“Time’s the problem, girl. Thank God you came to me now and didn’t wait until it started to show. Now finish folding that sheet and let me think some more.”
“Mum, what you said a minute ago, ‘Mother of God’…”
“A figure of speech, girl. What about it?”
“Well it’s not a figure of speech anymore.”
“You’re talking riddles, girl. I asked you who the father is.”
“Well there was, like, this angel —”
” — and he said, well, OK, I forget his exact words, but it was, like, don’t be afraid —”
“Standard opening line. These angels have got no imagination.”
“You believe me?”
“Haven’t lied to me before, girl, have you?”
“Err, there was that fib about —”
“Water under the bridge, girl. I think you’d better go stay with your Aunty Liz for a bit.”
“But Mum, she’s pregnant.”
“She’s a bit brighter than you, girl. At least she got married first. Now go pack your things and I’ll sort your father out.”