A family address given today, June 28h, at Uniting Church Sketty (Methodist/United Reformed), Swansea.

Happy Birthday, Jackie!

Let me ask you a few questions.

• Do you like it when someone is a bossy-boots?
• Do you like a cup of tea? What would you say if someone told you that drinking tea is a bad idea? That he’s a bit of a bossy-boots?!
• Do you like a good joke, a good laugh?
• Do you like pop or rock music, the songs Badger and Emma play on The Wave? Do you like opera?
• Do you think that it’s right to copy another person’s work without giving them credit for it? Do you know what that’s called? [Plagiarism]
• Are you superstitious? Are you scared of black cats? Do you get nervous on Friday the 13th? Do you think a rabbit’s foot brings good luck? I mean really?
• Finally, does anyone have a birthday today? …

Someone very famous has a birthday today, someone we all know, and someone very dear to us. Any guesses?… Here’s a hint: he’s 312 years old! John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

John Wesley was born on this day in 1703, in Epworth, Lincolnshire. His father’s name was Samuel, and his mother’s name was …? [Susannah] Guess how many children Susannah had altogether … [19!] Do you know what she called John?… [Jackie]

I guess most Methodists can tell you that in 1709 a fire burned the Wesley home to the ground, and that 5-year-old Jackie was pulled to safety just before the roof collapsed. Susanna said he was “like a brand plucked from the burning”, and Jackie himself, when he grew up, liked to use that phrase as a picture of his – and our – salvation. And, of course, when Jackie grew up, as “John” Wesley he became a “great” man, a “great” Christian, and did “great” things, and we could spend hours and hours talking about them. But for me, the greatest thing he did was … – well, I can tell you that only after I tell you what many people don’t know about John Wesley, or if they know, don’t like to mention.

For example:
• He could be a bit of a bossy-boots: even his own preachers called him “Pope John”.
• He said that drinking tea was a waste of time and money – though, as we heard at the Launch Service of Uniting Church Sketty a month ago, he did have a cuppa while passing through Swansea. But did you know that he liked a glass of wine or beer?
• He didn’t much approve of joking and laughing.
• He didn’t like the modern music of his day, and he was even suspicious of opera.
• He did indeed sometimes pass off other people’s writing as his own.
• And superstitious: would you believe that he made the decision to get married by pulling bits of paper out of a hat? He married a widow called Molly. The marriage was a complete disaster. Molly was known to insult him, even strike him – in public! Eventually they separated. What a mess!

Now I can tell you why I think John Wesley was such a great man, a great
Christian, a great saint. An immense admirer of John Wesley, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, once said of Wesley’s life that it contained lots of “muddle and silliness”. And that’s true, because let’s be honest, whose life doesn’t? But what John Wesley understood, that very few people do, is that even in his “muddle and silliness” God still loved him and indeed used him to bring precisely that good news to the people of Britain at a time when they desperately needed to hear it: that God loves each of us, even in our “muddle and silliness” – and a lot worse too! – and that God wants to use us to share this wonderful news – this wonderful love – with others.

When he was dying, do you know what John Wesley said? He said, “The best of all, God is with us!” The best of all, God is with us! Absolutely! So happy birthday, Jackie! And thank you, God, for John Wesley, your gift to us, to the church, to the whole world.

{ 1 comment }

A truly transcendent experience

by Kim on May 30, 2015

Sir:

Focussing on Ray Foulk’s coup in getting Dylan to play the 1969 Isle of Wight festival (29 May), Simon Hardeman fails to mention what made the climax of the gig so truly transcendent: that Dylan’s collaborative mates, the Band, one of the most sublime rock groups of all time, preceded him with a set of their own before continuing on stage as his backup. Indeed just how heavenly the experience was — well, even though I was there, I still remember it!

Revd. Kim Fabricius
Swansea

Letter published in today’s i, the UK’s “National Newspaper of the Year”.

{ 3 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 24, 2015

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?

O how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast of heaven!

And shall I slight my Father’s love?
Or basely fear his gifts to own?
Unmindful of his favours prove?
Shall I, the hallowed cross to shun,
Refuse his righteousness to impart,
By hiding it within my heart?

No! though the ancient dragon rage,
And call forth all his host to war,
Though earth’s self-righteous sons engage
Them and their god alike I dare;
Jesus, the sinner’s friend, proclaim;
Jesus, to sinners still the same.

Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
He spreads his arms to embrace you all;
Sinners alone his grace receives;
No need of him the righteous have;
He came the lost to seek and save.

Come, O my guilty brethren, come,
Groaning beneath your load of sin,
His bleeding heart shall make you room,
His open side shall take you in;
He calls you now, invites you home;
Come, O my guilty brethren, come!

Charles Wesley

This is probably the hymn sung by John Wesley on the night of his conversion experience, May 24 1738.

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 17, 2015

Jesus! the name high over all,
in hell, or earth, or sky!
Angels and men before it fall,
and devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the name to sinners dear,
the name to sinners given!
It scatters all their guilty fear,
it turns their hell to heaven.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
and bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
and life into the dead.

O that the world might taste and see
the riches of his grace!
The arms of love that compass me
would all mankind embrace.

His only righteousness I show,
his saving grace proclaim;
‘Tis all my business here below
to cry: ‘Behold the Lamb!’

Happy if with my latest breath
I might but gasp his name;
preach him to all, and cry in death:
‘Behold, behold the Lamb!’

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on May 10, 2015

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Marty Haugen

Surely one of the finest hymns of recent years. I’m not quite sure the Church lives up to it yet…

{ 0 comments }

Sermon celebrating a gay partnership

by Kim on May 9, 2015

Here is the sermon I preached earlier today at Uniting Church Sketty [Methodist/United Reformed], Swansea, on the occasion of a “Thanksgiving Service for Bob and Andy”.

After two days of display of our dark side [the mind-numbing, heart-breaking, soul-destroying Tory victory at the General Election], it is wonderful to reflect today on what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”. Most of you will be familiar with my accent, but some of you won’t, so as a warm-up let me ask you if you know what the Religious Right in the United States calls a gay wedding? Anyone? … An “Obamanation”… Terrible pun, I know, but if you start with a bad joke, then things can only get better, right? Or not …

In any case, this service is not a gay wedding. And not quite a service of “blessing”. It’s a service of prayer and “thanksgiving”. We thank God for Bob and for Andy, and for Bob-and-Andy, for the grace that has led them and bound them to each other, and for their mutual love and commitment. Of course what you do in your hearts is entirely up to you. It’s the heart that God searches, and in the Free Church tradition ministers don’t have a monopoly on blessings, so knock yourself out with your heart’s desire. Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God, but, like tortoises, we only make progress if we stick our necks out. As the American writer, feminist, lesbian Rita Mae Brown remarks: “The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.”

That’s why it’s so significant that our Bible reading today is the Beatitudes, which launch the Sermon on the Mount, for the Beatitudes are a manifesto of radical nonconformity in the face of the way the world works: brokenness and need are celebrated, not autonomy; integrity, not expediency; peace-making, not fear-mongering and vengeance. Here is the definitive description of Christian living even if, alas, it has been more honoured as an implausible ideal than a doable practice. In fact, the only person ever to perfectly embody the Beatitudes is Jesus of Nazareth himself. Nevertheless, ridiculously counter-intuitive though they are, there they are, implacably, and there not only as a nine-couplet description of the Christian but as a snapshot of what all human beings are supposed to look like.

Particularly in the context of the struggle for LGBT inclusion, observe that the topic of persecution receives special emphasis. The insulted, hounded, and attacked – the blessedness of these people is the climax of the Beatitudes. Moreover, it’s these, the badgered and bullied, who are told to rejoice – yes, rejoice! – for in the same way, Jesus declares, the prophets were victimised. Victimised because denying denial and “coming out”, prophets challenge convention and interrupt the status quo. They go “Boo!” to power, but contrary to the experience of Elmer [the “patchwork elephant” – the wonderful children's story had just been read], the response of the herd is often derision, not laughter. But “Rejoice!” nevertheless, because it is precisely in this state of vulnerable nonconformity that you are “blessed”, which means that you are “in just the right place” – the place of authenticity, fidelity, and truth – and so in just the right place to encounter our vulnerable, nonconformist God as she invades our social and religious space.

Needless to say, you cannot live in this demanding place on your own, it can only be lived in a community of friends, people gathered around the values of Jesus in mutual support and encouragement; a counter-community to the world of mutual distrust and hostility; a community that may be larger than an orchestra or as small as a duet – like this one here: Bob-and-Andy, companions in improvising a lifelong riff on faith, hope, and love.

Of course, when you improvise you inevitably make mistakes. And that’s where experience kicks in: it’s experience that enables us to recognise mistakes when we make them, and to make new and improved mistakes next time. In fact, in our relationships, there is never any mistake-free zone. Thus the edgy American theologian Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we always marry the wrong person, to stress that the chemistry of initial attraction will never sustain a partnership of the broken – and aren’t we all broken? – that only the work of love – the honouring of promises, the making of sacrifices, the sharing of pain – can do that. And thus English novelist Salley Vickers candidly observes, in The Other Side of You, “an elementary equation, rarely recognised, that the reasons for choice of partner are obscure, that what passes for love is decidedly a mixed bag, and that even our finer impulses can wreak more havoc than the more blackguardly ones.” So mistakes – yes, of course, what else! And yet, Vickers concludes, through it all, two people may yet experience a “sheer reciprocal joy in the other’s being”.

What a lovely phrase! And that, Bob and Andy, is my prayer today for you: that through all the public hassles and private muddles of being and staying together, you may experience “sheer reciprocal joy in [each] other’s being” as you grow old together. Well, given your antiquity, as you grow older together! So yes, for sure, to you and for you, we all say and pray: “Thanks be to God!”

{ 3 comments }

The Broad Road to the Deep Shit

by Kim on May 8, 2015

I’ve just started reading Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and as the Tories, confounding the pundits — not to mention common sense and human decency — look set to win a slender majority in the House of Commons, I’m thinking: 5 more years of The Broad Road to the Deep Shit.

Still, I take some pride and consolation in the fact that on this dismal day, the i, the UK’s National Newspaper of the Year, has published a letter I wrote to the editor yesterday (with only the bracketed bit omitted):

Sir:

Thank God for Mark Steel. His impassioned denunciation of the Tories and their media apologists for swiping money from the poor and denying dignity to the disabled (My View, 7 May) is right up there with the prophet Amos’ evisceration of the affluent who, [covering their privilege with a veneer of piety,] “walk all over the weak and treat the poor as less than nothing” (Amos 8:4).

Mark Steel is no believer, but then as the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch said: “Only an atheist can be a good Christian.”

Revd Kim Fabricius
Swansea

{ 0 comments }

No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward to being released from bodily existence.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal? That life only really begins when it ends here on earth, that all that is here is only the prologue before the curtain goes up — that is for young and old alike to think about. Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world?

Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

From a sermon preached in London, 1933.

{ 0 comments }

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings;
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove;
Yet few there are that sound them, — Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A Man so wrung with pains, that all His hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice which, on the crosse, a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I as wine.

{ 0 comments }

It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that cannot sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no problems.

What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses … This is the hard service of the word. But God’s Spirit goes with the prophet, with the preacher, for he is Christ, who keeps on proclaiming his reign to the people of all times.

Oscar Romero
10 December, 1977

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 15, 2015

Come away to the skies, my belovèd, arise
And rejoice in the day thou wast born;
On this festival day, come exulting away,
And with singing to Zion return.

We have laid up our love and our treasure above,
Though our bodies continue below.
The redeemed of the Lord will remember His Word,
And with singing to paradise go.

Now with singing and praise let us spend all the days
By our heavenly Father bestowed,
While His grace we receive from His bounty, and live
To the honour and glory of God!

For the glory we were first created to share,
Both the nature and kingdom divine,
Now created again that our lives may remain
Throughout time and eternity thine.

We with thanks do approve the design
Of that love that hath joined us to Jesus’ name;
Now united in heart, let us never more part,
Till we meet at the feast of the Lamb.

There, Oh! there at His feet, we shall all likewise meet,
And be parted in body no more;
We shall sing to our lyres, with the heavenly choirs,
And our saviour in glory adore.

Hallelujah! we sing to our Father and King,
And His rapturous praises repeat:
To the Lamb that was slain, Hallelujah again!
Sing all Heaven and fall at His feet!

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

Sing a new song

by Richard on March 9, 2015

Not just a new song, but a whole hymnbook full, from the pen of our good friend Kim Fabricius. You can go direct to Wipf and Stock (the publishers), Amazon (if your conscience will bear it) or your favourite local bookshop - but this is a little book I highly recommend. It reaches the parts few other hymnbooks will tackle: sex, war, immigration for example, as well as the big theological themes you’d expect: the mystery of God, creation and providence, suffering and death, worship and prayer. All are written in a fresh and engaging (if often surprising) style that is playful but never trivial.

{ 1 comment }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 8, 2015

Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only Thee, resolved to know
In all I think or speak or do.

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Preserve me from my calling’s snare,
And hide my simple heart above,
Above the thorns of choking care,
The gilded baits of worldly love.

Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes mine inmost substance see,
And labor on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray,
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day.

For Thee delightfully employ
Whate’er Thy bounteous grace hath giv’n;
And run my course with even joy,
And closely walk with Thee to Heav’n.

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on March 1, 2015

O GOD, what offering shall I give
To thee, the Lord of earth and skies?
My spirit, soul, and flesh receive,
A holy, living sacrifice;
Small as it is, ’tis all my store;
More shouldst thou have, if I had more.

Now then, my God, thou hast my soul,
No longer mine, but thine I am;
Guard thou thine own, possess it whole,
Cheer it with hope, with love inflame;
Thou hast my spirit, there display
Thy glory to the perfect day.

Thou hast my flesh, thy hallowed shrine,
Devoted solely to thy will;
Here let thy light for ever shine,
This house still let thy presence fill;
O Source of life, live, dwell, and move
In me, till all my life be love!

O never in these veils of shame,
Sad fruits of sin, my glorying be!
Clothe with salvation, through thy name,
My soul, and let me put on thee!
Be living faith my costly dress,
And my best robe thy righteousness.

Send down thy likeness from above,
And let this my adorning be;
Clothe me with wisdom, patience, love,
With lowliness and purity,
Than gold and pearls more precious far,
And brighter than the morning star.

Lord, arm me with thy Spirit’s might,
Since I am called by thy great name;
In thee let all my thoughts unite,
Of all my works be thou the aim;
Thy love attend me all my days,
And my sole business be thy praise!

Joachim Lange
tr. John Wesley

{ 0 comments }

“Bitter-Sweet”

by Kim on February 28, 2015

“Bitter-Sweet” is one my favourite poems of the Welsh-born English poet George Herbert, who died on Dydd Gwyl Dewi (St. David’s Day - March 1st) in 1633. John Drury ends his magnificent Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert (2013) with it, “one of [Herbert's] consummately crafted miniatures”.

Ah my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure, I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

{ 0 comments }

The recurring “American nightmare”

by Kim on February 21, 2015

Fifty years ago — February 21st, 1965 — Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City.

Ten months earlier, at Cory Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, Malcolm had declaimed: “No, I’m not American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanization. One of the … victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver — no, not I! I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”

Two days before his murder, Malcolm said: “It is time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”

On Malcolm’s abiding legacy, James Cone writes that “Blacks today who are proud to claim their their African heritage should thank Malcolm. More than anyone else he created the space for them to affirm their blackness. More than anyone else he taught blacks that there can be no freedom for the members of the African-American community in the United States without self-esteem, a high regard for themselves as black people. As a Harlem woman said of Malcolm: ‘He taught me that I was more than a Little Black Sambo or kinky hair or nigger.’ That was no small achievement.” [1]

And five decades after Malcom’s death? Racial profiling, a militarized police force and stop-and-search police tactics, the doublespeak of the “war against drugs”, incarceration as a means of social control, the emblematic Ferguson shooting six months ago … — in short, cutting edge Jim Crow: thus White America continues its sleepwalk of privilege and supremacy, quite undisturbed by the background noise, muzak really, of liberal protestations of we’re-all-in-this-together goodwill, while the African-American community still struggles to awake from its interminably recurring nightmare.

[1] James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare? (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999), pp. 291-92.

{ 2 comments }

‘The computer is unable’

by Kim on January 30, 2015

The computer is unable
to find God: no code
number, no address.
Technology stalls
without the material
we provide it. There must be
some other way. ‘Try
looking,’ says the eye,
‘Try listening’ the ear
answers. I stare into distance:
nothing but the gantries
where art is crucified in
the cause of new art.
I have heard amid uproar
in London the black redstart
singing among the ruins;
so I strain now amid
the times’ hubbub for fear
the still, small voice should
escape me. ‘Is he dumb?’
Wrong language. ‘Am I
impatient?’ I resort once
again to the word processor.
But where a poem in his honour
should emerge, all in bud
like a birch tree, there is only
the machine’s repetitions,
parallel tramlines of prose
never to come together in praise.

R.S. Thomas, Uncollected Poems (Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books: 2013), p.172.

{ 0 comments }

Hymn of the day

by Richard on January 25, 2015

O THOU, whom once they flock’d to hear,
Thy words to hear, thy power to feel;
Suffer the sinners to draw near,
And graciously receive us still.

They that be whole, thyself hast said,
No need of a physician have;
But I am sick, and want thine aid,
And want thine utmost power to save.

Thy power, and truth, and love divine,
The same from age to age endure;
A word, a gracious word of thine,
The most inveterate plague can cure.

Helpless howe’er my spirit lies,
And long hath languished at the pool,
A word of thine shall make me rise,
And speak me in a moment whole.

Eighteen, or eight and thirty, years,
Or thousands, are alike to thee:
Soon as thy saving grace appears,
My plague is gone, my heart is free.

Make this the acceptable hour!
Come, O my soul’s Physician, thou!
Display thy sanctifying power,
And show me thy salvation now.

Charles Wesley

{ 0 comments }

Tally ho!

by Richard on January 21, 2015

As the mayor of Paris threatens Fox News with a law suit, here’s a lovely takedown of Fox “news” “experts”

Tell me, my US friends: just why does anyone take Fox seriously?

{ 1 comment }

Son of Dog appears in Swansea

by Richard on January 20, 2015

Swansea woman finds Jesus - in her dog’s ear!

A Swansea woman had the shock of her life recently, when she found the image of Jesus in her dog’s ear.

25-year-old Rachel Evans was giving mini Yorkshire terrier Dave a wash in the bathroom sink when she decided to snap some selfies with the pretty pooch.
It wasn’t until Dave was squeaky clean that she spotted the face of the son of God in the photos, sitting in the fur of her pet pup’s ear.

“I was a bit freaked out to be honest,” Rachel told the Daily Mail

Thanks to my friend Andy for pointing this out.

{ 1 comment }