A week in Hunstanton with nothing to do but seek the shade, eat and read was a chance for some good solid holiday reading.
Israel: A History, Martin Gilbert, (1998) was a Christmas present from my brother which I had been saving until I had time to read 700 pages of history in one go. It is strange reading a history which I have also watched on television and read in my newspapers throughout my life. Some I remember with clarity, other bits surprised me - was the invasion of Lebanon really in 1982 at the same time as the Falklands War? I had never put the two events together.Gilbert argues that the Jews have created a thriving nation out of barely occupied wilderness and desert, creating one homeland for the Jewish Diaspora whilst the Arabs have 5 nations in which to live and express themselves. There should be space for both communities to live together. He contrasts the way in which Jewish refugees were integrated into the new nation whilst Palestinian refugees were left in refugee camps by their Arab hosts in a deliberate policy of fermenting aggression towards Israel. He argues that the ideal of Zionism expressed through the first twenty years of Israel as a nation benefited Israeli Jew and Israeli Arab alike but that from the moment Israel became an occupying power on the West Bank and Gaza that the ideal was running into problems. With the political change from Labour's social democratic principals to Likud's hardline nationalist agenda and the rise of a more militant Islamic movement a peaceful solution was always going to be harder. Gilbert clearly believes that The Oslo Agreements were a chance, but he concludes the book still grieving the death of Rabin and concerned by the renewed settlement policies of Netanyahu.I found myself reflecting on my own attitude towards Israel - sympathy for the need for a homeland; the logic of going ahead in 1947; amazement at the way in which they defeated their more populous better armed neighbours in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973; wonder at their ability to create a sustainable economy from refugees moving into a desert; but then sadness when confidence increased aggression: anger at their policies on the West Bank; confusion at those who work against any peaceful solution; sympathy for the plight of the Arab population and then the frustration of the missing last ten years! - although it looks like there is an updated version being published in September - I will need to sneak into the corner of a bookshop and read the last two chapters.For anyone who wants a broad overview of the history of Israel - the idea, the implementation, the political and military campaigns - this seems like a good source.And then it was time to move onto something completely different - a book that has been doing the rounds of St. Andrew's Coffee Morning. Unveiled: Nuns Talking, Mary Loudon (1992) is ten conversation with Nuns and Sisters living in Religious Communities. It is a fascinating read as they tell of their background, their calling - some to enclosed communities, some to apostolic communities (living in a community but working in the wider world), their life, their frustrations and their faith. There was much to think about - the way in which God calls each of us to the place we are to be; the way in which we respond to Gods call; what it means to live in poverty, what they understand and how they have been impacted by chastity and obedience; the changes there have been as each Order responds to a changing society; the different ways of life that each woman has led and is leading; the challenges of contemplative life or an apostolic life. If you spot a copy somewhere - well worth a read.Anyway, time to go and pack ready for Stokes Bay Festival, which starts tomorrow - I will return when I find and then figure out how to use a wi-fi hotspot.
Thursday morning and it feels like the sabbatical is beginning - not least because I've nothing to plan for Sunday, other than where to take my Mum & Dad for lunch after worshipping at their church.Monday went well - a good funeral. Tuesday was a long awaited day in Bolton Local Studies Library finishing up some research on the Bolton Labour Church - more on that when I've revised the 10 year old essay into an article for the URC History Journal, and then yesterday returning our eldest to his new flat in Leicester - seems he can find more casual work there than here.So to plans - well on Tuesday I ordered a pile of books from URC Bookshop:-Africa Bible Commentary, General editor: Tokunboh AdeyemoGod At Ground Level, Peter Cruchley-Jones (Editor),Journeying Out, Ann MorisyLeading Ordinary Churches Into Growth, Alan HowMission Shaped Church - A Theological Response, John M. HullThe Word Militant, Walter Brueggemannand yesterday in Leicester I picked up up Christianity's Dangerous Idea, Alister McGrath on the sale shelf - I do like a bargainBut I've begun with David Cornick's Letting God be God: The Reformed Tradition. So lots of reading to be done, hopefully picking up some ideas about mission and the ways in which a modern Reformed Church might respond to the 21st Century. And I will try to write some book reviews as I go along.But it's not just all reading. At the end of July Chris and I will set out to attend a series of Music festivals in a campervan we will hire from Derby, leaving our youngest to look after the house and the dog. The sabbatical purpose will be to to look at the way in which performance space is used and see what lessons can be learnt for worship. I'm particularly keen to move away from everything being done from the front facing rows of people who take a passive role - and have made various innovations that are equally loved and loathed by my congregations. So what can we learn from a different sort of performer? But of course we also looking forward to hearing some great music. At the Stokes Bay Festival - Glenn Tilbrook, The Saw Doctors, Show of Hands, Martyn Joseph, Bellowhead, Phill Jupitus & The Blockheads. At Cropedy - John Tams & Barry Coope, Levellers, Julie Fowlis, Fairport Convention. At Bideford - the way lots of venues around the town are used by different performers. At Beautiful Days - Squeeze, Levellers (Again!), Seth Lakeman, John Cooper Clarke, Arthur Smith. Then at Greenbelt, I have volunteered this year, so will see a different side of that festival - although Greenbelt need to pull their finger out and let me know for certain if they want me as I've not been impressed with the way they have taken ages to respond and then the long delays between each part of the process and then the sudden "Oh sorry didn't we send that to you?" - doesn't inspire confidence.And that will be August. In September the aim is to visit churches that are using a different pattern for their main Sunday morning service and places where midweek worship is happening. In doing so I want to see what is going on and of course borrow for my own context. Ideally these churches will be URC, Congregational, Methodist or Baptist and will have developed from a traditional inherited way of working - and will be small or medium side (< 60 congregation) and within decent public travel distance of Rochdale or can be visited whilst on our festivals jaunt, or visiting family in the East Midlands. So If anyone has any ideas of who is doing what or want to invite me to something you are doing - then please do so.October will be spent at Westminster College, Cambridge - with three purposes in mind, reflect and write up the previous two months; get along to some lectures around the Federation; and as a Governor of the College get to know the staff and students a bit better than has been possible so far.So for those who sent me off last week with, "I wish I could get three months paid leave from work" - I hope you will see that there is some work going on ... but right now it is time for a brew and then the Tour de France without having to worry about hymns for Sunday!
First day of my sabbatical, it's 6am and I'm eating my breakfast. The plan had been my usual slow Monday morning, listen to the Test match, watch the Tour de France, order some books, make some plans, write an opening summary for the blog ...
Instead I'm going to Milngavie (village north east of Glasgow for the geographically challenged) to attend the funeral of my Uncle G. It is just over seven weeks since I last saw him, at my Aunt's funeral - he didn't look well and you wondered how long he would be with us - but thoughts and prayers with my cousins K,M,N & A and their families who have lost their Mother and Father in quick succession - however much it was expected, however strong their faith that death is not the end, today and the days that follow will not be easy.
Uncle G was a great man of faith, I know that he has always held me and my family and my ministry in his prayers. I thank him for that and for so much more and trust that he rests with God.
They gave me a bible for my 21st birthday, with the text 2 Timothy 2:15 "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (NIV) I think they had an idea about what I would be doing with my life ... prayerful, encouraging hope-filled, the pair of them.