Saturday, 24 September 2016


30 years ago today Erin and meself made our way across the city in our Austin Maxi to the hospital, the maternity unit. We had gone to all the 'how to have a baby' night school lessons, (different to how to make a a baby night school lessons). We had with much commitment put together our baby birth plan. Cassette player in hand with tapes for music to soothe mother to be as she pops baby out. On reflection I remember the room being like the space you love to have as a garage, polished floors, tiled white walls, storage for tools, spanners. We entered that room with a sense of naivety, hope and Unknowingly not a bloody clue what would be required of us over the next 30 years, let alone the next few hours. I say a few more like 24hours. 
There was no popping,  after a long struggle Daniel came into the very centre of our lives. Life was changed but we did not know it. Naivety still hung around us like a medal? 

The celebration was was for a moment, mother and bed transported she is transported to recovery. There was no mention of recovery in the life lessons. Daniel and mom go through the briefest of encounters like tickets being inspected at a barrier,  move along quickly. Another subject not covered at lessons. 

His journey to us us was not straight forward and his transportation was in the arms of a stranger. A loving nurse carries him from us to intensive care. I next see him in an incubator, mom being cared for downstairs, Daniels care delivered upstairs, separation and healing begins. 

On intensive care he is in an incubator next to the prem babies.  He looks like a Viking warrior child. I stand alongside the incubator with the nurse. The Viking cannot be handled she tells me. I ask the inevitable question. And you only ask it if you don't know the answer, the medal of naivety not yet stolen from us. How is he? She answers me with care equal to that that carried him to this small plastic greenhouse. If he makes it through the night he might ok. 
The medal is gone, stolen from me at first Erin later. I don't understand look at the Viking boy he's massive in comparison to the other fragile babies. All I have is prayer. I ask the nurse can I pray for him. Like what I might utter might make a difference like anything I might say might could change what I am told. I open the circular doors to the incubator and say something. 
I leave mom on one floor son on another separated by difficulty and care. And I am ashamed to say I slept like a baby until morning. 

Today on his 30th birthday comes back to us with his wife carrying their child.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Not insignificant to my God.

I don't have much to say about this. But being up so high opens up my vulnerability, lost in a landscape of rock. Being up here I am insignificant, not in a I don't matter way. But I take up less space I am small, open to fall, reliant upon others. I am reminded of Richard Rohr words I am not the most important thing in life. Not insignificant to my God. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

Merchant what merchant ?

I have purposely kept from going to museums and galleries this week as I did not want too much on my mind, (small mind) to many images to blur the story and experience I have had. 

But here below is the most striking painting I have seen his week because it ties in with a sermon I preached on The Merchant and Pearl. Part of what struck me about the Merchant and the kingdom was that he must have been well worked out, organised, had a plan, made a sacrifice. This was not the kingdom of hap hazard and maybe. This is the kingdom of let's make a plan (Paul Middelton).

So this is how I see this painting. 

We have people working together possibly Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary a servant?  They have planed for this, talked to each other committed to something in the Kingdom. They are organised, rope, clothes a bowl perhaps to wipe the face of Christ and maybe for the wounds, there is compassion in this plan. 

There is sacrifice in this painting, time given to the dead man, sacrifice of time even if there is no hope. After all he is dead this is the kingdom of dignity NOT resurrection. Someone has paid the cost written the cheque, this is not an abstract commitment at a meeting saying yes but not following through. The tomb, the cave, the grave has been secured. 

The issue of working together has been a theme in Rome for me with Augustin, Ignatius, Paul. Working together with Archbishop David and the Pope. There is still so much to learn. This painting asks me not what is my role in the kingdom, but who do I Work with in the kingdom? 

Ho much room do I take up?

In looking out of my window this week I have wondered, how much room do I take up?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Iv been house visiting today.

This week I've been living in a palace yes most of you who know me well presumed I had in my normal dyslexic manner written palace but meant place. NO. I was invited to leave my palace rooms ( I will explain when i see you) to be guided to 500  feet below my bedroom. The entrance to this house visit is not unlike the entrance to our church cellar.  Unmarked, dark, uninviting, this house gets worse as I make my way through it. Dark, dirty, ill kept. Unfinished and confusing. That is until David begins to tell its story and it's unfolding possibilities into context. I will not go into the fine detail I could not do it justice. Many scholars believe this dirty complex under my bedroom could be the house St Paul was keep under house arrest (Acts 28:30-30) and where he was taken from to be executed by the Roman authorities.   

The photo you see is they believe to be a blocked up window that looked over the via del Corso (Broadway) he could have watched returning Roman armies parade past this window. 
Under guard and at times supported by visitors he wrote, baptised and shared his faith. Every outside indication was that his foolish Good News would seep into the ground with the other Christian blood, and never be heard of again. 

Paul was not stupid or sheltered from the culture he whispered his Good News into. He shaped, in language the mystery of the resurrection using the everyday life before him, maybe through this window. As I stare at this blocked window I am reminded St Paul and his brothers and sisters proclaimed the life death and resurrection of Jesus into this city Rome. Rome a city run by a mad god, Rome a city with a fully functioning killing machien, Rome sophisticated and cultured. 

When I go home I hope I remember to look out of my widow of opportunity and ask "against all odds how will I share the good news of Jesus?" Knowing this story should have seeped into the soil lost for ever in Rome. 
What will is see out of my window? 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The bridge

There is general belief that the kind of people you hang around with you eventually become like them, and I suppose the opposite is true. I remember in the 70s after a night out I would have to hang my clothes in the garden because if the smell of cigarette smoke. I did not smoke but it seemed many others did. For years I was a diesel mechanic and for years I came home smelling like a diesel mechanic, we all did.  

So the bridge. 

The picture you have is of two buildings linked by a bridge. The building on the right is a ancient university the building on the left is a church equally ancient. Both built by St ignatius and his people. Ignatius after his conversion to Christ started a Christian social project with 6 people which grew into the order of the Jesuits. Committed to the poor, education and telling others of Jesus.

So the bridge. 

Ignatius said you could not join his people unless you crossed the bridge. You could not serve the poor from an educational ivory tower. You had to cross the bridge and here is his saying "to a smell like the sheep". You cannot pastor from a distance. You cannot smell like an educationist ivory tower academic.

At his first Chrism Mass in Rome, Pope Francis called on the priests of the world to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized and to be “shepherds living with the sheep". 

Smell like the sheep. Be with your sheep.

In my brief but informative times in South Africa I have worked with wonderful people who smell like their sheep, in Mozambique too. Pastors who pastor close to the sheep they have been entrusted with. In Birmingham I have wonderful brothers and sisters who live close and smell like their sheep. 

So two questions I will take home with me.

Who do I smell like?
How close am I to my sheep?

Ps when when Pope Francis was asked about the proposed wall to keep Mexicans out he said Christians are in the buisness of building bridges not walls. 

Monday, 5 September 2016


This evening I went to take a picture of a bridge but that's for tomorrow now. For on the way I meet a young couple walking from the shop. Smiles and broken English break out (I need to improve my English) they were the couple I meet in church Sunday morning and night. (3 times I went) anyway the couple. They asked what I was doing? in my broken English I told them about the bridge (more tomorrow ) we live above the bridge in he church! would you like to come and look? Now you can hear my wife saying Nigel will excuse himself and go home to his cell. BUT i said yes I would love too. (nigel sticking toungeout in a childish manner) up the winding church tower stairs to thier home. A small flat for their new life in Italy. They make me lovely coffee and they place fresh fruit cut into juicy pieces on the table around where we share our stories for a while. I tell them (because they ask) about England and Scotland they think it might be warm in Edinburgh. I quickly smash the idea of a warm dry Scotland. Their English is good their Italian not so good. In their school and university students study English each year. Having no Italian makes life challenging for them. They are not long married and like my wife and me self have many hopes and plans. They tell me about family back home, land they hope to live on and maybe work, Brothers scattered around the world. 

As I taste the fresh fruit and listen.  I have to be truthful I do not have the capacity to imagine what it would be like to see my children leave their country because someone decided to take my land and bomb the shit and goodness out of it. To deprive my home of all hope, for my land to end up as an item on a summitt meeting, not even top, silently shuffled to number 3 under western economic stagnation. 

Sorry I have no picture tonight all I have is another bumper and brief encounter and I am the richer but also slightly num. 

one of the ignatius spiritual excercise is to ask the question "in what areas of your life are you humbled?" Tonight after fresh fruit and coffee I am humbled I live in Birmingham in peace, I am humbled my children will not be forced to flee thier land, I am humbled the hospital my wife works in will not be bombed tomorrow and I am humbled and guilty that my home is not Syria.  

Sunday, 4 September 2016

St Ignatius and bumpers

Today I was imersed into the history and modern context of St ignatius 

Archbishop David as my guide and fellow pilgrim took me to a number of places where the life of Ignatius is recorded. Back home months ago when I suggested to Mark my Sabbatical guide I might continue to explore what Ignatious spiritual practice may offer me post my Spiriual Directors Course, I never dreamt I would be so close to the home of this spiritual giant. 

So what am and have I been learning over the past year? God sends people. 
God has sent many people to me I call them God bumpers or brief encounters, God sends them to bump into me and in that bumping for me there is a great possibility for change and enrichment. 

When I told a dear friend I was going to be flat sharing with someone I had never meet, to a place I had never been, exploring a spectrum of faith I had no understanding of he said "your mad". Well he is right but in that bumping together I have been part of through this past year and this week I have continued to be changed and enriched.

For all of you who have took the time to bump into me, I thank God for you. 

Now what do I do with these Ignation spiritual practices?

Saturday, 3 September 2016


On what is supposed to be a quiet night in reading Archbishop David announces we have an invitation be in the reception for 5 to journey together to The Church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio, Pope Gregory. We arrived and was meet by Fr. Robet McMCullock Procrator General of the Missioanry Society of St Columban. A lovely warm hospitable and entertaining man. So here's the rub. It is the feast of St Augustian today and the Archbishop has been invited to say prayers and liturgy with Father Robert in an ecumenical action of a shared understanding of our past. There are 5 of us 3 from New Zealand an Australian and 1 Englishman. The rub continues, this is the site from which Pope Gregory sent St Augustine to the pagans in England. So here I discover some wonderful things. 1. Augustine gets halfway to my land and the pagans he gets frightened and goes back to the Pope. Like me St Augustine was frightened of the Unknown. The Pope having non of this makes him a Bishop and sends him back on his way. (Might try that one) 2. St Augustine returns to his band of brothers. I have always understood him as a a lone figure but no his team was with him.  

More rub. So once again I'm reminded of the turning away from mystery the unknown andback to the known and trusted ways. I am also slapped on the forehead by God saying on your own? NO. With others Nigel. 

Then I am finally reminded of the poignancy of the moment, here on the celebration of St Augustine I am the Enlishman returned to say thanks for coming, thanks for overcoming your fear. Thanks to know I am part of a much much bigger story. 

Friday, 2 September 2016


After walking and praying and pizza I am reminded some people and sometimes mystery is an invitation BUT other times and other people mystery is thrust upon mystery us



There have been many times in my life when I have wanted to run. I presume we all have experiences from our childhood where we wanted to run back to a parent for protection and the Safty of the overly well known. If I were a psychologist returning to the womb (sorry dad). First days in a new institution can be fearful why did I move? new job, new relationship, new school, new church. My first day at junior school shit scared of loosing all the comfort, the protection the routine for what? I had no idea just fear. 

When I gave up my job at 30 ish I took a gap year, well three weeks to be precise and went to visit a friend in India. I remember traveling at two in the morning from the airport with Chris in a richashw, I felt like I was in a scean from Appocolips Now. I had never observed anyone have a shit in the street and then sleep under a cart. We were to spend a week on Mumbi and two weeks traveling to Rajasthan very cheaply, very. For a week all I could think of was that prayer from the Clash "should I stay or should I go?". Yes it was a prayer. I knew going home was to the known the comfortable the reassurance of the womb (sorry dad) all I had come to rely upon. My single known reference point was Chris and he had gone native.

Last night was the first of ten nights in Rome on a retreat that's like a holiday for religious readers of books. Well I'm in a single bed, no wife, no dog, no kids (kids second because they left me with dog) no church, no team no @&; data. It would be easy to go home to the known. 

So here is my point, mystery. Mystery makes us. The invitation from God to mystery. I'm reading The Cloud of Unknowing and ignatius spirituality both talk of the call to the mystery of God to and into the unknown. Mystery for us disciples of Jesus and me in specifically is not the unexplained,  but the willingness not to go home to the secure. 

I understand why Jonah ran in the other direction (I have) don't be hard on Thomas he knew what he knew and it made sense to him ( it does to me) hey why wouldn't the decsiples want good seats in the kingdom, (many of us do) non of them were sure of going with the mystery. 

To be sure is what I want, mystery is what God offers. So far I'm happy I did not go home.