in-truhspek-shuhn:  from the Latin intrōspicere – to look within.

If you’re not a fan of open discussion about the inner machinations of the human body, it’s probably worth giving this post a miss…  No, seriously.

“Is that where they shove a camera up your bum?”

Well, it was an accurate description, if not a pretty one.  One of the lads at church heard me talking about my upcoming colonoscopy.  That was his take on the procedure.  And let’s face it, that’s pretty much what happens.  But here’s how it starts:


Well, of course it starts with some weird bowel stuff going on and a family history of bowel cancer…  But once you’re on the final approach to the procedure, it’s all about the MoviPrep (other oral solutions are available).  This, folks, is a quasi-spiritual experience.  It’s quite remarkable.  It’s stuff to clear out the colon, so that they can have a good peer around without any, uh, stuff in the way.  The most appropriate term for the experience is ‘gushing’.  But maybe you didn’t want to know that.  Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t a post for the faint-hearted :)  Basically, you drink this clearout juice, and it travels straight through and comes out again, at speed.

Once you’re empty, you head to your local hospital.  Having had the indignity of spending hours on the loo, this is then compounded by a doffing of fashion (not that fashion has ever ventured into my wardrobe) and a donning of the oh-so-attractive garb of a patient.


Believe it or not, that white bandage-looking contraption in the middle of the shot is some sort of attempt at underwear.  Trust me, you don’t want to see the photos of me ‘clothed’ in that particular item…  Thankfully, I enjoy rather an active (and perverse) sense of humour.


So, dressed in all my finery, and feeling rather hungry (remember, I am genuinely empty of all sustenance at this point) I’m good to go.  I was given the option of having some anesthesia, or going ahead without.  As it meant I’d be allowed to drive, I went for the ‘no’ option.  I was assured that there wouldn’t be that much in the way of pain, but that there might be discomfort.  There was.  They also bunged this thing in my hand.  Though I can’t recall precisely why (this all happened back in April ish).  Maybe it was just for practice.  I think it might have been in case I decided that pain control was needed…


Then you’re wheeled off to the prep room, and from there into theatre.  Sadly, not the high society sort of theatre.  The only thing on show is a grandstand view of my innards.  Basically, the aforementioned camera-in-the-bum is relayed to a screen, which allows the doc doing the procedure to have a good view of things.  I had front row seats (well, a front row bed) and was allowed to watch the entire thing.  Fascinating!  They’ve got various other things that potter along your colon with the camera – something to squirt bits that they want to see more clearly, and something to snip ‘polyps‘ off to check them out.  (Perhaps I should point out at this stage that I’m absolutely fine.  In fact, maybe I should have mentioned that earlier!)

There are a couple of ‘corners’ in your bowel.  The camera rounding the corner of the bowel was the only pain I experienced during the procedure.  Though I was assured this wasn’t pain, merely ‘stretching’.  It was certainly uncomfortable, but not excruciating, by any stretch (ha ha) of the imagination.  Sadly I didn’t have my camera phone with me in the theatre (bad planning!) so I don’t have any photos available of my guts.  More’s the pity, eh?

The camera (and its accompanying assets) are then removed, and you’re returned to your room (or ward, or whatever).  This is where I enjoyed my most precious breakfast in quite some time. But first there was the small matter of a cup of tea.  Given that I have a cup of tea every morning, I was feeling somewhat deprived by this stage.  This was delivered not a moment too soon, and was something to savour while my (admittedly rather late) breakfast was rustled up.


When the breakfast arrived, it seemed rather small – it was covered with a metal lid (presumably to keep it warm, rather than to inject any sort of element of surprise into the meal, given that I’d placed a fairly precise order).  However, on removing the lid, it became instantly clear that the lid was only just holding it all in.  If seeing the inside of my colon hadn’t been so much fun, this may well have ranked as my favourite moment of the day.


It’s a funny thing (not really of the ha ha variety) having a colonoscopy.  There is, of course, every possibility that it will lead to a cancer diagnosis, and the accompanying feelings, fears and treatments.  It was a good chance to brush up on my prayer life, but also to hand things over to God.  Whether it was a yes or a no, He is still the same.  It’s a chance to consider mortality, death and whether I’m ‘ready for it’.  (Which is different from being keen on it!)  But I can assure you that the colonoscopy itself is nothing to worry unduly about if you’ve got one coming up.  Yes, there’s discomfort, but there’s also pain control as an option, which the majority of people go for.

But alongside the physical introspection, another type of introspection was in order.  (See what I’ve done there?)  I figured it was also a good time to examine what’s in my heart (while someone else was examining what’s in my colon…).  And there’s definitely work to be done there.  I might have had the all-clear from the colonoscopy, but an examination of my heart is always liable to show up problems that need to be addressed, and that’s something to work on now :)  A spiritual examination can be as important (and urgent, perhaps) as a physical one.  But whatever examinations throw up (be they physical or spiritual) I can still trust in God to journey with me through this life, living in me, and working in and through me as I live in this place in which He’s put me.


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Wealth – privilege or trial?

In the prayers at church recently, this phrase popped up:

“…wealth is the privilege of the few…”

And yet when I read through the book of James, I find that wealth seems to be almost a burden.  The rich are called to weep and wail.  Wealth is seen as challenging rather than freeing.

So which is it?  Privilege or trial?  Certainly, we can look at the lives of the rich, and see that they do often live with great ‘privilege’.  They have vast houses, fancy cars, and apparently easy lifestyles.  Conversely, we can look at those in poverty and see struggle, hardship, and difficult choices to be made.  And there are certainly more people with not enough money than there are with an abundance of it.  So the rich are definitely ‘the few’.

And yet James makes it clear that wealth is not quite the privilege we might expect it to be.  It blurs things for us.  Our hoover’s just broken.  (Vacuum cleaners suck…)  We’ve got a couple of options.  We can get it fixed, or replace it.  Replacing it costs more (obviously!) but comes with a five year guarantee rather than a one year guarantee.  So we’ve replaced it.  And we can afford to do so.  So there’s no need to rely on my engineering abilities (though I did dismantle the old one a bit to see what parts needed replacing).  There’s no need to rely on the kindness of others in helping us to pay for a repair man.  We are independent.  Or that’s how it feels, anyway.  But I guess if you dig a little deeper, we’re not quite as independent as we might think.  Our house is provided by our employer.  Our employer also pays us.  We rely on them to give us money (albeit in exchange for a service).  Even our hoover is used more often by our cleaner than ourselves – someone else we rely on.  We rely on the banks to look after our money and not to lose it down the back of the stock market sofa.  We rely on the supermarkets to provide our food, and we rely on the farm workers and factory workers to provide the supermarkets with our food.

So while we might be financially independent, that doesn’t make us truly independent.  It’s just a little blurred by money.  It seems we can provide for ourselves.  But actually we need other people to do stuff for us.  And this blurring of the lines of independence can affect our spiritual lives too.  We can become so used to relying on ourselves that we end up assuming that that’ll work in our spiritual lives.  Jesus operates as a backup option, rather than Plan A. He’s something to fall back on in hard times, rather than to walk through every day with.  Whereas for the poor, reliance can sometimes come more easily.  When our needs are clearer, and our options more limited, sometimes we’re better at relying on the provision of others, rather than on our own resources.  And maybe that’s why James talks about the ‘high position’ of those who find themselves in ‘humble circumstances’.  Maybe it’s partly because they’re the ones who have a better grasp of need, and a better understanding and appreciation of God’s lavish grace.

But one thing wealth does bring is a great responsibility.  A couple of times in my life, I’ve received cheques that genuinely left me speechless.  Do we who are rich use all that we have to God’s glory?  We’ll never match God’s generosity, but have we ever really tried to emulate it?

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All change?

The look on his face was a picture.  We spent last night in a hotel, and this morning, the boys were up watching telly bright and early.  Bob the Builder came on.  But not just any old Bob; this was the new-fangled, decidedly less tubby, joined by new characters, and with a heavily-made-up Wendy, Bob the Builder.  Joshua, our eight year old, looked positively disgusted.  ‘This isn’t Bob’, he declared.

But not all viewers are too keen on the result, with some saying he  looked like he might ‘overcharge for work’, ‘drink Carling’ or  ‘vote Ukip'

I’m not a fan of change, either.  Whether it’s chosen or forced upon us, change is something I don’t find easy.  Sure, there are some changes that I like.  A new toothbrush is always a bit of a treat, a haircut’s good (although I get a little confused when I can’t successfully run my fingers through my hair), and there’s something deeply satisfying about discovering a new chocolate bar.  But mundane changes don’t have much power.  Friends on facebook may recall my recent foray into a new range of shower gels.  The first one made me feel like I was washing in Lemsip (and no, it didn’t clear my nasal passages at all).  But changes like that can be undone.  I can revert to an old faithful shower gel, and Joshua could resolve only to watch old Bob the Builder episodes.  But some changes demand much more of us.  Some changes are harder to undo.

And as I’ve been thinking about changes recently, I’ve been reminded of that sentence that is sometimes used at the end of (possibly only Anglican…) church services.  “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord…”

The church service is somewhere where we should feel ‘at home’, somewhere where we are together with ‘family’.  But between church services, there are things that won’t always be easy (not that church is always easy either, but that’s for another blog post!).  And that phrase, ‘Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord’, well, that feels a bit like a timely reminder at the end of that family time together.  The stuff that’s happened in church, and most importantly God, the focus of our worship and lives, that won’t change.  He won’t change.  And so we can go in peace.  Not a peace that blindly ignores that challenges and trials ahead, nor hides from the change that may or may not be round the corner, but a peace that rests in the unchanging One.  A peace that relies not on where we are, but on who we are with.

If you know someone who’s facing change, or who is about to, why not drop them a line now and encourage them?

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Once should be enough.

I was woken early again today by little voices.  When I went into the boys’ room, they were both in one bed, and they were being very awake, not very asleep.  This is Against The Rules.  The Rules have been made quite clear.  The Rules are not generally flexible in this area of life.  And so I went back to the Rules – ‘get out of your brother’s bed – it’s not 6:30 yet’.  I even posed the obvious question, ‘Why on earth are you talking when you’re supposed to be sleeping?’
It was clear that the Rules were known, but somehow they didn’t appeal, and therefore it seemed that they didn’t apply. This is a problem.  I pointed out that yesterday evening’s strife (don’t ask…) was probably related to tiredness, and tiredness was related to getting up too early.  This had little effect.
“Why do I have to say the same thing over and over again?”
It’s quite a common refrain in our house.  You see, I’ve got this problem with my kids – I tell them to do something (or not to do something) and it doesn’t seem to sink in.  So I tell them again.  And then I tell them again.  And it gets sorta repetitive.  And again, and again, and again.
I’m pretty sure they know what’s what by now.  This morning’s conversation made it clear that the Rules are known.  But they’re still not followed.  This is troubling.
And then I take a moment to reflect.
You see, I suffer from the same thing.  Sometimes (only occasionally, obviously) once isn’t enough for me either.  Sometimes, I’ll read something in my Bible – the Rules – and I’ll think to myself, ‘I knew that, but I don’t do that’.  And that must be a bit tedious for God.  How many times does He have to tell me before it’ll sink in?  And not just sink in, but actually change me.  When will I get better at applying the Rules that don’t appeal?
So although there are Rules that need to be kept, I also need to cut my boys a bit of slack sometimes.  And I’m profoundly thankful for that one time when once really was enough.  Where the Rules and my problem with keeping them were addressed by the rule giver.
we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
When it really counted, once was enough.
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Let me clarify at the start (can you clarify before saying anything?  Probably not…).  This is not simply an excuse to display a bunch of holiday snaps.  But Joshua and I had a little trip to some historical sites on our recent family holiday in Spain.

History selfieWe went to a place called ‘Old Zamora’ or Castrotorafe.  It’s actually a fair distance from the current Zamora (which is a town in Spain, not a football player).  About 25 minutes drive away, in fact.  But the scale is pretty impressive.  The river is lined with stunning walls (albeit in a state of collapse) and there are the remains of fortifications.

Wouldn't want to attack a chunky bit of stonework like this without some preparation

Wouldn’t want to attack a chunky bit of stonework like this without some preparation

Yes, that's a wall all along the middle of the picture.

Yes, that’s a wall all along the middle of the picture.

It’s also covered with lots of beautiful wildflowers, but weaving them into this post, whilst possible, is a tangent I’d rather avoid.

There’s a little uncertainty surrouding the precise events that led to its ruination, but while it may have been the victim of some war or skirmish, it seems that abandonment also played its part.  It would appear that people moved away.  With no-one to look after it and maintain it, it just gradually crumbled.  You can still see bits of it, of course, but it’s certainly not the vibrant, living place it once was.

From Old Zamora, we drove a little further and come to Monasterio do Santa Maria de Moreruela.  The sheer scale of this monastry is pretty staggering.  It boggles the mind to think that people were able to construct such impressive things without the benefit of much of today’s technology.  And yet…

IMG_0501Whatever happened?  The once-grand building, a centre of faith and practice, lies in ruins.  You can appreciate the splendour it once radiated, but much of that beauty and splendour is now consigned to the history books.  Its downfall was linked to the confiscations (much like the dissolution of the monasteries here in the UK) in Spain.

It was odd, there were some places where you could look from a certain angle and you wouldn’t know that the place was now desolate.


Yet from other angles, the truth was painfully clear.

IMG_0502 IMG_0495 IMG_0488 IMG_3304This monastery, once a focal point of faith, is now simply an interesting tourist attraction off the beaten track.  A glimpse of what once was.  A place of decline and decay rather than life and vitality.

And that got me thinking.  How do we protect ourselves from ruin?  How do we avoid crumbling?  Casting Crowns (an American band) talk about it in their song, “Slow Fade”:

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade

People never crumble in a day.  The old city at Castrotorafe didn’t crumble in a day.  The monastery of Santa Maria de Moreruela didn’t go to rack and ruin overnight.  And neither do we.  We, like they, need maintaining.  We need a constant programme of care and repair.  This is why I’m so keen on Spiritual Disciplines – Holy Habits that keep us going even as we keep them going.

But we also need honesty.  You see, from certain angles, things might look fine, but maybe the truth of the matter is that things aren’t rosy.  People might look at us and marvel at our faith, while we know that things are rapidly coming undone.  The vitality that once rushed through us is now on life support, and things aren’t looking promising.

And yet there’s hope.

IMG_0480[1]The same light that streamed through every window in that monastery in its glory years still pours through, lighting the dark corners of a forlorn place.  And the same Life that once vitalised us still pours out in grace from our ever-faithful God, capable of refilling and re-energising us, breathing into us again, bringing life to our fading hearts.

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A Christian Survival Guide [book] Ed Cysomething-or-other

Christian Survival Guide

I guess this comes across in many ways as quite a gentle book. It doesn’t ask a great deal, but neither does it shy away from challenge and deep questioning. There’s some useful and ‘real’ stuff on Christian life. You won’t find yourself coming across Bible references every three lines, but there’s plenty of input from scripture. He’s someone who’s been brought up in a Christian home and therefore has plenty of experience. You’ll find some challenges, like this one from the chapter on prayer:

We may be able to squeak by with a little bit of prayer here and there, but thriving as growing Christians has everything to do with our connection to Christ…

And that’s fairly representative of his approach. You don’t get the impression he’s bashing the pulpit as he speaks, more chatting life through. I’ve not read Coffeehouse Theology (another of his books), but that’s sort of the level this feels like.

There are certainly some who would disagree with some of Ed’s conclusions (though is that so bad?), but it feels like these are things he’s wrestled with, not just rifled through the possibilities and picked the answer he most likes.

Personally, I really like his approach, and have a chuckle at passages like this:

I suddenly felt silly for fighting evolution for so many years. I was especially annoyed that my Truth fish (the one that’s eating a Darwin fish with legs) damaged the paint job on my car when I peeled it off.

But equally, I imagine that there are some who might argue that he needs to take his subject matter more seriously (though there’s arguably enough ‘serious’ stuff out there to sink a fleet of ships…).

Ed also jostles some of our foundations. He questions whether we have built our faith on the right foundations. So, in his chapter on the Bible, he poses this:

The question for us today isn’t “Am I doing the Bible right?” The question is this: “Am I living like Jesus?”

Where should our reliance be? Must we trust completely in an eternal-fires-of-hell approach to eternity? Because if that’s ever undermined, our faith may struggle. Must we believe in literal interpretation of scripture (e.g., six days (24 hour periods) of creation) at every turn? Because if that’s ever undermined, our faith may falter. Of course, such challenges may leave some feeling uncomfortable. And some may feel that altering some of our foundations is more of a ‘Christian Cop-out Guide’ than a ‘Christian Survival Guide’, but I’m inclined to think that Ed makes some useful, challenging points (even if I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything he’s written…)

This is also a personal book. It’s not just a dry run through of the theory, but wisdom gleaned from experience. For that reason, it feels a bit more believable than it otherwise might. Ed doesn’t play his cards close to his chest in this book. He’s willing to be open about his own struggles and journey. Here’s something he says about money:

I’ve had to confess that I sometimes crave financial stability more than I crave spiritual stability.

The book seems to be written for a primarily American audience, so there will be some things that don’t quite ring true if you’re reading it elsewhere, but the general gist still holds firm, and minor content-related discrepancies can generally be readily applied within a different framework.

As a summary, I’d recommend the book. Ed’s got a sensible, pastoral approach that encourages self-examination and a willingness to question ones own ideas and priorities.

I received a free copy of this book (not a paper copy, which both saddens me and relieves my bookcase) for review. No threats were made concerning the nature of my review, and I feel completely free to review the book in whatever way I see fit. (I know that’s not the legal American wording for reviews, but I’m not American…)

Here are the chapter headings, for those who can’t find them elsewhere.  Oh, and it’s Ed Cyzewski, if you’re wondering.

Part 1: Christian Beliefs

  1. Prayer: A Still Small Voice for Big Loud Problems •
  2. The Bible: A Source of Crisis and Hope •
  3. Violent Bible Stories: Deliver Us from God? •
  4. Deliver Us from Evil: Is God Late? •
  5. Hell: Getting Our Goats . . . and Sheep •
  6. Errors in the Bible?: Fact-Checking the Holy Spirit •
  7. The Bible and Culture: Less Lobster, More Bonnets •
  8. No Doubt? Are Christians Beyond a Doubt? •
  9. Apocalypse Now? Yay! It’s the End of the World! •

Part 2: Christian Practices

  1. Sin Addiction: The Freedom of Restraint •
  2. Money: Give Everything Away and Then Tithe 10 Percent to Je$u$ •
  3. Community: When Bad Churches Happen to Good People •
  4. Not Ashamed of the Gospel? Death of a Sales Pitch •
  5. The Holy Spirit: Flames of Tongue-Tied Fire •
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A New Kind of Christian [book] by Brian McLaren.

I am way behind with my book reviewing.  Years behind, it would appear.  I live in hope that I’ll be catching up soon, but I’m not sure how realistic that is.

Background – chat with my parents about church and life and lots of stuff.  Also, wondering about the shape of and vision for the church generally.  And this book was lent to me.

New Kind of ChristianIt’s not my copy, and the handwritten comment in the front of the book is ‘Enjoy and celebrate this excellent piece of heresy’.  Now, this comment was made tongue in cheek, but illustrates one view of this book (and other books like it).  There can be a temptation to throw it out, labelling it as heretical.  But I don’t think it’s quite so clear as all that.

The book is written as a series of conversations and communications between two individuals, with some accompanying ‘storyline’.  One individual is a pastor, the other a high school teacher.  Their interactions consider the societal landscape and the place of the church in this.  There is much talk of modernity and postmodernity.  There’s some helpful stuff on what distinguishes one from the other.  The book then serves as a challenge to move the church from a modern to a postmodern approach to things.  This will scare some and worry others.  The pastor, Dan, takes the role of the one being encouraged to move forwards, with the guidance, encouragement and challenge of the high school teacher, Neo.  The pastor writes in his journal:  “I’m scared.  The kinds of things I’m thinking will surely be considered heresy.”  Neo encourages Dan to recognise that the Christianity of which we are a part is not simply Bible-based, but is also shaped by the foundry of the Modern Age in which it has been hammered out.

I think the book helps to clarify a lot of stuff that I’ve been thinking about.  There can sometimes be a danger (perhaps this is particularly true in some evangelical circles) of worrying more about winning an argument than being God’s ambassador.  There’s some stuff that I’d probably question – some ideas about eternity seem a bit hazy, but that may be partly because I’ve only read it through once (relatively quickly) and not really delved fully into some of its conclusions.

On the whole, though, I’d say it was a really great read.  It’s wonderful to see that people are looking to press forward; not leaving scripture behind, but leaving behind some of the things that have, through the age of Modernity, been welded onto scripture.  It’s written by an American, presumably mainly for an American audience, so you’ll find things like characters saying ‘I sure am’, where ‘I am’ would suffice :)

There’s also a lot on ‘spirituality’, which is obviously an area in which I am interested.  It’s nice to see spiritual disciplines being bigged up in books.  Maybe I should drop Brian a line…

Further comments are welcome!  Particularly if you’ve read the book, but that’s not necessarily a requirement :)

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