un-seizing the brakes

Imagine that you have an Aston Martin DB5 car – the James Bond Goldfinger one with the ejector seat. (I enjoy imagining that). It looks great, it sounds great, it feels great. But there is a problem: the brakes are virtually seized and the car will hardly move. Wouldn’t you get the brakes sorted?


In the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais (22 miles from UK) there are 387 unaccompanied children who are legally entitled to come to the UK. Under the Dublin Agreement on Refugees unaccompanied refugee children who have relatives living in the UK are entitled to be brought to the UK to have their Asylum application assessed here. Under the ‘Dubs Amendment’ to the Immigration Act 2016 unaccompanied children who were in Europe prior to 20th March 2016 are to be allowed into the UK.

It looks great, it sounds great, it feels great. But there is a problem. The brakes are virtually seized and the car will hardly move. Until recently hardly any were brought across. Now 4 a week are being brought across- at that rate it will take almost 2 years for all of these young people (who have the right to be here) to get here! While they are waiting these children are at the mercy of traffickers and in a very vulnerable situation. There is no child protection for them: if the legal route for them to get to the UK does not move the likelihood is that they will try desperate illegal routes.

Photo 26-08-2016, 10 42 58
The 4 Baptists in the delegation (right to left): Revds Penny Marsh, Me, Phil Warburton and Dan Pratt

Because of this I joined a delegation of 20 faith leaders (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) who went to Calais on Friday morning to deliver lists of those 387 eligible children to the French authorities (where the brakes are virtually seized). It was organised by Citizens UK. The aim was first of all to get these names officially received by relevant French authorities; secondly to get the problem highlighted we had Radio 4 journalist Trevor Barnes with us and I believe it will also be in a national newspaper. The news was embargoed until today (hence the bloggage today) but you can listen to the item here on the BBC Sunday programme podcast. (It’s about 25 minutes in). Our purpose was to highlight that these children exist so that the authorities could not deny the problem.

The official that my part of the delegation visited did not recognise that the system’s brakes were seized. He would not admit that there was a problem. He did receive the letter and list we wanted to give him and said he would look at them. He also tried hard to say that it was not his problem and that he could not change policy. He did admit that there were people working for him who were working on this problem but they were in Paris (allegedly). In my view, as a Civil Servant, he could not publicly say that there was a problem because then he would have to do something about it. It was evident that the brakes were not going to receive much attention there.

Some of the delegations did receive more positive responses and the list has now been officially received. There is a multi-disciplinary meeting in Calais next week and we hope that they will have to do something about this. I am sure that the British authorities can do a lot more to work on releasing the brakes for these young people who have a legal entitlement to be here.

If you are a person who prays please will you pray for the success of this campaign? If you are a person of action please will you consider putting pressure on your MP and the Government to do something about this?

Let’s work together to un-seize the brakes and get this great looking, great sounding, great feeling car moving.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

subtle segues*

One of the things we tried for the first time on your recent holiday was riding a Segway. In case you’re not sure what they are, essentially they are a platform on which you stand with a wheel either side and a handlebar to steer with. Now that’s not really doing justice to them as it could also describe a scooter! In a Segway there are gyroscopes and computers and motors and batteries that do all sorts of very clever things to enable you to control them with subtle movements of your body.

To go forwards you lean forwards. To go faster forwards you lean further forwards. To slow down you lean less forwards. To brake (when going forwards) you lean back. To reverse (from stationary) you lean backwards. To go back faster you lean backwards further. To slow down (when going backwards) you lean forwards. To steer to the left you move the handlebar to the left. To turn to the right you move the handlebar to the right. To turn more sharply you turn the handlebar further. To stay still you stand upright.


Actually although it may sound complicated when written down like that it is relatively easy to learn to do and very quickly becomes intuitive: you don’t think about doing it you just do it naturally.


If you are ever in Devon I highly recommend that you visit Go-Segway where we received excellent three stage training and then enjoyed a great tour through Haldon Forest. It was brilliant. Even those who, before we started, were really nervous about it (especially fearing falling off) enjoyed it and by the end were confident in what they were doing. I was very impressed with the instruction – it was simple, comprehensive and the instructor took time to learn everyone’s names (14 in the group) and talked to us as we were learning to take our minds off thinking about what we were doing (it’s best when it’s intuitive).

And this is where I subtly segue* from Segways to a thought about them. The thought, like riding a Segway, is simple but there’s a lot going on under the surface. And that’s the thought. Riding a Segway is simple because of all of the complicated things going on underneath your feet. You don’t have to worry about what is going on and you don’t have to know about how all of the gyroscopes and computers and motors and batteries are working together. All you have to do is step on (and you learn this in the training) and let the Segway do its thing. I think it’s called ‘faith’.

It’s the same with God. You don’t have to understand the Trinity, the Incarnation, or any of the other detailed doctrines that try to explain the mysteries of how we can get to know him. All you have to do is step on and let him do his thing.

Of course, if you want, you can learn about how a Segway works, you can understand the complex mathematics and physics and engineering, you can be trained to maintain them and you can become an instructor. But that’s not essential for riding a Segway. And you can learn lots about Christian theology and doctrine, but, (takes a deep breath and prepares for barrage of stone-throwing) you don’t need to learn lots about Christian theology and doctrine to be a follower of Jesus.

One of the errors that I have made as a Minister is that I have sometimes equated ‘knowledge’ with ‘discipleship’. Growing deeper in your relationship with Jesus is not about learning more knowledge. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the world about him – he could be your specialist subject in Mastermind – but if you are not getting to know him more and allowing his Spirit deeper into your life then that’s not discipleship. How do you get to know him more and allow his Spirit deeper into your life? It’s actually quite simple and intuitive: you talk with him more (it’s called praying). You make conscious decisions to include him in what you are doing. You chat to him during the day. You actively invite his Spirit to accompany you. You make a decision to be full of his Spirit. And, (segue back to Segways) like riding a Segway, when you start off you will be thinking about these things and remembering to do them, but after a while they become intuitive and you find that they are a part of your everyday life, and following Jesus becomes less of an academic exercise and more of a relationship that deepens.

And like riding a Segway once you have got beyond the ‘thinking about it’ stage to the ‘doing it intuitively’ stage you can really go for it!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Yes, that’s how you spell ‘segway’ when it’s a linguistic term to describe a link from one thing to another

tooth scaffolding

My teeth now have scaffolding. I think most people call them ‘braces’. I have had a problem with one of my upper incisors deciding that where God intended it to be was not as much fun as further back inside my mouth and gradually moving. The movement was imperceptible but I realised it had happened when I started biting my tongue while eating (and drawing blood). The gradual, imperceptible movement of my teeth reminds me of the advice about how to move a piano from one side of a church to the other without upsetting people – move it one inch per week.

not me, but similar

So I went to see my dentist and she has fitted me with tooth-scaffolding with a view to straightening out the top and bottom sets of teeth. Once they are back in the right place she’ll give me a retainer to wear at night in order to keep them in place.

I am sure that the braces will be beneficial to me in the long term, but there are a number of drawbacks (you can skip this bit if you are squeamish about teeth:

  1. They make my teeth hurt. The pressure exerted on the teeth is not great but the constant pressure causes them to relocate and that makes them much more sensitive to pressure (biting hurts) and ache generally.
  2. They hurt my cheeks. At different times different parts of the braces seem to embed themselves in my cheek. I think it happens mostly during the night as I sleep and don’t realise that resting my head on one side or t’other causes the embedding. But the next day I find new painful places in my mouth. I have some wax to put on the braces to stop the pointy bits being to painful, but the damage has been done.
  3. They catch food. After eating I often have to visit a bathroom in order to rinse my mouth and remove the debris that has been collected in the scaffolding. It’s not like saving something for later, it’s just icky. On the plus side I don’t think my teeth have ever had so much cleaning. It’s very awkward when I have to use a public bathroom!
  4. They stop me eating certain food. I have to avoid food that is crunchier / harder than a pretzel. But I don’t have a pretzelometer to test food so I have to err on the side of softness. I haven’t quite got to the point of liquidising everything but it’s a bit limiting on the menu. When you add to that avoiding food that is likely to stain the braces (who wants red braces for the sake of a Chicken Tikka Massala?) then it’s even more restrictive. And really chewy food should be avoided too.
  5. I’m a bit self-conscious of them. I have stopped doing toothy smiles for photographs because I don’t want the braces to show. Vanity, I know, but there you go.
  6. They can affect my speech. Particularly when a part of the brace has embedded in my cheek I find that I talk slightly differently and find it difficult to shape some sounds with my mouth. It does cause my family some amusement but is not so helpful when speaking in public is a big part of what I do.

As you can tell, there are a lot of drawbacks. But after 6-9 months I should be released from the scaffolding and have a lovely straight-tooth smile. I won’t be gnashing on my tongue again.

And I have a box of stroopwafels* ready to celebrate. I bought them when out shopping recently because I really fancied them and it was only when I was unpacking the shopping that I realised that they were both crunchy (possibly registering too high on a pretzelometer) and chewy. Double fail! The expiry date for them takes me almost to 9 months from now, which means that they should still be okay for the moment when I am scaffolding-free.

Why do we put ourselves through painful experiences like having tooth scaffolding? It’s because of the end result. The desired outcome makes us willing to endure hardship.

I don’t believe that God causes painful experiences for us but he does allow us to go through them. I don’t believe that it’s true that he doesn’t allow us to suffer more than we can cope with, but I do believe (and have experienced) that he gives us the grace to cope. I say ‘amen’ to this passage from the Bible:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship**, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

(Romans 8:18-27)

Be blessed, be a blessing

*see here for an explanation about stroopwafels

**’sonship’ here is not sexist but recognises that in the days in which Paul wrote those words inheritances and family status passed through sons. Because of Jesus both men and women can experience ‘sonship’ – inheriting all that God has prepared for us!