And Peace be upon you …

Crushed, beneath the tyrannical force of those sworn to keep it, 
Peace dies in the street without mercy or consideration of its gasps for help.

Onlookers, powerless to intervene, are warned off and resort to recording, 
for the world, this abhorrence. 

A world, saturated with gratuitous and visual violence, is enraged …

The agonised frustrations of a people consumed with the desire to be free 
from a slavery, not abolished in practice, and still suffered in sight of privilege 
and prejudice, are unleashed …

The pattern is not new.

It repeats the sad reflection on the state of this fragile human union.
‘… One nation,
under God,
with liberty
and justice
for all”
Fluttering with certain irony, the flag, before which this oath is made daily, 
must look down with shame on the way truth is denied, in the streets, 
within government, in the minds, hearts and souls of an entire country, 
of the wider world…

The self-evident founding assertion that,
‘… all men are created equal …’
condemns every act perpetrated by all bigots and supremacists who use 
the Constitution for their own selfish ends, with no regard for those whom 
it was created to protect.

With deepening dismay, we see injustice and hate overflow; protests are deflected 
and defeated by weak political resolve and there is no public figure brave enough 
to articulate and spearhead the national revolution required.

This is a fuse which is getting shorter by the moment with political expediency 
and personal ambition about to blow nations apart.

But, an older constitution exists.

Though forgotten by many, it founded and formed much of 
western civilisation and law.
Written in stone, revealed in flesh and blood, it takes love for God 
and for humanity seriously, to the point of self-sacrifice and self-denial.

With all our technological progress and social media prowess this message is 
being lost, diluted and replaced by the unfiltered expressions of human emotion, 
untethered by restraint and concern for consequence and responsibility.

Can we return to that simpler way of life ruled by the discipline of spirit where words 
are not used lightly or to wound; 
where minds are subject to the control of reflection and long-term hope?

Where our neighbour is worthy of respect and care, whoever they are?

Where we recognise, when observing failed humanity, that 
‘... there but for the grace of God’?
For, it is by grace that we are saved, not of anything we are or can do.

We all stand, equally condemned before the throne of God and no number of Bibles
on our shelves or in our hands can give us immunity from the inevitable judgement.

Presidents, Kings, Popes and Archbishops, World Leaders, Governments, Religions,
Criminal & Terrorist organisations … every one of us … must bow before a bloodied
and executed outcast who died as Prince of Peace and now reigns as King of Love.

We must see ourselves for who we really are and recognise him for who he really is.
“Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.
Turn me around, let me face you and learn humility.
Fill me with your presence and make me clean.
Take my thoughts, words and actions and make them yours.
Take my memories and shame and forgive and redeem my past 
that I may live renewed in your present.
Grow your Spirit’s fruit and gifts in me for the blessing of others, 
for peace – and your glory.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, 
your Son and my Saviour. 


1st Sunday in Advent:”What kind of greatness can this be?”



We don’t seem to do mystery any more.

Apart from the odd Agatha Christie or Midsummer Murder story and their ilk which still taunt us, even when we know whodunnit.

No, I mean, we don’t appreciate true mystery. We live at a time when we can know so much at the slide of a finger across our ubiquitous touch sensitive screens. Instantaneous gratification of the mind and heart. In our high-tec, IT, world we don’t easily accept that there are limits we cannot cross …

The commercial countdown to Christmas presents us with all sorts of goodies to be consumed, in one way or other, and on-line wish-lists ensure that we are not disappointed too much on the day.

It might seem that even the Christian season of Advent is old hat as once again we prepare for the celebration of our Saviour using the traditional songs and readings we love, more or less. Where is the mystery in that?

But, Advent is full of mystery!

It is the season of expectation; of waiting; the anticipation of an arrival. Behind and beyond the traditions, the formulae, the good old recipes, there is the mystery of meaning. Why, what, who, how?

Despite (or hopefully because of) our professed faith in the Nativity and the Second Coming there is so much we don’t know and so much that is beyond our knowledge. We can’t enter this season thinking that we know the end of the story because it’s still being written … in us!

We don’t control Christmas anymore than we can control the weather.

As familiar as Advent is it is far more than our celebration, our meditation and our participation. It is the reminder, at the start of the Christian year, that something bigger has invited us to share in perfect love, joy and peace and to understand the mystery of oneness beyond our human limitations and borders.

It invites us to tentatively or wholeheartedly worship God, through the Person of Jesus, and wonder at his mystery and greatness in becoming small for us …

Happy Advent!

Stories on the Street

This was written following a post on FaceBook about a girl who was homeless because of circumstances which were quite shocking …

They take longer to write than to read them
but for most we just don’t have the time
to repay the hard work and the effort,
these authors of prose and of rhyme.

A book may be full of surprises,
unless we skip to the last page,
but living is harder than reading
whatever our income or age.

And what of those human-life stories
developed in mind, flesh and bone;
crouching by shops and by cafés,
so close, and yet, so alone.

We can’t judge a book by its cover.
We can’t judge a child by its name.
We can’t judge a beggar by looking.
We really can’t judge and lay blame.

Forgive me for not taking interest
in your story and how it began;
let’s finish this chapter together,
I’ll help you however I can.

It may be only a letter,
or just a word in the right place.
A sentence, constructed to help you
with friendship: a blessing and grace.

I pray that the ending is happy,
creative, fulfilling and true.
I pray that your story will make us
take time to serve others like you.

(c) 2017 Graham Oakes

Inspired by Sylvan Mason’s FB post

“Your Kingdom come …”

I confess that I have succumbed to commenting recently on a couple of FaceBook posts related to the coming election. However, the national conversation as expressed on  news channels and social media depresses me deeply. I find it so difficult to discern what is true and worthy of my ‘vote’. There seem to be deep faults on all political sides and things are complicated by Brexit and the fear of an unknowable future…

As a Christian I find it hard to participate in the current debate which is so polarised and subject to reactionary and discriminatory language.  Any ‘reasonable’ or ‘faith-focused’ comment is often derided or worse.

The familiar ‘Lord’s Prayer’ contains the hope of a society which is based on love, forgiveness, compassion, truth, justice and a willingness to believe in something beyond our flawed humanity … These are values hard to detect in social and news media. And yet, the recent acts of terror have revealed an underlying goodness in the face of pain and horror …

So, this is my prayer for myself and for our society as I try to keep, what is for me, a more realistic perspective.

“Your Kingdom come, Lord.”

… in all our political confusion
and communal disorder;
our hopes and fears
maligned by half-truths,
suspect statistics and lies.

Respect disintegrates
and there is a desperate need
to win an argument, or
make an opportunistic point,
at any cost.

Anti-social media is
filled with hateful and
often obscene messages
spreading a deep and
dangerous prejudice
within and throughout
our splintered society.

Promises and oaths
are made with suspect
substance or conviction.
And yet, against the darkness
of real terror and pain,
there is the warming glow
of human compassion.

We must vote and
do so according to
our personal conscience
and understanding,
without fear or favour.

This is our heritage,
our privilege,
our responsibility.

And afterwards?

“Your Kingdom come, Lord!”
Teach us your better way …

Too hard to follow …

Another breakfast chat with Jeff. This time we were chewing over John 6 and Jesus’ teaching on the Bread of Life and how his disciples are to feed on him … flesh and blood!  This can be hard for us to digest but think what it must have been like for those first followers who only knew the Mosaic covenant, the Manna and a unitarian God …

Jeff’s poem describes how one of those who had to leave Jesus (v66) might have regretfully come to his decision … 

John 6:66

It was there I reached the line
Beyond which I could not follow
All my invested time
Misplaced.  Left paddling in the shallows

At the Jordan’s shore:
Only thus far could I go –
Deeps I could not dare to venture,
Steeps I would not climb

With barest hints and mysteries,
And no surefootedness.  This talk
Of eating flesh and drinking blood –
‘Does this offend?’ he said.

Ironically, I stayed
Past all the heckling, the taunts of cynics,
Listened, agonised and weighed
Each word, praying for clarity –

‘The Spirit is what really counts,’
He said.  I heard the call to wade
Out further, and held back.
The fervour of a curious follower alone

No longer quite sufficient
For the level and the quality of mission
He’s suggesting is ahead.
It is too much.  It is uncertain

And there are too many unsubstantiated
Variables.  Back, then, to sound dry land,
Letting drop the travel pack to solid earth,
Shaking his saltwater words from my hands.

May 2017 Jeff Hankins

My poem is more contemporary and considers that when we decide to ‘leave’ a particular group of believers either to go it alone or set up a new expression which preserves and proclaims some important truth that we feel is at risk we may be acting in a selfish and reactionary way over something less important than maintaining the ‘unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’  – in humility, gentleness, peace and love … (Eph 4:3)

Does Jesus ask us, “Do you want to leave (me) too?” 

His 12 disciples were far from perfect yet he kept them close … how perfect do we want our ‘fellowship’ to be?


How often we grumble
and argue …

Preferring the comfort of
our own understanding
on points of theology
and literal interpretations
we separate ourselves
from each other;
sometimes in haste,
seldom ‘in love’!

And, as we estrange ourselves
because of doubt,
or fear, or arrogance,
we move a little further
from the Truth we think
we are preserving.

“You don’t want to leave too, do you?”

He knows our thoughts and our hearts.
He knows who are his
and who will deny or betray.

And so, as his chosen,
through all our failures and deficiencies;
our rumourings and grumblings;
our desperate divisions and
transient trends
he remains …
in us and with us,
to the end of all things

and forever.


May 2017 Graham Oakes

Hearing, listening and doing …

I’ve just come across this song on YouTube and found it compelling but it also raised a few questions.

The clear message from Riba McIntire, an american gospel singer, is that, to solve all the problems we are facing, we need to give the world back to God. The problems appear  limited in the song to loss of children, race relations and addiction but the principle is extendable.

The song is perhaps necessarily emotional but I think it sensitively relates the tensions that exist within families and communities. It lives up to the Gospel genre but can it be taken seriously?

Giving this world back to God is a big ask … assuming that we believe he exists in the first place and still wants it!

Music is a powerful medium for message but it carries the risk of the medium lasting longer than any effect of content (but at least here the words are clear and straight).

For me, I would hope that those involved in the video production believed in the message. I also hope that it succeeds in challenging our responses to the negative directions we are travelling in; the reality of our common humanity and need of each other and how we can begin to give the world back to God.

Perhaps it needs to start with me giving my personal and private world, my pride and prejudice, my strengths and weaknesses, my hopes and fears and my achievements, disappointments and regrets back to him.

Thank you Reba for the song and thank you God for giving me back so much.

Viewpoint: Does democracy lead to tyranny?


I found this item  on the BBC News site recently and it is a fascinating reminder, if one was needed, that even the best form of human government can descend into terrible tyranny and misrule.

The words are those of Plato, student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, he was one of the major founders of western political and scientific philosophy.

It is , of course, no accident that it was  aired within a few days of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. There is much about these times that make many concerned and even fearful of what may come in the next four years. But it is more than a reaction to one President, one form of government, and one flavour of political party. Rather,  it reminds us that however much trust we place in systems and people; however much we strive for the best and invest in movements and power bases; however much we argue for right and justice we are eventually left with the bitter taste of disappointment and failure or frustration and hopelessness. The reasons may be socio-economic or accidental; perhaps due to war or overwhelming natural causes. Basically, there is an innate inability for us to ‘get it together’ – as families, as nations, and as a planet.

If we can’t rely on democracy what hope is there?

About 400 years after Plato another young man gathered a group of followers and taught them his way. He spoke to them about truth and peace and justice. He taught them to love God and their neighbours to their fullest ability – even to the point of sacrifice – as he himself was willing to show. In his teaching to the crowds Jesus laid out a blueprint for society which, if followed, would not need parliaments, election campaigns or opposing parties. Everyone would be looking out for each other and honouring the lowest as much as the highest.

Yes, of course – it is ‘Pie in the Sky’ and completely unattainable – if we approach it with the eyes of history and humanity.

But, if we are prepared to listen and follow what Jesus said we can find a refreshing alternative philosophy for life and living. One that is not propagated via a religion but by and through relationships. This is true Equality and Freedom.

2017: A blank page or clean sheet?

The New Year is seen by many as an opportunity to make a fresh start or a blank page on which to write the untold story of 2017. But it isn’t that simple.

We cannot just forget or ignore our past, whether it’s our early childhood or the previous year or two, and the events of decades ago often leak suddenly into our present and near future.

My one and only experience of corporal punishment in an otherwise unremarkable (and not very auspicious) school career was because I had a couple of blots on my exercise book. The immediate and painful delivery of what might now be considered officially sanctioned child abuse, shamed and shocked me. I did not speak of it at home and have never admitted to being caned … until now. In the great scheme of things of course it should, perhaps, have been a non-event and I know that many have much worse memories which influence their development and maturity. What, for some of my school friends was a mark of accomplishment, a badge of honour, was, for me, the exact opposite. Looking back, I still believe it was completely unjustified but unfortunately, that particular junior school teacher was not averse to using terror and humiliation whenever he felt like it.

There have, of course, been many other things in my life which I would prefer not to have happened or to have turned out differently. I recognise that it was usually my decisions and attitudes at the time which have left me with regrets and the wish to ‘turn back the clock’ or find some other way to resolve and reconcile my past with myself.

However, here I stand on the first step of 2017 and in my 7th decade having lived through another year which contained many shocking events – natural, social and political – at home and abroad. It feels that this new page is already stained with the marks of the previous one because yesterday’s ink is still wet and is seeping through. We are already convinced that ‘there will be trouble ahead’ as we discover the true effects of Brexit on the UK and EU, the US Presidential election and continuing developments in the Middle East and other hot-spots. There is no reason to think that international terrorism will leave us alone and we live in the shadow of the next outrage. I am left wondering how any resolution I make will result in any difference at all – especially as I am unlikely to live up to it.

Pretty depressing. Time to tear up this sheet and write something more positive, wholesome and cheerful to make the New Year a happier one …

I know that keeping my fears and failings to myself is a recipe for depression and incapacity. They take over and discolour my world-view and interfere with my ability to appreciate the good things around me and there are so many good things. So, find someone you can talk to about your hopes and fears. But, more importantly, be prepared to listen to anyone who is trying to share these with you and keep listening – without judging or condemnation – just allow the space for them to speak because this helps to release the pressure that is building up within them and you are helping to defuse what might become an explosive situation affecting not just them but others as well.

Finally, as a flawed disciple of Jesus, I recommend taking his life and words as a template and guide.

Between the manger and the tomb Jesus lived his life free of regrets but not of sorrow;

at peace with his heavenly Father but in conflict with the world’s political and religious authority;

filled with compassion for humanity but completely misunderstood by even his closest disciples;

offering forgiveness and redemption but only achieving this through his death on the cross.

Vindicated through resurrection he empowers his followers to continue his mission by denying themselves and taking up their own crosses, putting him first and not their own assumptions and ambitions.

So, as I head into this New Year I approach it with gratitude for forgiveness for what is past; restoration, redemption and renewal for the present and a fresh perspective for the future.

I will continue to blot some of my pages and have to handle some very negative reactions.

I will be battered by events and suffer personal attacks from unexpected quarters.

But …

I will try to listen more carefully before I speak.

I will try to be more open about how I feel and what is troubling me.

I will try to respond to local and international news in positive and constructive ways.

I will try to recognise my own fallibility before it does damage.

I will try to recognise the best in others and humbly express my faith without prejudice.

I will develop my relationship with Jesus through prayer and study of his life and words.

Along the way I will share my thoughts and experiences in this Blog … and invite you to travel with me. I have a feeling that it will be more interesting if we do it together …