Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Litmus Test

1 John 4

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love ……. if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.


These remarkable words come to us across the millennia written either by a very old man, or by those closest to him and they still have the power to shock us into seeing things very clearly. The man was the disciple “whom Jesus loved”, John.


In recent months we have all been appalled by sights on our television screens, scenes of explosion and horror. We see scenes of dreadful things being done in the name of religion and faith.


Here is the litmus test. Do you want to know what the mark is of real faith? It is the way that we deal with each other.


It is very simple, to be recognised as a Christian, we need live in love. How do we do this? I recently heard a revealing interview with a holocaust survivor recounting the time when she publicly forgave a doctor who had experimented on her in Auschwitz as a child knowing that apart from her twin, the rest of her family had been gassed to death. For her it was quite simple ….  “I would much rather get a hug and a kiss from him than what I used to get”……….  Remarkable. She passed the litmus test.


Coincidentally, though this is the lectionary reading, we are looking at 1 John at the manse home group during June (Tuesdays 9th and 23rd @ 7.30 pm and Wednesdays 10th and 24th @ 2.30 pm), we always have lively discussions and a time for sharing. Be nice to see you there



Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Pizza Church!

I thought I would like to let you know about something we are about to try at church - we are calling it "Pizza Church" and though we call it a new idea, it is actually a very old idea.

There is something attractive about eating and talking together - so many of our evangelistic tools (e.g. Alpha) are based around that very concept. It is not a new idea, the very first Christians used to do church this way.

Pizza Church will meet on the first Thursday of each month at tea time - 5.30 - 6.30pm and is for busy people on their way home from work who would like a little time to slow down and eat and share together. We will share an hour or so as people come and go as they are able, to pray, to worship and share some thoughts together about our busy, confusing world. People aren't expected to turn up at a particular time, or to commit to anything, its just saying that if you would like a spiritual experience in your life but Sundays aren't good for you, them try something different, midweek at Bramhall United Reformed Church, Robins lane, Bramhall SK7 2PE
Take Care

Thursday, 12 March 2015


I am often asked about resurrection – “do you really believe?”  I am quite happy to say that I do, but exactly what I believe is a little more difficult to put into words. I find the story of the early disciples compelling. They turn from a group of people who fail to recognise the physical body of the risen Jesus to a group of people in many cases martyred for refusing to recant their belief – that Jesus had done the impossible – gone from life to death and back.

We know for example that Jesus’ brother James went from someone who frankly did not believe that his older brother was anything special to someone who became the leader of the church in just a few short years. Like many of his contemporaries, he also was martyred. I think that says something.

If you sense a “but”, it’s more of a qualification than a doubt and is simply that I think we have misunderstood what “resurrection” really means. The Bible tells us honestly that people Jesus had known and loved for years failed to recognise him – why is that? He walked for miles talking to his friends without them recognising him. Mary thought He was the gardener, Thomas refused to believe until he could put his hand in Jesus’ side, even Peter couldn’t quite accept the impossible. What are the gospel writers actually saying to us?

I think it’s horribly simple. It is that death changes things.

An undertaker of my acquaintance working in the South African townships during the Zulu/ANC war tells of a time he got the bodies of two elderly women mixed up – each lay in an open casket before weeping relatives. No-one noticed that it wasn’t – grandma, mum, auntie. Incredible but true and I can recall the sense of wonderment in his voice as he told me the story.

Death changes us, physically and spiritually in ways we baulk away from.

I often hear people say things like – “it wasn’t Mum in the coffin, her spirit had already gone”.

God loves to repeat the theme of resurrection in our lives. We keenly look forward to a new start, a fresh beginning, We want to rush over the “dying” part straight to the resurrection, but we can’t and I have to say from experience that it is only in dwelling in the dark space that bereavement leaves that we begin to understand the true worth of resurrection. Take time this Easter to sit in your own darkness, but not too long because this is the time when miracles happen.


Take Care


Saturday, 10 January 2015

“Je suis Charlie”

I am sure that all of us have been appalled at the tragic events in Paris this week which have captivated a horrified world. How can it be some followers of any world faith based upon peaceful teaching can think that it is ok to massacre innocent people?


Islam, though it may be a massive worldwide movement is nevertheless a largely “unreformed” religion. It has not had the opportunity to reform itself in the same way that, for example, the Catholic Church had in Europe in the 16th century. The Reformation, though horribly painful at the time, laid the groundwork for Christian churches  (of which our church is one) to deal with the trials of the “Age of Enlightenment” and develop a changed, yet stronger faith.  Our faith is no longer based upon flimsy tales and a desire to take holy words literally,(let’s be honest, there are more than a few difficult passages in The Bible)  but one securely based upon principles of peace and justice and the love of a caring Father.


How it is that some Muslims attacks Muslims, Christians, Jews and those of no faith alike based upon a literal reading of a just a few passages from the Quran?  But is this fair? How about the right wing Christians in America who believe that scripture justifies the murder of staff who work in abortion clinics? Are they so very different?


It is also not a problem limited to Christianity and Islam. I have been in Jerusalem in streets with signs which say “please leave, your presence here offends God”, and let us not forget that Sikhism, one of the world’s strongest faiths was primarily started as a means of finding middle ground between Hinduism and Islam, a war in which tens of thousands died.


The essential problem is one of fundamentalism – of believing that God speaks to me more than He speaks to you, of believing that I hold a truth which you do not. The magazine “Charlie” is no respecter of Faiths and taunts Christianity along with Islam, but perhaps we all need it to remind us that we should not take ourselves too seriously, and that any faith which believes that it has the right to hurt people is no faith at all.


Two thoughts to end this with. The first is to remind people that we are still (technically) in the season of Christmas, a season in which we celebrate God becoming human, sharing our faults and failings. Immanuel – God is with us? Really? I wonder what He makes of all this.


The second, to quote directly from the Quran,  '’if an innocent man dies, the whole of humanity dies”.


Je suis Charlie



Monday, 22 December 2014


This is a very personal blog. It concerns the death and subsequent funeral of my good friend Thom. Thom was born into a catholic Irish family but brought to England only a few days old to be first fostered then adopted into a Christian family of strong, if somewhat fundamentalist views. As he grew, over time he formed his own views which now seem so complex. On one hand he was to the end passionately thankful to his family for giving him a firm and loving family and instilling in him the socialist virtues which he held so strongly to, but on the other, very deliberately moved away from organised religion of any sort. He was respectful of the faith journey so many of his friends and family walk, but said very firmly that it was not for him. And I respected him for that. He was sharp, incredibly insightful and full of compassion as well as flippant argumentative and dismissive.

We were out walking a little over two years ago (a shared passion) alongside a Scottish Loch when he told me that he thought that he had a stomach problem and was in some discomfort, but after tests, it proved to be something much more malignant.

Thom was a good and valued friend to me and so many and there was standing room only at his funeral. Like many of my colleagues, I have taken rather too many such services but rarely have I been specified as the person to take the service beforehand. In Thom's case, a handwritten note written the day before he believed he would die under the surgeon's knife........... "I would like the Rev'd Alan Poolton to take my funeral..."  At first it seemed like a typical Thom joke - asking a Christian minister to take the funeral of an atheist, but Thom was a complex person who evaded labels. An example of this was his choice to have a singer at his service who sang the Londonderry air - the first verse sang to "I cannot tell how He whom angels worship" followed by "Oh Danny Boy". The mixture seemed to sum the complicated (even conflicted?) person that he was, but I miss him......

RIP Thom

Take Care


Friday, 28 November 2014

The past

I was thinking recently about my mother who passed away summer 2013. Not unusual you might say, and I suppose that is true.

Vera was like most of us, a mixture of the remarkable and the very ordinary. Her very ordinariness touched so many lives. My brother in law Will and sister Barbara helped out running an international Bible School, mum used to sit around and talk to people - anyone who would listen really. After she passed away messages of sincere condolence came in from literally all over the world. I doubt whether I shall make the same international impact.

But this blog is about a subsequent event. To mark the anniversary of her death, my sister Barbara and I spent a day nostalgically re-living our roots, in particular the area where I spent 5 years to the age of 10.  I still have a small mental scar which marks the place as small child of being torn away from my school friends when we moved away, but I have absolutely no doubt that it was the best thing to do, and if we had stayed then I would not be the person that I have become. My father took the decision to move his family to an area of greater opportunity, and I am thankful that he did.

Memories are dangerous things. I have for example a very clear recollection of walking to school down a certain road. The moment when I relived that journey only to find that the journey I remembered so clearly was not only not possible, but had never been so, was for me a troubled moment of self-realisation, that our past is a slippery and dangerous place.

So, when Barbara and I went to see the house that I lived in from the age of 5, all kinds of feelings came flooding back. For example the front wall which my father built is still there. The car access to the house is at the rear and as we walked down the rough track there was an elderly gentleman unloading groceries outside. I did not wish to frighten him so I approached and explained that Barbara and I were remembering the death of our mother and had travelled back to the house we left 47 years before. The mas stopped, looked at us and said "Oh you must be The Pooltons, my wife and I were talking about you the other day".

Here was the garage my Dad built, incredibly I suspect that the kitchen was the one he put in and in many ways I became that small child again. But I was a small child who moved away and as I relived so many of the memories (the local library, the Co-op with those wonderful vacuum suction cash tubes which sucked your money away), I realised the truth, that the past is gone. We cannot access it again and the world we knew may look similar to this one, but it is not. The idea of revisiting (even re-inventing?) our past is beguiling, but fundamentally untruthful. Whenever (and this is true of church) try to live in yesterday, we become dislocated from the present. It is a message and lesson we all need to learn.

Take Care


Saturday, 8 November 2014

The tale of the plumbob

I recently had to drill a wall to put a large (and heavy!) mirror into position. It was only after opening the packaging that I realised that the mirror had two side positioning points rather than a single central one. The significance is simple, with a central fixing, positioning it to be level is easy – you just hang a wire and move it around until it looks level. Easy peasy. Two fixings are an entirely different matter; you have to drill two exactly level horizontal holes. The slightest measurement out and the mirror is never level and every time you look it in you notice the imperfection.

Those of you, who know me, understand that I am not the best DIY-ER in the world, but nevertheless I took extraordinary care in measuring and drilling. The result – according to my spirit level and plumbob was a complete success – until I put the unit back underneath it. You see, the mirror was straight, the wall was straight, but the dressing table underneath was not. To make it level, I had to put folded bits of cardboard underneath the legs to raise one side!.

So much for perfection.

It made me think of the way we look at the world. There are those people I know, and have known over the years who are real perfectionists. They see the world as something to control (some even use the phrase – a “control freak”) and become agitated when others around them fail to see things their way.

I wonder how God sees our world – especially at Christmas time? The narrative of God being born into poverty and the humiliation of a birth outside of marriage seems to many as frankly, rather vulgar. After all, if God is the “prime motivator” (the phrase used many hundreds of years ago to define God) of all things, surely he has only himself to blame if things do not work out as he ordered them?

When  I look at God working in today’s world – trying to sort out the mess we all make both on the everyday level and on an international level, I see the hand of someone “folding bits of cardboard” trying to bring back into true, to match the spirit level and plumbob.

The God whom I have come to know as a friend of many years is one who loves to take the mess of the ordinary and beyond hope, beyond expectation, make something remarkable from it.

Take Care and have a good Christmas