I’ve just spent a few days at college considering play and creativity in the context of church. I have lots of notes and thoughts, but the one that has stuck with me is about space to play and create art.

Play is at the centre of creativity.


Play is about trying things out.  It’s about testing ideas, positions, opinions and options by imagining what they would be like without committing to them.  Art then, at least partly, capturing what you discover as you play.  This process of imagining something then making it if  done reflectively can be a spiritual practice.

That must surely begin with a playful attitude, the expectation that church is a place that encourages and enables play and art and creativity.  And that means you!  Yes, YOU!

So, how do we create both the expectation and the space for our churches and communities to be creative places?

I don’t think it’s accidental that Messy Church and Godly Play have been two of the most successful things to happen to the church for years.  Why?  Because they centre around play.  Spill the Beans works in a similar way because it centres on story, a playful and imaginative exploration of an incident or idea.

The strength of these approaches is perhaps that they don’t expect masterpieces, just that you take part and see what happens.

That your contribution is valued and valid…

no matter what your art teacher told you at school.

I’m fed up with church being about finding the one, correct answer.  The idea that a parable has one right, correct and universal meaning is just nonsense.  They are stories designed to make us think, imagine, test, explore and create meaning.  So, how else can we explore these meanings except by play and art?

The kingdom of God is like…

Imagine is the kingdom of God is like…

‘is like’ is an invitation to imagine.

What if it is like:

a seed

a man in a field

a box of treasure

a prodigal son

a vineyard

or whatever else we are invited to imagine.

How does that playful, fun, imaginative engagement help us to understand more about God, life and each other?

If that’s no the point of church what is?

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It’s a week since I ran the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon.  I had hoped to break 2 hours.  I convinced myself that my training had gone well but the reality is that with running input = outcomes.

I ran 15 times in August and just 9 times in September.

That’s not enough miles.

I only had 2 long runs, 16k and 17k.  That’s not enough.

So, on reflection, this makes perfect sense:half

55 minutes through 10k was way too fast for the first half of the route.

So, on reflection 2:06:14 was ok.

If I want to do better I need to do more.  And that’s the challenge.

3 or 4 runs per week plus cross training over the winter.

Quality miles, not junk, because input = outcomes.

half 2015

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A half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21km for those of your who are metrically minded.

Except it’s not really.

August MilesAt 43 years old you can’t really just rock up at the start line and expect to survive that length of run.  So you train.  You run 4 times a week for months.  You start off at where you are and you do more and more miles.

For me the start was a slow 5k.  You add some distance to one run each week and this becomes your long, slow run.  Next comes a short recovery run which is more of a really slow jog to get your muscles working after the long, slow run.  The other two runs are where the speed comes.  A quick 5k, a tempo run for 8k or maybe a run that you up the pace a couple of times.

Pretty soon the miles are starting to rack up.

I’ve spent 8 hours running this month and have covered nearly 80km (50 miles).  There are still two weeks of the month left!

Why am I telling you this?

Well, because when you sponsor someone to run a 13.1 mile race you’re actually sponsoring them to actually run close to 200 miles.

Every mile adds up and every mile counts.

Just like the sponsorship you’ve been so generous to donate.

So far I’ve raised £460.

That’s amazing.  A massive thanks to all of you for your support and generosity.  It’s always exciting when my phone makes the ‘Just Giving’ ping noise meaning that someone else has just donated.  You have been so generous.

I was leading worship at Carluke URC on Sunday and mentioned that I was running.  The people there sponsored me £117.  That kind of support is really overwhelming.  You are all part of the team…

we are macmillan

So, what will Macmillan do with your money?

  • £1,020 could pay for a Macmillan nurse for a week, helping people living with cancer and their families receive essential medical, practical and emotional support.
  • £537 could pay for a Macmillan social worker or family support worker for a week. They work with community and social services agencies to help people manage the social and practical problems of living with cancer.
  • £390 could cover the costs for a person to attend a small physical activity scheme in a rural area for a year.
  • Between £200,000 and £600,000 could pay for a new chemotherapy suite in a local hospital.
  • Between £3 million and £7 million could pay for a new oncology and outpatient unit in a hospital.

You can help by visiting my Stewart’s Just Giving page or by texting STEW68 £5 (or any amount) to 70070.

So, thank you.  Thank you so much for your support.  It means the world to me to be able to help a charity that gave so much help and support to my mum and to my dad.

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So, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about running, and in particular my half marathon run with my brother-in-law, Scott, in October.  To be honest, our training hasn’t been going well, between writing essays, work and Scott moving house it’s all a bit frantic.  But we’re committed and tomorrow I will run.  Promise.

Why is this so important to us?

Well, in just 14 weeks we’re running the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow in memory of my mum, Annis, and we would dearly like you to help us raise £2,000 to help a brilliant organisation who helped her over the last 16 years of her life, macmillan cancer care.

We know that £2,000 is a lot of money and that you are all skint, but it’s been a cracking day and I’m sure you’re sitting somewhere nice with a nice cold beer or a tasty ice cream.

How about, instead of having another one, you donate £3 to macmillan instead?  You donate £3 and tomorrow I’ll run 3 miles.  Deal?

Just text STEW68 £3 to 70070 or visit our justgiving site and donate there.

We and the thousands of people who are living with cancer and it’s effects would really appreciate it.


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Who else needs your space?

My churches hosting co-working revelation got me thinking…

Church halls have often been a hive of activity with anything from Boys’ Brigade to dance classes and slimming clubs.

That’s all good.

But who are you missing?

How can you help your community to engage with each other and make things better?  How could your church support community projects and create and nurture community at the same time?

Detroit SOUP – image by Dave Lewinski



Detroit SOUP inspires me.  Why? Because it’s easy and effective.

Here’s what SOUP say about SOUP:

SOUP is:

Detroit SOUP is a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects in Detroit. For a donation $5 attendees receive soup, salad, bread and a vote and hear from four presentations ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology and more. Each presenter has four minutes to share their idea and answer four questions from the audience. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think benefits the city the most. At the end of the night, we count the ballots and the winner goes home with all of the money raised to carry out their project. Winners come back to a future SOUP dinner to report their project’s progress.

Perhaps it’s easier to watch what happens:

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So, could you do something like SOUP in your church hall?

I think you could.

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I came across an article about church as a space for co-working yesterday.

It was one of those moments when you think that something is so obvious you can’t believe everyone isn’t already doing it!

We know that working patterns have changed.  Loads of people work from home now.  That’s great.  You don’t have to commute.  You can work in your pjs, listen to whatever music you like as loud as you want, video conference, email, work hours to suit your life… Home working has lots of upside, but it can also be a lonely existence.

That’s why you see so many people camped out in coffee shops with their MacBooks.  They are looking for company.  The presence of other human beings.  And cake.

nomad worker http://www.travelandworkonline.com

But we also know that being with others is a creative way to work.  Those conversations where people ask what you’re working on and then add some insight or suggest a contact that could help, or suggest working together on something…

So, why doesn’t your church create a space for these nomadic workers?

You have a hall that probably doesn’t get used much during the day.

You have tables and chairs.

You have a kitchen and toilets.

All you need is some good, reliable wifi, power sockets, a wifi printer and someone to be around to welcome people and put the kettle on and make a decent cup of coffee.  Stick in some whiteboards and plants and you have just created co-working nirvana.

It’s like a constant coffee morning for people with jobs.  And they will pay to use your space.

I’m not suggesting you become a start up incubator, yet, just a nice friendly place with space and a welcome.

There are some great examples of churches who are already doing it…

St Lydia’s in Brooklyn is my favourite.  They do dinner church so they were already half way there.

Sy Lydia’s Co-working

So, what’s stopping your church from being a space for co-working?

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A sermon based on 1 Samuel 17:32-49 & Mark 4:35-41

Today we find ourselves with two of the most famous stories in the Bible. Ones we have heard over and over again. The Old Testament gives us David and Goliath, that epic tale of the shepherd boy who took on the mighty giant. It’s a story we have grown up with. A story we love. A story we tell to our children about the brave wee boy who faced up to the mighty giant.

The Gospel gives us Jesus calming a storm. Again, it’s a story we have heard often, although we mostly hear the versions where Jesus comes walking on the water in the middle of the night. Luke even has Peter getting out of the boat and joining in until he notices the waves and sinks.

So, what are we to make of these familiar stories? What does placing them together like this allow us to see? What can they offer up to us in our world so very different to that of kings and armies and boy shepherds and giant warriors? Our world seems so very far from the days of the miracles and wonders of Jesus.

Except our context isn’t so very different, is it?

Again and again we find ourselves at war, standing face-to-face with another giant, another group of people who are different from us, who for reasons we don’t really understand end up on the opposing side, there to be fought, to be defeated.

And that, for me at least, is one of the difficulties with this story of the shepherd boy and the giant. We take sides. God takes sides. The giant warrior Goliath and his Philistine army are bad. They are evil. They are the enemy. That kind of labelling sticks around for a long time. We still call uncultured people ‘Philistines’ today. How’s that for a bit of latent racism?

This was almost a sermon about armour that fits. That’s the easy sermon for today. We look at little David trying to wear the armour of the great king Saul and we see that it doesn’t fit. The armour weighs the little shepherd boy down. It restricts his movement and limits his reach. It’s a great sermon for a church which feels threatened and insecure, who look around and see a scary world where the enemy is all around and where the great secular giant stands taunting us to come out and fight.

We could talk about casting off the past, freeing ourselves from the traditions that bind us, hold us down and keep us from reaching beyond our walls. We could see our traditions and doctrines as the armour of the past that no longer fits us, but it’s all that we have. Without the armour we are exposed and open to attack.

We could see ourselves as the underdogs. Just one well placed stone fired from our slings and the giant will be vanquished and everything will be wonderful.

We could sing some more hymns of war-like triumph like Fight the Good Fight… How about Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before? All too often that’s exactly where this story takes us… We watch with the Israelites as the shepherd boy walks out with his sling and some stones, we quake as the giant Goliath laughs at his puny opponent, we hold our breath as the pebble flies, time standing still as it strikes the mark, and we explode with joy as the giant falls to the ground. Victory is ours. Our God is greater than your god. We’re better than you.

And we hardly even notice that we are sucked into a never-ending cycle of violence.   This week this took the form of a white man walking into a prayer meeting in a black church in North Carolina and murdering nine people as they prayed for peace to God, the same God in whose name untold violence has been done across the centuries. There will be cries for the gunman to be executed, as though an eye for an eye is justice rather than revenge, but it seems that the most startling and most difficult thing to understand is a victim’s children expressing their forgiveness and love for the person who shot their mother. That’s what’s missing from the story of David and Goliath. We rationalise a violent story as being about overcoming adversity or winning against the odds. David stepping out and making peace with Goliath would be a story worth holding in such high esteem.

So, let’s step away from the murder of one larger man by another smaller one, as though it is some kind of example of faith. Let’s look instead at the contrast between that story and the example of God’s Son, Jesus, as we find it in our Gospel reading today.

This story of the storm comes at the end of a tumultuous day for Jesus. Earlier he had been brought news that his cousin John the Baptist had been murdered by Herod.

There’s a moment of temptation there. Remember when Jesus goes off into the wilderness after his baptism by John? After 40 days alone he is tempted, tested. Power and dominion are part of the test. Just say the word and all this can be yours. But Jesus doesn’t want it. Rely on God. That’s where real power lies. So there will be no armed rebellion with Jesus riding on a great white horse in shining armour at the head of the people’s liberation army. There will be no revenge. Herod will meet his maker at another time and in a different way but Jesus will not take up arms.

Instead Jesus tries to find somewhere peaceful to grieve for his cousin. Instead followed and surrounded by thousands of people. He feeds them all with a few loaves and some fish and heals the sick. He chooses to restore people to health and wholeness.

Again we read that Jesus tries to get some peace and heads out in a boat with the disciples as evening falls. He’s exhausted and is soon asleep in the back of the boat.

A gale blows up and soon the water is crashing over the sides, swamping the boat. The disciples are terrified and start to panic. They call on Jesus for help. “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

Peace! Be still.

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

It’s interesting that in the face of the gale and swollen waves that Jesus chooses to speak peace. Peace. He rebuked the wind and waves in their violence and chaos and brought peace.

It happens again and again in the Gospels. Jesus never once harms someone. He heals hundreds and feeds thousands. He talks of service and humility. He speaks about forgiveness, not just the moving past a small hurt but the difficulty of facing pain and suffering and choosing peace and lasting justice built on the restoration of relationship and community.

And still we choose David, the warrior poet, rather than Jesus, the healer and peacemaker, as our preferred model. Perhaps it’s just easier to see ourselves in the flawed humanity of David than the perfection of Jesus. But to do that means we don’t take seriously the fully human Jesus. We make him into some kind of sterilised angelic being, gliding through the world in sparkling white robes that new improved Daz could only dream of. We don’t see Jesus wading through the mud and garbage of the world with the rest of us.

We see only the glory of Jesus on the cross and forget that it was humanity’s love of power and violence that put him there.

There are many giants to be slayed.

God’s word is not safe,

it is dangerous.

It’s not benign,

it is powerful.

It encourages action and dissent

and sounds an alarm for us

to take up its challenge

and fight the monsters of today.


And in that call to action there is a choice

Always the same choice

Do we strap on our ill-fitting armour

draw our swords

and march out to slay

our giants,

those ideas that scare us,

those people who are not like us

and don’t like us?


Or do we stand in the face of the storm

and confidently,


speak the words of Jesus:


Peace! Be still!

For God does not dwell in the past,

and these stories do not remain on the page.


Will we continue to stand in amazement and look with awe upon the Son of God who commands even the wind and the waves but we still fail to hear the words he speaks to us:

Why are you afraid? After all that we have seen. After all that He has done. Have you still no faith? Are you still afraid? Peace! Be still.


The Good News is a living word

that speaks in every age,

that calls on God’s people

to rise to new challenges,

to seek new ways,

to love and to serve

all God’s people,

not just some of them.



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