ortizI am honoured to count Manny Ortiz as one of my friends. He is a remarkable man. As well as being Professor of Urban Mission at Westminster Seminary, he is also pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship (a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church) in the Hunting Park district of Philadelphia. He is a great theologian, a warm-hearted pastor, a passionate preacher, and a godly Christian. But above all, he has a great sense of humour.

When I arrived in Philadelphia in 2000, Manny and his wife, Blanca, along with their best friends, Sue and Randy Baker, took me to an Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia (Rocky’s neighbourhood) where all the waiting staff were frustrated and unspotted opera stars who gave impressive renderings of well-known arias. The highlight of the evening was when Manny gave one of the waiters a generous tip in exchange for his performance of “Danny Boy” in my honour. What a great night it was! Continue reading “Manny”

Born Again

For some time now it has been pointed out by researchers that the claim to be born again does not result in the transformation of people’s lives. The headline “Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce as Non-Christians” has been widely circulated in books like Ron Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005). Sider reports that according to Barna research only 9% of Christians tithe, of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage 80% had sex outside marriage in the next seven years, and that white evangelicals are more likely than Catholics and mainstream Protestants to object to having black neighbours. In other words, claiming to be born again doesn’t make much of a difference in people’s lives. They are pretty much like everybody else. They may go to church on a Sunday, and may be part of a Bible Study group and observe the trappings of evangelical religion, but its religion is not a transforming power. Continue reading “Born Again”


img_0060On my regular visits to Larne to visit my mother, I often pass Asher’s bakery and restaurant. It is on the roadside on the way out of Larne, just beyond Millbrook. Depending on the time of day and my schedule, I have been known to stop there for some refreshment. The mini-fry on offer is really hard to resist, and it must rate as one of the best deals anywhere. It is a fry of the highest quality, but as Patricia has pointed out, the fact that it says “mini” in front of it doesn’t make it healthy.

I am reliably informed that David Jeffrey, the Linfield boss, is also a regular customer at Asher’s and has been known to enjoy the odd mini-fry. So if it’s good enough for a finely-tuned athlete like Big Davy, it’s good enough for me. Maybe if Linfield get their act together at the climax of the season and win the championship, we could all celebrate by enjoying one of Asher’s mini-frys. Now if we were waiting for Larne FC to be successful before treating ourselves, we might never taste the delicacies on offer at Asher’s. What a shame!

Jeff and Jane

dsc01703We were able to welcome our good friends Jeff and Jane Jue this weekend on their first trip to Ireland. Jeff is Associate Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary who joined the faculty there during my tenure in the Academic Dean’s office. He is a graduate of Westminster Seminary (California) and gained his doctorate from Aberdeen University. Jeff is a 5th generation Chinese-American and his wife Jane, who is a physician in Philadelphia, is from a Korean-American family. I had the honour of officiating at their wedding in Princeton University Chapel four years ago.

Jeff was in Ireland to give a paper on millenarianism (the theme of his doctoral dissertation) at a conference in Trinity College, Dublin where he was able to establish good links with Crawford Gribben. Dr. Gribben holds the position of Long Room Hub Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Print Culture at TCD and has recently published a well-received book which analyses the theological issues underpinning the success of the Left Behind series of novels among Western Christians (Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America).

As we negotiated our way over the stones at the Giant’s Causeway on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Jeff and Jane were reflecting on why the spectacular setting of the North Coast had never been used as a setting for a major film. It got me thinking that perhaps some creative evangelical novelist writing out of the Left Behind school of thought might actually be able to give some bizarre, eschatalogical significance to the Giant’s Causeway. Is there a malevolent cosmic figure who plans to use that location as the place where his fiendish plan for world domination will begin? And then I thought: Could it all begin with the construction of a Visitors Centre? Maybe we are in the “end times”?

Craigavon Area Hospital Stairs

img_0050My pastoral work involves me climbing the stairs in Craigavon Area Hospital on a regular basis. They remind me of how weak my body really is. When visiting in the wards, I try to follow the recommendations of all the health gurus, and forsake the lift in favour of getting some extra exercise by using the stairs. By the time I get to Level 2 – the coronary care ward – I often feel as though I should be admitted. If I make it to Level 4 in one effort, I need to pause to regain my breath. When arriving at the desired level out of breath, one of the the best strategies I have used is to appear to be extra fastidious about applying the sterilising hand gel at the ward entrance and use that moment to recover.

It’s interesting to note the different behaviours adopted by people on the stairs. Some younger people are energetic “inside trackers” who hold the hand-rail and bound up or down two stairs at a time, and in the interests of personal safety, one needs to allow them the space they need. Other older folks move more hesitantly, giving way to anyone carrying a file or with a stethoscope around their neck. And some are seriously committed to their superstition of never passing on the stairs and wait patiently for the opposing traffic to clear before attempting to make it to the next landing.

I note these behaviours because there is little else to interest me in those minutes it takes me to make it up the stairs. I was wondering if some creative hospital manager could use the stairwell more creatively to communicate essential information about the hospital or about good health practices. At least that would mean that if I arrived at a landing slightly out of breath, I could pause and appear to be intelligently consulting a poster or looking at a picture. All I can do right now, as I pause out of breath, is to look rather sheepishly at my fellow travellers on the stairs and say something inane like “It’s a quare climb, isn’t it? You’re ready for a bed yourself when you get to the top.” Maybe I should start a campaign: “Make the Hospital Stairs More Interesting”?

Inevitably, I as come down the stairs after my visiting my people, I thank God for the strength to be able to use the stairs, and I pray that soon those whom I have visited may be renewed and restored so that they too may be able to walk down those stairs on their way home.