Treasure and Heart – Graham’s blog

Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 21)  Your treasure tells the story of your heart. What you value most, it is the basis of your passion, energy and thinking.

Now Jesus urged us to value heaven most; the kingdom of heaven, the rule and way of God shown in Jesus. This is a noble and unfailing focus for our priorities and values. Our treasure being in Jesus and in God’s rule describes the orientation and values of a follower of Jesus.

That is the big question Jesus poses. But other more nuanced questions follow: If your treasure is in Jesus what other treasures is it displacing or what else is fighting for treasure status for us?

I have to say I am never 100% going for it with Jesus, as much as I wish I was. If I recognize this I can become aware of competing priorities. Then I can face and address them. If we don’t see or acknowledge competing motivations then they will run wild.

I know that Jesus is primarily addressing the motivation of money and possessions. But his words can also apply to status and power. It could be that my treasure is my position, my role – that is what my heart is set on. That is challenging; have I ever realized that I am wedded to the role I play and can’t let go or struggle to see others take a key role? If so then position and power have become my treasure – even for a good cause.

Jesus goes a little further saying; “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” Matthew 6: 19
Storing up treasure, draws our attention to the process I go about accumulating treasure. I can also be aware to processes I am going about to generate treasure. Storing up is about the ways we go about reaching our goals. So, we may ask – how am I going about storing up treasure? What is my method of investment? Supporting others, praying, giving or simply watching from the sidelines? Am I seeking a noble aim in an unhealthy way?

My last question is about the relationship between heart, treasure and storing up.

In recent weeks I have had many conversations with people looking at their priorities, passions and balance of life. Your treasure tells the story of your heart, your heart needs to be expressed in living. In this, I am aware that we all hold priorities that we care about and that we have a deep need and potential to play a specific part in reaching that priority. If heart, treasure and storing up are not in harmony we experience disheartening imbalance.

For some this is a question of admitting what these things are? For some it is creating space in the midst of work and family pressures to allow heart, treasure and storing up to grow. Maybe we need to order life and work, maybe we need to do something differently?

So we can ask: What is my treasure – what matters to me most?
How am I storing up – what am I doing to contribute to what matters to me?
In what I am doing am I doing things a bad way, a good way and could there be a better way?

So, without a doubt, Jesus is talking about our ultimate treasure in him and the priority of the Kingdom. Clearly we cannot adjust to this and turn from misplaced ways without Jesus’ help and our intent.

It is worth taking a deeper look at our treasure, heart and storing up and in the process to remember that a person is worth what the object of their heart is worth. From Jesus this is both a gift and a challenge.

Graham Brownlee, October 2019

How do we build something good? Graham’s blog

In the week of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, we have commemorated sacrifice made to achieve a greater good.

Many important issues are raised in reflecting on this. What was the greater good being sought? The extent and nature of the sacrifice? How can we ensure that good is preserved without the ravages of war in the future? What are the threats to our common good today?

The Queen made an interesting observation in her speech at the state banquet attended by President Donald Trump: “After the shared sacrifices of the Second World War, Britain and the United States worked with other allies to build an assembly of international institutions, to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated. While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard won peace.” 

Here she blended welcome and respect for President Trump with a firm reminder of the purpose and value of international institutions. The latter which are so decried by many populist leaders of our time.

Let’s make a connection:

“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defence of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1: 15 – 18, NRSV)

Here Paul observes that many preach the gospel (the good news of Christ) for noble or selfish motives. Rather daringly he concludes, what does it matter as long as the gospel is proclaimed.

Now in the case of the Christian good news, surely bad motives and practises discredit the good news? Yes, but the good news is bigger than the messenger and which of us ever promotes the good news without elements of rivalry and envy? We will find ourselves being asked to encounter people of questionable motives for the sake of the greater good.

What does that tell us? Whether our good news is the Christian gospel, or international relations, or environmental protection motives it will always be mixed and if the good cause is bigger than the rivals we must be prepared to engage with diverse and even antagonistic parties for a greater cause. The goal is paramount and the agenda is bigger than the participants.

Hopefully, powerful participants will recognise the importance of coming together for a greater goal and adapt their approach to foster partnership. Otherwise we are all the worse off and the goal may not be achieved. This is something of the reminder the Queen was offering to Donald Trump. It is one to bear in mind in UK politics also in church life.

For the sake of international relations, environmental policy and the Christian gospel we will need to engage with people of different emphasis and motives. If we fail to do this greater sacrifices and higher prices will need to be paid.

This asks us to keep our good aims and goals in clearer view and to tone down our rhetoric and posturing to allow people to find common cause. This is a tough ask, in seeking models and motivation Paul was drawn to Jesus Christ:

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 4 – 11 NRSV)

Graham Brownlee, June 2019

Why in God’s name?

“I commend our political leaders for standing together in Creggan on Good Friday. I am however left with the question. Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman, with her whole life in front of her, to get to this point?” Father Martin Magill speaking at the funeral of Lyra McKee on 24th April 2019

This was clearly directed at Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald, the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Has the message got across? Well it will struggle to judging by the immediate response that these figures were the last to stand and applaud as others in the congregation rose.

 Politicians and other public figures play a key role and are in a difficult position because they represent sections of the community whose position they seek to protect and whose support they seek to garner.

 We have just finished celebrating Easter and on Easter Sunday, when we remembered what the cross stands for – forgiveness in Christ today and judgment through Christ in the future. Both are crucial. This is easily said but it is the Christian message and it is vital to grasp and put in that order.

However, we frequently we reverse the order – we dispense judgment now and postpone forgiveness for the future.

This is what preoccupied power figures in the last week of Jesus’ life and jams the politicians, religious and public leaders in Northern Ireland but also in many other contexts.

 In the greatest challenges of our time, we need brave movements of recognition, forgiveness and reconciliation to come to the fore now and to seek reckoning, reordering and judgment in the future that will not be controlled by one interest group. This dynamic needs to play out in the spheres of politics on the island of Ireland, addressing the environmental crisis, combatting violent extremism and debates about Europe to name but a few.

 For Christians to say that this movement needs the enabling, sacrificial love and authority of Christ is not a narrow religious point. It is the heart of our faith and recognition that leaders who represent vested interest will find it hardest to meet this challenge.

 The Easter good news of forgiveness and judgment is for people personally and also for society at large. Everything must, can and will be different because of Easter and the cross. This can create a liberating order of forgiveness and judgment when engaged with by politicians, campaigners, journalists and community leaders alike. Without this history may repeat itself.

So when Father Martin Magill asks: “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman, with her whole life in front of her, to get to this point?” maybe we have the answer.

 Graham Brownlee, April 2019


Being With – Graham’s blog

We have embarked on a series of services on Sunday mornings looking at ‘Being with’.

Try this thought – God’s chosen goal from creation onwards has been to be with us. From walking in the Garden of Eden – to being present in the Holy Spirit, from being in the temple to being among us in Jesus Christ. God has always willed to be with us, there is no place God would rather be and no better place for us.

The thread running through this is that being with God is not a state of fellowship, spiritual depth or a warm feeling on the way to something else. It is our destination.

There are many tasks before us and many things to be done. These are times when we work together to achieve something or work for others to make a difference. These are vital and essential actions – whether in campaigning for social justice or going out in evangelism. But they are actions on the way to a greater goal that people will dwell in relationship with God enjoying time, openness, hope, love and justice.

This perspective puts overcoming isolation, breaking down barriers and sharing reconciliation at the heart of the gospel. We can become so preoccupied about our tasks and actions for people and we can forget what they are about in the first place.

Here are a couple of subtle ways in which seeing things in this way deepens some of our core messages as Christians:

“God had to come personally to live and die for us.” We explain that only God was good enough to make this sacrifice, but thinking is terms of ‘being with’ we can also say that God had to come and do this because being with God is life as it was always meant to be. If God isn’t fully present in bringing salvation, then it cannot be life as it should be. It is simple as that – it has to be God!

In the midst of the toughest pastoral situations, we find ourselves searching for a credible prayer: “May God be with you” we murmur, wondering whether this is enough. We are conflicted that we couldn’t pray that God will heal and step in and change everything. But thinking in terms of ‘being with’ we realise that God being with us, is not a second-best option when facing a lack of healing – it is the best it is the way of living and experiencing life as God intended. This is not to negate the possibility, power and importance of healing and watershed changes but to realise that they are steps on the way to God being with us.

I guess to paraphrase Jesus – believe in me because I am with you and you know me and if you have to trust me because of the miracles and things I do. Have a read of John 10 and see that the debate Jesus was having there was to show that belief is first and foremost about knowing Jesus and trusting – as sheep know a shepherd.

So, in this current series on Sundays we are taking a look at what this means for us as Christians, for our connections with other people and for wider society. To consider that in all our endeavours it is the will of God to be with us, among Christians, in the midst of society and through all creation.

Graham Brownlee, March 2019

Lammy versus Dooley – Graham’s blog (2)

Lammy versus Dooley ( )

David Lammy MP has picked up on the approach of Comic Relief:

“My problem with British celebrities being flown out by Comic Relief to make these films is that it sends a distorted image of Africa which perpetuates an old idea from the colonial era.” as he observed that celebrities, who are mainly white, visit traumatic situations in Africa.

Stacey Dooley (below, right) the documentary journalist, and Comic Relief contributor, has tweeted back: “David, is the issue with me being white? (Genuine question) …because if that’s the case, you could always go over there and try raise awareness?”

If you look at Lammy and Dooley, you will see that they are both on the side of good – but they are falling out on issues of race, colonialism and celebrity charity. These are important challenges, but the problem with Comic Relief is this – whilst it is an amazing initiative it is built upon a one off episode of giving and an approach to aid that can’t help being about doing for people. As a result, being with people gets sidelined.

This is the deeper matter behind the issues that Lammy and Dooley are raising, and a challenge for us all. (for more on this see my Being With blog)


“Spes durat avorum” – Let the hope of our ancestors endure – Graham’s blog

The motto of the high school I attended in my youth was “spes durat avorum” which translated means “let the hope of our ancestors endure”.

Now as a teenager that never struck me as the most spiritually insightful or the most exciting motto one could have for a school. But looking back now I think it is one of the best.

My school was the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Hexham – now a High School – founded in 1599 by ancestors who had hope that in founding a school they would give greater opportunity for poor children; provide good education for a growing merchant and farming class in Northumberland, to extend learning to more children and as Good Queen Bess looked down on us in the dining hall – to make sure a good protestant grounding was shared by all.

In this sense the ancestors who founded my school hoped to bless children and society through education. It was a benevolent and charitable purpose. I imagine they expected the curriculum to equip the children to find employment and contribute to a flourishing and stable society.

Now many years on, what do we hope education will bestow on our children? Is the same as in 1599?

The needs of society and our understanding of education have certainly changed in 420 years. But I venture to say that we still have great ambition for learning. Yes, it is to gain knowledge, but it is also to gain wisdom and understanding. Not just to know stuff but to grasp why. I hope it includes shaping values with character and not just skills. I desire young people to be grounded as resilient people and not just prepared for a specific job or exam grade.

This is not an impractical hope, in fact it is thoroughly pragmatic and rational. I know that young people in school today will not have one career for their whole working life, they will have 2 or 3 at least – so they need to gain flexible tools for living through education. I also recognise that as we get older we become hardened and resistant in our values and character. The time to be formed is in our youth. So schools need space to develop, to explore and to practice values.

It is a challenge to blend practical and relevant education with the nurturing of character, values and resilience. But more than ever this is what we should offer our children. This is what I wish to bestow on future generations. This is what I hope we can find in our schools – primary, secondary and colleges alike.

The challenge and opportunity to shape character and nurture values is not one left to schools alone. It is a responsibility shared by communities and families too. So I hope for stronger partnership between families, churches, other institutions and schools for a better and fuller education.

It is an aspiration that demands all our efforts. I believe that to work together in new and innovative ways would be an outworking of the same dream that our ancestors had when they founded my school all those years ago.

In this way may the hope of our ancestors, who built education in this country endure.

 Graham Brownlee, February 2019


Hope in Precarious Times – Graham’s blog

So a baby is about to be born in this brutal and brilliant world.

A baby come to be the Saviour of the world. This is weird, a way to put the world straight which is either breath-taking in its naivety or profoundly wrong-footing the powers that be.

At the first nativity, Israel was gripped by a face-off between the powers of Herod, religious institutions and Roman empire. This gridlock was further entrenched by internal divisions between these conflicting groups. All the nativity characters were in the sway of these battling players.

One thing was for sure, the power struggle between Herod, religious authority and Rome wasn’t going to beat swords into ploughs, nor going to enable everyone to sit in their own space without fear – to paraphrase Micah 4: 3,4. Indeed the actions of these people would only make matters worse.

Race forward a couple of thousand years and the powers that be in 2018 are in a similar gridlock, riven by internal division and seeking to secure their position rather than grasp the common good.

It could be argued that the political parties and structures today started with a noble intent for justice, improvement and opportunity which they have lost the ability to pursue. So, whilst challenges and opportunities of the environment, care for an ageing population, technological innovation, developing education to equip our young people await attention our politicians are fighting blow by blow to exhaustion over Brexit and businesses are producing winter results showing declining Christmas trading. Then in a few days as the seasonal holiday comes, senior religious leaders will speak messages of peace and goodwill which seem like nice thoughts in a festive bubble. But the vital connections don’t seem to be made.

Maybe we need a radically alternative that is indeed breath-taking in its naivety and profound in wrong-footing power.

Back at the first Christmas it seemed that God was saying that the institutions of monarchy, state and religion were unable to meet the challenge and so nothing short of the personal act of God from the bottom up would bring the transformation, heart change and new order.

It seems that then as now the great powers were casting long shadows rather than light. Then and now a new order was needed. Into that comes the raw vulnerability of the Christ child, gifted with gold, frankincense and myrrh with all their meaning, destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many. God’s act of hope in those precarious times came to pastoral farm workers, working northern families and Persian magicians, which would be taken up by fishermen, tax officials, revolutionaries and one or two scholars.

The outbreak of hope cut across cultural and social boundaries and it blossomed in homes, streets, hillsides, lakesides and meeting halls. Then in flowed unstoppably into the corridors of power. And all these connections began with a personal encounter with Jesus and an intentional commitment to his message. Then and now this is hope in precarious times.

Similar connections are being made today not in parliamentary chambers or quarterly business statements but in classrooms, streets, homes and around meal tables.

So in this brutal and brilliant world there are two Christian messages:

Firstly, that the powers of religion, state and multinationals cannot bring light in darkness. These powers shouldn’t be thrown away but reordered and recover why there are here in the first place. We need new connections.

Secondly, that the crucial connection that makes all else possible is with Jesus Christ.

This is hope in precarious times – that God has done something different and that we can break the cycle.

Graham Brownlee, December 2018


Baby Jesus do do do! Graham’s blog 2

“Baby Shark” is a song and dance that has captured the attention of young children and families this year. It has had over 2 million hits on Youtube.

Margaret Brownlee wrote some Christian words to the song – many others have done this – so this is just one version. The children at Fairburn View Primary School in Castleford performed this at their nativity. Have a look and listen at their version and share with your friends.


Just in case you couldn’t pick up the Castleford accents:

Baby Jesus do do do

Mummy Mary do do do

Daddy Joseph do do do

Shepherds came do do do

Wise men travelled do do do

In your head do do do

Merry Christmas to you you you!


Graham Brownlee, December 2018


Grandparents at the crib. Graham’s blog

If things go according to plan, Margaret and I will become grandparents for the first time on Boxing Day! So, a new perspective comes into our lives.

With my new identity I have noticed that there are no grandparents in the Christmas story. Now I am not arguing for 2 new fabled figures around the crib. But adjusting to becoming a grandparent has got me thinking and praying.

As I await a birth, I am so aware of the vulnerability of it all. I am sure I felt this on becoming a parent, but it has come back deeper. This coming birth brings such a mix of expectation, uncertainty, joy, anxiety. As I look on as a grandparent, I see this mix of emotions not so much in me but in the parents to be. This is a massive thing they are experiencing, they are feeling vulnerable as they prepare. The new child will be vulnerable too.

The other thing that strikes me is the number of adjustments to be made. The arrival of one new life is going to change the whole rhythm, balance and shape of family life for the parents. Nothing will ever be the same again. They can decorate room and get all the necessary equipment but there is so much more to adapt to.

In Advent we expect a birth and we prepare our nativity. There will be no grandparents in the scene. But there are major vulnerabilities in our Christian story, there are huge adjustments that the child will demand.

We know in the Christmas story the vulnerability and adjustments are not just for a family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus but in the life of God in human form and in the consequences, demands and transformation Jesus will bring among people and in the world.

Well, with just under 5 weeks to go, our apprehensive daughter and her partner get to the stage of saying “We wish the baby was born now” – bring it on. As grandparents we wonder: “Do they know what they wish for?”

I guess the same wishes and questions belong to advent and Christmas too!

Graham Brownlee, November 2018

On diversity and church – a Christian view. Graham’s blog

One of most valuable attributes of a local church congregation is being a diverse community.At a social level this provides mixed human interaction and caring in an increasingly isolated and compartmentalised society. Old and young mixing together and so able to enjoy vitality, friendships and new perspectives. The connections and support mechanisms churches can offer that foster wellbeing in the wider community.

But many local congregations have lost this diversity of community, small aging congregations proliferate and are declining; new churches of students and young adults pop up. Yet although geographically close these aging and youthful groups do not interact, because the new gathering is suspicious of the inertia of the older and the older perceives the newer as shallow and gimmicky.

Now diversity follows another factor – that of culture and race. Once again mono-cultural churches spring up, playing an important role in fostering a shared story of culture, community and Christ. My experience is that over 2 or 3 generations these churches will diversify as the culture and story of that church becomes more complex and varied itself.

Some churches experience and welcome diversity in one congregation, Moortown Baptist Church being one. This is a blessing to us. Like every blessing it brings joy, opportunity and responsibility. We would do well to reflect upon this diversity. Is this simply co-existence (different groups in the same space but not relating deeply)? Is this one host culture welcoming others as the guests or becoming equal collaborators? I suggest tentatively, that many of us embrace diversity when it is the other we are serving and giving to but might be disconcerted or unprepared for mutual relationships where we receive as much as we give.

I have a sense that as we grow together as different cultures, ages, backgrounds, we can get stuck on relationships of deference on the one hand or strict judgement but not get further. Deference meaning that we excuse the other because are not able to challenge and engage; and judgement bringing harshness because we lack understanding and empathy.

We can grow through this not by assuming coming together is automatic, nor by seeking an artificial conformity but by discovering a deeper and mutual appreciation.

Age and culture/race are easy examples to give but this also applies to gender, class, education, sexual orientation, disability…

And what of the Christian view? Many Christians have followed exciting and challenging journeys in diversity. Not by finding quick ready-made answers but by finding time and time again that as God is three in one, there is something profoundly mysteriously and wonderfully of God when diversity intertwines.

As Christians we also appreciate that Christ was God among us and humble that we learn to be together following the way Jesus Christ lived himself.

So we come full circle. The church is a special place and community in a divided world not primarily because that is the way we choose it, or because we are just nice together, or because we have a ready-made infrastructure but basically because this is how God is and how God works among us. A precious gift to be nurtured indeed.


Graham Brownlee, October 2018


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