5 days of reading:2

(See http://diggingalot.org/diggingalot/?p=2108  for the background).

darkness

Sometimes it is easy to see ‘sprituality’ as something ‘inner’: I think it is more a way of ‘seeing’ that is a motivator for action. When all around is crying ‘Look after you and yours, brood on hurts, find a crutch and lean on it’ etc…. I think that Jesus-centred spirituality is saying ‘wherever you are, however you are, how can you bless others’…..

The second part of the chapter is called ‘A way of darkness’.

”Darkness’, like ‘loss’, is too easily assumed to be negative; darkness is a place we should not be. It is, in fact, a normal and important part of the life of faith.’

I have found that to be true, but I still want to run from it….. (and also the way my mind works, I want to go into that repeated sketch from the ‘Fast Show’ which always runs the same way…. a thoughtful bloke, quiet, who goes along quite normally until he utters the words ‘dark’, ‘bleak’ or ‘black’ and then goes into a spiral of despair and wails….. I always find that darkly comic….. there you go…destroyed the moment. If you want deep spirituality, read Thomas Merton. Nothing to see here….move along now…).

In the book ‘The Prodigal Project’ (Riddell et al), a story is told of a church with lively and bouncy worship (and regardless of what you think of the general tone of this blog, I have nothing against that) reaching a pitch of worship and the worship leader had got the congregation to a place where he wanted them to be. There was a short period of silence. In the silence, the sound of screaming and dull thumping could be heard: next door, in the adjoining house, a man was battering his partner. The worship leader, embarrassed maybe and not knowing what to do, asked the band to begin some loud rousing choruses to dull out the sound….

‘The most sensible response when you cannot see anything is not to rush around and fight it, but to be still. We must learn to listen and feel our way in ways that may be new to us. It will be slower, more hesitant, but no less faithful or purposeful.’

Right now, I do not know what to do in several situations: I’m lost, stuck. There is so much I could do: my head is, as usual buzzing with ideas, my in box and in tray are full of initiatives and the pressure to ‘do something’ feels very loud. I managed to cancel a meeting, carved out some time to pray, read and blog this…. and…. I still don’t know what to do…… maybe I need to have the courage to do more of that…more often….

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. ~Anne Lamott

(HT: http://sallysjourney.typepad.com/– see post ‘Hope’ and follow the story back….)

5 days of reading:1

For at least a week now, I’ve been slowly blogging through the brilliant ‘The Road to growth less travelled: spiritual paths in a missionary church’ David Runcorn (Grove 2008).

Its taken me ages- it is so rich. There is a chapter called ‘A contradictory spirituality’ which has 5 parts- hence 5 days…. then I’ll go off at another tangent maybe, before finishing it. You are already rooted to your monitor in sheer ecstasy; I can tell…

‘A theology that comes pre-packaged, and in which there are no loose ends, is not true to life nor can it adequately reflect the richness of the gospel’

This, from John Drane, has often been one of my favourite quotes…. how many times have I been sold a prepackaged theology or felt looked down as I would not buy….. hmmm… and how many times have I tried to sell?

First marker of a contradictory spirituality is ‘A way of loss’. Beware… you are entering Leonard Cohen territory…

leonardcohen07

‘If our expectation is that ‘real’ faith is about presence, life, blessing and meeting, we will find it very hard to understand loss when it comes.’

‘One of the core tasks in the midst of loss is to be faithful to it. Because there is no comfortable way of being lost we will tend to look for the quickest way out.’

This is so true and so often I have heard this: ‘I can’t be a real Christian to feel this’, ‘Cheer up; you’ll soon feel better- there are plenty more worse than you’, ‘God can’t be in this; I felt nothing’….or even…’I felt so miserable, I had to shop’. What if, in those moments when you feel nothing you may well be closer to God/doing what he wants?

I don’t say that lightly…. I do have some inner sense that what I am doing is what I am called to do. Just lately, however, I feel loss: ‘Lord- it would be nice to have some ‘success’ sometimes- like right now’. It would be nice if you are doing the right thing that you could feel it’. One of my churches used to have a youth group- we are trying to reimagine it right now- on Sunday I saw lots of photos of how I remembered it: it was hard not to look at them with anything other than grief….. it is hard to find an environment to express that…

‘What if our message must, at least at times, be more tentative, humble, exploratory and vulnerable? It may be more authentic and recognizable for it.’

Suprising possibilities:3

IMG_1595

Maybe not such a suprising possibility as an insight*(see end of post). I have had this sticker on my bag now for a couple of weeks. I had to wear it at the local senior school: we have a fantastic ‘Youth for Christ’ team there that have been accepted as part of the school- this allows me to get into a place which is hard to get into. I help out once a week teaching GCSE RE…. I love it- if I could do what I do full time in a school, then I think I would be a happy bunny….

One day, when I finished, I stuck it on my bag as a reminder that I’m a visitor and need to act like one at all times:-

…..treading carefully- I’m a guest- might need to look and listen more than taking situations/people for granted…

…..respecting the rules of the host country….’seeking the welfare of the city’ as the biblical metaphor has it….

….never getting into the mentality that ‘this is my place’.

….always being able to look at things as if I work from different values and have a different home.

As I said a few days ago, in the words of the old negro spiritual: ‘this is not my home: I’m a passing through…’

 

 

(* please don’t think that I sit around, Yoda like, having deep insights. That is one problem with blogs- they can make you sound wiser and more insightful than you really are. I’m just the same as you; some days shine with light and other days are grey….. I’m just a good mimic and can sound deeper than I really am…)

The over has ended…

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, still the bells and put the flags at half mast. The English cricket season ends today (well the first class season ended yesterday; it’s just one day cricket today).

This is the moment when the horizontal rain, the damp and the high winds of summer give way to the horizontal rain, the damp and the high winds of autumn. September cricket is poignant as I know it is all going to end soon. The last day is worse for me. The only thing that cheers me (apart from my deep love for The Lord, all his people and His work of course..…) is listening to this:-

dlm-album-cover

Cricket and music should not mix: it’s not right and it doesn’t work (Think ‘Howzat’ from the 70s and ‘Two little pals of mine from the 50s… case proven) : this does IMHO. Tongue in cheek without becoming comedy…. totally brilliant. ‘Jiggery Pokery’ never fails to make me laugh (even when it rhymes ‘Aussie skulduggery’ with ‘buggery’…may be a while before I play that in church…) as does ‘Meeting Mr Miandad’……. others just make me sing and lift my spirits on this day: the saddest of the year….

…excuse me I have to break off there and cry….

duckworth-lewis-method-22

 

 

Vanity of vanities- all is vanity.

I do not post sermons on here (I could say unless they are wild, cutting edge and amazing- but all of mine are; without exception….. I’ll just pause there whilst I watch feats of porcine aviation...). However, I am going to post something that I wrote for the ‘Village News’ in the place where I live.

The ‘Village News’ is a monthly church/community newsletter. ‘Clergy’ write a thought each time it comes out. I feel that often a lot of these articles are full of ‘insider’ language. I try to be true to the tradition and imagine I’m speaking to someone who might have a vague belief in God but is not sure who he/she/it is.

I have had a lot of reaction; positive- to this article. This has been mainly from people outside church. It suprised me that people would even comment ( that is genuine suprise by the way: not just an ‘aw shucks, it was nothing really. I am so humble’ comment).

oasis-split

‘Desert in the Oasis’

It is a tragedy: a once great national institution struggling for inspiration and riven with internal conflicts falling apart amidst great acrimony. I am talking, of course about Noel Gallagher leaving the rock group Oasis.  

In a world where untimely and preventable death happens to over 35,000 people a day it is a very minor thing; although last month it occupied more column inches, air time and bytes on the blogosphere than the deaths of those people.  

If you don’t know the story it involves the long running feud between the Gallagher brothers that finally became insurmountable. One response to it is easy: learn to forgive- as the song goes ‘All you need is love’ or as they sang ‘stand by me: nobody else knows the way it’s going to be’.  

Except it is not easy is it? When I conduct a funeral, I find that most of us have a relationship somewhere that has broken down and now will never be ‘fixed’. This has usually happened, as the prayer goes ‘through ignorance, weakness or our own deliberate fault’. Some things just seem hard to forgive.  

Every week I have to lead worship that includes the line. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others’.  It invites me to weigh my grievances in the light of God’s way of dealing generously with me. It then offers me the chance to deal generously and live well with others.  

If Noel and Liam read the Hutton Rudby  newsletter, I am not sure what they would think of that, but if you would excuse me; I have to retire to a darkened room, light a candle, put on my copy of ‘Definitely Maybe’ and weep…

Suprising possibilities:2

Monday mornings: I like them slow. Monday mornings are my sanity time- filing from Sunday, putting Sunday to bed…. leisurely reflection on the Sunday coming, praying, planning and getting some focus for the week to come and then a long lunchtime run around the village….

The last thing I want to do on Monday morning is to go out and see people: it disrupts this time.

coffee

 

One of the small chapels that I am minister of is in a community with no big sense of community: the school closed over 30 years ago- there is no shop, no post office, the parish church is down to fortnightly services with less than a handful attending, the pub struggles and on a good Sunday, the Methodist chapel has just over two handfuls. Almost everone drives to the large market town for everything they need or want.

Monthly for about 6-9 months a year a small housegroup meets: over 50% of the church are part of it. Over time it has become a place where people talk about ordinary stuff, pray through it and then see how the Bible touches what has been talked about. It is one of the least ‘holy huddles’ I know.

A year ago, they began to lament the lack of community. One who was on the parish council leafleted the area and began a once a year Christmas tree lighting (the tree was always there- it had never been lit officially- just turned on)- 50 turned up of all ages for conversation, chocolate and carol singing (spontaneous) and piled into chapel. It was fantastic to watch the faces of chapel people as ‘their’ chapel had muddy footprints all over it and cake rubbed into the carpet: they loved it!

Someone else said: ‘Why don’t we start a coffee morning in the village hall?’ and they did. Community is slowly being rebuilt. It’s on Mondays….mornings….. my worst time. This Monday I went again. Slowly I am being recognised and being part of it. Slowly people are being opening up and talking about what other things can be done; can a toddler group be started? I am begining to see people in the community instead of just turning up once a month to run a service and visit church members. My challenge is: could I be more regular there?

Thing is: I haven’t a clue where this is going to lead. It may just ‘stop’ there. Or things may grow and develop. Perhaps worship may start, perhaps informal prayer may start or maybe something else will grow that will bless the community. Perhaps the chapel may grow in numbers. Maybe it will close. I haven’t got a clue and I feel the delicious possibility of not knowing the way ahead.

Stop: looking at it one way it is ‘just’ a coffee morning and I really should be attending to other stuff:- planning meetings, delving into the word…trying to get the group of churches I am part of financially sounder (I am the wrong minister to be able to do this!)or is being there part of it?

Part of me longs to be in a bigger church with a full range of activities and to be ‘known’ nationally. Most of me, however, loves to be in these ‘church, but not church’ situations which by their nature are fragmentary, loose and tenuous where I can watch, look and listen and hear the music of the kingdom playing gently in the background even if I sometimes can’t hear the full melody or if I sing out of tune…..

…where now, O Lord?

 

Reading some more even more slowly….

Sometimes what is seems so ‘given’ that it is hard to imagine anything being different.

I think I read in a book by Mike Riddell a story about a new sect that held prayer meetings. The leader of the sect had a cat. During prayers the cat climbed over people, mewed and generally did ‘cat distracting prayer meeting’ things (I do not have a cat: I have no idea what those things would be).  The leader therefore used to tie the cat’s collar to a post whilst prayers were happening. The leader went through various cats during his long life, always following the same procedure.

Eventually the leader died and a new leader was elected. Of course, that leader had to have a cat. She didn’t really like them, but leaders have to have cats. Cats came and went, leaders came and went. One year there was a horrendous epidemic of cat flu and all the cats in the land died. The sect wailed and moaned: ‘Why has God let us down; how can we continue to worship him if we have no cat to tie up during our prayer meetings?’

cats

(I still have bad memories of being a housing officer and being trapped in a house with cats in who had not been let out for weeks…)

In ‘The Road to Growth Less Travelled’ by David Runcorn (Grove 2008), there is this quote:-

‘We have lived in an aggressive consumer culture for so long that we find it very difficult to recognize just how much we have adopted its language and live within its assumptions. It is desperately hard for us not to think of God, the gospel and the church as products and that succesful marketing of them is a sign of their vitality. So mission brings the gospel into the market place and we compete for customers.’

… the market/culture/personal choice whatever is such a part of our unquestioned assumptions that we find it hard to see things any other way: there is a footnote somewhere in Kallenberg BJ ‘Live to tell’ (Brazos, 2002) to the effect that ‘Jesus is my personal saviour’ is more popular in American churches than ‘Jesus is Lord’. You can chose a saviour… a Lord is something else. Yet the latter term is the biblical one….

…and if our attempts to market God fail…then a response is to cry ‘why has God let us down’? I wonder if sometimes instead God is shaking his head and saying instead ‘Will you never learn?’

‘In consumer culture everything is an object. Everything is defined by its usefulness and what it can do for me…. Buildings and worship are now designed for maximum relevance and accesibility to the world around. We know what we want to say to each other but we are in danger of losing any sense of God’s otherness in our midst.

But a society based around such values will find God practically use-less. God can serve no purpose….God has often been reduced to a useful, predictable idol, or is experienced as absent.’

One comment after too many words. Once I was in a seminar, I won’t say where or when, when someone who had a high role in a church, after outlining a sequence of events that had turned out well closed by saying ‘He is a good chap- God’…….. there is nothing I can add to that without slipping into extreme ungrace….

 

Suprising possibilities:1

Let me be clear on one thing: I think photoshop is a place that sells photos. That is why I lift images from elsewhere and rarely post my own. If you want good photos and insights, go to  http://davesdistrictblog.blogspot.com/ and you won’t go far wrong.

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Someone gave me these on Sunday: ‘for your wife’. One of the chapels I am minister of is small- well the village is small. We meet twice a month and sometimes hope and a future seem hard to come by.

The person who gave them to me said ‘sunflowers’ (I confess- I know nothing about flowers and I thought sunflowers were only yellow. If I had a favourite flower it would be a yellow sunflower). She reminded me that several weeks back I had given out sunflower seeds during a service.

This person, had listened, planted and tended.

Just as I was given them my mind exploded with possibility…. new life….. the kingdom as a seed, growing unseen….. what was little and insignificant bringing forth colour…. grains of wheat dying and then bringing life….

Nothing practical there: ‘Do x, y, z and this chapel will grow’. I don’t know whether it will- on many indicators it has a short life. But just for a moment to sense possibility, life and hope…. I do not think I can see that place in the same way again.

Strikes me that all the time God is showing possibility and hope if we/I could only see….

Reading some more once more

A reminder; I’m reading through ‘The Road to Growth less travelled: spiritual paths in a Missionary Church’: David Runcorn (Grove booklet-2008). At the rate I’m getting through this, listening to it, savouring it and thinking about it, ‘War and Peace’ would take me a lifetime….

questions

There is a chapter called ‘An Irrelevant Spirituality’. It begins with this quote:-

‘I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant!’

(which is a reminder to me that I must seek out Nouwen ‘In the name of Jesus’ from which this quote comes).

…somehow I don’t think that it is a call to be wedded to the 1662 service book, singing Sankey or repeatedly saying ‘I just really, just thank you that you have annointed and undertaken for us’. There is a need to have some relevance to culture, but it is so fast moving (and focussed on ‘cool’/planned obselesence/’wants’ becoming ‘needs’/comfort and peace being the ulimate measure etc etc) that once you ‘have it’….. ‘it’ has moved on. Make the journey from relevance to prayer.

I think it is going now, but I was tired of the model of the ideal Christian as one who was always on the go, always moving, never still. (I tend to avoid circles where the talk is how busy one is/ how I have turned things around or dissing one’s ‘own’ church for not following ‘my’ vision: although I realise that I also fall into that way of talking..…) Ultimately your value was what you could ‘do’ or ‘acheive’. I don’t think that doing or acheiving are unimportant, rather God looks at value differently.

Then 2 quotes, which drew me up short…

‘Meeting our needs,’ in any consumer or therapeutic sense, is precisely not what the gospel offers us. Quite the contrary.’

and

‘…relevance is not the same as resonance’

Right now, I feel a bit like Lesslie Newbigin, going out to India as a missionary and then realising that much of what he knew of following Jesus turned out to be Western civilisation with a shiny Christian sheen.

Some questions to self:-

***Without being over-mystic have I the courage to be a minister who prays/seeks God/talks God/notices God as if that is the only thing that matters (alongside putting in as much effort as if only effort matters…although I’m questioning this latter point as I write it)?

*** Have I the courage to seek resonance above relevance?

*** Have I the courage not to make this just a solitary journey (another trap of ‘sprituality’) but to communicate and form communities around this?

*** Am I strong enough to become irrelevant/sidelined if that is a gospel value?

I sometimes write these posts early in the morning as part of the discipline of reading. I sometimes write these at night to round off the day. I’m finding this booklet deeply unsettling at whatever time of reading/writing.

‘Wooooh’ on Monday

tweenies

Last week: coming home from school.

My son has an old ‘Tweenies’ scooter. It was given to the oldest 7 years ago and it was a few years old then. Since then it has often been carefully stored in the open air; the rain, snow and poor weather that makes for an average North Yorkshire summer. It is close to being ‘retired’. It is too young for him. It is battered….but he likes it better than anything newer or ‘cooler’.

He loves to ride it to and from school. Coming home one day he coasts down a gentle slope.

‘Let me do it again.’

So he does.

This time faster, swerving, wobbling around corners and with a huge smile and a loud, unconscious shout of ‘wooooooh’.

Totally lost in now.

I got lost too, watching.

I got lost too, longing.

I got lost too, wishing.

I’m sure I heard something, somewhere about recieving the kingdom of God as a child. And I’m sat here on Monday watching, longing, wishing to have that intensity and lightness in the things I’m doing today….