Random things I believe in part 1

(I love that image. I typed in ‘Jesus is Lord’ into google images and came up with pages and pages of schmaltz….)

‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first Christian creed. It says it all in 3 words. As I get older I tire more and more of lengthy lists/constitutions of what one should or should not believe to be ‘sound’, ‘accepted’, ‘orthodox’ etc.

Those 3 simple words are huge, massive and outrageous. Quite enough to go on with. A lifetime’s work in fact…

Part of a totally random series of things I believe in. You may believe that I have no consistency and am a mass of contradictions. This series proves it.

 I am away for a while. August this year is my ‘turn off month’. So if you respond to this I may not follow up for a few days.

Music for Friday

Dark Night Of The Soul (Digipack)

The title: ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ partly did it for me. Then there was the recommendation from ‘Paste’ magazine. Then the artists: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (Mark Linkous relatively recently took his own life). Then the collaborators: Gruff Rhys, Suzanne Vega (yes, really), Iggy Pop, the Flaming Lips and more.

It’s still new to me, so at the moment it feels like swimming in a large warm ocean with plenty more still to discover.

But what is not to love with titles like ‘Just War’, ‘Pain’, ‘Man who played God’, ‘Grim Augury’ and ‘Dark Night of the Soul’? I won’t describe the genre; lets just say it won’t be the soundtrack of carefree summer barbeques, unless the barbeque sets light to your house, freak lightning incinerates half your guests, your significant other deserts you and you break a limb.

Sheer musical bliss….

A list I take with me…

I make incessant lists. When I prepare for holiday these lists multiply until I make a ‘list of lists’.

I have a long break this year. One of the great things of a long break is that my mind has a chance to unpack and unblock.

These are the random things that are circling around my mind- kind of like a mental list- as I go on holiday: the things that will be swirling around my prayers. Perhaps I will have answers, a sense of new directions, questions clarified or even new questions.

*My oldest son finishes primary in 2 years. We want him to be able to get through senior school in one location without moving (5-7 years). That would be good for the younger one to. At the moment we could stay here for up to another 4 years. I’m not sure how economically sustainable our present appointment is after that.To stay or to go?

* The house I live in is not suitable for the work I do. IMHO, the local churches seem unable or unwilling to face this. Sometimes this bothers me a lot (when the churches talk about vision and a way forward, sometimes I think ‘Mate- you are asking me to commit to you, but can’t commit to us’).

* Can Christians who commute for church get a vision of becoming missionairies for where they live? I gathered a few together at the weekend for food and beer and chatter. I’m hoping this will become regular. At the moment, if they spoke like they spoke with us at the weekend with a heavy use of the language of Zion, they would scare many of the people I know who have no formal faith. Shorthand is helpful, but what is it about church that so often teaches us a language that bears little reality to daily life? Thank goodness we have straighforward language in the churches I lead like ‘Join with all nature in manifold witness’….erm…

* Some things in the churches I lead seem on the verge of collapse. Do I need to think about providing a ‘good death’ or waiting, watching and probing to see if any of these things are grains being planted that will die so they can rise? So is this a sign to go or to stay and watch?

* Some of the new things I am involved in are frail, but exciting. Now I have spent time having a go at new stuff I could never go back to just ‘running the show’. I’m wondering where to go next- will this monthly pub group take off? Will people follow Jesus in a way that is totally different than what I know? Can monthly ‘church’ for people who don’t do church (aka ‘The Sunday Breakfast’) grow in depth and also attract new people? Is Messy Church sustainable? Can I continue to take risks?

* I have thought about doing a different job- sometimes out of sheer frustration (take me a long, long, way from ecumenical contexts that seem to be all about defining what we can’t do or the minimal things we can do and have almost nothing to do with our primary calling of mission) . But also more positively, as I’m not sure about the authenticity of full-time ministry so I’d like to think about gaining an income source apart from the church so I can be closer to the people I’m part of (and yes, underneath, I’d like to have my own house- a feeling of living with someone else’s cast offs does wear somewhat).

A long, long list…..if you pray- say one for me please.

I blogged it first

(This image is off his blog- I hope he doesn’t mind)

The blogs I like don’t really do ‘doctrine’: long angry paragraphs of text without humour or hinterland. I like blogs about faith, but not in the ‘language of Zion’: ones that make me think in ways I might not always want to, ones that have humour and are ‘real’- earthed in a context of real life.

On and off for over a year I have been following http://thisfragiletent.wordpress.com/ for precisely those reasons. Plus it is not written by a full time paid Christian.

A chance comment on his blog about a holiday in Whitby and we arranged to meet. As he sagely noted, we teach our children the perils of arranging to meet strange men off the internet in isolated pubs on the moors.

And his family and I had a couple of hours of connected conversation about life, faith, love/hate relationship with church, music (he is not as distressingly into folk music as his blog indicates 🙂…..) cricket and general ‘stuff’….made me regret due to pressure of time that my family could not make it- I think we would all have got on…

And I loved it….and yet again I did not feel alone with my thoughts- there are more of us. And I want to say what my Kenyan friends say: ‘God is good’…a lovely mellow evening.

And the challenge as we left: I will blog this first. And I have. And I hope for more contact.

…and strangely enough…we already knew each other from years ago…he was one of those training my wife for ‘approved social worker’ status in what seems like another lifetime, 15 years ago and in fact bought us a present on her leaving work and us moving to Wales….


I finally gave in on Saturday. After stalling for many months, and blaming hayfever, artificial lighting, tiredness and poor printing I went for an eye test. My first eye test for 35 years.

The diagnosis came back: I need glasses for reading due to normal sight degeneration for a person of my age (I’m 44 and rising). I fear it may not be long until the ‘Father Christmas’ point is reached (the point where a male is first asked to be Father Christmas).

And now: I have to procrastinate for a few months more before I actually buy some, maybe do some arm stretching exercises (a member of one congregation watching me on Sunday reading a small print Bible observed sagely ‘It won’t be long before you run out of arm’) and then find a small fortune to buy glasses. I am inducted into a strange new world of varifocals, bifocals and reading glasses; the parameters of which I do not fully understand…

I think it was Carl Jung who said that someone needed a different theology for each different decade. I’m not ready for this…. still, as someone said- growing old beats dying young.


A prayer I used

I ripped this from somewhere and I can’t quite remember where but I used it yesterday.

I have never been one to ‘do’ written liturgy but as I get older and realise that there are so many words, words, words that can be used sometimes I need someone else’s words: my speech is verbose. I have to be bought to a full stop.

It’s a confession prayer. Again, as I get older I think that is the purest form: I am aware ‘through ignorance, weakness and my own deliberate fault’ I sell God and others short. I used to think that God was obsessed with petty sins- I now think he is more upset when I have failed to live openly and graciously. This prayer says that. Mea culpa

For all those occasions when we choose to get by so that we will not be challenged beyond familiar comforts, when we use money without thought so as not to take responsibility for its power, when we fill time so that we will not hear the call to intimacy,
forgive us, O God, and have mercy.

When we indulge in negativity so as not to acknowledge that we have choice,
when we listen continuously to others without sharing of ourselves,
when we pray from a distance so as not to risk involvement,
forgive us, O God, and have mercy.

When we opt for ordinariness so that we will not have to lead, when we acquiesce to fear so that we do not have to realise our potential, when we live focused on self so as to avoid commitment to community,
forgive us, O God, and have mercy.

When we do not deal with conflict so that we do not have to learn, when we are ungrateful or demanding and forget that all is gift, when we never relinquish control so as not to admit where we are broken,
forgive us, O God, and have mercy.

When we live as driven people and excuse our lack of peace, when we snap with anger because we did not attend to the body’s need for sleep, when we forget that our bodies are temples and not dumping grounds for waste,
forgive us, O God, and have mercy.

When we spread or listen to gossip so that we can manipulate to our advantage,
when we couldn’t be bothered getting involved but criticise those who do,
when we make no space for prayer yet have time for other things,
forgive us, O God, and have mercy. Amen.

Yes it does make things harder…

(I am tempted, unreasonably tempted by stilton….)

A few weeks back I was sitting in a friend’s house in the village where I live. I was talking through a dilemma and he interupted me with ‘I am glad I am an athiest: it makes things easier’. He was right. Having faith and aspiring to follow Jesus can make things harder.

Of all places, I was reading a story in that noted theological tome ‘The Methodist Recorder’ a week or so back. There was an interview with a hospital consultant from India. He had trained in Britain and was working as a doctor there and planning to leave to go back to India. 

When having a meal with colleagues he mentioned how much he would miss cheese when he returned to India. He had grown to love it. The director of his unit, who wanted him to stay, said ‘Why are you leaving Britain then?’ He replied:

‘At the end of my life, I’ll be asked what I did with my life. I will either say ‘I ate a lot of cheese’ or ‘I utilised it for others’.

The guy being interviewed said that his answer seemed flippant but that he had come to reflect on that and his belief that we all have to give our lives to our king.

That is why I still stumble, sometimes wearily, on the road of following Jesus. It would be so easy just to focus life on eating ‘cheese’ (and I’m no saint, I’m tempted a lot), sorting yourself and your nearest and dearest out, after all ‘I’m worth it’ and give a little when you can. I want to live in the light of a bigger picture and be measured not by accumulation but how I have blessed others.

And yes, my friend is right: that does make life harder….

Another musical Friday

This is the 2nd of 3- you can’t wait can you?

It was http://www.badalice.blogspot.com/ who put me on to this (Owen Pallett, Heartland) . She seems to share a love of nu-americana and a sideways look at faith.

I got into this via a cheap promo copy (thank you God for e-bay and amazon marketplace: salvation for music on a stipend). It is, to use an overworked word, gorgeous: high voice, lots of strings, unusual key changes and strange rhythms.

Wish I could tell what he was singing about: I caught a reference to Psalm 21 in one of the songs, but that was all. If you scroll down bad alice’s blog, you will see a live video of Owen Pallett performing solo, using violin loops on ‘The Great Elsewhere’. I cannot get enough of that song.

And yes, I guess I buy too much music…


He’s not the Messiah…part 4

I’ll be honest- I haven’t finished the book. It will make it’s way with me on holiday, where it will fight for ascendency with my pulpy Bernard Cornwell book (what can go wrong with a book dealing with senseless slaughter where men are violent and everyone else is scared?) and my world war 2 books. Maybe one day on a sun drenched veranda in the Loire (although living in Northern England, the sun scares me as it is so unusual) with a bottle of red I’ll work through a bit more….

Anyway, here are some more reactions and then a break for a few days, or maybe holiday will intervene…

Part 2 is the ‘Authority Question’- how do we read and understand the Bible?

I’d come to the point of view ages ago that the Bible is not a science textbook or ethical rulebook and also figured that shouting ‘Thou shalt not’ as loudly as possible does no one any favours. I like how he says we need to repent of using the Bible wrongly (eg look a couple of centuries back for how the Bible was used to justify slavery): ‘Repentence means more than saying sorry: it means being different’.

The core of his argument is that Christians have tended to read the Bible as akin to a legal constitution as opposed to

‘..a portable library of poems,prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sagely sayings, quarrels and so on’

He gives examples of how we should treat enemies- if we read Matthew 5:44, Romans 12, Deut 7 and Psalm 139 as constitution then the Bible is a mish mash of contradictions.

A constitution is neat and has internal consistency. A culture is messy and inconsistent- Bible writers wrote to different cultures and different problems over time. It is therefore better to see the Bible as a divinely inspired library. So flaws and inconsistencies are not failures but signs of vitality.

So Revelation does not occur not in the words and statements but in the conversations, prayers and words between individuals/communities and God. Don’t snatch verses to prove/disprove a point- as if you would with a constitution-that mocks reverent reading of the whole text.

Sample quote:-

‘As we listen and enter into the conversation ourselves, could it be that God’s Word, God’s speaking, God’s self -revealing happens to us, sneaks up and surprises and ambushes us, transforms and disarms us- rather than arming us with ‘truths’ to use like weapons to savage other human beings?’

Did reading this book make me want to read the Bible and stay in it? Yes- in a way few other books have. That can’t be a bad thing.

A break tomorrow kiddies and some music…