The little things…

It is the little things that keep us going and give us meaning. For me yesterday it was receiving texts about Grace (see yesterday and the day before) updating all who are praying for her with progress. Whereas 3 days ago running, facebooking, playing music or chatting etcwould have passed unnoticed, yesterday a cough and a slight movement of the jaw was enough to give her family something to cling onto.

I led the morning service on Sunday: a baptism with a large group of unchurched/dechurched family and friends. When the service finished, they have a huge round of applause. Nothing like that has ever happened to me and it made me feel embarrassed: I am not comfortable with the spotlight. Because these people did not know the ‘proper’ way to behave in church, they reacted the only way they knew. I wish we regular ‘Charlie Church’s’ (c Homer Simpson) were as direct and open as that. In one sense, only something little, but it had a big impact on me.

Then, straight through into ‘messy church’, which increasingly seems to be most of my drinking buddies and their children- people for whom ‘church’ would be a step too far. Telling the story of Jesus choosing 12 disciples with acting, movement, questions and surrealism. Absolutely loving it- why can’t church be like this all of the time? At the end, one of my friends who helps run it sometimes and describes himself as an athiest (helps out at messy church, invites his friends to come, much more overt than many church members and says he is an athiest…..no I can’t work it out either) came over to me and said ‘Come on mate- a hug’. I thought it was the prelude to some sarcasm/banter, but he meant it. At that point I almost lost it.

The little things mean a lot. In villages you see a lot more things like this and value them a lot more. ‘Rapid growth’ can happen, but so can rapid decline: everything is on a knife edge. That’s why the little things are much more apparent to me.

I hope there are far more texts today about little things from Grace Currie ..http://diggingalot.org/diggingalot/?p=3544..

Small Church

After making that post yesterday it is hard to stay focussed. The news is slightly better, but as I write, doctors are attempting to wake Grace up and see what happens. No one knows what kind of response there will be…

I was going to abandon normal posting, but I am going to continue. A bit more humble maybe, with words chosen carefully. I can construct words in a way to dig and barb. I’ll try not to- I want to give thanks for the weekend and things that touched and lifted me.

I’m rereading ‘The Shaping of Things to come’ by Frost and Hirsch (2003)

On p65 they say ‘We’re increasingly convinced that bigger is not necessarily better. This is actually a modernist assumption. We have come to think that smaller is better in the postmodern context as long as it is done with cultural vigour’

There came a moment on Sunday, in what in many respects is a smallish church, where I realised taking place simultaneously in the same building was a worship service constructed around a baptism for a large group of people for whom church wasn’t a regular activity, ‘messy church’ (a similar group of people) and a computer/faith based activity for people aged 9-14 who also had little regular church contact.

It was done on a shoestring and was ad hoc. The church is not ‘kicking’, ‘organic’ or any other adjective- more ‘village’ and looking for what it is/unsure of it’s role. It has many faults. The clash was accidental (or bad planning- sorting out fine detail is not one of my strongpoints) and led to some chaos. But I was so happy, thankful and joyful- small, open, inclusive and those ‘outside’ finding a home and a space.

You will know that I struggle with terms such as ‘getting ready for mission’ and ‘we need to be fed first’….but we were neither ‘ready’ or thinking of our own food first. I think as a result we did mission and got stronger and we ended up being fed a lot more…

Grace Amber Currie

  

We have some good friends: godparents to both our children. We have been in conversation recently over their church effectively disenfrancising them as they questioned the leadership. There was hurt: no contact, no follow up (why so often does pursuit of ‘the truth’, ‘strong leadership’ often lead to lack of love? Just asking as amongst the circle I have friendship with/network with this seems reasonably common). We were planning to spend a few days with them, catching up, sharing stories, praying and laughing, eating and drinking.

So last night when I saw their number on my phone I assumed it was for a chat. Instead it was news that last night, their daughter Grace had been knocked over by a car. There was some doubt over whether she would make it through the night. She has, but the next 36 hours will be crucial: assessments over the swelling on her brain and then assessments to see what brain function remains.

Her parents and brother are naturally in bits. Those of us who know her are. I don’t often use this language, but we are praying for a miracle…

A moment of transcendence…

I want to post a few thoughts from Sunday this week. That is partly as a discipline to myself: life generally is full of so many rich experiences- overlay that with trying to attend to the mechanics of every week (work, schools, bills, clubs etc) and it is easy to miss the tiny moments that make up each day…..so every day becomes a search for something that is never quite there…

I’ve posted on here a number of times about the fabulous Leonard Cohen song ‘Anthem’. That song for me is a ‘stopper’- something that makes me halt, lay back and lose myself in the music. In particular I love the repeated line:-

‘Ring out the bells that still can ring. Forget the perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in’

Sunday, I arrive at a church building very early. For me, early mornings and people do not mix well. It is my personality type:I need cave moments. We were setting up ‘messy church’ (more on that later this week), trialing a new time and format for worship, having a large baptism for a  large ‘reconstituted’ family and we had an issue with finding a spare adult to run something with a group of 9-13 year olds. I thrive on things not being fixed and open, but at that time in the morning I wasn’t thriving.

I came into the building carrying lots of boxes and could hear someone, the most unlikely person, singing uninhibitedly ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’.

And at that moment, at that time, I was suddenly aware of a crack and the light pouring in….

Sunday, Sunday…

(I’ve tried, but there is nothing right with this picture…i think I must have entered irredeemably ‘grumpy old man’ territory…)

Lots of thoughts go around my head on Sunday. I never find it easy or glib to stand in front of others. Maybe that is why I sometimes overreact on here over people who seem to do or songs that seem to proclaim ‘all is well’.

I’m taking with me into this day a story I heard from a school with a faith basis of a child joining with special needs ; the sense from the Head that other parents were muttering along the lines of ‘I’m not sure about this: how will this affect the education of my child’. I’m also taking with me looking for another car (the last one is no more- being written off in a crash)- taking ages to find the ‘right’ car or the ‘safest’ one. I’m thinking of the temptation to buy more than I ‘need’ or buy the car that is safest for us-keeps our little family safe, but may actually be more dangerous to other pedestrians or other drivers.

These are unconscious (and conscious) middle class mores that we look consciously (and unconsciously) for God to baptise, either on a Sunday or with this kind of vague christianity that permeates areas like where I live.

As I preach and lead worship, I realise it is not ‘them’ I am preaching at, so much as ‘us’. I want to give hope, but also faithful questions and try and get at a ‘Jesus centred’ way. I react at a ‘gospel’ that seems purely ‘spiritual’ or another extreme that seems like social work with a bright thought attached. It is never easy….

Here is Psalm 15 (the Message) which has made me think a lot this week:-

God, who gets invited to dinner at your place?
   How do we get on your guest list? 

“Walk straight,
      act right,
         tell the truth. 

  “Don’t hurt your friend,
      don’t blame your neighbor;
         despise the despicable. 

  “Keep your word even when it costs you,
      make an honest living,
         never take a bribe.

   “You’ll never get
   blacklisted
   if you live like this.”

Success!

 

‘Success’ is a word I hate; particularly in anything applied to church (I wince inwardly when someone describes something as a ‘succesful ministry’ etc). The word seems too arrogant, too ‘me centred’ and I wonder sometimes if it unconsciously the desire for ‘success’ is behind the ‘evangelical numbers game’. I don’t want to be part of a succesful church- I would love to be part of a flawed, messy, honest church that God blesses.

Anyhow, I happened across this quote from David Bosch (It’s in the Hirsch & Hirsch (2010) book that I am currently skimming):-

‘For the disciple of Jesus the stage of discipleship is not the first step towards a promising career. It is in itself the fulfillment of his destiny’

I think that is the cold, hard, honest truth, not ‘success’, ‘building a dynamic ministry’ or ‘alive,contextual worship’ (put your own slogan there)

I broke a promise

Once: Music From The Motion Picture

I promised- no more music on a Friday.

I broke that promise. This arrived this week. The first CD for years that my wife wanted to play before me. The first CD for years that we both like.

Perfect, just perfect (the CD- I don’t do lovey-dovey stuff on here)- simple songs played and executed with perfection. You would have to be made of stone or head of the Conservative Party’s Compassion Department not to feel anything from it.

Bigmouth strikes again

I get to speak a lot in public: it comes with the territory. It is never easy to speak, but over time I underestimate how practiced I have become. That is not meant to be boastful, it is just how things become with practice.

I’m wary of being able to/being given space to do this. One of my well worn phrases is about the danger of ‘believing in one’s own publicity’. When you speak in front of people it can be very gratifying; the adrenaline surges, people appear to listen and be quiet for you and the occasional ‘well done’ can lead to feeling very puffed up with yourself. There is a way of accentuating this with a kind of false humility at the end (I have seen it and I have done it!) of what you have spoken;

* ‘oh, it was nothing’ (means: ‘I poured my whole life into that and it was fantastic. I am glad you recognise that’).

*‘simply doing God’s will’ (‘If a humble Galilean carpenter was as gifted and fantastic as me’) or

*‘I’m glad you thought that’ (‘Bow down and worship me now, minion’).

I think I can speak and hold an audience of whatever age and am fond of, in an ever so slightly understated and postmodern way, ‘subtly’ impressing this on people. I think I read a survey somewhere that over 90% of preachers think they can preach well. The same survey showed that around 60% of congregations thought they could. The survey did not go on to measure those who have no connection/disinterest/hostility to church or faith- I think that would be a truer measure.

I got to speak in front of a group of older people this week. As I get older and preach/talk more frequently, I am moved by the grace of people who sit and listen and try to discern God’s word through what I say. I often think that they have much more grace and understanding than I do. What I loved about this group was that they reacted- they dialogued- and I learnt so much more and came to different understandings of what I had initially said.

I came away both humbled and lifted up by their presence. I wish church could be more like that sometimes. The presence of fixed pews and a ‘way of doing things’ can serve to inhibit. The people who lead do not often get any feedback or sharing in what they have said and led (apart from the occasional comment at the door of ‘nice tie’: this tends to be disheartening when you have not been wearing one) so it is easy to get puffed up, talk about a church that is ‘yours’ and a congregation that is ‘them’.

It was just lovely to be reminded this week that that is not the way it is meant to be and as one of the prophets said ‘Do not despise the day of small things’. Small most often has a lot more integrity than ‘succesful’ ‘Big’.

This is the end…

…is the song line that comes to mind whenever I think of ‘The Doors’ (ok- I also think ‘C’mon baby light my fire’, but that doesn’t fit).

That is because today is the end of the English cricket season (even though the ending seems to have increasingly generated more interest from m’learned friends than the cricket watching public. ‘Cricket watching public’: that would be me and a small group of similarly socially inept males), nearly six months after it began. For me this marks the end of the British summer and I may even stop wearing shorts.

‘This is the end’ sounds suitably apocalyptic. But that is what the end of the cricket season feels like- months of dank dullness, rain and mud, before the season begins again with months of dank dullness, rain and mud.

Never mind- Ashes tour begins in just over 6 weeks…

Something from the weekend: film

I have never attempted film reviews and I’m not really going to start….

A few months ago I joined ‘Love Film’ on an offer and I can’t fault the company. I have to assemble a ‘wish list’ of films. This normally seems to involve putting films on high priority that seem to involve animation and loud characters in primary colours. It being September I forgot to do this and the above film turned up.

Wonderful, wonderful gentle and deep film. It will not be to the taste of the person who demands no ‘greyness’ in their films, big budgets and incredibly rich families with no discernible source for their high income lifestyle (I am disillusioned with most of those films). But for someone who likes things a bit more nuanced with things hinted at but not fully stated, it is a beauty.

I’m still thinking about it days later. And Amazon are selling the album for £3.99. Did I buy it? What do you think?

Note: it involves more swearing than the average church council.