So it has come to this: 8.00pm tonight, Manchester City v Manchester United. A win for either will effectively give them the Premiership title. A draw gives Manchester United the advantage (still a lead of 3 points with 2 further games).
Of course, it is just a game. A game involving two of the richest clubs in the world and the lead players of each paid over ten times a week what I get paid in a year. The money is obscene and the national focus disproportionate.
But it is football! It may well be overblown and overpaid; however as someone who has followed the fortunes of the team in red for over 35 years, I know who I will be cheering for. That is if I could bear to watch. It is rare that I would voluntarily chose a church meeting over football, but tonight I am. I will resist the lure of the score on my smartphone, I will be fully present that evening, I will not rush off, I will give people the time and space they need.
Manchester United may have a lot of form and experience when it comes to this time of the season, with the ability to conjure results up and grind out wins when others are falling by the wayside. This season, they have not been good and resemble a prizefighter, repeatedly knocked to the canvas, yet grimly standing up again and again and somehow winning. The real battle of football has come once again to two Northern clubs fighting for domination.
So, why am I blogging about this? Why not… I am sure that in some way the beautiful game is part of the beautiful creation. Plus, I like it. I may be very low come tomorrow, or very elated. See; I am not perfect, holy beyond measure or sinless and pure.
And in case you want to find me tonight, I may eventually be found in a place that has evil Murdoch Sky, watching TV through anguished fingers and fearing the worst….. a 3-0 City victory…
I may have used this a long time ago, but it has always bought me up short. Particularly as the author worships at a small, local church and never sought out and commuted to a large mega church with ‘kickin’/ ‘dynamic’/ ‘radical’ everything:-
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
I read this quote in ‘Third Way’ a couple of days back (f bomb warning) and wanted to scream ‘yes’. Then I wanted some music with some raw passion and I remembered my youth. I defy you not to listen to this and feel something.
‘I was watching a couple of female artists recently and their whole albums were about splitting up with their boyfriends. For fuck’s sake, get over it. See what’s going on in the world. Write about God, write about love, write about death, write about war, write about people.’
(Paul Weller: taken from ‘Third Way’ p4 May 2012)
(Yes it gives me a headache as well: both the picture and the sentiment)
‘I wonder if at the root of the defection is a cultural assumption that all leaders are people who “get things done” and “make things happen.” That is certainly true of the primary leadership models that seep into our awareness from the culture—politicians, businessmen, advertisers, publicists, celebrities, and athletes. But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in our 2,000-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God—this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing.”
This way of understanding pastor can’t be measured or counted, and often isn’t even noticed. I didn’t notice for a long time. I would like to provide dignity to this essentially modest and often obscure way of life in the kingdom of God’.
I absolutely love this quote; I would love to be there and wonder if I have lost it and if I have the courage to get back.
It is hard, in post christian Britain to hold on to this. The temptation to ‘get things down’ and ‘make an impact’ is irresistable. I wonder if some of the leadership models we aspire to or subconsciously hold out for owe more to the world of business than patient Christlikeness. I have never knowingly bought a book on ‘Leadership’ from a Christian perspective; I am less likely to now. I wonder if distinctiveness is acheived more by not aping dominant models that scream loudly and attractively to us, but seeking to be patiently and non arrogantly distinct.
I wonder a lot don’t I?
So I am trying to teach my oldest son how to do errands (he is close to 11). I have a memory of being asked to do errands at a similar age: go to a shop, follow a list, come back.
On Monday I gave him £20 to get some supplies for an evening at Beavers Scouts. Every time we have a new starter we do ‘Beaver Biscuits; it is basically like ‘Beetle’- roll a dice and each number corresponds to a part of a face. To do this you need (remember this), biscuits, icing sugar and lots of sweets. It is great; a room full of 6-8 year old boys all full at the end with e numbers and sugar. Full of the things that they are either banned from (at school) or only allowed in moderation (at home). The time from the first biscuit ingredient being eaten to home time is less than 25 minutes. This means that the parents get to cope with the sugar rush and not us. Did I mention that the key ingredient was biscuits?
So I send him off with a list. I have verbally briefed him beforehand and I go through the list again. He must be able to do this; he likes helping when it is Beaver biscuits.
He comes back 30 mins later having spent all of the money (!!!! it would cost me around £10/£12), with a bewildering array of sweets, some of which he has started to eat and no biscuits. No biscuits. No biscuits!
I have this rose tinted memory of myself at the same age, dutifully trotting off and returning faithfully with the exact shopping. From this, I am sure that it is just that; a memory. But I kid myself that I learned easily. I didn’t and in most things I haven’t. Where I have grown, someone has shown me what to do, allowed me to make mistakes, praised me and given me the grace to have another go.
Where I have not grown is where someone has done it all for me, or where someone has given me a rigid framework that cannot be deviated from and where my mistakes cannot be tolerated or moulded into something new. Actually, I have also not grown where I have thought ‘Can’t be bothered; it is someone else’s job’. I am sure there must be something in there about church as a verb as opposed to an institution…. but you join up the dots.
I got the biscuits eventually and traded in the 3(!) packets of icing sugar he bought. I will release him to do it again and we will see….
(You see the irony in that picture? Do you? Oh, forget it….)
‘I ran marathons for a number of years. If you start thinking about the goal when you’re running a marathon, you ruin the whole thing. You go too fast, and then about halfway through you have to quit. To run a marathon well, you have to stop thinking about the goal. You try to understand your body, the weather, the training. This business of being a Christian is a marathon. It’s “a long obedience.” I tell pastors, “Be patient. You’re in too much of a hurry.”
I don’t run marathons, but I do run. Usually I run 3 times a week for about 3 miles. I do have an aim: to finish in around 24- 26 minutes. That is not too fast, but it is enough for me and my dodgy knees. I enjoy more the experience of running; the sound of birds, the sound of water as I cross the river, the feeling of exhilaration as I crest a hill and the good feeling about half a mile in when I have found a pace that will carry me through. I enjoy the feeling of clarity after a run and the solitude I experience during a run. One of this week’s runs was great: for the first time I ran 2 miles with my son. It is a strange feeling running with someone who you used to carry.
I like this sense of the ‘long obedience’; it is not aimlessnes- there is a direction. I agree too with the idea that an excessive focus on the goal stops the appreciation of the ordinary everyday where God might be glimpsed. I think the ordinary everyday is more important than the goal; I realise that this is not everyone’s point of view.
What I am going to remember is ‘Be patient. You’re in too much of a hurry.’ I get frustrated; there seems so much to do or that I could do and I live my life in 5 year blocks. As I get older, 5 years becomes an incredibly short period of time and there is pressure (self imposed and outward) to ‘get things done’ and ‘make a mark’.
Maybe sometimes why people (ie me) are not patient is they have no real faith that God is there ; impatience is a way of covering up God’s silence which can never be admitted in public. Perhaps patience is courage that sometimes you may get to witness incredible breakthroughs. Most times you don’t; you just do what you know what to do and trust that something is watered and something is growing. Yet you are patient as you trust the Grower.
It is easier to be in a hurry though….
(Now that’s a fine goal)
‘Yes. Those are fine as goals. Though you have to be careful about how you present those goals. Are they something abstract that you use to label people and to decide whether they’re in or out? Life is a lot more complex than that. Yes, I have a goal. I want to introduce people to Jesus. I want them to accept him. But am I willing to wait around and listen and see where he’s at work? I had some people in my congregation who hadn’t accepted Christ after 20 years. I waited for them. And I didn’t badger them. I just knew that they hadn’t done it yet. But it’s surprising how many did. I just think goal-setting can destroy our imaginations. We start to focus too much on goals’.
I read this and you know when you get that feeling: ‘at last; I am understood and I thought it was just me who thought the king had no clothes on.’? I think aims are good: attempting to do new and different things to see what sticks rather than just doing nothing and maintaining a staus quo is inspiring. But this sometimes excessive focus on goals and mission statements never really worked for me.
‘Loitering with intent’, praying, sharing stories, listening for where the Spirit might be active and trying to join in….at those moments I want to shout ‘And I am getting paid for this? But this is fantastic!’ Amidst the present questioning, I know I want to introduce people to Jesus, but as a minister of the past used to say in quaintly archaic language; ‘do it winsomely’…. I don’t know how long I can exist setting goals and , as I once heard someone say, ‘strategizing for the kingdom’. I know some measure of goal setting is perhaps needed, but I like the little stories and am closer to what John Lennon sang in ‘Beautiful Boy’:
‘Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans’
Twice last week I found myself doing the story of Noah’s Ark for children. Once it was for 1-3 year olds (basically trying to stop a one year old chewing all the animals) and once it was for 10-11 year olds (who wanted to experience some last moments of childhood before senior school).
I may have blogged on this before, but it is not really a story for children is it? A vengeful God and mass genocide of people and animals. My favourite verse from that story, for sheer poetry and brutality is:-
Genesis 7:22 ‘everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died’.
There is a temptation on Sunday just to preach on the ‘greatest hits’ of the Bible and to smooth out the rough bits. Reading this story again has reminded me not to; I have got plenty of rough bits and bits that don’t make sense. The older I get, the less I understand me or this world I live in and the capacity for destruction therein. I don’t want my religion smoothed up, buffed and with a shiny glow.
….but I do want to know what it is to follow Jesus when sometimes nothing makes sense….
I don’t judge you. I leave that to a wrathful, angry God to do.
( Ned Flanders, to Homer Simpson)