Honest Prayer

Every human community struggles with difference and divergent opinions. We self select massively: if you don’t believe me just have a look at the average school playground- the parents that is, not the children. Better still: look at the people you associate with and call ‘friends’.

I have a dream that the church is called to be different: a community of love and acceptance where there are radically different people and opinions that sometimes clash. But where there are clashes, there is a committment to forgiveness. I dream of a community of openness: the only place on earth where the unsayable can be said without ostracism.

I am part of a fb group called ‘UK Methodists’. I have never contributed: perhaps I should. A few days back, someone called Carol Williams posted a prayer of such raw honesty that it made me gasp. Whether or not I share the same opinion does not matter; the openness is incredible:-

“Dear God I don’t believe you exist any more but if you do, it doesn’t really matter whether I believe so, does it? Why should you mind what my life has brought me to? Maybe you even had hand in it, you in whom I no longer believe. Maybe, as I was once told, you have never let go of me, though I have found it helpful to let go of you. I perceive in the world nothing at all that persuades me that you are there.

I can find many other explanations for things that happen and don’t need a hypothesis that includes you. So sorry, God, but that’s how it is right now with me, though I guess you don’t really need me to tell you that. If you are there, I am sure you understand. And you will know that my heart is full of love for the world your followers say you created.

You know that I respect the natural world enough to live with care for it; that it is ‘sacred’ to me; you also know that I try always to live with compassion for others and to be kind and seek the common good. I don’t do it for you, of course, or for any hope of some eternal life in heaven, as I just don’t believe we survive bodily death; I do it because it seems the best way to live for anyone who wants a more just and peaceful world, as I sincerely do. My unbelief in you cannot alter the fact of your existence, should you truly be there, as others insist.

So, if you have placed me in this place of scepticism, that somehow I may serve you better, I thank you, because that would be an answer to some long ago prayer. The glass is so dark I can’t see anything in it but the darkness is strangely beautiful. Sincerely, Carol’.

Someone said to me in a review a couple of weeks back ‘You are the only minister I have met who allows me to express doubt’. I didn’t find that uplifting, more deeply saddening. Yes I believe in Jesus and the church as the community that gives witness to Him- that really excites me. What makes me despair is a community that chokes doubt and doesn’t allow heart rending voices to have their say ‘cos I think God values honesty….

The sadness of a bike

I was walking back home last week in the mid evening. This time of year, the evenings and days seem so full of space; they are long and the birdsong seems to go on forever.

On my way back I passed someone in their front garden just a few years older than me. They had a mountain bike on a stand and they were cleaning it.

I was almost immediately overwhelmed with sadness: currently I wish my life was full of moments where I could stop like that. I am not saying this with boastfulness or supressed, passive agressive rage (and I have heard many ordained do that: raging against those who are not as busy as them); just sheer sadness.

And as I am typing those words: I wonder if that was God speaking to me? 

It is at this point I wish I were a poet; you can only say so much about this in prose. I’d want to say something about wheels turning and being able to hear the birds and feel a summer evening. I’d want to say something about my wheel feeling like a treadmill now and being so surrounded by words that I can neither feel the birds nor the summer.

I am not a writer of songs; if I was, I think there would be accoustic plucking and gentle strumming. And it wouldn’t be in G with 3 chords and a resolution.

I could tweet it I suppose. I would end up with the hashtag #watchyourself.

The third age…

Yesterday morning, in glorious sunshine I was walking around a market town near where I live. A visit, a catch up with a friend, random chats in the street: one of those relaxed days when I am working but it feels like I am not.

From the people I spoke to and the people I saw, I was reminded just how much the communities I work in are run by people in the ‘third age’ (those who have retired). There are a vast network of people around here, largely, but not exclusively ex professional people who make communities run. I spoke with someone involved in running community buses and a caring service, I saw a legion of people repotting communal flower tubs and I know of many many more who put hundreds and thousands of hours into their community.

A disproportionate number have involvement with churches (that they also help to run) or are part of the wide circle that have some kind of Christian background. It struck me today that we don’t really celebrate their ministry (that is what I would call it) much and without it, the communities in which I live and work would largely be privatised dormitories.

My generation; partly due to the demands of jobs, kids etc largely doesn’t volunteer in this way. Actually, that is not the whole truth; I wonder if my generation, stripped of all these responsibilities and 15-20 years older would volunteer in the same way. I somehow doubt it; some would, most wouldn’t- we have been bought up non-communally and without the same sense of civic ownership.

Some of the friends I drink with who would self describe as athiests will sometimes say that what they really appreciate about churches in the sense of community and obligation to the wider community, but they couldn’t go with ‘the rest of it’. Yet church which at its best embodies social justice/communityobligation is empowered by ‘the rest of it’.

 I don’t yet see in my post christian generation, freed from the shackles of religion anything like the same percentage able or willing to engage with their communities; apart from in those activities that directly affect their own families.

I hope I am not too pessimistic and am proved wrong in the coming years.

Tweet Tweet: a parable for Monday

I am now on Twitter (@revgpp since you ask). This came through yesterday as 4 seperate tweets. Pretty good for a retwisting and telling of Pentecost I’d say.

It began with:-

‘A fable in 3 parts’.

I must perfect this art: saying enough- leaving the end open and intriguing. Then 3 tweets followed each other in clever succession:-

‘There was once a dove who never took flight. Instead she would stay on the earth & look up at all the other birds in the air’

‘She saw how the wind slowed them down & tired them out. She would imagine how high & fast she might soar if only the wind didn’t exist’

‘The poor bird never realized that it was the wind, with all of its limitations, that allowed 1 2 lift off the ground in the first place’

For me, this story was so perfect: space, hints, less is more and then recasting the story of Pentecost in a new way with implications for action.

Tweets from ?@PeterRollins

 

Hymn

I was thinking of choosing this today for an evening service. I am starting a monthly series on ‘doubts’. Not cognitive doubts- the kind of questions that I now find almost irrelevant: ‘Hmmm’ (strokes beard) ‘I have grave doubts about consubstantiation: can we explore it’. I am more thinking the kind of stuff around ‘How then shall we live?’; the things that leave us rudderless. Maybe that is a strange theme to begin on Pentecost; but why not? On this day, all is open.

I still find it upsetting and disturbing when people are apologetic about doubting or say words to the effect of ‘No one has ever given me premission to express that before’.

In that context I wanted to go for something old, poetic and traditional that may be a good deal dryer and more formal than I am, because a song like:-

 ‘No more doubts for me, ‘cos I’m living in faith and victory,

For me God does his best,

And grants me mighty success’

doesn’t do it for me.

(you do realise I made that song up? You do….?)

So I hit upon this from John Newman. Archaic language, but perhaps more honest:-

‘Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!’

 

 

Friday Music

One of my sons ‘feels’ music: it is not just a noise or a pleasant tune but something that moves him. Alongside the normal stuff that 8 year olds listen to (and which usually fetches the enamel off my teeth) he borrows my cds. This one is from one which he borrowed last week:-

[youtube]_xInTemXsDI[/youtube]

The guy was in concert close by a couple of weeks ago. Sadly I couldn’t make it: I’d seen him before 12 years ago performing under another name and been impressed and moved-there is a raw honesty about his performing.

One Saturday we worked out part of the melody to this, the first song on his first album (Songs from the Deep Forest) and this performance makes me regret even more that I did not see him.

Athiesm is banal.

Confession: I just put that title to attract people to read this blog- I am that shallow. I do not believe that athiesm is banal; I have met many thoughtful and sincere people who subscribe to no faith (indeed, sometimes I find their company much more attractive than people of faith!).

In the midst of an excellent, rich and complex interview in this month’s ‘Third Way’ with the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann there was an excellent quote. I have never read Moltmann- perhaps I should. His background is interesting- he came from a family of no faith in Germany and was a p.o.w. in Britain before coming to faith through the self giving love of Scottish Christians. He has tremendous respect for thinking athiests- he is no angry denigrator of others- but he makes this point contrasting the athiesm he experienced in Germany postwar when people were reacting to something to much of today’s athiesm as he experiences it:-

‘Today, we have people who have just forgotten about the church and have discovered that they can live a happy life without God and religion. It’s more an athiesm of banality. And so the church should not only bring consolation to this society but stir it up, because…’without God everything would be ok, but with God nothing is’- because God gives us a conscience about what we do and what we let happen.’

I loved that phrase ‘athiesm of banality’- if people chose that path I wish they would be passionate and not insipid about it (mind you I wish Christians would as well).

Here is something I wrote earlier…

I confess: I do not like doing newsletter articles for churches or for anyone really. I have read too many ministerial articles that begin with a phrase like ‘Sitting in my study I see a squirrel climbing a tree:you know, that reminds me of God’. Actually I have written too many articles like that.

I don’t post sermons on here. I think they are unique for that time and place; plus my notes are a mess. I did, however write this for next month’s village newsletter. What on earth do you write for that; do you largely ignore the mass of readers and just address your constituency and use insider language? Or do you preach at people? Both those approaches I believe only make the writer feel good. It is harder to address the mass who may ignore you or think you are irrelevant.

I have a go though; even if sometimes I feel that what I write may be a little ‘drippy’. So I give you a village newsletter article written for 2000 people who may not even read it:-

We are in the middle of a time of national celebration: the Diamond Jubilee and then the Olympics. If you are not giddy already with national celebration then you soon will be.

One of the many things I am looking forward to in the build-up to the Olympics is the rerelease next month of ‘Chariots of Fire’. I remember first watching it and I have watched it many times since. My youngest son frequently watches the final scene if he is looking for inspiration.

The line from the film that I remember the most is the bit where Eric Liddell speaks to his sister about why he won’t stop competitive running to become a missionary. He says ‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure’. That has always inspired me; life does not split into ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’-whatever I do can be for the glory of God.

The many athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics will show us the ability to use what they have been given to enthral and entertain us; they may even inspire us, if not to do likewise to at least get fitter!

All of us have something that we have a skill or talent for; I believe that when we use it not only our lives are lit up but others’ are as well. When we do; who knows- maybe we will feel God’s pleasure as well’.

Inspiration

I was researching an article (see tomorrow) and came up with this which I ended up not using:-

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

I had a review this week. I was pondering options for my future (in about a year the church talk to us about where we do from August 2014)-  which may not neccesarily be full time ministry: there may be some of that, there may be a lot of that but I may look at other avenues. Everything is deliciously and scarily open.

When I was talking through this coming year of questions and investigation, someone on my review group almost seemed to use the quote above. There were things I could do, that make me feel alive, but no money to do them, no accomodation and an overdraft to feed. That person suggested that really those things were secondary; the first thing was to sort out your passions and your calling.

I would have rejected that as motivational hokum. I now think he has a point.