Kitsch

I have added another book to my vast wishlist (If only I had time to read them), alerted by this incredible picture at http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz/

It is from a book by Betty Spackman, called ‘A Profound weakness: Christians andKitsch’. It has pictures- more like this: I can’t wait!

I am out of those places now, but for a time it seemed like the Christian world (particularly evangelical) was heavily into ‘kitsch’: a kind of world where everything was bright and breezy and there was no irony or any depth. At times a kind of ‘altworld’: no shades or danger shall ever enter here.

I wonder why: perhaps it is because the Bible won’t let us get away with these images, so we want to build our own, softer ones (on a parallel track, those lyrics from a song by the Divine Comedy come to mind : ‘The cars in the carpark were shiny and German; distinctly at odds with the theme of the sermon’…we do it all the time….).

I am especially fond of the top image: recasting Jesus into all the things he isn’t as the artist is uncomfortable with all the things he is…

Daft:8

(I just want to stare and stare at this all day….)

I never met this minister, in fact I cannot now remember his name.

When I first started, someone gave me a booklet that a local church had produced to celebrate its 75th anniversary. I like getting stuff like this: understanding the past is often a way to understanding the present and the future.

In the booklet were short stories of old ministers. I read them with interest; would this help me in my future? One phrase hit me from this particular minister; after describing how he and his wife routinely ran off  x hundred copies of the notices every Friday night (!) he wrote something like ‘whilst still having time for the occasional expidition into Snowdonia.’

Even when I read that over 12 years ago, something inside of me went ‘This is wrong; so wrong’. I felt: you live on the edge of one of the most glorious areas in Britain and you only made ‘occasional excursions’ into it? I also thought: why do you have to make it sound so ‘guilty’ as in- ok I worked and worked and worked for the church and occasionally, naughty me, I went out and enjoyed myself- but don’t worry, it was only ‘occasional’.

I have no idea whether that person who wrote those words is alive or dead and I am not so much making a point of his words more the style of life they imply. A style of life that was practically commended to me as normal: work all the hours God sends, your wife will sort everything else out, never relax and if you are going to have time out, don’t talk about it in case it upsets people that you are not working.

Maybe I am being too harsh, but that was the daftness that I picked up and which made it harder to rebel or feel I was ‘naughty’ if I did…

Having held onto this booklet for years I threw it away recently when I was having a clear out. Rereading those mini biographies and the homogeneity of them gave me a feeling of ‘no; this is the past, it can no longer provide a pattern to my present’….

Every Tuesday I am going to post somethings that people have said to me as a minister that are just plain daft. The only provisos:-

1: The person who said it should have known better- ie they are ordained or have been active in the church for ages.

2: Nothing that I will feature has been said by anyone where I currently live or serve.

3: I am reasonably tolerant (unless you misfile my cds) of most things, but these things once got under my skin.

Holiday Club

With others, I am beginning a 3 morning half term holiday club today. I expect to be fulfilled, stretched beyond what I thought was possible and extremely knackered come Wednesday night.

We used to do it annually in this village, for maybe 15-20 years. Then we stopped and we have not done it for 5 years. Restarting it is in effect starting from new: there is no memory of it in the village. So we are starting again with a population even further away from any Christian heritage. I already have a feel that this year has to be the first of a few years before we see any impact (so as long as I am around, a few more Oct half terms working then…).

Someone in church prayed a week ago about days when the Sunday schools were full and longing to see those days again. I was touched by the passion, but at the same time thinking ‘I cannot see that myself’. And then I got to thinking: it is really all about trying something new, seeing what sticks, breaking up the ground and wondering what could be planted, rebedded, in sympathy with the soil.

…and that may not always be easy to see….

 

Why I don’t like Christian motivational stuff.

I could put something here about ‘God must love you a lot to let you go through this’ or ‘Keep praising’ or any of the stock phrases used to avoid the darkness. That is not really my target: it is that wealth of Christian (mainly, but not exclusively, American evangelical) literature that ignores pain, income wealth/redistribution or the value of simply enduring. I could rant more, but the above satirical poster says more than I ever could.

(From http://www.stuffchristianculturelikes.com. For a British audience, the mystery face is Joel Osteen. Just google)

Friday Music

I have an soft spot for Martyn Joseph and got his new Cd a couple of weeks back (ok- I bought it for my wife). He is so compelling live- more so than recorded IMHO- and friends I have bought to see him have been blown away and wanted to see him again and again.

He has been better since he became independent and moved away from the Christian music scene. I may have mentioned it a couple of years back, but when I saw him then I bumped into a minister I used to know. I said how great the gig had been and he said ‘Yeh, but he has lost it’. I think he meant orthodox evangelical faith. I think I replied back something like ‘No, he has found it.’

I am coming to the point of view that questioners simply aren’t welcomed within orthodox Christianity, or rather that they often arouse a hostility that they don’t always understand. I often read my Psalms and mourn that a large strand of what I see as orthodox- as in questions- is often unfairly vilified. I have seen an awful lot of people with questions forced out, implicitly and explicitly, and this both grieves and angers me……we are losing the very people who historically have been part of the prophetic/questioning tradition. Sometimes I wonder ‘how long….’ But that is another story…

Martyn Joseph has been one of the voices that has encouraged me and kept me going in this journey. When I first heard the reworking of this old song on his new cd, it was like manna in the desert.

The video is not the best quality, but the audio is excellent. I love the way he tampers with the intro live to incorporate the old hymn tune. It adds greater poignancy.

[youtube]5L0rBEbl90A[/youtube]

Church and schools

So I when I was at this family celebration I got talking to someone I had never met before. I like doing this.

It turns out that this person was working with an Anglican Diocese to try and make links with every school in that diocese and then, over a 10 year period, work out with others how church could engage better with those schools. From there the idea was to see where/if Christian communities could be started around those schools (rather than expecting them to come into pre existing churches). I have seen too many visions and plans to jump on any more bandwagons, but this vision I found really exciting: a week without schools work I find stultifying. I began to wish…..

Before my dreams got any bigger I asked this person a question like ‘So you must find quite a few vicars/priests are able to speak with children/youth?’ The person answered ‘No: hardly any’. Part of me wonderedwhat would happen if the opposite was the case: a prospective vicar coming to a parish and saying ‘Sorry, I can’t talk with older people.’ I wondered just how far they would get at an interview….

A bigger part of me was just shocked and horrified. Here was someone who had expertise in this area and must have evaluated a few vicars.

I thought of one of my favourite lines from the TV adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ where Mr Darcy was talking to Miss Bennett.

He says ‘I am not much good at talking to people’.

She says ‘I am not much good at the piano, but I practice’.

It can’t be that hard to learn can it?

communities and churches

I have drafted and redrafted this, but still can’t get it to ‘work’….what you are reading is very much a ‘work in progress’…

You may have read this, but there was a really good post on ‘missional communities’ on http://jonnybaker.blogs.com/jonnybaker/2012/10/missional-communities-somethings-going-on.html. That phrase is horrible jargon but it refers to small groups of Christians who move into an area; meet somewhere like a pub, a coffee shop, an allotment etc and seek to follow Jesus and serve their communitity, eg by setting up a youth project, social enterprise, community clean up or even ‘just’ by making friends and drawing people together.

Here is an extract:-

‘…they are not that focused on growing big – but more like the yeast of the kingdom that jesus talked about infecting the wider batch of dough. a couple of people spoke of the challenge of weaning members off their addiction to consumer approaches to church where they get their fix of worship and teaching and meeting with friends before they could properly engage in this more local, outward focused community approach (maybe we need a 12 step detox programme for leaving consumner church!?)’..

I read that and thought ‘yes’ and realised that a lot of what I get to do in this place points towards that. If I could find some ways of funding it, I would like to do more of that, whilst still being attached to and ‘overseen’ by a local church.

I managed to obtain the list of vacancies for Methodist ministers moving in 2013: it was hard- in this aspect, my denomination is not given to openness or transparency. I am not moving in 2013- I just wanted to see what kinds of things were being offered, partly to get an idea of when/if I move what has changed and what remains the same when I last moved in 2004. It was also as I wanted to see if I have moved too far away from the traditional understanding of what a minister is; large parts of that role sometimes seem to me to be supporting a ‘consumer’ approach to church.

It could have been me, but many of those vacancies seemed to talk about ‘providing’ worship/care for people as something exclusively minister led. I really wasn’t sure about this emphasis of minister just mixing with church people, providing for their ‘spiritual needs’ so they could engage with their world (whilst at the same time the minister withdrew further from normal life) …and some of the role descriptions made me think: ‘And how is the person you want supposed to do all of this and not have a nervous breakdown?’

So those two pointers gave me both tremendous hope and cause for further questioning/thinking….

Daft:7

(I was not watching this. I never watch this)

I hadn’t been in full time ministry for long- perhaps it was the first year or so. I had been working in my study before lunch. I popped downstairs and flicked the TV on and there was one of those awful American chat shows on; the ones that are bought to fill a dead time in the schedules.

Someone was talking about the power of forgiveness, to which the host was responding with the appropriate sympathetic nodding of her immaculately coiffeured and made up head. I flicked across to the other channel to find two warring parties on another chat show saying that they could not forgive one another. Forgiveness is complex and a hard and fraught road: it is not easy, yet I was struck by this strange juxtaposition. I flicked back and forth and this strange contrast continued. I related this to a congregation and made some observations about seeing some strange parable of Grace being enacted before my eyes.

A few weeks later, I had a meeting with my boss (not God; what in Methodism we call ‘the Superintendent Minister’. They are not God, although occasionally of some the old joke could be used about what is the different between the two: one just thinks they are God…) and one of the first comments was that someone in the congregation had heard this being said and had come to him and said ‘What is he doing watching TV in the middle of the day?’

I was new: I did not have the presence of mind to say ‘Hmmm… and that action in itself is a strange parable of grace, is it not?’

Don’t get me wrong: the church is a fantastic place and I have experienced more Grace and understanding than anywhere else: it is an incredible place. I have also experienced, albeit in a tiny minority, moments of ungrace and sheer daftness (I still wonder what level of power games were going on in that boss at that moment and whether I would have been savvy enough in a similar situation to tell the complainer not to be so daft and just not repeat the allegation). Getting more experience is learning to listen with Grace to criticism: much of it is helpful and loving.

Of course, the Methodist system for extending ministers appointments can  (and regrettably does in some occasions) give a tiny minority a ‘bully pulpit’ for this kind of daftness. But that, as they say, is another story…..

Every Tuesday I am going to post somethings that people have said to me as a minister that are just plain daft. The only provisos:-

1: The person who said it should have known better- ie they are ordained or have been active in the church for ages.

2: Nothing that I will feature has been said by anyone where I currently live or serve.

3: I am reasonably tolerant (unless you misfile my cds) of most things, but these things once got under my skin.

I read this last week.

Actually I read a lot of things last week.

This phrase, from Richard Rohr (of whom I like more and more) hit me more than anything else. It came at the right time for me; a time when I seethed after someone told me how I had (inadvertantly) upset some regulars:-

 “Jesus offends the rich, the arrogant, the superior, the righteous, and the supposedly orthodox”

I hope that is not too delusional: appearing to compare myself with Jesus. I’m not- indeed I find myself more and more compelled yet repelled by the words of Jesus: no way is he ‘cuddly church guy’ or #purveyor of timeless spiritual truths’, but something wilder and more dangerous.

God forgive us church preachers when we try to contain or weaken him in order to lessen the offence….