They say it’s your birthday.

Rather than a graphic of a cake with candles, I found this:-

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Today I will mostly be walking, going to the cinema, buying guitar strings & visiting an art gallery. I will not be working in any shape or form.

I have attained a decent age; not quite at the level of a Lancashire League cricket crowd applauding, but the club officials would definitely be scrambling for the collecting bowls for the players half century. Given a boundary, I would be there. Actually, an all run 3 would be enough.

Closing a Church:4

I remember an acronym: ‘P.u.s.h”: ‘Pray until something happens’. Even at the time, I felt slightly uneasy about this: it seemed to edge towards a very mechanistic view of prayer- prayer, stripped of mystery or yearning and transformed into a business model that ‘gets results’.

But there is always the thought when a church closes of ‘did we pray enough?’ or ‘did we pray about the right things?’ I can’t answer those questions and actually I would be slightly depressed if I could- formulas and the attempt to find formulas for life are an illusory quest.

Most Christians talk about prayer like talking about going to the toilet: you assume people do it, but it is essentially a private affair and not one you would want to talk about in company. But it does strike me how often in scripture, Jesus is shown praying or the early church are seen as praying: not as purely a ‘spritual practice’ (horrible phrase: one of the many we concoct to seperate ‘sacred’ from ‘spriritual’)- but as something that makes their works of justice, mercy and befriending the oppressed etc meaningful and gives them power.

So I want to turn that question round: was prayer part of our lifestyle together, or essentially private and only wheeled out for the big occasions by the cleric at the front? These questions dog me continually- communal life robs you of intimacy: we develop hard edges. Prayer, together prayer (the main type referred to in scripture), is so hard as you have to make efforts to be vulnerable and stay so…and it is so easier not to bother.

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Pilgrimage to Oldham

That is the kind of heading that would make most people skip past the ensuing post….

I lived in Oldham from 1987-1999. I grew to like the place: slightly shabby North Western town, close to Manchester and close to the hills, ethnically diverse, social problems etc but it seeped into you.

Last week I went back to the centre. Now I don’t know the history of what went on/what has happened and I know there is huge investment is pushing a tram through the town (although I miss the loss of the massive bridge at the charmingly named ‘Mumps’ end of town which proclaimed ‘Oldham-home of the tubigrip bandage’), but the place I knew seems even shabbier; more hopeless than before.

I remember the ‘new’ shopping centre when it was built: a couple of big stores came into town and others filled the spaces around. The centre would never quite ‘buzz’, but it seemed Ok. Several years later when I return, I counted around a 25% vacancy rate and more pawnbrokers/pound shops/charity shops than I remember and a whole arcade empty, where there once were shops.

If our new national religion is shopping- buying stuff to define ourselves & give us meaning, then this place truly is ‘Ichabod’ (an Old Testament word meaning ‘the glory of the Lord has departed’). I don’t like to post stuff that is this bleak, but we left in a hurry.

Maybe it woke me up to what we could all do with waking up to; shopping, shopping, shopping won’t get us out of this crisis; but what will?

Monday Poem

I got a lovely poem off a friend’s facebook wall.

It was from this book:-

If they are cruel, be kind.
If they are mean, don’t mind.
If they reject, don’t fret.
If they insult, forget.
If they exclude, love still.
If you cannot, God will.
If you lose hope, just wait.
Don’t hate.
(p. 26)

Just the kind of thing I need on Monday to remind me what it is all about.

New Hymn

Someone offered a new hymn on the egroup I am part of. It was meant to be used on the first Sunday in Lent, when we think about Jesus in the wilderness. However, I like the acknowledgement of pain, of things not working out as they were meant to:-

When life seems like a wilderness
That desiccates the soul;
When inner demons bring distress
Then who can make us whole?

Each usual suspect makes a claim,
And brings a clever lie;
Suggesting lust for power, or fame,
Or things will satisfy.

Beside us in our disarray
Stands one whose claims are true;
Jesus, who went the desert way
And knows all we go through.

He helps us in the wilderness,
Enables us to see
That life with him brings more not less
To our humanity.

His Spirit and his Word come in
To make us whole and free;
Jesus’ resources underpin
Each human faculty.

W. John Young February 2013.

An introduction to pop culture

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So your son is 11, going on 17, going on 3. You want to prepare him for the world; how to ‘read’ pop culture and how to come to a view. You want to teach him what to accept and what to resist. You are aware that he is developing higher level critical facilities, so where do you go?

You go to ‘the Matrix’; the kind of film an 11 year old boy could begin to ‘get’. You talk to him about reality/imagined reality, about Alice in Wonderland and about the Gospel that is implicit throughout this film. And you think- in the words of Van Morrison ‘Wouldn’t it be great if days like this could last forever?’

Friday Music

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There comes a question that every parent dreads. You don’t know how to react when it comes. And then your mouth goes dry as you search for the words. I had that moment last week: I was walking with my 9 year old son when he said:

‘Dad; what’s folk music?’

How do you begin to explain that genre and open his innocent world to the horror?

My oldest son has been studying this poem in school. Initially I thought it was just folk music. Both children have been crouched over youtube watching this animation to the song. So far they haven’t decoded the reference to the woman who is gang raped by the soldiers, but it will come. And with that, will be the end of innocence and the door of understanding opening to strange bearded men with cable knit jumpers, loud ‘hey nonny noes’, tales of murder,suffering,sex & death: it will be as if the 19th, let alone the 20th century never happened.

Pray for me dear readers….

Some more Lent ideas

I have been storing this for a while. Really what I should do is link up to Stephen Cherry’s blog during Lent and stop blogging. What he writes is brilliant: outlined with lots of space, simplicity, but very deep.

All of them are very very rich, but I will choose this one for today. It cuts and challlenges the part of middle England where I live:-

‘7. Practise Hospitality

Take the trouble to notice the people you don’t usually notice. Offer a greeting when others are locked in silence. Learn how to wave in an affirming, positive way. Learn how to smile across a room or make eye-contact across a meeting to support someone who is struggling. You can’t be friends with everyone, but by being friendly you can touch, and perhaps change, many people’s lives and even have an impact on the whole social environment of a neighbourhood. Don’t think that you need to turn your home into a refuge for ex-prisoners in order to exercise true hospitality. Simply take one small but deliberate step in the direction of being more hospitable’.

The rest are here:-

http://stephencherry.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/ten-ideas-for-lent/

Closing a church:3

Every Christian worship service I have been to has had confession and repentence as part of it. If you are outside the Christian tradition or hostile to it, that may sound like self flagelation. Done improperly it can be. As I age, I increasingly find it to be incredibly powerful: here is one space during the week when I am not the centre of everything, I don’t have to pretend and I can admit that I often mess it up. I can take the Christian truth that yes, I am made in the image of God, but also I am incredibly flawed. And cross the ‘I’ out- in this act, I grasp, albeit tentatively ‘ubuntu’ (It’s African- look it up), that I is ‘we’.

At the end of a worshipping community there has to be space to say ‘sorry’- sometimes we messed up:

– we ran away with our own agendas.

– we forgot that we are the only community that is supposed to exist for those that are not yet part of it.

-we fell out and never quite got back together again.

-we used each other.

etc etc…..

& sometimes those ‘messings up’ were never acknowledged and we lived like Pink Floyd : ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’.

…and then we say our sorry’s and recieve absolution, to recognise that there is no condemnation, but rather Grace and Forgiveness.

 

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Lent 2: A book

So, after doing loads of school assemblies about Lent and getting children to think of ideas that might help them appreciate Lent, I decided to do something.

Well, I decided to ‘do’ something unproductive.

I decided to read a book. Not just read it and get through it, but read it slowly, purposefully and read it all through Lent. I wanted to read something about ‘slow’ that was not anything like ‘Do lots of stuff so people will like you and say you are a good minister’; there are plenty of books like that.

But I am not part of a tradition that really does Lent- but I know one who does, so I got this:-

It is hard to explain it really; it is about mindfulness, about not rushing on to the next thing but without becoming rigid or seeking false security where it cannot be found.

…and I may blog some quotes/reflections from it…