Sunday Psalm

I love the honesty of the Psalms. I love the poetry of the Psalms. I love how they go ‘off message’ and avoid trite spirituality.

I didn’t like the ‘greatest hits’ approach to the Psalms that seemed to typify chorus writing of my youth and early adulthood (I cannot comment on now): the comfort and ecstasy parts were well sang- in general the lament and off message stuff wasn’t. For me, it led to a disconnect between real life and church life. I need the ecstasy, the comfort, the jubilation, but I also need a balanced diet. They wouldn’t have been easy to sing, but it would have helped me to sing songs of lament without happy endings or songs where I cheerfully wished destruction on those who drive 45mph in the middle lane of a motorway (ok: the nearest parallel I can think of for a middle class westerner in 2013 compared to a 6th century BC near Easterner whose city walls have been demolished).

Even now, in some worship settings I feel like leaving or simply stop singing. Some ecstasy is good. A whole worship time in G makes me feel like I did when my children went to indoor play areas for kids parties: my head hurts and all the sugar makes me feel like I want to lay down. Sometimes shouting louder and ignoring lament and disconnect does not work

I read this, this week. I like the poetry. Literalists of the fundamentalist or atheist variety need read no further. Those who are open to imagery, nuance and poetry of whatever faith perspective, read on.

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us an object of contention for our neighbours, and our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade,  the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea  and its shoots to the River. Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?  The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted,and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!

 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

It’s that time of year again

All through the last week, although not as often as I would like it, I have been helping at ‘The Cornshed’- it is our local rock festival. It has grown but is still relatively small: around 1400-1500 in total over 2 nights.

It has become part of the community where I live and a temporary community of helpers spend around a week there setting it up. All kinds of people come and give their time free. Last year, the founder, host and boss, Judy Kitching, was recognised with an MBE: tens of thousands have been raised for charity.

This will be the 6th year that I have been ‘official chaplain’ to the event. If you have read this regularly, you will know that I have an official t-shirt with ‘Godsquad’ on and I walk around the event, talking, making links, listening (a lot is said between the 2nd and 5th pint), occasionally ‘giving a reason for the hope that is in you’ and sometimes even praying with people.

I love it; most of my friends make frequent jokes about my ‘work’, but this ‘loitering with intent’ is something that I get a lot out of. My the time you read this though, I will be very, very tired….

Friday Music

Not so much music, but comedy. Someone played this at a funeral last week. Sometimes a song like this at a funeral can be a way of trying to ignore what has happened, but in this case it ‘fit’.

It also brought back memories of childhood and the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Specials.

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Meetings, schmeetings

I was in a meeting a few days back. I can’t give the full details, but the subject of finance came up. Finance is always an issue in voluntary organisations. It is vital to keep finance in view, but sometimes (and for ‘sometimes’, on my dark days, read ‘often’) it is the cue for the hangest of hangdog discussions, viz: ‘We haven’t got that much money, times are hard and we are not getting any younger’.

It is at this point that I often feel like leaping out of the window: fortunately all of those meetings take place on the ground floor. If you have never been in one of those meetings and want to get an idea of what the worst of those discussions are like, for ‘finance’ substitute ‘weather’. In that case the opening comment would be ‘It is 98 farenheight outside, the shops are out of ice cream and the grass is brown’. The discussion would proceed along these lines ‘Ooo, well, it could rain and it is not even 100 farenheight, in fact lets turn the heating up, it is so cold and there is no point sunbathing.’

OK: that is an exaggeration. Finance is always an issue in a voluntary organisation. The problem is that it can become the driver in a conversation instead of a partner to issues of vision, ‘why are we here’ and (in a Christian organisation) prayer.

During this meeting, the mood shifted when probably the poorest person in the room spoke. They said something like ‘If we believe in a God of Grace and everything we have comes from God, the why are we so worried about money and reluctant to give? When we talk about having holidays, what if we put giving and the work of God first before even our ‘own’ holidays? It is hard, but where is our Trust and our Vision?’. The person spoke so humbly and steadily that a hush descended on the room. Knowing something of the person I knew that they had made this calculation in their own life.

There are some times as a minister when you are absolutely staggered by the faith and humility of others and you mutter under your breath ‘I am not worthy…’

Why I like school assemblies so much….

school | NewburyToday.

I like school assemblies. I do a lot of Primary School assemblies where reaction is instantaneous. Where if you have not hit the spot you know it. Where questions come thick and fast and it is hard to stop them.

I also like senior schools. The idea that you have to ‘earn’ a hearing, that no one really wants to hear you; they are bored and sometimes it is a bit like gladiatorial combat. Where you pray hard, take a deep breath and say the words ‘It’s showtime’ in your mind.

I got this from a primary school this week. It was from a conversation after the assembly with two teachers. A child came up to them in class and said conspiratorially:

‘I know how the world was created’.

The teacher reflected on the teaching that the class had been working through on different religions accounts of this idea, and said ‘Tell me.’

The response: ‘God and Jesus saved up £1000 between them and went out and bought it’.

..and that makes it all worth it for me.

On not reading blogs….

I used to read loads of blogs. Initially this was just for research when studying for an MA, but then I discovered a whole choir of voices that helped me to ‘hear’ my own voice. Blogs challenged me, made me laugh, gave me food for thought and fresh insights. Most of all they helped me feel that I was not alone. In a theological camp (evangelicalism) where I sometimes felt that the way out of difficulty was just to shout louder or play the same song in G, but louder, I was introduced to voices that showed me that doubt was not the opposite of faith, that art, music, nuance & introspection were just as holy and valid expressions of Faith.

And now I find that I am not reading loads of blogs; I don’t make the time: other things press in (heck, if I did the whole ‘Christianese’ thing I would say ‘I am in a season of busyness’). On reflection, this has saddened me; I am wondering if I have stopped listening to new voices, if I too have become too set in the ways I act and think.

…and the way this week looks, that is not likely to change soon.

….but when it does I could do with both revisiting old favourites and finding new ones. Anyone got any?

Sunday poetry

I am using this today from the excellent Stewart Henderson. When people tell me they don’t believe in God, what they describe bears almost no relation to what I experience:-

You walk too free for us,

for we are dying here, comfortably,

and in control

 

What we fear in you, is that

you are too tender for the game;

we did not start out this way,

we were once rosy in warm shawls

but on our way

to becoming immaculate

we realised that everything

has to be in it’s place,

and that’s why we put you in yours.

 

We do not like the way you gasp

at the rhododendron’s fire,

at your cherishing of useless animals;

it attracts too many of the gullible

 

We’ve even begun to copy you

as a means of reducing your effect;

it doesn’t sound the same when

we say it,

but our salons are crammed with

everyone, bar the wise

 

Still, we’ve contained you,

and not even the slight song

from out beyond the marshes

will rattle the perfumed locks

of our counterfeit kingdom

 

Some of us really do want to know

your secret

but we can’t break ranks, you see,

it’s not encouraged.

Being right has it’s drawbacks,

it’s the cross we have to bear.

 

 

 

(It is taken from ‘Limited Edition’- 2nd hand copies still available on Amazon!)

Happy Days

No soul searching introspection today: today I get to conduct two weddings.

I have never done two weddings in a day before, but that is by the by. I am more excited about James and Jayne and Fergus and Elaine. Excited as they take this new leap of faith. Excited as family and friends gather. Excited to have a small part in their separate days. Excited as neither are ‘new’: I have some connections with both couples over the years- in fact a connection stretching back 29 years with one of them.

So yes- history is made: after over 5 years a genuinely happy post here.

And if you are of the praying type, please pray for James and Jayne & Fergus and Elaine.

Friday Music

For some strange reason I have had this song going round in my head this week:-

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It is a neglected song from ‘Achtung Baby’: perhaps U2’s finest moment. This video is shot through with animation from the ‘Zoo’ tour; perhaps the best example of ‘simulacra’ consciously used in rock performance.

Philip Yancey in ‘What’s so Amazing about Grace?’ which is still one of my favourite books asked someone about a definition of ‘Grace’ and the person said something like ‘We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.’ Perhaps one creed I can hold onto, from this song then, is ‘Trust God and don’t let the bastards grind you down.’