It is old news. So old and part of the background ether of 24 hours rolling news from every conceivable media;350,000 people (at least) use foodbanks in this, a G8 country.
I had heard that figure, thought it terrible but it never really ‘hit’ me until last night when we had a speaker in from the Middlesbrough Foodbank to our Harvest Festival service. He spoke movingly but hopefully about the work he and his charity were involved. He received our gifts and hopefully forged a few longterm links (we are the only village in these parts that takes a weekly box down to the foodbank).
I am used to words, I read lots and hear lots in an average week, but the 10 minutes I heard from him made me listen. A good deal less ‘political’ than I would have been, he spelled out the effect of the Government’s welfare ‘reforms’ on people who already had little. Tales of despair, tales of starvation and hopelessness. Then he began to talk of hope: of people receiving dignity, not just from receiving food, but friendship, of support through benefit reviews and job applications, of people coming together in community to support each other.
Once again, it struck me about the disproportionately high percentage of people of faith involved in these banks. And the work done by a small number of people who not only worked in these areas but began to move into them (this particular guy had moved into the estate where he worked and had thrown in his lot with the local church: ceasing to do the middle class Christian thing of commuting to where you can ‘get fed’) and through the moving began to be transformed.
And amidst despair I thought I could hear the words ‘the Kingdom is close at hand’….
I was reading something this week about how sometimes we resort to ‘straw man’ arguments: erect a straw man that is designed to be a caricature of your ‘opponent’ and then mercilessly attack it. Once you have done it, you climb back down the pulpit steps, convinced you have preached to ‘them’. Thing is, it hardly ever convinces them: it just makes your constituency feel better.
Hoping that today I won’t do that…. hoping also that I won’t be like the preacher in the joke, who when looking at his sermon script saw scribbled in the margins aganst the 2nd point: ‘Argument weak: shout a bit more here’.
This is an old story. I believe that this version is cited by Walter Breuggeman; someone whose writing has always hit the spot for me. It is versified in a poem: ‘The Cookie Thief’ by Valerie Cox
You can take this story how you want (I am so post modern…). One way it hits me is how most of us read situations and people too quickly and rarely stop, listen and notice the other. I could cite a story about getting logs out of other people’s eyes as well…
Because the tea shop was crowded, a man took the other chair at her table and ordered tea. The woman [already seated there] was prepared for a leisurely time, so she began to read her paper. As she did so, she took a cookie from the package on the table, and noticed that the man across from her also took a cookie from the same package. This upset her greatly, but she ignored it and kept reading. After a while she took another cookie. And so did he! This unnerved her and she glared at the man.
While she glared, he reached for the fifth and last cookie, smiled and offered her half of it. She was indignant. She paid her money and left in a great hurry, enraged at such a presumptuous man. She hurried to her bus stop just outside. She opened her purse to get her fare. And then she saw, much to her distress, that in her purse was her own package of cookies unopened.
There is loads I could put up this week:-
*Today I do a funeral and have the exquisite irony of leading the closing blessing to be followed by the playing of John Lennon ‘Imagine’
*I found a cheap copy of an old ‘Monkey Swallows the Universe’ CD.
*I have this theory that there is actually no good ‘Christian Rock’. I am open to persuasion but in 30 years I haven’t really found anything that bucks the trend. I am listening to a CD that some say is good: ‘Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band: The Jesus Record’. I haven’t made up my mind yet.
Instead I wanted to repost this from a tweet I sent out a few days ago:-
Watch especially after 3:30 as the singer deconstructs the song. Magic. Pure bliss. If music is not mere candyfloss, but is something that ‘recognises the pain in me’ (The Verve- of course); then this is a supreme example. At its best, music gives me a narrative- touches me beyond words and gives me an honesty.
I know- I am a Martyn Joseph bore right now…. but he is 6 weeks away from my village. It is like a dream come true: someone whose songs have provided me with a framework, a longing and have vocalised my hopes and fears for at least 25 years….
I don’t always look like that…
I have had this stored for a few weeks:-
‘To be a preacher is costly, because I have to find something in that text that breaks my own heart. I have to confront the thing in that text that I don’t want to look at in myself. It’s really easy to just gloss over and say the obvious thing, but I try to dig deeper and say, “What makes me uncomfortable?” I submit to that process on behalf of my community’.
I have found that to be so true in my experience. Preaching on Sunday takes me all week: it has to seep into my experience- it has to be true for me. I try not to be ‘fly’ and ‘surface’; I fail often in this. I have never understood those who can dash off a sermon on Saturday night or early Sunday as a matter of routine. I struggle to make comments on how ‘well’ has gone and tend to mentally (and occasionally actually) leave the room when others say how they ‘really preached the word’/’preached up a storm’/ recount all the favourable comments they have received.
I think it was Bono (it usually is) who when asked to write a song said ‘It’s simple: I just open a vein and let it bleed’. It is the same for preaching…
‘Sunday must be your busy day’ someone said after I had seen them about a funeral on Sunday. ‘It isn’t’ I said- ‘sometimes other days have more going on’.
I didn’t tell him that I don’t like the use of the word ‘busy’. In the job/vocation I am in, ‘busy’ can become a shorthand for ‘Listen; I am really important and needed’ or a ‘busy minister’ is one who is hard to talk to: firstly they always seem too full of things to do that they can’t notice the ‘now’ and secondly they often tell stories which place themselves in centre stage as ‘healer’, ‘saviour’ or ‘fixer.’
I had one of those days yesterday with lots going on: leading a study on Wesley’s sermons (that was actually really interesting; much good stuff that helped and I can use), preparation/study, admin, meeting a colleague from another church to explore stuff, a couple of youth groups, lots of ‘loitering with intent’ and even an attempt to audition for the Village Panto (in villages you have to get around a lot).
Strangely enough, I feel alive after that, although as a good introvert, I need some time in seclusion today to make up for it. Of course there was space for prayer, reading, hanging washing out (I like that- it slows me down and helps me realise I am not the centre of the universe) and lengthy periods of listening to a new Martyn Joseph CD.
I don’t know if that sounds boring, too random or not much use, but I liked it. It feels good to have days like that sometimes when you work but it doesn’t really feel like it.
And; I am not ‘busy’….
A few nights ago I caught part of the film ‘As Good as it Gets’ on one of the many channels that have no original programming but endless repeats.
I really like this film: it has so much depth and thought to it. Some films just make me feel cheap: this one always makes me feel better.
One of the main characters has been beaten up badly and is in hospital. The guy is an artist and his agent has to sort out what will happen to his dog until he returns home. In desperation he knocks on the doors of neighbours in the apartment block to see who he can offload the dog on. One neighbour opens the door and says something like ‘How is he: I was so worried about him? Tell him I will pray for him.’ The agent says ‘Will you look after his dog?’ She then replies ‘No I couldn’t possibly.’
The force of that scene hit me; as I guess the director wanted it to. The phrase is used a lot in Christian circles; sometimes too easily. Taken on it’s own it means nothing; it means less than nothing unless it is accompanied by something.
Thing is, I just posted the phrase on someone’s Facebook wall a couple of days ago. I will follow it up later, but…… Graham…really!
Harvest Festival is a Big Thing in villages around here, even as the tides of Christendom ebb further and further away.
This Sunday among the adults there were two children, aged 3 and 2 there. It came to the moment when traditionally children come to the front bearing their harvest gifts. Being the age they were perhaps they didn’t fully realise what they were doing, but they seemed to sense something of both the joy and tradition of the moment; for a while they were totally focussed.
And it got me thinking; here in a rural community where they still carry the memory that Harvest is a time of relief- we can live for another year- is this one of the few places where ‘thanks’ is enacted year on year? The sense that things don’t just happen or are as they are…. but life itself is provisional and never to be taken for granted.
And as that memory is ‘lost’, will we lose that sense of ‘thank you’, of Grace? Will it be replaced more and more with ‘I did this: this is mine.’/ ‘me and mine against the world’/ ‘want more and more’. I hope not; celebrating Harvest in the countryside sometimes wakes me up to ‘thanks’ and ‘All is Grace’.
But it is September 22nd:-
‘I don’t know half as well of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.’
Although last week at a Covenant Service I did use as an intro what Frodo Baggins said as he took the Ring, and deciding to take a journey that was fraught with danger and with no guaranteed outcomes…
‘I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way’….
..which I thought was a good metaphor for Christian living….
But today- it has to be ‘Happy Eleventy First, Bilbo’
(and if all of this has passed over your head, then you are much the poorer)
In my Leicestershire watching youth I used to watch the late Chris Balderstone http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/player/8962.html . He was then in the autumn of his career, but I remember being there as he made his last century. He later moved into umpiring before dying relatively early from cancer.
I remember a reliable opening batsman who was also warm with the spectators. Those of us who watched Leicestershire knew, as well as his brief flirtation with Test Match cricket, he also managed to play league football. That was comparatively rare in the mid 1970s; it does not happen now- the expansion of both seasons, the higher levels of fitness and intensity demanded now (As well as the desire of clubs to minimise the risk of injury) and, well sadly life does not work like that anymore.
He was also the answer to a quiz question: ‘Who once played in a first class cricket match and a league football match in the same day?’ In 1975, he played for Leicestershire v Derbyshire , before dashing from Chesterfield to Doncaster to play in an evening match for Doncaster Rovers v Brentford.
That is a rather long introduction to today. If all goes to plan (and in villages we get used to not a lot doing so and muddling along), my youngest gets to play a football friendly in the morning and an end of season cricket friendly in the afternoon…. I get to train the squad in the morning…. and maybe play in the afternoon….