Prophetic Symbolism:2

One of the great things about daily blogging is you post what ‘gets’ you that day. This means that a blog is unformed- always a work in progress and never the final word. Indeed blogging is unpredictable and messy: an antidote to blandness and false consistency.

One of the worse things is that sometimes I think ‘Gosh: did I actually say that?’

Over the years I have tried to avoid the boast fest that surround preachers when they talk about their preaching. ‘Man I was wonderful’, ‘I preached up a storm’ or ‘People were so moved my what I said’. There are also more subtle ways to do this: sideways allusions to what someone said, numbers there o so carefully dropped into the conversation or blogging about it…..

Apologies- yesterday was not meant to be a boast. I do think there is something to be said about being vivid/breaking the mold if the text/context demands it…. whilst at the same time being wary of being ‘over gimmicky’ so that the symbolism actually obscures the message.

I also think that one should try not to boast about a preach- just let it do it’s work, be thankful that you have been used and then be quiet.

Except I am not always good at doing that….

Prophetic Symbolism

It is always tough leading Parade Services; even tough leading Scouting St George’s Services. The usual reasons: they can be boring, drained of life and 150 people aged from 6-16- the majority who never come near a church- can be daunting.

I have seen all approaches: the patronizing (‘Now children; we all like teddies don’t we?‘). the gimmicky, the cleric (and they can be any age and even from ‘lively’ churches) who is uncomfortable with anyone who can’t speak Christian jargon and the ‘lets all have good morals’ type talk. I may well have been guilty of any of these approaches, but like any preacher, I think I am wonderful at communicating….

On Sunday afternoon I ate 6 creme eggs in 6 minutes whilst telling the story of the shock and the unbelievable nature of Easter to those who were there at the first Easter. I tried to link it to how it was still a shock/unbelievable, but it wasn’t meant to be a gimmick, but something that changed lives/actions. I though it was honest exegesis of the text and not ‘flash’.  I also had to prepare by going on a long run just before the service so that my metabolism was in calorie burn mode..

Or I think it was good & faithful did:maybe most just saw the gimmick, some just turned off & still others remembered what happened for all the wrong reasons. But ’twas ever thus with any kind of verbal presentation.

Mind you; it is possible to have too much chocolate….

I will pray for you

People sometimes say ‘I will pray for you’ , ‘prayers’ or something similar. Speaking from my own experience, it is well meant but not always followed through. Maybe sometimes it is said in embarrassment as in ‘Oh no- I don’t know what to say, this is uncomfortable: better say something’.

Most annoying is when it is said glibly as just more Christian saccharine traffic from someone who does not want to share the pain.

‘I will pray for you’

Must never be uttered glibly by those reclining on their couches,

But by those

Bruised and bloody from the fight,

Or those whose Hope has nearly gone

From the struggle,

Perhaps even those

Who have stopped using words,

But never with a smile,

As a honeyed platitude,

From behind a mask.

Sabbath

 

Another Sunday, another Wendell Berry poem. I like the idea that we all need ‘Sabbath’- a day not to get all the jobs done, to be busy, but a day to rest (eat with people, talk, walk slowly, play etc).

At the risk of being too honest (amongst ministers there is often a distressing tendency to preach Grace and then talk about how busy you are, how many things you have done, how people have needed you etc), on Sundays I rarely do admin/planning etc: it is ‘just’ the acts of worship & conversation afterwards. Maybe there might be a  visit if there is an emergency. Most Sundays I do not take a diary to church: there are 6 other days for diaries and ‘sorting things out.’ But I am still a long way from the rest described here….

The mind that comes to rest is tended

In ways that it cannot intend:

Is borne, preserved, and comprehended

By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by

Your will, not ours. And it is fit

Our only choice should be to die

Into that rest, or out of it.

-Wendell Berry, “Another Sunday Morning Comes,” A Timbered Choir

 

New sofas

‘Authentic abundance does not lie in secured stockpiles of food or cash or influence or affection but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them—and receive them from others when we are in need’. Parker Palmer

We had the unforeseen gift of two sofas this week. Although we have furniture, much of it is old and scuffed: we are used to it that way and both react badly to adverts/people who talk about ‘putting your stamp on a room’ or ‘give it a fresh, contemporary feel’. Occasionally buying something new would be lovely though…

These sofas we were given were not that old (3-4 years) and were better made than the faded, sagging, 20 plus year old ones that they will replace. They are, however, of higher quality: much higher quality. I just want to sit or lie on them and feel the luxuriousness.

However, we could not move them. Random texts produced an incredible amount of offers to help. In the end, someone phoned me two days ago to ask if I still needed help. When I said ‘yes’, he asked his next door neighbour whom I had never met, got back to me & within 20 minutes they had arrived and were manhandles into the house. After that, my friend offered to pay the guy with the van….

…when that combination of things happened I feel thankful &deeply blessed….

Friday Music

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I have been listening repeatedly to a couple of compilation Cds I made for driving. The music is slow,thoughtful and often mournful.

This one is from a CD I must have bought around 20 years ago & is the first Peter Gabriel music I have ever featured on here. That is a shame: my exploration of music really began in my teens, listening to early 1970s Genesis when most people were listening to something else.

Since being in full time ministry, I have met one of Peter Gabriel’ teachers and some of his school contemporaries & this has prompted me to go back and rediscover Genesis and some of my Peter Gabriel stuff.

I love almost everything about this track: the kind of music to stop you and make you think.

Rev

I rarely watch TV these days: there is so much to watch and I don’t know where to start. The choice is bewildering and life is too short.

One thing I make a point of watching is ‘Rev’ on BBC2. There have been a long tradition of ‘revs’ on TV: mostly as figures of fun: I think of Derek Nimmo types, Dick Emery types & Vicar of Dibley types. Few, to me, have any trace of gritty reality; ‘Rev’ is an exception.

Some Christians object to it as it is too dark and unrealistic. I have never quite understood this: it is comedy, it is drama & not reality. I also think that there are parts of the Christian subculture that are uncomfortable with darkness, loose ends and rawness, but that is another subject.

This series has been the best for me: there have been moments that the TV screen sucked me in and I could not look away. The one a few weeks ago on same sex marriage was incredible and the one on this week with its many Holy Week metaphors is some of the best TV I have ever seen. I was moved by the moment he met Liam Neeson, playing God.

I liked the way that God appeared as a down and out swigging lager, saying to Adam (Rev) :‘Hello; I like your dancing’.

I was torn apart by Adam’s honesty on pastoral ministry: ‘I’m trying to keep something alive, but I don’t think that I can do it”

And then, after a string of intentional cliches, God saying to Adam: ‘I understand Adam: I’ll always be here.’

No easy answers, no plan, no map, just assurance.

There are moments when TV transcends the medium: this was one of them. I am so looking forward to next week.

What I will remember:3…

Sometimes when I am leading an act of worship I actually listen to the readings/hymns. To some people that may come as a shocking admission, but being ‘up front’, I am so focussed on what is happening next that I do not live in the moment. This happened in a service I went to during Holy Week.

The reading was from Exodus 12. Not the kind of reading to excite the emotions being basically a description of how to prepare the Passover Meal. However, suddenly I caught the story behind the description. Here was a description of community: people observing tradition and not gimmick (I like attempts to communicate truth in a different way- I loathe gimmicks) ,recalling the story together and it being earthed in ordinary life- the home.

The bit that hit me was this verse:-

‘If any family is too small to eat the whole animal, they must share it with their next-door neighbours’. 

It seems a bizarre fragment- read the whole passage. What relevance can a 2500 year old plus description of instructions on how to celebrate a Passover have now?

It was this passionate concern for community- you share, even when it costs. You know enough about the people who live in your locale that you have an insight into their needs. You are locally based.

It seemed so simple and yet so difficult. And I wondered about the practice of Sunday Church in the developed West which is so much about going to something that ‘meets my/my family’s needs’ or my taste in worship, often at the expense of the locality. On top of that graft lifestyles that stress consuming and independence….and we have become so advanced and at the same time so far from Eden. In seeking for what best nourishes us (mea culpa) we have sacrificed sideways relationships.

And I don’t yet know what to do with this, but it is something that I would like to seek for. Amazing what happens when you catch the story behind anything….

 

What I will remember:2…

I was involved in an open air Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. I like it: we rewrote a ‘Stations of the Cross’, used 8 locations on the village Green that linked with the story and moved between them over 35-40 minutes. People come to take part who never come near a church.

What I remember most was an older person from one of the churches who was unable to walk to all the locations or to stand for too long. She managed a few and spent part of the time sitting on various benches on the Green.

Once she made a point of sitting next to a young couple on the Green with a new baby. She got into conversation with them, shared stories of children and then- in response to their questions, began to explain what was going on and why.

If I see a better illustration of practical evangelism in the next few months I will be suprised. Although, if I slow down and notice a bit more, maybe I will see lots of events like that happening…

What I will remember:1..

I will remember lots of things about this Easter: sharing in a Maundy Thursday service for the first time in 10 years (& a Love Feast/shared meal before), Good Friday in 2 separate locations and in the open air & Easter Sunday in the 3 churches I help to lead. All good stuff and all things I am thankful for.

What I will remember the most is the one service where someone who attends occasionally turned up with their husband. Nothing unusual about that, but this was the first time this person had ever been to an act of worship in the years I have been here. I don’t know why or for what reasons they came, but it gave me hope.

Hope: never write anyone off, or label them. Things can change.

You may notice that I hardly ever mention numbers when I talk about church. It is not that numbers are not important- they are (although inwardly I turn off when clerics often talk about numbers- some of it sometimes seems to me close to boasting), but it is always the small stories-like this- that light me up with life.