Life

Is there a place between ‘fight’ and ‘flight’,

Called ‘Indecision’ or ‘Endless Speculation’?

‘Cos if there is,

I think I’ve found it.

Friday Music

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Someone had this at a funeral that I led this week. I like Gladiator: it is one of my favourite films & I never tire of watching it.

However, in the context of the person whose funeral I was conducting, I found it impossibly moving. Not just because the occasion was filled with grief (they all are to a greater or lesser degree) but because the song seemed to contrast with the person’s life. Although maybe the song spoke of the person’s aspirations: the song that they never really let out openly when they were living.

I think a lot of us can be like that.

Psalm 119

(Because the best way to read the Bible is to shine a torch on it at a 45 degree angle…)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible.

176 verses: at least in my Bible (there- if you learnt nothing else, you at least have a pub quiz answer).

Most days I try to read a Psalm. That isn’t a boast; it is just what I do. Somewhere along the line someone made prayer/Bible reading into a form of heightened anxiety; a list of things one ‘should’ (always a bad word) do to ‘feel close to God’. I imbibed that as a list of ‘to do’s’ that never quite got done & prayer/Bible reading became a kind of substitute drug: trying on different technique after another to get a bigger spiritual fix. I found the regularity of the Psalms helpful & their mix of  lament, praise, randomness & ‘what the…did you just say?’ to be more like faithful living than the whole bunch of techniques I had tried and failed to learn.

But then you hit Psalm 119 & your planned bite-sized devotional goes out the window. The way I used to tackle that was to split it up into easily digestible chunks.

Then I began to think: isn’t that what we middle class westerners generally do with spirituality- mould it around our life in convenient shapes and sizes to make us feel better?

So last week I tried to rebel against that in a minor way: I read the whole chapter, twice. 

Please don’t look at me in wonderment: I stopped several times, lost concentration, my mind wandered, I noodled on the guitar and messed around. If I learned anything it was about listening to something in it’s original shape without trying to conform it to mine. Which I guess was a wake up, both to the Bible and in how I struggle to do that with people.

So not a waste of time.

 

How to spot the pastorally insensitive?

Ok: that is not strictly true. I do not like to label anyone.

I just had a hunch. In a church service when you introduce a new song, or one that people may have sung elsewhere but not with that guitarist/organist/zither player/lute player, I wonder if there is a correlation between those who tend to be ‘pastorally insensitive’ & those who:-

(1) Sing the tune they think they know, loudly, above the tune actually being played.

(2) Sing at the speed they think it should be sung at, regardless of what speed it is being played at.

(3) Sing a different tune. I am not talking here about those who struggle to sing in tune, but rather adding bits at the end or in the middle to make it how they think it ‘should’ be sung.

(4) In their eagerness to cover up the hesitancy of the player, stop listening entirely and do any mix of (1)- (3) in order to ‘take charge’.

Just wondering….

 

Banter

I was in my local hairdresser’s/barber’s last week. I like this place; not only because the haircuts are good, but because it is yet another gathering place for the community. I like it for the opportunity to ‘banter.’

‘Banter’ is a very Northern male thing: endless ‘chunnering’, leg pulling, risque comments & if females are there; flirting. I put something like that on a tweet & then began to think about it: would that be misinterpreted?

I have just reread that and it looks sexist: I don’t think it is- there are unwritten rules which make things ‘safe’. Comments should not go too far, you only push people as far as you think they will go & you pick up the point to ‘stop’. Like any verbal communication there is the risk of misinterpretation and hurt; for that there is ‘sorry’ & redress. Without it, conversation can become merely safe and stilted.

Of course, it is completely impossible without community: shared understanding, common issues and problems & non verbal rules. This takes time. When I get to the stage of banter, I get the feeling of ‘home’.

Of course, there is the question- should a minister indulge? Last I looked, most ministers were human beings. I think somewhere on this blog I wrote ‘occasional human being’ to describe me- I was being ironic, but somewhere in the last few years I started to fully realise that God made me male and human & it was time to stop pretending to be anything otherwise.

Grace only really works through ordinary humans who make mistakes, not actors who pretend to be something that they have no hope of living up to….

Bank Holiday

I was once speaking to a retired minister: a good man, a man I respected and still do.

He once said to me: ‘You know what it’s like: you go out visiting people and the first one is not in, the second isn’t & neither is the third. Then you realise the reason: it is a Bank Holiday.’

I was too polite to say it then, but I would say it now: ‘No: I do not know what it is like & I hope I never do.’

A story

I’ve used this story a couple of times & I really like it.

Time was I shied away from stories in favour of the ‘pure solid word’, these days I think a good story tells us more & treats us more as creatures of wonder than passive recipients of logic.

At least that is where I am now.

It’s a long story, but is worth reading even if you have faith or not.

‘There was one a father who had 2 sons.

He wanted them to learn and make their own way in life, so he summoned them and told them he was going away for a long time.

To each he gave a loaf of bread & £10 & told them it would be enough for the time he was away. They each protested, but he would not be moved. Furthermore he insisted that he be repaid what he had given them when he returned.

Eventually he returned and asked each son what he had done with it.

The first said that he had invited his neighbours to share the bread and paid £5 on wine to accompany it. The day after, he had given his last £5 to a beggar.

At this, the 2nd son jumped into the conversation to tell of what he had done to preserve what he had been given & he could return it, but the father wanted to hear what the first had done.

The first explained that one of his neighbours had returned and offered him a job at his bakery and he had gladly accepted it.  One day the beggar came into the bakery & recognised him. It turned out that beggar was actually very wealthy but eccentric & he gave the son a diamond that he had been carrying around for years as a token of gratitude. ‘So you see, father, I have £1000 pounds here that is yours.’

The father turned to his 2nd son. He told him that he had spent the £10 to buy a special sealable container in which to keep the loaf of bread: he knew his father wanted the loaf back when he returned. ‘I have guarded the bread all through your absence, even though I’ve had to borrow food from my brother and I have it here for you.’

After he said that, he prized up floorboards to reveal the hiding place for his container. With a great flourish he opened to lid. Inside was a shrunken, moulddy & stinking lump which may once have been a loaf.

‘I’m sorry’, he tendered to his father, ‘but at least I tried to look after that which you gave me, rather than wasting it like my brother.”

Story adapted from M.Riddell ‘Sacred Journey’ p121-2. At the end of the story he says ‘Nothing in life can be preserved unless it is first let go of. One of the challenges on our pilgrimage is to learn to live with open hands, rather than with clenched fists.’

Friday Music

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Ok: this is a bit of a commercial.

I am going through a phase of saying ‘yes’ to things I would otherwise have dismissed as a risk. A few weeks back I heard that Duke Special; someone who I had always admired was offering ‘lounge gigs’. The fee was higher than I could ever cover using my lounge, but I sent an email back to have a go.

Two weeks later they got back saying that a lounge gig was a possibility. I outlined some possibilities, but with nothing definite (and no savings plus an overdraft to cover the cost).

And then…

…I got the gig. I am beyond excited. Thanks to help from a friend who came with me to see the landlady of my local (maybe there is an irony about a Methodist Minister having a ‘local’, but these days I am ‘post post post irony’, so I don’t know) & tremendous help from the landlady we imagined it in the beer garden as a kind of ‘soiree’ with limited numbers. A few favours from people got a professional sound guy, a top notch keyboard,cracking support act, professionally designed posters etc

And we are running: Sunday 15th June with over half the tickets sold & regional newspapers running with it today, so get in quick! Here is the link for tickets:-

http://www.wegottickets.com/event/275321

Thing is, last week I had a conversation with the manager of the other band, Hope and Social, for Spring 2015 & they want to create a ‘happening’…..

Some of this stemmed from when I saw Duke Special in 2000, then under the name Booley, as an unknown support act. He asked from the stage for a bed for the night and I thought ‘We could offer that’, but did nothing.

Most of us do that…I have started to resist that and it is exciting and frightening at the same time. I no longer know the destination, but I feel more alive.

It was only a random tweet

Often I wake early, very early. If I move too much I wake people up, which is not great at 2.30am-4am. So I read; mainly articles fromf streams that I link to off Facebook/Twitter. Yesterday morning I should not have done, as I found someone had retweeted this ‘inspirational’ quote:-

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.

I do not know where to start with this one:

-With the false either/or distinction between ‘joys’ and ‘problems’: life isn’t like that.

-With the none too subtle undertone about being honest is somehow an ‘addiction’.

-With the inference that one can ignore problems and just focus on ‘joys’: I wondered about the long term psychological effects of attempting to do that & the bout of self loathing/pretense that would follow when reality caught up.

Ok: it was only a tweet, and I was reading it early: too early. But, it was retweeted by a leader of a large church: if I went to their church and followed their tweets & was going through a tough time, most likely that would be an encouragement to keep quiet and pretend.

I do not like labels & will not use them to self describe: I am who I am- judge me, accept/reject me for that- I won’t give you a label to help you. One of the many reasons why I use the label ‘evangelical’ hardly at all now, was the impression I garnered that whilst you may have bad times, it could never be publicly acknowledged, was rarely acknowledged in public worship & if acknowledged only in the context of being ‘healed’.

If you ever read this blog- as I sometimes do- you will know of the liberation I experienced as I read the Psalms, listened to music that acknowledged contradictions and found fellow broken travellers. I realised that trite motivational crap was not at the heart of the Bible or life & nothing had to be hidden to gain acceptance.

I suppose I should pray for anyone who received that retweet; but at the moment I am too angry: I spent part of yesterday with someone who buried a son in his mid 30s after a lifetime of illness, who is now suffering from cancer- I somehow didn’t think that tweet would help very much…