Paki Lover

One of the few things I can remember and was proud of at secondary school is being called a ‘Paki Lover’.

I grew up in Leicester and can remember the first Ugandan Asian arriving at our school when I was 7. By the time I was at secondary school, I would guess that well over one third of the kids were of Asian descent. Many of these were my friends. Even at 11, it didn’t seem to matter that much to me who was of what ethnicity (in fact the only time this weak kid was threatened with going to the Head was when I attacked 2 14 year old girls when I was 11 as they were name calling my mate Kalpesh for being Asian). 

I can vividly remember the first time I was called that. It was at the swimming baths for school swimming lessons. I was stood with a few mates who were Asian. Most of the white kids didn’t; mainly as they feared being singled out. Then that phrase called to me. It was a vivid experience: I can still remember it now.

Why am I telling you this? So that you will be humbled by my saintliness? Well: you are only human if you are…

I think it is because from an early age, I have never wanted to fit in with an ‘in crowd’ if it meant shutting out people. Maybe that was innate, maybe it was being at a church which was ethnically mixed and we were imbued with the idea that racism was a sin; I do not know.

But since then, I have hated seeing people shut out, labelled unfairly & others making snap judgments. Even the sight of the front of The Express and The Mail can drive me into a frenzy &  as a meek and mild 48 year old, someone saying ‘I am not racist but…’ makes me want to yell or hit things.

Perhaps even now it is thinking that God judges; I am not God, so it is not my job to judge, exclude or name call anyone….

Sunday Hymn

(For those who know me, but never come to church, this is what I look like when I am singing hymns)

I am sure I have featured this before: it is one of my favourite hymns.

The language is dated, archaic even. But the sentiment is real: it is rare to find a song about following Jesus that is so honest. Two verses, no flab & refreshingly open about mixed motives and missed opportunities. One of the few I can sing completely with honesty.

Dear Master, in whose life I see
All that I would, but fail to be,
Let thy clear light for ever shine,
To shame and guide this life of mine.

Though what I dream and what I do
In my weak days are always two,
Help me, oppressed by things undone,
O thou, whose deeds and dreams were one!

(John Hunter 1848-1917)

I wish…

It is so easy to take over, assume ‘godlike’ status and try & ‘fix’ things. It is harder to empathize, listen, not take over & then stand back and wait & pray…remaining available, but being cool with the fact that you may not be needed. I have spoken with those who felt suffocated when someone, overwhelmed with concern, tried to rush in and ‘parent’. Best to realise that we are adults, equals, companions on the journey & sometimes you might need help as much as they do.

This is the beauty and the danger of what I do & oft times I get it wrong. I wrote and wrote, scrapped much of what I wrote then ‘A Day in the Life’- like (Beatles reference, dumbo) spliced 2 bits together. Some of this strays into ‘6th form poetry’ though….

I wish that I could save you,

Tell you it is all going to be ok,

But I can’t,

‘Cos I don’t know if it will,

And your hurt,

I wish it could be taken away,

Healed,

Made clean,

But I do not know how this story will work out.

 

I pray;

That the waves will not overwhelm you,

That you will find Hope,

Fellow travelers to share the journey,

Grace to take each step,

And, in this uncertain life,

Enough to go on.

 

Please,

Do not give up,

One day the greyness,

Will be,

The first light of dawn.

Friday Music

[youtube]7Ea9uy6Mngk[/youtube]

I had this one a couple of years back. It is my favourite Over The Rhine track: not only because of the music, but also because of the words. Sometimes hearing this song can finish me off.

It is so true: all my favourite people are broken and flawed. Many of us learn to pretend that we are not, at least in public. From the 90s I realised I could not pretend anymore and it affected the way I preached, the way I talk, everything. I value honest brokenness in a friend and tend to pull away from those who appear not able to acknowledge this. Likewise, time is short, and gatherings and groups that ignore this and hide, I tend not to be a part of anymore.

I have been speaking to some people this week who could do with hearing the message of this song: you are broken, fucked up even- it is ok. As Mumford and Sons once intoned ‘It seems like all my bridges have been burned: but you say that’s exactly how this Grace thing works.’ It is only when we are open to brokenness and leave the self loathing that healing and new things can be discerned….

Do you ever stop working?

Someone said this to me as I got to the end of a match that my son was bowling in. The person had a high powered job, so was used to pressure. Although the comment was half in jest, there was a serious undertone.

Now, I am not saying this to show you how ‘hard’ I work: I recoil whenever someone tells me how hard they are working on a regular basis. I recoil even further when that person is a Rev: ‘eee I have been out the last 14 nights, worked 15 hours yesterday and haven’t had a day off for 3 weeks’ is the kind of comment that makes me want to say pointedly ‘And a Gospel of Grace means what exactly to you?’ or ‘So this is what Jesus talks about when he talks of life in all it’s fullness is it?’. But I don’t: I am far too nice.

But it bothered me: I like to be around, I like to be involved, I like to be visible; not least because that is the way I am made & I loathe the middle class way of always taking your kids to stuff but never really contributing anything.

Ever since I started doing what I do, I have had an internal rule about what I work. Where I first worked I never shared that as my colleagues always seemed to be ‘on’ (mainly as they had partners that seemed to do everything for them) and any sign of being off/having an evening in was subtly (and sometimes none too subtly) mentioned. Occasionally I will hear someone in a church (mercifully rarely)chatter about a minister having too much time off: mostly I ignore this & do not even attempt to justify when I am ‘not working’. 

It concerned me, as someone in a high powered and intense job who I would consider a friend regarded his only contact with Christianity as someone who never stopped. And that is why if someone ever in my presence refers to them self as a ‘busy minister’, I will scream….

Sometimes it gets to you….

Sometimes situations ‘get’ to me. In fact, most situations ‘get’ to me: I have never warmed to descriptions of ministry that portray the minister as a dispassionate ‘professional’ purveyor of pastoral care. True, you have to keep some space, but unless you bleed, you are no real use.

This week has been one of those weeks: a funeral (the first time that I have been involved in 3 funerals for 3 separate generations of the same family) and some people I know who are going through a situation of great duress: this threatens to ‘break’ them and  there are no easy answers. Paradoxically, it is this latter situation that is affecting me the most: there are definite parallels in my life experience, plus I do not want to see people I respect get hurt any more.

It is a privilege that people let me in at these points in their lives. There was a time, a few years back when I felt that I was ‘the healer’. I regret that (& it winds me up no end when I hear other Revs talking about people almost as if they were children & they have some power over them): I cannot heal, but I can listen and I can bleed. I can be non judgmental and accepting (I think a minister should be all things to all people whilst at the same not always agreeing) but at the same time not make any problem ‘mine’. I can be there & I can pray. It makes me realise why I do what I do: I am allowed to ‘feel’ as part of my vocation: indeed it is expected.

I have just reread that and realised something: I am not a ‘minister’- I am Graham, who happens to be a minister & sometimes a friend. Much as I have written that and sounded ‘correct’, this week of all weeks, I wish I had a magic want to wave and make it all ok,,,,

A thought from the last few days…

In the last few days I have heard lots of music that I liked and some that didn’t particularly float my boat. However, most of it communicated to me as it had passion and belief- that is always compelling. 

In the last few days I spoke with a preacher: their theology does not always accord with mine. However, I always listen to them and learn something form them because they communicate with that same passion and belief.

Mostly I feel easier around people with passion and belief & who are able to share that with openness and grace, yet without browbeating others.

Teenagers, eh?

I was at a youth group last week and it was really well led (not by me).

During the session, the kids were asked to pick a place to live & place their name by it. Gradually the leader then introduced various cards & put them next to the places and people’s names. For example there were cards like ‘shops’, ‘mosque’, ‘rubbish tip’, ‘hostel for asylum seekers’ etc. At any point the children could move their card. Many did move their card.

After a while, the leader introduced the card ‘Jesus’: where would he go? Immediately, the children made suggestions that broadly equated to the nice places.

I was shocked: these kids had been around Christians: had they listened to nothing that they said? After a while, my shock abated: they had- but they had just watched how we lived so much more…

Sunday hymn

I was looking for a hymn for today and I found this one. I am not using it, but I like the words. It is an African- American traditional song. I had never some across it but I like the words. Having spent 2 nights at ‘The Cornshed’, I may be rather fragile….

Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

Not the preacher, not the sinner, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
Not the preacher, not the sinner, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

Not my mother, not my father, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
Not my mother, not my father, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

What it is really like being a minister for me now…

You think I know,

And I don’t,

You think I have a hotline,

And I don’t,

(well; no more than you).

I am just as lost as you are,

Sometimes even more so.

 

But on my better days,

I have this longing for 

Grace, Goodness and God.

On my better days,

I see so much glory in the ordinary.

And I see Hope.

 

I don’t really need,

Admirers, loyal subjects, deferential hearers,

(or anyone who does the passive aggressive thing),

Who will wait for insights from me.

 

I need partners, co-conspirators, and yes: pray-ers,

Who will wait,play, laugh and cry with me,

And understand that within this conflicted soul,

There is occasionally gold.