I have had a lovely and unexpected weekend so far.
The leave year for Methodist Ministers ends on 31st August and I still had a Sunday to take. In some ways it would have been better to carry the ‘spare’ Sunday forward 3 weeks but this is not possible, so we had a full weekend at home.
I worked out that this is our first full weekend ‘off’ and at home for about 6 years: once you have had a summer holiday, perhaps some time off after Easter and maybe done the family round at Christmas there are usually no spare Sundays to just laze.
A weekend of walking with my children & an engagement party that I reckoned I would be home at around 10 ish spilled into the next day (funny thing: I end up talking about Faith and listening more in environments like this, between the beers, than anywhere). The next day bought football training: I like this so much, not so much because of the football, but the chance to mentor boys and see them grow. Then, my oldest got an emergency call up into the Village 2nd XI for a league match; as they were so short, they found me whites and kit and I played. A further call bought my youngest son to play.
I loved the mixing with a different group of people and finding out, after years away from umpired cricket, I could field pretty well: I even got to stand in the slips for the first time ever. I also liked watching my children close up & being part of this together. Plus: cricket teas, all 3 of you debuting for the same team at the same time, a playing member of MCC as part of your team & cricket, lovely cricket: what’s not to like?
Then came some work in the garden that I never normally get to do. A friend turned up and we demolished a shed, made a bonfire and stood, exhausted, drinking beer feeling lit up inside.
And today? We get to travel and meet up with friends that we haven’t spent proper time with for 5 or so years.
I wasn’t expecting time like this; there have been so many unexpected welcomes, but today I feel blessed….
Ok; so it is clunking and overwrought. But this is my blog& that’s what we do on blogs: produce monuments to our own vanity.
I started writing poetry a few months back (if you are at a party and someone says that: edge away) faced with the need to be honest and open- at least with myself. I have a notebook filling up with stuff: some I put on here and some is best not seen by another living soul.
Cough (clears throat),
A false voice,
A pretend you,
Rhymes of cheese.
Your unvarnished self,
Your seeing self,
The alive in this moment self.
Please save me from,
‘Glistening snow caps like polar bears’ teeth’,
Or words like,
‘Benison’ or ‘enriching’,
‘Golden’ (when applied to sunsets).
Forgive the faults I cannot see in me like,
‘Broken’ (like glass).
This is another song I have featured before.
It is essentially very simple, open chords, although played better than I can manage. However, I have made a real attempt these past few weeks to learn it, words, chords, picking etc, without resort to prompts.
I am nearly there.
Someone in a band that I watched last Sunday evening told me about ‘punk attitude’- rehearse but don’t worry about glitches and dropped chords. Perform, have a go and see what happens.
I am gradually assembling a list of ’50 things to do when I am 50′, although using the year before and the year after. One thing is to perform live. I can just about do 7 songs- not well enough yet. Have I the courage to go further: watch this space?
It is a beautiful song though; one that has ‘saved my life’ and helped in the ongoing struggle to be real. Sometimes it almost reduces me to tears.
The church, in the peculiar use of the word in certain sections of the Christian community, would not have been called ‘good’. It was (and is) pretty much a ‘normal’ church, anchored in its locality, sometimes frustrating in the way that churches are where people live in the same place and meet each other in many other contexts.
Yet, to this family, returning there for a funeral, it was ‘home’. Although they had had active involvement there in the past, they had none in the present yet they still knew people who worshiped there. One comment stuck out for me from this funeral: ‘This church has always been there for us’.
If someone was to say that about any church, then I would settle for it being ‘good’, warts and all.
As I have got older, it is the stories that matter most to me. My interest in grand schemes, policies and procedures has declined, but give me a person with a story and an openness to tell it without hiding and nothing else seems to matter.
We were in a seaside town this week. A photographer was selling his pictures. We had looked at one of his pictures for months & finally he had produced it in a size and at a price that we could justify.
I started to talk with him: I really struggle these days to confine any transaction to a simple ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘please’. I began to talk about how we had looked at this picture for ages and liked the movement and life within it. I then spoke about where we had come from that day.
He began to respond, making links with people he and I knew and spoke how about how he had got into photography. He told of a younger brother dying from cancer and his own struggle with cancer. He looked at me with a bittersweet smile ‘Cancer changes you: life is never the same again’. He spoke about seeing life differently, almost like being ‘born again’.
Eventually other customers came along, our conversation finished and I walked away.
Thinking about it, I felt lit up inside. I love moments like this and they are all around, everyday. Most times you don’t see them: you are too focused on getting things done or judging the other person that you don’t stop or even slow down to listen.
At first sight, these two names have nothing in common: one a brilliant scientist with strong views on atheism and the other a leader of a large and fast growing church around the Seattle area in the USA.
However, in the last week or so, both suffered misfortunes. Prof Dawkins offended many when he suggested in a twitter exchange that it was immoral for women carrying babies with severe disabilities to bring them into the world. Mr Driscoll and his church were removed from a church planting network and then announced that he will step down from leading his mega church for at least 6 weeks whilst charges against him were investigated. These charges are many: some centred on allegations of bullying those who disagreed with him.
Both are charismatic leaders who attract followers in whose eyes they can do no wrong: any ‘mistakes’ can be qualified or explained away. The consequences for Mr Driscoll seem to be much more severe in the short term, but there are signs that even within the amorphous world of thinking atheists, Prof Dawkins is losing credence.
It got me thinking about speaking in public and those used to speaking to large (or any) audiences. From my humble observation this can be very uplifting to the ego: you speak, people compliment you, you feel good, so you speak some more. Sometimes you go ‘off message’: many times this can be good and you bring new insights.
However, if you are not careful, your ego gets damaged; you get puffed up: it is very seductive that people listen to you. In your own head you become important and not like other people. As your fans cheer more and more, you begin to lose touch with reality or at least the world outside your fans. You make mistakes; but no one is close enough to correct you & anyway: what do they know- they are not as important as you- only you hear properly from God/Reason.
…which is all a very long way of saying that most Mondays I sit here and relive Sunday and think ‘Did you really say that? Why O why ow why? Couldn’t you have been more careful?’ The bigger the congregation, the more that sensation…I wish I handled this better. But I don’t….
It is Bank Holiday: traditionally in Britain a day of rain, torrential sleet and snow. I am also going to cut & paste another poem- what did you expect on a bank holiday: original thought?
More seriously, this crystallises what I have often thought. In the last couple of weeks, within the world of Christian culture (just like the normal culture, but more beige & bland) there has been a debate about a musician coming out as gay: it even reached Channel 4 news. As I read some of the blogs etc, there seemed to be an awful lot written by men who knew they had the answers….
The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.
While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.
(From Mary Oliver: ‘A thousand mornings’)
One of my friends writes poetry. I am not sure that he likes the description ‘poet’, but he is pretty good at it. He has been asked to edit an anthology which is soon to be published. I will buy a copy.
I will purchase it as, as I like Chris and trust what he does, but also for the blurb on the back:-
“What I was looking for was a new kind of Christian poetry – using language set free from the narrow clichés; an honest kind of poetry that arose from a deep well of the Spirit within us. Poetry that did not shrink from pain, from ugliness, from doubt, from anger at God even. Poetry that asked questions more than it answered them. Poetry that held us to account for our actions – particularly those of us who have any kind of power. Poetry that was skewed towards the weak, the broken, the poor (as these were the preoccupations of Jesus).”
This speaks to me. Before tinternet I felt like a lonely voice: there must be more to Christian worship and expression than inspirational cliche and trying to pretend the big bad world wasn’t out there. I had discovered the Psalms and people like U2 and Martyn Joseph who taught me that you could be honest and not duck from paradox. Yet I was still searching for people who wouldn’t tell you to ‘cheer up’ or shuffle uncomfortably before saying ‘Yes: but let’s just focus on something else.’
Chris was one of those people I found…and this is the link for the book…http://www.lulu.com/shop/chris-goan/learning-to-love/paperback/product-21730681.html
This is-mercifully- someone else’s poem. It has no spaces so is hard to read, but it repays the effort. It is by May Sarton (1930-93)
Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before—”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted so by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
When on holiday, the DVD player broke down. That sentence really should have #firstworldproblems after it.
It broke down and the DVD ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ could not be ejected. So we watched it again…and again (my younger son watches films above him to try and understand them).
I like the film: for mass market entertainment, it takes the road less travelled- slow, beautifully shot and almost elegaic. The soundtrack is also fantastic: I love how the director structures the film around Arcade Fire ‘Wake Up’ (surely the best song ever with a one note riff: discuss) & this song which I only have on vinyl.
I am using the film version and not the original.