Tidying

I seem to have had so much going on that I haven’t had time (or more accurately made time) to clean my study aka ‘man cave’. Whilst I do believe that a tidy desk is a sign of a sick mind, it had become almost chaotic.

So yesterday I cleaned it and threw some stuff in the bin (note to anyone: charities, official bodies etc etc. If you send me things to read as you think ‘a minister needs to read this’, chose someone else. I never manage to read/action the things I am supposed to, so what you send me mostly ends up in recycling). As well as being powerfully cathartic, I managed to do some things that had been overhanging and overwhelming me; I am now only 5 years behind.

Years back when I was a manager of a Housing Office, I remember a very committed housing officer who bustled around and did lots of good work (he once was juggling so much, he called someone into an interview room, went to get something and forgot why he did and went out for lunch. We found the person 20 minutes later…). Once he asked for more files. I thought this was strange as he seemed to have more filing than most & he struggled to find things. I went through his files….and threw 50% of stuff away. He had been so focussed on the present moment, that he never stepped back to plan.

Whilst I might fondly remember how I ‘saved’ that member of staff (oh what it is to have a ‘Messiah complex’) I have realised that I have slipped into that same way of being. I must find time to ‘deep clean’ & tackle all the stuff in the Triassic layer in my filing cabinets. How about 27/8/2017….

…D’oh….

Meetings, shmeetings

Someone spoke to me after a church meeting. They had had a long career in top flight management. They said something like: ‘It has been years since I have come to this meeting. I suppose that I should be used to it, being in industry, but the extent of raised voices suprised me.’

A year or so back, I noted on this blog, the comments of someone younger after another meeting. ‘I do not know how you put up with the anger in this room. I wouldn’t want to’.

I suppose that I should not comment on this in a public blog (although I have disguised those who have commented and the meetings) and pretend everything is ok. However, part of the reason I started blogging was due to being fed up with pretending everything was ok.

On one level, perhaps I could say that it is good there are raised voices and passion: it proves that there is life, and there is that. I have been in many (in my dark days, far, far too many meetings) meetings across all walks of life where that has been the case.

But, maybe we could have a new protocol for church meetings:-

1:We remind ourselves that we have been forgiven much and loved much all the way through the meeting. If that applies to you, it applies even more so to the person who you are disagreeing with.

2:If you get cross or upset, count to 10, or 100…or better still 1,000,000 before saying anything.

3:Break for prayer all the way through the meeting, not just a quick prayer at the beginning to get God out of the way…

4:Would you speak to someone like that if you were alone with them, face to face? If not- don’t do it in public.

5:Try and sit in a single circle, looking at each other. The bile tends to rise more if you can only see the back of people’s heads. There are those who love to ‘grandstand’ who won’t be able to cope with being in a circle: good.

6:Tread gently: usually the professional godbotherer who is in the room started working 12 hours ago- they won’t have had many breaks during that time & this may be the 3rd or 4th day in the row they have worked like that. Somehow they have to go to sleep after all this.

7: Meetings are important, but they are not your raison d’etre- keep things in perspective.

8: Listening is good. Most of us don’t do that.

If I was to add a number 9, it would be to be suspicious of those who blog about such things….

Standing at the Margins

I read this this week & it really made me think:-

There is important wisdom to be gleaned from those on the margins. Vulnerable human beings put us more in touch with the truth of our limited and messy human condition, marked as it is by fragility, incompleteness and inevitable struggle. The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love. People on the margins, who are less able to and less invested in keeping up appearances, often have an uncanny ability to name things as they are. Standing with them can help situate us in the truth and helps keep us honest.

(P.Farrell, 2012)

And thought of that lyric from the new U2 album:-

‘I thought I heard the Captain’s voice;

it’s hard to listen when you preach’

…because it is easy to read stuff like that, nod & agree with it & maybe if you are a paid up preacher, preach loud and long sermons about doing just that…… and never actually do it….

Each Sunday comes & I wonder how much of my time has been spent with people in the centre, who are connected & how much has been spent with people on the edge: those who are not quite ‘in’, or who are ‘out’/ostracised or not popular.

Vulnerability: one’s own & that of others is often more truthful than always trying to be ‘in’/ ‘fit in’.

..and I try to not preach too much…

I fell off my bike

My son fell off his bike yesterday. Nothing major although lots of cuts, bruises and tears.

I remember so clearly that same sensation over a third of a century ago.

I don’t claim this is my best work…

 

I remember,

 

The speed and the wind rushing,

The sudden flight and then the pain,

The shock and the tears,

Then the plaster and the dull pain of knitting together.

 

You will go through this,

And those unsolvable tears

will dry and you are

loved (and you know it).

 

It is safe.

 

It will not always be like this,

Some wounds won’t be healed,

Remember days like this of

the hurting and the healing

and love that ached and

knew and did not

let you go.

Friday Music

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I could not find a track from the new U2 album on youtube that I could link to. I wanted to link to ‘Song for Someone’ with the line:-

I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary,

I’m a long way from where I was; where I want to be’

I know that you can critique U2 on so many grounds; their sound, many people find Bono annoying, their tax afffairs, the view that they seem to be a corporate behemoth etc. I know that and yet I like them.

I have listened to the new album many times and it is growing on me. It seems a richer, more varied album than the last one and I get excited at the prospect of listening to it once more and lose myself in its music. That, in itself is why I love music so much.

But there is more. I am ‘blind’ when it comes to U2. I got the ecstasy from when I bought ‘War’ in 1983 and the rest of the albums of that era. Then when they got to their ‘interesting’ period in the 90s: experimenting with sound, simulacra and lament/questioning, I was hooked. Their journey mirrored my own: no one else from a faith based perspective seemed to be asking questions and voicing doubts.

Then in the 2000’s I wrote an MA thesis called ‘Looking for Baby Jesus under the trash’. I do not claim that it was well written: it wasn’t, but it more than scraped through. More than that, it was a labour of love.

So I am listening to the new album and the new Leonard Cohen album is in my ‘to be listened to’ pile. I find the quirky juxtaposition of these two mercurial talents utterly beguiling (and I don’t think I have ever had the nerve to write such a sentence before).

I am very excited

I always get so excited about the prospect of going to a gig. This has got more pronounced as I have got older (at a time, I suppose when I ‘should’ have got less excited): sometimes I feel I am living my life in reverse… There is something about live music that lifts me so much.

Today I will be meeting these two guys at my village hall. Even writing those words sounds so strange, but this is the 3rd gig I have set up in this village in the last 10 months. I really don’t know how that happened: a friend said ‘why don’t you?’ to my ‘if only’ and I did.

I am looking forward to it, although I feel responsible- even though I am acting as chair of the friends of the village hall, I booked these people & mercilessly trolled my friends to buy tickets.

One of my friends said ‘What you are doing is ‘gigevengelism’. I have never seen it as such, but I guess he has a point: it builds community, connects friends more deeply and gives me a contact group who I mercilessly facebook/text/tweet. Another friend once said ‘I know I got a text from you, but I didn’t read it as you are always inviting me to something’.

Anyway- we have a crowd: more than the minimum number that the manager wanted, but still room for more. Tickets on the door or from http://www.wegottickets.com/event/279140

Written words

I was raised in a tradition of extempore prayer: prayer was freely said in acts of worship without following a formula. I still use it: I value the (sometimes) raw nature of that. Also: to be able to say ‘can I pray with you?’ and then do so is essential.

I used to find traditions that used written prayers somehow ‘wooden’ or ‘not real’. When I used the words, they seemed awkward as they were not my own.

However, I have started to use this form more myself and a little more in public. I think there are several reasons:-

(1) I am sometimes tired of reinvention and cautious of gimmick. To have words that have stood the test of time is more nourishing to the soul.

(2) I speak a lot. I can stand up in front of most audiences- sometimes with no or minimal preparation and talk. I am wary of this: it is hugely flattering to the ego to be able to do this and to see people respond. To pause and let someone else’s words be used is a way of standing back and putting the ‘pause’ button on your own ego.

(3) I value tradition more. If I am going to improvise a lot (and I do), I want to do so from a bedrock of tradition and ‘faithfully improvise. I metaphorically buried my head in my hands recently when someone got people to sing ‘The Hokey Cokey’ in an act of worship, but I am sure I have done worse (I am trying to think if I have…can’t think yet...)…. This struck me as one of the weaknesses of my tradition; we can improvise so much that we forget what we have improvised from.

(4) I was starting to overuse cliche and became aware of the ‘thinness’ of my words and the excessive number of them.

I am not, I hope, idolising this approach, for most images/approaches to God are idols that need to be smashed-at least periodically, but this is just where I am at the moment.

Thanks for reading.

A born again bloke

I was stood at the front of a church at 10.30 on Sunday leading an act of worship. 3 hours before I had been leaving a camping barn/aka ‘boozy weekend’ 90 miles away having had a weekend with some mates from the pub/village.

Years ago, I guess I would have seen something of a contradiction; I guess some people still do. I don’t anymore.

A few months back and periodically since, I referred to myself as a ‘born again bloke’. The irony was intentional (and maybe the none too subtle ‘Look at me: I’m different’ voice was there as well. I am not perfect), but the seriousness was as well. When I first became a Christian/came to faith/woke up or whatever you call it, I somehow imbibed the impression that you pretended to be ‘nicer’ than you were & this meant that parts of your life remained hidden or were downplayed.

I met a few people over the last few years who seemed to transcend that. What united them is that they were ‘real’- they expressed opinions, whether or not they were ‘correct’, they admitted to sometimes feeling pissed off & when something went wrong they didn’t just say ‘well dash it all’. If anything, their faith seemed richer.

That’s why my blog header says something about an ‘occasional human being’: because this ‘realness’ sometimes seems less among revs- something about an internal thing about ‘giving the right impression’ or an external thing: ‘we don’t think ministers should act like that’. You never talk about having a laugh, liking a beer, watching bands, mountain biking or whatever floats your boat unless it is within the narrow range of things deemed acceptable (ie ‘bland‘).

Except after a while, you feel the colour leech out of your life and faith. But  if you are lucky you hear the voice that God called you to be you, with all your inconsistencies and shallowness. And then you begin to respond: it isn’t easy- you have to unlearn parts of your past; some people won’t accept it. Yet many do- and you make new, sometimes suprising friends. Then you realise: ‘finally I am becoming a born again bloke’…..

 

Faithful Improvisation & bad guitar work

So, I may have a slot at an open mic (subject to someone hearing me, testing me through their equipment and offering me advice).

It is not something I have ever done before: I had set it as one of my goals for ’50 things at 50′ (which is due to begin on 1/3/15- the day after I am 49. Yes that was a hint- something 40% proof or cold,hard cash would be good) so I have to make sure I can play some simple songs and sing convincingly.

I am not a virtuoso. In fact, because I know I am not, it has taken me this long to get close. Some people said ‘you ought to have a go’, but I wouldn’t. It was only when someone collared me at a party, put me on the spot, that I got this far.

But how do you do them: the songs? Do you do a homage to what you know, or adapt them to your style? I am trying to modify them to suit my simplicity, after watching videos, asking advice, practicing and getting a ‘feel’. I have 3 songs nearly at this stage , but the one that involves an unbelievable 5-6 chords and a capo, less so.

This whole process is, I guess, ‘faithful improvisation’- reading what I have just written, I hope you can see how many people, how much learning and how much watching has got me to this point….. and how much more I will need, should I reach the mic and afterwards (if there is a next time…).

All that, and I struggle to call myself a ‘guitarist’- maybe I will one day.

If you are smart and read between the lines….apply the word ‘Christian’ to the same context: it isn’t an easily grabbed noun, but a loooooong verb….

Harvest

Shrugging off a drunken weekend (see yesterday: irony intended), I am basing my Harvest Service today on this:-

I saw on a Ministers’ Facebook discussion feed this week the statement (at least partly tongue in cheek) the comment about how the respondent didn’t like Harvest Festivals.

I like them.

I have liked them more since I have have lived in a rural area and my increasing awareness as a Townie over just what Harvest means.

Regardless of what you read in the Metropolitan Broadsheets, farming is fragile in Britain. Supermarkets don’t help: I for one don’t know how milk farmers survive. And when I speak to old farmers, I am made aware just how grateful they were for harvest- they could survive and look for a future.

I like the tradition of the old hymns which meant almost nothing to me as a child in a city.

I like the sense of gratefulness for what I take for granted.

I like the awareness that food is ‘real’- not just bought off a shelf.

Most of all I like being reminded of my dependence on Nature, on others, on God: I am not independent, I cannot make my own future, I cannot ‘be who I want to be’. This doesn’t make me feel restricted, but helps me rediscover gratitude, living lightly and hopefully, living generously.

Because I am blessed.