I was in a parade service. They are never the easiest things to lead or to sit through.
Behind the flags, on the wall, I spotted a cheap brass relief copy of DaVinci’s ‘The Last Supper’.
Time was that I would have seen that and thought/preached with suppressed anger about how Jesus was obscured by ‘civic religion’ or ‘this world’. This time I smiled inwardly, just seeing a glimpse of Jesus in a confusing world was enough.
I have changed….
What I miss most about preaching is the introspection.
I miss the wrestling over a passage that often lasted days. If people ever said ‘I could never preach, I have so many questions’, I stifled the urge to say ‘That is often the only thing that keeps me going: the questions’.
It was therapeutic and I could never quite ‘get’ those who spoke glibly about how it came easily to them or put it together on that morning. How could you preach to people going through all life’s up and downs and devote so little time and thought to it?
It forced me to read the Bible, and not just the ‘surface’. In fact if I ‘got’ the passage fast, I would often end up not using that first impression: what really lay beneath.
How would it speak to the one person who seemed disengaged, who was not in the majority, who had no faith or was even hostile?
One day, one day, I will come back to this strange occupation. But not yet.
After a while out of preaching, I begin to realise just how much the ego ‘gets in the way’.
You need something of an ego stand up in front of people and speak on behalf of God. I mean, it is like walking on a tightrope; speaking on behalf of the ineffable who you believe was made uniquely known in Jesus and is in everything, but cannot be seen. Either ego or madness…or something in between.
If preaching is ‘truth through personality’, then sometimes the personality can really get in the way. Give someone a gift of preaching and provide no effective spiritual accountability (Methodist Revs are not compelled to be ‘under’ anyone- many aren’t: seeking no relationships where they are not in control) and the ego begins to get out of control: you are ‘truth’- you speak ‘truth’ and the rest ‘need’ to be helped as they can’t see it.
If you are not careful, then the ego gets out of control. Hang round any group of people that preach and listen to our talk. Note the ‘I’s; the drawing attention of what you have done and the placing of the congregation in ‘child’ mode.
Perhaps I sensed something of this in me. If so, this ‘setting aside’ is healthy: having no voice where once I had a lot forces me to face up to my powerlessness.
Sometimes preaching can be toxic to the ego.
Sometimes letting go is the way forward.
Sometimes enforced silence is necessary; especially for those who gain meaning from being in the spotlight.
I haven’t preached since February 8th. The longest I have ever been without preaching since I started in December 1992 was just over 3 months during a sabbatical.
I haven’t missed it (apart from something I will post on in a couple of days). I thought I would as I got so much out of it.
I haven’t really missed:
- The time it took to produce it: I was so painfully aware of what I was doing (presenting God’s word to others) that I never wanted to cut corners.
- The feeling of butterflies every Saturday night before standing up on Sunday. There came a point on Saturday where it was hard to relax.
- The sense of giving your all with no apparent response. Not that I ‘should’ have got one. But….
- The feeling- usually and hour after I had spoken of ‘what on earth have I said? Have I got in anyone’s way? Has my personality been too dominant?
Maybe I will miss it more when life has settled down- it hasn’t yet, but for now, it doesn’t feel like I have been ‘deprived’ of anything.
Perhaps as I believe Bono said after the last dates to support ‘Rattle and Hum’ in the late 1980s: ‘We are going away to dream it all up again’….maybe this break will help
Today I may well be looking at 22 yards. If all goes well I will be umpiring an under 13s cricket game featuring both my children. I am looking forward to it.
If you had told me that a year ago I would have wondered how that was even possible: I ‘should’ be in church (actually I will be this afternoon, in a Parade Service). Things have changed jobwise- I don’t ‘have’ to be in church on Sundays.
Mostly, I want to be: I need church: I cannot make it on my own. But as I go through this ‘detox’ period, it is lovely not to always have to go and to be around my family as they adjust to the big change.
Plus, it is cricket, and if God had created a game on the first 7 days in Genesis, it would almost certainly have been cricket…
One night last week we found this writing left out for us (I have kept the spelling and punctuation):-
‘In life sometimes you begin to notice that you are not what you could be. Sometimes you realise that life isn’t all beautiful. Sometimes whites turn into blacks, Yin’s to yang’s, positives to negatives.
A corridor of murthlessness. The human greed reflected in the floor litterd with bullets and bodies. The window was the only source of light. Sometimes you find Jesus in the trash. The walls where grey and denterd in an array of bullet marks. The Feng Shui was as low as it could be.’
My youngest son wrote this. It wasn’t for an assessment, SATs or because we wanted him to. He did it just because he wanted to and he likes it. He has often drew or written things spontaneously.
I am putting this up not to boast- although I am very proud- but I am chuffed that he is finding his own voice. I am trying to teach him not to be proud about the quirky side of his personality and not to hide it to fit in.
He thinks I am very quirky (I am and have got more so. I guess living here has encouraged me more and given me more confidence). I am trying to tell him that at his age I was quite like him except I was embarrassed about that side of my personality.
It is good to find your children unwittingly redeeming your past…
It’s not often you are at work and a rising folk star comes into the wards. What’s more, you are effectively paid to listen to them.
This happened last week. My Trust occasionally engage with an outfit called ‘Music Live’ that brings performers onto the wards. Last week Maz O’Connor did concerts in several places. It was amazing listening to her and watching the effect that her playing and singing had on people. Music, good music opens people up, lifts them up, cuts through them and makes them think.
A good couple of days….
Facebook recently reminded me of a photo taken 2 years ago (17th April 2013). I was on the terrace of the House of Commons having coffee and cake. It was a great day, taking in the Bowie exhibition at the V& A, a behind the scenes tour of Parliament with a friend who works there, meeting another old friend for beers and wandering around London. The real reason I was there was for a meeting at Methodism to ask for ‘permission’ to apply for other jobs.
Yes: you heard that right: to ask for ‘permission’ to apply for other jobs. That language didn’t make much sense then, it makes even less sense now. I had to do it though: ‘pick your battles’ has sometime been a helpful phrase. As I got that ‘permission’ I was able to apply for, accept and gain the required validation from the Methodist Church to work for the NHS.
I was taken back a couple of years before that to when I was in a meeting with an NHS chaplain. They suddenly said, apropos of nothing ‘The Church graciously allowed me to be a hospital chaplain and in a few years I will go back to being a Methodist minister to repay them’. I am all in favour of realising you are not your own; you have obligations, but this language struck me an extremely unhelpful.
I don’t know where to begin with this langauge: the church as some kind of feudal landlord who has absolute rights over you, the willing collusion in this ‘master-slave’ language, the psychological adult-child dynamic or the whole ‘yes massah, good massah ‘ dialogue.
Either way, whilst being glad of being a Methodist Minister, happy to worship in Methodist churches etc etc, and even though our lives are a good deal more uncertain, I am so glad I am ‘free’ of that world…
I got this mug from a lovely contact at ‘United Christian Broadcasters’. Someone I work with talks about UCB radio a lot and I thought it would be an encouragement to them.
This person keeps trying to get me to listen to some of the Christian music on that channel and I won’t: I don’t ‘do’ Christian music (see practically any post on the subject I have written ever). Therefore a UCB mug might not be the best present for me.
Each time I come into my study, there it is. Each time I see it, it ‘speaks’ to me. All this week it has encouraged me and given me just enough strength to keep going.
Always be open: never closed, or you might miss something.
I read a really helpful post from LICC (London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) this week.
Whilst ostensibly being about politics and the General Election, it helped me to gain some understanding of what I do and why I do it:-
‘In his lecture, ‘The Importance of Asking Honest Questions’, Ellis Potter, a former Buddhist monk turned Christian minister, explains how merely asserting one’s perspective can shut down dialogue, while inviting questions from others creates space for exchange. As a Christian, Potter believes that Jesus is, ultimately, the answer to the questions troubling people today, but he explains that it would be unhelpful simply to assert that to be the case. Instead, asking ‘What are your questions?’ makes space for others to ask about the things that matter to them.
The difficulty is that being open to questions requires us to be vulnerable. Someone might have a question we’re unable to answer. Or their question might confirm a doubt we ourselves harbour about our own belief system’.
I think it helped me to see from where I have come and some of the reasons why I left: I love church, but got disillusioned about how most ‘serious’ Christians seem to isolate themselves from those whom they might disagree with them.
Whilst I think I have a good idea of where I am theologically, others- often the most hostile -fascinate me. Their questions and challenges I find really interesting.
As well as providing some self justification for my barely credible Friday ‘teatimes’ at my local and the group of people I mix with, it helped me to see more of what chaplaincy is.
The article concluded:-
While meeting others where they are by inviting honest questions and giving honest answers can be dangerous, the failure to do so can be alienating. If we will not receive questions that may be difficult for us to answer, we miss the opportunity to engage with others and to have our own perspectives refined in the process of doing so.
(LICC article ‘A good question’ Brendon Jacoby 18/4/15)