The Joy of it

As part of my way of tentatively feeling my way back into Methodism (I think I will remain paddling in the shallow end for now. Or maybe a long time), I was asked- with many others- to write a short piece for a reading guide from Easter to Pentecost.

There were restrictions (less than 250 words, prescribed format and  a set passage) and it was not something that I was totally happy with, but here is the final version (someone very good edited it). The editor gave it the above title and I was given 1 Corinthians 15:50-58: not a passage I have ever preached on.

I like visiting the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) but often I have to ask the attendants to begin to ‘open up’ a particular artwork for me. However, I’ve never left without being moved and feeling somehow different; even if I never fully ‘understood’ what I was seeing.

 It is how I felt as I read this passage: Given enough work it is possible to ‘understand’ it, yet somehow miss the joy of it.

Paul  struggles to grasp what he has seen and experienced: Jesus has risen, his own life has changed and Christianity is expanding into new cultures; meeting new challenges, opportunities and difficulties (Often one of the biggest difficulties they faced was how to be church together). He tries to grapple with what ‘resurrection’ looks like for people many years after the event and so reverts to poetry:

 ‘Where O death is your victory?

Where O death is your sting’

 I find this very moving: it doesn’t ‘answer’ suffering, pain or death (if anything ever can) but yet speaks to a community of people whose life experience was far worse than ours ever could be in the 21st Century developed West.

 Having given us that, I like how he earths it again in real life. If Jesus has risen, then somehow we are held by him whatever happens. That means we are free to live openly and without fear.

 PRAYER/THOUGHT: This creed- attributed to David Jenkins always helps me to hold on to the kind of Hope that Paul talks about:. ‘God is; God is as he is in Jesus; therefore, we have hope.”

Rev. Graham Peacock

Stokesley Circuit

Mental Health chaplain (Tees, Esk & Wear valleys NHS Trust)

50

Year ago I lived across the road from Werneth Cricket club in the Central Lancashire League. It was my first introduction to that league. Whilst it confirmed to me that there are few things finer and more evocative in life than watching cricket and drinking beer, it also introduced me to a new custom.

Every time someone made a half century was scored, someone came round with a hat for a collection. I learned to carry some change or at least the moment to disappear into the bar or the toilet.

There is no reason for that recollection, except I have reached that mark today. It has not been through a lustily struck six, an elegant cover drive for 4  or even a cleverly placed single backwards of square. Mostly it has felt like a mix between careful accumulation, wild slashes outside the off stop and dropped catches with the resultant scramble for a single.

It has been a long time since I looked like the picture above (mind you: it has been the same for my sister). , although the curious dress sense remains.

50: it is dead old isn’t it?

Reality

At 49 & 364 days, you begin to tire of quotes and motivational cliches (and the organisations that spout them) along the lines of ‘success’, ‘onwards and upwards’ and ‘be all that you can be’ etc. You see those quotes used by some churches and they generally consist of words like ‘strength’, ‘victory’ or ‘destiny’.

Although you are fitter than you have ever been, you are aware of the ageing process. Whilst it is good to be reminded of what you can achieve, you are aware that life is finite, that bad things happen to good people and suffering sometimes comes. You think that their must be better ways of expressing the beauty, grace and sometimes ugliness of the human condition.

Then you remember that you have this quote stored and you breathe a sigh of relief.

Reality…

‘Takashi, the farmer-monk from southern Japan, said, ‘You have always been so strong. Now it is time to learn about being weak. This is necessary for you.’ How could I grow strong by becoming weak, I asked. What he was asking for was balance. Health cannot be accomplished any other way. I pondered the dampening of this forceful energy which had always welled up inside me. How does one do such a thing and not ask for death in the process? But that was the point: I didn’t have to do anything. There was still a lot I had to learn about getting well’.

Gretel Ehrlich ‘A match to the heart’

Friday Music

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I was playing this one night this week as I picked up one of my sons from one of their inexorable array of sporting fixtures.

‘Who the… is this dad? Is it Leonard Cohen?’

‘Yes. He has more sould in his little finger than one of those ‘artists’ you listen to on Capital has in their entire body’.

‘Well, I think it is crap’.

But he didn’t turn it off.

Sometimes only Leonard will do…

You just turned up.

You just turned up.

You did your best, but the day seemed to pass by in a grey fug. You were attentive, but it was a struggle; you were so tired.

There were large sections of the day when you were not sure you were any use and that you got in the way. Rare was it that you felt that sense of ‘connection’ that typifies most of your days.

Maybe the key was that you just turned up.

And that was enough.

Old ladies’ meetings…

I had to cover for a colleague at short notice and ended up doing something for them: talking to an afternoon church meeting about spirituality and mental health.

The meeting began late: someone wasn’t there. People began to talk about the last time they had seen the person and then ran through all the things they normally did. Someone went off to phone them and someone else was deputed to go and see them later. There were further delays as people talked about others who were not there and why they were not there. Some news was shared about someone who died.

At first, I could feel some exasperation: I could have been doing something else and why was this taking so long? Then I looked at it differently: this was a community that cared for each other and the gossip was a sign of that. They did care about who was coming to speak, but they cared more about each other; many who were alone and otherwise isolated.

And I thought about how many people could do with relationship and community like that.

 

Straw men memes

I am partial to sharing a good meme. Some of the memes I share are polemic: I hope they are not viscously untrue- but that is only because I am the judge (and a blinkered one at that).

I saw the above meme and I commented on it. It made me angry- not with the person who shared it, but with the quote and the person who devised the meme.

I am pretty much fed up with Christians who use ‘straw men’ arguments (I am fed up with those who are atheists who do likewise, but that is another issue). Mostly they are addressed to their own constituency and are fearful.

Aside from the massive logical hole in the above quote, the heavy use of ‘either/or’ reasoning and the sheer wrongness of the final conclusion, it is the fact that it is linked with ‘Gospel’. You want to reach people who say they have no faith, so you stand in front of a large crowd in a church and rubbish their intellect…… and people of like mind applaud and share what you have said: for what result?

I don’t know the guy in the above quote but I wonder if he has real relationships with those he is attacking: I doubt it from the tone used. Likewise I wonder what we are doing when we share such stuff- are we really so insecure about what we believe that we have to use ‘straw men arguments’?

If you still want to share things like that, I have a suggestion: go and meet an atheist : they don’t bite. You might find that they are human beings and have a name. You might also find that they have many of the same hopes and fears that you have.

Ah: but it is too risky- you’d have to leave your comfort zone. Heck: you might even have to put yourself out of your predominantly Christian social group.

Hand me that flaming meme someone, I feel an urge to share. After all, I am preaching the gospel…

The story

It was set to be a small funeral: most of the friends and family lived a considerable distance away and many of his contemporaries had died or were too ill. Also: there was to be a later memorial service, closer to where he had lived.

They had not picked hymns, fearing it would be embarrassing.

‘But don’t stint on his life.’

They went on to talk about a life well lived and one that connected with many people. There were many anecdotes- too many for a eulogy, but great for the funeral tea.

I did what they said and I did the kind of eulogy that I would have done for a full congregation (although more turned up than they suspected). After all; the story is most important….

Genesis 12

(Because all Bible characters worse pristine white nighties…)

12 The Lord said to Abram:

Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. I will bless anyone who blesses you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you.

This is one of my favourite Bible passages (although it is not the best translation: ‘famous’ jars a little) I used it when I left the churches I was minister of in North Wales. I used it again when I started in this area back in 2004 and I used it again in one church when I finished in 2015.In the Bible I used until a couple of years ago, the page for Genesis 12 has fallen out; it was so well used.

I could spend ages outlining the passage and what it means (I won’t go into whether it is ‘literally true or not…because that just seems irrelevant) but that doesn’t seem like a good use of time right now.

It always speaks to me and speaks more now as I am on the cusp of 50. Lots of things:

-the future is provisional- much as we would like to ‘fix’ it, we can’t. I am so much more aware of this right now.

-If you have a Faith: it never gives easy answers or something ‘fixed’- ‘Go and I will show you’. The idea that what is around the corner is not known…you find it by stepping out in faith. I used to think that stepping out in faith was heroic: maybe it is. Often now, it feels like blundering, fright, questioning and really not being sure: it is easier to stay in the known warm.

-The stuff about ‘cursing’ would take a great deal of time to go into: I read it that whatever confusion/questions/threat I find myself in- somehow God is there.

-sometimes facebook etc memes about having an adventure are purely self focussed. I like this passage as it talks about blessing others: you trust your God, you step out….and it’s not all about you.

All of this set in a context where the ‘you’ is not meant to be read purely individualistically ( as many Western Christians do)- I need others, I am not an island.

 

Grey

Visions of glory turn to grey,

And no one tells you this.

 

Feet shuffle, nervous coughs,

Sometimes anger and

Often strident preaching,

Loud ringing chords

(Always major, never minor).

 

And you pretend,

Sometimes for years,

Or quietly tiptoe away;

‘Maybe there was no glory in the first place’.

 

Maybe

You find that He is

There in the grey

In a more profound mystery

Than you thought when

You were scared to

Admit that there

Was any

Grey

At all.