He was stood there on the corner of a street in Middlesbrough with a big ‘Pizza for £6.99’ banner around his neck.
It was not a great day: one of those Northern British Spring days that can go from bright sunshine to torrential rain and back again in 10 minutes.
I spoke with my son as our car pulled up at the lights: ‘Never undervalue or look down on people like that; working on barely minimum wage and outside all day’.
And then we noticed something: him and his friend were dressed as superheroes and were smiling and waving at each car going past. If they got an acknowledgement, they would give a thumbs up and smile broadly.
It made such a difference to my day: on the face of it a demeaning, hard and insecure job, redeemed with grace and dignity. I had- financially and job prospects- so much more than he did. Just at that moment it felt that he had so much more than I did.
I think I smiled more afterwards.
Last week someone tutted at me about the ‘priorities’ of those who did not go to a Maundy Thursday service. I think they were provoked by me saying I had forgotten as I was rehearsing for a play. A minister ‘forgetting’ something church wise is as close to a cardinal sin as, well, something very bad…erm…
I get the point, I do- Holy Week is important and if you don’t ride the journey between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, you miss the bad bits, the unresolved questions and the contradictions.
I don’t get the repressed anger, the ‘shoulds’ , the implied obligations or the feeling that ‘they’ should be like ‘us’ who are regular.
I did that- frequently- I guess it is a very human thing to do: anger at the one who hasn’t tried/suffered as we have. A better way, I guess, would be to fall in love with your amazing activity again & just do it, enjoy it & demonstrate it is something great to be part of….but then ‘bless’ those who never come.
I confess: I rarely managed it.
I wish I had.
I was half glancing at a poem in my boss’s office. I’m sure it had the above line in it and it was cast in a positive light: if I had the courage to have a go at more things it would mean that some did not work out.
This came to mind when it was my 50th party, which was one of my ’50 things for 50 years’. During that, I attempted another one: to try and play at an open mic again. As the local one seems to have finished, I planned to play a song as part of a shortened speech and count that as an open mic.
And…. I managed it. It wasn’t great; it could have been much, much better. It is very scary up there.
At first I cringed, but then I thought: I had a go. I am not going to get any better in public unless I keep having a go.
And sometimes that will mean failing.
And failing is not necessarily a bad thing.
The churches in my village do an open air thing on Good Friday.
It is not especially ceremonial or ‘high’, but is fairly informal- 8 stops, 8 pieces of the story and 8 prayers. We joined in this Friday, not as leaders, but as ordinary punters.
I think it meant more to me that most indoor services. We read the story outside the shop where I go at least 3 times a week, in the car park of the pub where I have been known to drink beer, outside the place where I lead Beavers Scouts etc etc….
…in other words it was earthed in the real world where I live, move and have my being…. I am forced to think about the story each time I encounter those places during the course of a normal week.
…give me that anytime, against commuting to a far off place for the best ‘religious experience.’…
At short notice, I was asked to preach today. With hardly any time to prepare, I said ‘yes’.
I’m using a question mark.
Don’t get me wrong: once I hear ‘He is risen’, I am saying ‘Yes!’. But sometimes our excitement with that leads to a preaching of an aggressive certainty that sounds good in church, but doesn’t translate to real life.
This year, it struck me that the Resurrection gave most people who accepted it a huge question mark: they had to change the way they looked at things and be different.
Of course, you could preach that as an aspirational message, beloved of middle class Christians and churches, viz: ‘be different; the only barrier is your fears’. It is striking, however, that post biblical stories tell us that all of the early disciples lost their lives, the New Testament letters give us pictures of the early Christians encountering big questions around how they lived and for many, life became economically/socially and culturally harder.
They faced big questions.
And this excites me: ‘He has risen!’
We don’t really do this day in Protestant churches.
Pity: a lot of life is this grey time of waiting and not being sure.
I used this prayer last Sunday. I am not sure of its source:-
God of Holy Saturday, teach us the patience of waiting: when the work is done but the time of resurrection has not yet come, give us patient hearts and a strong faith that supports us and others in the times of darkness. For ourselves and all who are without hope….
All I ever wanted to hear today…..
I remember a book I bought cheap at college. It was called ‘The Pastor’s Problems’. It was one of the tranche of books on pastoral theology that I got rid of when I had my sabbatical in 2008. The empty spaces on my shelf I replaced with my collection of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanacs as I reckoned they were more useful.
I thought this book would be helpful. In the end I found it not to be so. It reached its nadir in a chapter called ‘the pastor and the young fundamentalist.’ First of all, it was the labelling of someone who did not self identify as such, then it was the overall patronising tone along the lines of ‘he’ll grow out of it’ (it was always a ‘he‘), finally it was the overall tone of the book-the wise professional pastor giving superior advice to the person who knew no better.
It is Maundy Thursday today. I am not going to a service (the Tom Stoppard Play I am in doesn’t rehearse itself), but I like the idea that the day is built around someone who was so confident in his identity that he was able to flout social and religious conventions & go lower to wash people’s feet.
I love the idea that he didn’t stand there with a superior grin and say ‘let me tell you how to wash your feet’, or give the impression of ‘you poor people-you need me’. or wash feet and then make a play of his goodness and humility.
Like the book ‘The Pastor’s Problems’, I have met too many people who lead (and minister) by patronising/labelling others or by hinting ‘look what I’ve done.’
I went on a brilliant conference on ‘recovery’ last week, hearing lots of first hand accounts of those who had mental health issues and had recovered/were on the way to recovering.
It was somewhat humbling and lovely to see professionals sitting and learning from those whom they have treated and worked with. I could not have imagined this a few years back.
Amidst the good stories there were bad ones of when people felt that some professionals had treated them like an object or a collection of symptoms.
However, even amongst the worse stories, there were two common themes about the people who had behaved well to them:-
(1) They spoke to them like they were normal human beings and their equals.
(2) they listened and took time to do so.
Sometimes I wonder why I do what I do and what ‘value’ I contribute. Hearing these 2 points practically summed up my whole job description & raison d’etre.
A good day.
It happened again.
You see someone new and you begin to talk. They talk as well.
And then- polite smile- ‘I am watching the TV now’.
You move away. One day they may want to talk. Or they may not.
Years ago this would have bothered you. It doesn’t now.
It is a long way from an old sermon someone told you that they found: ’10 reasons why you should respect your minister’.
Your identity does not come from other’s respect: you don’t need it. Come to think of it: you never really needed it in the first place.