Switching on

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I am restarting work today after a week off.

Even after over 18 months I am still amazed that when I start work, I have to ‘switch on’: mobile phone, email etc. This is because when I am on leave I cannot be contacted, receive phone calls that say ‘I know you are on leave, but…’ or get calls at the door and say ‘Could you just…’

When I was a full time minister this happened- not a lot, but it did. I never really minded: it was just part of what you did.

However, now I am an employee, I have noticed that when I am ‘off’- I am truly ‘off’: ‘free’ if you like. I realise that for most people this is normality, but for me it is a very pleasant feeling; as with Brexit, being on leave, means being on leave.

So, when I ‘switch on’ I do so from a position of almost complete relaxation. Even after over a year and a half, I can’t tell you about how good that feels….

The Wild Geese

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I may have had this before, but there is something both powerful and relaxing about the poems of Wendell Berry….

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

back to?

I helped out at a holiday club this week.

I used to do schools work a lot of the time when I was a minister and I used to love holiday clubs. In an alternative future, I would have been running them all of the time. It was something that energised me.

I enjoyed dipping my toes in the water again, but it wasn’t nostalgia:-

-There is something powerful about ‘giving something back’ as a thank you for how your family have befitted from activities like this in the past.

— There is something lovely about doing something that has no payback for ‘you and yours’.

– And I loved the lack of pressure, of not leading or being responsible for the whole thing.

-It is good to be an ‘ordinary everyday’ Christian without the spotlight being on you.

When I tweeted it I hashtagged it as #goodtimes (which is a phrase I do not like too much), but I meant it. I was just glad to be there.

Friday Music

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If Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature, Leonard Cohen should have won two….

This came out a week ago today. I am on a self limited fast, but the album is staring at me every time I go into a music shop, every time I log on to an on line store; everywhere….

A new Leonard Cohen album is not merely a product, but an annunciation. One day I will yield to temptation, but for the moment it taunts me like an unobtainable holy grail.

As ever, he comfortably knocks every other pretension to ‘soul’ or ‘feeling’ into the long grass. One day, one day….

not big enough

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

On Monday when I put the first post in this unintended series up, a wise sage responded by Twitter and said:-

‘If you can fill your mind with God in 15 minutes, neither your mind nor your God are big enough’.

Which in 140 characters said what I have been trying to do far better and more succinctly over 3 (now 4) posts.

Around 20 years ago, when faced with questions too big to handle, I was helped in my faith journey by ‘U2:Pop’. I remember being taken with a line from ‘If God will send his angels’ that has stuck with me for ages:-

It’s the bland leading the blonde’

..which summed up much of the then evangelical culture for me: when faced with pain and difficulty, go for ignoring it or complete blandness. I can remember another Christian, hearing my questions and my reflections on ‘Pop’, offering me a video by a Christian singer ‘that would help me’. I think I lasted less than a minute with said video before I had to turn it off. Fortunately, I did not swear very much then and I was much less honest than I am now. I thanked the person through gritted teeth…

So;

rage

shout

doubt

have questions

dance

sing

weep uncontrollably

swear

 

…just do whatever you do…

if there is a God……he is big enough.

(and don’t settle for bland cliches or those who utter them)

Annoying….again…

 

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

Practically all bloggers have a character flaw; they have strong introvert elements and think too much. Something more from yesterday…..

It is easy to be cynical (and I am). Maybe all that pzazz masks a place where great things are being done. But what happens when you don’t feel upbeat or you question a lot, but all you hear from the front is like this quote, banal? What happens when you are falling apart?

Your voice is not heard- you are only something to be ‘fixed’ or ignored: sometimes unconsciously and occasionally consciously.

Although I do find this annoying, it is less so than I did in the past. I feel sorrow for people who trumpet  ‘success’ in this way.

Now I often feel that they are scared: scared about when things go wrong, when bad things happen to good people, when things cannot be understood- scared of questions. In this context, the crucifixion is just a minor blip on the way to victory, the Psalms are shorn of their lament and the morally conflicted nature of most biblical characters are whitewashed on their way to becoming strength/success archetypes.

And shouting louder and ignoring the shadow side does not make it go away; it just makes it more scary.

Someone wiser than me recently wrote:-

All those smiley people out there who always seem to be on an even keel are either lying or have no idea what joy can be seen from the underside, because they have no idea of the truly awful pain life can bring’ (p13 ‘Darkness is my only companion’ K.Greene-McCreight Brazos, 2015)

What ‘saved’ Christianity for me was realising that it does not have to be this way; there is a wilder hope amidst the dislocation once you begin to admit and acknowledge the shadows….

Annoying

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‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

From time to time I do it, and then I immediately regret it.

Something comes up on Twitter that is from the ‘God is good and bright shiny people have no problems’ school and I follow the link back and look at the history of the person and then their church website.

It is the church where everything is perfect.

The website shows The Pastor and his wife (it is pastor- maybe sometimes the ‘senior leader’)- wife always slightly smaller than husband, but always with died blonde hair. Both with the kind of gleaming white, perfect teeth that would have the average dentist planning a new house extension.

Then there is the worship band; all young and good looking, with artfully distressed hair and carefully selected clothes that are just the right measure of ‘street’/ designer labels. Nobody is overweight, old (or even middle aged) or has disabilities.

There are the relentless upbeat slogans and the the public face where everything seems successful/dynamic/growing/wonderful (or ‘kicking’, ‘dynamic’, ‘radical’ etc).

None of those things are bad in themselves, but where they are so relentless and there is no acknowledgement of the ‘shadow’ side, quotes like the above are toxic:-

-I do not feel like that: there must be something wrong with me.

-I do not feel like that: I am a bad Christian.

-I do not feel like that and there must be no one else like that for I do not see it at the front.

Be real…..please….

 

 

twee

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

That’s the problem with quotes; you don’t know the context or the author. As soon as I read this quote, though, my toes began to curl. Not that I don’t advocate spending time in prayer/meditation/scripture reading etc: it seems to me a waste of time having the label unless you try and live the lifestyle. It wasn’t even because I believe that pursuing God can bring peace of mind.

No: it was the triteness of the quote; I thought of those friends I know that struggle with depression or anxiety, those who don’t ‘fit’ and those I work with who have severe and enduring mental health problems. People who have pursued God, are pursing God or who have given up the struggle and who worry.

Sometimes those 15 minutes are not possible; the noise is too loud.

Sometimes those 15 minutes just bring bigger questions.

Sometimes those 15 minutes…. hell; I feel like giving up, as no one is there….

That’s  why I never repost tweeness like this. I know many people of faith do. But each time I see them (usually in a twee font with a primary coloured picture and appended with ‘let’s have an ‘amen’‘). I want to scream ‘Be real’

And before I blogged, I thought it was only me who felt like that. I now know it isn’t.

And if you feel like hitting someone when you read bland tweeness like that, you are not alone.

 

 

Sunday story

(Image from http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/placestovisit/middletonlakes/m/middletonlakes-mediagallery/765852.aspx)

I don’t know where I got this from:-

Once there was an old man who always had witty and wise answers for people who asked him anything.

Someone came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the sage that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead.

He, of course, planned to prove the old man wrong, because if he said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands.

The old man proved wiser than he thought, because he said, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.”

Blessing

To bless whatever there is, and for no other reason but simply because it is—that is our raison d’etre; that is what we are made for as human beings. This singular command is engraved in our heart. Whether we understand this or not matters little. Whether we agree or disagree makes no difference. And in our heart of hearts we know it.

(Br.David Steindal-Rast ‘Gratefulness the heart of prayer’)

I once read a book; I think it was by Henri Nouwen which talked about how there seems to be  so much frozen anger in the hearts of the righteous.

That phrase has stuck with me over the years; it seems to be true. Whenever I hear about another Christian group being set up in reaction to the perceived actions of another group, about large parts of the Religious Right backing Trump or fear and suspicion being engendered by another group about ‘the state of our Nation’ (which probably has more to do with a slavish and uncritical reading of the Mail and Express than any scriptural exegesis) I feel saddened.

And don’t get me started on ‘Christian Concern for our Nation’….

Whilst I would like to see a good deal more of the context of this passage, before I can fully take it in, to start with ‘blessing’ rather than ‘cursing’, ‘name calling’ or ‘suspicion’ seems good to me. Yes you might get it wrong, but I’d rather be wrong with blessing than with anything else…