Mea culpa

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By a mixture of accident and design, I rarely preach these days. When I am in a church, I’m happy just to listen and not to speak: I’ve used so many words.

Often I’ve been grateful for what has been offered: I know how difficult it is to stand and speak and how much ‘wrestling’ is involved in preparation. I speak frequently in front of groups people: that is much easier than preaching.

Sometimes, however, I have been disquieted by what I have heard. As I have thought about this, I have realised that the faults I have found in others are merely reflections of my own failings over the years.

So I am sorry for these things:-

I sometimes spoke for too long. I reckon that 10 minutes is all I can bear to hear before I stop absorbing what you are saying to me; goodness knows how people put up with 20 minutes or more of what I said.

I mistook the promptings of the Spirit for my own adrenaline. What feels good in my head may not feel the same for the listener. The rush of adrenaline means that it is sometimes hard to stop or pick up the sense that you need to just shut up. We are full of words and now we are drowning in them.

Truth is personal and any sermon that has nothing of ‘you’ in is a waste of words. However, sometimes I went the other way and made it too much about ‘me’ and my life. You have to live this faith; you don’t need me as sole exemplar.

When my ego got bigger than the Bible. I’ve heard people say things like ‘ I preached up a storm’ ‘I gave it to them’ ‘I was on fire’ etc etc. Sometimes I joined in. Those phrases belong in the basket marked ‘self aggrandisement’, not in the one marked ‘gospel’ or ‘humility’. (And while we are at it, I know that you preach- does your personal social profile pic need to be of you preaching. Come on; is your ego really that fragile....)

That I sometimes got too ‘preachy’. I remember an old phrase : ‘you catch more wasps with honey than with a brick’. Sometimes I used bricks…. and did not use honey, because, let’s face it, those who aspire to be dominant males love ‘telling it like it is’ (which translates as ‘listen-I’m right and you are not’).

We need to do more’ is not a summary of the Gospel. It does not motivate and it only heaps up guilt. You came looking for beauty, life , a sense of hope, relief from a forbidding present and I sometimes turned ‘life in all of its fullness’ to ‘you are not doing enough jobs in the church. Sometimes I forgot you were doing your level best to be faithful in the jobs, relationships, failing health and life that you were living.

I turned poetry into prose... or the wild jungle of faith into a manicured suburban garden. I know I was supposed to provide a path through the thicket so you could see, enjoy and begin to make your own, but at my worse, I tried to impose regimented order on something that was wild. It sounded good, but the Mystery went.

Mea culpa.



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This time last week I was on a far island.

I spent a weekend on a wilderness retreat: just over 2 days of surviving, deep and frivolous conversation, silence, prayer & whisky. It is the 4th time in the last 5 years I have taken part and many of the disparate group of blokes that go have become friends: some of whom I would share things with that I would with few others. Again, we were in the Inner Hebrides: in sight of the mainland, but also with the wild vastness of the Atlantic around us.

It sounds romantic and, indeed, this year the weather was glorious which made it easier than it has been in the past. It is, however, not easy- there is no ‘civilisation’ as much: no warm shelter, heating, water or toilets, although we take enough with us to survive. Daily tasks take longer, require more thought and cooperation.

We need each other: no retreating to warm, self catered rooms where we can upload to social media and facebrag about ‘having a #deep time. amazing room’ and subtly boasting about the ‘gorgeous’ place we can afford that sets us apart from the herd who can’t do so.

Each time I return, however, I return feeling better (initially by the use of the first warm shower and proper toilet...); there is something about a time where the normal barriers of middle class existence drop and we can’t hide behind any of the usual comforts that separate us from each other. Conversations seem deeper and intense enjoyment of the little things become more profound; staring out to sea in wonder and sometimes verbal or wordless prayer opens the soul to light a little more.

There was a time when big gatherings, exuberant preaching and loud music inspired me ; I know for the majority it still does. For me, however, it is the small, the stillness beyond words and the wild that nurtures me more than ever.

I am profoundly grateful and thankful for times like these.