‘My eyes fail with watching for your promise…’

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, cloud and outdoor

I sat through that funeral earlier this week.

I must have conducted around 500 funerals: each one is different and it is never an act- it is impossible not to be touched by any of them (and if you are not, perhaps you should consider giving up conducting them), but this one really got to me; my first contemporary to go and a lovely chap; so full of life.

It was when his oldest son got up to speak and talked with the kind of raw honesty that his dad had about how his dad had told him how two friends had prayed that one day he would see him again (a relationship breakdown had led to no contact) that I lost my equilibrium. I remembered those days- 2 years- when 3 of us met for an hour a week to be vulnerable, pray, swear and try and be honest. I remembered prayers prayed for us and the possibility of children that at that time seemed so unlikely and prayers for my other friend’s child in difficulty.

I struggle with prayer- always have. I struggle with the simplistic ideas of ‘God has answered this’ or ‘God hasn’t answered that’. I think of people that have died (my friend, whose funeral it was), people who haven’t got better, relationships that have broken down etc etc etc….oh and that whole issue about a suffering world. I struggle with some of the triteness in Christian culture that can’t be honest or lament. I get the silence, the stillness and the openness to God and sitting with the Big Questions and knowing that somehow, although things will fade and die, that somehow you are held.

…and yet… in this service. lamenting a life that had faded and gone too soon, I was aware that I was unexpectedly in the presence of answered prayer: in my family’s life and in the life of a young man who was talking honestly and showing the broken beauty of redemption.

I don’t understand- I really don’t. Sometimes-often- as the psalmist says, my eyes fail watching for the promise. I could dismiss it, or walk away, but just at that moment, I glimpsed a shaft of light and the grace to live in the light of the big and beautiful questions.

My friend: Rev Peter Knight 1965- 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, glasses and outdoor

I’m travelling to Oldham today, but the funeral of a friend: my first funeral for a contemporary.  Others have put it better than I can, but this is an edited version of something I wrote to him when I last saw him, 2 months before he died. If it was a fuller address, I’d have dwelt more on Felicity, his wife and his children and grandchild.

I miss him so much: one reason why this is a good deal longer than I usually post.

Pete: my friend.

I think I first met Pete in 1991; I bumped into him on a cricket field for a scratch team that we were both playing in. Funnily enough, I still use that kit and think of him every time I wear it and still will.

We trained as local preachers in the same circuit, although not at the same time. What I remember about him then was something that marked him all of the time that I knew him; his enthusiasm and zeal. ‘Zeal’ is a strange word and it conjures up images of wild-swivelled eyed loons who have no connection with reality. Nothing could be further from the truth with him: he was always well earthed- even earthy.

It was at Hartley Victoria College, Manchester that I really got to know him. Three of us shared a study: ‘The Room 69 Experience’. I learnt many things from this time. Most of that came out of the desire that if we were to be formed as ministers, we had to learn to be vulnerable and accountable; we’d seen too many who weren’t. I appreciated his part in that and especially the sense that if we were Christians and male we’d have to learn to bring the two together. I think I’d imbibed the idea that somehow ‘maleness’ was separate from your Christianity. Those times together were amazingly vulnerable and honest but also, at times, extremely crude. That is something that I’ve carried from that time into any strong friendship; honesty, lack of pretence and extreme crudity: he was formative for me.

We talked a lot, but we also managed to pray- sometimes as long as we talked! I can remember in particular about families; estranged children, health issues and the desire for a family. It was quite emotional a few months back, talking with my sons about him and these prayers and them allowing me to photograph them and send the picture to him.

I recall many things from lectures that we shared. The one I remember most was when he agreed to get the phrase ‘When I was a bedhumper at Slumberland’ into a seminar on ‘Basic Christian Believing’ (which we called ‘Barely Credible Bumbling’). He managed it, completely poker-faced and neither the butt of the humour got it nor the lecturer, but everyone did.

We saw each other a few times after college and he was always the same Pete: honest, encouraging and not frightened of asking the direct question or issuing a challenge, but always in a way that made me feel built up and not torn down. After that life, geographical distance and family life meant that most of our recent contacts were through social media, but through them, I saw the same person, albeit one who had grown in stature and maturity. Our paths were now very different, but in the ministry I now have, I need to see people like him who have remained within The Methodist Church system as a reminder of our shared calling. I also need to have a questioning of what I’m doing (I don’t believe an unquestioned life is worth living). He showed me in what he did, both grace and dignity in bucketloads.

His ‘sitting down’ celebration was deeply moving for everyone there (even though ‘band led evangelical worship’ has not been my thing for many years…). Aside from the love for him that filled the room what got to me was what I’d missed: he was still so much ‘Pete’ but with a deeper and richer authority in the way that he led worship and preached. Also, the things that I’d appreciated about him were still there but amplified by the years and the relationships that he’d made along the way. He did not make it all about him and chose to spend individual time with everyone there; even taking time to needle me gently.

It was Sartre who talked about individuals who act in ‘bad faith’; people who play a role, adopt false values and live inauthentically. If I was to pick individuals who did not do that whom I have known, I would pick Pete.

At that service he said ‘I’m about to take one of the most amazing journeys that a human being can take’. He did and is doing and one day I hope to see him again.

‘Today I’m not a vegan’

Image result for glass of champagne

It was another funeral.

(A lot of my posts are about funerals; it is often there when the reality of life and death hits us with a stark reality that the most profound comments occur).

The buffet was laid out and the person who had laid it on said to one of the deceased’s relations ‘Sorry; I forgot that you were vegan’. The person smiled and said ‘Today it is about her, so it is ok- today I’m not a vegan’. A few minutes later, the host rustled up some vegan food, but to me that wasn’t the point; the grace and dignity of the person who was prepared to set aside a belief in that instant to honour someone else was.

A few years back I heard a story- which may have become apocryphal in the telling- of 3 Methodist ministers, all teetotal,  walking down a street when a someone rushed out of a house and noticing the minister of his church amongst the 3 said ‘My wife has just had our first child; come and see him and have a drink to celebrate’. The ministers entered the house to see the child and share the joy.

As the householder disappeared to get drinks, two of the ministers turned on the third and said ‘I thought you were teetotal’.

‘I am’- he said ‘ ‘But one of us has to be Christian’.

When you become aware of the Grace and compassion given to you; ‘standing on ceremony’ seems to be an act of weakness than strength. I think I’d like the courage to be different.


Image result for typo mistake

It was a funeral; a strange one in the sense that a church had been found 40 or so miles from where the person had lived for large parts of their life and some way from where they spent their last few months. The funeral director had also come from 40 miles away.

We gathered to celebrate her life: someone sang who had sang to them in the rest home, a poem was read and a hymn was sung.

That’s when I noticed it: the typo. Every last verse of the hymn had a typo on the same word. Initially, I was distracted but then I began to smile; this was life being celebrated- broken, imperfect, affected by ill health but life.

Life has typos, imperfections, glitches, catastrophes and things that don’t connect. Often there is a temptation to airbrush it out: ‘living my best life: now’ , #perfectmoments etc and that temptation can be strong at the end: ‘they were perfect- would do anything for anyone’ etc.

I believe that this temptation has to be resisted; keep the typos centre stage.

Hold On….

I’m a sucker for an honest song sung with a broken voice.

I don’t have much time for new year resolutions; give me the slow, steady change, rather than the dramatic, but these lyrics have been resonating for me:-

‘Oh, your old hometown’s so far away
But inside your head there’s a record that’s playing
A song called “Hold On”, hold on
Babe, you gotta hold on
Take my hand, I’m standing right there, you gotta hold on’.
Sometimes those words find me in tears.
I’m not in favour of grimly holding on when nothing is working, but I don’t get this New Year thing of ‘the new me’; if I exist at all, it is in community- I like the African idea of ‘ubuntu’- I am because we are.
I’ve been thinking that among the most important things to hold on to are the bonds of friendship, relationship and faith. Not rigidly or grimly, but firmly through life’s jumps, canters and falls- I’m 53 next month and I’m tired of reinvention, ‘freshening things up’ and ‘revisioning’, particularly in these important aspects of life.
I guess it is just important to hold on and notice the small, glorious stories. At least I think so.

Why I like pantomime

I have got a confession: I don’t.

Well I do: I like performing in pantomimes and I’m fortunate to live in a place which has a good amateur dramatic society and (so far) space for me;  mainly camp roles for ‘slightly uncomfortable in his own skin male’ seems to be tailor-made for the slim gifts that I have ( I was going to put ‘!’ there, but I’m coming to accept that statement as a fact).

In particular I like:-

(1) A shared ritual.  It only works where everyone comes to participate. There is a lot of call and response, an understanding of a set form and a readiness to accept that flaws are part of what happens (…I’ve always felt that is also true of a ‘good’ act of worship…). You perform, yet you are part of something and there is a sense that by doing so, you make-at least for a while- people feel better and more connected with each other.

(2) A village audience. When I’ve helped to put on gigs, managers have remarked that the setting of a village where a core of the audience knows each other makes the experience more ‘real’ than a larger setting. I live in a small community and I’m lucky to do that: connecting with that community and being invested in it is something I like.

(3) Learning. I’m not an actor; performing with a good semi-professional actor a few weeks ago was a salutary experience. However, I’m learning about breathing, voice projection, movement and connection with people. I’m not great (coordinated movement and dance is beyond me), but I sense that what I’m learning makes a difference to how I stand up and talk and connect with a room in a church or at work. Preaching is not performance (and where I’ve seen people try to perform I’ve stopped listening. I need more real people and fewer actors) but it does involve technique.

(4) Connection. I’ve used that word a lot in this post.  I’ve often got a role that seems to involve (clears throat, puts on best ‘luvvie’ voice) ‘knocking down the 4th wall’.  This is the role I like in life: it frustrates me when I see people just ‘preaching to the choir’/equate sound presentation skills with being dull/ or members of any group go into a pattern of thinking that the role of any group is just to serve them. I get to say jokes, act stupid, pick on people, magnify double entendres; anything to make people to connect with a performance and each other.

…plus I get to wear stage makeup, have a lot of fun, wear stupid costumes, be someone else and (unlike many other things in life) walk away when it is finished.

All this week I will be rehearsing for pantomime in anticipation of the first performances on Friday.

If you live locally, you could do worse than follow this link…https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/huttonrudbydramaticsociety




The Sea

On New Year’s Day, we went for a long walk by the sea. Despite the relative warmth, it was bracing; several hours later, writing these words, I can still feel my skin tingling.

In the words of the song, I love to walk by the sea. That’s not totally true, I ‘need’ to walk by the sea and in as much as I still get ‘preachy’, everyone else ‘needs’ to walk or sit by the sea.

I need to see something bigger than me and something that has existed long before me and will do so afterwards. I need to be around something that I cannot purchase or contain. As far as I have a label for anything I believe in, in this post-evangelical way of being, I need to be around something I cannot control, plan or assess, but something that just ‘is’.

And I need to feel wonderous and lit up inside.

And I was.

2019: 10 rules for social media

(Image from the late, lamented ‘asbo jesus‘ https://asbojesus.wordpress.com/about/)

I haven’t blogged for ages.

I keep meaning to start again, but there is always something to do that I let preclude the time for writing and reflection.

Sometimes that ‘something’ is social media; it is easy to react in shorter bursts than to take time to think. I am going to return to longer periods of thought this year- I ‘need’ to- but until I do here are 10 ‘rules for social media that I hope will guide me this year:-

1: Everyone who advances an opinion is a human being before their thoughts were ever converted into a datastream. Much as I may not like their opinions, they are not a ‘snowflake’/ ‘fascist’/ ‘scum’ (add your own insult). Ditto anyone famous, however much I may dislike them. Try and critique their performance and not them. If you must call someone a ‘dick’ say it to a friend and not the world.

2: If I walk into a party and there are small huddles everywhere it seems like a waste of time if I just spend the evening with my huddle. If you are on social media, make it social; comment sometimes on someone’s post/tweet you don’t know that well. Some of the more advanced folks try and talk to people that they don’t know or who are not part of their social circle in real life as well…

3: Silos are best for grain, not for life. I am broadly left wing (and hypocritical with it). My facebook/twitter list includes (sometimes uneasily) a spread of people/newsfeeds across the political spectrum and the faith/non faith spectrum. I’m tempted to restrict it, but I feel that I’d learn little.

4: My personal belief is that social media is developing a nastier undercurrent in society. Perhaps it just encourages disembodied rage, but either way, hate, fear, and racist posts seem to be growing. Many of us see that and chose to ignore it. My view is that silence is almost worse than agreeing with it. Say something! But do it with grace and calmness and remember (1).

5: I like your family photos. They remind me that there is a beautiful world and beautiful people out there. I also love your family stories: they often make me smile and sing. I don’t, however, like to read a constant diet of your untrammelled wealth and how everything is fantastic in your world. We all have to curate our image; don’t buff yours up to a blinding sheen.

6: Check your sources– if someone posts something that is too good to be true it isn’t. No one is giving away 300 ipads that are surplus to requirements or giving away 500 luxury mobile homes. (By the way, illegal immigrants don’t get £30,000 a week and Muslims don’t want to ban Easter either). Would that there was a search machine called, say, Google that we could check things like that, instead of posting it ‘to check if it is true’ or ‘you can’t be too careful’.

7: Have fun– the world is sometimes bleak; comment on that- you wouldn’t be real if you didn’t. However, an unremitting diet about Trump is evil, Corbyn is incompetent, Diane Abbott is stupid (funny how so many middle aged white men share memes about that…) and Theresa May is satan is…incredibly dull. Use a bit of irony, some humour (and try not to make it self serving or attacking people weaker than you) and some nice stuff. We only draw breath for three score years and 10: keep it balanced.

8:If you are Christian, try not to be a dick about it. Share your faith, but also your doubts, look like you enjoy life more than you tut disapprovingly at it. Also: have a hinterland or it just looks like you are a one trick pony- ‘preaching to the choir’ is seductive but you just end up getting approval from those like you. The same applies about politics or any interest that grabs your life.

9: There is a thing called ‘outside’ and there are ‘books’. There are also ‘people’. You should perhaps major on those: particularly when you get worked up about anything online.

10: I like lists with ’10’ things in.