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.

They are worthy!

Image result for methodist church logo

This is the shout that the whole congregation make during a Methodist Ordination service.

I’m going to one today; I haven’t been to one, apart from my own in 2001, since 2003 when one was held at the church where I was minister.

They said that when you hear the shout it lifts you up; gives you a view of the mountains that can sustain you through the valleys. I guess that I felt that back in 2001 and that sense of being ‘worthy’, even when I have doubted my own capacity has never entirely left me and despite not being in the place I imagined I would be 18 years ago.

I never expected to have any major contact with the ‘mothership’ (Methodist hierarchy) after leaving church ministry in the Methodist Church back in February 2015, so assisting at the ordination of someone who used to be in the congregation of a church of which I used to be a minister is surprising. It is also rather lovely.

Someone asked me what I feel ‘going back’. 4 things:-

  • I had a definite sense of call to go into Methodist Church ministry; 3 and a half years out of church ministry, I feel no sense or desire to go back, but it is good to be open to questioning of any firmly held opinion. ‘Going back’ enables that to happen, I guess.
  • Conversely, it is more likely to confirm the (uncertain) direction that I’ve been heading. I used to think that the Christian life was a secure castle; now I think it is more like a coracle on a shifting sea. I have no idea where or what I will be doing in the long term, but that feels right.
  • A chance to see what the mainstream church is and how it resources what I do and to reflect on the scars that have healed, but still sometimes ache.
  • Maybe it is a reminder to me that what I did in churches did touch people in some way & to give thanks for that, but remembering what John Wesley said: ‘If thou art constrained to bless the instrument, then give God the glory’.

So when I hear that shout, I wonder how I’ll feel?

I guess still ‘worthy’, but in a very different way to how I imagined back in 2001.

…and there was silence for a while..

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I’ve attempted to write a blog post for a week or two now and nothing has resulted. It is fairly easy to blog something; just scribe the first thoughts that come to you and you are off.

And yet…

…most of the writing I’ve felt ok with has come from a place where I’ve had a few moments of stillness and then; almost unforced, the words came.

I used to have a bugbear when someone led worship and used a line like ‘Let us seek God in the stillness’; I wanted to say ‘Why? Is he not also in the noise?’

And yet….

….most thoughts that mean something tend to come when there are few distractions and you are ‘in’ the moment. You rarely fish for them; an idea comes, and then another and then another. Sometimes in 5 minutes you can have ideas for 5-10 blogs.

I’ve a confession to make; I haven’t made space for those moments and inspiration has dipped (and for those of you, time rich, who are tempted to say ‘Just slow down then’, I’d say ‘Just listen for a moment before preaching to my need from your wealth‘).

Stay with me; normal service will be resumed soon, or in a while, or later…

Finding a plant with branches on a rock overlooking Scarba

 

A couple of weekends ago I enjoyed a glorious weekend on Eilean Dubh Mor as part of a ‘wilderness retreat’. I’ve been a part of them for several years (5 of the last 6) and they are something that I look forward to more than I ever did a Christian convention in years past.

There is something about the space, silence, laughter, raw honesty, prayer, swearing and whisky that never fails to move me or persuade me that there is still hope. My friend writes about it more beautifully and with better pictures than I do ( see https://thisfragiletent.com/2018/05/09/wilderness-retreat-photos-2018/ for example).

During one of the times when I wandered and wondered around the island, I came across this plant, high up on a rock and surrounded by rockpools. It is a small heather plant; how it lodged in such a fissure and grew is unusual and its presence captured me. In fact I circled back to take the above photo as I wanted the memory.

I wrote some words: kind of a prayer I guess. Parts of it mine from a rich seam of cliche, but other parts I like.

May the eddying wind,

Carry at least one small seed

Of Hope

Deep into the crevasse

Of the rock face of

Despair

 

May it find

Earth

Blown there by

the same swirling wind.

 

May that earth

be moistened by

Unlooked for rain.

 

And may that seed

Nervously advance roots

And start to grow;

frail at first

and then defiant.

 

And may that plant

Be found

By travellers in the wilderness,

looking for they know not what.

 

And may it give them

Hope

that they cannot articulate,

A wry smile,

Sparkling eyes

and

A soul that sings again.

Friday Music looking out to sea…

I took this nearly 2 weeks ago looking out to sea on a wilderness retreat. I think that shortly after I took this I fell asleep on the same rock and lost an hour. I didn’t fall into that same sea.

This is not the greatest photo in the world but it reminds me of the sheer unadulterated bliss of lengthy periods of looking out to sea and becoming lost in the sound of the crashing of the waves.

Each time I do this on a Scottish island retreat I can hear this music over and over again:-

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..and each time I hear this music I am taken back to that still place…

Friday Music

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I ‘discovered’ this on a cheap cd I bought a month or two back; I’d not heard much about this singer.

This song immediately grabbed me with its story of a chance encounter. There is so much in that encounter: people taking time with each other, honesty, willing to learn from someone and not to talk down to them and then shining through that, a kind of everyday transcendence.

Where you wait and listen; often in unlikely places, these moments tend to happen. Most of us struggle with that ; we hurry, hear enough just to talk back, use people and mostly just stick to ‘safe’ encounters.

But when we try and live as I believe we are meant to, these moments of everyday transcendence are encountered more and more and we don’t feel so alone.

 

Funerals: if you really listen…

Image result for cartoon funeral

It’s your funeral…

Listening, really listening is very hard. Most of us just hear enough in order to respond.

I’ve heard some ministers becoming sniffy about the ‘dumbing down’ of funerals. I think underneath that is a fear-almost at times an anger- of loss of control when ‘we’ did everything. I’ve also heard some funeral directors be too directive- ‘they are non religious’, when underneath if you took a moment or two you’d find a richer, more complex story.

Really listening though is hard…when people say they don’t want anything ‘religious’ usually they mean they don’t want that control that those same ministers thought was good. They don’t want coldness, impenetrable ritual, a feeling of being ‘got at’ or something that feels remote. In practice, many of those who don’t want ‘religious’ want the 23rd Psalm, or The Lord’s Prayer, or a prayer or sometimes a combination of the 3.

They might not be sure as to why, part from it feels ‘proper’ or somehow comfortable. Some people are prepared to listen; to take the fragments of faith/hope/superstition/wishful thinking/whatever is offered and to honour them- not to look down or disparage them.

…and out of these fragments make something unique that honours the person and whatever faith (or non faith) they bring.

It’s not hard to listen: you just have to remember it is not their funeral, but yours…it was never about you in the first place.

The third in an occasional series about funerals.