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.

 

 

First step

The heroic first step of the journey is out of, or over the edge of, your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported. The hero’s journey has been compared to a birth; it starts out warm and snug in a safe place; then comes a signal, growing more insistent, that it is time to leave. To stay beyond your time is to putrefy. Without the blood and searing and pain, there is no new life.

(Diane Osborne: A Joseph Campbell Companion)

It is a great thing to preach or talk about that first step….of stepping beyond your boundaries…and I did it many times. There is nothing wrong with doing that, although those of us that have ever preached or spoken in front of people will know that we have at times preached about this too glibly. It is easy to do: 6 foot above contradiction and the world seems more either/or. It can  be a strange kind of psychological reaction to feeling ‘bored’ or thinking there is something wrong with being still and seeing God in your place and time.

And then the leap- cue cliches like ‘Where God, guides he provides’ etc. The leap is always hard; whatever new journey you are setting out upon- you can feel alone.

For myself, the leap from full time Methodist minister to chaplain was hard: a vocation morphs, you face homelessness (You own nothing that you can use to buy anything- this was/is big for me) and your imagined future disappears and some financial duress.

I am no hero, but my own journey has led to that incredible feeling of being alive where before I was forgetting what that felt like.

Present

Most of us struggle with simply being present. Some of us ‘check out’ because we have not confronted our own pain and therefore cannot be present to the pain or demands of others. Others of us are so conditioned to think it is what we do and accomplish that counts that we’ve never developed a practice of simply being present…. We are all both addicts and healers, both recipients and contributors, both those who welcome others into our community of belonging and those needing to be reminded daily that we ourselves are welcome. We all need to know we belong.

I know why I stored this quote (from the same source as yesterday ) and kept returning to it:-

(1)To keep resisting the urge to say what I do, what I have achieved and how I have been acclaimed by others when I meet someone new (or when I catch up with someone). Those things have their importance, but not in defining who I am to others. I find it galling in others (on social media, by all means tell me what you have done without boasting: I am interested, but I don’t want constant name dropping to bolster your fragile ego or even endless stories of how others have appreciated what you have done).

(2) I have felt so important and so valued by people who have given me full attention- sometimes that can just be for a few seconds. I can still remember many years ago, encountering a speaker at a major Christian event whom I bumped into and spoke to: for the minute or so that we spoke, I was listened to and the person remembered my name. Conversely I have met ‘important’ people, or those who aspired to be so, who never seemed to listen, make eye contact or when they spoke their ego sucked the life out of the conversation. I think it is important that I keep trying to do the former and not the latter.

….I want to be a recovering addict and move to being a healer.

‘But what did you actually do?’

‘Sometimes we are astonished when we learn that although we did not actually ‘do’ anything for a certain individual, our simply being present or showing up allowed something to shift in his or her inner landscape that made space for deeper healing. Sometimes we discover that in simply being present to another’s pain we experience the Divine in them that awakens the Divine in ourselves’.

(K.Killian Noe ‘Descent into Love: How recovery cafe came to be’)

There was always that temptation to ‘do’ something: even mostly all that could be ‘done’ had been done.

But, being human, there is a temptation to want to be useful- being still and listening is not ‘useful’. You feel insignificant.

Better to talk up all the practical things you have done, your many achievements or make some noise. That would fix the unfix able.

Sometimes it is better to stay and ‘do’ nothing.

 

Hospitality

‘To offer hospitality to a stranger is to welcome something new, unfamiliar and unknown into our life-world…. Strangers have stories to tell which we have never heard before, stories which can redirect our seeing and stimulate our imaginations. The stories invite us to view the world from a novel perspective’.

(Thomas Ogletree ‘Hospitality to the stranger‘)

‘Ah yes but; you can’t be too careful’

‘Some people will always take advantage’.

‘But how do we know if they are genuine?’

‘I’ve worked hard for this and it is mine’.

‘I know my friends and my family but those people/that person are not like me’.

It is hard in a world where realpolitik demands you are tough on ‘them’ (to the loud applause of clapping seals for the toughest statements attacking the weakest and most defenceless people) and where public discourse has changed so much that ‘I’m not a racist but’ is becoming almost de rigeur.

You forget that childlike tendency to be open to others.

You forget the roots of your Faith-if you have one- with its commands to be open to the stranger and to welcome them.

You forget your first experiences of encountering the world when everyone was a stranger.

….because this is the ‘real world’…

Sometimes it is good to have these reminders of the world as it could be…

 

Sunday quotation

I store quotations; bits I have harvested from the internet, bits that help me make sense of life and the universe. Most are Christian themed, but hopefully not of the ‘Jesus will help you in everything; it is Satan that makes you doubt, have questions or common sense. Can I have an ‘Amen’? 97 % won’t post this and hate Jesus.’

I have a few that I am going to post over the next few days- I will make a few comments each time as to why they speak to me.

‘We don’t need…Christians who project their own insecurities out on to the world and call it preaching the gospel. We need…Christians who will do for the world what Jesus was doing. The Church must be prepared to stand between the warring factions, and, like a boxing referee, risk being knocked out  by both simultaneously. The Church must be prepared to act symbolically, like Jesus, to show that there is a different way of living. The Church must be prepared to be the agent of healing even for those…who are the lepers of modern society. Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the Church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing the kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation’.

There is a lot of jargon there, but-hey- it is Sunday.

I love the first sentence. When Christians make public angry noise- which seems to happen a lot- it often falls into the realm of insecurity.  Plus I love the stuff about being different: so succinct, but so bloody difficult.

File under: ‘Keep; if only to remind me to not to be arrogant about how good I am, but instead to learn humility’

Character

Image result for Phillips Brooks

‘Some day, in years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now, in these quiet weeks. Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long continued process’.

Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893)

In an X Factor-ed, meme laden world where it seems that everyone has a story that leads to immediate victory or despair, this quote is so out of sync. It is also out of sync with many of the formative sermons that I heard, sprinkled with stories of great men (usually, but not exclusively) doing great things.

Even now, if I hear a sermon that only cites great women or men, doing great things, I tend to turn off; as Morrissey once sang ‘because the music that he constantly plays, says nothing to me about my life’-  I want to know about 97 year old Mrs Smith with dementia, struggling to stay faithful, Sadie Jones, bringing up 3 kids on her own trying to make Christ inspired choices with no easy answers or Edson Brown battling alcoholism and trying to walk the tightrope of righteousness and often falling off.

Character is often like that: blinding lights on the Road to Damascus, easy choices and obvious victories are rare. It is more often forged in the grey when nothing is sure and the ‘right’ choice often feels worse.

So if you are preaching today: don’t short change people or give them smoke and mirrors- tell them about grey Thursday afternoons when it is raining in our lives and faith is not like a shaft of light, but more often a slow grind of faithfulness, with no guarantees….

A Sunday whisper…

I guess this is what worship today is meant to do- meant to wake us up to the honesty of where we are (I’ve had my fill of ‘Christotainment’ worship events, whether it bea sequence of 12 successive choruses rock concert or a ‘high’ worship that is pursued just for spectacle), encourage us, but keep us hopeful and alert to a ‘whisper’…

‘The world is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first,
nature is incomprehensible at first.
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine beings
more beautiful than words can tell’.

(Walt Whitman)

A last word…

I’ve dwelt on only a few pages of this book: it is very rich.

If you are going to grow and change and face up to this ‘second half’ of life, you need guides and a community- most change is hard, almost difficult, without this.

‘There are few in our religious culture who understand the necessity of mature internalized conscience, so wise guides are hard to find. You will have many more Aarons building you golden calves than Moseses leading you on any exodus.’ (48)

‘mature internalized conscience’ sounds so deadening- he means something like an internal world that knows it is not validated by external fluff and status (why do so many ministers who feel they have a ‘preaching ministry’ (?) feel they have to have a profile of themselves up front preaching…why is that status so important to you?). I like the Moses/Aaron bit – many will suggest another golden calf for you to build when you realise things are changing….security, status and ‘look at me’ is so important….the challenge of journey into possible exodus is hard; but from experience is much more satisafying.

Listening

I have tired- many years ago- of Christian books/trends promising that if we just do one more think we will have ‘breakthrough’. They tend to induce a feverish sense of heightened anxiety, followed by crashing despair: ‘I am just not holy/righteous/prayerful enough’. They are also like Chinese meals: you eat them and remain ultimately satisfied, yet crave more of them.

That’s why I like this book: it is slower, more meditative and truer to life. It has helped me gear up for this second half of life which-it seems to me- is more about acceptance and honesty than doing more.

Much as I loathe the word ‘must’, this quote spoke to me:-

‘There is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul of ‘common sense’, of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self… The true faith journey only begins at this point. Up to now everything is mere preparation’

Where I have grown/changed in the last couple of years, it has been through that and through certain friends who have held out that vista and walked with me.