…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…

Sticking wings on angels

I had one of those rare days recently when I managed to do some of the niggly jobs that always seem to get left in many households (we also took a walk; the view above is around 200 yards from where we live). I spent a happy 20 minutes or so repairing ornaments that had gotten damaged; mainly from having two large and growing teenagers in the house whose first priority isn’t necessarily looking after said house.

Two of those repairs involved sticking wings on angel ornaments; generally having ornaments fielding at short square leg isn’t a good idea. As I was repairing them, it struck me that we have rather a lot of ornaments in the house that are angels. I don’t subscribe to the belief that you have a ‘guardian angel’ or that angels are chubby cheeked infants fluttering around with wings, but I do like the idea of ‘messengers’; unlooked for or surprising people who help unexpectedly. Having a lot of angels about the place is therefore encouraging; or at least I find it to be so.

I could of course throw these ornaments away (actually, there is a case for throwing every ornament away until children have reached a mature age- such as around 35...) and get new ones. We haven’t; some have sentimental value and remind us of a person or a place and with finances pressing, replacing things that you can otherwise mend is not really an option. But there is another, deeper reason; most angels I have met have not been shiny and complete, but somehow marred or broken. In fact; I have rarely been helped by people who believe themselves shiny or complete: most often they don’t really want to bleed with you, but to ‘fix’ you.

This might have led me to a deeply theological musing, nonetheless I hope that I don’t have to fix many more ornaments…

Letting go

On the 8th day of Christmas….

….You re calibrate: the main celebration is over and you try and look differently into the new year.

I once had a lecturer at college who spoke about how there should be a ‘sacrament of letting go’. He spoke pertinently: he had just returned to work whilst in remission from a terminal disease. The disease eventually took him. I hardly knew him, but that phrase, together with his imagery of Autumn leaves falling stuck with me.

We often believe, perhaps especially as we reach past our 30s, into our 40s and eventually into our 50s that what we have will last forever, even when we know it won’t.

Where I am hardly compares to any of that, but the last 2 years have been a time of ‘letting go’: of full time church ministry, a family home, kids leaving Primary School & that whole social world, finishing the football sessions that a group of friends ran in the village for over 6 years, leaving Beaver Scouts (ditto) and….. well I think that is it: there may be more.

On Friday, I anticipate letting go of this blog- at least in it’s daily incarnation- for some time. Perhaps it might be permanent: I’m not sure.

Sometimes you have to let go to find something: you can’t find it whilst you hold on to something; however important it is. I got the title from a verse in- I think- Habakkuk, which talked about digging around the a plant to bring new life. It is time to do some more digging…

Giving

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It was not much I suppose: a couple of visits to a local school before work and an hour on a Saturday being Santa. It was the kind of thing I used to do all of the time and not count it: when is a minister ‘off’ after all (apart from a day off a week)- you don’t fill in a timesheet and the European Working Hours Directive does not apply to you.

But this was different: you have working hours and it is very clear about what is and what is not your ‘job’. This was clearly done in my own time. And it really wasn’t much- I could name several dozen people in my village who do so much more: it hardly qualifies as ‘giving’.

Yet it was different- even though I would preach about giving and getting involved in your local community, I reckon that practically all I ever did in that sphere was governed by my vocation.

Some reflections:-

(1) It is easier not to bother- home and family can consume all your spare hours.

(2) Living far away from family support means that you have no one to cover for you- doing anything like this eats into their time.

(3) It is seductive to have your own leisure, dropping your kids off at various activities, paying for them but never getting involved.

Of course- I knew (1)- (3), but I have not been in this situation for a long time. Yes I’d do it again, but it has made me think about so readily preaching to others about ‘being involved and giving in your community’ without being aware of the lives and situations to which I preach.

 

Bangle

I was at an otherwise sleep inducing Methodist Synod a few weeks back and picked up one of these. I’ve been wearing it ever since.

Everytime my hand moves I become aware of it. It doesn’t always stop me from being bitchy/cruel/nasty but it makes me think.

Do justice

Love kindness

Walk humbly

In these dark days, I think that a creed I need…

Vituperative

Prosecute the Daily Mail for contemptImage result for daily mail frontImage result for daily mail front

It seems it is there most of the time now. If not this newspaper, then the Daily Express. If not them, then a whole hosts of memes- you name it; immigrants, the poor- anyone really. Not just an opinion, but real vituperation. The ‘other’ becomes a distant object that you can caricature, isolate and pour abuse upon. I think it is really worrying: these papers are shifting the political debate into a climate where hate, fear and an abuse to an extent not seen for many years.

I remember a few years back, the church that I used to be a minister of raised some money and built some links with an asylum seekers’ project. Someone who was going door to door on our behalf came to see me and asked how they could cope with the hate pouring from the mouths of otherwise well to do and respectable people when the word ‘asylum seeker’ was mentioned. I think it is no coincidence that the sales of the above two papers are very high in that village.

In reaction- and often before a reaction is needed,  this level of hostility is repeated from the other side or even from the centre; the rapidity and depersonalising nature of social media almost encourages it: ‘right wing nutjob’, ‘All Brexiters are racist’ etc etc. It is tempting to join in and I confess I have sometimes shared memes close to these.

Why not join in and fight fire with fire? I think Faith means something different. On social media I think it means:-

-Not keeping quiet when hate springs up: challenge it every time someone shares something from ‘Britain First’, although there are a multitude of sites like that. I have lost count of the number of friends who have unwittingly posted from similar sites. No; Christmas/poppies etc are not being banned.

-Avoid posting from any ‘Christian’ site that encourages paranoia: ‘we are being persecuted’ etc.

-Remember: ‘defending our Christian nation’ is not a biblical theme. Neither is ‘fight for our values’.

-Not descending to the same level of abuse or any abuse. Just because you disagree with someone they are not ‘ignorant’, ‘nutjobs’, ‘racists’, ‘fascists’ etc.

-Being graceful. The old word was ‘winsome’. You do tend to catch more wasps with honey than with a brick though.

-Take a deep breath, walk outside: do I really need to post this?

-Would I really be like this if this person was standing in front of me?

Here are some better ideas:-

http://www.ibenedictines.org/2011/10/16/10-rules-for-online-engagement/

…but we live in worrying times…

On counting your stats.

‘Why do you keep a blog?’ Someone once asked me. To be honest, it is a question I often ask of myself.

It is a good question and one to which there is no easy answer. It is a mix of things: a desire to force myself to reflect when it would be easier just to give myself over to the immediate all of the time, because I have so many thoughts floating around my head and I want to write them down and maybe just as an apologia pro vita sua (look it up).

To be honest, there is also a bit of narcissism in there as well.

I’d also admit to counting my stats from time to time (ok, quite regularly) on WordPress. Last weekend, I noticed that they had dropped alarmingly (we are talking the numerical equivalent of the number of sane , humane UKIP leadership candidates).

After a bit of digging, I noticed that the site I used to automatically repost to Twitter and Facebook had closed. I found another site and I now think that I have solved the issue: more people can be aware of my drivel.

Strange to say; those stats temporarily knocked my sense of self worth. I blog for myself and I try not to blog or do anything, as Sartre said in ‘bad faith’ (you do something as an act for your intended audience). It shouldn’t matter who reads what I write; yet in some small sense it does to me.

I’m hoping that this is a reminder to find my worth in something, or more truthfully, Someone else.

But I’ll still be checking my stats….

 

Marked Bible

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In the first few years of full blooded Christian enthusiasm, I used to mark my Bible: underline verses and date them. I did this if something really hit me about the verse- maybe I was going through something and what I read really helped.

Eventually I stopped doing that; maybe I ‘moved on’ (one of my least favourite phrases).

When I was going through books this week, I found one of the Bibles that I had done this to. Sometimes when you rediscover your past, it is with embarrassment: ‘Yuk; I used to be like that- but I am so different now’. This time it wasn’t: it was with thanks for how I had been and a slight tinge of regret that I don’t do the same now: maybe I have got ‘used to’ the Bible.

But also there was a sense of reassurance; I am different now-older- but still, albeit imperfectly, limping along. And that is ok…

Getting rid of books

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Last week I finally got to sorting out the years of theological books I have amassed through over 15 years of church ministry.

When I left the manse that we lived in,  I got rid of some books, but I kept the rest in a tolerant friend’s shed….. and in the end, after a tumultuous year & so the tolerance was stretched no further I retrieved them and looked through them.

I love books; I value a house with piles of books and I struggle to let go of them, but there comes a point when you have to- if not by moving, downsizing, wanting more space etc, there is the final letting go when your family clear out the place where you once lived.

But I had to let go- I do not have the space anymore and I doubt that I ever will. Faced with this, I looked at the books which were once so valuable: some of them representing a BD, some an MA, some valued theological positions that I no longer fully subscribe to and some being unique to church leadership. Whilst one can never say ‘never’, it is unlikely that I will ever be back in full time church ministry.

Out they went/are going: sold to an online site, given second hand shops and to friends. The ones I am retaining (only a third or so) apart from a winnowed out commentary and worship resources section are the ones that are more reflective or contemplative. Ones with space between the words. Ones with words that are not angry or over prescriptive.

I thought I would have regrets, but I don’t. What I do have is thankfulness for what has been and hope for what will be.

Thank you

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A couple of weeks ago, my son got some really good treatment at a local hospital. It was nothing earth shattering, just people being professional, listening and being flexible. We were really happy and lifted by the experience.

In the past I have forgotten something like that and been too busy or preoccupied to do anything about it, but this time I managed to write to the hospital and say ‘thank you’.

I remember a few years back meeting a Christian who made a point of writing to TV companies when he watched something that was really good: he reckoned that most Christians only complained when they saw something bad. He had a point: some Christian sites/regular emails seem sour and full of bitterness. I have never forgotten what he said; I’ve rarely put it into action though.

Putting it into action is wonderful though; as someone who works in public service, although you never look for thanks, it is lovely when it happens. More than that-although it is not the aim- something happens to you when you say ‘thanks’; you feel ‘blessed’.

It has made me wonder, what would happen to your worldview if you just tried to ‘bless’ people?