I get to speak a lot in public: it comes with the territory. It is never easy to speak, but over time I underestimate how practiced I have become. That is not meant to be boastful, it is just how things become with practice.
I’m wary of being able to/being given space to do this. One of my well worn phrases is about the danger of ‘believing in one’s own publicity’. When you speak in front of people it can be very gratifying; the adrenaline surges, people appear to listen and be quiet for you and the occasional ‘well done’ can lead to feeling very puffed up with yourself. There is a way of accentuating this with a kind of false humility at the end (I have seen it and I have done it!) of what you have spoken;
* ‘oh, it was nothing’ (means: ‘I poured my whole life into that and it was fantastic. I am glad you recognise that’).
*‘simply doing God’s will’ (‘If a humble Galilean carpenter was as gifted and fantastic as me’) or
*‘I’m glad you thought that’ (‘Bow down and worship me now, minion’).
I think I can speak and hold an audience of whatever age and am fond of, in an ever so slightly understated and postmodern way, ‘subtly’ impressing this on people. I think I read a survey somewhere that over 90% of preachers think they can preach well. The same survey showed that around 60% of congregations thought they could. The survey did not go on to measure those who have no connection/disinterest/hostility to church or faith- I think that would be a truer measure.
I got to speak in front of a group of older people this week. As I get older and preach/talk more frequently, I am moved by the grace of people who sit and listen and try to discern God’s word through what I say. I often think that they have much more grace and understanding than I do. What I loved about this group was that they reacted- they dialogued- and I learnt so much more and came to different understandings of what I had initially said.
I came away both humbled and lifted up by their presence. I wish church could be more like that sometimes. The presence of fixed pews and a ‘way of doing things’ can serve to inhibit. The people who lead do not often get any feedback or sharing in what they have said and led (apart from the occasional comment at the door of ‘nice tie’: this tends to be disheartening when you have not been wearing one) so it is easy to get puffed up, talk about a church that is ‘yours’ and a congregation that is ‘them’.
It was just lovely to be reminded this week that that is not the way it is meant to be and as one of the prophets said ‘Do not despise the day of small things’. Small most often has a lot more integrity than ‘succesful’ ‘Big’.
I live in a village.
Although I believe that only a few people can ever truly ‘know’ you, in my village a lot of people know of you – and from several different angles: you may be (in no particular order) friend from the pub, parent, someone you meet in the village shop, someone you bump into in the street, you may do guides together etc etc etc. And all these roles overlap and intertwine. It is hard to wear a mask and as the Verve once sagely intoned ‘Be a million different people from one day to the next’.
In a city, in a large city, it seems easier for people to know you from only one angle; good friends from work, because of distance, may never see you at home.
When I blog, I make much of church locally- where you live, instead of commuting, Tesco-like to a place that ‘meets my worship/preaching/social/children and youthwork needs’ (Biblical reference?). This approach is conditioned heavily by my locality- a village.
As I walked around London and watched, I wondered how this might function in a city where you can be a million different people from one day to the next and you can ‘choose’ who you are. Where are the spaces for gathering outside of your social/work/age group?
Too much religion on this blog. Time to turn to that other great source of spiritual truth: Q magazine. Fascinating interview this month with Richard Ashcroft (ex lead singer of the Verve). If I ever feel I suffer from ‘Messiah complex’, then I will turn to this interview to remind myself that it is but mild compared to his dose of it (sample quote ‘I’m one of the greatest frontmen ever. People don’t realise’)
Good quote from him on how Christians can sometimes be perceived by outsiders.
‘When I was in America I saw 58 channels dedicated to religion. Fifty-Eight channels! And the only thing they had in common was the bit where they say, ‘Have your credit card details ready’.’
Honestly, that quote used to make me want to point accusing fingers- now it just makes me weep.
It’s half term and my brain is fried (I nearly wrote that my brian was fried. I don’t have a brian and if I did I would not fry him unless he tasted nice). Too fried for deep introspection of the soul anyway.
I’m going to do a few days on songs of redemption that keep me going. Except, they will all be the devil’s music: rock (oh, the irony- did you spot it there?). I’ll do 10 posts: probably enough to fill an old LP.
I promise that no song featured will be U2. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have an obsession that is dangerously close to pathological with that top Irish r’n’b’ combo.
Underneath the irony, I’m serious- rock music has touched me, lifted me, kept me going in ways that a lot (but by no means all) of ‘worship music’ generally hasn’t. I have said it before, but sometimes this is the only sound that helps me.
‘I’ve never prayed but tonight I’m on my knees. I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me’.
(ok, its old, so very 90s and I won’t blog in depth on that one- but that song does it everytime for me; lyrically and musically. If I had been a member of The Verve, I would die a happy man knowing that once in my life I had created Bitter Sweet Symphony).
Should you be so inclined, please chip in during this series with songs that do it for you. If anyone puts down ‘The Laughing Gnome’ though I may have to start a comments policy….
Please note: I am away for a few days so there may be a delay in comments being published.
I love music- I am always searching for the next sound/ the next beat/will this next CD be ‘the’ one? Being anally retentive, I catalogue all of my CDs. However, my ‘incoming’/’uncategorised’ pile is now taking over a shelf in my study. I like that feeling: the future is open- the world is full of music.
Sometimes, however, I return to what I know- what has given me strength in the past. At times like this, one song I return to again and again (at least in my head) is ‘Bittersweet symphony’ by the Verve- there are few songs IMHO that are finer.
One line hits me at the moment:-
‘I’m a million different people from one day to the next’
Just at the moment I feel like that:-
happy/sad/hopeful/pessimistic/flippant/serious/sweary/profound/think I’m profound but I’m not/sure/unsure/believing/peace loving/wanting to pick a fight/confident/paralysed/prayerful/thoughtless. You name it- that is me in the course of a day/an hour/sometimes even a minute.
Is this just me, or is it you as well?