In the wilderness, but it’s not so bad:8

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I used to somewhat pass over stories and individual lives. Not entirely, but there was always something else to do- something that was more ‘pressing’ & sometimes the focus was on getting people to do things rather than listen to who they are.

I guess that we need planners, people with big ideas and strategy for churches. Sometimes it seemed to me that the people who talk of them did do so whilst ignoring the stories of others, viewing people as ‘blocks’ to ‘the project’or at least those stories of those who didn’t fit and can’t be healed or fixed. Perhaps that is too harsh, but having sat through meetings (true of any organisation) where big things are discussed, individual lives can be forgotten.

I wanted to have those big ideas, but I wasn’t very good at them or at least very energised by them. I wanted to hear the stories of those who would take a time to tell them. I think I began to move more in that direction in the latter years of full time ministry and people allowed me to do so.

I could not see that being a feature if I moved anywhere else. All I was seeing was meetings, meetings and more meetings to deal with the reality of a declining denomination and the increasingly onerous demands of charity law.

Now I get to hear stories; lots and lots of stories. Except this time I feel no pressure to mould them to a predetermined narrative: I ‘just’ have to hear them. Many of those stories have not been told; people have never really trusted anyone with them. When it happens, it is unutterably precious; the glory of a single human soul.

That’s why I have this song; pretty much my story over the last few years- I had an idea/a calling/a feeling/a direction of travel and it seemed that I would have to lose that and ‘grow up’….. and now I don’t; I’ve got it back.

Deo Gloria.

In the wilderness: but it’s not so bad:5

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There was a time that if you offered me a prayer meeting or a special service, I’d be there. In hindsight, I grew immensely through the experience of doing so and being there. If you offered me one now, I’d most likely not go and I’d be thinking about how time is precious and I would not want to ‘waste’ it (working 9-5 ‘ish’ , juggling teenagers and getting older does that to you).

Yet if you offered me connection; real connection with people, I’d be more willing to make the effort than I ever was.

As soon as it percolates into you that your time is really your own, it is a heady feeling. There is no external or internal voice telling you that you ‘should’ go to something when you’ve already been out 3 or 4 nights that week. You come to realise that you were gradually allowing yourself to be drained by ‘shoulds’; your internal voice has gradually begun to change and be more affirming. After a while you end up positively choosing – as opposed to being a rebellious teenager-what you want to do.

Years ago this would sound very, very selfish. But you also get twinges of guilt about the times you laid false obligation on tired people to do the same. You know you preached a gospel that talked about engagement with the world where you lived, but you also felt responsible for running an Institution.

You ask yourself; ‘Is this a sustainable way for a church to function?’ In your current form of engaging with the institution, no. Do I feel guilty about that? No; not anymore- I can only do so much with the time, energy and inclination that I have. If there is a call to be more ‘busy’ or active, it will come…but it hasn’t yet.

Maybe, you realise; you are still coming to terms with ‘Institutional church PTSD’ and the things that you believe that you experienced will never lead to the old ways coming back.

And maybe that will be ok.

In the wilderness, but its not so bad:4

In the theological tradition that I was formed in, cognitive knowledge and right belief were very important: did you believe the right things, was a church ‘sound’ etc etc. I remember a conversation a few years back with someone who owned and lived in 3 homes about how they were not going to a particular church as they though that the teaching was not ‘sound’; I wish I’d said something to them about how they defined ‘sound’…

A few years ago I can remember becoming bored with most Bible studies: they seemed to be an exercise in keeping others at a distance and emotions in check. Yes it has some importance to know why a passage in John’s gospel has 153 fish in it, but arguing over why exactly it is there? I’d sooner be down the pub: the conversation can be more honest and revealing.

I’ve found that this wilderness place has a good deal more honesty and openness to it. Give me my once a year weekend on an uninhabited island with a theme of ‘how is your soul?’ (alongside copious swearing, prayer, whisky and crudity), visits to a spiritual director and conversations where the light breaks in and the moment becomes full of space and I’m broadly content. People; fellow dwellers of the wilderness, have been vital. I no longer have to get people to do jobs or fill offices in a church; it is easier to see the glory and wonder in an individual human soul.

Most theological arguments really don’t matter after all: sound and fury, they signify nothing apart from a desire to spar; real human connection seems too threatening.

There is wonder here.

In the wilderness: but it’s not so bad: part 2

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Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

I’m sure I used to be more certain; or at least I think I was (That works on several different levels)

I ‘knew’ what it was to be a Christian. I ‘knew’ what was ‘sound’ and what was not. I like to think that I was not so aggressively certain as others were, but I’m not so sure; age has a wonderful way of smoothing down uncomfortable memories.

As you get older and become more aware of things that don’t work or fit any system, prayers that are not apparently answered or new and uncomfortable insights, you are faced with hard choices. There are a whole lot of options, such as:-

-Not to believe; you really want to, but can’t see any connection with any reality.

-You can also- frightened- go further inside the Christian ghetto, becoming more remote from life as it is lived and more aggressive towards those who are not like you or who break ‘safe’ boundaries.

-Faith never really fits, so it is waved as a lucky rabbit’s foot when nothing else will do.

I’m sure I’ve used all of those approaches (still do from time to time- sadly large parts of the evangelical world seem stuck in the middle one at the moment) but I’ve come to realise that I know, but yet I do not know….and that certainty/uncertainty is normal. At best, it leads to a humility when faced with something new: what do I know against the vastness of the universe? At worse it leads to an arrogant judgementalism against those who appear ‘certain’ and fixed.

I know….I know…and yet I don’t know…

In the wilderness: but it’s not so bad part 1.

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My good friend Ian has two podcasts out on how he moved from Christianity to atheism. It is powerful and honest stuff (find it here http://voicesofdeconversion.com/home/  . His name is Ian Redfearn and the podcasts are 34 and 35- I get a lovely tribute at around 31:30 on number 35).

My friendship with him has often caused me to question things that I believe. I can often hear his voice in my head if I preach or prepare to preach. I can hear him if I slip into ‘Christianese’ or get too far into the Christian ghetto.

I was listening to his story and reflected that although lots of his friends sent him books when he ‘deconverted’ or tried to argue him out of it, I don’t think I ever did. I’m not always good at this, but I try to keep at the forefront of my mind something that a minister once wrote (I’ve slightly adapted this) ‘You tell me your beautiful names for God/Life and I’ll tell you mine’. It removes the alpha male aggression from apologetics and it is really lovely to experience. Also influential to me is the idea that you listen to someone so closely that you run the risk of being won over by them.

It has got me thinking, because there are parallels between his story and mine of leaving and loss; what still sustains me and how could I talk about it in a way that anyone could read (I’ve read enough angry Christian blogs or ones that just preach to the crowd)?

One thing in particular struck me when I heard him talk (and these are my words, not his); he referred to that sense of panic when he had left organised religion: how do I live and what do I do as I can’t see any models for where I am. I experienced something of the same sense myself: how do I live- what do I do?

What I’m hoping to do for a while is talk about some of the stuff that keeps me going in this new place that I find myself.

To be continued…

 

Christian music (or why some music is plastic)

I was listening to an old Horace Andy album a few days ago and this popped up:-

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I was immediately captivated by the simplicity of the tune and the honesty of how he sang it: it moved me, in much the same way that Stormzy ‘Blinded by your grace’ did. I have almost no knowledge of Horace Andy (although I’ve seen him with Massive Attack), but I believe that he is a Rastafarian.

It spoke to me as it seems so unforced; in the middle of what you normally do in your profession, you sing about your faith/view of the world as it is natural to do so. In other songs it might be hinted at, but it is not dominated by it, because you sing and make music because that is what you do.

I have a blind spot when it comes to ‘Christian music’; mainly because when as a young Christian I was introduced to it, it seemed, well ‘not real’: overproduced, simplistic lyrics, pale pastiche of established style that was just ‘borrowed’ without any feeling and just…bland. At that point I wanted to yell ‘The king has got no clothes on’.

That feeling has never left me. From time to time, I’ve tried out the latest Christian ‘big thing’ and have usually been disappointed for much the same reasons. I’ve often wondered about the artistic discrimination of those who uncritically consume such music or whose only foray into ‘secular’ music venues is for the ‘safety’ of a Christian experience (mind you, I’ve also wondered what this says about the theology of mission there, but that is another story). I think it was the record producer T.Bone Burnett who said something like if you were a bricklayer who was a Christian and make a poor job building something, merely spray painting the word ‘Christian’ on it doesn’t make it any good.

I will continue to look; I can’t write anything off, but I’m not hopeful: leave me with those artists who are out there in the normal market place and whose faith breaks through like rain on a sunny day (Cash, Sufjan Stevens, U2, Damien Jurado et etc), but save me from those who have the sun turned up to 11 and any doubt or nuance tip-exed out.

Like Vinyl

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A month or so ago, I was having a brief twitter conversation with a reasonably well known writer (I guess that is one way of unsubtly boasting about the people I converse with). I had put a comment next to a tweet he had posted about the idea of starting a weekly blog. I tweeted back about an idea that I had that blogging could become the ‘new vinyl’: a form abandoned by many, but which could make a niche comeback of sorts.

I let it go: twitter conversations are like confetti- colourful, of the moment, but soon to fade away and be forgotten (often mercifully so). However, this conversation stayed with me: I used to blog daily on this site and did so for over 8 years, but then I let it go- some things that once gave life, no longer do so.

Blogging gave me life and a voice; I began to realise that others thought like me: I was not alone. It helped me deal with some of the existential angst that I felt and the practice of writing almost became like a supplication. I carried on in this vein for a long time and then my life began to change: I gave up (at least partly) a vocation and the angst began to seep away and the grit I needed to form pearls became smoother. I paused for a while and the while (apart from a handful of posts) became over a year.

I think I am ready to start again: not at the same volume or frequency as before, but certainly more regularly.

Maybe it will be like vinyl: an anachronistic throwback, slightly scratchy, but yet with the possibility of some richness and depth.

We’ll see….

15 things I have learned from blogging (and life).

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On the 11th day of Christmas…

These are 15 random things that over 8 years of blogging have taught me. People that analyse every comma and clause and look for watertight systematic thought should look away now. It is rather long, but then it is my penultimate posting (for now).

(1) Be yourself: try not to be an image of someone else or someone that you would like people to like. This is your platform: nobody else’s. People may not like what you write, but you write for you.

(2) Blogging is easy- it is just like writing a poem: you just open a vein and let it bleed.

(3) Try not to get too ‘preachy’. If you want to put something across, be ironic, playful and sometimes indirect. If you haven’t got a sense of humour and cannot be self deprecating, do not bother.

(4) Try to have a blog title that doesn’t involve your name. ‘Graham Peacock’s blog’ or ‘Insights from the ministry of Graham’, complete with a masthead of the writer with one of those preacher’s mics attached to the side of their head, probably says an awful lot about their ego. If someone does that, they probably need counselling before they attempt to blog.

(5) I do have a Faith: the best posts on that tend tangentially refer to it or occasionally be confessional about it.

(6)On Faith: there are few things that I understand any more but I know You are there. I have more questions, I am less sure & I mostly I just don’t know. But I know You are there.

(7) I have seen so many things and people crash I am painfully aware of my own fragility ( and that of my family,my life, my circumstances, my faith etc). This could all end at any minute. I have found my first (actually 2nd blog- the first one was back in late 2007/early 2008 and had 2 or 3 posts) www.diggingalot.blogspot.co.uk: my writing has changed a lot as I have got older and more aware of this reality.

(8)- Most people can’t cope with ‘telling it like it is’. I am no expert, but rather talking about your own questions, shortcomings or even ‘Hey people; the king has no clothes on.’ is something many people struggle to process. Many Christians want to hear Easter Sunday: Holy Week and the desolation of Good Friday are like an embarrassing relative that has to be endured/ignored before the real party begins. The trouble is, our everyday reality has a lot more Good Fridays and Easter Saturdays.

(9)I feel I get on better with those who have a divergent view to me; you discover more in trying to speak of what you believe and trying to listen to what they believe. Hell; it is more exciting.You often find strange and unlikely friends.

(10) Bloggers like those I have encountered and have got on with over the past 8 or so years tend to be out in the ‘wilderness’. Their voices are often more beautiful to me than those safe in the ‘city’.

(11) Every blogger has to be aware of ‘theological masturbation’: merely self pleasuring and producing little that will help any one, only the like -minded.

(12)-I’m getting old. Really I am. I have really felt this in the last year- keenly aware of a younger generation, of children growing up, of life shifting. This makes a difference to how I see the world; one result is the things that used to work me up don’t any more. I prefer songs in minor keys even more than I did.

(13) Within the Church, I have encountered the greatest love & support  I have ever known. I have also seen some of the greatest bastardy as well.

(14) Use good grammar. I blogged daily and had many grammar fails. Too many and anything you write is hard to follow.

(15)I can never, ever get past Grace; I haven’t experienced anything else like it under the sun.  The challenge has always been to show that in my blogging: I have rarely managed it.

Why 15 things? Because there are…

New Paths

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On the 9th day of Christmas…

…you think about coming Epiphany; new insights, new ways.

A few weeks ago I was leading a course in a hotel. During one of the breaks, to get some fresh air and to refocus, I went for a walk. In the distance, I could see the sea. I asked the staff if there was a path to the sea. They said that they thought that there was one; they’d heard that there might be. However, they’d never been: they’d travelled in, worked, but never had time or space to find out.

I began this blog in June 2008: I was about to begin a sabbatical and it was one of my aims. I’d read so many and I had a fair idea of where I wanted to pitch it and I enjoyed it: I still do. In February of the following year, I began to blog daily. It really wasn’t that hard: I have so many thoughts whirling around my head it is a relief to write them down (Yes: I’m not perfect- I’m proud of nearly 8 years of daily blogging). I thought that most people were like that, but they do not seem to be. I have also had a belief that the examined life is not worth living.

It has been quite a ride; before my counter broke, I think I’d had over a quarter of a million hits. That is not huge, but as numbers are important to me, I took that as a big deal. I’ve met new people and formed friendships: some on line and some face to face. My life has been immeasurably improved by the experience.

However, I want to find that path to the sea again. At nearly 51, you realise that you are not going to go on forever- my children at nearly 13 and over 15, are-if not ready to leave for a few years yet are flexing their wings, I haven’t read a book all the way through in depth for a while (and I have a few shelves full of ones I want to read), my guitar playing has stalled and I want to have more time for long unhurried conversations and daydreaming. And I want to do this without blogging about it;at least all of the time.

I might not find that path, but I think that this time is all about looking for it. As Tolkien said : ‘Not all those who wander are lost’.

 

Poetry thoughts and blogging

I rediscovered this book of poetry a few days ago. Poetry only really began to mean something to me a few years ago: I finally ‘got’ what poetry could mean and started to explore. The poems of Wendell Berry often speak to me: earth, space and slow thinking & being.

I put the book down after flicking through it for a while: no time to read. I sighed- the way life is at the moment means that I do not have the space that I always crave. Don’t get me wrong; I love the place I have ended up in, but the longer spaces for contemplation that I managed to carve out in full time ministry have become somewhat eroded.

That sigh confirmed something I have thought for a while now: soon I will cease blogging, or at least daily blogging. I have ran this blog from June 2008: it was an experiment that I started in a sabbatical and from February 2009 I have blogged daily. That is somewhat startling realisation, but I never found it that hard- something would always come up in moments of contemplation that I wanted to write about. I have come to realise that not everyone thinks like that: before I started I just assumed that everyone had long periods of introspection.

That moment is planned to be on Epiphany- a time for realisation and new direction…and maybe for me, a time for carving out new spaces for contemplation.