(If you do this, then gardening is probably not for you)
We are trying to run a holiday club in half term. As part of that, I did the speaky bit at the Parade service at the Parish Church on Sunday. The passage was soundly exegeted via balloons, getting the congregation to do some Thom Yorke (Radiohead, dummy) dancing and holding a child upside down (don’t ask- it made sense at the time).
After that, as the service progressed, the group of boys, aged 6-7 in my Beaver Scout Troop gathered around to talk about the sermon. ‘You did this- why did you do it?’….. a pause…. then an explanation and a question back to them ‘does that make sense to you?’…then a pause and some further questions and a discussion. I was so lifted up and excited by the whole process.
In old language, that would be catechesis: teaching/ ‘instruction’. I guess they experienced much more than most at that service. And I wondered: where are the spaces(and the desire?) to do that for adults?
Still, these boys are naive and have no church background. They need to learn from us that the point is to have no questions and concommittent desire to learn and grow. They need to learn that any questioning is done internally and never shared with anyone else. They also need to learn that relating to each other as human beings in the sense of ‘I struggle with this’, ‘I am learning this’, ‘How can I do this’ or ‘This is just so fantastic!’ must be discouraged or at best kept out of church contexts.
I began….oh I don’t know how long ago on this series. It was supposed to be 50 days (for Pentecost…keep up), but I crashed for the first few days. I began- I don’t read myself; keeping a blog is a sure sign of delusion, reading it…..well… – as I thought that Pentecost, particularly Acts 2:17- which I know you have instant recall of- was a massive ‘what if?’: possibility and hope are endless.
I will ‘preach’ today on Acts 2 (actually it is all age, so it will be free-flowing, improvised and probably messy- or at least I hope it will be). One thought- strikes me that the bit at the start- gathered inside a room is where we often find ourselves in churches; afraid to go out or make connections with where we are already ‘out’ (I think I said this before- I used to say at the end of a service- ‘Now go out into all the world’- now I’m thinking- ‘so does that mean that church is a seperate planet?’).
When I am stuck inside, IÂ eventually get bored, nurse grudges and generally lose the plot- little things become ‘big’…which is not a million miles where many of us in churches live. Seems what was happening in Acts 2 and beyond (and enough of the analysis of tongues etc) was God saying ‘Go’ and people having a real go- finding God moments, falling on their a***es sometimes, experiencing great joy, pain and questioning.
I guess that if I was to have a ‘Pentecost wish’ that is what I would want to do much more.Â I guess that God is already out there, looking at his watch and thinking ‘will you please get a move on; I’ve been here for ages.’
A character in John Updikeâ€™s novel, A Month of Sundays, reflecting on his youthful experience of the church, says, “Churches bore for me the relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola; they promoted thirst but did nothing to quench it.”
I don’t post my sermons on this blog (well once I posted some notes) as I think that others do it better. This ain’t a sermon- more a kind of ‘tangental thought’ that is unfinished…..
This week- in between marking GCSEs, looking after kids, life etc, I’ve been trying to read, re-read and read again some of the set readings for Pentecost tomorrow. If you have been in church for any length of time, you know these passages back to front. I have found taking time to read and scribble random thoughts, with no thoughts of producing anything really stunning and shocking. Often a sunday by sunday preacher can become like a McDonald’s restaurant (is ‘restaurant’ even the right word for this ethnic scottish- american bijou eaterie? I know I shouldn’t go there, but it is so tempting. Wish they could install ‘conscience bins’ outside, so I could put my conscience in each time I go and retrieve it each time I come out)…. churning out sermon after sermon- none particularly bad, but none particularly good….. maybe just bland….
(most of the images I googled on ‘dry bones’ were too religious and sombre- you can buy these in the USA as salt and pepper shakers if you want to make an ironic statement and clutter you house up with more ‘stuff”)
I mean – Ezekiel 37 (please sing with me ‘Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones’)- the context is totally bleak and without hope isn’t it? That never really struck me before. To state the obvious- bones don’t move and dry ones are about to lose their form and shape. There is no hope- nothing.
‘All’ Ezekiel is asked to do is be faithful….full stop. And not to be ‘quietly faithful’ (and what the hell does that mean anyway) but to do his stuff. But I can’t just preach that- it becomes religion as a mirror of early 21st century capitalism- viz: ‘Be what you can be!’ ‘You are incredible!’ ‘You can acheive’….. which perhaps says something aboutÂ how ‘church’Â can be- a group of disembodied individuals looking for some individualised self-actualisation (I may have to sit down there- I’ve used words that even I don’t fully understand…)
Somehow I don’t think Jesus came to this earth so that we would have somewhere to go on a Sunday that is a ‘good church’ , produce a product that we like or give us somewhere to receive personal spiritual sustenance. If he did- I’m leaving.
Wonder if ‘all’ he intended was to produce a group of people who showed hope and acted hope and that sometimes/oftenÂ was messy and untidy? Often we rate worship as product if it has been slickly done or ‘decently and in proper order. Maybe it’s more about a community raising hope and bringing hope- living with dry bones and having the courage to live faithfully so they can walk and talk again?
…………But there are blogs that can articulate that better than this one………..
Last one of 3…more of my shameless magpie-ing (seeÂ http://www.backyardmissionary.com/for a better version).
This is really where I would love to be….I’m part of the way there, but lack courage in going further and sometimes I get tired of fighting….
‘—–The civilised build shelters and invite God to stay with them; barbarians move with God wherever he chooses to go.
—–Â The civilised Christian has a routine; the barbarian disciple has a mission.
—–Â The civilised believer knows the letter of the law. The barbarian disciple lives the spirit of the law.
—–Â The religiously civilised love tradition; the barbarian spirit loves challenges.
—–Â The civilised ares satisfied with ritual; barbarians live and thrive in the mystical.
—-Â For the civilised disciple, religion provides stability and certainty; for the barbarian a life in God is one of risk and mystery, and maybe even a little insanity’.
..and now I’m going for a lie down, I’ve had too much testosterone running around my system. I have important things to do, like organising the flower rota (on several levels, that may be a joke…you work out which).
Don’t make me angry…. you wouldn’t like me when I get angry….
‘For the last time, it’s Mrs Miggin’s turn for lupins this Sunday; daisies only go out on the 3rd after Easter’…..grrrrrr
Part 2 of 3….
Some more quotes. Normally I do more commentary. I’m leaving these as they are. I need to return to them and take them in (but I want you to read them as well).
If mission is about finding what God is doing and then joining in (that is from the 6 week mission shaped church ‘Fresh Expressions’ course that I cannot recomment highly enough…)…. maybe we need to be a little….well…wilder?
â€œChristianity over the past two thousand years has moved from a tribe of renegades to a religion of conformistsâ€
â€œA quick survey of the modern church would lead you to believe his invitation was â€œCome and listenâ€ and his closing mandate would be summarised in the one word â€œNo!â€
Of barbariansÂ â€œThey are not about religion or position. They have little patience for institutions or bureaucracies. Their lack of respect for tradition or ritual makes them seem uncivilised to those who love religionâ€
â€œPerhaps the overwhleming tragedy of our time is that such an overwhelming number of us who declare Jesus as Lord have become domesticated – or, if you will, civilised. We have lost the simplicity of our early faith. Beyond that we have lost the passion and power of that raw, untamed and primal faith.â€
Ouch- they all hurt….
(ok- I know it is bad art- but you get the point….)
I found http://www.backyardmissionary.com/Â a few months ago. Different culture, different bloke, but much of what he says resonates with me. The way he describes his roadtrip around Aussie makes me want to go (I’d love to go in a couple of months- hopefully after we have beaten the Aussies into the ground in the Ashes…).
I’m going to post the next 3 days with a few of his thoughts from a couple of weeks ago… He has been reading a book by McManus on the ‘Barbarian Faith’.
Now although I baulk at songs that seem to be along the lines of ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’, I don’t go a whole bundle on the approach of ‘Guys we are the strong ones’ (and I’ve never gone for the view that someone’s genitals should determine whether they can represent Christ or not)…. but Backyard’s take is one that I have a lot of sympathy for….
‘the Christian life was never meant to be a life of peace, prosperity and happiness (not that they are bad things) but that it is to be a life of adventure, risk and sacrifice’.
all well and good- but anyone could have written that, so I like his take on the next bit:-
‘I wonder if we as the church arenâ€™t living in times that require some barbarian leadership? These are certainly not times when things are going our way and where all is good. These are difficult times and we need these people back in the game. As McManus describes â€˜barbariansâ€™, I see them most closely aligned with the apostolic gifting, one that is certainly lacking in many churches today.
I have a feeling that part of the reason church can be so damn boring at times is because the barbarians have either been marginalised and pushed to the edges, or they have opted out because a passive and conservative environment just doesnâ€™t resonate with who they are’.
I think I need to learn something here….
I often go into schools- because I love it: it makes me feel alive and think ‘wow I get paid for this’. I think it must go down ok in the schools as I get invited back (although they aren’t exactly knee deep in professional Christians in this neck of the woods…..). I also go as I invariably learn something that makes me think and/or say ‘wow’.
I was in to a class of 4-5 year olds to talk about ‘what do you do in the community?’ I told them all sorts of stuff and we did some singing and some questions. At the heart of what I did were 3 things- complete with actions:-
1: I listen (waggle ears), or try to listen, to people and to God.
2: I talk (open and shut mouth like vacant goldfish), hopefully a lot less than I listen.
3: I pray (hands closed together).
Anyway, I was doing the actions and asking them what they meant. Most got 1 &2 & then I moved onto 3. I asked what this meant and a girl at the front said ‘Trust’….
…and that nearly finished me off- that had never occurred fully to me. Another moment where I thought- ‘Take off your shoes, for you are on holy ground…’
Still basking in U2 from yesterday……. and the kind of song that hopes and asks a big ‘what if’:-
Always pain before a child is born
Still Iâ€™m waiting for the dawn
(I guess that is where we are now: the ‘now and not yet’….. then a key change (I think) comes in…)
Still waiting for the dawn
The sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
(that bit always makes me utter a manly sniffle or say ‘I think I have got something in my eye…’ in the last line….we have the way…and it is always the way to get there- even if we might never see the fruition:-)
Take this city
A city should be shining on the hill
Take this city if it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break
By the time you read this, I will be in a fast car, travelling the 120 miles or so from my home to Cliff College, Derbyshire. I’m going to the Festival there. It has the title ‘Festival’- somehow I don’t think that there will be loads of cheap burger bars, drug dealing, wasted crowds and towering security guards.
I’m going there to lead/curate/facilitate (or whatever is the ‘in’ phrase at the moment- I’m more ‘out’ than ‘in’) a U2charist. Whatever the BBC might tell you, I was the first in Britain to lead a U2charist (I think) back in November 2005. Of course, I would never tell anyone that or put it on a blog or anything… I’m also doing a seminar.
Being in full time ministry, everything has had to be cobbled together at the last minute…but I think it is all there (at least I hope so- I am a ‘lists’ man. I have had to make a list of lists to keep track of this one….).
I’m thinking- I’m working, but having to listen to music-‘How cool is that?’ Ok- it is a lot of extra work, but I so love it: the opportunity to attempt something new and have space/make space to do it, to get inside something that I like and spend time enjoying/squeezing meaning out of it. And for those, looking tired and grey that say ‘I never have time for anything like that’, I say- neither do I…..I just tried to make time…. and you know, whenÂ I do-Â I flow back into other stuff with more energy….
Quote for the day from Frost ‘Exiles'(P279):-
‘Contextualising worship involves more than choosing to play pop music in church instead of classical hymns. It involves a serious incarnational attempt to enter, know, love and enjoy the culture that you have been sent into.’
Amen to that!
I’m cheating- I’m using a comment that http://heartsongsearcher.blogspot.com/Â posted, that I have been thinking on for a while:-
Â What if we accepted our own faults, and those of others?
It is hard to add to that or embellish that anymore. Any hanging around the ‘Christian’ end of the blogosphere for any length of time and considering this quote makes me think ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner’….