Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A man on a horse and flowers on a cross

A couple of weeks ago I was in Prague with other students from across Europe thinking about spirituality and discipleship. While there we were encouraged to spend time on an Urban Spirituality Retreat. This involved looking at the Urban landscape – the buildings mainly for me - and spending more time focussing on them than your normally would – noticing things that you wouldn’t normally notice and waiting on what God might have to say to you. It involved standing still in the freezing cold for a while, which was distracting! But in that standing still, and making space just to be in God’s presence God showed me some things.....

I left the metro at Museum station which takes you to the Museum (as you'd think...). This is at the top of Wenceslas Square, where a horse is ridden majestically by Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, ready to make its way down the grandeur of the Square (which is more like an avenue). The statue quickly distracts you and points you into the city. Wenceslas was martyred because of his Christian faith.

As I approached I noticed some flowers lying on the floor on the opposite side of the road to the statue. Instead of following the swarms of people heading down the square I went to look. The flowers were lying on a bronze cross. The cross is almost flat on the floor and could be easily missed because the statue and the Museum draw your eyes away from the cross. I found out later that the cross is a memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic – two people who stood up against injustice through communist rule. Both died in demonstration in the 1960s and were buried away from the centre of the city. After the Velvet revolution this cross was laid in their memory.

As I stared at the cross my eyes were again drawn to the majestic majesty of Wenceslas. It reminded me of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On that day the crowds view of a saviour was in total contrast to what would happen later in the week, just as the huge statue contrasted to the cross that lay on the floor. The story of Holy Week speaks of an unlikely victory, and a victory that can easily be missed.

When we lay memorials we do it so we have space to remember. We might have special dates when we remember or certain places. Wenceslas was remembered as a King straight after his death because of his heroic profession of his faith. The two Jan’s were remembered for their sacrifice, years after they died for a regime that took as many years to be overthrown. There were probably people who celebrated them because of their sacrifice – but for me – I knew of Wenceslas, but had to find out who the cross was for - and I think that says something about how we look at Jesus - we need to ask those questions. Why the cross?

On entering Holy Week we enter it with that Palm Sunday procession.... with preparations for a King.... with confidence and boldness. We enter with joy and gladness...... for the disciples perhaps they were built up by the excitement of the crowd – this man they followed would be crowned King. As the week went on, the crowd diminished, the hatred grew, and Jesus ended up alone on the cross, seemingly defeated.

The cross on the floor in Prague reminds the residents of where they have come from – they not only have a history of greatness, but also have a history of sadness and evil, which they were rescued from, and the two people who this cross remembers were significant on that journey. When you see the cross in Prague, you remember, but..... you could too easily miss it.....

The story of Holy Week is a story of new beginnings. In Jesus death and resurrection we have a new covenant – a new promise – a new life with God, and we remember why as we tell and hear the story during Holy Week.

Remembering is important. 

Remembering truth makes it less ritual and more real. 

Remembering truth stops the sanitisation of the good news to make it easy. 

Remembering truth helps to answer the questions of why and how. 

Remembering reminds me why it is Christ I follow. 

Thomas said to him [Jesus], "Lord we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my father as well, from now on you do know him and have seen him."                          John 14:5-7 (NIV)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The wonder of pi.....

Today is international pi day. I love pi day. It's like a celebration of all that is beautiful about curves and circles. You can find pi in the most unexpected of places. Every pi day I have to listen to the pi song. It tells the story of the discovery of pi. Some of the lyrics go like this:

'...... The question resting on the Grecian hearts was what is the circumference of a circle.
But they were set on rational numbers, it ranks among their biggest blunders.....' 

And then goes on to talk of the light bulb moment when 'irrationality was realised' (irrational numbers can't be written as fractions making maths more difficult) - that 'something deep within them died' when they discovered pi. 

But without pi there would be no circles..... The earth would be flat........  Tides wouldn't work....... We couldn't describe sound or microwaves......

So the Greeks - they had to be challenged - they had to be stripped down to basics to understand this new and different concept. They had to dream dreams different to anything they had before as they discovered something new and life changing about God's creation.

If they had continued with what was comfortable and easy (fractions - yes they are!) And not had this desire to discover - to move forward - then their work would have been lacking. They stopped, were challenged, explored and transformed.

To believe in irrational numbers there had to be a step of faith.

As we get on with the every day and run from place to place without stopping it's too easy to avoid the potential for challenge, the potential to confront our biggest fears, the potential that God might show us something new.

(I learnt today that there is an approximation for pi of 3 in the Bible..... It doesn't mention pi but mentions the dimensions of a circle, which would work if pi was rounded to 3 - see 1 Kings 7: 23-24 or if we do a bit more maths it actually gets approx 3.14 https://www.purplemath.com/modules/bibleval.htm - how cool is that!)

Just to note - we're not really sure who discovered pi, but God created it...! 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Wondering in the clouds

Looking out of the window of a plane when I have travelled up through the murky grey above the fluffy white where the clouds look like cotton wool and the sun comes out always makes me feel a little like I am living out James and the Giant Peach in real life. I can't help but dream about James' descriptions of the men who lived in the clouds rolling up hail stones. In the tape we used to listen to in the car it always came across as something beautiful, something mysterious, something amazing. In flying above the clouds the mysteries and beauty of God's creation cannot help but come to the forefront of my mind. Why do so many people take photos from planes? Because the beauty and awesomeness never fails to amaze.

In an hour and a half flight it is difficult to be amazed for too long as the screams of children who clearly find flying painful and the worries over what might greet us on landing combine with a mix of excitement about the unknown and new.

That moment of wonder, in the busyness of what next is something to hold on to. 

It's too easy to forget the wonder in the every day. One of the challenges I have given myself this year is to make time to remember to stop and wonder. I turn off the TV at breakfast time and try (and often fail) to spend more time walking, praying and thinking instead of rushing from place to place. This lent there are a lot of people who have signed up to being 'not busy' as their discipline, yet being not busy becomes difficult. One of the challenges is to spend half and hour a day just 'being' which is something I've been trying to intertwine into my day (and a discipline I hope to continue indefinitely). We discussed in our pub bible study how being shattered gets in the way of our relationship with God and we were encouraged to make time to just be. A bit like a daily sabbath moment (if that's possible?). 

It's in those moments of wonder that I remember the glory of God, that I rest in his presence and remember that despite my smallness, God cares about me enough to know how many hairs are on my head........ and more. 

Why would I not want to have those wonder moments?

"God's plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God"

Colossians 1:27

Friday, 8 March 2013

Women I know....

This week at college we had a lunch where the women ministers gathered together to share their experiences of being women in ministry, to think about how we might encourage other women in leadership and to just be together. Today is International Women's Day and in both of these things I have been reminded of the importance of standing up as a woman in solidarity with other women who are not given opportunities or rights across Churches and in the world. 

I am one of those people who nervously identifies myself as a feminist. Nervously because when I change men to human, son to child and brotherly to family in songs I've been laughed at and told I need to get over it - that it doesn't mean that the song does not put women as equal to men..... but for me it does. Nervously because feminism is viewed by some as militant and anti-men.... which I am not. Hannah Mudge has written here http://www.threadsuk.com/so-you-have-concerns-about-feminism/ about these kind of views and it makes me want to come out and say, yes, it's alright to say that I am a feminist... 

A book I've read recently 'A Year of Biblical Womanhood' by Rachel Held Evans http://rachelheldevans.com/womanhood-project/ . This interested me because I'd always been angry at John Piper and Wayne Grudem's book on Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as I was a student and UCCF relay worker and it held pride of place on the bookstall.... every time. I felt it challenged everything about what I was called to do....  I'd read Grudem's chapter in his Systematic Theology on the roles of men and women and I couldn't touch that book for fear of having to shout loudly. 

Evans talks about the Proverbs 31 woman - how actually this woman is everything but the woman who stays at home and has a certain role. She identifies how the Proverbs 31 woman is a 'woman of valour' - honouring women who have a significant role to play in the lives of people and in society. Valour isn't really a word I'd use every day, but the woman of valour in Proverbs 31 is one that is honoured because of what she does, not someone who is good because she performs certain tasks. In response to what she discovered in exploring the Proverbs 31 woman Evans decided to encourage people to talk about those who are Women of Valour in their lives..... so I am going to take the opportunity on International Women's Day to identify those women who have played a significant role on my journey. I don't normally do things like this, as I get embarrassed when I'm nice. I'm not sure whether the people I am going to mention will read this, but I want anyone who reads this to know how important these people are in my life and journey.... so here goes..... (seriously, this is quite difficult, but have to do it!)

Ingrid Shelley was my helper at my Baptism when I was 12. I asked her to be my helper because it was her I first told I wanted to be baptised after she had led us through a Youth Weekend and what she said during that weekend had a big impact in me understanding who I was in Christ. Ingrid has been significant on my journey because she modelled a way of leading that was enabling. She encouraged us to do stuff that we would never have done and created a mindset within the youth group where I knew I could believe in myself. Thank you. 

When I met Pat Took her graciousness and care for me and my family was deep. Her wisdom is evident and gentle. Yet it was in Pat's sermon at Baptist Assembly where she challenged us not to let the conventions of society get in the way of God's calling that I was challenged to properly follow my calling to ministry. Thank you.

It's difficult sometimes being an evangelical woman minister (people assume too often that I cannot be evangelical, because I'm a woman), and when I was exploring my call to ministry, Dianne Tidball was not quiet about the difficulties of being an evangelical woman, yet she is so clearly called to where she is that in looking at her I am inspired to stick to what I believe and to keep living in a world that does not always accept me in what I am called to do. Thank you. 

I cannot talk about significant women without talking about the most significant women who have been there right from before I was born. 

Firstly, my sister, Sarah. I stole her chocolates and begrudged sharing a room with her, yet now in Sarah I have one of my best friends. She has always encouraged me and believed in me, told me I am ridiculous when I am doing stupid things, been angry with me and celebrated with me. She is more full of wisdom than she realises. I am so proud of Sarah because she is one of the strongest women I know, and even in journeying through the darkest of times she brings and is light. Thankyou ace sista. 

It's mothers day on Sunday, and I cannot talk about significant women without mentioning the best mum in the world. Cares deeply, blesses abundantly, rings at the right moment, models the love of God. Brought me into the world, continues to bring me through the world. Thank you.

There is my international women's day gushiness. It won't happen too often, but I felt that today, of all days, it is important. 

One thing I will never forget from my time in Kolkata is the women I met in the house church in the village outside of the city. They shared their testimonies and one woman said that despite her terrible home life that God blesses her in the smallest of things and gives her hope. A woman I will never forget. Thank you and praying that life will improve.   

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Growing, being and dreaming

A couple of weeks ago I was on holiday. My holidays lately seem to involve visiting places that you wouldn't really think of for holidays - places with concrete buildings (and cows!) and roundabouts. The thing about those places though is they are places where friends live who are the kind of friends who you can meet irregularly but are the people who you feel like you see every day. 

Wherever I go on holiday, one part of holiday that has been something I have grown up with  is the trying of a new (and often very different) church. Going on holiday with my family we would always go and check times the night before and then turn up, to be then sometimes surprised, sometimes terribly bored, sometimes challenged and sometimes amused. It's not the same kind of experience when you go on holiday on your own, but there is still the chance to try something new and perhaps a little different. 

During my holiday I spent the day in London. I went on my own which meant I could do what I wanted when I wanted without worrying about anybody else. I acted like a tourist and late afternoon ended up in Westminster. The abbey was closed though, so I was disappointed, but then I noticed Evensong was due to start, so, for curiosities sake and to get out of the Arctic wind I decided to go. Not my normal type of worship. Good music (a bit of plainsong does you good) and slightly bemused by the man who had to lead the readers to the Bible to read. Nobody talked to me apart from the man who led me to my seat and the woman next to me who told me not to take my coat off because I'd freeze. I left relaxed and calm.....

Two days later I went with my friend to join a Vineyard congregation for their Sunday service. You couldn't get something much more different than the abbey. Food and very good coffee on arrival, lots of small talk, lots of chaos, loud worship band, children playing computer games, sharing of bread and wine with no formality at all, community being built in the offices of a charity in the middle of an industrial estate. I left feeling hyper (that's the coffee) and chaotic but welcomed....

In his book on Church Growth in Britain, David Goodhew describes how Cathedral congregations and new churches are among the growing churches, so what is it about these two seemingly polarised ways of being church that means they are growing? Both of them made me feel a little uncomfortable, yet both of them clearly have something to offer. 

I appreciated the anonymity of the abbey congregation. It was big. It was quiet. There was no need to get involved. I could just sit back and relax. I didn't have to listen to a sermon (there wasn't one) and as long as I stood and sat at the right time (guided by the lady in the hat next to me) it was all OK. I was on holiday so I didn't want to engage in conversation about what I do. I was able to leave the abbey shaking one persons hand and one person only and the gatekeepers were cheerful.The woman in the hat was giving out some kind of leaflet inviting people to an event where they could talk about faith but I managed to avoid the leaflet by walking behind her. The whole atmosphere inside the abbey gave me a sense of the awesomeness of God and made it possible just to be. 

If this was my every day congregation though? I'd miss the relationships. I'd miss the informality. I'd be frustrated by the sameness....... but perhaps some people appreciate that.... and perhaps by being in a place where you can just be you can build relationship with God on an individual basis. However, if we are meant to be a church that actively seeks to live out the Kingdom of God, the lack of community and commitment misses the point? Does being a follower of Jesus require more commitment?

The Vineyard congregation clearly had that community feel. Everyone knew one another. Someone new came in and a greeter introduced him to someone of a similar age who could sit with him during the service. The congregation heckled and discussed. The children could make as much noise as they wanted and nobody blinked (apart from me, who is not used to that!). There was not meant to be a sermon, but there was still a talk. 

If this was my every day congregation though? I'd miss the silence, the chance just to sit and be, the space. I think that the abbey congregation could teach the vineyard one a little bit about awe and wonder, just as the vineyard could teach the abbey about informality. (The informality clearly didn't spread to the music, though, which was perfected in similar detail to the abbey yet was very different). For this congregation belonging was vital and commitment was important. So very different, yet also growing. What I struggle with most about this church is that it felt like a pop up church - there today, gone tomorrow. Fragmented during the week as people travel in from far and wide and return to their local community. A different way of serving where perhaps people are invited into the church community rather than integrating into the community around the church. 

Whatever my struggles with these two ways of being church, the fact that they are growing cannot be denied. I wonder what I can learn from these places, but I also wonder if there is still space for something else. Something that embodies itself in local community, but learns a lot from the past. Something that is as messy as new church, but less controlled by leaders and as awe inspiring as cathedral church, but connects much more in community. 

I keep coming back to this though..... That the challenge is to be God's church embodying God's mission in the situation you are in, not necessarily in the situation where you strive to be. We can learn, we can theorize, but being God's called and sent people is where it is at. 

"A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling..... [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky live by improvisation and experiment" - Hans Kung