Monday, 15 December 2014

The Parable of the Polygons (and let's add some shapes with curved edges because they're important too)

I often talk about what normal is with one particular mathematician friend. Whenever anyone talks about what normal is then there needs to be a central defining point. For us, (jokingly of course) it's people like us. We're two different people with a different set of beliefs but with a number of things that unite us, so if we are both normal the concept of what is normal (if it is to be us) must be quite diverse. What I value in our normalness together is the fact that we can engage on a level that has more depth than engaging with people who are just like us. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking about community building and hospitality in a church context. When we look to belong we often look to people who are like us. Same social standing, same economic background, same interests, same...... those social groupings are based on our own concept of normalness. To begin to let the group grow beyond that normality is seen as taking risks or messy or rocking the status quo. 

Or is it?

I recently came across the 'Parable of the Polygons' which was shared on facebook. This attracted me because of the word Polygon and probably put a lot of people off because it sounds a bit mathematical. Anyway, have a read and a go, it is really interesting - like a game you could play for ages..... and there are graphs. 

The general gist of the Parable of the Polygons is that the choices we make in the way we relate to different social groupings and the way we invite people to be part of our own social groupings can cause harm if we don't make those choices carefully. We can say we are seeking equality, we are seeking to embrace all, but in making bad choices as to who we spend time with we could be creating a community made up of unhappy'll all make sense if you have a play... go on, I dare you. 

The writer wraps up with three points, the last one of which tells us to 'demand diversity near you'. They say that we need to look around us and that if we are all triangles we're going to be 'missing out on some amazing squares in your life - that's unfair to everyone'. 

The results of this parable are interesting - that where we demand a bit of diversity in our groupings, this makes a huge positive difference overall. 

So, why is this important in the context of a church community? 

Well, words are batted around about being welcoming, inclusive, seeking diversity; we say that God's love is for everyone, not just people like us, that Jesus died on the cross for everyone, not just those we like, they just need to respond to him. But then we mourn (or some of us secretly love I reckon) the fact that churches are monochrome, made of one generation, too family orientated, too feminine, too masculine, just too..... 

What the Parable of the Polygons shows us is that where a small minority are committed to challenging the biases that naturally exist in our communities, that can make a difference, but that it takes work. It doesn't take giving up and hoping it happens. It doesn't take giving in and saying 'well this inevitable'. It takes 2,3, 4..... people who are committed to being anti-biased to change a community, and as more people see the change, feel the change, recognise it as beneficial to the wider community they will join too. 

In recognising the diversity that should naturally exist in the people we group with as a local church, we recognise how society has changed. We'd like to hold on to a time when society was not as it is today, but then we miss the beauty of what we can learn from the God places - the thin places where heaven and earth meet that exist in the communities around us. 

So perhaps we need to change where the boundaries are, and that's what those triangles and squares seeking diversity are doing. Where the status quo changes to something more reflective of where people actually are, where the diversity of culture is expressed, then the community we are part of becomes better, more beautiful, more reflective of the Image of God in which we were created. In the end perhaps we'll be happier together....?

I've been reading 'Tracks and Traces' by Paul Fiddes. I love this book... he says on p133....

".... If we are to minister to society as a whole, and to its various social groupings that can no longer be confined to a nuclear family, then we must learn to 'open up space' within the boundaries of the gathered church. We must learn hospitality which is not patronizing and which values people for whom they are. We must let our living space overlap with others". 

A type of hospitality that is unbiased? Welcoming the squares and the triangles and the shapes with curved edges? Is that more normal than gathering with people who are like me? Is that what a church with Christ at the head should look like?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Advent Stop. Advent Waiting.

Advent is a time when you stop and you wait. You look forward with anticipation to the coming of Jesus. This is the build up, the time to take stock, the time just to be.....

Well, that's what the plan is. 

I've become very aware lately of the importance of good time off. Not just time off, but good time off. My day off is Friday. I used to enjoy Fridays. They were me days. They were the days that I have to do what I want to do. 

But lately... Fridays have become a day of collapse. I get to Friday and I get irrationally angry. I get to Friday and I try and escape the every day by curling up in a ball and dozing or driving around shouting at other drivers who do things I wouldn't.... 

Last week I stopped. I realised Friday had become a day of sounding off about all the busyness of the week. It had become a day of recovery, not a day of rest. To be able to enjoy it I need to rest during the week. I proclaim the importance of a day off to everyone else, but I'm not doing it properly myself. 

Advent is a time when you stop and wait. You look forward with anticipation to the coming of Jesus. This is the build up, the time to take stock, the time just to be.....

At Baptist Assembly this year the people who got the handshake (moved from the Newly Accredited Minister to the Accredited Minister list) had to make a promise to have time off or not be busy or something like that.... and everyone laughed. 'It's not possible' the laugh said. 'As if' the laugh said. 'You must be dreaming if they are really going to keep that promise' the laugh said. 

But it is. It is possible. I believe it is. 

Advent is a time when you stop and wait. You look forward with anticipation to the coming of Jesus. This is the build up, the time to take stock, the time just to be.....

I have an intermittent habit of making advent resolutions. Advent is traditionally the start of the new church year. At our church we start our new year in September, but, unknowingly, my personal start has become Advent. 

I know to be effective in my ministry I need this stop time - not just recovery time on Friday, but slow down time during the week. So my advent resolution - it's to get to Friday and enjoy it - whatever that takes - and take that habit into next year and beyond. When I am tired I will rest. When I need introvert alone time I will be alone. When I need company, I will seek it. When I need time to cook dinner to make me healthy, I will cook dinner. When I need to stop and be, I will stop and be.

Advent is a time when you stop and wait. You look forward with anticipation to the coming of Jesus. This is the build up, the time to take stock, the time just to be.....

Advent Waiting. Wait well. Look around..... see glimmers of light in the darkness. Christ is coming. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Fishing, Maths and Faith

There are times in this crazy minister in training world I inhabit that I wake up and declare 'it would be easier if I was still a maths teacher'.Other teachers might argue 'no it's not' - but don't get me wrong, I'm not saying what I am doing now is harder, it's just that it's differently hard for me and affects me in ways I could never imagine. I was the kind of teacher who was able to separate out my maths teacher life and the rest of it. Relaxing, reflecting and getting away was easy. I was efficient. The nature of maths as a subject meant that a lot of the marking and planning could be done on auto pilot - delving deep into the beauty of the subject, but keeping it simple because maths - well - it just is. I was never called to be a maths teacher for ever - throughout my teaching life I knew I was only doing this for a time, that I would need to move on.....

But sometimes I wake up and say 'what if I was still there?'

I've been listening to a sermon preached by Jeff Lucas this morning called 'Breakfast with Jesus' (see video below), that just at the right time challenged that feeling when I woke up this morning and declared to God 'it would be easier if.....'. It was based on the passage at the end of John's gospel where Jesus meets the disciples on the beach and they have breakfast together. Peter and Jesus then have their famous interaction where Jesus challenges him 'Do you love me more than these'. 

Peter, the fisherman, who had given it all up to follow Jesus was fishing after Jesus' death. His life as a fisherman was easy. He may have not always got the catch of fish he wanted. He may have worked in the dead of night. But..... it was familiar, autopilot, what he was good at. 

"Do you love me more than these...." fish..... maths lessons...... those things I do that make me feel comfortable and efficient and good and.......

Jesus says 'me or the fish?' 

Faith or fish? 

Jeff Lucas talks about how once you've entered the Kingdom of God you will never be satisfied with just surviving. 

If I was still a maths teacher I would survive. I could be mardy when I wanted to be mardy. I could take out my frustrations on the pupils who irritate me (no teacher ever does that, honestly), I could throw a strop with my colleagues and not have them raise their eyebrows at my ridiculouslessness - my 'un-Christian' behaviour, I could go wild (in an introverted, restrained way), I could choose the people who I have in my life and avoid the ones who irritate me. 

But I wouldn't be the person who God created and called me to be. I'm not meant to be a maths teacher (some people are, and in serving God in that role, may wake up in the morning and say 'it would be easier if.....') but I'm meant to be living right now this crazy, sometimes mind blowing, life that God has called me to.

Faith or fish?  

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Prosperous Planning?

I've become more relaxed when it comes to planning. I realise that when other people are involved they don't necessarily work to my time scale. So when I am planning, I don't always expect people to respond in the way I expect them to respond (if that makes sense!?). I plan in the way I see best, but make the plan flexible enough to be changed when it needs to be. I think there are a number of different types of people when it comes to planning......

Those who have everything planned in meticulous detail - who have a folder of routes and ideas and timetables and find it difficult to deviate from the detail. These people work better with those who just want someone else to make the plan. 

Those who want to collaborate with others when it comes to planning, but then when it comes down to it, get frustrated and end up becoming the one who plans in meticulous detail, but without the folders and the timetables, and with a gentle sniff of flexibility (I think I am this person). 

Those who have a vague plan in their head which only comes out with the right questions. These are often the most frustrating, but come out with some amazing stuff!

Those who plan last minute, are always late and would rather someone tell them what to do until someone tells them what to do. I'm never this person. 

We all seem to have a different view of what it means to make a plan. When you ask 'what's the plan?' each of these different people will have different answers.... from here it is planned out minute by minute to 'wait and see'. 

I've listened to a couple of sermons lately where I've been told that God has a plan for my life, so it's all going to be OK.  I've been told that if my life isn't going to God's plan (ie not going well) then I'm clearly not a good Christian. I've also read a few blogs that have been frustrated about the misuse of Jeremiah 29:11, which was said to a particular people group at a particular time and shouldn't be misused to tell me that God has a plan for my life. 

What I struggle with in this apparent plan of God where I am told that life is going to be rosy is when I see friends who are having a really hard time; who are suffering seemingly needlessly because things haven't worked out and then are told, well it's going to be OK, God has a plan, and it's wonderful. I believe God has a path for me to go on, but I think we've warped this idea of that plan by surrounding it with the phrase 'it'll be OK because......'. 

The thing is Jeremiah 29:11 doesn't talk about things going well right now. It doesn't talk about the Israelites escaping from exile right now. God tells the Israelites, who are stuck in Babylon, to make the best of a bad situation because there is hope in the future. They didn't want to be stuck in Babylon. They didn't want to be there so much they got angry and Psalm 137 was written where the babies of those who have hurt them are smashed against the rocks. This is not the Psalm of a nation who are are happy to be in exile, happy to say, well, it's OK, God has plans, but is the Psalm of a nation who are so frustrated at their situation that they express emotion by wanting to hurt the Babylonians as much as they have been hurt. 

Sometimes when we say, don't worry, it's going to be OK, God has plans, we forget that the people we are saying it to are those who have had everything meticulously planned out but have been thrown into exile. When we see the plight of Christians driven out of their homes in Iraq, we can't imagine saying 'don't worry, Jeremiah 29:11'. 

What this verse does promise the Israelites, however, is that there is hope in the future. They are promised hope in a future where they will prosper. They did eventually make it out of exile, but life was never the same again. For me, that hope comes in Christ, who was sent by God into the world to die so all may be restored - so that all may have eternal life. When we talk about plans we are not talking about life getting better today, or tomorrow. When we talk about plans we are not talking about that deep seated pain an individual has gone through being what God wanted for that person. When we talk about plans, we see hope in the future that there will be a way out of this, that there is hope that there will be a future where there will be no more pain or sickness or death. This is Christian hope. This is the hope that brings to completion the plans of prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11. We might see glimpses of that as we journey through life, but that hope of prosperity is more than a glimpse.  

When Christ came to earth as a human being, he brought God's Kingdom to earth. I believe we are living in a time where God's Kingdom has come through Christ, but that the world has not been fully restored. When we see glimmers of hope, through healing, through reconciliation and through the clear signs of God's love poured down on earth, we see some of that Kingdom. We were told in church this morning that where we stand against what society chooses to do that doesn't reflect God's Kingdom we need to offer an alternative. Where people are fighting we need to seek peace, where people have no food we need to seek to bring food, where people are suffering we need to stand in solidarity with them to bring them out, where Richard Dawkins suggests abortion is better than a child with Downs Syndrome (his words this week have made me so angry) we need to speak out. Every time we do that we bring glimpses of hope, glimpses of God's Kingdom, glimpses of those plans that God has for us. Hope that speaks of this:

"He will settle disputes among great nations. They will hammer their swords ploughs and their spears into pruning-knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again".        Isaiah 2:4

Thursday, 21 August 2014

I know you?

"I know you!"

Do you? What does it really mean to know someone? Walking down the road you see a familiar face, you say to the person next to you - "I know that person" you? You read an application form or a wikipedia page detailing the facts of somebody's life. You meet them and you know them.....Do you? 

To know someone you need to spend time with them. You begin to find out the little things that make them tick. You know what irritates them and you do it all the more to get a reaction (no, nobody does that!??!). 

One of my favourite Psalms talks of being known - being known by God. Psalm 139 talks of God who has searched me, examined me, excavated me, dug deep down into me. It talks of God who is endlessly fascinated by everything we do - God who cares enough to count the hairs on our heads, who collects our tears and understands each one. It talks of God who knows every single knot in our stomach when we are worried about something. It talks of God who knows how to undo the knots but also knows the knots we don't want to undo because we think it will hurt too much. 

This is God who to whom nobody is anonymous, to whom nobody is a write off, who loses nobody in a crowd and who knows each person by name. God understands us in a way nobody can, not even those who know us best. 

How wonderful it is that God knows me fully. 

I love Psalm 139, but when I spent time in preparation for my sermon last Sunday I stopped and I thought for a moment..... 

Is it not a bit creepy? The fact that God is there in everything. The fact that he sees everything? It's wonderful, but it's a little bit scary. It talks of God who hems us in, behind and before - which reassures but also constrains. God who besieges - surrounds us with a fortifying wall.

It sounds a bit like the over-controlling partner in a marriage who loves their partner deeply but wants to know too much. Or a bit like the parent who wants to let the child go, but can't and loves them so much they still want to be involved in every aspect of their life. It talks of a feeling of being smothered. 

Or does it? 

One of the arguments I have heard against the existence of God is one where people choose to believe that the God we worship is a dictator type God who looks down on his people, controls their movements and gives them no freedom. That argument speaks of the threat of this Psalm - of a God who controls. If we picture God like that we live in a shade of angry gloom - the idea of God becomes despicable. If we think of hemming in like being besieged in a medieval war where God is the evil besieger, then we are left in a struggling poverty where we feel threatened by him. 

But.... that's not the God of Psalm 139. This is God who knows us intimately and wants to stand in the hemmed in city with us - he doesn't know us from afar, but knows us from within. He is not an over-looker, but is a factory worker fighting in the union for a peaceful yet justice ridden outcome (I love 'The Mill' - excellent Sunday night TV!). If we feel threatened by God who hems us in, we need to question whether we are seeing God as a God of dictatorship or God as a God of love, reaching out not in control, but deep love. 

To see God as a God of love and not a dictator, creepy stalker or chaperone the best place to understand that deep love is on the cross - where instead of hemming us in a siege to control our every move, God sacrificed his only Son, Jesus Christ, so that we could be liberated - so that we might know God who builds a fortress to protect us, living in it with us, gathering our tears, cherishing our thoughts, knowing our deepest desires and knots. 

Divine knowledge is far beyond any human knowledge, and divine presence is far beyond anything we can fathom. The Psalmist beautifully describes the depths of this love. 

When we choose to accept that it is not a threat to be known by God, our life turns from one that is hemmed in by expectation where our view of God is a far off being controlling and dictating our every move to one that is stamped with the word 'free', with the word 'child of God' where there is no need to hide any more: all is accepted. You will be searched, but nothing will be found in you that hasn't already been embraced and loved. God formed us, made us who we are. He loves us, loves us just the way we are and sent his Son to die for us so that we might know him.  

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

On Bishops, disagreements, the Bible and me

I've watched with interest the discussions about female bishops in the Church of England this week. I've also been reading some people's comments on it. Most of my friends are supportive, celebratory or silent. 

But then... there are those voices that are none of these. Those that think women should be silent in church. Those that think women in ministry is a great big fat sin. Those that point to Eve as the temptress and say 'this is why'. I get that other people have different views. I understand where they have coming from. What I don't understand is where when I disagree with them they think I haven't thought it through. I haven't commented this time. The arguments make me tired. They question who I am and who I am called to be without talking to me about my story. They assume I am a flaky sort of Christian who doesn't believe in much really. 

The thing is, as I read the Bible. As I wrestle with the really hard stuff in the light of Christ I see God as one who values women, gifts women, puts them in places where society wouldn't put them. I see women leading churches, women who are top in business, female deacons, female apostles, female world changers. 

I know your argument but I don't get your refusal to listen. You say you are open to change but you won't engage in conversation. You just keep shouting. 

The thing is, my gender does not define what role I can take, but God does. God has made me who I am. He has given me the gifts he has given me. He has made me very capable. 

I like baking, I hate cleaning, I can't sew. I'll happily shift furniture and build flat packs. I love driving and I have good spatial awareness (apart from when it comes to door handles). I'm not at home making drinks, washing up, arranging flowers and teaching small children. I'm a leader, a preacher and as stubborn as stubborn can be. I am single. I'm likely not to get married. I'm OK with that. I am not missing anything but a bit of self discipline when it comes to savoury snacks.

What I do know in all of this is that God made me who I am. I love his word, I wrestle with it regularly. I thirst for knowing more. I want to be true to it. I want to serve God the best I possibly can. I believe I am called to lead a church. 

So please think before you speak. Your words hurt. Your words question who I am in Christ. Disagree by all means, but disagree with grace and take me seriously.

(For discussions that might be helpful, Rachel Held Evans comes from an American evangelical background. She writes a lot about gender and the Bible. Her blog can be found here 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

I want to fly

I regularly walk down paths and walk past other paths and think 'I wonder where that goes?' and then carry on in my normal direction. If I am going somewhere that's OK - it wouldn't make sense to take a different path if I didn't know where it went. However, if, like yesterday, I am just going for a walk to clear my head, the 'wonder where that goes' can be answered. 

So yesterday I did. I didn't go the way I normally go, I turned sharply left, up steep steps to the top of a small hill I've never climbed before. It wasn't that exciting. It didn't take me where I expected it to, but I did it - I didn't just wonder, I went. 

When I got to the top of the hill the path came out from the woods into a field - a field that I've walked in before but never found the path to the wood. As I walked through the field the path system began to make sense. I knew where I was going, but was disappointed to end up where I had been just fifteen minutes ago. My loop walk was not a loop any more. 

Before I ended up where I had been, I saw a movement in front of me. The swift flapping of wings which then stopped. A butterfly had landed on the floor in front of me. It wasn't a colourful butterfly, but it was a butterfly - perfectly formed and beautiful. 

Butterflies seem to be the theme of the month. I have two laminated pictures of butterflies I've picked up at things I've been to. I seem to be collecting a lot of clothes with butterflies on and the new beautiful coat I have just bought has butterflies on the inner lining that I didn't notice until I had bought it. 

Butterflies speak of freedom. They speak of hope. They speak of new life - a new life that is released from the boundaries of the chrysalis that came about after a seemingly long lifetime of leaf munching. They speak of a life on the wind that blows wherever it will. When I see a dead butterfly although I admire its beauty, I mourn the loss of its ability to ride on the wind. 

Butterflies remind me that even in the most monotonous of things (leaf munching) there is hope of something better. They remind me that even where something looks dead (the chrysalis) there is hope of new life. In the human created systems that restrain us to how things 'should' be done we miss the freedom that that hope brings. Too often our systems institutionalise us and leave us in a place where leaf munching seems best or where we want to keep warm and safe in our chrysalis and we miss the beauty of hope. 

Yet when we let go we can ride on the wind. I love that. I don't want to be constrained or held back because of what we like doing now. I don't want to be stuck inside a controlling and constricting chrysalis. I want to fly.

John 3:8 says this:

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

When we live with the freedom the Spirit brings we are able to take the path we are guided to even if we don't know where it is going and be confident in the knowledge that it's going to be OK because we can trust in God who brings the greatest hope and freedom we can ever dream of. 

It's not always easy, it's very risky, but to be released from that chrysalis brings new and exciting opportunity. I want to fly. I want to stop 'wondering if' and go with where God takes me.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What makes you beautiful?

When we think of the word beauty we often go first for looks – what is beautiful to our eyes. The beautiful person who dazzles us. The sparkly shoes that glimmer in the corner of my living room. The building that we walk into and makes us go ‘wow!’. Beauty is standing on the top of the hill and seeing creation unfold before you. It’s looking at the trees and seeing how they grow. It's in Mathematics – the completion of equations, the way everything holds together.

But beauty is not only about looks. There is a more holistic feeling to beauty. Beauty is something about something or someone that provides an experience beyond what we might comprehend. I was watched the secret life of babies last week which talked about how we are naturally wired to look into a babies face and be attracted to who they are and want to care for them – want them to be part of our lives. The experience of beauty talks about balance and harmony – leading to feelings of attractiveness and well-being.

One of the words in NT Greek translated beauty is ὡραῖος which talks of something that is seen just at the right moment -  of ripeness - a fruit being there at the right time and being just the right sweetness.

What makes humans beautiful as individuals and as community is that we are made in the image of God – who we are – not in looks but in existence should reflect the loving, mighty and awesome God who we worship. As we are made in the image of God our values and the way we behave as a community become more important. To be truly beautiful we need to follow Christ’s example – who is the true and complete image of God.

A community that is made in the image of God should be a community that brings the hope of Jesus. If a community speaks of living as beauty it speaks of being incarnational – of bringing the light of Jesus wherever it is. A community that continually seeks to do this becomes attractive because it speaks more and more of Jesus. Jesus attracted people because he was a walking, talking embodiment of God’s love.

In the words of some band called One Direction (no I am not a fan) what makes you beautiful is that you light up my life like nobody else. 

Or, even better, in 2 Corinthians 5:17

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!" 

What makes us beautiful is Christ - who is the light of the world. 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday Prayer

I wrote this prayer to use during our Mothering Sunday service. Mothering Sunday is both a celebration and a time of sorrow. We feel both of these emotions with all of our senses: in all we see, hear, smell, touch and taste. A prayer of journeys and of blessing.

Loving God, you are both Father and Mother to us. We come to you today all on different parts of our journey. Some of us are searching, some of us are feeling lost, some of us are hurting, some of us are feeling loved. Wherever we are and whatever we feel we come to you as our parent – the one who understands, and knows and walks with us.

As we journey with you today we hear the sounds of joy. As families meet together and celebrate being family together. As children tell their mothers how beautifully wonderful they are and as mothers tell their children how loved they are.

We also hear the sounds of mourning. We pray for those for whom this Mothering Sunday is a reminder of loss. A reminder that their Mum is not with them any more. We pray for peace. We pray for comfort. We pray that you might pick them up and carry them today.

As we journey with you today we taste the sweetness of new life. We thank you for the children in our lives. The way they smile, the way they brighten our lives. Help us to welcome children as part of our family, loving them unconditionally as you love them.

We also taste the bitterness that this day brings. For those who have not been able to have children we know that today can be a sorrowful and painful reminder of that. We pray for those people who have desperately wanted to be parents and have not been able to be. We pray that you might bring some sweetness into their lives through the blessings of others. We pray for comfort. We pray that you might pick them up and carry them today.

As we journey with you today we see the beauty in family life. We see how you have blessed us and cared for us. We remember where you have taken us and we look forward to where you are taking us next. Help us to continue to trust you as the future unfurls before our eyes.

We also remember that there are people for whom the future is not what they expected to see. We pray for those who have lost a child – who were looking forward with joy only to have that dream shattered. We pray for peace. We pray for comfort. We pray that you might pick them up and carry them today.

As we journey with you today we remember the smells of home. The smell of freshly baked cake, a delicious meal and the familiar. We thank you for what you have provided for us.

We also remember that not everyone has enough, that not everyone can experience the smells of home. We pray for those children who have no home, who have no one they can call Mum or Dad and who need caring for. We pray for those who do not have enough food or money. We pray that you will provide for them. We pray that you will pick them up and carry them today.

As we journey today we reach out our hands to you. We know that where we put our hand in your hand we can rely on your guidance, your love, your arms that carry us when life is hard.

We also remember those we love who have not reached out their hands to you or have let go, gone their own way. Our children who do not know you, our parents, our partners, our siblings, our wider families and the people we care about deeply. We pray that they may reach out to you, take your hand and choose to follow you.

Loving God, you are both Father and Mother to us. We come to you today all on different parts of our journey. Some of us are searching, some of us are feeling lost, some of us are hurting, some of us are feeling loved. Wherever we are and whatever we feel we come to you as our parent – the one who understands and knows and walks with us. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

I'm Awkward

I'm awkward. 

There you go, I said it. 

I'm not awkward in a bad way (I think anyway), I'm awkward in the way that people don't know how to deal with me. I would rather stand on the edge of the crowd watching people and joining in when I feel I want to (that's not because I'm shy, I'm most definitely not shy, but because I'm really not that into small talk). I don't hug (I just don't, there is nothing wrong with that?), I avoid holding hands at certain points in church (why do people make you do that?), I don't clap (it hurts, why would you deliberately hurt yourself?), I sometimes come across as a bit.... well.... odd. 

I'm awkward. 

I'm awkward because I am one of those people who finds stuff difficult to engage with unless I am involved, hands on. I am a dreaded kinesthetic learner, perhaps leaning a bit on the visual, but most definitely kinesthetic. I don't engage with stuff unless I'm involved in the leading or involved in the doing. I can't help it..... it's just the way I am. 

I'm awkward.

I'm awkward when it comes to worship events. I have a had a lot of people say to me recently - that was really good and I'm a bit mmmm...... yeah, whatever you say. I'm the one that sits at the back looking really grumpy, a bit disengaged, fiddling with my phone, flicking through my Bible. 

It's not because I don't want to be there (although sometimes I don't). It's not because I don't love church (I do, I do, I do). It's not because I don't enjoy worshipping God...... it's because I am sick of the default position of being passive - being a passenger on a ship with the leader as the Captain telling me where I am going..... 

I want to be hands on. I want to be liberated, empowered, excited, energised. For me, sitting back, words kind of there, doesn't do it for me. I get frustrated that too many people love the passive so much that I have to lead in a way that assumes a passive congregation. I get frustrated that too many people love being the captain so much they assume the congregation don't want to get involved. I get frustrated that when you let the passengers be part of the crew nobody quite knows what to do. 

What frustrates me most, however, is that this mono-voiced way of being church is the norm, the expected, the default.

I've been reading Multi-Voiced Church by Stuart and Sian Murray Williams. They speak about how when there has been a renewal in the church it has often involved the voices of the many, that although there is a place for one voice, there is more of a place for many voices. Where all are seen as equal and able to participate this enriches the worship experience, enables and empowers the church and make us more confident in our faith. 

So perhaps I'm not awkward, perhaps I'm just thirsty for change. Perhaps Kinesthetic learners need to be taken seriously and not just seen as the ones who find it difficult to engage. Perhaps we need to take seriously the need to change our default settings to new and empowering ones. I don't want to be Times New Roman any more. 

"This is what I mean, my friends. When you meet for worship, one person has a hymn, another a teaching, another a revelation from God, another a message in strange tongues, and still another the explanation of what is said. Everything must be of help to the church". 1 Corinthians 14:26

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship

I love facebook. It is a great way of keeping in touch with people who I haven't seen for a long time. Living alone, it keeps me company. I like expressing my opinions, talking about what I am up to. engaging with the world. Facebook enables me to make contact with more people much more quickly and with great efficiency. 

I hate facebook. I know too much about people's lives. I once deleted someone because he kept putting pictures of his new girlfriend in states of undress on his page (why would you do that?). Some people have too many opinions (I once deleted someone because she commented on everything I wrote and nothing she ever said made sense and she didn't actually KNOW me). Some people are just irritating. 

I love facebook. It's in facebook I have managed to make connections with people I would otherwise have lost touch with. I know much more of what my family and close friends are up to and we can share photos so much more easily. I have joined groups and liked pages where I get things that make me think, things that make me laugh and are places where I can just have a good old moan. 

I hate facebook. I keep on nearly leaving. I have had friends who have left because of the difficulties they are going through and how facebook adversely affects them. We become obsessed with other people's lives - what we can't have. When someone throws some good news in your face and it's the kind of good news you would love to have. When it's covered with photos of loved up couples and babies, of people who have perfect lives..... I've seen people been torn apart by that. 

I love facebook. It is a place where I can see the world in a different way. It's a place where I see people totally passionate about what they believe in. It's a place where I connect with people I wouldn't be able to connect to in any other way. 

I hate facebook. It uses up too much of my time. I once spent a day off facebook, it felt like the chains had gone. It's scarily addictive and feels like a necessity. 

It's the 10th Anniversary of facebook. You can't escape it. Those videos are everywhere. I made one myself. After I made mine the 'edit' function was introduced - in case you weren't happy with your facebook life. Says it all really. We're all guilty of it - we edit our lives on facebook to become something that shows us in our best light. I have always had a policy of not de-tagging myself on photos - but it's tempting. I don't want people to see me looking awful. Yet this is me, I am who I am. I should be who I am on facebook. 

I've recently started to use facebook slightly differently in a way that reflects how I am trying to live. It is in a way that is inspired by a woman I met in India who said that despite all of the trouble at home she saw God's blessings in the tiniest of things and it reminded her that God is with her. A friend introduced my to 100 Happy Days (my photos). I don't expect to be totally happy for 100 days, but I'm expecting to take the time to look for the tiny (and bigger) blessings in life where I remember God's goodness. It's been great to see so many people take up this challenge and I love seeing people think a little differently about what has blessed them during that day. 

I love facebook, but I hate it's superficialness. However, by sharing something of the every day and seeing parts of other people's every day it's blessed me more recently in more ways than it has in a long time. 

Even where we create a fake us - where we lie about what we have been doing to make ourselves look better (there was once a woman who used to write she was doing a 5k run and would go to the shop and come back in 5 minutes) - when we consider God reading our facebook page - he knows us intimately and knows exactly what we need even where we don't know what we need ourselves. He's the one who blesses us - not the number of likes on a status or the congratulations we crave.... it's God - and he knows where we've de-tagged, edited statuses, shouted, blocked and deleted. He knows. 

"O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am;
You even know the small details like when I take a seat and when I stand up again.
    Even when I am far away, You know what I’m thinking.
You observe my wanderings and my sleeping, my waking and my dreaming,
    and You know everything I do in more detail than even I know.
You know what I’m going to say long before I say it.
    It is true, Eternal One, that You know everything and everyone.
You have surrounded me on every side, behind me and before me,
    and You have placed Your hand gently on my shoulder.
It is the most amazing feeling to know how deeply You know me, inside and out;
    the realization of it is so great that I cannot comprehend it."   

                                                                               Psalm 139:1-6 (The Voice)

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Don't pick your scab.

Don't pick your scab. 

Some of the best advice that I was given when growing up. If you pick your scab it won't heal very well, it will bleed again, it will get infected. I once was running home from a friends house wearing my ballet shoes (I never did ballet - I've never been dainty enough or had the coordination - but I had ballet shoes) and I fell over. I seem to remember I was carrying roller skates. Why I was wearing ballet shoes with roller skates anyway I have no idea and am surprised I didn't fall over earlier. Anyway, I fell over and my knee did that thing - it bled everywhere. I got an amazing scab. 

A little while later (days? weeks?) I was at a Girls Brigade party and the scab that I had evidently been picking was knocked off in a game. My knee started to bleed again and as a result I have now on my right knee a white mark where it never had chance to heal properly. 

Don't pick your scab. 

As we journey through life we pick up wounds - some of them heal completely, some of them scab over. The trouble is that the ones that simply scab over get picked at at random intervals and they begin to bleed again. They stop us in our tracks as we realise that once again we need to clean up the mess and put a plaster on and wait for them to scab over again trying to get to the point where we stop picking so they heal completely - so that the scar is all that remains. 

Don't pick your scab.

I've noticed in being part of a church community that people have their favourite scabs to pick at - it starts with the choice of biscuit, the choice of hymns, the way things are done, the steps we are taking forward, our particular view of theology, our deep held beliefs that we are reluctant to challenge, our theological bugbear...... some of these things needed to be removed completely, some simply healed over, some actually left to flourish - but the problem we have is that we keep picking at them because it feels familiar and quite nice to pick a scab and make it bleed again so we don't have to look forward to the next hill we need to run up (or down) to get to the next place that God is taking us. 

Don't pick your scab.

I've been involved a lot in discussions about the future lately - as part of the wider Baptist family, as a Methodist circuit, as a college, as a church and as just me and one thing that has struck me is that however big the decisions that we are making we all have those scabs that at the right moment we pick at, make bleed and stop us in our tracks. 

I've decided in the last few months that I'm going to stop picking at mine. I'm also going to try and stop other people trying to pick at mine too (although that is a little bit harder). If less people picked at their own and others scabs the journey would become so much less messy (or different kind of messy) and we might actually get somewhere. 

Don't pick your scab. Just stop it..... stop.... it.....  

"I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back."              Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)

Monday, 13 January 2014

Keeping the riff raff out....

I got the box set of Gavin and Stacey for Christmas and have watched it all this weekend (there is something quite exciting about watching a series from start to finish in a very short period of time). As well as realising that there were episodes I hadn't actually seen (my suspicions were correct - I got to the series late and have only watched it when I have spotted a repeat) it also got me thinking.... 

In the episode where Nessa has gone into labour and Smithy rushes from Essex to Wales to be there for the birth, when he gets to the bridge him and Gav realise they are 10p short for the toll.... much arguing with the woman on the barrier goes on, and eventually Smithy gets out, lifts the barrier and they drive off. 

That barrier represents the distance between Gavin and Stacey - the difficulty in being together when they come from different places and have a different way of life. Gavin loves his home in Essex and Stacey loves her home in Wales. The barrier is symbolic of their differences, yet as these stories go, love conquers all and the barriers are overcome. 

Barriers are placed to keep people out or sometimes keep people in...! They are a way of life, making us pay money, keeping the riff raff out, perhaps protecting us from harm. 

As well as the physical barriers we also set up our own barriers to protect us from harm, to keep the riff raff out, to stop potential problems from happening. When we are feeling particularly vulnerable we put up barriers that don't need to be there. It means we don't have to encounter those things that we find difficult. It helps us to avoid a situation but doesn't help us deal with a situation. 

Some of us live in our own little fortresses. We cut off contact from those situations we find difficult, where to face things head on it will shake our very foundations. We cling to what we know - to structures and ways of doing stuff - so hard that we create barriers that won't let anyone else in. 

The trouble is, where we don't let anyone else in, or we create our own bubble of security, we miss the beauty of life. We miss the chance to interact with new people and ideas. We miss loving and getting to know the people who could make a great difference in our life. We put up our fortress and exclude and hurt those who we do not let in, those who we leave out in the cold. 

Psalm 62:6 says, 'Truly he [God] is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken'.

When we create our own little fortresses of exclusion, keeping us and the ones we care about most 'safe', and keeping the riff raff out, we forget that God is our fortress. We don't need to create strong barriers, but need to acknowledge that God is the one that is the strongest fortress. Human made barriers prevent and stop, God's fortress enables us to move forward in his strength, which is stronger than any foundation that we might build in our own little fortresses. God's fortress is enabling and life changing, we need no other.