Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Terry, what have you done?

It seems that Terry has taken back control and become self serving this year. News reports this morning strike great disappointment into the lives of people who have a key Christmas tradition of bashing a ball of chocolate as hard as they can so that it perfectly falls apart as they open the tin foil and the aroma of chocolate and orange emerges as the segments gently separate. 

Yes, the price of your chocolate orange has increased by 36.2% (along with other favourites, it seems our chocolate stash will be smaller this year)

In 1997 Dawn French tried to transfer ownership of the Chocolate Orange from Terry through a very forceful ad-campaign that declared 'it's not Terry's, it's mine'. It seems he's taken it back - and disappointment is felt by not just Dawn, but many others who the bargain price of £1 over the last few years has meant that they have received not one, not two but three hundred and thirty eight chocolate oranges at Christmas. And, as we all know chocolate oranges are not to be shared, particularly the core left over with its overlapping layers of beautiful, smooth, orangey goodness. 

The sentiment of the 1997 campaign is a sentiment we all share. What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine. At Christmas we fill our wish lists with things that we think we might want and we drop hints to those who buy as we browse through the Argos Catalogue (old school) and point in shop windows. 

I'm fascinated by the variety of advent calendars that are on sale this year (I'm surprised that there isn't one full of perfectly formed tiny little chocolate oranges to hike the price even further). Lego advent calendars, gin advent calendars, prosecco advent calendars, sock advent calendars, advent calendars with experience days (the last two I made up but I'm sure they are coming). They go beyond the first time I was allowed a chocolate advent calendar and I had to share it with my brothers and sister (a chocolate every fourth day was an amazing treat). 

But don't these miss the point? Advent is not about getting something every day. It's not about getting a little bottle of gin, it's about waiting.... and if we get a present every day, how is that waiting for what is coming? 

Advent is about waiting with hope and expectation. As you open the door each day you are one day closer to the day we remember that all the hope in the world was contained in a manger in a room where animals were kept. As you open the door each day you are anticipating a day God's glory will be revealed across the whole earth and peace on earth will become a complete and utterly beautiful reality when Jesus comes again. 

Advent is a time when we remember that this world cannot be fixed by us and it can't be controlled by us. It is a time when we anticipate a massive fixing, a massive transformation, salvation...... not by us taking back control, but by us letting go, stopping, giving our all and kneeling before an animal trough containing a baby that gives us everything we will ever need. 

This year my advent calendar will only contain doors. 

Don't be like Terry, or the 1997 Dawn French. It's not yours, it's God's. 

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" Psalm 24:1a

Thursday, 16 November 2017

My table is too full

I love my dining table. When I bought my first (and only) house, it was almost the first piece of furniture I bought. It's actually a desk, but too beautiful to be covered in paper. It's glass and it has a black design on it with flowers and butterflies. When I bought it I got everything else in my dining room to match - from pictures to chairs it matches. I bought lights to put under it so that when the main lights were dim, the lights would project the flowers and the butterflies onto the ceiling.... but they're long gone now because the batteries leaked and I couldn't find a screwdriver to get them out. 

I enjoy inviting people round to sit at my dining table (impractically small though it is, and despite the green carpet in my current house which really doesn't go....). I enjoy cooking for people and eating with people and talking to people and sharing with people and generally being round the table. 

But right now my dining table looks like this.....

And that's not unusual.

It's an easy dumping ground for washing before I get round to folding it and putting it away and despite the promising chopping board in the middle that is calling out for beautiful crusty bread to be dipped in homemade soup, it doesn't seem like a dining table anymore. My table is full, but not with food to feed others - it's lost its purpose, its focus, its meaning. 

I can't have anyone round to eat now. The table is too full.

A huge barrier to building community - which we can do so beautifully by sharing with others round the table - is when our tables are too full, or we don't make space for a table at all. 

Our busy lives mean that a quick bite is all we can manage and the less people around for the quick bite the better. 

Our schedules mean that we don't get to the room with the table at the same time, so we eat alone, or just with those whose schedules match ours. 

Our aim for perfection means that nobody can come round until we're tidy and we've got the time to cook our best food, otherwise they'll judge us, holding up Come Dine with Me score cards that shame us to never invite anyone again. 

We worry that we won't like the food and our hosts would be offended if we brought our own. 

We fill our lives with stuff so we don't have to do the things that are of most value. 

But why? 

I passionately believe that's not how it should be. Community is built through trust. Community is built when we learn to live and eat alongside one another whether we have tidied up or not. 

Jesus regularly ate with all sorts of people. He invited himself to Zacchaeus' for tea (I wonder if Zacchaeus panicked about all the piles of money on his dinner table). He went to Mary and Martha's, and Martha tidied and fussed so she didn't have time to sit at Jesus feet (her own pride and expectations piled up on the table).  

And after he was raised from the dead he sat and cooked breakfast on the beach for the dirty, smelly, tired fishermen who were his closest friends (I suspect they didn't even wash their hands).

If we're serious about being part of a community where trust and friendship that is like family comes naturally, where we learn how to live in a way that reflects our faith and values and where people can be welcomed whoever they are, then we need to clear all that stuff off our tables. 

And eat.

And talk. 

And laugh.

And let go. 

Because when we eat together, good things happen. 

(and just to note - my table will be cleared next week, and even before its clear, if you drop in, I'll feed you and if it has to be on the living room floor, then I'll give you my best cushion to sit on).

Monday, 6 November 2017

World Famous Market Theology

I live in Bury - I don't normally say that because Ramsbottom is one on its own - it's a unique and sparkly bohemian enclave of surprises - but it's in Bury (despite what some people might like to argue and think). 

Bury as a borough is diverse, and in Bury town centre that diversity comes together in all its sometimes bizarre, often confusing, always beautiful, glory. I rarely leave Bury having not been surprised by what I have witnessed. Last weeks visit did not disappoint, as I walked up from the car garage, leaving my car to be serviced, I had the chance to spend more time there then I normally do.... with the slightly off key x-factor wannabe on the main street and the arrival of a new building to draw attention away from the shops left empty because of the aspiration of a town that tries really hard. 

Bury is famous for a couple of things. It's famous for its Black Pudding and it's also famous for its market. World famous actually. Sitting at the back of the second nicest shopping centre out of the two in the town, it stands proud as signs point to the coach pick up point where coaches gather to wonder why this trip is taken by so many from extreme parts of the country to this market in this town where things you could buy in most other small towns just like Bury (apart from the black pudding of course) can be bought. 

As I had a bit of time of unknown length last week to shuffle around Bury I thought I'd give it a go. For the second time in six years I entered the market. I shifted myself away from the meat hall and the fish hall (I've always avoided fish halls in markets) and I wandered, taking it all in. 

And as I wandered I wondered... what is it about this market that everyone loves? It's no different to the markets I grew up with. The clothes are the same. The shops with the biggest bags of sweets you've ever seen are the same. The stalls selling random gifts and velcro slippers and trainers with one letter changed in the name... they're the same. There is a nod to changes in the world as the phone case stall shines out with its jewel backed cases and the Christmas novelty wine jumpers of 2017 have pride of place at the front of the stall.... 

But nothing has changed..... so what is then the attraction of the world famous market?  

It tells of a time that was. As the world moves on, the old school weighing and measuring, the paying in cash, the sounds and smells of the market, it reminds us of how this country used to be. It reminds us of a time when it was simpler - when there were two TV channels and it was rare to have a home phone. It reminds us of the golden age that we look through with our rose tinted glasses and elevate higher than high can be. 

Nostalgia is not a bad thing, because the past is our story, the past is what makes us, the past is how we became the people we are today. The movement in the past helps influence us in the future.

But when nostalgia leaves us in a place where the world famous market is as good as it gets....? When nostalgia becomes a bubble where we're dropped off at the entrance and picked up after a walk round, not daring to leave the world famous part just in case the bubble pops..?

As I reflected on love of the world famous market, and how it would have once been the centre of Bury life,  I thought about church, and our love for the nostalgia of church as centre of society and how that influences the way in which we do many things. If we do this, people will come.... why? Well, we're world famous. 

But we're not, we live in exile, so often only turned to for nostalgic coach trips at weddings and christenings and as visitor attractions and quickly left behind with a bag of goodies (well not even that) to sustain on the journey home. As church sits on the margins of society, then just like it will with the world famous market, it is going to take out of the box thinking and imagination to journey into the future. 

Good job we worship a God who is a God of out the box thinking. This is God who didn't defeat evil with force and strength, but with vulnerability and death. This is God who brought fire in the upper room and gave the disciples the ability to talk in other languages so that they could spread the message to the world who didn't understand the words they spoke. This is God who is world famous because he made and saved the world. 

This is God. 

This is God who calls us to listen, and to leave everything behind and follow him. 

As the market continues to be world famous and separates itself as a museum in itself, continuing to be what was and will continue to be, and as we continue to hold it up high as how things shoulda-oughta be, we need to keep reminding ourselves to stop and look around and imagine and wonder.....  

Because how things have always been cannot be how they forever continue to be.