” I know I shouldn’t be angry…”

•March 5, 2016 • 1 Comment

“I know I’m not supposed to be angry with God…” she said to me, “why not?” I thought “your husband has just died, the one you have loved for fifty odd years and shared life with has died, why shouldn’t you be angry?”

Let me make a small admission here: I am often angry with God.  I don’t feel the need to hide it and I don’t feel that it’s somehow wrong, it’s part of the way I respond to what life does.  It’s part of my faith.

I am preaching from John 11 in the morning, and there Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, when he sees the people weeping, he is deeply troubled and he weeps.  He weeps because he sees the pain and suffering, he weeps because he sees what death does to us. But there’s more than that, he is deeply moved, deeply troubled because he see the people weeping like they have no hope.  They are weeping like they have no hope, when the one who is resurrection and life stands among them!

Life is often painful and costly.  I know that and you know that.  Sometimes the things that happen to us leave us feeling like we have been torn apart, like we have been broken in ways we never imagined… life is hard, and costly, and leaves us feeling battered and bruised and broken… marriages fail, redundancy happens, children become ill, we become ill, our friends become ill, debts grow, the family can’t be fed, loved ones die, – these things happen to us and sometimes we can see no reason, no answers, no sense, and it hurts.

Sometimes I find myself angry, angry with the world and angry with God, brought to that place where all I can do is weep and cry, and shout…but… somewhere deep within me, in the very heart of my being… I believe… I know… there is hope.   Because Jesus says to me I love you… your pain and brokenness does not change that… I love you… your doubt does not change that… I love you… your anger does not change that… and somewhere at a cross and through an empty tomb, the depth of that love is known.

There is still hope, there is always hope, and that’s the bit I hold on to.

“…and he passed through the midst of them…”

•January 30, 2013 • 2 Comments

Last week I spent some time on retreat with a collection of Methodist probationers, and unexpectedly found myself caught up in part of a Biblical story I had never considered before.  It was Luke 4: 21f, Jesus has gone home to Nazareth he has spoken in the Synagogue “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  The people are impressed, and Jesus goes on telling them he can’t do the things he did in Capernaum because “no prophet is accepted in his hometown”, the people don’t like this bit though.  So as if to prove Jesus’ point they decide to drive him out of town to the top of a cliff so that they can throw him off.  Then I heard something I had never heard before “but Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

Jesus challenges the people, they don’t like it, what he is teaching doesn’t seem to match their expectations so they decide to teach him a lesson.  They decide to show him how they do things in Nazareth, in doing that they miss and opportunity for growth and for grace, and sadly Jesus slips away and lets them get on with it.

Because they think they know better, they don’t listen or they don’t hear, they don’t wait and they don’t reflect, and Jesus passes through the midst of them and goes on his way – to other places, and other people.

So I wondered, what might this say to the church?   For me, I was suddenly aware in a new way of the dangers of getting so caught up in our own preconceptions and prejudices that we can’t or won’t hear a word of challenge, even if it comes from Jesus himself.  The danger of thinking we know all there is to know, so that when our faith or practices are challenged we refuse to be stretched or changed.  We, as the people of Nazareth did, decide that we will deal with this new threat and in all that perhaps we miss the opportunity for growth and for grace and Jesus passes through the midst of us and goes on his way.

I came back from the retreat and was reading Rowan Williams book on The Chronicles of Narnia “The Lion’s world,” and read a part where Williams is discussing Lucy beginning to understand Alsan in a new way:

‘Every year you grow, you will find me bigger’; but this involves finding Aslan also stranger or more demanding as time passes.  Lewis, here as elsewhere, hints strongly at the necessary movement of faith beyond the images we have found comforting in the past.  To cling to those pictures is to refuse growth – and so to refuse the fulfilment that exceeds what can now be imagined.

So what do we do?  Well another moment of unexpected refection was on the story of Jacob wrestling God, and there I hear a challenge to take hold of God.   The challenge not to let Jesus pass through the midst of us, but to take hold and keep hold, to ride out the challenges to the place of new understanding, the place of blessing, where we know again His nature and His name is love.

(I’ve included something else that came out of that particular reflection on Jacob here as well…)

Take hold.

 

You have travelled to this place.

Sometimes travelling by the obvious route,

though not always the best.

Sometimes trying a shortcut,

though not always saving you any time.

Sometimes on a wide meandering path,

though not achieving anything but wandering.

Yet you are here.

 

So look around,

See the path you have trod:

Littered as it is with you own failures,

Your own anxieties,

You own sense of priority,

Your stubbornness,

Your questions,

Your fragility.

Look around,

You are here.

 

Here with me.

So what now?

I’ve been with you through all the journey,

But you didn’t notice.

You weren’t looking or didn’t care.

But here we are.

Now it’s up to you,

So take hold.

 

Take hold of me,

And don’t let go.

Trust me.

And don’t give up,

This is what you have longed for,

What you have looked for,

What you have prayed for,

So now, here, take hold.

 

But know this:

When you take hold,

It will not always be comfortable.

It might be frightening,

It might be challenging,

and you will not be the same.

I will leave a mark,

this assault of grace will change you,

And your story will be enlarged.

 

Take hold,

Do not fear.

I am here,

You are here,

do not let go,

Until you know me.

My nature and My name,

is love.

The louder I shout….

•May 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It’s a strange thing… the louder I shout the less people seem to listen… Maybe not that strange…a man called Bob once to me that if you want to be listened to you need to earn that right. Shouting louder isn’t the answer!

As I drove last night from a study group I was thinking about stuff like that, the group had been thinking about the mission of the church, and we got on to how the church communicates its message.  Someone made the comment:  “Well frankly, I feel the church these days is under attack.  People don’t want to listen to us, the media doesn’t want to listen to us, we are being pushed out.” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that was the general thrust of their comment!

I hear that kind of stuff a lot; its hard work being a church, no one seems interested anymore; people don’t care these days, it never used to be this hard… and so on.    It is hard work sometimes; we have expensive buildings, more expensive assessments, disappointments when we feel we’ve failed more disappointment when we have to give up on things.  Yes its hard work being a church – the church.

But I suppose what I struggle with is that when these comments come, they often come with a subtext that says “we don’t deserve this”, or “we have a right to better than this”.  There seems to be a longing for the time when the church held a great voice in society, when it seemed that the church was important, was respected, was powerful.    Maybe that time is a myth we tell ourselves, but it’s a good one, a compelling one, but that’s not where we are.

We look around and wonder what the future might hold, Wesley once commented in some well known words:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.  John Wesley 4th August 1786

Good words I think, but perhaps hard to hear.    In the same “Thoughts upon Methodism” Wesley considers the ‘current’ state:

 I fear, wherever riches have increased…the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion.

Maybe wealth and riches and power distract us from the Gospel message we hold.  It seems to me that the church desperately tries to get back the position of power and importance either we held or think we held in the past.   Suggesting one thing after another working toward that aim, perhaps a display of strength or something that says “look at us!” or “listen to us!” clinging to the belief that this will be all we need.  I’m not sure.

Perhaps what we need is to look around us and see where we are.

Donald Capps suggests three models of pastoral of pastoral care: The Shepherd, the wounded healer, and the wise fool.   The Wounded healer is the one that stands out to me in all this. It’s based on the image of the suffering Christ, it involves rejecting the notion that life is free from pain and suffering, and claims that through living a life which accepts the reality of pain, the love of God can be fully experienced.  It stresses the importance of sharing experience with the whole community, and seeks to enable others to find resources to live in the light of the knowledge of pain.

Maybe the church needs to think about this a bit more.    Francis Young states ‘the rediscovery that God is beyond us, yet reaches out in Christ to grasp our hands in the midst of the struggle…might enable us…to live the way of love and true humility in following Jesus.’

Perhaps we need to inhabit the place of brokenness – whatever that might look like and realise that there we may be able to understand the Gospel message better ourselves. Perhaps it’s in and from those margins that our voice needs to be spoken and heard.

So really it’s not about shouting louder at all….

“You know something…”

•June 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I have been feeling deeply guilty, incompetent and generally worthless because I hadn’t mused or moaned on this blog at all.  So I have decided it is time to attempt something, I think it begins with moaning and develops into musing, but we’ll see at the end!

The story begins at synod about a month ago, at the end of a presentation about Fresh Expressions and that kind of stuff.  Now at this point I had pretty much lost the will to live (partly because it was synod, and partly because this particular bloke seemed to be unable to say anything new!) but then came his closing statement “you know something, if we wanted to we could do church really well.”

To me that seemed a bit of an arrogant thing to say, and it seemed a bit presumptuous, it effortlessly dismissed all the work that we who sat listening do, dismissed our churches –we aren’t doing church well, and if only we wanted to all would be well, we should follow those doing fresh expressions because they have the secret we have missed!   Sorry, that doesn’t work for me!

I’m not against fresh expressions; I minister in one (the Wesley Playhouse – thisisit.me.uk) and believe in their value and effectiveness, I don’t however think they are better than other churches.  That’s where my problem lies I think – I’m not comfortable with being told “this is a good church” or “this isn’t a good church”.

What makes a church ‘good’? Is it the number of activities that go on?  Is it the number of rooms rented to the community? Is it the number of people who attend worship?  It has to be more than that doesn’t it?

Who decides that a church is ‘good’?  Is it some committee somewhere?  Is it people from ‘successful’ churches?  Is it the ‘people in the pews’?  I’m not sure it’s any of them.

Throughout its history the church has always reinvented itself, just look at Kung’s paradigm theory and see how the church looked in each of those paradigms, listen to what Bosch says about that same stuff, remember what  Donovan told us how the Massai experienced church – spitting in Baptism services and passing blades of grass about to share peace.  Churches continue to look different today – the traditional models look very different from the Fresh expressions, but there are some characteristics we share.  Chris Baker talks about a certain kind of church that exists in the ‘third space’ (the place of paradigm shift) that is effectively a hybrid church, it doesn’t sit entirely comfortably in either ideology but exhibits characteristics of both.  I think that’s how I understand fresh expressions, but they’re not something entirely new, we been doing this in a more implicit way for two thousand years!   Yet none of this means that any particular church, or way of being church is better than another – all these could be ‘good’ churches couldn’t they?

What are we looking for?  Are we looking to be relevant, or are we looking to be theologically literate?  I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but I do think one is more important than the other!  If we get so obsessed  with making ourselves ‘relevant’, without exploring who we are ‘here’, who God asks us to be ‘here’, and genuinely asking what relevancy ‘here’ looks like then we are always going to end up in a mess.  The context of our church is crucial, James Hopewell believed that to understand a congregation you need to know their story – what has made them, and what is still shaping them, and of course that story will be different for every church.  With that I want to remember Hauerwas’ claim that the church is a community gathered around the Gospel narrative – so I think what is means to ‘be church’ is found in understanding how the Gospel story shapes the local story, that’s where the theological literacy bit comes in.  No two churches can ever be the same, each must be different – and so no church can claim to be better, because it exists in a different place, a different context.

What makes a ‘good’ church?  I think it’s different in every context the church exists in, but then I don’t really think it’s for me to say…or anyone else for that matter… that’s up to someone above us.

beginnings…

•April 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am working towards a Doctorate in Practical Theology, and  I am focussing on the nature and purpose of “the church”.  A key part of   this work is tied up with the process of theological reflection –  reflecting both on my own and with others.  So to help me with this, I have been “advised”  to keep a blog as a way of recording my any thoughts I  have, or reflections on any reading I am doing and that kind of stuff.   Some of what I put here (if I actually remember to) might be rubbish, some might be interesting, but then there might be no one to read it anyway…still I hope that this blog is a place where I think and write a bit and I imagine the occasional rant  might appear, I do enjoy ranting and moaning – its one of my favorite pastimes!…anyway here it is we’ll see what appears!