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I don’t think it’s super blog friendly to post my entire Sunday sermon and frankly, I would be impressed/worried/confused if people were keen to read that post but gist wise- here goes…

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On Sunday, I preached on Job. I talked about my interpretation of the passage as an allegory about non-attachment. About how I saw Job’s loss of wealth, health and friends as a story about the normal pattern of life, where everything is impermanent rather than a cautionary and terrifying tale of God’s permission to Satan to destroy everything he valued.  Job was attached to things that couldn’t sustain his true identity because they, like all of us and all our material property, were transient. When he refocussed on God, he was able to enjoy things again, his latter years were more joyful than his former, because he placed impermanent things in their proper place, below the eternal everlasting love of God.

“When Job turns and finds God he realises that true meaning is found there, in the only things that is unchanging and eternal…  Of course, we call the root of suffering sin, but isn’t attachment so often the cause of sin? Attachment to money causes greed, attachment to power causes corruption. As well as causing sin, attachment also causes us fear, desolation and anxiety… In recognising that all is impermanent, that all things can or do pass away, we see that God’s love for us does not. In the face of all that is changing and dying, God remains and His love remains. The question for us is where are we finding our identity?.. I am reminded of God’s promise to us that He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us…”

Sometimes I like to share things on my blog from elsewhere that are awesome and life-affirming. Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean like ALL THE TIME, I forget to do it regularly… but here are some cheery things 🙂

1. This documentary was incredible, it follows twins who are the only person in the world to suffer from Field’s Condition, a horrific muscle wasting disease. Not only are they incredible people but the whole programme will make you want to embrace life! They’re incredible, it’s worth a watch whilst its still online. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01n7gh9/Beautiful_Lives_Catherine_and_Kirstie_Episode_1/

2. I would happily recommend this book far and wide- its a very interesting perspective and a stimulating read for anyone who wants to write. http://www.shambhala.com/writing-begins-with-the-breath.html

3. In the wake of Mark Driscoll’s hideously offensive sermon series on Esther, Rachel Held Evans is writing some stuff about how truly awesome the book of Esther is and how it can be read in a really woman-positive way: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog?tag=esther

4. This. This. This. Yes. Yes. Yes. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/exhaustion-is-not-a-status-symbol/2012/10/02/19d27aa8-0cba-11e2-bb5e-492c0d30bff6_story_1.html

5. Ummm… I’m not being funny, but they’re fluffy and round… http://www.mrsoscurios.com/ I like fluffy things. The other day I was a bit bored and I bought a suitcase shaped like a bumble bee. It’s so bee-like. I LOVE it.

Macabre Poem Alert

As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I set myself some challenges known as the “12 Point Plan” this year. I am going to fail horrendously at quite a few of them but I have managed to write a couple of poems, most of them are too terrible to ever be viewed by another sentient creature but here’s one… I call it The Seventh Plague cos that’s suitably pretentious and all Biblical.

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One night

as I lay in bed

waiting for my sweetheart to come home,

I thought I heard death scrabbling at my apartment door.

I was unsure

if the gentle scratching

was the sound of my lover

or death,

ready.

I thought

I’ve only just learnt how to hear music,

to listen without reaching our for something to stop the sound of Puccini or the violin

getting too close to my racing heartbeat.

I thought

I’ve only just learnt to be human again.

I hoped that death would pass over my door

with its rust-coloured blood stained mark

just a little while longer.

Questing For Stillness

I have always been sceptical of meditation, of retreats, of silence, of the quest for stillness. I think it’s because I am, at heart, an activist; I want to see meaningful change, I want to see an end to injustice and I believe that there is much work to be done. My natural inclination is to say an activist acts, they don’t need to contemplate.

I’m also terrible at being still. And I dislike doing things I’m not good at- it’s a vice.

Despite that, I am, like everyone, looking for stillness. I want peace away from the stress of life, away from the daily assault of misery, sadness and pain that the world, and my own internal monologue, confront me with. I yearn for calm when I lie awake for hours on end, unable to sleep, full of worry, and I can’t help but think that if I was a little better at finding that stillness I might be a little less liable to minor breakdowns every now and again. When I think about it, my ability to be active, bold and courageous in the work God has appointed me to is improved tenfold if I make room for the things that I know give me a sense of stillness-in-God- going to celebrate the Eucharist, sitting listening to Taize chants and praying the rosary, writing tucked up in bed, having a very long massage at a ridiculously expensive spa. All around me, I see people trying to block out the pain of living with drink, drugs, self harm and sex in the hope of a brief respite, of stillness. Perhaps a life without natural, Godly pauses is a dangerous one. But there’s a deep seated fear within me that in fact, none of us deserve stillness whilst the world rages around us, throwing hunger, war, disaster and grief into the lives of its most vulnerable inhabitants. Is a weeks retreat in the English countryside ever appropriate when children die of malnourishment and AIDS claims the futures of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, saying that if we want change, we must first change ourselves, seems cheap and trite. I haven’t got time to turn myself into a paragon of peace and calm when for every person on the planet, there are two bullets.

In a couple of weeks, I start work for a peacekeeping organisation that works to promote and educate about non-violence and sponsors peacekeeping schemes in war zones. One of the beliefs of this organisation is that non-violence is not simply the end to all military conflict but also the reign of peace and of unconditional love in our own hearts and our own individual lives. In fact, the practice of non-violence depends on individual change to achieve its ultimate aims of peace and an end to armed dispute. This makes a bit more sense to me. Instead of first changing ourselves, it is being the change we want to see. It is being a model of justice, non-violence and love whilst working, relentlessly, for a world that upholds those values.

Ultimately, contemplation without action is useless. James makes that quite clear in his letter: “22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25). I’m still cynical about lives of silence, of an unnatural obsession with mediation, with a quest for stillness that doesn’t exist within a desire to work for God’s kingdom. I can’t, and I don’t think I ever will, be ok with religious orders who cloister people away and seek separation from the world. Stillness for stillness’ sake still sits very uneasily in my heart.

But if we are committed to lives of non-violence and justice then we need to join the quest for stillness in a healthy way. For the sake of our mental health, our ability to sleep and function, and so that we can model the world we want to see. We need stillness to prevent burnout, to protect ourselves from being broken, but also because the reign of peace in our hearts is the key to a reign of peace on earth. We just have to remember not to stop at our own hearts, faith without deeds is dead.

Loving God,

It’s not even night time,

The night would be full of romance and stars.

This is just greyness, the indignity of total indifference.

Night time would promise music and the fresh breeze of summer evenings

or the sheet lightening of winter. Powerful and trembling.

It would inspire me.

At night, perhaps I could rest.

Or wear impractical shoes to go swing dancing.

This is deadness. A fluorescent light that doesn’t leave me.

A dull sky that looks uninterested.

A pit of dread that saps at the edges and suddenly bites.

A seductive nothingness that promised me stillness.

But didn’t deliver.

Give me the strength to be bigger than this.

To propel myself back into the night,

A chance at beauty.

Give me the courage to be powerless. To let go.

And trust I’ll end up in the night time

Ready for the start of the dawn. And the crisp early air of hope.

Amen

 

“You are lucky if you are sufficiently strong, to daily decide not to die”- Karine Polwart

Self Care

Somehow my early church life never taught me about self care, the ability to look after your own well being, to nurture your spirit and to practice healthy self regard. Somehow, I managed to end up thinking that stuff was just selfishness.

Big mistake.

If we’ve had a stressful day, full of difficult clients, long dull paperwork and complicated decisions then its not selfish to miss the church committee meeting. If we’ve been hurt in the past, it’s not selfish to refuse an invitation to a function populated with people who perpetuated the pain. If we have to get up early in the morning for a long drive then its not selfish to leave the pub early.

This is loving us like God loves us.

Constant self denial leads to burnout, to debilitating tiredness and to the slow descent into self loathing as we persistently fall short of the impossible standards we set ourselves. An attitude of self regard means we invest in what is life giving, what nourishes us in turn nourishes those around us.

It doesn’t mean always doing the easy stuff, its not a life of only doing what we want when we want, but its looking after ourselves as we do the things, difficult, rewarding, challenging and joyful, that God has called us to do. Sometimes, it means leaving situations that will damage us and the well being of the spirits and sometimes it means looking after ourselves in situations that are painful but unavoidable.

First we need to know that God loves us in a way that only God can- generously, unconditionally, radically and abundantly, and that He wants us to live a fulfilled life. Then we need to ask what God wills for us in a situation. The answer to that will always nurture us and help us to be self regarding, God will always will us to listen to ourselves, to know when we’re tired, in pain and hurting, to look after our well being when we encounter a new situation. Then, we can begin to love others in this way, and instead of what I always feared, that to be self regarding was to be selfish and would make me less loving, less generous, less kind, less available, less Christian, the opposite is true, we overflow with love, truth and Grace and become a greater blessing to others than we would have thought possible.

My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30)

These are prayers for the Seeds of Liberation Worship that SCM will be leading at Greenbelt. Find us in the Galilee tent if you’re going to be there!

Liberation Intercessions

Liberation is being freed. Freed from the things that cause you distress, anxiety, pain and disorder.  Free to be the person God intended you to be. Free from the oppression of a society, system  or church that says you need to be this way or that. Free to experiment, to love and to live life in abundance. Every day seeds of liberation are planted. They’re planted when people say how they really feel. When people stand up for someone whose voice is being drowned out. When people love generously and include radically, reaching out to the unloved, protesting against slavery, poverty and greed. Let us pray together that we would sow seeds of liberation, that we would be bringers of freedom to those in chains.

Loving Father, we pray for those who suffer from addiction. Whose lives are controlled by an unmanageable craving for alcohol, drugs, self-injury, sex or anything that makes them powerless to resist. We pray for sobriety and for support. For freedom that is genuine and deeply rooted. We pray that addicts would not suffer from exclusion, that they would be loved, respected and trusted to give them a chance for healing.

God  who loves us, Let Your justice roll like thunder and Your mercy like a river

Lord, we pray for those living in poverty. For those who don’t know when they’ll next eat, whose water is infected with deadly disease, who cannot afford medication or support. For those who are denied, by location or economics, a chance for meaningful employment. For those who have always known poverty and the pain of having nothing and those who knew affluence and have had everything stripped away suddenly.  We pray for those who ignore poverty and prioritise greed. We ask for the transformation of hearts and minds, from an attitude of selfishness to compassion.

God  who loves us, Let Your justice roll like thunder and Your mercy like a river

God, our Mother, who cares for us like new-born children, we pray for Your children who are enslaved. For young women and girls trafficked far away from home to be sold for sex. For the hundreds of unheard domestic slaves, abused and beaten by the affluent. We mourn with our enslaved brothers and sisters that there are more slaves in the world now, humans who believe they can own other humans than before the abolition of slavery. Have mercy on our hurting world, give us the courage to proclaim freedom to the captives, to the unjustly imprisoned.

God  who loves us, Let Your justice roll like thunder and Your mercy like a river

King of heaven, we pray for the sick in body, mind and spirit. We pray for those whose anxiety and depression is overwhelming and dampens their freedom. We pray for those who work in mental health services, they are bringers of resurrection and new life; helping people to reach new liberation, new freedom. We ask for your blessing on counsellors, therapists, nurses and doctors and for those who are the primary carer for a loved one. We pray for those who suffer from all kinds of sickness and who are angry at the turn their lives have taken. We know you hear their anger, as you heard David in the Psalms. Save us from platitudes and help us to weep with those who weep.

God who loves us, Let Your justice roll like thunder and Your mercy like a river