we are all cracked …

crackvase_litex3I have now been blogging for 10 years. I’ve checked and I started (again) on May 12 2004 after a few failed attempts … but SHP seems to have kept going … sometimes regularly, sometimes not, but always kept going with something.

I started this as a reflective exercise … and in the main that is what SHP still is for me … a tool for reflection and to invite reflection / comment from others. Engaging with other people and hearing of others experiences around ‘stuff’ that matters to me is and continues to be an energising and often challenging experience.  An unexpected and incredibly positive sideline is that the presence of this blog has enabled me to find new friends, some of whom I have met, and some who are encouraging and thought provoking from a distance … some even on different sides of oceans!

One such friend who I nearly met while in Yorkshire on holiday is Graham, a Methodist minister, who blogs over at Digging a Lot. His posts regularly inspire me … and today his words cause me to simply acknowledge with a slightly tearful nod of agreement. Before saying more, as Graham says, first you need to listen to this song … or at least the opening couple of minutes if Leonard Cohen is not your style ..

I seem to hang out, get on, and prefer to be with those who know they are cracked and broken. I am totally at home in one place I visit simply because the people there know they are broken. They don’t hide it, they don’t pretend but simply acknowledge it as being part of who they are. Interestingly many of these people would say that having me listening helps them personally …. but being with these broken cracked people has caused me to admit increasingly that I, too, am cracked and broken. In this particular setting, and with certain particular people that I hang out with there, this also has not been hidden and has been totally accepted. I believe honesty is kind of necessary for community to grow …

It is as if we journey together with our cracks in a brokenness that we understand, acknowledge, accept … but also hope that as we travel and encounter God in a new way .. that some form of healing or restoration will occur. BUT … and this is a BIG but … I am not sure I want my cracks to disappear completely, nor am I sure I wish to be totally restored … and maybe I don’t even believe total restoration can happen this side of eternity …because if I don’t have cracks and breaks … how do people see God shining through … and how can I ‘let the light in’? If I am restored and fixed how can I possibly relate meaningfully to broken people in a fucked up world?

To make a difference in a broken world …. I wonder …. do you first need to be broken … not broken and restored … but simply broken … aware of that brokenness … embracing it as part of life … and believing it will change … but probably not fully until Christ returns … 

A few years ago I loved this poster from Christian Aid. ‘I believe in Life before Death’ is still a mantra I hold close to in my understanding of Christianity. I don’t think ‘being broken’ means we are not living. Actually … I wonder if admitting to brokenness … and so embracing our vulnerability actually means we are then able to live a fuller life (John 10:10 and all that jazz!)

The thing about brokenness, I guess, is the healthy gritty reality that accompanies it … so thank you Graham for inspiring me today …. and I shamelessly end with your words …

often I have been in tears
overwhelmed
by the light
coming from people who say
‘I am not much
nothing special’

in my  limited experience … it is those who really are
the special, valuable, precious ones

going where you fit

Last night I was involved in the last teaching session for this years MSM course which we ran in the Bluewater Management Suite.

The group have been great to work with and the last session always has a lot about reflection on what we have learnt and looking forward, and being commissioned, for the future.

msm learnI was encouraged last night with stuff that the students shared. You can read from the image what this years students felt were some of the important things that they learned.

I love reading them all … but I am particularly struck and challenged by the last comment on that flip chart … ‘going where you fit’.

For me … that kind of sums up Christian life and mission. Rather than trying to engineer or manipulate things … mission, and by that I mean ‘serving and loving people Jesus Style’, can only happen out of a context where one feels ‘at home’. By that I mean a place where you feel accepted, where you can see you are growing to love the people that inhabit that space and where you are welcomed by those that already make up that community.

Sometimes that acceptance can take a little while to appear, and I remember it took around 6 – 8 months to start to feel accepted in Wetherspoons at the start of my curacy. Before this acceptance, however, it was clear to me that I resonated with these people in some way. For a time that was enough. The same has been true of the locations and spaces I inhabit now.

So …. I often get asked by others starting or changing their ministry ‘how do I discern my calling?’, or ‘how do I know what God wants me to do in this town?’ …. my answer has now been simplified by these inspired words ….

simply go where you fit

I’m happy with that!

 

red poppies and hopeful children

poppies copyToday, as chaplain at Oasis Academy Skinner Street I got to plant poppies at Mid Kent College with some children. The walk to Mid Kent and back again involved me in interesting conversations with these Year 4 children.

They were really excited about planing poppies, not simply because they were doing something different, but because they could sense the importance of sacrifice and hope that is associated with such an act.

As Chaplain I shared something about the symbolism of poppies. I drew out the symbolism of opium being  pain killer to dull the pain of war, as well as being a flower that spreads and returns each year, and so being a symbol of hope to the soldiers. (I used stuff from a sermon I preached at the cathedral on Remembrance Sunday a few years ago) The children seemed to understand that. We ended with some words I had prepared where we committed to work for peace and help for our fellow human.

I enjoyed today …. today I was struck by children filled with hope as they carried out a simply activity. Today has been a day where I feel I have helped.

Bible believing???

bibleI like to be challenged … no … really I do. I love a great discussion. One thing I particularly enjoy is pub theo (which happens tonight, 7.45pm at the Dog and Bone with great curry – shameless plug!!!) because people come to talk, are generally open to listening to each other which sometimes results in people changing an opinion.

Over the last few weeks, though, I seem to have come across quite a fair bit of cliche conversation stoppers … such as “well … I’m a Bible believing Christian’ … or … ‘You can’t pick and choose .. you have to believe ALL the Bible’. I have come to see these as conversation stoppers because they have been used that way … to stop me in my tracks with the expectation that the discussion should not stop … dead … there and then! Sorted! One way and all that!

Faith Interrupted writes well about this today.  I love Brian McLaren’s words that are quoted …

The Bible is too good and too important to be left to those who won’t think critically about it. And frankly, it’s too dangerous! 

 

One place to do some of that critical stuff is pub theo now and again … it’s important … it’s fun … don’t close the conversation … open it … lets challenge each other!

Happy Birthday Beth!

bethsofaToday my little girl is 18.
I can remember her birth, in our first house in Gillingham, as if it were yesterday.
I can remember this perfectly formed little person being placed in my arms, only a few minutes old, and instantly falling in love with her.
Nothing has changed.
She is still perfect and still loved.

bad hair dayAs a parent it has been amazing to see this little girl grow up in to the amazing person that she is today. Although I like to think she is still my little girl … it is clear that she is a beautiful young woman, with her own mind and her own dreams, which I believe she will achieve. Her creativity showed at an early age in this ‘hair’ picture one afternoon when left to her own devices … styling not just herself, but persuading both her brothers to allow her to sort them too!

I should say that being parents to Beth has been easy! It’s been a joy!
Well …. most of the time it has … in addition, as any parent will truthfully say,  there have been challenges on the way. Through those challenges, though, I think our love for each other has grown as we have learnt about life together. Hopefully we have taught Beth things for life … I know certainly she has taught us invaluable stuff.

DSC_0209It has been amazing to see this little girl grow into the person she is today. She has grown from a shy timid unsure little girl into this great confident young lady who, we believe, can achieve anything she wishes. She sings beautifully, can design anything on the computer you ask of her, is a gifted children’s worker and … has this uncontrollable gift of talking or laughing … a lot!

I really have been in awe of the things she has achieved and the targets she has set herself.

So today this beautiful young woman is 18.
I am an incredibly proud dad.DSC_0135
Sarah is an incredibly proud mum.
I know many family and friends are incredibly proud family and friends.

So … the day is here!
Beth …. you are amazing … and we love you!

 

LGBT discussion?

20140624-104550-38750115.jpgVicky Beeching has continued with her posts on LGBT theology here.

I believe she is being incredibly courageous, at some significant personal cost, in her great attempt to get debate and conversation going.

Sadly, the comments on all of her last three posts make horrible reading. Some people who disagree with her inclusive outlook have been unbelievingly nasty in their comments. There is definitely an acute lack of love or Christian human-ness in the content of their messages which is, quite frankly, both embarrassing and sickening to read as a Christian.

It’s really important that as church, let alone the evangelical church, really gets to grips with and discusses this. We need a robust theology and not just allow ourselves to fall unquestionably into ‘tradition’ while hitting blocks off of each other because we do not like the idea of other people believing different things under the banner of ‘Christian’. This is not about the erosion of moral fibre …. it’s about a real understanding and theology of a real issue.

Please go read what Vicky has to say …. and maybe consider some encouraging comments …. no matter what your viewpoint is. I’ll show my age in this closing comment …. but it’s good to talk!

the cut outs

 

I called in to the Matisse exhibition today at the Tate modern. For my birthday I was given a Tate Membership and I have been waiting for a good time to start it. Today was that day.

The exhibition is amazing. I will return, hopefully more than once, before it closes in September.

In a couple of rooms were video displays in which you could watch Matisse at work. I was struck by the vulnerability and trust that he showed. In his final years before his death, although he was able to cut the shapes himself he relied on his assistants for positioning those shapes. We see his assistants watching him intently as he directs them where to place each shape, how to rotate them, where the overlap should be … and so on. Every single piece of the ‘canvas’ ends up exactly where the artist wants it to be. Exactly. There is seemingly no room for error!  To get to this, though, Matisse makes himself vulnerable and puts his reputation in the hands of these people.

It would be easy to argue that this is not vulnerability. At the end of the day, it could be said, the people put the shapes up and Matisse would eventually have said ‘ok … that’s fine’ … pretty much like the rest of us might do out of either exasperation or not wishing to offend. In one scene in a video, however, you sense frustration on both sides … frustration from the artist as the person is not hearing or reading where and how a particular shape could be placed …. and frustration on the assistant as seemingly  the artists is being bloody minded and surely this is good enough.

Matisse exhibits vulnerability to the extent of being left alone with no help. I wonder if the were times when the assistants just wanted to scream, ‘I’ve had enough … I’m out if here!’ Maybe not … but I sensed there could have been.

I was particularly humbled as I watched Matisse at work and looked at his art as I moved from room to room. The rooms are set out in a rough chronological order. As Matisse gets older, more infirm, and seemingly less in control of his fine motor skills his works of art become more intricate, complex, ambitious and beautifully crafted.

I loved a lot of this work, but two rooms in particular struck me and caused me to pause … well it was more of a wait really, quite a long wait and I simply sat and looked.

The first room I gazed in was Ocenaia. Matisse built this stunning creation bit by bit, with no real idea148088 of hat was going to happen. he cut and pinned pieces to his wall …. ‘Matisse had cut out a swallow from a sheet of writing paper and, as it distressed him to tear up this beautiful shape and throw it away, he said, he put it up on his wall, also using it to cover up a stain, the sight of which disturbed him. Over the following weeks other shapes were cut out and put up on the same wall.’ (Tate exhibition handbook)

The shapes are overwhelming, and simply invite you to rest a while … and I did.

art-henri-matisse-the-parakeet-and-the-mermaid_365

I also got grabbed by The Parakeet and the Mermaid. A bizarre title of two things that should not go together as they normally exist in two different worlds. On this occasion though, Matisse brings them together because he can.

Matisse referred to this as ‘his garden’ and as he was too ill to get outside created something that brought the outside to him. I think that is sad, but wonderful in equal measure.

I sat in front of this for quite a long time imagining how this was a strong connection with the outside world for the artist.

I came away from the exhibition really quite stunned at how a frail old man, clearly struggling with life, and very weak could find strength to create such massive undertakings of work.

As Matisse becomes less in control his fine motor skills his work becomes more intricate.

As he becomes weaker, his art takes on a new hidden strength.

At a time when others his age maybe rest on their reputation, Matisse continues to push the boundaries and take on new challenges at a pretty major potential reputational cost.

I think that is an amazing level of vulnerability.

I came away wondering if my recent thoughts pondering the necessity for vulnerability and weakness to add value and integrity to mission are mirrored equally well in the art world … or maybe that is the other way round? maybe it’s more than that … maybe it’s a very human thing? Maybe this inbuilt requirement we have to feel less in order to do more is not just a bible/mission/christian thing …. maybe it’s more a human thing … a reality of humanity… to be continued … maybe