disquiet beauty

I attended a stunning exhibition last night.
Disquiet Beautybrings together the work of four artists who all explore notions of beauty and alienation, attraction and repulsion and the otherworldly in their use of materials and form‘.

10421289_10152560675709818_7275683706225052838_nTessa Farmer’s fairy sculptures were amazing to see … and you could not help but smile at the antics of these superbly created beings. They are a real highlight of the exhibition.

The particular highlight for me, though, was 10698426_10152291338312531_7730716856270076618_nPersephone, sculptured by good friend Zara Carpenter. The gathering went to see Persephone when she was being exhibited in Whitstable. I’d forgotten how amazing this sculpture is. It is easy to stand for hours and discover something new minute by minute.

There is something very alluring in this exhibition that pulls on a possible relationship between beauty and mortality … the desire to leave an impression and not be forgotten. I both inwardly smiled and was mildly disturbed in some measure by the paradox of beauty and death adjacent to each other.

So …. if you are in Rochester pop into the visitors centre to see this beautiful exhibition …. actually go out of your way to see it !

Thank you Zara ….. your time and amazing effort and curating this collection have given us all a little bit of joy!

mission talk

missionI kind of unexpectedly enjoyed my experience of lecturing at SEITE last night. I say unexpectedly because I cannot remember the last time I was so nervous before I did anything. I suspect the last time was deaconing for the Archbishop in Coventry less then three months after being ordained … with 10 mins notice … name dropping I know … but last night felt just as scary.

Lecturing is probably an over-elaborate term for what was, in reality, a long conversation about mission. But … then I believe the best way of learning is to listen and pull things apart together.

I enjoyed working with my group last night. The people come from a variety of backgrounds, but when we spoke about hopes for this module there was quite a strong vein of thought that people wanted tools to increase their confidence enabling to engage with their community in a more meaningful way. I can work with people like that!

Last night we talked about mission. We argued about what mission is. We asked ourselves whether we were being influenced by a background of a redemptive or an incarnational model of theology. We mused over which parts of our culture we should encourage and which parts we should challenge. Essentially, we asked ‘what does it mean to be a Christian?’ …. and we could not agree … on any of the above really!

That encourages me … as a reflective practitioner who a lot of the time uses a synthetic model of theology to underpin his work … it is important to me that we realise that a lot of stuff is not so much a choice of ‘either or’, but more of an acceptance of ‘both and’ as we look at our response in different situations.

Looking forward to taking the conversation on next week.

genuine care – extraordinary people

imgresSunday was tinged with a little bit of imagessadness as I popped into St Marks on the occasion of the retirement of Peter Guinness. Peter has been the vicar of St Mark’s for the last 5 years and was particularly helpful in working with the bishop when I was looking to move back to Gillingham after my curacy came to an end at the cathedral.

Over the last few years I have come to see Peter and Michele as good friends who have shown both genuine love and care for my work but also in me as a person. They have big ministries and sometimes people with big ministries become aloof. Pete and Michele have stayed ‘grounded’ …. pretty ordinary but extraordinary people. As individuals and a couple they have a unique way of sharing wisdom and care ….. I will miss them being around.

Thanks Pete and Michele for your encouragement and love. Thank you for all that you are, for the love and vision you have shared with many … and blessings for your time ahead …. it’s clear God still has some more challenges for you yet.

Go well … and I pray our paths will cross again sometime soon.

practical wisdom – ordinary people

seattle pub theoThis new term has seen me experiencing a coupe of ‘firsts’ or, maybe more accurately, new challenges. The first is that, as well as chaplain, I have agreed to teach three GCSE Geography lessons a week at one of the schools I am a chaplain at.

This week I will be lecturing at SEITE (the place I trained at) for this term on mission. I will be teaching the module on a Tuesday evening in Canterbury while my good friend and mentor, Ian Mobsby, will be teaching the same module on a Monday evening at Southwark cathedral. Ensuring we deliver the same content has involved hours of Skype conversations … and we are now ready to deliver the first session which looks at Models of Mission and context for theology and mission.

I’m more daunted than I am excited by this new challenge, although I hope that might change.

While planning, I have been hit by some quotes and viewpoints that we are using in our teaching. I love this quote from Richard Mouw:

“High theology is aloof from the needs of ordinary people dealing with loss, health, depression and so they turn to folk and New Age practicers which offer an account of and techniques for dealing with their concerns.
There is practical wisdom to be found in ordinary people.
Examine popular culture for a legitimate critique of the shortcomings of theology that has so distanced it from people struggling to believe
We must probe the hidden places: looking for the sings of eloquence and grace to be found there; listening for deep calling unto deep; searching, not only for the Deeper Magic, but also for the Deeper Quests, the Deeper Pleasures, the Deeper Hurts and the Deeper Plots.”

I simply love and shout ‘YES!!!’ at the line … There is practical wisdom to be found in ordinary people.

We are all created in the Image of God. It therefore follows obviously that each and every one of our ordinary lives displays some form of wisdom from God. The fact that some wings of the church choose, or actively campaign, to deny this with certain people groups is not only sad, but it results in the church losing the beauty that comes with the wisdom from those ordinary people. The church cannot be complete until it truly listens to all.

If theology is aloof it follows that it becomes irrelevant. Too often we see, particularly in the Roman Catholic church today, this aloofness of theology and practice that excludes or belittles or disregards. When challenged they use the line of ‘tradition and theology’. But … theology is not a static concept … it can’t be if it claims any relevance …. to be relevant in ever changing times then theology and practice need to ‘upgrade’ to continue to be relevant. This upgrade is called contextualisation!

But I love Mouw’s comments for more than that ….. for Mouw seems to suggest that the starting place requires us to watch and to listen. Listening for deep calling to deep …. not a listening to hear things that fit with our prepackaged answers ….. but a listening, that if done with integrity, engages in such a way with our thinking that it can be totally transformed so that theology returns to being relevant and compassionate again.

‘One of those ‘hidden places for me is the pub I visit on a Friday evening. Each week I see incredible signs of grace and eloquence. This last week, as I sat at the bar with the landlord and landlady we experienced lots of acts of grace from the regulars which drew the comment … ‘this is how a pub should be’ … I responded ‘its a community’ which they agreed was probably right.

For real genuine engagement … we need to listen … and listen for signs of eloquence and grace … and I find that usually …. it’s in the unexpected, deep hidden places where we are surprised by, and meet, such things.

stepping out of the circle

stepIt’s been a little quite here.
There is a reason for that.
I have been immersed.
Immersed in teaching, in planning and in more teaching and planning.
One extra thing I have taken on this year to aid my income has been a day of GCSE geography teaching in the school I am also chaplain at.

While teaching and being with the young people is great … planning is taking me an age. I keep telling myself it will get easier … and I believe that … it’s just that planning GCSE geography is not getting that much easier just yet … but it will be!
One of my challenges is that I teach a double lesson each Wednesday … that is 3 hours of Geography …. so I want and need to be creative to keep students engaged … for 3 hours!

So …. I have entered a bit of a circle.
A circle that I know holds back my creativity and does not allow me to express how I am.

I am a reflective practitioner.
I need to reflect to do what I do.
When I reflect, it is then that I can link with whatever it is that helps me to create.
When I have too much to do I don’t feel I have time to reflect.
So I don’t.
And I can’t create.
But I know when I reflect I work smarter or quicker
But I have no time
And so the circle continues … and continues …
So this blog has been quiet
But I am writing …. so I am stepping out of the circle

I have things to write again …
And I will …

MSM .. a great opportunity

msmA slight detraction from my thoughts on silence …. which will continue … but the Mission Shaped Ministry course starts again at the end of the month …. it’s a really good course for considering stuff about …. well mission really!

If you are interested in mission this course is a good one to consider … whether you are thinking that maybe you are into setting up a fresh expression, or whether you are involved in one and want to reflect on what you are doing, or whether you want to develop some skills to help your church be a little more involved in mission …… well have a look at this.

This year we are meeting on a Monday evening in Maidstone with a few Saturdays and a weekend involved …. but all that stuff is on the flyer which you can look at here.

Oh … yeah … also … not that am biased about this course … but I should mention I am one of the tutors on the course …. but don’t let that put you off …. if nothing else you can rely on me to make amazing inappropriate comments … just to make you think of course … and not simply be controversial for the sake of it!

Please … look at the flyer …. the course is £250 … incredible value for the program if you look at it (that’s 2/3’s the cost of my Gills season ticket but usually far more entertaining!)

sales pitch over!

but sign up … really … do it!

reflections on silence (pt1 … maybe)

DSC_1194I quite like silence … to many who know me that probably comes as a bit of a surprise, mainly because I can be a bit of a loud, annoying and nosey bugger … but silence has become, for me, a place of refreshment and rejuvenation. With certain people it also seems to be a place of real valuable place of meaningful communication and connection.

I have noticed that, for me, silence has become an important nourishing ingredient of my diet … so maybe those people that labelled me ‘introvert’ a few years back really did know what they were talking about.

For some background, I joined the sisters of St Francis at St Alphege for a week. Although they are not a silent order, they respected the fact that I wished top be in an attitude of silence for my 7 days with them … conversations were had at meal times as I feel a meal is supposed to be a social thing …. but outside those times I observed silence.

I have done a few bouts of 3 day silences, and I have often found those difficult to enter into. Surprisingly for me, this time, it was not entering the silence, but leaving the silence, which proved to be a challenge. Do you understand that feeling you get at the end of something where you want to leave, you know you should leave, things are pulling you to leave …. and yet … there is something like a trickle of a desire to simply stay …. to continue to experience the space a short while longer … well that was my experience this time. I knew it was time to go … but something within me wanted to stay.

Leaving silence and re-entering the real world, that I had only ‘left’ 7 days before was a challenge. I seemed to be hyper sensitive to the penetration of noise that seemed to bombard from everywhere. I remember looking quizzically at people with a ‘what the fuck are you even talking about that for?’ question screaming from my brain. That reaction was a complete, and quite shocking, observation for me to perceive.

In this seven day silence of reflection I seem to have become painfully conscious of how some, maybe the whole of our society, but particularly me (as I am only really qualified to talk about myself here … and I’m unique so it could just be me that feels like this .. because we are all unique…) uses the curtain of noise to wrap ourselves in and hide from reality.

When there is noise, rambling, music, words, …. I can listen to that and do not need to listen to myself. If i don’t listen to myself I can fool myself about the reality of things. If I don’t face reality it’s easy to act. Then life is played out on a stage … often with an audience of one!

I wonder whether it is true for many that they avoid silence, avoid that meeting with themself, with no one else around …. their simple, bare, open, honest self …. because they are afraid, really afraid, of what they may find.

In my poem in my last post I wrote

to freeze from running
and face who I may be
uncovering the past aches
that could reveal
                 …………… anything

That last word, ‘anything’, has in reality become a pretty scary word.
I was surprised by what some of the silence has revealed. I have been surprised by some of the stuff that I had ‘forgotten’.
That’s not strictly true … stuff had not been forgotten but so covered, squeezed, rolled and compressed into places where, for years, I did not have to think about them.

Silence gives opportunity to uncover, unsqueeze, unroll and decompress ….. and I will be honest …. that means some of the stuff is going to be quite painful to continue to uncover … but … it also means the uncovering and bearing really does leave me feeling less burdened with a much lighter, sunnier, outlook.

So ….. I move forward ……

(to be continued ….)