Ashing, Eating and Awesome

ashwednesdayToday has been a busy day, but one of those days where you feel good to be alive, thankful for beautiful friends and mindful of just the awesomeness of some of the things I find myself involved in.

The day started at our secondary school where I was asked to take an Ash Wednesday service. We offered ashes to the students …. and I was totally thrown to see so many, more than 100 in all, lining and waiting for me to ash their foreheads or hands while saying ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return …’ The atmosphere in the hall was one of great dignity, respect and reverence. It was a complete privilege to be part of such a great event.

Following this I visited another one of our schools to work with the pupil faith team. We have just finished writing the school prayer (we being the whole school community but the students in the main) and today we were planning an assembly in which we plan to introduce the prayer to the ret of the school community. Again, I was in awe of the ideas that these amazing primary school students were putting together.

I then popped to Stanmore to see one of my best friends who is currently in hospital. Her bravery and determination was just beautiful to see. She is a real inspiration to many, myself included and today reminded me that good friends are like gold dust … and we really should make more time to appreciate those special meaningful friendships.

The day ended with Agapai where we ate together, prayed together, watched this short video together and then chatted about Ash Wednesday and Lent. The evening then drew to a close as it had started …. with me ashing the people of Agapai with the same words I used in the morning … ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’

Those words have hit me in many different ways today …
Saying it to over 100 energetic full or promise 11 years olds this morning was incredibly moving and quite choking ….
Saying to to the old lady on the tube who requested them after she noticed my ashed forehead and dog collar gave me an opportunity to hear her story and her desire to ‘go home’
Saying them tonight at Agapai with people I am getting to know and admire in a great ways hit me as a concrete way of serving those around me
Saying them tonight, to myself, at the end of the day as I write and reflect …. causes me to challenge myself and ask what is this Lent going to mean to me, and how am I going to use my life from now on …. because …. one day I was formed from ash …. so it follows one day I will return.
Amen.

Ashes to Go

AshestoGo2Tomorrow morning at 730 until 830am, Esther and myself from Holy Trinity Greenwich Peninsula will be robing and offering ‘ashes to go’ at the bus stop outside ‘the vicarage’. 

I’m not sure how this will go and I do not mind saying I am more than a little nervous as to the kind of reception we may receive. I hope some people will feel able to connect with something of their past. I hope some people will welcome the opportunity to pause and consider their humanity in the face of the Divine. I hope some people will be surprised to find the church at their bus stop. I hope some people find encouragement in knowing that their Creator has not forgotten them.

The palm crosses have been burned. Oil ahas been added and we will ash people at the bus stop while saying this simple prayer:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Go in peace. Amen.

We will also give those ashed and wanting to take something away a copy of this prayer and explanation which will be attached to the back of our postcard giving details of who we are. The explanation and prayer below come from the Ashes to Go website:

Almighty and merciful God, you hate nothing you have made, and forgive the sins of all who are penitent; create in us new and contrite hearts, so that when we turn to you and confess our sins and acknowledge our need, we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Why “Ashes to Go”?
Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence. From the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. The reminder that we are dust turns our attention to the creative power of God, and God’s ability to heal the brokenness in our lives when we offer that brokenness to God. That turning to God is the work of Lent, preparation for the celebration of Easter. We’re offering ashes on the street corner today because that reminder of need, humility, and healing shouldn’t be confined to a church building.

We probably need it more when we are in the middle of our daily business! The ashes we receive here are to remind us throughout the day of our need for God, and of God’s call to us.

So …. in just around 12 hours I will be waking … and getting ready …. and becoming nervous … but then afterwards I hope to be able to say that many people felt blessed and encouraged by our presence. Being good news on The Peninsula is what we are about …. and part of that good news is serving and helping and blessing. If we achieve that as a church that would be cool! 

give it up

Just LoveThis is my second Lent blog post which also appears on the gathering facebook page for discussion.

The second chapter of the book looks at the urgent and patient. It looks at how vision takes time to develop. Interestingly it points out that Jesus spent the first 30 years of his ministry waiting … immersing himself in the life and experience of a carpenter in Nazareth. So … when God becomes human of all the things to do … God chooses to live as a carpenter in some chav town for 30 whole years before starting to do anything! Jesus spends around 90% of his earthly life being with people, and being present with some of the most marginalised and oppressed people in the earth.

I love this quote from Sam Wells:

‘Jesus spent a week in Jerusalem working for us, doing what we can’t do, achieving our salvation … He spent three years in Galilee working with us, calling us to follow him and work alongside him … But before he ever got into working with and working for, he spent 30 years in Nazareth being with us, setting aside his plans and strategies, and experiencing in his own body not just the exile and oppression of the children of Israel, but also the joy and sorrow of family and community life’                  

This waiting thing has been crucial to my ministry …. and I am totally sold out on that Jesus model of ‘getting under the skin’ of the community so that I am really able to work with people to see transformation in this town of Gillingham … rather than merely copy the mistakes of the past when well meaning people decided they knew what was needed and simply ended up doing things to the community.  I really believe that for any action to be authentic that it needs to be born in the cradle of this type of incarnational experience, immersed in the life and experiences of the area.

The passage used in this chapter is the passage I was asked to preach on at St marks on Sunday night. I shared on Sunday that in this particular bible passage that I thought Jesus was being tested to take the easy route by satan as he challenged his identity. A few words before this story  Jesus is baptised and God confirms how he is … and in this next chapter we see satan asking 3 question ‘if’ questions. If you are … if you are … if you are … I think what we are seeing here is a pretty clever attempt at some form of identity theft!

 

In all of these I think I see an underlying message …. without this help I cannot achieve my calling, without this I am hungry, without this I don’t have the access, without this I can’t win ….. without this …. I’m not good enough!

 

That is so amazingly relevant for us today … because we are constantly bombarded with adverts that deliberately and cruelly aim to get us to believe that we are not good enough while they play on our insecurities of inadequacy so that we really do start to believe that if I wear this deodorant, or drive that car, or use this makeup, or wear this clothing brand, or eat this yoghurt, or of I go on this diet that then …. I will … at last ….. thankfully become acceptable!

 

It’s rubbish! This message of our culture is just so horribly evil: it’s evil because it says you are never enough. Not skinny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, rich enough … and because you are never enough ….  then you never deserve respect, love, or acceptance.

I mentioned that instead of giving in to those lies, Jesus chooses to return to and believe the words of God at his baptism at the end of the previous chapter… that he is beloved and well pleased with!

And so … I believe if we learn anything from this account about how to live out our lives, how to trust our creator, then it is to be found in returning to God and trusting that from God we will receive the ability and strength to help us.

I wonder, whether this Lent time we need to start to give up our false images of ourselves. Images that with each breath tell us … we are not good enough, we are not acceptable, we are not loved. Images that doubt that ‘well pleased and loved’ view of God.

So … gathering , and others, discuss …..

ash love

Just LoveLent for me this year started in my favourite school with some of my favourite people to work with, on the day of the week which if often one of the highlights, or favourites, of my week. I never wake up on a Wednesday and feel I don’t want to get out of the house … I can’t say that for everyday, but I guess who can!

For me, starting Lent in the real world, with real people who don’t necessarily do the God thing felt to be incredibly right and correct. I don’t use the ‘love’ word lightly because I firmly believe it describes an incredibly strong emotion. I also feel the word ‘love’ is overused and so has become devalued. It seems to me that if a person says that they ‘love’ everything then in reality they ‘love’ nothing. But … I love Wednesdays, and have done for the last year … as I get to hang out with some pretty incredible people.

Along with some people from the gathering I am following the Just Love Lent book from Church Urban Fund. I have committed to trying to write something with the gathering once a week using this book as  basis. This is this weeks posts and will appear on the gathering facebook page as well.

I have been challenged by some of what I have read in this weeks chapter. The first theme is ‘spiritual and embodied love’.

The book makes some pretty bold and challenging statements:

when we love we do not simply imitate God. We participate in God’s very life.

Our daily actions will form us more and more into‘ (actually the book says ‘should’ but I am not sure I hold with the should statement. I’m not sure I follow a Christ who ever tells me what I ‘Should’ do … instead I follow a Christ who loves me and marvels at what I do in response to that love – which is pretty amazing in itself as I do little! 

I love the concept, but am having a challenge getting my head around that first quote. When we love, say the writers,  … we don’t just follow God’s example, but we actually become part of God. Jesus showed us how to love, and he leaves a manifesto in Matthew 5. When we join in this kind of love, it is then that we join in God’s own life. 

The chapter ends with a challenging question… ‘how do we embody God’s love faithfully and generously?’

So … how do we …. comments?

end hunger fast

logo_invertIm quite open about my views of the church I am ordained in. I love and hold to the frustration of St Augustine when he says ‘the church is a whore, but she’s our mother’.

I love the church … I’m convinced that the church is ‘of Christ’ …but sometimes she (that’s the church in case any of you sensitive types out there just thought I alluded to a feminine Christ figure!) frustrates the hell out of me. But today … after my sadness earlier in the week I am incredibly proud to be part of the Anglican set up.

It’s an amazing step, and such a right step, to see the Bishops letter signed by 27 Anglican bishops, challenging the government on the horrible reality of poverty in our country. The letter starts; ‘Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry’ before then mentioning ‘one in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children’. That tugs a heart string … I have met some of those mothers in Gillingham High Street … mums that would love to work, but there are no jobs, mums that want the best for their children, and put themselves last.

‘There is an acute moral imperative to act’ is the challenge the bishops give … and indeed there is. The bishops are taking a great step by going public like this. Some will roll out the old saying of ‘church should keep out of politics’ (In fact that was tweeted to me only last week by a prospective MP candidate!) but that betrays a lack of understanding of the gospels, and in particular the political figure of Christ. Christ tells stories to illustrate that our role in society is to stand up for, and help, the poor and those in need … not to ignore, stay silent or walk by on the other side.

The letter comes as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign which headlines with more shocking figures … ‘half a million people used food banks last year … while 5500 were admitted to hospital for malnutrition’. The campaign calls for a national fasting day on April 4th as one way of showing the government we, as a nation, want to see change.

In addition Church Urban Fund has put together this guide to the welfare reforms which outlines the changes and the consequences of them.

The time has come for the government, for Cameron and Clegg in particular, to stand up, admit this is not working, and act …. as Bishop Steven Cottrell says: ‘it’s scandalous in our society that we should need a single food bank, yet along hundreds of them’.

Lets join and pray and act with the aim of never needing a food bank again!

ponder …

imgresIn my continued mode of trying to walk and not run, I am finding some advice from Richard Rohr, that sounds so simple, to be quite unsettling, challenging and provocative:

When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it states? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that help you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of The Sacred is to expand you. I know these are the first questions that come to our mind because that is where we usually live—inside of our mental ego. They are the questions we were trained to ask, because everybody else asks them, unfortunately!

Having read sacred text, I would invite you to ponder these questions:

  1. What is God doing here?
  2. What does this say about who God is?
  3. What does this say about how I can then relate to such a God?

On the face of it those questions are simple and safe questions. Ss I have pondered them well, however, they are amazingly demanding and, on occasions, mind blowing. As we get ever closer to Holy Week I am wondering what such questions will bring up in the richness of the stories before us.

 

Dust – promise or curse?

imageIt blows down dry streets in eddies, dead. It gathers in corners. It forms into rich earth, and out of it sprout tiny seeds. It compacts into warm and rich clay, which can be cut and slammed and shaped by hands and wheel into pots, and bowls and little figures of stout women and tiny men. It blows in the stellar winds in furthest space. It is dust.

My thinking was challenged on Ash Wednesday with this beautifully written post over on the Thinking Anglicans website. Today I was challenged again as we visited a tin mine where, essentially tin ‘dust’ is transformed into something of use. I guess i have aways considered the negative and penitential side of dust, rather than the potential. Go read more here