vulnerability again!

logo2A little while ago I was persuaded by my good friend Anna to join Sion College … who have a strap line of ‘supporting the education and fellowship of church of England clergy in London’.

Each month Sion College hosts seminar suppers amongst other things. I really enjoy the chance to meet new people, and old friends, and engage with some great thinkers and practitioners…. and eat good food and drink wine!

At the last Sion Supper, we listened to Hilary Ison speak on ‘Priesthood and Leadership’ and I found myself, once again, resonating with a lot of what was said.

I found myself sitting up and tuning in quite intently (despite the abundance of red wine) when Hilary said ‘priesthood is about the quality of presence’. I love that phrase,

Quality of Presence

and it sums up what I wish to do and be as a priest …. to be present …. really present …. really and fully present to those that I meet with and come across. I believe wholeheartedly that great quality of presence, where you have time for one person, and totally devote that time to being with them, to showing them they are worth your time and, even more, communicating through that presence that you are actually wanting to be with them, not just being there because you have nowhere else to be. Sometimes I have got that so wrong … and I have learnt the hard way that when that happens massive genuine regret doesn’t cut it! Sometimes quality of presence with strangers seems to be a lot easier than quality of presence with people that really matter on a personal level to me. I wish I could do so much better on that.Unknown

Hilary went on to say that we needed to have the confidence to reclaim the priestly role of being present with both God and people which inevitably needs a massive level of vulnerability.

There comes that word again!
It seems I cannot get away from it.
May I refer you again to Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability

She went further to say that when working with others, leaders of presence needed to be confident in their wait … in holding ‘negative anxiety’ (which occurs when things are taking a while to happen) … the vulnerable bit coming in the holding of that anxiety (both personal and communal) as they wait for God to act and for vision to emerge.

Sometimes that can be hard when the pressure is on to deliver results, or increased numbers or maybe even to do something very different …. but as painful as it is …. bearing that vulnerability of presence when needing to balance tensions of anxiety and waiting for God to reveal a plan is really the only thing to do. Maybe that can be easier to do when we remember that church is family and community, rather than business with business ways of working.

But …
the vulnerability if that waiting and holding …
anyone else wish God would sometimes just be that teeny weeny bit quicker tho ….. ?

 

 

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radical & obscene … that’s my God!

Luther-posting-95-theses-560x366-2Every term or so the ‘clergy / reader team’ of the East Greenwich Parish get together for a theological discussion which someone at the previous get together agrees to lead. Last year I ran a discussion on Eucharist while other shave looked at salvation and other great topics to get us talking.

 

Today Tim led us as we considered Luther and the Reformation with Tim asking us to think around two pretty interesting questions:

(1)  What do you consider to be the most significant or relevant of Luther’s ideas for you personally in your spiritual life/walk?
(2)  What do you consider to be the most significant or relevant of Luther’s ideas for the people of the Parish of East Greenwich in 2017?  (You may have different thoughts for our different Churches)
For me, for both questions, there is one over-arching answer that I believe I have centred my ministry on.
Obviously having the bible in the ‘vernacular’ is key and central and has been important.  I spend a lot of time thinking around language to use in the various settings that have to teach the Bible.
Way at the top of the list, however, for me is the theme that ‘salvation is a free gift of God’. By this I believe that to mean that we can do nothing to earn salvation. We can do nothing to change how God views us. God created us, loves us, and … well kinda loves to hang out with us!
When I have met with people in the hidden places that I spoke of yesterday, so many of them have felt that they are not good enough for God. Others have felt that what they have done simply means they are condemned by God. Still others have tearfully said to me that they are too insignificant for God to even notice.
My believe my role as a missioner, as a servant, as a priest …. is to tell people the truth … that God flipping loves them, that they are totally acceptable … and not that God is only interested in them but that God id actively looking out and searching for them … continually and without fail.
I have seen people literally ‘grow’ when they have heard, really heard, those true words of acceptance.
Sometimes it seems to me that the church and christians have forgotten this radical grace and acceptance that God offers. I remember having a conversation with a colleague a few years ago in pub theo (how I miss pub theo!) as we chatted around his view that there was a need for a person to change their behaviour to follow God and my response that if we have to do something then that is not ‘grace’ or free salvation. WE went around in circles and the truth is somewhere in there.
The fact, and I use that word deliberately, that acceptance, salvation, or whatever term we wish to use, from God is totally free is, quite frankly, a crazy notion.
But it’s true.
It’s crazily radically mad.
It’s pretty offensive to some.
It’s obscene to others.
Maybe that’s why I love it so much …. I follow a God, The Creator, incarnated in Jesus Christ … who is a God that obscenely radically totally unequivocally offensively accepts those God has created.
I think that’s a God worth following!

glad I went …

saviours-g-w400This week I attended my first Sion College Seminar Summer. I was put on to it by my good friend Anna who I trained with at SEITE.

Lincoln, the speaker for the evening, (and one of my lecturers as well as my personal tutor at SEITE) spoke well and provocatively on how we do theology and how we express and develop our views. There was so much to think about and I may well take him up on his offer to visit him at St Mellitus and chat more over coffee.

I was struck, though, by the warmth of individuals at this meeting. Often new things i visit, in my experience, are cliquey and hard to move into. This was not the case at this meeting. Everyone was lovely and welcoming and I look forward to the next stimulating event.

One of the highlights of the evening was meeting and chatting with some of Intermission Youth Theatre. This group of young people were stunning in their ability and skill of acting; and the act they performed for us was profound and thought provoking. They would be excellent to have in school if you are looking for a theatre group to bring a message to school.

This was a great evening and so glad I was persuaded to go!

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.

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

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!

vulnerability growing hospitality

Hospitality_of_AbrahamGraham wrote an interesting post today that has caused me to think more about the whole vulnerability thing. In the post (go read first) called ‘welcome’ Graham outlines a typical scene that is no doubt common in many churches which causes him to ask ‘why’?

‘Why didn’t any of the hosts get up and make themselves vulnerable for the guests?’
“why didn’t I make myself vulnerable so that the guests were made to feel in the place of honour?’

I’m intrigued by the link that Graham is making between hospitality and the vulnerability of the host. Many new monastic communities, for example, speak of a radical hospitality. In the gathering we have used that very phrase … to show a radical hospitality towards those we come across. Its seems to me that after reading Graham’s words this type of hospitality may only be offered when we are willing to allow ourselves that vulnerability that allows the guest to be themselves and be accepted as themselves.

It’s easy to show hospitality to friends and people we know … basically those that we believe may well reciprocate the hospitality in some way. I would question whether that is really hospitality. But hospitality to the stranger who desperately needs help and who may stay a while and who we may never see again after they leave … that is a real genuine radical type of hospitality.

A hospitality where the host is willing to give up everything, to be totally vulnerable, so that the guest may feel welcome, accepted and feel ‘at home’ is a hospitality that calls to me in some whispering challenge. As I look over that last sentence I think of Eucharist … the host in complete vulnerability, arms wide in both submission and welcome … allowing all who need to, to be able to come, feed, be themselves, be at home and move on when ready.

Maybe there is something there of what Nouwen meant when he wrote:

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” 
– Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

I’m going to think more on this hospitality and vulnerability thing … there is more to think about … thanks Graham … and please, anyone, feel free to add your thoughts …