The Cloak

cloakIn church this morning the Gospel reading was the meeting of Bartimaeus and Jesus.

After asking ‘Why did Jesus ask, what seems to me an obvious question’ we considered what Bartimaeus had to do before he could even hear the invitation of Jesus.

He ‘sprang’ up and threw off his cloak we learn from the gospel reading.
A little insignificant action maybe?
But … wait …

This cloak was the cloak that kept him safe
This cloak was the cloak that he would spread out for people to place money or food
This cloak was the cloak that would be wrapped around him in the depth of the night
This cloak was the cloak that sheltered him from the wind and the rain
This cloak was the cloak that said ‘I am Bartimaeus the beggar’
This was the cloak that gave him everything; his identity, his security, his whole life.

And yet he threw it off!

Why?
He knows the cloak will keep him safe; but he hopes Jesus can give him so much more
He knows he can exist and stay safe under the cloak; but he hopes taking it off will give him a fresh start.
He understands the risk (it may not be there when he returns); but he hopes there is more to life than this!

So we considered this morning …. what is it that we need to throw off so we can hear the invitation of Jesus?
What might we be hiding under that keeps us safe … complacency, wealth, health, fear … maybe even church activity?
This was a challenge to us this morning and we focussed in on the fact that Jesus invites us all on what we hope is an amazing journey … I guess the question is can we spring up to hear it?

Rays to beams … or summin like that!

13945754983891-DSC_1860Wondering around my patch of East Ham is still proving to be a delight; although I am wondering when the ‘honeymoon bubble’ will burst and the crap will start to hit. Maybe I’m being a bit pessimistic there, but as someone who is here to bring change I am under no illusion that, as change worries people, I will encounter opposition and concern sooner rather than later. Some of this may be due to misunderstanding, some may be because I need to slow down and some may be justified while others may be totally unjustified ….. I guess the wisdom I’ll be asking for is how I tell the difference.

Currently I am continuing to do a lot of questioning, listening and wondering. I am asking ‘what could church look like here?’ coupled with ‘what does loving service look like here?’ Interactions with people have been both surprising and exciting with ideas coming, sometimes, from the most unlikeliest of places.

I’m excited to see that little fragile rays spoken of earlier are starting to join with other fragile rays and slowly becoming  slightly less fragile beams. As I continue to listen to people singly as well as in community it’s quite exciting to hear similar things being said slightly differently. This all feels quite slow, but after looking at my diary it would seem I have only been here 5 and a half weeks …. so it might be things are moving a lot later than I thought they would.

street wisdom …

5b1b93306e454When you move to a new area you need to meet people.
The only way I know how to do this is to be out and about … cafes. pubs, music venues, the street at key times of the day.
Sometimes, though, I don’t feel up to the vulnerability level that getting out there on my own places me in and so I need to collect ‘tools’ to help me.
People sometimes say I’m brave to minister the way I do … I’m not sure that’s the case but it is true that I often go out scared, wondering what I might come across, how I may be reacted to and what will happen. But … that is part of the role so if you can be brave while terrified then … well … that’s ok I guess.

A precursor to all these is to wander around the streets in a prayer walk. I have already lost count of how many times I have prayer walked around the new parish … that sounds pious … it’s not but just merely be focussing in on the fact that I believe nothing happens without prayer and, in these early weeks, part from meeting people all there is to do IS pray!

At my tutorial at CMS with Cathy Ross on Monday we were talking about this and she suggested I try Street Wisdom as some kind of tool to work with. Essentially the concept is tying some exercises to heighten your observation skills on the street before gong on a ‘quest’ (taking a question out and looking for answers on the street).

My description does it no justice so what I suggest is look at the website, download the free audio guide and give it a go. I wanders and saw my patch is a new way, even after just a few weeks of being here. Slowing down and listening, looking, smelling and just noticing was quite an amazing experience. I was surprised by what hit me, and the message I received.

IMG_1140I was walking down one street asking my question (which was ‘what is this community yearning for?’) when I stumbled across this great big sign saying ‘one way’. I don’t really do ‘one way’ things and kind of found is amusing that I had planned, and went, in the opposite direction. I felt an answer developing that was saying there is more than one way, and part of the issue is that, in the past, one way has prevented the right way.

As I continued to wander I came across some garages attached to flats. These garages had

been gated off (I’m guessing by the council) and had been boarded up. They spoke of desolation. I felt they had been ripped away from those that had cared for them. As I looked, I saw a real beauty and potential in them. I was nervous, at first, wandering their on my own (that vulnerability thing again) but as I disappeared from sight of the community i felt the space to be one of great peace and welcome rather than threat and fearsome. I guess that could be different on any other time than 3pm on a sunny day!

As I continued with my quest i got a growing sense that the answer was something along the lines of ‘being cared for’ or simply ‘being loved’. Maybe that seems an obvious answer and maybe we could argue every community is looking for that But … this came from listening to and watching my streets; so its not just about being loved but about being loved in a way that means something … and that will be the next quest …. ‘what does loving look like here?’

did she teach Jesus?

dennist_thegospelbeyondthegospels-20170517180938319_webYesterday I was pretty inspired by this man!
Trevor brought some of Luke’s gospel to life for me in an incredibly, if not radical, way.

Two things in particular have stayed with me 24 hours later….

One being that he urged us not to ‘preach’ Luke’s gospel but to ‘perform’ it … to not preach about what it does say, but stick to what does say as we learn, and teach, about the God that runs towards us on the road when we never deserve God to.

Secondly he asked a great question … ‘Was the foot washing woman Jesus’ teacher …. did she give him the idea that he used on that last night with his disciples …. it’s a great thought to be unpacked one day ….

politics in the pulpit

echoes of RomeroThis man has been a hero of mine for some time.
I have blogged thoughts and stuff a number of times.
I’m not sure what I think about canonisation; but of it is deserved by anyone then Oscar Romero is up their with them!

There are many quotes, many sayings, that could be held as amazing. I have no favourites, as in a sense  lot of what he wrote or said may be classified as ‘favourites.’ But, at the moment, in this time, I resonate most strongly with this quote of challenge:

A Gospel that doesn’t take into account the rights of human beings, a Christianity that doesn’t make a positive contribution to the history of the world, is not the authentic doctrine of Christ, but rather simply an instrument of power. We . . . don’t want to be a plaything of the worldly powers, rather we want to be the Church that carries the authentic, courageous Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when it might become necessary to die like he did, on a cross.

At a period in this country when we see people victimised or ridiculed for their faith or race, or legislated against in their desperate poverty, where the ‘elite’ give themselves 20% pay rises while those on benefits receive a devastating cut …. and all at a time when we are told ‘austerity is over’, the words of Romero hit home really hard. I have been told more than once in the last few months to not be so political … a fellow Christian who happens to be a Tory telling me to keep politics out of the pulpit.

Well … I can’t!
You see Christian faith is about politics, its about bringing in the Kingdom now, it’s about seeing justice and compassion and love bursting onto our streets, communities and homes. It’s about people feeling safe, secure, accepted and knowing that God stands with them. It is about us being a transforming presence wherever we find ourselves to be.

And yes I’m going to make a judgement.
I know its wrong to jusdge, but hey …
I say to my ‘keep politics out of the pulpit’ friends and colleagues … you are missing the point …. that is exactly where it should be!
If we, the church, don’t shout out the authentic, courageous (political) gospel …. then who on earth will!

 

a great few days

Wow
What a great few days the week ended with.

On Thursday friends from Greenwich came over to look at the organ and consider playing to for us now and again. This may happen but it was great to catch up and have lunch.
fullsizeoutput_b43On Thursday evening it was another amazing privilege to spend some time with Rikard and Zara, this time to see some of Zara’s stunning work that was on display as part of the (In)visible Exhibition at Espacio Gallery in Bethnal Green. With the artists there expressing the struggle and reality of life’s difficulties I found this to be beautifully painful experience.

Friday is my day off but the day started with coffee with Stephen Timms who is my local MP. Again, it was a joy to spend quality time with this great MP who has been committed to East Ham and Newham for an incredibly long time, and one who knows so much and has established good links. I hope in the future as we move on we may work together on some things of value for the community.

Later that day an opportunity came my was that surprised me and I grabbed! I looked onIMG_1117 the BFI website to see that there were 2 or 3 tickets surprisingly left for a live screen talk with Keira Knightley. So I grabbed one, sat next to an Austrian film critic, and listens to just an amazingly wonderful interview with an actor I have admired for some time. Keira was humble in talking about just how much luck she had had with roles, genuinely pleased at the reception she received from people, and outspoken and strong in explaining that she had deliberately taken roles of powerful woman who challenged society. Its as an amazing 60 or so minutes which will be treasured by many that were fortunate enough to be there.

A pretty great couple of days!

surprised with time

fullsizeoutput_b36I’m finding that I’m still loving the change that this new role is brining …. the change of people, the change of location, the change in culture, the change in outlook, the change in who to go to with questions, the change in how to deal with change.

A large part of the answer to that question comes from prayer. So, after saying I would not change things too much for a while, on my first Monday I re-started Morning Prayer from Monday to Friday in the church. It has been a real encouragement and blessing to say that I have never been on my own and that anything between 2 and 4 of us pray each morning at 8am for around 20 minutes. I feel that this commitment to pray together is the first of many stages for us as St Barnabas as we try to understand more of what God is doing in the area that God wishes us to join in with.

One of the biggest changes I think I am enjoying is that people here have time for people not just in our parish but across the whole of Newham. No one seems to rush off to do other things, preferring to ‘catch up’ or ‘share something’ or ‘simply listen’. Im loving that people seem to value people in this crazy new setting I find myself in. (and to be clear, and to avoid offending, I am not saying people were not interested in people in other locations that I have been.. I am just saying that in Newham it is far more noticeable).

Yesterday I attended my first chapter meeting. The food was great, the conversations were helpful and the information shared from the diocese via the Area Dean were meaningful and will help me in my ongoing ministry. It was great to join chapter as one of 5 new people in the area. There is a great mix of people with some being here a short while to those who have been ministering here for well over 20 years. I love that there is such a great and diverse group of people for us to share with, support and learn from. I was even asked for advice which helped me to feel part of things right from the start.

Ministry is always full of surprises and the most exciting time yesterday came from a  ring on the doorbell. I opened the door to find a young woman with her 10 month old daughter wanting to ask about baptism. It was such an amazing chat that we had as I was pretty aware how difficult it must have been for this person to ring the bell on the outside of this quite large, maybe intimidating, building with a monster of a front door! I am so looking forward to working with this family and welcoming them in what I hope will be a powerful and life changing experience of God for them. And the great thing to remember … is that there is no pressure there at all …. I/we just need to turn up …  the rest is up to God and no one else.