step out of the tower …

File:Jeztow2Todays Advent thought has got me thinking about nation, particularly the difference between nation and country. The thought starts with Bodenheim reflecting on the tower of Babel, which I find particularly interesting today as only a fe days ago Beth was talking about the Jezreels which is being discussed in her A level RE.

The Jezreels were a sect of the late 1800’s / early 1900’s who were just down the road from where we live. They tried to build a tower to be seen and noticed and shelter them in the end times. It’s a bit of interesting local church history.

Why build a tower? In the Babel story it was out of fear of being scattered around the world. They did not really trust God and sought their security through fame. In the local Jezreel setting I think again they did not trust God’s word, the word that says by grace we are saved …. and instead chose to build a tower out of fire retardant materials to protect them at Armageddon.

When people lose sight of the God story; that story that tells of a God who chose to become vulnerable and take on flesh by becoming the child of an unknown couple of teenagers who lived in the chav part of Israel so that we could experience God’s love for real and become fully who we are created to be, fully secure with God …. when people lose sight of that story they do alternative, and sometimes crazy, things to make them feel secure.

The difference between a nation and a country according to the dictionary is a country is defined by geography whereas a nation is defined by its political and social characteristics. A nation is defined not by geography but by belief.

We are preparing at Advent for the coming of the Christ child, for God who came so that we may exist together as one nation. So, I think Advent presents us with another choice, a twin of the choice earlier in how we use God’s word. A choice of trusting in God or trusting in our own made up systems.

Sadly it is a lot easier for us all to build our own towers of protection if we take on a seige mentality and think the world, and maybe even God, is against us. But … if God’s word is true, if grace really is enough, if God is still talking and involved today … well then maybe we can step out of those towers and work out together how we can become one nation across God’s world.

is the Bible the last word?

bible4In today’s Advent thought Bodenheim challenges us to think about the Bible, or rather how we view the Bible. She starts the thought with words from Eugene Peterson:

The simple act of buying a Bible has subtle side effects we need to counter. It is easy to suppose that since we bought it, we own it, and therefore we can use it the way we wish.’

I believe Peterson is touching on something quite serious here. How do we act if we BELIEVE that we own the bible? If we think this bible is mine? That mindset opens up the possibility of using it to back up our already held ideas. It allows us to pick and choose verses we like, while ignoring those that we do not. Many things have been justified by using the bible in this way, from slavery to domestic abuse. I think it is used in this way today in the news and in certain parts of the church with the condemnation of homosexual love and marriage. (this is another blog post for another time… but apparently the CofE is against gay marriage … I have never actually been asked … and there are very mixed views which I outlined earlier in the year here. )

On the other side of the coin, it leaves us with a choice … we can use the Bible as a weapon, to condemn, to control, to manipulate, or we can use the Bible as good news, to show how God accepts, how God loves and how God encourages us to be who he created us to be.

I believe the Bible is the word of God. If that is true, I have to ask, does the word of God condemn or liberate? Should the word of God condemn or liberate? Or does it do both or neither? Is it to be taken literally or does it need to be read in context? Is it the dictated speech of God or is it God’s word written in a particularly cultural way? Is the Bible the last of God’s words, or does God still speak today?

I wonder of we find it easy to elevate the Bible … and I fear that for some it may have become a god. Exodus 20 says; ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Are we in danger of idolising the word of God?

I end todays thought with Bodenheims last words for todays reading. These words challenge me to think hard. I became a Christian when I was 17, and have been brought up mainly in the evangelical wing of the church … so I particularly find these words provoke me to consider my views more deeply:

If the Bible does not point us toward God, but instead speaks for God, then the Bible has become our god. 

He will come

DSC_1061One of the dangers of thinking deeply into the significance of Advent is that in our dreaming we are at risk of losing sight of what all the waiting and expectation of Advent is about.

The bottom line is that he will come. Christ will return. As Christ was born into his creation, he will come back to that creation and walk this earth again. He will come back to the real earth, the real earth of both beauty and filth.

Archbishop Rowan’s poem, Advent Calendar, points us to this in the simply, deep and beautiful way that only Archbishop Rowan can. I love this poem and share just the first verse.

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

read the whole poem here.

the gathering mess

IMG_0612Yesterday the gathering had its Advent get together. We remembered Advent as a time of waiting, and asked each other what we were waiting for.  We then remembered that we were part of a big story, stretching back to Adam and Eve, to the dawn of creation even, when we passed the light, our story from generation to generation and adapted Wellsprings Passing on the Light.

As Adam and Eve passed it to their children, and their children and their children … we asked ourselves who would carry the light now, if we do not. After singing our gathering carol, which we wrote as a grop last year, we then enjoyed a meal in which we incorporated a celebration of Eucharist. Gathered around a meal table people of all ages passed bread and wine … but this was no sombre celebration, this was a feast of joy and laughter as we allowed ourselves to hope in our waiting.

At the end I smiled as I looked across the table. The table was a mess. A holy mess, with discarded glasses and crumbs and the remnants of a party. It was exciting because, once again, we met with God in the mess.

but … what if …

646I receive a daily meditation from Richard Rohr. Today he speaks in a way tyhat echoed what I was trying to express yesterday:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . . he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

~ Isaiah 61:1

In this reading from Isaiah, the prophet describes the coming Servant of Yahweh. It is precisely this quote that Jesus first uses to announce the exact nature of his own ministry (Luke 4:18-19). In each case Jesus describes his work as moving outside of polite and proper limits and boundaries to reunite things that have been marginalized or excluded by society: the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the downtrodden.

Jesus’ ministry is not to gather the so-called good into a private country club, but to reach out to those on the edge and on the bottom—to tell those who are “last” that they might just be first! That is almost the very job description of the Holy Spirit, and therefore of Jesus. Today some call it God’s unique kind of justice or “restorative justice.” God present with us and in us, Emmanuel, justifies things by restoring them to their true and full identity in Himself, as opposed to “retributive justice” which seeks only reward and punishment.

Jesus ministry is not to gather the clean and sanitised and take them into a private club. Jesus ministry is to those who are told they are unwanted, those whose hurting make us feel uncomfortable because we know our easy ‘pat’ answers have no weight,  those who are stuck in the filth of our society.

But … and a big BUT has hit me today while talking with a group of young people. What if Jesus is talking to us from the other side of this passage? By that I mean, we so easily read this from the oppressed point of view, or from a neutral view where we are called to join in helping the oppressed. We read this from a  viewpoint that sees ourselves as part of the answer.

But … what if we are part of the problem …
What if we are the oppressors?
What if we are the people that break hearts?
What if we are those who imprison?

If we take a global view, then we, in the west, could be assessed as such. On a global scale, we are the rich. With that knowledge, how do we hear those words of Jesus? What is our response? What should be our response? What response is there?

During Advent that is quite a sobering thought.

the filthy sacred

dirty handsToday’s Advent thought talks about holiness. In particular Bodenheim writes about the resistance of Jesus; ‘One of the teachings he resisted was holiness-as-separation‘. Jesus got involved in the dirt and mess of his creation. He touched lepers which ‘the law’ said he could not touch. He healed ‘demoniacs’ which were exiled from the community due to their uncleanness or not being holy according to the law. Jesus simply showed acceptance and compassion.

Jesus upset people doing this as it was a massive challenge to the tidy laws of the time that told who was in an who was out.

This week I spoke with someone who shared a sad story of a Christian person they knew excluded from their church because of their sexuality. This person had been forced out because he did not fit this particular churches purity rules of what is and is not holy, who is in and who is out, who can and can’t be a Christian. The ridiculousness of that very statement just made me LOL! As if anyone can make that decision other than Jesus! This case is both shocking and sad. Someone’s sexuality does not prevent them from being holy. God’s presence makes them holy. God’s love means they are accepted.

This morning I was working on my allotment. As I was praying and pulling up crops and weeds i was conscious of God being with me and walking on Holy ground.  All ground is holy – it must be as God is everywhere. Still today we think of holiness as purity but, today, on my allotment, I was filthy as I was covered in mud and grime and whatever else. It’s easy to forget that the world, created by God, is sacred and yet it is filthy!

God is in the mud and grime and everything else of our creation. God is in the filth. It’s not us being pure that makes us holy, it is God’s presence that makes us holy. It’s not purity that defines how we act with each other, it’s compassion.

As my Advent journey continues I am mindful, again, of Mary travelling on a donkey to Bethlehem. The journey itself would have been filthy and grimy. My thoughts go to the room full of animals. Jesus, THE holy one, was born amongst the hay and crap of a farmyard and yet this IS the most holy occurrence on the planet that has ever happened!

Jesus did not worry about cleanliness at the start of his mission. He did not worry about being born in a pure environment. His coming amongst the crap of a stable showed that healing our communities was far more important to him than being concerned about his own holiness. And Christians we are called to follow the example of Jesus.

This Advent, do we join others in condemning so we keep ourselves pure and clean, or this Advent do we have the courage to step into the filth to help heal brokenness and transform communities. (I call that mission). The choice is ours to make.

simply nothing else …

watching or waitingI have been thinking a lot about how to receive and how to give. Today’s experience has caused me to do a little 180 turn and ask ‘what about when there is nothing to receive or give?’

Today I helped a 15 year old young person mark the anniversary of the death of one of their parents. This young person has no faith, did not mind whether I prayed or not and could not verbalise in any way how they were feeling. They did, however, ask to light a candle and have some ‘time’ while I read something from the BIble (I chose the first few verses of John 14).

The grief in the space was tangible, almost tastable, definitely intoxicating. The sadness was so heavy it moved me to tears. It felt like there was nothing either of us could give, and nothing either of us could receive in this desperately sad situation. The silence in the space was filled with ‘something’ that I have not experienced in such times before. It was like there was a hope, but a fear of realism. A desire for the words of John 14 to be true, but despair at a secular discrediting of those words.

As we sat in silence my mind moved to Mary. Were her feelings similar to this? Was there an expectation balanced against  a fear, a voice of realism suggesting that the miracle she had been told about would not, and could not, happen? Was there just an air pregnant with hope? But a resigned hope with the acknowledgment there was nothing she could do apart from wait?

Today we waited. In silence. Maybe we gave ourselves and received each other ….. a common humanity in hope … because there simply was nothing else there.