the cut outs

 

I called in to the Matisse exhibition today at the Tate modern. For my birthday I was given a Tate Membership and I have been waiting for a good time to start it. Today was that day.

The exhibition is amazing. I will return, hopefully more than once, before it closes in September.

In a couple of rooms were video displays in which you could watch Matisse at work. I was struck by the vulnerability and trust that he showed. In his final years before his death, although he was able to cut the shapes himself he relied on his assistants for positioning those shapes. We see his assistants watching him intently as he directs them where to place each shape, how to rotate them, where the overlap should be … and so on. Every single piece of the ‘canvas’ ends up exactly where the artist wants it to be. Exactly. There is seemingly no room for error!  To get to this, though, Matisse makes himself vulnerable and puts his reputation in the hands of these people.

It would be easy to argue that this is not vulnerability. At the end of the day, it could be said, the people put the shapes up and Matisse would eventually have said ‘ok … that’s fine’ … pretty much like the rest of us might do out of either exasperation or not wishing to offend. In one scene in a video, however, you sense frustration on both sides … frustration from the artist as the person is not hearing or reading where and how a particular shape could be placed …. and frustration on the assistant as seemingly  the artists is being bloody minded and surely this is good enough.

Matisse exhibits vulnerability to the extent of being left alone with no help. I wonder if the were times when the assistants just wanted to scream, ‘I’ve had enough … I’m out if here!’ Maybe not … but I sensed there could have been.

I was particularly humbled as I watched Matisse at work and looked at his art as I moved from room to room. The rooms are set out in a rough chronological order. As Matisse gets older, more infirm, and seemingly less in control of his fine motor skills his works of art become more intricate, complex, ambitious and beautifully crafted.

I loved a lot of this work, but two rooms in particular struck me and caused me to pause … well it was more of a wait really, quite a long wait and I simply sat and looked.

The first room I gazed in was Ocenaia. Matisse built this stunning creation bit by bit, with no real idea148088 of hat was going to happen. he cut and pinned pieces to his wall …. ‘Matisse had cut out a swallow from a sheet of writing paper and, as it distressed him to tear up this beautiful shape and throw it away, he said, he put it up on his wall, also using it to cover up a stain, the sight of which disturbed him. Over the following weeks other shapes were cut out and put up on the same wall.’ (Tate exhibition handbook)

The shapes are overwhelming, and simply invite you to rest a while … and I did.

art-henri-matisse-the-parakeet-and-the-mermaid_365

I also got grabbed by The Parakeet and the Mermaid. A bizarre title of two things that should not go together as they normally exist in two different worlds. On this occasion though, Matisse brings them together because he can.

Matisse referred to this as ‘his garden’ and as he was too ill to get outside created something that brought the outside to him. I think that is sad, but wonderful in equal measure.

I sat in front of this for quite a long time imagining how this was a strong connection with the outside world for the artist.

I came away from the exhibition really quite stunned at how a frail old man, clearly struggling with life, and very weak could find strength to create such massive undertakings of work.

As Matisse becomes less in control his fine motor skills his work becomes more intricate.

As he becomes weaker, his art takes on a new hidden strength.

At a time when others his age maybe rest on their reputation, Matisse continues to push the boundaries and take on new challenges at a pretty major potential reputational cost.

I think that is an amazing level of vulnerability.

I came away wondering if my recent thoughts pondering the necessity for vulnerability and weakness to add value and integrity to mission are mirrored equally well in the art world … or maybe that is the other way round? maybe it’s more than that … maybe it’s a very human thing? Maybe this inbuilt requirement we have to feel less in order to do more is not just a bible/mission/christian thing …. maybe it’s more a human thing … a reality of humanity… to be continued … maybe

 

be human … not a saint!

Quotation-Markus-Zusak-human-Meetville-Quotes-85425John Drane’s second session was just as good as the first.

Drane started the session by continuing to look at what people living in our conceptual age need. I loved his language when he challenged us to ‘create an artistic and emotional beauty to craft a satisfying narrative’.

He expounded on this by pulling out more stuff from Dan Pink who provides 6 keys: DESIGN – understanding how to create beauty using ordinary objects
STORY – telling story to promote compelling narrative
SYMPHONY – integrating lots of info into a new arresting way forward
EMPATHY – so we can build relationships
PLAY – living with joy
MEANING – living with a purpose

John Drane considered those 6 keys and simply stated ‘this is Jesus’, meaning this is how Jesus acted when he was on earth. He backed these up with bible references from the gospels. Jesus, says Drane, gave people experiences that caused them to ask questions.

He then asked us a question … ‘how dow we make people feel so much that they can’t help thinking’. One way he suggested is that we need to get to grips with people’s value, and understand more of how we can nurture humanity. He then suggested that maybe we, as Christians and/or church,  should be less worried about trying to be saints and concentrate more on being human …. think about that one.

I resonated with that comment or challenge immediately. I blogged a while ago (can’t remember where or when and simply couldn’t spend the time looking back though old posts!) about possible reasons that Jesus came to earth. Christian orthodoxy talks of Jesus being 100% human and 100% God. I think church does the 100% God well, but never really talks about the 100% human truth. I translate that into believing that Jesus came in his total humanity to show us how to be human. In other words … if we want to know how to treat people and remain humans with dignity … then Jesus shows us the way!

That would be the Jesus who never excludes, the Jesus who always accepts, always waits, and always hopes. The Jesus that stands with open arms and says come … with you I am well pleased. There is lots more to write about …. but I am particularly taken at the moment by Jesus teaching us how to be human …. part of that is finding joy in ourselves so that we can illicit it in others …. that … I guess … is the Jesus way.

Chin up!

Chin up!I saw this tweet last week and sighed with despair :

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.

I was going to write something about it … but then saw that Graham had written something great already …. so why write when I can just point to a great blog post that is already out there.

I’ve also unashamedly taken the pic from Graham’s blog too …. for me it kind of sums up the crap that some of us say when really we should just hush ourselves and stand alongside and … well just be there …. as well as be honest ….

Go read ….

alliance or compliance?

twitteravatar_400x400I didn’t have much of a handle on the news yesterday, but was both shocked and saddened to learn that after months of discussions the EA has ended the membership of Oasis. The EA statement may be read in its entirety here. There are various articles around the web: Church Times, Christianity magazine, and Oasis has issued a response statement here.

What have Oasis done …  a massive amount  of great transforming mission across the world, works hard to make a positive impact in addressing people traffiking in this country, hard work to becomes the sponsor of 20 academies in the UK, 13 hubs across the UK in communities where transformation needs to happen; in addition to planting the seed of missional dna in the lives of thousands of people who they have trained, worked with and given opportunities to.

But …. if you are on the board of the Evangelical Alliance all that transformation of communities and individual persons lives that Oasis has invested in amount to nothing when it comes to membership of the EA.

And why? All because Steve Chalke has done some serious theological thinking and arrived, where many other Christians are, to a point where he can confidently say that God is an inclusive God. Because Steve sees no problem in scripture with loving committed homosexual relationships it seems that Oasis is no longer welcome round the table. You can remind yourself of Steve views by going here.

we-are-for-you-v2This is pretty bizarre for an organisation with a strapline of ‘we are better together‘. The EA picture here also grates a little … because clearly EA are not here for ‘you’ unless you agree and comply totally with what they think to be truth. I would suggest, as well, that this inclusive picture is pretty misleading in light of their Oasis stament. Their statement includes the words ‘they were unwilling to fulfil the council’s request  to adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile the traditional Christian view.’ 

So … if we look at this pragmatically, this group do not really want an alliance …. they want compliance, all agreeing every fine detail before acceptance is issued. I’m so glad I don’t believe in a God like that … what a horrendous image,  God who wants you to be just like everyone else, believe all the right things, and behaving in certain ways. The God outside of this is a God of grace, a God of love …  a God of acceptance.

This coming so soon after the World Visiongate fiasco leaves me again questioning what this wing of the church, the wing I have grown up in, really sees as important. What is all this mission stuff about? Sadly, it seems to me that what is REALLY being said is that of paramount important is truth and agreeing what truth is, rather than lives transformed.

I don’t get that!
That’s not reflecting the Jesus of the gospels.  

Steve has been very gracious in his response and says he is still an evangelical and I get that, but i think the name ‘evangelical’ is increasingly becoming a title that instils fear and confusion in others. I was actually asked a few weeks ago something like ‘you’re not one of those evangelical christians are you who want to spoil our fun and hate everyone?’ That saddened me as that statement crashes right against the original reason for the evangelical movement … to see peoples lives changed by the transforming power of God.

So …my response will be simple and little. I am cancelling my personal membership of the EA. The money they used to get from me, little that it is, will go to Oasis instead. I don’t wish to invest in arguing over what is right or wrong, I want to invest in the transformation of communities and lives.

Ironically …. I am only a member of EA because years ago Steve Chalke spoke from a platform somewhere and encouraged us to join to help make a difference … seems Steve Chalke is still serious about … I don’t believe the EA are anymore.

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!

distracted by God

distraction-quoteYesterday morning’s office readings resonated very strongly with my ‘not growing up’ post from Monday. Actually, I read the wrong part of the lectionary for the NT reading and fell upon Matthew 18 : 1-7 rather than the reading of Matthew 24 … but it is interesting that I read this by mistake

Because that reads:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  He called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!

As I approached this through Lectio Divina I was struck particularly by the line:

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

As I rolled the words over I became fixated on those words humble like a child.
What is that?
What does the humbleness of a child look like?
And … how do we become humble. whatever humble is?

The dictionary uses words like: not proud or arrogant, modest, a feeling of insignificance, low in status, respectful.

I remember years ago back in the day when I was a member at the Tate. It was the year that the Shibboleth was on display. I noticed adults, those ‘important’ adults, observed the crack, walked around the crack, tried to explain the crack, but at no time did they interact with the crack. Then they would move on.

I noticed the children. The humble, insignificant respectful children who walked around the crack, did not care or try to work out how it was made, they just enjoyed it. They poked hands down it, dropped things in it. while some even fell in it, but they were captivated. Shibboleth had their attention. Their lack of self importance and associated busyness allowed them to be distracted and experience the Shibboleth.

I have observed similar behaviour in many High Streets when a busker or street entertainer appears. It is always the children who stop, or try to stop. The children listening to the music and wanting to stay and watch are pulled along by hurrying parents. But as they move away I have often seen children constantly looking back at what had previously held their attention and has been ripped away from them. It was as if they were totally focussed on the entertainment. Their lack of self importance and associated busyness allowed them to be distracted and experience the busker.

And this causes me to wonder and think aloud …

I wonder if there is something in the act of being humble like a child that brings balance to our ‘self’ attitude. A balance that reminds us we are not the centre of the universe and that, actually, we are not as important as we think we are and ‘YES’ we do have time for this.

The adults rush on, the children wish to stay.

I have contemplated what Christ is saying here. What is it that we are to copy from that humbleness? I wonder if it is the distraction thing.

To be humble, is to be in awe of what you see around you, to be interested in the small bits of beauty that pop up now and again, to accept  our place in all this with a realisation that we are not overly important and do not need to charge and rush around.

I think, to be humbled like a child, is to be distracted …
What might our lack of self importance and associated busyness allow us to be distracted by? 
Distracted by God? 

God’s crazy about me!

WGF13-Nadia-Bolz-Weber2I like to read a few other blogs, I have favourites that I go to as soon as I see a new post has been added. One such blog is that of Nadia Bolz Weber. I love her insights and grittiness of her real, and often raw, message.

This week I have  listened to Nadia’s sermon on Matthew 13, the baptism of Jesus,  quite a few times.

Her message is hard hitting, although easy to listen to, but ….. this is what really grabs me and has kept me held for the last few days is her whole take on God loving us first and what this relationship with God is like. Listen to her sermon, you won’t regret it.

Nadia challenges me by relaying what an old guy said at her 12 step meeting: ‘I don’t know about you, but my God is crazy about me’.

I believe that.
I know God loves me …. not for what I have done but for who I am.
Similarly a few days back I linked to a Brene Brown video where she said: ‘your worthiness is a birthright and not something you earn’.
I believe that … really I do …

BUT

if I believe it, why is it so stupidly bloody hard to live like I believe it?
if I believe it, why do I notice myself trying to prove myself, to earn myself points, with a God who already is crazy about me?
If i believe it, why do I still search for a father figure so that I feel ‘acceptable’ to the world and to God?
If i believe it why am I sat at my desk at 1230am trying to get one more job done?
Dave Jacobs writes here about giving ourselves ‘a wide moment of quiet leisure’.

if I believe it … why can’t I just believe it
That’s THE question of the moment for me
That’s a question I am struggling through.
In some ways just accepting it is too stupidly easy that my mind yells out that there must be some form of catch. 

So … thanks Nadia for challenging my mindset and self worth, and my whole life really … i’m trusting because I do believe it, but at this very moment I don’t know how I believe it or how I am going to live it!

a new kind of vulnerability?

vulnerable spider(Disclaimer … I’m not sure this makes sense and I’m kind of thinking aloud!)

It’s not been a great weekend. The last few days have got me thinking  a whole new take on vulnerability.The vulnerability of feeling useless and powerless to do anything while seeing something horrible occur.

Earlier this week our dog was attacked by another dog. It was horrendous for my daughter who was walking him with a friend. We had to rush our dog to the vets, he stayed overnight and is back with us but with 30 stitches in his neck and ear and 4 drains coming out of wounds, with a few more visits at the vets lined up.

As we gaze at the injuries, our feelings of uselessness to help or relieve the pain seem to be linked in some way with a sense of vulnerability in ourselves. The fact that I can do nothing itself leaves me feeling very vulnerable for some reason …. and I do not know why!

So … in my reflection I am mulling over the wonder of whether there are different kinds of vulnerability. Or … are there a variety of triggers ‘out there’ that cause us to feel vulnerable to what is around us? It’s an interesting question because, with my logical thinking head on, there is no reason for my feelings of vulnerability! I could understand feeling sickened, or angry or wanting revenge …. but feeling vulnerable is quite uncomfortably odd.

I am wondering if the feelings of vulnerability come from a mind that likes to ask what if …. what if he had attacked the girls walking the dog, what if he had attacked me, what of we had left 10 minutes later, what if they had opened their front door 2 minutes later ….  I guess ‘what if’s’ remind us of a certain fragility of our life journey. We like to live and believe, subconsciously we will be around forever. But maybe a sudden shock reminder of our fragility fuels the feelings of vulnerability. It’s easy to feel safe when you believe you are in control. When something unexpected and horrible happens that we can’t control, it is then when the feelings of vulnerability flood our emotions and sense of thinking.

(you did not expect this post to make ANY sense did you? … I did warn you!)

Maybe, of course, my mind is mistaking great sadness, and emotion, and anger with the feelings of vulnerability? I could see that making some sense, although on reflection I’m pretty sure that is not the case. Vulnerable is what I feel and I don’t know why.

To top all of this, I think being vulnerable is important to our personal growth … but maybe there is an unhelpful sense of vulnerability as well, maybe some types of vulnerability are not helpful …. more reflection needed … so I’m glad I’m giving myself the whole year for this!

Any insights, please comment!

called to vulnerability

Yesterday’s words of unknowing and fear of where the journey may be leading clearly fall back into that trampoline word of vulnerability. I wrote in my ‘brief review’ on 31st December that the words ‘grace’ and ‘vulnerability’ have stuck out a lot for me this past year.

In my spare moments, and in planned times, I intend to find, read, experience and reflect upon anything I can that is linked with these words. In a short search this afternoon I came across a short video entitled ‘vulnerability’ put together by Shane Claiborne and on The Work of the People. (TWOTP is a great resource by the way if you have not seen it before check it out) If you click the pic you should get to the video.

preview_Screen_Shot_2013-03-04_at_5.06.08_PM

It’s a pretty basic introduction to vulnerability and I love the words of Jesus ‘entering into the struggle …. a model we are called to follow’.

Embracing vulnerability, which must mean stepping out of our cosy enclosures, not always playing safe, being in a place so that our lives collide with the marginalised not just once or now and again, but as the norm …. that’s a model of Christianity I can go with. That’s a model of Christianity that I can get passionate and excited about.

Mary’s defiance?

MAGNIFICATIn my Advent quietness I have been thinking a fair bit about Mary, and particularly about how she was able to sing her song, the magnificat, which I say each evening as part of the daily office.

The Magnificat became alive to me during my curacy at Rochester cathedral. To hear the same words sung every evening to a different musical setting allowed God to speak powerfully and differently. Daily repeated words took a different emphasis and conveyed a different meaning.

The words are familiar to many:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

I have been struck by Mary’s words of blessing … ‘From this day all generations will call me blessed’. Mary feels blessed. I have one question about that ….

why?

Why does Mary feel blessed?
I ask because I have been mulling on her situation at the time of these words.
A single girl. Not that well off. Engaged. Young. A virgin who has just been knocked up by the Holy Spirit. Life is not going to be easy for this girl, and she realises that. This is a bad time for this to happen to her!

She realises what people in the village are going to say. She realises her parents, her friends, even Joseph himself are not going to believe her. I mean … the line is hardly that believable is it … ‘I’m, err, pregnant … but it wasn’t me it was God … I’m still a virgin. I’m still ok to marry. Honest!’ (words that I imagine to have been said in the context of the time … which in no way indicate my present view of marriage … just in case you were wondering!)

I guess I ask the question because I have become aware that I have fallen into the trap of misinformation where I have allowed myself to equate the word ‘blessing’ with a ‘gift’ or an ‘easy time’ or a ‘change in the situation’. Blessing and gift are two different things. Mary started this chapter poor, and she is still poor and we know she remains poor, yet she says she describes herself as blessed.

As I have mulled these words over I have wondered if there is a little bit of Mary defiance in these words of hers. She knows her calling, her yes to God, is going to present her with a fair amount of crap in her immediate life …. and yet she defiantly looks ahead, trusts God, and her yes allows herself to see herself as being blessed.

So what you may ask?
My ‘so what’ is that I have remembered that blessing from God is not dependant on how we feel or upon the immediate situation we find ourselves in. In other words, how we feel is not a real indication of whether we are blessed or not. The blessing is a fact!  It is there, created within our DNA. The God imprint upon our lives.

Rather than being some gift or situation change, I wonder if the blessing of God is more about choosing to see God at work, trusting that, and accepting that God is actually doing something, that God is actually working.

I think recently I have lost sight of that …. and I believe Advent is the right season to remember that, sometimes, we need to take on a bit of Mary defiance and simply get on with life … because we are blessed.

So …as the day draws nearer, may we defiantly remember and grasp and trust that blessing …  Amen.