pub grace

pub theo copyPub Theo happened again on Monday. Another new collection of people and another new question that I picked up from th high street:

‘If GRACE is real, why do so many bloody Christians have hang ups about what is right and wrong?’ 

It’s very rare that one question keeps us going all night … but on Monday night we had one such night! We batted around the idea of grace, what is grace, how do we experience grace and a mass of other questions. We then seemed to focus on whether grace had conditions.

There was a wonder whether grace had to be accepted and whether that acceptance entailed a change in behaviour, or whether grace was a total free gift with no conditions placed upon it at all.

Whatever of the above two viewpoints we were coming from, we did all seem to agree that grace was an incredibly radical and shockingly undeserved … almost scandalous even!

out_edited-1so …. grace …. undeserved yes …
but an acceptance and a change before it is experienced …
or is it experienced with no strings attached …
what do you think?

NB – the next pub theo will be on Monday 25th November. Bishop Brian (really great Bishop who’s bio is here) will be attending as part of his visit to Gillingham. Put the date in your diaries as I think this could be a really good evening.

words … just words …

foot-in-mouth-awardIt’s been a pretty intense week. There have been a lot of conversations and a fair few frustrations. I don’t mind frustrating people (mainly Christian) who don’t seem to get what I am about or what I am trying to achieve but … they are so …. well … flipping frustrating! It seriously got to the stage this week that if I heard one more well meaning Christian cliche shared in response to quite a serious need or issue that I was worried that my normal pacifist self might just erupt in a volcanic scream spewing hot boiling lava over the person Ally McBeal style. If you don’t get that, then you have missed out on one of the funniest TV shows ever!

It turns out that I have not imitated a Vesuvius eruption this week. By God’s grace, or some miracle, I have kept calm and sometimes I have even smiled, even though it may have been through clenched teeth, but I have smiled nevertheless!

I have, however, screamed inwardly this week. Maybe this is my issue and maybe I do need to repent and I certainly know that I need to be more patient. But …. please …. why can’t some Christians think before they open their mouths!!! Just a little … please! Why can’t some people just pause, reflect and think about how they sound before they open their mouths to fix situations or offer advice that was not even asked for!

I need to contextualise this. I have heard some horrendous things this week in my normal everyday comings and goings. Things I have heard this week. Genuine things. Not made up. Said to me or overheard as I am just plain nosey:

Jesus took your 3 month old baby because he wanted another angel in heaven’.
“At least she is now playing with Jesus”
‘Have you ever thought the cancer has come back because God wants to teach you a lesson!’
‘You really need to change your attitude before God will love you’.(Christian parent to teenage child!)
“No REAL Christian would go in there … there’s no hope for them, they are all going to hell … and if you hang out with them ….” (yep … that one was said to me! Actually that one made me smile because the heaven this man talks of is certainly not the place in which I wish to spend eternity!)

The title of this post was going to be ‘watch what you say’, or something similar. But that’s a bit of an oxymoron because … I don’t think …. in this post that I am applying that title to myself. I will probably have negative comeback from this post …. What I have written will no doubt seriously pee off some people. I don’t like to upset people but if I do on this occasion that’s regrettable but tough!

I also know I have friends of no faith who visit here occasionally. Those friends are precious to me, and I want to take this opportunity to share that not all Christians think or say or offer such unhelpful and insensitive stuff. Some believe God is just there with you in the pain, crying next to you and wishing things were different.

At the end of the day this stuff is all just words … but the old sticks and stones rhyme doesn’t really hold up. Sticks and stones do break bones, but I think misplaced words can break hearts.

Maybe I have seen just too many broken hearts these past few weeks that have been further shattered by empty sayings.

So …. words … can we be thoughtful? …. and the certificate at the top of the post … thats for me for writing this post in the first place!


never us … always God

urlToday’s Richard Rohr post is a timely reminder …

We see that Mary is the archetype, the personification of the one who represents and sums up the entire mystery of how salvation is received, and this has many dimensions. Like Jesus, I believe she is a Corporate Personality, a stand-in and exemplar for all of us. This is why the older churches so honored her and were fascinated by her. She is us!

  • The “immaculate conception” refers to her identity before she had done anything right or anything wrong (perhaps implied in Romans 8:30).
  • Her free election at the Annunciation with no mention of merit (Luke 1:38), as it is for us.
  • Her virgin motherhood is shrouded in mystery even for her (Luke 2:19, 51), as it is for us.
  • She has a quiet, ordinary life (no statements for thirty years), as most of ours are.
  • She shows heroic “standing” in dignity and solidarity with the pain and despair at the end (John 19:25).
  • She demonstrates receptivity to the shared life of the Holy Spirit along with everybody else at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

All of these dimensions point to the full meaning of how God is born into the world! It is never about us, and always about God. We, like Mary, are merely “handmaids,” instruments, and it took such a woman as this to make the whole pattern glaringly clear.

good words again to start my day ….

a masterpiece?

969919_568041789884286_1493730485_nYesterday I shared some stuff about the stranger and being open to change. Change through encounters with other people and other ideas which require a certain level of both vulnerability and humility.

Today’s Rohr meditation has caused me to think further:

Turn around and believe the good news!
— Jesus’ first preached words, Mark 1:15

The authentic religious life is a matter of becoming who we already are, and all that we truly are! Can you imagine that? Is the seed already within you—of all that God wants you to be? Do you already know at some level who you authentically are? Are you willing to pay the price, even the mistrust of others? Could that be what we mean by having a unique “soul”? Most saints thus described the path as much more unlearning than learning. There are so many illusions and lies that we must all unlearn. And one of the last illusions to die is that we are all that different or that separate. Finally we are all one and amazingly the same. Differentiation seems to precede union and communion, for some strange reason.

This growing illumination is not just one “decision for Jesus.” It is a whole journey of letting go and developing an ongoing practice of letting go, and turning around one more time, until it becomes a way of life. As the old Shakers used to sing and dance, “. . . To turn, turn / will be our delight, / ’Till by turning, turning / we come round right.” To be authentically human is to change, and to be a whole human is to change many times—away from my smallness and toward an Unspeakable Greatness—which itself is never fully attained.

Rohr, correctly I think, suggests that life (discipleship?) is a lot more about discovering who we already are which can only come through unlearning stuff we have wrongly taken on. One way of unlearning, and rediscovering who we are, can be through interaction with others.  It is in this interaction with other people, with exposure to other methods and ways of thinking, that we can discover our need to change, or to turn …. not once … but over and over again.

We know that we are already created in the image of God. So it makes a lot of sense to say that the Christian life is about discovering, or is that re-discovering, who we are … and unlearning the unhelpful stuff …. so to uncover the original that is already there, but has become hidden.

If we are created in the image of God then we can rightly view ourselves as masterpieces, the creation. As I’ve thought about this today I have thought about an art restorer restoring a masterpiece. As he or she gently cleans off the grime, more and more of the original masterpiece is seen. Parts of the image are ‘rediscovered’ and become noticeable for the first time in many years. In many cases the masterpiece takes on a whole new meaning and certain things that were puzzling become more understandable.

As we interact, listen, learn, become aware is it possible for us, also, to uncover parts of God’s masterpiece we call ourselves that we had forgotten were there, or have simply been blind to for many years? I believe we can.

To be authentically human is to change … and to be whole human is to change many times.

There’s a challenge!

gathered in inhabited space

An exploration inwards, upwards, inwards and downwards was the title of yesterday’s gathering planned by a group from the community. We focussed on our senses and watched the video which we then discussed in a way that allowed all to take part. the video is called to the power of ten for obvious reasons when you watch the video.

I was intrigued to see the echo of emptiness at both extremes of moving away to the power of ten in the universe and moving inward to the power of ten within the human body.

It seemed to me that there was a God echo at 10 to the power of 24 and 10 to the power of …… the commentator says this emptiness is normal, the richness of our world is the exception.

Fascinating … although as a Christian I don’t quite believe that! At the extreme of the universe, and at the ‘intreme’ of the human body, there may be space, it may look empty, but I believe it is inhabited space …. God indwelled space … and in that space we find our creator.

letting God be God

tumblr_llrj0wy6Th1qenz05o1_500Yesterday I had the real privilege of taking a baptism at St Mark’s Church. Sarah and Jo led all age worship amazingly, as they always do, in a way that engaged people in a way that set them at ease but also challenged them to consider God’s word afresh, or maybe even for the first time.

The churches I work alongside do around 40-50 baptisms a year, which in itself is pretty exciting. One of the churches I am connected to has two baptism services per month due to the local demand. In a world that is supposedly becoming increasingly secular this in itself tells me that God is present and engaging with people in this area in a  pretty fundamental way …. by making people aware of their need for God in their lives.

Yesterday’s baptism was special and will stay with me for a while due to the story that goes with it. The person I baptised went on a school trip to a cathedral. In the cathedral, on a normal school trip, just wandering around the building, chatting to friends and listening to teachers, during a week day, with no talk, or exposition, or funny crowd pulling story … something special happened to this person.

The day after the school trip the person was found kneeling by the sofa with hands together. When asked by one of the family what was going on this reply came: ‘I’m praying because yesterday at the cathedral, I met Jesus, and now I want to be baptised.’

God just did that by …. errr being GOD! 

Sometimes I get frustrated with people who seem to believe that we need to have a certain formula, or do things in a certain way, or have a certain tone of song, before God will act and do anything.  Sometimes I have found people, myself included, to be so sure of how God will behave to such an extent that if those certain things do not happen, they then draw conclusions that God was not there!

How incredibly bizarre is that way of thinking!

There is nowhere in God’s creation that God is not present. A basic principle of orthodox Christianity is the omnipresence of God.

keep-calm-let-god-be-godEssentially, this puts us in the position of dictating to God the way that God should do something. Actually I wonder if that puts us on the border of actually attempting to be God ourselves.

I wonder a lot of the time if what actually happens in the world is that God simply carries on doing what God does … and we can be so boxed up in our thinking that we miss what God is already doing. It’s not God’s fault that people don’t see what God is doing!

Sometimes… just the space, just the realisation that God will be God, and just allowing God to be God is simply all that is needed.

everyone has a story …

victoryI simply love Jamie the Very Worst Missionary‘s blog. I have followed Jamie’s blog for a few years. Sometimes she makes me stand up and shout ‘yes’, other times I come away thinking that I resonate with her feelings of frustration with Christians, and others I laugh at her courage and honesty.  Jamie has a real gritty knack of just saying how it is. The reality of mission that she writes about encourages me.

The other day this post, victory, moved me. It’s produced by Jamie’s church and is well worth watching. In this video Danielle tells hers tory. It’s powerful … especially when she hears from God, via the eyes of a deer, that he is sick of not having her, and that, essentially, he wants her back.

This is Danielle’s story … what’s yours?

falling into God?

DSC_1445So Easter has come and gone, bank holidays are over, lots of people are back at work, or doing other, normal,  things …. and everything seems to have returned to normal.

Or has it? Throughout Easter the Church of England has been using the #everythingchanges on its twitter account. Gimmick … or has it? Or is it simply that nothing changes because the resurrection has already happened …. and so already everything has changed.

Over this Lent and Easter I have managed to get on to the allotment a little bit more (today, for some reason I was one of only two people there as we dug with snow falling around us!). While I have been digging, or tying up raspberry canes, or whatever I have found myself uttering the Franciscan prayer:

Who are you God? And who am I?

Such a simple unassuming prayer that I did not even know that I knew. I must have forgotten as it came from my subconscious to being verbalised somehow. An open ended prayer that asks everything while assuming nothing; and in its very asking invites that charge of ‘everything changes’. As I have dug and contemplated, I think I have learned a little more of God, and a little more of me in my digging. But …. in that mini revelation I have become aware yet again how little I know and how immense God is …. but even more …. how immense I, a creation in his image, must also be.

As I dug today in the snow, I started to understand something of my own significance and validation from the Creator God who ‘knit me together in mothers womb’. Even as I write that my 50% Britishness kicks in and urges me to press and hold the delete button …. but today, for a few moments, as I turned soil, God seemed to sift through my thoughts and re-affirm me as the person he created, approves of, and validates.

And the reason easter is so exciting, so amazing, is that this affirmation is true for everyone. It’s not just me, it’s not just Christians, it’s not just people of faith … it’s every single person who is significant to God. They must be, we must be, if we believe God created us all because “God hates nothing that he has made’. I believe ana wakening to that knowledge, or a remembering of that sentiment that is so easy to forget in the monotony of everyday life, mens that ….. for all of us … everything changes.

I was hit between the eyes this morning as this very prayer was the subject of Richard Rohr’s daily meditation:

Evelyn Underhill claims it’s almost the perfect prayer. The abyss of your own soul and the abyss of the nature of God have opened up, and you are falling into both of them simultaneously. Now you are in a new realm of Mystery and grace, where everything good happens!

falling into God … I think that’s good news …

to be human

DSC_0554I wrote yesterday that we need to learn how to receive and allow others to serve us even, and possibly importantly, if we feel we are called to serve those that are around us.

Admitting to needing to learn how to receive seems a little strange. It’s hard for myself to admit that I need to learn how to receive things from others with grace and without that immediate desire to return the favour with something better. But I was not always like this. I do not remember having any difficulty receiving when I was a child. We only have to observe children opening presents to realise they have no problem with receiving gifts.

When I was a child I knew how to receive …. so what has happened? I don’t simply need to learn how to receive, I need to remember how to receive. Maybe I need to learn from the children around me.

But why? The niggling question that’s been going around in my head for the last 24 hours is ‘why is it so important to know how to receive?’

I think it is important at this time of Advent in particular because, as Bodenheim shares in her thought for today, ‘Advent is a time of warning and penitence, a time of critical reflection of our faith. During these times we make room for confessions. We drop our defensiveness. We acknowledge that we are not God.’

When we live lives that we control due to technology we lose sight of that fact that we are created. When we are always looking to prove ourselves, to add those little things into conversations in an attempt to show that we kno everything, we lose sight of the fact that we are human. When we use technology to keep going when the seasons imply we should slow down, we lose sight of the fact that we are fallible. It becomes easy to delude ourselves into thinking we are central to all. But we are not. God is.

Advent is a good time to wait and to receive, for in receiving we realise we do not have it all, that we need help, that we are not God …. but that God is here … and God is waiting.

attentive love

RIchard Rohr continues his Maternal Face of God series today with these words:

Sara Ruddick, in her book Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, speaks of the attentive love of a mother. In summary, Ruddick says mothers are characterized by attentive love. They have to keep watching this new life; they have to keep listening and adjusting to the needs of the child. It is necessary to recognize a new agenda with the growth of the child. If the mother cannot transform herself into attentive love, she quite simply cannot be a mother. She has to learn early on that life is about change, not about “standing your ground,” which is not going to help a child. All growth is about changing and adjusting to what is needed at this moment, with these tears, and by this child. The mother cannot run to abstract truths. Philosophy and theology courses at that point would probably be boring to her.

I cannot help but think that the present persecution of the Religious Sisters by the Vatican reflects this difference. The Sisters, by and large, went toward human need and pain with “attentive love.” The clergy, I being one of them, can easily stay in abstract theories and theologies and never get to love at all.

The case of the Religious Sisters  came up in discussion recently and I was quite perturbed by the seemingly simplistic and insensitive attitude that all the Vatican were doing was ‘asking the sisters to follow Catholic teaching’. This implies the Sisters do not wish to follow teaching and their total dismissal, rather than consideration, is shocking. Surely as we learn more of God, teaching changes. We used to teach that the world was flat … that we learnt more and we change our teaching!

How can we ensure that we are carriers of that attentive love while not falling into what can often be the sad judgementalism of disconnected theories and theologies?