Summer talk

ibiza-religonAnother good day as I met up with my great friend Richard from ICS and other people to chat more about Ibiza.

You may remember I went to Ibiza last summer (when I took the pic!) for 5 days with Richard to look to see how we could engage with spiritual seekers and tourists who both live on and visit the island. When I say engage … in case you were wondering … I don’t mean try and convert …. I mean to be a catalyst with them as they seek to engage with the spiritual, the creator and life.

I’m seeing that quite often people see Christian ‘mission’ as trying to change how they act, or how they believe. While that may happen; my view of mission is that it is more to join in with God is already doing, to help people notice what is deeply going on inside them already … to help them some some sense maybe of what they are experiencing in the spiritual part of their lives …. and then allowing God and the person to work it all out. After all … if God is God … then God does not need me t convince people …. God just needs me to show up and be there for when needed!ibiza clubJPG.JPG

I simply want people to be aware that they are created in the image of God and seen as perfect by God … as they are … i.e. they do no need to change to be acceptable! Mini sermon done!

We chatted through some exciting ideas and possibilities for Ibiza today …. only possibilities and ideas at this stage …but I still hope to return to this beautiful place in the summer …. watch this space and we shall see.

love is just … err love!

love-inspirational-dailyThere seems to be a recurring theme of sadness over discrimination and treatment of people coming through my thoughts and writings at the moment. I have been aware for some time that one of the things that really does ignite my personal anger is seeing someone treated unjustly, unfairly and simply not being treated with respect.

This upsets me because one of the core theological beliefs that fires me is that we are ALL made in the image of God. While this does not mean we are divine in any way, it does mean we are unique in our relationship with God and it means we are all worthy of respect and love. Not only all of us individually, but all of us personally! If this is true then we cannot choose who to respect or treat fairly based on our opinions of colour, gender, sexuality, or any other personal features. If we are all created in the image of God, then we are all created in the image of God and  all of every person is created in the Image of God.

Yet … a lot of church discussions at the moment seem to be focussed on doctrine and behaviour, rather than this simple mutuality of being created in God’s image.

One thing in particular that has saddened me this week is the ‘pastoral’ letter from the House of Bishops. I was encouraged by Bishop Alan’s response here…. who quotes Sister Simone Campbell ‘following the gospel mens be not afraid, welcome everyone, hug them, welcome them close and live and love’. While that encourages me …. the blog of Rachel simply makes me weep … the reality of this situation is simply not good news.

Why is it so difficult to accept that love is love, and that, actually, none of us, whatever our sexuality, has ever had any choice about who we fall in love with! 

If it doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not God!

the face you had before you were born

urlI find today’s Richard Rohr comment strikes a nerve with me.

Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God, “the face you had before you were born,” as the Zen masters say. It’s who you were before you did anything right or anything wrong. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity, which can be neither gained nor lost by any technique, group affiliation, morality, or formula whatsoever’

Last week I spoke with the same Christian man I spoke of yesterday with the strong sexist and racist views. He outlined how he thought all babies were born evil and condemned to hell unless they ‘accepted Jesus as their personal lord and saviour’. He used the concept or ‘original sin’ to justify this. To me that doesn’t look much like Jesus so it can’t have anything to do with God.

Today I baptised a beautiful baby today called Toby. Toby is the son of Zoe and Tony who I married when I was a curate at the cathedral – my first wedding at the cathedral. This was one of those real privilege situations which do not come around very often. But … as I held Toby in my arms … to think of him in any other terms than blessing and perfection does not really have much of Jesus in it … so can it be of God?

I have never fully accepted or resonated with Augustine’s concept of original sin. If we look at the Genesis accounts, God looks at creation and says ‘it is good’; next God looks at humankind, who are created in God’s image, and says ‘they are VERY good’.

Our ORIGINAL state as humanity is one that God calls very good. Not just ‘good’ like the rest of creation, but ‘very good’ …. even better than creation. Just let that sink in a  minute …. I’ve tried and can’t …. I’ve seen some pretty amazing parts of God’s creation which are stunning …. and yet to hear, believe and accept that God thinks I am even better than them is a pretty mind blowing concept.

But … just because it is mind blowing … and hard to accept … does not neutralise the truth that it is so! 

I think that blows any ideas of the original-ness of sin or evil right out of the water, beyond the sea, over the mountains, through the stratosphere and into a totally different solar system! One that doesn’t exist! Rather than original sin I think we are created in original perfection or original blessedness, because this is our original state.

If we could fully accept and live our lives out of that … wouldn’t that be pretty amazing!

everyday vulnerabilty

vulnerable spiderLast night my good friend, Terry, preached a blinder at St Mark’s on friendship … and drew out that friendship cannot happen without vulnerability. (I guess you will be able to listen for yourself soon from this link)

Terry used the friendship of Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel 18 as one illustration. Jonathan hands over his robe, belt, sword and bow … in both an act of trust/friendship but also one of great vulnerability. From such vulnerability comes a strong relationship.

I think last nights sermon hit on the crux of friendship … but maybe even on the whole of Christian life … friendship, relationships, work, ministry. As I have thought over night I have realised this should come as no surprise really if we consider the Christ child.

The incarnation, the God taking on flesh stuff and moving into the neighbourhood, is an image of total and complete vulnerability. The creator of the universe becoming a foetus in the womb of a teenage girl in a pretty rough end of the world, growing as a child in society totally dependant on a successful harvest and at the mercy of pretty primitive medical facilities if things started to go wrong. There were 30 years of that normal everyday vulnerability before Jesus starts his work and moves into that last week leding to that Friday where we see vulnerability at it’s most raw!

As I look at my week ahead, and my weeks gone past, I think vulnerability is key to what I do. I think it is key to what everyone does in reality. We all live a daily life of everyday vulnerability …. whether we walk a high street with a dog collar on, or whether we stand in front of a class of students, or whether we run a bank, or whether we keep a home going …. each role entails us giving something of ourselves, being vulnerable. Interestingly in places I have worked it is those who pretend and give nothing of themselves, those who refuse to accept or give their vulnerability,  who are the bullies or the people that people don’t wish to work with very much.

Terry is totally correct that friendship, real friendship, cannot develop without vulnerability. I would add that Christian mission, or life, also cannot genuinely happen without being vulnerable. It is in our vulnerability that people see that we value, care and love them for who they are. As an aside some Christians in our country complain about Christian rights … that has always jarred with me. I follow a Christ who made himself totally vulnerable …. to be vulnerable means you give up your rights and rely on God. How can we campaign for ‘Christian rights’ when we follow the Christ of Good Friday?

In today’s thought from Richard Rohr we read: When vulnerable exchange happens, there is always a broadening of being on both sides. We are bigger and better people afterward.

Without vulnerability I don’t think we have much. It is something unique about humanity. It was something unique about Christ.

I wonder …. being made in the image of God … maybe there is something there about sharing in the vulnerability of our creator … as he made himself vulnerable … so maybe we are to do so as well …

And then .. by our vulnerability we become more the person we are created to be.

don’t stop … you might find yourself!

DSC_0042On Sunday evening some of the gathering got together in a local pub to have a go at writing our first aspirational statement with practices or ‘the how’ we will attempt to live our lives.

It would be wrong to put ‘out there’ the statement and points we came up with at this time as they are draft and for the whole gathering community, rather than just a part of us, to agree, but I think it is ok to say that our first statement, or value, is one of ‘sanctuary’ as outlined here

Interestingly we chatted round the language we used and I think we were able to come up with something that is quite inclusive and welcoming of others. An issue we had was of producing something that demanded some form of commitment from us while avoiding some bar set so high that it became a chore and probably unachievable. This is a very exciting, if challenging, time for us as the gathering as we continue with this process of developing our rhythm of life. 

The more I have thought about this topic of sanctuary, the more I am coming to see that sanctuary could be quite a key element to both a personal and communal faith and lifestyle. Every rhythm needs space, and rest, and reflection, and contemplation …. As many know I have an allotment. The seasonal work of an allotment means that there are varied workloads and, quite importantly, a period of rest while stuff dies or hibernates or retreats to within until it gets warmer. Without the rest in the seasons the crops would not be able to grow while without the rest and variety of activity, the allotment keeper would die!!!

I find the more I look at the 21st century world the less I see of sanctuary. People, generally, seem to want to pack more and more stuff into their lives. I read the words of someone recently (I can’t remember who) that said thy cannot cope with space and silence and need to fill it. Rather than be silent this person would rather count the stars I think they said. 

The question I ask of such a person is, ‘what are you running from?’ To shy away from space and silence seems to indicate to me a reluctance to rest with oneself. I think the person who avoids sanctuary or rest or silence or space is running from themself out of a fear of what they might find if they stop. 

As a rule in a post modern consumerist society … do we run from ourselves out of a fear of what we may find? As created beings, made in the image of God,I wonder if maybe if we spend time with ourselves we might be amazingly surprised … as we take space and listen we may well hear something of great value …

…. maybe …


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!

pub theo: transgender questions?

pub theo gathered again last night ….one person on their first visit asked how long we had been meeting and I was shocked to realise that next month will mark our second birthday. Maybe we should do something special to mark the occasion on July 30th…. maybe go for a drink or something!

Tonight we started with a great question which ws presented on facebook a little while ago: if we are made in Gods image and created male and female and that is how he wants us to be and us not to change our sex. Then what about people who are born Hermaphrodites, born with both parts, What happens there? What Sex did God create them? Did we cause a flaw somewhere? or was that how it was meant to be? how can some one determine another person’s sex when they are born?

The discussion was lively ad healthy with people having pretty strong views. These views ranged from people needing to be encouraged to accept their body / identifiable gender to views of complete acceptance and non – judgement to all. There were differing views between those two views as well.

This whole area really grabs me as a while ago I wrote a short presentation questioning this which I concluded in this way:

I argue for hope in a God finishing what he started which demands an alternative Christian view of engagement, passion and transformation in this area. We consider before us a person in turmoil, confused, ill at ease and in the wrong place, but desiring transformation. To my mind this is like the image of a small Christian community waiting for Jesus Christ.
This is not someone to reject, to be repulsed or afraid of and neither is it someone to deprive of surgery; this is someone to embrace, to admire and allow to experience the transformational love of God. ‘Maybe not God given by birth, but God given by the ability of medical science developed through the God given talents of compassionate human beings.’

If you arw that interested and want to read the talk n its entirety it may be accessed here under ‘Approaches and Methods in Theology’, which was the module I happened to be studying at the time.

Following this we discussed rules verses living as a way of living out our (Christian) faith. We also spoke a lot about whether there was one way to live as a Christian, and whether that would be a good or bad thing if there was.

once again …. a great heated discussion …. see you next month!

what is it about women?!

Today I have been dipping in and out of the General synod debate on women bishops. Some readers will now be confused and asking ‘what …. you mean the Church of England doesn’t have women bishops!!!???’ Sadly, no we don’t! Not yet …. but happily I think the day is coming and will be coming soon. (I kid you not – I had such a conversation last week in the coffee shop and the look of shock was amazing!)

I must admit to feeling a sense of frustration with some of the arguments against being recycled when, through our process of discerning and diocesan synod voting, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of dioceses believe this is where God is leading us. Out of the 43 dioceses, 41 voted in favour of women bishops. These meetings and discussions will have been covered in prayer and people will have debated prayerfully (as they have in general synod) … so we have asked God to lead us and God has.

I long for the day when we see women as bishops within our church – this will put right a massive sense of incompleteness that many have carried for a very long time.

It’s interesting that around the blog world the last couple of weeks that Driscoll and others have been shouting that the church is not masculine enough. A masculine Christianity is needed goes their argument … really? Coming from Driscoll, in a church that only recognises  male leadership I fail to grasp how it can be more masculine!

TSK has been following the blog conversation and, as is his great skill, he writes a good summary here. In the discussion of headship, gender and suchlike TSK draws attention to the Song of Anselm who was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1109:
Jesus as a mother you gather your people to you
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds

TSK’s 6 challenges are real challenges to consider at the end of his post and challenge me, particularly number 2!

Some of the basis of the argument for all this stuff over gender and headship arises because many have lost sight of who God is. God is not human, God is God. God is not male, not is not female. When God created humanity …. male and female were created .. and both male wand female were created IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. How then can there be a difference or a holding back or a depriving of one part of God’s image from carrying out their calling from God? In one part i deprived, we are all deprived!

Maybe we need to take time, to contemplate, to rediscover that we follow a God of inclusion, a God of blessing and yes, a God of paradox …. but most of all a God of love and unity. One God, creator of all!


we want them to …

This week is prisons week which I have thought about more this year in light of the ‘stuff’ in the media recently about whether prisoners should have the vote or not. For a few years now I have been following this blog of a prison chaplain working in Scotland. I think what she writes is very powerful, and today she posts a thought provoking poem from Judge Dennis Challeen:

We want them to have self-worth
So we destroy their self-worth

We want them to be responsible
So we take away all responsibility

We want them to be positive and constructive
So we degrade them and make them useless

We want them to be trustworthy
So we put them where there is no trust

We want them to be non-violent
So we put them where violence is all around them

We want them to be kind and loving people
So we subject them to hatred and cruelty

We want them to quit being the tough guy
So we put them where the tough guy is respected

We want them to quit hanging around losers
So we put all the losers under one roof

We want them to quit exploiting us
So we put them where they exploit each other

We want them to take control of their lives, own problems and quit being a parasite…
So we make them totally dependant on us.

It seems to me that more needs to be done to restore hope and responsibility in our fellow human beings, fellow image carriers of God, who are in prisons. Giving back the vote would seem to be one small step in that long massive process.

The tension of the ordinary

I while ago I was able to visit the Peter Doig exhibition and have been meaning to blog about it for ages.

I love Doig’s work for a number of reasons. The sheer size of most of what he produces is stunning and iot can be quite easy to become immersed into the art work. While looking at Jetty, for example, it was easy to feel drawn, almost sucked, into the piece and having a conversation with the lonely figure.

I found this exhibition amazingly spiritual. I found myself asking who the solitary figure was. I wondered why I was interested. I was intrigued that I found the figure inviting, as if he was waiting for me to join him. The atmosphere generated by the painting is hard to describe, but the air seemed charged with expectation and tension as I quietly watched.

The subject of the lone figure appears a lot in Doig’s work – as does the image of of a person alone in a canoe which was inspired by watching Friday 13th.

It’s interesting to see how profound the simple everyday experiences can be as this experience alone influenced Doig for over a decade.

I love it when people like Doig drag me back to reality. Not the normal reality of my everyday – but the reality that tells me that life all around us is charged with energy, with tension with expectation.

If we believe that God sits within creation then what can that mean. How can it be that we can wander around seemingly blind to the over-presence, or hyper-presence, of Creator God in our midst? Is humanity really that blind?

I don’t think humanity is. Instead, I wonder whether experiences like my Doig experience in the Tate Britain a few weeks ago are quiet, but special and profound, encounters with Creator God hides and passively hopes; but a God that speaks through experiences by saying ‘you feel something special; a fundamental, unique but familiar tension here … wake up … that tension which you can feel and experience is flowing from the one who created you.’

As I walk with God today I am going to be reminding myself to look for God in the tension of the ordinary.