Dust – promise or curse?

imageIt blows down dry streets in eddies, dead. It gathers in corners. It forms into rich earth, and out of it sprout tiny seeds. It compacts into warm and rich clay, which can be cut and slammed and shaped by hands and wheel into pots, and bowls and little figures of stout women and tiny men. It blows in the stellar winds in furthest space. It is dust.

My thinking was challenged on Ash Wednesday with this beautifully written post over on the Thinking Anglicans website. Today I was challenged again as we visited a tin mine where, essentially tin ‘dust’ is transformed into something of use. I guess i have aways considered the negative and penitential side of dust, rather than the potential. Go read more here

a bench of bishops

One of the highlights of being on placement at St Stephens over Lent ans been the Lent course planned by the Chatham Deanery of churches. On 5 successive Wednesday evenings they managed to get a bishop to speak as follows:

Bishop James Rochester: empowering mission relevant to our society and culture
Bishop Stephen Venner: how does war enable or disable mission?
Bishop Brian Tonbridge: What can we learn about mission from other countries?
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali: Mission to those with other faiths and none
Bishop Michael Turnbull: A Church of England kind of mission.

In that collection we have two former bishops of Rochester, the current and Suffragen bishops of Rochester and the Bishop for the Armed Forces … the deanery did well at getting them together! A you would expect the quality of the speaking has been excellent and thought provoking.  If there was one bishop missing, I would have liked to see Bishop Graham Cray with some title like ‘mission for new times’ … but in a way many of them approached that from their individual perspectives.

Rather than write after each bishop I have decided to wait and pull out one thought from each as I look back over Lent:

Bishop James took the text of Jeremiah 29 and challenges us to settle in the places we are called to. He implied many long to be moved from where they are and hold back … but we are encouraged by Jeremiah’s words to the exiles to put down roots and really become parts of our communities.
Bishop Stephen  took a line on warfare now being very complicated and so ministry and mission being complicated to; with Jesus demanding we love our enemies as well as our friends. This could demand that Christians could be in places and positions that could be both dangerous geographically and unpopular sociologically.
Bishop Brian got us thinking about worship and mission being two sides of the same coin, asking ‘is worship mission?’ and ‘is mission worship?’ It’s a great question as many seem to concentrate on one to the detriment of others.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali  challenged us in how we balance the hospitality and embassy sides of our faith; that is how we welcome people and how we go out to people.he underlined this by reminding us that the Abrahamic call to be a blessing to others still stood! In response to some comments he reminded us that on this earth there is no God vacuum – God is everywhere and can be found everywhere!
Bishop Michael Turnbull finished the series by talking about the importance of people and their stories and that our beliefs should be seen as a framework om which our faith grows, using a plant growing on a trellis as an image. I liked this image as it showed that the plant (faith) grows around the framework (belief) in different ways and even beyond the framework leaving loose ends. To hear a mature and respected bishop say he still had ‘loose ends of faith’ or doubt but still had  firm faith is pretty encouraging!

As I said it has been a good 6 Wednesday evenings which has given us loads to think about. They all challenge me but I guess most are those thoughts to put down roots, to be a blessing, and notice God is all situations are the things that spoke to me the most.

days 7,8,9 …. rooted in the community

I guess I am getting into the swing of things at St. Stephens and learning names and understanding how they do things. Yesterday I presided at a mid week Eucharist which surprised me with an attendance of 10 people, which is quite a lot more than I see when I preside at the mid week eucharists in the cathedral. I compare only because I find it interesting to observe and learn what draws people to such a service at 10am on a Wednesday morning.

Most of the people there yesterday were retired in some capacity and the service is clearly important to them. Some were moving next to visiting some homes in the parish with the magazine so our closing words of ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ were said with immediate practical application.

Yesterday ended with atending the Lent course. The Chatham churches are getting together every Wednesday evening over Lent and have managed to get a different bishop each night to talk on a topic. Last night Bishop James spoke to the title, ‘Empowering Mission relevant to our society and culture’. I was encouraged by what I heard.

Bishop James spoke widely around the term ‘empowering mission‘. What empowers mission was an early question and ‘the Holy Spirit’ was an early answer. He then turned the term around and asked how does mission empower people because he believed mission, if it is mission, is about transforming lives and not just saving souls as Jesus makes pretty clear in John 10:10. I wanted to shout a loud front row Pentecostal yes to that … but you will be glad to know I kept my Anglican calm dignity in the back row by nodding slowly but surely!

Bishop James ended his talk by referring to Jeremiah chapter 29 and these word which were written to exiles that, I presume, wanted to escape their exile:
build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters – that you may be increased there and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in it’s peace, you will have peace. (vv5-8)

Sometimes we can feel as exiles where we are; but our role and calling is not to moan but to settle and to be a blessing. As Bishop James said, we need to be rooted in the places we are, listening to the heartbeat of our communities and responding appropriately.

I love that statement and I agree with it wholeheartedly. That is what I am attempting to do in the St Stephen’s parish but it takes a lot longer than 6 weeks to tune in. To be rooted in a place takes time and sometimes it does not happen at all …. but when it does relationships flourish and people of a place become very special. After 20 years of living and working in a variety of ways in the community of Medway I feel like roots are developing and growing well. I can sense and hear the heartbeat and, in my case, pioneering is about the responding appropriately. It takes that long to establish roots in a place which is why I am fighting to stay locally in my next role.

People ask am I moving, can I move and will I move … I could, there are opportunities both in this diocese and others …. but I don’t think I can as I, well we as a family,  passionately feel called to serve the people of Medway, to seek the welfare of the people of Medway, to pray for peace for the people of Medway. When I first came here from Weymouth in 1987 I hated Medway with a passion and could not wait to return to the West Country …. we worked for Holy Trinity Nailsea for 4 years but we came back, believing God called us back here. I can say I have built my house here, I am planting my garden (remember my allotment!) … and I’ve even ‘taken’ (not my word!) a wife and beget sons and a daughter here. As I consider this passage what other response can I make?

I will seek the peace of this city … and in that peace I hope that I will fine mine.

giving up the cathedral for Lent

I’m giving up the cathedral for Lent!
I find that the cathedral takes up an enormous amount of my time. I have found myself visiting and wandering through it, on average, around 6 times a day. Quite often I loiter and chat with people instead of simply passing through and and can often be seen sitting with someone in one of the side chapels  and listening to what they have to share. I’ve even taken to blessing crosses and babies when asked my concerned parents and people buying crosses from our gift shop.

It’s clear that the cathedral is taking up a massive amount of my time … far more time than facebook or twitter accounts do. On some days I have even worked out that I have spent more time actually in the cathedral listening to others than I have listening to my own family. I think if it was any other activity then people would be saying this was not ‘helpful’.

So …. I am giving up the cathedral for Lent. The last time I set foot in the building was yesterday, and the next time will be April 16th (which schedules in a post Easter break in Cornwll!)

On a more serious note …. today I start a 6 week parish placement at St. Stephen’s Chatham as a formal part of my training. I’m going to be involved in ‘parish stuff’ rather than cathedral ‘stuff’ and balance that with my ‘pioneering stuff’. So although I will be staying away from the cathedral it will business pretty much as normal with Wetherspoons, Deaf Cat and the gathering. I expect to learn some stuff which will help me in the future … whatever that may look like.

If you are the praying kind … please pray that I have the grace to be open to learning and gain and give all that I can … as I will be honest and say I really wanted to spend my last Easter at the cathedral with my cathedral family … and I admit to feeling a great sense of loss being away from that what would have been my last major festival with those I have grown to love over the last few years.  I am required to be at St. Stephens which, in effect, cuts the period of saying bye and I sense some pain in that. But … that sense of loss and pain can be quite a healthy attitude for me to be starting the Lenten journey with.

So … Lent …. and I’m off to St. Stephens for the 10am Ash Wednesday service.

(Oh yeah …. as an aside … if you thought my giving up the cathedral ‘ditty’ was a dig at those giving up facebook for Lent … well spotted!     I mean … come on … if Facebook and Twitter  have really taken over your lives so much that you feel they are getting in the way and you need to give up for Lent … shouldn’t that be a concern for you for the other 46 weeks in the year … just saying!?)


the allotment of life

In the Christmas holiday we acquired an allotment from the council. I have been on the waiting list for around 4 / 5 years nd had started to think we would never get to the top of the list … but at the end of the year we did!

Our plot has been neglected a bit and needs a lot of work but we have been slowly working on little bits by clearing rubbish, strimming areas and starting to dig beds for stuff we are going to grow. We have even covered others areas with weed suppressing cloth … aren’t you impressed! The allotment also has a pond on it which Joe is going tombe responsible for which I hope will add to our organic vision for our plot.

This half term week I have spent most mornings working for around 3 hours on the allotment and been loving the space, the quiet and the freedom of working in the outdoors.  It gets quite buy at the weekend, but during the week, it seems, the place is pretty quiet. I have found that the allotment can be a great place of retreat. The regular and repetitive tasks on the allotment such as weeding, digging, sweeping or planting help me as I pray and reflect on what has gone and what may be ahead. It reminded me of my weeks retreat a long time ago with the Northumbria Community when Rob, my guide, set me a bible passage to mull over as I planted potatoes. The repetitive activity of planting really enhanced my thinking and listening to God.

The other week I spoke a homily based on the parable of the sower which was written in my head while working on the allotment. This has traditionally been thought of as a parable speaking of who will be in God’s KIngdom and who will be excluded. I am always uncomfortable with any interpretation which talks of a loving God excluding people. As I worked I rethought the parable and thought of it more as a parable of soils rather than sowers.

I did this as I noticed that all the allotments are identical in size but differ in their proportions of different soils which each allotment having some areas which are very fertile and are being fully cultivated and are fruitful, while some areas are hard and compact and have been paths for years, and will remain paths. Other bits are full of rocks and need ‘sifting’, while yet other bits are quite weedy and thorny and need clearing. I also noticed the plots which always seem to have the owner working on them whenever I visit tend to be the plots which have more fertile ground than others.

In my homily I likened this to our lives and ended
 by saying: ‘If you are like me, (and my allotment!) your life is going to be like a field. Some of is the hardened first soil, some of it is the rocky soil, some of it is the thorny soil, and some of it is good soil. The goal is to till the hardened soil, clear away the rocks, and burn out the thorns so that our entire field becomes good, fertile soil. We are all like allotments with our mixture of life stuff where we don’t want to hear from God and avoid him, mixed with the rocks that trip us up and the thorns we don’t realise are snagging us. But we all have good soil too, those areas of our lives where we allow God to change us.

I wonder whether this parable talks to us more about our personal lives and discipleship than it does about who is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of God’s Kingdom. I wonder if it is more about God challenging us to give over more of our lives to God. As we approach Lent, I wonder if this parable is not so much about who believes the right or wrong things, but about giving up ideas of the importance of ourselves and in that giving up, allowing God to remould us and recreate us into the people we are supposed to be. I just wonder ….

the first to get it ….

Are you the sort of person who is often the last to ‘get it’ or are you one of the first? …. and by ‘get it’ I mean ‘understand’, be in on what is happening, understand the situation or so on or so on.

On reading the gospel accounts of the crucifixion scene the other day I think I ‘got’ something for the first time. It seems that the robber who was crucified with Jesus, the one who said:

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom’

was the first person to really get what Jesus was about.

This little statement jumped out and grabbed me as I read the whole gospel. To put this in context everyone else was really taking the piss out of Jesus. Are you really the Messiah? … then do this … do that …. save yourself … if you were the Messiah then you would … Christ was being mocked horrendously. The ‘experts’ of the law and the religious ‘geniuses’ were at the forefront of this mocking. The disciples even frustrated Jesus in that they never seemed to understand what he was about, even though they hung out with him all day long.

Out of the centre of this mockery comes this simple statement … ‘Jesus, remember me’.

The others, those that should have recognised Jesus, see the humiliation, the sacrifice and can’t believe it is God – they are not seeing what is front of them … they have lost the plot. The disciples get scared and run away. In their minds this cannot be the Messiah.

The robber, the condemned man hanging with Jesus sees what is happening and he grasps it, he understands. He gets it – this must be the Messiah!

I think we have a scene here that the ‘educated’, those who should know can learn masses from the outsider, the one on the edge, the distraught, the distressed …. the condemned.

And that got me thinking about myself, and my interactions with people – I find that often people I meet with get Jesus a lot more than others that I know in the church.

I wonder …. what can we learn from Christ from those around us that others may have written off?

emotional heartbeats

The blog has been a bit quiet – I think that is due to Lent. For Lent this year I have been reflecting on ‘stuff’ and making use of CMS’s 40 days of Yes. I know I am a year behind everyone else – but that’s the way I like to be!

I don’t deliberately give things up at Lent. My psyche works against me if I try to do that – if I concentrate on not doing something I seem to end up failing! Instead, I decide to take something on … and inevitably in this ‘taking on’ means I give up time that I was wasting on other things.

I have been challenged by a few things and I think I’m going to start to blog about a couple. Today I have been thinking more about what Rick Warren calls my ’emotional heartbeat’.

I would never ever read any of the Purpose Driven Stuff. I don’t know why but the ‘driven’ language really turn me off, so if it was not for CMS I would not have found this quote from The Purpose Driven Life:

‘God has given us each a unique emotional heartbeat that races when we think about the subjects, activities or circumstances that interest us. We instinctively care about some things and not about others. These are clues to where you should be serving …..’

And so I have been asking myself for quite a few days – what is my emotional heartbeat?

At first sight this seems that it should be an easy question to answer but I am finding there are quite a lot of layers to peel through before I can get an accurate answer. There are the answers that I think I should give as a Christian, let along as an ordained person in the Church of England! Then there are the answers which others have told me which bounce around in my mind. There is also all that ‘stuff’ that was spoken over me as a child from parents as well as a young Christian in churches when I was exploring faith. You can also add the answers that the media, both good and bad, tell me I am passionate about.

I shared recently with Sarah that the Comic Relief is the only thing of its kind that ‘grabs me in the gut’. I cannot watch Comic Relief without tears rolling down my face. Even though other campaigns like Children in Need are amazing they don’t grab me in the same way. Does this mean my emotional heartbeat is in some way connected to that? I’m not sure – but I don’t think so. (I guess this is where my concern with Purpose Driven lies – the language implies an immediate action, to jump to your heart beat … but I wonder how many people have jumped rather than thought and reflected!?)

So – what is my emotional heartbeat? I don’t know … I’m still ‘un-peeling’ but in there somewhere is justice and wanting to speak out for the voiceless, and in there is people and wanting to get to know them, and in there is Christ giving people full lives and in there is something else that I can’t quite put my finger on yet …

So …. emotional heartbeats … and yours is ….?