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 ….?

open the fist

This morning I spoke about lent being an opportunity to give up our old images of God and allow God to show us more of the real him. I guess I started to think about this last year during Lent while reading Maggi Dawn’s Giving It Up and was challenged about this again after recently reading these words of Bishop Tom Wright: ‘We need God to show us where our images of God have become too harsh, too weak, too small, too fragile, too stern.’

As I reflect over a number of conversations I have had with quite a few people over the last couple of years it strikes me that there are a lot of people with an incredibly harsh view of God. They have an image that God hates them because of their lifestyle, or because they are not good enough. There are others I have chatted with who try to box God and protect him, worried about discussing their faith too much in case all their beliefs come crumbling down – personally I see no point in worshipping a God who you feel you need to protect!
Imagine holding something there that you wish to protect, something precious, something that you do not wish to be harmed. Look at your fist. What you have in there is safe and secure. No one can harm it or steal it. No one can take it from you. It is safe and you know that.
But …. look at your fist again and ask yourself a question – how can I receive anything new? How can God add to my understanding? How can God show me more of who he is?
A fist protects and holds, but it can’t receive.
You need an open hand to receive
Why not open your fist … now you can receive – but the risk in opening your hand is that you can lose what you have tightly held grasped safely in there for a while, maybe even years.
I wonder if Lent is a time to open our hands. 
To give up our false images of God.
I think it’s a tough task, but this Lent I am making time to allow God to show me what false images or God I have and then I’m going to try to let them go

old habits …

Today I had an unexpected interruption. I had a phone call from a  young woman asking if she could meet up today to talk about pioneer ministry. Immediately I said I needed to look at my diary – but then laughed at myself as I realised there was nothing in my diary – it is the exception if there is!

It seems old habits die hard. I left YFC two and a half years ago when checking the diary and squeezing time in to get another meeting in was necessary. Today, though, I have space to be with people.

This evening I have been reflecting upon my initial ‘I need to check my diary’ response. Was that really an old habit taking it’s time to die or was it simply myself not wishing to show that my diary is empty? Was it me trying to appear busier than I am? Was it me trying to say I am important and at the centre of my little universe again …. less than 24 hours after Ash Wednesday reminded me that I am a mere person and that it is all about God! Seems there is a loty of work for me to still grab the message and believe it!

I like meeting new people and I was glad to meet up in wetherspoons today to listen to this person’s story and hear about her vision, which is both exciting and hard work … as is all ministry. I really hope and pray that she finds people to support her in this vision.

… from dust you came …

Today has been Ash Wednesday.

I have just returned from the cathedral with an ash cross on my forehead. It was placed there with the following words:

‘remember that you are but dust, from dust you came and from dust you will return. Turn from sin and be faithful to Christ.’

That may seem quite morbid, and there are definitely resonances with a funeral service there; but I think this simple acts serves a good purpose at the start of lent as it reminds me of my mortality.

Life in our western, technological, 21st century, materialistic world where life can be prolonged, where any food can be eaten out of season, and where we can purchase anything from ebay presents us with an illusion – the illusion that we are in control. Th illusion, I guess, that our little worlds do revolve around us.

This evening  a small ash cross, two simple lines,  serves as a reminder that it is actually all about God.

This lent I will be endeavouring to spend more time in prayer and contemplation as I seek to lose the illusion that it’s about me, and regain a truer image of God.

The Prodigal Father

Today’s Lent thought from Giving It Up was based on what is probably my favourite story from the bible.

Maggi gives a taste of her thinking on her blog today.

‘the first person in the story to throw the cash around was actually the Father, not the son…’ intrigues … go read more!

As I have said before I am reading Maggi Dawn’s ‘Giving It Up’ during Lent.

I have been moved close to tears by this morning’s reading and thought. The reading is Exodus 3:1-4 where Moses ‘turns aside’ to investigate the burning bush.  Maggi uses this to outline how Moses has seemingly got into a rut, trying to stay below the radar, so not to get into trouble for his past life.

When Moses turns aside and follows his curiosity that he hears God’s voice. He did not do the sensible thing – the sensible thing would have been to stay away from fire and protect the sheep that were in his care. He left the sheep to look after themselves and went to see what was happening – he was attracted by the bright sparkly thing …. and in the bright sparkly thing which he was naturally interested in he found God.

I chat with too many people today who seemed trapped inside their own minds. People who feel the call from God on their lives means lots of hard work and little fun. It’s the ‘Oh I don’t say I’ll never go to Africa – because if I don’t want that God is sure to send me there’ syndrome.

How doid we get here?
How have we missed one simple fact which oozes from scripture.
yep – that’s in capitals, yep its bold, and yep I was shouting it!!! No … it’s not netiquette!

If you love dancing and that gives you joy – dance for God!
If you love singing, sing. It’s its football, play for God.
If you love numbers, solve sums with God!
If it’s serving in the armed forces, serve for God!
Follow your dreams – they come from your creator!
Don’t believe all callings are into full or even part time ministry -God needs people who are fully alive, and you become fully alive by following your dreams and using the gifts you have.

Maggi ends todays thought with this paragraph:

Put aside what other people say you ought to do, and put aside your own mental commentary about what you think God will make you do. Instead, do what Moses did. Follow whatever you find intriguing, intellectually or artistically stimulating; go where your curiosity and your natural gifts lead you; and when you do, keep an ear open, because sooner or later you will hear the voice of God whispering your name.

Go be …..

‘I like to think of God as …..’

Yesterday was the First Sunday of Lent. I have not spoken much about Lent this year but there are plenty of other people doing so. I have not subscribed to the ‘give up something that is bad for me’ group as I am not sure, based on my readings and experiences of the last few years, that this is what Lent is all about. I have learned, mainly from Maggi’s writings, that Lent was originally about giving up the basics and essentials, i.e. the things that are good for us rather than luxuries, or bad habits, that are not that good and which people seem to be doing today.

I have noticed lots of people giving up Facebook for Lent … in my honest opinion … if so many people really think that Facebook is that bad for them to give it up for Lent (based on this newer idea of what Lent is about); then I question why they think it is ok to use it for the rest of the time?  I digress … but it follows that if we use Lent to give up luxuries that we are then using the season of Lent in a very different way to our ancestors. Giving up essentials will give a different meditative focus than giving up luxuries.

This year I am reading Giving it Up in the morning and using the Sacred Space for Lent book as part of my Compline in the evening. I particularly like Maggi’s book and am challenged by her teaching that Lent is about giving up our images of God that we have allowed to develop and allowing God the space to renew or refresh the images that we have.

I am inspired by this view of Lent as well as being heavily challenged by it. As I look back I hear myelf saying things like ‘I like to think of God as …..’ and realise that in some cases I have no idea how I have come to that way of thinking. I guess I am trying to use Lent this yer as a bit of an onion peeling process as far as how I ‘see’ God.

I’m not sure where this will go, it may lead to frustrating dead ends, but I hope not. So I am on a Lentern journey …. walking along the alleys of my life, hoping to rediscover the God that God wants me to rediscover.