a post to remind us that we are marvellous!

main_shareLast night at RFS I watched Saving Mr Banks.

In the discussion afterwards I describe it as ‘a beautifully crafted film with some amazing acting which realistically showed a lot of emotion and pain as people struggled to let go of stuff from their past’

This was quite an emotional film and many afterwards admitting to welling up with tears at various places (of course … being a man i did NOT!) as the film prompted past memories that had not been fully dealt with. Seems this is an issue for many of us! The film shows very powerfully how past ‘stuff’ can influence our normal everyday backyard life.

This past year, probably 18 months, I have been coming up against stuff of my past. Some of this stuff has been painful but I have encountered it, immersed myself in it, stared it face on, and stepped out of it. I’d like to say I’ve come out better, but I am not sure I am at that space yet.  I think I’m close. I’m where I should be and that’s positive.

Sometimes I have laughed at myself as I’ve gone down those mental paths of the past where I have had to listen to those voices that told me I am worthless and good for nothing. I’ve laughed because, actually, I have no respect for those people or voices or my past and know they talk crap. I know their words are a lie. I know those words have no authority.

Other times I have frozen in fear, and found myself weeping, as I guess I start to consider some of this crap may … just may … be true. Spoken words are powerful, and no matter how resilient you are, they can have a massive effect on your self thoughts. When I worked for the Behaviour Support Service we knew that the children we worked with needed to hear a ratio of 8 positive comments  to every negative comment.

That sounds a lot … but why should it be? … why is that not a reality in our society? In a well informed ‘civilised’ society like ours … why is the norm negativity … when it could be so easily the complete opposite? I mean …. how difficult is it to be nice to each other, to tell each other how amazing and wonderful we are.

When I am challenged in this area I tend to find support from other words. I particularly find strength from the creation story in Genesis. God creates and says ‘it is good’. God creates humanity and says ‘it is very good’. I also find strength in these words from Psalm 139 …. when feeling alone or down, the words of this Psalm kick me up the arse basically and force me to take on board the truth.

So … following from last nights film … and realising how many people really are dealing with past shit due to others … and not looking for words of encouragement or platitudes personally (cos I already have 2 great friends who do that of whom I’m incredibly thankful) … I share this as some form of support …

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

Go today … be blessed in the thought that you are marvellously made! Not because I say so … but because the One who created says so!

just be you

30-x-24-reclaimed-billboard-and-spray-paint-on-canvas-just-be-you-tiful-brush-pink-paintA couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to join with the CMS pioneer course for a module, as well as join them for one of their Wednesday lunchtime Pioneer Witness sessions.

The CMS Pioneer Leadership Training Course is an excellent looking course … and I’ve recommended it in the past and not so quietly wished it was an option when I was trained for ordained ministry. Although … there is always the MA which one day I must grasp … (any sponsors out there want to help me get my brain working again …?)

The reason I love this course is that it seems to acknowledge and echoes the reality that God places us and God uses us, with the gifts and interests that God has already given us, rather than leaving us thinking we need to know a lot more or develop new skills before we can be of any use to ourselves or God.

As an illustration I smile when I think back over my time in Rochester. I really did not know what to do or how to connect with people. I did know my particular passions; I like people, I love coffee, I love beer, I’m into football and love art. Those things make up the person that I am. I did not realise or understand how amazingly God would use those things in my life.

Three years into that Rochester thing, as I reflected I was forced to laugh with my spiritual director as we identified that, pretty amazingly, God was doing nothing more than allowing me to use what I was already interested in. So … I was sat a lot in the pub and in coffee shops. I have found some great friends in the art community who I still chat with now and had loads of conversations in the pub about football. The only other gift I really needed to develop was an understanding of what it means to be present and real, keeping integrity with people I had grown to love.

It seemed that God had created me with my interests and passions … and that is how God wanted to use me! Amazing to think that God used my love of beer, coffee, art and football … but he did. It continues today in Gillingham.

This month  the CMS Pioneer Friends update interviews Erika, who uses her passion for nails in her nail bar in a coffee space. I find that refreshing and amazing.

So … the point of my post today? If you are wondering how God is going to use you … ask yourself …

‘what am I already passionate about and interested in?’

… It’s likely that the stuff you are already doing, and loving doing, is the very thing that God wants to cultivate and grow and bless as you meet and link with others.

What this world, our personal communities, need are Christians that love life, love what they are doing, in that John 10:10 way … living life to the full … surely means enjoying life too. We talk of a hope in Christ … we need to live in the laughter and joy of that hope.

So … to speak simply … just be you!
God created you as you.
Surely …
That’s got to be enough!

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!

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

imagesThis may come as a little shock … but I have avoided a lot of the mainstream evangelical mass produced Christian stuff over the last couple of years. I have done so because a lot of it simply leaves me feeling sad. What I interpret, read and hear as a lot of legalism of how one should act, dress, believe and behave worries me as I try to follow a God who is full of love, grace and acceptance.

Rather than being sad I smiled with delight when I came across this article in Christianity magazine by Steve Chalke. Some people will read no further because I am linking to Steve … it astounds me that a large part of the evangelical church here can, one minute hold someone like Steve up with pride and then, when he starts to challenge their thinking, dismiss him and refuse to take him seriously, even accusing him of being a heretic.

I loved reading Steve’s article as he simply asks us, ‘have we misread the bible?’ For a long time many have been saying so … but Steve is one of the first to stand up from within evangelicalism and challenge some strongly held, and in my opinion wrongly held, evangelical views. Steve challenges us to take the whole Bible seriously, and not just keep pulling out parts that support the argument we wish to represent.  ‘If we fail to take the whole bible seriously including those bits we find unpalatable or inconvenient’, says Steve, ‘we only pay lip service to its authority’. Despite what some might say, Steve is not watering down the Bible, but the exact opposite – he wants it taken in complete seriousness!

One important aid to interpretation that I loved comes from a simple saying, ‘if it doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not God’. Jesus is both our guide to biblical interpretation and to life.

Last week I came into a conversation with a Christian man arguing with a young woman. He was quite foul in his attitude and language on top of extreme sexism and unpleasant racism thrown in as well. He backed his views up entirely with scripture … but my problem was … it didn’t look one iota like Jesus. The man expressed an ugly unattractive legalistic view of faith. It did not look like Jesus, so how can it of been God?

As Steve draws out the bible does not give us answers to a number of spiritual and moral issues. our task, as Christian community then, is to wrestle with the meaning of these words both honestly and humbly.

On a different, but very related note, I loved this article on Rachel’s blog. The way the bible has been misinterpreted to control and abuse woman has been something that angers rather than saddens me. Rachel’s article is cleverly written, light and humorous … but with a seriously deep challenge.

You see… this whole thing of taking stuff out of context and forgetting what Jesus is like means we become distorted to the point of ugliness in how we act as Christians. If we don’t look like the Jesus of the gospels then there is something seriously wrong … and when Christians stand outside clinics or airports with foul signs of hate and intimidation …. then something is very seriously wrong.

So … go read the articles – Steve’s here and Rachel’s here.

Then …. come back … and talk … there will be some of you that disagree!

breaking hearts

c5b03c1aaffd6856dcbe153071d9b430I stumbled upon this excellent quote from CS Lewis on my friend Grahams blog:

‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable’.

At first sight his talks about the vulnerability of love … but if we are called, or created, to be in relationship with each other … CS Lewis is really talking about the vulnerability of any human relationship. A raw vulnerability that may well result in a broken heart.

A broken heart at first sight, again, seems to be a bad thing. But in my vulnerability thinking I have started to wonder if this is really the case. To grow in love, in care and in understanding needs a willingness to be vulnerable, and I am not sure true vulnerability happens without the heart being broken now and again. Actually I wonder whether the more the heart is broken and the more we allow God to impact it … that the better that must be.

As I have looked over Gillingham this past year and the lives of some people that I am amazingly privileged to have been involved with …. there have been occasions when I have wept for people and situations. I wonder now if my heart broke for them. At feeling the pain between what is needed and what will happen my heart has been broken because I have realised the pain won’t go … and that all I can do is stand and hold the pain with them. To stand in the crap of life alongside them and stay with them as they deal with it.

I have prayed to God to change things …. and God has reminded me that we are supposed to be the hands and feet of our creator. Being hands and feet of the creator is inevitably a pretty messy and painful experience. An experience that breaks hearts.

As I have been rolling this over and over in my mind, I stumbled on this video on WOTP. In this there is a discussion between Brian McLaren and David Wilcox. The opening question in this video is ‘what breaks your heart?’ Wilcox answers this with ‘the gap between what is needed and what I carry’. I think I relate to that and think he explains the feeling I have above better than I ever could do.

McLaren is amazingly honest and replies ‘I don’t think my heart gets broken enough anymore.’ He seems uncomfortable by this admission, and it causes me to ask and challenge myself in that area.
How much heart breaking is enough?
Is there a point when it becomes too much?
Does allowing our heart to be broken ever become unhelpful, or does it just inspire us to keep going further?

Anyway … I find Graham’s words and this video quite challenging … so why not check them out.

Examen the weekend

dissonanceIt’s been pretty much a weekend of blessings.

But … it’s interesting to note that when you immediately look over a weekend that often the bad things jump out and flavour your thoughts… the bad things like the dog is now terrified to go on his walks and just freezes and stands still. While it is really sad and horrible to see our once very confident walk loving dog standing still and trembling, we are hoping that with gentle encouragement this will improve.

But … good things happened this weekend …

On Friday afternoon I got to have a great chat about the important stuff with a good friend in the pub.
On Saturday the Gills won 2-0 … easily … against arch rivals Swindon!
Saturday evening we had a great meal with our next door neighbours.
On Sunday my little brother came to lunch with Tanya and Jack
Sunday night I went to the United Service which was great as we looked at how we could work together better to help the people of Gillingham.

I have been able to pull myself away from the negative this weekend and allow the positives to take over. This, I think, is because I use the Examen. Using the Examen as part of my personal rhythm of life allows me to see the day in a better balance. It allows me to think through in which situations or conversations I felt alive and in which situations I feel drained or depressed… (and where God is in both) and to try to balance my days in the future accordingly. For the geekier amongst us there is now an Examen app (thanks Jonny) which I am trying out …. seems ok too!

The Richard Rohr daily mediations also help me in this and have, in my opinion, become even more amazing over the last couple of weeks due to a change in format. On each Saturday an email now pops into my inbox which sums up the week and leads me through a sabbath meditation to earth what we have been contemplating through the week. If you are not signed up for these … well you should be because they are pretty amazing!

sunshine connections

I really enjoyed the RochesterFilm Society showing of Sunshine on Leith this evening. This was a fun, feel good movie, which, to be honest, was great to watch after the events of this past week.

Some did not like the connection between the story and Proclaimers music, but I thought that worked pretty well. The performances of Mullan and Horrocks alone make the film worth seeing, but there is so much more in this than two talented actors.

I liked the way the film portrayed the fragility and centrality of relationships. In this film, to be human is to be in relationship, or to be connected in some way, to another human being. Even though relationships were key to humanity, they are shown to be very prone to cracking due to human behaviour and misunderstanding.

In this film, relationships are what life is all about, but they only work for the people who are prepared to fight for them. Whether it is a parental, lover or friendship (all three are illustrated in the film) ‘Sunshine’ almost wills the characters to chase the relationship as away to show its value and importance. For relationships to flourish … vulnerability was needed. For some reason I connected with that in tonights film!

All that for a shallow musical …. thanks RFS for giving me an excuse to come out of the house and experience this for a while.