know hope | the hopes sessions #10

20 05 2016

It’s funny what you end up doing
when you pray.
after the no, hope post
a lady from our church painted ‘hope’
on small stones
and left them around the skatepark
and they’ve all been taken
like hope, scattered

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I took the advice of a friend who suggested
instead of a comma making
no, hope
adding two letters
so I did
[in chalk, I hasten to add]
then I got carried away
and added a flower and a heart

we pray that all who skate over this
may know hope
not no hope
but a hope rooted and grounded in
joy and peace


This is my first foray into tarmactivisim. 
I liked it so much I made up the word.





bus stop | the hopes sessions #9

17 05 2016

the bus stop outside church
a place of waiting
hoping
cursing
sitting
meeting
a place to gather to
and then to go from
a place strangers become
fellow passengers
a place on the way to another place
but not the place itself

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a place a lot like church, really.





bench | the hopes sessions #8

1 05 2016

Bench. Outside a hospital.
For paramedics to smoke.
Patients to get fresh air.
Relatives to spot the irony.

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Sometimes hope needs a hospital.
Hope gets ill. Tired.

Sometimes hope is a hospital.
Hope gives life. Strength.

Sometimes hope just sits outside.
On a dirty bench.
Beckoning.
Come sit with me.
I’m not much to look at.
But hope can sit anywhere.
Even here.

 





no, hope | the hopes sessions 7

27 04 2016

No hope. Scrawled across the floor at the skate park. Not your average graffiti. I don’t know what it means to the person who wrote it. Or those who ride over it. Maybe it’s a deep statement of existential angst. Maybe someone just kept falling over. Maybe it’s the name of a band.

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It spoke to me. Because it is just, there. Slipping it’s message into the minds of those who see it. Pulling down. Sucking out the colour in life.

We are hope people. We might be hope people by hanging out with kids at the skate park. We might be hope people by playing football and trying to model a different way. We might be hope people by standing on no hope and praying. We might be hope people by trying to bring hope with our words and our actions and not just our thoughts.

We must be hope people. The message of no hope is insidious, taking root like bindweed, tearing apart identity and character and repeating itself across generations.

The message of hope puts the colour into the monochrome, breathes life, brings a smile each time you skate over the old graffiti. No hope? No, hope.





sparring partner

21 04 2016

you are my rock
my fortress, we sing
my sparring partner more like
the opposing team defender
I tussle with
and wrestle to the ground
when the ref isn’t looking

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you are my invisible friend
the madness in my otherwise sane world
you are not my all
not always
but you are in all I  do
interfering
stirring up
bringing the fairy at the bottom of the garden
into my otherwise rational world

I do not love you as I know love to be
Yet I know you
I endure you
I revere you
I resist you
I rest in you
I serve you
I fight against you
sometimes I even trust you
sometimes I suppose I even love you

but I am tired
tired of defending you
when you don’t defend yourself
tired of hoping for the storm to still
yet finding you asleep
so be my rock if you will
be my fortress if you can
until then we will spar and tussle
and wrestle
and hope

© 2016 Kevin Lewis


Poetry can go to places normal prose simply cannot. Or does not. This poem is how I feel sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes. The metaphors in our songs tend to be unfalteringly positive, robust, sometimes almost sycophantic. The Psalms can be much more earthy. I like earthy. There is a strength in not being strong, a faith in challenging faith, an honesty in being honest. You’re right, it’s not comfortable.  





the crowd

23 03 2016

This is a spoken word piece that I used on Palm Sunday, when we had over 100 guests for a baptism. It begins with the first 45 seconds or so of Chariots of Fire…


There’s something about this music that makes you want
to do everything in slow motion
you picture yourself running along the beach in a white t-shirt
the wind is blowing, there’s the wet sand and the ocean
and if you remember the London Olympics opening ceremony
Mr Bean is about to trip you up

It’s music that speaks to us of triumph and success
beyond the white shorts and white vests
I can’t even remember what the film was about
but the music still makes me want to cheer out loud
even just to be in the crowd…

To be in the crowd.

Today’s Bible reading was a lot about crowds
crowd’s being loud
but the thing about crowds is if you don’t want to be loud
well, that’s allowed, after all, you’re in a crowd
keep your head down
keep yourself moving around
Just a face in the crowd.
Like the boy over there selling lemons,
just watching

Where are you in the crowd?

Jesus went into Jerusalem with a crowd like this
Some of whom were his friends and followers
Other’s were more cautious, just hangers-on
Some just had nothing better to do
So as the crowd grew they stayed because
who knew, there might end up being a riot
or just something more interesting
than watching the lemon seller
juggle lemons

Where are you in the crowd?

Some of those in the crowd with Jesus were pretty sure
that Jesus was special
more than just a street magician
or clever politician
not just your average preacher
or rabbi-style teacher
but the Messiah, a King
that sort of thing

so they served him and helped him
and gave up their lives for him
even when their families said they were crazy
and told them not to join the crowd

Where are you in the crowd?

Some of those in the crowd were sceptical
Frightened of being heretical
and so were being tactical
in keeping their distance
don’t get involved
or the roman soldiers
might get too close

Some in the crowd were intrigued enough
to be near the front where the jostling was rough
and near enough to get the occasional shove
but they were not convinced that God was love
and so were frightened
their eyes widened with the thought
of actually pinning their hopes on this man Jesus

they said to themselves I’m not religious
whilst staring at the man called God With Us
but could not bring themselves to hear the invitation
of the disciples to join with us
because they thought they were not good enough
or convinced enough
or just hadn’t really reckoned it could possibly be
true

Where are you in the crowd?

Jesus didn’t charge around
with Chariots of Fire playing in the background
but he took his time
he let the people think and make up their minds
as well as turning water into wine
and healing the eyes of the blind
and being actually, really God.

Where are we in the crowd?

Maybe we have got questions…
which is fine because there’s no suggestion
that the disciples didn’t have questions
Maybe we’ve never thought about Jesus
actually being real
Maybe we’ve never even been a face in the crowd
until today
right now

and maybe today at this baptism is the time
when you see the light of Jesus in your eyes
and an ancient faith is awakened
a dormant sense of God is shaken
and you realise you’ve been looking for the meaning of life
and the meaning of life has been standing there all along

Jesus, who sees all of us in the crowd
as his friends
whether we come with knees bowed
or are so far away he needs a long lens to see us
Jesus waits patiently.
What he offers us is new life
being washed whiter than white
when we pledge to follow him
to trust him

And this is a big deal
the whole Jesus being real thing
it changes everything
So I invite you
join the crowd, have a look
don’t just be like the boy selling lemons.
So when Jesus says come,
you are ready
because he gives us a future and a hope
to me that seems worth a go.





enduring motherhood 

8 03 2016

It’s impossible to talk about motherhood without telling stories. Stories of life and death and bleeding knees, of hopes raised and hopes dashed; stories of deep love and painful rejection, of hard work and self-giving and probably, more hard work.

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What are your motherhood stories? Maybe like me, you can never be one; or maybe you are, and don’t want to be; maybe like me, you can tell stories of losing your mother as a child; or maybe of gaining a wonderful new one, through step-family or adoption.

Stories of motherhood are like life condensed: complex, relational, wonderful, painful; stories about the big overarching narrative of human love and nurture and unexplainable emotional connections; and yet also about the intensely mundane of everyday life, like washing up and school runs and plasters and that most soothing of balms: the hug.

In the ancient stories of our faith there are many stories about motherhood that can so easily be glossed over. Yes contained within them are stories of hope and faithfulness and obedience way more powerful than David and Goliath.

Sarah: promised a child at an old age – yes, in the end Isaac was born, but Sarah’s road was not an easy one. After 11 years she was reminded of the promise, and laughed bitterly. After 13, she engineered Ishmael’s birth . It was not until 25 years after God’s promise that Isaac was born. That is a long and painful wait.

Naomi: who was forced to leave her home as an economic migrant, who lost her husband and 2 sons, and was so angry with God she changed her name to “Bitter”. There’s a real story of motherhood. Yet she loved her foreign daughter-in-law Ruth, welcomed her back home, and saw her love and loyalty and hard work transformed into new life.

Mary: the young, unexpectedly expectant mother, chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. Like all these women, chosen not because she was special, but precisely because she was not. God has a habit of working through the ordinary in women and men.

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This is how God can transform the mundane into the profound. In a Biblical narrative dominated by men’s stories, we must delve a little deeper. Through exercising obedience to God, shown through love and loyalty and hard work and faithfulness, these women – and many others –  can be great examples to us of motherhood in all its complexity, joys, pains, tears and laughter.

Once we see that, we see that their enduring obedience goes way beyond their role as mother, and they become to us examples of prayer, faithful obedience, and great strength.


In church we are doing a series during Lent called Enduring Obedience, looking at Biblical characters and how they can inspire us. This week, as it was Mothering Sunday, we looked at obedience and motherhood, and this post is based on that theme.

 





we will stand

27 02 2016

Death.
She came.
With her long fingers reaching.
To snatch.
Dispatch.
Scratch out the life
drawn out in the pages of our plan.
Without fear.
Or negotiation.
Just the stark finality
of death.

Death.
Why she?
Everything about
sudden death is
unexpected.
Wrong.

Life.
Over.
Stripped from us
with callousness.
Carelessness.
Casual disregard
for the good.
The right.
The fair.

Death.
We do not fear you.
Do not get ideas.
Though we fear
Today.
Tomorrow.
And the sheer
Desperate emptiness
Of the hole
In our being.

Hope.
Resurrection.
The defeat of death.
That is for then.
Not now.
Now.
We stand.
Cowed.
Battered.
Disbelieving.
Surviving.

We will stand.
Again.
The valley of the shadow
of death.
Is dark.
But it does end.

Just not yet.


 

A good friend of mine died suddenly last week. Michael Etheridge, aged 41, a husband, father of 4. A church minister. A friend of 20 years. Sometimes in church leadership because we deal with other people’s grief all the time it can become a bit casual.For me, I mean. My friend’s death shocked me. Knocked me for six. And my grief, as a distant friend, is nothing to that of his family.

There are no simple answers. There is no bible verse or theological truth that will bring comfort to them. Michael and I met studying theology as undergraduates, so I wouldn’t demean his memory with easy cliches. It’s just crap. Utterly, totally, uncomprehendingly crap. One of my responses is to write, and that is what I wrote.

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For you and your family little Mikey. May God bless them, in the deepest, least cliche-ey sense.





obedience and love

17 02 2016

Obedience and love. Now there’s a pair of uncomfortable bedfellows. So to speak. We struggle with notions of obedience and authority these days. Especially from the church.

Obedience and love. What comes to mind? Misogyny, abuse, and the many other forms of enforced obedience that litter our past?

Obedience and love. As a man and a priest, I know I am on dangerous ground. But let’s take a step back. As I have said before, we are all obedient to something. Better we know what it is. If we are obedient simply to our emotions, our love will have no deep roots and will be blown around with the wind. We will love, and then not love, which is not really love. Or we are obedient to common sense, or economic sense, or society’s prejudice, or a dominant personality, or to whatever we read on Twitter today.

Obedience and love means first and foremost obedience to Jesus. Before we love anyone or anything else, we love him. All our love is framed by him and seen through the lens of his love. Therefore, we cannot be obedient to our inner desires for control or domination; we cannot  arrange those we love around our need to be the centre of their world. Instead we practice selfless devotion to others, we sacrifice our own needs for the needs of others.

Obedience and love then becomes a wholeheartedly positive way of thinking. Obedience to the way of Jesus, and a love that is patient, kind, not self-seeking; that is not a slave to jealousy or anger or boastfulness or pride. This can only come from deep places, from deep roots. It can be uncomfortable, and there will be strong winds trying to blow us back to selfishness. But it is possible.

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One of my favourite stories in the Bible is that of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. This is a story of different types of love – familial, cross-cultural, community and romantic – which places deep love at the centre of the story, and mixed-race marriage into Jesus’ genealogy. Both Ruth and Boaz are described with the same Hebrew phrase ‘eshet hayil’, which means ‘of noble character, good standing’.

Noble character is not something we publicly prize at the moment, yet deep down we know its value. Just look at the tributes to the late Terry Wogan, and the emphasis placed on his character. When we are of noble character – truly, madly, deeply, not just our facade – then obedience and love is not something to be feared, but something to be desired.

We are called to obedience in love, but not to subservience. To be noble in character, people of deep love. And a particular note to men: we are called to love as Christ loved the church, which is by self-giving, self-sacrifice, and deep deep devotion. Will we accept that countercultural challenge?


 

This is part of a series at our church through Lent called Enduring Obedience.

 

 





enduring obedience

9 02 2016

Obedience is not a word we hear very often. Unless you train puppies or work for ISIS, which is possibly the only time those will appear in the same sentence. Obedience to us generally has overtones of either military law, or strict discipline of religious fundamentalists – basically being forced against your will to do things you wouldn’t usually do. And train puppies.

Enough with the puppies.

Enduring Obedience title.001

Except we practice obedience all the time. Driving on the left, putting out the bins, banishing unhealthy thoughts, not leaving the toilet door open. Sometimes its explicit obedience, sometimes it’s implicit in our relationships, and we don’t think of it as ‘obedience’ – but it is.

God demands and commands our obedience. There. I’ve said it. It sounds harsh doesn’t it. It is, if our view of God is that of a overly strict demon headmaster, or an obnoxious shouty military general, or we’ve experienced domestic violence and live our life being forced to be obedient for fear of the consequences.

This is not my understanding of the God I am obedient too. The God I believe in is a God intertwined in families and their story, helping and guiding and leading, who demands obedience at the same time as trust, for whom the overriding image is that of a shepherd in the Judean desert wilderness, whose sheep obey his voice because they know he will keep them safe.

There are times when obedience will bring us into conflict with others. Conflicts of priorities in our families, workplaces and elsewhere, conflicts of ethics and morals. But obedience to God isn’t like being watched by the Thought Police. Obedience to God is an obedience characterised by how it changes our actions, not controls our minds. And being obedient doesn’t mean being obnoxious to those we may be in conflict with.

Jesus did not say do as I say or you will be damned. Believe it or not. He said, the greatest commandment is to love God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, then to love your neighbour as yourself. He said a new commandment I give to you, to love one another. This isn’t soppy sentimental love, this is deep rooted love, borne out in actions of service to each other. A faithful love that endures through thick and thin.

We don’t obey because we are told to, but because we love. We aren’t faithful out of fear, but because we love. We believe that our God is a model of sacrificial, self-giving love, so obedience to him takes us there too. Which is not easy, or glib, but it does ground us in enduring obedience. Which, yes, sometimes means obeying through gritted teeth and enduring it. And other times means our obedience – or faithfulness – is enduring, faithful, long-lasting and resilient.

That’s where I want to be.


During Lent in our church we are looking at the theme of Enduring Obedience, exploring characters such as Sarah, Ruth, Daniel and Jonah from the Bible, and people like St Teresa of Avila and Martin Luther King Jr who inspire us with their obedient service to God.








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