the pregnant pause | a Christmas poem

25 12 2016

The Christmas story always appears to me to have two distinct sides
that we emphasise differently depending on what we are looking for
On the one side there’s the wondrously mystical-sounding story
of wonder and excitement and angels singing about glory in the highest
on a hillside to fluffy white sheep
waking up the good-natured shepherds from their sleep
while a magical star lights the sky for exotic camel-riding astrologers
who’ve been crossing borders
for months or maybe years to see this stable tableau
bathed in subtle angel glow

the word became flesh
the divine enmeshed
he who created light in the beginning
is spinning a new kind of story
of darkness overcome
and they have come
to be among
the birth of the divine son

this almost magical tale suits best this candlelight
of Christmas night
a beautiful ethereal sight
in softer sight

but there is a flip-side

like a kite string that prevents this simple story from drifting off
becoming disconnected
alienated
separated
from what it is really all about
these simple words that put the mythological-story brakes on
There was a man sent from God.
He was called John.

Suddenly our story is about a person, not an idea
It’s about a real family being terrified and escaping to Egypt in fear
It’s not about the eternal cosmic battle between darkness and light
Well – it is, but rooted in history
with dates, places
real times and real faces
And you know as well as I do the centre of the story isn’t John
but that’s where the story starts from
in the gospel of John
anchoring the ethereal mystical word
preventing it from drifting off into the absurd
because the word was God
but the word became flesh
the divine intertwined
into the mess of us
in the body of a baby called Jesus

two sides to a story
light versus darkness
taxation and a census
angels and dreams
newborn baby screams
stars leading astronomers
God becoming one of us
Herod’s indignation
a refugee migration
innkeepers, animals, strangers with gifts
you can’t pin down this story it constantly resists
being claimed, held down, owned
controlled

this is a truly beautiful night
an amazing night
beautiful with candles and songs
but not because of candles and songs
they are just handles to open the door
to a humbling, life-changing
transforming birth of a King
not born on cushions of velvet and set on a gold-plated throne
not in a self-named luxury hotel with a lift made of gold
but born among the poor
born for the forlorn
the care-worn
set only on straw

So join with me in celebrating with awe
this story
of glory and wonder
and rooting it firmly in the fact
that god slipped under the radar
in so much more than a fairytale fable
but got itchy in a stable
to enable
the untenable
the indefensible
us
to be holy with him
to be holy as this holy night
that we might have eternal life.

And that is the third of the two sides sides of this transforming
heartwarming this-night-dawning
don’t let me catch you yawning
absolutely never boring tale of Jesus born in
a stable with donkey’s ee-or-ing
because the character
you may have never before seen
in that nativity scene is you
this is a story that you’re in

Come, kneel in this story with me
Come, join the wealthy travellers and shepherds fighting off poverty
Come and see Joseph so weary and Mary,
Come sit with Mary
Come, gaze upon this child
come and sit in this pregnant pause
for all that Jesus came to be and to do
all his inheritance as creator, King and son
can be yours

so much more than a fairytale fable
he was born to enable
the untenable
the indefensible
us
to be holy with him
so be holy as this holy night
for he was born that we might have life.

Happy Christmas


This was my spoken word for the Midnight Communion 2016. It works better when real aloud!





brighter on the inside

22 12 2015

[a spoken word piece I wrote for our Carols by Candlelight service]

the light shines in the darkness, John tells us,
and the darkness cannot – cannot – overcome it
the light
the light
that stands beyond time
pierces through time
measures time

my son asked me other other day
daddy, what is a light year?
the gears in my brain creaked and rumbled and I said
i thought erm I should know hang what would granddad say
a light year is the distance it takes light to travel in a year
which brian cox would be proud of

and as I said it blew my mind that
a) light travels
b) my mind unravelled as i realised that
c) we measure distance by light

suddenly everything has got complicated
park that thought
we’re supposed to be talking about a god endangered
en-mangered
unstable in a stable cradle
truth mixed up with fable
and then we just go home, right?

It’s just… the light
light that measures time itself
unveiling the cosmos
spinning through the universe
in the beginning God created the world with a word
and the light was born
and shone
and shines
shines now brighter than ever before
the light is here appearing
embodied enfleshed he who controls space and time
is time
arrives just in time
to save the world
with his big heart – well actually hearts, he has two
hang on, I’m getting confused with Dr Who 40953683_tardis203

Who, who spins through time a small blue box
which is itself a timely paradox
because the one things we know about the Doctor’s TARDIS is
it’s bigger on the inside
it’s bigger than it looks

so bear with me here and indulge my crazy thought
because i don’t think we’re as far from the manger
as we ought
to be
the tiny baby the newborn son
all cute and screamy with a dirty bum
and a beautiful smile
so fragile
yet all eternity is held in that baby-soft skin

to look into his eyes is like opening the door of the tardis
you’d just be blown away

Mary did you know…?

He’s not a time lord
but he is the Lord of time
he is not light
but he is the Lord of light and all the distance it travels

and yet there’s a danger of being over-triumphant
coming out in an enthusiastic rant
because the reason the light shines so brightly is
the dark is so very, very dark
out there in time and space
the world the child embraced
as he embraced his mother
is so very very dark

Jesus born into an over-taxed authoritarian system
ruled by a king who collected up all the other babies in Bethlehem
and killed them
as Mary and Joseph with Jesus had to flee
to Egypt where they were middle-eastern refugees
which is another timely paradox
without a blue box
to protect it from reality

the world we live is a dark dark place at times
and at christmas we can pretend everything shimmers and shines
when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t
and the stupid irony is
that instead of the tinsel and glitz
the whole point of christmas is
the darkness of a world that needs saving
the emptiness of a world that is craving
something
Syria, Paris, the crisis of ISIS
can’t be solved by banter with Santa
and a comedy jumper
but only by the light
that looks so fragile like a tiny wick
that flickers
in the slightest wind

but look carefully closely deeply
open the door and look
it’s brighter on the inside
this light of the world
the wick that flickers
burns brighter than a million candles
more than we could handle

so we’ve travelled on a timeline
unravelled through space
following light from its source in the heavens
to a place in time
to a baby that cries and whines
and yet holds the divine timeline
in its eyes
it’s that baby again

a god endangered
en-mangered
unstable in a stable cradle
truth is born to turn the tables
on darkness
in a most unexpected way.

The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness cannot overcome it
because the same Jesus
was raised from the dead and won it

© 2015 Kevin Lewis

 





the light that shines in our eyes

21 12 2014

In the beginning when it seemed that the darkness was winning
and all was chaos and swirls and water and mud
and you couldn’t tell the earth from the flood
God spoke
God spoke and the world came into being
God spoke and breathed life and the chaos became living
and breathing
and his breath was sustaining
God spoke in the beginning

God spoke to the prophets
God spoke to the kings
God spoke to the prostitutes
who no-one else sees
God spoke to the farmers
And when nobody heard
God spoke and kept speaking
And called himself The Word

God spoke but way back like that can seem distant
and sometimes God can seem almost non-existent
so John in his book when he’s telling the story
of Jesus arrival doesn’t have angels in glory
but he reminds us that God spoke the world into being
by starting his gospel where God began
in the beginning

But god didn’t stay in the beginning you see
That wouldn’t make a very good story in which to be
But God is always moving like life I guess
In this part of the story God became flesh
God took his place and he tented among us
So close we could touch him and know how he loves us
Adores us
Sits with us
Not bored by us
Not abhors us
But adores us so much that

God spoke to Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah
God spoke to the shepherds and wise men who admired
the way God spoke through stars and through dreams
and through angels and visions and for Joseph more and more dreams

When you speak to someone you acknowledge their presence
you know we’ve all done that thing when we ignore someone
pretend they are absent
like a shepherd maybe or injured man on the road to Jericho
keep our heads down don’t look them in the eye
they won’t notice as we walk by

But God holds our eye contact and embraces our presence
His isn’t someone far away, a distant existence
This is one of those things that we see at Christmas
That he is close, he is here, emmanuel, God with us

2014.12.21 Carols by Candlelight.001

In the beginning God spoke and the world came into being
In the present God speaks and he will keep on speaking
Through hell and high-water through birth and bereavement
Through abuse and abusing through failure and achievement
to the hopeful and the hopeless
in the fruitful and the fruitless
the joyful and the joyless
God spoke
and God speaks

Could it be true that if we listen
truly listen
through the melee of life
and work and family
and if we put our expectations aside
and maybe our pride
could we hear The Word say a word
feel the breath of God give us life

Could it be that God with us he still dwells
and that we need him if our life is going well
or if it feels like every day is another hell
could it be that he is still emmanuel
god with us
god for us
god in us

It is true that he spoke and it is true that he speaks
The Word who is Jesus not mild or meek
but a powerful force who changes our lives
if we let him, if we let go, and allow his light
to light up the world
to light up our lives
to be the light that shines in our eyes

Yes he will challenge us and we have all been changed
Who have been embraced by him none are the same
He will help us let go of the things that enslave us
he will break the chains that hold us and hate us
I won’t lie to you, it’s not always an easy life
Submitting to living for the one who is Life
Not for Mary or Joseph or for all who follow today
But there’s no better life, there’s no better way

God spoke God is speaking
To all of us as well
God is here he is with us emmanuel
God spoke, God is speaking
May we hear him well
God is here, he is with us, emmanuel.

© Kevin Lewis 2014

….

This is a spoken word piece I wrote for our carols by candlelight service. It works better spoken out loud, but I thought i’d share it anyway! 





hopeless despair and a neutered santamentality

17 12 2014

There is a time and a place for hopeless despair. When 132 children are massacred in a school, that is one of those times. A friend of mine who grew up in Pakistan changed his profile picture to plain black. It was a truly back day.

But it’s Christmas. This is no time for the hard-hitting reality of a life that can be painful, brutal, touched by evil. Is it? Enforced smiles, kittens in Santa hats and children singing Christian rhymes. Hide reality with a Christmas card myth of white Christmas and roasting chestnuts, of nostalgia and made-up stories and the fat guy in the red suit.

132 dead, though. That’s like all the kids singing in my son’s Christmas play yesterday. Dead. What does Christmas santamentality have to say to that? And this is my greatest problem with the neutering of the power of Christmas. Yes, there’s loads of issues about the actual event, Jesus not born in a stable etc… but my Big Problem is not specifically about that. It is this.

Real Christmas has an answer to the utter pain and emptiness of hopeless despair. Real Christmas looks the massacre of 132 children the eye and says I am God, and I take your pain, I take your anger, I know it is real. Because real Christmas is not dressed up in sentimentality or nostalgia. There was nothing sentimental about giving birth among animals, fleeing in fear of your lives, or the massacre of Bethlehem babies. 

Real Christmas doesn’t demand that bad things don’t happen at this time of year; real Christmas takes bad things that happen and places them at the heart of the story. They are the bloody point. When we take the truth of god becoming human and taking on the evil in our world and reduce it to a twee children’s story with no enduring truth we do vandalism to the incarnation. 

Christmas is not a time for hiding from reality because reality is real and shit happens even at Christmas so let’s give ourselves permission to feel hopeless, to be angry and to rage against whatever evil causes people to murder children, or whatever pain and outrage we feel today; and let’s take that into the story with us, feeling the pain of brutal Roman occupation, of dashed hopes, of fearing for your life as children around you are murdered and your tiny child is the answer of God to your cries for justice and revolution and freedom: 

This staggering God
Takes his first steps towards us
On feet that will grow strong enough
To carry a cross

It will change the way we tell the story because Christmas isn’t a story by itself. It will change the way we do Christmas because Christmas really is every day for us who believe in it. And it is an answer to hopeless despair that a neutered Christmas santamentality can never be. 

……..

Other posts about Christmas:
talking angels and elephant dreams
a christmas theology of political power
the biggest, most divine total blunder (’twas the night before Christmas)
the weakness in [christmas] love
the nativity that needs saving





talking angels and elephant dreams

15 12 2014

Talking angels, moving stars, interpreting dreams?! Admit it, they’re incredibly awkward for credible thinkers. When was the last time you heard a sermon on any of those things? Probably last Christmas. And then it  was skipped, like we always do with bits of the Bible that don’t quite fit with our view of the world or the story we are wanting to tell. 

And yet, out there, are so many people who won’t call themselves religious but do believe in angels, stars and dreams. Maybe more than we do. So perhaps we should listen to them more. Yes, their beliefs won’t be theologically developed. But how about this:

Instead of dismissing those who believe in guardian angels, we could tell them about the angels that spoke to Mary and the shepherds about Jesus.

Instead of dismissing those who look to the stars for guidance, we could tell them God used the aligning of planets & stars to point to Jesus.

Instead of dismissing those who interpret dreams, we could remember God spoke to Joseph and the magi in their sleep, about Jesus.

God uses the fantastical, the bizarre and the ordinary; God speaks the language of the mystic as well as the bookish scholar; in cryptic apocalyptic and orthodox doxology; to kings and ravens and priests and donkeys. God spoke to a sleeping man to tell him to trust the story his wife was about to tell him, a talking angel to persuade her to tell it, and a moving star to lead the people to them. Bonkers.

We might be secretly afraid of these elements of the story. They don’t fit our rational sensible evangelical framework. They’re not our usual model for listening to God. But if we are being truly evangelical, we have to include them. Let’s not be scared. Admittedly, I’ve never knowingly seen an angel, and in my last dream an elephant turned into a gun-wielding passenger plane. No, I don’t know either. But don’t let that put us off.

We need to use the language those around us understand and show them that Jesus speaks it too. They won’t expect it in their wildest dreams. 

And you never know, the stars might align just over Jesus. 





a christmas theology of political power

9 12 2014

The Christmas story is a sledgehammer to the politics of domination and self-protection. The Chancellor’s Christmas Budget Autumn Statement, along with A Theology of the Autumn Statement, got me thinking about this.

There is a theology that lies behind everything we do. Everything we do stands on the foundation of what we believe about God, and what we believe God believes about us. So in politics, where different beliefs about God or not-God or many gods permeates through each MP, the policies that they choose to support cannot help but be affected by their theology. And by implication, they represent us, so their theology represents ours. 

I believe there is a dangerous narrative running through our politics and media that deeply challenges a Christian theology. A narrative of power, of blame, of self-protection and short-term thinking. Christian theology – and more importantly, Christians – are flawed and broken and get it wrong, so forgive me some optimism in what follows:

  1. Christian theology shows that God does not prioritise those with money and power. God chose foreigners of a different religion and the lowest earners to be the first to see the incarnate Son of God. This is a familiar story but matters. Christian theology must not prioritise those on ‘our side’ with money and power. King Herod was so cross and felt so threatened by this that he killed babies. Christian theology should be threatening to those with money and power.  
      
  2. Christian theology shows God does not just blame everyone else. Not the previous government, or poor people who receive benefits, or immigrants, or anything other than our own people. Rarely do we hear ‘we’ have messed up, people like me, the wealthy, white, middle/upper classes, those who needed a bank bail-out. Christian theology begins and ends with repentance, with humility. God did not simply blame humans for mucking up his world, but became incarnate to be part of the solution, not the bully-king but the servant-king. Christian theology confidently says we mucked up and we spend our lives being the solution. 
  3. Christian theology shows us that God’s priority is not self-protection. A tiny newborn baby human is one of the weakest living things. The Christmas story practically screams self-giving and sacrificial generosity at us. We have assumed, in our society, a culture of entitlement, and so we expend masses of time/energy/money defending that entitlement, protecting our wealth. God gave away his power, gave away his story to the weakest of humans and the most insignificant of human families. Christian theology holds lightly and gives generously. 
  4. Christian theology shows long-term thinking. I guess if God could make a baby he could make a grown-up. He chose not to. He chose the long game. A long set-up, a community growing, a lifestyle change, not a quick-fix. Our politics demands short-term solutions to a long-term problem. 

When I hear of more cuts to the welfare budget, I wonder what theology lies behind that? When I hear positive employment figures trotted out, but businesses do not pay a wage you can live on, what theology lies behind that? When the only profitable rail network is nationally-owned, but sold to the private sector again, what theology lies behind that? When years of struggle for employment rights is extinguished with zero-hours contracts, what theology lies behind that?

The Christmas story is a sledgehammer to the politics of domination and self-protection. Let’s not lose that.





the nativity that needs saving

5 01 2014

Tabloid journalists wouldn’t have written good gospels. They’d have used up all the scroll just on the birth. See Prince George for evidence.

The gospel writers had loads of information and stories to work from, and they carefully chose which ones to use. And surpisingly, there’s no lingering over the holy birth. There’s no embellishments – no stables or donkeys; no silent nights, no ‘no crying he makes’; no angelic music or soft mood lighting. Jesus doesn’t perform miracles or speak early, he doesn’t fashion blackbirds from clay. No halo is painted over his head at his birth.

Why not? Because they were telling a real story about a world that needs saving. And the Christmas card nativity scene we propagate at Christmas doesn’t need saving. You know, the one where  the cows smile and the hay doesn’t itch and the King of the Jews doesn’t kill all the babies.

Take the visit of the magi. It can be easy to view the visit of the magi with rose-tinted spectacles. But they show us the kind of world Jesus came to save. A world in which people will do all they can not to be humble, not to kneel, but to defend their position at all costs. For Herod – the King of the Jews – that meant following in Pharaoh’s footsteps and ordering the murder of babies to protect his power.

The soft-glow world of nativity plays doesn’t need saving from anything except bland irrelevance. A world in which children are used as the pawns in grown-ups power games does need saving. That is still our world.

Of course we civilised people look down our noses at the primitive cruelty of Herod. We wouldn’t sacrifice children for our own ends these days would we? Oh, except child soldiers. Child labour. Child sex trade and child abuse pornography. Child poverty. Child refugees. To name but a few.

Epiphany is the story of the foreigners being the first to worship the King of the Jews who did not clutch his equality with God like a selfish toddler but gave it up for us; whilst the King of the Jews cruelly clutches his power with his vicious murderous mandate of death. All of a sudden the soft-glow nativity becomes a very dark story about our cruel world and it’s cruel people and people who suffer for no reason other than the cruelty of others.

For so many it really is that Christmas every day. That’s a nativity that needs saving.   

 





the advent sessions // spiderman

23 12 2013

spider_noticeboard_Snapseed
This week our church was protected by Spiderman. Which to be honest was a lot more comforting than all this baby-talk. It’s a lovely story, great for the children. But it’s all a bit… twee. The nativity I mean, not Spiderman. You want a story about unknown local boy made good. It’s Peter Parker. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.

If Mary and Joseph had grasped that, they would have had him born somewhere safer. Raised somewhere cleaner. Tutored in using his powers for the good of all, you know. By which I mean people of influence. Not just the unseen and unknown. Then the good would trickle down. And wouldn’t end in ignominious death.

Then there’s branding. Spiderman has his web. The baddies see that, they quiver. Batman has the bat. Even Spiderman has the “S”. Jesus? A manger, or a cross? If churches had a symbol that struck fear into their enemies, now that would be better.

spider_Snapseed
But. I suppose the story isn’t so twee once you look at it. Strip away the trimmings and you’re left with teenage faithfulness, courageous parenting, fearful refugees, and the murder of children by a despotic King. The unbelievable risk of God, the risk not to come in power with angel armies, not to leave his terrifying mark on the door frames and be the harbinger of fear and doom. Not to be a one-man superhero show.

Maybe living among and loving your enemies is more courageous than frightening them. Maybe taking a risk and living the daily pain of forgiveness is more courageous than revenge. Maybe including unwelcome shifty shepherds and astronomers of a different religion at the birth of the Son of God was a remarkably brave and unexpected thing to do. And a sign of things to come. 

Maybe the manger and the cross are better symbols than the spiderweb. Maybe the church is protected by something even greater than power.     





the advent sessions // panic

20 12 2013

“Advent. Contains drama and mild peril.” That might be the rating description. There’s no violence (yet) but if people hearing voices, seeing angels and falling unusually pregnant doesn’t have your hand hovering over the panic button, I’m not sure what will.

Christmas angels have an pretty fairy-like quality in our art. But always begin their greeting with “Don’t panic!”. Why? Because they cause panic. Why panic? Ask Joseph. The forgotten character in the drama, the tough guy carpenter who said “I’m outta here”. Until he trusted an angel in a dream. Explain that to your mates at the Bethlehem Tavern.
 

20131221-101941.jpg

The ‘my girlfriend’s pregnant’ problem causes panic even in our culture. Hence this leaflet I found on the pavement. If he’d had a phone, he would text OMG. Or OMY. God had a name. And God said don’t panic. 

Panic. What’s God asking us to do that makes us panic? Who’s baby is he asking us to care for? It’s not irony that later on Jesus says: when you care for the poor, naked, and homeless, you care for me. Like his dad did. You can’t get much more helpless than Jesus. And much more selfless than Joseph. 

So, again, what’s God asking of you that is making you panic? Think carefully, because that will be the thing that truly matters.





the advent sessions // floorboards

19 12 2013

BAfoodbank_Snapseed

Have you ever been in a house with bare floorboards? Not the intentional ones all buffed and polished, smoothed to a shine to be cared for and cherished; but cracked and splintery and dark and unfinished.  Have you ever been in social housing before? To visit people with no pennies to buy themselves carpets or curtains so it’s unintentionally spartan; this is rarely a lifestyle choice, I’m certain.

On the subject of poverty I come over all cynical and my opinions may well not be typical; inside my head I’m so angry like the prophets of old my language is not holy and spiritual but shouty and physical with lyrical rage at how we seem to accept Foodbanks as natural.

Well they are a natural result of the free market that lines the rich with deep pile carpet and hold the poor in the deep pit of hopelessness and bare boards and I know some will say that the poor are deserving with their whiny subservient scrounging taking advantage of the generously benevolently incidentally wealthy and I say so bloody what.

Because for every  person who is taking advantage there’s a thousand others without a vestige of boldness to take what’s not theirs. Have you ever been humiliated enough as to walk into a handout and manage to walk out with your head held even higher lifted by the kindness of strangers who lift you from the dangerous pit of despair not asking how you got there by fault or circumstance but giving you a chance to get through 3 days without a glance askance but seeking to enhance your life from existence to living.

I hate the Foodbank not because it’s not a good system but because the society we live in should damn well not need them so if you’ve never used one put yourselves in the shoes those who do before dismissing the few who abuse them before suggesting we lose them or with it the entire welfare system.

So what has this post got to do with advent; well the prophets spoke of one who would be finally sent to deal with the malevolent, the bent, who with cruel intent that stinks so pungent cause an ancient fermenting lament; and this is what’s meant by the arrival of the pregnant, the silent, the unlikely regent, the beginning of the celebration of the benevolent. The Prince of Peace.

Kindness with longevity not just seasonal generosity. Long may it reign. For many need it so desperately.

This is part of a series called the advent sessions, using local images to help reflect on advent.  Previous posts are:
the advent sessions // fork handles
the advent sessions // for candles
the advent sessions // rebuild
the advent sessions // despair    









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