sunglasses over my soul

30 06 2016

there’s a reason I wear sunglasses
over my soul
you know, that deep place
within us that
sees
truly sees when people hurt

sunglasses because I don’t want
to see, fully
sunglasses because I don’t want
to know, really

I know I could just shut my eyes
but then I can’t see
I might fall over
and we can’t have that

the sunglasses are for protection;
dark enough to shield me from seeing fully
but not so dark I can’t see anything;
dark enough that you can’t see my eyes
but not so obvious as if my eyes were shut

what might you think of me then?

if I take the sunglasses off
i can see your pain and it hurts…
me
I don’t want your pain in my life
because it makes mine seem so…
small
and I feel ashamed
and so I hide
as your pain cuts me deep

it cuts me, but nothing like you’ve been cut
it offends me, but nothing like you’ve been offended
it violates my life, but nothing like you have been violated

perhaps all I can do is remove the sunglasses
that dull me to your pain
so that I simply know
and you know that I know
so that I can see you with open, unshielded eyes
and you can see into my soul through mine.


I hope this poem speaks to you about how we see other people’s pain, and try to hide from it. I wrote it during a 6th Form RE Conference on FGM/C (Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting) & Child Marriage with Sutton Schoolswork, amid questions about what we can actually do about it.

There’s a lot of pain in this world, now more than ever; pain in our communities, now more than ever. Sometimes seeing, and showing others that we have seen and we care, is the first step to doing something about it.





celebrating a spirituality of the body

5 06 2016

Our bodies are so precious. No matter what we think of them.
Bodies are at the centre of our faith. No matter how our history has erased them.

Somehow the most embodied faith about a God who was (and is) literally embodied has become disembodied. A faith with an enfleshed Jesus (Gk: incarnate) somehow became about escaping bodies into a ‘spiritual’ heaven. Yet when we neglect our bodies for more ‘spiritual things’ – usually words, prayers, thoughts – we do a disservice to God and to ourselves.

2016.06 Celebrating Body title.001

The early church grappled with this unspeakable notion that the Holy God could be fully human, yet they pursued it and Paul, even Paul the Pharisee, could say our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. No longer the Holy of Holies once a year in the Temple – but you, and me, where God dwells, in our broken and wrinkly crinkly lumpy blotchy flesh and blood and bone bodies.

So, our bodies matter. What we do with them matters. How we treat them matters.

I know this is tricky ground for some. Many people I know, male and female, suffer from serious body image problems, from eating disorders, from other related problems, and from bodies that simply do not work properly. I’m in no way trying to solve those problems here. I am trying to help us see the importance of our bodies, that we don’t neglect them, mistreat them, or simply forget that God cherishes them.

Jesus was very body-conscious. Not in the sense he went to a gym and wore lycra. In the sense that he saw people with broken bodies, worn-out bodies – the disabled, the blind, the bleeding, even the dead. And he hung out with them, honoured them, used physical touch to restore them, when no-one else would go near them. He made them whole, physically, socially, mentally. He hung out with people who sold their bodies to people like us for sex, honouring them in a way slipping them a tenner for a fumble under the table never would.

He also had strong words about how we can misuse our bodies. If your eye causes you to sin, he said, gauge it out, for it is better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than not at all. He was exaggerating for effect of course, but this was before you could watch hard-core porn on your iPhone during the sermon. What we do with our bodies matters. We can do great good or great harm, to ourselves and to others.

body_temple

Developing a spirituality of the body is not about a feel-good self-help programme indistinguishable from a couch-to-5k phone app; it’s not about becoming a vegetarian; it’s not about yoga or running or being happy with how we look, though it could include those.

It’s about being real with God and ourselves that this sack of flesh we live in matters. That Jesus would have us care for ourselves well. That the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life is all about BODIES; a resurrection gained through the BODY of Jesus, God made BODY, who lives in our BODY by his Holy Spirit.

And if you truly struggle with your body, as many of us do, imagine Jesus sitting down next to you on the bus. Where does he look, how does he judge, and what does he treasure? Evidence from the gospel suggests:

He treasures the whole of us.
Us, as a whole.
Us as we come, broken or whole.
Wholly holy.


 

We are starting a new series with this title at church, and this is a version of the opening talk. Over the series we’ll be looking at eyes, hands, tongues, scars, heads, shoulders and feet as we explore what it means to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, to be temples of the Holy Spirit, and to honour God with our bodies. 





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.

IMG_0286_Snapseed

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.

 





dodging the telegram

21 01 2015

I was running when I got the phone call telling me my granny had died. A few weeks short of her 100th birthday, this was a blessed relief for her, living as she has been in a fog of dementia and sightlessness; and she would probably have been embarrassed to receive The Telegram anyway. 

this is not my granny

She dodged The Telegram, and instead got the Book of Life, and maybe even my grandad, although having told him on his deathbed 8 years ago that she would see him soon, he may well be a bit cross she took so long. 

As a vicar I take a lot of funerals, so I am used to the talk of hope beyond death. But there are precious few times that I believe it fully and wholly for those I meet; by which I mean I always have hope that God receives all, but that there is no doubt for those who follow Jesus, or ‘have given their lives to him’, or ‘are saved’, however we choose to put it.

My granny committed to following Jesus 90 years ago, and served him faithfully ever since, through the highs and lows of life, being married to a post-war Baptist minister for over 60 years, through the death of her daughter and the treasures of her remaining children and theirs, and theirs, through birth and adoption. 

She was faithful to her husband, to her family, to the church, and most of all to her God, on whom her life was grounded. I know she was far from perfect. But she was a great example to us, from a generation that knew true hardship, and terror, and sorrow – at Remembrance Day I still show the machine-gun bullet that came through her window during the generation-defining WW2. 

As I continued my run after hearing the news, God worked through the shuffle playlist to play Awake My Soul by Mumford & Sons, with some appropriate words that made me chuckle as I ran:

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
Awake my soul, awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker

The legacy of my granny lives through me, and the rest of her family, and I would like that not to just be the shape of our noses or the names that we bear, but this: where we invest our love, we invest our life. That won’t always make us popular, and as I also have a life in ministry I know the cost investing your whole life can bring to your family. And I know it can be exhausting. 

But I take comfort – which literally means ‘with strength’ – from the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, which is not a vague and fuzzy optimism, it is not a half-baked hope of being a star in the sky that twinkles, but it is the costly life to which we are all invited. For we are made to meet our maker, and we do not have to be afraid. 

My granny was one of the few people I know who was utterly convinced of that.  





(funda)mental health

7 10 2014

Many people who are a part of church have mental health problems. One of the reasons for this is that churches are – generally, frequently – places of kindness. Places of welcome. Why? Because we try to follow Jesus, who wasn’t a malevolent warrior, a political obsessive, or a brainwashing control freak. 

We follow Jesus who went to those on the fringes, the edges; to the broken, the hurting. Our hope is that that Jesus is reflected in the everyday life of churches. What we do is rarely glamorous, or violent; it is rarely newsworthy. We are not generally world-conquering fundamentalists who want to kill anyone who isn’t like us; neither are we hotbeds of scandal. What we do is mostly under the radar, but it is not secret. It is revolutionary, but not political. 

What we do is welcome all who want to come. Serve all who want to come. We invest in communities through coffee mornings, toddler groups, youth clubs, food banks, debt counselling, curry nights and yes, being a place of welcome and kindness for those with mental health problems. We welcome ‘them’ – us, you – as we welcome anyone. Yes we get it wrong. Yes we don’t always understand. Yes we can be impatient. Yes, long-term illness of any kind can bring out the worst in any of us. And for that we are sorry. After all, we all struggle with poor mental health at one time to another. Maybe we are struggling right now and nobody knows.  

But if you struggle with fragile mental health, whether briefly, occasionally, frequently or every single long and frightening day, I hope you feel welcome not just ‘in church’, but as part of the church community. Know you are loved. And please, come as you are, and when you feel able to. If you have a mental health problem you have a lot to offer, a lot to teach, and church is worse off without you.  

Church is where the knowingly broken gather to walk life together. Forgive us for the times we forget that.

October 10th 2014 is World Mental Health Day. Please take some today to think how you can support those you know who suffer from mental health problems.
Here are some helpful links:
MIND
Samaritans
Friendly Places 





shortcut to well-being

28 01 2014

20140128-221921.jpg

Chilled drinks, eggs, well-being. Aisle no.5, please. I didn’t realise it was so simple. You can buy well-being off the shelf, which according to this aisle, generally involves being free-from things. 

Whilst being a bit tongue in cheek, there’s something quite profound here. In a world in which we are constantly labelled as consumers, apparently happy as long as we’re devouring, there’s a deep craving for well-being. Which is what, exactly? A utopian dream? The bare minimum?

Well-being has nothing to do with over-priced branded durum wheat. And everything about the depth of peace in your soul. How often do we hear people returning from trips abroad to work with those in deep poverty and hear them be amazed at how the people could still smile, laugh, have faith, be. Without wifi? Granary bread? TV? And yet we forget. It confuses us because we revert to being consumers demanding well-being off the shelf.

God says we must work at it.

The Jewish faith have this concept of shalom. It’s a greeting, yes, it means ‘peace’, sort of. Because it means so much more. Shalom is the knowledge that everything is as God would have it be. Shalom is the knowledge of true peace. It is a dream, yes. Can it be reality? Yes. It is bought off the shelf? No.

This is where we cannot simply consume.

This was brought home to me sharply by a friend who is a foster parent. Those of us involved in fostering and adoption know a lot about well-being, shalom, and the results of a lack of it. He passed this on to me (from Pete Greig – Emmaus Rd podcast 19th Jan:

Here are some symptoms of adults who didn’t form appropriate attachments as a child:
1. Broken relationships
2. Depression
3. Anxiety
4. Sensitivity to rejection
5. Anger
6. Higher ratio of criminality
7. Commitment phobia
8. Violence
9. Instability & addictive patterns.
And here is a list you might recognise which has more-or-less exact opposites to the above (compare them for yourself):
1. Love
2. Joy
3. Peace
4. Patience & forbearance
5. Kindness
6. Goodness
7. Faithfulness
8. Gentleness
9. Self-control.
(Galatians 5 – fruits of the spirit)

Neither he nor I are in any way saying we’ve discovered our own quick-fix to well-being. Be a Christian, be filled with the Spirit, you’ll be fine. Bingo. I’m not that naive. But it is interesting. It is interesting that God has a deep interest in our well-being because he has a deep interest in shalom because he deeply loves us. And when you love, you want the best.

God’s plan for us is that of shalom. When he saved us from sin, that wasn’t saving us from each individual act of naughtiness that we so often equate it with. No, he was saving us from a world in which there could never be peace because the very core of our being was ridden with cancer of selfishness that comes from being apart from God. Like cancer, we can do our best to remove bits that destroy shalom but if it’s in the blood, it will return. No matter how many gyms we join, well-being foods we eat and Facebook petitions we sign. Evil will out. 

Being saved is the new life that means the infection is gone and shalom is possible. Shalom is not a given. It is a life’s work. But it is a source of great hope. Great hope that even those with the most terrible of beginnings can find peace; hope that those who live in the midst of great darkness can find a peace within it; and that in the end, shalom is better than stuff.

Even the stuff from aisle no.5. 





psalm following an overdose

24 06 2013

Our faith has to be real, sometimes gut-wrenchingly real. We have to look it in the eye and stare it down and not be afraid. Questions unspoken become questions too big to speak. Never let them. How can I talk about Jesus who brings sight to the blind whilst one of us slowly loses theirs? How can I teach sing silly songs about Jesus healing a disabled man whilst one of us learns to walk with only one leg left? How can I talk of peace and healing whilst some are in the depths of  depression? How can I talk of new life when so many mourn the death of their children? 

This is how.  Because God is real and it’s not all about me. I can’t explain everything, and I don’t need to. This is not my faith. It is our faith. So, I learn from you. You learn from me. We question together, we cry together, we laugh together, we rest together, we continue clambering up the bloody mountain of faith because it is real, not because it is easy, or just because it is there.

The following is a poem, a Psalm, written by someone we know the day after she took an overdose, last week, 25 years into her journey through depression. She has given me permission to share it with you because we thought it needed a wider audience. That faith can withstand this astounds me and blesses me and confuses me and gives me hope. This is church, this is discipleship, this is our cry, and we cry it out together.   

My Psalm Following an Overdose

God….

Are you my God?
I hurt so much inside.
Like my whole heart will just bust.

Are you here?       
For me?
For my family? 

To me, all seems bleak.
No point in this…
No point breathing….
Or living.

I hide indoors too scared to go out
Too scared to stay in.
Alone.   
Lonely.   
Safe?!   Really?!

I won’t deny you’re in my life.
I can’t do that.
But I ask, I scream, I cry…
WHY, WHY, OH GOD – WHY? 

Once, I thought you’d freed me.
Unlocked the chains that held me.
I feel more in bondage now than ever.
Did I go back into that prison out of choice
Or did you make me go in?
Putting a new, stronger, lock on? 

I love you.
I do think you love me,
Well, most of the time!

I see you there though, just sitting by,
Watching me being punished,
Hurting, crying, screaming, “JESUS, HELP ME”

 You don’t listen………………. Why?

What have I done to be so tormented?
I want to die but you don’t allow that.
Will my life be one of torture or
Will I get a break?

 So I have no choice but to sit
Or scream or cry or…..?

‘til you’re done with me, I suppose 

© Anonymous 2013





hope [less] full

8 06 2012

I know lots of people who struggle with eating disorders. Some do life ‘normally’ so that nobody knows; some are regularly hospitalised; some are able to receive treatment, others cling only to prayer and the fragile strand of hope, or are prevented from death only by some instinct for survival or by the actions of others. Some do all of the above at various times. 

I know Jesus as well. Eating with people was one of the hallmarks of his ministry, and so for people to struggle with this illness every day when food is so inescapable must pain him. I want him to sort it out. I want my friends to be well. I want him to kick the butt of anorexia, or bulimia, and whatever causes it.

It takes longer that we want.     

I know there is always hope. Ok, I don’t always. I’m meant to though, being a vicar. But I want there to be. Maybe you can hope for me today.  

hope is

hope is trusting that over the horizon or just in the next footstep
there is more than survival though sometimes it feels like

only that. 

hope is knowing that Jesus’ touch can restore us
even when it’s slower than the butt-kicking we would prefer he gave to what

binds us. 

hope is knowing we are not slaves to anyone or anything but him
hope is knowing we are never given up on no matter how many times
we want to be 
or think

we ought to be.

hope is knowing that others still carry hope for you
when you have none left for yourself.

hope is knowing that others still love you
when you cannot love yourself.

hope is an active verb
hope is real
hope is rooted in Jesus
hope is ours

hope is.

For information about eating disorders and other related issues including support and advice, go to the ToBeHonest





competing with competition

20 01 2011

The NHS is being pushed further and further down the competition route. The theory is, quite possibly, convincing. Organisations work better when they are competing with each other because competition improves efficiency and makes things cheaper. Which is actually the point. This sort of free-market capitalism seems to me to be dreamt up by a certain type of man. And a few women. But mostly men, I reckon. People who live in a world where everyone wants to win; being cheaper and more efficient is the most important thing; and actual people are sidelined in favour of theoretical economics.

Theoretical economics doesn’t take account for the presence of humans, who are not always fair, who do not all like a level playing field; we might even so far as to say people will often cheat and lie and put themselves, rather than than the greater good, first. Where having winners makes other people losers. And so the weakest suffer, the strongest prosper, and I suddenly feel like I’m writing a Psalm from 1,500 years ago. Has nothing changed?


Having said that, I am a fan of people. And I am a fan of remembering that there is no such thing as an ‘economy’, just humans in communities who make transactions. In the NHS, as with other state services, I am a fan of putting people first. Sometimes that makes things more efficient; sometimes less efficient. Ok, often less efficient. Like taking away train carriages to reduce costs may make things more efficient, but doesn’t help the people crammed in the remaining ones like sardines. Taking away doctors from doctoring so that they can manage bidding competitions means that they are not doctoring, or are managing and doctoring, which is surely less efficient as doctors need to be awake when  treating patients. And have trained for x years (at our expense) to be doctors, not managers.

I don’t want hospitals to be in competition with each other any more than I want train stations to be. When my son had an accident I didn’t check the league tables to see which hospital was the best; I went to my nearest (St Helier). I want my nearest hospital to be as good as it can be, because the staff are motivated and the hospital is resourced. I don’t want to be treated by the company that put in the cheapest bid and employs the cheapest staff. Of course there is nothing wrong with competition in itself – it can be motivating and inspiring and encourage good behaviours. But in the NHS context I cannot see how it will improve things, with private companies circling to cherry-pick the easiest patients and the NHS left to do the long-term difficult care.If humans could be trusted, the free-market could work. But humans need boundaries, because unless we are all filled with the love of God and allow that to direct and influence our every move we have a tendency to be selfish, to look out for ourselves, to turn a blind eye to those beneath us in the pile. Or not to notice there is a pile at all. Just look at the banking crisis, where people are rewarded for failing simply because they are allowed to, and let the poor suffer the consequences. Free market is great when you are the one that writes the rules.

There is an alternative to competition, there is an alternative to turning every public service into a free-market. Because although we are all equal, it is always the rich who are more equal than others.

Excellent,I think you are right about why so many of us evangelicals are frightened of emphasising the positives about our faith. And I am sure the use of the word ‘in-breading’ where perhaps ‘in-breaking’ would be more conventional was simply a subtle reference to yeast in the dough. Rather than a mis-spelling of ‘in-breeding’, which is not a very evangelical thing at all.




What the kerfuffle?

20 08 2009

What the kerfuffle?

There’s a whole load of kerfuffle going on. A medical kerfuffle.  You’ve probably heard. I went to the doctor yesterday, to be greeted by a sign on the door that told me if I was feeling ill, to go away. I thought, but this is the doctors. Luckily, I wasn’t feeling ill, just recovering from a 4-inch hole in my tummy. Anyway…. There’s a virus going round causing a kerfuffle; it’s making some people ill, you see. Mostly not badly ill. Sometimes, unfortunately, yes. But most of the time, its just a bad flu. The swine. And yet…

Yesterday, there were 2 bombs in Baghdad that killed 95 people . There are a million orphans in Zimbabwe , read more on Zimbabwe from Nick Baines. 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, many to make our chocolate bars. Maybe 10% of the South African population has HIV/AIDS, with up to one third of pregnant women carrying the virus. Annie Lennox (she’s a singer, they know about these things) has called it a pandemic. There’s a familiar word.

But that is a pandemic virus problem that surely deserves a kerfuffle.

I wrote the following, about the human tendency to worry about our own more than others. I’m no great poet, but someone once said if you go where the poets are, you find out what people really think. The thing is, what do we then do about it?

The World Was Silent When We Died

the world was silent when we died.
silent, but not unseeing.
silent, but not innocent.
the anguish of a million souls
torn and cut and bleeding
denied, or ignored, or condoned.

by default the human cares only for its own.
the sufferings of its own a source of morbid fascination
but of its enemy, or its other
a different colour…

the numbers don’t add
the silence is quieter
the necks that keep turning away
growing stiffer.

© 2007 Kevin Lewis








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