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!





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.





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

IMG_0577_Snapseed

a place a lot like church, really.





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

89282752_huth2_epa

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.





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.

michael_etheridge2-e1455827808612

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





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

 





leaves

18 11 2015

working for the kingdom of god
is like sweeping up leaves on a windy day
as your son kicks over the already-disintegrating leaf pile
and then steals the rake
and you try to remember that it is
the act of being there to sweep that matters
not how many leaves end in the bucket

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blindspots and horizons

21 09 2015

One of my roles is a Trustee/Director of Sutton Schoolswork, our excellent local Christian schoolswork organisation. This is a spoken word vision of the future I wrote for and delivered at our annual Thanksgiving Service, for which I thought I’d get thrown out, but instead have been asked for copies. Who knew. Maybe it wasn’t provocative enough after all.


blindspots and horizons

we the church suffer from an honesty crisis
and I guess it shouldn’t surprise us
when you think about the average ages
in our congregations
which isn’t something to beat ourselves up about
except to say that if we put as much effort into schoolswork
as we do coffee mornings and playgroups
there’d be more schoolswork

we the church suffer from an honesty crisis
and actually it should surprise us
when you think about all the time spent
in our buildings
compared with time spent at work and in school
by me or you
that we focus so much on what happens in church
when most of us are mostly everywhere else

it’s a blindspot
a dark patch
the part we can’t see
when we plan all our outreach
and where to plant seeds
we think we’ve got kids sorted
because of kids church and the youth group…
yes youth work is exciting because the kids come to us
and they’re ours, our little flowers
it’s not that we’re selfish it’s just
that they’re important
an investment
the future of us
well – the present don’t forget
to be theologically correct
so yes big shout out to kids workers and youth workers
and to old sofas and hoodies

but let’s lift our eyes from the blindspot of inside
to the horizon that is outside
because I’ve seen the future and it’s much more exciting
let the workers out into schools it’s not that frightening

on the horizon I can see churches passionate for schools
so they’re equipping their youthworkers with all the tools
needed for assemblies about Jesus and forgiveness and hope
and lessons about Easter and resurrection and more hope

in the future we all know what prayer spaces are
And RE days and CUs and recognise the far far
reaching nature of teaching about Jesus
from someone who believes it

in the future the PCCs and deacons meetings and leadership teams
are sharing in the excitement of realising the dream
and releasing the potential we like to keep neat and tidy and clean, inside,
for our kids

in the future the numbers become even more astounding
than the fact that we reach nearly all the 35,000
children and young people in the borough of Sutton
which kind of puts into perspective how many people we’re normally preaching too,
doesn’t it

there’s all these kids sitting ready to listen in classes
meanwhile we spend all our time sitting on our…. vases
as most churches spend more on flowers than they do to schools work

now I will confess to you I’ve got a vested interest in sutton schoolswork
and it’s not because i’m a director
it’s not because i’m a dad
it’s not because I do schoolswork and would be glad
of some help
I’ve got a vested interest because I follow jesus
and I know how little kids know about Jesus
or the world beyond their own noses

I see the future when we’ve raised our eyes from the blindspot
to the horizon
when every school and every child hears the message of Jesus
form someone who truly believes it
where we can do more than skim the surface
with a fleeting assembly
but go deeper, and further – that’s the future:
can you see it? will you make it happen?
Will you walk with us from the blindspot
to the horizon?


Photo courtesy of @WarnerPidgeon


Sutton Schoolswork are in our 20th year, and are celebrating this with an exciting plan for growth, which includes the appointment of a brand-new post of Schoolswork Director. See the website for more details, and to find out how you could get involved in supporting us as we aim to increase the knowledge and understanding of the Christian Faith and support students in their spiritual, social and moral development.





blind in the mind

15 09 2015

When things go wrong, we pretend we don’t believe we are being punished for what we did in this or a previous life; but I’m amazed at how many people think that they are. Not in a Hindu reincarnation-type way, just in a ‘there must be a reason for this’ type way. My success is down to me, but my failure is someone else’s fault. Or, if my success is due to God’s blessing, then my failure is down to.. what? Punishment, clearly. At least, that’s the theological cul-de-sac where so many end up. Let’s call it the Hoddle waddle. Everything happens for a reason, right?

In a series on Jesus’ “I am” sayings, we looked at the account of the man who was born blind, and who Jesus healed; this account includes discussion about who’s fault it was he is blind – his? his parents? nobody’s? – whether religious rules are more important than people, and ultimately that his physical blindness wasn’t due to sin, but sin can lead to spiritual blindness.

As it was an all-age service, I wrote the talk as a spoken-word poem in language for all ages, hopefully. Here it is:


the man was born blind
but it was the pharisees who couldn’t see
well, they could see, see
but they couldn’t see, see
they could see with their eyes
but not with their hearts
they could play I-Spy
but they took any chance
to keep other people in darkness
and themselves in the light

like the man who was born blind
who actually couldn’t see
they behaved so unkind
they pretended they couldn’t see him
him who had to beg at the roadside for money
whilst the pharisees feasted on olives and honey

jesus turned this all upside down
turned the smile on the pharisees into a frown
and the blind man who had been so full of worry
turned his face around so he could see the funny
side of being healed with spit and mud
and nobody believing it was really him
and he didn’t even know which man Jesus was

but this story isn’t really about this kind of blind
Jesus was really talking about being blind in the mind
the kind of blind where you find people being unkind
blind to their kind, unkind in their mind
and thinking this kind of unkind mind is the mind
of our God

you’re blind Jesus says it’s like all you see is black
but I am the light so don’t turn your back
like a smallest of candles that can light up a cave
i am the light of the world that God gave

the light that shines in the darkness so you can understand
from a candle to a fire that the Holy Spirit fans
I am the light of the world Jesus said for people like you
the question is now – what will you do?
will you hide you light under a bucket so nobody can see
or pluck up the courage so that you can be free
and show Jesus the light to all people around
and his light will surround and dumbfound and confound
but the darkness will be bound – in fact it will bound away
when Jesus’ light switches on it’s like a brand new day

so let’s not be like the pharisees blind in the mind
but like the man who was blind who let Jesus be kind
and jesus led him from fear to be free
I once was blind but now I can see

© 2015 Kevin Lewis 








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