the snowdon challenge

31 08 2016

You cannot understand the world without understanding religion. Ok, perhaps some would dispute that. But? Think about it. Probably 90% of the world adhere to some form of religious belief. We in secular Europe like to deny that; we may think the beliefs are wrong; yet, there it is.

Young people are growing up in a world that misunderstands religion. Seen through cynical media eyes it is newsworthy only at times of abject failure, or accidental comedy, or when the Queen does something dressy.

Yet religion changes the way people behave arguably more than most other factors. Yes that can be negative – extremist fundamentalism – and also positive – food banks, youth clubs, debt counselling, schools, hospitals…

Despite being the fastest growing A-Level option, and the one subject that tackles the big questions of life from primary right through secondary, many RE teachers are non-specialist. Many know their stuff, but many, especially in Primary school, have no background in RE at all.

This is why I support Sutton Schoolswork, even enough to run 22 miles over Snowdon! Yes, you may argue I have a vested interest in promoting the good understanding of religion. Yes, I do, as I do in the good understanding of sport and geography and maths. Even maths.

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Sutton Schoolswork work in schools, by invitation, to support teachers in the delivery of the RE syllabus; to give assemblies on topics ranging from Christian festivals to anti-bullying; to run i-Wonder Days for primary schools and RE 6th Form Conferences on Human Trafficking; they support teachers and pupils, and work with local volunteers to run lunch-clubs and after-school clubs. They do this across 45 primary schools and 11 secondary schools with just 2 schools workers, a recently-created post of Director, and p/t admin support, alongside local volunteers.

The critics in my head say there are better places for money to go, better charities to support. Yes, there are many good ones. Yet helping children and young people to understand the world they live in is a vastly underestimated value. Thinking deeply, discussing gracefully, learning from a conversation not a textbook… all these contribute to a world in which we don’t just shout statements at each other from entrenched and unknowing prejudice, but we seek to understand each other, to work together.

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So on Saturday 3rd September I am taking part in Man V Mountain, to raise money for Sutton Schoolswork. As a Trustee-Director and a local vicar who works in both primary and secondary schools, I think this is a great cause, and if you are able to join in supporting it, then please follow this link above to do so.

Thank you.





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.





we are place

23 06 2016

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
Bad relationship advice, of course. But what if it applied to place?

If you can’t live in the place you love, love the place you’re in.

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The place we are in matters. We may love it, we may hate it. We may romanticise it, we may not even notice it. But it is. And a Christian theology of place says that where we are, we must love. Or try to love. Or to be love in. Because God is in that place. And God is love.

We anglicans have a systematic understanding of place, called parish. We are intentionally territorial, neighbourhood-focused. It means we cannot just focus on the town centre, the streets near our building, or the people we happen to know. We voluntarily take on a responsibility to pray for, be there for, support and protect those within our parish. Which is most definitely not just those who come to church.

Roads. Trees. Parks. Shops. Bus stops. Woods. Canals. Fields. Industrial estates. Schools. Houses. People. Businesses. Networks.

There are so many things that shape our place. I cam across the term ‘ecclesiastical geography’ this week that explains how we understand our – the church’s – place in our place. Understanding the historic factors that have shaped our area  and the people in it, from hills and rivers to mining and industry and immigration and town planning. And understanding the contemporary issues that build on or challenge or supplement those.

A theology of place goes hand in hand with a theology of the kingdom of God. If we believe this world is to be escaped from, then we have no responsibility to love and care for the place, only the embodied souls that happen to briefly dwell within it. We become ‘evaporated Christians’, with no roots on earth just vapour in the sky.

But if we believe that the incarnation of God in Jesus roots the work of God in a place, this place; if his resurrection and ascension means he is Lord over place, this place; if we believe he will return to a place, this place; and if we believe that in the meantime he dwells in a place, this place, no longer in a particular specific Temple or nation but through the Holy Spirit in all who turn to Jesus… then this place, our place, is where the Kingdom of God is coming.


This is why as Christians we love our place, whether naturally or as a choice; whether it’s ‘our place’ or an adopted place, or a place that has adopted us. In that love we want to bring and to be hope, to live lives of hopefulness and to spread hope in our place. Not an unrooted hope, which is just optimism, but hope rooted in Christ.

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Over the last few years the local churches on our estate have established a presence at the local St Helier Festival, organised by residents associations. As well the hospitality of refreshments, amazing cakes, games and children’s activities, we also asked people their hopes for their lives, for the area we live in, and invited them to write them on these 1-metre high letters. Their responses were many and varied, and are a great insight into how people in this place are, and think, and aspire to.

Here is a sample of what was written on them, and our prayer is that they will speak to us about the people in our place. And maybe in your place too.

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The idea of ecclesiastical geography and the reflection on space was inspired by a talk from Revd. Andrew Rumsey, though obviously I’ve reinterpreted it through my own eyes.





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.

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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.

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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. 





straw men & brick follies | the EU Referendum and why religion doesn’t have a monopoly on control by irrational fear 

1 06 2016

Critics of the religious and our history tend to point to a chequered history of control by fear. Invent a fear, give it a godly theme or a loose Biblical basis, and just keep on repeating it. Through that you will have control.

Rational 21st century people, who have discarded such medieval notions, don’t think like that anyone. We deal in facts, figures, not the straw men and brick follies of invented fears.

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Folly’s are so last century. Aren’t they?

Or. Do we? The EU referendum – or rather, the political posturing around it – appears to show that the religious don’t have a monopoly on control by irrational fear after all. The modern-day priests, people of a privileged caste who serve the god Economy, are prepared to say almost anything that will whip up enough fear among the common peasants in order to prevent them overthrowing the Lord of the Manor, who generously keeps the church Westminster in business.

I cannot excuse the history of my own faith, nor sometimes that we still control by fear. But one good thing about the decline in religious adherence is a near obliteration of the over-confidence by which the church controlled people. Many in the church (especially my own brand the Church of England) haven’t yet noticed that the majority of people don’t notice us, let alone listen to us, anymore. So we have been humbled into realising we cannot control people, and actually that is not what we should have been about anyway.

What we have to do instead is give people vision, hope, something to look to. Because whilst our influence and control has waned, our passion for our message hasn’t. Gone are the days of shouting the ‘turn or burn’ on street corners, hijacking Old Testament prophets or Jesus or Paul for our own purposes. Here are the days of Healing on the Streets and Prayer for Sutton and Food Banks and Debt Counselling and playgroups and coffee mornings and listening to people and living whole lives of hopefulness.

Meanwhile we look on in dismay as our leading politicians go all medieval on us, shouting on street corners wearing sandwich boards with misquoted scripture economics taken out of context to serve their own purpose. It should make us smug, to see how far they have fallen from hope to fear, these priests of privilege. But it doesn’t.

It just makes us weep for what could be so much better.





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.  








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