playing angry birds on the loo

16 09 2012

Do you check Facebook on the loo? Or fight the bad piggies by flinging angry bird heads at their precarious houses? Life throws us endless chances for distractions, and before the advent of the ever-present smartphone the loo was one of the places I was actually just with… me. Time to think. Time to process. Time for… peace.  

Peace. A little word with so many meanings, so much promise and yet so elusive to find. We can find peace if we use the right shampoo, or meditate for half an hour, or spend a day at a health spa or in the loo. Or send the kids away. Or something other than live our normal lives. 

Jesus promises us something far deeper, far richer than that kind of ‘inner peace’, snatched in a half hour of calm. He promises a peace that cannot be bought or earned by saying the right mantra or doing the right number of good turns. A peace that is given as a gift. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This peace is Jewish idea of Shalom – a truly holistic, affirming peace when all is as God intended; when we are at peace with God, with each other and – yes – even with ourselves.

Being at peace with ourselves is one our cultures deepest black holes. Shallowness is prized, sensory overload is a given. Being able to be in our own heads without constantly feeding ourselves with peace-denying distractions? A radical thought.  Count how many minutes you are free from music, TV, Facebook, emails, BBM, phone, angry birds… 

I know when I’m not at peace with myself when I find constant distractions. Music on, Facebook on. Playing Angry Birds on the loo? What’s that all about. Whilst we cannot earn or buy peace, we can help ourselves in receiving it. Giving ourselves peace-time, instead of actively starving ourselves, can only help. It doesn’t mean quiet. But there’s no point inviting the Spirit of peace to live in us if we never give him time to say anything to us, or do anything in us. 

When we do, he will speak to us, he will change us. That is a challenge. Maybe that’s why we find so many reasons to avoid him.

I’m off to play Angry Birds…   

more than chairs

6 09 2012

The vicar walks into the church. It’s empty. Again. He sighs. He thinks…

Chairs. When you can only see what’s infront of you, it’s just a load of chairs. And floor, and songbooks and untidy corners no-one quite gets round to sorting out. It’s depressing, it’s pointless. It’s just chairs and boring stuff. 

The vicars remembers it’s Tuesday. There is no-one here because it’s Tuesday. 

Remember. Remember what is was like on Sunday! People. There were people. When you can only see what’s infront of you it’s chairs, but when you can remember, you remember there was life. Life made up of seeking souls and faithful believers and people who don’t quite know why they’re there. You could barely see the chairs. Remembering – to put the bits of the past into the present, to re-member the whole body. Then it begins to make sense. 

The vicar sees the future. Not like Dr Who, but like a vision.

Life! A vision of fire bouncing of walls – not bad fire, Holy Spirit fire. The place, brimming with people all messy and broken and beautiful. Lives changed and changing. When you can see the future breaking into the present, that is when there is life. Much more than chairs. 

but what lovely chairs

Today this vicar saw life. Today is Thursday and the playgroup started again. Life returns from its summer slumber. The people are back, with their noisy kids and heavy burdens and supportive friendships and single-parent tiredness, with their beautiful potentials and their resilient hearts and working partners, with their humanity and that that that that THAT is what this vicar loves. People, gathered. Jesus, there, whether they know it or not.  

May God allow us to see so much more than what is infront of us. May God give us the patience to remember the past, and the vision to see the future – and the courage to live in the present – because there is life here.

So much more than chairs. 

they drew round their hands and coloured them in. obviously.

re-born royalty (or, your family lineage means nothing)

7 06 2012

There are things we get from our families we cannot choose. Physical traits  (I got the knees and nose) or mental abilities (I didn’t get the maths genes). It might be expectation and achievement; or it might be expectation of non-achievement. I’m not sure which is worse.

There are some people who trade off their family name, rather than bringing any new skill. Bruno Senna, Peaches Geldof, Charles Windsor… [**tongue in cheek**]. I’m sure you can think of others. 

When Jesus spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus, he was speaking to someone deeply influenced by birth. Jewish society was strictly hierarchical on family lines, but more importantly, being a child of Abraham was the most important thing. God had chosen the people of Abraham, so they were blessed. A bit like the Royal family, it was all about who you were born as.

Jesus tells Nicodemus, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. “Hmph, how can you be born again?” laughs Nicodeumus. “What, can you squeeze back into your mum’s womb?!” The women wince. It was hard enough the first time.

For Nicodemus, this is who I am. For us, often we think, this is who I am. Don’t try and change me. You can’t change me. I we talking to someone  about their anger and short temper – this is who I am, they said. My dad was short-tempered, I am short-tempered. It’s just the way it is. End of.

Jesus says No! This is not who you are. Your family does not define you. Where you are now does not define you. The kingdom of God is all about new birth, re-birth, a fresh start. To enter the kingdom of God you need to be born again, of the water of baptism and also of the spirit. The spirit who is unpredictable like the wind.

Nicodemus is confused. For Nicodemus the kingdom of God was not unpredictable like the wind. It was about birthrights. Genetics. A strong wind makes neatness and predicability very hard.

That strong wind means your family lineage means nothing to God. Whether it brings you privilege or pain, your family history and your family present is irrelevant. Irrelevant! Hear that,  inherited money. Hear that, inherited poverty. Hear that, inherited achievement. Hear that, inherited non-achievement.

We are born again, born into the family of God, born of the Spirit. Born royal. 

This is a family it is good to be a part of. It is a family it is good to become like. With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we become more and more like our Father, shaped into his likeness. So this week as we celebrate the monarchy and the inherited family names that make this week important, let’s remember who we are in God:

Born again to new life in Christ;
Born fresh without the birthrights or birthwrongs that surround us;
Born free, free from sin, free from fear, free from our past and free to face the future with hope.

Blow, wind, blow. 

soft-furnishing the death star

18 05 2011

Carpet shops have a peculiar atmosphere. You walk to the door all chirpy thinking of lovely new carpets, and as soon as you enter, the atmosphere hits you. If boredom had a smell, this is it. If tedium was a aroma, this is it. If the Death Star has a lounge, this is where they bought they’re soft furnishings.

Ok, I exaggerate. No-one goes to a carpet shop all chirpy.

And the Death Star doesn’t have a lounge.

they wanted carpets. it ended badly.

When we last moved, we had to re-carpet the entire house. Not a very exciting way to spend a lot of money. And you’d think it would be easy to choose. Once we’d decided we wanted a neutral, non-patterned, hard-wearing, mid-range ‘sort of beige’, I’d hoped we’d walk in and see it before the aroma of rolled piles sucked the life out of me.

But suddenly the subtle nuances of pattern changes seem to matter. This one is too dark. This one too light. This weave is too tight. This one is a bit rough. When you’re in the shop, the tiniest things become insanely important.

There is a huge difference between being in the shop, and being outside the shop.

How many churchy arguments take on so much significance because people spend too much time in the shop? So much time that the tiniest details become insanely important.

People outside the shop don’t really care about the thickness of your pile or the tightness of your weave. People outside the church don’t really care about most of the things we end up bickering about. So let’s learn from them. 

Don’t let the carpet shop suck the life out of you. Breathe the Holy Spirit. Breathe life.

Time to stop before I go any further up the metaphorical cul-de-sac of comparing anything churchy with different shades of beige.

inflatable vicar

15 12 2010

I was listening to a vicar talking about ministry being about living with disappointment. He said that often ministry feels like pushing a stone uphill, so that each encouragement needs to be savoured as if it were your last, before the weight of the stone you are pushing forces you back downhill again. Sounds a bit depressing. Indeed.

The trouble is, that vicar was me.

In conversation with a mentor though, I heard myself say this and began to think. Is this really how it is? Or is this some kind of desperate self-preservation – if I remain disappointed, then no-one can get in there first. Like the way I mock my own knobbly knees or pointy nose before anyone else can. It steals their thunder. It protects me.

A change of word helped. I was encouraged to think in terms of feeling deflated rather than disappointed. Deflated is like a balloon than can be re-inflated; disappointed is like a cancer that eats away at all that you are.

The real question is, why do I feel deflated? Because things are going really well. And even if they weren’t, ministry is not about ‘doing well’ or things ‘going well’ but about being in the centre of God’s will whatever happens. Even so, there have been great encouragements amongst wonderful people beyond all our hopes when we moved here. So why deflated?

Because I have within me this longing, this yearning, this aching desire for the kingdom of god to transform, to come, to inspire and enrich and to overflow. And this longing will always remain only partly fulfilled until the kingdom comes fully, and not in part; until that to which we look to in advent is no longer for looking towards because it is fully here. I can always be more changed, more transformed; others can always be more changed, more transformed; we can all always always always sit at Jesus’ feet and encounter him in greater and deeper ways.

So this yearning within me is (I pray) an honest hoping, a holy discontent with the status quo, because I do long and will always long for more, for better, for bigger. Because God can, and because I want not 1 person to ‘get it’, nor 2, nor 22, but everyone:  as Jesus said, from Jerusalem, through all Judea and St Helier and the ends of the earth.  Big hope! Indeed.

So deflated I may sometimes be. But no longer disappointed. And definitely not disappointed with people, if any of my folks are reading this!! You are my hope and my inspiration; your stories of hope and change are what re-inflates me. And so I sit,  awaiting re-inflating by the pneuma, the wind, the breath, the Holy Spirit of God at work in us. As it was him that gave me the absurd and wonderful and unreachable and hopeless and hopeful and unexplainable hope in the first place.

Fling wide, you Gates.

professor plumb and the wholly ghost

4 08 2010

it didn’t look like this

I got a call about a house clearance. And I’m not talking sofas. I’m talking ghosts.  Please can you come and help me, I think there is a ghost in my house.  This led me down an interesting theological pathway. Do I believe in ghosts? Do I believe in being haunted? I know Jesus did exorcisms but I never have. Is it all in the mind?

Trouble is the lady was still on the phone so I didn’t have time to write a paper on it. I just went. Do you go alone? Do you go at all? What do you take? Perhaps for the only time ever I wished I was Catholic so I could take a large crucifix and a dramatic cassock like in the movies. Holy water crossed my mind until I realised I didn’t believe in holy water. So I took a Bible. Not that that is magic either.

I got there and feeling nervous went to the room in which there had been some strange sightings. I wished I hadn’t come alone. It was ok until the lady showed me a photo they had captured of the ghost. Then I was really quite scared. My head told me that Jesus is more powerful than any other power, so all I needed was to pray. Great theory. I wanted that holy water now. In fact, the lady wanted it too – she wanted me to ‘do something’. So I prayed, which seemed like a bit of a let-down. She left me to it.

Afterwards when nothing had happened and I was ready to go, I explained that I believed Jesus was more powerful than any other spirits, and that she could pray herself if she wanted to, just the Lord’s Prayer or a made-up one like ‘please God keep us safe’ or ‘make it go away’. Though I sensed this wasn’t what she had in mind. She wanted an incantation, a magic word or phrase. I suggested she some along to church to find out more about the god she had asked to help her (I don’t mean me). I sensed this wasn’t what she had in mind either.

Many people see the church like a service industry. Got a leaky bathroom – call the plumber. Got a ghost – call the vicar. Need a baptism fitted, a wedding built or a funeral laid? Call the vicar. Tradesman do a job and then go, without expecting you to adhere to their theory of plumbing or attend plumbing school every Sunday morning with a whole load of apprentice plumbers. They just plumb and go. Vicars aren’t  tradesman. We are followers of Jesus. But we will still come.

I don’t know if there was a ghost. I don’t know if I ‘achieved’ anything. Except that I was invited into a strangers home to pray for them and their family. And I like to think I left a teeny bit of Holy Spirit in that house. I hope they find her. I’ll go back and find out sometime.

the unquenchable desire – rowan williams (hswt two)

29 05 2010

This is the second of my posts about the Holy Spirit in the World Today conference.

unquenchable rowan

There’s loads of common texts that are quoted when talking about the Holy Spirit, but the one that stood out at this conference was  Romans 8.12-27, a less commonly quoted but still significant one. Rowan Williams used it right at the beginning in his introductory talk, and it kept cropping up throughout the 2 days. You can listen to the talk here; what follows is my synopsis and reflections. It’s up to you to check them against his words…

Rowan began by speaking of Christian hope as being an energetic yearning and longing; a yearning to be what we are meant to be, to receive what is offered to us. This yearning implies a knowledge of what isn’t yet, a magnetic drive towards what we are made for. This comes from the Spirit at work in us. He quoted St Simeon who said of the Spirit, “Come, you who have become desire in me…” A key aspect of the Spirit for Rowan is desire in us, “…desire towards an unreachable God who has reached out to us”, desire to be adopted as God’s child, loved and precious as we were made to be.

He spoke of this desire to be a child of God not as childish, like a desire to be cuddled forever by a fluffy god, but desire to be a growing child, growing into Christ, growing in maturity, growing in real life in the real world. For Rowan it is so important that it is in Gethsemane that Jesus prays “Abba father”, when he is at his most lonely and dark, when the longing to be with his father is at it’s height. The greatest intimacy at the point of greatest pain. “If we yearn to call God ‘Abba Father’,”, he said, “do we yearn to be in the Garden of Gethsemane? Not likely!” But that is where growing in self-offering leads us.

unquenchable hope in high places

How does this fit with the Spirit? For Rowan, quenching the spirit is to ignore or to suppress this painful yearning. His argument progressed like this:

1. True freedom is freedom for full humanity, i.e. to be fully and properly as we were made to be;
2. full humanity is Christ-shaped;
3. Christ-shaped freedom for full humanity is kenotic, a freedom for self-emptying; not a humanity that is blithely or blandly in control but one that endlessly gives.
4 the energy of giving defines us – being fully alive in giving is the greatest gift of the Spirit.

This in turn gives us a passion for the world, a hunger and thirst for righteousness.  He quoted Mother Maria Skobtsova: “Either Christianity is fire, or there is no such thing”.

Rowan concluded by saying that living in the spirit is really about true or false humanity in the world today. The church should be the Campaign for Real Humanity, like the Campaign for Real Ale. He reflected that there are few opportunities to do this in our world, because many of us do not know what real humanity is. Is it fantasies of control? Of desire? Of being free from constraints of one another’s needs? Of being in charge of my life right until my death?

Life in the Spirit involves a responsibility for all of us; it is not an escapism from passion or desire or pain, but an embrace of those things. He concluded by saying that “…humanity comes to birth in the daily renewal of our prayer “Abba father”, as we long for the transfiguration of all things.”

unquenchable life in harsh places

Despite his intellect and somewhat mystical aura, Rowan rooted life in the Spirit within ordinary, painful and messy life. Not a charismatic escapism, not a self-help ministry time, but a powerful encounter with God in Gethsemane that does refresh and restore us but only so that we can go.

This reminds me of an experience I had at a charismatic conference once where the evening session had been the usual worship and word, expected to be followed by a time of ministry; but the talk had been about social action, about getting out there and getting involved. What would they do, I wondered, because you couldn’t possibly follow an outward-looking call like that with the usual inward-focused ministry time? Could you…? Of course, the liturgy must be followed and personal ministry was bolted on with a crunch of a gear change. So much ‘ministry in the Spirit’ happens in this way, and can so easily miss the point. I’m sure the same can be said of high-church Eucharists or other ‘spirit-encounter’ equivalents.

Rowan’s call may not be what many of us are looking for when it comes to life in the Spirit, but I think it reflects the character of the Spirit and the call of God pretty accurately. Roots like that seem a good place to grow from… Don’t they?

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wholly spirit (hswt one)

25 05 2010

I spent 2 days last week at a fascinating conference called The Holy Spirit in the World Today (HSWT), an academic conference on the Holy Spirit that took place at Holy Trinity Brompton, one of the spiritual homes of charismatic evangelicalism in the UK. The conference set out with the aim of linking the ‘academy’ to the ‘church’, being a bridge between the (often) detached theological thinking of the University and the practical outworking in everyday ministry. With speakers such as Rowan Williams, Jürgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf and David Ford this was never going to be simply a charismatic jolly and blind reaffirmation of that theology, but rather a rigorous examination of modern perceptions of the Holy Spirit as the third and often over-looked member of the Trinity.

And yet happening at HTB you knew there was an underlying openness to the charismatic, a setting in the context of a place where the invocation “Come, Holy Spirit” is said at every service and has a particular meaning of transformative encounter and charismatic experience. There was an evening celebration that was of a typically HTB flavour for those craving some seasoning with their meat, including a talk from Sandy Miller on the gift of tongues and the exercising of the gifts of the Spirit.

Overall I found the conference really encouraging – I didn’t understand some of the theology and it was occasionally a bit of Cambridge old-boys enthuso-fest, but as far as stretching the brain and thinking about God goes, it was good. It showed me that my thinking and theology is very Jesus-centric; I tend to talk about him and give him the credit for things that actually are the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that is just technical speak or semantics; sometimes that really matters.

I even went as far as opening myself up to allowing the said Holy Spirit to speak to me, to encourage me, to challenge me, instead of maintaining a safe distance and keeping an eye on others as a defence mechanism against being challenged too much. God forbid that I might actually have to change…

The blend of deep theology and a worship style I recognised and found helpful was so refreshing, inhabiting as I do the Church of England in which there is usually one or the other! Not a robed Eucharist in sight! And there was a chance at the end for church leaders to pray for theologians, and the academy for the church, which was really significant, modelling something of the connection the whole conference was aiming for.

I intend to offer in the following blogs my take on what I saw and heard, for the benefit of those who weren’t there who are interested, and to help me think through and apply it to our everyday lives. Because if it is important, it should involve some changes to our lives and thinking. For those who are interested, videos of the talks will (I believe) be appearing on the HTB website soon for you to view yourselves.  In the meantime, crack open Romans 8.9-17 and start thinking until I post the first reflection… a decoding of a Rowan Williams talk!

hot air, or the spirit?


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pent-up pentecost

23 05 2010

Pentecost is fascinating, exciting, dynamic, alive, confusing, messy and wonderfully undefinable. So in manner of the song “Indescribable” that then goes on to describe God, here is my definition of the undefinable…! There is more, so much more to be said, but you have to start somewhere…

Pentecost is the affirmation and declaration that faith in Yahweh, Creator God, revealed through Jesus, is not a historical relic, not an oddity lost in time to be studied in books, but is a living and breathing reality; that God’s dynamic power is not to be found in ‘created stuff’ like crosses or crucifixes or bread and wine or churches like some magical spell cast down from on high if only the priest or worship leader or preacher makes the right incantation – though God may still use these things and places.

God’s living and dynamic spirit is mostly and properly and fantastically to be found in human beings, poured out on us as part of the last days, not the prelude to an escape from earth but as the transforming presence of Jesus Christ sent here into the world, like a spark that lights a match that lights a bonfire that burns forever.

May we be alive with that fire burning with the Spirit.


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