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.





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.  





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.





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

IMG_0033

 





theology & the warm fuzzy feeling

4 09 2015

what we think about God is usually birthed out of our story,
our biography,
our experience;
not from a deeply thought-through and thoroughly developed theology.

we preachers, church leaders, theologians, might need to read that twice.

sometimes we try to re-interpret our story to fit our theology,
making what we think we ought to think about God fit into our experience;
or what we are told to think,
even if we don’t really think it
(but don’t tell the vicar).

perhaps insisting people understand theology
(important though right theology is)
isn’t the catalyst for changed lives or a revitalised engagement
or understanding of God.

perhaps helping people to understand their story,
and God’s role within it – is;

God’s role neither as
passive bystander or autocratic micro-manager;
as causer of bad things for educational purposes
or perennial sender of blessings;
but as the source of all life,
as the breath we breathe,
as the essence of presence and the pinprick of light
that prevents darkness being darkness at all.

God as Jesus,
not the swear-word or chintzy china doll
not the pithy Facebook meme of bland truisms
or the bloodied sin-drenched sacrificial voodoo doll –

but Jesus, who was and is,
the invisible God and the visible man and the resurrected presence;
he who spoke and pooed and walked and sweated,
who was alone in a crowd and crowded with loneliness;
he who is in our story, my story, your story
his story in history.

Jesus who isn’t a book to take to bed with you
or a manual to live your life by
who isn’t your Sunday morning diary appointment

but is the ink in the story of your life
written on your pages

pages that speak of groaning hips and decaying eyes
and splintered families and the gnawing loneliness of being
the only one left in a once-full home;

pages that speak of the pleasures of a bargain-saver in Lidl
and a surprise visit from a friend
and the kindness of a stranger that caught us unawares;

pages where normal is normal
and much the same happens today as yesterday
and the exceptional is the exception and rapidly slips away;

pages where we rarely write about our views of atonement
or what our theology of anything is but we do know
that when we go to church something feels better
and though we don’t always understand the words
they make a connection with the deeper parts of us

and we feel
we feel

we feel our story being shaped and challenged and carved and sculpted
we feel a connection with You, the Other, the One Who is Bigger
and we describe it as a warm fuzzy feeling
because putting into words things that don’t happen in words
never quite catches it

so please don’t dismiss the feeling
because sometimes and often and for more people
than we church leaders like to think

it is all that we truly, really have
and it matters.


After quite a long break from writing, I have come back with this one, which is a bit longer than usual. Is it a poem, a stream of consciousness; is it even coherent? I don’t know, but it’s what fell out of my head as a I was re-reading the excellent Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford.

Because I think I have a tendency to dismiss the ‘feeling’, and want people to ‘get it’, to ‘understand’, to grapple with deep truths and be better and deeper and holier for it. There’s a place for that. But there’s times when I just need to let it go and embrace the warm fuzzy feeling, and let others do it to. 





i am not

15 04 2015

I am not the sum of my successes
I am not the sum of my failures
I am not this community’s only hope

I am not the number of people in my church
I am not the number of people who aren’t
I am not God’s employee

I am not holding the future of the kingdom in my next finely crafted sentence
I am not my statistics

I am not meant to grow a hard shell
I am not defined by what people think of me
I am not defined by the fact most people don’t think of me at all

I am not an island, immovable and independent 
I am not a plastic bag blown by the wind
I am not aware enough of my place in God’s heart

I am who I am because of who Jesus is
I am learning to start there
With him.

I am. 

This is something God spoke to me about at Spring Harvest. I forget it so easily. By God’s grace he uses the glorious ruins of ours lives. It’s the counter-cultural order of self-discovery:
1. who God is
2. who I am in God
3. who I am
4. who we are. 

If you appreciated this, you may also appreciate I am the vicar, I am, from the archive.





i am nothing

27 01 2015

I am nothing
I am just me
I have no divine right to speak for you
or to you
I have no pedestal I can call home
Though some would try and barricade me on one
And have me live their faith for them
I am nothing
I am just me
I have no certificate of authenticity
Or qualification
I have nothing from my ordination that sets me apart from anyone 
I am nothing
I am just me
I have no power residing in my fingertips
I cannot command holiness to appear at will
I cannot pray in a way that bypasses the queue
I am not owed any favours by God and
I cannot command him with my whispers
I am nothing
I am just me
Anything else I appear to be
Any power
Any wisdom
Any heroic tendencies
And that recurring pedestal of owning holiness
Anything I appear to be
That is beyond anyone else
I repent of
All I am is because of who He is
And I claim nothing as my own.

In response to the ordination of Libby Lane as the first female bishop in the Church of England, one of my friends commented “Women bishops? The jury is still out on male bishops“. And that got me thinking about church leaders of all shapes and sizes and flavours, and how each of us find ways to elevate ourselves, or those who lead us. The greatest gift God can give those with responsibility and authority is humility. Because all of us are nothing without Christ.

God bless Libby Lane, and all who serve and follow Jesus, in all forms and with whatever badges, with grace, patience and humility. And, hopefully, a sense of humour.   

 





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! 





the sparkle in primark

26 06 2014

click
went the lock on the door
as the key turned
and in fear I 
learned
the bridge to my future burned
incandescent 

incandescent
I should have been
would have been
but now I lie passive
accepting
not rejecting
but expecting
this is my life now

this is my life now
I was a wife
am a wife
but now my life is over
as I sleep in a locked room
above the factory floor

above the factory floor
sold to pay a debt

though I wept
I was taken as my
children slept

now I’m kept
inept
in this place 
a debt to collect

a debt to collect
instead of being a mum
I am needle and thread
sewing sequins until my fingers bled
a human trafficking debacle
so your clothes can sparkle
though the light is kept dim I’m still able
to read and re-read the retail label
so while the factory – like my life – is so dark
enjoy my clothes when you buy them in Primark. 

[© 2014 Kevin Lewis]

STT Fashion Victim pegs

This week I was part of a 6th Form Conference at Carshalton High School led by Sutton Schoolswork  a small Christian schoolswork charity, on the subject of Human Trafficking. We were privileged to have speakers from Croydon Community Against Trafficking and Ella’s Home. I led a creative writing workshop, and as the students worked so well I wrote this poem as they worked on theirs.

The students have pledged to raise money for Ella’s Home, and sent Stop the Traffik’s “Fashion Victim” campaign postcards to Zara and Primark asking questions about the fashion supply chain. Many of them were unaware of the issue before. This is why schoolswork matters. 

The Fashion Victim Campaign:

My Dangerous Loverboy – a music video showing the dangers of teenage girls being trafficked within the UK:

 

 

 








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