Friday, 31 October 2014

MIRRORS AND SELFIES

I have been to the barbers today, an experience I do not enjoy. Why not? Because it costs me money (£5.80), because it involves silly chatter(not this morning, the young man was quietly efficient, but - this is the main reason- I have to see myself in the huge mirror. You will guess that the entire 'selfie' movement leaves me as cold as ice, perhaps colder still. I know I should like myself more, but I do not, and have to force myself to overcome self doubts about blogs, writing generally and speaking.I think I prefer it this way to the vain, ostentatious, over confident attitudes of today.

Of course the entire 'selfie' psychology is built on the principle 'look at me- I know you want to look at me'.I do not want people to be interested in me, but I confess an interest in other people. Not what Auntie Bertha had for lunch, or where the Tomkins went on holiday to the sun, or Bernards new shining car with all those gadgets.But I was interested in the sales assistant at Asda who could not speak, having lost her voice at Easter due to stress. I was interested in the young woman who was pushing a paralysed young man in a wheelchair/stretcher.The whole emphasis of ministry is on the importance of other people to us, not the other way round.

There is a strange dilemma here- people seeming arrogant about themselves, yet by all accounts there is a general lack of self esteem.I have no answers to this, except perhaps that the selfie's come from the young, and lack of self esteem from the older.

Having spent a dangerous few minutes in the supermarket car park, and jostled against, and queued with the throngs, I am so glad to be where we are; 4 minutes to the station, same time to two supermarkets, soon to be three. No car, no jostles.Be thankful for small mercies.

Tonight, as I reported yesterday, is the 'Pirates of Penzance'. No, I wont be in pirate costume(Janet has forbidden it), besides pirates have long hair don't they, and mine is short now? I hope that it will be a 'lightening up' occasion, another example of a chapter included in my coming little book. This book is going to be rather different, mainly because each chapter ends with how I need what I have set out. I have in mind another title; 'In Search of Sunshine' and after my personal comment I will conclude with the words 'So where is the sunshine?'

Thursday, 30 October 2014

SWITCHING OFF

Old habits die hard, as they say. Calling at the coffee shop this morning I noticed an elderly gentleman sat quietly by himself, clearly content with his own company. Or was he ? I approached him gently and asked 'How are you today?' At first he looked slightly puzzled, then reached his hand up to his ear, saying 'Just a minute- I will turn this on' clearly a hearing aid. We waited a moment and then I was able to resume my conversation, which lasted a pleasant few minutes. He smiled mischievously, nodding in the direction of the adjacent table of  table of  helpers chatting away happily. The gentleman then added ' This is the only advantage of this thing- I can turn it on and off for things I want to hear and those I do not'. (I know what you are thinking- he turned it back off to signal he had had enough. But he didn't do that, at least not as far as I know!)

I think most of us need the equivalent of that hearing aid. There are so many opinions, issues, interruptions that invade us every day. We need to be able to turn on and off so that we receive the good things and prevent ourselves from being contaminated by the rest.What might these things be? Ostentation about job, home, especially holidays.I am not one bit jealous of these things, but they irritate me and I need to turn the 'hearing aid' off. Likewise television programmes where sadness, darkness, gloom and misery feature(But I do not include serious reports of real suffering around the world, although some might have to). Another switching off point is my newspaper full of opinions and more opinions. Frankly I am not interested in the opinions of people and I do not expect people to be interested in mine either. More switching off. The lesson is surely this:tune in to what does you good; switch off the things that cause harm.

Last evening was our monthly time of chat, discussion, a little learning and cake eating. We seem to have built up a very happy group of friends. Indeed I had resolved to finish early, so drew matters to a formal close at 8.45 (9.45 on my watch since I have not adjusted it, and may not just keeping it like that till Spring comes round again.'Why copy everyone else is what I say?) Despite the formal finish, they sat longer and once stood up, talked even more. I smile at this but it is good to see. Tomorrow this  group go to Fleetwood to watch 'The Pirates of Penzance'. I think there will be some surprise when I turn up in pirate costume,
not from Cornwall but Fleetwood.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

ALIENS AND GOD?

We are in Lancaster today, looking after 5 year old Rachel.This morning we went into the city, which was remarkably busy for a Wednesday morning. Finding a place to park was quite a challenge, almost as much as finding the street in which I parked the car. Janet had already alighted so the challenge was all the greater remembering where I had left it.There was a surprising contrast between all the hectic pace of the streets and the calm of the canal, 'sleeping' in the sunshine.Smoke was coming from the chimneys of two of the barges, so no doubt the residents were keeping themselves warm

We live our lives like that. On two levels- the rapid pace of everyday lives and the quiet contrast we need to seek. And often, as in Lancaster, one not too far removed from the other.

Halloween will soon be upon us, with all its reference to spirits, friendly and otherwise. I was surprised to see a recent survey which indicated that more people believed in aliens than believed in God. I find this remarkable and frankly do not believe it. It reminds me not to trust in these surveys that seem to come at us in all directions.

I found some time to reflect on my coming book.I decided that 50 tiny chapters was far to much so Now I have narrowed it down to 20 chapters, each of broader topicality and dealing with such matters as 'fear and anxiety'. looking to the future' 'staring in the mirror'. I do not know if anyone will find benefit but if at least one does then my efforts will be worthwhile. My revisions, corrections are probably very necessary. I recall two prize winning authors giving their advice along the same lines.One said, 'Polish, polish,polish' and the other claimed that essential equipment was a very large waste paper basket.

Another question i have asked myself is how much of me should be included.'Me' in the sense of honest comment about I need the things I am writing about.There are plenty I can assure you, for example dealing with the sometimes long night watches.St Paul urged us to 'Confess your sins to one another', by which he probably meant 'be open about yourself'.'Some folk are well and truly locked up,perhaps by timidity, more likely by pride.

As I was pondering this matter I came across some 'confessions' from a former archbishop, admitting that he did not 'think he did a very good job' going on to say that he told his daughter 'that I shout at you because I cannot shout at the bishop of ........' Good on him for his honesty. I hope that bits of my honesty will make people realise that the collected insights in the book are things I feel personally and often in the deepest places of my life.

There was a man in one of my churches who had a high ranking job in the NHS and wrote a classic book on mental health.He was always tight lipped about himself- that was until I included in a sermon a reference to my own fear of moving to pastures new. Then it all came out- he too was scared of the same thing and had never admitted it before.They talk of a favour for a favour- what about a 'confession' for a 'confession'?


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

SEEKING A BETTER WAY

Having referred to the Christian Church in China yesterday, I came by some new information that reinforces what I reported.It came in the form of a review of a television programme about great river journeys, this one particularly about China's Yangtze River.Two things were outstanding to the reviewer- one was the sense of wonder at the sight of the Three Gorges Dam, built during the Cultural Revolution to show what secular society, purged of religion, could achieve. The other was the discovery of a Christian Church, in the very place where communism had done its best to liberate people from 'superstition and negative thinking'.

So God smiles.When Mao died there were thought to be 1 million Christians in China. Today there are 100 million not counting members of unregistered churches(of which there are thought to be many).Projections suggest that in 30 years time there will be 400 million Christians in China, making it the largest Christian country on earth.
The explorer and presenter resisted the temptation to put this down to the defeat of communism by capitalism, but the rejection of both in seeking a better way.

This is my good news for today!

There are theological implications as well. Theology, like philosophy, is built around concepts, opinions as to how the facts of life should be interpreted and given meaning.One such is the notion I expressed yesterday that the Christian Faith was and is providentially guarded. That is a view, a belief. But look at the long history of the Christian Faith from those desperate, darkness filled days of defeat on Holy Saturday, through the persecution under the Romans, and countless other attempts to snuff it out, not forgetting the persistence of faith in the hell of the concentration camps.But the light is still burning. The candle does not go out.The stories from China help to give even theology a factual dimension.

One of our very good friends is Margaret, a lady  92 years old. She and her late husband, Geoff, were missionaries in China. Later they had to witness the church where they ministered closed under communist rule. I think it became a warehouse. But wait. On their return visit,, years later, the warehouse was no longer a place to store things. It was a place once again for Christian worship. And they were even singing Wesley hymns.

I do not think there is any more to say today.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Failure?

Many people have written the church in Britain off as a failed institution. Closing churches, falling numbers, weary tales is all they can think of. It may well be if the only way of assessing this is to expect the same number of churches, in the same situation, doing exactly the same things as 30 years ago.

But we need to look around. Take Lincoln as an example where St Swithins Church has struggled for years with a congregation of ten. Now the incense and altar has been changed to large screens, with guitars, drums and lively singing. A large banner outside invites people to an Alpha Course.So why the change? To answer that we have to travel to Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London, where many years ago the Alpha Course was first launched. Since its inception it has introduced many new people to the Christian Faith, revived churches and been practised in many countries across the world.

So back to Lincoln where more than 50 volunteers started cleaning, gardening, painting, removing dead rats and mice from the premises. Now the church is alive and growing.
(It is important to note that the past traditions and the faithful long serving members were not walked over- they still have the traditional alongside the new).

The same transformation has taken place in Brighton and Bournemouth, volunteers, and funds have come from London to help the new work.In the latter case the church had been closed for some time but now 700 people have been through the doors.

What does it all mean? First that people and buildings may be crying out for new beginnings.Secondly, the work of renewal, goes on in many other places but without the glare of publicity. And it may be in a different format from the worship models described above. Pubs have become churches. Shops, especially coffee shops, have been opened. Even farms and smallholdings.

But beyond all these encouraging signs there is a point to remember. The practice of Christian Faith is not bound to the worship model, but is best defined by people gathered to follow Jesus Christ  as two things happen- learning more about things of the spirit, and following His commandments of love in the rough and tumble of the world.

There is an even bigger view than that. Do you recall the party candles that were difficult to extinguish, as they kept bursting into life again. Well, the long history of the Christian Faith is like that- providentially inextinguishable. Take China, where under the horrors and repression of the Cultural Revolution all churches closed and religious practice forbidden.And now? The Chinese Christian Church is one of the fastest growing in the world.The church and the Faith has a guarded life so we must never worry over its demise.
...................