Thursday, 18 December 2014

RUSH AND HASSLE

Today  has been one of those days...one things after another. Too rushed by far, but to be quite honest much of this is my fault. Let me explain. There were things that came together on this one day- a short midweek service this morning, an afternoon occasion, meeting fellow retired ministers, then off to Lancaster to see Stephen, Kate and little Rachel (growing less little each term it seems!). Add to this the last date for posting second class letters and cards. Quite a mixture.

But...it is an important 'but'- how much was down to inevitability and how much to bad planning? I knew in advance the three set things for the day, but I left the posting to the last minute. And that could not be improved because the newsletters to go in the envelopes were not ready until this afternoon. Had I prepared earlier I could have filled and posted my envelopes yesterday. So I bear some of the blame for a tiring day.Why not use the 'telescope' I so often advise others to do?

We can so easily blame circumstances or other people, when the problem lies within ourselves. This was one of cries of the prophets of old who knew how much people grumbled but wanted to point out that they were sometimes grumbling at themselves.

Meeting old colleagues today makes me realise how soon time seems to pass.And in its passing has left much emptiness behind. I want the church to be even more warm and welcoming- to allow deep relationships to prosper, bring healing and help to broken people in their need. So often that need is hidden; we never show it to others. But sometimes it can be helpful to do that. I like the story of the woman-late in her life- commissioned an artist to paint her. 'Add rings to my fingers' she said. The artist, knowing she was of humble means, asked why the pretence? Her answer was interesting: 'So when my husband marries again' his next wife will spend hours looking for the rings I never had'.

We often give off an impression of sufficiency, but the inner truth is often difficult. Here's to a more gentle and honest opening of our hearts to one another.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

WHOLENESS AND WELLBEING

We are always reading of surveys of this subject and that. Yesterday I read that 1 in 5 children interviewed recently said that Jesus Christ played football for Chelsea. What do you think of that? I suggest it was not ignorance but devilment that produced such a response. What a temptation! A serious faced interviewer approaches a teenager with some ridiculous questions, so why be serious about it. The report also suggests that we should take many surveys with the proverbial pinch of salt. 

One recent survey may carry more authenticity. It concerned the health of the over sixties in our society, happily indicating improving health and longer lives. Even more interesting was the  finding (I use that word rather than 'fact' ) that the well publicised increase in A & E attendances was not caused by the elderly, but by those under 50. If we carried out a separate survey I guess most people would immediately blame the older members of the population for the A & E crisis. So many opinions are formed and retained without being based on solid facts and figures.

No doubt many readers will have their Christmas trees on show now. This year we have not got a Christmas tree, but happily more colored lights than I can recall in the past. Nevertheless, I can still make this report about Christmas trees; certain real trees are good for mental health and general well being, the scent of them in particular. Unfortunately the best for us are the worst for the carpet and the vacuum cleaner, but the benefits are said to far outweigh the downside. I have often thought and written about what we see and hear, but rarely about sense of smell and the healing properties that come with it. But few of us would doubt the benefits of certain scents: a woodfire in the countryside; the scent of a rose; the distinctive smell of the sea; the aroma of new mown grass in a hayfield.

And healing is my interest, as you know. It comes to us in many different forms, but through so many 'disciplines' all of which take a very separate path of their own. I have read about cognitive therapy; I have been reading about the plasticity of our brains(they change with experience) then somethings about our unconscious minds; then the therapy for this and that. Even Buddhist philosophy is making an impact on modern psychiatry. So much. So many schools of thought.It is even difficult trying to scoop off the surface of each some general wisdom for life each day.I am too old to learn expertise in any of these burgeoning fields but I can be a gatherer, a translator and perhaps an interpreter?

Finally I return to the need to recognise, avoid, distract. (My 'RAD' syndrome). We did watch the end of the eight part serial and then reflected what it brought to millions in this Advent season.  Drug addiction; sexual perversion;  murder; marriage breakdown.What more do we (NOT) need? THere is to be another series against which we are sure to write 'Avoid'. BUt in the same evening we watched our recording of life at Canterbury Cathedral, which was splendid in all its aspects. We were amazed at 300 full time staff, but more at the beauty and holiness(as well as the care for the homeless, and the feet washing translated into cleaning shoes). What a tonic for wholeness after such gloom elsewhere on our screens.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A DIFFICULT ENCOUNTER AND A MOMENT OF FORGETFULNESS

One of the basic principles of my new book is the RAD approach....you will know it well...recognise, avoid, distract. Example: we have been watching(why we ask ourselves?) a drama about a young boy snatched from his parents and never seen again (at least that is what we expect). Can you think of anything produced by TV that calls on the 'Avoidance Principle' more strongly than in this Advent Season of hope we have a drama that must be every parents nightmare. Frankly I cannot.

This morning brought a 'stern' encounter. Our local greengrocers do not and will not sell fair trade bananas. I expressed my view to the boss whilst buying just 2 bananas(to show I was not being extreme) to which he replied 'They cannot possibly be fairtrade'. I countered that I believed FT bananas were free from chemicals many others had sprayed on them, to which he said all bananas needed a chemical to keep them.I came away cross with myself because I should have added 'What about all the schools, clinics, village facilities provided by the fairtrade premium?' But I didn't. I shall buy the minimum of green groceries from them in future. Our supermarket has only fairtrade bananas.I was tempted to conclude 'Do you think the information of a village greengrocers is better than the wisdom of many international organisations?'' But I didn't say anything more and tried to leave in friendly frame of mind.We really have a battle on our hands.

I must tell you about a mistake I made on sunday whilst it is still clear in my mind. Part of my address was about looking inside ourselves and the need for light to shine there. I planned to use as illustration a mirror(I don't like mirrors)in particular the one I use for shaving. In the half light of electric I often leave some whiskers, and only when full natural light falls on my chin do I see the whiskers left. So on Sunday, mindful of this illustration, I decided to reshave at teatime lest anyone present(who sit very close) should think  that I had missed a patch or two. In this process I cut my face. But then came the address, and rarely using my notes I forgot all about the mirror illustration.Worse still, I had cut my face for nothing.

I could have made use of the story when a minister appeared in the church with a plaster on his chin. He apologised and said it was because he was thinking about his sermon when shaving, and cut his face. Later someone passed a note which said: 'Next time think about your face and cut your sermon!'

I tell you about my oversight for a simple reason.Yesterday I overheard a discussion about fitness for tasks in the life of the church.So often people say that they cannot do the job, are not up to it, not worthy of it. I think we have the wrong idea in the church, mainly because we are often too proud or shy to admit our own failures and shortcomings.We are all failures one way or another. We all should come to church wearing 'L' plates. If we could do more of that then we would not be so hesitant. Here is my principle, proved again and again in my experience: our vulnerability is our qualification. You will know of St Paul's confession that the good he wanted to do, he rarely did, and the things he resolved not to do, he did. Then he spoke of the 'thorn in his flesh' an unexplained weakness.But did it put him off travelling the entire Roman world, encountering  so many hazards? No, it didn't. That vulnerability was his qualification to do the work he did.

I am a fine one to say this. I write things down and then draw back.'Whoever will want to read them?' But I am a learner too and the perspectives I offer are only there because I need to use them on myself. That sounds a fair deal to me!


Monday, 15 December 2014

MAKING SENSE OF THINGS

I hope I made sense to the people who listened to me last night.Listening is so difficult these days, and sitting still even harder. It turned out to be a rather varied Sunday- in the morning I went to church when the splendidly refurbished hall was dedicated.The premises are used virtually all day and evening all week long, and the hall with new floor, transformed ceiling and stage removed, is fit for its many purposes again.

This evening I tried to express why we needed light in our lives, something I feel very deeply. Not just the natural light, which until next weekend is declining each day, but the light that comes through the Christmas event. One of our difficulties is to see the precious time decimated by the trivial, the unworthy the cheap and flippant. But behind all that the light shines.

I spoke of the light needed in our hearts, that inner radiance and energy that shows us the dusty corners where we need to improve. The same light shows us our possibilities, the things we might do that we thought we could not, the potential hidden away.

Then we need to see the light outside ourselves, the beautiful things we might miss when hurrying about. Even when minds are darkened  the light  can illuminate our minds. That happened to the broken Beethoven, chronically ill and going profoundly deaf. He looked and listened and produced beautiful music. Then there was Van Gogh, a wretched little man, soon to cut his ear off and take his own life, who looked out and saw beautiful flowers, cornfields and skies, translating them to canvas.

I also suggested that we need to look out and see the glory of God, see his light that shines in our darkness. Only that sort of God is capable of meeting our deepest need, allowing us to stand against the greatest evil and pain. Those of us who believe in God need Him to grow bigger with our years, and our increasing knowledge of the universe. This is what I meant by the greatness of God.

No-one went to sleep, so perhaps it was painless despite my fears!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

WORDS, WORDS. WORDS.

Last evening we attended  a concert of seasonal music presented by the large Fleetwood and District Choral Society. The evening started how I did not want, because on arrival we found the church was packed, the only seats on the very front row, almost nose to nose with the front row of the choir. All my life I have attempted to sit as near the back of possible, offering the best escape route.Then this happens! A form of comeuppance perhaps from the gods of public places.

Having said that we did enjoy the concert, although it was strictly not most suitable to my tastes.But everyone else seemed to enjoy it, which is good.They did include some beautiful pieces, including an old (and hardly known) rendering of 'Away in a Manger'. But I am not thrilled by the various days of Christmas or talk of figgy pudding. Perhaps I look too carefully for meaning beneath words used, but I have to counter that suggestion by observing that when I do find that meaning it is a doubling of the benefit- the tune and what it stands for.

We do have to be careful with ourselves, especially in seasons like Advent and Lent. Words are poor vehicles for conveying or expressing truth. A famous philosopher  once  observed 'Worse are wise men's counters; they do but reckon by them. But they are the money of fools'.So as we hear the Advent and Christmas message seek to look behind them to deeper meaning. I know all sorts of religious words and expressions that have upset many people.

If I seek the deeper truth of Advent I often go to the words of the poet or hymn writer. Thus Christina Rossetti wrote:

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely love divine,
Love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign

Love shall be our token, Love be yours and love be mine
Love to God and all the world, Love for plea and gift and sign.

Notice the representative nature of the words used....sign, token, plea...simply telling us that they are not an end in themselves, but stand for a much larger truth.

And then we have Charles Wesley
:
He wrapped Him in our clay..
.
veiled in flesh the Godhead see

Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man

So keep a watch for meaning this Christmas time.

This evening I have a sermon to preach. I hope it is not as soggy as the weather, but I will report on it tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

MORE LOOS FOR THE PEWS

Yes, today's leading story is about toilets; church toilets in particular. Did you know that out of the Anglican Church's 16,000 churches, half of them do not have a toilet. Apparently many that do are in a bad state of repair(whatever that might mean!). One vicar in the South of England has on many occasions been known to show nervous brides to the toilet in his nearby vicarage. The problem reaches beyond nervous brides to such as elderly people, and families where the church is used more widely than Sundays. Evidence of this need comes from the National Churches Trust where grant applications were mainly for toilet repairs and installations.  Anyway, a well known television reporter has recently been making comments on this issue and highly praised the excellent toilet facility at Wesley's Chapel in London.They have cedar wood toilets, surely an example, their facilities being designed by Thomas Crapper and have been used by visitors for more than a century.

In this sense Wesley's Chapel stands as an example, and a proud one at that. I immediately think of how examples in our lives are so important to us. Even though we do not know it, we are being watched; not intrusively, but in a very quiet,even subconscious way.Our ears and eyes take in much more than we realise, and whirring round in our minds form impressions, images, expectations. I suppose that in childhood we all had our heroes, hopefully men and women of good character.In some way I guess we keep our heroes into later life, except we would describe them as people we admire. So take care, someone may be watching you!

My new book goes on sale at our church tomorrow. I woke up this morning with the thought 'Why do I have to write these things down?'.....'Why not act your age and instead of cycling and writing relax into pipe and slippers?' But if someone, somewhere, even unknown to me finds a little more courage, or peace, or help, or happiness, then my enterprise will be have been worthwhile.

When I went to collect my copies of the books Dave the printer said: 'May I ask you how old you are?' So I replied '75' which was a slight exaggeration because I am 75  and one month. That aside I asked  why he wanted to know? 'I thought you were 90 and my wife thought you were 70'.That is the end of a beautiful friendship!! After that I went up the road to the pet shop (where I have never been before) and got the wrong side of the counter! I stood alongside the owner and opposite two customers. 'Wrong side of the counter mate' he said nicely. Oh dear! Am I really 90?

This question of age delivers us into an interesting area of psychology.I have read nothing about it, only  observed it personally and pastorally. I will call it by one of those names I love to invent...'Chronopsychology' i.e.the psychology of age. There is much to say, but not now. Suffice to make a couple of comments. First that people are hopeless at guessing age. We try sometimes when a panel of people are shown and we say '60' or '30' but hardly ever get it right. The other point is that each age has a very personal and individual psychology attached to it.So this 90 year old will put off the discussion to another day!






Friday, 12 December 2014

DREAMINGS

My comments of yesterday about loneliness need a little qualification, if only to say I was thinking of physical loneliness. This is, of course, a major issue, confirmed by a BBC survey that revealed 4m people expecting to spend Christmas Day alone. I realise that there can be loneliness within a crowd , the feeling of loneliness, an emotion many have experienced over their lives.

This week we saw an inspiring programme (yes, an inspiring programme) about a man who grew up in the vast marshes of Iraq, moved to California and established a very successful engineering company. But his heart was still in his homeland so he started dreaming about the marshes, its people, its wildlife. Saddam Hussein had drained the marshes and what was a natural wonderland very quickly became a mud and sand desert. Now the man is working to restore the area- all four thousand square miles of it.There is progress, despite security risks. The reeds are growing again, water returning, the birds coming back.It has now become a National Park, which is a significant development.

I keep thinking of that man. Comfortable in his secured position in the United States, he still dreamed a huge dream. And a daunting one. In short, he was an idealist. And between the idealist and the noble army of people involved in acts of charity there is a clear distinction, but each side as inspiring as the other. So what is the difference? One has their gaze and giving fixed on particular people, institutions or situations. The idealist may do that also but their thoughts range much more freely, over larger areas of the world and its need.

I wish we could teach the church's young people pure, undiluted Christian idealism. They may inevitably leave the church's influence (possibly to return later) but they would leave with a passion for people in their need, lands that need healing, environments that need protecting and transforming. We prime them in sponsoring this and that, and no doubt worthy causes, but do we teach them to dream dreams.

Writing on these issues makes me think that some minds are better at particularities than essences, generalities. But if we open our New Testament and turn to the Gospel record the one golden thread and recurring theme(over 200 references, so many stories) is 'The Kingdom'. It cannot be particularised- it is an essence that earths itself in the ordinary affairs of life. It is never lost in them, used up by them, it remains a virtually mystical matter always waiting to find its way into people's hearts and human life. If we translated it into story form it would be of a 'magic' descending to the earth and transforming those it encountered and those who sought such an adventure.