Tuesday, 4 August 2015

SUPERFICIALITY

On Saturday last I had a serious facial accident. I cut my chin while shaving. Not only did I cut my chin but did it in three places creating a triangle of red spots. Very serious indeed!! This did remind me of the minister who likewise cut his face and , complete with large plaster- apologised to his congregation.' I was thinking about my sermon and unfortunately cut my face', he told them. When the collection was taken there was a small piece of paper on the plate with a simple message: 'Next time, think about your face and cut your sermon'.

How long should a sermon be? I suppose the answer to that depends on both preacher and congregation, but in general I think Catholic and Anglican sermons are of the ten minute variety, strongly evangelical ones at least 30 minutes, and us Methodists somewhere in the middle. Which in turn reminds me of the grandfather who used to drop off in the sermon. The minister paid his grandson 50 p per service to keep his grandfather awake by gentle nudging. It worked well for a time until the old chap started sleeping again.Naturally the minister wanted to know why the arrangement had failed. The lad confessed ' He found out about our scheme so he offered me a pound to let him sleep'!

I try to 'cut' my sermons, aware of our unfamiliarity with simply sitting still and listening. But there always seems so much to say. The issues always appear so complex, so deep, so immediate. How can a few words do justice to what are meant to be words of life?

This is not only my problem about the sermon, but about the issues of faith generally. We so oversimplify them; use a few superficial words to cover an ocean depth of possibility and meaning. An educational inspector listened to a religious instruction lesson then asked the children if their parents ever prayed. At first there was silence, then one bright faced lad shouted out 'Yes, sir, every night she turns the light out she says 'thank God he's in bed'. Is that how we regard the subject of prayer. Or to put that another way, take the meaning of prayer to be 'opening up our human existence to vast, mysterious processes and resources beyond ourselves'. Doesn't that make it sound different to 'Let us pray' when we cover ourselves, the church, the world in three minutes?

There are so many areas I once just took for granted- what faith involves, what we mean by providence, how we think of God, what we really mean by worship-that I now see the need to find depth within. Perhaps the church should have more time for deep but relaxed study on these things and a little less time on travel talks and cookery demonstrations?

Picking up on yesterday's topic of giving and our money. I once used the illustration of a minister who asked his people on the next Sunday to bring a gift equivalent instead of money. And at the end of the day he had dozens of cabbages, several magazines and a pile of chocolate bars. It is a useful exercise to carry out sometimes, particularly in testing the level of our commitment?

Finally I am feeling a bit self satisfied today. I have just submitted our 35th Annual Return for Just Connections. But for the first time I did it online, and did it all myself (or nearly all). I don't like to be smug but I will allow myself a touch of it on this occasion.


Monday, 3 August 2015

PAINFUL CONCERNS

This morning we went to the Coffee Shop for lunch meeting two good friends there. They were one down on staffing and so for some short time after lunch I returned to my former coffee shop occupation as waiter and washer up I like the atmosphere of coffee shops where people gather and chat over simple food. The tables were all taken and people standing waiting. The expression on some faces is 'Can you not speed up your eating of that sandwich?' Of course it isn't as clear as that and it is good to see it so well used. I am hoping to use a little space outside the coffee shop itself to conduct a little experiment with our new card designs, just to see how they sell. I have to admit that I like loading and unloading the dishwashing machine. Barely has it been turned on and another tray of empties collected than that first load is complete, initially too hot to handle. Small things amuse small minds.

As I type this Janet is dead heading and uprooting poppies which Have really made their home in our garden. This may not have been a good Summer for some things but poppies have obviously loved it. My precious orange tree has 20 oranges growing on its branches. I do not think they will ever be big enough to eat or even taste sweet enough but it is wonderful to see them.

It is a strange feeling that now my Service taking is over until November a new sense overtakes me. I cannot adequately describe the feeling, but saying to Janet that the time to be good has passed so now it is time to be bad, was not really what I mean.We watch the programme on Sunday evening when hopeful entrepreneurs vie for the support of millionaires. Many of them are stupid in that they come with little awareness of what they are going to be asked or indeed the details of their own  existing business. Last night we saw an existing business asking for investment and disclosed- somewhat unwillingly- that their sales were £200,000 and the cost of those £400,000. There was shock and amazement round the studio.

We watch it just for the interest, but I do keep thinking of our greeting cards and this morning obtained from Dave my printer new designs which would still leave a clear 90 p profit per card on a sale price of £1.30. What an opportunity this would be to raise more funds for people like the seaweed ladies of Kenya's shoreline.

I have to be hopeful, but to be honest it is hard work. We talk much in the church about God's favourites- the poor of the world- but show so little desire to help save putting a penny in the old man's bag as the song has it.

Too critical? Maybe but my very best evidence would be the statistics themselves. Years of ministry have taught me a litany from almost every congregation I have known...'Do not talk to us about money'. You can imagine that for a person like me the combination of Biblical theology about the poor and realistic economics are rather painful.
But I live in hope, something we all have to do every day.And  in case you say 'He's talking through his hat' I will, before long, use magazines, meals, cabbages petrol, chocs, to explain my prophetic and painful concern.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

LAUNCH PADS?

. Three Services down, just one to go until November. This morning I meant to take a mushroom as an example of something that in the grey or dark, unable to gather any sunshine Vitamin  However, if they are exposed to sunlight for an hour, they greedily absorb the vitamins and give them back to you in the food we eat. This morning I had more in a lady telling me after the Service that if I ate cold vegetables it could knock years off my appearance. Did she study me during the Service and think 'I must tell him that later' ?Anyway, I will start on the regime of cabbage and raw carrots tomorrow!

A book review passed by yesterday which caught my interest. It is by a former Chief Rabbi and is written on behalf of all those believing in God. Apparently the book is a rebuke to all those who kill in the name of the God of life, wage war on the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of Love, practise cruelty in the name of the God of compassion. I liked the summary of the book's aims: the time has come for people of all faiths and none to stand together and declare 'Not in God's name'. I think it is a timely issue don' you?

Of course the problem arises because we make 'God' a little more than human. He (or she) is much bigger than that. God is love; love is God. If every time we used the word God' we substituted 'Love' then the story of history would be so different.

Thinking of these Services I have been conducting, the one thing that comes to mind is this; being here this morning is only the beginning of your Christian journey not the end of it. The Services are God's launch  pad into the world, where learning, action, sacrifice, imagination must follow. Jesus didn't call his disciples into a synagogue but out into the streets, shores hillsides of Galilee. How well I recall a former President of the Methodist Conference explaining why he had turned down a lucrative professorship in America, going instead to a Northern city into a row of  cottages to start an inner city mission.

He put it like this. One day he was sitting in a solemn assembly discussing church business when he imagined Jesus knocking on the window waving to him to come out into the life of the streets. Since then, he would tell us that he has never stopped chasing through the streets to follow him, who he said at the time, 'Bestrides the world like a Colossus'


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Misguided Charities

I notice with considerable satisfaction that the Charity Commissioners are to take a much stricter line on what have been named 'chuggers'.These are the organisations that bully the public for money including door to door charity hawkers, call centres  and direct mail appeals.They really are becoming a nuisance and most of you will have experienced these activities in one form or another.I think one matter is clear- the problem is the fundraisers, not those who have a real heart for the people appealed for. Fund raising is a business function and in its prosecution the heart of the matter is destroyed.

The only appeal I can recall on the part of Just Connections is teenagers going round churches  and asking for 10 p each week as a thank you gift.I regularly look down the pages of our bank statement and realise that all of those named have come to us and not us to them.

I imagine that many of you will watch- perhaps with a little sceptIcism- some of the television programmes about super foods and questions for the doctor. It was more than a year ago I read of a factor more important than cholestorol in the health of our hearts, but the programme this week never even mentioned it. Perhaps these programmes are made purely to entertain and not educate?

Another matter that seems to be regularly overlooked is the place of our minds on bodily health. A book just finished contains stories from a leading neurologist concerning people presenting themselves with real physical problems but for which no physical cause could be found, even after exhaustive tests. The problem was in the mind manifesting itself in bodily form. This leads me to ask myself a question: if our minds can create physical symptoms, can our minds also bring the opposite- the removal of bad things. Just a question mind you, nothing more.

Perhaps the best examples of mind affecting body are goose pimples, dry mouths, shaky legs and stomachs full of butterflies. The placebo effect is of this genre; our minds tell us that something done or consumed is good for us, the body reacting favourably whether or not any physical benefit has been imparted. The point at issue on Wednesday at our Church Fellowship discussion, was how naive and simple minded we are when we think 'prayer' is a matter of a few hurried sentences to God. I was mindful of a well known Rabbi suggesting that in the Jewish Faith prayers are what people grow into, whereas in the Christian Faith prayers are what so often we grow out of.

Did you see the blue moon, that rare occurrence that caused that description to symbolise a rare event? I saw the very full moon, looking  enormous as it hung in the sky, but sadly it didn't turn blue for me.

Friday, 31 July 2015

PURPOSE...

Another busy weekend, but this Sunday's two Services are 10.30 and 6.30. so an afternoon's refreshment between! After this my next Service is late November so that will be an even longer gap. One of those Services will see me 'playing at home' here in our own church on Sunday morning.

We are all getting a bit older and I am so thankful that thus far I feel very well. I do not like awake times in the night when the demons of melancholy and misery can overtake us all. Even these have been a little better recently, perhaps because sleep itself has been better, or I have actually tried to think about my thoughts and not get carried away where they might want to take me.Another reason might well be that I have been more purposed recently and this week much inspired by my trip to Thornton last Sunday. More purpose? At my age, the time for slippers and snoozing?I am one of those who need a purpose, and I meet many who share that need.

It was a world famous psychiatrist, who was imprisoned by the Nazis and lost several close relatives in other concentration camps, who wrote about the need for purpose in psychological matters. He called it 'logotherapy' and the need for little and big purposes in our lives. But what are my purposes? I think one is a little determination to do something  more with our greetings cards. The juicy profit margin of about £1 (£1.20 less 10p cost) is hard to resist, especially when there are immediate opportunities to meet across the world, like the 'seaweed ladies' in Kenya. Indeed would I be failing in my discipleship if I failed to meet such a challenge? I am also well into my new book about 'pebbles and pedals' which will include a revision of my Conway to Northwich cycle following John Wesley, my cycle tour round the Fylde, a seaside visit to Pembrokeshire and a seaside adventure we hope to embrace soon.

In the card enterprise I would love to have people join the adventure and readers will know I put out my first challenge two days ago in this place.

This morning I took a big bag of 'bathroom goodies' to the box at church for a house for the homeless in Blackpool. Shampoos, creams, deodorants are collected by a hotel inspector friend of our daughter-in-law.That is becoming quite an adventure also.

And finally back to getting older.. Expert opinion- whatever that is- says we need to learn a new craft or skill, or a new language, to keep our brains sharp and active. Janet might observe that I have learned a new language, that belonging to grumpy old men!
And did you know that very recent research has indicated that new words learned before sleep are far more likely to be remembered than those learned at breakfast time. You can make what you like of that!



Thursday, 30 July 2015

STEREOTYPES?

I saw myself on a bicycle this morning, cycling past in the sunshine. What I mean is that he looked like I imagine I do- upright handlebars, white hair, 70 plus years old. It could have been me apart from the baggy shorts he was wearing in which I would not have been seen. I ran through the psychology of this morning's sighting and confess to the first thought 'He is too old to ride a bike'. How ridiculous is that, Peter? What I was doing was falling into the danger of stereotyping about a man who could have been me and how he should appear. The dictionary described a stereotype as an oversimplification of a person or thing by creating a general image.

We do that all the time. Most people in our neighbourhood know my calling (although it still shocked me yesterday when a man I merely wave to, passed and said 'Good Morning Reverend! Cover obviously blown!). What is the stereotype of a minister, vicar, priest? Not, I hope, as one child said when asked that such people were 'men in stained glass trousers. 

I only mention stereotypes because they can seriously mislead us, by creating a picture that  is not very realistic of the actual thing. There is no one typical minister, no typical church, but we keep on creating them and they can hold us back.I think this is probably writ large over outsiders view of a local church. Because they have no stereotype-destroying experience, they create a picture that is quite erroneous. I think the coffee shop at our church, with tables outside in Summer, helps break some of these false images down. Stereotyping is a form of mental laziness because we reach for the easiest and most immediate image we can find.

Yesterday I related a couple of stories about vanishing strangers. Another report I liked was of a 40 stone man, alienated from his wife, but hoping to (following the words of a popular song) win her back by ' 500 miles and 500 more'. He planned a cycle across America and called it 'Fat Guy Across America'. Within a short distance of setting out he flattened his bicycle. After a further flattening his bike was a write off but a sympathetic shop gave him a new one. This week he was safely well on his way and was hoping to achieve 15 miles per day for the first time. Not a lot, but it impressed his wife and the two are together again, cycling south to Mexico, then on to California before returning home to re-marry.
Love does change everything- even a fat man into a thinner one!


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

THREE HANDKERCHIEFS

This evening is the monthly meeting at which I lead a very relaxed discussion on matters of life and faith. This evening we do not have a visiting speaker so it will be down to me. I will take as my subject what I will call ' everyday wholeness'.I have always felt that to be best illustrated by three white handkerchiefs. One is knotted and stained. One is rather badly creased. The third is white and spotless.This latter is how our hearts and minds are intended to be and the point of greatest happiness and satisfaction. The other two represent various degrees of imperfection that are such a part of our daily lives, indeed of all human existence.

The aim of life is generally to be happy, so the handkerchiefs represent the state and aims involved. Most people want to get rid of knots, stains and creases.This process I will call 'everyday healing'.It is an area of life that  fascinates me as I seek it for myself as well as others. I will embark on this area and see where it leads us; it could be interesting! I have asked D to share the insight and experience of the church's prayer group. I am thinking- and will suggest- that far more is involved in what we call 'prayer' than a simple up and down request for something specific from God.I often think of a famous Rabbi's comparison of Jewish and Christian prayer- Jews grow into them; Christians often grow out of them

Today is a big cricket day in the form of the Third Test match against the old sporting enemy, Australia. In these sport mad days cricket seems to have slipped a long way down the popularity table. I recall my far away schoolboy days when news of England's Test Match used to be common news and talk around the school.I think the decline in popularity may be  that television coverage was stolen from terrestrial television into 'you have to pay for me' networks. In those distant days sport was exciting in its own right but have you noticed how so much hype surrounds sporting events, as if we need encouraging to watch and need 'entertainment' to warm our interest?

This morning on my paper walk I met  Linda who showed me a painting. It was of a lady with a pony tail, hat on head, but seen from behind.This lady came regularly to the Comfort Zone at North Shore Methodist Church. She used to sleep in a local park, but was harrassed often, so walked the street by night and sought sleep wherever she could find shelter. Then quite recently she vanished, not to be seen again. They had noticed a change in her, because she quite suddenly became friendly instead of 'Don't talk to me'. That is why she could only be painted from behind. The only clue to her whereabouts is a witness who saw her on the station and thought she purchased a ticket for London.

This reminded me of a true story from years ago when a small charity in a Northern city had a tramp visit them each day.He got his cup of tea and went on his way. One day he said he would not be back for a while and in leaving handed over a crumpled piece of paper. It  turned out to be a cheque for two hundred pounds which was duly honoured.

Months passed then one day an official letter came from an American solicitor. Their deceased client had left the charity in his will a pocket of land they thought might be worth two million pounds.
Who can tell the true human story of many we meet? And where they go after we have encountered them? The mystery of human life. But it also tells the story I ended with yesterday- the wonderful, mysterious power of Goodness.