Tree

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

TreeThis blog seems to be a bit poetry-based at the moment – sorry about that! But here’s another one – this is one I’ve been working on for quite a while, although in this form it’s very new (it was originally much longer). I reworked it today after attending a really good seminar on poetry and spirituality at college.

Would love to know what you think – as usual, please comment!

Deep beneath the sodden leaves and earth,
seed splits and spills its tender roots. Fine hairs
worm up; a swimmer surfacing for air.
Soil splits and whitish leaves spring forth;
a seedling tree, potential height and girth
well hid. Thirty seasons pass before there
stands an oak, tall and proud and fair.
But then the blade, keen to prove its worth,
bites hard against the bark and fleshy wood.
The forest weeps as with a trembled leaf,
as in a breeze, the tree is torn in pain.
Planed and shaped, tree’s parody is stood;
and on its back a man who some believe
was God, hung to die against the grain.

Two minutes

November 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

Picture of a clock

Image by Matthew Kirkland (http://www.flickr.com/photos/simpologist/)

As part of my course, I had to give a short (two minute) ‘sermon’ to a few classmates the other day. One or two people liked what I said, so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a free-form poem, and I think it probably sounds better read out loud than in silence (it was written to be spoken out loud).

Let me know what you think!

Two Minutes
Two minutes. Not long, but long enough.
Long enough for the doc to say “I’m sorry, but…”
Long enough for foot to slip, for ice to crack, for brakes to fail.
Long enough for someone to say “you will fail me.”
Long enough for the cock to crow,
for blood and water to flow,
and for tears to fall.
Long enough.

Two minutes. Not long, but long enough.
Long enough to share, to weep, to hug,
to give a mug of tea to someone cold.
Long enough to say “your sins are forgiven.”
Long enough to search the empty tomb,
to feel the hope and fear within,
to hear the words “he is not here.”
Long enough.

Two minutes. Not long, but long enough.
Long enough to pray.
Long enough to walk away.
Long enough to choose a path, or push a door, or to wait.
Long enough for him to say “it is finished.”
Long enough to change the world.

Two minutes isn’t long. But it’s long enough.
Long enough for Christ to die,
Long enough for stone to roll away.
Long enough to save the world.
Long enough to speak a word to someone lost.
Long enough.

The Big Silence

October 11, 2013 § 5 Comments

It’s been a long time since I posted on here. So perhaps it’s entirely appropriate, then, that this post should be about the issue of silence.

Well, more specifically, about the issue of silence within spirituality.

If you know me a little bit you’ll probably laugh at the thought that I might occasionally enjoy periods of silence. I’m an extrovert. I’m loud. I talk too much. I enjoy being in groups of people, and I enjoy the noise of conversation. Why would I enjoy silence?

If you know me well, though, you’ll probably believe me. In my life B.C. (Before College – and yes, this period of time does warrant Important Capitals) I used to go on a silent retreat once a year or so. These times were valuable for me. Switching into a mode of operation which is not my ‘norm’ helps me to get in touch with God in deeper ways, somehow, and there is something powerful about long periods of intense, purposeful, and communal silence.

Yet these retreats are also very difficult for me. It takes me a longish time (normally half a day or so) to go through the horrible stage and into the edges of the blessing. So at college, where we have an hour of quiet a week, I can never get through the horrible stage.

Maybe I’m weird. But, I guess because of who I am and the way I’m wired, I find those initial few hours of silence to be much more of a curse than a blessing. It’s like I’m being asked to switch off my way of looking at the world, as if, somehow, the way I normally think, interact, and pray is off-limits, and I have to disengage from this. It hurts. It’s painful to switch of parts of my character and personality which are deeply and intimately me. Yes, after a number of hours I can reach the point where I am through the distress, and yes, there is value in doing this, but the reason this value exists is precisely because this isn’t who I am, and I’m putting myself in somebody else’s shoes.

Sometimes it feels as though my whole Christian life has been spent listening to people tell me that the best way to encounter God is in the silence: that God always speaks in the still, small voice; that we need to step out of the storm of life and thinking, and noise, and into that silent space; that true, deep, spirituality and relationship with God is all about personal intimacy, and this can only exist in quiet, reflective, contemplative modes. The fact that I find this so difficult has led me increasingly to a point of distress – if this is the best (maybe even the only true) way to engage with God, then I must be a second-rate Christian. I must be a failure. The only way I can improve is by pushing through, by changing who I am, by forcing myself to use techniques which are profoundly uncomfortable.

And, just recently, I’ve begun to break.

I’m not a quiet, reflective person: this doesn’t mean that I’m not deep, and nor does it mean that I don’t think and reflect deeply. I tend to do these things out-loud, though, and in dialogue with others.

I’m not a failure as a Christian. God loves me, and he loves the way he’s made me. Yes, God speaks in the still small voice, but he also speaks in the storm, in the turned over noise of the temple tables, in the discussion and debate with the 12, with the 72, with the 5,000. He speaks in the silence of the mountaintop stones, and in the fire of the mountaintop offering. He is a God who engages with us, whoever and however we are, and to try and pretend that he will only come in the silence, that he will only come if we stop and are still, that he is only capable of speaking and relating to us if we shut up and listen, is to belittle God and to elevate ourselves into a position of immense importance.

My voice isn’t louder than God’s. He can, and does, speak through the noise of conversation as well as in the stillness of silence.

And there’s something else to be said too. I’m outgoing, gregarious, warm-natured. I love being around people, and I love making friends. I have a sense of humour, and I enjoy laughing at myself and my weaknesses.

But this doesn’t mean I’m so thick-skinned that nothing ever hurts me.

When I’m told through the silence, every single week, that my way of being is wrong, and that I have to ‘gift’ silence to others because (the implication is) my noise is hurtful to them, this hurts me. When I’m told, through words or implication, that it’s not acceptable for me to be noisy when others want to engage with God in the silence this is fine. But it’s not fine that those others are never told to try and engage with God in the noise; that they are never told that my mode of being is OK too.

So, yes, I’ll gift you the quiet. I’ll even learn to join in as far as I can. But it would be nice, sometimes, to see this reciprocated: why can’t we have an hour of talking about God and his word, or an hour of praying out loud with each other, or an hour walking round town looking for God in the busy-ness and noise?

Putting it all into perspective (or, why am I pursuing this mad course called ordination anyway?)

February 11, 2013 § 2 Comments

Cross from the hospital chapelIt’s been a funny old week. There have been ups and downs, a lot of thinking about decisions which feel really important but probably, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t, and I’ve had some personal difficulties with learning to live alongside others. I’ve felt a bit bogged down, and distant from God. I’ve missed spending time with my family, and when I have been at home, I’ve been grumpy and difficult. I’ve probably been grumpy and difficult at college as well.

But there have been a couple of things which have helped me to put things into perspective.

My friend Rhys, a Church of England priest, was put to rest last Friday. I didn’t get to the funeral–I’m living a long way away and couldn’t make it back–but I was thinking about him and his family on the day (and before, and since). He died far too young, and leaves behind two small children, his wife, and many others who cared for him. I’ve known a few people who’ve died young, and it’s difficult. Actually, “difficult” is a crap word: there isn’t really a word which expresses just how awful it is when someone dies young (or at all, really): it seems unfair; unjust; wrong, somehow. It hurts.

The second thing happened today (I’m writing this on Sunday but probably won’t post it until tomorrow or the day after). I’ve been on a hospital placement on Sundays, and today was the last one. In previous weeks I’ve run about collecting patients to bring them to chapel (the cross in the picture is from that chapel), and then taken them back afterwards. I’ve then spent an hour or so on a ward, visiting people. I’ve also taken part in one of the chapel services–I preached, in fact, which was a real challenge. The whole thing has been an amazing experience, and today was the most amazing day of all. It has really drummed home to me the reason I’m following this calling. See, it’s very easy when you’re studying at theological college to lose sight of reality. It’s easy to start thinking that essays are the most important thing in the world, or pre-reading is, or seminars are, or community is, or student elections are, or… well, you get the idea. The whirlwind can become overwhelming and you lose perspective on everything (and can even lose sight of God). I’ve really felt that this week, and have been down in the dumps about it. I even got to the point where I was thinking about writing a kind of ‘resignation’ letter to God: a list of reasons why I can’t continue, why I can’t carry on pursuing this mad course. I wouldn’t really have stopped, of course, but I’ve been at a low point. I’ve been having (to use a technical term) a ‘wobble’.

So today–when I went to a ward where cancer patients are waiting to die, and administered communion to three ladies who were clearly both dreadfully ill and wonderfully grateful to God for his blessings–when I experienced that today it shifted my perspective. It was like putting glasses on for the first time. Things changed for me today: I saw God at work, through my feeble actions, in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. And it was humbling, and a blessing, and it affirmed me in the deepest possible way: God could not have made it any clearer that this is the right path for me.

I hope I don’t lose sight of this again, but if I do I know God will pick me up and put my feet back on the path he’s chosen. I’m still in the middle of it all: all the stress; worry; hassle; essay-panic; and insecurity, but God is amazing and he’s on my side.

Life in Christian community, again…

February 8, 2013 § 10 Comments

I’ve had a bit of a rubbish week, this week. I’m finding that living in community is very difficult indeed: largely because I’m an extrovert who also needs some time to myself occasionally (and this time is very difficult to find in college life). I’m also struggling with living in a city: there’s no countryside around here, really. The only bit that I’ve found is still surrounded by houses and roads, so you can’t really get away from it all. Still, tomorrow I’m going to the peaks for a nice long walk, so that might help.

The other thing that’s causing me much angst at the moment is other people: there seems to have been a bit of ‘grating’ this week, and I don’t know if it’s me or them (it feels like them, but it’s probably me), but it’s unpleasant either way. I don’t know if being in community gives people the right to be horrible to each other, but I don’t think it should. And perhaps I’m not as thick-skinned as people think I am…

Anyway, it would be very easy for me to rant about how horrible other people can be, or how difficult, but I keep thinking about that bit in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

I’m sure I’m not an easy person to live with, or to get along with, or even to agree with. So if you’re reading this and I’ve been horrible to you, or upset you, or made you angry, or done some other kind of wrong to you: I’m sorry. Please tell me, so I can change.

Perhaps this is Christian community: committing to change for the benefit of each other; and committing to being lovingly honest, to enable that change. This means you can tell me the truth, but you have to be nice about it: we have to realise that all of us are human beings with feelings and the potential to be hurt, particularly in our weakest areas. And when we get it wrong – which we will – we should say sorry, and be prepared to change ourselves.

Anyway. I’m going to finish this post with a poem I began writing in chapel the other morning (we’ve been exploring alternative ways of worshiping, this week). I think it might help explain to some, who have very clearly defined opinions about stuff, why my views might seem infuriating at times.

I hope you like it.

Colourblind.
My eyes are unaware of colour:
vibrant hues elude me.

I see the world in monochrome,
grey scales with the occasional vivid splash,
sometimes white, sometimes black,
most times somewhere in between.

Others may see their life in clearer tones,
a journey made of monochromes,
but I can’t see in such a way:
my eyes, unaware of colour,
see many things as grey.

The main reason I’m a heretic

February 5, 2013 § 17 Comments

During one of the modules we’ve just finished, it’s become a little bit of a running joke that I’m something of a heretic. I’m not, really: well, not much. To be fair, it is a joke: I ask awkward questions (I’m not the only one, by the way!) and I sometimes question things which are fundamental to doctrine or faith: not because I don’t believe, but because I want to work through the questions.

Anyway, this morning I discovered that I am, perhaps, after all, an actual heretic. The reason why? This may shock some of you, and you may not like it, but I don’t enjoy singing.

In Christian terms, this is pretty much the same as saying I don’t like breathing, or eating, or sleeping. Singing is part of our identity as a people, as a culture: it’s a fundamental aspect of worship; different groupings of Christians often identify themselves with certain types of music; and it can be seen as a crucial way of both engaging with and subverting popular culture.

Don’t get me wrong, though: I quite like listening to singing: it’s just that I don’t much enjoy partaking in it. So this morning’s worship session in chapel, which was led admirably and which was designed to encourage all of us to worship through songs and harmonies, made me feel a weird combination of joy at the sound others were making, and deep discomfort at the sound I was making myself. I did, at least, join in: I might be a heretic but I still love my community.

Maybe it’s because I can’t sing. Maybe it’s something deep-seated and psychological, to do with the fact that my dad was very musical and made it clear to me that I’m not. Maybe it’s because the break in my voice seems to fit snuggly around the range in which most modern worship songs are set. Maybe I’m just naturally grumpy. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, my heresy is plain and simple.

Worryingly, this is probably one of those formational things that I’m going to have to work through at college. There will, after all, probably be occasions in the future when I am called upon to sing. I’d just like to take this opportunity in advance to apologise to anybody who has to hear it…

Some writing

December 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

I love writing, and have been lucky enough to get one or two little bits published. Over the last couple of years, however, I haven’t had enough time or energy to do much. I want to start again. So partly because of this, and partly because I want to raise the profile (and possibly the funds) of the Samaritans, here’s a little poem I’ve just finished. If you like it (or even if you hate it), please consider supporting the Samaritans this Christmas time. You can find out more at http://www.samaritans.org/support-us

Dad
Not much to show for a life:
a few boxes, bric-a-brac;
unwanted clothes, old books, pictures
still showing the memory of your flesh;
CDs, manuscripts, boxes of dusty work;
an imprint in your favourite chair.

An old rusted car in a dusty field,
empty needles heaped within, around the cold
flesh shell which once was you.
Within your loosened grip a phone,
conveyor of your lonely voice’s final words
into an abyss, as you slipped away.

They stay alive within your mind, they say:
but the spill of years blots my memory now.
Not much to show for a life:
the fading memory of a son,
the family line which carries on,
old pictures passed from son to son.

Vicarish Alsorts…

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

…or ‘what life is really like at Theological College’
Yummy vicarish alsorts
This weekend I watched the first episode of the BBC’s “Vicar Academy” on iplayer (it broadcasts on BBC Wales, but you can catch up here). It made interesting viewing: clearly the directors have chosen the candidates most likely to create… exciting telly.

I’m also at the start of reading week (it’s not a half-term: there are actually a number of us in college and working even though we could, theoretically, take a break at this point). That means I’ve completed half a term at college, which means that I’m a sixth of the way through the year and a twelfth of the way through the course. That’s a little bit scary: it’s going so quickly!

So I thought that, now I’m an expert on such things, it might be fun to write a quick post about what life is really like in a Church of England training college.

« Read the rest of this entry »

The best old car… in the world! (Or “isn’t God amazing?”)

October 13, 2012 § 2 Comments

My old Mondeo - the best old car in the world?
So, in a bid to keep my mood wonderful (see yesterday’s post), the car was due for an MOT today. It was booked in at the garage for 9am, and I duly pootled down there, handed over the keys, and walked home, with the sure and certain knowledge that the upcoming bill would be a large one.

I thought it needed at least one new tyre, possibly two. I thought there was something wrong with the exhaust. I thought there was something wrong with the suspension – there have been a few odd noises recently, and on full-lock the steering sounds pretty unhappy. I thought it might need some welding. I thought it probably needed new brakes. I thought the handbrake was a little bit dodgy. About the only thing I thought would pass were the lights – they all work.

Just as well I’m not a mechanic, really. I’d be rubbish.

A couple of hours after dropping it off, the garage phoned. There was a hint of disbelief in his voice as the mechanic explained that not only had the old thing passed the MOT, but it’d flown through, not even scraping the edge of emissions peril or dipping a tyre in the waters of dodgy bodywork. Nothing wrong with it. In fact, when I collected it, he went so far as to proclaim that it was “a really very good car.”

Now, this either means I’m an expert in the ancient art of second-hand-car purchasing, or I’m incredibly lucky, or God’s in this somewhere. I think the latter is the most likely, really: my previous history of car purchases hasn’t shown my expertise in a particularly favourable light (I’ve owned no less than three MGs, for goodness’ sake!); and my luck with cars hasn’t always been the best (the car we had before this one, a slightly newer Focus 2.0, used to break down three or four times a week). I think God is looking after us, and our finances.

In fact, to tell you a secret, I didn’t even pay for the Mondeo in the first place. Well, I sort of did: I bartered for it. I swapped it for a day’s photography (the mechanic was getting married, you see). Since ‘buying’ it, it’s cost us the grand total of… £0. Nowt. Zero. Zilch. Diddly squat. Paleego. OK, I made that last one up, but the point is still there: I have what seems to be an amazing (for a 12 year old) car, and it’s cost me nothing*.

Isn’t God amazing?

I’m completely convinced that the stunning MOT result is due in no small part to God responding to our prayers. It sounds a bit ridiculous, perhaps, but there it is: God has always, and in sometimes quite astonishing ways, helped us to stay financially viable (even when we’ve been really quite hard up, and even when we haven’t made the best decisions with our money).

So, after yesterday’s bad mood, and the potential for a garage disaster today, I’m so glad that things have turned out well.


* Except, of course, for the cost of the MOT today.

Life in a Christian Community part 2, or how to be a grumpy old man

October 12, 2012 § 8 Comments

Cute little girl or night-time terror?
OK. I’m a grumpy old man (not that old, I know, but close enough to forty for you to forgive the description).

I’ve had a slightly crappy day today. Formation group this morning was lovely: such a great bunch of people, and we had a bit of a giggle and some great worship and prayer. The food was nice too. But things went downhill after that. I had a seminar which wasn’t great. Then, instead of studying as I should have been, I had a long discussion with someone about original sin. During the debate I got quite riled and let a little edge of my anger show.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ll know that a little edge of my anger is a full portion from someone less tempestuous in temperament. I felt bad afterwards and apologised, but I still feel annoyed with myself for letting the temper show in the first place. Even if it was only a little bit. So I had lunch (yummy), smashed some balls round the pool table (satisfying), cycled home (knackering), and crashed (on the sofa, not the bike). That was a few hours ago, and I’m just now starting to feel a little better.

Sometimes I wish that Jesus had been less optimistic in his instructions to the disciples. I wish he hadn’t said:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

It would have been a whole lot easier if, instead, he’d said:
“A new command I give you: Be grumpy with one another. As I have loved you, so you must be grumpy with one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you are grumpy, foul-tempered, generally bad-mooded, and ungracious with one another.” (John 13:34-35, NDT*).

Actually, looking at some churches and debates within Christian circles, it seems that perhaps he did say the latter, but this is definitely a topic for another blog post (maybe).

So today I feel like I failed. I failed the community, I failed myself, and worst of all I failed God. I wasn’t particularly loving, or kind, or peaceful, or joyful, or patient, or generous, or faithful, or gentle, or self-controlled.

But I know that God still loves me, in the same way that I still love my children when they do things wrong.

Which brings me very neatly onto the reason that I’ve been so grumpy today. Actually, there are very many reasons: I’m getting tired of being on my best behaviour and felt like being naughty; I was (for various reasons which I won’t go into here) a little annoyed when the seminar finished this morning; I’m worried and stressed about getting my first assignment finished and handed in on time; I’m anxious about getting the God / family / friendships / work balance right; I’m filling in a form about my major church placement at the moment and I’m finding that the decision about the type of place to go is a slippery one; and, to be completely honest, my default setting as a personality is ‘grump mode’. If you know me, this will not be a surprise.

So all those things are real, and valid, reasons (not excuses, never excuses) for being a particularly prickly community member today. But the real reason, the down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness, eggs-is-eggs reason for my bad mood is…

(drumroll)

Hannah. That’s right. My little girl. Cute as a button, isn’t she? That’s her picture at the top, by the way, and she really is that cute in the flesh. Except – and this is a pretty important exception to the rule – except at 4am. At 4am she is not so cute. In fact, I would go so far as to say that she is the very opposite of cute. She was also, this morning, the very opposite of asleep. She woke up, woke Debbie up, woke me up, and a little later woke Jack up too. As kind, loving, considerate parents (even at that hour), we obviously took her into our bed, where she snuggled up and went straight to sleep wriggled around like a landed fish for about an hour and a half while babbling quietly under her breath.

By the time she was tired enough to want to go back to her own bed, I was wide awake.

So I’m very sorry that I’ve been a grump today. I’m very sorry that I haven’t been community-minded. And I’m very sorry if I’ve upset or offended anyone who happens to be reading this (don’t think I have, but it’s always good to be sure). But, in my defence, I didn’t have much sleep… (I probably ought to go and get some now instead of waffling on here…)


* NDT = “New Dom Translation”, which is famous among certain evangelical Christians (i.e. my friends) as being a largely mythical yet somehow profoundly vivid translation of Scripture.

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