Signs of ‘normality’

New life

I have loved walking in our local area each day over the last few months, and watching spring bloom before our very eyes. These young Canada geese, swimming so close to their mother, reminded me of the huge dependence we have on others – especially in infancy and childhood. We tend to think that in adulthood this ‘dependency’ disappears.

What I am seeing from our lives in lockdown is that a sense of ‘dependency’ within our communities and close relationships very much remains – but the shape of it changes. I’ve spoken with many people recently about us as ‘relational beings’, very much mirroring the image of God in this, and thriving best when we are able to share things with others.

My hope and my prayer is that we do not lose sight of this need for community, for different types of relationship, as life begins to take over once again.

Community Snake

Signs of hope and building community

We were quite intrigued to hear that a snake had been put in the wood where we regularly walk…I almost tried to find somewhere else to walk, as for a few seconds I wasn’t quite sure whether it was real and alive! When we came across Samson the snake, though, it seemed to be such a message of hope and solidarity. That was even more keenly felt as we passed a young boy with his mum, clutching a newly painted stone, and excited to add this to the snake.

I had meant to post about this yesterday, after we had found the snake, but we were both saddened to hear that the beautiful head of the snake and some other stones had been taken away. The original artist had been very quick to create another ‘head’ and this evening that was again found to be missing, with other stones strewn around. Samson has now been moved to another, less prominent, location, where I hope that he will remain for others’ enjoyment for longer.

It is difficult not to feel jaded about these unpleasant developments, but to avoid losing heart, I want to focus on the thought that inspired, and the spirit that perseveres in, building community and bringing shared joy. Long live Samson; in spirit, if not in body!

A Hidden Community

Tree of life

Some time ago now I was really inspired by Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees within which he explains what happens out of sight, how trees form community, how the stronger look after the weaker trees – even when they are different species.

I find myself drawn back to some of these ideas as I observe quieter streets, towns and cities. A foodbank operates in my local area, and is working so hard behind the scenes to source food for, and distribute it to, those who cannot, or should not be making themselves more vulnerable by going to the shops.

The question I am left with is how this sense of community continues into the new issues many face around being forced or ‘encouraged’ to return to work yet have no one to look after their children. They are called to use their ‘common sense’ but I am unsure how helpful that is when there is an expectation that people return to work and, despite there being no childcare arrangements, failure to do so will result in them not being paid, or worse losing their jobs…?

Surely ‘common sense’ would bring people to an understanding that our economy, or wealth, has a higher importance than our wellbeing. This realisation alone does nothing to help this situation though. For some, this time of lockdown has brought opportunities to reconnect, to slow down, to live more simply. I’ve had many conversations, or read articles, where people are hoping that these benefits will shape our futures as we move out of lockdown; how can they when economic division, and power, shape those ‘baby steps’ out of lockdown? It seems that we are more likely to leave some to stand alone, as this tree appears to, with no others around who are able to offer support.

Gathering…

How do we gather the people we love together, to share, to lament and to laugh with one another? Over the last few weeks we’ve been video-calling those we love, sharing coffee together as well as laughing and crying about the highs and lows of lock-down. This gathering, or drawing together as community, as family is more important than ever! God is a God of relationship, of community; God works through each of us for each of us. Gathering in creative ways is more important than ever…and it is a powerful form of prayer!

Thought provoking…

I’ve just finished reading The Good Immigrant which is a collection of essays about what it’s like to live in a country that doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want you…

There were a number of heartbreaking reflections but one of the saddest was Musa Okwonga who decided to leave Britain because of such deep-rooted institutional racism. He said:

“Britain was not great because of its papers and politicians who relentlessly denigrated us, it was great in spite of them. Britain was great because of the spontaneous community spirit you saw as soon as a small town was flooded, because of the volunteers who turned out in their tens of thousands to act as stewards for the Olympic Games. But that wasn’t a spirit that I felt my country was doing nearly enough to nurture.”

This hit me between the eyes as I read precisely because of the sadness and hope within it. A growth in our collective community spirit could be the grassroots response needed to tackle a number of issues in our midst, not least the divisions we have a tendency to draw due to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality and disability.

Can we nurture this community spirit in order to look outwards rather than onwards? To welcome the stranger and care for the lonely? This book is a must read, an incredibly uncomfortable mirror to look into, but one which I pray will change hearts and minds for the better. Amen.

One Body

This is the week of the year dedicated to Christian unity,
a time to join together to pray for the possibility
that one day we will be a whole body or community
which celebrates and commemorates catholicity.
A week where each of us align our intentionality
to that of God our maker our creator, and the reality
of the body of Christ which draws such responsibility
from each believer regardless of individual sensitivity.

It is so much easier to focus on matters of disparity
rather than actively seek those areas of commonality.
How happily we slip into ‘them’ and ‘us’ in our humanity
and quickly identify those points requiring conformity.
We fail to remain awake to worldly ways of destructibility,
instead straying like sheep, we are allured by animosity.
Previously indistinct notes become matters of legality
further severing bonds which bind with fierce brutality

What if one week became two, three or four of generosity
of spirit to our fellow believers? If we espoused the ambiguity
of the mysteries surrounding people and God’s interactivity,
and perhaps laid aside the centrality of certainty or clarity
on issues often known to divide like gender or sexuality?
Intent on establishing a universal and obligatory morality
which ignores God’s upside-down justice for austerity,
with the God of surprises does it not all lack reliability?

I pray for unity which extends beyond human probability,
one which disciples to favour quality over quantity
and places Jesus’ example and gospel of inclusivity
at its heart – Jesus of the marginality not the majority!
I pray for unity of the body of Christ where vulnerability
is held and cherished, with division hidden by invisibility.
A unity which recognizes Christ Jesus as superiority
and all who make up the body as existing in equality.

Let the eyes of your heart guide

For our patronal festival I preached about letting the eyes of our hearts be a guide to the need within our community – a need which we can meet in a simple way, yet which feels huge to the person on the receiving end!

If we let the eyes of our heart guide, what do we actually see? I have been reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. He writes about trees as social beings with a sense of community and has literally brought trees to life for me! I was incredibly struck by the apparent echoes there are in creation as so much life was created to be in community…and yet it feels like we don’t do community as well as we could. How often do we help for no other reason than for the good of someone else? How often do we forget looking out for ourselves and bettering our own ends? How often do we see need and respond to it?

This led me to think about the film Pay it Forward where a young boy responds to his Social Sciences project of ‘Think of a way to make the world a better place and put it into action’ with the idea of doing something for three people that they would not be able to do for themselves, and asking only that they similarly do something for three other people. The exchange of help becomes about hundreds of people rather than just between a few individuals.

What if we lived more like this? What if we gave for the love of giving and loved as Jesus loves? What if we seek love not war? Would it make a difference? #actofrandomkindness

Impatience is a Virtue…

I’ve been reminded of an advert from about ten years ago which claimed that patience was for yesteryear, now impatience is a virtue. This advert has come back to me a number of times as I have thought about how telling it is of our society in some ways. The immediacy of communication has made us impatient for news and information, as well as for material items – why wait when we could have it now? I am beginning to realise how ingrained this perspective has been in my own attitudes, despite understanding myself as a fairly patient person…well, with some things!

As I walked around part of the parish earlier in the week, I felt the impatience of others so keenly, and it began to surface in me as well.

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Impatience of parents, trying to get through the tasks of the day with children who are also impatient as they would much rather be doing something else; older children playing out, struggling when things do not go their way; the impatience of many with a welfare system which affords them very little, despite hard work or ill-health and; even the impatience of those providing services because it is the twentieth time someone has complained to them about x, y or z this morning. These are just some examples…

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My own impatience manifested itself through a deep desire to act now, to do something –  anything – for those who were struggling. Why wait on God when I could just roll up my sleeves and get cracking? I could do some practical things to make a real difference in some people’s lives here and now…. But what about tomorrow, when I couldn’t do those things, when I wasn’t around?

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This building site as a symbol of the early stages of building and the need for strong foundations reminded me that those things that are worthwhile cannot happen overnight, as well as giving an echo of the impatience that those waiting for their houses to be built may feel!

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Ministry is not like a game of pool, when whoever pots all of their balls followed by the black wins. I was thinking about how much easier that would be, as I played pool with our 13+ group (not that I was so skilled, sadly!).

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There are times when the phone rings, and it is appropriate to drop everything to be where you are needed. It is a real privilege when that happens and people let you into their lives in all of their grief and sadness, and I am so grateful for the times that that has happened this week.

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More often though, I wonder whether ministry is like ironing shirts – it takes time and patience to do it properly, and even when it is done another shirt will not be far behind!

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I perhaps had not realised how impatient I can be sometimes, and there has been much to reflect on around my approach to ministry this week. No longer am I an ordinand, in one place for a very short time. I am not chasing ideas for portfolios, essays and presentations. This is the long haul, and it is essential to wait on God and capture God’s vision and God’s ministry in this place. Afternoon tea on my day off stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of this…God did promise the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey!

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So what does God’s place, or the Kingdom of Heaven, look like? People running to catch buses, frustrated when they miss them, children screaming at one another, people shouting at one another? Or people showing love, care, joy, peace, patience and kindness? How can we encourage this, rather than reacting to the impatience in our communities and wider society?

Impatience is a Virtue

Impatience is a virtue
Did no-one tell you
Patience is so yesteryear
Just for those who fear
All that is exciting or taboo

What good can come
From a patient hum
A steady stroll through life
Avoiding fun and strife
You might as well be numb

Get out there and live
You have to give
All of yourself to the cause
Sing until you are hoarse
Let go of all that is negative

Then you are caught
In a cycle fraught
With danger and dis-ease
Ceasing to please
All around who thought

Impatience is a virtue…
Patience is a virtue
Possess it if you can!

Attend…properly!

This week has felt rather busy, and as I look back I can see that I have definitely been guilty of cramming too much into my diary and therefore failing to give real time to anything. It has struck me that this is very much the way of our modern world: fit as much as you can into as little time as possible to prove how productive you can be! And yet, I’m not sure ministry is a business of productivity or a measuring of success…if it was, as the Church Times article about Broken asserts, many of us would be failures!

The week began with a baptism in our first service…

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…and the revival of a worship band with me on cajon in our second service.

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On Monday morning I decided to walk around a part of the parish: collar, rucksack and trainers on! This is becoming something of a routine, which I love! It gives me the space to respond to whatever comes my way…to attend! I was also combining the walk with a short photo shoot in each church, as setting the churches up on social media was also on my list of things to do for the week! It was lovely just to spend time alone in God’s presence as I worked.

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When I arrived at the second church, there was a lot of activity. We also had a young offender working with us. As I looked at him, whilst he had nothing to do, he looked completely bored and disinterested. God took over as I hauled him into the church, showed him how to use the camera and encouraged him to get lost in it. He certainly did, and there was a huge sense of pleasure as I watched his attention to detail develop, and his eye fine-tune to the potential of the camera. He took some beautiful photos with particular focus on light.

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The real reward came when I asked him whether he had enjoyed it, to which he replied, “I did actually”, and his whole face lit up as a broad smile crossed it – what a privilege! Yet it was one that I didn’t see until I was half a mile up the road, lamenting on how few people I had encountered that morning! I had been responsive, but completely unaware that God was with me in that whole encounter!

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A candle to remind me that Christ is with me was a bit of a theme this week in my encounters! One particular encounter really humbled me, as a woman asked me to address an envelope for her as she could not spell very well. She insisted on sharing every detail of the letter with me, which was a real privilege, and came with great responsibility. I would have been happy to just address the envelope, but I realised that she needed to share.

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Other encounters reminded me of the need to not only attend with people, but also to be mindful of ways in which they might practically need help. Gardens are beautiful, but can become extremely burdensome to someone who is housebound. Whilst they might not ask, can we do something to help as a church?

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That tied in with a brief exchange I had with STAR (Supporting Tenants and Residents) when thinking about how we could support their work in the parish. They said the one thing every agency struggles to provide at the moment is time…Attend!

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Lectio Divina also reminded me of how Ruth attended her mother-in-law, refusing to leave her side despite being given permission.

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Then I was reminded about the need to attend to the community – where is God already working? What is going on that we can join in with? This was part of an art exhibition of prisoners’ work, and was one of the most amazing drawings I have ever seen!

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Again and again I have come back to thinking about attending, being fully present in the flesh, being pervasive, almost, in our world.

Attend!

Attend! Listen! Watch and wait but what will I see? What will I hear? What am I even waiting for? A miracle, a bolt of lightening, the transfiguration or Jesus coming on a cloud in glory? Maybe one day, be prepared as they say; but no, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about attending in the here and now; immanence rather than transience…being God with skin on or the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Jesus. Attend! Listen!

There is something in the saints saying God is with us come what may; God incarnate in you and in me. So attend, listen to that voice deep inside the soul.

Take care not to attend so much that you fail to see what is right in front of you though. Gazing up to the heavens, desperate to hear God’s guidance I almost didn’t see the hope offered through an exchange with an offender; the woman struggling to cross the road; and the man desperate to talk and be heard, had I not heard the pervasive plea from God, “Me in them not me for thee!”

May Day

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#642 Our evening worship centred around the theme of #MayDay, with #Maypole dancing, food, drink and celebration – a beautiful way of bringing a #community together. How often do we just get together to celebrate the passing of time, or a new phase? #relationships #buildcommunity