Monday, 18 October 2010

Here I am again.....

Most of you will have given up looking for any new blog from me since August. All I can say is that I think you needed a respite from my rambles. So what has stirred me to write....

I read an article recently by Graham Cray addressing the issue about failing Fresh Expressions. Sadly words like FE and fail are not often acknowledged in our present church culture. GC makes an observation that I think applies not just to Fresh Expressions but also to Church 'as we know it'.

'Perhaps the key lesson is that fresh expressions are more likely to be fruitful if they grow out of relationships, than if  they use an event to establish relationships.'

Effective church communities, whether 'inherited traditon' or Fresh Expression are those who understand this and make the relational and network value central to their life and mission. 

Yet somehow many of us still think that what we put on 'in church' will be enough even though our theology is rooted in the one who 'moved into the neighbourhood'. As a parish priest I am only to aware of the expectation from all sides that we must do 'something' to 'bring them in'.
Nothing is more effective than relationships and building community - whoever and whatever people are invited to.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Score

Having read 'The Plot' by Madeleine Bunting this week, I have been struck powerfully by the memories evoked by music. There are some pieces of music that evoke good memories and some not so good. It has nothing to do with the merits or otherwise of the piece of music but association with people, events and circumstance. On our way back from a walk Sheryl and I were listening to Mahler's 5th Symphony - Mahler has been all the rage at the proms this year and to be honest I haven't found his music the most enjoyable. However I have been attracted by it's variety and 'interest' if not it's 'tunability' - though it does have a bit of that. Listening to the Adagietto - a beautiful piece of music - took me back some years ago to a very difficult time in our lives. Maybe my antipathy to Mahler is more rooted in personal memory rather than the music's intrinsic value. There are pieces of music that I will listen to that evoke good moments - Schumann's Rhenish Symphony for instance - though only because it was on the radio at a moment when I knew things were on the up. I can't say Schumann tops my charts every day!
Music can lift the spirits but to be honest if some music gets associated with certain events - personal or otherwise - it's going to be a tough call for that tune! I haven't of course mentioned Wagner...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Plot

Holiday reading includes the latest by Peter James, Elizabeth George, John Ortberg etc 

One I highly commend is 'The Plot' by Madeleine Bunting. A really great piece of writing and a moving account of a plot of land in North Yorkshire owned by her father and upon which he built a Chapel. No wonder Simon Scharma describes the book as being 'among the very best about what it means to be English.' To be honest whether you're English, Welsh, French or anything else you may still find it a brilliant read! It is a very moving account about what it means to be part of a culture with its history and all that means in terms of its highs and lows, gains and losses - and at the same time weaved through it all is the life of Bunting's family - again with its its highs and lows etc etc 
All looked at through the 'lens' of a piece of land.
I can't go to Cheltenham (my home town) without thinking, reflecting and wishing I could have written a book like this. I am sure many of us have our 'plots' even in this age of national and global mobility. 

Place is significant becuase it speaks to us about where we have come from and who we are now... it may have also have something to say about our future...

'the Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood'.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Cycles, Sunflowers and the point of it all.

Pedalling along we passed a place called 'Le Point du Jour'. It means 'Daybreak' apparently. My first reading of it was simply 'the point of the day', (but then french was never my strong point), and wondered what an interesting name to give a place. In one sense we all need a point or reason for getting out of bed at the start of a day. Like many people I sometimes wonder what the point is to be honest - but even when it is hard something or more usually someone makes it worth the point. To live in love and relationship is basically the point of life I think. It takes a few days out of the routine to make me appreciate afresh someone else's love, the beauty around me, the call of serving others and that there is a point even when sometimes it feels that there isn't. Those who live in 'Daybreak' in this part of France wake up at this time of year surrounded by fields of sunflowers - those beautiful plants who live to face the sun and soak up it's energy and warmth. I always remember an old nun telling me that for her prayer was sunbathing in the presence of divine love. Now that's a point....

Time for wine methinks.....

Friday, 30 July 2010

Randonnees en France

Day 2

Wandered up to the Boulangerie via the church. Lovely prayerful space. I am not someone who thinks that because a building has the label 'church' and looks like one, it has to necessarily 'be' so. Preached on Jacob and 'Bethel' (House of God) last Sunday which to me means that in a culture which saw God in very local and possesive terms, there was the emergance of some sort of understanding that God could be encountered anywhere he chose to meet with them - and they with him. 'Where two or three' and all that....

Anyway onwards and upwards to the bakers. I entered looking like the Englishman abroad and uttered the word 'Bonjour' as one does, only to get the response 'Hullo, Monsieur'. I spoke French in my English way, whereas Madame spoke English in her French way. Just got me thinking a bit about culture and communication. As I'm holiday I won't go too far with this. I just need to learn not just to speak French but to 'speak' French in a french sort of way. Maybe a gallic shrug here and grunt there. Discover your 'inner Gaul' is the sub- title of a book I'm reading at the moment. Communication is obviously more than simply saying the right words.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Randonnees en France

Day 1

Staying in a friends house in the depths of the French countryside near Limoges in the Hautes-Vienne. Rural, peaceful, warm - so time to wind down a bit. How hard is that!
Steve keeps chickens so a wander over the road to say hullo, next doors dog sitting in the window watching my every step, a stroll up to the boulangerie for 'le pain' (cakes to die for) and 'confit de canard' cooking in the slow cooker. Plus church bells, across the way, timed to ring morning, noon and night to remind the workers in the field to get up and go to work, have a break and then come home at night. Timed by satellite apparently - Belstar!? A mix of the 'ancienne et moderne'.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A Father's legacy....

For some reason I started thinking about my father. He wasn't perfect, and as an imperfect father myself, I appreciate that now. Having preached this morning on the 'furious longing of God' and also remembered Tom Smail saying that his interest in the Fatherhood of God was shaped by the father he never knew, prompted me to simply consider what my Dad bequeathed to me.

Dad was an intelligent 'labour' person. He played the piano, he loved a breadth of music, he would build radios from scratch, he would work on various DIY projects, maintain a car, build furniture, develop a complex form system to feed his love of horse racing as well as having a 'clever' job, but not highly paid, inspecting the building of aircraft. I think he was extremely underrated by many of us, myself included and suspect the equivalent job today would be seen as extremely responsible and be better paid. 

What did my Dad give me?

A love and appreciation for music. He had a wide appreciation of music, especially music that as Natalie Wheen says has a 'good tune'. What a gift to pass onto your children. And as far as being a Vicar and worship leader who longs to see worship engaging people where they are, nothing does that to be honest, more than a good tune. I say this realising that a good tune is subjective. And that is something else I think he taught me - his tastes were very broad. I remember him bashing away on the old piano in the hall as the small council house was filled with the tunes of Beethoven, Addinnsell, Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, the Beatles, Procol Harum and then back to a bit of Bach. A good tune is a good tune in anybody's language and culture. He came to hear me lead and accompany a school production of Oliver, and his pride and joy at hearing me 'glissandoing' my way up and down the old ivories was a treasured memory that has stayed with me these past 35 years.
Again for me as a worship leader, when it comes to music it is what tunes (and words) enable people of all generations and cultures to engage with God - but not necessarily all at the same time!

That is why I have no problem with developing congregations that are generationally and culturally different.... being catholic is about finding  means of unity and oversight rather than conformity. How else is Post - Mixed economy church going to be effective?

Another gift my father gave to me was an attitude that never quite takes things at face value.Out of this came a questioning spirit that could sometimes manifest itself in prejudice but more helpfully gave me an attitude that will question, dig a bit deeper and challenge what I perceive to be unjust and unfair attitudes and systems. I also encourages me to work hard at developing self - awareness - something I needed to do when working in a 'charismatic' context. It is not a gift that I have readily appreciated and found easy to handle. My Dad had a hang- up about religion in general and the church in particular. For him it was more than the usual jibe of 'hypocrisy' but something about 'priests' controlling and manipulating peoples lives. He wasn't far from an 'opium' of the people view- something that he hoped I would grow out of! Yet he did have time for Jesus Christ as the man from Nazareth. I have inherited for good or ill a similar sort of attitude which makes me feel increasingly that once the church believes it is THE church as an object of belief then it has lost sight of its calling and mission. I believe that power and authority in the church is not about controlling others and seeking to get them to conform and behave in certain ways.

Maybe that is why the news about Jeffrey John, not being short listed for Bishop of Southwark, came across to me as unjust and unnecessary. Leave the man alone and give him a job that he is patently able to do well. The news about the proposed amendment of the Archbishop's in relation to Women Bishops just made me angry. I can hear my Dad huffing and puffing about how irrelevant the church is, full of its own self-importance and living in a little world of its own making. Mind you the way that amendment was defeated at Synod was a sign to me that God will have his way messing up the best laid, (and the not so best laid), plans of men. I now see that my Dad had a point. A point I ignored because I was too busy defending 'my' church. We do become irrelevant and out of touch when we lose touch with Jesus and seek to manage God and mess around with the his basic creation values of justice, equality and human dignity.

So - thanks Dad, no doubt other things will come to mind. I never got the hang of fishing. Spending hours with you by some very bleak and damp Gloucestershire river bank was never anything that floated my boat as it were, but I'm sure it has given me the gifts of endurance and holy impatience. Being a Vicar and Chair of my home county's University, (I think he might be a bit chuffed), has certainly helped me to develop those gifts!

PS: Sheryl notices that my father's DIY, car maintenance and technological skills were obviously not passed on.