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.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Blessed Mary - Queen of Shops - visits the CofE

Like the 120 Bus - you wait a week and then two or even four come along at the same time - so another blog within the same week.

I heard this week that some Local Authorities are seriously exploring the idea of sharing key senior staff members with each other. Who needs their own CEO at vast expense when you can share one with the neighbouring authority? The other thing that resonated was the TV programme 'Mary - Queen of Shops'.This week saw this fiesty business lady dealing with a hippie type bric and brac shop in Kingston. She got a result. Life and business has been transformed for the couple who own and run it. There were some tough moments and tough decisions to make - not least managing the exit of their erstwhile son who kept insisting on wearing his dressing gown in front of customers! Hard choices and tough decisions. They listened and moved on - sadly the son didn't! Result - obvious growth, a happy fulfilled couple plus contented customers. 

Where am  I going with this? For the Church of England if it is serious about mission and growth in a Post Christian world and tap into the desire of many Christ Foloowers in congregations scarce resources will have to be more effectively used and focused. The idea of Dioceses sharing senior teams and resources has been knocking about for years but those in 'power' seem to resist it like mad. It was like the General Synod having to vote for fewer members - it did but to be honest it was a turkey voting for Christmas scenario and is still too big and unwieldy. We don't have the money to pay for cumbersome, out of date systems of leadership, management, governance and administration. Wise up Cof E - with our Gospel values and faith we should lead the way in this. If we want it, if we listen - it will happen. Maybe a visit from the Blessed Mary - Queen of Shops to all our Diocesan offices and Bishop's Staff meetings.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ordination - 'Just like that'

My colleague is on a cycling holiday with an ordained 'magician'. All will be revealed - 'just like that.' 

The past few weeks have seen a number of people being ordained as deacons and priests in the Church of England.
On BBC 2 at the moment there is an interesting comedy called 'Rev.' Vicar of Dibley it is not. Someone has been watching the Cof E quite carefully - for TV I think it is amazingly accurate and perceptive. It can even become too close for comfort.  

One of the most profound stories in the New Testament that speaks to me time and time again is that of the birth of John the Baptist. More specifically the story of his Mum and Dad, when they received the news that they were going to have a child. Two old people, childless, barren, marginalised, seen as a bit of a failure to be honest. But Zechariah was also a priest and his once in a lifetime opportunity to lead worship in the sanctuary came along. There he was told about God's gift of a special child. Yep - God speaks even through the old ways but mercifully not to keep us there!

Understandably Zechariah laughed. Whisper it not but even priests find some things hard to believe! For this he was struck dumb. No -  I believe, (as in my spin on the story), he was given the opportunity to reflect inwardly - the gift of silence. As he offered the prayers of the people of God he was able to tap into God's ways and purposes. When he had finished his priestly 'stint' he was asked what family name the child would be given. He wrote the name John. No-one in the family had that name - this was counter-cultural - it cannot be. 'His name is John.' is emphatic, purposeful and a one point sermon!. John meaning: 'God is gracious'.
Right from the womb JB had a model of being counter-cultural for God's sake and the name of grace.The name God wanted for this prophetic forerunner of the fulfilment of all those prophecies - Jesus - the 'neighbourhood' embodiment of God's grace and counter cultural religion. ('He sits and eats with tax collectors and sinners')
Zechariah the old fashioned and conservative priest has himself become in a real sense a counter - cultural prophet.

Maybe a vital aspect of ordination is that of prophet. A hard calling but in these Post- Christian days a vital one.  'Rev' highlights the complex and difficult context into which people are being called to ordained ministry and the real need for prophetic voices from within the 'priestly' and ministerial culture. For me to be ordained has been about becoming not less human but more, not so much about speaking 'truth' but embracing the one who is truth and being shaped maybe in ways I wasn't expecting. Rather than finding more words to say it is becoming (at last) more about listening and when called to speak, using fewer words with grace and courage .(haven't mastered the one point sermon yet though working at it) 

                                            John describes Jesus as full  of 'grace and truth'.
Someone the other day described to me 'grace and truth' as the 'Jesus trick' - what a good way of describing the ordained as those who seek to do this 'trick' and model it for others. To do the trick though - we need - Jesus. Just like that!