Looking ahead…

Last weekend we were away- not just me slacking off, but a bunch of folk from our churches, having a retreat/holiday/weekend break at a place called Lee Abbey, on the North Devon coast. I think it’s fair to say it was amazing for everyone in some form- whether the walks along the coast, the teaching and input, the company of friends, being catered for and eating with 100 other people (without having to wash up!).

So, as a result, I’ve nothing to share in terms of ‘here’s what I said…’

I could share some of the things I heard at the weekend, all about identity, about knowing we each matter as individuals to God our father, about how being secure in our identity is worked out in what we do (and why we do it!), but at the moment its all floating round and needs to settle down… maybe another time.

Instead, I’m going to advertise, blatantly, something we’re doing this weekend. Obviously I’d love anyone reading this to come and join us, but equally, if you’re in Hungary, Canada or Suffolk then you might not be able to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same-

In both our churches it is traditional for us to remember the birth of John the Baptist, which is celebrated on June 24th each year. This year we want to remember and celebrate our own baptisms as a way of recommitting ourselves to live in hope, working to bring peace and to restore relationships with those around us. Some of us have been baptised as adults, others as children (which we often call Christening- but they are the same thing). In baptism, Christians around the world promise to turn away from evil and to turn towards what is good, and to hold Jesus as our guiding light as we do this. At this time, with so much bad news and uncertainty, we want to hold out something that is good and life-giving to our community. We warmly invite anyone who has been baptised, particularly if it was in either of our churches, to take this opportunity to refresh their baptism, and to come along with Godparents, parents and anyone else. Many of us, over the years have been asked to be godparents, and this is also a chance just to remember what we, as godparents, are part of.  Each church will, as usual, be decorated by our amazing volunteers who turn the windowsills into a riot of colour and celebration, and the services will be followed by serving of Fairtrade refreshments.

A child's baptism at Newport 2015

I’m hoping the churches will be full, with friends visiting and folk saying ‘yes, I’m in’ for the first or the 40th time. I’m hoping that for us this will be a time when we say that we are aligning ourselves with the prince of peace and the kingdom of hope, and standing against the evils of hatred and injustice.

And, wherever you are- whether you happen to be near a church called ‘St John the Baptist’ or aren’t near to a church at all, you can do the same.

 

Every vote counts, or at least it can.

Image result for vote ballot

Lovely people, I have a feeling that the next few months may get a bit political, and I don’t want to fall out with any friends. (in case you’re wondering, this is not the opening sentence to last week’s sermon).

This leaves two choices- a- don’t mention politics at all, or b- talk about politics without reservation, but remember to be informed and generous to people. So… It seems to me, from my position, that the austerity measures of our current government have not worked to reduce poverty, improve living conditions, help the elderly, fund the NHS or develop or education system. I don’t know what the gap between the top 10% and bottom 10% income in our country is like, but it doesn’t feel as though its shrinking (which is what austerity measures should result in).

 

I don’t know Corbyn, Farron or May really, and I don’t want to go through a referendum regarding the EU again. I want to live in a country that helps the needy more than it helps the rich, that does the ‘right thing’, simply because its the right thing, where our government reflects all that is good in our society rather than leaving us to fill in the holes and gaps that they choose to cut funding from. It feels as though our current government don’t feel that way- I may be wrong or misinformed, but that’s how it feels.

An example of why I feel this way would be the fact that business models with profitability etc are being imposed on schools and healthcare… its just the wrong way of measuring those things- education isn’t about profit, its about education, and it costs money… if you want to call it an investment ok, but the ‘payback’ will be in 20yrs time and it won’t come back to the school… A hospital similarly isn’t about profit, its about welfare of people and, you know… health care… if a department costs money but is needed, then its needed.

Anyway, I’m posting this because I feel that we need a change of government. In my fluffy wonderful dream world the ideal government would be left of labour and greener than green with the generous philanthropy of the best tories, but I recognise that isn’t going to happen this side of eternity. So what’s do be done? I came across an article on Huffingtonpost that is rather more strongly worded than I might choose, but links to this great spreadsheet, the point is this- if you’re unhappy with the current government and are wondering how to make your vote count in the forthcoming General Election, this is a very straightforward guide as to how to vote. You may not agree with tactical voting at all, but given the electoral system that we have it is a part of the process- our political parties are aware of it and pump funding and effort into swing seats.

Whoever ends up as our prime minister after the General Election it’ll be fascinating and they’ll be someone to watch- May as only the 2nd elected woman prime minister, Corbyn having been arrested for protesting against the government in his younger years, Farron as one of the youngest prime ministers in the last century… each of them will bring something and each will have faults, that much we can be sure of.

Miracles- are they or aren’t they?

It depends… it completely depends. Isn’t that just a politician’s or a fluffy nice vicar’s answer? It’s not meant to be… Following on from some of the things I was reflecting on last week, here’s what I said about Jesus and miracles yesterday.Oh, and I haven’t been away- my internet went belly up and today has decided to behave. Go figure.

Who was Jesus? Who is Jesus to us, now? In the midst of the miracles, the talk of the kingdom of God and the teaching we need to know the answer to this question, because everything else depends on it… whether his teaching was wise or lunacy, whether he was promoting rebellion or bringing the kingdom, whether he was a conjurer of snacks or a worker of miracles, whether he knew first aid or could give sight to the blind… what he did depends on who he was.  The answers to the questions that many people have about those things hang on the answer to the question ‘who is Jesus?’

It’s the same in lots of areas of life- if a person walks into a crowded noisy space and says ‘Be quiet please’, will everyone listen? They would if it was the head teacher, but maybe not if it was a child that said it. If I paint a picture and you tell me its really good, who you are matters- if you’re my parents, someone who’s lost their glasses, or an art critic… it depends on who you are.

How do we know who someone is, or whether they should do something?

                They might tell us

                They might wear a badge or a uniform

                They might show it by their actions

                We might guess

                We might recognise them

                It might be suddenly obvious to us

Jesus wasn’t that keen on badges… or uniforms, but we often find them helpful today- policemen, medical workers, school staff, vicars, shop or restaurant staff… they help us to know who is who in a world where we don’t actually know people that well.

Sometimes our guesses or recognition are wrong- if I described a spiky, smallish nocturnal animal that snuffles around and eats bugs… what do you think I’m talking about? But if I said it lives in Australia and lays eggs… a spiny echidna and a hedgehog are quite similar, but they are different creatures.

In the same way, Jesus was and is different from the prophets (or which Elijah and John the Baptist were the first and the most recent)… he might have looked and behaved quite like a prophet, but he was a lot more. There’s two names that we see here used to describe Jesus- one used by Peter, and one used by Jesus himself…

Christ- which means the same as Messiah- anointed or chosen one- God’s chosen ruler, the promised ruler of God’s people.

Son of Man- a name Jesus used to describe himself… he uses it when he’s talking about his own authority- representing God, when he’s talking about what will happen to him in the future (his betrayal, death and resurrection), and he uses it to refer back to passages in the Old Testament that refer to the coming of God…

When Peter (and on other occasions, different people) call Jesus the Christ, he responds by saying what the Son of Man will do- as if to say ‘you see me as God’s chosen one, but I’m even more than that’…

Jesus is- someone who heard from God and lived in close relationship with God, someone who understood God’s will and followed it, showing others what it meant to live for God, he was God’s chosen one, sent to bring freedom and justice to all, he was God’s representative on earth… all those things were understood to some extent while Jesus was alive… but then he rose again… and in that he showed himself to be truly God among us. All the other stuff makes sense in the light of that, or is ridiculous without it.

We sometimes wish that we could meet Jesus, that we could see him and touch him, that we could hear his voice and learn from him… and then sometimes i wonder what it would be like if we really could… whether it would be amazing and inspiring and wonderful, or whether we’d be so blown away that it would in fact leave us paralysed, stuck, so aware of our own massive failings that we just wish he’d go away… which would it be?

The only help we have is to look at what it was like for those who did meet Jesus- they were challenged, they realised their own shortcomings, but they (mostly) wanted to enter into the possibility, the hope of forgiveness overwhelming their awareness of sin…

And so for us, who do we say Jesus is, are we ashamed or proud to be his friends, his followers? We might not fully understand what it means to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, but do we want to follow him? Because if we do, that’s enough… we don’t have to achieve it by ourselves- if we believe in him, if we receive him, he calls us all children of God…

So let’s pray… that we might know Jesus better, and be proud to call ourselves his friends.

After this we had a time when the children prayed for the adults in the church, and then the adults prayed for the children (I won’t tell you which group was more hesitant about it all!)

Here’s one that didn’t make it into any of the Gospels..

a cry of lament in the place of celebration

Still at new wine so minimal text and no flashy stuff, and probably some typos too.

I will praise your name, for you are my God… but where are you God?  As I sang and worshipped this morning, that was the cry of my heart, and a guy a few rows away voiced my thoughts… where are you in Mosul, and Jerusalem?

And then I felt an answer. I am there,comforting those who suffer and standing against deeper spiritual conflicts that we cannot see… but where oh man are you?

And I wept, for those who suffer, and for the failure of our people to save and release them.

As the sayjng goes, allit takes for evil to flourish is for good people to be silent.

 

New wine

Just the briefest of first thoughts… an agricultural showground,  10000 people, a lot of tents, and God. And in the midst of it all, my back has been misbehaving again. However, the first teaching seminar was on stillness in a busy world, and if there’s one thing minor pain does, it makes you slow down. Slow down and see things, slow down and appreciate distance and perspective. I’m not turning into a masochist,  and I’m really glad my back is healing, but in the meantime its been teaching me a thing or two. Its just a shame I’m such a poor student.

The view from here- reflections on a week

Apparently this week has been ‘back to normal week’ for many folk, and started off with what some people call ‘Blue Monday’. Well, I hate to disagree, but its not been normal and Monday was weirdly good.

Weirdly good, because I was taking the funeral of someone I knew, who’s wife had also died just over a year ago, which should all be fairly sad, but in fact it was ok. And more than ok- we remembered him, we said goodbye to him, tears were shed, we celebrated his life, and people came together to talk and share and live. It felt like an afternoon where people were more alive than normal, maybe because we’d been more conscious of death than we so often are.

Then several other appointments and meetings that were meant to happen later in the week just didn’t- they were cancelled, one just didn’t turn up or they became unnecessary. Again, this could have been really frustrating- certainly it meant that some of the effort I’d put into preparing was wasted, but I also had the gift of that time, an unexpected bonus during my working day.

I’ve had some great conversations with people- where people have opened up about life and God and stuff, and I’ve also got some things on the go which I’m really excited about.

Has anything changed or caused this? Not that I’m conscious of. Maybe I’m at the sweet spot of busyness, sleep deprivation and emotional tiredness that comes when you combine post-Christmas aftermath, a 2 month old baby and the return to work and school. Maybe I’m managing to live in the now rather than in the future or the past (you can call it Zen, or you can call it following Jesus teachings).  I’m aware of the things I’m not doing, and I know that there’s stuff that has an urgency to it, but right now, I’m not worrying about those things, and life is good.

If this is the first ‘normal’ week of the year, long may it continue.

BTW- the picture at the top is an MC Escher print, one of my favourites from my childhood.

mutterings of a one armed typist…

ok, so slightly off-piste from what I’ve normally been writing, but there you go. also, written with no disrespect to people who mutter, are typists or only have the use of one arm.

i’m writing with one arm and minimal attention as i’m also cradling a 2 month old boy. Samuel has  decided that today he wants to hang out with daddy, and i’m trying to juggle looking after him with at least some productivity.

my conclusion? its not easy. phonecalls? interrupted. trains of thought? derailed. typing? slow and painful. prayer? distracted at best.

So? I take my hat off, salute and generally give a (one handed) round of applause to all who manage to get through not just a few hours but the years of care that raising one child entails. Its a miracle that houses don’t fall apart, that food gets bought, prepared and eaten and it completely reminds me of the utter amazingness of women. To all who question whether women have a place in leadership, i would reply with the question whether men are capable of coping with the tasks almost every mother manages.

And to prove the truth of all this, I just had to walk away from the computer for 20minutes while Samuel tried to decide whether he wanted a sleep or preferred to headbutt my shoulder continually… so much for that detailed and beautiful reflection on the beginning part of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth (often referred to as 1 Corinthians), all about the wisdom of God and the folly of human intelligence. Ah well, go read it for yourself here and let me know what you think of chapters 1 and 2.

Staying sane at children’s birthday parties and in other parts of life

today I survived my daughter’s 7th birthday party.

In fact, I more than survived, I enjoyed myself.

Now, before you panic, don’t worry- we still had the obligatory games and high pitched shouting, and those weren’t my favourite moments, but I enjoyed myself overall.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was a climbing party, and I used to be a climbing instructor. Quite possibly. Maybe to do with the fact that my daughter asked me if she could have a climbing party and we (along with Mrs baldvicar) have spent a fair while planning the whole shebang together. Possibly. Maybe something to do with the fact that there was some food that adults could and did eat. An important factor. Maybe the fact that we had some help (thank you in-laws) and were obliged to be fairly laid back (thank you 6wk old son).

Probably all these things and more played their part, but the bottom line is, I enjoyed the party, and so the clear up was ok too. And you know what? I’m thinking that is a good way to do this family thing- whatever we do, lets try to make sure we’re doing it together, and try to enjoy ourselves.

Bedtime routine for the kids, for example. If I can remember to try and enjoy it rather than just get through to the other side, maybe I’d be less stressed and grouchy? Not sure, but its worth a try.

Helping the kids to understand things that are important- you know, how to behave at meals, how to treat people, how to be a spiritually alive human… some things are more important than others, but they can all be stressful or enjoyable.

And maybe, just maybe, I could try that with other people too (not the helping them understand how to behave at meals, the other stuff). Maybe I could be more consciously encouraging people to enjoy faith- to have fun worshipping God, praying and reading the Bible. If you’re reading this- here’s a little challenge. Think of something you really enjoy doing- a pastime, something that helps you feel fully alive. Ok? Well, it should be possible to feel that alive, that happy, when you’re worshipping God or serving God (yes, I know, they should be the same thing, but in practice for most of us there’s a pretty big divide). So give it a try- if you’re inclined to pray, you could ask God to help you enjoy being in His presence… and then just go for it.

I know that live contains suffering, I know I’ll face it and have to deal with various forms of grief, but the bottom line is whether I let that define me, or will I be defined by my hope and trust in God. Will I choose to live or simply survive- enjoy the party or just wait until its time to go home?

My dream holiday destination

Ever since I was a child, i’ve dreamed of being underwater. I’m not sure, but that probably says something deep and meaningful about me… I had a book with pictures of an underwater city and i used to imagine that i lived and worked there. When I go snorkelling or swimming, I find it a really peaceful experience. And then today I saw this:

An underwater hotel!!

WOW!!!

I have no deeply significant thoughts for today. I could make all sorts of links to an appreciation of the wonders of creation, or of the mentions in the book of Psalms about the mysteries of the deep, and the great poetry of Job that speak of the Leviathan, or maybe make the connection between my love of the environment and my love of the one who created the environment, between my appreciation of the created and my relationship with the creator… and I could even mention that I’m hoping to start writing some of that stuff down on this blog in the next while…

So what’s your dream destination?

today i’ll be mostly sharing

This evening I’m giving a talk asking the question ‘how can we have faith?’. It’ll be mostly derived from the work of a British writer and minister names Nicky Gumbel and it forms part of the Alpha Course. The Alpha Course has been used worldwide to help people discuss that kind of question, and the idea is that when a local church uses the course, the talks remain largely the same. I sometimes find it hard to just use another person’s words and ideas, but they’re good ones, so i can cope…

I’ve also just come across, thanks to a good friend who pays attention to these things, a great video that the Archbishop of Canterbury has just posted on youtube (yup, thats just how he rolls, and if you want to follow him on Twitter, he’s there too…). The video is about baptism and the beginnings of faith, and is really worth watching. You can find it here.

That’ll do for today… maybe tomorrow my significant thought will be my own. Or maybe I’ll be sharing again..