Political · faith · World Affairs · Poetry · music · community · Following Jesus · Creativity, · Truth

Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers,

So – we’ve had a series on church on the different aspects of service that people might be called to. See above.

I was with a group yesterday and we were talking about what an evangelist is. Essentially someone who shares their faith with others. But what struck me as we were talking was the importance of listening to each of these ways of serving.

Apostles are the people who are out in front of a new venture. I was talking to Emma and her husband Andy on Sunday – Emma runs something called the Long Table in Matson (Gloucester), and they were telling me that they spent a long time listening to the community in Matson before setting up the Long Table project.

Prophets are the ones who speak truth to power. Often but not exclusively people involved in the arts – musicians, poets, artists and so on. They are listening carefully to be attuned to what’s going on around them in the world. Movements in the political and cultural sphere; aspects of church that are in danger of, or already have gone off track.

Evangelists sometimes get it wrong by just speaking louder ! To share faith with another human being requires respect and careful listening. Talking with, not talking at.

Pastors are those who have a deep concern for the well being of others. What they offer needs to be connected to the need of the other, not the need of the one offering support. Listening is crucial.

Teachers also sometimes get it wrong – maybe they pitch what they’re trying to communicate at the wrong level, or are just out of sync with those who are learning. Perhaps we should think of this as creating a space for learning. Again, listening to the ones who are learning will help to get this right.

This all might seem glaringly obvious, but it struck me how central listening is to any kind of activity within a community, be that a family, a business, a church, or whatever …

The other thing that I’ve noticed as we’ve been working through this at church is that although some people have a particular ‘gift’ for working in a specific area, all of these ways of serving are open to any of us. So ….

Get your creative juices going and try something new
Try to be informed about what’s going on in the world – but it can be tricky to know who’s truth telling …
Think about your passions and who might be interested in sharing that passion
Think about the people in your networks, and how you can be a caring presence
We all have wisdom, knowledge and experience to share with others … how’s that going ?

But don’t burn out ! Maybe at some point you’ll notice an area where you shine, and you can give the major part of your energy to that.

Grace and peace.

faith · Political · World Affairs

Three Russians On A Bus

We’re on holiday. We hardly ever go to the same place more than once, but this is our third stay at Hotel Viewpoint in Patara on the Turquoise coast in Southern Turkey.

So yesterday we went to Kas, a town about an hour away, on one of the small buses (Dolmus) that you find all over Turkey. On the way back we got into conversation with three young Russians.

They were sitting just behind us and after a few minutes listening to them speaking to each other in Russian, I turned round and we began chatting to them.

How do you see this ending – all that’s happening in Ukraine ? I asked. They had no answer. It’s impossible to say

They told us some of their story. For fear of being drafted into the armed forces, along with many others, especially young people, They left Russia in June, leaving their families behind. They are now living in Kas. They were taking a trip to Patara, where we are staying, to see the spectacular sunset from the top of the sand dunes that look over the 18km long Patara beach.

They were all in their mid twenties, and had left Russia concerned about the direction the war was taking. They talked about before the war, back in the Autumn of last year, when they were hearing rumours of Putin’s plan. They couldn’t believe that he would carry out the threat of ‘The Special Operation.’

I asked if they had managed to get jobs since their move to Turkey? They are able to work remotely, but are working for a Russian company so weren’t sure how long that would last.

They were totally against the war and were concerned about how we in the West viewed Russians. People are not allowed to express their opposition, even by calling what’s going on ‘a war .’ Harsh prison sentences are promised for those who step out of line. Their hopes that Russia would be a democratic country have disappeared, at least for the time being, as they live under this dictatorship.

Did we in the UK have the impression that most Russians were in favour of the war ? They were sure that there was a rising tide of anti- war opinion in Russia, especially among younger people. But will that change anything? The people now leaving Russia are the ones Russia needs, but for many, leaving seems the only option.

Years ago, in a previous life, when I was a teacher, our year 8, (12 year old) students had the opportunity to take Russian as a second modern foreign language. There was a good uptake, maybe partly because there was an exchange programme each year that gave students the chance to experience something of life in Russia. They invariably returned with generous gifts from their hosts, and stories of Russian warmth and hospitality.

This is the real Russia, it seems to me, not the crazed land hungry President Putin and his cabal.

I explained to our new friends that we are Christians, and are dismayed by the way that the Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church is such a supporter of Putin. This seems to go against all that we hold dear about our faith. They weren’t surprised, however and explained that the Russian Orthodox Church as just another expression of the State. “It’s political”, they said.

The conversation really made an impact on us, and we told them that we will be praying for them and will share their story.

Grace and Peace to the peoples of Ukraine and Russia.

God · Jesus · The Holy Spirit

A Walk In The Park

The walk

Last Saturday, 10th September 2022, I went on my usual morning walk in the park, which is just five minutes from our house. There was to have been an event in the park today supporting the local Pride celebrations. Like many other things this weekend, it’s been postponed because of the death of the Queen.

There would have been a lot going on here today with presumably the weekly Park Run as well as all the other events.

Even so, the park was bustling with activity, and as I took my walk, I began to be aware of diversity. I noticed first of all the variety of the park itself with all the different species of trees. I also noticed the the different people that I encountered. For example I’d never been aware of the Sikh community in the city before, but I saw two Sikh men walking and conversing together. I also saw two people who looked to have come prepared for the Pride events, one with rainbow hat and skirt, and the other with a rainbow scarf.

In amongst all of that, there were people using the outdoor exercise equipment; there were runners, although I guess the Parkrun had also been cancelled; there was a group of young men exercising as part of the Military Academy MPCT, that among other things prepares people for the Armed Forces; there were a few dog walkers, and another group doing some kind of exercise; the children’s play park is well used ; this part of the city is very multi cultural and multi faith, and that diversity was also apparent all around me.

Serendipity ?

Here’s the thing – I had just completed my daily prayer podcast, and had begun to listen to an interview with Rowan Williams, who was Archbishop of Canterbury until 2012.

And as I was seeing all this diversity before me, Roman Williams was talking about exactly the same thing, The diversity of human life, and that whoever you are, you can take pride in who you are and what you are.

He went on to talk about a Russian Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky: “in the church, the action of Jesus Christ is to restore everybody’s possibilities, but it takes the Holy Spirit to make those possibilities actual in countless unrepeatable ways, so that the Holy Spirit’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s person you might say, is going to be the whole total of diverse human responses.”

Lossky again – we know that the face of the Eternal Word of God is Jesus Christ, but the face of the Holy Spirit to us is the infinite variety of human lives that have been turned around and transfigured by the Spirit.

As I sometimes find, it is the surprising conjunction of two seemingly unconnected things that struck me. The postponed Pride event, and Rowan Williams talking about pride – not the pride that is about flourishing at someone else’s expense, but about a loving acceptance of the person you are.

Grace and peace

faith · music · Poetry · World Affairs

People Sitting Around For Safety

I read this today in the most recent issue of ‘Mojo’ magazine.

It comes from an interview with musician and producer T Bone Burnett, where he speaks of an aspect of the role of artists. It is something to do with looking at our world through a particular set of lenses and reflecting that back – a role that is often challenging and sometimes not well received.

“Artists have to be careful – and I say this as a Christian who loves all mankind (laughs). We have to be careful of letting the audience determine what we do. Society is a campfire that people sit around for safety and warmth. They gather, and they stay there. Artists are the ones who hear the scary noise in the darkness, go out and find out what it is. If artists just sit around the campfire with everybody else, you just have a bunch of campfire music.”

I would say that the same is true of others, including many of those who take faith seriously. Our poets, pastors, preachers and prophets are called to do the same. To be a channel for words of challenge as well as words of comfort.

Bible · Following Jesus

New Wine In Old Wineskins ?

So today I wanted to try out an app I hadn’t come across before – Pray As You Go. I have been using Lection 365 for a while and wanted to see what else is out there. Pray As You Go seems to be Ignatian in style, inviting you to imagine being in the situation … today it was the Pharisees and their scribes criticising Jesus’ disciples for their eating and drinking. Before we think about the passage, just a thought about the app.

The way the app worked was very simple …
A song to listen to at the start; then the bible passage, and the invitation to imagine how you would feel if you were there, and heard what the Pharisees and their scribes said.

I felt cross with them for their attitude, but also wondered if I might agree with them ?

Then there was a short thought on the passage before another reading of the verses.

There was an invitation to imagine Jesus with you and what you might say to him.

Here’s the passage

33 Then thePharisees and their scribes said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ 34 Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding-guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’ 36 He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.”’
Luke 5:33-39

My reflection on the passage

I was struck by the last verse … No one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.”

So what should we desire if the old wine is good ? The old wine or the new wine ?

A reasonably short rabbit hole

I thought I would look at some commentaries … You may have heard this passage preached on and heard the interpretation as follows.

The old wine is the Law, legalism, Old Covenant etc. The new wine is Jesus, grace, the Church … That is creating a clear break between Jesus and what went before.
The view that – The New Covenant Gospel of the Church Kingdom would be wasted if it was poured into the Old Covenant, Mosaic, legalistic religion of Judaism.

However, that doesn’t fit at all with verse 39 !

I fairly quickly came across this article, from Beth Immanuel Messianic Synagogue, which looked at the passage in a way I had not thought of before. Please check out the longer article there, which I will try and summarise now.

To understand this passage we need to look at it in the context of what is going on at this point in the Gospel. Jesus has just called the fishermen, and then Levi the tax collector, to follow him. Then in chapter 6, he will choose 12 apostles.

So we need to understand the incident in 5:33-39 in that light.

When the Pharisees and their scribes are critical of Jesus’ followers, they are not being critical of Jesus’ behaviour, only in his choice of followers.
In a sense, they are asking Jesus ‘Why did you pick this bunch of no-hopers, degenerates and collaborators?’

And what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees and their scribes is along the lines of:
‘If I had l called you to follow me, you wouldn’t have understood it. You are so steeped in the details of your Judaism that you would have resisted what I’m saying. The ones I have called aren’t like you. They are surely God fearing people, and many of them know the scriptures, but they’re not like you, they are open to what I’m teaching. They get it.’

It’s like this – You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

You’re not able to hear what I’m saying because you love your traditions and your fixed way of doing things. The ones I’m calling are hungry to know God and to see God’s kingdom come, as I know many of you (Pharisees and scribes) are … but they are responding to my way of doing things and you just can’t see it … maybe one day you will.

I think we have to see these verses in the context of Jesus calling the disciples and why he chooses the ones he does. In chapter 6, when he chooses the apostles, it seems like that selection period is over and he has decided on the 12 who will take the message forward.

Old Wineskins – Those who can’t hear Jesus’ message.
Old Wine – Their ways of doing things

New Wine – Jesus’ teaching
New wineskins – Jesus’ disciples

let me know what you think …

Grace and Peace



faith

Learning Wisdom From The Street

I came across Street Wisdom a few years ago.

We read about it online and decided to have a go. This was in a church context one Sunday morning in the school holidays, when we tended to try something different each week.

Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to find out more about it, hopefully experience it again, and maybe gather a group to try it.

So a few weeks ago, I went on the Street Wisdom website and signed up to hear about forthcoming events. Then, a couple of weeks later, I had an email about two events. An in person event that was unfortunately too far away to consider, and an online event.

So I signed up for the online event on Zoom. There was just one other participant, and the facilitator, (who decided to take part as well as leading). I’ll describe what happened in a bit, but first, it may be helpful to give you an idea of what a Street Wisdom event is.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but basically the Street Wisdom website describes it as “an everyday creative practice you use as you walk. A smart fusion of mindfulness, neuroscience and wellness, it unlocks our minds and unblocks our creativity with every step.”

So how does it work ?

Gather a group together – online or in person. In 3 approximately one hour sessions the group will
Prepare – Get tuned in
Experience – Walk the streets with a question in mind
Reflect – Come back and share the experience.

Stage 1: Prepare – Get tuned in
After some introduction, the group spend the first chunk of time tuning in. There are three questions to help us do this. Participants are invited to do the first short walk (about 10 minutes), and then come back and share.

First question: What am I drawn to ? What am I noticing ?

Second question: Slow down. Walk more slowly; be more aware of your breathing etc.

Third question: Find/Look for the Beauty in everything.. Once more, come back to the gathering point and take time to share if people want to.

Then think about a question that you want to ask the street.
It could be a big question – like considering a job change or a house move – something that isn’t resolved.
Or it could be something like ‘How can I make more time for relaxation ?’

Stage 2: Experience – Walk the streets with a question in mind
Then you have around 45 minutes to take a walk and ask your question, and see what answers or guidance you find as you walk the street.

Stage 3: Reflect – Come back and share the experience.
The final part gives the group an opportunity to share, if they wish to, anything that they have learned … about themselves maybe, or the situation/question they had in their mind.

So at this point I’ll share how it worked for me.

Tuning in
I had been drawn to the colour of summer flowers in the front gardens of the street where I live, and then the shape of the leaves. I looked at the solid edges of the brick walls and the hard tarmac of the street.

I slowed down … and tried concentrating on my breathing.

I went out of the back door and looked at the patch of grass in our back garden. It was covered in weeds and clover. I tried to see something beautiful but struggled. I really want a nice green lawn! I focused on what this brown, weed infested patch might become in time.

Walking the street
Before I went out for the walk, the facilitator asked us if we had a question ready. I was unsure. Maybe a question about community ?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the strength or otherwise of communities, and noting some of the things that have happened during the pandemic that have had an effect on the strength of community.
Forced isolation has made things harder for many which has sometimes resulted in finding ways to overcome this. For example, experimenting with things like Whatsapp groups to keep in touch and support the more vulnerable.

I had the beginnings of a question – ‘What could I do to strengthen community where I live ?’ He suggested I start with ‘what one thing …’ to give some focus to my question.

I refined the question to ask ‘What one thing could I do to help me work out how to connect more with my community ?’

So – off I went with this question. As I walked, I bumped into a couple of neighbours and chatted. We had spoken a bit at our recent street party. They live about 100 yards down on the other side of our street.
I walked on, and pondered my question.

As I walked, I realised that my encounter with my neighbours had helped me with my question. The street had spoken to me! What comes before connecting ? Listening. I need to focus on listening and understanding.

So, I didn’t get an answer to the question, but I did refine the question, reframing it a stage back from the original question.
’What one thing could I do to help me find a way to listen to and understand my community better ?’

Sharing the experience.
So after the walk, we reconvened on Zoom and shared what we had learned. I offered my insight about listening to my community, which another person found helpful in relation to their own question. We talked for a while, encouraging one another to continue the journey of seeking answers to our questions.

Since then
As I think back to the experience of Street Wisdom, part of the answer to my question is simply to be out and about more. I have a spiritual practice of starting each day with some prayer. I have typically done this at home inside or in the garden. I started experimenting with doing my prayer on a walk.

For three weeks I’ve been doing this, combining some listening to a daily podcast – Lectio 365 – with walking quietly and meditating on what I have listened to, and becoming more aware of what’s around me.

It’s a work in progress, like everything – I hope to write more about how this way of praying develops, as well as saying more about community.

Grace and peace.

Activism · Climate Change · Ecology · faith · God · Political

Daring, Imaginative, Faithful And Challenging

Continuing thoughts on the prophet Jeremiah.

In chapter 43, Jeremiah has arrived in Egypt – against his wishes.

He had, over a long period, distanced himself from the ruling elite in Jerusalem and preached a message of God’s judgment against Israel. He had urged the leaders to stay in Jerusalem; God would have a future for them if they listened and stayed.

They had not followed God’s word as proclaimed by Jeremiah, but had insisted on going their own way – to Egypt where they believed they would be safe.

Once in Egypt, Jeremiah engages in a symbolic act that continues the message that God’s future for Israel lies not in Egypt but with Babylon.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 Take some large stones in your hands, and bury them in the clay pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10 and say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to send and take my servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he will set his throne above these stones that I have buried, and he will spread his royal canopy over them.

In this act, Jeremiah not only subverts Egyptian power, but affirms the superiority and God appointed influence of Babylon in Egypt. The large stones that he buries are the foundation for Nebuchadrezar’s throne.

This symbolic act is: daring – a public act; imaginative – seeing the power of the symbol; faithful – to what God has been saying; challenging – both to Egypt and to Israel.

What symbolic acts of resistance have we seen, or might we engage in, that would subvert, for example the power of oil and gas companies, or militarism, or the gun lobby in the USA ?

And behind all of the above there is something to do with that part of our human nature that is driven by fear of the other, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement and privilege.

Song for Today

I Almost Cut My Hair

This morning, I cut my hair and tidied up my beard.

The words of a song came into my head, so I went to my wife and said:

I almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

She said … they’re great words – you should turn them into a song.

I broke it to her … sadly they’re not my words. They’re David Crosby’s from his song “Almost Cut My Hair” on the CSNY album ‘Deja Vu’

I almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

Must be because I had the flu for Christmas
And I’m not feelin’ up to par
It increases my paranoia
Like lookin’ at my mirror and seein’ a police car
But I’m not givin’ in an inch to fear
Cause I promised myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone

When I finally get myself together
I’m gonna get down in that sunny southern weather
And I find a place inside to laugh
Separate the wheat from the chaff
I feel like I owe it to someone

I wish I had written it, or even arranged it – the guitar work by Stephen Stills and Neil Young is exquisite.

Bible · faith

We Step Outside The Text

My brain hurts!
I’m reading in Jeremiah … a short passage today (Jeremiah 43:1-7), raises some interesting and challenging questions.

Let me first summarise what’s happening and then think about the intent of those who wrote the text. I guess this is all about how we view scripture and how it comes to us.

Basically this is what’s happened: The forces of Babylon have finally overcome Israel and taken off most of the people into captivity in Babylon. However, there is a remnant who are still left and they are trying to decide whether to give in to The Babylonians or run to Egypt for help.

The prophet Jeremiah has been warning Israel that God’s way, and their only hope, was to surrender to Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. (The defeat of Israel is God’s judgment for neglecting God’s commands to care for the weakest – the widow, the orphan and the stranger).

Two of the leaders of the remnant group, Azariah and Johanan, ask Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance.

Jeremiah’s answer is that God’s word is still the same. Stay in Jerusalem. If they truly want to learn to listen to God’s way, this is what they must do. But this is not what Johanan and Azariah wanted to hear.

Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the other insolent men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, “Do not go to Egypt to settle there”’ ….

(In reality, they had probably already decided that they were going to lead the people to Egypt, whatever Jeremiah said, in the belief that they would be safe there).

The outcome of all this is that they ignore Jeremiah’s warning that going to Egypt will end in disaster. They decide to go to Egypt and take Jeremiah with them – possibly of his own free will, or maybe as a captive as he was against the plan – it’s not clear

Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah … everyone …. the men, the women, the children and the princesses, and came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord.

Now … let’s step outside the text for a minute. The authors of Jeremiah are among those deported to exile in Babylon. It is during the years in exile that much of the Old Testament is written. They write from the point of view that the exile is indeed God’s judgment, and that they must use the years in exile to reflect on past failures and seek to be more faithful to God’s word.

So, as we think about the intent of the authors, it’s reasonable to suppose that they want to claim that they are the true remnant of Israel and not the group that ended up in Egypt. Their position is that they are the community that God has chosen to take forward.

So now … I’m thinking about the process that brought the text to us … a process that would have included some editing and in the end a decision that this was indeed God’s word to Israel.

Those who considered the book of Jeremiah as having authority, and included it in the Hebrew Scriptures have a particular point of view. That is … it is the voice of Jeremiah that needs to be heard.

We know that all reporting of an event is told from a point of view. There is no such thing as a totally impartial observer. In the same way, the text of Jeremiah witnesses to the conflict between Jeremiah and the Royal house of Israel, but it is not a neutral voice.

The account is presented as both political reporting and theological fidelity. No doubt there are times when political reporting is not faithful to God’s word. I would take the view that Christians who are determined to support the gun lobby, or the interests of oil and gas companies are not being faithful to the teaching of scripture.

The book of Jeremiah is presenting a political point of view and claiming that they are being faithful theologically. The authors are not neutral voices. They take up a particular standpoint. In this chapter it is that those who go to seek refuge in Egypt are being disobedient to God’s voice.

As we read it, we have a choice about what view we take. Do we trust the process that has resulted in the book as we have it ? Do we side with Jeremiah or Johanan and Azariah in this account ?

Perhaps the most important thing we can say is that the values Jeremiah holds are ones that we too want to follow. The word that comes up very often is ‘listen.’ The Hebrew word doesn’t just mean hear with your ears, it means pay attention and act accordingly. Listening is active and leads to being obedient to God’s word.

We might think that hearing God’s voice is tricky … In situations where we need guidance that might be true, but as far as understanding how we are to live, we have quite enough to go on. Perhaps the key is to make sure that we develop practices that lead to all being treated fairly and with compassion.

Activism · Political · suffering · World Affairs

Today It Is Nakba Day

I just read a post from Huw Thomas.

It reminded me that today is Nakba Day. The day when Palestinians remember the forced removal in 1948 of their families from their ancestral homes.
This is not just a past event, but an ongoing horror story where Palestinians are routinely abused and refused;
victimized and minimized;
oppressed and dispossessed.

I wear a bracelet most days that says – Save Gaza / Free Palestine.
It’s a reminder to me not to forget the Palestinian people and their struggle to be treated a citizens with equal rights.

Huw Thomas in his blog points us towards a couple of organisations that have helped him in his thinking about this issue.

There are a couple of organisations that have shaped my thinking on this…

B’tselem

or Peace Now

and Occupied Thoughts is a brilliant Podcast

Amos Trust – worth all the support you can give…
(I echo that thought)

We try to live with hope and send all our prayers to those engaged in the struggle for peace with justice.