faith · Following Jesus

Wondering Where The Lions Are ?

So this week, we started the ‘Being With’ course at Church. I came across this on a conference on Zoom during lockdown. The course has been developed by Sam Wells, vicar at St Martin-In-The-Fields in London along with his associate vicar, Sally Hitchiner.

When I heard Sam Wells talk about the course, I knew immediately that this was huge. It’s a way of introducing people to Christianity that recognises and affirms the truth that God is always at work in our lives, and that we all bring precious experiences that can help us as we together, discover the joy of being with God.

I have wanted to offer this course for so long, and finally on Wednesday this week, we kicked off with the first session.

I’m going to give you a feel for what we did.

After a welcome, we went straight in and invited the group to respond to some ‘wondering.’
I wonder if you have ever known what it feels like to be set free ?
I wonder if you have ever known what it feels like to be in prison ?
I wonder how it would feel to know that there’s something in the past that you don’t need to worry about anymore ?
I wonder what it would feel like to know that the future cannot hurt you ?

The invitation is to share from our own experience stories that might be very everyday and mundane, or might be profound.

E.g. I remember as a child that my brother locked me in my room, but my mum came and told him off, and said that he must let me out.

We cannot live freely in the present when our lives are dominated by the twin prisons of fear of the past, and fear of the future.
The past may be blighted by things have been done to us that have hurt us, or ways in which we have hurt others.
The future is a cloud of unknowing, with fears about our own mortality, sickness, bereavement and all the other pains that we as humans are subject to. We can end up paralysed, imprisoned by our fears.

This session is about dealing with those twin ‘lions’ so that we can live in the present. Two central planks of Christianity are knowing forgiveness for things in the past, and receiving the gift of everlasting life so that we can live without fear of the future.

This is not, by the way, a quick fix. My guess is that we spend our whole lives growing in both of these aspects of faith.

But in the end, having these two – the faith that forgiveness can set us free, and the hope of everlasting life – we can be set free to live in God’s love in the here and now.

I was out on my walk today and wanted to end by listening to a song. I was browsing my collection of Bruce Cockburn’s music and came across ‘Wondering Where The Lions Are,’ with these lines:

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
But i’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

It seemed like a pretty good way to sum up what we had been thinking about in the group this week, and indentifying and dealing with these two ‘lions.’

So here’s the song, and lyrics.

And a link to ‘Being With.’

Wondering Where The Lions Are

Sun’s up, uuh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And i’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
But i’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

Walls windows trees, waves coming through
You be in me and i’ll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And i’m wondering where the lions are…
I’m wondering where the lions are…

Huge orange flying boat rises off a lake,
Thousand-year-old petroglyphs doing a double take,
Pointing a finger at eternity
I’m sitting in the middle of this ecstasy

Young men marching, helmets shining in the sun,
Polished as precise like the brain behind the gun
(Should be!) they got me thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And i’m wondering where the lions are…
I’m wondering where the lions are…

Freighters on the nod on the surface of the bay
One of these days we’re going to sail away,
Going to sail into eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And i’m wondering where the lions are…
I’m wondering where the lions are…

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

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.

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

Bible · Following Jesus

Zacchaeus – A Very Little Man

I’m reading from the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. The story of Zacchaeus.

1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

When I was a child, we used to sing this little chorus:
Zacchaeus was a very little man,
and a very little man was he.
He climbed up into a sycamore tree,
for the Saviour he wanted to see.
And when the Saviour passed that way,
he looked up in the tree,
[Spoken] and said, ‘Now Zacchaeus, you come down,
for I’m coming to your house for tea.’

I’m coming to your house for tea.’

Zacchaeus worked for the occupying power – Rome. He was a Jew who taxed his fellow Jews on behalf of Rome. It was a system ripe for corruption, and Zachaeus had got rich on the proceeds. Zacchaeus represents the powers. Power that keeps people in poverty, as they are unfairly treated by the taxation system. The poor have had what was righfully theirs taken away from them in a system that has extorted an unfair burden of taxation.

In this situation, the Gospel – which means ‘Good news,’ – has an immediate economic outcome for the good of the poor that have been exploited by Zacchaeus. He turns the system that has built in economic inequality on its head as he promises to pay back those he has cheated.

Jesus’ comment is that not only has salvation come to the house of Zacchaeus, but that Zacchaeus must be considered once more as a true ‘Son of Abraham.’ In defrauding his fellow Jews, he had ‘forgotten who he was and given up his true identity for the sake of gain.’ * The transformation that resulted from his encounter with Jesus has not only benefitted the poor whom he had exploited, but has also given him back his true indentity.

As I read this passage today, it took me back to singing that chorus in my childhood, and a realisation that the heart of the story is missing from the chorus! Once again, we see that overturning injustice is at the heart of the Gospel.

When we become embroiled in systems that are intrinsically unjust, do we also lose some of our true self, and accept an identity that is less than our calling as children of God ? May we discover more of our true selves as those in the company of Jesus.

* Walter Brueggemann in ‘Gift and Task’ page 375.

faith · Following Jesus

Go In Peace And Love

We had my sister come to stay last week for a couple of days, and as we often do, we walked into the centre of Gloucester and spent some time in the cathedral.

There are some large blocks of stone as you enter the cathedral grounds, each with a different message. There are some with messages of welcome, facing you as you arrive …

and others that you see when you’re leaving. We see different things each time we go to the cathedral, and this time my wife noticed the message on one of these large blocks of stone ‘GO IN PEACE AND LOVE.’

First thing – it’s five words.
Second thing – hang on, what does that mean exactly.

Is the word ‘love’ here meant as a noun or a verb. I’m not sure ?

I’m going to take it a a verb.

Go in peace and love.

Bible · Church · faith · Following Jesus

Eating With Knives And Forks

So, I was in church this morning, and we had three readings … extracts below:

From the final words of the letter to the church in Ephesus, encouraging the community of believers to stand firm in their faith:
For our struggle is …. against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

From John’s Gospel, chapter 6, words of Jesus
It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

And from the book of Joshua chapter 24, Joshua addressing the Israelite nation:
Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The thing that really struck me today was the way that God works through everyday living.

I was once in a class where we were asked this question by a visiting professor:
“What is the opposite of spiritual”

As we sat around waiting for one of us to be brave enough to respond, I think we were all asking ourselves – ‘Is this a trick question?’
Eventually someone piped up – ‘maybe the opposite of spiritual is physical ?’
The professor smiled, because someone had fallen into the trap he had laid.
No, no, no! He cried.
We waited. The rest of us who had been too cowardly to answer, feeling bad for the one who had stuck his head above the parapet, so to speak.

He looked at us intently. Clearly this was an important lesson that we needed to learn.
“The opposite of spiritual is unspiritual.”

Oh. Well yes, that seems logical. But what’s your point, we wondered.

Here I quote Eugene Peterson to explain the point that the professor made. “When we talk about something being spiritual, we are talking about something that God is doing.”

The mistake is to think of ‘spiritual things’ as things going on in the ether. Airy fairy. Things that don’t have any connection with life, but are more in the realm of ‘ideas about God.’

But if we take Eugene Peterson’s definition, then we’re talking about events, experiences and actions that are very much to do with real life.

In Christian Spirituality, there is an undestanding that the words and works of God are made apparent through the material stuff of our lives. In 21st century life, it’s sometimes hard to see this, since so much of our lives are lived in a bubble that removes us from the earthiness of life. We used to eat with our fingers, but now most of us use a knife and fork. There’s something about a connection with the basic essential of life – food that we have lost. I remember being invited to an Ethiopian friend for a meal, and being given no knife and fork, but quantities of ‘Injera’ – a soft sourdough type bread, slightly spongey, to gather up the food on my plate.

In his book ‘Run with the Horses.,’ Eugene Peterson describes that ‘earthy spirituality’ in this way:
“Biblical faith everywhere and always warns against siren voices that lead people away from specific and everyday engagements with weather and politics. Dogs and neighbors, shopping lists and job assignments. No true spiritual life can be distilled from or abstracted out of this world of chemicals and molecules, paying your bills and taking out the garbage. With the current interest in spirituality, we must be on guard not to revert to an other-worldly piety.”

To get back to the passages at the top of this post.
When Paul writes about contending with spiritual forces, we might picture among those forces the drive to make us want to produce more and more to satisfy our desire for aquisition and consumption. These forces are very real, and make themselves known in work places and board rooms. In lecture halls and classrooms. In shops and on T.V. and social media. In fact anywhere and everwhere you look.

When Jesus talks about the flesh being useless, he is talking about that side of our ‘fleshly’ human nature that is all about trying to be our own gods and goddesses – a seductive temptation that in the end leads nowhere.
He contrasts that kind of flesh with his own flesh – his physical body that he will give ‘for the life of the world.’

And in the third passage quoted, Joshua is challenging the people – not so much on what they believe, but how they will live. Again, moving the realm of the spiritual from ideas and beliefs to the lived life.

We had a wonderful example of that in our service this morning. Heather, our curate, was to be taking a baptism service after our morning communion service. She explained that at the moment of baptism, the minister pours the water of baptism using a scallop shell, which has long been a sign of baptism and the Christian journey. In recent months, as well as giving a baptism candle and a bible, we now give the baptised the shell that was used in their baptism.

What a powerful lesson to take away from this! Baptism is the beginning of a journey of faith, in which we are daily looking to see what God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us – activity which is very real, whether it is made known in work places or board rooms. In lecture halls or classrooms. In shops or on T.V. and social media. In fact anywhere and everwhere you look. And in the life of the church – it is the everyday that speaks of God’s activity: water in baptism, bread and wine that we share around the table of reconciliation, and in the very beauty of creation all around us – all of life can speak to us of what God has done and is doing.

Grace and Peace.

Bible · community · Following Jesus

Then Moses Climbed Mount Nebo

We were round at some friends yesterday evening catching up not having seem them for a while. They were telling us about their recent short trip in South Wales. One day they went to the top of Pen-Y-Fan, hoping to enjoy the spectacular view from the top. The weather was clear when they started out, but by the time they had reached the top, it was covered in cloud !

They told us about their trip around Europe some years ago – that as they arrived at each new area, town, city, etc, they would look for a high place to be able to see the landscape around them, and to get a feel for where they were in that landscape. It might be a hill, or a tower, and anything that gave them some kind of overview. Maybe they’ll get to go back to Pen-Y-Fan one day and take in that glorious view.

There’s a hill near where we live called Robinswood Hill which rises to just under 200m metres. From the top, you can see all around – the city of Gloucester below us; the Malvern Hills to the North West; the Severn Valley to the South; Cheltenham and the Cotswolds to the East. It’s a wonderful spot.

Although we were thinking about literal high places, I wondered about another question to do with our neighbourhood, which is just under a mile from Gloucester City centre – If we imagined ourselves high above the streets where we live, what would we see, and how do we understand our place within it ?

In my reading just this morning, I read this passage from the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a part that describes the end of the life of Moses. Just before he dies, he is given the chance to look down from a high place (Mount Nebo), over the land that God has promised to Israel.

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
Deuteronomy Chapter 34.

It’s one of those coincidences that seem to happen from time to time – when you’ve been thinking about something, and then it pops up soon afterwards from a completely different place. It seems like God is telling you to keep thinking and asking what this is all about. I’m pondering what this might mean for us …

In the early church, one of the ways that leadership was described was to do with being able to see the ‘Big Picture.’ The Greek word is Episcope.
It’s not a word we’re particularly familiar with, but we do know other related words – microscope, telescope, periscope … all intruments designed to see something – something small, something far away, something above you …

If there were such an instrument as an episcope, it would be something that would help you to see the lie of the land around you. An overview. An important aspect of leadership is to be able to so this. It might mean that you’re less likely to get caught up in distractions. You have an idea of what the task is. You have a grasp of what’s needed.

Strangely, it’s about getting a broad view, but one that helps you stay focussed.

Part of the call to follow Jesus involves ‘getting to a high place’ to see the lie of the land. The essential tool for this work is listening. Listening to others tell their stories. Finding out what is important to our friends and neighbours. Learning how to serve those around us.

One of the other passages I read this morning was from St Paul’s letter to the church in Rome – these words seem ver relevant to the call to ‘Know Jesus, and to Make Jesus Known.’
How can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? Romans Chaprter 10.


Activism · Bible · Church · faith · Following Jesus · Political

The River Runs Down Hill

Water is a prominent theme in both the First Testament, and the Second. I was listening earlier this week to a talk by Ched Myers, speaking about both the ecological and the theological significance of water.
Listen here. Roll Like A River

There’s a lot to digest there, but I’ll just refer to sonmething he said at the end. He’s made the point earlier that in his context in Southern California, the river Ventura that once flowed all year round is now seasonal. This is largely because the water is taken off by residential needs and industry futher up stream.
That has all sorts of ecological consequences to the environment, as well as affecting those who live down stream.

The situation is not unlike the Jordan Valley, where many people, (Palestinians in particular) have to contend with water shortages, as well as the land itself being impoverished.

Already, we are seeing water as a commodity being fought over, and who wins ? The rich. We are familiar with wars over other resources like oil, but we are now realising that the main building block of life – water – is getting scarcer in many areas, and a cause of conflict.

In Southern California and the Jordan Valley, it is the environment and the people downstream that are affected.

Ched Myers draws a parallel between the ecological and economic issues here, and the way that water is spoken of in scripture.

There are many passages that speak of the life giving properties of water – coupled with water as an image of our spiritual lives. In Psalm 1 water is a symbol of God’s way of living.

Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1 verses 1-3)

In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say these words:
Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John Chapter 4 verse 14

It’s clear that water is not only essential for our very material lives, but is also a kind of code for what we might call abundant life, where there are no winners and losers, but where everyone has their needs fully met.

The Prophet Amos says this:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,  I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos Chapter 5 verses 21-24

Water flows down hill … but by the time it reaches the communities where Ched Myers lives, or the Palestinian People in the Jordan Valley, there is not enough left for everyone.

In my last-but-one post, I said that the Christian life is about ‘Gift and Task.’ This post is definitely about ‘Task’. The task of every one of us to seek justice for those who are furthest away from the source of blessing. Those who are on the margins where the resources do not reach, as well as the land that is impoverished by lack of water.

Grace and Peace.

Church · community · Following Jesus · music · Song for Today

Song For Today #25

We had a reading in Church today from the first letter of John that included these words …
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome ….
1 John Chapter 5 verse 2

And the Gospel reading was from John’s Gospel and included these words of Jesus:
This is my commandment, that you love (and unselfishly seek the best for) one another, just as I have loved you.
John Chapter 15 verse 12 (Amplified Bible)

Mike, the preacher today, introduced the Gospel reading by showing us that the first section of John 15 (that we had last week), is about the believer’s relationship to God, the second section today is about the believer’s relationship to others in the faith community, and the third section will be about the believer’s relationship to the world.

The phrase in the reading from John’s letter tells us that what God requires of us as we relate to one another is not burdensome. Straightaway my mind locked on to the word burden. Caring for one another in the community of faith is not a burden, because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a pretty straight line from there to the song for today:
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

The road is long, with many a winding turn
That lead us to (who knows) where, who knows where?
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him – yeah
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother

So on we go, his welfare is my concern
no burden is he to bear, we’ll get there
For I know he would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother

If I’m leaving at all, if I’m leaving with sadness
that everyone’s heart isn’t filled with the gladness
of love for one another.

It’s a long, long road, from which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there, why not share?
And the load doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother

Words and Music: Bobby Scott and Bob Russell.
Recorded by the Hollies in 1969. A classic!

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Grace and Peace

Activism · Bible · faith · Following Jesus · Jesus · Political · World Affairs

In My Dream I Saw

I don’t remember my dreams very often, but I still have some snippets from a dream I had last night.
In my dream I saw a statue, standing up with something like a rod in its hand. The statue was a bit more than life size, maybe about 8 feet tall, and the rod was about 18 inches long and maybe 2 inches in diameter.

The next thing I saw was that the statue was lying down on its side, and the rod was held by two cupped hands of the statue. The hands were holding, rather than gripping the rod. Then someone was removing the rod from the cupped hands.

Then I found myself with a group of people in a room, all giving their different accounts of what the rod symbolised. Each one was describing a different angle on power

I can’t quite remember exactly what I said, but it was something to do with what happens when there’s a vacuum. There’s that saying – nature abhors a vacuum. When there’s a vacuum, something will rush in the fill that vacuum.

In the dream, the vacuum was created when the rod was removed from the hands. Suddenly, the person, or organisation that was holding the power is no longer in charge. At that point, other forces are quick to come and seize power.

In my dream, I went on to say that what was needed was an understanding of what the purpose of holding that power should be. The power should be exercised for the benefit of all. That means that everyone needs to have a say, no one should be left out.

At that point, I finished, and everyone applauded. I was surprised, but pleased that what I had said seemed to ring a bell with everyone present.

Here endeth the dream

So – a couple of reflections on the dream. We’re watching a series on Netflix at the moment called Godless. It’s set just after the American Civil war, and I think that may have been on my mind, and that somewhere deep in my unconscious is a memory of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from November 19th 1863, in the middle of the Amercian Civil War. In that speech, he famously said ‘That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ The exact wording of the speech is uncertain, and Lincoln wasn’t the first to use that idea …. of the people, by the people, for the people.

My little speech in the dream seemed to be along the same lines …

The second thought is that today – March 28th 2021 – is Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday recalls how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. As he entered the Holy City, the crowds acclaimed him as king shouting – ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Hosanna means ‘save,’ and is probably used here as a special cry of joy for the one who has come to save, to rescue.

Here’s the prophetic passage from the First Testament book of Zechariah that is clearly seen in the events of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

Zechariah chapter 9 verses 9 – 10.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.His rule will extend from sea to seaand from the River to the ends of the earth.

In my dream, someone came and took the rod representing power from the statue. Whatever part of my subconscious that dream came from, the removal of the rod of power is something to do with a non-violent expression of a different quality of power to the oppressive displays of power that dominate our world.

For example, I’m thinking today of the non-violent demonstrations in Myanmar at the brute force and violence shown by the army.

I’m thinking of the non-violent demonstrations in our own city of Bristol, sadly hijacked by violent protesters.

I’m thinking of the peaceful protests against violence done to women after the murder of Sarah Everard, that ironically resulted in a police over reaction and more violence shown to the mostly women protesters.

I’m thinking of the peaceful civil disobedience of the protests of Extinction Rebellion back in 2019.

And I’m thinking of Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war horse, to announce God’s kingdom of peace. Jesus comes to demonstrate his power, that is so different to the power of the elite in Jerusalem, and to the imperial might of Rome. He comes to challenge the powers of his day. From the backwater of Galilee, Jesus now enters as it were, the Lion’s Den.

As I imagine the picture of Jesus on a donkey, I see that event as an act of non-violent resistance. The words of the ancient prophets are brought to life, and their words still speak today.

The words of Zechariah conjure up a vision not far from my dream in which I saw the symbol of power taken from the statue – I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,and the battle bow will be broken.

It is a vision of peace that comes against all kinds of oppression – through the economy, through race, gender and sexuality.
Wherever such protests are made, the forces of power will rise to try and silence the voices of peace.

A prayer for today

God of ancient prophets, we thank you for your timeless utterances of truthfulness. Give us good ears to hear the reverberation of those old words as new voices ring out in our day. In his name. Amen.

Prayer by Walter Brueggemann (slightly altered)