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…

Bible · Church · faith · Theology

Walking Backwards Into The Future

In case you haven’t been here before, I’m writing from a Christian perspective, and seeking to understand more fully what it means to live ethically and authentically as a follower of Jesus Christ. This post was triggered by listening to an interview with Rev Sam Wells, the vicar of St Martin in the Fields (London, UK).

I love this image. If you ‘walk forward’ into the future, you will have little idea what resources you might discover that will help to face the challenges you will meet. If you ‘walk backwards’ into the future you see the resources that people have used in the past that can help you in the future.

He couples this image with the idea of history being like a five act play. Tom Wright first suggested this as a way of seeing history. Sam Wells takes the idea and tweaks it:
Tom Wright: 1. Creation. 2. Fall. 3. Israel. 4. Jesus. 5. The Church
Sam Wells: 1. Creation. 2. Covenant. 3. Jesus. 4. The Church. 5. Consummation: New Heaven and New Earth

In the Sam Wells scheme, the Bible forms key parts of the script – Acts 1 – 3. Our life of faith is like a performance, where we are the performers, acting out our part in Act 4.

But we are not acting from a set script. It’s as if we are in an improvisation, and playing our part, but in keeping with what we have seen already in Acts 1 – 3. Scripture is not a rule book to follow, but a story where we have our part to play.

The idea of improvisation is a fascinating one. It’s not about trying to be the clever, witty one who plays it just for laughs, because that can just kill the story. That’s a very individualistic approach. It’s more of a collective enterprise where we are responding to other in the improv, trying to create the best that we can together. That makes it a bit like a game of ‘keepie uppie,’ where you and your friends are kicking a ball around and trying to keep it in the air for as long as possible. That’s not about doing an amazing kick, but simply keeping the ball in play.

As we play our part in Act 4 of the story of God and humanity, we walk backwards into the future, receiving all the gifts that God has given us to play our part.

A key aspect of the life of faith is the extent to which we live – day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – actively seeking to allow God to shape and reshape us. It is this disciplined practice that will allow us to act in ways that contribute our best as God’s people for God’s world.

There are many examples of the ways this works – I have one ‘true life’ example and one fictional. The first is the account of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, so brilliantly told in the film ‘Sully’. In the film Ches is piloting a plane and has just taken off from La Guardia airport. The plane is hit by a flock of birds and the engines disabled. Knowing both engines are not functioning, he makes a deicision not to try and get to an airport, but to land the plane on the Hudson river, which he does, with no loss of life. A subsequent investigation suggests that he made the wrong decision and that he could have landed safely at La Guardia or Teterboro airports. It’s only when they run a simulation that faithfully recreates the situation in real time that he is proved to be right. If he had tried to get to an airport, it would have been certain disaster. It is his years of flying that enables him – in just 35 seconds – to make the right decision, almost by instinct. he was called a hero, but his reponse was “I’m not a hero, I’ve been rehearsing for this.” It is similarly the disciplines of faithful godly living that will help the Christian to make the right ethical decisions in the heat of the moment.

The fictional story, that I have mentioned in another post is the book by John Irving – A Prayer For Owen Meany. Once more, it is years of self discipline that makes it possible for Owen to make the right decision in the moment of crisis that is the climax of the book.

Sadly, the church has not always received the resources that God has provided. The result being that we have chosen scarcity and not plenty. It is only in recent years that the church of which I am a member (Anglican / Church of England) has begun to accept the ministry of women. Other gifts that we have been slow to receive are the treasures that we have missed by neglecting, rejecting and even oppressing those with disabilities and the LGBT+ community and what they could bring to God’s church.

Last thing, before I go for now. There’s a wonderful phrase that is originally in french – La disponsibilite – coined by french acting instructor Jaque Lecoque. In English the best translation is probably ‘relaxed awareness.’ Sam Wells uses this phrase to describe what our attitude might be to playing our part in God’s story.

It’s not about us being the ones to save the world. That’s God’s domain. It’s about following Jesus as best we can, and waiting expectantly for those opportunities to put our faith into practice. We don’t have to get it all right. God can deal with our mistakes.

None of this is mine – it’s just me trying to process what I’m learning and pass it on – in this case my thanks to Sam Wells and Tom Wright. If you get a chance to listen to the Sam Wells interview (highlighted at the top), please do

Grace and Peace.

Bible · faith · Theology

Discovering The God Of Plenty

I’m pleased to have started the C25K – couch to 5k – a programme to take me from having little cardio exercise during the last four months, to being able to run continuously for 30 minutes.

The podcast that I listened to today on my run was an interview with Sam Wells. Sam is vicar of St Martin in the Fields Church in London. There’s so much in what I’ve heard today, I’m not sure where to start. This will be a brief post, just aiming to make one simple, but important assertion. More to follow another day.

I think the best starting point is to note that we often function as though we live in a world of scarcity. Not enough resources. We’re always fighting a losing battle. But if we set against that the world view of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament we find that they affirm the opposite. God has given us all that we need. We do, in fact, live in a world of plenty, a world of abundance.

I’ll come back to the way Sam Wells argues this on a later post, but for now I’ll just offer a thought from my Bible reading today. As so often happens, I find that things come together in ways I could not have planned. After my run I read John chapter 2, and the account of Jesus turning water into wine.

If you don’t know the story, you can read it here

I’ve read this passage often, and preached on it more than a few times, and I always see something fresh. Today, it’s the way this gospel passage seems to be saying exactly what Sam Wells was talking about. In the story, the wine at a wedding has run out, and Jesus turns over 120 gallons of water into wine. That should be enough!

In 11 verses, we get something that should be foundational to faith. God is a God of plenty, not scarcity.

Of course that raises all sorts of questions about what we see around us, with people living in poverty and so on. There is more to say that sheds light on this, but I’ll have to leave it it until next time.

Grace and peace