Categories
Disability

On Pain

I can’t concentrate. I’ve not been able to concentrate for a good few weeks now. Every time I move, as well as sometimes when I don’t, several parts of my body hurt at once. Even lying down results in yelps of discomfort. Not fun.

A few months ago I pinned a joint in my shoulder from twisting around the wrong way. It was painful and expensive to ‘fix’. Now that the weather has turned damp and cold, the problem has come back. With it has come pretty constant back and core muscle spasms, shooting nerve pain up and down both of my legs, tight ankles, fairly fixed shoulders, neck pain, stomach spasms and nerve pain in my hips, along with ringing in my ears (a fun one, that) and increased shaking/tremors in my right hand and wrist. Secondary symptoms include grumpiness, irritability, even more tiredness than normal, feelings of weakness and failure as I’ve not been able to be the kind of person  I want to be or, through the evil fallacy of comparing myself to others think I need to be, and a greatly increased appreciation of the joys of Netflix.

If you’ve seen me recently, whether at work or socially, you probably don’t know much of this, even though I have moaned about my shoulder a lot. I’m good at keeping going. I have an over-developed sense of duty I inherited from members of my family. I have a fear of failure a mile long, or longer, which tells me that if I admit to any or all of this, someone somewhere will say that I’m not ‘enough’, that I can’t do my job, which has become somewhat tied in with my identity and so on. I’m a vicar. Christmas is coming. It’s a busy time. All vicars say they’re busy, all the time, but from mid-November onwards, it’s actually legitimately true. My diary is pretty full for the next few weeks.

I know a lot of people who live in similar situations day by day. It’s easy to get so self-absorbed that I can think I’m the only one who experiences this kind of thing. As it’s the International Day of Disabled People today I thought I’d write a nuanced reflection on what it’s like to live with pain.

It’s crap.

Having got the nuanced reflection out of the way, here are a few more thoughts.

I preach a lot about the perfect love of God casting out all fear. It came up yesterday as we were looking at Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for both remembering Jesus’s birth all those years ago and looking forward to the return he promised to make sometime in the future. Please, let it be soon. When we talk about things like fear, hope, trust and so on, it’s very easy for them to become glib, over-used statements, particularly in a society in which feeling pressurised for our faith is usually people daring to question us or call us out for some of the more blatant contradictions and hypocrisies which most people see very clearly in contemporary Christianity. It’s easy to be a Christian in the UK, or most of the Western World. It really is. Christianity was never designed as a project of societal governance. It really wasn’t. Christians are meant to serve, not be served. They are meant to trust and obey, not demand adherence. So, in this country, when the perfect love casts out fear, it means something quite different, I would imagine, to what it might mean to a Church family waiting for, expecting, pain, even death, for the simple reason of being known as a follower of Jesus. All things need to be held in perspective.

That said, here’s a fear I have as my body asserts itself: this pain won’t end before I die.

Here’s another one: how do I talk about joy and hope when I don’t really feel it myself?

Aging with my impairment scares me. It’s not been massive fun so far.

I’ve achieved a lot in my life. Disabled people do that. Loads of them. It’s not that noteworthy.

But it does feel like I’m fighting against a tide a lot of the time. The tide is mostly flowing in the sea of my own mind. I am very sensitive to any sense that people might view me as weaker, different. I hate disappointing people. Especially because of tiredness or impairment-related stuff. I hate it so much that I do it quite often. And so I hate that too. Whether anyone else disables me or not, I quite often disable myself. I think ‘you won’t be able to do that’, or ‘people like you don’t get to do things like that’. I really do. That’s part of my daily internal dialogue. I share it because however many ramps or lifts are put in to make the built environment more accessible, and I’m deeply appreciative of every single one, the biggest battle I face as someone who lives with pain and impairment is to change my own response to it, or allow God to change it for me. It’s been such a part of me and my life and experience that I don’t know what a ‘good’ response or attitude to it is anymore.

But I do know that it hurts. A lot more, recently.

On this International Day of Disabled People, I’m thinking of and praying for all those who aren’t able to moan about their experiences on the internet. All those who aren’t able to articulate requests for understanding, for opportunity. And I’m thankful to a God who considers disablement to be an abomination. A much greater abomination than some of the other things Christians shout about as abominations, of that I am certain. God does not disable people, so why do I, why do you? Why does your Church? Your denomination? Your workplace? If you see it, call it out, root it out, kill it at source.

A time is coming when there’ll be no more pain, no more fear, no more death, no more tears. It really is. It can’t come soon enough. While we wait for it to come, let’s bring closer the time when there is no more disability, no more discrimination. Let’s start with ourselves and choose not to disable or discriminate. And then let’s talk to the people we love, the organisations we work with and for, everyone we possibly can, to make it clear that although pain is a reality of life, there’s no need for it to by feeling like admitting to being in pain is a weakness that dare not speak its name.

I might get into trouble for this.

Categories
Faith

Hope (a New Year Meandering)

I’m not big on resolutions for the start of a new calendar year. Over the last couple, I’ve promised to write on the Church of England lectionary reading every day (lasted a few months) and write a new song every month (managed one for half the months of the year) so it turns out I’m not too good at keeping to what I promise to do. That’s  pretty difficult, humbling thing to admit to.

The end of one year and the beginning of another offers the opportunity for grandiose statements about how great/terrible/abominable the year just ending was and how much better/more hopeful and full of possibility the one to come is. This seems particularly so with 2016 in mind. The combination of seismic political upheaval, the sheer fact that there are myriad celebrities in our aspiration-obsessed culture and therefore more of said celebrities (very sadly) die in any given year (and this will only be more so in the coming years) and the way that we have access to news about virtually everything, all of the time, if we want it, even though we often miss the most important things happening both under our noses and in the forgotten far-reaches of the planet, all of that can combine to make it seem like it’s been a terrible year.

Allied to all of this, it seems to me that I am not a very resilient person. I don’t know about you. You might be. In which case, move on and ignore this paragraph. But the fact remains that, I at least, am learning that I need deeper and deeper wells of resilience that I did not realise would be necessary. How did previous generations deal with, say, the loss of entire families in war, or to diseases like TB, when I can’t cope with not being able to complete my work because my internet connection is intermittent? How are we, for whom, in the West, life expectancy and quality of life is, in the main, longer and better than ever, become so frightened of death, so scared of ‘the other’ that we keep both as far away as possible, when, so we’re told, we have it better than ever before in the whole of human history?

2017 will be a year of change for me. I’ve got a calendar year from midnight to find a new role within the Church of England. Changes of this nature don’t just affect me. They affect my long-suffering wife and our wider family. As I go through the process of applying, if this time is anything like other such junctures in my life, I would not be too surprised to find myself questioning my worth, value, suitability for roles, even though I am trained, qualified, experienced, called, equipped and sent exactly for the kind of roles that I might be looking at in the coming weeks and months. These doubts have assailed me many times and they boil down to two key things: I don’t trust myself, perhaps rightly and, more seriously, I often fail to truly trust God, thinking instead that if I just work harder, longer, better, more sacrificially (those two often seem to equate to the same thing in my head at least) then somehow God will be more pleased with me and therefore elevate me to some kind of ability or situation that would otherwise be beyond me. Working hard is important. Making the most of the gifts we are given is a key facet of the scriptural narrative, but the key, the absolute key, is to know that the heart of those gifts, the giver and effector of them, is God. I have gifts to share with the communities I live in and serve because God gives them to me. I can use or squander them, in partnership (hopefully) with him, but the gifts are given by him. God has brought me to the beginning of 2017 to be someone who points people to Him, who draws people into family and relationship with him, themselves and with other people. I do have to move, to be active, to do ‘the work’, but most of all I have to trust God that when he says he will be with me, when he says he will not leave me, when he says that he will send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to support and encourage me, when he promises miracles, transformations, healings, mercy and grace and all of the other things that we’re told are the promises of God: that those things will come to pass if I walk with him, one step after another, faithfully, as faithfully as I can, day by day. It’s not cool, it’s not sexy, it might not win me a platform, or influence, but it will be what I am invited by God to do in this next year.

I’ve been thinking recently that all the words I can use about God, Church, Faith, and what all of those things are and mean (all of which change on a daily basis) pale into insignificance when placed next to the Word, the coming of Jesus, who was both God and man, into the world that first Christmas time. He is who we need to get to know, to follow, to mimic even, as 2017 dawns. Not just by learning about him, talking about him, what he might think about certain issues, political parties or societal changes, but actually take him at his word that when he said that he would be with us to the end of the age (this one we’re in now) if we asked him to be, that he actually would be and that one of the main tasks, if not the main one, of the Christian life is some form of commitment to actually working out what that relationship of closeness might mean for us, both individually, as Church families and as the whole Church. If we got to know Jesus, what might we see? What might he invite us to do? What might he actually want to do for us, give to us, so that we might pass on the gift to others this year?

So, don’t fall for slogans, or long paragraphs like mine, this new year. Don’t rely on blogs, books, memes, videos on Facebook or even the Huffington Post to tell you what to think this new year. Don’t mindlessly retweet. Even more, don’t beligerently retweet. If you have questions, doubts, fears, if you’re looking for a reason to be hopeful, a reason to be cheerful (part 2017) this new year, then you actually, actually, actually, you actually can do no better than to silence all the words, all the screens, all the arguments, and invite Jesus, the only Word truly worth hearing and listening to, to be live with you, in you, through you and for you this coming year.

You might think this blog, therefore, is a waste of time, shouting into a void, obsolete. Well, yes, maybe, but these are the kinds of words I needed to hear at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017. So I wrote them to myself. What would the Church be like if I, if we, chose to prioritise the things that Jesus chose to prioritise? He gave a priority to love (of God and people), a priority to the poor, a priority to prayer, a priority to telling people about the kingdom of God through sharing stories they could relate to and a priority to building teams of people who could partner with him in his work. Wouldn’t it be great if I lived with these priorities? What could change? What could happen? What mountains might be moved if we joined together in living this way?

Let’s find out in the year to come

Categories
Disability

Things You Learn Lying On the Bathroom Floor

This blog is also forming the basis of a piece I’ve been asked to write for this weekend’s event at the Vatican, Living Fully 2016. This looks like being a fantastic event. I’m sad not to be attending, but very happy to be able to offer this contribution to the discussion and debate. 

Things You Learn Lying On the Bathroom Floor

Recently, I was enormously privileged to be asked to both preach and act as a co-best man for two dear friends of mine, Matt and Ruth. This happy event took place towards the end of a period of seemingly frenzied activity in the life of the Churches in which I am Assistant Curate, The Emmanuel Group in Northampton. I was nervous before I spoke. There’s so much that one wants to say in a wedding address, particularly for close friends. Fortunately, I managed to strike the balance between providing a warm up for the best man’s speech later that evening and speaking words of love, truth and blessing to Matt and Ruth from God as they began their married life together.

Prior to that day, the week had contained several other events which had been noteworthy. A couple of apparently serious incidents involving people in the life of our Church community provided both opportunities for exercising ministry and opportunities to take on more worry and tension than I perhaps should have done. In the same week, I found myself praying for the new Mayor of Northampton, Cllr Christopher Malpas, as he began his term of office by inviting me to be his chaplain. I can tell you that these events are not normal in the course of my life and work. What is normal? And why might I begin a piece about disability, fear and leadership by talking about things which to other ministers might seem fairly normal, even mundane?

Let’s return to Saturday night. It’s around 10pm, the wedding is starting to wind down and I’m laughing at another joke from a friend I see far from often enough. And then it happens. I feel a tightness around my core, the muscle group that stretches around the middle of my body. I know what’s coming. Fortunately,  I manage to attract my wife’s attention before I am unable to speak, and she propels me along to the bathroom, which is mercifully vacant. As the door closes, wave upon wave of spasm hits me and I am doubled over in agony. I can’t breathe. I can’t speak, except in groans and to say the most important word I can think of at that moment: ‘sorry’. I’m sorry to my wife that she has to see this, to deal with it. I’m sorry that I nearly had an ‘episode’ in a very public place. I’m sorry that my body is out of control. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

In short order, I’m lying flat on the bathroom floor and, in the cold light of day a few days later, I’m not ashamed to say that I am whimpering. I am scared. What if it doesn’t stop? It did last time, a year and a half ago, when an over-busy Christmas period ended with me on my parent’s lounge floor putting a dampener on the beginning of our Christmas celebrations. It did immediately after I arrived home from playing a show with my band (in a former life!) in Trafalgar Square to (I’m told) 10,000 people, but what if it doesn’t this time?

Fortunately, it did pass. I was able to re-enter the fray of the wedding before too long and have spent most of this last week recovering my equilibrium. But there were a few moments lying there on that bathroom floor, and I say this advisedly and without seeking to overly dramatise the event, where my life, and my immediate future, flashed before my eyes.

During those moments, convinced that my body was letting me down, I decided that there was no way I would be able to undertake in future the functions of the priestly role. What use would I be to people if, when under a modicum of stress, my body decides to stop allowing me to work?  From there I find myself in a cycle of reflection. What is the priesthood about? Does it require bodies and minds to be of a suitable consistent standard to be acceptable to God and deemed as priestly? Leviticus 21, particularly vv16-c20 has the potential in thought processes such as these to be a source of terror and a weapon of tyranny.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.

This passage, taken in context, is about ritual purity or impurity. However, for me, at times when my sense of worth has been challenged, it has the power to rear its head as a judge and jury: I am not enough. I couldn’t be. My body does not measure up and because my body doesn’t, neither does the rest of me. You might read this and feel like my exegesis is off (it probably is) and that I’m being overly-dramatic (I very well may be) but feelings and deeply-internalised thoughts can be heavily consequential and hard to shift or shake off.

A combination of the glorious fulfilment of the law by Jesus and the belated flourishing of institutional common sense has made it possible for a slightly more representative selection of the Body of Christ to be considered suitable for ordination and leadership in his Church. I found it instructive, however, that it was in the moment and aftermath of reduced functionality that my sense of priestly identity, something which I think I know can only be imbued by God, was challenged, by me, in my own head. Have I, have we, in rightly emphasising the importance of honouring God in calling, training, equipping and sending leaders, misplaced our sense of balance? I would argue I certainly have, perhaps you have too.

We all know that the weaker (in whichever sense we are denoting weakness, certainly impairment does not equate to weakness in all cases) parts of the body are to be given the greatest honour. We know, too, that the greatest, and arguably most powerful acts of Jesus came in his weakest moments. In submitting to suffering, in emptying himself of all but instead of imposing his will and his way on all people, so that those very same people could have eternal life, life to the full, access to the grace and peace of God. Our God was not in human terms physically, mentally or emotionally, at his strongest when he was at his most efficacious.

And yet, as I writhed on the floor in agony, it was my ability to prove myself effective in the future, immediate and long term, as a minister that I most worried about. To put it bluntly, if this situation didn’t improve, or change, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. Rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly, this was my instinctive reaction, one that I had to fight against in the moments of uncertainty that followed for me in the proceeding days. I don’t believe that anything or anyone but God can give a person what is necessary for them to be a priest. Neither could anyone but God truly revoke that calling and identifying. 

The diocese in which I live and minister, Peterborough Diocese in the Church of England, has been fantastic for me as I explored a calling to ministry, had that calling affirmed, trained and now am completing the second year of my curacy. At most stages along the way, my impairment has been a ‘live’ issue. Both the diocese and I have had to work together on finding approaches to life and ministry that are appropriate and effective for me. I want to say here that I greatly appreciate the care, support and incisive challenges that have been given to me by my Bishops, my Archdeacon and other senior staff in the Diocese and wish to honour that. I had, and have, at least as much to learn about the ways in which I can live as a priest as ‘the Diocese’ in this regard. Similarly, my Training Incumbent, Margaret Johnson, truly has enabled me to flourish during the two years I have worked with her. I am incredibly grateful for that. These might seem like unnecessary things to say in a piece like this, but I think they’re important. Many people and institutions have collaborated to ensure that I have become able to live and work out the calling that God gave me. I know other people with impairments and disabilities have had good experiences in this regard, whilst for others similar processes have been hugely painful. There is, though, hope.

Our Churches benefit hugely from being ministered to by people who run the full gamut of the wondrous glory of God’s creation. Some of these ministers will be all-action, placed in physically and emotionally demanding situations and circumstances. Some will be able to offer less physically. Still others will offer a level of academic rigour in their dealings with Scripture and theology that will be far and above that offered by other ministers. There is not a minister of the gospel who does not, in offering to serve God and his people, find themselves in the position of needing to sacrifice, to suffer for the outworking of their calling, whichever element of themselves, their lives, or the lives of those they love might be squeezed for the sake of the Church. Ministry, like the Christian life, looks subtly different each time it is gifted by God to a person. Therefore, there is not one ‘successful’ approach to Christian ministry, there are, in effect, as many as there are ministers. Some need to be catalysts, some pragmatists, some spend more time listening, some tearing down the walls of unjust structures, physically. What do all have in common? They shine the light of Christ into the world, as sacramental presences, drawing communities of worship and praise around the divine, communities that are then sent out to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. An effective ministry is not a busy ministry per se. As Eugene Peterson (who always says things that I wish I’d thought of first) says, the busy pastor is the lazy pastor. A good point for reflection, that.

An effective ministry is one that points people to Jesus and his glory. People with impairments and disabilities, temporary and permanent, have at least as much to offer in this as those unfortunate enough to think that they are in no way impaired. Indeed, I, as an impaired person, have a crucial role to play in this. Without us, the ministry of the Church is limited, deficient. With us it is more fully equipped to minister to the world in all its breadth. Those of us involved in this event know this. Pointing out to the Christian world and the world at large that fullness of life, abundance, grace and mercy, as well as brokenness and blessing can come in many shapes and forms is an urgent prophetic mandate in our day. If that means that the functional demands made of priests and ministers have to change or be more readily flexible in some instances, as time goes on, a wider and wider spectrum of the Church is, happily, coming to this realisation too. then so be it.

God identifies us as his children, reconciled to himself in and through Jesus. that word will not be unspoken. I wonder how many people God calls to ordination for whom his word of affirmation and invitation is never heard because our expectations and requirements do not permit it. For the Church holy, catholic and apostolic truly to be living fully, we have to continually be open to expecting the unexpected from God, for him to breathe life where there were only dry bones, for the wind of the Spirit to blow in unforeseen, unlikely places. On that bathroom floor, it felt once more, and all the more, unlikely that I had what it takes to be a leader in Christ’s Church. Yet here I am, when I am in pain and when I am not; when everything is working and when it is not, privileged and blessed to be such a leader, learning and growing all the time. I pray that we would be open across the breadth of the Church, to affirming the calling to Church leadership of more people who may look at first glance like unlikely ministers, but on whom the Spirit rests. Then we may, writhing on the bathroom floor in weakness, or rejoicing in the strength that only the joy of the Lord can bring (or whatever the opposite of writhing on a bathroom floor is), truly be living fully.

 

 

Categories
A Song A Month

A Song A Month for Spring: See In the Dark

It’s been a couple of months in the writing (life happened) but, finally, here’s the next installment in my 2016 songwriting odyssey. ‘See in the Dark’ is another pretty serious song, this time about certainty, and the loss of it, and whether or not that’s ok. I wanted to write a song from the place of having lost certainty, resisting the temptation that can sometimes befall songwriters, especially Christians I think, for everything to resolve nice and neatly. It seems to me life isn’t really like that very often.

I’ll do my best to present a jolly, jaunty little summer number next time!

Without further ado, here’s the video. Hope you all enjoy. Thanks for watching.

Categories
March 2016

March 22nd 2016: Luke 22: 39-53

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Have you ever prayed so earnestly that it was as if you were sweating blood? In our comfortable Western context, prayer can easily lack intensity. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where someone sweated like great drops of blood blood in anguished prayer. If they did, we’d probably try and calm them down, make them sit down so as not to distress other people. Jesus, as he does this, is entering the most intense moment, not just of his life, but arguably of all of human history. Still, it’s a detail that can sometimes get brushed over in our cultural of appropriateness.

Jesus finds his disciples sleeping ‘because of grief’ and demands that they pray ‘earnestly that you might not come into the time of trial’. If we do pray like this, it’s easy for us to slip into feeling selfish or to descend into self-absorption. Recently, the concept of the enemy ‘prowling like a lion that he might devour some’ has been much on my mind. As I write this in front of the backdrop of the unfolding event of the terror attacks in Brussels this morning, I find myself thinking again of how accepting I have become of ‘times of trial’, moments when evil rears its head and wreaks as much havoc as it possibly can, seeking not just to devour individuals, but whole communities, cultures and ideologies. Evil is part of our world, our lives, but it is never acceptable. We should do all we can to stand against it, recognising, especially this week of all weeks, that we have one who is for us and who went to the Cross to defeat evil. In our own lives, in our thoughts and actions, in our words, in our politics, in the choices we make with money, let us not be people who repay evil for evil. Let’s instead be people who pray earnestly for those who find themselves in a time of trial, that the merciful love of God would enfold them. Let’s be people who, when faced with evil, repay it with good. Where there is hatred, let’s bring love. Easy in theory, but all so very hard in practice.

Let’s be people who hold true to the one we believe in and love, the Prince of Peace.

 

Categories
March 2016

March 21st 2016: Luke 22:1-23

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

As we enter Holy Week once again, the challenge for the reader is not to understand and explain what and why things happened, but working out which elements of the story we should particularly focus on this particular year’s journey to the cross. The scale and scope of the narrative and its consequences are too great for us to comprehend its entire breadth at all times, or at least they are for me. Reading the story of Judas deciding to betray Jesus this morning, the eye is drawn to the question at the passage’s end. These people had lived with and followed Jesus for three years. How could any of them betray him?

All of us have experience of committing to a person, group or institution and ending up disappointed. As those who welcomed Jesus in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday felt let down by the lack of a strong and mighty saviour and disavowed him on Good Friday under pressure from the Jewish authorities, so it can be easy for us to decide that, as we haven’t got what we wanted from those we put our trust in, what we were promised, even, then we’re well within our rights, our entitlement, to go and find what we deserve elsewhere.

I often wonder about the emotional life of Jesus, about his feelings. We’re given small glimpses into it in the Gospels, but not on this particular occasion. Here’s one who has come to bring about a new covenant between God and his people, betrayed by those he loved, who he has taught, related to, lived his life with and for.

And yet for all our deal making and seeking to better ourselves without reference to him, or even perhaps whilst attempting to use him as a bargaining chip, Jesus went to the cross anyway. He chose to die, to lay down his life for his friends. That’s the call of the Christian life, to accept the gifts God gives us, and then to live in such a generous way that those gifts are shared as widely as possible. We are to lay down our lives, not seeking to protect ourselves or feather our own nests.

Categories
February 2016

February 12th 2016: Galatians 3:1-14

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Did you get it yesterday?

One of Paul’s favourite writing traits is to repeat himself. If a point’s worth making, why not make it over, and over, and over, and over again? As one of the first great evangelistic Christian preachers, Paul wanted to leave his hearers, those who had his letters read to them, in absolutely no doubt whatsoever: the law of the Old Testament does not save anyone. It does not provide a path to salvation. It only brings the possibility of fallure, of death, ultimately. Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Life is, in his very nature, the answer to this problem. He is where life is. He is its source, it flows from him, into the lives of all who will receive it. I’m challenged again and again in recent times, is my faith in my relationship with God, a relationship which was made possible by Jesus Christ, or is it in an idea, a set of morals, a way of living? There’s nothing wrong with living well, seeking to honour God, love others and love ourselves, but if loving Jesus and making him known is not at the heart of it, we’re the ones who are missing out. Fight against any instinct or temptation to be ensnared in law or legalism. Embrace love, embrace Jesus as he opens his arms of love to you today.

Categories
February 2016

February 5th 2016: Matthew 28:1-15

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

Imagine being a guard of the tomb of Jesus on the day of the resurrection. Imagine experiencing this entirely unforeseen event. You’re supposed to be in control. You are the sign and outworking of the total and utter authority of the occupying power. Your way is the right way. In fact, guarding the tomb of a dead man is probably quite a boring, if not pointless, exercise. Why bother?

And then there’s something like an earthquake and the stone you’re guarding is rolled away by an angel. Do angels even exist? And then this angel, who perhaps you thought doesn’t exist, appears to some women. Why talk to them and not you? And he tells them that their Lord and Messiah has risen from the dead. What? Well, it does seem like he’s not here anymore. But you’ve been diligent in the discharge of your duties. Somehow or other this does seem to be true, it does seem that what is being talked about is what has happened. This is a problem. This means trouble, big trouble. Probably for you. Confirmed by what happens when you report what’s happened and are told to hush it up and lie, blame his disciples. It was always on the cards they’d steal the body anyway. What difference does it make?

Except you’re pretty certain they didn’t steal it. You’re pretty certain that something highly unusual has happened. If anything that’s even more scary. Control and order need to be restored, maintained, tightened if anything. We can’t allow people to think that God might have broken out of the bounds of accepted social and religious order and structure. The agreement is he stays in his box, his house, his temple, and the rest of us get on with things the way we want to, the way we know, the best way. Sometimes it helps to invoke the name of God. It enthuses some and frightens others in to line, but really, the power is ours, and we like it that way.

Except this time it seems like God has found a way to be stronger than us. What do we do now?

Categories
February 2016

February 4th 2016: Matthew 27: 57-66

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

The chief priests and the Pharisees were scared. My reading is they were scared in case the disciples played a trick, pulled a fast one, as it were, and made it seem like Jesus had risen. It is interesting that they clearly knew the stories Jesus had been telling about what was to happen. I do wonder though if, somewhere deep down, hidden away there was the thought in some of their minds ‘what if it actually was true, what he was saying? What if he is who he said he was?’ I suppose when false messiahs are two-a-penny (as they remain today in different ways) a deal of weary cynicism must be at play. Of course Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. Of course he wouldn’t rise from the dead, but just in case, best make sure.

For me, as I read, the challenge is stark. Do I continue to think, trust and live that Jesus did break free from the tomb, having defeated death? Do I really? Sometimes I wonder if I’d rather Jesus did not keep breaking conventions and finding ever more exciting ways to show that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, here, today. If I can just control God for long enough to be able to fathom him out and communicate him, introduce him to others, then I can have the kind of Church and faith experience I was taught was the right one, things will be the way they were supposed to be. Sounds comforting doesn’t it.

Except that isn’t it. At all. This time the Messiah did in fact rise from the dead, break free from the tomb. Nothing could deny it. And nothing we do to try and make the life of faith more in line with how we think it ought to be can constrain our God. He will have his way. It is for us to get in line, not as dogmatic robots, but needing to follow the spark of the Creator as he redeems and reconciles in places, situations and ways we never previously thought possible. All for his glory.

When you think about it, we’re not much different from the chief priests and Pharisees after all.

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2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 29th 2014: Acts 5:12-26

Read Acts 5:12-26 here

“Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy”

In today’s reading we find one of the first examples of persecution of Christians. Why does it happen? Jealousy. Jealousy is at the root of most problems in human life. We find it so hard to live and co-exist together? Why is that? I’ll never know. Is it because we don’t think we’re good enough without having power over others? Is it because we don’t like our own lives, see someone who has a life we wish we had so strive to steal it for ourselves? Is it a fear, a need to protect a truth which is more than capable of defending itself? Whatever it is, rather than casting ourselves favourably when set against the leaders depicted poorly in this story, let’s be aware that jealousy is something we all fall into and are prone to, and resolve not to be persecutors ourselves.