Categories
Faith

Waiting For the Phone To Ring & Hoping It Doesn’t

I’m sitting down to write this as a kind of reflection in progress. I say in progress because the event(s) I’m reflecting on as I’m sitting here ruminating are only in the midst of their processing. How I feel today is not necessarily how I’ll feel after the next conversation I have on the phone.

It’s been that kind of week. Each time the phone rings, change happens. Some calls have led to minor improvements in mood and outlook. Others the opposite and more than one has brought quite a swirl of shocking emotions, competing for attention in my increasingly-stretched and pressed emotional view.

Just under two weeks ago, my family suffered an unexpected and sudden bereavement. Trained in pastoral work and care as I am, quite experienced in doing it pretty well as I’m told I am, after those first few times the phone rang to offer increasingly desperate and then ultimately crushing news, comforting words seemed far from my mind. Presence, quiet consolation, mixed with a raging sense of the unfortunate unfairness of it all, they’re what came to me then and have sustained me ever since. I hope I’ve been of some support and use to my family in their grief, still so new and raw, but even if I haven’t, I’ve given what I had, what  God gave me when I prayed urgent, hushed prayers asking for ‘enough’ for today and then that tomorrow would bring enough for that day. God has been faithful, kind and generous as have so many of our family and friends, and yet, still I wish what happened hadn’t happened. Death and grief are fine enough when they’re distant, theoretical concepts, but when they come close the feelings they engender, the tiredness, the bone tiredness that’s been part of my life for 12 days now, that’s what I think will change how I talk to bereaved families or families whose loved ones are close to the end. Anyone who’s been through it will probably remember, or still be experiencing the feeling. Being a professional minister means that I sometimes have to do the professional work of supporting grief and loss, but it is so important that any of us who have this privilege don’t detach ourselves so far from the visceral pain of what is happening that we seem aloof. The most helpful things that have happened over the last few days are people who have asked us ‘how are you?’ or who have turned up at the door with food we didn’t ask for or realise we needed but which have meant we haven’t had to think. Thinking is hard. Thinking is tiring. Decisions are distant dreams. So I all of a sudden am very keen on provided soup, casserole and the like.

All of that would and probably should be enough, but then a couple of days ago when the phone rang, it was for a different reason. On the line when I picked up was the Family Liaison Officer from a prison not too far from us. As soon as the prison was named I knew who it was about, but what I was told next really did shock me. A prisoner who I an others at Emmanuel befriended through our Foodbank and other work and who became part of our Church family was seriously ill with Covid-19, she said. He was in a bad way. My heart sank. How sad. He’s due out this year. The shock didn’t end there though. The prisoner, my friend, had named me as his next of kin. Was I willing to take on the role? Having then as I do now, not much idea of what that might entail I thought I ought to say yes.

What a privilege, a sad and humbling privilege. On the one hand that the work I and many others had done with him had had such an impact; on the other that there was no one else who he felt he could trust and rely on to take on this role.

That was on Wednesday morning. I’m writing this on Friday afternoon. In the intervening time, P has deteriorated and rallied, deteriorated and rallied. I have decisions and judgement calls on his behalf which have all been best-guesses. Apparently the answer ‘keep him alive please’ is not detailed enough when responding to the question ‘How would you like us to proceed’, for instance. Just this afternoon I have spoken to the prison FLO, a Dr who is treating him and a member of the hospital’s fantastic chaplaincy team. What I’ve gleaned is that all of them are fantastic and want the best for P and are doing the very best they possibly can to bring it about. It is still very much touch and go what will happen in the coming time. This afternoon P has been asking if I could go and see him. It is, I have to say, pretty gutting that I can’t at the moment.

So, rather than just tell you a long-winded piece of a tale with an unknown ending, how about some reflections….

First, at the moment, the two situations I’ve described above are all I can think about at the moment. As I’m typing I know that there are some people I work with who are pretty unhappy with how things are going at work. I also know that the Church of England, of which I am a part and who to an extent I represent, has got itself in more than one media kerfuffle over the last 24 hours. I also know that all over the place people are receiving news, both good and bad, that the team I support and chaplain for, Northampton Town, have a game tomorrow and plenty more besides. Ordinarily, of course, all of these things are important, some of them crucial, even, but at the present moment I couldn’t really care less about most of that. I wonder where God is in that thought? I wonder how it might impact how I talk to those who are dealing with things of this nature (because I know there are a lot of them) in the future that might be changed compared to how I might have been three weeks ago?

What would Jesus say to P, or to those treating him, caring for and about him, or to my family, or to me, if we paused to listen today? Maybe ‘come to me all who are weary’ might be something. Would Jesus weep? Would he rage? I think I know what he would not do: walk by on the other side. I think he would point out all the ways he is at present involved, working, caring for, soothing and challenging in equal measure. I think at some point he would ask ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ and then do it, to show that this world is not all there is, that what we see in front of us, the failures, the mess of our own making and that made by others, is actually gloriously passing away, and would give a sign that the better world we are promised and of which we dream is closer than we even dare to believe. I think he would do all this and more.

A little while back, in a previous lockdown, far, far away before any of this happened (the end of October) I wrote a piece about starting to record a new album called Ruthless Trust. Sometimes my trust is wafer thin. Sometimes it’s thinner than that, whatever that is, but at times like these, when I honestly have no clue what to do or say, it’s a surprising comfort to me to be able to say ‘I am no longer my own’ and that in some small way I have understood a little of what it means to enter into the fellowship of the suffering that Jesus went through for me, for my family, for P, for those treating and caring for and about him. I’d give a lot to not have gone through the last two weeks, or to have watched those I love go through the last two weeks, but it seems like all I can do is persevere and hope that in doing that, faith and character follow and that out of all of that, this maelstrom of words I have written here which gives you an insight into a little of the chaos of my brain at the moment, new hope would be born. I want that hope to be firm, not in a concept or a thing, but in the One who is making all things new.

In the meantime, if you pray, please do for my family, for me, for P and all who have not had pieces written about them today but who also need some comfort, some peace and some strength to carry on.

The phone only rang 3 times while I was writing this. I hope it doesn’t ring again for a good while.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

May 1st 2020: Psalm 149

Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
    O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
    Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
    and a sharp sword in their hands—
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with shackles
    and their leaders with iron chains,
to execute the judgment written against them.
    This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

There’s no denying it: some Psalms are troubling. The first half of this is great. Just the kind of thing you want to sing in the words of a song at Church on Sunday. From the second half of verse 6? Well, yes, quite so.

I never really know how to make any kind of definitive statement about pieces of Scripture like this. The people of God had been taught and shown through the stories of their history that it was their role to be the judges of those who opposed God, or them. This isn’t very palatable in our day – I wonder if it was then, to be honest – and any group setting themselves up as being justified in behaving in executing judgement against anyone else rightly is quickly to desist.

But there is a key point at stake here. In the new relationship between God and people that is possible because of all that Jesus did and who he was, we are reminded that God is a judge, that he judged humanity, found that it fell short and that justice needed to be satisfied in a different way. And so, Jesus and all that he did and all that he was. Judgement doesn’t go away just because we are no longer living in Old Testament times. What I think is offered to us now in the days that we live in is the opportunity to be clear and certain that we have hope, that we are forgiven and free and to invite anyone else who needs or wants to be forgiven and free to trust in God’s offer of salvation.

Because that is what the first two thirds of this is about. It’s about God’s goodness, which is so very good that all we can do rejoice and dance around thanking him for his kindness and mercy. It’s about realising that God crowns the humble (or, in other translations, the poor) with victory. It’s a sign that what might look or feel like victory in this life often isn’t, but that what looks like weakness, putting our hope and our trust in a God who might be largely unseen but who is most certainly not unknown or unknowable, for safety and salvation will ultimately lead to the kind of peace and the kind of life that this world that we live in simply cannot offer on its own. So in one set of key ways, we are to be judgemental. We’re to be judgemental about choosing love, choosing hope, choosing to pray for those who call us their enemy, choosing to speak good news in love and not to back down, choosing to trust in God for salvation, and choosing to be ok with the now and not-yet of receiving love from God now but realising that we won’t receive a final reward until later. ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ has to wait until we have proved to be good, and faithful. Keep going, my friends.

Something To Do

Check: if you are judging about something, is it because of a kingdom-related reason? Does judging this thing help you to love God, other people and yourself more?

Something To Pray

God, help me to judge rightly the way that you want me to live, the person you want me to be and please give me what I need to be just that kind of person today.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 27th 2020: Psalm 61

Psalm 61

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings
For you, God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
    his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
    appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
    and fulfill my vows day after day.

When you are ‘growing faint’, what do you do? For me, I often get to the end of a day and am so worn out, or weighed down by things that have happened during the day just gone, that I long for sleep. Not David, the psalmist and King though, no. As he seems to be reaching the end of himself, he is praying, desperate for God to listen, to hear, to answer, to save and free him.

I wonder, is there a model for those of us who pray to follow here? Rather than a quick prayer before a meal, in the morning and at bedtime, prayer can be something which we turn to throughout the day. We can turn to God at good times, bad times, all the times in between. If we pray, it’s because we want God to listen, whether we’re thanking him for something, asking him for something, lifting someone or something to him or any other reason you might be praying, follow David’s example. There is a rock that is higher and firmer than him, that’s what he realises. God is the rock. He is the rock that doesn’t change or fail, whatever else happens, whatever what is happening around us or inside us looks or feels like. God is the rock and firm foundation of the lives of the ones who trust him. We all need hope and a firm foundation. All of us.

Something To Do

How are you feeling today? Are you ok? Anxious? Happy? Joyful? Spend a few moments thinking about how you actually feel within yourself.

Something To Pray

‘lead me to yourself, the rock that is higher than I’.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 11th 2020: Psalm 142

Psalm 142

A maskilof David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.

I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
    people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
    no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
    no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

You can listen to today’s Psalm here: Psalm 142 audio

David speaks this psalm from within a cave. It’s an important detail, particularly resonant today on Holy Saturday, when we remember the body of Jesus, in Joseph’s tomb, on the day of lost hope and quiet turmoil that his friends and disciples were going through. Yes, he had promised that if he, was destroyed he would rise within 3 days. Yes, those who had been paying attention might have been hopeful of something miraculous taking place, but Jesus’s family friends and followers had just watched the flame of hope and the light of love die, apparently, with the death of Jesus as they awoke on this Saturday. And they were frightened. Life was locked in a cave.

And so we return to David, another who spent time hiding in a cave, pursued by his enemies and, it often seems to me, by his own fears, doubts and questions, both about himself and his life and about whether the God he had put his hope in was really going to come through for him and save him. It’s a fair enough question and just as David asked it, the followers of Jesus asked it whilst he was in a cave, so it seems understandable to me that many of us might be in a place of doubt and questions and crying out to God for deliverance. Only a few days before this in his own story, Jesus had asked God if there was any possibility of the cup of suffering being taken from him. When the answer came back a resounding no, he once again set his face to what was needed and required of him and gave his life, his all, on the cross, scorning its shame, so that the possibility of resurrection might exist not just for him but for all.

David hiding in his cave cried out to God but still wanted to make it clear that he trusted God. Jesus trusted God and his plan all the way to the cross, the cave and the depths of death. Will we trust God through our own doubts and suffering in the hope that Sunday is coming?

Something To Do

Commit to contentment. What gifts have you been given that you can enjoy and use for the benefit of other people?

Something To Pray

Lord, you invite us to enter into the fellowship of Jesus’s sufferings. Help us to wait in this place of pain and watch with you for the dawn of tomorrow’s brand new day and brand new hope.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 2nd 2020: Psalm 42

Listen to today’s Psalm here

It’s not always the case, but it is today: I’ve written a song which features a good portion of this psalm. Here is a recording made by Ghostree of that song back in 2011 in Nashville

Hope by Ghostree

Now we’ve got that out of the way, on to the passage itself.

It’s safe to say that the writer of today’s passage is not having a happy time of it. Things are going far from well. To have a downcast soul is more than just an expression we use after a bad day, or even a bad week or more, it seems to me that it’s the cumulative effect of being used to being downcast and disappointed over and over and over and over and over and over again. And so on. Not to be flippant about it at all. What I mean is that this person is desolate, in the depths of despair.

We see the writer remembering days gone by, when going to the Temple (Church for us today, perhaps) and joining with the throng praising the Mighty One, the Holy One, the God of the people was the thing that the writer was able to do, loved to do, looked forward to doing.

It’s only been a few weeks for us since we were able to join together face to face to worship God. I wonder, in the days up to the time that we were asked to stay away from places of worship, had you got into the habit of going through the motions with God, with Church, with a life of worship? It’s easy for any of us to fall into that trap. And then so soon any of us can find the option of worshipping together in a physical Church building taken away, either as we do ourselves now, or through persecution or for a whole variety of other reasons. As the writer has done here, it would be easy to become downcast, in the depths of our being. When will this be over? When will this pain and sadness, fear and uncertainty, when will it stop?

Be like the writer here. Talk to yourself if you feel this way and tell yourself, ‘even so, I’m still going to praise God’. Praise God however you can, whether on your own, on the phone with others, joining in with gatherings online or however you’re able to. Whatever’s going on today, put your hope in God. We will praise Him still, our Saviour and our God.

Something To Do

Praise God! Praise gives fuel to faith and faith and trust in God is what will see us through whatever we may face now or in time to come.

Something To Pray

Pray for those who haven’t been able to gather with their fellow believers for some time because they have been attacked and persecuted for their faith. Pray that they would be strengthened and that when the right time comes, they would be freed.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

April 1st 2020: Psalm 62

You can read today’s Psalm below

 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault me?
    Would all of you throw me down—
    this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
    from my lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
    but in their hearts they curse.[b]

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God[c];
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
    the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
    together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
    or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
    do not set your heart on them.

11 One thing God has spoken,
    two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
    according to what they have done.”

You can listen to today’s passage here: Psalm 62 Audio

I’m writing this post towards the end of the working day on Wednesday. A few hours from now, at 7pmGMT  I’ll be leading a short service of Evening Prayer on the Emmanuel Group of Churches Facebook page

During the time of the Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak in the UK in 2020 it’s been a great joy for me to find that the Bible has words of comfort and hope as well as challenge. I know that a lot of people dismiss the idea that a book, or collection of books could have power beyond the words in other books, but it is fascinating to me how day by day something from this ancient collection of texts, songs and poems has connected very closely with me.

Today, the psalmist, David, repeats in a variety of ways that his soul finds rest, peace and hope only in God. David was a man who was reported to be ‘after God’s heart’, or to put it another way, someone God saw something of himself in. We can look for rest, peace, hope, even perhaps a little joy, in a  lot of places, particularly in uncertain times like those that we are living through at the moment, but true rest, true peace, true hope and true joy, I’ve only ever found them why I’ve admitted my need for God and invited Him to take my life and use it for His glory. I know that sounds church-y. Some of us just want to get out of this period of time alive, still breathing, still able to enjoy the delights of the world around us. That’s understandable. David was writing, and living, under pretty extreme pressure – sometimes through his own fault and sometimes because of enemies seeking to destroy him. A lot of talk recently has been that Covid-19 is an invisible enemy. So it would be easy to curl up and use every resource we have just to keep on breathing over these next weeks and months, with every hope and good wish that all will be ok in the end.

The thing is, unless hope has a foundation, it’s not really hope at all. It’s a strongly held wish. There’s a song we sing at Emmanuel along with Churches around the world that starts

‘My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness’

The goodness of God which David knew is the same goodness of God that Jesus showed in His life – his righteousness, his goodness was proved because He did what He was asked to do and completed the task set out for him without sinning (turning away from God and doing His own thing). His death, though hugely unfair and unimaginably painful, opened the way for anyone who wants to to know God and to be known by God. My hope is built on the truth that God knows and loves me and wants me to know Him too.

Power belongs to God, not me, and that’s exactly the right way round.

Something To Do

Make a list of the things you have hope in. Is God on the list? What else is?

Something To Pray

Pray for those who are powerless at the moment, that they would experience God using His power for their good.

Categories
2020 Bible Reflections

The Return of Daily Bible Reflections

Periodically I discipline myself to write a short piece about the readings that are offered for each day by the Church of England, the Church I work for. As we are in the midst of Coronavirus and all that it has brought so far and will bring in the future, it feels like a good time to start writing them again, particularly as I’m largely going to be at home for a good while.

I hope you enjoy the posts which will follow and that you find them helpful. I know that a lot of people I know and who follow me aren’t Christians and will probably sigh and move on when the posts come up on your social media feeds, but you never know, some of my jokes might be funny. Unlikely, I know, but still, a possibility which makes reading the posts probably worthwhile.

Haydon

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
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.