Friday, October 26, 2012

He said what?!

Laughing Jesus by Gary Ellis (
Is the joke on you?
Another poem wot I wrote. Works best read aloud with a bit of drama. I dedicate it to my mother. Not only did I inherit any gifts I may have in creative writing (not to mention drama) from her, but she also taught me that the first step on the road of love is tolerance. Love's road may go much further, but it starts with that first step and never unsteps it. (She also told me last night that she often reads my blog. So this is for her.)

He said what?!
The good Samaritan.
He said...
The good Samaritan!
And Samaritan?!
A heretic, terrorist, unclean Samaritan?
The Pharisee is speechless.

For us for whom Samaritans
Are nice people who help with problems
On the telephone
The shock is less.

Who is he telling us
Is good?
The good gay?
The good Muslim?
The good evolutionary biologist?
Good God we say,
What a shock.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Friends make friends

Friendly orange'What I'd really like is a pint of freshly squeezed orange juice!' One of our house family was feeling rough last night. One of those lingering colds. Hearing his orange juice longing, my 9-year-old daughter and I nipped out to a local store and got him a carton of posh Clementine juice. I think he was well-blessed.

Friendship is priceless.

There's a bit of a catchphrase round our place at the moment: 'friends make friends'. When we're truly friends with each other, it's attractive; others want to join in.

So we've been upping the importance of friendship in our household (by 'household' I mean not only those of us who live in our community house, but our wider circle of members and friends, too). We all know, somewhere in our bones, that friendship is simply the best thing in life. But we need to hear it sometimes, especially when busyness and clashing priorities can seem so pressing. And also because friendship - just chilling together, enjoying each other, laughing, playing - can seem somehow less spiritual than, for instance, all closing our eyes and singing a Matt Redman song.

I think that's a mistake. Friendship is centre stage, not in the wings.

There's a beautiful little bit tucked away at the end of one of the smaller letters in the New Testament: 'The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.' (3 John 15) Christians are called 'friends'. Not 'members' (powerful word if it means parts of one body, less so if it means belonging to a club); not even 'brethren'; but friends.

There have been many attempts to define friendship, some of which make good fridge magnet type quotations. 'Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies'. That's Aristotle, y'know (thanks Google). 'A friend is someone who knows all about you and still likes you.' That sort of thing.

I like some of the biblical proverbs about friendship:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17) 'That's what friends are for' they say about help given in hard times. True word that.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (18:24) There's something about friendships formed in Christ which has the potential to run deeper by far than even family ties - and certainly deeper than just those we sit next to once a week on Sunday.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6) We usually take this to mean that the truthful reality of a friend is worth a lot even when it hurts - which is true. But I also wonder if it may include the idea that it's better to be hurt unintentionally by a true friend than to lap up the false blandishments of a false friend. Certainly I've been often hurt by my friends in Christ - but they're still my true friends and I ought to remember this. Mustn't let offence rob me of that.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (27:9) Beautiful. There's nothing quite like heart-to-heart honesty with a dear, deep friend.

So we're into friendship: meals round friends' houses; parties with treacle toffee; days out together; games; laughter; nicknames; prayers.

We want a widening circle of friends. Life affords nothing better.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hoorah for pessimism!

'Good morning, Little Piglet,' said Eeyore. 'If indeed is is a good morning,' he said. 'Which I doubt,' said he. 'Not that it matters,' he said.
 So, my friend tweets: 'A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.'

A nice little sound bite (I wonder if it's original to him?)

And I wonder if it's true?

A year or two back, I remember hearing a radio discussion in which one chap was expounding the virtues of 'defensive pessimism'. He argued that optimism, almost universally feted as a wonderful and desirable state of mind, will often have disappointment as its long-term result. (After all, there is such a thing as wishful thinking.) Conversely, a judicious pessimism, he argued, can lead to a life filled with pleasant surprises.

So all you Eeyores out there, all you Puddleglums, all you Lieutenant Worfs - take heart. We need you dour 'bottle's half empty' types just as much as we need those bouncy 'bottle's half full' types.

Of course, this is quite possibly the most pointless post I've ever written. As Eeyore put it:
'This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.'

Monday, October 15, 2012

Everyone valued

I love being in a people-loving church of zero-prejudice.

Two Facebook statuses by different friends, both in the Jesus Army, stuck out to me this morning. Here's the first, referring to our big bash in Sheffield last Saturday:
I am proud of my church, the Jesus Army. We have slogans "All accepted, none rejected" and "Where everyone is valued." Saturday in Sheffield demonstrated, once again, that it doesn't matter how people classify you: by race, colour, gender, age, sexual orientation, previous religion, history, class or any other "box", you can be accepted as a full member of the church.
And the second from another friend:
The last few days have been a stark reminder that life is all about the people... Those who are gone, those who are here, those who are far away and those who are near. They all shape you, make you and change you. Its the people that make life what it is and its those people that remember what you made of life when you're gone. Thanking God for the people in my life, those that have been, and those people making life what it is!
I believe that in our time the church must earn its right to speak into our culture. It earns that right not by seizing or protecting power, not by intoning or preaching from some lofty height, but by - truly, demonstrably, authentically - loving all people everywhere.

I'm glad to be part of a church that is at least trying to do just that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The bible says

I love the bible. But I wrote this poem in response to those who think 'the bible says' is the end of the argument. It seems to me that what the bible says invites us into an argument that the bible invites us to have... with the bible!

                The bible says

                The bible says
                Obey your masters
                The bible says
                Women must be seen and not heard
                In church
                The bible says
                Go into the land and kill them all
                Spare not the women and children
                The bible says
                The man who lies with a man
                The bible says
                Do not eat shellfish
                On pain of death
                This and many other things that are wrong
                The bible says
                The bible also tells a story
                A story in which slaves are set free
                By an almighty outstretched arm
                A story in which Mary is not sent back into the kitchen
                To be with the women
                A story in which
                Fulfils the law
                A story in which we cannot call unclean
                That which God has made clean
                On pain of death
                The bible tells a story
                That invites us to argue
                To wrestle
                To do battle
                Even with what
                The bible says
                The bible tells
                The story of a journey
                In which love knows the way

Monday, October 08, 2012

Martin Luther, alive and well

Martin Luther: here I standMartin Luther's still converting people, 500 years on.

A friend of a friend (who also happens to be a friend in his own right) was brought up a Christian, but pretty switched off to the childhood faith he inherited from his parents.

A bright kid, he's doing A-level History. His period is the 16th century - the Reformation. His teacher lent him a book about Martin Luther and the revolution he kicked off from the day he pinned a little list to that church door in Wittenberg.

Result: my friend's friend (who also happens to be my friend) is being galvanised into real, living, excited faith. Something about Martin Luther has brought him to life. He's being converted.

Made me think of some of the worthies who've inspired and influenced me (that eclectic bunch from Augustine to C.S. Lewis to Watchman Nee to Francis of Assisi).

G.K Chesterton defined tradition as 'giving our ancestors a vote'. Well, it seems that some of our ancestors have even more than a vote - their legacy continues; their ministry endures.

Inspiring stuff.

Who inspired you?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Am I a Buddhist?

Minutes ago, I retweeted the Delai Lama.

“A happy society must be created by people themselves, not through prayer alone, but by taking action.”

I liked this tweet enough to retweet it. It’s practical, not pietistic.

Conversely, a tweet from Christian prayer initiative got my goat yesterday. The tweet quoted A.W.Pink  and said “The measure of your love for others can be seen in the fervency and frequency of your prayers for them.”

Really? Isn’t the measure of my love for people quite a lot to do with being patient, cooking meals, washing dishes, speaking encouragement, confronting wrong, listening carefully, wiping up sick, mopping brows, laughing at jokes, being reliable, keeping my temper, noticing things, driving around, mopping the floor, staying up late, getting up early, seeing things positively, forgiving, forgiving, forgiving, being forgiven, being forgiven, being forgiven, crying, longing, aching – and okay, praying?

Does this make me a Buddhist?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Beyond the box

So what can a snowy-haired bicycle repairman and his ancient eccentric lodger teach me about life?

In Penelope Wilcock’s novel The Clear Light of Day, Jabez Farrall is a kind of heterodox sage who helps the heroine, a harried Methodist minister, to find what is truly true. In summary:
‘Simplify; small is beautiful; cherish the living earth; bless the community where you live; think globally, act locally; watch your boundaries; choose what is handmade with love.’
And his feisty lodger, Seer Ember (who I suspect is Pen Wilcock’s means of expressing her own heterodox truths) adds:
‘Don’t eat food you don’t like; don’t be deprived of firelight; don’t take anything too seriously; don’t let people get you down.’
Penelope Wilcock has provided many members of my church with spiritual sustenance through her Hawk and the Dove books. The Clear Light of Day is less well-known, but has the same earthy spirituality. And she has written non-fiction such as The Road of Blessing, which I recently read and found perceptive, original – ah! an original Christian book! – and refreshing.

Last May I was privileged to meet Pen and talk through silence, solitude, celibacy (among other things). We also laughed a very great deal. You can read that interview here.

We need those who see – and help us see – beyond our boxes. I think Pen Wilcock is one such seer.