Monday, January 28, 2013

True me or not true me?

'This above all: to thine own self be true' says Polonius, in the first Act of Hamlet. So: is Polonius right?

Thus I tweeted moments ago.

The other night, a dear friend listened to some of my stored-up disappointments, frustrations and questions, and gently asked afterwards: are you happy with who you are?

It was the right question. Behind some of my fuming was the sense that I wasn’t quite sure.

We can put up with a lot, said my wise friend, if we know we’re being true to ourselves. If we don’t know that, it doesn’t take much to get us down.

 It switched a light on for me, this did.

I know that Polonius’s famous dictum tweeted above can be a clich├ęd excuse for self-congratulation and pomposity (indeed, this was probably true of Polonius, and that was Shakespeare’s irony). But that doesn’t stop it being true.

I’m grateful to have such wise friends. And I’m even more grateful that this particular friend is my wife.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Learning from Margaret

Margaret, an elderly member of our church passed away just recently. She was an unforgettable real character, and much loved. If you want a snapshot of her, it might suffice to tell you that one of the main hobbies of this nearly blind yet intrepid soul was - archery. Yes, archery. She attended a class called 'Archery for the blind'. It gives you a flavour.

A thanksgiving service for her life was held last week, in which moving testimonies were shared about how much Margaret had meant to many.

For me Margaret was a fascinating friend: on car journeys to and from her house on the edge of the city, she would regale me with tales of the War, and of her experience as a nurse. Yet in recent years, since Margaret has been quite frail and ill, she ministered to me in a new, unexpected, way. Visiting her in the nursing home she was living in, she brought me peace and taught me Sabbath.

By this time her conversation was less scintillating (though not without its fascinating flashes). Memory was failing, sight had almost gone. But Margaret had a quality of 'being'. Her life had deepened as it slowed down. Once I went to see her a little desperate because of a series of discouraging events. I spent a quiet hour with Margaret, during which she listened. I remember she said 'Sometimes things go well. And then they stop. And then they go well again.' You may not think this is all that profound, but I tell you it's what I needed to hear.

Margaret's 'being-ness' brought me back to peace.

Reading something Walter Brueggemann wrote reminded me of my times with Margaret. Speaking of the commandment to honour one’s aging parents, he writes:
"[This commandment] is closely related to the Sabbath. It, too, insists that human worth cannot be assessed in terms of economic productivity. Parents who may be belittled because they are no longer productive are indeed special candidates for Sabbath, endlessly at rest, Sabbath-enacting members of the community"
We need "Sabbath-enacting members" of our community. They keep us sane.

For this, and for much much else besides, I give thanks for Margaret.

Here is a video, made by Margaret's son, Jon, to mark her passing and celebrate her life:

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Oh Andy, we just...

My friend Andy commented on an old post of mine, 'Stop praying to the Lord!'

I enjoyed his comment so much - especially his mock prayer in the penultimate paragraph - that on rereading it today, I thought I'd elevate it to a post of its own:
Perhaps in this age of absentee fathers it is no longer appropriate to pray to "Father"? I'm quite sure that Jesus' audience had a very different mental image when he told them to pray to "Our Father".

Likewise, the term "Majesty" today conjurs images of pomp and circumstance rather than ultimate authority. Perhaps praying to "King Jesus" is outdated too.

On the other hand, I do think that a bit of judicious self-censoring is in order when addressing the All Compassionate Almighty Creator and Sustainer of all things. After all, if someone at work came to me with a request like this:

"Oh Andy I just want to bring to you my computer Andy. It's so slow Helpdesk man and Andy it just needs the touch of your hand. So Mighty Computer Wizard, please would you reach out and heal my computer? Yes Andy, I ask this in the name of our employer with whom you have a contract that states that you *must* fix my computer when it breaks because it's in your nature Andy and you can't help but fix a broken computer Andy because you love computers Andy. Yes Andy. Thank you Andy. In the employer's name Andy, Amen.

I think I'd probably laugh in their face! A simple, "Andy, my computer's got problems, can you help?" would probably achieve a much better result.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Fear of fire

This year, for the Jesus Army, has been dubbed the year of ‘hearts on fire’. Led by Mick Haines, our main leader, we’ve become aware again of our great need of God. At a recent leaders’ conference, Mick read this passage from early Methodist pioneer Samuel Chadwick:
The church is powerless without the fire of the Holy Ghost. Destitute of fire, nothing else counts; possessing fire nothing else really matters.
A confession: talk of the fire scares me a little. I know as a charismatic-Christian-type it should set my heart beating and my blood racing. But at the leaders’ conference I found myself feeling a reticence I couldn’t immediately explain. Was it reluctance to get into hype? That would be a safely smug conclusion – but it wasn’t, not really.

It’s God I’m afraid of. God tends to get me into trouble.

‘The fire’ led me into Christian community. It hasn’t always been easy. The fire demands I forgive those who hurt me. Those who think that is easy have never really been hurt. The fire led me to give up a job I loved. The fire demands I share all my money and most of my time. The fire led me to put hope in some who subsequently let me down. The fire insists I continue to (in Churchill’s famous phrase) move from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Some may think of the fire of God as warming, like a homely hearth. I’ve come to think of it as scary and liable to scorch.

Cleansing fire
So it was comforting to me when a friend quoted Malachi chapter 3. ‘Who can endure the day of his coming?’ asks the prophet, and I know what he means. ‘He is like a refiner’s fire’.

But Malachi adds another metaphor to fire: ‘like fullers’ soap’. The fire – burning, blazing, roaring, consuming, purging – is also soap – gentle, cleansing, soaking, renewing.

When God comes close – and we know he must if we’re to be renewed as a movement – he comes as fire and it’s right to fear him.

But the presence of God is also like a warm bath filled with cleansing soapy, bubbly, lather. Get in, get cleansed, get healed.

(As Malachi puts it, no longer say ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?’) Let cynicism and disappointment be washed away. Be renewed. Be refreshed.

I’ll have some of that.