Thursday, 20 December 2012

Pride comes before a you know what!!

On my kitchen wall is a short dictum. The counsel thou wouldst have another keep, first keep it thyself. Yesterday, I was to meet my priest, who is a very personable younger man, for ‘preparation’ which is confession to you and me. I waited but could not see him. I was told he had had an accident injuring his foot and would not be there. I am not a great fan of confession so was not too disappointed. Coming from a Protestant background it is not easy for me to be so open about my failings. The Bible says we ‘should confess our sins one to another’ however the practical aspects of this are filled with problems not least of all ones of confidentiality. It is probably best we confide in someone we can trust, in private. The priest then represents the rest of the congregation perhaps. 

 A priest called John of Kronstadt did try open confession with all the congregation shouting out their sins. Let’s just say it did not catch on. Confession, however, is I have found good for the soul.
I went off to St Paul’s tube feeling a little cocky that this younger man had injured himself in his folie de jeunesse, ( sparing me the rigours of the sacrament ) ‘Didn’t look where he was going’ I thought to myself sagely.   
When I got to the tube it appeared that a Father Christmases’ convention was in full swing. There were Father and Mother Christmases everywhere. The guard at the barrier and I agreed such plurality of saints was confusing for children. Going down the escalator I saw a group of about fifteen Pa/Ma Christmases coming towards me on the up escalator. In my haste to take a photo I did not see that I had reached the bottom of the escalator and I was deposited unceremoniously on the hard floor. My camera was broken beyond repair. The photo is taken with the salvaged sim card. 
The dictum on my kitchen wall burned into my psyche!! 
Happy Christmas and thank you for bearing with me and my blogs in 2012!!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Daily reading

It is funny but sometimes the things you buy for the least money bring you most joy. I have a little booklet which cost pennies with the wisdom of St John of Kronstadt. He is a fairly modern saint ( born in early 19th Century ) and spent his ministry in the rough dock town of Kronstadt on the Baltic coast of Russia. His most famous book is My Life In Christ which I confess I have not read.  I try, however, to read the daily reading at church from this little book which has a month’s readings. 
Having had a fairly up and down employment record I had been hoping that a recent idea for work might prove more fruitful. I was trying to warm my heart in my prayers with this attachment when I read this.  St John reminded me there is only one security in this world. 

The whole world is but a cobweb in comparison to the Christian soul. Nothing in it is constant and sure. We cannot lean trustingly on anything; everything breaks. We must not cleave to anything with our heart except the one God. Who has spread out this cobweb, and Who supports it and gives it life. To whatever you attach yourself, except to God, everything wounds and oppresses the heart, whilst entire attachment to Him alone is life-giving. A month with St John of Kronstadt. Nov. 18

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Love, honour and obey!!

A minister I once met told me on our first meeting that I should be obedient. I was not sure to whom or what and what he meant was, it appeared later, was that I should be odedient to him. I became subject to a certain amount of spiritual bondage and found myself working partly to build up that minister’s standing in the church. In spiritual bondage a more powerful personality thinks they can discern God’s will for another and makes them feel as if they should fall in line. If the recipient is young in the faith or vulnerable it can put them into a position of subservience. The person themselves may then think it is a legitimate way of influencing others.

Obedience in Scripture is linked more to faith than actions- Romans 1.5 and 6.26. Luther said that his followers could be influenced by him but eventually would stand alone before God. I have had a leader suggest that he could hold sway with God for me.

To avoid this practice I now stay away from non aligned churches or churches where the leadership is not accountable. However, even in mainstream churches spiritual bondage can be practiced. In cults it is almost de rigeur. The Children in God cult which started innocently enough ended up practising among other things ‘hooking for Jesus’ ie women members would have sexual relations with men to win them over to the ‘faith.’

Saint Ignatius of Loyola annotated a system by which God may speak to us through our heart and mind. Coercion is nowhere mentioned. In speaking to Elijah God spoke not through the earthquake or fire but the gentle whisper. If someone tries to tell you they know God’s will for you you might like to give them a taste of the earthquake! In love of course.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Keeping It Simple

I often hear about churches that try and get back to the early Church model. One can understand why sometimes. There must be disenchantment when another piece of corruption within the Church gets into the news. The massive infrastructure of the Church with all the trappings of power must confuse some. However, institutions do evolve. 
I was once in a church that modeled itself on the early Church format with a system of elders and deacons. It was a very caring church and by and large the structure worked.
However, it experienced the same kind of manning problems that the early church did ( Acts 6 ) in that the leaders did not have time to do everything. Certain people became overstretched. The answer in these situations seems to be to delegate certain people to be specialists while others might have to stick to more menial tasks. 
The church I am thinking about decided to have a pastor! Shock, horror!! He did not last long. The church dispensed with this office and went back to an eldership. 
The last I head the church had adopted a more ‘rock praise’ worship format. More shock, horror!
The simple truth is that organisations do evolve and while it is easy to parody the fixtures, fittings and formats of the mainstream churches they have often come by having for example a priest or a minister through simple evolution. 
An organism that does not grow is perhaps not alive.  

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Living Well and Dying better

The writer Zola in his book the Debacle writes of the French soldiers dying from their wounds in the Franco Prussian war being berated by an officer to ‘die like men.’
Yesterday, I went to the memorial service of a man I had not seen for a long time who had been seriously ill for a long period and eventually passed away. He was in his early sixties.
The tributes made me think how well he had lived and how well he had died. 
A pastor declared how he had lived and died a Christian. It was not the usual tribute cobbled together by the family and read out by a minister who had not even met the deceased.
Two things struck me. His children said how he had been a friend and a father. He had left his children prepared for the world and with a positive image of a father not as a tyrant or conversely just a ‘money tree.’ If they choose to follow the Christian faith it is their own decision but they can not say they wanted for guidance or an example.
The other thing I heard was that in his last days the man listened to hours of tapes by a favourite preacher. The dying man was preparing for eternity not reminding himself of his achievements or bewailing lost opportunities. I have spent time with people who realise they are very ill and I have known some who want to quickly finish off a project or make sure their possessions go to the right place. This man did make arrangements for his projects to be stored but he also made arrangements for others to benefit by them.
An old mystic I once read said we should not run from the time left and try and do as much as we can but rather we should advance towards it. 
Thomas Gray’s elegy of a country churchyard tells of what a great leveler death is. The poor, the unknown and famous all lie in the same patch of earth. I like to think this verse describes Paul Clowney. 

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear
He gained from Heaven ( ‘twas all he wished ) a friend

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Days and confused

Today I did something silly. I thought it was Saturday when in fact it was only Friday. I got into my Saturday routine and wondered why a radio programme that has run for decades was not on. I rang a pal and found I was a day out.
I am I confess fascinated with these quirks of time: Phineas Fogg gains a day in Around the World in 80 Days, Sam Tyler in Life On Mars goes back forty years and Bill Murray keeps waking to the same day in Groundhog Days.
Days, the poet Philip Larkin said, are what we live in.  
When we are young time seems a limitless commodity but as we age we realise there is only so much time left ‘in the bottle.’ 
An old mystic said we should walk towards time and embrace eternity.  Our Lord  said we should use the time wisely as the days are evil.  Maybe Our Lord appreciated better the brevity of our physical lives. He also knew how are lives would end as in the case of Peter
( John 21.18 )As the parable of man who lays up for the future ( Luke 12.19 ) shows us we are not privy to when we will be called to give account of our lives. 

As in most of life a balance is needed. I have known two workaholics and sadly both died tragically young. A slower pace would have been better for both. I am sure we all know those who seem to have wasted their days. We must be saddened not judgemental I think. 

O, yes, but having an day  did give me time to write this blog.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Anger is one letter from danger

On Sunday mornings I sometimes go to an Anglican convent near me as they have a boot sale where they sell things very cheaply. They have a tradition of giving little cards with bon mots on them to customers. This one below made me think. 
A couple of years ago I joined a new church. I was very impressed by the kindness and humility of the clergy. However, on one occasion I went to see one of the priests and had to tell him something very personal. I was expecting sympathy along perhaps with correction. However, he was quite brusque with me. It seemed out of character. I was surprised but he is a very busy man so I took the course of accepting his mild rebuke and made a point of praying for him. Up till then I might have reacted with anger. I have to say that as his reaction played on my mind I had to pray through gritted teeth. I remembered though that line in scripture about leaders having to give account for us. Hebrews 13.17
The other day I found out that at about the time I went to see this priest his wife died. 
I am glad I kept my cool. 
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 17.32

Monday, 28 May 2012

More off the top sir?

I recently heard the President of the United States say that black men had a special relationship with their barber. My immediate reaction was to think if a white president had said the same he would have been pilloried. However, it set me thinking. In my area if I want my hair cut I can spend five pounds and have it done speedily but in silence by a Bengali boy who speaks little English and speaks little anyway. I can for ten pounds spend twenty minutes talking football, politics and religion with another barber. We are the same denomination, similar age and both love football. 

There is something special about a hair cut and a good natter with someone on the same wave length. Women know this already. I began to think of another situation of confidentiality. 

Before I joined a mainstream denomination I had a problem with confession. Now it is part of my regular churchgoing. The sacrament of confession is so often portrayed in comedy sketches that its true blessing is rarely communicated. It can however be not just a chance to get things off one’s chest but it can be a time of real ministry with a priest who has the right gifts. The last time I took confession the priest having heard my sins then gave me strategies to deal with them, words of comfort and then told me that he himself was just a humble human being. He left me feeling exultant. He did something that priests do less and less these days; he ministered to me. RS Thomas, the poet and Anglican priest, said that too often these days priests are managers and not priests.
It was a special time and it didn’t cost me ten quid either!! 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sacrificial Love

I came across a wall full of plaques like this. It is in Postman’s Park near to St Paul’s in the City of London. All the plaques are about people who gave their lives trying to save others.

Several years ago I was by the river in Greenwich near the Cutty Sark. It was mid evening and I noticed a young black guy on the parapet overlooking the river swaying precariously. He was drinking from a bottle. I should have grabbed him and pulled him back from the parapet even if it meant a bit of a fracas.

The inevitable happened and he went over into the river. I looked down and it was quite a way down into the Thames and the water was running fast. I am not a good swimmer and have never done any lifesaving. I knew that if I jumped in I would not be of any use and would probably drown as well. That is my justification anyway.

Fortunately, a young man saw what happened and took off his jeans and shoes and went in and saved the man.

There was once a man who knew that He could save the whole human race from its rebellious nature or at least those who were willing to accept His sacrifice. He did not draw back like I did from giving his life. The real reason being that He loved in way that I do not and was totally free of selfishness.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Restless Hearts Two A Penny

Almighty God,

you have made us for yourself,

and our hearts are restless

till they find their rest in you;

These lines from St Augustine have perhaps become cliche´d. The third and fourth lines are so often quoted now that I fear they have lost their wonderful truth. Also, it often comes detached from the second line which is the key to not having a restless heart in the first place. We inhabit a world, increasingly true in the West, where we do not acknowledge that Man was made for God. Man increasingly believes he was made autonomous and his heart will be restless until it has all it desires ie material goods, fame, status and sexual satisfaction.

Coming over Waterloo Bridge I was confronted by this sign. It was attached to a building in the South Bank which is probably the most important cultural centre in the UK. There was no other slogan to suggest how we fight nothingness. Perhaps it is meant to apply particularly to the arts. If you have seen Sartre’s play In Camera you will know how depressing and nihilistic art without God can become. My thoughts went immediately to St Augustine’s lines as a defence mechanism. Sad then if they are devalued by overuse.

The other lines that are in danger of being over quoted are ‘Footprints In The Sand’ which I now see as a poster, framed to go on your wall and the other day I heard someone say they were going to read a poem and then read Footprints. It has been made into a song.

Expect Footprints the Movie. I was rather pleased then to hear Tim Vine ( a Christian comedian so he is family and is allowed ) gently satirising it.

‘My beloved child, when you look back and see one set of footprints, it is then I should tell you that at that point I thought we should both hop.’

Friday, 20 January 2012

Lost Generation

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel. 2 Judges 10.

This verse follows the death of Joshua, a courageous and completely obedient servant of God. The photo is the church where I went as a child, my mother is buried, one of my sisters was married and I was probably christened. I went to Sunday School there and was in the choir.

My parents like the generation after Joshua stopped going to church. Perhaps it was a reaction to the Second World Way. I followed suit caught up in my own rebelliousness. I remember though the church being the centre of much of our lives. The rector visited on his bike and we went on church socials. We sang hymns in assembly even though it was a state school. The church helped us ‘match, hatch and be dispatched.’

I see a generation of young folk who shop and go to internet cafes on Sunday am and instead of praying and communicating with others have their ears permanently filled by headphones imbibing a constant diet of their handpicked music. They know little of the Christian religion and have little instruction in it.

I see a generation trying to find fulfilment in careers, consumerism, artistic expression, fame and non demanding ‘spirituality.’

Gertrude Stein called the generation who had lost their youth in the First World War a ‘lost generation. ‘ I think it is my generation and this one who are the lost ones.

He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. 1 John 5.12