Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Five: Procrastination

I HAVE to do this one!

  1. Guitar forums - endless hours not just exchanging tips & tricks with other guitarists the world over, but playing silly games of album cover consequences, guess the riff, and other enthralling pursuits ;-)
  2. Guitar manufacturers' websites, guitar amplifier manufacturers' websites, guitar string manufacturers' websites, guitar accessory manufacturers' websites... you're getting the hang of it now?
  3. Reading stuff I keep in the bathroom - computer mags, but mostly (how did you guess) guitar catalogues, guitar amplifier catalogues, guitar... Oh, you fill in the rest...
  4. Rearranging my (computer) desktop - rearranging the real one? Not a hope...
  5. Going up & down stairs several times because each time I 'forget' to bring something either up or down. No, really, this is a form of procrastination...
Things I don't do to procrastinate: cleaning things. Weeding the garden. Calling people I ought to call. Writing overdue letters, even emails...

H'mm. 12 steps, anyone?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The ‘E’ Word

Following a link, ultimately from a post on Good In Parts, I found a fascinating article by John Buckeridge, the editor of Christianity magazine. You can read it in full here.

John’s argument is that the word ‘evangelical’ is no longer useful to describe the current of church life that it once did. He says:

Half a century ago words like ‘gay’, ‘ecstasy’ and ‘wicked’ meant something very different than they do today. In the past ‘evangelical’ stood for four key values:

  • a commitment to the authority and centrality of scripture,

  • a call to personal faith and repentance,

  • the centrality of Christ’s death as our substitute,

  • putting faith into action through evangelism and social action.

Now to the unchurched and people of other faiths – evangelical is increasingly shorthand for: right-wing US politics, an arrogant loud mouth who refuses to listen to other people’s opinions, men in grey suits who attempt to crowbar authorised version scripture verses into every situation, or ‘happy-clappy’ simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe. Large parts of the British media seem happy to paint evangelicals into that stereotype. Today in the UK ‘evangelical’ is often linked with the ultimate 21st century swearword ‘fundamentalist’. The result is the name ‘evangelical’ which years ago, may have smelt of roses – now has the aroma of the manure that fertilises the bush.

This has connections with my ‘Upside Down’ post, only what I was suggesting was more than a play on words. I fear that our actual thought processes, our ways of relating to God and to our neighbour, our capacity to love, to minister grace, to embody Christ in his mercy and his purity, are being eroded by what is happening as right-wing attitudes and fundamentalist hermeneutics infiltrate the evangelical church. (Think of George Orwell’s definition of doublethink!)

I am deeply disturbed by all this.

I was reading someone’s summary of their own character in a blog profile somewhere the other day, and it set me thinking. Am I a romantic?

Now, if romantic implies expensive boxes of chocolate, small bunches of dewy red roses, tuxedos and patent-leather dancing shoes for men, and floaty dresses and stiletto heels for women, then I’m not, not, not a romantic. No way.

If on the other hand it implies long walks on the beach at sunset, going to sleep in one another’s arms, giving one’s heart and one’s commitment and one’s total intimacy to one other person, then I am definitely a romantic.

Am I an evangelical?

Now, if this implies uncritical acceptance of the industrial west, our foreign policy and our policies on economics, immigration, social welfare, housing; if it implies reading the Bible as one might read a manual for a washing machine, applying literally both Old Testament laws and every paragraph of all Paul’s letters to our own ways of doing church; if it implies a way of life lived according to instructions from church leadership that can’t be questioned in case one is thought disobedient or lacking in accountability; if it means in practice (no matter what may be said in theory) preferring law to grace, rules to love, doctrinal and ethical purity to mercy and acceptance, then I’m so not an evangelical.

If on the other hand it implies treating the Bible as God’s inspired word to his creation; if it implies taking seriously the Good News of Jesus, in all its grace and mercy, all its power and radically demanding purity, then maybe I am.

If I’m not an evangelical, then am I a liberal?

Well if that implies treating the Bible as no more than another set of axiomatically questionable ancient texts to be demythologised; if it implies treating the Good News of Jesus as just another set of ethical ramblings by a long-dead wise man; if it implies treating theology as just another academic discipline properly confined within the corridors of universities, and prayer as one of many techniques of self-hypnosis, then no, no chance.

But if it implies understanding the Bible as God’s word given to imperfect, culturally conditioned human beings, and expressed not only in history, theology and moral instruction, but also in poetry, polemic and narrative; if it implies recognising that while Paul wrote some of the most penetrating and profound theology, and some of the most poignant personal meditations on God and life, some of his letters contain very limited, particular advice to individual local churches that are not only very different from each other but immensely different culturally from anything we might encounter, especially in the west; if it implies “freedom to develop unique ways of approaching God and talking about Christianity”, and freedom from “dogmatic statements and claims of absolute truth on finer doctrinal points” (quotes from Wikipedia), then maybe I am.

Not for the first time, I’m so grateful simply to be able to call myself a Franciscan!

[Sorry about all the 'I's - you can read 'one' if you prefer, but personally one feels uncomfortable writing as though one were a member of the Royal Family...]

Monday, April 24, 2006

A bit more Merton

"It is useless to try to make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything we have done. In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life. We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition."

From No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, New York, 1955) Page 121.

Merton getting to me again, thanks to The Merton Foundation's weekly email. He is so right here... I'm sorry to complain again about some of the charismatic/evangelical ways of doing things - and I don't mean to tar everyone with the same brush, truly - but there does tend to be an unspoken assumption that all of our lives, and the results and effects thereof, are under our control. The wholly admirable LutheranChik has an extraordinary post here, where among some very salutory remarks for people like me who tend to critcise other (our own old) ways of doing things, she remarks, "The bottom line, in the words of Luther, is that we're all beggars... The good news is that God refuses to let that prevent God from claiming us, from saving us, from seeking to befriend us. If death itself wasn't going to stop Christ, then the cluelessness of his friends certainly wasn't going to either." And that of course includes us.

We don't after all have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps... we don't have to manufacture our own righteousness. Jesus has reached down into the worst pit we can dig for ourselves, and drawn us up into his risen life with his own strong, gentle, nail-pierced hand. All we have to do is to cry, with Bartimaeus and with the tax-collector at the Temple, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

Jesus, Saviour, Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, you have done it already...!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Psalm 84 & stuff

LutheranChik left a comment on my last post to the effect that she's always loved the verse (3) from Psalm 84 that reads “Even the sparrow has found a home ... where she may have her young – a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.”

Me too.. I love that whole psalm. There are just irreplaceable lines so full of our Lord's grace and beauty, and the yearning of our response:

"Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools."


" For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness."

Oh Amen!

CS Lewis knew this feeling so well - it's at the heart of this wonderful passage from The Last Battle:

They had seen strange enough things at the Doorway. But it was stranger than any of them to look round and find themselves in warm daylight, the blue sky above them, flowers at their feet and laughter in Aslan’s eyes. He turned swiftly round, crouched lower, lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.

“Come further in! Come further up!” he shouted over his shoulder. But who could keep up with him at that pace?

If that's what awaits us on the other side, then that's, as I think it was Gandalf and Pippin who agreed, "not so bad..."

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Thinking a lot about death, and about God's love for all his creatures, just at the moment (Matthew 10:29 and so on). We had to have our beloved dog Mable (yes, spelled like that) put to sleep on Tuesday, at the age of 16. She had finally become so old she could hardly walk up the steps to the back lawn, and could only eat chicken, hand-fed. She had her last Easter with us, and died licking Jan's hand. She'd been our constant companion, friend and comforter since the age of 6 weeks... she was an indefatigable ally of the cats, and the hens, and the calves and the lambs, and the best farm ratter ever! A true lurcher (whippet/collie mix) and one of the gentlest dogs I've known. We'll miss her.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

St Clare & her Cats - one of my favourite icons

St Clare apparently loved cats, and had one special one who would sit on her bed as she knitted. Clare had trained her so that if the ball of yarn fell away, the cat would jump down and bring it back to her.

I don't know how many cats there were at San Damiano, but I love the way this icon shows a couple rubbing round her ankles.

The icon is by Terence Nelson - his note on it reads, in part:
As in her life, St. Clare devoutly holds the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in protection of the monastery. At her feet are cats, symbolizing the contemplative life. Consistent with Franciscan love of nature, a sparrow nests in the colonnade, “Even the sparrow has found a home ... where she may have her young – a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)

Cats symbolising the contemplative life? Yes, I could go along with that!

Figgy, our little round black rescue cat, loves to pray with me in the early mornings, either sitting on my lap or on the desk in front of me. If I have my Bible or Office folder open, she'll often put a paw on the open page to hold it for me. If I ever forget to let leave my study door ajar for her, she makes a terrible fuss till I do! Posted by Picasa

Upside down...

I wonder if I’ll get used to God turning my mental and spiritual world upside down on a regular basis? So many unspoken – not to mention spoken – evangelical assumptions are getting exposed by the light of grace that I’m getting slightly vertiginous.

I was mildly offended the other day when I tried one of Beliefnet’s little “What kind of Christian are you?” quizzes and discovered I was supposed to be a “Jerry Falwell Christian”. Now given that the alternatives included Hilary Clinton and Bishop Spong I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was a nasty shock all the same. It did however have the side-effect of spurring me to write this post.

For so many years I’d been sinking into a kind of grace vacuum. One of the comforting things about all but the finest and most self-aware evangelicalism is that there’s a set of rules and regulations to steer by... that the risks inherent in faith (John Wimber: “faith is spelled R-I-S-K”) are replaced by codes of practice. There are so many of them, going by names like “accountability”, “purity”, “Bible-believing”...

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking the actual things themselves. We all need to be accountable, we all need moral clarity, we all most certainly need the Bible at the very centre of our faith and praxis. What worries me are the packages that come with these words.

We affirm our faith in the Bible as the core of our understanding of God, as his word, as inspired by his Holy Spirit and “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” and we find we’ve bought into a hermeneutic that applies Old Testament strictures, and very specific, localised New Testament advice, uncritically to life 2,000+ years later and in a very different cultural setting.

We affirm our understanding of morality as having to do with the outworkings of Jesus’ “two greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:37-39) and we suddenly discover we’ve bought into a set of largely unwritten rules that excludes minorities and the marginalised from fulfilling God’s call on their lives in ministry, and that applies a “give 10% of gross income or else” rule to people living on means-tested benefits.

We affirm our need of accountability, and we discover we really shouldn’t accept a lift from someone of the opposite sex (or maybe it’s the same sex if someone suspects we may swing that way) unless there’s at least one other person of their sex (or maybe it’s our own sex?) (scratches head a while) in the car.

My point, if I haven’t laboured it too far already, is that we have to be so careful that our strongly-held convictions don’t lead us to buy into value systems that we don’t belong in, and that can lead us to unthinkingly reinforcing those sets of assumptions, promulgating them, judging others by them, seeking to re-arrange their lives in accordance with them...

You remember those wristbands that were so popular a few years ago, with the letters WWJD stamped on them? Perhaps we should revive the fashion. Would Jesus refuse to speak to a woman alone in case some busybody or easily led and morally challenged person got the wrong idea? Well did he? (John 4) Would Jesus refuse to accept God’s call in someone’s life because she didn’t measure up to the lifestyle yardsticks of the religious establishment? Did he? (Luke 10:42)

Andy Hickford has an interesting observation in an article in the April issue of Christianity magazine: “Then of course there’s Jesus! When it comes to Jesus and the law, it can be a bit confusing. Matthew 5:17 says that Jesus came to fulfil the law. Romans 3:31 says that he upholds the law. In Romans 7:6 it says that Jesus released us from the law and in Ephesians 2 Paul writes that Jesus abolished the law! So, just what is the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament’s laws?! Basically, Jesus replaces the Old Testament law. In him it is all fulfilled and upheld, because he completes it. We are released from its regulation and condemnation- that’s what meant by ‘He abolished the law.’ However, its wisdom and history is fulfilled in Christ.”

It’s odd, but I’ve discovered more honesty and grace, more love and clear, courageous thinking on things like this within the “established churches” than anywhere else recently. I don’t know just what God’s up to with the Anglican Communion at the moment, but within these ivy-clad ancient walls there’s a positive explosion of Christlikeness going on. You've only to look in a few of the blogs in the Blogging Episcopalians webring (link in the sidebar) to see what I mean.

Grace, grace, grace... “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Vigil

Sunlight early on cold stone
dry and rough
against our fingers;
the new fire flutters,
clinging to its twigs
in the wall angle,
against a chill breeze.

He is risen, and his light
finds our hearts in the still of dawn,
our bodies only half awake,
our white breath following us
to the porch and the great candle:
his light given,
that we must give and give.

He Is Risen!

He is risen indeed!


Easter Saturday...

the day taken out, like an empty hole in time, anechoic, no-thing.

Prayer is like this very often, a place without a place, “waterless over the harsh rocks, down the dry valley of heedless stones...”

What could have happened in the tomb, between Joseph and Nicodemus leaving, and that dawn of glory? There will never be a way to know: those hours were outside time, and what we are, creatures of days and years, cannot comprehend it.

Again prayer: the truer our prayer, the more we come to him who will forever be beyond our comprehension. We meet him as nearly face to face as we could ever bear, and yet we don’t recognise him. We don’t have the equipment to take him in – we are as uncomprehending as a profoundly deaf man at a symphony concert, or a blind cave salamander in a measureless cavern of crystal.

Tomorrow morning, Mary had this problem. She met her Lord and her Saviour face to face, and thought he was the gardener. Maria Boulding, from Marked for Life - Prayer in the Easter Christ:

Prayer is listening, listening to the word. Like Mary Magdalene we hear many words, but at rare intervals we hear the really piercing word, the word that affirms us in our beings, the fiat that creates and re-creates us. This word is our own name. It is the secret name written on the white stone that no one knows except him who receives it, the secret truth of our own person that we do not yet fully know ourselves but only glimpse, because it is only potentially true as yet, true to God but not yet fully brought to birth.

Tomorrow morning Jesus speaks our name, piercing our incomprehension with his recognition, his knowing, his comprehending us. Our part is to listen – listen into the anechoic disorienting silence, the dead room, the empty garden, long before dawn, “while it was still dark.” This is the time Mary set off, thinking she knew but not even knowing why she went, like we must go, not being able to know why till our Lord calls us by name, but going anyway, into the dark, into the place of tombs, the hortus conclusus, the garden closed to our senses but open to our going in. Listen... listen!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Darkness and Sun Shadows

and sun-shadows - the I AM
broken, thirsting forsaken.

The sun’s light failed
and the curtain tore

You, Jesus, agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi

accomplished this;

and wrecked despair
against the constant keep
of hope.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Back Home!

Holy Week seems like a good place to turn over a new blogging leaf, and Maundy Thursday particularly appropriate. Though we are many...

I’ve been well and truly convicted by reading Kathryn’s astonishing Good in Parts, as well as my long-time favourite Roman Catholic blogger and solitary Karen Marie Knapp. The Mercy Blog has been so impersonal, especially recently – and yet my life has been in such passionate turmoil over the period I’ve been posting here. I’ve been less than honest I guess, not speaking of the extraordinary journey God’s been taking me on over the last few months, and how he’s brought me back to the Anglican church after 7 years in the Baptist church, and the next 11 in the Vineyard. I’ll have to omit some of the finer details, as they involve other people, but suffice it to say it’s been quite a ride!

It’s crucially important too that for the last 3 years or so I’ve been involved in a conversation with various Franciscans, culminating in my being noviced as a Tertiary on March 4 this year. It just feels so right – Helen Julian CSF, in an essay published in New Daylight, calls it “finding a home.” And so it is. I’ve never been more sure of anything since marrying Jan!

As Mercy Site readers will know, the contemplative life has been drawing me in more and more deeply since, oh, 1978 at least, when I was introduced to the Jesus Prayer by Fr Francis Horner SSM, on an extended visit to Willen Priory. (He gave me Per Olof Sjรถgren’s wonderful book to read!) About that time, too, I began to read Thomas Merton, and he opened my eyes to the wonderful riches of the church’s experience in prayer. So wherever I’ve been, that’s been the centre of it all – the longing of God in my heart for closeness, intimacy; and the pain he’s let me feel for creation, for all my sister and brother creatures, human and otherwise – an ache that just doesn’t go away but gets stronger over the years and months, like St Paul says in Romans 8:19-23: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

But the amazing thing that’s happened since I began to explore this possibility of returning to the Anglican church, is the joy of coming back to liturgical prayer. I’d been noticing for a few years that my own private “quiet times” had been taking on a more and more liturgical shape, all by themselves somehow, with psalms and readings and regular bits of Scripture that kept coming back, and which I guess I’d have to call canticles. Coming back to this kind of prayer among my sisters and brothers, especially in the context of the Eucharist, has been mind-blowing. I can only describe it as being like being carried along by a deep and powerful river, rather than splashing about trying to swim in the pools.

Some of my past colleagues might be saying to themselves here, “OK as far as it goes, maybe, but what about the Spirit? What about freedom in worship?” All I can say is that I’ve found the Holy Spirit to be alive and well and living in the Church, in every bit of it, in every denomination and movement and flavour. (Unless people really make a determined effort to shut him out, I suppose, but I have to admit I’ve yet to see this theoretical possibility in practice!) And he’s the same Spirit, yesterday and today and forever. I have found so much of grace, of love, of mercy – of Jesus – over recent months. No, I’m not missing out – I feel more like the woman in Luke 15, who lost her coin and found it again, “Rejoice with me!”