Friday, 12 August 2016

Villain to Hero

This week we completed a further stage of the Thames Path which included a brief visit to Tate Britain and a wander round the Victoria Gardens beside Parliament.  It was on this last stretch that we came across the statue to Emmeline Pankhurst located just under the Victoria Tower.

Isn’t it odd how so called villains can become national heroes – even in their own lifetime? 

Mrs Pankhurst’s achievements have just been immortalised in the excellent film Suffragette
a movie with a punch if ever there was one.

This formidable and visionary woman died in 1928 and the statue to her honour was unveiled by Stanley Baldwin in 1930.  The New York Times made this observation: While the transition from martyrdom to sculptured memorials is familiar, the process in Mrs Pankhurst's case has been unusually brief.


It’s happened to others of course – perhaps most notably to Nelson Mandela, transformed from reviled terrorist to revered President of a Rainbow Nation.

The truth is we can so easily get it wrong – linger with the status quo – and it takes a maverick and someone who thinks outside the box to show us that a different way is possible, even right.

Jesus was undoubtedly such a figure.  Loathed by those who longed for stability and political calm, he taught a way of compassion with a radical and cutting edge.  This is the Jesus who disturbs – he did that two thousand years ago and I think he does it still today!

With best wishes,

Ian
ps Blog holiday until September!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Many hands...

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had three ‘House Keeping Days’ at Amersham Free Church – the picture of the skip is just a reminder to us of how much ‘stuff’ we threw away on Monday! 

I was told around thirty people took part in the polishing, gardening, carpet cleaning and furniture moving!  And I think that is terrific!

The way the congregation at AFC has responded to this ‘call’ to get stuck in to some practical, down to earth work speaks volumes about the sense of commitment and identity people feel.

For many of us ‘church’ is our second home – we not only love being together with fellow pilgrims, the building too provides us with a sense of security – it is a welcoming space which seems to embrace us as we walk through the doors.  So keeping it looking good and functioning well – especially if we want visitors and user groups to also feel at home and welcome  - is very important.

I couldn’t help but feel on Monday that there was a great sense of ‘teamwork’ as we spent the morning together – a good spirit united that band of workers.  Fellowship is, I think, enhanced by working together at a project.

So, if you picked up a duster, wielded a carpet cleaner, banged nails in with a hammer, changed light bulbs twenty feet up in the sanctuary – if you helped out in any way – thank you!  And no doubt we’ll do it all over again sometime soon!

All good wishes,

Ian

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

View of Self

A summer treat this week has been a trip to The Globe theatre on the South Bank to watch a performance of the ‘Scottish Play’!

Macbeth isn’t exactly a laugh a minute!  However, it was a super occasion in a packed auditorium with a brilliant performance.

On the train home I couldn’t help but reflect that in the plot, so early on – Scene One in fact - Macbeth is totally taken in by those sinister and beguiling witches.  They dangle before him a meteoric rise to power; first he will add Thane of Cawdor to his honours and ultimately the crown of Scotland will be within his reach.

It’s been a long summer watching individuals, both here and the other side of the Atlantic, struggle for the top jobs – Trump and Boris to name just two!

Well in Shakespeare’s play, written in 1606, Macbeth becomes besotted with this prediction from the three witches.  He is consumed by this myth of self and he makes it become a reality by usurping the throne after killing the king.  It’s a great tragedy in which all too late our anti-hero realises what is ‘done cannot be undone’! 

I wonder how we view ourselves?  It’s a fine balance this understanding of self.

We neither want to believe all the compliments our loving grandmothers paid us – nor give in to the negative self doubts that all too often come from deep within. 

The accompaniment of good friends alongside us on the journey of life and a prayerful spirit can help us achieve that healthy and workable balance which can enhance all our lives - a balanced view of ourselves in God's world.

Best wishes,
Ian

 p.s. Might also be best, if you come across three witches standing by the roadside, to take absolutely no notice of them – whatever they promise you in the ‘hurlyburly’ of life!!


Thursday, 21 July 2016

'Stuff Happens'

Last week’s horrific events in Nice as a lorry driver deliberately ploughed his vehicle into the crowd in a pointless and cowardly act of terrorism was truly shocking.  As on so many occasions we are left asking the question ‘why’?  An inquiry we make not only of the man who drove the truck but maybe also of God?  Why did God let this terrible thing happen?  Why didn’t God step in and stop it?

We reflected a little on this at the Bucks Baptist Ministers’ Breakfast at Great Missenden yesterday.  As we tucked into our bacon rolls we talked together of those pastoral situations we all have when our members come to us and say they are losing faith because of a personal disappointment or a national tragedy – so after years of trying to pray or struggling with belief they are calling it a day.

Personally I came to an understanding in my own faith journey about a decade ago when I stopped believing in an ‘Interventionist God’ – and I suppose that phrase takes some unpacking.

I cannot quite square the idea that God will intervene and give me a parking space yet he stood idly by and let millions of Jews be slaughtered in the Holocaust.  And once I honestly named that dilemma in my theology I had to reassess what I thought of prayer.

For me God is not ‘All powerful’ – because he is a God of love.  That means he simply could not ‘force’ that lorry driver to stop doing evil – just as he could not stop Hitler building the gas chambers.  As a loving parent I cannot force my children to do anything – I can teach them, guide them, support them and when they make mistakes or have to endure hardship I can be there for them.  Love makes me a vulnerable parent – but it also means I will do everything I possibly can to always be there for my children.

I believe God loves us like that – because God is LOVE. And love is, I believe, the strongest force in the universe. 

After the bigger gathering yesterday I stayed on for a coffee with a minister friend of mine.  She has gone through so much personal tragedy in her life yet she serves in a local church which such grace, hope and faithfulness.  We reflected on the morning’s theme and she looked at me and said: ‘stuff happens’. 

In a way no answers came yesterday – but in sharing a cappuccino with a friend – whose life and words seemed so real and authentic I was reminded once more that even in the midst of pain - God is Love.

I believe it’s possible to go on believing, to go on worshipping and to go on serving if our trust is in such a God.

Ian

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The M and M sisters

My name is Martha and I suppose I’ve become famous because of my busy-ness.

We just loved having Jesus come over – Bethany is a really lovely place to live – we’re just close enough to Jerusalem to feel we are at the centre of things, but far enough away to live in peace and quiet rather than amongst the constant throng of pilgrims in the city.

The point is this – Jesus didn’t often come alone – normally it meant an extra thirteen for dinner and that’s not always easy at shortnotice! Not that I minded – in fact I sort of had a private pact with myself to make every one of his visits better than the last.  I suppose you could say I just wanted to be the perfect host.

But that isn’t so bad is it?  Our Greek neighbours two doors down tell me that Zeus – the king of all their gods is also the one that represents hospitality – that’s how important sharing meals and giving a welcome is to us Mediterranean people.

Well Jesus came down one evening – typically without much warning and we welcomed him with open arms – as we always do. But after greeting each other with Shalom I just had to get a wiggle on.  I did my best, you understand, for him – my very best – but that evening nothing seemed to go right.  Perhaps I wasn’t in the best frame of mind and truth be told my sister Mary was really getting to me.

We’ve always been close but different and that night things seemed just to come to a head.  I didn’t mean it to – but perhaps it had been building for a couple of weeks – I want so much to make everything special when we have guests and I just can’t get my head around Mary’s more laid back attitude – I mean wouldn’t you want to serve fresh olives rather than yesterday’s?

Well that evening I went indoors to prepare the food and I really thought for once she might have followed me and lent a hand, couldn’t she understand for a change the pressure I was under – but no – she lingered outside with the men!  When I went to offer Jesus and the other guests some lemon water there was Mary sitting at his feet just listening to him speak.  It all seemed so intense – so important – as if this was the place to be that evening – not getting the meal ready, not putting your back into it – but to sit and listen.  That’s what Lazarus does when he visits the local rabbi – sits at his feet and listens  - it’s not the way Dad, rest his soul, brought us girls up.  After Mum died I knew what I had to do – I had to run our home, that’s me – that’ what I do.  But Mary – she doesn’t get it!

Now, on reflection – because I’ve calmed down since all this happened last week – perhaps I was just a little jealous of her that evening – well, who wouldn’t be.  For two hours she sat with Jesus – talking, laughing and listening – for two hours I was fuming but couldn’t say anything in front of the guests – just rehearsing in my mind over and over what I’d say to her once everyone was gone.

It really got to me –her behaviour.  As I stirred the stew and sliced the pomegranates my mind was all over the place.

He must have noticed because with such firmness yet gentleness Jesus just said to me as I called everyone round the table for dinner: ‘Martha, Martha...’  I think he had to say it twice!  Once to break through my distraction and the second time to enter my mind.

He quietly said to me that Mary’s way was neither disrespectful nor uncaring – he thanked me for all the effort I’d put in at such short notice – but didn’t I realise that Bethany for him was special not just because of my freshly baked bread but because our house was the closest thing he’d got to a home.

Suddenly my heart melted at his words and his appreciation.  I think people have taken his words to me since as a sort of stinging rebuke – but I never heard them like that.  It was the way he said ‘Martha Martha’ – with such compassion. 

Maybe I have to deal with this jealously thing with Mary.  I think I need to realise that neither of us has a better temperament than the other – we’re just different – and different is good!  And I will admit this – that sometimes I get so worked up about everything being just right that I can forget what really matters at a meal is not just the food but the table talk, the togetherness of it all. 

I sometimes think we do that with faith too – so much emphasis on getting the ritual right that we forget what we are really here for.

So – I suppose it wasn’t the best comment left in anyone’s visitor book – but it’s the one everyone remembers about the day Jesus came for a meal at our house in Bethany.

You know I think Jesus really loved being around us and that night I – well maybe I could have served up yesterday’s olives – he wouldn’t have minded!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Tea at Three

Next Tuesday our ‘Tea at Three’ event reaches its Silver Jubilee.

In 1991 our then Church Secretary, Anne Wright, came up with the idea of opening up the church hall every Tuesday so that we could welcome both friends and passers- by with home made cakes and a cuppa.  Right from the beginning the idea was that if someone came in by themselves one of the regulars would ask if they would like some companionable company!

At its height Tea at Three attracted fifty people a week – today it follows on from LunchBreak with a regular ‘clientele’ of twenty.

Anne has long given up doing all the baking herself and there is now a strong team of both bakers and servers.

In this month’s church magazine Anne tells the story of one deacon saying, at the time of Tea at Three’s inception: ‘a good idea but it won’t last!’ – of serving ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ and having the compliment of a person who recently said LunchBreak and Tea at Three make Tuesday a ‘lifeline’ for him.

Well – I love Tuesdays at AFC – the place simply buzzes with life, hospitality and companionship.

I tried to reflect something of this in last Sunday’s sermon as we thought about Jesus sending out the 72 – and of their going into peoples’ houses to share a meal together – and in that process they shared something of themselves.  Still a valuable role model for mission today – bringing nothing but yourself to the table and sharing both your hope and vulnerability with others.

So – ‘Happy Birthday’ Tea at Three – I wonder if there will be a Birthday Cake on Tuesday??!!

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Other Point of View

Well hasn’t it been a week and a half!  ‘Shakespearean’ some commentators have called it – ‘breaking news’ almost on the hour – never has ‘fact’ felt more like ‘fiction’!  The other day I actually wondered if I might wake up soon and find it had all been a bad dream!

So – the blog this week is something of a ‘confessional’! 

At a church event this week I found myself at a table having a cup of tea and cheese scone with a lady from the community who had voted the ‘other way’ to me last Thursday.  Now I don’t consider myself to be an aggressive type yet the more we talked the hotter under the collar I became – and as I was wearing a clerical one that wasn’t a very good witness!

I shocked myself really – she presented her case with calm and steady conviction and in response I heard myself sounding just a little patronising and dismissive.  To be blunt she deserved a better mannered listener than me – fortunately I think I began to realise this before it was too late and I think we parted as friends.

As I walked home to the Manse I gave myself a good telling off because, even though I stand by the decision I made at the polling booth, I have no right to dismiss the opinion of a lady who had so carefully and conscientiously thought through the issue and come to a different conclusion to me.

I think we are all so aware of how this issue has polarised and divided our nation – the process as well as the result seems to have caused so much dejection and concern.

It seems to me that we in the Church need to go the extra mile in coming days in speaking words of reconciliation and hope.  Our prayers must surely be that amid the siren voices all around us our nation will regain its composure and embrace the future with generosity of spirit and true co-operation.

 Of course, all of this starts at home – and for me that means listening with a bit more respect to those with whom I share a cheese scone on a Tuesday afternoon.

With best wishes,

Ian