Thursday, 27 November 2014

A Good Read!

On Tuesday the AFC Book Discussion Group met for its bi-monthly chat.  We are a diverse group and we always seem to fill the hour we spend together with stimulating, encouraging and insightful discussion (not to blow our own trumpets too much you understand!).  This group has now been 'officially' drawn into our Life and Faith Groups programme - which I think is good!

In his play Shadowlands Williar Nicholson gives C.S.Lewis that wonderful line: 'We read to know we are not alone' - and I must say I feel like that at times.  It's a great moment when you come across something in a book and want to shout out loud: 'I feel that too!'.

So I'm deeply grateful for books.  In a way they offer a somewhat solitary pursuit and at times that suits me fine because there are moments when my best thinking, research and 'pondering' is done alone.  Yet I'm also - if this isn't too much of a contradiction - deeply grateful for book groups because it has often been my experience that in the discussion I either change my mind about a book or see things in a new light.  This has been especially the case with the last two books we've read in the Central Area Ministers' Book Group to which I also belong.

On Tuesday we were discussing The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.  I read it back in 1990 and it was fascinating to see which part I underlined then and what I highlighted this time - not everything coincided - perhaps suggesting that as we grow older books begin to mean different things to us than when we read them in our younger years.

One of my new underlinings came towards the end when Nouwen reflects on the refusal of the older brother to rejoice in the return of the younger son.  He writes: Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between cynicism and joy.  Every thought I have can be cynical or joyful. Every word I speak can be cynical or joyful.  Every action can be cynical or joyful.  Increasingly I am aware of all these possible choices, and increasingly I discover that every choice for joy in turn reveals more joy and offers more reason to make life a true celebration in the house of the Father.

Perhaps an appropriate thought for this fourth Thursday in November, celebrated by our friends from across the Pond as 'Thanksgiving'.

Best wishes,

Ian



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Order! Order!

I belong to an Order!

Not the Masons or Buffaloes but the 'Order for Baptist Ministry' (www.orderforbaptistministry.co.uk) and last week I went to its Convocation in Birmingham and yesterday I attended my 'local' Cell at Haddenham,  Perhaps I ought to explain....

The OBM was created about four years ago as an Order available for those ordained within the Baptist Union.  It's quite deliberately based on the sort of spiritual disciplines and practices of the monastic period yet it is a 'dispersed' community rather than a group of people living together.

At last year's Convocation I took my 'vows' and became a member. By doing so I promised to seek to be faithful in the following ways:

* To pray the Order's Daily Office regularly (we are actually using one of these prayers during The Confession at AFC this Sunday!)

* To be part of a Cell - that is to meet every six weeks or so in a group with other OBM members when we say the Office, eat together and then go through the discipline of asking each other reflective questions about our ongoing ministry responsibilities.

* To attend Convocation once a year - the only time the whole Order comes together.

* To have a 'Spiritual Director' - that is some independent person to whom one goes about six times a year for a one to one conversation about how its all going.

*To go on retreat once a year.

I suppose this isn't every Baptist ministers 'cup of tea' but I have to say I have found it remarkably sustaining and inspiring to be part of the 'companionship' of this Order - journeying alongside like minded people in what is essential a really supportive network.

One of the foundational documents of the Order is a piece called The Dream - it is written in the form of a poem and outlines some of the aspirations we hold as a group as ministers - here it is -  I think it's rather beautiful .

We dream of an Order, a community of equals
Where we are gathered and dispersed
journeying together even when alone
rooted within the Baptist story.
Where we hold a view of Baptist ministry
as a way of being that mediates the presence of Christ,
particularly expressed in word, sacrament, pastoral care and mission.
Where we seek to be attentive
to Word and Spirit
contemplating in silence and conversation
in stillness and in service
the Triune God -
known and unknown
mystery and revelation -
present in Christ
within us
between us
and around us.
Where we offer safe space cradling, nurturing and holding us
that we may risk and explore
think aloud
hear and be heard
value dissent and freedom of conscience
walk together and watch over one another.
Where we live within the disciplines of this Order
committed to prayer
committed to gather
following the rule of Christ
with hearts set on pilgrimage
makers of peace
pursuers of justice
lovers of mercy
bearing witness to Christ.
We dream of an Order
committed to the way of Christ
faithful to the call of Christ
discerning the mind of Christ
offering the welcome of Christ
growing in the likeness of Christ
engaging in the mission of Christ
in the world that belongs to Christ.
We dream…
Not a bad thing....to dream!

All good wishes,

Ian

Friday, 14 November 2014

A couple of weeks ago we were fortunate to obtain some free tickets for the BBC Young Choristers of the Year 2014 final at St Paul's Cathedral - and it was a wonderful evening.

It left me very conscious that the 'voice' is actually an inspiring instrument - one that you don't need to put in a case or polish with the Brasso!

The cathedral was full that evening and all the 'contestants' were in their teens - four boys and four girls (interesting that whilst all the boys sung from sheet music all the girls opted instead to rely entirely, and successfully, on their memories!)  I admit I was enchanted from the start, especially because they sang some lovely hymns such as Christ Triumphant (to Guiting Power), My song is love unknown and Angel voices ever singing - and of course there wasn't a dud singer among them.  Alongside these hymns they also sang a 'religious' piece of music such as O rest in the Lord from Mendelssohn's Elijah or How beautiful are the feet by Handel.  It was utterly captivating from beginning to end - and I felt rather smug that I privately selected the winners (Luke McWatters and Laura Barraclough)!

As we left and made our way home on the Tube I think we were all still in the 'glow' that had come upon us through that evening of music.  It had been a sheer delight to see young people taking part in this competition with such skill, commitment and simple joy - that was it - we actually got the impression they 'enjoyed' singing!  And I've never ever heard such clapping and cheering in St Paul's before - it was quite a happy and vibrant audience.

I suspect I've said it more than once on this Blog - that for me they go together: music and the 'touch of God'.

All good wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Parable of The Sat Nav

A number of years ago now we purchased a Sat Nav - they had become all the rage, everyone was buying them and over time I had become dependant on this little box of tricks whenever I made a journey.  It's not that I couldn't read a map - after all I had been a Cub Scout in my childhood - it's just that everyone has a Sat Nav these days and although everyone also seemed to moan about them and have a story about being sent on a fool's errand by this little box - 'everyone' still used them.

Then, about three weeks ago, our Sat Nav became permanently and irretrievably confused - it was a sad ending!  Wherever we were and whatever we wanted it to do - the only function it could now perform was to give us the directions home - which wasn't much good if you were already parked on the Manse driveway and really wanted to be told how to get to the COTHA Quiet Day at Bulstrode Park, Gerrard's Cross.

After the pressing of many buttons and the vain hope that a good night's sleep might cure our Sat Nav - we had to 'retire' it and it no longer lives in our car!

So what has taken its place?

Well, I have started, once again, to think for myself!  I use my own mind to explore routes, weigh up different options and look up suggested possibilities on Google Maps and my 2009 battered road map (which has lain in the glove compartment unused and unloved for years!). I even do something quite radical - I chat though the different road routes with my passenger and together we work out a way forward.

It's all become much more interactive, evolutionary and even scary - as opposed to comfortably dependent and rather mindlessly obedient.

Now I know no parable tells the whole truth and I also have to confess that a new Sat Nav is on its way from Amazon even as we speak.  But this interlude without such a device has made me think about how I choose the road ahead - do I do what 'everyone' does and take a 'prescribed' route via a Sat Nav or do I explore the options before me differently, take a risk, ask others, try out alternative possibilities and discover for myself that 'travelling hopefully' is an important part of the journey.

And in all of this might there just be some similarities with our journey of faith?

All good wishes,

Ian

Who is up there?!

We were in Lisbon over half term and enjoyed glorious sunny days throughout our visit. The city has many squares, almost all with statue...