I’m not quite sure what I can write about this evening, as there was so much of the detail which was unbloggable, but what I need to say is that I have been fed. I found myself in the company of some people with whom I shared some common ground (by no means was all the ground common!), and in whose company I felt safe to be, to whose discussions I felt (knew?) I had something to add, and who weren’t afraid to go to dangerous places. Well, were less afraid than most of the people I deal with.
I am encouraged. I am less alone. I just really don’t like this stupid game we’re all forced to play. I want someone to stand up and say ‘No! Let’s do this stuff properly’. It doesn’t have to be me, does it?
I found myself saying (about a different matter) ‘it’s not my job; I don’t want to do it’, and yet I knew – and we came back round to this in the conversation – that it is my job, because I’m the one who is there and can see that it needs doing. It is my job because its not being done (or being done poorly) makes me cross! So, it is my job, because I believe in it, because I am certain that it needs to be done, and because I am in a position to have the opportunity to do it. What I don’t feel is that I am equipped to do it – but maybe I am, and of course maybe I’m on the journey to becoming equipped.
But why would people be called to things they don’t like, want…oh, I get it!
The thing I learned in the session tonight, after all: when it’s difficult is when it’s good. When we don’t know is when we learn. When we hurt is when we grow. When we take is when we give.
Aha! I just understood a little better the Bible passage we were discussing over wine this evening…which is where the interesting conversation began. I can honestly say that during the 6+ years I have worked in this Christian context, this is the first time I have ever seen a group of people taking out Bibles unbidden to look up a passage because they wanted to talk about it and share it together. In social time. Now, my not having seen it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – I’m not usually there in social time, but it does mean that I’ve never had the experience of being fed by that, of seeing that hope.
Why are we so reticent about the stuff that we feel deeply, about the things we believe to matter? Is it because we don’t dare own them? Or because we think we might ‘get it wrong’? Or because we fear frightening people? Or just because it’s not socially acceptable?
Why do we, as the church, spend so much in doing stuff we know not to work, and resist so fiercely the things that we know to work? Weird.
Anyway, I’m going back to revisit that story now, see how it looks from here.
I don’t think I realised how vulnerable I am.
What are we doing, as a church, when someone amongst us (and presumably, many amongst us) can feel so alone and afraid in our midst?
Why don’t we all just be a bit more open and kind with each other? Is it so complicated, really?
- Maybe I should just share my outpourings with God rather than trying to share with another person/people? Seems like such a waste. Actually, these are the things I have to offer – these are me – these are what makes me me and special and to stop me, to take them away, is wrong. So how to make it something constructive rather than a bind, a burden?
- A church with closed doors is no church at all – is worse than no church. It misrepresents the Kingdom, and it damages the children of the family of God. Close the building, or open it: don’t guard it closely, hold on to it, revere it. It is a place. To open a space to God and then shut the door is profoundly wrong.
- I’m suddenly using much more language of morality, of black and whites. Actually, there seem to be black and whites where there were not – there are firm lines, now, where previously everything was always in question and shadow
- What can I do? How can I make it better? I have no doubt that I have a ministry of some kind, I just don’t know where to find it
- “This space is sacred” means “this space is/belongs to/comes closer to/improves access to/is a conduit for God”. That means it has to mean “come in, be welcome, share, and live”. That is what church is. It means come find God here. It is inherently invitational. Or else it is false – without the invitation, God is absent/withdrawn/blocked/resisted.
- My stream-of-consciousness sometimes (often!) feels like to much for me to live alone. Where does “life in all its abundance” fit in? We are always so much less than we are – we know we use only a tiny portion of our brains, for instance. How do we be more? What’s holding us back? Weakness of the flesh? Brokenness of society? Lack of willingness, courage, urgency? Or overwhelm, perhaps?
- Where am I bound? To what, to whom, am I bound? Am I bound? Do I bind myself out of choice? Are there responsibilities I must accept?
- Where is love? What does love mean?
- Do we simply need to claim our inheritance? To call an angel sister or brother – does that mean I am become kindred with them? Is that what imago dei means – that we are all as close to God as we are willing to allow ourselves to be? That resonates: the more we can forget our fear-driven learning, the closer we can become to our pre-Fall state, as it were, the more freedom there is (and God lives in freedom), the less brokenness there is
- Is it brokenness that binds, after all? Are we free other than in sin? I think Paul did say something along those lines…!
This blog post belongs after another one that I haven’t written yet. My thoughts are not yet sorted enough, so I’m just posting unsorted for now. I am newly resolute, though, even if I’m not as tidily sorted as I was!
I’m open to this being a good thing. It’s not that there is no God now, just that I no longer seem to have access to the God I thought I knew. Let’s assume that what we’re dealing with here is the debunking of an idol, one that was represented somehow by something I encountered, or didn’t encounter, in a cathedral last week.
It was my first visit there, and I was overwhelmed. I rushed through somewhat, and didn’t manage to process all that I met. The experience left me in floods of inexplicable tears, with a chest cramped so tight I was fighting for breath. This was very much a surprise; I had not expected to be moved at all, particularly. It’s a while ago now, and I still have no clear explanation as to what was going on for me. Certainly, there was a lot to take in. Certainly, there’s simply a question of scale, too: that’s a biiiig space to be in. There were also several strands of personal stuff looping their ways across the weft. I came away with two feelings prevalent amongst the mix: disgust and delight.
Today I visited another ancient and beautiful church; one that is far more familiar to me – one that I would have said I loved. Perhaps I still do. I remember being moved to tears by the beauty and splendour of the Christmas carol service there 8 months or so ago. But today things were different: the building was somehow stripped of its wonder and majesty; it was a building, in which people insist on talking about God, often in nonsense terms, I imagine, and a slightly scruffy, nonsensical one at that.
I don’t understand how that transformation has happened for me. I sense that, over time, I will learn to regrow my love for the place: I will invest in reading and working to support that regrowth, because it’s something I want to have in me.
So, I suspect this missing God moment is a stage in a process of transition. I’m not yet even able to identify what it is I’m moving from, so can do nothing but be open about what I might be moving to.
I want God to be immanent. I want there to be a God in whose name we live out ‘church’. I want to touch God, to feel presence, to reconnect to that relatively direct access I’ve always felt. I’m sad if God isn’t like that, isn’t the God I’ve known. I’m also sad now to be alone. I recognise that it’s my choosing to be Godforsaken that has brought this about, that a God worth knowing isn’t going to be into abandonment. So why have I brought myself here?
I am certainly in, or approaching, a transition in my life circumstances, as several elements of situation are weaving their way onward to something slightly different. At the same time, my mind is desperately seeking something different: I find I am aching for mental stimulation, for spiritual nourishment, for adventure, and above all, for purpose.
The work I’m doing, which so often has felt more meaningful than anything else I’ve ever done, currently, for various reasons, is feeling very frustrating. Professionally, it feels as though I’m kind of stuck in a trap: there doesn’t appear to be any way forward in the direction I’m facing, and there isn’t an easy route back – or out – either. I’ve been looking into ways of trying to supplement my life with learning, or giving, or sharing, and haven’t yet found anything straightforwardly possible (though I might). I wonder somehow if my church ought not to be part of my spiritual nourishment…? It doesn’t always feel as though that’s an option, and sometimes feels as though I am nourishing them and, should I be seeking out anything further, it will need to be something of my own making, or at least provoking. I don’t like to look at it like that; this is something new, too.
So it seems to me that God is not in church. In fact, I’m sensible enough to realise that more often than not, church is a big obstacle blocking the way between us and God. I find it very difficult to reach the God in the people, too, lately; that’s probably just me. There’s also an important distinction I’ve felt crowding round me today: the difference between God and what people say about God. That leaves the churches out in the cold, for sure, and casts the Bible into stormy seas too; nevertheless, that seems my best resort just now – to read and reflect and study and pray, and to hope that somehow God finds me there…or I find God.
I do know (for want of a better expression) that we have a responsibility to bring God into the church; that is the work that we are about. God has to be in Jesus – my brain and brainwashing tell me that – so all I feel I can do is to search the Gospels for the God that lives there, though I am cautious of and resistant to building up a purely cerebral idol for myself. I believe God must be far more experiential than that. It’s just that when I reach for God – or for meaning, or purpose, or explanation – I’m coming up blank at the moment. Sort of empty, and maybe a little hazy or muffled. Perhaps its my searching that is the obstacle.
I’m inclined – I want – to do something active: to walk, become a pilgrim, or to take to silence or to stop the world awhile, but those are not options. Instead I have to get on with the business of life – being family, being church, being me, and doing my work…even though I’m sometimes struggling to see the point, and I’m meeting only echoes when I call on God to justify my going through the motions, or to make change.
This is a strange place to be. I’m working on the basis that it’s an exciting one, too…that I’m just coming up to a blind corner, and just because I can’t see what’s around it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a journey worth taking.
I just discovered Christian Piatt’s blog and am loving exploring it. It feels as though he has done some wrestling with some of the questions I’m currently swimming in – and I’m interested in his answers. I’m not rushing to find my own answers – quite happy to tread water awhile before I race off and get myself into trouble – but am going to take this one into the week with me to think about, along with my gleanings from this morning’s service. It feels as though I might find much spiritual manna in this blog. Thanks Christian!
This morning’s service discussed the story of blind Bartimaeus. It’s a story I like, one I always seem to get more from, every time I go back to it. To be honest, the sermon didn’t work particularly well for me: it ranged about too much, tried to tie up too many things into nice little shiny-happy-people packages. But I did enjoy it – it was delivered well, both the preacher and the reader had lovely speaking voices, and many of the individual points made were interesting to me. My primary gleaning, the thing I’m taking home to chew over as the week goes on, is this:
Bartimaeus was in need, and reached out to Jesus. The disciples, we the church, shushed him up because he was an inconvenience to us. This guy was someone who needed the church. And the church was too self-involved to hear his cries. Jesus wasn’t, of course. The preacher actually laid this out rather more effectively than I am now, but the point is this: how many times do we do that? Constantly, I reckon. Now I want to look back and see how many times the disciples did that, too, because I seem to remember it’s more than once!
This is what church is about, right? Bringing the lonely, the broken, the needy to God, to find Christ and in Him “The Way”. To share love. To share faith. To nourish. To teach. To heal. To care. To bring about and enact the Kingdom. This is what Jesus was about, right? So why, even from the very beginning, even in those closest to Jesus, right at the moment of the recreation, do we reject everyone? Why would we rather share with ourselves, each other, the like-minded, than with those who are asking for our help – those we profess we want to serve?
Can any of you say it’s different today in your church?
“There’s none so blind as he that will not see”
My mother is by vocation a teacher. She spent years training to be a teacher. She is good at it. Her methods are effective and challenging. She loves it. She believes in it. I can hardly imagine her ever doing or being anything else; it is just who she is.
The sad thing is, she’s spent her entire adult life resisting that. Not the teaching – she does that (she can’t help herself!), and does it well – but the system. She hangs around the system, shouting from the sidelines, or just watching disconsolately. She dabbles around the edges: does things which are teaching but are not quite in the system proper. She behaves like this because the system makes her angry and afraid. I don’t blame her – she has a point. Formal education here is not as could as it could or should be, at least in part because of the mis-management of the system.
I do struggle with her approach: I see the damage her self-distancing has done to her (mitigated, of course, against the potential damage that ‘playing the game’ might have done her), and I also see the waste: what the system (and by extension the world) has lost because she has chosen exile; the ways she could have enhanced things; the difference she could have made.
So it came as a sudden blow – like a kick in the stomach – when I realised today just how close my path is to hers. I heard myself say (internally) that I couldn’t do something because of the frustration I feel when faced with the system. It’s a different system: church. But the fears are similar, and the effect of those fears…? Well, I don’t know. I just know how I felt when the blow landed today. Should I be preparing myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually for formal ministry of some sort? Despite my fears, disillusionment, frustration? Then I got to thinking….maybe it’s exactly because of those things that I ought to take the suggestions seriously. I could make a difference, precisely because I see and worry about ‘the system’.
So, reeling from being punched by God, I gave in. Ok, I’ll listen, and think about this, seriously. So later on I sat down and read through the ‘signing up for ministry’-type document I stashed away some time ago, unread. And it’s ok – I was relieved to learn that I’m off the hook, for the time being at least. I simply couldn’t take the vows, as it were: I don’t believe all of the things I’d need to believe to do that. So I’m clear for now – space to think and to be. Funnily enough, I have believed each of those things previously – it’s my new-found frustration and disillusionment that’s keeping me from the church. Is it keeping me from God, from my own spirituality, too? Possibly, actually: something else to think about.
I’d love to pick a fight with someone; with one of the people who have damaged my trust. I’d like to sit them down and tell them how it feels, how it hurts, what they’ve done, and then ask them what they thought they were doing, how they justify it to themselves. And maybe, in their answers, I could find enough of their fear, remorse, or folly to breathe new life into my faith. Would that mean I could believe in the potential of the system again? Or is the whole principle torn down for me now? If it is that, what next? The temple curtain was torn in two to let the people closer to God, right? As I stand in the ruins of this temple, do I now need to try to build it back up again, or to do something different, something new?