Tagged: inclusive church

No Room at the Inn

I don’t understand, God. rsz_1rsz_no_room_at_the_inn_pic copy

I don’t see why it should have to hurt. I don’t know why we keep on hurting each other; why we choose sin when we could choose life.

That childhood ritual of knocking on air:

“We need somewhere to stay”

“I’m sorry, we haven’t any room”

The perpetual searching for succour, connection, support, encouragement, life.

Even for the messiah – especially for the messiah – we have no room at the inn; space only for those who can afford to pay. How much less comfort we give to each other, to our brothers and sisters, our tribe, our kindred, to those made our blood family by rebirth in Christ, to those who need us.

God, cast out, from the very beginning. This is perhaps the flipside of the story of the fall, as well as that of the crucifixion: we chose our Godforsakenness, because we thought we knew better than God. Because we were afraid of our own fallibility; because we did not dare to be vulnerable. So instead we become the aggressors. We tear at every strip left hanging, we dart our blades into every chink, we defend every gap because we know how exposed we are, because we know how villainous we are – because we know that we would attack those gaps, given the chance. It is our fear of our own sinfulness that makes us believe we have no choice, that leads us to choose sin when we could choose life. If only we could allow our armour down just a tiny little bit – just take one small risk, make ourselves vulnerable to one other, maybe to God.

No room at the inn. No room at all, until that one person, maybe beaten down with guilt, maybe harangued by his wife, maybe sympathetic, maybe exhausted: that one person who chose to risk just a little, made space for the Other, the one who wasn’t like him and who couldn’t afford to pay, who would seemingly never reciprocate.

And in that moment, we learn. In our giving of ourselves, we take more than we know. The gaps we expose allow into us the love that was always within us, but that we resist so strongly and disappoint so frequently.

And so we are faced with a choice after all: forgive, and risk, and love – or defend and attack and die.

We are called to forgive, not because it lets other people off the hook, but because it causes us to risk. In forgiving, we expose ourselves and become vulnerable. Perhaps this is the angle I’ve needed into the crucifixion: God risked everything by becoming vulnerable in Christ. God allowed Godself to become exposed to us, and modelled for us the truth of life, the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world: that we must love. It is the only way we can live. Without love, we have no community, and without community, we cannot grow. We become isolated and frozen and then begin to shrink, until we are gone.

It is only when we expose ourselves to risk that we can afford to grow. It is only when we allow ourselves to be challenged, to be changed  – when we welcome in the Other with all that is different and scary about them, and allow (force?) ourselves to forgive their differences and thus to risk being changed by what they teach us – that we are forgiven, and allow (force?) ourselves to be loved.

God, thank you for your help. Thank you for showing me: I need to forgive.

I need to forgive those who have taken so much from me: those who have taken my love, my resources, my hopes and dreams; even those who play me – or the system – deliberately. I need not only to forgive them but to thank them, because they are the ones who have allowed (forced?) me to grow. The pain is a sign of the growth. This is our curse, the consequence of our fallenness: that in pain we will give birth, and that through painful toil we might eat.

Perhaps I do understand, a little, why it hurts, why we make those choices. It’s just so very hard to face the light sometimes.

Abba, please forgive me, as I force myself into the space where I forgive others. Help me to love them, and us to love you.

Think I’m going to go and read 1 John….!

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Fellowship

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.

Gleanings

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”

Finally comes the…err…?

PrayerfulSee, the thing is, I don’t think that I do ‘believe in preaching’.

Here’s the blog-post that got me thinking:

http://wolsblog.com/when-is-a-sermon-not-a-sermon/

I hear what the writer is saying…I think. But I don’t ‘get it’.

On several levels.

I expect to be corrected. But here’s where I’m coming from:

The mention of ‘spiritual snobbery’ feels to me to be the accurate one, possibly. Ok, I’m not a ‘preacher’. Why not, particularly given that a lot of friends and colleagues seem to think I could or should be a ‘priest’ of some kind? Because I don’t think that I believe in preaching in the ways that the above blog-post implies I ought to. I think many things. I believe many things. I believe that many of my thoughts & beliefs have come to me from beyond me. As far as I’m concerned, I ‘wrestle’ with the texts. Over and over, and over: and find new things over and over, too. But nowhere in who I am do I find any kind of suggestion that I have found something in amongst that wrestling that I have a right to ‘preach’, to announce it to listening ears, proclaiming it as being ‘from God’. I also happen to believe that I do have some idea about how to breastfeed and how to rescue your carpet from candle wax and how to do my day job and how to guide my kids through life, at least from my point of view. But I don’t have any delusions that my beliefs/opinions/findings/instincts in those things are of certain benefit to anyone else, or that I have a right to impose them on them.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being preached at! Hypocritical though that may be, I’m a serial consumer of sermons. I get a lot out of them. I value them. I even occasionally enjoy them. But even so, I would argue that I don’t necessarily ‘believe’ in them. I don’t believe that the preacher is a messenger from God. That isn’t to say that I don’t believe they can act as a conduit for whatever God wants to say. I just believe that God does that in spite of the preacher’s words, rather than because of them. God shows up because God shows up.

But to imply that some preachers are offering something more than their own personal experiences of the text worries me. That does seem like spiritual snobbery: that they, somehow, have found a path to ‘hear’ God reliably and relatably, which is something I have never managed to do, despite a lifetime feeling I ought to somehow have had those ‘direct’ experiences (thanks to a childhood squandered in various incarnations of the Pentecostal tradition). Am I somehow less, somehow failing, somehow so sinful that God won’t share with me? By this definition, I can never be a ‘preacher’ (that may be just as well!). And yet here I am, blogging.

Yes, I do get the irony. Why am I bothering to write here? I write for me, if I’m honest. I write because/when I’m angry, more often than not. I write as a form of prayer. I write as escape, and certainly as part of my process of ‘wrestling’. I don’t seek readers. I don’t have readers very much. By taking the pulpit, a preacher takes responsibility for the souls and spirits and mental health of the others in the room. I admire those people hugely. I’m just glad I don’t have to pretend to be one of them.

Interestingly, I do believe in worship in a wider sense. I feel very deeply that collective singing, reading, praying, talking, sharing (and yes, story-telling, though to a lesser extent) are extremely important; important to community, to faith, to soul-growth, spirit-growth, and to ‘church’ (both that which church is and that which church ought to be). I believe in the value of the ecstatic in worship. I believe God comes to us in those ways. I believe the Spirit can speak through those cracks. I believe that shared proclamation like that can change people’s hearts and minds and let God in. And here’s another thing I do believe in: teaching. I believe God has representatives among us – those we call teachers. Evangelists. Fellow travellers. ‘Faithful’, in Bunyan’s parlance. I believe there are a great many people who can teach me a great many things. I sit at their feet, just waiting to hear the words drip from their mouths. I believe that God will speak to me through them. So what’s the difference?

I’m less clear here: not because things are unclear, but because I don’t trust myself. I feel as though I am influenced on this by a whole bunch of negative stuff I wish I’d never had to encounter, and I’m finding it difficult to unpick which are the things I learned in those dark teachings and which are things I feel ok to trust.

Hmm. This is hard. I think I’ll have to come back to it, perhaps. The more I write now, the further from my faith I feel. Maybe God’s doing that. Maybe I’m on a wrong path. I just know that I got angry reading the post. It made me feel that I wasn’t allowed, valued, Godly, because I don’t have those experiences. This is an old familiar feeling. I have absolutely no doubt that this is exactly not what the blogger was intending. I just wonder if he’s forgotten that it’s different for other people sometimes.