CHURCH COUNCIL MEETING tonight will get down to business with Growth Action Planning for 2012 / 2013. Here’s some initial mapping input … lots going on, lots more beginning to take shape, lots more yet to be dreamed of …
please click image to enlarge
THERE’S AN ENCOUNTER with Heaven in William P Young’s The Shack that has left an indelible mark on me. It’s a vivid, vital vision of colour-expressed emotions
a wash of ruby and vermillion, magenta and violet, as the light and color whirled around and embraced him …
Countless connections. Whirling. Swirling. Shimmering. Glowing. Loving. Forgiving. Embracing. Changing. And – ever since I read the book – gifts of daily such “visions” have delighted me.
The artist Wendy Rudd recently encouraged me, and a group of friends, to let go of “right brain” connection sometimes and let “left brain” make itself heard. I’ve blessed her many times for that encouragement. I let go of mental overload, on a fairly regular basis, by listening / looking instead to “left brain”, allowing wordiness to become colour and image. And colours – perpetually glancing, gently bumping and bouncing into and through one another, make connections and communion …
HURTLING PAST the Trafford Centre at night produced this blurred image that illustrates for me what our too-rushed human view of things looks like for many of us much of the time. We need a better focus. And that, I think, sums up the life and ministry on earth, and the continuing life in God and in us, of Jesus of Nazareth.
In good company with many another wise teacher Jesus has always called humankind to slow down. Look. Consider. Love. Forgive. Be thankful. I wonder if we’re really any keener on heeding his way of salvation than were the people of his day here in earth? Does the faith in us allow for deeper trust in all that makes for the peaceful, healthful reign of God on earth? Wouldn’t such a faith make for passion giving way to resurrection?
MESSY MOSES reminded me today of a couple of things: that we’ve got a wonderful bunch of people at St Michael & All Angels Bramhall. And that Messy Church – albeit Messy – needs all the marvellous and extraordinary organisational skills of a Messy Moses! There has to be some order and some organisation to keep the Messy afloat! And our needs were well supplied.
Let my people go! said Moses to Pharaoh. Let people go to Messy Church was the cry donkeys year later in Bramhall. Major adventures involving patience, perseverance, pragmatism and prayer got underway in both cases. Manna from heaven was supplied to the wandering Israelites. Chicken noodle soup and apple pie was supplied to the happy assembly gathered to hear about the basket and the bulrushes, the burning bush, the encounters with power, the people who consistently moaned like drains, and the vision of better times, better places and higher things.
Messy and magnificent: both the Exodus and a richly laid Saturday afternoon in Bramhall. Congratulations to all involved, then, now, and in the future.
ARCHBISHOP ROWAN spoke to the recent General Synod of the Church of England of his experiences in Eastern Congo:
Two weeks ago in Eastern Congo, listening to the experiences of young men and women who had been forced into service with the militias in the civil wars, forced therefore into atrocities done and suffered that don’t bear thinking about, I discovered all over again why the Church mattered. One after another, they kept saying, ‘The Church didn’t abandon us.’
The Archbishop is a shining example of a pastor continually willing to “discover all over again”. God knows how much we all need to. In common with many a clerical household, I guess, Church Times is usually to be found on or near the kitchen table in this vicarage. Mealtimes this week have therefore been especially chastened experiences. What, I’ve wondered, is this young mother praying for herself and her (beautiful) hungry little one?
And the hand of blessing laid with love upon the heads of beautiful, well cared for, well fed little ones in Bramhall Parish Church this morning was warm with desire to bless the mother and her child in this photograph – and the countless mothers, fathers and children who share their desperate plight, praying for the impossible, whilst laying-on their own tender hands of blessing. God help us: I’ve thought a thousand times this week that this madonna and her child in Mogadishu were praying together once in Bethlehem.
And the weeping for the children in Norway today is heard all around the world. Christopher Burkett has written, too, in that tragic context, about why the Church matters. God help us to widen our vision: to sing fewer songs of rejoicing in our own perceptions of personal salvation until we’re a bit surer in our hearts and minds that salvation has to be extended to each and all – or it is no salvation. Whilst I thank God for “looking after” me I must heed the Divine call to play my own part in “looking after” others. For each and every child of God is intended to be provided with a Bethlehem home, a House of Bread.
I pray for the day when, for God’s sake, sectarian divisions and some of the more nuanced religious certainties – of whatsoever religious tradition (or none) – may be set aside in favour of the one really important certainty, the one really important bit of “gospel” that Jesus alluded and alludes to again and again and again – that in the heart of God, at the heart of Life, the mother and her child in this photograph, and the hurting and grieving souls in Norway, and in every other nation under the sun, are of absolutely equal importance. With Archbishop Rowan I “discovered again” this morning why the Church matters, and why all men and women of goodwill, all over the world, matter: Christian Aid emergency envelopes “sold” like hotcakes, thank God, and we sang “We have a dream” with vigour. Dear God in heaven, help us to dream big … and to plant mustard seeds of faith and hope and real practical love wherever and whensoever we can.
GOOD MEETING WITH OUR GAP coordinator (Tricia Munn) this morning after an equally good (enthralling, actually) Café Church earlier.
GAP? – well you wouldn’t be the first to wonder: GAP’s for Growth Action Planning - one of many processes at work within the parishes of our Diocese of Chester. And all the jokes about “mind the gap” and “where’s the gap” (and who, and what, and when, and why, and how!) are somehow miraculously absorbed into that process. For mind we must. And sometimes about gaps.
Who, what, where, when, why and how? These are important elements in the growth of any work one can think of. And they’re elements that have to be communicated in ways that can be as widely received as possible in order that the requisite resources, materials, personnel and tools might be brought together into the right place at the right time. (I’m thinking, for example, about what might be needed by a portrait painter, or a sculptor, or a teacher, and where the necessary resources come from, and how, and by whom, they’re all made and marshalled in the first place). Growth Action Planning is, for us, a good mind mapping exercise because our business engages with “the mind of God”, and with “the mind of the Church”, and with “the mind of God’s people – humanity” and each and all of these need somehow to be carefully and faith-fully synthesised.
Virtually all the negative news going into or out of church life can and should be turned into something positive. That’s what we mean by redemption and – I dare to imagine – what God might mean by regeneration (baptism) or re-creation (potter, clay …)
I love the clock face above the entrance door of Christ Church Claughton-cum-Grange which is decorated with the words “Redeeming the Time”. That’s what Jesus’ whole life was / is – a bridge between an “old order having passed away” and a “new kingdom already upon us” – a world order that seeks to promote whatever it takes, whatever the context, for God’s entire Creation to live in, to experience, “the peace of God that passeth all understanding”.
Seeking clarity in our planning and in our communications is a wholly good idea. And it’s often in the pursuit of the detail that we discover that there’s a whole lot going on, much of it that we hadn’t taken account of before, and almost all of it having had its roots nurtured long (really long!) years before our arrival. And therein lies encouragement, and a sense of being caught up in a vision bigger than ourselves.
Let the mind of Christ dwell in your richly. Colossians 3.16
The GAP programme seeks to enunciate those elements of the mind (or the Word) of Christ that are separately and corporately to be discovered in the hearts, souls, minds and bodies of humanity in its entirety. These elements incorporate questions as well as answers, discipling (learning) as well as teaching, discovering as well as celebrating what is, or has been. For there’s neither teacher nor church upon the face of the earth that has nothing yet to learn. And the feast is free: alimentos gratis!
Growth Action Planning can leave us all a bit out of breath sometimes, but that’s how it should be. We’re reminded by it that adamah, the dust from which we are formed, is entirely reliant upon God for the ruach, the breath of life itself. And we can lean on that fact. For just as it is with my Dad, so it is with God: both remind me “I’ve been here before you”.
My friend Fr Roger Clarke will smile if he reads my umpteenth quotation of one of his favourite poets, and mine; (which, incidentally and to our delight, Bishop Robert Atwell quoted at Roger’s Induction at Ringway!) from R S Thomas’ Pilgrimages
He is such a fast God, always before us and leaving as we arrive.
GAP has to be about energising the pursuit, then – and some mind-mapping!
GREAT WORSHIP THIS MORNING, Trinity Sunday. Our parish church, it seems to me, is developing an ever deepening vocation to openness and inclusivity, to a bright vision of a world where men, women and children live in the embrace of “the Peace of God that passeth all understanding.” And nobody gives the impression of smugness. Nobody gives the impression that they think the fulfilment of such a vision is going to be easy (we’re all very familiar with the image of the crucified Jesus, and with images of Holocaust, and genocide, and – most recently – burned cathedral and churches in Sudan).
Nobody feels entirely equipped either, whether individually or corporately. Many of us, and especially me, would think of ourselves as theological or religious or political “lightweights”, glad to recall that Jesus spoke of fondness for the simple and for the meek. And again, many of us feel called more to stillness, silence, prayer and contemplation than to the more readily obvious or demonstrable agitating or “action”. But the truth is that, week by week, there’s a vision taking shape … and the vision involves the glory of the Lord Creator filling heaven, earth with its glory stored. And there’s a fountain welling up within us, a fountain of desire to sing: “Unto Thee be glory given. Holy, holy, holy Lord.”
And the glory of God is there to be seen in every part and detail of his Creation, every day of our lives. The glory of God is to be seen in children, women and men of every faith tradition under the sun, and in those who would lay no claim to having a particular faith tradition. The glory of God is to be seen in sun and sea and moon and sky, and in Creation’s daily asking “Why?”.
In the metaphor of “Trinitarian” faith – our human attempt at imagining, at putting into words, how relationship or communion works within the Godhead – we can recognise the Father showing the Son who he is, and the Son showing the Spirit who she is, and the Spirit showing the Father who he is, and the Divine embracing all created things and showing that Creation who it is. Matter alive with the Spirit, the breath of God – so that there’s absolutely no avoiding that if “my matter” matters then all matter matters. And we’re all “the Body of Christ” in the sense that we’re all a body anointed – with the Divine breath of life.
And when matter matters vocations start to spring up from the dark earth. Vision reaches towards light. Communities seek to create communion, to “repent”, to turn around and look at life and Creation in new ways. Communities start to pray that life in this world may be “put right”.
Paul Deakin has been charting his vocational journey. Rachael Elizabeth has, too. But – gloriously – they’re not alone. There’s a “bright vision” in the hearts and lives of churchwardens, too. And of church council members, and of children’s workers, youth leaders, study groups, prayer groups, growth action strategy and daily, quiet pray-ers.
Many years ago when co-leading a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land I was struck, as were many in the party, by frequent repetition of Psalm 122 whilst we were there: “O pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.” And – mindful of a translation of “Jerusalem” as “Vision of Peace” – 60 or more people got into the daily praying of these words:
O pray for the peace of the Vision of Peace.
They shall prosper that love thee.
Something of that prayer and something of that vision was present in our Trinitarian worship this morning, and for more than a few of us it rang true that that kind of worship is “the party where God is, and always was, and always will be.” Pray for the peace of the Vision of Peace. Let the Vision rise brighter. The Lord God has placed the key into our own hands.
Parker J Palmer
THE QUAKER WRITER AND TEACHER Parker J Palmer is one of my spiritual heroes, one of those really inspirational people I sincerely hope I’ll meet in person some day. Meanwhile I meet him continually in his books, in others’ books about him, and in contemplation and reflection. I often turn to Parker’s thoughtful writings. They’re full of pearls of wisdom that I mull over continually for days on end.
Today I’ve been re-reading The Active Life. Chapter 8 -
Every life is lived toward a horizon, a distant vision of what lies ahead. The quality of our action depends heavily on whether that horizon is dark with death or full of light and life …
… when we envision a horizon that holds the hope of life, we are free to act without fear, free to act in truth and love and justice today because those very qualities seem to shape our own destiny …
What is it that keeps us, individuals and churches, from seeing an horizon full of light and life up there ahead of us? Palmer speaks of his encounter with Julia Esquivel’s small book of poetry Threatened with Resurrection, and of how its title turned his mind upside down; of how he recognized that he’d often been fearful of life itself, and the movement toward new life, more than he had feared death in its various forms. And he retells the apocryphal tale of a blind man healed by Peter “in the name of the resurrected Christ” whose first response is, “You fool! You’ve destroyed my way of making a living!”
Am I, are we, in the Active Life, threatened by resurrection? Too dependent on old ways of “making a living”?
See also: Center for Courage & Renewal