Saturday, February 28, 2015

Just Being God's Friend

It’s Day 4 of my 40 days with Bonhoeffer and I am finding him to be a challenging man.  He comes from a very different generation of Christians from me.  He’s not a man for trivial nonsense.  He would be unlikely join me on my lifestyle evangelism course “Keep Your Fun On” that kicks off next week. 

Yesterday’s study was all about morning prayer.  

He was very determined that it had to be morning and not just some time later on in the day. Regardless of whether you are a morning person or a night person, he would say it makes no difference.  Finding the time that suits you best is pandering to the flesh and surrendering to what is convenient rather than what is right.

My first response was “Not possible!” The time between getting up and leaving for work is already a busy time – preparing packed lunches, eating breakfast, watching the news and settling to a snatch of a quiet time.  Getting up early would be an option if I was sleeping better.  One of my nieces has a new born baby and comments on how well or how badly he sleeps at night.  I sleep the required amount of hours and I dip into the dream part of the sleep, but it’s fragmented at best, waking up throughout the night. If I slept solidly through the night I could get up earlier.

I think part of the problem lies in confusion between what I call a quiet time and what he calls morning prayer.  My quiet time makes use of Bible study notes and a pen and a journal and time to muse before I write something.  His prayer is just prayer.  My prayers tend to be rooted in the Word that I have read. I am not so good at praying off-the-cuff.

Morning prayer is necessary, says my friend Bonhoeffer, to set the day right.  Prayer at the end of the day has something of the “after-the-horse-has-bolted-shutting-the-stable-door.  It’s a mopping up, picking up the pieces, damage control kind of prayer.  Much better to order the day before it begins and take the initiative.  We make our declarations about the day ahead to set our minds and hearts to glorify God. Intention is woven into the fabric of the day.  We are better equipped to deal with the challenges that come our way with a prepared mind-set.

I am challenged to look at my whole quiet time structure and the straitjacket time that I have made it.  I am looking to be more flexible.  I am stuck in a success criteria list based on how much I read or what I record in a journal.  So, yes, flexibility sounds good. 

I can’t help but wonder what Bonhoeffer might have made of last night’s half night of prayer hosted by Blue Flame last night.  I suspect he might have asked why it was a half night rather than a whole night.

I discovered last night that although the girl in me left the Brethren Church many years ago, there is still a lot of the Brethren Church that hasn’t left the girl. Many of my friends have explored a whole spectrum of ways of connecting with God.  I don’t know enough about what is happening in the spiritual realms when people dance with flags and ribbons.  I am a woman of words. The spoken word and the written word stir me.  I know the damage I can do with well-chosen words – or the healing I can bring about.  I am quite traditional and conservative.  There are a lot of things I haven’t tried and maybe it’s my next step to be a little more adventurous in my approach to prayer.

I forgot to put my hearing aids in before I left home which didn’t help.  I titled my head and caught a word or two, but because I hadn’t clearly heard what they prayed for I wasn’t comfortable about jumping in with a loud “Amen”.  I felt I couldn’t take up the baton and run my part of the race. 

I think God had a very different agenda.  He knows what I am like.  He knows that a half night of prayer will appeal to me – to get me to a place.  Ask me to pray, or to preach, or to lead worship and I am up for the challenge.  I love to “do”. To ask me to just sit, and to listen, and “not do” is the bigger challenge.  So I sat, and I listened and I did not “do” and I cried.  I felt God very tenderly help me to take off the armour that I seem to always be wearing.  We talked about the battles we had fought side by side throughout the week.  We laughed at the ridiculous moments and the humour of the week.  We had a silent minute or two to acknowledge the times when the enemy seemed to prevail. It was as if we weren’t in the room at all, but were two battle scarred soldiers propped up against a bar in a pub toasting each other with almost empty beer glasses.

I am God’s servant but at that moment I really had a sense of just being God’s friend.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Set of My Shoulders

I admit it.  I am an addict.  My addiction doesn’t cost me hundreds of pounds.  At first glance one would say that it is a harmless addiction – but take a closer look and you might come to a different conclusion.

I am addicted to Bible study notes.  I just can’t seem to help myself downloading or buying them.  The intention is always to save them for after I finish the ones I am doing, but then I dabble.  I take a quick lick and then I am hooked.  They are no longer “saved” but join the current stuff.  The morning quiet time is no longer breakfast but a four course dinner with all the trimmings as I dip from one thing to another.  I have spiritual flatulence – interesting noises, a peculiar fragrance but no actual movements.

That is all changing, of course – according to my latest download. – 40 days with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I picked up a book about praying for 15 days with him and liked him so much that I wanted more. 

One of the verses to meditate on was John 15:12. 

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

I seem to remember preaching a series of words on the theme of love.  I began with “Love your neighbour as yourself” and dissected the parable of the Good Samaritan.  As a church family we should be insulted if we were loved as neighbours – our relationship in the church is not a neighbour to neighbour one.  We are brothers and sisters – not neighbours and are entitled to love that goes beyond neighbour love.  

The series moved on to John 15:12 – loving one another as Christ loves us.  Maybe “as I have loved you” should characterise all our actions without distinction between neighbour and brother or sister.

It amazes me that there is always new truth to be found in God’s word – sometimes it’s an old truth with a fresh reminder.  Sometimes it is just new.

I was thinking about how Jesus doesn’t ask me to decide who to love.  He takes that decision out of my hand by saying “Love each other.”  Left to my own devices I would attach numerous strings to the command.  Just in case I was ever in danger of loving the wrong person I would have an unspoken list of who qualifies and who doesn’t.  Jesus has ripped up the list and cut all the strings by saying “Love each other.”

I was also thinking about how Jesus doesn’t spell out in any kind of detail how I am to demonstrate love.  He just says “as I have loved you.”  That makes it all rather open ended.  Love is an action word and any action that puts the needs of another person before my own qualifies.

Jesus command covers the “who” and the “how” of love.  The “who” leads me to people beyond my own small circle of friends and family, to strangers, to people who live outside my comfort zone. The “how” challenges me to act in sacrificial ways – how I spend my money or my time.  

At this point I am feeling hot under the collar.  I love my comfort zone.  The easy yoke that Jesus promised seems to drop on my shoulders with a heavy weight. I don’t think any yoke is an easy one if the posture is all wrong.  Drooping, disheartened shoulders will never bear an easy yoke comfortably.  It doesn’t fit right on the shoulders but chaffs sorely.  There’s nothing wrong with the yoke but everything wrong with the set of the shoulders.  So, I am setting the shoulders straight!

I have signed up for a lifestyle evangelism course called “Keep Your Fun On”.  I wouldn’t say that it was an instant feeling of “Yes, let’s do it.”  The description of the course is just about everything that I would prefer not to do.  I’m not inclined to buddy up with folk.  I don’t want to dare or be dared to do anything – I take risk assessments seriously. The course really isn’t me…which kind of begs the question “Why would I sign up for it?” It might not be me but how am I to know until I try it?

Years ago I signed on for a creative writing course at the local college curious to see if it was for me.  It was the pushing of a door to see what was on the other side. It was so me it was ridiculous.  I fell into writing and was so at home in the written word.

I sometimes think I am a finished product that I have seen all the facets in me that exist and I like the person that I am.  I like this clay jar the Potter has made on His wheel.  But it isn’t the finished product – there is always a new facet to fashion, a different angle for His light to catch.

It’s time to start making some new connections – to other people, to new ways of expressing love and connection with God that goes beyond the next set of Bible notes I download or buy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Let's Talk about George

This time last year I was reading my way through a collection of poems designed to lead a person through Lent.  It had been recommended by the FB page of the CLC local bookshops.  That was a year ago. 

This year I picked up a study book from the Pauline Bookshop in Glasgow last weekend.  The bookshop and Whittards, the tea/coffee shop are the two staple stop offs whenever we are visiting. 

The opening study was all about being blindsided – the way that life takes you by surprise and knocks you off the secure path you were on. 

It has been a blindsiding week for me. There has been nothing dramatic but a series of small little irritations.  A visit to the doctor earlier on in the week produced a diagnosis of tendonitis in my right wrist. I have a sore paw. It was more sore after the doctor had played with it.  It should be renamed – tender-nitus.  I have a supply of tablets which I neglect to take so the sore paw is taking its time to recover.

Then a letter arrived in the post a day or two ago from the Electoral Register Officer informing me that I needed to prove I was me if I wished to vote in the coming elections.  Apparently they have moved to a new system of registering people.  Most people’s names slid easily from old to new – from caterpillar to butterfly without the dark cocoon stage. My name didn’t slide across.  My name failed to make the new register and I took myself and my passport along to the office.  The front entrance hall was being refurbished so I was diverted through a series of corridors through the back door. If it hadn't been for a very clear picture in my head of women chaining themselves to railings I might have not bothered. My vote matters to me.  I'm back on the register.

Finally.  Imagine yourself as a player in the real events that inspired the film “The Great Escape”, that wonderful war film that I have seen so often I could repeat the script entirely and without fault.  Tom, Dick and Harry were the tunnels.  Let’s talk about Harry.  Harry is the stuff of folklore.  On the night of March 24, 1944 the Allied prisoners gathered in hut 104 before crawling along the 100ft tunnel to a brief taste of freedom. Only three escaped; 73 were rounded up by the Germans and 50 were executed.

My own personal Harry showed up just before Christmas or perhaps just after.  “They” were looking to make savings and for the first time ever “they” were relaxing the rules regarding early retirement and winding down.  There were options presented.  I don’t have that long to retirement but the option of taking my foot off the gas without it affecting my pension looked appealing.  My boss agreed and gave his blessing and I set off to crawl into the tunnel.  The drop in session to talk to the experts and collect the form to fill in was like a enemy officer pointing his rifle as me as my head emerged. 

“So how many years have you been in the job?”

“Since 1981,” I replied impressing her.  Do the maths – if I do it I start to hyperventilate.

Most impressive I hear you say.  Had it been a life sentence in a jail I would have been out long ago, even without the good behaviour.  The trouble is only the last 23 years applied to Scotland and I needed 25 years to qualify.

“No worries,” said the woman, “if you transferred your English pension when you took up your Scottish post those years will count.”

“If” is a very important word.  I didn’t transfer the pension.  I had opted out of SERPS and I had a pension scheme with someone else.  I had five years teaching in a church school with no pension at all.  I had a catch-up pension to cover those years – but the long and short of it was Harry was collapsing all around me and the enemy had his finger on the trigger of his rifle.  

So, yes, I have had a blindsiding week.  I was knocked over, perhaps, but not derailed.  I am made of sterner stuff. 

Apparently there was a fourth tunnel.  After executing 50 of the captured escapees the camp officer thought he had deterred the rest of them.  They built George.  Not everyone knew about George.  He was discovered when the site was excavated years later.

Perhaps I should call my Bible George.  He’s not really an escape tunnel because the Christian faith is not about escaping.  It is about engaging with life and living it to full in spite of the things that blindside us.

I read the story of Daniel and responded in verse.

Daniel

his enemies
can find no fault with him so
they dig their hole and
bait their trap

in the presence of His enemies
daniel spreads his table
praise is the main course
he gives thanks to God
extolling the splendour of
the Ancient of Days

he will not change his ways
or cut the cloth of his prayer
to suit his enemies
the pattern
is just as it has always been
undisturbed by the
posturing of small men

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Opportunist Feeders

Carassius auratus
(that’s gold fish to you and me)
have bellies no bigger than their eyes
Opportunist feeders
they lack the capacity to know
when enough is enough
Given the opportunity
they eat and eat and eat
and they poo and poo and poo
until the water in the fish tank
becomes cloudy

Eventually
the eating, the poo and the cloudy water
sign their death warrant

Homo sapiens
(that’s people to you and me)
have eyes much bigger than their bellies
Opportunist feeders – the greedy ones
they lack the capacity to know
when enough is enough
Given the opportunity
they eat and eat and eat
and they buy and they sell (at a profit)
and they sow their seeds in a poor man’s field
and they build bigger barns
and they kick and they maim
as they step one upon another to reach the top of a ladder
They slay the vineyard owner’s son

They poo…
venting clouds of smoke from their factories
until the air of the planet
becomes toxic
and the water becomes poison
(and Carassius auratus is glad it’s not living in the wild)

Eventually
the eating, the poo - 
the toxins and poisons
sign their death warrant

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Praise and Prison Walls

Last night’s Women Aglow meeting didn’t turn out as planned.  The technology let us down – a DVD to be played from a laptop computer projected into a screen refused to cooperate.  The dummy run before everyone arrived went smoothly but then the laptop and the projector stopped talking to one another.   Who knows what was said in silent cyber speak?  Did the projector hint it would have preferred working with one of the sleek and slim newer models?  Did the laptop say something demeaning about the projector’s size?

My workplace is just around the corner – two corners really, or just over the fence at the back of the hotel for the athletically accomplished.  I offered to fetch a different laptop and rescue the evening.  The entrance foyer was full of small people in judo kits.  On mass they were rather intimidating. It was somewhat disturbing to enter the building and walk out with a laptop unchallenged by any adult.  Of course, I couldn’t have got the laptop without my room key.  Regardless, the projector wouldn’t talk to that one either.

Plan B was an opportunity for people to share testimonies.

I can remember when Saturday mornings used to be sleep-in-affairs, but since I arrived at the other end of the menopause I am wide awake and ready to go. The Saturday just gone I was wide awake at silly o’clock.  Later in the morning there was the faith writing group to look forward to – but that was much later. 

The week had been one where my finest hours were absent.  Maybe I had set the bar too high and banged my legs trying to leap over it, or more likely I’d set it quite low and still managed to bang my legs leaping over.  I was not a happy bunny.

“So, it doesn’t work then?” said God.

“What doesn’t work? I asked.

“The whole praise thing when the prison walls fall.  It really doesn’t work.”

I think God has picked up the habit my husband and I have of starting a conversation in the middle, challenging the perplexed spouse try to work out what it’s all about.

I knew this one.  It all relates to a dream I had years ago.  My dreams are often vivid and colourful.  Many of them are pure nonsense, but sometimes they are profound.

In this particular dream I had been grabbed by demons and dragged into a deep prison. I lifted up my hands and began to sing worship songs. The walls of the prison dissolved before my eyes. The demons grabbed me a second time and dragged me into a deeper prison.  Again I praised God and the walls melted away.  When it happened a third time, I looked into one of the demon’s eyes and spoke so clearly.

“There is no dungeon deep enough, no place you can take me to, where worship cannot bring release.”

I saw fear in the demon’s eyes.

It’s not a dream I have forgotten.  Many years later I wrote a poem based on the story of Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi. 

“So, it doesn’t work then?” said God.

“Actually it does work,” I replied. “The problem isn’t with the truth – it’s with my application of it.”

God nodded.  He and I agreed that it had been a long time since either of us had heard me sing. Too often I look at my circumstances and convince myself I have a good reason not to sing, but in choosing not to worship I make my faith of no value.  How am I any different from someone who doesn’t have my faith? When I set my heart to praise God, particularly when things aren’t going so good, there is always release. The situations I face may not have changed but it no longer imprisons me. 

Freedom is not just for the Pauls and Silas’ in the Christian church but for all of us.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Things I Should Not Say

I should not say
My flame was extinguished
By raging wind and storm blast
Can I only burn
When clouds are soft and skies are blue?

I should not say
My faith cannot blossom
Under scorching sun and baked earth
Can I only flourish
When rain is gentle and sunshine is kind?

I should not say
My spirit grows cold
In autumn’s aging and winter’s bite
Can I only thrive
When springtime frolics and summer gleams?

Then I call this to mind, Lord
Yours is the flame ignited within
Yours is the seed stirred to life
Yours is the breath I inhale
I align my life
According to Your seasons