Monday, September 27, 2010

The "Job" of a Roman Catholic Priest

I have spent two hours in the company of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Piotr Koczorowski, today. At the end of that time I came to a number of conclusions:

1. If he was allowed to marry and I wasn’t already happily married, I would happily marry him. He was a lovely man.

2. If I had known a Roman Catholic priest like him when I was younger I would probably not have left the Roman Catholic Church. He was a lovely man of God.

There is a kind of arrogance about some Christians where they exhibit very little doubt about things. They are very sure that they are right and everyone else is wrong. They have a very clear list of what is right and what is wrong and everything is either black or white. Some Christians do not strike me as being very warm and affectionate people at all. They come across as quite cold and hard and judgemental. Not so my man today.

Father Piotr Koczorowski was talking to a group of young people about his life, his faith and his vocation as a Roman Catholic Priest. It was obvious that the man loved God. His was not an empty or shallow commitment. He admitted that part of the reason for being a Roman Catholic priest, as opposed to a church minister in any other denomination, or just a man of faith without the ministry, was being brought up in Poland where 90% of the population are Roman Catholic.

We have a tendency to think that our experience of something is the only possible experience and that no one can experience any thing different to what we do. When I think about my own Roman Catholic experience in my younger days I think in terms of being made to feel guilty all the time and it gave me no sense of comfort or encouragement. My husband’s experience was different to my own. He found a joy in the liturgy that I never did, and loved the ceremony and ritual that I found a bit daunting. I suppose no one ever told me why we did the things we did and I found much of it irrelevant.

Some people have never experienced the Roman Catholic Church for themselves and rely on word of mouth testimonies that are sometimes third or fourth hand, or gleaned from a book or encyclopedia. What they have learned tends to be someone else’s prejudices. They are told things in isolation without the context and repeat it back parrot fashion.

The one phrase that he repeated over and over again was that his “job” was to make an invisible God visible through serving the community. Isn’t that our “job” as Christians regardless of the label we stick on ourselves? I wonder what kind of “visible God” people see through our service in the community.

The young people today went away with a different picture of the Roman Catholic Church because they had talked to Father Piotr Koczorowski. He didn’t make any excuses or cover up his doubts. He admitted that, yes, he did swear sometimes but tried not to do so in public. What made him angry was evil in the world that was unchallenged. Sometimes he didn’t want to answer the door and serve someone. He didn’t really enjoy listening to people’s confessions. He wished that people would stop being lazy in their faith and made the sacrifices that God asks of them. He really enjoyed seeing people change for the better and knowing that he was part of that process of change.

It was a privilege to spend time with him.

I wonder if people come to that conclusion when they spent time with me!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Visible Minority

My husband introduced me to the term “visible minority” this morning. In the ever increasing battle to find a term to describe someone from an ethnic minority background that doesn’t offend someone, someone else has come up with the term “visible minority”. I wonder if it was a visibly minor person that did so, or was it a member of the “visible majority” (that’s everyone who isn’t a visible minority) who inflicted it upon them.

I asked the husband whether that meant that there was an invisible minority or an invisible majority for that matter. I expected a mocking answer along the lines of “That’s taking it too far, don’t be so daft.” The expected answer didn’t come. He answered in the affirmative. The invisible minority or majority comprises of the non-observable details that you don’t catch at first glance like left handedness, or right handedness, or some such other invisible quality.

So because I am Caucasian I am part of the visible majority and because I am right handed I am part of the invisible majority. However, I wear glasses so I also belong to the invisible minority (although my glasses are very visible). A left handed Indian gentleman would be part of the visible minority and the invisible minority.

I can only think of one person who would fit into all four categories at the same time – Superman. As Clark Kent he is Caucasian and righted handed – visible and invisible majority, but as Superman he is from a different planet so that definitely makes him visible minority and he is allergic to Kryptonite which makes him invisible minority.

The Pope in his message to folk in Glasgow, and folk in London was talking about an invisible minority – nothing to do with being right handed or left handed or allergic to Kryptonite – he was talking about the need for Christians to make a stand for their faith. There are too many of us hiding behind Bibles and hymn books and keeping our heads below the pews. We have become invisible. We chose not to stand up because it is the safer option. The world without the contribution of people with a vital and vibrant faith life has lost something said the Pope. And I agree.

Fiona Phillips is not of the same mind. I was reading her column in the Daily Mirror this morning. She doesn’t often resort to clich├ęs and generalisations, but she did it today. She was commenting on the Pope’s visit and it wasn’t positive. She trundled out the old chestnut that religion is the cause of wars. Roman Catholic priests were all tarred with the paedophile brush, and women continue to be denied access into the hierarchy of church structure. It is lazy journalism.

Nothing is ever said to counter balance such a negative contribution. Nothing is said about Wilberforce who campaigned against slavery, or Shaftsbury who got children out of mines and mills all around Britain – both Christians. Mother Teresa in Calcutta, serving the poor that everyone else trampled on? Christian! Desmond Tutu speaking out against apartheid in South Africa? Christian! Oscar Romero in El Salvador taking on the corrupt governments? Christian!

War is about politics and greed and grabbing something that doesn’t belong to you. I wouldn’t say that Christian hands here are not dirty – but not all wars have religion at the heart. You might dress it up in religious garb to get support – but the heart of it is not religious at all.

Fiona ends with the line of treating other people the way you would like to be treated and how she didn’t learn it from reading a Bible – as if it wasn’t in there. It is there – and something similar to it is in every major world religions’ holy book

Sorry…I am ranting. But I am very cross with people that spew stuff out of their mouths that has very little balance contained in it.

So I guess that all goes to show that I am taking the Pope’s words on board and becoming a very visible minority on the question of faith. (minority? I don’t think so? Not with God standing beside me!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions and Answers

Someone asked me yesterday whether I was going to go and see the Pope. Perhaps if I lived in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or London or Birmingham – those places where he is planning to visit, I might have gone to see him. I suppose there is a sense of it being a historic occasion – coming not in a pastoral role, but as head of state, but as regards my faith, seeing him or not seeing him is not that relevant. Having said that, I watched the BBC’s coverage of the gathering in Glasgow, listening to what he said in his address to the crowd. Not speaking Latin, he lost my attention when it came to conducting mass. I could appreciate that for the tens or hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic Christians, his presence among them was special.

It should not have come as a surprise last night that I dreamt about meeting the Pope. In my dream there was an absence of body guards and there was no list of the highly privileged who could get near to him. He was holding a surgery on spiritual matters, just as a politician would hold a surgery on political matters and it took place in the basement of my local village church. People were encouraged to come and ask questions.

I remember standing in the queue and being aware that I didn’t have a question I wanted to ask. I am not even sure why I was there – just curiosity I suppose, much like you might visit an interesting picture in an art gallery.

Eventually it got to my time. What impressed me about him were his eyes. They were very blue, very clear and bright and full of tenderness. There was an “ask-me-any-question-you-like” quality about them. I felt ashamed that there wasn’t really any burning question I needed to ask – so I made one up. I talked about my father who had recently had a heart attack and how he had come to a full stop in his life. All the things he used to do, like gardening and playing skittles in the pub, he had stopped doing because he was afraid he would bring on another attack. My question was about what I could do to help him regain his courage. The incident was a real one – twenty years ago and I’m not sure then that I thought about how I could help.

I can’t remember what the Pope said. What I remember thinking was “So, you are not infallible after all otherwise you would have known I made up the question and my dad died years ago.”

I don’t really need to look very far to work out why I was asking questions in my dream to a religious authority figure. We have a visitor with our church this weekend. He is our apostle or overseer, responsible for the well being of our church family. We don’t seem him very often as he doesn’t live close by. Sometimes we have the opportunity to deal with what you might class as household issues – practical things about the church. Other times he will share with us what is happening with the other churches he oversees.

There will be a chance to ask him questions. Some friends and I were talking about questions we might like to ask. I am sure you are familiar with the request for any questions being followed by a pin-dropping silence.

I have questions – not so much questions in plural but just one in singular. The trouble is that my question has some strong emotions attached, and I hate getting emotional. Do I really want to weep into a paper tissue as I ask it? Is the answer really that important? Answer “No” to the first and “Yes” to the second.

Why do some of us find it hard to ask questions? Is it that we know everything we need to know right now? Is it that we don’t really want to know what we don’t know? Maybe we feel it’s something we should know and don’t like to reveal our ignorance. Maybe we care too much about what other people might think of us so we stay silent. Or maybe it’s the answer itself that frightens us. I’m swithering between the last two.

I can, of course, live quite well without knowing the answer – but I am sure that I will live a lot better if I did know.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Treasure Hunting

“Wanna come Treasure Hunting?” The invitation came through the email a couple of weeks ago. For the mystified “treasure hunting is a form of prophetic evangelism where we ask Father for words of knowledge that will lead us to people on the streets to bless them - offer to pray, heal, prophesy etc. You can learn how to do it in 5 minutes. It really is very simple.” I spent a year on Go Team part of which involved approaching people on the streets to talk about faith issues and had never felt that comfortable doing it, so these kinds of offers I tended to not take up.

This offer was different for a number of reasons:-

1. I’d had a dream a few nights before which involved me being there – out on the streets with my friend Mark and a group of people. The interesting thing about the dream was that Mark insisted that we turn up butt naked. My figure is such that not only will it fill the centre-fold of play boy magazine, but quite a few other pages too – there’s a lot of me. I was worried in my dream about being seen naked by the public. I must have got over it though, because I was there, and public were not offended. I woke up asking God about the naked part of it – the street part, I well understood. It was about Adam and Eve nakedness, not being ashamed. It was about being transparent with people, not hiding behind something. It was about not having “Mel” resources tucked away in a pocket somewhere that she might rely on, rather than relying on God.

2. I read Ephesians 2:10 that morning. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” A number of years ago, in a previous church, we had been encouraged to learn verses off by heart – much like a Sunday School would do, the big church was also doing. I made up a little tune, which has stuck with me for decades – shame that singing it now as I type will give you no indication of the tune. It’s a catchy number. Anyway, reading the bit about the good works “prepared in advance for us to do” I felt sure that this treasure hunt was a good work that God had prepared in advance for me to do. I had other things I wanted to do, but this was “prepared in advance”. It rained heavily and I wasn’t sure if “prepared in advanced” was quite good enough to keep me there if it rained. I said as much to God and it stopped raining.

3. My friend, Mark, does a lot of these interesting and challenging things like treasure hunting. His faith has spiraled out of orbit and he has such a fund of testimonies that he shares with us all. His is enthusiastic. Having said that, I don’t know how many of us join him when the invitations come. There is a group of people that go with him, from a selection of churches across the city. I suppose that I wanted to show support for Mark.

So, I went treasure hunting. I filled in my map with “clues” like “steps” and “unusual hat” and such like. I was sure that they were not Spirit inspired because we had five minutes to do it and it takes me longer than that to feel connected. In teams of four we headed out.

Did I find any treasure? Absolutely yes! Not in the treasure intended. I looked at my list and looked for the things on it and when I saw something that might match up, I lacked the courage to actually go for it. I found a half-dozen things that didn’t match. I prayed for two people from a safe distance, but on the whole I wouldn’t say I succeeded. My mind got in the way. Some of the people we met and prayed for I knew and although they said they felt better, because I knew them, I wasn’t sure how sincere they were. Sometimes people say what they think you want to hear.

So, what was my treasure? It was in meeting Justin, the group leader. He was so encouraging and enthusiastic. He let me voice all of my concerns and never let me feel that I was jinxing the whole hunt. He talked of his own early efforts at treasure hunting. Any time it looked like I was dragging my heels – I wasn’t, I am an natural ambler – he came back to walk with me, put his hand on my shoulder and chat. At one point he just stopped and told me that God thinks I am wonderful, that I am a princess.

“I came, I saw, I conquered” – not quite. I went for sure. I am not sure if you have to have a gift for these kinds of activities. It is like looking at those squiggly lined pictures and seeing the 3-D image – I can’t see them. My gift does not lie in that direction – which isn’t to say that I can write it off and not be out there. I saw – I saw Jason’s enthusiasm and his kindness and compassion spread about liberally. And I saw that a lot of people were generous in giving him the time and the opportunity to talk and pray with them. I conquered? I was there, so I suppose there was an element of conquering – but, at best I paddled in the water. I watched others diving in and swimming in the Spirit and it was glorious to watch.

I met up with my husband at the end of the day. He asked how it had gone and I told him. He had spent the day watching some football match or other.

“I met a man,” he said, “he stood next to me at the bar and told me that he had met a group of Christians.”

The man carried a walking stick. Walking sticks might not have been a clue on anyone’s list but they asked if they could pray for him. He didn’t really want them to pray for his gammy leg which wasn’t giving him any bother right then, but he had hurt his toe on his other foot. He told them about his injured toe and asked them to pray for it. It got better. I don’t know whether he went to any lengths to take off his shoe and wiggle his toe, but, as he told my husband later, the toe was definitely better.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Time Out

In my line of business you meet a lot of people who are still in the process of developing coping mechanisms. They haven’t quite worked out how to deal with stressful situations where people rub them up the wrong way.

A few years ago, the management introduced “time out” cards. They were either pink or blue, not depending on whether the stressed out person was male or female, but perhaps to do with who issued them, or what the nature of the stress was all about, or how long a person handing one over could absent themselves - I have forgotten. I hadn’t seen one being flourished in a while – until Friday.

I am ill-equipped to make a decision on who should or shouldn’t have a time out card. I see folk for such short periods of time. Even so, I wonder if there are people who milk the system. Are there individuals who are not really that stressed out, they are not really on the brink of exploding, or imploding. Take my Friday encounter – the person got a telling off for unacceptable behaviour. Out came the card and he left the room. Was he stressed out? He didn’t look like it. I admit that I am no psychiatrist – not all clues to a person’s mental state are visible.

I am not saying that every time out card wielder is playing the system. There needs to be something in place to help people deal with very stressful situations where some are clearly not equipped to deal with it.

One person for sure who was becoming clearly stressed out was me. Where is my time out card? The fuse can sometimes be a short one.

“I am your time out card, Mel!”

I have not been issued with a blue or a pink card that entitles me to leave the room when my coping mechanisms are about to grind to a halt. I have the indwelling Spirit of the living God present within.

Neither is it about “time out” – separating myself from whatever is causing me distress. It is a “time in” card – a time when I should be inviting God into the situation and learning on the spot to access and use the resources that He has made available.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Breathed Upon

I am breathed upon
I am picked-up dust from the
Earth at His feet and
Carefully, deliberately and prayerfully shaped
I am stretched out arms and legs
Fashioned torso and head
Moulded in His Hands
He defines my boundaries
This - His image in clay
Form without animation
He imparts His life to me as
I am breathed upon

I am breathed upon
And I inhale
Drawing into myself
Wondrously, gloriously, humbly
His permission to exist
Nerves tingle, synapses explode
Thoughts tumble about my head
I am dizzy with sensation
Heat and light
Scent and texture
I proclaim with joy that
I am breathed upon

I am breathed upon
Yet where is His breath?
Sin pokes holes in my spirit and
Relentlessly, painfully and inevitably
His breath bleeds out
I swap intimacy for independence and
Vibrant life chills to luke-warm
The world wraps rough hands
Around my throat and I cannot breathe
I listen to a different truth
And surrender the knowledge that
I am breathed upon

I AM breathed upon
A truth He refuses to surrender
He wears my dust
Grace - amazing, astonishing and astounding
He chases me down
He swaps His righteousness for my filth
And mends what is broken
Hands outstretched He invites me in
I yield to His truth
His image in me is restored
And I know again
I AM breathed upon

(c) Melanie Kerr August 2010