Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Jericho Man

What’s yours is mine
Says the bandit hiding behind the rocks
As he hits the Jericho man on the head

What’s mine is mine
Says the priest hiding behind his holy vocation
As he passes the Jericho man leaving him for dead

What’s mine is yours
Says the Samaritan not hiding at all
As he wraps up the Jericho man and puts him to bed

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

His Way

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

It’s a familiar passage and I know a song about the verses that follow on from it. We have a tendency to isolate verses from their context. Thoughts about what? What particular thoughts here are not mine? What ways are higher? Pretty much every thought is what you might be thinking – but there is a specific thought in this case.

There was a programme on BBC on Sunday night. It wasn’t on that late, but late enough for me to decide to record it and watch it the next day. “The Selfless Sikh: Faith on the Frontline” is one of those programmes that RE teachers feel obliged to watch. So I watched it yesterday. Spoiler Alert! It was about a Sikh putting his faith on the front line! The front line he was putting it on was in war torn Iraq. He didn’t tell his mother where he was headed because he didn’t want her to worry. He provided aid to Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS.

Ravi Singh talked to women and young boys about life under ISIS rule and it was uncomfortable stuff to listen to. Families were broken apart, husbands killed, wives and daughters sold as slaves and young sons drafted into the army and given guns to shoot and lessons in how to behead the enemy. The women telling their stories wore headscarves and covered their faces – but their eyes, uncovered, showed how much they had suffered. They wiped away tears – and so did I.

As Ravi listened, he dropped his head. As he listened he admitted to being angry about what men has done to other men, to women and to children. It was all too easy to focus on the bad actions and harden his heart to the culprits, but he didn’t want to be like that. He wanted to stay soft hearted and compassionate and reach out to their victims instead.

Let’s head back to Isaiah and to God’s higher thoughts.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7

God will have mercy on the wicked and the unrighteous. He will freely pardon them – if they seek him.  If they turn to him.

I am not sure I want to have any mercy for those who raped the women in the programme. I didn’t want them to be pardoned. They didn’t deserve mercy or pardon. I know…I know…I didn’t deserve mercy or pardon either but in comparison to the crimes they have committed, mine is just little forgivable stuff.

That’s how God thinks differently and acts differently to me. I think in terms of justice, of revenge perhaps and of people getting exactly what they deserve. God thinks in terms of mercy and pardon. My ways are the ways of the world – they have got to pay for their actions. God thinks – “I have already paid.” God challenges me to think and act the way He does.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.” Isaiah 55:12-13

God has created me for joy and for peace. He wants me to inhabit an environment where hills and mountains sing and trees clap their hands. That doesn’t happen when I choose revenge. I have the choice to grow the juniper and the myrtle and walk away from the thorn bushes and the briers.

I had a picture in my head. I was standing with a machine gun in my hand. The gun summed up my heart reaction to all the stories I had heard in the TV programme. These men of violence understood only violence. The way to defeat them was by using greater violence. Then a man came along and took the machine gun off me. He pushed into my hand a pile of bandages and a first aid kit. Nothing was said.

This is His way and it has to be my way too.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Generation Snowflake

The Oxford English Dictionary is updated four times a year – in March, June, September, and December. As some of the words we don’t use anymore get kicked out, new ones take up residence.

Not so long ago BBC Breakfast TV introduced its viewers to a selection of the new ones. They took a camera out onto the streets, stopped members of the public, quizzing them on the definitions of the new words. The only entry that stuck in my mind was Generation Snowflake.

One of the first women they asked described Generation Snowflake well. They are the generation of young people who are wrapped up in cotton wool by their parents.  They are the “little treasures” that must be protected and defended at all times. They are surrendered to at the first hint of a tantrum. If a teacher gives them a row or complains about homework not done, the parents take up the fight on their child’s behalf. What they don’t teach their children is about how to fight their own battles and how to be resilient. Their sons and daughters don’t know how to prevail, to stick at something and see it through to the very end. They simply cave in.

One of today’s papers picked up on the idea of the snowflake generation. The journalist wrote about being a Brownie and going away to camp and sleeping away from home for the very first time. They were out there, in the wild, with their tents and their Brown Owl learning how to cook sausages over a camp fire. When it came for the time to go to bed, the girls had not realised that the tents they had put up were for them to sleep in. They expected a parent to show up and take them home. There was a lot of weeping and wailing and sobbing and very little seeing the whole adventure thing. One lassie wanted to be dropped off at the nearest police station where she could call her parents to come and get her. This was in the days before mobile phones.

The Brown Owl was a no-nonsense woman. She just told them to deal with it. It was the tents or nothing and no one was going home. The girls eventually climbed into the sleeping bags, fell asleep and woke the next morning feeling they had done something very brave. They were not allowed to be snowflakes – people that melted at the first sign of a scorching challenge.

Part of the resilience found in the brownies at camp was in their shared experience. They discovered that other girls shared the same fears and anxieties they had.  They were not alone. Part of the problem for the current generation of young people is their isolation. They don’t always do things with others. Computers, I-phones and game-boxes mean that they are often on their own. Meal times might often not be a family affair, but a variety of meals taken upstairs or eaten in front of a TV. There is too little interaction with others without that opportunity to develop a “we-are-in-this-together” mentality.

Resilience is becoming my favourite word these days. I am surprisingly resilient. I’m not sure that I can hark back to my Brownie days and say it happened then. I came from a large family and lived in a street where every house had its offspring and everyone playing together all the time. There was no computer tech then. I am not sure that’s where my resilience has its birth.

My early days in the teaching profession were not successful ones – I am not that sure about my current day either. I had spent four years getting my teaching qualifications and was determined to give teaching four years before coming to the conclusion I wasn’t cut out for it. That was some thirty six years ago.

My resilience comes from my relationship with God. He doesn’t really allow me to back down from a challenge. When things get tough He directs me to all the resources that I need to triumph. I have always believed that an important part of those resources come from the church family that God has built me into. Yes, we are in this together and we share life together, the joys, the struggles, the defeats, the victories, the tears, the laughter, the battles we fight side by side and the lessons we learn along the way. There is no room for isolationists in God’s kingdom. No one gets to grab a meal and take it up to the bedroom to eat whilst texting a mate.

I would like to think that to the new generation of just-surrendered-to-Jesus Christians I can be a little Brown Owlish. I am thinking not so much of telling the new generation to “deal with it” or declaring “It’s the tents or nothing”.  I would like to live resilience in front of them in a way that they can learn and live it for themselves.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Dreamed In...

Yesterday morning I was dibbing into a book “Restoring the Woven Cord: Strands of Celtic Christianity for the Church Today” by Michael Mitton.  It has a great chapter on creativity and highlights the life of Caedmon, “the earliest English poet whose name is known”.

He worked in a monastery in Whitby, which wasn’t called Whitby at the time, tending animals. At the end of the day when the dinner was done and everything was washed up and put away, the community dug out the music and everyone was required to do their party piece to entertain. Caedmon wasn’t a singer, or a poet or a storyteller, and always left the room.

One night he had a dream. Someone, presumably Jesus, stood before him and told him to sing a song. Caedmon confessed he couldn’t sing, but the man insisted and told him to sing something about God and His creation. Caedmon sang a beautiful song, and he woke up the next day remembering all the words and the melody.

In those days, dreams were taken seriously. He went to the abbess and told her about the dream and she called a meeting of the high-ups in the monastery. They needed to know that it was a genuine dream and not just a side effect of too much cheese. They agreed it was genuine and called on Caedmon to become a proper monk and put the Bible to music. And he did that.

I’d read the chapter because later on in the morning I was meeting with the Breathe writers, a small creative writing group. Our usual venue, the Breathe Chapel just off Grant Street, wasn’t available. We did think about just cancelling – some of the usual crew were not going to be there. I didn’t want to cancel. Marking off time to write – yes, I could do it by myself anyway, and as it was we didn’t actually write – I just like being with like-minded people. We met out near Moniack, a lovely converted barn, surrounded by fields and trees at the end of their autumn days.

In among the conversation we talked about what got us into writing in the first place. One of the women present talked about being called in a dream – much like Caedmon. She had been writing throughout school but got caught up in the busy stuff of family. She was a part of a church that had been re-discovering art and poetry and music as part of a church worship meeting. There wasn’t the man, in the dream, standing in front of her telling her to speak a poem, but there was a directing towards writing and sharing poetry in church. She talked about a painting, and dreaming of being in the painting and writing a poem the next day. She is well in there, now, sharing poems, prophetic, forceful poems at various events and planning a book of photographs and poems.

I wasn’t dreamed into poetry. I was standing in front of a desk about the sign away my Wednesday evenings for the next twelve weeks learning how to counsel people. I thought it might be a useful thing to be able to do in a church setting. On the table next to the counselling register was one for Creative Writing. My heart, my spirit, God, nothing to do with any dream, tugged me to the Creative Writing register. I had this thing in my head that I was being selfish – what good would creative writing do in a church setting? But I couldn’t stop myself. The first meeting, the first encounter of pencil on paper, I was home. I was in the so-right place and I discovered a gift. The poetry part of it came later.

So, I read all about Caedmon – dreamed into poetry and song-writing. I met a woman also where dreams also played a part in her poetry calling. If you know me you can take a stab at what comes next. Yes, the little voice, possibly the enemy, or my likely all me – “Father, why wasn’t I dreamed in too?” – as if not being dreamed in was a spiritual handicap in some way.

“Did you need to be?” came the answer, “The two registers next to one another on the desk.  Not coincidence but plan - you followed the call.”

It matters not the manner of how God calls you to Himself or the job He has designed for you. What matters is that you answer.