Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Far Side of tge Wilderness

here am I
at the far side
of the wilderness
in a place where
I’m not called to be
falling short of
what God intends

I choose not to hear
the cries of the captives
I’m called to liberate but
He hears

I will not revisit
a previous passion or
dreams drowned in disappointment but
He remembers

I am blind to
miracles and close my eyes
to the possibilities of promises kept but
He sees

I define myself
in shades of setter not sojourner
counting myself discarded but
He knows

here am I
at the far side
of the wilderness
a bush burns
a voice calls
I know where I should be and
I say, “Here I am.”

Saturday, June 19, 2021

It Really Is Well With My Soul

It really wasn’t a day for sitting on the patio. There was no blue sky or bright sunshine. No sense of a warm sun toasting skin a golden brown. It was raining. Not the heavy stuff. Gentle, soft stiff but rain nonetheless. My friend was drinking coffee and I had just clambered out of a taxi.

‘I see you’ve not got your driving licence back then?’ It’s a sore subject. I am falling into a hole with an inch or two of self-pity at the bottom.

We pretended it wasn’t raining and chatted for a while.

Earlier that morning I had been walking the local streets praying and sharing faith. We were upfront about it, no disguise. Christians talking about God, one of us a church pastor. We were asking two questions. One was about lockdown and whether we had come out of it intact, and whether we felt cared for by the community around us. The second question was a direct, ‘Do you believe in God?’ It was raining then too, and people were just wanting to get somewhere dry – the fish weren’t biting.

Even earlier than that, very early, I had been singing a hymn while doing last night’s washing up. But as I got to the ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’ I was poking around in my soul wondering if it was indeed well. Lockdown had frayed my edges somewhat, but I was mostly fine.

I didn’t ask my friend across the table if it was well with her soul. It wasn’t. She had weathered the first lockdown well, but the second one, the one that covered the dark winter months has scuppered her soul. She was signed off work. Her job was not a difficult one, but she just couldn’t face it. She is a formidable lady who faces into the wind and stays standing, usually, but not this time.

It’s the long drawn out nature of the lockdown that unravels us.

 I had come across a poem by Howard Thurman. We all know who Martin Luther King Jr is. Thurman was a mentor to him, someone who had met and talked with Mahatma Gandhi, someone who thought of non-violent protest as a way to change the world for the better.

He had a concern, though. He worried that in the long drawn out nature of campaigning for racial equality and being on the receiving end of vicious maltreatment, that the protestors would become hardened in their hearts. Yes, they might react non-violently on the outside, but on the inside, in their thoughts and emotions there might be a different narrative going on. He wrote a poem, ‘Open Unto Me’.

I wrote my own version picking out some of his phrases.

Open unto me

Open unto me a light to guide my way
Open unto me courage for the day
Open unto me the hope that will not fade
Open unto me a peace that’s heaven-made
Open unto me the joy that flows so deep
Open unto me your strength my course to keep
Open unto me the wisdom I should know
Open unto me forgiveness wide to show
Open unto me a soft and tender heart
Open unto me each day a brand-new start

Inspired by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

How do we, when we come under such sustained pressure, come out of it singing, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’? We must not pretend it is well with our soul when it’s not.

I was reading this today:-

‘Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’ (Colossians 3:12 NLT)

‘Clothe yourself’ is something we do for ourselves. It doesn’t have a fairy godmother’s wave of a magic wand. We have to do it. I’m not sure whether someone can do it without the help of God.  My husband has got to that stage in life when he needs help getting his jacket on. And I think that we need to show ‘tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience’ to ourselves as much as to other people.

My friend and I, still chatting in the rain, seated at her patio table, moved on to talk about other things – her son is getting married soon and the hunt for the right ‘mother of the groom’ dress has begun.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

'Nil Points'

Just over a week ago I had a dream that, on waking, left a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It was an absurd dream.

One of our city cafes has opened up its doors on a Friday evening for sharing poetry. Know me well enough and you know I am drawn to that kind of thing. I confess that I am not always the best listener of poetry. I try but the exhibitionist in me wants to take centre stage and hog the microphone. 

In my dream, I was sharing a poem. There was a man with a guitar who said he could put it to music. The tune was lively. Before long, we had a song. It was incredibly singable. There were other poets in the room, and they began adding lines and verses. The song was catchy, and the words were easy to pick up. We sang loudly and people passing by stopped to come in. The chip shop next door emptied and came into the café.

‘We should enter the song into the Eurovision Song Contest.’

We polished it up, insisted that if was chosen, we would sing it ourselves and not be replaced by some hip young pop group. The country, still smarting from the previous ‘nil point’ defeat, concluded we could do no worse, and they liked the song, so gave us the go ahead. We did a short tour of Europe touting the song. We had everyone singing the chorus. It was going down a storm.

We left someone else to organise a dance troupe, if needed, and the magic of the screen behind us. We just sang our song, and everyone in the stadium snag with us. 

The scoring began. It didn’t take long for the ‘dix points’ and the ‘douze points’ to come our way. It was not a song easily forgotten. We were winning with ease. The judges had voted our song the best song by a mile and when the public votes were cast, no other song came close to winning. It was a rout.
There wee open topped bus celebrations, flags waving, a crowd singing our song, and an invitation to Buckingham Palace. The queen was hooked on the song too.

And then I woke up.

I can’t think of any year where I have not watched the Eurovision Song Contest. My childhood was spent singing ‘Congratulations!’, ‘Boom Bang a Bang Bong’ and ‘All kinds of Everything’. As our wins became a real thing of the past, I listened to all the conspiracy theories. We didn’t really want to win and hosting the contest was expensive. We had made so many enemies and everyone else had so many friends that we could never win anyway. But that did not really explain the ‘nil points’. Our song choice might not be the winning song but were not as bad as some. We did not deserve the bottom place we found ourselves in year on year.

My romance with Eurovision was stretched to breaking point. Perhaps it was time to leave the stage as graciously as we could.

A friend pointed out that the problem might not be with the song, or with the numerous enemies we had made or our lack of friends in Europe.
Here comes a three point sermon:-

·         We didn’t do the hard work to promote the song in Europe. Too often we were being judged on a first hearing of our song. We had not done the tour to get the song heard and sung in Europe. We did not tread the boards, spent hours on the road, flood the airwaves or sit on the sofas and face the cameras on TV. We expected too much from too little effort.

·         We made too little effort to make friends with Europe. On holiday abroad we speak English (slowly and loudly) and look for fish and chip shops. We have very little connection with the language and culture of Europe. We continue to carry our delusions about empire.

·         We don’t value the prize enough to want it. We take a curious comfort in celebrating our ‘nil point’ defeat, as if we didn’t want t victory anyway.

I got to thinking. I read this verse from Psalms:-

'Send us out all over the world so that everyone everywhere will discover your ways and know who you are and see your power to save.' (Psalm 67:2 The Passion Translation)

If there was a competition of ‘life stances’ or ‘ways of living’, I think religion comes low on the score board. Christianity gets the ‘nil point’ in UK. The stories are not good ones, not the ones that make the headlines. I wondered if my three point sermon applied.

·         Are we working hard enough to promote faith in God.? For some the gospel shared on the streets is a first hearing of for many. We keep our faith private when we should be in the workplace, in the community, on social media talking about Jesus. We do too little to halt the flow of people walking away from faith.

·         We make too little effort to make friends with people outside the church circle.  The pharisees kept a strict distance form people worried about catching sin. They did not think in terms of holiness rubbing off onto people. We need to be generous with our time and our testimony with everyone.

·         The prize? What is the prize we seek? I know that being out there on the streets sharing faith is challenging. But God loves people and Hs door is open wide. When we hold precious the things He holds precious we will be not be stopped by our fears and inadequacies.