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  • Feet of Clay

    It's a well known saying (derived from some imagery in the Book of Daniel, if memory serves correctly).  Every now and then I remind myself of just what crumbly, clay feet I have... and of how blessed I am to serve people who are far more gracious and generous than I deserve.

    Today, after church, was our AGM, one of those strange, legal entities that has to be undertaken, followed by a normal church meeting with a relatively short agenda.  One way and another today turned into a very long day, so now I'm tired, and busy 'over-thinking' things I wish I hadn't said, or had said, or had expressed better; done, or not done, or done differently.

    Do all minister type people think other ministers are better at the job than than the are?  Are we all keenly aware of our frailty, finitude, and general fallen-short-ness?  Do we all turn things over and over, aware of our limitations?

    It's late to be blogging (at least for me), and I'm tired after a long day.  I am also happy to be where I firmly believe God wants me to work and serve, among amazing people in a church that at its best is a foretaste of heaven.

  • Courtroom Imagery?

    One of the images used in atonement theology is that of the courtroom, in which we are the defendant and Christ is the advocate/lawyer who pleads our cause before the judge/sheriff who is God.  Now whatever you might or might not think of that image, I think it is worth working with as 'one among many'.

    This week I have been working with James 2 in preapration for Sunday's service, and discovered that some commentators see the scenario of the rich and poor 'men' entering the assembly (synagogue/congregation) not as about new people coming to worship but as some kind of primitive Church Meeting gathered to settle some issue.  This I will be mentioning in my sermon.

    One of the things that struck me this morning, and which is briefly alluded to towards the end of the sermon, is that I could bring this into 'conversation' with the courtroom atonement theology (and someone clever probably already did).  How is it that we approach God?  Not as a rich, powerful, influential person, able to buy favour, but as the impoverished, inarticulate, scruffy person who has no hope of a fair hearing.  So the mystery and wonder is that the outrageous generosity of the big-hearted God is not simply to treat us fairly, to judge us without prejudice, but instead in mercy and love to shout from the roof tops 'not guilty' (if, indeed guilty we were) or 'free to go' (if we were at risk of detention) or 'paid in full' (if we were in debt).

    If this is so, if we recognise the ludicrous goodness of God to us, how can we fail, in gratitude, to show the same to others who, actually, have not offended against us but are just different from us in some way.

    I love the letter of James, and chapter two is the bit I love best - that's old news.  I love that whenever I read it proeprly, I am shown some knew insight that adds to my love of it.

  • Infantile...? Growing Up.

    This morning's PAYG was on a very familiar passage from 1 Corinthians 3:

    And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.  For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
    For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human?  What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.  For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.


    The words that struck home were these:

    For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?


    Two thousand years on these 'flesh' characteristics seem to as evident as they ever were in the Church, in the churches.  So that means, presumably we, collectively and individually, are still 'infants' or at least 'infantile'.  It's not the disagreeing that is infantile but the way it plays out, especially on the public stage.  Maturity is not measured purely by 'what' we believe/support/reject but by 'how' we do so, and equally importantly, how we engage with those who may differ from us.

    On Monday evening we enjoyed a stimulating presentation by a guest who shared something of his faith journey.  With great honesty he shared some of the struggle and pain that arose along the way - but his story was characterised by compassion and concern not to hurt others who may differ from him in their views/understandings.  Perhaps the first 'medical' rule of "do no harm" is a good one that leads us to greater maturity in our attitudes, and which will, finally, lead us beyond the quarrels, factions, dissension and jealousy which keep us infants in faith?

  • Cariad Duw - God's Love

    Yesterday, our evening worship was led by one of our first language Welsh speakers, and was a reflection on God's love based on a Welsh-language acrostic of CARIAD.  Alas since I am at church and the order of service is at home, I cannot recall what all the letters represented in the correct order, but among them were friendship/fellowship, meekness, patience, gentleness and Jesus.  The one that stood out was the 'R' which was a word that meant 'the heart of the tree' the strong inner core that fuels growth and that withstands trials.  Pondering further, it is something that is unseen (unless you cut down the tree - a sacrificial/crucifixion resonance perhaps?).  I loved this new insight into the love of God, as being like the hidden, strong heart of the tree.  Because there is no such word in English (and indeed it transpires it was a word unknown by at least one of our Welsh speakers!) it is a concept we would not naturally arrive at, yet when we are alerted to it, it immediately resonates.

    Such is the gift of the diversity of languages, that in each and every tongue are words, phrases and concepts that don't automatically arise in others.  I pondered this same wonder last Wednesday at the prayer gathering, where we sang, in English translation, a Nigerian worship song, at one level very simple, but at another giving new - or at least refreshed - insight in to the characteristics of God... "How excellent is your name, Oh God"... not a phrase your typical Brit would use, but yet when you hear it, it is obviously true. 

    God transforms Babel to Pentecost - it's not just something the hymnists and theologians claim, it's a fact.  Diversity of language offers us more, not less, opportunity to discover the wonder of cariad Duw.

    So, may the big-hearted, strong-hearted, tree-hearted and most excellent love of God surround you and all creation, this day and everyday.

  • Onwards and Upwards!

    At lectern smiling.jpgThis morning I was looking back at photos from the last couple of years and thinking about all that has transpired in that time.  This one, taken at the beginning of September 2010 seems in some ways a life time away.

    I made a conscious decision this year not to post the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, not because it has lost significance in my personal calendar, I don't think that will ever happen, but because two years on, it is really rather boring for other people, especially those who see me racing around almost as madly as I used to in the 'BC' (Before Cancer) days.

    My journey metaphor, with Mount Chemo and the dark forest of surgery, continues its path through the Land of NED, a place that looked sunny and lush as I approached it across the River of Radiation.  Just over a year since I stepped into it, I have seen that the terrain is far from smooth, that there are trip hazards along the way, and thorns to snag the unwary traveller.  On the whole life is really good - I am well and happy, my energy is for the most part good, and I love my work.  But the long term side effects remain. 

    My concentration is still poor.  Reading anything more complex than an undergraduate text is nigh on impossible (so very unlikely I'll ever get that elusive PhD) and my memory is embarrassingly bad, with whole items falling into a big abyss as though they'd never been!  Sometimes the memory loss does bring pleasant surprises as I discover I have, after all, done something that needed to be done!

    Learning to live with chronic, low grade pain (small joint arthralgia) has been an eye-opener.  Weakness in my hands and feet, turning into a 99 year-old rusty tin-person overnight, quaffing a whole cocktail of supplements and drugs... it's a world I had never imagined.  And I'm lucky: the joint pain is not bad (I only take pain killers because the doctor tells me to!) and barely affects my enjoyment of life.  It just means that rather than flat, my path onwards is definitely upwards, requiring more effort than it would have done BC.

    At my recent, six monthly, check-up the doctor insisted on prescribng yet more drugs, this time for the hot flushes that are one more side effect of the anti-cancer drugs.  Two weeks in I am finally gaining some benefit, perversely now have cold flushes sometimes!

    Naively, I had assumed that, like 'normal' injuries and minor illnesses, once I had recovered I would be back to where I was BC.  That's not the case.  Life AD (After Diagnosis) is different, and harder work.  Aside from the physical scars, and the long term side effects of life-saving drugs, there are the intellectual and emotional effects.  To be fair, the greater the distance I am from the start of this path, the less emotioanl impact it has, but it never goes away entirely; every now and then the evil 'what if' fairy appears on my shoulder to whisper in my ear.

    Recently a few people have asked me if I'll grow my hair long again.  The answer, at least for the time being, is 'no'.  After eighteen months it is still trying to revert to curls, and the top layers would still need at least a year to reach the level of the bottom, to give a 'one length' rather than layered appearance.    Although I loved my long hair, and occasionally still miss it, I also love my short hair, which looks less severe than the scraped-back-for-work look.  Part of the journey onwards is embracing the new me, physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

    Beginning 'year three' since diagnosis has a good feel to it (even if there's still six months until I officially reach two years of NED, as dates count from surgery) as the first two years are most 'risky' in terms of recurrence.  As the road rises gently but steadily into the future, the clouds are fewer and less grey.  Onwards and upwards, then, is no mere fatalism, but a sense of moving forward accepting that the transition from BC to AD is as real for me as the hinge point of human history.

    This photo was taken on the SS Waverly a week or so ago.  Different hair, different glasses, but the same smile as ever!!060a.jpg