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  • Way Out Lent (17) Exodus 35-36

    Anyone who is hanging on in there with this I commend you.  Even though I'm enjoying this close read of Exodus, I can see that the repetition of themes and ideas and the self-evident melding of multiple sources can make this a bit of a slog.

    Sabbath Keeping - Yet Again

    The first thing Moses is recorded as doing after this (second) extended period of absence is to remind people about the need to keep the Sabbath.  The more times I read this, the more I become convicted that here is something I need to take on board.  I could get very boring here saying what I've already said on previous days, so I'll try not to repeat myself.

    Simply to note that I am reassured that the ancients seem to have struggled with this in their, seemingly much simpler, lives, and that I am challenged to recover/discover a better practice of Sabbath for myself.

    To Give and/or To Do

    Central to the project of creating the Tabernacle and its accoutrements is the shared commitment of the people.  Those of a generous heart are to give materially, those who are skilled are to employ their abilities... "And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing".

    Nothing radical or new here, just a sensible and practical means of achieving the project.  Significantly, there is no manadated giving, no demand that anyone should offer their labour.  Rather, those who feel led, called, convicted, moved, inspired, whatever it is, offer what they are able to offer - whether that is gold or gems or fabric or skills in working with wood or metal or yarn.

    The details are worth noting...

    The skilful women spun blue, purple and crimson yarn...

    The women whose hearts were moved spun goats' hair...

    There seems to have been a shared sense of purpose that valued every contribution.  It wasn't 'better' to spin fine yarn for the inner curtains than to spin goats hair for the outer ones, each was needed and both were valued.  To recognise the skills of another does not  confer status nor does it demean others: different but of equal worth.   It's easy to say, but not always so easy to do - how often I find myself envying others whose skills with words are so much better than mine, whose natural rapport with people and ability to defuse tension I would love to emulate but, try as I might, cannot.  It's a reminder to me to do the things I can do, and let others do the things I can't.  I suspect it's also a reminder more generally to reflect on those skills and gifts we applaud and those we dismiss... The Temple needed spinners of goats hair and spiiners of fine yran, each was equally important and, for now anyway equally valued.

    Paul's body image for the Church is similar... so as I make connections, I am left with plenty to ponder yet again!

    Training Others

    Bezalel and Oholiab were selected as the finest craftsmen and put in charge of the work.  In an almost throw away sentence, we discover that part of that work was to teach/train others in the necessary skills.

    Sometimes I can be so busy 'doing' that I don't take or make the time to look around for others whose potential could, and should, be developed.  Sometimes it is easier just to get on and do it myself than to take the time to work collaboratively - even though I love to do so, and even though the rewards are huge.

    In other places and at other times, I encountered loyal servants of churches whose approach was very much "my way or the highway", an attitude I both understood, these people did a fantastic job, and resented because it denied others an opportunity to try.  It can be really hard to stand back and let someone else have a go, to give them space to do things their way, to make their own mistakes as well as to build their confidence, disocver their strengths and 'fly'.  I am struck by how easily I slide into a 'doing' role rather than an 'enabling' role; how much easier (if not easy) it is to 'delegate' or 'devolve' responsibilities and how much harder to 'develop' others.  This isn't me in self-flagellation mode, it's more me expressing the fact that often, in the busyness of 'doing church' it is easy to overlook the importance of 'building church'.

    Stop! Enough Already...

    I can honestly say that in all my years in churches I have never heard a minister or treasurer say to the people "stop giving we have more than we need".  I doubt very much any minister or treasurer ever has.  But it's what happens here.  The people keep on giving, and we can only speculate at what motivates them.  It becomes clear that there is more material than needed, so they are asked to stop.

    And yet.

    And yet, in every church I've been part of there have been those who kept on and on giving, volunteering for every rota, attending every training day or prayer day, giving and giving of themselves.  If I'm honest, and if my memory is accurate, I've rarely if ever heard anyone say to such people 'stop, you've given enough' and, even though I might exercise a note of concern or caution, I don't think I've ever said an outright 'no' to anyone.

    Giving more than is needed can lead to burn out, illness, resentment and bitterness; learning as individulas when to say "enough already" or "stop" is an important lesson - and one I need to return too more often than perhaps I should!

    So, in the building project there are hints of building community... that of itself is worth pondering.

     

  • Catalyst Live 2016

    One of the great events that BMS have organised in recent years is Catalyst Live, which is back, after a well earned rest, in the autumn of this year.  I love it so much I've booked my ticket already!

    If any reader is interested, more details can be found here.

  • Way Out Lent (16) Exodus 33,34

    Quite a lot happens in this couple of chapters, and a lot of the emergent themes seem to be similar to those already observed.  Even so, it's worth a bit of a ponder.

    God's self-limitation

    At the start of the chapter, God tells Moses that the people are to go to the land they have been promised "but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."

    This is intriguing.  God seems to caught in something of a bind... there is a promise that will not (cannot?) be rescinded and a reality that the nature of the people is such that God would be driven to destroy them.

    I'm not sure what to make of this - and neither, it seems is Moses.  The people on hearing the news are devastated and respond by removing all the ornaments they had been wearing up until that point.

    Some people when they seek to make sense of the 'Cross Event' speak of God's hands being bound in love... that God's nature somehow precludes God from intervening.  In this story, God's instinct seems to be to destroy, but love means that God exercises restraint, even though some consequences are inevitable.  I'm sure someone, somewhere has written about this, and I probably ought to go and research it a bit more.

    As to a Friend

    We are told that God would speak to Moses 'as to a friend', a truly intimate relationship.  How do we speak with our friends?  What sorts of things do we discuss, what emotions do we express, how do we handle disagreements and fall outs?

    This seems very different from the 'chummy' language sometimes used in songs and prayers that we may fear trivialises worship or our view of God, it's not about the forms of words, but the depth of relationship.

    If God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, really are as friends to me, then presumably they will know my secrets, my fears, my hopes, my regrets, my yearnings... They will speak truth to me, even if it is not what I want to hear, but they will do so motivated by love, for my best interests, to enable me to fulfil my potential.

    Friendships are not all the same, some last a lifetime, others years or months.  Some are very deep, others are more superficial.  Pretty much all have their roots in a shared experience or common interest.  So I find myself wondering about the nature of my own "friendship" with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, and how well or badly I tend it.

    Do I open myself to God as to a trusted friend? Do I hear from God as from a trusted friend?  Would anyone ever say of me that I am "a friend of God"?

    Glimpsing God's Back

    Moses wants to see God face to face, but God says no.  Instead he is granted a glimspe of God's back.  Theologian Paul Fiddes in one of his many excellent books (probably Tracks and Traces, I'm not sure) speaks of catching a glimspe of the back of a God who has just passed by.  As I recall it, he is noting that it is often only afterwards, when God has 'just passed by', that we glimspe any hint of God's presence.

    It is an image that I have found comforting and encouraging over many years, and not in any way contradictory to other ideas or images of a God who is either omnipresent, immanent or transcendent.  Sometimes there can be a sense that there is God's back, glimsped ahead of me, heading onwards, inviting me to follow, if I will... and assuring me that every step of the path I walk has already been trodden.

    When churches face challenges, especially stepping into the unknown, such an image, such a promise is, I hope, comforting too.

    Shining Countenance

    Moses comes back down the mountain after another very long time (40 days and nights) with newly engraved copies of the commandments (a, somewhat bizarre, selection of which are reiterated in the narrative) and his face shines, so much so that the people are afraid.

    Every now and then I see people whose faces seem to glow, to have a quality not physical but transcendent.  The new bride or bridegroom; the baptismal candidate, still dripping wet; the person who shows off their engagement ring; the new father holding his child... Fleeting, ephemeral, incapable of being captured in a photo there is something 'extra' going on here.  Was it something like this that the people saw?

    It's hard to read this story and not think of the Tranfiguration and the way that the disicples reacted to the 'whiter than white' Jesus chatting to Moses and Elijah.  I am reminded of the lure of the mountain top experience, the yearning to extend, even perpetuate the moment, and the absolute impossibility of so doing (elsewhere we will read of Moses' face fading).  The preacher at my ordination reminded us of the necessity of moving between the 'mountain' and the 'plain' and he was surely right.  Easy to crave the mountain in the routine of the plain, but maybe I need ro remind myself that to attain the mountain top first comes the steep climb, and then the equally step descent back to routine.

     

    A bit of a bitty passage, but lots in it for me to ponder especially about divine self-limitation.

    I wonder what, if anything has resonated for anyone else?