Friday, 21 December 2018

Christmas

So Christmas is coming. How are you doing?

At the heart of this feast is the manifestation of utter simplicity; the quiet and unassuming arrival amid ordinary people of the Word made flesh. He came to his own and his own received him not — nothing unusual about that, eh? Life was ever thus.

The story reaches us wrapped lavishly in misunderstanding. He was not, as it transpires, a homeless waif heartlessly turned away from every door. Bethlehem was Joseph's ancestral home and no doubt he had many relatives there with the usual keen sense of hospitality of that part of the world. Each home would have an upper room — a 'kataluma' (mistranslated as 'inn') — to put up guests, and a main family room shared with domestic animals downstairs. It is possible that, the kataluma being too small for a midwife, Joseph and Mary, and all the kerfuffle of delivering a baby, the family made room for them in the family living area, where the manger for the animals offered a convenient crib.

An alternative possibility is that, the katalumas being already full in the homes of Joseph's relatives, he and Mary were offered space in the Tower of the Flock at Migdal Edar. Bethlehem was a specialist centre for breeding sheep. They produced high quality lambs used for temple sacrifice, and the ewes ready to give birth were brought in to this tower at the Shepherds' Field to deliver their lambs. To keep them free of blemish, as the Law required, these lambs intended for sacrifice were wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the manger out of harm's way. If that's where Mary and Joseph went, it would explain why the shepherds immediately understood and were able to act on the message of the angel. It's also redolent with obvious symbolism. As Jesus's cousin John said — "Behold the Lamb of God".

Another intriguing "Behold" from the Christmas story is Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, triggered by the angel Gabriel mentioning to Mary that Elizabeth is soon to give birth. Mary's response to the angel is "Behold the handmaid of the Lord". The word she actually uses is doula — "Behold, the Lord's doula!" So she is both the one who is to see the Lord into the world — be his doula — and she is the one the Lord has sent to act as Elizabeth's doula through the birth of the baby John.

Interesting, isn't it?

On the third Sunday in Advent, when we thought about the miraculous birth and prophetic calling of John the Baptist, whom Thomas Merton called a "wise, wild baby", we had on the overhead screen at Pett chapel this image:



Now, this is actually the grandson of Julie B who comments here, Levi Samuel, the son of (Julie's daughter) Carolyn and Jeremy, photographed by Carolyn's sister Sharon McMahon, of ThreeIrishGirlsPhotography.com. But from the moment I saw it, that photograph became for me the quintessential image of Christmas. One wise, wild baby after another. What a family that was! Stacked out with prophets and prophetesses, visionaries  . . . people who had the art of courage and the Spirit of God.

Amid all the stress and trivia my prayer for you is that you may hold fast to what really matters, and do not allow yourself to be distracted from the way of simplicity. Insist upon the chance to hear the angels sing. Peace, silence, solitude, simplicity be yours. And may grace be your guide through the whole of 2019.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

The Beaufort Band goes to Pett Chapel

So we had our coffee morning, with a home-made jewellery stall, a craft table and a pin-the-nose-on-the-snowman for children, a fair trade stall full off Christmas goodies, and Beshlie's superb face painting — Buzzfloyd had her face painted —



And so did Donna —


And Bean said to video the Beaufort Band so you could all join in with our coffee morning — and I did.

They played my favourite — the Can-Can — and Joy to the World and Frosty the Snowman, and lots more.



That's Rosie playing the trombone



Alice playing French horn (and also flute) and Hebe playing the violin —



— and in the videos you could also see Donna and Buzzfloyd playing violin. Or is Buzzfloyd's a viola?

While they had a break to get a hot drink and enjoy some of the gingerbread and cinnamon rolls they'd made and look at the stalls, Rosie played her harp.

I caught the end of her playing Silent Night, and here she is playing the beautiful O Holy Night.

Alice and Hebe designed and gilded in several different golds the beautiful art work on her harp — and the east window (the cross) in the chapel is also Alice's design and creation.

And tomorrow at chapel, Gaudete Sunday, we'll be thinking about John the Baptist.



Advent is about getting ready. We are taking full advantage of it.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Doors

There are words, and there are contexts.



My focus in life is doing what I came here to do, trying to live faithfully, moving when the Spirit says "move", bringing the words that arise in my spirit.



My contexts are 



  1. my household and family; 
  2. my church community; 
  3. the Methodist Church of which that church community is part; 
  4. the people who read my writing; 
  5. this Kindred of the Quiet Way online community.
I can almost discount #3, because the Methodist Church has no time for me and is not interested in me, other than a few individual souls locally who have become good friends. So I am assuming this word is not for the Methodist Church.

But the other four contexts are relational and responsive, they both speak into my life and hear when I have something to say. So it might be for any of them. 

In case it is for you, I thought I'd pass it on here.

We have been, as I expect you've noticed, in a time of upheaval and profound change — this applies to individuals and their communities, in truth to the whole human race and its Earth context. I don't think I have a word for the whole human race. Usually a Spirit nudge is more specific than that.

In 1967 when I was ten, the Doors made their first album, and my sister — who was five years older than me — bought it. We didn't have much money and didn't own many records, so the few we had, we listened to a lot. I became very familiar with that album and listened to it as much as she did.

I left home the summer I turned eighteen (in 1975), and haven't listened to that album since, or heard it played anywhere. I never see my sister and don't know if she still has it.

But two days ago, most insistently and compellingly, a song from that album came back to me. It's been playing and replaying in my head — I just can't get it out of my mind. What's speaking in my soul is not so much the tune or the genre, as the idea of the song.

"Break on through to the other side."

I feel that it might be something I — or you — or someone in one of my contexts, needs to hear and do. Not to give up, to keep going. The only way out is through. Trusting the process and holding the vision. "For still the vision awaits its time. It it seems slow, wait for it — it will surely come, it will not delay" (that's Habakkuk).







This is the song:


Wednesday, 12 December 2018

For East Sussex friends

This is what we're doing on Saturday at Pett chapel.
The Beaufort Band — for the uninitiated — is the wild and glorious gathering of musicians that practises in our front room. Plays an eclectic mix of everything from trombone to violin to jingle bells to flute. Not quite like anything you've ever heard before, and their version of the Can-Can sounds like elephants on drugs. In a good way.

I think I can say, hand on heart, that this event is not to be missed.

Then on Sunday at 10.45, after Buzzfloyd has instructed our youngsters on Everything They Would Have Asked About John The Baptist If They'd Only Thought Of It, the Revd David Freeland leads our church family Eucharist. Every now and then — not too often — you meet someone from whom you can see the light of Christ shining. David Freeland is one of those people. It'll be a good morning.


Saturday, 8 December 2018

Fiona Wilcock singing Lights Down Low





This is our Fi — singer-songwriter. 

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Now I think about it, I can't actually remember entering this human race. 



Is it possibly an administrative error?

Did I just get here by mistake?

Can one unsubscribe?



Friday, 7 December 2018

Politics, Nutrition, Money and Religion

So I got thrown off the scent by builders and general domestic mayhem compounded by an immune system crash and mega-tiredness, but now I've remembered that one of the things I wanted to explore with you was an anarchist church issue about politics, nutrition, money and religion.

Because I have a problem about topics that are admissible in different contexts.

The thing is that, as a preacher, what I can talk about in church is religion, in the narrow definition. 

Let me give you an example. Let's think about intercessions. 

I can pray for peace in human society, for God to help the poor and the homeless and people in prison — but I'm not allowed to offer any opinion about the reality that poverty is substantially a political creation, and so is homelessness, and unjust (political) imprisonment certainly is — plus a lot of legitimate imprisonment also stems from social exclusion and disadvantage which has a political root.

I can also pray for the sick, asking for God to work a miracle and heal this or that person. But I will bring a whole big heap of trouble cascading on my head like an avalanche if I dare to express the opinion (which I firmly hold) that a lot of sickness — mental as well as physical — has a nutritional root, and all sickness whatever its cause can be helped and supported and health improved by right diet. I do realise that many of you who read here strongly disagree with my views on health and nutrition, which is why I now mostly keep very quiet about my thoughts on the matter — it is contentious and generates more heat than light.

I can pray for the church, too, and for more members. But I cannot express my view that one of the church's biggest problems is that it colossally wastes money by a) maintaining large, expensive buildings to house small congregations, and b) paying professional clergy. 

But then the problem arises of a group of people earnestly praying for the cessation of a problem they are directly and persistently causing. It is now known that sugar and refined carbs are at the root of a whole raft of clinical conditions, and refraining from eating them will ease or remove much ill health. So we get the scenario where the congregation earnestly prays for people suffering from a range of ills, then serves tea/coffee with cakes/biscuits/cookies at the end of the service. My husband used to joke that the Methodist Church is fuelled by cake. We encourage people into illness then pray for them to get better. 

Same with money. A week or so back, a member of a church near us encouraged us to go to a church social event and concert with a £16.00 ($20.00) entry ticket. Two days later, the same church had a concert on where one of our household was performing. Entry ticket £15.00 (£18.00). As some of us were really strapped for cash at the time, it ended up with the one who was performing buying our tickets to hear her play! 

But it didn't end there. When we arrived at the church and went to the desk to collect our tickets, the woman at the desk said, "To get in you need three things. Your tickets, your programme, and some raffle tickets. They're £1 a strip."

I stared at her horrified. I had absolutely no money with me. I said, "Are you telling me that even though I have a ticket, I cannot go in unless I buy raffle tickets." 

She laughed (one of those jolly, unctuous, dismissive laughs that makes you feel stupid) and said, "Of course not!"

What? 

That same church costs in excess of £95,000.00 a year to run! 95K! I kid you not! 

I used to go there. One of the things that put me off was the constant harassment for money. I vividly remember an occasion I attended — one of many events held on a regular basis. This was an auction of promises. The promises were donated by church members, and many were valuable, eg a meal out or a ticket into a stately home or something. It was, it's only fair to say, possible to donate something free like baby-sitting or dog-walking. But that was only the beginning. The occasion included a meal, for which you had to pay if you were attending, and you were also expected to bring with you a bottle of wine to share with other attendees. A bottle of wine costs several pounds and so did the meal. Then, you were expected to bid with generosity, paying over and above what the promises were worth, to raise funds for the church. In addition to this, at the same event they held a raffle, for which they wanted prizes donating and expected all attendees to be generous in buying raffle tickets at £1 a strip. I attended that event. I made no promises, but as we were allowed to auction items as well, I gave them a favourite figurine I had of St Francis. I didn't bid on anything, I didn't take any wine, and my husband paid for my supper. Not long after, I left the church. I think the tipping point for me was when the annual financial figures were published, and that church broke even at £95K, where the one I now go to had to make £6K a year to stay afloat. 

The church is meant to be inclusive, isn't it? But these things must never be mentioned. I remember an old lady in a church I once pastored telling me about how she lived in a hostel in her youth. When I knew her, she had a modest home in a rich suburb of London, but as a young woman she barely had two pennies to rub together. She said that the (church-run) hostel places were free, but in the reception area was a collecting box into which those living there were encouraged to put whatever they could afford. They were supposed to pray for God to help them pay their way, and she said she used to feel so ashamed that she did pray but still had nothing to give. She said she used to be so hungry, when she was out and about her eyes were always scanning the pavement in the hope that somebody might have dropped a bit of chocolate or something she could pick up and eat.

When I preach, I'm meant to stay off politics, nutrition and money, and just talk about faith. But I have a difficulty with that, because once you subtract from my life my political views, my nutritional discipline, and the way I spend my money, then you've lost the most substantial ways by which I express my faith.

Now, like most people, I often make poor choices — I waste money, I succumb to a delicious cake, and I can fall prey to simplistic or mendacious socio-political analysis. It's not getting it right I'm talking about, but seeing that faith is holistic.

This comes right down to details. Let's take the simple for-instance of Jesus saying, "Love your neighbour as yourself." What does loving your neighbour mean? Well, we have St Paul to clarify that for us in the famous 1 Corinthians passage about love. Love is patient, he says, love is kind, love is not easily angered. The thing is, we all know in our household that if we eat sugary food we become moody and irritable, our adrenals go out of whack, we get exhausted and snappy and the slightest thing annoys us. We have no chance of living up to what our faith asks of us, in other words, unless we stay off the sugar. This may not apply to you, I'm not saying it does; but it is most certainly true for us. You could preach at us until you were blue in the face, but unless we stay clear of the sugar it is biochemically impossible for us to achieve the moral status recommended and expected. And yet, the place I most often run into the social gatherings structured around the food that scuppers my chances of being any kind of loving at all — is church!

I find I'm drifting further and further out to sea with this. The gap between what I privately believe and practise and consider important, and what I can express and publicly espouse in church, is steadily increasing, so that the teaching under which I sit feels less and less relevant. It's not that the preached word as I presently experience it is untrue, it's that it's uncoupled from the practical expression of daily life. It's like a recipe that gives the ingredients but not the method, or scientific theory without the backing of practical experiment. And I'm not sure where to go with this; my faith discipline is becoming increasingly a private bubble inside but dislocated from the body of believers in which it sits.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Twisted threads

So there are two strands of thought I've been following through in recent posts — one on the last twenty years of one's life and how to live them well and land gracefully at the end, the other on anarchist church and whatever that might imply.

I've carried on thinking about both. 

little while ago, I said I wanted to explore here the Four Accessibilities, which belongs with anarchist church preoccupations, so I thought I'd come back to that.

But at the forefront of my mind is something that belongs more with the last twenty years of life; which is that I am so tired.

Our family life has been a glorious muddle for the last couple of decades, and this has shown no sign of abating in recent times. Don't run away with the idea that we're unhappy, just somewhat chaotic.

Change has continued to run at full strength in the last year or two. Buzzfloyd and her husband have, with a lot of hard work and persistence, and great expenditure at the US end, managed to import Buzz's mother-in-law (who has fragile health) on a permanent basis, which is a relief and a success, but not without its challenges in their small row house with its two-and-a-half bedrooms, one bathroom, and now five inhabitants (three adults, two children). But that just extends the family tradition, one more variant on "No, seriously, we can do this" that has dominated our whole life.

So meanwhile in our house, we imposed a moratorium on all meetings and socialising three years back when we took in my mother for end-of-life care, and extended an invitation to another one of us to live here because her circumstances required it. That would have brought our number up to eight, which felt daunting, but happily we kept it at seven — my mother got better under the care of our excellent doctor, and was able to return to her own apartment where, two years on, she still is.

Since this summer, we moved the Badger down from his attic to the middle floor (which required carpentry plus plus to create housing for his books and clothes etc), and moved the middle floor inhabitant up to the vacated attic; and then as our temporary resident in the back sitting room got closer to acquiring her own accommodation elsewhere, her incoming domestic accoutrements swelled in quantity until we thought the house would burst. 

While all this was going on, we had the entire house swathed in scaffolding and painted in a humungously expensive preparation guaranteed to defeat the battering of coastal weather and keep it all in good nick for twenty years. So as well as the place being crammed with inhabitants, we also had decorators clog-dancing their way all round the outside at all hours of the day.

Unfortunately they neglected to do any preparation, contenting themselves with spraying paint on top of old blistering layers and even over moss! So after the scaffold came down and a whole lot of fuss was made by us, another scaffold went up — new team; made a hole in our roof front and back — and yet more decorators came. 
Then when they'd gone, a man came to re-tile our complicated Victorian mosaic front path, meaning the postie had to pick his way through the shrubs and hand mail through the window for a couple of weeks. After that, another lot of men came to put in new windows at the back of the house — and not before time; our Alice's room was freezing because she couldn't close her window for three years.

And finally, our temporary resident moved out this last week. That meant carrying a massive amount of boxes down from the attic, packing them in our cars and van, then unpacking them and carrying them up to her attic apartment in the new house. By the end we were all nearly dead and everything ached.

We love her dearly and she is most precious to us — an absolute jewel, really — but no one pretends the last two years all living together has been easy. If you doubt this, you too should try living with a trombonist who needs to practice   every   single   night.

Yesterday was the last push, and now she is ensconced in her beautiful and well-chosen new home.

And today, I felt like a zombie. Too tired to live and far too tired to die. Tiredness so insistent and tangible and assertive I almost felt sick. Tiredness that filled me up and overflowed. I walked up to the store for groceries, and moving in the fresh air eased everything a bit. But you know, one of the aspects of growing older I find most prominent is tiredness as a familiar companion. Too tired to read, too tired to socialise, too tired to structure a book — I even fall asleep watching telly. I am just so, so tired.

Last week, stressed by builders and stressed by house moving shenanigans, a fine piece of spectacular Methodist administrative ineptitude pushed me over the edge and my immune system just crashed, leaving me two days feverish and ill; just tired beyond imagining, too tired to move or get out of bed.

Sometimes I wonder about the progression of the last (next) twenty years of my life as it unfolds; I mean, how could you possibly get more tired than this? But I suppose I will. How on earth will I learn to embrace and integrate and work with it? I just don't know.

So that's Thought One.

But the second thought, about anarchist church, was looking back at some work I did at the end of the 1980s, beginning of the 90s, when the Methodist Church convened a Poverty Project to consider its response to UK poverty. The committee in question had a prestigious minister (running it), a social worker from a gritty housing estate, a member of parliament who always wore a pin-striped suit, and a sprinkling of other individuals I've now forgotten. And then there was me. I was not prestigious and had no qualifications, but I did personally know quite a lot of people in poverty, which was to be my contribution.

As we discussed and deliberated (there were a couple of other women on the team at the beginning but, apart from the ones who brought in tea and sandwiches at half time, they all left), and I canvassed opinion from the Actual Poor, something became very clear to me. The main thing people living in scary levels of poverty wanted was not so much a handout as a friend. They were very resourceful and had loads of strategies for out-foxing their circumstances, but what meant the world was someone who understood and someone to be a companion on the journey. This was also true of the people dying in the hospice, which was the other place I spent every spare hour at that time in my life.

So, as I came into pastoral ministry — rather abruptly after an epic battle (I'll tell you about that another day) over inclusive church at the end of which our minster crashed and burned and left me at the helm — I began to formulate some thoughts about what inclusivity needed. 

I came up with the Four Accessibilities. 

Which are:

  1. Accessibility of worship. We had a lot of people in our congregation back then who lived with profound and challenging disability, and a lot of children. Making worship accessible included strategies like repetitive formats so that people for whom words didn't mean as much as the shape of the service could join in — and a relatively small repertoire of songs, and a sung Lord's Prayer. But also high quality music and preaching ministries, to engage the imagination and draw in those on the fringes. And inclusive language (uncommon and contentious, back then).
  2. Accessibility of buildings. We ripped out pews to make space at the back, on one side for those in wheelchairs who were still coming to terms with new disability and felt shy at the front, on the other side to make a carpeted area with toys and beanbags for the littlest ones. We ripped out pews at the front to make space for wheelchairs, and for adults who could crawl and climb but not easily sit on benches to have big easy chairs. We put in disabled-access toilets and a T-loop for hard of hearing people, and got ramps for wheelchairs.
  3. Accessibility of socialising. We began a rolling programme of activities — like our pantomime and our tea-dance and our Old Tyme Music Hall — which involved everyone, not on one day only but for weeks as we practised and rehearsed and learned to waltz and wrote scripts and songs and made props and costumes. There was so much laughter and ingenuity and creativity. And the key thing running through it all was that it was all-age, all-ability and everything was free. No charge. Ever. 
  4. Accessibility of lifestyle. Now this was something impossible to impose, but I thought it very important and made it a non-negotiable foundational principle for myself. To have nothing that could make other people feel jealous or inferior. To choose what was simple, lowly and unpretentious. In what I ate, how I dressed, where I shopped, where I lived, what I drove, what I owned, how I furnished my home. So that nothing about me, ever, could make another person feel ashamed or inadequate. I was splendidly successful in this endeavour, became an invisible nonentity, standardly overlooked, a total nobody; and this I find both hard to bear and an absolute treasure — because one is in good company.
Well, I guess I'd better stop before you grow old and die. Those were my first stumbling steps towards anarchist church, for any of you still awake and interested in the subject.

And now I'm going to finish my day in the usual way (I expect you all do this) with some crushed raw garlic, cider vinegar, propolis and Manuka honey. This mixture gets rid of everything — bacteria, viruses, unwelcome fungi, vampires, demons . . .

G'night.


Sunday, 2 December 2018

A prayer for winter

Buzzfloyd sent me this lovely blessing prayer by the Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, and I thought you might like it too.




A warning — you do have to achieve a remarkable level of stillness to acquire the degree of paying attention he is aiming at. Don't worry if you can't quite get there.

If you are more a beginner at this stillness, you could think of your own entry-level set of aspirations. For example:

May I grow still enough to hear the stealthy rustling of a ninja child who has broken into the tin of Celebrations, so that I may intervene before it makes itself actually sick.

May I grow still enough to hear the very first churning of the cat's powerful stomach muscles, so that I still have time to sprint along the passage and hurl it into the garden before it vomits up a hairball onto the pale cream carpet.

May I grow still enough to hear the quiet steps on the front path of the delivery man who leaves a "You were out" note without bothering to check, so that I can actually get my hands on the Christmas present I bought my mother online.

Here are some of my own personal goals:

May I grow still enough to hear the occasional buzz of the sleeping wasp I unfortunately brought in on the firewood then it woke up and is now at large in the sitting room, so that I don't tread on it if it's crawling about on the floor and get my foot stung.

May I grow still enough to notice the passing of time more attentively so that I don't get involved in the internet and boil my coffee for 55 minutes instead of half an hour.

Uh-oh . . . that last one . . . see you later. Don't grow too still, someone might tread on you like that wasp.