Saturday, 31 October 2020

Mission Possible

 Why am I here?

Sometimes Danshari asks himself this.

What did I come to Earth to do?

What is the point anyway of a lion whose teeth are not sharp and whose roar doesn't work, a lion who is not very strong?

What is my life for?

What is the point of me?

Sometimes he explores these questions in the privacy of his own mind, but the other day he shared them with his friend Yūgen.

Yūgen says, "There is no point to you, Danshari. You are not for anything. You are alive."


This doesn't sound very promising to Dan de lion.

"A crayon has a purpose," says Yūgen, "or a t-shirt or a fork or this bowl. But you are a living being."

She can see he hasn't really got this.

"If you want something to keep you occupied while you're here," she says, "you could try breathing and smiling. I think that's all you have to do. According to the great Masters."

"Well, I do breathe," Danshari says, "and sometimes I smile. But I mean, what is my mission? Haven't I got one? Did I have one and I lost it? Is my mission over?"

"Oh — " Yūgen shakes her head emphatically. "Your mission isn't over. I can tell." 

"Can you?" This sounds more promising. "How?"

"Because you are alive," says Yūgen. "As long as you are alive, your mission is not over."

"What is it then?"

She smiles at him.

"Over to you," says Yūgen.

That's not very helpful, is it? Maybe even a bit annoying.

Today, Danshari thinks about this conversation he had with Yūgen, as he sits up in the attic.

He's been spending the morning sorting things out. After all, somebody has to do it. You get maggots and carpet beetles and mould if you just let things pile up. And you get bewildered. You have to set your house in order or everything goes wrong and there is nowhere left to play.

Danshari knows there are three parts to this. In the first place it helps to learn the vital skill of saying "No."

Like this.

It's only a short word, and — handily — it is a complete sentence, but sometimes you do have to say it several times, Danshari has discovered. You have to persist. This can throw up problems for a lion who basically likes to make people happy and is just a little bit lazy and inclined to let things slide. Because sometimes supposedly inanimate objects take on a life of their own and move in. To set his house in order a lion has to start by saying No, and meaning it, and sticking to it. Don't bring stuff home. You don't have to make a companion out of everything you like. Sometimes it's better to let things go their own way, and not let them follow you home.

The next thing you have to do is sort things out. Separate them into categories. Toys, clothes, food, rubbish, books, cooking things — you have to be able to tell the difference between them and give them homes where they can settle in and make nests where they will quieten down and stop shouting at you.

Sorting things out is what Danshari is doing today.

He is putting things into different piles and noticing who they are and why they're here. And I wish someone would do that for me, he thinks.

That brings him on to the third Very Important Part of setting your house in order. As well as deciding what to keep and where to put it, he has made a pile of Things To Throw Away.

Because living in a house with its rooms is a bit like living in a chest of drawers. Once it's full, it helps to take a few things out and release them into the wild. You have to let objects leave home.

Danshari knows that if you do these three things — refuse, separate and throw away — suddenly you can breathe again, and everything becomes possible.

He starts to smile.

"That's my mission," he murmurs to himself. "Making things possible."

He tells Yūgen that this is what he came here to do.

"I like that," she says. "It helps everybody breathe and smile."

She thinks for a minute.

"Of course," she adds, "Everybody has to do their bit. You can show us the way but we each have to help or it won't work. We're all just walking each other home."

Yes. Danshari feels he has stumbled on something important today, even if he's not entirely sure what it exactly is.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

KINDLING A FLAME — preparing for The Campfire Kids Church this coming Sunday

 This Sunday (with Bonfire Night coming up) we'll be thinking about lighting fires, and in our Activity the kids will be learning how to light a fire.

But what about kids who are too little to do that, or who have no garden and no fireplace in their home? 

Well, if you are that kid, you can still enjoy learning how to light a fire in our Activity on Sunday, in case you ever need to light a fire for yourself one day, but meanwhile here is an activity especially for you.

Even if you do have a fire place in your house and one in your garden, this is still fun to do.

First, you have to go outside! In the blustery autumn weather, lots of leaves have fallen, and there are certain to be some on the ground near where you live.

Have you ever noticed how autumn leaves look a bit like flames?

Look. This is the tree outside my window. 

Do you think the leaves look like fiery flames? I do.

So, when you go outside, pick up some of the most flame-like leaves you can find. It's been raining a lot, so they might be wet. That doesn't matter.

The next bit is to make sure they dry flat.

Spread a drying-up cloth somewhere flat. Mine is on the kitchen floor by our food shelves.

Lay your leaves, all separate, on the cloth.

Put another cloth on top.

Place some heavy things on top. This will make sure the leaves go flat instead of curly, and the dampness in the leaves will go into the cloth.

Leave them there for a couple of days. A couple of weeks would be even better, but a couple of days will do it.

When you go back to them, they will be flat, like this.

Get a piece of paper or card (cut off the back of a box for this, if you like), and some crumply scraps of packing paper.

You need some kind of glue. A glue stick is only kind we have, but any kind of craft glue should be okay. If you have glitter glue, that would be great for this.

Stick the crumply packing paper on, to be the firewood. Keep it crumply.

Cut the stalks off the leaves because flames don't have stalks.

Stick the leaves on to look like flames.

Stick the stalks on to look like firewood.

I cut open a plastic file wallet to put mine in, just in case the leaves all fall off (so far they stayed on okay). 

Then I hung it up on the wall.

I think that makes a great fire, don't you?

Very atmospheric (long word!)

If you make one for yourself, I hope you have fun, but even if you don't want to, I hope you enjoy the lovely colours of the autumn leaves, and the wild, blustery wind.

See you on Sunday, kids.

Monday, 26 October 2020

A conversation

“What?” Ursa asks him softly. “What’s the matter?”

Danshari was sitting just quietly, gazing into the fire, but Ursa can tell something’s wrong.

For a while, Danshari still doesn’t say anything. But the Great Bear is patient. After all, her whole job in life is to help people find their true North, and navigate their way to what really matters. All by itself, doing that, you spend a lot of time waiting.

Danshari is grateful to be with her, here by the fire in the peaceful night. Of course it’s always lovely when everyone gathers round, and there’s cocoa to drink and somebody starts singing and then they all join in. But sometimes it’s nice to have the company of just one friend, especially somebody who understands you, and can tell how things are without you even having to say anything.

But now he says, “How did you know? I was only sitting here quietly, like I always do.”

And the Great Bear tells him, “I can always feel it when something’s wrong, because I am your friend.”

Danshari nods. He understands that. It’s the same with him. “I’m angry,” he says simply, though he doesn’t sound angry — just sad.

“It was something I saw today, something I read about. On the internet. Something cruel and wicked and unkind. All day long it’s kept coming back to my mind. It upset me. There are things in life so terrible, things the humans do. It makes me angry.”

Ursa listens, and thinks about this. Then she asks him, “If your anger was a thick blanket covering up what’s inside of you, and you lifted one corner and peeked underneath — what would you see? What looks back at you.”

“Despair,” says Danshari quietly. “And underneath that, such a deep ache of sorrow that I hardly know how to carry it. There are some things, Ursa, that happen every day, and should never have been allowed to happen even once. It stops me in my tracks, and I ask God, can’t you stop it? Can’t you intervene? But there is only the sound of silence. In this — Ursa — I cannot find God.”

And Ursa says, “I think God is there in the sorrow. This is what it means to be acquainted with grief.”

There is a silence while Danshari thinks about this. 

“Acquainted with grief . . .” he says, slowly.

“Yes,” says Ursa. “But — Danshari — an acquaintance is someone you meet in person. Someone you know. And when you make a new acquaintance —”

“I know,” says Danshari. “I know. The next thing is you have to get to know them properly. Try to understand them. You have to make friends with them.”

Ursa doesn’t say anything at all, because some things don’t need a reply, do they?

“This is going to be difficult,” says Danshari.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

The Campfire Church (on Facebook) ministry of the word for today. Tony Collins on "Trees beside the Stream"

[I recommend you to click on the link to the YouTube video, and actually listen to the sermon rather than just read it, for the best experience of it and if you are able to do that on the device you are using.]
25th October 2020 (Matthew 22:34-40)
The later chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, describing the events leading up to the crucifixion, contain a trio of threes.
Christ undertakes three symbolic actions: entering the city; overturning the tables of the moneychangers; causing the fig tree to wither.
Then he tells three related parables: the story of the two sons; the story of the tenants in the vineyard; and the story of the wedding feast.
Then he responds to three hostile questions. The first concerned payment of the poll tax; the second concerned the nature of the resurrection; the third concerns the greatest commandment.
After Jesus has made the Sadducees look foolish when they asked about the resurrection, the Pharisees decide to intervene. Matthew does not fill in the details, but I think we are free to understand that the long-established rivalry between Pharisee and Sadducee is at play here: ‘You’ve got nowhere with this interloper, now let the experts have a go.’ We are told the questioner is a Pharisee who is also an expert in the Law: They are putting forward their star player.
The lawyer asks Jesus for a summary of the Law, clearly expecting to be able to trip up this country boy. It’s a test of orthodoxy.
Summaries of the Law are found in several places in the Scriptures. One of the most famous comes in Isaiah 33:
Those who walk righteously
and speak what is right,
who reject gain from extortion
and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder
and shut their eyes against contemplating evil –
they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail them.
Another summary is found in Micah 6: 8:
‘He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’
Rabbi Hillel (who lived just prior to the time of Jesus) was famously challenged by someone to recite the whole law whilst standing on one leg. He replied:
‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.’
Jesus inverts this idea and recasts it positively as the Golden Mean: do as you would be done by. In responding to his interrogator, he quotes two verses. The first comes from Deuteronomy 6:4: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ The second comes from Leviticus 19:18: ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.’
The first of these forms the central confession of Judaism, generally thought in this period to be recited morning and evening by all observant Jews. Known as the Shema, its daily recitation is still practised. Traditionally it is spoken with the hand held over the eyes. It is followed by lines from Deuteronomy 6, starting ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,’ and continuing, from Deuteronomy 11, ‘If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the LORD your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil — I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.’
I want to focus today not so much on Jesus’s tussles with the Pharisees and their point-scoring, but rather upon the content of his teaching. Jesus makes a link between loving God, and loving your neighbour, and a moment’s reflection will explain the connection. If you love God, you love what God loves.
To love your neighbour can be exhausting and frustrating. It takes energy to notice, and energy to care. Luckily, loving God is a two-way flow.
If we were holding a conventional service today, I would have included a reading from the Psalms. Today’s reading from the Revised Common Lectionary is from Psalm 1. The first verses read:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither –
whatever they do prospers.
This image is taken up and developed further in the famous passage from Revelation 22:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
I delight in this potent expression of the grace of God, and it accords closely with Jesus’s summary of the Law. To paraphrase Jesus’s words from Matthew 22: ‘God is the source of all blessing. His Law runs like a stream beneath you. Send down your tap root into his Law, draw upon it, and be fruitful. As you prosper, help your neighbour prosper too. Share the blessing.’
Most of us are semi-literate when it comes to computers: my own computer literacy barely deserves the name. When we have downloaded some inadvisable software, or got hopelessly lost in correction heaped upon correction, one of the options is to return to factory settings. You will be familiar with that terse little instruction in brackets: ‘(recommended)’.
When things go wrong in our lives, it is very often because we need to follow the Maker’s instructions. We have lost touch with the Source. We need to go back to factory settings. Recommended.
What does it mean to send down your tap root into the stream of blessing? William Booth, inspirational founder and first General of The Salvation Army, advised his followers, ‘Work as if everything depended upon work and pray as if everything depended upon prayer.’ He went on to describe the work of prayer as ‘fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God.’ Booth exemplified his own recommendation, remarking once that he had so much to do each day that he needed to spend at least six hours in prayer. This may sound onerous, but the grand old man did not find it so. At his father’s graveside his son Bramwell Booth commented, ‘If you were to ask me, I think I could say that the happiest man I ever knew was the General. He was a glad spirit. He rose up on the crest of the stormy billows, and praised God, and laughed at the Devil's rage, and went on with his work with joy.’
It is never too late to send down a questing root into the river of blessing. As Campfire Church member Laurena Mary posted this week: ‘You don’t stop gardening when you get old; you get old when you stop gardening.’ Or, as Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth, –
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
Those whose lives are watered by the river will be capable of growth, of bearing fruit, of blessing those around them.
As I write these words I am aware of my own deficiency. Preacher, hear what you preach. It is all too easy to forget to water your own garden.
You can spot the people whose roots go deep, whose spirit is vibrant and unwithered. This week, via Zoom, I met a man who has learned how to partake of the river of blessing.
Stephen Lungu was the oldest son of a teenage mother, married off by her parents to a much older man and living near Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). When he was three his mother ran away, leaving him and his younger brother and sister in the reluctant care of an aunt. By 11 Stephen too had run away, preferring life on the streets. He slept under bridges and scavenged from white folks' dustbins. As a teenager he was recruited into an urban gang, the Black Shadows, which burgled and mugged with a half-focused dream of revolution. When an evangelist came to town, Stephen was sent to fire bomb the event, carrying his bag of bombs and mingling with the crowd. Instead he stayed to listen, and was soundly converted. The following day he went out and bought a Bible, but there was a problem: he had never learnt to read …
Today Stephen is an international evangelist who has spoken frequently to large gatherings throughout Africa and across the UK, US and Europe. He has been called Africa's Billy Graham. A generous and charming man, he has shrugged off his early life of deprivation and neglect, and radiates goodwill. His story is told in the book 'Out of the Black Shadows'.
Stephen Lungu, his biographer, the head of his mission and I were meeting by Zoom to discuss a proposed film about his life. Stephen, who is in his eighties and now lives in Malawi, arrived a bit late, explaining that he had just come back from visiting the brand-new presidential palace. He had gone there at the request of the President of Malawi, Dr Lazarus Chakwera, who is not only a politician but also a Christian theologian who used to lead the Assemblies of God in Malawi. President Chakwera had specifically asked Stephen to visit the newly-completed palace, pray over it, and lift before the Lord the men and women who will be working there.
Stephen is a man of God, widely respected, an elder statesman, whose roots are watered by the river of life. Speaking to him reminded me that it is never too late to be effective.
The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
In the name of Christ, Amen.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Campfire Kids getting ready for Sunday — making altars

 On Sunday at The Campfire Kids Church on Facebook, at the event called "Ebenezer" we'll be thinking about making altars.

So you will be all ready and able to join in the activity, I wanted to show you how you might make the main bit of the altar.

Some altars are made of stone or wood, but you can actually make an altar out of anything.

To make an altar in your home, you might clear a windowsill and use that, or put a shelf up on the wall. Tony from The Campfire Church makes altars to go on the wall. Here's one he made.

There's that shelf to put spare prayer cards and other things I might want handy to put up on the altar. Hebe, who is one of the people living in our house, made the little figure of Our Lady, and the matchbox prayer is the one I showed you when we were thinking about unicorns last week.

But of course, kids don't always have permission to clear a whole windowsill where they can make an altar, or someone who will put up a shelf for their altar things. So I wanted to show you some ways to make an altar that kids can do. 

I'm going to show you two sorts. The first one is made from a milk carton and the second one is made from a box left over from a parcel that was delivered to our house.

So, here we go. Please read the instructions all the way through first, unless you have several empty milk cartons to make mistakes with.

First you need a milk carton, a hole punch (if your house has one) and some kitchen scissors. And you'll need a kitchen knife.

Please ask before using anything that belongs to someone else. I can tell you now, you might be in big trouble if you take someone's special sewing scissors and use them to cut up a milk carton.

Take the label off the milk carton. They usually peel off quite easily.

Okay. You might need some help with the next bit. Milk cartons are fairly easy to cut, but starting the cut is tricky. The best thing to use is a kitchen knife — a vegetable knife  A kid shouldn't do that. Ask an adult. They just need to stick the knife (gently) into the milk carton so there's a hole for the scissors.

 Like this.

Right, once that's done you need the scissors for the next bit.

Our altar is going to have a floor and a back wall. So you don't cut all the way round or you'll only have a floor. You cut most of the way round and stop (look at the next few pictures and you'll understand).

Then you cut up and round to make the back wall of your altar. Look at the pictures and you'll see what I mean.

Here's what will be the altar.

This is what's left over, to go in the recycling bin.

Next comes the hole punch. I tried to measure carefully so the hole would be exactly in the middle.

As you can see, I got it wrong, but it doesn't matter much. Just do it as near the middle as you can manage.

Next you hang your altar up on the wall, if you are allowed to. 

If there's a handy nail somewhere, just hang it on that. If the nail head is too big to go through the hole, tie a piece of string or ribbon through the hole to hang it up — like this.

If you need a new nail putting into the wall, ask an adult to hammer it in for you. A panel pin would be the right kind of thing. Your altar won't be heavy at all. This is a panel pin.

Here it is, hung up.

You can put into it the matchbox prayer you made last week.

Or you can decorate it. Beshlie-Ann at Glittery Rainbow Cat Face-Painting makes these lovely stick-on decorations, and I have used one of hers.

You can put an LED candle in it — but I don't recommend a real candle for this sort of altar, because it would get too hot for the plastic, and if you put it in a glass jar it would be too heavy. 

The bottom of a milk carton is not properly flat, so I folded a hanky to make a mat in the bottom for my candle to stand on.

So that's one kind of altar you can make.

Now here's the sort you can make out of a box. Here's my box.

Once you have made the altar, you might like to stash away inside it any pictures or prayers that you want to put on it sometimes but not all the time.

We shall be using the bottom of the box as the top of the altar. So I'll show you how to fold the flaps of the box shut, so it will stay shut and everything you put inside it will stay there and not drop out.

Here we go.

Here's your box open.

Fold down one of the long sides.

Fold one of the short sides down on top.

Fold down the other long side on top of that.

Next comes the tricky bit. Look carefully.

You fold the last short side down on top of the long side you just put in place, then you also tuck that last short side under the first long side. The picture will show you what I mean.

So now the flaps all hold each other in place so the box won't come undone and let everything fall out when you turn it upside down.

Now turn it over.

An altar should be beautiful, so to go on the top you can either draw a picture, or cut one out of a magazine, or print one off from the internet (an adult can help you get the size right).

For the one I made, I found a picture of a Persian rug on the internet. I printed it off and cut it out to go on top of my altar.

I stuck my picture on with sticky-backed plastic, but you could use a glue stick, or make glue by mixing flour and water, or you could use sellotape. Whatever you have at home. If you don't have anything it's still okay. You can just lie the picture on top of the altar and that will do fine.

Next I wanted to put something on my altar. I wanted to put prayers on the altar, some to say thank you for things I am happy about, and some with the things I'd love God's help with.

So I got two little boxes — match boxes are the right size for this, or any other small box or little bag you can find at home. I used two boxes that had dressmaking pins in, and tipped the pins into a different container.

On top of one box I stuck a label saying "Please" and on top of the other a label saying "Thank you".

I put those on my altar.  

If you do that, you might like to cut some paper up into the right size pieces to go in the little boxes, and have your bits of paper on the altar ready to write your prayers on. Here's Ebenezer getting hers ready.

Then I put onto the altar the prayer I made last week, about the unicorns, and a couple of other prayers I like to keep on my altar, and last but not least — a picture of Jesus.

This is what mine looked like when it was all finished.

 On Sunday at The Campfire Kids Church, there will be a chance for you to show us a picture of your own altar, if you decide to make one at home. 

And you will be hearing a bit about Ebenezer, and why Ebenezer has a special connection with altars.

See you on Sunday at The Campfire Kids Church!