The Heresy of Western Leadership

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-13-39-54

I am grateful to Justin Lewis-Anthony’s scepticism about leadership. The same day that America was going to the polls to elect Donald Trump I was exploring leadership in ministry with friends and colleagues in the Diocese of Chester including Helen Scarisbrick and Jenny Bridgman. Lewis-Anthony suggests that the leadership bandwagon started rolling in the early 90’s (he blames George Carey), and since then leadership programmes in the church have been proliferating. The Diocese of Chester was quick onto the bandwagon and I was involved in one of their first courses. (I don’t understand why we haven’t given as much attention to other ships which have a more legitimate claim to be part of the fleet – we never hear of friendship, fellowship or companionship training programmes do we, even though there is more theological justification for them?)

Where do our ideas of leadership come from, and why are we so bothered about leadership anyway?

Justin Lewis-Anthony’s book has the clever title You are the Messiah and I Should Know: Why Leadership is a Myth (and Probably a Heresy)He traces our thinking about leadership to the double headed Emersonian “ur-myth” of “the frontier” and “the American Adam”. For Lewis-Anthony “there is a layer of mythology which is omnipresent, omnipotent and omni-transparent, pervading and influencing every part of our understanding of the world. Our knowledge of leadership comes from believing in and living under the power of the myth of leadership”.

There is a reminder here that we can’t escape mythology in ideology. Drawing on the work of Levi-Strauss, Lewis-Anthony reminds us that ideology develop in an unconscious process shaped by the stories which we tell ourselves. He quotes Kelton Cobb (p.99):

Our myths feed us our scripts. We imitate the quests and struggles of the dominant figures in the myths and rehearse our lives informed by mythic plots. We awaken to a set of sacred stories, and then proceed to apprehend the world and express ourselves in terms of these stories. They shape us secretly at a formative age and remain with us, informing the ongoing narrative constructions of our experience. They teach us to perceive the world as we order our outlooks and choices in terms of their patterns and plots.

In other words, we are caught in a bubble – a bind. Once the myth making took place round the camp-fire. Since the 1950’s it’s been on-screen through film making. One nation has dominated the film industry, and consequently the unconscious formation of our ideology. For a long time we have been subjected to the only films available which have relentlessly had the same story to tell. They have fed us our scripts.

Lewis-Anthony quotes German film maker, Wim Wenders: “No other country in the world has sold itself so much and sent its images, its self-image, with such power into every corner of the world. For 70 or 80 years, since the existence o cinema, American films – or better, this ONE American film has been preaching the dream … of the Promised Land.” (p.75).

The frontier is not about place, but about defining experience. It is to the frontier that the American intellect, according to Turner, owes its striking characteristics. “That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom – these are the traits of the frontier.” (p.81).

The American Adam myth breeds the individualism that Turner talks about and which is such a modern phenomenon. The frontier depend the sense of individualism to the extent that Americans told themselves, according to Billington, that “every man was a self dependent individual, fully capable of caring for himself without the aid of society.” (p.93).

The journey to the frontier is essentially westwards. The journey spawned a genre of film which took over our screens, the “Western”. The western myths of the Western have shaped a leadership that is essentially masculine and white. The films show how the west was won and defended and how the wild was tamed and controlled. Typically the hero is a man “in the middle, between civilisation and savagery”. Lawrence and Jewett describe the Myth: “A community in harmonious paradise is threatened by evil: normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task: aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradise condition: the superhero then tends to recede into obscurity.” (p.210).

The American Adam is a man, and a man with a gun. Lewis-Anthony is quite right to point out that in carrying out the redemptive task, the American Adam becomes the American Cain. But it is with the status of hero and leader that this American Cain is expelled, rather than with a curse.

For Lewis-Anthony any leadership based on this Myth is fundamentally violent, and therefore wrong. “Under the American mono myth of redemptive violence, to be a leader/hero means to be prepared to use violence. To be a disciple/follower means to accept, in turn, an invitation to use and be thrilled by violence.” (p.213). Leadership in our society is “fatally flawed by its roots in violence, the will to power and destruction”.

Tom Wright asks the question about “what any of this has to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword”. Lewis-Anthony continues: “Wright reminds those within the church, the ‘religious admirers of leadership’ that there is a basic problem in this admiration of North American society. With its roots in the mythic use of violence by the outsider, the extra-societal Adam, what can we find in the scriptural tradition to counteract, or set aside, this cult of violence? Surely we can find some ways in which the crucified Jesus of Nazareth rescues leadership from both Marduk and John Wayne.”(p.213).

starwarsrallypng

Why are we bothered about leadership? It matters to those who are the victims of leadership violence. It matters to those of us whose minds have been made up by a myth of leadership. It matters to those who are excluded by such a myth – anyone who is not a white, male, rooting’ tooting’ son of a gun. It matters to God’s mission. The Washington Free Beacon has put these two images together, a Nazi rally – which inspired a scene in Star Wars. It all looks frighteningly ecclesiastical, except there’s more people.

Training Champions of the Human Race

Yusra Mardini
Notes for a sermon for Christ the King, Birkenhead, August 14th 2016 (Proper 15C, Ordinary 20C, Pentecost +13)

Have you been watching the Olympics?  It’s too easy to watch too much isn’t it? What have been your highlights?

Did you see Yusra Mardini win her 200 metre freestyle swimming heat? Yusra was swimming for the Refugee Olympic team. She got such a cheer. She won her heat, though didn’t qualify for the semi finals because others had swum faster than her.

Yusra is 18 years old. She was born in Damascus, a Syrian Christian and represented Syria in 2012. Her family’s house was destroyed and the roof of her training pool was blown off. She and her sister Sarah decided to flee Syria last summer. They reached Lebanon, then Turkey, and then boarded a boat for Greece. There were 20 of them in a dinghy designed for six. The boat was soon in trouble with the motor failing after 30 minutes. There were only four swimmers in the boat: Yusra, her sister and two others. They had to get out and pushed and pulled for 3 hours until they bought the boat to shore on Lesbos and the lives of the people on board so saving the lives of all their fellow passengers.

Last August, after 25 days, she arrived in Berlin. She gets up at 4 o’clock every morning to train before going to school. That has been her training schedule. That is how she arrived at the Olympics.

Also in the swimming pool was Adam Peaty, our first swimming gold medal since 1988. He’s from Uttoxeter. He used to be scared of water. You couldn’t tell could you?

Besides his own dedication – his story is one of immense and sacrificial support by his mother, the rest of the family and his neighbours – as they have struggled to make the money to pay for the petrol to get him to his training.

His response to winning: “I’m proud to have pushed the boundaries of the human race.” Are we pushing the boundaries of the human race? And if we are thinking to ourselves how old we are, that we are too frail, there will be the Paralympians coming along next month to shame our outlook. And if we are thinking that we are unfit then we have to open our ears and hearts to the good news that God’s love helps us fit for the kingdom, not our strength.

Are any of you successful athletes? Or maybe you’re not medal winners, but you’ve got a life of achievement because of the work that you have put in – you’ve brought up children, you’ve supported a sick relative, you’ve ….

Or, perhaps more of us are conscious of our failings, the missed opportunities, inability to keep our resolve – losing our way in lives full of regrets. Me too.

 

Our first reading (Hebrews 11:29-12:2) gives honourable mentions to many people – to the prostitute Rahab, to Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – those who administered justice, those whose weakness was turned to strength, those who endured torture, imprisonment and persecution – destitute, ill-treated, homeless. They are all commended for their faith.

The letter is written in the past tense, but the honourable mention is intended to embrace those who now administer justice, those who endure torture, imprisonment and persecution, those whose faith is commendable. They are all champions of the human race – and we are all encouraged to run with them for a podium finish – at the right hand of God. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfected of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1f)

 

We have all been introduced to the pool in our baptism. It might be a long time since we swam in those waters but perhaps it’s worth casting our minds to our baptisms and the call to swim in those waters. That is the training pool for future champions – champions of the human race.

Those who get honourable mentions are commended for the race they ran even though they could hardly make out the tape. According to this letter to the Hebrews, God has planned something far better for us. I don’t know whether any of you have been to the dogs but the greyhounds race after the hare that has been set running. We have Jesus before us, to fix our eyes on, to follow.

Where Jesus goes, our eyes follow. That is where we set our sights. The highways and by-ways, the margins ………… “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Yusra Mardini, in an interview this week says that she has been overwhelmed by the support that she has had and that she hopes that she has “opened the world’s eyes to the plight of those who have been displaced” – which is where eyes will focus if they are fixed on Jesus because we know his time was/is for them and those like them who are strangers (even aliens) to the powers that be.

Jesus is the goal, but what about our training schedule?

The words of Psalm 90 shouted out to me this week:

The days of our life are three score years and ten, or if our strength endures, even four score; yet the sum of them is but labour and sorrow, for they soon pass away and we are gone (verse 10)

How soon life passes. Before we know it we are at the end of our days, and we can easily become overwhelmed by the sense of opportunities missed. Life runs away with us. In this context the psalmist prays:

Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (verse 12). Numbering our days means making our days count, whether we have 3 days, months, weeks, years. How shall we use the time that we have? Shall we train them on the human race we run?

The psalmist continues (verse 15), Give us gladness for the days you have afflicted us, and for the years in which we have seen adversity – a simple plea for a better time than the times wasted or suffered.

Part of my own training schedule is to pick up a poem each day. For me it’s like a protein shake – it builds me up and gives me energy. This poem I picked up this week is by Annie Dillard and is called How we Spend our Days  It is about how we manage our time, structure our time so it helps us keep a good time and a winning time.

How we spend our days
is, of course,
how we spend our lives.

What we do with this hour,
and that one,
is what we are doing.

A schedule
defends from chaos
and whim.

It is a net
for catching days.
It is a scaffolding

on which a worker
can stand
and labor with both hands

at sections of time.
A schedule is a mock-up
of reason and order –

willed, faked,
and so brought into being;
it is a peace and a haven

set into the wreck of time;
it is a lifeboat
on which you find yourself,

decades later,
still living.
Each day is the same,

so you remember
the series afterward
as a blurred and powerful pattern.

So what about a training schedule? (And what would go in that schedule?)

What about aiming for a good time? (And what a good time for you be?)

How about championing the human race and the whole of God’s creation?

 

 

 

Seeing differently, seeing by heart – St John’s Day

A sermon for St John’s Day for St Alban’s, Broadheath

candle_flame_01

Is there anyone here named John …… or Jonathon, or Joan, or Jean, or Jeanette, or Janet, or Ian or Joanne or Johnson, or Jones ……?

We light a candle to you today, because it is your name day – it is St John’s Day.

Do you know what the name means?

It’s from the Hebrew, Yohanan, which means “Yahweh is gracious”.

What a lovely name to carry. (I often wonder how our names shape our outlook and who we are.)

John is the one (and there could be several people rolled into one – but let’s not complicate things too much), John is the one who proclaims Jesus as the Word made flesh, the Light of the world, and who was “the disciple Jesus loved”. He was one of the sons of Zebedee, follower of Jesus, with Jesus at the Transfiguration, with Jesus at the Last Supper, with Jesus in his agony in the garden, with Jesus and his mother at the foot of the cross, with Jesus as a witness of the resurrection and was with Jesus in the church in the proclamation of his gospel.

There is no birth story in John’s gospel. There’s no Bethlehem, Nazareth, shepherds, wise men or baby Jesus. Simply and wonderfully John begins his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

That is a birth story of a different kind.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

That’s a different way of telling the story of Jesus’ birth

hunt_light_of_the_world

One of our most favourite paintings is the painting by Holman Hunt of the Light of the World – which pictures Jesus standing at the door of our dark lives, knocking. Holman Hunt painted the picture – John gave us the picture: a picture of the light which shines in the darkness – a picture of hope, warmth and tenderness.

As John talks about the Light of the world he talks about seeing. Time and again there is the invitation in his gospel “Come and see”. While the people in Matthew’s gospel are divided as sheep and goats, in John’s gospel the division is between those who see and those who don’t see.

Those who see don’t just see with their eyes. They see with their hearts. John uses three different words for seeing. There’s the seeing with the eyes, as in John 20:1 when Mary Magdalen went to the tomb and SAW that the stone had been moved from the tomb. That was something she noticed, that she saw with her eyes.

A little later in that same chapter (John 20:4) Peter looks into the tomb and sees the linen wrappings there. John uses a different word for seeing – it’s a seeing with the mind as when we say “the penny dropped”. It began to dawn on Peter. He began to understand what had happened.

Then finally, just a few verses on in that chapter, 20:8, the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, went in the tomb. “He saw and believed”.

So John describes three ways of seeing – with eyes, with the mind and with the heart. That’s why we can all see the same thing and come to different conclusions. That’s why when we have different commitments to the same conclusions. We see a lot of things but barely take notice, we understand other things and just a few things we know by heart.

Specsavers doesn’t help.

I knew a man who did see but then became blind. And he was greatly troubled by John’s gospel with its language of light and sight. The world became dark to him – the darkness spread from eyes to mind, from mind to heart, but the darkness did not overcome him. There came a time when he started to see by heart. He called it WBS – “whole body seeing”. Imagine his joy when that darkness lifted.

Specsavers may help us the mistake of stripping in the kitchen (with all its sharp knives) instead of the sauna, or help us to make sure we are snogging the right person on the train platform, but however many pairs of glasses Specsavers give us they are not going to help us make sense or make love with the world.

What is our sight like? The eye tests we get at Specsavers are no measure for what John is talking about. We may be able to read all the letters on the bottom line. That doesn’t guarantee our understanding. There is so much we see that we don’t understand. There is so much that we see that is just prejudice (blind prejudice).

We may have excellent eyesight. We may have three degrees, be clever clever with all the things that we see with our minds, but until we see from our heart we will never be able to read the love that is between the lines.

John tells the story of the man born blind who was helped to see by Jesus. The incident caused a great deal of trouble. Jesus told the man who had been blind “I came into the world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” To which, some of the Pharisees said “surely we are not blind, are we?”

But there are things that we don’t see aren’t there? For example, we tend not to see what is happening in the Jungle at Calais. And on the other hand, there are those who are so moved with compassion that they do see the suffering of others, as celebrated by the Christmas Number 1 by the Greenwich and Lewisham NHS Choir.

The Pharisees question is the wrong question. “Surely we are not blind, are we?” They don’t see, do they? The question that we should be asking is “How can we see?” or “how can we see by heart?”

John gives us an answer.

The disciples and Jesus had many meals together. They didn’t use tables and chairs – those of you who have holidayed in Turkey will have seen how people still eat – sat on cushions on the floor around a slightly raised table. John’s gospel refers to “reclining” at the table. In his account of the Last Supper

John 13:23: Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. (KJV)

That’s where the disciple Jesus loved had his head, with his ear to Jesus’ heart – at the bosom of Jesus, so close he could hear the heart-beat, the whisper of Jesus in his ear: seeing by heart what Jesus also knew by heart because he too (1:18) is at the bosom of his father. NRSV translates that verse as “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Picture1

The key to vision is being close to Jesus’s heart. The key to Jesus’ vision is that he is that close to his father’s heart.

The disciple who lay like this is not named by John. Some have said that it is John himself. It’s more likely that he chose to leave the identity open – so that all beloved disciples could read themselves into this story. John means us.

How can we see with the heart? The answer is by being close enough that we can hear Jesus’ heart-beat, close enough that we can see what makes him tick, close enough that we can feel the breath of his whisper on our skin.

That’s how we can see better. That is how we can see differently.

Or we could go to another gospel for an answer. We can go to the birth stories of Jesus, to the point of view of the crib, recognising God’s outlook from the vulnerability of a baby, and realising that we see our lives differently in the light of the light of the world, that we see others, even strangers and enemies in a new light, and that helps us to read the love between the lines that the world draws us to divide us.

Readings for the day: Exodus 33:7-11a, 1 John 1, John 21:19b-end

(The Greenwich and Lewisham NHS Choir singing “A Bridge Over You” – something that has been around for two years

BELOVED: some blessings for some friends from Henri Nouwen

Beloved Disciple

This is a reflection we used at a leadership training day. We began by underlining the importance of rest (everything begins with rest which “defrags” our system) and the reminder from Wayne Muller that “the world aches for the generosity of a well rested people”.

The image is of Jesus Christ and the Beloved Disciple (detail from 14th-century fresco of the Last Supper, Ubisi, Georgia).

Beloved is such a meaningful word – adjective, noun, verb. That’s the word I want to focus on.

The dome is a feature of Islamic art and architecture. The dome creates space and is about finding shelter and home (dome as in domestic). One way to build this space is through prayer, particularly when prayer is the lead in to the day, because, as in most religious traditions, waking up to God is the early morning call of our lives and how we open up our days and lead our lives.

For example, the Fajr prayers in Islam. Fajr means dawn. Fajr prayer is said in that period from the first light of dawn to sunrise. This is what the Islamic Renaissance blog says of the benefits of Fajr prayer:

It is the light of the sun that sustains all life on the planet, enables and causes all things to grow, and provides warmth and comfort, safety and security to humanity. In the same way, the Fajr prayer provides light and guidance, strength and support, to the human soul and heart, and observing Fajr prayer consistently, with presence and with intention is invaluable to the human being seeking to awaken from unconsciousness, heedlessness and ignorance.

The time for the Fajr prayer is a time of light and barakah, spiritual blessings, and it sets the tone, energy and frequency for the entire day which follows. It is a blessed time, and one need not worry about losing sleep, for with proper spiritual practice, the human body and mind become energized with qudra, divine life-energy and force, and so becomes less dependent upon worldly rest and sustenance for its nourishment

So prayer, and particularly our morning prayer is what shapes our day and makes our dome. On a Christian leadership programme it is right to bask in the appreciation of the place of prayer as our leader as we seek to follow the lead of Christ.

And so we begin with prayer.

Bless you

Writing in Life of the Beloved Henri Nouwen says:

“For me personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing. I have read and written much about prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realise that, although I have a tendency to say many things to God, the real “work” of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self indulgent, but in practice, it is a hard discipline. I am so afraid of being cursed, of hearing that I am no good or not good enough, that I quickly give in to the temptation to start talking and to keep talking in order to control my fears. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing – that demands real effort.”

Recently I came to my senses.

I am naturally shy (who isn’t?). It is a defensive attitude – shying away. I was at a conference with colleagues recently – I was feeling intimidated, out of my death wondering what on earth I was doing there. And I listened to the scriptures being read in our worship, and I listened to those around me listening to the scriptures and was moved into their shoes as they reached out for the hope that was in them. I heard their prayer for themselves, for their work, for those around them, for me. Why should I have thought that I am not interesting to my brothers and sisters? Why should I have thought that I have to prove myself in a gracious community? Why should I not trust others to love me?

It didn’t cure my shyness, but made me feel better. I became shy alongside many others – I didn’t shy away.

In many ways we expect to be cursed – I wonder whether when people come together they want a blessing but expect a curse.

Henri Nouwen’s book (1992) was written in response to a friend who said this:

“Speak to us about the deepest yearnings of our hearts, about our many wishes, not about the many strategies for survival, but about trust; not about new methods of satisfying our emotional needs, but about love. Speak to us about a vision larger than our changing perspectives and about a voice deeper than the clamourings of the mass media. Yes, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about … God.”

“You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests”

Were these words only spoken to Jesus? Or are these words which god wants us to hear? But they are words which are often drowned out in the business of our lives as we try to prove ourselves relevant, spectacular or powerful.

In what ways have we been loved? – our parents, friends, teachers, children, parishioner ……

As Nouwen says, “We are beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us.”

Nouwen says that the 4 most important words for him are taken (chosen), blessed, broken and given.

On “taken” (chosen) “When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.” The great joy of being chosen is the discovery that others are chosen as well.

Nouwen tells the story of a bar-mitzvah, in which a young man was declared an adult by his congregation. He gave leadership to the service, read from Genesis and gave a short sermon. His father said: “Son, whatever will happen to you in your life, whether you will have success or not, become important or not, will be healthy or not, always remember how much your mother and I love you.”

What a grace such a blessing is.

“To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness…. To give a blessing creates the reality of what it speaks.”

One of the women at L’Arche asked Henri for a blessing. He signed her with the cross, and she said “that won’t work: I want a real blessing”. He describes how in the congregation, as soon as he had said “Janet has asked me for a special blessing” Janet stood up and walked towards him. Spontaneously Janet put her arms around Henri and put her head against his chest. He said: “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s Beloved Daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is more sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.”

“The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the affirmation of our deepest self.”

The words of blessing that we hear tell the truth about who we are, whereas the curses tell lies – those curses are easy to believe but they’re lies nevertheless.

Nouwen suggests two ways to hear our blessing: prayer and presence.

In prayer we develop the habit of searching for a blessing, and inhabit blessing.

Nouwen talks about “brokenness” and “givenness”. About our “givenness”, he comments how different would our lives be if truly trusted in their being multiplied by being given away.

“How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it … and that – even then – there will be leftovers!

Imagine that your love [for those dear to you], your kindness to your friends, and your generosity to the poor are little mustard seeds that willbecome strong trees in which many birds can build their nests! Imagine that, in the centre of your heart, you trust that your smiles and handshakes, your embraces and your kisses are only the early signs of a worldwide community of love and peace!”

So we take time with this text, reading:

“You are my beloved, on you my favour rests”

Invitation to silence, to take these words, taken/chosen, blessed, broken and given for you – to chew over, to mull over in your minds, to take to heart

SILENCE

“Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.
…Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say,  “I have called you by name, from the very beginning.
You are mine and I am yours.
You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.
I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.
I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.
I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.
I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.
Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.
I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.
I will not hide my face from you.
You know me as your own and I know you as my own.
You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse… Yes, even your child…
Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will separate us. We are one.”
(H. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved)

And here’s another blessing, from Jan Richardson’s Painted Prayerbook

Beginning with Beloved – a blessing

Beloved.

Is there any other word
needs saying,
any other blessing
could compare
with this name,
this knowing?

Beloved.

 Comes like a mercy
to the ear that has never
heard it.
Comes like a river
to the body that has never
seen such grace.

Beloved.

 Comes holy
to the heart
aching to be new.
Comes healing
to the soul
wanting to begin
again.

Beloved.

Keep saying it
and though it may
sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes
part of you,
how it becomes you,
as if you never
could have known yourself
anything else,
as if you could ever
have been other
than this:

Beloved.

– Jan Richardson

Bernard on Canals & Reservoirs


Wisdom runs deep, and the pace of our lives seems to run us out of wisdom.

Bernard (he became Abbot of Clairvaux 900 years ago in 1115) has this to say about the pace of our lives and the place of stillness:

The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself … Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare … You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.

Oh Yeah Now That’s a Table

George Messo's Blog

A man filled with life’s joy
Placed his keys on the table
Put down flowers in a copper bowl
Put down his milk, his eggs
Placed light coming from the window there
Sound of a bicycle, sound of a spinning wheel
He placed there the softness of weather and bread

On the table the man
Put things that occurred in his mind
Whatever he wanted to do in life
He placed it there
Who he loved, who he didn’t love

The man put them too on the table
Three times three equals nine
The man placed nine on the table
He was next to the window next to the sky
He reached out placed infinity on the table
For days he’d wanted to drink a beer
He put the pouring of beer onto the table
He put down his sleep his wakefulness
Placed there his fullness his hunger

Oh yeah…

View original post 43 more words

Eucharistic community – is it the bearing we’re wearing? Sermon notes Trinity 9B

Notes for a sermon for the saints at St Wilfred Grappenhall – August 2nd 2015 (Proper 13B, Ordinary 18B, Trinity 9)

The text: Ephesians 4:1-16

We all have one letter in our hands – it’s a part of a letter with a prison stamp, which seems to be addressed not just to people in one place, Ephesus, but to all places at all times. This fragment is intriguing because of the wonderfully motivating language, but because it touches on the behaviour of saints. It’s a letter to saints about how saints behave. In the letter WE are called saints so it’s a letter about how we behave.

My sermon is playing for time – time for us to dwell on this fragment – time to gather round three hearths within the fragment. Please feel free to wander round this in your own way at any point, but for those who want to stay with me I start with a question that, for some reason kept bugging me while I was reading this letter. The question is, “Why did the guest have to leave the party?” It’s a question posed by the story from Matthew’s gospel (chapter 22).

I’ve got an email here which might remind you of that story. It’s one of those “complaining” emails.

It begins:

“Hi King”, (isn’t it strange how we don’t use “dear” so much in emails? Does it mean that people are now less dear and precious to us in the days of bulk correspondence?) – anyway, the email goes on:

“I feel I have to complain to you about the way you treated me at the party you organised. First of all, thank you for the invitation. I had thought that I would have been invited to one of your earlier parties because of the work I have done in the community. Anyway, I did manage to rearrange my diary so that I could join you in the palace.

“I was shaken when your flunkies grabbed me and escorted me from the party. I can’t see what I did wrong. They said it was because of what I was wearing, but the invitation did say that the dress code was informal, and other people were wearing t-shirts and shorts as well.

“What’s made matters worse is the media coverage. The headlines are awful and everywhere, and the film showing me weeping and gnashing my teeth has gone viral on youtube. You have made me a laughing stock. It has been so damaging, embarrassing and disrespectful. I demand an immediate apology.

“And one more thing. I don’t know who did the seating plan, but I can’t understand why I wasn’t at one of the top tables. You don’t seem to realise who I am.

Yours, humiliated,
Frank Lee Speaking.”

I’ve got the king’s reply:

“May I speak to you frankly? I do this in love.

I felt honoured that you accepted my invitation, and that you made the time to come (many didn’t – which explains why there were so many people there who you’d probably only seen begging at the city gate). It wasn’t the clothes you wore (I rather liked that t-shirt you wore). No, it was the bearing that you were wearing. You were upsetting the party and upstaging the guests. You were resentful, argumentative and arrogant. You had to go.

I am sorry that you felt embarrassed. That was never my intention. I hope you understand.

Love

Rex X”

Welcome to the party.

As Christians we enjoy ourselves. We use the language of party – a eucharistic language. Sunday by Sunday there is eucharist, celebration, wine, good company, gifts, song and a party Spirit. It’s not a party to be missed for the food – the bread that gives life to the world.

The party spirit of the worshipping community is captured by describing it as “Eucharistic community”. I want to share three hearths with you – the three hearths take us to the heart of what a eucharistic community is – what the party is about.

First:

At the heart of our eucharistic community is our “thank yous”. A eucharistic community meeting is full of thank-yous – count the “thanks” in the liturgy, in our prayers, in our scriptures, in our interactions. We are awash with thanksgiving. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The eucharistic community is raised in appreciation and thanksgiving – indeed, that is the very meaning of the word eucharist.

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, says that “Thank you” is the best prayer that anyone could say. She says that she gets to say that prayer a lot: “thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility and understanding.” Is that our prayer?

Ephesians talks of “thank yous”. Here’s how The Message translates another verse (5:4) in the letter: “Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or sill. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.” Thanksgiving is our dialect.

Positive psychologists are also talking about the importance of gratitude and thankfulness as a transformative and converting behaviour…..

Second:

In the depths of Eucharistic language there is gifting – and that is the basis of our gratitude and thankfulness. It is how “eucharist” is spelled. CHARIS comes in the middle of that word. “Charis” is left when you peel away the “eu” and the “t” from the beginning and end of “eucharist”. “Charis” is the heart of “eucharist”. “Charis” means “gift” and “grace”. We have words that are recognisably derived from CHARIS, for example “charity”, “charism” and “charismatic”.

Someone who wears a charm bracelet wraps gifts around her wrist (– a charm arm) – celebrating charming life, an acknowledgement of being charmed and a vocation to be charming, generous and gracious. Grace is the word that is used in the “thank you” letter addressed to the Ephesians. “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

I wonder if the wedding guest was told to leave because he had no charm.

According to our reading, there are two groups of people within a Eucharistic community. One group is made up of saints, the other group is made up of apostles (they are advocates), prophets (they speak from the heart of God to the heart of the people), evangelists (they are angels with only have good news to share), pastors (they shepherd) and teachers (guess what they do). Those are charisms that form a ministry team – and you can bet that some people here are part of a team like that – the beginnings of a team of people who are gifted and charmed to help this other group of saints, so that all of us are equipped for ministry until we find the unity that God has in store for us. All of us are charmed and gifted – but some are charmed and gifted to help the rest of us – be saints.

The gifts God gives can only be valued by a Eucharistic community. They are gifts of ministry for the sake of the saints who live for the sake of the world. That’s the party spirit.

Third:

The third hearth of a Eucharistic community is that we are communities in formation.

We are still growing up, with growing pains which show in our joints and the way we join each other. Our relationships are always less than perfect. Outsiders often call us hypocrites because we so often don’t walk the talk.

We often forget that we are still growing, that we have so much to learn, that we are building one another up. We often speak the truth to one another (try to teach one another a lesson) forgetting that the responsibility within the Eucharistic community is to speak the truth in love. That is the party spirit.

I wonder if the wedding guest had to leave because he only spoke the truth, or because he was a know-all, not humble enough to realise that he had so much to learn. Paul said, “we must no longer be children … but speaking the truth in love, must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ ..”

I wonder if it was something about the guest’s bearing. Was it the bearing he was wearing? I wonder whether it is something about the church’s bearing which, in some quarters, has become branded as toxic. Thanksgiving isn’t always what hits people in the eyes. it’s not always obvious that we see ourselves only as children, only as “growing up”. Nor is it always apparent that we are thankful party people, or that we are always charming and blessing.

Each place needs a community of thanksgiving, a community which is intentionally growing up, and a community which is charming and blessing, so that the ways of the world can be changed, so that so that life can be different, so that those who walk through the valley of the shadow of death may find hope, and may find a welcome at the table where all their hungers are satisfied, so that they may share the bread of life.

(The drawing is by Cerezo Barredo, part of series of illustrations for the Revised Common Lectionary – this one is of the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22).