Saving


Sarah Bessey recently wrote about what is saving her life right now and invited her blog readers to consider the question for themselves:

* * *

Saving me? Right now? In this loaded tension waiting game?

People. On two sides of the world.
3am emails and four hour phone calls, a hurried text or facebook message: they’re still there, still here, and we are not done yet.
Poached eggs, cups of tea, ironing piles: we’re listening, discerning, sharing and being.
A marathon in a darkened room and a collective hush before the gun: we’re reunited but there’s no need for extravagance, this is how it always was.
Kind words and gentle stories remind me I am not alone and that this is home. They root me in this place and quiet the panic that threatens to errupt in a heart that is not yet settled. They are saving me here. Allowing me to build and grow and live.
Kind words and gentle stories tell me I am not forgotten. They remind me of what was, of that which taught me what is and sustain another life I could forget I lived. They are saving me there. Keeping a part of me until it is time.

Saving me? Right now? On the verge of a spiral, nowhere bound?

The anticipation of things to come.
Of lives changed on both sides of an unspoken, well-known divide. Of a mess made as we stumble through the game. Of tempers flaring and frustration peaking as iron sharpens iron.
Of learning by observation and participation, though the teachers may be unaware and the student unwilling. Of the formation of a family, the creation of a home. Of chaos, beauty and peace.
Of one last lap, one last battle; to win the race and the war. For now. Of new revelation and character formation. Of precious time never to be consumed in this way again.

Saving me? Right now? From weariness and frenzy?

Escape.
To a silent church where candles burn and incense rises, where ancient lessons are read and words are chanted, where your knees give out on patterned cushions and Christ stares down from on high .
To the lands of Middle Earth where Elves and Dwarves become unlikely friends, Wizards rise from the dead and a Halfling stands by his friend to the bitter end as he saves the world from unending darkness.

Saving me. Right now.

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What makes you cry?

My friend Annie directed us to this wonderful post a few weeks back now about knowing what makes you cry:

Why does it matter what makes you cry or tear up? Maybe it just means you’re overly emotional, sappy, too sensitive. Maybe. Or maybe our tears are tiny messengers, secret keepers of the most vulnerable kind, sent to deliver a most important message – Here is where your heart beats strong. Here is a hint to your design. Here is a gift from your inner life, sent to remind you those things that make you come alive.

(Read the whole thing here: chattingatthesky)

I’ve been known to shed a tear or two in my time. Or, you know, sob my eyes out at the  slightest thing and usually in a rather embarrassing fashion. Such as when we went to see Lilo and Stitch for my best friend’s eleventh birthday and I had to stuff my fist in my mouth to stop myself from howling. Or the way I sobbed every time I watched the Make Poverty History video with those two child orphans living on the street. Or that night when I sat on the pavement with Chris and Kim and tears silently rolled down my cheeks as they explained their pain and sorrow.

Happy things are just as likely to have me bawling. The end of the Lighthouse Skit. Being given opportunities and shown trust I don’t deserve. The sweet kindness of friends.

Anything to do with parents and I’m a gonner. Anything to do with loss or isolation and it’s over. Anytime someone achieves against all the odds. Every time the missing people catches me off guard.

It’s okay to cry. It’s good to cry. Whether it’s at real life situations or movies, it’s good to be challenged emotionally. It reminds us we’re alive. It reminds me of hope and of how blessed I am. So go ahead and sob your heart out.

Rich and Poor

“the persons who become rich are, generally speaking, industrious, resolute, proud covetous, prompt, methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive, and ignorant. The persons who remain poor are the entirely foolish, the entirely wise, the idle, the reckless, the humble, the thoughtful, the dull, the imaginative, the sensitive, the well-informed, the improvident, the irregularly and impulsively wicked, the clave, the open thief and the entirely merciful, just and godly person”

– John Ruskin Unto This Last – Four essays on the first principles of political economy, London, 1903, p128

Martin Luther King, Jr: Lent (2)

Another post I contributed to our Lenten Prayer Group’s blog.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th 1968, King had been a leader in the American civil rights movement for thirteen years, advocating non-violent resistance to racism and segregation. In his last few years of life, his focus had shifted to ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam war. Whilst I don’t agree with everything he ever said or did, I can’t deny the legacy he has left: inspiring non-violent resistance to injustice around the world to this very day.
Below is an excerpt from one of the last sermons he gave before his death, on February 4th 1968, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Drum Major Instinct

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

. . .

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, “He’s King of Kings.” (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, “He’s Lord of Lords.” Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, “In Christ there is no East nor West.” (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, “In Him there’s no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world.” He didn’t have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.

This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It’s the only way in.

. . .

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

(Read/Listen to the whole sermon here: http://bit.ly/4nxh9, our extract starts at 30:46)

May we be able to say to the Lord that we tried to love and serve humanity, by His grace.

Holocaust Memorial Day

It’s the 27th January again. Holocaust Memorial Day.

I don’t know that there’s much to say that I haven’t said before, whether it be about my own trip to Auschwitz, the importance of passing on the lesson, or how vital it is to remember the people behind the figures.

I just wanted to remind you it was today, 66 years ago, that Auschwitz was liberated by the Allied forces. That there have been 4 genocides since and hatred and dehumanisation continues to threaten the people groups around the world.

Take a moment today to remember the past, that the future might be different.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .

. . . that a single man in possession of a good fortune,must be in want of a wife.”

I watched a lot of period dramas over the Christmas period.

Cranford, Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey, Pride & Prejudice (BBC 6 hour version) (twice), Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey.

It was amazing.

I’m not sure why these types of programme are so much more appealing than dramas set in the modern day, or even the future. I think their humour is a lot darker, which suits me just fine, and, of course, the costumes are always stunning. But I think what is most enchanting about them is that life appears simpler: there are rules of etiquette, an accepted social order, and a general appearance of everything being nice.  Obviously, there wouldn’t be much “drama” if these boundaries weren’t pushed; nevertheless, we know that nothing can go too far wrong!

And, at the centre of them all, is that lovely romance which we become fascinated with and obsessed by. Will she? Won’t she? Does he? Could he? Sly walks through the garden. Whispered words during a dance. Glances across the room. He just happened to be passing by and she, entirely coincidentally, dropped her hanker chief.

Sigh

Simpler times indeed. (If you were suitably rich . . . But let’s not spoil the magic)

I tend to think that beautiful programmes such as these present a better morality than modern romances all about who can get who into bed first. And even, perhaps, a more realistic depiction of the work it takes to maintain a relationship. However, I’m beginning to think that they’ve done just as much damage to my psyche as the all the romcoms and chickflicks!

I’m not expecting love at first sight like in Romeo and Juliet, or The Notebook, or WALL-E (that’s right, it happens there too!). I’m not expecting to be swept of my feet. I’m not looking for “the-one”. All that romantic nonsense has been cast out from my mind by the likes of Elizabeth and Darcy, Emma and Knightley, Mary and Matthew, Fanny and Edmund. For whom, I think it is fair to say, love is . . . stumbled upon. (Or, you know, you see the size of his batchelor pad and the mist suddenly lifts . . .) Time, friendship,  respect and eventually something clicks.

Sigh

I think that maybe it’s time I stopped watching any of them . . .

The house of God is not the Church but the world. The Church is the servant, and the first characteristic of a servant is that he lives in someone else’s house, not his own

– J.A.T. Robinson, The New Reformation? p.92

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, January 27th, is Holocaust Memorial Day. It was 65 years ago today that the allied troops liberated the prisoners at Auschwitz Birkenau. Many of you will know that I visited Auschwitz with the Lessons From Auschwitz Project in 2007 – you can read what I wrote upon my return here.

I still get a knot in my stomach every time I think about it. The Holocaust is so much more real to me because of it. I still get more angry than most would think is natural when people show an indifference or disregard towards it. It’s as though the need to defend the memory of it all is ingrained in me, like I have to, like it’s all down to me. I know that it isn’t but I’m trying to convey the weight of the burden the trip has left me with. It is a burden I carry gladly, but a burden all the same. It’s undoubtedly made a difference to who I am, my outlook on life and my theology.

We all know the facts and the numbers of the Holocaust but few of us know the stories. It’s the stories that make it real. It’s not the buildings that I remember most readily but the possessions and the photographs stolen/salvaged from the prisoner’s suitcases. Toothbrushes, prayer shawls, holiday pictures, families together, spectacles, smiling, shoes, laughing. I particularly remember the toothbrushes still, and a little red clog with a flower on the front which couldn’t have belonged to a little girl any more than six years old. It’s the stories that make it real, that make you realise how many were cut tragically short.

This is part of Esther Brunstein’s story:

I did not know then that our destination was Auschwitz. We were herded into closed-in cattle trucks, as many as would go into each one. There was barely enough air for us to breathe, with just a glimmer of daylight from a vent at the very top. There were two buckets in the centre; one with water, and one for our bodily functions. I huddled close to my mother; we talked so much, recalling happy pre-war years and telling ourselves that maybe at the end of the journey, there would be a nice place waiting for us. To this day, I really don’t know how long that nightmare lasted. We seemed to be going back and forth and back again in semi- or total darkness.
When the train finally came to a halt, the iron bars were removed and the doors were thrown open. Many of our number were dead on arrival. We were pushed out – women to the left and men to the right – and told to form rows of five. Looking around, I saw barbed wire in the distance, and creatures with shaven heads behind the fence. (I learnt later that the wire was electrified and then understood why a woman, whom I saw touch it, dropped dead.) We looked at each other in fear and disbelief and were convinced that this was a lunatic asylum, that it was not for us, that it was only a stopover on the way to our real place of resettlement. What followed is the hardest memory to verbalise; for my mother, although only 44 at the time, did not pass selection for life.
To this day, I cannot fully recall the details of Auschwitz. All I know is that the experience has left me with a feeling of total madness, as if the whole world had fallen into an abyss of apocalyptic proportions.
By some miracle, I found myself selected for a transport to a labour camp situated on the outskirts of Hanover. Conditions were appalling; we were subjected to hard labour, but at least we each had a bunk to sleep on at night and a daily food ration. But in mid-January 1945, our labour camp was disbanded and we were forced to march to Bergen-Belsen. On the way we saw nice, neat little houses, people peering out of their windows and even some civilians. So why is it that most Germans say they did not know what was going on?
We marched to Belsen quite unaware of the place and what might greet us there. My memory of my arrival there is hazy. There were 400 of us and we were herded into different barracks, which were already overcrowded with living and decaying corpses. Total chaos and the stench of dead bodies everywhere: that is how I remember Belsen, a living ‘inferno’. I see myself – a skinny, bewildered 16-year-old – running from hut to hut, looking, searching, hoping to find a friend, a cousin or maybe an aunt still among the living. Everything seemed so unreal.
Esther had suffered in the Lodz ghetto before being transported to Auschwitz and was then in Bergen-Belsen for three months before it was liberated. You can read her full story here.

She lost everyone and everything. The only survivor in her entire extended family was her brother. Imagine this story, replicated  more than six million times over. And, she was one of the few fortunate to escape with her life.

The HMD Trust theme for this year is Legacy of Hope. We know, we have seen, what humans are capable of doing when they are filled with hatred or consumed by indifference. But the legacy that is left behind should be one of hope for a future that is different. Only if we can make the future different will we be honouring those who died.

Cynthia Oziek – an American Jewish writer – said,

“Indifference is not so much a gesture of looking away – of choosing to be passive – as it is an active disinclination to feel. Indifference shuts down the humane, and does it deliberately, with all the strength deliberateness demands. Indifference is as determined – and as forcefully muscular – as any blow.”

Esther finishes her story by saying:

There was murder in all of us who were liberated there, and it scared me. I remember praying silently, more fervently than I had ever prayed in all my life. I prayed that I would not forever be consumed nor destroyed by hatred. I would say that against all the odds, I have succeeded.

But not without scars.

May we not be consumed with hatred any longer or suffer from indifference, that there may be no more scars.

Harry Potter and Leadership

Towards the end of the seventh Harry Potter book, when Harry has kind of died but is about to return to consciousness and defeat his nemesis Voldemort, Dumbledore says to Harry, who is having doubts about his ability to lead his friends to victory:

“it’s a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

– JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I like this. And it jumped out a me a bit. I think Dumbledore could be very correct in what he says.

It got me thinking that, if this is the case, perhaps, power-hungry control freaks like me (and I’m not exaggerating as much as some of you might think) ought to take a back seat and, a least for a while, learn to do the following instead of the leading.

Theologians

The modest task of those of us who are theologians is to help contribute to the discussion of what Christians ought to think by thinking as clearly as we can. But the theologian must always remember, as well, that those who are not schooled in theology will often lead the way.

– Stanley Hauerwas

I tend to think that all Christians are called to be theologians – we are, after all, all trying to think clearly about God and his will and how it should affect our lives. Therefore, we must all remember, you don’t have to have a degree to lead the way.

Church 2

How about this definition?

The church is by nature and commandment an apostolic community which exists for the sake of announcing the Gospel to all nations and of making them disciples of Christ.

H. Richard Niebuhr The Responsibility of the Church for Society