Friday, August 05, 2005

The Magic Penny

is one of that strange breed of semi-Christian songs which are perennial favourites in primary school assemblies. For those of you who've escaped these since your own school days, it has a chorus which has been buzzing around my head this week, for all sorts of reasons:
"Love is something! If you give it away you end up having more."
Dan has a brilliant post on the Theology of Receiving inspired by last week's Blah...Manchester*
It spoke loud and clear into my current thoughts about the state of the church,- which is not entirely encouraging, as I'd love someone to tell me that I'm actually quite wrong! It seems to me that in "everyday parish ministry" we spend most of our time wrestling with the impossible needs/expectations of those within our churches, who feel that it's OK, even desirable, to engage with those outside in our spare time, as long as we get all the church agenda sorted first. Mission is fine, as long as you're always there for the PCC and get the magazine article posted. And I guess it doesn't take a genius to work out that even in a community gathered in response to the Gospel, there will still be the sort of fearful survival instinct that demands that if there might not be enough to go round, you jolly well better look after me first. The thing is, we're supposed to be different. God's love has no limits, so there will be enough to go round. It's easy to write that, but as Dan says, believing ourselves loveable, and opening ourselves to be loved is hugely difficult. I once spent a whole Maundy Thursday Watch arguing hotly with Jesus that I really didn't want to have my feet washed by him, thank you very much...only to find that he'd already done it. Just as well, really, as I'd probably still be protesting if he hadn't taken the initiative.
However, as the months pass here, I'm increasingly convinced that most people have no idea how much they are loved...which makes it all but impossible for them to get on with the business of loving the world. I took a sad little funeral recently for someone who'd died in his 80s. Though married, he had no children, had not engaged with anyone else through work, leisure, faith. Rather, he and his wife were "all the world to each other",- which sounds very sweet until you think through the implications.....In this case, the widow was furious that she had been deserted, and still more angry at the injustice which allowed her beloved to die at all.
"He didn't deserve it", she said, "He was a good man. Everything he did was for us. "
Clearly they'd felt the need to build their own little kingdom, with sturdy defences which nobody had dared to penetrate...Not surprisingly, this was reflected in the response to her husband's death from the larger community. I was pleasantly surprised that there were 8 of us in the crematiorium chapel. As always I spoke about the love of God, which is so much stronger than death...but I could well have been speaking a foreign language. I pointed to Jesus as its complete expression,- but I do wish I could with confidence have pointed to the church as well.

I was about to press "publish" when my thought for the day from the Henri Nouwen Society arrived. Yet again, it's extremely apposite, so here it is in full...
Sharing the Abundant Love
Why must we go out to the far ends of the world to preach
the Gospel of Jesus when people do not have to know Jesus in
order to enter the house of God? We must go out because we
want to share with all people the abundant love and hope,
joy and peace that Jesus brought to us. We want to
"proclaim the unfathomable treasure of Christ" and "throw
light on the inner workings of the mystery kept hidden
through all ages in God, the creator of everything"
(Ephesians 3:8-9).
What we have received is so beautiful and so rich that we
cannot hold it for ourselves but feel compelled to bring it
to every human being on earth.

* (small irrelevant note here: how miserable do other people get at the repeated news of exciting discussions, inspiring speakers etc in cities we've not a hope of getting to without a major plan of campaign and probably a bank loan for the train fare/petrol? And yes, I know that Greenbelt is coming, but I still need a quick whinge)


Emily said...

So much good stuff here. I love your insight about "it's ok to be involved outside the church, as long as you're always there for us." SO true.

Funny how as an underemployed priest right now I'm doing more "evangelism" than I was when I was working full-time.

That should tell somebody something.

Daniel said...

If it makes you feel any better (it may not!), I think things are the same in most 'emerging' churches as 'traditional' ones...

Purechristianithink said...

The problem is most folks, even children, are savy enough to realize that real pennies do not behave in this manner. Real pennies disappear when you spend them, so you have to be canny and careful. Love may be like a magic penny, but it is not like the pennies they encounter in real life.

Daniel said...

Regarding your other point about events being too far away… How far do you live from Rugby? A church there is having a workshop on 'Creating Uncommon Worship' next month, with Richard Giles whose book you are apparently reading…

Kathryn said...

Now, that might have been good (though Rugby is an hour and a half away, I guess) but I did go to a day on the book earlier in the year...and hope to catch him at GB too. I ought to revise my "current reading" really...finished it months ago,- lots of good stuff but a long long way from where we are at the moment,and I lack his ruthlessness, even if this were my very own church to play with!

Mary said...

When I read the Nouwen thought for today, my immediate reaction was that it's all very well to talk about going to the far ends of the earth, but for most of us it won't happen and actually the far ends of Gipsy Hill need exactly the same amount of evangelising...... the challenge is therefore to "be differently" where we are, as individuals and as churches. When I bullied three of our church to do the Trinity bodysculpting exercise they arranged themselves into a triangle with their right sides facing in and right hands joined at the centre but their heads turned to look, and their left hands reaching, outwards and beyond. I don't think I can better the image of rooted reaching out: making it reality is a different matter requiring not only confidence but also a very unEnglish willingness to risk rejection or even - horror - embarrassment!

Sophia said...


Great post.

I had noticed before that you're reading Richard Giles. I attend noon worship once a week at the cathedral where Richard Giles is dean. He is often among the worshippers. If you google Philadelphia Cathedral you can see what the space looks like. I think it would be worthwhile for you to hear him speak. He is a very warm person, who, as a friend of mine has said, welcomes people to the cathedral as if we were all his long lost relatives. He has created an incredible sacred space and worship experience here in Philadelphia.

Howard said...

The song "The magic penny" always makes me think of wanting to spend a penny, so I don't like singing it...

Sorry, got to go...I need the loo.

the reverend mommy said...

funny, I had that same thought the Maundy Thursday.
Enjoyed see you on rlp's chat. Too fun!