Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reasons why I should resist the urge to join in memes...

Sometimes, they are simply beyond me!
Purechristianithink has tagged me with this:
5 Reasons why I’m cool

Hang on a moment...I have two problems with this. The first is that I have no pretensions to coolness whatsoever. How could this middle aged mother of 3, who is also a clergybird ever aspire to coolness??
Some things are just not possible!

The second problem is that to believe oneself cool must surely exclude one immediately from the company of coolness…Catch 22 alive and well.

However,- given that this is all a load of nonsense and I have today off, with only 3 million things I should be doing (instead of the more usual 5 million)…if I were cool, these might be the reasons why

  • I was for some years the devoted driver of a red and white 2CV named Skippy

  • I own those flowery Docs,- which surely ought to belong to someone cool,- so maybe I am?

  • DarlingDaughter says that I am "the coolest mother ever",- but as I’m the only one she has ever owned, and she seems to base this largely on our shared taste in shopping, some music, and online friendships,I have severe doubts about what this proves. However my 6’ son is still prepared to be seen hugging me in public, which might count for something...

  • And I do have some utterly , indisputably cool & wonderful friends…who seem prepared to spend time with me

But it’s no good, that’s still only 4.
Brief consultation with TeenWonder nets the following result

“It’s cool the way you’re rude about St M’s when you need to be. But I don’t think you’re supposed to be cool. I think you’re supposed to be my Mummy.”

Told you so!

Monday, May 29, 2006

My subject is War, and the pity of War

wrote Wilfred Owen, in the introduction to his collected poems. To my mind, pity is only part of the story...obscenity feels closer to the mark.
LoudBoy came home last night from a trip organised through the school History department to visit the battlefields and cemeteries of the First World War, - and was predictably amazed by the whole experience. He had borrowed Longsuffering ClockMaker’s camera, and as we sat round after supper he showed us shot after shot of war graves, towns and villages destroyed and rebuilt, and the endless lists of names of those whose bodies were never recovered from the Flanders mud. TeenWonder had made the same trip two years before, and the boys compared impressions while I dealt with a rising tide of outrage that any country should presume to send its youth into such carnage. LoudBoy had been chosen to lay a wreath on behalf of his school during the daily ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres and one of his friends had shot a brief video. Suddenly our conversation was halted by the sound of the Last Post, - echoing across miles and years and bringing the past straight into the present.
The youngest soldier to die in Flanders was 13,- the same age as LoudBoy,- while at 16 TeenWonder would have been ideal cannon fodder.
I held onto my sons, weeping for a while for all those women whose sons had never come home.

Anthem for Doomed Youth - Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for those who die like cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

" As much fun

as a wet weekend in the Cotswolds" ,- runs a family saying (a derivative of a more standard less regional phrase whose meaning is surely obvious). But this is a wet weekend in the Cotswolds, and actually I'm having a lovely time. Not having to preach yesterday, apart from at one Baptism (when I definitely talk, rather than preach in any case) and with today clear, thanks to the Bank Holiday, life feels delightfully low-pressure. I should perhaps be trying to get ahead of myself (there's a raft of major projects coming up in the next two weeks) but I'm also very aware that a bit of re-creation will enable me to approach these more positively, so that's my justification for the absolutely inevitable procrastination this time round!
So, this morning LoudBoy and I dodged the hail storms and went out with dogs and pony. My camera is currently ailing (prayers that I can find the guarantee would be welcome, if it weren't so pathetic), so I only had my phone with which to capture the stunning rainbow that spread itself out across the valley, but I'm posting it anyway in the hopes that those kind people who did clever things to my inferior photos in the past might return and remind me of how I improve things! The countryside is staggeringly beautiful right now...the headrows frothy with cow-parsley, matched only by the bloom on the hawthorns, and interspersed with buttercups campion, and a few stray bluebells.
I love the countryside so much in May,- regardless of the weather. In early childhood, I was quite sure that the Whit of "Whitsun" referred not to such abstruse things as white baptismal robes but to the drifts of flowers that skirted every country lane. It never occurred to me that this wasn't actually the backdrop to the New Testament events,- though I did worry rather about how Jesus and his friends would manage the prevalent mud in those open sandals. Such a bright child....!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Woman's Experiences of Episcopacy

was the title of an evening organised by the Gloucester branch of WATCH on Friday. Our speaker was Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, ECUSA an engaging and entertaining speaker, whose very presence was a sign of hope and encouragement at this time when the Church of England’s debates on the ordination of women bishops have reopened all sorts of wounds that had never healed a decade after the ordination of the first women priests here.
I really enjoyed hearing her, - but I came home more troubled than ever about the model of ministry that still seems to be seen as most effective. +Geralyn had clearly had a rough ride in the early days of her episcopacy,- and beyond. That she is still in post and able to show such warmth and humanity is impressive in itself, but it seemed to me that the price of her survival has been her agreement to meet the men on their own turf in their own way. The seventy hour week seems to be an inescapable part of the deal, as does a hefty suit of emotional armour,- neither of which sounds specially attractive.
The familiar clergy problem of dealing with the projections of others is, not surprisingly, doubled in spades for a Bishop…she and our own +Michael talked about the need to be a “parent in God”,- while not actually taking on the emotional role of mother or father,- and this seems to be more of an issue for +G. Indeed, mothering came up in several ways, as she spoke of her anxiety about the number of part time women clergy in her diocese. She seemed to be implying that, in opting to combine ministry and motherhood these women were effectively limiting the scope of their vocation to either, and announced regretfully that “part-time women” (an intriguing concept, to my mind!) would be doomed to live out their ministry “on the edge”, instead of in successful mainstream parishes that could afford to employ a full-time vicar. Here, we’ve been positively campaigning for more flexible patterns of ministry, that allow part-time possibilities…and hencity voiced the thoughts of many there when she asked what was the problem with being “on the edge”. After all, a certain carpenter from Nazareth seemed to spend most of his time there…+Geralyn’s point was, I think, that clergywomen are already marginalised enough by virtue of gender, without finding themselves spending their working lives among the marginalised as well…but I’d want to say that this is very much my dream, and would be something I would choose over almost any other type of ministry, as things stand now.
At the end of the evening, I was full of admiration for Bishop Geralyn, but less sure than ever why any sane woman would ever consider episcopacy. But then, as someone pointed out, you would never do any of these mad mad jobs if you didn’t feel called by God…so I can just thank him from the bottom of my heart that this is not my calling!

Friday, May 26, 2006

This I believe...

This week's Friday Five could actually keep me going for weeks, I think. To distill so much into 5 points is horribly reminiscent of one of the "personal inventory" questions beloved of Bishops' Selectors...
Now, as then, I've far more that I'd want to say,- images, words, music that could say things better. But for today this is my semi-serious attempt at 5 essentials of belief

  • That God’s love is utterly inexhaustible, unconquerable and unconditional

  • That the best is yet to be

  • That nothing is beyond transformation ,- all in the end is harvest

  • That everyone has a story that’s worth hearing, and deserves to be heard

  • That life is for love and time only that we may find God (thank you Augustine)
I have one additional belief, a notable example of the triumph of hope over experience, that one day I shall finish something ahead of deadline. See belief no 3!

Belated edit
NB VERY IMPORTANT POSTSCRIPT. How could I have forgotten? Many of my friends will already be aware that I do, of course, believe in repetition...
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then all I can say is that GB04 was really rather wonderful...but that's no surprise either.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

God is gone up with a merry noise!

When I started school, I attended an Anglo Catholic Convent, where the liturgical year was taken Extremely Seriously.
I specially remember Ascension Day, in those days still a public holiday, as on that festival instead of attending a service in the convent chapel we were all marched in crocodile to the church that the sisters loved best...some distance across a town that was nothing if not hilly. There, we attended a full Sung Eucharist,- distinctly baffling to the Kindergarten children like me,- and then straggled back to school again. In my memory, it was always the hottest day of the summer, and the miles multiplied, so that by the time we reached school we were totally exhausted - a shame, as the festivities were only just beginning, and the day would go on to feature sticky buns, orange juice in place of the habitual school milk (does anyone else out there remember those 1/3 pint bottles with a straw?) and then, bizarrely, Scottish Country Dancing - which was considered to be suitable entertainment for the under 11s. I knew that this was all supposed to be very exciting,- and I can still remember the taste of those glossy cinnamon buns,- but on the whole, Ascension Day left me cold.

Later, as a chorister, I realised that some of the loveliest music belonged to this Festival - (Phillips' Ascendit Deus, Gibbons' O Clap your hands ...- and that the Ascensiontide hymns had something very important to express about the Lordship of Christ. I relished standing in Great Court to hear the college choir greet the dawn, but by then I was also haunted by images of some of the more ludicrous and literal of medieval wall paintings, showing just the soles of two little pink feet as Jesus vanished into the clouds. It seemed almost impossible that anyone should take this feast seriously.
And yet,- and yet...
So much to reflect on, about our need to let Jesus go, in order to have constant access to him, - about the reign of Christ, transcending time and space....about the exaltation of our humanity (he shares our humanity so that we might share his divinity)...about our calling to look up, to expect his return, and meanwhile to live and work in the light of the Great Commission. Trying to explain the feast to the mums and toddlers at Little Fishes this morning, I ended up hiding the "Jesus candle",- the Paschal flame that has burned since the Easter Vigil,- and then asking the children whether they thought it was still there. When we'd established that it was, and that it's flame still burned brightly, we placed it high in the pulpit, so that it could be seen from anywhere in the church. That was some improvement, but it didn't really go far enough if we really REALLY wanted everyone to see its light. So in the end, we decided that the only answer was to light one candle for each child from the Paschal candle, and so when they went home they could take the light of Christ home with them. They couldn't see the big candle any longer,- but they could each of them share in its light.
It made more sense that vanishing toes and fluffy clouds, at least from my perspective.

Augustine helped, too
"Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear....While in heaven he is also with us, and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, bey divinity, but in him we can be there by love. He did not leave heaven when he came down to us..nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven....These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body....Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace....the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head."

Since I'm feeling non creative at the moment

here's a rather lovely thing that arrived in the most recent mailing from WATCH. It's the WATCH dream for the Church, as articulated by Simon Bailey

I'm dreaming
about a church of sensitivity and openness,
a church of healing and welcome.

I'm dreaming
about a community of friends
that celebrates differences
and diversity and variety,
a community that is forgiving, cherishing, wide open.

I dream
of women and men who minister
life and laughter and love;
of men and women who minister
healing and harmony and hope;
of women and men who minister to each other
and minister to the crying needs of a world that hurts.

I dream
against the rough climb still to come,
against expectation, against pessimism and despair;

I dream, I dream
of the clear panorama
of the vision of light right at the top of the mountain.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Who am I?

I'm certainly not feeling very Kathryn-like at the moment (though in a good, if startled, way).
Gardening leave began with a shopping expedition to look at possible Curate cars, which would also accommodate 6' son plus 2 other passengers in the back, and leave room for dogs and LCM too. My initial idea proved unworkable within one second of TeenWonder getting into the car concerned. Even I could see that spending every journey with his head at a 45 degree angle to his body was unlikely to be of long-term benefit to the boy...but I did have a vision of a cuddly, friendly-looking car that would remind me of my 2CVs while somehow conveying the whole GoodinParts family in comfort. We found 2 possibilities, - but once we'd done the sums and investigated the assorted loans available, 1 emerged as a clear winner. It's slightly bigger than I'd envisaged, but really really easy to drive and has all sorts of wonderful free tax, free servicing, free RAC,free petrol (well, sadly not that one) type deals...and an interest free loan too.
The bad news is that little Matiz seems to be worth half nothing,- so we're wondering whether DarlingDaughter and TeenWonder might appreciate our hanging onto it for their use...but 3 cars for 5 people seems ridiculous, specially now we are no longer in the wilds of nowhere. Hmmmmmm.
Anyway, new car will arrive on the Wednesday of half-term, which is rather fun,- though the inevitable tidal-wave of guilt about owning a car at all is in the throes of engulfing me (so I must be reverting to type after all).

Having signed scary car-buying contract, I then drove down to Bristol to play with C...
More uncharacteristic activity included watching my first-ever Eurovision Song Contest,- getting very excited when a totally bizarre group of monsters (reputedly Klingons) from Finland won with a song called Hard Rock Hallelujah. Still wondering how to work them into a sermon...
In contrast, Big Brother left me utterly cold. No entertainment value whatsoever, and not much of anything else either...but perhaps I'm attacking it from the wrong angle?
Then, this morning, I OVERSLEPT and it didn't matter a toss. Wonderful.
And we ate almond croissant and watched (finally) Brokeback Mountain. Rather lovely,- though I do have a fondness for happy endings, which was clearly never going to be satisfied here.
Meanwhile, it rained and galed outside and I didn't feel I ought to be doing anything at all. Highly satisfactory,- can't remember when I last had a Sunday like thi!.
C, you are a wonderful friend to spend a holiday with. Thank you.
Can't imagine the rest of my leave will live up to these standards, but it's something to aim for!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Gardening Leave

WonderfulVicar has been doing his sums, and worked out that I've been rather bad at taking my leave allocation, and as a result is madly crossing through days in my diary and telling me to go away and relax. Since TeenWonder is in the middle of exams, and school continues as normal for LoudBoy too, actually going anywhere isn't madly practical, but I'm still going to play for the next few days. Off to see OnePedestrian later today (and I don't have to hurry home for church tomorrow) then the dogs should do quite well for exciting outings,- and, if it only stops raining, I might actually get to spend some time in the garden.
Oh dear,- gardening leave? Is WonderfulVicar trying to tell me something?

From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain...*

In the wake of thoughts about African Christianity, it was rather dispiriting to spend time on Thursday with some visitors from our link diocese in South India…Their host while they're in Gloucester is part of our "Fresh Expressions" group, and he’d thought that they might find our meeting interesting,- which they probably did, if not quite as he’d hoped.

You see, they seem to be firmly wedded to the idea of church as "pastor + congregation + Gothic style building + Hymns A& M" (the latter, according to WonderfulVicar, to be sung veeeerrry slowly,- presumably a sign of reverence) .
They made it very clear that all the creative ways of being church which we had been discussing with enthusiasm simply WEREN'T church at all in their book. For them, I suspect,we were not so much barking up the wrong tree, as totally barking!
Café church? - Cafes are places to drink coffee.
Dog walks? Good exercise for humans and dogs, but even when done with an intentional spiritual element they are positively sinful if they replace your attendance at a formal liturgy on a Sunday.
Messy Church? Downright disrespectful of the God who brought creation out of chaos.
What’s more, if a small Christian community emerges out of the work of an evangelist, to be a church it has to get itself organised…key into some Real Liturgy and develop a PCC and Church Wardens at top speed. That’s what you need to be church.

I do appreciate that where Christianity is a minority faith, there is perhaps more need to focus on visible witness,- but it did make me sad to think that the witness would be valued most if it matched a model propagated by Victorian missionaries. Indigenous expressions of church are clearly disapproved of by the mainstream church, in their diocese at least. There, she apparently sees herself as called to continue to suppress and not to baptise the culture,- so I went home feeling rather ashamed at the legacy of Empire, that lingers so tenaciously long after the final sunset.

*PS The title of this post comes from a truly terrible hymn which we sang at the Anglican Convent that I attended for Kindergarten. I loved the travel agent's pictures that the words conjured up for me (From Greenland's icy mountains, to India's coral strand, Where Afric's sunny fountains roll down her golden strand....)and just didn't understand why my father would shudder if I sang it around the house. I grew up a little, changed schools and didn't come across it again till rifling through the hymnbook for sight- reading practice in my teens. It comes in the section of The English Hymnal "For Missionaries",- and is a classic of its type. But I have to say, I think Daddy had the right idea!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jesus of the Deep Forest

I've googled "Jesus of the Deep Forest" without much joy. There are lots of articles that reference it, (this one looks specially worth investigating further) but nothing more from the work itself. Here's the information from the footnotes in the Cambridge Companion
Afua Kuma Jesus of the Deep Forest eds & Trans Peter Kwas Ameyaw, Fr Jon Kirby SVD et al (Accra:Asempa Press 1980)...The rendering I quoted is by Mercy Amba Aduyoye.
These words of hers about the text hit me quite forcibly too..

"She (Afua Kuma) represents the women who weave lyrics about Jesus and pour their hearts out in prayer and praise at all times and in all places, the women whose theology gets reduced into writing by those who can write"

Our culture is so firmly based upon the written word, it's almost impossible to envisage thinking aloud in that creative way and then not writing it down. But perhaps it's our urge to confine our thoughts and visions to paper that has so narrowed our horizons that we find it hard to ever look beyond them. Our God-talk, and our God-thoughts are shaped by the cadences of the Scripture and liturgy we grew up with...which can be so dangerously close to becoming a substitute for a first-hand relationship with the God who is more than any words.

Meanwhile, these are the only texts from Madame Afua Kuma that I could actually find on the web...and they bear repeating too, as we seek a wider vision for our place, our time.

"Chief, who listens to the poor,Humble King
Your words are precious jewels.
We don't buy them, we don't beg for them;
You give them to us freely!
Giver of good gifts we are waiting for you,
And the sick are waiting for medicine.
O Jesus, you have swallowed death,
and every kind of disease,
And have made us whole again."

"He is the great Grass Hut, the Shed which shelters mice
The "thump thump" of the pestle, he beats down our hunger
Hard wood hoe-handle, which brings us our food
Onyankopon Amponyinam; God the provider"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The small, non threatening feminist theology reading group I’m part of met on Monday to discuss Susan Frank Parsons Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology.
Predictably, I hadn’t managed to finish the book, (don't forget, I slept through Monday afternoon) but our discussion majored on intercultural aspects of feminist theology, and one fascinating contribution from Mercy Amba Oduyoye on African Christology. Lest that sound rather abstract and difficult, let me share straight away the passage that struck me,- quoted from another work
Jesus of the Deep Forest, which is so clearly rooted in its African context that it was at first rather startling to my western consciousness.
All powerful Jesus who engages in marvellous deeds, he is the one called Hero Okatakyi. Of all earthly dominions he is master; the Python not overcome with mere sticks, the Big Boat which cannot be sunk.
Jesus, Saviour of the poor, who brightens up our faces! Damfo-Adu: the clever one. We rely on you as the tongue relies on the mouth.
The great Rock we hide behind: the great forest canopy that gives cool shade: the Big Tree that lifts its vines to peep at the heavens, the magnificent Tree whose dripping leaves encourage luxurient growth
I was quite disconcerted to realise that I’d read the first few images at top speed, treating them as if they were folk tales from a children’s story book, simply skimming over the surface because they didn’t connect with the God-language I habitually use.
It was only when the more familiar Rock appeared that it brought me up short, and I realised how discourteous I was being to the text, and to another culture’s attempts to communicate a reality that no language can contain. I hate the realisation that I was too immured in my familiar mindset to honour this alternative by serious reflection…and that my cultural blinkers had almost escaped my own notice.

In the group, we talked about what images we might find immediate and real in our current context, where millstones and vines don’t have a lot to say to us,- but acknowledged that the influence of those we’ve inherited is so powerful that it is very demanding to attempt to improve on them . I'm still trying to think of a model of dependence to replace the vine (not a lot of those at this end of Gloucestershire).
Any suggestions?
I was pleased, though, that when I read further on in the text
“The Christ of the women of Africa upholds not only motherhood but all who, like Jesus of Nazareth, perform “mothering roles” of bringing out the best in those around them” I immediately connected with another African image from earlier in the chapter "Jesus, the great Tree that enables climbing plants to reach the sun”
If we confine our God-language to our own cultural context, we are continually limiting the opportunities to reflect on realities whose fulness is beyond any expression.
Lots to think about here. Wish it were possible to meet together more often,but even on a termly basis, we've yet to find a single date that all those interested can actually manage. Are we all stupidly busy, I wonder?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rather less trivial

If you're in the UK and were considering buying a newspaper today, please make sure it's
The Independent. If you can't get hold of a paper copy, visit the website. Just do it, please.
Guest-edited by Bono, it focusses on the HIV/Aids crisis in Africa, and half the cost of the paper goes towards fighting the spread of the disease there.
The front page shown is by Damien Hirst, and the small print (which you won't be able to read here) reminds us
"Just 6,500 Africans died today as a result of a preventable, treatable disease. (HIV/Aids)."
The Bible reference which you might not be able to make out either is Genesis 1:27
"So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them."

Liz has thoughtful comments here

The headline put me in mind, most of all, of Dicken's savage obituary for Joe the crossing sweeper in Bleak House

"Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day."

That's the terrible reality. Dying thus around us every day.

Kyrie Eleison.

The Docs in Question.

Just so you know! I'd hate you to think I wasn't really as shallow and trivial as the next girl :-)
Despite the assertion in the book we've been reading for the WATCH feminist theology reading group, that women's besetting sins are
"failure to assume responsibility, sloth, the lack of ego and triviality" I 'm not actually too penitent.
My Docs (not entirely worn in yet, and an ebay bargain as they are actually 2 different sizes) are fast becoming a trade mark, and have worked wonderfully as an ice-breaker on potentially uncomfortable occasions.
As for the other besetting sins...I'll own 2 out of 3. Guesses, anyone?
And what about you?

How to cheer up The Curate!

Yesterday in Privet Drive was damp and gloomy. I have a cold, the sort that makes me want to sleep all day ,- not a very realistic option, though I did drop off on the sofa in the study while preparing for the feminst theology reading group....no reflection on the text....and woke up to discover I'd missed both Evening Prayer and the Monday Eucharist (thanks be to God, I wasn't presiding)!
DarlingDaughter sounded rather homesick and scared when she blogged. Her first day of teaching is tomorrow, and she had yet to meet her family (who turn out to be wonderful, but she didn't know that then) and was running short of hugs and self confidence...
One way and another it just wasn't easy to stir myself to anything much, and when the dogs started barking manically I was just cross...crosser still when the doorbell rang...but had to recant my crossness the moment I opened the door, to be greeted by The Man from the Florist.
Lovely lovely flowers, a gift from C's family (chosen to match my Docs, apparently ;-) ) So, I had to start smiling, didn't I? What a difference saying thank you so beautifully makes. Happy Curate!

Monday, May 15, 2006

More than just envelopes

Yes, Christian Aid week is here again. Our Parish Administrator has been masterminding the sort of campaign that features maps, pins and endless lists, and ought properly to emanate from the Cabinet War Rooms, and after the Eucharist yesterday a large proportion of the congregation left church clutching bundles of red and white envelopes.
We delivered ours before Evensong,though I'm wondering quite when I'm going to get the chance to collect them. But in case it should seem like an unwelcome chore, I'm posting this here to remind me why we are doing this.

O God, you promise a world
where those who now weep shall laugh;
those who are hungry shall feast;
those who are poor now, and excluded,
shall have your kingdom for their own.
I want this world too.
I renounce despair.
I will act for change.
I choose to be included
in your great feast of life.

"What do the congregation really long for?"

Was the question that hencity posed as a springboard for my thoughts on Isaiah 60 for yesterday’s sermon.
The more I considered, the more I was filled with a terrible sense that they probably don’t for the most part have many longings at all,- except, perhaps, for a residual nostalgia of the good old days of Bishop Robert and a church that was (reportedly) bursting at the seams for every single Sunday service. There seems to be no real belief that anything will ever change…either for better or worse. I look at the sea of grey heads on a Sunday morning, and though the church is full, it is unlikely that most of those present will be around in 15 years time,- but because there aren’t too many empty spaces, everyone feels quite secure.
They applaud our work with the young families who come to OpenHouse and Little Fishes,- but don’t recognise that what is happening there might be the start of something new that could be a gift to all of us.
Disturbingly, I suspect there may be little or no expectation that God will do anything much, except in a private, discreet, deeply Anglican sort of way…
And by expecting little, we are not only safe from being challenged but are also sure not to be disappointed. Perhaps the collective experience has been one of gradual disillusionment, akin to that felt by Isaiah's contemporaries who returned to Jerusalem but found that life was hard, and the streets of the city by no mean paved with gold.

So, I found myself looking a congregation for whom life is mostly comfortable, quite OK, but among whom there’s no sense of excitement, of possibility…
And I wondered whether this perspective had emerged through disappointing experience,- and what that might be.
I imagined a church full of enthusiastic disciples, keen to share the good news of God's love that they had experienced...and wondered how we'd got to the point of comfortable, affectionate inertia which now seems to be our norm.
Our Paschal candle is still alight, but it doesn’t seem to illuminate much beyond our doors.
Our Eucharists are still full of the alleluias that greeted the resurrection morning, but the world doesn’t seem to notice.
We claim to be full of joy, to live as Easter people,- but our friends and neighbours are reading from a different script and just don’t see a difference in anything.
Arise, shine, for your light has come?
Maybe, but we still seem to be falling over our feet and stubbing our toes in the gloom.
Time for us to wake up, perhaps, to begin to expect amazing things from God, and look out for signs that He’s doing them.

In the event, it wasn’t much of a sermon…I got sidetracked into the need to rethink our dreams, and to be proactive in making them a reality and linked into Christian Aid Week and kind of lost sight of what had been niggling me originally. But at least now I know what MY dream is for our congregation…that our current culture of respectability might become a culture of expectation, so that we look like a people who believe that God IS alive and active. Even in Charlton Kings.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Take him, earth, for cherishing...

There were bluebells, a small random patch that surrounded just one tree in the woodland. They drew the eye immmediately as we wandered down the path, dodging puddles, a little anxious as to how D would cope with the rough terrain. After all, she is in her 80s now, and uses a stick…
We turned off the main path, and made our way through the beech mast and over fallen branches till we reached the tree. We stood in a circle, facing each other. Mother and brothers, twin and her husband, nephews and best friend. And me.
We’d met last July, when C had decided that his life no longer held meaning or purpose.
In the aftermath of his decision, we’d become close in a way that I suspect that distance and infrequency of meetings will never damage.
Since last summer of course we were different people,- we’d moved on. M had retired from work, and C had stopped working too. There was a new baby to celebrate, a tiny scrap of perfection with spikey hair and the loudest snore…a new being, totally himself, but who bears C’s name.
But we came together on a damp May evening because we needed to let go of one more thing.
Once again I read the psalm that had been sung at C’s funeral.
Once again we shared memories of love and gratitude
Once again we prayed
Then I opened that plastic cannister…so huge somehow….weighty beyond expectation….and slowly poured its contents – all that remains of the body that so distressed and perplexed C with its weakness- over the damply receptive ground.
The ashes mingled with the bluebells, and from somewhere a blackbird broke into its insistent, exuberant song.
The rain stopped, and the evening was golden with promise.

In God, our deaths are not the final word,
Our moments of crisis
Are part of eternal possibility
And our weakness is taken up into the courage of God.

In Christ, our humanness is touched with divine life
Our tears are mingled with the longing love of Jesus
And our solidarity with those who suffer
Is joined by the presence of God.

In the Spirit, there are no boundaries on the dream,
No endings to hope,
And a world beyond our seeing.
Whether we live or die, we will never stray
Beyond the cherishing of God.

Placement Update

Lorna wondered what was happening about this, - so here’s the latest news. The Diocese of Gloucester is linked with two (Dornakal and Karnataka Central) in the Church of South India, and for the past few years clergy from both countries have visited, spent time with and learned from each other…and there are clearly various practical ways in which affluent Gloucestershire can try to make things better for our brothers and sisters in South India too. WonderfulVicar was part of the last Gloucester foray to our link diocese, spending February in and around Bangalore, and came home gently glowing and saying “You must go one day”. With this in mind, when a Senior Diocesan Officer cornered me in the Cathedral on Maundy Thursday and asked if I’d like to be part of the next diocesan expedition, there was only one answer possible.

So, I’ve talked to the man in charge of curate training, who is happy for me to do this as my placement but also (blessings on him) quite willing to insist that I need further experience if I can find a church in ECUSA (or indeed PCUSA or variants thereon) that might be prepared to graft me onto them for a couple of weeks of “work experience” some time next year. I get to go to India, which is both terrifying and utterly amazing..All the planning and preparation is sorted by the diocese (which is music to my chaotic ENFP ears) and I can still pursue my longing to visit the States, meet blog friends irl and investigate churches that take seriously the education of adult parishioners….

Lorna, my friend, I’d love to visit you and your church in Finland, but I suspect that trying to stretch my placement to yet another continent might be pushing my luck a little, so I’ll just have to come under my own steam one day. Meanwhile, India should be happening in November,- I’ll miss TeenWonder’s 17th birthday and the arrival of his driving licence (this might be quite a wise move) but will be home safely in time for Advent. I know I will be gibbering with terror when departure day draws near, but right now I am simply overwhelmed with the opportunity to visit a country I’ve always longed to see, - and to call this “work”. Unnumbered blessings…….

Friday, May 12, 2006

This is bizarre

Little Daewoo that faithfully transported me the length and breadth of the country during ordination training (staggeringly high mileage is one of the drawbacks of undertaking a regional course) is beginning to show its age,- or rather its miles. Gradually, problems are cropping up which suggest that it may be time to say goodbye, before it becomes a totally valueless wreck, so we've been thinking a bit about suitable replacements. I really fancied the Citroen C2 (after all, I'm still in mourning for much-loved 2CVs,- and at least there is a superficial family resemblance) until I read a review that mentioned appalling absence of leg-room/storage. As TeenWonder is now pushing 6 foot, and even LoudBoy will probably grow at some point, that's a non starter. TW, who is wide awake on environmental matters, has been lobbying for a dual-fuel vehicle of some sort, and suggested that I investigate the Toyota Prius. All of which means that, while practising my customary sermon evasion*, I was amused to find this at Emily's place...and intrigued by the result (until, that is, I visited the Toyota website and discovered that starting prices are a good 3 times my available car budget...). Never mind. It was fun for a minute or two!
Your Summer Ride is a Toyota Prius

Sure you're a little sensible and quite green
But no one enjoys outdoors more than you do!

*Incidentally, does anyone else struggle as much as I do with the 2nd Service Lectionary? We've been plugging through Revelation since Easter, and tomorrow's alternative is the wonderful, but slightly unseasonal, Isaiah 60. I cudgel my brains every week, - knowing full well that the congregation might just make it to double figures and the choristers will mostly have brought a good book and won't even begin to listen, but knowing too that anything less than a full length, reasonably coherent sermon will lead to some grumpy souls about the place and a shamefaced Curate.
Bright ideas, anyone?

Friday ++Rowan blogging (well, we've had most other sorts of Friday blog by now)

Someone sent me this the other day...it's taken from a radio interview (Terry Wogan, apparently) with Archbishop Rowan, and reminded me for the second time in a week, just what is so wonderful about the man. After all, he's clearly one of the highest of high achievers intellectually, and you could say (though it might be debatable) that to become Archbishop of Canterbury was a successful career move (!)...but, in the things that matter most, he really understands where truth lies. As a chronic "could do better, must try harder" type, I so need to read, learn, mark and inwardly digest this

"There is something about sunbathing I think that tells us more about what prayer is than any amount of religous jargon. When you're lying on the beach or under the lamp, something is happening, something that has nothing to do with how you feel or how hard you are trying. You're not going to get a better tan by screwing up your eyes and concentrating. You give the time, and that's it. All you have to do is turn up. And then things change, at their own pace. You just have to be there, where the light can get to you.
Now people often get the impression that prayer is anxiously putting on your best clothes and finding acceptable things to say in the right sort of language - oh, and concentrating, of course. But when, in the Bible, Jesus advises his friends about how to pray, he tells them not to worry about any of this. Just say "Father", he tells them. Just be confident that you are welcome as you would be at home. All you need to so is te be where the light can get at you - and in this case, the light of God's love.

So you give the time and let go of trying hard (and actually, that's the really difficult bit). And God is there, always. You don't need to fight for his attention or make yourself acceptable because he's glad to see you. And he'll make a difference while you're not watching, just by radiating who and what he is in your direction. All he asks is that you stay there with him for abit, in the light. And for the rest, you just trust him to get on with it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

All my own fault.

I repent, truly I do.
I will try and jettison my ENFP last minute-ness as soon as I possibly can (once I've done all sorts of other things, of course)...I've just realised that this sort of behaviour has its costs. I'm stuck, and I 've no-one but myself to blame.
I'm confronting the sad, sad situation of a retreat slot booked in the diary, and nowhere to go. In the past, I've been able to arrange a retreat at only a month's notice with no trouble at all, but this time there seems to be a conspiracy abroad.
Llan, my customary haunt, is full till the autumn.
The Franciscan houses I might have tried don't want anyone arriving on a Monday, and as I only have Monday to Thursday free that simply cuts my time too short. The otherwise rather wonderful-sounding Sheldon Community doesn't have the Office and Eucharist happening regularly, which kind of bothers me.
Where should I go?
I want some good walking, a rhythm of prayer going on around me, and the possibilty of processing the experience while I'm there if the need arises...Access to a glass of wine, and a good library might also be nice...Am I being difficult? Any inspiration gratefully received. At the moment, I'm considering going as far as Alnwick,- but that seems a tad dotty for 3 nights.
WHY didn't I book myself in Llan earlier? Must email now to ensure a slot next year....maybe.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Open House Update

Thank you sooo much, anyone who found time to pray for our OpenHouse service yesterday….
I was rather fraught in advance, as I was out of the parish on a CME day (at which I was also supposed to be giving a presentation about the things I value most in my tradition as a Catholic Anglican,- more of that another time, perhaps),a key member of the OpenHouse team was unlikely to be there, TeenWonder (music man) was having to hurry back from doing lights for a school play…and there are always lots of fiddly bits, visual aids, baptism candles and the like to gather beforehand…not to mention really important things like ensuring that the Mothers Union can get into the vestry to sort out tea. OpenHouse just isn't a nice straightforward, no risk sort of service.
So, I spent odd moments throughout the morning wondering what crucial thing I had forgotten, left CME early (too early to say my piece: many many apologies, T…I didn’t intend to drop you in it) and by 3.45 was indulging in my monthly “Nobody will come…” twitch.
But they did. It was a beautiful afternoon, so we had the west doors fully open and it would really not be exaggerating unduly to say that children poured through them.
More families than ever, including some who had brought friends along, 3 recently baptised babes who were given their candles and certificates, and what feels very much like a group of regulars (none of whom were part of our church family 9 months ago). All in all, we had a lovely, lovely time.
As I told you, we were working with the Emmaus story, and talking about recognising Jesus when we meet him in unexpected places. We broke bread (a huge French stick, for maximum visual impact) and shared it, while we sang "Be still" quietly.
We investigated a few visual puzzles where things might be hidden, and everyone went home with a bookmark to remind them that Jesus is walking beside them.
Each month we end the service with a rampage of children, percussion and a few brave adults snaking our way up and down the aisles, filling our rather well behaved church with noise, colour and joy…when I looked behind me yesterday, the line of children was so long that it stretched from the head of the north aisle, across the width of the church and right down to where I stood at the far end of the south aisle. I recognised Jesus, then. He was beside the little girl struggling to manage a tambourine, a possessive big sister and an impressively bandaged hand…who giggled her way right round the church.
He wasn’t actually walking. He was dancing, I’m sure of it.

All shall be well...

Today the Church remembers Mother Julian, a woman from 14th century Norwich whose own name is unrecorded (she is known by the name of the church where she became an anchoress) , who travelled nowhere, had no influential friends, but whose Revelations of Divine Love have been a huge gift to so many through the centuries.

And from the time that it was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord's meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: 'Would you know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.' Thus I was taught that love was our Lord's meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end ..

Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching,
who through your servant Julian
revealed the wonders of your love;
grant that as we are created in your nature
and restored by your grace,
our wills may be made one with yours
that we may come to see you face to face
and gaze on you forever:
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever Common Worship Collect for Julian of Norwich, Spiritual Writer

3 cheers

for reverend mommy and her team of RevGalBlogPals.None of them is exactly short of things to do with their time, but nonetheless, despite the best efforts of procrastinators (some of whom are even more skilled than the Curate) our Ordinary Time book is now done and dusted...Click on the link and have a look,- or better still, go shopping!
Seeing it there is a lovely start to a wet Monday in Charlton Kings!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Recognising Jesus

is the theme for tomorrow's Open House@StMary's. We're doing one more Easter recap, based around the events on the road to Emmaus, and will include the breaking of bread. This feels like a major milestone in the life of this aspiring fresh expression...please pray that there is a real time of encounter for those who come.

What a week!
It’s still only Sunday, the day the week begins, but I feel as if it has been going on forever already!
I’ve never been on such a roller coaster of feelings…
Thursday night, there we all were having supper together…Jesus and his mates…the best friends I’d ever had….relaxing together, celebrating Passover, eating, drinking, enjoying each other’s company. It should have been a real party but somehow Jesus turned it all round….He’d always said things I didn’t understand, but usually I didn’t understand in a GOOD way…the things he said made me feel better about being me…spoke to me about the way that God loves even a Palestinian nonentity like me.
Not this time, though.
This time his words were all about death, about body and blood…
But even then, there was a promise. When he broke the bread and shared it, he promised that if we remembered him whenever we did this, he’d be with us. That felt special….

I didn’t expect I’d have to make do with memories quite so soon, though.
But then, it happened.
The worst thing.
The soldiers came for him as he was praying in the garden.
We ran away,- we were terrified…
Watched from a safe distance all through that long long day, as he was tried, whipped, mocked….
Watched as he stumbled through the streets of the city, carrying the dreadful weight of his cross
Watched as he hung there, on the hill outside our city, the city he loved.
Watched as he died.
Jesus died and was buried.

Then the holiday that brought no rest…endless hours of bitter grief.
We never expected him to leave us like that and we felt lost, each and every one of us.
Cleopas and I had had enough of Jerusalem, that cruel city.
We decided to head home as soon as the holiday was over,…away from the grief, away from the wild rumours of stones rolled aside and missing bodies….away from everything that reminded us of the disappointment.
We’d so hoped that Jesus was going to be the one to change everything.
To free us from Roman rule.
To make God’s Kingdom on earth real, right here and now.
We talked about this as we trudged up the road to Emmaus,- weary with grief, barely noticing at first the stranger who walked beside us.
When he joined our conversation, it was quite a relief to share our stories, our questions and confusions…and he seemed to understand, - to make sense of things in a way that we’d never have believed possible.
Gradually, we began to feel better…it was almost as if Jesus had never left us, as if he was speaking to us through this stranger.
We didn’t want to say Goodbye to him, so when we reached home we invited him in, offered him supper, a bed for the night.

There wasn’t much food in the house, but we soon rustled up a simple supper…and., as is only good manners, we invited our guest to say a blessing over the food.
So he took the bread, broke it and gave thanks to God………and we knew him.
It was Jesus.
He had never really left us…
We were part of his promise.
When you break bread, think of me and I’ll be with you…..

Friday, May 05, 2006

If you believe the papers

Archbishop Rowan is cracking under the strain of trying to hold the Anglican Communion together, so it was really heartening to read Sam's account here of the gifted visionary sounding every bit as wonderful as when I last encountered him irl myself.
How about this as a quote for the day?

to be faithful, Christians need to be artistic, political and contemplative. Artistic in the sense of making a difference to their environment, engaging with it creatively, and engaging with what is meaningful (making meaning). Political in the sense of being centred on relationship, on transforming oppressive relationships into justice ('seek the welfare of the city where you are sent'). Contemplative in the sense of delight and joy, taken up completely by what is present; we are made for God's presence and THAT'S IT! God made us to be happy

Artistic, political and contemplative...for me, that's inspirational stuff!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Between you, me and the gatepost

Though I said that yesterday’s day off had been too much fun to allow much blogging activity, we did pass these gateposts of distinction in the course of our expedition,- and their photos have been waiting for a wider public for some time, so today their moment has come.

This pair are part of a collection around a random farm gate, on a very minor road in the environs of Ham, - just on the edge of the parish here. I really enjoy the fact that they are simply there, gratuitously, with nothing to call attention to them, and no clue as to why someone spent time lovingly carving them. The wood itself is beautiful, and I love the way this one looks exactly like a little owl perched on the gate as it first comes into sight from the footpath.
I suspect my children will regard the need
to blog about gateposts as further evidence
that their mother has finally and incontrovertibly
joined the ranks of the laughably insane, but these
are very special and they always make me smile.

And now she's met an ELEPHANT

Not the sinister sort that sits in the room and is very difficult to negotiate, but a real, flesh and blood, banana welcoming, hairy pachyderm.
DD is well and truly established in Thailand, sounds very happy and is blogging here
She'd love it if people dropped in, I'm sure.
Due to a change of plan, she will have a week less teaching, but more time exploring the country with a group of volunteers,- which is music to her mother's ears. Think I'll seriously consider stepping down from panic stations now and revert to the what passes for normal at the Curate's House.
Thanks, all of you, for your love, support and prayers....please keep them coming!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Freak floods at Heathrow

are actually all my fault.
Found it extraordinarily difficult to despatch DarlingDaughter (sans credit card) through the departure gate yesterday evening...Forget weeping buckets, we're talking swimming pools here. Fortunately, she is a better woman than I am, Gunga Din. When the time came, she simply turned and walked through the gate without any trauma, though I know she too was feeling decidedly wobbly, bless her.
Further blessings should be heaped upon TeenWonder who heroically agreed to come along for the ride and jolly his sobbing mother down the homeward road...and has promised hugs on demand for the next 8 weeks, which is quite a relief really.
Even more of a relief was the email that arrived this afternoon (after I'd had a totally blissful day off, featuring excellent company and great surroundings: the Wednesday walk won't be blogged this week, as I was much too busy talking to stop and take pictures,- but I promise you, it was entirely happy). She has arrived safely, and was about to go out to supper....final, tantalising line "Would really love to show it to you". Which it? The island where she is learning to teach English? The place where she was heading for supper? The all too English common cold she took with her???
I'll probably forget to ask her when I can...but right now, just relieved she's safely there, that the awfulness of departure is now behind us,- and that I have so many wonderful friends to keep me going along the way. Thank you all,- so very much!

Dave goes campaigning

save the SPCK

Save the SPCK!

We lost the Gloucester branch a couple of years ago, and that has been a nuisance. To lose the whole chain,with its balanced range of Christian books, would be really really sad.
And my friend Su would be out of a job as well.
Altogether, not good news...I'm glad Dave has decided to fight this battle.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Can I panic now?

Today is D Day.
D for DarlingDaughter's Departure.
This event has been a dream, and then a plan for many months, - but among the women of this household there is a world of difference between plans and concrete preparations.
Thus it was that on Monday of last week, DD went into the bank to arrange her funds for the trip. After some discussion, she and the advisor decided that the safest and most sensible option was for DD to take out a credit card which she would use only while she was abroad, and which we would pay off in full from her account each month, to avoid any interest charges. This seemed preferable to the alternatives of using her ATM card and incurring charges for its use abroad, or carting around alot of traveller's cheques, which always feels like a bit of a risk.
She is very wary of credit cards, having seen me worry about them over the years, so I was quite happy with this decision. I really do trust her to cut up the card on her return home.
Only, we've just had the May Day Bank Holiday here...offices closed, no postal deliveries....and the card, which was promised as a priority has not arrived. And there is nothing to be done. No option of traveller's cheques on the spot. She has a small, survival-only, sum in Bhats, and her cash-card and that's it.
I'm trying really really hard not to panic, but now more than ever I feel as if I'm sending her off to seek her fortune with all her worldly goods done up in a bundle over her shoulder. That might sound romantic, but to a neurotic mother in in Charlton Kings it feels absolutely terrifying.
Drat, blast and bother that bank,- and indeed the last-minute gene that DD has inherited from her mother. It's all absolutely fine until the day that it isn't,- 2nd May, 2006 springs to mind.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Friends and Their Limitations

Today's meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society


We need friends. Friends guide us, care for us, confront us
in love, console us in times of pain. Although we speak of
"making friends," friends cannot be made. Friends are free
gifts from God. But God gives us the friends we need when
we need them if we fully trust in God's love.

Friends cannot replace God. They have limitations and
weaknesses like we have. Their love is never faultless,
never complete. But in their limitations they can be
signposts on our journey towards the unlimited and
unconditional love of God. Let's enjoy the friends whom God
has sent on our way.

Just to say thank you, really, for the many different ways in which all of you, my real and virtual friends, show me love and care, - and thus show me God. My life is so much richer for knowing you.