Sunday, July 20, 2014

Swords into ploughshares - thoughts for Cathedral Praise 20th July 2014

The end of the summer term...Time for primary school children to take a bag with them to school specially so they can bring home the trophies of the year. Those who are parents will probably remember the trauma of being confronted by a child who is proudly displaying an artefact they've made at school...and realising that you have literally NO idea what it is...Those who are too young to have experienced this from a parental viewpoint may remember the frustration of those
It's lovely – what is it?” questions...
so....I know I'm taking a risk by asking you tell me what you think this is.

OK – It's a nail. Not one that has ever been used to hold things together – because it was only made last week...and yes, I AM the one who made it & I'm quite proud of it, there!
But it's also a story
A story that began amid the violence of war, as the Krupps factory in Essen turned out guns and ammunition which was used in anger by the Axis forces against the allies...but was also the target of repeated allied air raids.
A place that, like Coventry, represents the human capacity both to hurt and to be hurt by others...but also, like Coventry, a place that decided not to be defined by the negatives of the past...

I know a tiny bit about Essen now, because last weekend I met the youth group from the Kreuzkirche there.
As CCN partners they had come to Coventry to show us their particular take on the Bible passage we've just heard, for they've embarked on a project they call “metalworking for peace”.
I'd like to believe that the metal they use is recycled from a harsher use – like the trees of life that artists in Mozambique build from decommissioned guns – but actually, that doesn't really matter.
What matters is that these young people have determined that their community shall be known not for its skill in making weapons of war but for its commitment to justice and peace.
And what's more they invite others to join in with the work.
My great grandfather was a blacksmith in Gravesend, Kent at the start of the 20th century...something I only remembered mid way through the process of wielding a hammer as instructed, as the hot metal emerged from the furnace to be shaped into something that could, if I can team up with 2 other people, one day be part of a cross of nails.
I suspect he would not be very proud of his descendent – because I was pretty useless, really.
First I didn't use enough force, then I applied force in the wrong place – though thankfully not to my fingers, nor anyone else's either...
Even with lots of help the process was surprisingly hard work.
And noisy
Very very noisy

There was no possibility of any stealth transformation taking place.... no secret reshaping...
It was all too easy to get things wrong – specially as the process went on, and we began to shape the metal rod so that it could be snapped off at the right length to match the medieval nails which were our inspiration.

More than once, my embryonic nail had to be returned to the heat of the forge, so that it could be bent back into something close to the right shape again.
Transformation doesn't just happen, even when you have a whole team of people focussed on it.
But finally it was time to fix the shape by plunging it into cold water...with a terrifying hiss....and the metal that had been red hot only moments before was dropped into my waiting palm...
and there it was.

My own illustration of the process that sees swords turned into ploughshares.

But of course, weapons cannot of themselves hurt anyone...
It is people who do that, and in a week of mounting violence in Israel Palestine, in Iraq, and while we wait to hear what really happened to bring down flight MH17 over Ukraine, the dreadful inclination of humanity to wound and destroy seems particularly oppressive.
Wherever we turn, there is fresh evidence that we've learned the lessons of cruelty, hatred and fear that have shaped the course of human history for too many generations.
All those sins for which we ask forgiveness whenever we pray the Litany of Reconciliation...because we STILL carry on allowing them scope in our lives and our world.
As one of the Collects truly says “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves”

But that's where another work of transformation comes in...a work of transformation that brings hope from despair...a work to which Isaiah looked as he wrote of God's future breaking in to our present.
Because – his words are for us...
They point to something that may not be fully realised in our time...but something which we are part of. is our invitation.
Let US go up to the mountain of the that God may teach US his ways.
Let us allow him to reshape our lives, to turn those habits of fear and hatred into ways of being that are founded on love, grace and gratitude...
It won't be easy...or instantaneous
It wont, I'm afraid, always be comfortable...
"Who may abide the day of his coming...for he is like a refiner's fire"
I don't imagine that, had that metal rod had any feelings, it would have enjoyed the process of being forged...heat, hammer blows, more heat...
Sometimes, that kind of pressure can seem to be our dominant experience of God's power at work in our lives...because, you see, we're not being called to be simply nice kind people...nor even people with a wonderful story of hope to share.
We are being radically reshaped – and that may involve experiences that feel very much like loss.
The route to holiness is demanding, challenging, costly...and at times it may feel as if we're not getting anywhere.
My nail, for all the work I lavished on it, looks dull, crude, incomplete - and nothing like the shiney cross of nails I aspire to...
and I'm a work in progress too, with all the rough edges and unfinished business that implies.
But I'm en route to something better...I AM "in progress" and I'm aiming to be someone quite different one day.
That is the path that we're all invited to walk on, for we are being changed, little by little, so that we can be nothing less than the Body of Christ...signs of His Kingdom, where humanity shall study war no more.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An LGBT Video Testimony

I've been blogging for - goodness - 10 years now! That's a long time, in the quicksilver world of the internet, where things change from minute to minute, communities form and dissolve, intense connections are forged, then forgotten. I guess in some ways I found my voice here, as "GoodinParts". 
Certainly I've found friends whom I'd never have met otherwise.
I've never been much use at dissembling, so people know who I am - and where I minister - and that sometimes means I have to be rather cautious.

But if people know who I am, they also know my passion for a fully inclusive church, a place where everyone can be certain of a loving welcome, just as they are...because, of course, that's how God welcomes us.

Practically, this means that I've been part of "Inclusive Church" since the beginning, that I've struggled as the message that my beloved C of E proclaims from the housetops seems to speak too often not of loving acceptance but of fear and exclusion. It also means that someone sent me a link to this, asking me to review it here. 
Quite honestly, I can't think that any words of mine will have more impact than the video itself. 
I think it's beautiful...
Beautiful both in message and in execution
Because, at the end of the day, the story of someone discovering just how much God loves them is always worth hearing.

The Sower and the seed - address for Cathedral Praise, 13th July 2014

Reading the gospels,  there are so many times when I wish I’d been there...on the edge of the crowd would have been be one of the 12, fantastic.
To have really got to know this extraordinary man, to discover what made him laugh, or cry, whether he preferred lakeside or mountain-top, fish or vegetables…I wish I had been there, part of the story. But there are other times when my envy of the disciples is balanced by sympathy with their predicament ….They get it wrong so often and hearing that they’ve failed again, I’m kind of relieved that I don’t have to face the disappointment in Jesus’s voice, as he realises that we've missed the point once more. Because, his teachings really aren’t clear sometimes, are they!

Let’s think about the story we’ve just heard …the Parable of the Sower, we call it.
Not quite sure why, actually – because though of course the initiative of the story lies very much with man who sets out to sow the seed, we tend to focus far more on the different soils in which the seed lands.
After all, that’s the part of the story that Jesus explores at some length with his disciples…According to the commentaries, the sower’s approach to his task is completely standard for 1st century Palestine. The crowd gathered by the lake would know that any arable farmer would set to work without preparation. He would broadcast seeds and only then plough soil. As the plough cut into the earth, clumps of thistles and weeds would disappear, and stony patches concealed beneath the undergrowth emerge…and the path where the sower walks would not, of course, be ploughed at all. But from the patch of ground as a whole, there is a hope of harvest of some kind...
Great! Good story. Good illustration…but of what?

Jesus seems to think it’s obvious….and that’s where I’m suddenly very very glad that I’m not part of the crowd. I'd feel so stupid
Let anyone with ears listen.
Are you listening, Kathryn?
What did I just say???
Cue shuffling feet...embarrassed looks...because honestly, I’m not sure.
That’s the trouble with parables.
When introducing Scripture to children, it’s tempting to say that Jesus taught in parables to make it easier for people to understand the huge and abstract concepts of the kingdom of God. Parables provide hooks on which we can hang concepts that are beyond our everyday the words of the old definition...A parable, is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
But the trouble is that parables don’t always have an exact one to one equivalent meaning….
If they are a code, well, sometimes the key isn't immediately obvious. They aren't always easy at all.
Never mind.
Let's go back to the story.
The image of the prodigal sower, just chucking the precious seed to the four winds regardless is really attractive. It might seem a tad irresponsible but it’s his seed, and clearly he has full confidence in the harvest…
It's a wonderful illustration of God's reckless grace....
That could be something to hang onto.
But it's not quite enough...It sort of prompts a “So what?” question
I guess in the original story we're intended to think of the sower as Jesus, scattering words of hope, love and transformation whether people are ready to hear them or not.
He's preaching to a crowd so huge that he has to take refuge in a boat to avoid being crushed as they surge forward to hear more...and we have no idea what they did with the words of life that were offered to them that day. Some people may have been changed in an instant...Some may have wandered off, bored...Some may have reflected on his words for many years before finally coming to a decision, for or against the gospel.
We don't know...

If you judge labour by results, it does sound as if this famous sower is not actually much good at his job.
Three-quarters of the seed – 75% - lands in obviously
unpromising places....on paths, in the bramble patch, among the stones
What a waste!
That precious seed squandered where there is no hope of a decent return...
Is that the best use of resources?
Are there measurable, successful outcomes to this enterprise?
I don't think that either farming experts or management consultants would think the sower was doing too well...for the ratio of return to investment seems pretty useless in some quarters, though there are signs of promise in that “30, 60, 100 fold”.
So – what are we to make of that.
It might be tempting to smile and congratulate ourselves on being GOOD soil...We are here because we've heard God speak, even if we're not always certain exactly what He said....We're trying to live with at least one foot in the Kingdom. Maybe, on a good day, we think we're even bearing fruit for God.
Hooray for us!

But there's still a bit of a problem...a problem caused by the Great Commission...
Of course, this is our story – the gospel is ALWAYS our story - ..but it's not one in which we can just wait passively, content to be the soil
We're living in the age of the Spirit, and Jesus calls us to be his witnesses throughout the whole earth.
And that means, that we- you and me- are now cast in the role of the sower, charged with sharing the word of the kingdom.

So...what are we to do?

Well – SOW of course.

It's our turn...our turn to sow the seed, to squander the gifts of the kingdom,to share God's good news not just with a receptive audience but with those who will obviously ignore it, or reject it or even be openly hostile to it.
It may not be that telling them the good news in as many words is always the best approach...but we do have to make absolutely sure that they are aware of it, one way or another.
We're not told to be successful...
We can't actually control the soil (maybe that's up to God)...
All we have to do is to Keep. On. Sowing.

The danger is that we'll get discouraged - will say to ourselves, well, it's just not worth it..... the last time the birds descended...the place was overrun with brambles...nothing came of our efforts. Forget it...
If that's the case, then we need to listen to another voice...the one that says
Yes, but this time might be different. God never gives up on how can we give up on one another?”
If a gardener announced
I sowed some seed last year; no point in doing it again this year” – we wouldn't think much of him...even if last year's efforts didn't appear to lead to a glorious display.
If discipleship is a process, then sharing faith isn't always going to be a one-off either.
So just keep going.
Look back along the route that brought you to this point in your faith. For most of us, there will have been many twists and turns..
Though you may have encountered God in an amazing Damascus road experience, you may equally have found yourself moving towards Him, almost without noticing, as the words of friends, the life of a faith community, the silent gospel of love at work began to have an impact.
And what was true for you will be true for others as well.
Seeds can take a long time germinating...and it's not up to us to judge the quality of the soil.
We're just called to keep on sowing, no matter what, because in the end it is God himself who brings home the harvest.

Let anyone with ears listen Amen.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Ten years ago...

We all woke early at Holland House, Cropthorne.
The previous night had felt quite strange, as my cohort of not-yet-revs returned to the retreat house, having watched those a year ahead of us (and oh SO much wiser and more grown up) kneel before our new bishop to be ordained priest. Together we had been on the most amazing journey, led by the then Director of Ministry, who both spoke of and demonstrated what lay ahead for us....he seemed to embody all my highest aspirations in priesthood and I was both encouraged and daunted.
Meeting +Michael, just days after his enthronement, I had voiced some of those fears, and been assured
"Ordination WORKS".
For the first time of many I discovered he was right.

But first there was the self-conscious breakfast in clericals, next the anxiety that we should happen on a fatal car smash between retreat and Cathedral and risk either fraudulently offering sacraments with no authority behind us, or seem heartless as we shot past down the M5.
Oh, and the ordination knickers!
Yes, really!!
A whole vat dyed red at our last WEMTC residential, a secret reminder of solidarity with our fellow students being made deacon in Bristol, Hereford or Worcester. It was good to have something to giggle at, on that day of high seriousness...

Listening to the words of the ordinal, it was hard not to panic...How could I, how could any of us, hope to do this?..but  then the liturgy acknowledged this
"Because you cannot bear this weight alone, pray earnestly..."
Now it was our turn to kneel as choir and congregation sung
"Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire...."
and the Litany, including all our names
"For Geoffrey, Emma, Jenny, Linda, Sheila, Kathryn, Timothy, Sarah, Brian, Jacqueline, Mick, Charles...let us pray to the Lord" "Lord, have mercy".
The bishop's hands on my head, a realisation that, on this Independence Day, I was more fully and obviously dependent than ever before - and that this was absolutely alright.

The joy of offering the chalice to so many friends who had, quite wonderfully, somehow managed to be there
The thrill of walking out together, - NOT a formal procession but bishop and clergy setting out to get on with mission and ministry, said +M at our rehearsal,- as wave on wave of applause carried us into the brilliant sunshine.

And yes, he was right.
Ordination does work, and so much has, by God's grace, flowed from the day on which I made such a public declaration of dependence.
I am truly and startlingly blessed.