Monday, August 29, 2011

to be a pilgrim

Here's the thing: I'm feeling pretty relaxed.

There's a difference between being good at something, and having to do it. You see, I really loved being a vicar, but it's a job that comes with no uncertain amount of pressure. I don't mean to compare it with running the economy during a major global recession, but there were always things that weighed on me that if I'm honest I never quite learned to handle. I loved preaching; I always felt the burden of it in advance, and regularly lost sleep over it the night before. I'd say the same for leading worship. It was a real privilege to comfort those in need, the bereaved, the dying, those needing Christ. But there were times I'd dread the phone ringing, or the door bell going because I'd be tired or in need of comfort myself and find that it was time to go and bless others again when it was far from easy so to do.

That's the job.

I think that ministry should be sacrificial. But this has to be held in tension with the knowledge that we serve a God of love who loves us!

So I stopped. Listened. And realised I had come to a place where (if I wasn't careful) I was going to be bigger on my sacrifice than God's love. All in all, that's the wrong way around. How can I show people God's love properly if it seems that (rather than healing me) this love makes me walk with a permanent limp? Blow my words, most people just pick up the vibe.

Even I was beginning to pick up the vibe.

It was time to find a cliff & jump off it. To put away the security blanket of the life I had known in order that I might really live. To let love triumph over sacrifice: and, of course, His love contains within it all the sacrifice I'll ever need. I don't have to earn spiritual kudos by the scars on my soul. It's OK to love myself too, sometimes; how else can I love my neighbour as myself?

And the thing is, I'm feeling pretty relaxed.

Sure, there are the occasional stress related dreams. Some of them still relate to St Catherine's. Most of them, actually. (Please - not that everything there was stressful for me; far from it. The balance had become lost between life and work, that's all.) And I am not so dim as to expect I have now walked into a stress-free life. Calverley's nice, but it's not Heaven...

You see, it would be easy to say that now I have a lovely house & nice neighbours, now that people are treating me far better than when I was a vicar (you have no idea), now that I am settling into a good job I am enjoying getting to grips with, I have all my prayers answered. But that's not the point. Don't get me wrong - I am loving all these things, and all these things are true.

But being a pilgrim is about being on a lifelong journey with Jesus. Knowing him. Holding his hand. Trusting him when it's tough and when it's great. Being grateful when you see the answers and when you don't. Being constant because he is constant. It's not about doctrine, it's about relationship, and walking on in the surety of that great relationship when there is no other certainty anywhere you look.

Some of you know the depth of my questions over the last year, and many do not; and those who do, know that every question I have asked has been asked in the context and truth of that relationship. I commend it. Not because I know the outcome; but because I know the journey is wonderful and unexpected and painful and glorious. And full of love, when the sun shines and when the rain drenches you to the skin.

In that context, it is indeed a precious gift to be feeling pretty relaxed.

There is a hymn I love, not because I can say every word truthfully myself, but because it inspires me and has the ring of reality about it. It feels like the truth. I long to know more of it. The words are Bunyan's, and the tune, Monk's Gate, is one of those English folk melodies that Vaughan Williams spent his life adapting and adding to the hymnody of the English language. It works for me.

Who would true Valour see
Let him come hither;
One here will Constant be,
Come Wind, come Weather.
There's no Discouragement,
Shall make him once Relent,
His first avow'd Intent,
To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,
With dismal Stories,
Do but themselves Confound;
His Strength the more is.
No Lion can him fright,
He'll with a Giant Fight,
But he will have a right,
To be a Pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul Fiend,
Can daunt his Spirit:
He knows, he at the end,
Shall Life Inherit.
Then Fancies fly away,
He'll fear not what men say,
He'll labour Night and Day,
To be a Pilgrim. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

rise of the planet of the king's speech


I went to the cinema to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was about to book on line on the Odeon website when, fiddling around in my wallet as I was trying to pay, I found a comp slip.

When I saw the King's Speech in Cardiff, at the Odeon in the Bay, it was a preview screening, and for the first twenty seconds or so the picture had a slight shake. Nothing major. Those of you who use the Nantgarw Showcase live with worse every time you go.

But - at the end, they apologised for the fault at the start and handed out these passes so we could attend another showing for free.

That pass has stayed in my wallet ever since, gradually disintegrating. Till Saturday.

When I found it, I cancelled my online booking, got in the car, drove the five minutes to the Leeds Bradford Odeon, and showed my scrap of paper to the nice Asian guy on duty who very kindly said - Of course it was fine, no problem. Free ticket.

Now, I hadn't really thought about it, but of course this was the perfect companion film to the King's Speech.

After all, both are films with men in monkey suits learning to speak.
Both see the "hero" lead his nation at the start of a war against a seemingly undefeatable foe.
One bears the title "King", the other is named "Caesar".
Both mute heroes find themselves inspired by a teacher who is at times a friend, at times a foe.
Both are breaking out of prisons; one mental, one physical.
Both films feature primates. OK, the primate in the King's Speech is the Primate of All England, but don't you love the English language?

Any other unlikely film pairings out there? The photos above are of Colin Firth & Geoffrey Rush (top) and a monkey with James Franco (below). That monkey deserves an oscar.

Friday, August 12, 2011

what just happened?

Riots? What riots?

I sat and watched people commit crimes on live TV; there they were - kids, really, just teenagers, kicking in shop windows and looting. They weren't afraid. They weren't ashamed. It wasn't as if they were avoiding CCTV - they were doing it in front of Sky News, in glorious HD. You could see their acne.

When my dog does something he shouldn't, he does it, OK, but I point at it & he cowers in shame. Not these kids; they had less moral compass than an animal.

I watched and I simply could not understand what I was seeing. Is this the country in which I live? Are these my fellow people? How did this happen? When did this happen? Why did this happen?

Where are the police? Why aren't they clipping these kids around the ear and sending them home to bed? And straightaway I know the answer to that - because if they did they'd be on the CRB list and would never work again. Simple discipline is now impossible in order to protect children - you'll be prosecuted; well, look what a good job we did, everyone. How well the kids have turned out.

And yet.

And yet, the day after was both bemusing and glorious. The darkness of the night gave for the fight of the day. People bought the kind of T-shirt we normally associate with foreign tourists - the kind that we look at with disdain or irony - and wore them with pride: I  London. Or Manchester. Or Wherever. They brought brushes and bags and through the power of the same social networks that had been so destructive hours earlier took minutes to clean up streets, neighbourhoods, lives. Where there had been despair, hope stormed back.

Are these my fellow people? Is this my country? When did this happen? How?

Throwing perpetrators of crimes out of their homes, locking them up for months, putting them all together to plan their next jamboree - these are stupid, knee-jerk, obvious and understandable responses. But howabout taking some (just some) of those kids and putting them with the army of decent people and showing them that real people care. Look after the person next door. Realise my action has an effect. And that doing good can bring pleasure that has only good consequences. These aren't the lessons of a moment; many we try to teach will sit in class and go away sniggering. But some will get it.

What just happened?

We saw who we are. And it wasn't a great picture; but it had glories within it. So where do you want to focus?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

here goes

I guess it's the small, mechanical things that worried me before starting the new job: the commute, where to park, would the car be OK where I left it all day, what time was I due in - things like that. Then again, it's been a while since I had a boss; and there's a lot of people in the office - names to learn, pecking order, relationships, feet to tread on. Plus stuff particularly relevant to my post, people to meet, first impressions to stuff up...

I have been besieged by information. Lots of it. So much of it, that just as I am about to process one piece, the next comes in and prevents that process happening. Haphazard chunks of vital knowledge get thrown at me like a ball around a ring with me in the middle trying to catch it (and constantly rueing being only five foot seven).

New boy syndrome. By the time I've been here six months it'll all be second nature... I keep telling myself this.

The two constant questions of the week: is it very different from what you were used to? Are you enjoying it? Yes, and yes. Will that do? I don't think I have yet done anything stupid... So that's a plus, anyway.

Matt has been in a sulk for days. He's had his whole routine changed - and (like his master) he's a creature of enormous habit, so this came as something of a shock to the poor dog. My wonderful neighbours are taking him out during the day whilst I'm at the university, and that takes the worry off me, but Matt is not best pleased. His meal time has changed, his walk routine has changed, his alarm call has changed, in fact everything is different & he didn't ask for it! He's been pretending to have a bad back to show me how displeased he is. It is a pretence - he doesn't do it all the time, a dead giveaway. And there are just the first signs that he might be accepting the new regime: he is walking up to speed as we leave the house now, rather than imposing an initial 100 yard go-slow.

A couple of cultural highlights, a social moment & a spiritual kick at the end:

The university has an art gallery. I had a wander around during my first lunch break. It's all northern. I mean, all the art is northern; very brown. The subjects all look bored, and you kind of get the feel the artist was too. And then there is a room with an exhibit by Carlos Nadal, last of the Fauvists, and suddenly there is brightness and colour everywhere. It felt like I was being assaulted by life - it was a glorious, physical experience.

Today I took the advice of an FB friend and found the National Media Museum in Bradford & saw a film at the IMAX screen there, Super 8. The film was good, and I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed the venue even more - simply amazing. I loved the place, and look forwards to going back and taking a proper tour of the museum. A decent 3D movie on the IMAX will be wonderful, and the small screen there does great art house stuff; there's a film about referees at the 2008 Euro Championships right now; if I had chance I'd see that.

Last week I had Richard & Sarah over for supper. They are a couple I got to know very slightly in Ponty, and they've also moved up to Leeds. This week I went across to their flat. They really are lovely, and we had a super time - it's a real gift to have found friends to meet up with so quickly here. We laughed a lot - mostly at each other - and I was introduced to Waitrose Salt & Vinegar Crisps With a Twist of Lemon. Seriously. They were excellent. Ah Waitrose; it's so much nicer a shopping experience.

One enormous difference of course between my old routine and this is the space for prayer & worship in the day. Sometimes I used to create clear space and sometimes I knew it would kind of permeate the day in different ways. It doesn't quite permeate the day so clearly in the office now. This does feel different, and I need to get used to it. The drive in & out is a great opportunity. I bought Matt Redman's latest on my iPhone, so I've been listening to that. There are some nice songs there, and they have been tuning my heart to worship as I have started my day. But I want to have to do better, and I don't think I ever foresaw the way in which my old worship life would need to find a new rhythm.

Like everything else, I'm hoping in six months' time, this too will again be second nature. My job may no longer be about worship, but my heart remains so; so I need to make sure in the new regime & through the unfamiliar early mornings, my heart can still sing clearly to its purest beat.