Tonight at our cell group we watched one of the Nooma DVD’s called Rhythm.
I love these little films. They are generally clever, make me think and encourage me to think about God in different ways. In this film a relationship with God was compared to a song… that the song is God, and it is always going on, but the question is are you in tune with the song? I love the idea of this relationship being like a song… the consistency of the tune, but how many ways can we hear the same thing? How many different instruments can we hear in the whole? How many different ways do we each experience God, and yet the song remains the same.
“Jesus is like God in taking on flesh and blood, and so in his generosity, in his compassion, that’s what God’s like.
In his telling of the truth, that’s what God’s like.
In his love, and forgiveness, and sacrifice, that’s what God’s like.
That’s who God is. That’s how the song goes.”
The question from this statement was “Is God compassionate, truthful, loving and forgiving OR is God compassion, truth, love and forgiveness?”
I simply answered yes because I both believe he IS all these things, but also that he is able to offer all these things.
“The song is playing all around us all the time, the song is playing everywhere, it’s written on our hearts, and everybody is playing the song. See, the question isn’t whether or not you’re playing a song, the question is, “Are you in tune?”
PS) I tried to add a Youtube video but couldn’t work it out… any advice from the experts?
I have just realised that it was three years ago yesterday that I left the Newfrontiers achurch I had been part of for over five years. Back then I felt very damaged and broken, still hurt and tender from the things that had (and had not in some cases) been said. I wondered then how I could move on and whether I would regain any sense of joy that I had previously.
But things change over time. The process has been a learning experience both for me and my family and I am quite sure that if I hadn’t gone through that valley experience then I would be a different person today. I am more tolerant, more cynical (or realistic depending on how you look at it!) and I am much less conservative than I was. The questioning had started a long time before I left, but it hasn’t really stopped. I am still full of questions, but these days I am far more content to live with not having any answers, and just to experience the process, however uncomfortable it might be. Things are good.
I still marvel at the fact that my life looks different now, but I wouldn’t change it. Thank you to all who have shared in this journey… your support, love and friendship certainly makes it all worthwhile 🙂
Well now I have finally had time to catch up with myself I can think a little bit about the weekend. As usual it was fab to spend some time with the boys and girls of Courage in the beautiful Charney Manor. The company was fabulous, the surroundings wonderful and the food spectacular.
The subject matter for this years retreat was From Certainty to Serenity and it was mainly about the the questions we ask ourselves and others. Questions about God, the church, life, relationships, where we’re going, why we are here. Any and every question possible. Instead of shying away from those questions the retreat encouraged us to keep asking and keep searching, and more importantly to enjoy the journey even if we didn’t get the answers we wanted or expected. The last session we had was communion. There is something particularly wonderful about sharing communion with such a diverse group of people. The singing, as always, was divine, harmonies all over the place. The weaving together of the voices seemed to reflect the fact that the differences we all had didn’t matter too much when we all came together for a common reason.
This retreat wasn’t quite what I expected but during the middle of it I realised just how far I have come since I first started attending Courage retreats about 8 years ago. Back then I was just a sobbing mess in the corner with someone supplying me with a constant stream of tissues. I was insecure and naive and whilst I still have moments when I feel like that the majority of the time I am more confident about who I am, and more importantly who God has called me to be.
Courage has done me good. It has given me the space to find out who the real me is, and the safe space to explore what that really means. The retreat gave me space to reflect and consider what was in the past, to look at the present and to wonder what the future might be like. I also laughed my socks off and drank plenty of wine… but that was an added bonus 🙂
Today I am off on a retreat with Courage. I am really looking forward to it, not least because I have had such a tiring week and I am looking forward to not having to look after myself this weekend. All my meals are provided, I have a bed to sleep in and I can spend time with people who I love and who are such fun. Not least I get to have some time with God in a totally different environment.
One of the best things about Courage is the singing! It is totally heavenly; mainly men, often singing in harmony and I adore it. The subject is From Certainty to Serenity and it seems to be mainly about the questions we ask. Lord knows I have asked so many questions over the last few years, and whilst I have had answers to some of them, it is the ones that haven’t been answered that I am more interested in.
Finally Peterson has posted his his musings on the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It is something we talked about several times whilst we were in Guernsey and rather than paraphrase his comments I intend to take the lazy option and cut and paste!
“The disciples and the crowd are out in the countryside for three days. This is before the days of Subway Sandwich shops and Red Lobster restaurants or well-catered retreats. This is a people used to carrying food around when they travel. Jesus rightly discerns that some folks don’t have any food left and will need nourishment to get home. Wow, how thoughtful, how sweet, how unbelievably practical. I love this Jesus.
So he turns to his team, “What you got?” I love how even in the English you can hear the sarcasm and exasperation in the disciples’ response. But Jesus had a plan, a radical one that did not require any magic tricks, one that I believe serves as an even more impressive miracle.
Jesus sat everyone down. Then taking the scant offerings the disciples rustled up, he begins to serve the people. Now I don’t for a minute believe the disciples gave up all they had to Jesus. If they were like most of us, they probably squirreled away a secret stash for themselves for later in the day. In fact, in the John 6 version of the same or similar story, the disciples offer nothing of their own but instead take five loaves and two fish from a little boy (giving an entirely different meaning to “out of the mouth of babes.”)
Jesus provocatively begins to distribute the little he has to give. I imagine Jesus doing this very slowly, dramatically, taking his time with it. The disciples see the basket rapidly emptying. They dig into their hoards and pass some more food forward. The news spreads quickly and quietly through the crowd, first to those closest to the disciples then radiating out. A supply line forms as each one who has food passes it along through many hands to the disciples then to Jesus and then back to the people.
In the end EVERYONE eats, including those who had no longer had food as well as those who carried more than enough. The crowd had such vast resources of food among them that stacks of leftovers remain.
A “magic trick” Jesus is cool and convenient to have on hand. One that calls on me to contribute from my own stockpile so that another’s needs can be met, challenges me and the society in which I live.”
I absolutely love this revisiting of the story. The magic-trick Jesus definitely appealed to me when I was a child but it would seem that this compassionate Jesus is one that I want to identify with much more strongly.
The idea that Jesus calls us to bring our into the open our secret stashes and the things that we hide away and keep for ourselves is extremely appealing. The idea of sharing out our resources so that as a community we can be sustained, both physically, emotionally and spiritually, for me captures the true power of the Gospel as epitomised in the life of Jesus.
I know I have plenty of resources, both in the things I own and in the emotional strength that I have. Somehow though it never seems to be enough. The world encourage us to acquire more and more and yet the Gospels clearly show that by giving away the things that we have then we will have sufficient for our needs. The idea of having sufficient, rather than excess, is one that I have been musing on for a while. A while ago I was talking to someone about the fact that they want to build an extension on their house. I don’t get it. Only two of them live there at the moment and they already have three bedrooms. Why do you need more when you have enough for your needs? Why add more to an already large mortgage when you don’t really need it? I fully acknowledge that I would like to have a slightly bigger house (with a garden – but that’s a dream!) with another bedroom so that I could more easily have people to stay. The reality though is that for most of the time I don’t really need it.
I am so fortunate. I have somewhere to call home, a job, a wonderful family and friends who sustain me through the good and bad things of life. Truly I have sufficient and yet the struggle to maintain some sort of balance in my life goes on. This version story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand encourages me to redress this balance. To give up my resources and share my wealth with those around me, whether that be in physical or less tangible terms.
I have just finished re-reading one of my favourite books (I have been multi-tasking and reading several at the same time!) The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen..
The book initially focuses on the picture by RembrandtThe Return of the Prodigal Son. When Nouwen first saw this picture he was absolutely captivated by it and the early stages of the book document how he spend hours and hours looking at the picture at The Hermitage. His reflections initially were on the prodigal son, then the older son and finally the father and one of his friends said to him
Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realise that you are called to become the father. You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving for attention as long as I’ve known you; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right. The time has come to claim your true vocation – to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.
I love this book because it affected me so deeply the first time I read it and having re-read it several times it continues to speak to me on different levels. I clearly identified with the elder son, and yet as I read this book it kind of knocked off some of those sharp edges… edges that I know come back time and time again. Edges that I need to deal with on a regular basis. I am getting there but it is one of those things that takes a long time.
I have just finished reading Exhanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks.
This is Jeremy’s story of how he founded Courage and how over the years the focus of Courage has changed and transformed into something very different from that which he expected. In the early years Courage encouraged gay men and women to pursue celibacy and whilst (I don’t believe) they encouraged people to change from being gay to being straight, they did advise and counsel people that they would have to suppress their same-sex attractions in order to live a Godly life. Over time Jeremy became increasingly uncomfortable with this position and in 2001 they changed their pastoral approach to one which fully supports same-sex partnerships. As a result they lost many supporters, had to leave Exodus International and the Evangelical Alliance.
I have had the privilege of being involved with Courage for about 12 years, so have been with them both as an ex-gay ministry and an affirming ministry. This book charts that progress and the difficulties that have been faced along the way. Jeremy does look at Scripture on the way through the book, but what struck me again and again was what enormous integrity Jeremy Marks has show through the process. I have always known that he is a gentle, kind and Godly man but his strength is something that I have often overlooked.
This is a great read, especially if you are unsure as to how to respond to the issues and, in my opinion, should be a compulsory read for everyone who is in the church!
A couple of final thoughts on the weekend.
One of the most interesting experiences of my weekend was being a complete minority, that of a straight woman. I told very few people that I was straight, mainly because I didn’t feel it was that important, and also I wondered how people would react because I was at a conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. However, the few people who did find out were totally unfazed by it, although I did get a bit of teasing which was quite funny. It taught me a lot about what it feels like to not be part of ‘the norm’. It was a truly enlightening weekend, in so many ways.
The other unexpected pleasure of the weekend was seeing June Boyce-Tillman who was a lecturer at King Alfred’s College (now the University of Winchester) when I was there over 10 years ago. She conducted the choir that I was part of and to be honest she always scared me a little bit. She is undeniably eccentric, progressive and wonderful and to meet her again was amazing. What I realise now is that when I was at college I was really too young to be dealing with some of the things that I was addressing. I don’t regret going to college then, or studying that subject, but it is only now that I can see just how much I have moved on, both in who I am as a person but also in my thinking and understanding. Seeing June again reminded me of what a privileged grounding I had as an 18-year-old, and now I am reaping the rewards of that background. Before I left June gave me the most wonderful blessing and affirmation. She just reassured me that where I am, both physically and emotionally is a wonderful place and the place that God has called me to be.