Sunday, 26 June 2016

Being a Clown

Continuing the circus theme with Nouwen ....  one of his other uses of the circus as a model for ministry is to cite the example of the clown, and how like clowns we are and need to be.

In "Clowning In Rome" he comments: "Clowns are not in the centre of the events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we came to admire. The clowns don't have it together, they do not succeed in what they try, they are awkward, out of balance  .... but ... they are on our side.  ..... Of the clowns we say, "They are like us." The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same human weaknesses."

That offers plenty for reflection - but encourages us to remember that "ordinary" ministry is so important - and we don't have to be perfect!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Trapeze Theology

Just started reading Michael Ford's biography of Henri Nouwen "Wounded Prophet" and reminded of Nouwen's interesting fascination with the circus and particularly the skills of the trapeze artiste. He saw those skills as depicting how we should live.  He especially recognised the importance of the catcher, recognising that the star is not the flyer who spectacularly moves through the air, but the catcher whose hands are there to receive. He saw that as being like God, commenting: "If we are to take risks, to be free, in the air, in life, we have to know there's a catcher. We have to know that, when we come down from it all, we're going to be caught, we're going to be safe. The great hero is the least visible. Trust the catcher."  (Nouwen in 'Angels over the Net', a film about his trapeze theology, quoted in Ford.)

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Climate Justice

Being the church in the right way involves all sorts of things. I spent today at the climate change conference organised by Cambridgeshire Ecumenical Council in co-operation with the Diocese of Vellore (Church of South India) and Christian Aid. We were powerfully reminded that addressing climate change is a matter of climate justice.

Wendy Young from Christian Aid Scotland spoke of the theological principles that should guide us on this matter. She asked what it means to be part of creation and reminded us that love of the earth is part of love for the one who made it. The conference took the title 'Weather Warning' and Wendy encouraged us to move from warning to worship, commenting that prophets not only bring words of warning, but also bring words of hope. As she said, "we need to nurture a new kindness towards the earth." The big question is as to how to do that. We ought to claim our true place in the created order, but to often what we have done is to exploit the creation. Ultimately we are part of the community of creation, not lords over it. We need to step up to our responsibility to proper stewardship.

Our speakers from Vellore, Mr. Alfred Arunkumar and Revd. Jared Isaac, shared stories of the impact of climate change and weather unreliability in their part of South India. Alfie told of some of the struggles and opportunities of farmers while Jared outlined some of the environmental initiatives that the church is encouraging. These include rain water harvesting, waste management, alternative energy and tree planting. The church is also doing significant work on relevant liturgies.

Mr. Stephen Kaye, the Head of Innovation at Anglian Water, told of the variety of responsibilities held by his company and the ways in which they address the challenge of reducing water usage in an expanding community. Mr. Alan Yarrow spoke of the challenges that water usage and climate change present to East Anglian farmers.

A fascinating day on a critical issue - helping to identify some of the environmental challenges we need to address.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Path of Peace

I recently read Henri Nouwen's little book The Path of Peace, an inspiring reflection on our need of God and how recognising that takes us down the path of peace. So often we measure ourselves by our achievements. As Nouwen puts it: "Most of my past life has been built around the idea that my value depends on what I do." We need to learn that there is much more to life than that and that the things that matter the most are not measured by what we achieve.  It is important to recognise that "what makes us human is not our minds but our hearts, not our ability to think but our ability to love."

We try to work things out for ourselves. "With many others, I wanted to become a self-sufficient star." However, the important thing to understand is that peace is actually found in vulnerability and that we find things working out when we realise how dependent we are on God. What we find then "is a peace not constructed by tough competition, hard thinking, and individual stardom, but rooted in simply being present to each other, a peace that speaks about the first love of God by which we are all held and a peace that keeps calling us to community, a fellowship of the weak."

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Seeing Others As They See Themselves

I find it fascinating to consider whether we see other people in the way that they see themselves. I fear that, too often, we attribute characteristics to certain others that they simply would not recognise. Sometimes we even do it to be nice. I have been reading Amy-Jill Levine's The Misunderstood Jew which I discovered to be a fascinating exploration of Jesus' Jewishness. Professor is well-placed to offer such a perspective. She is Jewish, but has studied Christianity in depth, especially Matthew's Gospel, and teaches across Judaism and Christianity. She describes herself as a "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt."

I was particularly interested in what she says about how we refer to the Bible and how our attempts to be “correct” can misfire and see that as an illustration of how we can unhelpfully project our thinking on to others.

There is a tendency in certain circles to make reference to the “Hebrew Bible” when talking about what other Christians might call the “Old Testament.” It is an attempt to be inclusive – but Professor Levine suggests that it misses the mark. She comments: “By seeking a common term that would not offend anyone, well-meaning scholars thus erased .. Judaism’s distinct use of the canon …..  The problem with the expression “Old Testament” lies not in the labelling, but in a combination of cultural attitudes and Christian education. “Old” need not mean “bad.”  …..  It is not the terminology that needs to change: it’s Christian education. Instead of using the falsely neutral, Protestant, linguistically inaccurate term “Hebrew Bible,” Christians might simply use the title “Old Testament” … Jews should continue to use “Tanakh.” The separate labels .. prevent the canon of one group from being subordinated by or subsumed into the canon of other; they have the added benefit of indicating that synagogue and church each has its own story.”

There are plenty of places where we think that we know how other groups should think – and need rather to let them be themselves, contributing in their own special way to the wonderful tapestry that is God’s world.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Enchanted Places

One of my great delights is to browse bookshops.  The use of my Kindle and online browsing has dented the frequency with which I seek out that pastime, but I still enjoy it and, just occasionally, I find a really interesting book in a secondhand bookshop.  One such that I discovered a good number of years ago now is Christopher Milne’s The Enchanted Places

Christopher Milne is the original Christopher Robin of the Winnie the Pooh stories written by his father, A. A. Milne.  Winnie the Pooh is one of the really enduring childhood characters and still holds a place alongside the more modern variants.

In The Enchanted Places Milne describes many of the locations and toys that inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories and reflects on his childhood and the influences and impact of the fame that his father achieved. 

It is interesting that much of the book is about his relationship with his father.  In many ways it is a good relationship that he describes; but that doesn’t prevent him movingly writing at one point: “People sometimes say to me today: ‘How lucky you were to have had such a wonderful father!’ imagining that because he wrote about me with such affection and understanding, he must have played with me with equal affection and understanding.  Can this really be so totally untrue?  Isn’t this most surprising?  No, it is not really surprising, not when you understand.  There are two kinds of writer.  There is the writer who is basically a reporter and there is the creative writer.  The one draws on his experience, the other on his dreams.  My father was a creative writer and so it was precisely because he was not able to play with his small son that his longings sought and found satisfaction in another direction.  He wrote about him instead.”

Relationships are fascinating.  They are the very stuff of life.  And they come, of course, in a huge variety of shapes and sizes.  But one thing that all relationships have in common is that communication is integral.  It may be the communication of the slanging match.  That’s a relationship of sorts.  It may be the communication of cold aloofness.  That, too, can be a relationship.  It may be the communication of bitterness or hatred.  It may be the communication of care, concern, encouragement, inspiration.  But, without communication of some sort, however weak or however strong, there can’t be a relationship.  Relationships, of all sorts, are crucial for us all, and that includes our relationship with God – and this book reminded me of that.