Monday, October 30, 2006
In fact in the past few days some of my old marillion stuff has been played again and again, both with fish and steve hogarth in lead vocal position. I loved the poetry of fish's lyrics, and the way he tackled tough subjects with depth and some beautiful words. I also remembered how excited i was when steve hogarth joined the band, and went to see them playing their first full uk gig in London with him as vocalist, fantastic night!
Alongside all of this i have listened again to bruce cockburn (the man is a genius), some Zappa, Pat Metheney, Show of Hands, Martyn Joseph, Genesis, Dare (probably my faviourite band of all time), Steve Vai, Underworld, Freur, Alexi Murdoch, Scrubs soundtrack, the list goes on an on, all pretty eclectic. My preference now is for more acoustic stuff, though (as you may have guessed) pretty much any guitar work will do - as long as its done well.
i love the way, too, that songwriters craft their words, poetry for the modern day (or postmodern day!?!!) - alongside straight poetry, if there is such a thing, obviously.
There you are, a peek into my world. I'm off to lead a confirmation class now, which has nothing to do with music whatsoever.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
There's an ancient Christian tradition of 'slowing' which is referred to by John Ortberg in his book 'The life you've always wanted' (naff self help type title, good book - I've probably said this before) - it is something that i have sought to undertake, as a kind of spiritual discipline, something that i do consciously to remind me of God's call and sway on my life. It involves simple stuff, not always rushing to get to places, weeding out the diary so there is plenty of time to travel, driving in the slow lane, deliberately choosing the longest queue at the supermarket and that kind of thing - not exactly rocket science, but when it becomes part of the fabric of life it creates a whole new mindset. Of course i am my own worst enemy when it comest to this, as recent posts would attest, but when i do follow this course i find my attitude is calmer, i sleep better and feel refreshed and i enjoy things more. As well as this i have more time for prayer and both silent and noisy meditation. But more on that another time.
In a week or two expect more posts saying how busy i am, but for now....
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Alongside this, time to think rather than spend most of my days 'doing' - wonderful.
Naive, i know, but i make it a point to be naive as often as possible in the hope that i will be surprised by the goodness of my fellow human beings....
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
It was a ridiculously busy week ending up with a ridiculously busy Saturday. I started by leaving the house at about 8.30am to help at a worship leader training day - not sure how much use i was as i felt i had to busk the session, because my preparation didn't seem to fit the feeling of the day... Fortunately being relatively well read about the subject of worship history and liturgy i don't think i made a complete hash of things...
Anyway, leaving that early around midday i dashed back to the Rectory to get my stuff together for my first wedding of the day which took place here - a very enjoyable event with a couple who i felt knew what was going on and who wanted to make the most of the service. The bride was possibly one of the most nervous i have encountered but apart from what looked liked a panic attack in the sermon got through things without any difficulties. I'm pretty sure that my sermon was not the cause of any panic attack vibes, but who knows!??!!
Then I had to speed off to my next wedding, and arrived 45 minutes before the ceremony realising that i had no service book, i had left it in my study on my all to brief stop between services, so i had to borrow a printout which i had given to the bride and groom a week or two previously in their wedding prep service. My service book had also contained my preferred translation of the Bible passage and, between the pages, a copy of my sermon for the service! On arriving at Church i was confronted with the registers, which i had not been able to get hold of before due to them being locked in the safe and me not having a key. In the UK the registers are a big deal because they are legal documents and for the purpose of marriage a clergybeing becomes a registrar, so there are a whole load of implications with regards to having to have them clearly and correctly filled out. I had half and hour to do this, so went into high speed accurate writing mode and finished about 10 minutes before the start of the ceremony.
Despite all this, i found an appropriate bible translation, remembered most of my sermon, had filled the registers correctly and by the time the service started felt relaxed and ready to go. Both parties having been married before this was something they had thought about very hard and considered before embarking upon so they were seriously up for the service and determined to enjoy it. I was struck by how well i knew the congregation, very few of whom actually grace the Church with their presence, but i had got to know many of them in my visits around the village, involvement with school, visits to the pub and club, and general 'hanging out' in the parish. They felt like a congregation of friends and reminded me of my role to be the minister to the whole community, not just to the few who come to our Sunday worship.
The service went well, and was followed by a very relaxed reception which, as i wrote before, i finally left at 1am or so. All in all, despite the scattyness (due to overwork rather than stupidity or disorganisation, i would say) it was an enjoyable and refreshing day.
The next morning saw me dashing home in the morning to print out service sheets and hymsn for a new style of worship service which we are trying out in the Church in this village. Again, there was some stress as WORD crashed whilst i was trying to print out the sheets, but thanks to the wonder of autorecover i did manage to get things done before the service. The service itself was quite different to what people are used to here - more songs (of the contemporary worship variety rather than hymns) a loosely (but legally) liturgical shape, a slightly longer sermon than usual and a different approach to prayer. I've had a mixed response to the whole thing, but the reason we are trying this is because of strong representation from a number of parishioners to try and do something new, something with a bit of an edge, something that a significant group of the congregation will enjoy and be inspired by.
It's always hard trying something different, so i am not sure it was a great success, but i responded to what i had been asked to try and it remains up to those who were there to let me know what did and didn't work. The important thing, as the Church musician pointed out, is that 'there was some worship going on there' and i hope that God can work with that and might even enjoy it!
wow, an unusually long post, there's my weekend. Comments welcome....
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Spent lots of the week feeling really tired and wishing i had been able to take a couple of days out to recover from this heavy cold rather than just feeling grotty for ages. Things have been very busy though, and this week has seen a clergy 'vision' day as we discussed the next move for our team of thirteen parishes, a couple of sessions of 'wedding preparation' which had to be fitted in around a school governors meeting, team council meeting, two wedding rehearsals, two PCC meetings, two weddings, my final Harvest Supper of the year, visiting and a variety of 'one to one' meetings with churchwardens etc. Yesterday was the culmination of all that as we had two great weddings - one here in my home parish and one in another of the Parishes I minister to where i used to live until a couple of years ago.
The second wedding had the extra bonus of being the local hotelier/publicans who were gettting married, so having spent a year getting them to this point i was really touched to be asked to do the service myself. It was one of the most enjoyable wedding services i have ever been to or officiated at, relaxed, enjoyable, fun, with a couple who obviously knew what they were doing and are deeply committed to each other. This was followed by a great party (to which i was invited) in their hostelry, which i gave up on at about 1am, and was given a room in the hotel bit of the pub - followed by a hearty full english breakfast when i dragged myself out of bed this morning to finish preparing and to do my service this morning. But more about that service in another post...
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Now in these meetings there is usually a heavy emphasis on the buildings which the Parishes are responsible for, and in these rural parishes that is often a large, stone built, ancient (minimum 500 years old) building. For many ministers this obsession with 'plant' drives them mad, but i felt this evening' s discussions were very positive. We talked of our Church buildings not just as 'built heritage', which is an important but not exclusive aspect of their nature, but as centres of community. It may not seem particularly groundbreaking to most of you who read this, but in terms of the mentality of most Parishes this was wonderful, exciting, vibrant and slightly fluffy all in one!
The reason i stick with all this stuff, the reason i work stupid hours and tire myself out, the reason for my ministry as a Parish Priest, is exactly this, to meet the needs our our communities, to be a Christian presence in the midst of a rapidly fragmenting community and to show the love of Christ to all people in our villages. If the PCCs of these parishes are considering our role as being at the heart of the community, of offering an alternative to the overwhelmingly self-centred individualistic culture in which we live, if the concern with our Church buildings is to safeguard not only their heritage, but the active role of being Christian community then i have actually managed, with the help of wonderful colleagues and prayerful Christians, to do something that is good, and right, and holy. Hooray!
Was amazed by the speed and depth of the response from melodrameric to my slightly flippant post about novel writing, now that is a good idea! Not sure i have the chutzpah to pull something like that off, though, i was thinking in terms of the riotous adventures of a hairy biker clergyman - perhaps too autobiographical? Well, it wouldn't be that autobiographical as i don't tend to have riotous adventures. Except of course that life itself is the greatest adventure, or some other greetings card schmaltz like that :-)
Now melodrameric has really got me thinking....
So, that's me, how are you today?
On Sunday evening, when i was actually feeling tired and generally urghhhh (it's a word). I led our informal worship & teaching service which was, in a certain ironic twist, based around the theme of 'Jesus and Healing'. It was a very good service, my cold remained all the way through but i didn't drip on my guitar 0r lose my voice. The bit that stood out, though, was the talk from our curate Alexandra - as she talked about healing she didn't go through any of the hackneyed stuff about what might have happened and how Jesus might have been able to heal through this method or consider whether the Gospel records of healings were confabulations or descriptions of psychosomatic healing events. Instead she spoke about healing being a sign of the kingdom, about the records of Jesus healing being a part of the message of Jesus itself. Obviously she said a lot more than that in a much clearer and engaging way but what struck me was how refreshing it was not to hear a Christian leader feeling the need to justify or explain faith, but to proclaim it - not to try and offer rational explanations, but to allow God's agenda of healing and life and wholeness to be stated, powerfully and openly.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
As I guess is obvious, there's a whole load of things that seem to be going around my mind at the moment and this blog is the place where some of my thoughts are uttered out loud. I will be back to talking about some of the issues which are particularly exercising my mental muscles sometime later, but for now i just wanted to say 'hi' and 'thanks'.
Catch you later!
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Anyway, all sympathy gratefully recieved, though what i would really appreciate is a day off, but tomorrow being Sunday i'm pretty sure there isn't much chance of that.
Will post again when brain decides functioning is a preferred option...
Thursday, October 12, 2006
That's not to say my day so far has been unproductive, prayers with colleagues to start the morning, followed by a trip to our largest local hospital in Cambridge to visit someone from one of my parishes. The nice thing was that he didn't expect a visitor - being a parishioner but not a member of the congregation - but was glad of the company. That took up my morning with the travel in and out, have had an hour off for lunch and now back to slaving over a hot keyboard. Admin needs doing first, because it is the thing that, given a choice, i would ignore completely. Discipline, Alastair, discipline! Then prep for tonight and tomorrow, then if i have the chance a couple more visits.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Anyway, a thank you to Dr John who made my site 'link of the day' as part of his blogmarathon (an experience he doesn't seem keen to repeat - the marathon that is, not my link). His blog is gentle, funny, thoughtful and has a variety of theological and personal reflections on it that make it a good read. It's also a very personal and warm blog, and should be treated with respect (as most blogs should), I like it, go visit sometime.
Also, previously mentioned, check out the sidebar blogroll, i keep an eye on Jeff Weddle and Tom (kindaconfusing) most days as they keep posting stimulating stuff. All my links are there for a reason, so check them out if you want. Also do feel free to vote for me at Blog Village, as its fun seeing myself travel up (then usually quickly down) the table each day.
November is NaNoWriMo - national novel writing month - and i thought i would sign up, not that i have any ideas, plans or perhaps ability to actually get a novel written, but the website was so enthusiastic i couldn't resist. So here goes...
Well, actually, here goes in November, but i should start thinking about it now, i guess.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
In an effort to delay the inevitable facts and figures sorting I'm here to share a few reflections on my Sunday experience.
Was interested this morning when i arrived to take my second service of the morning when one of the congregation asked if one my colleagues was coming back soon or whether she was on maternity leave. I did explain that her due date wasn't until February and that she only occasionally visited that particular parish and asked why he was so concerned. He responded 'her sermons are very erudite..' Of course i took the bait and asked 'so what are mine?' to which he responded (with some enthusiasm) 'yours are very practical and laid back and straightforward' to which i mumbled something about saving my erudition for my blog - but he continued 'well another of your colleagues is very earnest, it shines out of him, and his sermons are getting better'. He then went on to say how good it was that all the preachers were different and that it would be very boring if we were all the same and that we were complementary as a team.
So something that i could have taken as a criticism (though why i would have wanted to be thought of as erudite is beyond me) turned out to be a very positive reflection of our shared ministry in this team. I am slightly bemused by his idea that i am laid-back, because although that is my style of leading services, my sermons lately have been somewhat strident as i have felt the need to challenge the attitudes of a few of my congregations. Which is part of the prophetic ministry we all have in leadership...(I leave that statement there in the hope that someone out there will bite).
Whilst i am at it, a couple of weeks ago i took a service during which i had a real 'sock it to 'em' sermon. I don't take the credit for this, it really did feel 'inspired', and it was an exciting sermon to prepare and preach. On the way out one of our thoughtful young people who makes it to church every now and then said 'great sermon, thanks' whilst the person who followed him said simply 'you're not getting any smaller are you?'
The highs and lows of Parish ministry!
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Chocolatey Coconut Cookies
- 1/2 cup butter (melted and at room temp)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- 1 cup flaked or shredded coconut
Bakeware: Cookie sheet
Mix the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars using a mixer until they are smooth and creamy (about 1 min.) Add the egg, then the vanilla, mixing until combined. Add your dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time. Mix until combined.
Fold in your mini chocolate chips and the coconut, cover your bowl with plastic wrap, then chill the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Using a teaspoon scoop the dough into little balls and place them on your cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 11-12 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes then pour yourself a big class of milk and indulge!Taken from baking and books blog, yummy... time to excite the tastbuds
I have been following Martyn for a very long time, and love his songwriting and the passion of his convictions, which are many and varied but spring from a deeply Christian faith-filled approach to life. I was there when he moved from being a somewhat bland artist on the Christian mainstream in the UK to an impassioned singer-songwriter who wanted to communicate often uncomfortable truths within and without the church. He has been described as the 'welsh woody guthrie'..and lots more besides, but if you like guitar based, thoughtful music then check out, in no particular order...
Check out his website for samples, including bits from his new DVD. This is not a sales pitch (despite the links) but hopefully an opportunity for anyone who wants to to discover some new music.
"...I think if you are trying to be postmodern, you aren't postmodern. Be yourself. Do what you think is right and leave the results up to God, or whatever you want to call the intelligence behind the Cosmos."
Snipped from real live preacher....
Not that you'll expect me to leave it there, I'm sure, some thoughts on this to follow when i've really thought about what a good quote this is.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Still open to comments, though. Be kind to me ;-)
In saying that we need to be creative and relate to people's experience I'm not trying to put sermons and liturgy against worship, but to remember that they are a part of worship not the whole of it. I agree totally with what Jeff writes in his comment, that worship is not just about what happens in Church, and I believe that worship is about a pattern of life in which all that we do gives glory to God.
I think, though, that the Church is making itself less and less relevant by continuing to buy into a word bound culture that is a product of post enlightenment thinking. People were astounded by Jesus teaching but were, it seems to me, drawn into faith by the way he lived, died and rose again as well as what he taught. It was the whole package. Likewise Jesus didn't persuade people through clever arguments, quite the opposite, he stated things in a disturbing and challenging way, and his primary method of teaching was taking everyday situations in Parables and making meaning by relating to people's experience. It is that relating to experience that the Church is losing by elevating 'the word' above 'The Word' who is Christ. Our creativity is a God given way of expressing who and what we are, made in his image, this should be a part of our worshipping life - both in and outside the Church building - and it is that living worship that draws people in.
My various theological studies and qualifications have given me all the ammunition I need to argue most things about Christian faith, but as a pastor, worship leader, community minister and Christian the way that most people have come to Christ in my experience is through their encounter with the love of Christ through the lives of Christians. If we see the experience of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles what really made Christ appealing was the way they lived: 'look how these Christians love each other'. As long as we through our Church structures and indeed current Church mindset, continue to focus on words to the exclusion of most other stuff then we are going to continue our failure to change lives through the creative spirit of God. People don't get argued into faith, they are loved, inspired, challenged , shaken up by the way, the truth and the life. This doesn't mean we don't stand up for what we believe in or plainly state our faith, but that we need to explore more creative, authentic ways of living the Gospel in the power of the Spirit.
Thanks for disagreeing, Jeff, i think i agree and disagree at the same time!
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Now there's not much i could (or rather should) write about the day itself, but the evening was refreshing, entertaining, thought provoking as we met for the first time this year to begin this training course for those who want to be more involved in the worshipping life of the church. It's exciting and positive that the Church at large is resourcing and supporting people in exploring the wider vocation to Christian ministry rather than narrowing it down to getting people ordained in order to do stuff in the Christian Community.
One reflection to come out of the discussions tonight was how affective worship is. The main focus of the evening was to talk about experiences of worship which have 'made their mark' on us, where we have encountered or been enlivened or challenged by something in worship that has stayed with us. There were a wide variety of experiences but the common thread was the feeling that in some action or words or event God met with people. People talked of moments which they couldn't really describe or explain. Which of course links to some of my thoughts in my last post about the Christian community being a place of mystery and shared experience.
It also goes alongside what i have been reading in 'The out of bounds church' (link in last post) by steve taylor. As i was reading through a chapter earlier today i was struck by the way that the Church has elevated the status of 'the word' or perhaps 'words' rather than the experience of worshippers, or a genuine encounter with 'The Word'' - Jesus. We hang our worship on words and carefully crafted sermons and liturgy, when what really changes people is the experience of meeting God and opening themselves up to God's Spirit in worship.
There's a need to rediscover creativity, experimentation and excitement in worship. Not just through music, or rather singing, (which is the fallback in most churches after or instead of liturgy) but by engaging the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight as well as sound. Many Christians seem to have an inherent fear of these things, and there are often accusations of putting style over substance, but this is the currency of everyday life and in our very foundations Jesus didn't leave us with a service but with the breaking, sharing, tasting and very visual and powerful images of bread and wine in communion (or the Eucharist, or Mass, or Lord's Supper or whatever). I'm not saying this is the only type of worship we should have, but it surely is the prototype - engaging all of our senses in our encounter with God.
So more thinking needing to be done. You will all soon be fed up of seeing me say this. I will need to post some images and music on this blog too, in order to practise what i preach! Perhaps a few recipes too!
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
- church is relational, not rational - in fact that is the best way to think of Christian faith, it is not about accepting the right doctrines (though i believe doctrine is the anchor that holds faith secure - but i've warbled on about that before) but about knowing God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It's not knowing about Jesus, its knowing Jesus. Likewise the Spirit-filled community should be (in the words of Prof Ann Loades,Theologian) conspiring - breathing together of the love and creativity of God. Supportive, embracing one another and the world outside - just as Jesus and his first followers did.
- we have a story not just creeds - Jesus was a master storyteller, preferring on the the whole parables to preaching. In a world which is suspicious of anything that purports to be 'the truth' we don't impose belief systems, but tell the story of the one who is God and man, the one who is the 'the truth' (and the way and the life) - the man who was and is God's story made human. Our scriptures tell a story of life and salvation, our churches gather to share the story and live that story. Instead of trying to argue people to faith we can invite them to tell their story, then we can tell ours and also invite them to become a part of the story of God's love. In the greatest sense we can have a share in history.
- admitting we don't have all the answers should be attractive not frightening, we embrace the mystery of God, the mystery expressed in the created world, in our own creativity, in the joy of life, in the sufferings of the world. In a world that responds to images and sounds and touch and taste as well as just words, we have the creative power of the one who made all at our fingertips. We are made in the image of God, therefore we have the potential for creativity and life.
By the way, thanks Tom for your comments on my last post, i hope that some of what i've written above gives a bit more to chew over.
Books for more reading (if you like)
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
More thinking on the pm church tomorrow, possibly...
Monday, October 02, 2006
In 'who's afraid of postmodernism' there is a very good broad summary of the main thrusts of pm thinking as (to paraphrase the subtitle) - Foucalt, Derrida and Lyotard are taken to church (!). The three aspects are: suspicion of power & rejection of any attempt to proclaim one single unifying truth (metanarrative), examination of langauge and its power to oppress and imprison and an assertion that meaning and truth are relative and fragmented - therefore one can 'enjoy the surface'.
This is, i think, a very good way of starting any thinking about our contemporary western culture. We live in a 'pick and mix' society where people (consciously or unconsciously) find meaning where they want - choosing from a wealth of spiritual traditions, consumerism, fashion and networks of friends both in the 'real world' and online which don't relate (as in previous generations) to geographical position. On the whole people don't want to belong to 'institutions' but to choose their alliegances by shared interest. There is desire for meaning, but one which is true 'for me' rather than 'true' in an objective or imposed sense.
Into this comes the Church, an institution, offering meaning but seen to be imposing a whole scheme of ideas and proclaiming 'this is the truth' - telling people (it seems) to accept the whole package or be excluded. So, it seems, the church is more often than not rejected.
Many people these days want to share the story, learn about the traditions of church and the christian faith, but don't want to feel 'bound' by the past or forced to accept certain wasy of being and thinking. Where we as the church face the greatest challenge is how we respond to this. If there is a suspicion of 'truth' how do we proclaim what we believe to be true? As Moog said in his comment to my last post - do we offer a 'fundamentalist' approach and say 'this is it, take it or leave it' - which offers comfort for those adrift on a sea of relativity, but (so i think the statistics show) having drawn people in, often fails to keep them in the church? Do we make everything relative and water down our understanding of the demands of christian faith? Or do we learn to tell and live our story a different way?
More in my next post, i'm sure that i've said enough. Again if there is anything you disagree with or want to say more about, or can say things in a clearer or better way than me, the comments box is always open...