The one about…mourning

mourn

/mɔːn/

verb

feel or show sorrow for the death of (someone), typically by following conventions such as the wearing of black clothes.

feel regret or sadness about (the loss or disappearance of something).

Mourning can take many forms and opportunities to mourn can vary. We mourn the loss of a job or relationship. The realisation that a situation has changed and we’re not going to do life in quite the same way can leave us feeling bereft of familiar routines, experiences or places and a type of mourning takes place. Most commonly though, when we talk of mourning, we talk of it in relation to physical death.

Mourning death varies from culture to culture. In the UK we’re often quite ordered and reserved, a viewing of the body is generally only for immediate family and the work of preparing the body for burial is left to a funeral director. Funerals are often solemn occasions, followed by burial or cremation and then a shared meal with family and friends.

In other parts of the world though the deceased’s body stays with the family, openly on view for visitors to pay their respects. Some cultures are very vocal and express their grief with wailing or song. Some cultures have set mourning periods with rituals that have to be observed.

Across the world, however it’s carried out, mourning is recognised as an outward expression of grief, a more visible, tangible display of those feelings we hold inside.

Mourning isn’t just culturally influenced, our personality, previous experiences and relationship to the deceased also influence when, where and how we mourn. However we practice mourning, however prescriptive our tribes methods of mourning are, mourning is a healthy part of the grieving process.

There ability and need to mourn privately has its place and is unique to the individual but there is something beautiful that occurs when a community comes together to mourn. While each individual holds their own thoughts and feelings the act of sharing together allows a deeper sense of solidarity and understanding to be expressed. In coming together there’s also somehow a recognition that the need to mourn isn’t always in proportion to the loss experienced. This shared experience is often one which strengthens community and unites those who participate. Mourning together goes further though because it allows space for community members to comfort each other, to stand alongside each other, it requires courage to admit feelings and to hold others feelings alongside our own.

It seems that often as we mourn what’s taking place is an admission of those feelings that are deepest within us. For most people death within the community or family stirs our deepest fears about our own mortality. It’s as though death reminds us how vulnerable we are and how uncertain life is. Maybe death isn’t just the loss of someone but also the loss of our own innocence and security and a reminder that we can’t hold anything too tightly.

What if this is why mourning is so essential? What if mourning allows us to feel those fears, to let them surface and to acknowledge them in the presence of others who share those feelings too.

So as those feelings of sadness and fear surface, as moments of despair, hopelessness and grief manifest what if we choose not to avoid feeling? What if we’re not too quick to distract ourselves from feeling? What if we choose not to bury those feelings underneath the mundanity of life or deny their existence but what if instead we allow ourselves to feel, to embrace feeling and to be embraced because what if that’s where we find life?

Mourning is painful, mourning requires vulnerability but what if, in doing so, we create an opportunity to know ourselves a little more, to allow others in and to allow love to comfort and heal? Maybe it’s good for us to mourn…

The one about…Religion!

I met someone who’s building an extension on his house himself, he’s been working on it for months and we’ve chatted a few times as I’ve wandered past with various children and/or the dog! We’ve talked about the new layout, steel beams, scaffolding placement, underfloor heating, he’s even tried to explain the millimetre tolerances some of the work was out by and the effect that would have. I find it all fascinating but it seems even my vast Kevin McCloud Grand Design knowledge still left me in the dark, smiling but not completely getting it!! Somewhere in the conversation we talked about church, about how hard it is to find the right place to move to and why we can’t stay here, he talked of going to church as a child but how he wasn’t religious. I found myself saying “I’m not religious either, I’m totally into the whole spirituality, soul, deeper meaning thing. I use the word God because for me that’s the word that best fits with what I understand a higher power to be but I love the other words like universe, force or mystery!” I think maybe he decided I was slightly crazy, but he smiled with a definite look of ‘I’m not quite sure how to respond to that’ and suggested there’s something about good moral teaching! Thinking I’d probably said enough I changed the subject to the doors he was making for his house and we were back to me being the one slightly bemused!

The conversation made me think about religion, and as I relayed it to Sid he rememberd a conversation we’d had a while ago about the meaning of the word religion.

‘Religion’ literally means to reconnect, the prefix “re” means “again” or “back”, and then the root word from the Latin “ligare” means connect or unite. Therefore true religion is about connecting again or connecting back into something. Religion is about uniting ourselves again with the divine, others, our world and ourselves, connecting back to something humanity once knew.

Yet so often religion has been used to divide, to separate, to say who’s in and who’s out. So much war and terrorism has been, and is being, carried out in the name of religion, I can see why people don’t see themselves as religious!

There’s a guy in the bible called James and he defines religion as:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

So for James religion was first and foremost about connecting with others, about caring for those in need, the marginalised in society, those that had no-one else looking out for them.

Secondly it was about knowing who you truly were, about keeping yourself from being polluted by the world. The Greek word for polluted is ‘unspotted’ or ‘unblemished’, which is a nod to the sacrificial system James would of known where only perfect, unblemished sacrifices could be presented to God.

So what does it mean to be unblemished? Is James suggesting we should be like those sacrifices? Or should we all take holy orders as an attempt to ensure we’re not polluted! It all begins to sound awkwardly religious if not a little pious!

The truth within the Jesus story is that Jesus lived in the world, fully engaged with the people around him. He ate and drank with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers and women; the marginalised, undesirable outcasts of society. He also talked with religious leaders and political rulers, he worked, he cried, he got angry, he joked, he had friends and family who he loved, he was fully human, fully able to be who he was without allowing “the world” to tell him who he should be!

What if being unblemished, unpolluted is not about being perfect, or about being “sinless” but instead about knowing who you are? What if religion is about creating opportunities to rediscover your true identity and reconnect with the truth that you are enough?

The conversation Sid reminded me of was about a quote we’d read that said:

The root, ‘re ligio’ (latin) rebinding re-ligamenting is not doing its job if it only reminds you of your distance, your unworthiness, your sinfulness, and your inadequacy before God’s greatness.

If religion only tells us we’re not perfect, that our lives are polluted or blemished then maybe we need to rethink our religion!

What if instead of telling us what we’re not, religion simply offers us the opportunity to rediscover the truth about who we are, truths about ourselves that we’ve forgotten. What if practising religion is about taking time out from the crazy pace of life to reflect on where we’re at, where we’re going and who we want to be? What if in doing that we realise we’re all connected, that how and who we are impacts others in our family, in our community and in the wider world? What if in taking that time out we find that we’re held by something or someone outside of who we are, a bigger force that is for us, maybe even loves us, maybe is love itself?

If that’s religion then I’m all in religious!

The one about…rest!

I like to run. When I was pregnant with #6 I ran a marathon a week for the last ten weeks of my pregnancy, we moved house six weeks before he was born so to some extent running was my escape, my way of coping. When #7 was four months old I ran a half marathon pushing him in the buggy, again running was at best a therapy, at worst a distraction, as I came to terms, or tried to come to terms with having no more children! I love to run.

Then just over a year ago I picked up an injury, my achilles, it literally was my achilles heel! I couldn’t run, not properly, not for nearly a year, and still now I can’t run every day. I’ve had to be creative with exercise and I’ve had to rest! Why do I tell you this? Well Friday was a cold, crisp, beautifully sunny autumn morning, the perfect day for a run after school drop, but I’d run the previous two days and I knew my ankle would shout at me if I ran again so I chose to follow one of my running routes at a much slower pace. Frustrated, I began to walk, incredibly tempted to jog slowly, I tried focusing on the positives, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, my mind began to wander, to think about my blog, about what I’d write about because so far this week I’ve started two blogs and finished neither! Then I realisedi should write about rest.

I’m not good at resting, often because the opportunity alludes me but also because I don’t naturally choose it over “doing”. We recently spent a week in Wales, the nine of us, in a cottage on the coast (actually it was an old police station, the children thought it was awesome and took a dress up police kit and proceeded to spend the week arresting each other!!) There weren’t the usual chores, I didn’t take my “to do” list and I’d even finished writing my blog by Sunday afternoon! So the week was focussed on being family and enjoying the sea and the sand, the hills, castles and waterfalls and each other (as well as a giant slide)! A perfect recipe fot adventure!

We climbed, we paddled, we talked, we walked and we played; we played a lot. The favourite of the week was “Hunted”. If you’ve seen the series on TV you’ll have an idea! We picked numbers for hunter and hunted, we strategically placed the buggy with all our belongings in the sand dunes and then we began…the hunter counting to 30 as the rest of us hid in the dips and contours of the coast! It’s safe to say I cannot run on sand, dodgy heel or not and I spent most of my time laughing hysterically at the pointlessness of trying to move at any pace whilst constantly being outwitted by the children!

The week wasn’t even close to ‘sit on the beach with a book’ kind of rest, to be fair it probably wasn’t warm enough! It didn’t even lend itself to cream teas and coffee shops, or strolling around quirky cobbled streets and looking in shop windows, it seems our stage of life doesn’t allow for that! Yet it was a change of pace, it was time to play and to laugh, there was time to all huddle back into the warmth of our holiday home and enjoy doing nothing in particular! I felt rested, mentally, emotionally if not physically!

Even in the every day, rest doesn’t have to mean lying on the sofa! Although I guess we all rest differently. I know that running has taught me that rest, for me, isn’t stopping altogether, it’s more about finding another rhythm, a different way. I don’t run as often or as far as I did. Instead I bike or I walk, for me, that’s rest.

In the creation poem that begins the bible it talks of God as resting on seventh day. It’s called Sabbath and the word is taken from the Hebrew word Shabbat or Shabbos and it means to ‘cease from activity, to rest’. Sabbath is found throughout the bible, from the creation poem which offers an understanding of Gods first interactions with the world through to the followers of Jesus being criticised for not “resting” appropriately on the Sabbath. Somewhere in the story the understanding of Sabbath had become distorted, maybe we still carry a distorted view of Sabbath or rest!

To understand a little more of the importance of rest there’s a story in the bible that’s actually quite helpful. However you view the bible, there’s possibly some wisdom to be gained from trying to understand how life on planet earth is unfolding?! So let’s go back a few thousand years ago to a group of people called the Israelites who’d become slaves in Egypt. Day after day, for years and years, they were forced to make bricks, trapped in a way of life they could do nothing about. Then Moses arrives on the scene! (You might have heard of him: baby in bulrushes/Egyptian prince/burning bush/parting the sea/Ten Commandments…yep, that Moses!) Moses liberates the people and as they journey from enslavement to freedom they find themselves, as Sid described in his talk at church last week, “needing something to hang their day off, a moral compass and good, strong healthy practices to allow them to thrive.”

The concept of Sabbath, a day of rest, was not an onerous law the Israelites now had to keep, it was a gift. The instruction to observe the Sabbath was for their own wellbeing, not a another rule, not another opportunity to fail. It was an instruction for people who didn’t know how to rest, who had been slaves to more powerful force which never let them rest. Sabbath rest was an invitation into a new way of being human that they had not experienced.

Our slavery might not be as obvious as that of the Israelites. Yet, what if there are subtle forces at work around us? A social media network that beckons us in, the urge to check the phone for messages or emails, despite the fact it’s only been ten minutes since the last time? What about that voice that whispers ‘work the overtime’ or the favour you say yes to even though you’d told yourself not to take anything else on? What if our culture is quite driven to “do”? What if we’re slaves to something? Busyness, achievement, people pleasing, success or just feeling good enough? There are so many things we do without really asking ourselves why we’re doing them. What if those things are OK as long as we know we’re still able to say no; walk away; stop; at least every now and again!

Rest, a day off, a change of routine, family time, leaving the phone at home, voluntarily shutting the computer down at 5pm, choosing not to complete the to do list; whatever it might look like for you, rest seems important. The motorway signs tell us “tiredness can kill”… it can! It can kill enthusiasm, it can kill desire, it can kill joy, it can kill creativity. What if we are a little tired; tired of the routine, tired of the constantness (not sure that’s a word!) and tired of the rat race (the problem with the rat race being that even if you win you’re still a rat!!*) What if we really do need rest?

What if rest is where creativity, desire, enthusiasm and joy are rejuvenated, re-imagined, restored? What if rest is where we get to really listen to ourselves and to the universe? What if when we rest we find that creativity flourishes? What if from a place of rest we can discover that awesome lesson plan, that radical presentation, that new suggestion the boss needs to hear, the direction that project needs to head in or that career path, that hobby, that friend we’ve not seen, that child we’ve not properly chatted to for over a week? What if rest allows us to see from a different perspective and re-approach life with a fresh vision?

It’s out of “rest” that ‘prodigal’ is growing…the dream; idea; vision; the possibility of exploring together who we are and who the divine might be, and from that place looking for ways to really live out community, genuinely caring for those around us. (We’ve written a few pages of ideas and concepts which I’ll post as a blog just in case you’re interested!)

So I know from my own story that rest changes things. If you’ve read my previous blog ‘the one about the journey’ you’ll know that we’re in a time of transition. These few months have offered a change of pace, a different routine. I’m not sure it’s what we’d of chosen but it has allowed space; providing an opportunity to stop, think, listen, talk, plan, see differently. It feels like an opportunity to rest from the ‘normal’. It’s not been easy but then birthing something new rarely is, but it is always worth it!

*One of my favourite quotes! Source unknown!!

The one about…the journey!

We moved to Peterborough four and a half years ago, seven of us, on a crazy adventure to a city we didn’t know and people who didn’t know us. To be honest, the very little we knew about the area wasn’t great. The ‘Peterborough ditch murders’ had taken place a year or so before we moved, carried out by someone who lived less than a mile from our house…when you don’t know an area you can be very quick to make assumptions, that along with the fact that both the church houses had been broken into in the months leading up to our move!

Alongside all those events though, the universe was speaking to us! We were invited to meet our prospective training vicar in September 2013. In the run up to the meeting we found an old bible that had been written in by our eldest daughter a year or so before. We’d never noticed but in her scribbled, seven year old handwriting was a prayer: “when we move house can I have my own room and can there be silver birch trees in the garden”. We were given a tour of the parish and shown our possible new home, where there were four bedrooms and silver birch trees in the garden! A couple of weeks after visiting Peterborough for the first time I had a miscarriage. It was a surreal time; the excitement of a whole new adventure, in a city we were slightly fearful of, without a baby we thought we’d be having. Yet the answer to the scribbled prayer connected with us so deeply that as a way to remember the baby and the significance of all that was happening, I had a silver birch tree leaf tattooed on my hand. I’m reminded each time I look at it that there’s a bigger plan and that we were meant to be here!

We’re still here and the adventure has been awesome! We arrived as a family of seven and now we’re a family of nine, with hundreds more friends! Our time here has opened our eyes to the variety that the role of priest or vicar offers. We get the jokes about how Sid only works Sundays…we can see how people think that! There is more to the job though. We have the privilege of sharing with people in key moments; through baptisms, weddings and funerals. We join with those who are celebrating and stand with those who are mourning, it’s humbling to be part of people’s lives. The role here has been so much more than that though too. We’ve been involved in the parish primary school as chaplains, mentors and on the governing body. Sid has taken on role of chaplain to the youth team at Peterborough United and then there are the relationships and conversations that grow out of simply living in a place, of doing the school run, or of taking your kids to clubs. It’s a whole way life.

Out of all those things we’ve also been able to experiment with what church might be, trialing a different way of being church. During the summer before we moved here, we created a list of ‘values’ that we thought were important for church, the key elements of what church could be, based on a combination of experience, reading and Sids training at college. When we came to Peterborough there was an understanding that we’d get to try and put some of our “theory” into practice! We called it “Refresh” and we held a monthly gathering where we talked about things of God, and pondered some of what makes us human; we shared food and formed friendships. Out of this other things began to grow, a weekly tots group, podcasts on the themes of the month and a blog!! In some ways we just began to touch the surface of what we’d like to do, mainly because the role of priest required time and energy too but also because our future here has always been uncertain.

We moved here for a three year training post, knowing that we’d then move on to our own parish. However, nothing’s that straightforward! Fifteen months into the training post, the vicar who led the two churches left. Sid took on the responsibilities of the role of vicar until the lines between curate and vicar blurred. At the end of his three year training post we were given the opporunity to stay for another year and continue the role of helping the two churches work together and become, in Church of England speak, a “united benefice”! A challenge which all involved threw themselves into. It speaks into what church should be: a place where people come together, listen to each other, seek to connect with the Divine. All of this required everyone to give of themselves, to love, forgive and celebrate…it’s a journey we’ve been on together as church. In the midst of that journey though we have had conflicting, confusing messages about our role here, some of that from our own understanding of what we may or may not be ‘called’ to do and some from the institution we work for, who ultimately decide whether we stay or go.

I guess when the vicar left and we continued the work here it seemed to make sense that we’d stay. I know at one point we wrestled with that because we’d always believed we’d have to move on. Staying became a new concept, something we found hard to comprehend at first. There’s a big difference between staying in a place long term and frequently moving. The community here have made it clear that they would love us to stay, which also speaks of what it is to be church, but it’s not that simple. It’s been painful and confusing as well as life giving and exciting. It’s been a time of soul searching, of prayer and conversation as we try to work out what it is we’re passionate about and what we’d give our lives to doing. Something I don’t think we would have explored so deeply if we’d found another parish two years ago!

So here we are, still uncertain about where we’ll do life in 2019 but with some clarity about what we’ll be doing. Our heart, our passion is to create church, Prodigal Church to be precise. Our vision? To be a church in the community, for the community, a spiritual centre of the community but with a very practical, action centred vision to make a difference for good, to go beyond ourselves and our limited experience; to love and look out for each other and those around us and as we discover more of what life in all its fullness looks like for all people!

We’re not sure where this will happen, we’re still trying to figure that out. It’s a little scary with two pay cheques left, especially when the house comes with the job! Yet it’s exciting and briming with possibilities. Life is an adventure; birthing something new is painful…but it’s always worth it!

The one about…celebration!

There’s something so quintessentially English about a village show and the annual event in our village is no exception. The whole community is represented with vegetables grown, pictures drawn, stories written, paper planes thrown, beer brewed, cakes baked, photos taken, fruit picked, wine fermented, flowers arranged, tea poured and paintings erm…painted(?!?)… it’s a celebration of creativity as members of the community bring their entries and place them on display! I guess there’s some element of competition and comparison as all the entries are judged and rosettes and trophies are awarded but it’s all in good humour as the scope of creativity within the village is realised! It’s quite humbling!

It was a weekend of celebration for our family at the end of August as we also had the delight of attending my brothers wedding. The intimate gathering of family and close friends participated in a moment of genuine beauty as my brother and his bride made their vows and exchanged rings, all with their two year old daughter swinging from their hands. It was as if my nieces innocent playful engagement brought a kind of spontaneous energy to the ceremony and enabled everyone to really relax and simply be present too. That moment was a celebration of love and of family, which continued throughout the day and into the night!

Celebration is woven into the fabric of our humanity. We see it across the world as ‘holidays’ are celebrated, anniversaries remembered, rituals performed, and festivals and feast days are observed; every culture creating its own, often unique, ways to celebrate. The Jewish culture is no different. The biblical texts reference seven Jewish festivals;

Beginning in the spring, the seven Jewish feasts are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish feasts are closely related to Israel’s spring and fall harvests and agricultural seasons. They were to remind the Israelites each year of God’s ongoing protection and provision.

These celebrations were regular reminders for the Jews of who they were, where they’d come from, and some argue, a pointer to where they were going.

Celebration offers a way of remembering, of acknowledging all that is and has been, a way of giving thanks and of showing gratitude. Celebration invites others in, it places us within a larger story, gives us a history, as well as setting a path for the future. In the biblical text celebration is often commanded, as if the people needed permission or reminding:

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”

Sometimes celebration is spontaneous but there are also times when we celebrate through ritual or because it’s the right thing to do. There are even times when we have to choose to celebrate despite our feelings, not because of them. All celebrations have their place because there’s something about finding ourselves in a bigger story that seems important to our own story. The root of the word celebration grounds it in community, a ritual or a rite ‘frequented in great numbers’. Celebration is never in isolation.

This idea of a bigger narrative, something which helps to make sense of our world might be why so many people return to church, or temple or perform some element of ritual to mark the important occasions in life. I chatted to a friend who said he felt hypocritical having a wedding in church because he didn’t regularly attend. While I kind of understand what he was saying, there is something about love and marriage that, for so many people, commands reverence and respect, and inspires a desire to honour that love within a bigger story. If church offers a sense of history, of connection to something bigger; something other or to a something or someone that holds their love, then that’s not hypocrisy, that’s a genuine search for meaning. It’s the same with celebrating the gift of a child, there’s something humbling about placing new life within the bigger story of family and human history, maybe eternal history, it’s also something to do with gratitude and wonder, an expression of thankfulness to ‘something other’ that requires celebration.

So, for many a new season begins, as children return to school, as students leave for university or as new apprenticeships or jobs are started, as summer is left behind, this new season invites celebration. For some it’s tinged with sadness or fear, for others excitement and anticipation… but there is cause for celebration as we remember what’s been, are grateful for what is and look to all that’s ahead. As we journey onwards, let’s not be afraid to celebrate, whether it’s the more solemn celebration of a life gone but lived or an energy injected celebration of another year on planet earth or simply the joyful recognition of a brand new day (a little like the cockerel in the Peter Rabbit film), let’s look to create our own moments of celebration and in doing so find ourselves part of a story so much bigger than just our own.

The one about…church (part 5 – it’s definitely headed somewhere!)

We continued our exploration into church this week, as a family…all nine of us sat around the dining table (I think it was possibly the sight of chocolate mini eggs that did it but hey, whatever works!!)

We’ve been on quite a journey, beginning with the concept of church as community but realising that community exists in many guises and we can tap into it in spheres other than church. So it was suggested that church was perhaps a community where we encountered God; but when we probed more deeply into that we discovered that actually we encountered God in all sorts of places, activities and experiences. So we wondered if church was more the place where the stories were shared and the encounters encouraged! The question then became “for what purpose?” Why do we need to share stories and be encouraged?

As family we talked about the beginnings of church and “the Way” of Jesus, about living a lifestyle that in some way honoured the teachings of Jesus but an awkward kind of silence fell as we tried to understand what that looked like…”well, being kind I think” said one and “love, that must have something to do with it” mused another?! Well it’s a start!!!

I guess for our story, as we try to work out how to be church and are in the privileged, scary yet exciting position of finding a church to lead, the thoughts we’re exploring are huge. We recognise that there are elements of existing church that just don’t connect anymore. Some churches have lost sight of the revolutionary, upside down, counter cultural teachings of Jesus…so the idea of being a church that really explores what it means to be human while experiencing the divine is actually interesting! A church that encourages lives to be radically different to the way of the world because it knows that what the world offers is not enough and it doesn’t last; a church that looks for something that holds those bigger questions about who we are and why we’re here and offers a forum for talking that through! That’s where I think this conversation about church is headed!

There is, alongside all of this, an awareness that church through the centuries has included elements of prayer, song, sacrament and teaching in a variety of expressions! Maybe there’s something about humanity trying to express a connection to that ‘thing that is outside of themselves’ that requires more than the limited language we have. There’s something about connection to the divine that goes beyond our regular human expression of ourselves. When we express our souls we often find words are inadequate and that music, art, even ritual are a more faithful articulation.

There also seems to be something about how humanity functions within groups or systems, something about how we as humans create structure and ritual no matter what culture or tribe we’re part of. Maybe as a way of associating meaning and purpose to who we are and what we’re doing!

I’d been thinking about this blog all week and we drove home after visiting friends in Dartford, we sat in traffic waiting to enter the Blackwall Tunnel and spotted this sign:

“Traditions are important in neighbourhoods so let’s invent some”

Traditions like the village show, the school fete or the scarecrow festival…(I imagine you’ve lived places with their own community tradition). Tradition exists in neighbourhood and in family too. Most families invent rhythm, tradition and even ritual; structures that allow mornings, meal times and bed time to flow; traditions that enable the celebrations of Christmas or birthdays or other ‘holidays’, as well as rituals that mark significant life events.

Sporting groups also create fascinating ritual that we just take for granted! I observed Dover Athletic fans arriving to watch a game, dressed in scarves and tops associated to their team. They enter the ground, take their seat(most likely in the same seat as the previous game!) snd observe the players carrying out their own pre-match routine. The same routine each game of lining up, shaking hands, tossing a coin. The match kicks off, there are songs sung, chants that echo around the ground; at half time the obligatory pie is purchased and the second half is enjoyed (or not – depending on the teams performance!!). Together they encourage each other as they worship their sporting heroes! The whole experience is full of rhythm, ritual and tradition.

It seems that most groups and communities create systems that provide structure, comfort and security. Church seems to be no different.

However, there has to be a purpose to those routines and rituals. Something more than just comfort and security! There’s something about making a difference for good in the world; about making connections beyond ourselves and our immediate friends and family. Those rituals need to extend into care for others; those we don’t know or understand, as well as those who our lifestyles inadvertently impact through the every day choices we make. As we realise who we are actually in relationship with we discover a greater care and responsibility for our neighbourhood, our towns and ultimately the planet. As we explore this we learn what love really looks like as well as who and what that love impacts!

Within all of these thoughts is a challenge to grow, shape or simply be church…to invite others to join in and together find the expressions and conversations that allow those involved to be fully alive. You could give your whole life for that!

The one about…church (part 3)!

Our church theme this week was ‘encounter’. I’d asked the children how they encounter God…to which at least four of them enquired “what does that mean?” “Hmmmmm…encounter? Well kind of like ‘experience’ or ‘meet with’?” Trying desperately to clutch at words that they might hang some meaning off without suggesting answers. “Erm …what helps you know God’s there?” I left it at that and let them think about it for a few days!

We gathered together in our usual chaotic style, some sat round the table, two refused to leave the train track in the other room and one was there fully focused on her iPad! Our seven year old had a friend round so they decided to build “the way to church” out of duplo…again! Whatever works I guess!

And then we talked and it was awesome! Our eldest talked about needing ‘quiet time to think’ and that helped him meet with God…one of the girls said she liked to read the bible ‘because of the wisdom’ and if she didn’t understand it it she’d ask God what it meant….one of the others said she told God her feelings…another said “well I pray”…we talked about noticing how nature reveals something of Gods character, the abundance and the faithfulness of creation…Sid talked about riding his bike and the head space and freedom just to be.

As we talked we realised that everything we’d shared with each other in that moment was about solitude and space…not one of us talked about encountering God at church! Which really made me think! Why go to church?

So I left to walk the dog and as I walked through the woods I meditated…? Mused? Prayed?! Which got me thinking about the very beginnings of church!

There was something about the first church back two thousand years that believed a different way was possible. A new community was born, sometimes referred to as ‘The Way’*, inspired by the teaching of Jesus. This community, this “way” offered a radically new or different lifestyle to the dominant one around at the time…and throughout history the true church has often found itself victimised, persecuted and questioned because it was so contrary to the worldview being lived out in society.

Today should be no different, as we seek a way of love, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation; a way that delights in original goodness; a way that offers hope and life in the midst of fear and death; that “way” should create a community that is radically different to the dominant culture! If church really is offering a different way then it would make sense that we go to church to be encouraged, to find others who are wanting to live in a way that offers something more than the way the world offers…and then to share the stories of how we live that out!

An American pastor/writer/professor called Eugene Peterson wrote:

“I was now well on my way to learning that congregation (church) is a place of stories. The stories of Jesus, to be sure. But also the stories of men and women…it is never just my story; it is a community of stories. I learn my story in company with others…we’re looking for meaning to our lives. We catch a thread and we follow it, receiving the good news that God is gracious…and then we bump up against someone else’s story that we don’t even recognise as a story…”

The Pastor pg 106/107

This ‘bumping up’ against other stories, this is how we grow, how we learn, how we encourage and are encouraged. Sharing our stories of encounter, listening to stories of encounter with God, with something or someone other, inspires us to keep following The Way! To believe, as Richard Rohr writes, that “a new or different life was possible”.**

The question this all raises though is what actually is ‘the Way’? What did Jesus teach? How do we live lives that are radically different? What does this new or different life even look like?

*see the book of Acts in the bible!!

** Richard Rohr Daily Meditations May 7th 2018