The Cave.

We’ve come so far.  S0 far from the caves we once inhabited…

We make plans.  We build futures.  We long to be living in a not too distant point in time when these things come to fruition or have been realised.  We spend our time pouring over brochures, making selections, refining our grand designs and then working longer and sacrificing more in order to achieve the desires of our hearts.  We build these palatial homes where we can feel secure, find sanctuary, enjoy the fruit of our labour.  They can be temples to our success or status, little Babels of one sort or another. 

We sit and unwind savouring our perfect sea view, enjoying the warmth whilst listening to the sound of the rain beating on the windows – content in our own seclusion from the world outside.

When the rains fall hard and the floods rise and the whole thing collapses around us in the midst of the storms of life, we realise with shock that we have built hollow kingdoms of dust – epitaphs to nothing much of substance.  We recall tales of a wise man who built his house on a rock whilst a foolish man built on the sand.  We always assumed we were the former and laughed at the latter.  But, when we discover there is little depth or foundation, we lament with the writer of Ecclesiastes that everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

We discover we are destitute, a flood victim stripped of all our possessions.  Naked.  Blind.  Poor.  We recall stories of Jesus calming the storm and stilling the seas.  We get angry at the inconsistency of a God who is seemingly able and who doesn’t seem to intervene at times.  Our perception gets skewed and distorted.

I believe in a God who humbles the proud and calls us to see ourselves as we really are.  I believe in a God who wants to make the, seemingly, pitiful beautiful – a God of rescue and restoration.  A God who will give back to us the years that the locusts destroyed.  A God of yesterday, today and tomorrow.  A God of hope.  A God of fresh beginnings.

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands.
And see the world hanging upside down.
You can understand dependence
When you know the Maker’s hand.

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want.
I will not hear what you have to say.

Cause I need freedom now.
And I need to know how.
To live my life as it’s meant to be.

And I will hold on hope.
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck.

And I’ll find strength in pain.
And I will change my ways.
I’ll know my name as it’s called again”.

From “The Cave” by Mumford And Sons.
 

Brickbat.

“I used to want to plant bombs at the last night of the proms.
But, now you’ll find me with the baby in the bathroom
With that big shell, listening for the sound of the sea.
The baby and me”.

From “Brickbat” by Billy Bragg.

 

Douglas Coupland entitled his 2001 novel, “All Families Are Psychotic”.  I think the title was memorable and connected with many of us.  It put a smirk on our faces.  It became a cult classic.

The thing is that we all belong to families.  They may be conventional nuclear families or a whole myriad of other set-ups.  You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.

I find it easy to think of church community as a family.  That has been my very real experience in the darkest hours of life or the most trying times.  My four best friends are like brothers to me.  I refer to them all as “bro” regularly.  Would we be as close if we didn’t share a common faith that bonds us that way?  Would my marriage be the way it is if I stopped reminding myself that I’ve to love my wife in the same way that Christ loves the church?  I think that means I’d be prepared to die for her.  That thought often puts tidying up after myself or other menial tasks in proper perspective…

Yesterday, however, Karl said something that really got me thinking.  I know many people find it hard to relate to the concept of God as a “Loving Heavenly Father”, because their own perceptions have been tarnished by the way their own Father’s are or have been.  Thankfully, that has not been my own experience.  That said, if our own experience of our earthly Father is the lense through which we see our Heavenly Father, then that’s a really big deal.

The thing that struck me right between the eyes is that the way in which my children will perceive the notion of Father God will be influenced hugely by how they perceive me.  Now, that’s a REALLY BIG deal!  I think fondly of happy, sun-speckled, cozy, snap shots of intimate moments with my little family unit, but I also recoil in the thoughts of those times when I’m at my whit’s end, hassled, grumpy and determined to get onto the next thing…

It’s good to have another hook to pull my attitude back into line…

Love Is A Movement

“Love is a movement.
Love is a revolution.”
From “Love Is a Movement” by Switchfoot.
 
 Herein lies one of the most engaging stories I have discovered in the past few years. 
 
I’ve thought long and hard as to whether to edit it.  Whilst some of the content or language may be shocking, I have concluded that there is something more real about telling it as it is.  There is something of redemption and rescue in replacing the labels we place upon ourselves.  I hope this does not cause offence and, whilst it may not be the language I would use, I have left the story in the original words of the author.
 
I am proud to wear a hoodie which reads “TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS” as it provokes people to ask what it means?  I’m always heartened to tell something of this story: 
“Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience. She smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.” 
I would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.
Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.
 
She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.
 
The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.
 She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.
I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes.
Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.
I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.
She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.
On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.
Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.
After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.
She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.
As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.”

Spirit

“Man gets tired.
Spirit don’t.
Man surrenders.
Spirit won’t.
Man crawls.
Spirit flies.
Spirit lives
when man dies.

Man seems.
Spirit is.
Man dreams.
The beautiful spirit lives.
Man is tethered.
Spirit free.
What spirit
is man can be”.

From “Spirit” by The Waterboys.

I was scrawling through my notepad today and came across a quote I’d scribbled down a few weeks ago, “Earthly wisdom keeps us grounded, but, we were created to fly”.

I wonder what the things are that keep me tethered, bound and shackled?  Could a justified slave call himself a free man?  Do I see my life in those terms?

Am I afraid of flying?  Part of me loves the sense of soaring.  Another part of me likes to feel that I am rooted and grounded.  A big part of me looks at the horizon and feels such a huge rush.  A bigger part of me looks to the world and thinks to myself, “everything is wrong…”

Surely it’s impossible to defy gravity and keep my feet on the ground?  Maybe I need to jump off the branch in faith?  Maybe that will not lead to my head being in the clouds, but will give me a fresh perspective as I come back in to land, as I look around me whilst setting my eyes and my heart on things above…

The Question Is Complete.

“Your lack of faith is useless…”

From “The Question Is Complete” by Aereogramme.

It’s that time of year again…the papers and television shows chronicle the highlights and lowlights of the year fading out.  We look back before looking forward.

How would you sum up 2009?  What words or pictures would you use?  What were the defining moments?  Could you make sense of them at the time?

Mine is here.  It’s a post I wrote on this blog back in April.  It all seems so much clearer now as another year ends.  The third interpretation in the blog post seems to ring true.  As 2009 ebbs away I have laid down worship leading and small group leading.  Family life will change in 2010 as we eagerly await a new arrival in May.  Work brings new responsibilities and new contacts – even with surveyors who share my love of surfing!

The lure of the sea with all its symbolism pans large on my horizon and I’ve been spending much less time on my blog and much more getting this off the ground.

Here’s to the New Year!

I Gotta Feeling

“I gotta feeling,

That tonight’s gonna be a good night.

That tonight’s gonna be a good night.

That tonight’s gonna be a good, good, night”.

From “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas.

I’ve written frequently and lovingly about the little small group of people who have inhabited our home most Tuesday evenings for the past 3.5 years.  Something that started off small has grown organically and I often wondered whether I could imagine my life without them all sat around our dining table chatting, laughing and eating?

Over the years some folks have joined us for a time and moved on, but most of the group have been fairly consistent.  These were not people we knew before but, whilst we don’t see each other a great deal through the rest of the week,  these folks feel like family. 

We often say that church is not the buildings but, rather, it is the people.  Whilst I love our church gathered, this small group collective has become church community to one another in a very real way.  Without these individuals, I know my life would have been much poorer these past few years.  They have brought so many laughs, tangents of discussions, new books, resources and ideas into our lives.  They have helped to continue to shape my thinking, to deconstruct some old notions, to re-examine my beliefs.

We met for the final time as this wee group on Tuesday.  I really wondered if it was going to be an emotional evening?  It actually felt like the perfect end to a chapter.  Before everyone left, we stood in a circle and just prayed blessing, guidance and a commissioning over one another.  It was hugely meaningful and uplifting. 

As people left, we all talked excitedly of seeing one another at the Carols by candlelight service on Sunday evening – almost longing to ensure that we don’t lose the cohesion and friendships we have developed.  So, in a very real way this is the end of an era.  Despite that, I am genuinely excited to see what tales we will trade a year on from now as we each re-orientate ourselves into 2010.

Have You Fed The Fish?

“Sometimes you’ve got to rewind to go forward.
There’s some good times around the corner.”

From “Have You Fed The Fish?” by Badly Drawn Boy.

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The other weekend I headed up to the North West Coast of Scotland with seven others.  The minibus drive through the glens brought us closer to stags than I have ever been as they sheltered in the comparative warmth of the valley in the wee small hours.  We awoke to the beauty of the view from our lochside cottage on Saturday morning to see a dusting of snow on the hilltops.

We drove north to a secret spot and watched the lines on the water come across the horizon with increased rhythm as the tide withdrew and the swell built.  We stripped off in the November air and clambered into our wetsuits, trying to read the sea and the positioning of the rocks on the reef break. 

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I felt exhausted just paddling out beyond the whitewater and was happy to just sit on my surfboard and lap up the scenery as I looked over towards the Hebridies.

Truth be told, I was out of my depth, nervous of undoing my knee’s gradual recovery and scared of dashing my board or body on the rocks and boulders below and on the shoreline.  I felt unsteady, tired, injured and out of my comfort zone.  The few waves I tried for took me off with such force that I felt every ligament pulled and stretched close to snapping point as I went through the under surface washing machine desperately trying to protect my head from being whacked.

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The afternoon session on the beach break was gorgeous, but I just couldn’t get my technique together despite the near perfect conditions and beautifully peeling waves…

Saturday night, I felt quite discouraged, out of practice, injured and a bit of a fraudster.  Maybe I should sell my board and wetsuit and recognise I’m getting older…

Sometimes, we just need to humble ourselves, stop pretending and recognise our limitations.  There are times to ask advice and questions – to be prepared to take a few steps backwards, to deconstruct notions and rebuild things afresh – to see ourselves as others do and to learn from that – to reposition ourselves – to stop battling against the waves in our own strength, using our own technique and bad habits.   

On Sunday morning we returned to the reef break.  I sat the session out, resting my sore knee and simply enjoying the scenery and the sound of the ocean.  I just took the time to feed my soul and to find pleasure in everyone else’s stoke.

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We returned to the beach in the afternoon and, having constantly repeated all of the advice from the day before, it all came together with me catching most of the waves I went for. 

The waves were cresting perfectly and with precise rhythm as the spray projected small rainbows in the offshore wind behind the line-up.  I came out of the water under a setting sun as the stars began to light up, exhausted but deeply chuffed and focussed.

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I need humility.  I need to listen.  I need a different stance at times.  I need discipline.  I need practice.  I need focus on the areas I need to work on.  I need to get fitter.  I love the rush.  I love the sence of feeling so small amidst creation.  I love to hear the whoops of my friends’ delight when the conditions come together or someone catches a really great ride.

Maybe the lessons reach far beyond surfing?

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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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