Archive for February, 2009

Must I Paint You A Picture? (Part 2)

“Must I paint you a picture

About the way that I feel?

You know my love for you is stronger.

You know my love for you is real.”

From “Must I Paint You A Picture?” by Billy Bragg.

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This forms the second part of  two halves.  The previous post can be linked here.  It explains an exercise we did when half of those gathered at a meeting a few weeks ago were asked to face a wall, unaware of who would then stand behind them and to ask God to reveal a picture, verse or impression that they should share with the person behind them.

I was stood behind someone I’ve never met before, but whom I know is held in high regard by many in our congregation.  He said that he felt he had seen a picture of a fruit tree –  a peach tree –  and that the fruit was really ripe.  What does it mean?  I think I know what it relates to, but I’m not sure what the interpretation is.

I guess I’d been thinking ahead of the meeting about how my life looks in terms of how I spend my time.  It is largely taken up by work, family and church commitments.  Despite the pressure of work deadlines, I am trying to find time for the things of God in all of that – whether it’s to work with all my best efforts, to influence the office culture or environment or to catch up socially with people I ought to.  I sometimes I wonder how much of a witness I am at work as I often just have my head down trying to maintain focus and get things done…Right now things are very demanding and many evenings are spent back in the office (after I’ve made it home to have meal with my family and be their for my daughter’s bath time) with me eventually making it home only to collapse into bed.  It’s not always like that, but right now is one of those periods.

Family life is great and there’s loads to be thankful for, but, it still demands (rightly) a huge amount of my time and energy.

Church life is also busy with organising, preparing for and facilitating a weekly small group, preparing and leading the music parts of our evening services once a month, helping drum at a friend’s church service once a month and assisting us find a property solution to our growing congregation.

Maybe the picture means that as I grow older, I am growing into the person I am meant to be?  Maybe the fruits of the spirit are more evident in my life than they once were? (that sounds pious and unlikely as I know I still have a long way to go)  Maybe, as I use these different skills I have been gifted with, it is pleasing to God?

Maybe the picture means that the fruit is ripe and is to be enjoyed by others – the benefactors of my efforts?

Maybe the fruit is ripe and ready to fall?  Maybe I have grown to fullness in some of these areas of life and it is time to hand those things over before the fruit gets over-ripe and rots?  Maybe the tree was overladen?  My gut instinct is that it is this latter interpretation that is more accurate of how life actually is right now.

We then went to pray in groups of three.  As we shared something for prayer, we were encouraged to wait in silence for a minute or two – again asking God to reveal whether there was anything He wanted us to share – a picture, a scripture, an impression, etc and then to share that with the person being prayed for, to see if it resonated and then to pray into that. 

When asked what people could pray for for me, I shared something of the above (not the picture – just the question about whether I am doing all that I ought to be or whether I should do less and do it better?).  One of the guys praying said that after the moment or two of silence he just sensed the word “blessing” and that is what I was to others.  He talked particularly of my role in leading music at church (which was an encouragement as I’d been a bit frustrated and discouraged by the previous Sunday night’s service). 

My wife was also in the group and she thought she saw a picture of a jigsaw which had a picture of the sea on it.  The corner piece was missing to complete the picture and there were a few final pieces piled on top of the bigger picture, so she couldn’t see exactly what the picture was…

One of the most helpful things I have done in my Christian life of late was a thing called the Network Course.  It helps explore, establish and affirm natural abilities and spiritual gifts,  From it I learned that my gifts are creative communication, faith and encouragement.  At the time I was leading worship once a month and that seemed like a natural outlet for these things.  I used to try and tell stories or set the scene or use DVD clips to help communicate and encourage us all into God’s presence.  As church has grown, I seem to spend less time doing those things as others try to cram loads of announcements, testimonies, DVD clips, etc into the space we have.  I spend more time just getting lost in my drumming and I concentrate on doing that as well as I can.  I found myself leading worship when our church was a very different place to what it is now.  We were really short of gifted musicians back then and short of folks who wanted to see something more contemporary happen musically.  I stepped into  a gap, explored it, felt anointed and forgiven when I made mistakes.  I wonder if that was a role for a season and whether there are others who could more naturally organise and lead that whilst I revert to just getting stuck back into my drumming?  Is that what this is all about? 

Maybe my blog is a good means of communicating creatively for someone as softly spoken as me?  Maybe hosting our small group and helping facilitate something like the art project linked here is more fitting just now?

Would that give me more time to feed my soul in other ways?  As an individual and as a family we love being near water.  Would that give me the time to spend with my family on the beach or by the sea?  To enjoy the view?  To walk and shoot the breeze?  The sea is a powerful image for me due to my love of padlling about and falling off my surfboard and also because of a recurring dream I had when I was going through a particularly difficult period about 10 years ago.  There is something about the vastness of the sea that enables me to see how big and awesome God is and how small I am.  Why is that picture incomplete?

What does it all mean???

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Must I Paint You A Picture? (Part1)

“Must I paint you a picture

About the way that I feel?

You know my love for you is stronger.

You know my love for you is real.”

From “Must I Paint You A Picture?” by Billy Bragg.

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A couple of weeks back we had a small group leaders’ meeting at church to help us to assist our small groups to pray together.  Exciting, huh?

Well, that ironic tone was kind of my attitude ahead of the meeting if I’m honest.  I mean, our little collective have started meeting weekly rather than fortnightly and tried to place more of an emphasis on praying on alternate weeks – but have we really embraced it?  We know that it is right and important, but the topic isn’t that gripping is it?  Yet, when Karl has commented that we can get 1000 people through our services on a Sunday and only a handful at the church prayer meeting it does beg a whole bunch of questions.  Why do we think it’s boring?  Do we really believe it changes things?  Do we need to learn to pray in new and different ways?

Anyhow, the session was led by Ollie Clegg from Holy Trinity in Wester Hailes and was truly awesome.  Man, he has some amazing stories to tell.  He made me realise how much of my prayer life is still a one way conversation.  How much time do I actually spend in silence or listening?

He split us into two groups.  One group had to face the wall and close their eyes.  The rest of us had to stand behind them, guys behind guys and girls behind girls.  Many of us didn’t know the person in front of us and the person facing the wall had no idea who was behind them.  We then spent a few moments in silence just asking if God had anything He wanted to show us or say.  Then all the people facing the wall had to turn around and just tell the other person whatever impression, picture or verse of scripture had come to mind.  Before you think we are a bunch of wackos, none of us were used to this kind of thing.  People shared sheepishly, but did so nonetheless.  When Ollie asked how many of those who shared stuff were encouraged? – almost all the hands went up.  Same reaction for those who had received from those who had been facing the wall.  Then we all swapped over, albeit everyone shuffled so that, once again, those now facing the wall didn’t have a clue who was behind them.

Later we split into groups of three.  We asked what someone wanted prayer for.  Rather than barging right in there, we spent a minute or two in silence asking God for a picture or verse or impression.  We then shared whatever we had got and asked if it connected with the person in any way? Then we prayed into it.  It was hugely helpful.

I have tried praying this way for the past couple of weeks.  I have had two pretty clear pictures for folks – one of which I will share with the family involved, because I think it will bring encouragement – the other I won’t because I think, just like a previous picture and dream I have had for that person, it serves to remind me to keep praying for them – even if at times I feel like my prayers fail to collide with their situation…

White Chalk

chalk-horse

“White chalk hills are all I’ve known
White chalk hills will rot my bones
White chalk sticking to my shoes
White chalk playing as a child with you

White chalk sat against time
White chalk cutting down the sea line
I know Mary’s by the surf
On a path cut 1500 years ago

And I know these chalk hills will rot my bones

Dorset’s cliffs meet at the sea
Where I walked
(Our unborn child in me)
White chalk
(Poor scattered land)

Scratch my palms
There’s blood on my hands”

From “White Chalk” by PJ Harvey

Someone whom I respect and admire enormously sent me an email link this week.  I think it speaks a lot of truth of how we engage with culture and art (in whatever medium).  I think it maybe captures a little bit of what we are trying to facilitate and achieve as a small group (albeit our attempt will be to a much more meagre extent) with our idea for creating a gallery space next month for which you can find more details here.

Connecting with culture – It’s Just a Big White Horse?

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Mark Wallinger’s proposal to erect a 50 metre-tall horse on the Kent
marshland has understandably attracted widespread media attention.

The work draws on a very English pastoral tradition in art – from the
white figures in the Chalk Downs to the lithe racehorses of Stubbs.
The sponsors hope that it will repeat the popular success of Antony
Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’. Both share a character far from hushed
reverence in tidy drawing rooms. They are industrial-scale objects,
forged and fettled from steel plate, that the common man is allowed to
like, free of intellectual pretensions.

Yet for all its scale and technical ambition, Wallinger’s new
sculpture is disappointingly conservative. If the ‘Angel’ is about the
machine age, the ‘Horse’ is about our agricultural heritage. Its
origins lie in a romantic idea of England – a country of ‘long shadows
on cricket grounds and warm beer’, as John Major once had it. Despite
being a winner of the Turner Prize – the cutting edge of bad-boy art –
we seem to be lacking the artist’s unblinking critical eye on his
culture.

For the Christian, artistic expression offers at least two
possibilities for cultural engagement. Firstly, authentic art stems
from having a committed worldview. God makes it clear to us in the
Bible that the church is a nation set apart, with a higher king, and a
different mission. This should lead Christians to hold a distinctive
critique on their cultural surroundings.

Secondly, we have a particular insight into the nature of beauty
because of our restored relationship to God. Art and beauty could be
said to exist in order to provide a foretaste of our eternal home with
the Father. When we look out at creation, or consider the place of
craft in the biblical accounts of the tabernacle and temple, there is
little doubt that our God has an aesthetic sensibility, and a regard
for beauty, that we inherit.

‘Art’, wrote HR Rookmaaker, ‘has meaning as art because God thought it
good to give art and beauty to humanity.’ As humans, we can appreciate
beauty in art, but we need to apply our minds in unpacking the
worldview that underpins it.

And perhaps the ‘White Horse’ – whilst striking and beautiful – merely
laments a lost identity without offering a commentary on why this
might be important now. Art’s role is to speak in intangibles,
ambiguities and essences, and allow the viewer to join the dots.
Whether it will be a vision of England that resonates with the public
remains to be seen, but, as with all art, we would do well to think
through its origins.

John Lee

You Are My Joy

“You are my joy,

You are my joy,

You are my joy.

You are my…JOY!

And I’m laughing so hard,

I’m laughing so hard,

I’m laughing so hard…”

From “You Are My Joy” by David Crowder* Band.

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So I write a lot about the little small group of people who inhabit our home weekly and who do life together.  We’re pretty good at talking, questioning, pondering and going off on tangents of discussion, but, how good are we at actually making a difference to the world around us?  As a wider congregation we have decided to cancel small groups for a fortnight in March in order to encourage us all to actually get involved in something that the church does in the community or to dream something new up.

Because our little small group all work in different fields and live in different parts of Edinburgh, we have always found it difficult to identify a particular area where we could collectively direct our efforts.  As you can see from the photo above, two weeks ago we spread some wallpaper out and scribbled ideas all over it.  It was exciting to see how big we could dream.  Now it seems a bit more distilled.

So what have we decided to do?

With the world so full of bad news, we just want to bring some good news.  Actually, we want to bring on the joy.  So, we’ve decided to facilitate an art exhibition.  We’re going to invite artists to display work that will evoke a sense of joy.  We’ll invite people who wouldn’t classify themselves as artists to have a go at producing something of postcard size that we could display for sale – maybe this will unlock a new means of self expression for some?  We’re going to commandeer some space in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket and display the work and hope that people will interact with it.  The works will be for sale and, instead of charging the artists a commission, we’ll gather the equivalent and give it away to local causes who really bring joy and hope and make a difference in this city.  We’ll create a blog to track the project.  Maybe we’ll photograph it, make some postcards and post them to folks chosen at random from the phone book and bringing them some messages of joy, hope and good news – guerrilla evangelism if you like…

There’s a lot to organise, but, hopefully through it we will: engage artists in the joy of creating; connect with people who can find pleasure in the work and; raise some funds to help encourage, support and affirm worthwhile organisations who offer a life line.  Hopefully that just brings a little joy to the world…

Who Do You Love?

“Would you like who you were if you met them some place?
Would you recognise the lines on a stranger’s face?
Oh, would you know yourself as good as I know you?

yeah… who d’ya love?

From “Who Do You Love?” by Mojave 3.

As I type these thoughts at the end of the weekend, I’m reflecting on the fact that today was my wife’s birthday.  It’s the 17th one we’ve spent together.  I guess we couldn’t imagine then what life would look like now.  I wonder what the 20 year old versions of us from back then would make of the thirty something year old versions of us now?  Would we recognise the people we’ve grown into and would we be proud of them? 

Tonight may have involved discussions about relatively mundane things like budgeting and trying to figure out what to do as her ageing car begins to play up again or how to juggle work and childcare as our four year old is restless in bed with a high temperature, but that’s just real life.

Another year, another bunch of things to be thankful for and challenges we’ve faced together.  In some ways I don’t feel that much older than when we first met…Then and again, look who I still take my cues from – even though they’re now in their fifties if you watch the attached in its entirety you’ll see why I still reckon Sonic Youth have provided some of the most intense gigs I’ve had the joy of witnessing.

Tony’s Theme

“I am Tony, super bicycle Tony, I’m racing
Spitfire turn and pop a wheelie, burn and evil chasing
I’m waving bye, bye, bye, bye, bye
I got a card in my spokes
I’m practicing my joke, I’m learning”

From “Tony’s Theme” by Pixies.

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The above song still sums up all those childhood memories of tearing around on various bikes…a Raleigh Tomahawk to begin with and a series of BMXs in my adolescent and teenage years.

Even in my thirties my wife decided a child trailer was a safer option for my bike than a child seat for fear of me inadvertently pulling bunny hops or trying to jump off something whilst forgetting I had a toddler in tow (quite literally).

Sadly, this week I let the snow get the better of my cycling to work.  Mind you inside every bus there are a bunch of drivers who have let go of the steering wheel…


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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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