Posts Tagged 'doing life together'

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.

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Testimony.

“I know what you’re gonna say when things don’t go my way.

You say “I don’t fault your faith.  I still think that it’s true”.

I know what you’re gonna do when faced with people like me.

You say “I don’t know what you want, but this is not what you need”.

And I want to know, I want to know.

Why everybody looks to the past to be their testimony?

When all that I can recall is I was bored and lonely.

Tell me what’s wrong with today?  Tell me what’s right about tomorrow?

And I can’t believe you when I know that you’re wrong.

Why can’t you wake up and see that we are not who we claimed we could be?

I know what you believe, but, you’re not the same as me,

 so don’t push me around and tell me the same old story.

When everybody looks to the past to be their testimony.

When all that I can recall is was I was bored and lonely.

Tell me what’s wrong with today?  Tell me what’s right about tomorrow?

From “Testimony” by calamateur.

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We all love stories.  We identify with characters, root for the under-dog, look to the hero, get sucked into the story and anticipate the way it will play itself out.

What’s your story?  What’s mine – and how much of it would I willingly tell you if you asked me that question?

We have this tradition in Christian circles where people give their “testimony”.  I recall as a teenager that it was almost something that was expected in youth group circles.  It’s not something I’ve done in that sort of public speaking format since I was about 17.  There is something great about hearing people’s stories, but that sort of set-up isn’t the kind of thing that would ever naturally pop into my typical conversation. 

A couple of years ago myself and three other thirty-somethings decided to all write down our “testimonies” and email them to eachother.  It was interesting to realise that we’d all lost a bunch of dreams that we had held at 17.  Life looked very different now and involved a whole load of responsibilities that would have scared the living daylights out of our teenaged selves.  And yet, these were the places and situations we all found ourselves in.  It wasn’t a case that we had arrived, but that we were still journeying, still trying to make sense of things and figure stuff out.  Still trying to model Christ and make wise decisions whilst also living with the consequences of decisions we’d already made.

The older we get, the more stories we have and the harder I find it to draw out what the real life affirming or defining moments are.  They are numerous and they still occur fairly regularly.

It’s been good to chat with the little small group of folks who inhabit our home weekly about all our hang ups with “evangelism” and all our negative experiences of it.  So many of us have been fed a guilt trip about “making the most of every opportunity” and being so scared of seeming weird or thinking we need to have a different personality or a PhD in theology and apologetics to actually share our faith with someone.  As a result we stay silent all too often.

We’ve been chatting around some DVDs called “Just Walk Across The Room” and it’s been quite liberating to realise all we’re really meant to do is live our lives in a transparent way, to be real, to form genuine friendships with no ulterior motives – to preach the gospel and only when necessary to use words.

That said, I’m trying to figure out what my story actually IS?  How do I explain it in my own words, with brevity and clarity so that I always have an answer for the hope I have within?

Metamorphis

Hello friend, it’s been some time,
Since I’ve sat at your table and drank your wine.
Worldly lies, empty skies,
But only you can satisfy

Can I be somebody? Not what they want me to be?
Just a pale reflection of what you want me to be”.

From “Metamorphis” by Delirious?


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Who would attend your ideal dinner party?  Who would provide interesting conversation as the aroma of strong coffee scented the room, as wine was drained to top up people’s glasses, as individuals dabbed their dampened fingers on their plates savouring every last crumb of food and as the wee small hours beckoned?  Whose stories would you want to gather in close around the table to hear unfold?  Whose pearls of wisdom would you relish to hear?  Whose jokes or stories would leave you laughing so hard that your sides ached as you gasped for breath and were left defenceless against as tears gathered in your moist eyes?

Eight of us gathered around our table one evening this week.  Feasting on a simple selection of nice breads, red wine and grape juice, great cheeses, light salad and meat.  There was something more than symbolic in the food we shared – the breaking of bread, the pouring of wine.  There was a recognition of provision, of daily bread.  Here was plenty with no need to be gluttonous.  There was a thankfulness not just for food, but for friendships which have developed, for community, for journeying together.  There was discussion of how the future might look and how we could encourage, affirm and support one another in that.  There was little that was superficial.  There was much that was real.

I got to thinking about all the other folks who come through our door, sit around our table or chat on the phone or via email or texts.  So many people whom I know life would be all the less rich for not knowing.  All the individuals who may look like their lives are attractive, who have loads to be thankful for, but whom all have their own battles to face:  hospitalised parents; broken family communication; a loss of confidence in the very institution they have committed their life’s study and work to; financial issues; miscarriages; prisons both metaphorically and physically; relationship issues; fear of facing an uncertain future alone; a realisation that life hasn’t played out the way they might have dreamed of when they were younger; struggles with sexuality; mental illness; sleep deprivation; pressure of employer expectation, to name but a few.

Life is complicated.  We’re not meant to face it alone.  I think we were made for relationship.  That doesn’t just mean boyfriends or girlfriends or life partners, but real and lasting friendships.  Accountability, encouragement, affirmation and mutual support.  I think it means community.  I think that for me church is not a place I go on Sundays (grateful as I am for that place and the leadership there) but the wider group I belong to – scattered throughout the country, facing different situations and periodically sat in one another’s company regaling tales, sharing food, listening intently and knowing we will walk back into our ordinary lives carrying those others with us in our hearts, minds and very spirits.

No Cover Up

“No Cover up,
Just so much trouble.
No cover up,
I’m bent in double.
No cover up,
Just wreck and rubble of the person I was.

I am broken and I stand accused.
Is there someone who can let me loose?
If you find the answer make careful note.
I could use your pardon and a lot of hope.
I’m getting to that part at the end of the rope.

No cover up,
I feel the burning.
No cover up,
Nor time for turning.
No cover up,
I hope I’m learning some honesty,
some honesty.”

From “No Cover Up” by Duke Special.

The past few weeks have been draining in ways.  I’ve willingly journeyed with three sets of friends and family through some fairly major events and life decisions.  Part of my thoughts and mind has almost constantly been with them – wondering, thinking, yearning, praying…

It’s been a rollercoaster and the situations are all still unresolved.  The seeming outcome in some of them is different from what those involved might have hoped for.

The whole thing has given me a fresh perspective on family and vulnerability.  People who are not my biological family have become part of a larger extended family through friendship, honesty and the support we offer eachother. Other actual family relationships seem to have been restored to a better state of health because things have been said that needed to be said – hard things during tearful conversations.  Trite advice, passive aggression or defensive dis-interest has been replaced with honesty.  Superficiality has been removed and replaced with something real.  There has been a sharing of angst, pain, doubt and uncertainty. 

Through it all there has been a turning to the Bible and a carrying of one another in prayer.  Verses I have read hundreds of time have jumped out in different ways with the emphasis on different words or nuances.  Other passages have been illuminated and one knocked the wind out of me like a tonne of bricks and has left me somewhat weak kneed ever since.

Actually I think this is a small part of what Eucharist is about – the gift of God – to be broken and poured out.

It has been my experience that in the times when I’ve needed God most, when all of the other props are gone, that I have really let myself be found by Him.  Those are life defining moments in my story.  Maybe through sharing in one another’s stories, each day can have significance?  2Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”. Galatians Ch 6: vs 2.  Or as Romans Chapter 12 declares, 9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited”

The song from which this post derives its title has been in my head on constant repeat these past few days.  I’ve provided a link to its beautiful delivery on Later With Jools Holland below: 

Rainlight

“Rain.

Smells of childhood

and tastes of walking home

and sounds of squeaky shoes.

Anyway,

here’s a photograph of us

it’s funny but I see…

two old friends life will make of us someday.

How that stirs my heart absurdly

as I write these words

by rainlight”.

From “Rainlight” by Mortal.

P6270049There’s a story told in the ancient world of man who along with his wife and two sons left his native land because of severe famine.  The man died and his two sons married local girls.  Ten years later both sons died, leaving their already widowed mother with only her two daughters-in-law.  Devastated she decided to return to her homeland as the crops there had improved.  The three women set off – the two daughters-in-law journeying to an alien land not of their birth.  On the road, their mother-in-law pleaded for them to return to their natural mothers and to find new husbands and make new lives for themselves in their homeland.  After much pleading and tears, one of the girls returns.  The other, Ruth, says “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”.

The story is one of pain, of broken hearts, of family ties, of love, of commitment, of provision, of fresh beginnings, of restoration and of people being in the right place at the right time.  The widowed daughter-in-law remarries and both she and her mother-in-law make a new life for themselves together.

One of my best friends got married four years ago.  He had been living down in London for quite a few years and had met a girl who he was seeing.  When they got married, their wedding vows included the line mentioned above, “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”.  There was something beautiful and meaningful in that.  To be at a marriage ceremony where two thirty-somethings’ wider circle of friends were somehow being brought together into a wider family.

Four years on both they and us are parents – each family now having a daughter.  Rather than having Godparents both of us have asked a broader circle of close friends to support us as couples in parenting and to hold us accountable.  We affectionately talk not of each girl’s “God Parents”, but of their “God Squad”.  So not only are the circles of friends coming together to form rings within rings or links in a chain, but now the next generation are spending time together.  Both our and their daughter share the same middle name.  Our daughter is four years older than theirs and is besotted with theirs. 

Having just holidayed together it is nice to think that there will be many more such happy memories still to form in the years ahead.  This holiday has also been spent with my in-laws.  It was a beautiful thing to watch new friendships develop between our friends and my in-laws – to enjoy eachothers’ company, to chat and day-trip together, to find our own space, to have a laugh together and to share something of our hopes, dreams and fears.  It reminded me of that marriage vow of theirs again – continuing to be realised four years on.

Their daughter is being dedicated today.  We would dearly love to be standing beside them as they make promises in public and a fresh commitment to parenting and to family.  Whilst not physically with them today, we are very much with them in our hearts, thoughts and prayers.

The story I started this post with is not insignificant.  The family tree which involves Ruth forms part of another important genealogy as shown in the gospel of Matthew.  It makes me see afresh, that relationships are not disposable – that blood is thicker than water, that commitment to love and marriage and friendship and family can conquer and overcome the storms of life.  It makes me ponder anew that parenthood is something to be taken seriously and that children are a gift from God.  There is order amongst the seeming chaos.

The photo at the top of this post is of a wonderful picture our friends bought us on our holiday the other week.  It is proudly displayed in our dining area – a reminder of happy times, of favourite places and cherished, hugely loved and dearly missed people.  If only the miles would shrink at times…

My Favourite Things

“These are a few of my favourite things…”

From The Sound of Music.

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We all have favourite things.  A favourite item of clothing, a favourite book, film, place.  A comfort blanket of sorts…

I discovered a new thing today and I really like it.  I was talking to my wife this evening about Finisterre in the context of an environmentally friendly, surf related, clothing company.  She smiled with a look of wanderlust in her eyes recalling memories of an excerpt of a book she had heard read on Radio 4 some time ago called “The Price Of Water in Finisterre.”  Then she went on to pass comment on the meaning of the word – the idea of “finis” meaning “end” and “terrae” related to earth.  So whilst used on ancient maps to depict “Land’s End”, it could also be interpreted as “the ends of the earth.”  I really like that…

The great commission is to take the truth of our beliefs to the ends of the earth.  To live out our convictions and demonstrate grace, mercy and humility.  To preach the gospel and, if necessary, to use words.

A few of my favourite things? 

Smell:  wood burning on a frosty day.

Word:  Kindle or tinder.

Book: Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland.

Song: “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr.

Film: “Rushmore” or “The Big Blue”.

Place: a cozy room with good food, close friends, coffee brewing, red wine open and the wee small hours beckoning to talk honestly, to do life together and put the world to rights…

These Are Days

“These are the days.
These are days you’ll remember.
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this.
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky.
It’s true that you
Are touched by something.
That will grow and bloom in you”.

From “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs.

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The little small group collective that gather around our dining table and inhabit our home and hearts have been working through a series looking at the topics of simplicity, love and justice in recent weeks. 

There are some big and small ideas that seem to challenge me to the core weekly.  Some little changes I can make and some bigger ones I am trying to work through. 

It’s good to enjoy food and laughs with friends who are also determined to encourage one another to grapple with things it’s easier to dismiss.  For each of us to become who we are meant to be and to think and live counter-culturally at times.

I seem to be hearing lots about consumerism at the minute.  I always falter with that when the new Howies or SAS catalogues arrive.  Mind you, this little piece made me smile:

“Come rain (and there will be), come shine (here’s hoping).  Even if our knees have knobbles and our calves are like sticks, we’ll be hunting through our wardrobes for our favourite shorts.  Because just a few hours of sunshine is all we need to remember those summers when we were kids.  When the sun shone for longer, the days were endless and our only deadline was tea on the table.  And when we got up in the morning and threw on our shorts and t-shirts, grabbed some toast and our bikes or skateboards and left for the day we knew that one day in the future the sun would be shining and we’d be putting on our shorts and remembering that feeling.

These are the days and they always were.”

Peace.


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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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