Posts Tagged 'god'

Life’s What You Make It

“Baby, life’s what you make it.

Celebrate it.

Anticipate it.

Yesterday’s faded.

Nothing can change it.

Life’s what you make it”

From “Life’s What You Make It” by Talk Talk.

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I’ve been thinking a lot in recent weeks about stories and how they help us make sense of our place in time and space.

We use metaphors to describe life.  I most frequently think of it as a journey.  What if it is a story? 

Famous people often get asked, “Who would play you in the film of your life story?”  What a bizarre question to be asked of the rest of us.  My life feels a lot more uneventful than how I imagined it might have played out when I was a teenager.  No international stardom for me.  My life often seems hum-drum and run of the mill, but I love it too.  When I stop to think about it, I realise there are shed loads of things to be thankful for.

As I think about my own story, I realise how often I shun or avoid the word “Christian” in certain company.  It holds so many negative connotations.  It is loaded with baggage which would lead people to jump to a whole bunch of assumptions about me and my world view – many of which would be wrong.  Maybe it’s time to reclaim what being a follower of Jesus is?

Our church leadership are an amazing bunch of folks.  I’ve seen little glimpses of so much that is done behind the scenes in recent weeks.  I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on a Sunday morning.  Karl concluded a four part series this week and his message about the restoration of all things was so refreshing, so engaging and so inspiring.  Why have we so often made it about something it’s not?  Isn’t it time to start living for what we believe in?

I recently heard someone pray for “death to religion”.  That may sound shocking to some, but I knew what they meant and couldn’t agree more.  What if we started to get a fresh vision for what we’re meant to be making of our lives?  To realise that we can invest our time and energies in things of significance and still enjoy life to the full. 

If history is ultimately a story, then as today fades to yesterday that itself forms part of the story.  We have the ability to write ourselves in or out.  Life’s what we make it.  Our decisions have consequences and we’re not meant to figure it all out alone.

Sometimes we need to humble ourselves and abandon ourselves to something bigger than us.  Today it was hugely meaningful for me to get past the awkwardness factor and to actually go to the front of our church and have one of the leaders place oil on my head and to pray for anointing.  To pray for a realisation that I am who I am and that I don’t need to pretend to be someone else.  There’s something heartening to realise that people who know our lifestyles can pray specifically into them.  To pray about: the situations I feel I can coast through on my own strength; the meetings and presentations that I feel more apprehensive about; my words and conduct in the day to day goings on of the office and the wider circle of people my work brings me in contact with; my role and responsibilities at home and in family life; the time I’ll spend with friends surfing this week. 

There’s something refreshing about stopping, being still and refocusing on how we live our day to day lives. 

Baby, life’s what you make it.

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Suffer Little Children

“Oh Manchester, so much to answer for”

from “Suffer Little Children” by The Smiths

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When asked to associate music with Manchester, I suspect most people will make a connection in their minds with the “Madchester” scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s and the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, et all.  Alternatively, they will think of Oasis. 

Mancurian bands on my iPod?  Joy Division, New Order, Badly Drawn Boy and The Smiths amongst others. 

I’ve only been to Manchester a handful of times.  The most significant trip was on 11th August 2001.  My sister had got two tickets to see U2 on the Elevation Tour.  I’d idolised U2 in my younger years and, had they been available, probably would have worn a wristband with W.W.B.D (What Would Bono Do?) on it. 

I’d largely lost interest after “Rattle and Hum”‘s release in 1988 and had only really begun to listen to U2 again when “All You Can’t Leave Behind” was released in 2000.  I hadn’t seen them play live since the Joshua Tree tour in ’87 and was looking forward to the gig, but wasn’t over excited.

When we got to the Manchester Evening News Arena we were ushered down to a standing area right in front of the love heart shaped walkway that protruded from the stage.  We were merely a few feet away from one of the biggest groups in the world. 

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It was amazing to see them in an indoor venue and, after all the razzmatazz of the “Zoo TV” and “Pop Mart” tours, this was a group playing on the strength of their songs and performance.  It was like a stripped back U2 show, where Bono was trying to connect with the crowd every bit as much as he had done back in the early 1980s.

That gig was a revelation.  I realised that whilst I had shunned U2 in favour of more alternative or edgy bands, their back catalogue had been so much a part of the soundtrack of my life.  It dawned on me that their music had almost been omnipresent in my teenage years and into my twenties.  I recognised afresh how much faith, doubt and social justice permeated their lyrics.  I appreciated how honestly Bono often wrote and wrestled almost like the writers of the Psalms.  That resonated with me so much more than the trite cliches and bad theology we often sing in church.  That evening, I saw anew that Bono had often been the voice of one calling into my wilderness in the desert years where I had been attending church, but not walking as close to God as I could or should have been. 

It caused me to look above and beyond the stage and to recognise that there was a still small voice within the noise.  A voice that had guided me through the years and spoken to me and shaped me in the most unexpected ways.  If the church will not speak up, it seemed that God would speak through the rockstars.

As the band wrapped up “Walk On” they went into a refrain of just singing “Hallelujah” over and over again.  To hear 19,000 people singing along was a truely spiritual experience.  It really felt like worship – not of U2 – but, for me, a way of really saying “thank you” to a God who had watched over me when I was short of peers in those teenage years where you try to square confusion, hormones and God. 

 

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???

White Chalk

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“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

Losing My Religion

“Oh, life is bigger.
It’s bigger than you.
And you are not me.
The lengths that I will go to.
The distance in your eyes.
Oh no, I’ve said too much.
I set it up.”

From “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.

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As The Bank Of England Monetary Committee go as far as to say the UK is now in a “deep recession”, we all seem to be tired of bad news.  Life is big and often I feel so small.  I think we are all hungry for good news.

Whilst the photo above may be a bit blurred – the notes I scribbled in my pad last Sunday at church merely amounted to “Save us from religious observation.”  That’s really what I feel just now.  If I can’t imagine life without the hope my faith brings me, how come I feel inclined to keep it to myself so much?  As the old H-Street skateboard video was so brilliantly entitled – “Shackle Me Not!”

Southern State

“Well, you’re sleeping in that southern state where the bars are filled with people you can’t hate.
But try as you try and you still can’t relate to them.
You drink that whiskey down as they ask you
Are you who you say you are?
The fact that we can’t tell makes us like you even more.”

From “Southern State” by Bright Eyes.

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I remember that we had Religious Education on my first day at secondary school.  We were tasked with writing a short essay on the question, “Who Am I?”  I remember thinking it was an odd question, but I wrote down some thoughts about identity and self expression.  I loved doodling and the drawing which accompanied it was probably more telling of my worldview back then.  I recall it involving lots of people walking around – punks, casuals, trendies or old folks all with think bubbles asking “Who Am I?”  I guess that I linked identity largely with image or classification back then.

I remember being appalled when I read some literature accompanying an application form for graduate recruitment back in my student days which suggested that one could express their individuality through choice of silk tie, belt buckle and cuff-links.  I wanted to stand out more than I wanted to fit in.  From the photo above, maybe I’ve become that person…I do love the cuff-links my wife bought me for Christmas though…

Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, that question “Who Am I?” causes us all so many problems. 

After hearing of my friend, Craig B’s, answer in an interview in the Herald, I put the following question to the little small group collective who meet in our home: – “What five adjectives would you use to describe yourself?”

What would you say?

I came up with:

1) Father – I guess I see this as one of the most important and precious roles and tasks I have.  Maybe a better adjective would have been “parent” as I couldn’t imagine this role without the love and support and shared vision of my wife…Funny to think there was a time when the thought of being a Dad would scare me beyond belief…

2)  Gentle – I am gentle by nature and gently spoken.  Sometimes I think I’m perceived as weak in this way, as I find it hard to project my voice in certain environments or to engage and I have always been tall and thin.  I guess I’m just not “laddish” or “bloke-ish” particularly.

3)  Surveyor – whilst this is my job description, I don’t really define myself by this nor by my position in the firm I belong to.  Yet, I spend so much of my waking life (day time and many evenings) devoted to my work.  As I get older sometimes I wonder if I should be more engaged with this in trying to influence those around me?  I do try that in my own way – but I still sometimes wonder if I should admit that baldness is under everybodies’ hair, shave my head and try to fit into the corporate mold to a greater extent.  Again that just boils down to image, but it does affect how we think about ourselves…  I hope I am still growing into the person I am meant to be. 

4) Indie – I guess I have always been drawn to things that are counter-cultural.  Music, faith, films, etc.  Skateboarding changed my life and all the things that came from that culture – when combined with a free-thinking mind and a faith that is more real to me than anything – have made me into who I am today – contradictions, warts and all.  Yes, I know I should have put “interdependent” down as an adjective to demonstrate that I understand the need for church community, but, truth be told, I still love “indie”…Indie, indie, indie…

5) Anchored – I guess, I feel pretty secure in life most of the time.  I know where my hope comes from.  That’s not to say that I don’t get stressed or low, but above and beyond that I know God is God.

On reflection, I didn’t come up with a bunch of words that I once would have used.  Do certain words have meaning for a certain season and then develop us for something else?

My friend’s answers in the Herald were:

1)  Grumpy

2)  Grumpy

3) Grumpy

4) Grumpy

5) Ginger

I’d probably have given him the benefit of the doubt and supplemented one of them with “Genius!”

Everyday People

“Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong.
My own beliefs are in my song.
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in.
I am everyday people, yeah yeah”

From “Everyday People” by Sly and The Family Stone.

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 Things I have loved about this weekend:

a)  My sister in law and her boyfriend have been staying with us.  They are family and it really feels like that to me.  I really enjoy their company.  Conversation is meaningful, inquisitive and real.  Our daughter gets really excited about seeing them (so much so she woke up at 1am on Friday night/Saturday morning asking if she could go upstairs and wake our guests up by tickling their toes)

b)  The five of us went out for dinner last night.  Good conversation, great food and a nice atmosphere make for a near pefect evening.

c)  Someone from the small group who meet weekly in our home comes round for breakfast on Sunday mornings.  I love that routine.  It means we are organised and not hassled.  She arrived this morning and made herself right at home with our visitors.  It felt like our extended families were all integrating.

d)  I remember driving to church some years ago and listening to a song by Delirious? that had the lyrics, “We’re going to the house of God.  We’re going to the house of God.  We’re going to the house of God.  Are you coming?  You couldn’t keep me away”.  I longed to feel that way, because my own experience at that time was a million miles removed from that.  Now, you really couldn’t keep me away…I don’t feel the slightest bit bummed that I missed a rare day’s decent snowboarding at Glenshee.

e)  Church was great.  It was an all inclusive service.  We thought about what it means to bring good news to folks around us.  I see weekly our daughter making steps forward in her discovery of faith.  I am learning what it is to have a childlike faith myself.  I am increasingly actually wanting friends and family to find what it is that our faith is really about.  Church on Sundays facilitates that to an extent and I wouldn’t feel atall awkward about inviting friends there, because I know they would be welcomed and have their misconceptions or preconceptions challenged.  Our motto is: relevant, intimate, passionate.  I think that’s what we are increasingly becoming.  A group of everyday people trying to live out our faith in our everyday lives.

f)  I love the fact that we have such a good friendship with our next-door neighbours.  I love the evenings we spend from time to time in one anothers’ houses over food and wine, chatting and laughing well into the wee hours of the morning.  I love the fact that some of the small group who meet in our home weekly are getting to know them too.  I love that they are forever reconstructing camper vans and mountain bikes in our shared driveway.  It makes our home seem cooler somehow.

g) I love it that someone from our small group joined us for lunch today too.  It’s great that our conversation so naturally turns to the things that we really consider important.  There is a natural transparency to conversation that is completely opposite from a guilt led sense of duty to share the gospel.  Hopefully, others just see something of the love we have for one another and the direction and drive our faith gives us.  Hopefully that is good news.

h)  I love the fact that I’m typing this drinking green tea from my favourite Spiderman mug watching a fresh blanket of snow envelop our back garden by the glow of our security light.

i)  Whilst we often use buzzwords like “community”, I love the fact that church really feels like that to me.  I cherish each individual who makes up our small group.  I eagerly await the time we spend together.  I love the friends I have there and the real sense of belonging and the vision for the future.  I love the regular texts, blog posts and emails and calls that mean church community is an everyday thing and not just contained to sundays.  I am excited as our little group begins to explore some fairly ambitious dreams for what we might do in six weeks time as we abandon small group gatherings and actually try to “do something” to bring joy to the world and proclaim good news.  Watch this space…

j) I actually love the fact that music can be a really helpful vehicle in church.  I am losing my inhibitions and have found myself abandoned – letting go of situations I wish I could control…my friend who has had several (thankfully failed) suicide attempts in recent weeks…a family member from whom I am hugely burdened for and feel spent on.

I feel it is important to write all this stuff, because most of these feelings came undone tonight as our daughter has been playing up hugely.  What should have been an evening of relaxation, before the frenetic activity and work pressure of the week ahead, has been overshadowed with coaxing, praying, shouting and trying not to swear as my blood begins to boil and I lose patience…How can someone whom I love more than life conjure up such huge emotions that bear no relation to how I feel for her?  Man, it’s tough being a parent at times. 

Now, I’m off to bed – tired, knowing we’ll have a difficult morning with a knackered and non-compliant four year old as we all try to get out of the house in enough time to make our journeys to work and to arrange nursery drop offs and pick ups on the snowy streets of this city we call home…

I am reminded of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Before I started battering away at the keyboard 15 minutes ago, I felt far from rejoicing.  It’s not about sticking my head in the sand or pretending to feel differently to how I do.  It’s just about perspective and counting my blessings.

My daughter has eventually fallen asleep (three hours after she should have done).  I hope we all sleep well.  I hope we extend grace to eachother tomorrow morning.

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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