“Carrying our cross”

carry your cross

Dear Friends,

Believing is not as easy as it first sounds. We believe when we know something to be true, and this knowledge then impacts the way we do things.

Believing happens when we do stuff. When I risk floating on the water, I begin to know what it means to trust. And so I believe in the possibility of not sinking when in the water. Because I believe, I can enter the ocean and launch myself into the waters.

Jesus invites us to ‘believe the good news of the gospel’. Yet we can only believe when we know it is true, and we only know it is true when we have risked a little in ‘doing’ it. So how can we ‘do’ the good news of Jesus… because if we don’t ‘do’, our belief will only be academic, in our heads, and this is no good to anyone!

‘Doing’ the good news of Jesus is what Jesus means by ‘carrying our cross’. Carrying a cross is a very physical, tangible action. It is a million miles from simply reading a book and assenting to some ‘idea’ or ‘concept’. Carrying requires an action… an action which we will experience. When Jesus states it is the cross we must carry, He is directing our attention to the giving of himself on the Calvary cross. An action of self-giving love – not a nice ‘idea’ but a real, definitive action. At Calvary Jesus is not in control, He has forfeited any sense of directing operations – He has placed himself in the hands of the Roman governor Pilate, and the religious hierarchies. This is a concrete action by Jesus.

So, Jesus calls us, each one of us, to follow his example and ‘carry our cross’ – don’t be afraid of placing yourself in others control… and do it in love. This is a self giving love. As we act in this way we ‘do’ the good news of Jesus. As we ‘do’ the good news we experience the blessing this brings – it makes us feel good. Too many times we interpret this feeling good as something we should not admit to – so we try to put it to one side with the resulting impact that we don’t risk this self giving love… we become tired and weary… and we only end up doing it in our heads – which is no good to anyone!

Yet as we ‘do’ the actions of self-giving – making a cup of tea for a loved one, making a phone call or sending a text to check a friend is ok, smiling at a stranger, letting a fellow car driver join the queue of traffic ahead of us – these actions of self –giving – not looking for any reward or pat on the back are the gateway into believing. The impact of these actions provide us with ‘knowledge’ – self-giving brings a blessing of spirit – and this knowledge leads directly into believing in the ‘way’ Jesus has instructed us in.

And as we believe in this way, our hearts are changed, are made more expansive and we begin to uncover a new ‘me’ – a ‘me’ which lays to one side the compulsive weariness of our inability to believe what is really important, a ‘me’ which stands blessed in a love which knows no end. A ‘me’ which could even be described as a ‘new creation’.

So, asking ourselves each day – when have I ‘done’ some self-giving actions… when have I chosen to ‘deny myself’ and ‘bless the other…’ becomes a really important thing to do. In these simple and profound actions ‘believing’ becomes something ingrained into our psyche.

God gives of Himself to us each day –over and over again. In the heart of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) there is an amazing, voracious belief in the power of love. This is not an idea or nice sounding concept – it is something God ‘does’ in every moment.

‘Believers’ are not only people who sit in pews or sing hymns, but  those who ‘carry the cross’ with a joy and effervescence because they know this is the only way… the way to ‘believe in the good news of Jesus Christ’.

Living with purpose

living with purpose

Dear Friends

Optimism is an attitude of mind more necessary today than ever. So much of life is driven at a break-neck speed, with countless interruptions and distractions – pointless and mindless directives, fearful attitudes, incessant background noise. A fixation with celebrity and an intolerance to mistakes with seemingly no room for redemption. All of this raises its head in the public life of our nation as well as in the demands of local life. And yet… there are reasons to be optimistic.

 

Time and time again – especially in my many and varied encounters with people of all generations, there is a serious intention to live a qualitative life rather than one which is merely materialistic or successful.

 

Public institutions are finding it more and more difficult to attract high quality short lists for roles of responsibility – which invariably have very generous financial inducements. Workers are more inclined to choose a qualitative lifestyle over and above the previously assumed inevitable climb up the hierarchical ladder.

 

So rather than settling  for the interminable cycle of back slapping and greasing significant palms – men and women are choosing and beginning to look for ways of living which resonate with a qualitative outcome. This is good – it is really good.

 

The island of Okinawa in Japan is a quite amazing place. The people on this island live long, happy lives. Yes they do have the fantastic Japanese diet, they drink green tea, they  tend their vegetable gardens – and they have a carefully nurtured ‘purpose’ for life. They keep themselves busy, they don’t retire, but they keep active with their ‘purpose’ very much to the forefront. This ‘purpose’ is not something which is ‘created’ but rather it is ‘discovered’ – and then they live it in simple, every day actions. They do this without obsessing about it – just doing it with a smile never far away.

 

Their busyness is not the fearful fretting of wordy action plans ; it isn’t located  in the worthy formation of ‘maps’ but rather with a crafted attention to the ‘compass’ – the direction of life. In other words their ‘purpose’, their ‘why’.

 

As we move into gear in 2018,  we will be soon entering the 40 days of Lent, a great time to ‘discover’ my ‘purpose’ – what is it which gets me up each morning – what is it which causes me to be grateful, to lift my head and smile. Simply asking ourselves the straightforward question each day – ‘what is my principal job on this planet with a capital J?’ and then waiting for the answer to emerge, might just have an utterly transforming impact on our everyday life. We only have the one life – the quality of that life, no matter what age we may be – is really very important!

 

Living with ‘purpose’ doesn’t have to be earnest, guilt-ridden or fearful – a ‘purpose’ which is truly ours will overflow with an abundance of kindness, laughter and what we sometimes call ‘grace’. An authentic purpose will prompt us into actions which we then just do, day by day. So let’s choose to be purposeful – and really find a quality of living which blesses us right to the centre of who we are.

The importance of rituals

Picture of Mary and some flowers

Dear Friends,

Our church is dedicated and named after Mary, the mother of our Lord. On 10th September we celebrate our Patronal Festival – indeed our ‘Weddings’ Flower Festival falls right on our Patronal week-end. Mary’s story is one of transformation as she carries the gift of God within her, and in the Bethlehem back yard delivers the Saviour of the world. Mary was there when Jesus transformed the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and she was there at the foot of the cross as her son was crucified. In this brutal crucifixion Jesus transforms the very worst of life into something precious beyond words – salvation and forgiveness.

In our church worship we gather to meet with Jesus. Sometimes we call this a ‘sacrament’ of worship. A ‘sacrament’ is something which makes the invisible visible. We do things ‘as if’ what we can’t see is right before us. Children do this by second nature – they play ‘trains’ in the garden, with the garden bench as a station and the wheelbarrow as the train. The children know what these items – the bench and the barrow – really are and what they are used for – but in this period of the game they all choose to act ‘as if’ they really are a station and a train.

When a game of hide and seek is played : by Dad and his 4 year old daughter – again the ‘as if’ rule is being applied. Dad hides behind the curtain with a foot purposefully sticking out. The daughter knows only too well that dad is choosing to be incompetent in his hiding, yet takes great delight in the ‘finding’. Dad plays along with the befuddled role he has chosen to play – in this game transformation is taking place as the daughter takes on the powerful, competent role of ‘finder’ while Dad takes on the vulnerable and powerless role of the one being found. It’s a role reversal in a game of ‘as if’s’ and something important is being learned by both parties in the game.

Mary is a timely reminder for each of us of the power of transformation.
In church on a Sunday we take bread and wine and act ‘as if’ these simple items are not simply bread and wine but the very presence of God. We take what is ordinary and sing, pray and kneel ‘as if’ these items are divine. We give the ‘peace’ to one another in such a way ‘as if’ the other people in the building are our bothers and sisters – even though we might not have met them before. We are making ‘ritual’ out of the action of ‘as if’, and behind the ritual lies the spiritual (a title of a Van Morrison song).

Rituals are really important in life. We greet people on the street with a ritual of a wave or a handshake or fist pump – even people we don’t know too well and in this ritual something takes place and is stretched into existence.

It is imperative for us to consider how we can set up new rituals into our lives – how do we say hello to loved ones in the home, how do we greet people older than us in years, how do we say ‘thank you’ when something is done for us. All these are rituals which if we are not careful can become stale with little force of transformation – but when they are fresh and done with attention, even the most simple ones, carry a profound energy of change.

So why not look for the commonplace rituals in your own life – the ones taken for granted, the ones which could be re-freshed with a bit of attention, and the times and places where new rituals can be tried. As we do, we can watch and sense transformation growing within us as a sacramental way of living is practiced day by day.

A good soaking

BBQ with Steak on it

Dear Friends,

The summer BBQ is something not to be missed… with sunshine, hot coals and a selection of marinaded meats, skewers and the banana and ice cream – yes, something not to be missed! Perhaps it’s the marinade which really makes it – in the soaking of herbs, sauces and spices the bar-b-que spells out flavour in big capital letters! From being bland, the marinade specially prepared and applied, makes all the difference.

Not only the BBQ but our climate works like this to benefit our gardens. A good soaking is sometimes what’s just called for!

If this is right for our physical life – the skin and bones of our existence, the green shoots of growth from the earth, the summer dinner al-fresco,  it is also true for our spiritual lives. The bit of us inside us. The bit that makes us feel things, the way we think, the heart of who we are. Absorbing life impacts on our sub-conscious and so affects everything.

When we get soaked in accusations, anxiety, spite and such things – well it has an impact – and for these things the impact is not great. You could even say it’s a bit like toxic waste… harming and in some cases destroying our insides. Accusations, anxiety, spite are the kind of things which pollute our existence – they drop into our speaking, thinking and feeling in a way which distorts and twists goodness out of us.

What’s really alarming – we don’t even have to go looking for such things. They are prevalent, abounding almost at every corner of life. Workplaces, coffee shops, even in our homes – these pollutants can thrive. And we, if we are not careful, just absorb them. Losing perspective, pointing the finger, being mean in our judgments and thinking just becomes commonplace and normal. How sad this is – especially when the world we live in is so extraordinary and amazing! The colours splashed across our ever-changing skyline, the smiles and companionship of loved friends… these are not to be taken for granted for. For these we can and need to be grateful.

And gratitude, saying thank you is a really essential way for us to be soaked in what is healthy and non-toxic. You see, when we say thank you we give attention to the abundance in life which is here to sustain, refresh and replenish our existence. Saying thank you is not simply an acknowledgement of what is good, it is rather a ‘soaking in’ of what is good – a little bit like the smoky, summer marinade  or the rain shower feeding the roots of our garden.

When we view gratitude in this way – the very act of saying thank you re-positions our whole outlook so we just soak in what is healthy and good – with the impact of strengthening our hearts. This means we will think more constructively, be more resilient in the face of challenge, and have the capacity to just keep going with greater energy.

Prayers of gratitude – spoken each day, whispered in the night, and written in our hearts – provide us with a daily soaking which costs no money and goes a long way to ensure we bless, and don’t pollute, the bits of the world we live in. It’s August – a great time for eating outdoors and also to learn, and re-learn, the art of being thankful – everyday…