Honest Christianity – what is at our core?

russian dolls

Sally and I have just got back from our annual retreat. One of the reflection resources used was the nesting Russian dolls, one inside another and another… We reflected together on our different selves and those others see or not.

All the dolls were hollow to allow for the next one to be inside it. The smallest of them, the final one was different. It was solid. The reflection I made was the question, what is my solid spiritual centre? What is the most important, essential element of who I am? What is identity, the building block for us to develop as human beings?

We reflected within the group what this could be. The main answer we could give is being the beloved of God. We concluded there was nothing more centric and primary to being human, than being first and foremost someone who is unconditionally loved by God.

Can you think of anything else it could be?

Friday photo – natural or human creation?

Spiral beach

Walking a labyrinth is something that slows me down and enables me to think and reflect. While this is not quite a labyrinth in design I was delighted to find it on a beach in Appledore. It was one of those wonders – I assumed it had been created by someone and had weathered into the shoreline but perhaps some pattern of wind, waves and tides had caused the rocks to fall in that way! As I mentioned on Wednesday, there are so many things I don’t understand.

I also drew a labyrinth on one of those rainy mornings where being outside doesn’t seem to be the sensible option! I filled it with impressions from my holiday journey and picking it up a word evokes a memory and I can nurture my inner spirit with thoughts, reflections and images when I return back to a different rhythm of life.

Honest Christianity – log in our own eyes

shoe bomb

Many of us were shocked by the latest shooting in the USA in the church in Charleston. I am sure I am amongst a large number of Brits who do not fully understand the USA’s mentality towards guns. How can you not have additional gun control?

We saw the statement above on Twitter. Sometimes it takes a comedian to articulate what we all see and observe and it is also easier to be critically reflective from outside the situation. I wonder what the equivalent is for the UK? What have we drifted along with that it has become so normal so pandemic, that the oppression is as the air we breathe?

Wondering Wednesday – Vanier’s woman at the well

Christ-And-Samaritan-Woman-Siemiradzki

On Sunday I preached twice on this passage.   I am inspired by the way that Jesus reaches out across so many barriers to ask this woman for a drink, barriers of ethnicity, gender, convention and in turn this woman, Photini according to Orthodox history, received the living water that Jesus offers.  After the encounter she goes an tells everyone about Jesus.  For me, the story shows how the message of the gospel is for all and how a woman is one of the first people in John’s gospel to tell others about Jesus – could we call her an apostle to the Samaritans?  In my preparation for preaching I found this reflection from Jean Vanier – it summarizes more eloquently than I can the message of this story.

Jean Vanier’s  (founder of L’Arche) reflection on the story of the woman at the well in John ch 4:

It is very moving how Jesus meets and welcomes this fragile, broken woman
He knows the depth of her negative self-image
He does not judge or condemn her
He does not condescend or give her any moral lessons
He approaches her life, a tired thirsty beggar asking her to do something for him
He begins to dialogue with her and creates a relationship with her
In trusting her he uplifts her and gives her back her self-esteem
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is acclaimed as the One who takes our humanity upon Himself.
He identifies with the poor, the vulnerable, those cast out of society. Like the prophets and the Psalmist he pleads their case, no matter the consequences for himself.
Jesus asks – Give me a drink.
In this cri de coeur he cries out with the marginalised, with those who have no voice, who have little hope in our world
Give me a drink –I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink (Matthew 25:35).
In receiving water from this Samaritan woman, Jesus gives her life – a life of fullness of esteem, of relationship with God.
Water gives life… Jesus came to quench our thirst for presence and acceptance.

Then the woman went out and shared her story…

Wondering Wednesdays – unexpected blessings

Blackberry Oct 2010 1599I love it when something really good happens that I wasn’t expecting.  I can be a little bit of a glass half empty person rather than half full and sometimes it feels that this isn’t very honouring of God. So today I want to express gratitude for some of those things but perhaps also that I have noticed them when some days they must just pass me by…

Yesterday our new car arrived – a three year old new car. The person who delivered the car was showing us where everything was and pointing out some of the things we may not have thought about. He searched absolutely everywhere for one thing and had to resort to the manual and then he had a moment of enlightenment – a car that usually only has an inflation kit actually had a spare tyre! We had given up even asking for a car with one as none of the models we looked at had one but with the number of miles we do not having one seemed to be a bit risky.

On Sunday we talked about our church retreat on Holy Island. I was rustling in a bag beside me trying to find the peanuts for the wine and nibbles bit of the evening and suddenly realised that the person next to me was talking to me – I thought she was explaining where the card was we all needed to sign! I was presented with the most gorgeous, generous gift of some glass representing Cuthbert’s island and the sea – it seemed so disproportionate to what I had done. It was such an unexpected blessing and I tried hard to be gracious in receipt as sometimes I find it hard to be the centre of attention and to accept appreciation of what I have done.

I went on a training course a couple of weeks ago and it helped me explore something which was just the right concept for a situation I faced on the retreat. I was prepared in advance for something that was going to occur and that was a blessing too.

Someone sent me an email with some information we discussed but quite unlinked made a comment about something I had done which was really encouraging – unsolicited blessing.

Saying the blessing is one of my favourite parts of the Eucharist, I want to reflect more about being a blessing and well as talking about blessing and how I can perhaps facilitate unexpected blessings to others.

Honest Christianity – we can’t do this alone

Northumberland-20120717-00309This is our 100th blog post, mere newcomers compared to many, but we are encouraged to get to this marker post still being enthusiastic about what we are doing! There was always the slight fear that it would become just one more thing on the to-do list. We thought and prayed about what to write about as well as whether or not we should mark 100. WordPress helpfully tells you what number post the lastest one has been – otherwise we would have no idea!

What we have decided to talk about is significant relationships which in part has been inspired by reading Stanley and Clinton’s book Connecting many, many years ago and more recently Leonard Sweet’s book, 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without.

what had we done, what would be good to reflect about on this marker? We have gone for significant relationships. Last year, Paul, inspired by books by Leonard Sweet and Stanley, and did a workshop and retreat day that explored what are the helpful roles we need in our lives to help us flourish, feel supported, …….

Paul led a quiet day and retreat day (in both a Christian and a healthcare context) on this last year after we had come up with the list together. The basic premise is that these are some relationships that will enrich both our work and private lives and that help us flourish, feel supported, feel connected etc. Life is meant to be lived in community.

It can be helpful to remember that:
• multiple roles may be found in the same person;
• they may be reciprocal relationships;
• we have life cycles of relationships.

Lifter of spirits
Someone who encourages you, makes you feel better by just being with them.

Mentor
A developer and supporter in your field, someone with more experience than you. Trainer, coach, give or encourage opportunities, someone who is secure for you to succeed more than them.

Got your back
Someone at work who looks out for you, mediates, advocates on your behalf…

Safety net
A person who will catch you when you fall. You know they will be there for you.

Critical friend
Someone who will be honest with you even when it hurts or is difficult to hear.

Sounding board / dream catcher
Someone who you can share your ideas with no matter how crazy they are. They will not think you are getting too big for your boots, above yourself, too grandiose.

Non managerial / clinical supervision
A person outside of your department (or sometimes outside the employer) that you can discuss your work issues with.

Play friend
Someone you can have fun with, let your hair down, relax with.

Soul friend
Someone you can talk about the deep meaningful questions of life with and for them to ask challenging personal questions of you. Has your holistic life on the agenda.

Community of practice
A group of peers in your field who you can meet with to discuss and develop your area of work without a need to big yourself up or be cautious with.

Others may be specific to your particular context and it can be worth reflecting on who those need to be…

Reflection space:
• Do I want these relationships?
• Do I have these relationships?
• How might I go about establishing them?
• Who might I ask?
• Who might I offer to take on some of these roles with?

As we came up with the list various people came into our minds and we are very grateful to all those we have journeyed with both in the past and now and have been encouraged by some of the completely unexpected responses we have had to the blog as well.

We have put the handout for the session under resources.

References:

Leonard Sweet. 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without. Eastbourne: David Cook 2008.
P D Stanley, J R Clinton Connecting. Colorado Springs: Navpress 1992.

Mediating mirrors

meditating mirror113

One of the things that amazed me in the report written on me as I was selected for ordination training (and it is important to emphasise only training, lots more reports before I was actually ordained!) was being described as warm and engaging Sally.   The Sally I see in the mirror is not always the Sally that others may see, part of me still sees the quiet, shy Sally who is not always comfortable in social situations.  However, the training process for ministry means that I get to read lots of reports about myself and I have noticed over the years that I have become much more able to accept the lovely things that are written about me (and take on board the areas for development).  So the latest report  from two people who had never met me before calls me intelligent, warm and very articulate (although there are also times when you might find me tired, grumpy and inarticulate!) and while there is a tiny bit of me that is surprised at this description I also realise that I have grown and matured as a person becoming more confident in who God has created me to be and able to let others see that.   This has not always been the case and sometimes I have been really hurt at the way people have misunderstood me or not got me or I have taken on board other’s descriptions of me which are not actually who I am.

There is a chapter, written by Sam Richards, of Oxford CYM, on the metaphor mediating mirror in my book Youth Ministry:  a multi-faceted approach, here is an extract:

We are constantly looking for mirrors to give us some feedback on how we are viewed and therefore some sense of who we are.  Other people are at best faulty or cloudy mirrors, and at worst deliberately, distorting mirrors like those found at funfairs.  Christians believe that God is the one true mirror who can enable us to see ourselves as we really are, because that is how he sees us.  God’s gaze is one of love.  He is ‘the Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’ (Exodus 34.6-7).  He has made us in his image (Genesis 1.27) and longs for us to reflect fully the life of Jesus Christ, to reach our full potential as his children (John 1.12).

Over the years I have become more aware of my responsibility as a mediating mirror – what do I reflect back to others?  What do I say verbally but also non-verbally? I know a weakness is getting distracted and being fully present to another is something I continue to work on.  My core message to mediate is God loves you as it says in the mirror in the picture but I also try to be sensitive to what else it might be that God wants to say and to reflect that and also to communicate my own care and concern.  I know I don’t always reflect back all that I would hope to but I try to help make the glass a little less dark for others.

 

Reference

Sally Nash (Editor)  Youth Ministry:  A multi-faceted approach.  London:  SPCK, 2011, chapter 8.