Friday, 25 January 2019

The heavens are's snowing!

Tuesday saw Amersham and district grind to a miserable halt because it was snowing.  Folks leaving Tea at Three and the Property and Finance Committee (we do have fun on Tuesdays!!) endured road journeys home lasting between 3 to 4 hours; trips that normally take 20 to 25 mins.  It was a difficult rush/slow hour full of angst and frustration. 

I left church on Tuesday evening with just a walk back home to the Manse and to be truthful the ‘whiteout’ looked quite beautiful with one little schoolgirl in front of me singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ as she skipped home; it felt like the return of Christmas.

Yet for those drivers anxious to arrive home without accident or injury there was no sense of celebration, just struggle.

Last week our Life and Faith homegroup looked at Psalm 19 which begins with those wonderful words: The heaven are telling the glory of God.  Well yes, but on Tuesday as the snow fell from those heavens I guess very few drivers looked heavenward and sang alleluia.

Of course, many of the Psalms use the poetry of praise as they ponder the wonder of creation.  Somehow the majesty and grandeur of creation, along with the rhythm of the seasons, drew these temple songwriters to worship and thanksgiving.  Even today many people would still say they feel ‘nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth’.

Yet there is another, more dangerous and demanding side to the natural world which is ‘red in tooth and claw’.  Those ‘heavens’ described in Psalm 19 also bring hurricanes or scorching heat; on Tuesday it was disruptive snow.

I don’t think the Old Testament writers were unaware of this seeming contradiction.  Just think of the story of Joseph overseeing the Egyptian famine in the book of Genesis.  Seven years of plenty were followed by seven lean years.  The point of the story is that the management of Joseph, his foresight and planning, saved the day.  He worked with nature in both the good times and bad.

Psalm 19, and other ‘creation songs’ are poetry.  They rejoice in the earth’s great potential and made a link between that sustaining provision and the faithfulness of God.  But the Bible doesn’t blandly look out on nature in a sentimental way. The writers of both Testaments knew the terror of tempest, storm and wind alongside the life-threatening horror of the noontide heat in The Wilderness.

The natural world can be frightening as well as inspiring.  It draws us to wonder even as it demands from us a certain respect and deep understanding.  We are both ‘stewards’ and ‘worshippers’, working with creation even as we give thanks for it.

Friday, 18 January 2019

A Poisoned Chalice

Back in the very early years of this new century I was persuaded to accept the post of Moderator of my regional Baptist Association.  This meant I kept the day job of local church minister, but in my ‘spare time’ chaired the Association’s Board of Trustees, the Council Meetings and became ‘line manager’ to the Regional Ministers.  I was full of optimism as I took up the post, thinking it would be fascinating to get a broader view of Church life as I got to know the 150 or so churches that made up the Association.

What I hadn’t bargained for was that my tenure of office came immediately after an acrimonious reorganisation.  Various ‘top’ jobs had been re-allocated and not everyone way happy, in fact the ‘fall out’ from that rearrangement of the chairs dominated the Association’s life for the three years I was in post.

Although I wasn’t the architect of the changes, the mere fact that I was the Moderator made me, in the eyes of many, the automatic ‘villain of the piece’!

I regularly sat with my fellow trustees around the board table and encountered amongst them a willingness to listen, calmly reflect and do everything in their power to make the situation better.  Yet, they too were viewed by many as the ‘baddies’. 

I sometimes wrote emails to grieved parties in what I thought was an encouraging tone, only to get back a response accusing me of being aggressive.

I chaired full Council Meetings with over a hundred reps from the churches being present only to hear one speaker after another decry the Association as a bad and uncaring employer.

Throughout this time it seemed to me that so many agendas were running it was hard to know exactly where people were coming from.  I would go to the annual Ministers’ Conference, supposedly for the good of my own soul, only to find after evenings prayers a line of half a dozen colleagues queuing up to see me and share their ‘disgust’ at what was going on.

As the time went by it dawned on me that I was just about the only person who now knew the whole story, as so many people had shared opposing views with me, yet I was not at liberty to disclose to others the confidential information I had from time to time picked up along the way.

It was a mess!  I had been handed a poisoned chalice.  I hadn’t made the mess, but I was charged with clearing it up.

In the end, often because people left the area, the tensions eased, and Association life turned a corner.

It was a deeply disillusioning experience to go through, made bearable because of the sanity and goodwill I encountered Sunday by Sunday in my own congregation.

Does any of that sound familiar?!! 

For me this ‘mess’ occurred in the ecclesiastical world.  It’s happened this week in the political one.  Indeed, it can occur in any micro or macro context.

Dealing with issues like these is the ‘stuff’ of leadership and it can be a lonely and tough call.  So I’m glad the New Testament urges us to pray for those in authority over us.

You don’t have to agree with everything our Prime Minister says to see that over recent months she has kept her cool and filled the office of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ with exemplary dignity.

She and her colleagues, I believe, deserve our heartfelt prayers at this difficult and challenging times.

Friday, 11 January 2019

The Past is a Foreign Country

I love L.P.Hartley’s well known quote: The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

This week we went, as a family, to watch the film about Freddie Mercury and Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody.  It both starts and ends with that July day thirty-three years ago in 1985 when Wembley hosted Live Aid.  The film had a terrific re-creation of Queen’s performance on stage in front of one hundred thousand people.  Afterwards our boys quizzed us about Live Aid and couldn’t really take it in that we watched it the first-time round – we are that old!!!  For us 13th July 1985 seems like yesterday, to them it’s up there with the Saxons and Romans!

Does the past, I wonder, teach us anything?  Or does each succeeding generation have to encounter every tricky situation for themselves and find their own way through? 

This week a Radio 4 reporter has returned to South Africa for the first time in twenty-five years.  His reports about continuing repression and corruption, but this time administered by black rather than white officials, was deeply depressing.

So much in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is about remembering and learning from yesterday.  The Jewish scriptures often proclaim: Israel, remember this…. And of course, feasts such as Passover and Communion have rememberance at their very heart.

It’s understandable when we lose patience with either ourselves or those around us who continue to make the same mistakes because they are deaf to the lessons from yesterday.

In his great poem about love and its ethical consequences St Paul wisely says: Love keeps no record of wrongs.

God treats us like this in his mercy and grace so surely we have to be open to such a generous and forgiving spirit too.

However many times the Prodigal comes round the corner, returning home seeking a new beginning…however many times, I believe The Father always runs to greet him with open, welcoming arms.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Alpha and Omega

The only symbols in chapel when I was at theological college in London were the first and final letters in the Greek alphabet: alpha and omega.  I have to confess they constantly reminded me of the inadequacy of my New Testament Greek!

Although the college chapel didn’t have a cross, those who designed it in the 1950’s did want us worshippers to have that sense of a God who is mysteriously, yet wonderfully, present in every part of life; that he can be understood in those terms, used in the book of Revelation, as the ‘first and the last’, the alpha and omega.

Islam also calls God by this name and when our Jewish cousins call God ‘Truth’ they make up that word using the first, middle and final letters from their Hebrew alphabet.

So, it seems to be a common longing amongst people of faith that we both sense and appreciate the presence and activity of God in every aspect of our living. ‘Expressions of God’ constantly bless our everyday lives. Sometimes that’s obvious, yet in those tougher moments it might take some purposeful looking for.

As we begin this final ‘teen’ year of the century I find it hopeful to think that whatever happens in the twists and turns of the next twelve months, God – the alpha and omega, beginning and end – will make the journey alongside us.

Friday 29th May 2020

People have been doing remarkable things during these last two months - often via Zoom and other 'platforms' which have enabled grou...