marriage, marriage,marriage, marriage, marriage

As far as we know Jesus, who Christians believe was perfect love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control was not a married man.

I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days as I’ve  been reading a bit  about the National Day of Prayer for Marriage that Christians are planning for next Sunday. Some evangelicals seem to be quite obsessed with marriage at the moment, to the point that if David Cameron actually does allow a gay couple to get married then we are living in the darkest days of history and might as well just give up.

Strangely though considering that Jesus was celibate there seems to be no obsession with the equally God pleasing celibacy option, which seemed to have been the preference Paul as well. Would we ever hear of a National Day of Prayer for Celibacy? If not, why not? Can someone who is celibate not live as fulfilled a life as someone who is married or do the married have access to extra happiness?

I don’t remember ever being at a wedding  where celibacy was affirmed as an equally God honouring option. Instead the whole day is geared towards the celebration of bride and groom and the God given gift of marriage. Everybody is beaming in happiness at this special happy occasion. Nothing is said about the gift of celibacy and does that mean the single people are excluded from church worship? Is it right for people to feel excluded in church worship or is there good news for everyone?

Image

hiding in the garden

towpath II

What is wrong? I’m naturally scared.
I’m naturally faint hearted.
I’m a natural hider.

I am scared and don’t know how I can cope.
I am afraid that I am not going to be strong enough to cope.
I want to control things as I’m not sure how I will cope if I don’t control things.
But I can’t control things.

I want everything at my own pace and on my terms.
I am wary of trusting you.
How do you trust?

Yet I don’t know what else I have got.
I resent that I might only trust because of lack of better options.
I don’t want to be lukewarm in my faith.

I want to know that this isn’t just a tribal story amongst tribal stories.
I want to love you for the right reasons.
I don’t want religion or to pretend.

church upon church

My faith is on unsteady ground at the moment, everything seems so unsure about it.  Things play into it and for the life of me I don’t see what makes Christianity ‘special’  sometimes. The flag protests this week played into that because here I am sitting in  an area with so many churches, church upon church where people like me have been encouraged for weeks, years, decades to worship God and yet what difference has it made to our society?  What difference do I make to the world?

We seem to specialize in wars over the way we do the catering in the church hall, like should we use the china plates or paper plates, or who gets to use what room, or in being ‘pastoral’ at the expense of never changing things around. So we have to bring people along with us slowly slowly, gently gently. Of course we do, but maybe we don’t? Maybe we just need to say, no, this is daft and there is no need for it any longer.

Anyway, I don’t know how it is we have so many church buildings and so much Christian in general yet we seem so lead footed and faith clumsy. What difference does this make to life, what makes us ‘special’?

the stretcher

How much should you tell your computer? Tonight I don’t care.

Today was not a good day.  I don’t want life to be like this, but it is. It just is.

My girl is upstairs waiting for sleep to come, I know she is hurting, hurting so bad and what can I do? I can do nothing except what I usually do, be me stubborn and angry or angry and stubborn in the wrong way about things I can’t control, probably tilting at windmills, big wind generating windmills that don’t actually generate electricity or spoil the countryside or use more energy to make than they produce in their entire lifetime and there is always something isn’t there?

There was an old man who lived a few houses down.
He walked slowly along the footpath, I assumed on his way to the pub each day. In my head he was called Jim, hop along Jim.  He was lonely, or looked lonely. I knew he was lonely.

So what did I do?
I did nothing.  As usual I did nothing.

‘and at once I knew I was not magnificent’


The police stood outside his house today, then the white overcoats and face mask and on the way back from the shops a stretcher. I didn’t look. H___ wanted me to ask, but I didn’t.

As usual I did nothing. So I don’t know. But I suspect and that fills me with sadness. He was so lonely. Did he have any family?
Worse, you knew this or guessed this and what did you do?

Then there is THE ISSUE.
It’s there.
It can’t be ignored. And Jesus  and God and the Holy Spirit it’s killing us so can you cut me a bit of slack? Won’t us give us a break?

That’s unless of course you don’t really exist because it’s at times like this that it just seems so lonely and silent that I just can’t see it myself.  I tried to imagine you standing in the corner of the bedroom last week, what you actually might have looked like. I couldn’t do it. It was an Obi Wan Kenobi type hologram, a wisp of mist in the corner when what you want is a real and physical, for real flesh and blood, suffering yet risen reality. What I got was a shady corner of my imagination.

Or  a book, or books and letters and versions and exegesis and preachers and church on a Sunday morning with a pipe organ and red hymn book, blue ‘Glory to God’ and ‘The Source’ and cups of instant coffee in a soul less church hall with uncomfortable looking middle class people and  mention (probably) of The Queen’s Jubilee.

This is what we get. Jesus, it’s hard to believe.

How much can you tell the computer?

This much. And there’s more. But nobody will care.  It’s just lonely old men and the money you didn’t earn because you are you and there is no job that is good enough for you or suitable for you and you won’t go and work the production line of Moy Park chicken or something (because you’re busy tilting at big wind generating windmills or something)  and the work you do do is not valued as work because it’s not paid and competition and better train harder or ask the right questions and answer to prove that you are the most suitable person for the opening.

There is the money you forgot to put in the bank to pay for the rent that you remember about on a Saturday night on a special Bank Holiday weekend meaning that you will probably be charged by greedy banker, or something like that.  So you can work hard and still not get paid.

Thing is, stretchers and old men, banks, THE ISSUE, church of clay feet,me being me, entropy is not what I want defining and embittering me, or scaring me,  I don’t want that.

Miracle please…stretcher me through a hole in roof, I can’t do it myself.

 

trying to walk the bread line

this morning
I’ve been reminded
(once again)
that we live completely
by the grace of God

as usual that part of the Lord’s Prayer
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
was the spark

each time a believer  we prays those words
they’re asking God to provide their daily nourishment
to give them enough for today
and they’re admitting that our daily bread
is a  gift of God’s grace
something we’re powerless to provide by ourselves
for it is a product of the soil, the rains, the sunlight,
that we can never provide
like manna in the desert

It’s  a reminder to myself
on mornings like this morning
that  when I want to lash out at things
to make my own way in the world
to be strong
to be he-man
to  seize the day
to grab my piece of the pie
that the Kingdom  works on different rules
and that this man should work on different rules as well

not that it’s easy
to trust
being on the bread-line

knowing that although you’ve bread enough for today
that tomorrow is a new day
and the day after that

there will be a lot of faith required down the line
and your faith is weak

each day you will pray
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
in faith and trust

do I have that much faith?

we had that those verses
from Matthew six
about not worrying about tomorrow
or the clothes you will wear
or what you will eat
and considering the birds
who neither sow nor reap
and to seek first the Kingdom
and his righteousness
read to us on our wedding day

it is a command of the way we should go

yet  seeking the kingdom
and his justice
in this economy is hard
so hard

writing and topping up your cv
seems to me to be like
playing ‘Top Trumps’
against your neighbour
and at his expense

if it’s true that we receive our daily bread by grace
(like we pray as Christians)
how does this competing for daily bread
(that seems to be the way the economy is designed to work)
come into it?

how do you walk the bread line?

it’s not about making money
it’s about making a living
yet it feels so hard to make a living
in this economy and culture
without engaging that culture and economy
on it’s terms and by it’s rules

I’m waiting here boss…

When I pray the words of U2’s ‘Wake Up Dead Man’ I know that I’m not doing great…

‘Jesus, Jesus help me
I’m alone in this world
and a fucked up world it is too
tell me, tell me the story
the one about eternity
and the way it’s all gonna be
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN

Jesus, I’m waiting here boss
I know you’re looking out for us
but maybe your hands aren’t free
your Father, He made the world in seven
He’s in charge of heaven
will you put a word in for me?
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN

listen to your words they’ll tell you what to do
listen over the rhythm that’s confusing you
listen to the reed in the saxophone
listen over the hum of the radio
listen over sounds of blades in rotation
listen through the traffic and circulation
listen as hope and peace try to rhyme
listen over marching bands playing out their time
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN

Jesus, were you just around the corner?
did You think to try and warn her?
or are you working on something new?
if there’s an order in all of this disorder
is it like a tape recorder?
can we rewind it just once more
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN
WAKE UP WAKE UP DEAD MAN’

Amen

praying with eyes open and three men in a boat

Continuing my journey along the  River Thames with “Three men in a Boat” I came to this passage

The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century, wore no clothes but rough tunics and cowls, and ate no flesh, nor fish, nor eggs. They lay upon straw, and they rose at midnight to mass. They spent the day in labour, reading, and prayer; and over all their lives there fell a silence as of death, for no one spoke.

A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot, that God had made so bright! Strange that Nature’s voices all around them – the soft singing of the waters, the whisperings of the river grass, the music of the rushing wind – should not have taught them a truer meaning of life than this. They listened there, through the long days, in silence, waiting for a voice from heaven; and all day long and through the solemn night it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.
Jerome K. Jerome

This called to mind a chapter in a Eugene Peterson book that talks about Annie Dillard, John Calvin and the wonder of creation

There are two great mystical traditions in the life of prayer, sometimes labeled kataphatic and apophatic. Kataphatic prayer uses icons, symbols, ritual, incense; the creation is the way to the Creator. Apophatic prayer attempts emptiness; the creature distracts from the Creator, and so the mind is systematically emptied of idea, image, sensation until there is only the simplicity of being. Kataphatic prayer is ‘praying with your eyes open’; apophatic prayer is ‘praying with your eyes shut. At our balanced best, the two traditions intermingle, mix, and cross-fertilize. But we are not always at our best. The Western church is heavily skewed on the side of the apophatic. The rubric for prayer when I was a child was ‘Fold your hands, bow your head, shut your eyes, and we’ll pray.’ My early training carries over into my adult practice. Most of my praying still is with my eyes shut. I need balancing.
Eugene Peterson, The Gift

That certainly rings true with my experience of Protestant Christianity, the closing of eyes and bowing of the head each time we pray in church to block out the distractions of the world.

When we do that we are less distracted by worldly things and can concentrate on the spiritual. Yet it all seems very gnostic or something and in a way is saying that the things that we see with our eyes are corrupted and on a lesser plane than the things we think or have in our heart.

There is something wrong there.

On the other hand, praying with your eyes open might be easy in the wilds of Donegal or looking down the valleys of Switzerland in spring but how do you pray in Lambeg or Lisburn on a wet, windy dark January night when you’re feeling low and frustrated with life? For me that has been a puzzle that I haven’t cracked in my time here. How to pray with eyes open beside the Lagan Tow path when the hawthorns are closing in on you and you have only a moorhen for company.