Rumours of deeper things…

 

tents, in high wind

I am heading off with a group of friends to a small Hebridean Island for one of our ‘wilderness retreats’ next weekend.

Spring is here. Yesterday we played our first cricket match of the year (both Will and I out for 0 on a wet sappy pitch) and the garden is full of shy colours. I yearn for wild places.

My awareness of the significance of the wild in understanding myself, as well as trying to understand God, is a constant work in progress. I can make few definitive statements in relation to either. All I can say is that experience is more important than definition. So I continue to place myself in places where I hear rumours of deeper things…

In deep meditation

A few years ago I wrote a series of ‘dispatches’- short poems really- that I tied laminated onto bright card, then tagged to the top of canes. We have used them a few times, laid out along cliff tops or on circular routes around wild headlands. I was reviewing some material for this trip and decided not to use them again, but realised that the dispatches say almost everything about my own hopes and prayers for encounters with God. Here they are;

1.

There are rumours-

Like smoke signals blurred in desert wind
They say

He is here

Not in metaphor
Not whipped up in the collective madness of charismata
Not just politely suggested by the high drama of religious ritual-

Here

Sweating
Breathing
With mud on his shoes
2.

Should I hide?

Should I stay in a fold of ground
And hope he does not walk my way?

I could never meet his eye
Knowing that the hidden parts of me will be
Wide open
3.

How do I prepare?

I have no fine things-
No fine words
My shield of sophistication
Is broken

I am soft flesh laid bare
I am a fanfare to repeated failure

I am herald only to this
Hopeless
Hope
4.

But this King wears no stately form
Wants no majesty

He walks gently
And has a humble heart

And he is-

Here
5.

Put down those things you carry
Sit with me a while
Stop making things so complicated
It is much simpler than that
6.

Start from where you are
Not where you would like to be
Not where others say you should be
There may come a time
When I will warm your heart towards a new thing

But right now
I just want to warm your heart
7.

It is not for you to cut a way into the undergrowth
Or make a road into the rocky places
Rather let us just walk
And see were this path will lead us
You and I

8.

All around you is beauty
See it

Smell it

Feel it falling like manna
9.

Look for softness in your heart
There I am
Look for tenderness
And it will be my Spirit
Calling you to community
10.

My yoke rests easy
If you will wear it

And my burdens lie soft on the shoulders
If you will lift them
11.

You are wrapped up in me
And I am bound up in you

We are held together by soft bindings
Like tender shoot and stake
Like mud and gentle rain
Like worn shoe and weary foot
Like tea and pot

Like universe and stars
Like ocean and rolling wave
Like fields and each blade of grass

There is now
And there is our still-to-come

Coming

12.

And he was gone-

But still I am not alone

The Spirit is stirring the waters

 

Alt worship, old school…

ohps

 

Aoradh met yesterday for our ‘family day’. We have one of these a month at the house of one or other of our members. Everyone brings something to eat and something to contribute to an act of worship- it was lovely.

Yesterday we sang, listened to music, watched a DVD and spoke about starting again, changing things up. Among all the lovely things we did, what stays most in my mind was something that Michaela encouraged us to do using old school technology in the form of acetates.

‘Alternative worship’ (if you have not come across the phrase before) could be understood as a creative democratisation of worship within the Christian tradition. It involves taking old and new rituals and reinventing them, finding renewal and making new community along the way. It might also sometimes veer towards the highly technical- the joke is often made that if the alt. worship scene has a patron saint, then this is likely to be St Jobs of Apple. Contrast this with when the movement started out, when we all dug out our parents slide projectors and borrowed the OHPs from our local schools. Having said all that, our family days have very little in the way of high end technology.

Michaela’s idea was to take a song – an old Vineyard song called Hungry; She took some of the words- the negative ones like hungry, weary, empty, dry, broken and wrote them on a sheet. She then placed an acetate over the original sheet with other words on – satisfy, restore, arms open wide. The words merged, but remained separate.

She then asked us to think of all the things that were weighing us down; all those hard situations, areas of pain and brokenness, and to write them down on a sheet of paper. We then were invited to take a sheet of acetate and write words of hope, with prayers and promises. Then place the acetate over the sheet of paper.

Simple, low tec, but done prayerfully, in the company of friends it was beautiful.

I have my sheers here now. Depression becomes paired with gentleness, with patience, with grace. Awkwardness becomes paired with creativity and love…

Who needs beats and 5 different projections?

 

Taking the 666 flight to Hell…

Tegel Airport To Close In 2012

 

A few years ago Aoradh set up a prayer room/Labyrinth in an old Shop. It was as ever a wonderful mix of manic busyness, stress, significant conversations and deep moments of grace. In the middle of all of this, I looked over to see one of my friends being prodded in the chest by a local Pastor who obviously had some problem with what we were doing. He was shouting something about ‘You people think you are the only people doing anything in this town’. My friend dealt with it really well (ie he did not smack him between the eyes in the name of Jesus) but most of us were rather shocked and upset by his nonsensical outburst.

The fact that people whose only perspective of who God might be is viewed through a very narrow Conservative Evangelical set of goggles might have theological issues with what we do is a not a surprise of course. This perspective sees the duty of all Christians as saving people from eternal torment in the fires of hell. This has always included most other ‘Christians’, who are not really saved as they do not hold the same views.

A couple of years later I (reluctantly) attended a churches together Carol singing session at the middle of my small town. I was rather dreading it- standing in the middle of the central street next to speakers relaying music being played by a fiddly group inside a church. The aforementioned Pastor was there too, along with great handfuls of tracts and books intended to spread a particularly strenuous version of the ‘Good News’.

He strode over towards me, and I cringed. Was he going to challenge me over some other Aoradh unBiblical error? What he did was to thrust a tract in my hand, and say “Here you go, you need one of these.”

I was reminded of this by this story, posted by a friend on Facebook.

Anyone fancy joining us on the Friday the 13th Fin Air flight number 666 to Hel?

It is lovely there this time of year.

Local discussion forum thingy…

We have had a house group at our house for a number of years- some dear friends, a pot of tea and lots of chatter. However, for some time now I have been thinking that it is time to move on into something new. We have floated the idea of starting a local discussion- probably in a pub.

The are a few reasons for this- groups like ours (no matter how lovely) can simply become too familiar, too safe- and the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion. I just think it is time to step out again a little.

Next, those of us who were part of all the ‘emerging church’ discussions/conversations/debates/slanging matches perhaps became a jaded with the same theological merry go round. Post modernity, post evangelicalism, post charismatic- we all embraced the questions but had no certainty about where the road might be leading- and that was fine.

But there comes a time when a new direction for our theological journey begins to become a little clearer. All those questions start to find some kind of answer, even if incomplete and held lightly.

Of late, there have been some discussions about ‘teaching’ within Aoradh. I was rather shocked at first as I was not that sure I wanted to teach anyone anything. I was happy to learn alongside others as we journeyed together, but the idea that other people should be shaped and moulded by  my (or one of my friend’s) knowledge and wisdom was rather beyond me. At first the whole idea of it seemed a step back towards something that I was glad to leave behind.

But of course, St Paul talked about the gifts given to the body of the church- apostles prophets teachers miracle workers healers helpers organizers those who pray in tongues. I am no longer given to treating the suggestions of St Paul to the people in Ephesus as a blue print for the organisation of ‘church’, but neither am I going to ignore him either!

Having said that, there are a few other positions in St Paul’s list above that still have no certified incumbents. Whilst I hope that we can be respectful of church tradition, I have no real desire to start a journey towards a new clergy. Rather let us use the passion and talent that we can, and encourage the same in others around us. If we have a teacher, let him/her teach.

Or let us just gather to learn together- this still sits much easier with me.

So- if you are in the Dunoon area, do you fancy being part of a discussion group?

My working idea has been to use some of the questions proposed by St Brian of Mclaren in his book ‘A new kind of Chrisitianity';

1. What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?

2. How should the Bible be understood?

3. Is God violent?

4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?

5. What is the Good News?

6. What do we do about the church?

7. Can we find a better way to address the issue of homosexuality?

8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?

9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?

10. How can we translate our quest into action?

I am determined that any of these discussions has to start and end with respect for a diversity of opinion- and even to embrace this, and if we start to fight truth wars than we will not continue!
Up for it?
Here is a taster of St Brian, talking about Questions 9- pluralism;

Benches…


Yesterday some of us spent a rather fraught few hours rushing along Dunoon’s sea front setting up meditation stuff on benches.

I walked the length of it all again today with William- it was a lovely day and lots of people were out along the seafront.

Some of the benches had already been vandalised sadly- in fact I had words with some 12 year old boys who were ripping things down as I watched. However, there is lots that is still untouched and I hope others are able to use it.

The final part is an installation in Morags Fairy Glen involving a fan of ribbons suspended high on a rope. It is simple and rather magical. It uses this poem as well (from Listing)

Against such there is no law…

 

Love is not against the law

Although in judicial circles

It is not encouraged

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord falls

Love is between us like oil on bearings

 

Joy is not forbidden

But wherever it breaks out

It is fragile

Like a bubble

In a pine forest

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord rests

Joy beats like a dancing drum in the middle of us

Calling us to dance

 

Peace is never prohibited

But like a dove above a shooting range

Its flight is fraught with danger

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord lives

The boundaries we keep are soft

And we are learning how

To forgive

 

Patience is permitted in most places

But only if you use it quickly

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord lingers

Patience is like the summer sun

Drawing out the sugars in the ripening fruit

Sweetening the harvest

 

Kindness is condoned even in the most unlikely places

But it will win you few contracts

And is not conducive to

Promotion

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord comes close

Kindness kind of follows after

 

Goodness will not result in a jail sentence

But neither will it pay its way

In the global village superstore

 

But when the Spirit of the Lord smiles

Goodness becomes the common currency

Gentleness is no crime

And in many places it is a clinical necessity

But it is easily overlooked

In the shadow of another conquest

 

But where the Spirit of the Lord draws near

Then hands all rough from hard works

Become softened to hold

And to heal

 

Faithfulness is never a traitor

Yet we live like weathervanes

Spun by the seasons

To face the prevailing winds

 

But when the Spirit of the Lord moves

Promises no longer require the threat

Of legal recourse

 

Self control is thundered from the pulpit

But just in case the message falls on deaf ears

We deploy the secret pew police

Rule books at the ready

Swinging their

Truncheons of truth

To crunch the knuckles

Of the apostate

 

But when the Spirit of the Lord comes amongst us

There is a perfect law called…

 

Freedom

Some photos here- click to enlarge;

Benches…

Aoradh have been planning some installations to coincide with Cowalfest (walking festival) and the MOD (annual festival of Gaelic culture held in a different place in Scotland each year) both which will run in Dunoon over the next couple of weeks.

We have decided to use benches along a 1-2 mile stretch of coastline. Each bench will have a piece of poetry, scripture or an activity to help with meditation.

As ever, we are leaving everything until the last minute, but if you are in Dunoon over the next couple of weeks we really hope you enjoy the things we are creating.

Where the streams come from- poetry/soundscape release…

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As part of our Greenbelt installation, we put together some soundtracks of poetry and field recordings/sound scapes around wilderness themes- Sea, Woodland, River. The intention was to project them onto sculptural representations of the three locations using ultrasonic speakers, but the technology let us down somewhat, not to mention the appalling weather conditions.
.
Anyway, rather than letting it go to waste, the poetry soundscapes are being released by Proost as an audio download. Each one is around 10-11 mins long.
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You can download it here for the bargain price of £1.99.
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This is the Proost blurb;
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Poetry and meditations by Chris Goan and read by members of Aoradh.

All streams flow into the sea yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from, there they will return.
(Ecclesiastes 1:7)
This collection of poems and meditation was first created for an installation used at Greenbelt Festival, but could be used for both personal and collective meditation. It combines soundscapes recorded in wilderness locations with poetry by Chris Goan and read by members of Aoradh, a community based in Dunoon, Argyll. The voices used in these recordings range from people aged 8 to 78 and with many different accents;
Netta Shannon, Simon Richardson, Helen Richardson, Emily Goan, Michaela Goan, Chris Goan, Sharon Barnard, Audrey Forest, Nick Smith, Paul Beautyman, Skye Beautyman.
Aoradh (meaning ‘adoration’) is shaped in many ways by our location and the wild places that surround us. It seeps into the words we write, and becomes the place where we seek to make worship and pilgrimage; from beach Pentecost bonfires to wilderness retreats on tiny islands.
The three meditation are as follows;
1. Sea.  Soundscapes recorded on a beach on the northern shore of Iona, and supplemented by further recordings made on the shoreline near Dunoon.
2. Woodland. Soundscapes recorded in woodland behind Chris’s house in Dunoon and on an early spring morning along Loch Striven, Cowal Peninsula.
3. River. Soundscapes recorded near streams flowing down into Loch Eck, Cowal Peninsular and Pucks Glen, near Dunoon.
Price: £1.99

Brokenness as a place of becoming…

Simon and I did a talk at Greenbelt festival about community, based on some of our experiences in Aoradh. We spoke a lot about the challenge, the exposure and the pain of community- how it was impossible to move closer to one another without also being wounded, hurt and (hopefully) changed.

If I were to pick one man to discuss this with in more detail, it would be John Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities. He speaks and writes with such gentle integrity about his own experience of being broken. I was reminded of this recently when reading a short review of one of Vanier’s books From Brokenness to Community.

When we follow Jesus, writes Vanier, we are called to reject certain aspects of the world. We accept loss of wealth and status and comfort. We embrace downward mobility and climb back down the world’s ladder of success. This process can begin when we discover our mutual brokenness. We acknowledge our poverty and then we understand what it means that Jesus came to serve the poor. We recognize our infirmity and then we discover God doesn’t work primarily through those who think they are well, but through those who know they are sick. All this happens in the context of community—a place of pain and trial, but also reconciliation and celebration. Community is where the ego goes to die, and in its place we find resurrection, communion, and even salvation.

Here is Vanier himself talking about the same things;

It is worth watching some of the rest of the clips in this series. There is a deep sigh in me when I hear him speak about love and community and the possibilities of finding our being as we give it away in love of others. I know these things to be true.

I also know them to be elusive. I know them to be things that can not be grasped or owned- they are not aspirational as one might seek promotion or personal fulfilment- they are rather discovered in the shit of our own failure.

May we find the place of becoming, not because enlightenment is something we can conquer, like some spiritual Everest, but more because this is the only honest and hopeful thing possible when faced with the brokenness in me, and also glimpsed in others.

Aoradh family day…

We had a lovely Aoradh gathering today. The kids planned their own worship service, around the theme of food (food in the bible, being grateful, being more fruitful) then- well we ate of course!

Sharon had made a cake, which we all wrote our names on in icing, then we ate that too.

Lots of our young people are in transition. Two of them away to university, one to college, others to new schools or new exam years. We decided to give them all an envelope full of things each adult had written to each child.

A good cake takes care.

All those lovely ingredients gathered and mixed and moulded.

Bowls licked clean.

Oven warmed and ready to raise and brown.

So it is with you my girl. All the lovely parts of you are in the mix. God is stirring them up, and the oven is warm.

You will feed many with rich lovely things.

You will feed many with love.

 

Greenbelt 2012…

I am half man, half compost- as will be most attendees of this year’s Greenbelt festival.

This is partly the highly digestive social-spiritual mulch that Greenbelt always is, but also down to more corporeal matters;

I live in a place famous for rain sweeping in from the sea and using us as blotting paper, but the rain that fell on the festival on Saturday was something else. Half the site was flooded and thirty thousand feet mixed anything not tarmac to gloop. The less stoical left, but the rest of us had more room to skirt the deepest mire and enjoy still some fantastic music, conversation, art and poetry.

Highlights for me;

Social- meeting up with friends from Lancashire, from Wales, from London, from Leeds etc. Sharing many a cup of tea and catching up with lives lived at a distance.

Spiritual- I managed to miss all the well known speakers like Tony Campolo, Tom Wright. I enjoyed Dave Tomlinson talking about a being a Bad Christian. Jonny Baker was really good on ‘A different world is possible’ too. I also loved being in the old Cathedral for the pre festival feast hosted by Feig (thanks guys!)

Musical- Bruce Cockburn- my guru for decades – was like a comfortable woolly jumper on a dark night. I knew every song, and most words too. Phantom Limb (Country, R and B, Eagles-like harmonies) blew me away. Then there was the folk fest on the last day- dancing in the mud to the Imagined Village (simply brilliant) and the wacky theatricality of Bellowhead. Martin Joseph reduced me to tears with one song.

Art- LOVED Si Smith’s new work on the book of Job.

Aoradh’s contribution to the festival was characterised by technology issues! Our sculpture/soundscape installation became, well, just sculptures as the ultrasonic speakers failed to deliver what they promised. They still looked great though. As the weekend unfolded the ground beneath them turned to deep oozing brown sucking mud, but they remained defiant and proud.

Our talk/discussion entitled ‘Don’t do it like us, making real community in small towns and ordinary places’ was very well attended, and we were bombarded with questions. The power failed for half of it so we had to shout!

Another great festival, that somehow, despite the long distances and the conditions, has nurtured and encouraged me.

Now, need to get down to DIY!