OK, so I am no Picasso…

I have just been looking at some photos of bits and pieces of art that I did recently as part of a retreat. A couple of them I am childishly pleased with and so I offer these to you much in the same way as bringing something home from school to show mum, who will no doubt pin them to her fridge for a while until it gets all curly and finishes in the bin.

The first one was a water colour wash, made when I was thinking about peace. Peace falling like water. As I made the wash, I deliberately left areas dry, almost like islands of anxiety. After the wash dried, I started to fill in the islands with different colours. Blood red and the fear of death. Yellow for sickness. Gold for money. Black for depression. Bright red for anger intolerance and hate.

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A day later, I spent a much longer time making a much bigger piece. In fact I spent around 7 hours cutting out clippings from newspapers, imagining the whole mess of us- the good the bad the glorious. Gathering all the strands of the things that we would hold as important and trying to link it all together.

Next I got hold of some lovely gold acrylic paint and started to paint a tree over all the clippings. I wanted it to be a noble tree, a beautiful tree- to symbolise the Kingdom of God. The tree was not of the newspaper clippings, but it was on them and through them. It did not obliterate the words or the pictures, but it transformed them, illuminated them. It was a totally different medium but it was rooted deep into the mess of it all.

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Oh yes- and I forgot about my red birds. They came from this passage in Matthew chapter 6 (part of the sermon on the mount.)

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Open letter to ‘Pray for Scotland’ in relation to recent prayer call around gay marriage…

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I received a prayer bulletin from Pray for Scotland today. This is an organisation run by some wonderful people whom it was a great privilege to meet and spend time with a few years ago when Michaela and I first arrived in Scotland, hungry for connection, and to understand what God might be up to north of the border. Pray for Scotland can be characterised as evangelical, charismatic and apostolic in their aims- full of people who believe that prayer can make a difference to the very character of our nation.

It was through PFS that I first heard of people who genuinely believed and hoped for a revival, as prophesied by Jean Darnell- something I have written about before on this blog- here.

However, I had some trepidation as I opened the e-mail as I could guess what the content would be. Both the media and the church are full of talk about gay marriage at the moment, and so I was both saddened by, and not surprised, to read the content of this newsletter. Here are a few extracts;

Dear Praying friends

I’m sending out this extra E-letter regarding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13 . The bill is being read in the House of Commons today 5 February 2013  and we think its important that we all join together to pray for our leaders. I have brought some material together  for prayer and information on the issues.

Let’s storm heaven with our petitions of  ‘ His kingdom come’ in the UK government and  ‘His will to be done’ .

At the very beginning I found myself wondering about our common understanding of the Kingdom of God, and whether we would ever want to ‘storm heaven’.

Dear Friends, Tuesday. 5th Feb. will be the second reading of a bill in Westminster on redefining marriage.
We would appreciate if you would pray at a convenient time during the day.
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There will be a bill come to the Scottish parliament, however Westminster will influence Scotland particularly in the area of equality bill and protection of people in ministry and public offices eg. registrars, teachers, social workers.
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On Sunday many people prayed in churches and the following was the suggested corporate prayer—
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 ‘Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of marriage which you established at the dawn of time, to be a blessing throughout the earth, down through the ages. We pray you would fill every marriage with your love and grace, and that every husband and wife would know the joy that comes from sharing and giving. We thank you for establishing marriage to be a secure and stable environment for raising children.
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We pray for all those who do not enjoy these blessings, remembering you are a father to the orphan and a husband to the widow. We pray, as you have commanded us, for those in positions of civil authority. We pray that our government will act with wisdom and righteousness, upholding marriage as the voluntary union of one man to one woman for life, for the good of all people.
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We pray for forgiveness for our nation as our government seeks to redefine marriage. We pray for ourselves that we would speak out in support of marriage with gentleness and kindness, also with courage and confidence. in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, amen. –
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Jean Black(Mrs)
Director Pray for Scotland
I have met Jean, and have the utmost respect for her as a gentle, thoughtful and loving person. However, this prayer troubled me greatly. The newsletter went on to quote CARE, and also the World Prayer Centre, who suggested these points of prayer;
  •  That marriage will not be redefined, and that real marriage will be promoted in society for the good of all.
  • That as many MPs as possible will vote against the Bill to redefine marriage.
  • For David Burrowes, MP and others, as they lead opposition to the Government’s plans in the House of Commons.
  • For the Coalition for Marriage group as it campaigns to defend the true meaning of marriage.
  • For politicians and others in public life to have the courage to stand up for what is right and true.
  • For the news media, that they would report the issue widely, fairly, and accurately.
  • That the true consequences of redefining marriage would be publicly known and properly discussed.
  • That people would not face discrimination, in the workplace or elsewhere, because of their sincere beliefs about marriage.

I decided that I would reply to Pray for Scotland in the form of an open letter. I do so with some trepidation as I do not like conflict, nor am I ever happy to offend anyone. However I have come to believe that this is one of those issues that I can not stay silent on- that unless other people see that there is a real debate going on in the church as to what is the right way to respond to changes in society around homosexual rights then we do a disservice to Jesus and everything that he was.

Here is my reply;

Dear praying friends

Firstly thank you for your faithfulness in continuing to encourage those of us who are seeking to follow Jesus in Scotland to pray. However please forgive me, but I felt that I needed to respond to your latest prayer bulletin. I have made this the subject of an ‘open letter’ via my blog, and am happy for you to re-use these words as you see fit.

The issue of marriage and the underlying (but primary) issue of the Church’s correct stance towards people who are homosexual are ones that have the capacity to polarise and I have little interested in becoming involved in endless circuitous debates. However, your bulletin appears to assume that there is only one perspective on this issue and that all praying Christians will have come to the same view as the organisations you quote about the sanctity of marriage and the inherent sinfulness of a homosexual ‘lifestyle’.

I would respectfully suggest that this is not the case. There are many Christians, like myself, who have come to a different position after years of prayerful engagement with scripture and the traditional teachings of Evangelical churches.  I think many of us were very heartened to read Steve Chalke‘s (Oasis Trust) piece on this issue, which was quoted in Christianity Magazine, and can be read in full here; http://www.oasisuk.org/article.aspx?menuId=31887 I will not seek to rehearse the theology, as Steve has done it far better than I could.

Although I am aware that some will be scandalised by what Steve has to say (and its implications for the way we read the Bible) as Pray for Scotland  seek to unite Christians in prayer for our nation I consider it vital that we bear in mind that this is not a marginal view- rather it is one that an increasingly large part of the Body of Christ in Scotland are beginning to awake to.

I have read and re-read Jean’s suggested prayer, which is full of grace as I know her to be. However, I simply can not join you in many of the prayer points you outline. I am excluded from being able to do this because I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading us on a new path- towards the radical inclusion of the outsider that Jesus modeled for us in everything that he was. I accept that some of you will be convinced of my error in understanding Scripture and my conviction that the new marriage bill poses no danger whatsoever to this nation, nor to the intrinsic value of marriage. Even in our disagreement I would however ask you to consider whether the views you hold allow us to join in a universal prayer for Scotland

In my own prayers, I decided I could join you in prayer in these ways;

  • Thanking God for the gift of marriage- for the blessing it has been in my own life, and the life of others all around me.
  • Praying for those who are married, that their relationships may be characterised by peace, productivity, life long loyalty and blessing. Praying that this kind of relationship will be available to all.
  • Praying particularly for people whose marriages have NOT been like this- for those who have known pain, abuse and brokenness in their marriages. For divorced people, for those alone. Praying for them to find peace, and renewed companionship.
  • Praying in particular for the children born to marriages like the one above. The children born to these marriages will have all sorts of disadvantages and damage, and so I will pray that these might be turned towards healing by grace.
  • I will also say sorry to God that I am part of a society that constantly tends towards selfishness, over consumption, empire building and trivialisation, whilst at the same time undervaluing the principles of love and justice that would lead us always towards the other- particularly those who are marginalised and stigmatised by society.

May you be richly blessed

Chris Goan.

(Comments on this piece are welcome, but will be strictly moderated- let us discuss this issue with love and respect or not at all.)

Words and silence…

A lovely poem appeared in my inbox today courtesy of Minimergent (a more or less daily e-mail from Emergent Village.)

It hit a nail on the head.

I have been thinking a lot of how I struggle to pray- how words tend to be hollow- presumptuous, pompous, self seeking. How it seems as though I am speaking more to myself than to God at times.

And how I tend to fill everything I do with words- because words are the medium of my understanding, my meditation, my artistic endeavour.

So this poem makes a suitable prayer. Wordy though it may be;

I who live by words, am wordless when

I try my words in prayer. All language turns

To silence. Prayer will take my words and then

Reveal their emptiness. The stilled voice learns

To hold its peace, to listen with the heart

To silence that is joy, is adoration.

The self is shattered, all words torn apart

In this strange patterned time of contemplation

That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,

And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.

I leave, returned to language, for I see

Through words, even when all words are ended.

I, who live by words, am wordless when

I turn me to the Word to pray.

Amen.

 

Madelaine L’Engle  ‘The Weather of the Heart’

The spirituality to be found at a fireside…

This is a photograph taken on our recent retreat. I think the glow above the fire is an internal lens/filter reflection. Cheap filters are a problem I am told! But it looks like something has been created from our gathering- or perhaps the old truth that where we gather in his name, he is in the midst of us…

Gathering around a fire must be stamped somewhere in the middle of what it means to be human. After all, it must be just about our oldest form of social gathering.

There is a story about a micro technology project that visited a village in Africa, offering to install a solar powered lighting system. “Why do we need this?” asked the village elders. “What benefits would this bring to our people?” “Well,” replied the aid workers, “you will be able to work later in the evening, your children will be able to study and use computers and your wives will be able to prepare food more easily.” The elders considered for a while, then politely declined the offer of the electricity system. When asked why, they replied “There are enough hours in the day for work. In the evening, we gather round a fire and tell the stories that make us who we are.”

On our recent retreat, we gathered round a fire. It was tricky- there were no trees on the island and a fast tide race sweeping the shores clean, so we had to gather wood from nooks and crannies all over the rocky shores. We told stories of hopes and dreams, and prayed using incense that we scattered on the fire (to symbolise the fragrance of Jesus) and iron filings that sparked us into awareness of the power of the Spirit.

My your fireside be equally warm and welcoming, and may great stories be told…

Making visual prayers…

We spent some time sticking pictures at housegroup last night.

We had gathered loads of clippings from newspapers and magazines, and used them to construct a great big prayer of thankfulness.

And there was much laughter, and much friendship.

Which was a kind of prayer too…

Michaela read this poem by Robert Siegel-

A Song of Praises

for the gray nudge of dawn at the window

for the chill that hangs around the bed and slips its cold tongue under the covers

for the cat who walks over my face purring murderously

for the warmth of the hip next to mine and sweet lethargy

for the cranking up the hill of the will until it turns me out of bed

for the robe’s warm caress along arm and shank

for the welcome of hot water, the dissolving of the nights stiff mask in the soft washcloth

for the light along the white porcelain sink

for the toothbrush’s savoury invasion of the tomb of the mouth and the resurrection of the breath

for the warm lather and the scrape of the razor and the skin smooth and pink that emerges

for the steam of the shower, the apprehensive shiver and then

its warm enfolding of the shoulders

its falling on the head like grace

its anointing of the whole body

and the soap’s smooth absolution

for the rough nap of the towel and its message to each skin cell

for the hairbrush’s pulling and pulling, waking the root of each hair

for the reassuring snap of elastic

for the hug of the belt that pulls all together

for the smell of coffee rising up the stairs announcing paradise

for the glass of golden juice in which light is condensed and the grapefruit’s sweet flesh

for the incense of butter on toast

for the eggs, like twin peaks over which the sun rises

and the jam for which the strawberries of summer have saved themselves

for the light whose long shaft lifts the kitchen into the realms of day

for Mozart elegantly measuring out the gazebos of heaven on the radio

and her face, for whom the kettle sings, and the coffee percs

and all the yellow birds in the wallpaper spread their wings

Ahhh.

I think I like this bloke’s poems.

(Although to be honest, I am not usually that grateful in the morning.)

Praying with maltesers…

Michaela meets with a few friends to pray and chat about once a week. They sit round a table and make art whist they pray. Women are so much better at these things than we blokes I think.

Of course, being women, chocolate is involved.Today they sat round a big bag of maltesers. I am not sure what exact spiritual role the sweeties played.

Perhaps a kind of woman’s communion celebration?

One prayer, three maltesers.

One answered prayer, a bar of dairy milk.

They keep this lovely book of things they have made- pictures and crafts. It is such a beautiful thing- like a living prayer

I got (grudging) permission to take some photos of the pages that are not personal. I hope you enjoy them, it is like an invitation into another world.

Where chocolate is freely available…

Angels on Dunoon pier…

We (aoradh that is) are just home after spending most of the day dismantling a worship/mediation space on Dunoon pier on the theme of Angels, as a celebration of Michaelmas

We used a vacant pavillion building on Dunoon pier- it used to be a bar/disco but has been largely unused for years. We have used it in the past as a 24/7 prayer room, and also as a space for a mediation labyrinth (check this out for more info on the labyrinth- you can get a kit from Proost also…)

It is a lovely liminal space- out above the water, close by the town centre,  with the passing of many feet as the ferries disgorge their passengers. In the daytime, it is bathed in a lovely light, and at night, it becomes a beacon out on the dark waters.

This time we worked with Kimberley Bohan – minister of the local Episcopal church, who brought the idea of Michaelmas to us. As with all of these community things we have done, we wanted to offer a place where people could just come in and encounter God. With no other agendas- no hard sell. Just hospitality and the rest up to the Holy Spirit.

The stations we set up in this space included a community collage, ‘messages’, The story of Raphael, a holy space, and a way of responding using post cards with Angel words.

I hope it was meaningful to people.

Here are some photos;

Closing the ears of God

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Heres a question;

Does sinfulness stop God hearing our prayers?

By this, I mean, if we approach him with unconfessed sin cluttering up our lives, does this mean that our prayers bounce off the ceiling? Or at very least, are we less likely to attract his attention- he is very busy after all…

Or perhaps it is a positive reinforcement thing- God blesses those who are pure, and withholds his blessings from the sinners?

I suppose I grew up with a firm idea that this was indeed the case. I can’t remember if anyone specifically told me this- but I think they did.

I certainly remember it being used as a possible reason for someone NOT being healed at charismatic healing services- a kind of blame-the-victim mentality which seems dreadful to me now.

Where does this idea come from? I am trying to think of verses in the Bible that would suggest this, but can not think of anything obvious (can you?) There are some OT stories of God punishing the nation of Israel by turning his face from their sufferings, and there often seemed to be consequences for leaders and kings who sinned and refused to heed the voices of the prophets.

But, if anything, there seems to be repeated evidence in the Bible to suggest that God did not wait for purity (even the ritualistic kind) before he engaged with people.

Abraham and his incestuous offspring
Moses the murderer
Saul
David
Jeremiah the reluctant.
Hosea and his prostitute wife.

And when we come to the new testament, and the coming of the New Kingdom, the evidence that God loves first and judges later is every where.

Mary and Joseph- mother and step father to God, imperfect vessels who carry and care for the King
The ramshackle bunch of losers who became the disciples
All the sinners whose company Jesus seemed to prefer to the religious folk of his day
Roman oppressors
Tax collectors
Women whose bodies made them untouchable

You get the picture. So how about you and me? I am often consumed by an awareness of my own sinfulness- the whole thought, word and deed bit. The stuff the I do once, and the habitual stuff, that I seem to do again and again, almost as if I have no control over myself, and as if it does not matter. When confronted by an awareness of the presence of God, I still bear shame…

Can God still use me? Has he still used me, and loved me and blessed me in spite of what I am?

Earlier I posted my feelings about the so called Florida outpouring, and its leader Todd Bentley (see here.) I see that Todd Bentley has stepped down from leadership amidst a broken marriage and allegations of adultery. Does this make the whole outpouring thing invalid? Even if you thought that the ‘outpouring’ was all smoke and mirrors before the allegations, then I would suggest that the Todd Bentley’s apparent frailties say nothing concrete about the incarnation of God in these happenings. We should rather pray that Bentley and those around him find a way through the Brokenness and hurt, and acknowledge that any leader in the public eye as he has been must have been under intolerable pressure.

But…

Let us never come to accommodate and tolerate sinfulness within us. Let us never respond to the God who is willing to love, in spite of what gets in the way, by taking him for granted. Rather let us turn again towards his ways.

Let us start from now, and seek forgiveness. And because God imposes no conditions on his mercy- neither then should we.

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