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.

A flash of the old Charismania…

I have just been reading a review of Greenbelt 2012 by Tony Cummings on Cross Rhythms.  Suffice it to say that Tony was not overly impressed. He thought it only a matter of time before GB announced itself no longer a ‘Christian’ festival, and records how he chastised openly gay C of E minister (and former Communard) Richard Coles. He compliments Bruce Cockburn on his music, but regrets lacking an opportunity to correct his theology.

Tony clearly comes from a particular theological position;

The Scriptures have been a light unto my feet wherever I’ve clumsily put them. Put simply, the Bible, all the Bible, is God-breathed. Over the years I’ve had informal chats, often at Greenbelt, with people who’ve called my attitude to the Bible “legalistic” or in more recent times “literalist”. They’ve been hard conversations to conduct in an atmosphere of love. It’s not easy to be gentle and loving when someone’s calling you names and it’s harder still when you’ve come to prayerfully believe that pejorative words like literalist or fundamentalist truly don’t bear any resemblance to what I believe or how I live my life. It seems to me all this theological name-calling, whether it emanates from Bruce Cockburn, Pat Robertson, Martyn Joseph, Dave Tomlinson or thousands more who call Christians deluded charismaniacs, liberal backsliders or post evangelical heretics, are continuing to slander the Church. The love the Bible tells us the Church should have one for another is still elusively far off.

This is an opinion piece and I do not intend to dwell on it too much, apart from an interesting exchange between Tony and Robin Vincent. I missed it, but Robin was part of an event at GB entitled Molten Meditation & Soul Circus’ Sacramental Charismania and Tony Cummings had a bit of a go at it all in his article.

Robin responded via his blog. I liked this;

What I find interesting is that the term “charismatic” used to describe a style of worship is increasingly a red herring. I’ve found the use of the gifts, the move of the holy spirit in every expression of church I’ve come across. This years Greenbelt programme actually had the word “charismatic” all over it describing things like the Blesséd Mass and the Accord Evensong and was ever present in the Rend Collective and Andy Flanagan. There’s a real desire to step up and reclaim the term and demonstrate how my video needs to become an archaic curiosity, a snapshot of what once was – so we can move forward without the baggage. To do that we have to lay the baggage at Jesus’ feet – that’s what I tried to do last Sunday night.

It all comes flooding back.

Me on a stage with a guitar and a sense of confused excitement. Something is stirring, there is a crackle in the air like electricity.

I try to find the wavelength with music, reaching out into what for me is mystery, but into which others all around me are claiming to be directly plugged into- wired in to the God-current.

And I hope. I try not to notice all the contradictions. The so called transformational charismatic events that seem to have no lasting significance in people lives. The selective mundanities pasted together to make clear ‘instruction’ from God. The power given to people who claim special gifting, despite their tendency to abuse and wound others.

For me and many others, it became impossible to dwell within all the contradictions of this experience and to this day, I struggle to understand what of my experience could be regarded as genuine, spiritual, God-related and how much just manipulated hot air.

My working conclusion is that both were present, but in what percentages I could not say.

Tony Cummings differentiates between the ‘Charismatic’ and ‘Charismania’. In my many years of immersion within Charismatic churches, I find this distinction very difficult to define. This might be because of my ‘lack of discernment’ (this being one of the spiritual gifts highly valued in Charismatic circles, but totally subjective in application) but also might be simply because these things will always contain both. To be an active participant in the excesses of Charismatic worship has to involve a setting aside of any kind of defensive reserves and going with the movement of the crowd. Whether the crowd is being shaped by Spirit of God, or the effect of a few charismatic individuals on the many is always difficult to say, particularly when being swept up in the moment.

It is not as if there have not been many warnings of how things can go wrong. Check out this list of Evangelical/Charismatic scandals.

The fact that Greenbelt is allowing a debate about this seems to me to be important.

As for Mr Cummings, I hope that he remains part of the debate- but hatchet jobs written with Evangelical goggles firmly in place really help no one.


Such a twee, old fashioned word.

Why is that when we are surprised by kindness, or by grace, or by someone refusing to be sucked into the vortex of offence/defence, it breaks us open?

What is it that makes plain old boring goodness so simultaneously stolid and transcendent?

To be good gets bad press. It conjures up image of pious pew polishers and middle England smugness. But goodness in action can frequently reduce me to tears.

It is easy to be ‘good’ in the hallowed cloister of a church, or under the scrutiny of people we might seek to impress. This is not the kind of offering Yahweh ever found acceptable (Amos 5, 21-24.) What is more difficult is to live out a life of love- which in these emotionally restrained islands is better understood as ‘goodness’. Although goodness is something else too… less about a passionate decision towards the other (whatever the motivation behind this passion) more like an instinctive skew towards an active kindness…

Defining goodness is not easy, but we all know it when we encounter it.

It is less important to label it in ourselves. Goodness is perhaps not an attainable goal for the pilgrim (but strangely, love might be.) Rather let us just be diligent in our search for goodness in others. We will always find it I think. Sometimes we will find a lot and then there is reason for song. And in doing this, I hope we may discover goodness by accident.

I have been pondering this (as is my wont) in poetry. I think I prefer this previous attempt, but here is today’s offering;



Smear of a tear

The diffident shuffle of an approaching shoe

The sound of breathing.


Choosing to stay here

In all this shit

Flecking this dark shadow

With morning manna


The pulse of your heartbeat

Taps at me like sonar

The fruit of the Spirit is love…


Speak tenderly my loved one
My heart is laid wide open
Ventricle and clavicle
Could easily be broken
Vulnerable and winnable
Hungry for your mercy
Like a wanderer returning home
Weary thin and thirsty

I hear your distant voice
Dancing in these mountains
Your music in the flowers-
And flowing in the fountains
Come away with me my love
In this hillside let us dally
Apple of my shining eye
Lily of my valley

Against such there is no law…


A continuation of some stuff based around the list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5.

This poem kind of nods at all the fruit Paul mentions.

You can see the others by clicking on the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ category on the left.

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

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…


Emily and Will, somewhere in Wester Ross, 2003

Emily and Will, somewhere in Wester Ross, 2003

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness


I was sore
Abraded by the road gravel
And you wrapped me
In a soft bed
Of kindness

I was weary from the world
And like a soothing embrocation
You took these road weary feet
And slippered them
In front of a warm fire

I failed
And stared down low
Until the soft music in your voice
Brought to me possibility
That I too
Could be loved

That I too could love
In return

So may you be showered with blessings
Like blossom petals
Butterflying about you
In this beautiful breeze


The fruit of the Spirit is joy…

image from flickr

Something down deep
Wants out
Spleen and liver shiver
Pressure mounts
Rise up this heavy heart to heaven
And shout

This precious life and loving
In these veins now flowing
Will burst the banks old rivers
had formed
And pour out
On thirsty ground

So you and me-
Let’s find our feet
In freedom
And dance
Let’s live out lives
All open
To circumstance

For joy is a bubble building
In me
And Lord-
How beautiful
Is this world
I see

The fruit of the Spirit is peace…

After the rain squalling
And the bombs falling
After the back stabbing
And the tongue lashing
After love is betrayed
And dreams disarrayed
When the knife cuts and slashes
After sackcloth and ashes
Comes the peace

After the tumours
And cruel vicious rumours
After bodies broken
And evil words spoken
After guns cease their shooting
Troops no longer jack-booting
With the grave trodden down
And the trees now turned brown
Comes peace

Even after the failure
Of life-long labour
And after deadlines missed
After the getting pissed
When the pressure’s done mounting
And it’s all over-even the shouting
When the race has been run
In the setting of sun
Comes the peace

When anger burns out
After faith turns to doubt
When we give up on walking
And wolf packs are stalking
When the money is spent
Safety curtains are rent
At the end of all coping
Even Polyanna’s done hoping

Even then
Will fall
My peace

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