Holy Week (2) – Good Friday Lament – What’s wrong with the world?

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This Good Friday the two local Methodist Pioneer Ministries (Share & Open House) took the opportunity to worship together. A drum beat led us before we nailed to the cross, where we held a prayerful lament based around words suggested and collected from people attending food bank sessions over the last couple of weeks. People then named and added additional “wrongs”.

In the evening the cross was taken to Judiths Open House where it remained until Easter Sunday.

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Holy Week (1) – They Killed You

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I wrote these words this week during our weekly creative writing session – as part of Holy Week reflections.

“When Words are Not Enough….”

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Well it’s months since my last post – both Advent and Christmas have passed without comment from these pages, and now we have entered the season of Lent. It is always a time for inner reflection and hopefully (though not always) of some revelation too. In my Pioneer Ministry (Share) we began the forty days with a short prayer time to mark Ash Wednesday; around five of us shared a short liturgy, received and offered ash crosses on our foreheads, and spent time at various prayer stations.

Lent this year has also coincided with the first real steps towards trying to secure funding from Sheffield Methodist Circuit and elsewhere for the continuation of my ministry and other work beyond the end of 2018. This process itself has forced me to re-examine what I do, how and why and do it, and how I work alongside others (in Church and beyond). Needless to say this has brought both positive, and more challenging emotions to the fore; much has been done in so many ways since I began here in 2010. People have come and gone, faces and roles have changed and the world moves on – however it is to this place I still feel called and the ministry I attempt to fulfill that I still feel called to.

Hopefully I will find more words in the coming weeks as I continue to reflect and discern the new paths …. meanwhile I sit and contemplate the prayer poem featured at the top of this post written the other week by my friend Laura.

When words are not enough,

Let us hold the silence.

When prayers are not enough, 

Let us act out our love.

When life turns us about,

Let us find our way.

When all is darkness,

Fill us with hope and love.

When we are weary,

Let us rest.

When we are full of fear,

Send us a bird singing sweetly, a rainbow.

Lift our spirits and remind us of the beauty in this world.

When we are ready to follow you once more;

We will walk your path,

Sing your song,

Dance with the seasons,

Weave the threads,

Mould the clay.

As the tears fall,

We have joy in our hearts,

To be part of your creation.

(Laura Hill 2018)

To be a pilgrim

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105885899Saturday 21st October 2017 witnessed the Annual Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Pilgrimage. Every year we use this occasion to visit faith based social action projects, in order to listen to their stories and the issues facing some of this city’s most vulnerable and in need citizens.

As I walked from my new home close to the city centre to begin the Pilgimage (and to lead prayers and reflections) , I myself reflected upon exactly what makes this annual event a “pilgrimage”. In the end, I think, it’s something about an intentional searching for the sacred amongst the day to day life of our city – of witnessing to, and listening for, God in the city. The act of pilgrimage focuses our hearts and minds so that we can do what we should be doing every day, to see God in the people we meet, to hear God in the stories we listen to.

On my short ten minute walk into town it felt like my pilgrimage had already began, as I began to observe the lives around me that are each and every day lived out in our city. On Devonshire Green I saw a man (who I later saw entering the Archer Project at the Cathedral) wrapped in his sleeping bag and holding a coffee after what had been a cold autumnal night. He was watching as the sun rose up over the buildings around, welcoming, dreading or merely witnessing the the arrival of another new day. As I turned the corner, a man on his mobile phone passed me in tears, deep in conversation with someone on the other end of the call about some obvious hurt with a real impact on his and possibly other lives, but that will forever remain unknown to me. People were already busily rushing from bus and tram stops to their places of work, and meanwhile signs of the previous nights activities lay discarded on the pavement, empty cans and polythene packets with pictures that suggested they had contained some or other “recreational” drug. Finally as I waited for the other “pilgrims” to arrive I spent some time talking to the Big Issue seller at the end of Chapel Walk, our conversation was nothing particular of note, we spoke of the weather and Storm Brian, about the inherent unfairness of food banks, and about video games, big business, consumerism and why we are too often moved to buy things we don’t really need.

It is important to remind ourselves that cities are not just buildings and roads, they are not simply economic centres; the city is home to a myriad of lives, all interwined and somehow interdependent for their well being. The places and projects we visit each year are witness to just that, this year we visited (and re-visited):

  • Victoria Hall Methodist Church, where we heard about the work amongst refugees and asylum seekers, as well as other visitors from overseas. We we also introduced to the idea of  The Sheffield Box which the church is looking to roll out as a way of welcoming new families to our city.
  • At the Salvation Army on Duke Street, we heard about their efforts to make real on a  day to day basis the outworking of the love of Jesus in peoples lives. We were told of the food bank and emergency support, as well as numerous other local intiatives.
  • The Emmaus Project in Sheffield offers both accomodation and employment to vulnerable people who would otherwise be homeless. We heard how “companions” live and work alongside each other in a community of mutual support.
  • Finally, at the Cathedral Archer Project (amidst a busy lunchtime session) we heard of the work done there to support homeless people, from subsidised meals and advice with benefits and the like, through to visiting dentistry and chiropody services.

Every year we hear about inspiring and challenging work amongst the citys vulnerable and economically poorest and this year, once again we were inspired and challenged in equal measure. Inspired by the hard work of staff and volunteers, inspired also by  people who are finding ways through the complexities of the hardship they themselves face. But also challenged; challenged to further highlight the way policy and economic structures have worsened the lives and prospects of many of the most vulnerable in our society, challenged to listen more, to do more, to say more when required.

 

A Picture of Jesus

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This week I was set an interesting challenge by Jane who regularly uses our food bank for additional support, she asked me if “This week when you bring the food parcel …. can you bring me a picture of Jesus …. I want to put it over my bed”. 

Obviously my difficulty  wasn’t for shortage of images that could be found, so many can be easily located just by pressing Jesus in the Google image search engine (and of course this is just what my good friend and colleague Charlotte did). The real challenge came in deciding which one to actually choose from the vast array. Of course there’s  been a push back against the western idealised blue eyed, blond Jesus of the past couple of centuries, but even if these were ruled out it would still leave a vast choice not just of ethnogaphic interpretations, but also of style, stance and theological message.

It made me realise just how personal our choice of “Jesus image” is …. it forces us to ask ourselves, “What am I looking for in my chosen image of Jesus”? For me it would be Jesus as liberator of all humanity, the embodiment of a person wholly human, and wholly divine – a human at one with himself and with God – and the one who showed us what the world could be like in the Kingdom of God. 

Of course the many images some up different aspects of the being and nature of Jesus – and create for us a kind of visual shorthand reference for our theological underpinning; his sacred and holy nature, his forgiveness, his love and protection, his sacrificial nature, his guidance as “shepherd”, along with many others.

In the end I decided I couldn’t (and really shouldn’t) be the one to impose my own choice of image on someone else so I printed two or three different images for her to choose from. A cop out? Maybe. Which did she choose? I didn’t feel the need to ask her – she’ll no doubt tell me if she thinks it’s important for me to know. Will it offer her the peace of mind she sought from it? I really hope and pray it does.

 

 

Choose Love

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There has been much debate and anger in the last few weeks about the above story of a young girl in foster care, it is without doubt that the story as covered in both The Times and the Daily Mail was at best highly inaccurate, and at worst at deliberate distortion of the facts in order to reinforce prejudice about the Islamic faith and Muslims. I don’t want to go over ground already covered here; to talk about photoshopped images, the actual mixed Muslim/Christian heritage of the young girl (AB) at the centre of this case, the complete inaccuracies about the actions of foster carers, instead I want to talk about love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”

1 Corinthians. 13.4-7

As well as my “day job” in Pioneer Ministry, I have for the past 10 years plus been a foster carer; I’ve  met and ministered with, and alongside, parents (especially Mums) who have had children removed from their care by social services due to various reasons – I’ve heard and shared their tears, their pain and heartache, their regrets and yes even their anger at the loss they’ve had to face.

In the time we’ve been fostering, we’ve had a number of young people come and go, some have stayed for a long time, and others not. Each comes with their own backstory, their own hurts and issues, sometimes (often) with hurts and issues they do not fully understand themselves and struggle to make sense of. As a foster carer (just like those in the story above) I’m there to provide a number of things; a place of safety, a place where the child or young person can thrive (as best they can) and develop a sense of genuine self worth, a place where they are loved.

But love comes at a cost to all of us. I (and others in my family) have been kicked, punched, and slapped – we been sworn at, spat at, we’ve had things thrown at us, been threatened with knives, seen property deliberately broken, car paintwork scratched and doors and furniture broken. Of course we’ve also had laughs and smiles, holidays where we’ve run through the waves and shared a sense of genuine “freedom” and joy, we’ve seen children grow into young adults and develop their own independence.

Love takes all these things, the ups and downs, the happy and sad, good and bad – it can’t always make things work the way you want, and sometimes it wears you down – completely. You see love isn’t the simple cozy and romantic thing the world often seeks to package and sell it as – love costs.

Jesus knew about the cost of love – it led him to his death and crucifixion, and it’s a choice made by countless others before and since. To love means we make ourselves vulnerable (ironically that’s why so many young people in care find it hard to love and be loved – the cost of that vulnerability feels too high for them – which in turn leaves them truly vulnerable to those whose real intent is abuse not love). But it’s not just them who struggle, sadly other people in sections of our society feel safer hiding from the cost of love. Hiding behind other strong emotions like fear and hate, thinking they can somehow protect themselves in this way, substituting real love, with a false love of things such as money, power, nationhood and even religion. The cost of love is to  be vulnerable, its what the early Christians knew as they were persecuted even to their deaths – but still they chose to love (despite its cost) as to live by fear and hatred was something even worse, or as Martin Luther King Jnr, famously said: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

 

 

 

You’re Scared I get it

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Okay I understand that a lot of people are frightened by terrorism (some of you / us even more than you / we outwardly let on). I understand that this fear is not just about life and death, but about the way you /we/they think certain kinds of terrorism represent a direct threat to the way they/ you/ we live.
 
So lets start there – You’re scared I get it.
 
But do not let that fear turn into blind hate, if we want to address terrorism, whether by the “Alt Right Nazis”, “Supremacists” “Islamic” or whatever tendencies lets focus on the politics and power behind it …. lets understand what attracts people to these false ideologies and lets seriously address those, rather than letting fear turns us towards hate. Hate leads to more hate, and will never end the cycle of violence.
 
History and culture are never static, the world moves on – knowledge increases and changes (although sometimes wisdom is lost) and every generation needs to consider past events in the light of current circumstances and knowledge. What may have been “accepted” at one time may rightly be condemned by future generations, Tony Benn once said: “Every generation must fight the same battles again and again. There’s no final victory and there’s no final defeat”.  
In the case of slavery for example, it operated a different form and was underpinned by a different set of ideologies and beliefs under Egyptian, Roman (and other Ancient World) models. Later was re-imagined by Europeans from the 16th & 17th Century onwards, when it became underpinned by the racism that still fuels the “White Supremacists” of today. Now no one can deny the economic wealth brought about in Europe and in the USA through slavery, or the part it played within the global industrial revolution. But equally, no one can deny the human misery and oppression caused through it, and the legacy of racism that still flows as a direct result of it. In the USA the abolition of slavery was at the heart of a Civil War that led to the defeat of the Confederacy of eleven states and deaths of thousands of young men (mainly) who died defending a system of wealth creation that still left them impoverished, whilst living in the false consolation that they were “better” than someone whose skin was a darker shade?
Sadly in 2017 we are having to fight the battles over racism and white supremacy yet again – they are being played out in many places every day, from Charlottesville to Grenfell Tower, and right across the globe.
In the end our survival and that of this planet will rest upon our ability to understand that the world is held together in one humanity (Ubuntu) and one creation; the man made (and they are still “man” made) systems that rule us are disposable as we try and find a path that ultimately might save us and the earth from ourselves and our own destructive tendencies.  Paul describes just this in his letter to the church in Rome around 55AD in it he says: 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 
Romans 12.2
Shalom