Sunday, 27 January 2008

Do nothing to change your life!

I picked this up from I'm increasingly aware of how important this stuff is:

Far from the madding crowd: The Bishop of Reading stresses the importance of simply sitting still…

A COUPLE of years ago I was due to lead an assembly at a Church of England comprehensive school that I visited regularly. This is a tough gig: seven or eight hundred adolescents, crowded into a hall first thing on a Monday morning and forced to endure a hymn, a prayer, a worthy talk and, usually, a ticking off. On this occasion my anxiety levels were particularly high since I had not really prepared anything much to say. It was the beginning of Lent and I had a vague idea about encouraging them to take something up rather than give something up, but as I walked to the school I became all too aware that my situation was similar to driving in the fast lane of the motorway, with no petrol in the tank, and realising you’ve just gone past the services.
But these moments of panic can also be moments of prayer, moments when we are more open to the wiles of God. And it was almost as I got up to speak that a crazy idea was suddenly born within me. I stood up and found myself saying something like this:
‘We live in a crazy, frantic world. Our world is full of movement and noise. Even this morning, in the few hours since you woke up, you have probably filled your time with the radio, the TV, the computer, the PlayStation; you’ve probably phoned someone and texted half a dozen others. As you got dressed, washed, showered, ate your breakfast and came to school, noise and busyness have accompanied your every move. I believe many of the world’s problems are caused by our inability to sit still and to be quiet and to reflect. I believe that, in this season of Lent, we should try to give upbeing so frantic, and we should take on some moments of stillness.’
Then I stopped, as if I had lost my thread (actually, it felt as if the thread were being handed to me inch by inch, and even I was not aware what was at the end). And I said to them, ‘Hey, you don’t know what on earth I’m talking about, so let me give you a demonstration. Let me show you what I mean. This is what I’m suggesting you do, each day in Lent, for exactly one minute. It will change your life.’
I then picked up a chair, placed it in the centre of the stage, and slowly and carefully sat down upon it, with my feet slightly apart and with my back straight and with my hands resting gently on my knees. And, for a minute, I sat still. I didn’t say anything, and I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t even consciously praying. I was just sitting there. And I breathed deeply, and I thought about my breathing. And when I reckoned the minute was over, I stood up.
But before I could say my next bit, there was a huge, spontaneous round of applause. Now, I had done lots of assemblies in that school. On many occasions I had slaved over what I would do or say to capture the imaginations of young people. But I had never had a response like this. In fact, in the days that followed, I was stopped in the street on several occasions by parents who told me that their child had come home and told them about the priest who took assembly and just sat on the stage in silence for a minute and then suggested they might do the same thing. Because, when the applause died down, that’s what I’d said. I just suggested that sitting still, being silently attentive to things deep within ourselves and things beyond ourselves, would make a difference. You didn’t need to call it prayer. You didn’t need to call it anything, because it would be in these moments of sedulous stillness that God could be discovered.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Homelessness Service!

A few of us are attending the Homelessness Service organised by Churches Homelessness Forum on Sunday. Have no idea how good it will be, but its sometimes just worthing trying something different, so why not join us.

Speaker: Judith Maizel-Long from Housing Justice.

Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield

Sunday 27 January, 6.30pm

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

We Three Kings

Huge, but slightly disingenuous, apologies to those who say I have ruined their Christmas, by my grumpiness about Christmas cards and Meadowhall... well, here I go again...

The three kings ...the wise men... I hate to break this to you, but the magi were not kings or wise. According to Neil Elliott they were menial servants of Persian kings and oppressed ones at that. Not kings or even royal dignitaries. They do not visit the royal palace, but are summoned by Herod and they do as they are told, as one would expect menial underlings to do. Gold, frankinscence and myrrh were actually quite mundane, cheap gifts. Gold was quite a typical possession for common people. (Matthew 10:9) What's more, they were not wise. They were astrologers and Jewish readers would have had as much admiration for them as Christians today have for those who read star signs. They were constantly duped by the king and the plan is averted only through a dream - not from any wisdom.

So I apologise to those sentimental types who love the Christmas cards with the three kings on their camels (no camels in the story either), but I find the story of these menial servants so much more exciting. It is a story about an oppressive king who taxed his people heavily in order to fund his grandiose building projects. According to Horsely he insititued what today would be called a police state, complete with loyalty oaths, surveilance, informers, secret police, imprisonment, torture and brutal retaliation against any serious dissenter. The account we have in Matthew 2 exactly typifies the kind of society he created. The magi act as informers, whilst this brutal king murders freely in order to keep his position secure.

The account reminds us of Pharoah and his edict to kill all the male children in Exodus. And in both stories there is a absurd mismatch - emperor against child. And both plans fail because their accomplices (Hebrew midwives, magi) deceive their superiors. We never again hear of Hebrew midwives or magi, but through their decision to resist, the entire course of history is altered - Moses is able to lead the people to freedom and Jesus is able to lead the new people of God.

Maybe we also need to explode the myth that we are kings. We live in a world in which we are told we have power - consumer power, political power - but in reality we feel impotent to change anything. Like Canute we cannot hold back the waves - whether it is Christmas consumerism or the war in Iraq - whether it is our addiction to possessions or the crisis in Darfur. Maybe we need to explode the myth of our power and acknowledge that humanly speaking we are not likely to make much difference.

Yet, because of God, maybe we can make a difference. Dare we assume that our tiny acts of resistence against the violence of the imperial system of our day, minor players though we be, might have consequences more than we could ever imagine? As our imperial empire acts for war in Iraq, supports the poverty of millions by its policies, refuses to act on genocide in Darfur - might we imagine that some small thing we do, might make some difference, because God is at work?

So, go for it, write that letter to your MP, refuse to buy products that are made under slave labour - maybe... just maybe, God will use it more than we imagine.