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I’ve spent part of today watching Rob Bell’s dvd “The Gods Aren’t Angry”.  (It’s funny, having just put in that link, I’ve found myself, through Google, looking through a lot of people’s thoughts on Mr Bell.  Goodness, what a controversial figure he is in some quarters.)

It’s been a thought-provoking, challenging ray of sunshine on a wet day in Edinburgh.  Fundamentally, to me, it has spoken of grace, of the world-changing spiritual earthquake there is in knowing we are not caught in a trap of endless offerings to unsatisfiable ‘gods’ (today, perhaps those relentless gods of work, money, family, approval…).  One part that really has made me think is the idea of the rituals that we sometimes use, religious or otherwise, to somehow try to appease those angry gods our minds and hearts can be preoccupied with.  What is a useful, a meaningful ritual?

I can only quote from Rob Bell himself:

What is the point of a ritual?  The point of a ritual is to ground us, to open us up, to remind us, to tap us in to the peace that has already been made at the culmination of the ages, through this Christ who offered himself.  Any ritual that piles on a whole load new weight …[of] the same old guilt…is not a Christian ritual…The only proper Christ-centred ritual is one that reminds you, that refreshes you, that awakens you…that opens you up to the God who has made peace with all things in heaven and earth through this Christ who offered himself.

It’s ridiculously easy to allow ourselves to become trapped by rituals, practices, ways of living, which negate that, as if the reconciliation and restoration Jesus brought was not for all, for all time. 

But I’m a Christian, I know this stuff (even if I don’t always quite manage to live in the reality of it).  This message is for all who are far off, for a world of people who don’t know the story of grace, and have not experienced people like me – like I said, people who know this stuff – bringing grace and love into their lives.

In the dvd Rob told some beautiful stories of grace.  Like the newly single mother of four who lost her home and was facing homelessness with her children until a couple from Rob Bell’s church stepped in, bought her a home (!) and gave it to the family freely.  Or like the family struggling in the economic downturn to put food on their table, so another family committed to buying all the groceries they might need until things got better (and spent $900 on the first grocery shop!).  Or like the friend who spent time with Rob himself a few years back when he had become caught in a spiral of ever-working, ever-proving himself to the detriment of much else, and sat with Rob telling him with great love and persistence “You don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live like this…” until Rob finally heard him. 

I would like to be a grace-bringer to the lives of others, and this reminder of the source of the grace extended to us all has been timely.

I’ve finally had some time over the last few weeks to get back into reading.  For months I’ve been half-heartedly starting reading books then setting them aside to do the same with a different book.  Or I’ve been so tired and overwhelmed by stuff that I’ve just reverted to my tried and tested ‘comfort reads’.  It has therefore been an absolute joy to lose myself in a book where the story or the central thesis is unknown to me and is just awaiting discovery as I turn the pages.

So in the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading these books:

Thousand splendid suns

” A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini.  This was lent to me by a friend from work.  We’d been in a book group together and had read “The Kite Runner”, and this book is really in a similar vein.  I enjoyed it, and found I couldn’t escape from thinking that although it is a work of fiction (and subject to feeling a bit derived in places because of that, I felt) the experiences of the characters are not fiction for people who lived through those times in Afghanistan. 

 

TheRoad

The next book I read on holiday was Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.  Oh my goodness, this is a breathtaking, terrifying, and traumatic book to read.  The Guardian’s reviewer said it better than I could, so check their review out.

 

 

 

 

 

Art for God's sake

I read “The Road” over 3 evenings, but found it so overwhelmingly bleak that I had to read something else more positive and hopeful before I finally went to sleep.  This little book, barely more than a pamphlet really, was the solution.  “Art for God’s Sake” by Philip Graham Ryken came to me by happenstance.  A friend had been looking in a second-hand bookshop, noticed this wee book and bought it thinking I might like it – I was touched by this in itself.  The book itself is great, thought-provoking, clear, and, for me, inspirational as I think about returning to some form of art practice in the autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

the price of water in finstere

” The Price of Water in Finistere” by Bodil Malmsten is another book that sort of came to me, although this time I actually purchased it myself.  A good while back, perhaps during one of the times I was off work ill for a while, I had been listening to Radio 4 and this book (although I never picked up the full title, I didn’t forget the name Finistere) was a serialised ‘book of the week’.  The parts of it which I heard were just fantastic, and I still hear the narrator’s voice as I read it now.  I’ve only just started this one, and am in love with it already.  It’s witty and cutting, and paints a picture of a particular part of France which I would now love to visit.

Each of these books has fed, and is feeding, me, mind and soul.  God bless writers everywhere!  Have you read any good books lately?  I’ve also been pondering how I’d feel about one of those e-book things, the Kindle etc.  I think I would miss the feel of pages, I’d miss the texture of a weighty cover or a beautiful binding.  Give me another 10 years, I’m the living definition of a late-adopter.

[kreativ+blogger+award.jpg]

How exciting!  Lucy has given me a blogging award (along with some of my other favourite bloggers too, I feel very privileged).  Here’s what I need to do in exchange:

  1. Post the award on your blog, and link to the person who gave you the award (done that, and please check out Lucy’s lovely blog)
  2. List seven things you love
  3. List seven blogs you love (just seven?)
  4. E-mail or comment on those blogs to let the people know you’ve given them the award

Seven things I love?

  1. My little family – husband and daughter, and the collection of special toys who play such an important part in our four year old’s life that they Had Better Never Get Lost
  2. Following Jesus (although, to be absolutely honest, there are also times when I grind my teeth with frustration at how this works out in my life)
  3. Our church and in particular our small group, not forgetting the friends, near and far, who are extended family and form our daughter’s God Squad (because we couldn’t choose between them when it came to thinking about godparents, they’re all so amazing and special to us)
  4. Painting, drawing, making. I do this in spurts of energy and then long periods elapse where it just gets sidelined…
  5. …but the compensation is I get to work somewhere I can enable children, adults, colleagues to be creative and that is often enough
  6. The sea.  It scares me but I love it.  Beautiful sandy beaches are great but I’ve almost always lived in proximity to the North Sea, and so it’s the wind-swept dunes and grey thundering waves that make my heart beat a little faster
  7. Books.  I love reading, and always have way too many on the go at once, so it takes me ages to get any one book finished unless I’m using it as a ‘comfort read’ when I’m feeling low or as a break from more challenging reads.  I confess I also love books as objects (our oversized living room bookcase is testament to that), and am trying hard not to be envious of one of my colleagues who is also a book-lover and collects first editions.  THAT would not be good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll go and visit her books. I mean her.

Seven blogs I love (Nb. Lucy’s already namechecked a couple of my favourites, so I’ll let them enjoy their awards from her and award seven completely different ones)

  1. I have to mention my husband’s blog (The State That I Am In). It’s a fantastic blog with a strong musical undercurrent. I would love it even if he wasn’t my husband, I promise!
  2. Fourth Space is the blog of one of our small group friends.  It’s so thought-provoking, lots of creative and analytical thinking and processing (for both blog author and blog reader).
  3. Have you checked out Coffee Shop Journal? It’s a really great read, reflections on life, faith and more, book reviews and thoughtful applications of lessons learned, and always written with grace and humility. 
  4. The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus is in many ways (for me) the perfect blog.  All pictures!!!  I don’t know how he comes up with these fresh, funny and often cutting images so frequently.  Man or machine?! No machine could be this creative and offer such a human and humane perspective on the world.
  5. Without Wax (I even love the name of this blog) is another thought-provoking look at the world through the eyes of Pete, a pastor at Cross Point Church in Tennessee.  He uses video clips and other resources really well, and has got a massive readership judging by the average number of comments each post seems to get.  It is also one of the blogs I read that reminds me that there is a cultural difference between our two countries, which I really enjoy being exposed to.
  6. New Life From Old is the blog of another small group friend.  He doesn’t post too often, but always has something worth checking out.  He’s a scientist and is rigorous in his examination of faith through this lens.  He’s really creative in how he works this out in his life and the world (although I don’t think he’d use that word about himself), and deserves massive respect for his engagement with difficult and controversial issues.
  7. Last but not least I’ve just got to mention Wish Jar,which is the blog of author, illustrator and guerilla artist Keri Smith.  I LOVE her work, and every time I read her blog I get exposed to something I’ve never come across before.

I hope you enjoy checking these guys out if you’ve not had a look before.  (By the way sorry about the weird mix of fonts and sizes, can’t seem to fix it today for some reason.  Hope it’s still readable)

I came across this today in my sick-bed internet wanderings (This is my third mini-post today, can you tell I’m getting bored of being unwell?!).  I had heard of Galgael before, and although I’m still exploring what they are about, I’m really drawn to the work they do, the life they lead in Govan.  This little Youtube clip gives a flavour.

There’s a real model of community, of shared life and the sharing of hope, the restoration of dignity and the practical sharing of skills.  We need visionary people, like Colin MacLeod,the man who started up Galgael, so much in our world, and we also need generous-hearted people like those who joined with him to share and to realise the vision.

One of the things I am so supremely rubbish at is sharing my faith in any kind of cohesive and unembarrassed way.  I know that’s a ridiculous thing to admit to, it’s so contradictory to have a faith that you apparently lack sufficient faith in to declare.  I don’t think I lack faith in my faith (stick with me, I’ll get less convoluted soon), so much as lack faith in my ability to articulate it in a way which won’t make either me, or the person I’m speaking to, or God, cringe.  I have this deep-seated belief that everyone else in the whole world has more valid views than me, and is much more likely to ‘win’ any kind of debate I get embroiled in. About anything.

So (sweeping aside all of the can-of-worms implications hinted at above) I am utterly delighted and not a little baffled that our daughter (who is just 4) has the whole ‘talking about God’ thing cracked.  And I’m filled with thankfulness for the people in her life that have developed that faith and that confidence.  Not least the staff and volunteers at our church who are playing a fundamental role in this.

Last Sunday, at our church’s ‘Sunday Club’ (Sunday school if you prefer) she made a little badge which says ‘Jesus loves me’.  Now, safety pins, crushed cardboard and smudged felt tips aside, she thinks this badge is the coolest thing EVER, and has had it pinned to whatever top she’s wearing almost every moment since then.  She’s worn it to nursery 2 out of the 3 days she’s been there so far this week.  On the first day we worried her teachers might think it was a bit weird, or that her friends might tease her.  However, her teachers think it’s lovely, and today she came home from nursery having basically started a new fashion trend.  Her friends have been trying to copy the writing so they could make their own ‘Jesus loves me’ badge.  I love imagining that the staff (who have to be very non-partisan about these things) are sat helping children to write out ‘Jesus loves me’ because one little girl who is utterly unembarrassed about her beautiful baby-faith has proudly shown everyone her precious badge that, to her, marks that faith and is a statement that gives her great comfort.

Now, what lesson should I learn from this I wonder?

There definitely is an art to joy, since it is not always a natural state for us. (BTW I’m over myself and my doom and gloom last week,  apologies for the self-pitying – pretty certain it was illness related)

So it’s exciting and challenging to be part of The Art of Joy this spring.  A group of us, friends and fellow small-groupers from MBC, dreamed what felt like a big dream and we now find ourselves galloping towards lots of great activities which suddenly need organising and thinking through.  I am newly appreciative of the diversity of our small group, the skills and talents that there are which are all required to make such an undertaking happen.  There don’t seem to be quite enough minutes to deal with everything, but collectively it feels like we’re making progress. 

There’s going to be a lot happening, an art exhibition going up this weekend with an official opening before the end of March, a therapeutic art workshop, knitter natter for anyone who likes or wants to try out knitting or crochet, a fantastic closing event featuring two great bands and a stand up comedian… and that’s only what we’ve got planned so far!  We’re aiming to bring a bit of joy and light using the arts and the fantastic creative gifts of people in Edinburgh and beyond.  Most of all I’m looking forward to meeting new people, getting alongside people in a creative way and exploring how the arts have the power to make connections which are often unexpected, and almost always intriguing.

Check out The Art of Joy’s website to get an overview of what’s happening and find out how you can get involved. 

I’m wondering if we could do some guerilla joy-bringing too.  How would the people of Edinburgh receive it?  How do I receive it?  Do we welcome unexpected joy with open arms?  With suspicion? With pessimism?  Do we welcome joy with gratitude and expectation of further unanticipated wonder to come?  A masterclass in joy-giving and joy-receiving might be no bad thing in our world.

Lux Interior

Lux Interior is dead.  One of my work colleagues told me this on Friday morning as I arrived at work.  He was the lead singer of  psychobilly band The Cramps.  This band was largely responsible for one of my seminal adolescent awakening moments, when I was about 14.  We were on a family holiday in Butlins (I know, not sounding likely for an awakening kind of moment) and my best friend had joined us.  It was at the height of my love of Norwegian pop band A-ha, whom I had recently declared to my dad I would love until the day I died.

One night we went to the evening disco/cabaret .  My friend was tall and gorgeous, and as we wore our classic 80s batwing tops betopped with our newly bought A-Ha labelled hats I felt pretty overshadowed by my cool friend who knew all the moves to the dances at the disco (I’m sure it involved line-dancing).  My little sister, up late and hyper as usual, managed to look both cute and cool.  I looked like a typical average 14 year old in the 80s, with neither coolness, style or cuteness going for me.

Then about half a dozen older teenagers descended on the dance floor and just took my breath away (as well as scaring the pants off me).  They wore Cramps t-shirts, mohawks, big boots, tutus, scary makeup, the works.  Even their dancing was full of attitude.  I was awestruck.  I suddenly felt that being a teenager was about becoming yourself, about remaking the world to fit around you, about having attitude and not caring. 

Over the next couple of years I listened to some Cramps stuff and some other bands that I wouldn’t have gone near before, and to be honest probably wouldn’t want to revisit now, it’s not the most ‘wholesome’ music in the world.  Yet, despite the dubiousness of the bands’ material and worldview, it was nevertheless a moment of release and inspiration for me that changed how I viewed the way me and the world would get on over the next few years. 

I was, of course, about as far from being a psychobilly as it’s possible to get, but this was truly my first recognisable contact with a youth sub-culture and I was smitten by the possibilities.  I had fun dressing up in some slightly more interesting clothes than the matching jumpers me and my sister seemed to have been in for years.  I left dungarees behind (only to rediscover them, oversized, or patchwork, or covered in paint when I was a ‘struggling artist’ with an image to maintain).  I discovered the shock power of wearing what hardly anyone else wore in our little town, and felt I’d really arrived when my mum told me I couldn’t go out dressed like that  – although I thought I looked great, so I felt a bit offended too.

Ironically enough, as far as teenage rebellion goes, probably my biggest subversive action was becoming a Christian aged 16.  I’m guessing Lux Interior would not have been thrilled to know he was one of the links in that chain of events.

Our small group shrank down to just four the other night.  Sometimes TSTIAI and I get a bit discouraged when that happens, when not many people manage to make it along, but that night was so nice that, despite missing our temporarily absent members, we felt at peace that the night had panned out as it was intended to. 

We were joined by Mr and Mrs Fourth Space for the evening, and we all happily set about eating all the food in front of us whilst chatting and setting the world to rights.  A funny thing happened for me that evening though, which I’m sharing here because, although it relates to the events and conversation of the evening, it has taught me a really big lesson. 

As we chatted away and munched away we heard our daughter crying a bit from her bedroom, so I went through to check on her and get her settled again.  As I sat stroking her head, shushing  her back to sleep I prayed silently, and to be honest, almost absentmindedly.  As I did this I found myself half-remembering some verses, but couldn’t quite recall them properly.  I knew they were words Jesus had quoted from Isaiah, but I am hopeless at remembering bible verses. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to… something about captives…preaching good news…?

I couldn’t get this half-memory out of my head so once my daughter had settled back to sleep I crept through to our bedroom to see if I could find the passage in my bible.  I scanned Isaiah but couldn’t see the passage I was thinking of so put it out of my mind for the time being, scolding myself inwardly for being such a bad Christian – shouldn’t I be able to quote whole chunks of the bible after being a ‘Jesus follower’ for over 20 years? (No need to answer that)

Back with our miniature small group we ended up talking through some ideas about our church’s forthcoming project Love Out Loud, and pondering what our wee group might get involved in doing.  There were some good initial thoughts, but it was one of the last things that was said by Fourth Space that stayed with me.  He said something along the lines that people are feeling so down with all the bad news around just now, that perhaps whatever we do should just aim to be a blessing, freely given.  In essence we should be bringing joy. Well, that was how I heard it, so I’m not quoting verbatim.

Goodbyes were said, and TSTIAI and I set about tidying up and getting ready for bed.   A short time later, tucked under the duvet with a hot water bottle toasting my legs and a comfy pillow propping me up I opened up my bible and the devotional notes I’ve been using on and off for a good while (God 360).

It asked me to read Luke 4:14 – 21…It was the exact passage I had been (randomly?) thinking of and half remembering earlier in the evening, where Jesus stands in the temple and reads a passage from Isaiah then declares that he is the fulfillment of that message.  I decided to go to Isaiah 61 where the original passage is found, and read it in The Message.  Check this out (this is where Fourth Space was essentially quoting from Isaiah too – I wonder if he knew?):

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.

He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.

God sent me to announce the year of his grace – a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies – and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

(Isaiah 61: 1 – 3, italics my own)

It confirms for me that no matter what we do for Love Out Loud, if we fulfill that part of Jesus’ manifesto from Isaiah we’ll be doing exactly what will delight God’s heart. 

And the lesson I learnt, that God has been working overtime to teach me this week, is that he is full of stuff to tell me, stuff to talk to me about, stuff to guide me.  I just need to listen.

(And maybe I should set about memorising a few more bible verses.)

As is usual for his very thought-provoking blog, Fourth Space got me mulling over exactly how and why God loves me (of all people!).  And as is often the case when you start thinking about something (my previous post about autism being a case in point) it seems then to be EVERYWHERE you look.

So last night, feeling poorly, I was lying in bed clutching a hot water bottle to my aching tummy and trying not to move too much in case I was sick (this is called setting the scene…).  I was tired but not sleepy and had started to reread a book that I had found on my bookshelf from earlier last year.  It is called “Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott, and is basically a journal that she kept during her son’s first year.  It’s a compelling read, but I’d struggled with it the first time round because she was so painfully and brutally honest, some of which was too close to the bone for me to deal with during what had been a bit of a difficult patch.  This time round I’m loving it, and really relishing the honesty.  It feels raw, but healing too.

This was the bit that jumped out at me as I lay feeling lousy and fragile:

I’m trying to be extremely gentle and forgiving with myself today, having decided while I nursed Sam at dawn this morning that I’m probably just as good a mother as the next repressed, obsessive-compulsive paranoiac.

I think we’re all pretty crazy on this bus.  I’m not sure I know anyone who’s got all the dots on his or her dice.

But once an old woman at my church said the secret is that God loves us exactly the way we are and that he loves us too much to let us stay like this, and I’m just trying to trust that.

(“Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott, Anchor Books 1993)

I’ve heard that view of God’s love before, and it does kind of encapsulate the complicated love that he has for us. 

It has proved helpful to me today.

Happy New Year!

As 2008 ended and we eased into 2009 my family were enjoying the company of some old and very good friends in a wee Aberdeenshire village.  We see far too little of them, but feel blessed in the knowledge that whenever we all do get together we seem to somehow manage to pick up where we left off.  Our friends were never ones for superficial chat when something of real significance could be said, and our time with them over Hogmanay and New Year’s Day was no different.  So many great conversations squeezed into so little time!  However, there was one particular strand of conversation that really struck home with me, as it echoed and expanded upon something I’ve been thinking about and somehow hadn’t manage to articulate. 

We were chatting about being settled versus the draw to new experiences.  I have to say I’m a sucker for a new experience (so long as it doesn’t involve bungee jumping), and novelty, fresh and short lived, is very attractive.  But I’ve been reflecting upon what this then costs, on how this renders things temporary and unstable. 

Our friend Mike had obviously done some thinking on this too, and managed to articulate his thinking much better than I could.  He contrasted the difference between ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ in human experience.  A person of ‘deep’ experience will invest themselves fully and at length into what ever they feel called to do – or perhaps what they simply find themselves doing.  This long investment results, naturally, in a richness of knowledge and understanding beyond what might in the normal order of things be achieved.  This means, crudely, that they have a great deal of experience in a very narrow realm.  A person of ‘broad’ experience will instead have explored many areas, for example they may have had several careers or lived in many widely differing locations, but this will of course limit the amount of deep experience they might have – so they have a more ‘surface’ experience but across a much greater scope.

I’ve just read that back and I promise you Mike said it much better at the time!

This led me back to a train of thought I’d been on for a while.  What does it mean for my relationships with others?  We’ve got a small circle of really good friends, most of whom we’ve known now for many years, and we know that these are friends who we will grow old with as we walk through life and faith together.  Despite the fact that geography separates us from most of them, there seems to be a tacit understanding that these friendships are for keeps.  There is accountability, encouragement, shared joy and shared pain.  These have, with the passage of time, and the commitment that such relationships need, become friendships of depth.

Closer to home I look at the people who I walk alongside as fellow followers of Christ.  I am challenged to commit to relationships of depth there too.  To see those around me as people whom I should serve not just here and now, but (with the caveat of God calling me to something different) with commitment and an intention to serve and love for a lifetime. 

But the draw to new experience, and this year, to find a new challenge is still very strong, and finding the balance between the two is hard.  Can I have depth and breadth, I wonder?

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