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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.

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 Step 1:  A missional expression is about living out your faith in a collective way, about loving your tribe – about knowing who your tribe is.  With this in mind, your missional expression will need a ‘vehicle’.  Most of the time this will be figurative.  However, sometimes it will turn out to be literal…

 

 

 

 

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 Step 2:  …(and even have retro cool-appeal) Once you have established what your vehicle is, you need to spend some time examining said vehicle from every angle…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Step 3:  Think it through – is it just your ‘big idea’ or can others get onboard with you?  Once you’ve thought this through it’s time to get going! 

 

 

 

 

 (So for a beach/surf based missional expression here’s how it might go next)

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 Step 4: Put Jesus at the centre.  There’s not much point otherwise.  Surf, play on the beach, be part of the tribe you belong to in this context.  And as you live authentically it may be that others who share your interest, your passion, will join you…

 

 

  

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Step 5:  Be open to others joining you who have a different way of living out the missional expression.  Not everyone will want to jump into a wetsuit and catch some waves.  But how great would it be if a differently gifted, differently impassioned person wanted to be on the beach getting the barbecue ready for when everyone gets out of the water, ready to eat?

 

 

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Step 6:  …So it’s not surprising that more people will join in time.  It’s going to be awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

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Step 7: Shared beach, shared surf, shared food, shared life, shared love.  Authentic lives lived openly with one another.  And the chance to hang out in a VW campervan? 

 

 

 

 

 

 Okay, this is a playful rendering of an idea we’ve had.  Children’s toys make everything look fun!  Who knows what will happen, but in the meantime we’re going to have some fun on the beach anyway, because it’s what we love to do and we spend far too little time doing it.

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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?

It was my husband’s appointed task tonight to change our bedsheets while I was out at church.  He forgot until I came home and asked him if he’d got around to doing it.  Bless him, he made me a cup of tea (two actually) and is now next door making strange scuffling noises as he attempts to sort the bedding. 

I have been working on the premise lately that it’s just wrong he finds it so difficult to do, and it’s simply because he doesn’t have enough practice.  So I’ve delegated the job to him more frequently.  I have faith that eventually this ‘cruel to be kind’ method will bear fruit.

In the meantime I get to enjoy the sounds of tortured struggle that one man and his duvet can generate in their battle to conquer the tyranny of disorderly bed sheets.  (If I thought I’d get away with it I’d take a photo to illustrate the story, but that might be pushing my luck a bit)

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.

What do you currently long for most?

There are many things I really yearn for, most of them actually not that important or significant.  However, for my husband and I, our current hope, and my most heartfelt longing is to have another  baby.  Turns out this isn’t as easy or straightforward as you might think.  It took a little while to conceive our daughter, but now I’m getting on for 5 years older and (a side affect of parenthood) considerably more tired and stressed than I was last time round.  We’ve not had any success so far, although hopefully this year will change that. 

So I’m aware that I’m longing for something that I may not get, whilst basically disbelieving that it’s not going to happen again for us. 

That is my confession.  It feels like I’ve just told you an enormous secret, but it’s not really.  Who knows what this year may bring?  Well, in truth I guess only God will currently know the answer to that question.

Longing does seem to be part of the human condition.  Is it just a lack of contentment with what we have, or is it a genuine desire to have something that will bring real enrichment?  What is the correct attitude to have towards our longings and desires, and how do we figure out those which are useful, healthy and ultimately in someway beneficial, and those which are going to be destructive and a source of further unsatisfaction?

Whilst looking at Lincoln’s blog, I came across this incredible post via his blogroll (Lincoln has plenty of incredible posts of his own, but we’ll save that for another time).  It was this wonderful story in particular that grabbed my attention:

A defining moment in Michael Parkinson’s career came during his TV interview with Pablo Picasso shortly before his death in 1973. Recognising the great painter’s age Parkinson took the opportunity to commission his own original drawing live on air. Picasso accepted and took two minutes to sketch Parkinson’s portrait as the interview continued. Parkinson was thrilled. It was an excellent sketch

“Out of interest,” asked Parkinson, “How much would this sketch sell for?”

Picasso replied with a rye smile, “Around six thousands pounds,”

“Six thousand pounds! How can something so quick be worth so much?”

The audience was shocked by Parkinson’s somewhat out of character affront but Picasso, easing back into his armchair, was completely unfazed.

“Michael, this drawing did not take me two minutes,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for over eighty years.”

I have an artistic streak in me, but I’m under no illusions that I’ll ever be a Picasso, or a Tracy Emin, or which ever artist floats your particular boat.  That said, I must also recognise that I’ll never be any kind of artist at all unless I put in the time, do the hard graft.  When I was at art college we were told to do a drawing every day outwith the requirements of our course, to practice our drawing (and our looking) skills.  Shouldn’t be hard, you’re probably thinking, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at art college?  Funnily enough it was surprisingly difficult, because it required discipline and commitment beyond what was already expected of us.  It was hard to carve out a space to sit and observe and then draw, when so much of the day was filled up with projects and deadlines and subjects to research.

I never did manage to do a drawing a day but I’m thinking about trying to do that again, now my life is less centred around art as a way of being.  I’ve got lots of beautiful but empty sketch books waiting to be filled.  And who am I to argue with Picasso?

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