Friday, April 28, 2017

Friends and friends and...

Those who know Carol and her gift for friendship will not be surprised at the high frequency friendship rate of our US trip. The first two nights friends hosted us in their homes. The third day I had to give a talk at a retirement complex where several friends live.  Beforehand the organizer of the meeting invited us to lunch with his wife.  By email another friend there invited us to lunch and planned for a group of five.  Unfortunately, our reply was lost in the ether and original lunch for two mushroomed as plans merged, other friends joined us, and eventually eleven of us sat down. We were the common link because many did not know each other.  It was utterly joyful.

And so it has continued day after day.   One group (originally called First Friday about which I have posted before) hosted a special night.  Another group (originally called the Tuesday Wheaton group) met for another evening.  It has been gloriously humbling that so many people have wanted to see us. Well, it's seeing Carol really.

And to prove exactly that point - on Wednesday I had a free morning and Carol suggested we return to the hospital where she was palliative care visitor for 10 years.  Apart from taking 25 minutes finding a parking space,  the welcome was overwhelming. Friends greeted Carol like long-lost soulmates - which they are. Lunch at the cafeteria with special friends was prefaced by the man on the cash desk who asked Carol where she had been. 'I've missed you,' he said. Surprised that four years later he still remembered her, she commented on his memory. 'I may be losing my hair', he replied,'but I've not lost my memory, honey!' Walking around the hospital several others remembered her and back in the Volunteers Office the hugs and kisses were ecstatic. It made me realize just how valuable Carol's work and presence had been, as I trailed in her shadow.  Wonderful.

And, guess what?  At least six of these friends are visiting us in Cambridge.  Three have made specific plans and others are equally decided.  I say at least six because several others have also said they are coming.  But that's friendship, isn't it?  We just hope they don't all coincide!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A whirlwind

Within three months the seminary where I have been based since 2000 is vacating its spacious property, for a building some seven miles away.  Apparently, needs must and most people are rolling up their sleeves and getting on with this massive move, including emptying the residential block (where we are staying) of its inhabitants.  It's a whirlwind with new faces including the new Director of my preaching program (who commutes from Cincinnati) and some missing old faces.

Yesterday one of the staff asked me to preach in chapel today.  Yes, the next day!  Apparently, in all the moves the message hadn't got through.  I have to say that it was a thrill being back with my friends for the last time in the chapel room.  You'll never guess (!) but I developed the theme from my last post about the risen Jesus coming alongside (very) ordinary people in their questions and bewilderment.  It seemed especially appropriate.

As Carol and I spend our last few days here we have been reminiscing about what this seminary has meant through our recent years. Of course, it's all to do with the people we have belonged with - around every corner, in most rooms, conversations, friendships, breakthroughs as well as occasional sadnesses have resonated.  So, along with many others we shall dearly miss this old place...but pray for the new place to quickly become a place of belonging too.

By the way, temperatures have been in the 70's touching 80 Farenheit, so the whirlwind is a hot humid one.  I know from friends in the UK it's not quite like that at home!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Wonder

Last week I heard the Today interviewer Nick Robinson on Radio 4 introduce a new programme by saying that all the assumptions that we once held as certainties had been shredded.  He emphasized the word shredded - almost with a note of despair. Certainly the unknowns seem to increase with each daily news bulletin.

I suppose to many non-Christians these three days (Good Friday to Easter Day) seem irrelevant and for anyone to claim these three days change the world for ever appears beyond absurd.  Yet this story remains the only source of world hope in spite of its often downbeat telling.

On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend (Luke 24) have only shredded certainties.  With the death of Jesus of Nazareth weighing so heavily on their minds they plod the seven miles with deep dark questioning.  We cannot begin to imagine how the risen Jesus, after the greatest reversal in the world, can afford to come alongside them. Why spend time with such a couple of people discussing on the road.  Surely he has more important things to do?  Much more important!  Yet, as with a woman in the garden, Easter is about ordinary people.

As he listens to their recital of gloom he, the Easter Lord hears some of the Easter story without hope.  Tenderly, yet firmly, he takes them into the Old Testament to speak of the suffering of the Christ and their hearts are strangely warmed.  On the greatest day of history he spends time quietly, generously on two people of no importance, entering their house he breaks bread and they recognize Jesus alive with them.

The wonder of Easter is that Jesus is like this. He comes alongside ordinary people who have their questions.  Easter is not for spiritual giants - it's for people like me.  Yes, it has cosmic implications too and the wonder is - Jesus is alive and nothing can ever change that truth.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

So there!

Those who have heard me speaking about preaching will have heard my lament about preachers who major on information.  Please no!  Good news is never merely information!  It should also be associated with inspiration and transformation.  Sermons that are informational may interest the mind but more rarely do they stir the spirit and move emotion.  Of course, the Holy Spirit is the one who aids inspiration and transformation and He blows where he wills.  He can use anything offered humbly. But information is more likely to be about Scripture than enabling direct proclaiming of Scripture's good news.  Explanation of the text is elevated as the priority!

So, imagine my surprise when turning to the Scripture Union Encounter with God notes for the next quarter.  At the beginning they list the authors with a thumbnail sketch of each.  My description ends with the words:  ' He is also an.....informational speaker.'  I think it was meant to read - international speaker - but it serves me right!  Mind you I suppose it is better to be an informational speaker rather than a vacuous one. No comments please.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

'Taken' - A One Man Drama

There's nothing too unusual about one person plays but yesterday in my local church, Histon Baptist, it was highly unusual.  Why?  Not because it was held in our worship space, nor that the actor Lloyd Notice was a professional with impressive credentials. Nor because props were minimal with white sheets forming three walls with a mattress, chair, table, glass.  It was surprising to have a camera blinking continuously into the stage area but then the stage represented a bare cell with the actor inside as a hostage victim, spied on by his captors.  But what really took our breath away was the way that the actor (inspired by Terry Waite who in captivity helped retain sanity by reciting Scriptures he had memorized) recited much of Mark's gospel with such sensitivity and power.

In a context of menace, with disturbing music and sound effects of fellow prisoners and guards, Lloyd scratched his head as though pushing himself to recall word-for-word the story of Jesus.  Fear was palpable but so was the reality of his story-telling.  His expression held us rapt. You really felt his joy as he retold stories of Jesus healing - his rejoicing, jumping up and down with laughter and dazzling smile connected so powerfully.  Especially because he was in a prison cell!

And you really entered the pathos.  For me, his breaking down at the death of John the Baptist tore the heart, as when we told of the betrayal and cruel suffering of Jesus.  Someone said to me today that they couldn't get out of their minds his miming of the pressing down of the crown of thorns on his head.  And what sheer wonder there was at the transfiguration and resurrection.  Actions, silences (oh how significant!) with familiar words told as story left us all in a spirit of worship.

And telling as story was key.  He told the story as a joined up narrative.  He gave us a flavour of how the first disciples (with high contemporary oral memory) told out the story of Jesus for the three decades before Mark's gospel was written.

Did he recite every verse? No. He edited out whole chapters like 10,11 and 12....and he needed to. The first chapter took such a long time I confess that I was calculating how long sixteen chapters would take.  But the necessary choices he made held the story together with integrity.  And, yes, for those who ask technical questions, he used the longer ending of Mark! 
It remains the greatest story ever told because it is about the Lord of life for today and tomorrow.  I was so grateful to hear it like this!



Friday, March 31, 2017

Back to school -Water colour class (3)

The final class this week finished with a flourish as we attempted to paint two very bright boats (orange and blue) bobbing in a harbor with dazzling reflections. 'I want you to use bright bold colours as well as washes', said our teacher.  And we tried to!

I look back over the whole experience with gratitude.  It has kick-started me into a fresh activity which propels me into a very different zone from academics and sermon writing.   Earlier I mentioned some of the advice he has given us beginners and this has been added to through the classes:
-  Make sure your initial sketch is sound - nothing will compensate for a poor drawing.
-  Simplify, simplify, simplify.....always look for the bigger picture.
-  Stop before you think you're done.  Avoid dangers of over-painting!
-  Don't go back when its partially dried.
- When you paint wet on wet - let it paint itself.
-  Balancing tones is essential for distance and contrasts.
-  Be bold not fussy!

There's good stuff here if I remember to practice it and I guess I will continue some painting now the class as finished.  A friend visited and mentioned she had seen a documentary which analyzed three groups of retired people in order to monitor what most helped them most to keep healthy in body, mind and spirit. One group went on a diet, another took to the gym and the third did life-drawing.  Apparently, the last group won hands down with positive outcomes all round.  I still think that belonging to a lively loving church community with all that means will come out best but I am sure a spot of creativity adds spice!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Not too bad!


I promised to give an honest report about whether dabbling with paints compensated for not taking my laptop on my seaside break!  Since the weather turned very wet and cold with ferocious hail on our last day my ambition to wander out with sketchbook in hand and sun on my face was seriously sabotaged.  However, I managed to paint some harbour scenes in Minehead with opportunities to experiment with sea, waves, reflections and boats.

Overall the experience was a happy one though I made a discovery that applied to every picture I attempted.  Each time there was some element that pleased me.  Some tones, details, adjoining colours seemed to hum. It wasn't necessarily a large percentage of the paper but it made me feel my night classes have been worthwhile.  However,  each time there was also some element that greatly displeased me - tones or colours turned rather ugly or details jarred.  Of course I never wanted this to happen especially if it began sweetly.....yet it kept happening!  It  reminded me forcibly of life in general with flies too regularly in the ointment (and what an odd expression that is!) But, maybe as I keep practicing the displeasing parts will become less.  That applies to Christian practice too!

I go to my last watercolour class next week. It's definitely opened up another way of spending my time..... and trying not to waste it!