Sorry, my mistake

Image by Tumisu, from Pixabay

At first, I was shocked.

The sight of a Cabinet Minister making a rude gesture to a crowd of people.  Surely, she should have known better.  But, it was her response that most interested me;

“I should have shown more composure but am only human”

(Andrea Jenkyns)

What we, the general public, don’t know is the stress she was under, the background to her actions and her “backstory” – also, I need to point out, this is a no politics blog!

What the incident and her subsequent comments got me thinking about, was “owning our mistakes.”

Let’s face it, we all make ‘em.

The slip of the pen.

The bad moment when we snap because somebody says something

The time we are in a rush, and a careless driver cuts in front.  One of the reasons I don’t wear a dog collar when driving is, it has a tendency to get a little tight whilst I let off steam at other drivers!

As the foreman in the factory where I worked used to say “the man who never made a mistake, made nothing”

Perhaps, at some level, we can all use the defence;

“I should have shown more composure but am only human”

So, what do I mean when I say “owning our mistakes”?  I mean, to take responsibility for your mistake.  Be prepared to admit your failure. 

So often, people want to deflect and evade responsibility.  Pass the blame is not a new game, just read the story of Adam and Eve.  Adam blames Eve.  Eve blames the serpent.  The serpent hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

Perhaps, the world would be a different place if Adam had said to God, “I am sorry, I gave in to temptation.  I broke the rules and will have to live with the consequences of my choice.”

What I also see is that when people “own their mistakes”, they find forgiveness.  King David, when faced with his actions that led to the death of Uriah, responds;

I have sinned against the Lord

(2 Samuel 12 vs. 13)

David owns his mistake and recognizes that, ultimately, he has broken God’s laws.  There are consequences to be faced, but David does receive forgiveness. 

There are lots of reasons why we need to own our mistakes and a few stood out for me in my reflections. Firstly, our mistakes are great teachers.  We learn more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes.

Secondly, owning our mistakes, is a demonstration of personal integrity.  Integrity is the quality of honesty.  A leader who blames everyone else and accepts no responsibility, lacks integrity and is soon believed untrustworthy.      

Finally, our mistakes, if we are prepared to own them, bring us to the place of grace.  I may not have made rude gestures to a crowd of people or plotted the death of someone.  I have, however, made plenty of mistakes.  If I am prepared to own my mistakes, seek God’s forgiveness and ask for God’s help I find forgiveness and newness of life.  As the Apostle John writes;

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

(1 John 1 vs. 8 -9)

I think we all need to be prepared to own our mistakes.

Which way Lord?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A Greek Philosopher called Heraclitus is quoted as saying;

The only constant in life is change

At some level, he is right.  We are all in the process of change because, every day, we are one day older.  Our bodies never stop changing throughout life, and even beyond (bit morbid – sorry!).  Some changes we can help and some are beyond our control. 

As I have been thinking about change, I have also reflected, that some change is good and other changes less so.  Some change I readily embrace, and some leaves me feeling unsettled and uncertain.  Some change, I choose and other changes are forced upon me by circumstances.

This was really brought home to me the other day. 

We are in the process of moving.  At the end of this month, I will be leaving the Church I have been privileged to serve for the last 14 years.  As with most ministers, when we leave our job, we leave our homes, our local support networks and our familiar surroundings.  The contacts and responsibilities we have built up, are laid down.  We do this so that we can fully enter life in a new setting and, hopefully, avoid the pull of the past.

I am discovering that, this is not an event, it is a process that needs to be gone through. 

So, as part of the process, I went through my diary of appointments from August onwards.  I took out church and deacons meetings.  Housegroups.  Prayer meetings.  Responsibilities. School governor meetings.  I took out parade services.  Items that needed to be dealt with by a certain date were the next to be deleted.  As I deleted, I prayed and handed the people, the situations, the joys and the sorrows over to God, I released them into his care.

For the first time in 14 years, I had a blank diary!

I can imagine a certain individual (and she may even read this blog!) who will be saying “and how did that feel?”. 

My response would be “unsettling.” 

Please, do not misunderstand me, I am really excited about the future. I am looking forward to the move and, I know, the reality of ministry says, the diary will soon get filled again.  But, in the meantime, the blank page is unnerving and leads me to ask the question “what now God?”

Yesterday, I was at a gathering where a prayer was shared by William Sloan Coffin (great name) that seemed to sum up a lot of how I am feeling at the moment.  I share that with you and hope it speaks to you too;

O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, you are our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us, we beseech thee—for we are in trouble.

We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment.

We need an anxiety about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things but does not unnerve us.

As a people, we need to remember that our influence was greatest when our power was weakest.

Most of all, we need to turn to you, O God,

and our crucified Lord,

for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.

O God, be our our sole strength in time of trouble.

In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings—the simple ones:

health,

food,

sleep,

one another,

a spring that is bursting out all over, a nation which, despite all, has so much to offer so many.

And, grant us to count our more complicated blessings: our failures, which teach us so much more than success;

our lack of money, which points to the only truly renewable resources, the resources of our spirit; our lack of health, yes, even the knowledge of death,

for until we learn that life is limitation,

we are surely as formless and as shallow as a stream without its banks.

Send us forth into a new week with a gladsome mind, free and joyful in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

(William Sloan Coffin, Riverside Church)

Betwixt and Between

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I am living in strange times at the moment

I have this sort of feeling that I am neither here nor there

Let me explain.

After 14 years of living beside the seaside in Sunny Clacton on Sea, I am about to move. It’s a big thing. I will leave my job, my home, my familiar surroundings and set off for pastures new.

At first, I thought my feelings were being caused by the scale of the task I was facing.  I am only just begun to appreciate how much junk I have accumulated over the years.   Perhaps I am a bit of a hoarder.  I have a wonderful collection of things that “will come in handy one day” and they ended up in the loft for safekeeping. 

Amongst the junk I also discovered a collection of unused stuff.  I am told, we cannot possibly get rid of because, “Great-Aunt Mable gave us that as a wedding present and it would really upset her if she knew.” The fact that she died over thirty years ago, doesn’t come into it.

As I thought about it, I realised that the sorting part is not really at the root of my feelings.  After all, it really did need doing and every so often, we all need a good clear out!

Nor is my problem the thought of moving to a new place with all of the inherent disruption of locating furniture, choosing curtains and carpets.

No, the real root cause of my problem is, I feel as though I am between one place and another and don’t quite belong in either.  I am betwixt and between and I don’t like this “nearly, but not quite.”

The other day, I was mulling over a few things in my mind (I know I should have been packing but, why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?)  I began to think about what the Bible has to say about betwixt and between.

I began to think about the story, in Luke’s Gospel, of Mary and Joseph leaving the boy Jesus in the Temple.  They head home in the belief he was with the other parent.  As that story draws to a close, we hear nothing more about Jesus until he is an adult.  From childhood to adulthood in one easy move!  Silence until, Jesus emerges to begin his ministry. 

What happened through the, approximate, 18 years?  What was Jesus doing between childhood and adulthood?

I also read the promise of the prophet Isaiah when he says;

Those who wait upon the Lord….

Any period of waiting can be unsettling.

Uncomfortable. 

Hard.

I decided to shelve my thinking and start to un-shelve my books.  After all, they would not pack themselves would they?

I do love my books.  I have come to regard many of them as old friends.  My wife frequently asks “do you really need it?” I always respond in the affirmative because, I simply cannot bear to part with them. 

I started to lift my commentaries off the shelf and into a box. These gems, collected over so many years, are used so often that the pages are now dog eared and falling out but I cannot bear to rid myself of them.  A chunk from commentary on Isaiah detached itself and fell to the floor.  I bent down and collected the errant pages, and began to read;

Those who wait upon the Lord…

The Hebrew word “qavah” meaning “eagerly expected” “longed for” “hopefully wait.”

This got me thinking.  Rather than the frustration of being “betwixt and between,” I need to change my thinking.  This is a time of eager expectation for what is to come.

Lectio Divina – Good Shepherd

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Yesterday, I spent a bit of time sharing about Lectio Divina. Sacred Reading. It is a way of reading the scriptures and allowing them to speak into your heart. One writer describes this way of reading the Bible as “Reading with God.” For me, Lectio is a way of listening with the heart and praying with the Word that God has given.

This morning, in my time with God, I put into practice what I had been teaching. The passage I was led to was from John’s Gospel, chapter 10

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

John 10 vs. 11-13

It is a well known passage and, because I know it so well, it would be easy to skip over the words and just allow them to remain as words on a page. If I do that, I can miss what Jesus is saying to me.

I deliberately slowed down and re-read the passage. I then read it again and allowed the words to speak to me. I imagined myself, sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to the words as he spoke them.

I felt drawn to the contrast that Jesus draws between himself, as the Good Shepherd, and the hired hand who “cares nothing for the sheep.” This led me to write a prayer;

Lord, Good Shepherd

Carer and protector

Friend

When I am off balance, you right me

When I am lost, you find me

When I am hurt, you heal me

When I am hungry, you feed me

Lord, Good Shepherd

Keep me near to you, I pray

In Jesus name

AMEN

Why not pick up your Bible, select a well known passage, and see how it can speak to you afresh today?

Do You See?

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

The story itself is a firm favourite of many. 

It is a favourite of mine. 

The two disciples taking an unplanned walk towards a place called Emmaus.  As they take their heartbroken walk there must have been feelings of disillusionment, depression, doubts all mixed in with the fear that the authorities were coming for them too. 

Maybe, for the two, Emmaus represented home, a place of safety and security from the madness that had consumed their world over the past few days.

As they journey, they are joined on the road.

As I read this familiar passage this morning, I felt particularly drawn to the way that the ESV says this in Luke 24 vs. 15;

Jesus himself drew near

I wonder if we appreciate just how powerful a statement this is? 

As I thought about those words, what struck me afresh was that because Jesus is alive today, these words are also true today.  I think our problem is we, like those disciples, don’t always look for him.

In the hurt and anger of our world

Jesus himself drew near

In the rejection and fear of the other

Jesus himself drew near

In our brokenness

Jesus himself drew near

In the loneliness and isolation

Jesus himself drew near

In the war torn and damaged

Jesus himself drew near

Perhaps, our view might be changed if we realise that, in all of life, Jesus still draws near. 

May we have eyes to see him.

The Writing Group

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Recently, I have joined a writers group. We meet monthly via zoom. We have the opportunity to share experiences, learn from one another and read our work for others to comment on.

Over the past two sessions I have been learning about “flash writing.” You have 10 minutes to write a piece. The organizer uses a Random Word Generator to select a single word and ….off you go.

The word we were given was “Counter”. This is my “flash” piece……

In my mind, I think of the counter I fitted to my bike as a teenager.  Each revolution of the wheel was converted into miles. Every clunk of the counter made me one revolution closer to my target.

In some way shape or form, counters are an important part of all our lives.  Whether the step counter on our smart watches or, the targets we have to achieve for work.  Even in writing, I find myself looking at the word counter to see if I am achieving the magic number.

I don’t think God has a counter. 

He deals in one’s. 

The one lost sheep.

The one prodigal.

The one coin. 

God does not do counters, because each one is precious.

A Thought From Penhurst

I have just come back from a wonderful retreat.

If you ever get chance, I would recommend a visit to the Penhurst Retreat Centre.  The setting is amazing.  The food, terrific.  The welcome warm and friendly.  This was my first visit to Penhurst and I was soon made to feel like ‘one of the family.’ 

The retreat itself was guided by the delightful Jack and Sandra.  Their gentle and relaxed approach, coupled with the setting, made prayer and reflection a real joy. My only regret is, the retreat was not longer!

I am one of those people who like to journal, and the retreat gave me the chance to really explore some knotty thoughts and bring them to God in prayer. Jack and Sandra were very good at giving prompts that led to deep reflection.

Early one morning, I awoke with a thought rattling around my head that has taken (and is taking) some working through. Naturally, I turned to my journal and made the note;

Sometimes, the process of prayer involves letting go

Don’t worry, I am not heading into the realms Disney and Frozen!

There was an important truth that I needed to work out here. There are the obvious things that need to be let go of. The writer to of Hebrews says;

let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles

(Hebrews 12 vs. 1)

I have often thought of this verse in terms of the negative things in our lives. The words that hinders in the Greek means “weighted down.” When we identify, confess and seek God’s forgiveness for the “hinderances and sins” we often feel much lighter in our spirits.

But, what began to dawn in my thinking was, not everything that weighs me down is a negative. I can hold, very tightly, onto things that I see as “mine” and not want to release others into. I began to feel God asking me “are you prepared to release _______ so that you can come deeper with me?”

Of course, the answer should be “yes” but, letting go is not always that easy!

And so, what began as a journal note at Penhurst, continues to be worked through. I pray for sensitivity to God’s leading and directing as I pray that you too, will be open to God’s leading in your hearts

Keep Me Out Of Your Way

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The scene is a hot, dry and dusty roadway leading toward a small Middle Eastern village on the borders of Samaria. 

Jesus is on his way toward Jerusalem. 

People are crowded around him and his disciples.  The sound of their questions, the urgency of their pleas fills the air; hands reach out, touching Jesus, hoping to draw attention, just for a moment of Jesus time.

In the distance, separate to everyone else stands a group of lepers. 

Isolated from their families, society and even the worshipping communities, lepers were the outcasts of all outcasts, the rejects of all rejected. Shunned by all, through fear of contagion, they would band together to protect themselves against “polite society.”  The Gospel writer even takes the trouble to tell his readers that, within this particular group, there was even a Samaritan – leprosy and fear were great levellers.

In the story, told in Luke 17 vs. 11 – 19, Jesus hears their cries and has mercy on them.

It really hit me. 

Despite all the noise and crush around him, he is drawn to the plight of those beyond the margins.  He hears their cries.

Take a walk around the streets of many towns in Britain today, and you will find those who are beyond the margins. In the town where I am based, we have our own issues with this problem.

If I were to walk into town today, I could easily find the street drinkers, the homeless, those with mental health issues, those who have fallen through the cracks.  Sometimes, these people groups band together.  They do this both for protection and for human company and acceptance. 

But, what I also know is, there are many good people who reach out and try to help them.  Sometimes, it feels as though all we are doing is putting a sticking a plaster over a wound that can never heal, but try we do. 

I confess, at times, this work can be frustrating and show little reward.  We do attract criticism from those in “polite society” who feel we do more harm than good.  We are equally criticised for not doing enough.  At times, we get no thanks at all (if you read the passage you will find Jesus encountered the same).  I have, in my less spiritual moments, found myself praying “O Lord, why do I bother?”!

In my quiet times, I have been introduced to a prayer by an American Franciscan, Mychal Judge.  He was a chaplain to the New York Fire Department and involved in the World Trade Centre disaster.  His prayer goes like this;

Lord, take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet who you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way.   

Mychal Judge

(I had a real problem with the last line, however, I have come to realise that it means “don’t let me hinder your work.”)

This prayer has become my daily prayer as I encounter polite society, marginal society and those beyond the edge and, as I pray, I trust that, somehow, God will be at work and I will not hinder him.

Ruined

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I wonder if you have ever visited a set of ruins?

Perhaps a Castle, an ancient Abbey, or former stately home.  Through neglect, disuse and historical acts of vandalism, in Great Britain, we are left with these remnants of once magnificent structures.  We can only use our imaginations to picture what was once a thriving hub of activity and is now a heap of rubble.

I often find, as I look at a pile of stones and try and picture a magnificent hall, I have a feeling of sadness.  To me the stones seem to cry out “I once was something worth marvelling at.”  Ruins always have a feel of “once was” about them.

Many of our ruins are in their present condition because they were not required, or fit for purpose, or just too expensive to repair and maintain.  Society moved on and these structures were no longer viable.

That is the thing with society.  It has a tendency to change and develop.

I remember a visit to one abbey and hearing about its history.  As the monks moved away and the buildings fell into disrepair, many of the local people used parts of the abbey to repair their homes, build walls around their fields and construct amenities for their community. 

As society changed, these buildings did not die, they lived on in different ways.

I suppose, what got me thinking about ruins is a passage I was reading in the Biblical book of Ezra.  Ezra was living and working in Jerusalem at the time of major re-building work.  His concern was especially for the re-building of the temple.

This is what Ezra says;

He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

(Ezra 9 vs. 9)

These words got me thinking about all that has happened in our community and church life over the past couple of years.  I believe, that we are at a time of re-building.  But, like those ruins of old, there are some things that will need to be re-purposed.  There are some things that we will need to leave behind.  There are some things that will need to be, lovingly, restored.

In the time of Ezra, the people came together to re-build the city.

I wonder if the same could happen today? 

Could you be part of the re-building?

At least….

At least there is hope for a tree:
    If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
    and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
    and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth shoots like a plant.

(Job 14 vs. 7 – 9 NIV)

I felt battered, bruised and angry. 

Over the course of a few days, there had been the need to face an unpleasant situation.  I had felt that I was unable to defend myself, without making things worse.  So, I had no choice but to “put up and shut up.”

I felt battered, bruised, angry and frustrated and tired and… and… and…

It was somewhat of a relief that I had a Sunday clear.  Unusually for me, I did not feel like going to Church.  I really could not face standing up and smiling and saying how wonderful it is to be a follower of Jesus. 

Today it was not wonderful, it was painful.

There I was, on a bright Sunday morning, tramping through the forest.  Watching the just turning leaves.  Seeing the squirrels running across the path in their hurried preparation for coming season.  Listening to the birdsong and saying “good morning” to dog walkers, joggers and horse riders without having to really engage with them.  Breathing in the good, clear fresh air.

It was as I rounded a bend that I spotted it. 

photo by author

A tree. 

Blackened and burnt. 

I wondered how it had got in this state.  Had it been struck by lightning?  Maybe it was the victim of some careless, discarded cigarette or match.  As the forest was looked after, I wondered why the foresters had not removed it.  The blasted tree stood as, either a monument to natures power or human carelessness.  I could only look and wonder.    

It was as I turned to leave that my eyes were drawn to something.  Through the decaying and blackened wood, there was a patch of green.  New life was emerging from the deadened tree.  It may have only been the odd shoot, but there were definite signs of life.  Resurrection was taking place. 

At least there is hope for a tree

I may have felt battered and bruised but at that moment, I began to hope that there was also room for resurrection.

If there is hope for a tree, there must be hope for me. 

If there is hope for me, then there must be hope for you too.