Friday, December 23, 2011

A kind of immortality

Once of the things I always do at Christmas is make my own mince pies.  There’s something about homemade pastry that means that shop-bought ones never really come close.  I’ve always managed to make good pastry because I use a food processor (cookery tip: over-handling pastry, especially when you’ve got hot hands like me, makes it tough and nasty).  And there’s a story attached to the food processor.

Eighteen years ago when we moved to Ruddington to begin Mike’s first pastorate, a friend of my in-laws named Hertha gave me a generous gift.  She gave me some money and said “You’ll be doing a lot of entertaining as a minister’s wife so buy yourself something that will make that easier.”  I bought a food processor and it has chopped, sliced, diced, minced, blended and mixed every year since.  In particular, every Christmas it has made the batches of flaky, buttery pastry that I have made into mince pies for seasonal church events and socials.  Hertha died more than fifteen years ago, but every year I have remembered and thanked her again, because without her generosity the making of over a hundred mince pies would have been an impossible chore.  This autumn the food processor gave up the ghost and was replaced by a shiny new model.  I have just made my pastry and remembered her thoughtful generosity again.  Now that’s a good kind of immortality.

Monday, October 31, 2011

When Worlds Collide

My reading pleasure has been considerable enhanced this summer by working my way through the Wallander books by Henning Mankell.  I do like a bit of good detective fiction.  For those who don't know the novels are set in a town in southern Sweden.

Another pleasure in my life is the occasional trip to the Swedish Temple to budget home furnishing IKEA.  There is much amusement about the naming of the products with many people giggling in a childish way about whether they are rude.  According to this:

There is meaning and significance to the names.  And this is whee the worlds collide...there I am reading a novel when my mind suddenly thinks "That's that cushion with flowers on, not the island where a young women has been chopped up by a crazed lunatic!"  It works the other way too...I handed my husband a plastic bag and said "That's the town Wallander lives in".  To say he was baffled would be an understatement.

Given that I have the kind of memory that hangs on to useless information, such as IKEA product names, or places in books, I wonder what sort of weird neural contortions my brain is having to perform to make connections between these two lists???

Thursday, September 08, 2011

For this I have Jesus

I went to a dear friend’s funeral yesterday, and as you’d expect for funerals for those who die before they are “rich in years” it was not a great day.  It was in the sense of seeing old friends and celebrating the life of a very nice man, but it would have even nicer if he had been there with us.  One of the songs we sang is this one by Graham Kendrick:

For the joys and for the sorrows
The best and worst of times
For this moment, for tomorrow
For all that lies behind
Fears that crowd around me
For the failure of my plans
For the dreams of all I hope to be
The truth of what I am

For this I have Jesus
For this I have Jesus
For this I have Jesus, I have Jesus

For the tears that flow in secret
In the broken times
For the moments of elation
Or the troubled mind
For all the disappointments
Or the sting of old regrets
All my prayers and longings
That seem unanswered yet

For the weakness of my body
The burdens of each day
For the nights of doubt and worry
When sleep has fled away
Needing reassurance
And the will to start again
A steely-eyed endurance
The strength to fight and win
Graham Kendrick  Copyright © 1994 Make Way Music, 

It was particularly apt because the friend had battled for many years with depression and it seemed to me that this song, which in the face of it is rather bleak, seemed appropriate.  It’s very hard, when all life throws you is a dried out and rather mouldy lemon, to have some cheery soul yelling at you to make lemonade.  It’s even worse when they tell you that you should make lemonade because that’s what Jesus would do!  And the agony is piled on when they tell you that we can make lemonade because Jesus has the victory!!!  Yes it is true that Jesus does have the victory but when you’re sitting in the dark holding the nasty lemon it has a bit of a hollow ring to it (the sentiment, not the lemon)

The problem with the victory rhetoric is that it distances us from Jesus, rather than drawing us towards him.  The words of this song could apply to things in my life, but they don’t connect with a victorious Jesus who can’t relate to any of this.  But if you look at the words again I think you could imagine Jesus recognising them from his experience of human life.  The grief at the death of Lazarus, the frustration at people who refused to hear his message, the fear in the face of physical abuse, and the weight of responsibility for saving the world.  Jesus spent time feeling lost and abandoned by his friends, rejected and cast out.  This is the incarnation: that Jesus is not a distant remote God who looks on us dispassionately while we suffer.  Instead he is the Word who “…became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” 

My friend’s experience was often bleak; he was a very intelligent man so he wasn’t able to not ask tough questions of God, but the testimony of his friends yesterday was that he never lost his faith, and because of what Jesus did in moving into his rather gloomy neighbourhood, and the testimony of my friend’s life of witness to the truth of it we were able to say “For this we have Jesus”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Disney Princesses

If you know me you’ll know that I am a feminist.  This means there are certain things that, as Peter Griffin would say, grind my gears.  One of these is the cultural phenomenon of Disney Princesses, and, in fact, the wider world of Disney-ness.  Because I have some antipathy towards it I’m not particularly well versed in the wacky world of impossibly tiny waists, large but strangely asexual bosoms and bizarre coloured but always long and flowing hair that is Disney Princess world.  I’m troubled that princesses are portrayed as helpless and infantilised, in need of a usually male rescuer and only get that because they are beautiful.  It must be hard being a really unattractive Disney princess, doomed to spend your life up a tower, fast asleep, enslaved to a witch or whatever, simply because you were unlucky enough to have been born with mousy frizzy hair, or a less than retroussé nose.  Heaven help you if you’ve got a flat chest or child bearing calves!!!

You might wonder why I have suddenly felt the need to get in such an unfeminine tizzy about this, but it’s because of Mike Pilavachi!  Well, not him personally, but rather Soul Survivor.  This year the fancy dress theme was announced as Disney and people were encouraged to dress up as Disney characters.  Why do we yet again lay these unhelpful images on our girls and young women?  The only Disney film I come anywhere near liking is Mulan, because she shows some spirit and takes on a man’s world and wins.  But even that is ultimately disappointing because in the end she goes home to become a daughter, a wife, and presumably a mother, even though she was offered a top job in government.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing dishonourable about being a wife and mother, I’m both, but couldn’t she have had a crack at running China first?  Surely, Soul Survivor, you could have come up with a theme that doesn’t so easily separate and stereotype boys and girls, a theme that encouraged creativity and fun, without putting so much pressure on the girls to be beautiful and passive, and the boys to be manly and covered in six-packs and strong jaws. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's a numbers game

I’m reading this at the moment:

and I say AMEN to his critique of our obsession with numbers as the only measure of success in church life. We need to remember, as Mark Yaconelli pointed out, that Jesus only discipled 12 people, and one of them handed him over to be killed and another pretended he didn't know who Jesus was. In the end he died alone because they all ran off. This is true gospel success.

So here's a challenge to my youth ministry friends: try to stop using numbers when you talk about your work. It's very difficult because even if you can stop yourself it's very difficult when that's the only question other people ask you about what you do. And the next hard step is to stop asking your youth ministry friends how many come to their groups.

This is something I’ve been trying to do for a while and I have found it very difficult. That in itself is interesting. What is it in me that wants to boast of bigger? When someone does it to me I feel belittled and inadequate, or superior and puffed up, so why do I want to do that to someone else? And why do I speak about my ministry as God’s work, but if I have a big number to boast of, suddenly feel like it’s because of my own ability as a youth minister? It’s also very challenging when you talk to another youth minister and they ask “So how many do you get to that club” to look them in the eye and say “a good crowd” or “Some nice young people”. Why does refusing to say a number feel like such a subversive act? Maybe youth workers should practice it as a Lenten discipline.

Stackhouse argues that it’s a product of revivalist theology (he makes a very good argument; I would urge you to read the book). I agree with his thinking, but would also add for youth ministers two more pressures. Firstly, the secular model of youth work that demands quantitative data about youth work, rather than thinking about quality, has filtered into Christian youth ministry, particularly those of us who are professionally qualified and paid by churches. And that’s the second pressure; churches who see the youth minister’s job as filling the church, so who look for the proverbial “bums on seats” rather than the quality of discipleship, who see their youth worker lurking in coffee shops rather than herding great crowds of young people through the baptismal pool, and wonder if they are getting value for money.

It seems to me that that the numbers game, however it arises, is based on shaky ideas of what christian faith is, and more importantly, who young people and youth workers are. Fundamentally a young person, or a youth worker, is created in the image of God, and therefore is a unique, individual creation. When what is done with, to, for, or at this young person is looked at through a lens of numerical success, this image is distorted, because they become an object to be counted, not a person to be related to. This is why Jesus was so subversive; he wouldn’t conform to the pressure to achieve success. Every time it was offered to him he turned away from it. The story of his temptation that we reflect on during Lent is an example of this. If Jesus was a youth worker today, the Devil would say to him, “Bow down to me and I’ll give you a really big youth group”. Instead he prioritised people as individuals, meeting them in their need, sharing their pain and challenging them to a life of discipleship. This kind of work happens at meal tables, in coffee shops, walking along together, in sitting rooms, not in vast crowds where nobody knows anybody, but somebody knows the numbers.