Why is it that when we decide to look at the question in next Sunday's evening meeting, "What Can I do When It All Goes Wrong?", I have a week when that is exactly what seems to be happening?
Here's the catalogue of errors (so far):
Sunday - I get a call while travelling on the ferry from Arran. The electrics are off and there is no internet access in church.
Monday - We can't logon to the administration account on the church computer. When we do get in, all files from the last two+ years have mysteriously vanished. "Surely there is a backup?", you say. " Of course.....there isn't!", I reply. IT backup now instituted.
Wednesday - I arrange to leave my mobile on so that if a sick friend needs company in hospital in the middle of the night, they can get hold of me. I switch my phone on when I get home on Tuesday night, but forget it is set to vibrate. Several unanswered calls and texts await me at 6am when I wake up. My masterplan failed and I feel miserable.
This was followed by me dropping my mobile on the new hard floor of the gents toilets at St Silas'. A smashed screen is the result. The phone still works, but I get little shards of glass on my fingers an face when I use it. It's insured though......er, no, it's not because I forgot to tell my bank that I'd changed it. Time for a new phone perhaps?
On the way home from a hospital visit, I found a driving licence and credit card on the grass, so, as a good citizen should, off I went to Partick Police Station to hand them in. I'd noticed a car with it's rear window smashed in in the car park of the hospital when I visited yesterday, and I'm sure the photo on the driver's licence was the same woman who stood by that car. The civilian staff member at the police station took forever to get round to me doing my civic duty. I guess the budget cuts are already hitting the police service.
That's it. The only solution is for me to bunker down for the rest of the week in the hope that nothing else can go wrong.
The date for the completion and handing over of the new hall has slipped by a month, but we're assured that it will happen by the end of October.
The good news is that the new toilets in the church are fully functional and a joy to behold (and use!). Fifteen years of total embarrassment at the state of our lavvies come to an end. There's a wee problem with flushing noise, but the contractors think they can alleviate this.
I promise not to engage in the following dialogue from the front to anyone flushing during the service:
Last night I visited Alan just before the evening service. It was outside of visiting hours, and not being much given to wearing a clerical collar, one of the nurses gave me a good telling off. She kindly let me stay and Alan and I were able to talk, listen, pray and read Psalms 61 & 62 together. Please continue to pray for him.
Sunday 15th August: A challenge in the night.
Last night was not a good one: had pains in tummy and chest and felt very restless during the night. I am often not sure how to pass the time in the darkness while feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel angry that this thing is happening to me, and when I feel angry, I often turn my face against God. I’m sure he understands both the anger and not wanting to communicate with him. (I recall a similar time in 1984 after my Aunt Peggy died – feeling so much anger towards God. One time I took a copy of the Bible and tore it to shreds, page by page, and, strangely, God did not strike me down afterwards!).
But last night, another challenge arose, and this is the question from Jesus – will you love me even though everything is falling apart with your body? Will you love me during the sickness; will you love me in the discomfort; will you love me even if you cannot eat; will you love me come what may? My answer to that question was not straightforward last night. I have great difficulty loving Jesus during such taxing and challenging times. I have great difficulty trusting him every step of the way when physically I am going from bad to worse. I am still wrestling with this question today, for I find it easier to love and trust Jesus when things are gradually getting better. But when they are getting worse, then the question is much more poignant!
I must say, this is a real test of faith for me that remains unresolved. And the test could be put simply as this: “If you lose almost everything, will you continue to love and trust Jesus?” For me, the answer just now would have to be a choice of the will. I could choose to say “yes” to this question, even though my heart and feelings are nowhere near saying yes. I would hope that, by saying yes by the choice of my will, my heart will follow along soon!
By doing this as an act of the will, I am really saying that God is God despite how I feel. The objective truth is still there. I am saying, God will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how we feel inside. The trick is maybe to separate the objective truth about God from how we feel. I tend to get the two mixed up.
Alan is in the Beatson for a second round of chemotherapy. If you pray, please keep him, Liz & Paul in your prayers. Here is his latest blog post.
Saturday 14th August: Grace
I returned to the Beatson Hospital yesterday for Part 2 of the chemotherapy treatment. The first shock on arriving: I had lost 20lbs weight during my time at home, due to difficulties swallowing and regurgitation. They need to stabilise my weight here before considering more chemo. I feel quite weak with little energy and sometimes feel sick, so it is not always a pleasant feeling on this tortuous journey. But in the words of Lara Martin’s chorus, God Is Near: God is near, let the weak say I am strong; God is near, let the sick say I am well; God is near, his wonders to perform. He truly is the God of miracles and I am in need of miracles this morning!
Back to the subject of grace – maybe because it is the most underrated topic in Christendom. When the Prodigal Son went off and wasted his life and the family inheritance, he proved to be one of the most self-seeking, self-centred losers ever, and yet the Father accepted him back with open arms, laid on the grandest of parties and killed the fatted calf. God is willing to do this for the vilest offender who has ever returned to the Father. This in essence is the Gospel: a free gift, unconditional love and, yes, grace from the Father.
The problem with the Christian church, however, concerns whether this kind of grace is found abounding among church members. My instant response is: very occasionally but far from the norm. Many in our churches know the story of the Prodigal, they know that grace is the only way this can happen, but somehow we slip up at translating this grace to each other.
It is not clear why this is. The human condition finds it hard to accept a free and undeserved gift, and we are constantly agitating to pay for the gift in some way. Some pay through a life of dedicated service to the church; some through sacrificial lifestyle changes. Whatever your chosen means of payment, it doesn’t work. The price has already been paid. St Paul said, even though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it will avail me nothing. I am not suggesting that all people who dedicate their lives to a Godly cause are paying for their free gift. Far from it. For many, a life of service is an expression of gratitude for this free gift. I am just saying that we need to be ever vigilant, to keep recognising that grace has been given to us freely, and freely we pass it on to others.
The release of Canadian band Arcade Fire's third album, The Suburbs, might have been a worrying event. Could they produce something to eclipse Funeral from 2005 and 2007's Neon Bible? I thought the first two recordings had some great songs, but as a whole, neither entirely grabbed me. Their energetic and passionate live performances were the thrill for me. However, with the sixteen tracks of the latest release, no-one need worry about their ability to produce the goods. It's a cohesive, and fascinating take on existential, spiritual, economic, urban and relational angst. Organs, synths, violins, and guitars all provide hooks that simply grow and grow, getting under the skin. I can imagine the crowds at their gigs chanting 'Rococo, Rococo' in an irony-filled unity. Utterly brilliant stuff.
It's rare these days for me to come across a recording which makes me delight in something in every song. It's my favourite music of 2010 by a mile.
Now to await the scramble for tickets for their UK tour of the album........
Now that it's finished, 'GadgetVicarage' will offer his reflections on BBC 2's comedy series about an inner London vicar.
The good things: I think it was a fair take on much of the nature of church ministry. The pressures of time, loneliness, leadership, temptation, jealousy and a disconnected hierarchy all rang bells. The vicar's marriage and the pressures it faced also rang true.
Many of the pastoral situations were also familiar. People wanting to get married, then never seeing them again. When the man came to the door begging for a train fair to get to Southend, GVBOY said, 'This is your life!' I can't tell you how many times I've taken people to the bus or train station, only to have them disappear when they realised that they weren't getting cash-in-hand. The anger at people's abuse when he told the workmen where to go in the first episode had me laughing. The poignancy of the last scene, where he was present as someone died, was a great reminder of the privilege that ordained ministry is.
However, I felt it was all so unremittingly dark. Adam Smallbone had no friends in the congregation. His lay reader was a pain and the cassock-chasing lady was a nightmare. I know that was for comic effect, but surely there could have been someone in the parish that cared for him and his wife with no strings attached and colleagues who could support him? He only seemed to have fun when he was smashed (as in the last episode - mind you, the drunken dancing was fun), and he drank an awful lot. Again that might reflect some reality somewhere, but surely not in most churches? Evangelicals were portrayed as power-hungry and uncaring for the poor (a caricature that is definitely not fair). As for the Church, well, it simply made for such a poor advert. Why would anyone want to come to such a sad institution? Lastly, Adam just seemed lost. Why was he doing this job? He didn't know why he believed or even what he believed. His prayer life consisted of rigid conformity in saying the daily office, or praying arrow prayers in the loo or on the street. There was no sense of people rallying around him and praying, and it made me grateful that I get to minister in a church like the one I do.
The reality is a lot more positive and fun than Rev. makes it out to be.