Following a couple of conversations today I am back to pondering a dilema that haunts so many of us, the dilema of loving ourselves. I don't mean indulging ourselves but really loving ourselves, warts and all in a healthy and wholesome way. Jesus certainly made it clear to us that our relationship with ourselves has a real bearing on our relationship with others and even with God, and I am beginning to wonder if we save our most elaborate masks and deceptions not to impress others but to hide from our own truths.
We are of course products of our own upbringing, and sadly prone to pass on our own insecurities to our children unless by some miracle we learn to free ourselves from the cycle by accepting that we are loved, truly, deeply loved. I continue to struggle with this, even though I preach it and know it to be true somewhere deep in my soul I reject the love and so reject myself, the "good" thing about love is that it refuses to give up on us and works away within and without us to awaken us to its call.
The problem is that many times we plug our ears and blind our eyes to the call of love, we put on masks of self suffiency, of strength, of perfectionism, and we hide from ourselves and from love. We hide because we beleive the lie that we are unworthy, we beleive the lie that we are not and can never be enough, we beleive the lie that we are unloveable...
These things are a lie, the truth is that we are each unique, we each reflect the image of the God of love, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we are known through and through, and we are loved...
We are both darkness and light, we are a bundle of difficulties, we are a muddle of contradictions and confusions, often we want the best but live out the worst, and we are loved...
We are loved because of and despite ourselves,
We are loved...
We are loved for God IS love and nothing can overcome that...
So we become our own stumbling blocks for until we can accept ourselves and see ourselves in shadow as well as in sunlight we are lost.
"Before the dawn the birds were roused; calling to wake
the earth, singing hope, insisting on the coming of day.
I heard them not, I rested long in my fear, I trembled to be alone."
I have to ask myself what dulls my ears to the song of hope that love sings, and what dulls my heart to the possibility of love? Douglas Coupland sums up the secret of so many of us in his book Life After God
"Now – here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me to give, because I am no longer capable of giving; to help me to be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me to love, as I seem beyond being able to love."
With this admission comes the vulnerability of realising that we cannot get life "right" on our own, that we need God and we need one another, that we are not and cannot be self sufficient islands, that we need to take of our armour and lay aside our masks. I need the dawning of God's love in my life, I need that love to break over my soul like the sun rising at dawn pushing back the darkness, and I need frequent reminders of my need, because it is so easy to slip on the mask and forget...
I have just returned home from Lancashire Methodist Districts' Inspire Conference, the theme this year was Telling our story, fitting in with our year of evangelism. The keynote speaker was Phil Summers from Applecart, and we were treated to some of their wonderful storytelling in the morning session. I loved the way they brought a freshness to the Scriptures through storytelling, reminding us that Jesus himself was a wonderful storyteller.
In the afternoon 3 particular sentences resonated with me, they were:
1.Let the story do its work...
2. Use the language of your life...
3. Step out of the way...
It all got me to thinking about the way we worry about church, almost as if church is the point, but in doing so we miss the point, because church is not the point at all. We worry whether our institutions will survive, we become so concerned about getting new members into our club that we forget what we are or should be all about! We forget that we are disciples ( learners) of Christ, called to follow in his ways empowered by the Holy Spirit, so how is it that rather than stepping out boldly and turning the world upside down we are worrying about our own survival?
During the day I led two workshops on reaching spiritual seekers, and in both of these I was reminded that we too often feel that we need to defend the gospel from an evil onslaught, as if God needs our help. Quite simply God does not need our help, and the gospel does not need defending! We really do need to learn to get out of the way, to remember that we are not the point, and to let the story do its work...
So what is the story? How could we forget the story of the God who left the glories of heaven to be born among us frail and vulnerable? How can we forget the one who broke down barriers and pushed aside conventions to include those who others excluded, the one who welcomed the outcast, healed the broken and calmed the storm? How can we forget the stroy of ultimate sacrifice and ultimate triumph shown to us in the cross and resurrection? How can we forget the one who invites us to join our story with his story, longing to share his life with us?
It seems inconceivable that we would forget, but sometimes I fear that the desire for our own survival blinds us. At the risk of repeating myself I will quote Max Webber from the book The Human Face of Church by Sarah Savage and Eloine Boyd-McMillan:
“Weber argued that any great vision require a human process to carry it through time, sometimes in the form of “a man, a mission, a movement, or a monument”. Even with the Body of Christ, the life giving charism has to be embodied in a routine – in some form of human organisation. Yet, life giving visions do not fit easily into neat boxes. So the very process that gives the vision continuing life also begins to kill it. When the maintenance of the institution (which protects the charism) becomes the institutions primary purpose, the death of the charism is on the horizon. Only spiritual revival or reform will re-ignite the gift.” (Savage and Boyd-McMillan 2007. p4)
Maybe then it is time for us to tear down the walls of our neatly boxed thinking, time to begin to mindfully live out our relationship with God in its raw and real state, complexity and beauty. For surely then our lives will speak, and the relationship will be the point not who put the flowers where or which particular hymn tune we are using. Maybe when we break bread we will be more concerned with meeting with the God who was broken for us than whether we have the right cloth on the table! Maybe then we will be reawakened with passion for the one who has the greatest passion for us.
MAYBE the survival of the church involves us getting out of the way like Jesus did in order to allow the amazing depths of love that God has for HIS world to be revealed, maybe in giving ourselves away we will experience resurrection, for in us the story does its work, the story is full of life and truth and frees us from ourselves...
More likely the church is not the point, the relationship is...
Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.
... “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I am attempting to write a poem a day through Lent, partly in response to Stephen Cherry's "Barefoot Prayers, and partly in the acknowledgement that I need to write and that writing is something I have found very painful over the last few months. I have to acknowledge that in writing I make room for God, room to hear his voice and room to respond, especially when that writing is poetry, I also have to acknowledge that some of it isn't what you'd call good poetry, but it is an expression of my soul. For various reasons I have kept that soul in check and have allowed it to become dry, over recent weeks I have become aware of my thirst again and see this as a gift.
Yesterday our church community shared in an Ash Wednesday Service, in that we received a sign of ashes on our heads, acknowledging our humaness and frailty, acknowledging the God who shared that frailty and asking him for a sign of grace. I used these words;
you create us from the dust of the earth,
Let these ashes be for us
a sign of the humanness and frailty we know so well,
the humanness that in Jesus you chose to share
May we remember to turn to you in our need
and receive the assurance from you of eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN
In the name of Christ
I invite you to receive on your forehead the sign of the cross
May these ashes be for you a sign of God's love and grace
Turn away from sin, turn to God and be faithful to Christ
I used these words for a community who know their weaknesses, many of the folk who attended join us in our drop in centre "The Comfort Zone" which is held twice a week, these folk are needy and some homeless, most live on the edge of being hungry and homeless, many have been sanctioned ( through Government cuts), and with all we stand and say "there but for the grace of God go I". We share our stories together, and the rawness of many stories makes those who seek to serve consider our own stories and drop our own masks. The truth is that many days we are unsure who is serving who, this is the beauty of Christ's work among us, and we have to be open to the Spirit's grace for we cannot do this alone!