Friday, June 22, 2007

Emmaus or Damascus?

I don't often go around raving about books. Maybe its cos I really don't really have enough time to read as much as I should. But one person whose work has definitely inspired me recently has been Stephen Cottrell. I met him at a Fresh Expressions day in London and was quite impressed by what he had to say there, which made me notice when his name made it into the Church Times, a few times recently. For celebrating communion at the gates of Faslane, shining peoples shoes on Maundy Thursday and most recently, handing egg-timers out at the station to try and get frantic people just to take 3 minutes out of their hectic lives to stop, for just a moment.

Anyway as a result I pricked my ears up when someone recommended his book "From the abundance of the heart" which is subtitled Catholic Evangelism for All Christians. And I must admit that I have been impressed. It makes a lot of sense. The church in the past has spent a lot of time and effort on "Damascus Road" type evangelism, focussing on the sudden conversion experience, and those experiences are good and he doesn't dismiss them. But then he suggests that you try asking your people about their faith-stories, and see how it happened for them. Apparently 3/4 of Christian's stories are more like the "Emmaus Road" than the "Damascus Road", a gradual journey accompanied by others.

So we tried this exercise in Visions, and around that particular dinner table it turned out that we were all "Emmaus Road" people, with little Damascus moments along the way, but mostly a gradual journey.

Anyway he then goes on to suggest lots of practical ways of adopting a more Emmaus Road way of reaching out in mission. Some of the suggestions were challenging for me, as I realised that we aren't really getting alongside people as much as we would like to. I must admit I'd like to discuss it more with our folks and see what we come up with as a result.

Oh the other thing I liked about the book was his definition of 3 rather "churchy" words that pop up in the traditional creeds.
Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. He drew a little diagram with 3 circles and said that Holy was in communion with God, Catholic
was being connected to one another (ie more about community than about power structures), and apostolic about being present in the world (apostolic literally means "sent"). In order to be effective we need all 3, because each one on their own leads to a skewed view of life. (being stuck in holy huddles, or divorced from real life, or disconnected from the Source of all our power)

Makes a lot of sense to me.


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Malcolm thinks I have too many blogs. I've always kept this one (mostly) for top tips on worship for busy people who can't be bothered or simply don't have time to read my deeper ramblings, (or should I say just plan longer ramblings) but Malc reckons that folks will go by the subject line anyway and only read what they want to. Hence, I am going to merge this one and the Abbess blog, and copy some stuff over here that was previously over there. I hope this makes sense and doesn't bore you too much.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tales of Jerusalem 1

(Originally posted on the Abbess blog on the 8th January 2007)

I've just come back from spending 6 days in Jerusalem. An exhausting but special time. There was lots to see and lots to think about. I won't give an ordered diary account here. Just some tales, thoughts and impressions. Here is one of them...our journey to Bethany.

We were staying at St George's Jerusalem so the journey to Bethany doesn't take long. You can walk it if you are feeling fit, up the mount of Olives and around. But we thought we'd save our legs for the journey back, and took the bus, which dropped us off, not very far away from the wall. The big ugly towering, grey concrete wall. We walked along the wall, reading the graffiti, and laughing in a bittersweet way at some of the jokes and comments on there. "Make love, not walls", "Mancs against the tanks" and messages from many different towns and countries throughout the world. We walked all the way to the top of the hill, where the ruins of a once palatial hotel stood, its windows tattered and torn, its walls pockmarked. An old map later told us that it was once called the Cliff Hotel, and it would once have commanded serene and beautiful views over the city while the rich partied and played within. Now it stands like a empty shell, a shadow whispering tales of happier times.

We looked over at the view of Jerusalem, and the mount of olives. It was indeed beautiful, and a guard came over. I think they were probably a little nervous. What were these strange Westerers doing here. What are you doing? They asked. "looking at the view" we replied. They asked us where we were from, and Jem answered but asked the same question in return. Amazingly whenever he did this (and he always did it in a jolly and polite manner, which is why I think he got away with it) they would actually reply. This man came from Russia once. I did wonder to myself why would he come to a place where he would have to join the army for 3 years, and then I remembered that the same thing was probably true of Russia too.

We returned down the hill, following the concrete, which I remembered from last year, when it suddenly stopped at a point where I remembered seeing Arabs clambering over last year. Now there was no gap, just a profound change of style. The grey concrete suddenly morphed into carefully laid honey stone, like a garden wall on growth hormone. Why the sudden change? Well the wall was now not just surrounding a city, it was surrounding a rather nice dwelling that we presumed would be demolished. We didn't know who owned it, but decided that they must have some power and influence to get the ritzy glitzy "pretty?" version of the wall.

Then we came to the convent that is the traditional site of Mary and Martha's garden. We rang the bell, and a nice Polish priest answered and allowed us in to see the church. We took photos of the inside, and then went to explore the garden. The priest said that we were welcome to do so, although we would no longer be able to walk from Mary and Martha's, following the route Jesus took to raise Lazarus from his tomb. For now there was not only a wall in the way, but soliders patrolling the gardens.

We met the soldiers. Actually they were quite nice, in a funny sort of way. They seemed to be a little torn between wanting to be friendly, and trying to be "official". They asked us the usual questions, and they seemed happy for they did allow us to look at the caves in the garden, which the priest told us date from 100BC. So Jesus would have known them. We went inside, and filmed. The light was amazing! And I was struck by how unspoilt they were, like living relics. They were simply carved out stone, with a door, and yet I was sure that an ex-carpenter had once visited this carved out hillside, and been inside this cave. It was an amazing feeling. like stepping into a Tardis. A small sunny sacred space.

Then we tried to get to the tomb of Lazarus further down the hill, but the wrong side of the boundary. The soldiers wouldnt' let us go the direct way. They said it was no longer possible, and perhaps it wasn't. The wall looked very nearly finished. But just outside the monastery gate we found a gap, which had 2 more soliders guarding it. like an unofficial sort of checkpoint. We were glad it was there though. The only other alternative would have been a 40 minute bus ride to a place that was once "just down the hill". A pilgrimage route crudely carved in half.

I waved my Christian pilgrimage guide at them, which seemed to make an excellent substitute for a passport, pointing out the picture of Lazarus' tomb. They let us through. We clambered over the uneven ground, with scattered rubble, emerging on a small road, where we caught site of the tomb, the Greek church nearby, and the giftshop opposite, which they opened for us.

The venue was empty apart from us. I imagined coachloads of day trippers once making this simple journey to a place that Jesus was very fond of, but now all was silent, and business was bad. Did any coaches make the trip anymore? I don't know. But I sincerely hope that they will make the effort, for I am sure that *they* will be waved through like VIPs. They will not have to queue for hours while thier passport is checked and re-checked, or simply made to wait and interminably long time. The country needs them!

And we finally saw the tomb, clambering down many, more modern, steps to the ancient entrance. It smelt a little strange, but somehow that made it feel more authentic. It was, of course, empty. And after lunch, we walked back returning to the citt the way Jesus would have walked, around Bethany and down the mount of Olives. This city is such as city of contrasts. It contains such incredible beauty, and yet such incredible sadness.

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Tales of Jerusalem 2

(originally posted on the Abbess blog on Monday 8th January 2007)

Or perhaps I should call this particular episode tales of Jerico?

On Wednesday we hired a car. It took an interminably long time. Jem had warned us that this was often the case, and that if we had breakfast at 7.30 we would eventually get on the road at around ten. In that respect he was both right....and wrong. We almost got on the road at 9am, but as we excitedly clambered our way into the shiny silver Chevrolet and started the engine, the
mirror promptly broke off and landed in the passenger footwell with a thud. We did toy with the idea of simply driving away, but caution made us point our the fault to the car hire boses, who offered us coffee while they attempted to fix it. Half an hour, and a ton of something that looked like cement later we returned to our car, started the engine, and once again our mirror decided to do some sort of perverse acrobatics. This time in landed in the driver's lap.

Then a short, but intriguing journey around the one way system of East Jerusalem began, as we followed a car hire employee's vehicle to a place that does repairs to car mirrors. I must admit that my heart was heavy. I thought we'd end up spending the entire morning on a garage forecourt when we could be journeying to Jerico on the bus. But, when I saw the enormous roll of tape covered in Arabic advertising that the mechanic was brandishing I decided that things were looking up. Actually they did an extremely speedy and successful job of the mirror, and with the aid of a couple of pieces of paper wedged in the right direction, we could even see through the back window using it!

And so we set off, as predicted at 10Am, but having had an interesting introduction to the mirror-repair business.

We then drove East out of town, heading for Qumran. It was Louise's first introduction to driving in the Middle East. (you could tell by the way she was wincing!). It was incredible how quickly the weather changed too as the road made its rapid descent from 900 metres above sea level to 400 metres below at the dead sea. We seemed to spontaneously skip from winter to Summer (or British Summer at least). Jerusalem was colder than York had been when I left there, but at Qumran I took my socks off, and basked in the sunshine. It was so nice to be released from the cloud at last and bring out the sunglasses.

After Qumran we headed fro Jerico to look for Zaccheus' sycamore tree. None of the locals seemed to know where it was, but we followed the directions in the pilgrimage guidebook, and found it, with its painted trunk, growing by the side of the road.
A two thousand year old tree, with white paint on its gnarled, half-hollow trunk, and great branches that would still support a climber now. But we never really had time for quiet contemplation,as we were immediately decended upon by some extremely friendly souvenier sellers. We chatted to them though, and once again, they paid us the complement of presuming we were ex-pats, rather than tourists.

Jerico was amazing though, and I was really glad I went there, and not just for the wonderful weather. (I read somewhere that in days-gone-by weathy residents of Jersualem and Bethlehem overwintered there). No, the thing that really thrilled me was that everywhere we went locals greeted us with "welcome, welcome" in English. We were treated like VIPs simply for taking the trouble to visit their town. A moving and humbling thing indeed. For I couldn't help thinking of all those people who are scared to venture into Palestinian territory, for fear of what they might encounter, when what we were encountering was people who simply wished to make us welcome.

We lunched outside, the only time during our trip when we were anywhere hot enough to do this. We had the usual mediterranean tapas of hummus, tahini, salads, olives, aubergine and freshly baked flatbread, but this selection was particularly nice. The restaraunt, Al Khayam, had a pond in the middle of a garden full of orange trees, heavily laden with fruit, and the owner of the restaraunt encouraged us to pick the fruit from the tree and eat that for dessert. I must admit that the fruit was amazing! The peel was so full of juice that the zest sprayed through the air and filled our nostrils with zingy perfume. It was so relaxing, simply sitting in the sunshine, that I found it hard to leave really.

Then we went to investigate where a new Orthodox monastery was being built nearby. A priest at the cathedral had told us that icon painters were staying there, in order to paint the new church, and that it was a unique opportunity to see them at work on the frescoes. Sadly we must have come at the wrong time, for the place was deserted and noone answered the door, but I was glad we saw the outside, even if we couldn't get inside, and just knowing that new works of art were being made in a place where we often simply hear of destruction was in itself a sign of hope for me.

The only problem with crossing the border, is that it always takes an age to cross back, and this journey was no exception.
We had hoped to get to Wadi Qelt to look at the monastery before the light failed, but we had a 45 minute wait while the cars in front had their papers and their vehicles checked thoroughly. When our turn came, they simply glanced at our passports
(I'm not sure we even opened them!) and waved us on our way, but by that time the light had grown dimmer. Still I counted myself extremely lucky. I know that 45 minutes is nothing really in comparison with some of the waits people have had to suffer.

When we reached the wadi, we chatted to the Beduin. As the moon rose, shining so brightly over the desert that it cast great shadows, one of them mounted his donkey and said he was heading to the supermarket in Jerico for some shopping. As we watched his figure climb over the hills of the Judean wilderness and disappear as a dark comma on the nighttime hill I couldn't help thinking that some things never change. Two thousand years or more, people would have to travel to the nearest town to buy provisions by donkey. The only difference is that these days it comes in a plastic packet, and is sold in a supermarket.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tales of Jerusalem 3 - Bethlehem

(originally posted on the Abbess blog on January 13th 2007)

How far is it to Bethlehem?

Not very far.

Three and a half shekels on the bus, which goes from the bus station near Herod's gate.
(that's around 45p in English money....ish) Buses here are interesting. In fact bus stations themselves are interesting, at least the Arab ones (and I've only been in Arab ones so can't speak for the rest). The bus station is kind of like a sidestreet, or garage forecourt. Its not very large, but neither are the buses. They are minibuses really. We asked where the bus for Bethlehem was and the locals pointed it out to us. We were always smiled at and greeted with much warmth, but I think maybe knowing even a little Arabic does help in that respect. People really really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to bother speaking even a few words, such as "hello" and "thank you". One thing I really love about these local minibuses is that there is no timetable as far as I can see. You simply sit on the bus, and when it is reasonably full, it goes. Simple. No hanging around outside in the cold. Its easy and sometimes I really wish we had something like that back here, but maybe we're just in too much of a hurry. I dunno.

One rather complicated aspect of this bus station's design seemed to be that the buses had to back out, onto a main street (although thankfully, not a too populated one when we were around). This exercise involved a lot of beeping of horns and sometimes some shouting too, but did in fact result in the bus being well noticed and so noone was likely to accidentally hit us, as we manouvred around until we were facing the right way.

Then we set off properly. There were many sights to see along the way. The walls of Jerusalem, and many famous historical sites. You simply had to know which way to look to see them. The roads snaked and wound up hills and down hills, moving from century to century around every bend, as some views were straight out of the old testament, and others were filled with the concrete of the 60s. There were sad views too, previously unspoilt beauty spoiled by recent settlements, which we just knew were a cause of grief and sadness to the locals.

"There was a forest there when I first came here," Jem pointed out a hill through the window. "It was the last forest in Bethlehem, and now its gone". Replaced by modern houses. I was shocked to discover that even since my visit last year they were building a tower block on the hill. Anywhere else I couldn't see anyone allowing it. Would we build a tower block in the middle of the Lake district? I think not. But then the land suffers here as well as the people.

We reached the infamous wall and the bus stopped. A spanish guy got off the bus at the same time as us, and looked rather confused. Thankfully Louise spoke Spanish and so she chatted to him, helping him negotiate the crossing, which was a bit confusing for us too. For everything had moved. It made us wonder why, but then we realised that the Banky murals were no longer within view...hmmm. Is this why? There was one left within sight, and they had obviously tried to scrape the paint off it, and had failed. It struck me as a silly petty little act of ignorance and vandalism. I bet in 50 years time they'll be selling for millions. Hmm. I'd have liked to have got a decent photo of one of them, but then I hadn't really come here to look at paint anyway.

We went through "passport control" (or whatever it was) and then we headed down the corridor straight ahead ("as you do") and met....a no entry sign! So we backtracked and went along the second corridor, and met...a no entry sign! Now we were really confused. There were no signs, in Hebrew, English or Arabic to tell us where to go next. The man in the glass cubicle gesticulated his arms wildly, and then we realised that the door which looked like it had been left open for ventilation, that went into what looked like a backyard where the bins were kept, was in fact the main way through. We headed towards it. It still looked very "wrong" for there was a ten foot high wire fence in front of us. But as we reached the fence we realised that actually it had been placed in such a way as to create a "corridor" to the top of the hill, and the exit. Finally we had made it across the boundary.

We walked down the hill, to where the road abruptly ended, and were met by eight taxi drivers or so. Jem and Louise helped the Spanish man with his luggage and his taxi, doing the haggling for him. It turned out that he was a pilgrim, going to stay at the Spanish, Franciscan house, Casa Nova, on retreat. I admired him greatly for that. And I must admit that I was a little envious too, to actually stay in Bethlehem itself. Then we secured a taxi of our own. Our driver was friendly, but did insist on telling us about all the other things he was willing to do for us in great detail. That he was happy to take us to Herodian " I like Herodian" or the Shepherds fields. " I like the shepherd's fields" or the souvenier shop. "I like this shop. It is owned by my uncle." We felt a bit battered really. At another time, in another place, it would have made me angry, but this time it simply made me sad. I knew they were having such a difficult time, and it wasn't fair! I felt guilty about not being able to take him up on all these trips. But we simply needed to get to Manger Square, and we had other plans for our day and we didn't need a taxi for them. The poor drivers! As one other driver said. "We used to be able to go to Jerusalem. We could go on trips. Now we are in a prison camp and now, if we are lucky and we can get fares, we drive round and round the same old places!" Something about his description reminded me of hamsters. But these aren't hamsters. These are people who have been caged, even children and babies! But nowadays there are hardly any visitors to drive round and round. They can't get much work. And so they sit all day waiting and waiting, for some fare to come.

Manger square when we got there was a bit mad. It turned out that, as it was New Year's day, many people had come to Bethlehem for a day trip. They were all locals though. The children were out, as usual, waving necklaces and postcards at us, or simply holding out their hands and asking for shekels. They were a bit like flies the way they buzzed around you persistently. But mostly they were friendly. Somtimes they also liked to chat, to practice their English. "Where are you from? What is your name? How are you?"

I went into the Church of the Nativity and it was there that I saw what I regard as a little beacon of hope. The place was full, of Christians and of Muslims. They queued together to visit the site of Jesus's birth. It was something that we would not see here. It was something that I feared had been lost in fundamentalism, in post 9/11 witchunts, in Iraq somewhere, and yet here it was present. Here it was tangible. That the baby in the manger, can still unite people, can still bring people together, and if we only take the trouble to go, we can still hear angel song, and see a tiny tiny piece of peace on Earth.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Love is His word

Jem and Louise (two Visions members) are getting married on Saturday. They are going to have a pre-wedding communion
the night before and we had a chat about songs that Louse's family might know that are in the Catholic hymn book. I suggested Love is his Word, because I know we used to sing it at school, and when my uncle and aunt had their 40th anniversary celebration we sang it there. Which was nice because family, cousins and kin (see verse 5) were all at the service.

So last week I remixed it, and, in the process of remixing it I've been pretty blown-away by the words really. They are so strong. It makes me wonder why we don't sing it more often really. Its nice when you forget about something for years and then re-discover it, like blowing the dust off an old ornament and disovering that its made of gold. And this is well worth some re-discovery as it has some really important stuff in it. The first verse has the whole fasting/feasting thing. And the fact that we fast alone (we don't do it in front of people to advertise it or sit there when others are eating looking glum as that's an offense against hospitality). But we feast with others, for we should share our food and our joy. There is lots of deep stuff about communion in the song too, and yet it finishes with the beauty of the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. Deep and wonderful stuff.

Love is His word, Love is His way,
Feasting with all, fasting alone,
Living and dying, rising again
Love only love is His way.

Richer than gold
Is the love of my Lord.
Better than splendour and wealth.

Love is His way, love is His mark,
Sharing His last Passover feast.
Christ at the table, host to the twelve
Love, only love, is His mark.

Love is his mark, love is His sign,
Bread for our strength,
wine for our joy,
“This is my body, this is my blood”
Love, only love is His sign.

Love is His sign, love is His news,
“Do this” He said “Lest you forget
All my deep sorrow, all my dear blood,
Love, only love, is His news.

Love is His news, Love is His name,
We are His own, chosen and called,
Family, brethren, cousins and kin.
Love, only love is His name.

Love is His name, love is His law,
Hear His command, all who are His,
“Love one another, I have loved you”
Love, only love, is His law.

Love is His law, Love is His word,
Love of the Lord, Father, and Word,
Love of the Spirit, God ever one,
Love, only love, is His word.

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