Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Guilty as Charged

It went and happened - I got 'Curatitis', a condition identified by ++Michael Ramsey in the Sixties where a Curate becomes a little jealous of another. It only went and happened to me; and 'where?' you might ask ...

...here!

I was reading Lesley's blog post today in an increasing grump about the exposure her efforts recieve compared to mine (like it matters!?). Her latest post surrounded the event of her birthday, and in that post, she offers a number of lists (read her here). I will be the first to confess that I am deeply envious of her blog successes, and indeed of her intellectual and spiritual depths, and recognise that I have become a little competitive about it (after all, what she stands a chance of achieving in the latter list on her post would look preposterous on any that I could write). Anyway, with all this said, I felt it important to place that confession here for safe keeping and take some counsel! 

Blogging is an odd thing and it often creates apparitions and spectres. What I am guilty of is counting what I do not have and overlooking the riches that I do have. That is now to be corrected.

Entirely by chance, my birthday follows Lesley's by a day - for it is my 'turn' tomorrow (I shall be 38). I have no lists for you, I am afraid, save for wanting to be the best person I can be and for my family to be happy and healthy, and for my flock to draw closer to God (a handsome list nonetheless) - and I have a past that shall remain a matter of privacy not because it is alarming, but because it is quite the opposite! What I think is important for me to place here is a simple 'thank you'.

There are a number of you who read this drivel, reliably and regularly, and I thank you all for spending a moment with me in my thoughts. The presence of each of you is noted, recognised and appreciated. Without readers, this and every blog would be utterly pointless and probably grotesquely self-serving. I consider it an honour and a privilege to have an opportunity to express myself in a form hitherto unknown to me; one where I can work it out as I go along. This blog and those of you who read it are a gift to me that I do not take for granted - and be sure, I write nothing purely to entertain. What you see is what you get is what and who I am in that moment. So thank you ... 

...and for the record, Lesley is a close personal and ministerial friend, and I am in awe of what she writes. I don't always agree with what she writes (it would be dull if I did), but I am delighted to share space with her to the modest extent that I do.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Sacrament of Childhood

I have used this term over a fair period of time now, especially when praying with those who have a care or responsibility for children and their needs.

I don't know if I am the first to coin this phrase, but it has a very specific meaning for me. Working from the beginning, I take the notion that a sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. I fully believe that childhood is one such grace.

Taking it to its fullest conclusion, in the same way that all sacraments can be withheld, removed or denied - the same can be said for childhood. My wife is a child protection solicitor, and whilst she never speaks in specifics, I know that she witnesses the horror of those who would abuse children or abuse themselves of one another to the detriment of their child.ren The 'sacrament of childhood' can be taken away, withheld - robbed.

Childhood is, of course, a fact of chronology. I believe it is also a pure quality of personality that is manifest at that time. In an ordinary child from and ordinary background in ordinary circumstances, their 'childhood' resonates from them. It is to be seen in the keen appetite for the world around them, and inquisitiveness that leads them through their learning, in whatever form will suit them over time. Childhood is also seen in the purity of unrestrained emotion, good bad or malevolent! Childhood is in innocence and a lack of cynicism - or in other words, a hopefullness in all things. Childhood is about being immortal, and largely untouchable. 

So, we take these qualities of being and we can readily see the hand of God in them. 

As a sacramentally rooted Christian, I aspire to realise this particular outward sign once again. I wonder if it is possible to retain child-like qualities over a lifetime, proudly and conspicuously. I am not speaking of 'childishness' of course; that is something unpleasant in someone my age if perpetuated. Instead, I watch my own children or the children around me, and wonder if they are in fact administering a sacrament to me. They won't know it, but that is part of the joy of it all - but I am increasingly aware of the potential that children have to remind me how God created me, how I should aspire to behave and 'be'. I don't think that maturation is about moving away from being child-like, but more to do with self-awareness. One needn't supercede the other. Sadly, in most cases, that self-awareness is worn like a curse, robbing us of hopefulness and sheer unbridled joy. We see our warts on our noses but not the shimmering pools of our own eyes. My kids haven't noticed my nose either, but instead they see the good in me like no other person does or can. I wish I could be like that with the people I meet every day.

Child-like? Or in other words. 'God-like'

Monday, 28 June 2010

Old Expressions of a Fresh Church

I am just back from a visit to Lincoln and the cathedral which I took with the crowd from the parish. We had a wonderful time, welcomed as we were by so many people, including the Diocesan Bishop who just happened to be wandering past us when we were in the great Edifice. 

As I had a little spare time and didn't feel inclined to bankrupt my family in the cathedral shop, I paused a while and reflected on all that Lincoln Cathedral represents in a Christian context that is fast changing (or fast developing the appetite to change). Change is good, don't get me wrong, but not wholesale change. Whilst I consider it laudable that we have churches that seek to be messy, one-size-fits-all nuture courses for the 'un-churched' masses, play that is Godly, I wonder where the past and all that we have as a rich heritage fits into the funked-up world of the twenty-first century church of Christ. 

Lincoln Cathedral's offering to the worshipping people was this:
 - Simple structured liturgy done well
 - Beautiful music sung ably
 - Pastoral flourishes done with an open heart and outstretched arms
 - Dignified worship that wasn't self-centred but a vehicle for the adoration of God
 - A proper acknowledgement of the rich inheritance of the past that we enjoy (and take for granted) today.
 - ...and all done to be inconspicuous so that we all may gaze on the Cross of Christ

Informality and its companions are good, but are only part of the story. If all of Christendom were funky and spontaneous I think it would all become uniform and mute. We would quickly become immune. There are those who condemn the worship at the catholic  'end' as 'old hat', 'disconnected', 'boring', and 'irrelevant'. I suspect that they have never been to a cathedral to witness its worship because to see it is to know that it is still very profound, connecting and wholly relevant. And yes, worshipping the Lord in the same place that a millenium's congregations have poured our their hearts and souls to Christ is itself a humbling and wonderful thing. The stones are like sponges; you can hear the music in the place many hours after the last soprano leaves the building; you can feel the prayer ricocheting around like so many atoms. The Spirit is palpable in such places.

Amen to the future; amen to moving forward; amen to new advances and new intiatives in worship. However, I can't help thinking that when the messy church is finally tidied, the godly play comes of age and the one-size-fits-all nurture course is found to be terminally restrictive - at that point I sense that Lincoln Cathedral will still be doing simple  structured liturgy well, singing beautiful music ably and with a pastoral heart and arms. To move forward without regard and respect to the past inheritance feels a little like the antics of the Prodigal Son!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Curate's Egg V

Egg of the Day: Random

I haven't grumbled too much recently, so the pills must be working.

Until today.

Mrs Acular, the Twin Aculae and I wandered into Mothercare today, for we had a need, a need for more bloody car seats (do kids keep on growing or is there a way of Bonsai-ing them?) Minding my own business as I was, I noticed a four-wheel-drive Little Johnny carrier haul in and park in the space reserved for those with a disability - more especially, a Blue Badge. Did the oversized Chelsea Tractor have such a badge. No, of course not - don't be silly. The ample lady that poured out of the driving seat looked quite able bodied as she lollopped into the Mothercare. As you might imagine, that riled me - and riled me quite a lot. In fact, ever since I worked in and managed retail tin-cans, the misappropriation of disabled-parking has become my bete noir! Worse still when you stop at most Comet superstores - it is often their own staff in the 'disabled' bays, and that's a concrete fact for you!

I have tried to get to the bottom of why I might feel as I do about something that doesn't directly affect me (unless we move the subject on to Parent & Sprog parking spots, then I am apt to explode). I think that part of it is the laziness of it, part of it the sheer arrogance, and the other is that it feels like cheating. Like queue-jumping, it is just not acceptable. No! So I am not overly fond of lazy arrogant cheats - I will have to make my confession and seek absolution later. 

So, people who concieve the notion in their own minds that they are the one exemption to the rules about driving in Bus Lanes, those folks cited above, those who will flash you in the fast lane of a motorway so that you get out of their way (when you yourself are splintering the speed limit already) - to you all I say this:  .....

...I'd better not, I'd get in trubble.


Still, off to Lincoln with the good folk of the Parish - back Monday, possibly. Happy days!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Minibeasts

Those of us who are called to ordination have agreed that, with the help of God, we will continue along a path of life-long learning. For me, it is made manifest in pursuit of a degree course, but for others it has different connotations and expressions.

This very day I accompanied a Year Two group of kids to a woodland centre near here (that makes them 6-7 years old). They were there to learn about nature, a little about the creatures that share this Rock with them, and all in a creative and fun way. We walked through the woods, we drew, we listened, and then we sought minibeasts. That was for them a highlight - seeking out bugs and beetles and other creepy-crawleys and finding out what they were from the laminated Key which I was entrusted with. We turned over logs, unearthed leaf-mulch, stared at tree bark, all in pursuit of the Perfect Minibeast. A cleric not too far from my computer right now unearthed not one but two centipedes, so I am now the Hero of the Day!

Anyway, it isn't really about minibeasts that I am writing - but rather that absolute joy and exhuberance of learning that kids their age display. They must have seen thirty harvestmen and eight trillibillion woodlice, but every single specimen was greeting by a shriek of achievement. Not only were they glad for themselves, but endlessly proud that they, with their own grubby paws, had found that bug there Father David ... I confess that their enthusiasm was wholly intoxicating - so much so that had you emerged slightly later on, you would have found this author sitting crosslegged near a leaf pile - poking it with a stick to see what emerged. Yes, bugs crept out, and yes, I was excited and proud like them. That is how infectious learning can be, I am fast discovering. 

I now pray that as I unearth some of the secrets of the Holy, I might recieve each step forward as the epiphany moment that it is. Perhaps I will scream and shout, and maybe I might even run to the Bish's house to tell him what I have discovered! I have 32 years and two months of ministry ahead of me (making a load of assumptions), and I hope that in just a few moments of that I can become childlike again. The stuff I unearth day by day is not in the realm of the minibeast - it is far more exciting, if only I could re-learn how to show it.

Anyone Order a Cab?

...only messing; I want to talk about taxes!

The 'Emergency Unavoidable' Budget has happened and feelings are mixed about it, inevitably. As someone quite rightly Tweeted yesterday, the supporters of the Coalition considered the raft of measures 'hard but fair'. Those who would rather insert white-hot copper wire into their retinas that support Cam da Man and Nick da ... LibDem thought it unbalanced, dangerous and apt to topple the country further into a reprise recession.

This reminded me of a debate that I was once involved with, when I was about fifteen years old (so about three centuries ago now), lead by Fr Tony Windross, a very wise man indeed.

He suggested that Christians ought to be willing, nay glad, to pay more taxes - given that a good proportion of it went to help those less 'well-off', i.e. those on benefits. He argued the 'Gospel Imperative' of such a notion, that in truth we should be prepared to give every spare penny (after family needs etc are met) we have to the poor (tax being one method of large-scale monetary re-distribution).

I put it here because I have never fully resolved my mind to the answer, even now. I have, in former lives, paid four-figures-per-month in tax etc and it always hurt, however much the residue was for me and my grubby mitts.

So, what burdens do Christians already labour under? Employed Christians and those earning over a given threshold through pensions and/or investments are paying the standard taxes that all do. Add to the the soon-to-be-inflated Value Added Tax and all the taxes on things like fuel, booze, ciggies and the like. Christians then, in most cases, work towards paying their Christianity Tax (or 'regular and sustained covenanted giving' as we prefer to call it) and some pay the Higher Rate of that Tax [let's call it Evangelical Tax, or 'Tithe' for short] - so all in all, we have a lots of Christian folkses paying top dollar. Given that our Christian Tax is (on the whole) divided and itself tithed to charitable causes, we can argue quite legitimately that we pay enough already, and go home with our consciences held high!

I ask the question once again - should Christians be willing to pay more tax for the relief of poverty in our society? Part of me reacts badly to the idea, but another cannot wholly write it off as 'pants'. Of course, it is an untenable proposition, because Gideon the Chancellor isn't going to create a tax code for those people who are of faith, but it remains a slightly elusive question.

Thoughts?

Monday, 21 June 2010

No Time for God

Yesterday morning, yes Sunday - at around 9am, I had managed to fight my way into the bathroom for a little ablution. My filthy form required some keen cleansing, during which I heard a noise. A wasp? No. A space craft? No. It was person drilling. At 9am on a Sunday!

Then something occurred to me in clearest terms - something that might explain why churches are semi-empty in perpetuity.I am not sure that it has anything to do with the secularisation of society - it is far more simple than that - and it is the same reason why Mr. Man or Mrs woman was drilling at daft o'clock on a Sunday morning ...

We have run out of time! No, our end is not nigh (I don't think) - we have become so busy, so pressed, that we have no time for nuffin anymore. I can't think that anyone in a right mind would choose to enter into hole-making pursuits on a Sunday morning early, but rather prefer to do it at other times and on other days of the week. 

In our convenience I-choose world, we have the remote control that saves me nearly a minute every day. The modest microwave saves me three hours a week. The iTouch and Internet save me many hours of research time a week, and the computer itself save me copious 'handwriting hours'. So what do I do with all that gained time? Fill it up again. The world is in a mad hurry. People rush the traffic lights to gain a moment of time ... on their way to work?! People interrupt face-to-face conversations with mobile phone calls because the content of those calls is sooo urgent.The world is a-blur with speed.

So, we have the odd little things that accumulate throughout the week. We can only get them done in the time which is least committed - and that time is often Sunday. Gardens need primping and preening, holes need drilling, paperwork needs doing, cars polishing. After that list is exhausted, and after coffee is consumed by the gallon, then people might have the thought about church. The though might find time to turn into action a decade later.

...which is why I our churches seem to be full of 'older' people and not people my age! Them being there is wonderful news, but illustrates my point well. I have seen that as people approach retirement they acquire time for 'stuff'. Older people have the ability (and courage) to make time for themselves and what they consider important, including the nourishment of their spiritual life. Career and family years are now saturated, and I speak as one who wholly sympathises with people who have no time for God. I was one such person for a number of years. If they are even fractionally like me, then they labour under some guilt about not attending to their own needs - and that makes me sad. Time for praying? Time for reflection? Time to sit in silence and in awe at the wonder of the  world around us? Lovely, mate, but I have the nursery run to do before dinner needs cooking, the babies bathing, the ironing pressed and the dishwasher (a time saving device) needs unloading and reloading. And I'm paid to be religious ....

Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, I will (in the deliberate corporate places that allow for such activities) pray for those who have no time for God - I am not sure there is a clear solution to their exile.

It may be that ten gazillion people have written about this already, which is lovely, but I haven't read their work and this was fresh to my own head .... ok! 

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Read All About It

Rather than bore you with the machinations of my poorly mind, I thought that today would be a good opportunity to extol the virtues of those blogs what like I follow:


Bishop Alan's Blog - now, reading this bloke is like opening up an interesting magazine. Always something different, always well written, ludicrously moorish - and so cerebral at times that I feel virtuous just by getting to the end of his page. He is read by half the civilised world (and a quarter of the un-civilised), so follow this man. Do it; now! Ok, read to the end of this first!

Vitrearum's Church Art - if you are interested in church buildings then this geezer is compulsory reading. He is a specialist in his field and an authority most especially in stained-glass; all this and he is barely out of nappies! His blog is a visual presentation moreover, and he will connect you to his many thousands of snaps of the churches of our country.

Lesley's Blog - a wonderful mix of the cerebral, the profane, the bonkers and the serious. Dr Fellows has a keen eye on her world and will engage you in its rich patchwork! She is a scientist turned priest, so you find lots of diagrams (great for pragmatists) - in summary, 'blokish with hints of touchy-feely'. I love it.

Of Course, I Could Be Wrong - I aspire to be this blogger. This blog is compulsory for all Christians, except those who take themselves too seriously. His epic output (often three or four posts a day) reads like a roller-coaster of the serious mixed with the humorous and the challenging. He won't care what you think, but this chap is irony incarnate

Practising the Presence of God - currently this blog is coming from the the pitch-side in South Africa as Karen follows ... now what is it going on at the moment ... oh yes, the World Cup. She hasn't deleted yet despite the England performance, so she shows resilience. Interesting, relevant and a happy occurence in my blog-feed, I warmly commend this.

That will do for now, and as this list is nowehere near exhaustive, I have a post for another day. On a separate note, I would like to commend this miscreant activity to those of you who do not as yet indulge in the blogger's art. You will think that you havce nothing to say - but you are a pair of eyes and a unique view on God's wonderful creation. Have a go and let me know - I will read and comment, often rudely (ain't that right Lesley)

Friday, 18 June 2010

All In a Day's Work


I am just back from a lunch appointment, and on the fairly long drive back from it, pondered the strangeness of life in minstry. I ought to point out now that this is not intended to be a Facebook-esque smug-a-thon - simply a recalling of facts.

I started the day in a normal fashion, with prayer at church. All normal, all good (save for the slighly unfortunate wording by Luke in his passage provided by the lectionary today - shall say no more). I printed off the Pew Sheet for Sunday, and thereby finally mastered the Great Whore which is the photocopier. Fickle she is; destructive she is; in control always.

Then followed a drive to Aldershot to the Army Headquarters for lunch with Lt. Col. Cole, one of the Chaplains General. Sat in the rather splendid surroundings of Governement House (aka the Officers Mess) I sat and listened to another Officer who was just back from Afghanistan. He was struggling with the level of injury his troops had sustained, citing the 'good fortune' of one lad who merely had three of his limbs blown off. Another lost both eyes. This was over lunch and Padre Cole sat and listened as this Officer poured out his heart for a few minutes. Evidently, that is not unusual over dinner - it is 'the place' for that kind of conversation. Later, Col. Paris joined us and the conversation quickly reverted to the state of politics in the Chaplain's Department (Col. Paris is another senior Padre). Politics, money, health and safety, the needs of other padres - all colliding on his desk. The three of us went and had coffee in the garden, where the conversation quickly moved to flying (I disclosed that I am a [lapsed] paraglider, and Col. Paris is a pilot). I shared my analogy of prayer being like paragliding as we sipped our java, after which point we got on to aspect ratios and angles of attack. All this in the space of less than two hours. Me, Colonels, fancy lunches - what on earth ...

On the drive back up the M3, there was a time when the traffic slowed considerably. I later discovered why. A hearse was pootling along, devoid of box, I assume on the way back from a sending-off. The driver and front passenger were fine - very proper, but the woman on the back seat had fallen asleep - and in a fashion where she was slumped  to one side with her head thrown back, mouth open. In other words, she looked all the while like a carelessly discarded cadaver (she was a little pale and dishevelled too, and that didn't help). The spectacle slowed the traffic, though as I passed (admittedly 'rubber-necking' like every one else), I won a wave from the driver who must have spotted my collar.

Tomorrow I will be soaked in the stocks at the school fair that I am opening; on Sunday I will be officiating at a Civic Service for a new council. I am just about to complete my first parish magazine (don't, just don't, talk to me about parish mags). 

I am a normal bloke from a normal background. I ask for nothing except that I am happy, that my family are happy and healthy, and that I am an effective minister priest. No one is more surprised by the life I lead than I am - it is bonkers and amazing. I can be priest, father (as in dad), fool, chaplain to soldiers, an IT specialist, a publisher/editor, a preacher, a teacher, a friend, a financier, husband and son all in the space of hours it seems. I don't deserve all this, I am not trained for most of it, and I'm not good enough - I really am not!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Double Yolk

I am a 'twin parent' which means that I am a parent to twins, not that I have a similar looking Belgian parent that I visit once a decade! Having my surname precipitated the nomenclature 'David Cloake, Double Yolk' - more especially in the early days of the wife's pregnancy! She informs me that I can claim no credit along those lines - but that didn't stop the Alpha Male from chest beating (and I am not referring to St Nicky of Gumbel either - he is quite another Alpha Male - and I wonder whether it is true that conservative evangelicals read the Alpha Mail?!) Anyway ...

The last few days have seen a poorly twinny - and it made me think once again about the specific demands on twin parents. I will list just a couple so that you can gain an insight to this rather odd world (privileged and arduous in equal measure)

1. We were expecting two kids, sex unknown, and we had to have four names. Two girls were born so we were left with two girl's names. Which baby gets which name? On what basis is that choice made? That was an interesting thing an hour into their life.

2. Being twin parents is like being two cohabiting single parents. We each have one of our own to look after, as it were - especially in the early days.  Each has a nappy to change at every round, each a bottle to feed (only the bravest of twin mothers do the boob thing, which aerates the breast-feeding lobby no end). No rumpy-pumpy either, not in the first few months ... no time, too tired.

3. In the event that one of us was alone with both babies - and both cried, how could we fully comfort both? Lifting one floppy infant is tough enough, let alone two howlers. For the first few times that hurt - really really hurt.

4. So they are growing and developing apace. Watching two children who are in all but the smallest details the same, developing and finding their way in the world is simply amazing. Watching their first interactions with one another; watching them play together now; listening to them imagine; seeing how very different their personalities are - manna from Heaven to me!

5. Twins are not singleton babies 'plus' - having two passing the same developemental stages at the same time is interesting, let's say. Two weaners, two potty-trainers, two kids that even yet have not mastered whole night sleeping (at the same time), two lots of chickenpox and barf - tiring doesn't even cover it. 

6. Receiving the first two Father's Day cards that they have ever made [today] - priceless.

It is a relatively rare privilege being a parent to twinnies. Jessica and Rebekah are a constant joy and root my life so firmly on the ground that I nearly have flat feet. The admiration of passers-by (and the silly questions: are they twins? [no love, I clone babies]; are they both girls? [no, I have clothed the boy in a dress to skew his self-image]; awww, double-trouble I bet ['BOGOF' - breed one get one free]; where does the red hair come from? [the local twin wig shop, don't you know it?]; are their twins in the family? [yes, these ones, silly - plus the nine other sets we keep for special occasions] ... and so on add a quality to my life that is magical. So, Happy Father's Day to those of you for whom that applies - although the day itself it is a bit of an invention, no better job exists than that of 'Dad' if that is who you are called to be.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mindgames

This is a post derived from some random noggin-fodder from your old mucker - the Vernacular Curate. I think it; I inflict it! All heart, me ...

[1] I own a mug, bought for me as a gift and in light of my childlike passion for jet aircraft, most especially Concorde. I think that this plane is among the most beautiful of human creations and if it were ever appropriate to fall in love with, and marry, a machine - this would be my honey (with the Aston Martin DB9/DBS as my Mistress). The missus (the real fleshly one, my real honey) was drinking out of said mug this morning and the girls noticed the slender curves of Lady Concorde thereon printed. They asked about this funny looking plane, so man of heart that I am, I fired up the old iTouch and put on a film from YouTube that paid homage to the now mothballed jet. Set to Brightman/Bocelli  (sniff) - it was a lovely little piece, genuinely heart wrenching for those of us who cared about Concorde. An odd thing happened - I felt grief. Yes, truly - I felt grief. I am not sure what I was grieving for in those moments, but I was bereft for a few minutes. The mind is a strange thing.

[2] As I drove to a diocesan council for something or other earlier, I was enjoying some music being piped through the old iTouch. As it happened it was some heavy metal - how fragrant such sounds are in the believer's ear! As I had my Prince of Gadgets set to 'shuffle' I was then assaulted by some easy listening stuff and I was annoyed. Remembering that the music upon that thing is there because I bought and paid for it, and that I installed it, I pondered. My musical tastes are directly affected by the life I find myself in - and not in predictable ways. For example - in my stress -laden retail days when I drove for hours to and from work, I sought the company of Mark Knopfler et al. Nice, easy listening. When I was at College I only ever listened to Palestrina, Durufle and Byrd (and mostly Mass Settings at that) and both Knopfler and Metallica were set aside. Now I am in ministry, it seems that only loud heavy metal will do. It also dawns on me that I have had the same Metallica CD in the car for over a year - round and round and round. These are perhaps the opposite to what I may have predicted, and to be honest I don't fully understand. I am far and away happiest now, so why the agressive music? Not sure, to be honest ...

Well, dear friends, do with this as you wish. Perhaps you have had slightly 'left field' emotional moments; confess brothers and sisters! Maybe your musical appetites differ with the lives you lead; maybe you just don't listen to music. Who knows ... who knows ...

Monday, 14 June 2010

What is Really Going On ... !


All priests, deacons and variously licensed lay peeps, make your humble confession meekly kneeling upon your knees; this is what all this techno techno techno tronic life is about. It is about the humility gained from being ignored by yer Bishop in another way! They never write, they never call ...


(Image courtesy of Parish Pump ... for all your Parish Magazine Needs)

It is not I who live ...

...but Christ who lives in me [Galatians 2: 20]

This cropped up in yesterday's lectionary readings (which meant that my evangelical brothers and sisters missed it) and it is a phrase that rather evocative. Incidentally, this post is dedicated to my brother in Christ, The Revd Tim Treanor - who recited this line of scripture ad nausiam all through College!

It is evocative for good and ill - a misreading of this line could evoke images of The Borg, the Collective from Star Trek. Their strap-line is 'resitance is futile' - not a happy association for this rather electrifying line from yer Bible. Rather than some Asimovian idea of Gaia, or the Star Warsian idea of the Force, we have something presented as rather arbitary, something rather 'we are are coming to get you, so don't even bother running away'.

My own 'image' for this is that of a prism. In itself it is a lump of glass, inert, inactive - but with some potential. That is how I regard humankind without God - 'as having some potential'. Then take Jesus 'I am the Light of the World' Christ, and we have a very different proposition. Shine a light through a prism and we see a glorious array of the spectrum of colours that form the light, but are only brought to life through the prism's intervention. Put another way, I regard God as a light so dazzlingly bright that all we would see is white retina-scorching intensity. Through God's relationship with humankind, we see the wonder of the composite colours, tones and hues. The light doesn't need the prism or the prism the light, but what a combination. Taken a step further, it is clear that a prism in and of itself is a wonderful object, but it not in any way dependent upon light for its existence. However, how pointless would it be to be a prism in the darkness.  How pointless it would be to have the capacity to love God, to refract the light, and not be granted the opportunity to do so. I believe fully that God is augmented in His/Her relationship with us, as to love in a void is also pointless - like being a light that reveals nothing.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Retreat

This post will have most valency for those who know me personally. For the rest of you, you will have to trust me when I say that I am a little 'in yer face', no - really! I seem to have boundless energy, a healthy sense of fun, have been described as comedically quick, and rarely stand still for long. One the whole, I must be knackering to watch, but all of the above serves me well when I visit the school.

I survive on batteries, like anyone, that require a routine recharge. My energies, despite appearance, are not boundless - they are really rather bounded. I do flag eventually - and then what?

I retreat into myself. I love space and quiet, and even with the love that I have for my wife and beautiful children, I seek space from them too. The missus is the same, so that is helpful. 

This all said, I am energised by being among others - but only in the way that an 'override button' delivers a few percent extra to whatever is taking place. I am energised by Presiding over the Eucharist, by meetings (sometimes), social gatherings and so on. The thing with that 'override button' is that it drains me faster. After a exhilerating Eucharist (is there any other sort?) I am exhausted - physically and emotionally. I am discovering therefore, that I have to find things to do on Sunday afternoons, for example, that grant me inner space and quiet. I have a very clear sense that we all have a 'spiritual room' (cf Henri Nouwen), and it is to that place where I retreat. This may even be in the context of family life, with the kids by my side hollering at one another - so I dig flowerbeds, mow lawns, I vacuum, I cook food. I find inner peace and solitude there - well, at least the sort that allows me to recharge. Once I am lost in my thoughts I am seeing the dial rise once again towards 'full'.

I am not sure where I want to go with this post - the contents have been growing in my mind all the day (and seventy seedlings later). The England caught in the raptures of World Cup fever feels a little like the inside of my head at times; while the country watches its team avidly and the noise of the cheering echoes around, the silence on the streets is palpable. The increase in clamour and noise brings with a clear growth in silence elsewhere. One exists with the other.

What charges your batteries? What drains them most rapidly?

Friday, 11 June 2010

And the Truth Shall Set You Free

...Arse Gropper ...

...is how my daughter pronounces 'grasshopper'. You may have seen others on the blog ... 'spagolognaise' is obvious, but Jess still pronounces 'dressing gown' as 'abbiguyon'. It is part of the Cloake patoir now. Jess still has trouble with the letter 'l', so '...and one for the yittle boy who yives down the yane' is commonplace.

What falls out of the mouth of my babes and sucklings got me a'thinkun yesterday. The mispronouned words are funny - but the clearly pronounced publically uttered (albeit innocent) questions are less of a happy matter for Mrs Acular and me.

"Daddy, why is that yady fat?", stated less than three feet away from the hapless (if, admittedly morbidly obese) lady, in an empty cafeteria. 
"Is that cereal bar nice?", retorted a deeply embarrassed Daddy, now exhibiting a blush hotter and redder than the surface of the sun.
"But daddy, the yady is fat" ... and so on, until we left (the lovely woman didn't betray so much as a flicker)

I thought this through, and it reminded me of a conversation that I had had many years ago in one of my London carpet emporia. A customer and I had come to the end of a rather nasty 'spat', we had both raised our voices, we both swore at the other, we had finger-pointed, then we concluded with something of a friendly and mutually respecting epilogue (once we had thrashed out the minor details). We later commented how refreshing it had been to be honest with one another, and how we ought to have a day in the year where we could have an amnesty on the truth - that is to say, say it like it is, honestly. I grant you that one us had called the other 'a f*cking animal' and the other 'a vile slug' - though we did giggle about that afterwards.

So, an amnesty on the truth. If that day had been yesterday, I would have been compelled to make comments about excessive consumptions of calorific content, a glandular matter perhaps, sizeable bones even, or more particularly a lethargic metabolic temperament. That would be why, my daughters two, 'the yady is indeed fat'.

Wider issue here - if we follow this to its logical conclusion, it is clear how much 'half-truth white-lie semantic prestidigitation' we surround ourselves in. The politically correct world is largely one of fibbing-to-protect. Can you imagine a ministry where the vicah could only be truly and painfully honest? I shudder to think ....

(Thanks to Reverendfun for the cartoon)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Do I need to see?

Just a quickie, as I have just come away from watching the News at Ten ...

There are a couple of stories tonight that have caught the attention of Mrs Vern Acular and me - not because of the content, but because of the delivery. The first is the terrible waste of human life in the west of Cumbria at the hands of Derrick Bird; the second is a report of an explosion in Kandahar where thirty-nine people were killed (they were all guests at a wedding). Both are terrible events, and both tell us much about the poverty of human nature at times.

But it is not about that stories themselves that I am annoyed - it is the style of media coverage. In the case of the story in Cumbria, we had prolonged film highlights of people observing a minutes' silence. In the case of the Afghan terrorist act, we were offered the ten-to-fifteen-second clip of a man alone in a street, crouched to his knees, sobbing. 

I know what a silence looks like, and I can imagine a little of the grief of one who has lost a loved one to terrorism. What I am begining to resent is becoming a passive voyeur into intimate moments of people's worst nightmares. To tell you the truth, I am going to start voting with my feet and turn off the goggle-box!

When a camera crew sees a man in a state of near hysterical convulsing sobs, where is their humanity? Why would any decent person flick on the green button and press the red, focus and remain their filming? - console the man, or failing that, preserve his privacy and dignity - not bloody film him weeping.

But let us not blame the media types - after all, they are only meeting a market need. We watch so they film. Shame on us.

Priest v Minister

I have been reading with interest some of the exchanges on Lesley's Blog regarding what can be best summarised as the nature of ordained ministry. There seem to be a sense inside of the comments that she recieves that the ordained status 'priest' is losing the PR battle to status 'minister'. This has given me cause to reflect considerably, not least of all because I am saddened by this trend. 

To help those for whom this debate is as yet concealed, I will mercilessly paraphrase: as ordained people, we minister and are most appropriately to be called 'ministers'. The term 'priest' has unhelpful overtones of hierarchy, is outmoded and anyway, we are all ministers in the end, innit?

No, no, no, no, no and no. 

This is not a recent phenomenon, as Michael Ramsey reports in his most excellent book The Christian Priest Today in the sixties - as he recounts some causes for this 'lets not call ourselves priests, because it is unhelpful' behaviour:
 1. A reaction to hierarchy
 2. The fact that it isn't funky and hip and relevant to be called 'priest' these days
 3. An anti-institutional tendency in modern society

I can relate to (though not subscribe to) all of these views. There is a fashion among 'ministering Christians'  to tar with brushes - so the rather popular anti-catholic perspective which derides the liturgy-lot as outmoded, they take their preference for the use of the name 'priest' and deride it is as out-moded too. Write off the carflicks, write off their terminology ... it seems. 

For my part, I believe strongly in the following:
- All Christians are ministers, whether they 'do' or 'be', whether they are wardens or those who pray in private and silence for the needs of others - all are ministers. 
 - The Lord calls some to ordained ministry, and in accepting that call with joy or heaviness of heart, they agree to be made Deacon then ordained Priest. 
 - The Lord calls others to other valuable and necessary work, all of which holds an equal place in the life of the Body of Christ.
- The distictiveness of ordination is to be found in its role, it Charism and in its name - brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not, you are priests (wether you style yourself 'minister', 'pastor', 'presbyter' or 'cool Youth Vicar'). Its distinctiveness of role is what you submitted to at the point when you accepted your Calling. 
- Being a priest is far away from being the person in charge who gets to do all the 'good bits', though they have a very specific role that generates from the sacraments - (and as you consented to at your ordination, by the way)

I think that there is a kind of irrational fear or reaction surrounding Sacraments.  Furthermore, to be called a priest doesn't immediately imply that you wear a lacy cotta, have a penchant for Rosa Mystica and sing the Preface. A priest is just as capable of bopping up and down the aisle to the latest Matt Redman song, waving his/her arms around as the Spirit dictates, being 'down with the kids', subscribing to the world of Alfalpha and wearing jeans to church. Some caricature priesthood and then believe their own propaganda. It is quite wrong, quite mistaken, and liken to a disease that eats at the limbs of our august Body.

The church has millions of ministers (as I like to consider the great baptised of our world) - but it needs priests like it needs caretakers. Jesus called his disciples and he calls his priests. Let's face it, if we are ditching titles, the next to go is 'bishop'. The Minister of Buckingham and the Archminister of Canterbury? Is that what you want, 'cos that's what'll happen!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Piggybacks

Reading Alan Crawley seems to have the effect of causing me to piggy-back his topics for my own malevolent ends, mwah ha ha - but I think that is because we wrestle with much the same issues in this funny outlet that we have discovered: the berlogge. Read Alan's recent post here - always good stuff

I have been thinking recently about this, partly as another timely round of navel gazing  but also because I percieve a development in my own blog-persona (yup, I feel ill too - I can't believe I just typed that). 

At the beginning, I wondered why for the love of God I was doing such a riduculously narcissistic thing, that I had nothing to say, that I didn't really care if anyone read it (in truth, better that no-one did), and where would I find the bloody time for this dross. Much of that remains  - but those of you who have read this bilge regularly (and thank you, I truly do appreciate your company and comments), you will have seen developments even in the presentation of this digital enterprise.

1. Appearance - so many templates so little time, nom nom nom - there is a vanity implicit in this, and I think that green just doesn't suit me (collides with the pastel tones of my skin or summink).
2. Widgets (or, in plain english - gadgets) - you may look to the bottom of your screen; I give you games to play even. Aren't I good? But the best ones are the ones that allow to while away hours just watching you all log on and log off. It goes to my head, it really does - especially in the first 20 minutes after I post - I can get all un-neccesary!
3. Rankings - much I am trying and failing to avoid this, you look at a more mature (in age if not in content) blog and you will see how they rate in every list that you never heard about and never cared about. Blogrankings have me currently at Rank 80 - so what? 80th blog from someone with a need to rant too frequently online? 80th in line to the throne of Mongazakstan? It is meaningless, but oh so important.
4. Comments - bloggers appreciate them, be they good or bad, because they are a measure of reciept at least. Thanks to those who do comment, I love you all (four of you). 
5. Frequency - to miss a day or two becomes quite painful (to me). It is quite addictive I think, but oddly, I begin to feel like I am letting you down. No, stop that, you don't need to tell me not to worry! Alan posted just to say he was not going to post - the prosecution rests, m'lud.

But now for the serious bit - it is a wonderful privilege to be silly, poignant grumpy trusting  loving political a bit theological but most significantly of all,  completely honest. It is a great gift to me, and although I am not position to assess my own competency (except that I recognise that my spelling is apalling), it remains my fervent hope that someone, somewhere (and not just me) gets just a moment or two of pleasure from this stuff. If I thought for one moment that that didn't happen, I'd delete in a heartbeat.

(Please also treat this silly post as an interim Greatest Hits compilation - mercenary git that I am)

Monday, 7 June 2010

I Was Wrong

I read with interest Seeker's post on  the World Cup 2010. I, like her, am not a footballist, and for the life of me do not understand the attraction of kicking the spleen of a badger around a lawn with lines on it. Still, all the rage it seems to be, and I know this even beyond the electrification of my televisual device - I only have to look at the myriad flags that are festooned over the estate-Mercs and people-carriers of the nation.

We are in the throes of World Cup Fever. Yay.

Despite my inexorable and overpowering need to 'tut' and moan, I sense that this is a good time. If we forget for a moment that millions of people are now displaying the Christian symbol on their cars, quite unintentionally, I cast my mind back to an earlier post on identity where I grumbled about people not standing true to their own. What I am seeing is a nation of people who, for a couple of weeks at least, will probably put aside much that is unhelpful in our society, climb behind the Cross of St George and celebrate who they regard themselves to be - celebrate it in a healthy and positive way at that. I have heard it said that people can become united behind a common foe - and it now seems that people can become united behind a common hope.

No, I am not a footballist (except for the the bit after the semi finals when I too will watch avidly), and I am the first to bang on about ITV hijacking of my weekday evening TV viewing in favour of those who are 'Football United' - but for now, I am going to end a post glad. I am glad of this opportunity that we have to celebrate who were are, have some fun doing it, release some of that pent up frustration and agression, and glad that we are a nation who can stand up and claim unity, every once in a while. 

Is now a good time to confess that I support Honduras?

...only joking.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Perversity of Inanimate Objects

Thanks to my Parish Administrator for the title; the eminent Mrs Morton shared this expression with me after I regaled her with some or other tale of how the inanimate conspire against me.

Before you 'poo-poo' the priest, perhaps you should read on. In the end, you too will recognise that Lucifer is in the static objects of our homes and places of work. 

1. When I drop a knife in the kitchen, why does it find the 10mm gap to fall down, and not the 3/4 acre of flat open space either side? Why, when it is my best knife and I am then caused to move the cooker?

2. When I am mincing through the Manse at speed, why does the door frame get in the way of my little toe - at an equal and opposite speed?

3. When I am in a hurry to print the sermon that I forgot to print last night and now it's this morning and it is five minutes after I was due to be in church and the Rector will give me a 'car-park chat' and I haven't even got my shoes on yet and I need to print the bloody sermon - why then does the paper run out and the only new paper is in an un-opened box that requires the scissors that are at the other end of the house?

4. When I have set up for the Service and all is well, why is it that the Daily Missal chooses a nanosecond before the Collect to flip half its pages, knowing that the page I need isn't bookmarked?

5. When I am preparing for a funeral and I have fashioned my liturgy carefully and lovingly upon my Dell, why does the black ink cartridge run out half way through the run? Why, knowing I then have to drive to a retailer to procure more? Why, knowing it is 11.30pm at night and the funeral is at something like four-in-the-morning? Why, when the only course of rememdy is to email it to church, nip up and print it off there in the middle of the night?

6. Why do I never have tins of chopped tomatoes when I have a Spagolognaise to make for the girls [the term 'spagolognaise' was an invention of Rebekah, while aged 2]?

7. Why does my iPod leap out of my closed hand just when I am walking over rough gravel, and so that the glass scratches?

8. Why does the hinge on the loo seat fail when I am sat on it, so that  (1) I get a camel bite on the back of my thigh and (2) I am thrown to the floor, bum in the air?

9. When I am in a tearing hurry, and have wrestled the car seat straps together so that they fasten over a writhing Cloakette, why is it that the car door fails to close properly when I intended to slam it shut, thus causing me to walk all the way back round the car to shut it again? Why, when it is raining?

10. That sermon in (3) - why does the bloody Dell update the minute I need to load the thing up to print? Why is it that the very update that prevents me from loading the sermon that I can't print due to lack of paper that is keeping me even later from church is '1 of 12' and 'may take several minutes'?

11.  .... and requires the computer to Restart


12. .... slowly

You see, you are a convert. I have proselytised you into the faith structure that acknowledges the Perversity of the Inanimate Object. Yes, God is good - but I wonder if God abandoned the inanimate years ago [please, no comments about congregations; they are not inanimate, they are just still and prayerful, honest Guv]

Friday, 4 June 2010

We'll Meet Again ...

... oh no you won't!

This post is by way of 'homage' to the 'fresh meat' who are currently in the middle of their Leaver's Weeks etc. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the life of a priest, the process by which we arrive at our pious perfection is ordinarily by way of a theological college, be that as a full-timer or as a part-timer. That time must come to an end, and such a time is greeted in one of two ways: gladly or else with a sense of panic and mourning. Normal folks leave college glad of the experience, but champing at the bit to get back into real life, earn some shekels, eat in some privacy. Others feel 'called' to theological college, and for them, being dragged kicking and screaming from the bosom of the establishment is a grievous affair. The judges are still out as to whether the latter breed of ordinand is likely to flourish in the real world - I have my views and they are backed now by examples, but for now 'no names no pack-drill'. 

So, like teenagers at the end of GCSEs, there is the frentic 'you will keep in touch won't you?', and 'here is my Ember Card with my new address on it; come and visit soon, please'. This won't happen, and an ordinand is likely to retain maybe two close friends from college days. The rest will become memories, and that is quite normal.

So, some Cloakey advice for the Fresh Meat of 2010 (that was my nickname at College where I was, generally, the resident pain in the arse):

1. You get out what you put in (reaping and sowing?) - this is the maxim by which I minister in Aylesbury. It worked for me in my former working life and it is the case now. If you pour love and enthusiasm into your work, you will enjoy good times. If you clock-watch, adopt self-pity for prayer time lost, for example - you will not do at all well in a ministry that demands love and joy from you every stinking day of the week!

2. Always a Trainee - in your Curacy, you never ever stop being a trainee. I have seen and heard of curacies where the little dollink has spent his/her first week or two learning, and then the successive weeks dictating terms like an old pro. No mate, with humility you shall learn. With humilty you shall learn from not only your Training Incumbent but also from little Mrs Miggins who never speaks to you. The minute that you think you are better than the Incumbent is the minute you have resolutely failed.

3. It is a job of work - and needs to be treated as such. We have all had these misty dreams of a ministry spent in dusty books, on our knees praying, gawping at Icons - but that is what we do when we go on holiday. Where you are going is a coal-face, and you need to dirty your hands and take up the tools and work. Any notion that the job should 'feed you' is folly. We ministers do the feeding, we have to look elsewhere to feed ourselves. 

4. Have fun and do not take yourself too seriously - a healthy sense of irony and a healthy sense that you are 'but a worm' is no bad way of setting out on a day's encounter at the coal face. An expert in liturgy a fit priest doesn't necessarily make. Laugh about life, be thankful and never never never never never stop being grateful that God called you to do this work. Oh, the amount of priests I know who feel that they are there by right ....

5. Family first - in the great scheme of things, the Good Lord demands that you raise your kids and attend to the vocation of your marriage before all else. Do not render your kids orphans or your spouse partnerless. Many of the 'Fresh Meat' folk have young families - and yes, they will impinge on that Messiah Complex time. They will keep your feet on the ground, and they need to. Life in ministry has good days and bad for time at home - so be greedy for family time, not consider it a flexible padding until the next opportunity to go out and be jolly popular again!

6. Under promise and Over deliver - and never over promise and under-deliver. One may seem pants, but the other certainly is pants. 

7. Say NO - it won't kill you, really. Excessive Yesses might, however. 

8. Expect the Unexpected - if being Selected for training weren't mad enough, you will discover that life is a wide panoply of things that will bite you on the butt. They are good and bad in equal measure. Having a heart to expect the unexpected will serve you well. Try and avoid becoming set in your ways until at least the third month!

9. The Years - I was once told that they love you in the first year, hate you in the second and put up with you in the third. Remove the peaks and troughs and I can confirm this as fact. The heady diaconal days soon give way to 'business as usual' - expect it and don't be discouraged by it. 

10. What are you? This is where I might be controversial, but it is my Blog, so there. Are you going to be ordained as a modified Licensed Lay Reader or are you going to be ordained a Priest. Are you going to be an ordained 'minister'? All Christians are ministers. What I am saying is recognise the distinctiveness of your Charism. Ordination is not a promotion for a comeptant youth worker. It is not the front door to Preaching Central - ordination for you is to the priesthood. That is the job you have accepted from God and that is the job you must do. Administer the Sacraments.

Well, there you go - a little list for a Friday. Those who know me well will know how many of those I have lapsed in already. 

To the Leavers -  may God go with you to your new ministries, to your new homes and to your new lives. May He grant you strength to walk forward in your work and to remind you daily in whose strength you work. May your families be protected from your ministry and become an asset to it. Blessing to you all, you lucky lucky lucky lucky .... people.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Call me Bubbles, everybody does ....

Life is, without doubt, good. I am blessed with good health, a wonderful supportive and  attractive wife, two children who simply melt me daily, a ministry that is far more than I ever deserve, a place to minister in that is wonderful (if challenging at times). I have no overdraft, a car that I can afford, friends who support me through thick and thin, and today is a beautiful day. I have my wits and I have  .... a blog.

Why, I hear you ask, am I boring you with this? Well, it pays to recognise the good in ones life from time to time, for to do so allows us to give thanks for those things. 

This all said, there is something that niggles at me, and I am partly hoping that I am not alone. I can be sitting on my squishy cat-clawed settee, or driving along in the Pocket Rocket, and like a little bubble of fizz I get a mere moment of complete emptiness. Nothing is there. For that fraction of a second, life loses meaning and colour, and everything seems hopeless and pointless. Simple things feel insurmountably difficult and happy things lose their shimmer - all in the blink of an eye, in the popping of a bubble. 

This is all odd to me as I am probably the most energetically positive man you could meet, but the bubbles pop just one a week or less. I might be going mad, I don't know. But as quickly as the bubble appears, it pops and normal service is resumed. I am not overly worried about this, and I certainly don't lose sleep over it (there is no sleep left after the babes have robbed me of it - perhaps that is the problem here). 

The reason I put this here is partly so that, in reading this to myself, I can work at what it is all about - but also because it is teaching me to read myself inwardly more. I am the worst in the world at taking myself for granted. I am quite blind to the fact that I might not have limitless energy and drive, and the possibility that I might need to slow up every once in a while - well, that passes me by completely.

No bubbles this week though - happily

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