The blog is dead. Long live the blog.
My new blog can be found here: www.benedson.co.uk. It's much better than this one!
Come over and have a look.
The blog is dead. Long live the blog.
My new blog can be found here: www.benedson.co.uk. It's much better than this one!
Come over and have a look.
I led my first services of the new year on Sunday. I thought that we'd spend a bit of time in reflection on the past year so I produced this ignation examen, the words are based on the Grace New Year service
I got sent the above image by Jonny as I was preparing my sermon for midnight communion. It tied in very well with what I had prepared so I thought that I'd share my thoughts again:
On the 18th December 2011 Mohamed Bouazizi a street vendor in Tunisia had his goods confiscated to the authorities, he didn’t have the right pass to sell goods and he didn’t have the money to bribe the corrupt officials. His scales were confiscated and he was reported slapped and spat on by a municipal officer. At 11:30 am he ran to the governors office to demand his scales back. When the governor refused to see him he dowsed himself with petrol, lit a match and set himself of fire. He died 18 days later…His actions were tweeted, blogged about, shared on facebook, sent by instant message and suddenly and spontaneously a movement began. People gathered to protest and the protests grew like wild fire, The Tunisian government fell, and then it spread all over the middle East, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, The dictators of Egypt and Libya fell and the movement still continues to this day. The Arab Spring, perhaps the most significant piece of history of 2011.
But do you ever wonder what if? What if on 18th December, Bouazizi had decided to accept the status quo. Accept the oppression, accept how things were, accept a life of exploitation and suffering. Would it have happened? Would Gadaffi still be terrorising the people of Libya? Would Egypt still be under the oppression of Mubbarak? The ripples that his self-immortalisaton started became waves and those waves are still bringing about change in the middle-East today. All catalyzed by one persons act of righteous defiance.
It takes a person to drop that pebble into the pool to create the first wave, it took Mohammed Bouazizi, it took Rosa Parks, it took Gandhi, it takes a person to catalyse a movement for change. A movement for justice and a movement for peace. It could be a simple act of righteous defiance, Rosa Parks refusing to stand up, or it maybe what the person embodies exposes the world to the possibility of a new future. Through those people, and those acts of righteous defiance the imagination is opened up to what could possibly be.
Have you ever thought about Christmas as a moment of righteous defiance? A moment where God says, no, I won’t accept the status quo, no I won’t accept that my relationship with humanity is fractured, I refuse to wait and do nothing, I refuse to be apathetic and I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to reach out to you, I’m going to send my son to be with you and my son is going to embody all that I am and all that I want for humanity.
The stone is thrown into the pond, the ripples begin. A child is born, to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem, surrounded by rich and poor, by people of different ethnicities and different religions. The ripples grow, the child becomes a man, people follow him, the man is crucified and rises again, the church forms and then 2000 years later the ripples from that stable in Bethlehem hit you. In this place St James Didsbury, 2385 miles away from Bethlehem, and 2012 years away from that birth…the ripples hit each one of us and bring us here tonight. The ripples of an act of righteous defiance, of a God that won’t accept the status quo but want to bring about change.
And that moment of righteous defiance exposes the world and all of humanity to what could be. What does it mean for humanity to be in relationship with God, what does it mean for God’s son to walk on this earth, what does it mean for God’s son to be born in a stable in Bethlehem? That act of righteous defiance releases the imagination. It gets the whole of humanity to think about what could be and how we start to live in the new order. Bouazizi was the spark that released the imagination, but it didn’t stop there, it needed people to pick up the revolutionary spirit and continue the change that was started on that street in Tunisia. And the change that was started 2000 years ago, a change that saw a man brought into the world who loved the unloved, who healed the sick, who brought justice for the poor, who release for the oppressed and taught us to love one another still needs to be carried on today. At Christmas as we reflect on the person of Christ it is a time to release our imaginations and dream and imagine a different world, but and fundamentally to live that imagined world, so that that imagined world ceases to be a imagined one but one that is real. One where the everyday experience of the people that we encounter is marked by love.
Christmas is a time where God reaches out to us and say imagine. Imagine a better world, imagine a new future, imagine a community based on love for one another. But Christmas is also a time where God ceases to imagine and acts, he acts by sending his son who is the embodiment of that new imagined order. Amen
I preached last week at Nine Lessons and Carols at St James'. It's a big do, where the church is packed and a real mix of people from church and the community. I spent a bit of time thinking about how to communicate with this very mixed group of people, and this is what I came up with:
For the millennium myself and some friends decided to visit St Ives in Cornwall, and on the 31st December during the day we went for a walk and the ground was wet and we walked in long grass and hence my trousers got wet. So when returning to the cottage, that belonged to some friends of ours, I got changed and took my trousers and decided to hang them in front of the fireplace. There was a mantle piece and on the mantel piece was a pot. I used the pot as a weight to hold my trousers up whilst drying. The fire started to die down so my friend and I went over to the fire to stoke it, my friend moved my trousers and the pot fell – It bounced off my head and land on the stone floor smashed into hundreds of pieces…A picked up a fragment and there were some initials engraved on the fragment. BL. And my heart missed a beat…
I knew that BL stood for Bernard Leach, arguably the most significant British potter of the last 200 years. And I’d just broken his pot…I was horrified. The next day I went to St Ives and in the Tate was an exhibition of his pots. The whole of St Ives felt like a shrine to the man and I had smashed his pot.
Present day St. Ives is shaped in part by Bernard Leach and his contemporaries. The past shapes the present. And as I’ve been reflecting on tonight I have been asking to myself is how does that which comes before us, inspire us and shape us to live in the present and also act in the future.
As I walked around St Ives. I started to really appreciate the influence of this man and how his work and methods are shaping a whole new generation of potters and sculptures today. I am sure that he would be delighted that that which he started has flourished and grown.
We’ve looked back this evening, 400 years of the King James Version of the Bible, 130 years of the nine lessons and carols service and a two thousand year old story of the Birth of Christ. And that has been beautiful, but I want to ask ‘So What?’ And when I say so what, I mean how does that looking back inspire us to act in the present and work towards a better future. The Bible when translated into English was done so that ordinary people could read the word of God. And then once they had read it, it could inspire them to act in the present and imagine an alternative future.
We look back on a story, a story of God reaching out to each one of us – and that story should empower us to act in the present. The story of the incarnation, the birth of Christ, is one where God reached out to humanity and in the reaching out there is an invitation. An invitation to walk with God to seek a better world, to seek justice for the marginalised, to offer hope for the hopeless and good news to the poor. That is the future imagination that the incarnation brings about a future hope, and that future hope is the antithesis of modern day cynicism.
When we look back on our beautiful tradition and our evocative stories we don’t look back on them to admire them from a distance. To leave them on a mantel piece, to be dusted down once a year then placed back up there. Because one day something will happen, a death, a tragedy, a question that life cannot answer and that pot gets broken.
We look back on that tradition, upon that narrative of the birth of Christ and we begin to live that narrative.And by living that narrative in the present we create movement, a movement that changes the present and gives a future hope.
That pot, that potter provoked the imagination of a whole movement of British Potters and sculptures. That pot although gone is still alive, it lives in the collective imagination of the potters sat at their wheels, shaping the next movement in British pottery.
And that story that we look back on is still alive, it is shaping my life, it is shaping the lives of the people in this church community, it provokes our imagination to dream of and work towards a better world. It shapes our collective imagination so that we seek a better world of justice and equality because Jesus sought those things first.
It’s a history that provokes our imagination and hence inspires an alternative world view, a world view that says my worth is not in my affluence, my worth is not found in my status. My worth is found in a vulnerable child born in a stable, to a fourteen year old girl surrounded by cattle and oxen. My worth is found in the person of Christ born at Christmas. Christ who in the incarnation reaches out to each one of us and says welcome, Is the same Christ who reaches out to us today and say welcome, Welcome to God’s family and welcome to a vision for the future.
Manchester has everything but a Beach...and hence no beach huts to create stunning Advent Installations in. But in the spirit of advent installations Sanctus1, the church that I used to be involved with, is creating 24 advent shrines all over the city centre. A different artist creates a shrine each day and then it is placed in a a location somewhere in the city centre. You can follow them on the blog or follow the tweets! Look's great. I'm in the city centre next week so will search one out.
P.S. I know that alongside the Beach, the other thing that we haven't got is a a team in the champions league last 16....
A couple of months ago we had Steve Taylor visit from New Zealand, so we thought that we'd go over to see Another Place on Sefton Beach. It was the second time that I've been, the first time was about six years ago, and I've been reflecting on our most recent visit since. My immediate reaction to the piece is always about waiting. What are these figures waiting for? Why are they looking so longingly out to sea? Yet, as I've reflected on the piece I've realized that the figures are not waiting but the Sea is.
Here are two photos that I've taken of Another Place. The first one was taken six years ago, the second one about six weeks ago.
Do you see the difference? One is new, clean and smooth. The second is covered in barnacles, it is worn by the sea, it's corroded. The environment is taking it's toll on the figure and eventually the figure will break away from it's plinth and disapear into the sea.
The sea is in effect waiting for the figures to disappear. And in the timescale of the Sea the figures are less than a second. Gone forever and yet the Sea carries on, the tides still turn, the waves continue. Our waiting this advent is, in the timescale of humanity, less that a second, and yet as with those figures on Sefton Beach that doesn't devalue it. The figures are a poignant reflection on the place of waiting within our culture and whilst they may only be here for a short time they open our eyes to see beyond the present.
My favourite chapter in Curating Worship was 'stumbling into something lovely' by Cheryl Lawrie. It caught my imagination and I've been pondering it since. Anyway, I had a moment last week where I stumbled into something quite lovely and totally unexpected! It was the creativity of a person working in a particular context and within that context creating contextual expressions of prayer.
Every so often I meet people to talk through their vocation and where they think God is calling them. Last week I met with a person who is exploring ordination. Alongside a million and one other things that she does, she also works as a shelf stacker in a local supermarket to help ends meet. Her life is busy and so to enable her to interceed for other places in the world she has created an everyday prayer ritual that goes with her shelf stacking.
One role that she does is to move tins and other produce back to their correct aisle in the supermarket. As she delivers the produce she uses the theme of the aisle as an aid to prayer. So she'll go to the world food aisle and use that as a place to pray for the people of the world or she'll go to the freezer section and pray for global warming and environmental awareness. As I was chatting with her it struck me how earthed and rooted this expressions of prayer was. Sometimes prayer rituals/stations that have been created are so extraordinary that they cease to be ordinary. Whilst this has a place, there is also a danger that the extraordinary is what is sought, when in everyday life we need to affirm God in the ordinary. I liked the creativity, i liked the rootedness but above all I like the ordinariness of this prayer ritual.
As part of MIF there was an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery called '11 Rooms'. Each room contained a different piece of contemporary art in one room was John Baldessari's piece called 'Unrealised Proposal for Cadavre Piece, 1970'. Baldessaari's proposal is to recreate a painting by Andrea Mantegna called 'The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ' - and to recreate it he needs a corpse. Baldessari's proposal is unrealised as, as yet, he still needs to find a body of a person who has consented to being part of the work. So the room in the '11 Rooms' exhibition documented all his correspondence over the last few decades to make this piece of art work happen.
Apparently there is still a possibility that the work will happen if a body is obtained, and for many it raises lots of ethical questions. But I want to look at it from a faith perspective - Does it matter that the person laid on he slab is a representation of Christ? Does this add a level of religious controversy to the proposal or not? I actually find the proposal rather provocative, provocative in a positive way. I think that it encourages us to reflect on our mortality and within that framework the mortality of the person of Christ. Christ a man who lived and died. The proposal seems to draw us closer to the reality of that death by physically recreating it, and I find that reassuringly uncomfortable.
There is nothing greater than death to connect us with our finitude. I've done a few funerals and in some of the funerals that I've been at the coffin has been open. People have looked at the body, held it and kissed it. Now, these funerals have been from the West Indian community and there is something quite liberating with them. The death of a person is more tangible when we see their body. Death has been so sanitized in White Britain that a dead body is not something many people see regularly - and so I wonder with this proposal if the fear/controversy is more about there being a corpse in the gallery? Is death somehow cheapened through this proposal. Does it sensationalized something which should simply be a time to grieve.
Yet at the same time the body is simply a carrier of our spirit, once my spirit has gone my body will cease to be me. It's an empty vessel, empty of the life that it once carried. So part of me warms to the proposal - because it raises major questions regarding the afterlife and future hope. I'll be interested to see if it does happen, if it does there will not doubt be complaints, but I wonder where these complaints will come from. After all we've had artist depictions of a dead Christ for many centuries so really it should not be that controversial to Christians...No doubt, I'm going to be wrong on that...
Will it happen? We'll see...
1: Do not re-tweet positive book reviews or blog reviews. Accept the compliment, and move on...don't tell the world how great you are. It's embarassing.
2: If you run two twitter accounts do NOT under any circumstances retweet yourself. Once again...it's embarassing because we all know that you run two accounts.
3: Never, ever under any circumstances set up your own Facebook Fan page. If you're that important that you need a Fan page then become a movie star rather than a preacher man...
4: Do not use you Facebook account to generate content for a new book. If you want to write a book at least make sure that you know what the content is.
5: Do not end all blog posts, tweets, facebook status updates with...'you can read about this in my new book, which is available at the discounted price of £1.99 here'. Once again it's embarassing. If the book is good it will sell.
There is a fascinating bit of online dialogue going on that was sparked off by a post from Kester, which grew out of a conversation at Greenbelt. I'm not going to comment much but just make a few observations about the 'Radical' nature of the conversation.
1: It's very, very male. Over the past 10 years I've seen the emerging church movement grow in diversity, in was too male at the begining and now I'm encouraged by the number of women leaders that I see. There is nothing radical about a white, male, western academic conversation about the nature of church. The academic nature of the conversation is at times is being used as a tool of power, and whilst I appreciate the academic nature of the debate, I think that we need to be wise about how we use our intelligence. One thing that really impressed me, about a person who will remain nameless, is that when talking about their community they made sure that a man and a woman were represented. This had a two fold effect it modelled something about balance in leadership and also prevented the project being personality driven.
2: As I reflect on this I'm struck by the realisation that the radical women are often part of the institution, whether Ordained or employed by...fascinating shift. But I wonder why this is. In some sense placing yourself within an institution in a radical move that goes against the ego, it says I will be the servant of the church rather than the servant of the self. And so this reflects a concern in me regarding the place of the male ego in many of these conversations. That maybe unfair, but when you are within an institution there is a giving away of the self.
3: In the 1960's and 1970's the Restoration movement wanted to be radical. They saw themselves as the end time church and brought with then particular manifestations of the spirit. They split in the eighties, R1 and R2, see (Walker, Restoring the Kingdom). But they thought that they were Radical. They're now NFI and a few others, but the effect on the institution was the charismatic movement - Anglican Renewal etc. - this served to loosen things up. I guess that I'm wondering whether the role of those early Alt.Worship and Emerging Church pioneers was to create the environment within which Fresh Expressions was birthed. Yet some of those early restorationalist apostles are still there, carrying on being Radical, and as they do so creating an environment around themselves that tells them they are the new radicals. Is history repeating itself?