tenant

IMG_6207

This was my coffee last week at our local coffee shop, The Grumpy Baker. I have to confess, the first time I went there, it took me a few seconds to realise that the face on top is part of their logo and not a personal message directed at me. The coffee underneath was good.

Last year has been a bit of an adventure for us and we’ve felt blessed by the house we’ve been renting for the last 5 months. It has charmingly crooked walls, high ceilings and beautiful old fireplaces and is big enough to have lots of people over for meals and to stay overnight. It’s also on a road with a great view and friendly neighbours. We’ve loved it.

Sad face time; we’ve just been told that we can only live here for another 2 months so we are praying for another house to fill the gap until, hopefully, we can move into a house of our own. We wish we didn’t have to move, but we’re trusting there is some “good coffee” beneath the apparent sad face in this turn of events.

Now I know this is a bit predictable, but there is a story that Jesus told about a landlord and tenants that I have seen in a new way this week because of our circumstances. (It’s in Mark 12, if you want to see it yourself.)

Once there was a landlord who lovingly planted a vineyard, putting up supports for the young plants, pruning and watering them. He built a wall round the vineyard to protect it from the wind, and in anticipation of a brilliant harvest, dug out a hole to serve as a wine press.

Soon, however, he needs to travel to another country and so has to trust this precious crop to tenant farmers. It feels a bit risky.

The tenants settle in and begin to work. There is watering and pruning and harvesting to do. But once the owner has been away for a while, they start in small ways to act as though the vineyard is theirs.

When the landlord sends servants to collect his share of the harvest, they think ‘how dare he? We’re the ones slaving away.’ They beat them up and send them away.

The landlord sends his son instead, but by that point they are so caught up in their own importance that they convince themselves that it makes sense to kill the son so that they can legally inherit the vineyard (which in their minds is already rightfully theirs).

It ends in disaster for the tenants. What went wrong? We’ve got no reason to think that they weren’t working hard, that they weren’t looking after the plants in their charge.

What went wrong was that they allowed themselves to believe that the vineyard was theirs. What do you have to do to be a good tenant? Remember that the fruit isn’t yours.

There are some things that are good about being a tenant. For example, we don’t have to worry about leaking pipes, the mortgage or re-roofing. We don’t have to decorate or think about fluctuating house prices. We’re free from all those hassles.

In a similar way, love sets us free from anxiety and fear. Love is the opposite of the need to control. We are set free to joyfully respond to what God is doing in this moment. If everything is God’s and I’m only a tenant, what do I have to fear? If God loves the people I care for more than I do, why do I worry? Being God’s tenant makes me free.

 

 

 

 

alien

IMG_5952We’ve recently had his ears tested again and it turns out our younger son’s hearing is perfectly fine. It was his request to have the test, because he felt like he wasn’t catching everything that was being said in school.

What is both endearing and sometimes frustrating about our son is that he is a bit of a dreamer and often caught up in his own thoughts and so he misses things sometimes. The other day he said he thought that his nickname should be ‘alien’ because he is often on another planet.

So this is why it isn’t really surprising that he has got through 10 ½ years of life without knowing any swear words (although he has been curious about what they might be). Today on the way to school, Alien said, ‘I’ve heard some weird things at school and but don’t know if they are swear words.’

‘Go ahead and say them and I’ll tell you,’ I answered.

They were.

When I asked a bit more about who had said them and what the context was, Alien was worried that I was going to ring the school and complain or maybe change him to a different school.

I wasn’t.

That’s because, of course, there will probably be 10 year olds swearing in most schools on the planet. But it’s also because I believe we are all called, and 10 year olds too, to shine as a light in the world.

It’s normal for parents to worry that their kids will have friends who will be a bad influence.  But holiness works the other way. God’s joy, and compassion and peace are as infectious as a child’s belly laugh.

I admitted to Alien that I also find it hard to stay true to what I believe and who I am and not to always copy those around me and I was reminded of some words in the Bible. In fact I was thinking about them so much, that I even got my Greek and English New Testament off of the shelf. In this bit of the Bible, called ‘Romans’ the early Christians living in Rome are reminded that they are living on the cusp of a new era- and that everything about them, their minds, their hearts and their actions should reflect the new time and new reality and not the old one.

It’s a ‘farther in and higher up’ time (as in The Last Battle when the humans and animals leave behind the Shadowlands and discover a more real and more beautiful Narnia than they could have ever imagined). What God has for us is more well-pleasing and perfect and good than we could ever dream up.

fullsizeoutput_5c21

broken

fullsizeoutput_5bcb

We broke a bowling alley. A couple of weeks ago, ‘Mig’, ‘Edzster2000’ and I went bowling with some of their cousins on the first day of our trip to the States. Halfway through our game, the balls stopped rolling back.

We alerted the staff but nothing happened. We told them again. Perhaps because we were inexperienced, jet-lagged and young children were involved, we decided to just keep playing while we waited for things to be fixed.   So we searched the bowling alley to find any balls that weren’t in use and just kept playing. And getting more balls. Finally, the staff switched us to different lanes where the balls magically returned and where we also had a perfect view of the horror we had created: the entire floor of the lanes where we had been playing was being taken up to fish out all our bowling balls one by one before they could fix the machine. It looked like it might take some time.

This week I thought of something a teenager said quite a few years ago. I wonder if I remember it because I have been subconsciously trying to figure out how I could have responded ever since. ‘I think God is like a teddy bear sat in the corner of my room,’ the young person said, ‘I know he’s always there if I want him.’   It was a warm fuzzy kind of thought that expressed an understanding of God as a comforter. And that’s good, in a way.

But I can’t help but think that this picture of God is as passive as a broken bowling alley. I knew at the time that the particular young person had real-life troubles and serious tensions at home. Would a teddy bear really make a difference in that situation?

What I couldn’t find the words for then, and still struggle to do now, was to say: I know what it’s like to feel as if your prayers are bowling balls going down a lane without anything coming back. Sometimes God asks us to wait and sometimes God doesn’t do what we want or expect; but that isn’t because God is flopped in the corner like a teddy bear or because God is somehow defective; it is because God rules over all in ways that we don’t always understand. Yes, God is with us, bringing comfort and peace when times are hard, but God also disturbs us, challenges us and intervenes in the world. God-who-is also-the-Spirit stirs our hearts and our lives into action. God-who-is also-Jesus, loves us enough to rip through galaxies and take on our pain.

The mummy of King Tutankhamun, I recently read*, after many years travelling around museums and exhibitions, was put back in his tomb in Egypt. The extraordinary story of Easter is that Jesus is not in a tomb anywhere. Like this song has been reminding me, he is alive among us, giving us vision, wisdom and strength. Hallelujah.

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutankhamun

lift

 

When I tell people that we have moved to Bath from York, they often say something like ‘well, they’re quite similar places, aren’t they?’ almost as if we have moved here because we only like living in cities that have been occupied by Romans and are loved by tourists and hen parties.

It’s a bit too early to early to make comparisons, but in general we are finding Bath to be a very friendly place. Last week, with some of my chaplaincy colleagues, I took part in an initiative organised by churches working together in Bath, inviting people to pray. Lots of people were happy to reach up and put a ball into one of the structures as a symbol of their prayer. Some people, including children, lingered. Bath felt like a very good place to be.

But one thing that I miss about York are the city walls and the gates.  In the months before we moved away, every time I passed one of the gates in particular (Micklegate Bar, for those who know it) some words from the Bible would leap into to my head:

Lift up your heads, O gates!

and be lifted up, O ancient doors!

that the King of glory may come in.

 Who is the King of glory?

The Lord, strong and mighty,

the Lord, mighty in battle.

 Lift up your heads, O gates!

and be lifted up, O ancient doors!

that the King of glory may come in.

 Who is this King of glory?

The Lord of hosts,

he is the King of glory.

Scholars think that these words (from Psalm 24) were used in worship in the ancient world – perhaps as people ascended the hill to Jerusalem, or they may have accompanied the Ark of the Covenant into the temple.

In a modern context these words make me want to lift up my head, lift up my heart, opening the doors for God’s glory. When I stop, even for a moment, to look above the turmoil that is around me or within me, my perspective changes.

We’ve got quite a long and steep journey to school with our youngest at the moment, but we’ve found a secret to keep him moving: get him to lift his head and look up, instead of trudging along looking at his shoes. When he is interested in the world around him and engaged in conversation, he hardly notices the climb.

Like the lovely people of Bath lifting up their brightly coloured prayers and the ancient words inviting us to be on the look out for God, I, too, want to lift up my head, expecting glory.

micklegate-bar-outside

 

fat cat

fat-cat

I had a thought the other day that I don’t think you’re going to like. I’m just warning you. I don’t like it, either.

The thought was this: that deep inside my heart, and I think, most hearts there is a little bit of us that is like Trump. That, I think, is why many of us react to him the way we do. We can’t bear seeing large on our screens something that has shadowy echoes in our own souls.

Believe me, I’m not defending the person and certainly not the policies. I’m just saying. Selfishness, ambition, pride, saying stupid things, thinking only about our families, forgetting the needs of others, surrounding ourselves with people who think we’re great, hording and protecting our wealth; all of these things are in our capacity and probably our experience.

So when I was thinking of ways that I get off track, I had this picture in my head of a fat cat, who looked uncannily like the President (apparently lots of other people have had similar thoughts) sitting on a purse full of jewels. That might seem like quite a cozy image, but it wasn’t to me. To me it was about hoarding gifts and about not being bothered.

I want to be bothered. I want to share the things I’ve been given. I’m not just talking about money, though I’m not leaving it out either. (However tight our budgets might be, we are far better off than most of the world.) I’m thinking of other riches, like education, supportive families, experiences, skills and abilities. How can I give freely, and not just to my friends or those who make me feel comfortable?

Some people are celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day today. I love things like this, not because they make a huge practical difference (although who knows, they might) but because they prompt us to get our fat lazy cat selves off of the sofa and thinking about others, looking for people to bless.

My paraphrase of one of the ancient letters of Paul (2 Corinthians 5) is that because of Jesus, God doesn’t see our hoarding laziness, but reaches out to hug us and invites us to get up and join in hugging and loving the world and sharing the gifts we’ve been given. I want to be brave enough to give that a go.

 

 

(p.s. It was not my intention to offend any cat in the writing of this post, nor to insult their general reputation in any way. Please extend my apologies if I have caused offence.)

 

 

life after life

It’s a kind of spooky but exhilarating experience to cycle through a mile long, dimly lit tunnel, with occasional cello music coming through speakers in the walls. You can hear the slap, slap, slap of joggers’ footsteps before you can see them and when you pass people, it feels a little bit too close to be with a stranger in the dark.

But don’t let that put you off the ‘Two Tunnels Greenway’ cycle path in Bath, which is a fantastic off road route and goes through some lovely countryside, too. Maybe it’s because of the book I’ve been reading but the world of the tunnel felt so different from the outside that it almost was a bit like being born again to come out the other side.

I’ve just read Kate Atkinson’s novel ‘Life After Life’ which is about a person who is able to live parts of her life over again in order to change what happens; even world events. Repeatedly in the book the main character dies and then is born again to live a slightly different version of her life, with small changes learned from her previous lives.

What struck me about the frequent deaths of the main character was that often life feels a bit like a death and a rebirth. We’ve just moved away from a place we were growing quite fond of and people we loved. I know it’s not the same as an actual bereavement, but it still feels a little bit like a death.

In the 1970’s someone carved a cross out of a bit of wood they found in the garden to help a community celebrate Easter, never thinking that it would become an inspiration for lots of people and end up being in several different communities and places (even on the Shetland Isles). Two days before we moved, a month ago now, it came to us.

I first came across this cross in the early 1990s and it was there at our wedding in 1999. To be honest, I didn’t expect to ever see it again. It’s not something we’re planning to keep and to be honest, it is meant to be in the heart of a community, but for the time being we are looking after it and luckily we are living in a house with high enough ceilings to accommodate it. It has become our new ‘prayer stair’.

Meeting new people, finding our way around, getting used to a new house feels like a chance at a new life, but we’re still in the baby stage. I read recently that you can’t have a revival or a resurrection unless something actually dies. That isn’t easy and sometimes we forget that. In the book of John, Jesus says

‘Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life, just as it is, destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.’

Bring on the tunnels! But bring on the light at the other end, too.

img_5772

village

dscn0286When I remember how protective I was when I first became a mum, how determined I was to make sure that my baby knew he was loved at every moment, I know I was naïve. I thought that I’d be able to do that with my own willpower and determination. I didn’t foresee the day that I would know that bringing up children is a group effort: that “it takes a village to raise a child” as the Nigerian proverb says.

As we are getting ready to move on from our current ‘prayer stair’ in Yorkshire, hoping to find a new one in Bath, I am giving thanks for the people in my ‘village’ who have made the parenting job easier, and actually, better. I’m thinking of volunteer football coaches, teachers, babysitters and Cubs leaders. I’m also thinking of the parents of our sons’ friends who have shared lifts and friendship.

In the ‘village’ that is our church family, there have been amazing volunteer leaders in lots of different groups, who have shown real care for our boys, too. What stands out, though, are the adults who have made a point to speak to our kids, even when they weren’t on duty. Research has shown that the thing above all others that makes children and young people feel at home in a church community is the warmth of inter-generational relationships. Adrian, pictured here, is among others, a shining example of exactly that kind of kindness that points to God’s love.img_5059

But it’s not just kids that need a village. I’m aware of just how important my ‘village’ has been to me in recent days, a village that includes those who live nearby but also those who are connected in other ways.  The doorbell rang a couple of days ago and I answered it to find a smiling lady offering us an unused packing box. Some biscuits appeared on our doorstep the next morning and a friend offered to take me for a coffee and to pray for me. Yesterday, a beautiful home-made Advent calendar arrived.

In this time when we really don’t know what is coming next, these gestures of kindness mean everything. A couple of weeks ago, I’d had a some bad news concerning the details of our move and almost instantly a text from a friend followed saying that she was praying for me and mentioning Psalm 46, which reads in part

God is our refuge and strength.

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 

…The Lord Almighty is with us…

Another friend said that when she was praying for me this song came to mind:  Jesus, who we follow, sailed on some changeable seas himself, but he kept true to his purpose, living out God’s parental love for everyone.

Perhaps I too often expect that the seas will be calm for us. The truth is that life is stormy at times. We aim for the shore that we think God has called us to, but sometimes it involves a firm grip on the helm and lots of resolve to keep the boat steady. God turns things to good. God’s been good to us through our ‘village’, God’s been good to us through the stormy seas, God is going with us into the future.boy-in-a-storm