Courage in the face of

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I walked past several Greenpeace activists today. Gave them a double-thumbs up as they stood on the railings of the Bank of England with a banner proclaiming:

Greed Green is Good

They gave me a big grin back. I wondered how many people might be looking up at them today and how many might be smiling. I could imagine the corporate types treating them like schoolyard bullies: “If you react, it will only encourage them”.

I adore demonstrations. A few years ago I had a long conversation with Brian Haw outside the Houses of Parliament, not long before he was forced to scale back his operation. He spoke of his beliefs – many founded on Christian principles – and his reasons for being there. He also spoke of his family, his wife and children. I listened, nodded, expressed sympathy and eventually left him, glad that there was someone willing to be so brave, saddened that there weren’t more to support him, wondering if that would help and, of course, rebuking myself for not taking a stance.

There is a part of me that wonders what happens when they need to go to the toilet. The one-day boycott inspired by Rosa Parks in particular. I suppose such practicalities, off-stage in Joe Orton plays, seemingly irrelevant in the innovative real-time TV show 24, and strangely evoking more coyness than the ubiquitous references to sex we plague ourselves with, detract from the salient point.

Forgive me, my twice-daily train has no toilets onboard and I worry that one day we may break down.

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In His hands

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A family friend has been diagnosed with one of those degenerative diseases that mark the end of a life as known. It feels as if the disease does not take its hold until that point at which you are told.

Like the day you hear that someone has died; it may have been days, even months since their death, but until you know that they have gone, their presence is assumed. A few years ago I learned that a friend of mine had died, but because of the vagueries of communication, because we had been friends directly rather than part of a group, I did not learn of his death until several weeks later. I have since then thought I saw him: in the train station, on the street, his distinctive hair and clothing making a beeline for my subconscious.

This family friend is a dear man. He, and one of the most wonderful women I have ever had the fortune to know, married a few years ago, both in the age of their lean and slippered pantaloon. He is a clever man,  always quick with a gracious smile and insightful comment. He once said:

“There are times when you don’t feel like praying or don’t want to read your bible and feel ambivalent. And that’s ok, because it’s at those times that you don’t hold onto God, rather He holds onto you.”

I take heart from this. And I also take heart that even with the vagueries of communication being what they are, his wisdom can be passed on.

While at university my friend told me that he felt he was living in the wrong place, that he needed to be back in South America, where he felt happy and he felt he was doing God’s work. That was where he died.

I cannot begin to try understanding my place in His scheme of things. When people of great wisdom and insight are condemned to spend their last years in confusion and dementia, when people of great heart and courage die young, it is hard to find a meaning that will reside comfortably in a small and fragile brain.

Perhaps the songs of childhood, in which our great God has the whole world in His hands (and someone else brings the food to our table) are the best place to find comfort. And so I fall back into those hands, in faith.

Going it alone

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I’m torn today between feeling that I should start some “alternative expression” commuter church, flinging placards across my evangelical chest and inviting spiritual strangers to join me in prayer of a morning (carriage 3 of 7), or remaining a bystander.

The problem with starting something is now the expectation surrounding all things “alternative”. At his talk at Greenbelt this year, Pete Rollins said that starting ikon had been an organic process with no thought as to its purpose let alone its eventual impact.

In the current climate, if you have an idea that goes beyond the boundaries of normal church it is inevitable that alongside this kernel of inspiration is the hope for impressed recognition. If not from the masses, then at least from the religious publishers, funding from the CofE Fresh Expressions pot and perhaps a post from a blogger or two.

Being innovative is de rigeur.

But does it meet a need?

I’m wondering, if I were to put myself out there, in a situation that does not invite proactive engagement, for the purpose of meeting the spiritual need of strangers I’m not even sure exists, would it be because I thought it was a good idea. Or because other people might think it a good idea.

I would be the Danny Wallace of the emerging church movement. Worse than that, I would be attempting to invade the emerging church ‘thing’ with the tactics of Danny Wallace. Alienating those who had been doing this shit for years. And doing it badly. (Mostly because my heart would be in the wrong place from the off).

How many things being funded by Fresh Expressions, or being described as ’emerging’ are desperate individuals wanting to have their ideas and their theology thrust into a limelight that self-promotes rather than enriches the lives of those taking part?

Innovation seems to distance itself so much from traditional Church, perhaps because these same individuals are reacting the only way establishment can let them, without straying too fully from the orthodox path?

I am on the outskirts of Church and I always have been. It would make no sense to sidle in through the back door…

Living on the edge

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How many other people, when they’re standing on the tube platform, think about jumping? And how strong is their impulse…

I callously make light of the ill consideration by those people whose bodies hit the platform during rush hour. But how do they get to that point? Is it the place they’re going to (work) or where they’re coming from (home) or is it the world they cannot escape (their own skin) that makes that final push across the yellow line?

If I could conduct a poll:

You think about jumping in front of a train (tick the most appropriate):
strongly agree / agree / have no strong feelings either way / disagree / strongly disagree

I wonder what the response would be. And I wonder where God is on those mornings.

The echoing silence amid the crush of people, day after day, can be soul destroying. Is it a trial to be endured or a challenge to be overcome?

Commuter heresy takes a back seat to convention

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So having promised to myself that I would talk into the oppressive silence and onto a complete stranger, I found myself cattle-prodded into an increasingly crowded train and onto a bout of stage fright.

How hard can this be? Was my morning’s mantra. For a woman who prides herself on her ability to wade into someone’s sphere of being with nary a panicked stall, I was finding it hard even turning the ignition key.

Of all my strategic ideas, of all my plans of attack, the one that felt most natural, the one that instinct gripped the steering wheel with was moaning about the commute. Here I was sharing more physical contact with the woman next to me than I have any person in the last few weeks, and what better way of introducing myself than saying the polite equivalent of Fuck me, is this uncomfortable.

Over the course of the next 3 stops I learned this lady is a project manager for an arts charity that works with adults with learning difficulties, who studied Environmental Sciences and would usually take the bus, but for a meeting across town that morning. I did not, however, learn her name. That would be a concession too far perhaps. Or it just did not occur to me to ask.

In my previous post I suggested that speaking through the veil of non-interaction was a heretic act on the commute, and I still believe that it is, if you initiate with conversation that is out of context. By using the context of the commute itself and the safe assumption that my potential conversant was as uncomfortable as I was, I followed convention.

Perhaps I should test the limits of this convention, strain the boundaries of acceptable introduction to breaking point. Which begs a question:

is Theology understood by living within a status quo, or do you need to step off the beaten track to see the path being walked more clearly?