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Tea and Theology

Cracked vessels

I’ve been thinking about how people are a little bit like cracked or imperfect vessels. Each vessel is imperfect in a different way, and that may be more or less noticeable, but each is imperfect none the less.

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Some might be too small to be of any real use…

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Others might look beautifully ornamental but not have a purpose…

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Some might just be the wrong shape for what you intend to use them for…

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Or not deep enough to contain the growth that is happening…

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They might have a good side, but damage on the other…

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Or not be very good at allowing light to shine out, even though that is what they were designed for…

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Too big…

 

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Or whilst perfect when they’re new, they rust once the weather gets to them!

Whilst these criticisms are specific to vessels, how does imperfection and brokenness manifest itself in people – in you and those around you? Is it easier to see in others? Are we quick to judge those around us whose imperfections may be slightly more obvious than our own…do we convince ourselves that our imperfections are not as damaging or as bad as those of others?

What if we try instead to see the beauty in others? What if we look into the eyes of those around us and searched for what they hold inside them and for the things about them that we love?

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Brokenness into Beauty

The room was huge – bigger than
you might be able to envisage,
stretching as long as it was wide
It seemed to go on and on…
goodness knows what it was
before this destruction?
A banqueting hall perhaps,
which would make more sense
of the ceramic debris covering the floor!
Eyes took a few moments to adjust
to the poor lighting as they looked in
from the old heavy double doors.
Windows, covered by dense curtains,
allowed only a few shards of light
to break through the cracks
and the electricity of the industrial
revolution was yet to arrive
in this once fine and grand palace.
All that remained of such grandeur
were these shattered pots now
littering the floor, buried in dust.
Different shapes, sizes,
colours and patterns
reflected the diverse range
of ceramics they had once styled.
And now this was all just rubbish,
they could never be pieced together
to return to their previous existence.
They were broken and useless
with no further vessel potential…or was there?
What might it be like if each of
these pieces were gathered
together to form one single vessel?
The vision, small at first, grew beyond
all reckoning – it became an obsession!
Slowly initially, then more intentionally,
hands gathered individual pieces and
gently wiped away dust and traces of decay
before placing them carefully
and purposefully alongside one another.
Dust stirred up as feet tentatively pushed
broken pottery aside, deliberately
taking care not to add further damage
to these precious pieces, as they moved
deeper into the room to seek and gather.
An initially small and seemingly
insignificant workspace spread
as clutter gained a sense of sequence.
The sound of steady breathing alongside
a light chinking and clinking of ceramic
pieces making contact was all that
accompanied the silence
in the vast banqueting hall.
The divine artist worked unceasingly
to form broken fragments into a
vessel of unique splendour and artistry;
pieces fused together with golden lacquer
took on a greater depth and charm
than had ever emanated from them
in their previous existences!
Brokenness led to beauty as
the divine artist gathered, shaped
and moulded the pieces of pot like clay.
Never before had anything like it
been crafted or created but as eyes
observed the work of their hands
and saw the immense light that the
powerful vessel had been built around,
they looked and saw that it was good.
And then they rested!

The Colour Defining Generator

The Colour Defining Generator

The egocentrics’ colour generator in all its overbearing presence defines and labels.
Are you black or white, red or blue, pink or white? As soon as it is known, they are either in…
or out and we’ll blow your house down! Character, humour, intentions matter not –
it is all about colour, and you only get one shot at being defined.
This process is only ever binary, there is never any grey, shade or blur
The egocentrics are quick to work, to assess; they will not be challenged.
They have no eyes to see, no ears to hear, just a colour defining generator.

The once hidden pink sheep had a sixth sense which kept them clear of the limelight.
When the colour defining generator got to them, it failed to see anything other than pink…
Jeered at and humiliated they were ejected from society, forced into a ghetto –
the masses would come to point and stare, to harass then glare.
Pink sheep, scapegoated for all that is wrong; they are an abomination!
Let us have some compassion – just maybe a pink sheep could be turned?
Drugs, therapy and electric shock, who knows but something must work!

If this seems bad, the story of the black sheep is even more unjust and hard to bear.
They were misunderstood, seen as a threat, a health risk! Segregation was the best way…
Keep them far from the dominant white sheep; different field, different grass –
there was no pointing and staring, the white sheep stayed away!
Until they figured the white sheep was more powerful than black; bully them
into a lifetime of slavery – why should we work when the black sheep are here?
No rights or pay, just be thankful for your meagre rations at the end of the day!

The hard working colour defining generator encourages segregation and oppression.
Yet this plight is set to fail – as more colours are identified and defined, then victimised…
the supreme white sheep can only become a minority; then what will ensue –
as white sheep everywhere turn away from such egocentricity,
denying any superiority, choosing instead to be aligned with the maligned.
A new diverse society with all kinds of sheep ends the extreme white reign,
until difference is again used to define one group as better than all the rest….then what?

Shifting the Focus

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Sometimes we think we know exactly what we are looking at, and where we are heading. A simple distraction can lead all of that to change!

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Things can seem slightly less clear or blurry round the edges!

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This can lead to greater disorientation….

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Returning to a place of harmony, at least, can involve shifting your focus or looking at things a little differently.

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It might mean focusing more closely on aspects which identify who we are, or where we are.

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Perhaps trying to see these things in a new light will be helpful.

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Or shaking off our own preconceived ideas in order to really see.

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The more intently we refocus, the more likely we are to see beyond those preconceptions and misconceptions, and discover something quite different from our initial assumptions.

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That is when we will really have shifted our focus to a lens which enables us to see well beyond what we think is possible….How can you become more God focused?

Formation

Source: Formation

Disruption…

Have you ever been frustrated by a disruption to your day? Your plans fail not because of your actions, but because of something completely outside of your control. Many of us would see this as a negative thing, I’m sure, but what about positive disruption? My ministerial training was centred around a benedictine pattern of prayer; in practice this often meant that just when I was getting somewhere with my latest essay, I needed to stop to go and pray.

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This took some getting used to and, initially at least, I failed to see the positives of this pattern of prayer. Slowly though I began to see that, when I did return to my work, I had a fresh perspective. I had benefitted from taking time away, and was developing a greater anticipation for prayer, thus what I had first seen as an unwelcome disruption had become a welcome one.

I began this week with a Lectio Poetica Quiet Day at Launde Abbey. Whilst I was looking forward to this, I was concerned about how little space there was for ‘work’ in my diary. During the Quiet Day we were invited to ‘walk out’ a poem, or recite it whilst walking to find it’s rhythm and the disruptions within that rhythm. I focused on the following poem, and found myself disrupted by it!

The Agony

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin? Let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I as wine.

George Herbert

Part of the disruption was that I had got completely engrossed in the poem that I forgot to pay attention to where I was walking and found myself lost in the middle of a forest, with no idea of how to get out and no phone reception to find out which direction I should be headed in!

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There was much more to this disruption however; as the last two lines heavily imprinted on my heart I became aware of all of the ideas I had wanted to bring to my churches, and watched them slowly float away!

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Fundamentally I saw that ministry is about two things, Sin (or Good News) and Love, and I was in danger of making it about so much more! The disruption here was incredibly liberating!

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The next day I had my first curates training day – another reason to be concerned about the ‘work’ that I could not do. I laughed therefore when the person introducing the day said that the intention was to disrupt the routines that we were inevitably already building! What if it were not only routines that were disrupted, but also attitudes, stereotypes and preconceptions? My weekly poem, The Dolls House Day, explores this notion in a little more depth.

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I love my diary, and organising my time in order to not miss anything and ensure that I have enough time put aside for all that I need to do – but I wonder whether it is possible to be too organised? Am I still leaving time for God to guide, for opportunistic encounters, and to just be present in parish?

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Equally no matter how organised I am, mistakes still happen, and things are still miscommunicated at times causing some sort of disruption. This happened before my training day with an interment of ashes service which had not been booked in. It did all still happen though, and all was well.

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A regular form of disruption are road works, preventing people from getting where they need to be in the time that they need to get there. Whilst at times such delays could be avoided, is there something important about being made to slow down from the fast pace of our world? Might we see something that would otherwise pass us by?

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One final disruption this week has affected gardening plans – I cannot control the rain! I have become aware of a refreshing, pleasing feeling which comes after the rain. Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if the grass doesn’t get cut for another few days, and I can use the extra space to be attentive to the beauty and refreshment around me!

The Dolls House Day

I dream of a dolls house day where there are no disagreements. No dissatisfaction or disapproving glances from down the road – down the road does not exist! A day where dissent does not occur as Dad, daughter, dalek and three dinosaurs all co-exist harmoniously. Daintily dancing daddy-long-legs are delighted in, rather than evokers of, dread. Daisies and dandelions decorate the garden; the indoor decor is dashing and delectable. On the dolls house day dramatic disruptions occur because I say…like the dragon dropping in to drink tea and eat doughnuts; Dr Who appearing in his fancy TARDIS or; the Dalai Lama showing up to deliberate the drift of this day.

There are no feelings of desperation as the opportunity to fulfil desires dwindles and fades. On the dolls house day there is no like or dislike, there just is. Doom and gloom are not recognised emotions as Dad, daughter, dalek and the three dinosaurs are determined by the deeds of one another. The simplicity of the dolls house day defends against difficulties, dire decisions or dark fear. There is no recollection of yesterday, no prediction of tomorrow, just today. No direction or daily drudgery, no ultimate destination…no death. The day in the dolls house develops as life in all its fullness and dispels dastardly attitudes which seek to damage, disfigure and defile.

Day-to-day drill is absent on the dolls house day as there will only ever be today. Diaries are not directive, only distraction and disorder; endless data deemed drastically irrelevant to our human condition – the possibilities are endless! What if today was like the dolls house day, with disarray and disruption to define it? What would you dare to do? What if every door were open to you and you could dabble in what really drew you in? How would Dad, daughter, dalek and the three dinosaurs handle the existence of ‘down the road’? What if they were different down there? Would that put a dampener on their day, or would the simplicity of the dolls house day disseminate?

(With thanks to Sam, Riley and Darren for the photograph)

Discomfort

This has been a week of discomfort in various ways for me and others in parish at times. Last Saturday our churches clubbed together with the local social club to put on a Community Fun Day. It was really well attended, and in many ways a success, but it really took a number of people out of their comfort zones as it was held at the social club – a place most parishioners had never entered before – rather than at church. It is so important though for us as Christians to go out into the world and look for what God is already doing, and find out how we can join in! There was face-painting, a bouncy castle and other activities for children: children really help to build bridges between people who may struggle to see what they have in common and feel uncomfortable with one another!

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In the evening we had music from a local Blues Band, and whilst it was not something that the regulars were used to, it was wonderful to see how music began to bring people together in appreciation and conversation – truly amazing! It even took the regulars out of their comfort zone as they listened to “Singing Vicars!”

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Bank Holiday was an opportunity for a day out with my camera to Belvoir Castle. It was a lovely day and there were a number of great photography opportunities, but as I tried to get a photo of a butterfly I was struck by my own discomfort as I held my breath to get as close as possible so as not to scare the butterfly, but also their discomfort as something huge got closer and closer…I haven’t really thought before how wildlife being photographed might make sense of the experience!

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Despite the joys of a bonus Bank Holiday, my days have been busy and it has been past 3 o’clock on more than one occasion before I realised I had not eaten lunch or had anything to drink since the morning. Failing to take care of our basic needs can bring its own sense of discomfort.

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It was my birthday this week, which was lovely, but which is also something I prefer to spend fairly quietly as I do not like the attention it can bring. All the same sharing a birthday cake is something I love!

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Real discomfort came on the evening of my birthday when I tried out a birthday gift – a coffee grinder! I was so excited by it that I even read the instructions so as not to get anything wrong. True to form though, I missed the crucial instruction which said not to overfill the coffee grinder and tipped a whole packet of beans in. This meant that some of the beans got jammed by the weight and the grinder was unable to turn…it then overheated. The discomfort which comes when you have potentially ruined a gift given to you is indescribable! Fortunately when it had cooled down the next day and I followed all of the instructions, all was well.

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Towards the end of the week I went to visit someone I had met in parish whilst walking. As I knocked on their door I had no idea what to expect, and was a little nervous. I remain even more uncomfortable about not managing to see this person as there was no answer….

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Perhaps the greatest feeling of discomfort came at Leicester Pride where clergy and members of some of the churches in the diocese gathered together to be a Christian presence at Pride. These two aspects of my identity do not always sit well in either Christian communities or LGBT communities. The discomfort of ‘coming out’ as the other in either setting is something I have been thinking about as I wrote The WardrobeIt was a real privilege to offer reassurances to people who had been so hurt by people of faith because of who they were, how they had been made and created and who they fell in love with. There is still much work to be done in this vein as ILGA details much better than I could. Even so, stepping out and making yourself uncomfortable every now and again to meet the other can be such a valuable step towards each of us better understanding our fellow human beings – all of whom are created in the perfect and beautiful image of God.

 

The Wardrobe

Many live in wardrobes afraid to come out,
to wear their hearts on their sleeves
and let the world see the real ‘them’ inside.
They are ever aware of the need to hide,
to curtail and rail, all that is perceived
as those garishly clashly cast off items.

The wardrobe life is tiring and troublesome,
this existence remains ever part of them.
It’s like Grannie’s 1970s knitted tank top – odd
when paired with a beautiful new pencil skirt!
These clashing styles affront the fashionistas,
yet tank tops draw together to make their own love.

Once that clash becomes clear, their presence
in this chic fashion sphere is far from near!
There they represent rejects and has-beens,
old knee-length boots long since free of fancy.
Incognito tank tops venturing from other wardrobes,
spot pencil skirts and swiftly climb back inside.

The clerical collar is a rarity for the fashionistas.
Few long after that which attracts disdain,
provoking wearers to be prophetically political.
Dare I wear the tank top with the pencil skirt?
Have I the courage to take up the collar and leave
the closeted wardrobe in this unlikely mix of styles?

What if I were accepted by fashionistas,
able to preach love and affirmation?
Might this mean acceptance for all creation?
Would I still be able to hang with has-beens?
Could they see how the collar and skirt enhance
that tank top long since worn and part of me?

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