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Tea and Theology

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?

Adventure and exploration

I have been on annual leave this week and spending a very relaxing week in Sorrento, seeing the sights and sampling the delights of the surrounding areas – I never believed it would be possible to be sustained on a diet of pizza and gelato, but it seemed important to try it out!

I don’t speak Italian at all, and have never been to Italy before. As soon as we arrived I felt out of my comfort zone with languages being spoken around me that I did not understand, people ushering me through before I really knew what was expected of me. I learned grazie very quickly, but that was as far as it went. I noticed that I became incredibly shy, not really feeling confident to ask for things and tentative to step out from pavements. I was more aware of things going on around me, and soon realised that I was no longer on auto pilot – I was displaced, or dislocated, and acting accordingly.

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This can be a positive experience, but it can also be negative depending on the circumstances. For me on holiday it was of course positive, and I enjoyed being more aware of all that was happening around me, but this heightened attentiveness can be extremely tiring. I was drawn to thinking about those who may need to live in this state for some time due to circumstances beyond their control such as refugees and asylum seekers. Current UN figures suggest that 28,300 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution – a fact which I find completely mind-blowing and which has been a huge focus of prayer for me this week.

I wanted to understand more about these new surroundings and find out what situations have helped to shape this society – perhaps that is a normal tourist thing to do, and the tourism industry makes it very easy for you to find out about popular or well known places and events.

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Pompeii was an obvious place to begin, and was a stark reminder of unforeseen circumstances which can lead to unthinkable loss.

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This was a cast of someone found during excavation centuries after Vesuvius erupted and yet the fear within seems to have somehow been preserved…

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It can also be fascinating to look round and see who you are exploring the past with – and what findings might mean for each of us. I became more aware of individual uniqueness, shaped by society and culture, but also standing separate from it at times.

Herculaneum was the next trip. Whilst a much smaller excavation site, this was evidence of a richer people also devastated without warning.

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Following this, we went to Naples for the day – that was a completely different experience and not entirely positive. Without the protection and comfort of guides and other tourists making up the masses, Naples felt slightly scary – especially when we happened upon a whole street seemingly dedicated to selling rubbish and illegal items. After a two hour search for somewhere for lunch, and countless moments of feeling vulnerable and seeing people stare at us, we headed back to eat near the station. There was something incredibly insightful about that negative experience of being in an unfamiliar place though, and feeling so incredibly lost whichever direction we took.

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Not understanding what something meant was a common occurrence. We saw this “J’existe” statement a lot in graffitied areas, and I wondered who was seeking affirmation of their existence in this society? Who gets lost in the crowds in our societies?

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Following the Naples excursion we returned to Sorrento by ferry, and what a beautiful experience that was. The sea was such a comfort from the streets of Naples, as was the beautiful sunset, drawing us back into its light.

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There was so much beauty surrounding Sorrento, especially in areas which managed to escape the crowds, and so much to explore. Whilst there will always be much more to see, I found it interesting that deep in my knowing I was drawn to places of peace and calm, and away from the crowds.

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My natural leanings are towards solitude; that gives me a greater responsibility to find the balance between being in the world and seeking to understand it and being slightly separate from it, following the ways of God instead – it is such a difficult balance but one which is well illustrated in the experience of the tourist. How do you manage to stay true to your identity and experience which has shaped you, whilst also embracing the other that now surrounds you? As my poem Torn on Tea begins to explore, this new and different surrounding can be intoxicating and mesmerising, and even where our formative experiences seem less interesting, they will continue to be the ones that we most understand and draw us back to who we are….

 

 

Torn on Tea

O-cha, ban-cha, oolong-cha, macha
So many different teas enjoyed hot or cold
Green tea – the scent of Japan waiting to greet
those who arrive at Kansai Kuko
From the traditional tea ceremony
to a bottle of hot tea sold in a vending machine
all form the unique Japanese culture
All map a journey which weaves together
the ancient and modern to shape a rich heritage
of leaves or green powder that find their way
to the small tea cup which has no handle
These teas are so exciting, so mysterious
Variation unlike anything previously known
Entices, attracts, intoxicates and mesmerises
How could I ever go back to….

The British cuppa, builders brew
either in a pot or a cup, but always bag
Hardly an aroma which tantalises
attracts even, the taste buds
Impossible to notice or taste every tea leaf
It’s just something to wet your whistle
tea was an offering when we had nothing
A brew was something which overcame tears
and gave us a reason to come together
In times gone by everyone had a teapot
which would never seem to struggle to supply
These days this is a rarity, a precious commodity
More often individual teabags are used
to create a one-cup wonder…it is a wonder
that anyone talks to anyone without communitea

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