Your Perfect Room

‘Home Sweet Home’ art by Dominic Bradnum

I’m sitting in church on Sunday night, and one of the worship songs has made reference to John 14:2 (“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”) I prefer that translation to the one that gives us a mansion each. “Rooms” implies we’re all living in a home with God as part of his family.

In the past I’ve pictured this almost like a hotel, I guess, every room the same. But maybe not. Maybe each of those rooms is decked out in our favourite colours, rooms with fantastic acoustics being built for the musicians, the rooms with the best light being allocated to the artists. And these rooms are safe. Too many people grew up in homes that weren’t. But here’s a room in which no-one can hurt you, where you don’t have to hide, where those that once hurt you can never get to you. Where you can finally let go of the memories that kept you alert, the strategies you once needed to keep you safe.

These are rooms where there is light and heating without fail, where there is clean water, where there is food on the table, where there are no bombs or sirens, no rage, no fear.

This is a house where truth is spoken, not the ‘truth’ that is wielded as a weapon but the Truth that you’re loved, you’re precious, you’re encouraged and that you’re unique in this universe, your combination of quirks and experiences and talent and beauty.

Maybe there are even photos on the wall; baby photos, maybe, or photos of when Someone took particular pride in you, even if those weren’t the moments you’d expect. Maybe there’s a mural on the opposite wall, a picture that speaks to who you are and what you mean to the Artist.

This is your home, the home you wanted, the home you needed. The home in which your accepted, your deepest self, where you’re known by the name by which you should always have been known.

You’re not given access to this room by a church, by your parents, by your boss, by any of the people who once held power over you. The key to this room isn’t given by a politician, by the media, by an algorithm, by yourself. It’s a gift. It’s an inheritance. The one who built the place has scarred hands, but he still helps you to move in.

Because it’s your home.

It’s your home.

It’s your home.

O Root of Jesse

The O Antiphons are a series of chants traditionally used across the final seven days of Advent. Each one is based on a particular characteristic of Jesus; the chant for 19th December is called O Radix Jesse, or O Root of Jesse; you can hear it sung below.

Professional Cockney geezer Danny Dyer looks confused and unbelieving. You can understand why; This star of EastEnders, this working class bloke from Camden Town, is listening to a historian telling him that he’s a direct descendent of Edward III. “It’s ridiculous,” says Danny, before considering buying a ruff.

That’s the thing about family trees. They’re full of surprises. Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus, and it’s easy to skip across this interminable list of names, just picking out the impressive ones – King David, or maybe Solomon. But wait; look at who else Matthew has tucked into that list. This is a family tree that comes with trigger warnings. There’s Tamar, widowed and rejected, forced to take her destiny into her own hands by exposing the hypocrisy of her father-in-law. Here’s Rahab, the sex worker who is also a model of bravery and mercy, considered a hero of faith by the writers of the New Testament. There’s Ruth, the migrant, the outsider who becomes an insider, determined to save what was left of her family. Bathsheba is here, victim of a king’s lust, her husband cut down because those in power will always take what they desire.

The line of kings is also the line of migrants and survivors of rape and these stories fold into that of Christmas, their blood runs through the veins of Christ, blood spilt at Calvary containing the blood of the abused, the marginalised, the rejected. Is there rejection here? No; there’s mercy, there’s acceptance, there’s grace as God welcomes his messy family home.

Giving a Damn (a post for #WorldMentalHealthDay)

(I’ve posted this before, but I think it holds true, and anyway, it acts as a companion piece to my earlier post. And besides, it’s an opportunity to use the best page from Morrison and Quietly’s All Star Superman.)

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to give a damn.

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say “How are you?” and then to follow that up with “Okay, now tell me the truth.”

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to put up a red flag. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to pick up the phone.

Today is World Mental Health Day. And look, if you’ve stumbled here and you feel like you need to want to hurt yourself or stop the pain forever, then please, talk to someone, call someone, please just stop for a moment and pick up a phone. The number for the Samaritans, in the UK at least, is 116 123; in the US you can call 800-273-8255. Or ask your mate to take you out and buy you a drink.

I don’t know what else to say. I’m fortunate I guess, I’ve never been in quite that dark a place. But there have been times when I’ve been horribly low, when I didn’t know where to turn, when I just wanted to curl up and sleep. And I hid it pretty well. Maybe I dodged a bullet.

Others aren’t so lucky. And that means we’ve got to look after each other.

That goes for all of us, of course, but this is a Christian blog and so I got thinking about this through the lens of the Church. Because look, I know our churches are busy. We’ve got a lot on and a million jobs to do and about three elderly volunteers to do them with. Ministers have diaries that would turn my hair white at the thought of all the meetings and councils and committees that need to be endured. Sometimes you can’t stop the tail wagging the dog.

But there are times when we’ve got to look at that, times when we have to challenge the corporate model of doing church, with its pastor/manager making sure everyone’s on message and doing their jobs and go back to being a community. And we’ve got to look at the language and attitudes we promote, because sometimes that’s inadvertently driving people deeper into the dark.

So if that means being radical and dropping an event and thirteen church council meetings to chat with someone down the pub then so be it. If that means deciding to not budget for a new sound system so we can spend that money on mental health awareness training for our pastoral visitors then we should do so. If we need to drop a meeting or two so that people can also be taught to care for themselves better then go for it.

Worship is important, vital even. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think God’s interested in our songs if they’re distracting us from noticing the person sitting at the back who can barely get the words out because they’re hurting so much. Our churches need to be spaces of raw honesty rather than places where we pretend everything’s okay because of some impossible obligation.

And then there are those who fall through the cracks, those who take their own lives despite everything. And that leads to guilt and grief, shock and shame, and we have to be able to look after each other then as well. Often those are the times we just need to shut up and weep with those who weep. No-one wants to talk theology when they’re folding away those clothes for the final time.

We’re called to love each other. That’s not just a platitude. And you can preach and you can sing and you can fix the roof and you can do the flowers. But sometimes the most sacred ministry you – and all the rest of us – can do is to simply and steadfastly give a damn.

Putting the Chairs Away (a repost for Maundy Thursday): John 13:1-5

images

My eldest son loves putting chairs away. Give him a church full of chairs that need stacking and he’s happy as Larry, giggling and bossing people around as he tidies up. And while I love his enthusiasm, sometimes I just want to get home for lunch, you know? I mean, surely he can leave some chairs for someone else?

And that’s when I realise that my lanky autistic 14 year old has a greater servant heart than me. Because when he gets to the end of an act of worship, he doesn’t just want to drink his cup of tea before escaping to the comfort of the living room sofa, he wants to help put things away, to collect hymn books, to wash up.

I’m reminded of this here on Maundy Thursday, when we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The King stoops to do the job of a servant out of grace and compassion, even though the disciples don’t understand, even though he’s washing the feet of a traitor. The power of this moment extends beyond our squeamishness and our repulsion at washing another; it reveals the heart of God and as such it isn’t a ritual, it’s a fact of life.

Some churches latch on to this, making their Maundy Thursday events an act of service. Trinity on the Green in Connecticut holds a foot washing and examination service where they provide podiatric support for homeless people who, on average, walk 8.5 miles a day. There’s something of the original power of the story reflected through this – I doubt Peter ever had a pedicure. The heart of service reflected here isn’t a mere ritual, it’s genuinely showing the love of Christ to people in dire situations, a pair of socks becoming a blessing. Maundy Thursday becomes an act of remembrance of those who are too easily forgotten. In that sense we should also be convicted.

We also remember those carers who embody this every day, when they wash a child or a parent or a spouse who can’t wash themselves, when they clean up after visits to the toilet, when they stay up all night making sure that their loved ones are safe until the morning. And this brings with it stresses and strains, but it’s done out of love, as a way of showing a loved one that they are precious and protected and cared for. And those being washed are made in the Image of God and we also remember that, even when they’re persecuted, dehumanised, neglected. Maundy Thursday is a singularity of compassion; we turn it into an annual ritual at our peril.

Last Sunday I was out preaching, and eldest was with me, and at the end of the service while I’m shaking hands, he starts collecting books and washing cups and charming old ladies just by being helpful. And he’ll never be asked to preach, he’ll never lead worship, but he’s embodying the heart of Jesus and that’s far more powerful.

Many will go to foot washing services tonight. Maybe during those services there’s an opportunity to remember those who wash and clothe others, to take our rituals and turn them into practice. And as we remember Jesus washing feet, maybe the lasting power isn’t just about remembrance and sacrament, maybe it lies in the grace of putting chairs away at the end, of doing the washing up, the grace of showing up, of a clean pair of socks.

Putting the Chairs Away (Maundy Thursday): John 13:1-5

images

My eldest son loves putting chairs away. Give him a church full of chairs that need stacking and he’s happy as Larry, giggling and bossing people around as he tidies up. And while I love his enthusiasm, sometimes I just want to get home for lunch, you know? I mean, surely he can leave some chairs for someone else?

And that’s when I realise that my lanky autistic 13 year old has a greater servant heart than me. Because when he gets to the end of an act of worship, he doesn’t just want to drink his cup of tea before escaping to the comfort of the living room sofa, he wants to help put things away, to collect hymn books, to wash up.

I’m reminded of this here on Maundy Thursday, when we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The King stoops to do the job of a servant out of grace and compassion, even though the disciples don’t understand, even though he’s washing the feet of a traitor. The power of this moment extends beyond our squeamishness and our repulsion at washing another; it reveals the heart of God and as such it isn’t a ritual, it’s a fact of life.

Some churches latch on to this, making their Maundy Thursday events an act of service. Trinity on the Green in Connecticut holds a foot washing and examination service where they provide podiatric support for homeless people who, on average, walk 8.5 miles a day. There’s something of the original power of the story reflected through this – I doubt Peter ever had a pedicure. The heart of service reflected here isn’t a mere ritual, it’s genuinely showing the love of Christ to people in dire situations, a pair of socks becoming a blessing. Maundy Thursday becomes an act of remembrance of those who are too easily forgotten. In that sense we should also be convicted.

We also remember those carers who embody this every day, when they wash a child or a parent or a spouse who can’t wash themselves, when they clean up after visits to the toilet, when they stay up all night making sure that their loved ones are safe until the morning. And this brings with it stresses and strains, but it’s done out of love, as a way of showing a loved one that they are precious and protected and cared for. And those being washed are made in the Image of God and we also remember that, even when they’re persecuted, dehumanised, neglected. Maundy Thursday is a singularity of compassion; we turn it into an annual ritual at our peril.

Last Sunday I was out preaching, and eldest was with me, and at the end of the service while I’m shaking hands, he starts collecting books and washing cups and charming old ladies just by being helpful. And he’ll never be asked to preach, he’ll never lead worship, but he’s embodying the heart of Jesus and that’s far more powerful.

Many will go to foot washing services tonight. Maybe during those services there’s an opportunity to remember those who wash and clothe others, to take our rituals and turn them into practice. And as we remember Jesus washing feet, maybe the lasting power isn’t just about remembrance and sacrament, maybe it lies in the grace of putting chairs away at the end, of doing the washing up, the grace of showing up, of a clean pair of socks.