Running a Different Race

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When I was at primary school, I was quite a good sprinter. I know that comes as quite a shock to those who know me. Sporting ability completely deserted me once puberty arrived, almost as though my body wasn’t big enough for agility and hormones. But when I was skinny and fast, I did pretty well at running.  I recall coming second a lot. Also third. And once, at a schools’ meet in Ramslye, not placed. But my primary school did a fun thing. Most of the races for Sports’ Day were bog standard. You came first, second or third, or you lost. And the same with the overall house cup.  But, right at the end, there was the Cake Race.

The house that won the Cake Race won for their house, not a trophy or a silver cup, but a piece each of slab sponge cake with butter icing the colour of the team. I remember one year that Cook (as in Captain James) had lost pretty much everything overall, coming in last despite all our best efforts. And then came the Cake Race, which was a relay race if I remember rightly (it was rather a long time ago). I remember being very motivated. Possibly also very hungry. But I was on the team, and we won. It has only just occurred to me that the icing must have been prepared right at the last minute and the correct food colouring mixed in, because minutes later, there we all were, stuffing our faces with a cake with light green icing (it’s not as gross as it sounds, honest – my American friends need to know also that in the UK our icing is what you call frosting).

And that victory snatched from the jaws of defeat was better than winning the cup. And winning cake for the whole house so that we could all enjoy it was better than a silver trophy. And being part of a team felt great.

God reminded me of this recently,  because it was a hard day. I felt dreadfully ill, which is not unusual, but very tiresome.  For a number of good reasons, I felt and still feel that life is extremely heavy. And in prayer, God showed me a piece of cake with green icing on it, and the memory of the year we won the Cake Race came flooding back. God’s encouragement is always so deeply sweet.

All my adult life, I’ve been running a different race to other people. I have not had a shot at the rat race, and most of the time I seem to come last.  The prize I’m motivated by is one that I won’t get to see in this life. Being a mystic is a rather lonely path at times. But I do know that I’m part of a team which is focussed on a different kind of winning, and who are happy to pass batons and share cake. I haven’t been able to run for 23 years as I write (and yes, I am counting), but I know that my life’s walk is no less beautiful for being slow, weary and mostly a wheeling. And I think when I sit down with my co-heirs at that banquet, there might well be slab cake with green icing on the table.

 

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 NIV – Paul speaking)

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Being Twee

Apologies that there was no blog entry last week, due to ‘flu.

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This week, let’s talk about one of my bugbears. The unstoppable rise of tweeness. The tidal wave of saccharin we are constantly bombarded with on social media and, heaven help us, in Church and somewhere in most forms of Christian writing, all of which is, frankly, enough to give us spiritual diabetes.

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2 NIV)

Twee lends itself beautifully to the meme, or the short status, as well as to song lyrics, prayers and poems. It is especially prevalent in blogs.  It is a deliciously sweet icing on life, that whilst often containing some truth, is dangerously shallow. If we are not careful, we can get suckered into the idea that this is where God lives.

We can smile and say, “Remember it’s darkest before the dawn,” to someone who is in a shadowy, difficult place, and it sounds good, it sounds true, even like it might be a Bible verse (it’s not as far as I know), we think it must be a comfort to them. And although there is nothing wrong with wanting to comfort someone who is struggling, that compassion needs to rise from a place that sees their pain and wants to hold space around it, to be a loving witness to it, rather than simply wanting to say a quick something that sounds like a solution, but is more about soothing our own discomfort at their pain, than actually helping.

So many of us (I’m sure I am guilty of this too) have spoken, posted, tweeted in this unthinking way, that merely absolves us, and makes the person we are talking to feel even more beleaguered. Why? Because it’s too trite, it’s not enough, it only loads guilt onto a person who cannot even believe there is a dawn, let alone has the strength to wait for it. Telling someone that what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger, whilst they are feeling like they would rather it did kill them, is not helpful.

Twee is akin to the half-baked theologies that dismiss suffering, that condemn the long-term sick and that have not the least idea of what it might mean to follow Christ fully, or with the understanding that not everything is going to be wonderful.  At its best, it is apparently wholesome drivel, at its worst, the emotional equivalent of hit and run. It is cousin to that most dreadful of Christian vices, meaning well.

Meaning well does not think about consequences, or indeed about anything enduring. When I recall difficulties I have encountered myself in the Body of Christ, most of the really hurtful things have been said or done by people who no doubt, meant well. They spoke out of bad teaching, often, or from motives that appeared selfless but were anything but; because meaning well is all about getting oneself off the hook, looking like we did the right thing, and rarely about being constructive, or truly compassionate.

And twee is one of meaning well’s worst weapons. It dives straight in, wounds deeply and is gone before you can turn around. Or it cheerfully states a half truth in glib gormlessness which glances off the truth with a resounding clunk.  This is the weakest of spiritual milk. And we need weaning off it. Solid food is waiting, but is anyone really preparing an appetite for what’s on offer?

Tweeness is like spiritual sherbert, it fizzes briefly on the tongue, but is really insubstantial. If we are going to be people of substance, of depth, of wisdom and above all of love, then this blasé stuff needs to go. Now, again, don’t get me wrong. There is a place for quoting wonderful Bible verses that encourage and lift up. Social media is made for the short and sweet, and memes work beautifully there. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with them. But it must be followed up with something else. There must be the resonance of deeper, tried and tested faith and biblical understanding, of character, behind and underneath the surface. My hope is that at Lakelight we shall be a little wary of the quick fix and the one liner, and be ready to set a more complete meal before the hungry.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Meme from the internet

You may be pleased to know that this is the last in our series of first foundations, where we have cleared away some of the rubble, talking about what we are NOT about, before we begin anew, articulating what we WILL be attempting to build.

On Not Dumbing Down

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Within the first few pages of her classic children’s tale Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter describes the effects of eating lettuce as “soporific.” Take that same book to a publisher today, and they would whip that word out quicker than Clint Eastwood can draw his gun. When I was a child, I would love finding new words to investigate, and of course it still happens now. Some of my favourite words are “galumphing” “gobbledegook” and “lollygagging.”  And the reason Potter used this unfamiliar word? It was the perfect one to say what she meant. She was not being elitist, or showing off, just being a good writer. And that, for me, is the reason I will never “dumb down” any of my own writing.

Everything meaningful has layers. Every good book has characters who are flawed, complicated, surprising, just like real people are. Everything well-written contains nuances of meaning, subtexts and even references that are not all seen by every reader. That is one of the things that makes a piece of writing sumptuous or deep. It is also one of the things that make it most accessible, though that might at first seem contradictory.  But I feel that  the more there is to something, the more likely it is that each person will find something in it for them.  And I think that we can apply that to Scripture as well.

We get into enormous trouble when we decide that Scripture is simple, or has only one level of meaning. This is why prooftexting (using one piece of the Bible out of context to show something is true) can be very dangerous. Because the oral traditions of storytelling on which a great deal of the books that make up our Bible are based, are rich in meaning. They are often metaphorical as well as literal, full of analogy, poetic wisdom, and the depths of story and even myth, that most modern spiritual texts lack.  Our theology has become, in places, very one dimensional and exact, and this is not good for us or our Church.

Jesus understood this well, which is one of the reasons he mostly taught in parables. Even when he did preach a kind of sermon, he did not make things terribly clear. His words are mysteries full of depth, waiting for us to dive in and discover the pearls of wisdom and meaning.  He also doubtless understood that human beings are wired for story. It is how we pass on everything we have learned about life. Or at least it used to be.

Most of you know I am a writer and although I write what can be called “theology,” I also write a lot of stories, parables and fables. Because in these, I can express things that clarity and simple clinical meaning just cannot contain.  Even in my more scholarly moments (which are thankfully few and far between) I cannot help but use metaphor. Because this is the only possible way to approach the wonders of the Christ mystery. I also never hesitate to use a long word, if it is the right word.

I love the accessibility of Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrased Bible, because it helps bring people into the Word of God, but I should be rather sad if those people did not then go on to explore the wonderful translations we have. But I’m not for style over substance. I’m not a fan of the King James Version really, because although musical and elegant in many places, it was translated from the Latin and a lot of the original sense has inevitably been misplaced here and there. I would rather read the ESV or the NIV, given the balance of good scholarship and attention to literary language. I think that beauty has its own meaning and adds something unfathomable to the mix.

Pretty much everything I write flows out of prayer, whether that is contemplation, or meditating on texts, or the gifts of story or seeing that I receive. And so, finding the apposite words or expressions to communicate all of that can be quite a task. And the words don’t need to be long, and simplicity can be an elegant part of that too. Being pretentious is a terrible thing, that is not our aim! But what we will not be doing here at Lakelight, or indeed in our writing or poetry, is purposely making things shallow or transparent, or indeed, soporific, when they cry out to be deep, difficult or multi-faceted.  We believe in the richness of words to bring people into holy encounter, and will let them speak for themselves.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Picture from Pixabay

On Not Forgetting

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Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we traditionally think on the sacrifice made by servicemen, women and animals in wartime, who have bought the peace we live in at a horrendous price. I am a pacifist, but it doesn’t stop me being grateful, overwhelmed and sad, at the sacrifices that have been made. I have every respect for those who laid down their lives.  This year, it’s all a little more poignant for me, as I am finishing up a novel I’ve spent 2017 writing, set in England during WW1. It focuses on the experience of bereaved women, but the research has been harrowing to say the least.

Another thing that has brought the reality of loss home to me is the recent discovery that my husband’s great grandfather died in France in March 1918. His name was Frank Hunt and his name is engraved on the the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery.  He is just one name among hundreds of thousands of British troops killed of course, but sometimes just that one person and their connection to you, can be a revelation that opens up our compassion, when a heart cannot cope with the legions of deaths from both World Wars and more.

“Lest we Forget” is the constant refrain on Armistice and Remembrance Days. It seems impossible that we ever would. And yet, today we are still dealing with the phenomenon of Holocaust deniers, the rise of the far right, yet again, and the lack of respect on all political “sides”, for those who have fought, been injured or died for their countries. Even the very liberal left have their strange rhetoric about remembrance glorifying war, which is horribly disrespectful, I feel. One can be sad about the losses and grateful for the sacrifice without condoning violence. One can believe war is the wrong way to go about solving problems and yet still be respectful of the suffering of those who went to fight and die, often without any idea of the horrors they were being sent into.

We are still at war of course, a seemingly unending mess of bloody conflicts in the Middle and near East since the First Gulf War began in 1991. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Serbia, Rwanda and all those  conflicts, deemed somehow lesser by the media that we hear little about in our news stories, all the tribal conflicts and border disputes, and in a smaller way in our everyday lives, the wars between race, gender, sexualities, political parties, even church denominations.  Fighting, it seems, is in our blood.

But we should take heart that part of the human condition is also reflecting the Father’s character and the Son’s sacrifice. That wherever there is conflict, there are also diplomats, medics and chaplains. That there are always, somehow, people willing to stand up to evil ideologies and megalomaniacs. That there are always truth tellers, dream-mongers and peacemakers, like Gandhi and Desmond Tutu, as well as social activists seeking to bring about a lasting and level playing field, like Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.  And when we remember the millions of people who have died in war, both military and civilian casualties, as well as those affected, traumatised, injured or bereaved because of conflict, we do well to honour their sacrifice, their losses and their journey. If we deny this, or choose to forget, we may never learn to change course. May we always remember, and let it lead us to do everything we can to foster peace.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Artwork © by R. R. Wyatt

On Not Being in a Hurry

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One thing God never is, it seems, is in a rush. He is quite happy to announce plans to his people that will come to fruition in forty years’ time, or to his prophets, in hundreds of years’ time. The rescue for those in exile in Babylon was so long in coming that Daniel was the only one still bothering to work out that things were a bit behind schedule. Help does not always appear to come swiftly, and promised progeny can arrive so late in life as to be utterly laughable in human terms. Isaac means “he laughs” and though it is Sarah who is berated for laughing at the idea of a child, both she and Abraham did so.

The trouble is that we usually are in a hurry. And mostly this is because we are thinking in terms of the timescale of our human lives, which are so often nasty, brutish and short (as Hobbes would have it). God’s timescale is an overreaching and all-inclusive one. He is always looking at the eternal picture. As Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)

Looking at things with an eternal eye is unsurprisingly difficult for us humans, especially if we aren’t really that invested in the idea of eternal life, more so if we are suffering horribly. We want the pain, the difficulty, the trials and troubles to end as soon as possible, so that we can get on with all that living we’ve got to do. We fail to see that sometimes that very pain and strife is the living we’ve got to do.

Paul puts our present troubles and lives in perspective: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18 NIV) And lest we think he is guilty of not being grounded in reality, we must remember that some of the “light and momentary” problems he has endured up to this point include being shipwrecked, imprisoned, and stoned until his persecutors thought he was dead.

Our focus needs to be on the bigger picture, even when we are having a dreadful time. Paul wasn’t seeking refuge from his troubles. It would not have surprised him in the least to know he would die a martyr’s death. And whilst this is not what we should be seeking, because frankly there are enough torments in life that seek us out without us going looking for them, it should not throw us off balance or damage our faith in the goodness of God.

These verses and others like it are one of the reasons I tend to be a bit dubious of those who teach mindfulness as the most important basis for spiritual living. Jesus himself told us to only worry about today, and being present to what is happening right here and now is necessary, especially when it prevents us from concern and angst that isn’t helpful. But it is not only the present that is important, and it is impossible for human beings to exist solely in the now, however hard we might try. We are built for eternity, not in our physical bodies, but in Spirit, and looking at things with that in mind is important.

For one thing, it helps us to understand the mind of Christ that Paul tells the Corinthians in his first letter, believers have access to (1 Corinthians 2:16). For another, it helps us bear our trials to know that we do not suffer without purpose. God sees things differently than we do, and time is one of the ways this manifests itself. Waiting, patience, these are all part of the learning curve for Christians, or any spiritual seeker. When we feel God is taking his sweet time, we do well to remember the verse before the one I first quoted above, from Peter’s second letter to the Church in Asia Minor:

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

On Not Being Perfect

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All serious spiritual seekers will carry some version of Jacob’s limp or Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It is often, but not always, physical, and it will show fully our weakness and humanity, at the same time as a deep well of grace. This is how we each carry the Christ wound.

For this reason alone, we should not look to the veneered teeth glinting in the spray-tanned face, but to the “scum of the earth” apostles (as described in 1 Corinthians 4), who preach God’s love from sickbeds, wheelchairs, poverty, crutches, depression and whilst admitting to their battle with alcohol, anger or jealousy. One of my favourite teachers, Brennan Manning, called us all in our loved imperfection, “ragamuffins.”

Broken preachers, who know their own brokenness well, who are unafraid of it, talk, not of their perfection, nor of how we might emulate them; but of how suffering and living in this hurting world can offer a gateway into knowing God and his unimaginable love. They know that instead of having reached the top of the ladder, they have learned how to stand at the bottom, holding it steady for others.

Jesus told us to “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) but before we gallop off into striving to be flawless, we should know that the word perfect here in the Greek is teleioi/teleios, the sense of which is much more about being mature and whole, literally “fully-developed,” than without fault. It is, as I understand it, an encouragement to be ourselves, to grow into completion, to be the best you or the best me that we can be. We can follow this instruction whilst still carrying an awareness of our sins and a desire to change.

Frequently the cross we each bear is the knowing of our own failings, and the resurrection life that we embody (crucially at the same time) allows God to shine through them. Like the risen Christ before Thomas, we can say, here, see for yourself: “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)   My wounds are real, our teachers say with Christ, but even more astonishing is the new life that God has given me through them, and not in spite of them.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Worshipping at the Front by R. R. Wyatt

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Worship is about how we show reverence and adoration for God. God loves to hear us sing to him, he loves to hear us offer him praise and adoration. This isn’t a tyrant’s delusional order to be adored by an oppressed people, it is the desire of a supreme loving father, listening to the love of his children.

During our times of worship, we sing our songs to our God, to the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in blessed adoration, and as the office says, it is right to give thanks and praise. This should be one of the purist things on our journey with Jesus to the eternal love of God, it should come from the deepest level of our hearts, our beings and very souls. No pretence should be on show, the spotlight should remain on God, no voice should shine above others, or be hidden under a bushel. The tone-deaf should sing with the trained soprano as each will complement the other.

The problem is that something so basically pure and reverent, something the youngest child or elderly stalwart can take part in, can be easily tainted and abused by ego and by the turning of it into an idol, pulling the song from God to our own ends. This is wrong, and it breaks a bond we have with Him and tears us away from a joyful connection with our father.

I have been privileged to be a worship leader in many churches as well as being a musician in a number of worship bands and during those times I have made some observations about worship.

 

  1. The Prominence of the Band/Leader

Worship bands over the years have crept more and more into being the focal point of a church and worship leaders have leaned into the limelight, occasionally evolving into near popstars revelling in the adoration aimed, no longer at God, but at them. This is not to say all are like this, thankfully that is not the case, but even one is wrong. I have been in a church where the altar of Christ has become a table for guitar cases, the communion paraphernalia pushed aside. The altar moved aside to accommodate a band, the cross on the wall replaced by a multi-media screen as it seems song sheets and hymn books are no longer viable in this instant world. The leader stands centre stage, all eyes on them as they engage in the sack-cloth and ashes stage of worship, suffering from “look how pious I am” syndrome.

In case we have forgotten (and sadly, many of us have) the Altar is the reason the church building exists. It is the sacred meeting place between humanity and God. Once we start to diminish its symbolism or importance as the central point of our services, we have lost the plot.

I have long advocated for worship bands to be at the back of the church, unseen so that ego can be left at home, unneeded. In this day and age, almost all churches have PA systems so it doesn’t matter where the band are, the congregation will hear them. No need then to be distracted looking at a worship leader in order to be ‘led’ into connecting with God through song.

 

  1. Vacuous Songs

Some contemporary Christian music is of course both wonderful and beautiful. There are some truly God-breathed worship songs being written for inclusion in the band repertoire but sadly I feel that they are the exception rather than the norm.

Our Worship times have become a time of singing the ‘latest’ songs, songs that are at best vacuous, at worst unbearably clichéd and badly written. The whole has become formulaic, each song a careful recipe which keeps it identical to the last that was written and so on, and the worship times also follow an identical pattern. All of which, however well meaning, is actually drawing people away from an intimate time with God rather than into one. God doesn’t need worship leaders to lead his children to him, our hubris is such that we feel it is our job to do. Leading worship should be far more a servanthood role, facilitating the worship of the congregation.

Old hymns are treated as embarrassments these days. Some get the rock treatment and I have to admit a rousing, guitar driven rendition of How Great Thou Art can be great for the soul. But what a shame that all these wonderful, poetic, scripture infused songs and beautiful organ music so often have to make way for badly written pap. What a shame we are being deprived of this richness.

 

  1. Formulaic Worship Times

I have already mentioned about moving the band from the front of the church but what about changing the way we worship altogether? The formulaic Sunday morning times of worship have become stale, the amount of people that chat through worship is incredible. In my view these people are bored, not bored with praising God but with the never-changing cycle of songs, faux prayers and drops (where the band drop out so it is just the leader being prayerful over a quiet guitar or synthesizer), then back into a rousing song, rinse and repeat ad nauseum.

One of the best worship times I have ever been in was spontaneous and had no instruments at all. An old lady started singing Amazing Grace, and everyone around joined in, Christian and non-Christian alike, tears flowed and everyone sensed a real presence of God, something that often seems to be lacking on a Sunday morning.

Another great time of corporate Worship I’ve enjoyed is a style by Graham Kendrick, whose band I have had the pleasure of playing in, called Psalm Surfing. Singing through the Psalms with Spirit-led improvisation on instruments, singing the songs of God in a raw, unrefined way in the true untamed spirit of God. I like the untamed being a Celt, so of course this style of doing things makes sense to me.

 

In conclusion, my heart is not to tear apart the worship times, leaders and music from our churches, but to try and see a way to increase the value of genuine worship in church, increasing the connection to God and releasing the souls of the singers. I do feel a direction shift is needed and that God should return to the centre, as Matt Redman sang, The Heart of Worship. Let’s offer God some new songs but also get back to the hymns of old, sing again the Psalms, not fear lamenting or crying or raging. Let’s be untamed spirits giving ALL the glory to God.

 

John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 

© R. R. Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Not Trying Very Hard

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A number of times lately I’ve seen memes or quotes on social media telling me that God can sort my life out if I knuckle down, keep at it, or work hard. Transformation, it appears, is totally in my hands. But this just isn’t true, because, here is something a little shocking to some: the work ethic has no place in Christianity. That rocks our insides doesn’t it, that place deep down that’s been brought up on “God helps those who help themselves”?   What I have found, both in my own spiritual journey and in my reading of scripture, is that one of the things most likely to get in the way of our maturing in the faith is our own striving. Striving absolutely negates the power of grace in our lives. It’s not that God wants us to be lazy, this too is to miss the point. He wants us to understand that anything we try to do out of our own power and capabilities is doomed to failure, or will simply lead us further into the mire. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus tells us (John 15:5).

One of the Parables Jesus tells that most confuses and upsets people, including those he told it to originally, is the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. We find it unfair and unjust that someone who has only done five minutes work gets paid the same as those who have been slaving away under the hot sun all day. It grates. But this is to misunderstand the nature of mercy, and the quality of God’s generosity. It is part of his loving perfection to give without counting, to bestow without expecting anything in return. He gives, and we receive. That is the only heavenly transaction. For what do we have to give that can enhance the maker of all things? And what do we have to offer that didn’t first come to us by his hand? We only choose to love him with hearts that he fashioned, and to work with time and effort that were originally given to us. All of this is flow, and it begins in love, moves in love, has its being in love and returns home to love. Talk of rewards and wages, of deserving and entitlement have absolutely nothing to do with it.

“Trying is the first step towards failure,” Homer Simpson famously said, and he is, in so many ways, spot on. We don’t become more holy, more in tune with God, more like him, by any effort of our own, but by giving ourselves up to him. We grow into God by letting go, not by grabbing hold. We must decrease, he must increase, just as John the Baptist described. And so, it is not about trying, but focussing on the one needful thing, setting our eyes, hearts and minds on the threefold unity that is our Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To sit and gaze adoringly, to learn at his feet, to let her move us to her tune. If it were solely about putting the hours and the effort in to reap kingdom results, then pastors and ministers would not suffer from burnouts and breakdowns.

We must learn to live in the flow of God. If we give him our empty cups, he will fill us to overflowing, though probably not in any way we were expecting. If we are only pouring out from our own resources, there will be no abundance, only exhaustion. Think of how this applies to prayer. If we screw up our eyes as tightly as we can, and really try hard, will that get us any closer to the Lord? We are more likely to give ourselves a headache. Better to relax, to say, “Your will, not mine,” and surrender to the gift of his presence. Hearing the still, small voice is not about straining to hear, but about becoming open and aware enough to notice it beneath the roar of the world. When we release all our neediness, we will find the one thing we truly need.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Picture from Pixabay

On Not Counting

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One of the problems with the internet, and especially social media, is that there isn’t a lot of room to say anything. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and are just glorified soundbites, tiny excerpts, or very small doorways into very small presidential minds. Facebook now diminishes your font if you go over the same quota, and it isn’t very long before you hit the limit that means readers will have to click on the dreaded “see more,” and of course, most won’t bother.

Emails are meant to be concise and so blogs are perhaps the last bastion of real writing on the net. But writers are even encouraged to keep these short, for fear of losing the attention of those all-important followers. Have you noticed, as well, that “articles” in online newspapers barely deserve the word, being, quite often two or three hundred words spliced here and there by adverts?

Is it any wonder then, that the attention spans of the young, trained to talk in predictive text, are shrinking, and that they can, often, barely get the words out? Is it a surprise that they struggle to express themselves? I know full well that the main reason I can form a long sentence (oh yes, I hear you cry, we know you can do that alright!) is because I’ve always been a reader. You don’t become a writer, certainly not a half-decent one, without a passion for reading.

What has this to do with Lakelight? Well, it has to do with our heart for God’s Word and for saying what needs to be said. It has to do with a whole ethos which is not about counting anything except maybe blessings. Because God’s outpourings are generous and abundant. I’ve been a very sick woman for the last twenty years, and yet, God has been pouring out stories and seeings, pictures and prayers through me that arrive in such torrents I don’t think I’ll ever get them all written out even if I live to be a hundred. And when I tentatively suggest to him that I’ve probably got enough to keep me going now, he opens up his storehouses and his magnanimous heart, and gives me even more!

Truly, my cup runneth over. Not with worldly things, possessions, influence, health or money, that’s true. But spiritually and in the world of words and art, I often sense that living water, that wellspring that Jesus said would flow out of a person’s “koilia” (John 7: 38) meaning inner place, belly, soul or even womb, is constantly rising. I’ve not had children, but I am having books, and I mean to give them all the space they need.

The same goes for how much time is given. I was in a church once where the edict was pronounced that people were to have ten minutes maximum in ministry time, because it was taking too long. If you need longer than that, we were told, then you have a bigger problem than we can deal with in prayer and we’ll have to arrange a longer session outside of the service. Quite how that longer time was going to be given was not discussed. I was rather horrified. Not because I ever took that long when I was well enough to stay for prayer ministry, but because putting time limits on God and on people’s needs is just wrong. So is assuming you know what God can do with very little. I’m all for guidelines on sermon lengths, believe me, because some of them would have trouble being condensed to 140 characters of any real meaning, and others are wonderful and need to be expanded into a series. But measuring out ministry?

With God, things take as long as they take. They are as big or small, as wide or tall as they need to be. Yes, we’re human and we have schedules. Nobody wants to read a blog the length of a novel, and those of us blessed to be able to get to church on a Sunday morning want to be home in time to get the roast in the oven. That’s understood. But within all of that there needs to be leeway, flexibility, openness. It’s okay to take time to say what you have to say. It’s okay to need more than a paragraph to pour out your heart. It’s good to feel heard and valued, and to experience and give out ministry without it feeling like a conveyor belt of neediness. It’s good to give God space to be generous. In my experience, when we do that, we may be flooded with blessings.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Being History Makers

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There are lots of self-discovery books and courses out there in the wide world. Some of the Christian ones are worth a look. When younger, I found John Ortberg’s “The Me I Always wanted to be” helpful as well as Bruce Wilkinson’s “The Dream Giver,” Joyce Meyer’s “How to Succeed at Being Yourself: Finding the Confidence to Fulfil Your Destiny” and Rick Warren’s ubiquitous “The Purpose Driven Life”. But I would caution people against getting gung-ho about pursuing their identity and purpose in the Lord. For just as it worries me to see churches investing so much time and energy in mission statements and vision steering committees instead of studying Acts and investing in unity, discipleship, mission and prayer; so it worries me too that many spiritual writers seem to think that we need to ask God for a mountain to climb, a hard path to travel or a monster to slay. Besides which, I want to be the me God wants me to be. That might be something quite different than I imagine. And my “destiny” might be to just sit in this room and pray a couple of times a day. It’s not often stuff that would make Cecil B. De Mille drool, is it, this life?

No, the Christian path, it seems to me, is quite hard enough as it is. The Lord and his guidance are easier to find if you approach them with a humble heart, meekly and in the knowledge that if there’s a mountain to climb, he will show you the way to the foothills first. Likewise, if there’s a great task to be accomplished, it will begin most likely in frustration, with a need for faith and trust. Let’s not rush things and ask for great things to do, we shall only fall at the first hurdle and feel like idiots. God shall say gently, “See?” and pick us up from the dust. Only give him your heart and your will, and all shall become clear. These are small and difficult enough beginnings.

Besides which, our destinies may end up looking from the outside, far less dramatic than some modern texts would have us believe. Let us not forget that Jesus described our role in the world as that of yeast and salt; unseen and unnoticed influences for the most part. Yeast works slowly and steadily to change things, it does not announce its presence from mountaintops.   Christians are most noticeable, for the most part, by their absence. A wonderful exposition of this point is found in Dennis Lennon’s book “Weak enough for God to use.”

We are inclined to look over the head of the commonplace, searching for divine fireworks in the night sky. But the Creator loves his Creation and honours it by coming to us clothed in its familiar ordinariness.”

For some of us, the heroics of the day will be getting our elderly mother onto the commode, or biting our anger back when she accuses us of eating the dessert she had half an hour ago and now cannot remember eating. The legacy we leave the world might be the patience and kindness we show when our alcoholic brother has snuck out of the house with our credit card for the fourteenth time. The good example we lead by could be the silence we choose not to fill with raging expletives in front of the children when their new puppy has shredded the cushions again. These might seem like small things, but they are not. It is in these holdings and gentlings, this giving space and forgiveness, that we are being Christlike, rather than in any great visible achievement.

This is why real love is our greatest teacher. Not the romantic ideal of fairy tales, or the apparent perfection touted on the cover of Hello magazine, but the down-in-the-depths, dealing with chronic illness, trying to do our best by people who will never appreciate it, thinking of small kindnesses, saying prayers for which no-one will ever congratulate us, sitting with someone we have never seen before or will ever see again whilst they wait for an ambulance, listening to the same story ten times in one hour from a loved one with Alzheimer’s and smiling with them each time, kind of love. These are opportunities to be ambassadors for Christ, and when we miss them, we miss some of the greatest chances we will ever have to grow in love.

Each tiny act of kindness, of calming our own inner turmoil before replying, of counting to ten and smiling, these are the stones, or even pebbles* on which Christ builds his church. I do not find it helpful when we are made to feel failures because we have not become missionaries in Lesotho or surgeons working for Médicins Sans Frontières, or when we read something that makes us feel like we missed our vocation in life because we didn’t get ordained or write a thesis on transubstantiation. Whilst all those things are wonderful, most of us aren’t going to be doing that. And that’s okay, and we didn’t necessarily get it wrong or miss the way.

We have ample chances each day to live out the love of God, and some of them we’ll miss. Others we’ll hit out of the ball park and no-one but him will see. It is not about being seen. It’s about the loving. And in that loving, we become the Body of Christ, a very real ordinary flesh becoming sacred “transubstantiation” ourselves. We may never be mentioned in the history books, but our names are written in another book, and that one will turn out to be far more important.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

(this piece was adapted from a section in my 2015 book, “Positive Sisterhood”).

 

*When Jesus renames Simon as Peter, he uses the word petros, meaning a small rock or pebble, such as might be found along a road, but then goes on to use the word petra, meaning a mass or foundation of rock, in the same sentence, as the base on which he will build the Church. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18 NIV