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 Leading from the Front

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Leading from vulnerability does not usually take place on vast stages, from perfect PowerPoint presentations or from starting with an MBA. Only TED, where what is said is understood to be more important than how it is said, might be a worldly exception to this. But in the body of Christ, leading from vulnerability looks like smallness and suffering and the sharing of bread and delight in the Lord. It does not set itself impossibly high standards which it then fails to live up to, bringing the whole edifice crashing down. It sits with you, laughs with you, cries with you, and tells you about the time it sat in a deep, dark hole, to which it occasionally has to return. Spotlights are entirely absent.

Everyone in “leadership” makes mistakes, lots of them. Here at Lakelight, in so far as we are any kind of leaders at all, we want to be able to lean on you too, and admit our failings and ask for help, to be more facilitators than podium hoggers. Hold us to that, will you, please?

I saw a trailer for a Christian conference on leadership this week and it made me feel physically sick. The words “influence” “management culture” and “productivity” were used and seemed to sum up where the focus of the teaching would be, and I did not see or hear the word “God,” or even “Jesus” once.

Now, I can understand people in church leadership wanting to be good at what they do, to manage their churches and congregations well, to serve them better. There’s some healthy motivation in there somewhere. But everything about that is upside down. Churches have become businesses that need strategies, financing and management. This is a systematic failure and not one of leaders’ hearts. But teaching like this only reinforces this idea of Church as a business model, with a need for growth and targets.

We need change, and we need it to come from the ground up. Like Francis, we need to rebuild the Church. Lots of people are saying this, I’m sure. The body of Christ is an organism, not a franchise. Its needs are therefore organic, and more to do with living water and breaking bread than they are with commercial enterprise. We are necessarily a bit chaotic and vibrant, full of a Spirit who is unpin-downable and who moves mysteriously. We are not a chrome cappuccino machine, we are a cracked and leaky teapot, of more sentimental value than monetary worth. This is automatically attractive to a broken world, which does not need more shine, but more connection.

We need to come back to our roots, to stand with bare feet on the ground, hugging the earth with our soles, digging in to the mud of the ordinary with our toes, so that humility is always our foothold and our imprint.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Photo from Pixabay

 

 

 

On Not Being Happy Clappy

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Recently on Facebook I put my status as “Fed up” and added a picture of Grumpy the dwarf from Snow White. What I really wanted to say was that I was feeling heartbroken, depressed, and really missing my parents whom I haven’t seen for six months since they moved to Worcestershire. But social media just isn’t the place for vulnerability, is it? It seems too harsh a place to be real about emotions, as though your heart might just as well be sat on a stainless steel tray under bright lights and prodded by various scalpels wielded by unseen hands. But can we, as Christians, afford to be anything but real? Isn’t time (hasn’t it always been time?) to talk about depression, sickness, mental and physical suffering, poverty, trials and all other kinds of genuine difficulties that many of us face, some of us every day?

It’s not that I’m against a bit of decorum, and we do have to be careful to whom we tell our problems, since not everyone is sympathetic, and words can come out oddly and be taken badly on screen (especially when we are low), it’s just that, well, I wish I could have been a bit more real the other day with my friends. But I genuinely didn’t know how, without looking like I was fishing for sympathy. The truth is, I could have done with some. And maybe the people who would have looked askance at that and passed on by are not really my friends at all.

One of the things I want both Christians and non-Christians to receive from our ministry here at Lakelight is the understanding that living out a life of faith is not all joy and wonder, and that this is okay. A lot of it is, of course, and a lot of that lifting your hands in the air in sheer awe and happiness is perfectly genuine. But we can be in danger of making an idol out of happiness, and also in turn, of making worship all about us, and how it makes us feel.

We can also put ourselves in a position where we are afraid to admit that we are having a bad day, or that we are feeling rubbish, put upon, down, upset, burdened, lonely, weary, or any of the other totally normal human things that we’ve classed as negative. When we do feel those things, there are reasons why. There is absolutely nothing to judge. And yet we do. More often than not, the happy-clappy-let-me-deliver-you-from-the-evil-of-sadness, “turn that frown upside down” brigade exists only in my head and makes me feel guilty for feeling down without any extra help. But when it comes from outside, oh boy does that make me mad!

If you are ever worried that you are not a “good” Christian because you are suffering a bout of depression (whether clinical or not), just take a good look at the Psalms, or the book of Job. It doesn’t get any more heartrendingly real than these writings from centuries ago.

“All night long I flood my bed with weeping     and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow;     they fail because of all my foes.” Psalm 6:6-7

How’s that for a Facebook status? Well, okay, so it’s not wise to share all our woes with lots of people all in one go. Yesterday I shared mine with a dear friend, albeit also over the internet as being housebound means I couldn’t quite get to Vancouver, but it helped a lot. And we really ought to be able to say when we are struggling without fear of reproach. That is absolutely going to be part of our approach here at the Sanctuary. In fact, we will be talking a lot about suffering, because it is such a huge part of both life and faith. And if you are feeling down as you are reading this, or are overwhelmed by one problem or many, you have our empathy and solidarity. You are normal, and you are not alone.

 

Sadly we don’t have the resources to offer one-to-one help. If you need to talk to someone, in the UK please call the Samaritans: 116 123 or go to http://www.samaritans.org

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017  Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Getting out of the Boat

fishing-1245979_1920 Photo from Pixabay

(See Mark 4 and 6)

There is a phrase which I see versions of bandied about a lot in Christian circles, perhaps after the title of a John Ortberg book (which admittedly I’ve not read), “If you want to walk on water, you need to get out of the boat!” I see people term themselves “water walkers” and so forth. Where this is about growing courage and faith, that’s great, but it can also be an exercise in completely missing the point.

Does anyone ever say, we need to get out of the boat in order to sink? Which Peter also did, and which is much more character-forming, frankly. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to get out of the boat, nor did he berate the other disciples for not doing likewise.

For one thing, being in the right boat in the first place might be an idea. A great many churched Christians today have very little idea what boat they are in, if they have even the heart to have got on board, let alone the courage to climb out of it. A lot of us are still on the shore, and not even looking in Jesus’ direction. It’s not all our fault, because surprisingly, we aren’t always taught very much about the realities of discipleship.

Most people get shoved out of the boat at some point, and a lot of us are treading water or trying to climb back in. Life is hard enough without pressurising ourselves into leaping into places where only miracles can save us. Peter’s greatest example to us may be, not that he was not afraid to move out of his comfort zone, but that he was not afraid of failure. I don’t think, once he climbed back on board, that he was standing there, dripping wet, crying and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t keep the miracle afloat for long, I think he was ecstatic that he’d walked on water! He had to embrace the divinity of the miraculous and the humanity of inevitable failure within moments of each other. Perhaps this gave him more insight into the nature of his Messiah. It was not about an achievement, but about learning.

We do all need to try to walk on water perhaps, but only because we shan’t find out who we are or what really matters to us until we fail, and sink, and reach out to grab whatever means the most to us. For Peter, it was an experience, not only of a brief victory, but of seeing his own weakness right before his very eyes and needing to reach out to Jesus. Failure is an immensely powerful teacher (I should know) and the spiritual road we travel as followers of Jesus, if we are truly committed, is strewn with it.

When Jesus was in the boat, earlier, he slept. “If you want a nice rest, climb into the stern” doesn’t have quite the same dynamic pocket devotional/house group session ring to it. But actually, didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me all you who are weary or burdened, and I will give you rest”? Can’t we know ourselves well enough to realise that there are seasons in our lives and faith journeys where what we need to do is not leap into action, but snuggle down there into the pile of cushions/coats and possibly torn fishing nets, and still be disciples? Is sleeping through the storm as courageous and miraculous an act as leaping over the side? Or am I a woman overboard?

Foundations: On Not Getting a Grip

Dear Readers,

One thing Lakelight is likely to be, is counter-cultural. The pieces we share on the blog will begin by clearing away some of the rubble and weeds that need to go before we can start to build the foundations of anything meaningful. We shall be talking as much for a while about how NOT to do things, as how to do them. Please understand that we are not being negative, that rather, space is being created for something new.

 

On Not Getting a Grip

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“Get a grip, Keren!” I found myself saying yesterday. I was suffering from anxiety and it was giving me extra physical symptoms on top of my already difficult chronic illness. I had to laugh at myself, because I’ve discovered over the years that getting any kind of grip, whether on myself, life or God, is not only impossible, but also the wrong way of going about things.

If anything, what I need to do when I feel like that is not grip tighter, but let go! We can be, spiritually, emotionally and physically, a lot like the proverbial monkey who is holding on so tightly to the peanuts in the jar, that she cannot pull her arm out. The more stubbornly we hold on, insisting that all the goodies are ours, or with an infantile faith in our certainty or entitlement, the more time we will be sat on the branch, hand stuck in jar, and unable to enjoy what’s been given to us.

What we need to do is slowly release our grip, let most of the peanuts go, and pull our hand out to enjoy one or two at a time. It’s the same with God, whom we can only grasp or comprehend in the tiniest doses, and it’s the same with the troubles we live with day by day.

Life is very rarely something we can catch by the scruff of the neck and lift up, shaking it till all the good stuff falls at our feet. It’s far more likely to be holding us! Letting go of our illusions of control, of knowing, of thinking we deserve anything, this is actually one definition of faith.

It is in our unknowing, our releasing the pressure on ourselves to perform, our understanding that we aren’t ever going to know it all, do it all, be it all, have it all, that is where our faith grows and matures. It is in scarcity and lack that we come to have an abundance of what really matters, and as usual, the Kingdom of Heaven turns a lot of what we think we know on its head.

So, what did I do yesterday to release the anxiety? I laughed at myself, I breathed long and deep, I had a bit of a cry and then prayed. All of these are good ways of letting go. Letting me go, letting God in; letting myself become smaller, him greater. Me decreasing, him increasing. It didn’t change the circumstances, there were still things to be anxious about, and today is hard too. I’ll be honest (because what’s the point of being anything else?) as I’m writing this there is a part of me that wants to throttle my screaming neighbours. But this too, I choose to let go. Deep breaths.

 

I cannot get a grip

On you Lord, or your ways

My hands clenching around

Branches of knowledge

Just slide down

Covered in oil and honey.

Exhausted, at the bottom

I finally learn

We do not arrive anywhere worth knowing

By climbing, or making fists.

 

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017