Monday, May 31, 2010

In Remembrance

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae on 3 May 1915 after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, 22 years old, the day before.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Write My Own Bible?

(An extract from 'Tales of a Magic Monastery' by Theophane the Monk)

I've been going there on retreat each year for the past forty years. Each time it's the same, yet somehow always different. The first time I went I forgot to bring my Bible. When I asked the guestmaster if I could borrow a Bible, he said,

"Wouldn't you care to write your own?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, write your own Bible - something of your own on the order of the Bible. You could tell of a classical bondage and the great liberation, a promised land, sacred songs, a messiah - that kind of thing. Ought to be much more interesting than just reading someone else's Bible. And you might learn more."

Well, I set to work. It took me a month. I never learned so much about the official Bible. When I was finished, he recommended I take it home and try to live according to it for a year. I should keep a journal of my experience. But I shouldn't tell anybody about the project, nor show anyone the books. Next year, after Christmas I could come back for another retreat.

It was quite a year. An eyeopener. Most certainly I had never put so much energy and alertness into living by the official Bible as I was putting into living by this one. And my daily meditations had never been so concentrated.

When I arrived back for my next retreat, he greeted me very warmly, took into his hands my Bible and my journal, kissed them with greatest reverence, and told me I could now spend a couple of days and nights in the Hall of the Great Fire. On the last night of the year, I should consign my two books to the flames. And that's what I did. A whole year's wisdom and labor - into the Great Fire. Afterwards he set me to work writing another Bible.

And so it went, these past forty years. Each year a new Bible, a new journal, and then at the end of the year - into the flames. Until now I have never told anyone about this.

The first time I read this tale many years ago I thought it was heretical....and then I was in a small group exercise where we tried something similar.

We wrote our 'Genesis', our origins, we reflected on our past and our family.

We wrote our 'Exodus', our journey out of captivity into freedom.

We wrote 'Psalms', our own personal lyrics of praise born out of our daily experiences.

We wrote our own 'Proverbs and Wisdom'...lessons learned from the reality of trying to walk a life of faith.

We wrote our 'Gospel and Acts', how we heard the good news and how that altered our lives.

We wrote 'Epistles' to ourselves, practical Godly advice relating to issues we were currently facing.

It was an incredibly powerful act of reflection and remembering.

One part of the tale still bothered me however. That after doing all that writing the monk is asked to consign his books to the flames and start again. It's taken me a while to realize why that is a good thing. My experience of God has altered, grown, evolved, enlarged and shifted over the years. There are beliefs and experiences I've had to grow into, and there are others I have needed to discard.

If I don't 'burn my bible', I will be in danger of always trying to recreate the the exact way my walk with God looked like when I was a teenager - back when I was right about EVERYTHING and would berate anyone until they verbally agreed with my point of view.

I will be in danger of recreating my twenties - when I was convinced that I had to hate myself for God to love me.

Even now, who I have grown into will be dangerous if I stay here. My experience of myself and of God is ever shifting as my finite mind focuses on different aspects of God's infinite reality.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My deep dark secret...

My Brother is a Morris Dancer.

There, I've said it - admitted it in public.

Many people would be embarrassed to have a Morris Dancer in the family, but not me. I am proud of my hankie waving, bell wearing, stick shaking, hop, skip and jumping brother. He is part of an English tradition that dates back to to the 14th Century according to some historians.

When I was home in the U.K. last week I was fortunate enough to witness his world debut dancing with Kemp's Men - the Norwich Morris Dancing Team.

Here are some videos of him in action (if you are reading this as a facebook note, you'll have to click 'view original post' to see them as facebook doesn't import them).


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Welcome home?

(random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

The American Immigration officer smiled at me as he handed me back my Passport and Green Card.

'Welcome Home.'

It was nice to be welcomed so warmly after so many hours travelling.

I have lived many different places in my life. Norwich. New Cross. Battersea. Nottingham. Bratislava, Birmingham. Lubbock and Houston to be precise. Each of these places I have labeled as 'Home'. Even before I moved to another country I can remember making an internal decision that the place where I was living would be called Home. Even though I just flew back from the U.K. to the place where I was born, I didn't fly 'home', as home is Houston, the Immigration Officer was correct.

This mindset didn't sit very well with my parents. They wanted me to know that even though I was moving to the U.S. 'I could always come home.'

When the house that I grew up in was sold 3 years ago, I was surprised how emotional I was. There were many memories in that house even though I hadn't lived there for many years. I walked past that house last week and it felt strange to not be able to push open the gate and walk up the driveway and in the back door.

But when the house was sold, I hadn't somehow lost 'home'.

When the airplane touched down at George Bush Intercontinental Airport I felt glad to be home even before the Immigration Officer confirmed it.

My decision to call the place I am living home was prompted by the realization that if I do that then I will spend a lot less time feeling 'homesick'. I sometimes miss things from the U.K. but I'm not really homesick, I am connected to people through the Internet, and I can get most of the products I miss. (Though if anyone finds out a place in Houston that sells Jelly Babies let me know)

When I was a child at camp we used to sing a song that went as follows:

This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through
My treasure is laid up, way beyond the blue
The Savior beckons me from Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

I struggle with this song. I do feel at home in this world, I'm not homesick for Heaven, yes I'm looking forward to being reunited with loved ones there, but my relationship with Jesus is more than just a golden ticket to enter through the pearly gates. There is a genre of Christian music that expresses the sentiment of 'When we all get to heaven it will be o.k.' That is true, but it should not make me complacent to the injustices of this world.

We pray 'on earth as it is in Heaven', I want my earthly home to be a reflection of my heavenly one.

My view of 'home' needs to expand to contain all the glories of Heaven.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

April Games

April was a good month with 47 games played of 27 different games! Here are some of the highlights of the month.

Hive is still in the lead with 6 plays in April. It's been one of my tops games every month so far and I don't see the obsession slowing down soon. By contrast my top played game of last year Dominion has not hit the table this year yet. I am off to the U.K. tomorrow, I've already sent my family over there the game Dominion, so that will hit the table, and I've just thrown Hive in my suitcase too :)

Werewolf has hit the table again in April, but another one of my current obsessions is the game Sticheln I've heard various theories about the name of this game, apparently it is a German pun that doesn't really translate. I believe the name is a sort of pun -- "sticheln", as I understand it, means "to prick", while "Stich" is the word for "trick" (the card game version.) Imagine a trick taking game where a) you don't have to follow the suit that was led and b) every card that is not the same as the color led is instantly trump! Then add a crazy scoring system that makes it very easy to get negative points and you get some of the painful enjoyment that is Sticheln. The game play is very interactive and you often have to choose between giving yourself a few positive points or giving a lot of negative points to a competitor :)

Dixit is almost at the other end of the spectrum to Sticheln. Yes there is a game here complete with keeping score, but your score seems almost irrelevant to the fun of the game. The cards feature some of the most beautiful artwork I have seen.

Through the Ages
is not the sort of game I normally enjoy.
A full game usually takes about 3 1/2 hours and involves guiding your civilization through various eras. Helping them learn new Technology and develop Art and Religion and Warfare. I think what appeals to me in this game more than some of the others I have played is that it feels a bit more like multi-player solitaire than a pitched battle. Yes you can attack other players, but that is not the central theme of the game. Each turn I am trying to discern how to maximize my civilization given the various options presented to me.
It's strange, I like Sticheln because it features a lot of 'mess with your opponent' opportunities while I like Through the Ages because it doesn't!

Storms at Sea

Jesus Calms the Storm by Rembrandt

Storms happen.

Life is not always clear blue skies and white fluffy clouds. Growing up in the U.K. I experienced a lot of rain (though not as much as the stereotypes portray). I learned to label sunny dry days as good, and wet rainy days as bad.

Then I moved to the arid lands of West Texas. Lubbock once went 98 days without a drop of rain. Suddenly the dry days were ‘bad’ and when the storm eventually hit it was ‘good’.

Storms on the Sea of Galilee were common. The geography of the area combined with the shallowness of the water meant that storms occurred frequently. We only read about a few storms in the Gospels, and they all have some kind of supernatural phenomenon attached to them, Jesus calming the storm, Jesus walking on the water. I don’t think Jesus calmed every storm he was caught in. He certainly didn’t heal every person who was brought to him.

Storms are not good and bad in themselves, I might label them that way because of how I think they help or hinder me, but of themselves they are morally neutral. I also have a tendency to label how I encounter God in the storm. If God calms the storm or if I encounter Him in the midst of it then its ‘good’, but if the storm just takes its natural course then it is ‘bad’.

I wonder if the disciples ever got frustrated in a stormy sea crossing ‘Jesus, you calmed that last storm, why won’t you calm this one? Don’t you care about us anymore? We might drown!’

Sometimes I encounter God in the midst of the storm, sometimes I encounter God when he calms the storm, and sometimes the storm continues unabated and I don’t get that fuzzy feeling that I have come to label as ‘the Presence of God’. But that doesn’t mean God is absent, it just means I have to look closer at what I categorize as an encounter with God.

The sun is always there shining, even when a passing storm obscures it from view and prevents me from feeling its warmth. I was involved in a worship service last weekend and at the end of the event one of the singers in the band said ‘Wow, God was really present tonight, couldn’t you just feel it?’ I said nothing, but internally my reaction was ‘No I couldn’t. I was tucked at the back of the platform concentrating hard to play music that I only learned the day before. I was more concerned with whether I was playing the correct chord than whether I had a feeling of God.’ But just because I could not feel him did not mean God was absent.

God was present.

God is present.

God is always present.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
(Psalm 139: 7-12)

Storms happen.

When the storm suddenly becomes calm – God is present.
When I see a figure walking towards me across the waves – God is present.
When the storm continues to rage around me – God is present.

Whatever you are walking through right now, God is present.