I've spent a fair amount of time this week handing out beermats similar in style to the image above. Sometimes I was wearing a dog collar, and people expressed shock that a vicar should be distributing such material. The headline reads 'Natasha's been a naughty girls', and the text below says,
She tried to escape from her traffickers. Instead she was imprisoned, beaten and forced to have sex with up to forty men a day. Her pimp says he will kill her baby if she tries it again.
The truth isn't sexy.
It's a campaign against sex trafficking led by a small group of inspired volunteers from the UK emerging church network. On Saturday they oprganised a 'pub crawl' in Croydon, and I went along. Instead of drinking lots of beer, we offered campaign beer mats and posters to the managers of each of the pubs we stopped at. My group visited eleven pubs, and nine took beer mats. In the other two, the manager was out, and the staff didn't have the authority to take them. No-one refused point-blank.
I've just spent the last couple of days at the chaplaincy stand at the Freshers Fair at Thames Valley University in Ealing. As well as telling people about the chaplaincy, I handed out TTIS beer mats, and got into a lot of conversations about sex trafficking. It got the message about sex trafficking out to a lot of students, and it was an effective piece of chaplaincy work as well; everyone knows that I'm the chaplain, and something of what I stand for.
The next pub crawl is in Ealing on Saturday 17th November, beginning at 11:30. It's being organised by The Truth Isn't Sexy in conjunction with Grace and the TVU Chaplaincy. I'll post more details on the blog when I have them. Everyone is welcome, provided you are old enough to enter a pub.
know that it would come out right?
as he stood,
his rigidity involuntary
did he know he had
a window in his diary
between friday and sunday,
brief and delimited,
did he know
that god was in his heaven, in charge in control and that these present sufferings counted as nothing?
or did jesus,
as he hung there,
his life draining away,
did he face the abyss
and see himself
beyond the attention of god?
did he reach the limit
of his self-
and his Self-belief?
did the idea
that he would save the world
appear the supreme egotism?
did he wish he’d settled down,
had a kid,
joined the family business
(the other family business)?
my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?
the unassumed is the unhealed
said gregory of nazianzus
i find the answer to these questions
when i look into myself
poverty of faith
frailty of conviction
bare flickering of hope
and selfishness of ambition.
how could anyone save me
without taking these human experiences
and annealing them in the fire of god?
On Saturday evening I took part in Grace's service Nine, based on the traditional service of nine lessons and carols, only without the carols. A different person or group took each reading, and contributed something to accompany it and a piece of music. I took the third reading, Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7), and followed it with a reflection about our attempts to tame the Christmas story, and the song wonder by Lamb. Here's the reflection;
We’re like the kid who puts her hand up to answer a question in the old Sunday School gag. She says, “I know the answer must be Jesus, but it does sound like a squirrel.”
We hear the words light and child and instantly imagine baby Jesus laying in a manger. The reading comes round every Christmas tucked between carols, and we skip over three verses in the middle of the prophecy that don’t sound so Jesusy. We can hardly imagine the wonder and longing felt by the people that first heard Isaiah’s prophecy. We know what this light is like; we’ve got it wrapped up; tighter than any present.
The people walking in darkness…
What do us city dwellers know about darkness? To us, darkness is yellow. It’s the colour of sodium street lights. It drains the world of colour but not of detail.
What would it be like to see… nothing?
To feel isolated and alone?
To live under the control of empires and powers too strong to oppose?
To long for change, but fear to hope that change is possible?
To lose confidence that God has any power to alter the world?
But darkness is also a place of concealment.
A place where we can mask our true selves.
A place to hide the things we don’t like about us.
Perhaps we know darkness after all.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…
Ah yes, the light. We know about that! The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes. But little lord Jesus no crying he makes. But this baby is also the light of the world. The harsh light of day, penetrator of dark corners, revealer of blind spots who tramples on rose-tinted glasses and heals jaundiced eyes.
This is the light that will not be tamed, controlled or confined. We coo and cluck over the baby in the manger, and attempt to cut God down to size, and make him in our image. For what could be dangerous about a tiny child? Yet the coming light will overturn empires, rule with justice and righteousness, see into the heart of us and save the world. God was born as a boy and made his dwelling among us. That doesn’t mean that because we know babies, we know all there is to know about God.
So watch and prepare for the coming of the light. Greet the coming with joy, and also fear.
Watch and wait. Expect to be surprised. But not comfortable.
Jonny Baker wrote an excellent article in last week's Church Times, and has now posted it on his blog.
In the article he talks about Nine, the Grace Christmas service, to be held this Saturday evening, 9th December. I'm offering the accompaniment for one of the readings. Definitely outside my comfort zone, and definitely a good thing!
I went to a main service at Grace last night. Grace is an alternative worship community based at St. Mary's Ealing. For years I've been impressed by what I've seen of them at events such as Greenbelt and The Time of Our Lives, and so the chance to join in was part of the attraction of working in Ealing. The theme of the service was 'vox', thinking about speech. At the heart of the service was a soapbox set up in a booth, on which participants were invited to give their 'great speech'. The speech was relayed, in vision only, to a screen in the main church. A fun idea that invited people to think about the importance of empowering others to speak. At least, that's what it did for me. It's significant that no-one explained what this action was supposed to mean. It was multi-vocal, open to as many interpretations as there are participants. It's equally valid to interpret it as an image of God speaking his creative word into the darkness, or simply as an invitation to consider what you consider important enough to make a speech about. The rest of the service consisted of three workshops on God's speech, non-verbal speech, and speaking for justice. These felt a little fragmented to me, but perhaps its just because I'm used to leading worship that is more traditionally connected.
I'm glad to be part of Grace; they are doing some genuinely exciting things in their exploration of the boundaries of church and worship. I feel quite at home.
Jonny Baker created a montage of stills from the voxpops video camera. It's called 'your great speech'.