Once a year

Ever wanted to get to see the notes that were made as a result of that annual appraisal you had? Or rather not see it at all? Of course not all appraisals are 100% accurate but I have checked out with the person in question and have their permission to highlight here some of the key notes. This appraisal was always going to be fairly significant as it was not simply an annual one but it marked the end of their 9th season of 7.

Some glaring weaknesses came out. A tendency toward arrogance marked by an assumption that they already know better, or already have enough knowledge, compounded by an over-developed independence produced at best some strong convictions and at worst a slowness to learn. It is clear that not all people find working in team easy!

I had to mark their communication skills down mainly because of what seems to be an inability to really listen. This was disappointing as they should be able to make a bigger contribution to conversation and been a greater encourager. It seems also that they have moved on too quickly from their mistakes so have not learnt as much as they could resulting in less wisdom that could have been helpful to others.

Positively they remain focused seeking to keep distractions at bay and giving priority to activities that are at the centre of their vision statement. I hope that aspect remains and if they can embrace the critique of their weaknesses their continual small contribution should prove valuable.

I had one suggestion to make to them and that was to consider the next 30 years and what they might wish to focus on: people, places, historic events and current situations. That if they drew up some big brush strokes it would give a greater clarity to the immediate. I am aware in giving them the challenge of 30 years there might not be another 30 years of annual appraisals for them, however I suspect if they can do this it could well open up space for others.

Appraisals are a mixed bag! This person could be discouraged (I hear them say ‘surely there is something more on the positive side?’), they could argue their case, blame others… It will be interesting to see how they respond.

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We beheld his glory

We beheld his glory, full of…

John suggests that his glory had content. The glory was more than an existential experience. It was touchable and touchable in an observable way. So time to look up the Greek text and come up with a good translation? How about:

His glory was full of grey – and black and white…

Not really suggesting that is the translation, and I do not want to cheapen the word ‘grace’, so tentatively am going to run with ‘grey’ to make it very concrete. If we use the word ‘grace’ it can be religionised away and truth – well we all know what that is. In a recent post I suggested that we are better to be solution focused rather than answer focused and this is a kind of follow on. So forgive me for the translation!

The classic response of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery: ‘I do not condemn you’ shows a measure of greyness. Grey / grace was the solution to the situation that was a bad one from the start. The deck was stacked against the woman (where was the man?). There was probably the prevailing belief that the woman was the seductress and so what else was the man meant to do. That belief skews any judgement, even a judgement based on biblical texts. We face situations that should never have occurred, but we face them because they started out wrong. Our true judgement does not get us too far with many of those situations. The wealthy person walking past the person sitting on the street and refusing to part with a few coins as they will only use it to buy booze or drugs… yes we can walk past and then at the weekend go and buy some booze, and now even more sadly drugs as well. The black and white judgement against the ‘sinner’ just does not always cut it as there are so many other factors.

Tighten legislation against abortion might well be necessary, but when there is such a connection between abortions and social deprivation, we can tick the box of ‘right move’ but not go deep enough. Grey… not pretty.

I like the word ‘grace’, a nice theological category but grey – I just don’t like it. Yet so many situations that God comes to he comes into the situation that was started wrong, and the solution is sometimes a grey. He walked among us, he did not set out rules from a position away from us. He touched what was wrong, and in touching it solutions, ways forward were manifest. Glory is not to be pushed simply into the transcendent realm of out there and up there somewhere. Maybe though we think that is the only realm where glory is found because we are not able to allow it to manifest among us. He (Jesus) walked and we saw glory… we saw again and again a greyness to those on the margins. They did not face a strong ‘repentance’ call, but words of hope. Grey is not the colour of religion!

Grey, strangely a mixture of black and white. His glory full of grey, but stick with it and we will see that he is not pushing ‘anything goes’ as a response. In the midst of it all there was a black and white (truth). How anyone can hold that together is a mystery, and whenever it takes place, for sure, we see ‘glory’.

Show us your glory is a great cry. Show your glory through me is a most challenging pathway. Truth / black and white will be involved I am sure, but right at the forefront, the leading edge will be grey.

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Memories remembered

Just under a year ago in our journeys around Spain we visited the city of Badajoz, in the west of Spain just a few kilometres from the Portuguese border. We were provoked to go there during the many months we had travelled seeking to pray into the history of the Muslim expulsions in Spain. We aimed to finish in Gibraltar as that was the entry point in 711AD, and were there over the weekend of September 10th. We had not planned to go to Badajoz but in a dream we had a passionate request:

But do not forget Badajoz and the life threatening storm that is coming there tonight. (Post on the dream in Tarifa/).

When we went to Badajoz we were not ready for what we experienced. It was truly the ‘forgotten place’, and we were more deeply impacted than we realised. Even a local did not know what a sculpture was representing – it represented one of the most brutal massacres of civilians in the whole Spanish civil war. It was opened with an invite by the town council and many of the families affected were gathered – and it was opened without any speeches!!

The place of forgetfulness is the place where memories are kept alive – in the sense of they have not been healed so can be pulled on so that history can repeat / rhyme.

What does one do in those places? Gayle and I are pretty clueless. We walked, prayed, poured out wine and salt. We even tried to sing!!! If anyone knows what to do please send answers on a postcard. If I were to send in my answer it would be ‘stand clueless, and stand until you can move on.’ Probably a pretty rubbish answer.

We were deeply moved when a few months later Pablo Iglesias came to Badajoz and in a public speech spoke of the history and how it will not be forgotten. I wrote about this:
Don’t forget Badajoz on Dec. 2nd last year. So often there is a follow up by someone in some measure of authority to stand where someone who did not know what to do but stood there in the name of Jesus stood before.

Just yesterday we came now across this article in: El Diario outlining guided walks that bring to remembrance the slaughter in Badajoz. The bullring in the photo is where we focused when we were there. It is no longer there and this is where the ‘forgotten’ sculpture is placed.

To say we, the clueless ones, are blown away is an understatement. Let there now be an unlocking.

In the article we can read:

La memoria es un ejercicio democrático. El conocimiento del pasado es necesario para no cometer los mismos errores. Las visitas guiadas quieren fomentar la conciencia histórica para avanzar hacia el futuro, señala José Manuel Rodríguez desde la asociación AECOS.

La Matanza de Badajoz sigue suscitando mucha controversia, y las rutas abogan por visibilizar la memoria de la ciudadanía pacense. “Consideramos que es un hecho histórico que, de manera interesada, fue invisibilizado y ocultado. Manipulado”, destacan desde la organización.

Memory is a democratic exercise. Knowledge of the past is necessary so as not to make the same mistakes. The guided tours want to promote historical awareness to enable forward movement, says José Manuel Rodríguez from the AECOS association.

The massacre de Badajoz continues to provoke a lot of controversy, and the routes promote making the memory of the citizens of Badajoz visible. “We consider that it is a historical fact that, in an interested way, was made invisible and hidden. Manipulated “, stand out from the organization.

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Invitation to live

Elly Lloyd sent me this piece she wrote… So with permission here is ‘Invitation to Live’.

Live daringly
      on the edge of the precipice
        truthfully
        by the river of righteousness
 knowledgeably in knowing
      and being known
      outrageously
 poured out
      abandoned
      but not lost
   passionate in My true image

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The definite answer

For many of us with our evangelical background we have been intuitively taught to believe that there are answers (not so bad a concept) and that we have them (not always a good concept!). This is also compounded if we also have a personality that is biased toward the black and white approach of there being an absolute that is knowable in every situation. Maybe add a little bit of youthful energy and we will always be looking to receive or to give the definitive response. ‘I’m glad you asked me, and even if you didn’t ask me I am more than capable of telling you the answer. So pin back your ears…’

I suggested in conversation recently that when we are younger in our faith and in our stage of life that we are often ready with the answer, but as we develop we move away from being equipped with the quick answer to seeking the slower and less easy task of trying to help find solutions. An answer based approach will say ‘this is right, that is wrong, I know that because…, and so this is what you need to do.’ A solution based approach might even say ‘I don’t have the answer, and I am not sure there is an answer, and probably what you are experiencing will be an untied loose end and won’t even be resolved.’ A way forward (a solution) can consist in ‘there is no answer.’ Strangely knowing that there is no answer can help us find the solution, whereas holding on to an answer can leave us vulnerable to the many turns and twists of life.

I listened recently to a part of a video where the person said, in effect, that he had come to them with questions for their answers. That is not something we like when we want certainty! Yet doubt and uncertainty is not the enemy of faith, but are the companions that enrich our faith.

There are answers to many of our situations, it is not as if all of life is a loose end – thank God! But a premature answer can also sell us short, so that we avoid the journey in waters unknown, and do not discover what needs to change within us. Maturity is not marked by finding all the answers (becoming a human ‘wikipedia’) but in meandering ever closer to the God who does not always deal with rights and wrongs but in redemptive solutions that move life forward. (Life is a meander because we do not always know in what direction we should head, but somehow as we walk in humility our meander takes on a distinct direction.)

We can see this kind of meander in Paul (an apostle meandering – whatever next?). We read:

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygiaz and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas (Acts 16:6-8).

They were headed toward Asia, presumably because they felt clear to head in that direction, but hit a block; they tried to enter Bythinia but were prevented. Not exactly clear apostolic direction at this point. There must have been a relief when at last Paul got his act together announcing he had had a clear dream of where they should go – Macedonia. The dream of the man calling for help clearly restores faith in his ability to receive apostolic direction! So off to Macedonia (Philippi) they go and ever so quickly they walk into the fulfilment. Or do they? It is not a man of Macedonia that features but a woman – Lydia! Of course there might be ways of resolving it all (the jailer and family respond later) but I like that there is not a clear – ‘and as a result of the dream this is what came about and all the boxes were ticked.’ The Bible helpfully leaves things unresolved – it is a book of God’s solutions not simply his set of answers. It is not a codified text of a way to live but a narratival account of the meanderings of those who were not among those who were mighty, highly intelligent and lived happily without a doubt again ever after.

I suspect God is not scratching his head seeking to find the answer but is willing to open his heart to us and help us find a way forward. And the way forward just might be a messy one.

Solutions are not always the answer, but answers are not always the solution. Solutions open the future; answers try and explain the past. They might be related, and maybe one day we will receive all the answers to the questions we had, but I suspect when we fully live the other side of the solutions we probably won’t be interested in the answers.

PS: You can present all the answers in the comment section should you wish!!

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