Tag Archives: God

My first sermon – the actual text

Good Morning. As you can imagine I am a bit nervous, standing in front of you like this for the first time. And I am even more nervous because I will be unconventional, radical even right now: I will be sharing my thoughts on how I read today’s gospel with you and standing up there behind the lectern would imply that I know more than you and am trying to teach you, which is not what I am doing. However, if I am standing down here, Andrew and Richard are at my back. And apart from that making me even more nervous, I also don’t want to develop a crick in my neck trying to look at them once in a while! So, here is the radical part: Andrew and Richard, would you please come and sit down here with us?

Coincidentally, being unconventional and even radical is a big part of what I read in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us a story of a shepherd and his sheep. He calls them, they come, and they certainly don’t listen to the thief climbing over the wall, they only listen to their shepherd. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? All is good, the sheep are safe and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? I don’t see this in the world as it is today. Not at all. It is more like the opposite of what I see!

There has to be more to this story. So let’s have a closer look. One really important image in this story is humanity as a herd of sheep. This image is used again and again in the bible both in the OT and NT. We are quite used to it by now and most of the time we take a look at what the shepherd does. Today I would like to take a look at the sheep in the story. Sheep are rather simple minded, they follow each other, panic at the slightest provocation and all of these mean they sometimes run over the edge of a cliff. We, the humans, can be quite similar to this: We focus on the easy-to-understand things in life, follow each other – listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and so on – and sometimes this actually leads to our own destruction.

Being German I maybe have a special relationship with this behaviour. My grandfathers were volunteers for the army in 1939. They were excited to defend their country and restore its honour which they felt had been destroyed at the end of WW1 and the following years. They had seen the economic successes of Hitler and the 3rd Reich and were looking forward to a bright future for Germany and for themselves. But essentially they were good people. And so I grew up with one grandfather telling us children over and over again how stupid he had been and that he regretted nothing more than signing up for war. The other never spoke to me about his time as a soldier nor, as far as I know, to anyone else. I can only imagine that it was too painful for him. Only after he died, did we find some letters he wrote to his sister during his time at the front and in prison just after the war. The letters started off very happily, war was all sunshine and fun. But bit by bit the tone changed and though he couldn’t very well tell his sister explicitly, it is obvious that he lost his faith in the war and realised that it had been a terrible idea.

My grandfathers only realised what their mistake when it was already too late. They were caught in a flood that was just pulling them along and they could not find a way out. Of course theirs is a rather extreme example, but aren’t we all sometimes caught up in something we know is wrong? A lie leads to more lies until we have woven a tight net we can’t seem to escape, gossip divides us from each other and building a bridge across the divide becomes impossible, we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We literally cannot help ourselves.

So now, instead of it being happily ever after, everything is all doom and gloom? We always follow the herd and it leads us away from the shepherd towards the thief?

No. If there was no hope, there would have been no Jesus! The point I see in today’s Gospel is this: Jesus calls for us. Then, when the watchman opens the gate and the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, they follow him.

I’d like to talk a little bit about this calling from Jesus. When I was writing this sermon I was not sure I could do it. This was not because I don’t have the ability to speak in public or because I didn’t think my English was good enough but that Jesus calls me the same as all of you. I don’t know more than anyone else!

I have a confession to make. When I asked Andrew and Richard to come and sit down here I didn’t really do it because of my neck. I asked them because Jesus calls them the same as everyone, there is no one called more or called less, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, postulant, come to church regularly or never at all – Jesus is calling you!

You might not realise you are hearing Jesus’ call. Rarely do we experience this call consciously – it only happened twice in my life, both of which were the most awesome experience and really changed me. The clarity and understanding of the beauty of God’s love and forgiveness were truly amazing.

Most of the time though, we don’t get that but we still can hear the call. God is talking to us by other means and they can be anything: other people, poetry, songs, hymns, really anything. For example, when we had the vision day, the young people decided to start a home group. There was no bright light shining down from heaven but I know it was still God calling us to do it. And you being here today is also answering God’s call, no matter what other reasons you might have. My family is here to support me, yo0u might come every week or for any other reason but today Jesus called all of us together to experience fellowship with each other, praise God and to listen for his call.

Often we cannot hear Jesus calling us. We are too caught up in our lives, we are distracted by our own lives. My grandfathers were full of pride for their country, anger at the other countries and seduced by their desire for the acceptance by others.

I wish there was a recipe to follow that works for everyone but there really isn’t. There are as many ways to open up to God’s calling as your imagination permits. They do all have one thing in common: We need to pay attention! We need to make sure that we are NOT too distracted to hear it blasting in our ears.

Because we can be sure of one thing, no matter whether we have experienced it or not:

Jesus calls out to every single one of us because he knows that, as sinful as we are, as many mistakes as we make, we are worth it and we CAN get it right! Jesus believes in you!

He believes in you so much, that he died for you on the cross and defeated death. Jesus loves you and he believes in you and he is calling for YOU!

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Filed under Bible, body and soul, Community, My calling, New Testament, Prayer

Prayer and I – a short history of growth

Prayer is the ground on which my relationship with God stands. As I said before, my praying has evolved slowly, and the more I pray, the more I want to and the more I need to. Of course this has not happened over night but over years.

In 2010 I started praying intermittently, feeling slightly foolish when I was praying. I had never truly prayed by myself before and it was a very new experience. It felt like I was saying these (often not very meaningful words) into thin air and there they just vanished. I had a few good experiences, too, when God’s presence was very tangible and his comfort and support manifest in the words I was reading. And so I realised, that it helped me be at peace to talk to God and I prayed more regularly. Eventually I designed my own daily prayer with a psalm being read in the morning and two readings from OT and NT in the evening. The Daily Office provided by the CoE was too stuffy and structured – and also too long!  – for me at the time.

In 2013 I also started a prayer diary, after our chaplain suggested it in one of his sermons (see, some people really do listen!). Writing down my prayers helps me to focus and think about what is important for me at the time. It helps to make my prayer seem more real and shows me when God answers my prayers. Also, it gives me a way to trace how oftyen and how regular I pray. If I miss a day or two, I ask myself why and try to not let that same reason divide me from God again.

Around November 2013 I discovered “Time to Pray” on Amazon and I feel using it gives me the structure and routine I need while leaving me with the free space to make the prayer a time I can open up to God and his word. It is based on the Daily Office but I use it creatively, with my own Bible readings and reflections. Sometimes I ignore it and just talk to God. mostly though, it is very helpful to have a framework on which to base my prayers. Praying daily has helped deepen my relationship with God and reach a new level of commitment. At the beginning prayer was very much a chore I had put on myself, now it is something that I look forward to.

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Filed under Bible, Life stories, My calling, Prayer

How do you pray?

How do you pray, I get asked – by friends and also (more scary) as part of my application form by the DDO. I can of course describe the structure of the prayers I say in the morning and evening (basically an adapted version of the daily office). But does this really answer the question?

Actually that’s exactly what I wrote on the application form. But to my freind I said something very different. I pray, I said, using a structured prayer every morning and evening. This I do every day. Sometimes, I feel God there with me and sometimes I don’t. I use the structure to guide me in what I want to say. So there is me saying that I am sorry, thanking and praising God for the day and then, of course all the pleas and requests. I use beautiful language that has been passed down for centuries and even millenia. I use modern language that really hits the meaning I want to convey. I use my own words to express my feelings.

But this is just a little part of my praying. because throughout the day I will also say little prayers of thanks and little requests as they come up. So when an ambulance goes by, I ask God to be with those they are helping. When I receive good news, I thank God. At mealtimes I say grace (silently if I am with others who don’t).

It is the combination of both, I told my friend, that really makes the difference in my relationship with God. Prayer is something that becomes more meaningful the more you do it. As your relationship with God grows, so does your need to communicate with him. And now, prayer is something I just do, without even thinking about it. And my life is so much richer because of it.

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I am called… to worship him

Worshipping God is the most important part of a priests calling, being the inspiration for and informing all of his or her other activities. Worshipping God is taking a step back from the preoccupation with ourselves. It is deciding again and again to give God my soul, my life, my all. Through praying we give and receive love from the one source of all things and we proclaim this love to the world. Worshipping god and regular prayer is immensely satisfying. They can give me a feeling of accomplishment, of having helped when no other help was possible. Prayer gives me a connection, to God but also to others. As a priest I will continue with worshiping God regularly and it will help me to continue giving my life to him. Much of my life I did not know to pray or how and the journey of learning how to talk to God was long, full of stumbling blocks but also with great accomplishments and gratification. Prayer has become something I do like eating and drinking and I cannot imagine doing without. Sometimes I find it difficult to get started but for this reason, I think, there is the Daily Office. in this set text of prayers I can get started even when I don’t know how and it gives me a framework with which to work when I am uninspired. At the same time it is the moments during the day when I give God a quick thank you or please that can be the most meaningful.

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The Nature of Calling

Molnár József: Ábrahám kiköltözése

Molnár József: Abraham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago I wrote about how I had had two upheavals in my faith and I told you about one of them. The reason, that I didn’t talk about the second one is, that I am not quite sure myself yet. How do you know that God is calling you? There are many, many stories about God calling people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every calling seems to be quite unique ad at the same time they all seem to be similar in some way. It confuses me. I thought I knew what my calling was going to be and I was ready for it and happy but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that it is not happening and I am finding myself at a loss. What am I doing? Did I completely miss the point? How can I get back on track, and was it the right track? If not, how do I find the right one?

Reading about Abraham being called by God to just up and leave with only his faith in God as reassurance that things would work out, I feel similarly. In a kind of limbo, not seeing where I am going and even struggling with where I am coming from. I know I am just supposed to have faith and happily follow along but, honestly, I hat this. It is horrible not to know. I am sure as much as Abraham believed in God, he also had doubts and wanted to know where he was going to go. All he had was this vague promise, that God will show him the land. Well, I have a not-so-vague promise that God is always with me and guides me and will rescue me at the end of time but right now that doesn’t seem very helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I draw a lot of energy from my faith and God and the community in my church and all of this is amazingly helpful in itself. Yet, sometimes, rather often, I think to myself: But what am I doing? And I wish God would answer that question. And I know that eventually he will. (But can’t it be sooner, rather than later, please?)

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Having faith

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engr...

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my discipleship course today we studied (some of) the story of Sarah and Abraham. At first I thought, that since I already very much knew this story (backwards and forwards and all) it wouldn’t be a great session and I’d probably not get very much from it but it might be fun anyways. Well, the joke’s on me. I didn’t just have one but two major shifts in my perception of God and his nature. It was amazing how much a new perspective can change the meaning of a story and how talking about the Bible changes how you read it so much. I am starting to think that reading the Bible by yourself is really almost futile (although also important) if you don’t also read it with other people! Preferably with someone who knows what they’re doing.

But yes, I learned something today. I learned, by reading the conversation between God and Abraham, that it wasn’t important to God what Abraham thought or believed so much. He made him promises and “signed a contract” (by moving a torch between carcasses of Abraham’s sacrifice, there is no accounting for culture, is there?) and he didn’t ask anything from Abraham in return. He had faith in him and that was it. And when Sarah laughed at him, at the idea of her having a child, that didn’t matter either (so much for being vengeful and jealous, I always knew that was not the God I know), he just reaffirmed his promise. And when I thought about it, this happens again and again; he calls Moses and promises him he’ll free his people, and Moses says: No! Not me! but God has faith in him. And he talks to Solomon who says: I don’t know what I’m doing! but God believes in him. And then, of course there is Jonah who needs a lot of persuasion before he finally knows that he can do it, too. And eventually God sent the world his son and never asked anything in return. He had faith in all of us, that his suffering would not be in vain. It is an amazing feeling and I needed quite some time to process all of this. And now I feel very, very lucky.

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1 John 4:16 (b)

 God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

And that is the most important truth about God. He loves us. Always. Whether we know it or not. And it is his love that brings out the best in us. Feeling his love can turn a life around forever.

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Creation and… well, what?

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not believe in Evolution. What I mean by that is, that I know evolution took place and therefore I don’t need to believe it. Whereas I believe that God created the universe. I believe that because there is no scientific proof that he has. There is a lot of scientific proof that evolution happened. But this post isn’t really supposed to be about evolution at all (maybe I’ll write more about that later but it will be less a post about what my faith tells me and more a post on science and knowledge), it is a question I ask myself whenever I start thinking about it. About what? The Fall. You know, when Adam and Eve supposedly ate the apple (or whatever fruit it might have been) and found out that they were naked and so on and so on. The Fall is almost the second thing that happens in the Bible (after everything is created and named and told its purpose) and without knowing what the Fall actually is, I find it difficult to understand almost anything else. Because everything in me tells me that creation is a good thing, that God is proud of it and that none of it is bad or evil. Yet, obviously, I cannot say that humans are good and everything they/we do is exactly as God wishes it to be. I have put quite a bit of emphasis on free will (see my posts on Invictus and what it means to me) and I honestly do believe that God gave it to us as a present. But! If it is such a good thing, why do we need rescuing from it? For me, Jesus dying on the cross feels weird if it was necessary to redeem humanity from the Fall. And what might the actual Fall be anyways? Is it when humans started to think abstractedly, develop a sense of self (animals have that), became creative? All of these together? And, since I believe (but don’t know the proof) that evolution was ultimately responsible for all of these, were they in God’s plan from the beginning and if so, why didn’t he change the plan again? As you can tell I am thoroughly confused. Please help me, tell me what you believe the Fall was/is and how it fits in with God’s plan. I will continue to ponder.

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God’s Holy Word

English: Bible in candlelight.

After writing extensively about the Bible (see here and here), I am finally tackling the big question: What is its spiritual value to me or, how do I actually use it as the foundation of my faith in God. Well, this is a difficult question for me and I haven’t quite figured it out completely.

Is it inspired writing?

I believe, that the people who wrote were mostly inspired to write it but I think that their inspiration is still coloured with their cultural preconceptions. I believe that they mostly acted out of genuine passion for the sharing of God’s deeds and were trying to write these down as truthfully as possible. I don’t think they were infallible in any way; they were human and therefore subject to human failures. Those who spoke to God were not protected from misunderstanding or misrepresenting because it suited them better.

So why bother reading it?

Apart from the intrinsic value of reading something as beautiful and interesting as the Bible, I find that it gives me a connection to those people in the past who had had that special connection to God and Jesus and wanted to share it with later generations. There are a lot of rules and advice in the Bible and most of it is really useful for everyday life – once you translate it to modern times of course!I don’t use it as a textbook for worldly matters (such as history or science) but rather for spiritual and theological matters. At the end of the day, we only have our own and other people’s experience of God to rely on.

Most importantly:

There are some verses or chapters or sections that just seem important; they can be inspiring or beautiful or sometimes they are neither but they still speak to me. They ring true. Sometimes they remind me of my own life circumstances. I believe that this is God speaking to me through the scriptures – and every time it happens it is an amazing feeling. I get to feel a wonderful moment of  connection with God. It doesn’t happen regularly, or even very often, but if I don’t read the Bible it cannot happen at all. So for me, the Bible is one of the ways that I make contact with God (or rather, he makes contact with me!) and while it is not the only way it is an important one.

How do you  read the Bible? Is it important in your everyday life?

I especially suggest you read Justin Hiebert’s take on the power of storytelling here.

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Why bother?

English: An image of Psalm 23 (King James' Ver...

English: An image of Psalm 23 (King James’ Version), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home. Scanned at 800 dpi. Français : Illustration du Psaume 23 (version autorisée par le roi Jacques), en frontispice de l’édition omnibus du Sunday at home. Version numérisée à 800 dpi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My post The Book poses the question of why would I read the Bible if I don’t think all of it is true? Well,  I will talk about the spiritual side later, but even if you don’t believe in God at all, I think, reading the Bible is not the worst decision you can make.

There is beautiful poetry in the Bible.

Everyone (or almost everyone) knows Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd… with all its beautiful imagery. And ther are many, many more beautiful Psalms in this section of the Bible alone; some of my favourites are Psalms 23, Psalm 100 (mostly because I sang it in an amazing song once) and Psalm 103. But that is not the only poetry in the Bible, not even close to it. Lamentations are heartbreakingly hopeless and regretful (plus a very small section that is heartbreakingly hopeful) and the Song of Songs… well you really wouldn’t expect language like that in the Bible! But you can feel the love the lover and beloved have for each other and it is full of joy. Ecclesiastes also has some amazing poetry. Then there are the many canticles; the song that random people sing to God throughout the whole Bible, my favourite being the Magnificat, sung by Mary after the visit of the angel who told her she was going to have a child. Maybe it is because I have heard and sung it many times over the years but every time time I read her humble and yet joyful praise, I feel the same way. Powerful language is present throughout the Bible but it starts right at the beginning with Genesis 1. A beautiful poem on the beginning of the world and its beauty.

Many, many good stories

Whether you like romance or adventure or political thrillers, there is something for everyone in the Bible. There are battles (in too much detail for my taste, but maybe you like that sort of thing), bad Kings (who tyrannise their people and decide that the Law doesn’t apply to them), wise men who get killed for telling the truth – you can find the whole nadwidth of human idiocy and its results in here. My favourites are the story of Susanna (actually in the Apocrypha, for Protestants and part of Daniel for everyone else) who gets falsely accused of adultery and is on the verge of being killed when Daniel the prophet rushes to her rescue and identifies the true culprits (who tried to rape her in this legal thriller) and the story of Deborah who shows the men of her time what a true woman is capable of (gender issues are not all that new it turns out).

There is a lot of wisdom to be found

If you’ve never looked into a Bible you won’t know this but a lot of the sayings and phrases in English (and also German, and I’m sure in many other languages) are direct copies of things written in the Bible. It’s because they are just universally true. Especially Proverbs is a great source of these, but if you have the chance to read the Wisdom of Solomon (again the Apocrypha for Protestants) you will actually find a lot of Wisdom there.
A lot of it, and this is true for much of the Bible actually, makes you think, it challenges you on a deep level and you start to consider how something relates to your own life. I like the challenge and often find, that even if I disagree with something I can usually find a way to learn from it.

How many books can do all of the above? (If you do know one, please tell me because I’ll want to read it, too.) Even if you are not at all interested in spirituality or the existence of God, reading the Bible can enrich your life and help you to understand yourself and the world around you in a different way.

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Filed under Bible, body and soul, History, Philosophy, Poetry

The Book

bibles

Over more than a thousand years, many, many different authors and editors (most of which we don’t know the name) wrote, edited and combined the writings; the collection of which is commonly known as “The Bible”. The Bible has always fascinated me (as a child I read and re-read my children’s Bible semi-obsessively) because we know almost nothing about it for sure and yet, its story is alive and inspiring millions and billions of people every day. Therefore, and because the Bible was this week’s topic in my discipleship course, I will take the next few days to talk about the great, big, mystery that is the Bible.

Today I am just going to go over some general information that I am sure most of you know already, but it is important to make sure we are all on the same level regardless. So, first of all, we don’t know who wrote what in the Bible – mostly. Despite the Author being named for almost every book of the Bile, there are actually not that many we know for sure about. The New Testament epistles are actually the majority among those few. This, of course, leaves us with the question; if we don’t know who wrote it (and only have a vague idea about when it was written) how trustworthy are the accounts in the Bible? I am not going to pass judgment on this, I definitely don’t know enough about it. Wikipedia has some information about this, but, remember it’s good old Wikipedia and not necessarily trustworthy.

Then there are the apocrypha. They are those books whose presence in the Bible is disputed (see again Wikipedia) since quite a few books in the Old Testament are only acknowledged as scripture by some of the many Christian traditions plus a few books of the New Testament that didn’t make it into the official canon (which is the same in all traditions as far as I know).

On top of all this, the books of the Bible were written in Hebrew and Greek and even in the original languages there are quite a few different versions. Once you add the many, many different translations existing today, things become even more complicated. Reading more than one translation can both clarify the meaning or confuse it more.

Now, what the Bible is actually about, is, in my opinion and there are many, the history and the relationship between God and his people (mostly Israel). Over the millenia, the people refuse to listen to God’s rules and laws again and again and are accordingly worse off (the stories are told as punishments, but I don’t believe that). Every time they decide to return to their good ways, God welcomes them back with open arms. God communicates with and warns his people through the prophets. The Old Testament has its main focus on the Exodus from Egypt, the Davidic kingdom and dynasty and the exile in Babylonia. In the New testament, God (who apparently is finally fed up with the endless cycle of obedience and rebellion) has sent his only son to Earth and for three years, Jesus teaches and lives the Good News (or Evangelion or Gospel) of God’s salvation for his people. After Jesus’ death we read about the struggles of the new church and the early believers through their letters to each other.

How literal can we read it?

Looking at the picture painted above, I think it is save to say that literal reading, especially of the Old Testament, is not advisable.  I believe, that there is some truth to most of the histories and experiences described in the Bible but also that they were changed over time, or written down long after what they are telling us about happened and therefore I try to take everything with a pinch of salt. I know there are many Christians out there who believe that everything written about in the Bible happened exactly so but I do not share that belief. (Feel free to discuss this in the comments.) So, if I don’t think all of it is true, why would I even bother with it? I’ll tell you more soon…

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Serving during a service

English: Traditional German Magnificat (music ...

English: Traditional German Magnificat (music notes, transcription) Русский: Немецкий (протестантский) магнификат (ноты, транскрипция) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This last Sunday, I was reminded of a phenomenon that I had noticed before. When I sing with the choir (every Sunday) or have some other role during the service, I can get really distracted. The anticipation of whatever it is I am doing stops me from concentrating and enjoying the service, but also, even more importantly, it hinders my spiritual experience. I am not sure why this is the case for me, but it has something to do with nervousness and bad concentration in general. For example, after communion we all go back into our choir stall and this is when I usually pray to thank God for his sacrifice and for the opportunity to experience him through the bread and wine. However, depending on what we are singing with the choir, I find it very difficult to do that. This is, of course, amplified by the other choir members to the right and left to me who tend to not pray and rustle about and sometimes whisper to each other. I don’t blame then, though. I would be able to tune them out if it wasn’t for the song we are about to sing and when will we start and should I really be closing my eyes, what if I miss the cue? You get the gist. I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this. Many people are nervous when they have to get up in front of a crowd and read something or say something off their head. I certainly generally loose my breath when doing this because I am so nervous (unless the group is not so big, then I am fine). So should we make sure that the same person doesn’t have to read or pray or speak too many Sundays in a row? And I wonder, what about ministers? Can they ever really feel the same connection with God when they constantly have to concentrate on the service and what comes next? Or is their connection stronger, so it’s fine?

Personally I have been going to our Wednesday night communion services where I am just a normal member of the congregation and it has helped me. I am glad I have found somewhere because singing in the choir gives me a completely different but no less valuable connection to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is just as valuable to me as quiet prayer time during a service.

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Filed under Community, Music, Prayer

Susanna

flora and fauna of Mullum 019

Today I find myself grieving again. Almost 3 years ago a friend of mine was killed by her boyfriend and today I cannot stop thinking about her. So let me tell you about her. The funny thing is, I was never really close to her. She was the daughter in a family who were friends with my family, my mother is her sister’s godmother and so we kind of grew up together but also not. She was, after all, 7 years younger than me (18 when she died), and they also lived on the other side of the country; so we didn’t see each other very often. Yet, when she died, I was completely thrown. Maybe it was that she was so young (such a waste!), or maybe it was that I had always felt a kind of kinship with her because, like me, she seemed to stick out somehow from the rest of her family. I only really got to know her better through the stories about her that were told at the funeral and by her family since then. It was her death that threw me out of my complacent “God doesn’t have much to do with me” kind of mindset and it was seeing her family being comforted and reassured by their faith that made me enter a church for anything other than a Christmas service for the first time in about 5 or 6 years. That is why I call her my friend. She wasn’t, really, before she died but I feel that she has influenced me in my faith and my life ever since and I am deeply grateful for that. I wish though, that she didn’t have to die to become this influence. I feel guilty about not having gotten to know her better before she did.

Writing this has been good. The difficult days are rare by now and it feels good to indulge my grief now and then but now I can draw the line for today because I wrote it all down. Thank you all for listening.

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Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

This is my favourite verse in the Old Testament. The promise expressed through it is truly comforting and heart-warming. Yes, it is true: We are not alone. Thank you, God, for giving me this message.

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Thoughtful entertainment

Iona

Iona (Photo credit: wjmarnoch)

Generally, I think, we divide what we do in entertainment (stuff for fun) and thoughtful things and we never quite expect them to happen at the same time. Today I was reminded that it is perfectly possible to make people laugh and not be frivolous at the same time. Also I was encouraged to think. What an evening! I was lucky enough to go to a workshop organised by John Bell, a member  of the Iona Community. Members of the Iona community, which was founded in 1938, live their normal lives but commit to the Rule; which means that they are accountable to the community for their income and time, they pray and read the Bible daily and they are committed to promote justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Also they meet regularly. There are centres on the Iona island ( which is where they get their name from), the island of Mull and in Glasgow where people can visit and join them for worship. You can find out lots more on their website. They also have developed their own style of worship. here is how they describe it:

 It is direct, and to the point, allowing the ancient buildings and beautiful surroundings to speak for themselves. It is relevant and challenging, reflecting the Community’s engaged spirituality and its concern to ‘find new ways to touch the hearts of all’. And it is inclusive and accessible in language and gospel.

Tonight we were talking about psalms and their role and place I worship. I only discovered the psalms as a medium for prayer fairly recently (before that they had always seemed very archaic and irrelevant to my life in the modern world) and after tonight I have become a convert to praying by psalm. We sang many. many songs that were just adapted psalms and they were all beautiful and meaningful. Some were sad, some triumphant, some atoning and others grateful. The whole spectrum of reasons to talk to God was covered with brilliant music and an even better speaker. John Bell really is hilarious, not least thanks to his Scottish accent (which to a German will always sound exotic and cute, probably like an English accent sound to an American). His stories made the psalms come to life and he gave a great many ideas about how to include them in everyday worship. Probably quite a few people feel similarly to how felt not too long ago about them and would resist their introduction. What nearly brought me down to my knees, was when he was talking about how in today’s songs God is always praised but we never bring our fears and sorrows before him anymore. He then gave us an example of what this might look like and I almost started to cry. It just pushed so many of my buttons. And that is when I realised that this is exactly what I had been missing; this is what God is best at: to bring my fears and whatever is wrong in my life to him and tell him about them and then receiving his strength to let me cope with them. We really don’t do that enough anymore. I am resolved to at least make it a part of my daily prayer from now on. I wish I could share this song with you, but, alas, it is not on youtube. However, if you have the chance to see or work with John Bell, do it. You will not be disappointed.

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Book of Common Prayer follow up

Title page of the Prayer book of 1662, printed...

Title page of the Prayer book of 1662, printed by John Baskerville in 1762. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, today we had the service that followed the original BoCP and while it was very different, it was also really, really nice. The main difference was, as I thought before, that the order of the service was all jumbled up and yes, that was confusing at times. I thought it was rather interesting that all the ten commandments were recited at the beginning of the service and the archaic language was, of course, very beautiful. I liked that it was different and special. Here is what I didn’t like: During most of the service, the minister stood with the back to the congregation. She was, of course, meant to be facing God and this is the very traditional way of saying the mass in the Catholic church as well (today pretty much no-one does it that way anymore, though). For me, it felt weird, unknown and distancing. We discussed this after the service and a retired vicar that I will call Jonathan here (it is not his real name) made the good point that the priest is meant to be a member of the congregation, facing God and that the two times she actually faces the congregation for the absolution and the blessing, the fact, that she is speaking for God then is greatly emphasised. This is true, but I still prefer the other way.

Overall, I think I could get used to it and I certainly liked it for the celebration it was of tradition and the history of the Church of England and the BoCP. I also like that we don’t usually use archaic language more, though. It makes the connection to God we feel during worship less extraordinary and more as a part of our normal life and I think that is as it should be. After all, the writers of the BoCP decided to hold the services in English rather than Latin so everyone could relate to the service and understand what is being said.

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Holy Pop

10 years ago I went to the World Youth Day of the Catholic Church in Toronto with my best friend and a group of people we didn’t know very well (she got married to one of them this year). While there we were introduced to English modern worship music for the first time. We hated it. we came up with a new descriptor for it: Holy Pop. One of the songs that we loved to hate was this:

It’s funny how things change. because now I am actually quite fond of this type of music (my friends are not going to be able to stop laughing at me when they read this). I have learned to love it. The repetitiveness that I used to ridicule is actually quite helpful in connecting to others, and the simpleness makes it easy to pick up. Still, there are some people who listen to this music recreationally and that is definitely not for me. For me to really enjoy this music there would have to be a little bit more substance to the texts although, there are some songs that do have that and I wish there were more. Because Holy Pop can be really good music. Listen to this:

or this:

It’s amazing! I can listen to this all day (when I don’t happen to feel like something more edgy, but then, there is a type of music for every mood). I am very grateful to have had the chance to get know Holy Pop (yes I still call it that) better and therefore to learn to love it’s finer points.

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Book of Common Prayer

Title page of Book of Common Prayer, Scotland 1637

Title page of Book of Common Prayer, Scotland 1637 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, in choir, we were preparing for Sunday’s anniversary service of the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer, of course, is the first prayer book of its kind with the complete liturgy of the different services. It was first published in 1549 but quickly revised in 1552 (which is what we are celebrating on Sunday). I was very surprised to learn that the order of the service has actually been changed around a lot and parts of the service that I am used to being at the beginning (like the Gloria for example) end up at the end and vice versa. Apart from the arrangement we were practicing being ridiculously difficult, the words being different (i.e. more archaic like you’d expect) and no-one knowing whether we were singing the beginning or the vicar (as indicated in the sheet music but who knows whether our vicar wants to sing solo, he usually doesn’t) the music was very, very pretty and I really liked singing some of the prayers that we usually just say aloud. I wish we’d have had the chance to practice the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as well but there really wasn’t enough time. I really like singing prayers, it makes me feel closer to God in some way. Music is a really large part of how I connect to God and while I like the hymns and anthems we sing in church, I wish there was a little more singing at times. I miss the whole congregation just singing a prayer that everyone knows with no accompaniment or music in front of them. I really fosters the communal spirit I think.

Back to the BoCP though, I am not sure how I feel about Sunday’s service. I have said earlier on this blog that I like the ritualistic sameness of a service and on Sunday that is going to be completely changed around. Obviously doing this for one service celebrating a centuries-old tradition that feels more adventurous than anything else, but I am glad that normally we do it the “normal” way. By that I mean the way I am used to it because it is mostly (as in 90% are the exact same words) as in the Catholic service I grew up with. It’s funny how how we first learn to realte to God stays with us for a long time and, for me at least, is difficult to change. I spent some time in Canada and while there went to quite a few modern protestant services and it never felt quite right. Luckily there is something for everyone out there and we don’t have to force ourselves and make the relationship with God more difficult. I am looking forward to Sunday because it should be interesting and of course the BoCP should be celebrated. Also, I get to sin, praise and worship and what could be more rewarding?

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Why I don’t capitalise

When I saw someone writing about God capitalising the words He and Him for the first time, I was surprised and not in a good way. Coming from Germany, where capitalisation is very commonplace, I had come to like the English system, where capitals are only used for very special purposes. So I could see why people would do it but to me it just looked very, very strange. I never understood why, until I had a discussion with my housemate about it. Talking about it made me realise, that God for me is a friend, someone close to me and spelling his personal pronouns with capital letters seemed to put a lot of distance between us and not very helpful when trying to establish or maintain a relationship. Still, I wondered, was I being disrespectful? After all, God is a massively superior being and writing capitals when talking about him makes complete sense. Who am I to dispel with such a tradition, I thought.  Then, I was reading the German Bible, I realised something. To understand, I’ll need to tell you a little about German, so bear with me. In German, we have two ways of addressing someone; the formal way “Sie” which is spelled with a capital and used for people of a higher rank, older people or people we don’t know very well, and the much more informal “du” which is spelled lower case and used for people you know well. Both of those would simply be “you” in modern English. In the German Bible, every communication between God and humans takes place with the informal you; God uses it for us, people use it when talking to him. I don’t know, of course, whether the original Hebrew has the same distinction but the fact that the King James Bible, who was written at a time when English also had the same distinction, also uses to more informal version (thee and thou) leaves me to believe that it does. And if, in the Bible, God is fine with the informal address, surely he won’t mind if I don’t capitalise personal pronouns when talking about him?

What do you think? Am I being too fussy about it?

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The greatest gift in the universe

Pears

I was watching the film “City of Angles” the other day and beside the premise being a bit cooky and the love story a little soppy, there is something about this film that makes me sigh. For me it is the amazing way we are made to feel and see everyday experiences in a new light thanks to the long scenes where nothing much happens but the actors are reading/ smelling/ touching/ hearing or tasting something. The great soundtrack by Gabriel Yared compliments those beautifully. At several points during the film did I think: Wow!, sometimes because of the music, sometimes because of the story and sometimes because of what was said.

The music is the perfect mix of meaningful songs (that a musical amateur like me would otherwise never have heard of) and original composition, thoughtful and touching. I am listening to it right now. The story is a little soppy and the premise, well, let’s not get into that, but throughout the whole film, from the very beginning to the very end, the actors are showing us how it feels to them to experience many things. For example in one scene Nicolas Cage (Seth) asks Meg Ryan (Maggie), what a pear tastes like. She asks him whether he’s never tasted pear before and he replies that he doesn’t know what a pear tastes like for her. She goes on to eat the pear and describe its taste. It made me think about my everyday experiences and how special they really are and that I spent far too much time obsessing about the future and way too little time in the moment. When, in our hectic lives, do we ever take the time really enjoy a piece of fruit we are eating, or the sun shining in our face? I have seconds where I feel a little like that sometimes but I never enjoy them as much as I should because there are things I have to do and places I have to get to and I am in a hurry, often. Watching this film made me remember that there is more to life than running from one activity and place to another. I have decided to remember it more often and to linger the next time I have a moment like that.

Last but definitely not least, there is some amazing dialogue going on in this film. My favourite piece is the following, between a former angel-turned-human Nathaniel and the protagonist Seth:

Nathaniel Messinger: “Listen, kid: he [God] gave these bozos the greatest gift in the universe — you think he didn’t give it to us, too?”

Seth: “Which gift?”

Nathaniel Messinger: “Free will, brother. Free will.”

I had to stop the movie here because this struck me dumb. It is such a profound truth that we never remember it: We have free will and we use it every day. And it is an amazing gift from God. We really should appreciate it a lot more because without it we would be nothing. God loves us so much that he gave us the power to do whatever we want with our lives, he let’s us make our own mistakes because that is the only way we can learn. So, using a ridiculous story, this film manages to teach us something about ourselves and our normal everyday lives. I am impressed.

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Filed under body and soul, Philosophy, TV and Film