Held up at Gunpoint

The other day as I got of the train nearby our home, hands in my pockets, I rounded the corner and walked right into a standoff.

Two boys, around 7 years old, approached with bandana’s covering their mouths, and hands at their sides.  They were too fast for me, and drew their guns out of their holsters, and blasted me.  The smell of gunpowder was on the air as the midday sun shone down on all of us.

I had no chance.  The children during the Fasnet celebrations had got me.  The boys laughed and laughed, as their cap guns clacked away.  No horses to ride off on, but I was left alone and I soon heard in the distance the next unsuspecting victim being shot to smithereens.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a child’s toy cap gun in a store, but they flood the shelves at the department stores and village toy shops.  Costumes for young and old are for sale, and so begins the regional celebrations.  While Shrove Tuesday is a few days away still, the spirit of Mardi Gras is alive and well in some shape and form here in Freiburg.  Children take over their schools, groups of children raid the village and city halls.  The Roman Catholic priest wasn’t able to attend a recent meeting as he was detained by the children in his congregation as fun and havoc rules for a short time every year.

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Each village has a particular style of clothing, and costume.  Some are expensive carved wooden masks depicting witches, or furred animals. The suits are old pieces of stitched on cloth,  pottery shards, or tiles. The partying can shut down offices, trains and trams as parades, and mockery take hold.  The spirit of carnival lasts for about a week, and then there is another celebration in Basel, Switzerland with its own customs and traditions.  And then there is the Alemannisch Fastnacht which offers another set of customs.  Some photos of the costumes can be found at the Black Forest Tourism Office.

I couldn’t possibly go into details about the richness of the various traditions, as many of the villages, groups and people have their own stories to tell.  It is however, an exciting time, full of fun, tradition and celebration.  There’s always a surprise waiting around the corner.

Time, Distance, Speed

Don’t think that I’m going to start on a physics lesson.  The themes of time, distance and speed are things you begin to think about when you are passed on the Autobahn like you are standing still.

140 Km/hr is very slow for some.

While not all the roads are unrestricted in speed, there are plenty of places on the highway and smaller roads which have either no speed limit, or a very high limit (100km/hr on a winding single track road in the mountains).  It is not often that I drive our car as Anke uses it mostly to get to and from work, leaving me to negotiate trains and Straßenbahn.  However, when I do get behind the wheel, our old car does well at around 120-130 km/hr and I settle into a groove being able to pass the large LKW (Trucks) and the occasional car towing a trailer, or camper.

The other night, as I made my way home after an evening meeting, I merged onto the autobahn and an Audi driving behind me was quick to get into the left lane in order to pass me as I sped along at 120 km/hr.  The roar of a diesel engine beside me was followed by two things.  First, a streak of black and chrome as the Audi driver passed me like I was standing still.  The second thing to happen was the flash of headlights from far behind me, as another car approached and signalled to the Audi that he was going far too slow and should move over into the slower right-hand lane.

Less than two seconds lapsed and some polished car of some make (it was a station wagon!) zoomed by me and eventually the first car, the Audi, now far ahead of me in the right lane.  My own old Volkswagen heaved to the side as the very fast car sucked us into its wake and the red rear lights of the speeding bullet of a car blurred like a vapour trail left by a jet on a cloudless sky.

All of this is a fairly normal occurrence, but one that makes me wonder how my own driving skills have changed, and what I will be like when we return to Canada for a holiday.  Perhaps I should budget in some extra money to pay for speeding tickets.

Speed is of course distance over time.  Two other aspects of life in Germany is the distortion of distance and time.  In Canada we celebrate 100 year anniversaries, and designate buildings even 75 years old as ‘heritage sites’.  Albeit, Canada is perceived as a young nation, so my sense of time fails to compare with the much longer notion of time in Germany and that of Europe in general.  My wife use to tease and say that the house she grew up in is older than my country.  Walking around any part of Germany I find buildings, houses, chapels, barns, fountains, and even cafés and breweries that were built in the 15th or 16th century.  These are the ‘young’ places, as there are plenty of other sites that are far older.

Time is also generational, having family members living and dying in the same house, the same family working the same land, the same last names selling the same product….for generations.  Large stone crosses that dot the landscape are maintained and preserved by family members of the landowners that many years ago decided to mark the edge of their field, or property.  With this long sense of time, it is no wonder that the re-ordering of the village centre takes so long, even if it looks like a better plan and layout.

With the lengthening of time, comes the lengthening of distance.  While a hundred years in Canada is considered heritage, a hundred kilometres is considered the other side of the planet.  When we signed up for car insurance for having a car in Germany, the agent on the phone understood that we had just moved and so having no driving record in Germany wanted to get an understanding of our driving habits.  Our answer to the question, “How many kilometres were on your previous car?” was met with shock thinking that our car must surely be 50 years old and had two new engines.  The trembling voice of the insurance agent shook all the more when we said our car was only 5 years old.  We had to explain living in Canada requires an awful lot of driving as the distances are much longer.  Considering that the land area of Germany would fit about two times into the province of British Columbia we realize that the sense of distance is also very different.  A lot of people say that France, or Switzerland are just too far away! Being that it took more time to travel to my parents house in Vancouver than it did to nip across to France for a baguette, or a meeting in Switzerland it takes time to assure people that perspectives are different.

I shake my head in astonishment at 100 years, while others shake their heads at 100 kilometres, but fortunately we are able to merge onto the same highway.

Cold enough for you?

As it is the new year and the temperatures are usually in the minus numbers for the majority of the day, I am actually reminded of the autumn day I was out walking the dog in one of the nearby fields.  Most of the harvesting had been done so we could see that a man and his dog was approaching us on the dirt road that cuts through the fields.  We stopped and chatted a few minutes as our dogs played.  We had met previously and found out that the man was not German, but French and had spent a year in Montréal, Canada on some navy commando exercise.  The Frenchman was bundled up in his down-jacket, scarf and touque (winter hat-for the non-Canadian readers), and he was surprised that I was out in the blowing wind in shorts and t-shirt.

The cold has certainly set in and has been around for a long time, apparently too long for most people.  I remember that the cold weather made for a quick night out on New Years Eve.  Having a visitors with young children over New Years I ran out of the house early to buy a bunch of fireworks for our party.  In Victoria, Canada, fireworks were deemed illegal, but occasionally you would see and hear a few explosions around Halloween and New Years.  The city would put on a summertime festival of music and fireworks – a large display by Canadian standards.

While I can tolerate the cold, it appears that Germans can out do me with their appreciation for fireworks.  Having stood in line to buy 3 or 4 set packages of fireworks and spending around 40 Euros my eyes grew wider and wider with the family ahead of me in the line at the ALDI. A mother pushed a buggy full of food, whilst the father and kids had a buggy full of fireworks.  The family ended with a bill close to 400 Euros, which is a huge feat in a store like ALDI that prides itself on very low prices.  (Think 8 Euros for a child’s snowsuit).

Despite my seemingly frugal purchase of firepower, we still had a good time, and I couldn’t get through all the stuff I had bought before the kids had had enough of the cold and the lack of sleep.  Every corner on the street had small crowds of people lighting rockets, whirling, flaming, banging fireworks.  The dog hated it, but we loved it!

While New Years seems a distant memory now, themes of new year still come up in conversations, especially with those who have never experienced a German New Years (Sylvester, as it is known here).  The last feature of most German New Year’s parties is the ever present “Same Procedure as Every Year” moment as people gather around a screen to watch “Dinner for One“.  A slapstick style comedy in English, which, I am growing more convinced, no English speakers have every heard of before.

While the cold continues to take us into the minus temperatures, life in German continues to feel warm and welcoming.  Just when I think I have learned it all…you really haven’t.

Do Farmers go on Holiday?

A very thick fog has settled in our area.  I’m not used to so much fog, and neither is the dog.  Early morning walks and especially the late evening walks through the farmer fields make the dog a little anxious.  Now that it has rained throughout the night the fog has cleared, but I am sure it will return soon.  I appreciate the fog when the temperature drops and it appears that the fog is freezing and falling from sky, or it attaches itself to skeletal shapes of leafless trees and bushes.  Even ones own breath blows out and looks to freeze and drop to the ground to join the swirl of fog.

The light from street lamps are fuzzy blurs at worst, and at best the light beams highlight the swirls of fog that blow around like a Canadian snowdrift.  In just a dozen or so steps into one of the many surrounding farm fields you can easily loose all sense of direction as any directional lights start to disappear with every step away from buildings and roads.  While your vision subsides the noises seem to grow more intense.

The other night as I walked with the dog through this soupy fog we were both suddenly shocked to see a huge farm tractor appear beside us in one of the fields with a large plow lowered to turn over the soil.  With only lights on in the front of the tractor we felt the effects of the rumbling machine before we had the chance to see it clearly.

Truly the farmer never seems to take a break.  A field recently harvested is quickly turned over and reseeded with the next crop.  Over the year it seems that the cycle goes something like this: grain, maize, feldsalat (a tiny little lettuce that is harvested by many workers on their hands and knees).  Then there is some kind of root, or tuber vegetable that is simply mixed into the soil as a natural fertilizer.  There are other food crops and non-food crops, but the same thing applies…they are always doing something in the fields.

Most of the local farmers are people with ‘regular’ jobs on top of their family farm so that when work is done in a 9 to 5 job, the evenings are spent either sowing, or harvesting.

One of the only fields around our house that is still sitting (as far as I can tell) fallow with a fertilizer crop waiting to be plowed into the ground is home to a pair of Ring Neck Pheasants.  The dog usually keeps off the fields as there are plenty of field mice to catch on the edges and borders of the fields, yet the other day in the misty evening fog the dog ran back along the dirt road looking like someone who has realized they’ve just missed an item in the last aisle they passed in the grocery store.  A new sound, or smell has directed him to the edge of the field and on instinct he plunges into the frost covered greenery and bounds like a dolphin would at sea.  Then, Whoosh! a pheasant hen takes to the air and skims the plants with a zigzag flight only to disappear into the fog at the other end of the field.  With determination the dog keeps looking and soon a large male pheasant complete with a beautiful long tail shoots out of the plants a few metres away from where I am standing on the roadside.  Along with the zigzag flight he adds his own scolding clucking as he too disappears the same way his mate did a few seconds earlier.

Winter fog has obscured my vision, but it has also helped to make some things clear.  The farmer never stops, and nature will always surprise.

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Ghostly horses graze in a frost covered field.

Another View on Another Advent

The expectation of both the birth of the Christ child, and the second coming of the Messiah echo through the liturgical year.  Advent is ever present in the local news as televised German news broadcasts have Advent wreaths burning just off to the sides of the newscasters desks.

While Advent brings the new liturgical year there are somethings that remain constant.  I’m glad to say that things are beginning to repeat themselves and I don’t feel like I am climbing such a steep learning curve.

The learning curve isn’t declining for all people however.  My final (I hope) language and integration class was spent trying to moderate the religious freedoms represented in Germany.  Being the only person that has had opportunity to read a lot of different scriptures from a variety of faiths it made some sense that I would navigate the final discussion on faith and religion.  With even a wide variety of Christian denominations and traditions being represented, along with followers of Islam, Buddhism and an Atheist the discussion was curious as people seemed to discover a new curiosity.

The first Sunday in Advent had Bishop Robert Innes presiding over the Eucharist and Confirming three of the youth in the Anglican Church in Freiburg.  Bishop Robert was able to speak about confirmation as a commitment.  This commitment is certainly true, and is contrary to many feeling that confirmation as a ‘graduation’ for many youth to now leave the life of church community.

While we continue to wait with pregnant expectation this Advent, I also hope that we might rediscover the curiosity of those who are witnessing the freedom of religion in a new country.  As I write, the church is preparing a two day Advent Prayer Path where several members of the church have creatively made prayer stations that will certainly awaken our Advent curiosity and help us not to hear an ever fainter echo of Advent, rather a resounding renewal of what it means to see Advent with renewed passion and commitment.

Just One Star?!

Rating systems and pollsters have hit some new lows, yet we remain surrounded by subjective public ranking. The church Facebook page gives the ability to any user to rate the church. Equally, hotels, restaurants and even a public washroom can have star quality. In some news there’s been reports of the famous Michelin Stars being granted to a Canadian highway rest stop because of the quality food they sell. The same star rank was given to a food truck in another country.
There is some debate about the levels of quality, nonetheless the stars are there along with the opinions. Do they really matter? I believe they do, and they don’t. Read on and I will try to explain.

In the church there are a couple of tests, quality controls, or plain simple observations that can offer constructive feedback – at least that’s the ideal. One such test is the “mystery worshipper” who, like the commercial equivalent of the mystery shopper, has a list of check points to cover. If you’re still not clear, think of the mechanic giving your car a 21 point inspection. I’m not sure if the Anglican Church in Freiburg folks are aware, but they’ve been reviewed by a ‘Ship of Fools’ mystery worshipper. You can find the review online.

In past congregations I have brought in mystery worshippers to give some evaluation. It helps me to get another point of view. I try to alternate between a Christian reviewer and someone who is Spiritual but not religious (SBNR). The reviewers have different points of view: someone of a different church or denomination makes comments that are, well, ‘churchy’. They have a bit of a critical eye towards form and function. For example, they might suggest that ‘you say baptism declares full participation in the church, but then only adults do the major rolls of service in worship’. The non-religious, or the spiritual but not religious person usually has a very different report that is no-less important. The SBNR person usually has some powerful insights about belonging, and some that are so basic that they are invisible in plain sight. Here’s some comments as examples – ‘do you really think that everyone knows when to sit stand or kneel? I felt foolish as the only one mumbling along to a prayer everyone else seemed to know. I couldn’t find the front door.’
Another test that I have done personally in churches that I might visit is the ‘Coffee test’. Esenially, the coffe test is a test to see if the community ‘walks the talk’. They’ve been in worship, now what do they do afterwards? Grab a cup of coffee and see who talks to you. What do they talk about? Is God mentioned in the conversation?

Travelling with my own small children we found a local church to go to for a Sunday morning. It was a disaster! The online presence was nothing like the actual experience. Admittedly, I was only there for one Sunday so I can say it is a limited survey, but the impressions were long lasting.

I felt lied to. Pictures of a young active church online was replaced with the reverse. Apparently everyone was on holiday. We were forced to stand and introduce ourselves. The congregation was small enough that we were easily recognised as ‘others’. Worship was standard. The children were children and the adults did their bit by making ‘ssshhhhing’ sounds at us. I felt like crawling into a hole. I was just glad we made it to church as the online directions actually brought us to another neighbouring building and the only door with a sign said ‘Ancestry research library open Tuesday to Friday.’ I nervously explained that we were at the Jehovas Witness’.

At coffee I was told the pastor would come and introduce herself. She was nowhere in sight. I was given a ‘visitors mug’ to identify me as a visitor (as if standing up and publicly stating this fact in worship had now slipped the minds of the regular worshippers).
Needless to say, I had a cup of coffee and ate several doughnuts. Maybe I’m a nervous eater, as nobody ever came to speak to me. I was upset. I did however, fail the church as I never gave any polite comments about my feelings. How would they ever know if I didn’t tell them? How would they ever try to make changes or corrections when I had never expressed my own perceptions and needs? Of course I didn’t think that they would automatically change things just for me, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be the last to feel this way. We are not consumers of religion, yet rankings somehow make us fall dangerously into this model.

Saying this: the rankings do have a role that the church needs to be aware of in its service to the wider community. I therefore see both the good and the not so good power of rankings. If we put all our hope on one system it will sadly let us down. If I go to church strictly for the top quality raking I might be disappointed. Fortunately, I have found that no matter how great, or how terrible the worship was, I’ve still been able to meet God in the experience.

Let me propose that God is always calling us for better, but at the same time we live with the brokeness, the complex relationships and the fragility of the world knowing that God has already declared it Good.

Now, let’s see how many stars I get for this post!

(Editorial Notes: I pounded out this article the other day while I was waiting for my language exam to begin – that’s another story.  Typing with my thumbs on my smartphone keyboard was less than ideal, but at least my nervous energy was directed toward something constructive.  

What I would like to add is, there are, and will be times when the congregation does not pass the coffee test.  Perhaps a ranking of one star will show up sooner or later, however, this is no reason to fret.  Conversely, if we always get high rankings, 5 stars, can’t we then aim for a sixth…just one more star?  As Advent will begin soon, the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany will soon follow.  Upon reflection, this long article might be left as ‘all thumbs’ if we just follow the stars.  The Magi certainly follow the star, but it is not what they come to worship.  As communities of faith being aware of the rankings is one thing, but forgetting who we really worship is a much more risky and damaging game to play.)

Narrow

There’s a reason why the rearview mirror in vehicles is so much smaller in size than the front windshield.  The majority of our time is spent speeding forward so we need a large view, a big picture.  Whilst the times we use the review mirror is relatively few…and some might say that there are some drivers that never seem to use it.

Driving at a good speed in reverse is seldom done.  The view we find is narrow and often a bit distorted.  The rearview mirror makes us look through our own vehicles and all our stuff, or the passengers in the back seats, to the world outside.  Most accidents at low speed happen while drivers are reversing their cars.

It seems to me that drivers, institutions and even nations can get their views confused so that they act and behave as if they are looking through the rearview mirror.

It is all too easy to say this about politics –  that the juggernaut of a nation is barrelling down through history with a narrow, backwards and distorted view.  It can make for scary driving.  It makes for horrific living.  Yet I too am narrow.  Narrow in my views and spheres of interaction. I rarely get feedback from the various subscribers to my blog.  Most of them are likely ‘bots’ that just want me to click back to them to find some kind of marketing advertisement.

Equally, my computer keeps track of the websites I’ve visited and I surround myself in a bubble of like-minded folks.  It is uncomfortable to experience the other and to learn something about a person, a place, a people, that we might find ‘other-worldly’.  Despite this risk, many do make that leap and find that their perspective has changed.

Admittedly it is exhausting listening to angry, violent and abusive rhetoric yet the work of listening and seeking to understand is important.  How else can bridges of understanding be built? How else can we then understand that we are all riding in the same vehicle? Reconciliation is tough work, and our view points, opinions and perspectives need to be shared, as well as critically examined.

Muddling through

Every two weeks people in the congregation get together to study the Bible.  The name of the group is ‘Roots & Shoots’ which doesn’t tell people new to the church a lot about what we do, but it is a name that has stuck and which I emphasize as the ‘Roots & Shoots Bible Study‘.  In the back of my mind I still wonder if there will be a day when someone comes to the group ready to garden.  Despite the name, the purpose is simple: study the Bible.

For many years I have participated in Bible Study groups both as studies which take place in the churches, or as private home group Bible study.  Not a single group is the same.  Not a single meeting is the same and this causes both delight and frustration for many.

I can recall the first time I was asked to lead a Bible Study group and the interesting personalities which made it…let’s say, interesting.  The formal leadership of the group was an elder layman who had basically grown up in the church and seemed to live and breath the Bible.  He used a ‘method’ that had people studying large passages throughout the entire Bible over the course of a couple years.  It was a study that would give anyone an overview at just about every book in the Bible.  From the moment I was asked to take a lead all I could really think about was the most senior person in the group, a woman named Joan.  Joan was a (long) retired teacher whom I am sure taught in a one room school house with pupils writing letters and numbers on pieces of slate and erasing their mistakes with ripped pieces of cloth.  Joan loved to talk and she loved to talk with her eyes closed.  Yes the habit of closing her eyes and talking at you:  at times you might have thought that some oracle was speaking, but for the most part I found it exceedingly annoying as it blocked any further attempt at any conversation.  Bible study usually meant a race between the leader who had prepared an outline, and Joan who, once started, could go the distance and take over the entire session.

These battles often meant that the group which met remained small and that the turn over in membership was high.  In fact it was probably my own look of having one foot out the door that the leader proposed that I should lead.

The long awaited evening came and as usual we met in the boardroom which gave the impression that about ten people more should be coming at any moment.  The table was a wood laminate and was badly chipped around some of the edges.  The carpet was an overwhelmingly bright avocado green with a hint of over-ripeness to it with brown flecks that were either bits of dirt that had accumulated, or a poorly made design feature.  The stackable chairs were uncomfortable and the arms of the chairs sometimes became a little loose with the wear and tear suddenly pinching your fleshy bits of arms if you were not careful.  A wonderful start to the evening.

I’ve read somewhere in some managerial magazine that board meetings and boardrooms lend themselves to a psychology of power struggles depending on who sits where.  The chair often takes the head of the table and the anti-chair (antagonist) usually sits directly opposite.  Those who wish to be ignored are often to the right and to the left of the chair, in a way, they are present, but not really present enough to be called upon for questioning, or discussion.

I arrived a little ahead of schedule like an athlete visualizing the course of events that was about to happen.  I sat in my usual chair and did not claim the head of the table like the leader usually did.  Closing my eyes, and maybe being seen to waver from side to side  like some skier mentally preparing for the downhill event I was startled to find that Joan was sitting exactly opposite me in a chair that was not her usual seat.  The antagonist had arrived.  Small chit-chat ensued and I was so very tempted to silently get up and change seats while Joan lamented her days events with tightly shut eyes.  Obviously the crowing glory of her day was to be the Bible Study group.

To my surprise there were more people in attendance.  It was, I thought, like people coming to see a spectator sport.  I had the notes that the leader had given  me and they were laid out on the table in front of me like a script.  Once we began it became apparent that I wasn’t comfortable with the status quo of the leader trying to rattle off as much of his script before his competitor, a bit slow off the block, but far more enduring, got started on her own race to the finish.

No sooner had I started that the leader began interjecting like a perfectionist director of a Shakespearean production –  I wasn’t following the script! Instead I did the unthinkable and started with a simple request that we read together the passage of study and note what interested us, or what was challenging, or if something was just plain strange.  Truly white knuckled stuff this was.  “But this isn’t how it is suppose to be!”, the elder leader burst out.  A small pause of silence which always feels excruciatingly long ensued until someone began to say that something from verse 12 really spoke to them.

We had gone through about two people who were perhaps more surprised at their own willingness to speak, when the warning signs of someone coming up from the rear of our Bible study track were upon us.  Joan sighed inwardly, closed her Bible (King James of course), folded her arms across her chest in a movement that suggested that she was adjusting her sweater for when cold seeped into the room, and with drooping eyelids and a slightly tipped back head she began.

A few minutes later, after we had heard about what seemed an actual recount of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness I spoke up.  I began to point out a small reference Joan had made in regards to the actual passage we intended to study and wondered aloud if others had any other thoughts on the subject.  I thanked Joan for her impressions and scanned the faces around the table for someone who looked eager to jump in with their own ideas.

It was like a tennis match had started and peoples eyes flicked across the length of the table from me to the Joan.  Joan had stopped talking and one eye lid flickered open and the look of the people around the table was as if I had just awakened the Kraken whilst the elder leader was quickly on the Flying Dutchmen off into the hidden darkness of the car park outside.

Repeating the words, “Oh no, oh no!” in ones head does actually give the appearance of serenity and deep prayer.  Yet the crack had opened and it seems a dams worth of water was now going to rush through as others burst forth with their own insights and questions about the scripture.

After the evening had wrapped up I felt exhausted and I felt that I had failed.  I looked around the boardroom at all in attendance and had an image of a shipwreck in mind.  Yet there was more talking, more excitement, more interaction with everyone, not just Joan and the leader.  I began to feel more like we were somehow saved in the wreckage and were in a lifeboat together.  Something had saved the night.  Yes, it was stormy.  Yes, we had people yelling that they could not swim (metaphorically speaking). But now here we all were in the same boat and it felt that we were now rowing, not in circles with one person in the bow pointing, and other in the stern demanding that we go her way.  No.  Instead it felt like we were on a journey of discovery and that whatever the weather we could all stick an oar in and contribute and therefore go somewhere.

This experience, although it happened over twenty years ago still has an impact on me to this day.  It is curious, and rewarding to also know that the passage we studied was Luke 8: 22-25 where Jesus calms the storm which ravages the boat filled with disciples.  No Bible Study meeting has ever been the same – both a frustration and a great relief.

Luke 8. 24The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, weʼre going to drown!”  He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25“Where is your faith?”he asked his disciples.

Light

People often tell me that they enjoy the light of Freiburg.  That there is a unique quality to the light that is distinctive to the place.  Usually I just see light without the uniqueness that others enjoy.  Perhaps I am simple.

I now run around 5 kilometres three to four times a week as part of my wellbeing.  It was the other day, perhaps from a ‘runners high’ that I noticed the light.  My running routes purposely take me away from the busy roads and I find myself running through fields and vineyards.  The weather is getting cooler and I usually am the only person walking, or running outside.  In the evenings the gym near the train station is aglow with neon lights and the bobbing silhouette of men and women jogging on treadmills.  Even when it is raining the grey clouds don’t always seal up the sun.  Particularly in the evenings towards sun-set the light is wonderful and majestic for a few moments.  There are times on my runs when I want to stop and dig out my phone so that I can snap a quick photo, but the light is so perfect for just a short time that the moment has passed before I can untangle my headphones and retrieve my phone.  The photos never do any justice to the overall view.

Now the sun provides such a contrast to the grey clouds, the flocks of birds that scavenge the spilt corn, and the multi coloured vines that make the hills into a patchwork quilt of colour.

Is it from the time spent being in one place that I can now see the light in the way that others have tried to express? Or is it the pumping heart, the working legs and the distance that is more than just kilometres that has worked to open my eyes to the etherial light of Freiburg?

 

Promises

Julie Andrews acting as Mary Poppins talks of ‘a pie crust promise’ in the Disney movie of the same name, and describes the pie crust promise as: “Easily made. Easily broken.”

At its simplest, a promise is for an individual.  One person can promise to do things for ones self.  In the more complex, a promise is an oath, or pact between one person and many.  In another, a promise is between a person and God; and God and his people.

I make those famous ‘pie crust promises’ to myself a lot of the time.  I’m not one for New Years Resolutions, but I do promise to myself that I will do something and that usually works…for a while.  My newest promise to myself is to take more time for physical fitness.  I’ve found that living in the land of beer and pretzels has changed my features so exercise is something I need to do.  Self-care is a phrase that is thrown around among church leaders, yet our track record is pretty dismal.  Self-care phrases are surrounded by the words of expectation and guilt, namely, “would’a, could’a and should’a.”  “I really should exercise more!”,  prompts me into doing so under duress.  The excuses for not finding the time to exercise are rampant, as there always seems to be some more pressing issue, or meeting in the calendar to look after other than ourselves.

In the church congregation I have managed to pull a ‘Jephthah’.  What is that? Well Jephthah is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Judges and in his pride he publicly proclaims that as God as his witness he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house to give God glory.  Tragically it is his loving (and only) daughter that runs out of the house first to meet her father.  Promising to do something and then not doing it comes with the speaking before thinking type of personality.  I’ve promised to do some things in the church and have not acted upon them with the speediness I had promised.  For this I am sorry and these things hang about on a long To Do list like some spectre of Christmas Past.

While the above promise mentions God, it is more a statement of oath that is a public one.  The promises, or oaths, that I made as a priest, are also in the context of community, but have a deeply personal relationship with God, and with God’s people.  Like at a wedding when one party makes oaths to the other (to love and cherish in sickness and in health) so too does the person being ordained priest make those similar statements to God and God’s Church.  “Will you be diligent in prayers, and in reading of the holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh? Answer: I will endeavour myself so to do, the Lord being my helper.” (Book of Common Prayer pg 576-577)  Judging from my bookshelf I read a lot of books about the world in which I might find God present.  Of course I study my Bible and attempt to pray the daily offices of Morning and Evening prayer, but the big word is attempt.  Does this count as endeavouring? I think that a lot of people do endeavour as these questions of promise and fulfilment are perennial discussion topics in a congregation.  It is in the struggle that we meet God, not in the giving up and walking away.

Perhaps I have now come full circle in my list of promises as I have, in the past, trained to run races and proudly remember making a very good time in one gruelling mountain race. I have not always run, neither have I always prayed the daily offices.  Perhaps it is the enduring of the promise that is the place of grace.  Rather than looking at a promise as a quick way to find a solution, or the fast track to complete a goal, a promise is an enduring relationship between me and God, just as it is a relationship between me and a community.  The promise is not the thing that will change us, it is the continual wrestling with ourselves, with the words we speak, and the work we have left undone.  The promise will rear its head again and again because we are cannot complete all that we have promised.  That is God’s work of promise that is completed for us, and so we continue to wrestle with our own promises and shortcomings and we end up being changed –  a people who run with a limp.

 

via Daily Prompt: Promises