Tuesday, 29 April 2014

This Is Our Story: Why We Really All Love 'Rev'

I shudder to think how many blog posts and opinion columns have been written about Rev, the BBC award-winning comedy about the vicar of a struggling inner city church. Mea maxima culpa; this is my second (I wrote this a while ago). It's brought out the inner telly critic in many of us, for the same reason that it has been pre-sold to 141 countries and won a clutch of awards; because it's such compelling watching.

But why is that? James Mumford, in an opinion piece for the Guardian, suggests that its near-universal appeal belies its secularist heart, that the agenda for its plotlines are defined by a-christian 'outsider' scriptwriters who impose a-christian responses upon 'insider' characters who are meant to embody Christianity, that the out-of-tune singing of the show's small, rag-tag congregation sounds the death-knell of religion in the western world.

I'm not convinced. I'm not convinced, tempting though the classic dichotomy of 'insiders' and 'outsiders' is, both in religion and in literary theory; Mumford's article is a prime example of assuming that the construct of emic and etic readings is aptly applied to any given text; in this case, a television show. In short, emic understandings, responses or interpretations are those emerging from within the tradition represented in any given text, whereas etic readings are those of outsiders. This socio-literary construct has been undeniably helpful in picking a scholarly path through ancient writings, including those of the Bible; however, for the modern-day Church of England, I'm not so sure that it can be applied without so many disclaimers that an emic/etic dichotomy becomes such a fuzzy line that it seems at points to disappear altogether. In other words, it's almost impossible to tell who's in and who's out.  Of course, there are some people, like myself, an ordained priest, who are obviously 'in', and there are others who, by all accounts, are firmly 'out'. Even there though, at what seems like the opposite end of the faith spectrum, you have to be careful; resolute atheists still have church funerals, as I know from experience, and even Richard Dawkins, bless him, has a fondness for Anglicanism.  As someone who lives in England, well he might, because the basic requirement and raison d'etre of the Church of England is that it is a church for the people of England, and anyone living anywhere in England has as much right of access to its services and care as any other, regardless of whether they are on the flower rota and the Giving Action Group, and come to church three times a week, or whether they wander in off the streets one day when it's raining. For me, this is one of the wonderful things about the Church of England, its refusal to decide who is in and who is out. Whether we jump with both feet right into the deep end of PCC and Deanery Synod, or stand around the edges looking nervously and wondering how cold it might be in there, we are all equally entitled to the enormous, municipal swimming pool that is the Church of England.

It's not just that, though; I'm not convinced by Mumford's argument because I suspect that his own perception of the creeping influence of secularisation conditions him to interpret the show in one particular way (as a good Anglican, far be it from me to say whether his reading is an emic or an etic one), so that he misses the real appeal of the show. I believe it to this: the literary trope of the heroic individual who fights for right in the face of a corrupt and heartless regime. It is the story of David and Goliath. Another David,  David Mitchell, tells it in a succession of brilliantly interweaving plots in  Cloud Atlas. In a more obviously religious context, it is the dramatic force of the 1986 movie The Mission, voted by Church Times readers in 2007 as the best religious movie made. At one, very profound level, it is the story of Christ on the cross.

And yes, it's the story of Adam Smallbone, that everyman who, despite adversities on every side, manages to keep integrity, respect and true reverence as the virtues which sustain him (swearing outbursts notwithstanding). His prayers are real. His faith is real. His love for his wife and child is real. It is this reality that makes him the priest in whom people really believe. The subtle message of 'Rev', to me at least, is that we don't believe that faceless, heartless bureaucracies can save the world, but a bumbling, trying-to-hold-on-just-about vicar of true heart might just. We know that management-slick and pseudo-professionalism is nothing but insubstantial froth; we've the politics of spin-doctors to thank for that particular insight. But we hope, hope, hope, in the least articulated echo chambers of our heart, that there might be something real in this world of falsity, and we might not be surprised if reality turns out to be the Beatitudes, mumbled as a mantra by a sweating vicar with a duvet around his ears. And this reality, this rock-bottomness, is the antidote to the regime, the rage against the machine, the burning and raving at close of day, that is the real struggle for the soul of our age.

We know, somewhere buried very deep within, that the besetting sin of our generation is superficiality. We need stories that hint to us, however obliquely, that we can fight it, that give us hope, however vague. But what we really need are stories of the struggle against superficiality not only without, in the form of church commissioners and the pantomime-villain archdeacon, but within, in the form of anxieties and temptations. We need the literary trope of the individual's fight for right to go to the very deepest parts of who we are. So we watch as Adam smashes up the sculpture and confesses his fateful kiss to his wife. We need someone to do that for us, because somehow, that's our story, too.

If I didn't know better, I'd say there's something almost priestly about 'Rev' in its representation of our true selves and their true struggles.         

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Out of the Dust: A Short Thought about Beautiful Things

Six weeks ago today, I was walking around with an ash cross on my forehead. 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return' I had been told, and I told others. 'Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ.' (I managed to mangle the words at one point and tell someone to turn away from Christ.  Whoops! Thankfully I got a wry grin in response and not a sharp frown.)

 I know that Lent isn't actually over until the great triumphant shout of Easter Sunday joy. Today, though, just before the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday take us on their strange pilgrimage from the bittersweet table-fellowship tinged with betrayal, the unexpected intimacy of Jesus' foot-washing and the tenderness of the 'mandatum novum' (new commandment) from which Maundy Thursday gets its name, to the jeers and spit and blood and desolation and sheer agony of Good Friday, I found myself thinking about the dust of Ash Wednesday, and what is made out of it. Obviously, not literally; the ash crosses were wiped away by that evening. But that very sober reality that are are dust, and to dust we shall return; what is made out of that?    

That might sound  off-beam, but it isn't. Genesis 2 narrates how God creates Adam out of the dust of the earth, and into this dust breathes his own breath of life so that Adam becomes a living being. The dust takes on a life of its own, and starts to create things of its own, things that also live and grow and thrive in the beauty of God's garden. All this from dust. Carl Sagan, the agnostic astronomer, described the earth as 'a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.' Remember that you are dust. (Here is a truly wonderful poem; do listen.) For people of faith, dust isn't the end; it's just the beginning.

My surprise Lent present from God, via some friends, was the discovery of Beautiful Things , a music album by the American Christian band Gungor, which I wouldn't have come across without my Lenten discipline of only listening to sacred music in all its varied forms. 'You make beautiful things out of the dust; you make beautiful things out us' became my Lenten anthem. I thought about all this as I walked my dog, Ben, at the local nature reserve.  At the start of Lent it was still comically boggy underfoot, and bare branches reached up to the cloudy sky. When the first buds started to appear, I didn't know what they'd become, and when the first green shoots emerged from the earth I had no idea that soon they'd grow into early bluebells and violas. The nature reserve, I learned, is a disused gravel pit. At some point it'd have been bare and ugly, yet here it is, bursting into springtime life. As soon as I knew it had been a gravel pit, it explained why it is so dramatically hilly; each mound was a pile of earth, the leftovers after all the useful stuff had been taken. 'You make beautiful things out of the dust.'

Who knows what beautiful things might be made out of the dust of our lives?


Sunday, 13 April 2014

I say, I say, I say, when is a Roman Triumph not a Roman Triumph? A Sermon for Palm Sunday

When I was at school, in our school hall where I sat through many a dull assembly, there was a big wooden board with the names of all of our Head Boys and Head girls. I remember looking up at this list as an easily-impressed eleven year old, and wondering what it must be like to be that grown up, that capable, that sophisticated, to be Head Girl of a whole school. At the top, in a gilt-edged wooden carved box, were the words ‘Roll of Honour.’ 

It’s hard to imagine a more auspicious roll of honour in the ancient world than the Fasti Triumphales, an inscription which forms part of the Fasti Capitolini, which are now on display in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The Fasti Trimphales is a list, published in the year 12BCE, of all the Roman Triumphs awarded to the great heroes of the Roman Empire, starting with the mythical Romulus, son of Mars and going through the ages down to the proconsul of Africa, Cornelius.

Each one of these triumphs was a spectacle of the wealth, the power, and the glamour of the Roman Empire, and meant an unscheduled holiday for Roman citizens, a feast, wine, games and new commemorative coins. At the heart of all this hullabaloo was a procession flanked by paraded war captives and seated in a carriage drawn by four horses, the vir trimphalis – man of triumph – himself, whose deeds of military might had won him the highest accolade Rome could offer. One scholar of Roman spectacles says that ‘In no other Roman ceremony do god and man approach each other as closely as they do in the triumph’; not only does the triumphal procession culminate in the offering of sacrifices to the gods by the man of triumph at the Temple of Jupiter, but the man of triumph becomes almost godlike himself.

The Roman Triumph was a one-day wonder; the red and purple clothing of the man of triumph could only be worn for one day only, and after that, would be permanently on display in the man of triumph’s household. Around  the edges of the Triumph was the hint of danger; things could, and did sometimes go wrong at a Roman Triumph; existing tensions could erupt, fear and jealousy and too much wine could break into violence and bloodshed. It makes my school’s Head Girl and Boy list look a bit inconsequential, to be honest.

There were no new coins minted when Jesus entered Jerusalem, neither was a day of feasting declared. Jesus’ name wasn’t added to any roll of honour, nor was he listed among Rome’s military men of triumph. As triumphal entries went, this one was pretty inconsequential, a poor provincial imitation of the glamour of Rome.  There weren’t even any horses, just a humble donkey, and every good Roman knew that donkeys had no place in military action.

They were the pack animals of the poor, only good for carrying things, often in groups – three mules could carry the equivalent of one wagon load. A man on a donkey wouldn’t intimidate anyone or impress anyone. Yet this was the very creature that Jesus had chosen for his entry into Jerusalem. ‘The Lord has need of them’, was the message that Jesus had given to his disciples as they went off to find the donkey and colt. The Lord, the one who was with God in the beginning, who took delight as creation was spoken and fashioned into being, this Lord has need of the humblest and most everyday of animals.

G. K Chesterton wrote a poem, called, simply, ‘The Donkey’:

The Donkey
by G.K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

For those Jews in the crowds in Jerusalem who knew their Scriptures and awaited their Messiah, they knew that this donkey wasn’t just a clever PR trick or a subversion of Roman propaganda, it was the enactment of the words of Zechraiah: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off.  And He will speak peace to the nations.’

This man of triumph would not be distinguished by his prowess in warfare but by his humility and peacefulness. This man of triumph would parade no captives in his procession, but, as the letter to the Ephesians would later put it, led captivity captive in his second triumphal entry, his ascension into heaven. This man of triumph wore no special clothes, but was given the garments of the people as he passed by them.
This man of triumph’s spectacle did go wrong, by all worldly criteria of success; in fact to a watching Roman it would be deemed a total disaster; Jesus ended up killed himself as the underlying tension between his followers and others erupted into violence. This man of triumph offered no sacrifices at the Temple of Jupiter, but would only too soon offer himself on the cross, the willing but heart-stricken sacrifice for the brokenness of the whole world. 

This is the triumph of the cross, the triumph that lasts not just for one day but goes on through time and across the whole world, a triumphal procession that continues down the ages to us today. Thanks be to God, says Paul, who always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  The processions that we have had in our churches today are just a way of reminding us what we are, reminding us that we are part of this great procession of faith.

And at the centre of this procession, as ever, is the man of triumph, not seated among war horses but carried on humble, everyday creatures whose only real job in life is to carry things. That’s us. Our only real job in life is to carry the love and the peace of Christ to one another and to those who aren’t yet part of this great procession of peace. It might look inconsequential to the watching world, provincial and homespun, but this procession of peace is where we will find Jesus, because it is where Jesus chooses to be; it’s where Jesus needs to be.

Remember those words, ‘the Lord has need of them.’  The Lord has need of us, to be the humble ones who will carry him into the places we spend our time, into our communities and schools, workplaces and homes. We might see ourselves as too humble to be of any use to God, but that’s just the point; again, to paraphrase Paul, God chooses the foolish and the humble things of this world to shame those who consider themselves wise and sophisticated. 

And as we walk through our lives in this triumphal procession of peace and faith, we pick up all sorts of humble waifs and strays along the way.

To change metaphor, the Jesuit Greg Boyle uses the image of a circle to say this: 'See Jesus standing in the lowly place,' and that's powerful for me because I think we ought to be standing in the lowly place. I think we ought to be standing at the margins as Jesus did so that the margins will get erased. That you stand at the very edges of the circle of compassion so that the circle will widen because we've chosen to stand there.’

As we walk through Holy Week together, may we do so knowing that we are part of a procession of compassion and peace, through which God spreads in every place, the fragrance that comes from knowing him, the fragrance of peace and redemption, of forgiveness and a fresh start, of love and of dignity, for all people. Amen. 


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

'Rise up, warriors': A Sermon about War in the Bible

NB Members of our congregations were invited to suggest themes for our sermons during Lent. They rose to the occasion admirably and posed some excellent questions; this sermon is in response to the question 'What are we to make of the passages of the Bible in which God instructs people to kill?' 


'Rise up, warriors, take your stand at one another's sides, our feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground.'
Does anyone know which book of the Old Testament these words are from? No? Well, sorry, but that as a trick question – they’re not from the Old Testament at all, they’re the words of the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus. You might know that the Spartans were famously warlike; when asked 'how far Sparta's boundaries stretched?', King Agesilaus brandished his spear and replied ‘as far as this can reach.’ The Spartans were a warmongering people in a warmongering world. War is one of the most important subjects in ancient history; Greek, Roman, and Jewish ancient historians, as well as Spartan poets, talk of war in shaping their world. So does the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  Let's face it, you thought for a moment there, didn't you, and if I'd told you that Tyrtaeus' words were from one of the minor prophets, you'd have believed me, because those words so easily could come straight out of the pages of the Old Testament. So why is it a particular problem that the Bible does something that most, if not all, ancient civilisations do?

The answer, surely, is that no other ancient books hold such a high place of authority in the world today. Spartan and Roman accounts of war might be every bit as poetic as those in the Bible, but they do not determine how we live today. It would be unthinkable for a world leader to be inspired by the words of Tyrtaeus to go to war – yet, infamously, George W. Bush claimed that ‘God said to me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ In short, this is a problem because the Bible is, as we say every time it is read in church, the word of God. How can the words of the Prince of Peace be words of war?

Let’s be clear, this is a real problem. It’s not something that has only recently become a problem; it’s been a problem for Christian going right back to the earliest centuries of Christian faith. The theologian Origen, living in Egypt in the third century, suggested that the narratives of war in the Old Testament, especially the story of Joshua and the conquest of Israel, are to be read allegorically, to instruct the Christian believer in what it means to overcome decisively all sin and selfishness within one’s own soul – as St Paul says, to put to death the deeds of the sinful nature. In his Homily on Joshua, Origen says this: ‘Unless those physical wars bore the figure of spiritual wars, I do not think the books of Jewish history would ever have been handed down by the apostles to the disciple of Christ, who came to teach peace.’

This is one way of answering the problem of war in the Bible, and it’s still used much today. In fact I remember saying the same sort of thing myself to something of a sceptic, who replied archly, ‘Yes, it’s all very well to make it all about you and the state of your soul. But they were real people who died there, real women and men and children. Does the state your soul really justify all that killing?’

That conversation happened before I went off to study theology, and when I did, I grabbed the opportunity to grapple with some of the Bible’s thornier problems. My sceptical friend’s critique of Joshua stayed with me. As I got to know the Bible much better, and the world out of which the Bible emerged, a couple of things started to dawn on me. The first one was that I had previously thought of the Bible as one voice, which must not be inconsistent or contradictory. The more I studied it, the more I started to see the Bible more as a noisy, large family gathering of lots and lots of wonderfully passionate, human, faithful, opinionated relatives – if I were to be fanciful I might imagine a big Jewish family all around a dinner table, eating together, agreeing and arguing and interrupting, correcting and contradicting, nodding and shaking and laughing and crying, remembering and hoping and forth-telling.  This Bible, as I got to know it, this slightly shambolic and unlikely collation of an unruly rabble of writings improbably but passionately guarded and handed down within the family of God, was much more inviting and attractive to me than the Bible I had previously thought of, the one single voice that must not be inconsistent or contradictory. This was because the noisy family gathering reached out to me, set a seat for me, poured me a drink and turning on its elbow, asked ‘So what do you think?’ whereas the single voice could only be silently heard, the only apt response unquestioning acceptance.          

So as I sat at the dinner table of the family gathering and listened to the family stories, I started to realise that his family of God – the people of Israel  into which I, as a believer in Jesus have been adopted – has a backstory not of victory in war but of failure. First the Egyptians, then the Philistines, then the Assyrians, not to mention all those other tribes, so much bigger and better organised than we were – then the terrible trauma of exile in Babylon, then the Persians, then the Greeks, Alexander with his army – then the Romans…A truly objective history of the ancient world, if such a thing were possible to write,  would not portray the Israelites as a heavy hitter in war, rather as the rather pitiful victim of war after battle after conquest. The saying has it that history is written by the victors, but in the case of the Bible, that’s just not true. The Old Testament is a history written by the oppressed. One man of war, Winston Churchill, speaking very much as a man of his times, asserted that “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.” Formidable and remarkable not because of their prowess on the battlefield like the ancient Spartans, or the sheer impressive force of their presence like the Persians, but simply because of their will to survive and to remain faithful to God through failure, defeat and oppression.

So what do we do with those Bible passages in which God is described as a warrior, or in which God instructs his people to go into battle? Well, a few thoughts, which might hopefully spark off a few of your own. Firstly, we humans can only think of God in terms of the language we have available to us at any given time. As what might sound like a silly example, there’s a Psalm in which the Psalmist says this: ‘Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait on the LORD our God, until that he have mercy on us.’ When I’m working in my study, and glance down at my lovely Cocker Spaniel, and see the way he looks at me – so deeply attentive and hopeful, I can’t help thinking that the eyes of a spaniel would make a much better simile in that Psalm. But of course the Psalmist didn’t have a loyal spaniel sitting at his feet. So when the poets of the Bible, and much of it is poetry, say that God is a warrior who fights for his people and leads them into war, maybe that is saying something profound about God’s presence with his people and his leading of his people – but equally, if we wanted to say the same thing today, we probably would find different language in which to say it.  The people of the Hebrew Bible knew God as a warrior because they were people compelled to fight for their existence, and they knew that God was with them in the midst of their many battles for survival.

Secondly, yes, there are passages in the Bible in which war seems to be glorified, and we find that difficult. One thing to bear in mind, though, is that the Bible is not written in anything like chronological order, nor were the narratives written at the same times as they events they describe. Their writers may be distanced from those events either by space, or by time. When you get a quiet evening sometime, read through the histories of the books of Kings and of Chronicles, and ask yourself how different these are. Chronicles was written long after Kings, so it’s understandable that its perspective on the events narrated are very different. Also, keep the image of the noisy family gathering around a dinner table in your mind – it’s understandable that within such a family gathering, different personalities will speak, some more bloodthirsty than others. There are other voices too, though, most obviously the Ten Commendments: ‘thou shalt not kill’, and also the battle scenes in which God’s people pitch up, ready to trounce the enemy, and are told that they need only stand still, the Lord will fight for them.

Most profoundly though, the Bible’s own answer to this question of killing is the one we look in the face today, and that is the cross of Christ. Jesus did not fight back. He did not mass his army of followers or of angels. He did not use is influence to start a bloodthirsty revolution. He allowed himself to suffer great pain and to die the death of a criminal, events unthought of for the long-awaited Messiah who would set this oppressed people free of her captors. And yet as Christians are       here this morning to celebrate that death, and to remember it in the Eucharist, because we believe that through his death, Jesus’ power was shown to the uttermost, to the entire cosmos as the true nature of the Messiah was revealed not in war or in shows of physical or political strength, but in love and in the sacrifice of God himself. The power of the cross blows apart any militaristic notion of strength this word can imagine. The true answer to this oppressed people was that true freedom doesn’t come through fighting back, but by the laying down of God’s own life, in Jesus, and in his command to us, his people, to go and do likewise. Amen. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Of bricks and giant cardboard thermometers

Are you a Rev fan? I'm guessing so, purely on the mathematically dubious statistic that I haven't yet met someone who doesn't enjoy it. Last week's episode, as well as featuring a same-sex marriage, had the Archdeacon presenting the eponymous Rev Adam Smallbone with a huge cardboard fundraiser thermometer and the instructions 'filly filly, uppy uppy' and booking him on to a church growth seminar which turns out to be a wonderfully observed parody of the worst type of sub-commercial management speak that infests all manner of walks of modern life, the church included. Adam, responsible for a large, historically significant building and a dwindling congregation,  looks woefully at both the thermometer and at his old chum from theological college, now making a living out of making clergy feel insufficient, and feels the burden of being expected to do more and more with less and less.

At the moment, in our morning prayers, we are reading through the seminal narrative of the Hebrew Bible, the Exodus; literally, in the Greek, that gives us the book's name, the 'way out' of slavery in Egypt and eventually to the freedom of the promised land. It's the first Bible story I remember consciously from my childhood; back then, in my primary school classroom, I was enthralled by the drama, the heroism and the villainy in this epic. I still am, and even now, earlier his week when I heard the story of Moses' encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush (if you haven't heard this story in a while, here is a good animated version), I suspended my prior knowledge and put myself in the shoes which Moses had taken off, allowing myself to be in the moment of meeting with the divine. I found myself wondering what it must have felt like for the children of Israel to have been slave-labourers for the Egyptian regime, producing and producing and producing brick after brick after brick. Where is God? they might well have asked as the toiled. He's not around here, that's for sure. 

Then, that moment of divine encounter:   ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.' I have observed. I have heard. I know. I have come down. I have seen. The burning bush is a place not only of Moses' meeting with God, but also of Moses' realisation that God has been with his people all along, all through their toil and slog, all through the injustice and exhaustion. I was there with you, all the time, says Yahweh. I have heard. I have seen. I know.  

Back to Rev. As I said, I've yet to meet someone who doesn't appreciate its gentle but sharp observational humour, and maybe one of the reasons for that is that the show has a knack for apt expression of things that are deeply true. There are clergy, like Adam, responsible for large, historically significant buildings and dwindling congregations who have, if not an actual gigantic cardboard fundraising thermometer in their churches then certainly an internal equivalent in their minds, constantly reminding them of the enormity of the needs around them and the lack of resources with which to meet those needs. They feel the burden of pressure to do more and more with less and less. And, without wishing to descend into too much sub-standard unqualified pyschobabble, maybe the reason that the Archdeacon is such a delicious pantomime villain is that it's quite cathartic to externalise and personify the part of oneself that stands there, aloofly examining one's fingernails and lightly but deliberately pointing out just how very far one falls short.   

Of course, this scenario doesn't just concern clergy. The burden of pressure to do more and more with less and less is one that is carried by so many - too many - in our frenetic, driven society. Children are taught to perform, achieve, and produce from a young age. Adults are judged by how well they perform, achieve and produce. The sunny aspect of this state of affairs is that wonderful opportunities may be opened up for people. The shadow side is that it can feel like simply producing and producing and producing, brick after brick after brick. And where is God in amongst all this achievement, production and performance? He can feel very distant at times. But the encounter with Moses says it all: I have heard. I have seen. I know. 

The irony is that for those of us with an inner Archdeacon, God can feel more like Pharaoh demanding more and more and giving less and less, than the Yahweh whose promise is one of freedom.    

So what does freedom look like for those of us who are conditioned to perform, achieve and produce? A while ago,  I suggested that spiritual freedom is a bit like a dog running through a woodland. You might think of other, better similes. One thing it's not, though, is inactivity. The opposite of slavery is not rest, it's freedom; maybe part of what this means is that when we, like Moses, encounter God in such a way that we know that he knows all our struggles and sufferings and, like Moses, screw our courage to the sticking-place and allow ourselves to be led across inhospitable landscapes and despite perilous opposition, to a new place of freedom in our lives, is that when we get there, we find that what we have to do is no less demanding, but entirely and at times unpredictably fulfilling as we enter more fully into becoming the people whom God has created us to be.  Creating a new people, as the Exodus did, is no less difficult than churning out bricks, but qualitatively, it's such a very different type of activity that to call both 'work' seems not quite right.  

 I have observed. I have heard. I know. I have come down. I have seen.  I have seen your giant thermometer and your critical Archdeacon and your soul-destroying training seminar. I have seen you producing and producing and producing, brick after brick after brick.  I was there with you, all the time, says Yahweh. I have heard. I have seen. I know. Now take off your shoes, come with me, and I'll show you what to do.