Sunday, 31 May 2009

Happy Pentecost, y'all.

We liked this video from Albert, one of our favourite ministers - well in the top 200 anyway (don't want him to get big headed).

Christians sometimes mump their gums about Christmas being an overcommercialised Santa-fest and then at Easter we're inclined to moan about society's fixation with bunnies, chicks and daffodils. We want folk to know about the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection. We get opportunities at Christmas and Easter, as the Church, to tell the story, as the world does nod in our direction at these seasons.

At Pentecost, on the other hand, we're left entirely to our own devices. Given the huffing and puffing some of us do at Christmas and Easter we should be pleased to be left alone at Pentecost.

Pentecost is absolutely up there in importance with the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. But in my denomination and in my church experience, the "celebration" of Pentecost has been a pretty low key affair. I wonder if that's because I/we haven't thought enough about how vital and fundamental to the Gospel story is the bit about the coming of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that's it really.

Or are we so worldly that we take our cue for our family celebrations and feast days more from Hallmark Cards and Tesco's "seasonal" aisle than we do from the Church and the Bible? Something to ponder.

Last night's waterfight.

Firstborn and her pal upstairs at the bathroom window and Blue-eyed Boy, Penultimate Child and Youngest fighting back from below. Lots of fun.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Hats and tightropes.

I don't look like a tightrope walker. At least I imagine tightrope walkers would be usually shaped (and probably dressed) a bit like ballerinas. I am not shaped like a ballerina and as a result it's a very good thing that I'm not dressed like a ballerina. But I am a tightrope walker. Or at least I have to try to be a tightrope walker. Walking a metaphorical tightrope. I'm a minister of religion but I'm also a civil servant. I am, to change metaphors, constantly having to wear two hats and serve two masters (God and the Governor!). This is a tricky balancing act sometimes. Much of the time there's no conflict so don't be sorry for me or anything...

I'm saying this to explain why I've not been posting much lately. I've not stopped thinking and reflecting about Prisonworld and I'm still as passionate about guys getting out of jail free, truly free. However it so happens that most of the things that I've been thinking about or have been happening in recent weeks have been stuff I can't blog about in this public forum. I'm keen with my minister hat and my blogger hat (that's three hats I'm claiming now) to talk about prisoners at every opportunity. I'm keen to raise awareness of them in the public mind and in particular in the minds and hearts of people in the Church. But with my civil servant hat on there are obviously things I can't talk about in this arena. So I've been keeping a low blogging profile.

In Churchworld, there's been a big stooshie in the Kirk and I can't talk about that either as there's a moritorium on public comment at the moment. I'm really pleased that is so as there had been a most unedifying "debate" ongoing through the press which had been very unhelpful. Openness is a good thing but no one wants to watch someone else's dirty washing being washed. So I'm glad to say nothing on that subject.

All that makes for a boring blog though I will have stuff to say soon.

I do have a fourth hat (I'm going to stop this post before I think of any more hats and start to feel overwhelmed) which is family life, and that's such a blessing. The ongoing splendid and delightful pleasure and privilege of watching them grow is fun. Up here on my tightrope I have a really clear view of them all.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

I came across this quote from Eugene Peterson on a forum today and I think it's so good I'll nick it and post it here:

"The churches of the revelation show us that Churches are not Victorian parlours where everything is picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St. John does not apologise. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms. They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, there are going to be clothes scattered about, handprints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus calls sinners to repentance – and there is no indication yet that he changed his policy in that regard- churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright. There is nothing particularly glamorous about them, nor, on the other hand is there anything particularly shameful about them. They simply are.

Much anger towards the church and most disappointments in the church are because of failed expectations. We expect a disciplined army of committed men and women who courageously lay siege to the worldly powers; instead we find some people who are more concerned with getting rid of the crabgrass in their lawns. We expect a community of saints who are mature in the virtues of love and mercy, and find ourselves working on a church supper where there is more gossip than casseroles. We expect to meet minds that are informed and shaped by the great truths and rhythms of scripture, and find persons whose intellectual energy is barely sufficient to get them from the comics to the sports page. At such times it is more important to examine and change our expectations than to change the church, for the church is not what we organise, but what God gives, not the people we want to be with, but the people God gives us to be with – a community created by the descent of the Holy Spirit in which we submit ourselves to the Spirit’s affirmation, reformation, and motivation. There must be no idealisation of the church."

So true. At a recent service in the prison with members of local churches and prisoners all mixed together so that (apart from the women of course, as it's a men's prison) you couldn't tell who was a prisoner and who was "public", it was great to reflect on the unity of this huge, bizarre, flawed, beloved, worldwide, 2000-year old Thing that we call the Church.

The most moving and powerful thing I have seen in the two years I've been in the prison service wasn't actually in the prison at all. It was in a church service in a church not far from here (not the one I normally attend). I had gone along because a former prisoner who became a Christian in prison was speaking and he is a friend. I discovered that he was sharing the platform with two other men. One of these is a prison officer who is a Christian. The other is a prison-based social worker. They stood on the platform as brothers in Christ. I'm sure it was impressive to everyone but it was so much more impressive to those of us who have experienced Prisonworld because Prisonworld is such a divided place. To be fair, how else could it be run? Broadly speaking, the tendency is that the officers and prisoners (screws and cons) hate each other and both lots hate the social workers. This is a wild exaggeration, but there is commonly a "tension" there. It was such a powerful thing to see those three men standing there as brothers in Christ that I think I will remember it always.

I love the anarchic position of the church in society. We aren't part of the divided them-and-us culture. When God looks at our prisons he doesn't see screws and cons, but a whole random bunch of sinners, all of whom he loves. Some happen to be staff. Some happen to be prisoners. All of them need Jesus, because, actually, according to Romans 7, ALL of them - all of US - are prisoners!

We in the church are seen sometimes by secular society as self-righteous and arrogant. I may say that we sometimes deserve that. But in our better moments we acknowledge this wonderful anarchic truth that we're all wading through the treacle together. We're all struggling the same struggle. My set of temptations varies from yours. But that doesn't make me better than you. Or worse than you. Some peoples' set of temptations are also things that are against the law so they risk imprisonment. If that's not true for me I'm lucky. But I'm not superior. I'm a beggar telling other beggars where I've found food.

It's a privilege to work at the interface between church inside prison and church outside prison. They are part of the one Body, yet there's a gap. I suppose it's unavoidable. Chaplains can't really make the experience of a service in a prison exactly mirror the experience of a service in the commmunity outside. It's part of our role to try to facilitate the crossing of that (mostly cultural) gap with Christian prisoners coming out of jail, and it's a challenge but also a rewarding privilege. Even on a day like today which has been a hard one, I realise what an interesting position I'm in. The down side, compared to ministers in a "normal" church is that our congregations are constantly moving on and leaving us when they get out. When a guy tells me he's being released I have to appear pleased but (between you and me and don't tell anyone else) I'm sometimes quite sad as I know I'll miss them! But I've found that "Oh no!" doesn't go down well with the prisoner when he tells you he's getting his parole...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I've been neglecting my poor wee blog recently. Partly this is due to transferring my addictive personality's attention to Facebook and Twitter, and partly it's been because my poor brain seems to be too tired to do much thinking these days. At least I've been thinking a lot, but I've not been able to marshal my thoughts into posts here.

I've had an interesting couple of days though. Yesterday (though it seems longer ago) I was doing a bit of refresher bereavement training. It was really good to take some time out to think of these issues and reflect on the privilege that we as chaplains have in being with people in their sorrow. One (male) chaplain was reflecting to me afterwards that the hardest thing for him is to sit with someone and to feel unable to come up with anything useful in terms of answers or advice. I (only half jokingly) asked him if he'd read that "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" book - which he had, as it turned out. The point that is made in that book is that men like to fix things, but according to the book women get frustrated with that because when they want to have a good old moan, they want to have a good old moan. End of. They're not looking for a solution. When Him Indoors starts solutionising in response to my moaning I call him Mr Fix It and tell him to stop it! To be fair to him and other men who fit the generalisation, I'm sure he can't see the point of moaning if you're not looking for advice or a solution so I must drive him mad. I'm eternally grateful that he puts up with me. He's a good soul really.

In the terrible reality of bereavement and grief, what the person really wants, the ONLY thing they really want, the ONE thing that would make it better, is the ONE thing you have no power to grant and that is to have the person back. Any other words or advice is likely to be irksome rather than helpful. But what's needed is someone to listen.

Carl Rodgers said that three core conditions are required by the bereaved for pastoral support to work. One is empathy, one is congruence (genuineness, sincerity) and "unconditional positive regard". Isn't that a nice phrase? Unconditional positive regard. Love, I prefer to call it.

Since then I've been spending a lot of time with fellow chaplains from other jails discussing what we do, for purposes I can't go into without having to kill you all. Hush hush. Official secrets act, civil serpents, etc.. Anyway, one of the key things that it is our huge honour to do as prison chaplains, it seems to me, is to meet prisoners with "unconditional positve regard". LOVE. The offences of the offenders may be extremely offensive. Their attitudes may be offensive. Their very appearance may be offensive! (Not that I'm any oil painting myself). But, as an act of the will, we love them. This is not a core duty of any other category of staff but is our privilege and our challenge. With God's help it's really easy actually but don't spread it around or they'll pay us less.

At the meeting this moring was a "high heid yin" who's not a chaplain. It was good to have someone who could see us as others see us. He said that he thought that the distinctive thing that we have to offer is HOPE.

The other thing which we offer is the "ordinances of religion". And the Gospel. We are the God Squad in the prison. We bring the message of Jesus to anyone who is open to hearing it. We facilitate the believing prisoners' worship opportunties. We encourage them im their spiritual growth and understanding. FAITH.

What are we about as chaplains?
Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.