I am about to go into pre-ordination ‘hibernation’ – (that would be ‘on holiday’ then) – and when I return to the blog it will be with a shiny new dog collar. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with this, as near as I can get to something as serious sounding as a manifesto, a kind of explanation of what I think I’m called to be/do and how that might affect you. This is for you if you wouldn’t call yourself a believer or an active Christian and it’s especially for you if you are somewhat alarmed by suddenly having a vicar (ie me) in your circle of friends.
I think I owe you an explanation.
There you were ambling along through life very nicely thank you managing to keep to a minimum the number of ‘odd’ or ‘strange’ people in your life and then suddenly your mother/sister/friend/neighbour/colleague (delete as appropriate) i.e. me, decides to become a martian with two heads.
Oops, sorry I meant a vicar.
It’s just that when you answer the polite enquiry ‘what do you do? with the phrase ‘I’m a vicar’ you often elicit the kind of look you’d expect someone to give a martian with two heads.
So now that I am nearly one of these strange creatures (July 3rd is O Day), I thought it was time I explained myself.
And while I’m at it, I’ll try to answer some the other questions you’ve been too polite to ask, such as ‘what is my motive?’ ‘Are my intentions towards you honourable?’ ‘Am I out to convert you?’ ‘And will telling me to ‘B*gge*r Off’ be any worse than telling anyone else?
Let’s just deal with that last one first: ‘No, ordination does not equip me with ‘Darth Vader’ death rays to shoot from my finger tips at will’. Leastways, there is no mention of these in the order of service! Nor do I get preferential treatment when it comes to commanding lightning strikes. So you can carry on being as rude to me as you usually are without any increased fear of divine retribution.
So what’s my agenda? Am out to convert you?
Well, yes. Of course I am! Let’s be honest, if I didn’t think that knowing God as creator, giver of life, bringer of peace, justice, love, forgiveness and wholeness wasn’t ‘a very good thing’ then I wouldn’t ever have chosen to complicate my life in this way. And if I do truly believe that having God in your life is ‘a very good thing’ then I would be a very mean person not to desire that for you.
So yes, I’d love to signpost/direct/encourage/accompany/guide you on a journey towards knowing God better. That is one of the main things I am called to be/do.
But does this mean that every conversation I have with you from now on will include an explanation of ‘The Four Spiritual Laws’, a recitation of all 66 books of the Bible and an altar call?
Er… No! I think/hope you know me well enough by now.
So why not? Don’t I care enough about your eternal soul? Well, yes, I hope I do but at the risk of sounding like a Beatle it’s all about ‘Love, Love, Love’ (*sings* ‘All you need is love, do-be, do-be, do’). And imposing any of those things on you would hardly be very loving. Jesus really only left the two commandments: love God and love other people. The fact that there are only two doesn’t make them easy, as they are pretty all-encompassing as commands go. But if it’s all about Love and if I do love you (and I do), then love is all about listening, accepting, seeking to understand. It’s not about barging my way into your spiritual journey. However, I’m very happy to be invited…
And I have to warn you that whether you like it or not, I do pray for you and people often find that strange ‘God moments of awareness’ start to happen when someone is praying for them. You might feel this is a subversive way of extending God’s influence over you and you’d be right. But no one has told me yet to stop praying for them (that might, of course, be because I’m not very good it!)
Occasionally, if you are in pain or acute distress or if you tell me you are about to do something wild and dangerous like a parachute jump, I may not be able to contain myself. I may just offer to pray for you then and there, on the spot! You can say no, but non-believing friends who have experienced this would probably tell you a) it’s not painful b) it’s not embarrassing and c) it can’t do any harm (remember no Darth vader death rays?).
So humour me!
Actually I’m not being entirely honest about the’ no superpowers’ bit. The Bible does make it abundantly clear that I can’t even be a Christian let alone a vicar person without the infilling of the Holy Spirit of God. Think of the Holy Spirit as simply meaning ‘the real, living and active presence of God within us’. The Holy Spirit does give gifts and some of these are supernatural, but they are not given exclusively to vicar people, so your average Christian is just as able for pray for healing. What we all need to remember about the superpowers bit, is that it’s nothing at all to do with me and completely up to ‘God in me’ – I’ll keep you posted on the miracle front!
Anyway I hope all that helps allay your fears and tells you what I am about. It was in fact a quote from someone far cleverer than me that got me thinking about writing this manifesto/explanation. Brian Maclaren is writing about how and why we share our faith with others and he puts what we are about very beautifully. (Don’t be put off by the phrase ‘spiritual friendships’ it doesn’t mean a friendship consisting of ‘sung matins’ and contemplative prayer. It doesn’t mean avoiding doing ‘unspiritual’ things like watching a movies, eating pizza or just hanging out together. I think what he means is that a spiritual friendship will do all that normal stuff but won’t only do shallow conversations and superficial interactions but will also be prepared to sift through the crap of life with one another). Anyway he says it better than me so I’ll just let him say it.
‘If we engage in spiritual friendship with others, if we try to help others become disciples, we find our own understanding of what it means to be a Christian changing. We will see our lives as a dance to God’s beautiful song and we will feel it our incomparable honour through spiritual friendships to help others feel the song’s wonder and be swept up into its graceful beauty and resounding joy’.
So… shall we dance? I would be my incomparable honour to ‘dance’ you nearer to God.
Sheila, I can’t be present on 3rd July when you are ordained, because I will be doing “Story in the Park” from mid-morning till gone 6p.m., but I will be with you in spirit.
I pray that becoming a vicar will surely enhance that inner spiritual beauty that comes out in all you do and, if it’s alright with you, this silly old fool would be very happy to still call you ‘friend’.
Thanks for this Jim, sorry you won’t be there but I hope Story in the Park goes well. It sounds like a long time to be telling stories – you’ll be worn out! Thank you for kind thoughts, see you soon
Shelia, I hope all goes well on the 3rd July – I won’t be there as I don’t know ‘where’ is; it is probably miles from my home.
Brian MacLaren’s writing has been a great help to me and I’m so looking forward to hearing him at Greenbelt this year.
Thanks Hugh, it will be in Coventry Cathedral. Thank you for good wishes
Being churchless at the moment I half thought of heading up to Coventry but then I remembered that Saturday was my son’s stag night. Even though I don’t drink I didn’t think getting up early would be appreciated.
As a Baptist I used to think that ordination wasn’t that important but as I have grown older (and wiser?) I have come to realise that God calls some people to a special ministry in His name – you become His anointed leaders of His people.
May you know God’s blessing as you undertake the work to which He has called you.