Christian. Methodist Minister (Presbyter) serving in the Bognor Regis area, South East, UK.
Husband, Father of 2. Book hoarder. Wanna-be chef.
Heart for living in community and for seeing the presence and activity of God in day to day life.
Where do we pin our hope in an age of fear? Fear can be both rational and irrational, it can make our world smaller and less hopeful. Fear can be a place where it is harder to dream big for the future, and can be harder to know where God is in the middle of it all.
And in the midst of global pandemic, fear is undoubtedly a part of human living for many of us at the moment. But what do we do with it? How do we fit the fear we feel within our Christian faith that speaks of freedom, healing, and transformation?
This is a book for anyone living with the realisation that the life is a little broken. For anyone wanting to resist the temptation to retreat into our armchairs and ignore the world.
This is a book that resists the culture of fear that can be seen to be growing in society, and growing among Christian communities.
This is a book that encourages us to discover and rediscover the mystery of hope, which will bring us face to face with the nature of God, character of Jesus and playfulness of the Holy Spirit.
Using the biblical story of the exile, Cox-Darling brings a prophetic voice for Christians to hear. During the exile, the absence of a place of worship was destabilising to sense of community. Yet the story of the exile can was a catalyst to God’s people discovering the true identity of God.
Through rich threads of biblical exploration. Joanne Cox-Darling is convinced hope can be a present reality for us, not just a distant future. That we can find hope in the Christian story, that the church is a window to a community of hope-filled rebels striving to seek first the kingdom of God.
Within these pages, be encouraged to look again at the Christian story as a place to discover a hope-filled resistance, reminded that at the heart of the gospel is the truth that death and despair are never the end.
Discover hope as a catalyst that believes the world can be different, that our living life can be different. That hope thrives in a community of broken people willing to live in brokenness.
Find a call to faithfully and hopefully respond to God who knows our struggle, can meet us in unknown places and offers us stability and constancy, and the hope that things can be better and brighter. God who is the source of all hope, who begins to restore the brokenness, makes a difference to our living, and help us glimpse the light of the kingdom of God.
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
These giraffes sit on my office windowsill, you might have seen them in previous videos. We bought them on a holiday in France in 2012 and they remind me of our holiday.
They sat on our mantel-piece in Cornwall, then went into storage while we were in Birmingham. When moved here Louise my wife thought we should get rid of them, I didn’t, so we found a compromise and they ended up in my office.
Now they not only remind me of our holiday, they also remind me that as human beings, include married couples, have differences of opinion.
Lockdown as a time to learn
I want to encourage us to reflect this month on what we may learn from lockdown, because I do not believe this is a time of life on pause that doesn’t matter. I don’t believe this is a time that God wants us to waste.
Just as the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness was formational for them, I believe our living in lockdown is a time that can be formational to us. Where God has and continues to speak to us, challenge us and change us.
For some of us, we may feel like lockdown is over, for others, we may still very much feel like we’re in lockdown, for others again, maybe we’re in the middle.
Wherever we stand on that spectrum, it doesn’t really matter, it just goes to prove one of the things that I’ve been increasingly conscious of over the last few months – just how diverse and different we all are.
Diversity & Difference
And that’s where this month of learning from lockdown reflections is going to begin.
In the book of 1 Corinthians we read:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12, NRSV
The body of Christ, the community of faith, is made of lots of different parts, we all look different, we think differently, respond to circumstances in life with the full colour pallet of human diversity.
I’ve seen the diversity and difference in so many ways through lockdown. Some people have seemed to thrive during lockdown, Energised by the new opportunties and environments and challenges others have really struggled, and others somewhere in between – with good days and some not so good days.
Christian faith is not about conformity – not about creating robots that think and speak the same. It’s about being a community of faith that can call itself a communtiy while celebrating the fact we’re different.
It’s about being people tuned into God’s Spirit, collectively discerning what Gods Spirit is saying to us as individuals and as a community of faith
As we’ve worshiped from our homes, I’ve found my role as minister being less of a leader of worship, and more of an enabler of worship – offering lots of different resources by post and online, seeking to resource the diverse people that make up the churches I serve. It’s been a joy to see diversity thriving, but a challenge at times to keep up!
So as I encourage us to reflect this month on what we may be learning from lockdown, I want to start from a recognition of the diversity and difference among us.
And I want to encourage you all, to think and pray and reflect for yourself… what would you say you’re learning, or have learnt during lockdown.
And try to be go a bit deeper and further than saying I’ve learnt to use zoom.As much of an achievement that may be! `
Where has God spoken to you, challenged you or encouraged you?
What is God’s Spirit saying?
Join the Conversation
Comment below with your own reflections on leanring from lockdown.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;he restores my soul. He leads me in right pathsfor his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3, NRSV
At zoom family church last week, we thought about stories in the Bible about animals. Donkeys, foxes, sheep, goats, pigs, ox, frogs, locusts and more.
Then we thought about shepherds and sheep. Along with playing hide and seek the sheep in each of our homes, puzzles, games and songs, we watched a video clip which I found enlightening and challenged some of my assumptions about the meaning of Psalm 23.
The video clip is set in the wilderness, mid barr, also known as Green Pastures. Whenever I read Psalm 23, I would picture one particular field of lush green grass on my grandparents farm – the field we always knew as Meadow.
But, it seemed obvious once the video had pointed it out, that there was not such lush green grass at the time Psalm 23 was written. The Green pastures of the Psalms are the not lush green fields Cornish meadow of my grandparents.
Green pastures were brown, rocky, wilderness hillsides. Yet they were places where some moisture was present, enough to allow small tufts of grass to grow up from the edges of rocks with seeds and moisture are both caught. To graze in green pastures, shepherd and sheep are always on the move, a tuft here, a tuft there. Seeking food for the day, and finding just enough.
To graze in green pastures is not to sit down in one spot, forever, with every bite of sustenance we need at our fingertips. Life as a disciple is not a bed of roses where everything is sorted for us from the comfort of our homes without us having to do anything.
To graze in green pastures, is to keep moving, searching for the more that could be growing behind the next rock. To be a disciple is to learn that God will provide for todays needs, and to trust in God for enough for tomorrow.
‘give us today our daily bread’
The Lords Prayer
I find that all gives helpful meaning to ‘give us today our daily bread’. There were no supermarket shelves stacked with Hovis and Kingsmill! Bread making was a daily activity of providing enough for the now, and trusting for tomorrow.
I find this a helpful encouragement to me to keep journeying. That being a disciples is not about having everything sorted, a banqueting table before us or the answers to all of life’s questions.
It is to keep trusting, and through trusting to keep journeying and searching, because I never know what God has in store for me behind the next rock.
What about you? What do you think? How do you respond to the suggestion that green pastures may not be the image western society has often assumed?
Please watch the clip and reflect for yourself, and comment with your reflections below.
For this week’s reflections I talk about how Flying Ant Day as a signpost to God as creator of all that is – creation’s symphony .
Our garden was transformed for an hour or so this week.
Across Bognor, Felpham and Yapton, any maybe other places too, it was ‘Flying Ant Day’.
I saw one post commenting it was good that at least one thing planned for 2020 had actually gone ahead!
As you can see, our garden and patio were crawling with Ants. Every corner of the garden seemed to be covered!
It wasn’t long before social media was populated with posts from across the area commenting on the ants swarming, and according to one post, the swarms were even picked up by satellites.
But why does this phenomenon happen? How do thousands of ants, in separate nests and colonies across a geographical area all decide to fly at the same time?
There’s probably a scientific answer, to do with the inbuilt nature and DNA of an ant which means they all fly when certain atmospheric conditions are met.
Or something like that. I don’t know the science, maybe you do and it would be great to hear, do comment below!
But even if the science does give an explanation of how this phenomenon happens, Does it really tell us why? Where does the science come from? Why does the science mean it happens in this way?
For me, science is a great to way to understand how things happen and work. But for the why – science isn’t where I look. I look to God. Who I believe is the source of life and breathe, Is the reason we live and move and have our being. And through God being the source of all life, all creation is connected to God.
Colossians 1 speaks about the connectedness of creation, and Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.
Colossians 1:15-17, The Message
So whether it be ants on flying at day, The beauty of a flower blooming, The crispy taste of a fresh apple, the wonder of new birth… Know that by the nature of our being, We are connected to the source of all life, The creator, God.
And through that connection to the creator, all creation is connected to one another, We are part of God’s amazing symphony, Creations’ Symphony Which comes together to sing to the awesome, amazing, mind-blowing and intricate design of creation, reminding us that God is creator, that God is the why of all that is, and leaves us “lost in wonder, love and praise”.
I should have used my torch Or followed someone else, Or slowed down. Then I might have seen the ditch.
But I thought I knew best, My 15 year old self. Thought I would be ok.
Instead, I came away covered head to toe in mud, And one A&E trip later my broken wrist was in bright blue cast.
Grappling in the dark, I thought I was ok. Thought I could find the way on my own.
My pride, my foolishness, and subsequent fall and resulting pain, taught me that sometimes to find my way I need help. From other people, who can hold my hand in dark woodland. From other resources, like a torch to see pits and potholes before I fall.
In John’s gospel we read these words of Jesus.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.
Look to Jesus. The ultimate light. Be wise enough to keep close to Jesus, who will guide us, challenge us and change us by his unwavering love for us
Jesus helps us navigate the ditches and woodlands of life. No matter how dark things may feel, with Jesus the light will never fade.
Is there an episode from your life that taught you something about Jesus? Please share in the comments below, stories shared are often a great source of encouragement to others as we pursue faith together.
Sunday Reflections from Rev Dan: Sunday 5th July 2020.
Over the last fortnight…the same verse of the Bible has kept coming up all over the place for me.
Now when this happens for me, I always know God is saying something. The Bible is so huge – 66 books, 1189 chapters, over 31,000 verses. So, for the same little bit to keep popping up in the space of a fortnight…
That’s no coincidence – it’s a God-incidence.
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
I think there is something attractive and comforting about this verse because it can easily be seen to speak into our current living. The former ‘old normal’ that we remember cannot simply resume or return, and so we prepare for a new thing as we begin to embrace a ‘new normal’.
But that may be being slightly too simplistic. The journey from old normal to new normal is not a simple transaction. It is not a straight swap. It is not the same as my journey one day this week to change from one pair of shorts to another because the button popped off…
Embracing whatever this new normal will become is a journey in itself. And I think we are merely at the very beginning of new normal’s formation. It is going to take time to explore and experience. Some of us may be excited and desperate to step out, others may be taking very tentative steps, and others, not wanting to take a step at all.
When we look at the story behind those two verses in Isaiah 43, we see a similar journey. After being exiled and in Babylon for some time, the prospect of ‘returning’ to Israel was a scary and uncertain prospect. Many of those who were fit and young now would have been born in exile, so Babylon may well have felt like home, even though not their true home of course. To leave Babylon would break something of the limited security and familiarity they had.
For some of us, there may also be a sense of uncertainty about breaking security. As hard as it has been, living in lockdown and not leaving our homes except when essential, 100+ days on there is also a sense of coming to terms with it. Life has adjusted as we live in our own Babylon, and the idea of leaving the safety and security of home and entering what we may perceive as a dangerous wilderness where much is not as we remember it, may not feel as attractive to us as we wish it did.
For others of us, we may be really excited. We may see now as a time when there is potential for real change, where we can embrace new ideas and new ways of being, and really contribute towards the shape of our communities and their direction of travel. That through lockdown we will have been forced to learn new ways of being church, community and nation and we see real potential for this experience to transform the future.
Ok, so I’ve created an unfair contrast there. You may find it helpful, but I imagine at least some of us will identify with aspects of both of those characterisations but wouldn’t’ put ourselves in either. It may be more helpful to see these as points on a spectrum, a spectrum within which we swing our pendulum, feeling different about it all day by day.
But what this verse does remind us is that for those in exile, the memory of Israel was just that, a memory. What was had gone, their ancestors had died, they were the next generation and the former things were just that, former things. If unchecked, they could become an idealized world that overshadowed the reality of the present, and emerging future. A future within which God was doing a new thing that was already beginning to spring forth.
Hope was not just a possibility. It could be perceived, experienced and known.
It is that reality that we must hold on to. We must not let our memories of the old normal become an idealized past which holds us back from the future. A future in which God is already springing forth and making the way in the wilderness, even in the wilderness of risk assessments!
Today some churches will be opening their doors again, though many are not. Some of that is, I think out of fear. And some of that fear may be irrational, but much is totally rational. Coronavirus has not gone away.
Some of the ‘not yet’ is because of the practical fact that we have only had a week since the government guidance finally arrived and there is still time needed to process and implement it.
But some runs deeper. The reality of what is emerging as the ‘new normal’ means we have to carefully think through what the purpose of a church building is now. The church building was a key tool in facilitating gathering as community, worshiping together as one people, being united as the body of Christ. But it is just those things, when physically together to share fellowship, sing at the tops of our lungs and share stories with one another face to face, that coronavirus also seeks to exploit.
So just as the exiled were anxious, required God’s reassurance, and needed time to be ready for the next steps on the journey, so we need that time too. Time to work out who we are and what we are for. To ask God to aid us in working out how we use the resources we have to the best of our ability to continue to proclaim the gospel message of love and salvation. To continue being God’s chosen people in the emerging new normal.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
Growing up one of my favourite films was Toy Story. I loved the idea that my toys lived in a world of their own every time I left the room.
In the first film, Buzz is a new toy who enters Andy’s toybox community as an outsider. Buzz believes he is a real space ranger, not a toy, and believes he can fly. Throughout the film Buzz is on a journey of discovering who he really is, while the rest of the toys are on their own journey of learning to welcome difference into their community.
In Ruth 3, we found Ruth visiting Boaz at night, hoping he would give her a home, long term security and survival for her and Naomi.
Naomi and Ruth had lost much, their husbands, their security, safety. They were grieving. They were struggling for hope. The nature of the culture of the day meant they were vulnerable to the nth degree.
But Boaz is not the immediate next-of-kin. There is someone else who is a closer kinsman, and in keeping with the culture, has first rights to act as next-of-kin to Naomi and Ruth.
At the start of Ruth 4, Boaz takes centre stage. It’s his turn to take action. He speaks to the closer next-of-kin who does have first rights to act.
Now Boaz, perhaps, pulls a bit of a sly move here. I think as readers of the story we’re encouraged to see Boaz in a positive light, but it could also be said he’s possibly a bit manipulative here, or self-seeking.
Maybe he really did like Ruth and wanted her to be his wife, and twisted things in his favour. Or maybe he saw an opportunity to obtain land and so did what he had to do to get it.
So Boaz meets this closer next-of-kin, at the city gates, in public, with 10 of the city elders with them. He says to this man, – “hey, you know Naomi, she’s back, and she’s selling the land that belonging to our kinsman, Elimelech. So, I thought I’d tell you about it here and now in front of all these witnesses. If you will redeem it, do, but if not, tell me and I will redeem it.“
The unexpected discovery that Naomi own’s some land is a surprise, it was Elimelech’s, perhaps left during the famine and never returned to. The fact she’s selling the land is probably a sign that Naomi has lost all other hope, and selling the land, that would, one would think, offer long-term fruitfulness, is the only way for her to survive in the short term.
The man says to Boaz “yes – I will redeem it”. Then Boaz goes on, and claims that by taking the land, he must also take Ruth, the Moabite, and maintain the dead man’s name. This would mean any children they had would be named for Ruth’s dead husband… and that they would, in the end, inherit the land.
The man says – “I can’t redeem, it will; damage my own inheritance. You redeem it.” Does Boaz use Ruth’s foreigner status to his advantage? Or does he use this to overcome the fact that there was a prohibition against marrying a foreigner – because by becoming next-of-kin he can legal marry Ruth despite that.
They have a son, Obed, who Naomi cares for – in some ways he becomes a son to Ruth, Boaz and Naomi – Obed becomes symbol of the restoration of hope – because there can now be descendants.
No longer is Ruth an outsider, she’s found hope. She’s found home. And not just with Boaz, but with the community.
Ruth and Boaz marry, all the people and elders are at the marriage, and bless Ruth – ‘may she build up the house of Israel’ they say (Ruth 4:11). Ruth is now seen as a member of the Israelite community.
And that’s where Buzz and Toy Story come in. In life we often encounter people who are strangers to us. People different from ourselves.
As Churches – Christian communities, I believe God call us to be a community that reaches out in love to all. To welcome in the name of Christ those we perceive to be, and not be, like us. Cowboys or Space Rangers. Slinky Dogs or Potato heads. Barbie dolls or dinosaurs.
To help each other discover who we are – made in the image of God – to work out if we are real or just a toy, if we can fly, or fall with style (if you don’t understand the references – do watch the film).
To make space for all people to find hope, through faith in the God who is a God for all.
To discover that the community of faith is the place in which all people, no matter background or belief or race or gender or sexuality or ethnicity or self-confidence – can find home and belong.
Church – God’s challenge to us, regardless of lockdown, regardless of what gathered community is going to look like in the coming weeks and months, is to make sure that this call from God is the reality found among us. A community of hope. A community that points to the home that can be found when we discover we belong to God. A community that reaches in love to all.
God works through the unexpected. God works through the stranger. We are never without Hope. In God, we find home.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
How do you define who you are?
Perhaps by your Relationships? Me – I’m a Father, Husband, friend, minister
Maybe your Roles and Responsibilities. As a Minister I may be seen as a Leader, Pastor, Preacher… I’m a Treasurer for my daughter’s school PTA
Or perhaps by labels, descriptors of identity? I’m White, I’m British, I’m heterosexual and male
Or perhaps by how we look? I’m average height, bald – and really not bothered that can’t go to the barbers right now.
All this and more contributes towards our identity – our sense of who we are. But our identity can also be impacted by how others see us. Some see me as a Christian leader – others as a Jesus freak…
In my teens I was very bothered by this question of how others see me, to the point that, at times, it negatively impacted on my well-being, and rather than being who I am, I succumbed to peer pressure, suppressed some of my own identity and put on a mask in an attempt not to stand out, to avoid bullying and make life easier.
Last we saw that Ruth is an outsider in a foreign land and how Ruth wasn’t prepared to just submit to the identity society would place on her, but determined to take action, to resist the cultural ‘norms’ and cross boundaries for find hope and home.
In chapter 3 Ruth takes another step (with a bit of a push from Naomi) and heads to the threshing floor, the town’s marketplace, a place of gathering and distribution, transaction and thanksgiving.
Here, in the dark of night this time, she meets Boaz once more. Naomi it seems, and perhaps Ruth too, is hoping Boaz will take his kinsman responsibility and provide for them permanently.
There, in the dark of night, Boaz asks Ruth – who are you? Maybe he couldn’t see, maybe he wanted to know more about this woman beyond that which he already knew.
There’s much more that could be explore here about the relationship, the actions, the physicality of the encounter – some suggest that this is the moment Obed is conceived.
But I want us to focus on that question Ruth is asked in this encounter ‘who are you’? In that moment, in an intimate encounter by the shadow of the moon, Ruth is perhaps given space to answer that question for herself. Given space to define herself on her terms.
And later in the chapter, she goes back to Naomi and we find the same question – Naomi asks ‘who are you?’ – surely she knew who Ruth was. Unless, something had changed…
This question comes twice, like bookends to this encounter – and marking, I think, a moment of transition, a sign that something has changed for Ruth in her appearance, perhaps not physically, but in terms of how she is seen by others. Her identity as an individual, is beginning to be uncovered.
As Ruth’s encounter’s help her uncover who she is – through our encountering God, we discover more of who we are, how God sees us, and who God made us to be.
God doesn’t want you to try to be someone you are not. Doesn’t want You trying to fit the mould others create for you, like I did in my teen years. God wants you to be who you are.
A person of beauty, wonderfully made, filled with great potential for love, goodness and compassion.
yes – all those things and more are God’s words over you. And God has placed them within you.
I truly believe God wants you to know that he loves you. He sees who you are, and wants to help you uncover your identity more, to inhabit in your whole being a sense of who God has made you to be.
I encourage you this week, if you can, right now, to pause… to pray, to think about who you are. how do you define who you are for yourself? and how does that compare to how God sees you?
If you see this video and want to talk about who you are and how God sees you – please get in touch through our website, through social media – we’d love to hear from you.
A few weeks ago I published known in the unknown, a blog post where I reflected on how I was feeling as I journey through the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding my Reception into Full Connexion and Ordination within the Methodist Church which was due to take place at the end of June.
Emerging from Turmoil
It is fair to say I was feeling in turmoil when I wrote known in the unknown, but I can say that the process of becoming vulnerable and sharing that turmoil was helpful for me in beginning to find healing and new direction.
It also led to receiving an outpouring of messages of care, prayer and encouragement which have all been greatly appreciated and affirming over these last few weeks. I Through them I have also felt the love and affirmation of God. It has been a helpful reminder that God has called me to this vocation, and despite the changes, delays and uncertainties, God’s call remains steadfast.
While much that would have happened is on hold, and many uncertainties about the implications of that remain, I will be Received into Full Connexion with the Methodist Church on Saturday 27th June, 6pm. All can watch through the Conference website. My ordination will come, but the date and arrangements are yet to be determined.
I still have some disappointment that things will not be as they were expected to be, and a struggle with the uncertain of waiting that this brings. Yet through prayer and reflection I’m coming to a point where I can find ways to make sense of and journey with this struggle in a positive way.
What follows is no theological treatise or doctrinal exposition, but some personal reflections, thoughts and feelings which take me right back to the early days of my candidating for presbyteral ministry and through which I have recently felt God speaking to me and encouraging me to keep journeying through the unknown.
Remembering: My Connexional Jigsaw
As part of the process of offering myself as a candidate for ministry I had to deliver a creative presentation entitled ‘picturing the Methodist Connexion in the 21st Century’. My task was to creatively reflect on and respond to a recently published paper which explored questions of what it means to be a Methodist Connexion in the 21st Century. As part of my creative presentation I created this illustration of a body out of multiple jigsaws.
The body is not an unusual metaphor for explaining Christian community. Different parts of one whole, various functions by different parts that enable the body to work and move and grow.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:4-5, 11-13
Looking back at the notes I made at the time, for me the Methodist connexion was an expression of inter-connectedness; mutual-belonging; a joining together of the whole people of God despite contradictory convictions; an expression of what it meant to be church.
In my connexional jigsaw, I intentionally used no edge pieces – my attempt to illustrate a body that is in-complete, reaching out for new connections and possibilities, a shape is not permanently defined.
I also left pieces missing, and mismatched puzzles that do not fully connect. I wanted to demonstrate the body as imperfect and broken, yet open. The Methodist Connexion, as with any Christian community, lives in a world of brokenness. Despite our deepest desires and greatest intentions, people have been hurt, abused, and rejected by people acting in the name of Methodism. People do not always feel they belong.
Yet I wanted to illustrate a hope that the body that is the Methodist connexion can be a church where there is an awareness of our broken fallibility and our missing pieces. I wanted to hold out hope that we can be an open space where those who feel they don’t belong could belong.
This exploration of connexionalism early in my formational journey has been foundational to my continued journey through the following years.
Journeying: Learning to be a puzzle piece
Honestly, candidating, moving to Birmingham and starting formational training at Queens petrified me. I was full of anxiety, worried what others would think of me or if I would fit in. Much of that is rooted in my struggles with my own identity, belonging and purpose in my teen and young adult life, but that’s for another time!
Cut a long story short, despite our different journeys, opinions, backgrounds, denominations, personal circumstances (and everything else!), it is with this beautifully quirky, diverse and God-loving group of people I can call my cohort, friends and ‘Queens family’ that I came to learn I am a piece that belonged in the jigsaw, called to be who God made me to be.
On our last day at college Methodist leaves spent a day reflecting together and were asked to bring an ‘object’ with us to use as part of our reflections. For me it was this puzzle piece. It had appeared in the girls bedroom from we-don’t-know-where a few days before, and I just had this sense of needing to take it.
Among the things I jotted in my journal that day, I noted how jigsaws require all the pieces, that each individual piece matters and without each individual piece in place, the puzzle is incomplete. By the nature of their design, the picture of a puzzle lacks detail when a piece is not in place.
A Piece with a Purpose
It hadn’t been in my mind when I chose it as my object, but as I reflected I remembered my creative presentation and looking around the room came to realise how this group of people were each pieces in the vast connexional jigsaw. This moment was perhaps the first time I felt I experienced a glimpse of what it would one day mean to be Received into Full Connexion, coming to belong to an order of ministry made of up diversely gifted and opinionated (!), God-centred people, called and equipped by God in a particular way to serve God’s people.
That day a little piece of card that I could easily how thrown away, was given new purpose. It now hangs on my wall to remind me of my formational journey, my Queens family, my being a unique part of a bigger whole, my belonging to God’s church, and growing into my vocation as a minister within God’s universal church.
A Piece Connected to Others
Reminded of both my own personal call, and the way I am connected to others has helped me to hold my personal disappointment in perspective with the wider world.
My disappointment is not isolated and unique. From the postponed weddings; funerals held differently to ‘normal’; birthday parties held on zoom; inability to purchase eggs, flour or loo roll (!); trivial or deeply difficult – all of society is bearing disappointments, uncertainties and changes to our way of life.
Held in perspective, I’m coming to see my disappointment as part of my being connected to others, my bearing the worldwide impact of coronavirus, my sharing in the communal suffering of our groaning world. My participation in the necessary change and the emergence into the ‘new normal’ we all have to begin to adjust to.
I’m also coming to see this experience as part of the burden of responsibility that goes with saying yes to serving God. I realise now that I too am represented by the missing pieces and mispatched jigsaws through which I sought to illustrated the broken body of Christ living in a broken world. And I too can still belong.
And through that disappointment, I’m finding opportunity. Much of my disappointment comes from the fact that the things in which I had held symbolism and meaning are having to change. But, if I choose to, I can find new-meaning in new places despite the delay and uncertain waiting.
While the unknown is difficult, subverts tradition (which granted can be good or bad!) and is in some ways un-nerving, I’m also coming to feel excited again by the prospect of discovering God through the unexpected in what is yet to come.
This opportunity to discover and rediscover for myself is now starting to feel like an unexpected gift. A time to be brave, not clinging to the past but reaching for the future, as part of the body that is ready to change and transform for such a time as this.
A gift, a piece, and peace
Despite COVID being a catalyst for things to be different, change does not have to detract from truth. I’ve been reminded these last weeks that no matter what happens in this broken and uncertain world, I am still called & equipped by God. I am still a unique piece of the puzzle that is God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom would have a hole in without me. Despite appearances and the implications of long-term social distancing, by God’s design, I am and always will be connected to others.
So this single puzzle piece will be hung on my office wall’s for the rest of my life – wherever God’s call takes me.
Reminding me of the gift that has been my journey with God so far. Reminding me of my being part of the bigger whole made up of every other piece, seen or unseen, certain or uncertain, belonging or not-belonging. Reminding me that God is unchanging, steadfast and true, despite the chaos and turmoil that I fear surrounding me.
There’s still disappointment, but there’s also excitement at new opportunity, and that’s why this piece is helping me find peace despite the uncertainty as I prepare to continue the journey of being part of God’s jigsaw, to be Received into Full Connexion and, one day, be Ordained.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
If you’ve watched the film Titanic, you will probably remember scene where Jack is handcuffed to a frame of the ship with water rising around him. The music builds, the water rises, and as hard as he tries Jack cannot get himself free and all hope appears to be lost…but then Rose appears, and despite the risk to her own survival as well as the survival of Jack, she will not give up. Axe in hand she aims, strikes and they are free. The danger is not over, but there is hope, they can now seek safety.
Ruth 2 opens with Ruth and Naomi without anyone to provide for them, so Ruth decides she must act. With Naomi’s permission she heads out to gather the leftover grain from the harvest fields.
And just by chance, just like in any good soap opera the newcomer turns out to be related to someone else, Ruth ends up gleaning in a field owned by Boaz, a relative of Elimelech – Naomi’s late husband. What are the chances!?!
Now we need to remember Ruth was a Moabite in an Israelite world. An outsider, foreigner, minority. She was vulnerable in so many ways. She had little status in the community, except perhaps that achieved through her relationship with Naomi. She had little right to be out gathering grain in the field, so she hangs behind the others in the fields, ensuring she takes nothing that others have the right and privilege to take.
Ruth may have taken action to seek survival, but she refrains from pushing the cultural boundary limits too far…
But Boaz, on learning Ruth is with Naomi, goes to Ruth and tells her – go nowhere else, you can gather in my fields. And don’t hang back, you can keep close to the others – and my men will leave you alone. (IE – they will not take advantage of your vulnerability, they will not molest or rape you). Let’s not beat around the bush – that’s the reality of just some of the vulnerabilities Ruth is facing.
Yet despite the vulnerabilities, she stepped out for survival, and Boaz welcomes her. And not only that, he tells her to drink from the water that is there for his staff. Not only does Boaz provide, he offers hospitality beyond expectation.
We live in a time where our own vulnerability has changed or has been intensified. We also live in a time when light is being shone on the systemic and institutional vulnerabilities society forces upon minorities, including black and minority ethnic people.
The vulnerability we see Ruth facing, and Boaz’s response, might offer us a challenge in how we approach issues of difference – be it race or ethnicity, or opinions and preferences.
In this episode of the story, we can see how God begins to provide not only means of survival, but hope and home for Ruth and Naomi. God puts Boaz in the right place at the right time to use his power and privilege, and working through Ruth’s own determination, brings provision for the future.
Ruth seeks survival, and Boaz sees Ruth. Not Ruth the Moabite, but Ruth the human being. Boaz makes space not simply for her survival, but gives her some sense of equality with his staff, his people. We might say, invites her to be part of the community – to begin to find a home. And in doing so, Ruth’s survival seeks, and finds, hope.
One of ways this chapter might speak to us today is to challenge us in recognising the potential of the power of God, and the power of God’s Spirit within us.
As we see in Ruth’s character, we have power to seek hope. God’s Spirit in us calls us to challenge cultural boundaries, to stand up against those things that oppress us and threaten our survival and identity as human beings.
As we see in the character of Boaz, we also possess power and privilege ourselves, and indeed responsibility as God’s people, filled with God’s Spirit, to contribute towards the survival and seeking of hope and home of our fellow human beings.
I encourage you to reflect this week…
How may God’s Spirit be challenging you to use your power or privilege? For self, for others, for God?
God Bless you all today with the power and hope God’s Spirit has already placed within you.