Week 1: Preparation #BigRead12 #Koinonia

http://12baskets.co.uk/view/images/advent_prepare_the_way_for_the_lord

If you decide to write about/respond to Week One of #bigread12, you are unlikely to be the first person to respond… as my housegroup (historically known as Koinonia) have already started testing it. Tonight we’re moving to week 2, but here’s what happened last week:

Nibbles

We talked about suggestions for Icebreakers, as last year’s suggestions disappeared with the forum! For groups that already know each other well, we played with the idea of “Give 3 facts, try and identify the false one”.

Re: the interaction of offline/online… my housegroup are definitely on the non-online end of the spectrum (although definitely more into Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn than last year), so we will work the materials in our housegroup, and then I will post our findings online…

We watched the video, but noted that this would be optional, according to the decision of the housegroup leader – it’s just provided for enjoyment – as a ‘side dish’, as a conversation starter. We mentioned that it was a little cold to be appreciating people jumping in a fountain, but interesting to see just how abandoned people could be in worship, and how John the Baptist could be represented in the 1970s. Slightly less deep reflections were that it reminded us of the opening credits of Friends (Bex!), and a hen party in Trafalgar Square!

Main

We watched the video: 
Something is about to happen – get ready. Fulfilment of a long story. Up until now we’ve been waiting but good news of Jesus is coming. It’s a 2 stage of getting ready. Malachi/Isaiah … God himself coming … Jews – longing for God to come back but didn’t  know what would look like … Mark tells them. Prophesies to be fulfilled … Not just for spiritual comfort – but God claiming his power. Psalm 2. Isaiah 42. This is how God becomes King … Desert for testing – calls followers – beginning of a movement … Reminds of Genesis – a renewed people of God. We follow & learn?

We read the Bible reading (in Tom Wright’s translation) and noted with interest that it’s gender neutral. We got into a bit of a discussion about food… this is something our group is concerned with, with particular needs including avoiding pesticides/dairy/gluten, etc. We were also eating Haggis, celebrating Burns Night early (although if we’d been on theme, it could have been Chinese), so were querying what food gets us in a particular mood.

We read John Pantry’s material (without the audio provided).
God’s short list of greatest. There’s more detail on John in Luke. John was called to prepare way. John was not obviously beautiful in world’s eyes, but he brought Jesus into bloom. John’s life is the opposite of today’s. He didn’t have lots of stuff, and he only had one main role.  We need to find our role, but take time for rest.

Questions

1) Am I giving others a heavier burden because I’m not fulfilling the role God has called me to?

This immediately led to a discussion about feeling guilty re not responding to calls to help in church, but a feeling that we should be contributing where our heart is, and where our strengths lie. We often see the same people involved – is that because they are in the right role, or should they be giving space to allow others to contribute. In a large church can be difficult to get known. In smaller churches may feel more wanted and part of the community. Bex used to be involved in many things at church, but now in a ‘recognisable’ capacity, is just on the prison teas rota … my role for the past few years has to be to get myself well. With a heavy workload, it’s good to be able to go to church without more pressure. At other times may give more. We talked about seasons of being involved, although it’s easy to have a mindset of “oh well, I can’t now). We need to pray thoughtfully.

We also opened up the debate, as the question is not necessarily about being on particular rotas at church. It’s all about whole life roles, and having jobs in the secular world is OK, and in fact where most of us are called to be. We talked about whether we should be looking to be in paid work… and the issue of the £26k benefits cap came up. Should people living in expensive areas move, or have their situation re-assessed every 5 years?

2) Should I be taking time to discover what my gifts are and how they fit into the picture of my local church?

We agreed that we should definitely take time to discover our gifts, and have talked about this a lot both in terms of spiritual gifts and work skills (our housegroup has been in existence for quite a few years). We talked about if we have done this kind of work, what can you then do to change things?

If you haven’t think about asking close friends what they say your core 5 gifts are (communication, accepting, hospitality are strong in our group, but we’re not sure how often we exercise them without prompting). We tend to assume that if we don’t want to, others won’t want to either, but we need to recognise that what we find boring, is energising for others.

3) If I’m keeping close to God, are the desires of my heart what He wants for me?

How do you know what God wants for you? If we’re not careful, we tend to assume that our desires are what God wants (we mentioned. I, having talked to Tim Hutchings about this today – wondered about programmes such as God 4 Bod, and how they fit.  We assume God wants us to be with him. We wondered how this fit with John the Baptist – how did he know what God required of him, and when did he know when it was time to take a back seat.

We talked about Vicars and when they know it’s time to retire – but never seem to quite retire, as often end up popping into others of Ministry. I’d seen Billy Graham’s new book re: end of life advertised, and that led to a discussion as to whether he was still alive. We decided to Google it (I was sure he still was!) … and that suggestion didn’t come from me. Demonstrates how much we have got used to having the answers at our fingertips!

We read that he’d been encouraged not to give up public speaker, so there is a place for others to prompt us as (particularly in the UK) we don’t like to put ourselves forward.  We mentioned X-factor. Those who are good are the ones who seem to need to be encouraged to be pushed forward The others delusional appear to be delusional – do we then have a responsibility to discourage them, and to think about our reactions (we’re certainly guilty of laughing at the early bad singers).

4) Is it ever too late to step into the role to which God has called me?

The initial answer was ‘No!’ as God is big enough to change things if we resist (think about Jonah). We then moved to ‘it depends’ as we questioned as whether e.g. we felt we’d been called to motherhood, but physically are clearly too old (although John the Baptist’s mother was too old). Led us to a bit of a talk about pre-destination!

Thought it was interesting that it suggests that there is a role, as we often play many different roles – think about the kind of thing that appears in a Twiter bio – e.g. sister, mother, lawyer, chocolate-lover!

5) Is the discontent that so many people feel about their lives,  the result of not playing the part that we were destined for?

That appears to be partly a cultural thing, tied in with values and personality. Some just aren’t content. What about e.g. those who are such a strong witness when bedridden etc? Is it about role or is it society’s pressures. Were the riots triggered by the artificial world of TV, which breeds discontent, and those looting felt that they were entitled to have more. Those in e.g. India accept ‘their place’ more, but is that necessarily a good thing. We mentioned Tony Campolo, his campaign that we work hard to earn money to pay for things/status, and get caught in a vicious circle. How do we balance that?

Should jobs in churches have finite timescales, and people not be made to feel guilty about giving up a particular role (before something forces them to give up). These gifts need nurturing & mentoring. Support is as important as gifts themselves. We talked about the idea of ‘Pass it on’ – that what we receive, we will pass onto others, not necessarily the same person.

We need to remind ourselves about our gifts. Our group is very good at hospitality, are mostly patient, good at getting alongside people, biting our tongues, we laugh a lot, and one of our group particularly enjoys playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’ which really gets our discussion going.

Pudding

Hot: ‘Come as you are’ versus ‘Make an effort’

Our conversation immediately went to church. We talked about how we dress up for weddings, that we’re  dressing for peers not for God usually. If we go to a new/different church, we often make more of an effort. God is omnipresent so it shouldn’t matter, but is there then an issue with respect as we enter God’s house?  For Bex, can be an effort to get there (with depression), and I’d rather be there even if I’m looking scruffy. Many in our group come from a background of strict legalism in church & have rebelled against it, questioning what’s more important: rules or being there? The New Testament, came to stop rules, but that doesn’t make it a free-for-all. Talked about how some verses in particular are used to keep others (e.g. women) down.

Is it also a a question of heart preparation – if we rush in late, do we have time to prepare -or is that partly a way to prepare, without getting caught by someone asking you to help because you’re early! What about the idea of no communion unless we’ve made it right with quarrels: should we be out sorting those out rather than in church? Is it about a state of mind? What about those in the group with kids – the idea of relaxing/focusing… really?!  We talked about some practical ideas to make it easier for parents, but nothing concrete. We agreed that there are different styles for different people – do we need one agreed answer?

We decided predestination was a bit too big for us here, and that we’d talked enough about it earlier.

Cold: Reflect: How do you make a way for God?

The immediate comment was that many ‘liturgical spaces’ are cold. Do we need to ‘go and worship’, and should we take out ‘101 things to occupy you in a sermon‘. We wondered how form makes you behave in a certain way, with specific spaces set aside. Mary works for Learning through Landscapes, and so has a particular interest in how space shapes action. She is currently looking at developing spiritual spaces outside.

Wikimedia Commons

The whole group enjoys sitting open spaces with great views and appreciating God’s creation. Many cathedrals are ‘hideous outside’ (?), but inside are nice, simple and calming – we were thinking particularly of Coventry and Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Salisbury Cathedral lovely when empty/services: too many people removes the sense of spirituality… similar feeling in Gaudi’s Cathedral in Barcelona. There’s an interesting range of styles. Bex (in particular) has seen lots of overseas churches: what about those? If take a camera in these places – what are you focusing on? Does the tourist £ remove spirituality?

Are lots of factors impact – e.g. Liverpool RC Cathedral has lots of blue which makes it a soft, reflective space. What about Taize spaces? The use of icons? How music changes things? The lighting? The architecture? Art can have a lot of impact? What about the Cathedral in Second Life? What about ‘natural Cathedrals’ such as forest spaces? How do they change our experience? Do they bring us closer to God?

After Dinner Chocs

Some of the group pledged to do something new this week (unspecified), and others to walk the Labyrinth on St Catherine’s Hill in Winchester (see image) to think about the weeks ahead.

About drbexl

Life Explorer, academia/learning, Christian, cultural history, WW2 posters: Keep Calm & Carry On, digital world, coach. Twitter: @drbexl @digitalfprint, @ww2poster @bigbible