Monday, 13 March 2017

Resting on a mess

There is at the back of my mind a half-remembered sense that the story of the call of Abram goes something like this:

Abram lived with his father in the long-term family home at Ur, near the Persian Gulf, where they worshipped God in their own lights.  God called him to leave all this behind, travel to Canaan to establish a new family, a family with the unique characteristics that it was chosen by God, that it worshipped God as he really is, and that its members would flourish together.

But a closer reading of the passage from the Hebrew Bible set for the Sunday Eucharist yesterday (and of the verses which precede it and of the way the story runs on after it) reveals a different story:

Abram’s father Terah had already set out with his family for Canaan and had travelled all the way up the Euphrates (the green corridor which was the only practical trading route for such a journey), getting perhaps 60% of the way there, when, for some reason, he settled down instead at Harran (in a region we know well in our prayers today being about 100 miles from modern Aleppo in Syria and about 250 miles from modern Mosul in Iraq), and he eventually died there.

God then called Abram to get un-stuck from his late father’s new home and complete the journey to ‘a country I will show you’ and about which God will soon say ‘I am giving this land to your descendants’.  But when he moves through the land he finds a famine, so he passes through it to Egypt (exactly the process familiar to us from the story of his grandson and great-grandson Jacob and Joseph) - where he almost seems to pimp his wife to secure his own safety and establishes his own fortune in the fertile Nile corridor (quite like the original family home at Ur). 

When he finally returns to Canaan it turns out to be a place for his family to struggle together.  First they quarrel, then they find they can only live peaceable with each other by living separate parallel lives, and then they are engulfed in war with others - before too long Abram is pursuing enemies half way back to Harran.

My half-remembered version of the story is compatible with the genuine testimony of many:

they lived in pagan disbelief and debauchery, had a single moment of clarity and a call from God, and have lived since in a reformed and Godly way.

The closer reading, however, is more compatible with a different story and testimony.

I am on a journey to where God wants me to be, intending to leave behind the beliefs, habits and values of my home community.  

But I can get comfortable and stuck on the way and can easily recreate a fresh version of the place and life I began to leave behind.  

Even when God gives me another shove, I find the place where he wants me to be sometimes barren and often conflict-ridden.  

So, put under any particular pressure, I can easily revert even to old moral choices of which I ought to be ashamed.

And, put alongside others on the same journey, I can find it much easier to live a separate stream from them rather than to pursue a struggle together.

As an individual, there is some comfort in recognising how simply Abram-shaped a faltering Christian journey can still be; it is as if it is almost our foundational pattern.

As a member of a church which says things about ‘mutual flourishing’ but which doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to engage in the mutual struggling of 'good disagreement' this is also an important message – perhaps a subject for a subsequent post.

And alongside all of this, there is a further detail which people do often notice when engaged in a close reading of the few verses set for yesterday.  When we get some of this right, it isn’t meant to be for my benefit or the benefit of my own people at all.  It is to be blessing on others - ‘so that you will be a blessing... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.  Perhaps that is also worth a subsequent post in itself.

Meanwhile, we now know that the building work at St Nicolas’ is going to take a couple of weeks longer than first anticipated, so our ambition for the congregation to be back there in time for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter is going to be disappointed.

The picture shows the mess on which the main beam running east-west (on to which the south aisle's roof beams rest) turns out to be sitting upon - the wood on the left is probably an earlier roof beam reused and the brick work to its right is probably the bottom part of what we know was the Victorian bricking up of an earlier clerestory window.

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