#327: How can it be Eurovision again already?

Bertie here again, back with more thrilling news and exciting updates. First, let me introduce myself properly- someone asked Richard this week who I was and it turns out that there might actually be people out there who I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. Let’s play a game! Two of these things are true and one is false…

  1. I am a talented journalist who is also a committed member of the Church, living in a mousehole at St Paul’s and keeping my ear to the ground and my eye on the cheese
  2. I am immortal, engaged in a timeless battle with evil zombie cats, masquerading as an ‘umble Churchmouse
  3. I am entirely a figment of Richard’s imagination, used by him to brighten the odd message to the parish in the days before Covid, but a figment who found his moment during pandemic lockdowns and became a key rallying point and distinctive voice when people couldn’t leave their homes, uniting people and bringing them joy.

Answers, please, on a postcard, to Louise. Who won’t care but you could still send her a cheery note to brighten up her day.

Coming Soon…

Concert for Ukraine on Saturday night at 7.30pm, by Reading Phoenix Choir

Sunday Evensong with Sermon at 6.15pm, followed by Refreshments

(see email 326 for full details of both of these)

Christian Aid Coffee Morning, Sat the 21st in the Parish Rooms

Conversations around Covid

The parish is constantly checking that we are getting the balance right between sensible restrictions and loosening things. As has always been the case, we are trying to move at a pace with which as many people as possible are content, and trying to always move together, as one, at one pace, united. We had our most recent conversation at Standing Committee on Monday night and will have another one at PCC on Monday night. Here is a quick digest, mostly about St Paul’s but not exclusively so:

  1. we are reintroducing the collection and the offertory procession when the bread and wine are brought up from the congregation to the chancel
  2. the choir will continue to process in at the start of the service at St Paul’s
  3. the Peace will continue to happen in a safely socially-distanced but still very warm fashion
  4. people can still wear a mask of course, and there will still be social-distancing at the rear of the nave
  5. we will start to use the altar rail again at St Paul’s from Sunday morning
  6. there is no plan to start using the chalice again anytime soon, but the PCC will discuss that on Monday night, and any suggestions or comments can be given to PCC Members before then.

If you do have any particular comments or ideas or observations, please do let me or member of Standing Committee know.

Other Items of Importance

  1. The House Mass on a Wednesday morning at 10.30 is a lovely, short service and especially useful for those who are either busy on a Sunday or who aren’t ready to come back to the whole service again, for whatever reason. Do check with the Pews News where the service is being held- always in Emmbrook, most often at Teri and Lyn’s.
  2. Please speak to Peter Wells if you would like to find out more about joining the Serving Team– it is a key and enjoyable job. No previous experience is necessary.
  3. CHRISTIAN AID WEEK UNITED SERVICE Woosehill are hosting the Christian Aid Week united service at 6.30 pm on Sunday 15th May. For those who are unable to attend, the service will be Livestreamed at https://youtu.be/qp9eFdAiUeQ/
  4. CMS, who we worked with on the great PMC Process, are refocusing their work- here is the video-

5. More to come soon but do make a note of the excellent Festival of Prayer at Cuddesdon on the 9th of July, a Saturday- a number of people from the parish are already going and it is always brilliant. The Festival of Prayer 2022: Prayer and personality – BRFonline

6. Latest news from Madagascar:

If you read one thing this week, read this sermon by the awesome Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Lord is My Shepherd – (but) I Shall not want (a shepherd, thank you very much)

Nearly 20 years ago on Good Shepherd Sunday, when my daughter Harper was 4 years old, the pastor was giving the children’s sermon; he had gathered all the little kids around and was going to have them sing that song, “I just wanna be a sheep baa baa baa baa” which they had all practiced earlier –  and so, guitar slung over his alb,  the young pastor asks the children the leading question: “Ok kids, what do you want to be? And all the kids say “a sheep!” except my daughter Harper, who says “a mermaid!”.

As you may know, once a year, on the 4th Sunday of Easter, the assigned readings are all about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and on this day, the Psalm for the day is always the 23rd Psalm.

Psalm 23 is a real banger – one of the most recognizable pieces of scripture we have going for us. It is emblazoned in the minds of even people who aren’t all that churchy.  The 23rd Psalm is seared into our cultural psyche somewhere between the pledge of allegiance and now I lay me down to sleep.  It can be hard for a preacher to know how to breathe life into something from it’s resting place on Christian coffee mugs and decorative pillows. But here goes…

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want – he maketh me lie down in green pastures.

Honestly I can find these bucolic, pastoral, images in the Bible to be almost impossible to relate to. I mean, I’ve just never spent much time around shepherds.

Not to mention, the only sheep I’ve ever seen have been the sad, filthy caged ones in petting zoos. Sheep seem a bit stupid and docile and easily manipulated. And so, if I am honest,  I kinda resent being called a sheep –

I mean, I’m with Harper, given the choice, I’d for sure be a mermaid, but never a sheep. 

I mean, my mom tells the story that when I was learning to talk, the first time I ever said more than one word at a time it was this: do it self. I do not want my hand held or to be shepherded. I want to make my own choices and go my own way. If you are anything like me you too are a bit of an anti-shephertarian. We want to Do. It. Self. Even, it should be noted, if those choices and that way is killing us.

At least we would be exercising our free will, making our own choices and led by our own desires. I want to do what I want to do.

I was at the Mockingbird theological conference in NYC last weekend and sat in on a talk someone was giving on Rene Girard and what is called Mimetic theory– this is the theory that states – our wants and desires are not actually individual at all – that human desire is more imitative than we like to believe. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere from inside of us.  We learn what to want by seeing what others are wanting. If you doubt this theory, just put 20 toys in a room with three toddlers and see how long it takes for them to fight over one single truck. I resisted this idea when I first heard it…since it sounds suspiciously sheep – like. I mean, surely not me. Surely I am smarter than that. But friends, honest to God, I am not. My desires are more often than not driven by a dissatisfaction with myself and my life that is completely manufactured by advertising and envy.

I confess to you that I have submitted to the algorhythmic overlords and bought skin care products marketed to me through images of women my age who also have grey hair but fewer wrinkles. My desire for that skin cream did not exist until I was shown an image which I wanted to imitate.

I confess that I drive a Subaru like everyone else in Colorado.

I confess that I have a French Bulldog.

I confess that for two weeks of my life I tried that KETO diet.

The desires of my heart are so easily dictated by what I see in the rest of the flock.

So I may fancy myself a independently minded mermaid, but I am afraid that I am a sheep.

We all are.

And, like sheep, when someone or something comes along and finally makes us feel safe and loved and worthy and feeling like maybe we are finally going in the right direction, we follow them.  

And man, do we choose some lousy shepherds.

I have allowed myself to be shepherded by my addictions, and broken institutions, and the so called “wellness” industry, and the angriest voices on twitter – all while thinking I am for sure just following my own individual thoughts and desires.

But this week I realized that not one single shepherd-shaped wolf that I have followed, has ever actually fulfilled my wants and desires, they have only ever increased them. They have only ever lead me waters with a high salt content, only ever led me to waters that create thirst and never ever quench it. They leave me feeling insecure and insufficient. Imposter shepherds demand loyalty. They pit sheep against each other. They set impossible standards and make us think we want to meet them. And the voice of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing (even the ones that come from inside our own heads) always has an accusing tone to them.

Wolves and lesser shepherds will always suggest that we should look, feel, and act a certain way that is always just out of reach no matter how much we strive. And any past success serves only as an accusation against our current efforts. They set before us an unwinnable game. And in it there is no rest.

So, here is way to spot the difference between the wolves and the good shepherd–The shepherd never holds auditions.  The Shepherd never mentions the quality of sheep they demand. The shepherd never bases their protection and love and concern for their sheep on how the sheep look or feel or behave or achieve…that’s never mentioned as a basis for belonging to the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Those are just things wolves create as a basis for belonging because grace is just too offensive.  Grace is just too hard to take since on some level, we think that if it’s free it must be worthless.

So, yeah…There are no auditions. Nothing to earn. No extra credit in God’s flock. Which also means that there is no basis for comparison.  Nothing to envy in others. Nothing to prove. Even to ourselves.

In the good shepherd’s keeping, striving is replaced by relaxing.

There is, in God’s keeping, nap time and snack time.

He makes me lie down, he restores me, he makes sure I eat even when people are mad at me. The Lord does not hand me a to-go box, but sets a table before me in the midst of my anxieties.

When the wolves make me feel like everything good has already passed me by, that were I to slow down I would lose my edge, that I cannot afford to rest, If I tilt my head ever so slightly and listen for even just a moment,  I can hear the Spirit’s still, small voice saying “you actually have all the time in the world.”

And even when her voice seems drown out by the anxious clamor of self-critique. I wish I were taller, I wish I were shorter, I wish my wool were as white and hers or as curly as his. The voice of the Shepherd is still there saying, “you already have everything you need”

And when the news cycle makes me alternately rage-y and anxious, and when my family is walking through our own valley of the shadows, and when even the planet itself isn’t doing well, The voice of the one to whom I truly belong is always there saying “be not afraid”.

So while I wish Jesus had said I Am the Good Friend or the Good Therapist or the Good coach there is nothing wrong with the fact that I am a sheep of God’s keeping and that you are sheep of God’s keeping.

This true and good shepherd is calling your name. And has been since you drew your first breath. You know the voice. If you tilt your head and place your hand on your tender, broken, beautiful heart, you know the voice. It has always been there, under the clamor of insecurity and the cry of wolves and the murmurs of your own internal High Commission on Worthiness.

The voice of the one who lays down his life for us who lays down his love for us exhausted, terrified, rather be a mermaid, do-it-self sheep is always right there saying:

 “you belong to me”

“you belong”

“you”

The Lord is your shepherd; you shall not be in want.

He makes you to lie down in green pastures: he leads you beside the still waters.

He restores your soul

Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need not fear evil: for they are with you; their rod and their staff they comfort you.

They prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of you life: and you will dwell  in the house of the Lord forever.

Amen.

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