Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We are all made in the image of the God we choose to serve."

Blaise Pascal

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday Revisited

Palm Sunday is one of those Biblical stories that we are almost over-familiar with, so it is a good idea to look at it through someone else's eyes. A couple of years ago I posted this piece lloking at it through the eyes of a Roman centurion. I initially wrote it for an event in Skainos during Holy Week, but delivered it in the Agape centre this morning as part of our Palm Sunday celebrations, following this reading:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:‘Say to Daughter Zion“See, your king comes to you,gentle and riding on a donkey,and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Matthew 21: 1-11 (NIV-UK)

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Call that a king!? Where’s his army? That rag-tag bunch of misfits and malcontents!? Oh I’m quivering in my boots. One platoon of proper soldiers could take that lot out in a matter of minutes. That’s what’s needed to keep the peace in this God-forsaken province – a firm hand… and a sharp sword…
Though why the Emperor could be bothered with this place I don’t know… The weather is lousy… the food is awful… and the people are obsessed with religion… They’re convinced that their God is the only God and that he has given them this land… I suppose in comparison with some of the other desert wildernesses around here it’s not a bad bit of real estate, but to hear them talk about it you would think it was the centre of the universe…
Because they think that their God has given them this land they don’t want us anywhere about the place. The only thing is that as much as they hate us, they seem to hate each other even more… They fight among themselves over their religion… Don’t understand a word of it myself – but if they’re fighting each other they’re not bothering us…
Mind you, messiahs are still two a penny in this province. There’s always someone ready to throw off the oppressive yoke of the empire… But they all end up the same way… Nailed to a cross so that the people can see what happens to the enemies of the empire.
But the Emperor needn’t be worried about this so-called King… He doesn’t seem up for the fight… 
We keep an eye on all these rabble rousing rabbis…We’ve got informers following all of them… reporting back what they say. With this one its all sorts of talk about loving your enemies and forgiving those who hurt you… Hardly the words of a revolutionary!  And his entrance there today bears that out… Not exactly a triumphal entry…
Now the Emperors… they know how to make an entrance… A golden chariot… Slaves captured in battle dragged along in chains… Soldiers in their parade ground best…
But this King… All he had was a bunch of northern fishermen, and some women and children… Singing old songs about salvation…
No… you mark my words… in a few days, weeks at the most, we’ll have forgotten about this guy and will have moved on to the next saviour…

Jesus, Messiah…
Come to save us, not through conquest but by sacrifice
Forgive us where we forget that your Kingdom is not as the kingdoms of this world, 
where we follow the way of the world in seeking to overpower and dominate others to get our own way.
Forgive us where we cheer and celebrate when things are going our way, 
but forget that you call us to follow you along the way of the cross.
Forgive us where we are happy to lay down symbolic palm branches , 
but our not prepared to truly sacrifice our preferences, our priorities and ourselves
For others and the sake of your kingdom.
Hosanna! We are saved!
Blessed are you who came in the name of the Lord our God, AMEN.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Psalm for World Church Sunday

I haven't posted a responsive Psalm for a while, but this is one we a re using in tomorrow's 11am service at the Agape Centre, when we will be reflecting on what the Apostle's Creed says about us us believing in the "Holy Catholic Church", and how teh Methodist  Missionary Society helps us to be a more effective part of the catholic or universal church.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous deeds among all peoples.
Honour the Lord, all you families of nations,
Honour the  Lord for his glory and strength.
Honour the Lord, giving the glory due to his name;
bring your offerings and come before him.
Worship the Lord in his holy splendour;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’
he will judge all people with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
From Psalm 96


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The God of Carnage and his Wolfish Worshippers

Yesterday on facebook, my friend Ali White, who is one of the actors in Prime Cut's production of "The God of Carnage", plugged the last few shows by posting:
"Four more chances to see God of Carnage in the MAC in Belfast if you fancy it. It even made David Campton laugh and if that's not a recommendation of hilarity I don't know what is."
As I commented, I'm not sure whether that is a compliment or an insult... but to be tagged by Ali is flattering enough, and given that she is basing her comment on my carefully cultivated image as a grumpy old man (indeed Ali first knew me when I was a grumpy young man), I suppose it is a fair comment...
Because I did laugh... loudly (loudly enough for Ali to identify my laugh)... But I was genuinely disturbed that I had found it funny, because in many ways there is nothing funny about it. Indeed as the play began I felt slightly ill-at ease given that it begins with the repercussions of a violent encounter between two children, and this week had one young person in Enniskillen being arrested for the manslaughter of a younger boy in a playground altercation.
I also couldn't disengage my "drama-nerd" circuit and was wondering why the director hadn't changed the Parisien placenames to more local ones... But as the play went on an the nice, middle-class sniping spiralled downwards into Neanderthal brawling (both verbally and physically), I was drawn deeper and deeper into the mess of it all, and I laugher louder and louder.
But I was still asking myself, after the show ended, why a show which exposes the superficiality of polite society and has such a cynical view of human relationships, left me smiling at the end...
Part of it was that it was because it was so well acted and directed - and the director made the right decision in keeping in the Parisien placenames, because it prevented me and other members of the audience from righting off the attitudes and behaviours of the characters as being "typical of people from that part of town." Instead there was plenty for everyone to identify with in all the characters... although I particularly, and uncomfortably, identified with Michel, the middle aged self-confessed Neanderthal, played with his usual guto by Dan Gordon...
Good plays, well staged will usually leave me with a smile on my face... but not all comedies will leave me thinking for as long as this one has... It was not just Ali's post on facebook that prompted this post... It has been percolating since I came home from it on Tuesday... and it was probably exacerbated by the 5th episode in the wonderful "Wolf Hall" that I watched last night...
I didn't really enjoy Hillary Mantel's books... I just couldn't get into her idiosyncratic approach to dialogue... But in a dramatisation all that problem is removed... And the combination of a compelling story and superb performances, especially by the mesmeric Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell has left me transfixed week after week... And yet there is little to commend in the actions of many of the key players in this story. As another actor friend Roddy McDevitt, who knows and admires Mark Rylance said:
"Everyone loves it... Clearly there is something deeply dodgy about it... Sympathy for psychos... It somehow validates our murderous present day rulers..."
In the book Wolf Hall Cromwell refers to the Latin phrase "Homo homini lupus est" meaning "man is a wolf to man" in reference to how other courtiers preyed on his master Cardinal Wolsey... And this could be a subtitle to the whole story (including the third part of Mantel's trilogy which is yet to be inflicted on us.
Normally I find little joy in such stories... I avoid gangster stories (and is the story of the Tudors not a gangster story with codpieces and stockings?), and don't enjoy soaps, and thrillers that seem to wallow in the grimmer side of human existence. It's not that I am squeamish. It's just I see enough of it in my day job without watching it on TV, film or indeed the stage... For exactly the same reason I don't tend to watch Question Time or listen to Nolan... I don't enjoy watching people tear each other apart wolfishly, worshipping the God of Carnage who has an insatiable appetite for human sacrifices. But "The God of carnage" and "Wolf Hall" both point to our tendency to worship this cruel deity... whether we dress him up in Biblical clothes or deny his existence (or the existence of any deity) as nice modern secular middle class people tend to do these days...
I have no time for middle-class pretense and pretensiousness and the moralising that often comes with it... Nor do I have any time for the fanaticism of those who are so certain of their belief (or non-belief) that they will seek to destroy (physically or intellectually) those who believe differently.
I seek to serve a God of grace... revealled in Jesus of Nazareth, who reserved his anger and ire for those who used religious and political power to profit from and oppress others; who was prepared to die for others but not kill others... Not a wolf, but a lamb...
But a lamb wouldn't last much longer than a hamster in the plot of "God of Carnage"... Go see the play to understand that reference... you now only have 3 chances to see it... You will laugh, but you might end up asking yourself "why"?


Outside, the Garden

A piece of doggerel inspired by some bird watching, preparing a Bible study referring to Matthew 6: 25-27, and a song I heard on Monday night sung by Steph Geremia of the Alan Kelly Gang, who were supporting Eddi Reader.

Outside is the garden
with birds on the wing
and trees coming into leaf
offering healing for the soul.

Outside is the garden
beyond two panes of glass
observed but not experienced
watched but not walked in.

Outside it the garden
and no sword-wielding angel
stands barring the way 
to this small suburban Eden.

Outside is the garden
but you toil on, brow furrowed
ploughing through paperwork
in self-imposed exile.

Outside is the garden
but inside your central-heated
double-glazed bubble 
thorns and thistles throttle green shoots.

Outside, the garden...


Saturday, February 14, 2015

An Older Song

Today is a day when we celebrate love, although all too often what is described as love is little more than lust. But all genuine human love is an echo of the God who is love, and who has loved us with an everlasting love that is greater than any human love we could imagine. I originally wrote this performance poem for 2 voices, male and female, for an event in May 2007 run by the Down District of the Methodist Church in Ireland, staged at the Waterfront in Belfast, celebrating the Life and Work of Charles Wesley, born 300 years previously. It is based on numerous passages of scripture, especially the Song of Songs and the First Letter of John.

A night for singing songs…
Old songs and new songs
All based on an older song…
THE song…
The song of all songs
The song of a lady for her lover
The Lord for his beloved…
A song which began before creation…
A song of love which called light into being
A song of love which breathed life into clay
A song of love which gave us liberty…
Yet pursued us when we went astray.
I have loved you with an everlasting love…
I have been eternally faithful to you.
If only I could say the same.
Yet I have not loved you as I should;
I have not lived the life I could.
I have sought out the shadows
Rather than living in your light
Yet still you love me… Why?
I am love…
No more…
No less…
And you were created to be loved.
To be loved and to love…

Yet love turned to lust
For luscious fresh fruit
For knowledge, for flesh,
For riches, for power
For fresh tasting morsels to devour…
Love became lust;
Lust became lechery;
Liberty became license
License became lawlessness.
In my love I wrote to you…
I was too busy to respond…
In my love I sang to you…
You weren’t singing my tune…
In my love I sent my son to you…
Our Son…
Son of Woman
Son of God.
Light in place of darkness.
Life in place of death.
Yet in our liberty we made our choice
Death in place of life…
Darkness in place of light…
My Son, My Son, my one and only Son.
Sent so that you should not be lost
But might be set at liberty.
Even me?
Even you.
Believe me… And live…
Believe me… and love…
Live in my love…
Love as I love you…
Love my beloved
Love one another
Love those who love you
Love those who hate you
Love the loveless
Love the unlovely.
And this is love…
Not that I loved him…
But he loved me.
Loved me…
Loves me…
And always will love me…
Loved me into life…
Filled my life with love
Filled to overflowing…
A love that brings light;
A love more constant than the sun.
A love that brings life;
A love that is stronger than death…
A love that brings liberty;
Yet a love that will not let me go…
A love without limit…
A love like no other
that I want others to know…
I am my beloved’s
And he is mine…
The big day is coming…
And everyone is invited
Come home with me…
I go with my lover…
The tables are ready and waiting
and over the door is a banner saying
“I love you!”

A night for singing songs…
Old songs and new songs
Come, step into the spotlight of his love
and sing a song forever old,
forever new
of Light and life
of liberty and love.

© David A. Campton 2007


Friday, February 6, 2015

Songs to Sing on the Journey

I've just started re-reading Dave Tomlinson's reflections on Psalm 23 entitled "I Shall Not Want" and towards the beginning he says this of the Psalms:
“Anyone who reads the Psalms systematically, rather than simply dipping into the old favourites, soon discovers that they aren't all as calming, reassuring and comforting as Psalm 23. Some are dance numbers (literally), others are blues songs, some are pretty disturbing in their tone, and a few are downright obnoxious!” Psalm 137, for example, opens with the line immortalized by Boney M: “By the rivers of Babylon; there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Zion.” But don't let the catchy tune and the dance rhythm deceive you: Psalm 137 is a moody lament from an angry soul who has been abducted and forced to live in a foreign land. He's thoroughly fed up. But it gets worse. As he looks on his oppressors, his anger boils: 'Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!'
You can see why Boney M chopped that bit.
But hang on. It wasn't us who were taken hostage; it wasn't our children who were slaughtered by an invading force; it wasn't our homes and belongings that were looted and burned; it wasn't our dreams that were shattered…
The Psalms do not simply offer happy-clappy, sanitized religion; they voice ecstatic joy, passion, disappointment, pain and grief. This is gut-level religion, a spirituality acquainted with the dark sides of life as well as the seasons of 'sweetness and light'. The Book of Psalms expresses honest, gut-level, straight from the hip human experience passing through the varied seasons of life.”
Last year as part of the 4 Corners Festival we staged an event on "Listening to your Enemies" at the Skainos Centre in East Belfast that got the sort of media coverage that was absent for the rest of the festival... sadly it was for all the wrong reasons, as some in the local community (and further afield) objected to the involvement of Brighton bomber Patrick Magee, and there were violent protests outside the venue.
We cannot undo the past... whether the past of our province, or last year's event at Skainos... But we can seek to move on. And as part of that process, for this year's 4 Corners Festival Linda Ervine, director of EBM's TURAS Irish Language programme, has devised an evening with the Scots Gaelic Psalm Singers entitled  'SLIGHE NA BEATHA’ 'THE PATH OF LIFE', with the title taken from Psalm 16 v11:
‘You make known to me the path of life’
This journey through the Psalms, explores the various stages of grief including anger and despair before moving towards healing, forgiveness, acceptance and hope, helping us to reflect on where we are in Northern Ireland 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and one year on from last year's 4 Corners Festival event. It offers an opportunity to lament aspects of the past but to look forward with a sense of assurance and purpose. Come along and join in the journey at 7pm tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Re-Imagining our City...

I didn't manage to get to last night's 4 Corners Festival event "Imagining a City Without Walls" with journalist Vicky Costtick, which I was frustrated at given that some of the most formative years of my ministry were spent straddling the peacewall between the Springfield Road and Woodvale, but I did manage to get to this evening's "3 Mayors for 4 Corners" event in Fitzroy Presbyterian (it had to be moved from the Ulster Museum because so many people wanted to attend, a pleasantly recurrent problem in this year's festival). At tonight's event Christ Wilson sang a number of songs, to punctuate Steve Stockman's impersonation of Eamonn Mallie interviewing the three most recent Lord Mayors of Belfast, Gavin Robinson, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and current incumbent Nichola Mallon. But he began and finished the evening with the song he wrote for the launch of the Festival in City Hall a couple of weeks back, based on Steve Stockman's response to John Lennon's "Imagine"...

maybe there is a heaven
where wrongs are made right
not some ethereal answer
a place where dark becomes light
what if there is a heaven
a place where neighbours are loved
where captives are set free
but it’s here not above
Image this city without walls
Image a grace with the power to make them fall
and love, love reigns here
oh love, love reigns here
there just might be a heaven
a place where the blind get their sight
a place where every person
finds purpose and life
what if there is a heaven
a place of tangible hope
where every weary traveller
finds rest and love
Image this city without walls
Image a grace with the power to make them fall
and love, love reigns here
oh love, love reigns here
Steve Stockman and Chris Wilson

This in turn set me thinking of that dialogue that I have posted a number of times now, contrasting a vision of our city with John's vision of a heavenly city in Revelation:

JOHN: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, clear as crystal.
EVERYMAN: I stood on top of the Black Mountain and our city sat in the hollow of the hills, cloaked in smoke and mist.
JOHN: The city had a great, high wall with twelve gates and the wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass, and the foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.
EVERYMAN: There is no wall around our city, but plenty snaking through it, Those walls are made of concrete and steel and razor-wire and their foundations are fear and bitterness.
JOHN: I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
EVERYMAN: I saw a city filled with churches, some full, some empty… pinpricks of light in a dark city… The faithful huddled inside, hands clasped in prayer, or raised in praise… and the doors bolted for fear of the world outside…
JOHN: On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.
EVERYMAN: A city of which welcomes others but is at war with itself…
JOHN: Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
EVERYMAN: For every life a name, and every name on a list. On monuments, on computers, in little black books, alive and lost and somewhere in between… hit lists, black lists… lists of the unclean, unsound and unforgiven… Those whom we keep outside…
JOHN: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
EVERYMAN: The River Lagan cuts through our city like a scar… But there are other scars that criss-cross our city… Some can be seen… like the stark walls… but others are hidden in human hearts. And we are all on one side or the other… The River that gave birth to this city, the Farset, is hidden, buried beneath its streets… And the trees of this city bear no fruit… indeed their leaves fall prematurely to the ground to be blown down the streets, to form drifts of decay… This city seems cursed…
JOHN: No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

I wrote that back in 2002 for an event by New Irish Arts based on Revelation and I have continued to tinker with it since then, and continue to dream of and work a city that reflects that vision from Revelation just a little bit more. With the leadership of politicians like our 3 most recent Lord Mayors we might just get there.
That vision sees the heavenly city providing "healing for the nations" and tomorrow night at 7.30pm 4 Corners considers what that might look like in "Imagining a World without Human Trafficking" at Fitzwilliam and McCrory Presbyterian in North Belfast, whilst on Thursday we try to give form to the welcome to others as City Hall hosts a Feast for Refugees. If you want to donate to this act of generosity you can do so here...
Then this coming Friday for the first time New Irish Arts will perform in west Belfast in Clonard Monastry, bringing their programme based on the events of the first world war... There are still tickets to be had either here or on the door...
These are just some of the remaining 4 Corners Events aimed at stimulating your imagination as to how we might reshape this city, and indeed world...