Everything had changed….

It was still dark when she woke, the air was heavy and close she felt trapped by it.  She drew a deep breath but found it hard to take it back as her chest hurt as the air filled her lungs.  She suddenly remembered why…. It was from the pain born of the day before from weeping, the sort of crying that goes so deep it almost draws the very life out of you.

The breath brought everything back into sharp focus, She could not lounge around again today, there were jobs to be done although it was two days ago since those awful events outside the city walls, today was a new day and although hope had gone and been replaced by the dark hole of grief she knew she had to face the day and all that it brought, and whats more is that she knew she had to do it alone.

As she stepped out into the narrow streets the presence of darkness seemed to be creeping in every shadow, every step she took was laboured, this was not a journey that she ever thought she would be taking.  It was not supposed to end like this they hadn’t just taken her Rabboni, (her teacher) they had also taken her hope, her inspiration, her dreams of tomorrow and with it her faith.  How could God have let this happen?  Where was God now?

As she made her way to early morning spice market the familiar smells of frankincense and Myrrh filled her nostrils and suddenly reminded her of the stories she heard her master tell of gifts some travelling men had given to him as a child, it now seemed bitter sweet that she would taking the same spices to anoint his broken body now, it seemed in some small way as if there was a bigger plan at work some how.

She moved on, and out of the city passing the signs and symbols of her oppressors the roman banners, the soldiers with their advanced and modern weaponry, the empire and the power and torment that came with it all.  But amongst all of this she recalled that there was once a promise of a different way, talk about a kingdom instead of an empire with rules of love instead of violence, justice and a hope for a future, but that promise seemed to have vanished like a whisper in the wind and she could not let herself get sentimental about it now.

She continued her journey taking her to the tomb, and as she ventured the surrounds began to change, it was as if a new scene was being set, building gave way to trees, hard dusty roads became paths of soft moss and grass, and the darkness of the city began to be broken up by the dawn appearing on the horizon.

She approached the edge of the garden and the memories came flooding back of being here on Friday, this time though everything looked different, she caught her finger on thorn bush as she walked by and it started to bleed. The crimson red glistened in the early morning light, it is strange she thought how suffering can seem to alter so much, even the simplest of objects can seem to be planning to harm you when you are already in pain, it was almost as if this feeling of hopelessness she felt inside her had permeated into every other object around her.  She looked again at the thorn bush and suddenly realised it wasn’t the bush but something laid on its branches, it was the crown which had been made for the master, it must have fallen off on the way to the tomb, she recalled the crown that they had made, the same thorns that had wounded her had opened his brow, the jokes and the laughter that had accompanied it, she held back the tears that choked the back of her throat.

She moved on through the trees towards the tomb…. She had rehearsed her speech to the guards in her mind, she felt prepared, she did not want to be turned away, she had come too far for that, emotionally, spiritually and physically.  
“I have to see him again,” she heard herself saying softly to herself, she had a job to do, a job that would bring comfort and order to a battered and abused body, she had to wrap his body one last time as his mother would have done a 1000 times for him when he was a baby, this one last task now fell to her, and she was going to do it right.

The light was breaking through the tree tops as she approached the place… there was an unexpected stillness that seemed to embrace all around, she slowed her walking almost frightened of breaking it. As she drew nearer she could not see the guards, her heart started to beat faster as she realised that something had happened in this place, and that that something had not been planned by those who had now fled, all she could hear now was the beating of her own heart in her chest and her breathing quickened then she stopped….

The sight of what she saw before her seemed to both overwhelm and strip her of all her senses at once. She was frozen to the spot, she felt the pain in her soul begin to rise again at the sight of this opened tomb before her.

The pain quickly turned to rage, “Why could they not leave him alone? Had he not suffered enough?” she thought, the rage then turned to fear as she realised that the robbers might still be lurking in the half-light.  

She turned and ran, she ran hard and fast without looking back, she had to tell the others she thought as she ran, she needed the others to know even if only for the fact that she would not feel so alone.  As she arrived she explained the whole situation and what she had found, a small group hastily rushed back to the garden to find the tomb.  The men raced ahead and again she found herself alone, she started to pray, she did not have the words but something deep within her started to wake, was it hope?

As she arrived back at the opened tomb it was light, it was as if this was a different world to the one she few just a few moments ago, The men had entered the tomb and had confirmed her fears, the master was gone, they brushed past her as she stood outside, they did not say a ward the pain in their hearts was almost visible, as the men disappeared she slumped into the open doorway, exhausted and wept through the tears she lifted her eyes and looked into the blackness of the tomb, it seemed to become some sort of twisted metaphor for the place she felt she was in.  For the first time that day she looked to were his body had been laid, she saw the robes they had covered him with, but instead of being strung across the floor they were laid neatly in place, folded…. Organised…?

She stepping into the darkness, it was cold, but before she could respond to these new surroundings there was an image, a being some sort of person, then from the darkness words broke the silence that had descended, a question out of the blackness, “why do you look for the living amongst the dead?”  She could not answer, too startled to comprehend the situation, she turned and moved quickly back out into the open, into the safety of the light, in her panic she moved clumsily and fell into the arms of a man standing in the bright morning light.  She stumbled back and gathered her thoughts, he must be the gardener, he must have moved the master , he will know, he will have the answers she thought.  She asked, her voice fractured, broken and beautiful, she asked, “Where is he?” “Please tell me I need him”?  There was no reply from the stranger, he just stood there, his presence strong and defined, complete,

“Mary” Came his reply, “Mary!”

She looked into his eyes and saw that it was him, Her heart warmed and she was enveloped with total peace it was Jesus, her Jesus and he was well !!!! He was more than well, he had never looked so, so ALIVE!

He had spoken her name and in that moment everything had changed.

Judas and me

Spent this morning thinking, praying and preaching about Judas.  A guy who gets a bad wrap most of the time, but to be honest is see a lot of myself in him.  Someone who wants to be in control when everything around him looks like God hasn’t got a clue what’s going on.  I played this track by Coldplay at the end of my talk that in my opinion sums Judas up for me, and myself in some situations, enjoy….

 

Big Announcement !….

It is with great joy and huge relief that I can announce that I have completed and passed my Masters degree in the Theology of Mission and Ministry form the University of Nottingham, via St John’s College.  I will graduate on Tuesday 9th July.  

This achievement for me has not been one that I have managed on my own, there have been a loyal group of friends and family that have supported me though the past 6 years.  No more so than Becky, who has repeatedly told me that I could do it and believed in me when I found it hard to believe I would ever reach this stage myself.  

Personally for me this has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  (Cue X factor sad music)  When I was 5 I was adopted by my step dad, this was a great thing but did mean some changes.  The biggest one being that my name changed, I was no longer Benjamin James Howard Smart, I became Benjamin James Norton.  This might not seem a biggy or anything to do with passing my Masters, but one thing that happened during this whole process that has had a defining influence on me from the day it happened.  

I remember very clearly at this time being in school and writing my name on a piece of work and handing to my teacher to mark.  As she looked over it she drew out her red pen and wielded it over the text marking the red ink in glorious fashion, with every mark of red on white my heart sank a little until the point she read my name at the bottom of the page.  It was spelt wrong, my surname anyway,  “My goodness boy!” she exclaimed “Don’t you even know how to spell your own name?”  being too shy to explain that I was still getting the hang of my new name, and if I had, had the brains about me I might have well told her that actually the spelling of my new name was at this point in my life not the highest priority on my agenda, what with been taken in and out of court on a regular basis as my parents fought for adoption rights, not knowing where I was sleeping that night or who was picking me up from school that day.

So needless to say that, that moment, that voice has been etched into the back of my mind right the way though my education, knowing that words and letters have always been a war and a battle for me.  

It was with both relief and more frustration that as I started my Masters Degree that one of my tutors suggested that I should be tested for Dyslexia.  After some testing it was confirmed that I am indeed dyslexic. This was a good thing and freeing in many ways and also frustrating in others.  It allowed me to put something in place to help me, it helped me understand the way my own brain works and how differently it is wired, the gifts that dyslexia gives and the things that it makes difficult.  In many ways it can be like being trapped in your own mind at times.  I can be writing away and then the word that I want to use will not appear. The phrase “on the tip of my tongue” is one way to think about what happens when my brain freezes, stammering over words, a short attention span, falling over words and missing them out completely, forgetting really simple things like phone numbers I know I know.  Constantly looking stupid and feeling stupid, a lack of confidence and self esteem.  These are all things that make me, me.  On the other hand this way of thinking allows me to be creative, expressive, constantly challenging myself to better who I am.

I guess we all have our demons and words are mine, but with passing my Masters it does feel like a fatal blow in my battle with words, and the sweet irony is I now have two more letters after my name that is hard enough to spell at the best of times !

Ben Norton MA.

 

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Lessons from the seaside…

Reflecting on the developing Fresh Expressions in Bridlington that I was part of, one things has struck me recently, and that has been that when it comes to Fresh Expressions of church we should not be so quick to defend and justify them.  It is an easy trap to fall into, especially for the pioneer who will have ploughed a lot of blood, sweat and tears into birthing a new community.  Of course everyone wants newly formed Fresh Expressions of church to be successful in reaching those who have no connection with either faith or church.  We want them to look good, but it is easy to miss the reality of authentic markers of church.  There is also the fact that at times we might want to measure how well they are doing by comparing them to other inhered forms of church to see how well they are getting on.
One of the hardest things i find when it comes to critiquing fresh expressions of church is that the only yard stick we have got is one that seems rather inadequate for the job.  (the tools no longer fit the situation) tools such as critiquing new communities using orthodoxy and doctrine as a way of interpreting what is going on.  Whilst these issues are important they might not always be easily recognisable in the way we might want to understand them
For example, one of the comments of the Fresh Expressions in Bridlington was that it seemed that we never actively preached the gospel, in as much as there was no recognised reading and expounding of the scriptures.  I believe the question therefore is one that can be found in the Psalms, at a time when God’s people found themselves in an unfamiliar place, with no recognisable markers to order their sense of God. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”* (the foreign land for us, this time being cultural rather than geographical.)
What we did do is take a hermeneutical approach to exploring issues in the news.  Exploring, sharing and debating the topics that everyone was facing.  It was through this way of engaging with each other that conversations of faith, ethical, moral, and spiritual ideas were put forward and critiqued and pondered by those who did not profess a faith based world view. This was often messy, with view points being aired and language used that may make some people feel shocked or offended by.  Indeed I often asked myself the question “what would people say if they thought this was church?” Of course this was an environment  in which everyone was welcome and all views were encouraged to be shared.  They would be challenged at times and although there were never any serious consequences the debates would get heated.  It was messy and I as the pioneer constantly felt vulnerable about what it was we were doing.  With questions like “is this church?” “are these men seeing and hearing the teachings of Jesus?” “can we see authentic signs of the Kingdom here?”  and always in the back of my mind were the voices of those who would criticise no matter what we did.
But on reflection, I believe that if a Fresh Expression of church is authentically engaging with and creating disciples then it will look most of the time anything but successful. Just like the disciples, and the early church.  In fact I would go so far as saying that a mark of authenticity would be that the community would be very fragile, messy and most of the time in crisis.  I say this not only from my own experience but also reading Paul’s letters to the early church. (1 Corinthians 1: 10-17**)  Most of the time sorting out the issues that were arising as new disciples worked out their faith in a messy and uneasy way.  There is an album by the band Dubh called ‘Fractured, broken and beautiful’, I believe that this sums up the church in every place and not just Fresh Expression communities, but this is what we want.  A church reliant upon the saving grace of God though the continued work of the Holy Spirit.

 

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* Psalm 137:4
**10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Nice Cross, what does it mean????

So the European court of human rights has today ruled that it is OK for Christians to wear crosses at work See Here.

Not exactly a ground breaking revolution! But i dare say it would have been news (at least in some smutty tabloids) if the decision had gone the other way.  The fact of the matter is that i don’t believe that it matters if you are allowed to wear a cross or not.  If it offends some people then surely is serving the purpose it is designed for (‘designed’ being the word as most of these hideous pieces of jewellery have fake diamonds and gold designed into them).  The cross should be offensive it is not meant to be anything other.  It was the most barbaric way of killing someone, and the truth of the matter is that Christ chose that death over everything else for a reason.

I personally don’t wear a cross, or have a fish sticker on my car.  Other than the sign of my priestly office i would hope no one would look at me and think ‘Christian’ mainly because i would hope i don’t need these signs and trinkets to prove that i am trying to live a life that calls me to love God and all of those around me.  Basically, well done those who want to wear their crosses at work and have taken this as far as the highest court in Europe. I sincerely hope that you put the same effort into fighting poverty and injustice, I hope that you stand up for the rights of people of all religions and none, who loose their lives everyday because of their beliefs in what ever issue they believe in.

Here is Pete Rollins saying it far more eloquently than me….

My Review of 2012….

So its that time of year again, were i put in print the highs and lows of the past year, i love doing this, mainly for my own benefit but it also saves sending out one those letters in every Christmas card. I guess those who are interested will read this and those who an’t won’t!

Having re-read last years, review and stating that it had been a bit of a ‘grey’ year, i can say on reflection that this one has been very much the opposite. In March we moved, we moved house up to Middlesbrough, and i moved jobs, to be become a pioneer minister in a new parish, the kids moved schools, but more than all of this, something else moved me. In many ways as one of my friends stated after seeing me a few months in this new role “It was like something had been broken, 383388_10151486347250160_917175453_nreleased, allowed to finally blossom.” I believe this to be the case, whilst Bridlington was an amazing place with some people who I thank God every time I remember them, there were also people there who because of whatever reason wanted me to fail. This became a very hard place to continue to remain the person I wanted to be. But, I believe that although some things in life don’t make any sense at all, sometimes it’s good to remember that the dawn of that sacred Sunday morning did arrive after the horrors of that darkest of Fridays. Plus how can one teach about living a life of forgiveness if one has never had to forgive. For those who wished me ill, i forgive you.

But enough of the deep and moody stuff! On with the party!

THE YEARS BEST…

New Food– It has to be the Parmo, a local Teeside delicacy of deep fried chicken with a cheesey topping! Class !

Film – Of mice and Men. Never studied this in school like the rest of the world seems to have done, so engaging with the story for the first time was truly inspirational. Films about the human condition, emotion and sacrifice far out way big special effects for me.
Book – To Kill a Mocking Bird. Put this down and gave up on it half way though, but someone told me the ending was life changing. They were right ! truly remarkable book.
Television –Merlin – BBC – great story telling, and being a bit of an Arthurian nerd i was glad they stuck more or less to the legend!
Album –looking back there doesn’t seem to be any new albums in my Spotify play list, but the track that i have played to death has been from this guy Deekron the fitness DJ. I don’t really like that sort of music but the beat is a really good motivator to run to and takes my mind of the pain! DeekronTheFitnessDJ-1024x702

St Max’s / XY – A truly emotional goodbye to all of the folks from these two communities, and i couldn’t do it without bubbling like a baby! and it has been strange not being part of a community like this for the time being as well as missing the people i have missed the spirituality and the journey of discipleship with open minded and inquisitive people. But it is a blessing to see them continue in a new form, and still on the journey….399032_10151495899610160_285802348_n
Personal Sporting moment It has to be Finishing the Great North Run in September, with my Brother Adam. I finished in just over 2hrs, which after been in Physio most of the year with my knees i was v pleased with ! Plus getting to the Paralympics this summer, and seeing the athletics in the stadium and a GB Gold!
Most inspiring person – It might sound a bit cheesy but i am sure he will never read this so its ok, but my colleague Revd Mike Proctor has been such an inspiration this year. He is an amazing priest and has been like a big brother to me. Rebuilding me and teaching me the secret ways of the Jedi, (or whatever it is we do in church…) He has made this year Fun and given me a real appetite for all i am called to do! Plus the fact we both look like Father Ted and Dougal! 544836_10151816256315160_670172980_n
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Joshua and Caleb moment – Taking the boys to the Olympics this summer was a really memorable time, i took them individually to see the football matches, Caleb’s tooth fell out when he cheered as New Zealand scored! 411379_10152003017805160_968908384_o

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Martha moment -With the new house Martha got her own bedroom, which of course had to be Pink! 389080_10151930357500160_350045734_nplus the way all three of them have adapted to all the changes and even excelled in School has been very humbling. The way in which the church has taken them in and adopted them all has also been a huge blessing!
Becky Moment – Bex has found this year hard, giving up her job in Filey to move up here and not find work. But i have been amazed at her resolve to continue looking when at times it has been really hard to do so. She is now teaching in a supply capacity with what looks like a positive horizon on view for the new year! 416079_10152013955480160_1406058075_o

New web experience – Pintrest, can spend hours on that site…

Moments never to forget: spending time with really good friends over the year, watching JK run the London Marathon,and giving me the inspiration to dig some trainers out! Great nights out in Yarm and having folk come over and stay, have all added to fab memories. Having a wonderful family and reigniting old family ties has been very special with the highlight been able to preach at my cousins wedding.

2012 has been a transitional year in many ways, and i think it will have been a great year from which to spring into 2013. Which if everything goes to plan will be an exceptional year and yet again bring new and fresh changes.

So thanks for reading about all that has happen on planet Norton, for those of you whom i know, i will continue to pray that God’s peace may abound in your lives over the next year, and thank you for the journey so far!

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Grace and Peace

B

Women bishops

So for what it is worth I thought I would offer my opinion on the whole debate about women bishops that has so shockingly hit our news headlines this week.

I have been surprised at my own reaction, I am one who usually let’s the church get on with being the church, as I believe that there are far more intelligent people than I who know far more about the church than I do, so therefore they must be making the best decisions for all of us. But as this week has unfolded that does not seem to be the case !

Now for those of you who may seem a little confused about what happened on Tuesday night. The long and the short of it is, a small minority has controlled the outcome of the VAST majority. 75% of the total vote went in favour of having women bishops. But because of them way the vote is constructed for more info on this see here so the vote was lost by 6 votes !!!!!!!

But for the wider world it doesn’t matter if it was lost by one vote or a thousand, the fact is it makes us look old and out of touch!

It’s makes life for me in a lot of ways harder, as I continue to engage with those on the fringes of faith and the church, who now feel more alienated by the church as a whole. The bible talks about us being like a body, if one part suffers the whole body suffers, this certainly feels like that at the moment!

There is a fine line to walk, we should always be mindful of those who’s opinions differ from our own, we should make sure that they are heard and respected. But for the greater good of the mission and ministry of the Church of England we need to resolve this issue and do it soon. I believe we need to reevaluate what we believe our role within this country is, indeed, are we the Church OF England, representing, serving, and speaking with a challenging voice into our culture. Or are we a club made up of people who only attend for what they can get for themselves. Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the wellbeing and fraternity of its non-members”.

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