Not For The Fainthearted

As 2012 draws to a close, Scargil’s Director Phil Stone reflects on the Christmas narrative and what we can take from it into the New Year.

It has been wonderful to welcome old and new friends as Scargill fills with people for our New Year House Party. Over the last couple of days I have enjoyed being able to give a couple of reflections on the Christmas narrative in the context of the coming year. Something we have been exploring is the various aspects of the ‘traditional story’ that don’t actually feature in the biblical narrative. For instance there is no donkey, no Three Wise Men (there are Wise Men but of an unspecified number) and no innkeeper. Despite there being no innkeeper in the biblical text it can be useful to consider the role of innkeeper as it opens a new angle on the story. I was struck by the BBC Nativity a couple of years back which I felt offered a new insight into the reason why the innkeeper had ‘no room’ at the inn. The programme suggested the reason why the couple could not find lodging was that the unexpected pregnancy of Mary would bring disgrace on anybody associated with them. Mary and Joseph were not just vulnerable because they could find no room they were vulnerable because people didn’t want to make room. Mary carried shame and people didn’t want to catch it!

When thinking about the gift of hospitality it is good to be reminded of the challenges God gives us to welcome those on the edge of our communities who are far from respectable. For us to be truly hospitable to those on the fringes it requires a conversion of the heart. Let’s be honest, sometimes being hospitable can be really tiring, difficult and annoying but it is also incredibly life giving. As the Bible says, ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’ (Romans 15.7)

This year I am struck once again by the sheer vulnerability and fragility of the Christmas Narrative. It is not for the fainthearted. If we were truly to get into the reading it would make us feel uncomfortable. It involves a great deal of risk on behalf of God and of the main characters of the narrative. J Oswald Sanders said, ‘The frontiers of the Kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.’ I think we often put Health and Safety criteria into our journey with God and of course looking at the Christmas narrative and other biblical stories that’s laughable!

And finally isn’t Bruce Cockburn absolutely brilliant? If you have the time you should check out his track Cry of a Tiny Babe. These words from the chorus send shivers down my spine, ‘Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.’

So I wish you all the best for 2013 and that we all may have the courage to be risk takers for God and share his generous hospitality.

For more information about what is going on at Scargill in the New Year check out our online programme.

From the Dickensian to the Tucum

This week at Scargill we have been hosting a group who have been attending the local Grassington Dickensian Festival. Accordingly our food, entertainment and reflections have had a Dickensian theme. One of the most readily identifiable aspects of the great author’s work is his interest in and empathy for the plight of the poor. From Oliver Twist to Great Expectations he wrote unsentimentally but tenderly of the struggle many people have to face as they make their way in the world. Dickens’ solidarity with the poor is one of his strongest legacies – telling true to life stories that expose cruelty and oppression and rejoice in the simple pleasures of life. This week Phil talks about something he uses to keep himself ever mindful of the needs of poor people all over the world.

Some years ago I was on sabbatical seeking to discover God in different Christian traditions and spiritualties. My journeying took me to Brazil to a place called Recife. Many of the ministers there wore black rings made from the hard shell of the seed of the Tucum Palm tree. Wearing the rings symbolises identification with the poor and a desire to live a relatively simple lifestyle. There’s a story of a bishop who presented his gold ring of power and entitlement to the indigenous Tapirapé people as a gesture asking for forgiveness for the church’s complicity in the oppression of their people. He wanted the church to no longer represent taking but instead giving. In return he was given a Tucum ring as a gesture of forgiveness. This ring was an altogether different kind of status symbol – not epitomizing high status but displaying empathy with low status.

It meant a lot to me personally because of the work Di and I undertook with single homeless in London’s East End and 22 years of being an inner-city parish priest. I was very moved when the priest who I was staying with gave me his ring and it’s not left my finger since. It has always reminded me of my desire to live a simple lifestyle and have an identity with and speak for the poor and downtrodden, those on the fringes of our society. In our Pathway Promises which make up our rule of life we promise to … ‘speak up bravely for people who are rarely heard, helping our heavenly Father to fulfill his dream of seeing the hungry fed, the sick looked after, the naked clothed and victims of injustice released from their chains.’

As we enter into the Christmas story once more we see a God who identifies wholeheartedly with the poor, the homeless and refugees. There’s nothing tinsely about the Christmas story. It’s full of God’s passion for the marginalised in a world that can be so hard and cold. This Christmas despite all my failings (and being honest about my occasional desire for wealth and comfort) this ring keeps me grounded in what Jesus was saying about being good news to the poor.

The community at Scargill is always evolving and looking to welcome new members. For more information about exploring the possibility of getting involved yourself as a community member click here. We are also specifically on the look-out for new community members to take on specific roles, those of Kitchen Team Leader, Deputy Kitchen Team Leader and a Youth Worker who would work in a split role supporting our estate team in developing our 90 acres to become a resource for future generations. If any of these specific roles or generally the idea of living on community appeal then get in touch to find out more.

Shine On

The nights are getting longer as the shortest day of the year draws near and Scargill’s Director Phil Stone is contemplating darkness and starlight…

Having moved from London to North Yorkshire I can say without doubt that the weather here is real. I’ve never experienced cold, wind or rain like it. Yorkshire Rain is different to any other rain. Yorkshire rain is powerful, hitting the pavement with such force that it shoots up your trouser leg. Then there’s the snow. We have just welcomed our first bit of snow this last week. MY colleague Dave tells me that in the Dales you get six months of winter and six months of bad weather! Of course we do get some absolutely beautiful, crisp, fresh days but there is no escaping that the weather here is real. At the moment it can be a bit of a struggle, life can feel like it is all about survival. It is dark when we gather for prayers in the morning and on a cloudy day it can be dark and gloomy again by three. I have been learning how to cope with that.

But it’s not all darkness. The great thing about the season of Advent is that amid all the gloom of the all too real weather, we have a lot of talk about light. Jesus described himself as the light of the world and says with him we too are to be lights in the world. We are to share this light. It is warming at this time of year to reflect on God’s light as something that is inviting and welcoming. The light of God is hospitable. It’s a bit like when you’ve been out late at night and you come home to find a light’s been left on for you. There’s maybe even a little sign welcoming you home and a tasty sandwich. It’s the sort of thing that really warms you. This light gets under your skin and transforms you. In Isaiah it says, ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…’ One of the joyful things about Scargill is that it is a place where people can experience this powerful welcoming light – the light that Jesus gives. In what can feel like such a dark an inhospitable world it is reassuring to find a light burning and a welcome ready.

Wherever we are we are called to be like lights. In Philippians Paul talks about us being like shining stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life. As it happens, this place here, in the Dales, is a designated dark spot which means there is no light pollution to dim the night sky so we get to see the stars shine beautifully and bright. At this dark time of year we have a wonderful opportunity to see the light that shines, both above and among us.

Keep watching this space every Sunday for weekly updates from Phil. If you are on Facebook click here for more information about Scargill.