PTSD

Some people are predisposed to developing PTSD.  They are more prone to taking blame for events outside their control, to neglecting their own emotional health and to brooding. In my case, my predisposition came in the form of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) itself a consequence of a myriad of unhappy coincidences.
When someone experiences psychological trauma, a process similar to grieving allows the trauma to become a memory. Except, for some people this doesn’t happen.
Perhaps there is no let up in the trauma because it repeatedly occurs at short intervals. This occurred in the trenches of WWI and happens in cases of domestic abuse or child abuse. Perhaps the person was on the periphery of a massive trauma such as the London bombings and feels they do not have the ‘right’ to feel traumatised or seek treatment.
Perhaps the person feels the trauma was their own fault or that to seek help would be ‘weak’ if others in the same situation were not similarly affected.

In these situations, instead of being put away tidily with other memories, the trauma is bundled into an egg shell in the everyday part of the brain – the part that decides how to interpret and respond to what is happening now.  The trauma can be ignored and you can carry on, you think, as normal.

Now, if you leave an egg long enough, chemicals build up and the egg goes rotten. These chemicals seep through the porous shell and affect the person’s brain as it views the world. Places with bad smells always seem worse than they otherwise would – it’s the same with events. The way someone with PTSD views the world as they travel through it is not the same as other people. As the miasma lurks in the brain, so threats seem to lurk in the world. Every unexpected sound and action seems to be the precursor of an attack. Every ambiguous comment becomes a grave insult. These new threats are put into the egg and begin to rot as well. They are proof that fear is the only correct emotion.

Eventually, as rotten eggs do, the build up of gases becomes to much to hold and the egg explodes. Imagine your brain full of rotten material and that’s all you can see.

Well friends, that’s where I am now. My own trauma was domestic abuse and my egg exploded. The only respite I enjoy is in the pulpit when the Spirit takes over and Helles the pathetic weakling is left behind for a precious hour.

It’s been a long day

It has been a long day – and an even longer time since I last blogged.  I have had tutorials on units 4-6, handed in and received back marks for the units 4 & 5 assignments and am working on my unit 6 assignment as well as the end of section 1 exegeses and trial service. Oh, and I’m preaching next week.

Which brings me to why I am here, blogging, right now: next week’s readings are tough!

John 1: 1-18.  Very little narrative just tons of symbolism that, I am sure meant something to 1st and 2nd century Christians in Turkey but means very little to me. Having worked my way through four commentaries, I am little the wiser.  There are clear echoes of Genesis which can be interpreted as reference to a new beginning through Christ.  The notion of Jesus’ godhood runs throughout the passage as does that of Jesus’ superiority to John the Baptist and to Moses. The question is, what am I supposed to do with it all? What is the message within this message?

When preparing to write a sermon, the Faith & Worship course gives a list of over 20 questions to answer about a passage.  These questions are separated into groups: the preacher’s perspective, the peoples’ perspective (congregation and wider world), the church’s tradition, and biblical exegesis.  The questions about the preacher’s perspective are:

  1. What echoes are there in this Bible passage for me?
  2. Are there any links with my own story?
  3. Does this passage raise questions for me?
  4. Does this passage challenge, confront or confirm me?
  5. What are the key words and key ideas in this passage for me?

How can there be any links or echoes for any human being in this passage? The passage raises many questions for me which can be summarised as ‘eh?’. It challenges my understanding and confronts me with the idea that I am not up to the task of preacher.  I find no confirmation in it. And the key words and ideas? Well, the writer uses the word ‘light’ a lot. As mentioned, there are links with Genesis and the writer is very clear about Jesus being God and of God and with God – and about John the Baptist being sent by God but not being God.  Not much help there then.

The next section, the peoples’ perspective, has eight further questions:

  1. For the congregation: does the Bible passage ring any bells?
  2. For the congregation: does the Bible passage echo the congregation’s own story/experience?
  3. For the congregation: does the Bible passage raise questions or problems?
  4. For the congregation: does the Bible passage challenge, confront or confirm?
  5. What words or ideas will stand out for those who hear it?
  6. How might the world outside the Church react to the passage?
  7. What questions might be raised for the world outside the Church?
  8. Does the passage offer a critique or confirmation to the contemporary world?

This is the first time I have visited this church so I do not know the congregation.  The only information on the Church’s worship profile is that there are ten regular attendees and that they are all over 50. Additionally, though the church is a member of the local ecumenical partnership, it is not a Methodist church and has different practices and traditions. This makes answering questions 1-4 rather tricky. Question 5 is a tricky one as history teaches us that that there are as many different versions of an event as witnesses to it so everybody will pick out different words or ideas from the passage.

What about the world outside the Church? It is difficult to see how anyone without at least a basic understanding of the New Testament could come away with anything more than Jesus is God.

Let’s look at the Church’s traditions:

  1. Are there any echoes in the liturgical life of the Church? Church year? Festivals? Rituals? Special Services?
  2. How has this Bible passage been understood in the history of the Church and in preaching?
  3. Are there hymns, creeds or prayers which echo this passage? (confession, thanksgiving, dedication, etc?)
  4. How might this passage be handled in worship?

It cannot be a coincidence that this reading is during Christmas so that is the beginning of an answer to question 1. A copy of the 1893 Methodist Commentary on the New Testament often helps with question 2 though, having been written by very learned clerics on a very dense passage, it has not enlightened me today! Question 3 is the most fun question: which hymns could be used.  The hymns might emphasise a particular aspect of the passage or echo a general theme for the service as a whole. The Methodist Church has a fantastic resource http://www.singingthefaithplus.org.uk/ which gives suggestions for hymns linked to the lectionary readings.  Question 4 is, in my opinion, somewhat ahead of itself – it is to decide how to handle the passage that this exercise is required. However, I have already determined that a dramatic re-enactment of the passage’s events would be tricky.

And, finally, the research element of the exercise: the biblical exegesis.

  1. Why is this Bible passage where it is? What comes before and after it?
  2. What might it have meant to its original hearers/ readers? What reactions did it provoke then and why?
  3. What is the cultural background of the passage? (author, type of literature, audience, etc?)
  4. What themes/ theological ideas are touched on in this passage?
  5. What are the key words?

The passage is the introduction not just to John’s Gospel but to Jesus’ divinity. It immediately precedes John the Baptist’s denial of Messiahship. I often think 2 and 3 would be, more usefully, answered in reverse order so: the Gospel of John was written around 100 CE in Turkey.  His audience would have been mainly gentile with limited understanding of Jewish tradition. The passage reads like a hymn with the addition of information about the ministry of John the Baptist. It could have acted as a creed for the new church showing the differences between it and the followers of John the Baptist and of the Jewish people.  It would have reminded the listener that Christ represented a new beginning in humanity’s relationship with God because, for the first time, God and truly walked among us. Lived among us. The main theme is of the eternity of Christ: His relationship to God and His eternal nature as well as His nature as an intermediary between a Heavenly God and earthly man. The key ideas are that God was made flesh, that knowing the nature of Christ brings us to God, and that the darkness of man cannot subsume the light of God. The key words are light, logos and life.

And, after all that, I still have no idea of Sunday’s theme.  The solution? Pray on it and try again tomorrow.

Good night and God bless xx

A lot has happened

Yes, a lot has happened since I last posted. I have been to a retreat centre as a volunteer, finished the introductory units of Faith & Worship, had a breakdown and passed my trial service.

So, in order, I had ten days available while my son was away with Scouts. Between my poor mental health, and the library of religious books I knew to be at the retreat centre, it seemed like a good idea to have a plan rather than sit alone at home.  I am so glad I went. To live within a christian community, sharing a common purpose and fellowship was wonderful – if only I was childless and a Roman Catholic, I would take holy orders. 

Coming home to my son was wonderful too – it is remarkable how much a 13 year old can change in such a short period of time. He seems to have become a man in the time he has been away – or maybe I could look at him with fresh eyes.

The introductory units of Faith & Worship conclude with an in-depth study of the Gospel of Mark. Using several commentaries from the house’s library, I completed a verse by verse study of the Gospel.  It took the full ten days and, even now, I am adding to it most days with further commentaries lent to me by friends. I think this is a project that will never be finished!

The next unit requires me to do the same for the other synoptic gospels which means cross-referencing them with Mark for a comparative study.

My breakdown I will say little about except that I am glad it is over.  I was fortunate that people who care about me sought help on my behalf. I am improving each day.

Finally, my trial service.  What a rollercoaster of a day that was.  The service was scheduled for 6pm and, when I got up that morning, I wanted to glance over the service I had planned, make a few improvements and print it off.  I couldn’t open the file.  Somehow, in the space of a day, it had corrupted.  Cue grabbing a huge pile of books, my notes and the laptop and starting over.  I ended up (I think) with a much better sermon.  And I passed.  The next step is to be passed to On Trial which will happen at the next Local Preacher’s meeting.  Once that happens, I can fly solo.  I don’t know if I am excited or scared but, sometimes, I think there is not much difference between the two anyway.

God Bless You x

 

 

How was my first sermon?

I have felt wretched about preaching for days. Would the words resonate with others? Would I deliver it suitably? Would I be doing God’s work?

As today is Trinity Sunday, my mentor (M) and I decided we would preach on the trinity with my address being on the Holy Spirit. After all, what could be easier for a first sermon than preaching on one of the most difficult Christian concepts?

After I had written my sermon, I emailed it to M who suggested one amendment which I readily used: I needed more of an introduction to the topic.  I then read it to myself and amended anything that felt out of place or poorly worded.  Once printed I read it into a voice recorder and listened back before making further, more minor, changes.

Despite all this preparation, and despite having run it past a couple of friends, I was very nervous before this afternoon’s service.  I was pacing the vestry and fiddling about with everything I found – it must have been incredibly annoying for M!

My first part of the service was to read the story of the elephant and the blind men. In this story, none of the men have come across an elephant before and go to feel it to find out what kind of a thing it is. One man falls against its side and thinks an elephant is a wall; another feels its trunk and believes that an elephant is a snake; still another feels the ears and thinks an elephant is a fan; and so on. We used this story to demonstrate that God can be viewed in different ways. The congregation seemed to enjoy it and I got a few smiles and laughs as I read it.

My next task was to lead the prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving. Within these, I used a hymn as a prayer. I announced this but quickly realised that I was the only one without a copy of Hymns and Psalms!
Note to self: bring own copy in future or, better yet, put it on the print out.

Once I had announced the next hymn, I could sit down and enjoy M’s reading and her address on the Father and the Son. The whole thing was engaging and easy to follow. I really liked the way she used pictures and props to demonstrate her point – not just explain it. I need to think about how I can engage more of the senses in the future.

And then, the dread moment arrived when I had to deliver my reading and my address!

My throat was aching and dry and there was no water at the lectern. I kept having to clear my throat as I read.

Once the reading was over, I began my address and I felt a strength rise within me. I felt more animated, more sure of the words I was saying. As I looked around me, I could see people smiling and nodding their heads as though what I was saying made sense. And when it was over, when I had finished, I was so full of emotion that I was worried that I would cry!

I started us all off on the final hymn feeling full of God’s love and sang with gusto. This left me with barely any breath for the blessing so my final lesson learned was this: take the last hymn more steadily!

Good night and God bless x

Nerves

I am certain that the prayers I have written for tomorrow are as good as I can make them.

I am confident that I will present them, and the readings, as well as I can.

But…

I feel ill. 

What if my best is not good enough?

What if I should have carried on ignoring my call to preach?

What if I not only fail to bring people closer to God but manage to turn them away (not at all arrogant there Helles!).

What if I over-express?

What if I under-express?

Was my tutor’s description of my prayer of adoration, confession and thanksgiving as ‘poetic’ a good thing or a bad thing?

I know I will be there. I know I will do my best. I can only pray that will be good enough for God’s purpose.

I have, hopefully, attached a media file of a run through I did earlier (it is on a separate post). Any advice will be gratefully received.

God bless you and keep you x