Tag Archives: Hastings

Life is a beach

As I sat on Hastings beach this week, enjoying taking things at a slower pace while off sick from work due to stress and exhaustion, I took these photos of the view behind me, taking in the various elements of boat, beach, tractor, church, houses, hill and nets.

I wondered how many millions of photos have been taken over the years of picturesque Old Town beach with its fishing boats. There are always people milling around with cameras down here. So I wasn’t going to.

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But then I noticed something about the view I’d been enjoying. The combined subjects seemed to represent the balance I’m seeking to achieve in my life.

  • In the foreground, to the left: a tractor for pulling boats up the beach, important and useful, more functional than aesthetic. This piece of machinery, representing productivity, work, and all things “male” and task-driven, was getting a look in from the side, but the photographer (me) not allowing it to dominate the view.
  • To the right, the main attraction: a fishing boat. Although a working vessel, providing food for many, the boat also speaks to me of aesthetics, beauty and therefore creativity; femininity, love, and therefore my wife, my marriage, my family – all aspects of life to which I’m attaching greater importance (and appreciating as sources of strength and healing), just as the boat appeals to our aesthetic eye in the picture.
  • In the background: a church, representing stillness, wonder, faith and Jesus; reminding me that behind work, creativity and relationships needs to be the presence and love of God, mindfulness, and prayer. For me, faith and prayer undergird everything else.
  • Further back: tucked in behind the church is verdant West Hill with its trees and grassy slopes, representing nature and its close relationship to the Creator. Countless studies have shown us how beneficial spending time in green spaces is to our mental and physical health. Nature seems to be God’s healing agent, a message of love from the Creator, and we underestimate its power to our peril. I’ve never lost my enjoyment and appreciation of the outdoors, whether through running, walking, prayer, birdwatching, or nature photography, but more recently I’ve also realised the importance of nature for my emotional health. Even as I step out of my house into the back garden with its fresh air and fragrant smells of trees and flowers, a wave of peace sweeps over me.

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As my attention was drawn by my Father to this pictorial allegory of the life balance I’m aiming for, I decided to take some photos after all and keep them as a pertinent reminder.

  • Oh, and finally, under it all, under me, is the beach itself, reminding me that in the end, life is of course a beach! Or should be….

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is?

Please read my About page. Thanks! Roger N)

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Twist of Fate

By a twist of fate,

Mangled, yet rugged beauty

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Fallen, broken, dying yet living, robustly

Giving life, even in death

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Like resilient people we know

Like the resurrected one who so

loved the fallen, broken, dying ones

like you and me.

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Gnarly and gnawed, IMG_3248

yet not to be ignored

Streaked and lined by sun and storm,

Bombarded and buffeted ’til finally moulded

into bold

buffalo horns.

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The ancient trunk’s life truncated

Its wisdom curtailed

Now lying in state

Twisted but not bitter…in fact

welcoming, inviting

passers-by to stop and

rest on its tender, tortured frame,

Its grandeur undefeated.

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A tortuous arm curled skyward

Alluding to greater things

To untold and half-told mysteries,

To the enigmatic shaper

of its fate,

To questions answered only

by first-hand experience

of living and dying…

and living again.

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“He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed…..Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and Yahweh’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” (Isaiah 53: 5, 10)

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(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page. Thanks!)

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Transforming Encounters

Supposing you could transform mundane moments into spiritual experiences; ordinary events into meaningful encounters? If you practise mindfulness, meditation or prayer, then this may already be your norm. For most of us, it’s a learning, growing process.

From a Christian perspective, this can become our everyday reality, as we learn to “practise the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence put it.

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July 5th 2015: I came across this in the reading for 5th July in Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning: “[Through Christ] we acquired the potential to participate in the ‘sacrament of the present moment’ – to transform even our most mundane experiences into those of Christ. But we, too, must activate that contact through faith. Strong faith that Jesus can come streaming into our lives and empower us to function, and respond not from our ego-self, but from our Spirit-self”.

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IMG_3117The previous day: July 4th – American Independence Day 2015, and the area around Robertson Street, Hastings, celebrates the events of over 180 years ago when a ramshackle collection of 1000+ residents occupying the area in relative squalor raised the Stars & Stripes flag as a symbol of declared independence from the rest of Hastings. The area henceforth became known as America Ground.

These “‘beggars, gypsies or other undesirables’ that inhabited the city of shacks, huts and tents that many regarded as a blight on the western end of the town” (Hastings Borough Council website) were eventually turfed out by councillors to make way for the Victorian gentry who were beginning to turn Hastings into a popular seaside resort.

Has a familiar kind of ring to it.

That wonderful spirit of individualism, and defiance against being contained and controlled, still characterises elements of Hastings, giving the town a unique kind of beauty and creativity.

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One of the events of Hastings Independence Day on 4th July 2015 was the opening of an alley that’s been cleaned up and renovated as part of a massive refurbishment of the old Hastings Observer building in Claremont (just off Robertson Street) behind which it weaves.

The Alley has been transformed from a neglected, pigeon-poo-infested no-go area into an aesthetic array of art, architecture, caves, cliffs and community, with new market stalls lining the way. IMG_3121 When I saw this place, I was so inspired, so in awe, I had to go home for my camera and come back to take some shots. The photos interspersing this post are those shots.

It probably wasn’t hard for most people to enjoy the buzz of that official opening of the renovated Alley, but in some ways this Saturday afternoon encounter with a renovated piece of Hastings was, for me, transformed further still.

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IMG_3142Community: The event, with its market stalls in The Alley, brought local residents, consumers and traders together into person-to-person contact in a way that’s all too rare. Conversations about the area, shared excitement at the renovation work going on, people even getting to know each other’s names…British people, even!

Creating community.

Despite being the introvert that I am, despite loving time on my own better than anything else, I also love and recognise my need for community. IMG_3133It’s what we were designed for. In community, seeing shared joy between people, seeing links being forged and barriers coming down, I feel God’s heart beating in those connections.

And as I engaged in conversation with a few stall holders myself, my own spirit came alive.

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Creativity: I was awestruck by the stunning street art lining the Alley walls. For me, transformation of the Alley with art is a striking echo of God’s creative expression in nature and his redemptive work in human hearts like mine.

In recent years especially, my encounters with art, music and nature have been at times sublime, spiritual experiences, as was this one. Probably better if I don’t say any more on this but instead let some of the artworks speak for themselves in the photos below…

This piece in particular captured my attention

This piece in particular engaged my heart

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Hidden gems: I’d seen the Alley from Claremont, the street off which it runs, but had no idea it turned the corner behind the buildings, revealing a breath-taking view of man’s architecture melded into cliffs and caves, again symbolising something of the individual character and beauty of Hastings, with its history of smuggling. IMG_3128 Both man-made and God-made structures are home to pigeons roosting and breeding wherever they can. Man and nature brought together, sharing space.

It was a “Wow!” moment. Turning the corner and seeing The Alley for the first time, this hidden gem of Hastings, with a sense of wonder that God seems to be increasingly giving me as I enjoy his world, like a child with newborn eyes. IMG_3116

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(This might have been a good photo if I'd had my tripod with me!)

(This might have been a good photo if I’d had my tripod with me!)

Thank you to Allan’s Army and everyone else involved in the incredible work that’s gone into the transformation of The Alley.

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And thank you, Holy Spirit, for transforming my encounters with community, creative arts and hidden gems into encounters with the personal, creative, awe-inspiring Christ.

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Inclusion Zone

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Hastings Pier is being rebuilt! Having been closed since 2006 due to safety concerns, and suffering severe fire damage in 2010, it’s great news for Hastings residents to see the pier finally under re-construction.

Hence the ‘Exclusion zone’ signs at the entrance. Construction sites can be dangerous places, not least on a pier that’s been falling apart for 7 years. No unauthorised persons – construction workers only.

Not a safe place for passers-by.

Exclusion Zone

Exclusion Zone

I know another place, where fallen, broken people rather than falling architectural structures are under re-construction – a place that can also be hazardous at times, where toes can be stepped on, or cut from treading on broken eggshells.

The church. God’s kingdom. His people. His community.

But that’s part of the beauty of it. The church (and God’s kingdom) is a place where damaged, dysfunctional people will find a refuge, where we will be accepted and forgiven and shown incredible kindness, even when our brokenness and deep-seated pain might sometimes cause us to lash out with unkind words at others in our own community.

Standing with each other through the disagreements and disasters of community life, through the questions and doubts of faith, and the joys and pains of life.

Forgiving; expressing the Father’s grace to each other. Passing on what we’ve received.

Together being built into a human temple of praise, a haven of healing for the hurting, a refuge for the rejected.

Unlike the pier, God’s kingdom is an inclusion zone.

The church is an inclusion zone.

The Father has always invited the lost and lonely, the battered and bruised, the freaks and the foreigners, all of society’s pariahs, to come and be close to him. In Jesus’ parables, and throughout the Bible, we see a bias towards the outsiders, the marginalised, to those who have been treated as inferior by the state, by society – and especially by God’s (apparent) own people.

Often, ‘outsiders’ are closer to God than we realise. Closer than even they realise.

They’re invited, included, welcomed into God’s kingdom.

But of course, sometimes the church isn’t like that. God’s people sometimes forget they’re meant to be an inclusion zone; sometimes we put up unnecessary barriers and obstacles to the very people who are closest to the Father’s heart, making us an exclusion zone, like the pier.

Barriers like these:

  • Endless debates about peripheral matters.
  • Words, ideas and modes of expression so antiquated, they give the impression that God is old-fashioned or simply a relic from a past era, although he’s timeless and way ahead of us.
  • Failure to engage with current issues relevant to the world outside church.
  • Failure to reflect the love and mercy of Jesus to those outside the church. As Brennan Manning put it: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
  • Inward looking attitudes and preoccupation with maintenance of the institution, as was the case in Jesus’ time…

Everyone knows Jesus wasn’t always meek and mild, and perhaps his most famous outburst of anger was the one from which we get the English expression ‘turning tables’. But have you ever wondered why Jesus got so furious at the money changers and bird sellers that he started hurling the furniture about?

What could have prompted such outrage, inciting this peace-loving messiah to make a crude whip and start chasing these tradesmen out of the temple?

Way back when (some 700 years earlier), the prophet Isaiah foretold the day when Israel’s temple would be open to everyone, including foreigners and eunuchs (that’s people who… oh, you already know – ok).

There would be this great diversity, and especially those who had been seen as ‘outsiders’ would be welcomed in. And the temple would be this thronging place of celebration, where outsiders as well as those who saw themselves as the ‘in-crowd’ (God’s chosen people) would be able to find the joy of worshipping God and praying together1.

By the time Jesus came around, the outer courts were the one part of the temple where these ‘outsiders’ could come in and worship the true God. So it was a very special place, signifying God’s open arms to the marginalised and all those seen as inferior.

This was meant to be an inclusion zone.

So when Jesus came along and found that this one part of the temple that was meant to represent the Father’s welcoming arms to damaged and marginalised people was instead being used for (possibly) exploitation, (certainly) selfish financial gain and inward-looking maintenance of the institution, making the area an exclusion zone, this made him really mad!

So much so, that he had to go away for the night, reflect with his Father on what he’d seen, and come back the next day to take appropriate action in a self-controlled way2.

Full of fury…anger…rage… and yet a thought-through, self-controlled response to this violation of God’s invitation to outsiders.

As he turned the tables and scattered the cash, he quoted the Isaiah passage: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’, but you have turned it into a den of thieves”.

Or, put another way, “This is meant to be an inclusion zone, but you’ve turned it into an exclusion zone!”

Jesus is always passionate about outsiders and angered by actions and people that hinder others from getting close to him. Which is why he (verbally) attacked the Pharisees so vehemently.

God’s people, not any building, are now his temple, but God hasn’t changed. He remains passionate about his temple, his people, being an accessible place of worship, celebration, joy, that all will feel free to come into: different races, ages, sexualities, cultures and classes.

As ever, God defies religious logic and Christian pre-conceptions. He remains closest to the broken-hearted, the rejected, the…..you know the score by now.

And to be fair, the church is engaging better than ever with those who are disadvantaged and marginalised, straining under escalatingly harsh socio-economic times, with church-founded initiatives such as food banks, Street Pastors and homeless night shelters springing up across the UK, as an expression of the Father’s compassionate heart.

My own experience of church here in Hastings & St Leonards has been largely very positive, with many potentially marginalised people of all sorts finding faith and participating in the life and worship and community of the church. I’m very proud of both St Leonards Baptist and St Matthew’s churches for this inclusiveness.

Let me just leave you with a few questions…

Q                 Who are the marginalised today?

Q                 Who has been marginalised most by the 20th / 21st Century UK church? Maybe you’d think of other groups, but I’d say that gay and lesbian people have been excluded more than any other people.

Q                 Could God be closer to many of these individuals than we realise – than even they realise, in some cases – simply because it’s in his nature to get alongside the rejected and marginalised?

Q                 How is the church doing at being an inclusion zone to excluded people now, in 2013?

Q                 What are the modern equivalents of money-changers and bird sellers that are hindering access to God’s worship space – what teachings / attitudes / practices?

Q                 If you’re part of a church, how is your church doing at removing these obstacles? What needs to change?

Answers on a postcard….or in the comments box below….or better still, discuss with your church and your heavenly Father.

If you’re someone who’s experienced exclusion by the church, if it’s possible for this one Christian to apologise on behalf of the wider church, then please accept this apology. Please forgive and please know that God is close.

And if you’re not a Hastings person and you’re over this way in the future, come and see our wonderful new pier (from 2015), and visit one of our churches for (hopefully) a warm, inclusive welcome!

  1. Isaiah 56
  2. Mark 11:11-17
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