Monday 12 April 2021
Below are some notes that outline the reflection I shared with the church PCC tonight, on the topic of being willing to change your mind.
One of the fundamental principles as we meet and discuss is that you are allowed to change your mind. For example, take the following poem, which you will also recognise as a song:
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,William Blake, Jerusalem
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.
Don’t expect me to use it in leading regular worship anytime soon. However, I feel less antipathy to the lyrics than I used to. Once upon a time I thought it was a load of unhistorical nonsense. Of course Jesus didn’t visit England! What jingoistic claptrap! But, attending a wedding when it was sung, it struck me that perhaps William Blake wasn’t suggesting that. Maybe the intended answer to the first verse was not “yes” but “no”. That could be why Blake, a committed political radical, issues a rallying cry in the second verse. Jerusalem wasn’t built here but, in this industrialising age, we see dark satanic mills being erected and we need to do something about it here and now rather than pining for a mythical green and golden age.
I was at the online Spring Harvest last week and reminded of another poem where I changed my mind about what it was saying. The morning devotions drew on the Psalms, including Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—Psalm 121 (NIV)
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
I used to think that the psalmist lifted his eyes to the mountains, looking to help from those places. After all, nowhere feels grander than the view from a mountain top. However, a few years ago I was studying with a friend through A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson’s masterful study on Psalms 120 – 134, the “songs of ascent”. He pointed out that the high places were where pagan altars were built and Israel was led astray. The psalmist reminds himself of the danger from the high places and lifts his eyes higher still, to the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
It is good to have opinions but vital to also be open to examining our assumptions and changing our minds. Let us listen to God together. Let us be ready to encounter him in business as worship as well as the business of worship. Let us be willing to share our thoughts, change our minds and, in co-operation, help guide our church forward together.