Thursday, 19 June 2014

Review of Nerf Gun Confession

This is Noah's review of Target practice: Nerf Gun Confession.


The idea of praying with a weapon is quite strange, but it's quite appealing too! It felt an odd thing to do at first, but I actually really enjoyed it. Like the posture and labyrinth ones, since you were doing something with your body while you were praying it was involving, immersive. It felt quite passionate, if that's the right word.

Starting off facing in the wrong direction felt really weird. I wasn't shooting the right way at all and didn't have any chance of hitting the target! Turning round felt good. It did make me think a bit about the idea of conversion, there was a real sense of relief to have turned round.

Then I got on with shooting. I used a tree in my back garden as the target, and I'm quite good at shooting nerf guns, so I totally destroyed that tree!  The only problem was, the tree was a big target, so it wasn't so much a case of walking back until I missed, more walking back until the gun didn't have that range.

Personally, since in the last few months I've been having quite a rough time, this really worked very well for me. The idea of hitting the mark and missing the mark made a lot sense to me. And actually doing the shooting, not just reading about the idea, really helped bring it to life and made it seem much more real.

The idea of praying for things that had gone well when I hit and for things that had gone badly missed worked really well too. In fact, I think this was one of the best ideas.
The only thing I'd change if I did it again would be to use a smaller target next time!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Taste and See

‘Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!’ exclaims the writer of Psalm 34. And in quite a few places in the Bible, praying, or reading or hearing the Scriptures, is imagined as being like eating something sweet and lovely.

When we eat, there are lots of things going on. First, there is taste - things we like or dislike, things that are sweet or sour or bitter. Secondly, there is hunger and nutrition: the food we eat nourishes our bodies, and becomes part of us. Thirdly, when we eat with other people that experience helps create a community - whether that's a family Christmas lunch, who you choose to sit with for lunch at school, or having the neighbours round for a barbecue.

All around the world, people have rituals and celebrations which involve eating special foods, from the Thanksgiving turkey to the Spanish tradition of eating 'The Twelve Grapes of Luck' as the clocks strike twelve on New Year's Eve. Sometimes this involves a sequence of particular symbolic foodstuffs to remind the community of important events in the past, as in the Jewish tradition of the Seder meal.

In the Christian tradition, eating the bread and wine of Holy Communion is the central religious observance. Communion (which has different names in different traditions - you may know it as Mass, or the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist) does all sorts of different things. The bread and wine, and the words used in the Eucharistic prayer, remind us of Jesus's last supper with his disciples, and remind us that Jesus died for us. Eating and drinking from the same plate and cup binds us together symbolically - and this is reinforced by the words we often say together, 'though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread'. And eating real food which symbolises and becomes Jesus for us, means that we are choosing to invite God into our lives not just in a vague spiritual sense, but literally into our bodies. By eating something that represents God for us, we can become aware in a very literal way of God becoming an inseparable part of us.

You may already be used to taking communion at your Church, or you may be thinking about preparing for it. In this experiment we're not going to attempt to recreate that, because communion isn't a private thing but is something that should be done by the whole church community gathering together. But here, we're going to try experimenting with eating and drinking different symbolic foods to help you reflect on what they represent, and on the act of eating and drinking as a type of prayer.

This is one of the few experiments that I think may work better as a group activity, because it involves a certain amount of shopping and preparation, not to mention washing up! But don't be put off trying this if you would prefer to just do it on your own.

First, you will need to get your ingredients together. You will need at least four or five of the following. Don't worry if you can't get them all, just use what you can most easily find. I would recommend that you do include the first and the last ones on the list, though, and these are starred.

Arrange them in a line on a table, in the order above. Now eat each one slowly, really concentrating on the taste. As you eat it, read the Bible verse or short note below that goes with each one. When you have swallowed, while the taste is still in your mouth, say a short prayer in your head asking God to help you really take in that idea.

1. Honey/sugar.
'How sweet are your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!' (Psalm 119:103).

Pray for enjoyment in reading the Bible and for wisdom in finding pleasure in good things.

2. Apple/pear/banana/peach.
In the story of the beginning of the world in Genesis, the writer imagines a garden full of fruit trees, all of which people can eat from except one. But of course, the first people are tempted to eat the fruit of the one tree they have been told not to touch.

'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not was a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise....' (from Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:6. Read the whole story: Genesis 2:4-3:24).

Pray for wisdom in knowing good from evil, and for forgiveness when we ignore God.

3. Cucumber/melon.
After the people of Israel had been rescued from slavery in Egypt by Moses, and fed them miraculously with manna in the desert, they started complaining about being in the desert, and having only manna to eat, and remembering only the good things about their old life.

'the Israelites wept, and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.' (Numbers 11:4-5. To read the story of the Exodus from Egypt, see Exodus chapters 1-14).

Pray that you may be thankful for what you have, rather than complaining about what you don't have. Pray for wisdom to let the past go, and not worry about what might have been.

4. A glass of water.
Most of the Bible stories come from a desert context, where finding a spring of water can literally mean the difference between life and death. One day when Jesus was thirsty, he asked a foreign woman to get him a drink from a well.

'Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life'. (John 4: 13-14. Read the whole story: John 4:1-42).

Pray for those who don't have clean water to drink, and thank God for our good fortune in having water on tap. Think about what it might mean to never be thirsty for God.

5. A tuna sandwich (or other bread and fish).
Jesus's miraculous feeding of several thousand people with a small amount of bread and fish is the only miracle (apart from his resurrection) which is recorded in all four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

'When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves....we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.' (From Matthew 14:15-20. You can also find this story in Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-14.)

Pray for all those without food today, for charities, for farmers and for scientists who are working to feed the world. Think about what it must have been like to be in that crowd, and what you would have thought about Jesus at that moment.

6. Party food (a chocolate mini roll, posh biscuit, paper cup of lemonade etc).

'Then Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house...The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." Then they said to him, 'John's disciples, and the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink." Jesus said to them, "You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?" (Luke 5:29-34).

Imagine being at a party with Jesus. Pray that churches will welcome everyone, not just those who seem holy enough already.

7. Vinegar.

When Jesus was crucified, one detail that both Luke and John include is that he was given sour wine - vinegar - to drink as he was dying. In Luke's account, this is cruel teasing:

'The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (Luke 23:36-7).

In John's version, it is Jesus's deliberate last act before dying:

'when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said "I am thirsty". A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.' (From John 19:28-30).

Imagine seeing this happen. Pray for those who tease or persecute Christians. Pray for strength and courage for those who are suffering in any way, and for those who are dying.

8. Nine Grapes/Berries/Pineapple chunks.

'The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.' (Galatians 5:22).
Pray for each of these gifts as you eat each piece of fruit.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Target Practice: Nerf Gun Confession

Imagine that you are standing with a Nerf gun (or a bow and arrows) in front of a target. It is only a metre or so in front of you. Close your eyes and picture it. Or if you have a suitable gun and space, go outside and choose a target - perhaps a certain patch of wall, or a tree - and try this in real life.

Now turn away from the target, raise your gun, and shoot in the opposite direction.
How far away from the target did you get?

Now turn around and face the target, still only a metre away, and try again.
How many out of ten do you get when you try to shoot from close up?

Now you move back, to maybe five metres away, and try again. Then you move back to 10 metres away, 20 metres away, and so on, until you are lucky if any of your shots go anywhere near the target.
How far away did you have to be before you missed more often than you hit the target? And how did it feel to be shooting from so far away that you had little or no chance of success?

One of the words in the Bible that is normally translated as 'sinning' literally means something more like 'missing the mark'. It is a term from archery, about aiming for the target - aiming for a bullseye, perfection - but more often than not, falling short or going wildly off course.

Target practice can help us to think about what this really means, and how it feels to miss the mark. We want to hit it; we are aiming at it; but when we are a long way from the target, to our frustration, we find it very difficult to get that elusive bullseye.

Christian tradition tells us that we are so far from God that it is inevitable that we will miss the mark most of the time. But the good news is that God isn't keeping score. God is happy so long as we are trying to aim in the right direction.

At the beginning, when you shot facing away from the target, it didn't matter how good a shot you were. You were only going to get further away from the target if you shot further. Just as in target shooting, in living as a Christian the most important thing to get right first is to be facing in the right direction.

That's why, in the baptism service, when someone becomes a Christian, they are asked a series of questions about turning from all that denies God, and turning to God. In many churches, people will actually be asked to turn around at that point, as a sign of their commitment to going through life facing in the right direction. What matters in being a Christian is not how far on you are, but what direction you are facing in.

Its also why Christians confess their sins to God very regularly. In the Anglican and many other traditions, this happens in the main weekly church service, and Christians often also confess to God as part of their own regular private prayers. By confessing - naming where we have missed the mark - we are acknowledging that we have missed the target of living like Jesus (which of course we will!), we remind ourselves to make sure we are still facing in the right direction, and we commit ourselves to not give up bothering to hit the target, but to keep practicing.

And just as with target shooting, we will get better with practice. Missing the mark in target practice isn't failure. In fact, if you are seriously trying to improve your shooting,  then when you have got so good that you are hitting the target every time from a particular distance you would move further back to give yourself a new challenge. When you are trying to improve at any sport, you keep pushing yourself. Missing the mark if you are practicing hard enough is an inevitable and good part of learning.

The very best target shooters practice loads. And someone who becomes an Olympic gold medallist at shooting doesn't stop practicing just because they have got good enough - if they did, they would quickly lose their touch. Similarly, confession is something we keep doing as Christians, and even the most experienced Christians, even the holiest saints, keep doing it. In fact, just like with sports, the people who are the very best are the ones who practice most! Maybe thats what we mean when we call someone a 'practising christian'?

So if you didn't actually try shooting at the beginning of this, have a go now. Choose a target, and grab your gun or bow - something like a Nerf gun that shoots foam darts is ideal.
First try shooting in the wrong direction.
Then turn, and try shooting from 1 metre away, then from further and further away until you are mainly missing the target (how far you will have to go will depend how good a shot you are!).

Each time you hit the target, think of one thing you did today or this week that was right on the mark, and thank God for that.

Each time you miss, think of one thing you did today or this week that missed the mark - a word that hurt someone, an opportunity for kindness missed, a rush that meant you didn't give someone your full attention, or maybe deliberate rudeness or wrongdoing. Admit that was a missing of the mark, and then try shooting again.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Build a Prayer Den

The idea of building a prayer den came from two teenage girls I know, Rachel and Anna. They were trying some of the experiments in this book, and decided to also try praying in the den they had made in the corner of one of their bedrooms. They absolutely loved the experience, so they suggested I include it here.

Many people find it easier to pray in church, or in a chapel, than at home. There seems to be something helpful about deliberately going to a place that is set aside for prayer. In the past, wealthy Christians with grand houses would often have a chapel in their home, or a small room that was set aside for reading the Bible and praying.

Few of us have space for a chapel in our homes, but you could make a prayer corner in your room. As you go through this book trying the various experiments, why not keep some of the things you make and put them together on a shelf or windowsill in your room? Then you will build up your own personal collection of prayer objects and reminders, and create a prayer corner of your own.

This experiment takes that idea a step further. The idea is to make a small enclosed space to pray in - just big enough for one or maybe two people.

First, you’ll need to decide where to build the den. Could you make it in the corner of your bedroom? Or maybe in a family room, shed or garage? If it is summer, you might want to build one outside. This could either be something that just stays up for an afternoon, or a semi-permanent den, whatever suits the space you have available.

The easiest way to build it is to pitch a tent! You may have a tent for the garden, or do you have a younger brother or sister who has a pop-up play tent that you could borrow?

If you don’t have a tent, think about what you could use to give your den some strength and stability. You want to make sure you feel safe inside, so you don’t want to be worrying about whether it is going to collapse on you.

Here are some other ideas: a bottom bunk bed, with sheets or blankets clipped to the bunk above; a clothes airer; rearranging some pieces of furniture (chests of drawers, chairs, etc); a large cardboard box from something like a fridge or washing machine; underneath a table (inside or outside); underneath a rotary washing line or garden parasol outside.

Then cover your chosen framework with sheets, blankets, duvets etc, to make a completely enclosed space. You want it to be comfortable to sit in for a reasonable length of time, so cover the floor with pillows, cushions, beanbags etc.

Now you get to decide how to decorate your den inside! People that have tried this have particularly liked having fairy lights, or a lava lamp in the den. Or you could take a torch in with you. Just be careful only to use a low wattage lamp that doesn’t get hot, to avoid any risk of fire.

You may also want to add other things - maybe items from your prayer corner, bunting, or a rug. Make a space that feels snug and secure, somewhere you will enjoy sitting in and that feels very personal to you.

Once you have built the den, it is time to start using it to pray in. Just go in, sit down, and imagine that God is in there with you. You can either just sit quietly imagining yourself in God’s presence, or talk with him, or say prayers that you know such as the Lord’s prayer. Or why not try combining this experiment with others, and doing one or two of the other prayer activities suggested here in the den? 

Here is what Anna and Rachel had to say about trying this:

When I tried this, a friend and I had already built a den in my room, that we’d filled it with all our favourite things - soft toys, pillows, duvets. So we decided to use that to pray in together. It was quite a small space, so we were quite bunched up! It was very calming and atmospheric, and felt very warm, safe and enclosed. It was a really good environment for prayer. Praying in there with my friend, it felt like God was in there with us.

I really enjoyed praying in the den, this was definitely my favourite activity!
(Rachel, 15)

I loved praying in the den. It was much more comfortable than more formal ways of praying: I felt really safe, comfortable and enclosed in there. Also, being there with a friend made me think more about God as a friend, and that helped me feel a stronger bond of friendship with God. It felt very safe: God with us, the walls around us. Having fairy lights in the den was quite important too. They made it feel safer, as even the dark corners were lit up, and the fairy lights twinkling all around felt like they were symbolising God being in the den with us.
(Anna, 16)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Review of prayer beads

Nearly a year ago, we posted an experiment involving making a set of prayer beads: You can find it here.
For some reason it took us until now to get around to trying this one out! Here, finally, is Noah's review of it.

It was interesting making the bracelet - quite fun and interactive. It was easy to make just following the instructions, and finding the different kinds of beads. Making it didn't really feel like a prayer, though, just a fun craft activity, but the whole experience of making and using it was good.

It was quite easy to remember which bead was which because they were all different - for example, I'd chosen the biggest, shiniest one to represent God.

When it came to praying with it, I went round holding each bead in turn, and then praying about the thing that bead was for. I usually found I spent about the same amount of time on each one, except I spent more time on one of the mystery beads, which I'd decided was representing places in particular conflict and need.

At the God bead, I found I mainly prayed for the big things, the big topics that I thought God should do something about - world peace, natural disasters, that sort of thing. At the silence beads,  I just sat in silence for a while, but I did find that my mind tended to wander to other things.

At the bead for me, I prayed for myself, asking for good test results at school, help through life and so on. Then at the baptism one, I didn't really know what to pray for, so I tended to leave that one out. I wondered if I should pray for other people to be baptised, but that's their choice so it didn't seem right to pray for that.

The desert bead was a chance to pray for the rough times in my life, times when I've been bullied or felt a failure. I don't normally think of praying for those things because they are in the past, prayer isn't going to reverse time and change the fact they've happened. It was good to have the bead to tell me to pray for those things.

For the blue carefree bead I just sat there in carefree mode and prayed for peace for me, and others, and the world. I wonder if  I should have done that for the silence beads?

At the two red ones, for God's love and Jesus's death, I was confused - because praying for Gods love was kind of what I'd been doing all the time. So I prayed that God would have more love and look after the world better! Then at the second one I prayed - well, you know how Jesus died to save us from our sins? Well, I prayed that that contract hadn't run out, so to speak, and that that still was the case for everyone nowadays.

I decided that for me, the first mystery bead was for my friends and family, the second one was for places experiencing bad things and conflicts, and the third one represented nature and the environment. They stayed the same each time.

I was really confused about the Night one - it seems odd to pray a 'Dark Prayer', it sounds like something from a fantasy or sorcery TV show! So I had to think for a while about what to do there the first time I used it. In the end, because it was black I prayed for people in dark times to 'see the light'.

For the Resurrection bead, I found myself not thinking so much about the resurrection itself but more about Jesus ascending into heaven after the resurrection appearances. I prayed that everyone could get into heaven and that God would forgive them - I was thinking a bit about myself, but mainly praying for atheists and other people who aren't Christians.

Overall, I liked using the beads. It was really interactive because I'd made it myself, I was wearing it, and I could use it whenever I wanted. It was really good that it was something you could wear in public without looking stupid. Because the God bead was the biggest, I had to wear it with that on top of my wrist (or it was uncomfortable when I put my hand down), and I found that every time I glanced down and saw it, it reminded me of God.