Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here comes 2012

So it's New Year's Eve and 2012 is just a few hours away. Growing up I never thought I'd reach the millennium let alone this far into a new century. I think that was mostly due to that weird sense of what constitutes old when you're only eight years old. I remember reading an article in the Observer magazine (yes, I used to read bits of a Sunday broadsheet when I was eight) about people in their thirties who had "retired" from the rat-race to live idyllic lives running general stores in Cotswold villages or somewhere in North Devon. At eight, living to thirty-four seemed impossible.

Now, each year flies by with barely the time to take a breath. But 2012 is going to be different for sure. Making sense of the rejection of my ministry and the new direction we are taking precipitated by the events of the last two years is an enormous challenge. Are we stepping out into a new challenge, bravely doing what others are too afraid to do? Or are we just foolish? Are we choosing a selfish option because I have messed up our lives in a most spectacular way by not being what I ought to have been.

Whatever the reason, this is the story in which we find ourselves and only in eternity will we know the significance of the twists and turns. I find myself in the ebb and flow of thinking I've made a terrible mistake, and that God didn't bring us this far to abandon us to the hopelessness of rejection and failure.

So 2012 is going to be a very different and unpredictable year. It may the first year in maybe more that 25 years when I don't preach a sermon or lead an act of worship. I don't know how often we will find ourselves in church on a Sunday. Not because we think it is optional, but because of the growing desire simply to do things differently.

Apparently the Mayor of London's firework display to celebrate the New Year will last 11 minutes. Once the smoke clears and the eyes readjust after the bright lights, the year will start. it's more that an 11 minute firework display. It is another 366 days of faithful walking in the same direction. Like Abraham, we are trying to walk with God to a destination he has shown us, but for which we have no map by which to navigate our way.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Empty words?

I've had a few funerals to do recently. Just search the blog to find out why I think about doing funerals. It was while I was doing one particular funeral that I realised how empty some of the words I use each time might actually sound to those listening. You hope that the words bring comfort and a sense of hope without ever appearing to pass judgment. You hope that somehow you will be able to sow a seed of the gospel in to the lives of those who listen as you pray and reflect. Sometimes I probably do so more that I imagine.

But there's one phrase that I use every time that has been bothering me for sometime. It occurs early on at the very beginning of the funeral service.

We are here to renew our trust in God who has said: I will not fail you or desert you.

Personally, I find those words very challenging. If I'm honest I feel failed and deserted a lot of the time. I feel a sense of being abandoned by God, let down and insecure about almost every aspect of my life. I'm not depressed, and I'm not prone to depression. I'm just being honest. There has been little in my life recently that has given me any glimpse of God's enduring faithfulness in a tangible way. Prayers go seemingly unanswered, and I for one cannot figure out why God appears to say no to most of my prayers when I'm not actually asking for very much at all.

Is it just me? I don't think so.

Sometimes the Christian community is guilty of using language that suggests that we all get up in the morning and God speaks loudly and clearly into our lives, directing our decisions and choices. Most of the time this is simply not true. Most of the time we struggle to make sense of what we believe.

Perhaps the reason I need to say these words is to remind me that I do have to renew my trust and that life is far from simple and far from easy. Maybe faith has more to do with what is unseen than what is seen and verifiable.

The words are not empty, but they are not easy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


The house is quiet, the cats are asleep somewhere, Anne has gone off to her parents for Christmas Eve, and I have the place to myself. I like it like this, so don't feel sorry for me being on my own on Christmas Eve. I will probably go out for a walk when I've done this post, unless laziness gets the better of me. I also have a sore foot, so there's my ready-made excuse!

Tomorrow for only the second time in 20 years I do not have to be in church. Normally Christmas Day is a juggling game of family and church. Last year I suggested we close on the Sunday, given that we'd been together on the Saturday anyway. I thought this was a great idea because it would give people a chance to spend the day with family instead of rushing about fitting family around church. I recently discovered that such a terrible suggestion was yet another indication of my lack of commitment to the church because I put my family before church. Clearly I'm not suited to ministry!

I'm not sure what it is about church that makes me feel frustrated at times, but such an attitude is high on the list. I'll be honest enough to say that I won't miss being in church tomorrow, even though it is a Sunday. So, I shall get up at a reasonable time. Maybe I'll go for a walk if the mood takes me (I doubt I'll get the chance later in the day). I'll go to Anne's parents and have lunch and I'll come home again. I'll wonder again at the amazing story of the incarnation, and I'll give thanks that God thought I was worth all that effort.

And when it's all over, I for one won't be putting God back in the box with all the decorations for another year because the gospel is more than the nativity and my commitment to him is about more that a single Sunday out of 52.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Psalm 137

I read Psalm 137 and wondered what it has to say about our current, and future situation. Of course, just because you read the Bible it doesn't mean that you have to find some sort of point of equivalence in every word. That was one of the faults of some of the early interpreters who found meaning in almost every detail of the parables. But it's always important to ask questions of the text you are reading, even if in the end you conclude that it is silent on the prevailing issue.

So, as for Psalm 137, I'm not going to equate our new home with Babylon, although I did remember God's word to the exiles in Jeremiah to settle down, build houses and pray for the prosperity of the city. Equally I'm not going to treat either Upminster or even Bedford as our Jerusalem. But there was one lesson to learn.

Don't forget the heart, the focus of your worship.

With the potential to be out of connection with a church, it would be easy to drift into a worship-less pattern, to become the Christian equivalent of the solider stranded on the desert island who doesn't know the war is over. We want to continue to grow and worship and develop as followers of Jesus and we need to guard ourselves against losing our way in this.

So there was a lesson to learn from Psalm 137, it just needed the right question and the right eyes to see it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

That was the weekend that was!

Well we had a very good weekend. I guess we would have to say that we missed not having to plan the All-Age and Carol Services for Christmas and we missed being part of those events, but we also rather enjoyed not having to do all that too.

Instead we travelled to Bedford to share in a wedding and we got to have brunch with some old friends and visit others. The wedding was the third of three sisters, and it was great to be part of that event. Brunch on Sunday was an exciting affair too!

During our eight years in Bedford we talked a lot about what it meant to be a church in the community, about how we could serve the community, about what it meant simply to be church. We were not afraid to ask the questions and think differently about the answers. Yesterday's brunch was some of the fruit of that thinking. About 30-40 people gathered in the loach village hall and talked and ate together. A whole cross-section of people. I met someone who had come for the very first time and I sat and simply asked him questions about is life and listened to his story. There were no songs, no prayers, no preaching.

Having the time to talk, which hopefully leads to building relationships, that in turn create opportunities to share faith, was at the heart of the purpose of the event. there was a bouncy castle for the children and some craft activities for them too. The adults sat and talked.

Okay, so it's easy for the Christians to drift into comfortable small groups around tables, but generally, with a bit of effort, that didn't happen. You have to be intentional about talking with others, but everyone can do it because everyone can listen to someone's story. All you have to do is ask questions and listen carefully enough so you can ask more questions.

So we had a good time. I got to share our vision for the future with some old friends over the course of the weekend and we got to spend time with our daughter. All in all it was good way to spend our first weekend away from full-time leadership.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stretched and relaxed!

Well, I have to say, holy yoga was an interesting experience. Firstly, I'm not as flexible as I might be! That was one thing learned as I tried to grab my foot and tuck it into my lap! Beyond the obvious creaking of knees and muscles as they complained bout being asked to do things they'd long forgotten how to do,  I have to say that I did feel the benefit of having spent the time stretching and relaxing.

Of course doing Pilates would probably achieve similar goals and if I did the exercise I ought to do each day, my flexibility would increase vastly and with none of the theological issues usually raised around yoga.

So, what did I make of the theological issues then, I hear you ask.

Well, actually I don't think there were any. you see the thing is the whole routine was set in the context of worship. It was quite reflective and brought a fresh dimension to engaging spiritually and physically. Here's an example. When we were doing one particular exercise that involved a progressive stretch, we were encouraged to think about the principle of surrender. As you stretched and your body resisted you simply focussed on surrendering to the stretch. sounds odd doesn't it, but if you have ever done any form of serious stretching, you will know that you have to relax to stretch and relaxing is an act of surrender because your body naturally tenses up when it resists.

So there will still be issues that this is the thin end of the wedge and that Christians who engage with yoga, no matter how much Christian spirituality in incorporated, are opening themselves to negative spiritual influence. But I also suspect that the very people who reject holy yoga in this way will do so jet before they go of the play Modern Warfare 3, or watch some film or TV programme that lack a Christian ethical and theologically sound base.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holy Yoga

I know, I know, yoga and Christianity doesn't mix well, particularly for evangelicals, but as a form of exercise it remains fairly popular. So what are we to do?

One approach is to reject it as a distraction or deviation at best, fraught with pitfalls and dangerous mystical beliefs and practices. An alternative is to think redemption. That appears to be what one group is seeking to by developing a Christian based alternative.

I'm in London today to see for myself what holy yoga looks like and to meet a Christian practitioner. Should be an interesting morning!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What might it look like?

We were joking the other day with some friends about what we might be doing next now that formal ministry seems to be over for us. Amidst the swinging from crazy ideas and incredible vision to sheer panic and scary dreams about the future, we find ourselves reflecting on all sorts of things. The truth is that rather like one of the legendary large artworks of the inimitable Rolf Harris, it's difficult to, "see what is it yet."

In my dreams, it looks very different to the usual experience we have of church. It's rooted in relationships, built around common values and shared experiences. I know this is what all church experience ought to be, but it isn't. That's the truth. When faith becomes institutionalised it requires an organisational system to maintain itself. That system generates demands and expectations that are sometimes in danger of becoming the defining criteria above the core message. It's the nature of an imperfect expression of being the body of Christ with which we all have to do battle whether in or out of the local, traditional expression of church. Whatever we do in the coming years will not be perfect, it might not even be better.

Having a blank sheet of paper does give us the opportunity to begin from scratch and ask ourselves what are the key things, the non-negotiables that we would want to put in place. I don't have a definitive list, but one of the things I know will be important is a resolute determination not to criticise and moan about the established church. It doesn't help anyone. I also know that whatever happens, it will probably not happen spontaneously but will require a degree of intentionality about it. With that in mind, I think we will need to be able to describe the boundaries and the ethos of the thing really early. Like now would be a good time!

So here are a few thoughts about some key ideas:

Firstly, whatever group assembles, we will need a clear, shared vision that we all buy into. If some of us ultimately see the end game in terms of a gathered group of people in one place of Sunday mornings singing songs and listening to sermons, and others don't, then we would need to get that sorted pretty quickly.

Secondly, we would need to be fully committed to spending regular, quality time around a shared meal. Call it what you like, but relationships are built over time and not through worship services alone.

Thirdly, we would need to agree to live as an extended family. Put simply, we care for each other without abdicating that responsibility to one person alone.

Fourth, it's shared leadership. More like parenting maybe that CEO-leadership, but based on a plurality of leadership gifts distributed among a group of leaders.

Fifthly, and remember these are not in any specific order, a deep commitment to pray and to incarnational mission.

There's a lot missing I know, but it gives you a flavour of the things that are going through my mind at the moment. To those who have listened to me over the years, some of it will be instantly recognised from previous conversations.

More to come, I'm sure.

Kindle's and iPads

Of the things that I find really useful about my iPad is the ability to stick pdf's on it and read them wherever I might be. It doesn't matter about the style of the pdf, it just works and I haven't had any problems at all as far as I can recall. My iPad has a number of articles and short papers that are colourful and easy to both read and navigate on the nice bright screen. But it's not the most efficient reader, and an iPad is a complete waste of money if all you want to do is read stuff.

The Kindle, of which Anne as the Wi-Fi version with the keypad and I'm getting the non-keypad version for Christmas (yes, I know how lucky I am!), is just one of the alternative e-book readers out there. One of the things I like about the Kindle is the ability to email pdf documents to it. The problem is that the Kindle renders the pdf by page, which can make the typeface very small indeed.

For documents that I write, the solution is simple. All I have to do is to create a custom page size (90mm by 120mm) with 1mm margins and no headers or footers (they're not really needed). I then change the font size to 10 and email the pdf from the print menu of my Mac. Nice and simple, even if a bit time consuming.

Of course the big plus is that I can email this pdf to anyone who wants it, and they too can read it on their Kindle too if they have one. Perhaps there is already a neat and easy solution to generating readable pdfs for Kindle from applications. I know there is something that will convert a document into the correct format for Kindle, but I haven't explored that yet.

I wonder if some bright spark hasn't already, or maybe would like to write an app onto which you can drop a document and it will reformat it for you. Rather like the way Tofu puts a file into columns to make it easier to read.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Schrodinger's Cat

A couple of people posted this on Facebook. It reminds me of university days studying chemistry and physics. Long time ago now.

Credit: George Takei

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ministry and mission preparation

Here's an article that's worth a read if you are thinking/wondering about the role of the minister in a post-Christendom world.

One key quote to think about:

One of the most disastrous effects of Christendom upon our systems of theological education has been the unhelpful assumption that the Church does and should exist at the center of our society. Under this vision, seminaries have equipped leaders who would excel at managing and maintaining this system. However, as the missio Dei and its implications for the Gospel and the Church come back into focus in Post-Christendom, we submit that our systems of theological education must be re-imagined for the purposes of training missionary leaders. These will be leaders whose concerns and skill-sets revolve not around managing churches as part of an ostensibly "Christian" culture, or in the interest of "church growth," but around mobilizing the people of God for participation in God's mission in the world.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad