Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Choose your values wisely

Very soon Americans will head to the polls to elect a President. Nothing new there. What has caught my eye this time around is some of the thoughts around endorsements and the role of church leaders. It's not a new debate and not restricted the USA. Even in the UK we have discussions about how political the pulpit ought to be or not to be depending upon your perspective. We even get to discussing the case of the opening letter (political with a P or a p?)

The problem with voting in a democracy is that people can vote how they like according to what is most important to them, and that means that they can vote as selfishly as they like too. So our parliamentary elections and American Presidential elections can become more about who will put the most money in my pocket rather than who offers the better solutions to the issues of the day.

Voting according to values is harder than you think. First you have to choose your values, and as if that isn't hard enough, you then have to compromise and find the best fit from the manifestos on offer. And then what do you do when the values you hold dear appear to be better supported by the party for whom you cannot bring yourself to vote!

Anyway, it was interesting to read the other day that the Billy Graham organisation is urging Christians across America to vote for the Biblical values. But which values? Are we talking here about the hot topic values or are we willing to say that actually many of the values we hold dear as evangelicals are not far from being red herrings when it comes to looking for truly biblical values.

If I asked you to list your top three biblical values, what would make your list, and what would be top? Here are my three as I thought about this earlier today:

  • Grace
  • Compassion
  • Equity
When I did a major study of Isaiah I was moved by God's deep concern for these three qualities. How you apply them to the broad, secularised world of politics is not easy, but it's worth some thought. You see I don't think some of the single issues, important as they are, are as important as these. Perhaps they are subsumed into them. And I wonder what shape our political landscapes would take if we looked at our economy from the perspective of grace, compassion and equity.

So, if you're going to vote according to Biblical values in any election, then my I suggest you take you time to weight what is really important to the God who daily renews his compassion, always treats us with grace and regularly calls us to treat others the same way.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A tough week

I wanted to write this post first, but wasn't really brave enough to commit to open view how I've been feeling lately. Even as I type I'm reluctant to give away too much detail. It's been a tough week or so, and to be honest I can't see anything changing any time soon. I've felt really low, I mean really low. It's a combination of things, all of which I fully understand and can analyse and interpret but of course can't shake myself free from. I'm at that point in my training where I can't imagine passing the course and yet I'm desperate to succeed. What I really want to do is to wake up in twelve months time, working in my own reasonably successful practice and with an emerging missional community taking shape in our community.

But that is not where I am right now.

Right now, I wake up each morning knowing that I have papers to write, exams to pass and so much to remember that I'm convinced it is all beyond me. So how do you face each day when you can't see the future and the present is not that bright either?

It's very easy to give trite little answers, to pat someone on the head and tell them to trust God and everything will be okay. But that's not how they will see it. We offer sympathy instead of empathy. Our encouragement is faintly veiled admonishment for failing to trust. I know this because I live on both sides of the equation. I've sat with people who feel this way and sought to help and encourage them, and I've sat felling this way and listened to others trying to encourage to me.

I'm fortunate because I know that while I'm not okay now, I will be. I also know that once I qualify I will face another set of challenges (finding clients who will pay for my services, getting paid work in a clinic or elsewhere etc). I also know myself. I know that while I think my standards are low, they are probably quite high, and although I feel like I've spent my whole life failing at one thing after another, that's probably not true.

The truth is, it's not just been a tough week, it's been a tough fifty years! There are a lot of scars, but life without scars is surely a life without adventure and a life without risk. When I ask a new client if they've ever suffered any injuries, most say no. I don't believe them. I can't believe that anyone can go through life without an injury. Have they never tried climbing a tree, or using a hammer? I'm scarred because I've tried an adventure or two. I'm not adventurous enough to climb mountains or sail oceans, but I've stepped out in faith, I've taken on challenges and I've been hurt in the process.

Perhaps my tough weeks, my sense of failure, my frustration about both the present and the future, is born out of a relentless assumption that there has to be more to life than this, whatever this happens to be. That somehow God has something he wants to do and I need to find out what it is and get involved rather than keep on repeating the same old pattern of things that haven't got us anywhere before or that simply don't work now.

Let me put it like this, and maybe encourage myself in the process:

If God is calling me to find a new way of expressing ministry, of building church, of doing discipleship, then I will have to keep exploring. I will have to keep pushing the boundaries of my thinking, and search out these things. The alternative is to bow to the pressure to conform to a pattern I'm not sure has any value anymore.

It looks more and more likely that I will have to abandon my status as an accredited baptist minister because my current status doesn't fit the criteria. It would seem a shame to have to do this, but if it has to be, then so be it. I think I'd rather get to the end of my life and say I tried everything I could think of trying, than to have sat in a box for several decades and changed nothing.

Doing it this way has a huge price attached. It's paid in emotional and spiritual currency, and that probably explains why I feel the way I feel. I do not offer any solutions, and I do not see this as a well though-out post, but it's just given me a chance to process some thoughts and get them out of my head. With hindsight perhaps I should have kept them in my journal, but maybe my rambling thoughts are just what someone needed to read.

PS No offers or suggestions of counselling please!

Praying for the community

I guess one of the features of our discipleship over the last thirty years has been a heart to pray for the community in which we live. I can't remember when it began, but I think it has its roots in the Make Way events of the early eighties.

Over the years our approach has morphed into other things, taken sharp unexpected turns, and gone through quiet periods and times of complete inactivity! We're not perfect! We've learnt a lot and seen a lot of different things happen. Some have been big and obvious (there's a vibrant church in one place now and it's good to know our community prayers were part of the planting process), some less obvious.

I'm not sure we've always been understood, too often there's an expectation that there will be "results", and there have been times when it seems that for some our prayers have been neither public enough nor  inclusive enough. But there we go, you can't please everyone.

Our aaron'our new community. Something I've done before is to pray Aaron's blessing every time I turn into a new street when I'm out walking. It's simple and in many ways non-theatening or spooky (spiritually speaking). You see you don't need some special revelation about the family at number four or the old man across the street to pray this way. All you need to have is a commitment to bless people. Maybe there is even a principle about the importance of praying a blessing into a place and not just a spirit out of one.

Although I haven't bought the book or researched the project in great depth, I'm quite excited about a resource that has recently crossed my path called the Neighbourhood Prayer Network. I think we might connect with this and if you're interested you might like to have a look at the website too.

Anything that helps us focus on connecting with our community is a good thing. Right? Prayer is something we can all do, whether we walk the streets to do it or not is less important, although don't despise walking! I've been prompted to pray for things I might never have otherwise thought about just by walking down the street with my eyes open (spiritually and physically!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ten things we might like to stop worrying about

Okay, I don't have a list of ten things yet, but I've been thinking recently about things that maybe as Christians we should stop worrying about. Now don't get me wrong. Not worrying about something is not the same as having no opinion about it. Far from it. The problem is that when we worry about something it tends to force us to think about it from a defensive position. Rubbish I hear you say. Okay, let's try one shall we. How about gay marriage. Feeling defensive yet? What about multi-faith events? Or try being able to wear a cross to work.

Do you see it now? When we worry about these things we get defensive. Every move by culture or government or employers becomes and assault on our rights, our faith and preeminent position as guardians of all that is right and proper in the world. I wonder how many complaints last week's episode of Red Dwarf got from enraged evangelicals? Hopefully none. Hopefully those of us that watched it were able to laugh at the jokes and ignore anything that might have fallen into the bad taste bucket. Personally I thought it was funny. The presumption that there was only ever one person named Jesus and the confusion that caused just made me think about all the other "rebel leaders" that are hinted at and recorded in the historical records of the time.

Anyway, Red Dwraf isn't the focus of this post, so let's return to the plan.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when we get worried , we get defensive then we become offensive and we distance oursleves form the very people Jesus misses most. We put distance between them and us and we ask them to change and come over to us, to see it our way, to make the first move.

Jesus didn't do that.

What we need to do is find ways to engage with our culture to show them a better way, to show them just how much they are loved and to reconnect them with the God who loves them. Telling them how morally offensive they have become doesn't seem like a good place to start.

I don't have all the answers and I don't want to criticise those who have stood up and challenged things in the past. But I do remember how ridiculous Christinas looked when they protested too much about "THe Life of Brian" and how irrelevant we appeared when coronation Street was declared to be smutty or whatever Mrs Whitehouse called it. There just has to be a better way.

And if you're still worried about gay marriage, then remember, as someone wrote recently, if we're worried that gay marriage will undermine the value of marriage in our society then we shouldn't worry, the heterosexual community has managed to do that all on its own.

Lord, teach me to listen

I'm sitting in the extension mainly because there's a bit more light in here than anywhere else in the house on this damp and dreary day. The roof lights capture what daylight there is and the big windows help too. It raises one's mood a little. I'm guessing that in a few hours it will get steadily darker.

It's also very quiet.

There is the sound of the traffic going by outside, but it's not overwhelming. Two other sounds invade the space. One is the ticking of the wall clock steadily marking the passing of time, the other is the whirr of a mechanical timer that will bring the light on around 7:00 this evening. I will need to reset it soon to bring the light on earlier as the evenings close in.

Most of the time these sounds are simply background noise that I can filter out as I work, like the click, set at a low level on my iPad, that keeps me company as it follows the rhythm of my typing. I'm unaware of any other sounds, even when I strain to listen.

All this makes me wonder about the priority of listening. If we can filter out the clock and the traffic and the birds, then do we sometimes filter out God? When the disciples went up on the mountain with Jesus and he was transfigured, they did two things. First, they fell asleep. Probably not the first time they fell asleep at an important moment, and certainly not the last time they would do so. Second, they talked, well Peter did. He blurted out something about building shelters to mark the occasion without realising the significance of what was happening in front of his eyes.

God's response to Peter's desire to act, to do something to mark this amazing event that he had almost missed as he napped, was to tell him to stop doing and to start listening. Well okay, he told him to listen and didn't mention the stopping, but in order to listen there are times when you need to stop doing.

So I have a question now: What are you, or am I, trying to commemorate by doing something when we should actually be listening to what God is saying? We are very quick to hear part of it and then make an assumption about the rest. We fill in the blanks and set off without hearing the rest of the story or instructions.

Maybe Peter would have been better off asking Jesus what the significance was of what had just happened rather than anything else he had in mind.

"Lord, teach me to listen to you."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dear science

You may have seen a recent picture on Facebook about science and religion that goes something like this:
Dear Religion

This week I safely dropped a human being from space while you shot a 14 year old girl in head for wanting to go to school.

I kinda feel you need a new hobby


Well I began to think about how religion might respond and this is my version of one possible response:

Dear Science

While I am somewhat disappointed in your rhetoric, I take your point. It saddens me greatly that some people choose to abuse and manipulate what I offer in such ways. You must feel the same too. Wasn't it science that gave up the technology of the atom bomb that was "safely" dropped on two major cities in Japan? Time and again you too have offered so much that could have been good that got used negatively. Need I mention DDT, napalm CFC's, or the greenhouse effect.

Man's inhumanity to man has often been done in my name but sadly using your tools.

The truth is we are more like brothers than adversaries. Together we can inspire humanity to search out the answers to all sorts of questions. You, for example, can help humanity explore how the universe came into existence, but you have no answer to the question of why the universe came into existence. You can help humanity discover new ways to reduce disease, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of life for everyone, but you find it difficult to explain why they should do those things.

Perhaps, if you want to throw stones, then you should look for a lower horse from which to do so.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Flying or falling with style?

My diary might not be full, as some diaries appear to be. I may not be juggling meetings and events, relying upon others to be flexible enough to fit in with my plans. I've yet to be asked to lead a national movement or plan a global strategy. I don't even have a proper job.
I'm not handling million pound contracts or invoices, and I haven't made any policy decisions that will affect thousands of people or even a single individual. I have not been asked my opinion on the deficit, the Euro-crisis, or the planned expansion of air-passenger capability for London.
But my life lacks neither purpose nor meaning.
Later today I will lead a funeral service for a family who are not famous, but are in need. They need someone to walk alongside them as they try to work out the significance of their loss. Like many families for whom I've had this same privilege they look to me to help them do this.
This could be my life. This could be what I do, all I do. Anonymously serving people at a time of need. It will not make me rich. It will not make me famous. It will not even pay my bills!
Each time I lead a funeral I wonder why I do it. I get nervous, I worry about making a mistake, about being late, getting the wrong day at the wrong crematorium. I worry about what to say and how best to say it. I wonder if the mourners are just being nice when they shake hands and thank me.
Every so often I get a reassuring call from a funeral directors about a letter they've received from a family thanking them for their work and expressing their gratitude for the small part I played.
I'd like to inspire a generation, I'd like to lead a movement of change, I'd like to recognised for the contribution I've made to bring about a realignment of the local church towards God's mission. But in the end I doubt that this will be my purpose in life.
Sometimes I joke about wanting to find something that I'm really good at doing before I come to the end of my working life. Sometimes I mean it more seriously. Maybe I'm actually good at a lot of things I fail to value in the way God values them because I want something more.
Maybe my life is more significant than I imagine it to be.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Luke 9:11

We went to church yesterday, a bit of an unusual experience these days. The simple truth is that organised building-based worship simply doesn't connect for me at the moment. Maybe it's because of everything we've been through, maybe it's because of the movement that has been stirring in my soul for such a long time now, and maybe it's just because I'm so spiritually disconnected that being "in church" is just not where I want to be right now. Who knows. I'm not so arrogant to think that the problem is fully on the shoulders of the pattern of worship we've come to expect.

Anyway, I was looking at Luke 9 while everyone else was enjoying their own deep and meaningful, intimate encounter with God. Not that mine wasn't deep, you understand. And it was verse 11 that caught my eye. The way Jesus welcomed the crowds, who only really followed him because of the miracles, but he welcomed them anyway and then took the time to talk to them about the kingdom. I wonder what he said? Then he healed them and fed them. Quite extraordinary really.

There's no point trying to make a priority list from these events, elsewhere in the NT you'll find a different order of things and some things missing that you might have thought important first time around. So just let it ask you questions and ask some back. Like how did Jesus welcome them and what would a welcome look like in our time, our communities? How do we let people know they are welcome, when they have to enter a strange building, sing strange songs, listen to strange stories? How do we intrigue them with our kingdom talk rather than scare them off?

Without getting hung up on miracles, what might "healing" look like in our contexts? What does it say about meeting needs, ministry to others, outsiders even?

So many questions raised from such a simple statement, but it's this kind of thing that has got me where I am. I ind myself constantly asking what difference is it going to make on Monday? If you've had a great encounter with God over the weekend in your worship event, then how are you carrying that inot the world around you?

Welcome the people into your schedule, talk about the kingdom (hopefully without the weird God stories of which we can be so fond), minister to their needs. Not a bad plan really.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Walk this way

This is not a rant at any particular denomination, just in case it looks like that by the time I finish!

On Wednesday mornings I now run a Sports Massage Clinic at The Telegraph Media Group in Victoria. It's a great opportunity for me to develop my skills and practice as a therapist and I"m grateful for the opportunity. The other opportunity that comes with this job is the chance to walk through London once a week. I get the train to Fenchurch Street and then walk to Victoria and then walk back again after my clinic. In fact, the last three weeks I've walked from Victoria to Canary Wharf, usually wondering why someone hasn't straightened out the Thames. I'm sure it would be about 1.5 miles shorter if I could go in a straight line!

My walk takes me past a few interesting landmarks, some well known, others a little more obscure. For those who remember Monty Python, yesterday's route took me past Wapping steps, which made me laugh as I recalled one particular sketch on the "Be a Great Actor" album I probably still own somewhere in the loft.

More recognisable to most are things like HMS Belfast, Victoria Embankment, London Eye, and the Palace of Westminster. As I cross the road by parliament and head towards Victoria Street down past Westminster Abbey I can also see Methodist Central Hall. An impressive building that looks like it could possibly swallow the Abbey and the church next it and still have room for pudding! The architecture owes everything to the era in which it was built and I'm not about to criticise either those who built it or those who maintain it. But as I pass these and other church buildings of differing degrees of splendour, I have to wonder what it means about both how we continue to live out church and what they communicate about our values.

By the time I make my return journey in the early afternoon, the Abbey is surrounded by tourists taking pictures while regular commuters dodge in and out of shot. I have to say I don't see many standing outside Central Hall, but it is behind me on my return trip! Westminster too has it's share of snappers and around the corner the London Eye is the backdrop for more pictures.

As I continue my return walk I see the occasional intrepid photographer snapping away at some of the hidden towers and odd shaped building that dot the roads and riverside of the city. Not until I get to Tower Hill do the large crowds reappear.

But those impressive churches still occupy my thoughts as the remind me of a long past sense of awe and desire to build the best for worship and in some cases far more. And that's what bothers me, the institutionalisation of what was meant to be a lived out dynamic relationship with God. something that somehow got reduced to a good hymn and a good sermon in a brick box once a week. Not the fault of the builders, more the fault of the generations that followed them and missed the point of the mission for the sake of the building.

Caught by the need for the church to have an address so that people know where we are, we have lost the principle of being among the people Jesus misses. I've heard it said in the past that people need to know where we are so they know how to contact us, but isn't it one of the primary principles of the gospel that we are a sent people, a going people.

I'm not sure we need a corporate address, but I am sure we're afraid we will lose our identity if we don't have one.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Golf, Abraham and the Gerasenes

Interesting combination don't you think! Let's start with Jose Marie Olazabal's quote from William Wallace: "All men die, but not all men live." If you look it up you will find variations, but the sentiment remains the same.

I've been pondering this the last day or so as I think about what it means the live for the kingdom. How do we live? Not just exist, not just hang around waiting for the end to come or for God to intervene, but how we do live, make choices that reflect the kingdom and give opportunities for the kingdom to flourish? Where is the balance between following God's lead and getting ahead of ourselves?

Then there's Abraham. A man whom God called to go on a journey to a land promised but as yet unseen and unidentified except in the vaguest of ways. A sort of, "You'll recognise it when you see it" description. Our life is a bit like that at the moment. Everything is rather vague but I get the feeling that while I can't easily describe where we are going and what will be the end result, I think I'll recognise it when we arrive. At least I hope I will!

Then there are those Gerasenes. Why are they so afraid? Jesus has just an extraordinary thing for one of their own people. someone they knew well, who's problems were manifestly public and is now no longer a threat or problem to them. And they are afraid of the man who has set him free.

Golf, Abraham and the Gerasenes. Life, journey and fear.

Moses once said the the gathered community of Israel, "Today I set before you life and death. Choose life that you might live." Maybe we could paraphrase that and say, "Choose life and live it." In other words don't just choose life as a better alternative to death, but choose it and embrace it and live it as fully as you can. Not in out 21st century self-indulgent way, but in a way that serves the mission and purposes of God. Abandon small selfish goals and grasp hold of big hairy kingdom goals instead.

Scary thought isn't it? Exciting maybe, but when the rubber hits the road and you have to reshape your life around new priorities and new risks, then it gets scary. But if we let fear set the agenda we will ask Jesus to leave us alone because we can't handle who he is and what he can do.

Courage, someone once said, is not the absence of fear, it's pressing ahead despite your fear.