Monday, February 25, 2013


Well, thats' it. On Saturday 23rd February at approximately 10:45 I breathed an enormous sigh of relief as I heard the the words, "Congratulations, you've passed." For the last year I've been stuffing my head with information and details about anatomy, physiology, neuromuscular techniques and all sorts of other things in order to become a Sports and Remedial Massage Therapist. And I did it. At the tender age of 55 I've once again retrained.

Back in 1979, when I completed my first degree in Environmental Science and Chemistry, I said that that was the end of doing exams. Every summer since I was 1o years old had been about exams, and I thought that was quite long enough. Little did I know that i would turn out to be a perennial student.

In 1986 I returned to college to study theology, and face yet more summer exams with the added blessing of regular essays throughout the year. I'd never written an essay before, and the thought of writing even 1000 words on a single subject was a little daunting. Of course, but the end of the course I could hardly introduce a topic in less than 500 words, and my final essay ran to nearly 12,000 before it got edited down a little. Even then I didn't really do my chosen subject justice.

So you might think that would be the end of it. Having promised no more exams once, surely that would be the time to stop, but no, I carried on and did my Masters. THat was a significant point for me. I never felt comfortable about exams, and although there was only one exam for the MA, I knew I'd reached my emotional capacity to cope. Maybe it was just having done four years of study and I was drained, but I knew it was time for a rest.

So naturally, a year later I started a distance learning programme! This time I chose Clinical and Pastoral Counselling, and with real dedication and determination I managed to squeeze a two year course into five years, or something like that.

And that was it for a long time. I wondered about doing a DMin. (a professional doctoral programme), but apart from learning to swim and getting a 10m certificate for that (of which I remain very proud), I had no desire to add to my collection of certificates in the filing cabinet drawer. I toyed with the idea of doing an exercise qualification, mainly out of interest, but didn't follow it up.

Then came the events of three years ago, when I began to realise that my future lay outside of the mainstream of what I was doing in church life. I began to wonder about what avenues were open to me and my growing sense of the significance and importance of bivocational ministry and my interest in sport made me wonder what I could do.

So now I know. A diploma in Nutrition, a Certificate in Personal Training and the primary goal of a diploma in Sports and Remedial Massage have been achieved.

I dare not say, "No more exams," because you never know. I hope for no more!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wanted: Worship Partners

In the 14 months since stepping out of legacy church leadership, I've picked up my guitar maybe three or four times. For someone who played most weeks, that's a dramatic change. I've simply not felt the need or the urge to do it. On the other hand, when we visit a church or a congregation, both Anne and I are reminded of what we used to do. Reminded about the importance and not just the rolling discipline and duty of leading worship.

So, my wonderful solid maple, custom made, left-handed Norman acoustic guitar lies silent in its case and the callouses on my fingers have softened. Like preaching, leading and playing for worship, things that occupied my life for over two decades, have quietly slipped from my agenda. Actually, playing the guitar for worship goes back even further to university days in the late 1970's.

Some might say that times change and needs change and circumstances change. It's time for a new thing and simply doing the same old things will only eve produce the same old results. But some of those results were good things. Like a deeper sense of the presence of God, a greater intimacy in worship, a powerful moment of celebration. Those were, and are, good things. There have been lots of debates about the state of worship in the church and the divide between styles and expectations. I'll nail my colours to the mast and say that there have been times when I've got frustrated with worship because it's been more about personal feelings than about encountering Almighty God. But the great blessing and challenge of the movement in worship through the 80's and 90's was for me seeing worship as more than a ritual built around 19th century lyrics and tunes. I learned a lot and I don't want to lose that.

So, as we continue our journey of discovery about the new thing that God has called us into, we need to remember the lessons learned and the value of the things we have learnt to do. We need to remember that we are not trying to plant a congregation in a building to sing songs. But we need to worship, and we need to do that with others. In our different ways, we were both good at leading worship. We weren't great, we're certainly not in the category of excellent musicians, but I think we had a skill, a gift that will one day be useful again.

How we take this forward, I don't know. But hopefully God will lead us to people or people to us with whom we can forge a worshipping community as one dimension of the new thing. Maybe I will start by getting Norman out of his case and allowing him to sing again.

Friday, February 15, 2013

It's all in our imagination

This thing about imagination and vision and mission statements is still wandering around my head. I had an interesting discussion with a few colleagues the other day about it. I'd just spoken at a local church a couple of days before about the journey we are and the topic of imagination came out of that. i remembered something I think Alan Roxburg said in his book about the imagination that exists in the people and the challenge to create an environment in which that imagination can flourish.

On Sunday, when I spoke, I posed the question: "If you had a blank piece of paper on which you could describe what church might look like if we started from scratch, what would you write? Many of the answers were predictable. Not because people lack imagination, but perhaps because their only frame of reference is what they've always known. In reality, thinking new thoughts is actually rather hard for most people. We  have to begin with what we know and move from there. The challenge is in teasing out the new from within the old framework.

We've been watching The Genius of Invention on the BBC, and it's fascinating. It actually gives me great hope for the future of the church in an odd sort of way. Why? Because the genius doesn't lie in the intelligence of the inventor as much as it lies in their ability to imagine something new. People like Marconi and Baird didn't actually invent much at all, they just assembles various bits of apparatus into something new. They imagined a new way of using what others had invented. Okay, so it still counts as invention, but the point is you don't always have to start from nothing. Baird is a great example, not only of the genius of invention, but the way invention moves things forward. Without his mechanical system, television might never have been born. The fact that it wasn't the future of television didn't matter and doesn't matter. He didn't fail just because we went electronic.

When it comes to church and where we find ourselves at this moment, I'm not sure what is going to happen. In fact I think it would be more honest to say I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen. I have a dream, an imagined future. If it turns out differently, then I will not have failed, even if others think I have. Perhaps I have a greater capacity to imagine than some. Perhaps imagination is my greatest gift and others will need to pioneer what I imagine.

And yet, I can't believe that I am the only one with an imagination. Everyone has the capacity to imagine something. If everyone has a book in them, then everyone might just have a church in them too! Bring your imagination out to play, it's in there somewhere!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How much is enough?

A question was asked on the news this morning on the theme of executive pay. A certain large bank was reporting numbers, and the speculation concerned the pay of the CEO. One of the presenters suggested they ought to ask the public what they though was an acceptable salary for the post.

Well, a not too thorough search of the internet showed that in 2011 the CE of a certain bank earned £20.9 million in salary and bonuses. Apparently the starting salary at Barclays, according to UNITE is £13,500. That means that in 2011 the CE was paid 1,500 times the potential amount of the lowest paid worker.

Perhaps the question isn't about what is an appropriate salary but what is an appropriate gap. 1,500 does not seem to be the right answer as far as I am concerned.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Imagine that

My little post the other day about how we respond to the House of Commons vote coincided with a blog post I read from David Fitch about mission statements and shared imagination. The two are not directly linked in any except in the small chain of ideas that they set in motion in my head.

David's point was along the lines that a church needs a shared imagination maybe more than a mission statement, and it was that word imagination that stirred my thinking. As I reflected on the commons vote it was our imagination, or lack of it that that I think at times gets in the way of engaging with the real issues. It's a bit of a balancing act to get it right. It doesn't take much research to see that there have been times when our imagination has run away with poor theology and set up home in some distant land far from Biblical truth. But how far is far away? For some, one step from a literal interpretation of scripture is a step too far, for others nowhere far enough to engage with our ever changing society. It's a tough call.

And yet, without imagination, without thinking the odd, strange, wild thought, we might never make any progress. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results should not actually require the intellect of Einstein to highlight its absurdity. But isn't that exactly what life without imagination condemns us to do?

The danger in church life is that we take this further. First we sanctify what we do and then we justify it by building a scriptural base for it. Then we enshrine it as tradition and at some point it becomes the unchangeable pattern, the only pattern that reflects the truth. Then we keep doing it. Then, and this is where it gets absurd, we start to blame the unchurched for not doing this way too. We start to blame those who don't come to church for not coming, those who don't share our beliefs for not sharing them. We blame the darkness for being dark as if it had the power to become light all by itself.

The light still shines, but it no longer shines in the darkness. It shines among the safety of all the other lights. We preach the gospel to the converted because at least they appreciate and understand it. They know the language and the rules.

We need our imaginations if we are going to survive and flourish. We need our imaginations if we are going to engage with our ever changing culture in ways that offer redemption without marginalisation of the very people we know God wants to redeem. Without our imagination we may find it easy to stay faithful to the gospel, but we will fail to be able to engage meaningfully with our culture. We will miss generations and tribes because they don't fit our model and our model is so very precious.

I don't know what this model will look like. I wish I did. I wish I could describe to you how we are successfully planting a faith community where we live, seeing lives transformed as people encounter Jesus without the trappings of a church building or programme. But I can't because it hasn't happened yet. Maybe one day it will, maybe one day my imagination will finally bear fruit!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

God's will be done

So parliament has voted and the Christian community was urged to pray, and now we have an outcome. I got the email sometime yesterday that asked me to join with Christians across the country to pray "The Lord's Prayer" and seek God's will for our country.

So what do we do now?

Do we assume that God's will wasn't done because the outcome wasn't to our general liking (not all Christians were opposed to the bill), or do we assume that it was, and we need to think differently about faith and culture? Do we repent that not enough Christians prayed hard enough, so God didn't do what we wanted, or do we assume that God's purpose is being worked out in ways we don't fully appreciate?

It's a complicated situation, and one we've faced many times before. Remember the Sunday trading laws? How about the equal opportunities employment bill that challenged using faith as a prerequisite for employment.

Sometimes these things that we feel are assaults on our rights are actually challenges to our narrow thinking and our ghettoised attitudes. Yes, I have my concerns that someday someone will bring a lawsuit against a church and a minister for refusing to provide a service. Although the law is supposed to protect us from that, no doubt it will be tested. But I'm also caught between wanting to protect everyone's rights to an equitable society that treats us all equally, and the freedom to dissent from the popular viewpoint.

I don't think same-sex marriage undermines the Christian value of marriage. I think infidelity, domestic violence, abuse, selfishness, greed and whole lot of other things do that. Perhaps the eventual passing of this bill will help us redefine marriage, not along sexual lines, but in terms of the virtues and values of long-term commitment, relational growth and stable partnerships. Those of who do so from a faith perspective can still raise the standard that marriage is something ordained by God between a man and a woman. But we need to remember that God is not honoured in our marriages simply because they are heterosexual. There is so much more to it than that.