Thursday, June 27, 2013

Spending reviews and easy targets

When I first read Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change I was struck by the simplicity of the premise that if the gospel is good news it must have something to say to about the big questions we face as individuals, families, communities and nations. I was thinking about this again as I listen to some of the reports of the government's plans and proposals for the future of our economy. Grand plans for infrastructure, cutting departmental spending and predictions of recovery that might just turn out to overly optimistic again. Maybe I'm a bit too cynical.

What bothers me is that some of the ideas seem rather too political, designed to assuage the cries of middle England and do little in the present other than make life harder for the most vulnerable. It is hard to see how we are in this together when the poor get poorer while the wealthy appear safe and secure in their tax havens.

There was some humour in the whole process, but even describing Eric Pickles as a shining example of lean government cannot hide the hard truth that welfare was once again the target. Is it any surprise that alongside the stringent cutting of benefits and spending on services we have seen a rise in pay day loan companies and food banks?

Perhaps we need a more reflective approach to the economy alongside the accounting reality. We certainly spent money unwisely in the past, but we've also encouraged more selfishness too. I'm no economist, I was once told off for suggesting that the idea of a constantly growing economy seemed like an unsustainable as a model to apply across the whole world. Surely someone has to pay for it?

So, what does the gospel have to say to such things? Answers on a postcard please. There do seem to be some basic principles that could be teased out and that do not require a particular political stance in order for them to be applied. What we need to careful to avoid in simple grabbing a few texts here and there and building our perspective on them alone. Perhaps we could start by asking ourselves how did God intend to make Israel distinctive, and then look at how Jesus interpreted and expressed that during his ministry. Interesting to think about the Old Testament views the alien and the poor and how that transfers to the gospel.

Back in the 80's, when I was at college, I read some stuff about the poor. I seem to recall something coming out of the Lausanne Conference that spoke about the poor in three ways. There were the relative poor, those people who are poor in comparison to the rest of their society. Then there were the indigenous poor, those who are poor by nature of the situation and circumstances. The their group were those who were made poor by the exploitation and abuse of the wealthy and powerful.

For what it's worth, I think the gospel is more concerned with equity than equality, but I think we might also be judged by not only how we treat the poorest in our society but how poor we make them.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Building a treatment room

Ever since we decided upon our current house a year and a half ago, I thought some sort of summerhouse or cabin in the garden would be a good idea. There are so many form which to choose but I need somewhere that is big enough to work comfortably. I decided that something around 4m x 2.5m was about right and I've been searching the web for ideas.

It's taken me a long time to choose, but I think I've made my choice based upon available space. We have quite a big garden but we have trees and borders, so choosing a place for a building involved working around all these things. The next step was to decide on a foundation. I didn't want to do a solid concrete base, so in the end I've opted for a recycled plastic framework filled with gravel. Here's a picture.

The next step will be to build a raised base from 100mm x 50mm timber. I'm doing this to lift the building just enough to allow for the addition of a veranda a later date if we want to do that.

The timber is coming next week, and I'll order the cabin soon.

After that electrics and a path.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Can we change?

I've noticed a little trend in my social media feeds recently. It goes along the line of new problems needing new solutions, not being able to solve new issues with old thinking, that kind of thing. Einstein gets quoted (the one about expecting different results, even though we do things the same way), and I've even quoted Craig Groeschel a couple of times on this very blog in the past (if we're going to reach the people other people aren't reaching, we're going to have do what other people aren't doing). They are great quotes, challenging and thought provoking. But are they changing anything?

In order to think in new ways you have to innovate, and innovating can be a very lonely endeavour. To be a pioneer means to be leading the way to a place we have not been to before. We may have a sense of what it might look like, but we have yet to experience the breath-taking wonder and beauty of the new.

When we sense the call to pioneer, to move out of the comfort of what we know and towards something yet to be realised, we face the double challenge of the journey into the unknown and how to take people with us. We can go alone, but alone isn't usually a great plan. Casting a vision for the new can be the most frustrating thing you ever do. I know from personal experience that it's very tough to get some people to see what you see, to understand what you say and to want to change and embrace a new adventure.

The problem seems to be that what you are offering them in this new vision is a swap. You're asking them to swap the thing they know for the thing they don't know. Their something for your nothing. So what do you do?

In the midst of all these hints and calls for new ways of thinking and new solutions I think it's worth spending some time reflecting on something I've heard Bill Hybels talk about a couple of times in the last year or so. Bill is a great vision caster, he's had a few years experience doing it! He knows a thing or two about the way vision leaks as people grapple with what they've just heard and how important it is to reinforce the vision and revisit it regularly in order to keep in the front of minds that get preoccupied with other stuff. But he's recently tried a new approach when casting a vision.

Rather than just describe what things could be like, he urges us to describe how things are right now and how unimaginable it is to stay where we are. In other words we have to be able to see the future in the context of the present and the present in the context of the future. We have to agree together that we simply can't go on as we are and that we have to journey somewhere new.

Perhaps, in church life, we have not yet reached that place where staying as we are is not unthinkable for most churched people. Perhaps until we do, little will change.

I'm not sold on the idea of importing business ideas and practices into the church, but I am struck sometimes by the difference in approach to innovation in church and in business. Would anyone have said to Steve Jobs when he announced the first iPod to the world that he needed to make sure he didn't upset or alienate users of portable CD players?

If the gospel is the power of God to change lives, if the church is God's chosen vehicle for the proclamation of that message, why are we so afraid of breaking it? Why are so we so afraid to try something new?

The church must change, we must innovate, we must pioneer, but do we have the courage to see it and to acknowledge that where are in not where we should stay.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The cost of discipleship

A link to an old article by Mike Breen popped up on an RSS feed a couple of days ago. As I recall from the first time I read the article (it's about why the missional movement will fail), the gist of his argument lies in the principle that if you make disciples you will always get church, but if you make church you won't necessarily get disciples.

Well yesterday, in one of those wonderfully relevant but totally unconnected ways, I found myself reading what Jesus had to say about being a disciple in Luke 14. We all know that Jesus said the cost of being a disciple was high. Love for others would look like in comparison to loving him; everything you own would be surrendered; you'd need to carry a cross; home, family, personal ambition, security and comfort would all be sacrificed. No wonder then that it is through these disciples that Jesus will change the world. Having given up so much for the cause of Christ, they are the ones who live wholeheartedly for the kingdom.

But what about those of us who have stuff? How exactly do we live out the radical call to discipleship that Jesus makes in our 21st century world? We have savings, houses, cars and clothes. We have goals and ambitions, dreams and plans. All must be subsumed under the authority of Jesus if we are going to live out the discipled life that will change the world.

I guess the issue most of us face is how do we balance the call to give away everything we possess and follow Jesus, with the simple fact that most of us would find that impossible to do. space in the wardrobe and garage wouldn't be a bad thing, but reducing my relationship with God to something measured by what I don't have seems just as ridiculous as measuring it by what I do have. Is a poverty gospel any more spiritual or less harmful than a prosperity gospel?

Discerning when Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point is sometimes glaringly obvious and sometimes really difficult to see. To what extent does Jesus push the thinking of the rich young man beyond rote obedience to the law by raising the stakes and calling him to abandon his wealth, but actually not expecting him to do it? I don't know, but clearly the young man has much to think about how he measures his life and its worth.

I guess in the end we have to keep asking questions, we have to keep searching our hearts to see where our treasure is located. Do I possess my possessions or do they possess me? Do they get in the way of following Jesus, or rather how much do they get in the way?

Not quite ATP, but fun!

Well, with Wimbledon just around the corner, I thought I'd share my current tennis status with you! I started to play about three years ago and, after some pushing by my coach, decided to have a go at a few competitions. I don't have any pretension towards greatness. In fact winning a first round match would be nice! But, because I've entered one competition and just taken part is a pre-qualifier for a clay court tournament (lost again!), I now have a national ranking! It's not that impressive, but it's fun to see oneself on a list! Here are the details after one result.

I'm in a few grass court competitions over the summer, so you never know by the end of the season I may have accumulated a whole two or even three points!

Getting through a first round match is my first goal. After that we might just have to try and take over the world!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Write about what and to whom?

I got another letter recently urging me to write to peers about the same-sex marriage bill. I can't remember how many I've had over the time period since the first announcement of the bill, it's not so many that I'm overly bothered about the amount of paper and post involved. No, my concern is with the image of the church it presents and the questions and issues upon which it doesn't challenge me to engage with my elected representatives. Mind you, if I wrote to my MP about everything that maybe should concern me, I too would be adding to the deforestation of the forests but increasing the turn over of the Post Office. Truly a dilemma for an advocate of both environmental awareness and the national postal system!

No, the real question for e remains one of how the church is perceived, how the things about which we protest or campaign generate an image about the things that most concern us. It's the old issue of people knowing what the church is against but not what it is for. As one person recently tweeted: People think christians are obsessed with same sex marriage. I'm obsessed with protesting about a million people who need food banks. 

Too often we remain silent or unheard on issues like poverty, racism, social policy etc. We fail to be the voice of the powerless because we are too busy defending doctrine. I've said before that personally I am not convinced that we should be that concerned about the same-sex bill. Why would be want to deny in law the right to marry to the gay community just because it doesn't fit our theology? Again this isn't a matter of theology, it's a matter of justice, an although our theology should be clearly reflected in our ethics, is the rule of law in our society a theological question?

Perhaps, if I were to write to a peer or my MP it would be more about government policy towards the poor and powerless, about the human rights of detainees in Afghanistan, about my worries over arming "moderate opposition forces" in Syria (does putting a rocket in their hands make them more or less moderate?).

And on the issue of marriage? Well what makes marriage more than a civil partnership, a legal contract? I am married. I have a piece of paper to prove it. But my marriage is more than a piece of paper, and is in no way defined solely by that piece of paper.