plucking blackberries

17 01 2013

This poem appears at the end of The Shack:

Earth is crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees
takes off his shoes.
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

Some people see the fire of God in every place. They are blessed with this big picture in which the grease and and grime and dirtiness of ordinary life is stripped away by the brightness of God. The epic story of God’s salvation bursts through with a triumphant melody, and we are all caught on a tidal wave of joy…

Some people see the fire of God in every place. They are blessed with the detailed picture in which the light shows up the grease and grime and dirtiness of ordinary life revealed by the brightness of God. The epic story of God’s salvation becomes a trial-by-scrubbing to a military march, in which we must present ourselves faultless before God…

Both are of course caricatures, with which we must be careful. Those who see the story of God as only one of light and love without the need for purity are playing fast and loose with the extreme demands of Jesus. And those who see the story of God as one long fight against the stain of sin are playing fast and loose with the extreme grace of Jesus. Both could, at their best, be seeing the earth afire with God. Both could, at their worst, be wasting their time plucking blackberries oblivious to what God is really up to. 

This week Steve Chalke set a few bushes afire with his statement affirming long-term, committed, homosexual relationships. You can read it in full here, along with many responses such as Malcolm DuncanTony Campolo, the Evangelical Alliance and check out Christianity Magazine for the full story.

[For those who don't know, Steve has been a prominent evangelical leader for 30+ years, beginning with a youth ministry in the 1980's, and most well-known for setting up the Oasis charity, and for being a main speaker at many Christian events, as well as being a Baptist minister. For Christians in the UK, this is big news.]

There have been and will be many responses to Steve. Some gracious, some less so. Many will denounce; some will rejoice. Some will now distance themselves from anything he has ever said and done. Oasis may suffer as people vote with their wallets. I hope not. Steve has devoted his life to serving God and the community and this must not be forgotten.

As Steve Chalke has bravely and calmly put across, there are now many evangelicals who have carefully thought everything through and have come to the conclusion that affirming long-term, committed homosexual relationships is acceptable. And we don’t even need to twist the rules. And this isn’t knee-jerk response, or a culturally-conditioned liberal agenda. And increasingly we must come off the fence. There are many of us who who uncomfortable with every position – being pro, being anti, or sitting on the fence. But as leaders especially, we can’t sail through life hoping never to have to make the choice. 

Steve Chalke

For me it comes down to the blackberries question. Where I see genuine love, commitment, and a desire for a covenant relationship, I see God. Where I see people who love God, who serve God, who God speaks to and through as much as the next person, I see God. And to deny them equal status, to keep them at the edge like women at the synagogue, is wrong. If God does not withhold his Holy Spirit from gay Christians, how can we withhold anything? I can see this as the bush afire with God, or I can sit around and pluck blackberries oblivious to the love that is there. I might even start counting the blackberries. Sorting them. Checking them for blemishes. Condemning the bush for it’s imperfections especially this strange fire that burns from within it.

We must come to our conclusions thoughtfully, prayerfully, pastorally. The ground upon which people stand shakes regardless on which side of the fence we land. For some their faith is so heavily invested in their leader, and in trusting and agreeing with them, that an announcement of a change in thinking like Steve Chalke’s can be profoundly challenging, even damaging. But none of us are finished articles. And the faith of Spirit-filled gay Christians is just as important. 

Jesus calls us to extreme purity, and to extreme grace. The walk between those is full of difficult choices, and the Bible does not speak with one voice to lead us like robots. Sometimes we just have to humbly make a choice, be prepared to be wrong, and entrust ourselves to the God of grace.   

Anyone for a blackberry?





house of cards

17 07 2011

It’s terrifying when it all comes tumbling down. The world so carefully crafted around you, a world built around friendships and favours, shared interests and mutual fears. A world carefully controlled by the interlocking spiderwebs of self-interest and self-preservation. A world in which the original reason you built  your house of cards is long-forgotten amidst the task of maintaining your current position.

Maybe this is News International. Maybe this is the continuing revelations about deep corruption at the heart of our free press, elected politicians and our Police force. That is certainly a house of cards that is tumbling, tumbling, tumbling. How far will it fall?

It’s made me think about, well, me. Us. About how easy it is to get drawn in, to take a simple and firm foundation and begin to build on it with cards. After all, we are called to influence the world we live in; so it is important to know people to be able to do that. So how do we choose those worth knowing? Card 1. We cannot know everyone, so who do we ditch? Card 2. It is important to have the press onside. Card 3. Better the devil you know. Card 4.

Jesus had an unusual relationship with the ruling elite. They wanted him as one of them, but they couldn’t have him. The Pharisees saw his qualities and some of them saw his truth – see Nicodemus – but he was too risky for them. They had a house of cards they did not want the Spirit to blow through. Position, favour, reputation. White-washed tombs, Jesus called them. Looks great on the outside, but contains only death within. Harsh?

It’s easy to knock those in the public eye. As the webs of deceit and corruption surrounding surrounding News International and our ruling elite are exposed, it is easy to look in righteous anger. And rightly so. Yet in that old cliche from the 90′s, What Would Jesus Do?

Remove the plank from your own eye before you point out the speck in your brother’s.

I know the church has friends in high places. Not just the ‘established‘ church, though of course we probably go as high as it’s possible, what with the Queen being the Supreme Governor of the church and our Bishop’s sitting in the House of Lord’s. There’s also many Christian lobbying groups and think-tanks, from Theos to Ekklesia to CARE to Faithworks and Charities Parliament; there’s well-known and unknown Christians at the heart of our decision-making, like Steve Chalke to Rowan Williams and many others from across the spectrum of evangelical to Catholic, conservative to liberal.

We must pray for them. We must help in holding them all to account, whether we support them or not. Do they get too close, or not close enough? Are they blowing on the house of cards, or helping build one? We’re in it together. We’re about Jesus, not reputation. Kingdom, not personal empire, whether we mix with Prime Ministers or local councillors or the local gang leader.

There’s a lot of houses of cards out there. It’s good to blow on them. It’s not good to sit on them.

Though we cannot help it. After all, what is faith, if not a house of cards?








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