18 11 2015

working for the kingdom of god
is like sweeping up leaves on a windy day
as your son kicks over the already-disintegrating leaf pile
and then steals the rake
and you try to remember that it is
the act of being there to sweep that matters
not how many leaves end in the bucket



blindspots and horizons

21 09 2015

One of my roles is a Trustee/Director of Sutton Schoolswork, our excellent local Christian schoolswork organisation. This is a spoken word vision of the future I wrote for and delivered at our annual Thanksgiving Service, for which I thought I’d get thrown out, but instead have been asked for copies. Who knew. Maybe it wasn’t provocative enough after all.

blindspots and horizons

we the church suffer from an honesty crisis
and I guess it shouldn’t surprise us
when you think about the average ages
in our congregations
which isn’t something to beat ourselves up about
except to say that if we put as much effort into schoolswork
as we do coffee mornings and playgroups
there’d be more schoolswork

we the church suffer from an honesty crisis
and actually it should surprise us
when you think about all the time spent
in our buildings
compared with time spent at work and in school
by me or you
that we focus so much on what happens in church
when most of us are mostly everywhere else

it’s a blindspot
a dark patch
the part we can’t see
when we plan all our outreach
and where to plant seeds
we think we’ve got kids sorted
because of kids church and the youth group…
yes youth work is exciting because the kids come to us
and they’re ours, our little flowers
it’s not that we’re selfish it’s just
that they’re important
an investment
the future of us
well – the present don’t forget
to be theologically correct
so yes big shout out to kids workers and youth workers
and to old sofas and hoodies

but let’s lift our eyes from the blindspot of inside
to the horizon that is outside
because I’ve seen the future and it’s much more exciting
let the workers out into schools it’s not that frightening

on the horizon I can see churches passionate for schools
so they’re equipping their youthworkers with all the tools
needed for assemblies about Jesus and forgiveness and hope
and lessons about Easter and resurrection and more hope

in the future we all know what prayer spaces are
And RE days and CUs and recognise the far far
reaching nature of teaching about Jesus
from someone who believes it

in the future the PCCs and deacons meetings and leadership teams
are sharing in the excitement of realising the dream
and releasing the potential we like to keep neat and tidy and clean, inside,
for our kids

in the future the numbers become even more astounding
than the fact that we reach nearly all the 35,000
children and young people in the borough of Sutton
which kind of puts into perspective how many people we’re normally preaching too,
doesn’t it

there’s all these kids sitting ready to listen in classes
meanwhile we spend all our time sitting on our…. vases
as most churches spend more on flowers than they do to schools work

now I will confess to you I’ve got a vested interest in sutton schoolswork
and it’s not because i’m a director
it’s not because i’m a dad
it’s not because I do schoolswork and would be glad
of some help
I’ve got a vested interest because I follow jesus
and I know how little kids know about Jesus
or the world beyond their own noses

I see the future when we’ve raised our eyes from the blindspot
to the horizon
when every school and every child hears the message of Jesus
form someone who truly believes it
where we can do more than skim the surface
with a fleeting assembly
but go deeper, and further – that’s the future:
can you see it? will you make it happen?
Will you walk with us from the blindspot
to the horizon?

Photo courtesy of @WarnerPidgeon

Sutton Schoolswork are in our 20th year, and are celebrating this with an exciting plan for growth, which includes the appointment of a brand-new post of Schoolswork Director. See the website for more details, and to find out how you could get involved in supporting us as we aim to increase the knowledge and understanding of the Christian Faith and support students in their spiritual, social and moral development.

blind in the mind

15 09 2015

When things go wrong, we pretend we don’t believe we are being punished for what we did in this or a previous life; but I’m amazed at how many people think that they are. Not in a Hindu reincarnation-type way, just in a ‘there must be a reason for this’ type way. My success is down to me, but my failure is someone else’s fault. Or, if my success is due to God’s blessing, then my failure is down to.. what? Punishment, clearly. At least, that’s the theological cul-de-sac where so many end up. Let’s call it the Hoddle waddle. Everything happens for a reason, right?

In a series on Jesus’ “I am” sayings, we looked at the account of the man who was born blind, and who Jesus healed; this account includes discussion about who’s fault it was he is blind – his? his parents? nobody’s? – whether religious rules are more important than people, and ultimately that his physical blindness wasn’t due to sin, but sin can lead to spiritual blindness.

As it was an all-age service, I wrote the talk as a spoken-word poem in language for all ages, hopefully. Here it is:

the man was born blind
but it was the pharisees who couldn’t see
well, they could see, see
but they couldn’t see, see
they could see with their eyes
but not with their hearts
they could play I-Spy
but they took any chance
to keep other people in darkness
and themselves in the light

like the man who was born blind
who actually couldn’t see
they behaved so unkind
they pretended they couldn’t see him
him who had to beg at the roadside for money
whilst the pharisees feasted on olives and honey

jesus turned this all upside down
turned the smile on the pharisees into a frown
and the blind man who had been so full of worry
turned his face around so he could see the funny
side of being healed with spit and mud
and nobody believing it was really him
and he didn’t even know which man Jesus was

but this story isn’t really about this kind of blind
Jesus was really talking about being blind in the mind
the kind of blind where you find people being unkind
blind to their kind, unkind in their mind
and thinking this kind of unkind mind is the mind
of our God

you’re blind Jesus says it’s like all you see is black
but I am the light so don’t turn your back
like a smallest of candles that can light up a cave
i am the light of the world that God gave

the light that shines in the darkness so you can understand
from a candle to a fire that the Holy Spirit fans
I am the light of the world Jesus said for people like you
the question is now – what will you do?
will you hide you light under a bucket so nobody can see
or pluck up the courage so that you can be free
and show Jesus the light to all people around
and his light will surround and dumbfound and confound
but the darkness will be bound – in fact it will bound away
when Jesus’ light switches on it’s like a brand new day

so let’s not be like the pharisees blind in the mind
but like the man who was blind who let Jesus be kind
and jesus led him from fear to be free
I once was blind but now I can see

© 2015 Kevin Lewis 

the man with the white stick

9 09 2015

Today I was out running, and came across something that almost literally stopped me in my tracks. What happened next felt like such a cliche, that I found myself almost not doing it.

Before I tell you what happened, here’s a few questions that may or may not have run through my head:

  1. It was his own fault if he couldn’t go any further. Shouldn’t he have stayed at home if he couldn’t manage?
  2. I was in a hurry, at some point someone else would have come along and helped him. Why interfere with my life?
  3. I’d probably offer help in the wrong way, or he would be offended, so wasn’t I better off walking on by?
  4. It’s not like I was going to walk with him any further, so why help him at this point?
  5. If I helped him, wouldn’t that encourage him to take more risks that might endanger himself, or car drivers? And maybe more people would come and get stuck, and need help?

So all it was was helping a man with a white stick to cross the road. That is all. He was halfway across on a traffic island at a roundabout, and clearly struggling to know when it was safe to carry on. The reason I am writing about it is not because I have done anything you wouldn’t have done.

It’s just that as I walked on, smiling to myself (it’s amazing how doing helping other people makes us feel better, even if that’s not the reason we do it), I thought to myself:

What if he was a refugee in a boat on the Mediterranean? 

That is why I thought of all those questions. Reasons we think of not to help. Re-read them with that in mind. Because this man seemed to me suddenly like a parable of the crisis: a man on a journey, stuck halfway, danger everywhere. Yet not someone incapable, he had got this far, he was braver than me – he was just in need of a fellow human to get alongside, walk with him, and then go. I happened to be there, I could help, so I did. Do you see the connection?

I’m not naïve enough to think the refugee crisis will be solved with this kind of simplicity. Or am I?

theology & the warm fuzzy feeling

4 09 2015

what we think about God is usually birthed out of our story,
our biography,
our experience;
not from a deeply thought-through and thoroughly developed theology.

we preachers, church leaders, theologians, might need to read that twice.

sometimes we try to re-interpret our story to fit our theology,
making what we think we ought to think about God fit into our experience;
or what we are told to think,
even if we don’t really think it
(but don’t tell the vicar).

perhaps insisting people understand theology
(important though right theology is)
isn’t the catalyst for changed lives or a revitalised engagement
or understanding of God.

perhaps helping people to understand their story,
and God’s role within it – is;

God’s role neither as
passive bystander or autocratic micro-manager;
as causer of bad things for educational purposes
or perennial sender of blessings;
but as the source of all life,
as the breath we breathe,
as the essence of presence and the pinprick of light
that prevents darkness being darkness at all.

God as Jesus,
not the swear-word or chintzy china doll
not the pithy Facebook meme of bland truisms
or the bloodied sin-drenched sacrificial voodoo doll –

but Jesus, who was and is,
the invisible God and the visible man and the resurrected presence;
he who spoke and pooed and walked and sweated,
who was alone in a crowd and crowded with loneliness;
he who is in our story, my story, your story
his story in history.

Jesus who isn’t a book to take to bed with you
or a manual to live your life by
who isn’t your Sunday morning diary appointment

but is the ink in the story of your life
written on your pages

pages that speak of groaning hips and decaying eyes
and splintered families and the gnawing loneliness of being
the only one left in a once-full home;

pages that speak of the pleasures of a bargain-saver in Lidl
and a surprise visit from a friend
and the kindness of a stranger that caught us unawares;

pages where normal is normal
and much the same happens today as yesterday
and the exceptional is the exception and rapidly slips away;

pages where we rarely write about our views of atonement
or what our theology of anything is but we do know
that when we go to church something feels better
and though we don’t always understand the words
they make a connection with the deeper parts of us

and we feel
we feel

we feel our story being shaped and challenged and carved and sculpted
we feel a connection with You, the Other, the One Who is Bigger
and we describe it as a warm fuzzy feeling
because putting into words things that don’t happen in words
never quite catches it

so please don’t dismiss the feeling
because sometimes and often and for more people
than we church leaders like to think

it is all that we truly, really have
and it matters.

After quite a long break from writing, I have come back with this one, which is a bit longer than usual. Is it a poem, a stream of consciousness; is it even coherent? I don’t know, but it’s what fell out of my head as a I was re-reading the excellent Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford.

Because I think I have a tendency to dismiss the ‘feeling’, and want people to ‘get it’, to ‘understand’, to grapple with deep truths and be better and deeper and holier for it. There’s a place for that. But there’s times when I just need to let it go and embrace the warm fuzzy feeling, and let others do it to. 

why the church should care about top gear

17 06 2015

With Chris Evans revealed as new Top Gear presenter – the world’s worst kept broadcasting secret especially if you watched TFI Friday – that pillar of blokey TV and payer of Dave’s bills is back on the front pages.

Groan, you may. 

I know a lot of people who don’t care about Top Gear. It is derided as chauvinistic, childish, sometimes offensive and often simply irrelevant. A friend of mine tweeted that they had ‘no interest at all in who is or is not presenting a show about motorised toys.’

The trouble is, Top Gear is massive. Globally. Especially in a certain demographic. And that demographic happens to match the one that the church consistently fails to reach. 


So perhaps we should think a little about what makes Top Gear so popular. After all, it’s got no sex, no girls, virtually no swearing. It’s loved by children and their dads. And granddads. It’s not exactly wholesome, but it’s not Game of Thrones either.

Popular Thing Number One – Humour
Love them or loathe them, the main thing that made it work – and the challenge for Chris Evans and his new team, which will include a female presenter – is that the presenter chemistry worked. They were mates, they were funny; they did cheeky banter, they took the mick out of each other. Yes it was scripted, to a point, but we know that. Humour goes a long way in a making something essentially not very interesting to most people – a new car – into something interesting. Church leaders have a lot to learn from that. It’s not about that scripted sermon joke, but about relaxing, playing to your strengths, seeing the comedy around you.

Popular Thing Number Two – Normal Language
But perhaps more importantly for us, they talked about cars in the way most normal men talk about cars. For a bit, in not too much detail, with enough to satisfy car geeks but not too too much to alienate the casual watcher. For a preacher with a mixed audience of new Christians who don’t know a Hosea from a horsepower, to church geeks who need the original Greek quoted in every sentence, it’s a tightrope we walk all the time. To talk about faith in a way normal people talk about it. Ditch the hifalutin language and church-speak and ridiculous outfits.

Popular Thing Number Three – Humour (again)
The presenters were experts who didn’t take themselves too seriously. Experts? Well, they knew more than me, they could fix stuff, break stuff, make stuff. But they could laugh about it. They knew they were geeks, and it didn’t matter. We church leaders can take ourselves so seriously sometimes. In our suits or robes with pious words and an air of superiority, when actually people  – not just men – relate to us being normal, laughing at ourselves, admitting our mistakes, knowing when we’re being dull because we love the subject but no-one else cares… 

So perhaps instead of dismissing the most popular TV programme for our missing demographic – blokes and their sons – we should pay attention. Maybe there’s more to learn that we thought.

food banks, polling stations and the colour of hope

8 05 2015

As I try to untangle my thoughts across the worlds of politics and faith and family and community and my own selfish interests, you will know that politically I land on the left. And so this photograph, from outside our church yesterday, sums up the last 5 years for me, and the disappointment I feel about the result.

2015 polling station foodbank BA

My prayer is that with the Conservatives in power, they will

  • have the will to challenge their own obsession with austerity, which hits the poorest hardest, as we all know, but for some reason think they are worth sacrificing;
  • that they will have the will to challenge the obsession with private business running public utilities and services for profit;
  • that they will own up to the clear fact that unaccountable private individuals cannot (in large part) be trusted to redistribute wealth through better pay, and it needs to be done through good taxation and a Living Wage. Which is not perfect, but is at least accountable.

In 5 years time

  • I do not want to have a Foodbank in our church.
  • I do not want the poorest taxed for a ‘spare room’ when there is nowhere else to move them;
  • I do not want target-led benefit sanctions,
  • I do not want blame culture for the jobless, and these lies about people ‘on benefits’ who are so lazy, when the majority are in work, it’s just so badly paid they need to claim welfare to pay for living costs,
  • I do not want housing association properties sold off for private profit, the extension of ‘right-to-buy’ which benefits a few individuals and many landlords who gladly receive housing benefit from their tenants (1/3 of Tory MPs are landlords, maybe there’s a connection). 

If you are a business owner, pay your staff what you can, not the least you can get away with. If you are a taxpayer, pay your tax. If you can work, work. If you read a newspaper, never read the Daily Mail, especially since this headline “Trust Labour? I’d rather trust Jimmy Saville to babysit my kids.” If you care, get involved.  

There are many political questions that remain the same regardless of who is in charge. Europe, the UK, Scotland, debt, jobs, the environment, energy, fracking, the cost of living. As Christians we do our best not to get personal, but to get community. My prayer for us is that we get stuck into our communities, serving, helping, campaigning and hoping on behalf of others, prioritising the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable as our God commands and exampled us to do time and time and time again throughout our salvation-history story.

Whatever colour we are. 

scratched into my skin

5 05 2015

scratched into my skin
with flint
are the ancient sins
scar tissue from generations
of hurt
of self-loathing

scratched into my skin
with flint
some still weep and bleed
sores that open again with
every harsh word
every angry voice
every failure

scratched into my skin
with flint
some scars long-dried
yet my skin bears the lines
permanent scars like tattoos
bearing testimony to
my failed past
which will be
my failed future.

This is what I have sensed as we pray for our neighbourhood: that so many wear the sins of generations like scars. So often in evangelism we begin with telling people they are sinful, but here I sense people already know. Given a moment to think about it, without using those words, we all know. 

flint sin Jeremiah 17_Snapseed

We are anaesthetised to it, so we deny we can feel the pain of the scars, but like Judah in Jeremiah 17 our sins – and those that have gone before us – are engraved on us as with flint. I see around me families that bear the generational scars of their fathers – sometimes literally – and wear them like tattoos, sometimes literally. 

With every harsh word, short-temper, every “f@&king shut-up” to a 2 yr old, every hopeless over-tired family of spikey porcupines, every emotionally-deprived man and strutting teenager, we show the world that we are desperately in need to love, and to be loved. 

The lies that have been spoken over so many, lies of inadequacy and failure and uselessness, these are the sins scratched into skin, permanent reminders of the damage we humans do to each other in generational sin. We need these lies to be erased, the flint scratches healed, the scar tissue replaced. 

This is our prayer for where we live. For skin grafts to replace those hurting and painful scars; this is what sin and its judgement are: seeing where we have gone wrong, judging it for what it is, and knowing God has broken the flint that scratches, replaced our sinful nature with love. This is why we are not afraid to be judged. Judgement brings healing. 

this was painted for our day of prayer

this was painted for our day of prayer

The inspiration for this poem, Jeremiah 17, has one of God’s awesome ‘buts’ (pardon the expression). Changing from the image of sin scratched with flint, God continues with these words, which were the theme for our recent Parish day of Prayer:

‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.’

There are many such trees in this place, and many households full of love and hope. May there be many, many more. 

education is about learning life, not becoming productive economic units

30 04 2015

People are not economic units. One reason we are so disengaged from politics is because almost every subject is reduced to economic units. Schools, homes, families, work – everything becomes about its economic merits. Low-income families are described as ‘benefit units‘, family homes are assets, and perhaps worst of all, education is described as in this local Tory party election leaflet as a

…system which prepares young people for work so that they can compete and win in today’s competitive world.”

Reading that, the rest of the political rhetoric falls into place. I know that will appeal to a certain type, and I know that one of the aims of education is that people have the skills for work at the end. But if the sole – or even main – aim of education is work-preparation to win in the competition of life, I think we are presenting an incredibly shallow, and dangerous, ideology. And for that matter, theology. 

Thankfully, there are few who are actually involved in education who subscribe to this harsh economic view. Teachers and teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors and heads, they all know that they are preparing children and young people for life, not just for work. They are working alongside families to raise good citizens, community members, who alongside becoming adults and parents and scout leaders and athletes and musicians and friends and maybe even politicians, may also become employed. 

Our value as human beings cannot and should not ever be limited to our economic potential. The value of our education system cannot and should not ever be limited to its ability to produce workers. If so, what is the point in learning about volcanoes or Henry VIII or vascular bundles or philosophy? And that becomes pertinent as we see this government narrowing the curriculum, the side-lining of ‘non-core’ subjects, the repeated mantra of students no longer taught to read around subjects, but simply to ask “Do I need to know this for the exam?” 

I loved my time in the education system, or as normal people call it, school. I learned loads, about subjects yes, but mostly about how to be a person. And I was prepared for work by going out to work. From 13 I helped my brother do his paper round (he got the pounds, I got the pennies), from 16 I had a Saturday job in a hotel, in the holidays I worked in plastics factories and Boots and making fishing tackle. 

That prepared me for work like nothing else. If we want our young people to have good jobs, then we need an all-round education system that, alongside families, helps them become good, well-rounded people. That is what I see most teachers passionate about, when I am in schools doing lessons and lunch clubs, when I am dealing with the SENCO in my son’s school, on committees or governors and dealing with actual people, rather than economic-theorists-in-offices.  

What we don’t want is a system designed by, and intended to produce more of, the finance-obsessed bankers and politicians who worked together to produce the economic crash, which turned out to be a competition in which they were the only winners. Because when you present life as a competition, you by default place more value on the ‘winners’, therefore less on the ‘losers’.

And who are the ‘losers’, in this system? *awkward pause*

The radical nature of Jesus’s teaching is that we are valued because we are children of God, whether female or male, slave or free, productive or non-productive, educated or not. We are never just economic units integrated into God’s business, but children adopted into his family, with a mandate to love and to serve. Not win. 

Thank God for that, and thank God it’s teachers young people spend time with, not political policy-writers. 

unexpectedly political values | being taken advantage of

26 04 2015

In this world of Katie Hopkins-style vindictiveness and politicians’ obsession with only supporting “hard-working families”, I know I’m onto a loser with this next in the series of ‘unexpectedly political values’: being taken advantage of. advantage Is that even a value? Isn’t it a bit… negative? Well, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, which is actually about humiliation not fighting. When you are slapped on your right cheek, it is because you have received a publicly humiliating back-handed slap. So to turn the left cheek means intentionally offering yourself more humiliation. Being taken advantage of.

Jesus said if a soldier taken your cloak, give him your coat also. This is in military dictatorship. They didn’t ask, they demanded, and even if it was your only cloak, you complied. Jesus says offer more. Be taken advantage of. In these times, with vindictive welfare cuts and Mediterranean boat people and a continuous attempt to hold tightly to what is ours at all costs, we need to learn from Jesus.

To be taken advantage of. On purpose.

How does this work out in practice? Take Foodbanks – people have said to me, don’t people take advantage of it? My response: yes, some will. But it is worth it for those that don’t. Take the welfare system. People say some will take advantage. My response: yes, some will. But it is worth it for those that don’t. Take the tax system. Won’t some take advantage? Yes, but we don’t stop the system because of that. 

When the young people would hang out on the church roof and we befriended them, there were times they took advantage of our kindness. But we were ok with that, because it was worth it for the times they didn’t. The same goes for being the local drop-in for a hundred different things, as I talked about in knock knock, with this selection of items we’ve been asked for:

string for conkers / stamps / broadband / cookies / postman’s wee-stop / trampoline storage / trampoline usage / duct tape / brownies / a football / puncture repair / advocacy / fixing up a gate post / cushions / banter / first aid / Facebook / umbrella / a step ladder / laundry / a garden fork / oranges / downloading Enrique Iglesias / telephoning social services / a shower / odd jobs / water / a lift in the rain / a youth club / Nesquik / time

It is an unexpectedly political value to accept being taken advantage of. It doesn’t often feel noble or heroic. Usually it just feels like being taken advantage of. But the Jesus we follow was taken advantage of, and did not retaliate. In fact, he voluntarily gave his advantage away. There’s a challenge. 

Will we allow ourselves to do the same? Will we give our advantage away? Or are we too proud, or too scared of what we might lose…

Other posts in this series of unexpectedly political values:
introduction: the values vacuum


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