doing nothing well

14 05 2020

Preaching in lockdown is a whole new experience for me. I am so used to seeing people, to gauging how we are doing, for changing the words and the nuance depending on what the Spirit is doing. You don’t get that through an iPhone lens. Last week I was trying to write, and couldn’t. I soon realised why.

I needed to have two very different Zoom meetings. One, with mostly retired members of our church; the other, with mostly working parents. Two contrasting experiences of lockdown. Using John 14 and 1 Peter 2, this is what I felt the Spirit prompt me to say, into despair, boredom, and the feeling of doing nothing well. May it be an encouragement to you.

I am the place where heaven and earth meet, and I now dwell in you, which means your conference-call-home-school-kitchen-media-centre home is a sanctified place, a holy place, I am there with you, and your colleagues are welcome to my temple, the thin place where earth and heaven meet.





fragile breath

5 05 2020

breath is so fragile and yet we view it with the mirage of strength. pumping chests post-exercise or in the slow stillness of sleep we barely notice the endless, timeless, seasonless gift of life in, breath out.

until its fragility is revealed in the shallow breaths of half-life, when panic replaces what was unseen and the enveloping of fragility in the mirage of strength becomes opaque, see-through, then gone.

our need for breath so primal, the great leveller, the unwelcome reminder of our vulnerable nature, that despite our great power and influence and homes filled with things we still need the fragile breath, each second, each day.

fragile breath, our saviour and sustainer.

in our endless, timeless, seasonless yearning for stuff, the mirage of strength, money in, money out, things in, things out, the life-giving breath of our hungry souls so fleeting. the shallow breaths of a half-life, unsustainable, yet the ventilator continues. busy in, busy out.

a re-thinking, re-framing, fragile breath and mirages of strength. we are reliant, on others, and they on us; this is our strength, that we forgot. our breath is not to breathe demand, consume, mine at the expense of yours; our breath is to breathe life out to others, and to breathe in theirs to us.

we cannot all be strong. though we are all fragile. yet in this fragility is revealed our strength, in breathing life to others, in abandoning the mirage of strength for the truth of the fragile state of our hearts and homes and our endless, timeless, seasonless yearning for love.

give love that we may all live more than a half-life, that we may breathe deeply and be deeply; healed from the shallow breaths and the mirage of strength; and remove ourselves from the stealing of breath from those we have chosen not to see; and breathe in the life of the first fragile breath.

fragile breath, our saviour and sustainer.





The Christmas Presence

24 12 2019

Look up look up and what do you see
As we sit here in the stillness and the calm of night
Beneath the starry sky
Because around us
In the darkness
I have a sense
Of a presence
The essence of which
I cannot explain

Look up look up my friends and feel
Something is watching us as the night runs deep
And all the sheep
Around us sleep
In the darkness
I have a sense
Of a presence
The essence of which
I cannot explain

And so the shepherds who knew the hills
The sounds and could read the skies
Found themselves surprised
against their usual inclination
Believing without hesitation
They had had a visitation
Which would change them
forever

And this is the mystery of Christmas
On the one hand shepherds with sore bums
Sitting on stones
Alone but for the night and their sheep
Passing the time as they eat
Like modern day builders in a cafe
Suddenly believing that they
Of all people had seen something
They could not explain 

The practical conundrums of sore bums
Becomes
Nothing next to encounters with angels
And being taken for fools
By those who don’t believe them
The practical and the mystical
Are an uncomfortable
Match 

So how easily we lose the mystery
And retain only the comedy or the fantasy
Of the childhood nativity
But if consider the reality
If we hold to the truth of the story
Christmas presents us with
A story of God’s presence with us
Mystical, spiritual,
radical, political
And like the shepherds we cannot help but be changed 

Mary knew it wasn’t all angels and halos
But from the beginning she knows
That this child is both mystical and spiritual
And radical and political
The word became flesh
The divine enmeshed
And yet she gave birth to him
As he found his place in the mess
And this is what we can easily miss
At Christmas
With all its palaver and gifts and presents
That the essence of the story
Is a presence we cannot quite explain

God, we so often think, is so far away
in the clouds maybe
And not allowed to be
here, near, with us
Why would he want to be, we might think
If he got to know us
With our messy lives and underground addictions
Our broken hearts and public fictions
Of perfect lives
Of questions unanswered that we dare not address
Because we’d be like the emperor with no clothes,
undressed
Why would he want to see that
His royal highness
Our dark and tangled mess
And hang on
Where are we going?
What has this got to do with Christmas?

This is everything this moment is about

As he who created light in the beginning
Is spinning a new kind of story
Of darkness overcome
And we have come
To be among
The birth of the divine son

Because God is not up there
This is the importance of the story we tell
Which is why we sing of Emmanuel
Which means God with us
Or actually more accurately for any Hebrew scholars
The ‘with us God’

Jesus was born into the darkness that binds us
And Luke’s detail of Quirinius census reminds us
That is really happened in history a practical event
Yet a mystical moment God himself heaven-sent 

So we go back to the shepherds under the stars at night
And Mary and Joseph and Gabriel’s fright
And the magi and Herod and their refugee flight
And we see they had a sense
Of a presence
The essence of which they could not explain
And it changed them 

And so to my prayer for us
That this Christmas presence
Cuts through the pretence
Of relevance or reverence
Is discontent without the element
Of fact
That god slipped under the radar
In so much more than a fairytale fable
But got itchy in a stable
To enable
The untenable
The indefensible
Us
To be holy with him
To be holy as this holy night
Freed from darkness
Bathed in light 

That that which holds us in guilt or shame
Has no power because in this same Jesus name
We can be free
That’s the nativity 

And if you remember nothing else
Remember Jesus is God’s Christmas presence with us.  

Kevin Lewis | Christmas 2019 


This was written as the ‘talk’ for our Carols by Candlelight service this year, and like most poetry probably works better when hearing it out loud. May it bless you as you read it, and may you know that you can be free – that is the nativity.





why elections should always be at Christmas

12 12 2019

There can often feel a disconnect between real life and Christmas. Real life is rooted uncomfortably in the ground, whereas Christmas always wants to shoot off into comfortable unreality; we want to talk about truth, history, salvation and Jesus, but most people see just a children’s story acting as a minor distraction and an excuse for mulled wine and silly jumper. And now an election too?? How inconvenient…

The irrelevance of Christmas to most people’s life isn’t their fault. It’s ours. The church’s. Because a bit like jokes, it’s the way we tell them. The story that gets told and retold has all its radical bits taken out. There’s nothing radical about a baby – babies are sweet, angels are for little girls and Christmas is for children.

It’s safe Christmas. Anaesthetised Christmas. It’s Christmas as told by the rich, because all the parts about taking down the rich and building up the poor are taken out. It’s Christmas as told by the powerful, because all the bits about caring for the vulnerable and powerless are taken out. It’s Christmas where the only voice calling in the wilderness sings a sanitised bland song in an advert which is there one minute and forgotten the next.

I think we are largely to blame. Because a bit like jokes, it’s the way we tell them. The arrival of Jesus is a radical passionate political challenge to the ruling establishment of the time, and nothing has changed. We may despair at the calling of a General Election just before Christmas but there is nothing more relevant to politics than a god who challenges those in power to detoxify the world of rubbish, waste, greed and poverty. And I bet Mary and Joseph moaned about the census just before the first Christmas. 

The arrival of Jesus came into a backdrop of prophetic hope for a new kind of King who would rule with wisdom and discernment; would defend the weak, the fatherless and save the children of the poor; would not seek dishonest gain but rescue the robbed, and do no violence to foreigners. Sound familiar?

This is the background to Christmas. It’s a background in which the ideal demonstration of power is one that defends the weak and powerless, that self-gives. So any power system that places power solely in the hands of the rich and powerful to use for their own benefit is inherently unbiblical, against the character of God. For all their faults, this remained the prophetic hope for Israel, that there would finally be this king, this time. So when we read this fulfilled in Jesus, we see that the implications for following him are immense, especially if we are the rich and powerful. Faith in Jesus cannot be reduced to a personal belief, or a weekly sacramental event, but faith in Jesus acknowledges that Jesus represents that prophetic challenge to power. 

Can you see the relevance of an election to Christmas? The cross on a ballot paper and the cross of Jesus? At Christmas we should be telling the story of a realigning of power in the current world, through us and the kingdom, and of a hope for the future when all will be fully restored. We should be asking the very questions that have been asked countless times in the many and varied TV debates and interviews: How do the powerful spend the money, and on whom? Who cares for those who fall through the net? Are we slaves to the market at the expense of the economic viablity of the poor? How do the powerful actively defend the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow? How do the powerful care for the natural world in a way that honours God who lends it to us? And how did we lose a radical self-giving incarnation to a radical consumerist escapism?

Our God cares passionately about restoring and reordering human relationships, about defending the poor, and about judging wisely with a heart of goodness. Let’s not pass up this opportunity to show that Christmas tackles these big questions, if only we don’t let it disappear into the fantasy world of childhood nostalgia and escapism. Because though reality may often feel like it needs escaping from, the Christmas story actually tells us that God enters it to redeem it, transform it, to heal it. To heal you.

This is an edited version of the sermon I preached on Sunday, which you can listen to here on Soundcloud if you so choose.

I am also indebted to Walter Brueggeman’s commentary on Isaiah.





assault course

20 02 2019
assault course

Assault course. A complicated means of getting from one place to another.
Assault coarse. Abrasive things that can engage and entangle us.

I was musing today on some of the struggles and temptations that assault us as church leaders. So often we are the ones that tell others they are loved by God, but weirdly struggle to know it for ourselves. I mean, we know it, but we so easily place obstacles in our own way.

Instead of our identity being in who we are as adopted children of God, we allow things to creep in that add to that. Our worth becomes connected to our
being busy
eloquence
really long meaningful spirit filled prayers
church is growing
humble-brag
being indispensable

I think that’s where it culminates. All we want is to know we are loved. But we climb so many obstacles to get there.

We don’t need to. That is all. 





On The Absence of God

10 08 2018

On the Absence of God :: A Poem in 5 Parts

[Part 1: The Pitch]

When God doesn’t pitch up
what should we do?
SHOUT LOUDER
sing longer
look more earnestly to the sky
sing songs that are pitched so high
God must be forced to rescue his angels?

When God doesn’t pitch up
what should we do?
TELL STORIES
especially good ones
repeat them as if they are our own
though we feel God has left us alone but
God must be forced to rescue his angels, right?


[Part 2: The Betrayal]

When God doesn’t pitch up
I feel betrayed
because I am loyal and faithful
and I have been hopeful
and still am
and God chooses to remain absent
chooses not to micromanage our pains
and maybe makes small incremental changes
but who cares about them, right?
God promises much
but delivers little
invites us to trust
yet doesn’t stick to his side of the bargain
this is the
Intentional and Deliberate Absence of God.


[Part 3: The True]

God doesn’t have to pitch up
for all he has said to be true
God never promises to make us feel better
the heart of the Gospel is the incarnation and death and resurrection
and ascension of Jesus Christ
and all we have and are stands on this truth:
that it is not the power of love but
the power of resurrection that defines us
as beloved.


[Part 4: The Theology Riff]

He is cosmically present
yet we make him comically absent
We are ontologically changed
yet pathologically obsessed with not noticing
His world cries out in unbearable pain
yet we cry out for the bearable numbing of ours
We do not deserve to be hurt free
He doesn’t owe it to us to make us better
His first priority
is not our serendipity
Our wounds are our connection with the cosmic reality
of a holy brokenness
His absence the consequence of the blinding naivety
of our broken holiness


[Part 5: The Beginning]

For he is here
We are changed
His world is hurting
And that is that.


I wrote this over several days during New Wine. It is part of my honest wrestling with some of the implicit theological assumptions that the emphasis on prayer ministry gives to the character of God and our response to them. I write as someone who believes in prayer ministry, in the charismatic gifting, and as someone who often feels on the edge looking in. And my brain doesn’t have a pause button.





the things we keep over there

4 01 2018

the things we keep over there
are over there for a reason
otherwise they would be over here

general-graphic-724x497

the things we keep over there
are out of sight
and with luck and busyness and a general sense of denial
also out of mind

when reading a biography of William Wilberforce
i discovered his realisation that we are satisfied
with building wealth on the breaking backs of others
as long as we don’t see it for ourselves
as long as it is kept over there
wherever there is

Wilberforce was born into ‘wealth, privilege and idleness’
and so did not need to ruffle any feathers that might challenge
the status quo of those with status
like him
but Wilberforce found a renewed faith in Jesus
and the gospel imperative that all people are equal
before God
if not before other people

suddenly he couldn’t do anything but challenge the slave trade
what was kept over there
could no longer be kept over there
out of sight
he realised the majority of British people had no idea what was going on
in their name
for their wealth
to turn a blind eye was to collaborate
to be a slave trader

to know about it and do nothing
was out of the question

Wilberforce challenged those with power
and this was no left-wing socialist revolution
for one of his co-conspirators was Adam Smith
upon whose system we build capitalism
and for whom slavery went against the capitalist principle
of personal freedom and opportunity for wealth-creation

so you see
we do see, I think we see
that not much has changed

we still keep those things mostly over there
slavery like cobalt mining in the DR Congo
or clothing factories in Bangladesh
or cocoa plantations in Ghana
or maybe the Amazon warehouse in Essex

injustice must be brought into the light
and once seen must be kept over here
and not put back over there
because it happens
so we must face it
and then we can choose to do nothing
but at least then they
and we
will know that we have chosen.

9780007228867

 

 





rearranging the flowers

29 07 2017

Of all the possibilities, clearing away the dead flowers wasn’t one I’d thought of. I started furtively, feeling guilty, choosing which floral tributes still had enough life to be considered tributes, and which had withered and shrivelled into a parody of their original purpose. What if someone saw. What if they were offended. After all, this was one of the main Grenfell Tower fire floral tribute areas, adjacent to the Latymer Community Church. Emotions are very heightened. Not least my own. The last thing I wanted was to be accused of desecrating a shrine.

The kingdom of god is a complicated place. Someone still has to throw the rubbish away. Being available for a dramatic and extensive community response and outpouring of grief – as this small and remarkable church near Grenfell Tower had been – is a messy business. Disaster relief coordinated by post-it note and WhatsApp, the pastor said. I was privileged to be there just for one afternoon, insignificant in the grand scheme, able to respond to a request for help to help the volunteers, whether that was making tea for distressed residents, emptying the bins, or as it turned out, rearranging the flowers.

Strangely for me, not someone who often uses this language, it felt a priestly thing to do. Not vestments and communion type of Priestly. But priesthood of believers, standing in the gap between the grief of the people and the grief of god, soaking up the pain, rearranging the mess of peoples broken hearts, sorting and sweeping and refreshing and watering, all the while unnoticed, better unnoticed, for the best incarnational priestly things are hardly seen.

I left that afternoon with a deep sense of horror at what had happened that awful night; the blackened and burned tower can leave you with nothing else except its scarred imprint on your eyelids and its stamping feet all over your heart. Yet I also left with a renewed sense of hope and wonder and pride in humanity; the same humanity that can cause such a crisis can also be so wonderfully, indiscriminately generous, so desperate to fill the cracks in the lives of strangers with flowers and sleeping bags and nappies and anything which will bring a moment of happiness or even, perhaps, be useful.

It’s never been such a privilege to rearrange the flowers. Serving is never and never should be about the glamorous; that’s why it’s called serving. In serving we might only rarely see the results of our labours, instead we do what we do, regardless of what follows us. Like burying treasure in a field for someone else to find.

Let’s go bury some treasure.


With thanks to staff and volunteers of Latymer Community Church and Eden Ladbrooke Grove for doing what they do, day in and day out, and for being the buried treasure that others have stumbled across when they most needed it.





I am the lost innocence 

5 06 2017

I  am the van driver on the bridge, I am the Manchester bomber, I am the lost innocence of an evening walk on London Bridge

I am the bombed, I am the broken body, I am the shattered mind, I am the lost innocence of the right to the absence of death

I am the terrifying realisation that I am no better with my my insidious creeping anger, plots of intrigue and revenge 

I am those we call them, the evil, the inhuman 

I am a million steps from love

I am but another frail and hopeless and broken human in need of more. I am the scandal on the shoe of all that is beautiful 

I am in mourning for my pride and arrogance and self-centred posturing about being better

Take it so it is gone. Because

I am asking for forgiveness. I am no longer editing out the deaths of the perpetrators. I am standing with Manchester and Kabul and London and Baghdad and all those who suffer at the hands of I, of us, of humanity in all our terrible disposition towards evil because

I am no better. I am only saved from giving in by the strength of the love of Jesus of Nazareth and his Holy Spirit. I don’t always want to be saved from myself or my evil side. I am me because of who he is, as he holds back my anger and dissolves my rage into a unwanted love for all who break and are broken even when I want to embrace its fierce and forceful drive to the destruction of what ends up being

 me. Us. 

We are us. We stand with them. All the thems. We stand for love. Because he is love. #lovewins





plank

24 03 2017

We usually see in others the things we don’t like about ourselves. Once we’ve seen it, we have a choice, whether to cultivate that thought or not. Sometimes it’s just a split second –  all of a sudden we’ve written someone off as a chav or a toff or loon or a bad parent or an immigrant or whatever it is that we have judged them on. We grow that thought, we water it, we tend it, and before we know it we have become so riddled with judgementalism and are so far from reflecting the character of God as to be unrecognisable as followers of Jesus. We are acting against them in the very way we would hate them to do to us.

to judge is to take a beautiful window
and wipe it with a dirty smudge
and each time you add a new mark
and the window gets darker
and no matter how much you scrub it won’t budge
the damage is too much
and all you see is distorted
contorted
seeing clearly is thwarted
by the simplest smudge

Jesus challenges us with a simple illustration
from his father’s occupation
you know what it’s like when the apprentice gets sawdust in his eye
and it starts to water and everyone bursts into laughter
in woodwork class because he can’t see
and his sawing goes wonky
and everyone’s laughing at the speck in his eye
but they can’t see the plank in theirs
the plank!
This is our reality dressed up as comedy
pointing at the speck whilst walking round with planks

Now I know this has nothing to do with us
I know we don’t judge
We say
I’m not judgemental, I’m just saying…
I’m not being racist but…
I’m not being rude but…
I’m not being sexist but…
I’m not judging but…

But that ‘but’ is the where the speck becomes a plank
When the bad parts of our character begin to crank
up the judging
That ‘but’ is when we take our marker pen and add to the smudging
on the window though which we see the world.

I’m not judging but…

Jesus doesn’t say we shouldn’t use our discernment
or say that nothing is wrong
instead, Jesus says we shouldn’t use our place as forgiven sinners
to judge others from
love is never just detached observance
like we’re judging trees or who’s baked the best jam tarts
but love means that everything we say about someone else
reflects the love in our hearts
or lack of
we may not like what they do
and we do not have to approve
but do we love with the love that God shows to us

do we see and judge the faults in others
only so much as they give us an opportunity for forgiveness and love?
or do we secretly like the feeling of looking down on others?

to judge is to take a beautiful window
and wipe it with a dirty smudge
to judge makes us blind
whereas love is illuminating
demonstrating the intoxicating
and liberating love God has for us
to judge is to point out the speck
and not notice the plank

So when the instinct to judge
won’t budge
remember what Jesus taught
don’t cultivate that thought
don’t water it and feed it
but starve it of attention
so that in everything
we do to others what we would have them do to us
we love because God first loved us


This is an abridged version of the talk that you can hear but going here, often they sound better than they read!








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