enduring obedience

9 02 2016

Obedience is not a word we hear very often. Unless you train puppies or work for ISIS, which is possibly the only time those will appear in the same sentence. Obedience to us generally has overtones of either military law, or strict discipline of religious fundamentalists – basically being forced against your will to do things you wouldn’t usually do. And train puppies.

Enough with the puppies.

Enduring Obedience title.001

Except we practice obedience all the time. Driving on the left, putting out the bins, banishing unhealthy thoughts, not leaving the toilet door open. Sometimes its explicit obedience, sometimes it’s implicit in our relationships, and we don’t think of it as ‘obedience’ – but it is.

God demands and commands our obedience. There. I’ve said it. It sounds harsh doesn’t it. It is, if our view of God is that of a overly strict demon headmaster, or an obnoxious shouty military general, or we’ve experienced domestic violence and live our life being forced to be obedient for fear of the consequences.

This is not my understanding of the God I am obedient too. The God I believe in is a God intertwined in families and their story, helping and guiding and leading, who demands obedience at the same time as trust, for whom the overriding image is that of a shepherd in the Judean desert wilderness, whose sheep obey his voice because they know he will keep them safe.

There are times when obedience will bring us into conflict with others. Conflicts of priorities in our families, workplaces and elsewhere, conflicts of ethics and morals. But obedience to God isn’t like being watched by the Thought Police. Obedience to God is an obedience characterised by how it changes our actions, not controls our minds. And being obedient doesn’t mean being obnoxious to those we may be in conflict with.

Jesus did not say do as I say or you will be damned. Believe it or not. He said, the greatest commandment is to love God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, then to love your neighbour as yourself. He said a new commandment I give to you, to love one another. This isn’t soppy sentimental love, this is deep rooted love, borne out in actions of service to each other. A faithful love that endures through thick and thin.

We don’t obey because we are told to, but because we love. We aren’t faithful out of fear, but because we love. We believe that our God is a model of sacrificial, self-giving love, so obedience to him takes us there too. Which is not easy, or glib, but it does ground us in enduring obedience. Which, yes, sometimes means obeying through gritted teeth and enduring it. And other times means our obedience – or faithfulness – is enduring, faithful, long-lasting and resilient.

That’s where I want to be.


During Lent in our church we are looking at the theme of Enduring Obedience, exploring characters such as Sarah, Ruth, Daniel and Jonah from the Bible, and people like St Teresa of Avila and Martin Luther King Jr who inspire us with their obedient service to God.





brighter on the inside

22 12 2015

[a spoken word piece I wrote for our Carols by Candlelight service]

the light shines in the darkness, John tells us,
and the darkness cannot – cannot – overcome it
the light
the light
that stands beyond time
pierces through time
measures time

my son asked me other other day
daddy, what is a light year?
the gears in my brain creaked and rumbled and I said
i thought erm I should know hang what would granddad say
a light year is the distance it takes light to travel in a year
which brian cox would be proud of

and as I said it blew my mind that
a) light travels
b) my mind unravelled as i realised that
c) we measure distance by light

suddenly everything has got complicated
park that thought
we’re supposed to be talking about a god endangered
en-mangered
unstable in a stable cradle
truth mixed up with fable
and then we just go home, right?

It’s just… the light
light that measures time itself
unveiling the cosmos
spinning through the universe
in the beginning God created the world with a word
and the light was born
and shone
and shines
shines now brighter than ever before
the light is here appearing
embodied enfleshed he who controls space and time
is time
arrives just in time
to save the world
with his big heart – well actually hearts, he has two
hang on, I’m getting confused with Dr Who 40953683_tardis203

Who, who spins through time a small blue box
which is itself a timely paradox
because the one things we know about the Doctor’s TARDIS is
it’s bigger on the inside
it’s bigger than it looks

so bear with me here and indulge my crazy thought
because i don’t think we’re as far from the manger
as we ought
to be
the tiny baby the newborn son
all cute and screamy with a dirty bum
and a beautiful smile
so fragile
yet all eternity is held in that baby-soft skin

to look into his eyes is like opening the door of the tardis
you’d just be blown away

Mary did you know…?

He’s not a time lord
but he is the Lord of time
he is not light
but he is the Lord of light and all the distance it travels

and yet there’s a danger of being over-triumphant
coming out in an enthusiastic rant
because the reason the light shines so brightly is
the dark is so very, very dark
out there in time and space
the world the child embraced
as he embraced his mother
is so very very dark

Jesus born into an over-taxed authoritarian system
ruled by a king who collected up all the other babies in Bethlehem
and killed them
as Mary and Joseph with Jesus had to flee
to Egypt where they were middle-eastern refugees
which is another timely paradox
without a blue box
to protect it from reality

the world we live is a dark dark place at times
and at christmas we can pretend everything shimmers and shines
when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t
and the stupid irony is
that instead of the tinsel and glitz
the whole point of christmas is
the darkness of a world that needs saving
the emptiness of a world that is craving
something
Syria, Paris, the crisis of ISIS
can’t be solved by banter with Santa
and a comedy jumper
but only by the light
that looks so fragile like a tiny wick
that flickers
in the slightest wind

but look carefully closely deeply
open the door and look
it’s brighter on the inside
this light of the world
the wick that flickers
burns brighter than a million candles
more than we could handle

so we’ve travelled on a timeline
unravelled through space
following light from its source in the heavens
to a place in time
to a baby that cries and whines
and yet holds the divine timeline
in its eyes
it’s that baby again

a god endangered
en-mangered
unstable in a stable cradle
truth is born to turn the tables
on darkness
in a most unexpected way.

The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness cannot overcome it
because the same Jesus
was raised from the dead and won it

© 2015 Kevin Lewis

 





leaves

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

IMG_0033

 





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. 

Men.

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
of 
inadequacy

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. 








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