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?




16 responses

17 01 2013
neil stewart

More a 5 foot raspberry me but thanks for theblogg think, got me thinking

17 01 2013
Phil Groom

It is, as Steve has said, a matter of integrity; and if God does not consider divine integrity to be damaged by blessing LGBT people, who am I to say otherwise? Well said, Kevin, and thank you.

17 01 2013

As a church leader, I really struggle with being on the fence on this one, sometimes I jump on one side enthusiastically, at other times I reluctantly sink over to the other side. Wrestling. Sighing. Praying.

18 01 2013
Phil Groom

You’re not alone there, Karen, as I guess you know: from another Kevin, struggling to make sense of it all: An Evangelical Apology (predates Chalkegayte by the best part of a year).

18 01 2013

Thanks Karen, yes it is really hard, especially when our own views aren’t fully formed but we are asked for them to be. God honours prayerful honesty, often more than we do.

18 01 2013
If God does not withhold blessing from gay people, upon what basis does the church? « Phil's Boring Blog

[…] FROM THE BLOG OF KEVIN, Plucking Blackberries: […]

18 01 2013

If only God had given us a set of concrete rules for every situation, then life would have been so simple wouldn’t it. Except that we would have argued, picked at it, found ways round it and had somebody else to blame. But no, we have to do our own thinking and praying and listening in the context of our own society.

On a one to one level maybe it is easier to see that endorsing same sex unions is OK, and even good and that God certainly does love and indeed shine through people in these unions. Which of us should throw the first stone? Why do churches get so hung up on sex anyway.

Sadly however the Church has so often fallen into the spirit of the age, “whatever works for you”, and totally failed to give a moral lead to civilizations. The present mantra is everybody must be the same, without understanding that differences are valuable and important and that people can have differences without demening the other. Are we going to go on doing that with regard to same sex marriage?

Marriage, of course is not owned by the Church, it is much older than that. What is being proposed now is to smash this timeless institution, without thought or consideration for other people who might be affected by these actions. A long term union between people of the same sex may well be good and right for them. It is not and cannot be the same as marriage. Why do we want to make it so? Why do we want to water down one of our greatest institutions?

Isn’t the answer to have some other defined relationship for same sex couples. Recognise and indeed glorify their difference as well as their relationship. (Somebody I know wanted to call such a relationship a homage!)
If we want to devise a liturgy for such relationships and celebrate it in Church, so be it. But please don’t undermine marriage. If we do, I don’t want to be called married, because it won’t now define the two glorious married relationships I have delighted in.

Come on theologians – lets have some constructive debate and real suggestions about a way forward. Is there a theology for same sex relationships? Is there divorce for them? Do they have to be monogamous? Let there be love spread among us and by us.

20 01 2013

This sounds so reminiscent of ‘Separate but Equal’. What lies beneath the surface is the presupposed ideas of what it means to be gay. Are all strAight marriages monogamous? Do straight marriages experience divorce? Then why and how could homosexual unions be different. You have two people who want to commit to each other forever. Who vow to share their resources, faith, struggles, and triumphs with each other. Who desire to be great contributors to their community and society together. This should indeed strengthen the sacred institution we call marriage. Anything else would be ‘less than’ while loving committed partners continually long for the ‘upgrade’!!

18 01 2013

I’ve never understood how someone else’s marriage, or whether someone else should be allowed to marry, could somehow undermine my own marriage.
I also don’t understand why, if God is so vexed about homosexuality, he should choose to keep creating people who are gay.The fact that he seems to be doing it in increasing numbers may mean that God is trying to tell us something.
I do believe that it isn’t good for man (or woman) to be alone. And if God is flowing with the spirit of the age, as he seems to me to be, then perhaps we may need to tune in to what he is doing more open-mindedly sometimes?
It’s difficult though, isn’t it?

18 01 2013
Robert Staniford

I’m saddened that so many don’t seem to accept that the Bible has already given a ruling on this issue. Those who truly seek to minister reconciliation between gay people and God must come to realise that it needs to be done on His terms according to His word. I have gay friends and am sympathetic to this issue. Knowing my beliefs on it has done nothing to effect those friendships. To give an okay to gay practice, whether in a civil union or otherwise, is like offering the bowl of soup for which Esau sold his birthright. Those who dish out that meal are not offering the love of Christ. Those who are truly filled with the Holy Spirit have become a new creation and can in harmony with the mind of Christ. The true love of Christ teaches this and does not give false hope. The real homophobics in this age are those who minister false hope rather than what the Bible really says on this issue.

18 01 2013

I appreciate where you are coming from, but I can’t agree that the bible speaks with one voice on this issue; I also can’t agree that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit we will all agree with each other. It’s just not that simple, and to treat it as such is to misread the mixed bag of myriads of voices, all doing their best to find and follow God, that the bible is.

19 01 2013


Just for the record I didn’t say undermine my marriage I said that the word as re-invented by the Tories would cease to define my marriage. That is a very different thing. Tyhe problem is that efverybody wants to water down things so that they can be available to all and in so doing they reduce them to a point of nothingness.

22 01 2013
Phil Groom

How so, c2drl? In what sense does an updated definition of marriage “smash this timeless institution”? Here’s how the New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd (2005, Oxford University Press, Inc) approaches the matter: Marriage: Defined for the 21st Century.

I honestly can’t see any way in which heterosexual marriage is threatened, undermined, destabilised or even, in fact, redefined by this extension of the definition, let alone “smashed”. Seriously, what is the problem?

22 01 2013
Phil Groom

Or, for that matter, watered down or rendered meaningless, to use your specific phrases there. How does using the same word to describe both a gay couple’s and a straight couple’s desire to commit to one another in a faithful, loving relationship reduce that word to nothingness?

23 01 2013

c2drl, raising the ‘spirit of the age’ debate raised the following ponderings with me. Often, and historically, churches have been accused of giving into a ‘whatever works for you’ position as you put it. However, I wonder whether actually, the church has often failed to grapple with the ideas and consciousness of society and can lag behind. Not that I am suggesting the church need be, or should be necessarily led by popular opinion but that sometimes the church is in reality morally out of touch.

Biblical understanding does change as societies change and this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it often portrayed. Though often brought up as a historical example, the inability or blindness of the official churches to condemn slavery and in South Africa, apartheid and actually in supporting both slavery and apartheid with biblical passages demonstrates this I think.

I wonder whether this process of changing the definition of marriage should in fact not be seen as an opportunity, an opportunity for the church to support all loving monogamous long term relationships and to uphold them in the church (very much as Steve Chalk suggests) rather than worrying and complaining. I think, as has been discussed here, separate but equal is a dangerous route to go down, and purely in terms of definition I think it is strange to suggest that by including same sex couples within the word marriage that marriage for others would be weakened or even ceased to be defined. I think as been hinted at above, no marriage can be directly compared to another (as an observer not a partaker) so surely already marriage is a celebration of diversity in a sense.

1 03 2014

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