hit and run

29 11 2012

There are lots of cheesy cliches [surely, ‘beautiful metaphors’?] for the growing of faith in people. A cliche is sometimes true. Sometimes it’s made up to make us feel better. A favourite is to talk about ‘planting seeds’, sowing our seed [erm, really?] on rocky or weedy or shallow ground without knowing if the seeds make it through. Very Jesusy. This especially applies to the many occasions when we do services to [surely, ‘for’?] people who don’t have a clue or interest in  what we’re talking about. Funerals. Weddings. Baptisms. Assemblies.

Those times that are meant to be a privilege, where we talk about planting seeds, when it actually feels more like a hit and run. Like I gather up all I am, all I am called to be, and all I believe about God, bound up with all my nervousness and stress and self-consciousness and vulnerability of ‘performing’ in front of strangers, and I condense it into 3 minutes, hit people with it and then run away, all of us none-the-wiser about why.

What a waste of time. Hit and run gospel. 

ASBO Jesus

Or. Or is it? More and more I realise there is no such thing as a hit and run ministry. Because although each occasion may feel like an isolated incident, each moment is connected to another before. People have many experiences of church, and as a badged representative I am connected to all of them. Whether I see the people again or not, I am part of a story in them. And despite the evangelical in me wanting it to be all about what I say, the words I impart, the importance of people understanding what I am talking about, little of what I say will actually make an impact at the time. What does?

Character.

There is no such thing as hit and run ministry because our characters are remembered more than our words. So it is important that I represent Jesus well. So I make an effort in what I say, even though it may not be remembered. I make an effort in the way I say it, even if I’m feeling crap about being there because there’s a million things that need doing instead of talking to a load of people who don’t care, will never care, and are waiting for the after-party once the vicar has finished.

Won’t they?

cliche alert

Well, actually I am constantly surprised at how much people take in. When people come back wanting me to take another family funeral or baptism, or the school wants to book me for another term, I recognise that something is going in. That there is (hopefully) a positive impact being made. The lowest bar for me is that I don’t bore or offend people. The highest bar is that through my words and actions – and actually maybe just my presence – Jesus changes lives radically and surprisingly. Because where we are, he is. And he is full of surprises.

I could say something about seeds. But that might sound like a cliche. What I will say is: make an effort, people. We don’t do lazy, hit-and-run ministry. We do whole-life, interconnected, incarnational and life-changing ministry. Just because it doesn’t always feel like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t.  

Pop that in your seed tray and smoke it. 





the sinister subtext behind the ‘hard-working family’

9 10 2012

Politicians often use the phrase ‘hard-working family’ to describe those who they say they support. The Conservatives use it a lot. They are not alone, but they are the most guilty. Guilty? Why… surely a hard-working family is the ideal, isn’t it?

I want to challenge a few assumptions that lie behind the phrase. Because it sounds fine, but masks a more sinister prejudice and a particularly prevalent point of view amongst the ruling elite from the aspirational classes. 

1. The first relates to hard work. Not everyone wants to work hard. Gasp. A lot of people do, but many just work because they have to. This is fine. It is ok to work, to get by, to pay your taxes, to keep your family afloat. Also, not everyone can work ‘hard’, if hard is defined by set hours, intense work, a regular job. Again, for a variety of reasons (e.g. physical/mental health, family, addictions). Some can only work a little bit. Are they scroungers?

2. Which leads to the second assumption: that there are two kinds of people, those who are hard-working and those who are lazy scroungers. This is not true. There are many people who fall in-between those two extremes. Not everyone is aspirational, for a whole variety of reasons (education, health, mental health, family, experience…). Should everyone aspire to work hard and make a ‘better life’ for themselves?

3. The third assumption is that hard-working people are well-paid and ‘successful’, i.e. have accumulated baggage they are entitled to because they have worked hard, therefore shouldn’t be chased for higher taxes. This falls down on at least two counts. A lot of people are wealthy and do not work hard. A lot of people work hard and are not wealthy. An overnight shift in Tesco’s stacking food we don’t really need is hard work. A long day in the City moving imaginery money nobody sees is (presumably) hard work. They pay very differently. Only one contributed to the financial crisis. For some, it is hard work simply keeping the family together, even without paid work. Being a mum is hard work. Being a single mum is extremely hard work. 

4. The fourth assumption is closely linked and is that ‘hard-working’ families are essentially the middle-classes and above. This is not true. Here’s an idea. Instead of having to tax these ‘hard-working and deserving people’, how about one type of hard-working family – the wealthy – redistribute wealth (in a much fairer way than higher taxes) to the other type of hard-working family – the poor or struggling. It’s called a fair wage. It’s called not paying your CEO 100x more than your lowest paid staff, plus non-performance related bonus. Then more money is put back into the economy rather than stored in the (offshore) accounts of the wealthy. It’s also called fairness, justice and is the opposite of greed. 

5. The fifth assumption is that hard-working (middle-class) families shouldn’t have to make any greater sacrifices than they already do through the tax system. Here’s another idea: maybe some hard-working families – though entitled to tax credits and child benefit and winter fuel allowance and free travel – don’t claim if they don’t need them. A huge saving could be made, leaving more money for those who need it. Of course there are flaws in these arguments. Maybe I am wrong about these assumptions. But I am finding the rhetoric of Cameron and Osbourse more and more sinister, more and more divisive, and more and more at odds with a Christian view of justice, grace and caring for the poor. Of course some people will abuse the welfare system. Others abuse the right to register income abroad and avoid tax. Yes, families who live entirely on benefits need educating about responsibilities. But often we are talking about people with learning difficulties or emotional difficulties or mental health or just people who have not learned to think ahead and consider consequences.

We are, according to Osbourne, apparently all in this together. Hmmm. Mocking the idea of taxing the rich, and then raiding the welfare budget of the poor? Well, it just stinks. Whatever type of hard-working family you come from.  





the b word

8 11 2011

When you ask a vicar how they are, chances are they will reply ‘busy’. I have always tried to avoid answering this question with that word, either by cocking my head to one side and earnestly saying “it’s not about me; how are you?”, by playing to the (always hilarious) joke that I only work one day a week and saying “pretty free til next Sunday actually, it’s an easy life this one”, or by saying “crap actually, can we talk about it” simply because it is a hobby of mine to create awkward silences and hold them for as long as possible. Usually we call it prayer.

However at this time I am actually very busy, what with my co-vicar being on maternity leave and 20,000 hungry parishioners (as opposed to Parisiens) needing souls cured, booklets photocopied and the heating switched on and off according to the whims of Mother Nature. So, because despite my magical (sorry, miraculous) powers I cannot squeeze any more time out of the day, and because I will not sacrifice my family or my sanity on the altar of ‘doing everything’, I have decided there must be cuts.

So here are 7 things I will no longer be doing:

  1. I will no longer read commentaries whilst preparing sermons. Live text on BBC Sport is finally to be considered a distraction and I will switch it off.
  2. Updating my Facebook status will no longer be considered a spiritual discipline. If God wants to know what I am up to, he can email me, which I will leave marked as unread until I have time to respond.
  3. I will no longer keep my office tidy. Jesus came into a messy world to redeem it, so I will wait for him to do the same to my office.
  4. Whilst I can see the benefit of reading the Bible, there is never anything new in it and it is awfully long. I will stick to whatever Scriptures I can find on bookmarks, posters and other people’s Facebook pages, as they are presumably the most important ones.
  5. I shall no longer prepare services. It seems a lot of work to do essentially the same thing every week. Following the example of the X-Factor and Strictly, we will use the same script every week, manipulate the odd drama and throw someone out according to votes cast in the offering bags.
  6. Instead of feeling guilty about not having planned things that are coming up (like Christmas, or tomorrow’s assembly), I will make it a deliberate policy not to plan anything until the day on which it happens. After all, it’s God’s reputation on the line so it’s up to him to step in with last-minute inspiration, and he ought to be able to operate the photocopier by now.
  7. We will no longer hire out the church hall in an organized way, but simply leave it open as a ‘community space’. This way we don’t have to worry about keys or rent, we just let the Big Society sort it out for themselves. This is called empowering the community. In fact, we will no longer lock away the church tea and coffee. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

With these changes in place, I am hoping that I will no longer find myself scrabbling for euphemisms for the b word, and will be able once again to the play on the Playstation during the day. Sorry, pray station.





proud

25 08 2011

When God looks at you he does not see a GCSE certificate. Maybe that is discouraging, because you have passed and you want to show him. He is proud of you. But you don’t need a certificate to gain his favour.

When God looks at you, he does not see a GCSE certificate. Maybe that is encouraging, because you have failed and don’t want to show anyone. He is proud of you. You do not need a certificate to gain his favour.

God sees deeper, he sees you, beautiful, wonderful, messed up you.

Whether you have done well because you are a natural genius or you worked very hard. Or done badly because you struggle with academic stuff or you just didn’t put the work in, the response from God is the same. 

I love you.

To have failed an exam or to get the necessary grades does not make you a failure.

Ok, that might not help with getting into college or getting a job, and there might be lessons to learn about those things. But still, and nevertheless, and more importantly:

I love you.

I am proud of you.

You are my child. 





cooling your calling

8 07 2011

Calling is a funny thing. It’s one of those words we use for Christians with worthy Christian… erm, callings. You know, vicars, missionaries, worship leaders, Mike Pilavachi. Calling is for people with extra-ordinary jobs. It’s for people called out of the secular and into the sacred. Not ordinary people. “They” are called. Not “we”.

That of course is not a very Christian view, and has little Biblical basis. It is, however, what is unknowingly and often unintentionally preached.

Which is why it was refreshing on Sunday to have Ann Moore with us at church, a lady who has spent the last 15 years working in Kisiizi hospital in Uganda. A classic case of the “proper” calling? She spoke about faith that changes people, from Hebrews 11. Her point? That our faith must change us, or it is not true faith; that our faith might lead us to an extra-ordinary calling like going abroad. But just as likely it will lead us to an extra-ordinary calling in the place in which we already live.

We are all called to live as disciples, as followers. All are called to submit our lives to Jesus as our lord. This will impact our families, our parenting, our finances, our friendships. It may impact where we live or what we do; or how we do it. Whether we are “just” a mum in an un-supportive marriage or we are a “missionary” in foreign places, the key thing is: are we submitted to Jesus as much as we can be? Being a called abroad doesn’t guarantee it, nor does being called to be at home cancel it out.

I know. I was called home once. I spent a year living and working in Uganda, teaching Old Testament history to Ugandan, Rwandan, Burundi, Congolese and Sudanese students. I know, God has a sense of humour. I explored the possibility that God was calling me abroad longer-term and God said… no. Go home, he said. Go home and work in your own country. So I went home.

back in the day

That is as much of a calling. As is what I am now, being a husband. Being a dad. Being a friend. Being a part of a church. Being in a running club. As is where you are, if you are submitted to Jesus as Lord. He may call us out of where we are to somewhere else. He may not. That is not the point. The point is, do we allow our faith to change us, to inform our decisions, to lead us? Our identity is found in being children of God, followers of the Way, apprentices of Jesus. 

If we get that, then all the guff about one calling being higher up the spiritual scale than another can be left well behind.





soft-furnishing the death star

18 05 2011

Carpet shops have a peculiar atmosphere. You walk to the door all chirpy thinking of lovely new carpets, and as soon as you enter, the atmosphere hits you. If boredom had a smell, this is it. If tedium was a aroma, this is it. If the Death Star has a lounge, this is where they bought they’re soft furnishings.

Ok, I exaggerate. No-one goes to a carpet shop all chirpy.

And the Death Star doesn’t have a lounge.

they wanted carpets. it ended badly.

When we last moved, we had to re-carpet the entire house. Not a very exciting way to spend a lot of money. And you’d think it would be easy to choose. Once we’d decided we wanted a neutral, non-patterned, hard-wearing, mid-range ‘sort of beige’, I’d hoped we’d walk in and see it before the aroma of rolled piles sucked the life out of me.

But suddenly the subtle nuances of pattern changes seem to matter. This one is too dark. This one too light. This weave is too tight. This one is a bit rough. When you’re in the shop, the tiniest things become insanely important.

There is a huge difference between being in the shop, and being outside the shop.

How many churchy arguments take on so much significance because people spend too much time in the shop? So much time that the tiniest details become insanely important.

People outside the shop don’t really care about the thickness of your pile or the tightness of your weave. People outside the church don’t really care about most of the things we end up bickering about. So let’s learn from them. 

Don’t let the carpet shop suck the life out of you. Breathe the Holy Spirit. Breathe life.

Time to stop before I go any further up the metaphorical cul-de-sac of comparing anything churchy with different shades of beige.





meetings

17 05 2011

I discovered this on the brilliant (and very insightful!) ASBO Jesus site…

*knowing chuckle*








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