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?


shrinking your camel

15 11 2011

A turn of the page couldn’t reveal two more different approaches to the good news. I was reading the latest edition of Christianity Magazine and p18 had an article about the so-called Machine Gun Preacher, a hard-core Christian who uses machine guns to rescue stolen African children in Uganda/Sudan in the name of Jesus, and is the subject of a recent film of that name. Controversial, obviously.

The previous page had a simple interview with an ‘ordinary’ person with an even more controversial theology yet one that slips under the radar of respectability.

The interview was with the top man in RK Capital Management LLP, which runs one of the biggest industrial metals hedge funds in the world. He is known as Mr Copper because of the fund’s significant role in the copper market. He attends St Helen’s Bishopsgate. All fine so far.

© 2011 Thomas Lekfeldt/Moment/Redux

It is well-known that conditions in Zambian copper mines are not good; many are run by Chinese-state companies that routinely flout labour laws, according to Human Rights Watch. So he was asked whether, as one of the biggest buyers of copper in the world, he could influence conditions of workers in the mines in a country where copper is 75% of the country’s exports and 2/3 of Government revenue. Surely the workers would be pleased to have a Jesus-following Bible-believing man of influence on their side?


He washed his hands of any responsibility for their working conditions, saying that if he were to do anything, it would be to import “God-fearing gospel-believing ministers into Zambia, because once hearts are changed, improvements are made.”

Unless it means him, of course. Has his heart been changed, so improvements can be made?

Perhaps even more distressing was the fact he made claim to Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler as a way of reconciling his wealth and inaction. Somehow he came to the conclusion that money is neutral.  He has completely missed the point. This is an extremely wealthy man who makes his money, in part, gambling on the future of copper mined in extremely dangerous circumstances. Were people like him to have a direct encounter with Jesus in the manner of the rich young ruler, I do not think they would get away with claiming their wealth was neutral and their hands clean.

There is a problem with City of London ghetto theology that justifies turning blind eyes, washing of hands and hiding behind claims to “preach gospel” before improving living conditions for copper slaves . I’m sure we can guess which one the workers would call good news. “Thinking of the cross at the beginning of the day”, as he says he does, makes no difference to their lives. Few can influence copper mines. When you are one of the few who can, yet hide behind “the gospel” as an excuse for inaction, the Jesus movement  is in a sorry place.

Money is not neutral. Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  This is a challenge to little me, but surely a massive challenge to to Mr Copper and the many who work in the City and think like that: shrink your camel.

Because that needle is gonna hurt.

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