I drew this about myself, but maybe you can see yourself in it too. I think that so often I blame God for things I need to take responsibility for. There are changes we can make to take the umbrella down. Or at least poke a hole in it. Or perhaps the Spirit will blow it out of our hands. Maybe now is the time.
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Tags: Christian life, faith, spirituality, spiritually dry
Categories : cartoons, life
Stealth ninja or village idiot. They often seem like the only options. When you find yourself as the only Christian this side of the horizon or office wall, you’re either an undercover spy secreting prayer bombs and occasionally bravely speaking in code to persuadable colleagues, or you’re the religious nutcase people look at sympathetically and avoid talking to especially when you’ve got you’re Bible out on the desk.
I know the feeling. People often think vicars live in holy bubbles (it’s actually called a vicarage) and only talk to Christians all day so have no idea about the ‘real world’, which is situated the other side of the church doors and the reason why it’s cold out there. For me at least it’s not true. The vast amount of time I spend with other people is spent with non-Christians. In schools (I’ve been in 6 recently, am regularly in 3), taking funerals or baptisms, at Local Committees, all these places I am the stealth ninja, or the village idiot.
Maybe you work in a warehouse or office every day with the same people, or go to playgroups with other mums; maybe nobody knows you are a believer, and it’s been so long and you still haven’t told them it’s become an embarrassing secret. I am the same when I am not ‘in role’. I’m a terrible evangelist, carrying the same guilt many Christians do for being basically ordinary and indistinguishable from everyone else.
What to do about it? I think it comes down to confidence and kindness. Confidence in our faith, and kindness to those who a) don’t share it, b) question it, c) wreck it for us by being the village idiot. If our faith defines us, defines the way we are and think and do, it can’t be a secret; yet it doesn’t need to be peppered throughout our conversation as if nothing is true or right unless it’s been crow-barred into a dubious bible verse.
I am who I am because of who God is.
At times that means we will be a undercover stealth ninjas, bringing truth and justice and sometimes just a whispered prayer into a difficult situation. At other times we will be the village idiots, poked and prodded like a dissection specimen for holding strange views like loving your neighbour or that Jesus married Mary Magdelene and had twins.
Sometimes simply our presence is enough though. So be confident in your work and at your work, not just in your place on the music group rota or whatever you do there. We can do without music groups at church if we need to (gasp), but not without you being salt and light every day. Tell us how we can resource you better.
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Tags: evangelism, faith, ninja, work
Categories : church, life
I wonder when you last did something impulsive? I recently bought the 4 Non Blondes single “What’s Up?” off of 1993. 50p in Oxfam. No regrets.
Impulse is “a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act”. Doesn’t sound very churchy. Impulse is, I think, meant to be one of the hallmarks of faith, and yet when we make a religion out of following Jesus so often we squeeze impulse out of it. Surely we need to form a committee and get a faculty and run it by the Bishop…
Because impulse can get us into trouble. It might be impulse that makes us throw a brick through a neighbours window when they won’t turn their music down. It might be impulse that draws us into a relationship that we know we shouldn’t be in. It might be impulse can mean that makes us do something for Jesus that we wouldn’t normally do. Whether that’s building in Africa, youth mentoring at the skate ramps, telling the story at toddler group, moving a pew 6 inches or jumping out of a boat at an entirely inappropriate moment.
St Peter is a shining example of impulsive action. Time and time again Peter speaks first or acts first and thinks later. Peter’s impulse doesn’t question whether the water will hold him. Or whether he’ll be told off for saying Jesus is the Messiah. Or that Jesus will back him up when he cuts off the soldiers ear. Like I said, impulse can get us into trouble.
Back to the walking on water thing. Peter had been desperate to stay in the boat until he saw Jesus. They were in the middle of the lake, in the night, they were tired and they were in a storm. He probably couldn’t even swim. The best and safest place was in the boat. How often is the safest place the most attractive place.
But when Peter saw Jesus, his impulse was to stuff the safety and leap towards Jesus. And he walked on the water. Because Jesus was walking on the water. And because he lost the double bluff: “If you are Jesus, tell me to join you…” Oops. Don’t bluff Jesus. He went from safe to dangerous, firm footing to faith in one leap. It’s not far between the two. Yet it was no Bruce Almighty “I’ve got the power!” moment.
When Peter sinks, what does Jesus do? Points, stares and says “You stupid impulsive man!”. No. Holds him under for a bit and says “This is what happens when you take risks – now get in the boat and be sensible like the others!” No. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. And helped him climb in the boat. Why? Because Jesus loved him. And this might be the most important lesson of them all. Whether we are clinging onto the boat or leaping from it, his love is the same and he holds out his hand to us.
Like our parish namesake Peter, we are called to danger, to risk. We are called to a life that is bigger than our families and their needs; called to a life that is more than what happens in the space directly around me. We are called to leap out of the boat when we are in a place of danger and we see the Lord; we are called to lead others there too. In the context of knowing and trusting that we are loved.
In our parish the risks we might take can be very different. For some it might be coming to church at all, because some receive abuse for doing so. For some it might be stepping up to a new responsibility; or stepping up our relationship with God to a new level through prayer; or telling someone at work you believe in Jesus, or committing to a home group; for some it might be taking on a new challenge, a new way of living. All these things are part of us changing St Helier in partnership with Jesus.
Peter shows us that it can be good to act on impulse; but more than, he shows us what it is to trust in Jesus’ love for us. Because to use someone else’s phrase, if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.
This is an abbreviated (honest!) version of my talk from our parish wide St Peter’s Day service.
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Tags: Bruce Almighty, faith, St Helier, St Peter, trust, walking on water
Categories : Uncategorized
When a builder has a crisis of faith in building, it is not the end of the world. Just the building. When a banker has a crisis of faith in banking, it is not the end of the world. Just the banking. Building still exists. Banking still exists. Life goes on.
The final episode of Rev. highlighted one of the challenges for vicars/ministers. I found it deeply moving. What happens when we have a crisis of faith? What happens when we want to explore, express and question our faith, when people rely on us to be stable, solid and unwavering in faith and conviction? So many people think that church leaders are the solid types, the strong ones, that we are leaders because we are sorted. Some leaders like that. And some may well be. Many are not.
In fact, many are called because they are not – it was their sensitivity, thoughtfulness, depth and angst that was part of their calling and the very thing that makes them good at their job. And the very thing that makes it so hard, that threatens to pull at the very seams of life and faith and unravel the whole thing in a very public kind of way. Without faith, there is nothing left – no job, no home, no foundation on which your whole life and reputation has been built.
How would you respond to your (even evangelical!) church leader telling you they sometimes questioned everything? How would you respond to your church leader having some sort of meltdown like Adam Smallbone did? Is it just another ‘bi-annual wobble’ to walk through like getting caught in some unseasonal drizzle without an umbrella, or is it actually serious, a real questioning, a real doubt like an overwhelming flood? Is it ok to preach if you are doubting? If not, why not? Is our faith based on the strength of faith of our leader, or on the strength of our own faith, Jesus living in us and God mediated to us not through our leaders but through our own interaction with the Holy Spirit?
Vicars and leaders need people who they can be honest with, who won’t panic, who won’t try to fix them, who won’t pray for deliverance from the demons of doubt, and who won’t send it round the prayer chain that they are having a wobble. Most of us are incredibly sensitive and spend a lot of energy treading carefully around the sensitivities of others, yet as Rev. exposed, not always feeling the same sensitivity coming back. And so sometimes we end up shooting our mouth off at someone like Colin or Alex who really don’t need it or deserve it, however satisfactory it seems at the time.
Watching Adam unravelling was disturbing, because I know how close to that some of us are sometimes; and it showed the consequences of allowing yourself to behave in an un-Jesus-like way. God bless Alex and vicar’s partners and friends everywhere for being so long-suffering, so patient, and sometimes giving us the (metaphorical) slap in the face we need. And sometimes the hug, the tea, and making us laugh when we disappear into our own navels.
They’d better commission another series of Rev. or I’ll lose all my (already slim) faith in intelligent telly.
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Tags: Adam Smallbone, BBC2, faith, Rev., Tom Hollander, vicars
Categories : church, leadership, life, media, television
I have written before about the brilliant observation and humour of Rev, and 5 episodes in it is still good. It isn’t rip-roaring, but it meanders through story-lines in an intentional manner, devoid of canned laughter or more poignantly sometimes, canned tears. But there is an issue: as one vicar-friend pointed out, though Adam’s humanity is portrayed excellently, is there any sense that he has something others do not? His prayers are wonderfully honest; but are they ever answered? Is the God he believes in actually real?
Maybe the issue can be explained like this. Often I am asked by people without my faith “what made you become a vicar?”. Maybe because I am young, unexpected-looking, or a bit rubbish at my job. Anyway, they ask, I answer. When I am feeling mischievous, I answer with “God”. God called me. This is usually met with a slightly confused look, which I allow for a while before I rescue them from the religious lunatic they just awakened and say something safer. They often understand things like ‘calling’, or ‘I enjoy working with people’, or ‘I like the variety’. They don’t understand that God essentially dragged me unwillingly into it! Or that I don’t like church. Anyway…
The simple answer “God” is more uncomfortable because it has a huge and treacherous unspoken background – that this person believes in God, that they believe God speaks and is real and is actually involved in ordinary everyday life. It is a little… specific. What they prefer is a safer, less specific vicar who keeps things nice and vague, speaks about God not Jesus and preferably actually just church, and who is prepared to do God (or rather, religion) on behalf of them so they don’t need to.
In Rev, I think the thing that will always be missing (for some), but is to be expected and maybe even endearing, is that Rev is the portrayal of a Christian as understood by people who aren’t, but who are sympathetic to the idea. He is what sympathetic people think we are. So Rev understands the idea of calling, of earnest faith, of talking to God – and understands lots of issues vicars face – but it falls short of actually understanding faith, because the faith is not real. It cannot be, because it is a sitcom and not a documentary; it is acted, not real.
So Adam has a deep sense of calling, and an earnest faith. But that faith will always be a bit non-specific. And that is what most people (outside church? inside church?) want from their vicar – earnest, busy and committed, but safe, non-specific and spiritually undemanding. He is enthusiastic about church and about people and about ‘making a difference’. But is he enthusiastic about people meeting and being transformed by Jesus? Is he himself transformed by Jesus, in the sense that he is given supernatural patience to manage the crises that come his way? You decide.
So I think Adam portrays the closest people can come to understanding a person of faith, if they themselves do not share that faith. Again, he is what people think we are. Scary thought! And he is believable. Focusing on the humanity rather than the spirituality means more people can relate to him; otherwise it would become even more like an in-house training video for clergy or a promo for following Jesus and no-one would watch it. It is a sitcom after all. And maybe we should all be show a bit more humanity…!
I am therefore intrigued to see what a crisis of faith looks like to people with this understanding of faith to start with… apparently this is the theme of the final episode, which I await with anticipation!
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Tags: BBC 2, faith, Rev., vicars
Categories : church, media, spirituality, television
Mustard is a must have for proper Christians. Jesus himself talked of mustard, and if he knew mustard, so must we. So it was that my mustard collection began. Jesus said that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains. Being as I find it hard to move a wheelbarrow of earth, moving a mountain seemed impossible. But, I thought, perhaps if I have a mustard seed, this will be possible. I held it. I ate it. I commanded the mountain to move. It did not. I stared at Rose Hill (ok, it’s not quite a mountain, but it’s where I live), and it stared right back at me. I think people around me were relieved.
Not to be defeated, I thought that perhaps he had exaggerated the power of a mustard seed. Christian speakers are prone to exaggerating their stories. So, I bought a jar of mustard seeds. That’ll do it! All that power contained in a jar of mustard seeds! What faith!
Then my friend Dave, for that is his name and not just a TV channel, pointed something out. There is no power in mustard seeds. No power in mustard seeds? But, but…Jesus said mustard seeds, he did, he did…
It is faith the size of a mustard seed. Not an actual mustard seed. Really? Oh yes. Suddenly my mustard seed collection was rendered useless. My daily intake of wholegrain mustard nothing more than a taste sensation and not a faith ingestion. Faith cannot be eaten and is not contained in things. The knowledge that I must have been mistaken was hard to take.
So I went and bought a ruler to measure the mustard seed so I would know how much faith I would need to move mountains. In comparison with a nutmeg, it is very small. So now, instead of walking around with mustard seeds, I wander round with a ruler. Measure, measure. Always measure. Always compare. Your faith to mine. My faith to 3mm of mustard seed. That is my new rule. For that is that Jesus had in mind.
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Tags: faith, Jesus, mustard seed
Categories : spirituality