broadly christian

2 05 2013

People are very polite, but I often feel like I’ve walked into the wrong room. Like an astronaut in a fruit market, people haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. Assemblies, weddings, funerals, baptisms. I talk about Jesus, but there’s a radical disconnect between what I am saying and what people hear; and between what lies behind what I say, and what people hear.

Last weekend I spoke at a local Scouts District St George’s Day parade. I was asked to give an address that was ‘broadly Christian’. I understand why. I told a friend, who laughed and said,

“How can you be broadly Christian?! Surely you’re either  Christian, or not?”
“You obviously don’t know much about the Church of England,” I replied.

IMG_1552_Snapseed

this isn’t me

I know why I was asked, though. I don’t do being ‘broadly Christian’, but I can do being a Christian sensitively. You get me, you get my Jesus-ness. Asking me to be broadly Christian is like asking me to be broadly human. I either am or I’m not. I just might choose not to flaunt my humanness to the goldfish, though it’s my humanness that keeps it alive.* [* hopefully this metaphor will be forgotten in 7 seconds] 

How do you do speak in a ‘broadly Christian’ way? In the Scout context, I talked about working together for community and how this plays out for a follower of Jesus: servant leadership, like Jesus; caring for the unloved, like jesus; loving our neighbours, like Jesus. 

I may have slipped from being ‘broadly Christian’, into being specifically Christian, because I am specifically Christian. But hopefully sensitively Christian. There’s no explicit evangelism, no altar-call, no telling people what they should or shouldn’t do. No points-scoring. Jesus was always publicly much harsher and much more challenging to the leaders within the faith than he was to the followers on the edges of it. 

But I am not just a motivational speaker, a self-help guru, a comedian (!), a children’s entertainer – I am a church leader, one who represents the church – who represent Jesus – to the community. So what I say has to be specific. It can never be bland platitudes. Talking about following Jesus as if he’s real seems a good place to start, even if people don’t quite get it. Yet. 

Addendum (!?)

After reading this, one of my friends said Eddie Izzard summed up what she thought was ‘broadly Christian’ – only watch if you can handle a bit of mocking and some bad language. Consider yourself warned. 

  

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the resurrection in verbs

2 04 2013

The resurrection narrative is fast-moving. As a runner, I can appreciate more running happens here than anywhere else in the New Testament. It also a surprisingly simple story. It’s not been embellished over the years; it doesn’t suffer from distortion and hasn’t been turned into an ethereal mystical-magical other-worldly event.  In fact, for a very other-worldly event, it is told remarkably plainly. 

This is the resurrection account in verbs, in a Wordle

resurrection verbs wurdle

Some recurring verbs are important. Like went, saw, ran, and told. There was an urgency to this event. They did not expect it. There was no nonchalance. This event unfolded quickly and unexpectedly. It began with running, and ended with telling. And it is still being told.

To follow Jesus is very verby. It is when faith becomes a noun the story begins to stall. 

If you prefer lists, here are the verbs in a traditional list!

went
so
removed
ran
told
taken
put
started
running
outran
reached
bent
looked
go
came
went
saw
reached
went
saw
believed
understand
rise
went
stood
crying
saw
asked
taken
put
standing
asked
crying
thinking
said
carried
put
cling
went
told





the lent sessions // george’s

27 02 2013

To know an area, you need to find spaces to watch and listen. This is mine. George’s Cafe. 

George's Cafe_Snapseed

Life is here. Builders on lunch break, mums with kids, couples having a cheap treat, men who live alone and need some human contact… I reckon everyone eating here has walked here, which means they are under my pastoral care. Local.

Life is here. Community is here. Ministry can’t be done in isolation reading books in the study. Get out more.

God bless George’s.

This is part of a Lent series called The Lent Sessions, using photos of my local area and experiences. Previous posts include // bathroom and // balloon 





and many of them left

30 08 2012

“And many of them left.”

Perhaps that will be a common sentence in Modern Pentathlon clubs up and down the country in September. Caught by the buzz of a brilliant Olympics how many of us have been tempted to shoot a gun from an unfamiliar horse whilst wearing a fencing hat. How hard can it be? Who hasn’t googled ‘where’s my local club…”?

Or maybe you’ve just extended the kids sandpit a bit, or attempted a Fosbury Flip onto the trampoline? They make it look so easy. 

I’m up for it. It’s so modern, just like me.

“And many of them left.”

Perhaps it was one of the saddest days of Jesus’ ministry amongst his friends. Pulled along by the buzz were many to whom all this was new. Like seeing Greco-Roman wrestling for the first time many had their eyes opened to a new possibility. Jesus talked about the bread of life and they remembered the stories of the manna from heaven whilst at daily risk of desert-starvation and they thought yes! we can do this!

And then the reality set in. Wearing those leotards? In public? In that position? That’s not the bread of life, it’s more like stale 4 day old baguette  that sticks in the throat no matter how much honey you put on it. 

This liturgical dance went a bit far.

 Why? Because it was hard. I also love the fact that next he challenges his inner circle, the 12. “Are you going to leave as well?” I wonder what the tone is. Is he worried? Does he wonder if he’s gone too far, pushed too early, because he doesn’t want to cross the finish line alone like David Rudisha. This is a team event and the only way Cav can win is if we stick together. 

And Simon Peter says No, we are staying! All the others are wimps! Look at them complaining it’s too hard, when they’ve barely joined the club!

Actually he doesn’t. He says they will stay, but not because it’s easy. But because they are convinced Jesus is right. Jesus makes demands of our lives, and he doesn’t do the hard work for us. And he didn’t for them. Are we convinced Jesus is right? And if so, are we going to stay? Not because it’s easy, but because it’s true? 

In the words of Somali-born Muslim Londoner and Olympic Champion Mo Farah, “It’s all hard work and grafting.” No shortcuts, no cheats, no easy way out. Many will leave. But many will stay.

Which one am I?

Now, I’m off to ride an unfamiliar horse. Which is all horses, actually.  

You may notice a slight revamp of my pictures! They are courtesy of the excellent Miriam Kendrick, do visit her website and sign up for her cartoon Miriam’s Daily Adventures, always brings a chuckle to my day. 





censored sensibility

17 02 2011

Come-backs are still in full swing at the moment. As teenagers wear dodgy skinny jeans with 80‘s hairdon’ts, grown-ups of a certain age look back nostalgically at their youth and record companies say ‘ker-ching’ and so the bands of the 80’s and 90’s re-form (for better or worse) and stun us with their mediocrity. Quite how man-band Take That (whom I secretly love!) can win Best British Band at The Brits against Mumford & Sons who can tell.

When Jesus stormed the charts back in the day, he blew the current chart-toppers, The Pharisees, out of the water. They were like the X-Factor machine of their day, they had all the marketing bases covered for making sure everyone did the right things and behaved the right way. Namely, conforming. No-one was considered righteous unless they did what the Pharisees did. Which was to hang around each other patting themselves on the back for not being like ‘them’, the others, you know, the hoi polloi, the massed ranks of people. Think X-Factor auditions.


Almost as big a surprise to the ruling elite as The Streets were back in 2001, Arctic Monkeys in 2006 or Mumford & Sons in 2010, Jesus showed a new way, an original way, a much better way. Jesus challenged the Pharisees by saying (among other things) that separation from the tainted masses was not the way to be holy, and was definitely not the way to show love. In fact, for Jesus there were no tainted masses, there were no great unwashed. There were just – people. And he reserved higher condemnation for the hypocritical religious Pharisees than he did for the adulterers or prostitutes or cheating tax collectors.

Jesus took religion out of the white-washed tombs of respectability and plonked it slap-bang (pardon the expression) in the middle of the brothel, the drinking house, the messed-up marriages, the poverty-stricken abandoned widows and the dirty foreigners. So why is it that like the opposite of an indestructible 70’s prog rock band, respectability keeps on making a come-back. The church becomes so respectable, our faith becomes about being respectable. Of course when faith moves into the brothel we want the brothel to be transformed and changed – but not into a WI Knitting Circle.

Reading the story of Joseph (of the Technicolor Dreamcoat, not he of the pregnant fiancée) as part of the e100 Challenge it struck me how we even try to censor and make respectable the characters of the bible and the stories about them. Why, when the Bible doesn’t? The story of  Jacob & Joseph contains multiple wives, surrogate mothers, oppression of slaves and even rape; it contains sibling rivalry so bad it almost ends in murder and (only!) ends in Joseph being sold into slavery. And we expect our children to be well-behaved with this family as a role model?! No wonder Children’s Bible’s are so much smaller. They have to cut so much out.

What designer are you wearing tonight?

Of course we want to be changed and transformed. Of course we want messed up lives to be untangled and hopelessness replaced with hope. But let’s not pretend that that is anything remotely like coating ourselves with a veneer of respectability and hoping for the best. God looked at our Bible characters honestly, he judged them accordingly and guess what – by his grace he loved and nurtured and forgave and moved on with them, not without them.

Maybe this is a particular challenge to church leaders, of all denominations, when we so easily get caught up in being thoughtful intellectuals or organised managers or inspiring leaders and forget the primary calling to be real and to be immersed in our people and the messy lives that entangle us all. Maybe it is a particular challenge to followers of  Jesus who have been around the light so long we have forgotten what it is like to live in the dark and we expect so much of hurt and broken people that we frighten them away with our whispering about their swearing or our sssh’s to unruly children or we simply don’t give them the freedom to bring something new to our community that has become static and respectable.

Jesus went out there and mixed with the uncensored sensibilities of people the religious elite avoided. May we do the same. And let’s stop respectability making another come-back.

This comeback by take That, though respectable, was actually quite good – Ed





unbalanced

28 12 2010

unbalanced

I’m unbalanced.

Whether that is worrying or reassuring depends on where you are standing and who’s head you are in.

I’m unbalanced because I think using a human brain, usually my own.

I’m unbalanced because it is impossible to grasp the whole of life and bottle it within the synapses, impulses and emotions of a human brain.

I’m unbalanced because it is impossible to grasp the whole of life and try to speak it using the unreliable and inadequate method of human speech.

I’m unbalanced because it is impossible to understand what Jesus was all about and do it justice in a few sentences, words, or a human lifetime.

So, I choose the bits I overemphasise.

Jes
us’ smile, more than his frown.
Jesus’ welcome, rather than his rebuke.
Jesus life, death and resurrection, rather than one or the other.
(Or mor
e likely for many evangelicals, just the middle one.)
Like many evangelicals, the ascension confuses me, so I tend to overlook it.

I’m unbalanced, but would rather be unbalanced and tipping towards those than unbalanced and tipping towards the tight-lipped, overly serious and always right.

There’s something worrying about people who are 100% certain.

Something worrying about people whose thinking has no flexibility, no space for being wrong, no acknowledgement that we are all unbalanced.

I try to hold my crazy beliefs lightly, and seriously.
And irr
everently, so I don’t disappear up my bum and out my own navel.

I’m unbalanced because I think the quest for wisdom begins in acknowledging that.

I‘m unbalanced because I don’t think there is another way to be.

I could, of course, be wrong. I find that quite exciting.





killing the irreligious god

27 07 2010

I’m not religious, people say to me when they think I expect them to go to church. Good for you, I say. I am not religious. They look confused. You ought to be religious. Surely? Nope. Jesus was very religious. But unlike most religious leaders, he did not expect his followers to be as religious. Not religiously, anyway.

Instead of being all religious about religion Jesus was about taking the walls of religion and blowing them wide open. Religion so easily looks inwards and takes care of itself as religious people do their best to be religious, and do religious things in order that God notices and gives them religious points. So we inside who are apparently religious brush up nice and pick up heavenly brownie points by negotiating the Total Wipeout course of religious observance hoping that we don’t negotiate everything only to bounce off the huge balls at the end as God looks on and laughs. ”]

Jesus told a story about a religious father who according to his religion did lots of things wrong, when his irreligious son demanded his inheritance and ran off with the money. He should have said no; then he should have punished him; then he should have disowned him. He should never have welcomed him back. Religion says so. Innate human desire for fairness says so. The religious older brother certainly said so. By their religious standards the religious community should shun and disown the religious father for his reckless and irreligious behaviour. Unfortunately, the irreligious father represents their God. Unfortunately later on they really did shun and disown and kill the irreligious god.

Thankfully God is not a religion and God is not fair. He is wonderfully and beautifully not fair. Or religious. God says love me with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbour, love me enough to turn around from your old life and turn to me and I will welcome you whether or not you tick the boxes and do the stuff and look all religious because that is peripheral to being real in fact to be honest I can’t stand all that stuff it’s all just fluff and bubble and pointless when what I want is your heart. Love me, don’t label me. Come to me, don’t categorise me. Feel me, don’t fillet me. Dance with me, don’t dissect me.

At least, I think that’s what he said. I wasn’t really listening. Not religiously, anyway.

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
I cannot stand your assemblies.

22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5)



……………………………………

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faithworks 1: liberation is everywhere

5 03 2010

How can it be that for so long we followers of Jesus have completely missed the point. So many of us read the Bible and see hell everywhere. Just look at Christians who post on blogs and sites (not this one, of course), who are like Mr Angry on a radio phone-in. Judgement, judgement. Hell, hell.  If we actually read the gospels we see that suprisingly, Jesus didn’t  bang on about going to heaven after we die and leave it at that. Most (all?) of his strongest words were for those already ‘in’, the already religious, the already ‘saved’.

brian mclaren - i guess you had to be there...!

At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren gave excellent examples of us historically missing the point, which I will write about soon; for now, I found one of my own. Writing a talk on Luke 13.1-9, I was confused. What is this all about? Read it and see yourself. Galileans blood, falling towers, repentance, perishing and another vineyard tale. What?

Pilate was a violent and cruel ruler. He had a history of violently suppressing rebellion. He had a history of trampling on the sensibilities of the Jews. Once, when a group of Galilean pilgrims had gone to the temple to sacrifice, Pilate had slaughtered them, perhaps fearing a riot. The blood of the Galileans mixing with the blood of the sacrifices. Horrendous, offensive – like occupying forces storming a church on Christmas Day and smearing their blood on the communion table. According to Tom Wright, this is the environment Jesus, and his band of Galilean pilgrims, are working in. Should they still go?

Jesus knows the danger. He knows he will be killed in Jerusalem. But that is not the point he makes here. He says, If you do not repent, you too will perish, be destroyed in the same way. Not hell after death, as this is often understood to mean. Not eternal perishing and pain. Not here. Many of the groups that Pilate suppressed and killed were leading rebellion against Rome. They were violent. One of Jesus disciples or apprentices is Simon the Zealot, one of these very people. Jesus means that unless you turn away from and repent from violent, armed rebellion against Rome, you will die as the Galileans did. If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. And if not by the sword, then when Jerusalem is crushed by Rome, you will die as the walls collapse. As they did in 70AD.

Jesus’ message – you must repent! Which here means not the 5 -point prayer and carrying a leather-bound bible to work to bash people with until they escape the fiery flames of hell, but you – WE –  must turn from violence and rebellion, and instead follow my teaching – of peace, of loving enemies, of carrying an occupying soldiers cloak an extra mile. The vineyard story reflects this – there is time to repent, there is time to choose the way of peace.

Then it gets interesting and uncomfortable. The old adage of one finger pointing = 3 fingers pointing back at you comes to mind. Read the next passage in Luke 13.10-21. It is a story about Jesus healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath. Why is it here? I think Luke puts it here deliberately. He makes no claim to be chronological. The Jews hate the Romans and want them out. Jesus says, you want change, you want revolution – start here. Start with yourselves. Their culture was such that that a crippled woman was low in status, probably not married, therefore in that culture probably very poor. Unnoticed. Invisible.

Jesus made her visible. Jesus healed her.

Jesus liberated her – saved her – from the oppression of her position. And what do the religious leaders say? You can’t heal on the Sabbath. They still don’t even notice her. They don’t want to notice her. Her presence offends them. Jesus is angry, and he says they treat their donkeys better. Their tight religious observance and rules oppresses and enslaves their own people, even before we start on what the Romans are doing.

Make this women visible! Repent from your violent rebellion – and repent from the way you do violence to each other by chaining people up or bending them over double according to their illness or ability or ‘holiness’ as defined by you. You the dominant ones.

Liberation is everywhere. This is the heart of Jesus’ message. See it!! Be it!! Or, as he says, we will all perish.

I finish with a quote from Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons, who despite their mandolin have hit upon something profound:

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was meant to be


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figuring the transfiguring

14 02 2010

With bright lights, voice-overs and ageing celebrities appearing in clouds of smoke, it sounds more like Strictly Come Dancing than a gospel story. The transfiguration is one of those stories that is a bit odd; it kind of stretches the rational-thinking of the brain a bit.

But this strange little story is important. For Jesus? Yes, obviously. For him it was a chance to ‘meet’ with some great men of the past, somehow and in some way. A chance for him to discuss the new exodus (the word is translated ‘departure’ for some reason in the NIV, with a footnote) with the leader of the old exodus – as Moses led the Israelites from slavery to freedom, darkness to light, so Jesus will do the same for us all. I would love to know more details about that little chat.

There’s another angle too. The disciple’s angle. They get a firm but gentle lesson during this high about how to get through the lows that will follow. The actual real solid mountain-top experience becomes a firm foundation for the valley experiences that come with following Jesus.

You see, during the shekinah-shine glory-lights, holy smoke and I-see-dead-people moment, what are the disciples doing? Falling asleep. Low point. Valley moment. When they shake themselves awake, Peter gets all excited and says let’s build a tent so we can stay here, this is great. Look! Moses and Elijah! This is more like what the Messiah should do! Less of this low-key-Messiah business and a bit more razzle-dazzle show-time!

God’s response? He envelops them in a dark shroud of anti-loud cloud, a kerfuffle muffle-shuffle. His gentle way of saying to them, be quiet and listen. No divine pointing fingers like the old lottery logo. God doesn’t do humiliation. But from the high volume of the mountain-top experience, Peter is quietly turned down.

Then comes the voice-over. The sublime one-line divine tag-line.

This is my son, who I have chosen, listen to him.

In other words, don’t talk, listen. Don’t do, listen. You are on the mountain-top, now listen!  Why? Because God knows Peter and the others will need this. When all goes belly-up they will hang on to these words. He doesn’t want them to get lost in wonder love and praise and miss the point. The teachable moment.

This is my son, who I have chosen, listen to him. Listen.

realistic contemporary art

Listen to him now because tomorrow you will fail in healing a small boy in front of a crowd (Lk 9.37ff). Low point. Listen to him now because tomorrow you will argue over who is the greatest (Lk 9.46ff). Low point. Listen to him now because soon you will want to call fire down on those who oppose you (Lk 9.51ff). Low point. Listen to him now because soon he will spell out the cost of following him (Lk 9.57ff). Low point. Listen to him now when you are up the mountain, because soon you will come crashing down and it’ll be less like Strictly Come Dancing and more like X Factor auditions.

What does all this mean for us? Well, may we be people who go up the mountain with Jesus, to be encouraged, to see amazing things… and may we be those who listen when we are there, who watch, who take note, who allow Jesus to move us, touch us, and in doing so equip us. So then, when we come down the mountain, we still hear the words:

This is my son, who I have chosen, listen to him.

So when we are swayed by difficulties and doubts, as the first apprentices were and we will be, our faith will not be based on vague memories or distant hopes, but on words we heard God speak. On truth we heard God speak. That our love for him be constant, steadfast, as his is for us, not going up and down with our mood or our feelings. This is how you grow faithful apprentices. This is how you grow faithful leaders. Broken, battered, a bit bonkers. But real.

This is one way of figuring out the transfiguring. For those, like me, who would rather speak than listen, it’s not a bad thing to hear. I can feel that cloud coming down already…






everything

24 01 2010

following

does it have to be everything
everything
everything?
every
thing
why everything?
put it down
what?
put it all down
why?

hopes plans families dreams books sitting running passion everything
everything?
follow me
everything forever?
follow me
how?
following me is not like wandering through a shopping centre and splitting up and arranging to meet at starbucks a bit later
pardon?
follow me
I don’t know
pardon?
half-following is much easier fewer dilemmas conundrums heartaches things to think about people to smile at planks to walk
put it down
i like my stuff
follow me
put it down?
foll
ow me
now?
now
everything?
everything








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