intentional disillusionment

12 02 2017

Leadership. Wow. So many models. CEO, manager, teacher, mentor, shepherd, autocrat. Cultural life these days is like a case study in leadership, or mis-leadership. From leadership in sport to politics, church to the media, the judiciary to education, you name it,  it’s probably been dissected, criticised, humbled or idolised. Coe, Corbyn, May , Trump, Welby, Hodgson, Ecclestone, Murdoch.

I am currently reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor-theologian in the 1930s-40s who was martyred in a concentration camp. Stay with me, there is a link. He wrote about leadership. In his context, writing in 1933, he was addressing a Germany in pieces, desperate for strong leadership, of any kind, to pull it out of its post-WW1 mess. A culture was growing around the need for a strong leader, any leader, who would bring change. Any change, just to do something. Ring any bells? And I’m not talking about the England football team.

This concerned Bonhoeffer, and he preached this, in 1933:

A true leader must know the limitations of his authority. If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers clearly of the limited nature of his task and their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol – then the image of the Leader (German: Führer) will pass over into the image of the mis-leader… The true Leader must always be able to disillusion… He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those who he leads… He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.

Wow. Bonhoeffer here is calling for substance, not personality; for leadership rooted in principles of humility not just for the sake of power.

We have a crisis in leadership at the moment. For many good reasons, the status quo is being challenged, authority is being questioned. However, we must not let that gap be filled with low-grade ideas, cheap populism, or personality cults. For him, all authority ultimately comes from God, so we cannot place ourselves on a pedestal above God. For me too, that is the case; if you don’t believe in God, I think the principle is still the same. Pedestal? Off.

Humble leadership, in which we intentionally disillusion those who would make us idols, is the solution to ultimate-authority leadership. Humility is not weakness, and it encourages collaboration, shared power and a servant-heart. That is true across sport, politics, church and the media.

I end with a poem I wrote about leadership in the church, which can be particularly pedestal-hungry, originally posted here, entitled I am nothing:

I am nothing
I am just me
I have no divine right to speak for you
or to you
I have no pedestal I can call home
Though some would try and barricade me on one
And have me live their faith for them
I am nothing
I am just me
I have no certificate of authenticity
Or qualification
I have nothing from my ordination that sets me apart from anyone
I am nothing
I am just me
I have no power residing in my fingertips
I cannot command holiness to appear at will
I cannot pray in a way that bypasses the queue
I am not owed any favours by God and
I cannot command him with my whispers
I am nothing
I am just me
Anything else I appear to be
Any power
Any wisdom
Any heroic tendencies
And that recurring pedestal of owning holiness
Anything I appear to be
That is beyond anyone else
I repent of
All I am is because of who He is
And I claim nothing as my own.

on conquering snowdon, and other untruths

11 09 2014

So I did it! The 20-mile + obstacles Man vs Mountain race over Snowdon was the hardest physical challenge i’ve ever done. Here’s what happened and some life and leadership lessons learned. 

We began at sea-level inside Caernarfon Castle. The weather was cool and slightly damp – perfect running conditions. The first 5 miles on the road were straightforward: choose a comfortable pace, don’t use all your energy going off too fast. Lesson 1: pace yourself.  Having all the kit doesn’t make you a good runner, just someone with all the kit, so we set our pace by those  running at our pace, not those who looked the part. Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image. As we hit the off-road the grinding nature of the constant uphill began to bite.


fresh-faced and slightly terrified inside the castle

Running with my brother, we were chuffed at 10 miles to be met by our dad, who had walked to encourage us and give us some much-needed nourishment. We took a rest, as others passed us, knowing the next 3 miles to the summit would make or break us. Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something. Joining the Snowdon Ranger path here, the terrain got tougher, steeper, and visibility foggier. The line of runners became a line of walkers zig-zagging up into in the fog. Much-needed encouragement was given and received as runners stretched aching muscles, took on food, put on layers, and we collectively hoped the sun would break through. Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.


beautiful sight as the clouds began to clear

At this point I could have run faster, but I held back to pull my brother up the hill; however, if I had gone quicker, I think I would have overdone it. Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything. As we neared the summit, there was a beautiful moment as the sun burst through, melted away the mist and we got an amazing view from the summit, where we took the obligatory summit-selfie, briefly paused, my brother and I said our goodbyes and I set off for the descent. The 7 miles down was tough, with tripping, slipping and braking, so I took it steady and tried not to think about the Merrell Vertical KM up ahead. I was happy that up until now I had paced it well, done the right amount of training, and hadn’t got lost! Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.


the obligatory summit-selfie, looking not-quite-so-fresh!

As we reached Electric Mountain at Llanberis after 20 miles, the evil nature of organisers raised it’s ugly head! First up was the Vertical KM, a steep uphill slog up the slate mine, treated as a timed race-in-a-race. I was feeling pretty good at this point, so I decided to push it, going past many who were walking, and trying to ignore the burning thighs and the fear of cramp. I was unexpectedly rewarded with a 12th place out of 750 in this challenge, in a time of 11m48s, only just over a minute slower than the winner. Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.

the vertical km results

the vertical km results

Next up was the abseil. This I was terrified of. There was a walk-around for those who didn’t want to do it, but I decided I would do it. As I climbed over the edge of the railway bridge, I decided I wouldn’t look down. Ever. And didn’t. I looked at my feet. So I had no idea how high it was, or how far to go. I chose to trust the equipment and the instructors. I was surprised when the arch of the bridge left me dangling. But I did it! Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.

Grinning widely and proud that I had done it, I ran to the next obstacle – a 20 ft leap off a plank into a lake, exiting by swimming through a submerged gate. Again, this was terrifying for me, but I again chose to trust my knowledge it was safe, rather than my fear that it wasn’t. I shouted “what a sense of achievement!” to nobody in particular, and nobody replied. Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know

The cramp was truly setting in to my legs now. The effort of the Vertical KM was taking its toll, and I longed for the end to come. Just 2 more water obstacles and the final run to the finish… oh no, not quite. The two 7 foot walls just before the finish were the final evil sting in the tail.  I made the first one by climbing the edge of the scaffolding, thanks to advice shouted from a spectator. Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice. The second wall was beyond me. In full view of spectators and my dad’s camera, my legs totally cramped and I lay prostrate on the floor. I’ve never known cramp like it. Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help

Snowdon Run 2014 020FR

i thought I’d have a sit-down, just a few feet from the finish

A leg stretch and a leg-up from the marshall later, I was over the finish line, 134th out of 750! A total of 4 hours 49 minutes, 2 bananas, 4 gels, 2 shortcakes, 1 energy bar, half a bag of dried berries, 3 bottles of water, 1 mountain, 1600m and whole load of fun. I’ve never been so appreciative of hot soup. Thank you to my brother, thank you to my dad for being our team support, and thank you to all those who sponsored me on behalf of Sutton Schoolswork. Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone

the overall results

the overall results

The question is, did I conquer Snowdon? Did I win in the Man v Mountain challenge? No, of course not. She was kind to us, but she was very much in charge. She taught me many lessons, which I will never forget. A race like that is such a good metaphor for life, especially the Christian life that I follow. My final lesson? Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks. If you live life safely at the bottom of the hill, you never get to see the view. Or as Jesus said, make an effort or be bored. Ok, he actually said “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  

Snowdon Run 2014 024FR

proud, wet, exhausted and happy!

Here’s my 13 lessons in life and leadership:

Lesson 1: pace yourself.
Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image.
Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something.
Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.
Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything.
Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.
Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.
Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.
Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know.
Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice.
Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help.
Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone.
Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks.

As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.
Heb 12.1

a little less sir and little more servant

28 03 2013

Maundy comes from the Latin ‘mandatum’ meaning command. From Jesus command to his disciples at his last supper. To love one another.

There, that wasn’t so hard. Thought I’d throw that in unannounced so you didn’t get scared. Maybe we should call it Servant Thursday. Maundy sounds so…. churchy. Or like a posh Monday. 

Thing is, I’m thinking a lot about national leadership at the moment. Not that I’m planning any kind of coup. But I’m wondering where it is. We have a history in this country of inspirational leaders.  Not always good ones, but inspiring nonetheless. But now? All we get is a constant dribble of badly thought-through reactionary policies, designed more to get headlines than oversee the fair running of a society. And the democratic opposition are hopeless. There’s a power vacuum and it’s being filled by right-wing anti-poor anti-immigrant rhetoric from all sides. Cheap victories. Costly for those on the wrong end of it.  

When was the last time you heard a national leader talk about anything positive. Well, except about being for ‘hard-working people who want to get on’, but we all know that is a sinister sub-text. We live in a age dominated by privileged leaders, an entitlement culture, a clutching rather than a self-giving mentality and the adoration of the shallow. 

This is the time for the church to shine. And not because we are polishing our silverware or bashing our halos together in a holy huddle. But because the world we live in is crying out for servant leaders. They don’t know it, but they’ll know it when they see it. This is why Pope Francis has caught the public imagination. Even the newspapers are so confused they’ve been printing positive stories.

And it’s why I have high hopes for Justin Welby. I know, he’s a former Oxbridge ex-Etonian oil man. But his candour, his honesty, and his focus on Jesus is so encouraging. We need people to speak truth to power confidently, with integrity, with the heart of a servant-leader.

Of course it must start at the local level. We must be servant-leaders, authentic, rooted in Jesus. Giving our power away and helping others to shine. Or helping them scrape the goat turds from between their toes. If jesus can wash feet, so can we. 

We need a little less sir and a little more servant. I probably could have just said that.  

ASBO Jesus


comedy hedge fun(d)

23 06 2011

I have a heavily suppressed competitive streak. People who rarely win tend to suppress it. Even deny it. I support Liverpool, so I guess that’s understandable. Now I am a regular runner the competitive streak peeps out a little more… though hopefully any (small) victories I have are tempered by the knowledge of what it is to regularly lose. I said hopefully.

going supersonic...

Recently I took part in some leadership training. Part of this was a day run by someone from an unfamiliar world to mine. As an inverted snob I have to make a special effort with the office-based chinos-and-polo shirt chaps, especially when you think they might actually play polo. Anyway, this friendly man with an elusive job description led us in a series of (admittedly great fun!) outdoor puzzles and games in order to stimulate our team-working brains and teach us lots of things that were quite obvious.

That many of us are not primarily motivated by winning. That competition doesn’t always work.

This wasn’t his aim.


He put us in boys & girls teams and set us the task of completing a jumbo jigsaw puzzle as quick as we could. He was very excited by the thought of a competition. We, on the other hand, were excited by the fact he had included “fun” on his list of essential factors in a team. So we decided to include in our timed puzzle challenge a comedy run from the nearby hedge. It was a sunny day after all.

This bothered him. But it will slow you down, he said.

Yes, we replied, but think what fun we’ll have!

We were both right. The girls team figured out a more efficient way of building the puzzle. It seems working in silence and the absence of a comedy run makes building quicker. But they looked so serious! We were actually not far behind them, and yet seemed to have a lot more fun. And winding up polo-man far outweighed the cost of not winning a little made-up competition.

We could draw many tenuous sweeping conclusions from this experience. I just throw it into the current political obsession with competition and market-forces being the solution to all problems. Competition may be the core motivation for a certain type of human in a certain type of environment. Like the ones in power. Wealthy successful white men love a competition especially when the dice is loaded so they always win. See banks. See Serco. See power companies. See privatisation.

Competition is not everyone’s motivating factor. Plain efficiency is not everyone’s aim. Think of farming – when efficiency becomes the primary motivation over love, care and time then the land starts falling apart and needing artificial help to stay productive. Like over-used fields many of us are needing artificial help to stay productive, in the form of tablets or alcohol or therapy. This is not  life in balance. This is not how we are meant to be.

Let’s not get drawn into constant competition to generate the mirage of perfect efficiency. We are all humans after all. There is no such thing as an economy, just humans relating to each other. So if you are a boss, if it is up to you, I invite you to lead by example and institute the comedy run today.

You may even find people work harder. I’m sure they’ll be happier.

inflatable vicar

15 12 2010

I was listening to a vicar talking about ministry being about living with disappointment. He said that often ministry feels like pushing a stone uphill, so that each encouragement needs to be savoured as if it were your last, before the weight of the stone you are pushing forces you back downhill again. Sounds a bit depressing. Indeed.

The trouble is, that vicar was me.

In conversation with a mentor though, I heard myself say this and began to think. Is this really how it is? Or is this some kind of desperate self-preservation – if I remain disappointed, then no-one can get in there first. Like the way I mock my own knobbly knees or pointy nose before anyone else can. It steals their thunder. It protects me.

A change of word helped. I was encouraged to think in terms of feeling deflated rather than disappointed. Deflated is like a balloon than can be re-inflated; disappointed is like a cancer that eats away at all that you are.

The real question is, why do I feel deflated? Because things are going really well. And even if they weren’t, ministry is not about ‘doing well’ or things ‘going well’ but about being in the centre of God’s will whatever happens. Even so, there have been great encouragements amongst wonderful people beyond all our hopes when we moved here. So why deflated?

Because I have within me this longing, this yearning, this aching desire for the kingdom of god to transform, to come, to inspire and enrich and to overflow. And this longing will always remain only partly fulfilled until the kingdom comes fully, and not in part; until that to which we look to in advent is no longer for looking towards because it is fully here. I can always be more changed, more transformed; others can always be more changed, more transformed; we can all always always always sit at Jesus’ feet and encounter him in greater and deeper ways.

So this yearning within me is (I pray) an honest hoping, a holy discontent with the status quo, because I do long and will always long for more, for better, for bigger. Because God can, and because I want not 1 person to ‘get it’, nor 2, nor 22, but everyone:  as Jesus said, from Jerusalem, through all Judea and St Helier and the ends of the earth.  Big hope! Indeed.

So deflated I may sometimes be. But no longer disappointed. And definitely not disappointed with people, if any of my folks are reading this!! You are my hope and my inspiration; your stories of hope and change are what re-inflates me. And so I sit,  awaiting re-inflating by the pneuma, the wind, the breath, the Holy Spirit of God at work in us. As it was him that gave me the absurd and wonderful and unreachable and hopeless and hopeful and unexplainable hope in the first place.

Fling wide, you Gates.

suffering fouls gladly

1 10 2010

When the most interesting statistic in a football match  is “fouls suffered” you know things are bad. That was my experience watching Valencia vs Man U on Wednesday. And Utrecht vs Liverpool on Thursday come to think of it. A waste of 90 minutes? Arguable! Intending to switch my brain off, I was bored so I began to think. Isn’t that an interesting thing to count. And interesting language. Are fouls suffered? Or received, experienced, taken?

there he goes again

Players have different attitudes to suffering fouls. For some, the slightest touch is enough to bring them diving majestically to the floor sporting toddler-style tantrums. Think Drogba. Or it brings an angry retaliation. Think Rooney.  Other players are built of stronger stuff and suffer fouls more gladly. You get knocked down, and you get up again. You are, after all, playing a contact sport. Think John Terry (on a good day!). How they respond to those fouls will often define them as players.

Following Jesus brings up some similar issues, for leaders yes, but for everyone else too. We know we will be fouled, sometimes badly, sometimes innocuously. It is how we respond to those fouls that define us as followers of Jesus.

There’s much biblical precedent for expecting to be fouled, on purpose or not. Prophets, preachers and ordinary people are repeatedly ignored, mocked, confused, disheartened; and more seriously beaten, imprisoned, executed. So the odd (or frequent) argument, hurtful comment, draining conversation, thoughtless remark, conflicting vision, broken window, verbal abuse or black dog of lingering depression are to be expected. Anticipated. But, I hasten to add, not yearned for to earn “bruise badges” to show how tough or effective we are, nor milked to gain attention or sympathy we feel we deserve.

Sometimes we will need to take time out and rest. Sometimes get straight back up and run it off. Sometimes we will have the wind knocked out of us. Sometimes we will be tempted to make more of it than we need to – for a rest, for some attention, because we’re irritable, or because there’s been so many small fouls we’ve ignored that we’re darn well gonna milk this one.

Maybe we could follow the lead of the Psalmists, whose God led them through the valley of the shadow of death towards green pastures. Fouls come, knocks come, bruises come. But by the grace of God we can carry on, learning, parrying, sometimes weeping and sometimes not seeing a way through but always hoping there is one. Because how we suffer the fouls will define us.

And if we really need to be things put in perspective, watch this:

in different ideology

14 04 2010

I was lucky. I first voted in 1997. I was part of the revolution that finally demolished the 18 years (almost my entire lifetime) of Tory rule. I even went to a Blair rally! I didn’t sing along to Things Can Only Get Better but I held the coats of those who did. And I have a signed copy. Democracy felt good, felt real, felt necessary. There was fear in the Tory eyes, mine was the only Labour poster in a uni hall of residence full of Tory public school boys… And we won! My poster stayed up for ages. And will we ever forget the face of Portillo?

style or substance?

It’s never been quite the same since. Tony Blair stole the Tory policies and New Labour never looked back. Without a real difference in ethos or ideology between the parties, it was all on the charisma of the leaders and the art of communication. For all his faults, Blair won that battle hands down. He still would. And now…?

Finally it seems there is a difference. First Labour launched their manifesto. I think it was about economics and deficits but I was bored. Brown does not have charisma. Then the Tories launched theirs, and something happened. I heard something different. It’s not about charisma, Cameron is about as vacuous as the power station he launched the manifesto at. It is about ideology.

a little presumptuous?

They want to ’empower communities’, they want us ‘the people’ to be more responsible for our own government. It’s the classic party division. It’s an ideological difference, an ethos. Remember those? Blair sacrificed ideology to gain power, and Labour have managed to hold on since, claiming to be for the ‘working people’ but really hoovering up the all-important middle-class votes. Now, in the absence of policies that are much different, the Tories have rediscovered ideology.

Ideology is what makes politics interesting. Ideology is what should drive policies, not the other way around. At least with an ideology you and I can argue until the cows come home about how things should or shouldn’t be done in general, because we can do that. What most of us can’t do is argue about whether Capital Gains Tax should go up or down. Because most of us don’t know what it is.

I think the Lib Dems have an ideology too...

So, finally, we can talk about the election. Winston Churchill said that democracy is a terrible system of governance, but the best one there is. So, do you think local people should have more say in local policies? That means you, by the way – do you actually want more say, will you actually volunteer to help run things or get involved, or is it a good thing for ‘other’ people? I certainly know there aren’t people queuing up to be school governors, Scout leaders, local councillors… Call me cynical, but just as an aside, isn’t this ‘community’ that Cameron trusts to be empowered the same ‘broken Britain’ full of scroungers, illegal immigrants and yoofs on ASBO’s that he always goes on about?

I think the 6 weeks of election indifference just got a little more interesting. We should not be indifferent to ideologies. We should have different ideologies. We should believe in different ideologies. We should believe in ideologies that benefit the poorest people in society, which may not be us. Societies should be judged on how they treat their poorest members. So, which ideology is it?


Postscript: see St Aiden to Abbey Manor blog for what the three main leaders have to say to Christian voters…


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liberation from wee

9 03 2010

Blog-land is an easy place to point the finger. Even when we don’t mean to. I wrote the previous post originally as a talk for my little congregation, and I thought I would share where it changed at the end as I preached. Because I think I began by pointing at the mythical ‘they’, and ended up pointing at very real ‘we’.

Jesus saved – the Greek word is loosed – the woman in Luke 13 from being physically bent double by her condition, and from being socially and psychologically bent double by her religious leaders. That is great and it is interesting and like all Jesus’ actions, in itself it stands alone as worth telling.  But the question is always, what about us? What about me?

bent double, by who?

I love my small congregation. With some notable exceptions, they are mostly ladies over 70, who have been following Jesus all their lives. I know some of some their stories. When you’ve lived over 70 years there is a lot of story to know. The question for me was, have any of these wonderful people been bent double by the weight of obligations and expectations from their religious leaders? From me?

The same question is for you. Have any in your congregations? If you, like me, are a ‘religious leader’, have we done it ourselves? How have our people – even us – been treated by the church (which is us) as we have gone through life? If we’ve been divorced or got pregnant outside marriage; if we’ve fallen out with the vicar or the powerful people in the church; if we see life differently; if we find it hard to read and so cannot offer ourselves for the rota; if our children no longer come. Things might be ok now, but we humans can carry hurts for so long. A year becomes 5, becomes 10 becomes 30 and we still hurt. We become bent double. Who is holding us down?

Sometimes it is easier to keep people down rather than let them challenge us, sometimes the oppression is easier to maintain and safer to implement than to allow free-thinking and free expression. Sometimes it is easier to let people think the clergy/priest/minister/pastor is different, on a higher level, above reproach, got a hot-line to God and a ticket to the front of the coffee queue than it is to join the queue for coffee at the back and wait like everyone else.

There is a difference between leadership, which we have to do, and elevating ourselves, which we must not do. There is a difference between encouraging people to be good apprentices of Jesus, and accidentally enslaving them on a conveyor belt of expectations and obligations.Even with my low view of ordination and the priesthood, I sometimes find myself enjoying the tiny pedestal some people put me on by virtue of my collar. I am part of the establishment. There is no ‘they’, only ‘we’.

So let’s not always think the liberation is for others and the liberating has already happened. And let’s not underestimate the hurts people carry with them from school all the way through to old age. If we are a part of it, we need to address it. We are our people; our love must not betray, dismay or enslave, but it must set free. It starts with we. With liberation from we. For that is what Jesus did. Simples.

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a kiss from judas on the terry-go-round

8 02 2010

There’s a bandwagon of faux-outrage, moral superiority and media hypocrisy about John Terry. The same papers that delight in telling sordid tales of bedtime shenanigans with some pretend to be outraged when it is others. What is it that makes John Terry different from Rebecca Loos? What is it that means the captain of the England football team should have higher moral standards than, say, previous manager Sven Goran Eriksonn (who had affairs with Ulrika Johnson and his secretary at the FA, Fariah Alam, who herself also had an affair with FA chief executive Mark Palios… just imagine the office party).

betrayed by a kiss...

In some senses, it really doesn’t matter. It is just football. It is just a horny overpaid sports star having an affair with a French underwear model (for rude picture see here). Another day in the life of the rich, privileged, and slightly bored. On another level, it does matter. It matters because all the characters are human (even the ones that play for Chelsea); because the lady in question is the mother of his friend’s child; because so many people will be hurt and upset at the various betrayals; oh yes, and because Bridge and Terry were friends, and may end up as team mates in South Africa.

And it matters because people like John Terry are role models. Not just for the men who wear the no.26 shirt as a tribal statement because they crave a sense of belonging in a world devoid of heterosexual male community (ok, and they support Chelsea…), but to all the young footie fans who look up to these players as role models. Anyone who has played football with teenagers sees how they copy their idols – from attempting the Ronaldo step-over to the Beckham free-kick, the Gerrard 30-yarder to the Scholes ‘remonstrating-with-the-ref’ special. I was particularly good at the Crouch tumble (it would have been the robot except I never scored).

So, when a player plays fast and loose with their marriage, what message does that send? Does that cross the players mind? Does it make infidelity ok? Exploring the complexity of this is important for our kids, as they grow up with the temptation to idolise or demonise, depending on the colour of their shirt. Here are some thoughts of things to explore, though I am sure you have many to add…

1. We are all human; that is, we are all flawed – from the good guys (Giggs, Gerrard, Beckham…?) to the bad guys (Terry, Bellamy, Bowyer…?), no-one is either all good or all bad. Ferdinand is a mixture. Terry is a mixture. I am a mixture. John Terry has a reputation as a bad boy – tough on the pitch, parking his Bentley in a disabled bay off it. Rio Ferdinand has had his fair share of indiscretions and is currently serving a 4 match ban; but spends a lot of time and effort on his charitable foundation Live the Dream, based in his native Peckham. Why? Because he knows that as a working-class black man from Peckham, who has officially ‘made it’ by breaking the transfer record for a defender twice, playing for Man U and now captain of England, he is a role model. His actions are influential. He can make a difference.

Discussion point: Can flawed people be leaders? Why? Who did Jesus choose to be his apprentices? And then his leaders? Did they all turn out  to be ok? Were they always friends? Which ones wanted to be Captain (can we sit at your right hand…)? What would he have done if Peter had had a bounce with the ex of one of the sons of Zebedee…?

2. The second key point is that betrayal hurts, who ever you are. Why do people betray others?  Why do they betray their friends? And why does it matter? (I explored some of these theme in a previous post).

Discussion point: How was Jesus betrayed, and how did Jesus respond to that  betrayal – by his family, by his home-town, his fellow Rabbis, by his disciples, by a kiss in the park, by Pilate…? How do adults respond to betrayal? How do young people respond to betrayal? How many families have been split apart by betrayal? How have we responded to betrayal, major or minor?


3. The third key point is the reality (and unpopularity) of consequences and punishments. For certain people personal indiscretions mean a job loss, or job change. Church leaders rarely survive an exposed affair with their job intact; neither do politicians. Footballers do, after some press attention and some terrace chanting (Ashley Cole springs to mind….). Do you mind if your delivery driver is having an affair? So does it matter if your football captain is? It does – because consciously or not, public figures are role models. Capello had to show that his regime is one of integrity and strength of character, and not just on the pitch. Didn’t he?

Discussion point: For us that can be translated as whole-life discipleship. We cannot separate what we do at school or work from what we do at home; what we do in public from what goes on in private. God sees it all. Everything. What difference would it make for all of us if our private indiscretions meant a demotion at work? Or if cheating on our girlfriend got us taken out of the school football team?

We cannot breach trust in one part of our life, and be considered trustworthy in another. Can we?

We want our football players to be perfect – scoring for the team and only playing at home, if you see what I mean. They will not be. What we should expect is honesty – not telling-tales-to-the-tabloids kind of honesty, but holding your hands up and saying sorry, admitting mistakes, on and off the pitch. Showing a bit of humanity never hurt anyone.

Showing a bit of grace gives them a chance to.

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pests, parcour and pedantics

5 02 2010

please walk on the right

I am amazed by ants. Ants always seem to have a plan, and never a planning committee. They have a purpose, without a PCC. The idea of having a plan without planning it appeals to me. There is a freedom there. The ants plan is: we build ants things and we collect ant stuff without bumping into each other or getting in each others way. We occasionally allow ourselves to sidetracked by some fallen sugar. Rules: 1. Don’t eat white powder. 2. Avoid boiling water. 3. Make holes in the cement between patio slabs. 4. Collect stuff. 5. Be filmed for nature documentaries. That’s it.

Humans need plans. Even the most unplanned of us have secret plans. Take walking. Most of us walk. We walk without thinking. Sometimes we run. Where do we walk? Do we walk aimlessly, randomly, or do we walk to somewhere? There are times when we don’t know where we are walking. I sometimes go for a walk without a plan. Except not to get lost. Except to be home before I get hungry. Except not to walk under a moving vehicle or off a high bridge. So, still a plan then. We walk primarily on pavements or footpaths. We go up the escalator the same way as everyone else. We walk the underground passages on the right. There are things we must do that are not laws or really rules but things that make life flow better.

what obstacle?

A while ago we watched some professional parcour runners doing a freestyle free-running display. If you’ve never seen it, check it out on YouTube. It looks like there are no rules and no plan. But still there are. But not normal rules. When interviewed one of them said this: “Free-running is about turning obstacles into opportunities; it is changing your view of the things around you that allows them to change you.” Things that get in other people’s way become bollards to jump off, scaffolding to swing from, walls to back-flip from. Things that keep the rest of us in line become the very things that spawn creativity and make the rest of us jealous.

When followers of Jesus meet together we make a lot of rules. My denomination even calls them laws, they are so exciting. We have rules partly because when humans get together we need them. They are not inherently bad. Ants have rules. Parcour champions have rules. They know what heights are too big or what gaps are too wide. They know how to avoid each other when free-running as a group.

no bumping

The question for me is, and it’s not a new one for many – what rules do we need? And what rules are just guidelines? What rules may feel like obstacles but can be turned into opportunities? What can we see around us that if we saw differently, would change us? Many people have done thinking on this, and you can look at Jonny Baker’s site or emerging church site for some of that. But many ‘new’ church ideas involve lots of young, creative people with skills in art, design and music. How can we re-think church gatherings for the more elderly, those who haven’t experienced anything new or different, and if they have, didn’t really like it?! Should we even bother?

In my little congregation of mostly over 65’s we tried something called Bacon and Banter last week, instead of ‘normal’ church. Bacon sandwiches, discussion around tables, and then feedback and questions. It worked! Was that ‘church’? There was no singing, no confession, no communion. But there was free-thinking, there was feedback, there was hearing from people who have been following Jesus more than twice as long as I’ve been alive. Obstacles into opportunities?

I think Jesus hung out and talked with people. He did a lot of listening. He wasn’t against rules, but he wasn’t pedantic about them. Neither should we be. Rules are the scaffolding that frames creativity, and sometimes they need to be swung from.

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