upping the ampy

20 08 2010

This post is about Mary. And it is a bit different. You hear it, rather than read it. Some of you may like that. Some of you may not. It’s just an experiment really. It was written for the congregation at our church, but if you find it useful too, more’s the better! Think of it as like a takeaway leaflet – it could be junk mail, but then again it may actually be useful…

It’s on You Tube because I can’t upload audio to the blog.Yet…!

So, plug your speakers in, get a cup of tea and enjoy.


Meanwhile, if you don’t want to listen to 13 minutes of Kevin, hows about 4 minutes of the Mumford & Sons instead. Similar message, really, just with more banjo. Or it’s tenuous, but an excuse to listen to them.

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

‘Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be…



……………………………..

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faithworks 2: dirty hands or helium balloons

10 03 2010

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand, my soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer this heart O God,
Completely to you

I was listening to this song by Hillsong today, a song I love and have had many ‘moments’ whilst singing, when I realised the direction it faces. Upwards. Always. We offer abstract things to God, like ‘all I am’ and my ‘soul’, my ‘heart’. Perhaps it would be more realistic to sing What can I do? Offer my money, my attitudes, my house, my time. Maybe that’s what they mean. But there is a real tendency in modern theology to offer abstract things, to sing abstract things. It’s safer.

At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren spoke of our theology getting exactly the results we get – we talk about extracting souls from earth to heaven, via church, which is like a big soul-warehouse where we are stored until death. So, we care and sing about souls and eternal destiny; we say soul because it sounds better than saying self, but really we mean self. God exists to extract my-self from here to there, via church, whilst stripping me of my money, and presumably any sense of fashion. We look up, forgetting Jesus came down because God so loved the world.

It’s another example of what I talked about in my earlier Faithworks post – the salvation and liberation that Jesus talked about and that the early church talked about was this but was so much more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are freed to be his grubby dirty hands, not to be his helium balloons floating gracefully away.

what must i do to be freed?

Brian McLaren gave an excellent example of freedom and liberation as often misunderstood. Here’s a whistle-stop tour. Read Acts 16. Paul and Silas hang out with mixed-race family, and then a gathering of women at the edge of the city. Women. At the edge. These are not the powerful people. Lydia then hosts them – the first female church leader, and their patron. A slave girl makes money for her owners by predicting the future. She keeps shouting at her owners that Paul and Silas will tell them – not her – the way to be saved. Saved? Does she mean getting to heaven when they die? I think not. She is owned and exploited. They can be free. Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High; her owners are slaves of the system of oppression. If they are free, she can be free.

They exorcise her evil spirit (as you d0), and are imprisoned for advocating unlawful customs. What customs? Freeing slaves. They are in a Roman colony and are freeing slaves. The Roman economy is dependant upon slaves. In prison, there is an earthquake, and the jailer thinks they have escaped. He is going to kill himself. Why? He knows the system. He knows what happens to jailers who let prisoners go. He will be imprisoned. He knows what happens to prisoners. He knows that death is a better option. He is enslaved by the system.

But they have not escaped. His question: what must I do to be saved? Does he mean getting to heaven after he dies? No. I think not. He means, what must I do to get out of this horrific system of ownership, oppression, fear and slavery. What can you offer me? The kingdom of God breaking into a Roman prison in a Roman colony. How can we have missed the irony?!

Paul says, believe in the Lord Jesus (instead of the Lord Caesar – it’s wordplay, in Greek, kurious iesous instead of kurios caesar). Stop the domination narrative and you and your family will be saved. So the jailer takes the prisoners to his home, washes their wounds and feeds them. This family is having a liberated moment. This is very un-Roman. This is very Kingdom of God. This is beautiful stuff.

The next day, the magistrates want to quietly release Paul and Silas. Hush hush. Keep it quiet. But Paul and Silas engage in some civil disobedience. They refuse to go until the corrupt magistrates, who were only concerned about lining their pockets from the oppression of the slave system, have come face-to-face with their actions.

Summarising this story, Brian made these points:

  • women are at the centre of the Kingdom of God movement
  • women are released from oppression
  • the economic system is challenged
  • the political system is exposed as corrupt
  • low-level functionaries are liberated, along with their families
  • high-level functionaries are confronted with their corruption

set free from what?

So this story is way more than a Sunday-school story about an earthquake and a jailer, way more than telling people how to be saved from this earth and get to heaven. This is a get down and dirty story about the kingdom of God breaking in unexpectedly to a Roman colony, to a Roman prison, to a Roman family, to a female Roman slave. And so it is a story for us as we are called to imagine where we can be a part of the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world.

Do we simply offer our I ams, our hearts, souls and abstract selfs, or do we offer to be slaves that we may free slaves.

Dirty hands or helium balloons.

Helium balloons are fun for a bit, but end up making squeaky voices and popping uselessly. Dirty feet do get dirty, but they get things done, here and now.

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer myself O God
As a slave to you

We are blessed to bless a world in pieces, loved to love where love is not. If you need a holy pause, download for free We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth) by Andy Flannagan. Listen, worship, then go. 

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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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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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