obedience and love

17 02 2016

Obedience and love. Now there’s a pair of uncomfortable bedfellows. So to speak. We struggle with notions of obedience and authority these days. Especially from the church.

Obedience and love. What comes to mind? Misogyny, abuse, and the many other forms of enforced obedience that litter our past?

Obedience and love. As a man and a priest, I know I am on dangerous ground. But let’s take a step back. As I have said before, we are all obedient to something. Better we know what it is. If we are obedient simply to our emotions, our love will have no deep roots and will be blown around with the wind. We will love, and then not love, which is not really love. Or we are obedient to common sense, or economic sense, or society’s prejudice, or a dominant personality, or to whatever we read on Twitter today.

Obedience and love means first and foremost obedience to Jesus. Before we love anyone or anything else, we love him. All our love is framed by him and seen through the lens of his love. Therefore, we cannot be obedient to our inner desires for control or domination; we cannot  arrange those we love around our need to be the centre of their world. Instead we practice selfless devotion to others, we sacrifice our own needs for the needs of others.

Obedience and love then becomes a wholeheartedly positive way of thinking. Obedience to the way of Jesus, and a love that is patient, kind, not self-seeking; that is not a slave to jealousy or anger or boastfulness or pride. This can only come from deep places, from deep roots. It can be uncomfortable, and there will be strong winds trying to blow us back to selfishness. But it is possible.

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One of my favourite stories in the Bible is that of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. This is a story of different types of love – familial, cross-cultural, community and romantic – which places deep love at the centre of the story, and mixed-race marriage into Jesus’ genealogy. Both Ruth and Boaz are described with the same Hebrew phrase ‘eshet hayil’, which means ‘of noble character, good standing’.

Noble character is not something we publicly prize at the moment, yet deep down we know its value. Just look at the tributes to the late Terry Wogan, and the emphasis placed on his character. When we are of noble character – truly, madly, deeply, not just our facade – then obedience and love is not something to be feared, but something to be desired.

We are called to obedience in love, but not to subservience. To be noble in character, people of deep love. And a particular note to men: we are called to love as Christ loved the church, which is by self-giving, self-sacrifice, and deep deep devotion. Will we accept that countercultural challenge?


 

This is part of a series at our church through Lent called Enduring Obedience.

 

 





things jesus didn’t say # 11 | help

2 12 2014

God helps those who help themselves. This is another of those things that sound a bit like Jesus might have said it. It sounds kind of… motivational. But the only time I think we ever use it is an excuse to not help somebody we don’t think deserves it.

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Jesus didn’t say it. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God; the second is to love your neighbour. We do not just actively love ‘hard working families who do what is right’, we actively love those who struggle, those who cannot help themselves at the moment, those who don’t work, those who have fallen no matter who’s fault the fall was. We don’t fill out a ‘deserving’ questionnaire. It might just be our help that gives them the leg-up they need to help themselves. It might not. We still help.

Ultimately, we are not about self-help. We are not about watching others struggle from our positions of power. We are about active love within shared community. Within that, we might be taken advantage of. And we might find we ourselves are helped. I am not afraid of either. Are you?  

More things jesus didn’t say:
1. whatever doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger
2. follow your dreams and believe in yourself
3. everything happens for a reason
4. pray harder and I’ll give in
5. on the third day nothing important will happen
6. I won’t give you more than you can handle
7. other your neighbour as you other yourself
8. faith hope and tolerance, and the greatest of these is tolerance
9. touch wood





Band Aid 2014 and the selfie-generation

18 11 2014

Some truths: 1. BandAid is generally A Good Thing. 2. Bob Geldof is a genius at marketing it. 3. To quote Sir Bob, even if you think it’s crap, that’s not the point.

“Ebola is just a plane-ride away from you.”

That being said. What struck me this time round though was how Sir Bob sold it to the X-Factor generation. Previously, he knew what people needed to see was evidence of the need, hence the famous shots of Ethiopian children in the 1980’s. Then, that was new. Now, that is not enough. His script was heavily laced with the knowledge that whilst the world is so large and accessible to young people, their own world’s are increasingly small. Unless it affects us, it doesn’t matter. 

Ebola is just a plane-ride from you. That was his take. In a way, it’s genius, because it taps into our natural human fears. Our selfishness. But I thought – isn’t that the opposite of charity? Charity, linguistically related to love, is about self-giving, not self-interest. We should give to others because of their need, not because of our own need. This isn’t a neutral philosophical debate like the entire episode of Friends devoted to trying to find a ‘selfless act’. No.

This is about looking at the world outside of ourselves. Outside of our own needs. Life is bigger than what I can fit in a selfie. It is about putting ourselves in the shoes of people in desperate situations and being moved to help them just because. You could call it incarnation. We do it because it is the right thing to do. Because we are humans, precious and loved by God. Not because it might soon affect me. 

We give because even though they are poor, far away from us, they matter just as much. I wish Bob Geldof hadn’t used this emotional blackmail on the X-Factor. But maybe he needed to. And if he did, then we as the generation who are their parents have got a lot of work to do to communicate selfless love.

Young people learn by having it modelled to them. It’s time to get modelling.

Many organisation have been working with Ebola victims for a long time, for example Medicin San Frontiers, and you can also give directly via the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Watch this on iPlayer to find out more.





banishment, statelessness and the cost of love

14 11 2014

Love may cover a multitude of sins, but wouldn’t prison be better? Or if not prison, the good old days of banishment, when sinners were cast out of the city walls to fend for themselves. Guilty or not guilty, being suspected was enough to pacify the mob. Send them out! Scapegoats, if you like, carrying the sins and fears of the community on their backs. Out of sight, out of mind.

The struggle against fundamentalist jihadists is a real problem for our liberal democracy. Many are genuinely reaching the end of their liberal tether of benevolence and free speech. Deeply and firmly held beliefs about a god other than Economy terrify the policy-makers and the tabloids and therefore everyone else. So if someone sets out to destroy – or even challenge – the way that we live, increasingly the reaction is as fundamentalist and those we are ‘against’.

Just look at the reaction to the Occupy movement in Parliament Square over the last few weeks. Ordinary people challenging the priests of Economy, faced with detention and arrest. For what? Standing? And if we cannot cope with dissension from within, how on earth will we manage dissension that is far, far more serious. Like returning jihadists.

The option the Government want is more powers. Powers to barr them from entry, to take passports, effectively to render them ‘stateless’, someone else’s problem. Banishment. Suspects, that is. Whilst I understand the thinking behind this – how can we welcome home people who have engaged in a war on the other side to ourselves? – love steps in.

Love? What’s love got to do with it?

Love – love as action, love as intentional choice, love as principle – love says that the rights of those we disagree with are just as valid as those we agree with. Love says that a citizen of this country is exactly that – a citizen, therefore afforded the rights of a citizen, which include innocent until proven guilty (remember that?). We are not a totalitarian dictatorship intolerant of dissent or free-thinking; we are a liberal democracy with all the freedoms that brings. And a consequence of that freedom is people are allowed to exist who disagree with us. Who even want to destroy us. 

We cannot allow ourselves to arrive at a place where people can be arrested or de-citizened for being suspected of something, without going through the proper criminal justice system. It can be hard to understand how frightening this policy is unless you put yourself in the place of someone it might apply to, which is unlikely to be the standard middle-aged white males in an office who write this stuff (stereotype alert, apologies). 

Whilst it may pain us to stand up for the rights of people who are different from us or who we vehemently disagree with, love commands us to do so, because love is not sentimental mush but a hard-core challenge to our desire for self-protection and to look after those who are ‘like us’.

Instead of increasingly oppressive edicts from above, the Government needs to work hard at local community level to get alongside and understand what makes young men go to fight in Syria. One way this could have been done is through statutory youth work provision, but the priests of Economy think that is too costly. Sutton’s local council youth budget was cut by over 50% in 2011.

But love is costly, love takes the long view. And love does not banish. 





jeffrey jelly baby learns about peace

13 11 2014

You’ve never been caught taking close-up photos of jelly babies? Now’s the time. One of the challenges of church leadership is telling the same stories well, or finding new ways to tell the same stories that engage a varied audience. This is something I created for our all-age Remembrance Day service, and have used in assemblies alongside telling it with actual jelly babies on a table. I put it here in case it prompts or inspires you to have a new idea, however strange you feel when you first have it. And remember, the best visual illustrations are edible ones. 

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don’t call me good

15 05 2012

I see dead people. Ok, mostly just their coffins, but I hear about a lot of dead people. And one thing I have learned is that anyone can be presented as someone who was lovely, and who loved everyone. Time and again I hear of people who would ‘do anything for anyone’, when really I think probably what they would actually do is anything for people they knew; anything for people they liked; anything for people they lived near; anything for people who were easy to get on with; anything for people when it doesn’t really cost a great deal. 

Like all of us, really. 

The love Jesus talks about in John 15 is greater, deeper, bolder than simply being good. We can all be good. Many people tell me they are good people. Mostly when the vicar they’ve never met comes round and they feel uncomfortable about not having set foot in church their daughter was ‘done’ in 1957. I am not interested in people being good. I have no time for good. It’s all very well, but it has no frame of reference, no benchmark except itself.

What I am interested in, and what Jesus is talking about, is love. Love that is more than a feeling or an emotion, more than something that wells up inside like when you’re watching a movie and the soundtrack swells and the slow-motion close-ups go out of focus and the world feels like an X-Factor backstory. Love, true love, involves cost, and a cost that doesn’t expect anything back in return. And to understand why, we need to look at Jesus. 

Jesus talks about love a bit like it is a river. Every river has a source, and for Jesus the source of love is the Father, that is, God. I have loved you, as my Father loved me. The Father loves, and his love is poured out into Jesus. So, Jesus loves. But he doesn’t do it all himself. He says remain faithful to me and obey my command that you love each other. The Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves us, and we in turn love each other. Love each other, as I have loved you.

My command is not to follow rules but to love. A love that begins and ends in self-giving, cost and sacrifice.  

So let’s not try to be good. Let’s try to be love. And not a blurry weepy weak and soppy love but love that stands up for the outcast, the untouchable and love that looks beyond me and my family and my club and my street, a love that isn’t just for the easy to love, the kind, the nearby, those who love us back, but a love that keeps on loving because it is a love that comes from Jesus, that comes from the Father.

With that love we can change the world. With that love we are changing the world. 





truth of the world

15 07 2011

It is easy to rub our hands in glee. It is easy to join in the (somewhat hypocritical) recriminations that our politicians are engaging in. It is easy to speak words of hate or of vengeance. It is easy to jump on a bandwagon.

But our news of the world is good news and we are meant to be good news. That good news is love. Deep love. That affects and infects everything we do and every thing we are.

When the Hebrews wanted to get something across that was deep-felt and passionate, they didn’t write treatises and systematic theologies. Or letters to newspapers. They blogged poetry. They poured forth. I do too sometimes – it’s not all good, it wouldn’t win awards, but that’s not the point.

…………………………………………….

I see you and I notice you
I see you and I notice you

and I see that you feel angry
and I see that you feel frightened
and I see that you feel entitled
and I see that you feel rights

and I love you
and I love you
and I love you

I see that you see other people getting more than you
I see that you see other people paying less than you
I see that you see other people served quicker than you
I see that you see people from a different place than you

standing where you want to be standing
living where you want to be living
receiving what you want to be receiving

and I see that I love you and I see that I love you
and I see that I love you and I see that I love you

and I see that you see no-one understanding
and I see that you see no-one caring
and I see that you see that it always was this way
and I see that you see that always it will be

and I see that you hear that I love you
and I see that you hear that I love you

and I want you to feel that I love you
and I want you to taste that I love you
and I want you to breathe that I love you

breathe in
…and love
breathe out
…and love

breathe love to change us
breathe love to mould us to break us to bend us
breathe love to move us
breathe love become part of us
breathe love in to breathe love out
breathe a generous love
breathe a hopeful love

and your love and my love can rub together
and explode into a beautiful and terrifying and awesome
explosion of love
that we will never be the same again
because the smile on your face will be so big
and the weight will be lifted
and the fear will be ended
and you will be transformed…

…and even so, and anyway, and because, and forever,
I lo
ve you.

…………………………………………………….

This poem first appeared in on paranoid tabloids in February 2010





talking down

5 12 2010

Last Sunday evening one of our teenagers climbed on the roof again, the first time for ages. Having promised I would call the Police if it happened, I did, after giving him the chance to come down. He didn’t. The Police duly came. Due to the freezing weather (pre-snow) they called the Ambulance. And the Fire Brigade (don’t you just love the word ‘brigade’. Very quaint). Our little street has never had so much drama. In the end I managed to talk him down after 2 hours, so the harnesses and hunky firemen were not needed.

So happens next?

A freezing teenager with hands cold as ice, shivering, still cross with everyone for not just leaving him alone… well, if we transpose this to some people’s idea of God, and how he will treat us on the other side (which is actually this side, but more of that another time…), the freezing hands should not be warmed but  made colder to teach a lesson; rules have been breached, a line has been crossed, justice must be done. And justice always means pain, rejection. Punishment.

Funnily enough we didn’t do that. A warm house, time to think, a conversation with a Police Officer – all accepted. A hot drink (rejected) and cheese on toast (rejected – but yummy in my tummy). Love says: this behaviour is not acceptable but you are loved. Love says: this behaviour is not acceptable but I understand the turmoil in your mind and I want to help you. Love says: you have ruined my evening but love is patient and love is kind even when love is stretched to the end of its tether. What punishment works but love, nothing like the chesed (continuing love) of Yahweh of course, but love all the same.

Justice is of course a part of this, and not apart from this. Because I don’t believe the justice of God depends on formulas like science experiments. You’ve committed this sin so you are out; you have been good, so you are in. Tally up the votes like in X-Factor and chuck you out or keep you in? I think not. Because true justice isn‘t so blinkered. True justice knows that people do things wrong because of things that have gone wrong because of things that have gone wrong… True justice knows that perfect love drives out all fear; that the strength of love is stronger than the strongest punishment; that for those who know no love, love is terrifying enough. And beautiful enough. And unexpected enough.

The grace and love and forgiveness of God must always be terrifying. To those who know it, sometimes not terrifying enough. To those who don’t yet know, terrifying indeed.  And beautiful. And unexpected. And utterly transforming.

At the end, maybe we will all be talked down by love.





amazing

26 10 2010

Every now and then I am overcome with what some of you go through every day. People I meet and people I know who daily struggle with depression, eating disorders, domestic violence, bi-polar disorder, bullying, schizophrenia, mental health issues, physical pain, bereavement, loneliness, and all kinds of other things.

Some of you have found faith in the midst of these issues; some of you have held on to faith in the midst of them; some of you have lost faith in the midst of them.This is a tribute to all of you, some of whom wear your experiences on your sleeve and some of whom keep them so well hidden no-one would know. No-one.

Faith is a dirty and messy thing because faith is part of all this crappy stuff, clinging on, falling off, picking itself up, falling off. Faith is very real. And is certainly not escapism. Some say that faith is a crutch for the weak and the desperate and yes, the weak and the desperate are very welcome. As is everyone. Jesus is my teacher and my inspiration, and I see him sitting with the weak and the desperate, and the strong and together, who turned out to be weak and desperate anyway. He incarnated – became flesh – as one of us. That matters. He’s not a quick fix fix-it magic wand kind of God. Inadequate as that may seem, when a magic wand to take away the problem might seem better.

You are amazing. Amazing when you carry on, amazing when you cannot. And you are loved. Loved when you cope, loved when you do not. Loved when you function, loved when you cannot. Loved when you give in, and loved when you do not. Love is patient, when we cannot be. Love is kind, when we cannot be. Love protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, when we cannot.  Love loves when we have run out.

Words are so inadequate, quoting the bible is so trite, for the depths of pain some of you daily feel. So I thought I would go ultra-cheesy and post this song because it truly is ultra-cheesy and it makes me smile and you people, you make me smile because you are amazing, you keep my faith real and grounded and in perspective where it should be. Thank you for what you give me.

When you smile the whole world stops and stares for while. Because you are amazing.

And it that is too cheesy, there’s always the Mumfords!





trusting the peanuts

22 09 2010

Somehow Jesus has got a reputation for being all about a wishy washy inoffensive kind of love that strokes kittens, opens doors for old ladies and is about as powerful as a doormat. Not quite what he had in mind when he challenged ordinary people that lust is as bad as adultery and anger as bad as murder. What he had in mind was something altogether more powerful, more challenging, more distinctive. A revolution of holiness that wasn’t all about outward signs and climbing ladders of loveliness but radical change that began at the heart – in the heart – and moved slowly outwards. Not the other way around. And when we are changed that change affects everything and one of the least popular things to change is the way we handle money.

Jesus shows us that the way we see money and possessions shows us where our love is. And the principles are the same for those on bankers bonuses or income support. How we handle money shows how deeply our hearts have been changed. You cannot serve god but be held captive by desire for money and possessions on the side; neither can you serve money and try to placate God by a little church attendance or some loose change on the side. And yet…

if you are fiddling books or benefits or buying dodgy goods…
you are still loved
.

if you are grasping and clutching for more things so much that they define who you are…
you are still loved
.

if you are simply being tight with your money…
you are still loved.

if you are involved in adultery, or prostitution, or bullying, or abuse, or petty crime, or anger…
you are still loved
.

But you must change. We must change.


Although we struggle and we fail, although we like our possessions and we might fiddle the benefits or the books, there is always, always room for grace. That doesn’t mean that God is nice and turns a blind eye and we all breathe a sigh of relief – no, it means when we stop what we are doing and when we repent, turn around, there is total forgiveness. Hard choices. Distinctive choices.

How much better to fall fully into the loving arms of God, to know that he sees everything and you don’t have to try and hide things like the toddler who hides the chocolate behind his back thinking mummy can’t see, forgetting about the mess around his lips? Because God is love. Distinctive love. God’s love challenges our deepest desires and means that we cannot help but be distinctive in the way we are with our money, from the  ‘murky city‘ to the struggling family.

As faith begins as a mustard seed so trust begins with peanuts.








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