dodging the telegram

21 01 2015

I was running when I got the phone call telling me my granny had died. A few weeks short of her 100th birthday, this was a blessed relief for her, living as she has been in a fog of dementia and sightlessness; and she would probably have been embarrassed to receive The Telegram anyway. 

this is not my granny

She dodged The Telegram, and instead got the Book of Life, and maybe even my grandad, although having told him on his deathbed 8 years ago that she would see him soon, he may well be a bit cross she took so long. 

As a vicar I take a lot of funerals, so I am used to the talk of hope beyond death. But there are precious few times that I believe it fully and wholly for those I meet; by which I mean I always have hope that God receives all, but that there is no doubt for those who follow Jesus, or ‘have given their lives to him’, or ‘are saved’, however we choose to put it.

My granny committed to following Jesus 90 years ago, and served him faithfully ever since, through the highs and lows of life, being married to a post-war Baptist minister for over 60 years, through the death of her daughter and the treasures of her remaining children and theirs, and theirs, through birth and adoption. 

She was faithful to her husband, to her family, to the church, and most of all to her God, on whom her life was grounded. I know she was far from perfect. But she was a great example to us, from a generation that knew true hardship, and terror, and sorrow – at Remembrance Day I still show the machine-gun bullet that came through her window during the generation-defining WW2. 

As I continued my run after hearing the news, God worked through the shuffle playlist to play Awake My Soul by Mumford & Sons, with some appropriate words that made me chuckle as I ran:

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
Awake my soul, awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker

The legacy of my granny lives through me, and the rest of her family, and I would like that not to just be the shape of our noses or the names that we bear, but this: where we invest our love, we invest our life. That won’t always make us popular, and as I also have a life in ministry I know the cost investing your whole life can bring to your family. And I know it can be exhausting. 

But I take comfort – which literally means ‘with strength’ – from the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, which is not a vague and fuzzy optimism, it is not a half-baked hope of being a star in the sky that twinkles, but it is the costly life to which we are all invited. For we are made to meet our maker, and we do not have to be afraid. 

My granny was one of the few people I know who was utterly convinced of that.  

vaccinated against hope

13 07 2012

“I don’t care about anybody else
when I haven’t got my own life figured out

I know I am so self-obsessed I guess,
but there’s no hope”

After a long time of lamenting the lack of lyrics that even vaguely attempt to say anything (and awaiting the new Mumfords album for that reason) I have discovered a few recently. From Plan B and Jay Z/Kanye West in the hip-hop genre we move to the maudlin indie-blues of The Vaccines. No Hope feels (and sounds) like a song that could have been written in the 1980’s. 

In parts it typifies both the ‘lostness’ of a young generation looking at a future with no jobs, no affordable housing, no chance of moving out of mum & dad’s, no over-arching story of a place in the world and nobody in authority who can be trusted; but it also typifies the selfishness of a young generation who can’t think about anyone else until they’ve got their own life figured out. What else would they learn from recent scandals including bankers, MP’s, the Police and the media? 

We need to be getting alongside young people, showing them that part of figuring their lives out is in acting out our faith, which means giving of our lives to others. Life is not just about what we get out of it, but what we can put in. Only then will the fruit of the Spirit grow, and the vaccine against hope endlessly perpetrated by the media and our society (that celebrates mediocrity and failure) be overcome.

We have seen it work here. Long may it last.  

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


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!

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 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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