slave waver

10 02 2012

there was no apple

When the writers of the Bible talk about people in being in slavery to sin it all seems a bit, well, harsh. Slavery? How many of us would say we are enslaved to sin? The language calls to mind images of the devil binding us in chains or possessing us in some scary poltergeisty sort of way. We may prefer to think that we flirt with sin, we may clothe ourselves occasionally, because actually it is just a bit of fun. Isn’t sin more fun anyway? Better to be in slavery to sin that befriended by boredom? Read here about evil and sin actually being pretty dull and banal and boring.

I  had 2 conversations with people a while back that went something like this.


Me: Why did you assault my friend?
Person a: I had to defend my family.
Me: Perhaps that wasn’t the best way to react?
Person a: I can’t help it, it is how my family always react. It is in my genes. It is just the way I am.

Conversation 2:

Person b: why did you grass on my son?
Me: Because he was doing something dangerous and illegal.
Person b: We don‘t grass on estates. You want to be careful doing things like that round here.

My point is that neither of those men would say they are enslaved to sin; I would not say that to them either! But their reactions as grown men to situations around them come from a position of slavery. To the gene pool, to the domination system, to ‘the way things are’, the way that oppresses freely because that is how life is. I don’t say that as a value judgement on them. I honestly think they think they have no choice. They have seen no other way that works. As I wrote following the Faithworks Conference, that is exactly the kind of slavery that Jesus came to free us from.

It does not need to be that way. Our character need not be defined by our genes, our family and our upbringing, though they will always be part of who we are. Our character can be defined by the Holy Spirit living in us. The system of domination and fear that we live in and support by living in it does not need to define us. We can be defined by the kingdom of God not the kingdom of fear.

I pray for slave waver in our community. Where anger is replaced by patience, fear by love, fists by feasts. When teenagers talk about something other than sex and slagging each other and don’t need to get a rush from being (nearly) nicked; when men can  be real men instead of being something they think they ought to be and women can be themselves without fear of being judged or taken for granted or simply ignored.

My deepest longing is that this slave waver happens because people meet Jesus and by his Holy Spirit they are transformed and sanctified and other wonderfully big words and maybe I even mentioned being saved but… but… I kinda just want it to happen anyway whether or not they discover Jesus. Through our influence or through nothing to do with us. If slaves waver and the world gets better and looks more like the kingdom, I’m not so worried about why…



22 01 2012

They say most preachers only have one sermon. You just hope it’s a good one as you’re gonna hear it week in week out. I think mine has changed over the years but at the moment it is about transformation. That when we invite God into our lives that is part of the great transformation of God’s creation, the reconciliation of all things to God, and the beginning of us living in the way God intended. Basically the kingdom coming. Transformation. With him, in him, by him, for him.

I've got a new sermon! Have you? No not really.

The trouble with a transformation message is that it can sound like triumphalism, or that terrible false promise that if you turn to God all your problems will go away. You will be ‘healed’, which I think means being turned into a squeaky clean smiley and annoying person, of the type we all wish we had more of only so we can fill the spaces in the rotas.

Transformation is very different from triumphalism; being in a relationship with God is very far from a self-help life-improving life-style choice, though of course the complication comes from the fact that hopefully our lives do change for the better. Now, I am sure that some people will be able to point to lives that have been totally transformed. And healed. Hooray! But the gritty and annoying reality is that for most of us, transformation is a bit more incremental. Small steps. No steps. Backward steps?

How do you keep believing that God is and will and wants to transform us and our communities when he doesn’t seem to do very much. Now we are getting somewhere. Because then we start to look.

We ask ourselves, am I dismissing the small changes in people (that are actually massive in their context) because we want to see changes we can write books about and impress people with our stories? Am I dismissing a new openness from someone previously closed to God’s message; am I dismissing the value of being a part of the church community to those with fledgeling faith but lonely hearts; am I mistaking transformation for ticking the boxes of quantitative, measurable change?

It is true that sometimes I get disheartened. Call it transformation-frustration. Or frustransformation, if you will.  Don’t get me wrong – not because I don’t think God is doing amazing things. But because I want more! I don’t want a sort of ‘transformation-lite’, in which a few people feel a bit better and the congregation grows a bit because we’re all lovely. No!

I want to see this community and this church changing in a big way – I want to see depression banished, alcoholism defeated, domestic situations calmer, husbands coming to faith.

I want to see tired old ladies glowing with the Spirit, I want to see men who have never grown up suddenly realising their responsibilities and their potential; I want to see young people smiling and laughing and confident in who they are without needing drugs or sex the thrill of being annoying to get them through.

I want to see the ill healed (and not just made comfortable), I want to see debts got rid off and I want to see people really and actually and everyday believing and knowing that they are treasured and loved by their creator God. And that that informs how we all live and speak. That we may all do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

There’s me and my one sermon again.

So, God. In the words of Coldplay, this is a comma not a full stop, so where’s your answer?

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.

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