Thursday, 16 December 2010

Freedom for Gossip

I am really conflicted. I want to like Julian Assange and all that he's doing , except I find what he's doing so valueless that I am really struggling to applaud him or back him in any way.

The USA's desire to 'get him' is sickening. In fact general government reactions to him would be laughable if it wasn't so scary. At the same time though, we seem to be applauding him as a kind of bastion for free speech. We are starting to to see him as a champion of a cause when really all he seems to have done is put out a steady stream of sensitive gossip.

Looking at what has come out from wikileaks it is just information that will make it harder for those in power to speak well to each other. As a result of what he's published it's likely that countries will treat conversations with each other more suspiciously and cautiously. More like talking to a journalist than another diplomat or government bod. This can only further cloud and mask plain speech. It's not a gain. It seems to me that this potential loss of plain speech is also not offset by any gains from the 'revelations'.

What do we now know that we didn't before? Prince Andrew was a bit of a prat? There has been different agendas between David Cameron and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai? Not ground breaking, impressive or worthwhile really.

I can't go along with accolades for him that shout him as 'the savior of freedom' as I saw one commentator on You Tube say. And yet..... and yet.... The governments are out of whack here and we must speak up.

Lets just be clear what we're speaking up for. Freedom is the thing we are concerned about isn't it? The right to speak freely and well. Gary Goldhammer points out quite rightly though that, 'that transparency without judgement is gossip, not journalism.' Making the point that although Assange say publishing improves transparency this is not always the case. Judgement, analysis and care also have a place.

In the end I suspect I will sign petitions and object to the way Assange is being treated but that is because it is wrong for the bigger guys to adopt the position of a bully when things don't go their way. We need to make sure that it is never OK to be stood on just because you become a nuisance. Our governments should be able to deal with Assange maturely and with 'due process' and we need to shout at them loudly and with force if they don't.

I don't really think though that I can applaud or give thanks for Assange. Gossip is just gossip at the end of the day.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

God Bless Halloween

Yes I know I'm seasonally out of sync, but Like I said in a previous post, things got busy. I have wanted to post on Halloween since, well, Halloween. I have said previously that I don't really get why groups of Christians have such an adverse reaction to it. It always seems a bit, er, petty to me really.

This year I heard people say the same things, 'it celebrates evil' or, 'I really dislike the Americanism of trick or treating'.


I have never come across a parent who, while dressing their child in whatever monstrous costume, imbibes the message of, 'yes we are doing this so we can learn how good it is to hate and do bad things'.

Instead when we dress our children or , indeed ourselves, we caricature evil on Halloween, we make it ridiculous and laughable, the monstrous becomes less powerful rather than more powerful. As for the 'Americanisms', there is for me, a touch of lazy racism in this. Because it is American it does not make it bad and for parents to accompany children as they visit neighbours and friends and receive sweets; well that seems to me to be a rare moment of building and establishing community links. In sort, a good thing.

As for Christian presence in this, well I think it's ripe for the taking. All Hallows Eve is our festival. Why not own it and cash in on the possibilities of the cultural practices around it?

This year we put on a Halloween party at church. Children from the neighbourhood were invited. They dressed up, we did gory crafts, we went trick or treating. We also took the time to have story; our stories. Our trick or treating was to an old peoples home where they were thrilled to see the kids.

The result. Our Beeline group (which is an overtly Christian group for children aged 6-11) gained 6 new children and our mums and todds group gained around 15 new children. Halloween was a blessing. I reckon God is in most things if you look. God Bless Halloween

It's been a while

I logged in today and saw it's been too long since I last stopped by. The reason is simple. Winter has come and with it the busy arrived.

The shelter we run has needed some prep and then we have been open for the last 2 weeks straight.

I am always amazed at the effect the shelter has on us. I am always amazed at the volunteers that come out again and again. There has been something about the shelter that touches people enough for it to work.

This year we have had a lot of Eastern Europeans with us. They have 'no recourse to public funds'. That means that if they are not working then the majority cannot claim benefits or housing. I have enjoyed getting to know some of them this past 2 weeks. It's been quite the privilege. They are full of fun and are slightly bewildered at the volunteers helping them. I invited some of them to Christmas dinner at the church and the reply was 'we'd love to, it's the best place'.

I would agree. What we do is inspiring people to come and work along side us, volunteers are now starting to just turn up. Not just for the shelter but for other stuff as well. New folk are passing by and are really heartened by our approach. Businesses are giving things and this year some of those that came to the shelter in the first year have decorated for , gardened and supported others in the community in need.

You know sometimes, its all a little Acts 2. Now and again there is a little bit of a sense that the vision we have held and are trying to hold, the vision of truly being church, welcoming all and taking Jesus very, very seriously is in God's keeping.

I am always astounded by how hard following Christ is. It is so very 'other'. Amidst all the struggle though there is a lifting and a coming together. God sending followers and the vulnerable, the gifted and the wounded. The struggle will continue of course, my natural default settings are not geared to sacrifice, or patience, those are lessons that Jesus has to continually give extra tuition for. I remain though, a committed student.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Problems with the Papacy

The Pope's visit ends today and I'm pleased.

I have been really uncomfortable with the whole thing because I don't like the Papacy much, I find the institution problematic, yet the reaction we seem to have had in Britain over his state visit has caused me to want to defend him quite robustly.

I am by nature quite argumentative, so I have had to check myself that this urge has not just been part of my natural leaning to argue that black is white. I don't really care too much if he's here or not so to feel so wound up has seemed a little... well.... pointless. Still, there's no denying it. Wound up I have been.

There are bits like the Humanist Society spending their resources on denouncing the Pope's visit for making us spend resources on him, that have made me smile at the irony. I have been slightly bewildered by the objection of his entitlement to a state visit on moral grounds by a secular body when other heads of state are readily welcomed and their morality left unquestioned.

Why is it that we object to the Pope so much anyway? I don't believe it's because he doesn't measure up morally. If we really were becoming morally aware and wanted to fight for the little guy then we could; we can. There are companies to take down, taxes to raise and invest in the poor, we can engage in any number of ways, but we don't seem to be doing a great deal of that.

Why is it then that we have objected to him so much?

I think, and this is just a guess after much pondering, that what we have seen in the reaction against Benedict 16th is really an expression of our own self delusion.

Stay with me on this. The reason I need my Christian community is because they keep me on the straight and narrow. I can't go too far off course without someone pulling me up on things. It's a painful process most of the time, but rubbing along with folks from many walks of life, striving for Jesus and letting them have a voice in the way I run my life life, holds me to Christ in a way that I cannot do on my own.

Left to my own devises I would simply lie to myself. "I am not too bad", "Many people are worse than me", "Given my circumstances anyone would have done the same". I would go on and on in delusion. "My spirituality", I would say, "is my own business, no one has the right to judge me, I do OK". To live in community with others, in the light of Christ, makes it too hard to do this. Others get to speak into you, it hurts, it heals, it's part of looking for the truth.

I think when we react against Benedict 16th turning up, we are pointing out all the ills of this religious leader so that we can relax and again make our own judgments King. If the Pope is the bad guy, we can go back to telling ourselves we are really not that bad at all. We don't need to be held to any account or to come out of our own private deliberations. The soft sell we allow ourselves can rule. "These religious types are no good, such hypocrites. I can follow my own conscience and believe my own truth". It is enticing because it's easier and lets us off the hook. It's just not very truthful.

All I can say for my own part is, I don't trust myself enough to do that. I need others to call me to account and to reveal the way, the truth and the light to me. I am very aware that I could convince myself of how right I am and how good I am if I don't allow others to have authority and community with me.

As a result, I can't, on this occasion, stand and object to Pope Benedict's visit to Britain. It would align me with too much that I find tempting.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Self Serving Drama

Rowan William's writes, in his 'Anglican Identities', about the difficulty in theology today
How a language of faith rooted in experiences and expressions of extremity can be rendered in a bourgeois environment without self serving drama.
In as much as theology for me is often about how we work out our present story in the light of our Christian story and in the hope of our future story in Christ, this rang very true.

Although people may well find it very difficult to believe, this struggle is often something that renders me speechless. There are so many things about my Christian story coupled with my present context where often I find the language of the Christian faith simply doesn't seem to make sense. I then seem to be talking but knowing at the same time that what I'm saying is unintelligible.

What is it to speak of Jesus in a context that operates through coercion? What is it to tell a story of drama, or resurrection in a largely apathetic society? I'm not a bad speaker, but I often find myself feeling that I am overreaching the limits of what I'm able to communicate about the Jesus I love.

Actions are easier in some senses (much harder in others). We can attempt the language of grace or redemption but how much can we really communicate without trying to live it in communion and covenant with each other? We need each other to hold us to account as we strive to live with the least and look for Jesus in our context.

To live in the world but refuse to coerce, oppress or use, is excruciatingly hard and Williams is right, the temptation is to enter into self serving drama. We, instead of seeking truth, create a worship drama that satisfies our tastes and needs, both polularist and lofty alike.

If worship is to point to Jesus, if it is there to announce and celebrate him then what should it look like, and then how will we live our worship? Commitment to community, deep covenanted relationships is what I keep coming back to. It's not a popular notion. We move our setting and our community when we don't like the one we're in. Accountability sucks if it demands too much or we have to surrender our will.

To live with each other and really surrender is to make ourselves most vulnerable. Our inadequacies are highlighted our masks removed. It's in this though that we start to follow the way of Jesus and in doing that we are invited to join the divine community. In short we start to understand what the hell salvation is all about.

I would like to explain more but I feel myself reaching my limit again.

Friday, 3 September 2010

the new shibboleth

I came to this post through Chris Tilling's blog. It's a good one.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Listening to Stanley

Back from Greenbelt and unpacking, slowly, some of the input. A highlight was listening to Stanley Hauerwas. I thought it unlikely that I should ever get to see or hear him speak so it was more than a little treat for me.

There were loads of things and I may post more. Some personal things that struck me though....

I have enjoyed for some time his statement that theology should be seen as craft and, just as you would spend hours in training for any craft, so you should in theology. His desire for apprenticeships and learning from masters is good. He made the point that most of those in seminary these days are those that have failed first in previous walks of life. This made me smile as I recalled a conversation with the principle of my Baptist college as he described my cohort of students as 'dis-functional'. I think he was right too, we were.

I am still bewildered as to what on earth training or formation for Baptist ministry meant. My placement church hired me 'cause I was cheap and there was no other guidance for what my role meant whilst I was there outside a once a year meeting between my tutor and the church and chance to ask questions in 'Baptist Time'. We had personal tutors that changed every year. We met with them from time to time depending on their work load and efficacy. That was our lot at the time.

My friend who was in Catholic seminary seemed to experience a much deeper exploration of himself and what it was for him personally to be formed. I was very interested in that. I needed to do four years training. At first this had seemed a considered length of time. It was put to me that I needed four years. What was interesting is that there was no real sense of what should fill those four years.

My apprenticeship has since taken place through my working in a team in my first church. It doesn't really seem like formation though. More good luck and a huge blessing from God.

Connected with this, Hauerwas commented that theology matters. As an illustration that most of us don't believe this, he points out that if a medical student says she doesn't want to study anatomy anymore because she is more interested in psychology then she will be told tough luck. She needs to buckle down.

This doesn't happen in theological education though, or in seminary. He suggested that this is the case because whilst people think that an improperly trained physician might do serious damage to their health, we do not really think that badly trained/formed ministers can do any real harm. In short it doesn't really matter.

When I was 20 I came across the theology of John Howard Yoder. His work on letting go of outcome and embracing discipleship has formed my entire life. It's the reason I don't care if a drug addict never comes to Christ even if I put in a thousand hours with her and have half my worldly goods stolen. That's not the point. It is the walking the way of Christ that is the important thing. Sod the outcome. The theology in that one book has molded completely the way I try to live. Hauerwas is right. Theology matters. It has the power to inform and completely transform the way we live and our very salvation.

It's important that we engage and that we can trust those who engage deeply in its pursuit and bring back news from their discovery and their reading. I think that our salvation depends on such an approach.

It just wont do to take it all lightly.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Family Communion

The second family service happened by accident. It was meant to be a regular service but Sunday school take a well earned rest through August and there was no one to cover. The rota said the service was around the theme of education and it was communion.

I made the reluctant decision to make it a family service (I really struggle with family services) and I ditched education and centred in on the last supper.

For me a family service needs to be short, simple in message and in short snippets. That way you have a hope of engaging people and people are not there long enough to want to kill the children. As a parent I struggle with family services which are really traditional services with an extra bit for the kids. I just end up yelling at my children in hushed tones (a must ability for any parent) and praying it will end soon.

My trepidation around this service was that I was to let the children administer the communion. I didn't know how that would go down. I never know how things like that will turn out.

I set some tables at the front of the church and got the children to act out the last supper at the front. We then got two of the children to stay at the table and invited the community to come up and sit and receive the bead and wine from them at the table. When there was a space then we asked that someone else should come and take their place and receive.

The effect of the children serving in this way was incredible frankly. I am sure that the kids did not fully understand what they were doing (not least because one of them was my son and I asked him about it later). However the gravitas of the event seemed to get hold of them so they served with a seriousness which went beyond their ages of 7 and 8 years. This meant that those coming to the table were served this most incredible meal by those that are our smallest and most vulnerable. In this meal the children became those serving, administering, those blessing those that arrived at the table. There was an innocence about the children acting in this way and with such childlike maturity that it seemed the table did actually become the Lord's.

While it was happening I couldn't work out if what I felt was because my Son was presiding or because this was of God. I later heard from others that they felt God with them. With the children in this role, a family service was occurring that had brought Jesus into the centre.

I am still pondering this service. I am still going over it because there have been too few times that I have celebrated this feast so fully and so thankfully.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

2 families

I want to post on two family services that have happened here recently. I'll do them in separate posts though, so here's the first.....

Dinner with Lazarus

We did a couple of services around John 12:1-11 the second of which was a family service and was done by our youth worker Mel and team leader Mary. I wasn't in the whole service so actually missed the bit I'm going to talk about here but it caused a bit of a stir and was an event that I reflected on for quite some time.

The passage is the anointing of Jesus' feet by Mary with expensive perfume. She uses her hair for the task and it's an erotic act, full of devotion and love for a man in grave danger who brought her brother back to life. The brother is in the room and the whole evening must have been charged with all kinds of conflicting and powerful emotions.

As a part of the service Mary T (minister here) got her husband (Dave) to burst in the service and lavish her with over the top love and gifts (ala Mary in the story pouring oil on the feet of Christ). It was this element of the service that caused the most consternation.

Dave burst in and adorned Mary with over sized jewels then picked her up and threw her to the floor. As it worked out in God's infinite wisdom, there was a stumble and Mary fell to the floor with Dave on top of her. There were limbs and clothing everywhere.

I was in my office while this was taking place and could hear the gasps of consternation as she fell to the floor. At this point I thought I'd better go have a look at what was going on. I mean how often do people have involuntary verbal reactions (other than yawning) in a service?

The rest of the service was great. The reaction to a minister being thrown to the floor though in a questionable manner had not gone down so well. Talk of chaos, inappropriate behaviour, lack of respect for the role were all spoken of.

To be fair, there were also people who spoke of creativity, a connection with the passage and an excellent family service. That's part of the beauty of this place. Massive diversity.

I thought a lot about what people had said. Mainly the bad stuff (that's always the way). It seems fitting that this reaction was there. I don't want to make too many similarities between Mary and Jesus in this blog but Mary displays some amazing discipleship qualities. She gives of herself in all sorts of ways sacrificially, she takes in the homeless, gifts large amounts of her cash and calls upon Christ to lead her forward. How interesting then that because she gets flung to the floor in a rather unceremonious way she should be criticised for being non ministerial.

I imagine the discomfort Judas feels here is a similar reaction. sensibilities are challenged. How should a teacher and a follower of the way behave? Is the defining aspects of our loving Christ our behaviour and confirming to expectations or will it be in who we welcome to our table, will it be with our breaking bread with Judas or with our shunning the vulnerable when emotions are high.

Jesus welcomes his anointing by Mary, he accepts this lavish gift and points out its prophetic voice even if it is wrapped in eros and yearning.

I wonder if we will start to use different criteria of what is holy sometime soon. To look not at whether a minister can be flung around more seriously than if she radically walks the way of Jesus. When will the marker of a Christian not be placed in their acceptance by society and their 'respectability' but be firmly placed in their approach to the least?

My kids enjoyed the family service a lot. They have an understanding of this story and think church is fun. Job done for me. The service was good.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

war games

My son at 7 is obsessed with all things war. Bags of soldiers are bought with his pocket money and armies are lined up on a world map to conquer the planet. I think this is normal. I think this on the basis that all his friends seem equally obsessed about soldiers of any kind and come round to kill and be killed on a regular basis.

As I am a card carrying follower of JC I am a little uncomfortable with this celebration of all things violent and so began a conversation between the two of us one evening, "Sam the thing about war is........"

This conversation obviously sparked something in Sam's mind and he's kept coming back to it. Eventually he mentioned that if there is a war he probably wouldn't sign up after all. At this point I mentioned that if there was a war the government would make him sign up and if he still didn't sign up he would then be a criminal. Sam has wrestled with this a lot. How can it be criminal not to kill someone, even if the government says you should? When I said they think they know best Sam said that he thought he had some good ideas about things too and should be listened to. He became more and more bewildered with all this and Sam has seemed to come away with a very cautious sense of the government.

I think this is a good thing on the whole. Most of us take stability for granted, when most of the world are in chaos. I am constantly staggered by Amnesty's magazine and the horrors it contains and as for our own selves, we are so precariously balanced in world markets that I don't think we are untouchable.

Just before bed Sam said to me, "I've decided not to be a soldier. I'm going to be a shop keeper and earn lots of money."

"Sam the thing about money is........" Maybe I need to ease up a bit.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Spiritual Eggcitement

It is true to say I'm a little bit obsessed with chickens at the min. I read about them, have spent far too much time looking into housing them and am excited about owning some of the happy little cluckers.

It turns out I'm not on my own. More people than ever are getting excited too. I was at my friends house and confessed to my recent vice and she in turn got all excited and and asked me if I'd seen the latest coop. I loved her at that moment.

This coupled with the uptake in allotments now (most of my close friends either have one, share one or are growing veg in their gardens), was in my mind when Andy mentioned to me Luke 19:40
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
Christian communities seem to own spirituality (at least in their minds). We have a set format, a legitimate way of expressing things and things beyond that are not accepted. Mel (our youth worker) spoke about needing to recognise God outside the church instead of thinking we have a monopoly on spirituality. There is a massive amount in this.

The balance of course is seeing where our traditions and denomination help and liberate us in spiritual formation and where they put up barriers.

The keeping of chickens, running of allotments, rambling societies etc etc etc, all this I am starting to see as the very stones crying out. If the church can't communicate and accommodate spirituality then the earth itself will call out and testify to Christ. People will meet with God in their connection to his creation.

I find myself comforted by this

Monday, 28 June 2010

shoulders for rugby

My Dad used a couple of lines on me quite regularly. The first would be as he firmly clasped me on the shoulders and with a hint of a smile he would say, 'you have fine shoulders for a rugby player'. The second would be the well known saying of ' you're built for comfort not for speed.'. How I'm not in therapy...... Anyway, all this was done quite affectionately and is to say that I am not one of lifes natural runners. The past few weeks, however, has seen me giving the jogging thing a go and then, to some suprise, starting to enjoy it.

I am now managing to run 5 miles to work and have found in the process that my prayer life has taken an upsurge. I have joined a renovare group which has encouraged regular and deep prayer. This is an area I've struggled with for a while. It's the deep aspect I struggle with. I can pray, it comes with the job. I can talk hoping someones listening, but that's not the same as deep communion with God. The running though has changed this.

One of the renovare exercises was to give chanting a go. This has been a previous no go area for me. Basically I would get bored and lose interest too quick. Running though has changed this. I don't take an ipod i just sing or chant (silently of course, I need no more eccentricities to make me look bonkers). This eventually gives way to prayer where I actually feel I give way to God.

Now it has crossed my mind that this 'giving way to God' thing might really be just exhaustion getting the better of me. It has also crossed my mind though, that the spiritual practice of work as prayer may actually have a lot in it. Monks have been doing this for centuries, using rhythm and labour as a part of their spiritual formation. I can't imagine that the running thing will stick for me (see my fathers comments earlier)but it does feel that I have made a significant step in my own personal experience of prayer through physical expression.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Sight Tested

We had a leadership team meeting last night and got on to the subject of church vision. This is an area that I have to admit I've not done well on. Over the last couple of months a few people have commented on what they describe as a lack of vision and each and every time I have looked rather blank at the whole thing. Seriously, it throws me every time.

It's not that I have no idea what they are talking about, it's that I don't understand how they have missed it. As soon as I acknowledge though that they have missed it I also then have to acknowledge that I must have failed to communicate it. So my blankness just goes on.

The thing is though, all of us here have been preaching the vision for around the last 4 years. We've run sermon series on it, away weekends, training days, blogs, basically, the whole 9 yards. I partly put this lack of communication down to the fact that our vision has not fallen into the neat category that is often wanted.

Our tag line is, 'Helping people follow Jesus' and that is it. The vision within this though, is that we don't try help people by selling them a picture and product of Jesus that they may like. We are not trying to market Jesus so that people will feel warm and fuzzy enough to come along on a Sunday and sign up. Our picture is way more exciting than that.

The vision is for us to be church. Deeply deeply be church. That means that we commit spiritually, in depth, to one another, we show the hospitality not of the sterile coffee morning but of the lavish welcome of Jesus. We serve the least and welcome the stranger and invite all to be on the journey with us.

Last year one of our neighbours was uncomfortable with the Night Shelter here. When Mary spoke with her, she lamented that when she moved over the road from church she had expected that would mean that she was over the road from nice folk who would voice hymns on Sunday and be peaceful. Instead, asylum seekers, the homeless, the middle class, drug addicts, young people are all congregating here through the week and its just not what had been hoped for.

That is our vision, right there. To be church in the most Gospel sense of it. To seek to embody what it is to be a community of Jesus Christ in all its diversity and variety and in that we will be 'helping people follow Jesus'. We are not the church of the least, the most, the homeless, the housed, we are the church of Jesus Christ. Or at least that's where we're headed.

Some have left, because this wasn't clear enough or because they wanted a different vision. Some left because it wasn't comfortable here and they wanted safety and sanctuary and a place that wasn't so hard to be in. Some have arrived though, enlivened by a church truly engaged and with something to say. Some love the fact that we don't just preach it but live it. Some are seeking Jesus who never before had set foot in a church. Really, not church movers but new blood looking for Christ.

Vision, I'll give you vision, lets be Gospel.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

charity begins ......

I'm writing this after watching the video that Andy posted on the church we long for. I would have laughed but I was too afflicted by the truth of it....

Still, I digress. We have money issues at our place. We don't have enough of it. Well, apart from the £230,000 we have sat in the bank that we cant bring ourselves to spend. That means we don't have enough money for current staffing levels whilst at the same time we are knocked back for any grant applications because they point out that we have £230,000 in our account. It's a reasonable point and a weird place to be.

In all this I have started to feel a might uncomfortable with our status as a charity and have come to the conclusion that I don't know enough about the charity commission and do not like the fact that we are in bed with them.

Now let me point out before we go any further, I think the charity commission is a good thing. They are not to my knowledge a bad body and I don't think they are asking us to do evil things.I just don't really understand why a church would benefit from affiliation with them.

I know at this point you're thinking, 'the woman's not been listening at the AGMs', either that or, 'they have a rubbish treasurer who hasn't picked up on the enormous financial kickbacks we could tap into'. Not so, I am aware that around £16,000 of our income will come as a result of our relationship with the tax man via our charitable status this year. And that seems to be it. Well, at least no other reason has yet been offered as to why we have adopted a constitution which is in line with the Charity Commissions needs. We cut a tax break.

Again in and of itself I am all for people giving us money, it's just that in opting for a constitution which will allow us this benefit we have agreed to make the Deacons the trustees of the church and they are accountable for the decisions and running of the church. At this point I become uncomfortable with the fact that my Baptist theology states that the members of the community will collectively make decisions and be responsible after having searched for the mind of Christ. When I have queried this discrepancy (I confess I have been late on the uptake of what was happening) the two responses that have come back seem to be a) I'll grow out of this opinion, b)£16,000 means it's worth it.

I am not sure it is. The community of Christ is a counter-cultural body, looking for different ways to live and spend and be in line with God's values. I'm not sure I want to strive then for another body's set of rules if they are not grounded in the seeking of Christ and the aims of the community to which I belong. I want all of us who have covenanted together to be responsible for good and for bad.

I am uncomfortable with changing church structure in order to get cash back and am a little alarmed by how out of kilter I am with others because of this. I have been in lots of meetings where the Baptist notion of the gathered body has been argued for and brought out to passionately defend (not least in our desire to keep excluding women ministers). It seems though that this theology may have a price and the tax man can set the tariff.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


We hosted a hustings for the candidates in the area. It was great. I had previously really liked the idea of such meetings but did wonder if anyone would turn out for it given the apathy round all things political. In the event, it was brilliant. Folk came from all sorts of places and presented their questions and challenged answers.

Most of the brilliant moments came from the Conservative candidate Alex Storey. His expounding of the 'might is right' policy with regard to Trident whilst sat in front of a crucifix was not lost on people. His closing statement, that he'd forgotten he was supposed to attend the evening as he was putting up posters, went down really well. Mary Creagh however, did have a moment when she stood up just after the lib Dem guy and announced it was really just a race between her, for labour and the conservatives, the room just laughed at her.

I have no idea how the vote will go on the 6th but the hustings was a moment when the church was assisting things that really matter for our community. That felt real good. It felt good that an opportunity to meet those who may represent us was provided in a welcoming space. It was heartening to see people engage politically, being interested in what happens to them.

The next televised leaders debate will be interesting. Nick Clegg has been given a credibility through this that must be like all his dreams having come true. The televised debates have taken him from a protest vote that won't get in, to a level player, the TV debate has put him on an equal footing, it's up to him to maintain that footing or not. Yes, the national voting system is rigged but even so, who would have thought this situation would be occurring now?

As for us here in Wakefield more calling to account, engagement and questioning will be the order of the day

Monday, 29 March 2010

nice little song

Banning children from church

My son was really naughty this weekend so we took away his biggest treat. He was banned from this Sundays service and needs to earn his way to coming next Sunday. I'm not sure about the rights and wrongs of this action but how long will church as a treat last?!!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Lets be a bit Christian... maybe.....perhaps

I came back last week from my last council for a while. I really enjoyed it. I get fed there with ideas and thoughts which is good and I appreciate how much effort is put into the agenda and it being a well run series of meetings. Some highlights, low lights and learning points then...

The main issues were around women in ministry and pensions.

women in ministry:-

Council sought to affirm women in ministry err... again. We did this and some of the presentation stuff was good. There was no appetite for in anyway enforcing churches who don't recognise women in ministry to tow the line which is interesting as it highlights how differently we treat minority justice issues. Race - fine, we'll give energy money and prayer to this. Women - we're a bit bothered but not enough to do much. Sexuality - sorry you're out in the cold, at least officially.

We say this is all to do with scripture but it's interesting how much it mirrors societies own stance, not really the stance of the Bible. It's also clear that we are fine for minorities to wait in the sidelines until the rest of us can start to 'feel' OK about it.

The issue of women was on the agenda at all though because there are some strong voices who care a great deal and handled the issue with care and sensitivity. It was a gift to hear some of the stories and there were a few individuals who I really was pleased to hear.

Pensions :- Oh my word. Ask a group of self benefiting ministers if they want a good pension or a really really good pension and try to guess the outcome?! My favourite part was when someone stood up and said that as Baptists we need to protect the weakest amongst us, so we need to look after our ministers in their old age. Mmmm, I reckon the weakest may be those we and society outcast not quite the educated middle class ministers. We have a guy who has stayed at the church and keeps peeing in the foyer. He's pretty weak. Maybe we should look after him first?

What was brilliant. Really really good was how the discussion was run. Really well put together and allowed people, all people to express an opinion. Was great.

One of the evening presentations was about the Bible and politics. Ooo Ooo I thought, getting all excited, we could really shake things up. A college principal led it. I was quite excited. The outcome.... well he said that politics is a bit good and also a bit .. err bad. So we should get involved .... a bit.

That session for me was the biggest let down. There was such an oportunity for engagement and discussion to be provocative and explorative, really, whatever your angle on it and we managed again to be well... flacid. Do we really have nothing to say.

There was a brilliant presentation by Rosemary Kidd. She's doing some good stuff and the Faith and Unity lot gave some helpful handouts. Brilliant, we can all now engage a little, if it's not too much trouble, or it doesn't make too many waves.

Oh deep sigh......

place to chew the fat

I have noticed that most of the things I want to blog about are too controversial. Things happen I would like to post about them but I realise that it may cause too much turmoil. That then begs the question of where in the world do we sit and talk through things. I loved being in religious spaces when I stayed in Israel because people would really go for it. It was OK. In fact it seemed to me that not just religious conversation but most conversations were times of formation.

What of us though? Where can the Baptists take ideas and doubts and explore them. What does it mean if leaders need to tow a line but not explore thoughts? Is it just simply that I am gifted in rubbing people up the wrong way!!!!.....

Sunday, 21 February 2010

another snow day

Last year the shelter was open a lot. This year we have been open more. Over 30 nights now. We are better at being open than we were. Pretty damn fine at it actually, but open we are.

As I type this it's a Sunday morning with snow falling outside. I was at the shelter through the night and I have been trying to make sense of Matt 16:21-28 ready to preach on it this morning. Jesus is calling for us to take up our cross. If I'm honest, I don't really want to preach it. It don't want to preach it 'cause I don't know if there's much appetite for it.

I've been searching for the joy angle in it all week and although I have one it seems such a fundamentally difficult message. 'Surrender your life, give up control and authority. Hand everything over to God and you will find the fullness of life.' I don't think anyone's going to believe me. In the end they didn't believe Jesus either. Not until they got to the resurrection.

There's the thing. For all the weariness that these shifts are bringing, I got a call this week from a young man we got to know through the shelter last year. Over the last 12 months he has stolen from us to feed his drug habit, lied continually, been arrested, cheated and used us. This phone call though was from a rehab centre in Wales. I didn't recognise his voice at first, his voice has changed through the fact that he's no longer medicating himself. He's working through the week on a farm, he's put on 2 stone in weight and is getting his teeth sorted. After the phone call with me he was off with some of the others swimming.

When I last saw him he was barely staying out of prison. He was a shadow of a man abusing everyone and anyone. Largely, as a community we managed to continually be vulnerable with him. He stole from us we gave him more. He lied to us we loved him. It was not an easy time for us with him. When and how do you display good sense, how do you become vulnerable but not stupid?

I don't want to get ahead of myself, but when I last saw this lad I felt despair. I was in it with him in as much as I felt Jesus said I should be but in all honesty I didn't have much hope or (if I'm really honest) much faith that it would turn out well. It looked grim.

Things are changing though. He sounded, err .... healthy. He was going swimming!! He thinks Jesus is cool!!! There is the possibility that this young man may actually be experiencing the miracle of Jesus Christ. It's nothing short of that. There was nothing certainly in my power that I could do for him, this I have to put at Christ's feet. He still has a long way to go, it is early days but I couldn't have imagined this 2 months ago for him and yet it is actually happening.

The reason we take up our cross? Because it's the only damn place that real hope can be found. The rest is just plain nonsense.

Monday, 1 February 2010

married to the church

We have just started a membership course for those people wanting to join us. Along with that the evening service are also going through what it means to become members of us here are WBC. As a result I've had a few more conversations with folk about it.

My understanding is that before my time, a shift took place in church to try and make membership less important but to beef up the possibility of belonging to us. That way our borders would be more flexible and permeable and open to new comers who exist on the edges. Now this brought with it a whole load of stuff on what it is to belong, open and closed membership and constitutional stuff. It was no easy task and brought with it some baggage.

Some years later though as we have reflected on membership there seems to have been a shift. The shift is towards a higher bench mark for membership with a more rigorous joining procedure. We have gone then from a welcoming meal being used as a way in to a 6 week course on what it means to covenant with us.

On the whole I am pleased with this. If getting baptised in Christ takes it's tangible form within a local community it seems to me that this is a very serious thing. Comparable to marriage. To belong to a church community is to commit your time, friendship, resources and spirituality to and with a group of people. The 6 week course is there so that people know exactly what they're getting into, what expectations will be and how big the demands are. It's fine to say no and to still be around, but to belong will both cost you and gift you deeply. It's not for the faint hearted and nor should it be. The gospels are no stroll in the park, this is akin to well, life altering salvation.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Christmas reflections

Christmas was hard but good. I cooked (with help) for 50 - hard, I didn't poison anyone - good.

It has been very very cold but strangely the shelter has been fine with people signing up and giving their time sacrificially.

And this weekend we have a wedding. Quite literally a white wedding with lots of celebration and excitement.

I'm not sure I've learnt anything new or had any revelations but I have enjoyed the season a lot. I loved the carol concert and the mulled wine. I stood in awe as I watched people take shifts on Christmas day at church, I smiled as people have looked after each other, I enjoyed giving and receiving gifts a lot.

I know there's supposed to be a lot wrong with Christmas but I think it's brilliant. We might not always keep it well but it seems to me we go quite a long way in our trying.

Top present - buddy Jesus pencil toppers. How cool!! Thanks Lou