Friday, December 31, 2004

Where were you...?

Tears of Dereliction...

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…. a voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" … lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!"
(Isaiah 40:1-9)

Not a time for slick theological answers; not a time for Godly platitudes; not a time for prosaic predictable apologetics. Simply a time to comfort.

Books 2004

Books I've read this year...

Alec Stewart (2003) Playing for Keeps. BBC
Court, S and Campbell, W. (2004) Be a Hero: The Battle for Mercy and Social Justice. Destiny
Brueggeman, W. (1978) The Prophetic Imagination. Fortress
Gibbs, E. and Coffey, I (2001) Church Next: Quantum Changes in Christian Ministry. IVP
Brewin, K. (2004) The Complex Christ. SPCK
Bonhoeffer, D. (1937) The Cost of Discipleship. SCM
Heller, J.(1955) Catch-22. Vintage
Myers, B.L. (1999) Walking with the Poor - Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Orbis
Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church
Elton, B. (2003) High Society
Jakubowski, M. and Christian, M. (eds) (2002) The Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road (Mammoth Book)
McCourt, F (1997) Angela's Ashes. Flamingo
Beckford, R. (2004). God and the Gangs: An Urban Toolkit for Those Who Won't Be Sold Out, Bought Out or Scared Out.
Adams, T. (1999) Addicted
Coupland, D (2002) Life After God
Clifton, S (1997) Who are these Salvationists
Yaconelli, M (2003) Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic
Palin, M. (2003) Sahara
Bonhoeffer, D. (1953) Letters and Papers From Prison
Hornby, N. (1992) Fever Pitch
Sine, T (1999) Mustard Seed Versus Mcworld: Reinventing Christian Life And Mission For A New Millennium
Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds
Bird, D (2000)White Cap and Bails
McLaren, B. (2000) The Church on the Other Side
Coupland, D. (1992) Generation X
Sweet, L. (2003) A is for Abductive:the language of the emerging church
Sebastian Faulks(1994) Birdsong
Lynch, G (2002) After Religion. Darton, Longman and Todd
Alagiah, G.(2001) A Passage to Africa
Boyle, D. (2003) Authenticity: Brands,Fakes,Spin and the Lust for Real Life
Burke.S (2003) Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture. Zondervan
Riddell.M (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

Top 3 reads -
  • Riddell.M (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West.
  • Beckford, R. (2004). God and the Gangs: An Urban Toolkit for Those Who Won't Be Sold Out, Bought Out or Scared Out
  • Bonhoeffer, D. (1937) The Cost of Discipleship.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The smell of mission...

Smells of Christmas - who'd be without them, roasting turkey, potatoes, pickles, warmed mince pies, chestnuts. There is one smell of Christmas I have got used to even though it's mere pungency can sometimes be overwhelming.

Overwhelming it was this year.

When you have 70+ people many of whom have no family; 70+ people many of whom are not simply not wanted; 70+ people many of whom have nowhere to go associated smells are not that difficult to imagine. The associated smells are not that intangible Even without the epic stomach turning Mr Foster of last year, this years "eau de pee pee" vintage was memorable.

As I drove people home afterwards - the mini-bus a microcosm of the days madness and love - I got thinking - I wonder what the emerging church smells like on Christmas day? Any lack of "eau de pee pee" I think I'd prefer to remain submerged!

The day has gone really well - but right at the end we were rocked. Judith came in right at the end - she needed to see someone on Christmas Day - a food parcel her request - she left clasping a present from us but left us feeling shocked. Her daughter was murdered two days ago - stabbed in Hackney.

I hope that it was a drunken mistruth, but with no real means to question - it kind of takes the shine off things .

Friday, December 24, 2004

An Alternative Christmas...

We're ready. Veggies peeled and cut; turkey's cooked and carved; 80 places set; transport pickup lists organised for the mixture of elderly, lonely and homeless; presents wrapped; supper bags ready for the 20 or so volunteers to fill with sandwiches, fruit and goodies; entertainment organised. We're ready.

Maggi has spent sometime recently outlining some alternative christmas days that she has experienced. I'm glad that what is alternative for others is mainstream for us. We all pull together to make christmas happen for those who need family - a sacrifice? Not at all. Fulfilling? Totally.

Barky points to some sobering Christmas facts and figures. We have our family day a little late but it is made all the more palateable for trying to do something.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

a time to forget and a time to remember...

Poplar Carol Service 2004

A giant game ‘pass the parcel’ seemed to work well as in our carol service as we "unwrapped Christmas" together. It was actually chaos, paper everywhere, kids everywhere, hay everywhere. Angels fell off the stage, Joseph with attitude and the Kings returned by another route but as opportunists took Jesus Saviour of the world with them - perfect!

But in the chaos you couldn’t help but be encouraged. As the carol service wended its way I looked and saw the small corps/church packed out. I looked into the faces of those who knew what it was to be part of a congregation that had dwindled almost to extinction - there was a glint! I looked and saw people that haven’t been to church for years – “it’s time I came back”. I saw people we have sat through the year with and had cups of tea in the community café - "we've really enjoyed church we didn't realise it could be this much fun - do we have to wait until next Christmas?". I saw families come for the first time with the intention of coming back more often. I saw someone who came into church for the first time “you know, I’m here because my life needs guidance – I‘m at a crossroads and I need to find God”. I saw the beautiful diversity of people that is our family.

As I looked I forgot the pastoral hurts and heartaches; I forgot the broken dreams, crushed vision; I forgot the bruises – I forgot and couldn't help but feel encouraged.

As I looked I remembered God has been good to us, God has been Immanuel and as I looked out into the chaos, the mayhem that was our carol service. I remembered and realised that no-one can steal any of it, not even a 6 year old opportunist king!

[picture of our 'variegated' family I took earlier in the year]

Monday, December 20, 2004

Mission and Throwing Stones...

I've mentioned before missions false dichotomy the need to beware the blind spot, beware turning the great commission into the great omission. Myers makes some interesting observations, together with a bit of recent criticism as to our 'Christian emphasis' got me thinking further...

"Provoking questions that the gospel is the answer unites gospel-as-life and gospel-as-deed with gospel-as-word. Our witness depends on our living lives so that the Holy Spirit may evoke questions to which our faith is the answer…. calls for Christians to live eloquent lives, the key to provoking questions to which the gospel is the answer."

"...questions are asked by the people when they witness something they do not expect or understand. The initiative lies with them. This avoids Tillich's complaint that "it is wrong to throw answers, like stones, at the heads of those who haven't even asked a question." 210

Myers, B.L. (1999 ) Walking with the Poor - Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Orbis

The problem is that when you try to live out this 'Christian emphasis' ; when you try to cut an authentic edge with the relationships that naturally occur through church life in your community; when you see your life of evangelism as natural as breathing; when you fail to live your life of evangelism as a predator hunting down its next prey; when you refuse to prostitute, traffick or cheapen the gospel by making it graceless.

The problem is ... when you try ... there is always someone who knows better; someone sat in the wings is ready to judge; someone ready to point the finger and dismiss your 'Christian emphasis'. And all the time, ironically, the 'hard core' even with good intentions, without knowing it maintains and widens 'missions false dichotomy' and the 'blind spot' gets bigger, and as it gets bigger the gospel gets ever more dismissed.

Nevertheless I'll keep trying. I'll keep trying because 'the great omission' is not an option. I'll keep trying but sometimes the bruises show.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The people you see ...!

I’ve been collecting this week while playing Christmas carols - it is a big financial support that helps us to love our community. Canary Wharf is quite an interesting place to stand and fairly often you see famous people. In the past Michael Portillo the most generous so far, Mick McCarthy 10/10 for effort 0/10 for generosity 5p!

Yesterday threw up two big names in the world of sport. None other than former England Football team Manager Graham Taylor – all I got from him was a smile and a hello ("did I not like that")*. Then not five minutes latter none other than Statto of fantasy football fame. "Staaaatoooo Staaaatoooo Staaaatoooo" didn't seem to impress!

But what made my day was seeing Mark (dreaming of reconciliation). He smiles and walks over to me and he looks really well. The last time I saw him he was in a state.

"I don’t do any of that stuff no more…" he is pleased to inform me.

"great… you look kind of clear.. How’s things?"

He smiles with pride "Things are great… I got a job…I’ve just bought my suit ..."

As the people walk by he shows me his suit and we paint an unlikely picture. Him all urban clad hood and cap me in my best SA bib and tucker. Busy commuters look on as we – enjoy each others company! Our conversation comes to a close.

"Gotta go.. I’m just going to my Mum’s…!",

"Really… how’s things there?" I’m surprised as the home situation has been such that it left him homeless. I'm really taken a back.

"Good" he shouts over his shoulder "we’re cool…"


I tell Kate as soon as I get back. About three hours later I remember "oh yeah and I saw Graham Taylor and Statto"

She keeps watching the TV – all I get is a disinterested "lovely…!"


* the infamous soundbyte that without doubt will follow him for the rest of his life!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Emerging Church and Justice...?

I was really disappointed to have missed the recent blah. Disappointed in that for the first time it wasn't mere intrigue that was my motivation to go. For the first time I was more than intrested in the subject matter. It mattered little that HIS EMERGENCE Brian Mclaren was the guest - what mattered was that for the first time since I have been going, justice was on the agenda. It was flirted with by Kester Brewin with his definitions of 'dirt' but Justice was taking centre stage with Brian Mclaren down to talk about The Gospel and Justice.

Jonny Baker gives a brief synopsis of the evening which helped my disappointment very little - I wish I was there. It seems that the emerging church contains elements of those licking their ecclesiatical wounds; those preening their 'alternative' feathers; those that at last have found an outlet for their creativity and thinking and many more! But there seems to be an avoidance of real justice talk.

Fairtrade, marches for peace, third world debt, disarmament is great but given that the emerging church is so big on incarnational living where are the local stories. I hope Kester is right when he states...

"It is my belief that the Emergent Church will be, as Christ himself was, a force for re-evaluating dirt boundaries, and as a result of these re-evaluations, become a place of refuge for those who have previously been labelled as 'dirty'. pp137

Brewin, K. (2004) The Complex Christ. SPCK

...But I have problems believeing that the emerging church will authentically engage, unless or until it is content to lose its designer label.

So I'm disappointed as I too would have found encouragement in that emerging church is talking about issues of global and local justice. I too hope that is a continuing trend, that a whole new set of questions will be asked. More than that I hope that true engagement follows and that the emerging church will be built on the foundations of justice constantly looking up, out and away from its navel!

We wait and see.

But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do,what GOD is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don't take yourself too seriously--take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What we can learn...?

Andrew Grinnel in unpacking his ideas about 'mission and worship' in a lecture I arranged yesterday said something interesting. "Listen I am not a pluralist but I think that there is much we can learn from other religions..."

It reminded me of something I read earlier this year:-

From Muslims the Church can learn about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. From Hindus the Church can learn about meditation and contemplation. From Buddhists the Church can learn about detachment from material goods and respect for life. From Confucianism the Church can learn about filial piety and respect for elders. From Taoism the Church can learn about simplicity and humility. From animists the Church can learn about reverence and respect for nature and gratitude for harvests.
The Church can learn from the rich symbolism and rites existing in their diversity of worship.

Sweet, L. (2003) A is for Abductive:the language of the emerging church

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Acting Debut...

Weeks of preparation over - the day has arrived.

Eryn - our youngest daughter soon to be 5 is to play the part of a king in the 'younger years nativity'. I've edged my way into the parental paparatzi. With a good use of elbows I'm in a favourable position - camcorder poised. The lights descend. The play is going well and from the thumbs up Eryn is lapping up the atmosphere. The shepherds and very surprisingly a family of mice have found their way to Bethlehem but now the kings are up and following the star.

They arrive. Mary and Joseph are looking at the three regally dressed 5-year olds with anticipation. From the thumbs up and waving Eryn the third king is still confident.

"I bring gold" the first king whispers. "I bring frankincense" the second king mumbles - pah! no home parental tuition, where is the diction, the pathos - Eryn still confident smiles and with strength and conviction says "and I bring....Merv".

Way to go Eryn - her satirical energy somehow lost on the rest of the parents - but I loved it!


[Merv Hughes was an Australian Cricketeer who terrorised England batsmen in the 1980s and 90s]

Friday, December 10, 2004

Tommy's life...

The last time I saw Tommy he was wandering back to his hostel room, his head and hands heavily bandaged like a scene from the invisible man. He hasn’t been to see us for quite a while, not since I heard on the urban grapevine that someone in a drunken stupor threw car battery acid over him.

Well.... Tommy wont be coming to see us any more – I heard from one of his drinking buddies that he never recovered and that the acid caused septicaemia – he died as his body was slowly poisoned. The funeral has long gone – three people were there at the end for him.


Tommy was one of the first characters that we met when we arrived at Poplar 7 years ago. There are snippets of his life in various posts this year. You can paint your own picture of Tommy from some past blog snippets:- (beauty of Tommy; christmas day past; I see them).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

fundamentalism - fundamentalists and the long lost fundamentals

I heard this when driving back from a spot of teaching:-
"The problem with fundamentalism is that the fundamentalists have forgotten the fundamentals" Sandi Toksvig on LBC 97.3fm
She wasn't particularly talking about Christianity - but nevertheless. Bonhoeffer has some useful insights to those who proudly fly their 'nevertheless fanaticism' colours in the name of the kingdom.
"Restless energy which refuses to recognise any limit to their activity, the zeal which refuses to take note of resistance springs from a confusion of the gospel with a victorious ideology. An ideology requires fanatics, who neither know nor notice opposition...the 'word' recognises opposition when it meets it and is prepared to suffer it and is free from that morbid restlessness which is so characteristic of fanaticism" (Bonhoeffer 1937:166).

Bonhoeffer, D. (1937) The Cost of Discipleship. SCM
That from someone who knew what it meant to be a true fanatic! Perhaps the self-defined 'souled out' crowd are not quite as 'sold out' as they think they are? Perhaps those that they disdainfully look down on - may just have something - the long lost fundamentals!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sometimes ministry makes me feel pathetic.... [reprise]

"When was the last time you spoke to someone who has completely lost hope? When was the last time you spoke to someone whose light at the end of the tunnel has gone; whose smallest glimmer of hope has just been snubbed out? When was the last time you spoke to someone who can see no way out of his or her problems? Whose life once secure, has been rocked to near destruction?"
Seems a long time since I found myself feeling pretty hopeless. (Sometimes ministry makes me feel pathetic....).

Today has been good. Another encouraging day today. Our little inner city church had a great feel today, this morning did anyway. I was away preaching at another church but got back in time for coffee at the end of the service that Kate had just led. There was a strong sense of community; identity; unity - I feel I have missed out. I look round quickly but 'he's' not there again - it takes the edge off it for me. 'He' doesn't realise it but 'he' is a real source of encouragement for me a real energising influence. 'His' pain is my pain.

The day is over our little afternoon service is behind us and we are enjoying a family moment of putting up the Christmas tree. There's a knock at the door. I hear his voice... "we need to talk"... my heart drops - I think back to conversations past - I know this guy can't get lower. "I'm working again... thanks for being there for me...sorry"

His body language, his eyes, his voice still can't hide the tiredness and pain of redundancy, the pain of rejection - but after two years there is something back, a small flicker, the faintest glimmer but it is there - hope.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15)

Being there to rejoice makes sense of the tears.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Unwrapping Christmas...

We've felt encouraged recently...

We started a new children's after school club last week geared specifically at looking at the concept of Christmas from a Christian perspective. "Unwrapping Christmas..." We really had no idea how it would go, what interest, what numbers to expect. So with materials from friends made through blogosphere (thanks Rob) and elsewhere we have created a four week fun-packed, interactive after school activity.

I say 'we' although it has little to do with me - ok nothing to do with me - I should rather say Kate, Lisa, Rhonda and Bram. But it was great to see 23 5-9 year olds come along to the first session; 26 to the second; it was great to hear how the parents enjoyed sitting in the community lounge enjoying ... umm ... community; it was great to get the positive feed back from the parents - but more importantly it was great to hear and see the young people really enjoying the christmas message and hearing their excitment.

We felt encouraged.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Fresh Expressions

Maggi draws attention to a new initiative by the Church of England and the Methodists which observes and analyses new forms of church. It starts with a description of twelve new kinds of church activity or community as described in Mission Shaped Church:

Alternative worship communities
Base Ecclesial Communities
Café church
Cell church
Churches arising out of community initiatives
Multiple and midweek congregations
Network focussed churches
School-based and school linked congregations and churches
Seeker church
Traditional church plants
Traditional forms of church inspiring new interest
Youth congregations

and adds on two more that ought to be there:

Fresh expressions focused on children
Fresh expression focused on under-fives and their families

Not an exclusive list but it will be interesting to see how this develops. But the issue is as Maggi points out that:

"There is something defiant, joyful and messily challenging about grouping them together: it affirms us all, not setting one above the other, but calling all of us to recognise the work of God in ways that we ourselves don't like very much, and to admit that "our" way is only one way, not necessarily better than the rest."

Then I got hit on the chin...

"The trouble with getting committed to your own project, though, is that it can be quite hard to reconcile your own commitment with an attitude of acceptance and encouragement of a project whose values or raison d'etre seems to oppose your own."

"We are called to follow the Creator of the Universe, and living creatively almost nevitably means disagreeing passionately with someone else at some point in your ife. You can't be creative and remain diplomatically bland. Yet although we aren't called to agree, we are called to love - to support, believe in, and think and speak generously of those who don't do things the way we do. It's a tough call.... Go right ahead and disagree."

"Spar away - we need to make each other's worlds a little larger. But not with antagonism, arrogance, self-righteousness, defensiveness or pride. Love one

All this was in my mind as I enjoyed a fireside lunch with a friend, as we gently sparred and shared our passions for inner city church. Different approaches perhaps - but we came away our thinking stretched. Our conversation helped me see how sometimes I play the victim card so well with those that struggle with our 'values or raison d'etre'; but with Maggi's words in my head I was aware that I also dish it out.

Yes it is hard to reconcile your own commitment with an attitude of acceptance and encouragement of a project whose values or raison d'etre seems to oppose your own. Yes it is easy to make all the right noises about creative tension but harbour deep suspicion. Yes it is easy to dismiss the kingdom efforts of others. Yes it is easy to pull down. Certainly it is easy not to think and speak generously of those who don't do things the way we do. It is very easy not to recognise the work of God in ways that we ourselves don't like very much. Not so easy to admit that "our" way is only one way, not necessarily better than the rest.

Maybe the 'fresh expression' isn't about finding a longer list of church - maybe it is more about attitude?

Monday, November 29, 2004

first year birthday...!

Just noticed that it is URBANarmy's first year birthday! I thought I'd check out my first blog to make sure I am holding with what I wanted it to be for me. I always held that I would do this blog thing for a year and then see after that.

It has been a good exercise for me, it has brought reflective discipline to why we do what we do. It has done me good to get down and out of my head some of the daily lessons that come my way. It has been great to make connections with people all over the world and I feel blessed and resourced by the diversity of thought and backgrounds. Thank you for your words of encouragement, comfort, challenge, thank you for moving my thinking along. Apart from anything it is great to look back over a year and smile as I look at the stories that have shaped me this year.

I don't want to lose any of that which has already been, nor what is to come so I'll start another year! (especially if I can get the code off SHP for his archiving system!)

Thank you to everyone who has journeyed with me so far.

Ray again...

This guy scares me. In seven years involved in ministry in Poplar there are two people that scare me. Ray is one of them. Phillipa the other - both unpredictable, both volatile, both impossible to reason with, both known to carry knives. We've cadets (trainee SA officers) with us leading our morning service. They've got the kids doing all kids of things and all is going well - however I pick up an element of panic. I can see it in the eyes of Alex just along from me. It is enough for me to turn around and there is Ray. I haven't had this feeling in my stomach or my legs for two years. We haven't seen him for ages now he is there at the back of our church - a time bomb.

Actually it turns out ok. He is only after a change of clothes. Ok he's after money but after many a hard fought battle over that one he knows nothing is going to happen on that front. So with the sounds of worship in the back ground Ray and I set about sorting him out with a change of clothes. I find out that he hasn't been around for two years because he has been locked up in HMP Wandsworth. He stabbed a tourist in a drunken rage. He tells me about Alan a Salvation Army Chaplain who was the only person that visited him for two years and I thank God for Alan Norton a fellow colleague Officer at Wandsworth Salvation Army. I also thank God for Dean who periodically pokes his head around the charity shop door to make sure I am alright!

He talks about dying and his funeral. His biggest fear that no-one would be there. We laugh as I promise to do his funeral if he gives me enough notice. He gives me that mad look and growls "only cos you f**king want to make sure I've gone...!" "Well Ray.... frankly yes!"

This interaction has been ok, friendly even amiable. He slaps me on the shoulder and thanks me for his new coat, trousers and shirt and as worship comes to a close he limps off and I breathe a breath of relief.

Later that evening the TV is on and there is a feature on the staggering church growth of
Hillsongs UK. It is beautiful, the worship, the singing, the presentation, the people it is all so perfect. But hard as I look I can't see any "Ray's". Ray may scare the pants off me but you know I have to thank him for reminding me that I am so fulfilled in what we do.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

trafficking the grace and mere ideas

I had an interesting conversation with a chaplain of an AIDS/HIV hospice about evangelism, it kind of connected with some reading that I have been doing recently.

"For Christians, therefore, our thinking and practice of transforming development must have an evangelistic intent, although this needs to be understood with some care. This is not a call for proselytism; neither is it a call to coercive, manipulative, or culturally insensitive evangelism. It is not even a call for all development practitioners to become evangelists. After all, no one knows the moment when someone is ready for faith, nor is God limited to the staff of a particular Christian development agency in bringing God's good news. Rather, it is a call to be sure we do our development with an attitude that prays and yearns for people to know Jesus Christ." (pp 205)

"Questions are asked by the people when they witness something they do not expect or understand. The initiative lies with them. This avoids Tillich's complaint that "it is wrong to throw answers, like stones, at the heads of those who haven't even asked a question." (pp 210)

Myers, B.L. (1999 ) Walking with the Poor - Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Orbis

"The Christian has neither right nor power to force salvation on people. Every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and to proselytise them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people is both futile and dangerous....our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want." (pp 165)

"To try and force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea for which it has no use" (pp 166)

Bonhoeffer, D. (1937) The Cost of Discipleship. SCM

Personally I'm uncomfortable with cheap grace; I'm uncomfortable trafficking the gospel; I'm uncomfortable mere ideas!

The sad thing is that the evangelical chaplain of the AIDS/HIV hospice with sadness in his voice finished his conversation with me by saying there were no churches that he worked with that he could recommend to those he came in contact with. What an indictment - churches with too much cheap grace, too busy trafficking the gospel caught up with mere ideas.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Sterile Christianity...?

Read these strong themes of salvation today in Resist the Powers...

There is nothing as sterile as a Christianity that seeks to benefit only its own...

"Jesus has rightly been described as a Man for others. While He lived for the sake of the kingdom of God, this kingdom was to benefit all. It meant reconciliation for the alienated. Forgiveness for the sinner. Empowerment for the poor. Hope for the disillusioned. And, finally the transformation of the whole world." (Ringma, C.)

"We are liberated, not to make ourselves happy, but to live effectively, to be in the world, to go everywhere bearing liberty." (Ellul, J.)

Sterile Christianity - no thanks!

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Go on then…Patrick hit me

Patrick has never hit me but today it was close. “Go on then…Patrick hit me...c’mon on then...c’mon” I take off my glasses. I can feel his anger through the fist of cloth he has me by. But I know he is not going to hit me – he has never hit anyone.

He tries to side-step me. I refuse to let him by. I want to calm him down. I want to talk. He is pushing me as he tries to escape . “You alright mate…?” a driver of a passing - actually I am almost under it - 'dial-a-ride' van enquires. I weigh it up in my mind 'ok...I’m 6' 3"; 14 stone; 38, once quite sporty!?? and he is asking me if I am alright' – Patrick is 70 odd for goodness sake. “Yes thank you…” I reply pride hurt.

Minutes before I happened to see Patrick going for someone in our luncheon club; minutes before he had a new member - a sqeaky quiet unassuming little alcoholic guy - by the throat; minutes before Patrick was shaping up to hit this new guy. I know he is not going to hit him– he has never hit anyone! But the guy is clueless he doesn't know that. I bustle him out before he knows what has hit him and here we are jostling in the carpark!

Patrick is calming down- "Pat you went to hit went to hit me". He honestly looks shocked as if he is coming out of a bad dream. Remorse is written across his face. I can see he is shaken. I try to make sense of it all.

I'm following the resentment and theologians debate over at Moot; Jonny Baker; Maggi Dawn - practical theology eh? impact of sociology on mission? lack of theology? Theologians in ivory towers? Smash them down etc...

I'm reading The Prophetic Imagination and uncover:-

"We are indeed made in the image of some God. And perhaps we have no more important theological investigation than to discern in whose image we have been made. Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitmated by, and reflective of our theology..."(Brueggemann 1978)

Patrick has long since made up with me and I with him. My thinking meanders on mulling over my interaction with Patrick; this debate which quite obviously seems to be pretty important for people; and the start of Brueggemann. A penny drops. This 'theological investigation to discern in whose image we have been made' starts with 'Patrick'.

Today Patrick hit me...not physically. Today I learned something and it kind of leaves the debate a little bland. Interesting but bland.

[BTW - Patrick is the only character I write about and use his real name - I want the world to know Patrick and not a pseudonym]

Thursday, November 18, 2004

We Are Our Messages...

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, talks about "existence-communication,' by which he meant that our lives - our very existence - is our communication. Your existence as an authentic human being communicates more than what you say or even what you think The only essential sermon one can listen to and appropriate comes not from the pulpit via the minister's words but from one's own existence. Christianity is not a doctrine but an "existence communication." Sontag F (1979)

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church

If believers are to make an impact in todays fractured and disoriented society, they will need to learn survival skills and themselves be transformed by the message they seek to communicate. Discipleship simply means the imitation of Christ. Through the first-century Thessalonian believers the gospel spread as imitators of Christ became examples to others, so that in every place their faith in God became known. ...'A disciple is one who embodies the message he or she proclaims. It was to people who were themselves disciples that Jesus gave the Great Commission to disciple the nations.

Gibbs, E. and Coffey, I (2001) Church Next: Quantum Changes in Christian Ministry. IVP

In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!-taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble. Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master's Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don't even have to say anything anymore--you're the message! (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 - MSG)

Challenging and encouraging...?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I held her hand...

I held her hand, it wasn't cold. I looked at her, she wasn't dirty. I somehow doubted her story. Judith is an alcoholic. She has lost her flat because her daughter came out of prision and set up her very own 'crack den' under her mother's nose. Her daughter's boyfriend moved in and made sure there was nothing Judith could do.

Here she was telling me she had been sleeping rough for several weeks. I look for the tale-tell signs of living on the street and there were none. I look for the deep imbedded grim; the intense cold; the saturated wetness of living rough in November and there were none.

I listen to her story. Her sobs and sniffs grow stronger and more frequent. I get her a tissue. She continues to weep and wail. I feel awkward, gangly - then she grabs me and tells me to give her a hug. I don't do hugs! - it cost me but I don't think she has had that for a while. Her story is an excuse to talk. Her story is an excuse to be with others. Her story is an excuse to be listened to. Her story is an excuse to spend time with...

"I don't want my life to be like this..." I look at her, her alcohol fumes fill my nostrils " doesn't have to be...!"

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Two Elephants...

There is an old swahili proverb that says something like...

"when two elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers".

I always say that there are highs and lows in ministry - but even in the lows I feel fulfilled - It's been a tough week and I'm feeling a little flattened.

Flattened - but fulfilled!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

a story of about two people...

Community Cafe was just coming to an end when he walked in. Triumph, victory etched across his face. Eye's gleaming. A smile of conquest. "I've just been witnessing in the market" he drawled "...there was this Muslim and I felt I should speak to I told him straight - 'you my friend are a sinner and you are going to hell...!'"

I look at this gentlemen who introduced himself as an American pastor earlier on in the week - and I feel - to be honest - a little sad, a bit sick "what'd he say...?". He looked back at me and said "Well…well… he walked away!" We talk and I get the distinct impression that I am being judged, I get the distinct impression that in this guys minds eye - that Muslim and I are going to spend eternity together! The evangelistic adrenaline is still coursing through his veins as we talk - he has had his evangelistic fix but at what cost?

I look at this guy and I ask "can I tell you a story of about two people?" I’m not sure he is really listening to me but I carry on "There was this Muslim guy who was walking through the market, he had his preconceived ideas about Christianity when he met a Christian. This Christian then told him he was going to hell with no context, no background relationship...he tried to be polite but in the end walked away - preconceived ideas confirmed - QED".

"Then there was a Muslim girl who shared that her cousin had died.... as we talked about life she asked ‘Do you mind if I ask you what Christians believe about life after death?’ we talked about grace…" (read here) "...our conversation finished with her saying ‘I never knew that – can we talk again…?’"

He seems bored, weary with me – but I carry on "tell me..who do you think has moved closer towards the Kingdom of God…?"

The sad thing? As he left I’m sure I saw him kicking the sand from his sandals!!?

Oh well…?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Christology -missiology - ecclesiology

Sorry - a bit more H&F...!

"The church by its very nature has an indissoluble relationship to the surrounding cultural context. This relationship defines the practical nature of its mission. But the reason for mission comes from somewhere else. To say it more theologically, Christology determines missiology, and missiology determines ecclesiology. It is absolutely vital that the church gets the order right."

In other words if the mission of the church doesn't reflect what we read of Jesus in the gospels - well perhaps we're missing the point. If it doesn't reflect true liberation; true justice; true hope - I'm not sure where we are getting the blue print from. If it reflects an insipid, bland, characterless form of salvation that is shot through with gaping holes - I'd love to know how we bought it. I'd love to know how we managed to get the order so wrong. I'd love to know how we managed to be so pre-occupied with ourselves we hardly noticed.

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Mystery Worshipper - try wednesday...

points to an article in the Independent about the Ship of Fools website and their Mystery Worshippers

Struck me how we judge a church by what happens on a sunday. Seems a little superficial to me - perhaps they should go and see what is happening on a wednesday morning a 8:30am!!

Belies the what H&F comment on as being attractional.

"When we have consulted with churches that recognize the need to embrace a missionary stance in their communities, we are amazed at the number of times, when asked to discuss specific ways they can recalibrate themselves to become missional churches, they begin talking about how to change their Sunday service. It betrays their fundamental allegiance to being attractional. … The Come-To-Us stance taken by the attractional church is unbiblical. It's not found in the Gospels or the Epistles. Jesus, Paul, the disciples, the early church leaders all had a Go-To-Them mentality."

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I saw Mr Singh Today…

I’ve seen Mr Singh in all kinds of conditions. I’ve seen him beaten up. I’ve seen him scared. I’ve seen him angry. I’ve seen him desperate. I’ve seen him with no hope. We battled to get him into accommodation and apart from one brief visit we haven’t seen him for months. (giving hope; I went looking for Mr Singh; Mr Singh came into today; Mr Singh at last!).

Well I saw Mr Singh today in the market. I saw Mr Singh today and he looked great. I saw Mr Singh today he was clean, smart. I saw Mr Singh today and his pride is back. Seems he and his wife are back together, seems he has given up his drinking ways, seems that his life is back on track.

For one small part of his life, when life for him couldn’t get worse – we journeyed together. For one small part of his life when he had nowhere to go we were what he needed.

I saw Mr Singh and he seemed pleased to see me too.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Funky Army...

Whether another William Booth urban myth or not - I read this in 'The Officer' (an internal SA mag) and thought it and Richard Munn's application and comments a timely reminder.

"I've heard it said that in Victorian London every Christmas, the churches sent clergy onto the streets inviting the poor to Christmas festivities.

As the crowds gathered for this annual display of kindness the Anglican representatives declared: 'All of you who are Church of England come with us.' The Methodists proclaimed 'All of you who are Methodist, come with us.' And the other denominations similarly announced: 'Whoever belongs to us, come with us.'

Finally, when all the churches had made their various invitations and a large number of people were still standing about, William Booth would shout: 'All of you who belong to no one, come with me.'"

Richard Munn comments:

"Fads come and go, trends ebb and flow and times change, but some needs are timeless. Sanctified pragmatism and hearts overflowing with love will invariably meet fundamental human needs."

Munn, R (2004) 'Funky Army' in The Officer Nov/Dec pp 30-31. TSA IHQ

Sunday, October 31, 2004

the turmoil and chaos of true diversity...

It wasn’t really very alt. but it was certainly worship!

Ghana; Nigeria; Zimbabwe; Congo; Germany; Spanish; Basque; Cornwall!; American; England; Scotland;Wales; Russia; Botswana; Guyana; Jamaica; Kenyan; Sierra Leone; Sri Lanka; Trinidad and more – all represented and all valued.

These are events that are foundational to our church – celebrating God through our diverse, varied cultures as one. Ok this was unpolished; ok pretty chaotic, a bit hectic. Ok the musicians were late by a good hour. Ok we’re not being pressed by ‘Kingsway’, ‘Marantha’ or whoever produces Christian stuff these days to record a live worship set! But the vibrancy; the enthusiasm, passion - the unequivocal joy is something really inspirational, up lifting.

I’ll let you into a secret – it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. What really is uplifting is there is recognition that sometimes as a church family you get involved and ‘enjoy’ something that isn’t totally your thing. I look at the saints of our church who as teenagers remembered what it was to worship through the blitz. What it was to continue to worship under a platform while the bombs reigned in, as windows were blown in. I look at these faces as the unrelenting pulsating African beat thrashes it’s rhythms into the church – and I see true worship. No not their thing but they are there.

What is emerging from my brief observations of the emerging church scene is something largely lacking variegation. What is emerging is something largely ‘designer’ driven. What is emerging while highly creative, imaginative and inspired suffers a lack of difference. Until this alt.emerging church thing embraces the effervescence of true diversity - it is going to remain a lot less emerged than it thinks it is. Until this alt.emerging church thing embraces the turmoil and chaos of true diversity – ‘fraid you’re still very much part of the submerged party. Mixophobia is something that is not that attractive in church – yet perhaps it is endemic within a culture of church that is largely consumer driven.

H&F comment...

Jurgen Moltmann identifies the principle that undergirds much of how we do church today as "birds of a feather flocking together." ... this principle is inherent in the attractional mode of church. When the church is seen as a distinct category, completely separate from the world, it naturally develops an us-versus-them mentality. The missional church, with its incarnational approach, on the other hand, has built into its thinking a Go-To-Them stance. It sees itself, not as a closed system, but as an infiltrating community. Therefore it cannot tolerate the birds-of-a-feather principle. " 'Birds of a feather flock together.' But why? People who are like us, who think the same thoughts, who have the same things, and who want the same things confirm us. However, people who are different from us, that is, people whose thoughts, feelings and desires are different from ours, make us feel insecure."

If the church is simply a community of like-minded people, inviting other like-minded people to join them, then it will always be severely impeded. This sort of church, then, according to Moltmann, has no ego-strength, no self-confidence. It is a form of self-justification.

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003)

The severely impeded church...self justification... hmmm?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The pre-occupation of church...

Another Ringma/ Ellul combo

In many ways the church justifies its existence as mapping out a vision of how the world should be and how life should be lived i.e. how to serve the world better. The reality is that the church so frequently serves itself and so the ideology propounded by the church both binds and blinds. (Ringma).

Jacque Ellul laments "Christianity can clearly also become an ideology. In fact, it has become one, for ideologies serve no one but themselves."

Ouch again...!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Victor and his talking flute...

"Gordon you are a musician aren’t you?"

"…well I’m not sure about that, I like to play but that doesn't necessarily define me a musician" I say to Victor secretly preening my ego.

Victor carries on with his unrelenting praise "well when you play your guitar you really make that thing talk…", "Victor... you are really kind – no, no.. really ..well …I.." Ok sad as it is - I am beginning to enjoy this. False modesty is beginning to kick in.*

The conversation takes a twist "I made my flute talk last night". Victor has been buying second flutes and is learning to play. "Really!... that is great Victor" I say encouragingly . Victor looks at me and leans closer. His gappy teeth. The smell of tobacco, stale BO – all a little too intense, a little too close. He looks carefully around then whispers "I was playing it and then it came out with it…"..."what" I say pinned to the wall – nowhere to go. "It said …James Galway is a f**king w**ker!!" Victor leans back - I breathe again. "It shocked me too" he nods in empathy!

Later I think back to a moment with Bethan my 8 year old daughter. She is doing that stalling for time thing that kids do so well at bed-time. "Tell me about someone from history…". I’d just read about Ghandi going to church for the first time in South Africa – but being told by someone at the church that there was a church for his type around the corner. So I tell her. I finish and she thinks, then looks at me and says "shame – he should have come to our church – we’re a church for everyone!"

I fear that with the emergence of designer churches - I’m not sure where the Victors of this world will fit in.

[* actually I am a very poor guitar player – anyone in our service yesterday would pay testimony to my butchering of several songs that were used!!]

Friday, October 22, 2004

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church ... Some foldovers.

I irritate people. I have a bad habit of folding the corner of book pages that I want to re-visit. Don't worry all those kind people that lend me books ... I only do it to books bought by me! Here are some fold overs from - Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church and a recent thought by Maggi.

The Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN) says, "The missional church represents God in the encounter between God and human culture. It exists not because of human goals or desires, but as a result of God's creating and saving work in the world. It is a visible manifestation of how the Good News of Jesus Christ is present in human life and transforms human culture to reflect more faithfully God's intentions for creation. It is a community that visibly and effectively participates in God's activity, just as Jesus indicated when he referred to it in metaphorical language as salt, yeast, and light in the world."

A missional church "seeks to discern God's specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all of its members." In other words, such a church makes its mission its priority and perpetually asks itself, 'What has God called us to be and do in our current cultural context?" The issue of cultural context is essential because the missional church shapes itself to fit that context in order to transform it for the sake of the kingdom of God. By definition, the missional church is always outward looking, always changing (as culture continues to change), and always faithful to the Word of God.

Motherhood and apple-pie. Nothing there to really not to like. Nothing there to really disagree with. A strong definition. However - beware the blind spot, missions false dichotomy. Beware turning the great commission into the great omission

If I could fold over blogs I would - Maggi recently looked at Greatest Commandment v. Great Commission

If the word "mission" means being inclusive, reaching out, living for-the-world, self-giving, then certainly mission is an indisputable feature of the Trinitarian God. Some time back I wrote a blog on the Trinity that expressed some of the social, inviting, inclusive character of God. But in that piece I envisaged it more in the context of worship (meaning that in the big-concept idea of worship, just as mission in this recent conversation was supposed to be big-concept rather than a discussion of evangelistic methods).

...When he was asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said " shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”There's a certain semantic trick in Jesus' reply, of course, because this sentence is a neat summary of all ten of the Commandments, which fall into these two categories. It's quite possible that Jesus intended to suggest that loving God and loving the people around you are inseparable.

Maggi hits on something for me here. Mission when it is diluted to simply a discussion of evangelistic methods or perhaps key principles to achieve growth - worries me because it drives a wedge between what Maggi suggests should be inseparable and natural. It worries me because people settle for an insipid portrayal of the gospel. It worries me because as mission as a word gets more and more misused by people desperate to be seen as missional - mission as a concept gets weaker and weaker. It can't be allowed to happen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Talking to Kenny our local ‘fruit and veg’ man in the market, I hear my name, I turn, I look into the face of urban clad young man and I am truly shocked. The baseball cap and hoody can’t disguise a face that has taken a terrible beating. The face of young man whose face is swollen, bruised, battered. Jack used to come regularly to our youth club but I can hardly recognise him.

I hear Jack’s story. A local gang took mob justice against someone who stood up to them. Someone who didn’t what to be pushed around. Now he is waiting for corrective surgery around an eye socket that broke under the tirade of blows and kicks.

I look into a face that reveals more than bruises and cuts – I look into a face intent on revenge. "I know where they live…I’m getting my mates down…they’ll not get away with it". I try to suggest the futility, the senselessness, uselessness, pointlessness of revenge. I try to communicate grace. I try to communicate the value and worth of breaking the cycle of violence.

I try but I am afraid I don’t think I was heard.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Docile God

I'm quite taken at the moment with Charles Ringma's - Resist the Powers (with Jacques Ellul). A recent comment and observation made me uncomfortable...

"Instead of a God who blazes at injustice, we have created the docile God who lovingly forgives and forgets the inhumanity of our world." (Ringma)

Jacques Ellul argues that the God of the prophets has now become "a senile Good Shepherd whose beard all the world might tug..."


The Branch From Jesse

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD . He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

Isaiah 11:1-5

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I'm glad I starting blogging...

For many reasons I'm glad I started blogging. I'm glad I've found and am constantly finding community with people from all over the world. I find diverse conversation. I find myself being resourced. I find myself being challenged. I find myself being encouraged. I find myself enthused, inspired, motivated...and all this with and by people I never knew existed!!

Yesterday I met Rob - AKA the shiny headed prophet. As I said goodbye and walked up to school to pick my girls up I thought to myself "I'm glad I started blogging...!"

Philip Cotterill OBE

I'm proud of my big brother! I'm proud that 30 odd years ago he started as a office junior in the social services in Croydon. I'm proud that he has worked and worked and worked and 30 years later is a social services director. I'm proud that he has fought for justice and fairness and has tried to make a difference to society and I'm proud that this week he was decorated with the OBE for services to social work.

[BTW - Philip is the one on the left]

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Arthur can be a bit grumpy. Keeps himself to himself, always sits by himself – happy with his paper. Always polite - but in a grumpy kind of way.

Arthur went missing about a month ago. He always lets us know when he is not going to be at our luncheon club. So a couple of days without Arthur left us concerned. A few phone calls and we soon discover that a fall has left him in hospital with a broken leg. We visit and its not long before he explains that in his fall his glasses were broken. His opticians were not being helpful with his niece – could we help?

Can you believe how unhelpful people can be? A three-week battle of almost daily phone calls and visits to the opticians eventually ended up in the form of a pair of glasses. Excuses were fended off. Blatant inconsistencies challenged – we fought.

I’m the one who takes the glasses up to Arthur. I’m the one who sees the gratitude. I’m the one who sees the deep appreciation. The one who sees the relief, the smiles. I’m the one he grabs hold of and looks at me - his eyes suddenly larger through his new thick rimmed glasses. “Are they ok Arthur?” I enquire. “Are they ok…are they ok” he says in a ‘as if they wouldn’t be sort of way’ – a smile as large as a child’s on Christmas morning erupts across his face!

“Don’t s'pose you’ve got a paper…?”

I’ve been thinking about this. Justice is something we should be involved with as a church. The major ‘isms’ need challenging, need to be brought down. The major world injustices need to be highlighted and not tolerated. However it struck me that sometimes we can so caught up that the micro-justice issues slip under the radar.

Justice issues come in big and small packages.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Shape of things to Come...more thoughts!

Hirsch and Frost seemed to have stirred quite a debate with their recent tour courtesy of BLAH. Personally I felt that their voices were worth hearing. Personally I felt that the consequent debate was healthy. Personally I wanted to keep the strong themes that ensued fresh and accessible.

Two major issues seem to underlie the debate.

Firstly the perceived slap in the face for the institutional church. Maggi picks up the theme by identifying their portrayal as a "less-then-truthful caricature of the institutional church…". The slap comes in their analysis of Christendom and its love child – the institutional church. Given that they suggest a return to a more incarnational than attractional DNA – the slap stings for anyone operating from within a theology of space. Therefore the assumption is easily – whether rightly or wrongly - made that centre based activities are based in Christendom and therefore of no value as they are by spatial definition attractional and not missional. Therefore the answer lays in incarnational involvement in your community. However their principle’s within the debate are rather mono-dimensional and therefore comes across as fairly rigidly ‘either/or’ and adds weight to those feeling slapped who expressed annoyance at their seemingly ‘complete "answer" to the church's problems’.

Secondly the counter slap that draws upon Hirsch and Frost's concepts and brands them mission ‘lite’. Accuses them of needing a ‘more rigorous theology of mission’. Accuses them of returning to the old-fashioned association of mission = evangelism. Accuses them of having a simplistic assessment. Accuses them of no real contact. "oi Aussie emergers with your shoe shop churches take that!". A bit harsh. Perhaps lost in the engaging stories. Perhaps lost in the evangelistic speel - but there a theology of mission based on Lausanne and not a passing fad.

However, out of that debate buried deep in the comments on Jonny's "what is God’s mission" and Maggi's 'The Shape of things to Come' have come some real nuggets as the thread of thought settled to identify mission beyond the being part of the emerging collection of buzz words…!

"mission is about the whole work of God - Jesus sent his disciples out to preach (evangelism) teach (build up the faithful in the synagogue) and heal (being concerned with the wholeness of life, healing and breaking down barriers. Any separation between Church and mission is wholly false…"

God's mission is the recovery of shalom (wholeness) in his creation. Part of this, undoubtedly is individual salvation, but God's Redemptive activity goes beyond. He is in the process of making "all things new."

Participating in God's mission is about so much more than notching up conversions. Participating in God's redemptive activity can equally be about providing opportunities for the disadvantaged, caring for the poor and marginalised - in other words Justice. This way of thinking …draws together the two very often-separate streams of practice - explicit evangelism and social work. (benbell).

My conclusion is that Hirsch and Frost have much to say to churches that are pre-occupied. They have much to say to those churches that are content. They have much to say to churches that are settled with a form of christendom that is not connecting. However there are many models of church that don’t fit in their ‘either/or’ taxonomy. There are churches that are working through an incarnational programmed life. There are churches whose missional life are grace centred and not ‘means to an end’ and in their definition ‘attractional’. There are churches that achieve ‘proximity’ by providing centres of love and acceptance. There are churches that are making connections and being relevant through being real.

Perhaps it says to me that their emerging missional structures represent not so a much spatial question but more of a question of attitude.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

the beauty of community...?

Norman was a different man tonight. It is our Men’s get together – Poplar Men Together (PMT) a Bar-B-Q at our house and Norman is here. He takes over the grilling that’s what he does well. He starts talking – he seems to do that well too!

Five days ago he was desperate, devastated, inconsolable. We spent time together - prayed. His wife was stabbed trying to stop thieves stealing her niece’s car was now in hospital in Botswana. Norman was beside himself, the grief, pain, anguish of a man thousands of miles from his wife not knowing was tangible. Not much you can say really. But listen.

That was five days ago. Tonight Norman is different – the relief on this lonely man’s face was obvious. The wound is not as severe as first thought and she will be out of hospital. I look around the range of men each with a story to tell and I see something special - I see a beauty in community. Compassion. Concern. Interest. Inclusion. I see something of the kingdom of God in this community of diversity.

This time last year Norman was on his own – his community was him. An existence of solitude within a hostel surrounded by people. It is good that now Norman has people he can share the good as well as the bad news. It is good that now Norman has people he can cry with as well as laugh. It is good that now Norman has people he can share his frustrations as well as his joys.

I’m pleased Norman found us – the fact that he is a brilliant chef is just a bonus!?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Shaping of things to come...

I spent the day being wrongly labelled.

Courtesy of blah I’m listening to Hirsch and Frost’s take on mission. Feeling the ‘missional pulse’ of how to be church in a culture where people are not interested. The importance of recognising the need for proximity, presence, powerlessness, proclamation. The DNA of mission - mDNA. Contrasting communication and hair styles is mixing the day up nicely – although I’m sure I suffer from a form of dyslexia connected with complicated diagrams!!

Hirsch and Frost are challenging all things parochial, all things settled, all things institutional, all things Christendom. Challenging Church Growth (defined as ‘Christendom on steroids!’) but interestingly offering as an alternative a jazzed up evangelical ‘friendship evangelism’ re-mix. Their outward emphasis for mission is healthy with a strong identification of the realities of being church in the post Christian west. Their message is compelling, well presented.

I look around the attendees - all labelled – best lovingly described as an "All-age Christian Union" but varied from their piercings to greenbelt t-shirts to novelty musical socks – I’m left thinking.

There is more to church than going water ski-ing and reading a psalm. There is more to church than growing a mullet and racing model cars! I’m left thinking I’m not sure that their ‘either/or’ approach or their exaggeration of IC strengthens their discussion. I’m left thinking where does the ancient/modern tension, the strength and beauty of heritage fit? I’m left thinking what does the missional church look like in its community? I’m left thinking why do people keep calling me Graham?

Perhaps some strands are missing, but only - I believe - in that time is against them. Dialogue is restricted. A strong theme "Christology should determine our Missiology, which then in turn should affect our Ecclesiology" is coursing through their comments which leaves me feeling comfortable that with more dialogue the role of the church missionally would have come through loud and strong. I like their premise of engagement, of working towards inspiring people to ask – "who are these people?"

I leave – a day well spent. I’ve met some intriguing people, made connections with those until now were just names in blogland!. I take my name tag off – I look at it Graham Cotterill??

Nothing worse than being wrongly labelled!

I'm left thinking when people are looking and are provoked into ‘asking who you are?’ sometimes labels that are wrong are not that helpful!! In this ‘emerging’ church culture of the latest pre-fix and dot abbreviation I think we need to be careful!


Rob has more reflections that are worth checking.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Jesus Christ has been stolen...

Jim Wallis – changed the way I think. I read ‘Call to Conversion’ 20 years ago and I saw the world in a different way. Suddenly years of going to church came together. Suddenly I began to see the life of church as being as being so much more than just a Sunday singing type thing! Suddenly the fragmentation of the world seemed so much more acute. Suddenly I realised it was not enough just to sit back a gripe. Suddenly I was involved.

I don’t do conventions – I break into a sweat in mega-crowds, it does nothing for me. But Roots 2004 was a temptation a real temptation. Jim Wallis was on the speakers list. I’ve only just got round to listening to the teaching tape. Someone gave it to me with a shrug "shame really – I found him a bit dry…too political…perhaps his books are better…you can keep it"

Without a joke or a borrowed story or anecdote in sight - I was hooked as I drove.

"The trouble with the church is that Jesus Christ has been stolen from it – it’s time to get him back. Jesus today in the post Christian west is suffering a huge misrepresentation – he represents power, money and intolerance"

Looking at Deuteronomy 15:11 – he spends the next hour arguing that the church needs to realign itself to those who have lost hope. "We’ve lost our proximity to the poor – getting that sorted is the route to getting Jesus back". "What the church can offer is true hope…and hope is believing in spite of the evidence then watching the evidence change…"

Maggi asks…"What are the things that we should be pursuing?"

My fear? I'm not sure the church is that bothered. Sure we'll do the rhetoric, say the right words but I'm scared that we are too pre-occupied playing ‘mirror mirror on the wall’ to realise that Jesus has been stolen – despite good intentions rather than modelling an alternative the misrepresentation rumbles on.

"The trouble with the church is that Jesus Christ has been stolen from it – it’s time to get him back."

Friday, October 01, 2004

Jesus and his Harley....

Hidden away in the comments at theopraxis I found this gem. Personally I don't want to lose it so Jeff has allowed me to post it. To me it paints a vivid picture of incarnational mission.

The Jesus of My Day
By Jeff Jacobson

I see him riding in on a Harley, the Jesus of my day. It looks like he’s been on the road for a while, but his eyes are still bright and he smiles when he sees me. His hair is long and wild from the wind. I guess he travels light because his saddlebags are mostly empty.

In a cloud of dirt and dust he calls me over. I’m not sure what to do, but I’m drawn to him so I go. He puts his hand on my shoulder and he promises me a great adventure. I believe him, but I ask him to wait. I need to take care of a few things because my plate is full. His strong hand grabs hold of the clutch and he races the engine and he tells me that now is the time.

And it feels like a dream and maybe it is, but I drop it all on the ground. My cell phone, my Palm - everything because I want to die to the details. And then I get on the back of his Harley and we ride.

I’m not sure where we’re going but it’s in the direction of my church and this makes sense to me. He’ll of course want to stop in, walk around and say to me "well done." But then he doesn’t. We ride right on by and I think he even speeds up.

We stop to get gas and he spends a long time with the man who owns the station. The man wears a turban, and they're laughing and talking and I'm irritated because it's hot and I want this great adventure to begin.

We’re ready to go with a full tank and the open road ahead of us. But before long we turn into the parking lot of a strip club. I'm embarrassed and look around to see who might catch me here. Then he talks about the sick and the healthy and who needs a doctor and now I remember.

Its broad daylight but we wait in the parking lot for them to come out. When they do, he walks over to them while I lean against the bike. The sun hits their eyes and he asks them for directions and soon they’re laughing and talking and maybe this is a good time for all of us to grab some coffee together. And so that’s what we do.

Later we ride right by a large convention downtown with city leaders and it’s crowded and the air is thick with power and influence. Our reflection beams off of limo windows as we navigate through. No one notices him and I’m angry and shocked, but he doesn’t seem to care.

I’m taking my life into my hands as we ride deeper into the bowels of the city. It’s getting dark and this is gang territory and I’m scared but then I remember who I’m riding with. Before long he finds them and he’s mingling, talking, listening. He’s not looking for the healthy, but I keep forgetting that.

And it might just be my eyes playing tricks on me, but each time he stops and mingles and talks and listens and puts a hand on a shoulder, he looks like he fits in. He laughs deep and hard and I’d swear he’s known them forever. And I suppose he has.

And so it goes, day after day. There’s a widow who’s lonely and a refugee who is lost and a man much less lovable than I am who is dying. And each day there are children - lots of children who are wide-eyed with wonder. He talks about how they paint the world with broad brush strokes and trust the ground they walk on without question. He reminds me that their faith overlooks the details. This makes sense to me.

He stops from time to time along the side of the road and asks me if I get it. We talk and talk and he listens. He tells me that the great adventure is not so far down the road but all around me. Then we get back on and ride because he says that there's not much time. We talk about what it would be like for me to get my own Harley.

28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matt 11:28-30 Msg)

Matt 11:28-30

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

‘White noise’...

I’ve been thinking about Sunday just gone. It was memorable. I learned a couple of lessons, here's one of them.

Patrick’s timing was impeccable.

He usually is waiting for us to open up on Sunday’s. His role is to cause as much ‘white noise’ as possible in order to get who-ever it is leading the meeting as stressed as possible. It takes a particular skill to continue getting ready for the service, get everything in its right place – create that atmosphere that is ‘conducive to worship’ – while Patrick is giving all he can to create verbal mayhem.

Sunday he wasn’t there when we opened up. He wasn't there as I tuned my guitar. He wasn't there when we sorted out the PA. He wasn’t there to confuse me as I get the songs into order. He wasn’t there when we started. He wasn’t there to call out, chuntter, swear . He wasn’t there.

It could have had something to do with what had gone on earlier in the week (Sir that is a load of madam). It could have had something to do with the fact that the visit from the social services went spectacularly wrong. Whatever, he wasn’t there and it didn’t seem right.

It didn’t seem right because I was organised – everything was in its right place. My guitar was tuned; the PA was ready; acetates in order. It didn’t seem right because there was no disturbances, everything was squeeky clean, no chaos, no mayhem – no ‘sanctified disorder’.

This trying to create an atmosphere conducive for worship – this call to worship thing suddenly is turned on its head. The white noise, the chaos, mayhem, disorder that Patrick brings is the call to worship; the atmosphere that Patrick brings is conducive for worship. It's the noise of grace centred community, the noise of tolerance as most of the time people smile and are accepting.

So we finish up our squeeky clean meeting. I get a brainwave to create an environment for the church to share a blessing together. We’re in a circle - a microcosm of diversity. We’re just about to sing ‘Peace to You’. I’m getting an introduction going when there’s a noise, a disturbance - in bursts Patrick, breaks the circle, grabs the hands of his neighbours – looks at me in such a way that communicates “oi …wait for me…I’m part of this!?”

It has taken seven years to work it out – Patrick’s Sunday ministry is unique!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Mission's false dichotomy...

I went along to the "East London Contextual Theology Group" last week. Seems a good environment to think and reflect on missio praxis! I guess I'll have to wait and see if it is the right environment for me. One plus point was we were all different!

Andy Turner - from the Kingsmead Kabin project outlined the story and I found it encouraging to hear his reflections and frustrations. The values of the project as he outlined seemed so grace centred and authentic and in terms of the kingdom - effective.

Apart from having the importance of offering safe space as a church underlined and hearing the concept of sanctified disorder. The big story for me was hearing the pressure and pain of working with those who seem so adept at maintaining a false dichotomy that sees Christian witness, and specifically evangelism, as being unrelated to community development. Those who see evangelism (restoring people's relationship with God) as spiritual work, while social action/transformation (restoring just economic, social, and political relationships among people) is not. Those who see loving God as spiritual, while loving neighbours is material.

Myers (199) has a lot to say about this blind spot. It was good to have it fleshed out by Andy and to be able to apply it to our context.

Myers, B.L. (1999 ) Walking with the Poor - Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Orbis

Friday, September 24, 2004

Why'd they kill Jesus like that....?

It's not often you have a young person doing work experience as a Salvation Army officer. Richie turned up this week and he has been getting involved.

"I never knew you did all this..." We'd just been spending some time with an old dear who used the "I've got some jumble.." euphemism roughly translated means "I'm pretty lonely and could do with someone knowing I'm here..." He's found himself chatting with Patrick, Eva and our luncheon club crowd. He's found himself helping in the charity shop; helping out in parent and toddlers. He's seen people wander in off the street worse for wear and seen different people try and help as best they could. He has seen much and seemed staggered at our involvement.

Today it was me though that was staggered. "Gord...have you seen The Passion of Christ..." I had to admit I hadn't (The Passion...evangelical marketing hijack...authentic evangelism?) I'm still waiting for the community church to come round! "Gord you should watch's awful...why'd they do it?"

I look at Richie and I figure he is talking about the merits of the film. So I start talking about the artistic merits of trying to articulate the life of Christ and how egocentric biased objectivity can sometimes dilute the strength of a portrayed character's life. Richie looks at me quizzically....

"No why'd they kill Jesus like that....?"

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Sir, that is a load of madam...

For seven years Patrick....! has lovingly terrorised our luncheon club. We know he is harmless; he knows he is harmless - but not many others do. His tendency to shout and swear, to go off on one at the slightest, to throw his dinner at times is causing casualties. People are voting with their feet.

I had to sit with him and talk. I had to sit and explain how people were scared of him. How people were intimidated. How people had stopped coming. How when people see him being abusive in the market they stay away.

"Sir, that is a load of madam..." he says in his defence. "I know it's a load of madam..." I reply "but no one else does and they are leaving our luncheon club because of your abusive behaviour... So for them it is not a load of madam!"

This is breaking my heart. No one wants this guy but equally he is squeezing the life out of our community efforts. We can't cope by ourselves anymore. We've learned that the only way we cope is at the expense of others. I'm not sure that is fair?

"Well I wont come then...". We look at each other "Pat... that would be a shame - but perhaps if you came for breakfast every day but gave the luncheon club a miss for a couple of days a week we can see if it'll pick up..."

This really is breaking my heart...I can't look at him. "Hmmm...ok! ... but only if you do some country and western..." He smiles and I give this guy a hug.

"Ok country and western...I promise...Dolly Parton?" He does that chortle that only Patrick can do.

I don't know - I still feel miserable about it! I walk home and see our new poster proudly saying "A church for everyone..." I feel worse.... what a load of madam!

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Prodigal Church...?


::Rashly or wastefully extravagant: prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life.

::One who is given to wasteful luxury or extravagance.

Ever thought about what the Prodigal Church looks like?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The bought out church...!

Robert Beckford really should be read!

He warns :

"To avoid becoming a lukewarm presence in the community, the urban church must guard against being seduced by the benefits gained from certain associations - sources of revenue or support that become more important that defending the weak or standing for justice - it needs to be a living and committed presence in the community unafraid of taking on any manifestation of evil or injustice, even if it means risking funding or support..."

Beckford, R. (2004). God and the Gangs: An Urban Toolkit for Those Who Won't Be Sold Out, Bought Out or Scared Out.

Looking at Church™ and all it's manifestations; looking at the pre-occupied church - in whatever form - the 'bought out church' is a timely reminder as to what and where we ought not be! A lukewarm presence in the community, seduced - not really that attractive!

How bought out are we...?

"I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot--far better to be either cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, "I'm rich, I've got it made, I need nothing from anyone,' oblivious that in fact you're a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless...."

Revelation 3:15ff