Friday, April 30, 2004

Discoveries of Authenticity...

My 8-year-old made a ‘discovery of authenticity’ today. Things are not always what they seem. Jamilia paid a visit, sang and danced for the school. But my 8 year old was observant and noticed something significant. “Dad you know when pop-stars sing on TV – did you know that they don’t really sing….!”, “how’d d’you work that one out?”, “Jamilia sang with out opening her mouth…..!??”

Our churches are so passionate, fervent even zealous about reaching out to our communities. Mission weeks, outreaches, programmes to get the church ‘out there’. My desk is strewn with the glossy glamour that these endeavours spawn. But we have become experts as we sully, smear, tarnish our efforts and motives by mixing into the cocktail concepts of ‘building bridges’, creating ‘warm contacts’, ‘relational‘ and friendship evangelism.

I stumbled into barky's blog and his post on transformational development. Who raises interesting questions regarding Mission Raison D’etre. Why do we do what we do? Are we comfortable with using our community and social outreach programmes as manipulating people in the kingdom?

"You cannot build a relationship with people when you have an agenda, even if you pretend you don’t. It doesn’t work…It’s a complete anomaly."

He quotes a friend’s phrase – "Our faith is our motivation, not our hidden agenda" ie "the Christian faith is the philosophy for living that brings hope and freedom, and is not merely a tool to manipulate and repress the most vulnerable in our society".

He finishes by saying "Community work is the arena where this is a most sensitive issue. Tread lightly and be authentic in the relationships you build. Please…"

Thanks Mark you really should blog more often about your work!!

If we are not careful our communities will look at us as we clean up our streets; wash away the graffiti; sweep up the broken glass; do “social action” and they make the same ‘discovery of authenticity’ that my daughter has today. They see the strings of evangelicalism, they see church, they hear the singing but quite frankly the lips aren’t moving.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

A parable... (A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren)

One day after dinner, while finishing dessert, a father sent his boy out to cut the lawn. Smiling broadly, the son said, "No, Father, I just want to stay here experiencing your presence, expressing my love for you, my dear Father." The father frowned and said, more firmly this time, "Actually, Son, I would rather you go out and cut the lawn." But the boy acted as if he didn't even hear his father, and he replied, "Dad! Guess what? I just wrote a song expressing my love for you!" The son began to sing, his eyes closed in sincerity and intense emotion, and the father left the table to go watch TV. The boy didn't notice, but kept singing, with tears streaming down his face.

At that point the father wanted the boy to experience obedience (which may entail heat, sweat, thirst, sunburn, strained muscles, hunger, endurance, and fatigue) even more than the warmth of his presence.

(A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren)

It is easy sometimes to just keep on doing your thing...!

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Giving hope.....

Mr Singh has just shown me where he sleeps at night. Where he pulls up his collar to keep warm. Where he sleeps on freight pallets. Where at night he sees and feels the rats brushing past him.

We get him a sleeping bag and the promise of a change of clothes. Richard our community and youth worker rings through to the Street Rescue Team and gets the assurance that someone will meet him to start the process of getting him off the streets. As I rush out to my next appointment he grabs my arm, smiles "Thank you, thank you - you have given me hope for the first time in one and a half years".

As I write this I see thunder and lightening, rain and hail stones unusually large for the UK - I can't help think of Mr Singh.

Monday, April 26, 2004

I hate jigsaws....

I went to visit Sid this afternoon. Sid has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Sid's illness has gradually worn Maureen out. Sid is now in a home and it is breaking Maureen's heart. (I try to understand.... ; Sometimes all you can do... ; Maureen...Professional pastoral pre-occupation!!)

To be honest Maureen's expectations of her church have been extra-ordinary. She feels let down. We've tried our best. In her depression she has lashed out. Nothing we do seems to help. It's painful when you are really doing your best. It's painful when her vision is rightly tunneled on her issue but she can't understand the wider picture. It's painful when people you don't even know have words to say. But we still try to understand, to minister, to simply be there. I went to visit Sid this afternoon.

I never know what to say to Sid so I gave him a jigsaw. Maureen smiled...!

I think next visit I'll help do it with him.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Sunday's Bits...

I'm worried suddenly my life has gone bland. A nice day. NICE!! It was good to see some new faces. Sad to not see some other faces that we haven't seen for a while. But on the whole the day was...........nice! Even Patrick was behaved!

Had a good chat with a homeless guy - who is coming back tomorrow to see if we can help him further but apart from bland and nice!

Oh - a lady from BBC's 'Songs of Praise' came as they want to feature us. Being the oldest salvation army in the world seems to be an angle they want to cover in a show they are doing about Booth.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Stats Stats Stats....

I can't understand why we have such a hang up on stats. Having spent a considerable chunk of time filling in forms for someone to process and spin - does it honestly really matter?

"A formula or statistic is about as persuasive to a pomo heart as interpretative dance would be to a modern mind." (A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren)

"In the modern world only those things that could be measured were deemed worthy and successful. In the post-modern world there is a growing awareness that the deepest and most successful things in life can't be measured. The purpose of life is not to measure. The purpose of life is to matter." (A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren)

I kind of think they've got something there! Ok then why is it then I have a web counter!??

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Mr Hopgood...a memory of mystery

I’ve been there many times before, with many different people. East London Crematorium. It’s where we have said goodbye to many different people. Members of our church. Members of our wider community, friends, colleagues. I’ve been there many times but today will be a memory that will remain.

We said goodbye to Mr Hopgood. Three of us. I don’t know anything about his life. He never shared. I don’t know if he still has family parents; wife; children. I don’t know what caused him to lose his job, to become street homeless. I don’t know. I don’t know what was in his preposterously large suitcase that he dragged everywhere around the streets.

All I know was he came to us for food, warmth and safety. He had nowhere to go. No-one wanted him. Inappropriate for hostels. A guaranteed tick in the fail to re-house column.

His anonymity probably is the most precious thing he had – as the three of us said good-bye I smiled because his undeniable mystery will remain.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Obscurism...Douglas Coupland Generation X

"Obscurism - The practice of peppering daily life with obscure references (forgotten films, dead TV stars, unpopular books, defunct countries, etc.) as a subliminal means of showcasing both one's education and one's wish to disassociate from the world of mass culture". (Douglas Coupland Generation X)

I wondering today to what degree the dialogues I enter perpetuate a theological obscurism that while tickling the fancy of my intellectual ego – actually does very little for the kingdom.

I wondering how careful I need to be that my "internal ecclesiastical conversations" don’t dominate so that a disassociation from the world of mass culture occurs.

I’m struggling today with what missiological difference do debates peppered with theological obscurism for and by theological obscurists actually make. I’m wondering whether there is room for a theology of "so what!"

I smile as I write this… d'you know what… I think I'm guilty!

Monday, April 19, 2004

Telephone call.. Patrick a gift!

I had a telephone call the other day.

"I’ve been given your number because we don’t know what to do anymore. We understand you have a member in your church that is challenging… can be difficult to manage… can cause a scene?" (This really doesn’t narrow anything down!! – although not a betting man I would hazard a bet that she is referring to Patrick)

'Uh-huh …'

"well we’ve got one too… called Giles!"

"...great" I reply.

She’s a little non-plussed. "The trouble is he is causing a stir in our church and he smells…we don’t want to kick him out but we just don’t know what to do…we’ve bought him a washing machine…give him clothes…washing powder but it doesn’t make any difference…what do we do?"

"First of all recognise that the most important thing you can do is see Giles as a gift…" I preen myself. Such spiritual wisdom. Such insight.

Later I come tumbling off my pedestal. My attitude sucks. Patrick has been winding me up a treat. Last Saturday ringing the doorbell at 5:45am…. SATURDAY… 5:45…AM… to leave a dilapidated skateboard that he has found in the rubbish somewhere as a gift.....5:45am!!

Then that Sunday morning I was met with a tirade of abuse.

Then in the afternoon service in a quiet meditation at the key moment in crashes Patrick with a bundle of dodgy birthday cards “anyone’s birthday…?” I glare. Glower. Seethe. Boil. Churn.

A penny drops I think of my earlier conversation.

I make a note in my mind to sharpen up in my own attitude with Patrick – to see him in the same way that God does and thank God for giving us the gift that is Patrick.

Trouble is we are not so crash hot on doing that for 'the whosoever…!' It’s all so much easier to thank God for a gifted guitarist, a talented communicator, some who has responsibilities, a good job. …! It’s all so much easier to thank God for people like us that appeal to us. It’s all so much easier to thank God for designer people – but what about those that represent a challenge? The unappealing? Misfits?

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Friday, April 09, 2004

We took the cross out today...

We took the cross out today. Through the market we walked. Followed the cross to a solemn, mournful beat of a deep, hollow drum. The market was busy. The sun was warm. The world carries on. Chrisp packet’s crunched, police sirens, noise of laughter, talk, swearing, chirpy banter, an argument, dogs barking.

We took the cross out today and carried it to let the world know that this holiday has meaning. Some stop, others point, some look, others mimic. Most ignore. "Leave it out I’m trying to make a f***ing living..." derided one market stall holder – there irony to his comment which borders on the profound! The mournful beat carries on and so do we. So does the world.

I feel uncomfortable…I’m glad to be finished… glad to be back inside… glad to be away from the staring, shouting and ridicule. I don’t know what impact our procession has made. One way or the other we made a spectacle of ourselves!

I know it has made me think – it is easier to leave the cross indoors, but that isn’t where it should be. It made me think about the church, it’s life and mission. I wonder about how we become comfortable, content to leave the cross indoors. It’s made me think of the debates I get involved in, issues, things that concern me that forces the cross behind closed doors in the shadows.

It makes me feel uncomfortable.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Out collecting one day…

Selling the War Cry isn’t about making money, it’s about being available and obvious. Here’s a tale from a couple of month’s back….

Someone has been watching me. A security guard comes over to see what I am all about. 'Hello' I look into a happy African face. We talk and I discover he is from Nigeria. "So Ibo or Yoruba", surprised he volunteers he is Yoruba. "Oluwa Dara" (God is Good) I say trying to sound convincing. He laughs "You know my language?" There are benefits of belonging to a multi-cultural church. We talk about church and I invite him to one of our 'Lift Him Up' International Praise Nights. I tell him about the recent London African Congress - a celebration of diversity. He leaves wanting more details about The Salvation Army and so I promise I will write to him.

As he disappears into the crowd, I remember the house group I facilitate. I imagine the regulars. Of the I0 or so members I know I will be the only person from England. 7 other Nationalities will be there. Sometimes we might sing. If we do it might be in Ibo; Twi; Shona; French; Lingala; Ndebele; Setswana; English and maybe even German!

I thank God for the diversity he has blessed our church with. I thank God that selling the War Cry isn’t about making money

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Defining Incarnation...

Incarnation… Personification… Embodiment… Manifestation… Living form… Materialization… God became flesh for what? Steve at E~mergent Kiwi is working on a deconstruction of incarnation, working on a definition of incarnation. As for any other word robbed of its meaning by spin meddling it needs a closer look.

Steve pertinently places it in the same buzz category as mission and missional as terms that are bounded about in order to maintain an edgy ecclesiastical persona. So I ask Incarnation… Personification… Embodiment… Manifestation… Living form… Materialization…God became flesh for what?

Is it solely a case of meeting people on their terms? Is it solely a euphemism for chasing down relevance? Is it solely about alt.worship? Is it solely about being church in pubs? Is it solely about the perceived more accessible brands of church? Something in the emerging definition of incarnation could be missing if we are not careful.

I look at Brownfield Estate where a good proportion of our church live; I think of the stabbing; the shooting several months back; some of the non-designer people that are our family. I think of the fragmentation of society, communities and families and I wonder about incarnation.

God became flesh for what? To demonstrate the Kingdom of God; to live out the values of the kingdom; to embody grace, love, mercy; to express true hope, true freedom, true wholeness, umm Salvation – anything less just wouldn’t be incarnation!

Monday, April 05, 2004

The Miracle of Community…

"We don’t see miracles in the Church anymore…" I heard someone say. Don’t we? I see it most Sunday’s.

I see complete opposites coming together as community in worship. I see different nationalities, ethnic groups – this Sunday over a dozen nationalities in our small community. I see different social groupings – owners of businesses in Canary Wharf through to Patrick rummaging the market rubbish. I see different intellects - from launderette assistants to university lecturers. Different ages, gender, different theologies, politics, issues, life experiences. A total mosaic of life coming together in respect. A total mosaic of life being community, church. A total mosaic of life representing a miracle. I don’t see it in the world. I see how powerful, provocative a demonstration of the Kingdom of God difference is.

I hear people sound-byte about having shared DNA – I’m not sure. Churches wanting to have a shared DNA worry me. Shared DNA has implications. How attractive or what impact 'Mutant Churches' will have is yet to be seen. 'Sameness' is dangerous!!

My point is it’s all right to be different – let’s celebrate the chaos, the mess - not be frightened of it.

It’s a miracle.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Sunday's Bit's 'n' Bobs...!

George came today. Looking a bit unkempt, dishevelled, scruffy. George came today and boy did he lash out. He only comes once a year and without fail he always lashes out. Last year he urinated and defecated in front of everyone.

This year was a definite improvement but he wasn't happy. Today was still spectacular, biting, kicking, and shoving violently. No respect, no consideration – just stubborn. Nothing could appease him. In fact this year it took two rather large gentlemen to calm him and whisper words of comfort.

For 364 days of the year he is left alone. Then one day in the year he is forced to perform and he doesn’t like it. Who’d be the Palm Sunday Ass!!?

Today has been good!

Friday, April 02, 2004


A few moments ago, Kate called up the stairs - "there's someone to see you" At the door were the girls and the blokes that had been caught up in the fracas! The victim was there with a big bandage around his head. He offered his hand. "Thanks..."


It is quiet now. The swings hang empty. The park empty. Only a dark stain on the ground stands as a testimony of what happened in the park opposite this morning. There is no shouting. No screaming. No violence.

As I worked on our PC my attention was caught. Young women screaming. Men shouting. I glance and two gangs of youths are standing off. Taunting. One group leaves. Swaggering, their business done. It is not finished, the screams get worse. The activity gets frantic. I don’t notice at first but then I do. Someone is down. Motionless.

I run down the stairs four five at a time. Stumble out of the door onto the street. I run breathless from fear of the worse to the railings of the park. "Is he ok?" I’m met with a barrage of emotion. "Has he been stabbed?" I get a response. I run back into the house and grab some towels and the phone. Back in the street a crowd is developing. I jump the railings and start applying pressure to the wound on his head. I get his mates to continue while I call the police and ambulance. As we wait I look at the anger on these young men’s faces. I look at them and offer some words of wisdom "guys you know violence will only breed violence…?" Revenge is written all over their faces.

The wound on his head is nasty but he’ll be ok. He is in shock and so we wrap him up. I look at my hands … blood. The girls are covered too. The ambulance arrives and take him away. "Do you girls want to clean up?" The four of them come back and wash their hands, their coats. The fear among them was tangible as they incessantly sniff.

Fifteen minutes it is all over. It is quiet now. The swings hang empty. The park empty. Only a dark stain on the floor stands as a testimony of what happened in the park opposite this morning. There is no shouting now. No screaming. No violence.

This community needs to see grace in action, not quick fix, self absorbed hit and run mission weeks. I pray we do our bit.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Some truly inspiring people

Most of my reflections have been inspired by some of the more challenging people that we come into contact. I started this blog because I don’t ever want to forget them. Neither do I want to forget some of the other inspirational people that God has lead to cross our paths.

First of all when we arrived at Poplar there were some truly inspiring people, totally committed to the area, the urban mission of the church, totally committed to God. They’ll probably never know how much they have contributed to me. They’ll probably never know how much they’ve taught me. They’ll probably never know how much confidence they inspire within me.

These are people that we have fought (sorry Mr Burke) alongside to demonstrate true hope, justice and liberty to this community. Some of them have moved on, most remain. All of us different, but together creative. This Church ministers because of them.

One of them finishes tonight after 10 years of youth work - Thanks.