Friday, July 30, 2004

Urban Escape...it's nang!?

The first week of our summer youth project is over. We’ve been climbing; canoeing; sailing; to a restaurant. There’s been motor mechanics; creative arts; cooking. Lot’s of table tennis, pool, PS2.

It’s been good to be more involved this year. It’s been good to get to know some of these young people. To hear their stories. To hear them laugh. To see them over come fears together. Face challenges together. It has been good to see a group of young people get to know each other and create community together. To see them share and encourage one another. It has been good to be trusted by these guys and to journey with them. To hear their disappointments, their injustices, what they feel. It’s been good to respect them for who they are and to feel likewise respected.

Above all it’s been good to be let in on their slang … to be honest it is nang!

Our junior project - "Finding Meno..." - has been going along well too. Full just about every day. It is not only good to offer space and time to the younger guys that come to our projects. But it was good to sit and hear – over a cup of tea with some parents - what a support such projects are to the parents at this time of year.

It’s a busy time... but well worth it.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

What would Jesus call his blog...?

Did Jesus go to church? seems to have been quite a provocative question over at liquidthinking.

Interesting question. Got me wondering and thinking over the last couple of days would Jesus go to church...today?

What would he make of the religion we have created? The religion of music; The religion of homiletics; The religion of sacraments; The religion of space; The religion of theology; The religion of holiness. What would he make of it all?

I wonder what he would write on his blog!!? What would his rants consist of? I wonder what he would call his blog?

www.youmissedthepoint.blogspot.com

perhaps...

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Two weddings and a Dedication...

Two weddings and a child’s dedication on consecutive days will take some beating.

Friday


It was staggering to see Stuart and Simone say their vows. Staggering that Stuart has found the joy of companionship he thought he would never find. The privilege of being part of his journey will never leave me. Three years ago I was visiting him in HMP Wandsworth. Three years ago he was on suicide watch in not the nicest of London prisons. It was moving to hear him, see him and be with him.


Saturday


Then there was Merv and Sheila. An older couple. Childhood sweethearts that moved away. Merv a few years back found himself on the streets. A failed marriage. Nervous breakdown contributed to nowhere to go. He found himself in a local SA hostel. He found his way to worship with us. A constant support was his re-found friend Sheila. Four years later they are both very much a part of our family. His journey has involved us. We've been there in the pain, frustration, anguish and now joy. He has re-etablished, re-built. His journey has been one of restoration. It was moving being part of their vows.


Sunday

Juliette is the beautiful youngest daughter of two of the most wonderful people. Immanual and Margaret Iwuamadi. Nigerian garb livened our drab western wear. It was beautiful to be part of the simple Salvation Army child dedication service. It was beautiful to see our diversity become more diverse as we celebrated and gave thanks for the blessing that this child has become for the Iwuamadi’s. Did I mention the food? There are some major benefits belonging to a multi-cultural family!

This weekend has been one not to forget for our church. We certainly did family…!



Monday, July 26, 2004

Off-balanced and over-balanced Church

The church in modernity was off-balance, reeling from a culture that once revered it and now rejected it. As a result, it simply tried to keep standing, to stand firm, to not collapse to not change, because change felt like defeat or decay. While this resolute firmness is admirable, it can't be the final word for the church in the emerging postmodern world, because standing firm can too easily be an excuse for going stale.

Ultimately, the church is called to do far more than either standing firm or being willing to change itself. Like a candle in darkness, salt in meat, yeast in bread, or seeds in a field, the church is called to be a change agent, bringing positive change to Gods world.


A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren Pp I75


Makes me wonder to what extent the church has been guilty of being pre-occupied with proving itself.

Proving itself  to each other in that ‘well we are standing firmer than you’ kind of arrogance. I was reading how in 1977 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones appealed to evangelicals to leave their denominations to form a doctrinally pure church. Before my time but it still sent a shiver down my spine. Certainly the remnants of ‘tribalism of church’ that Maggi (here and here) has identified so well are clear for everyone to see, or feel. "You don't think like me so you must be dodgy" is quite a weighty punch to withstand. There are quite a few bruised people around...


Proving itself  to the culture that once revered it. Hence a legacy of church growth and a ‘aren’t we so successful’ mentality perhaps has given birth to church™. In an 'off-balanced' effort to succeed we have branded, re-branded and marketed a persona of success so that we the church can hold our heads up high. We present our mega-churches with their icons of musical excellence as an example of success and relevance to our culture. Equally the emerging church with their developing icons of techno excellence need to be aware of 'over-balancing'.

But all the time we spend proving ourselves, pre-occupied, we become increasingly fractured and insignificant. The longer we are pre-occupied the longer we stand still. The longer we stand still the longer creation groans with decay or as Robert Beckford (Beckford, R. (2004). God and the Gangs: An Urban Toolkit for Those Who Won't Be Sold Out, Brought Out or Scared Out.) defines as 'systematic failure'. The church being stale really isn’t much good for anything.

Missional statement – (reprise)


"Ultimately, the church is called to do far more than either standing firm or being willing to change itself. Like a candle in darkness, salt in meat, yeast in bread, or seeds in a field, the church is called to be a change agent, bringing positive change to Gods world."

A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren
That’s what we are called to...

Friday, July 23, 2004

Eye’s say a lot...

Chrissy is stood with a coffee in her hand talking to me after our morning service. Her eye’s are alive. "This place has done something for me…". I look into her eyes and I really believe it has. Chrissy is on a two-week detoxification at Grieg House our local alcohol detox centre. It means we often have a group of men and women who come to church for the first time to us. There is a buzz when preconceived ideas of church are not met and the group come for the second week expectant, It’s encouraging when you really feel that something has connected. Chrissy carries on "… you know I’m coming back after re-hab" "I hope so, you are always welcome…"

I saw Carole’s eyes yesterday. It wasn’t too long ago when she too was stood talking to me after our morning service. Now her eyes were bleary, unfocused, tear filled. I walk into my mum and dad’s lounge and there she was – on day time TV. On ITV's Trisha show. The sub-title shows that Alcohol has broken her family. She’s sat with 5 huge bottles of water on her lap to demonstrate the extent of her drinking. She’s sat with the son she put up for adoption when he was four so she could afford more alcohol. She’s sat with the husband who is walking away. She is sat with her head in her hands tears rolling down her cheek.

I haven’t seen Chris’s eye’s for a while. Or Darren's Or Vince. Or Helen’s. Kay’s. Or countless other people that have wandered through our church in the past 7 years. Some you hear have linked up with local churches that help them through. Others… who knows?

Some how I’m not sure that Chrissy will be back – but I hope having been to us she will be provoked, intrigued to find a local church for her that will look into her eyes - love her, hold her hand, and be there. I hope she walks into the right church where she sees in the eyes of those around her not patronising judgement but the grace that communicates "you can do it – and even if you can’t we are here".

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

How dilute do you like your salvation…?

“Salvation, as normally understood outside the context of the whole story (say-a-prayer-so-that-when-you-die-you-can-go-to-heaven), lacks the power to be compelling. The reductionist version was never right or true. Lacking the context of the story of God and his Kingdom, salvation became, in late modernity, just another consumer item that supposedly secured one's eternity.”

(Todd Hunter in Yaconelli, M (2003) Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic )

"Our understanding of mission can only be as wide as our understanding of salvation. A narrow understanding of salvation will be reflected in mission" has been an ongoing mull for me. Stephen Zedler in three posts recently (Coming Around to Salvation ; More on Salvation; Salvation and the Witness) points out...
 
...that we have made salvation an easy process dependent upon the acceptance of propositional knowledge. This surgery-style salvation is ineffectual, because it's law. "You must first say you believe these things (and BE SINCERE about it!), then you must act this way. THEN you are a Christian." What deception.

The fruit of such narrowness, he points out, is seen in a complete neglect the duty of living out the values of the kingdom of God. The result being Jesus remains a convenient accessory to my life, rather than creating a change in me.

Salvation he argues comes when we realise our own insufficiency, then begin to seek significance in God. Salvation is not a 12 step program. It's not a checklist. Making it such makes it law, and law does not bring life. But Jesus brings life...

Grace, goodness, and compassion – he continues - are the traits in which God can be seen. Those characteristics proclaim what God is about. Not a list of rules... not law. These traits give life. They set free. They make sure that people who are enslaved to their own weaknesses, insecurities, and hate can overcome them.

(Adapted and fairly much butchered and stuck together for my own purposes from Stephen Zedler at Liquidthinking - apologies)
It leaves me thinking how dilute do you like your salvation? Dilute salvation provides for mission that is insipid. Insipid mission can only stem from character-less, colourless church. Personally when it comes to demonstrating the kingdom of God – I’m not too comfortable with that.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Getting a glimpse of a broken heart...

30 years of taking drugs for his schizophrenia has left Victor’s mind a cocktail of pickled mush. Rarely making sense. Rarely achieving cohesion it takes something to maintain a conversation of any length with Victor. But he is loved and respected by our church and as such he feels a sense of family that sees has him back week after week now for over a year.

Today he opened a window for me and I got a glimpse of the broken heart that saw him nearly take his life. I got a glimpse of the broken heart that hurled him in a deep dark depression. I got a glimpse of the broken heart that saw him admitted to a secure mental health hospital for years of treatment. Today he shared with me. For a moment we connected in sanity.

The moment went as soon as it came – and we were back in his clouds of confusion and insanity.

Those moments are special.

Friday, July 16, 2004

if Church was just....

...Barky’s honest account of his ‘exodus’, his feelings of being marginal and outside because he isn’t playing ball...

...A good friend tells be how the first thing he wants to do when church has finished is pack up his keyboard and escape...

...A habbo friend tells me the best thing about belonging to her church is that she is a stranger every week...


Is it any wonder that the fastest growing church in the west is the "Church of the Churchless Christian"? Dissatisfaction, discontent, frustration, lack of fulfilment seems to be spelling out that the 'latest worship song fix', interspersed with funny video clips, with a little bit of sincere creativity thrown in, doesn’t seem to always connect.

It got me thinking what for me Church is, and what it isn't. What would push me towards 'Churchless Faith?'

To me if church was just a Sunday thing. If it was just part of a process of jumping through 'soteriological' hoops. If church was just something through which you engage with your community once a year to be able to pat yourself on the back and say "what a good missional boy/girl am I!" If it was all about getting excited about glossy one off initiatives. If church was just about having the best worship band, the best preacher, the best AV equipment. If it was just about the latest, trendiest ways of doing things. If church was about finding the latest 'pre-fix' or 'dot.abbreviation', about a contentment of being with like minded people.

Well I think I too might be drawn to saying you can stuff it. BUT for me that isn’t church…

Church for me is having Patrick chunter while people are trying to pray in a community prayer event. It’s about being freed of 'mixophobia' and to be surrounded by refreshing and stimulating difference. Church for me is about seeking God together, journeying together, and discovering true hope, freedom and grace together. It is all about investing into our fragmented community and fragmented lives – fighting for justice, giving hope. Church for me is about being part of something that makes a difference and working towards something that our community would miss if we disappeared.

The trouble is that church spends so much time chasing what it isn’t in order to be what it thinks it should be.

Missionless church is hardly attractive.

No wonder the church of the 'church-less Christian' steadily grows.




Wednesday, July 14, 2004

unmistakable identity… heartbeat… when 'love leaks out'.

[Every now and then I have an internal bleat – this might be one of them, then again it might not be!]

59% of people in an independent survey when asked to give one word to describe The Salvation Army gave the word...music. Great...! A lovely talented salvation army officer gets the highest recognition in the salvation army – what for...music. Brilliant...! The Salvation Army has even bought the prestigious weekly magazine "The British Bandsman"...Fantastic...!

Is this our heartbeat? Our unequivocal, unmistakable identity? Old time Salvationist and holiness guru for many SL Brengle gives us a warning about when 'love leaks out'.

"...not enough to wear the uniform, to profess loyalty to Army leaders and principles, to give goods to feed the poor...we must love one another, making it the badge of our discipleship. 'If love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us'.

If love leaks out, we shall lose our identity, lose our crown. We might still house the homeless, dole out food to the hungry, punctiliously perform routine work, but the mighty ministry of the Spirit will no longer be our glory.

Our musicians will play meticulously and will revel in the artistry of song that tickles the ear but will leave the heart cold and hard. Officers will be accepted by Mayors and officials and be greeted by outsiders but God will not be among us. We shall still recruit our ranks and supply the Training College with cadets from our own young people, but we shall cease to be saviours of the lost sheep that have no shepherd."


Please our identity is not in our uniforms; our identity is not in our music; not in our principles; not in our function. Strip it all away and it doesn’t stop us being The Salvation Army. Strip away our pseudo-military trappings; our ranks; our music; songbook whatever – it doesn’t stop us being The Salvation Army. None of these things are our heartbeat. Strip away our foundation of 'whosoever' and we’ve got problems.

The moment love leaks out – particularly for our communities. The love for the unlovely. The love for the marginal. The love for the looked down on, the trivial, insignificant, irrelevant, the non-designer people that live fragmented lives all around us. The moment the love that is authentic and is grace centred leaks out – is the moment the heartbeat stops. The moment The Salvation Army stops being The Salvation Army.



A few visits to habbohotel has made me think - actually maybe this is not an internal bleat about The Salvation Army but about church per se. It’s interesting listening to emerging church chat with all their 'dot abbreviations'; their 'fixation with prefixes'. Listen to the issues. Watch the passions. Feel the enthusiasm. I love it, the banter, the creativity BUT remember the moment 'love leaks out' - the church is stuffed, the heart beat stops, identity lost.

[sorry if this bleat has been internal – every now and then it happens...!]

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Kingdom of God and a Bad Attitude...

I look at the other coaches in the service station as we pull in – all looking much the same really. Coaches of elderly people. Coaches of brownies; Coaches of girl guides. Coaches of young people and then us. We’re on a church outing to Brighton and it strikes me amusing that we are a complete mish-mash of chaotic humanity, a community of non-uniformity. Black...white; young...old; resettled homeless guys...professionals.

As the other coaches pull out I see them looking and I wonder. I wonder what they think? What they see? I wonder whether in their wildest guess they can see in our diversity the Kingdom of God?

I then wonder if my attitude today is demonstrating the kingdom. Too be honest you can stick your obedience, indignation and compassion stuff of the other day. I really need a break from seeing people. I then wonder if my begrudging attitude of giving up my one day in what seems weeks to spend the day on the beach with the likelihood of rain – does anything to promote the kingdom. I want to do selfish...

The girls are in bed - Kate and I grab some time together "was it worth it...?" Well actually it was a good day. People who don’t get a break got one today. People who can’t escape the city escaped. People who don’t get the annual holiday to France excitement were able to wake up this morning excited because they were going on a trip.

That was yesterday. Today in church...

"Gordon – thanks for yesterday!" Patrick’s hand is on my arm. He looks me in the face smiles his toothy best and in a unique moment of sanity proudly gives me his creation - a picture of Brighton. We hug.



(Brighton by Patrick Pantlin age 69)

I guess it was worth it...!

Friday, July 09, 2004

Compassion, Obedience and Indignation

Funny how throwaway comments in throwaway conversations get you thinking.

"I don’t believe in altruism...it simply doesn’t exist".

In other words there is no such thing as unselfish concern. Now there’s a discussion. Whatever we do, we do it to get something out of it. Take it further in terms of mission - our concern for anyone is always out of selfishness. Take it further and there are strings attached to our working out of grace centred mission.

Tom Sine talks about a friend who outlines three motives for mission with the marginal in Mexico.

"...compassion, obedience and indignation. Compassion for the suffering people, for their needs; obedience to Jesus Christ who has sent us to work among the poor; and indignation, because we get indignant when people created in God's image suffer in this way"


Sine, T (1999) Mustard Seed Versus Mcworld: Reinventing Christian Life And Mission For A New Millennium


How selfish...?!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The creativity of absurdity...



There was a kind of an ecclesiastical paradox, almost an absurdity going on.

I’m at BLAH and we are hearing great stuff about the churches journey as it emerges. Great stuff about a new way of being. Kester Brewin author of the complex Christ is giving it some about evolution not revolution; about bottom up not top down; about the church being purified to the point of sterility; about the church needing to re-define the dirt boundaries of church; an interesting dialogue about Judas and much much more. Creative video loops that even had tallskinnykiwi sat next to me in awe.

Check out Barky's Highlights...

But...

In the midst of us a guy who not only had had too much wine, but had showed signs of mental illness started to take advantage of the 'open source' nature of BLAH. Now how much more creative do you want than this guy 'Effing' and 'Blinding' while we are talking about the sterility of the church? How much more inventiveness do you want than having the tension he created going off while we're talking about re-defining the dirt boundaries of church? How much more artistic do you want than having 'in your face fragmentation' in amongst the lushness and beauty of the emergent?

And was in your face? – Oh yes - he was in our corner. The abuse was great. It reached a crescendo with TSK who was amazingly calm under the barrage of drunken abuse. He left with a prophetic volley and a parabolic sweep of an accusing finger.

"you lot……too much talk……..just f***ing get on with it"

Monday, July 05, 2004

Incarnational...trying too hard...right-side-up values

I wonder if we try too hard at the incarnational thing...? So hard that what we have to say isn’t heard....? So hard that what we have to say isn’t trusted? So hard that what we have to say isn’t of value....?

"uh-huh… uh-huh… uh-huh…" the judgement, disparagement of what I am saying from the other end of the phone is almost tangible.

I’ve been invited to speak at a conference about how to make your church grow through your community programme. The organiser is on the phone. Stood in our foyer our phone call continues....

"So you don’t try and get people that come into your week day centre to come on Sunday...";

"no – some come because they are intrigued and want to, but we don’t try";

"so you don’t have special services during the week for people"

"no";

"so how do you try evangelise these people?"

"we don’t try – we have healthy relationships that naturally encourages discussion".

"uh-huh..." there it goes again… the judgement ... disparagement.

What we do try is to meet people on their agendas not ours – the funny thing is most people find that attractive and it gives us the right to share our faith when the time is right. I’ve kind of grown out of giving people both barrels of my best evangelistic shot – so that I could go home happy. I wait for those moments based on solid authentic relationship. Meeting people on their agenda is so refreshing!

All the time there is a steady stream of people leaving having had breakfast in our cafĂ©. Rachel; Philip; Diane; Gerry; Dave the shuffling denture man; Patrick - All whispering goodbye and smiling “see you tomorrow”. There are conversations unfinished and I’m angry I’m on the phone…

Our conversation peters out. One day I’ll tell about the conversation that I had with Gerry on his agenda. That conversation goes on and on!

"As one reads the book of Acts, the Church, that first alien community, really wasn't defined as a building you go to once a week. It was much more of a living breathing community …

I am firmly convinced that the first call of the gospel isn't to proclamation and I am committed to evangelism. And I don't believe that the first call of the gospel is to social action and I am very concerned for the poor. I believe the first call of the gospel is to incarnation. Only as we flesh out in community something of the right-side-up values of God's new order do we have any basis to speak or act."


Sine, T (1999) Mustard Seed Versus Mcworld: Reinventing Christian Life And Mission For A New Millennium