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 it...it'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...?

prod·i·gal

::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

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The conversation goes on...

George needed to talk. His "good morning..." seemed to have weight to it; his "good morning..." seemed to be loaded with need; his "good morning..." seemed to say I need to talk.

George is a street cleaner who keeps our market clean. He comes into our Community Cafe that is open everyday. A regular. We chat. He is open about his worries, his concerns and largely I listen and when appropriate he hears about my life.

George is being brave - there's been a bereavement in the family and he feels he needs to stand firm. He is the one that people depend on. He is the one that can't buckle, can't show any emotion.

Well today George is fed up of standing firm; fed up of being depended on; fed up of not being able to show any emotion. Today he is affected. Today he has big questions of life and death. Today he wants to talk. Today he wants to talk with me.

I grab a cup of tea "heh George - you want a chat...?"

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Do Justice...

Reflecting on Jacques Ellul's irony of the crushed poor by the egalitarian west Charles Ringma calls us to practice the transformational message of the gospel.

"Do justice - it is closer to the heart of God than our practice of worship..." (Ringma)

And here's me thinking tweaking our worship; getting all seeker sensitive; going purpose driven; singing the latest songs; getting better AV equipment; perhaps going dot. abbreviation; getting a brand; chasing relevance; giving trendy names to programmes of evangelism that have no context of authenticity; was the answer.

...and all the time it was there in the life of Jesus. Do Justice, freedom, hope, grace, love, mercy...!

How far in the chase for relevance have we robbed mission of it's true meaning...?

"I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects,your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice -- oceans of it. I want fairness -- rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want."

Amos 5:21-24

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Church in the shadow...

This picture of St Nicholas' called 'Church in the Shadows' triggered a thought process a couple of years ago.

Today isn't the day to revisit the thoughts but it is the day to revisit the picture - and remember.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

The emerging pigeon...

I was now looking at death. Seconds before life – now death.



Stood at Denmark Hill train station I was early for my train. I had a book open but was more interested in the drama that was unfolding before me. The freight train was hurtling towards the station 60, 70 mph who knows – an aggressive pull on the whistle announcing it’s imminent presence. One or two people took a step back as the train loomed ever larger.

I see the pigeon - seemingly unaware. Happily pecking away at the remains of a discarded sandwich. It’ll be alright…it’s going to be tight…it’s now or… – the pigeon seemed to time its escape to perfection. Clap clap clap of its wings signalled its flight. The Drama goes ‘Matrix – esque’ slo mo. Yes it’s going to make it. Suddenly the drama is back to real time – no it’s not.

The corner of the train frontage catches the pigeon that for the last few seconds was a part of my life. 0-70mph in a second. A vanguard explosion of feathers heralded the danger. Suddenly I’m aware that I have a 70 mph of dead pigeon hurtling at my head. 'Keep you eye on it', 'keep your eye on it' – cricket coaching flashes into mind – 'and… step inside'. I duck. The mass of feathers and guts thuds into the wall behind my head ricochets up into the roof and into the metal "Denmark Hill" station sign that - just in case no-one had noticed the drama – is transformed highly effectively into a huge gong! With the sign swinging the pigeon drops to my feet. I was now looking at death. Seconds before life – now death.

The train continues its journey. Aware that a packed station is looking at me I pretend to continue to read my book – "Stories of Emergence". I look at the pigeon, head lolled to one side. Definitely dead. A fellow passenger looks at me in expectation. Shrugs his shoulders. Walks over and gently even reverently kicks the pigeon into the gutter. People are reading their papers again. It’s over.

Church beware how you emerge…get it wrong and it could be a 'bloody' mess…get it wrong and society will simply shrug... get it wrong and we'll be kicked into the gutter. The problem in some of the debates I encounter we're all to bothered being busy pecking to notice...!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Beslan...Grief and Fragile

"Beslan's Grief"

More pictures amoung at bbc.co.uk.

Sunday to meditate an pray we used a loop of these kind of pictures with Stings "Fragile..."

- Fragile -

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Sting

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Belsan...

"Injured Child Carrying a Cross"

This picture amoung others at bbc.co.uk has affected me.

How provocative within the whole context of yesterday's events is that?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The sold out church...?

It seems there are sold out churches and then there are sold out churches - which are you comfortable being part of?

"...there are pastors and churches that have ignored the counter-cultural value system of the Christian faith...churches should promote an alternative way of thinking and being in order to 'achieve' in a radically different way, with values based on the model that Jesus lays down for believers. When a church is sold out, it has no viable alternatives to offer. It becomes just another 'gang' competing for turf and resources in the community…"

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

Sold out...? No viable alternative...? Just another gang...?

It comes to something when our evangelism more resembles a 'slick-back-haired' encyclopaedia sales rep than the gospel. It comes to something when our churches are seen as offering no viable alternative. It comes to something our churches represent just another competing gang. It comes to something when we know deep down that's what we represent but do nothing about it - but perpetuate.

Sorry I can't stomach it - I don't want to belong to an opt out church, a church pre-occupied with self. I want to be part of a church that represents the alternative way of thinking and being based on the model that Jesus lays down for us.