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