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?