Saturday, January 31, 2004

God’s workmanship Gangrene and Rose

Ephesians 2 10 – I don’t want to question God’s workmanship but I wrestle with the question is the work that he has prepared for us to do a simple case of coming up with the latest trendiest way of presenting church. Finding the latest worship styles and music – is that it? Finding the latest courses that are a sure fire way of winning the world for JC – is that it? Become a seeker-sensitive; purpose driven church – is that all there is to it?

And all this time there are people who are broken that the church should be reaching out to – not in some trendy patronising way – but in a way that is real, solid.

To my everlasting shame I will always be reminded of the woman who lived across the road to our church. Rose who was 94 was dying when her neighbour came to us for help. Hardly coherent but adamant that she was not going to hospital. I rang her doctor to tell him that she was dying and incredulously was asked what the symptoms were – “umm not breathing!” Then I looked closer, her feet were wrapped in plastic bags, intrigued, I got on my knees to see why. Her legs were a heaving mass of gangrene, the bags an attempt to stop the infection oozing onto her settee. “hello” the voice on the other end of the phone implored “hello”… “yes I’m here… I think this lady needs an ambulance and now”.

At least the last two weeks of Rose’s life were in comfort. I wish I could say the same. I feel uncomfortable the issues we as a church get passionate about will always fade into insignificance when I thing of Rose.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Threshold of the Future....Highlights

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

"Vision is a romantic and oft-abused term. Its discontinuity with the present is useful to a wide range of people who wish to pursue their own ends, and have others follow them. Simply because such charismatic leaders speak in terms of vision', does not make their proposals genuinely so. Discerning the validity of vision is no easy task, except in retrospect."

Graceway An example of a church used by Riddell say "We’re committed to mission those respects the fact that evangelism is a process and involves more than saving the soul."

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Packaging, Cheese, Grace and Designer Churches…

I was involved in an interesting dialogue regarding packaging, brands etc.. today. It stimulated the beginning of an unconnected muse or two!

As a cheese lover I like my real authentic cheese to be packaged in waxed paper not Clingfilm! It allows the cheese to be at its best. The packaging is not pretty, not eye catching but it performs a function. The product is the focus not the packaging.

The church shows an unhealthy pre-occupation with packaging. Perhaps there’s packaging and then there’s packaging.

I wonder if grace could be the gospel’s packaging. It shouldn’t be eye-catching but it should perform a function - that of demonstrating the Kingdom and reveal Jesus and the true hope and liberation he represents.

As soon as the packaging becomes something to big up the product – we’ve got problems. As soon as the packaging becomes the focus it makes the product insignificant. As soon as the packaging becomes the centre of attention we become victims of spin. Then we wonder why people do not want to engage with God through the church that is seen largely as inauthentic.

Designer churches beware…!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Threshold of the Future....Highlights

A Spirituality for Mission

What is needed is the forging of a new and vibrant spirituality which is adequate to the call to mission in the new millennium.

While drawing from the deep wells of Christian tradition, this spirituality will need to be responsive to engagement with contemporary Western culture. It will be a missionary spirituality, in terms of promoting and maintaining the divine journey toward the other. If it is to be adequate to this task, it will need to be earthed, conversant with human suffering, attainable within the complexities of life, holistic, creative, communal and contextual.

While there may be many expressions of such spirituality, they will need to contain many of these qualities.

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Toot Toot...

It’s unmistakable, the toot of the underground train whistling at the same piece of track. The last time I heard it was summer, hot and humid. It is so recognisable that while visiting an elderly member of our congregation my mind is drawn to one of those special days in ministry….

….We pull up outside the multi-storey flats in the mini-bus. The Points is one of London’s worst estates in the poorest area in the UK. Stolen burnt out cars. Graffiti. Drug debris. Abandoned tyres all paint the picture. Richard – our community worker – and I pick our way through broken glass and worse and make our way up the 19 floors to flat 79. We’re helping a young family move.

Winston makes us a cup of tea and introduces us to his wife and 8 month old baby. I look around. The flat even in this heat is damp. The baby smiles through a mask of half dried breakfast. “Thanks for helping we can’t even afford the bus fare to get the stuff out of this hole”.

The mini-bus is full. We take the first load to the new flat. “Paradise, no burnt out cars” Richard observes! We pick our way through the broken glass to the new flat! I cunningly unload the bus while Richard and Winston journey three storeys to the flat. “Hello”, I turn and see Michelle. “Alfie’s in school now” she volunteers before I ask. ”heh, that’s why we didn’t see you in toddler’s?”, she smiles “what are you doing here?” I explain. She looks, smiles “that’s what I like about your church – it gets involved”.

Several trips later I’m getting to know Winston -"so you are like a minister then?” then he looks at me and says “why are you doing this?”. “well….” I begin. It is good to belong to a provocative church.

That night I watch the prestigious Panasonic Mercury awards for the best new Album on the British music scene. Urban MC Dizzie Rascal becomes the youngest winner of the award. A one-time member of our senior youth club has stumbled into fame and finds himself in front of millions thanking God, his family and those in the underground. I wonder if those months where we encouraged him and his friends helped.

I watch his video and smile as I recognise where he lives – I wonder if he has found his way out of The Points.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Brands - Are we retailers or wholesalers....?

Can it be that the church is pre-occupied with what we look like as opposed what we are like...? This caught my eye in some recent reading

If there's one thing retailers are good at, it's packaging. The reality is pretty boxes add eye-catching displays sell products. The question is can we deliver what we promise? Or have we focused on the box to the exclusion of what's inside? Just what is it that we're selling anyway?

What is the "one thing" when it comes to mission? What does it mean to move away from a retail mindset and instead function as a wholesaler? How has the obsession with packaging and branding affected the church?

Retailers specialize in off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solutions. They give you all the pieces they think you need-plus complete instructions all in one convenient package. Wholesalers, don’t worry about how pretty the box looks when they’re selling to their customers. The shift from retailer to wholesaler in mission is about letting go stepping back and letting God build the kingdom.

We start thinking that Jesus needs to be dressed up a little-maybe surfer shorts and a pair of Oakley sunglasses. The truth is we need to strip that stuff off him and get back to the basics of our faith.

When we have a wholesaler mindset, we're more inclined to trust that the story of Jesus Christ is power enough on its own. We tend to focus, not on how we can make ourselves look relevant but how we can be relevant - through authentic life change. We live out the gospel in front of people and then let go, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them into truth. As, wholesalers, we share the raw materials and then give people the freedom to embrace them in their own way.

Making Sense of Church - Burke, S (2003)

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Shadows of the Alps

I watched them disappear across the A13, over the pedestrian barriers and into their estate. From the shadows of the Alps to the shadows of the more familiar skyline of Canary Wharf. The lads had returned. The outrageously large rucksacks disappeared throught the early morning half light and they were back on their estate.

For a week we had shared a youth hostel in La Clusaz and we learnt to ski, we learnt to appreciate the top of the world. We shared food together, laughs together, frustrations together, fear together.

It was good to be there when one by one they got it. This wasn't about ski-ing, this was about sharing an experience of a life-time together.

Thanks to them all for letting me be part of it.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

MINISTRY for God or are you just doing a JOB?

A couple of incidents have concerned me yesterday. Firstly I was asked where I saw my career going... secondly I read an interview with someone in ministry looking at their career to date. Hang on....career....somethings not right!

I dragged this up - it must be floating around somewhere on the internet, someone emailed it to me 6 years ago.

Some people have a JOB in the church; others involve themselves in a MINISTRY. What's the difference?

If you are doing it just because no one else will, it's a JOB. If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it's a MINISTRY.

If you quit because somebody criticised you, it was a JOB. If you keep on serving, it's a MINISTRY.

If you'll do it only as long as it does not interfere with your other activities, it's a JOB. If you are committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it's a MINISTRY.

If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it was a JOB. If you stay with it even though nobody recognises your efforts, it is a MINISTRY.

It's hard to get excited about a JOB. It's almost impossible not to be excited about a MINISTRY.

If our concern is success, it's a JOB. If our concern is faithfulness, it's a MINISTRY.

An average church is filled with people doing JOBs. A healthy church is filled with people involved in MINISTRY.

Where do we fit in?
What about us?

If God calls you to a MINISTRY, don't treat it like a JOB. If you have a JOB, give it up and find a MINISTRY. God does not want us feeling stuck with a JOB, but excited and faithful to Him in a MINISTRY.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Threshold of the Future...Highlights

The Old Testament view of mission was entirely consistent with its understanding of holiness

When God moves toward humanity and takes up residence on our turf, then the emphasis shifts from separation to involvement.

In order to preserve this holiness certain objects and seasons were kept separate for the Lord. Come apart is the resounding call to holiness not only in OT but also in many Christian devotional books on the subject. However Separation and mission are not easily compatible. The traditional attitude to holiness betrays a deep dualism – sacred and profane; clean and unclean; body and spirit.

The unfortunate legacy is a Christian view of holiness as some sort of ethereal and disembodied existence in isolation from potential contaminants. It produces disciples that withdraw from the world and punish themselves under impossibly ascetic regimes. Demonstrates an oppressive form of Christianity.

This traditional understanding of holiness is further shaped by a concern for purification which borders dangerously on the notion that it is possible for believers to attain sinlessness – a notion that is arrogant and potentially blasphemous.

When the World is regarded as enemy it is not surprising that mission falters.

Jesus is holy as he is consumed with passion for God and the world. Only when the Christian view of holiness is informed by the teaching of Jesus will the church be equipped to encounter the world in missionary orientation.

True holiness will not keep us from the world, but drive us into it in faith.

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

Thursday, January 15, 2004

a Sight of Salvation ...

I drove past Open House today on the way to pick up some stuff for our charity shop - it brought back a Patrick memory..

I walk with Patrick – we’re on our way to Open House a mental health drop in centre with music therapy. We talk complete nonsense as we make conversation about Saddam, wooden submarines, Chelsea losing to Arsenal, Tony Blair and Tim Henman.

This is our first visit to Open House and it is beautiful. The staff offers respect, tolerance and patience. We look in on the woodwork and art sessions – but settle for the Music therapy group.

Simon the therapist soon has Patrick playing the piano. I sit and watch the therapist "shall we play a duet?" he asks Patrick. Then a miracle, the dreadful noise that Patrick makes is skillfully woven into something beautiful. Patrick knows. He can feel that he is creating. His eyes glaze over. Smiles. Something happens inside me as I look at the picture before me – Patrick champion nonsensical scavenger of market rubbish is creating something beautiful. He is experiencing a wholeness that he has not felt before. Unforgettable!

"I sing too". Simon looks at Patrick ‘with kindness "so what do you want to sing?". Patrick puffs out his chest, lifts his chin "I am going to sing Elton Johns 'Candle in the wind!'"

Go Pat!

I think I saw a sight of salvation that we don’t often see or talk about in evangelical circles – it was beautiful.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Ray…The Worst Week…Lessons in Grace

"Alright Ray you and me outside" I hear myself saying looking at the snorting contorted alcohol consumed face. I whip my glasses off. This was going to be it. The faces of my Mid Week Worship congregation looked on bemused.

Ray’s abuse had been extreme - now it was time to sort it out in a language he could understand. I march out to the car park Ray’s fumes and fuming following me. We stand eyeball to eyeball "alright Ray go on then…you’ve been saying you are going to put me on my back for months… well C’MON THEN… C’MON". In the corner of my eye a row of elderly saints looking at the scene. An alcoholic of Olympian stature squaring up to their minister seemingly employing extreme incarnational communication!

I stick my chin out and wait for the drunken onslaught - I look into his yellowed eyes watching him trying to take in what was happening. Stale beer almost intoxicating. He moves in closer and whispers menacingly "F**k….. off" Then he did!

I breathe out nothing but relief, as do the wide eyes and mouths at the window as we all watch him lurch out of the gate to find someone else to bully.

That was Thursday. Now Sunday with the memory still fresh in my mind, I pull into the car park having dropped people home in the mini-bus - my stomach sinks, my legs feel weaker – there stood with Kate is Ray. Kate comes to the drivers window, "Ray’s been evicted he needs help moving.."

"You…are…joking!" If there was anyone didn’t deserve help - it was Ray. My mind is a cocktail of emotion and thoughts - I strategically walk the long way around the minibus gathering as much adrenaline as possible to tell him "NO WAY".

I didn’t get far when with clarity I heard a voice within – "you don’t deserve it either".

I sigh and smile "C’mon Ray lets go….!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Thresholds of the Future...Highlights

A community of Grace will be ....

a community where cultural values are scrutinised in the light of Kingdom values;
a community of generosity and sharing of friendship and belonging, of mission and identity, of freedom and risk taking.
a community of that can not but help stand out against the deeply held values of Western culture;
a community of passion where suffering is accepted and given grounding and meaning through the cross;
a community where fullness of life is both affirmed and celebrated;
a community of partnership where the dignity of all and their right to participate is upheld – a group of all leaders;
a community of where the effective power will be love.

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

Monday, January 12, 2004

If Post-modernity

If Post-modernity is a transition…
If Post-modernity is indefinable…
If Post-modernity is suspicious of institution…
If Post-modernity is about choice…
If Post-modernity is about fluidity…

Why has Post-modernity become something that it isn’t - an unequivocal answer? Why are people defining themselves with what is undefinable?
Why are people labelling themselves with something that isn’t a label?
Why has Post-modernity become all things to all people to strengthen their debates, agendas and mandates?
Why Is Post-modernity fast becoming a marketable institution? Fast becoming the new meta-narrative? Fast becoming so solid?

Pomo once held something profound that I found solace within, something within that I felt my angst go out on the tide. The way it is being used within Christian circles has seen the tide turn!!

Roll on post-structuralism…until that becomes the latest band wagon for the new wave of post-structuralist churches that laugh in the face of the ‘so turn of the century’ emerging post modern church!

Gosh so cynical – must be a pomo!

My lesson – keep mission authentic, grace centred and not because all those pomo books tell us to do so! But because Jesus showed it!

PS - And for goodness sake if you are going to talk post-modernity do it with a hyphen! Without it simply represents another ‘ism that of course we are all supposed to be so suspicious about!!

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Sometimes all you can do...

"The music here is crap…what you need is some Cat Steven’s!" There was I thinking that the worship had gone well and had been helpful! Maybe a bit more Cat Steven’s would be the way forward. Sometimes all you can do is smile!

They came in asking for food. Our morning service was finished. People were leaving after their coffee. “We need some food”. We help as we can – someone made some scrambled egg sandwiches; I get a few tins together for them and sit down to talk. She cries incessantly, my gift of intuition (!) prompts me to ask if there is anything wrong. Then out it all comes. A tale of recent rape, homelessness and the loss of her children to care. Sometimes all you can do is listen.

It’s hot, the room is stifling I undo my jacket and sit with Sid. The TV is on – loud in the Day Room of Hastings secure ward. Mr Humpries is there too (see Christmas Day Past…) getting up, walking to get nothing and sitting down again – he repeats this tick once or twice a minute. Sid is a schizophrenic member of our church. His condition is getting worse; his wife sits with tears in her eyes, she can’t cope anymore. I try conversation. Sometimes all you can do is sit.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Mark of Unequivocal Truth....

Walking to church the other day I noticed something that provoked my memories of surveying as a geography student.

Our church has a benchmark carved into its wall. A benchmark is a point of reference by which something can be measured. A Mark of Unequivocal Truth.

Quite a mark! I hope we can live up to it!

Friday, January 09, 2004

Threshold of the Future - Highlights...

Barriers to Mission

Barrier #1. The Bible! Bibliolatry - Cerebral Captivity of the Bible

“Jesus’ use of scripture was neither liberal (in terms of hanging loose from Scripture) nor conservative (by way of justifying current religious practice through the use of Scripture). Rather it is radical in that it seeks to return to roots of the tradition and to draw attention to the intent of God concerning humanity.”

Barrier #2. The Church. Faith of the middle class – Western syncretism – Apathy – Control - Church Abuse.

“The core beliefs promoted by the church closely resemble the values of the liberal Western middle class”. Consumerism, individualism, careerism and security – Bourgeois Christianity.

“…the church has departed from the life and teaching of JC to such an extent that it has lost both the incisiveness and attractiveness of his radical message. When the church becomes another leisure-time activity for the comfortable, it does not do well in the face of the competition”

”It is abusive when people are taught to accept the word of those in authority, and that questioning of that authority is an affront to God. It is abusive when any person or group of person’s claim to speak the word of God, and that claim is not subjective to discernment by the wider community of believers. It is abusive when decisions are made in secret by a small group of power-holders, and such hierarchical rule is accepted as being Christian. It is abusive when difference is demonised and departure from a prescribed moralistic lifestyle is portrayed as either sin or evil. It is abusive when control is exercised to ensure the maintenance of the institution”.

“As long as the dangerous memory of Jesus is kept alive and accessible...there remains the hope that church may become church.”

“The specific shape of the emerging church is unknown…for the church to survive it will have to radically reclaim its roots as the community of Christ”

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

Thursday, January 08, 2004

"My one wish...."

It was like a scene from some tear jerking film.

I was dropping of a reference for a friend of our church whose family had fragmented. Archie lives under the shadow of violence from his former partner and her boyfriend. Court injunctions and exclusion orders however hadn't prevented the four broken ribs that made Archie wince as he talked to me. But the real fight is only just about to begin. Archie has custody of his 5 year old daughter but the maternal grandmother is about to wade in to contest Archie's suitability to bring his daughter up.

"If you had three wishes what would they be?" a clever social worker asked trying to create a case. Archie drew hard on his cigarette, his hands and voice shaking as he continued to tell me the tale. "I only want one wish - I want to stay with my Daddy".

We live in a fragmented world; within a fragmented society surrounded by fragmented families and lives. There is a lot for the church to be doing. Now isn't the time to be sat around on our self-satisfied, pre-occupied couches with our feet up. The longer we sit there the more out of condition, flabby and obese we become. Now is the time to bring community and cohesion to our community's.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

My Itch…!

More and more I read of authentic Christian community; authentic mission. I feel encouraged that a refreshing diversity is burgeoning; that there is room for the disenfranchised post-evangelical; that there is an alternative to stifling institutionalisation; that there are attempts at being real to today’s culture; that creativity is increasing; that worship is more EPIC (check out Len Sweet).

But – despite the stimulating dialogue; despite the stimulating resources and despite the stimulating community that it presents. It has to offer more than I am reading to scratch where I’m itching. Authentic mission and community is more than being really good friends who do lunch in a pub as an expression of church; Authentic mission and community is more than being liquid in church expression rather than solid; Authentic mission and community is more than alternative worship.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Earth to Earth...Dust to Dust

It’s just him and his mother now. His Dad died, suddenly, just before Christmas (Being church as opposed doing church). I’d just watched him carry the weight of his father on his shoulders.

Now beside him at the muddy grave I try to speak words of comfort through the rain to the mourners. The privilege of being part of his life is not lost on me. Here a member of our Youth Club wanted his family with him and that included three Salvation Army youth workers and me.

"Earth to earth" I stand alongside him, shoulder to shoulder looking into the grave, sharing an unforgettable moment as the thud of earth crashes down upon the love strewn roses on the coffin. "Dust to dust" I think how intensely spiritual this is. This is not ping pong, this is the hard earned, real stuff of relationship, the real stuff of sharing, the real stuff of journeying together; the real stuff being church.

I’ve grown tired of those that criticise our youth work as being secular. I’ve grown tired of those that criticise our youth work for being liberal. I’ve grown tired of those that criticise our youth work for not “evangelistic enough”. I’ve grown tired of those that quiz as to the discipleship content of our youth work.

I’ve grown tired of the narrowness of thought that is content to dilute grace and reduce mission to a means to an end. I’ll never grow tired of the privilege of being used to bring Christ of grace to our community.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Nobody wants to know Patrick....

Not even Social Services…

Patrick came knocking on our door at the crack of dawn today. His boiler isn’t working. No-one wants him – I think he knows it.

When last year he was left without heating for months – nobody was bothered. Our church fought for him and got him a temporary fire. When the engineers refused to repair his heating because his flat was uninhabitable. Our church cleaned the flat, washed his clothes and sat there to make sure the engineer didn’t try that one again. When his front door and window was smashed by youths. Our church went with him to the police and then council. When the contractors refused to enter the house to fix his toilet because it was a mess our church spent three hours cleaning his “caked” toilet so that they would come and fix it.

Until he comes to his senses and goes to the GP for a mental health assessment or is more compliant social services will do nothing for this old vulnerable man. Lets hope he comes to his senses before it is too late and accepts support - although given that his grandfather was Field Marshall Montgomery, he is a Roman legionnaire and he visits the moon every thursday - I can't see much hope for him!

It is a tragedy society makes victims out of these people. It is worse when church makes victims out of these people.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Threshold of the Future...Highlights

Thinking outside the box - Acts 10

"We will be pushed beyond our comfort zones in learning how wide the purposes of God are within history. Those who adopt such a paradigm of mission will make new discoveries."

"Whatever happens the Western church will be called upon to do its theology outside the box."

Dunblane - An Example?

Where was God? John Drane discovered that God continues to be at work in our world, in the lives of ordinary people who are largely disconnected with the church. It is increasingly out of the ecclesiastical institution that genuine encounter seems to be taking place.

"How has the church become a barrier to mission instead of a launching pad for it?"

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

Saturday, January 03, 2004

A week to Read..."Threshold of the Future" Highlights

This week I've finished a couple of journals that have been hopefully lying around and I have been able to throw myself wholeheartedly into Mike Riddell's Threshold of the Future - a book that I dip in and out of but really needs a solid read from start to finish.

Personally I don't want to forget this book so I blog my highlights so that I can re-visit.

M.Riddell (1998) Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West. SPCK

"The Christian church is dying in the west. This painful fact is the cause of a great deal of avoidance by the Christian community…the terminally sick patient is somewhere between denial and bargaining…the recognition that we are blind and poor and naked is the beginning of hope"

Books like this have been written before and I come out the end feeling miserable and compelled to try out the ecclesiastical panacean special however - this book is not about plunging the church into despair, nor is it selling its wears, rather it is to call the community of Christ back to its radical roots and its essential character as a missionary body.

There is a purity about its agenda.