Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The P-word...

I've been at college today. The Salvation Army Training College - where I am also a tutor in Mission Studies. A visiting lecturer was fabulous. Spoke well. Communicated. But I saw something new. PFS - Pomo Fatigue Syndrome! I could see in the faces of the students, prospective Salvation Army ministers. I thought of this quote.

"Someday when enough of us have gotten through to the other side of this transition, we can use ministry and gospel and neighbours and grace and other words we love, never needing to use the P-word again." (A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren)

Incidentally - not that many people leave comments - but any ideas about the characteristics of an institutional church. What distinguishes a church as institutional? Words like hierarchy, centralised, uniform (!), inflexible, controlling come to mind – any others

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Coca-Cola pulls plug on Dasani

Dasani

Coca-Cola pulls plug on Dasani….

"COCA-COLA is facing new humiliation and losses of at least £40 million after being forced to postpone the introduction of Dasani, its "pure, still water", in Europe. Company chiefs have accepted that Dasani as a brand is so vilified in Britain after it was exposed as a purified version of Sidcup tap water that the product stood no chance of early success on the Continent."

Now there’s an idea. Bottle up tap water. Put it in a flash bottle. Trendy label. Edgy name then sell it. Except for one thing – people don’t buy the inauthentic anymore. However flash the bottle. Trendy the label. Edgy the name – the product has got to be real.

When the world looks at the church what do we want it to see? The bottle, label and name or the product?

Monday, March 29, 2004

Mr Hopgood died last night...

Mr Hopgood died last night. Mr Hopgood who shuffled around Poplar with his outlandishly large suitcase. Mr Hopgood who shuffled around with his rain damaged hat, his trousers too large, his shoes too tight, his encrusted coat. Mr Hopgood that had the longest fingernails I’d ever seen. Mr Hopgood who no-one wanted.

Mr Hopgood had a story. They say a brilliant mind that for some unknown catalyst went over the edge. He spent most of his adult life in hostels refusing to bath or on the streets. He came to us in the winter frozen. He came to sleep and to eat. There he would find warmth and tolerance among the mothers and their children. Then at 1:30pm after a lunch off he would shuffle. It broke our hearts. We couldn’t get him into any hostels. Social services didn’t want to know. Because he smelt because he wouldn’t engage with resettlement programmes, because he would always represent a failure on their bureaucratic tick-lists.

Well we fought. We fought social services; we fought our local street rescue team; we fought a local hostel; we fought our own organisation’s social services. It got bloody! After 8 weeks of this old man sleeping on the streets we got him in a local hostel. I’ll not forget the look on his face when he was accepted and felt safe again.

Mr Hopgood died last night. Mr Hopgood who no-one wanted

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Sunday's bits and bobs...

I can’t pretend that today has been good – it hasn’t it.

It could have something to do with Patrick’s contributions to worship…! It could have something to do with too many people content to watch on as the Gordon and Kate one man/woman band show rolled in for their entertainment. It could have something to do with my guitar strings slipping every song. It could have something to do with the toilet leaking what toilets leak best "let your living water flow!" It could have something to do with being stretched to the limit with pastoral issues that wouldn’t be right to even hint at here. It could have something to do with I need a holiday!

I can’t pretend that today has been good – it hasn’t it. But then we sang together

"Let us press on then, never despair,
Live above feeling, victory's there;
Jesus can keep us so near to him
That nevermore our faith shall grow dim."


Live above feeling eh…?

Straight from mopping up from the toilet disaster I go and visit people in hospital. Ilona’s eye’s were a tonic; Dave and Jo’s smile’s refreshed – Sid’s welcome picked me up. I get back and the phone goes. Sobs on the other end of the phone indicate another problem – a couple that worship with us have found their flat broken into for drug money. Kate and I look at each other. Smile. Kate is on her way to bring support.

OK it’s been one of those days! Here’s to tomorrow. Here’s to remembering whose mission it really is. Here’s to not feeling so sorry for myself :o).

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Laughter, Respect and Tall Stories

We had our Men’s Fellowship last night. Poplar Men Together. PMT.

An indoor Barbecue – steak, burgers, prawns and lots of smoke! To be honest being behind on my preparation for Sunday, having not seen the girls all day and wanting to have spent some time with Kate – I didn’t really want to be there!

I don’t think I can describe the cocktail of personality ingredients that made the evening. Conversation ranged from The Passion of the Christ, to the best seafood restaurants in Padstow, Cornwall, to the political upheaval in Zimbabwe. Interspersed with those tall tales of past conquests, adventures and who has eaten the hottest curry that seems to be in the DNA of all blokes. It was quite some evening!

When conversation changed and stories of suicide attempts emerged I recognised the importance of this group. I recognised that I was glad I was there. I looked around the group and saw a group of men by and large broken by the past. I saw a group of men drawing strength from one another through laughter, respect and tall stories.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Mission ...glamorous fashion icon??

Jason Clark post on the Immature Emerging Church caught my eye, made me think.

"Let’s face it. The youth ministry culture is extremely susceptible to fads. Those of us in youth ministry are in love with the new. Add the adjectives 'newest' or 'latest' to stuff, and we’re interested…." Writes Duffy Robbins in an essay called Postmodernism Youth Ministry in Adolescence: A Look at the Culture of Youth Ministry.

Has mission become the latest ecclesiastical glamorous fashion icon? No? Will mission ever be trendy? If it ever is what does mission lose? If ever it is what does mission gain?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The nonbiodegradable language of modernity....!

Andrew to Dag in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X

“I don't think my mother really grasps the concept of ecology or recycling," I start to tell Dag. "At Thanksgiving two years ago, after dinner, my mother was bagging all of the dinner trash into a huge nonbiodegradable bag. I pointed out to her that the bag was nonbiodegradable and she might want to consider using one of the degradable bags that were sitting on the shelf. She says to me, 'You're right! I forgot I had them and so she grabs one of the good bags. She then takes all of the trash, bad bag and all, and heaves it into the new one. The expression on her face was so genuinely proud that I didn't have the heart to tell her she'd gotten it all wrong…”

This struck a chord with me as I listened to someone this week expound the demands of post-modernity and the missional role of church but through out used an evangelical lexicon and language of modernity.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Emperor's New Clothes and Butt nakedness....!

"But the Emperor has nothing at all on!" said a little child at the edge of the crowd. "He's naked. The man in the crown is naked." ."Listen to the voice of innocence!" What the child said was recognized as the wisdom of innocence.

Soon it ran through the crowd faster than the shuttle of a loom. The fabric of truth was woven and became the snapping flag of reality. "The child is right. The Emperor has nothing at all on!" someone cried out.


Ever read THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES by Han Christian Anderson.

Emerging church for the post-modern era seems so mono-cultural but that is where its success will lie. It is a community for the like-minded, the similar, and the cloned – yes all firing out their little natty brands and tags but in terms of missio dei - firing blanks. There will be those that will not fit in. Those that we are sacramentally called to minister to. Those not like you and me. Those who wouldn’t give a monkey’s about emerging anything because they are fragmented, on the edge, broken people.

But it isn’t really about them is it? It’s about the emperor who buy’s it hook line and sinker and it is about the clever 'spin' of the tailor! Maybe not paid in gold but kudos and recognition is sufficient currency.

Sorry to bang on about this. I still believe that the emerging debate is a dynamic and necessary one, but I think those that feel that they have emerged dilute the dialogue. The debate is missing something, to me at the moment it all seems a little bit too butt naked!

Where’s the fight for true justice, liberty, hope and salvation?

Monday, March 22, 2004

All over a cup of tea….

Brendan came to the kitchen hatch in our community lounge. Our breakfast club was just finishing. "I need to see Gordon". Brendan is always in control. His voice commands action. An ex Royal Navy Captain he is used to pressure and not showing any signs. But there is something wrong. "Son I need you to come through here", I wander through with my cup of tea and we sit.

"You guys have found me!" I look quizzically as Brendan is a frequent visitor. "For 51 years I haven’t heard from my family and your missing persons unit has found me". Brendan doesn’t do emotion. His eyes well up. "My sisters wanted to find me and now they have". I didn’t know whether I should apologise or be enthusiastic. I shut up and let him continue. His voice drops to a mere whisper, I strain to hear… "my brother died two years ago…no-one told me…can you write to them for me and tell them I’m sorry…very sorry…tell them to write".

We chat further, I promise to write and to pray for him. His eyes red he looks up into my face and says "thanks" in that deep, Irish, gravely way that is Brendan’s. He finishes his tea. Stands up and goes with a patronising grip on my shoulder to let me know he is back in control.

So I sit here with a scrap of paper in my back pocket. Scribbled notes. A name; an address. Thinking of reconciliation. Thinking of the privilege of being available. Thinking of the wideness of missio dei and the narrowness of our understanding of it!!!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Sunday's Bits and Bobs...

Today has been good, really good. Some Sunday's I get the dread feeling that something is going to go off, someone is going to fall out with someone else and sense of church is rock bottom. But today has been really good.

It is hard to identify why particularly. Perhaps it was because there seemed a oneness. Perhaps it was seeing Andrea and her friends Wei Wei; Mingshu; Fungming and Meho still intrigued and coming. Perhaps it was seeing two new people come into church for the first time and settle really quick. Perhaps it had something to do with having 19 different nationalities in worship today - it seems to add a profoundness to "making disciples of all nations" that is missing for me. Perhaps it had something to do with how people engaged with their regrets and hurts to walk away. Perhaps is was because the hall was packed - due to some friends from Norway.

Today has been good!

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Old labels being washed away or new significance...

e~mergentkiwi points to a full e~mmersion in a postmodern pool where the old labels might well wash away in the missiological waters of incarnational mission?

I like that.

I like Maggie’s take as well. There is strength to be gained by difference. Like those ants you see on wildlife programmes - or Balamory! - that cling together to become one in all their differences to cross rivers etc… Our theological labels only hold significance in terms of stimulating missional creative tension within the communities we are called love. A clinging together rather than pulling each other down.

The problems start when our debate becomes insular, parochial pre-occupied. When we sit around and rather than see how our differences propel us to living out the gospel – we judge each other, score points, win arguments. Yes there is a need for debate, dialogue – perhaps we need to be certain about why.

My girls are at the moment watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – I’m sure that they are not bothered whether it be on BBC1, BBC2; DVD; Video; Sky movies – all they are bothered about is that it is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! I can’t help think that the people that we come into contact with probably wouldn’t be that bothered about whether we were evangelical; liberal; charismatic; evangelical-charismatic; post-evangelical; post-charismatic – all they are bothered about is being part of community. All they are bothered about is about being safe. All they are bothered about is feeling wanted, respected and loved.

I wonder if when our focus is more about who we are sent to and for as opposed ourselves, whether there is then a shift in significance and that is when rather than old labels being washed away, they find new significance in the ‘missiological waters of incarnational mission’.

Who knows...?

Friday, March 19, 2004

A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren and Haselmayer

"Imagine for a moment that you are God (and if this is too easy, beware!).

Imagine that you love the whole world (something that more than a few Christians seem to doubt about God).

Imagine that you also love the church, and you have commissioned the church to express your love to the world in word and deed.

Imagine that you have two churches in a certain town, one preoccupied with gathering to learn more and more of your love but consistently avoiding any outward focus, while the other rejoices to gather in celebration and rejoices even more to scatter in service and get beyond its four-walled world.

Which church would bring more joy to your heart?"

(A is for Abductive Sweet, McClaren and Haselmayer)


Hmmm.........!

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I see them....

Driving home from a morning’s teaching at The Salvation Army training college I’m getting vexed! Why is it that every traffic light is red? In my frustration I try to make the stopping every two minutes a positive thing and start to look around.

Then I see them.

I see them walking slowly. I see them heads down. I see them on the park bench. I see them stood around watching. I see them sat on the step of the off-license with their blue plastic bags. Everywhere I looked aimless people. No where to go, no one to talk to; no one to listen; no reason; no incentive - nothing.

I arrive back at church. There is Tommy, fingers yellowed from nicotine, face a mosaic of fresh and old scars, alcohol breathed fumes offer a light relief from the smell of his socks! "My life is a mess…" he starts, I listen, encourage and comfort as the luncheon club looks on.

As Tommy leaves I get thinking about a question a reporter asked me about HRH. "Is Prince Philip the most important person to have visited your church?"

"Probably not!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

It’s not everyday...

It’s not everyday you have the Duke of Edinburgh - Prince Philip, Queen’s Husband - drop in on your youth club. It’s not everyday you see your youth worker catch the monarch’s husband as he trips on the stairs or to hear HRH ask us if we had started breeding yet! It’s not everyday you see local inner city estate kids mingle with royalty. It’s not everyday you see informality of youth undercut the formality of Pomp and privilege. "Yo Phil..."; "Heh Princey..."

It’s not everyday you see the underprivilege of the privileged and the privilege of the underprivileged alongside each other. I looked at the Prince and I looked at the young people of our club and I wondered who was more underprivileged!

This paradoxical picture will probably mature into a more reasonable reflection one day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Kingdom people...Church people...Authentic and 'means to an end' mission

Thankfully we live in an era that talks about holistic mission. We live in
an era that calls us to be 'kingdom people' and not 'church people'. That
distinction helps keep evangelism real. A quote I re-visit frequently
suggests:

"Kingdom people seek first the kingdom of God and its justice; church people
often put church work above the concerns of justice, mercy and truth.
Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world" (Howard Snyder).

Such thinking is perhaps unpalatable to those that have bought into the
McGavran-style church growth principles and 'means to an end' mission. Programmes with strings attached – however noble – simply do not cut an authentic edge. . It is hard to see how anything we do with a ‘hidden agenda’ reflects Jesus' spirit as seen in the gospels.

We need to careful, we need to be kingdom people.

Monday, March 15, 2004

What does Emergent want? Thinkers or celebrities?

Maggi Dawn poses the question What does Emergent want? Thinkers or celebrities?

From 5 months of observation it would appear that the major voices driving the emerging church debate are probably thinkers that have become minor celebrities in the world of 'blogosphere'. However let's face it there are not a whole host of people in the real world who know TallSkinnyKiwi; liquidthinking; Real live preacher; Jordan Cooper etc...

Could it be that the ever increasing cloud of institutionalism is gradually moving in and over and through the emerging debate. Celebrities; Guru's; Conventions; it won't be long until we see little TM marks after every thought as like Tom Cats spraying their territory the thinkers vie for credibility and a book contract. I had to smile at Liquid thinking What Trend we have in Jesus... but how near the truth is that?

We're often ducking under the “I want it?” demands of our 4 and 8 year olds while out shopping - we try to get them to think what do they need? Maybe the question rather than What does Emergent want? should be What does Emergent NEED?

Thinkers yes, celebrities no, but more than anything Emergent needs credibility. That means being more mission minded than geek minded; knowing what is hurting and breaking our communities into a kaleidescope of fragmentation more than knowing slick HTML; doing something about it more than sitting around blogging and writing books!

Am I guilty? – honesty – sometimes yes. That's why I just stopped halfway through this rant and sat with our luncheon club!!

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Sunday’s Bits and Bobs

Andrea returned. Two other friends to house group on Thursday. Four more to worship today including a Japanese friend. Only Andrea is a Christian - the others not. Interestingly they all took an unlit candle as symbolic of wanting to start of journey with Christ.

"Why do you do all of this?" Wei Wei asked as we looked around the church and what we do through the week. It is good belonging to a church that provokes unsolicited questions; intrigue and interest. It was good not to feel guilty about any hidden agenda’s, concealed motives, veiled intentions. Totally liberating to talk about grace, to talk about loving as God loves, amazing to discover that ‘unconditional love’ crosses all cultures. What a privilege to be able to proclaim.

Who knows what will happen – I know that I was presented on a plate full permission to outline the liberating news of Gods grace. No nifty evangelism programme; not a video and workbook package in sight; no natty sketches on the back of a napkin; no seeker sensitive service ladled up with drama and jokes - just something natural; something that felt authentic, right.

Who knows where this is going – all I know is that God is full of surprises!

Saturday, March 13, 2004

My weeks Highlights and Lowlights

Highlights

I’m trying to put my finger on the highlights and lowlights for me this week..

:: The privilege of spending quality time with my family
:: Our international night
:: Spending time with the house group I go to
:: Andrea turning up out of the blue
:: Andrea brining a friend to church within hours of discovering we were a church and not a library!
:: Andrea and her Friend brining another friend to their local house group
:: Picking some tinned produce – for our food parcels - from a posh company in Canary Wharf and watching Patrick introduce himself as the Director of Space to the bemused manager of the company.
:: Patrick’s naughty knowing smile when he overheard me telling someone!
:: Top conversations throughout the week
:: The Maureen moment
:: Spending time with a friend I don’t get to see enough of and to share stories.
:: Finding a coffee bar that if I could write a book – I would write it in there!!

Lowlights

:: Madrid Train Blast - Seeing the devastation people have on each other
:: Having to sort out replacing a fabulous youth worker
:: dealing with the insecurities of above
:: Iron catching fire as I was ironing
:: listening to people moaning on about the church mini-bus
:: rushing things that need more time and thought
:: seeing the look of disappointment on Nick and Mick’s face when they lost at table tennis ;o)
:: waking up at 5am on a Saturday morning and the kids still asleep at 8:35am

Friday, March 12, 2004

Maureen...professional pastoral pre-occupation!!

I finished my parental duty of the school run and I rush back to the available for our parent and toddler group. Kate is teaching this week so the responsibility falls to me to open and to be around. I was really late on Tuesday I don’t want to have a repeat of the teasing etc…

Time is tight, I have been talking to a parent at school that we are becoming friends with (no evangelistic agenda – just friendship for friendship sake, quite a strange concept for us Christians these days!). We have arranged for her daughter and her to come over next week for the kids to play together. I break into that half run half walk thing through the high rises, dodging the broken glass and worse that you don’t want on the bottom of your shoe. A quick glance at my watch and I know the half-run half walk thing has to pick up pace. It is pretty obvious I am going to be late. I then see her. Maureen head down, shoulders heavy.

“Hi Maureen…” I say in that professional pastoral way that ignores the problem that her husband is in a home suffering from schizophrenia; in that professional pastoral way that tries to ignore the tear; in that professional pastoral way that communicates love but I’m too busy; in that professional pastoral way that brushes people away because of more important things.

It is not just my breath that I need to catch. I stop. I chastise my selfishness. My self-centredness. I take her hand and sit in the park with the broken glass and stuff you don’t want on the bottom of your shoe. I hear her guilt, her grief, her loneliness, her vulnerability, helplessness. I say little, I try to force away the little nagging voice singing “half an hour late…” and listen. Hold her hand.

The moment passes. Maureen makes her way to the launderette. A quick glance over my shoulder to make sure she is not looking and I sprint off to let the parents into the toddler group and take a great deal of stick for being late.

Too often we allow mission to become our agenda and not God’s. Too often we get wrapped up in what we have to do without sensing what God wants to do. The casualties of our pre-occupation? The people we are called to love and eventually us.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Hiding behind Mission - more on sociological wrappers

Jason Clark
posts this over at this blog...

How many people hide behind the growing term, "missional church". We can locate ourselves as christians in a post-christian country, and declare we need to be missional.

And we get rid of sundays, teaching, preaching, training, planning, and have candle, ambient music, food, and say we are missional. Or are we just hiding from what the modern church avoided all along, real mission.

As I read Roland Allen, and Vincent Donovan, and Lesslie Newbigin, I think they would see through our of postmodern trendiness, and ask, well has getting rid of all the things from the modern church freed you for mission, real mission, serving the community and each other? Or is it great idea we hide behind to fool ourselves and cover our lack of confidence and self centredness?


::smoke screen...
::postmodern trendiness...
::freed for mission...
::serving the community and each other? ...
::great idea to hide behind...

Hmmm...! Personally I think he has got something there.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Theology of space....Andrea...left speechless

Every now and then something happens that bowls you over.

Our church is busy. Open from 8am to 10pm most days. Breakfast, Luncheon, Youth clubs, Parent and toddlers, counseling, worship, discipleship classes lots going on. Apparently we have a theology of space - most of our youth club have a theology of spaced, (that's unfair sorry!) - if that means being a church that sees worship as having our doors open everyday, if that means being a church that makes itself totally available for whoever - I guess we have! Sometimes the days merge into each other and you just keep slogging away trying to build community in this fragmented society.

Andrea, a young woman of perhaps 18, 19 came to the kitchen hatch and explained to our cook that God had told her to look for a church and she accidentally found ours. I find Andrea bible. We talk. I show her around. I explain that our concept of church is strongly based with our local community that we try to love unconditionally! She asks if we have any classes on Jesus she'd like to learn more. Strangely enough we have just started one with local churches in the area. So I arrange for my wife to meet with her to walk along to the church that is hosting that week. 6:45pm Andrea is waiting for Kate with a friend who is also interested. On Sunday she wants to bring three other friends to our morning service.

Sorry for sounding unusually enthusiastic! But sometimes God bowls you over and leaves you fairly much speechless!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A couple of posts recently caught my attention.

"as a person of color I'm growing concerned about the emerging (postmodern) church…. i feel that though i am seen as a brother, our worlds don't connect. it's as if i were from another planet. .."

The second regarding women can 'GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS'. Has drawn quite some debate. Maggi Dawn comments “ Whether 'Emergent' is 'emerging' for the sake of the Calling of God, or whether it's merely an obsession with all that is cool, hip and postmodern, for Heaven's sake (and earth's too) it needs to catch up with the rest of the world before it makes itself look like a complete idiot.”

From our perspective I find it hard to see many of the people that call us family and church fitting into or being able to engage with any kind of emerging designer set up . These people are not designer people. The relevance they seek is unconditional love.

When a debate is parochial people on the margins are left out. Leaving an unhealthy one-dimensional church. From a mission perspective within the emerging debate I still don’t see the “whosoever” in practice – I hope I am wrong.

Monday, March 08, 2004

'Lift Him Up – International'...James...church family

Saturday was quite a night. For several years we have sought to celebrate the cultural diversity we as a church have been gifted with. So several times a year we celebrate with food and music something we call 'Lift Him Up – International'.

Saturday was great and I have struggled to discover what it was that made it for me. Perhaps it was seeing our small church packed to the seams with enthusiasm. Perhaps it was the 15-20 different nationalities that were represented. Perhaps it was our singing in Ibo; Twi; Shona; French; Swahili; Lingala; Yoruba; Ndebele; Setswana; German; Spanish and even English. Perhaps it was seeing a oneness in all that difference, seeing old and young joining together to celebrate as God’s assorted children. I struggled to put my finger on what made Saturday memorable.

It came to me. We were tidying up afterwards and all the time we were kept amused by the laughter of my daughters. Something, someone was entertaining them. We looked and it was James, an interesting member of our church. Five years ago he came to London and found himself on the streets. He went from hostel to hostel until he went to a SA hostel. He has been coming to our fellowship since he was re-housed in the area.

For half an hour his antics and humour had our girls enthralled. In their laughter, smiles they gave him a respect that he is not used to. "This has been one of the best days of my life…" Church family can be powerful.

James was at both services on Sunday –he seemed more confident and at one.

Friday, March 05, 2004

I try to understand....

You need to know Sid and Maureen….

Sometimes all you can do...

"…and what about you…how are you?" There is no answer, I continue to drive but look at Maureen. Her look is resolute on the road ahead, but I can see her heart is breaking. I try to understand what is coursing through her emotions. It’s difficult, you see I can’t get close to imagining what it must feel like to not be able to cope with looking after your husband anymore. I can’t get close to imagining what it must’ve been like to decide that your husband couldn’t come home. I can’t get close to imagining what it must have been like to say it is time that Sid goes into a home.

Sid schizophrenia has worsened. He’s been on a secure ward in a hospital for months a slight improvement means he needs to be discharged but Maureen has decided that he can’t come home. So we are on the way to visit him in his new flat within a special complex.

I glance at Maureen, the silence of seconds feels like minutes, her mouth forms the words but nothing. I put my hand on her arm and in my weakness try to minister, try to be there with her, try to feel what she feels.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Old/new Wineskin...ebay and Mission...

Quite frequently I find myself engage with the 'old/new wineskin' conversation regarding church. Probably used it frequently myself. I find myself drawn back to what we were told were the 'old wineskins' to see if they truly were old before they were thrown out!

I’m mulling over the role of church in society. Historically I look back and see the church as pre-runner of our welfare state; education system; health care even protection. I look back and see church that people turned to for help and assistance in the whole of their lives. I look back and see church with a definite role and place in society. I look back and see church that acted with no other agenda but that of what needed to be done – I’m not sure that is a wineskin that should’ve been thrown out.

I wonder exactly what the old wineskins represent?

I know that society evolved and much of what the church were central to was passed on to state responsibility. I wonder what was lost was the ethos which in turn has thrown our 'missional raison d’ĂȘtre' into utter confusion sending us scuttling around looking for the new wineskins.

Equally I feel constantly drawn to look at the 'new wineskins' to make sure they weren't bought on ebay o.n.o.!!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Missio Raison D'etre......!

Thomas came into church today, just to say hello, just to see how we all were. Thomas comes to our youth club and can quite often represent a handful. There are issues. He has been excluded from school on numerous occasions; he’s been part of our education project that looks to work with such young people that don’t respond well to the school environment. Now he’s unemployed, looking for a job. There was something special about the fact that this young man wanted to come and say hello. There is a trust, a special relationship of authenticity. Our conversation lightened my heart. It was lighter still when this young man started a conversation with Patrick sat waiting for his lunch. Full of respect despite Patrick’s notoriety.

"So you have no goals when you work with young people? Surely the reason you do what you do with these young people is to get them saved?" a conversation a few hours later and my heart sinks lower and lower. I try my well-worn message of grace centred love; mission with no strings attached; mission that is born of authentic relationship. I look into the eyes of my colleague – nothing. I can see the judgement…LIBERAL!! The truth is I’m not.

I’m just someone who has discovered the joy of loving people through church programmes that are not used as a means to an end.
I’m someone released from the weight of soul winning formulas.
I’m someone who has discovered the wonder of the power of grace in all that we do.
I’m someone who has found the fulfilment of journeying with a wide variety of people in their lives.
I’m someone who feels incredulous at the profoundness that God uses the simplest means to draw people unto him.
I’m someone fed up with the efforts of modern day evangelism that is akin to blanket bombing destroying all in their path in the name of salvation.
I’m someone who believes with a passion that people are drawn to something that is authentic.
I’m someone that does want everyone I meet to know the freedom, hope and salvation I feel. But I’m someone who sees that the biggest threat to that is the hidden agendas that push the reality of Jesus so far out of the picture that people don’t see him but see the church of which they are so distrustful.

Do you know what? I feel ever more demoralised everytime I have to justify myself to people who don’t see me. To people who don’t get it. To people happy to dilute grace to insipidness. To those means to an end people.

Then I think of my picture. Thomas and Patrick sharing a coffee in the warmth and safety of our church and I realise who I am called to.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Farah Fawcett…Plastic Surgery…unrestrained beauty

I have just seen a disturbing picture. Farah Fawcett. Whoever made the decision to print the picture of this old woman needs to know the effect it has had on me. I lived for Thursday nights and Charley! She was part of my transition into young adulthood. I can close my eyes now and still see that picture of yesteryear that every male between 35-45 has locked away in their memories somewhere. But now?

The plastic surgeons knife cut lines of lies into that beauty. Barely noticeable as at first the deception goes un-noticed. There is something inherently ugly in a 60-year-old looking 30. She has been robbed of the beauty of natural aging that speaks of experience, trust and knowledge. Her stretched skin over her cheek-bones speak of inauthenticity. Her distorted lips and chin scream sham, pretense, charade, con. We’ll leave my analysis at the neck-line I think! Where has that beauty gone? Left alone people would have celebrated that unbridled attractiveness, beauty.

I wonder to what degree the bride of Christ is being pumped full of botex. Where are the cuts that are robbing her of her natural beauty? Silicon? Liposuction. When will we realise that what the church stands for is unrestrained beauty that doesn’t need the relevance treatment? It doesn’t need to stay young. It needs to grow older with grace. The pre-occupied church as it ages will show all the signs of a faced tinkered with too much, a cut too far, an implant too big!

A church that stands for justice, grace, liberty true salvation will remain attractive and will be remembered and respected for her natural beauty.

Monday, March 01, 2004

What the world thinks about God

Interesting programme on BBC2 last week. I was out at Youth Club so didn’t get to see it but have just watched it on video. "What the world thinks about God", a mixture of panellists made observations. A concluding comment by British comedian and agnostic Sean Hughes made my ears prick up. "I wish you would all get back to what religion is about, which is a love of mankind…"

Isaiah 58:6-7 "The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. 7. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives."

The heart of religion?