Monday, February 28, 2005

Emerging Guinea Pigs

It’s my turn.

I venture into the damp near darkness to feed Scruffy and Fluffy. I wander out towards the hutch not aware of the drama to unfold. Something is not right. No squeaks. No eager welcome. I take a closer look...the hutch is wide open. Empty. A quick glance through the fading light shows that the run on the grass too is empty. A reminiscence of emotion hits me.

Two years ago I forgot to put Benny the Bunny back in the hutch. Two years ago Benny the Bunny disappeared – official line 'he’s gone on an adventure' , truth - Mr Fox paid a visit. Two years ago Bethan discovered a grief inside her that she didn’t know. Two years ago I was the worst Dad. It was my fault. A double, triple check of the hutch, run … empty. My gut lurches....

Hang on I didn’t get them out, it wasn’t me. Relieved of the weight of responsibility I grab a torch and start hunting the nooks and crannies of the garden for our emerged guinea pigs. "Dad what are you doing…!?" Rumbled. But it wasn’t me. "Sweetheart I think we need to look for Scruffy and Fluffy seems they have got out". The memory of Benny sweeps in and Beth disintegrates.

The search intensifies - it wasn’t me. Everywhere double checked, the hutch inside and out. The emerged guinea pigs nowhere to be seen, gone. The search is called off. Tears flow. We ring Kate and break the news. "Oh no… I left them out last night…"

Dinner was quiet. Mouthfuls interspersed with sniffs as we imagine fluffy and scruffy shivering together somewhere in the dark. Kate arrives, rushes past me muttering "I just feel dreadful…my fault…forgot…" and is straight into resuming the search. Bethan and I are 'searched out' so just stand at the back door.

Kate shines the torch in the hutch. She looks. She looks at me with a strange look on her face. She points at the hutch without taking her eye off me. "…and what are they…?" Our brave emerged guinea pigs were remarkably calm re-submerged in the sawdust and hay they knew so well. Safe.

There are many mysteries in life. The adventure of Fluffy and Scruffy will always remain so for Bethan and I. Please believe me when I say those guinea pigs were well and truly emerged. They’d left the institutional hutch. They were free. But in their freedom, their emergence their visibility was only to each other, in reality they were invisible – nowhere to be seen. Honest!

Another mystery how can a church be defined emerged if it can not be seen? Whatever happens with the emerging church if it is not visible it may as well just jump back in the hutch where it can be seen. An emerging church that can't be seen to me seems an oxymoron.

Institutional and visible // un-institutional and invisible ... now there’s a conundrum.

Maybe that is unfair, however the emerging church - I think - has to work hard on visibility outwards to those not bothered about am-bi-ence but who simply want help. What do the desperate, the fragmented the broken do? Where do they go? What do they look up in the phone book? an unintelligible franchise of church? or good old 'St Mark's? a new brand or simply The Salvation Army?

Ask the guy who wrote to 'The Salvation Army - Poplar' - "I'm so lonely can you visit me....?"

Friday, February 25, 2005


He was waiting for me after Sunday's morning service. As I said goodbye to the other clients of our local SA detox centre - he whispered so the others couldn't hear "I've got to see you..." This was Daniel's second and last week with us before going into resisdential rehab.

Alone with me he told me his story. It was long. As I listened and listened and as I did I looked and saw the scars of many years of abuse. His darting eyes, shakey disposition gave away that here was a man whose life that had be wrecked through alcohol. No background of church but he told me how he always felt that God or something was there.

He cut to the point "I had a dream last night...and it scared me - I saw what my life was and what it was becoming", tears began to form in his bloodshot eyes, "It was too vivid and life-like I don't want to go back there". I listened as he continued, tears creeping down his hardened scared face. "I woke up" he sniffed "... and I prayed for the first time - God I am sorry for everything - I want to be different...! I'm going to read the bible and try and live like Jesus"

Somehow I didn't think now was the time to engage in conversation about the propositional ambience of conversion! We talked more together and he asked me to pray with him. The sad thing is in all likelihood we'll never meet again.

It would've been great to have journeyed a bit further with Daniel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Flurry and a Flourish...

House group finished with a flurry and a flourish.

As we left the dark London night sky was speckled with thick swirling flakes of snow. I looked at Tebbie. The look in her eyes; the smile of wonder on her upturned face as she caught the flakes on her face - an image I wish I could have captured, preserved. It doesn’t snow in Botswana!

We walked back to the cars. I scoop a good proportion of snow. Formed a formidable snowball. "Tebbie…?" A well flighted snowball caught her perfectly on the shoulder as she turned - an introduction to a little Northern European culture. An initial hesitation gave opportunity to get off another missile of snow with equal effect.

Tebbie didn’t need another invite – she scooped together some snow formed her first ever snowball and retaliated. She lacked the years of snowball making experience and what she threw disappeared into fine powder in front of her nose!

Ever had a snowball fight with an African who hasn't seen snow before?

There is something about last night I won’t forget.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The cloak of Humanitarian Work...?

Sorting out some old correspondance I turned up an old piece of Viglen Corporate material. It reminded me of the morning spent - several years back now- with the chairman of Viglen Computers. He wanted to come and see how his company could help.

We spent the morning chatting about the ethos of our work. Our motivation for youth and community work.

"So you spend all this time trying to get yourself into a position to evangelise these people then? To tell them that they need the Lord!" he added sarcastically.

"Not really..." I replied "...that would be as abusive as you wanting to give us computers only so that you can put it in your promotional material to make your company look better." He lost his sardonic smile. I saw our IT suite disappear - but was able to then talk about grace!

Very generous to TSA elsewhere we didn't get as much as a floppy disc from Viglen for our IT suite, but they still got their story how they help the under privileged in the East End of London.

I smiled as I threw the report in the bin!
"I hold that proselytising under the cloak of humanitarian work is to say the least unhealthy…. Why should I change my religion because a doctor who professes Christianity has cured me of some disease?" (Ghandi)

[In Viglens defence we did get some courtesy tickets to see Tottenham v Fulham. Pictured our eventual IT suite anyway.]

Vexed with Haloscan...

I'm close to removing Haloscan - for some reason it fails to appear depending what computer I am using. Whatever it is slowing URBANarmy down considerably. I'm leaving 'bloggers' comments available.


Friday, February 18, 2005

A Whole Lot Naive...

There was an email waiting for me. I looked at it but didn't open. I didn't want to consider it. I flicked through the rest of the mail. It's still there. I look, and I have that sinking feeling. The name I recognise - a colleague the manager at a homeless hostel; the subject - Joel Garner (making pasta with Joel; don't confuse it with Christianity and here.) I knew there was bad news. 'had to ask Joel to leave.... disappointed me ...' was the gist of it. I spent the morning avoiding the phone. I didn't want to hear the 'ins and outs'. I didn't want to hear failure. I didn't want my naivety confirmed.

Time goes and I get round to it and I hear the story of Joel.

Everything was going so well, engaging in the resettlement programme. Just a matter of time and he would have been re-housed. First step on the ladder. No problems until he teams up with someone in the hostel and together start supplying drugs. Caught in the act of bagging up their little parcels of booty. That is I'm afraid a straight dismisal in the hostel world 'do not pass go'.

I know he feels worse than me. I know he knows he has botched up, that he hasn't learned his lesson. I know in all likelihood he is back on the streets. But I really thought this was going to be a success story. You know the kind where in 20 years time he would be able to say 'you know it could've been so different'. I really thought even as I drove him to the hostel that all the failures were worth the moment that Joel came in and really wanted help and we helped.

Well I was wrong!

I feel somewhat deflated, somewhat disappointed, somewhat sorry for myself mainly because I feel a whole lot naive. Seven years of inner city ministry has caused a certain amount of cynicism, hardness, disbelief. I have seen traits in me that have become battle scars - distrust; doubt; suspicion even disparagement. Sometimes overwhellming, disabilitating. BUT my naivety has revealed something . An antidote, a sensitivity behind the inner city callouses. There is still an innocence.

I think of Joel and I hope there are more opportunities. I think of Joel and others like him that no doubt will come my way and I hope I will not lose that sense of naivety, that sense of vulnerability completely.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A recommendation...

My blog reading has been revolutionised by bloglines, simple to use a great way to keep tabs with who-ever you like to keep tabs on!

A bit of sally bashing....

Came across a good bit of Sally bashing over at salvationsoldiers I have to say we try and make sure that everything we raise goes into projects that build local community in Poplar but hopefully if you read this blog you get that sense anyway.


Sorry comments by Haloscan seem to have gone awol.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Fransican Blessing...

Thanks to Ellina for this, posted in my comments a couple of weeks ago.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, to that you may work for freedom, justice and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Sham Compassion...Absurd Activism...Trendy Past Time

Every day when I take my girls to school I see a lovely mural on our school wall with a big placard attached "Painted by united churches in Soul in the City 2004". I have heard some great stories from colleagues that were involved with 'Soul in the City' and 'Festival Manchester' etc... so I don't want to appear critical - but there is always the danger of 'Soul in the City' type events becoming a 'missional dole in the city' once the lights have faded and everyone has gone home!

Catherine Booth in an era of philanthropy was rather scathing on Church activity on one occasion speaking on "Sham Compassion and the dying love of Jesus Christ" she pointed out "...benevolence has come somewhat into fashion of late....".

I wonder if she really saw such acts of love as a sham? I wonder if she really saw it as a distraction to the 'real mission' of out and out evangelism of the early Salvation Army? I wonder if she really saw it as a waste of time? Or did she see something different? Did she identify the missional blindspot, the maintainance of the false dichotomy of mission but from a different angle?

Reflecting on Jacques Ellul's lament over "absurd activism which plunges blindly ahead" Ringma notes :-
"Christians who once defined the Christian task in the narrowest of terms - preaching the gospel - have rediscovered that proclamation and practical service belong together."But warns, however "activity is not enough". It must have the welfare of others in view more than our own dreams of what may benefit them."
It got me thinking that there could be a danger of allowing mission to become a trendy ecclesiastical past time that makes us feel good.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Good to be back...!

A successful week on the slopes of La Clusaz! No broken bones. Lots of ski-ing, reading, carrom and conversation. Mind well and truly detoxed!

In a funny kind of way it is great to be back. It was great to see my daughters eyes and to feel their hugs. It great to see Kate - I'm a big softy really!

It was great to hear that while I was away Joel popped in to say thank you. It was great to see Norman up and playing the congo's in our sunday worhip with a huge smile of belonging. It was great to see Anna who used to come to parent and toddlers until her little girl went to school a couple of years ago - "I'm bored can I come and help out in any way...?" It was even great to have to deal with Patrick 'going off on one' in breakfast club.

It's good to get away but coming back was better!