Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Iron grip of blog stats...

It's not that long ago I posted some thoughts about chasing greatness; about the iron grip of human respect; about the desire for respect, the need for admiration, esteem.

Anyway....

The stats for URBANarmy have staggeringly shifted - somewhat bewilderingly - in the last week or so. Visits have trebled. I modestly go and check to see if the trend continues and it does - I can only imagine that it will be a matter of weeks - even days - before I am offered a lucrative book deal, then the overseas conferences, traveling, more websites, book signings, facilitating learning experiences - book now to avoid disappointment.

Why a sudden surge of interest in my ramblings? Farah Fawcett that's why.

Last year I wrote Farah Fawcett...Plastic Surgery... unrestrained beauty so if you google "Farah Fawcett Plastic Surgery" up URBANarmy pops...top! A 50% of hits to URBANarmy goes to a growing number of disappointed individuals after shots of Farah Fawcett's nips, tucks and implants!

The book will have to wait!!? :o)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Easter Saturday...

rejesus , maggi helped me not just to breeze through today thinking it was monday because I was at church yesterday and that Easter is as much about Saturday as it is about Friday and Sunday.
Man of sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim;
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood;
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Guilty, vile and helpless we,
Spotless Lamb of God was he;
Full atonement--can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Lifted up was he to die;
It is finished was his cry;
Now in Heaven, exalted high;
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

When he comes, our glorious King,
All his ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we'll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Philip Paul Bliss(1838-76)
-----

The image is from a Greek icon known as the Man of Sorrows, dating from the 12th century, in Kastoria Cathedral, Greece. Check rejesus for the meditation here.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Its only Good Friday...!

We carried the cross through the market today. The mockers mocked; the jeerers jeered but we carried the cross through the market. "Whats happening mum" one kid asked his mum...

"oh its only Good Friday".


Only Good Friday...!

Words and pictures have made an impact on me today whether from an indifferent world or from the pens and pencils of gifted people.
Sacred hands of Jesus, they were bound for me;
Wounded hands of Jesus, stretched upon a tree,
Ever interceding, mercy is their plea.
Their effectual pleading brings grace to me,
Redeeming grace to me.

Albert Orsborn
At this moment, on this day, we have seen it all.
God bows his head respectfully and dies.
Everything dies.
Life dies.
Death dies.
Everything is done...

... except love.

Only love is not done.
Only love will not die.

rejesus
"...help me - by living it out, by simply being - do justice to that extreme love and grace..."

------

The sketches by Luc Freymanc have been pretty provocative for me this year, particularly the way of the cross

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

George...

I forgot to mention George this week. He turns up once a year... but not this year.

This year he was banned. His behaviour since he first started coming has deteriorated. No one is capable of keeping him under control, he has pushed and pulled once too often. With no idea of boundaries, no idea of his strength, stepping on too many toes - the churches in the area decided enough is enough. George is barred, not welcome.

Read about the last time he came here.

George didn't come this year.

I missed George on Sunday!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cornerstone...

Sieger Köder’s “'Cornerstone'” was the focus for another evening of meditation with selected verses from Scripture, spoken prayer, poetry and silence. Following the success of Embrace I was really looking forward to the evening!!

A 200% increase in attendance wasn't bad - there were three of us this time sharing together the hidden nuances evoked within by the art and poetry. I came away acutely aware of my contribution to the weight on his shoulders; acutely aware of his determination and resolve; acutely aware of the driving force behind mission, church engagement with our community. As we considered our response we prayed "do not allow us to neglect those who are crushed by their own mistakes, those who feel rejected..."

-------

'A Time to Celebrate - The Folly of God' is a wonderful resource using the Art and Inspiration of Sieger Köder published by St Paul Multimedia Productions

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Leprous Church...

I found in an old familiar story a wonderful picture of grace and its antithesis in 2 Kings 5:1ff.

A picture of Elisha, a leprous Naaman, and Gehazi. Despite the arrogance, the haughtiness there is brushstroke upon brushstroke - creating a picture of grace, a picture of the undeterred love of God. Was it the healing in this narrative or the 'undiluted grace' that made God known to Naaman to the extent that Naaman took a ton of topsoil with him back to his homeland to worship on? Elisha gave a perfect example how to reflect the grace of God. A' love despite'.

Also a picture of Gehazi and an antithesis of grace. Gehazi who felt Naaman should pay. Gehazi who felt this well established official shouldn’t get away with nothing in return. The image of grace is left tarnished. Gehazi left as leprous as Naaman had been. What represented a true authentic gift of love became a cheapened token of God. Gehazi tarnished that grace.

Ok –a bit tough on Gehazi tougher on his descendants and this blogbyte analysis of grace here could leave us with theological indigestion! So much more to chew...however...it left me wondering about how much I am like Gehazi?

Am I comfortable to allow grace to shine out without some measurable return? To engage within our community with no strings attached? As church, a community of 'God's ambassadors' called demonstrate his kingdom – imagine if we tarnish that love, imagine if we cheapen the kingdom; imagine if we have hidden agendas behind our actions. Imagine that the love we demonstrate is a ‘means to an end’ cover up.

Do we present a picture of grace or ‘un-grace?’ (I think Yancey coined the phrase!). It’'s important we try to get this right in terms of community engagement as I'’m not sure how attractive a leprous church is?

Friday, March 18, 2005

"....you must be very lucky to have her in your church"

You probably need a picture in your head of Sonya.

Sonya isn’t a designer person - from her comedy animal print jumpers, to her thick tinted spectacles, to her big eyed Kermit backpack – she doesn’t represent the ‘beautiful pomo people’ the trendy, intelligent, missional, conference going people that read Brian McClaren books! Less emerged more submerged - in societies eyes.

Sonya was tapping on the window and I tried to make myself small. The tapping was unrelenting – I was aware that other people waiting with me to get their hair cut were looking. Tap…tap…tap! I knew I needed to respond so I did that ‘Laurel and Hardy finger wave up close to my chest’ thing coupled with a quick smile. That did the trick and off Sonya bounced. I carried on reading my book but acutely aware that the eyes of those in queue were still fixed firmly on me. I looked up and gave a shrug and a smile that seemed to diffuse the attention.

“Next” – Andrew the Cypriot barber swept the chair and I sat down. “So!” he said in his thick accent “you know that woman do you…?” Sonya has been coming to church for just about 5 years, a dreadful childhood, a tragic adulthood she is one of ‘life’s treasures!’ believe me there are not many like Sonya in this world.

Carefully and slowly I say “ye-eah…!”. The snipping stops, “how do you know her then…?” The rustling of papers stop, a look in the mirror confirms what I already know – everyone is looking at me again. “Well… she…” I’m dreading that she has done something awful. “Well, you see, she kind of, she comes to our church…”; “She comes to your church?”; “actually she is a member of our church community”

The pause was a little too long for comfort as Andrew thought about what he was going to say next. He stops talking to me via the mirror and makes eye contact. “Well you must be very lucky to have her in your church … I have never met anyone who does as much good .. she is always helping people …she is so kind – you must have some church!”

The rhythmic snipping restarts, heads disappear behind their papers and I smile. Sonya with all her idiosyncrasies and quirks is a special member of our congregation. "you must have some church!” I'm not sure about that! but I do feel proud that she should feel at home with us and that she has worked out a life of mission which comes as natural to her as breathing!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Chasing Greatness...

Status Anxiety (De Botton, A (2004) 
Status Anxiety. Penguin) – unravels
the concept of how and why we try to
demand and maintain status and the
fear that grips individuals should that
status be questioned. The desire for
respect, the need for admiration,
esteem. This is a book about an almost
universal anxiety that rarely gets
mentioned directly: an anxiety about
what others think of us; about whether
we're judged a success or a failure, a
winner or a loser.

What was interesting was an inclusion of a chapter on Christianity seen
as a cure for such ‘driveness’.
I think it was Brennan Manning in Ragamuffin Gospel who said...
"In Jesus freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move more freely in the mystery of who we really are…the pre-occupation with projecting image leads to ‘unfreedom’ in the iron grip of human respect…"
Ironic really then that …
"Many churches are seeking to become great churches. Entire ministry industries exist to help the process. In every community there’s at least one great church measured by numbers and facilities…but there is a troubling secret, size is not enough…churches now want to move from ‘success to significance’ Acts 10:38 ‘Jesus went around going good’ Need to trade chasing greatness for doing good."(Swanson (2003) Leadership Spring).
Too often I wonder if we are too caught up in projecting image, chasing success for fear of non-recognition, chasing greatness that we lose sight of what it is to be significant simply by doing good. I have to be honest to my guilt - that 'iron grip' sometimes is a little too tight!!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Embrace...

Meaningful ambience, dominated by Sieger Köder’s “Embrace” set the tone for an evening of meditation of selected verses from Scripture, spoken prayer, poetry and silence - I must admit to feeling quite pleased with my creativity! The lights, music, seating all contributed to an evening of reflection. “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood” seemed to haunt me as I sang' When I Survey The Wondrous Cross', the droning of my guitar echoed, intensifying a moody celtic atmosphere.

The silence gave me space as I looked at the impelling ugliness of Köder's brush stokes, the hands embracing that which it would prefer not to. I prayed for courage to embrace that which I really would rather not. I prayed for forgiveness for the times I have shied from embracing the violence, the atrocities and injustice of our world. Turning a blind eye a deaf ear.

The poetry drew me closer into the mystery of the cross. The tragedy of innocence, the pain intensified by the darkness and colours Köder cleverly combines. I read “Help us embrace the world as you did. Give us the perseverance we need to make our world a better place”. I look at the cross and am left in no doubt to what my response should be.

For me the evening was really powerful, a good job really as no one else turned up! All by myself I benefited from the space I tried to create for others. Finished I turn the lights on; put the chairs back; put the projector away; I throw my guitar over my shoulder and leave.

As I lock up I double-check the poster, I flick the light switch off, in the darkness I smile to myself – “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood” - I think that this evening was meant for me!

-------

'A Time to Celebrate - The Folly of God' is a wonderful resource using the Art and Inspiration of Sieger Köder published by St Paul Multimedia Productions

Friday, March 11, 2005

Stop Inviting People to Church...?

MissionThink a little while back pointed out this post on HouseChurchBlog
I have made a promise to myself. I will stop inviting people to my church.

Hear me out now.

I spent nearly a decade with my well paid job in the church trying to get people to come to church. We would develop strategies...... wowing them with worship experiences, video, dramas, amazing sermons, .... all designed with one aim. That when you would invite your friend, they would say yes and go to church with you. All you would have to do is invite them, they would respond to the engaging message and multi-sensory worship, become curious, eventually come to Christ, and eventually become a part of our church. The problem is, it didn't work very well.

...Allow me to be very honest. I see too many of us in the house church falling into the same trap and pattern of fruitlessness. And some are suffering unnecessarily from disillusionment. I hear the same words over and over, ... Old habits die very hard don't they.

It reminded me of a bit of Brueggeman who in The Prophetic Imagination. Fortress (1978) makes the comment that :
"The prophetic community might ponder what the preconditions of doxology are and what happens when doxologies that address this One are replaced by television jingles that find us singing consumerism ideology to ourselves and to each other. In that world there may be no prophet and surely no freedom. In that world where jingles replace doxology, God is not free and the people know no justice or compassion". pp26
Until the church - whether it be inc. alt. or em. or even simply church! - works out what it is to demonstrate Jesus '...as the faithful embodiment of an alternative consciousness.' (Brueggeman 1978) and discovers that 'glitzy slick come to us mission' isn't that alternative? nor even that attractive, I think we'll be singing the tune - but slightly off key!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I met Jesus...

"Someone to see you" Our afternoon service was soon to start. I took a quick look before he saw me...he looked familiar. As I walked towards him I was sure I knew him "hello... how can we help?". The guy needed a food parcel "no problem... do I know you?"

He looked up "no... never been in here before".I persisted "are you sure - you look familiar..." He smiled - "well they say I look like my father".

"And do I know your father...?"

He smiled again, this time revealing a stumpy nicotine stained set of teeth "oh yes you know him!"... "I know your Father...?" I was getting perplexed. I shook my head "I'm sorry but I'm not sure I do."

He was clearly enjoying this."Oh yes you do...!" he rolled his eyes upwards and gave me a knowing wink. Suddenly he dropped his voice "I've been before...this is my second time around" Clearly frustrated with my ignorance he grabbed my arm and while nodding to underline and affirm his words he moved too close and whispered "I... I am the..... Christ Child"

All I could muster was "Wow... well ... um" . "Don't worry I get that all the time..." I go and return with the food parcel. I'm not sure whether this was right or wrong of me but I had a burning question. "Tell me... how's your cousin doing...?" He looks up from checking the food "which one...?" ..."you know" I persist "the famous one?"

"the famous one....?" It was his turn to be confused. "yeah the famous one... you know famous for losing his head...!?"

Scratching his chin, he looked at me while searching his memory. Silence...then..."You mean Steven Davison..?" he said hopefully.

"Actually no... I mean John"

"John?... John who?"

Our eyes meet and now I move into his space and drop my voice "You know... John the Baptist?" The penny dropped - "oh him..."

"no... he's not around at the moment...?!!"

"No", I reply "but I know where he is ....he goes to my mates Salvation Army in Harlesden...!" [Good friend and collegue Ian has some great reflections on his John the Baptist]

We chat a bit more before we shake hands and he leaves.

Later within our afternoon service my mind wanders I smell my hand. Sitting there suddenly I am aware of Paul's nicotine, alcohol, dirt encrusted smell. I smile as I think of Paul Davison (AKA Jesus - the Christ Child). My eyes closed the smell evokes his stumpy nicotine smile... and some words ...
"I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me--you did it to me.' Matthew 25: 40 MSG
How many times do I fail to see Jesus in others?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Hard Ball

[Something I forgot to publish a couple of weeks back!]

I got to watch Hard Ball with some young people from our senior youth club this week. Maybe not my choice but nevertheless we watched Keanu Reeves as an aimless gambling and drinking young man. As a condition of getting a loan from a friend he agrees to coach a Little League Baseball team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago.

You can guess the plot. It isn't difficult - the team that was rubbish that came good etc... Ok predictable but the director Brian Robbins did a great job of capturing the systematic failure of the inner city, the paralysis of inner city life for so many.

All the symptoms were there. The pain of fragmentation, brokeness that manifests itself in violence, anger - rage. The predictability of walk away 'do-gooders'. Fear. Suspicion. Inconsistency of people. Marginalisation. Escapism. Injustice.

But he also caught the joy of persistent investment. The joy of engagement. The building up of community; the building up of self-belief. Freedom. Hope. Trust. Confidence. Self-reliance.

A little while back Maggi has highlighted some thoughts as to ministry and asks is ministry bad for you? I got to watch Hard Ball with some young people that face the paralysis of inner city life every day. I watched and I saw and was reminded of the fulfilment that comes from being a partner in making freedom, hope and grace known.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Catechesistic Journey...

I went this week to the LICC “Let My People Grow” conference.

Several things struck me as several speakers looked at the concept of discipleship and faith development. I’d not noticed before but there seems to be a proliferation of a Christian ‘neat side partings with neatly trimmed beards’ thing going on. The more emerging seem to go with the goatee, or even an under lip bit of beard and discard the side parting. Anyway this conference seemed to be a bit more ‘neat side parting with neatly trimmed beard’ affair than goatee and grunge.

I was late. So missed part of Martyn Atkins thesis on Catechesis. I sat at the back listening to words that slowly began to fill my head with thoughts regarding the concept of faith development. It seems that within pre-Christendom the chosen way of conversion and discipling was through a inquiry group of ‘inquirers and seekers’. This process from initial interest to ‘public profession’ on average lasted 3 – 3 ½ years.

Atkins argued and suggested that now in a context of neo-pagan post-christendom the only place that gives an answer to the place of faith development in christianity is to be found in the Catechesis process found with the early fathers.
“The principles and transferable qualities in the profoundly long process to make Christian disciples are not to be found in Alpha or Esssence depending what kind of person you are…the emerging church will remain a blip ... unless the process of faith development is right”
He made the point looking at the favoured and well bounded paradigm “Belong…Believe…Behave” that if understood as a one dimensional rite of passage the paradigm is a nonsense. The Catechesis process seems to strengthen the paradigm by erasing its linear weakness.

He ran out of time – it was frustrating as he was beginning to unpack the concept of Catechesis as a process in which ‘mission’ was inherent. No divide, no omission, no dichotomy of mission.

Brian Draper took the next session and concentrated on the concept of journey and investment – “we need to reclaim the art of following …beyond the ticking of neat boxes” seemed to be the foundation of his thoughts. I wonder if anyone has coined the phrase “Catechesistic Journey” where the principles and transferable qualities are embodied within authentic open relationship. Seems to me that if commitment was central to Catechesis of the ancient world, today’s context I think perhaps the sense of belonging and shared journey is what keeps people engaging with a Catechesis process of sorts.

Later in the afternoon Jason Clark fleshed this concept out for me as he put flesh on the bones of the mornings theory with some stories of Church – ‘do life together’. This “Catechesistic Journey” can be both fulfilling and painful; rewarding and excruciating - it was good to hear his honesty and candour.

Really... I’m not a big Christian Conference goer – I’ve yet to grow a beard and a neat side parting but I was glad I went. It was good to meet some clever inspiring people and make a friend or two.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Feeling Decidedly Uncomfortable

I don’'t like St Clements.

We could see our breath as we walked through the grounds. Our steps echoed. Tired Victorianesque buildings seemed to question our imposition. With each step I could feel myself feeling a little more anxious. I 'don'’t do' secure mental hospitals that well. I was with Bramwell who works with us - we were on our way to see James. [More on James here and here.]

We found the ward and buzzed. We explain we were here to see James. That morning his girlfriend had rung to say James had been admitted a couple of days previously and had run out of clothes – she was away could we help? Now we wait as one of the psychiatric team look for him.

Bram was at home!! Before becoming a SA officer he was a psychiatric associate consultant. I was a researcher with a geography degree. Bram seemed at ease. I - decidedly uncomfortable. I smile hopefully as different characters with empty eyes on the ward sidle and edge along the wall silently towards us and away again... silently towards us and away again... silently towards us and away again.

Yep decidedly uncomfortable!

James arrives. He tells us how close he’d been to committing suicide. How the police arrived with an ambulance. How the psychiatric doctor in casualty recognised his need for help and sectioned him for his own safety.

His house key was arranged, we leave to get him a change of clothes and his personal effects.

Later as I sit in the car park – “- "you go Bram I'’ll wait in the car!"” - waiting for Bramwell to return from dropping the bag of clothes off I feel sad. But I'm not sure who I feel sad for - is it for James locked away until he is safe again? Or is the sadness for me -disappointment at allowing myself to be affected by a silly fear brought on by the stigmatism of society?

I'm working on it - I'm going back tomorrow......... on my own!

--------

Carl makes some interesting insights and challenging points regarding the stigma that surrounds this issue mental health and church community
A dream - "I want to be able to walk into a pub and say 'I have been mentally ill', and for them to say 'That's interesting, what did you learn?'". (A 'survivor' of the system)