Saturday, July 30, 2005
Two challenges in one week.
The observant will notice the fabulous picture of Canary Wharf being struck by lightning has been pulled and replaced in my profile. I found the photo on Google Images. This iconic image of our area was perfect. It is the last thing I see when I close our curtains. It’s flashing interrupts my sleep. It is what greets me when I wake up. Perfect. I linked it in my profile. I didn’t realise that I would need a license to use it as a thumbnail image. I didn’t realise I breached copyright. But an email from the photographer alerted me to the error of my way. So the observant will notice the fabulous picture of Canary Wharf being struck by lightning has been pulled and replaced.
Lana gently nudged me to think ethically about a central strut underpinning the reflections that are URBANarmy. Should I feel discomfort at the use of everyday stories that are shaping my theology and missional thinking? People are part of my life. Poplar has a high quotient of fragmented and broken people with different demands. They walk daily through the doors of our church and in one form or another into my life. These people as part of our church join with Bonhoeffer; Moltmann; Barth; Bosch; Newbigin; Sweet et al. shaping my thinking, bringing context to the gospel, context to mission. URBANarmy has – on the whole - become my collection, my compilation of theological reflections. No-one else’s but mine.
Very early on in URBANarmy – I decided that it would not be fair use actual names so apart from intentional and thought through exceptions – every name used is a pseudonym. Postings on the whole are delayed. Postings are passed through my own filters to ensure that no-one is robbed of their dignity. But is that enough? Should the possibility that any of these characters stumble on URBANarmy and recognise themselves be the ultimate line?
I’m glad Lana raised the issue. Lana of course I am not offended – and I hope that these thoughts are not sounding defensive. But I don’t feel the same level of discomfort as the fabulous picture of Canary Wharf being struck by lightning because the stories that periodically emerge are not about Victor; not about Patrick; Maureen… Ray – the stories are about me. My feelings, my reflections, my reactions – about the lessons that the unlikeliest have taught ...me. Lessons that I do not want to lose. Lessons I have learned. Lessons I am learning with people I journey with daily.
I don't share Lana's unease.
Perhaps I should?
I don’t know.
Friday, July 29, 2005
As each year loads of options for the young people to enjoy - canoeing; sailing; creative arts; cooking; the theatre; London Dungeons. Lot’s of table tennis, pool, PS2.
There was something interesting about going up to the west end together on a bus to watch Blood Brothers. A story of brokenness. There was something interesting in travelling together on public transport in London. Something interesting when the driver ran up the stairs and told us that everyone had to get off the bus....."sorry the bus has broken down" There was something interesting about the shared relief!
Week one of four nearly finished. Weeks ahead include a climbing project; a mural painting project; and a residential to Scotland. I'm only involved in the first two weeks but it is good to be able to offer space to young people. A privilege for these young people to share their lives with you. To journey authentically together
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Missional questions I’ve formulated, but which had their origins in a related set of questions produced by I think The Gospel and Our Culture Network (USA). I’ve used them when working with Biblical texts in preparing a sermon.
How does this text send us and equip us for mission in our respective contexts – how does it help us enact our part(s) in God’s unfolding redemptive drama. How does it invite us (individually, communally, and societally) to increased wholeness? How does it nourish a journey into wholeness?
In what ways are our culturally conditioned hearings, loyalties and praxis challenged by radical invitation of the gospel and its embodiment?
In what contemporary ways are we challenged by this text? How might we be being invited to respond to that challenge? How might this text advance our formation and shape us as a local expression and embodiment of “good news”?
How is this text “Good News” in our present context? How might we be obstructing or obscuring this good news? How might our culture, through its art, stories, images, symbols, poetry, music, movies etc help us “gospel” within our unique context?
How are we sent out into the world? What creative, courageous, ‘because-of-the-resurrection and ascension’ responses might God be drawing from us in our ‘sentness’?
Quite helpful and challenging. A useful innoculation against ecclesiastical introspection!
Monday, July 25, 2005
The first few drops refresh my over heated body. Bono screams out it’s a beautiful day through my headphones. The wind picks up, invigorates. Four miles gone one to go and the storm promises to cool me down. A flash – 2…..3…..4….5 and then thunder. The drops get bigger heavier. Flash 2…3….then thunder.
I look over my shoulder. The black cloud seems to be following me. Ok the flash and thunder is uncomfortably close. Newspaper headlines swirl Batmanesque in and out of my mind “jogger struck by lightening….!” I speed up and the drops stop. I relax and the drops are back. I speed up and the drops stop. I relax and the drops are back... All the time the pyrotechnics above are enough for me to push myself to the limit. All the time the blackness is on my shoulder.
I get in. 45 mins a PB for the Isle of Dog’s! The storm in full swing I go into the garden hoping to see lighting strike Canary Wharf. As I stand in the gloom of the storm. The rain refreshing, rejuvenating, cleansing - I smile and the irrationality of my fear. Canary Wharf is a fair bit taller than me!!
Later I sit back – and think about how so often pastorally I feel like this. Not running away from pastoral headaches but keeping one step ahead of the storm … just. Pushing to keep ahead. Fearing the worst.
We’ve a few storm clouds on the horizon – I wonder what I’ve learned?
Sunday, July 24, 2005
I'm glad he's eventually got around to blogging - great original photo's, thoughts and reflections on Urban ministry and life.
This - lifted from his site these are my church clothes - a double decker bus flying by his front door.
Friday, July 22, 2005
(Victor's court case Victor - GBH and living in a soap opera; read more here and here. The story of his impending eviction here.)
He was ready for us with his possessions of life on the pavement. I look past Victor to his flat. I nod towards the door.
"Hey, Victor, is there anything else inside you want to take...?"
"No - this is all I have....nothing else...nothing"
We moved Victor today... it didn't take long ... but I won't forget it.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
NT Wright in ‘Who was Jesus?’ makes a powerful but uncomfortable point. (quoted in some forge material)
“Twentieth-century Western Christians need to shed a few ideas…hmmmm?
When people downed their tools for a while and trudged up a hillside to hear this Jesus talking, we can be sure they weren’t going to hear someone tell them to be nice to each other; or that if they behaved themselves (or got their minds around the right theological scheme) there would be a rosy future waiting for them when they got to ‘heaven’, or that God had decided at last to do something about forgiving them for their sins. First-century Jews knew that they ought to be nice to each other…they believed that their God would look after them and give them new physical bodies in his renewed world…there was no sign that they were walking around gloomily wondering how their sins were ever going to be forgiven. They had the Temple and the sacrificial system.
If Jesus had only said what a lot of Western Christians seem to think he said, he would have been just a big yawn-maker”
Monday, July 18, 2005
Spike and his dog came into the carpark. His face was a mess. I take in the sight of his face as he speaks. The bruised eyes, one completely closed; the flattened, broken nose; the encrusted trail of blood from one of his ears. This guy had taken a terrible beating.
"yep Gordon... I can't go in, I'll scare the kiddies.... can I have a cup of tea and a chat with you out here?"
I get a cup of tea, we sit on our bench and we talk. Everytime someone comes he walks away, hides his face. The story emerges of a group of crack users taking a dislike to this affable alcoholic. He looks at me through an eye he can hardly open "Graham ... I don't know what I've done...? I sit in the church grounds so that the Vicar waves to me and knows I am still alive ... and I can't even do that anymore... they came looking for me there...they won't leave me alone"
"Spike...it's Gordon" I gently correct as I nod and listen to the story of violence.
"...sorry... Gordon" I listen to how the police came but couldn't do anything; about the guitar I'd seen him carrying so proudly the day before was now smashed; about the underclass life he is trapped within; about his fear
"Spike what do you want us to do?"
"Graham... I mean Gordon I just need someone to talk to nothing else, I just need someone to know I'm Ok, I need someone to pray for me".
Spike is getting uncomfortable because of the attention his face is getting from people passing by. I have a thought. "Wait here Spike...!" I say as I disappear. I return with some sunglasses from the charity shop.
As he gets up to leave, he taps his new sunglasses "Thanks!... By the way ... why do you keep calling me Spike...?"
Friday, July 15, 2005
Blah courtesy of CMS and Jonny Baker was worth being at this week. I was glad I didn't miss. I've been several times now and each time has been of value.
I love the Blah when the invited guest (this time Pall Singh and richard sudworth) outline their subject - (theirs mission in multi faith contexts) but there is something within me that can't cope with the blah afterwards.
I'm quite sociable, I'm quite amiable, I'm not shy, I usually have something to say- but I'm happier not bothering at Blah! Is there something wrong with me that I don't want to pick up the thoughts and take them further with people I don't know? That I don't want to reflect? Have a conversation? I don't feel like I am in recovery and need to share a story with other recovering Christians. It's all very nice and I am not being critical. I just like soaking it up, making my excuses and getting back to Poplar. All the way back on the tube I feel decidedly unsocial - but decide it definitely says more about me than Blah - which is so resourceful.
Pall Singh and Richard Sudworth were excellent. The single concept that stood out for me was the importance of dialogue within mission. Pall gave a illustration from Sundar Singh: Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh "if someone is in a dark room holding a candle why blow it out - when outside is the blazing sun"... Having just written that it looks ridiculous - but within the context of cross-cultural and religious conversations it made a lot of sense. The strength of the gospel is that it outshines! Richard outlined this concept with mission that he is involved with and it was like a refreshing summer shower to hear someone from a Evangelical charismatic background engage with an authentic grace centred mission to their community with one agenda to show God's love. No hidden agenda's just God's love. Some of the power point induced soundbytes were worth remembering.
"The draft has got to go both ways..." underlined the conviction that the church needed to be open to be shaped by its community. (Not in the sense of compromise, but in the sense that the community was there as much for the church as the church for the community).
"Learning to be liberal in evangelical spaces and evangelical in liberal spaces..." I still have that to work out but am looking forward to doing so.
All that plus two great meditations and a slick excuse and escape added up for a well spent evening. If you are at Blah next time round and you see someone begining to sweat and look at the doors nervously at about 8pm you'll know that's me!
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
So I look after parent and toddlers - I'm not good at that either - small chit chat pilfering time isn't my strength. Louisa looks up and says to me "good I'm glad you are here I want to chat some things through with you..."
Last week I discovered a little about Louisa. Her strong sense of justice, her interest in history and knowledge of Catherine Booth, her journey of faith that she hasn't yet identified. Her brothers are Christians and from her accounts are pulling out all the stops. "So do you know about Alpha?"
"You see I'd be quite interested if I didn't think I was being sold something....why is it Christians go and spoil it by being salesmen pushing for a sale ...I don't like salesmen"
I feel like apologising, she carries on...
"... and why is it that Christians say pathetic things like God told me...? My sister-in-law told her church that God had told them they needed a new car - so everyone contributed....nice touch - but hardly transforms the world does it?"
I feel like apologising, she carries on
"... personal relationship with Jesus what's that then - do you hear from God?"
I tell her about our new youth club for lesser abled kids and God's direction, I tell her the story of how that all came about, I tell her about that deep strong sense of direction and urgency within, that sense of rightness - "but Louisa I'd hate for you to think this was just a sales patter, a sales pitch...!"
She smiles as her two year old is puts an end to our conversation - "there's a bit of a difference between their lovely little club and somewhere trying to make a difference...!"
The Provocative Church is one of those books that wont be making its way off my book shelves. Tomlin describes the disembodied truth that Louisa is so suspicious...
"Evangelism that proclaims a gospel of truth, yet pays little attention to the kind of community it creates or the quality of life it shapes is unlikely to be listened to for very long... post-modernity has a suspicion of disembodied truth...Small chit chat...?
...the church, the community of the kingdom has to embody truth if its proclamation is to be heard...
...Churches where evangelism is based on disembodied truth often end up breathless exhausting places to belong...
Tomlin, G (2004) The Provocative Church. SPCK
Saturday, July 09, 2005
We’re to be there as a support to families whose loved ones haven’t returned. A support to those that have just been shown – unhappy polaroids . A support to those whose deepest grief has been confirmed. A support to those whose questions have been left bewilderingly unanswered. A support to those guiltily relieved. A support to those who have lost all faith in a world that could conjure up such pain in the name of justice. A support to each other.
So tomorrow – we do a stint. Actually the team needs a woman, so tomorrow Kate does a stint. I’ll stay at home waiting to be a support for Kate on her return. Some people seem to lap this kind of thing up – not us. We’re hoping that she’ll not be needed, that the families will have already have been through, already adequately supported.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
You've managed to close London's transport for a day. You've managed to injure over 700 people. You've managed to kill 40 people who got up this morning thinking that today was just Thursday. Well done on ripping friendships and families apart, throwing people into unexpected grief and suffering.
Well done you've managed to get the world to look at London and to see how clever you are. You've caused the G8 to hiccup, and to stutter for a day. Well done you've managed to make your point.
Above all well done, you've scared my 9 year old daughter, you've terrorised her. She is scared you are going to blow her up. She is scared that her Mum and Dad are going on a train tomorrow, she's scared that we're going to catch a bus. Well done you have done so well - it must be really hard to scare 9 year olds. Oh and well done on today stealing my daughters innocent belief in the good of humanity. Today she saw a different world, she saw your world of hate just the way you would want her to see it. But you know what she doesn't understand and nor do I. Thanks for putting me in the position of trying to explain it all for her.
So whoever you are well done you must be so proud to be bringers of terror into the lives of the young, lives that don't understand.
Thanks to those who expressed a concern as to our welfare. Aldgate East is just a couple of miles from us and the Royal London is our local hospital - but we were very safe - thanks for your prayers.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
224,994 marching to make poverty history (BBC report here). But there were 6 others there with a different agenda. Their agenda? To make Povery History.
Roz our Youth Worker meticulous in her planning for the weekend made one small typo on some stencils to make our white shirts have a message. Not noticed till half way through the day, we are conscious that it may only be one small typo, but it may have big consequences on the village of Povery.
So I feel I should apologise to the community of Povery should the G8 listen and make Povery history. To the people of Povery - we are truly very, very sorry!
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
I hope not.
Dozing off in the bath back where we were staying (sorry no picture!) my thoughts wandered back over the day. A great day of unity. I'll not forget the minutes silence, nor the wave of whistling sent out along the march at its conclusion. But it has to be more than a great day.
I remain convinced that what is needed has got to be more than soundbytes, statistics, clever arguments and rhetoric. Otherwise the 'sentiments and feelings' of a great day will be left strewn on the ground. There is a danger of becoming so good at the rhetoric but leaving us blind to an alternative way of life beyond the rhetoric.
"The first shall be last and the last shall be first..." - that is what needs to be modeled. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first..." unfortunately wasn't what I saw while watching the end of Live8 with the 'golden circle' watching on from their positions of privilege. Ironic really that those aspiring to positions of privilege or higher privilige, perhaps are most susceptible to corruption ... hmmm? It's too easy to roll out the "oh we can't help because of the corruption" line (more mercs for jerks) - 'fraid we in the west are pretty much guilty of leading the way on that one too!
"many who are first will be last, and the last first..." (Mk 10:31) not even Bono and Sir Bob can claim that soundbyte!!
Monday, July 04, 2005
Eventually - bottle neck problems - I walked around in the beauty that is Edinburgh with the sun beating down on my back in a solidarity of white. However, as I walked I felt disappointed with certain groups getting their sub-agendas and sub brands across on the back of something as distinct as MPH - I kept thinking this is about world poverty not independence for Palestine! As I walked I felt my lunch disagreeing with me - reminding me of my disappointment with the ironic exploitation by the various food outlets that must have doubled their prices to make a quick buck.
As I walked I felt elated to see generations of people saying enough is enough. As I walked I felt elated to have been part of something that has raised the profile of world poverty to an uncomfortable level. As I walked it felt good to be with members of our youth club - a new generation of people saying something has gone wrong here! As I walked I thought of some more Ringma that I had read...
"Those who are powerful need to be loved into Christ's kingdom as much as the poor. And while the poor may need the love of practical help, the powerful may need the love that challenges them to serve the poor"
(Ringma 2004 - Wash the feet of the world with Mother Teresa)
Sunday, July 03, 2005
We’re in Edinburgh for MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY. Its Past midnight, we’ve no idea what bus to get. Taxi is the only option. The other half of our group had got in one taxi; Thomas and I were left follow - I was already forming the "follow that taxi..." line! but we had to wait. As we wait I’m conscious that the drunken outburst that was filling Princess St was directed at me.
"F..k you you w..nker" seemed to be the general gist of things. We’d jumped the taxi queue – we didn’t know. The tirade got louder and more abusive. The gathering crowd sensing action goaded the anger. I weighed up the options - "...right I'm going to sort him out" I hear myself say.
Thomas looks on anxiously as I draw every inch of my 6' 3", I try and make my shoulders seem wider and walk purposely towards the source of abuse. A shaven headed bloke dripping anger and attitude continues to berate me. I square up to him and ask gently "what is your problem?",
I stroke his shoulder in a semi-patronising manner "ok…ok…ok…shhh…I’m sorry… shhh...I didn’t know – all you had to do was mention it… try not be so aggressive" Off he goes again until his girlfriend with a soft Scottish accent whispers
"Drew, Drew, he’s said sorry…!".
It takes a while before he realises I’m not up for a fight and he starts calming down. I reach down and pick up his cigarette that has been lost in all his jostling. "Where yous going then…?" he speaks through trying to light his cigarette, "what yous here for...?" before we knew it we were chatting. He apologises for his behaviour. "Och I feel awful" he breathes through a haze of smoke.
"Actually for where we are from you were being quite polite… eh Tom?" Thomas who has said nothing nods!
As we talk about MPH - a taxi sidles up. "There’s your taxi…" Drew and his softly spoken girlfriend say goodbye and walk off. As they get in the taxi Drew shouts out the window "Oi!... Oi yous two! come on we’ll share it!". Tom and I pick up our rucksacks and run up and get in the taxi.
On the way we talk about what I do. Scottish football! Politics. Then I realise I haven’t any change to split the fair. "Och man…don’t worry about it…the least I can do!"
As we left the taxi it was as though we were saying goodbye to family!
"Friendly these Scottish people aren’t they!?" Thomas comments as the taxi drives off.
Friday, July 01, 2005
I'm looking forward to a long train journey. I haven't done that for years. I'm looking forward to some quality time with some quality young people and workers. I'm looking forward to being part of a community of solidarity. I hope the church's involvement points beyond themselves to a God of love, care and justice.
"Being the people of God, being community, being in solidarity is not some strange afterthought on the part of God. God is a community of persons as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, as such, God is the great community-builder. God’s concern has been to create a people who will reflect in the world something of God’s love, care and justice" (Ringma 1994:151)
Ringma, C (1994) Catch the Wind. Regent College