Friday, September 30, 2005

The false gospel of convenience and self-promotion...

'Martin Luther King Jr. said that 11:00 on Sunday morning is "the most segregated hour in America." Not much has changed since King made that statement. But is this a bad thing?...' starts a good article in the Leadership Journal. "An Army of Ones - Does diversity in the church work?" - here - explores the pro's and con's of diversity within church and it reminded me of some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head and URBANarmy recently.

The highlight of the article is from Mark Driscoll - pastor of Mars Hill Church.

Driscoll contrasts a church of Babel - the first human attempt at cultural uniformity - characterised by the concept of 'hanging out with people like me because I find myself so wonderful' - and a church of Pentecost - God's attempt at kingdom unity through diversity - characterised by the concept of 'hanging out with people unlike me because God has been gracious to us all.' (Driscoll)

The Babel church Driscoll suggests asks:-
"How can we glorify ourselves by growing our ministry?" This desire leads to a false gospel that does not call me to love my neighbor and show hospitality toward those who are different from me. This gospel expects that I love only those who are like me and who share my same values and interests"
In contrast the Pentecost church asks:-
"How can we glorify Jesus by expanding his kingdom?" This desire leads to the true gospel that calls me to love my neighbors who are unlike me, and welcome them into Christ's church."
Here's the ouch quote...
"Therefore, the real issue is not will we pursue diversity, but will we follow the gospel of Jesus Christ? If we are following the gospel, diversity will occur as a result of the reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ. If we are not experiencing diversity, this may indicate we are lost in the woods following the directions of a false gospel of convenience and self-promotion". (Mark Driscoll 2005)
My thouhts are - how this embrace of diversity is handled obviously is dependent on where you live, being in the second most ethnically diverse borough in London (!!) obviously will look different to the Cambridgeshire Fens. But even there difference is there to be sought out and embraced. I think there is a case for homogeneity being the first step to diversity - ie distinct groups for distinct people but only as being part of something bigger and diverse. However I still worry about 'specific church' for 'specific people' - it seems all too consumer for me.

That said I think I about to start a ministry at our church for "tall football loving men who are most definately balding" anyone up for it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

It's Annual Appeal Time...don't you just love it!!

I knew before he opened his mouth this was going to be nasty. He cut a line through the milling commuters looking for their platforms - making sure he was under my nose. It was his eyes that gave it away - this was going to be nasty. He had a point to make and he was going to make sure I heard him. Actually several hundred people heard him.

"You lot make me ill collecting - you're not doing any good and I for one will never give to you"

His words spat with venom got heads turning. Bemused commuters shot anxious looks of comfort as I withstood the onslaught, the barrage of vicious diatribe. As he runs for his train along Waterloo station- I wonder what it was The Salvation Army did wrong to him. Maybe bad connections in the past, perhaps pain for family members dealt with years gone by, perhaps he got a bad deal from a SA place in the past, perhaps he saw a perceived misuse of funds, perhaps he'd been given the sack, perhaps he'd had too much to drink. Whatever I didn't get chance to ask - he'd soon disappeared into the crowd. Gone.

I sigh...It's The Salvation Army annual appeal time - where we try to raise funds for our social ministry, I'm all togged up, cap and all - don't you just love it.

I'm still digesting the abuse when a gentle voice said "I always give to you guys...." I look round and a kind looking face is looking through his wallet. He carries on "It's 30 years since I needed you... I was at my lowest and you guys fed me ... made sure I had food ... helped me turn my life around" I feel the clunk of change hit the bottom of teh bucket and he too disappeared into the night.

It's annual appeal time, I'm all togged up, cap and all - don't you just love it!!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Inexplicable Church...

Sometimes you have a Sunday that really surprises you.

Yesterday Kate led 'all-age worship' - we sang all the old harvest songs! the kids made pizza in front of everyone. What was interesting was that quarter of an hour into the service we were full. We're the kind of church that people have a liquid understanding of when the service actually starts - (in more ways than one!). Usually fairly empty at the begining but slowly filling up. We're the kind of church that is never massively full but never massively empty. But yesterday was different.

12 new people. A stack of people who haven't been to church for years decided this sunday to return - most of them didn't know about the BBQ afterwards! Chairs were found but we've only got 80!


I don't really want to know - just that I enjoyed it and felt blessed is enough. Too often perhaps we feel we need to chase answers - maybe there is something to be said for "Church Inexplicable". Maybe there is something to be said for something that is' non- formulaic', something that is not prescribed but is ' inexplicably spontaneous'

Nick Page in Invisible Church talks about Wabi-Sabi worship.
"It is a Japanese concept which I find quite attractive. Wabi-sabi means the beauty of simple things imperfect and humble. Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is the beauty of things modest and humble. It is the beauty of things unconventional"' pp 56
Church for me isn't just a sunday occurrence - but yesterday it was an occurrence that made me smile! Seeing community spontaneously come together like it did would make anyone smile - I think because it was wabi-sabi!!!??

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Special One...

This is one for Chelsea Fans everywhere.

Listen here.

If you don't know who Jose Mourinho is ... it is probably a waste of time.

Sorry if it has been doing the rounds but I only just found it!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Transformation of division...

"It is important that we are all together… it is the kingdom, not a ghetto we want to demonstrate.."

I remember when we first arrived at Poplar and started to think about how to be multi-cultural church in a multi-cultural area. I had seen models of church that had specific services for specific national groupings. We started to explore the potential, only to be de-railed in a conversation with some of our African church members.

It's a bit irritating that I can't remember who exactly wrote this. Anyway it is in the Urban Theology Reader...
"The Joppa story witnesses to the new things that the spirit of God is doing in the church and the world after the coming of Christ , and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in those empowered and called by the spirit to challenge exclusion, to transform division into communion and to draw the marginalised into the heart of the community of the people of God."
Northcott, M. (ed) (1998) Urban Theology: A Reader

Not a bad ‘how to’ avoid church becoming a ghetto. Remember we are called to challenge exclusion. Remember we are called to transform division into communion and remember we are called to draw the marginalised into the heart of the community of the people of God.

And I think it is an attitude of mind rather than any working out of programme. Could be that your church is in Jersey (where when on holiday my daughter asked where are all the black people…?) but it doesn’t stop you being a church that challenges exclusion, transforms division into communion and draws in the marginalised.

I am left trying to get my head around ‘specialised churches’ for ‘specialised people’ are they able to challenge exclusion, transform division into communion and draw in the marginalised?

I am left trying to get my head around do ‘specialised churches’ for ‘specialised people’ demonstrate the kingdom or a ghetto.

I am left trying to get my head around whether I have been fed a church growth lie that ‘if you attend a church for the first time and fail to see someone like you in the first minute you are unlikely to return’. Or has Phil Yancey got something when in "Church why bother?" says if he sees anyone remotely like him within the church he never attends again!

More blogs about multi-cultural church; segregation; Urban ministry; sleep walking to segregation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Sleep walking our way to segregation.....

Tonight house group, cell church whatever... read more (here) I guess 'cell connoisseurs' would critically evaluate as "could have gone better" .

It was one of those nights when we should've just sat and drunk tea together! One of those nights when the ice-breakers... well ... didn't break much ice. One of those nights when worship felt a bit of an exercise. One of those nights when no one was really that bothered about Jonah.

But that's fine...

House group, cell church whatever... happened for us by just turning up. Tonight only four different nationalities! Our Sierra Leonian, Zambian, Zimbabweans, Botswanean, Congolese, Ghanian didn't make it! House group, cell church whatever happens for us because we making a conscious decision together not to sleepwalk our way to segregation.

Trevor Phillips - The Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality warns that:-
"we are sleepwalking our way to segregation. We are becoming strangers to each other and leaving communities to be marooned outside the mainstream."’
(Nick over at not that stratford makes more salient points here)

'Variegated Church' has much to say to society that is content to accept what Zygmunt Bauman calls '‘mixophobia' which he says manifests itself in the drive towards islands of similarity and sameness admidst the sea of variety and difference. I guess the challenge for us all is to maintain values of 'congregation' as opposed 'segregation' - not only in terms of ethnicity, but also age, gender and socio-economic status - and be a church for everyone and not just for faces and talents that fit.

More blogs about multi-cultural church; segregation; Urban ministry.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

To end all wars...

I have just watched "To end all wars" ... again.

A story of the endeavour of Allied POW's building the Burmese railway in WWII. A story of building a community of faith , a community of beauty, a community of compassion, 'nourishing souls even in a place that destroyed bodies'. A story of the working our of true hope, true love, true mercy and above all grace.

Yancey points out:-

"Perhaps something like this was what Jesus had in mind as he turned again and again to his favourite topic: the kingdom of God. In the soil of this violent, disordered world, an alternate community may take root. It lives in hope of a day of liberation. In the meantime, it aligns itself with another world, not just spreading rumours but planting settlements-in-advance of that coming reign."
He finishes off by saying:-
"Taking God's assignment seriously means that I must learn to look at the world upside down, as Jesus did. Instead of seeking out people who stroke my ego, I find those whose egos need stroking; instead of important people with resources who can do me favours, I find people with few resources; instead of the strong, I look for the weak; instead of the healthy, the sick. Is not this how God reconciles the world to himself. Did Jesus not insist that he came for the sinners and not the righteous, for the sick and not the healthy?"

Yancey, P. (2004) Rumours of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing?
Sounds pretty revolutionary to me...!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Salvation Army grid::blog

Seems the first few are coming through - if you want to check it out on the google blog search - try leaving the :: out of the search!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"if the church is the bride of Christ she's a bit of a minger...!"

Chris Hinton asks a great question in the comments recently.
"Do you think the existing church can be salvaged? Or do we need a whole new start?"
It made me think of a quote that I can't remember from who "if the church is the bride of Christ she's a bit of a minger...!"

I'm not sure that is true...!?

I'm sure if we let church do what church does best, and be church, we wouldn't be looking around for the new bride, our eyes wouldn't be wandering - the problem is that I suspect that we don't know what the church does best.

We spend copious amount of time reading books, going to conferences, blogging, talking about our preconceived ideas of what the church should do best but have been too busy to notice that the bride we are 'showing to the world' is not having any transformational impact on the world, we haven't noticed that the bride we are 'showing to the world' is too busy preening herself, we haven't noticed that the bride we are 'showing to the world' is pre-occupied and self-absorbed. And all the time God's great redemptive story for creation gets squeezed into clever formulaes, brands and sub-brands, ecclesiatical propaganda and clever talk while we wonder how to be relevant. And all the time what the world wants and needs is for the church simply to stand up and be real.

I personally think the church is beautiful. Perhaps rather than start again, perhaps the concept of salvage is more a case of stripping away all that we have thought has made the church more appealing. Strip away the cosmetics to reveal the true beauty of church that exists in its very being. Strip away the layers of cracked foundation and discover what the church does best. Then sit back and be amazed at how appealing and beautiful the church can be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Salvation Army grid::blog

Just a thought to try.

It seems that daily there are salvationist blogging - if we title a blog entry as above we could link together through a google search. Could be a good way of linking up - or you could leave me there by myself - a real Billy no mates!

Get "Salvation Army grid::blog" in the title - spread the word and lets see how many sally's blog!


Sorry to any baptist, CofE, Methodists etc... and anyone else who feel left out in this parochial exercise.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

In the mind of an atheist.....

"so your atheism is founded more on the institution of what Christianity has become through the years rather than the message and values of Jesus...?"

This conversation has been going on some years. It started in our parent and toddler group. Trevor had proclaimed his atheism to which Kate replied "wow it must take a lot of faith to be an atheist...?" Ever since there has been open, honest healthy dialogue. (one here).

Trevor looks at me and replies...

"Well if we all got back to the message and values of Jesus we'd be a lot better off ... but problem is you can't say that the church has done a great job with the message..."

"What's the message you've heard then Trev?" I enquire - thinking this is interesting from someone who describes himself as 'unashamably atheist'.

"you've got it've got it wrong...we've got it right and if you don't agree to what we think we're going to kill you... was quite a strong theme for a few centuries...!" he begins to get up a head of steam.

The conversation trundles on we talk Constantine - through to disillusioned Christian intellectuals and the emerging church before I ask "so Trev, what should the message be...?"

"I see it like this ... add a 'o' to God and that seems to give you the key word"

I nod sagely and 'hmm' sympathetically...

"... godo...!?"

We both laugh...

"Gordon, I like talking to you - you are a silly 'bugger' but I like talking to you"

I come away smiling but thinking I wonder how much atheism is based on not believing in church rather than the message, life and values of Jesus. I wonder how much we contribute to that ecclesiastical smoke screen choking the message?

Monday, September 12, 2005

So that is that....

The Ashes series is over and for the first time since I was 21 England have got one over Austrailia in the cricket (read here). Ashes series after ashes series have left their mark on me - especially when you have so many aussie friends.

What a summer - but like Kate said - it hardly changes your life, it hardly means you wake up different tomorrow!?

What must it be to have no soul!!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Twenty Words...

I'm about to give the Technorati web finder a go and for my profile I need up to twenty words to become my Technorati Tags in order to capture the essence of URBANarmy. I thought it was going to be easy to find twenty words. Not so!

I started with Urban; Urban Ministry; Urban Theology; Urban Church; Salvation; Salvation Army.....

If anyone wants to chip in. What words best describe URBANarmy? Please leave a comment.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Lingering Church

It is easy to sit here all cosy and judgemental but I still look on with shock at those left behind to weather Katrina.

There were those no doubt who wanted to take their chances. There were those no doubt that didn't imagine that it was going to be so bad. There were those no doubt who didn't want to leave. But there were those that were scared and wanted to get out but couldn't. There were those without the means to get out but couldn't, those with no option, no choice - so they were left behind.

I looked out at our congregation on Sunday and wondered how many would be left behind? This week I have looked out on our community and wondered how many would be left behind? The queue in the post office, the kids in the park, those waiting for a train, the bus and it struck me that it doesnt take a catastrophic hurricane to leave people behind. Our society leaves people behind daily. Let's face it even our churches are prone to leaving people behind (see here).

Before the hurricane hit I'd written some thoughts, Ringma's words seem all the more poignant.
"Our Western culture is characterised by a poverty of relationships. Our individualism and narcissism have isolated us from each other."
Mother Teresa makes this observation:
"Abandonment is awful poverty. There are poor everywhere," she says, "but the deepest poverty is not being loved."
Ringma continues
"[Mother Teresa's] challenge is to create families, communities, and neighbourhoods of care. The opposite of being abandoned is to be known, cared for, and loved. This involves being present to the other. This is a form of contemplation. it has to do not with rushing by, but with lingering, noticing, responding, caring.

And being present to, lingering, and noticing means that we will be drawn away from our own preoccupations, and into the world, issues, and needs of the other person...Thus abandonment is turned into accompaniment. Companions on the road, companions at the table bring the pattern of embrace instead of abandonment."
There's the challenge not to be a church of abandonment. To be a church that knows, cares and loves the communities we have been called to. To take time to notice respond and care. To linger.There's the challenge not to be a church of unconcerned abandonment but of embrace. Are we up for the challenge or far more comfortable with our pre-occupation with self?
"'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.'"

Ezekiel 16:49

Monday, September 05, 2005

I should have been nicer...!

Sunday finished in the same way it started.

Bethan my nine-year old daughter with a tear in her eye told me she'd let God down. "I can't help it Dad, she gets on my nerves and I know I should have been nicer!" Comfort is a year younger and has just started to come with her mother to church. As she has settled she has grown out of the shy little girl into a very forceful and attention seeking little girl. Quite hard to handle for adults let alone a nine-year old. We talk about it and even though the task will be difficult Bethan resolves to try better, to try and be patient to try and be tolerant to keep Comfort included.

Seven hours later in walks Mr Singh. Mr Singh often walks in and a pattern is emerging. We've helped him in the past and will continue to help. But the reality is that he doesn't want help. His wife throws him out because I suspect he is violent then he wants convenient accommodation.

He says he is sleeping on the streets - all evidence says he is not. Nevertheless we get the street rescue team to come out - he is never where he says he will be. In the past we have got him into different hostels but only to find he doesn't turn up. In short we are a convenience to him. When he really needed help - we helped - but now I think he is taking liberties. Ok this guy is really getting on my nerves.

In addition last week he was aggressive towards Kate and so I'm sorry but when I see him sitting calmly drinking tea I turn up the heat. We continue to help but I'm afraid that it was help with an edge. "so you are calling my wife a liar then....? I stand over this semi drunk person proding and probing verbally, letting this guy know that we are not stupid, passive push overs.

"...I can't help it Dad, she gets on my nerves and I know I should have been nicer...!" Later Bethan's words echo around my head as I watch Top Gear.

Mission doesn't mean that we need to be stupid, mission doesn't mean we need to be passive or push overs - but that is not an excuse for intolerance, impatience.

I should have been nicer...! I need to try harder - it's difficult!!

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Holiday Highlight...

I ran through the grounds. I was late. The sole mournful bell calling was weakening coming to its end. I ran past the pigs, sheep, and goats. Chickens and geese looked on. I opened the huge heavy oak panelled doors of Quarr Abbey and walked into a different world quietly creaking the door closed.

I felt the beauty in the coolness, shafts of sunlight spilt through the high windows accentuated by the incense rising slowly to the heights of the abbey. Monks suitable attired in monk gear! Sang their Gregorian chants filling the acoustics of the abbey. The Abbot hardly visible through the ever-increasing incense held the Gospel high above his head. This was dramatic stuff I felt drawn further and further into the mystery of God.

But the drama was only just beginning. There was a community of late comers me included sat near the back. The door creaked and in walked a family. Mum Dad and four impeccably dressed kinds. The two older girls knew the drill – genuflected admirably. The two younger 1 and 2-year olds new the drill too and proceeded in the row in front of me to add to the Gregorian chants with ever increasing volume "da-da... da-da..." and scraping of chairs, amazing resounding raspberries. No amount of cajoling could keep these kids quiet – it was great!

Here’s the drama. The elderly couple sat in front of this lovely family quite obviously didn’t like the kids re-mix of Domine, vivifica me Huffs turned into puffs then into tuts. The tension grew with every minute. The back of his elderly - and to be frank very hairy - neck communicated friction and hostility to this intrusion of noise. Veiled smiles of understanding from his wife communicating for "goodness sake take them out!"

I’m glad they didn’t. Giving the peace to each other wouldn’t have been the same. The elderly couple refused to turn around –their loss was my rows gain. These beautiful children stretched their hands out and with love in their eyes passed peace. I felt for that elderly couple. I imagined their lunch time conversation – they missed out on something of the mystery of God.

The end came too soon. I was back with my family drinking tea in the grounds. I will going back.