Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Random Interesting Links

Three (unrelated) links of interest to me, from the past few days:

1 : Vote for Policies

Is a site where, as we approach a General Election in the UK, you can compare and ‘vote for’ the manifesto promises of six political parties, relating to (your choice of a minimum of four, a maximum of nine) issues.

So far, over 9,500 people have voted. Currently, the Green Party not only has the biggest overall vote, it has the biggest share of the vote (by varying amounts) in all nine policy areas.

This is interesting to me, in what we like to think of as a democracy. In reality, we don’t vote for the party whose policies the population most support, but for the parties with the greatest media presence. In fact, TV, radio and the printed press as forms all shape us to make emotional responses to personalities, and work against us considering policy. The very nature of television as a media form undermines even content which purports to provide ‘in-depth analysis,’ such as Newsnight.

2 : Barna Group Poll on ‘How Different Generations View and Engage with Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity’

The most interesting thing here, in my opinion, is the very high percentage of respondents, of all generations, who view the Holy Spirit as a symbol of the power of God, not a Person of the Trinity. This suggests that how we have ‘done’ church, for some time, has in practice reflected a binarian view of God (Father and Son; as opposed to Trinitarian – Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

The absence of the Holy Spirit as a Person has serious implications for orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right action). We need to address this in our discipleship. Missional communities need to introduce people to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that the distancing of charismatic evangelicals from liturgy, including the Creeds of the Church, in order to ‘be more relevant’ to people is part of the problem here; and that a rediscovery of these witnesses has a key place in addressing the situation we find ourselves in...

3 : Mike Breen blog

My friend, and Senior Guardian of The Order of Mission, has recently started a blog. The content is really useful stuff - practical wisdom, grounded application of Lifeshapes to all kinds of situations we face in our communities, such as raising kids, singles in the church, inter-generational relationships...

But the thing that I am most excited about is not the content, but that the content (whatever the topic) is carried in a dialogue, a conversation between Mike and a church pastor identified as Aidan. It is like coaching, that we get to listen in on. Which reminds me of the sermon on the mount.

I keep an eye on quite a few blogs with good content, but this is the only one I've come across that is a conversation. And that is incredibly significant, for the way in which we are called to disciple people. I was reflecting just the other day that Lifeshapes is a language that, once learnt, allows us to have all kinds of conversations on any topic that matters to us, as opposed to programs that give people the answers to the questions no-one is asking.

If you check it out, I'd encourage you not only to engage with Mike's reflections on things, but also on relationship, on conversation, on discipleship itself.

Fit For Purpose

Words God gave to me at the early-morning prayer gathering this morning:

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
(1 John 3:8b)

“‘See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to
work havoc;
no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that
accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,’
declares the Lord.”

(Isaiah 54:16-17)

Tongues : Interpretations : Amens

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul informs us that speaking in tongues is a way in which we address God, and prophecy is a way in which God addresses us. If someone speaks in an unknown tongue when the church is gathered, those gathered must wait on the Spirit to give an interpretation of that tongue, so that we can add our ‘amen’ to the prayer.

We Charismatics tend to be very sloppy about speaking in tongues, assuming them to be a way in which God speaks to us, offering interpretations that are addressed from God to us. But this is contrary to the revelation of Scripture.

In as much as an ‘interpretation’ is addressed from God to us – and in my opinion, such ‘interpretations’ are not entirely devoid of accuracy, by any means – it is not in fact an interpretation of the tongue, but God’s answer to that prayer: a prophetic response to the tongue. In some circles, God’s response to the prayer is almost exclusively what is offered as the interpretation of the prayer itself.

If it is all a conversation between us and God anyway, why does it matter who is addressing whom, how? It matters for this reason: if we believe that tongues are God speaking to us, we are no more than instruments of his voice; but if tongues are, as the Bible tells us, us addressing God, then the interpretation reveals to us what is on our heart that we cannot express in words.

Again, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul tells us that we pray with our spirit (in tongues) and with our mind (articulated in our own language, filtered through our understanding) – and that we need to do both. The interpretation of a tongue we utter helps us to move from not being able to articulate what is on our heart to being able to articulate what is on our heart. And so we grow in understanding of ourselves – discovering not what God is saying to us, as such, but what he has hidden in our heart – and grow in our understanding of how to pray. Before, we couldn’t put words to our prayer; now we can. And if we pray in tongues regularly, and the interpretations are of a similar theme, then we can see patterns, particular themes or concerns God has given to particular persons, as a gift to the church as a whole.

The public interpretation of a public tongue makes it possible for us to say ‘amen.’ Now, the ‘amen’ is an expression of standing with the one who prays. If someone prays, “Lord, I am afraid!” then for some the ‘amen’ will be “Lord, I am afraid, too!” and for others the ‘amen’ will be “Lord, I choose to stand with my brother who is afraid, to contend on their behalf for your love that drives out fear.” And so the ‘amen’ is not merely the formal linguistic indicator that the prayer has finished, letting everyone know that someone else can pray now; rather, it is an expression of belonging to one another.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday : Assumptions And Consequences

Today is Palm Sunday.

We make assumptions about Palm Sunday.

We see Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a crowd of pilgrims throwing down their cloaks to make a carpet and waving palm branches and identifying him with messianic expectations...and assume that, out of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims swelling the city to bursting-point for Passover, that just five days later these same pilgrims are whipped-up to call for Jesus to be crucified.

That’s a huge assumption. It allows us to wonder at their fickleness, and either take pride in our own steadfastness or worry about our own fickleness.

But what if, out of all those in the city that week, different people responded to Jesus in different ways? What difference might that make, to how we read the story, to how we allow the story to read us? Might it challenge the assumption that Jesus didn’t have to have died, if only those people had been less fickle?

We see Jesus in the temple, turning the tables and driving out those selling animals for sacrifice, and hear Jesus accuse them of turning the house of prayer for all nations into a den of robbers...and we assume that they are charging too much, exploiting the poor. But the Gospels don’t say that it is money that is being robbed. There is no textual evidence – biblical or otherwise – to suggest this.

Another huge assumption. It allows us to caricature the Jews as wicked, making a profit on access to God. We would never do such a callous thing.

Animals for sacrifice were sold to pilgrims who needed them. A range of sizes, in order to provide for the poor as well as the wealthy. There is no textual evidence to suggest exploitation. What does appear to have happened was that the tables where these transactions took place had spilled over from outside the temple into the Court of the Gentiles, the (only) part of the temple non-Jews were allowed, the place of provision for all nations to pray.

The consequence of an attempt to ensure access to God regardless of socio-economic background was a denial of access to God on the grounds of ethnic background. What difference might that make, to how we read the story, to how we allow the story to read us? Those things we do, in order to increase access to God – who do those very actions (unintentionally) exclude?

Imagination Shaping

Trawling back through my sermon archives...

Let’s try an experiment in word-association: if I say ‘shoes’, what immediately springs to mind? Was it, “How beautiful [on the mountains] are the feet of those who bring good news!” [Isaiah 52:7, quoted in Romans 10:15] or “Stand firm then…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” [Ephesians 6:14, 15]? Or was it Nike Airs, or Converse All-Stars, or Clarks Hushpuppies, or “Shoes! I need a new pair for this summer’s weddings, to go with my new dress”?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Communitas : Liminal Spaces

The term ‘communitas’ refers to a group of people who find themselves outside of their stable community, pulling together and being stretched by a trial. In time they return to a state of stable community – in many instances, the one they set out from – but their experience changes the community they return to. This process prevents communities from stagnating and dying, and so the experience of communitas, which interrupts the life of a community, actually secures its ongoing existence. Communitas – people thrown together by trial/crisis/adversity – revivifies, or gives new life to, stable community.

This week, I have found myself involved in two very different experiences of communitas, in two communities with which I identify. One is the church family in Sheffield that we were sent out from. The other is the primary school in the Liverpool community where we now live, a school all three of our children attend and where I am a community governor.

On Sunday, a member of the church at St Thomas’ Philadelphia died, suddenly and unexpectedly. As a whole community, including the bereaved husband, the response of the church – and many around the world who, like us, have been sent out by that church – was a conviction that the Holy Spirit was calling us to pray that she would be raised from the dead. Four four days, a community prayed 24/7, in a great stirring and stretching of faith. Today, the discernment of the community was that the same Holy Spirit who had called us to pray in that way was now asking us to stop, to let Catherine go.

What are we to make of that? Given that ‘nothing happened’ the pastoral temptation is to believe that all that was achieved was an amplification of grief issues, for the whole community, and especially for the immediate family. Grief is real, and I have every confidence that the community will walk that road with great love and sensitivity. But an understanding of communitas helps us to understand that far from nothing happening, the community was brought together like never before, and equipped to face the future. The world is changing. God is calling us to learn things that have been forgotten. Obedience, not particular results, is what matters. Faith, hope and love have worked together this week, to enlarge the capacity of this community to partner with the King in ushering-in the good news of the kingdom of heaven. Make no mistake: because of what has happened this week, the world has changed not only for one congregation, but in time we shall see for the wider church in this country, and beyond.

Also this week, our local school has been thrown into communitas, as the community came under threat from a group of people who are militantly opposed to changes that need to happen – and are taking place – in order to secure a great future for the children of this neighbourhood. The greater the threat, the closer the community has rallied together. The pavement outside the school has been a place of discovering ourselves and our potential this week.

Liminal spaces – thresholds between two states, whether earth and heaven, or the past and the future, or the road and the school – are uncomfortable places to find ourselves. They lack the comfort-zone of stable community. But these are the spaces where communitas takes place. These are the delivery-rooms of community, where the future is born.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Raising The Dead

At the moment we are praying, with our former church in Sheffield and our Mission Order family around the world, for a young woman who died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday. There has been a great welling-up of faith to pray that she be returned to us. Even here in our present church, people who do not know the family in question are praying with us, and God is growing our faith to see the dead raised.

I want to reflect a little on raising the dead, and on the difference between being raised from death and resurrection (which it is commonly referred to as). I do so humbly, and praying that it will not be considered insensitive, but in hope that it might be helpful for some who are praying.

Raising the dead and resurrection are both awesome, but they are not the same thing, not interchangeable descriptions. Our resurrection bodies will be imperishable. Those raised back to life in this world will die again, at some future point, as those raised to life in the Bible did. There is no second-class, perishable resurrection; only one glorious, imperishable one. Those to whom God gives their resurrection body, we will not be reunited with again until we also receive our resurrection bodies. Those who are raised from the dead are reunited with those who love them in this world.

Jesus gave his disciples power and authority to heal the sick, drive out demons, and raise the dead in his name...and told them to pass all he commanded them on to every generation of disciples until he returns. Over the years, our faith for healing the sick and driving out demons has grown, as we have seen Jesus work with us confirming his word by the signs that accompanied it (as Mark’s Gospel ends, Mark 16:20). But we have yet to work with him in raising the dead, and he is raising our faith for that, as we stand on promises such as those recorded for us in John 14:12-14, John 15:16, and 1 John 5:14-15. We hope to see that now, but even if not we believe that we will see it one day, and that that day is coming nearer.

Jesus reveals the Father to us, and his actions and instructions reveal that it is the Father’s will that the sick be healed; the demonised delivered; and the dead (those whose lives have been stolen from us) raised. Resurrection is not (yet) for this world. Those who die in the Lord do so to his glory; and those who are raised back to life in this world are raised back to life to his glory.

Why does differentiating between raising the dead and resurrection matter? Not because God gets confused and might answer the wrong prayer, giving a resurrection body to someone we have asked to be returned to us - doing the very opposite of what we ask for. God knows what we pray, even if we can’t express it adequately. So does it matter? I think it does: because we are called to be disciples – learners – and we need to learn the difference between what is for this world in kingdom-partnership between our King and his people, and what waits for us as a future hope.

One day we shall experience resurrection. But for now, I am asking to see the dead raised, and that more and more. Lord, I believe; help, now, my unbelief.

Reading The Resurrection

I’m preaching on Easter Sunday, and I’ve been reading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection as I pray about what to say. And I’m struck by how very disturbing those accounts are.

Here’s the thing: we’ve made Easter a day of great celebration – Jesus has conquered death, for us. And that is, indeed, worth celebrating. But...I’m not sure it is Easter.

Here’s the thing beneath the thing: since the Bible was turned into a mass-producible and portable library of books (next year is the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version, also known as the King James Version, and translations have multiplied ever since) it has become almost impossible for us to encounter the story.

We ‘read’ the resurrection accounts in the light of later theological reflection on the implications of that event, by the writers of the New Testament letters. And those implications are wonderful. But when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples didn’t have all that stuff worked out. They didn’t know any of it; they didn’t even realise that Jesus would be raised like that; they didn’t even recognise him.

What we see on the first Easter are several people whose hopes and dreams have died. We see a series of death places, dead spaces, spaces where their hopes and dreams lie cold: an empty tomb, a locked hiding room, the road between Jerusalem and a nearby village. And it is in these spaces that they encounter the resurrection.

John looks into the tomb from the entrance, but it is when he enters into it that he sees (not Jesus, but the place where Jesus was) and believes. Thomas is not in the locked room when Jesus appears to the disciples, and so cannot believe - he will only believe if he can put his hand into the hole in Jesus’ side (another death space). Jesus appears a week later (what do you imagine was going on in the disciples hearts and minds over those days?) and responds to Thomas’ confession of faith by saying that Thomas believed because he saw Jesus in the flesh, but blessed are those who have not seen him and yet believe (like John in the empty tomb).

So perhaps Easter is not the day to celebrate the consequences of the resurrection. Perhaps it is the day to take the brave step into the space where our hopes and dreams have died, and there to ‘see and believe’ not all-that-Jesus-has-won but simply that he ‘is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Place Shapes Us

Place shapes us.

There are passing-through places, and settling-places.

Consider the airport, a classic passing-through space, a space between spaces. We are required to be there long before our flight. And so we kill time, distracting ourselves browsing the duty free shops. We don’t want to be there: in our mind we are somewhere else, either the place we came from (home) or the place we are going to (work, holiday). We are there, but we are not present where we are.

The more passing-through places we pass through, the harder it becomes to experience presence. Anywhere.

Consider social networking sites. I am in my study. I am alone. And yet, just there, in the corner of the room, some 500 friends are passing through on Facebook. Now, I am not anti-Facebook. Social networking has some positives. But it has some negatives too.

Here I am, alone, but distracted from being present. And so it becomes harder for me to have a conversation with God, to settle myself enough in his presence to hear his voice.

The dining-room table is a settled place, surrounded by passing-through space (the flow into the kitchen, the living-room, my study). We have been conditioned by the pull of the passing-through space. I am at the table with my family, the ‘re-connecting’ point in the day where we gather over food and can share our days, the good and the bad. But the pull – seeing as I have to get up from the table to take the plates to the kitchen, and bring back the dessert, I might as well check Facebook while I pass...

It takes pioneer discipline

to win back the settling-spaces
we need in order to re-build authentic community.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Faith : Hope : Love : Visual Telling

Faith : Hope : Love

If we can understand how faith, hope, and love connect, it will help us to live life better.

Everyone has hope. Everyone has hope, because hope is God’s gift to everyone. Hope that one day, things will be better than they are now. But we have forgotten how to speak of hope. We say things like, “I hope it won’t rain tomorrow” – which isn’t a hope that will sustain us for long. Or, “I hope I won’t get cancer” – which isn’t hope at all, but fear pretending to be hope.

But everyone has hope. Hope that you will get a job. Hope that a broken relationship might be reconciled. Hope that our children might thrive.

Hope is always just out of reach. We don’t hope for what we already have. A child hopes for a bike. Christmas approaches, and they ask themselves, “Will this be the day?” Christmas arrives, and there is no bike. But they don’t give up hope: perhaps their birthday will be the day. On their birthday, they come downstairs, and there is the bike. So they stop hoping for a bike, and hope for something else instead – perhaps for the opportunity to ride it.

The fulfilment of our hope is always just beyond our reach, in the future. So how do we hold on to it? The Bible says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. That is, faith takes hold of us, and of the thing we hope for, and does not let go.

But for many of us, that is not our day-to-day experience. Perhaps you would say that faith is not part of your experience of life at all. Perhaps you would say that you have faith – you believe in God - but that you had no idea that it was meant to connect to your hopes.

Where faith does not fill the gap between our hearts and our hopes, the opposite of faith fills that gap. The opposite of faith is not doubt, or even unbelief, but fear. (That is why Jesus’ disciples, in the boat in the middle of the lake in a storm, lacking faith were afraid: the opposite of faith is fear.)

Sometimes fear makes itself look very big, so that the thing we hope for is blotted out – but it is still there, because God has given hope to everyone – or, in comparison to the fear looks very small or very far away. Sometimes fear is more subtle – it steers you all around hope with your back to it, so that you scan the 360-degree horizon and don’t see any sign of hope. (That is why we see and step-into God’s kingdom – things we hope for breaking in – when we repent, or turn around, or look behind us.)

So, you hope that one day the streets of Liverpool will be free of guns. But you fear that your children will be caught in the gangland crossfire.

God’s word says that perfect love drives out fear. And God’s love has a name. That name is Jesus. If we will allow Jesus to draw near to our hearts, his love drives out the fear that has placed itself between us and the things we hope for.

And so fear is driven out, and there is space again for faith. But where does that faith come from? God’s word says that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. That is, that as we allow Jesus – the perfect expression of God’s love – close to our hearts, he speaks a word to us that gives birth to faith. The Bible is full of promises, and Jesus speaks particular promises into our circumstances. He drives out the fear that we will be alone in our old age, and speaks the word, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” You see, faith is not just believing in God (the demons do that); faith relates to the particular things God has promised.

So love gives birth to faith, and faith connects us to the hope that God has given us.

In your heart, focus on your hope. Ask God’s love to draw near, and drive out the fear that stands between us and that hope. And ask him to speak the word that gives birth to the faith we need to hold on...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tetrad : Coffee, Anyone?

What happens when you replace the communion table with the coffee table, as the normative table around which the congregation gathers?

It shapes the church community. But in what ways?


Coffee enhances our ability to move between spaces. We drink it in cafes, ‘third spaces’ between home and work (unless, of course, you happen to work in a coffee house!). The opportunity to drink coffee before and after the service, usually held in a space between the world outside and the worship space, helps us to transition between those spaces.

In this sense, coffee enhances accessibility – as does the displacement of the communion table where communion is an unfamiliar liturgical event.

However, these changes do not simply enhance accessibility into a community; they change the nature of the community access is gained to...


The person of Jesus as the one who unites us is made obsolete. We are united, instead, by a shared social activity. The act of eucharist is both thankful remembrance of what Jesus did when his body was broken for us, and the re-membering or putting-together of his broken body, the church. This body-bread is offered to God, broken and given to the crowds – sent out into the world – and also gathered-up again, in order to be blessed and broken and given out once more. We recognise our need to be offered to God and our need to be given to the world, just as Jesus offered himself up to God for the world.

Where the coffee table replaces the communion table as the normative table around which we gather, both our need to be offered to God and our need to be given to the world become obsolete. Rather than being shaped by Jesus we are shaped – albeit indirectly, oh-so-subtly – by St Arbucks and other coffee-empire logos.


The coffee table retrieves the pause lost in a driven world: I do not have to rush off. It promises rest, refreshment. Just as Jesus offers rest for the weary, and streams of living water. There is nothing wrong with coffee per se, but when it becomes the normative table – the act that shapes us – it holds out a poor substitute for Jesus, an idol that shapes and justifies me-time.

Flips into

A barrier into the community, a picket-line that must be crossed, where to get to the coffee that enhances accessibility the visitor must wait until the regulars have had their fill.

Tetrad : Missional Communities

What does the cultural paradigm-shift from inherited forms of church to missional communities enhance, make obsolete, retrieve, and potentially flip into?


Creating ‘oikoi’ enhances the whole person (the person – as opposed to the individual – is created/defined by/exists in the context of relationships, on a ‘household’ scale)...and extends the whole church (described using the metaphor of the body of Christ).


The Sunday service as the event that the life of the church flows into (e.g. building relationships at the parents and toddlers group > inviting people to Alpha > they start to come to church, church being the Sunday service) is made obsolete. The Sunday service as attempt to replicate on a smaller scale but on a weekly basis the experience of the place of pilgrimage on High Days and Holidays (whether, historically, the Cathedral – from where parish churches copied the organ and choir – or, today, the summer conference – from where parish churches have copied the worship band) is made obsolete.

Moreover, the Sunday service becomes obsolete in all its parts e.g. the sermon. That is, the sermon, which – however good the content - shapes us as passive academic learners indebted to an expert (let’s not kid ourselves that giving people questions to discuss some days later does anything more than tinker with this), is made obsolete by sharing life, through practical discipleship, eating together, testimony (story), sharing vision and weighing it together. (Personally, I do not believe that anyone can digest more than one sermon a month, and that most of what we listen to passes through us without benefit.)

Therefore, if it is to continue to have a role, the Sunday service must re-invent itself: I would suggest as the place of High Day celebrations (our population is far greater than in the past, when congregations gathered to the cathedral) and place where all the ‘oikoi’ within a given area connect – not weekly! - and share resources.


The ‘oikos’ – the household of extended family, and community built around different roles within a shared purpose – that had been both the primary unit of the early church, lost when Christianity became the official cultic practice of Europe; and the primary unit of society, lost when the invention of the individual made the person-in-community obsolete in the Modern era.

Also retrieves far greater participation.

Flips into

Looking at what happened to the thing retrieved gives us clues here. The early church, in a given city, was made up of several oikoi, some predominantly Jewish and some predominantly Greek. These cultural differences led to certain tensions that needed to be worked through. We should expect similar issues, and the potential for a ‘flip into’ closed tribalism where pushed to an extreme.

While oikoi possessed great potential for growth under (state) persecution, once persecution was replaced by (state) endorsement, their genius was neutralised. They lost sight of the oikos as primary unit of engaging with society (oikos as economic unit, deeply involved in the life of the community – ‘oikos’ is the root of our word ‘economics’), and focused on cultic rituals (how we worship). State endorsement made that cultic activity the attractional growth strategy – people have to come to us, if they want to prosper in business, etc. Where the missional community is endorsed by the church but its genius not understood – that is, where co-option is pushed to an extreme - we should expect a strong pull towards the potential to ‘flip into’ a closed group that has simply relocated where and when it meets.

Pushed to an extreme, greater participation ‘flips into’ confusing babble.

McLuhan's Tetrad Of Media Effects

Marshall McLuhan was one of the most significant thinkers of the late twentieth century, with a penetrating prophetic insight into the ways in which the things we create shape us. McLuhan used the term ‘media’ to highlight that everything is about communication: our technologies, our cultural forms, the clothes we wear, the tools we use...

He also pointed out that the medium itself has a far greater shaping effect on us than the content it carries. This is because, like a fish in water, we are unaware of the medium itself.

McLuhan identified four effects that any medium has on us, explored by asking four questions:

1| what human ability does it enhance (or amplify, or extend)?

a knife and fork extend the hands and teeth; mascara extends the eyes; a book extends the brain

2| what existing medium (cultural expression, technology) does it make obsolete?

where ‘obsolete’ does not mean that something disappears, but rather that in its current use it is superseded by something else, and therefore it must find a new use in order not to disappear; moreover, (while obsolescence is immediate) the effect of obsolescence does not have immediate impact, but grows over time.

3| what does it retrieve from the past, that had been made obsolete earlier?

Ecclesiastes 1:9,10 says: ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.’

4| what does it ‘flip into,’ pushed to an extreme?

where ‘flips into’ means, it is now working against its original purpose, or, no longer enhances our ability – so, a book extends the capacity of the brain, but dependency on books erodes the memory, and eventually the volume of books overwhelms the capacity of the brain to access the available information; make-up extends the face, but glamour images cause girls to have great insecurity about how they look...

Here is an example. The car:

1| enhances the foot, allowing us to travel further, faster.

2| makes obsolete the horse/train-drawn carriage as a means of practical transport...but also the neighbourhood, as the place where we live and work and shop and pursue leisure activities. Both the carriage and the neighbourhood are forced to re-invent themselves.

3| retrieves an efficient network of long-distance roads and technology of road-surfacing known in the Roman Empire but subsequently lost throughout Europe.

4| too many cars ‘flips into’ crashes and traffic jams on motorways, which make journeys by car anything but safe and fast.

It is interesting to note that here in Liverpool, the rise of the car made the Loop (railway) Line obsolete...and that the Loop Line was later reinvented/re-imagined/re-purposed as a cycle path through the city, avoiding traffic congestion...

The same four questions can be asked of our expressions of church – the forms of teaching, of worship, of creating community...each of which shape us, through what they enhance, make obsolete, retrieve, and potentially flip into.

This is significant to the debate on ‘fresh expressions’ of church, and a ‘mixed economy’ church...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Don't Do Accountability, Be Accountable

Jesus told a parable about a ruler who gave his servants an investment, told them to invest it further in his absence, and on his return asked them to give account of what they had done.

It is important that we give account for ourselves, and that, in the absence of someone holding us to account on a daily basis, that we hold ourselves to account. But ‘accountability’ has become a buzz word in certain circles, and I think we haven’t quite grasped what is required.

What I see among certain church leaders is a recognition that the institution of the church is not helping them to be accountable, and so they look to set up peer accountability. The New Wine Core Groups are one of the latest examples that draw on Wesley’s ‘method’ of holding his ministers to account, but in a peer-to-peer format.

Now, it is good to have peers with whom you can chew the fat. But Jesus didn’t tell a parable about servants giving account to one another. He told a parable about servants who received an investment, and were called to account on what they had done with it.

Once a month, Jo and I travel across country to Harrogate, to our TOM ‘huddle’. This is a group of people who are part of The Order of Mission, in the north of England. The huddle is led by Mark Carey. Now, we are accountable to Mark – accountability, along with purity and simplicity, is a core value of the Order – but, we do not go to Harrogate to be held accountable. We go to Harrogate to be invested in, and we are accountable in that context because being accountable is one of our values.

That is, the huddle is primarily about discipleship, which includes being accountable; not about doing accountability.

The plus side of peer groups is friendship for church leaders who often feel very isolated in ministry. The down side of peer groups is that no-one is willing or able to lead (and by ‘lead’ I don’t mean ‘lord it over the others’). No-one is willing or able to make the initial investment.

To hold someone to account when you have not invested in them is at best ineffectual, at worst abusive. It is built on holding a position of power rather than taking the position of servant (top-down accountability without discipleship) or a refusal to serve or to be served (peer-accountability).

So my advice is this: stop doing accountability, and start being accountable instead.

World Book Day : In A Non-Book Culture

World Book Day is an initiative to get children reading, and enjoying reading. Many schools join in by encouraging pupils (and staff) to come to school (not necessarily on the day itself, but on a day in that week that suits the school – hence our school is doing it today) dressed as their favourite literary character.

It was interesting to observe this in action in a non-book culture, having observed it in book-cultures in the past.

Firstly, growing up in a non-book culture – most homes round here have very few books in them - children simply don’t have access to literary characters. Instead, most of the pupils in the playground this morning came as characters from films or TV. Some boys came in Liverpool FC strips – as a teacher friend of ours had predicted based on previous years – on the grounds that team captain Steven Gerrard is in his autobiography. To be fair, I suspect that the Stevie G in his autobiography is, indeed, a literary character...

Secondly, most of the costumes worn to school today were bought costumes. Film and TV characters come with tie-in role play merchandise: Darth Vadar masks and light sabars; superheroes; pirate costumes; Disney princesses in abundance. In contrast, purely literary characters are significantly less likely to have tie-in merchandise and, just as the reading requires us to use our imagination, so making the costume requires us to use our imagination. It is another way of entering into the story.

In our house, Noah cut out leaves to go as Stick Man; Susannah cut out a school badge and prefect badge (and recycled a tie from her previous school) to go as Darrell from the Mallory Towers series; and Elijah was sent as Bob the Builder – not a literary creation, I know – he wanted to go as Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine, but World Book Day came at the wrong point in the recycling cycle and we had no cardboard boxes with which to turn him into a train!

Does World Book Day work in a non-book culture? Or, to ask a more interesting question, how does World Book day work in a non-book culture?

It is a classic example of de Certeau’s observation, that externally imposed strategies – in this case, to get children reading – are met with tactics of subversion, that make it something the indigenous population are prepared to own or at least tolerate.

Reading for pleasure is a particularly middle class value, and is never going to become a working class value by imposition from above. That does not mean that we should abandon seeking creative ways to encourage children to read (literacy is still an important life skill). But it does mean that we need to recognise that any ‘global’ strategy will be subverted by ‘local’ tactics. Moreover, we need to recognise that:
reading is, frankly, not as essential a life skill in a post-print society as in a print-based society;
that other forms of literacy may be more important - such as teaching children how to interpret the very sophisticated messages of advertising, celebrity gossip magazines, and television;
and that reading is not the only or even the dominant means of nourishing the imagination (with good or bad nutrition).

Discipleship : Love One Another

This week I am posting a series of reflections on discipleship.

‘“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”’
(John 13:34, 35)

‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’
(1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

Discipleship is about learning to live as Jesus lived, to do the things he did (and even greater things). But the crucial evidence that we are disciples is this: that we love one another. If we don’t, none of the rest of it is worth anything...

Love is...difficult. People can be so hard to love at times. Paul wrote a list that we look at and say, “If only I was more like that.” “If only I was more like that...but I’m not.”

This week, we’ve thought about discipleship. On Monday, we thought about discipleship as imitating those who have leant lessons we want to learn too. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we reflected on discipleship as a process that takes us from ‘unconscious incompetence,’ through ‘conscious incompetence’ and ‘conscious competence’ to ‘unconscious competence.’ From not knowing that we are to love one another...through recognizing that we can’t do it...and slowly learning how to love one another...to loving one another as Jesus has first loved us, clear evidence to our neighbours of God at work in our lives.

If we want to love one another, we need to learn patience, kindness, contentment, humility, self-control, servant-heartedness, forgiveness, purity, self-sacrifice, joy, trust, hope, perseverance...

In what ways does your life already demonstrate love, and in what ways does it reveal what you still need to know? Perhaps you can pass on the secret of contentment, but need to learn the secret of trust, for example.

As we seek to love one another, this will be expressed in discipling and being discipled by one another. Because discipleship happens together, in a community identified above all else by love...

Discipleship : Go!

This week I am posting a series of reflections on discipleship.

‘“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”’ (John 14:12-14)

‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”’ (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus models for us what discipleship is about. Having led his disciples from being fishermen to being fishers of men – those who cast the net of the kingdom, and see who is caught up by it – Jesus hands his mission over to them, and goes off to do something new (sit at the Father’s right hand, praying for us). There are lessons here that we need to learn, both about being a disciple and about discipling others.

Firstly, on being a disciple. Jesus’ intention is that we will do what he did, and even greater things. Listen to him: even greater things. The things Jesus did were not to demonstrate that he was the unique Son of God (though he is), but to show the world what God is like. And now we are called to do the same and even greater things. That is the goal of discipleship: that the world may know what God is like; that our neighbours might know that God is for them, not against them.

Secondly, on being someone who disciples others. Jesus ‘gives away’ his ministry – of healing and deliverance and proclamation; of teaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven, through actions and words – to others. Not just the Twelve, but the Seventy-Two, and all disciples throughout history: including us. Jesus’ identity is not dependent on the role he has been playing, but on his relationship with the Father...and that means he can let go of one role, and take up something new.

Jesus’ disciples move from ‘conscious competence’ to ‘unconscious competence’ – to being ‘naturally supernatural’ as some have described it. Now they are the teachers, the disciple-makers. But it is hard to teach someone else what is ‘natural’ to you unless you recall the stages you went through in order to get there. (Just because you can drive a car does not mean you will make a good driving instructor...)

What aspects of being a disciple come naturally to you? What have you learnt to that point? Perhaps you know that you can trust God to provide for all your needs? Perhaps it is something else. Go...back over the journey that brought you to that place, in order that you can Go...and teach someone else what you have learnt.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Re-post : Four Years On

Re-post, four years on.

The Lawn

And God said to the man, “What have you done? Did you mow of the lawn of which I said ‘You must not mow of the lawn’?”
And the man replied to God, “The woman you gave me nagged and moaned, and I took of my mower and mowed the lawn. Moreover, I took of my edger, and trimmed the edges of the lawn.”
And God said, “What you have done is not good. From now on, the woman I gave you will expect you to mow the lawn once a fortnight throughout the spring and autumn, and once a week in the summer months. And you can kiss goodbye to all thoughts of going off for the day with the other men.”
Then the man said, “Damn. I really didn’t think this one through, did I?”

Discipleship : Sent

This week I am posting a series of reflections on discipleship.

‘When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick...When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish – unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.’
(Luke 9:1-2, 10-17)

Jesus models for us what discipleship is about. Having invited his disciples to be with him, and having spoken grace and vision to them when it got hard, he starts to involve them in what he does, even sending them out ahead of him. There are lessons here that we need to learn, both about being a disciple and about discipling others.

Firstly, on being a disciple. Being a disciple is not just about revering a teacher; it is about learning to live the way they live, to do the things they do. That is why Jesus gives us his power and authority, to usher-in his kingdom, to set people free from the devil’s rule in their lives.

Secondly, on being someone who disciples others. Jesus sends his disciples out to have a go, but he isn’t far behind them, he’s there for them to come back to. Jesus notices the moments of opportunity for them to discover something new about the kingdom of heaven, to play a part in it breaking in to people’s lives...and to challenge his disciples to see circumstances from a heavenly perspective, not an earthly one. What is impossible from our point-of-view is not impossible with God!

Jesus’ disciples start to move from ‘conscious incompetence’ to ‘conscious competence.’ This is the third stage disciples go through in learning something new: the stage where you find that you can do it too, and are growing in confidence, but you are aware you still have a lot to learn: it doesn’t come naturally to you yet. Whether learning to drive a car, or to pray and see our prayers answered, we all pass through this stage.

Where do you see yourself moving into conscious competence as a disciple? In hearing God’s voice? In seeing healing? Give God thanks for what he is doing...and ask him what more he wants to show you.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Discipleship : Come Away With Me

This week I am posting a series of reflections on discipleship.

‘That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”’ (Mark 1:32-37)

‘That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”’ (Mark 4:35-41)

Jesus models for us what discipleship is about. Everywhere they go, everyone wants a piece of Jesus. Having invited his disciples to follow him – to be with him as he does what he does – Jesus makes deliberate decisions to give them significant time together, away from the crowds. There are lessons here that we need to learn, both about being a disciple and about discipling others.

Firstly, on being a disciple. As Jesus’ disciples are exposed to his life, they find themselves in a vulnerable position, in unfamiliar waters. They are scared because of their incompetence, and embarrassed to have to reveal it.

Secondly, on being someone who disciples others. Jesus gives them his time, fuller access to his life – not just when he is doing things, but even when he is asleep in the boat. He speaks grace and vision into their lives: he stills the storm (grace) and reveals himself as more than just teacher (vision). And he challenges them to move on in their faith (not just bails them out).

Soon enough, Jesus’ disciples move from ‘unconscious incompetence’ to ‘conscious incompetence.’ That is, they are fully aware that they cannot address the situation they find themselves in. Jesus, we’re drowning here! We’re out of our depth! And not just in a storm on the lake: we’re out of our depth in the face of sickness, in the face of demons...

Conscious incompetence is always the next stage in discipleship. When the thing that Jesus has called you to follow him into gets difficult – when it exposes your incompetence, in front of others – do you give up and return to what you already know? Or do you push through to see the kingdom of heaven break in? And when those you are discipling want to give up, do you give up on them? Or do you give them the time and safe space that they need?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Discipleship : Follow Me

This week I am posting a series of reflections on discipleship.

‘The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.’ (John 1:35-39)

‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.’ (Mark 1:14-20)

Jesus models for us what discipleship is about. It starts with an invitation: come and spend time with me. As relationship grows, the invitation grows: come, follow me. There are lessons here that we need to learn, both about being a disciple and about discipling others.

Firstly, on being a disciple. Jesus’ disciples followed him. They had no idea what it was that they were letting themselves in for, but it didn’t matter. They didn’t ask for information up front: What will happen? How will it work out? Will we be home in time for tea?

Secondly, on being someone who disciples others. Jesus gives them very little information at the start, no explanation at all. What does ‘fishers of men’ mean?!

Jesus’ disciples start out with ‘unconscious incompetence.’ That is, not only do they not know how to be disciples (incompetence), they don’t know what they don’t know. Not only do they not know how to heal the sick, they don’t even know that they should. Unconscious incompetence is always the starting point in discipleship: we don’t know what we don’t know.

Jesus does not start by teaching them competence. He doesn’t even start by pointing out their incompetence. Instead, he simply does what he does, and invites them to be with him as he does it.

When Jesus calls you to follow him into something new, do you want to know how it will all work out before you take the first step? Or is it enough to accept his invitation? And when teaching someone else the lessons you have learnt, do you want to download everything at once? Or is it enough to invite them to be with you?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Discipleship : Imitate Me

This week I am posting a series of reflections on discipleship.

‘Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.’ (1 Corinthians 4:15-17)

‘We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.’ (Hebrews 6:11, 12)

‘Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13:7, 8)

‘Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.’ (3 John 1:11)

To be a disciple is to be a learner, one who learns from someone else. But this learning is not academic. It is not about learning information, from a book – even if that book is the Bible. It is about practical learning, learning to live in a particular way. We learn by being shown how to do something, by someone who has learnt to do the thing they are passing on to us. If you want to learn how to service a car engine, you get a mechanic to show you what to do, then to do it with you, and then to watch you do it, until you can do it alone. That’s the kind of learning discipleship is.

When we first meet God, however dramatic that encounter might be, our lives aren’t magically made godly in an instant. We need to learn to live in the fullness of life Jesus came to give us. God’s ways are different from the ways of the world we live in, in every part of life. So how are we to live now we know Jesus?

God does not want us to have a relationship with him that behaves as if we were the only person in the world, always ‘re-inventing the wheel’ on our own. The New Testament describes discipleship as imitation, learning from other members of our extended family of faith, past and present.

The way to follow Jesus is to become a disciple of someone who has been following Jesus and whose life demonstrates that they have learnt something that you want to learn.

Of course, we are called to make disciples as well as be disciples. That means that other people will want to learn life from us, in those areas where we know a greater security than they do. But this requires of us that we live our lives open to others, so that they can see what God has done in our lives.

So, whose life do you want to learn from? And, who wants the life you already have?