It has been a while since I posted last. Immediately following Pentecost, Jo and I had three days away at the New Wine National Leaders’ Conference in Harrogate, which was a real gift. Both keynote speakers are personal friends of ours, and among 1300 conference attendees both took time to hang out with us, a curry with one and a bottle of wine with the other. We attended the plenary sessions, but skipped the seminars, ducking back to our hotel to enjoy the steam room and hot tub. In addition, we got to catch up (and catch a coffee or a beer) with a long list of dear friends. Three days of rest and food for heart and mind and soul and body.
Then last week we took off on family holiday, to a stunning beach in the far north west of Scotland – a first outing for our trailer tent – with Jo’s mum and dad, via two nights in Glasgow celebrating Jo’s birthday with my sister and her family, my brother over from Edinburgh, and my mum and dad.
One of the things we were inspired by in Harrogate was the need to embody the Christian life, the need to shift from defining core values to defining core practices. (Core values are meaningless unless expressed through core practices; indeed, they are worse than meaningless, because they trap us.) Life is a matter of observable practices, that are achievable, measureable, manageable – and shared with others, that is, to which we can be held and hold one another accountable. Being a disciple isn’t something in addition to life – life takes up 100% of who we are; we have no more to give – but is a way of living; an integrated thing. And something accessible and flexible enough for the whole family to join in.
So we have come up with our family framework for core practices: LOVE.
L is for Learn, about Jesus. In creative and tailored ways. Stories from the Gospels. Reading other books. Observing creation and asking what it reveals to us about the nature of its creator. So on holiday we scrambled over what geologists believe are perhaps the oldest rocks on earth, and experienced the revelation that Jesus created them in the intention that one day a little boy would get so much pleasure from adventuring over them. We found a headland strewn with tiny yellow flowers, scattered like confetti, lasting perhaps only days and seen by hardly anyone, and discovered that Jesus is extravagant and free.
O is for Offer. Ourselves. Our time. To others. In flexible but measureable – accountable – ways. Isn’t this how Jesus lived? Perhaps, as a minimum practice (the youngest member of our family is five), once a week within our immediate family, once a week within our church family, and once a week within our wider community. Not in addition to what we do but as part of what we do anyway because this is how we live. So, for example, I regularly go in to school to listen to children read once a week. I am not able to do that every week, but it is part of my rhythm, as much as I am able. For Jo, Offer may look like being proactive about hosting an after-school play-date for each of three children over the course of each month.
V is for Value, in particular, value the things God has given us. Take care of what we have. In part, this is about contentment, about refusing the idolatry of consumerism that craves something until it possesses it and then no longer wants it, but craves the newer model...and the equally idolatrous poverty spirit that ‘makes do’ in a way that denies the generosity and goodness of God: the path between discarding too lightly and hanging on too tightly. There is a time to save your alabaster jar of perfume, and a time to pour it all out in one go. In part, this is about our attitude towards the houses that are provided for us, which we do not own: that we invest in them nonetheless and focus on the gift rather than on the downsides. And value people, through our attitude to what we have, our willingness to use our belongings to bless, as expressions of belonging. So, we will look for opportunities each week to live this out. For the kids, in particular, this includes embracing the discipline of tidying up after themselves...
E is for Enjoy. Enjoy life. When we look at Jesus, in the Gospels, we see someone who enjoyed life – yes, not every aspect, but nonetheless – who was the guest at many parties and the host on other occasions; who lived gratefully, with much gratitude for every good gift from heaven; and who came that those who responded to him might experience life in its fullness. Some Christians live as if they believe that life is not meant to be enjoyed, that to do so is somehow improper, whether because they believe that we are fundamentally sinners and therefore meant to live under judgement (whereas the life-in-all-fullness Jesus speaks of is, first and foremost, living post- God’s judgement) or because the spiritual warfare we are caught up in (Jesus contrasts his coming that we might have life with the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy) is very real. But Jesus, who was more aware of that spiritual struggle than anyone, still chose to enjoy life. So Enjoy is one of our core practices. To enjoy the place God has sent us, as fully as possible. So, for example, we will go out for breakfast on a Saturday morning, to one of the local cafes, as a regular discipline; and Jo and I will go out for lunch, whether on my day off or on another day in the week, regularly. We will look to go out of an evening; and look to do so on a reciprocal babysitting arrangement so that another couple, ‘tied’ by young children, can also go out. We will holiday. Life is to be enjoyed.
To LOVE is simple enough to live, and flexible enough to be lived in ever-changing ages and stages and contexts. To LOVE is simple enough to reproduce, so that others might express the same core practices, in ways that are unique and appropriate to their ages and stages and contexts, in just the same way as our children share our DNA and our features are discernible in theirs while they are nonetheless unique and beautiful people. To LOVE is simple and flexible and practical enough to be multiplied out across a community, as common core practices expressed at personal, nuclear and extended levels. And as common core practices, love covers – or makes up the lack in – a multitude of shortcomings.