Thursday, June 30, 2005
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
It would appear that the children are finally back in this time-zone. But this morning the grown-ups needed to sleep late. I left Jo in bed when I went in to work. It transpires that Susannah gave up waiting, and not only washed and dressed herself, but washed and dressed Noah too - nappy and all!
David, who I share an office with, read out an email someone had sent him to me today. I can't remember the exact words, and apologies I don't know who to attribute them to, but the gist of it was:
Isn't it interesting that most of the images used in the Bible to describe the Holy Spirit - such as strong wind, fire, waters, earthquake - are things we feel the need to insure against in our lives?
Today Michal moves out, and tomorrow Kirsty moves in. Michal has been with us since last September (I think), and Kirsty will probably be with us until whatever point in August our house sale completes. We've had a lot of people live with us over the years, and girls have always been easier - and that includes one who didn't speak English (although, to be fair, she only stayed for two week's summer language school; but she cried into her bowl of cornflakes the morning she returned to Japan - Jo wondered if she had had such a terrible time, but it turned out she was crying because she was so moved by our hospitality that she didn't want to leave!), and the one whose mother was dying of cancer while she lived with us. The boys have just used the house, whereas the girls have engaged with us as a family.
I have perhaps four more talks to (prepare and) give before I leave the team here at St Thomas': a 10 minute one on July 10th; a 40 minute one on July 17th; a 20 minute one on July 24th; and possibly a 5 minute one on July 31st - officially my last day. I'm wondering about doing the same thing - edited/expanded - over the 10, 40 and 20 minutes. I'm thinking about Prayer.
It struck me the other morning, while I was praying as I hung out washing on the line, that the phrases of the Lord's Prayer reflect/resonate with the clauses of the 10 Commandments. If Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it, and if each is concerned with living life to the full through relationship with God, then this is perhaps not surprising: that together these words should shape not so much our words as our imaginations.
So, to summarise something I shall develop elsewhere:
The phrases of the Lord's Prayer can be seen to relate to the Father's character (both 'daddy' and 'holy'; intimately close and yet 'other'), the Father's kingdom, the Father's provision, the Father's forgiveness, the Father's guidance, and the Father's protection.
The 10 Commandments begin with God revealing something of his character (rescuer, holy); moves on to issues of his kingdom (in conflict with the kingdoms of false gods); and his provision (the sabbath enacting trust in his provision, in contrast to striving to provide for ourselves). It moves on to honouring your father and mother. How do you do that in practice? I'd suggest, by forgiving them their shortcomings, and asking their forgiveness for your own. In other words, the Father's forgiveness. (And, of course, the parent-child relationship is foundational for all successive relationships...) And then there are the words about [life/] murder, [faithfulness/] adultery, [giving/] stealing, [honesty/] false testimony, and [contentment/] coveting. And the reality of navigating relationships well is that we need the Father's guidance and protection to do it...
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
I think I got some insight into, and a greater appreciation of, those Christians who opt-out of mainstream American culture in different ways while there on holiday. Home-schooling is big among American evangelicals, which doesn't sit well from the perspective of a British context: our kids are missionaries just as much as we are, and school is a missionary context; it may well be a dangerous one at times - both physically and ideologically - but God is bigger than the dangers, and we can trust our kids to him. So, why remove your kids from a missionary context and bring them up in a Christian ghetto? Well, one reason would be that every child in every American public- (British English trans: state-) school must swear allegiance to the flag each morning: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." That the State, represented by its flag, should demand first, total and unquestioning allegiance of our children, and that refusal to do so is seen as being un-patriotic (the greatest possible social sin in America), is not only alien to a European expression of democracy (which, of course, has its own, other, equally problematic issues), but is arguably idolatrous: our first and daily allegiance is to Jesus.
I am not saying that the many American Christians who send their kids to public school are idolators - their positions will be many and varied, from seeing true patriotism as expressed through challenging society from the inside; to seeing this as an allegiance secondary to Jesus, even a deep appreciation of freedoms won by Jesus [I guess it depends on whether you interpret "under God" as "secondary to God", or as "justified by God"]; to never having thought of the issue at all; and many more besides. But I am saying that I can understand and appreciate why some Christians feel they have no choice but to remove their kids from this particular missionary context on this basis.
Here's another expression of unsubscribing: on our last day we went round Newport Aquarium at the same time as a group of Mennonites. The Mennonites, along with the Amish and a few other similar long-standing North American Christian community traditions, have chosen to live outside of the slavery imposed by the false god of Modern Progress. Again, their position raises certain questions for me: not least, American culture of 200 years ago may be (in some ways) less obviously un-godly than contemporary western society, but is it really in itself any more godly? But their presence at the Aquarium (this community does not opt-out of society entirely), clearly standing-out as having different life-values, as visibly expressed in their old-fashioned - and beautiful! - clothing, was a striking challenge to the life-values of those around them, including me. I thought it was fantastic that they were there, and I wanted to thank them, but didn't think I'd be able to make any sense as to why.
If every Christian in America was a home-schooler, or a Mennonite, I think the world would be a poorer place. But that some American Christians are home-schoolers, or Mennonites, makes it a richer place.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Back in the office today, to lots of emails...But mostly thinking and praying about where we go after Sheffield, and what we need to put in place in our lives in these final months...
I got my hands on a fantastic book on holiday, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. So far I've read Part 1: Context Remixed: Colossians and Empire, and Part 2: Truth Remixed: Contested Imaginations, and I'm looking forward to Part 3: Praxis Remixed: Subversive Ethics. I guess you could sum it up by saying the gist is, we live within the crushing empire of the market economy, but God equips us to be shaped by the freeing kingdom of his Son, and to see others move from one to the other too (along the way, demonstrating why the kingdom of the Son is not simply another crushing empire - despite the fact that it has often been understood and portrayed as such by the church). I always understood the original The Matrix film to be a parable of contemporary America, but reading this book - which doesn't refer to The Matrix as an illustration - I understand for the first time just how accurate that parable is...
If you are at all interested in biblical scholarship that is thoroughly applied to praxis / praxis that is thoroughly grounded in biblical story/study - in how we should live as Christians in our twentifirst-century western culture - then I can't recommend Colossians Remixed enough. It comes with a wide range of heavyweight writer-practitioner endorsers, including N.T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, and Brian D. McLaren; "demonstrates how a faithful reading of Colossians addresses, head on, our contemporary idolatory of consumerism and the postmodern suspicion of truth that characterises our culture" [J. Richard Middleton]; and "is an outstanding contribution to the church's task of conceiving Christ rather than global consumerism as sovereign in our world." [my old New Testament prof. (shameless name-dropping!), Andrew T. Lincoln]. Every bit as much a challenge to the church as to the world through the church, this is the sort of book we need to see much more of. And the sort of book I'd like to write, when I grow up! Buy it. Read it. You'll enjoy it.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Earlier on, we were at Jono & Lesa's wedding. A very joyous occasion. Congratulations! We had a great time at the reception, out at Chatsworth Hall on the Chatsworth Estate. Jo's parents have the kids overnight tonight. Last night they [the kids] woke up at 11pm and stayed up until 2:30am.
In the morning, we're dedicating seven children. Four of them have come down with chicken pox...I delegated all the elements of the service before we went of on holiday, and I'm praying that it has come together in our absence!
Friday, June 24, 2005
It was a fantastic time. We were only scheduled to stay with the Freeman's - who we'd never met before - Wednesday through Sunday; but they asked us to stay on with them until Thursday when we departed (i.e. 8 nights instead of 4). We had such a fun time with them. Thanks again!
We visited Louisville Zoo on Monday, Natural Bridge State Park on Tuesday, downtown Lexington on Wednesday, and Newport Aquarium on Thursday; visited the neighbo[u]rhood association pool several afternoons; and drank a lot of wine with Joe & Sarah in the evenings. The church service on Sunday morning was great - Anglican liturgy, mixed age-group, elementary school setting - we felt very much at home in such a context. I'll get round to posting photos some time soon, but this weekend is going to be busy (just what you need to help get over jet-lag...) so it won't be straight away.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
But I know how much it meant to Ruth Anne that we came. And friends from the Department we haven't seen in eight years were there, too - Rebecca Idestrom (Toronto), Sue Campbell (Phoenix), and Becca Doyle (Taiwan). But, it is harder to see old friends so briefly than not at all, so we persuaded some of them to come back to the Freeman's with us in the afternoon. Now they've headed back to the hotel, and the neighbours have come round to eat with us.
Today has been a very precious gift.
And it is also my sister's birthday. Happy birthday, Rachel.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
We arrived in Cincinnati on Monday night, and stayed over with our friends Jamie & Mandy Smith and their kids Zoe and Kieran. Jamie & Mandy were part of the postgraduate community in Sheffield between ten- and eight-years ago, and this was the first time we'd got together since then. We had a wonderful time, spending most of Tuesday together before heading on to Ruth Anne's. Breakfast in the garden under a gazebo was a real treat. We bougt then Cadbury's chocolate, and they gave us a copy of Mandy's book (in which we play a cameo role).
We spent yesterday with Ruth Anne and her husband to be, Alfred. Breakfast - strawberries and cream on waffles - in the garden under a tree was a real treat (a theme is emerging). In the evening we re-located for a third time in as many nights. We're staying the next few days with Joe, Sarah & Emmet Freeman, friends of Ruth-Anne & Alfred's. It's their lawn I'm sitting on, and their wireless laptop I've borrowed. They have been so hospitable. For so many reasons, with blessings of friends old and new, this holiday is turning out to be very special.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Over the weekend, Mike shared with us about the nature of apostolic community. [Greek apostolos = one who is sent out; nothing more loaded than that intended.] I think I'll let the notes I took percolate while we're away; I'm sure they will inform some of what I post over the coming months - and certainly inform the plans that are coming together (though no details as yet) for our own future as a family beyond this summer.
We inducted over 50 adults on Saturday evening, including several couples with their children present. It was a very special occasion. The 'family' keeps growing, and spreading wider around the globe too. I really appreciate having meaningful relationships with people who live and work in other parts of the world. But right now, I really appreciate having meaningful relationships with the two small children drawing at the dining-room table behind me...
Friday, June 10, 2005
Which made me realise just how much light pollution we put up with. We always have the stairs and landing lit at night, in case the kids should wake up and try to come down to our room; and then there is the (dark-side-of-the-Force-lightsabre-) red digital alarm clock display on my bedside cabinet...Last night the room was truly, deeply dark. Until we'd got off to sleep, only to be woken by all the lights coming back on again!
Thursday, June 09, 2005
The community Ben & Helen lead are involved in a local neighbourhood festival over in Sharrow this weekend, Peace in the Park, a "hippy-thing" in Sharrow Cemetary. They will be offering Christian prayer for healing, alongside all manner of other spiritual therapies. I saw Ben this morning, and asked how the meeting - all the various healers planning together - went. He described it as "interesting": the first question one woman asked him was "Do you feel comfortable brushing shoulders with so many pagans?" Yes! (Apparently she didn't feel comfortable brushing shoulders with Christians.)
The thing I appreciated most about dinner at Ben & Helen's was that (like when they eat with us) the kids sat at table with the grown-ups and ate what we ate.
On the way home, we dropped in on Nick, Carolyn & Ana, who live two doors down from Ben & Helen. Carolyn & Ana visited Jo and our kids earlier this week, and a neighbour opposite brought Noah & Ana home: they (at 2) had crossed the road, between parked cars, following a cat; both mothers thinking they were playing in the back garden...[if my parents could skip this paragraph, I'd appreciate it] Anyway [they were both fine and] Nick said they didn't often get people drop by, and Ana works to a Spanish timetable in the summer months [i.e. late nights for small children; they lived in Spain for a year last year, and may well return at some point], and our children have a regular routine, which means we can break it from time to time without messing their little body clocks up too much, so, we were persuaded to stay for a drink.
And then on the way home, walking through Hillsborough Park, we stopped off to push Noah & Susannah in the swings and let them go down the slide...
This evening, we've been at a St Thomas' staff team social ahead of The Order of Mission Annual Gathering which starts tomorrow and runs over the weekend (after which we shall be off to America for a fortnight's holiday). We had a great time. I especially enjoyed talking with Paddy & Mary Mallon about their future (Paddy is on sabbatical, and retires later this year), and our possible future. Very exciting...
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Suddenly Seminary is a fantastic idea - a space where people from around the world, in different contexts, can meet up and share experiences, knowledge, ideas, opinions, but with the important ingredient of fun as a core value (virtual tallskinnykiwi spent most of the time sat - fully dressed - in a bath-tub...)
Back in the physical world, this morning I have just spent half-an-hour sat outside on the grass reading part of Stuart Murray's "Church After Christendom". If you want an over-view of our changing culture and the multiplicity of creative responses God is raising up to engage in mission within this complex context - and if you like to have ideas sparked-off in your head, set free to dream dreams - then this is a must-read recommendation.
And I'm looking forward to having dinner round at Ben & Helen's this evening...
These two worlds are not alternative options, but are inter-twined. So, I will meet up with Andrew Jones and others I know from their blogs, etc., and others I work with, at Re:source in Birmingham on July 2nd. And before that, we(our family)'ll be meeting up with friends in Lexington, Kentucky, whom we've been emailing back-and-forth with plans this week. I love the creative connectedness of life in the information revolution!
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Then on the Sunday morning we met up with Claire, who used to live with us in Sheffield but has returned to Cheltenham from whence she came, at the Sculpture Trail; before meeting up with Jo's parents, sisters-and-their-families for lunch; and on to the christening...
The Sculpture Trail through the Forest is a fantastic place - the artwork really enhances the beauty of the forest itself. I posted some pictures here. If you ever get the chance, it is well worth a visit - though far too long to take our small children all the way around yet!
Friday, June 03, 2005
While we all need to be challenged by people from outside of our own communities (our own immediate parts of the wider clans, tribes, peoples, household of God, on earth and in heaven, and sons and daughters still estranged from their heavenly Father), who therefore have a perspective from where they can see some of our blindspots, the whole endeavour of being disciples of Jesus in and for our generations and cultures seems under a lot of fairly negative criticism from others who are simply trying to be disciples of Jesus in and for their own - different - generations and cultures...
Further reflections later, if I get the chance. For now, suffice to say that it is a priveledge to be in the UK context, where senior church leaders and academics, Anglican, Baptist and other, are whole-heartedly encouraging the younger generation to do new things, while offering their wisdom and experience - and negotiation with the wider church, where necessary. Thank you to our wise and gracious spiritual parents.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Then this evening my friend Christoffer Perret phoned from Finland. While lots of people email me on a fairly regular basis for a catch-up, Christoffer is one of the few who calls. (Perhaps in part because the Finns have more mobile phones per head of population than any other nation, and I suppose you've got to do something with them!) We had a long chat, covering all manner of things going on here, there, and in other places; and, as always, it was great to talk with him. Thanks for calling!
Anyway, Christoffer's call reminded me that some of you aren't up-to-speed with developments with us: sorry! So, here's the story (with apologies to those already in the know):
I finish on the staff team at St Thomas' here in Sheffield on 31st July. Since we heard God say (back in the spring) to leave this place in the summer and go to the place he would show us, we've put the word out; but my increasing sense was that God wasn't going to show us the next place until I had literally left the current thing. So, we're not actively looking for anything, and don't expect to know where we will be next until August (at least). Which we're totally at peace about. What we do sense is that the call is to a nomadic life - not perpetual travel, but not staying in any one place for more than a year or two; and not owning a home, but living either in community with others who invite us in, or in a house provided for us, which will become a place of community. We have a buyer for our house in Sheffield, and that should all go through over the summer. If we end up temporarily homeless here, we've had various offers to stay with friends until we know where we're moving on to. Initially we had thought that that would be somewhere in the UK or northern Europe, because I have several relationships with people in Scandanavia; but more recently we've felt God call us to give that up - to widen our imagination of what he might do - and so, though we still think northern Europe is part of the big picture, it might not be part of the small picture, the next step. And so we could literally be anywhere in the world come the autumn. which is very exciting.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
This week (Friday 3rd June) sees the centenary of the death of James Hudson Taylor, missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission, whose ripples still wash over the globe today: when the Communists ordered all missionaries out of China in the 1950's, CIM missionaries went to the Chinese peoples living in neighbouring South East Asian nations; then - renamed the Overseas Missionary Fellowship - to non-Chinese Asians; and increasingly - re-renamed as OMF International - to the Asian diaspora living in the West as well...
Although Hudson Taylor is widely considered a Hero of the Faith and a Giant in the History of Mission today, during his lifetime he was misunderstood and ridiculed by many back in England, not least for choosing to wear Chinese dress, including having the top of his head shaved and a ponytail at the back. In part his decision was in order to overcome west/east cultural barriers to communicating the gospel, choosing to identify with - and be identified with, not least by his critics - those he had been sent to; and in part it expressed a recognition that the Chinese did not need to become English in order to become Christian, but needed to establish a culturally indigenous expression of Christianity. According to his writings, it was not a light or easy decision; but it was the right decision - to embrace incarnational mission. I think I also recall that he told his missionaries to learn the local dialects by hard graft, as opposed to asking God to give them Pentecost-like grace in communication, because in the (at times deeply humiliating) process they would grow to love the Chinese people at a far deeper level.
Challenges to my parents' generation:
1. Don't Paul's words sound like wishy-washy, pick-and-mix, no-absolute-truth, anything-goes, pandering-to-Postmodern faith to you? (And if not, then please don't accuse us of these things.)
2. Where we engage in incarnational mission to Postmodern cultures, affirming the good (including creativity in dress and language) and seeking to challenge the less-than-good from the inside (seeking to see it transformed with the vested interest of an insider) rather than from the outside (passing judgement on others) are you the inheritors of Hudson Taylor, or of his critics?
3. Have you stepped back from the adventure of faith in God Who Until Now Has Always Helped Us and Will Provide that you so admire in Hudson Taylor?
Challenges to my generation:
1. Are we (increasingly) so under Christ's law that we are (increasingly) free from any other law (whether it be church tradition, or material security, or popular culture, or Postmodern philosophy, or what is acceptable to our society, or...)?
2. Do we recognise that the burden of mission is for us to go into the world and take on their humanity for the sake of the gospel; or are we content to remove ourselves from the world and require of them to take on our likeness? (And if we believe the former, what are we going to do about it?)
3. Are we prepared to learn from those who have gone before us, and to apply to our mission contexts the principle of utter abandonment of self up to total dependence on God that men such as Hudson Taylor owned?