Sunday, January 28, 2007

News Round-up

A couple of things have happened to or around us this past week, that I feel I want to write about here (because there are people who read this who are interested in our lives, and whom I would want to know); but because the events also concern other people, I’m not sure how to go about it…

I work part-time supporting nine physically disabled adults who live together in a sheltered housing scheme. Last Monday evening, one of the tenants died. In the thirteen years since the scheme opened, this is the first time that a member of the community has died. If you understand what I mean, her death was not a surprise, but was still a shock. Can I say that in a small community the impact of a death feels somehow magnified, without sounding dispassionate about the impact of death in other contexts? Anyway, this event has brought a whole new dimension to the supporting role. And can I say that some of the conversations I’ve been able to have with tenants have been really good, very positive experiences, and that they have made being there feel more worthwhile, without sounding callous? I think I can. The funeral is on Thursday.

I also go into my daughter’s Year 1 class at school one morning a week, as a voluntary parent helper. I went in one afternoon a week when she was in Reception, so I’ve been able to build up a relationship with the kids, several of the parents, and various members of staff. This school year the class has felt very different from last; and there are a number of aspects parents are unhappy about. The school seems to be trying to address certain symptoms, but not underlying causes; and the strategies for dealing with symptoms seem to be further aggravating both symptoms and causes. On Thursday morning, while I was in the classroom, things reached a point where I felt I had no option but to walk out, and to remove my daughter from school for the rest of the day. Jo and I are meeting with the head teacher tomorrow morning to discuss things. We are committed to the school community; and what I did has the support of those other parents we’ve spoken to; so I hope that we will be listened to, and that we might see a positive move forward for everyone involved.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Religion || Sexuality || Discrimination

The Roman Catholic Church is asking the Government for exemption for its adoption agencies from forthcoming equality legislation that will require adoption agencies to place children with homosexual couples who wish to adopt. Their position is being presented as discrimination against gays; but the matter is much more complex than this.

‘Discrimination’ is a word that has become troubled by the tension between its two meanings: positively, the ability to make a choice as to which is the better of two options (discriminating between); and, negatively, the persecution of those who differ from us because they differ from us (discriminating against).

There is a significant difference between equality legislation and anti-discrimination legislation; between an equality position, or ideology, and an anti-discrimination position, or ideology. Equality recognises that the rights of people who differ from us in some way need to be affirmed. Anti-discrimination fails to recognise that the rights of people who differ from us in some way need to be affirmed.

Anti-discrimination by necessity simply shifts the focus or direction of discriminating against another, because it denies the possibility of discriminating between two groups; whereas equality deconstructs the act of discriminating against another, by affirming the possibility of discerning between two groups. Equality says, you are as good as me. Anti-discrimination says, you need to recognise that I am better than you.

It strikes me that the Roman Catholic position is an equality position: they acknowledge the right of homosexual couples living in a secular society that affirms civil partnerships in law to adopt children; and want to refer such couples to the secular social services adoption agencies who can assist them to do so. On the other hand, it strikes me that those who oppose the Roman Catholic position hold an anti-discrimination position: they do not see room for a group within society who hold a view different to their own, and oppose the right to hold, as a matter of conscience, a different view.

One of the marks of a mature society is the willingness to affirm those who differ from us, as opposed to the insistence of homogeneity, or uniformity. Another mark of a mature society is its capacity to uphold exemptions in law. For example, women living in the UK have a legal right to the termination of pregnancy. However, GPs are not required to perform this procedure: some will advise women, and refer them to another GP if they wish to proceed; some will advise but not even refer. And that is considered acceptable, as a matter of conscience. Neither the legal right of women nor the moral right of medics are violated.

Moving from society as a whole to groups within society, if we are secure in our identity, we will take a stand to ask that we are respected by those who differ from us; but beyond that we will not see the need to demand our rights. Instead, we will lay down our rights, and take a stand for the rights of others. If we are secure in our identity, we will not need to belittle those who differ from us.

I am neither a Roman Catholic nor a homosexual. But I would want to respect both – which first requires a commitment to love both, because it is not possible to respect someone you do not love, however inadequately; and all the more so when you disagree with them on issues that matter to you. And I would want to affirm the right of homosexuals to be served by adoption agencies, and the right of Roman Catholic adoption agencies to serve homosexuals by referring them to other agencies. That would seem to me the measured response our multi-cultural, multi-ideological society needs and yet appears to be lacking…

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Organic || Manufactured

I was in the pub having lunch today, when I over-heard a snatch of conversation from the next table:
“…And did [that] feel as if it were manufactured, as opposed to real?”

That’s all I caught; and I have no idea what they were discussing. But it made me think of the current buzz around church needing to be ‘organic,’ and the implied dichotomy, where:
Something that is manufactured = false, bad, inauthentic, artificial, a problem
Something that is organic = true, good, authentic, natural, a solution

Of course, the bizarre thing about the conversation I overheard was that the two women were sat on manufactured chairs at a manufactured table, in a building constructed of manufactured parts; and had got there in a (possibly in two) manufactured car(s).

Community – the social bonds forged by living together in stability over time – does not ‘just happen.’ Likewise, communitas – the social bonds forged by living together through an intense period of crisis; the kind of shared experience, often task-focused, that happens outside of community but plays an essential role in re-invigorating and ensuring the ongoing survival of community – does not ‘just happen.’

To some degree, church – being church, doing church – has to be manufactured. I understand the need for ‘organic’ language, as a (necessary) counter-balance to some of the structures (of thought, word, and deed) of inherited church that restrict growth (both qualitative and quantitative). I also understand that when a pendulum swings, it swings as far in the opposite direction…and that there are certain unquestioned assumptions, and snobbery, at play: are bands that formed at college in response to the singer’s ad on the students’ union notice-board inherently better than ‘manufactured’ bands formed in response to a record producer’s national search?

But there are ‘good’ manufacturing practices, and ‘bad’ manufacturing practices; ‘good’ manufactured products, and ‘bad’ manufactured products. And there are practices, and products, that can be improved on – especially in response to, or anticipation of, changing circumstances…and practices and products that can become superseded, or even detrimental, especially through failing to respond to or anticipate change…


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fair Dinkum

Ever since St Paul travelled along the incredible road network of the Roman Empire writing letters in what had become the common language of The Known World, missionaries and other pioneers within the Church have always made use of the new communication technologies of their day. That is, of course, the nature of pioneers. The Church pioneered the media of printed text, and secured its place as dominant communication form in its time. Looking at the ever-growing list of Christian books, I think perhaps we have come to love it too much, and for the wrong reasons: for its own sake, or for the sake of promoting ourselves. And perhaps not least as an antidote, pioneers reach a point where they have to walk away, from something that still has a significant future, and go do something else instead.

Also, while it is invaluable to the wider Church to have pioneers sharing their experimental practices as they go along, eventually it just becomes harder and harder to ‘do what you do’ with the eyes of the world on you, and outsiders looking in wanting your time and effort. So the sharing/modelling thing is perhaps best done like geese in flight, where each bird takes their rotating turn to be at the front…

Andrew Hamilton over in Perth, Western Australia, has been a true pioneer of missional church blogging. We had the privilege of hanging out with him, and Danelle and their kids, when we spent three months in Perth at the end of 2005. It was an extended encounter that still shapes me. Now Hamo has decided to stop blogging, at least for the next two years. At one level, this is a real loss; but my guess is that where Hamo steps aside, we’ll see others who have been inspired by him step up – and that we’ll see Hamo back again, in due course, recognisably the same and yet transformed into something new. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies…

Thank you, Andrew.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Four Noah

Today is Noah’s fourth birthday. (Photos taken on Boxing Day.) He wasn’t overly interested in his presents – not, I think, saintly disinterest in material acquisitions; nor devilish ingratitude; but merely too close a proximity to Christmas – but he was inordinately proud that it was his birthday; that he was ‘the birthday boy!’ ‘Four’ would appear to be a coming-of-age, a passing out of the childish years of ‘being three’ into adulthood. You might be getting a little ahead of yourself there, son. But you’re pointing in the right direction. Certainly he’s more confident in himself, as a person in his own right, as displayed in both more affectionate and more aggressive behaviour.

And when it comes down to it, I think that life – and, indeed eternity – is best about becoming who we have been made to be. I love the hinted-at story of Mark, running through the New Testament. According to Church tradition, the first time we come across him, he is the scaredy-cat, running away from the scene of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:51, 52); the second time, he is the cautious-cat, setting off on an adventure with Paul, but running home with his tail between his legs the moment the going gets tough (Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:36-41); the third time, something has been going on in him, because he’s reconciled with Paul, who praises him (Titus 4:11; oh, and during this time he’s also been Peter’s helper in Rome, and written a Gospel that will help guide the Church for two thousand years and beyond); and the final time we see him is as the lion before the throne of God, growing into his true character (Revelation 4:6-8). Not bad, for a scaredy-cat.

I wonder who my son will become; and what hardships will break and make him. And I pray that I will help him become that person to a greater degree than I oppose him.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hyper-Reality || Authenticity

A good friend of ours recently made the comment, first to my wife and then to me, that if she didn’t know us in real life and her only impression of our family came from reading my blog that she would conclude that we were The Waltons, and she’d feel really inadequate…which appalled me, because it has never been my intention to present my family as some frankly very fake version of being ‘perfect.’

I’m certainly glad that because ‘Marge Simpson’ (only kidding; though, you know, Bart and your boy…and come to think of it, I’ve never seen them together) knows us in real life she gets a different perspective – and it won’t only be from getting my wife’s version! She knows that as well as being the weird mystic type – “Most of us have enough on our plate just getting on with everyday life. You see…a brick, and it reveals God to you” – I’m also the weird mystic type who gets deeply frustrated with my kids/wife/and, to be fair, other-human-beings-in-general, even though I love them more than I can say. And that sometimes, just sometimes, I can’t resist saying something really inappropriate, but funny. It is not so much that the ‘real life me’ is more honest (or, less able to pull off an illusion), and the ‘blogged me’ is less honest: it is more that when you have both you get a fuller picture than when you only have one or the other (and not least because I’m an introvert, and writing comes easier to me than speaking). As a form, blogs have their limitations; and their potential, too. Personally, I like the relationships where the blogosphere and real life entwine best: other bloggers I know in person; or those who don’t blog themselves but read mine because they know me.

Anyway, I’m reading Michael Frost’s Exiles, which is both convicting and inspiring; and in where I’ve got to this evening he writes about the culture of hyper-reality (better-than-the-real-thing products; reality TV), and how more and more people have had enough of it and are seeking for authenticity instead (e.g. food that tastes of food, not like-food-but-more-so); and how so much of church culture, including how leaders present themselves, buys into hyper-reality hook, line and sinker. When we should do the very opposite; should hold out authenticity.

I think it is important that I do write about my family, in the midst of other reflections: that it helps ground the other stuff - or should do. Plus there are some people who only come by to read the family stories. And what I write should honour my family – but not portray them as porcelain saints. I don’t want to write (too often) about the things my children do that make me mad – but perhaps I ought to write (more often) about the brokenness in me that triggers my getting mad at them…I want to tell stories that inspire, not agree with negative images of family life (there are enough out there to choose from) – but not pretend that shit doesn’t happen.

So I just want to say sorry if I have ever crushed anyone with hyper-reality. And I know that I get comments posted on here that show that some of what I blog is really appreciated by some people – that it either inspires them or gives them some kind of helpful resource – and that is great. That is why I do it. But, I’m sorry if what I have posted – and in particular what I have posted about my family – has done the opposite. Please forgive me.

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The third traditional vow made by those entering religious orders is one of obedience, expressed as obedience to the abbot of a monastery and the superior of the order. Such a relationship is workable (not necessarily easy!) when one has withdrawn from the world into the community of a monastery (a monk) or lives within the wider community as one set aside to serve it (a friar), in which circumstances you are deployed in your responsibilities by the order, through the person of the abbot or superior. It is less workable within new-monastic communities, where members may serve within a particular career – consultant doctors within the National Health Service, to cite an example – and the order does not have sole say in their deployment. More than this, obedience suggests (whether this is the spirit within traditional orders or not) a relationship in which one person exercises power over another, rather than helps them to discover and engage with God’s will for their life (which I suspect may be closer to the spirit of traditional orders). Such a relationship is likely to be viewed with suspicion by the type of Christian generally found in new-monastic communities, either because of a wariness brought about by having seen too many instances of abuse by leaders within the Church; or/and because of a commitment to a flatter communal model of church leadership, as opposed to a strongly hierarchical one. We might struggle with ‘obedience’ without wishing to be an autonomous agent.

Finally, we must consider the call on religious orders to be counter-cultural agents of reform within the Church, and wider society. Regarding accountability, the dominant paradigm operating within the Church at present is one of ‘high control, low accountability.’ By this I mean when those in positions of authority (such as a bishop to a priest, or a local church leader to their congregation) choose not to ask those under their authority questions concerning their conduct in ‘private’ matters (low accountability); but are inflexible on certain actions concerning their conduct in ‘public’ matters (high control). The dominant paradigm operating within my wider, western, society is also one of ‘high control, low accountability.’ By this I mean that there are many rules – some unwritten and unspoken; others legislated – concerning how we ought to behave, in particular in public; but very little challenge to self-centredness, or support to live in ways that build strong, healthy community. The counter-cultural impulse, to both Church and society, is one of ‘low control, high accountability.’

Being part of a community committed to accountability is incredibly liberating. It means that I can engage with ‘difficult’ faith questions; and explore the provisional responses required by the hard questions raised by pioneering missional contexts; safe in the knowledge that there are people who are committed to me who will help me to think through the questions, and through my answers, and will help me to live a life consistent with the (albeit provisional) responses we arrive at. Taking a step back to consider life in general – for example, making decisions concerning work, and family life, and the balance between them – having a community who will hold me to account, and who will commit to my holding them to account, provides a level of support that we just wouldn’t have if we were to ‘go it alone.’ (Of course, this level of support is found in many local churches, and other social groups; but our population is so mobile that transferring such support across any moves is potentially very hit-and-miss.)

Engaging with the vow of accountability helps us to engage with the first and second vows, of simplicity and purity. Working through what simplicity or purity looks like in any given situation, and committing to living that way, frankly requires community effort. In turn, engaging with simplicity helps us to define the structure of accountability; and engaging with purity helps us to have the right motive in holding each other to account – to help each other wrestle with what it means to be a disciple of Christ, with the goal of becoming more like him, being transformed into his likeness. In this way, the three vows are woven together into the fabric of our life as an order. Or, perhaps more precise, each element of one three-part vow compliments the others and work together.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Football. S-O-C-C-E-R, Foot-ball!

So David Beckham is to become a missionary, of sorts, and attempt to convert the adult male population of the USA to the One True Faith of football (or soccer, as they will insist on calling it).

I can’t remember the last time we successfully imported a sport to America. I’m guessing it might be baseball, which we all know is as American as apple pie – though, as you might suspect along with me, apples were surely baked in pies before the Americans did so. Baseball was invented in England. The first recorded description dates from 1744, in an English book reprinted in America in 1762; (incidentally, it does not derive from Rounders – first reference in print 1828); and the game is listed with other sports in the novel Northanger Abbey (1796). [source: The Book of General Ignorance; p.116]

Anyway, all the best, David and Victoria. And good luck finding a decent cup of tea…


Church || Human Sexuality || Purity

This is somewhat of an aside, but it just so happens that as I am reflecting on purity, the unhappy relationship between Church and homosexuality is in the news again: see here; and here, here, and here for other reflections.

One of the most heated debates within the western Church at present concerns homosexuality: should it be affirmed, or condemned, as orientation or as active lifestyle? It is a debate in which convictions run deep, and certain voices are vociferous; and I would suggest that I observe a lack of purity at both ends of the spectrum. These are, however, my own views; and in what I write here I do not claim to be speaking on behalf of my community.

There are those who maintain that the existence of a homosexual orientation is evidence that God has created individuals with this orientation, and that therefore it is good – and to be affirmed as such. The problem with this view is that it is poor theology: it recognises a theology of creation, but not a theology of brokenness within creation – and therefore a theology of a need for redemption. And it is hard to conceive how theology can remain Christian without these elements. Leaving aside the question of whether or not homosexuality is a form of brokenness, it is the refusal to accept that it might be a form of brokenness that evidences a lack of purity, because it creates a part of my identity that I will not allow to be challenged. Of those vocal in the cause of homosexuality within the Church, I have never heard any advocate admit to this as even a theoretical possibility (and the argument has become so entrenched that it would be almost impossible to do so). But if (homo)sexuality is out-of-bounds to the brokenness question, how might we determine what is and what is not out-of-bounds? For example, must we affirm the sexual orientation of paedophilia (and I’m speaking of the orientation here, so the question of consent in regards to the act is a distraction) as part of God’s diversity, or could it be evidence of creation broken? For example, is physical disability (not an orientation, but a fundamental part of some people’s composition) part of God’s diversity, or could it be evidence of creation broken? We could go on, asking other questions relating to the physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or any other aspect of our nature. Of course, such questions get heated, because they concern real people, who have – but are not necessarily afforded – genuine worth; and it is easy, but mistaken, to confuse questioning a person’s fundamental makeup with calling into question their worth.

On the other hand, there are those who maintain that a homosexual lifestyle is an offence, unacceptable to God. Many who take this position will claim to “hate the sin, love the sinner.” In practice, my observation is of a profound lack of love for those considered sinners, which evidences a lack of purity. Whenever we oppose the extension of rights to homosexuals, giving them equality in law to heterosexuals, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we express our fear that the extension of such rights equates to an erosion of our rights as heterosexuals (and in particular, married heterosexuals), we demonstrate our lack of love (perfect love drives out fear). Whenever we speak ill of homosexual celebrities, or lament their profile, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we talk against “the way in which the nation is going” in the privacy of our own homes, or harangue our politicians and wave placards in public, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we remain silent in response to hearing homosexuality spoken of in derogatory terms, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we hold a double standard between the interpretation and enforcement of biblical texts that concern homosexuality and those that concern anything else; and whenever we consider homosexuality to be more serious than any of the sins we are willing to admit to being present in our own lives, we demonstrate our lack of love. Whenever we think, say, or do anything that fosters an ‘us-and-them’ divide, we demonstrate our lack of love. And if we do not love, how can we claim to know God?

One of the things that most interests and convicts me about Jesus is how he relates to those whose lifestyle he does not condone. I don’t believe that Jesus approved of Zacchaeus’ financial extortion; but he first offends the crowd by choosing to stay at his house; and then rebukes the crowd for their attitude towards this excluded member of the community, and towards Jesus for his choice to identify with him. Jesus’ purity is not only not compromised by going out of his way to eat with “sinners” (that is, symbolically acting out a reversal of their exclusion from, into their inclusion within, God’s family), it is actually expressed in this way. And it would appear that Jesus’ acceptance evokes repentance, a commitment to change, in those who already know that some aspect of their lifestyle is wrong in the eyes of God. But to the self-righteous, Jesus’ approach is always fairly blunt, if not down right rude.

Homosexual and heterosexual alike are in need of repentance, and equally prone to self-righteousness; and God knows better than I do the ways in which I, or anyone else, needs to change. The current debate on human sexuality will be with us within the Church for some time. I hope and pray that, wherever we stand now and in whatever direction we might move, we might be more like Jesus in how we relate to those whose position we are unable to condone; and more open to having our own position called into question.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


The traditional vow of chastity taken by those who enter into religious orders is an expression of a commitment to purity and set-apart-ness that goes beyond sexual celibacy, but clearly includes it. As new-monastic communities may include married couples, chastity per se is not appropriate; but the commitment to purity and set-apart-ness remains.

I live in a tabloid society. In example of this, the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother has begun this week, and the gutter press are baying for sex. Now, I am very positive about sex; but that we should demand that strangers – to each other and to us – perform sexual acts in front of us for our entertainment is utterly depraved.

I honestly believe that my society revels in seeing good things debased; and yet, ironically, is repulsed by the results. The current epidemic of binge-drinking, with the resultant massive hangovers – not to mention long-term health implications – is not only an example, but also a short-hand, a symbol, for this dual condition. Such a society desperately needs an antidote.

But when it comes to purity, the Church has often found itself in a compromising position. Many of the neo monastic communities come out of, and/or remain within, evangelical and/or charismatic backgrounds. Evangelicalism has within itself a tendency towards* pharisaical obsession with purity laws, and judgement of those who fail to live up to them. Obsession can blur into fascination; fascination into flirtation; flirtation into consummation. Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal movement have within themselves a tendency towards* addictive behaviour, as observed in the experiential highs of the ‘God fix’. Any high is followed by its low, with withdrawal symptoms that drive one on to seek the next high; and those who seek God highs are often vulnerable to filling the inevitable lows with other things that deliver a fix. Both traditions have been hurt by high-profile scandals, especially of either a sexual or a financial nature, among their leaders; and, of course, these traditions are not unique within the Church in this regard. In taking a vow of purity, within the context of community, we are saying, we need each other’s help to live this way.

Purity is not so much a matter of observing certain rules (Jesus was a notorious rule-breaker), as a motive in our relationships, and an interpretive criterion for the choices we make on a daily basis. As such, commitment to purity is complex, dynamic; not as black-and-white as it might first appear; yet, not relative either. Again, it requires community! It forces us to ask questions, especially of our motivations, that we might prefer not to ask. Purity looks like Jesus; and the desire to become/be pure is the desire to be transformed into his likeness. Purity gets its hands dirty, so that the dirty might have the opportunity to be made clean. Purity is offensive to those who believe themselves to be good, and infuriates such people with its freedom. Purity lands you in a whole heap of trouble. But I see a seeking after purity in many unexpected places, as expressed in opting out of the mainstream, in opting into ethical consumerism, in embracing outdoor pursuits, to name but a few examples. Purity is rough-and-ready, fierce, untameable. Far from withdrawing from life into anaemic religiosity, purity celebrates life with a passion – and draws the sedated and jaded into its party. That is the kind of purity I want to be characterised by. That is what we are set-apart for.

*By tendency towards, I do not mean that such behaviour is inevitable; but, unless a tendency is recognised and acknowledged, the one with that tendency is reasonably likely to come undone over it.

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Friday, January 05, 2007


The vow of poverty lays aside the right to ownership of personal property. It arose as a counter-cultural response to the opulence of the Catholic Church. One of the differences between the current new-monastic revival and traditional religious orders is that the new-monastic communities are open to married couples and families. Renouncing property is not exactly practical when you have kids. But, more significant than practicalities, our context is very different. Where then the Church was trapped in material opulence, the traditions out of which new-monastic communities are arising are often trapped in a false division between spiritual things (‘important’; ‘good’) and material things (‘unimportant’; ‘bad’); have a tendency to devalue the material – and thus the Creator. At the same time, the wider society around us is held captive by the pursuit of possessions. Re-articulating ‘poverty’ as ‘simplicity’ expresses an intent to live counter-culturally to both the western Church and western society, by allowing us to affirm material possessions while asking our community to help us to hold such possessions lightly, rather than be held captive by them.

But re-articulating ‘poverty’ as ‘simplicity’ takes us beyond how we relate to our possessions, to the whole of our life. We live in a culture that is increasingly complicated; a culture where we are told that we can have everything, if we only juggle everything right; and, again, we want to live a counter-cultural lifestyle.

So, for example, for us (as a couple; other members of the Order may interpret things differently) one way in which simplicity is worked out in practice is in our decision to send our children to the local school, wherever we may live, and to trust God for them; rather than do the standard middle-class thing of trying to get our children into ‘better’ out-of-catchment schools, or try to buy a house beyond our means in a ‘better’ catchment area. That is not to pass judgement on anyone who does that (many things in life are not necessarily universally ‘right’ or ‘wrong); just to say, that isn’t living simply.

Simplicity becomes an acid test for decisions, big and small. Will [this] be lightweight, or will it make our lives more complicated? Will we be able to move on easily, if God calls us to do so; or will [it] tie us down? On the other hand, will [this] help us get involved in the place God has put us, or keep our focus elsewhere? Do we have anything that someone else needs? What can we give away?

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A week on Saturday, we will be making our vows as permanent members of The Order of Mission, vows we deferred back in June.

Someone asked me recently what taking vows is about: aren’t they somewhat arcane? Vows are a public declaration of an intention to live in a particular way, and usually within a relational context. Many Christian traditions make baptismal/confirmation vows, marking the intent to turn from living in a certain way – in rebellion against God – and live instead in another way – in relationship with God. Almost all Christian traditions make marriage vows, marking the intent to turn from living in a certain way – as a single person – and live instead in another way – in relationship with a husband or wife. Vows are not self-imposed rules to be adhered to, but interpretive keys to help us live in a way we have chosen.

The vows we will make a week on Saturday are to live as members of a community whose lifestyle is characterised by simplicity, purity, and accountability. These three aspects draw on the traditional vows of religious orders, of poverty, chastity and obedience; but re-articulate them for our twenty-first century context. I thought I’d take time to reflect on each of these in turn.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Blogger

I can't enter text using Flock, or see text entered and saved as draft using IE.

I can't upload photos using IE.


Real Writing

I’ve been asked to do some writing for someone else again. Which in a way is good, because it suggests that there are people who think I can write well…but it is also a nightmare. I feel like I am, quite unintentionally, a fraud. I blog, sometimes deeply, sometimes at length, and as a result some people come to the conclusion that I must think about what I write. But I don’t think about what I write at all; I just write about what I feel, what I intuitively understand. It may often be nonsense; most of it probably doesn’t stand up to cross-examination: I don’t really intend it to. I write about what I feel right now; but when I’m asked to write about something else – given a topic – I feel that I need to give that topic some thought, to write something that might just be defendable. Which is a kind of death to me as a writer. Damn.


In Desert Places

“I’ve been asked to lead a small community, but I lack the confidence to do it – there are others in the group who have all kinds of experience that I don’t have. And my life isn’t at all stable at present. I feel lost. Is it even possible to lead other people, when you are in such a place?”
That, in essence, was the issue brought to me by someone earlier this week. I think the question-bringer expected me to agree that the timing wasn’t right, that they needed to work through x and y and z before they could lead others with skill, or even integrity. Perhaps they even hoped that I would. I didn’t.

I started by suggesting that the question to ask was: What has God already given to me that he wants the group to receive?
We spoke of the boy with his loaves and fishes, used by Jesus to feed a multitude. There would have been all kinds of things that the adults in that crowd had, or had experience of, that the boy lacked – but that was beside the point. What mattered at that moment was what the crowd lacked, and needed: food, the one thing that the boy had…

Then I touched on stability. We can be in a great place with God when our lives are stable; or, we can operate in our own strength. Stability is neither good nor bad; it’s how we engage with it that matters. Likewise the uncertain place, the lost place, the wilderness: it can be confusing, even frightening; or, it can be an adventure.

We returned to the question, what has God given me to share with others? And I observed that that very thing needed to be broken before it can be shared. The little boy’s loaves and fish might well have fed five; once God had broken them, they fed five thousand.

Which brought us back to the wilderness, for the wilderness is where God takes us, and blesses us [there is blessing, even in the wilderness, if we have eyes to see it], and breaks us, so that what he has given us can be given to others. So, for example:
God gave Joseph the ability to be a visionary, an ability that would take him to the place where he coordinated the aid distribution for a shattered sub-continent; but before that could happen there was the breaking that took place in slavery and prison…
God gave Moses a passion for social justice, a passion that would result in the emancipation from slavery of his whole people-group; but before that could happen there was the breaking of forty years spent herding sheep…
God gave David a song to sing, that would result in a body of work still listened to [and covered] three thousand years later; but first there was thirteen years as an outlaw, the leader of a band of outlaws, living in caves…
God gave Jesus the ability to build housing stock among a Galilean population swelled by incoming Gentiles from the north and Jewish re-settlers from the south, an ability that would be fulfilled in building a kingdom on earth and heavenly rooms for Jews and Gentiles alike; but first, forty days of solitude and fasting in the Judean wilderness…
God gave Paul a brilliant mind only matched by a stomach for life on the road, a combination that would set the known world on fire; but only after three days of blindness and fourteen years sat in a cave in the Syrian desert…

Is it possible to lead others while you are yourself in the wilderness? Well, Joseph held positions of leadership both as a slave and a prisoner; and David led his Mighty Men who followed him into the wilderness. So, it is possible; and, if we are honest to ourselves and open to others about the wilderness we are in, it can even be done well. On the other hand, looking at Moses and Jesus and Paul [and I could choose many other examples…], I’m not sure it is possible to lead others well until you have spent time in the wilderness…

And so I was asked one final question:
“Do I have to know what it is that I have, that needs to be broken, before I can lead; or do I find it out in the leading?”
To which I replied, we discover what it is that we have and needs to be broken as we step out in faith, not before. Otherwise, we’d never move on in the journey God wants to take us on.

Which all leaves me asking myself, what has God given me…?


Monday, January 01, 2007

Christmas Recipe

This Christmastide we have made

time for being with family, and time for being with friends;
time for being the visitors, and time for being the hosts;
time for feasting at tables, and time for going for walks in the countryside;
time to be with others, and time to be on our own;
time for playing games together, and very little time for watching TV;
time for looking back over the year
that has just ended,
and time for looking forward into the year
that has just begun;
time to say sorry, and time to say thank you,
to each other, to others, to God.

It has been a good Christmas, so far. Overall, I think that we have got the balance about right this year. The one thing we could have done better was a little less filled-time and a little more down-time. A little more sleep, all round. That’s been hard to come by, what with the excitement of sleepovers, combined with the discomfort of sleeping on floors, and the higher-than-usual amount of sugar coursing through veins…