Sunday, May 30, 2010


Art created by wiping the brush as Susannah painted.

Susannah’s painting inspired by learning about Malawi.

Noah’s painting inspired by Dr Who.

The Cry Of The Heart (And How To Ignore It)

The church’s current obsession with being relevant in style is achieved at the cost of being resonant in substance. That is, people come away saying “I like/don’t like the worship, etc.” rather than saying “I encountered Jesus in the hidden, hurting place in my life, and my heart is a little more healed than it was.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Made To Be

One of my greatest passions is helping people to discover their identity in Christ, the unique person God has created them to be, and how they can relate to others so that in community who they are can flourish. To equip people to grow into the particular aspects of God’s likeness he invites them to experience, share and display (covenant; being) and the particular work he has for them to achieve in his greater plan (kingdom; doing). At the most personal level, I believe that our names are significant in revealing our God-given identity; and the battles we will face as Jesus comes that we might experience our life in its fullness, and the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy the life God intends for us, the person God made us to be(come) (John 10).

Regarding our identity, Ephesians 4 is also a key passage. While I was at college, I wrote a dissertation on apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

The biggest objection to the ideas I explore there - engaging in particular with the writings of missiologists Alan Hirsch and Mike Breen and also with sociological commentator Malcolm Gladwell – is that the verses in question cannot support the weight of the case being built on them.

Jesus described the kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed, which grows into a mustard tree. A mustard seed is a very small seed, and a mustard tree is a very large shrub. But the difference between a mustard seed and a mustard tree is not quantitative – a mustard tree is not just a bigger mustard seed, or many mustard seeds. The difference between a mustard seed and a mustard tree is qualitative – a tree is a totally different thing from a seed. The key thing is not that they are the same thing, but that the tree that grows is faithful to the seed that is planted: a mustard seed does not grow into an apple tree or an oak tree, far less a car or a football.

And so to the objection that these ideas concerning apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers goes far beyond what can be considered an exegesis of the text – or a description of the seed – I agree. However, the activity we are engaged in is not primarily a description of the seed, but a description of the tree we believe has grown from that seed. And in describing the tree, we are very much discovering the tree, and will continue to learn about the tree and revise our conclusions as we do. But a tree there is, and it is certainly big enough to support the weight of the case being built.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tearing : Testimony : Capernaum

Mark 2:1-12

I’m reflecting on tearing and testimony at the moment. Here is another example from Jesus’ life:

a roof is torn open from above;

and in what follows there is both

a testimony to Jesus’ identity – the one who has been given authority to act for God on earth;

and a testimony to our identity – fully reconciled with God, because we share as sons in the identity of the person Jesus, who was fully one with God.

In the places where we are torn, where we suffer loss, where our lives are rudely these places, we must learn to hear the voice of testimony, the revelation of who we are in Christ.

And we must allow that testimony to sink in to our very being, to shape our life.

In this way, we become a paralytic walking – an evidence of the impossible. And as we walk out in our new identity, in full view of those who have previously known us, they will be amazed and praise God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Law : Grace

Mark 10:35-45

Time and time again, our expectation is this:

that if we only try harder,
if we are willing to sacrifice more,
then God will give us whatever we ask.

There is a word for this approach, and the word is ‘legalism’ – living under law.

In contrast, God’s concern is grace: he wants to give us good gifts, not because we deserve them or have earned them, but simply because he loves to love us.

So often, we choose not to receive the grace that God has for us, because we would rather earn the grace he has for someone else instead: why can’t I have what they have; why can’t I be what they are? Indeed, we are unable to receive grace while we hold on to law, and so we miss out on enjoying the good things God has given us.

Later, Jesus tells his disciples that they may ask for anything in his name, and he will do it (John 14:13, 14). James and John called him ‘Teacher’ (Mark 10:35) – the one who explains the law. Jesus called himself ‘Son of Man’ (Mark 10:45) – the one who received grace to lay down his life for others. When we receive the grace God has for us, we receive everything that is part of that grace. But while we strive to be someone else, the things we ask for evade us.

Here’s the kicker for legalists: the voice in our head tells us, “If only I can try a little harder to receive grace, I will receive it...” The problem is not that we don’t try hard enough; the problem is that we try too hard.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tearing : Testimony

Here is an example of the principle I described in my previous post.

I am dyslexic and profoundly dyspraxic. This functions as a massive tear in the fabric of who I am. This tear is often painful, and at times overwhelming. My ability to process and respond to information is massively compromised. So, for example, I don’t drive (there is, continuously, so much information to process so quickly – on the dashboard; what is going on inside the car; what is going on around the car – that my brain can’t keep up and opts out of trying). Written information, such as a bank statement or information I am expected to respond to within a certain timeframe, is just so much static, or white noise, overwritten, indecipherable. Correspondence, including email, is a nightmare; the volume of paperwork involved in being a school governor like facing a giant tidal wave without a surfboard (and what is a dyspraxic going to do with a surfboard, anyway?). I can count the number of books I have read cover-to-cover for pleasure on my fingers; and if I remove my socks I can probably count the number of books I have read cover-to-cover as an adult on my fingers and toes.

Not only am I torn; the tear is ripping bigger every day.

I am also one of the most original, creative, and apparently insane, visionaries I know.

That is a direct consequence of how Jesus has used the tear created in me by dyspraxia to allow his kingdom to pour through, as one who sees what is not yet, as one whose prophetic imagination acts as a piece of grit around which the pearl of the future can coalesce. I say that with no arrogance, but with confidence in my identity as a son of God - this confidence is rare, but isn’t meant to be; the Spirit of God testifies this truth to my spirit (Romans 8) – and confidence in my particular identity among the many children of God – this confidence is rarer still, but isn’t meant to be; we are created as a particular gift of Jesus, and when we give ourselves as a gift to him, he gives us as a gift to others (Ephesians 4). As I heard Jay Pathak, a Vineyard church leader from the USA, observe recently, “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; true humility is thinking of yourself less.” I am well aware of my weaknesses, my failings, the places where I am torn. And I am well aware of how God has used that tear – and long for him to use it more and more.

God’s grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tearing : Testimony : Pentecost

Yesterday I was listening to Mike Breen, senior guardian of The Order of Mission, reflect on the following observations:

At Jesus’ baptism, there is a tearing of the heavens and a testimony of the Father: the sky – the membrane between heaven and earth – is torn apart by God, and the Spirit of God descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, like Noah’s dove seeking a secure place to land, from which life can begin again; and a voice from heaven gives testimony, declaring “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

At Jesus’ death there is, again, a tearing and a testimony: the curtain in the temple – the veil between God and people – is torn in two by God; and the centurion at the foot of the cross declares, “Surely this man was a son of the gods.” (Mark 15:37-39)

Moreover, the same process occurs in our lives: if we share in Jesus’ sufferings – a tearing – we shall share in his glory; for the Spirit of God testifies to our spirit that we are sons of God, children of God, co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:14-17) The testimony is something about God’s identity, and ours: that we have been invited to share in God’s identity.

This recurring process reveals to us that instead of allowing pain and hurt to be a prompt for unforgiveness or resentment, we ought to look at the torn, hurting places in our lives and ask God to allow them to be the door through which heaven breaks into earth - which is a very similar observation to the one I made in my last post, about allowing our disappointment to be a door through which heaven breaks into earth.

Today is Pentecost, and this morning I read through Acts chapter 2, in terms of tearing and testimony, and of the process by which we can nurture the torn places in our lives as the places where God’s presence can pour in, as opposed to allowing them to become septic.

In summary form, then, tearing and testimony at Pentecost occur:

Tearing of the membrane between heaven and earth: a sound like a violent wind, v2; the disciples being made fun of (publically humiliated), v13; the Spirit of God being poured out, v17, 18; reference to signs and wonders in the heavens, v19, 20; reference to Jesus’ death, v23; Jesus’ ascension and pouring-out of the Holy Spirit, v33; those who heard were cut to the heart, v37. Peter quotes the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32): the verses preceding those he cites refer to God tearing the heavens and the earth (Joel 2:1-11), and then call on those present to respond by rending their hearts, not their garments (i.e. respond by extending the tear internally, not with despair – in the hope that God will pour out blessing in/through that torn place, Joel 2:13, 14).

Testimony: filled with the Holy Spirit, v4; the wonders of God heard declared, v11; the Spirit poured out on all people, sons and daughters prophesying, young seeing visions, old dreaming dreams, v17; the testimony that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, v21; testimony proclaiming forgiveness of sins, v38; the gift of the Holy Spirit, to you, your children, and all those far off v38, 39; unity, favour and growth, v42-47.

The other thing Peter does in Acts 2 is cite king David in Psalm 16, and here we see an insight into nurturing the place where life’s circumstances tear us as the place where God’s presence can pour in. Psalm 16 begins “Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge” – which suggests a tearing – and continues with a testimony, both of who God is and of what he has done in David’s life. Circumstances are not always good, but God is always good, and works to bring about good in all circumstances. So David can testify that in the place of tearing, he is not shaken (Acts 2:25); but rather, the paths of life have been made known to him, and he has been filled with joy in the Lord’s presence (v25-28) - the Lord who Peter identifies as Jesus, the king of the kingdom.

And so the question is this: where are our lives torn? Is it in the hurtful actions of someone else towards you? In the experience, or anticipation, of bereavement? Whatever form it takes, each one of us will know a tearing; indeed, will be torn time and time again throughout our lives.

And, what is our response? Do we ask God to change our circumstances? To stitch the wound together so that it heals completely, leaving only a trace of a scar, a memory of when we were torn? Or will we choose to give thanks – not necessarily for the tear, but despite the tear – and so allow that very place to be the place where God pours through us, and touches the lives of those around us, transforming the world we live in?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Disappointed : Disillusioned : Disaffected

Disappointment is a powerful force in our lives. I know so many Christians who are disappointed with God; or, if not with God, with other people in the church. It is a matter as serious as it is widespread. In fact, it is unavoidable. Speaking personally, I am disappointed by so many circumstances in my life, by the behaviour of so many people – including myself. My observation is that for so many people disappointment is a destructive thing...but that, in fact, it is intended as a gift.

Here’s how I see disappointment working in our lives. We have a particular expectation, and it isn’t met. We think that if we do x, then God will do y (that, by the way, is an incredibly pervasive view). We hold up our end of the bargain, and God doesn’t deliver. Or we think that Christians ought to treat people better than other people do, and then we discover that they are just as bitchy as anyone else, if not more so. And our disappointment leads us to become disillusioned with what we had gone along with – believing in God, being part of a church. Things are not what we thought they were. God did not come through for me. The shine wears off; we think, how could I have been so naive? And, holding on to our expectation and recognising that it will not be met, we become disaffected. Something in our heart shifts, realigns us, so that we are no longer loyal to the person or thing we had given our loyalty to. Disappointed, disillusioned and disaffected, we are well and truly neutralised by the accuser, the satan (satan is a title, not a personal name, and means the one who accuses; comparable with christ, a title, which means the one who liberates).

Now here’s how I believe that disappointment is meant to work in our lives. We have a particular expectation, and it isn’t met. We think that if we do x, then God will do y (that, by the way, is called legalism). We hold up our end of the bargain, and God doesn’t deliver. And the gift of disappointment – if we will receive it – is that we are disillusioned: that we are set free from an illusion or mistaken belief (that’s what the word means). The illusion was not that if we do x then God does y; the illusion was our belief that if we do x then God will do y. The illusion was not that Christians treat one another better than other people (so when they don’t, they are hypocrites); the illusion was our belief that Christians are better than anyone else. Our illusions – our mistaken beliefs – need to be shown for what they are, and while advice can expose them to our mind only disappointment can expose them to our hearts. And so, rather than becoming disaffected, rather than our hearts being realigned further from God’s heart, our hearts are realigned more in line with God’s heart, our will is realigned more in line with God’s will. We have a new expectation (though here a health warning is needed: if we hold this expectation too tightly, try to interpret it more fully than it has been revealed to us, it will in turn become an illusion from which we need to be set free).

When I am disappointed – and as I said, I am disappointed on a regular basis – it is not because my expectations were too high, and I need to settle for lower expectations. It is because my expectations were mistaken expectations, and I need to turn from them to right expectations - or, in the words of Jesus, to repent and believe.

Disappointment opens our eyes to a gate between a world under the influence of the accuser, and the in-breaking liberating kingdom of heaven. Do we shrink back, or dare to step in...?

Definitions from The Oxford Dictionary of Current English:

Disappoint: 1 fail to fulfil the desire or expectation of. 2 frustrate (a hope etc.).

Disappointment: 1 person or thing that disappoints. 2 being disappointed.

Disillusion: free from an illusion or mistaken belief – noun. disillusioned state.

Disaffected: discontented; no longer loyal.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Claiming New Territory

Link to a reflection by my friend Mike Breen (senior guardian of The Order of Mission) on missional communities as a strategy for claiming new territory. Particularly worth further reflection and discussion is the observation that as missional community leaders, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4) will each lead in a different way; and that those who are called to be heads – vision-carriers – of ‘households’ (Greek ‘oikos,’ the primary pattern of the New Testament church) would do well to discover who God has gifted us to be, and the consequence for the nature of the ‘household’ that gathers around us.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ascension Day : Why Bother?

Two reasons we might observe Ascension Day:

Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a significant event in the life of the person Christians claim to follow. It marks the completion of his earthly ministry – the work of establishing a colony of heaven on earth whose inhabitants would be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth bringing it into the realm of God’s life-giving kingdom – and the start of his current ministry, continuing to reconcile all things to God by his work of intercession, of reshaping the world as we know it through presenting her to our loving Creator. And, as anyone who has ever left one job and started a new one knows, endings and beginnings are worth marking.

On the day of his ascension, Jesus affirmed his promise to send the Holy Spirit. Christians will commemorate the day the Holy Spirit was sent ten days from now, at Pentecost (or Whit Sunday). But many will have no idea that it is Pentecost until they turn up on the day, and that, it seems to me, simply demonstrates the spiritual poverty we are left with when we throw out the riches of our history – the scandal of the thinness of our untransformed, un-renewed imagination. If it is worth celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at all, then it is worth preparing ourselves to celebrate.

So, if Ascension Day is worth observing, how might we mark the occasion?

Steve Taylor posts some great creative liturgy here, much of which could be tailored more simply or for the home as well as the larger gathering...

Gazing : Going

Ascension Day from Andrew Dowsett on Vimeo.

Today is Ascension Day.

‘So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

‘He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

‘After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

‘They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”’ (Acts 1:6-11)

Why do you stand here looking into the sky?

The angels confront our passive gazing; our longing to establish a kingdom that is ours, not God’s; to tie God down. Passive gazing anaesthetises our heart to the very One we love.

Passive gazing is a world away from active gazing; the longing to depart and be with our Lord that the apostle Paul expresses in Philippians 1:20-26; the tension of living between two times. Active gazing is cardiac exercise for the heart that knows that he or she is loved.

And then there is going. “Don’t just stand there!” the angels say. But, just as there is passive gazing and active gazing, so there is passive going and active going.

Passive going is restless; empty of power to usher-in kingdom transformation; moves out with purpose, the purpose of witnessing to ourselves; not connected to, not led by, Jesus.

Active going – counter-intuitively – involves waiting; is empowered by the Holy Spirit; moves out with purpose, the purpose of witnessing to the Risen and Ascended One; follows him still.

Ascension Day presents us with a kairos moment.
For some: repent from passive gazing, and believe with active gazing.
For others: repent from passive going, and believe with active going.
For still others: repent from gazing without going...or going without gazing.

The question is, will Ascension Day pass us by unnoticed? Or will it change our lives?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Genesis 1-12 : Summary

Here is a summary of the first ‘The Bible, our story’ evening, in which we read from the beginning to the point where Abram enters the story:

Genesis 1

The earth is in a state of chaos. God introduces his kingdom, in which the inhabitants experience fruitfulness, by calling light out of darkness, air out of water, land out of water, vegetation out of the land, seasons into rhythm, life out of the waters, life out of the earth. God creates human beings, with a dual purpose: to be in relationship with him, and to be the agents through whom God’s kingdom will be exercised. These two themes run through the rest of the Bible.

Genesis 2

Humanity starts in a nursery, located between the Tigris and the Euphrates. This is the place from which we are to spread out throughout the earth. This place will become a recurring theme, the expression of people choosing to reject the invitation to be agents of God’s kingdom. In the garden, God has planted a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but prohibits the human from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...yet. In this chapter we see the beginnings of the kingdom theme, as the human names the animals. Moreover, ‘Adam’ only becomes a personal name at the point where Eve is created. Until then, it is ‘the adam’ or earthling. So we see that we are only fully human in relation to others, not in-and-of ourselves alone.

Genesis 3

The serpent enters the story, a shadowy figure who resents the human made in God’s likeness. His deception is that God does not want them to be like God, when, in fact, God has purposely made them in God’s image. The question arises: will they grow into the knowledge of good and evil in God’s time, or will they attempt to fulfil their destiny in their own strength? Their choice brings a distance in their relationship with God which did not previously exist. But, God makes a decision: rather than moving to a ‘Plan B’ by taking back the rule he has entrusted humanity with, he will stick with ‘Plan A’ and work through the offspring of the humans to restore his kingdom rule.

Genesis 4

The account of Cain and Abel poses the question: how will we respond when God chooses someone else over us? No reason is given why – God does not need to justify himself – but God tells Cain that our response is what matters. Now possessing the knowledge of good and evil, we must use that knowledge to guard ourselves against the sin that seeks to devour us. Ready or not for such a task, we must now master sin, before it consumes us. This chapter reveals the conflict we must all wrestle with: on the one hand, we see the birth of music and technology, and a calling on the Lord; on the other hand, murder. Also, Cain establishes the first city.

Genesis 5

A genealogy that takes us from Adam to Noah; Enoch is a gem in the list.

Genesis 6

A strange story about heroes who have gods, or angelic beings, as fathers and human mothers, which violates God’s intentions. Then the flood story. The motivation here is God’s grief, his heart being filled with pain that humanity has turned away from him. But God makes another decision: he will stick with his intention to act through a human being (not a demi-god hero), even if only one righteous man can be found. Noah walked with God, or, lived in the relationship with God that God hoped for us. And so God reveals to Noah the particular kingdom work he has for him to do: to guarantee the survival of life on earth. Noah is obedient.

Genesis 7

Noah in the ark, hovering over the waters of chaos. Harks back to genesis 1:2. Then, God was alone. Now, he is choosing to work through the human. Noah shares in something of who God is. ‘Noah’ means ‘comfort’ and as the story expands, eventually Jesus will identify the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters, as the comforter. So, God shares in something of who Noah is. This ‘exchange’ or sharing of identities is a key component of a covenant relationship between two parties.

Genesis 8

As in Genesis 1, so God calls creation out to be fruitful and increase, re-affirming the original plan. The flood has no consequence for humanity – as in 6:5 so in 8:21, the inclinations of the human heart remain evil. But God has made another decision: that he will still work to bless creation, and to do so through the human, despite this being the case.

Genesis 9

God establishes a covenant with Noah, as the representative of all life. Humanity begins again from Noah’s three sons, whose response to their father has consequences for the story.

Genesis 10

The descendents of Japheth spread out across the earth, in obedience to God’s mandate. The descendents of Ham, who has been cursed by Noah, do the opposite: they return to the beginning, to the site of Eden, and establish cities including Babylon – at a later date, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, harking back to Eden, will be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - and Nineveh. These stand for rebellion. As the story expands, we will see God’s response: using Babylon to discipline his chosen people; sending a prophet to save Nineveh from destruction...From Hams descendents we also get the peoples of Canaan, who will be displaced for God’s chosen people. The greater blessing lies with the descendents of Shem.

Genesis 11

A group of people choose to return to the place of origins, and to build a city in deliberate defiance of God’s mandate to spread throughout the earth. God intervenes, confusing their speech. The consequence, however, lies in their inability to listen to one another, to do the hard work of understanding the other (the development of different languages does not appear to pose the same problem for the descendents of Japheth, 10:5, who are obeying God’s mandate to spread). As the story expands, this inability to listen and understand will eventually be reversed at Pentecost. The line of Shem is picked up again, running to Abram. Abram’s story is the next major turning point in the big story. Before we begin, we pause to listen to the account of his father, Terah, who sets out but can go no further when he reaches a place that rubs open a raw wound in his heart. In direct contrast to God’s blessing on all creation to be fruitful and multiply, Abram and Sarai are childless; her womb is barren.

Genesis 12

God comes to Abram, and reveals his intention to bless Abram in order that all peoples on earth should be blessed through him. When Abram arrives at the destination his father Terah had set out for, God tells the childless Abram that he will give the land to his offspring. Again, the question is posed: will Abram allow God to fulfil his promise in his own time, or will Abram try to fulfil his destiny in his own strength? As Abram’s story unfolds, we will see him oscillate between the two ways. At this point, he chooses God’s way: though God has promised this land to his offspring, Abram travels down the east (desert) side of the hill spine along which settlements have been built, not the west (fertile) side – which would have been taken as a hostile act.

UPDATE: audio recording here.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Irrevocable Call

The call of God on our lives is irrevocable (that is, he will not recall it, will not take it back). It’s just that when we try to fulfil it our own way, it takes longer. That is because, while God has a plan for his creation, he respects our choices enough to work with and through them.

I’m reflecting on the early chapters of Genesis at the moment, and this is clearly seen in the life of Abraham. God reveals that the call on Abram’s life is to be the father of a great nation, but Abraham and Sarai are childless. They try to fulfil the call by fathering a child by Sarai’s maidservant. But this does not fulfil the call – the great nation will spring from a child whose birth defies the natural order, life from a barren womb. However, far from revoking the call, God expands it: Abraham will be the father of nations. And though those lines of nations will live in conflict, God will continue to work to reconcile peoples into the fullest fulfilment of his call on Abraham’s life.

I also see this in my own church history. Jo and I were part of St Thomas’ in Sheffield from 1991-2007, both serving on the staff team there at different times. The call of God on that church is to raise up leaders for the younger generations (a rolling age-group). This call was spoken, among others, through John Wimber back in the 1980s. The notorious history of the Nine O’Clock Service is an example of what happens when we try to fulfil God’s call in our own way. A community grew up which refused to be accountable and inevitably ended in scandal. But the call of God is irrevocable. Today, St Thomas’ is both a place of marital stability among young adults, in a wider societal context of heightened relationship breakdown; and a place that is producing leaders of godly character and experience for the wider Church, as well as equipping people to pursue the call of God in all walks of life.

The call of God on our lives is irrevocable. It’s just that when we try to fulfil it our own way, it takes longer.

So, what is the call of God on your life? And how have you gone about fulfilling it?

If you don’t know what the call of God on your life is, start with the general call:
to love God, and to love our neighbour (specifically, those who live alongside us who are different to us), in the same way that we love ourselves (that is, the community of people who are like us);
and to live lives that are faithful to such love (putting God first; balancing work and rest; honouring our parents; choosing not to murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false testimony, or covet what belongs to another).
And as you do so, to listen...

Reflections On The General Election : 2

The ideological difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party is not socioeconomic – both parties see themselves as worthy paternalistic patrons to the poor – but a deeply entrenched urban/rural divide. This is expressed in our voting: with very little swings one way or another, rural constituencies vote Conservative, and urban constituencies vote Labour; with the Liberal Democrats most naturally at home in the suburbs between the two.

Labour ideology views rural life as inherently corrupt, and Conservative ideology views urban life as inherently corrupt.

In this context, the Church needs to communicate a robust theology of the soil and the city. Neither way of life is inherently corrupt; each can be expressed in life-giving or life-taking ways.

Regarding the earth, we are from the soil and return to it. We are charged with tending the earth in such a way as allows nature to be fruitful. Such activity is profoundly conservative, and in a positive sense. The land is a gift to us, and yet it is possible to take the land, as right rather than gift, as something to hold on to out of fear rather than to share. There is a dark side to the conserving, rural way of life. But it is inherently open to God’s good will, as well as resistant to it.

Regarding the city, this is biblical symbol of both declaration of autonomy from God and empire over other people, and of life-affirming cultural creativity. The city stands against the call to steward the land, and stands for the call to see a coming-together of the nations in harmony with God. God resists one way of building a city, and inspires dreams of another way of building a city. There is a dark side to the labouring, urban way of life. But it is inherently open to God’s good will, as well as resistant to it.

Rural and urban communities need each other. There are voices urging each one that they don’t, fostering suspicion of the other, or championing merely superficial connection – a rural holiday for city-dwellers, a city-break for country folk. And there are voices calling for a deeper connectedness between our cities and the rural land around them, where each finds ways of supporting the other, learning from one another, partnering together, resulting in synergy.

Ultimately, this is why the fundamental ideology of both the Labour and the Conservative parties needs challenging. They lead to stalemate. The Church has something significant to contribute – beyond relevance, resonance with the human heart - if we are ever to move beyond our current impasse.

Reflections On The General Election : 1

It has been interesting to take part in much discussion about Thursday’s General Election on facebook. Hung parliaments and social network sites are made for one another (and I mean that as a positive statement).

In my opinion, the result of the election stands as a kairos moment: how are we going to respond? In the face of the biggest budget deficit for 60 years, no one party has the ideas, resources or ability to address the issues we are facing. Just as important, no one party must be made to carry the burden of being made scapegoat for the painful consequences of the difficult decisions that will have to be made. We stand at a once-in-a-generation crossroads. The choice presented to us is this: coalition and cooperation for the greater good; or squabbling for party interests.

After thirty years of presidential and executive style government, within a system that is not presidential and executive in nature, we have the opportunity of leadership that is strong by being greater than party interest. Whether politicians will be able to take this opportunity to repent of one way and believe in a different way remains to be seen. But, while recognising that our political leaders will always let us down, I believe that hope serves us better than cynicism.

As an electorate, we have cast our votes. In some ways, it looks as if we have sent an indecisive signal; and yet, through our choices, together we have been presented with the same kairos moment. Now is the moment of decision. Regardless of who we voted for, we have a choice: will we support the government? There will need to be radical cuts to public spending, and while we will all feel the consequences, the consequences will be felt disproportionally by the poorest in our society. That does not mean that we should spend money we don’t have; but it does mean that as a society we need to ask, how can we support those who are most vulnerable in addition to through public spending? There are no easy answers, but a real need for creative thinking, learning from one another, and acting in partnerships.

Coalition and cooperation, or squabbling over our own interests, is the choice facing all of us right now, not just our politicians.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Around And About

A couple of recent blog posts worth pointing to:

Steve Taylor’s ‘10 Gates’ post on different ways in which people come to Jesus, helping us move beyond one-size-fits-all approaches to evangelism.

Christine Sine’s post on taking a spiritual audit of our lives. Her questions are both insightful and practical.

Laid Aside : Brought Low

I’m reflecting on Genesis 1-11 at present. And I’m struck by the account of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). Both bring an offering to God. God accepts Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Cain’s response is anger, which grows into fratricide.

It is generally taken that God accepts Abel’s offering because Abel’s heart is right before God, and rejects Cain’s offering because Cain’s heart was not right before God. But the account doesn’t give this or any reason why God accepts Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. And God’s observation that “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” is not a justification for rejecting Cain’s offering but a lesson in how we ought to respond when God chooses someone else instead of us.

God does not give Cain the (dubious) luxury of a theology of Original Sin as an excuse:
sin is something outside of him;
which desires to devour him;
but he must master, or exercise rule over, sin – and therefore by implication of the command, it is possible to do so.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer says this:

I am no longer my own, but Yours:

Put me to what you will,
Rank me with whom You will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You,
Exalted for You or brought low by You;
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
To Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am Yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

The implication of the account of Cain and Abel, the implication of the Methodist Covenant Prayer, is this:
God is free to respond to us as he chooses;
his not choosing to respond the way we hope does not mean that he does not love us;
and how we respond to being exalted or brought low alike matters.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Community : And Trinity

Check out this sermon on community and the nature of God. I don’t rate the preacher much, but I’m really impressed by the woman doing the reading at the start...

The Bible : Our Story

This coming Sunday evening I am starting a new course at St Andrew’s, ‘The Bible, our story’

My intention is to host one Sunday evening a month, for twelve months, and my hope is that there will be a not-too-big group of people who will commit to the series. We’ll be recording the evenings, f
or those who can’t make it any given month.

This Sunday will be something of a taster, although I think both the content and approach will vary considerable from month to month. What I have in mind for the course is to give an overview of the story told in the Bible: key themes; key personalities; how the different books fit together; and background to the books, including how the geography of the bible lands impacts the story, and the different cultures that shape the story too. As I said, I’ll be hosting, but there’ll be conversation going on too (perhaps more some months than others), not just my voice.

How will I measure the impact of the course? In the extent to which those on it grow in passion for the story that unfolds in the Bible, and confidence in finding their own part within that unfolding story.

Dates, for the rest of 2010, on the image above.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Where Is Haran?

I was reading through Genesis 1-11 this morning, the account of human beginnings that takes us from Adam to Abraham. And I was struck by the account of Abraham’s father, Terah. Terah lived in Ur, in what is today southern Iraq, and he had three sons: Abram (later, Abraham); Nahor; and Haran, who died before his father.

Terah decides to leave Ur, for Canaan. Perhaps he is running away from his son’s death, looking to make a new life. His son Abram, and Haran’s son Lot, go with him. They get about half-way, to a place named Haran, and there Terah stops.

I don’t know why Terah set out for Canaan. Perhaps he had travelled there-and-back-again in his youth? Perhaps he had passed through Haran before, and later even named a son after it? Perhaps that is co-incidence? But when he gets to Haran, he is unable to go any further. The place would appear to rub open a still-raw wound. All of a sudden, this man who had had the strength to set out from the familiar becomes old before our very eyes.

If you set out to journey with God, sooner or later an unhealed hurt of the heart will mark the point at which you stop. And at that place you have two options: allow God to heal your heart so that you can journey on; or settle for an unfulfilled dream, and learn, in time, to accommodate disappointment and regret.

(Now, settling is a metaphor for living with God, as much as journeying is. Settling somewhere – taking a place and establishing something there – is important. Some people are afraid of settling, and there’s something unhealthy in that, too. I’m not against settling. I’m just against settling in the wrong place, for the wrong reasons.)

So, where is your Haran?