Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Life in Christ..

Good morning God,

Thank you for your constant reminders this year that I am YOUR child, and that you call me by name.

I know that I am part of your new creation for you have taught me that I am more than the sum of my DNA, more than the thoughts of my mind or the desires of my heart. I am made in your image and am destined for perfection.

This is not just a 'theological statement' it is my core identity, the ground of my being, and hence the framework for the way I chose to live my life.

This is what Christ has won for me - the freedom to be all that you created me to be - and, in spite of how much it offends or upsets others - I refuse to give it up for what society in its ignorance considers I should be.

In its ignorance, society saw in the incarnation a bastard child of an unmarried mother, a refugee from political oppression who grew to be an unemployed wandering troublemaker with a whip and a loud mouth and precious little respect for authority (religious or otherwise) A common rabble rousing criminal who (for all his supposed popularity) couldn't muster enough support to plead for a stay of execution when he was finally brought before the rulers of the day.

Society has always lacked the vision and coherence to see you God - even when you were nailed up high as a sign for all to see...

But to those who do see.. to those who believe your promise that like Christ they are destined to be more than they seem to be - you give that same power to become your children - children born, not of flesh, but of your will.

And they become a new creation when they claim and take up their God given identity.
They receive from you that fullness of life which cannot be crammed into a 9 to 5 existence or measured by the number of years to live on this earth. And best of all, you do not wait until we die to give to us the knowledge of your gift to us of our new life in Christ - eternal life.
All this I know to be true.

But sadly so few of my friends and family do.
So, on the eve of this new year, and knowing a little of what lies ahead, please God,  hear my prayer for those who mistakenly grieve for me or pity me; for my family and friends and all who unwittingly think that the most important thing to know about me at the moment is how my disease or treatment is progressing..

Gracious God,
Enable those who love me
and those who know me and care for me,
to do so without pity or sorrow,
rejoicing in the fullness of life
that you have given to us all.
Grant them the ability to see all of me,
the life and the heart of me
not just the disease in me,
and help them to know that what matters most
is not how many years we have to live,
but how, with you,
we are able live the years we have
growing in grace and holiness.
Help me to live,
so that my whole life
proclaims the good news
that whoever believes in you,
will not perish,
but have everlasting life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Shhhh... the Baby's sleeping

Good Morning God

Just wanted to say thanks.

It's been an amazing few days.
Thank you for all the hugs and smiles, for gifts and grins.
Thanks too, for these few days of rest when all you ask of me is that I help rock the cradle...
and get used to the fact that you really are in my world in such an amazingly dependent, grace-filled way.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Creator God,
The waiting time is over
The fullness of time has come,
Tonight all of creation sings your praise
Tonight the heavenly host proclaims again
what Angels sang so long ago
Have no fear
For unto you a child is given

A Saviour who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign for you.
Risk taking God,
The waiting time is over
Life is given this night.
We who were lost in darkness
have seen a great light.
For you sent your son, the Word, made flesh
as the light that shines in the darkness
which the darkness can never extinguish.

Emptying himself of all but your love
He was born of Mary
and shared our human nature.
Heralded by angels,
Visited by wise and ordinary folk alike

Jesus your son,
Immanuel, God with us
grew in grace and truth
to proclaim your kingdom of Justice and Peace
For which he was put to death upon the cross.

You raised him from the dead
You refused to allow the light of hope and love to die
And by that light
You empower your people
Sending them your Holy Spirit
And calling them to be a Holy people
A Christmas people
to join the choir of your heavenly host
and sing:
Glory to God in the Highest Heaven
And on earth Peace.

Holy Holy Holy Lord
God of power and might
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the Highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the Highest

Gracious, Holy, Redeeming God,
We praise you for Jesus
Your Word of Love
who, on the night in which he was betrayed
took bread, and gave you thanks.
He broke the bread and shared it amongst the disciples saying
'Take this and eat it
This is my body given for you
Do this to remember me'
'Keep my commandments,'
'Love one another as I have loved you.'

After supper, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks
And then gave it to them saying
'This is my blood of the new covenant
It will be poured out for you and for all people
For the forgiveness of sins
Do this, whenever you drink it
In remembrance of me.'
Christ is born
The Word is spoken
God is With us

And so God of love
we remember the life that you gave to us
and all that Christ has done for us
Send down your Holy Spirit
that these gifts of bread and wine
may be for us
the Body and Blood of Christ,
the Myrrh and Gold that our Hearts and souls
need to transform the frankinsense of our praise
that we may be Holy as Christ is Holy.

This we ask through the same Lord Jesus Christ
Your ever living light and Word

Through him, with him and in him
In the unity of the Holy Spirit
all glory and honour be given to you
Almighty father
Throughout all ages

Christ is the Light of the World
Christ is the bread of life

The Word has spoken
The Word is Love
God be with us as light and life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dispersed Church

Good morning God,
A great three days in store worshipping with your dispersed people and being reminded of the truth of your words about the blind who see and the lame who walk..
You repeatedly show me how easy it is to perform such miracles - all it seems to take is the determination to not allow your Children to be forgotten or made outcasts in the first place!

So I'm off to buy baskets of Christmas Chrysanthemums and luxury shortbread to take with me as I visit your favourite sons and daughters.. A small gift  to work miracles with. It will help us all to see that those we visit  really are loved and blessed by you and me, and by the wider Church family. We will walk down memory lane together, share news of the Church, laugh at the past, talk gently but joyously of those we love but see no longer, and look forward to the future.
It's no wonder I love this time.. its full of your grace and love,  and your miraculous ability to weave prayer out of presence and bread  and wine out of mince pies and tea.

Bless you God..

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An invitation..

Good morning God,
I've been caught out again by how little quality time I seem to be spending with you at the moment.
I have had to remind myself several times this week to take time out to just talk to you about the things that I am seeing, doing or preparing. Sorry, being 'too busy'  is just another way of taking you for granted, and I promised myself I wouldn't do that. I don't want to forget it is YOU that I am so busy dressing up in tinsel, pushing into oranges, or delivering with Christmas Chrysanthemums.

It's so easy to get sucked in and allow the religious bits and the business of Christmas substitute for our personal time together. But this means that I could miss the sound of your voice as you laugh with me, and run the risk of not even recognising that it is your hand that has touched my heart, lifted it and filled me with joy... and that's not good enough - you would never do that to me.

So thank you for the prompting, and allow me to issue you with a personal invitation to a very special early morning communion tomorrow morning. Before the crowds arrive for all age worship, and before the stewards bustle about the place sorting out the sound system, hymn boards, advent candles, Christmas trees and whatever else.. I have prepared a quiet place and time to be still and know that You are GOD.

It's selfish of me I know, (given everything else that is going on) but I really do need you to come, you see, it would mean nothing if you were not there.

I hope to use the time to remember those who  need at-one-ment; those who need to shed tears before they can face the other members of their family over Christmas dinner; those who need strength and consolation and who need to hear your heavenly host saying 'do not fear'. Those who need to remember who you are in the midst of Christmas, and what you invite us to do...

Thank you God,
For your prevenient grace,

As you know there wont be many of us,
just a small gathering..
two or three maybe..

but - I'm so glad you have invited me to spend time with you
To come and feast at your table, before setting my own

And for somehow making sure that I would not be too busy to cry -  come Lord Jesus.

Love you God.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pleasing, pandering and placating

Ok God,
I admit it,
I like to be liked, and I don't like it when what I say or do upsets people. I hate the sense of failure, the endless rehearsals of conversations that have already happened and the echoes of words that weren't said going round and round in my head. I hate the sense of needing to put right what I didn't think I had done wrong in the first place, the restless pacing and the troubled sleep..
There is absolutely nothing to like about being at the root of some one's irritation.. there is nothing pleasing or satisfying about causing frustration, distress, anguish, or anger - either deliberately or inadvertently.

Even if it is sometimes gospel work.

When you sent me to minister you didn't give me an excuse to do all that I can to please, pander to or placate someone by holding silence or worse - by not telling the truth or by lying. You sent me to find a way to speak the truth in love - and demanded that I love the truth enough to be prepared to speak it regardless of the cost.

But its hard to love a truth that few seem to value and even fewer are prepared to commit to.
Who wants truth at Christmas? All we want is snow, Santa, mince-pies, carols, candles and plenty of peace on earth..

We don't want to know about people dying because of our greed, expenditure and thoughtlessness. We don't want to know that most families will throw away more food in three days over Christmas than some families have to eat all month... leave alone the truth that we could change all that - if we really wanted to..

But just imagine what a gift it could be to the world if every Christian chose to give life instead of aftershave or bubble-bath for Christmas. If everyone of us gave the money we had intended to spend on presents to someone who would spend it on staying alive, realising their potential, growing in grace, and building a world fit for life...

What could happen if instead of pandering to the consumerist god, instead of trying to please everyone by getting family and friends what THEY want and placating our sense of unease by giving a token sum to charity over Christmas, every Christian did what YOU expect of us.. just once?

The truth is - at Christmas we celebrate the fact that You, who could have had everything, chose instead to empty yourself of everything - so that we might have life...

And you call us to do the same..

Its not popular, and doing it will upset many a soul expecting an ipod, or a computer, or a bike or a digi-box or a sat-nav or a box of chocolates.. especially if we have the courage to tell them why.. but just once maybe...

It might make this Christmas more of a celebration of what YOU want!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And there's more..

Good Morning God,

There's a peculiar form of religious linguistic schizophrenia in a significant number of your ministers these days, including me - and it's all to do with holding the tension between making the gospel accessible for all, and challenging people to accept the challenge of discipleship.

Starting where people are often seems to entail 'dumbing down' the language of faith - but the reason that there is a language of faith is precisely because some things need to be said differently to even stand a chance of being understood: the great mystery at the heart of the Eucharist for example, needs the proclamation
'Holy Holy Holy Lord', God of power and might..
'God you are bloody Amazing!' - doesn't always manage to communicate the awe, wonder and otherness of that moment.

Likewise, 'my mate Jesus' , the guy we talk about in the pub, or at mother and toddlers group etc, can sometimes seem a little too nice to make powerful, life-changing, world shaping demands of us..

Liturgy has its place - especially at Christmas. Its important that we do somehow communicate the challenge of faith, not just the choice of faith, because to do less is to strip the gospel of any real import. Being a Christian ends up being reduced to something similar to being a supporter of a particular football team, or pop idol, or strictly come dancing contestant without the challenge of discipleship.

There's more - so much more to being a Christian than knowing ABOUT you God. Christ didn't come just to give us a religious holiday or a feel good factor. Our Christmas language can remind us that Christ came to give us so much more..

In Christ you invite us to encounter the truth of what we are not yet - but are invited to become, and to know that there is an 'other' who is 'holy' and different from us who, even in our wildest imaginings we could not consider ourselves to be the equal of.. but who nonetheless draws us close.

So we religious language schizophrenics spend our Christmases telling our stories with knitted nativities, or similar props, all the while we are really waiting and praying for the moment of grace when your Spirit can break in and speak. We conduct our candlelit carol services, and hold our breath in anticipation of the Holy speaking through words and music..
Finally, when we know our words are too simplistic and chatty, you nudge us to reach for the religious liturgical silence which speaks most powerfully albeit religiously into the timeless spark of grace, when - as Wesley put it - you were 'contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man'

When that silence has spoken, stilled the chaos and birthed possibility; and whilst the echo of it still lingers in the memory, you give us a moment to make the invitation: -

there's more...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Incarnational Christmas ministry

Good morning God,

I do enjoy the greater freedom and liberty I have at this time of the year to be me - to be a minister of the Church - a bearer of good news, a 'Christmas' person and to practice incarnational ministry.

In these last two weeks before Christmas I feel almost as expected as Santa Claus.. well in some quarters anyway.

People who seldom darken the door of the Church but who make great use of our cafe seem to feel the impulse to 'just pop in' and 'light a candle or two' or even 'say a prayer for the old folks'.. And conversation is so much easier and naturally focused...
Jesus is the reason for the season after all...

As always, the real task is finding a way to help your people make use of this gift of your prevenient grace so that the warmed hearts full of Christmas cheer can be used to open the door to lifelong relationships with you and to the great adventure of discipleship.

Most people are incredibly bad at seizing the opportunities you provide us with to talk about you and the difference you can make to life. It's almost as though somewhere along the line we were all brainwashed into believing that talking about you means blurting out all we know about you, from cradle to cross - all before the soul has finished their tea!

But at Christmas it's different - Christmas provides everyone with an excuse for small talk about being away from home at Christmas
about babies and refugees,
about homelessness and loneliness,
about wise-men and daft gifts,
about angels and messages,
about being looked after - and seeing for yourself.
about the bitter cold and hope for the future,
about longing and fear
about life
about the WHY of it all
the search for what's it all FOR?

And it's never easier than at Christmas to strike up a conversation that really could change a life. People are far more receptive to strangers due to the 'Christmas spirit'.
So this is the time to go wherever your people are and be present in the midst of them, wherever.. in the pub, in the gym, at the school gate, in the supermarket, on the high street on the station platform, on the park bench - and of course in the Cafes.. opening up conversations, being the story teller, the gospel bearer, the fool for Christ..

This is the time for riding the bus and giving away free smiles,
for singing all the words to the piped carols in the shops
and for being the quiet present that you provide, the shoulder to cry on, the listening ear, the light shines in the darkness wherever its needed.

This is people time,
Story time
Gift time
Your time.

And all because - in the fullness of time - you came yourself and gave us the never-ending story to tell.

And I love it - thank you God.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pseudocide ( or doing a Reggie)

Good morning God,

I've been thinking about the similarity between committing pseudocide (or as we Brits tend to say - doing a Reggie Perrin) and responding to your calling to discipleship.

For some people there is something distinctly alluring about walking away from life as it is, to seek the life that they always knew they should have had.. but somehow didn't get.. The mindless mediocrity of modern living is often such a stark contrast to the impulses engendered by the imagination of the soul that it is no wonder that people long for the difference, for the possibility to turn flights of fancy into reality. The awareness of being trapped in a life that is not unpleasant or distasteful merely boring and uneventful is part of the awakening of the soul.

This then is for many the real hunger and motivation behind the search for faith which we misguidedly refer to as a 'God shaped Hole' or the yearning for spirituality.
What many people are yearning for is personal fulfillment, creativity, meaning and opportunity.. a chance to be the person that deep down they believe they really are. They want a chance to break free from the mundane and BE..
And so we offer them....?


Another regular routine to slip into and another familiar face to wear.

Whereas - if we offered them YOU and the challenge of discipleship, they really could be transformed because you invite your disciples to live very different, imaginative, and creative lives.

You call your people to live dangerously, to take risks for the sake of your kingdom, to take part in a bigger enterprise where they are not just a cog in a wheel but an essential member of the team you have hand picked to assist in the evolution of all creation. You offer them a lousy salary (sorry God but you do) but a brilliantly unpredictable life - oh yes.. and a new identity too..

Becoming a disciple is your invitation to take up a new life - to walk away from everything that enslaves, demeans, and stifles the human soul.. without having to leave your pants in the sand!
You invite people to step out onto the waves, rather than into the sea.. to dare to be different.. rather than politely respectable.. for the sake of the hungry, the homeless, and those who believe they are truly hopeless.

So.. how much do we really want to leave our old lives behind?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Five things I love about Methodism

Good morning God,

Micky, Dave and Richard, are all pointing to The Road to Elder-ado: 5 things I love about Methodists. In her post however, Micky also raises the challenge: So - go on then, why do you love Methodism?

So here's my response:

Five things I love about Methodism

1. Evangelical Arminianism
The amazing news that you are not the God of the elect few but are the God of the poor and the God of the ruling classes, chattering classes, (even Methodist classes) needs to be shouted out in a country where Church is still equated primarily with the ageing white (respectable) middle-classes. Such news just has to be shared, how can we keep it to ourselves? Wherever this truth is understood it leads to passionate preaching - in some peculiar places, throughout the whole world: outdoors, indoors, in graveyards, on hilltops, in tent meetings, cafes, basements, market-squares, gyms, at the sea side, in city halls, and on top of plinths! Oh.. and sometimes in Churches too!

2. Social Holiness

Without social justice the church simply makes a liar and a hypocrite of you and your love of us God. You cared enough about us to get down and get mucky – how can we do less and still claim to be your disciples? Methodists don’t believe salvation can be earned by good deeds, but neither do they believe that someone can be saved and not respond to your call to help end the injustice, ignorance, hatred and fear that still enslaves and demeans your creation.

3. Growth in grace

Salvation is just the start of it..
There’s more… !
No matter how ‘good’ we think we are,
No matter how ‘good’ our knowledge of Scripture or theology is
no matter how ‘good’ our relationship with you is God,
The more we respond to your grace – the more grace abounds
It just keeps getting better…
Sanctification – here we come…

4. Worship
Extempore prayer, high quality preaching, and the best hymns in Christendom – what’s not to like?

5. Connexionalism

Not to be confused with what is termed ‘The Connexion’ and never to be reduced to a team, Connexionalism is the Methodist way of being Church.
Using the circuit as the centre for local mission and the Conference as the centre for national Conferring, Connexionalism (spelt with an X to represent the Cross at the centre of our belonging) allows us to express our equality before you and our assent to our common calling: it promotes and resources our mission and diversity by actively encouraging our non-conformity! It's quirky and problematic at times, its a disabled body rather than a perfect magisterium, but that's what makes it work so well - it keeps us dependent on your grace for our survival rather than on a bishop or two, (or even a whole house of them). It is how you have bound us together in love.

Ok.. I KNOW this might read like an ideal image of Methodism. It's true that it varies from place to place.. but the things that I love are still recognisable in more places than people might think. From the work I do in ministerial training for example, I know that there is a real hunger in those you are calling to minister to be allowed to BE Methodist. It's also possible to detect an increasing longing amongst the membership for Methodists to rediscover their own identity and practices.

Maybe you haven't finished with us yet God.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Go and sin no more - Christian responses to Climate Change

Good morning God,
I realise this might seem strange, but do you mind if we talk about sin - because I'm beginning to get really confused as to what it is, and what it isn't. I thought I had it sussed - My Wesleyan heritage teaches me that sin is anything that I knowingly do which causes a breakdown in our relationship. I'm Wesleyan through and through and know that having accepted your gracious gift of salvation, I cannot sin in ignorance (to even suggest that I can makes a monster and a liar out of you. )

So I'm struggling with all this corporate Christian politically correct Copenhagen climate change confession nonsense which has preachers and pastors praying for forgiveness for what our ancestors, not so long ago, gave you their heartfelt thanks for. I cannot believe that you deem human progress and evolution to be a sin. So I don't need to ask forgiveness for the ingenuity, drive and creativity behind the industrial revolution or the technological/digital revolution which has followed it.

Am I appalled at pollution YES, am I disgusted at wanton exploitation - YES, am I ashamed by the greed which consumes the planet YES, YES, YES - and these are things that I can and do repent of.. especially my part in them..

But I cannot bring myself to even loosen the sandals of the mea-culpa Corporate Christian let alone publicly repent of my personal carbon footprint at the moment because I am so appalled at the deliberate manipulation of the gospel by those who think we know no better.

What on earth is going on? Does anyone really believe that if Christians can be persuaded that the things that cause climate change are their fault and are wicked sins that they will stop doing them? How effective has that policy been at stopping adultery!

Don't misunderstand me God, I KNOW that we need to address our greed, indifference and consumerism. I'm not objecting to wanting to get Christians engaged with the need to change hearts and minds so that we can see the consequences to our neighbour of our reckless use of the world's scarce resources and truly repent of our failure to keep your commandments.
What I object to is the idea that the only way we seem to have of doing this, is through guilt and blame and the imposition of a sack of sin.

Can those who speak for the faith find nothing in the gospel of joy, hope, incarnation and resurrection to bring to bear on these issues - must they repeatedly reduce Christianity to the doctrine of sin instead of your gift of salvation?

There was, for example, very little hope in the report 'Hope in God's future' - just loads of guilt and sin offered in the assumption that:

' It may be that desire for this newness of life, for lives washed clean of the stain of our sin (Ps. 51), is the strongest motivation for the change of life to which God calls us.'

How could a Methodist or Wesleyan buy into such a negative presentation of the gospel and such a sad denial of your GRACE?
2000 years after Christ and we are still in the business of trying to make people feel guilty in order to shame or frighten them into heaven: Didn't we learn anything from the old hell-fire and damnation days?

Love, not guilt or shame or fear, love is the fulfilling of the law.
It will be when I have truly learned to love my neighbour, not when I am scared of and confess some priestly imposed sin, that the world will be changed for the better.

So about this sin business God, do you mind if I don't - I've been trying to give it up.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christian Perfection and The Not Dead Yet Club

Good morning God - thank you for a great night's sleep and for the energy of this morning. You've given me another day to think about my membership of the 'not dead yet club' and why its so important to me.

Since I made the choice to be a member rather than an adherent, and committed myself to playing a full part in my life, I must confess, I have grown in grace in ways I really would not have imagined. It has provided me with new insights into prayer, given me an awareness of the power of the sacrament to truly resurrect, of the importance of ministry to be 'truth bearing' rather than just 'soothe saying' - and it has totally transformed my reading of scripture.
But above all this - my membership has made me realise just how much I really love your people.

'I give you a new commandment - that you are to love one another, just as I have loved you.'

This deep gift of grace - the power to love - fills me and overflows into every aspect of life is almost impossible to describe. I recognise it best as that part of you which truly is in me. It is the transformational, resurrectional power that reaches out to hold and embrace, to release hope and quell fear, to nurture into that fullness of life where there is no answer to be afraid of, only another question we are invited to explore. It is the part that commands and compels me to hold out the hope of Christian perfection and theosis as a reality not a doctrine.

This, you are teaching me, is what it means to be incarnate - to be 'God with us' - to love so completely that we do not fight shy of being all that we are and all we are destined to be.

You can't be a member of the not dead yet club without wanting and encouraging others to join, because belonging makes you so - well - alive! It makes you rejoice and share the good news that the purpose of life is not to live as long as you can, but as fully as you can, with one aim - Christian perfection. 'Not only are you not dead yet - but God has not finished with you yet- for you are not yet perfect. And that purpose alone transcends the transition we call death and continues into the life everlasting.

My membership of the not dead yet club (aka the Church) has been renewed and transformed this year by so many things. Many will think that the greatest influence has been the knowledge of my own mortality - but in truth - the greatest inspiration has been the need to find forgiveness and understanding for those who react so badly to the news that I have cancer. I needed an answer for those whose fear of sickness, death, disability and dying, (or any one of the many 'problems' that diseases can cause) persuades them that I can't possibly live life fully now, but must be forced to live it decreasingly, in miniature, in hushed tones, breathy prayers and reduced responsibilities until I die. I needed to find a way to reduce my anger at such people, and hopefully persuade them to allow me to live!

This then has been your answer to my prayer for greater grace when all I have wanted to do is scream at people 'I'm not dead yet' . You have helped me to love them, and find a way of pointing out their fearful gospel of limitations. You have helped me to love them, and at the same time to grieve for their lack of confidence in your creation and grace. You have given me enough love for them to be able to leave them if needs be in order that I might live.

You have taught me how to proclaim - not scream - my membership and ministry in the not dead yet club.

I am not dead yet - I am being perfected in grace
You have not finished with me yet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent and the NHS

Good afternoon God,
The BBC has just reported that:
The NHS in England must get better at diagnosing cancers at an earlier stage if it is to continue to improve survival rates, the cancer tsar says.

This report has deeply disturbed my Advent preparations with the fear that it has the potential to evoke for in two days time I will have a biopsy which should enable the doctors to finally diagnose what sort of cancer I have. So far they have guessed at four different sorts, but the truth is - they just don't know - yet. Everything they have done so far has been inconclusive - leading to the last statement that I am 'mysterious and interesting but nonetheless stable!' (Not a bad description of me some would say!)

Meanwhile, I feel fine, I am enjoying excellent health, I have energy, enthusiasm and hope...
So do I want to know the results of the biopsy? And do I want to know the results before Christmas or after?

There is nothing like the threat of the knowledge of death to focus us on the meaning and value of life..

Which is why, I realise now, Advent is so important to me - it is a time when life and death are woven together, when hope and salvation are offered in the face of defeat and despair - comfort, comfort my people...

Unfortunately, Advent is all too often presented as a warning to the Church to get better at early sin diagnosis and improve the chances of survival for your people. When seen this way, the Advent message has the same potential to generate fear as the report on cancer does.

It is believed that this approach to Advent offers the Church a time to focus on the need for repentance and on your wrath and judgement.. the 'Or Else' of Advent - Repent or Die! After all, our survival (or if you prefer, salvation), is,we have been taught, ultimately dependent on our finding and curing the root cause of sin.. and, God, all too many remain totally unaware or just unconcerned about their state of grace before you..

Should we tell them before Christmas - or after?
Will it ruin their Christmas to know?

But this is NOT what advent is for and God forbid that I should ever play into the fear and trembling that denies your gift of grace!

So help me, this Advent, God, to tell people before it's too late, before they walk away from the truth they are too afraid to risk hearing that the coming of Christ is a message of hope not fear, of new life, not death. Help me to sing out with the heavenly host to all those worried about their sin, or the state of their souls - 'Have No fear' for Advent is your promise of love and a sign of your commitment to our health and wholeness, now and always..

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Excited about preaching from Scripture..

Good afternoon God,
Just a quick word of thanks for the book of Revelation - I'm loving it!
I can't say that I'm making too much sense of it, but I'm beginning to think that's that whole point of it. Let the mind go.. leave logic behind and see where your vision takes me..
I've noticed that there's just enough of a hint of normality in the book to entice my mind to play with the possibilities - it really is just like one of Escher's drawings, makes perfect sense as long as you don't look or think about it too long!

It makes me excited to find out what happens next - after all - everyone is dead already - the righteous have been harvested, the unrighteous too.. the grapes of wrath trodden - blood flowing higher than a horses bridle.. and we're only on chapter 14!

And yes.. it certainly makes writing sermons far more of a creative process
For tomorrow's Eucharist the text is Revelation 15:1-4..
So I've got bread, wine, seven angels, seven plagues, seas of glass and fire and victorious people with harps singing to you..

And the message for the day is...?

Love it !
Thank you God..
Did anyone ever tell you - great book this!

Monday, November 23, 2009

An embarrassed silence in heaven?

Good morning God,

Did heaven keep silence for the recent talks between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury? I ask because it has been reported that they talked for about half an hour. Half an hour to discuss what is (sadly) for some a crucial life-defining, if not eternity deciding, issue.
Is the Church to be enriched by its differences, or destroyed by its diversity?

But this is not about the future of the Anglican communion or the success of the Catholic Church is it God? What is really at stake here is the ability of the whole Church to hold on to and honour the gifts of grace you have given it over the last two centuries and refuse to crawl back into the dark ages from which you dragged it to reform it, re-educate and reshape it.

I acknowledge my bias God, but I really cannot believe that it is your will for the Church to still promote what amounts to a medieval ordering of society as the best way for the gospel to flourish. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS for all or it is nothing, Once - for all - my saviour died.

But how is it good news for women to be told that they lack something so fundamental that you would never consider calling them to serve you in some forms of public ministry? Likewise how is it good news for people's humanity to be defined by their sexuality, and for their worth before you to be determined by those who are so afraid of their own sexuality that they willing choose to suppress it and pretend to a 'virtue' of celibacy?

The bitter gall of these conversations is that they once again appear to present the whole Church to the world as being concerned about nothing more than sex and bigotry. The embarrassment of these two supposed great world religious leaders meeting to compare sticks is surely enough to silence heaven - isn't it God?

Why couldn't they have met to talk about freeing up and using their Church's combined wealth to offer a Christmas gift of AIDs drugs or Tetanus Vaccines for Africa? Or better yet, to issue a public apology to all women whose lives have been ruined as a result of the Church's teaching on the rights of man?

God, forgive me, but it's hard to be associated with this broken, disabled body of Christ sometimes.

When I talk to young people about your love, about your desire for them to grow and flourish, to become all that they can be in your eyes - I believe that you mean for them to exceed the expectations of the world, regardless of their gender or sexuality. I believe that in every generation you raise up women and men to proclaim the good news and celebrate the mystery of faith, not as a means of wielding power, but as a means of setting all free.

The discussions that have just been held are perhaps a sign that religion as a force for the advancement of humanity is all but spent. The so-called 'traditional' established and historical Churches seem stuck on pack leadership, Alpha males and the size of the harem.

It's time for the reformed traditions to end their silence and publicly name and shame this behavior as un-worthy, un-Christian and sinful.

So, please, will you help us God?

Before the body of Christ becomes even more broken and crippled, will you grant us sufficient grace to work for its healing? Will you raise up voices, who are more interested in you and your grace than in power games and politics - and grant our Churches wisdom and courage enough to let them speak? Will you instill in us a longing to proclaim the GOOD NEWS that you LOVE the world - all of it?

But above all - will you help us to name and shame the sins of misogyny and homophobia masquerading as doctrinal rectitude and so help us to finally consign to a shameful history the petty medieval bickering's of the fearful and faithless in their palaces?

For the sake of the next generation
Please God - don't let your people be silent on this matter.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pioneer Ministry and Fresh Expressions of Church

Good morning God,
The launch of my new book today finds me thinking about all the things I didn't think to include in it rather than all the things I did.
The book is specifically targeted at Church ministers and at members of Congregations who want to engage with pioneer ministry and fresh expressions of Church without losing everything they love or value of what they already do. We wrote it to be deliberately practical and constructive, a 'how to' rather than a 'why bother' sort of book because, as you pointed out God, most Church people want to rethink what they are doing about mission and especially about evangelism and worship - but aren't sure how to start. They have convinced themselves that its not for them, they are too old, or too set in their ways, or too...

This is partly because the role of Pioneer ministers and Fresh Expressions Practitioners has been so hyped up by Bishops and the Church press. They have become the Church's equivalent of the yuppies of the 80s and 90's business world. They are the new kids on the block, with everything to live for, nothing to lose. They are invariably presumed to be below a certain age, male, casual, entrepreneurs who sit lightly to any form of authority or accountability..

The book shatters that image and shows how a fairly 'ordinary' or typical Church or minister, determined to respond to your grace, can begin to pioneer and explore Fresh Expressions.

But of course.. if you put your head above the parapet...
I know that I can look forward to receiving more comments about what I didn't suggest than about what I did.. perhaps enough for a sequel?

Sorry God, I'm wondering off the track again... what I wanted to say was simple enough..

Please, bless all those who read this book.
Use it, if you can, to inspire people to be creative and constructive for you and for your kingdom. And may the joy that I had in the writing of it, be communicated to those who read it, so that the hope that inspired it, of your people renewed and enthused for mission, might be the end result.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Riding out the storm of life

Good morning God,

Thank you for your company last night, I really appreciated it. The wind's fury may not have been stilled by a prayer, but its ability to disturb and distress me was destroyed by your presence and the lesson you taught me.

Thank you.
I wont forget.
This small boat of a body that sails the seas of life may well be rocked and tossed and turned in The days and weeks ahead - but you are with me.
I need have no fear

Though not all howls will be silenced with a whisper from your lips, you will never allow a cry from me to be snatched away by the wind or to be drowned out by the thunder. For You are with me - and - best of all - you invite me to step out of my safety zone, and join you striding across the waves.

I have always known that there is a place for storms and a need for waves. There is a power in the fury that is part of you and is essential to salvation and creation. But last night you taught me that daring to join you enables me to be caught up in the continual genesis of your grace when power and passion floods the soul with a love of peace and a hunger for new life.

Though I did not sink beneath the waves, I woke this morning to find that my legs are still trembling with the memory of how last night, we did not calm the storm but walked the waters till its fury was spent, new life was given and your rainbow heralded the dawn of a new day.

So in future, though my knees may be weak and my steps uncertain, I will try to remember how important it can be to let the storm rage. I will remember too how important it is to leave my place of relative safety, for I know now that you call us to master our fear and make a miracle happen. You invite us to step out and walk with you, wherever your Spirit thunders at the injustice, poverty, crime, and hatred in our world until we rage and long, as you do, for its cleansing and healing. For then, and only then, I suspect, will the storm be stilled for all time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Education and Ministry - Wesley's lists!

Good morning God,

You are going to need to explain to me why so many good people seem to automatically presume that an educated person is somehow less Spiritual or less caring, or even less practical than an uneducated one. I just don’t get it – especially not with regard to what is necessary for ministry.

John Wesley was adamant that those called to the ordained ministry should possess several qualities in order to be able to fulfil the duties of their calling. These he categorized as being either acquired or inherited by grace or nature. In 'An Address to the Clergy' he says that the natural gifts should include 'First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness'

As might perhaps be expected, given the extent of his own learning, Wesley also deemed 'a competent share of knowledge' of each of the following to be desirable acquired qualities:
  • Firstly: the office of a minister, 'of the high trust in which he stands, the important work to which he is called'
  • Secondly: the Scriptures
  • Thirdly: Greek and Hebrew
  • Fourthly: history, including ancient customs, chronology and geography.
  • Fifthly: Some knowledge of the sciences, of logic, metaphysics, at least the general grounds of natural philosophy, as well as of geometry,
  • Sixthly: the writings of the Church Fathers
  • Seventhly: of the world; 'a knowledge of men, of their maxims, tempers, and manners, such as they occur in real life.'

Wesley also expected clergy to have acquired both prudence and ‘good breeding’, a good voice and 'good delivery both with regard to pronunciation and action'

All of which makes my request for every minister after 2013 to have to have a degree before being ordained seems rather small!

Of course Wesley was also convinced that such an education was not, of itself sufficient for ministry. 'For what are all other gifts', he insisted, 'whether natural or acquired, when compared to the grace of God? And how ought this to animate and govern the whole intention, affection, and practice of a minister of Christ!

The problem comes when people insist on an 'either-or' mentality instead of one that says both-and.

Yes, I confess, this is personal, as you know only too well.
I have never got used to the fact that some people presume (and delight in telling me!) that I cannot possibly be pastoral or spiritual because (in their opinion) I am too 'cerebral'! Throughout my ministry, you have had to help me live with, and learn how to forgive, the spiteful comments and criticisms of those who do not know me and have never taken the trouble to get to know me, but who have judged me and found me wanting in faith and grace, simply because in their opinion I am ‘too clever’.

Such anti-intellectualism is evident in the bizarre form of political correctness in the Church’s conversations about this subject which makes it almost impossible to dare to suggest that education is AS valuable as practical ministerial skills and that – yes - this might mean - horror of horrors - that maybe, just maybe, not everyone IS called to ordained ministry.

The charge is that I am being elitist by wanting every ordained minister to possess a degree, but this presumes a view of ministry which I simply do not share. I believe that YOU equip the Church with all the gifts and graces it needs to flourish and grow - but I also think that this has become a source of embarrassment to us, God, because – well, you don't always seem to give everyone the gifts and graces that they want, do you (in our humble opinion)!

Of course you do, but there is this misguided idea that you have established a hierarchy of ministry rather than a diversity, and that hierarchy is based on how 'clever' someone is.

Rubbish! Those are the not the values of your kingdom. I find nothing in scripture to suggest that you order the gifts and graces that you share amongst us in that way. The parable of the talents seems to suggest that what matters is not what grace we are given, but what we do with it for your sake!

So help us out God, instead of teaching us how to devalue or dumb down ministry teach us instead how to get ourselves to the stage where we can genuinely celebrate its rich diversity and the gift of the ‘the priesthood of all believers’.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Qualified to Minister?

Good morning God,

The news this morning is that all new nurses in the UK from 2013 are going to have to spend at least three years being educated to degree level. Hallelujah! As someone who has to be in hospital on a regular basis, I think this is great news. But of course there are already some who insist that education has nothing to do with caring and that you don't need a degree to be a good nurse..

We have the same problem in ministry.

It will come as a surprise to many readers of this blog to know that the British Methodist Church has no formal graduate educational requirement for ordained ministry. Someone can enter training for the ministry without a degree of any sort and can complete their time in seminary without having acquired one in the time they have spent there.

The failure to achieve what is clearly becoming the minimum professional academic standard is not thought sufficient reason for the Church to reconsider the individual's suitability for ministry and delay their ordination.

But it really should be.

In the twelve years that I have been involved in training our ministers I have witnessed many who have really struggled with academic work, who would never have thought of themselves as 'clever' in any way, but who have nonetheless worked and worked to obtain the degree or diploma which forms an integral part of their seminary training. Ministry matters enough to them for them to really want to do well. They strive to be worthy of their calling by learning all that they can for the sake of those they will minister to.

Sadly I have also seen far more 'clever' students who fail to submit work at all, who plagiarise the work of others or cut and paste something from the Internet or just knock out an essay in an half hour thinking that anything will do. They often leave seminary as uneducated as when they arrived - and are usually stupid enough to think that there is nothing wrong with that!

And inevitably the work of the Church really suffers. The body of Christ is sick, but is being ministered to by some ministers who weren't prepared to learn how to take its pulse (but who do, of course, have an uneducated opinion about how to do it!)

The British Methodist Church at the moment does not seem to believe that ordained ministry requires people to be educated to what is fast becoming the national standard for a vocational profession. Obviously we presume our ministers know enough about you God by loving you and that they shouldn't need formal qualifications to prove it.

The government believes that a nurse needs a degree in order to equip them with 'the decision making skills which they need to make high level judgements'.

But Ministers...? Why would they need a degree?

What use is theology in ministry anyway God?

None of the disciples had a degree did they?

It's not just that I am ashamed of the poor standard of ministerial education compared to our European and American counterparts, I am also horrified at the biblical and theological illiteracy which we foster on our people as a result.

The lack of ability of all too many ministers to engage critically and analytically with the rest of the world using the resources of the faith, (Scripture, reason, tradition and experience) is one of the main reasons that the gospel is often deemed irrelevant and anachronistic. It is widely thought by those who must wrestle with global problems such as ecology, justice, the war on terror and human trafficking that the Christian faith is as much use in such matters as belief in the tooth fairy is.

Surely the best way to begin to change this and to recover a national voice which can speak confidently and intelligently of Your concerns in these matters, is for the Church to follow the lead of the government. All ministers from 2013 should need a minimum qualification of a recognised Bachelors degree in theology or ministry before they can be ordained.

The fear that this will prevent people from offering for ordained ministry must surely be set alongside the fear of what is happening to the Gospel because we don't!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An end to ordained ministry?

Good morning God,

What does it take to persuade a minister to leave their church? The process of becoming a minister was so arduous for some that it seems almost inconceivable that anyone who put themselves through it would walk away casually - unless of course, they enjoy self harm! And then of course, there are the practicalities of having to find a new job (what ARE the transferable skills of the clergy?) and of course, a new home - few jobs outside the Church come with a place to live. And for some, there are other concerns, like health insurance, car allowance etc etc.

Yet in spite of this, more and more ordained Christian ministers are leaving the Church.

  • It isn't that they don't want to minister,
  • it isn't that they don't love the people that You have placed in their care -
  • it isn't even the inevitable petty squabbles that happen each and every week which the minister is routinely expected to resolve..

Almost without exception, those who leave state that they are just as convinced of their calling to ordained ministry as when they first offered to serve You.

So what is going wrong God?

The majority of those I have spoken to about this cite a breakdown in the relationship with the 'institutional' Church as the main reason why they left. Some speak almost bitterly of the lack of support, of isolation, of mismanagement and even of betrayal.

But they are not talking about doctrines, about Scripture or even the traditions of the Church. Neither is this about belief in You. It is about the perceived failure of the Church to practice what it preaches at every level - including the institutional. The trend towards treating ministers as corporate employees, with contracts and line-managers, HR departments and handbooks, is a step too far for some who claim it dehumanises ministry, negates 'pastoral care' and replaces YOU with the Church at the heart of ministry.

The other side to this of course, it the appalling standard of ministry which local Churches have to endure from ministers who insist on doing their own thing, who cannot be disciplined except for major offenses, who will not hold themselves accountable, and who sit lightly to the practices and doctrines of their Church. Not surprisingly - such ministers seldom leave of their own volition! The frightening increase in the numbers of such ministers persuades many that the only answer is for the Church to embrace models of leadership, management and governance borrowed from industry.. which encourages others to leave..

The challenge for the Church is to find the balance...

I'm not convinced that there was once a golden age when the Church took better care of its ministers, but I do agree that the institutional Church seems less and less conscious of, or even concerned about, the part that You play in ministry and the needs of the minister for pastoral care and the opportunity to grow in grace and holiness rather than to be 'managed'.

I am also forced to agree with those who say that there is an increase in the number of ministers for whom the word 'sacrifice' is not only archaic but simply 'not in the contract'.

There is however, little to suggest that the Church has either the courage or the confidence to act to obtain the balance we need.

Which begs the question - has ordained ministry perhaps had its day..?

The simple fact is we could do without it..
The Church has always grown fastest when it didn't have it..

What do you say God?

Friday, November 6, 2009

The sad story of Fort Hood.

Good morning God,
Yes, I am afraid. The shootings in Ford Hood in America or more importantly, the reporting of it, bring us dangerously close to the religious war that no sane person could possibly want - except of course, the reporters. It makes for a much better story doesn't it if the killer went wild because he is a Muslim. If he had been a Christian who didn't want to be deployed in Iraq - would we have been told what his religion was? It should grieve us, not incite us to mass hatred and prejudice, if someone is so sick and disturbed that they kill in this way - from the Hungerford massacre to the school killings.. a tale of human tragedy.
Islam is not as the press are portraying it, anymore than Christianity is. The media MAKE a story where none exists, playing on perverse caricatures which demean and betray ALL people of faith - and we let them.
There is no such thing as a 'typical' Muslim or a 'typical' Christian - for all are made unique - for all are made in your image God. So when we allow our perceptions of our fellow human beings to be defined by the ignorance and prejudices of those who need to sell a paper for a few pence.. we shame ourselves and You, God.
If we were really determined to follow you, and to keep your commandments - especially the one which says we should love our neighbour as ourselves then every time a Muslim brother or sister is caricatured as ignorant, violent, backward, stupid or fundamentalist - Christians the world over should demand that the record be put straight. In time that might lead to the situation where every time a Christian sister or brother is caricatured as being homophobic, racist, misogynist and ignorant - Muslims the world over will demand that the record be put straight. That would leave the media having to find another source for their fear mongering.
But we are far removed from that state at the moment
God - help us, please, to reign in our fear, and pull back from the brink of a war caused by the the need for some to find a sensational angle on the all too common sad, sad story of human sickness...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Poppys and Peace

Good morning God,

I am troubled by the news of the deaths of five British servicemen in Afghanistan - especially, if I'm honest , this close to remembrance day. I struggle with the idea of remembrance Sun day - with its mixed up messages of faith and nationalism giving people the mistaken impression that
  1. this is a Christian country and
  2. that only Christians fought in the war
and when we are effectively still at war in a country that is a Muslim country, participating in what is clearly for some a predominantly religious war (even if we don't see the Talaban in that way) - then my unease multiplies. Islamaphobia is a sin - Jesus taught us to love our neighbour.

I have bought a poppy - but this year I have chosen not to wear it when I am wearing a clerical collar, I just can't bring myself to reinforce the association of Christianity with nationalism, or war.. especially not when I am so conscious of the rise of fascism, racism and religious intolerance.
I also can't, as a minister, bring myself to only pray for 'our' fallen heroes. You have taught us that we should pray for our enemies, not those we love.
When we are prepared to remember the lives we have taken, as well as those we have lost, and remember the cost in terms of religious, economic and political freedoms won and lost - I will be a lot happier about 'remembrance' day. But I think I would still want to break the link between remembrance day and the Lord's day.

Only one, in all of history, gave his life and died that I might truly live - and I want people to remember that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

listening and speaking out.

Good morning God,
I saw you in my dreams last night. You were speaking with the judges in the Hague, the court of human rights, trying to plead a case. From my place somewhere at the back of the courtroom I really strained to hear what you had to say, but every time you spoke, there was a great rustling as every court official and spectator shuffled and searched through reams and reams of paper. The sound of beaurocracy and legalism effectively drowned out the sound of your voice and your wisdom was lost to me and to the court. I wanted to scream for silence, to demand that people just leave the great mounds of legal briefs alone so that we could all LISTEN but I discovered to my horror that I had no voice, and that the only way I would be able to communicate was to write a letter to the judge.. and add to the pile of paperwork!
Just as I realised this, you turned and looked straight at me, the whole room fell silent, as you called me by name and command me to speak.

And I addressed the court and said it was a fundamental human right - by the grace of God, to hear the voice of God and that every human, every single child of God, has the right to hear God speak their name in love, no matter how they are judged or thought of by their peers.

Thank you God, for helping me to know just how passionately I feel about that basic gift of grace.

Now I know that the origin of the dream lay in listening to the news on the World Service as I fell asleep and on its report of the progress of Radovan Karadzic's trial - but it was nonetheless a multi-layered dream, and it will take some time to unpack it all.

This morning I was particularly struck by the similarity between the courtroom and the Church. We don't mean to, but I suspect we drown out the possibility of all too many people hearing you speak by the 'noise' of our religious communication. Inadvertently we turn Scripture into a legalistic brief and our liturgies into petitions. We push so much 'paper' into people's hands as they enter a place of prayer... and my cheeks burn with embarrassment as I think on how many people over the years must have left an act of worship I have led, having strained to hear what YOU were saying instead of what I was saying, or the Church was doing!

So help me God to rethink how I can help to create opportunities for people to hear YOU, not hear ABOUT you.

And - meanwhile.. keep calling - I'm listening.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Corporate Disciples?

Good morning God,

What is the Church for? I ask because that question seemed to run throughout the day yesterday, and it had all the hallmarks of one of YOUR questions rather than one of mine!

It started with a conversation about Pastoral Care - and the emphasis that we choose to place on caring for our members. It DOES matter that we visit the sick and the elderly, that we maintain fellowship, but do we remember why we do it - or do we simply do it because its what the Church does. I suspect we presume that those we visit already know you and love you God, that they have no need to be 'saved'..

Then there was the conversation with one Church member who is concerned about the way in which the Biblical histories are read and believed. The Bibles credits you with initiating various acts of war and bloodshed, particularly with regard to the lands in the Middle-East, but are these the acts of a God of love? The conversation was really about what the Church teaches and what people are supposed to get out of it. Is that what the Church is for - to enlighten people - or not?

And then, last night, at a finance meeting - the question was properly asked - are there other ways in which we can increase our income..

What is the Church for...? To meet the needs of those who belong to it, attend it and pay for it.. or to reach out to those who do not know you, to proclaim the Good News to those who have never heard it, and to give cheerfully to those who have nothing?

I know its not an 'either-or' situation, but I suspect most Churches ARE more focused on meeting the needs of its members than they are on seeking the lost, (even the lost in their own congregation!)

But that's right isn't it?

It is the task of the gathered Church to build one another up in love so that each member can engage in evangelism, discipleship and charity in every part of their life - not just at set times when the Church has commissioned, authorised or appointed them to do it!

The Church gathers to enable your people to grow in grace, so that they can respond to you in grace, and serve you in the WORLD (not just in the Church) It is not the task of the gathered Church to DO the work of the disciple, but to raise up disciples who will do the work of Christ.

So help me God, please, to work with the Church to break the 'corporate' responsibility mentality which makes the 'church' the focus of Christian Kingdom expectations so that we can rediscover and release the potential of personal discipleship to reshape and remake your world according to your will.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's all in the name..

Good morning God,

Having listened to Nick Griffin of the British National Party on BBC Question Time last night repeatedly refer to himself as both a Christian and British I find myself wanting either a new identity, or some means of redeeming/defending the name 'Christian'.
Instead, God, perhaps I need to face the question more honestly - Is it True? Do I really share a common identity with this man?

Of course, Nick Griffin is not the first, and will not be the last to bring the name 'Christian' into disrepute. The tag of 'Christian' has long been used to provide a false veneer of respectability to cover a multitude of sins - the link between paedophiles and the Church for example, is well known, as is that between Politicians and the Church. Being considered 'Christian' is still for some people taken as a form of short-hand for being 'respectable', or even trustworthy, - dare one say 'good'?
All positive attributes..

Except that increasingly, largely as a result of fundamentalist parties (both religious and political, here and abroad) the name Christian is also associated with being Islamaphobic, Homophobic, Nationalistic, as well as ignorant, violent, fundamentalist, unreasonable and - well - put bluntly - anachronistic.

Which is why confessing to being a practicing Christian in some circles will earn you a polite embarrassed smile, the sort usually reserved for eccentrics who suddenly announce something highly inappropriate, often very loudly, in the middle of a dinner party.
Being a Christian, believing in You God, is apparently, something people did before they knew better, before they grew up and began to take responsibility for themselves. For some people, an intelligent adult believing in you is as sad and embarrassing as someone still believing in Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny when they are more than six years old.

Nonetheless, the fact is that both Nick Griffin and I are Christians by public confession. He is, just as I am, your child.

To disown him would only make me less Christian, and help to make his particular understanding of the faith and what it stands for - the accepted understanding, rather than the aberration that it really is.
The problem is, of course, that according to the faith I profess, I should WANT Nick Griffin to be a Christian, I should be GLAD that he wants to follow Christ.

Which leads me to thinking that the slur on the name Christian maybe my fault not his, for I at least know better, clearly he does not.

Perhaps if I had been a better Christian, if I had made it more evident by all that I say and do that Christianity is nothing to do with nationalism, but everything to do with inclusivism, that Christianity has nothing to do with racism, but that the Gospels proclaim the equality of every child of God in every time and place.. If I had borne the name Christian more faithfully, then he could not have so publicly claimed the name, without earning either incredulity and ridicule or at very least being expected to change his views.

Christianity's name - now as always, is drawn from the practice and proclamation of its members. At one time, in meant - followers of Christ, now, in some parts of this Island, it simply means a way of life.

The fault is not Nick Griffin's, he is the Christian he thinks he is supposed to be - He is someone who has been raised to sing with pride the hymns 'I vow to thee my country', ' Jerusalem', 'Lift high the Cross' and even 'Onward Christian Soldiers' .. I have no doubt that he will attend Remembrance Sunday Services, and take comfort and delight in the marriage of faith and nationalism being so publicly broadcast. He will nod with approval at the death of brave men and women in defence of the values of British Democracy being likened to the death of Christ..

God, forgive me, for I have played my own part in associating being British with being Christian. I have heard and not always denied the claim that this is a Christian country - even when I know that there are more practicing Muslims in the UK than there are practicing Christians. I have allowed the mistaken association of 'British Values' with 'Christian conduct' - as though Christianity is all about democracy or adherence to a particular form of moral or social code rather than about loving God and loving my neighbour, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, setting the captives free, and trying to grow in grace and holiness.

Like many God, last night's broadcast woke me up to the realisation that only by finding the means within me to publicly proclaim in word and deed the real truth of the faith which Nick Griffin mistakenly claims to confess, can I help to ensure that the name Christian will mean something other than 'White British and ignorant in defence of homophobic, Islamaphobic, racist and xenophobic exclusivism.'

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bblical invitation

Good morning God,

I've been re-reading the Bible again (always dangerous I know) but I find I'm really struggling to understand how we got to Christianity (Churches, priests, hymns, doctrines, sacraments etc) from what I am reading..

Of course, I do know that the Bible wasn't the only source of our theology and practice, and that we borrowed all sorts of interesting bits and pieces from Judaism and elsewhere.. as well as added on a few rules and regulations of our own.. but even so.. the gap between what is taught/shared/narrated in Scripture and what we do/teach/preach in practice in church is startlingly large when looked at head on.

I can't find anywhere where Jesus requires me to sing hymns for example, he offers no model for 'acceptable' worship - and gave us only one model for prayer. If the Church's peaching is supposed to be like his, then we should preach in parables and ask more questions than we are prepared to answer, expecting those who are wanting to follow you to discern their own meaning most of the time.

Perhaps most challenging for me at the moment is the lack of concerted emphasis on sin and confession in the teachings of Jesus. I know how the Church managed to get so concerned about this - but really God - I would have thought that by now we would have rebelled against it, thrown out the priestly power games and religious party politics which such teachings thinly disguise, and reclaimed the joy of the simple expression - go and sin no more. Why haven't we?

Leaving that old chestnut aside, what's really exciting me again and got me writing to you this morning, is the rediscovery of how much of Scripture is an invitation - to be a part of something that you have initiated which is challenging, radically new, politically liberating, religiously simplistic, humanly transformative and genuinely creative..
Taken as a whole, it reads like an amazing invitation and a challenge for me to dare to become, by your grace, so much more than I currently am, for the sake of those who are so much less than they should be or could be. If I am reading your Word right, you are offering to transform me, and anyone else who responds to your invitation, into someone who can play an active part in your creative purposes for the world.

I'm game God, so now all I need is to know how to share your invitation with others without dumbing it down in a 20 minute sermon or a wrapping it up as a liturgical letter.. Have you got any modern parables for me to share?

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Late developer

Good morning God,
We humans really are the oddest creatures aren't we. Without thinking about it, we take the very best of what you have given us, our individuality, creativity, curiosity and spirituality and do our utmost to force it into some measurable form of 'normality'.

By age such and such, if we are a 'normal' human being - we ought to be able to do this and that. We become quite obsessed by this measurable normality - height, weight, hand-eye coordination, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, logic, spatial manipulation etc etc etc. At every age in our 'formative' years we measure and grade against a plumb-line of perfection - which is nothing more than a cultural average. There is a new report out today that says formal learning shouldn't start until 6 years of age - but who is to say that formal learning teaches us what we need to know to be human anyway? Surely all formal learning does is try to ensure that we all have the same average ability to process information, engage in social interaction and be more or less as able as everyone else is?

What odd creatures we are -
For you delight in making us above average - every single one of us. There is no such thing as an average human being, for everyone of us belongs to you, and you just don't seem to 'do' either 'normal' or 'average'. You do spectacular, unique, mysterious, wondrous, miraculous. Which makes me wonder whether or not the greatest threat to humanity is not our deviation from a government standard, but our socially constructed fear of difference from the norm.
We are trained from an early age to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. Nobody really wants to stand out from the crowd - unless of course, its in one of the acceptable ways, sport, creative talent, beauty.. etc.
And so we make a sin of the spectacular, a misery of what is majestic and a shame of our acts of gleeful spontaneity. We covet conformity, and strive for standardization. Meaning that millions of women starve and force themselves into predefined acceptable figures, and men suck chests in and pay for hair-implants - not because we actually need to, but because we are worth it! (and because we have been taught to be afraid of being different!)

Not so with you. In your company I can be me because wherever the gospel is preached everyone is free to be who they fully are before you. Like many, I was a late developer, but I finally realised that there is nothing average about a single Child of God, every human is different, special and gifted by your grace. There is no average sin, nor is there an average salvation. I am not a typical Methodist, or a typical minister ( God forbid!) I am not 'normal' - thank you God - I am me. Thank you for making me too small, not quite clever enough, a loud mouth with a BIG heart and a passion for truth and justice that scares me sometimes.

So vive la difference - not just in formal learning, but in ministry, preaching, living and being.

And now comes the hardest task - resisting the temptation to persuade everyone else to be 'just as abnormal as me!' Because, that, of course, would be just another way of trying to make us all the same again!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Connexional not individual Pioneers and ministers please

Good morning God,
We really do seem to have got ourselves in a mess again - trying to respond to what we think are the needs of the age, the call for pioneering ministry and mission leaders who can communicate to the diverse and disparate cultures which thrive outside of your Church..
It's as though we have forgotten who the author of the message is, and who it is that does the commissioning. The Church is so caught up with the need to break free of the things that some people think have shackled or limited our outreach, that it is in danger of throwing out the ministers with the message, in its desire to communicate culturally..

But communicate WHAT? Individualism reigns, personality triumphs, Marketing matters, entrepreneurialism succeeds?

Ok, Ok, I know - cheap rhetoric - but this is the knife edge balance in pioneer ministry - the skill set SEEMS to call for individual gifts and graces which give primacy to self-sufficiency, initiative, charisma... almost the Church's equivalent of the cult of the celebrity.
But this is the lie of our times. What the Church needs most is community, interdependence not independence, interrelated networks not individual nodes.
A modern Connexion.

Which means the Church has to play ITS part and NOT simply delegate all the risk and responsibility for responding to the call of Pioneer ministry on the would-be pioneer mission leader.

The timing of the VentureFX scheme this year means that all Presbyters who have applied who are also in stationing will be expected to withdraw from stationing BEFORE they know whether or not they have been accepted for stationing as a Pioneer Mission Leader.

The Presbyter has to take ALL the 'risk' of discernment.

The dilemma for the Presbyter who believes they may be called to this form of ministry is this:-
Should they stay in the stationing process and see whether or not God is calling them to serve another Church and Circuit, or should they withdraw, knowing that if they are not successful in their application for Pioneer Mission Leader status that they will have to reenter the process at a later stage - when there are fewer churches and circuits to discern a calling to, and which are less likely to be looking for the gifts and graces they believe they have to offer.

But WHY should the presbyter or deacon carry all the risk?
Why have we demanded such individualism for what we hope will grow the Connexion?

Surely - If the CHURCH is issuing the call for pioneer mission leaders, then it must accept a share in the calling process. If a presbyter or deacon is matched with a circuit, and is then successful in their application for Pioneer Ministry Status - why can't it be the CIRCUIT that has to renter the stationing process?

Wouldn't that be a better expression of Connexionalism, of the Priesthood of ALL believers?

It's time to call on all Chairs and members of the Stationing committee to refute the creeping cult of the individual and insist on a Connexional approach to pioneer ministry. BOTH processes - stationing and the Pioneer Mission Leader application process should be allowed to run in parallel.

Let the call be tested and discerned - by offering the CHOICE .

We don't need a new classification of ministry either lay or ordained - we need a new approach to discernment and stationing - of the priesthood of all believers!
We need a CONNEXIONAL approach to pioneer mission leaders which invites the circuits and districts to play their part in their selection and deployment, not least by sharing the risk, and perhaps thereby assisting in the testing of the call.

The alternative is simple - we say deacons and presbyters are not expected to be pioneer mission leaders..
Sadly this already seems to be the message we are sending out, loud and clear.

And when Conference asks once again (as it does with increasing rapidity) why so few younger people are considering ordained ministry, why so few are willing to respond to the call of God to serve in this way - who will have the courage to answer truthfully?