Thursday, March 25, 2010

The opening line..

Good morning God,
The walk to Jerusalem is nearly over,  the 'business' of Easter is about to begin.
From Sunday onwards the Church worldwide will engage in an orgy of meditation, commemoration and celebration of the events of Holy Week.
From Palm Waving to foot washing to three hour vigils and dawn break services the Church will try and engage others with your story using reading and prayers, litanies, laments, hymns, songs, marches, parades  and of course easter eggs, gardens, palm crosses, oratorios, works of art, drama, dance and...
in the middle of all this:


No wonder you paused before entering Jerusalem,

No wonder you wept.

What a performance.

Yet, this was the way you chose when you created us to be a story loving people and gave us a never-ending story of life and death and resurrection to share.

You made our story - your story, and made certain we would have pictures to point to as well as words to underline in the sharing of it. Like the children that we are, we sit with you and clamor for the story to be told again and again, turning each page with practiced ease and pointing to each well known character.  We delight in the great parade of Palm Sunday and shiver with anticipation in the Garden of Gethsemane, we shout out at the trial before Pilate before falling silent at the drawing of the Crucifixion.. and the tomb. We wait in eager expectation for the final page to be turned so that we can rejoice - and know that the story has a happy ending.

But that is then
and this is now.

We are three days before the storybook story starts, so there is still time to sit with you and hear the story through properly, to pay attention to your words and resist the temptation to just point to the pictures the Church has drawn for us. To remember that although, by your grace, this is our story, it is still your story and you are not a character in a fairy-tale.

Three days to listen, read and reflect on what you are still trying to tell us and to rehearse again the opening line..

For God so loved the world...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Church Swap

Good Morning God,
I've been thinking about a three way kidney swap operation that happened recently, when the partners of three separate people needing a kidney transplant each gave a kidney to someone that they did not know so that their loved one could receive what they needed.
Its one thing to give one of your kidneys to your partner, it's another thing altogether to swap it for someone else's kidney - it costs the same in the long run, but there seems something more commercial and less altruistic about it somehow.. more of a business deal and less of a gift..
Yet what changed?
The three people who needed kidneys got them, the three people who were prepared to donate kidney's donated them - its was just who got whose that was mixed up!
It was, in many ways, a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we are prepared to redraw the box of me and mine to include thee and thine as part of the same problem and hence the same solution.
Which is what makes it such an important lesson for the Church and ministers today..
There is something profound, remarkable and awe-inspiring about the bond that can form between a minister and 'their' Church which is very similar to what can happen in a good marriage.  It provokes a longing to see the Church flourish, for the Word to be heard, for the joy of your presence and the wonder of your grace to fill the building and the minds and hearts of your people there. And the grief when this is prevented is just as deep, with most ministers being willing to give up almost anything, to sacrifice whatever is necessary to prevent 'their' Church from dying or to save it from being so 'sick'.
But what if the minister and the Church are not well matched to solve a particular problem?
What if the particular needs of a Church are not compatible with the gifts and graces of the minister?
Is the minister willing to swap time and effort? To donate their gifts and graces to save another Church instead whilst allowing some other, better matched minister, to do what needs to be done for 'their' Church?
Could they care enough to let go for a while.. to do whatever is needed?
Or is this thinking too far outside the box?
I don't think so, but I am increasingly saddened by the way in which 'ownership' of Churches in Methodism stifles Circuit ministry and prevents the sort of exchange of gifts and graces that really could enable all the Churches in a Circuit to flourish rather than die.
It takes a leap of faith to engage in a life-swap such as the three way Kidney Transplant, or maybe a three-way Church swap..
But such bold leaps of faith are what you call us to.
I suspect that one of the first real signs we will have of hope for the future is increasing collaboration in ministry, a determination of all ministers to go not only where we are sent, but where we are needed most out of love for the whole Church rather than 'our own' Churches.
Until that time comes, it is possible that a fear of failure and misplaced personal or denominational loyalty could kill us - simply because we will not think outside of the me and mine box - and allow ourselves to be reminded that the Church is YOUR body, and not ours to order anyway!


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blame Culture

Good morning God,
I have been listening to the testimony of Gordon Brown at the Chilcote enquiry and to the BBC's question time last night and I can't help but notice that as faith decreases so blame increases in modern society. It's particularly noticeable around election time of course, but its not restricted to politics - it is fast becoming endemic in our culture. We blame the police for failing to eradicate crime, catch murders, burglars or car thieves.. We blame politicians and the media, scientists and teachers, doctors, bureaucrats and ministers for the state of the world, our health, our eduction, our quality of life and even the state of our souls.. Oh, and of course we blame you for anything bigger that we can't understand but is spectacularly nasty, or unpleasant or disastrous.
To what end? What advantage is there is blame? How does it help to point a finger in this way?
I could understand if it were in order to offer forgiveness, but that's not why its done. There is little evidence of any desire to forgive in the intention to blame, there is only evidence of a desire to prove that whatever caused/is causing the hurt was someone else's fault.
To blame someone/something else is another way of divesting personal responsibility, of standing outside the situation and distancing oneself from it.
We know the harm that blame causes, we even tell people - you mustn't blame yourself..
But perhaps we should blame ourselves, at least until we can get rid of blame altogether, and replace it with the Gospel message of intra-dependence instead of independence, of grace and mercy instead of judgement and damnation and most of all, of growth in grace and holiness through the gift of forgiveness.
Christians especially have this responsibility to recognize 'there but for the grace of God go I' and to offer the support, forgiveness, love and peace that they themselves would want. The know to 'carry one another's burdens in love', and how important it is to 'love your neighbour as you love yourself' - and that by neighbour we mean all of humanity.
So how has the blame culture crept so insidiously into our churches?
Ministers, priests, deacons and officers are often blamed for things that the membership think is wrong with the Church, as though members have nothing to do with the leadership in either electing or appointing them, and hence nothing to do with decisions that they make. Perhaps they really feel they haven't - perhaps they do no think their prayer about such matters counts, nor do they value the effort that they make to share in the process of discerning your will.
And of course the same is true the other way around - members are often blamed for things that the leadership think is wrong - as though the leadership is not a part of the membership!
Blame goes hand in hand with distancing - but we are called to be a reconciling people. You teach us that it is never to late to be reconciled one to another, that no matter the sin - it is past, no matter the offense - it is is wiped away - because we are all one in Christ. It seems to me that only by recovering the unity we claim in Christ, can we end the blame culture that defeats our ultimate purpose of working with you to build a reconciled world.

I have long believed that ministers have nothing to do but to love their people - 'just as I have loved you, so you also must love one another', and that a Church which loves its leadership cannot help but work wonders for the gospel. But that love is not possible without prayer, without grace and without forgiveness - ie without your gospel in our hearts and minds.
Standing against the blame culture is never easy - but its time that the Church took a lead and practiced what it proclaims in your name. I cannot blame those I help to elect, those I help to appoint, those I pay to serve for my own failure to be involved in the work of this world, in its peace and struggle to the perfection which you desire for it. I cannot distance myself from the wars, the violence, the sickness or sin, for those involved are my brothers and sisters in Christ. So I will look to align myself with their grief and their sorrow, and stand beside them, as best I can, whilst you redeem and restore the right relationships between us.
Otherwise, surely I would deserve to be called hypocrite by a world that believes that all that the Church does is the same as everyone else and pass blame and judgement without grace or favour.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Jesus came to our Church...

Good morning God,
It was a strange but telling dream last night - thank you - I think!
I will need to reflect on it further, but the essence of the dream was simple enough..

Jesus came to our Church and invited me, as its minister, to show it to him.

There was no warning, I wasn't able to prepare in advance, Jesus told me he wanted to see the Church as it is, not the Church as it might be 'presented'..
Ok, so it doesn't take much to trace the origin of the dream, previous conversations with you here God are witness to my increasing concern and heartache over the nature of Church and my calling to serve as an ordained minister within it. No doubt psychiatrists and psychologists would advise that the dream was nothing more than my subconscious trying to respond to the situation, helping me work through the questions.. But that doesn't detract from it being a gift from you - after all - who was it who designed humans with an unconscious mind?

So Jesus came to our Church and invited me, as its minister, to show it to him.. In effect,turning my question around and asking me what I think the  Raison d'ĂȘtre of the Church is - nice one God!

Jesus came to our Church and invited me, as its minister, to show it to him, as it is, as a beacon of hope, a force for change, a source of love, and a place of salvation and transformation - a voice for the voiceless and a mouthpiece for the Gospel where YOU are named without reservation and shame as the motive and purpose of all that we are and all that we do.

We spent a considerable amount of time together, and although parts of the dream have faded, the colour and feel of that time remains. I have no image of his face, but I can still feel the quality of his presence.
His visit left me with more questions than answers (what a surprise God!) but it also left me in no doubt about the root source of my unease.

Thank you God