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The Almost Extremist!

A bomber shouts Allah Ackbar as she presses the detonation button of her suicide vest; an individual of an other faith sets a car bomb timer in Belfast, both are recognisable images of extremism. Such men and women of God hold onto a narrow theological perspective, seen also in the forced conversions of the crusades and the doctrines and aggression held by Isis in Syria and Iraq.

Could the same fear of difference and religious liberty that underpins the bombers ideology, be the same subtle motive that pushes southern baptist congregation members to picket American soldiers funerals as they come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, or abuse the men online, not because of his faith but instead because of his sexuality?

When fear colours faith its roots become a monster within us, for some of us it is awoken by certain environments and discussions in others the monster never sleeps and rages on and on until the monster is all that is left. Is there a growing uneasiness with that which we see as different or which we might perceive as challenging our religious orthodoxy?

Such uneasiness could be the beginnings of a religious drift towards prejudice. Of seeing our neighbour as something less than which Christ calls us to. A way to battle this theological and ideological monster, is to keep an honest account of your inner life before the Lord and a trusted prayerfully critical friend. Recognising our weakness where prejudice could replace love, where anger could replace peaceful coexistence with others, and where open hearted Godly learning is reshaped by powerful statements that dig roots into your vulnerable heart.

Taking it one step further as Christ’s disciples, let’s make sure our souls are being enriched by the teaching of God’s open heart of love and not from the fearful heart of humankind. Have we perhaps embraced Jesus because the preacher tells us we will burn in hell if we don’t? Or because we have witnessed his power for ourselves. Does fearing the Lord mean for you, the loving respect of a child to a parent or being scared of being condemned for your sinfulness?

Lastly let’s not assume our Christianity which we hold to dearly, has not been manipulated at times by the same fear that manipulates others of different faiths. The Christian church has been nurtured at times by wolves in sheep’s clothing, we have listened to others who teach not from the gospel of truth but another agenda, whose roots can find fertile ground if we do not remain vigilant careful and spiritually and intellectually alert to the cunningness of humankind.

Jesus didn’t even condemn the man on the cross who belittled him. Scripture tells us that truth drives out fear, holding onto Jesus and asking for his liberation, illumination and forgiveness is perhaps where we might begin, as we shake of the monster for a fresh perspective on the things of God.

Let’s pray

Gracious God dig deep into me, that the roots which seek to snatch me away from your heart and purposes for me and your church, might be dug up and thrown into the fire. Then may I serve you as you intend for me too be.

Amen.

Why Can’t My Love Be Enough?

Question, could you decide to cease to exist in digital space? Would you be content to not have anyone read your online posts ever? I pondered these and other questions as I listened to a brilliant audio book and movie The Fault In Our Stars.

Hazel and Augustus have a finite amount of time, both living within the frame of their terminal cancer. It’s a moving portrayal of a young couple in love and well worth reading or seeing.

The narrative is understandably poignant and gripping, as well as being, (I presume) an honest portrayal about a world seen through the cancer survivors eye’s. As an aside I found the book the movie is based on by Mark Green, framed and complemented the movie making it more enjoyable.

As the relationship blossoms there is a moment where Augustus and Hazel get into a disagreement.  Augustus is of the opinion and desire that before he dies he wants to be known and loved widely, he wants to be famous. In contrast Hazel is happy and content as she is, and longs for her boyfriend to be content with her love for him and the love of his family and friends, she strongly believes that it should be enough.

I can relate to Augustus’ attitude, it keys into a need in our society and a need that I feel keenly. A need to be noticed, to be known. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and WordPress and their web based cousins feed this desire. Suddenly these posts or digital adverts of our lives matter so much to us, and all too often those who have genuinely invested in us can take second place. Somehow the number of online friends takes a higher priority than the friends who know us, warts and all.

Hazel sees her life differently, she doesn’t know how much time she has and with whatever time is left, she wants to spend it with those most important, not worrying about who or how many people know her, but loving and spending quality time with those who know her now in the window of time she has been given.

Augustusonians amongst us, of which I am one, stop, listen and know the love of those who are committed to you, a close friend or a loved one. Discover in them a beauty and contentment, more life giving and rewarding that a 1000 likes, or 10,000 retweets could ever be.

The Hazelites, thank you for your gift, one that reminds us we are loved with the exact measure we need, and perhaps don’t need to look for it, as it’s often staring us in the face, whether that’s God or a special someone, friend or lover, keep reminding us of it please.

May the love of God who sent his son to die for us be enough, it sounds perhaps a little twee, and intangible. Instead of searching for love in church, or in social media, let Gods love for you fill you up, and if you find it in those other places, well that is a bonus.

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Can Church Be As Good As Chocolate

The dull thud as my teeth snap off a chunk of dairy milk chocolate welcomes me to the experience, the changing texture as it melts in my mouth, and the strong thick taste of the cocoa as it collects in my mouth, and not surprisingly I want to eat more and more as my taste buds respond to its sugary goodness and my brain craves for more of this confectionery masterpiece. When I get behind the wheel of my car I look forward to the power of controlling this loud petrol guzzling beast, of releasing the energy to push ahead to my destination, and conversely pulling back the horse power with the break peddle.

Life welcomes us to a smorgasbord of experiences from the moment we are developing in the womb, some good some not so much, but all demands a reaction, comment, emotional response whether that is anger, joy, tears, both happy or sad. Social media is alive with such experiences of life, and our need to share those experiences with others. Our lives are shaped and honed through our life long interactions with experiences, both in isolation and with others. Such experiences shape us, transform us, can break us for a time and give us the courage to overcome.

When we are about to embark on a course of action or interaction be that falling in love, having kids, starting a new job or indeed eating chocolate, we in the split second decide will this be good or bad. Mostly we try to if at all possible avoid the bad or not so great in favour for the good life, over as small things like picking what to eat for breakfast or bigger things like choosing a car, holiday or the person we will spend our lives with.

As much as a shop window tells us what kind of things are sold there and intern attract us or not through its doors. So our churches communicate both by decor and people within, what and who our God is. Thinking about your church community what does it tell you about God? Or put another way If God set up shop in your life and your church what should it look like and be like?

Should our comunity not remind us of a Jesus who turned water into wine, surprised his friends by walking on water and conjured up hundreds of fish in his friends nets. As well as a Jesus who was serious about releasing people from sickness and death, serious about poverty and injustice and deadly serious on the cross. I don’t believe in a Jesus who says follow me and be laid low with burdens and wows. I believe in a Jesus that says that loving  your neighbour means you can have a laugh with them as well as cry with them, I believe that Jesus does offer life in fullness but sometimes we mistake that with a life of backbreaking, hope crushing service to the church and the god it sometimes looks like.

The shop front of our faith should witness to the life in all its fullness that christ offers, where burdens are shared or lifted where there is laughter and tears.  I find Jesus in chilly eating contests and loud banter with friends around some pints of beer and a very hot curry, and their discipleship of me to try even hotter curry. I find the presence of God in the small D:church leadership community over Skype as we plan discuss and pray together.  I don’t always find Jesus in Church but I know I should. Instead sometimes I find a todo list that saps my strength, long hours that saps my energy and spiritual fervour. I long for good christian communities to not be stumbled upon by accident, like an oasis in the desert. Instead exist as a many streams of living water running out into the street and neighbourhood where it blesses, transforms and where we encounter christ in a real tangible way.

Let us be part of or develop Christian communities that is serious about God, authentic in its expression and full of life in all its rich hilarious abundance, where the broken can come and find wholeness and the searching can find a place they can call home.

A Practice Of Love

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During my Mothers pregnancy and whilst I was growing in her womb there were all kinds of complications and worries, and conversations were had with doctors and consultants whether to keep me or not. When I was actually born I was so poorly there were real worries that I would not survive for very long. I am pleased to say, that was nearly 40 years ago and I am pretty fit and well despite those anxious opening months for my parents and the nurses and doctors of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Rabbits-Love-Cute-Fluffy-Animal-Two-Rabbits-In-Love-1024x1280 What does love look like to us? Past the honeymoon period, behind the pictures of happiness, loving that is sometimes more a decision than a fluttery feeling that moves us to action. What might that raw, wonderful, beautiful thing we call love look like? Perhaps seeing past our friends severely disabled sons disability and instead seeing who he is and the joy he finds being with his mum and younger brother, or my Facebook friend who posts pictures of her blind little boy playing with his baby sister.

What about the elderly women who though totally exhausted, changes the bed for the umpteen time for her husband of many years, who has now grown incontinent. Or the husband helping his disabled wife who together are isolated by the geography of where they live is also isolated along with his wife from the help of neighbours and friends. Sometimes love can be an act of will, a decision as habitual as brushing your teeth.

Do I enough will power to love in such a sacrificial way? I haven’t been tested to that extent yet but I hope so. However I know that love is not a list of fairy tale sequels, nor is it drudgery of every day moments. If we look we may find that there are moments within the relationship that are cherished, a moment of clarity and humour for someone racked with depression or Alzheimer’s, the wonderful surprise at someone offering to help you up the curb with a wheel chair or open a door for you.  We live in a world where there are plenty of people who live with and love the dying, the disabled person, who sit alongside their loved one who can’t feed themselves, or who carry their partner up the stairs at night to bed because their legs have forgotten how to work. These people model a kind of love that is deeply challenging and vibrant and lived out as a practice of love in action, so much deeper than a fuzzy feeling or the superficiality that love can be.

This practice of love is also an image of Godly love, A God we see in Jesus that’s steps into our world and sits alongside our innate brokeness and sees beyond our inadequacies to the man, women, child the lord always wished for us to be, that circumstances and life may have robbed us of for now, but Christ takes our hand and leads us into eternity where all will be well and all will be made well.

Love takes effort, it’s looking past the honeymoon period which is where most romantic comedies lie. It’s not the hell of the film What Dreams May Come where Robin William’s travels from his place in heaven into hell to rescue his wife, but perhaps for some they feel they need rescuing. Today I choose to love my wife, that may mean beginning with sorry, rather than flowers, that may mean stepping into her world, rather than telling her what I think and feel or whats going on in my life. The practice of Love is about loosing ourselves a little for the sake of the bigger picture, of an enduring relationship, of family stability to model a love that lasts, endures and overcomes.

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