Monday, August 23, 2010

news round up

So thanks to those regulars who point me in the direction of news items that have caught their eye - both the regular ridiculous stories that fill the pages of the Telegraph, and the faith stories that pop up from time to time.

Two of the latter have been pointed out by a few of you, and of course I have my own opinions.

What, you were afraid I was going to keep them to myself? Never fear.

First - the Ground Zero Mosque. All America seems to be caught up in the rights and wrongs of this particular proposal - and the trusty Telegraph carries a remarkably balanced article (if predictably taking a swipe at Obama) here. It's not a mosque, it's a cultural centre, there won't be minarets, and it's not actually at Ground Zero. I love the detail that among its neighbours will be the Pussycat Lounge strip joint; no protesters about this, apparently. Charlie Booker has a wonderful rant about all of the above here. It's very entertaining.

What do I think? What does it matter what I think? But for the record - I am on the record as being a tolerationist. We have fought wars to allow people to be people and not to demonize those with whome we disagree. Putting people into ghettos is Hitler's policy, not that of decent folk or even pretty poor Christians. If they want a cultural centre next to a strip joint in Lower Manhattan, then let them apply and see what the city does with it.

Minarets at Ground Zero would be an unadvisable request, but that's not what anyone is asking for. And those who are putting that idea around and who stir up crowds as a hobby should be ashamed of themselves. Which is asking a lot. But there you go.

Now. Here's another story - from the Telegraph - but on a favourite Anglican topic. Have a read of this. Gay vicar to marry Nigerian male model. Colin Coward is quite a well known figure in certain circles, and clearly here is seeing himself as a bit of a trailblazer. It's a colourful story - he's a lot older than his partner, who is African (from one of those places where the Archbishop is vehemently anti-Gay) and that he is a model just adds spice to the news print.

But what we actually have is a vicar having a civil partnership ceremony - and Colin is hardly the first. He's hardly the first to follow it with some kind of blessing either. It's the sort of thing the Telegraph does well - though you can't help feeling the Daily Mail would have made it even more salacious. Maybe it did.

What gets me about this story is this: we all know the rules, we all know gay clergy are supposed to be celibate, and we all know that some keep this and some are less honest. But I find Colin to be stunningly dishonest here. He talks about his sex life with his partner, and says it's his own business and the bishop has no right to ask - whilst making it absolutely clear they are "marrying" (his word - at the moment that's not quite the legal situation, and that's another issue) and then insinuating that they will make full use of all that this entails. Don't insinuate. Say it clearly. If it means that much to you - be honest. Honestly break the rules if you believe they are that wrong - but I find the nod & the wink and the "know but don't say" stuff utterly indefensible.

If you believe something - stand up for it. Totally. For goodness sake, if this is the person you love, you shouldn't have to hide the fact or apologise for it. By all means break a rule in order to make a better one. The world has been improved by many people who have done this. But bending rules, playing with moral codes and bishops as arbiters of the church's conduct when the issue is supposed to be so important to you speaks only of lack of integrity and moral weakness. Get some backbone, Mr Coward.

It's not the issue I find offensive you see. I find liberals in the church who think themselves at the cutting edge of a new morality so wholly compromised that any desire I have to be "tolerationist" and to embrace all people as people in the way I find Jesus doing in the Gospels is actually almost impossible to put into practice, because these guys make it so darned hard.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

people say the nicest things

People say the nicest things...

Before church this evening, there was a chap sitting outside, and a couple of the regulars spoke with him and then asked me to do the same. He really didn't want to listen to what I had to offer, and to be fair he seemed to be in a bit of a mess, so I invited him in whilst wondering what we could do practically to help.

It was cafe church tonight, and folk were busying themselves preparing for this, having spent quite a while with this guy. As I got the screen ready he came over with a memory stick and wanted me to put it into the laptop we use - which has zero security on it, and I just didn't feel like taking a memory stick that I had no knowledge about and stuffing it into our computer, so I (really very) politely declined, and tried to talk to the guy whilst carrying on with what I was doing.

But he was upset with me. I was accusing him of putting a virus on our machine. No - but I had to be careful. I was like all Christians, ignoring him and not willing to help. There was a book about a man going into a church, he said, where a vicar was really spiritually dead, and the man wasn't helped at all and died. It made the vicar question who he really was. What would Jesus have done?

You know, I've had a week. I have felt like a failure all week because of one situation which I tried to put right, really I did, only I made it much much worse. I'm still trying to do the right thing in that situation because there are all sorts of things I could do (some of them quite reasonable!) that would make it far, far worse. I have felt all week that the worst thing about being a vicar is that you aren't quite human. People say they want you to be human, but they don't - they really don't. Once you are in a messy situation, anything less than being perfect is simple unacceptable.

Quite right. It's how I judge myself. No-one is as hard on me as I am on myself.

I didn't need some self-righteous jerk coming in just as we were getting ready for church and reminding me of all this. And upsetting several other people by judging them as well.

I can't sort every problem. I will make some worse. It turns out that with the best will in the world, people I hold dear get hurt - and sometimes by me. Wearing a dog collar is no protection, it's not a spiritual condom, keeping the mess inside. If I need to be perfect to be the vicar - I am in the wrong job.

And so is every other clergyperson out there, though some fake it better than me.

But I won't fake it. I may not be the easiest person in the world - but I tell you this: what you get is unremittingly real. I'm just a short bald guy trying to follow Jesus, with all my heart, and if that's not enough then I'm sorry, but it's all I have to offer.

My job is to worship Jesus. That means, my job is to give myself to Jesus - all of me in total obedience to him. The good bits of me and the bad. It's a journey. It's a struggle. But it's honest and it's true and it's life changing and as long as I'm doing it, I'll invite those around me to join in. See where it goes. See where it takes me. See what it looks like.

I hold onto the job lightly - it's a privilege, not a right - but the life of following Jesus is something I will always have, something that will always remain true and will never be open to question. I do have a judge: and I don't dread him.

When Jesus tells us not to judge each other, it's because we have this thing whereby we forget that in the moment our own lack of perfection prevents us from both seeing everything as it really is, and from saying everything as it really is. So love and tolerance and forgiveness end up being better options so many times because what we'd want to receive on our off days is what we should offer. And how do people get better? People who need to be told how wrong they are?

Anyone who thinks condemnation works better than counsel hasn't quite understood the difference between how the Accuser works in our lives, and how the Spirit works. Call me old fashioned, but with Romans 5.8 high in my mind, I'm going to opt for love as the higher motivator every time.

Now. I have a self-righteous jerk to forgive, though I may never see him again. And there are others high on my heart to pray for too. And I have to go back to busily being a failure as I so imperfectly try to be a human being following Jesus - albeit with all my heart; anyone coming to join me?

Friday, August 06, 2010


I've got a small, irksome little issue facing me, the kind of problem that just won't go away. Doesn't actually matter what it is. I've been trying to deal with it, find a way around it, sort it out, and I can't quite get there.

I got to the point where I prayed that prayer we all get to - "Lord, just deal with it. You sort it." I mean, I'm quite prepared to keep working. I'm sure I'll work it out. It's hardly the biggest thing in the history of the universe! But I'd be quite glad if God just stepped in & took this item out of my in tray so that I could get on with other stuff. Just magically, wonderfully dealt with it. Sorry - miraculously, wonderfully dealt with it. I'm forgetting myself.

Anyway. So I pray this & continue worrying away at it. And then I get this feeling that God is sort of smiling at me. You know how he does that? When you have asked for something & then carried on but he kind of has something up his sleeve?

So my Bible reading yesterday included Psalm 27, which finishes with these words:
Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave & courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

And I thought to myself - that's really encouraging. God is speaking to me. He is telling me he will help. I shall wait on him. And then overnight I thought of other stuff I could do, and decided I would do it today.

Except, this morning as I read my Bible readings I kind of felt God speaking that bit louder. Challenging me. Now - here's the thing; this process has been going on a couple of weeks, and I'm letting you in on a couple of days. Plus, the way I am about to take a Bible passage MASSIVELY out of context is not how you should read the Bible. I really don't commend doing this - and yet as I read it this morning, something in my heart stirred & it felt like Jesus speaking.


So, this is what happened. I was reading 1 Corinthians 2, and in my head were both the plans I had for the day to do this thing which had occurred to me overnight and the instruction to wait for the Lord. After all, these seem to be a contradiction to each other. Either I wait (and be obedient) or I just do my own thing - though in the circumstances, I think most people would say that in acting I was being really sensible as my plan of action is a good one. It may even deal with the issue that has been nagging me for a little while now. That's what's in my head. This is waht was on the page:
No eye has seen, no ear has heard
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him.
...We have received God's Spirit (not the world's spirit) so that we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.
When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit's words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren't spiritual can't receive these truths from God's Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them & they can't understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.

I sat there & thought to myself, God is speaking to me. Practically I really, really ought to do what i have planned to do today. But I asked for God's help with this, and I think he is saying he has it under control. Am I daft for thinking this? Maybe. But here is a spiritual truth: faith is about trusting God with all sorts of things in our lives, great and mundane, and I guess when I believe I have heard him say "wait", then "wait" is the command.

It may mean I need to do all the work I have planned - but not today.
It may mean he is going to do something wonderful and there is no need for me to act at all - he will resolve things in a way that shows how great he is.
It may mean something else altogether, but my acting now would either spoil the best outcome or be pointless.
It may mean that my acting now would neither help nor hinder, but waiting will help me trust him more, and that will do me more good whatever else comes next.

The Psalm set for today had these words:
The LORD is my strength and shield:
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me and my heart is filled with joy.

I do trust him. So I will wait. I closed up some pages I'd opened up on the computer. I went to the cinema (Toy Story 3 - take hankies). I don't know how this will play out - except that I will have wobbles along the way; but my life with God - by which I mean the story of my whole life - tells me that when I hear him telling me that he has this one, he means it. He might do it differently to what I expect. He often takes it to the wire. He always gets it right.

Tick. I can cross this off my to do list. Is that hopelessly optimistic? Shamelessly super-spiritual? I am struggling to get my head around it entirely.

And my reading from Proverbs kicked in at that point:
The LORD directs our steps,
so why try to understand everything along the way?

I could give so many answers to that question! But for now, I'll just wait.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

in the boat

I spoke tonight on Mark 6.45-52, where Jesus walks on water after feeding the 5,000.

Jesus tells the disciples to cross the lake, which they start to do, & he stays put, going up the hillside to pray. He can see them; but they don't see him - being rather consumed with the work of rowing and fighting the wind and generally doing what they have been told to do vis a vis getting over the water.

They don't see him seeing them. It doesn't stop it being true.

And the time comes in their self-absorbed obedience, their hard-work doing the right thing but without looking the right way, that he just walks across the impossible (the very thing that makes their lives unbearable) in order that they do see he sees them.

There are still waves. There is still wind. There is still a destination to be reached. But now Jesus is in the boat everything has changed. Their focus is no longer on straining against the oars, struggling against the storm - it's on Jesus with them in the boat in the midst of the storm. And everything is different.

We (as a church) need a grant application we have just put in for half a million pounds. It will complete the funds for our community centre, which will enable new projects we are doing in our community to make people's lives better. I often say - if it's essential, God will provide; if it's vanity we're on our own. But God's provision isn't money. Or a building. Or resources.

It's Jesus in the boat.

We'll always need money for something. Resources to do something. A new appeal. A new need. The material will wear out, and material needs will wear us out, trust me.

God's provison for his faithful people is Jesus in the boat. Sight and touch and sense of the one who is always with us. Right here, right now. This makes everything different. This changes the world. This makes dealing with the impossible like walking on water - the simple kind of thing that God does in order to reassure us that he sees everything, and that we too will (in time) get to where he wants us to be.

So I'm praying for our grant. But I'm praying more that I'd have a church full of people who know we have Jesus in the boat. That is worth more than any amount of cash. That's totally invaluable. Believing this we will go places we can't begin to imagine, because though the journeys we face may indeed be scary, if we really know Jesus is in the boat with us we will attempt ridiculously faithful things.

Attempt - and by his hand, succeed.