Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's talk about sex

Photo by youngpit of
Last Sunday morning’s talk was on sex. Andy, the speaker that morning, certainly had everyone’s attention. (How can my next Sunday’s sermon – on the epistle to the Romans – possibly compete?)

Of course, speak about sex and attention is pretty much guaranteed. The advertisers are onto that one: Andy himself mentioned the fact that on the road between his house and the church we were sitting in listening to him, there were at least two billboards using sex to market their products.

Another reason Andy held our attention that morning was, quite frankly, that he’s a marvellous speaker: clear, engaging, an apt analogy or memorable story to illustrate every point.

He didn’t pull his punches, either, as he took us on a trenchant tour of the New Testament’s teaching on sex and sexual purity. “Log fires are nice,” he said. “But light one in the middle of the lounge and you’re in trouble. Sex has its proper place too; it’s called marriage.”

“Keeping 'two chevrons apart' avoids crashes on the motorway,” he pointed out, “which is a good rule for male-female friendships in the church too.”

But there was another, much more unusual reason why Andy’s talk carried such impact, I believe, and it was this: Andy is celibate.

I don’t mean just ‘not-yet-married’; Andy, along with a couple of hundred others in the Jesus Army has made a lifelong commitment to remain unmarried in order to be freer to serve Jesus and love people. Do the adding-up. Yep: that means no sex at all for Andy – ever. For life.

This, curiously, gave him much more moral authority with which to say, to a hall full of people, that they ought to be sexually self-controlled. Think about it. If he’d been sitting there with his “lovely wife” on the platform (the kind that many American evangelical pastors seem to have beside them in the photograph on the back cover of their umpteen books), one might have been tempted to say, “Easy for you to stand there talking about self-control; what about those of us who aren’t cosily married like you?”

It occurred to me that very pillars of the New Testament that Andy was quoting were celibate, too. Jesus. Paul.

Not, of course, that married people can’t or shouldn’t address the topic. The New Testament gives us married Peter’s teaching about sexual conduct, too. Nor is celibacy a guarantee of purity, as the recent tragic revelations regarding Catholic priests have shown all-too-graphically.

Yet Andy, like many others I know (and like many, many thousands of Catholic priests and religious, by the way) is a sign of hope. He is a celibate for the right reasons: he loves people; he loves Jesus.

And his celibacy means he brings a moral and prophetic clarity to the sexual conversation.

We need it. Because all of us – married, single, celibate, engaged, attached, attracted, alone – are called to the same high vocation: to honour God with our bodies.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Spring in Autumn

Photo by lusi of sxc.huThere are seasons in community. I'm learning to roll with them and not worry too much if they don't fit my preferences.

I'd really like us to grow in numbers (apart from anything doesn't it look good when the stats are passed round at leaders meetings?); cue a season of quiet. I'd like us to experience peace; cue a season of clashes and 'relationship reality'. I'd like us to go deeper together; cue a season of intensive outreach and activity.

I'm not always wrong. Just most of the time. It's His fault really. The wind blows where it will. I suppose 'going with God's seasons' is another way of expressing what Paul called 'keeping in step with the Spirit' - letting His rhythms become our rhythms.

Anyway, where was I? Yes - the seasons.

So, on Thursday nights we throw open our community house doors and invite people for dinner. We call it a friendship meal. If you're anywhere near Coventry on any Thursday night, consider yourself invited.

It had been quite quiet for a while; on some nights only those of us who actually live in the house. But recently, we've been experiencing a bit of a Thursday night renaissance: lots of different people coming, lively friendships being formed, new people. It came just as my longing for new people had almost settled into acceptance that it was a season of 'consolidation' (the word we use when nothing seems to be happening). I was a little out of step with the season, that's all.

And right now it's great to have new people around. Too long without that and a community becomes stagnant and turns its energy in on itself.

So for the past few weeks we've had a houseful on Thursday nights. Last week it included a trainee vicar and a missionary family (and some skaters). Last night a young family that we're coming to love more and more were round (oh, and the skaters again - for about five minutes. Where did they go?)

Last night was particularly special because it was the birthday of one of our much-loved brothers - so we revelled in making sure he was well celebrated, sung to, bigged up, clapped. And we enjoyed sharing his cake - as well as plenty of life, faith, love & laughter.

I love friendship. It is, in essence, the heart of our faith. The cross speaks of friendship restored - vertically (God reaches down in atonement) and horizontally (we're reconciled to each other). Whatever the season, friendship will be somewhere in the mix.

But I'm glad that right now its bubbling to the surface. God is moving; new people are coming.

It's like Spring in Autumn.

Thank God.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Our people

Coventry Jesus Centre is our local church centre, which includes a drop-in lounge used mainly by homeless and disadvantaged people. Piers, the manager of the centre (also my dear friend, mentor, spiritual dad, and sometime rescuer), blogged this account of his fellow manager at the Jesus Centre, who described her recent journey from the Jesus Centre to the bus station.

"Down Lamb Street to post a letter. Outside the Sorting Office was NW - just been beaten up - asked for some money - gave him a little. Saw AS walking down. Walked down Bishop Street and along Corporation Street towards bus station. Saw DM and AM on bench by Transport Museum - waved. Saw NM on bench by bus stop - head bowed so didn't see me. Went into the bus station. Saw LE and AF being talked to by two policemen - nodded as went by. Went to bus stop. Saw SK sitting at table - a bit more sober than when previously seen after going on a bender from the dry house he had been in. Looking very battered. Encouraged him to make another appointment to go on the Bond Scheme. Asked for some money - gave him a little. Bus arrived and two guys we know (can't remember who it was) got off bus as I was waiting to get on - waved."

I found it a moving snapshot, illustrating life as a church of the poor. "We meet a lot of street folk," says Piers. "I can't walk through town without meeting some. They're our people in this big village; it's great."

(To read more of Piers' Jesus Centre blog, check out

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Don't touch

Drama at the Jesus Army's London Day
The point of the drama, performed at our recent big bash on Trafalgar Square, was very simple. If there's a "Don't Touch" sign what's the one thing you want to do? Yep: touch.

In the drama (which used to be performed by my mate Loz and I, till we got so old we were retired off), clown A gets stuck to the chair when he touches it. Efforts to free himself just get him more stuck. Clown B comes to help him, but gets thoroughly stuck too. Clown C suggests they pray, which they do and are miraculously freed.

Simple enough, but it tells an all-too-familiar tale. How often have I got mired in stuff that is against my own rules let alone anyone else's - or God's?

Sin is sticky, whatever the brand. Gossip (usually disguised as concern) - yep, sticks to me too easily. Lustful 'skating on thin eyes' (on the internet or in real life) - yeah, impurity superglue. Manipulation or manouvering for popularity. Stick. Harbouring grudges. Stick. Anger and hurtful words. Stick.

I'm not trying to be gloomy. But sin gums me up if I touch it. And sometimes even trying to help others gets me in trouble. Self-pity. Stick. Superiority. Stick. Callous indifference. Stick.

Thank God for the truth the drama ends with. There's a way out of the glue-trap.

As one famous and very ancient cry for help puts it:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A bang in a teacup

Picture by dimitri_c of sxc.huSo physicist Stephen Hawking has blown up a media storm by claiming God cannot possibly be the Big Banger.

The Guardian ran a poll on whether or not you agree with his conclusions. But I was struck by the annoying secularist bias in the way the questions are phrased. Here was the choice:

'Yes. I believe in gravity, not divinity' (i.e. the two are incompatible and to believe in God I have to be a self-confessed ignoramus).

'No. God: Hawking 'not necessary' (i.e. believing in God means I'm not only an ignoramus but also quite prepared to dish out rudeness for my religion).

So, if I may, let me phrase my own answer:

'No, Hawking is wrong despite his enormous scientific intellect. The more wonders he explains the more I'm filled with wonder - and faith.'

Or as I tweeted it somewhat more facetiously late last night:

Science is hawking another explanation for everything today. The laws wrote themselves. Good night.