Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brennan's blessing

This benediction, often used my Brennan Manning, has got me thinking:

  May all of your expectations be frustrated,
  May all of your plans be thwarted,
  May all of your desires be withered into nothingness,
  That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child
  And can sing and dance in the love of God
  Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It seems almost entirely a maladiction - but somehow speaks more genuinely of the blessing God gives than the syrupy verses and poems more likely to be found on fridge magnets.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

'Boris, where's your broom?'

Broom powerThere have been two 'breakouts' on the streets this week. Two examples of people power.

Firstly, obviously, rioters; smashing, grabbing, looting.

But we've also seen people taking to the streets, brooms in hands, to clear up. One lad in Liverpool announced on Facebook that he was going out to sweep up - 60 people arrived to help him. The Mayor of London was asked 'Boris, where's your broom?' and joined in the sweeping.

I think both are revolutionary in their way. The first lot turned over more than just bins: bored kids (I've been told the average age of the rioters is 15) got drunk on a heady cocktail of adrenaline, selfishness - and group-power. An abuse of power certainly, but let's not overlook the fact that they had it - maybe fleetingly, certainly destructively - but they had it.

The sweepers were a grass roots movement of people banding together. It was people serving, not for reward but because they care. It was people joined in a cause they felt was simply right. I can't help feeling what they did was a more eloquent, powerful statement than any politician has delivered this week.

Power destructive; power constructive. Power that grabs; power that gives.

In a very deep sense, I think, the central question of every person who ever lives is: which power will I align myself with?

A grass-roots revolution of service, community, unity, positivity, peaceful resistance, which speaks eloquently of something better? Sounds like something I'd wanna live for.

Hang on - it sounds like something I am living for...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deliver us from evil

RiotWhat makes violence and lawlessness suddenly erupt across a nation?

In pondering this question, and thinking about the recent riots in cities across the UK, I drew a comment on Twitter from a church pastor in Liverpool. 'What we are seeing is EVIL,' he said.

And who can disagree, when people turn feral, and smash, loot and burn indiscriminately?

Yet, it prompted me to delve a little deeper into the nature of the evil we are seeing.

Firstly, there's a well of social evil here. As a London-based youth worker commented to Christian thinktank Ekklesia yesterday:
'Of course there is a huge amount of criminality and copycat looting involved in all this. But to pretend it has nothing whatsoever to do with the erosion of our social fabric, the closing of youth centres, and the sense among a mass of people - not least the young - that they have no real future in a country where the poorest are being made to sacrifice most while bankers get away with murder... that's pure fantasy.'
I believe a truly Christly response has to include the recognition that society's rottenness has, close to its source, injustice, the divide between power-brokers and the broken. And the Church of Jesus should speak for those without voices. We cannot just shout 'thuggery' and call for tougher measures. We must ask 'why?' We must work for justice and stand alongside and among the disadvantaged.

But to leave it there risks excusing the execrable. Because there is another level of evil at work here: moral evil. 'I'm not really bothered' said a Manchester rioter. 'I'll keep doing it every day until I get caught.' 'We can do what we want' crowed a female London rioter.

Even psychologists, analysing group behaviour, admit the presence of basic selfishness in the mix: 'For most people looting is opportunistic' says Jason Nier, associate professor of psychology at Connecticut College. And greed is certainly a factor.'

At the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, as a cliché I once heard has it. Like so many clichés, it's true. At heart, people are selfish. (My friend Andy had some thoughts about this which you can read here.)

It's not just the gangs, of course. Bankers gambled with economic stability - for greed. Politicians helped themselves to public money - for greed. Media moguls turned a blind eye when journalists were immoral - for greed... Gangs smash and loot shops - for greed.

But we must go deeper still. Under social evil, under moral evil, there is spiritual evil. As Paul the apostle describes it:
'We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.'
Spiritual powers, by their very nature, hide. They masquerade behind human evil - be it greed expressed in violent looting or greed expressed in high-level corruption.

How do we oppose them? How do we engage in a spiritual 'clean up' campaign?

We pray - 'at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication' as Paul writes later in the same passage quoted above. We share the gospel and see its transforming power at work in lives changing selfish hearts into new hearts. We speak out for justice and against what is unfair because apart from anything else, giving the voiceless a voice may prevent them from finding a voice through wielding a baseball bat.

'The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh' writes Paul, 'but have divine power to destroy strongholds.'

Pray, love, evangelise, love the poor, speak for justice.

In fact - let's be the church.


A poem by my friend Wilf.


A peacemaker is not a piecemaker-
Patching together
The ragged unravellings of relationships.
He is in the place of warfare
In the place of the Prince of Peace
As his pores
His tear ducts
His lungs
Sweating weeping breathing,
"Peace be with you"
In all he does.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Monday morning radicals

Reflecting on the Jesus Army-ran youth event, RAW (Real and Wild) that we just got to the end of, last Saturday. It was the fifth RAW (and for me the last - I'm too old and they're putting me out to seed...)

But this quote from one of the rising generation summed up for me something close to the very heart of why we do RAW, and what it's, ultimately, all about:

I was asked this morning if, post-RAW, I felt a bit deflated after all the excitement and inspiration and fun. I thought for a moment and realised, No, I wasn't feeling deflated, but in fact this is what it is all about; reality, back to the normal life, Monday morning, Tuesday agape, Wednesday cell group.... that's the whole point right that after RAW it all carries on. Real changes aren't just for the weekend; real changes are still there on Monday morning!
Brilliant. Monday morning radicality. It's what changes the world.