Monday, December 23, 2013

Top Tory vs meagre Messiah

Work and  Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, refused to meet Foodbank charity chiefs over Britain’s growing hunger crisis this week.

Apparently, Mr Duncan Smith accused the charity of being too “political” and “scaremongering” to oppose his welfare reforms. The senior government politician walked out of a Commons debate on the issue of UK poverty in the run up to Christmas.

More than 500,000 people – one third of them children – have received emergency supplies from the Christian-based charity.

Chairman of the Trussell Trust, the charity that runs Foodbanks, Chris Mould said: “We reject the suggestion that we have a political agenda. Our interest is the needs of poor people who we see in their thousands every week.”

The Trussell Trust describes itself as “a Christian organisation motivated by Jesus’ teaching on poverty and injustice”. They “serve people of all faith groups and beliefs or none”.

So was Jesus concerned about the poor? Yes, He was! In His first ever public teaching, Jesus announced that He had come to bring “good news to the poor,” throwing in for good measure that He would “set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus may not have been party political – but He was certainly on the side of the poor and the have-nots over the self-satisfied rich.

It’s not surprising. Jesus Himself was born on the streets, after all. Forget cosy Christmas-card images of a lovely warm stable: the Bible just says that Jesus was “laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

A manger is a road-side feeding trough. Jesus was born in the 1st century equivalent of a petrol station.

It’s all the more amazing when you think that Christians believe that Jesus was not just any old person – He was God’s own son, who chose to come into our world to rescue us. It says something about this God that He chose to be born not in a palace – but on the street.

And that He chose to die a painful death on a cross even though He was innocent.

God identifies with the poor, the hopeless, the accused, the rejected, the scum of the earth.

Do I?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


“These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” (Joshua 9:13)

This seems like a fitting scripture for the year we've had when I read it this morning.

In its context, ironically, it was a lie. The burst wineskins and broken sandals were an elaborate charade made to give the appearance of having traveled far. (Israel's shrewd potential enemies, the Gibeonites used it to avoid battle.)

When I first read it, out of context, I assumed the bible verse - taken as it is from the book of Joshua - was a reference to the Israelites after their long sojourn in the desert. We get used to projecting ourselves on the Israelites, so it was a natural thought: "Familiar! Sounds like the year we've had". It has been a hard year, a slog, beginning with the death of a dear friend, ending with the closure of our community house, along the way some loved-ones struggling with ill-health and associated problems. We almost ran out of wine altogether. Our shoes are in tatters.

But I found out that the burst wineskins et cetera of Joshua 9 were fake. This wasn't a story of endurence and suffering, but of cunning and strategy. My mournful scriptural epitaph for the year snatched from my grasp! Ah! What now for my self-pity!

And that was when another bible verse came to mind. What they have in common is sandals: "Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet." (Deuteronomy 29:5). The Israelites did indeed have a long, arduous, dangerous trek across the wilderness. But God gave them staying power beyond themselves. Their sandals didn't wear out.

So, deprived of my sombre text for 2013, I'll make this my happier one for 2014. Our sandals are not worn off our feet. We can carry on. And in the next leg of the journey, may there be new wine.

I wish you all a restful, peaceful Christmas season and a New Year of new wine.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Fishing for complement

Fishy?The fish was off. It almost all went wrong.

It’s not every day we have an apostolic leader (Jesus Army speak for big leader) over for dinner. And the trout was off. Cue waiting at the table while my ever-resourceful wife cooked up some chicken fillets instead. But said leader amused my kids (and their dad) with optical illusion videos on his phone and all was well.

Later we had a great evening talking about lots of things from UK housing through to Pope Francis. Not surprisingly, given the rollercoaster ride my wife and I have had this year, we talked about vision and disappointment and community.

One issue we touched on that I thought would make a worthwhile wee post was the difference between generations when it comes to their money ethic. It ties into the wider discussion about intentional community – because if you’re going to share your money, as we do in a common pursue, the way members see money matters.

The older generation (his lot), we realised, prize frugality. This is the generation whose parents negotiated rationing and making frayed ends meet. For them ‘simplicity’ is about spending less. A community lounge with faded curtains, ill-matching plastic chairs and patched-together cushions is AS IT SHOULD BE.

The rising generation (our lot) prize liberality. This generation hasn’t, by and large, grown up with scarcity.  For this generation ‘simplicity’ is about spending more on others. About not worrying about money, being generous and spontaneous. A community lounge with simple, contemporary decor and plenty of (young) people feeling at home is AS IT SHOULD BE.

Of course, the younger generation’s liberality can tip over into profligacy – ‘want it nice, want it easy, want it now’. Likewise, the older generation’s frugality can slide into parsimony – ‘if it’s not horrible, it’s not holy’. And both sides can be inclined to characterise the other unfairly: ‘Wasters!’ ‘Misers!’

A better approach – as so so so often with these paradoxes – is to take both views at once. As John Wesley said ‘Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.’ 

Don’t waste God’s money; don’t be indulgent. Don’t penny-pinch; don’t be miserable.

Or to put those things positively: Spend money joyfully and remember that ‘God gives us richly all things to enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17); identify with the world’s poor and remember that ‘if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content’ (1 Timothy 6:8).

Jesus (funnily enough) got it right. ‘You can’t serve God and money’, he warned. But he also said ‘Use wicked wealth to make friends’.

Simplicity is best. But if the fish is off don’t eat it.