Monday, March 24, 2014

Duck church

One morning the ducks waddled along to duck church. When they got there they waddled into their duck rows and sang some duck songs. Then the time came for the duck pastor to preach to them all.

‘You can fly!’ he said, and the ducks all quacked with excitement.

‘You can fly! You can fly!’ the duck pastor repeated. More lively quacking from the duck congregation, and many now jumped up and down with excitement at the thought that they could indeed fly.

Then the service came to an end and all the ducks waddled home.

This pointed little fable was told by one of our congregational pastors yesterday and is reproduced here without permission. But I don’t think he’ll mind.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Faith: a difficult scandal

Came across these words by Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, whilst reading around Genesis this morning. Faith is not easy. It is, in fact, impossible - for us alone. But we're not alone...

[The story of Abraham and Sarah] shows what a scandal and difficulty faith is. Faith is not a reasonable act which fits into the normal scheme of life and perception. The promise of the gospel is not a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else. Embrace of this radical gospel requires shattering and discontinuity. Abraham and Sarah have by this time become accustomed to their barrenness. They are resigned to their closed future. They have accepted that hopelessness is 'normal'. The gospel promise does not meet them in receptive hopefulness but in resistant hopelessness...
The total Abraham/Sarah story is about a call embraced. But in this central narrative the call is not embraced. It is rejected as nonsensical. And indeed, if no new thing can intrude, if newness must be conjured from present resources, the promise announced here truly is nonsensical. But our interpretation must focus on the overwhelming question of God: 'Is anything impossible for the Lord?'
~ Walter Brueggemann, commenting on Genesis 16

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

'Such stuff' - a poem

Such stuff

I am walking in the wide
spacious centre of my days
- or near the brink.

I am swimming in the open
turquoise ocean of my life
- and soon to sink.

I am sleeping in a deep
dreamless slumber till I wake
- in an eye's blink.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Worth living for?

From a recent Jesus Army event: 'recieve the light, live in the light, shine the light'
So, what are we really living for?

Recently a group of up-and-coming Jesus Army leaders met and considered what our core values are. After a great deal of talk we came up with a mahoosive list, which we then boiled down, down, down into the following:

God. It would be unfortunate if He wasn’t on the list, and on the list first. In practice this means we want God to be central to our thinking and actions and we want to be prophetically led – based on what we sense Him to be saying to us, and based on His character and heart: love, joy, peace...

God’s kingdom. By which we mean, the corporate dimension of belonging to God together. People gathered around a common ideal: to live God’s way (takes some working out in practice, but if it’s a core value, we’ll put in the effort).

Community. Closely related to the above, but with some important definition: sharing, all things in common, equality, spiritual family.

Discipleship. We’re all learners and will always be learners. We want training, mentoring, mutual strengthening to always be live among us.

Mission. Never just an in-club, always outward looking. We aim to be a church for all kinds of people, with a particular love for the poor and disadvantaged. Being missional doesn’t divide between ‘evangelism’ on the one hand and ‘social action’ on the other. It’s all one: bringing and being God’s message to the world.

Death and resurrection. The cross is our central symbol, our ultimate reality. Powerfully enacted in baptism, reaffirmed in communion, it means our lives will be ‘death-and-resurrection shaped’. Separated from old habits and patterns; celibate-spirited (single or not, we’ll be single-minded), aiming for simplicity, willing to sacrifice. We follow Jesus...

It’s not a definitive list; we’re not the Council Of Nicaea. But it was a useful act of setting our compasses.

The journey continues. You're welcome to join us.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A Serious Mistake

My wife made a serious mistake this morning.

She asked a computer-related question on Facebook.

Really she deserved what she got. What did she get? Answers. Answers from computery people.

‘Anyone know why I can access Facebook but not anything through Google?’ she posted. (She wanted to listen to the Archers online. Each to their own.) It wasn’t long before genuinely helpful computer people came to her aid. The only problem was they spoke computernese.

‘Could be the DNS server down,’ posted one. ‘You can change them,’ he added helpfully. ‘I use or which is Google’s, more faster and reliable than my own ISP.’


Does 'ISP' mean something like 'RSVP'?

Then another piped up: ‘Yes, https. Probably need to get someone to look at your ipcop box again.’

When did my wife change her name to ‘https’? And does she need to go to the doctor about her ‘ipcop box’?

I know computery people try to be helpful – these two most certainly were – but honestly, I can't understand a word of what they say. It's a different language.

Which got me thinking about language. At its best, language is a wonderful means to communication. At its most obfuscatory it can render recondite and abstruse via equivocation, prevarication, obliqueness, ambiguity and all manner of sophistry.

(In case you think I’m clever, I used a thesaurus on that last sentence. I’m not nearly as clever as computer people – they really understand all that httpy stuff.)

As a Christian involved in media and communications, I try to use language to communicate what I consider to be simply the best message of all time: God loves us.

But sometimes, my own Christian language can get in the way. And I don’t mean only the obvious pitfalls of pious metaphor (‘Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?’) No, I mean language we’d never suspect may mean little to the Great Unwashed (in the blood etc.)

 Take my above attempt to communicate something of the wonder of the Christian message: God loves us. It falls over at the first word.


We Christians think we know what we mean by ‘God’ (and some of the time, we might be almost right). But we can be fairly certain that the average honest non-Christian we’re speaking to means something else.

No, not an old man in the sky with a beard. No, not like Ann Widdecombe only male. No, not a passive observer in the sky who wound up the universe then left it to get on without him. No, not the Greek philosophical absolute. No, not like Father Christmas. No, not like your disapproving/dysfunctional/dislikeable dad. No, not a silly fantasy character that we’ve decided to believe in because we can’t cope with the real world. No, not the Force. No, only very slightly like Morgan Freeman.

And on it goes.

We talk about God. People hear those three letters, G-O-D, but they reference something completely different.

Christians believe that we come to know who God is through Jesus. God is Jesus (better that way round than saying ‘Jesus is God’, since that second statement starts by assuming we know what ‘God’ means apart from Jesus – which we don’t.)

Jesus is God’s human face. God’s final word. God’s love in our language. So let’s talk about Jesus.
But, of course, then we hit another linguistic rocky patch.

No, not that miserable looking guy made out of stained glass. No, not Andrew Lloyd-Webber's rock star. No, not Mary Madelene’s husband and lead character of Dan Brown’s backstory. No, not the ‘babyjesus’ who makes no crying (well, not for long). No, not like Ann Widdecombe only male... (and so on).

It’s enough to make a Christian communicator like me through up his hands in horror and quit. If I can’t even mention God or Jesus without sending a whole host of unintended, unmeant messages – what’s the point?

Well, I think the point is that the message is important enough to keep trying. It’s even more important than my wife getting to hear the next instalment of the Archers. So, I’ll keep trying. Please accept my apologies in advance if I don’t do it very well.

But I have another idea, too. What about if – along with the words – I and my friends make it our aim to live like Jesus. He is brave – we’ll be brave. He is compassionate – we’ll be compassionate. He breaks taboos – we’ll break taboos. He shares his whole life – we’ll share our whole life. He sacrifices for others – we’ll sacrifice for others...

What about if we do Jesus as well as talk Jesus? Theologians call it being incarnational. (But then, they’re the Christian world's equivalent of computery people.)

Oh God (the real God), please help us to live like Jesus (the real Jesus) so that people can see who you are, what you’re like, and that you do – you really, really do – love us all.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Pant, pant

Paul the apostle and the author of Hebrews (who probably wasn't Paul - my money's on Priscilla) both compared the Christian life to a long distance run. And having completed more than twenty Parkruns (5k runs in parks round the UK) I can appreciate the metaphor.

At first exhilarating, part of the crowd. Then it thins out. I realise I may not be one of the leaders of the pack. 'Pace myself' becomes the mantra. First hill behind me. Nice long downhill patch now. Sun shining, God's in his heaven, all's well with the world (and all manner of thing shall be wel- ) hang about! Another hill. Reserves are less now. But a friend alongside helps with some morale boosting words. 'You're not going to die.' That kind of thing.

Halfway feels a long way. Why did I set out? Why put myself through this? Just then an 80-year-old woman zips past and sheer dented pride boosts determination. (80-year-old women do that, I find, in both the literal and metaphorical race.)

Now for the long haul. Concentrate on breathing. Like: keep breathing. Don't forget to breathe. Pant, pant. Uphill again. How can this circular route be all uphill?! Marshals clap us on.

I'm suffering a crisis of faith. I don't believe in running anymore. It's all a cruel trick. I am going to die after all. Why not just lie down there in the ditch? Goodbye, cruel world...

Near the finish? Steals on the ear the distant triumph song. Last bit. '72 steps up this hill' says my friend. 'Good holy number.' How can he be pondering the significance of the Greek Old Testament when I'm struggling to keep lifting my feet?

Others have gone before. Exhilaration returns, all the sweeter for being mixed with exhaustion. There's the finish! I cross the line with my friend. I couldn't have made it without him.

There's a great cloud of witnesses watching us cross the line. Hallelujah! I've run the race, I've fought the fight.

Later Parkrun will send me an email. Well done, good and faithful runner...

Just keep running, friends.