Now is the time to scatter…

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Now is the time to scatter

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time for the sent ones of God
To follow the rough roads
Into the barren broken places
To look for the marks left by Jesus
On the soft tissue
And brittle bones
Of the Imago Dei
The stinking
Wretched
Image bearers of the Living God

Time for the insurgency of God
To follow the mission
Into the hostile places
To seek out the secret stains left by the love
That was woven
Into the very core
Of the Imago Christi
The failing
Faithless
Manifest images of the Christ

Time for the dancers of the new Kingdom dance
To look for the music of Jesus
Amid the static and street noise
Tuning to the high fluting fragile sound
Vibrant and resonant
To the gracenotes
Made there by Spiritus Sanctus
By we discordant
Cursing and gossiping
Vessels of the Spirit of the Living God

Time for the revolutionaries of God
To follow the long hard march
Unyoked and with easy burdens
Looking for the soft places where people are
Where freedom flickers
And our hearts soar
And seek out the Participatio Christi
The weak but willing hands
And sore feet
Of those who would work where Jesus is

For now is the time for holy huddles to scatter
On the winds of the Spirit

Communing in the overlap…

Just Mooching Around (geddit?)

A story;

A man called Isaac grows and lives in a small village. He works hard on his farm, rising with the sun and tending the garden God gave him, tilling the rich brown earth. Rains come and water the green growth and plumps the ripening fruit. Life is good.

Next door lives his great friend Joseph. In the evenings they sit in the light of the harvest moon and share their hopes and dreams. They drink toasts to the future and laugh and joke and dream.

God looked upon them and smiled.

One day, Joseph inherits money from a long lost relative- just enough to buy a cow. And he walks it home up the hill and the evening light shines on its hide like velvet. He runs over to Isaac and invites him over to see the cow in its green pasture, solid and big and bountiful. “Look…” he says, “Look what God has brought to us- now we can have milk in the mornings- butter, cheese!”

But the cow became a shadow between Isaac and Joseph.

And one day, God visited Isaac and asked him what was wrong. Isaac said “It is the cow Lord- it has made Joseph into someone else. He used to be my friend.”

And God was sad.

“Isaac,” he said quietly, “If I can do anything for you- if I can grant you a wish, what would it be?”

Isaac looked up at God with cunning eyes.

“Kill the cow” he said.

Community.

As followers of Jesus, it is our calling, our aspiration, our tranforming power, and the very characteristic of the children of the living God.

Oh… and it can be hard.

Because real community implies closeness to those around us. It suggests relationships that go beyond the surface into the deep, undefended vulnerable parts of us.

And in doing this we are beautiful- as we serve and support, as we learn to love and let go our selfish stuff for the sake of the beautiful other. As we break bread and share wine.

But in doing this- we also are ugly- as we compete and squabble, as we dominate and oppress in the small things of a day, as we take in information and filter it through a screen of past hurts. As we nurse wounds and pick at the stitches until they burst and bleed on our communal table.

What was Jesus thinking of when he threw together his own band of disputing disciples? When he cautioned them that others will know that they are his followers by the love they had for one another?

Perhaps, just perhaps if we survive the examination of the stuff that we hide most carefully from the other- and we do not run away to build our own ego’s from bricks formed out of the manifest failings of our perceived inquisitors…

Perhaps then we might find that community is possible.

Because we Christians live in the overlap of what life is, and what we long for it to become.

Lessons on Kingdom from Brian McLaren…

brian-mclaren

I took a trip into Glasgow last night to hear Brian McLaren speak at Strathclyde university. His writing has been hugely influential on my spiritual life and my understandings of faith, and so I felt a bit like a groupie!

I went with a couple of friends from Dunoon, Simon and Ali, and had a chance to meet up with a couple of on-line buddies too- Stewart and Thomas. In fact, the picture above is Stewart’s- who had the technology (royalty check in t’post!)

It was a great night. Finished off by a lovely drive home over the Rest and be Thankful pass under a clear starry sky. Oh and a good take-away in Balloch…

Brian McLaren was profound in what he said- and although not much of it was new to me, the words were like food to the soul. Lots of people seem to have this experience of listening to him almost telling their story- allowing them to ask questions, and permitting them to start a new journey with God. I am reluctant to build him up with labels that will later become millstones around his neck, but he has something of the Apostle about him that is not taken, but rests as a result of who he is.

Yesterday is a case in point- it was not just what he said, but the way he said it. There was a kindness to his words- a respect for all things, but always a gentle invitation for as all to aim for something better.

Highlights? For me there were many. He got into a lot of discussion about the Kingdom of God- and old theme for me, which has been the subject of much discussion in our housegroup. We had previously playfully tried to find new names for the Kingdom of God, and I was delighted to see McLaren taking this to a whole new level.

The suggestion is, that Jesus was using the term ‘Kingdom of God’ as a way to engage with the people of his time in words they would understand. If he was here today- he would do the same, but would not necessarily use the same words.

‘Kingdom’ today ( suggested McLaren) is a word that has lost it’s potency- it is embedded in an ancient understanding of power and authority. What Jesus was doing was suggesting that there was a new way of doing Kingdom.

He then went on to list a whole series of words that Jesus might use if he was here today (Stewart gives a list of these on his blog- The Dream of God, The Peace Revolution of God, The Mission of God, The Party of God, Network of God, Ecosystem of God, God’s New Planet, Beloved Community, God’s Economy, The democracy of God.)

But there were two that I really liked.

One was

The dance of God

The idea that we learn to take part in a dance, in which we are part of an interrelated, dependent cycle of life and love- moving in response to divine music…

And perhaps most of all, I liked

The non-terror cell of God, or The insurgency of God

These seemed redolent with an idea that has been buzzing about my head for a while about a subversive group of Christians modeled loosely on the underground railway- I’ll post it soon I reckon.

Three weddings and a flash of the blindingly obvious…

civil-wedding

We have been away in Staffordshire at a wedding this weekend- a friend of ours from student days called Gaynor, and it was great to see her so obviously happy and in love with her now husband, Chris. They became an ‘item’ on a trip up north to visit us, so all the better.

This is our third wedding of the year- all of them lovely, all of them very different. John and Fiona’s wedding in a idyllic highland chapel- a Christian ceremony, full of their own faith and hopes for the future. Then there was my brother-in-law Chris’s wedding to Emma in a Unitarian chapel. It was another lovely family ceremony, led very well by a minister, and a chance for them to make their commitment to one another before God and man (and woman of course.)

Gaynor and Chris’s wedding was an entirely civil affair- held in an old converted barn, presided over by a representative of the hotel, with a registrar in attendance. God was not mentioned, but I think he was as happy as we were to see them committing themselves to one another. There is something good and whole and lovely about two people finding one another and learning to love.

So- three weddings. One Christian, one Unitarian and one civil. May they all be blessed with long and happy lives together.

I found myself asking familiar questions again about the place of faith in the lives of those of us who live in 21st Century Britain.

For some time it seems the Christian church has had its place as a marker of life’s transitions- births deaths and marriages. For some (like John and Fiona) a live faith means that this is a natural decision. For others, the church offers a solemnity and tradition that also has its place.

But many others see this tradition as irrelevant to how they might live their lives. They might seek their own spiritual path outside the traditional Christian Church, like Chris and Emma. Or they might celebrate their life together with friends in a civil ceremony, like Gaynor and Chris- an honest and faithful statement that does not need church, and church has no honest part of the rest of life.

Now none of this is a surprise. For me, the decline in the centrality of the institution of church is not even necessarily a reason for mourning- although it could be argued even by those who have no faith that the loss of church as an anchor and facilitator for society is potentially problematic- as nothing else seems to be taking over. I have mentioned old Durkheim and the concept of ‘anomie’ before (here.)

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So what about my little eureka moment? Well during the wedding, I think I found myself smacked between the eyes by a bit of an evangelical cliche.

I missed Jesus so much.

Not the Christian wedding ceremony- or church- but simply the person of Jesus.

I took me by surprise, as for some time, I have journeyed into an understanding of the Kingdom of God, and the image of God in people, that made me increasingly aware of how God is present and participating in places that we Christian’s have often regarded as Godless and secular.

But here I found myself again longing to hear the words of Jesus- longing for the words of the sermon on the mount to fall again like manna.

And for my friends to believe again in the possibility of a better way- not because it would make them (or me) better, but rather because if we set our faces to living this way, then the world could indeed be changed forever.

The fruit of the Spirit is peace…

After the rain squalling
And the bombs falling
After the back stabbing
And the tongue lashing
After love is betrayed
And dreams disarrayed
When the knife cuts and slashes
After sackcloth and ashes
Comes the peace

After the tumours
And cruel vicious rumours
After bodies broken
And evil words spoken
After guns cease their shooting
Troops no longer jack-booting
With the grave trodden down
And the trees now turned brown
Comes peace

Even after the failure
Of life-long labour
And after deadlines missed
After the getting pissed
When the pressure’s done mounting
And it’s all over-even the shouting
When the race has been run
In the setting of sun
Comes the peace

When anger burns out
After faith turns to doubt
When we give up on walking
And wolf packs are stalking
When the money is spent
Safety curtains are rent
At the end of all coping
Even Polyanna’s done hoping

Even then
Will fall
My peace

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Happiness and Ken Loach

Michaela and I have just watched the Ken Loach film ‘Happy go lucky’

If you have seen any of Loach’s other films, you will know roughly what to expect- beautifully filmed characterisations in intimate detail- with improvised scripts and wonderful acting. This film was no exception. Loach has this way of making you squirm uncomfortably, whilst you laugh indulgently, and in fully sympathy with the characters in all their very human flaws and failings. His films can be bleak, but somehow also kind, and life afirming.

This one follows the life of the main character- the wonderful Poppy, a teacher, whose niceness almost verges on the psychotic. But you come to love her even as you wince at her dizziness.

I heard Loach being interviewed about this film on release, along with a wider discussion about the nature of happiness, both as an individual, and in the collective. This is the source material for this film…

The research basis for the power of happiness is pretty compelling. Here is a quote from a BBC article which is well worth checking out.

According to Professor Diener the evidence suggests that happy people live longer than depressed people.”In one study, the difference was nine years between the happiest group and the unhappiest group, so that’s a huge effect. Cigarette smoking can knock a few years off your life, three years, if you really smoke a lot, six years.So nine years for happiness is a huge effect.”

Happiness seems to have almost magical properties. We have not got proof, but the science suggests it leads to long life, health, resilience and good performance.

Scientists work by comparing people’s reported happiness and a host of other factors such as age, sex, marital status, religion, health, income, unemployment and so on.

In survey after survey involving huge groups of people, significant correlations between happiness and some other factors are repeated. At the moment scientists cannot prove causation, whether for example people are healthy because they are happy, or whether people are happy because they are healthy. However, psychologists have been able to identify some very strong links.

Standard of living has increased dramatically and happiness has increased not at all
Professor Daniel Kahneman, University of Princeton.

There seems to be a strange truth in this research- if you are happy, if you set your life towards good and positive things- if you seek the good in people around you, and look to bring it out- if you spend time with your friends and love well- if you refuse to give up hope for the world around you, and choose to emphasise the good news rather than the bad.

These things will transform life. Even extend it.

This is not the same thing as living under the positive police, and is certainly no promise that you will not be hurt along the way.

So, lets all be Poppys. If not Polyannas.

It seems to me to have something of the Kingdom of God about it…

It is not easy for some of us mind.

Derek Webb and hope for the New World

I have been listening to Derek Webb’s album ‘Mockingbird’ today in the car, at high volume.

It gave me some hope for the world, that an American can write words like this;

Who is your brother?  Who is your sister?
You just walked past him. I think you missed her,
As we’re all migrating to a place where our father lives
Because we married into a family of emigrants.

So my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood.
It’s to a king and kingdom.

There are two great lies that I’ve heard.
The day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die.
And that Jesus Christ was a white middle class republican
And if you want to be saved you have to learn to be like him.

So my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or to a man.
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It’s to a king and a kingdom.

But nothing unifies like a common enemy
And we’ve got one, sure as hell.
He may be living in your house.
He may be raising up your kids.
He may be sleeping with your wife.
He may not look like you think.

Derek Webb, ‘King and a Kingdom” from the Mockingbird album.

Here is another song from the album…

Choose life…

Today I attended the choose life conference @ Stonefield Castle near Tarbet.

Choose life are an organisation whose purpose is to support initiatives that seek to help reduce the suicide rate in Scotland.

Scotland has one of the highest suicide rates in Western Europe, particularly in men. Suicide is the largest single cause of death in males under 35.

Suicide rates are almost always higher in areas of deprivation- in urban areas. However, when you control for deprivation, the next highest risk group are older men in rural areas. Strangely enough, living in rural areas seems to be a protective factor for women, but the opposite for men.

Speculation about the causal factors behind these figures might include the availability of instruments of greater violence in rural situations- farmers and forestry workers who have access to fire arms, and the isolation and poor support networks for people living and working in such situations.

Perhaps above all things however, people are at most risk when they become unable to think positively about the future- when they have lost hope.

Choose life run courses that help people think about the issue of suicide, and how we might help one another to spot those who are at risk, and access the help that might be needed.

Today there was also someone there from Breathing Space, a telephone/online helpline which attracts thousands and thousands of calls, and was originally aimed towards young men. Give it a try- here.

Christians deal in hope. It is this that Jesus gave us above all things. Hope of a world blessed by grace and beauty, and the possibility of healing and renewal. The New Kingdom- promised and possible- here right now.

And because of this, wherever we might be able to see increase of the things of the Kingdom- wherever we might be able to fan the flames of hope- there we should be, I reckon.

Blessed are those who mourn

aoradh.org – Beatitudes


Blessed are those whose days lie
Black with death.

Blessed are those whose guilt
Rises like a claw to the throat

Who could have done

Who should have done

So much
More

And blessed are those whose anger is bright wet
Like a sucking wound

Blessed are they in their rage
Blessed are they in their betrayal
Blessed in their
Abandonment

And blessed is the blaming
Blessed is the shaming

Blessed is the crying

These blessed children trying
To bring their loved ones

Back

How blessed
Are they

For it is
To this place

My Kingdom comes.

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The management regret….

Stress on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

I have had a bellyfull of managers this week. I have to be careful, because I often become a breeding ground for a depressing cynicism about my work.

I am a Social Work Manager to earn my mortgage, but at times I look around and wonder if I have been cast on a foreign shore amongst some kind of fish people who breathe a different substance and speak in bubbles.

There is a certain kind of management culture that values one dimensional toughness, and measures progress by the attainment of irrelevant goals. Failure to fit in to a certain stereotype is punished subtly and unsubtly- and I am never really going to fit in- both as a choice and as a consequence of the way I am made.

On good days I feel that I have a whole set of skills that mean that I can do my job in my own particular way, and do it well.

But then I spend time with management colleagues who rail against the failures of their staff and have no good words to say about anyone but themselves, and how they are going to sort out the slackers that work for them. And I fear for those people- who will no doubt become slackers, even if they are not already.

And I a brought up sharp by a higher management who do not treat members of staff fairly and with respect- even though their rhetoric (which they even seem to believe) suggests otherwise.

And I am angry with myself for my complicity, and my inability to challenge or walk away.

But I am a person who believes that God uses us as Trojan horses to gain entrance into the very fabric of our humanity, and there to tend the fragile but tenacious seeds of the Kingdom.

So as I wheel my horse into the office for another day of solutionless problems, what should be my calling?

To find precious integrity, and to hold on to it- not as a position of superiority, but of survival.

To see people not as a reluctant resource that requires the insertion of a rocket where the sun don’t shine, but instead as creatures of unique gifting and abilities. To search for strengths, not failings, and encourage them out.

To build bridges not battlements between groups of staff.

To understand the need for boundaries, but not to hide behind them.

To be first, an Agent of the Kingdom

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