Rainbow Coloured!

Differences are in the news again at the moment and will increasingly be so as the Election approaches. We’ve had the news about the Chelsea ‘fans’ forcing a black person off a train with racist chants and threatening behaviour. We’ve had the troubles around the so called ‘Islamic State’ and their treatment of those who are Westerners or of another religion, and we’ve had plenty of discussion around immigration with the rise of UKIP and euro-scepticism in general.

None of this has directly affected me, although from what I understand of my family history, my family were Huguenots who fled from religious persecution on the continent at some point in the past. It is easy for me to pronounce judgement on others as I have not had to tolerate it, not have I noticeably been threatened by changes caused by others. One who has, however, was Nelson Mandela, locked up because of his resistance to apartheid. It would have been all too easy for him to have emerged from prison with the desire to exact revenge on those whites who treated him and his fellow blacks the way they did. It would have been easy for him to desire to bring about a black South Africa as a response to the white dominated South Africa that there had been before. The astonishing thing was that he did not. With the likes of Desmond Tutu he talked instead of reconciliation and not a black or white nation, but a rainbow nation.

He was not the first. The Bible talks of God’s many coloured or varied grace (1 Peter 4:10, ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ – the original Greek has the sense of multi-coloured grace), grace that is sufficient and open to all no matter what their background or race. It is only after the Fall and the Tower of Babel that we became a divided people, and the work of Christ is to bring reconciliation, to unite in himself all people with God. There are some wonderful glimpses of this future in Revelation where multitudes from all nations gather to worship as one. This picture of a united and yet different family or community is one I’m passionate about, and one I am really excited to see developing at Wormley with our increasingly multicultural, multigenerational, multibackground church. This is something we have to work on, it doesn’t come easily to us, but it is worth it, because this is how we were made to be. It is only in our unity that we gain a fuller understanding of God who himself is a community of different persons, united in will and relationship. Only together can we truly represent him and the Kingdom to our divided world!

Happy Birthday Facebook

On Tuesday 4th February, mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook, posted that it was Facebook’s tenth anniversary. Over those ten years Facebook has become a modern phenomenon, going from a small university community website to a globe spanning brand and social media site, that plays a part in the daily lives of many millions of people, maybe you included. People use it to stay in touch with old friends, share jokes, swap stories, play games, admire each other’s photos and find others with similar interests.

In his post, Zuckerberg wrote about the motivation behind his creation and development of Facebook. He wrote the following:

‘I remember getting pizza with my friends one night in college shortly after opening Facebook. I told them I was excited to help connect our school community, but one day someone needed to connect the whole world. I always thought this was important — giving people the power to share and stay connected, empowering people to build their own communities themselves. When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it. The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.’

Facebook was developed in order to create a place where people could create communities. It fed into a fundamental human desire, which comes out of being made in God’s image, to relate to others. Like all communities, it has its good side and dark side. There is indeed great love and generosity shown between its members. Discussions can be profound and constructive. People can get in touch and maintain friendships that would otherwise be lost. News can be shared and celebrated or support offered when needed. There are times, however, when it becomes a place of gossip, slander, unfaithfulness in relationships and cyber-bullying. Alongside the profound and helpful you can find frivolous and destructive.

Like it or not, social networking online is part of life. For many of us it’s part of our lives, part of our Frontlines. As such the question we face is an important one, what does it mean to use it well, i.e. in a way that is in keeping with Col. 3:17?

‘…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’

The man who turned his home into a public library

Just read this wonderful post on the BBC News website. I’d love to try something like that here! Tried a bring and share book scheme at church over Summer, but would love to expand it beyond to the local community in some way.

BBC News – The man who turned his home into a public library.

Review: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book on my shelves for a while now – picked it up at the Greenbelt festival a few years back but it got put away with the rest of the stuff I’d picked up whilst there and then forgotten about. Really wish I’d read it earlier.

This is a book for all who’ve dared to think that there might be more to life than the daily grind, or have felt that somehow the church has lost sight of the radical life of Jesus. In it Shane pours out his beliefs about what Christian life should look like, that it is possible to live in a different way, and dares us to give it a go. Alongside this he describes examples from his own life and that of the various communities he’s belonged to. On the way he addresses our attitudes to relationships, peace and possessions. At its heart is the simple message of relating to those around us as people and being brave enough to step out of systems that don’t do this.

The next thing I’m going to do with this book? Give it away. Don’t normally do that, but I think it would be good to let it challenge others the way it has challenged me.

*****

I wrote about this book in our church newsletter. Here is what I said in case anyone is interested:

Living As We See It
I’ve been reading ‘The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical’ by Shane Claiborne recently; you may have heard me mention him a few times recently in our services. I’ve found it an inspiring read. There are times when his enthusiasm for his point of view about how we should live out the Christian life leads him to sound judgmental when talking about those who see it a different way, and there are times when maybe his use of Scripture is a little fast and loose, but when I finished his book on Thursday night and put it down, I knew that it had changed me in some small way. At its heart is the challenge not just to believe in Jesus, but to actually live out a life like him – to not see the Sermon on the Mount especially as just idealistic writing, but a call to live differently; something to be done.

Here’s a quote of his from near the end of the book,

“Maybe we are a little crazy. After all, we believe in things we don’t see. The Scriptures say that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). We believe poverty can end even though it is all around us. We believe in peace even though we hear only rumours of wars. And since we are people of expectation, we are so convinced that another world is coming that we start living as if it were already here.”

This is a totally Scriptural point of view. This is at the heart of Paul’s writing in the New Testament and at the core of Romans. As we see what the world will be, as we know God’s judgement over us already as we are in Christ, then why continue living out the old life, instead lets live out the new. Revelation paints the picture of Heaven coming to Earth, of God living in the midst of humanity as in Eden at the start. A life where pain has gone, tears have ceased, peace reigns and we are reconciled to God, each other and the world we live in. If this is how it’s meant to be, then surely we should be striving to live that way today.

View all my reviews

Re-imagining Relationships

At church we’re working through Mark’s Gospel on Sunday mornings between Christmas and Easter, and I’ve decided to read it as my devotional reading each day as well during this time. Reading it again, I’ve been struck by many things, and I’m only a few chapters in! It paints a picture of Jesus far from the nice sandal wearing wimp that he is sometimes portrayed as. Here is a man who acts with determination and authority, not caring what others think of his deeds or teaching, but with a clear vision of what the world could be or should be, and living out that life and pushing for that life now.

One of the key themes that has hit me so far is his desire to overturn the inclination we have to exclude those who are different to us. In the first few chapters these are the people he goes out of his way to include, challenging the prejudices of the culture around him.

In chapter one he drives out an evil spirit from a man in a synagogue, heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever and ‘cleanses’ a man with leprosy. In chapter two he heals a paralytic and dines with ‘many tax collectors and “sinners”. The list continues. Each of these is in some way excluded from society around them. When you dig a little deeper, often this exclusion has a religious aspect to it. In some cases this is clear – for example the demon possessed man, but in others to us less clear. Take the Sunday School favourite, the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends. The root concern of this story is not his condition, but the religious belief that he was blighted with his disability because of serious sin in his family – it was a punishment from God. Jesus cuts straight through this by declaring his sins forgiven – and so restoring his place in the community (and heals him to boot!) Or the man with leprosy, he would have been excluded, considered as ritually unclean, and defiling of others who came into contact with him. Again Jesus heals him, cleansing him (the text pointedly stresses that ritualistic religious word, not ‘healing’) so he can be part of the community again. Just to make sure, Jesus sends him to the priest so that his cleansing can be ‘officially’ sanctioned, so that he could be ‘officially’ included once again. This was a risky act; coming into contact with someone with leprosy would have caused him to have been considered unclean too. As the man failed to follow this last instruction, perhaps this was a turning point in Jesus’ work – maybe he was now seen as tainted in some way. If he wasn’t then, he certainly was after his meal at Levi’s house with the tax collectors and sinners – those excluded from polite society because of their anti-Jewish collusion with the pagan Roman establishment, and those rejected because of their lifestyles were deemed to be unacceptable by the leaders of the faith.

Reading these passages has challenged me to take a long hard look at my attitude to others. In what ways do I unconsciously exclude others because of how society or indeed religious attitudes around me see them? In what ways do I not see people, or actively avoid them? Who does my church exclude? Who are the excluded in my community? Who in my life ought I be actively trying to bring back into the community – and do I have the guts to do it even if this means being ‘tainted’ as Christ was?

You Don’t Have to go to Church to be a Christian

But it sure helps!
From time to time I hear people talk about their faith and spirituality. ‘I am a Christian, but I don’t go to church. I don’t believe in organised religion.’
I must confess there are times when I sympathise with them! Whilst Jesus preached a Gospel of love, the church has practised something quite different. I was watching a programme about the Crusades the other day, a shocking example of violence and hatred carried out in the name of Christ. Think of the long running dispute in Northern Ireland. Think of the rows carried out in public regarding the role of women and sexuality.  The organised church also runs the danger of turning the freedom that Jesus came to give us into a set of rules and traditions. Ghandi famously chose against Christianity not because of its beliefs, but because of the church’s example. To be brutally honest, it can be quite dull!
The same arguments, however, can be turned back onto those who reject organised religion; the trouble of sin is that we are all affected by it – but, if we are no better than those who don’t go to church, then doesn’t that prove that it’s all a fabrication? This misses the point. As Paul points out in Romans, we are all unrighteous, but this explains why God had to send his Son, so that he could live the righteous life that we couldn’t, so that through him our relationship with God could be restored.
So why gather as the church? The easiest answer is that Jesus told us to. He always envisaged that we would live and operate as a community. Together we can support each other and achieve so much more. Together we can hold each other to account and find encouragement. Together we can learn more about God, and be more Godlike – after all God himself is a community. The Christian speaker and author Brian D. McLaren talks of the five queries that his spiritual formation group ponder together; “How is your soul? How have you seen God at work in and through your life since we last met? What are you struggling with? What are you grateful for? What God-given dream are you nurturing?” I suspect that if we had the courage to ask each other these questions, then we would find the power of the church. Maybe then we could gradually learn to become more like him.
Church Newsletter article for Sunday 24th October 2010