This year I, along with many others, decided to throw myself into #God52, A series of weekly challenges, instigated by Martin Saunders, aimed at shaking me out of my little bubble and getting closer to God, and others, in the process. Check it out here.
I was excited to take part. I was excited to see how God might break into my comfortable little world.
Then Martin delivered the first challenge: radical generosity and I got scared. I started thinking of all sorts of excuses that would prevent me from having to give my time or money to other people: I don’t have any time to help people; my wife has just had a new baby and that needs to be my focus; We just have enough money to get by and giving more would put us into the red.
That familiar little voice in my head danced and laughed as I slowly resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t complete this challenge (and probably not any of the others). I felt defeated. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.
What was it that scared me so much? Why was my first reaction to doubt myself and spend time creating excuses not to participate? I realised that generosity scared me because it required me to invest time in others.
I remember being struck a few years ago about a fresh interpretation of the beatitudes.
“Blessed are those who mourn…”
I’d always found that saying odd. Why should anyone be happy when they mourn?
But in order to mourn, you have to have been close to something. If you mourn over someone, it means you invested time in them; you chose to give something of yourself to them. You can only mourn if you’ve chosen to step out of your little world and engage with something bigger than yourself.
It’s the same with generosity. In order to be generous, I have to connect with others. I have to put my interests behind the interests of others.
So I resolve to be radically generous this week. I resolve to enter into the lives of others. I resolve to follow the example of the Triune God: an ever-giving, ever-loving community.
Here, for anyone interested, is the top 10 films I have seen this year. As always the list includes any film that I have seen for the first time (even if they weren’t released this year).
Films that may have made the list if I’d seen them are Liberal Arts, The Master. The Hobbit, Life of Pi and Seven Psychopaths.
The films that almost made this list were Dredd, Skin I Live In, Berberian Sound Studio, Once, Chronicle, Cell 211, I Love You Philip Morris, Tyrannosaur and Kill List.
So here is my top 10 of 2012:
1) Dark Knight Rises
3) Perks of Being a Wallflower
5) Tucker and Dale vs Evil
6) The Avengers
7) Beasts of the Southern Wild
9) Killer Joe
“Entrance” is not for everyone. It is a low-budget horror movie that is literal definition of ‘slow burn’. Very little appears to happen in the movie for most of its running time. I know some people who will be bored to tears by it. Happily, I’m not one of them.
The film follows ‘Suziey’, a young twenty-something living in LA as she goes about her normal life. When she mysteriously loses her beloved dog, a creeping anxiety begins to set in and she decides shes had enough of L.A. But on the night of her going-away party, Suziey finds out that leaving might not be so easy.
The film ultimately speaks about lonliness and isolation and the extremes some people will go to have a ‘connection’ with someone. As a Christian, I believe we live in a fallen, fractured world. As a consequence of our own selfish choices, and the choices those before us have made, we live isolated from everything.
The story of ‘The Fall’ in Genesis represents many things. When ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ chose their own wisdom, rather than Gods’, a number of things happened. The ‘sin’ they committed fractured the relationships of everyone involved. The relationship between Adam and Eve broke down because they blamed each other for the mess they were now in. Both of them chose to hide from God and so the relationship between mankind and God was broken and the relationship between Adam and the ground was also fractured.
Alienation is at the heart of ‘The Fall’ narrative. When we choose sin, when we choose selfishness, we become isolated from ourselves, each other, God and creation. Most of the atrocities committed in this world can be attributed to this idea. In the Genesis story we see ourselves mirrored in the figures of Adam and Eve.
As human beings we long for connection. We need to be connected with other people. On a trip to Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke of a “Ubuntu“. It is a South African word meaning, “You are only a human through other humans …through your relations to other humans.”
Our humanity is defined solely by our relationships with others. When we are isolated, we become less than human. The gospel, as I see it, is about the reclaiming of our humanity. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can enter into a new humanity. Through Jesus, the fractured relationships can be restored.
“Entrance” is about what happens when we people try to find that connection themselves. It is about the distorted ways people try to meet those needs. The film is a reminder of the consequences of our sin. It a reminder of the world that we have created through our actions. The film paints a bleak picture of humanity; a bleak picture of the modern city.
But there is another story. There is another city. A city where God dwells with his people. A city where everything has been renewed and restored.
Let us live as citizens of that city and tell others about it.
This morning I was reading Martin Saunders blog about “why life is too short to watch The X-Factor“. The X-Factor has become a staple on television sets all over the world and there are many complex reasons as to why people choose to watch it year after year (Martin has given a good overview of some of those reasons).
As I read the post it got me thinking about how TV programmes, like The X-factor,are replacing the common seasons of the church calendar and what this tells us about our culture.
For millennia, civilizations have used calendars to find a rhythm and flow to the year. Whether it be the calendar of the seasons in agriculture or the life of Jesus in the Christian religion, we all use calendars, and their significant dates, to find meaning and purpose in the year. Key dates help to remind us of our place in the world and to look forward to the future.
In the UK, we have largely followed the Christian calendar, with a few extras, for centuries. Advent prepares us for Christmas; New Years Eve helps us take stock of the last year and set our eyes on the coming year; Lent reminds us of our failures and the coming of new life and Easter allows us to celebrate the new hope we have in Christ. The Christian calendar has been the overarching story we have found ourselves in year after year but with shows like the X-Factor, I’m noticing a change in this trend.
Rather than following the environmental seasons or the landmarks in the Christian calendar, we now seem to be using TV shows as our gauge of where we are in the year. I’ve heard it said by several people that when The X-Factor starts you know that the countdown to Christmas has begun and for many the Christmas season officially starts when they see the Coca Cola “holidays are coming” advert. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this a negative thing. Our Christian calendar is made up of a number of pagan festivals that Christianity subverted so it would be disingenuous to say that this is all bad news. A better response would be to see what this change means for our calendar and for our culture.
The seasonal calendar (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) is used as a way of survival. It helps those working in agriculture to know when to sow and when to reap. The Jewish calendar reminds Jews of their story and their place in it. The Christian calendar follows a similar structure as it helps us enter into the story of Christ. But what does this new calendar offer us? What story does it tell?
The traditional calendars mentioned above create community. They give us space to experience the full spectrum of emotions. The new calendar, made up of The X-Factor, Britains Got Talent, Big Brother and the Coca Cola Advert also offer these but their foundation is built on consumerism and consumption. This new calendar has been created by corporations with one goal: to get us to spend money. Rather than inspiring and captivating us, the TV calendar restricts our imagination, forcing us to become vapid consumers. Instead of giving us space to to lament and remind us of our connection to the rest of the world, it forces us down the road of individualism.
We are better than this. There is a better story than this. Yes, we can celebrate the fact that The X-Factor at its best brings people together and showcases new talent. But at its worst it turns us into mindless consumers who care more about who goes ‘out’ each week than our neighbour struggling next door.
If we allow this consumerist story to take centre stage of our year; if we allow it to define and control us then we lose the very essence of the core Christian calendar (and the other calendars before it)…
The 3rd post in an ongoing series about attending a “conservative led” church as a “liberal”.
I am really enjoying the liturgy in the Church of England we are attending. It’s something I found missing in other churches. For me, using liturgy helps me to find my role in the unfolding story of God. There is a flow and a rhythm to the service. We explicitly hear each week of the work that Jesus did in on the cross. It’s important to be reminded of that.
But it also leaves me asking the question, “is that all the gospel is?”
Each week we hear that we are sinful people, heading for hell but because of the cross we are rescued and get to go to heaven.
I’m not against that reading of the gospel. But I don’t think that serves up the whole picture of the gospel. I don’t think that covers everything that’s going on.
This reading reduces everything to a binary transaction. We are the problem, Jesus is the solution.
What of the creation narrative, the Abrahamic covenant, the mosaic covenant? What about the life of Jesus? What about our lives, right here, right now?
None of this matters if we hold to this basic view of the gospel.
Being a “liberal”, I don’t believe that the sole point of the gospel is for Jesus to rescue us from hell and take us to heaven. For me the gospel is the reconciliation of all things. It is freedom from oppression and injustice. It is longing for the Kingdom to come and for Gods will to be done on earth (Familiar words aren’t they?”
I believe that I am saved from something but also saved for something. I am to be a blessing to all people. I have to hold out and hold on to the living word. I care about this world, and its inhabitants, as I believe God cares about it.
The gospel is the proclamation that, through the Son, a new world order is breaking out in the midst of the old one. The gospel challenges us to be heaven bringers rather than heaven goers.
So yes, I believe that through the cross we have been ransomed, rescued and redeemed.
But that’s just part of the picture.
- A liberal undercover (smoorns.wordpress.com)
The 2nd post in an ongoing series about attending a “conservative led” church as a “liberal”.
read part 1 here
Last Sunday night, the minister concluded his sermon series on “the sermon on the mount” with ‘blessed are the persecuted…’ Although I disagreed at a fundamental level with his reading of the beatitudes (you can read more about my take on it here entitled “blessed are the truly f**ked up!”) I was challenged and inspired by what he said.
Ultimately his point was to say that if you live out the beatitudes, you will get persecuted and if you’re not being persecuted, then you’re not living out the beatitudes. During his sermon he attacked the rise of liberal theology and ‘liberals’ because they had diluted the gospel to such an extent that they are no longer being persecuted and if you’re no longer being persecuted, you’re no longer living the life that Jesus had intended.
I’m sure it’s not surprise to you that I had an issue with this. It’s a common attack on “liberals” by those that would consider themselves “conservative” and it’s one that does not hold up.
Let me get something straight. My theology is not liberal because I want to please the ‘world’. I’ve not chosen liberalism because I’m afraid of confrontation or judgement. Choosing liberal theology is not choosing the easy way out. And to be honest, I haven’t actually chosen ‘liberalism’ because I don’t believe these categories are choices. These are labels put on people by other people.
These labels are not helpful. They flatten nuanced theology and divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ camps. And that’s probably my biggest issue with the sermon on Sunday night. It made everything appear black and white. It made it appear that all believers can be lumped into one or two categories. Labels reduce people to statistics.
It’s easy to write off a whole group of people by labelling them conservative or liberal. Surely, the church is the one place where we shouldn’t be labelled.
In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul wrote these words:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In this statement, Paul called for the barriers between identity, position and gender to be torn down. We are ALL one in Christ Jesus. There is no “us” and “them”.
Writing this post, I do not feel that I am walking the easy path that the minister spoke of. I may not be persecuted by “the world” over certain issues but I do at times feel persecuted from within the church.
I hope that as we, my family and I, continue on this journey we will seek to break down these hurtful labels on both sides and see people for what they are: Humans loved by God.
For those that have read any number of my posts, it is probably clear that I do not hold a conservative view when it comes to the Christian faith.
Now, I am not one for labels as I find there only use is to reduce and flatten people to a series of dogmatic statements. I would never define my theology as liberal because of that. I say it only so you can get a sense of where I am coming from. When I studied at bible college, the New Testament lecturer labelled me a heretic. It was good to see that in bible college there was an openness to dialogue and debate (that last sentence was sarcastic).
I’ll be honest and say that my last position, as youth worker for a conservative baptist church, was a difficult one. Many judgements about who I was because of what I believe were made.
We have since moved and as a family we have started attending a small anglican community church. A few weeks ago I went out to the pub with a few of the other folks from the church and through the various discussions, it became clear that the leadership of the church would be, what I term, conservative. Again, I want to be careful with that label.
This sent my mind racing. Can we be part of this church? What happens when I express my supposedly unorthodox views of sexuality, adam and eve, hell, atonement, swearing, horror movies etc? Will we be thrown out? Should we even bother building relationships with people who have such opposing views to ourselves?
We are still at the church.
After several discussions with my wife, it became clear that I was making the same errors in judgement that I felt some of the congregation of the Baptist Church had been guilty of. I was labelling people. And more than that, I was dismissing people because of these labels. I had flattened these people into a label.
I do not want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to be the kind of person who only hangs around with those who share a similar view point; who make judgements on someone because of the views they hold.
So I’m taking a step of faith. My family and I are taking a step of faith. We are going to invest in this church. We are going to seek truth together. We are going to fellowship with one another.
And I hope I can become more like Jesus in the process.
It’s been over two months since I’ve posted anything on the blog. A lot has happened in that time:
I finished up as youth worker of South Beach Baptist Church.
My family and I have moved from Scotland to Preston.
I’ve started a job as Youth Minister at Hutton Grammar School.
It’s been a great couple of months and letting go of the pressure of spending so much time online has been good for me. Being absent from the social media has been good for me.
But now I’m feeling a little more settled (at least until my wife gives birth to our second child) and my mind has started reflecting again on youthwork practice, theology, fitting in and a whole host of other random interjections.
So hopefully I’ll be posting up some thoughts soon.
The following is a short talk I gave at the commissioning service of “Faith in Action” in July.
Faith in Action is a three day social action initiative in South West Scotland.
Yesterday, the sermon at church was about discipleship, specifically around this passage in Luke 14:
“25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
The preacher said that your love and allegiance to Jesus must be above that of your family. He said it was that simple.
I don’t find that simple. I don’t think it’s that straightforward.
In two weeks, I’ll step down as youth worker of South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats and move my family three hours away to Preston where I’ll take up the position of youth minister at Hutton Grammar School. My last two weeks will involve a number of meetings where I seek to hand the work over as smoothly as possible to the youth work volunteers as the church is not seeking another full time youth worker for the time being.
I have many questions about moving away from the church. Is this God’s will? What about the young people who feel I am deserting them? Is this the right thing to do? How do you know if you’re following God’s will? Does God even have a plan for my life?
I know there are people in the church who will be quite happy that I am leaving; people that believe I am unbiblical. But there are also people who are really upset that I am going, including some of the young people. I know some of them think that I am abandoning them.
One of the older members of the congregation, who took the news quite hard, said to me, “well if you’re sure it’s Gods will for you…”
The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything from God on the matter.
Around Christmas time, a friend of mine said that there was a job coming up near where he worked that I should apply for. He is doing a similar job in a school and I saw how much he enjoyed it (and that the pay was really good too). So when it came up, I applied for it. There was no lightning bolt from God. No clear word that this was ‘right’ but I went for it and got it.
I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable doing church youth work as some of my theology is not ‘mainstream’ and I’ve had a lot of criticism for it. Also, church youth work does not pay that well either. The new job allows me to share my views without fear of judgement and gives our family financial security for the next few years.
So, I sat in church yesterday hearing that Jesus should be put first and I’m thinking, “well that’s all good in theory but does it work in practice?” It may have been Gods will for me to stay in the church (and get further into debt financially) but instead I’ve thought about my family and went for the better paid job. I’ll be honest. the wage was the reason I went for it in the first place. It’s the only reason I would move from Scotland to England; move away from the rest of my family and friends. Yes, the job will be challenging and exciting and play to my strengths but, first and foremost, it will provide for us as a family.
So I’m left wondering, am I putting Jesus first or my family first? Am I putting security and a ‘comfortable’ life over being a true disciple?
It’s a hard one isn’t it? It’s not the first time I’ve wrestled with this and it certainly won’t be the last.
On reflection, I guess this situation has taught me two things:
1) Trust. I have to trust that things will work out for my family as well as the church. In everything we do there is an element of trust that we are throwing out there and this situation is no different. I have to trust God. I have to trust those that have been left with the youth work.
2) I really don’t like pithy statements about faith. It’s easy to say you should love God more than your family but it’s far more difficult to know what that means in practice. Let’s not pretend that things are that easy. Life is complicated. Decisions and motives are complicated.
Do you agree? Surely I’m not the only one who thinks like this?