Embrace

Suspended-CoffeeI took a last minute decision to take a couple of hours out this morning to stop, think, pray and wait on God.  After dropping the kids at school I normally turn my attention to the daily office of the Northumbria Community which I have on CD in the car.  I just couldn’t focus and I sensed just an incredible angst in the pit of my stomach.

So, I took myself aside, had a walk around Paddy Freeman Park and then settled down to get to the bottom of it.  The Lord led me to look at James 2.  A really powerful passage.  I had only remembered the ‘favouritism’ aspect of it but what came through really strongly was the fact that James was speaking to a group of people who were not only showing favouritism, but doing so from what James describes as being from an ‘evil’ place…a seat of judgement which conquered any sense of gracious embrace or welcome.

What has been rumbling around in my head for a wee while is the whole question of connecting with people, not on or terms, our conditions on our turf, but on theirs.  Finding the commitment to be truly missional involves those things.  I sat in the park and watched people go by and asked ‘what would it take to inspire interest in that person to explore the person and claims of Jesus?’  and ‘what would church look like for that person to feel welcomed and valued?’

And then I guess I wept a bit, just sorry for all those things I’ve either been part of or have witnessed where some comment has been passed out of a place of judgement on people.  I’m not an innocent, I’ve done me fair share of ‘thought policing’ in the past, but so beyond it.  Engaging in ‘iron sharpens iron’ discipleship processes are a different kettle of fish to judgemental rebukes or comments made unasked for and unwelcomed.  Pastoral ministry of any sort, either formal or informal, is not an automatic right to invade peoples lives unbidden.  ‘Church people’ might tolerate it, those who aren’t most certainly don’t and neither should they!

What kind of community would the church be if it welcomed everyone like the man with the fine clothes and gold was welcomed….what if even the poor man with the shabby clothes was given the best seat in the house?  This is, in fact, what I believe Jesus would have done.  We welcomed every sinful scoundrel to a place around his table and gave them the honour of being with him.

On one occasion, the Pharisees asked Jesus ‘why do you eat and drink with these scum?’  Jesus said:  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I have a long way to go…the church has a long way to go…before anyone could ever cast aspersions about our outrageous bias towards and investment in ‘tax collectors, sinners, drunkards and gluttons.’  But even leaving behind ‘the leas of these’, there is still much to be done in leaving the 99 for the 1 needing to be found.

I need to work out the practical response to God’s message to me today.  May it be for his glory, honour and fame.

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Friends

matesFriendship is one of those funny things.  I’ve always struggled with it, mainly because my experience of it has always been…well, a bit difficult.  I don’t make real friends easy…its not in my make-up.  I don’t easily get to the point where I share the deep things in my heart and mind with another individual.  My closest friend, Tracy, who knows me best of all, would tell you that for sure.  I’m probably a bit enigmatic to her the vast majority of the time!  Sorry darling!

As I reflect over the years, however, there have been some amazing friends along the way. People who have been there thick and thin.  And then there are those who you thought were friends who, when trial comes, disappear and its only when you realised that they are gone from your life that they weren’t really friends much at all.  It hurts a bit, doesn’t it?

The weird person that is me often swings between lonliness and the need for isolation, but all in the context of desiring close human relationships and not always finding them.  It can be a challenging place to be.  The need for close human relationship and the need for space is a fine balancing act which, if you’re not typically an introvert, might seem strange to you.

I’m encouraged in that whilst Jesus interacted with so many thousands of people often in very public ways, we see too someone who needed both his silence and his close friends.  I love his relationship with Peter, James and John.  I love how he felt so at home in Bethany with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, no matter how much he stanketh.  I love his embrace of Judas, to whom he offered to open up his heart and spite of all he know about him.  More than that, I love Jesus interpretation of family…beyond the 2.4, beyond the confines of father, mother, sister and brother, to the place where come to know and connect with all believers united in Jesus.

I love how Jesus is willing too befriend me in the way that is best to me.  I love how he will sit with me for hours and where we can just be.  Where we can share a song, make some art or some other thing.  Sit around the Word together.  Share silence…and even a tear.  I love how he invites me to stop trying to do all the human stuff required to make friends of some other people and how he just allows me to be me.

My prayer for you is that you too will know the freedom to be yourself in his presence.  That grace will meet you and take you by surprise and turn your normal encounters in to spaces of transformation.

Male Spirituality…

BodhranBlog posts like busses….you wait ages and two come along at once.  Sorry!  Note to self:  be more consistent.

Anyway, wanted to blog about what I reckon must have been one of the most authentic experiences of community I’ve had for a long while.  I’ve been doing a bit of reading of the writings of Fr Richard Rohr, who is a Fransiscan priest/friar.  He writes prolifically on spirituality in general, but male spirituality in particular and has spoken of the need for men to find a kinship of brotherhood as well other stuff.

Anyway, there are groups of men who gather to explore experientially some of the stuff Rohr writes about.  I finally got the chance to meet up with a group of men up in Lindisfarne recently.  It was just a great day and I felt incredibly released and freed by it in many ways.  There were around 10 of us.

To begin with, after obligatory cups of tea, we entered into a time of what you could loosely call ‘worship.’   You have to understand that the invite to this group said ‘bring your drum.’   I loved both the implications that one would possess a drum and the implication that one should be prepared to beat one anyway.  It just so happens I got a bodhran for Christmas, so gladly took it along.  And so, we drummed for a good half hour or so.  It was good.  Fantastic, actually.  Professional drummers we were not, but we made a ‘joyful noise.’

After this, we talked.  Not just randomly, but purposefully.  There was, in the middle of the room, a little stone carving of men in a huddle with a candle in the middle.  And then there was the ‘talking stick’….just a normal bit of stick with ‘speak truthfully’ carved on the side.  Each man, when holding the stick, spoke from the heart of how things were for him at the moment.  We talked about what we sense was dying off in our lives and what was just beginning to root.  Just holy moments, actually, giving full attention to the others.

The great thing was, that having shared, no one offered any advice.  No one tried to fix you.  No one tried to analyse or pass judgement.  At the end, the speaker declared ‘Ho!’ and the chorus came back ‘Ho!    After sharing, it was out for a walk.  We built a fire on the beach, ate cremated sausages and talked casually before going back to the cottage for a final drumming and talk session.

It was a great day, really refreshed by it.  Cathartic, theraputic, worshipful, reflective, eye opening and active all at the same time.  Refreshed by the openness of honest men. In fact, if Carlsberg did ‘Jesus and the disciples’, it would probably look a lot like that.  [No alcoholic beverages were consumed in the making of this story].

The questions is leaves me with are many, including:  How many men are our churches failing due to the nature and composition of our ‘worship services?’  ‘How many men are failing to reach spiritual depth due to lack of authentic expression of worship etc?’ ‘What opportunities to man have to develop spiritually in a helpful environment?’  ‘How much attention do we give to making male spiritual development appropriately expreriential and action based?’  ‘How do we understand and create space for men’s needs to talk in an environment that is open, honest and that has integrity?’

I can’t wait for the next opportunity to meet.  Ho!

Vocational Voshmayshabal

dogcollarAs I guessed it would happen, it was back from Easter holiday and hit the road running.  Weeks of relentless meetings and stuff to be done…not all of it feels like it deserves a whole lot of energy, but takes it up nevertheless.   In the midst of it all,  I’m like a Fiddler on the Roof…trying to scratch out a tune and keep balance at the same time.  My own personal ‘rule of life’ or whatever you want to call it keeps me accountable to being Authentic, Relational and Missional all with varying levels of success.

I’m a bit in the air at the moment, although probably don’t need to be.  My inner pilgrim thinks it should be moving on but doesn’t realise it has 6 years of a contract remaining.  Not going anywhere, but I’m constantly working through the process of ‘vocational discernment’ in the light of the fact that after the 6 years of my contract, what then?  Not currently feeling able to avoid the long term questions of ‘what?’, ‘with who?’,  ‘when?’ and ‘why oh why?’   So all that internal questioning unsettled in the midst of general busyness.  Its only there so strongly because as a SA Officer I didn’t have to think about it…the track was set out…or so it seemed.

But you know what?  I have many days when I just want to go home.  Get a ‘normal’ [insert ‘real’ if desired] job and work out following Jesus outside of the established church.  Its a jolly good job I’m not qualified to do anything else otherwise I think I’d have gone…which really brings up the whole integrity of what I do.  I think I’m openly honest about my vocational doubts, I don’t feel like I’m trying to fool anyone, but on the other had I realise that I do a decent job and where I am at this moment in time has in fact removed so many of the highly frustrating obstacles which existed in the last denomination I was chucked out of.

Do you know what even more?  I am ‘enjoying’ the uncertainty of it all.  Being in a liminal space (‘inbetween one thing and another’) is a creative place to be.  I’m discovering more things about myself, my ‘belief system’ and I’m being able to flesh out some of my previously ‘academic’ opinions/experiences/convictions.  Its an adventure in trusting God.

If you have any ideas/insights/words/predictions/gut feelings/inclinations and/or revelations  as to how you see it panning out, let me know!  What I really need is a discernment panel to listen to God with me.  At the moment, the voices are too many, various and conflicting.  Answers on a postcard [or preferred substitute] anytime!  ;o)