Vocation 2

cropped-feet.jpgWhen you’ve done so much personal deconstruction of ideas, theologies, patterns and belief systems, there comes a time when you gently rebuild.  Certainly, the rebuilding is a lot looser, more creative and less rigid. I think my emerging construct is more grace-filled and compassionate, vulnerable and with a commitment to being more available to God and others.   I believe it has Jesus much more at the centre, which has been my passionate desire in these last three years of de-institutionalising!  I think it is happier with the areas of grey and with the complexity of the human experience.  It seeks to love first and to own no-one as an enemy.  There but for the grace of God I go!

In the midst of this, I’m rediscovering the essence of my vocation and becoming increasingly happy to identify with that ‘minister’ role again, albeit from a stance of powerlessness and service rather than anything else…something Jesus is teaching me more.   I’m not for ‘clericalism’ but I keenly sense God’s call to equip his people and to minister Christ where I can.

In a private sense, the Rule of the Northumbria Community gives shape to my personal spiritual life and is very meaningful as I seek to live out the called to Availability and Vulnerability and all the flows from that.  Touches my sense of call to a new monastic expression of spirituality and discipleship.

In a public sense, I’m still in a discernment process about where I fit.  In an ideal world, I guess the various aspects of church would simply welcome the fact that ones vocation, call and ‘suitability’ for ministry has been tested, tried, affirmed and confirmed over the years of ministry and things like formal accreditation and recognition weren’t necessary but alas…they’re still barriers to service in a variety of places.  There are networks and bona fide associations who accredit independent ministers who are in partnership with key movements like Churches Together in England and the Free Churches Group.  Maybe thats a good path for me for the future which may include some planting or the forming of new communities of Jesus followers.  A discerning process involved there.

Anyway,  I’m sure God knows the beginning from the end!  My ultimate calling is best expressed in the name of this blog…the concept of the ‘turasaiche’…the wandering pilgrim and vagabond, that fits me well.

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Vagabonds

I’ve sorta got a new anthem for myself.  Stuart Townend’s relatively new song, ‘Vagabonds’, really speaks to me of the blessing of the radical transformation Christ brings. Apart from the catchy and lively musical style, the lyrics just speak volumes about that edgy and radical embrace that I spoke about yesterday, the call of Christ to the ‘whosoever’.

Our world continually judges on outward appearances, apparent successes, external facades and whatever personality it is we project. I’m particularly aware of this in my own life especially in my role at the church I lead and also as I try to keep the balance of my ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Christian friends on social networks like Facebook. In the end, I have to admit to both that I’m neither liberal nor conservative…the whole polarity of the discussion just doesn’t interest me any more. I don’t feel the need to be right. Faith, for me, is not an argument to be won. It’s a path to explore in open honesty with others. Having said that, Jesus is central for me both as Saviour, Lord and as Rabbi (teacher). I am, by no means, sitting on any fence. The point is, I’m just not interested in the fence!

Thing is, we can take ourselves far too seriously. It’s one of the worst traits of my personality style…but at its best, feels the freedom to simply ‘be’ who I am. As I’ve been speaking to friends over these last few weeks about all this, the message has been ‘oh, just be yourself.’ And I’m like ‘really?!?’ You have to laugh. People rarely mean it, few of us have the vulnerability to live fully who we’ve been made to be, but yet it remains our most crucial task…to worship God in the way only we can by expressing our full humanity made in the image of God.

So, I’m writing this blog as a note to myself: Lighten up. Enjoy. Dance. Sing. Laugh. Celebrate. Cry. And everything else that comes. Come, just as you are. Meet with Jesus, listen to him deeply. Be moved by his death, shout for joy at his resurrection. Leave behind your survival dance and enter the sacred dance in partnership with the One-in-Three, the Three-in-One, Holy Trinity. All of that stuff is the antidote to being so frightfully boring and cardboard!

Here is the song…enjoy!

Edgy

The more I read the bible, the more convinced I am that Jesus, on the whole, wouldn’t fit in our churches.  He had a major leaning towards the underdog, almost to the extreme.  It’s one of the things I love about him.  He just wasn’t interested in the ‘religious crap’ that had become associated with Temple Pharisaical Judaism.  Paul, in Philippians, talks too about his rejection of all the stuff of his formation as being, literally, ‘crap’ in comparison to Christ.  Paul, of course, becoming the Apostle to the Dogs, the Gentiles.

The likes of St Francis who rejected worldly wealth, power and influence for a life of poverty and ministry to the poor flies in the face of our modern sensibilities, maybe not so much to post-modern sensibilities who understand what it is to rally to a cause.  Modern movements like Occupy Wall Street and its UK equivalent seeking to identify with the poor against the oppressors.  And then there is the modern day Shane Claiborne raising a movement of ‘Ordinary Radicals’ to challenge the status quo.  Classic Kingdom stuff.

Of course, Wesley and Booth were very much in the underdog camp.  Wesley working amongst the primarily working class poor and creative a new movement of radical disciples who, by the time Booth got to them, had resorted more or less to pastoral mode and so called out his band of Salvationists….a new monastic movement if ever there was one.  Booth liked the cheque-books of the rich, but his people were the everyday neglected by the churches, the spiritual and societal under-dogs.

What I see in all these responses to mission and to Jesus is that they’ve captured something crucial:  Jesus prophesied the end of the sacrificial temple system and replaced it with the ultimate sacrifice of himself.  The curtain in the exclusive temple was torn in two and the way to God was opened through Jesus’ work on the cross.  Religion stopped being about being worthy and started being about recognising our need for mercy, grace, forgiveness and salvation.  Francis, Booth, Wesley and many others continued to reject the prophetically damning word that Jesus pronounced on temple religion but continuing to call the church out of the temple onto the streets.

We have a need today for this.  We increasingly need people on the very margins of things, both societal and spiritual.  This is where the renewal of the church will come…in making disciples of the nations as opposed to buttressing our own churchy games.  Authentic discipleship is always missional, always incarnational…going out and going deep to engage the world with the life and transforming power of Christ.

God is raising up a new movement, one that is calling individuals away from the centre of power and empire to the margins of society where the Kingdom has always grown fastest amongst those who seek the Kingdom for Kingdom’s sake instead of what can be gained.  The movement is happening in many places, but its a Jesus movement which resembles a new kind of monasticism of radically committed disciples.  A discipleship that moves away beyond churchmanship and membership to a consecrated life, covenanted life, professed life which seeks to say ‘to follow Christ is to give your life.’

For me, discipleship is marked thus:  a balanced life of worship, prayer, study, work, rest and mission lived out in the world for the sake of Christ and his mission.  To follow Jesus is to be called not to a peripheral pew warming, but to ‘Life Together’ bound together in radical obedience to Christ.  Jesus didn’t die so that I could hide the gospel and his mission in a building, but that through our own path of death, descent, resurrection and new life we might be transformative ambassadors of the New Kingdom in anticipation of the restoration of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth.  This is surely the renewal the church needs that will bring the revival the world needs as Jesus is more and more proclaimed in places his name has not been heard.

The world needs a Christ who can be known through encountering him in the lives of his devoted followers as they pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’   I pray that for my life, my family, my work, for the community I live in and the whole of the United Kingdom.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

Volume

And so, to finish this weeks ‘V’ themed posts, I turn to volume!  There are two lots of volume that are a struggle to juggle in the course of ministry.  Firstly, the amount of stuff that always wants done in contrast to what we should really be focussed on.  Secondly, there is the volume at which that stuff shouts at you until its satisified in contrast to turning down the volume of ‘stuff’ until we can get to the place of hearing the still small voice of God.

I’m still a noisy charismatic/evangelical at heart…much of my faith development is wordy:  in books, the bible, talks, seminars and noise.  But as I’ve said before, I’ve been so appreciative to God for the gift of silence, of clearing the clutter, simplifying and the spiritual disciplines of contemplative Christianity.  I’m appreciating much more the various streams of the Christian tradition to the extent that I struggle to identify with one in particular, but actually with many.  Are we surprised?  Is it not the case that God works across his whole church in spite of us at times?

From Salvationists, I’ve heard the gospel for the poor, the fight for social justice and the vast nature of rescuing and purifying power of God.

From Methodists, the call to preach the gospel and band men and women together for discipleship.

From the Evangelicals, a commitment to the Word of God and an appreciation of God’s heart on paper as an account of his dealings with people in history and today.

From (Ana)Baptists, the power of the peace witness, multi-voiced church, the functioning of the body of Christ in discerning the will of God, and the missional response to post-Christendom.

From Charismatics, the heart of worship and the willingness of the Spirit to empower for ministry.

From the Orthodox Church, the amazing mystery of God, recognising there is so much we don’t know and the ongoing journey of discovery.

From the Celtic monastic tradition, a passion for God in the every-day, a simple daily prayer office of keeping appointment with God, a rule of life which speaks of availability and vulnerability before God and the world.

From the Missional Church, a creative burst of freedom to arrange church around the cause of Christ and the mission he calls us to.

From the Fresh Expression movement, so many creative and innovative connecting points with the world.

From the Roman Catholic church, that great doctrine of incarnation, being alongside people, getting stuck in, commitment no matter what, and the beautiful wisdom of people like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Mother Theresa, Richard Rohr and many more.

Each of these streams, and more, seem to have various volume controls in our Christian experience if we remain close to anything but our own tradition, our own environment.  If we get to busy with the clamour of our own systems and stop to hear the whole counsel of what God wants to give, we’re taking part in great adventures in missing the point.  There is so much richness in Christian Spirituality.

Hasten the day when becoming a follower of Jesus means all those things and more as we learn the path of obedience and pledge allegiancee to him.

Vision

Today I was reminded of Augustine’s phrase: “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

When I heard it, it was a word of grace to me.  It is easy to become preoccupied with the question of whether we’re where we need to be in the will of God.  For some, it can become a painful, exacting science and people can get themselves in a twist trying to figure out the will of God.  Sure, there are things God wants us to know and yes, he leads us.  But my honest reflection is that we don’t see more than the next step at a time.  We might have a bigger vision, an aim or hope in mind, but the road is often hidden.  Sometimes this is for our good.   When God planted a vision deep in my heart years ago little did I realise the path it would take me as I feel my way towards it.  Its not as far off now as it was, but there are still unknown questions and steps to take on the way.

A friend reminded me this week that its enough to be faithful where we are right now, in this moment.  I intrinsically knew he was right.  The step towards a future vision begins right now, you have to start from where you are.  Trusting in God to see your vision happen can be a funny game…it takes a long time.  God will lead the path so I’m gonna do my best to quit worrying about how its all going to pan out!  Still, at the very end of the day, our lives are but a tiny thread in the whole scheme of things.  Not a bad thing to remember!

So, don’t ask me where I want to be in a year’s time, five year’s time, 10 year’s time.  Where I want to be now is in the love of God…in a trusting place of his guidance and leadership, and in the assurance that in his good time he will bring to birth what he has planted.  I decided, though, that I’d like to share my vision, to put it out there.  My vision, after all, involves other people who are probably not known to me at this moment in time…so, if looking down the years of time you can see yourself in the picture God gave me, just you let me know!  You can find it HERE!! I wrote this about 2009 and it was 7 years in the writing at that point.

Vocation

I’ve been enjoying a few days off again, using up my remaining annual leave entitlement.  Not planning to be away anywhere, just chilling at home, reading, writing, and generally taking time out.  My brain needs space to function…time to recalibrate, evaluate and just find bearings.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the bigger things of life, namely my vocation…which has been a major feature of my thinking in recent years.  It has shifted in its expression over the years but it has essentially been the same:  to connect people with Jesus.  Even when I wasn’t getting paid to plant Jesus, that was my desire.  It’s the apostolic gifting working itself out…I can’t help but dream ways of helping individuals, groups, whoever, to come together around Christ.  It’s my obsession.  I’m interested in very little else.  That, for me, is the heart of the thing that has come to be called ‘church’.  And so, whether I’m being paid as a ‘pastor’ or whether I’m doing other stuff, my ultimate life task is to help people connect with Jesus.  This is my ‘ordination’ promise:  “to love and serve him supremely all my days, to live to win souls and to make their salvation the first purpose of my life, to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable and befriend those who have no friends”.  The language isn’t mine, but the purpose is the same.

That’s what I’ve come to after a lot of thinking and searching.  The thing is, church leadership, sadly, hasn’t always been about that.  It can be about so many more things and so, over the years, you get to the place where you know that even in church work, you have to separate the bits that come with working for any organisation with the real vocation of planting Jesus.  A friend reminded me of that truth I’d already arrived at when we met last week for coffee.

dogcollarThat brings me into a dilemma because not many churches are willing to work with that sort of thing…there is still a common idea going round that God calls you to a particular denomination either due to its theology, style, ecclesiology or whatever.  I have to say that I think it works differently to that, as much as I loved the Army.  His purposes are bigger than just that.   I believe God puts people where he wants them…its up to everyone else to figure out what’s more important: where God would have a person be or how closely aligned s/he is with a denominational flavour.  That’s particularly relevant for my current existence, what with the denominations I work for having trouble recognising me institutionally.  The ambiguity is, personally, not easy for me.  The language used in inherited churches when it comes to ministry is very often about entitlement and one’s status as ordained or not ordained.   I simply don’t see this in scripture at all…no, not anywhere. It never ceases to amaze and disappoint me how denominations can’t see beyond the end of their own systems.   I’m not sure what a person has to be able to display/possess before one can say: ‘there goes a person called by God for this task.’   I have to say, in the day to day of my work, I pay little attention to this stuff:  I know who and whose I am, even if everyone else is confused!

I’ve spent a lot of years trying to fit my sense of vocation into a church which isn’t necessarily shaped for it which has tended to leave me a bit ‘high and dry’ at times, but this is the paradox I’m in.  I have a passion to help the church navigate through the murky waters of post-Christendom and on to better ways of expressing mission and ministry…that just means things are messy.  Lots of chaos to embrace.  It also means a sensitivity to the Spirit and his leading, which isn’t always straightforward, especially when we can’t see the next step before we take it.  That always leads to exciting times…!

Victorious?

It has taken me a long, long time to be able to openly admit that I struggle.  I struggle with depression, difficult days, sometimes difficult seasons, sometimes even difficult years.  I used to be very much ashamed of the whole thing…I believed, firmly, that Christians didn’t get depressed and that it was just the case of living a ‘victorious Christian life.’  That was until that I realised that you really can’t order yourself to be better.

I’ve learned that repentance is the key to getting better.  Now, before you get upset and think that I’m suggesting that mental health challenges are sinful, that’s not what I mean by repentance.  The biblical concept of repentance is a renewing of the mind, metanoia.  It is about taking the opportunity to explore a current way of thinking and acting and seeing to change that, challenge it and maybe even correct it.  It is, literally, changing your mind.  Paul uses those words elsewhere in place of the word ‘repentance.’  I do that through personal reflection, prayer, spiritual direction and through talking therapies with a counsellor.

Most of our core belief systems are formed in our childhood and our childhood experiences dictate to us our framework of how to live in the world.  I had a difficult childhood with a lot of negative ways of life ingrained early on and in a context where love and acceptance was difficult for me to discern.  Note that I’m not saying it wasn’t there, but for whatever reason, my  soul missed love.  I grew up feeling that nothing I did fitted with my environment and that who I was wasn’t acceptable.  My interests weren’t shared and rejection became a large part of my life.  I’m thankful for grandparents and other positive adults who made up for some of that.

But you know what?  At the age of 33 I look back at it all and I realise that my long survival fight is now over.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that I’m at the stage now where I have nothing to prove to anyone now.  I’m a ‘grown man’ inspite of it all.  Having got through the hell of childhood and youth, discovered my role in the world, started my own family, I can now concentrate on the healing of my brokenness.  I can embrace vulnerability fully and admit that there are more bits of me that hurt than bits that don’t.  There are still things that hurt me that shouldn’t, things that rub salt in old wounds, but through the gracious process of metanoia, changing the mind, the Spirit brings his healing balm and each day is more whole than the day before.

But, my woundedness is actually my strength and treasure.  It is, as Paul says, a sign to the world.  A sign that I’m simply clay and that light that comes from my life is simply the glory of God shining through a cracked pot.   I’m not interested in my own victory march.  I’m passionate about helping people encounter Christ wherever they are.  Yes, my Jesus rose from the dead, but he had holes in his hands, feet and side.

We live in a cruel world, in many ways.  A world that is always telling us things about ourselves which aren’t actually true.  The institutions we identify with can be cruel too…not realising the damage they cause when they too reject, belittle and rub salt in those same wounds.  But Jesus knew this all to well too.

In writing this in this public forum, I’m opening myself to risk.  There are people in the world who easily discount people as suitable ‘ministers’ if they have suffered from depression.  Ironically, I find myself in good company alongside William Booth, Charles Spurgeon, Elijah, Jeremiah, CS Lewis, and many others who knew what it was to see life in Christ through the fog of depression.  Here’s the thing though:  it is no good to me nor anyone else to be anything less than authentic.  My simple desire is to glorify God and say that in spite of it all, he has been faithful.  His hand has been upon my life and he continues to inspire me for ministry against the odds at times…many miracles I could point you to where God has just taken over when I’d got to the end of myself.

I say all that to get to this point:  if you are struggling in silence with low mood, feelings of hopelessness, lack of motivation and enjoyment of things you know you should love, if you feel detached, lethargic and tired, irritable and flat….please speak to someone today.  Start the process of the renewing of your mind.  Its a long road, but so much can be put in place to help.

And remember, with God all things are possible.