Praying Amidst the Chaos

1200unis1Gaza.  Israel.  Ukraine.  Russia.  Syria.  Air catastrophes.  Serial sexual abuse.  Kidnapped Girls.  Poverty.  Injustice.  Ineffectual governments…plus any number of personal/community/family challenges….

How do you pray with all that?  How do you cope with the heartache and despair that these things bring?  How do you bring these things to God?  How do you feel about the apparent inaction of God in the face of such calamities?

These are all big questions and they remain the questions of a lot of people who are somehow turned-off faith or the idea of God.  The questions are just as real for followers of God in the way of Jesus.  You might think that this blog will be moving towards an easy step by step answer, but it just isn’t.

It is not that I couldn’t rehearse the standard evangelical answers to these questions.  It isn’t that I doubt God’s existence or his power to act.  I could tell you the standard answers about ‘how prayer works’ but I guess you might know them too.  At the moment, I just find them all a bit simplistic and overly optimistic in the face of terror.

So have I stopped praying?  Not at all.  For me, prayer is as much about changing me as it is anything else.  There are lots of things that we must leave to God.  But I think God is interested in my response and it is in prayer that I hear God’s heart.  From that place, listening to the still small voice, I act, live, give, respond and share.

When I pray, I don’t tell God what to do.  So, for example, I may just sit for a while and hold the people of the Middle East before God and say ‘your will be done, your Kingdom come’ and I allow myself to enter into the suffering of the people in the way Jesus did when he walked the planet.  What does this do?  It brings me into solidarity with the world and it aligns my own heart with God’s desire to see his kingdom established.  It also motivates me to do what I can to be the answer to my own prayers.

Thats how things are for me.  I offer it incase it is a help to you.

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Jesus, Friend of Sinners

jesus-friend-of-sinners1I’m captivated, most of all, with the actions of Jesus as we see him walk through the pages of the gospels.  His engagement with all sorts of people is so powerful.  We should never underestimate the problems Jesus had with the establishment as he mixed with, ate with, had compassion on, and made friends with the ‘wrong kind of people.’

This is for certain:  Jesus must have been great in his relationships with these folks.  Why? Because if he was a condemnatory, judgmental religious misery, I don’t imagine that they’d have flocked to him, ate with him or spent any time with him at all.  Holding in full tension in his human experience was both the extremity of holiness and purity in close juxtaposition with so much of what is contrary to that: usury, adultery, prostitution, infectious diseases etc etc.  Yet, he responds with transformative grace.  He was a generative man, he spoke life and gave life to the extent that even the call to ‘repent’ was an offer you couldn’t refuse.

The gospel in the Gospels is that ‘the Kingdom of God is near, turn around and walk into it.’  Every one of his disciples was an ‘unlikely lad or lass.’  This encourages me no end!  We’re all invited by the same Jesus to shake off the ‘yeast of the pharisees’ and live courageously loving lives, trusting that God is in the restoration and redemption business in the lives and hearts of all.

Evangelical?

Ok, so I can hear the questions.  I’ve raised my head above a couple of parapets in the last few weeks on a few issues and, as I said in a previous post, there will be many praying for my soul.  Again, all I can say is thank you!

I have links with a wide range of people within the church, all very different, and all contribute to my growing and widening understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  To reassure myself as much as any of my friends and readers, I thought I’d ask the question ‘what are the essentials?’ for me.  Then I remembered that I’ve written about this before and little has changed.  So here is a quote from an older post with some add ins:

1.  The Lordship of Jesus.  Fundamental to those essentials is the Lordship of Jesus over everything, especially over the movement he began.  Thats easy to say, but not so easy to work out in the context of the ‘stuff’ of denominations.  This means a determination to seek to build everything on his life, teaching and example.  The source and inspiration for mission, discipleship, worship and ministry.

2.  The radical call to discipleship.  It flows that if Jesus is Lord, then discipleship is the only natural consequence.  He demands our all, he will not be compartmentalised.  The call to follow is a call to the cross.  Its a call to follow the extravagant God of grace so wonderfully expressed in Jesus…the live we are called to live should be stunning, astounding even.

3.  The coherency of the movement.  Whilst I believe that the movement that Jesus started is radically inclusive, I do believe there are central things to be build on.  For example, I believe ministry should be build on the Ephesians 4 ministries resulting in a more fully rounded ministry and that no one gift should be valued above another because all are necessary.  These are the foundations that Jesus himself laid and we need to explore how that works itself out.  ‘True doctrine’ comes out of this apostolically based context…and there are key things that are central to coherent faith.

I value the bible very much, but I also believe that we’re not invited to suspend our brains when we read it and that God is not threatened by our questioning of it.  I spend much less time looking at the Bible for rules and regulations and much more to deepen my understanding of what it is to follow Jesus and to understand the Big Chief.

4.  Commitment to mission.  I believe that 1 – 3 will make this so much more natural than it currently is.  A people on mission will always have a ministry.  Mission always leads to ministry because we work in a broken world with broken people.  Christendom model of ‘church’ has marginalised mission.  Astoundingly, God is like the landowner who continues to go to the market place to look for new workers….I am sure that he wants us to join him in that.

5.  Commitment to community.  Now, community is not the end result.  Community is a means to an end, but its a crucial means.  Jesus following is a team sport.  We’re family.  Community is the prophetic antedote to our Western consumeristic, ‘I-centred’ society.  ‘None of us lives for ourselves’ declares Paul writing to the Roman church.   I believe, however, that I’ve never really experienced community properly in ‘church’…not to the extent that it has began to resemble communitas (communitas being the description of the new dimension communities take on when consumed by a particular task or mission).

Those, for me, are the essentials.  Am I an evangelical?  Maybe a bit revangelical or slightly post-evangelical, but in the essentials, YES, a great big loving one!

New Apostolic Networks – Part 2

The other side of my last post is that there are, of course, some large ‘hub churches’ who could be very significant players in the ‘re-evangelisation’ of the UK.  By that, I mean the massive Good News of the Kingdom being tangible everywhere, not thinking about evangelistic scalp hunting, but full Kingdom potential.

The Celtic Church, and indeed the historical Anglo-Saxon Church in these lands, shows us the ‘minster’ model of church.  The minster was a centre of prayer and community, but also a place of education, commerce, protection, resourcing society and of evangelistic/mission endeavour.  Places like Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island were sources for the planting of the type of stuff I was blogging about yesterday.  They were apostolic sending centres.

Our large churches, and I include the one I currently lead, will only be really successful if they are making disciples and then sending them out on mission.  It is a challenge for these churches in Christendom ‘attract’ model churches to break from being churches with a death sentence over their heads to be a part of the new apostolic movement needed.

This, again, is costly.  It means that the cost of continually being a sending church must be counted over and against building a local empire and a comfortable Jesus Country Club.  To be a generative source of apostolic life is a big transition, but it can be done.  Churches like Holy Trinity Brompton, St Thomas Crookes and St Thomas Philadelpia are creative examples.  Ray Simpson, founder of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, talks about this idea further when he talks of large churches creating ‘villages of God’.  Worth looking at for larger churches.  But as I say, the best way for each community to have a vibrant expression of Christian life available to it is to stop the expense and clutter of running churches in these places and adopt a strategy like I outlines in the last post.

What strikes me is that so many people agree with this kind of stuff, but we ALL need the courage to act and consider what it means for us where we are.  I warmly encourage you.

New Apostolic Networks

networkleadership1I thought it might be worthwhile visiting this graphic I drew a few years back.  At the time, I’d been doing a lot of reading/writing/thinking about the shape of church leadership, particularly under the influence of writers like Frank Viola, Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole et al.  In the end, I had grown so tired and weary of hierarchical leadership that I resigned my commission as a Salvation Army officer, a very top heavy, top down organisation [ducks].  I didn’t want to command anything any more.  I didn’t want to get in the way of the ministry of the people of God OR the ministry of Christ in his church.

What has changed?  Nothing really.  I’ve said many times before that I’d love to be the last, or second last, generation of hierarchical leadership in churches.  When I look at the New Testament, I see flat structures with a servant leadership, equipping the ministry of others.  That’s where the diagram comes in.  Let me explain it.

You’ll see circles of 12 or so coloured dots with a cross in the middle.  These are small base communities of Jesus followers, the number isn’t important, but this is not a massive crowd.  Their main mode of meeting is in extended family size groups.  The leader is none other than Christ.  When they gather, they gather around him under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The two white dots are, for want of a better or less pretentious word, apostles.  That is, those who have the call, gifting and heart to venture out and draw small communities together and teach them how to function with Christ at the centre.  In this scenario, these people might receive some form of payment from the groups to facilitate them in that work, but largely, there are no staff, no programmes, not buildings and low fuss all round.

I believe this is a very biblical pattern.  And certainly whilst we see the emergence of an ‘eldership’ in the New Testament, it was very much that…a group of older folks who kept an eye out, an eye cast over the fellowship and who brought their wisdom and Fatherhood/Motherhood.  No degrees, no gurus, no power games, no magic hands to conjure communion, no other task than to father/mother whilst each and every member fulfilled their function under Christ.

Oh boy, this is my ultimate dream.  Little colonies of the Kingdom in every place, gathered for prayer, encouragement, building up…models of new creation, new community, new hope.  These would be lots of flavours, for sure…mine might be Celtic flavoured, others might be evangelical flavoured, others may be liturgical in focus or whatever, doesn’t matter.  Relationship to Christ, to each other and the world is what is important.  Its about getting the churchy crap out the way in the main.  I guess its trying to reimagine how things could be.

Everyone can do this.  And, there are people who can help you get started and encourage you on the way.  It is part of the hope behind http://pcgcommunity.wordpress.com and the new Celtic Community I’m launching here in the North East in September, http://clanncommunity.wordpress.com  If we stopped moaning about church and its failings and were truer to our convictions we might get somewhere (speaking mainly to myself there!)  How can you reimagine church where you are?

Vision Quest

It takes an enormous amount of faith and courage to step out into the bigger vision of your life.  I don’t know how many of us stop and consider what we’re on the planet for.

I had the opportunity, whilst away last week, to have a night out under the stars, in silence, fasting.  I watched the darkness descend and surveyed the shadows, listened to the bats squalking in the trees, the cold of the air and experience the uncertainty of just not knowing.  But then, as the night progressed, the darkness retreated, the bats grew silent and the birds heralded the dawn.

I reflected on what I REALLY want to do with my life and began to ask the question ‘what steps do I take here and now to move towards that bigger call.’  You see, we only have this present moment, now.  News of an impending (relatively routine) operation to have an organ removed has sharpened my focus and I’m thinking hey, I’ve got bigger things to live for.  I heard God speak my name to me again.

Leonard Cohen’s words came to me

“The birds they sing at the break of day,
‘Start again’ I hear them say.
Don’t dwell on what is passed away
or what is yet to be.”

As the sun started to fill the darkness of the night I sensed something of that new morning. I was reminded that it is what we do in the now that makes the path for the future.  When Jesus was compelled to go out into the dessert to face his demons, he found deep within him the path he must take, the way he must go, the life he must step into.  In a way, only solitude and silence can do that for us because its only then that we stifle our false self long enough to let God speak to our hearts.

The next challenge is when your big story currently bears little resemblance to your current reality.  Thats a bummer.  But today is the day of ‘salvation.’  Today we start to walk in the possibility of the Kingdom of God and it is today we need to hear him say ‘All things are possible with God.’

That God would give us all the courage of our convictions is my prayer.

The Protest is Over (for me at least)

down_with_this_sort_of_thingThe spiritual life is never static.  We’re either growing deeper or growing stale.  I guess it’s the same with our belief systems, our theology, or ‘doctrine’ for want of a better word.  It’s not so much that some things stop being true, but as life moves on and we are taught by life, by God and by what we encounter, we can see the different shades of these things.

My own journey in the last 5 – 7 years, as I’ve recounted at various intervals here on this blog, has been on a massive learning curve as I’ve almost learned how to see afresh.  The conservative evangelicalism that shaped me is still important to me in that it laid a good foundation for greater understanding.  However, I’d never want to be in the place of stopping in such a cerebral place where spirituality and encounter with God is all through words, formulas, doctrines and abstract ideas.

I prefer my theology incarnational…by that, I mean I want my encounter with God to transform me at a deeper level not just remain an idea in a systematic theology book or even the Bible.  And, I’m willing to learn from outside my tradition.  I’ve been enriched so much in recent years by Roman Catholic writers, especially those in the mystical tradition (Rohr, Nouwen, Merton), Anglican writers (Wright, Williams), and some of the Emergent Evangelicals and Revangelicals (Bell, McLaren, Claiborne, Campolo et al).  Pope Francis has embodied so much that is prophetic and right about walking in the Way of Jesus.

Outside the Christian fold, I’ve discovered wisdom in the Muslim poet Hāfez; the writings of the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh.  I’ve been inspired in my ‘maleness’ by writers like Robert Bly, Robert Moore, Douglas Gillette and through the theories of Carl Jung as well as the ancient Enneagram tool.

My biggest inspiration remains to be the lives, spirituality and earthy hearts of the Celtic Saints, who not only, for the most part, didn’t know what it was to be Protestant or Catholic, but who also knew what it was to look at the traditions of the Pagan and Pictish tradition and see how God was communicating his truth in the druidic practice and indigenous spirituality of the early Britons, Celts and Saxons.

The truth, quite simply, is that my protest is over.  Being ‘a Protestant’ isn’t important to me.  Following God in the Way of Jesus is my heart and goal.  I’m not interested in the old divisions or the dualistic thinking that means we miss some of what God would say to us.  My life is much richer now than it was when entrenched in a narrow evangelical protestantism.  I refuse to be labelled by any of the ways that Christians have labelled themselves over the years.  They mean very little in the bigger scheme of the Kingdom of God.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:  ‘God is not a Christian.’

I know there will be many praying for my soul now.  All I can say is ‘thank you!’

Young Men’s Rites of Passage

Thoughout the millennia, society has been initiating its young men, teaching them how to handle their power and role in life responsibly for the betterment of society and the fuller embodiment of what it means to be a man.  Our own generation, here in the West in particular, succeeds in breeding young men who rarely know how to make the transition without a massive mess.

This last week I was involved with a team in delivering ‘Rites of Passage’ for 9 young men between the age of 18 and 25, the first event of this type run by the organisation that offer the annual rites for all men each year that I participated in for myself last year, ‘The Male Journey UK‘, which is a sister organisation to Illuman.

The 5 day event was quite simply invigorating, wisdom packed, physical, spiritual and life changing not just for the young men, but also for the Elder team.  To see the young men taking in some of the wisdom that is always true, experience moving ritual, and to see lights switch on, hearts open and facades soften was truly humbling.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I’d have given my right arm to have had the opportunity to participate in this event when I was 18.  It would have saved me many a catastrophe, it may well have helped me avoid my deep plunge into depression which would plague me over a decade and would have made me a better leader, father, and general better adjusted individual.

Most of us handily manhood badly…we end up with bags of burdens, naval-gazing and self-serving attitudes which don’t really serve us well, or the world in which we live.  We need to have something to get us out of our heads, our cynicism, our general male malaise, and the pressure of workaday life that can suck the soul right out of you.

Having initiate the young men, we invited them to a Journey of Illumination which has 5 touchstones:

JOI1. Centering – we are men grounded in the power of the here and now.

2. Gathering – we are men who listen deeply to each other’s stories.

3. Connecting – we are men who choose another to walk with – shoulder to shoulder.

4. Releasing – We are men who let go of the ways that no longer serve us.

5. Serving – we are men who honour the earth and serve the whole human community.
We seek to form future generations of men who will restore these practices – serving to build a world that celebrates the beauty of all beings.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a kind of generation of men worth investing in.  The question needs to be asked of my male readers…how are you doing in becoming the kind of generative man the world needs?