Mission Thursday: For the least…

I stood up in front of the couple of hundred people in the regional mid-week SA worship service and told them that the cost of just one of the new tubas behind me would could feed 300 families for a week. *mic drop*

I don’t think I made many friends.

Young. Idealistic. Out of a background of hardship on a West Scotland council estate, with a key saving grace of loving, caring grandparents. Fast forward and I was standing on a raised platform in one of Glasgow’s poorest communities with probably more than £30K worth of musical instruments sat behind me, with hundreds of Salvationists in their £200 Sally Army uniform suits and I felt the seeming injustice of it all.

Twenty years later, the elevator effect has lifted me too. Lovely family. Decent job. Respectable member of the community: minister, no less. Nice new car. Bucket of Apple products. Kids that don’t want for much. I’m not ungrateful but the inequalities of our society scream loudly if you listen.

I’ve heard all the ‘views’ about how families get into poverty traps. I’ve seen many of the realities over the years in my work. I know the underbelly of the fight for survival in the benefits culture. And I think of the children.

Always.

I remember the faces and the stories of the children of Glasgow and Aberdeen and Newcastle and Bristol and…

Born into families through no choice of there own. It’s not their fault as if fault should be the first thing that is apportioned anyway.

And then you listen to the preoccupations of governments and churches…and the cymbals clang and clash because the hearts don’t bleed enough for the cause of the poor and the oppressed among us. And God hears the cries of the people.

‘Remember the poor’ is a key theme of mission and it’s where I start this Thursday Mission-featured Blog. I believe Jesus primarily resides among ‘the poor’ – those on the peripheries of things. I know that because every time I’ve been there he never fails to appear…in the eyes of the child, or the beaten mother or the out of work father or the grandma trying to keep 8 grandkids afloat. I remember all the ways he appeared to me in the kindness of others in my childhood.

‘Whatever you do for the least of these’ says Jesus, ‘you do it for me.’

I’ve yet to find an alternative, more comfortable, way to interpret that which might just ease the weight of it. But no. The passage goes on to say that it will even be some sort of plumbline measurement someday. Serious stuff.

Pure religion takes care of widows and orphans. It leaves food at the edge of the field for them that can’t pay for it. It cancels the debts of the debtors, it heals the wounds, it binds the hearts and it restores what the prisoners are banished for and it bestows beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning.

At one point in the brilliant film ‘Angela’s Ashes’ the school master tells the boys off for teasing one kid who has no shoes.

‘Do you see the Lord Jayzus hangin’ on the Cross sportin’ shoes?!’

 

‘No sir!’

 

‘What don’t you see, children?’

 

‘You don’t see the Lord Jayzus on the Cross sportin’ shoes, sir!’

 

Jesus is the 10 year old daughter of a depressed single Mum, living on £30 spare to feed her kids for a week, who cries herself to sleep clutching her teddy.

How do you worship that Jesus? I think you know. I do.

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New Blog Posts

blogpostHaving recently discovered that I managed to miss nearly 3 months of blogging over the summer, I thought I’d have a think about regulating my blogging frequency!

Back in the heyday of the blogging thing I was writing, along with several others in the same kinda community, on average of 3/4 times a week.  That’s a little bit more challenging to keep up with these days and maintain any kind of blogging quality.  I guess I used to do more sort of ‘here’s what happened today’ type stuff – I don’t do that so much now.

So, I’ve been doing a bit of research about people’s blog reading/writing habits and decided that I’m going to work towards two posts a week!

On Sundays I will be blogging on an aspect of spirituality and discipleship.  The inner journey; what goes on in the heart of the disciple!

On Thursdays I will be blogging on an aspect of mission.  The outer journey; the things concerning our way of being in the world.

I hope these will be practical, useful, and will give some inspiration and encouragement.

Hope you’ll tune in!

 

Carving out a life…

I’ve got a recovering blister on the pad of my left thumb and a couple small cuts on my index finger.  On the right hand, some tenderness in the centre of the palm and some roughness to the skin on the side of my index finger.

So what?!

IMG_1741Well, I picked up a new ‘skill’ to develop at the Greenbelt festival this year.  Relatively uninterested in the programme on offer one afternoon I decided I’d take myself a spoon carving workshop.  Nestled away in some trees was a big ole truck belonging to the instructor and I gathered with a few other souls to make my first spoon.  The picture to the left shows the four stages:  the ‘spoon blank’ that we all started with; the rough carved spoon; the sanded spoon; and, the complete and oiled spoon ready for use.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of my spoon!  It carries several layers of significance for me.  In lots of ways, I’m not a very practical person when it comes to stuff like DIY but I’m certainly much more interested in books, words, poetry, art and those sorts of things, what with me being of introverted persuasion!  Whilst there is a certain craft/art to the production of a spoon, its a very different discipline to picking up a knife and a blank piece of wood and forming something, to my mind, beautiful AND useful.  I’ve since expanded on this skill to another couple of pieces which are pictured at the bottom of the post.

The process of making these things have been, at one level, painful to my soft hands which are more used to holding pens, but at another level quite deeply therapeutic and spiritually helpful.  Starting with a rough piece of wood and making early chunks and hacks until you get a defined shape before some finer cuts and eventually the process of sanding for refinement before the ‘anointing’ with oil speaks to me of the discipleship process.

I guess my reflection on nearly 22 years of following Jesus is that perhaps my life has had most of the LARGE chunks cut away.  There have been lots of smaller chips being cast off bit by tiny bit, too: continually it seems.  There is some sandpaper-like friction smoothing over some responses, reactions, and learned behaviours.  Maybe there’s even been anointing on the way.  Basically, ‘holiness’ (pardon the overly religious term) is both the ‘being chosen’ as a piece out of whom something resembling Christ is being made, and also the process of being made and refined.   It is a past, present and future reality.  I’ve been made holy (set apart), I am being made holy, and I will, ultimately, reach ‘perfection’ in Glory when I’m ‘done’ here.

I guess the challenge is whether I am able to interpret what the ‘knife’ of discipleship or holiness looks like.  Sometimes it has been despair, anxiety or depression.  Sometimes it has been radical loving care and action from others.  Sometimes it has been mental challenge and learning.  Sometimes in has been through trouble, persecution, bullying or hardship.  Sometimes it has been in the cut and thrust of ‘the battle’ of ministry in both hard and easy places.  Sometimes it has been in rubbing against the sharpening iron of another human in constructive discipling relationships.  Sometimes it has been self-denial and self-imposed habit-making in order to deal with stubborn ‘knots’ in the path.  But most of all, it has been grace!

I see my wood carving like this:  somewhere in the piece of wood there is the shape of a thing that just needs to be carved out and refined in order to reveal itself.   I’d like to think that deep within all that is currently me is the me that grace is leading towards.  I like to think that the Holy Spirit is increasingly revealing something of his creative genius in the honing of all that I am into something that will offer glory to God.  Most of the time I still feel like a knotty, gnarly, splintery piece of stick…but God is crafting something that will ultimately reflect his Son in me.

Carving the wood is hard, a bit painful, but ultimately so gratifying.  The splinters and blisters are nothing in comparison to the finished result.  What are the knives shaping you, good or bad?  How welcoming are you of them?  What are you becoming?  What is being revealed?  God is the Master Craftsman…and he is doing just what he needs to do.

IMG_1787
Thistle do nicely…

 

IMG_1784
A Scottish Quaich – a two-handled ‘loving friendship’.

The Shire

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Isle of Arran from the Ayrshire Coast

I’m from The Shire.  Ayrshire, they call it.  It’s Lowland Scotland with a view of the beginnings of the Highland fault line as you look over the Clyde Estuary to the Isle of Arran, where my family are from.  The view on the right is imprinted on my brain/heart.

Growing up in Ayrshire was a mixed bag for me.  Home life was very difficult and I understand many years later just how it has impacted my life as a grown man.  There was a lot of harshness, poverty, violence and unhappiness.  That was the reality at home.

However, there was the other side of The Shire which I found mainly in solitude.  As a boy I’d cycle the lanes and back roads – I know them like the back of my hand.  I can take you to quiet river spots, pieces of high ground with stunning views, long sandy beaches with peaceful secluded dunes.  I could take you to the places where as a young teenager I read my ‘first bible’ before knowing much about Jesus – the created world itself.  It was in all those places that I knew I could retreat to and find nourishment and where I could be myself – where I’d write music, read, think, people-watch.

Leaving The Shire has always been difficult for me, almost as difficult as living in it was!  What an irony!  I totally dislike the dislocation from Scotland – much of my heart is there.  But it’s to adventures I’ve been called by God and he arranges the tasks, the places and the timeframe, regardless of how much I understand them.   It’s a common thing for Scots to pine for home (pardon the pun).  I think that’s why we’re like Hobbits.  Always wanting to be back in The Shire but called away to do exploits!

So, I was late to the Lord of the Rings party but totally get Frodo and Bilbo…!  Truth is that staying home in the comfort of The Shire wouldn’t have made me the man I’ve become.  For good or ill, my travels have shaped me, and I’m sure this next chapter will too.   Jesus mission is the driving passion and I’ll go to the ends of the earth for him.  In him I’m always at home.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king

         – J R R Tolkein

 

 

All Change…!

Oops!

Kinda forgot I have a blog…

But, it has been a busy few months rounding up ministry at Homewood Road URC and preparing to move over to Hertford to be Associate Pastor at Hertford Baptist Church.  Really enjoyed a lovely Induction service and preaching on the first Sunday, and am now getting into the swing of things.  It was so good to have my friend James Faddes to preach at the service – our connection goes back over 20 years, and even longer with Jim’s wife, Yvonne, who I was a school with.  Jim is from my home town, was a fellow student at Bible college, sang at my wedding, assisted at my baptism, was a good support in exploring ministry in baptist circles and an all round good egg.  He gave a great and poignant word from Jeremiah 1.  Good stuff.

The first few weeks in a new post are a bit of a test.  You’re literally forced to slow right down to an almost stop.  The regular patterns and purpose of a previous ministry fade away and it is new land again, new ground.  There is a lot to learn and the curve can be steep with several hundred names and situations to catch up with.  An almost impossible task, but not quite.   So, I’m all ears.  I guess these are times where discernment is particularly critical.

Hertford isn’t a million miles away from St Albans geographically, but they are completely different towns made up of quite different people.  As Associate Pastor giving leadership to outreach, it’s particularly important to be listening out to the community as well as to the new church.  Also, with a remit to encourage and support our work with families, lots of listening needed there too.  It is important to learn the rhythms of people, their priorities and what is at the heart of things for them.  So lovely to see a huge exodus of children and young people on a Sunday morning when it is time to go out to their own groups…reminds me of the very happy moments at Trinity in Gosforth.

Common questions are – ‘how are you settling in?’  Common response is – ‘yeah, doing alright.’  Reality is that there is always a lot of sadness moving away from people you’ve grown to love.  Reality is that there is always a barrage of uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, nagging anxieties about new situations that you just have to acknowledge and let pass.  You have to let your heart/mind express them, acknowledge them, and call yourself forward to a new day.

But already, the Lord is just showing me a few things here and there: possibilities, perhapses, maybes.  And more than anything else, I’m absolutely delighted about how welcomed and integrated my kids have felt in the plethora of youth activities and ministries.  The school journey is going well and we’re relieved about that.

I’m aware, too, that lots of new blog readers will be coming along from HBC – welcome!  I’ve been blogging for over 15 years here, on and off, through most of my ministry in various settings (and the blogging often reflects that fact in content).  For me its a sort of log of thoughts, reflections, celebrations and questions which, for me, are useful tools in developing my own ministry, but also, hopefully, in encouraging and challenging others in theirs.

So, here’s to the new chapter in Hertford.  Onward and upwards!