Tag Archives: future

‘Honour the emperor’

It is easy for me to write this as a middle class, white Brit for whom oppression is not something I’ve ever directly had to put up with. My response is therefore more theoretical than what faces people who are already reporting the sorts of post-Brexit hate we had here. I hope I would always seek solidarity, not safety.

Prayer

We spent last night at Central London Vineyard in solid prayer, bothering God about the state of the world.
 
It was challenging. Challenging to reflect on our own divided country as well as the one across the Atlantic. Challenging to think that most of the world’s desperate people don’t care who’s in the White House or what the EU looks like. And very challenging to hear first hand testimony of recent events in Calais and the treatment of those unaccompanied children who had found some small refuge in the Jungle.
 
And in all of that it was challenging to respond to the words of Jesus:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’
So much of what I’ve found difficult about 2016’s politics has come from the rejection and fear of ‘the other’. And yet I’ve probably responded to people with whom I have a fundamental difference of position by reflecting a similar level of antipathy (or worse) about them as people, as well as their ideology.

Challenge

On Tuesday evening our Croydon Vineyard small group were picking over the second half of 1 Peter 2. It talks about submitting to authority, even (and especially) if it oppresses you. It even includes the three words ‘honour the emperor’.
 
Reading that the other day wasn’t easy; returning to it last night after Donald Trumps’s victory was even harder. But there was something very powerful (and even hope filled) in wrestling with what it means for God to desire relationship with Donald the man, just as much as he does with me, and you.
 
When you get down to it, the ground is flat at the foot of the cross – there is no hierarchy of sin, no category of holier, no singling out as worst. Of course it offends us to think that there’s no difference between me and him but the message at the heart of what I believe is to love the person I’d not even consider worth acknowledgement, and to love them sacrificially.
 
Last night someone used a turn of phrase that stuck with me: ‘Love never changes. Love always wins. Love looks the same today as it did yesterday, and will do tomorrow’.
 
As individuals that’s an important attitude of the heart and it’s important that we live it out in our relationships with others. But in the midst of everything it’s pretty overwhelming to think about how broken the world is, how frightening particular politics are, and how little we can do by ourselves.
 
Which is why God invites us to be part of The Church so that with him, and each other, we can be a movement seeking God’s kingdom on earth – not to build a theocracy but to be united in pursuing justice and mercy with a loving humility that’s backed by our trust in God as Sovereign.

Response 

None of us know what the next few years will bring. There is plenty to fear. But fear is the currency of oppression. I’m choosing hope over fear, light over darkness, love over hate, action over apathy. But right now, I’m going back to the source and looking to God for this to be recognisable  for everyone, everywhere:
 
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Opportunity Knocks

Momentous event number 1 – handing in my notice.

When opportunity first came knocking this wasn’t the plan – that was to take a career break and return to Hull City Council when the offer came to an end. But because the work has nothing to do with my day job and coincided with the busiest period in Hull’s BSF programme it caused headaches.

So despite my love for local government, and despite being conscious of how hard it might be to return, I’m walking away. I’m ditching the security of a contract with 16 months left to run and my ‘gold-plated’ pension. I’m leaving the relationships I’ve built over the last 3.5 years. I’m even choosing to spend part of every week in #thatLondon.

And I’m doing all of that for six months’ work. Risky? Cavalier? Unwise? Perhaps, but I think the opportunity is worth it.

You might have read my thoughts about the significance of the single government domain on those of us in local government (Alpha(Local)Gov, Government as a local platform?). They’re proof that blogging is worthwhile because they prompted an email and a phone call and an invitation to spend the day at the offices of the Government Digital Service with the team responsible for the business bit of GOV.UK (that which is currently handled by BusinessLink).

So three weeks ago I took a day off work and travelled south. I’d asked Louise Kidney (who has swapped localgov for GDS herself) what I should expect from her new colleagues. Nothing she’d said prepared me to finish the day using a wall as my canvas to present back work I’d been set a couple of hours to complete.

Prepared or not my scrawl did the trick and I start as a Business Analyst on May 28th.

Exciting.

>Success and how you define it…

>In the last 24 hours I’ve seen two totally different ideas of what success looks like. I liked one, I didn’t much like the other.

Today we had a celebration of Hull City Council’s graduate scheme. We three grads popped over to the Guildhall for an hour with our line managers, mentors and the HR guys who’ve been running it. In the end four line managers made it, out of 12, and one mentor, of three. And rounding it off were our two handlers, a big HR boss (who I’d never met before) and an even bigger HCC boss (who I’d not met but who seemed, on the strength of our brief conversation, like she will be an asset to Hull. She’s also been to Sierra Leone before which gives her many brownie points).

When we got the invites it felt a little weird. It didn’t seem to make much sense to celebrate a scheme that has four of us looking unemployment squarely in the face come October 1st. Gallows humour on my part suggested it was more like a wake so when there was a little speech on how successful the scheme had been and there was a (muted) round of applause I just couldn’t stop the incredulity and had to ask what criteria of success we were using. For me, the elephant in the room was our future employment, or not, as the main criteria of how successful this two years was for us.

I shouldn’t be surprised. When we started in 2008 the graduate scheme made no promise of further employment and the 5 graduates who made up the first cohort warned us very early that little planning or forethought went into what had happened for them (eventually shoehorning them into temporary contracts until something came up…only 2 are still there today).

Call me naive but I thought they might have learned from that and heard the disappointment of our predecessors. It was the first time they’d run it after all, wouldn’t they clock that paying the salaries of the three of us for two years, paying for an MSc in Public Administration at INLOGOV and giving us the breadth of experience and knowledge and building relationships across the organisation would make it strategically worthwhile to retain that value come the end of the programme?

So I asked the question and it led to a healthy discussion between me and the speaker. From the HR perspective it was successful – look at what we’d done in our placements, how we’d grown and how we were now really valuable assets not just to Hull but well prepared to go and contribute to the wider public sector. Sadly we were just the victims of poor timing and there was work going on to try and match us to vacant positions in Hull but clearly noone could have foreseen what the situation would be.

Those vacant positions form something called redeployment. Now, as you might imagine the public sector is full of terror about impending doom (we’ll bypass the bit where that writing was on the wall 18+ months ago). So we have a recruitment freeze. That means they can’t just keep us around in a job they make for us on an ad hoc basis. So since July 1st we’ve been on redeployment – that is we get first dibs on jobs at the same grade. We’re not the only people at our grade and there aren’t many jobs. Since July 1st there have been 3 jobs. None of us have got one. So, with four weeks to go, we are creeping closer to not being in education, employment or training.

However, the thrust of that argument about success was very selfish – what had we got out of it for ourselves. Call me old fashioned but I’d like to reclaim Weber’s ideal of ‘bureaucracy’. I am not working in the public sector for my own personal development. It wasn’t about being a good way of getting another degree (who needs three anyway?!). It wasn’t about what I would get out of it. It was, and is, and always will be, about the public. I chose the switch from international development because I desperately want to get stuck into the communities and lives that I can engage with as a British citizen who understands where people are coming from because I understand language, culture, history, food, weather, etc. And I chose to apply for the graduate scheme in Hull because of the hope filled vision of the future that this council shared with us. This idea that actually the problems facing Hull, of which there are plenty, aren’t insurmountable and we could be part of that organisation getting stuck into it over time.

It’s wonderful that the council is altruistic enough to train up people for two years so they can give them away but I’m not sure you could sell that to the ordinary man or woman on the streets of Hull? Don’t they want organisations to develop people and retain the knowledge and build on those individuals? That’s what I’d want City of York Council to do.

The reason this stuck was because of something I’d heard at Conversations on Wednesday night. We watched Nooma – Today, a video from Rob Bell (leader of a church in the US and author of a couple of really good reads – Velvet Elvis and Sex God). He was talking about how being stuck looking backwards means missing today and what that means for our approach to the future.

He talked about the exchange between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane after his resurrection. Jesus says to Mary ‘don’t hold on to me’ and Rob Bell made the point that after the resurrection, Jesus wasn’t saying carry on and do what we did, he wasn’t saying to keep harking back to the loaves and fishes, to bang on and on and on about the Sermon on the Mount and how great it was when he turned water into wine. Jesus’ point is that all of that, it was about what’s next, all that has been is nothing compared with what is next. And so we have Acts and the Holy Spirit and the church turning the world upside down on the basis of the resurrection kicking that off, not really because of the nice stuff Jesus said.

Rob Bell illustrated it with stories of people who spend so long rooted in the past and holding on to their experiences that they fail to live for today and tomorrow. The decisions that get put off because ‘we’re not ready’ only to find that the opportunity has gone. Of not being able to see beyond the success we had before.

Instead it begs a different vision of success. One that’s totally about the future and how it impacts on your life, the lives of those around you and the life of your community. That’s a measure of success I can get behind because it’s rooted in the hope of the future and what can be as a result. Not just pointing to how great stuff was (even if that has a longer term impact). I wanted to commit to Hull, I did. We might not have moved from York (and I’ve had the 4 hour daily commute as a result) but that wasn’t because I wanted to leave after two years it was because of Christine’s phd. That’s finished in April, we could have left York and moved. Success for me would have been the future implications of what Hull City Council invested in us these two years. But for Hull, not for anyone else.

I’m full of hope about the future because it’s literally the only way I know how to think. Naive idealism to some but I’ll take your cynicism. There’s some great stuff happening in the public sector and I’d love to be involved with it. There’s some great stuff happening in the space between the public sector and the public public and it’s going to be brilliant watching that unfold. What I do next is something of a mystery. There is a phenomenal job in York that I’m applying for but I don’t just want to do a job for the sake of doing a job…If that’s what keeps me in Hull beyond October I’d rather get paid less and temp in York so I can look after Christine and get stuck into my community than just go to Hull and get paid public money to do a job that happens to be there. At 26 I’m not prepared to just settle for shunning my passions.

The bottom line is that it wasn’t a very celebratory affair. I hope what I said was reasonable, I certainly hadn’t planned to get into the question of the scheme’s success and I didn’t go to cause trouble. It’s not bitterness or anger, it’s just disappointment. Maybe it was the fact this celebration didn’t even have any refreshments. Too much to ask for tea, coffee, water and biscuits given that we were celebrating? Not even a round robin email saying ‘we can’t spend money on such frivolities but maybe we could all bring something’. It felt nothing more than a self congratulatory back slapping exercise for a vision of success that’s rooted in a measure of how it makes your own life better, not what it’s made possible for Hull.

So, now the dissertation is done it’s time to get into what that future looks like. Exciting, innit? 🙂

Picture credit to:
su-lin: Party Poppers and More
Will Lion: successes and failures in this version but original CC image from parrhesiastes: 4th Dan throws First

Inertia (or the noble art of waiting on God)

I am gradually coming to a realisation that I’m a would-be impetuous person. Yes, a contradiction in terms but one that I can’t help but shake.

Currently I live in York, I work in Hull and I study in Birmingham. These three things are wonderful as opportunities and experiences but, six months into a pattern of life that will be mine for the next 18 I find it incredibly frustrating not to be able to be more proactive for God.

The wonderful thing about being a Christian is belonging to the church but the greater thing about our faith is the ability to live a life of transformation and engaged with people. Unfortunately, with a working day that starts at 7am and ends at 7pm I don’t get much chance to be with non-Christians.

The world is in a bad state but at least outside Europe and North America the church, and God’s people, are flourishing. That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of incredible faith, love, hope and all the rest of it but it is to say that I want to get stuck in. Being a Christian is an awesome privilege, we get to be God’s hands and feet, to bring His smile, and to show people what relationship with Jesus Christ looks like.

Not if you don’t get out much. Not if your social life revolves around seeing Christians. Not if the only times you leave your house on a midweek are for meetings.

And that’s rather the shape of my life at the moment.

Now, I’m not new to being a Christian, I’m solidly brought up in the faith. I’ve heard all the classic speakers, I own everything Delirious ever produced and for years I’ve been looking forward to a moment where God would make it blatantly obvious where I should go to live my life.

But I seem to spend my life as a Christian torn. Torn between a heart for a student-aged culture that’s full of pain that shouts loudly to me for an immediate reaction, for an engagement that is meaty and for a voice that is loud to point to Jesus and to bring restoration to a culture of sex and alcohol. Or with a heart that is broken for the needs of the Global South, ashamed of our plenty and our merciless greed.

But where was God pointing me? Funding was there for a masters in development, and I was offered a place on the course, but that squeezed out the opportunity to ‘do mission’. The year was incredible but is essentially 12 months of theology (good development practice built on valuing people as they are and working alongside them in relational community with a focus on reconciliation and healing). And, at the end of it, the sense is palpably that God is saying ‘why run to the next street when people on your doorstep are hurting?’

Why do I need to go overseas to partner with people in their transformative experiences? I don’t. The truth is, and not to denigrate anyone who works internationally, that for me to work in an alien culture requires me to shelve much of who I am whilst bringing little more than someone indigenous and, generally, costing more to do so. If I’m really passionate about seeing the world transformed (which I am) then why am I not engaged with a society I understand, that speaks the same language, that eats the same food, that is where the future (and the past) of my family is and, maybe most importantly, is subject to predictably unpredictable weather patterns.

So, a year wasted?

Then a year of preparing to be wed. And a great time of sloth. Yes there was much to be done but I still had plenty of time to Bonus Bag to pay for an awesome honeymoon. Did I sell God short, given the opportunity of a fallow year to really get stuck into issues that I care about but really just temping and living a fairly dull and boring life?

Of course I was applying for work and here again God’s throwing me a curve ball.

Jobs come up, I apply. I’m excited by the thought of working at St Mike’s but, quite rightly, I don’t have the right skill set. I apply for a job at the university to do the work I’ve done many times during holidays but don’t even get an interview to be a porter. A job at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation seems like development but based in the UK. Again, no response, no feedback, no nothing. And then the job in Hull. A graduate scheme in one of the most ill-thought-of cities in the country. And I’m excited. I’m excited by the hope shown by an authority wanting to transform the lives of its citizens. I’m excited at the prospect of being part of a transformative agenda, an agenda that embodies so much of Jesus in its very being. And I get past the telephone interview, past the assessment centre, and to an interview where a member of the panel is a Christian and well-known to be a Christian.

God’s all over it. And that’s incredible.

But now, six months in and I’ve got itchy feet. I don’t feel able to engage in York and I don’t feel that the work I’m doing in Hull is really seeing lives transformed. I feel a sense of powerlessness, of being the middle man between people and central government, unable to influence policy, unable to ensure that justice, mercy and humility are at the centre of everything that is done.

And of course in that I betray the fact that really I want to make a difference. That as a Christian who believes in the redemption of all things and the supremacy of love and hope in all circumstances I can’t just sit on the sidelines. I can’t just get on a train in the morning, sit in an office passing time until I come home in the evening. Lives need to be changed. Hearts need to know the joy of salvation. Minds need to know the peace of Jesus’ love.

Life seems to be slipping through my fingers. I get up, I go to work, I come home. Sometimes during that week I’ll leave the house, mostly to go to church.

Whatever God’s up to it’s certainly taking longer than I’d like it to. I want action. I don’t want to be in Winter. I don’t really even want to be in Spring. I want to be in Summer. I want to see people’s lives blossoming, to see their hearts flourishing and to see our communities turn to Christ.

But do you know, it’s not inertia is it. All the way through this writing I’ve seen God’s hand, I’ve seen him on me. I’ve seen and known him bring Christine into my life, to give me a year to spend preparing to be married to the woman I want to spend forever with. He’s given me 2 years in Hull and her years to do her Phd while we grow in love for each other, in love for God and in knowledge and understanding of the world.

My masters has taught me a great deal, six months in Hull and I know much more. It’s not inertia it’s just preparation.

I can’t hack it sometimes. I fear that all this explaining away of waiting is simply an excuse for inertia, a reason not to do something, a justification for prayer not action yet all the time the world is crying out to know its Saviour. I worry that I’ll wind up in 50 years having sat on the sidelines taking each experience and ‘learning’ from it but completely missing the point in what God is saying.

But maybe that’s what waiting for God is all about. Moses had to be well and truly broken before he was blessed; Abraham was an old man but God told him he’d father a great nation beloved of the Lord; Joseph had a dream as a boy but it wasn’t for years and years that it was fulfilled.

I’ve realised something as I’ve written this. I’ve thought of this as inertia, and that really means I don’t trust God to come through for me. It means I reckon things are slipping away without my control and that surely, something different to this would serve Him better. Waiting on God means that you know that God knows best. It means that you trust him to take you by the hand because he knows where you’re going. He’s drawn the map, and he’s not going to fast track you along shortcuts because he knows the snickleways. The journey might be slower but taking that route is much more enriching.

Kick back, enjoy, I’ve got all of eternity with Him, for now Lord grant me patience to wait on you, to seek you and to serve you where I am.