Tag Archives: God

‘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.

>#cisforchurch (and everybody else)

>Earlier today I saw a tweet from @ShareCreative about CisFORchurch. Behind the link was some church research inspired by Seth Godin’s book ‘Tribes’. Through discussions with church leaders and members the authors consider what 21st century church community looks like and some of the common obstacles or concerns that exist.

The Conservative slogan of ‘Broken Britain’ gained traction because there is the perception that communities have fractured. Perhaps that’s supported by people not knowing their neighbours and 70% of us being selfish but the internet has seen them reborn. The social web exists because people want to share their lives with others, they desire more than simple individualism or quiet desperation. And while some of those social spaces remain entirely virtual the real value of everything web 2.0 is seen in the act of transition to the real world. It is word becoming flesh.

And it’s great to see some creative people recognising this and trying to help the church understand it. Christianity is all about relationships. The Trinity is a beautiful image of relational community. The Bible is the story of God’s desire for relationship with His creation. The church exists to encourage and support, to connect and transform, to be both home and sanctuary. We’re meant to be modelling community beyond just pitching up for a few songs and a prayer predicated on subscription to some specific beliefs.

So whilst C may stand for Church, what we discuss on a Sunday is not just for Church and Christians. The relevance and value remains without belief in God. There is a massive amount to say about the leadership of people, the management of performance and the very nature of organisations. In the last 7 years, at work and in study, it’s remarkable how much of what has been offered as good practice has characteristics or motivation that resonates with my theology.

The first page of text ends with this paragraph, it’s good stuff for everyone faith loaded or not:

when there is a thriving sense of community, there is a healthy degree of communication and an increase in communication leads to more collaboration. This type of environment is conducive to developing innovation, creative ideas and productivity

Take a look, have a think and let me know if you think I’m talking absolute rubbish 🙂

Crowd Sourced Church

Last week was a bad week at work. The bid process for the fourth and final placement of the graduate scheme did not result in the outcome I had hoped for. And the circumstances surrounding that had left me both depressed and despondent.

On Sunday evening, church turned that on its head.
Earlier in the week there had been a slightly cryptic message sent into the Twitterverse
As Al started the service he said something along these lines and it started to make sense

We don’t really have a plan, there are going to be some songs, we’ll commission St Barnabas and Ursula will preach but we want to get you contributing to the service. So, tag your tweets #smlb and text your thoughts to this number or just come to the front and share

And what that resulted in was a wonderfully diverse, and rich, stream of contributions flashed up on the screens. There were texts, there were a lot of tweets and from the front there were the voices of those sharing stories without the anonymity and complexity of technology.
A church like ours is full of talented people and is incredibly well resourced in terms of preaching and leadership. That makes for a very polished experience (even when it doesn’t finish at 8.30 on the dot) but there is a certain inevitability to our slipping into being consumers and sitting passively, waiting to be entertained and edified.
The leaders of this service have a difficult task in striking the right balance and on Sunday the crowd sourced approach really worked. It did mean that things were unpredictable but it gave God the opportunity to use a variety of channels and a number of different people to be his mouthpiece.
The whole God speaking thing is one of those things that makes Christians sound mental. The kind of suggestion that gets us thrown funny looks and underlines the delusional nature of our very existence. But nevertheless, bear with me (if you’re still reading), Sunday was a wonderful example of knowing that it’s more than just coincidence. It was one of those evenings where seemingly random activity looked, and felt, very much like the well orchestrated action of a loving saviour.
The very nature of the service – built up round a sermon on forgiveness (Ursula Simpson on top form) – addressed the stuff I had gone through last week. Dealt with it and moved on. From beginning to end the service could not have been better designed if I had sat down and thought about what I needed to hear. And it wasn’t in individual songs, or words, or music, or tweets but it was in the presence of God and the answers to prayer that was evident as a product of the whole.
The service came together from the contributions of the people in the pews but there was no mistaking a common thread running through it, a singular inspiration working through more than just those labelled ‘leader’.
We believe in a priesthood of all believers but often it’s hard to get people out of the pews. Did Sunday see the first shoots of something significant? It was certainly a great experience of being, not just doing, church.
I hope this isn’t just a random experiment but is something that can become a really important source of encouragement, praise and worship from day to day, not just on a Sunday. I think there’s a lot of mileage in exploring how some of the emerging trends in communication can work in a church context. It will be interesting to see if that’s true.

Swears

I’m doing jury service at the moment. And the courts are full of spiritual connotations. If it’s not bowing in reverence, or calling judges ‘Lord’ or ‘Worship’ it’s the very presence of an advocate interceding on behalf of someone else. Mind you, it’s hardly a surprise that an environment built to house truth and justice should remind me of God.

However, what’s most striking is the spiritual barometer of trustworthiness, the swearing of an oath on the Bible.

‘I swear by Almighty God that I will faithfully try the defendant(s) and give a true verdict (true verdicts) according to the evidence.’

All those on my jury chose to do this. I didn’t.

And you may think that’s quite strange given that I am a Christian, that I believe in a personal relationship with God and that the Bible is a phenomenal tool for equipping us to live to our potential (actually irrespective of whether you have faith or not).

I don’t know whether the 11 people who swore on the Bible would describe themselves as Christians. If they wouldn’t then it seems a little strange to start court proceedings with what amounts to a falsehood (not that this is an accusation of perjury!).

It might make the Daily Mail weep but I just don’t understand the reason for having a spiritual barometer of trustworthiness. And the reason for that is because Jesus tells his followers that oath taking, that swearing by heaven or by God isn’t necessary.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most well-known chunks of Jesus’ ministry (and another one of those moments in the Life of Brian where the two figures are demarcated). In amongst the Beatitudes and a warning about our thoughts rather than just our acts Jesus talks about oaths.

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. (Matthew 5:33-36)

And why shouldn’t, as followers of Jesus, we take oaths? Because Christians should ‘let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one’.

Part of being a Christian is being trustworthy, of having integrity, of being credible and living a life that reflects the person of Jesus (or tries to). This is what Jesus is saying. He’s saying if you follow my teachings then you don’t need to swear oaths to make a promise. If you promise to do something, why would you do anything other than keep it?

When I said I was affirming there was slight confusion about what that meant. Someone said it was “for those who aren’t religious”. Obviously, for me, it was actually for completely the opposite reason.

If the court system was to lose the spiritual barometer for trustworthiness there would be OUTRAGE and it would be further evidence of a creeping secularism. Would it? Wouldn’t it actually be Christians recognising that it’s in conflict with what we believe and for those that don’t have a relationship with God, or even any faith in Him, creates a situation that may actually ring hollow?

@chrisdjmoyles

At Pentecost the BBC broadcast a service from Kingsgate Community Church in Peterborough. I caught some of it and was very impressed that Pentecost in 2009 still looked like the fun times Acts suggests took place. But stylistically it wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve been around the church my entire life and I know that church isn’t all BCP Morning Prayer (beautiful but a struggle to engage with if your discourse comes from post-modernity) and I know it isn’t all the guilt and despondency which quite a lot of people reckon church is.

And in that situation it’s no surprise that people could be led to believe that God is dead. Their experience of church seems to indicate a weekly mourning of his passing rather than a celebration of his living.

Anyway, I caught a bit of Chris Moyles and his breakfast show discussing this. Continue reading @chrisdjmoyles

Principal Agent

As part of my job in Hull I get to study for an MSc in Public Management in Birmingham (where I am currently in a fairly ropey hotel room). This is a wonderful opportunity but not necessarily one I’m always enthusiastic about (I need to work on cultivating an attitude of gratitude). Before we came down for some lectures on research methodology today and tomorrow I was completing an essay on the insights that the principal-agent theory has in terms of performance management. And it got me thinking.

Before I continue I ought to explain what the principal-agent theory is. Don’t run away at the thought of economic theory I’ll keep the explanation brief and hopefully straightforward.

If I employ you to do something that makes me the principal and you the agent. I want to minimise the inputs I give you in exchange for a maximum level of effort that ensures I get what I’m looking for from you. You, on the other hand, want me to give you as much reward as possible in exchange for less effort. What we both want is an outcome that suits us both – I want my interests to be maximised, as you do yours.

The principal-agent theory then lets people work out how to design performance incentives or measure effort in order to get the best outcomes for everyone concerned. And it struck me that there’s a school of thought about Christianity that looks at us within this framework (even if they don’t know it).

On the one hand are those who unwittingly make us the principal and God our agent. That’s those who think we’ve made him up to make us feel better (it’s certainly a remarkably complex and well fleshed out crutch that’s the product of invention, must be the work of some Machiavellian genius). And there are those who turn to God when the chips are down or when they need something. An ATM saviour who responds to our needs.

Not to suggest that God doesn’t answer prayer of course but that we are not the principal in this relationship, it’s to refute the suggested that he’s an on-call deity should we need a favour. God is obviously the principal, but recognising that doesn’t stop the misconceptions from floating about.

I don’t know when it was that the church dropped the ball but we seemed to have done so in a big way when it comes to an understanding of the motivation behind our Christianity.

This lens of God as principal and me as his agent means I must be performing because of something God is doing. My motivation for dancing to a Holy tune, perhaps, is fear, a fear of hell, a fear of damnation and a fear of being judged a failure by God. It’s an understanding that says I have to comply with a stated norm in order to be accepted as good enough for God. I’m sure there are plenty of people who love God, seek Him and serve Him that reckon that’s the nature of our relationship with Him. By my reckoning it’s a bit brimstone heavy and grace light which is a tragedy.

Alternatively, if not fear of consequence, then clearly it’s all about reward. Heaven is the carrot dangled under our noses that we will get if our behaviours make it possible. Like imagining the God of fear, this God of prizes forms another theological construction that squeezes grace to the margins.

And that’s because whilst it is possible to see elements of principal-agent theory in how the world understands us it totally skews the nature of our relationship. It’s not a transactional or contracted situation. Our performance is not measured, there are no proxy indicators suggesting whether we are pleasing God or achieving salvation. God loves us for who we are, as we are and irrespective of what we have done or ever will do. It’s not contingent upon fulfilling stated aims or meeting certain goals (beyond the having a relationship in a first place which, if it exists, suggests that reconciliation has happened).

The reality of Jesus’ sacrifice is that it breaks the idea of principal versus agent and makes them one and the same. Perhaps we’ve lost sight of that behind the veneer of something transactional because we’ve seen relationships move away from being selfless in their search for a unity of one flesh and themselves becomes something principal-agentesque. Maybe the church is responsible for advertising this idea of family that places man at the head of a house and wife as subservient to him.

The thing is that’s not what I see when I read the oft trotted out Ephesians 5:21-32.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I’ve obviously missed the bit of that which is about servitude or subjugation. Is it not a recognition that both parties give of themselves to the other out of love. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. And so, if you’re in submission through reverence to Christ then as women submit to their husbands so their husbands are submitting to them. Not a transaction, not a greater or lesser role, no one thing making something else happen as a result. Just love.

The problem in much of my public management MSC is that the language is transactional. It’s not relational. You won’t find love being spoken about when it comes to understanding the interaction between the public and its governing agencies or a contractor and his staff. You won’t find love entering the equation when it comes to maximising sales or minimising costs. Yet in the economy of grace the greatest value is to lose, the biggest joy is in giving away. Freedom comes not from the what but from the who. The who of our friends, the who of our family, the who of our communities, churches and colleagues.

If the principal and the agent submit to one another, simply because they want to maximise the interests of the other then greed, self interest and the negativity of desire vanish. So, if the principal agent theory tells the church anything at all it reminds us that our principal does that – God lives in us, trusting us to be His hands and feet and empowering us with the same spirit that created the universe.

I’d like my effort to look like it’s the work of an agent responding to the most generous, over-the-top, outrageous contractual arrangement from the principal. Economic theory says that the agent is always looking for the principal to ‘reward’ them hugely. It says that any principal making the kind of commitment our saviour has they’d be after a commensurate level of response. The magnitude of our riches in Christ are incomprehensible, there’s no way that (even if we tried harder) we could come close to matching them with our efforts. Thankfully we don’t have to. But I don’t want to rock up and meet St Peter saying I never tried to respond to God’s grace cos I didn’t have to. I’d like to be able to say I could come close. Not because I’m scared of hell, not because if I do God might answer my prayers, not because I want to go to heaven but because I don’t want to forget that what God has done for me as I was, continues to do with me as I am and has in store for who I could be isn’t for my benefit but is to bless him, those around me and the world.

Interesting thing economics…

Cost Benefit

Recently there have been a number of journalists writing articles about church, God and Christianity. Oddly they’ve not all been entirely negative. Since Dave flagged up Matthew Parris’ thoughts from last month I’ve come across, or been pointed towards, other things most notably here and here.

Nice to see that we Christians are capable of being presented in a positive light. Of course the articles are imperfect and there are things to which we Christians, and those heathen others, could pick on. Problems in their reasoning, or their misconceptions or their opinions but nevertheless these are articles which are refreshing.

Coupled to that refreshment is the wonder of the internet where anyone can hold forth on anything (just like this). And, even better, people can take their cue from what someone has written to delve deeper into the issues at hand.

Predictably, some of the articles have descended into thinly veiled arguments over “my absence of God is better than your God” and vice versa. Clearly, my bias lets me take the undoubtedly condescending, self-righteous and arrogant position that my God is better than the absence of Him but that’s another discussion. And one which tends towards going round in circles generating heat rather than light.

What’s caught my attention is the following remark…

Both atheists and believers have done evil things (China’s cultural revolution to today’s Jihadists to name just some). But I do feel that if one were to do a ‘cost/benefit’ analysis of the two camps- the atheists would have the higher moral ground because we have contributed a lot more to science in general and in particular, the pursuit of life saving medicine.

An interesting thought and not one that I feel particularly well qualified to discuss from the point of view of the premise that, looking at contributions to science, theists have had less impact than their atheist fellows. My gut reaction is that given the durability of Christianity, 2,000 years of thought, invention and design inspired and informed by those worshipping God does not suddenly get undone by a louder atheistic presence (which of course is nothing new).

In terms of the moral high ground, however, it’s a position that doesn’t show much appreciation of history. The reality, however much we appeared on earth by chance or hold that morality is simply something that occurs naturally, is that it took a very long time for people to think that other people were important.

In Genesis 34 we read about Dinah and the Shechemites. Basically, Dinah, daughter of Jacob (sister of Joseph, he of dressing gown fame) gets defiled by Shechem. The response is brutal and savage, just have a read. It’s that kind of an environment into which Moses speaks in Leviticus 24.

Here’s a culture that practices rampant, and disproportionate violence being told, in no uncertain terms that actually, if you’re going to exact vengeance it should be in correlation to what went on. I appreciate that a stoning for a blasphemy is arguably disproportionate in itself but stick with me (no doubt this will be something to explore at a later date).

You get the whole idea of punishment and revenge turned on its head by Moses. And that persists for quite some considerable time. In fact up until Jesus.

In Judaic culture you were very keen on helping your family, and your tribe but that was where it ended. You helped those you liked. You helped those who might help you back. The concept of the neighbourhood was a closed one.

And history is full of city states, tribes and kingdoms setting off to war against its non-kindred neighbours. Now whilst the thirst for power and the quest for domination didn’t end with Jesus the whole idea of what being neighbourly meant didn’t so much end as finally got the point. If, in the years after that we’ve carried on as before it doesn’t mean Jesus was lying, just that we might not have been paying enough attention.

Because if we read Matthew 5 it’s blatant what Jesus is saying. This is a beautiful exposition of why vengeance is not what’s best for us and specifically Jesus takes to task the idea that ‘an eye for an eye’ is. Instead he says that the best way to respond when someone does you wrong is to take it and offer the chance for them to wrong you further.

Madness.

A madness that only gets worse in Luke 10 when a young lawyer says, so Jesus, how is it that I get eternal life? As ever, Jesus gets him to answer the question himself, whereupon he retorts that you need to love God with everything and to love your neighbours as yourself. Although the answer impresses Jesus the young man wants clarity and says but, who’s my neighbour?

With the result that Jesus unleashes the Parable of the Good Samaritan on a truly unsuspecting world. This is the point when the limits on charity, on love and on compassion get undone. When Jesus becomes not just a Messiah for the Jews but effectively declares salvation for all. The moment from which the early church takes the inspiration to turn the world on its head outside of the Jewish nation. The point when all the good which has happened through Christian endeavour can find its point of conception.

Who’s my neighbour? It’s that person you hate; the one you share nothing in common with; the guy who is something you would hate to be.

Had Jesus not been the one to institute that new covenant based on a relationship with God that flourishes in relationship with others then maybe someone else would have done at a later date. But no matter how much cynicism is poured onto the Biblical Jesus it’s not an idea that pops up elsewhere. This is something attributed to him before anyone else.

Of course the church and Christians haven’t always lived this out and that is to our corporate regret and shame. But it’s workmen rather than tools and whilst I’ll see your Crusades and Inquisition it bears raising you the 20th century secular leaders who are no less, if not more, responsible for suffering than the carnage of antiquity.

So if we keep those events out of it in recognition that death by conflict is motivated by a thirst for power irrespective of faith, or none, and return to the cost/benefit analysis it’s difficult to agree with the original premise. As I said I can’t comment on science, but the sweeping generalisation has certainly agitated Mrs Wellers, instead I can look at the history of selfless love (read charity). And through that lens Jesus’ idea of neighbourhood, community and revenge becomes a world altering idea that strikes the Father of all blows for morality, for transforming lives, for putting hope into the middle of dark places.

But then I am exceptionally biased aren’t I?

The Future’s Bleak

Yesterday I was travelling back to York after spending a couple of days in Devon.

A few minutes after the train had pulled away from the station a young guy walked past, beer can in hand, directing a conversation towards his partner making it clear that she knew he wasn’t happy about her alleged sexual indiscretions.

What this guy was saying was colourful to put it mildly and he clearly took great pride in having an audience with everyone able to hear his opinions on those most intimate parts of her body.

I was sat listening to music so was well shielded from what he was saying and I assumed that once he had sat himself down he would shut up. He didn’t. I could have turned up my music and carried on ignoring what he was saying but instead, prayerfully taking my life into my own hands, I went and asked him if he wouldn’t mind putting a lid on it.

He wasn’t keen on the idea and he was even less keen on “someone posh like you” telling him what to do. Instead he took great pride in telling me that he was a very dangerous person, asking me whether I knew who he was (unfortunately I’m no expert on the criminals of Devon) before letting me know that he dealt heroin and crack. As though that would make me either fear or respect him. It did neither. Asking where I was going, York, he said that he was off to Bristol, although to hear his description of the place you would think it to be the embodiment of Gomorrah.

Having never really confronted a drunk and clearly violent drug dealer you don’t know how it’s going to play but his behaviour wasn’t acceptable for me so I told him that. On the condition that I never spoke to him again, he did agree to move carriages. Whether he shut up once he had moved I don’t know but by the end of his journey he had made his way back down to where he started the journey and got off the train with his other half and their daughter in tow. Some happy family.

And that’s why I’m telling you this. Throughout the whole exchange this guy had his little daughter with him. She must be three at the most as she sits there surrounded by darkness. Her father is effing and blinding (and then some) at the top of his voice with no regard for who might hear; but worse, far worse, is the lack of respect that he has for her mother, or even that her mother has for her father.

There was definitely venom, and there was definitely anger but love?

The reality for that little girl is bleak. Where is her knowledge of love going to come from? Her parents are criminals. If they never get caught then that means a lifestyle outside societal norms. But if they do then she’s alone, hoping against hope that her experience of social services will not result in the outcomes that have been, and are, all too prevelant in terms of homelessness, criminality or lack of skills.

How does the cycle of deprivation, of poverty, of pain, of fear, of anger, of suffering get broken in that context? I don’t know. This is the stuff of miracles. Without a fundamental reconstruction of the hearts of her parents the future experiences of that girl aren’t filled with hope. But that’s Jesus’ promise, that all our future experiences will be full of hope.

That’s not a guarantee against pain or suffering or anything else negative but it’s a promise of hope. Hope against hope, that’s what I prayed for that little girl. If you’re reading this, would you do that too?

I pray that in Exeter and in Bristol God’s hands and feet are active in working alongside drug addicts and drug dealers, that the prisons and the police are infected by the viral, guerrilla values of the kingdom, that those providing care for children caught up in these most awful of situations know no limits on their love and compassion.

Would you ask that God would do something for the lives of all three? Challenge him. Beg him. Implore him.

God show us as the church, as your body, as your instruments of grace how we can shine your light into this darkness.

I have absolutely no idea what the future of that girl, her mummy and her daddy will be. I trust that God does.

I hope against hope that she hears and knows Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Thank you Father that you do.

Equality & Diversity

So last week I had some training arranged at work in Equality & Diversity. I wasn’t really expecting it to be a good day. I’m lucky, these are ideas that come naturally to me and so it felt a bit like a colossal waste of time. This wasn’t true of everyone.

The course was led by a British Muslim called Pasha who came from Salford and whose family was Pakistani. And he had a tough crowd. There was one individual in particular who behaved in an absolutely repugnant fashion towards Pasha by spouting the worst kind of ill-informed, ignorant, caricatured and evil opinions. If it had been as part of the wider group discussions that might have been better but as it was it was on one side during a break in a very personal manner.

The tragedy is that there was no way that the rest of the day made any impression whatsoever on him. They were his views and he wasn’t going to change them. Equality & Diversity covers Age, Gender, Sexuality, Disability, Faith and Race and tragically you’d probably find plenty of people who would suggest that we as the church don’t really employ Equality & Diversity in our theology let alone our practice.

Of course there’s the obvious claims that the church suppresses women, that Paul was a misogynist and we are entirely a patriarchal entity. Add to that our hatred of gays. And, don’t forget the wars for which we’re responsible because of other people’s faiths or skin colour.

It’s not a very nice picture. And it’s so far removed from the person of God as revealed through scripture and Jesus. As Christians we should lead the way when it comes to Equality & Diversity. We should be stood at the forefront of this.

1. LOVE.
We’re created for relationships, the Trinity is all about the three persons of God entwined together in relationship and you could succinctly summarise the Bible as being about God hunting out relationship with us in spite of our rejection of Him. If we believe that God has made the earth and everything in it (whatever mechanism he used to do that) then it is all to be cherished, people and planet.

When Jesus gets asked about what is the most important commandment in the law he references the Old Testament law; don’t bear grudges, love your neighbour as yourself. At the same time, he reaffirms the first three commandments.

Basically, if we’re loving God but treating even our enemies like crap we’re at odds with God.

And, more to the point, we love in spite of behaviour because we love with a deep understanding and desire for redemption and reconciliation. We love on the basis of our redemption, of the fact that God loved the world so much that rather than make us do something to fix it, he came and restored it. We should know that you don’t have to qualify for a Christian’s love.

1 John 4 17-21 underscores that, and I make no apology for publishing this beautiful translation from The Message,

‘God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us. So that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both’

2. CREATION.
God knows us and loves us and made us all as individuals. Christine and I were puzzling over fingerprints the other day and we wondered what the rational position might be. A little googling and the evolutionary case is that fingerprints are all about grip. As for their uniqueness it seemed that the consensus lay in needing to check out chaos theory. All well and good, but grip seems to me to be a perfect example of God’s creation ((as seen in this Audi advert) and I’m not satisfied by saying fingerprints are unique because chaos theory shows us that all things are possible.

I’m quite content to see them underlining the uniqueness of a creation which is reiterated time and time again…

Jeremiah 1:5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’
Luke 12:7‘Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered’
Genesis 1:27‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’

Fundamentally, as Christians we believe and recognise that every other person in the world is crafted by God, and not only crafted by Him but absolutely, 100%, head over heels, loved by Him.

3. IDENTITY.
So, we’re uniquely made by God, and we’re all about love but people are different, and that means that necessarily there are divisions. Fortunately not, Paul’s pretty clear that our first identity is in Christ. It’s not whether we’re male or female, it doesn’t rest in our ethnicity or our sexuality. First and foremost, before anything else, we are Christians.

Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’

And not only do we identify ourselves as such but because of Easter, God looks at us and doesn’t see our messed up selves but he sees Christ. Pure, unblemished and equal with Him.

So in Christ we are equal but in Christ we are also diverse. We’re called to be different, called to a freedom of expression, called to be individuals of God glorifying Him in weird and wonderful ways. I’m a little bit passionate about how exciting it is to be a part of the church and how, as a body, we each get to do different things, have different passions, think differently, experience differently but to be unified in our equality in Christ.

The boxes of society shouldn’t matter inside the church because we identify in Christ and as Christians we identify each other as bits of the body.

4. THE WORLD.
This is all very well and good when we’re in church and in our nice little Christian bubbles but what about the world. What about a world that doesn’t recognise God’s creation in all things and doesn’t value all individuals beyond their past behaviours? What about a place where war is fought on the basis of theological dispute? Where people are spat at in the street by dint of their physical disability? A place where we’re ready to talk about evil but ignore redemption?

If we are God’s hands and feet (which we are) then Equality & Diversity is our starting point. We’re not interested in what people believe, or don’t; in how they act, or don’t; we’re interested in them as people that God wants to have relationship with. And if God wants to have relationship with them then there’s a value in their lives far beyond our understanding.

It’s not just Equality & Diversity that this informs, it’s how we think about Pluralism. We crave pluralism, but one which recognises the freedom of everyone to be themselves, that doesn’t restrict in any way what people believe, and how they express that. If our starting point is to love people as they are then that’s far more than tolerance, it’s even more than respect. As Micah tells us, God has shown us what good looks like, all he requires in return is that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

If we recognise all people as incredible works of God’s hands, love them beyond ourselves and remember that we are all equally sinful and blameless. If at the same time we appreciate being individuals of diversity whilst striving for justice, mercy and humility then the legislative and societal demands of Equity and Diversity begin to be irrelevant.

Maybe, just maybe, if the 3 billion Christians in the world exhibited all that we know to be true then Equality & Diversity training would be a thing of the past.

And whilst that would make Pasha redundant, I hope he’d agree that some things in life are better obsolete.

My 2 Cents (at the current rate of exchange that’s actually 0.014p)

So this evening, Ben and I went to St Mike’s to watch a screening of The Passion. Rather predictably, we were about 5 minutes late, so arrived as Jesus was praying in the Gethsemene. This was the first time I’d seen the film and I’m still, to coin a phrase from Alyson, ruminating over it, and thought I’d use my first post to try to make some sense of what I’m thinking. (please bear with me, I’m not always the most articulate and lucid of bods)

I thought it was a brilliant film. Extremely, and unsurprisingly, moving. However, I couldn’t quite shake off a strange sensation that the film was almost trying to manipulate my feelings in places, although I’m not entirely sure how… I’m no film buff, so I’m not sure exactly what cinematic story-telling devices were used… and I didn’t like the feeling that I almost felt sceptical in places…(is it so predictable that I even feel a teensy bit guilty about that?) Was it that I was too shocked by what was shown – I don’t think so. I fully expected a film that was brutally and honestly graphic about the kind of torture our Lord endured.

I think that I felt (feel) that the story is (should be) moving enough without having to employ such cinematic techniques. Or maybe my English blood is exherting it’s influence, and pushing me into cynicism too readily. I felt that I should be more upset than I was. In short, I expected to bawl my eyes out. I don’t often get emotional at films, only when they are really moving. (most notably, I still to this day can not watch the stampede scene in the Lion King, I have to fast forward past the bit where Mufasa dies – mainly because my dad took me to see the film at the cinema, but that’s an issue for another day…) I don’t think I’m cold and unfeeling, I was very moved by the film, especially by the two Mary’s. But I knew how the story would end, and perhaps that was why I didn’t feel as sad as I expected; I knew that he would rise triumphantly from the grave.

I must confess to not an insignificant amount of disappointment that more wasn’t made of the resurrection. I wanted them to show more of what happened after and what that means for our world today. Although I suppose there would then be too much to cover in one film (at this point Ben suggested that they produce a sequel – something along the lines of JESUS 2: THE RESURRECTION).

I’m not sure how to end this post, which is in a way I suppose fitting as I’m still mulling over the film. I suppose I’ll watch the film again someday, and expect I’ll feel completely different.