Monday, 28 July 2014

Serving and receiving #church #pioneer #ministry #god

When I was trained in the art and theology and practice of being an LLM there was a lot of focus on the gift we would be giving to our churches and communities, we were being prepared to serve people in our ministries.

I was licensed three years ago and threw myself into my journey of ministry with the kids and families of my church and community.  I gave and gave and gave, I served and I enjoyed it, it was amazing.  And then I crashed!

I crashed big style with a really awful depressive episode which left me unable to do very much at all.  I was crippled with anxiety and self doubt and awful thoughts of failure and uselessness.  I was on my knees.

How did I respond?
I beat myself up and valued myself less in my ministry because I wasn't able to serve and give of myself as I thought I should.  So I kept on as much as I could and I desperately tried to earn my value as an LLM..

Did it help?
Yes and no.
Yes, because it kept me getting out of bed and it kept me moving forward.
No, because it allowed me to keep valuing myself by my actions and achievements rather than my being me as God called me to be.

A year went past and the depression lifted and I kept on keeping on, giving and serving and putting myself second or even third or fourth in the pecking order. I wasn't looking after myself.  And guess what; I crashed again.  Harder, faster and further than before I crashed.

How did I respond?
This time I had crashed through the floor and there was nothing I could do or give or serve with. This time I had to hold my hands up and hating myself every minute I had to give in.  So I did, I gave in, I finally listened to everyone around me and stopped giving and started receiving.

Did it help?
Yes and yes.
Boy did it help!
It was amazing and it's taught me so much.

I had to receive, from my vicar, from Mike, from my friends and astoundingly from the very people I had been serving.  These amazing families who I ministered to, off their own backs, got together and took over the events and services I had started for them.  They seized the reigns and they kept the horse and cart going in the right direction.  They insisted that I receive from them and they've made it so much more than I could ever have imagined and so much more than I ever could have done on my own.

I had to stop serving.
I had no choice.
And when I stopped I created space for those I was serving to serve others, they served me and they served others.
When I got out of the way, they were there, God was there.

Serving and receiving; there's a healthy mix which I hope I can learn to live and minister in.  A mix of serving and receiving, for me, for them, for those they will minister to and for God.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Minister for Education job specification

Applications are requested for the post of minister for education in the UK Government.  We have carefully honed the role and can now confirm the specific skills and experience we are looking for in a successful applicant.

The applicant should:
1. Be a Parent
Not the sort of parent that becomes a friend with their childminder or comes to the pre-school fundraisers or primary school plays or secondary school parents evening; they wouldn't be qualified. The applicant must be a parent who manages their family from a distance and reads papers by experts in parenting to confirm their theoretical ideas about children and families.

2. Have a stable family life
The sort of stability that ensures no arguments between parents and no discussion with the children.  Please provide evidence of being away from home for considerable periods of time and therefore never bringing conflict into the home.

3. Have an independent eye
The applicant must put all knowledge of education behind them when they take up this post; facts are secondary to the ability to look at situations completely independently.

4. Be an entrepreneur
We are looking for someone who is passionate about implementing new ideas.  It is essential that the ideas are presented as brand new and developed without any involvement of the qualified professionals involved in education.

5. Hold their own counsel
Perhaps the key skill of the applicant is the ability to ignore any advice given from schools or teachers.  Although teachers mean well they are blind to the need to constantly change.  You will be given multiple streams of advice and the applicant must demonstrate the ability to ignore and plot ahead unhindered.

6. Have strong opinions
In an ideal world we would like to see applications from those who believe in the exact opposite of every parent in the country. We understand that this is nigh on impossible but we hope to find an applicant who disagrees with at least 90%of parent at all times.  It is taken for granted that the applicant will despise teachers and feel strongly that they are always in the wrong.

If you have a passion for messing up schools, devaluing children and ignoring parents then this is the perfect job for you.


For more facts about the newly appointed education minister please read this article

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Letter to an unknown soldier #poetry #1418now

Dear soldier

You stand and read my letter
With mud around your feet
With guns blazing in your ears
Fighting war we'll ne'er repeat

I don't know you, you don't know me
But now we're bonded here
I write with love and prayers and hope
That you will feel no fear

I write to you in support
For all you give for us
Despite the fact I don't like war
I'm proud of you because

You went abroad to the unknown
Afraid, of that I'm sure
Followed orders, fired your gun
Slept on a dirty floor

You give it all, for all of us
My thankfulness is great
I just wish I could tell you
No wars are in our fate

This ain't the end, it doesn't heal
The rifts that man will make
But know that you're remembered
One of millions that are great

And as I write this letter
Peace is in my heart
Because you gave so much for us
We rule out war from the start

This is written as part of the 1418now project.  Find out more and read letters by thousands of others at their website.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Music and Memory #miscarriage #motherhood #mentalhealth

Whilst recovering from pneumonia I've been watching the first and second series of The West Wing; it's the one good thing that's come out of enforced rest.

I loved The West Wing, it would be one of my top television series and watching it again has only increased its place on my personal ranking. If you've never seen it - give it a try!

The only downside of watching all these episodes of The West Wing is that they make me cry. And that's what's got me thinking and writing this post.

I know that I often used to cry when watching the weekly installment. I've also discovered that googling "West Wing" and "makes me cry" brings back hundreds of hits. But I've realised that my tears are coming from a source much deeper than those touched by the excellent acting of emotional scripts.

The first series of The West Wing aired in the US in 1999 and a bit later in the UK, but I didn't watch it until 2002.

The year 2002 will not find a place in the top ten greatest of my life, in fact I suspect it'll be somewhere near the bottom. This was the year of treatments and scans and tests and unexpected bleeding and terrifying waits in hospital clinics and more scans and bad news repeated over and over. 2002 was the first of three years going round the same awful cycle. Three years of pain that it's impossible to explain.

What's that got to do with watching The West Wing?
Well I've realised that when I hear the music at the start of the programme my heart clenches a bit. Quite a lot actually. The music takes me back to that time and the pain which didn't go away for years and which, if I'm honest with myself, is still there buried away not quite deep enough.

It doesn't seem to matter that I'm more than a decade on from this time. The music accesses my emotional memory, the music taps into my grief. My tears are tears of loss and pain for what could have been.

I'm a mother now, she's almost none for pities sake; and yet still the pain is real and alive. It's a bit like a volcano whose cap keeps getting dislodged allowing the hot lava of grief to spill out and destroy the new growth in its hillsides. And when I'm ill and my fear is high and my ability to be super mum is depleted, that's when the cap can vibrate about in response to the music of The West Wing and allow the white hot pain to spill out.


I was about to post this when a message came in from a friend to say she's having a miscarriage and I want to shout and scream for her. I want to post this to remind anyone who reads it how the pain endures and yet I don't want her to read it and feel worse.

I wish I knew what was best to do; I wish I knew the words to say to her that will help. But I know words can't help, not really and that she's hurting no matter what I might write or she might read. So instead I'll end this post with a prayer.

Father God I cry out to you today to be with all those who grieve the loss of their babies and to help heal their broken hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Thoughts on The Great Commission #matthew #bible

Matthew 28:16-20
"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”"

As many people before me and many to come, this passage inspires me in my ministry.  Jesus told the disciples to ahead the good news and so he tells us to do the same.  What clearer aim could there be for ministry?

Often these few sentences are used as a slogan with little depth about what they really mean; they are a call to mission rather than a specific teaching about what mission really is.  At other times it's used to give assurance and promise in our work of the church; reassuring us that we are not alone.  Sadly some people use these words as a rod to beat themselves with, a proof that they have not done enough for God.  All these have something in them but if we go deeper we can find even more which this passage has to say.

Background to Matthews gospel
Matthews gospel was written to provide purpose to a community in crisis on how it should understand its calling and mission. It is thought to have been written c80ad for a community of Jewish Christians whose temple had been destroyed in 70ad and were now in crisis. They had no idea how they would exist without their temple which was everything at that time in Jerusalem.  Matthews gospel was written for Christians in crisis.

What does it mean for us?
Being in crisis as the early church was is about losing our identity, our home and everything we know about ourselves and what we believe.  This is more than imagining that our home church was destroyed; it's more akin to losing our family, friends, home, job and church at the same time.  It is about losing everything which defines us and allows us to know who we are.

Matthews gospel was written to help the Jews know that they had an important mission to fulfill.  When we read it we can imagine how transformative it would be of we had lost everything.  Would it be enough?  Would we continue on being missional?

Matthew's gospel is the only gospel which focuses on the gentiles, everyone who isn't a Jew, and how Jesus came for them as well as the people of Israel.  Matthew speaks about the kingdom, the entirety of God's world in heaven and earth, the source of all authority coming from the king, Jesus. Yet in opposition to how a Kingdom might be expected to be Matthew makes it clear that God is not providing a list of rules, rather he tells us to listen deeply for our own specific calling for the good of the kingdom.

What we can take away
God is not telling us what to do, instead he's living in the world and is in constant action which we can take a part in.  We are changed in the heart forever by knowing God and loving him.   This is the good news of Matthew.  This is the good news for those of us in crisis or not. This is true no matter who we are or how we feel about ourselves. Good news indeed.

Make disciples of all nations

We want to make disciples of all nations.  We are called to make disciples of all nations, Matthew 28 tells us to do so.
But what does it mean?

This is not making church goers, it's not about bums on seats.  It's about bringing people to a real and alive faith and encouraging them to become people whose lives are aligned with Jesus. It's about making Christians, in the truest sense of the word, in the whole of their whole lives.

It's not easy.
It's not quick.
There's no tried and tested formula.
But we are not alone, we have the Holy Spirit with us.

Most churches understand that you need to put effort into sowing seeds of faith and nurturing the new shoots which spring up.  Through alpha course and introductory groups most churches find success in bringing seekers to a commitment to Jesus.  But discipleship doesn't stop there.

Disciples are teachers, that's a long way from being someone who wants to learn and is at the beginning of their faith journey.  We need to keep providing opportunities for development of our disciples, whether they be 8 and in Sunday School, or in youth age 16, or a new member of messy church age 30 or a member of mother's union age 50 or a lifetime member of the church age 97.

What can we do therefore to help the process of making disciples?  Here are seven good ideas:

1. Seeker opportunities
2. Introductory courses
3. Home groups
4. Leadership strands
5. Visits to conferences or events
6. Excellent preaching
7. Mentoring and spiritual direction

Don't be scared for the church

The media tells us the church is on the edge of existence, falling numbers may add to that fear, as may the constant debates and fractures within the institution.

We must have faith
We must not be scared for the church

If we are anxious about the church then our image of God is too small.  If we think we can't be available for everyone then our image of God is too small.

The image and scale of God is what we carry and we need to make sure we carry Him in his infinite goodness.

God is immense.
His support of us is immense.
Therefore the church had immense resources which we need to be confident about.
Those resources are ourselves!

We need to keep telling ourselves mantra of positivity about the church:
"The church will not let the country down, we will not let our communities down, we will carry on carrying on engaging people with the reality of Jesus."

God is the God of all creation.
He's massive.
God is love.
Love never ends and nor does God.

They don't believe in God but they miss Him!

This post again draws on the talk by Bishop John at the llm conference (June 2014).

48% of under 30s answered none to the religion question on the last census. And yet less than half that number said that they are atheists and a large proportion said they were spiritual.

Spirituality is alive and well and these spiritual people are looking for something. These are the people many churches refer to as spiritual seekers.

These people, and many others, are sad that they don't know God or even know where to go looking for Him. This is where we are needed, we the body of Christ, we the Church; we are the ones who know God and can make God accessible.

How do we do this?
1. Befriending
We go out into our communities and meet with people.   We meet them where they are and we get to know them, person to person.  Through friendships we can share our faith and allow others to know what we believe.  We can be as explicit or subtle as we wish and as is appropriate for the relationship in question; we are guided by them and ourselves and God.  The best way to help people understand God is for them to see our relationship with God.

2. Opening the doors
We no longer live in a culture where the church is a known and understood entity which anyone is happy to visit.  Most people are extremely unsure what they will find if they go into a church, in fact they're not even sure if they're allowed to open the closed doors they find facing out into the community.  And that's the first thing every Church can do; open the doors of the church every day, and better still, have doors with glass which people can see through.

3. Helping our communities
There is a huge shift in morality in our society, even for Christians.  Instead of the church being a valued part of society, the church is now seen as toxic.  We need to renew our church and be clear about our non toxicity.  One of the best ways of doing this is to be active in our communities helping those in need.  This could be food banks or kids clubs, elderly lunches or community choirs.  What it is matters much less than the fact that the church is alive and seen to be a positive part of the community.

4. Accepting requests readily
The Church at a local level had always been in the business of helping society hatch, match and dispatch.  However not all of the Church of England 16,000 churches are happily accepting one off requests from the people in our care.   It may seem like they are "using us" for their life celebrations, but we need to see it more as us caring for our communities.  Let's accept the request for a christening and invite them to toddler services and Messy Church or other family services.   We never know who might just be waiting for the invitation.

There are so many ways we can be the conduit for faith for our communities, these are just a few; what matters through it all is that we are open and loving and genuine in our desire to reach people and help bring them to faith and see them become disciples.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The word made flesh online

Jesus was the word made flesh and as disciples we are called to embody that same word.  We are called upon to share the good news of Jesus with the world and we have a world of choices for how we do this.

Even twenty years ago there were only two main ways to share the good news of Jesus; you preached in a church or you wrote a book.  Compare that to the options today and it's as of a communications volcano has exploded.

Today, without even leaving my lounge, I can tell the world about Jesus in the following ways:
- book
- radio
- television
- websites
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Google plus
- Podcasts
- YouTube

This is the communication revolution.  The world is full of noise and information and competing issues all the time.  We as the church need to keep up and make sure that we are in that communication loop.

Somehow as communication has developed we've been left behind.  It seems to me that this happened because there was fear about what this new technology might lead to and h how it might change our established churches.  But those who have moved with the changes have seen growth in church.  Church online, church on TV, church via YouTube, church in its myriad of forms.

Jesus was the word made flesh.
Jesus was the word told to the people.
We need to use technology to share the reality of Jesus with our networks because within there are seekers desperately looking for the answer to their questions of faith.

Making a difference in the world

God wants us to make a difference in the world; in our family's, our communities; our countries and in the world as one planet.
What does that mean?

Here are my thoughts in light of Bishop John's talk at conference (June 2014).

Environmental Protection
God is a creator God.
We believe He was the spark at the beginning of time, the one who imagined all of the universe into being.

I believe He is the why behind the complexity of evolution and the myriad of creatures, plants and systems.  Science explains the how, when, where; God explains the why.  He loves the world He created, the animals He populated it with and us, His ultimate creation and companion.

If as Christians we believe that God made the world and loves it all then how can we stand by whilst our collective actions destroy the planet?  How can we litter our planet with plastic? How can we pollute our atmosphere with chemicals? How can we allow this to happen and not say and do something?

In Genesis we are called to care for the planet; we are made stewards of God's creation.  We need to get involved in the environmental debates and start taking action; we must not sit and watch it all be destroyed.

Economic Fairness
Everyone likes to pitch in on the economy, everyone that is except the church. Why is that? Did not Jesus turn the tables in the temple because of the money laundering and squandering, and I'm pretty sure he told the ruck to give up their riches of they wanted to get into heaven, that sounds like economics to me.

I look at my immediate community and I see the gap between the haves and the have nots; those who have paid off their mortgages and those who are saddled with debt greater than the value of their house.  And if I look just a half mile further I'll see council houses which are poorly maintained and are too small for the families they contain.  I live in an affluent area and yet economic division is everywhere and that is what Jesus told us to work against.

Look at the country as a whole. In the UK there are the super rich and the famous who avoid their taxes in order to be even richer.  They take their wealth offshore and they fly across the globe in private jets. Then there are the middle classes, working in professional jobs to support their families in their aim to get to expensive universities and saddle themselves with debt for years to come.  Then there are the working class, keeping up with the rent just about by holding down two jobs; valuing happiness above all else and encouraging their children to see bigger.  But that's not the whole picture, because there are the non working class who are trapped in a cycle of social support and education deficiency; who struggle to feed their families and rely on food banks. And if you look closer you might just spot the homeless.  And you won't see the refugees because we're trying to find good reasons not to let them have a life of any sort.

Don't get me started on the developing world, but I'm sure you can imagine how massive a rant that would be.
Does this sound like a balanced society?
It screams to me of major problems which as a church we should be highlighting.  Problems in the tax system and the support system and the education and employment systems.

What would Jesus do?
He'd be turning tables all over the place and demanding equality for all.  We should be doing the same.  By writing to our MPs and campaigning and mapping a difference for all.