Honest Christianity – when liberal is not liberal enough

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There has been another devastating event again this week with the fire in the block of flats in London. Of all the individuals and groups criticized, the local churches were not among them. Their doors, hearts, hands and pockets were open within minutes of the gravity of the situation being realised.

How sad that while this tragedy was being outplayed, a Christian declared that they had to resign because they could not see how they could reconcile their personal faith and their job. the person was Tim Farron and his job was the leader of a national political party, the Liberal Democrats. In his speech he said:
“I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in….In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.
That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

There is always more going on than what is seen or reported but how sad that someone who has sought to publicly serve their country and joined a party which has inclusive values and a Christian heritage, could not balance and integrity, their personal beliefs and their public role. His voting record did not seem as important as his beliefs and or struggles as a basis of being judged.

Although not on Tim’s scale, I sympathise with his dilemma. In the early days of being a NHS senior chaplain in a multicultural city, reconciling as someone from an evangelical charismatic background and leading a multi faith team and service, was not an easy place or position for me. How to hold these with integrity, transparency and consistency was a challenge and at first did not seem possible. It seemed something had to give. Did Paul help in l Corinthians
9 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 New International Version (NIV)

Through prayer, reflection and wise counsel my way forward was found in being the best Christian I can be, to love those I lead and serve. The criteria cannot be about agreeing, as we have such a spectrum of beliefs in our team but to respect and to seek to serve the wide spectrum of values and wellbeing of our patents, families, staff and reputation in our community. My own integrated consistent universal mission is to seek to live out and show the love of God with whoever I am with and in whatever I am doing. I am still trying to
work this out to Paul’s lifestyle. At the moment I am concentrating on being authentic and seeking to be and be better at, a Jesus loving Christian.

Honest Christianity – God wants you to know Papa is especially fond of you

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Yes Sally and I have just got back from seeing The Shack at the cinema. There will be no need for any spoiler alerts and it is a while since i have read the book, but as I recall the book the film is close to it. I have left the cinema with a more tender heart and some small glimpses of light into the mysteries of God as Trinity and engaging with the sufferings of life. I know some have issues with the theology of The Shack but I want to congratulate the author of the book William Paul Young and the Director of the film Stuart Hazeldine for tackling two of he most difficult and perplexing concepts and issues within the Christian faith – suffering and the Trinity.

We were also privileged to hear the Trinity/baptism Godly Play story in church in an inspiring Messy church time. The story reminded us of the wholeness and the individuality of the personhoods and character of the our Trinitarian God as circles of cloth were laid as an overlapping Venn diagram and water, light and oil were used to represent our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

Remember. God wants you know, Papa is especially fond of you.

Honest Christianity – how to respond to suffering?

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Many people have been interviewed about how they understand and are dealing with the recent terrorist attracts. Most have said pray, some said comfort and support those injured, bereaved individuals, their families or support staff involved.

I was asked today by a parent of a very poorly child if I believed in God and if so why did God allow this? I said I did believe in God, just like the many Christians who have come to the aid on bridges and concert venues. And as to why, I did not know but I was sure God loved their child and them, was broken hearted and wept with them at their bedside. I also said that I would not insult their pain by giving him a trite answer in the midst of such sadness, but that I grieve with others over broken bodies seeking to live a loving life in a broken world. Sadly, I expect that by this family, many others and our nation even more questions will be asked over the coming days.

Sometimes, like today, and the last few sad weeks, I hope less is more and this more is never less.

Honest Christianity – how to respond when bombs explode?

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When I wrote last week’s blog on unexploded bombs, I had no idea of the tragedy of another type of bomb that would be exploded by a suicide bomber in Manchester the following day. How should we respond when someone decides to explode a real bomb with the intention of harming children and young people? Obviously we weep with those who weep, our empathetic hearts break with those bereaved and injured. Many rush to help, support, pray, and the very best of humanity is expressed when we see others hurting and distressed. One of the many voices of life suggested that the city of Manchester will choose love not hate as their response.

We also ask why?  Asking why is not a doubting question but a real one in the light of such sadness. It is also a brave question. It is brave because we do not always know what answers will be revealed or if there is even an answer at all that will answer our questions. This week questions of why and responsibility have been asked by the families, observers, helpers, local, national and international leaders. Was something missed that could have been picked up and the bomber stopped? Learning lessons is a universal helpful response to tragedies. But questions of why quickly move to accusations of blame.

Questions of responsibility are necessary and helpful but do not have to be motivated by finding or locating blame but bravely to learn and understand. Personally I hope we do learn how this happened so that lessons can be learnt and more people who wish to cause harm are stopped before it happens .

But I also hope in time and hopefully quickly, we will also ask the question of why, what causes one person or persons to feel this is an appropriate action or reaction?  Simple answers of ‘they are evil’ will only superficially serve us.  I wonder if lessons  learnt from conflict resolution processes in other places could stand us in good stead as we look to ways in which we might respond. More fundamental explorations are needed and deserved around the longer, wider, deeper narrative of why, and a greater desire for peace and justice than retribution.

Honest Christianity – unexploded bomb

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This week here in Birmingham, during redevelopment an unexploded WWII bomb was found in Aston. Lives, homes and businesses were under threat, it was chaos, people moved out of their homes, roads closed, businesses made inaccessible while the bomb was made as safe as possible and a controlled explosion prepared for and carried out. We were only marginally inconvenienced, my journey,15 mins usually, was 2.5 hours on Tuesday morning.

It got me thinking and reflecting, what unexploded bombs do we have in our lives? Or even have we dropped into others lives? What harm and damage which has been done or said to us has or did lay dormant? Things just sit there and then suddenly something happens to bring it to the surface. Can we help people do a controlled explosion in pastoral or therapeutic care? What about the guy in the digger who first found it? How do you know when to stop digging?

Originally, the intentionality of the bomb was to harm and cause damage but then became indiscriminate as to where it actually was dropped. Systemic oppression still exists and can do physical and emotional harm. We may still be getting caught in the fallout – sometimes we are at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are individual, family, community, national, international, global bombs – there are bombs that will come back and impact us. we felt the blast a mile away .
Theologically, some things will not heal this side of eternity. Peter lived the rest of life knowing that he denied Jesus. The wounds of Jesus were still apparent in his risen body – wounds shouldn’t be vanished away. In our Christian hope – cross and crown are both significant.

Just because weapons of harm have been dormant for many years, does not mean they are not dangerous. Let’s be gracious with ourselves and others and be prepared for when the churning of life brings new things to the surface. They may need to explode, but let’s offer and help create a safe environment for them to be dealt with.

Honest Christianity – what a great slogan

pineapple

This picture could describe the mandate of being a Christian, a positive self image, because we are a child of the King and the fruit of the Holy Spirit should pour out of us, especially when cut. I saw this is in a shop in
Malvern. It is not quite the beatitudes, but it is a good stab at contextualizing. I encourage students that you can theologically reflect on anything so a pineapple is as good as anything.

Today we had our annual memorial service and the member of our team who was preaching, Margaret, stressed to the families that how they were an inspiration to us because of how they sought to find a hope and trust in God in the light of what had happened to them. Amen Margaret, well said. Over 300 of them representing 60 plus families came to remember, cry and celebrate the gift and love of their children and they’re still sweet in the middle. We honour them as they come to honour their children.

Honest Christianity – when lives don’t conveniently follow the church calendar

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Many years ago at Spring Harvest, the preacher, Tony Campolo, taught on the phrase that has become almost
Easter folk law, It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. The sermon was full of hope in the light of current difficulties or circumstances. What do we do when we don’t experience resurrection?

Most of us are personally and or personally know people that are still living in crucifixion Friday rather than resurrection Sunday. Life for them is full of sadness and loss; grief in relationships, careers, health, church etc.
the promises of new life, is still that, a hopeful promise, even still a far off one. Even today as I was dressing to get ready to go and lead an Easter Sunday Morning service at the Children’s Hospital, I was called in before I had even got there to support a family with a very poorly child. It might be Sunday but it feels like Friday. Their hope of resurrection is a literal immediate one. “He is risen, indeed, hallelujah” is a muted chant alongside the cry of lament. It is a needed truth and promise but not our only song in a strange land.

Hope is still needed today as much as it was Friday or any other day. We need compassion and patience for those whose lives don’t follow the seasons of the church. It is many times multi reasoned and complex why life is so full of desolation. We live in the hope of resurrection for ours and others circumstances but in today’s celebrations, let’s be mindful, it may not be today.