Tag Archives: Musings

Rediscovering Eugene

It’s been a while since I’ve read any Eugene Peterson. In those years I’ve experienced a lot. Moving country, starting up Innovista in Ireland, losing my mum suddenly to cancer, getting married, and most recently meeting my dad for the first meaningful time I can remember. I’ve come to a deeper recognition of the pain and complexity of life, how essential hope (in the NT Wright sense) is and a faith that feels different, deeply rooted, freer and more comfortable holding things in tension. All this to say that I’ve come to appreciate Peterson’s writing in a new way and found profundity and inspiration afresh from his deep thoughtfulness and graciousness. A few quotes that have inspired me so far from Practise Resurrection: A Conversation in Growing Up in Christ (based on Ephesians):

The air we breathe and the atmosphere we inhabit as believers and followers of Jesus is grace. If we don’t know wat grace is, the last place to go looking for help is the dictionary. Grace is everywhere to be experienced but nowhere to be explained…

And on peace:

Jesus respects us as persons. He does not force himself upon us. He does not impose peace. He does not coerce. Jesus treats us with dignity. Peace is never external to us. It is not the absence of war or famine or anxiety that makes it possible to live in peace. It is not accomplished by getting rid of mosquitos, rebellious teenagers and contentious neighbours, or burning heretics at the stake.
All of us are participants in peace. Jesus is at work bringing us, all that is us into a life of connectedness, of intimacy, of love. There is a lot going on, a lot involved. We are all involved whether we want to be or not. It takes a long time, because Jesus doesn’t push us around and make us shape up, doesn’t shut us up so that we don’t disturb the peace. Peace is always in process, never a finished product.

And finally (for now) the church as a place where this peace is worked out:

The church comprises a vast company of men and women in all stages of maturity: crawling infants and squalling babies, awkward and impulsive adolescents, harassed and fatigued parents, and occasional holy men and holy women who have it all together. All of us who understand and practise peace in the company of Jesus, who is our peace, have a lot of maturing to do… …Humankind does not mature all at once. And so peace is constantly in the making, and also constantly at risk. Church is where Jesus is proclaimed as ‘our peace’.

This give me hope. Hope for myself, hope for those who have to live with me (and endure my occasional rants!) and grace in my heart for those who I look down on because they  ‘just don’t get it’ the way I do!

The soapbox has been on the move and will be back soon

Samson and GoliathThe last few months have been a whirlwind of constant movement and excitement. After 30ish years in the glorious east, I’ve had to say goodbye to the iconic cranes that remind me I’m home as I’ve packed up and moved to Dublin. Despite having spent half of the last year or two in and around Dublin’s fair city, and becoming practised in moving, leaving the city that has watched me grow up and has changed round me as I’ve grown up has been more difficult than I imagined. I’ve come to appreciate just how blessed I am in terms of the friendships I have and the people around me who I love, respect and have had the privilege of sharing life with over the past years. I know those friendships remain, but there is a wrench when you realise the possibility of nipping across Belfast to see someone is no longer there, and has to be prearranged into two/three day trips north. Moving (and going long periods of not spending more than 5 consecutive nights in one bed) certainly helps with decluttering lots of the stuff that I’ve accumulated, and giving a sense a freedom from the slavery of possessions.

The last months have taken in a wild variety of things – the encounter summer team, a holiday in Spain, Leading for Life in Vienna, leadership training with Cuban youth leaders, Summer Madness, U2 at Croke, Greenbelt and trying to write a dissertation on leadership development, never mind moving city and country. Oh and leaving the organisation I’ve worked with for the last 9 years. Apart from being ridiculously expensive I’m loving Dublin, the future is bright as I look forward to finishing my MDiv after 5 years, Innovista Ireland begins to come online, and a trip to Hong Kong provides space and celebration of all this change. Come 15 September I’m sure many of those musings and a wee review of Greenbelt will come to light, but for now the thesis takes over…

doctrinal purity vs grace

Does an emphasis on doctrinal purity rule out grace being the most obvious smell we give off?

I’ve been mulling this over a little over the past weeks. Is it possible for the two to live in tension?  I know it must but I have rarely seen it happen..

It seems than when our focus is on making sure people think/know/believe the ‘right’ things we become arbiters of what is ‘right’ and set ourselves up in judging and defining ourselves over and against others. It can be seen in lots of ways – both in those who are nervous about the gospel being diluted and those who wish people could see the bigger picture. In fact even when we want others to espouse a more gracious and liberating way of living we can become so focused on whether they are doing it right that we lose the gracious way of life we are trying to see more of.

I wonder if our focus is on doctrinal purity (of whichever sort that may be) if we can really live, breathe and smell grace?

pub theology – right or wrong

I have long advocated that the most significant conversations i’ve had about theology tend to take places in the pub. Transfarmer, smallcorner and a few others help keep this theory alive in a long conversation about lots of things, partly how we read the Bible and think about it. On that topic I’ve just started Scot Mcguinness_brewery_gravity_bar_our_pintsKnight’s Blue Parakeet which is proving interesting reading.

So right and wrong. Are we missing the point by constantly being so worried about what is right and what is wrong? Or maybe its a pharisaic obsession with how we can judge others as right or wrong and in so doing justify ourselves?  I’m not talking about obvious things like killing people, perhaps I mean theological nuances. So often we are obsessed with the right way of thinking, of sound doctrine, of having the right theology. Obviously I’m not saying its not important to think and wrestle with this stuff as that’s what I’m doing. But should we be more concerned with following the trajectory of the way of Jesus, obeying all the stuff he taught than looking at others and seeing if they have the right theology and trying to correct them all the time?

Help me out here, as i’m not quite sure wht i’m even trying to articulate.

In the garden Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, wanting to be like God, wanting to define good and evil for themselves. Is this simply our problem, that we are infected with our own desire to define what is right and what is wrong? So much so that we forget, or get distracted from walking the path of Jesus? Is it the case that there is no ‘other’ with God and so are we foolishly trying to define ourselves over and against others all the time instead of living the inclusive life and love of Jesus?

Does anyone know what i’m talking about?

Peru #2 – bite city

It seems I taste rather good. To the mosquitos and biting insects. I returned from a trip to the CU group at Cantuta outside Lima with around 20 rather large bites on the legs, 5 days later they are starting to go down and the itch is finally going. At least the dog attack last year was more of an adrenaline rush! I´ll maybe spare you the photos of the now purplish blotches adorning my calves.

Lima the city I famously advertised as the place where the sun doesn´t shine is rather different this year, with a fair bit of sun and blue sky and the odd bit of sunburn for the team. We´ve been pretty busy hence so little ranting but check out our official updates here.

Hard to believe we´ve only around 10 days left, but it has been going really well, and I hope will be really significant for us as a team in relation to experiencing poverty, injustice, crossing cultures and how God is at work in the midst of all of that. We´re spending time in Galatians as a team thinking about freedom, sonship, grace, life by the spirit, idols etc – I have now crossed to the dark encounter side officially. I blame my co-leader. Although God may have something to do with it too. It is really transformational thinking about Galatians in the context we are in, following a God who longs to free people form the oppression of sin, both personal and structural, and also in a church context that at times is rather like at home in the north. Tomorrow we have our last day in San Martin – the shanty town on the edge of Lima then its a 20 hour bus journey to Cusco on Thursday where we will be spending 2 days working in AGEUP projects then our 3 days team holiday to machu picchu.
The english camp was fantastic and we´ve been able to build some really good relationships with Peruvian students, visiting universities has also been good, and really stretching, doing evangelistic dramas, giving testimonies at 1 minutes notice, and having the chance to share why we are here with lots of students who don´t know Jesus. I may not be too keen on dramas at home but the Peruvians seem to love it…
San Martin
San Martin

San Martin as been a really significant time, working with and getting to know kids and people who have very little, who after 20 years in the same shanty town still don´t have running water or electricity. We´ve been making a room for kids, planting trees to make the place look brighter, playing with the kids, and doing lots of practical stuff. We had the opportunity to go with the community to the zoo, with someone paying for the community to go. It was incredible to watch the delight on the faces of the kids and parents (many of whom had never been before), and yet stranger seeing them look comepletely the same as everyone else, all dressed up yet knowing the conditions in which they live and struggle to survive. San Martin to quote Stocki is a sad and beautiful place – sad in the sense of the poverty and the injustice of why people can´t break out of poverty yet beautifil in terms of the people, the sense of community, the welcome we receive, and the smiles on the kids faces and in their eyes. It is really moving at times to realise that god is there working through AGEUP, and will be long after we have gone.

We´ve had the chance to learn from some of the AGEUP staff more about what they do, with Juan the director giving a phenomenal presentation on mision integral, and jenny talking to us about their worl with HIV/AIDS, and the chance to meet one of the volunteers in one of their projects – a mother with a 9 year old daughter, the mum is HIV+, having contracted the disease from her husband, who died a few years ago.
The injustice of so much of what we see is difficult to take yet AGEUP and many of the churches are such beacons of hope bringing God´s kingdom in some incredibly special ways.
If you´re the praying sort, God has been really faithful and is working among us in so many ways as a team, pray that we will finish well, and that time finishing off Galatians and debriefing  will really help us clarify some of what God has been saying.

Delta aren´t so dirty after all..

After last year´s expeeriences we called Delta ´dirty Delta´but this year they delivered us and all our luggage almost on time which was a relief.

We are settling into a much warmer Lima than last year, even a spot of sunshine. We´ve had some great orientation stuff and its exciting to be immersed in an IFES movement that lives and breathes mision integral, at whose heartbeat is the belief that justice is not just something good, but is at the heart of the gospel. I´m once again reminded of the amazing capacity of Peruvians to love and welcome. Tomorrow we´re off to some universities to do some dramas… should be interesting…

A Man Called Cash – Steve Turner

I sat slightly embarrassed on the bus a couple of days, misty eyed as I read the last few chapters of Steve Turners fantastic look at the life of Johnny Cash. Unlike many biographies he didn’t gloss over anything, its a brutally honest appraisal yet that is exactly how Cash himself was. Its made me dip back into the back collection of ‘the man in black’ and discover the haunting power of many of his songs.

Beginning to understand more of who Cash was, the transparency of his faith and failings has breathed new life into many of his songs. The man who dressed in black, and had seen so much of death was at the same time someone obsessed with life. His faith and Turner’s last chapter on that inspired me no end. Cash for me is an example of a treasure in a clay pot – all is there to see and amid the failings God is clearly at work. Perhaps Cash lived out that battle in public that most live out in private, pretending n the outside that everything is fine when actually the pain, the struggles are overwhelming.

Perhaps Cash’s greatest attribute was the recognition that he knew what it was like to be in the places were many are, so when it came to faith there was never a self-righteous, sanctimonious or ‘preachy’ way with him. Larry Gatlin described Cash and June’s life as an open book, people who weren’t perfect but had found hope that they shared. The God that shined through Cash related and spoke to people as he wasn’t dressed in cliches, and genuinely cared for people. Bono summed it up well

“People were selling God like a commodity, and I couldn’t relate to them. Then I met Johnny Cash and i felt like him. You read the scriptures and you realise that he’s actually like these guys in the scriptures. He’s not like these weirdos.”

Maybe a good dose of Cash-esque honesty may be of more use to the church than slick programmes and great pretenders…

losing the faith

The good folks at summer madness have in a fit of craziness allowed the soapbox to escape from his usual tasks of walking around the Kings Hall site with a hi-viz vest, radio and clipboard looking busy and purposeful, and actually given me something to do. They have in effect given me a soapbox from which to rant. Potentially foolish. However I have been given some guidelines. I’m taking a seminar entitled

5 ways to lose your faith before you’re 25….

I clearly am a model example of how not to be a christian, either that or it is intended to be a somewhat ironic title. Now i’m no expert so I would like your help. I did grow up in this subversive jewish sect as some would say, although when growing up it didn’t seem too subversive but more about the rules, from which i eventually had enough and wandered off for a bit to check out some other options. I couldn’t escape though and figured that it was perhaps a bit of an imitation of the real thing i’d been shown, and this subversive, loving your enemies, upside down Jesus was worth following. I’m still here.

So if you’ve been a wanderer and wandered back to the way of Jesus – what are the things that keep you in this way? If you are a Jesus follower what are the things that help you keep the faith? Or if you’re not so up for all this God-bothering – why not? what turns you off Christianity?

I have an hour to fill so need some substance here…

One

we’re one but we’re not the same, we’ve got to carry each other

Is how Bono puts it.

Unity.

Something the church is suposed to be famous for. Something that is supposed to characterise those who follow Jesus, and indeed demonstrate to others that we are followers of Jesus because we love each other. Unity is also as Vinoth Ramachandra puts it:

a blind spot of evangelicalism due to our individualistic understandings of the gospel

It is sadly true, often Christians, not just evangelicals or protestants seem to spend more time witnessing against each other than to those who don’t know Jesus, and to whom we want to enjoy the life to the full that Jesus offers. I hold my hands up as one who is guilty, and only too aware that often my reaction to being labelled is to do the same, to define myself over and against another.

Why do we struggle with unity? Partly perhaps because we are human, tainted by the fall and we have a tendency to make a balls of things. Could it also be because we focus our unity on the wrong thing, or use the wrong means perhaps more accurately to seek to achieve unity?

Frequently protestants tend to use doctrinal consensus via theological debate as the means. I know myself I have uttered the words ‘uniting around the core truths of the gospel’ many times. ‘What is core?’ however then opens the debate, and either we see lots of groups emerging, or a watered down consensus that is virtually meaningless. Perhaps we need to listen to the Newbigin’s, Bosch’s and Ramachandra‘s of the world who suggest that our unity must come from our mission, or more correctly our shared participation in God’s mission. This becomes messy and more awkward – it is more difficult to draw neat lines. It is noticeable that when churches work together, when they unite in mission, God shows up and people come to know him. When we choose mission as the means of our unity there is less control, and maybe more room for God than when we tightly define our unity. When we focus on loving others together paradoxically we learn to love each other, and it is this that Jesus calls us to – not to judge each other on our doctrinal purity (I think it was Rene Padilla who said that). Obviously its not just as simplistic as I’m making out but i wonder if our problems of unity would look different if we had a greater focus on mission? Once again Vinoth says it better than I ever will:

It is only when we have learned to die to our own plans and projects, including our plans for world evangelisation, that we can truly love another and move forward into every dimension of life under the leading of the triune god of mission.

the great pretender

I have a confession to make. I am the great pretender. In the north of Ireland we live in a culture where pretense is often the norm. When we ask ‘how are you?’ we expect to hear ‘fine’ or ‘good’. We don’t want to hear an honest answer because it’s messy and we get involved in the messiness of someone else’s life. We pretend everything is fine even when actually the only phrase to describe how we are feeling or doing is ‘pretty shit’. If God knows our hearts how do you think He feels when we have the gall (as I do) to even try to pretend to him that we are fine, to not admit how much we need him. It’s bad enough lying to everyone else around about how we really are. But. What happens when if you are honest it means you have to say why? And what if that why is not appropriate or helpful to disclose because there are issues to be resolved and worked through? There are attitudes to be repented of, people to be challenged, grace to be sought, lived and spoken. What are the limits of honesty? I’m done and sick of pretending, but in many ways feel I can’t be totally honest. Others are involved. What is an appropriate level of honesty? Is lying/pretending for the sake of situation yet to be resolved justifiable?