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{October 31, 2011}   Church is Irrelevant (so says us)

In his article Dean Seddon asserts that that contemporary society has branded the Church as irrelevant, and (as sad as I am to say it) I believe that he’s right.  I’d take the assertion a step further and argue that not only does society brand the Church as irrelevant, but it also labels it as a hindrance, something which holds us back (at the best) and as something which hides from humanity the darker elements of itself (here I think of the sad cases of child abuse within the Church and conspiracy theories such as were popularised in the Dan Brown books).

** interestingly the Dan Brown books are still on my ‘to be read’ list of books, I’ve seen the first movie but not read the books as yet **

Society may be a rebellious child shouting at ‘the Church’ and straining at the leash to be free.  “You stop our fun!  You hate sex!  You hate gays!  You hate women!”

Society believed it had killed God many years ago, and now it’s trying to stamp on the grave…

 

Do you ever have a quiet giggle to yourself over the danger of this strategy?  It is a little like poking the sleeping lion (or perhaps the sleeping mummy after you’ve kept waking her up every 40 minutes overnight!)

God isn’t dead…

And God is watching!

 

I remember a rather long but amusing joke I heard a few years ago…

There’s this burglar who breaks into a warehouse one night.  The burglar’s made a plan, he knows when the night watchman has his break, knows where the cameras are… all those shenanigans. 

So he’s padding gently about, looking for things to steal and sell on.  Then he here’s this voice, “Jesus is watching you!”  The thief turns round, but there’s nobody there, so he continues and a few minutes later he hears it again, “Jesus is WATCHING you!”

The burglar’s getting more than a little twitchy now and wonders whether he should get out of the place right then and there.  He hears the voice again, “Jesus is watching you!” and he begins to suspect someone is winding him up, so he replies “who are you?  Where are you?”

“Behind you, over here!” The burglar strains to see where the voice is coming from, he certainly hasn’t heard anyone else come into the building.  “Who are you?” he asks, to which he hears a reply close to his left ear “Moses!”  The thief whirls round to see a parrot on a perch in the darkness.  He chuckles to himself and says “that’s an odd name for a parrot!”

The parrot responds, “not as funny as ‘Jesus’ is for a rottweiller!”

 

Perhaps the question to ask of society’s attempt to brand the Church as irrelevant poses some important questions…

  • Who / what do they believe the Church to be?

I personally see the Church far more as a group of people, a family – Church provides me with love, support, guidance, friendship, fun among many other things.  “Church” to me is no more the building or an institution any more than a school is the building.  One of the oddest experiences as a new teacher is to be in school at the start of a year; there are no pictures on the wall, no displays of work, chatter of children… the atmosphere is entirely different.  Creating a good and positive learning environment is one of those things I constantly work towards – and I view the Church in a similar way.  Church is the smile from the welcoming team, the chat while getting tea & squash, making plans for Christmas, charity (we’re supporting the Christmas Child shoebox thing), thinking ahead to the summer.  Church is praying for those we care about, for those ‘in the Church’ and outside the Church… Church is so many things which cannot be contained in a negative newspaper article!

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honour her husband. [Ephesians 5.29]

  • Why do they want Church to be irrelevant

Things which are branded ‘irrelevant’ are not considered important.  The rain pouring down is irrelevant in my decision to go to work, it’s not important enough to stop me… that’s compared with perhaps my daughter being poorly and needing alternative childcare or a trip to the doctor.

Society wants Church branded irrelevant because then they can ignore it, they can ignore what Jesus did (WWJD is just some cheesy Christian wristband isn’t it?), they can demote God to a swear word.

There should be a consistency that runs through us all. For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself. [Hebrews 18:8]

God, and Jesus and faith and all that – well that’s something to turn to when you’ve had your fun.  When you’re old, and about to die.  It’s not relevant to today – the Bible was written all those years ago!

“Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there’s life in you yet. But I wouldn’t know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God’s work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God. “If you pull the covers back over your head and sleep on, oblivious to God, I’ll return when you least expect it, break into your life like a thief in the night. [Revelation 3:2]

Today I think I’ll take some time out in the evening, against the backdrop of All Hallows Eve to pray for those who don’t yet recognise Jesus in their lives… because it is a matter of life or death.

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{October 30, 2011}   Moving on (1st look at apologies)

The beautifully illustrated and written book “Zen Shorts” by Jon J Muth features a story about carrying a burden…

Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”

Although zen readings are (I believe) linked to Buddhist beliefs, nevertheless I feel that other spiritual writing can be of interest in any spiritually aware life – irregardless of the personal beliefs you hold.

I think we can find biblical parallels with this story of setting down a load permanently; first I think of the story of the adulterous woman (John 8v1-11).  Things I notice about this bit

  • Lots of people were ready to accuse & condemn this woman

Jesus had been at the Mount of Olives but he returned to teach in the Temple and “Swarms of people came to him”.  Can you imagine this bustling busy 1st century temple, how busy it would have been?  Jewish law maintained that regular sacrifices had to be made in the temple, sometimes on a daily basis so there was no way this would have been a quite contemplative place.  So, in full view of everyone the religious leaders pull in this accused woman, announcing her misdeeds.

  • Jesus was wholly righteous, he could have condemned this woman…

…but he didn’t!  He asked if someone, anyone, could come forward and say “I’ve not messed up at all”, he invited the person who could say that to condemn this woman.  The only one who could, in good faith, accuse and condemned the adulterous woman (whom the religious leaders claim was caught red-handed) was Jesus.

  • The only one who can accuse and condemn us is Jesus…

…but he doesn’t!  Now I’ve spent a decent percentage of my young adult life effectively feeling fairly guilty for some of the poor choices I’ve made, and the paths I’ve walked down so this one is a bitter pill for me to swallow.  I want to argue back at it, ‘but Lord, Father, you can’t mean me!  But what about…’  I can see him saying ‘yeah, I know about that… and that…but it is finished’  There’s something me that sometimes still wants to argue … but as I try to get deeper wrestling with God’s word I’m trying to more and more let the truth of tetelestai sink in.

  • We are forgiven, but we need to stop doing what we did before.

It’s been said before, but repentance, saying sorry to God means a complete turning around.  Now, moment of personal honesty here, I’m an ex-smoker… ex for just under a month and I’ve tried quitting before so I’m not hanging up any banners about it just yet.  But, it was as if smoking was the thing from my ‘old life’ I was keeping back for me.  As if I was saying ‘okay God, I’ll go more regularly to Church because I like the worship and it’s good for my daughter, I’ll stop the children in my class saying omg [this is still a work in progress] and I’ll live my life for you… but I’ll do it with a cigarette in my hand.’

That’s not really how repentance, and being a ‘prodigal’ works now is it?

Saying sorry means the actions as well as the words; I try to impress this on children whom I teach.  Saying sorry for talking over the teacher means very little if they continue to do so.  Likewise, apologising to another child for not letting them join in the game whilst continuing to ignore them in the playground does not work.  I try to do this with my own daughter, who knows the word ‘sorry’ and usually knows when it’s appropriate to say it (and can be quicker to apologise than her own mummy!) but this doesn’t always mean the behaviour she apologises for stops (she’s only 4 so she’s learning all this).

As I try to educate children, my own and those I am responsible for I need to remember in my own life that apology without actions is just paying lip service to social conventions… and that’s the kind of ‘ritual’ I think really sticks in the divine throat… he looks at the heart and wants meaning.

1 Samuel 16:7
But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”



Today’s Bible Reflection for women from BibleGateway landed in my inbox (you can read it here).  It really struck me, firstly because it once again burst that bubble that I sometimes find myself in the I’m the only one who thinks like this bubble (it’s not far away from the teenage bubble I had of It’s all about me!)

I have made poor decisions in the past.  I have experienced situations that I wish I had not.  But, I don’t generally have regrets… everything I have done / experienced has affected the person who I am today.  As I read about being a ‘reflective practitioner’ as part of my M Ed. I become more aware of possible causes/factors in the person I am today.

But I think I’ve become sometimes too stuck in the negative thought cycle of “I am what others have made me” at times without truly considering either …

  • my active role in who I am (the past, present and for the future)
  • whose image I am created in (and whose likeness I aspire to imitate)
  • what has been done for me (and what the appropriate response to that event may be)

I identify at ties with the woman in this reflection, the contradiction between wanting to just curl up with your child and be in love with them, and not quite at times feeling worthy of such a precious gift…

But who declares me ‘unworthy’?

What does God say about me?  I just found these Bible Affirmations and I think I may well have to find out some way to put them up in my room so that I can think about a different one every day, or a different one every week.  Actually the GP recommends that I devise a form of ‘positive mental toolbox’ to help myself in low moments, perhaps these affirmations would / could be a good part of that?

Back before Easter this year I had a tattoo done.  Not my 1st, and I know that Christian opinion is split on them, but I think God is love and gave humanity a gift for creativity… but that’s my opinion.  The tattoo is ancient Greek, tetelestai meaning “it is finished” or “paid in full”… the final words of Jesus on the cross.  Perhaps this is something I need to absorb deeper than skin deep when I doubt and accuse myself, I need to remember that things are no longer hanging over my head…

…but that’s not a 1-way process, the next big thought is how do I honestly respond to such a gift?  I guess it’s something I’ll spend the rest of my life doing.

But biblical mantras / affirmations … are they a good & useful thing to get into?  Or do we risk inventing another ritual without much meaning or heart?  Because from the gospels I think Jesus wasn’t a great fan of that whole thing.  Hmmm something to think about!

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{October 27, 2011}   Creative prejudice

I was made aware of this article by my good friends at the Heritage Arts Company, they posted this article regarding Vimeo’s latest ruling on computer gaming.  I thought it was quite an interesting read, and the argument put forward in an eloquent and articulate manner.  But do have a read and see what you think.

My discussionHere’s my brief discussion/rant on the issue – admittedly I know little about the video gaming world, you will see that I describe myself as a ‘lay person’ in this arena.  But what I’ve noticed in young children is no joke.  When asking children to describe events over the summer holidays many seemed incapable of moving beyond the essential and basic facts.

I’m not alone in commenting on this colleagues working in early years have noted that the children struggle to devise games and activities of their own volition.  They appear at times to be unable to use their initiative.

If video killed the radio star… does the computer game kill imagination?

Surely this is a scary prospect when we live in a rapidly changing world.  As a teacher I know that I am effectively preparing the children whom I teach for jobs, careers and professions which simply do not currently exist.  If we flick through job adverts and descriptions employers rarely seek (or claim to seek) employees who might work as automotons (no, robots have already claimed those variety of jobs) but people capable of using their initiative, meet needs before they are recognised and to work without direct supervision.

So how are computer games, DS’s, brain training software equipping our children and ourselves for the future?  Are they an addition or a detraction?  Do we return to the dilemma of “because something is then we may argue that it should be“.

And one of the thought-provoking conversations I had with a child regarding a long car drive over the holday…

Me:       Ooh, that’s a long way in the car… did you see lots of interesting things on the way?

Child:   I don’t know… I was watching a dvd.

Sci-fi tells of a fantasy world where machines have the upper hand, it never mentions how we turn our own children into them…



{October 19, 2011}   Role Model

Over the last week there’s been a reasonable amount in the press about Dr Fox MP –  I can agree with some of the sentiments expressed by him about the “hounding” of members of his family (the elderly and children allegedly) and I’m not entirely sure that the collected media has a right to sit in judgement over individuals (particularly since the phone hacking scandal) an interesting point is raised.  Those in the public eye ought to be seen as role models.

I don’t hold to the sentiment that those in politics or other ‘professionals’ are a different sort of people (it seems easy to lapse into a ‘them and us’ scenario), but precisely because they are no different to you or I they should demonstrate a kind of role model to which others might aspire.  I can’t (and I won’t) get into the details of the Dr. Fox situation, I don’t really know them, or him.  In a way though, despite being found to have broken ministerial code there is something redeemable in the character Dr Fox presents… he did something wrong, he ‘fessed up, he apologised and he took on board the consequences of his actions.

It’s hard to take the punishment or come to understand the consequences of our actions – harder still to see that sometimes those consequences stretch further than ourselves.

As part of my on-going study and training I’m undertaking an M Ed. the current module is all about becoming a ‘reflective practitioner’ (which is partly the inspiration for trying to get myself into some form of discipline over keeping a journal).  The module, from my initial readings, seems to be about personally examining events within your classroom to ask ‘why’ things happened as they did, and to discover differing possibilities of how things might roll in the future.  It also requires a degree of self-examination, asking of yourself why you responded in a certain way.  The readings (so far) suggest that we all bring our own values/attitudes/experiences/perspectives to the table when we enter the professional arena (and that’s not limited to just teaching) but just as we do the pupils/children/clients/customers/colleagues also do… some situations can result in ‘clashes’ just because we’re coming from differing perspectives.

So I’m trying to think (as part of all this) how I can learn to be a better role model in the way I express myself, explain things and respond to people (children and adults) in the workplace.

There’s been some interesting discussions of late where I work; surrounding behaviour of children and those attitudes / sentiments we unconsciously condone or support by tacitly accepting them as “well that’s real life”… I wonder if it’s ‘ok’ to use that line, to argue that point?  Hand on heart, I don’t feel that just because something ‘is’ we can always successfully argue that it ‘should be’ that way… the tough but is navigating those two frontiers – drawing from what we know, and what we are given and progressing / improving / challenging / extending into what things could be.  But all the while that striving needs to be tempered with what God says should be…  As Robbie Williams sings “I sit and talk to God, but he just laughs at my plans…”

But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

[1 John 3.2]

Me, being me, I did a quick search for what the Bible may have to say about being a role model; there’s bits about being ‘models of goodness’ (Titus 2.1), we were made for ‘God-modeled love’ (1 Corinthians 6.16) and not trading God in for the latest model (2 Chronicles 13.10) but I thought 1 John just hit the nail on the head.  Again, as I read it can be challenging – we become like those we hang around with… you can sometimes see it in people who’ve been married a long time, or close friends, or even characteristics between parent and child which are not always genetics.  Makes me think, who do I choose to spend time with?  And, how much time do I make to actually ‘be’ with God?  If he’s what I say I am aiming at and for, then do I walk the talk?  The words of Steve Chalke from a Faithworks talk years ago when I was a teenager ring in my head at times like this “The words are easy… but the actions are hard.” 

I’m challenged as I read this and work on writing this, and understanding my thoughts on these matters… I need to make sure that I don’t allow these thoughts to be lost, I don’t want to run the risk of shooting these ideas into the vast emptiness of cyberspace and fail to let them fill me, fill my life and my actions.  But everything now is like a heavy beat, urging me on – and you may not believe it, but it’s a heavier beat than any I heard in my raving days…

But that, the raving days, is another story… and I should shower before The Fades comes on BBC3!



{October 17, 2011}   Hello world!

Inspired by the blogging of my good friend girltaristhan at http://rockangel.co.uk I thought I’d give this blogging thing a proper go.  So yes, I’ve tried the odd bit on and off, but nothing really stuck – now having enjoyed what others have shared and from reading some academic articles on keeping a reflective journal I thought it could be worth a try.

I received today a new daily devotional message from www.biblegateway.com for women; you can find the original at the bottom of here, but please do sign up at the website if it’s something you’d be interested in receiving…

Genesis 19:1-26 is not exactly light reading… it’s quite literally the fire and brimstone stuff of the Bible… the bits of God that we don’t often preach on a 1st date.  It’s a challenging text, I’vwe read it before andI always find it challenging.  I love the forgiveness aspect of God, the God of Romans 8 where nothing can ever separate us from his love.  The God of Genesis 19 appears to be rather different… He found this place on earth so devoid of love, this place which had turned so far away from what God hoped for his creation and God made plans to wipe it out.  God had declared this place utterly wrong – he heard the bargaining pleas of Lot but he couldn’t find anything worth saving in the place.  (But he still listened to Lot before he passed judgement).  If God = love, and God declares a place, a situation, a person, an activity to be not of him… what does that say about what is being judged?

Read the passage and think on it yourself.

“So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters.  He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought that he was joking.”

The Life Application Bible comments on v.14…

Lot had lived so long and so contented among ungodly people that he was no longer a believable witness for God.  He had allowed his environment to shape him, rather than he shaping his environment.  Do those who know you see you as a witness for God, or are you just one of the crowd, blending in unnoticed?  Lot had comprimised to the point that he was almost useless to God.  When he finally made a stand, nobody listened.  Have you become too useless to God because you are too much like your environment?  To make a difference, you must decide to be different in your faith and your conduct.

What I find most frightening, most challenging about this whole passage isn’t in fact the judgement passed on Sodom and Gomorrah, or the punishment – but this verse 14 before any of the sulphur, the fire or brimstone takes place.  The nightmare situation here just has to be the moment Lot’s sons-in-law laughed at him.  I’m not married, but I believe that in marriage it’s 2 families joining together; in dating and becoming engaged to another I have to believe that you at least respect (even if you don’t immediately become attached to) your future in-laws.  Here these young men, these boys laughed at Lot when he passed on God’s warning about what was going to happen to the place they lived…

People laughed when he spoke of faith, and of things unseen.

The powerful message though is that, despite the laughter, Lot stuck to his guns.  Lot acted on his faith, he demonstrated the beliefs he held and left the place he knew.  The story also shows up a lack of trust in Lot’s wife, failure to trust in God, “to lean not on your own understanding” as in v.26…

Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

She looked back on what God had declared to be bad, and worthless.  I feel this passage as I’m about 2 weeks into quitting smoking (& it’s not the 1st attempt) and I have to say I’m taking 1 day at a time and winning.  The 1st week was pretty harsh with cravings, but I genuinely feel more bouncy and wide awake through not doing it.  But there are moments when I think back, even though I know the risks and consequences related to the habit (it has been declared bad by the auithority, and there is evidence to back that assertion up).  But my smoking was almost the thing I was holding back from God, I said to God (essentially) I would do anything for love… but I won’t do that…  But as I heard at church the other sunday, God is about surrender, about not looking back.  The Life Application Bible comments on v.26 with…

Lot’s wife turned back to look at the smouldering city of Sodom. Clinging to the past, she was unwilling to turn completely away.  Are you looking back longingly at sin while trying to move forward with God?  You can’t make progress with God as long as you are holding onto pieces of your old life.  Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6v24: “No one can serve 2 masters.”

So I’m moving on and not looking back…

I don’t intend all my posts to be Bible based in such a text based way, I hope these will be generally what takes my interest… I’m aiming to get into the discipline of writing semi-regularly and seeing what comes of it.  Today this just piqued my interest and seemed like a reasonable kick-off point.

 



et cetera