Category Archives: culture

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Melbourne Calling

Dear friends, I am doing a number of international speaking trips in the next few months. Whenever I am travelling I am always keen to make connections with people who have a passion for working with vulnerable children. Last month I had a very helpful meeting in Cape Town with a whole bunch of people from a range of churches and agencies including Message Trust South Africa, Arise Ministries,  Hill Songs and Jubilee church. We met to explore what might be done to engage the church with the the huge fostering and adoption needs across the city. I shared a bit of the Home for Good story not that we might have a franchise in another country but just to see if it might spark a local movement that is appropriate for the South African context. We had a great conversation and I ask for your prayers as a fledgling network develops in Cape Town. Next month I am travelling in Australia with the National Youth Ministry Convention. I am going to be in Brisbane (6th of November) , Perth (8th of November  and Melbourne (10th of November). I will helping to equip youth leaders and workers in equipping young people for Anti-fragile faith by drawing on my book Paradoxology. If you know anyone that would be helped by this do encourage them to book in.

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The generous people at NYMC have pulled together a couple of meet ups form in Melbourne. The first is with  theological educators on the Novmber 10th I’ll be sharing a bit about London School of Theology and exploring partnership opportunities as well as picking the brains of my Australian friends on how they see the future of theological education.

In Melbourne and a special lunch to meet ministry leaders with a passion for working with vulnerable children and so we’ll be sharing the Home for Good story and again learning from those that come insights that will help our UK team in our work to find vulnerable children adoptive and foster families.

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If you can think of anyone that would like to come to that ( spaces are limited as there is food involved )please drop me an email or Facebook or Twitter message or post a comment below.

Finally on the way home I have some time in Singapore and will be doing some work with OMF there then meeting up with the Home for Good Singapore network. Again if you know someone that should be invited to our gathering let me know. Here are the details.

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Meltdown on Bake Off

Anger management lessons from Ian Watters

Apparently it wasn’t just the sponge layers on the Tiramisu that involved dodgy cutting last night on the BBC 1. The editing on last night’s now infamous edition of The Great British Bake Off may have unfairly pointed the finger at Dianne Beard (69) for sabotaging the amateur baking competition. The show depicted Dianne taking Iain Water’s ice cream component of his Baked Alaska out of the fridge at a crucial stage in the preparation. It lead to a gloomy mess rather that Ian threw in the bin rather than present to the judges. Iain’s reaction lead to him being ejected from the competition as he failed to present anything to the judges for their evaluation.

Like many of the viewers of the programme joined twitter to protest his treatment.

 

But I have been reflecting on what happened and want to commend Iain for the way he conducted himself. I think there are four lessons about handling anger that we can take away from the show.

  1. Take yourself in hand

I was impressed that Iain showed incredible self-control by taking himself out of the situation. Rather than reacting with vengeance, as I might have been tempted to do – there was a flamethrower and meringue swans close by. Walking out of the glare of the lights to compose and gather himself was definitely an excellent way to handle the pressure.

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  1. Take the time you need

My mother always had a count to ten strategy when things were getting a bit heated. It gave her the thinking time she needed to get herself together rather than losing her cool in the heat of the moment. Too often in the heat of the moment we react rather than respond. After retreating to a safe distance to gather his thoughts Iain came back a more composed person than when he left.

  1. Take responsibility

Rather than spitting with fury and rage and making sure the other bakers got their “just desserts.” Iain didn’t point any fingers at anyone else, he took responsibility for what he had done wrong in the situation. I found that very inspiring.

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  1. Take a bit of perspective

Now that the weeks have passed since this particular incident was filmed. Iain could have been steaming away with anger like a pressure cooking ready to explode. But instead he has gone out of his way to be gracious and kind to his other bakers – including Dianne. He apparently phoned Dianne to make sure she was ok and even tweeted support of her as the twittersphere was lighting up with anger. In the end this is a amateur baking competition and people are more important than cakes. Iain models something powerful in his gracious and measured response to this situation.

 

I would love to see Iain being given his own show perhaps called “Appetite for destruction” or “Meltdown “ where he helps people handle their anger management problems. What say you friends?

 

 

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Not too late for a new theological adventure

What a Summer it has been. I have just come back from Momentum a massive conference for 20 somethings that takes place in Shepton Mallet . Its the last of the events in the New Wine &  Soul Survivor family of conferences on the site this season.

Packed in for an exposition from Ephesians at LPO.
Packed in for an exposition from Ephesians at LPO.

It will have been one of the last major events that I speak at as an Evangelical Alliance Director as I have just taken on two new jobs. It gave me opportunity to reflect a little on the transition. As I have had the honour of working for the Evangelical Alliance these last 7 years I have travelled the length and breadth of the UK and met so many people hungry to go deeper in their relationship with God, eager to relate their faith to their professional work and life and passionate to serve God in their communities and churches. When the opportunity to become the President of London School of Theology came up it seemed a natural next step to try and respond to that hunger so many people are feeling for depth in their relationship with God.

Powerful talk from Katherine Welby-Roberts about God and Mental Health
Powerful talk from Katherine Welby-Roberts about God and Mental Health

Theological education is an opportunity to think hard and deep about God’s word so that we might know God better. I have been writing and speaking a lot recently about the need to push beyond the simplistic answers and so it has been exciting to see packed out seminars at Keswick and Momentum this summer with people young and old wanting to invest time to beef up their theology. Hundreds had to be turned away at both festivals  this summer as we literally could fit everyone in the venues as we did some serious theology together. There was always a queue of people wanting to discuss rich theological questions afterwards whether it was about how to interpret scripture, how to answer friends’ difficult questions or how to reconcile difficult theological concepts together.  I also spent a week teaching at Le Pas Opton in France and decided to try and stretch guests there by taking a look at theology, technology and the book of Ephesians and tackling the book of Esther in the evenings. I was so encouraged to find all ages hungry for more of God’s word.

The hunger is there – maybe its in you too?

Great chat about space, time, free will  on the paradoxology sofa
Great chat about space, time, free will on the paradoxology sofa

So I would like to invite you to come and study with us at LST.

It’s not too late and we have a range of very exciting programmes. Let me just mention two to start with:

BA in Theology

Why not make your first degree one in theology, its not too late to get into the programme this year if you act quickly. come and study at the largest theological college in Europe with a great faculty and students from all around the world.

MA in Integrative Theology

I love this programme. This is theology for the digital age – as academically credible as possible but now more accessible than ever before. Study completely online or mix it up and spend time with us at college. Choose from seven exciting specialisations: Social Justice, Christian Worship Studies, Old Testament, New testament, Systematics and Public Leadership to get an MA in theology that will do you good and equip you to do some good in the world. The MA is flexible enough to allow you to study full or part time anywhere in the world. 

There’s still time if you act quickly to come and join us here at LST this academic year.  We’d love to help you on your theological adventure.  

The amazing photos from Momentum on this post are by Alex Moyler .  

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The Evacuation Spirit

It was the “biggest and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain’s history.” It began on the 31st of August  1939 saw around 3 million people move from the dangers of the cities to rural towns and villages to escape the Nazi bomb attacks.  It was codenamed “Operation Pied Piper. ”  Four days later Britain declared war on Germany and World War Two began. This year marks Operation Pied Piper’s seventy-fifth anniversary.  As they boarded trains travelling out of their home cities, the children did not know if they would ever see their parents again. Yet on reaching the countryside, they were received by families who opened their homes, often at considerable sacrifice. For many from poor inner-city homes, it was their first experience of a healthy, well-nourished life. 13854_s

Three quarters of a century later, we must rediscover the welcoming generosity of Operation Pied Piper. We do not face air raids, but today there are thousands of children who need homes and families. In England alone there are six thousand children waiting for adoption and another eighty-six hundred need foster care. In 1939, even men and women who could scarcely afford it welcomed children – many from difficult backgrounds – into their homes. We need that spirit today. We need women and men who will step forward and put the needs of the vulnerable children in our towns and cities first and look to see if they could be the parents that these children need in their lives.

Borison Johnson, Mayor of London agrees and offered Home for Good the following quotation:

The Second World War saw children in their thousands evacuated from the capital and taken into the care of families around the country. The 75th anniversary of Operation Pied Piper is an opportunity to remember the kindness of those who willingly provided a safe haven for those young Londoners. It should also remind us that thousands of youngsters today, in the capital and across the country, are also in need of a loving home and I urge more people to consider fostering and adoption to help them get the start in life they deserve.
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London​

We also have been gifted this amazing replica poster by graphic designer: Katie Frearson. Of course fostering and adoption is offering more than a spare room to a vulnerable child. This is a replica of an evacuation poster – evacuees needed more than a spare room they needed love and security too. The poster is designed to be a bit provocative – hopefully not offensive – to make people look at their lives and homes and see if there is room for them to show the hospitality that vulnerable children need.Home_For_Good_Poster_A3_2_pdf That’s why we have started up Home for Good. Seeking to help find loving homes for vulnerable children in the UK. Today; 1st of September 2014 marks the first day that Home for Good exists as its own organisation.

I wonder if you might help us commemorate this day and this important anniversary by being one of  75 regular donors to set up a standing order to help us find the finances we need to change the culture in the church and the nation on fostering and adoption

Already we have seen amazing things happening: We have managed to put the message of adoption and fostering face to face to over a hundred thousand people. We saw generous donors help us find the £30 000 start up costs we needed to get going. We saw 200 churches take part in the first ever adoption Sunday last year.  In 2013, churches in Southampton set out to find 40 new foster placements for the City Council. In one year, more than 70 people applied to become foster carers. We are now working with groups of churches and local authorities in towns and cities throughout the UK to run similar campaigns. I have met literally hundreds of Christians who are fostering and adopting children who are grateful for Home for Good’s championing of this opportunity. We are delighted by the response we have seen already.

So will you stand with us as we help every child that needs one to find a Home for Good.  Click here to be part of way we, together can make a difference. 

 

To celebrate Home for Good launch day. I am giving a way a bundle of Home for Good and Paradoxology RT the tweet below for a chance to win.

 

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3 dangers in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2

3 dangers with interpreting this passage

As a young Christian, I became convinced of a complementarian position when it came to women in leadership. In any argument 1 Timothy 2:11-12 was my trump card. It was so clear that anyone who disagreed was clearly denying the authority of scripture and was driven by a culture-pleasing and ultimately liberal agenda. Though I respect my many friends who hold a complementarian position due to their reading of scripture and their conscience I have changed my mind. I am not alone in this change: Howard Marshall, Chris Wright, John Ortberg, Ron Sider and Bill Hybels have made the same journey. In such a short article it’s not possible to solve all the controversies surrounding this passage, so I’ll merely ask some framing questions to help us navigate the pitfalls this verse creates.

Here’s the passage in question:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

 

  1. Edit 1 Timothy 2:11-12 out of scripture, dismissing Paul as sexist

All scripture is God-breathed. That means it carries the weight and authority of God behind it. Some of my complementarian heroes accuse egalitarians of not taking scripture seriously. To be honest they have a point: but only about some egalitarians. I have heard many times that we can ignore Paul because he was obviously a misogynist. I have also heard people argue that we can ignore Paul and prioritise Jesus. But this is not an option for an evangelical egalitarian because of our doctrine of scripture. The scriptures are not a random collection of the thoughts and suggestions of certain ancient people as to how one might like to do church. No, we believe that scripture is breathed out by God which means that when we ignore scripture we are ignoring God. Paul is not speaking his own views or opinions – he is being used by God to communicate His word to God’s church.

  1. Use 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as a lens through which to interpret every discussion of women in leadership

J.I. Packer argues clearly that “scripture must interpret scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others”[1].

We don’t try and interpret a Bible text in isolation – we need to allow the rest of scripture to inform and temper the limits of the interpretation of a text. For example: Paul talks about the baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29– it would be wrong to build a theology of posthumous salvation from this verse when the scriptures are silent on this issue. Of course, holding the whole of scripture in our minds when we interpret any one part is difficult to do.

 

3. We ignore the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the letter itself

This verse is more complex to interpret than immediately meets the eye.

i) No one believes that a woman’s salvation is guaranteed through physical childbirth – the climax of the argument in v.15.

ii) I have yet to visit a church that consistently applied the prohibition of gold jewellery for women (v.9), the lifting up of hands for men in prayer (v.8) and the restriction of women from leadership roles (v.12). There are clearly time bound contextual elements in this passage that do not apply across all times and all cultures and universalising one without the others is very selective.

iii) An argument back to creation is not a deal-closer. There are two problems with arguing the mention of Adam and Eve means this is a creation ordinance. First, Paul argues from creation that women should cover their heads in worship and that men should uncover their heads in worship (in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9), but most interpreters understand the specific issue of head coverings is culturally and time bound and so does not apply today. Second, Paul’s argument is also from the Fall – it is at the Fall that Eve was deceived and “became a sinner” and the events of the Fall are being undone by the redeeming work of Christ. Also when it comes to the Fall the rest of Paul’s reflections do not pick out Eve as more culpable than Adam. (see Romans 5:14).

Finally, the specific challenges Paul addresses in the letter cannot be ignored.

As Scholer argues: “1 Timothy should be understood as an occasional ad hoc letter directed specifically towards enabling Timothy and the church to avoid and combat the false teachers and teaching in Ephesus.”

Paul’s prohibition of women in leadership in 1 Timothy was due to the specific challenges Timothy faced in Ephesus. For me this makes sense of the ministry that Paul encourages in women such as Junia, Euodia, Syntche and Priscilla. I remain convinced that those women that God has called and gifted for leadership roles within the church should be encouraged and empowered to use these gifts to the glory of God.

[1] Packer, J.I. (1958) Fundamentalism and the Word of God, IVP, p.103

This blog was first published for Sophia Network’s blog.

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You may also like:

1. Tim Keller, women in leadership and ignoring your own rules.
2. Learning from women in leadership – inspiring quotations from women leaders.

Photo credit Photoree. Alyssa L. Miller

 

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#Pray4Dawkins

Poor old Richard Dawkins. I am thinking about starting a new Twitter campaign #pray4dawkins. He has landed himself in yet another social media storm. But this time I couldn’t let it pass. So forgive me if I rant a little…

Hot on the heels of comments about date rape and his refusal to back down when challenged on Twitter, he has now offered parenting advice to any that will listen.

 

Look at the following Twitter exchange:

 

Notice the tone of the tweet.

Abort it – cleverly dehumanising the foetus. It’s not a person, but an object. Not murder, just termination.

But the kicker comes in the next line – it would be immoral to bring it into the world. Well at least he isn’t arguing for a consumeristic situational ethics: ‘If you don’t fancy raising a child with a genetic abnormality then chose for yourself.’

No, Dawkins has no place for this kind of relativism. He asserts categorically that it is immoral. So anyone who has carried a child with Down’s Syndrome to term and lovingly cared for the child until adulthood and often beyond as many people with Down’s Syndrome do not go on and live independently, has been immoral.

Dawkins shows his true colours. It reminds me of Friedrich Neitzsche’s book The AntiChrist where he criticises Christianity for resisting the will to power by instilling pity and compassion for the weak and the needy.

For example Neitzsche writes: “Pity preserves things that are ripe for decline, it defends things that have been disowned and condemned by life, and it gives a depressive and questionable character to life itself by keeping alive an abundance of failures of every type.”

It wasn’t long ago that Dawkins was arguing that religion was a virus of the mind and his friend Christopher Hitchens argued that religion poisons everything. Today we saw another side to life without God: human beings reduced to biology, people discarded if they don’t measure up to a certain standard.

Dawkins once described God as the worst villain in all fiction because Dawkins misunderstood Old Testament texts, thinking they promoted genocide. Well there’s a gaping inconsistency that sees Dawkins advocating genocide – wiping out anyone with an additional Chromosome 21. Sounds like if Dawkins had his way 40 000 residents of the UK who have Downs would not be in the world – that sounds a lot like genocide to me.

Dawkins argued in later tweets that autistic people should not be terminated because they are able to contribute to society.

How benevolent of him.

We are back to the utilitarian balloon debates and Dawkins is in charge of the seating arrangements. How do we judge who has made a contribution? If we are to be judged by our contribution to society I haven’t come across that many people whose lives have been made better because Dawkins has been involved whereas I had the privilege of being the foster parent to a beautiful young girl who had Down’s Syndrome. We poured love into her life from when she was only a few days old until she was three. When the time came for her to move on to adoption we hosted a party in our house and more than 80 people came. There were many tears as she left because so many people in our small town had had their lives enhanced because this little girl had touched them. But even if she hadn’t of made other people’s lives better, I believe every life is valuable irrespective of their utility. See a piece I wrote for World Downs Syndrome Day. 

Which other genetic groups should be eradicated from the planet? Perhaps Dawkins would argue that brown people should be next because they don’t make as great a contribution to society as white people? He did recently declare that Trinity College in Cambridge had more Nobel Prize’s than the entire  Muslim population. Perhaps we should IQ test in vitro and see if they measure up before we permit them to be born? Which other genetic abnormalities need to be purged from the gene pool? Dawkins once argued that we are DNA replicating machines – I am guessing people with a homosexual orientation don’t farewell under a Dawkins fuelled eugenics programme either as its hard to argue they will make good DNA replicators. I have always wondered how Dawkins managed to reconcile “survival of the fittest” with universal human rights, I guess we are finding out now.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Article 3 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Another disciple of Neitzsche’s nihilism managed to get enough power to put these notions into action 75 years ago. I for one will be doing everything I can to make sure that all children born into this world find a loving home – atheists are welcome to help if they can find a way to live better than Dawkins’ philosophy suggests. I will #pray4dawkins that he “goes away and learns how to” love.

Ok that last bit might have gone too far, I do want to engage with Dawkins, my anger of his upside down morality not withstanding. I genuinely call those who are up for it to #pray4dawkins – no one has strayed too far to know the compassion of God.

 

Photo credit (CC) Annikaliegh Flickr

 

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 You might like this post on “5 Reasons Why Dawkins Should Know Better”. 

 

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Learning from women about leadership

I know it’s a little ironic, but I have been asked to lead a seminar about women in leadership. Full disclosure, I am not and never have been a woman.

I have decided to take the opportunity and to look for ways that women’s voices can be heard in the seminar. I am also hoping to co-chair the seminar with a woman. I decided to do the seminar because I believe in the conference that asked me to speak – they have a brilliant heart and a wonderful vision and also because I believe passionately that we need to empower women to lead at every level.

I didn’t always believe this; as a teenager a proofext from 1 Tim 2.11 was all I needed to close down the debate. I have learnt a lot about biblical hermeneutics and reading scripture in its canonical and cultural context since then. So I am leading this seminar from the perspective of someone who is absolutely committed to the infallibility of scripture and to women in leadership in the church.

I really want to include as many women’s voices in my seminar as possible and so I would  love your help. I have had some terrific responses when I asked the question on twitter.

I found the responses very moving and challenging (see below to read all of them) . Here are my reflections on the tweets I’d love to know your views – I am of course open to suggestion and correction. 

Three things I have learned so far…

1. Leadership Humility

I was struck by the gracious and humble tone of the advice. So many of the contributors encouraged patience and kindness towards those who opposed or rejected women’s leadership. I wish I could see more of this evidenced from people on both sides of the debate when they write about this subject – perhaps it is there but I have been reading the wrong stuff. Wherever we stand on this debate we need to approach this subject with grace and humility.  We are family together and  scripture calls us to be exemplary in the way we handle disputes and debates among us.  For those of us that oppose women in leadership we  need to recognise that the tone and language used to express your views can crush someone who is trying to follow God’s call on their lives to use their gifts. Leadership is often lonely and isolating and attacking someone’s honest and faithful response to God’s call is a dangerous thing to do. This is not just a theological issue : someone’s call to leadership is linked directly to their sense of identity. Similarly for those of us who support women in leadership we need to recognise that for those that don’t agree with us – this is often a question of conscience  for those who oppose us. It is a dangerous thing to ask another Christian to act against their conscience and we act carefully as we seek to persuade someone to change their minds. I was moved by the maturity and generosity of those who offered comment on my twitter question as they encouraged other women to be patient and gracious with those that stood against them.

2. Leadership Integrity

I found this tweet and many of the others like it very enlightening.  There were a lot of calls to be authentic, to be true to whom God has made you to be. I found these words encouraging as it is vital for all leaders to understand the right balance between knowing whom God has made us to be and how we live into that calling with the ongoing challenge of resisting the sin in our lives. 

 

Too often we overemphasise sin to the exclusion of our God given identity or we overemphasise our identity to the exclusion of the sin in our lives. Now some people will say we should find our identity in Christ and not in the role we have received from him and I do understand that. But the New Testament knows about the intertwining of call and identity – Paul writes:

” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

1 Corinthians 9:16ff

I was moved by so many of the tweets that emphasised the need to be true to yourself in light of the opposition that so many women have faced to taking on leadership roles. It seems that many for many women leaders their identity has been challenged or dare I say oppressed by those that stood against their sense of call as leaders. I remember as a twenty something having a strong sense of call on my life to be an evangelist and a leader in my church telling me I should leave it aside and become a school teacher. I found it crushing that call on my life was being doubted how much worse it must feel to have large groups of the church oppose so vehemently so many womens’ sense of call on their lives to lead.

3. Leadership and Accountability

There were a lot of tweets that emphasised the need for support and accountability. For me that is where groups like Sophia Network have been so helpful . I loved the tone of Rachel’s comment:

I know that when I have felt isolated and criticised I have sometimes responded by  stopping listening to anyone’s advice or critique and to assume that I am always right – to become self-righteous. Rachel’s tweet is rich with wisdom encouraging us to find genuine friends both male and female to speak truth into our lives. Rachel; who has been a family friend since I was a teenager, is a terrific leader and   models the humility this tweet suggests.

You can read all of  the responses below:

(Photo was adapted with text but taken from JustArd’s lovely Flickr account)

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Spirit of Paradox

It is not every day you get to meet someone who has helped to start a genuine movement of change and restoration.  So you can imagine my excitement when it came to spending time with David and Mary Pytches – the couple who helped to birth both New Wine and Soul Survivor.

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David and Mary returned to the UK with four young daughters after serving as cross cultural missionaries in Chile.  Unsure what God wanted them to do they looked for a base in Chorleywood, which offered education facilities for the girls.  David was hoping to learn how to run a parish from the Vicar, but the Vicar was about to leave and David was offered the incumbency.  David speaks about his sense of inadequacy and eventually set up a daily early morning prayer meeting.   From this time saw an increasing number of people added to the church.   Mary recounts how they faithfully retained the liturgy at the same time as being open to the Holy Spirit.

Learning that John Wimber was coming to York David suggested that he call in on Chorleywood on the way.  It was an unforgettable weekend.   Despite very different ecclesiologicol backgrounds John and David hit it off and became close friends.   And soon David was helping John to find organisers for the UK conferences.

I enjoyed being able to tell David how grafeful I was for the Brighton Conference in 1986, where a friend of mine came to faith.  He later stood up in our class at our rough and ready comprehensive school and shared his new found faith in Jesus.  This was Steven Whittington – a key influence in my becoming a Christian.   It was great to learn about a young youth worker from a Baptist church where had run an open youth club, until the local teenagers rampaged the church.  The youth worker was Mike Pillavachi, who later became the youth worker at Chorleywood.

David and I had this opportunity to meet after he had read my book “Paradoxology” –  Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.  David explained to me that it was the title that grabbed him as he had reflected for many years on the paradoxes of scripture which we tend to brush under the carpet, which means our Bible teaching has no real integrity.   David reminded me of Charles Simeon, a great evangelical clergyman and bible teacher who had said

“The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.”

Mary commented on how we tend to cut God down to our size but ‘wouldn’t we rather have a big God’.   Interestingly we talked a lot about the liturgy undergirding our spirituality and both Paradox and Liturgy are things that James K.A. Smith has been arguing for recently.  Sadly many churches seem to opt either for intimacy with God or depth of teaching when there doesn’t need to be a choice.   Depth of true teaching should help us develop intimacy with God and our intimacy with God should drive us towards deeper teaching – it should be a virtuous circle.

David has kindly written a commendation for the reprint of ‘Paradoxology’ which is out soon.  It has some typos and corrections added thanks to those of you who spotted my errors.  The book will be even better  because of you.   David says:  “I have been looking for a book like this for the last fifty years and am so delighted to have found it.”

I came away from David and Mary greatly encouraged.  They are rare people who have experienced so much of God and done so much in His name, and in their seniority are still keen to bless others.

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Why are our hearts breaking for flight MH

With apocalyptic footage of a Ukranian field now filling our screens I wanted to try and reflect on why the shooting down of flight MH17 has had such an impact on us. I am thinking out loud trying to process what I am feeling and so am happy to have your comments and suggestions re-shape what I have written here.

It’s personal

I have many family members in Malaysia, many of whom travel to and from Europe regularly. My first thought was to phone or facebook family and see if everyone was ok. Our family suffered a terrible bereavement when one of our dearly loved Aunties was killed whilst on business in Mumbai in the Taj hotel. She apparently died of smoke inhalation alone her room when the building was on fire. We are all still haunted by how desperately sad her situation was and she is survived by her loving children who are studying abroad. In the global village with friends and family criss-crossing the globe this is a more common experience that these global events actually impact on us personally in some way.

It could have been us

I was trying to separate out whether it was just this possible personal connection with the events that has put a knot in my stomach. But following the reactions on social media, this awful episode has caught the imagination of so many people there must be more to explain this. I think the fact that most of the people that died on flight MH17 were Europeans who boarded an ordinary flight from a major international hub airport.  As Summer holidays begin today across the UK many families are boarding planes to exotic locations and so the proximity of these events rings true.

In one day 200 people were killed in Nigeria when a bomb exploded in a marketplace – this caused merely a ripple of media or social media interest – but to be honest I think that is because there is too much geographical, racial and social distance between most of us and the kind of people that lost their lives for the same emotional impact to be felt. Few of us are going to go and by our groceries in Joss for this to be impactful. Sometimes global events reach such dire proportions that they transcend the fact that they can’t possibly touch us – for example F16 bombers attacking a beach in Gaza where four young boys were playing or a Tidal wave wiping out whole Japanese cities or a militant islamacists abduct 200 school girls.

Another tragedy for Malaysian Airlines

This fact shouldn’t matter. There is no indication that Malaysian Airlines did anything unusual. It appears many airlines use the same route. Although questions are being raised about why so many other airlines chose to avoid this area and the extent to which economics played a part in determining routes instead of passenger safety. But the concurrence of two total loss disasters to one relatively small airlines makes this story particularly noteworthy. Business people have expressed a degree of sympathy with Malaysian Airlines for this double whammy.

Civilians caught in a War Zone

I wonder if the real reason this event has caused such anguish and will prompt global international outcry is because these civilians had nothing to do with the conflict. But civilians die in war zones every day. In Israel and in Gaza. In Afghanistan and Iraq. But these civilians didn’t mean to be in a war zone – neither do most people caught in conflict.

But you might argues that these civilians were not actually in the conflict zone they were 33 000 feet above it. But that perhaps is the symbolic challenge of the global outpouring of grief and pain towards those who have lost their lives under such terrible circumstances and the families that grieve them. Those of us who make up the minority of global citizens that can afford air travel often behave as if we are somehow detached from the suffering of poverty, injustice and conflict that are a normal part of life for so many people. Just as the terrible events of 9/11 showed the US there is no way to isolate ourselves from global conflict.

As the on board entertainment system displays a little aeroplane to demark our location as we cross the globe the people on the ground whose lives we are passing over are invisible to us. Its interesting watching the countries pass by underneath us. We cruise on by. Similarly the military personnel on the ground that spots a radar blip passing through the airspace above his BUK SA-11 gadfly medium range ground to air missile system. He doesn’t see impact that pressing a button is going to have on the scientists going to try and help end the AIDS epidemic. He doesn’t know that a family that a Malaysian family has already lost members this year when MH-370 went down will grieve yet another loss. He is not even present when the debris falls and the disintegrating plane and dismembered bodies hit the earth. So often the powerful make decisions that mean life or death for the poor and we  think can remain unaffected by the consequences.

Israeli airstrike kills 4 Palestinian children in Gaza

Human beings are not counters in a game of Risk. Passengers sitting on a flight are not acceptable targets. Children playing on a beach or people living in a certain part of Israel are not collateral damage for a political system or even an ancient narrative about land rights.

Risk

As a Christian I believe in a God who refused to play power politics like that. Who treated even the most socially marginalised people as worthy of respect and honour. Who showed mercy to the ethnic enemies of his people and indeed used them as positive exemplars. I believe in a God who didn’t look down at the earth as a google map but came and took on human flesh, lived among us, “moved into the neighbourhood” he didn’t drone strike or missile attack his enemies he healed their families and challenged his followers to love them. He didn’t breeze through places ignoring poverty , sickness or social exclusion but was constantly interrupting and being interrupted on his journeys to care for those in need.

At this terrible times our prayer and thoughts are with all those who are grieving the crew and passengers of the ill fated flight and for all those civilians caught in the cross fire between Israel and Palestine and in the conflicts in Ukraine and Nigeria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

philwatson

This man is a legend

There are some guys you meet and you know you are going to be friends for a long time, Phil is one of those kinds of guys. He is the kind of guy you want on your pub quiz team not only is he brilliant at banter but he knows his 1980s music trivia.

Phil works as a teacher in his local secondary school. He’s an avid music fan and has spent his youth writing to music magazines and going to concerts. Phil helped to set up and run an innovative youth programme called Kidzclub in Liverpool which saw hundreds of children; many from challenging backgrounds coming together for fun, games and to discover more about the Christian faith. Phil’s wife Helenor works as a solicitor and for social services and felt called to make a difference with many of the children she was working with in her job by becoming a foster carer. Phil admits that he had no plans to become a foster carer but initially got involved because of his wife’s enthusiasm. 3 years in and Phil believes fostering is one of the best things he has done in his life so far. He gets a real buzz knowing that the love he is able to pour into the lives of the foster children in his care has such an impact on their lives. Saying goodbye as foster children move on to adoption is one of the toughest parts of the foster carer’s roles but when sadly one of their children’s adoption broke down Phil and his wife have decided to step forward to adopt him. Phil and Helenor are spreading the word about fostering and adoption by running a city wide initiative to encourage more Christians to think about adoption and fostering – called Home for Good Liverpool.

You can hear Phil speaking here:

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

 

Phil is going to be on local radio stations across the UK on Sunday; Father’s Day speaking about being a foster dad and the Home for Good campaign. Tune in and cheer him on!