Sunday, 5 April 2020

What are we applauding for?

In Spain, the country where I am currently residing, there has been some noise made about the hypocrisy of the daily balcony applause. Some say, it's no good clapping if you are not going to vote for those that protect public services, it's no good clapping, if after all this, nursing staff continue to be undervalued and over-worked. It's no good clapping if you don't know what the consequences are or are not prepared for them ...

And on this Palm Sunday I was reminded of another group of applauders, those that enthusiastically ushered the entrance of Christ into the city of Jerusalem. But did they know what were they applauding for? Like so many of us today, they were looking for an answer, a hero, a salvation from their current circumstances. Indeed Jesus possessed these attributes, but not in the form that ultimately pleased crowds. Much like our NHS heroes of today, his salvation would involve sacrifice, 'greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends'. There was no quick fix solution on offer either: 'if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes' said Jesus to his expectant onlookers.

So what was it? What was it Jesus, that would have brought them peace? I am inclined to think that it was to choose the way of a servant, to love their neighbour and give a chance to the hopeless, to become caretakers of each other and the world, to recognise Christ in their fragility instead of fighting for dominance.

So yes, I do applaud the health service and believe that these humble public servants are worthy of our upmost thanks and respect ... And I applaud the Christ and invite him to come ... But when the noise of the clapping dies down, will I have the heart to join Him and those servants, who on their bleeding knees, are paving the way for a new world?

Saturday, 16 December 2017

The envelope challenge

Advent is a season of doors, of openings, of a million little surprises... Anticipation, hopes fixed on an arrival. Underneath hope there is longing, underneath longing, dissatisfaction, the sense that something is fundamentally amiss, a question that the heart doesn't stop asking... What could arrive, what could arrive to change it all?
Awaiting a child of promise is not exclusive to the Christian tradition, many religions understand there is a destiny over certain people to bring a special message to the world.
So I return to the envelope as a meditation. Imagine the envelope carries the answer but what is the question? What is the deepest longing of my heart? What is the message that the world needs to hear to put things right? and then imagine, imagine opening it!
Now I imagine you are a shepherd, poor and weary, in ancient occupied Palestine awaiting, maybe not even believing anymore that change will come and suddenly an angelic message comes to you in the cold night. 'Unto us a child is born.' And now you find yourself in an underground cave staring at this strange gift, a child of promise wrapped in cloth, silent as an unopened envelope. What will he do, what could he possibly say, to make any difference to these darkened days?
Stay there, stop and stare, until you find the question that is most deeply lodged in your heart.

In Christian understanding what sets Christ apart from other prophets is that he did not bring to the world only a message, but a Person, the very Heart and Spirit of God, and in doing so He opened a door into a new dimension. 'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us' John 1v14

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Pro active

If evil is active, goodness must be too.
Good actions build good relationships, good lives, good societies, they have the power to eliminate evil. But it makes me wonder how often are my actions genuinely good? What do you think a good action truly is? When we describe people as good what do we mean? 
Goodness for me is often linked to consistency, honesty and sacrifice, looking to the needs of others and acting in a way that brings lasting benefit.
If I am honest my actions may be often be entertaining, friendly, or creative but I am not sure how good they are. In the same way that evil acts done in selfishness have destructive effects, good actions through unselfishness must create deep rooted and positive changes, one step at a time.

Perfect timing

Today my thoughts turned to the concept of time and how may different ways we experience it. Being on time, in time, out of time, time wasting, time lapsing, time sharing, time flying, pushed for time, playing for time, winning time, biding our time, spending time, passing time, taking our time or loosing it. Life often feels like a chaotic soup of hopes and guesses, decisions, hesitations achievements and failures swirling through time with the clock constantly ticking. Yet sometimes, just some times, an event, a meeting, a happening takes place that seems to come from somewhere else, a place of perfect timing...
In Greek philosophy there is a word for it : 'kairos' the opportune moment in which something occurs and it came to be understood by Christian theologians as the timing of God. It is this sense of the word that is employed in the verse :
Romans 5v6 ' you see, at just the right time, when we were powerless, Christ died for the ungodly' 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Something that changes everything

As i stepped out into the snow today I remembered why as a kid I anticipated snowy days with such eagerness. Mainly because of the higher probability of having a day off school, but that was just part of the wider sensation that a snowy day could just come along and change everything. Your timetable, your view, your play, your attitude even!
It proved to be as true today as back then! When I saw the same sparky look in the eyes of my local coffee shop barista, we broke into a flurry of enthusiastic conversation. I smiled knowingly at the people I walked past in the street, I walked slower...
Before Christ's birth the people of Israel, amongst others, were waiting for something, someone, who could come along and change everything. Looking back it's fair to say the arrival of the little babe Jesus to the world changed quite a few things!! But not necessarily in the way that was expected.
On a more personal level I know Christ has changed everything for me, sometimes I take it for granted, I guess sometimes I need to look out of the window of soul again like a little kid and wait for him to come along like a snowy day :-)

La salida de la casa hoy, pisando la nieve, me hizo recordar por qué, como niña, anticipaba días de nieve con tanta ilusión. Por la mayor parte era por la probabilidad incrementada de tener un día sin cole, pero esto solo formaba parte de una sensación más profunda, que un día de nieve te podría venir y cambiarte todo. Tu horario, tu vista, tu jugar y hasta tu actitud!
Se probó igual de cierto hoy que en aquel entonces. Al ver la misma mirada brillante en los ojos de la barista en mi cafetería local, nos emocionamos hablando. Sonrisas comprendidas al pasar a la gente en la calle, y paseos mas lentos ...
Antes del nacimiento de Cristo el pueblo de Israel, entre otros, estaban esperando a un algo, a un alguien que podría cambiar todo. Mirando atrás se puede decir que la llegada de ese pequeño Jesus ha cambiado bastantes cosas, pero igual no de la manera que se esperaba.
Hablando a nivel personal, Cristo ha cambiado todo para mi, a veces no lo tomo en cuenta, a veces necesito volver a asomar la ventana de mi alma como una niña pequeña y esperar su venida tal como un día de nieve!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Disguises3 - The church

So my next question, and probably the one that inspired this whole series of thoughts, is this: How do you recognise the church?

I was sat in a church meeting the other day, a great band were playing on stage, there were the words on the screen, coffee was served at the beginning, people smiled and said hello. I guess for some this would be quite an atypical experience of church, but to me it was familiar, all too familiar. There was nothing wrong with what was going on, but I realised that in my head these familiar sights had come to be what I recognised as church … when in fact they are but vestments of something far bigger and far deeper than what can be contained in an overhead projector. And do those clothes even fit anymore?

Let me explain: in my previous post I described the idea of God hiding his message of love to humanity in the form of a man Jesus. The man disguise was very specific, it allowed those who sought him from the heart to find him, it dignified the outcasts of society, it inverted our concepts of power and invited us into deeper communion with our Creator, it showed us how to be human. According to the bible, when Jesus ascended to heaven, he deposited not only his truth but his Spirit in the hearts of believers in order to continue transmitting his message to the world. The church, the body of believers, the new disguise.

It’s normal then to see that the outward appearance of church looks different across the world and has changed much over the centuries. This is all well and good, if the wrapping paper doesn’t become the gift. Who, apart from cats and toddlers, unwraps a present and then throws away the present in favour of the wrapping paper? Or worse, to take the analogy further (maybe too far) which one of you, seeing that the present is the wrong shape for the wrapping paper, would break the present in order to fit it into the wrapper? Or indeed who of you would get so obsessed with the wrapping paper that you gradually forget about the gift and don’t even bother including it.

Church is not buildings, or lights, or screens, or candles, or stain-glass windows, archbishops or electric guitars, or seats even. It’s Jesus wrapped up in people, people wrapped up in Jesus, that is, the real bloodstained, dusty footed loud laughter Jesus who carried the weight of heaven in his pocket.

That is why I think as communities of believers we need to regularly shed our cultural skins, question our beloved formats, change our ways, our songs, our clothes, lest people mistake them for Christianity. This is about creative stripping. This is about getting back to the deep roots of the faith and letting new shoots grow. This could look like so many things … but it must always smell the same, it must always smell of love and dust and blood.

Disfrazes 3 - La iglesia

Así que la pregunta siguiente, y probablemente la que inspiró a toda esta serie de pensamientos, es esta: ¿Cómo se reconoce la iglesia?

Estaba sentada en una reunión de la iglesia el otro día, ungrupo de musica muy bueno estaba tocando en el escenario, venian las palabras en la pantalla, el café se sirvió, la gente sonreía y decía hola. Supongo que para algunos esto no es una experiencia tipica de iglesia, pero para mí sí, era familiar, demasiado familiar. No había nada de malo en lo que estaba pasando, pero me di cuenta que en mi mente estas vistas familiares habían llegado a ser lo que entendí y reconocí como la iglesia ... cuando en realidad no son más que vestiduras de algo mucho más grande y  más allá de lo que se puede contener en un proyector. ¿Y esa ropa que llevamos todavía nos cabe bien?

Me explico: en mi post anterior exploré la idea de como Dios ocultó su mensaje de amor a la humanidad en la forma de un hombre Jesús. El disfraz hombre era muy específico; permitió encontrarlo a los que lo buscaba del corazón, se dignificó los marginados de la sociedad, inviertió los conceptos de poder y nos invitó a una comunión más profunda con nuestro Creador ... nos mostró cómo ser humano . Según la Biblia, cuando Jesús ascendió al cielo, depositó no sólo su verdad, pero tambien su Espíritu en los corazones de los creyentes, para continuar transmitiendo su mensaje al mundo. La iglesia, el cuerpo de creyentes, el nuevo disfraz.

Es normal, entonces, que el aspecto exterior de la iglesia se ve diferente en todo el mundo y  que haya cambiado mucho a lo largo de los siglos. Esto esta todo bien y bueno, mientras el papel de regalo no se convierte en el regalo. ¿Quien, menos de los gatos y niños pequeños, desenvuelve un regalo para luego tiraarlo a la basura en favor del papel de envolver? O peor, empujando la analogía más (tal vez demasiado), ¿quienes de vosotros, al ver que el regalo tiene la forma que no va con el papel de regalo, rompería el regalo con el fin de encajarlo mejor? O de hecho, ¿quien llegaría a ser tan obsesionado con el papel del regalo que se le olvidase poco a poco del regalo ni siquiera se molestarían a incluirlo?

La iglesia no es edificios, ni luces, ni pantallas, ni velas, ni vidrieras, arzobispos o guitarras eléctricas, ni siquiera asientos. La iglesia es Jesús envuelto en las personas y las personas envueltas en Jesús, quiero decir, la verdadera Jesús manchado de sangre y barro, riéndose a carcajadas y llevando el peso de los cielos en su bolsillo.

Es por eso que creo que como comunidades de creyentes, necesitamos arrojar regularmente nuestras pieles culturales, cuestionar nuestros formatos queridos, cambiar nuestras costumbres, nuestras canciones, nuestra ropa, para que las personas no los confunden con el cristianismo. Este consiste en estriptís creativo. Se trata de volver a las raíces profundas de la fe y dejar que crezcan nuevos brotes. Y esto podría tomar muchas formas ... pero siempre ha de oler el mismo, siempre debe oler de amor y de barro y de sangre.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Disguises 2 - The hidden message

In my last post I spoke about the idea of God wrapping himself up in humble humanity in order to deliver his message to us. But the disguise didn’t stop there, the message itself was often hidden under a veil of stories and parables, secret encounters and miracles that he told people not to shout about. I have often wondered why.  Why make a message we so desperately needed to hear so elusive?

For us, in an age of Instagram and T.V evangelism, where influence is power and power is truth, it seems strange to take such a low key approach, what kind of marketing campaign was Jesus trying to run? The delivery of his radical message was not so much hard sell as hard buy.

And that I think is the point. The form that Jesus’s being and message took hid its importance from some, but not all observers. By choosing the way of humility and serving the poor and rejected of society, Jesus steered away those who only sought status and political power. By speaking in parables and answering in questions, Jesus confounded those who only sought an argument. By presenting hard hitting challenges to disciples and critics he filtered out those who were only looking for quick fix solutions and by asking people to remain quiet about his miracles (slight fail) he was avoiding a stream of sensation seekers.

So after that rigorous and unconventional selection process, who was there to hear the message? Would I be?

In order to answer this question, I’d like to suggest that Jesus smelt. You know those smells that unlock a memory buried deep? I’d like to suggest that Jesus smelt of something to amnesiac world, of something they had gone long without - the company of truth and love. It was the smell of the garden where God and man used to walk hand in hand, the smell of the dish that your mother made to let you know you were home safe.  Jesus’s life smelt to the soul and those with a keen sense of smell, unfettered by image and with an overwhelming hunger to eat once again of that favourite childhood meal, would follow him. Soul food.
Somehow Jesus had to deliver this liberating take away to hearts without getting stuck in ego traffic. An ego knows how to win an argument, but a heart knows how to interpret a story. And so it is that the God Man smuggles truths into our hearts. Before we have time to rationalise it, we know we are already there; in the weedy garden, at the banquet table, or walking the long road home with the prodigal son.

Disfrazes 2 - El mensaje escondido

En mi último post hablé de la idea de que Dios se envolvió en humilde humanidad con el fin de entregar su mensaje a nosotros. Pero el disfraz no se detuvo allí, el mensaje mismo se ocultaba muchas veces bajo un velo de cuentos y parábolas, encuentros secretos y milagros que decía a la gente de no anunciar. A menudo me he preguntado por qué. ¿Por qué hacer un mensaje que tanto necesitábamos escuchar, tan difícil de acceder?

Para nosotros, en una época de Instagram y la evangelización en la tele, donde la influencia es igual al poder y el poder dicta la verdad, parece extraño adoptar un perfil tan elusivo, ¿qué tipo de campaña de marketing estaba Jesús tratando de lanzar? La presentación de su mensaje radical no era tanto la venta dura como la compra dura.

Y yo que creo que esto es el punto. La forma de ser y el mensaje de Jesús ocultó su importancia de algunos, pero no de todos sus observadores. Al elegir el camino de la humildad y el servicio a los pobres y rechazados de la sociedad, Jesús alejó a los que sólo buscaba el estatus y el poder político. Al hablar en parábolas y responder en preguntas de Jesús confundió a los que sólo querían una discusión. Al presentar retos y verdades difíciles a ambos sus discípulos y críticos, filtraba a los que sólo estaban buscando soluciones rápidas y, al pedir que la gente se callase acerca de sus milagros, estaba evitando la popularidad con los sensacionalistas.

Así que después de todo este proceso de selección riguroso y poco convencional, quien estaba allí para escuchar el mensaje? ¿Estaría yo?

Con el fin de responder a esta pregunta, me gustaría sugerir que Jesús olía. ¿Conoces esos olores que te llevan un recuerdo profundamente enterrado? Me gustaría sugerir que Jesús olía a algo en las narices de nuestro mundo amnesiaco, de algo que le faltaba desde hace mucho tiempo - la compañía de la verdad y el amor. Era el olor del jardín donde Dios y el hombre solían caminar de la mano o el olor del plato que tu madre cocinaba para hacerte sentir que llegaste seguro en casa. La vida de Jesús tiene un olor para el alma y los que tienen un buen sentido del olfato, sin poner trabas, o mucha hambre para comer una vez más esa comida favorita de su niñez, le siguen. La comida del alma.

De alguna manera, Jesús tuvo que llevar su mensaje liberador a los corazones sin quedarse atascado en el tráfico del ego. Un ego sabe cómo ganar un argumento, pero un corazón sabe cómo interpretar una historia. Y así es que el hombre de Dios pasa de contrabando sus verdades a nuestro corazón. Antes de que tengamos el tiempo para racionalizarlo, sabemos que ya estamos allí; en el jardín de malas hierbas, en la mesa de banquete, o en el largo camino a casa con el hijo pródigo.