homes .. not halls

the-word-homeI have been struck in the news recently by a lot of discussion around how we support refugees and others that are homeless and need support. There has been a good response from churches who have been talking about making use of empty church buildings or empty church houses or even halls and stuff like that. While that is a positive response I am not sure it is the correct or best response.

I will try to explain my thinking with a hypothetical situation. Take, say a family from a war torn country arriving here in need of shelter. We are aware of an empty house in one of our towns and we house them there. They know no one. They are in a new land. They are trumatised. They are in a new country with new customs, new rules, a new language. I wonder if this approach results in a continuation of a feeling of isolation. It is definitely a step in the right direction … but is there more we can do … is there more that God might require of us?

I believe people seeking shelter need more than just a building …. all of us need connection with the rest of humanity, all need to know they are accepted, loved, cared for … wanted even to add to the community we find themselves in . Living alone, where you know no one, can simply generate isolation and feelings of rejection, no matter how best the intentions.

Maybe, instead of our halls, we need to be offering our homes?
Maybe, instead of placing people into our empty sanitised buildings, we need to invite people into our messy cultural rich loving homes.
Maybe we need to open our family life and invite others into it.
Maybe ‘finding somewhere’ is easier than ‘inviting in.’
Finding empty buildings for people may be an easier option … inviting a family to live with you, and learn about culture and community with you, to eat together and learn together is a much harder thing to do.
Inviting people in, though,  gives a more solid footing to growing in community … it is just that for many of us it is so hard to do.
I include myself in that …. but it does not stop the niggling feeling that we should be doing more.

What does this mean for me? I don’t know!
What about for our church HT on the Peninsula … again I don’t know!
What do you think … any comments on this … am I way off the wall in this thinking?
Homes or halls?


practical wisdom – ordinary people

seattle pub theoThis new term has seen me experiencing a coupe of ‘firsts’ or, maybe more accurately, new challenges. The first is that, as well as chaplain, I have agreed to teach three GCSE Geography lessons a week at one of the schools I am a chaplain at.

This week I will be lecturing at SEITE (the place I trained at) for this term on mission. I will be teaching the module on a Tuesday evening in Canterbury while my good friend and mentor, Ian Mobsby, will be teaching the same module on a Monday evening at Southwark cathedral. Ensuring we deliver the same content has involved hours of Skype conversations … and we are now ready to deliver the first session which looks at Models of Mission and context for theology and mission.

I’m more daunted than I am excited by this new challenge, although I hope that might change.

While planning, I have been hit by some quotes and viewpoints that we are using in our teaching. I love this quote from Richard Mouw:

“High theology is aloof from the needs of ordinary people dealing with loss, health, depression and so they turn to folk and New Age practicers which offer an account of and techniques for dealing with their concerns.
There is practical wisdom to be found in ordinary people.
Examine popular culture for a legitimate critique of the shortcomings of theology that has so distanced it from people struggling to believe
We must probe the hidden places: looking for the sings of eloquence and grace to be found there; listening for deep calling unto deep; searching, not only for the Deeper Magic, but also for the Deeper Quests, the Deeper Pleasures, the Deeper Hurts and the Deeper Plots.”

I simply love and shout ‘YES!!!’ at the line … There is practical wisdom to be found in ordinary people.

We are all created in the Image of God. It therefore follows obviously that each and every one of our ordinary lives displays some form of wisdom from God. The fact that some wings of the church choose, or actively campaign, to deny this with certain people groups is not only sad, but it results in the church losing the beauty that comes with the wisdom from those ordinary people. The church cannot be complete until it truly listens to all.

If theology is aloof it follows that it becomes irrelevant. Too often we see, particularly in the Roman Catholic church today, this aloofness of theology and practice that excludes or belittles or disregards. When challenged they use the line of ‘tradition and theology’. But … theology is not a static concept … it can’t be if it claims any relevance …. to be relevant in ever changing times then theology and practice need to ‘upgrade’ to continue to be relevant. This upgrade is called contextualisation!

But I love Mouw’s comments for more than that ….. for Mouw seems to suggest that the starting place requires us to watch and to listen. Listening for deep calling to deep …. not a listening to hear things that fit with our prepackaged answers ….. but a listening, that if done with integrity, engages in such a way with our thinking that it can be totally transformed so that theology returns to being relevant and compassionate again.

‘One of those ‘hidden places for me is the pub I visit on a Friday evening. Each week I see incredible signs of grace and eloquence. This last week, as I sat at the bar with the landlord and landlady we experienced lots of acts of grace from the regulars which drew the comment … ‘this is how a pub should be’ … I responded ‘its a community’ which they agreed was probably right.

For real genuine engagement … we need to listen … and listen for signs of eloquence and grace … and I find that usually …. it’s in the unexpected, deep hidden places where we are surprised by, and meet, such things.

Gospel Cocktails

imgresI love it when I come cross news of other peoples creativity helping people connect with God in some way. I used to work in a church down the road from Tina (aka Portishead Pilgrim) and so I have been keenly watching with interest to see what God does here.

Tina writes here about using cocktails to introduce people to the life of faith. Read both articles here and here …. well worth it … go read and be inspired.

wait … look … learn

Mark Berry has started to blog again over at CMS community and mission.

I partcularly have liked his recent post, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic as I think many will find this helpful. As for me, personally, I had not thought of this defining part of our liturgy in terms of relationship. I am particularly struck by Mark’s definition of ‘apostolic’ as being ‘about our relationship with context, with the world and with God’s KIngdom in it’.

I think that hits it on the head for me. Relationships take time and a relationship with our context, the communities we find ourselves in, possibly take longer to develop, than a relationship with another human being. Getting to know one person, to understand what makes them tick, to earn trust and to trust can take an age. How much longer with a whole community of lots of persons responding and relating to each other?

It takes a lot of patience and time to really listen and to learn from the place we find ourselves in. I think it takes a commitment and a vulnerability of great cost which you are not really aware of until it hits you. That costs is a cost of time, a cost of reputation,  a cost of misunderstanding and sometimes, as I speak from personal experience, a cost of (losing) friendships. But it is worth it.

I shudder at quick fix solutions. Over the last four years I have had many conversations and people have seemingly been looking for quick fix ‘secrets’. But there are none. If we are really going to ‘reach’ people with the gospel we cannot expect a quick fix one size ‘something’ to be right for every person in every community. One size does not fit all, we do not all need or want exactly the same thing, despite what many advertisers try to tell us! But … it is easier to take something ‘off the shelf’ or use something you have seen working down the road and get instant results than it is to simply wait, look and learn.

But …. as apostles … as those looking to build relationships with our context … waiting, looking and learning is all we really have.


nothing to be afraid of

It’s been an interesting few days … and I seem to be making endless excuses for not blogging as regularly as I used to or would like to. I guess part of this is that mission, as I see it, that is: getting alongside people and listening and attempting to be an expression of God’s love in a variety of circumstances sounds grand …. but actually it is just me being me and listening, and sometimes responding, to people in a way that it is helpful to them.

In my reflections today I have been thinking more on inculturation. I believe if my faith is to be meaningful today then it has to relate in a significant and authentic way with my culture. The new developing community of people who call ourselves the gathering speak of our faith informing our experience of the world and our experience of the world informing our faith. This is both serious and important to us. A faith that cannot relate to my world is irrelevant.

Different cultures express themselves and faith differently. God, to be God, must be God of all cultures. If that is true, and I believe it is, then it is clear that faith and the living out of that faith will feel and look very different in different cultures. I think it then follows that lifestyles will be different depending upon how those different cultures interpret and are able to express their faith.

A long while ago I remember coming across the Christ we Share pack. The pack illustrates how Christ has been depicted in art in different cultures. Some of the pictures are challenging to our stereotypes of what Christ must have been like. These pictures are, however, an illustration showing how different cultures understand and relate to the Christ figure. Christ, like faith, needs to be in the prevalent culture to be both noticed and relevant.

If people are going to travel their journey of faith with integrity, then there is a requirement for that journey to be understandable within that culture. It makes sense that the same faith can look very different dependent upon the culture that faith expression is sitting within. In the past such stuff have caused concern – but if God is God of all (and if God isn’t then God can’t be God!) then this diversity should be welcomed and embraced.

As we seek to travel together in the gathering we long to travel in a way that embraces, welcomes and cherishes the culture(s) around us. There are loads of groups/churches/organisations/collectives that exist together because they agree about everything. I believe the love of God within creation really flourishes in groups of people that choose to travel together despite not agreeing on everything because they acknowledge that we all bring something unique and valid. I hope that is what the gathering becomes.


Coldplay were amazing last night.

My first time at the O2 arena for a gig and it was simply outstanding. Being part of 20 000 people united in our love for the music of one particular group of artists was just a great experience.

A highlight of the evening was when Coldplay decided to sing a couple of numbers at the back of the arena on a makeshift mini-stage, amongst the people who just happened to but their tickets there. As well as having the surprise of the band playing right next to or in front or behind them they also had the added of bonus of a surprise appearance by Simon Pegg who played the harmonica – it was great. This was all started by a cry of ‘how are you all at the back’ from Chris Martin. It was a real ‘moment’ of joy and the people sitting there had a wonderful surprise – a real gift!

Another great moment was the descending of giant yellow ballons during the singing of Yellow – shown in the middle picture – very cool!

I could make reflections on this based on my current reading of Caputo…. but I’m just going to enjoy the Coldplay moment for the while!

Cheers Darrel – this was a fantastic time!

Lure of the East

I managed to catch the Lure of the East exhibition at the Tate Britain last week.

The guide to the exhibition starts:

Private travel from Britain to the Middle East was rare before the 1830s, but travel for warfare, diplomacy, trade and religion had been going on for centuries. While outside Europe, these early travellers and residents assumed ‘Oriental costume’ for different reasons. Many believed themselves to be safer when dressed similarly to local people, while more academic visitors often wished to appear incognito in order to facilitate their researches; others did so out of a love of ‘fancy dress’, while still others wished to signal a committed solidarity with the culture whose clothes they put on.

After visiting the exhibition and being terribly civilised with a pot of tea in the members room, I reflected upon those words and got to thinking on mission and the church. Seeking to be in culture but not of culture puts us in the same position as these early traders.

It causes me to ask ‘Do we ‘wear’ culture to feel safe, to be unnoticed as we carry out research, because we wish to appear trendy or because we feel a solidarity with the culture we seek to reach?

It’s an interesting and necessary question – and its a question where I hope my answer is the last one, but how can I be sure it is none of the other three, which seem pretty negative and/or lack integrity for me. To ‘wear the dress’ of culture to fel safe, to be incognito, or to look good do not sit easily with me as I seek to reach the people of this culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As I contemplate this ministry (10 weeks and counting to ‘O’ day) I was planning to be thinking a lot about how to be in but not of culture – I need to add to that the question of why I want to wear the culture at all.