Monday, 27 April 2009

The acceptable face of apathy?

Over the last year or so I've become incredibly impressed by the tireless efforts of one person who has taken two causes by the scruff of the neck and harnessed social media to push the issues onto individual agendas.

Lance Laifer has championed the causes of malaria and pneumonia both on and off line with remarkable consequences. The 'March of Washingtons', for example, has seen $85k donated (although this is by no means just about facebook) so far whilst thousands of people have joined the Facebook groups, causes and events.

And as far as any of that is concerned I'm not aware of his being spurred on by anything other than the fact that at least 300000000 (three hundred million) people will contract malaria or 4000000 (four million) will die from pneumonia this year.

Reason enough I think you'll agree.

This Saturday just gone was World Malaria Day and as a small way of participating and showing support and solidarity it was suggested that people blackout their Facebook and Twitter profiles. Not requiring anything more than people taking 5 minutes to change their profile pic.

I've been annoying people by inviting them to causes, groups and events as well as giving my 'Status for Humanity'. Unfortunately, only a handful bothered to do anything about it.

Understandably not everyone checks their social media every day but at a weekend the vast majority will at some point.

It's disappointing that more people didn't join in, not because people don't care of that I'm sure but because it's not a priority, because after all it's only something on Facebook or Twitter and for a number of my friends I'm not really bothered.

The problem I have is with the Christians.

There isn't an excuse for not being involved with these campaigns. there's nothing anyone could say to me that would lessen the importance of raising awareness and helping to combat diseases that cripple the poorest in the world. Nothing.

Fortunately global attention is getting to grips with Malaria, it's getting the kind of funding that could start to make real inroads. The global economics shouldn't change that (check to see how plentiful our lives are) so maybe lives will start to be saved.

So the grassroots focus is switching to pneumonia. When I was invited to the cause it was a no-brainer to join. Pneumonia is a big deal. Bigger than I had registered. Just visit to see. So I looked at my friends and I saw some influential people, other Christians with time and resources, passion and compassion and cherry picked the people I invited.

The response has been rubbish.

This is not an invite to play Attack, it's not getting you to see which fictional character you're most like, nor is it even an invitation for any sort of financial or physical commitment.

It's an invitation to stand shoulder to shoulder with people in need. Bluntly, that's why there's the church. That's why God sent His only son. That's why we are involved as a body. To roll up our sleeves and see people's lives transformed. And to take a lead that shows the world the incredible love of God and the power of grace.

For sure there's an incredible amount of prayer going on but far more often than not God is going to use people to answer them. People like Lance who put the Body of Christ to shame. Is ignoring online campaigning ok? Is ignoring non-church instigated action an acceptable apathy?

I don't think so...

Friday, 24 April 2009


The first thing I blogged was a introspection on where I am and how life felt a bit inert. By the end I'd reached a conclusion that inertia is a negative way of looking at waiting. But that actually waiting is trusting in God knowing the best route.

And it appears he does.

At our church weekend one of the congregation had issued a call to prayer for people involved in local government/public policy, basically those involved in shaping society. He invited everyone to the 7am Tuesday prayer meeting to encourage and be encouraged. Unfortunately I couldn't go because I have to be on my train but instead chatted to Phil about how frustrating it was to fall between the two stools of Hull and York.

So, fast forward to this week and I return to the office to find an email waiting for me from the Christian who had been on my interview panel. He's an incredibly busy guy so getting in touch with me should hardly be a priority especially given that outside the interview I've only met him once, when he briefed us as part of our induction...hardly presenting an opportunity to share what excites us about knowing Jesus.

Nevertheless, the email said "I was involved in your interview last year...I recall at the time, that you said that you were a Christian, so I wonder if you might be interested in the "kings breakfast" initiative that we started in January. This is a prayer breakfast for those who work in and around the city; we haven't had such a thing in Hull for over 12 years, so it was exciting to see 78 people get together to pray in January. We are doing it again in May, and I wondered if you wanted to come along"

In my first placement there was a Christian, I've passed the invitation onto her too. In this second placement there's a lady who wears a crucifix but I've not spoken to her, this is a great excuse. And just this week one of my colleagues on the Master's degree in Birmingham wears a cross, with obvious pride, around his neck.

Of course people wear crosses for all kinds of reasons, not all spiritual (although I've yet to see anyone wearing a guillotine round their neck, or an electric chair), so they may be red herrings. Undoubtedly as a Christian I'm sensitive towards seeing Christian paraphenalia (I wear a Global Day of Prayer band around my wrist because random Christian strangers might be encouraged by it) and sensitive to seeing God at work. Sometimes, no doubt, we read too much into things, but on the flip side I'm sure we don't appreciate just how much the church envelopes us. The Body of Christ is home to God's hands and feet so it shouldn't be a great surprise that it's the vehicle of answering prayer.

There's riches in patiently chucking prayer heavenward and seeing God-incidences happen. The dividend of patience is in the heightening of faith, in the encouragement of knowing that the small whisper, the faint flicker of insight wasn't just your imagination. That all those other little God-incidences were of Him and that you can move on from being stuck somewhere stagnantly fretting over what comes next to craning forward to peer expectantly into the (still murky) horizon.

There's a lot of joy to be had in experiencing the completion of patience with the hint of more to come!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Equality & Diversity

So last week I had some training arranged at work in Equality & Diversity. I wasn't really expecting it to be a good day. I'm lucky, these are ideas that come naturally to me and so it felt a bit like a colossal waste of time. This wasn't true of everyone.

The course was led by a British Muslim called Pasha who came from Salford and whose family was Pakistani. And he had a tough crowd. There was one individual in particular who behaved in an absolutely repugnant fashion towards Pasha by spouting the worst kind of ill-informed, ignorant, caricatured and evil opinions. If it had been as part of the wider group discussions that might have been better but as it was it was on one side during a break in a very personal manner.

The tragedy is that there was no way that the rest of the day made any impression whatsoever on him. They were his views and he wasn't going to change them. Equality & Diversity covers Age, Gender, Sexuality, Disability, Faith and Race and tragically you'd probably find plenty of people who would suggest that we as the church don't really employ Equality & Diversity in our theology let alone our practice.

Of course there's the obvious claims that the church suppresses women, that Paul was a misogynist and we are entirely a patriarchal entity. Add to that our hatred of gays. And, don't forget the wars for which we're responsible because of other people's faiths or skin colour.

It's not a very nice picture. And it's so far removed from the person of God as revealed through scripture and Jesus. As Christians we should lead the way when it comes to Equality & Diversity. We should be stood at the forefront of this.

1. LOVE.
We're created for relationships, the Trinity is all about the three persons of God entwined together in relationship and you could succinctly summarise the Bible as being about God hunting out relationship with us in spite of our rejection of Him. If we believe that God has made the earth and everything in it (whatever mechanism he used to do that) then it is all to be cherished, people and planet.

When Jesus gets asked about what is the most important commandment in the law he references the Old Testament law; don't bear grudges, love your neighbour as yourself. At the same time, he reaffirms the first three commandments.

Basically, if we're loving God but treating even our enemies like crap we're at odds with God.

And, more to the point, we love in spite of behaviour because we love with a deep understanding and desire for redemption and reconciliation. We love on the basis of our redemption, of the fact that God loved the world so much that rather than make us do something to fix it, he came and restored it. We should know that you don't have to qualify for a Christian's love.

1 John 4 17-21 underscores that, and I make no apology for publishing this beautiful translation from The Message,

'God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us. So that we're free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, 'I love God,' and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both'

God knows us and loves us and made us all as individuals. Christine and I were puzzling over fingerprints the other day and we wondered what the rational position might be. A little googling and the evolutionary case is that fingerprints are all about grip. As for their uniqueness it seemed that the consensus lay in needing to check out chaos theory. All well and good, but grip seems to me to be a perfect example of God's creation ((as seen in this Audi advert) and I'm not satisfied by saying fingerprints are unique because chaos theory shows us that all things are possible.

I'm quite content to see them underlining the uniqueness of a creation which is reiterated time and time again...

Jeremiah 1:5 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.'
Luke 12:7'Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered'
Genesis 1:27'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.'

Fundamentally, as Christians we believe and recognise that every other person in the world is crafted by God, and not only crafted by Him but absolutely, 100%, head over heels, loved by Him.

So, we're uniquely made by God, and we're all about love but people are different, and that means that necessarily there are divisions. Fortunately not, Paul's pretty clear that our first identity is in Christ. It's not whether we're male or female, it doesn't rest in our ethnicity or our sexuality. First and foremost, before anything else, we are Christians.

Galatians 3:28 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus'

And not only do we identify ourselves as such but because of Easter, God looks at us and doesn't see our messed up selves but he sees Christ. Pure, unblemished and equal with Him.

So in Christ we are equal but in Christ we are also diverse. We're called to be different, called to a freedom of expression, called to be individuals of God glorifying Him in weird and wonderful ways. I'm a little bit passionate about how exciting it is to be a part of the church and how, as a body, we each get to do different things, have different passions, think differently, experience differently but to be unified in our equality in Christ.

The boxes of society shouldn't matter inside the church because we identify in Christ and as Christians we identify each other as bits of the body.

This is all very well and good when we're in church and in our nice little Christian bubbles but what about the world. What about a world that doesn't recognise God's creation in all things and doesn't value all individuals beyond their past behaviours? What about a place where war is fought on the basis of theological dispute? Where people are spat at in the street by dint of their physical disability? A place where we're ready to talk about evil but ignore redemption?

If we are God's hands and feet (which we are) then Equality & Diversity is our starting point. We're not interested in what people believe, or don't; in how they act, or don't; we're interested in them as people that God wants to have relationship with. And if God wants to have relationship with them then there's a value in their lives far beyond our understanding.

It's not just Equality & Diversity that this informs, it's how we think about Pluralism. We crave pluralism, but one which recognises the freedom of everyone to be themselves, that doesn't restrict in any way what people believe, and how they express that. If our starting point is to love people as they are then that's far more than tolerance, it's even more than respect. As Micah tells us, God has shown us what good looks like, all he requires in return is that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

If we recognise all people as incredible works of God's hands, love them beyond ourselves and remember that we are all equally sinful and blameless. If at the same time we appreciate being individuals of diversity whilst striving for justice, mercy and humility then the legislative and societal demands of Equity and Diversity begin to be irrelevant.

Maybe, just maybe, if the 3 billion Christians in the world exhibited all that we know to be true then Equality & Diversity training would be a thing of the past.

And whilst that would make Pasha redundant, I hope he'd agree that some things in life are better obsolete.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Love Wins

Today is definitely the greatest day in the year.

It's not about Pentecost, it's not about Good Friday, it's not even about Christmas Day.

What begins in a stable and apparently ends on a hill is rebooted in that empty tomb.

Imagine those three days, imagine if we had an Easter weekend where Good Friday was anything but, where all we knew it to be was the darkest point in eternity. Imagine spending your life in mourning. Imagine not knowing about today.

Without today Christianity doesn't happen. Without today Jesus is a fraud. Without today the world lacks redemption. Without today, we have to rethink everything we know about the last 2,000 years.

It is Jesus' rising from the dead which completes the new covenant. I can potter through Easter weekend carefree, affected by the cross insofar as the empty tomb allows me. I know that it frees us from our sin and turns that dark day on Calvary into the most glorious act of love imaginable. Today I know that in Jesus' cry of 'it is finished' it has only just begun.

Ask anyone, of any belief, what the greatest act one person can do for another and they're likely to say give their life to save another.

The difference in what Jesus did is that it doesn't finish with the dying.

He not only gives His life to save us but His death and resurrection destroys the power of sin and invites us to bathe ourselves in Grace. Not just so that we can enjoy eternity with Him but so that we can live today. Not just so that the Church can sing hymns but so that the World can be transformed. And not just so that we can live quiet lives of desperation but so that we, His body, can be in relationship with God and act as hands and feet to His fragile and hurting but overwhelmingly loved creation.

Thank you Jesus!

Friday, 10 April 2009

My 2 Cents (at the current rate of exchange that's actually 0.014p)

So this evening, Ben and I went to St Mike's to watch a screening of The Passion. Rather predictably, we were about 5 minutes late, so arrived as Jesus was praying in the Gethsemene. This was the first time I'd seen the film and I'm still, to coin a phrase from Alyson, ruminating over it, and thought I'd use my first post to try to make some sense of what I'm thinking. (please bear with me, I'm not always the most articulate and lucid of bods)

I thought it was a brilliant film. Extremely, and unsurprisingly, moving. However, I couldn't quite shake off a strange sensation that the film was almost trying to manipulate my feelings in places, although I'm not entirely sure how... I'm no film buff, so I'm not sure exactly what cinematic story-telling devices were used... and I didn't like the feeling that I almost felt sceptical in places...(is it so predictable that I even feel a teensy bit guilty about that?) Was it that I was too shocked by what was shown - I don't think so. I fully expected a film that was brutally and honestly graphic about the kind of torture our Lord endured.

I think that I felt (feel) that the story is (should be) moving enough without having to employ such cinematic techniques. Or maybe my English blood is exherting it's influence, and pushing me into cynicism too readily. I felt that I should be more upset than I was. In short, I expected to bawl my eyes out. I don't often get emotional at films, only when they are really moving. (most notably, I still to this day can not watch the stampede scene in the Lion King, I have to fast forward past the bit where Mufasa dies - mainly because my dad took me to see the film at the cinema, but that's an issue for another day...) I don't think I'm cold and unfeeling, I was very moved by the film, especially by the two Mary's. But I knew how the story would end, and perhaps that was why I didn't feel as sad as I expected; I knew that he would rise triumphantly from the grave.

I must confess to not an insignificant amount of disappointment that more wasn't made of the resurrection. I wanted them to show more of what happened after and what that means for our world today. Although I suppose there would then be too much to cover in one film (at this point Ben suggested that they produce a sequel - something along the lines of JESUS 2: THE RESURRECTION).

I'm not sure how to end this post, which is in a way I suppose fitting as I'm still mulling over the film. I suppose I'll watch the film again someday, and expect I'll feel completely different.


Good Friday

Inertia (or the noble art of waiting on God)

I am gradually coming to a realisation that I'm a would-be impetuous person. Yes, a contradiction in terms but one that I can't help but shake.

Currently I live in York, I work in Hull and I study in Birmingham. These three things are wonderful as opportunities and experiences but, six months into a pattern of life that will be mine for the next 18 I find it incredibly frustrating not to be able to be more proactive for God.

The wonderful thing about being a Christian is belonging to the church but the greater thing about our faith is the ability to live a life of transformation and engaged with people. Unfortunately, with a working day that starts at 7am and ends at 7pm I don't get much chance to be with non-Christians.

The world is in a bad state but at least outside Europe and North America the church, and God's people, are flourishing. That's not to say there aren't pockets of incredible faith, love, hope and all the rest of it but it is to say that I want to get stuck in. Being a Christian is an awesome privilege, we get to be God's hands and feet, to bring His smile, and to show people what relationship with Jesus Christ looks like.

Not if you don't get out much. Not if your social life revolves around seeing Christians. Not if the only times you leave your house on a midweek are for meetings.

And that's rather the shape of my life at the moment.

Now, I'm not new to being a Christian, I'm solidly brought up in the faith. I've heard all the classic speakers, I own everything Delirious ever produced and for years I've been looking forward to a moment where God would make it blatantly obvious where I should go to live my life.

But I seem to spend my life as a Christian torn. Torn between a heart for a student-aged culture that's full of pain that shouts loudly to me for an immediate reaction, for an engagement that is meaty and for a voice that is loud to point to Jesus and to bring restoration to a culture of sex and alcohol. Or with a heart that is broken for the needs of the Global South, ashamed of our plenty and our merciless greed.

But where was God pointing me? Funding was there for a masters in development, and I was offered a place on the course, but that squeezed out the opportunity to 'do mission'. The year was incredible but is essentially 12 months of theology (good development practice built on valuing people as they are and working alongside them in relational community with a focus on reconciliation and healing). And, at the end of it, the sense is palpably that God is saying 'why run to the next street when people on your doorstep are hurting?'

Why do I need to go overseas to partner with people in their transformative experiences? I don't. The truth is, and not to denigrate anyone who works internationally, that for me to work in an alien culture requires me to shelve much of who I am whilst bringing little more than someone indigenous and, generally, costing more to do so. If I'm really passionate about seeing the world transformed (which I am) then why am I not engaged with a society I understand, that speaks the same language, that eats the same food, that is where the future (and the past) of my family is and, maybe most importantly, is subject to predictably unpredictable weather patterns.

So, a year wasted?

Then a year of preparing to be wed. And a great time of sloth. Yes there was much to be done but I still had plenty of time to Bonus Bag to pay for an awesome honeymoon. Did I sell God short, given the opportunity of a fallow year to really get stuck into issues that I care about but really just temping and living a fairly dull and boring life?

Of course I was applying for work and here again God's throwing me a curve ball.

Jobs come up, I apply. I'm excited by the thought of working at St Mike's but, quite rightly, I don't have the right skill set. I apply for a job at the university to do the work I've done many times during holidays but don't even get an interview to be a porter. A job at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation seems like development but based in the UK. Again, no response, no feedback, no nothing. And then the job in Hull. A graduate scheme in one of the most ill-thought-of cities in the country. And I'm excited. I'm excited by the hope shown by an authority wanting to transform the lives of its citizens. I'm excited at the prospect of being part of a transformative agenda, an agenda that embodies so much of Jesus in its very being. And I get past the telephone interview, past the assessment centre, and to an interview where a member of the panel is a Christian and well-known to be a Christian.

God's all over it. And that's incredible.

But now, six months in and I've got itchy feet. I don't feel able to engage in York and I don't feel that the work I'm doing in Hull is really seeing lives transformed. I feel a sense of powerlessness, of being the middle man between people and central government, unable to influence policy, unable to ensure that justice, mercy and humility are at the centre of everything that is done.

And of course in that I betray the fact that really I want to make a difference. That as a Christian who believes in the redemption of all things and the supremacy of love and hope in all circumstances I can't just sit on the sidelines. I can't just get on a train in the morning, sit in an office passing time until I come home in the evening. Lives need to be changed. Hearts need to know the joy of salvation. Minds need to know the peace of Jesus' love.

Life seems to be slipping through my fingers. I get up, I go to work, I come home. Sometimes during that week I'll leave the house, mostly to go to church.

Whatever God's up to it's certainly taking longer than I'd like it to. I want action. I don't want to be in Winter. I don't really even want to be in Spring. I want to be in Summer. I want to see people's lives blossoming, to see their hearts flourishing and to see our communities turn to Christ.

But do you know, it's not inertia is it. All the way through this writing I've seen God's hand, I've seen him on me. I've seen and known him bring Christine into my life, to give me a year to spend preparing to be married to the woman I want to spend forever with. He's given me 2 years in Hull and her years to do her Phd while we grow in love for each other, in love for God and in knowledge and understanding of the world.

My masters has taught me a great deal, six months in Hull and I know much more. It's not inertia it's just preparation.

I can't hack it sometimes. I fear that all this explaining away of waiting is simply an excuse for inertia, a reason not to do something, a justification for prayer not action yet all the time the world is crying out to know its Saviour. I worry that I'll wind up in 50 years having sat on the sidelines taking each experience and 'learning' from it but completely missing the point in what God is saying.

But maybe that's what waiting for God is all about. Moses had to be well and truly broken before he was blessed; Abraham was an old man but God told him he'd father a great nation beloved of the Lord; Joseph had a dream as a boy but it wasn't for years and years that it was fulfilled.

I've realised something as I've written this. I've thought of this as inertia, and that really means I don't trust God to come through for me. It means I reckon things are slipping away without my control and that surely, something different to this would serve Him better. Waiting on God means that you know that God knows best. It means that you trust him to take you by the hand because he knows where you're going. He's drawn the map, and he's not going to fast track you along shortcuts because he knows the snickleways. The journey might be slower but taking that route is much more enriching.

Kick back, enjoy, I've got all of eternity with Him, for now Lord grant me patience to wait on you, to seek you and to serve you where I am.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A little bit about me

I live in York. Moved here in 03 to study History, fell in love with my wife (the brains of this outfit, she's doing a PhD in Chemistry) after which I did an MA in Post-War Reconstruction.

I'm a Christian. Our church meets at Vodka Revolution.

I support Bradford City. I lived there 88-95 before moving to mid-Devon.

I work in Hull. I'm coming to the end of the Council's graduate scheme and have worked with schools, nurseries, bins, highways, spreadsheets, maps, consultations, funding formulae, comms, customer services and now, finally, the public through a project supporting housing standards for migrant households.

I'm a student. The council fund us through an MSc in Public Management from the Institute of Local Government (INLOGOV) that sees me deep in my dissertation.

I'm passionate about relationships and community. As a result I'm delighted to see the reimagining of the interaction between citizen and state that's underpinning so much government innovation at the moment.

I'm excited by the potential of mashing up local government expertise and international development. Maybe we take bureaucracy too far but we shouldn't forget how effective our local governance is. In post-conflict or development scenarios it's often under valued or resourced which makes corruption and a lack of confidence inevitable.

I'm incredibly lucky to be exploring this at the moment. Hull is twinned with Freetown, Sierra Leone (where I did my MA research) and I'm part of a project that's building procurement and contract/asset management capacity in the council there. The ambition is to help develop a waste strategy. Exciting stuff.