Sunday, 31 July 2011

For the Sake of the Name

These are a couple of pictures taken by Caritas, of a CMS communion during a residential Core Training at All Nations some time back.

Yours truely is holding up a painting started during sacred:space 'Drawing near to God' It ws done in Acryllic and represent the start of the current painting obsession, which have illustrated my Blog over the past year.

On the Table a woven blue cloth representing water with an armada of Origami boats, made by participants as floating prayers during a previous session. A French Stick and an Italian Red as Bread and Wine.

On the screen behind the text from 3 John 7: 'For the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing.....'

The Communion Service is based on the Northumbrian Community's liturgy - all projected as a Power Point.

It was all very informal and relaxed, with contribution from the children. I was telling the tale of St Bendon and teh Perigrinati - Wanderers for the Love of God who set out in their Coracles, allowing the wind and the waves to direct them believing that behind the circumstantial and the elemental is the Hand of God.

Fear not, for God will be unto us a helper, a mariner and a pilot. May God do unto us his servants and his little vessel as he willeth

The story of St Brendon is the subject of our next sacred:space in September on Navigatio: Spiritual Journeys.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,

wherever He may send you.

May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.

May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.

May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Something beautiful for God

I first discovered Mother Theresa through Malcolm Muggeridge's book: Something Beautiful for God (1972). Since then she has been an inspiration to an ideal of selfless engagement with people on the margins of society. Practical demonstration of love, up to her death shortly after Princess Di, and beyond...... The Time magazine article Mother Theresa's crisis of faith demythologised the spirituality of Mother Theresa and was particularly helpful in that it made her far more human and accessible.
I have been to Calcutta (Kolkotta) on at least 3 occasions, but too late to meet her. But I have met others inspired by her. Her spirit and her legacy live on...

This poem prayer 'do it anyway' has been attributed to Mother Theresa.It has also been printed on many inspirational posters. (There is also another verion called The 10 Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith)

The quotation sort of makes you want to get on with it and 'do stuff' that matters. To make a difference like Mother Theresa - to 'do something beautiful for God'

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Starfish Asia

This time it's a painting of a starfish based on a picture in a brochure in a hotel. We were by the beach in Thailand at the time.

Starfish have become significant since I read the book and have engaged with the ideas. I now seem to see starfish everywhere. You can read some excerpts here

I did a blog previously on the Starfish and the Spider which includes a brief outline of some of the main points and some useful links.

I even came across a Starfish Asia web page owned by someone I know, dedicated to children's education in Pakistan.

As we consider the setting up on a separate CMS entity in Asia, the Network ideas contained in the book have grown in significance.

I was at a conference on Samaritan Strategy and 3 people mentioned the Starfish book as sinificant It seems that it has helped a lot of people to think out side of the box and re-imagine organisations. In a more networked less centralised way.

So back to the 5 simple strategies for building networks (based on the ideas in the book - slightly adapted)

1. Catalytic leadership - a style of leadership that enables people to participate , an instigator and enthuser who gets people on board and inspire action.

2. Core Ideology - for AsiaCMS this is the Missio Dei - the mission of God that binds people together. But what is core will grow and become clearer.

3. Champions - a variety of people - maybe volunteers, or staff or 'people in mission' who champion the cause and spread the message and get others involved .....

4. Cells of Participation or Communities of Practice - maybe in certain locations, Seoul, Delhi, Bangalore, Kathmandu, Manila, Islamabad, etc who share stories and pray and encourage each other to participate in the Missio Dei.

5. Connecting using pre-existing Networks. Rather than re-inventing the wheel it is using what is already there. Networks like DNA/Samaritan Strategy, ISAAC, Micah Challenge to name but a few.

This book inspired me as we started the enquiry process - looking at what AsiaCMS might become. It continues to provide a helpful alternative, light, networked structure as we look at implementation. And I suppose its all about simple actions repeated again and again . A bit like the original Starfish story

A well known author and poet was working and vacationing on the southern coast of Spain. One early morning, he was walking along the beach - the sun was rising, the rain had ended, the rainbows were magnificent, the sea was calm. While enjoying the beauty around him, he glanced down the beach and saw a lone figure dancing about. Fascinated by this person celebrating the new day, he moved closer. As he drew nearer, he realized that the person was not dancing, but in one graceful motion was picking up objects from the beach and tossing them into the sea. He approached the young man and saw the objects were starfish. "Why in the world are you throwing starfish into the water?" "If the starfish stay on the beach, when the tide goes out and the sun rises higher, they will die," replied the young man as he continued tossing them out to sea. "That's ridiculous! There are thousands of miles of beach and millions of starfish. You can't really believe that what you are doing can possibly make a difference!" The young man picked up another starfish, and tossing it into the waves, said, "It makes a difference to this one."

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

'Woof, woof': a walk on the wild side

I did this picture to remember Jess, our Border Collie for many years. We had lots of fun and great walks and good memories.

The picture evokes some of those walks ...... But also a sense of looking out at the wilds and contemplating the beauty of what is out there... Beauty to be enjoyed. Country to be explored. An adventure to be had.

When Jess died last year we buried her at the bottom of the garden, her garden, under a pile of stones in the midst of a wild patch - a sort of memorial pile of stones, a cairn.


Sometimes the Church is also thought of as a sort of memorial in a very positive way - ('do this in remembrance of me'). Walk around any ancient church and you get that sense of faithfulness over the centuries as people have worshipped and prayed in the same location. A great sense of tradition and history. The very stones cry out .....

Stones also act as a marker, a beacon. They can point in a certain direction. They were put there for a purpose - maybe to mark a trail. What they were for is not always obvious. It requires local knowledge, a sense of history.

But there is a danger of just becoming just a 'pile of old stones' - a memorial to the past. The church must always be dynamic, changing, relating to the context and the times. a message that is vibrant and fresh. Good news to all people.


I picked up a copy of Mark Driscoll's book 'Religion saves; and nine other misconceptions'
I liked the title but as I read on I was less enamoured with the content. It was a great idea:
'Driscoll set out to determine the most controversial questions among visitors to Mars Hill Church website. IN the end 893 questions were asked, and 343,203 votes were cast, and in Religion Saves Driscoll answers the nine questions receiving the most votes. in his responses Christians and non-Christians alike will find much to convict, to encourage and to shock them out of complacency'
It was democratic process of arriving at questions to address. Almost a bit of Crowd intelligence or Crowdsourcing. But the answers are not postmodern, wisdom of the Crowds, more the modernist, authoritative voice of the individual. And he is outspoken and frank.

Three questions deal with sex and dating, two questions cover the emerging church, then there is one question about Calvinists and Armenians, one covers the differences between Protestants and Catholics, and lastly the difference between old school and new school Calvinists.

But I was most interested in Question 2: The Emerging Church.
Driscoll talks about 'The four lanes of the missional church highway'
1 Missional Evangelicals
2 Missional House Church Evangelicals
3. Missional Reformed Evangelicals (his preferred position) and finally
4 Emergent Liberals who he particularly critiques - Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Rob Bell.
The first 3 positions are more or less the same... changing the church from within. He argues the last road is however reinventing the Christian faith. And to be avoided....

You can watch Mark Driscoll's video addressing the issue of 4 Lanes of the Emerging Church or look on the Mars Hill Blog

Facing different paths and wondering which direction to take

At the end of the chapter he cites Tony Jones:
'Emergent Christians. too, are pushing over fences and roaming around at the margins of the church in America. Once domesticated in conventional churches and traditional seminaries, more and more Christians are moving into the wilderness. They occasionally wander back, feeding off the structures and the theologies of traditional Christianity, but they never stick around long. Attempts to redomesticate them will fail. They've gone feral.'

In the video Mark Drscoll adds 'I think they've gone off the highway and are lost out in the woods.....'

where the wild things are, the place of adventure and fun, not just of sterile domesticated orderliness. I was left wondering which one I would prefer to travel on ? The well worn highway or the uncharted byway.....
"Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference" (Robert Frost)

I was surprised by the strength of the opinions he cites about these emergent leaders: 'Attempts to redomesticate them will fail. They've gone feral.'
And Driscoll ends the chapter even less ambiguously (and less graciously): 'This must have been what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said false teachers are 'dogs!'

Well all I can say is 'woof, woof'........
.... walkies anyone?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Love Wins: 'between heaven and hell'

I told you I like the story...... This is another version of the same story of the prodigal's return. Based on a painting by Sieger Keoder, the catholic priest-artist.
The father embraces his wayward son and the older brother looks on from around the corner. Almost like he is a spying from a distance.
The father and younger son are lost in the moment of their reconciliation. The older brother is immobilised in his jealousy.

One is in heaven; the other is in hell ......

Rob Bell elaborates on this in his book: 'Love Wins'. The English version has a different subtitle: 'at the heart of life's big questions'. The US edition is subtitled ' Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived' - a video outlines the questions behind the book and the questions behind the questions.

The idea he pursues is that it is possible to be in heaven or hell whilst occupying the same space and time.

I'll just pick out some quotes to give you a flavour, but to get the whole you will need to read it yourself.......

Now most images and understandings people have of heaven and hell are conceived in terms of separation. Heaven is 'up' there, hell is 'down' there. Two different places far apart from each other. One over there and other over there.
This makes what Jesus does in his story about the man with two sons particularly compelling. Jesus puts the older brother right there at the party, but refusing to trust the father's version of the story. Refusing to join in the celebration.
Hell is being at the party. That's what makes it so hellish. Its not an image of separation, but one of integration. In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined. interwoven, bumping up against each other' (169-170)

Hell is our refusal to trust God's retelling of the story (170)
The older brother's failure to trust, we learn is rooted in his distorted view of God. There is a problem with his 'God' (173)

The younger brother believes he is cut off, estranged, and no longer deserves to be his father's son, because of all the terrible things he's done. His badness is his problem, he thinks (185)

Now the older brother believes that the reason he deserves to be a son is because of all the good he's done, all the rules he's obeyed, all of the days he's 'slaved' for his father. His goodness is to his credit, he thinks. (186)
Neither son understands that the father's love .... cannot be earned and it cannot be taken away. It just is. It's a party, a celebration, an occasion without beginning and without end. It goes on, well into the night, and into the next day, and the next, and the next. Without any finish in sight. (187)

The older brother is in hell
The younger in heaven
You can see it in the picture. ....

Both are invited to the party.....

The father has taken care of everything. It's all there, ready, waiting.
It's always been there, ready, waiting.. (188)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Love Wins - The Prodigals' return

I've been reading Rob Bell's 'Love Wins' - a very easy read. My son had been reading it and his enthusiasm was contagious. Described as 'a Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived'. Have a look at the introductory video on Rob Bell's website to get some of the questions behind the book.

It advocates a more inclusive position on the whole question of Salvation, and particularly looks at sticky issues of heaven and hell, propagating what has been called a 'wider hope'. It has caused quite a stir in evangelical circles, especially across the Atlantic. The Evangelical Alliance have a response by Derek Tidball, which is starting a conversation.......

At the heart of the book is the story of the Prodigal son. One of my favourite stories. More of that later ....

I have been compelled by this story - we used it when I was in Karachi working with drug addicts. Everyone seemed to find their place in the narrative. We were heavily influenced by Kenneth Bailey's 'The Cross and the Prodigal' looking at the story afresh 'through Middle Eastern Eyes' which seemed to help in a Pakistani context.

Henry Nouwen also took me deeper in the Return of the Prodigal Son, meditations based on Rembrandt's painting, which I also visited at the Hermitage in St Petersburg ( I wrote a blog post on it in April 2001)
So I had to have a go at painting my own 'impressionist' version of part of the Rembrandt, concentrating on the detail of Father's embrace of the returned younger son with older brother looking on, rather judgementally, from the shadows.

Back to Rob Bell's book. He has a chapter: 'The good news is better than that' (Ch 7) in which he describes three stories within the one story.....

The younger son who as he heads home in shame after squandering all his money, is convinced he's 'no longer worthy' to be called his father's son. That's the story he's telling, that's the one he's believing. Its stunning then when he gets home and his father demands that the best robe be put on him and a ring placed on his finger and sandals on his feet. Robes and rings and sandals are signs of being a son. Although he's decided he can't be a son anymore. his father tells a different story. One about return and reconciliation and redemption. One about being a son again. (165)

There are two versions of the same story The son's and the father's. And the younger son has to choose which one to believe, which one to trust and to live in. His own version of events or his father's.
Same it turns out for the older brother. He too has his own version of his story. He tells his father 'All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours (he cant even say his brother's name) who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes come you kill the fattened calf for him!' So much in so few words. One sense he has been saving it for years and now out it comes, with venom. (166)

The father isn't rattled or provoked. He simply responds 'My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours..... But we have to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found' (167/165)

Its the same issue of which story to believe. His own story of slavery and his father's meanness and cheapness and how unfair it all is. Or his father's redefinition of the narrative. The father tells a different story. about sonship not slavery, about the abundance of resources not their scarcity, and a redefinition of 'fairness' which is replaced by grace and generosity. People get what they don't deserve. Parties are thrown for younger brothers who squander their inheritance' (168)

The difference between the two stories is , after all, the difference between heaven.....and hell (169)

to be continued.....

Monday, 4 July 2011

Prophets of a future not our own

Paul Kollman our CMS Missiologist in Residence shared the story of his visit to El Salvador. He focused particularly on the work of Archbishop Romero, who was martyrted as he shared mass with the people he loved and served. Paul quoted from a well known Poem/Prayer attributed to Romero: 'A future not our own'

I particularly liked the sentiment behind the lines:

We plant seeds that one day will grow
We water seeds already planted
Knowing they hold future promise
I suppose that, more than planting new seeds, watering seeds others have planted has been an integral part of my work for a long time. It is what I do as I travel around Asia on behalf of CMS, encouraging mission and the transformation of communities. Hence the painting I have featured - a 'VanGogh-ish' picture of an impressionist harvest which I did earlier this year. A Harvest represents that 'future promise', which is normally 'beyond our vision'.....

The text of the full poem I have taken from ekklesia
More information about ongoing work in the spirit and memory of Archbishop Romero can be gleaned from the Romero Trust:

We are prophets of a fuuture not our own

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Putting angel into Evangelical

This painting was inspired by some very large pieces I saw in a Restaurant in London. I call it 'Red Girl Clubbing' and its part of a series (2 girls on a mobile is at the bottom of this blog). The originals were done by Paul Lemmon as part of an Exhibition: 'a Slice of Lemmon' put on by the Art Movement. Described as:

Voyeuristic, fixated and fetishist, Lemmon’s work is also exciting, provocative, atmospheric and compelling, in the way it inhabits an unstable, detached, partial and intrusive modern gaze. Like a Toulouse-Lautrec turned sinister.

I found his pictures very compelling.

On Friday night out with the Street Angels down Chertsey Road, Woking, we came across a lot of girls who had been out clubbing.
Quake had reopened after a couple of weeks with a Heavy Rock Band night. Plus of course there is BED Bar, Yates, O'Neals, Cameleon and RSVP

We met one girl who was very upset that she had been thrown out of 'Spoons for bumping into someone. Just 18 she said she had graduated from Police academy and was out celebrating. She was with her fiance. She was quite tearful. We saw her a number of times through the night talking to various people.

Two female street angels spent 2 hours with one girl who was very drunk. Her friends had left her and she had no money and was very upset and agitated. She tried phoning her friends - no joy. At one point she went to relieve herself , squatting down in the dark and a man came and squatted next to her. (I am still appalled at the lack of public toilets in Woking at night) So the 2 angels stuck with her to protect her. Eventually she thought of phoning her father who then came a picked her up by Toys'R'Us. and took her home. He was very grateful.

I suppose that epitomises what the street angels are about - having time to be with the vulnerable and see that they are alright and get home safely.

Very short skirts which leave little to the imagination, and high heels, seem to make girls even more vulnerable. We swept up glass and picked up bottles and gave out all our flip flops. Prevention is always better then expensive medical treatment.

After the drinking comes the eating as the Fast food outlets fill up with hungry punters. McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, and the numerous kebab shops.

As one of the Pakistani taxi drivers told us: ' it seems the idea is to drink as much as you can, then get some food down you and be sick then you feel better and you get a taxi home'
It's what people call 'a good night out!'

The Angels patrol the streets to try and help people have a good night and not get into trouble, with a particular eye out for vulnerable girls.

The gospel reading for Sunday is from Matthew when Jesus is described, in contrast to John the Baptist, as 'eating and drinking' and called a 'glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners' (11:19)

I like that. He is at home on the streets, mixing with ordinary people. Those who are having fun, eating and drinking. Partying. Jesus felt at home in such company.

I was left reflecting why it is that the Church has been perceived as being so judgemental and unable to relate to people, so out of touch. Associated more with the aethetic, abolutionist John the Baptist - the puritanical, pietist streak of the church. Whereas Jesus the founder was so at home and so in touch with people. 'Come to me' he said, 'all you who are burdened and heavy ladened, and I will give you rest for your souls'. He understood people and knew what they needed. And being accepted and understood and listened to is so much of what people need. .....

Street Angels in some small way is helping to help put the angel back into evangelical ! So that the church (and not just the church) could also reach outside of itself and serve the young and the vulnerable on the streets. (By the way we are looking for more Angels to we can patrol on busier Saturday nights as well as Fridays - if you are interested let us know or signup online)

During the night, we also saw two foxes near the council offices where we are based. Running around frollicking in the town square. Maybe they too were looking for a good night out. They were certainly in search of food and drink....