Preach what you practice

In the Creeds in the making, Richardson outlines how the early creeds were a missionary apologetic to what god was doing in the early church. For the last two or so decades my friends and I and many I encounter at conferences, gatherings and festivals, have followed the missio-dei as we minister to and with the LGBTQ community. It has often been misunderstood, been under the radar, or simply not shouted about because as Primate Michael Curry so brilliantly put ““Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”
But perhaps it is time for those agencies to start to preach the inclusion they practice. Indeed many local churches practice a level inclusion way beyond the statements espoused by their governing bodies, and so perhaps it is time for us all to preach what they practice because we need to find an apologetic for what god is doing in so many lives and communities, and to create a pathway for those still suffering oppressions and violence in other places.

Institutional prophets

Time and time again the prophets called out for justice, mercy and love. On occasion they acted and orchestrated acts of justice that brought their calls for justice to the lived experience of those suffering injustice. They acted knowing that what they did was out of love and thet their actions were more important than their words. They knew their action challenged the words written down on tablets of stone as the law, and they knew that at times these tablets had been so consumed by those in power that people hearts has also turned to stone. So the prophets spoke out, the prophets acted knowing there would be consequences and they would face exclusion and be misunderstood. The presence and practice of Jesus is clear in the actions of the Old Testament prophets, and the modern justice seekers who put orthopraxis before orthodoxy.

I see the person of Christ, and the prophetic call to a new way of being and acting in the Episcopal Church and its primate Michael Curry. His statement to the primates is full of grace, and reaches back beyond the roots of slavery to a love that was embodied in the person of Christ, and it keeps me hanging their by my fingernails.

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.
“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,” he said. “For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”
Curry told the primates that he was in no sense comparing his own pain to theirs, but “I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.
“The pain for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.”

When I first met Rowan Williams when he was archbishop I was so taken by his ability to listen, perhaps I was a little in awe but I sensed in him a willingness to stand with me on the edge. It is early days, so I do not want to jump to conclusions about what the decision to exclude the Episcopal church means, but struggle to see how such a fracturing move can be an act of grace. So I am keen to know how both Curry and the current ABC Justin will respond but My prayer for all the primates is that they will have the eyes to see and ears to hear and grace will find a way.

We need to talk about truth…

Last year there were a raft of posts, like “it’s not you its me” “we need to talk about church” all exploring why people are disenchanted with church, leaving church and why it is failing to connect with people anymore. Then this All of which are far more symptomatic of a far deeper issue. What we really need to talk about is truth, our approach to it, the false security people invest in mini truths, the lack of trust it can engender, and how our poor approach to it captivates and limits many rather than being liberated and freed.
I think much of the issue is we have tried to limit the truth, and think it can be singular, explained, preached and taught. The monologue sermon, at its core says this is what is true. Truth is something to be wrestled with as we are wrestling with G-d, it demands dialogue, community and lived experience. It calls forth a trust that takes us out of the pulpit and towards discovery, to uncovering, and journey.
The idea of a singular absolute truth is a crutch which if leant on too heavily breaks and brings down with it all it was meant to support. Truth helps us walk forward, in faltering, humble steps, it is discovered as we walk with others, and when we turn the crutch into weapon to ward off others we fall once again. In fact perhaps if we do away with the crutch and lean into the future with the support and help of others we may begin to discover something far more real than the imitations of Truth we have created.

When we wrestle with these deeper notions of truth it will demand a shift in practices that people are drifting away from, a reimagining of the the institution that is loosing its currency, and create a space of discovery and adventure where community is lived and people want to be.

Alternative New Years honours list

Here is my alternative New Years honours list

Teachers committed to their vocation and students that continue to creatively engage despite Goves ineptitude.
Checkout staff that don’t try to redirect you to the self service tills
Foodbank volunteers
The army of little old ladies that keep so many small charities, church’s, volunteer coffee shops, etc sustainable giving their time and talents freely and with such grace
Those working in the benefit system that choose to ignore directives to save money and penalise people, and help people get the support they need.
The people who pass you in the street with their eyes up and give a simple hello, good morning or hi to their fellow passer by.

Community isn’t dead it’s just different

Sociologically community has been defined as about shared interest or shared space. Over the years particularly for youth workers, Christians, activists, and in general society community has also become a word associated with closeness, sharing life, positive warm fuzziness etc. It is the demise of this type community that people often lament as gone, because they equate commitment with attendance, regularity, and cohesiveness.

At first I bought into this lamenting, but I have been observing a shift, and think that actually the sharing life aspects of community are not less prevalent than they were before but just different and in many ways more real, and perhaps more mature.

With the young people I work with, and the adults around the fringes of StreetSpace, I am beginning to see community emerge as an attitude that is carried by individuals, that whilst they may not share space very often, or share the same interests, there is recognition of a shared humanity. A commitment and attitude of support, openness, warm fuzziness and solidarity.

I wonder if post modern fragmentation is helping us mature as people, moving beyond a forced community that grows from shared space or interest, to an attitude of being community in the myriad of relationships you find yourself in. A greater openness and honesty that is fostered quickly and community grows from this (sometimes fleetingly but no less community) and where the need space and interest become secondary, rather than primary.

I think we have a lot learn form the type of community I see emerging and fading, ebbing and flowing amongst the young people and ourselves, and it would be too easy to underestimate its power, sacredness, and authenticity, because it no longer fits the old models.

Lead us out of exile

It has been so encouraging to see the recent discussion on the role of women in the church sparked by the huge inequality highlighted in lack of women speakers as mainstream conferences. Jenny has a great post here that tracks the conversation and expands the issue.
However we recognise the representation is only part of the issue, and i want to suggest that the changes required run far deeper and may not be possible in the current paradigm. As father to two amazingly gifted daughters 6 and 16 I am always on the hunt for stuff to help them grow into the people they are called to be. I am so greatfull to know people like Jenny Baker and Sally Nash and other female leaders of great integrity, who I go to with questions and guide me to resources and books such as Maya Angelou that I can share together with my children. But there is massive lack of radical faith inspired feminist writing aimed at teens and younger girls or at least stuff I can find.

The recent discussions raises two issues for me, that are connected. The first which Jenny already highlights in her post, is the issue of mentoring and supporting young women into leadership roles. Again I think this is a paradigm issue, one of the strengths of the early feminist movement was its clarity in setting up alternative structures and spaces to the established systems. I would like to suggest that the emerging church has far more to offer my daughters and is already encouraging them towards fullness of life not because of a quota, but a commitment to inclusivity, different leadership approaches, and humanity. For example Cakeful our Sunday thing, is often led by our 6 year daughter, and recently she asked to lead a session around time, and asked for support from Tracey an adult in the group. Tracey was amazing she offered Indi a planning meeting mid week, despite a busy schedule sat down with her, and planned together, which simply made my daughter beam. Watching this process was truly emancipating for my daughter and myself. I believe it is this type of approach that if practiced consistently is the best hope for young women in the church but more that that the best hope for the church to be led from its self induced exile due it’s inherent sexism and lack of inclusivity at all levels. So the second issue (sticking my neck out here and more than a little nervous in saying this) is a call for the amazing female leaders I know and thousands I don’t, to embrace the new paradigm, to create alternative structures and spaces, radical resources and methods, that directly challenge the status quo, rupture the institutions, recapture the feminist agenda in the minds of young people, and lead not just other women but eventually the whole church out of exile.

Our best hope is not in playing by the rules of the dominant, where position, gender, wealth, and power dictate, but in embracing the upside down Kingdom, of powerlessness, servanthood and grace, and it is those who have experienced oppression of the powerful that have so much to offer.

I doubt it ….

I recall how at 18 still at college I worked nights in a printers, doing a social care course meant there was hospital bed in the tutor room to practice lifts etc. one week I had completed 2 nights and at 10am we sat down in class to watch a video I moved to the bed for a better view. My tutor woke me just before 4pm, they knew my situation and simply left me asleep, whilst extreme it was acts of kindness and compassion that got me through. The course cut me a lot of slack, gave me opportunities, and simply tried to understand. It is this lack of trying to understand, lack of compassion and basic humanity that gets to me about the current government and proposals

yesterday I asked Could the 16 year old me survive today….fleeing home today would I get support…. are there any local youth workers left I could run to…. with the erosion of EMA could I attend college… the option of working nights in the printers is gone as has so much of the manufacturing industry, the chance of another job to support myself with over a million other unemployed youth would be slim… would I even entertain the idea of Uni and all that debt in such bleak surroundings as a caravan… I doubt it…. If I did get as far a uni why would I need to return to my home area to give back what I wouldn’t have received in the first place….. and so how will cuts, stigmatisation of young people play out in the long run….

Could the 16 year old me survive today?

I wept this morning. I cried for young people who have been have been vicitimised, marginalised and oppressed by the governments response to the recession of cutting services, I cried with the young people who will continue to be the ones who suffer most as we enter economic recovery which the government wants to promote with further cuts. The latest government proposals on young people, demonstrate a society that has lost its way, a society of selfishness, greed and power.

I wept this morning as friends responded to my post on facebook about my own situation as a NEET (not in employment, education or training) 16 year old. I left home, not willingly, not out of choice but out of necessity after my father who had been sober for 5 years started to drink again. My sister helped, the state helped, I was not stigmatized, I had time to get my head together, I had time to start to find out who I really was, out of the shadow of my father, I survived, I flourished. As I write the tears start again for the young people I met this week on the streets who do not have the same opportunity I had, I see them in my minds eye and I am simply distraught at what the future holds if current government plans continue.

Out of the shadows of my childhood, I began to explore my vocation, and pathway into youthwork. Unsurprisingly I left school with no O’levels but at 17 I was accepted to do a further education City and Guilds course in Leisure and Recreation. A course I started late because it took a while to see if I could get a grant and benefit to live and study. I moved onto to do Social Care and an A level, with a student grant and working nights in a printers and the fabulous support of my sisters family who let me live in the caravan in the garden, I began to mature and come to terms with who I was. At 19 I thought I was ready, but quickly realized I needed to go to Uni if I was going to do the youth work stuff properly, and that meant I needed more grant support. At that time automatic vocational grants (the first to go) had been cut and I remember sitting around an appeals table in County Hall in Exeter explaining my case to a panel of 15 adults, and making a simple promise to come back to the county for at least a year once graduated to help other young people.

Two years later, JNC youthwork qualification in hand, I returned to my sisters garden to live in her shed (the caravan was rusted away) and make good the promise I made in County Hall. At 21 I established my first detached youth work project in Devon, I worked part time and received housing benefit that helped make ends meet. I remember the young people I worked with 23 years ago, I remember them coming to the shed (my house) to plan how to establish a youth centre for the area, I recall the youth centre that was built on the basis of these proposals, and I still hear occasional stories from my sister about the work in the town. For those of you who know me, you will be familiar with the rest of my story, my long history with Frontier Youth Trust. My first paid post working and living on a difficult estate in the Midlands as part of YFC,(which incidentally encouraged my dad to shake my hand before I left Devon as he thought I had a proper job!) It was on this estate where I met real need first hand in my neighbors and began to learn what it means to be real community from them. Leaving to work for Worth Unlimited, with a job brief to make it work or close it down, but who now do an amazing job under a great CEO in Tim Evans in so many difficult areas across the country. Then more recently into StreetSpace who now meet over 8000 young people a month on the edge a month. I recall these stories, not to say look at me but to simply ask would the 16 year old me survive today. Asking this simple question causes the tears to return again as I know the answer would be no. Tears of gratefulness to my sister’s family and to the state without who I would not have survived. So the tears of thanks turn to a weeping that flows freely for the 1000s of young people I still hear about as youth worker, who share elements of my story, or far worse circumstances, growing up in a society that has lost its way…

What are you going to do today?

When Ferris Bueller picks up Sloane for a day bunking off school she asks:

Sloane: What are we going to do?

Ferris: The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?”

Cameron: Please don’t say were not going to take the car home. Please don’t say were not going to take the car home. Please don’t say were not going to take the car home.

Ferris: [to the camera] If you had access to a car like this, would you take it back right away?

[beat]

Ferris: Neither would I.

We have more than a car – what are you going to today?

Resonnance and disconitunity – Reflections on Wright and Cron GB12

There was some great stuff at GB this year, and I didn’t get to very much of it. Two I did were Tom Wright and Ian Cron, both were excellent but in two very different ways. Ian spoke about his memoir and much of his personal story resonated with my own, (not that my father was in the CIA). His personable style and content meshed well with my own experiences of my father, and offered cracks where the light of his story could penetrate the darkness of my own. Tom on the other hand was simply excellent on the content as he outlined 4 typologies present in the gospels to hold in tension as we explore the wholeness of Jesus. However in some ways his strength of being so clear about each type although excellently delivered, well structured,etc seemed discontinuous with my own experience. As a Gen X and post modern product the idea of holding these types in tension is second nature to me and most of my contemporaries, with a level of theological literacy. So I came away wondering what was the agenda?