Look at my plank!

I am guilty of this so please before you graciously take the plank out of my eye, let me observe it!

Having wasted a lot of my life recently watching people battle it out on social media over differing political, social and religious opinion, I have not observed much Christ in our conflict. Quite frankly it’s a bit ugly to watch the ‘oneupmanship’ that goes on between mature adults, it’s something I though was confined to the school playground.

Because we have differing convictions does it mean we have to put them out there, and is it always helpful to have our own right opinion to contradict or hack down someone else’s. I’m not too good at what the bible say about this, for me this is a conviction of the heart kind of thing. It just feels like something Jesus wouldn’t get involved with.

Over the last year the vitriolic and rhetorical mud has been flung at people that when in the same room they are sweet and polite to each other, but on Facebook will say all sorts and get wonderfully wound up an opponent while never having to face the music. Let’s face it, we would never do it in public, we were raised better than that, we’re British.

But that’s the problem with social media, it’s a great environment for lighting the literary touch paper and running, or in many cases standing by and adding more fuel to the fire. We succumb to something very primal within us, which is probably reflecting more about what goes on behind closed doors than what we allow to be seen in public, could it be character linked or something altogether different? We all do that thing when we’re mad, we let of steam by saying all those things you would like to say or those things you wished you had said, humankind has been doing it since the dawn of thought. With the advent of social media and the smart phone we can do that very same thing and then finely tune it for public consumption. I know because I do it, I’m doing it now.

The upside is that a lot of previously unheard opinion is getting heard, where once all we heard were the voices loud of political leaders, religious leaders, social activists, celebrities etc, now we all have the potential to be heard, and some of it is really quite good. But then, there are the brain farts, like what I’m writing now, the stuff that as my siblings and I joked about when we were younger, it should be “kept in the heart”. It’s not really worth listening to let alone actually saying, but when you have a public platform like this why on earth wouldn’t you say what you think, after all I’m allowed to, and who are you to police my thoughts!!! There’s also this kind of morality that comes out too, like because if, like me, you work for the poor and the marginalised and you are just posting selfies or holiday snaps or the Flat White you had at your trendy coffee shop then well I’m probably paid too much, my life should have more substance, I should be posting 3 times a day about social justice issues. Yes, some of that is true, but are you judging me, and more importantly am I judging you?

Facebook isn’t a mirror, it’s a finely edited version of ourselves that we want people to see and believe, a fractured glimpse of reality, but it’s not reality is it? However, it’s fast becoming too much of our reality. You see a thing on Instagram, and the next thing you see when you go out the front door is all the kids doing it too, like fidget spinners, I mean what the hell. No, WHAT. THE. HELL!!! Millions being made from something that many would say does absolutely nothing. Thats the point, when you look up from your phone you can see the influence it’s having all around. Then there’s the fact that social media only shows you what you want see. So if you like and follow makeup related posts and search for it on Instagram, Instagram will show you that stuff, because Instagram is owned by Facebook the same information gets fed into your Facebook feed, and vice versa. Then our reality gets smaller and you only ever, see, like, post and share things that are what they think you want, soon you may never see other things outside of that. So imagine you’re politically minded and you like a good old debate on Facebook, what’s Facebook going to show you? what will you find yourself engaging with more frequently, could it be feeding the the aspect of ourselves that need to die?

What’s my point? The point is, I need to be sure that the things I do and say are a better reflection of the reality of christ in my life and not a reality of vitriolic oneupmanship. A wise man said to me, “the way you do a thing is the way you do everything” If I’m just flinging mud around on social media, maybe I should stop and think about who I’m flinging it at and think about what it says about me. May be I should make sure the mud isn’t just a socially palatable version of an unpalatable dialog I’ve got going on inside.

The apostle paul said “all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.”  do what you want, but what good does it do?

Love Trumps it all.

As a ‘Christian’ I believe that my life is best lived when I follow the teachings of Jesus. I find it difficult to agree with government policies and practices that rejects, marginalises and ultimately judges people from foreign lands, resulting in us shutting them out of our world full of surplus in their time of need. These are actions that are entirely, in my opinion, contrary to what I understand to be central to the message of Jesus, the message we are supposed to ‘be’ in this world, especially to those we could identify as ‘our enemy’. When looking at Trumps policies and political actions I find it helpful (for me) to view them through the lens of scripture.

Because I’m going to get a little political this will be the point at which I end up being labeled a liberal or ignorant. Call me whatever you like, you’re going to anyway, now you have my permission. However, I cannot help but feel like the American people and the world are being sold short of the blessings and the security that is promised to all when we actually follow Jesus according to His teachings. (See Luke 4:18 & Isaiah 58:6-11)

Matt 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers
Matt 5:44But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you
Matt 5:39I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
Matt 7:12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you
Mark 12:31Love your neighbor as yourself
Matt 25:35I was a stranger and you took Me in

1 John 3:17 “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Jer 22:3 “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood”
Lev 19:33-34 “if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself”
Zech 7:10Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor
Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Mic 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

I Don’t mean to labour this point but as a Christian it is so incredibly clear in the scriptures how we are to act in times like this.

 

Here’s my problem

Apparently it’s a sensible business approach for America to restrict or stop the movement of people from Muslim nations. I have a MASSIVE problem with this, when a church attending “Christian president” swears on the bible “so help me God” to preserve and protect the interests of its people in this way. Since that day, not much more than a week ago, Trump has displayed little that protects his people but more that protects the bank balances of those who are going to help the economy and in turn (said with a hint of cynicism) line the Trumps pockets, of course not in any direct way. It strikes me that Trumps policies are all about wealth generation, not about the redistribution of wealth to meet the needs of the poor and the marginalised, the alien and the orphan. I’m reminded if what Jesus said (again).

Matt 6:24No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

These moves by Trump might, in the minds of those in power (or in business, or more crudely the xenophobes among us), seem like good business sense, however, the executive orders signed by Trump are seemingly motivated by two things 1) The love of money, which I am lead to believe in 1Tim 6:10 that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” However, “in God we trusts” is all over the American currency. These actions don’t seem to show any display of trust in the God they swear by (or spend by). 2) Fear. There seems to be no trust of people that are different, we are taught by the media to be suspicious of people who look different or dress according to their culture or faith. We don’t like women’s head coverings and yet it’s ok for a Catholic nun to cover her head while in her Habit. Back packs on tube trains or Kufi’s/Taqiyah, the caps that Muslim men wear. The latest is that Christian men should grow our beards in solidarity with Muslim men, RUBBISH!!! It’s just another thing of difference to focus on. Focusing on our differences introduces fear and ultimately brings to our contagiousness the things that divide us, the things that make us all unique. The craziest thing, amongst all this Trump Trump Trump nonsense, is 12mins into Trumps inauguration speech he quoted Psalm 133 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”. WHY!??! (in a very loud shouty voice) Why would you start off with unity, when all you’re actions and intentions since then have been to reinforce our fear of the Muslim, the foreigner and the immigrant and in the end divide us.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders” A line from a song that has been sung by christians around the globe since 2013, ironic that we focus on our borders more now that ever.

All this fear is great for Trumps plans, it paralyses people and causes irrational responses towards those who we are called to love, and welcome and offer hospitality to, but this is exactly what they need to succeed. This is a nation that is closing its borders to Muslims days after their leader quoted scripture to billions about unity and living “together”. This is a nation birthed by mass immigration, but also birthed through the annihilation of the Native American people, who were further oppressed and marginalised by Trump this week with the advancement of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines. What about Unity and “in God we trust” and “so help me God”??? What about the very well used quote from the plaque at the base of The Statue of Liberty, an iconic American symbol of freedom and hope for immigrants.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What’s our response

For me, the message we must bring to our fellow man, to the immigrant and to our enemy (I don’t like that word) is irrevocably that we are called to live out love, in the unconditional way that God loves us, in all the many ways they Jesus taught us, and even in the ways that Jesus shows us (Phil 2:8 He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross).

1 Cor 13 “Love… it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered”

I read this alternative which is a bit of a mix up of 1 Cor 13 and John 13:35 it’s from an article from Crosswalk.com called Will they know us by our love? (Google it, it’s worth a read, and it’s short)

Well, they would know us by our patience. They would know that we are Christians by our contentment, modesty, and humility. They would recognise us, for we would not be rude. We would seek the best for others, be difficult to make angry, and refuse to keep count of how many times we’ve been hurt. They would know us because evil makes us sad, and truth makes us happy. They would know us because we protect the defenseless and we do not live in suspicion of others.”

I want people to know who I follow, not by my politics or by what I do, but by what my lifes message says; protecting the defenseless and not being suspicious of the other, the outsider, the Muslim or the immigrant.

So building walls and stopping people coming into your countries will apparently stop innocent lives being killed on our turf and will stop the “terrorists” coming into our countries. Problem, it won’t, no one that has ever built a wall has kept out the problem the on other side of it. The 7 nations banned by Trump have not been responsible for any attacks on American soil, the 9/11 pilots were from Saudi Arabia, one of Americas best buddies (and ours), but they didn’t make the list. You see its all just politics, the sooner we realise that what Trump is up to won’t make any difference to the continuation of decades of bad feeling from the Middle East towards us in the west, the sooner we realise, that what we are doing and what we have done is not just not working but its also wrong, and its making things worse, the better. To top it off it’s pure hypocrisy when we do all this in the name of God.

Jesus said, at the point of his betrayal, in Matt 26:52 “if you live by the sward, you shall perish by the sward”. The one I follow is mankind’s ultimate display of nonviolent peaceful resistance. When will we as Christians follow Jesus, not patriotism or nationalism? When will we really put our trust in God, not those who say they are going to make our nations wealthy and prosperous? When will we come together in unity and call out the lies, the unjust wars and the thousands of lives lost in the Middle East at the hands of western defense deals? When will we realise that it is our duty to welcome the foreigner into our land as though they are one of us? (Lev 19:33-34). When will we stop to realise that the greatest commandment on our lives is to LOVE!

If Christians refuse to help and actually use their political advocacy and opinions to further hurt refugees, immigrants, women, foreigners, minorities, the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, the sick, the LGBTQ community — and aren’t abiding by the golden rule of loving their neighbors as themselves, then who exactly are Christians supposedly loving?” Stephen Mattson – SOJO.NET

The church has a massive opportunity right here on our doorsteps to make a difference to the hundreds of thousands of refugees being passed from pillar to post all across Europe. I’m not John Lennon but just imagine, if we actually did this stuff, imagine we read what Jesus said and applied it as though he meant it. There wouldn’t be any refugees, there wouldn’t be fear of terrorism, there wouldn’t be political games for personal gain.

If we did what Jesus said, actually did it, it would change the course of history.

IN OUT IN OUT SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT!

 

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So the long awaited next blog from me has come…. because so many have been asking for another one LOL 😉 I don’t just write every brain fart that I have, that’s just dull and well I don’t have enough going through my head to fill up a blog that regularly. However, this may well be just that…. a brain fart but it’s an EU brain fart at that.

So we have an EU referendum coming up this week, an important time for our nation and probably something that I will only see once in my lifetime. Now, before I go any further you must know I am not writing this to get into a political debate but simply to get something (my thoughts) off my chest. I won’t engage anyone that bates be for an argument or if you want to tell me I am wrong, I’m not interested in right or wrong in this, I am not so sure its really about that.

I don’t personally care how you vote, however, I do care that you do vote, and that you vote out of conscience. Voting based upon scaremongering stories from the media or campaigners, that may or may not be true, is destructive. I care that you make a choice that feels right in your heart. I genuinely feel that this is the only choice I can make, one out of a conviction. I’m also not here to persuade your vote, it’s too late for that, plus I probably don’t care about you enough to make you vote my way.

So…So what?

Confused about what side of the fence I should be on (in recent weeks I have swapped numerous times) and what is best for my country, Europe and the rest of the world; I am not small minded enough to think that this is just about me and my little island in the North Atlantic. I have prayed, sought advice from the wealthy, the wise, the religious, the irreligious, the ordinary and the extraordinary. None of which made my decision any easier. In fact asking probably only served to make my decision more difficult. I listened to the news, watched debates and listened to all the rhetoric my phone/tv/tablet/computer can give me but still it was no clearer to me. The truth is I could find so much that thought me about fear and what I should fear on both sides of the argument but nothing that could give me peace, or that illustrates the kind of love that I find and follow for the fellow man that I find in Christ. So I looked at some issues that keep coming up and they just seemed to be ridiculous, to me…

The Muslim issue, this is tired and centuries old. You only have to look at the statistics and you can see that we haven’t got a problem with Muslims, any more than we do with any other minority group. And I say minority because they are, surprise surprise, still a minority (4.9% of national population). But are Muslims even a problem, NO!

I say the “Muslim issue”, because bigoted xenophobes pick on them, largely because the ladies attire stands out; they’re different, so what! I saw something on Facebook the other day that was ranting about a Muslim woman in a bank wearing her hijab and this guy was ranting that she gets away with having a “coin slot” on her face and he wasn’t even allowed to wear a baseball cap in the bank, it stirred up some seriously disgusting comments, it make me feel sick. What’s worse is I have friends that “liked”it (should I ‘unfriend’ them now or what do I do with that, coz that is an issue to me).

If you want religious and cultural freedom in this country it cannot be for the religions and cultures that ‘I approve of’ it must be for all religious groups, otherwise it’s not religious/cultural freedom. It sickens me when people pick on Muslims because of how they choose to dress. Yes it separates them from the rest of us but why is that so bad, why do we concern ourselves with that? Yes we don’t understand it, but how about we get off our high horse and take the time to understand Islamic culture. Perhaps that’s the whole point, you have to understand it to appreciate it. I’m not going to entertain the massive distraction of Islamic extremists.

(didn’t know I had this much in my head)

The immigration issue is equally as over used. This is the UK, a land of many nations, just look at our history. In my blood I have Irish, Spanish and some Jew (lucky me), I was born in India too. I am very definitely sure there is more in my DNA that I don’t know about, however, I still call myself British (because I am). That’s what we ALL are, we are a melting pot of other countries, a community with many cultures, faiths and skin tones.

Protecting our boarders, we are currently protecting ourselves within the port of Calais as well as on our own turf, if we leave the EU that deal with the French may have to change and personally that doesn’t seem too bad, might save some money there. So if we stay are we really going to get 200,000 more immigrants each year. Someone on the radio said we will get the population of Norwich on and annual basis if we remain in the EU. Do you really think we will just fill up and fill up until we are completely bankrupt and there is no more land for us to develop? Fear tells me that is exactly what will happen!! Again it’s this imagination, inspired by fear, that paints this hideous picture, but one that simply isn’t true and neither will it become true.

What about your freedom of movement? How was your last trip to Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Holland? Did you have to pay for the pleasure of entering that country? Did you even get more than just a glancing look at your passport from the boarder control? How easy is it for you to purchase a house in an EU country? Ever worked in an EU country? Or needed to fill out loads of paperwork for your work visa? Any way my point is that if you appreciate the ability to move round the EU with complete freedom, be it for work or pleasure, then you have reaped yet another benefit of this post war set up that Churchill worked so hard for.

As for the migrant refugees that are flooding in from Syria, well they will come even if we are in or out of the EU. They are a humanitarian issue for us all to come to terms with. The global community needs to engage with this in a very real way, it’s not letting up and the EU referendum will not stop it. As part of the UN we have a responsibility to them and to give them sanctuary (as a christian there is an even bigger responsibility). I have to hope and pray that our systems are good enough to determine that they are genuine refugees on my behalf. However, let’s be compassionate about this problem, and it is a problem, these people are trying to get to our countries because it is far better for them to freeze in a tent in February, than to be bombed by their own government everyday. Anyone been bombed by David Cameron recently…. I didn’t think so.

(Wow this is getting long)

Sovereignty is really not a good argument either. The “unelected” EU parliament are in fact elected, by who? Us! Our MEP’s were elected by us and they represent us in the EU. So yes, I do have a say in the governance of the EU. However, my level of personal engagement must increase and I would like an increased invitation too, otherwise I will continue to feel disenfranchised by the EU. So I can see room for improvement there. I appreciate the European Commission are the unelected ones that put forward policy but the MEP’s have the power to veto them. It is foolishness to say that if we stay in you are held ransom by them. All the nations represented there have representatives chosen by us and it’s up to me to engage with that. It’s meaningless and hypocritical to argue about laws that are passed in the EU that I don’t really know anything about, when the chances are I don’t know about or give time to our own laws. British MEPs sit at the same table, in the same discussion, steering that discussion for the interest of the people of Britain. It’s only that we don’t know about the discussions that it causes us concern. If I did know and I were invited into the conversation I would likely be very generous and tolerant, historically that’s what we are like as a nation. In this EU debate we have gotten our nickers in a bit of a twist, it’s that kind of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ type of thing. My neighbour can’t have that new tree in their back garden because it will ‘restrict my sunlight’. Rubbish!!! I just want to be asked first. Because like most British people I love to complain, but when actually asked about the subject first, I am sweet and polite and ‘why of course put that tree there, in fact get a bigger one, who needs all that sun light anyway, you carry on. Oh and thanks for asking but you crack on?’. We just want to be asked and in a democracy that is fair and right. And that to me is the problem with our involvement with the EU, the lack of it.

(you’ve gotten this far, might as well carry on)

The economy IS going to be unpredictable, the referendum will not destabilise our economy in the long term. Yes in the short term but not, in my humble opinion, to the extent of a recession. If a recession comes then I would argue it was on its way anyway, irrespective of the referendum. We had a huge recession in 2008 and we didn’t see it coming, so why are we accepting that a Brexit will usher in a new recession? Perhaps our economy isn’t really as stable as we are told it is. Perhaps it’s because the economy, while we are in the system that we are in, will always rise and fall! The truth is it has to rise and fall, it does all day everyday, but it is only to the extent of it falling that we are concerned.

How affected were you by the last recession? I heard lots of dramatic statistics back in 2009/10/11 but I didn’t see much change in reality. I am privileged to run a charity and work with the poor overseas, in the last recession the pound lost quite a bit of weight, which meant sending money to our partners was more costly. Thankfully we had supporters who were committed to the cause and they continued to give, some even gave more, some said to me that they didn’t see the evidence of the recession in their bank accounts but they did in the equity of their homes. We experience a shift in giving, which meant that people had faith in their regular income but not in their disposable income, which to us mean that one off gifts slowed right down, that it still the same today. Anyway my point is I am not sure Brexit will cause anything like that, and if that fate befalls us again then perhaps, as part of a global economy, we need to look further than our own shores to see what could be causing it. Yes, uncertainty will not help us but if we take the kind of dive that we are told could happen then who is responsible, or perhaps that is the whole problem with a globalised economy. The moment others lose faith in us they ditch us like an unwanted girlfriend. Our nations economy cannot destabalise just like that, there has to be external forces that pull the rug from under our feet and they are likely to be Germany, France, the US, India, China etc. We aren’t going to all of a sudden stop trading with ourselves and cause an implosion, it’s not possible. It will be the external influences that will cause it to happen.

The Truth

So call me a communist, lefty, liberal bla bla bla, I’m ok with that, but I am engaged with this issue. The truth of the matter is that we have a choice, we have a vote, we have a voice and don’t be fool by those that serve you a large portion of fear, because fear will disable you. I am brought to some words from Dave Andrews who when speaking said “we make our choices based on one of two things 1) love 2) fear”. If you pay attention to that which builds fear in you then I can guarantee you will make a wrong choice. In anything, if your choice is fear based then it’s the wrong one, but conversely if your choice is based in love then not only will it be right but it will benefit more than just yourself.

No one can tell you what will happen either way, to our economy, our boarders or to our ability to make laws. In or out, all I can tell you is that as long as your choice in this referendum is not self-centred, fear based and xenophobic but is found in love, commonality and hospitality then you will not only make the right choice for the UK or the EU but it will be the best for you too.

Happy Referendum folks!!!

S

(the end, you made it, well done)

yoda

Poverty in Paradise

Pool

I recently came back from a trip to Sri Lanka where the charity I run supports numerous initiatives all over the Island. The problem with Sri Lanka is that it’s a beautiful country full of fruit and tea, surrounded by wonderful beaches and where many of the people survive through its exquisite tourism industry. You see the problem with poverty is that it doesn’t choose it’s destination, man does (as Mandela said “poverty is man made”). However, wherever there is inequality, corruption or injustice you’ll often find the consequences of them; children without education or women forced to work on tea plantations while the husband drinks away her wages. Then you look around you and notice the place is stunningly beautiful. You see in the west we like our poor to be like the Live Aid adverts or the Comic Relief videos with flies in their eyes and huts made of cow shit. This is far from the truth for most people. Most of the worlds poor don’t live in sprawling slums in city centres or in desert landscapes where it hasn’t rained for 5 years. Many, dare I say it most, live in the most beautiful parts of the world and I for one am privileged enough to meet these wonderful men, women and children, in these beautiful places.

Tea

Then you have Facebook, which is a great medium for sharing your experiences. Then you get the comments and you realise that your time away looks more like a holiday than anything else. But what else am I going to share with the world?! Most of the time, in the parts that are ugly and heartbreaking, it’s not appropriate to take snaps on my £500 iPhone. So of course you do get to see me playing golf with one of our partners or eating lovely fresh jackfruit on the side of the road. But these snaps only represent about 5% of the trip. You should try it, the relentless mozzy bites, the 37 degree heat with 100% humidity, the bumpy 5 hour train journeys and being force fed curry 4-5 times a day, it’s not all paradise I promise.

Fruit

The wonder of Sri Lanka is its people and their hospitality. I couldn’t tell you of another country where the people are more lovely, and yet underneath it all every family has been affected by almost 30 years of civil war. Almost every family has someone overseas sending their wages back so that they can live beyond the destruction of war. Children still fatherless, wives still husbandless. Every family we met had a story of heartbreak, how the war ruined everything. The crazy thing with this war is that now they have peace, it’s almost exactly like it was before, in the words of one friend “nothing was achieved”. Unemployment isn’t the issue here, it’s the fact that half the nation are a marginalized race, they don’t get paid the same, they often have to pay more for things they buy, so the money doesn’t go as far. And if you get sick, or you have something you have to pay for that is unpredictable, well too bad, you can barely pay your rent so that thing whatever it is will have to wait for a miracle. It’s like that for 80% of Sri Lankans. It is changing and some are managing to improve things slowly. But it’s still not paradise for them!

Golf

But by the grace of God we stand.
You would think by my pictures this should be an island full of beach bums but the truth is they are all trying to move forward working hard to provide. The church in Sri Lanka is reaching out to some of the most needy people and we are so fortunate to be able to help. This is not an appeal and I’m not asking you not to judge my photos, because, yes, in those moments it was as lovely as it looks. I’m simply asking you to look beyond them, and if you still think it’s so lovely then please let me show you, I would love to take you. You will also see how wonderful it is, 5% of the time.

Challenging my ‘norms’

So I am away in Scotland at a leadership conference, held by an exciting and growing church in Aberdeen. As part of this time I set myself two goals 1) To build relationship with our overseas partners and supporters at City Church. 2) To have my norms challenged and to see how others do things. One excellent way to aid me in the latter was to be, essentially, anonymous so that I’m not treated as anyone special. It’s quite humbling to go somewhere that nobody knows you (apart from a few), you rely on the generosity and good will of people to include you. Not that I am seeking acceptance, however, for someone who doesn’t do being on his own very well, having the feeling of being accepted helps. I must add that this time away started with the feeling of solitary confinement but it got easier as I made friends with people. I shared a room with a young chap who is an engineer for BP and is a thoroughly nice bloke, we spoke every evening and he has a lot to say that makes a lot of sense, but anyway enough about him.

Let me start by first saying that this is not a criticism of my church nor is it a judgment. I love my church and those that are part of it. If you read this as a criticism then please hear my heart, I do not wish to criticise. Going to Scotland took me out of my comfort zone and I’ve put my observations here. Far from judging, I want to be part of a change that, I believe, we all see is necessary.

It is good to go away and be amongst other folk, not necessarily like minded, but not just that, folk that are modelling church in a way that is different in a number of ways to my home church and at the same time they are not so different to my own church too. They are prophetic, missional, spirit led and community minded. The difference with them is that they express all of the above in a more outward, joyful fashion. Their expression of church is the expression of who they are, it not just a bunch of ideas from the front that get manifest by a few, it’s seemingly entirely inclusive. And that message is prolific throughout their leadership conference.

What I recognise about this conference is that they are raising ALL for ‘leadership’ not just a select few, they count everyone as responsible for the future and everyone has potential, everyone is invited to learn about “authentic leadership”. It’s not all geared towards the ones on the payroll, though they are there also. It’s not a room full of men measuring the success of their ministries by telling stories about how great their church/ministry is. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for that kind of meeting and they have their value but that won’t usher in the future people/leaders for our churches. This time here is about equipping the church to LEAD, which is a very important message in what is normally dominated by an egotistical, male-centric culture. I say this because the church is still dominated by men. I recently, and reluctantly, came to a place where I now know that male dominated churches should no longer be the case. I also say this because I think a male centred church is offensive, not just to women but also to God! So I say it deliberately to make a point. WE NEED MORE WOMEN! Not because they are women but because they are equally appointed by God! 

The thing I also like about this conference is that there are seminars that tackle everyday topics, but topics that must be addressed if you are to have any chance of leading people authentically. Topics like marriage, healing, prophesy and leadership in the workplace. Some stuff that, to most weathered leaders, would be like teaching them to suck eggs. But when you want to raise up the next generation you have to address and teach this stuff, otherwise you have leaders that have failed marriages or leaders that have no background or foundation on healing. The problem is that when you are not doing this you find yourself 40 years down the line trying to grapple with “who the hell is going to take this on, and/or who the hell can?” We can’t take for granted that everyone is doing all this off their own back and that the next generation is just going to pop its head out of the water just before your pastor kicks the bucket. Well at least that’s my opinion.

So not only is there teaching but there are numerous teachers. Surprisingly, it’s hardly based around Chuck, the leader of this church. There are women teachers (gasp!), guests from America, the chief inspector of prisons, the list goes on. Not all were the most gifted or dynamic of speakers but they had a message and they at least knew what they were talking about. I would much rather listen to gifted speakers than talented ones. But the thing that stood out to me was that Chuck sat in on them all. He didn’t need to but he did, and he didn’t put himself on the front row all the time, sometimes at the back or to the side, his humility is quite refreshing for someone with a growing church. Chuck isn’t someone that commands complicit admiration, he’s not raising a group of paralysed sycophants. What I mean by that is that everyone functions in their gifting and it doesn’t only happen because of the man at the front. People don’t wait for approval but equally what I think Chuck isn’t doing is expecting people to just get on and be ready to lead without first having some foundations laid.

So, have my norms been challenged? Yes in short. There is a lot here that is done differently to how we do at home and I’m absolutely fine with that, but then I would be, I am not an appointed church leader (at least not appointed by man). I think error comes when we make comparisons in order to justify why we do things or why we don’t do things, I’m an all in kind of a guy, so if it were up to me I would do it all. One of the speakers called Steve Nicholson said, “the way you’re not doing it isn’t any better than the way they are doing it.” To me we have to stop pointing out whats wrong with how others do church and get on with what God has called us to. We shouldn’t disregard stuff because someone else is doing it, but equally it doesn’t mean that what is successful for them is an automatic success for us. It is good to learn from one another, after all ‘iron sharpens iron’. In my limited experience God doesn’t make churches like loaves of bread, we are not all a success because we choose a particular method or mould. The church is meant to be diverse in its expression, there are the typical ingredients but some have things that others don’t. Some have cheese and some have nuts (some have more nuts than others). Some are plain white bread, but they are all bread nonetheless.

So why is it important for me to challenge the norms? Well I don’t really know, I just felt it right to have my norms put into a place of contestation, a place where the difference in others can bring out new thinking in me. After all if what Chuck is doing is right (which I think it is) then I must line myself up to lead, in whatever capacity that is. Something my dad was saying last week in conversation with me and Jess (mainly with Jess, I was just a spectator really) was about the term thinking outside the box. What Jess was saying (and I hope I get this bit right) is that it is impossible to think outside the box if you just stay within your own paradigm. Your paradigm has to be put into a place of contestation for you to be able to think outside of it or outside of the box you are in. So I took that conversation quite seriously and now I’m in Scotland. Not because the conversation was for me to action but for me I believe I am a part of the future and I want to be sure of what I believe is right, that I agree with where we are heading as a church. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have an over inflated ego and think that I am the next man in line for the job but I do hold a sense of responsibility towards the future of my church and to making sure I am in agreement, otherwise if I don’t do this I have limited options from here on.

Anyway I think that’s it from me on this for now.

Why do I care

It’s been a while since I had anything to say about anything and to be honest I haven’t really got much to say now. I feel totally uninspired this Christmas, there seems little to provoke me, at least none of the typical stuff is. I could write about my views on Russell brands recent exploits but honestly that doesn’t inspire that much, I could sit here and defend him but I can’t be bothered. We could talk about the consumerist aspects of Christmas, but I have fallen into that trap, willingly, and I don’t want to be accused of finger pointing. X factor – well we all know the best one was the Italian, but hey we are a nation fostering a little xenophobia, so let’s face it we wouldn’t let an Italian win a British competition. So we have Ben, who, as my good friend Lewis puts it, “is a little one dimensional” but so are Coldplay and U2 but the music industry make shed loads of money out of them too!!

So what the heck do I have to say today? Ok, so last night I was out and a friend said something that was a bit…… well hurtful, at least to me anyway. Not wanting to embarrass the person, I was a bit shocked, I kept my opinion to myself, nothing came of it, it was in truth a throw away comment, and hey one thing I like in people is when they speak their minds. How could I cut them down for doing the very thing I respect! So this morning I was about to do something and then thought to myself is that what they were talking about? So as a result I didn’t do what I was about to do. Did I not do it out of hurt or out of insecurity, that perhaps there are more people out there that think the same way about me? (I’m sure there are) Well the truth is I didn’t do what I was going to do out of insecurity. Of course I care what people think of me, heck especially the people I care about, especially the ones I invest my life in. If I didn’t care there would be even more out there that think as low of me. Then this morning I was with another friend who reminded me of something I posted on Facebook “before you ask someone why they hate you, ask yourself why you even care” so I have answered that one, I’m insecure, or perhaps we could look at it more positively and say that I care what people think of me, it’s important.

So why should I care? Ok stick close to me now coz I might go all over the place. The other week I watched an episode of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, as sad as it sounds I actually got something from it, and the Tories that may stumble across this will love it too. So there was this argument, between a former Playboy model and Edwina Curry. The model was saying how you shouldn’t live your life for others ect (I understood what she meant though I didn’t agree), and Edwina popped her head up and basically said that she was ridiculous and that you should consider others, she then pointed out that this model was in fact a mother and that her life must consider the child Bla Bla Bla!!! It went on, needless to say the American Playboy model didn’t quite have the vocabulary that Edwina has, and resorted to four letter words. Edwina (like the playboy model, not short of a sex scandal) was utterly right in her opinion. We should live our lives, whether or not we live in the public eye, considering others, our children, family, friends, the elderly, the poor, the environment. We should live selflessly, not to please others or to please those that we are considerate of, but so that we don’t swan around doing whatever we want, not giving a damn about the consequences of what we do, say, buy or eat.

There is a saying by Socrates which I try my best to live by, it says “an unexamined life is not worth living.” So just like the post on Facebook last week, I should pay less interest in what people do or say to hurt me but examine why I care. It’s more important that I learn than it is that I hurt. If I understand myself better it will help me be a better friend, brother,son or husband…… and hopefully I will become less irritating.

So there, it’s quite healing to understand why I hurt, it’s because I love. But it is scary, the measure in which I love I can be equally hurt.

What’s my politics?

If you have seen my Facebook profile recently you will notice that I am provoking some ‘thought’ around our current prime minister and his respective part, the Conservatives. You may think I am against the Torys but in truth I am not ‘for’ any of our dominant 4 (Tory, labour, Lib Dem and UKIP). They all simply do not represent me. They don’t represent about 90% of the population of our wonderful nation. Why? Apart from the fact that they all (Cameron, Milliband, Clegg and Farage) come from an elite class of people that have all paid more than the average mortgage to receive an education (not typical for 91% of the nation). Simply none of them seem to have any policies that get to the root issues within our nation and they all seem to want to jump on the immigration band wagon that UKIP have stirred up (which I think is a complete nonsense, immigrants stealing jobs is not the problem, if only unskilled Brits were as hard working). And to top it off they are nothing like me. Non of the potential candidates for the next general election are anything like me, or, again, anything like 90% of the population of the UK. When I see a party that isn’t writing policies that cozy up to big business and are making real ground on taxation of those massive multi billion $ companies, then I might actually consider speaking up for them. But so far I see no party that can/will make a difference where it is needed. We have the banks, even the ones that we have bailed out and rescued running a mock, there must be real reform in the financial sector otherwise we will usher in another financial crisis and blame whichever party is in power at the time it hits, and their opposition will ‘help’ us get angry about it too, so that we take their side when the elections come around. Once real issues are dealt with then perhaps we can start on the NHS or benefits or immigration. Give me a Prime Minister that has grown up on a council estate and gone to a state school, whose parents still live on the council estate and have struggled to give their child the best, thats a man worth voting for. Someone that has worked a proper job and had “management training” or a retired policeman. You know, someone that has interacted with real people and comes from a ‘representative’ background that can speak to people and understand them, that person might have a clue.

So why point the finger at David Cameron? To be honest I can’t find anything worth posting about the others, possibly UKIP, but I dislike them so much that I have decided to pretend they don’t exist. What they are doing to this country and to our policies is going to get ugly, if we don’t wake up to it soon! I literally despise UKIP, they represent small-minded, shortsighted, bigoted attitudes that sadly have become prominent in politics today, if bigotry wins voted then I won’t vote. I will vote, just not for them (ever).

I am not someone that knows all the facts and figures, I probably don’t know that much about politics at all. You could say I am just your average Joe. I earn an average wage, I am not well educated (though I could have been if I had bothered), and my family is not well connected, not in a way that’s going to get me any publicity, money or power. I simply pay an interest in what is going on in my country. I buy food and petrol, usually at Tesco or Morrisons, my pocket feels the price changes (up or down). I like to have nice clothes but not at ridiculous prices, so I tend to get what I wear reduced or I buy from somewhere like TK-Maxx. I am a Christian and I go to church (not that going to church qualifies the former). I have an understanding of the gospel that compels me to be compassionate and loving towards those less fortunate than me, and as a follower of Christ I do so out of love not duty. I don’t do this to get my ticket to heaven but because I know that the world needs it, and would be a much better place (for all) if we simply followed the message in the Gospels, not spiritualising it but incarnating it. We (Christians) are here to be the very embodiment of Christ on this earth and that must come at a cost, that must set our standards, our beliefs, our convictions. This doesn’t dictate who we vote for but what we vote for (if there are any policies that are worth a damn). It guilds us as to how a fairer society should live, that we must nurture our environment for future generations. It guilds us on how our financial systems must operate for the good of the people they exist to serve. It tells us to give to those that have not, and that if you have surplus you must give your excess to those that have nothing (food, money, time, space). It tells us that if I live by the sword I will die by the sword. The demise of this beautiful nation might simply be due to it’s leaders inability to say no to war. If I follow the teachings of Jesus then I find it hard to justify any military action.

I could go one, and you have already got enough to see that I hold an ideology in my heart. You would be forgiven for saying that my ideology will never happen. Whether or not it happens is completely irrelevant, I believe I am on this earth to live in such a way that it can happen.