Healing our broken humanity

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Has anyone had a child ask them recently ‘how many weeks until Christmas?’

When our 4 were younger it usually came up about 2 weeks after they started back at school following the long summer break; like a beacon of hope, the promise of Christmas beckoned them onward, resolute through the Autumn term.

For most of us the central message of Christ’s birth, the incarnation, is not at the forefront of our minds as we busy ourselves in preparation… It is hard to balance the material reality of a traditional, Western Christmas with the extraordinary, life-altering message of God’s self-giving love which was expressed uniquely in the person of a small and vulnerable baby, born on the margins of a powerful empire.

Yet, the mode in which God chose to reveal himself is a starting point, an identity marker, for our discipleship as followers of Jesus.

The incarnation gives us key clues to the question ‘how then should we live as people of faith?’ which are explored in imaginative and practical depth in the Global Church Project 

We highly recommend that you take time to explore the resources for yourself, your church, discipleship group, youth group or seminary class.

As we reflect on the Great Promises of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 61 let us also remember that as people of faith we are called to manifest God’s love in each and every context we find ourselves. This may require us to cross uncomfortable boundaries in order to maintain faithful testimony to the call to be ‘New Humanity’ which the Apostle Paul spoke about in Ephesians.

In Healing broken humanity various people explore what this might mean in different contexts around the world.

[Click on the link and the 10 minute video is at the bottom of the page.]

Advent 4: Liberation!

The Advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.

The everlasting Son
Incarnate soon shall be :
He will a servant’s form put on,
To make his people free.

Rev. John Chandler, The Hymns of the Primitive Church (London: John W. Parker, 1837), Number 36, pp. 39-40.

In this mini Advent series we’ve reflected on three themes of advent encapsulated in this hymn: Advent as ENCOUNTER, Advent as SERVICE  and in this final post I want to consider Advent as LIBERATION.

The theme of liberation or becoming free runs through the scriptures like a river course and is inextricably linked with what the Old Testament prophets identified as the justice and righteousness of God which manifests Shalom (wholeness, flourishing and peace) and what the New Testament writers identified as the saving and wholeness-making love of God which manifests liberation, restoration and peace- equivalent to the Old Testament concept of Shalom

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The prophet Isaiah says this of the re-ordering, restoring and liberating hope which was to come in the person of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 11):

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Righteousness will be his belt

and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Mary’s Magnificat prayer-song as she anticipates the birth of Jesus echoes this liberating theme (Luke 1:44-56) and in the eye-witness account of Luke, Jesus Christ himself describes his purpose in his reading of the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

So, this ancient hymn of the primitive Church enjoins us during this season of Advent and beyond to continue to encounter, serve and live in the fullness of liberation which brings hope to our worlds. This year saw the publication of a new edition of the Bible which aims to highlight the river of liberation which courses through biblical scripture, to which we were privileged to make a contribution-it is called God’s Justice Bible and is well worth looking at if you have not already got or seen a copy.

It is thrilling to be part of a world wide family which is called to love beyond borders and to seek a kingdom or a way of life which is radically inclusive and governed by a God whose loving justice restores and brings wholeness to those who seek… I’ll leave you with another old song which I remember singing with gusto as a child which is based on Jesus’ invitation to all of us who want to follow him (Matthew 6) .

Warmest greetings to you this Christmas from Andy and I at the jusTice initiative!

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Advent 1: The Advent of our God

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The Advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet him on his road
With hymns of holy joy.

The everlasting Son
Incarnate soon shall be :
He will a servant’s form put on,
To make his people free.

Rev. John Chandler, The Hymns of the Primitive Church (London: John W. Parker, 1837), Number 36, pp. 39-40.

Advent invites us to both remember historical events leading up to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and to anticipate and participate in the continuous incarnation and encounter with God.

The above hymn encapsulates in just these two short verses key themes for this season:

  • As God moves towards us we also ‘must meet him on his road’
  • Incarnation is about service within a specific context
  • Incarnation brings freedom within a specific context

…more anon…

Book Review: Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches

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In Global Church: reshaping our conversations, renewing our mission, revitalising our churches, Graham Hill nails his thesis firmly on the doors of the Western Church and Academy:

Those of us in the West need a new narrative. It’s time to abandon our flawed Eurocentric and Americentric worldviews. We need a new, global and missional narrative. We must turn to the churches of Majority World and indigenous cultures. They can help us explore what it means to be a global missional community. (Hill,16).

Scot McKnight observes in his introduction to Global Church that ‘there is no one more alert to the global and theological shape of missions today than Graham Hill’ (McKnight, Forward p 11). This book demonstrates that alertness resourced by twenty-seven years of personal enquiry, immersion and practise. Global Church threads the stories of personal encounter and observation with rigorous scholarship and presents the reader with a set of proposals to chew over which demand our engaged and considered response. I doubt that this book will be without its critics and this is a good feature of it- that it invites an ongoing conversation; the outcomes of that ongoing conversation depend on all of us.

In Global Church Graham Hill engages us with the reasons he believes that the Western Church needs to integrate a new narrative or worldview which explores what it might look like to be a ‘global missional community’. He set out clearly in what ways Majority World Christians are redefining Twenty First century Christianity and how he thinks the Western Church needs to take this into serious consideration. Numerically, 61% of the world’s Christians now live in the global south or Majority World and he cites Phillip Jenkin’s prediction that by 2025 two-thirds of Christians will live in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Graham Hill is emphatic that it is time to stop marginalizing and ignoring the voices of the Majority World Churches.

Global Church follows Graham Hill’s Salt, Light and a city: Introducing missional ecclesiology and develops his proposals of how to integrate and learn from non-Western missional reflections and practices using Mark’s three powerful images of the Church as salt, light and a city. It is a book of considerable scope which introduces, in Part 1, Reshaping our conversations, the need to move beyond the Western academy legacy to embrace ‘glocal conversations…dialogue, learning and partnership… [with] Majority World, indigenous and Western thinkers…activists, communities and ordinary believers.’ (p25) It moves on in Part 2, Renewing our Mission to develop interesting and important topics such hospitality, care for creation and ethical living alongside a review of liberation theologies, pneumatologies and contextual theologies of the Majority World. In Part 3, Revitalising our Churches, the book concludes with an expansive review of the resources which the Majority Church has to offer to scripture engagement, education, models for servant leadership, community building, spirituality and discipleship. The final chapter closes the book with a reassertion of its central emphasis:

Global missional theology challenges that historical and inherited way of doing theology. It challenges its dominance and myopia and cultural superiority. It challenges the assumption that our inherited Western so-called canons of theology are universal and true for all times and all places. That assumption is false. The voices of the global church-its communities and leaders and theologians-challenge these western theological canons and assumptions. They highlight their shortcomings. They emphasise the need for global theological conversations. (Hill, 422)

This book offers very good engagement and material for students, practitioners and educationalists alike. The breadth of its focus is supplemented by clear chapter end summaries, a study guide and an invitation to access the GlobalChurch project video series. It serves both as a mandate for reform and a helpful survey of Majority Church contributions to the glocal conversation.  The content is thorough in its breadth but not exhaustive in its analysis which keeps the considerable volume of material moving forwards at a reasonable pace but which inevitably means that some important conversations which emerge from Graham Hill’s proposals are not explored in more depth-maybe material for the next book! The style is passionate and assertive which for some readers may be somewhat exhausting whilst for others it will be an exhilarating and motivating read.

As someone who is also passionate about truly glocal conversations in mission I warmly recommend this excellent book.

 

What are the things that matter..?

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Intuitively and instinctively we can sense that Martin Luther King Jr. is right.

But it might actually turn out to be the prior challenge with which we are really wrestling; what are the things that matter? Do we know? Have we forgotten? How can we re-member them?

These questions lie at the heart of our quest for community and justice…

If we die a little each time we fail to speak out about the things that matter…perhaps we could also say that we come alive a little each time we uncover a little more understanding of the things which truly matter…?

 

‘Broken Britain’: what do you think are three key issues for equipping the church for mission today?

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If you were asked for your three key issues for equipping the church for mission in contemporary Britain, what would you say? I would be interested to hear your views on what you consider to be three key ones.

Here is a short reflection on what I think; not necessarily the three most key ones (up to date research would need to be done) but ones that occur to me at this time.

I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

A contemporary snapshot…

We live in a world of insecurity, despair and hopelessness – that is the picture for a major part of humanity as we lurch through economic crisis, displacement of identity, war, conflict and a loss of confidence in truth and meaningful existence…this presents a significant opportunity for the global church to reflect the love of God in its mission. In the West, and in the Britain in particular, fresh challenges meet us – an angry constituency demands effective political leadership and greater economic justice, as food banks dole out provisions to more and more in need each week. Distrust in authority, the erosion of purpose and tiredness of existing brittle structures, leaves the community of Christ-followers standing on the threshold of an opportunity that has, perhaps, been rarely available in the recent past – people are looking for signs of hope amid the rubble of despair and lostness, as Leslie Newbiggin once discerned and articulated. Generous dialogue with ‘the other’ is imperative in our cultural milieu.

So, I wish to raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension), who we are (the empathic dimension) and where we are going (the hope dimension. These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Firstly…where we are

I suggest there are 3 key issues we need to fully engage with in contemporary Britain. Firstly, our community must be inclusive and welcoming. In Hebrew life the alien was given certain protections and the Old Testament is full of provisions which sought to include the outsider and welcome the alien amongst God’s people. Contemporary migration gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as change cold and oppressive attitudes. Secondly, economic inequality is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict. Challenging unjust economic and financial structures, and promoting simpler and more creative life-affirming lifestyles is part of the churches’ prophetic function. Being bold, courageous and true disciples points the way that others may follow – becoming missional communities affords that possibility. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within a plethora of ideologies and worldviews. We stand at the crossroads where our legitimacy and message is questioned and critiqued as never before. Postmodernity asserts that we no longer hold to a meta-narrative of the Truth, but that we must mutually tolerate each and everyone’s truths. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique. So, a long hard look at our context and awareness of these three key issues which face our nation today, is a good starting point for taking a reality-check and beginning the process of equipping the church for mission.

This is the first dimension for equipping the church for mission – contextual awareness

Secondly…who we are

Our brokenness and weakness make us ideal vessels to carry the love of God; a counter-cultural message which perhaps is foolishness to the ‘Greeks’, yet carries the only power to really change things. God’s enormous love for the whole of His cosmos, somehow is enabled and manifest in each and every one of us – a love to be shared out and poured out with kenotic extravagance. This is being the missional people of God; in love with God also means being in love with His world, a world which He declared to be good. This love requires us to share the pains as well as the joys of each other.

Do we live what we proclaim? Are we pretending to care when really our love has gone cold? Do we prefer ‘the other’ when we are told ‘the other’ has come to take our jobs and suck our welfare system dry? Do we really understand what incarnational living is, when this may require downward-mobility, the relinquishing of selfish individualism and other privileges we have enjoyed? These are tough questions that cut to the core of our identity. Perhaps the world judged the people of God for who they thought they were, rather than who they really were. We need to be authentic disciples of Christ, and by acknowledging our broken reality, and our utter dependence on God’s loving grace and each other, we may be on the path to fulfilling this second dimension for becoming an equipped community.

Acknowledging our weaknesses and failures gives us hope that we may be lights in the darkness, so I suggest a missing ingredient to be unearthed again in our contemporary society, is empathy; we must rediscover our empathic nature. This is the ability to see ‘the other’s needs, feel the other’s pain and be moved to respond lovingly and appropriately. Jesus was our prime example – moved to compassion, he acted. Loveless and cold duty ultimately serves no one; if it is not done in love we are merely clanging gongs, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us.

See this highly watchable video on the Empathic civilisation. In it bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. See also Krznaric’s recent book, Empathy, for more on this subject.

This is the second dimension for equipping the church in mission – becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved.

Thirdly…where we are going

The journey of life leads to certain death, and yet the resurrection narrative gives us hope to share with our ‘broken Britain’. Whilst many of our leaders are trying to steer us to ‘business as usual’, we have a significant opportunity as a missional community to model another way. Our eschatology may require re-interpretation. Our future home is a new heavens and a new earth – this world of need and brokenness, destruction and decay, of which contemporary Britain serves as a microcosmic example, is going to be refined and made good. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in the working out of that. And yet our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’ – this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in, and is active today. Working for the common good of His creation is demonstrated through provocatively and pro-actively calling into being this new reality; that is a very hopeful place in which to be.

This is the third dimension for equipping the church for mission – walking the hope journey, founded on an integrated eschatological vision of the Kingdom of God.

The details of this, of course, have to be unpacked – that is for another time! For now these three dimensions of equipping the church for God’s mission, the missio dei, are framed within a vision of shalom – the biblical flourishing of all aspects of life. Our God is an imminent God, intimately in love with His creation, and desiring of our worship and connection, for His glory; that is the essence of being a missional community, and the three dimensions for equipping the church are part of the process of becoming that missional community. I finish with a quote from the book Carnival Kingdom:

‘…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at the expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation’

In summary, we have considered context, empathy and hope. Today we stand only a few months away from the General Election; we need to vote intelligently and courageously…not just what we’ve always voted, nor playing tactical voting ‘games’, but voting for real policies and then holding our political leaders to account to see those promises delivered.

If we have the above dimensions in mind, and the issues raised within them, then our part in helping to equip the church for mission may just help see ‘broken Britain’ become ‘flourishing Britain’.

key issues for equipping the church for mission today – a short reflection (part 3)

In orderPicture2 to keep this short, I don’t propose to critique the contemporary meaning of some of the key words in this title; equipping, church, mission. Of course, the concepts of church and mission are in flux – dealing with that will not be my priority here. Rather, I simply wish to reflect briefly on a few key thoughts that seek to challenge the core of what being a disciple of Jesus means for us living in Britain today, so that the community of believers may be better equipped to engage in meaningful and authentic mission practice.

I very briefly raise three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on; where we are (the contextual dimension, part 1); who we are (the empathic dimension, part 2) and; where we are going (the hope dimension, part 3). These dimensions are to be understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Over the last 2 days I posted up part 1 reflecting on the first element, contextual awareness, and part 2 reflecting on the second element, becoming an empathic people, who are moved with compassion to love the unloved

Below is the third element, dealing with where we are going:

The journey of life leads to certain death, and yet the resurrection narrative gives us hope to share with our ‘broken Britain’. Whilst many of our leaders are trying to steer us to ‘business as usual’, we have a significant opportunity as a missional community to model another way. Our eschatology may require re-interpretation. Our future home is a new heavens and a new earth – this world of need and brokenness, destruction and decay, of which contemporary Britain serves as a microcosmic example, is going to be refined and made good. We have a hope that is promised in Scripture, glimpsed in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, and we have been entrusted to be co-participants with God in the working out of that. And yet our hope is not just in the ‘yet to come’, but also in the ‘now’ – this is the reality of God’s kingdom which has been ushered in, and is active today. Working for the common good of His creation is demonstrated through provocatively and pro-actively calling into being this new reality; that is a very hopeful place in which to be.

This is the third dimension for equipping the church for mission – walking the hope journey, founded on an integrated eschatological vision of the Kingdom of God.

The details of this, of course, have to be unpacked – that is for another time! For now these three dimensions of equipping the church for God’s mission, the missio dei, are framed within a vision of shalom – the biblical flourishing of all aspects of life. Our God is an imminent God, intimately in love with His creation, and desiring of our worship and connection, for His glory; that is the essence of being a missional community, and the three dimensions for equipping the church are part of the process of becoming that missional community. I finish with a quote from the book Carnival Kingdom:

‘…the Kingdom is described as an ‘upside down Kingdom’ – radically different to the status quo of earthly kingdoms where power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at tPicture1he expense of the majority. At the heart of the vision of the reign of God is the belief that this reign will result in shalom; the delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself, in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation’

In summary, we have considered context, empathy and hope. If we have those dimensions in mind, and the issues raised within them, then our role in equipping the church for mission may be on the right path to help see ‘broken Britain’ become ‘flourishing Britain’.