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Bizarre Christianity

You can always rely on Matthew Paul Turner to highlight the stranger areas of Christianity. He’s seen it from the inside in his upbringing. Today, he has two videos that are pushing for places in the Champions League of crazy Christianity. Firstly, the Holy Ghost Holy Pokey:

Secondly – can you adapt the lyrics of a song about oral sex into a worship song? These folks clearly think you can.

Laugh? Cry? Both?

Sermon: Reasons For Self-Denial

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Have you given up anything for Lent? Some of my friends have denied themselves the usual chocolate. Another has started an annual practice of giving up Facebook.

But if you had asked this of my wife some years ago, she would have given you a strange look. She came to faith and had her early Christian formation in a Baptist church. When she met me, she found the practices of the Methodist Church strange. I must admit that as someone who has been in Methodism since the womb, I still find it strange!

And one practice Debbie had never encountered before was Lent. The day she asked me what Lent was, I couldn’t believe I was hearing what she said. Surely everybody knew what Lent was? It’s been part of my background all my life! Indeed, except for when Easter Day occurs on the very latest day in the year that it can, my birthday always falls within Lent. Thankfully, I’m allowed to feast on my birthday – according to my rules, anyway!

Now the reading from Philippians seems a good one for Lent. Not that the earliest Christians practised it, but it is a passage that explores the importance of self-discipline. Now while Debbie’s home church was lower than low – calling baptism and Holy Communion ordinances, not sacraments – I’m sure they too would have endorsed the importance of self-discipline in the Christian life. And at Lent or any other time, that is a critical part of our discipleship. It’s also – as we shall see – an area where we can be a counter-cultural witness in our world today.

Implicit in Paul’s teaching here are various core Christian reasons which provide the foundations for living a life of self-discipline to the glory of God. It’s those beliefs I want to explore today.

We begin at the Cross. Christians always have to begin at the Cross, and Paul does so here.

For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. (Verse 18)

Paul sees that a root cause of self-indulgence is not taking the Cross seriously. The Cross is not merely the place where I am forgiven – so that I can keep living however I like and then return for the next batch of forgiveness. The Cross is the model for our discipleship. What Paul teaches here is consistent with Jesus telling aspiring disciples to deny themselves, take up the Cross and follow him.

Christianity, then, is less about what I can get and more about what I can give. So much of our conversation, even in the Church, is peppered with the assumptions of consumerism. Does this church suit me? Did the worship feed me? Does it have what I need? It’s very me-centred. But the Cross says we have to take a different approach. And disciplines of self-denial and self-discipline are those which call us back to the Cross. They are not preventing ourselves becoming fat, they are about tuning ourselves into the wavelength of the Cross.

So a week ago, when there was a news story reporting the development of a new low-fat chocolate bar, where the fat particles are replaced with water, air or gels, the Daily Telegraph was wrong to call it the ‘Chocolate bar that can be eaten during Lent’. The point of self-denial isn’t about losing weight, it’s about a sign that we will walk the way of the Cross. As one person put it,

Lent is supposed to be concerned with spiritual discipline and self-denial, not a handy way of losing a bit of weight. If the new low-fat chocolate tastes as good as an old-fashioned one but doesn’t pile on the pounds, then where’s the self-denial?

So we approach Lenten disciplines of self-denial not as some kind of belated New Year’s Resolution to get ourselves in shape; we embrace them as a sign that we accept the Cross will shape the way we live.

The second Christian building-block in Paul’s teaching is worship. Hear verse 19 again:

Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

‘Their god is their belly.’ Who do we worship when we are self-indulgent? Ourselves. This comment of Paul’s tests what we truly believe worship to be, because it’s a question of allegiance. Does my stomach deserve my ultimate allegiance? I need to feed it, but when it becomes my god, something has gone badly wrong.

This, then, is about how we understand worship. Much as I enjoy worship with a band, featuring a lot of contemporary songs, and other people love their hymns, how dangerous it is when we end up worshipping worship. And we forget what worship is. The main New Testament word translated ‘worship’ means ‘to move towards and kiss’. However, the ‘kiss’ envisaged is the ‘kiss of homage’, like that offered to a monarch, and even still kept in a symbolic and ceremonial way in our society when a new Prime Minister or bishop is appointed. They have to go to ‘the Palace’ to ‘kiss the hands’ of the sovereign.

Worship is not in the first place about the good feelings and the positive experiences. It is about declaring our allegiance to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord or Lords. When we deny ourselves as a spiritual discipline, we do so not to torment ourselves but to affirm that God’s will comes first in our lives. We are to indulge his will, not our appetites. We ‘do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’, and so our worship is seen by taking God’s word seriously and putting it into practice as a priority. When we do that, our god is not our belly. Instead, we give ourselves in devotion and worship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we come to our third and final foundation, you could say this is a question of past, present and future. A past event – the Cross – shapes our behaviour now. Our present activity – of worship – needs to be rightly directed to God. So thirdly and finally, that leaves a future component – the kingdom of God.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Verses 20-21)

Jesus is coming, says Paul, and our minds are set on him rather than ‘earthly things’ (the worship point again). But Paul goes further: what Jesus will do when he comes also leads us to consider our behaviour now. When Paul says, ‘He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory’, he is making a reference to the Resurrection. Jesus’ own ‘body of humiliation’ was transformed into a ‘body of glory’ in the Resurrection. You will remember that the risen Jesus was identifiably the same man who had been crucified (once the disciples’ eyes had been opened), but his body was also somehow different (remember how he appeared in their midst in a locked room, and how he disappeared from sight after the meal at the end of the Emmaus Road journey).

So, says Paul, we are in for transformation, too. When Jesus comes again and renews heaven and earth, he will raise us up and renew our bodies, just as his was. This will be an expression of his reign in his kingdom, for he will do it ‘by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself’ (verse 21b).

If you’ve followed me thus far, one thing you will understand is that our bodies matter to God. They are important to him. The great future of God’s kingdom is a physical one. The idea often trumpeted that our body is just a shell and that the real person is the invisible soul simply doesn’t match the New Testament’s teaching. Our bodies are part of God’s good creation. Yes, they are imperfect and they decay (what Paul calls here the ‘body of humiliation’) but God does not intend to discard them, he will renew them at the resurrection of the dead.

What does all this have to do with our Lent theme of self-denial? For one thing, it reminds us that self-denial is not about self-hatred. It is about self-discipline, and that’s a whole lot different. When we deny ourselves, we are not doing so in order to torture ourselves, like Filipino Christians being nailed to crosses as acts of devotion. It is more that we are training our body for better use in the service of God. It is why in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul uses the image of an athlete training to compete in the ancient Olympics. So too our self-denial is an act of training: we are getting ready for the Great Games themselves in the Kingdom of God.

In other words, self-denial is a positive action. It is about love for God and his ways. It is part of building for God’s kingdom.

In fact, it is something we practise in other areas of life. I remember one particular aspect of our marriage preparation. We sat in the lounge of the manse where the minister friend who was to marry us lived. I recall how awkward he felt about having to ask some of the standard questions to two people he knew. I was one of his circuit colleagues!

One question in particular stuck with me. he talked about the promises in the marriage service where the man and the woman say they will honour one another with their bodies. Now I guess many couples think that when they say, ‘With my body I thee worship’ or some modern equivalent, it is really a coy, veiled reference to sex. But our friend had a different take. He looked at me and said,

“Dave, how are you going to look after your body for Debbie’s sake?”

Well, as someone who has put on a stone in weight since marriage, it may well be I haven’t honoured that as well as I should have done!

But perhaps the point stands. And perhaps it helps us see that while we naturally accept we would deny ourselves for our loved ones, how much more we might do so for the love of our God?

In conclusion, I can’t tell anyone whether they should give up anything for Lent and if so, what. But I can invite us all to examine ourselves and ask, is my life being conformed to the Cross or are there areas where I need to deny myself in order to make that more true? I can invite us to look at who or what we worship, to see whether our priorities need correcting by self-denial. And I can put before us all the hope of resurrection to enquire whether we need to deny ourselves out of love for God and his ways, by building for his kingdom.

Streaming Nose, Streaming Worship

I continue to convalesce. Doctors and nurses warned me my nose would most likely feel blocked for up to two weeks, and I was not to blow it in the normal way. Thus I retain the bunged-up feeling almost permanently. Not only did I fail to sleep at all on Tuesday night in hospital, I am finding it difficult to sleep at home. Gernally, I get off to sleep but when I wake in the middle of the night, I can’t get back to sleep because I can’t breathe t00 easily. Three hours a night is about what I’m managing. It’s all very frustrating, and it had better be worth it in the end!

I was told to rest and stay away from large groups of people for two weeks. A major reason for this was infection control. Specifically, I have to avoid people with coughs and colds. So what did I bring home with me from hospital? A cold.

Now this raises a dilemma for tomorrow, and the following Sunday. Since I cannot attend an act of public worship, I thought I might see whether there was some streamed worship I could watch on the web. I realise such services are only likely to be broadcast from larger churches and might display some of the megachurch tendencies with which I’m uncomfortable. But I still want to find a way to observe Sunday as a day of worship, albeint on my own, and Songs Of Praise just won’t do.

So I thought I would ask whether anybody knows any sources of streamed worship they would recommend? We have broadband, but it’s not the most lightning-fast. Please leave any ideas in the comments. I’ve done some initial Googling  and found an American site with links to all sorts of services.However, there is a time difference to allow for of anything up to eight hours. (I might still watch one later in the day, though.) Personal recommendations, though, are always worth so much. Hopefully I’ll have something to report back on tomorrow.

Sabbatical, Day 85: Random Links And Thoughts

 There’s not a lot to report today on the cat front. Debbie had a long phone conversation with a woman who runs what amounts to a clearing house for people who cannot keep their pets. We’ve expressed an interest in two separate pairs of cats, and now await a call back regarding arrangements to visit them.

In the area of church and sabbatical, there is also little to say today for delicate reasons.

So instead of the usual, I offer you a pot-pourri. (No, not popery, Mr Paisley.)

Here are some interesting links I came across. 

Some Video Fun 
How about Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody played on old school computer equipment?

(Via the weekly Mojo magazine email.) 

Here’s a parody of the Christian worship – ahem – ‘industry’:

 

Jesus Stuff 

Not a link, but a couple of great quotes from an interview with J John in the Summer 2009 issue of New Wine magazine, pages 10 and 11:

If we are all witnesses, does that mean we are all evangelists? 
Not everyone is an evangelist, but everyone is a witness. In a court of law, you have a lawyer who takes the facts and presents them in a convincing manner. As an evangelist, that’s what I do. I take the facts and try to get people to the point where they are convinced that Christianity is true. An evangelist will communicate much more of the substance of Christianity.

But if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a witness. And a witness in the court stands up and says, ‘Well I don’t know very much, but let me tell you my story.’ Everyone that’s a follower of Jesus has a testimony of what Jesus has done for them. Therefore everyone can answer. It’s not hard at all.

How do you approach people of other faiths? 
I don’t get defensive. Rather, I ask questions such as: in what way does your faith help you in your life, give you confidence for the future or help you face death? I reveal cracks in their philosophy and show them that in Christ, we have a confidence and a hope. But I wouldn’t ever put people down. All we have to do is lift Jesus up.

(This material copyright New Wine Magazine and used with permission.)

Chopping down the Sunday tree: radical thoughts on how to approach a potentially dying church from Graham Peacock. HT: Maggi Dawn.

Mr Tweet recommended Mike Todd on Twitter to me. I found his blog, Waving Or Drowning, and among a feast of riches I found in this post a brilliant quote from Brian McLaren about what Christians might consider to be a proper view from the economic crisis. Do read it. He says that we might contemplate recovery in the way an addict does, in which case we don’t want recovery to be a return to our old addictive highs, but a facing of the addictions.

Tech
1st Web Designer: 28 Online Photo Editing Sites To Have Fun With – via@problogger.

Read-Write Web has great first impressions of Wolfram-Alpha, not a ‘Google killer’ search engine but a ‘computational knowledge engine’ that will cross over into Wikipedia‘s domain. TechCrunch reports there will be a public preview on Tuesday, streamed live from Harvard.

Sabbatical, Day 66: Jesus Discusses The End Times, Flash Mob Worship, And Egg Ministry

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Third Damaris Trust video for Holy Week above. Anna Robbins explores some of the issues raised by Jesus’ teaching about the future, which he gave in the temple courts soon before his death. What does it mean that Jesus will return, and how should we live in the meantime?

…………

Found this today, thanks to following Ruth Gledhill on Twitter: guerrilla flash-mob worship in Liverpool last Sunday. (Ruth Gledhill’s blog post on the subject is here.) Here are Christians putting into practice the principles in Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ to create a public prophetic action. Do watch the video. It’s fascinating.

So is this the way to go? Three years ago Theo Hobson wrote a piece in the Guardian in which he said that Christianity could never avoid a ritual element, but it could avoid the ritual being controlled by authoritarian hierarchies. (HT to Third Way re the Hobson article.) This will be problematic for some in my Methodist tradition, because we appoint ministers (and, occasionally, laypeople) to preside at sacraments to ensure ‘good order’. The New Testament is concerned with good order at the sacraments, as we find when Paul addresses the chaos and injustice at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). However, Paul addresses the problem via teaching rather than the instatement of authorised leaders.

Thoughts, anyone?

…………

And finally for something completely different. Today, I have mostly been … boiling eggs. Debbie began something in our first Spring here three years ago that has become a little tradition. An Easter party for the children. She started it in order to help our two make friends, and now Easter is not complete without it. Egg rolling competitions, egg and spoon races (including one race for mums), an egg hunt in the garden, Easter bonnet decorating – all are essential parts of a ritual which those arch-traditionalists, our children, demand.

Normally I’m out and about whenever Debbie schedules it, but this year, with the sabbatical, I was around. I had been deputed to be ready to capture the action with my camera. Although I managed some of that near the end, you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties,

and today was no exception. Debbie dropped Mark’s egg for the egg rolling competition just before our guests arrived. Others arrived, having forgotten to bring eggs, and one little girl only told Mummy half an hour before coming out that she needed an egg. I can safely say that, whatever my failings in other areas, I am a master at hard-boiling eggs. Just as well for someone whose introduction to cookery when he went away to college was a book entitled ‘How To Boil An Egg‘.

So does the church want a hard-boiled minister? Here I am. Send for me.



Sabbatical, Day 43: Worshipping, Not Drowning

This morning I headed off to church on my own. Debbie and the children went swimming. There were a few reasons behind this parting of the ways. Firstly, when I’m not sabbaticalling, the Sunday School at Broomfield is only alternate Sundays. Debbie doesn’t feel she can make the children sit through an adult service regularly, so she began taking them for fun swims to boost their skills. Yesterday, they said they wanted to go to the pool again.

A second reason would be that I’m still uneasy about missing worship for anything other than illness. I attribute that to my upbringing in a church family. There is something positive about keeping the Sabbath that is important to me. I’m going to find it hard next Sunday: not only is it Mothering Sunday, it is also Rebekah’s birthday, and I know there will be pressure for us to miss church and go out somewhere.

But there is a third reason. I can’t swim.

I had some lessons at school, but at primary school they were scuppered by a traumatic experience. I saw my best friend held under the water. That did things inside a seven-year-old’s mind, and I never recovered. Going onto secondary school at eleven, the games teacher was the macho sort who was aggressively unsympathetic to any boy who couldn’t swim. All he did was haul me across the width of the pool by a rope.

I’ve never seriously revisited the issue. When Debbie and I were on honeymoon, we spent a few days at an hôtel with a pool and she offered to help me learn. Since it was her, I didn’t mind. But I just couldn’t grasp it.

Every now and again, she asks me to take adult lessons. I feel there are so many fear barriers I would have to cross. One is whether I would be humiliated again by a teacher. Another is how I would cope without my glasses on. (I’m not a suitable case for contact lenses – long story.) And some other things. Yet I am one who stands in a pulpit and tells people that Jesus can help them through the painful memories of their past. One day, I’ll have to find a way of dealing with this. Right now, I’m not sure how. I only know it will have to be gentle.

As for the worship, one or two parts really struck me, not least the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent:

Almighty God, 
whose most dear Son went not up to joy
but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified,
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How many times have I heard those words? How often have I read the biblical passages on which they are based, not least Paul’s words in Philippians, where he wants to know Christ and the power of the resurrection, but only through ‘fellowship in his sufferings’? Today, however, they were a living word for me, making sense of the down times and the dry spells since coming to Chelmsford. Perhaps these will prove to be ‘the way of the cross’ and that hope is coming.

It certainly tied in with what Paul, the vicar, preached about. He changed the Lectionary Epistle reading and preached about how we can face darkness as Christians. He should know. As he said publicly on this occasions, and has said before, he has battled depression for thirty years. It was an honest and hopeful word.

One lovely thing today, and one sadness. The former came this afternoon, when we took the children out to a playground in a local park. There, Rebekah saw someone from school. He is permanently in a wheelchair, but had been at the swimming pool this morning. He had thought Rebekah must be in Year 3 (she’s in Year 1). She asked if we could go and speak with him and his grandparents. We made a new friend, someone we can now speak to when we see him at the school. All because Rebekah made the overture of friendship. She’s learning missional before she’s six.

The sadness was to learn that another couple we know are separating. That is three couples is less than a year. Two of the couples are Christian families. Our hearts now go out to this couple, and to their children. Our prayers go up for their pain.

Sabbatical, Day 26: George Kovoor Is Mad, Myers Briggs Is Sane, Worship Is Amazing

George Kovoor is mad. It’s the title of a Facebook group, and it’s true. I discovered the group last night when the man himself sent me a friend request and it was on his profile. He is a member.

As I thought, I wasn’t able to set up an appointment with him today, as he requested yesterday. When I was here in the 1980s, you needed to ask the Principal’s secretary two weeks in advance if you wanted to see George Carey. So when I went to see the current secretary, sure enough there was no window when both  GK and I were free.

However, she made a suggestion. Why not reserve a seat next to him at lunch? The staff and students here all have yellow chits they place on tables to reserve seats in the dining room. She tore up a piece of yellow paper, wrote my name on it and told me where George sits. I went and marked the seat next to him.

It was duly a crazy conversation. Just I am very clearly an introvert, so George is as clear an extravert as you are likely to meet. He conducted simultaneous conversations with about five of us. I referred yesterday to how he has a collection of projects all in addition to being Principal here. He referred to my bookmarking of Butler and Butler‘s fairtrade clergy shirts, and it transpires he has an involvement in the marketing of clergy attire himself.

During the meal, George asked for a bottle of tabasco sauce. We expected him to use it on his chicken and spicy rice. No. He drank it directly from the bottle. Tonight, I have learned from some of the students that it is his favourite party trick, especially in front of men. However, it has given the students an idea for something when they hold a ‘superheroes day’ here in a fortnight to support Comic Relief. Pastoral confidentiality does of course mean that I cannot reveal their plans on a public blog.

At the end of lunch, he said he was sad we couldn’t match our diaries but was still keen to meet. So I’m having breakfast with him at 7:45 am tomorrow, when he gets into college.

On a calmer note, the course today has been just what I wanted when I booked it last year. I’ve taken very few notes, but so much has fallen into place. Without turning it into the psychological equivalent of a horoscope reading, my personality profile under Myers Briggs makes so much sense of my strengths and weaknesses in ministry and in other relationships. Jerry Gilpin who is teaching the course is another former Trinity student. He was in the year above me. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up over coffee tomorrow. Already he’s given me some recommended reading on personality type and ministry. So far it includes Faith and Psychology by Leslie Francis, Growing Spiritually with the Myers-Briggs Model by Julia McGuinness, In the Grip by Naomi L Quenk, and he’s going to check on the title of a book by William Bridges.

I’ll sign off soon. I need to pack stuff ready for leaving here tomorrow lunchtime. Lectures start at 9:15 and I have to vacate the room by 10. I need just my morning stuff and laptop bag ready to go.

There won’t be chapel worship tomorrow morning, because the students will be worshipping in their pastoral groups. So I have worshipped together with the community for the last time. And I wanted to say this. Whatever nit-picking comments I’ve made about services this week (and that’s my personality type, too!), I have so far failed to mention the extraordinary sense of devotion and commitment to Christ that surrounds you like a magnetic field in the worship. I’m struggling for a way to express this gracefully and without sounding condemning of others, but I have missed being in a community like that. I believe that when you are in a group of Christians like that, then iron sharpens iron. Others lift the level of your discipleship. Sometimes they don’t know they’re doing it, but they do. I wonder how much of this energy gets dissipated when people leave.

I don’t know whether it’s as unrealistic to reproduce this in the local church as it is to bring back to a congregation the ‘spiritual high’ some people experience at conferences. I’m tempted to think there is a difference here, though, because this is an ongoing, day by day, week by week community, not an annual gathering of thousands. Am I crazy to have lofty ambitions for the local church? I always have been a (failed) idealist in that cause. One of my tutors at my Methodist college, David Dunn Wilson, picked up on my tendency in this direction and told me to remember that the Church is a company of sinners. Eugene Peterson has a similar tone in his book The Jesus Way, in which he stresses the importance of forgiveness from the example of King David’s life. I agree with both of them up to a point, but Christians are more than forgiven sinners. It’s something the Methodist tradition knew in its infancy with John Wesley‘s call to ‘scriptural holiness’. Somewhere I still believe that a community of forgiven sinners also needs deep intentional aspirations to holiness.

Or am I barking?

Sermons, Worship And Stuff

My eagle-eyed reader will have noticed there was no sermon posted on the site this weekend. (My wife says you should be rejoicing. If you wondered why I posted about the dressing gown yesterday, I just wanted to get some writing out of my system.)

That’s because I wasn’t preaching today. I led some prayers in a Christingle service this morning at St Augustine’s followed by leading a short said communion, and some more intercessions tonight in a circuit service to commission three worship leaders.

The Christingle service was fun. Jane, my Anglican colleague, made a boy in the congregation into a human Christingle. I just hope he got the orange make-up off before his football game this afternoon. 

Tonight it was good to celebrate the gifts of three worship leaders. Berniece, sadly, couldn’t be with us, as she had been taken to hospital this week. But Joe and Dianne, both from churches I serve, are the sort of people any minister would want to have in their congregations.

Next week I may or may not post a new sermon. In the evening I’ll have a café church service where we discuss some clips from a DVD. In the morning I’m on a pulpit exchange to mark the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and so I shall be doing my minister stuff at a local United Reformed Church while a Catholic lay pastoral assistant fills my pulpit. It might be one of those weeks where it would be helpful to lift the pressure by repeating an old sermon, not least with assemblies at two different schools (including my children’s school for the first time), all sorts of other meetings and the minor detour of a tooth extraction tomorrow morning.

Come three weeks’ time and there will be a protracted period of there being no new sermons on the blog. It will last three months. On 1st February I start a sabbatical. Not that I’m deserting the family for long periods of times, so no burglars who know our address should contemplate an unfriendly visit. But naturally I am looking forward to it. My recent laptop purchase was ready for that experience, and hopefully when the sabbatical starts I’ll be able to blog my experiences regularly.

So that brings you up to date with things.

Epiphany And The Recession

Today is Epiphany, the day millions of Christians have traditionally celebrated as the appearing of the Christ. It is particularly associated with the visit of the Magi.

Yet in the UK today marks less an appearing than a disappearing. The last Woolworths shops have closed their doors tonight. That is especially poignant in our house. They were my wife’s first employer, initially when she did a ‘Saturday job’ while at school. Then, when she left school, they took her on full time.

A couple of weeks ago, we walked through the Chelmsford store and tried to explain to our small children that it would be closing forever. This place where they had enjoyed getting a tub of ‘Pick and Mix’ sweets,and  where we had bought toys and cheap Ladybird clothes for them, would be no more. Rebekah cried inconsolable tears. How do you explain ‘recession’ to a five-year-old? I’m no economist (which is partly why I’ve been loath to say too much on the subject), and I find it hard to understand.

Looking on as an adult consumer, it’s easy to see where Woolies fell down. They fell betwixt and between, a Jack of all trades, master of none, with no clear vision. What kind of a shop was it? Something of a hotch-potch in recent years, doing several things reasonably but none of them well.

And that makes them sound like many churches. They try to do this, that and everything, because X, Y and Z are all things that a church should supposedly do, but they overstretch themselves and do few of them well. I received a good piece of advice early on from a minister friend called Paul Ashby. He said, “No church is the complete Body of Christ.” We don’t need to do it all. I don’t see anything wrong in an individual congregation specialising. It happens to an extent, even when we don’t acknowledge it, simply through the kind of people in a said church and its location.

Yes, there are shops that want to do a bit of everything, notably the major supermarkets, which have gone way beyond groceries. However, they have done so from positions of economic strength and market dominance, much in the way a large church can cover a lot of bases. But we aren’t all large supermarkets or megachurches.

Likewise, we’ve had the news in the last twenty-four hours that Waterford Wedgwood has gone into administration. Who’s buying bone china tea services any more? Not us. When we moved from our six-bedroom manse in the last circuit to our small three-bedroom house here, we had to downsize considerably. Not without cause did we call ourselves Mr and Mrs eBay. Among the possessions to go were our cups and saucers. We decided to rely entirely on mugs. They are far more acceptable today than the day when it seemed like only builders drank from one. Moreover, when we hear about the need to take in sufficient fluid, who wants a small cup? Even some churches are dispensing with the hideous green crockery! Besides, I need a pint mug of tea to get me going first thing in the morning.

All of which implies for me that a company like Wedgwood has had too narrow a vision. I can best illustrate what I mean by reproducing a story I found in the December 1990 edition of the now defunct MARC Newsletter. It came from an article entitled ‘Doing research with eyes to see’ by Bryant Myers:

There is a story of a company that manufactured drill bits for over forty years. It had been very successful, but the industry was maturing and profit margins were getting thin.

The son of the founder attended his first senior staff meeting after his father died.

“What business are we in?” he asked the older men, who had served alongside his father for many years.

“We make drill bits!” came the exasperated answer. “Our customers need drill bits.”

“No. Our customers need holes,” the young man quietly replied. Today the company is again successful. In addition to drill bits, it manufactures lasers that make very precise holes.

And maybe that too has been a problem in many churches. We have made drill bits instead of holes. I’m not arguing for some corporate-style approach to vision and mission statements, but I am saying that a time of crisis is one that should make us remember the basics of why we exist.

That’s where I get into my usual points about the fundamental orientation of the church being missional. Too often, if you ask church members what the purpose of the church is, they will answer ‘worship’. And while if you push them they will accept that worship is more than the Sunday service, it is everyday lifestyle, really the heart of the answer betrays an assumption that the Sunday morning gathering is the main event.

I don’t wish to disparage Sunday worship at all. But defining ourselves by worship has ironically turned us in on ourselves instead of focussing on God, who is the object of our worship. When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost in Acts 2, it is hard to know where you draw the line between worship and mission that day.

What I’m saying, then, is that the pressure of the recession has exposed problems of confused vision in companies. The confused vision on its own hasn’t taken them under, but it has left them vulnerable at a time when the economy stopped swinging. Sadly too it is often only a crisis that makes us notice the confused vision in our churches.

There is much more to be said about the moral dimension of the recession itself. I particularly commend a blog post from Sunday by Dave Perry, in which he notes the remarks of a secular journalist who wonders whether the recession will make us a better country. ‘Can we spend our way out of emptiness?’ asks Dave, implying of course a ‘no’.

Similarly, I commend a podcast of a sermon by Ken Costa entitled ‘Surviving The Financial Tsunami‘. Costa is a church warden at Holy Trinity Brompton and chair of Lazard International. As well as some gentle pastoral advice for those facing financial woes at present, he identifies the current crisis as a ‘shaking’ from God, yet eschewing any easy claims to it being divine judgment. Having said that, the sermon carries a clear call to a fundamental change of the values by which we live – as individuals, as commerce and as nations. There is a useful comparison with the downfall of Tyre in Ezekiel 27.

Links

I thought I might collect some of the links I’ve found interesting but not necessarily saved to my delicious account. I know several other bloggers do this about once a week, but most of my best ideas are borrowed! Anyway, here goes:

Three little words so hard to say: in the week of the Obama landslide, an investigation into why politicians are reluctant to say “I don’t know”.

Brother Maynard nails some of the nuttier ‘prophetic’ responses to Obama’s victory.

Meanwhile, Erika Haub describes voting in the US election.

A primer on today’s missional church: can’t remember who tipped me off to this page, but J R Woodward collects a huge resource of web articles, videos, bios of missiologists, book reviews, blogs and reources for all who want to explore the good ship Missional.

Glad to see this: New lifeline for Bletchley Park. A few years ago when he did his MBA, my brother-in-law sorted out their ecommerce.

Were these Christians worshipping a modern-day golden calf?

Spring Harvest, King’s College London and Paternoster Publishing are hosting a one-day conference on how Jesus taught and we learn.

The cult of Mac: why Apple is more than a corporation, it’s a religion. And how does ‘branding’ affect our faith?

This picture reminds me of friends who used to mime the action of birds when it came to the ‘I’ll fly like the eagle’ line in Geoff Bullock’s worship song ‘The power of your love’.

Well, that will do for a first attempt. Do you find any of this useful?