Monday, 16 January 2017

Disguises3 - The church

So my next question, and probably the one that inspired this whole series of thoughts, is this: How do you recognise the church?

I was sat in a church meeting the other day, a great band were playing on stage, there were the words on the screen, coffee was served at the beginning, people smiled and said hello. I guess for some this would be quite an atypical experience of church, but to me it was familiar, all too familiar. There was nothing wrong with what was going on, but I realised that in my head these familiar sights had come to be what I recognised as church … when in fact they are but vestments of something far bigger and far deeper than what can be contained in an overhead projector. And do those clothes even fit anymore?

Let me explain: in my previous post I described the idea of God hiding his message of love to humanity in the form of a man Jesus. The man disguise was very specific, it allowed those who sought him from the heart to find him, it dignified the outcasts of society, it inverted our concepts of power and invited us into deeper communion with our Creator, it showed us how to be human. According to the bible, when Jesus ascended to heaven, he deposited not only his truth but his Spirit in the hearts of believers in order to continue transmitting his message to the world. The church, the body of believers, the new disguise.

It’s normal then to see that the outward appearance of church looks different across the world and has changed much over the centuries. This is all well and good, if the wrapping paper doesn’t become the gift. Who, apart from cats and toddlers, unwraps a present and then throws away the present in favour of the wrapping paper? Or worse, to take the analogy further (maybe too far) which one of you, seeing that the present is the wrong shape for the wrapping paper, would break the present in order to fit it into the wrapper? Or indeed who of you would get so obsessed with the wrapping paper that you gradually forget about the gift and don’t even bother including it.


Church is not buildings, or lights, or screens, or candles, or stain-glass windows, archbishops or electric guitars, or seats even. It’s Jesus wrapped up in people, people wrapped up in Jesus, that is, the real bloodstained, dusty footed loud laughter Jesus who carried the weight of heaven in his pocket.

That is why I think as communities of believers we need to regularly shed our cultural skins, question our beloved formats, change our ways, our songs, our clothes, lest people mistake them for Christianity. This is about creative stripping. This is about getting back to the deep roots of the faith and letting new shoots grow. This could look like so many things … but it must always smell the same, it must always smell of love and dust and blood.

Disfrazes 3 - La iglesia

Así que la pregunta siguiente, y probablemente la que inspiró a toda esta serie de pensamientos, es esta: ¿Cómo se reconoce la iglesia?

Estaba sentada en una reunión de la iglesia el otro día, ungrupo de musica muy bueno estaba tocando en el escenario, venian las palabras en la pantalla, el café se sirvió, la gente sonreía y decía hola. Supongo que para algunos esto no es una experiencia tipica de iglesia, pero para mí sí, era familiar, demasiado familiar. No había nada de malo en lo que estaba pasando, pero me di cuenta que en mi mente estas vistas familiares habían llegado a ser lo que entendí y reconocí como la iglesia ... cuando en realidad no son más que vestiduras de algo mucho más grande y  más allá de lo que se puede contener en un proyector. ¿Y esa ropa que llevamos todavía nos cabe bien?

Me explico: en mi post anterior exploré la idea de como Dios ocultó su mensaje de amor a la humanidad en la forma de un hombre Jesús. El disfraz hombre era muy específico; permitió encontrarlo a los que lo buscaba del corazón, se dignificó los marginados de la sociedad, inviertió los conceptos de poder y nos invitó a una comunión más profunda con nuestro Creador ... nos mostró cómo ser humano . Según la Biblia, cuando Jesús ascendió al cielo, depositó no sólo su verdad, pero tambien su Espíritu en los corazones de los creyentes, para continuar transmitiendo su mensaje al mundo. La iglesia, el cuerpo de creyentes, el nuevo disfraz.

Es normal, entonces, que el aspecto exterior de la iglesia se ve diferente en todo el mundo y  que haya cambiado mucho a lo largo de los siglos. Esto esta todo bien y bueno, mientras el papel de regalo no se convierte en el regalo. ¿Quien, menos de los gatos y niños pequeños, desenvuelve un regalo para luego tiraarlo a la basura en favor del papel de envolver? O peor, empujando la analogía más (tal vez demasiado), ¿quienes de vosotros, al ver que el regalo tiene la forma que no va con el papel de regalo, rompería el regalo con el fin de encajarlo mejor? O de hecho, ¿quien llegaría a ser tan obsesionado con el papel del regalo que se le olvidase poco a poco del regalo ni siquiera se molestarían a incluirlo?

La iglesia no es edificios, ni luces, ni pantallas, ni velas, ni vidrieras, arzobispos o guitarras eléctricas, ni siquiera asientos. La iglesia es Jesús envuelto en las personas y las personas envueltas en Jesús, quiero decir, la verdadera Jesús manchado de sangre y barro, riéndose a carcajadas y llevando el peso de los cielos en su bolsillo.

Es por eso que creo que como comunidades de creyentes, necesitamos arrojar regularmente nuestras pieles culturales, cuestionar nuestros formatos queridos, cambiar nuestras costumbres, nuestras canciones, nuestra ropa, para que las personas no los confunden con el cristianismo. Este consiste en estriptís creativo. Se trata de volver a las raíces profundas de la fe y dejar que crezcan nuevos brotes. Y esto podría tomar muchas formas ... pero siempre ha de oler el mismo, siempre debe oler de amor y de barro y de sangre.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Disguises 2 - The hidden message

In my last post I spoke about the idea of God wrapping himself up in humble humanity in order to deliver his message to us. But the disguise didn’t stop there, the message itself was often hidden under a veil of stories and parables, secret encounters and miracles that he told people not to shout about. I have often wondered why.  Why make a message we so desperately needed to hear so elusive?

For us, in an age of Instagram and T.V evangelism, where influence is power and power is truth, it seems strange to take such a low key approach, what kind of marketing campaign was Jesus trying to run? The delivery of his radical message was not so much hard sell as hard buy.

And that I think is the point. The form that Jesus’s being and message took hid its importance from some, but not all observers. By choosing the way of humility and serving the poor and rejected of society, Jesus steered away those who only sought status and political power. By speaking in parables and answering in questions, Jesus confounded those who only sought an argument. By presenting hard hitting challenges to disciples and critics he filtered out those who were only looking for quick fix solutions and by asking people to remain quiet about his miracles (slight fail) he was avoiding a stream of sensation seekers.

So after that rigorous and unconventional selection process, who was there to hear the message? Would I be?

In order to answer this question, I’d like to suggest that Jesus smelt. You know those smells that unlock a memory buried deep? I’d like to suggest that Jesus smelt of something to amnesiac world, of something they had gone long without - the company of truth and love. It was the smell of the garden where God and man used to walk hand in hand, the smell of the dish that your mother made to let you know you were home safe.  Jesus’s life smelt to the soul and those with a keen sense of smell, unfettered by image and with an overwhelming hunger to eat once again of that favourite childhood meal, would follow him. Soul food.
Somehow Jesus had to deliver this liberating take away to hearts without getting stuck in ego traffic. An ego knows how to win an argument, but a heart knows how to interpret a story. And so it is that the God Man smuggles truths into our hearts. Before we have time to rationalise it, we know we are already there; in the weedy garden, at the banquet table, or walking the long road home with the prodigal son.


Disfrazes 2 - El mensaje escondido

En mi último post hablé de la idea de que Dios se envolvió en humilde humanidad con el fin de entregar su mensaje a nosotros. Pero el disfraz no se detuvo allí, el mensaje mismo se ocultaba muchas veces bajo un velo de cuentos y parábolas, encuentros secretos y milagros que decía a la gente de no anunciar. A menudo me he preguntado por qué. ¿Por qué hacer un mensaje que tanto necesitábamos escuchar, tan difícil de acceder?

Para nosotros, en una época de Instagram y la evangelización en la tele, donde la influencia es igual al poder y el poder dicta la verdad, parece extraño adoptar un perfil tan elusivo, ¿qué tipo de campaña de marketing estaba Jesús tratando de lanzar? La presentación de su mensaje radical no era tanto la venta dura como la compra dura.

Y yo que creo que esto es el punto. La forma de ser y el mensaje de Jesús ocultó su importancia de algunos, pero no de todos sus observadores. Al elegir el camino de la humildad y el servicio a los pobres y rechazados de la sociedad, Jesús alejó a los que sólo buscaba el estatus y el poder político. Al hablar en parábolas y responder en preguntas de Jesús confundió a los que sólo querían una discusión. Al presentar retos y verdades difíciles a ambos sus discípulos y críticos, filtraba a los que sólo estaban buscando soluciones rápidas y, al pedir que la gente se callase acerca de sus milagros, estaba evitando la popularidad con los sensacionalistas.

Así que después de todo este proceso de selección riguroso y poco convencional, quien estaba allí para escuchar el mensaje? ¿Estaría yo?

Con el fin de responder a esta pregunta, me gustaría sugerir que Jesús olía. ¿Conoces esos olores que te llevan un recuerdo profundamente enterrado? Me gustaría sugerir que Jesús olía a algo en las narices de nuestro mundo amnesiaco, de algo que le faltaba desde hace mucho tiempo - la compañía de la verdad y el amor. Era el olor del jardín donde Dios y el hombre solían caminar de la mano o el olor del plato que tu madre cocinaba para hacerte sentir que llegaste seguro en casa. La vida de Jesús tiene un olor para el alma y los que tienen un buen sentido del olfato, sin poner trabas, o mucha hambre para comer una vez más esa comida favorita de su niñez, le siguen. La comida del alma.

De alguna manera, Jesús tuvo que llevar su mensaje liberador a los corazones sin quedarse atascado en el tráfico del ego. Un ego sabe cómo ganar un argumento, pero un corazón sabe cómo interpretar una historia. Y así es que el hombre de Dios pasa de contrabando sus verdades a nuestro corazón. Antes de que tengamos el tiempo para racionalizarlo, sabemos que ya estamos allí; en el jardín de malas hierbas, en la mesa de banquete, o en el largo camino a casa con el hijo pródigo. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Disguises 1 - Mud and blood


One of the strangest and most central teachings of Christianity is the idea that God has come to us in a disguise … how confusing. Can’t God ever do something just a little more straight forward? But there is usually method in the madness and as I am sure Sherlock would agree, the strangest things are worth investigating… so these are some of my musings…

Immanuel is my favourite word in the Bible, it means God with us. It is one of the names attributed to Jesus. Not distant, inaccessible, but WITH. Incarnation: the idea of God becoming man and living among us. Was anyone expecting that? Well kind of, there were a lot of prophecies in Jewish tradition about a Messiah type to come in the line of King David and save the people from political oppression. Theories and theologies about how this could be got more elaborate until the Messiah became a God-like figure who would reign over us with justice forever.

So God disguises himself as a man and clothes himself in flesh (John 1), crazy, but not a million miles left field of the spiritual teaching at the time, but what I am interested in here is the type of man he chose to be. It’s not surprising that this reflection comes after Christmas when we are encouraged to look again in wonder at Jesus as a baby covered in mud and blood, in fragile flesh, with no head-start, no privilege, no security, no power.

What is this telling us? For me the first message in the incarnation is the dignifying of the whole of humanity. It is easy nowadays to wonder about the state of humanity, especially after a year in our history as tumultuous as the last. One of the deepest questions we may ask, and one which various spiritual traditions try to resolve is this: are we any good? And then, are we getting better or worse? Or, is humanity doomed?

I believe that the idea of a God who comes into humanity, who dignifies us not only by accompanying us but also by becoming one with us, gives us an answer to these questions, but not as we expect. Maybe we are good, maybe we are bad, maybe we are a bit of  both, but whatever we are, we are worth it. We are worth the life of God. We are loved.

The vulnerable Christ child puts a seal of love over humanity. The smallest, the weakest and the most rejected have the value of eternity. For Jesus came not to rule over us, but to embody God’s message of love to us and he chose the rawest of raw materials, so that we may not be fooled. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Night flight over Istanbul

Istanbul evening spreads out like a sheet
Bridges make stitches where East and West meet
Worlds joined by dots and dashes of light
Like SOS signals sent out to the night
Boats reflect stars and stars reflect boats
Movement and stillness play heavenly floats

What wonder and horror huddle on this sphere
How small our minds as we spin on in fear
To draw lines between us is to divide up the dust
Yet separation is impossible
Of the essence in us
 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

From works to workmanship

Since recently watching the film ‘The Lady and the Van’ I have had a phrase going round my head that is somewhat haunting me ‘you think you are marking time, but in the end time marks you’. The people and the situations that surround us, the day to day decisions we make, in the end become who we are. The life we like to imagine ourselves living remains largely as a thought or plan in the ether, whilst our real life actually happens. Do other people sometimes panic about this, or is it just me?


The root of this panic often has to do with the sensation that I am not doing enough or perhaps not enough of the right thing. At the same time, I have reflected recently, that this attitude can be rather belittling of the true value of the people and places we do find ourselves in, why are we looking round the corner for something bigger, there is nothing more important than the person next to you right?

And then it comes to me this morning in a sweet kiss of grace.

‘You are God’s workmanship’

So often we get preoccupied with the work or mission we are supposed to be doing, or not getting round to. Frequently we imagine we must grit our teeth, as we are crow-barred into activities that don’t really suit us, for the common good. But I saw this little truth nugget shimmering this morning and it whispered …

‘You are not the worker, you are the work’

God is the worker of our lives. We are the craft. Our ‘job’ is to give ourselves into his hand for the
moving and the making. What does this mean? Time out with Him, His voice, His words, His Presence, His Love, His softening, His shaping...What, no work?

No work.

Ooops! I am hearing the protestant work ethic in me cry, ‘yeah but then you have to work too no’??

Nope.

Well ok if you are jug and you consider jugging to be a great effort then yes. If you are made as a bowl and you consider receiving soup to be a terrible chore then yes. But that’s just it, a bowl doesn’t try to be a bowl any more than a jug a jug and yet they have their own beautiful and natural way of serving our lives. In the same way as we allow the Creator to work on us, we can go about our daily lives fulfilling our purpose by simply being.

So relax. Yes that’s right, really and totally.

Time marks us yes. The people and circumstances around us are shaping our story too. But how about letting the Divine Hand steady us upon this wheel , there to move and mold us according to His joyful and generous imagining and our purpose will emerge as naturally as pouring water from a jug.


In fact maybe the water is already pouring and you didn’t notice.

De obrero a obra Translation

Desde que veo la película 'The Lady in the Van', tengo una frase dando vueltas mi cabeza que me está rondando un poco 'crees que estás marcando el tiempo, pero al final el tiempo te marca'. La gente y las situaciones que nos rodean, las decisiones que tomamos al diario, al final se convierten en lo que somos. La vida que nos imaginamos viviendo permanece en gran parte como un pensamiento o un plan en el éter, y mientras tanto nuestra vida real transcurre delante de nuestros ojos. ¿Solo soy yo, o esto a veces os da panico a vosotros?

Creo que para mi, la raíz de este pánico tiene que ver con la sensación de que no estoy haciendo lo suficiente o tal vez no lo suficiente de lo correcto. Al mismo tiempo, he reflexionado recientemente, que esta actitud puede menospreciar el valor real de las personas y los lugares, donde estamos ahora ¿por qué estamos buscando algo más grande a la vuelta de la esquina, porque no hay nada más importante que la persona a tu lado, no?

Pero de repente me vino esta mañana en un dulce beso de gracia.

"Eres la obra maestra de Dios '


Muchas veces nos preocupamos por el trabajo o misión que se supone que debemos estar haciendo, o no que no estamos llegando a hacer. Con frecuencia nos metemos en numerosas actividades por el bien que en realidad no nos encajan ni nos convienen. Pero vi esta pequeña pepita de verdad brillando esta mañana y me decia en voz baja ...

"Tu no eres la obrera, eres la obra"

Dios es el obrero, el artesano de nuestras vidas. Somos la artesania. Nuestro "trabajo" es entregarnos a su mano para que se haga su obra. ¿Qué significa esto? Pasar tiempo aparte con él, escuchar su voz, sus palabras, estar en su presencia, buscar su amor que nos ablandiza y transforma ... ¿Pero entonces, no tenemos que trabajar?

No!

Pero el protestante trabajador clama dentro de mi, 'sí, pero entonces hay que trabajar luego no' ??

No!

Pues vale quiza si eres una jarra y jarreando te parece un gran esfuerzo, entonces sí. Si está hecha como un recipiente y consideras que recibir sopa es una terrible tarea, entonces sí. Pero de eso se trata, un recipiente no trata de ser un recipiente más que una jarra, una jarra y sin embargo, tienen su propia manera hermosa y natural de servir a nuestras vidas. En la misma forma que permitimos que el Creador trabaje en nosotros, podemos vivir nuestra vida cotidiana cumpliendo con nuestro propósito por el simple hecho de estar.

Así que a relajarse. Sí, realmente y totalmente.

El tiempo nos marca que sí. Las personas y las circunstancias que nos rodean están dando forma a nuestra historia también. Pero ¿qué tal si dejamos que la mano divina nos sienta sobre esta rueda, y que nos mueva y nos molde conforme a su imaginación viva y generosa y asi nuestro propósito surgirá tan naturalmente como agua sale de una jarra.


De hecho puede que el agua ya está vertiendo y que no nos hemos dado cuenta.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Palm Sunday - Expectations vs Hope

Expectations vs Hope - What's the difference?

It's a sunny Sunday morning, people are clutching their palms, children are playing in the streets, faces glistening in the light and there is a sense of celebration, sweet innocent expectation.


I had forgotten it was Palm Sunday. The evangelical church in Spain tends to respect the rhythm of hand clapping more than that of the church calendar ;-) ... But today I'm drawn into the festivities and I'm thinking. What do we wave our palms at in life? Why did the crowds gather that day to wave their palms at Jesus? Their salvation? Their answer? Were they asking the right question and did they know what they needed saving from and do we?

In first century Judeah, salvation was political. The Jewish people were searching for a figure strong enough to liberate them from their day to day oppressive circumstances, to raise them to a fair standing in society and to restore their opportunities.

I wonder what the refugees of Calais, Lesbos and Idomeni would be thinking if Jesus 'Saviour' rode into their midst. Maybe he could ride in giving out unconditional visas to Europe, material aid, or a good few slaps to certain world leaders? To a certain extent we have all found ourselves in circumstances where we await a fix it Saviour to arrive. And no doubt we need him to come. No doubt we need him to ride into our lives, as humbly and gently as he did then, as if in a whisper. But our salvation may not look as we expect.

Jesus was wholeheartedly for the poor and marginalized, but what did he do for them? He called them blessed, he joined them and eventually he died alongside them. In the wake of sacrificial love he brought healing and dignity. It doesn't sound too glamorous but it points to something very important. The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of is in this world but not of it, it transcends, ascends and re-invents it. It's not a new regime, it's a new consciousness. It breathes different air.

The Kingdom does not flourish amongst the powerful, but at the crumbling edges of the Empire, where empty hands are open. It may not get you the promotion you want, the lifestyle
you expect, the compensation you deserve. But just maybe this humble King can show you a life beyond what you could have asked for, a hope beyond what you could have expected, a citizenship beyond what you could have applied for and love beyond what you could have imagined.

I'll raise my palm to that :-)




Monday, 5 October 2015

Facetime#7 - Invisible Ink


‘No one has ever seen God but if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us’ 1 John 4 v 12

Did you ever have those pens as a kid that only certain paints, inks or lights could make visible? Here the bible is giving us a key to God visibility … LOVE is what illuminates us. It shows us who God really is and who we are.

It makes us more real (velvetine rabbit style)

Such was Jesus’ identification with his fellow humans that he said that to do to others was the same as to do to him and to do to him was to do to God. Interestingly he most identifies with the ‘least of these my brothers and sisters’ :the least important, the least attractive, the least visible. Why? I think because if we can see the sacredness of these precious ones, who have had all their human wealth and status stripped away, it’s because we have discovered the invisible ink that reveals the infinite value of everyone. Love. And there in the ink spill amongst the lost and confused and down trodden of this world we will also find the face of God. Only when worldly interest has left the building, can love make its home.


These passages reaffirm that we cannot ‘love God and hate our neighbour’ because that would involve an inherent contradiction. Your neighbour is God’s brain child, to damage one of his beloveds, however small, is a direct shot to the Heart. But more than this, if we dare to look deeper and discover the unique beauty of each one, it will be like finding pieces of shattered light, tiny mirrors reflecting the face of God.


‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me’ Jesus