Church

AN ISLAND MENTALITY

A couple of years ago I took my dad out for dinner to celebrate his birthday. (I say, “took my dad out” when in fact I chose a restaurant it turned out he didn’t like and he paid, so how well I did in my son-ly efforts is debatable, but we did have a lovely evening and a great chat).

We discussed work, life, faith, and church. We shared what we were reading and what was inspiring us. As we approached the end of the meal, the conversation turned to me and my dad asked a question;

“Are you okay with the fact that, when it comes to how you view things, you’ll always be outside the norm and seen as a fringe character in the church?”

In case of confusion, I should be clear that this was not the question of a father trying to convince his son to “get in line” or “keep his head down”. My dad is both a huge encourager and supporter of me and my two brothers. In fact, when it comes to what I do and who I am, few people have shaped me profoundly like my dad has (I know what you’re thinking, and yes, if I really mean that I should have paid for dinner…but I did offer to – he just wouldn’t let me). His advice, wisdom and support have always been vital to me and, both he and my mum are incredible examples of what faith, hope and love really look like when lived out in the real world.

This question, then, was a very real effort to delve deeper into my thinking, and was one that he was genuinely wanting to know my answer to.

I, somewhat typically, answered quickly and emphatically with a “yeah of course I am”. I think I may have even expanded and explained why this was absolutely the case…but the question has really lingered.

In fact, even recently I have shared this story with people. I don’t know how it’s come up or what’s prompted me to tell it, but it seems to have stuck with me for all this time and, if I’m honest, I’ve never really found a complete answer…until Monday night.

On Monday night a bunch of friends and I went to hear Rob Bell speak about his new book. Rob Bell is an author, theologian, TV producer and all round inspiring type who has become one of the leading voices of the church in the USA and around the globe. His first book, Velvet Elvis, is one I’ve read countless times. I found and read lots of the book list that inspired that book, and his nooma DVD series was the material that my church, carus, chose to study when in its very early days. In fact, when it comes to what I do and who I am, few things have shaped me profoundly like Rob Bell’s teaching has.

His latest book, ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’, is a brilliant and insightful study of the nature of God and the connection that people often instinctively feel to something “bigger” or “more”. It’s honest, compelling and timely.

After he’d spoken, he took questions, some that had been sent in before the event, and others from the floor. As he read and answered these questions I regretted the fact I hadn’t got round to emailing mine. Here was my chance to ask Rob Bell the question that my dad had asked me and I’d been unable to answer ever since. Here was an opportunity to finally put it to rest and hear from someone who knows, far more than I ever will, what being on the fringe feels like, and I’d missed it.

As he read the next question, I couldn’t quite believe it. Someone else wanted to know how he felt being on the outside of mainstream church thinking – it was my question, and he was going to answer it.

As he leant back on his chair he simply answered “I don’t feel that – because I’m here with all of you”. He explained that as he travels and meets people he realises that all over the world people are trying to live out their faith and make things better. He doesn’t feel like he’s on the fringe because he recognises that there’s a lot of people all in this together.

As I listened, I realised that it wasn’t that I didn’t have an answer to my dad’s question – it was that I had been missing the answer staring me right in the face.

I don’t need to worry about where I am on a spectrum, or how I’m viewed or talked about. The idea of being seen as a maverick, or an outsider in the church is an odd seduction. The lure of being seen as controversial or a bit of a rebel, can draw us towards big statements, emphatic tweets and bold observations on a, largely unnoticed, blog (the irony is not lost on me here).

But whilst the vanity of isolation might attract some, it shouldn’t appeal to me because I’ve never experienced it.

The dad who asked me the question is part of the family unit that encouraged me to ask questions, explore my faith and delve into my church experience.

I’m part of a marriage in which my attitude, behaviour and spiritual temperature are checked, challenged and co-exist with an amazing woman of God.

My church in carus is a gorgeous community of brilliant people who leave no-one behind no matter what and who are constantly seeking to become better disciples and better servants in our city.

My network of friends, mentors, and guides is like a wish-list of quality people. Near and far they never cease to amaze me with their timing, ability to see through any facade, and want only the best for me.

And so, a few years later, and still owing my dad a birthday dinner, my answer is this;

I don’t know where I am on that spectrum and I don’t know what the norm is because no matter where I’ve found myself or what has been going on around me I know this for certain – I’ve never been on my own.

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Current Events, Politics

WHERE OTHERS FEAR TO TREAD

My expertise never ceases to astound me!

Last week, on the news that Declan Kidney would no longer be the Ireland rugby coach I launched into my manifesto on Irish rugby. What I’d do differently, what he did right, what he got wrong and how, if given the chance, I would steer this generation of players to Six Nations and World Cup glory…

As the new series of The Voice has kicked off I’ve returned to my mantra of “if Will turns round – always pick Will”. “It’s a no-brainier” I shout at the screen as contestants weigh up their options or, to my mind, inexplicably choose Jessie J…

I’m currently on a ban from Sunday morning TV and in-particular “The Big Questions” with Nicky Campbell. It seems my incessant talking back to a TV audience in Hull or Halifax or other ‘H’ capitalised locations has gone too far. “You couldn’t be more wrong” or “take the microphone away from them Nicky” have earned me a much needed time-out, enforced by Mrs White…

And yet behind all of these firmly held, expert options lies a staggering lack of experience.

I’ve not only never coached an international rugby team to glory – I’ve never played a competitive game of rugby!

I’ve not only never been faced with four music industry icons (I’m being generous Danny) all offering me a chance to make my dream of becoming a global recording artist come true – I’ve never wanted to be a global recording artist or even been much of a singer.

And not only have I never been on a weekly, topical discussion show (partly because I’m waiting for them to come to Harlow) often the people I’m shouting at have far more knowledge, wisdom or experience than I in the field they’re discussing.

Don’t misread me – opinions are brilliant! And sharing them is brilliant too! I love hearing, reading and debating other people’s…sometimes almost as much as I love expressing my own.

One of the greatest joys of freedom is the freedom to express and share opinions. To think and reflect on things and to disagree and counter other points of view.

But let’s never forget that for every pub pundit, armchair fan, and digital guru there are people who get up everyday, actually make those decisions and live with the consequences. Whether that’s picking the team, picking the celeb or picking their battles.

This week, as we mark the passing of Baroness Thatcher, lets never forget, whatever your thoughts or opinions of her policies, legacy or ideology, this was a lady who got up, actually made those decisions and, along with the rest of the world, had to live with the consequences.

As we continue to face difficult times politically, economically and socially – I find myself increasingly challenged about my response.

I can, of course, keep shouting at the TV, tweet semi-humorous observations and attempt to blog in a balanced way…I can join a protest, sign a petition, carry a banner or stage a sit-in…but what then?

It seems to me that when I’ve said my peace, got it off my chest and waxed lyrical until my heart is content – there will be still be those who get up, make those decisions and have to live with the consequences.

I’m wondering if I need to change my point of view.