Church, Faith, Politics

AWAY IN A BUNKER

I always have to brace myself for the Christmas season. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love it. The songs, the smells, the trees, the lights, I love every bit of this season…except for one thing.

It’s something we seem to have borrowed from our American brothers and sisters. 

Like most holiday traditions we’ve imported in recent years from across the Atlantic (trick or treating, Black Friday, pumpkin spice lattes) it feels novel for a while, but eventually leaves a bad taste in the mouth. 

I am, of course, taking about “The War on Christmas”. We don’t actually call it this the UK yet, but like the aforementioned seasonal travesties, we’ll eventually adopt it with gusto. 

You’ll see it creep onto Facebook walls, litter your Twitter feed, and maybe even hear it spoken of in person around a table or after the local carol service. 

Local school bans Nativity play!

Local council bans carol singing!

Local shop bans staff from saying “Merry Christmas”!

It always starts with a ban. That’s the shock. 

Then comes the awe…

Locals dismayed by “Winter Festival”

Locals furious at “Holiday Trees”

Locals seeking medical support for permanent state of dismay and fury. 

And the enemy isn’t anonymous. People of other faiths, people of no faith, the liberal media, political correctness…someone or something is always to blame.

And the rush to outcry is faster and more violent than a Black Friday opening at a well stocked Best Buy. 

Here’s a recent example from the USA:

President Trump is currently claiming to have “brought back Christmas”. He was backed up in this by his favourite hype man, Franklin Graham. Graham was so impressed with the President’s words at the annual tree lighting ceremony that he tweeted a link to the speech with this exhortation:

“Never in my lifetime have we had a ‪@POTUS‬ willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like ‪@realDonaldTrump‬. We need to get behind him with our prayers.”

In the speech he’d linked to, President Trump had said this:

“The Christmas Story begins 2,000 years ago with a mother, a father, their baby son, and the most extraordinary gift of all—the gift of God’s love for all of humanity…Whatever our beliefs, we know that the birth of Jesus Christ and the story of his life forever changed the course of human history.”

A clear, and concise understanding of some of what the Christmas story means to people all over the world. And he has been promising that he would bring back “Merry Christmas” to the Whitehouse. Playing on the notion that President Obama was unwilling to say the word, or had tried to remove “Christmas” during his time in office.

So let’s examine that. 

Here’s the opening remarks from President Obama at the exact same event in 2016:

“Merry Christmas, everybody!”

I could leave it there, but let’s remember the tweet from Graham:

“Never in my lifetime have we had a ‪@POTUS‬ willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like ‪@realDonaldTrump‬…”

President Obama continued in his speech last year, at the same event, to say this:

“Along with celebrations like these, the holidays also offer us a time for reflection and perspective.  And over these next few weeks, as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, as we retell the story of weary travelers, a star, shepherds, Magi, I hope that we also focus ourselves on the message that this child brought to this Earth some 2,000 years ago — a message that says we have to be our brother’s keepers, our sister’s keepers; that we have to reach out to each other, to forgive each other.  To let the light of our good deeds shine for all.  To care for the sick, and the hungry, and the downtrodden.  And of course, to love one another, even our enemies, and treat one another the way we would want to be treated ourselves.

It’s a message that grounds not just my family’s Christian faith but that of Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, non-believers — Americans of all backgrounds.”

I’m fairly confident (although feel free to fact check) that Franklin Graham was alive a year ago. 

So what was his tweet about?

Because it’s basically untrue. 

Let’s speak plainly, that tweet is a lie.

And that’s the first thing we’ve got to get better at – the truth. 

It means thinking twice before we share a petition, or jump on a bandwagon. 

It means checking out the sources, doing our own research, and finding out if the facts measure up to the clickbait title or headline. 

It means being sure that the thing we’re fighting against even exists, and that if it does, that fighting is really the best move anyway. 

But the more worrying thing about Franklin Graham’s tweet is that it’s a lie designed to make his 1.2million followers believe that by saying out loud the basic Christian understanding of the Christmas story you are taking a stand for Christianity. 

Nothing else you say or do. No actions, beliefs, policies, or words matter. As long as you take a strong stand for saying “Merry Christmas”, refuse to acknowledge the season of winter, avoid the word “holiday” and whatever you do, don’t mention the “X” word, you’re standing up for the Christian faith. 

And that’s a lie too.

Because if all we have to do in this season, to honour the truth hidden within it, is muster a pithy, two-word slogan, then Christmas is nothing but a vanity project for the Church. And the Christ at the heart of it is nothing more than an egomaniac who demands his name be uttered at every turn. 

Like Beetlejuice who can only show up when you say his name three times.

Or a church Santa who’ll only arrive at the carol service if the kids scream “HELLO SANTA!!” loudly enough. 

Or, the type of person who attaches his name to anything he owns in giant golden letters so that people know who’s in charge around there…can you even imagine such a monster?

The truth is, at Christmas we celebrate not ego or vanity. 

Not pride or presentation. 

Not brashness or branding.

At Christmas, we celebrate the ultimate act of humility. 

All wrapped up in a manger, the last place you’d expect to find it. 

At Christmas, we celebrate the ultimate act of humility. An entrance that needed no public recognition to give it significance. 

No horses or chariots, no staunch defence, no “bigger and better”. 

At Christmas, we celebrate that in the simplest, most humble, least likely places, we can find hope.

That whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever circumstances you’re facing, however merry you feel, and whatever words you use, Christmas only ever points to peace.

Because there’s no room for war in Christmas.

So, I’ll leave the final words to a President who, in my lifetime, and my humble opinion, seemed to get what this season was all about: 

“It’s a message of unity and a message of decency and a message of hope that never goes out of style. And it’s one that we all need very much today.” 

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Faith

A WELCOME INTERRUPTION

This time last year I was asked to write a short piece to be spoken as part of a film that would be shown at our church’s annual Christmas Cafe Church (what we call our Carol Service).

I was in the midst of producing a chat show in Belfast, commuting back and forth from Essex, and still trying to maintain my day to day work in London. It didn’t feel like the time to reflect, but within a few moments some thoughts formulated (if you’re someone who believes in inspiration then this might have been divine. If you’re someone who doesn’t, then it might be what happens when you give your brain a break from what it’s doing and it jumps at the chance to do something else).

I wrote a three minute piece and called it “Interrupted.” It was put together with some music and visuals by a super-talented friend and you can watch it here…or just skip ahead and read the next bit if you’ve already seen it:

The piece played out at the event, it turned out two gynaecologists from the hospital were actually at church that morning and after the initial panic that it might have been them, they quickly identified the doctor in question. The whole morning was brilliant, music, words, dance, media, a real celebration of Christmas.

The season came and went, and we ushered the new year in, full of anticipation of what it might bring.

And then 2017 happened.

Our plan was the finish this year with our house extended, our adoption underway, and three or four new projects successfully landed at work.

We enter December with none of those things.

We haven’t had a terrible year. As I write, I’m reminded of friends for whom this year has brought real heartache, loss, shock, disappointment, and devastation.

I’m reminded of those who continue to suffer around the world. Whose 2017 has been truly horrific, because of the injustice and cruelty of others.

I’m not suggesting a bad year at work, some disappointing treatment from our local adoption authority, and a hiatus on our building work are the pinnacle of suffering, or the worst things to happen in 2017 (he’s still the President, and he still has Twitter).

It’s been a year filled with good things, time with family and friends, music, laughter, books. I’ve tried new things, rekindled my love of old things, shared amazing conversations, seen people make life-changing and bold decisions. I’ve watched people I admire consistently display their values and live out what they say.

I also count my blessings because I love our home, I love our son, and I get to do a job I love and that countless others would take off my hands in a heartbeat.

Gratitude matters.

Putting things in perspective, matters.

Understanding how other people live matters.

But if we’re not careful, we can diminish people’s feelings by glibly suggesting they count their blessings or their lucky stars that they’re not…whatever horrific scenario we can insert here. Like that will somehow make everything okay, and that their disappointments, and their hurts will disappear.

That somehow, we can only feel in relativity.

And while I continue to challenge myself to be grateful, I don’t want to overcorrect and punish myself, or be too afraid to admit when I’m not really feeling it.

And in 2017, I haven’t always been feeling it.

Every plan we’ve made, every strategy we’ve started, every best laid plan, all got interrupted.

And while, 12 months ago I was happy to speak into a microphone the words:

This season invites us to welcome an interruption, a change in the plan, a shift from our dimly lit view into the blinding light of God’s plan for the world. 

The truth is, I haven’t welcomed the interruption, or been welcome for it.

I’ve cried, and lamented, and questioned, and doubted.

I’ve clung desperately to my plan, and stamped my foot like an impatient toddler, or retreated into my own place of working longer, pushing harder, and resting never.

So as I start this December, I as enter this Christmas season, I’m taking some of my own medicine and reminding myself that sometimes it takes an interruption, an uninvited guest, even rejection or disappointment, to turn on the lights and take me in a new direction.

Whether the plan feels on track or off the rails.

In joy or pan, celebration or sorrow.

The challenge, for me, this Christmas is to not just bear the interruption, but to welcome it.

Perhaps even to invite it.

Faith, Politics

Looking for a God who agrees with us

As Franklin Graham stepped up to the podium at President Trump’s inauguration, I took a deep breath, hoping for something powerful.

“Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”

You could almost hear the collective groan of Christian people around the globe, I know mine was audible. It’s not that Rev Graham was wrong – technically, he wasn’t – it’s more than that.

Many years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting with a church congregation discussing a project they were desperate to get off the ground. It was a project that some wanted and others questioned. At times it felt like it was moving, but for the past year it had felt as if everything was going against it.

At one point in the meeting someone stood up to speak: “I think all these doors closing are a sign that we need to stop, reflect and think again. To pray and ask God what He wants for this.”

Some quiet nods of interest and affirmation were joined by some worried faces and disapproving murmurs.

A few moments later another person stood up to say: “I just think the fact that we’re meeting so much opposition and so many closing doors means we’re on the right path and being attacked. We should push on with the plans and make it happen.”

There it was. Stalemate.

Those in favour of pushing ahead had God’s mandate to move.

Those in favour of thinking again had God’s permission to pause.

The meeting went on, but for me it was finished. God was, at once, both for and against the idea. And therefore removed from their equation.

As President Trump spoke and it started to rain, my Facebook and Twitter lit up with people telling me what it meant.

“It’s a sign.”

“God’s angry.”

“God’s crying.”

And some more satirical suggestions that aren’t for here…

And then Franklin Graham helpfully stepped up to tell us all that, in fact, God was showering his blessings on the 45th president of the United States of America. And, for me, it was finished. As once again we had tried to remove God from the equation. At once both horrified and thrilled. Showering scorn and blessing in equal measure depending on how you read it, or what side you needed Him to be on today.

It was a platform to ask that God would indeed bless the President, bless him with wisdom, good judgement, wise advisors and a humility of spirit that has led all great leaders from the earliest days of humanity.

A chance to speak of a God who knows no political affiliation, but instead stands for – amongst other things – love, peace, joy, and self-control. Who fights against injustice, protects the vulnerable and welcomes the visitor… Although that might have been deemed “political.”

Instead he did what we’ve probably all been guilty of: co-opting God onto our ‘side’ like the playground football team who first notice Lionel Messi inexplicably waiting to be picked.

On a day and in a moment when our eyes should have been raised in hope, God was instead invoked as an invisible backer. The big guy who waits to smite enemies or silence opponents.

I hope God does bless President Trump, with more than I can even imagine.

I hope that love, peace, selflessness, and all those other things become the hallmark of this Presidency, far exceeding my cynical expectations or political blinkers.

But above all, I hope we learn to stop guessing and start listening; to stop reaching and start following; to stop looking for a God that backs us up, and start working to put God’s beautiful world back together.

Culture, Current Events, Politics

Beyond the locker room

So it turns out Donald Trump was recorded saying some truly disgusting things about women on a bus.

It’s been a strange few days of strategic apologies, diversionary tactics and running for the hills. But in truth, these “behind closed doors” comments from 11 years ago, can’t be that surprising coming from an individual who in the last few months has spoken appallingly about women – continuously and without apology.

And it seems that even Teflon-Don can’t shake this one as quickly as some of his other indiscretions – although in a recent poll two per cent of people asked claimed they thought better of him after hearing the tape – so it’s not all bad news for Mr Trump, but horrific news for the rest of us who have to live on earth. But with a campaign built on extreme opinions and ideas (he’s still pro-wall), I’m left wondering why this recording has been the tipping point for so many.

Maybe it’s because it’s sunk in that he’s actually running for office? They want to demand higher standards from our public servants, particularly those who are this close to being “the most powerful person on the planet”.

Maybe it’s because they don’t like a lot of the other things he’s said but this one seemed too far somehow? This was the chance they’d been waiting for to jump ship with dignity.

Maybe it’s because this latest recording points to behaviour rather than opinion? But there has to be some recognition that the two are, all too often, linked.

Maybe it’s just deeply unpleasant? Because it is deeply unpleasant.

But maybe it’s more than that.

Maybe it’s the fear that what this recording represents is actually a bit too close to home for the rest of us.

That, if we want to hear women being rated on physical appearance, we don’t have to go far, with lists of “football’s hottest wags” or “pop star parties back at hotel with a bevy of beauties” headlines almost daily in our newspapers and magazines.

That if we want to hear bragging about sexual activity, with verbs like “smashed” or “banged” being the new normal, then we don’t need a secret recording; we just need to turn on the TV.

That if we want to hear women being treated as nothing more than objects for our pleasure or vitriol, then we don’t need a stump-speech, we can find it all just a couple of clicks away.

Our culture seems to have this deeply unpleasant streak running through it. And like right now against “the Donald”, we can all join the chorus of boos that rises up every now and again, sign a petition, wear a t-shirt, boycott a newspaper or turn off the TV. But the greatest impact we can make is surely not to engage in some sort of ‘culture war’, but to recognise that we’re part of the culture?

Because if we’re honest as men, if we want to hear bragging about sexual activity, or women rated on their physical appearance or treated as nothing more than objects, we don’t need to go far at all. We can probably recall a conversation we were part of, a link we clicked on, or an internal dialogue we engaged in that did just that.

And whether it was 11 years ago, 11 months ago, 11 days ago or 11 hours ago, if we’re really honest, most of us can be very grateful that those foolish moments were never caught on tape.

A warning that if it keeps ‘just happening’, if it’s always written off as ‘banter’, ‘bragging’, or ‘bravado’ then before too long, it starts to feel normal.

A warning that if women of a certain size, shape or race can somehow be valued ‘more’, then what that really means is that all women are somehow being valued ‘less’.

A warning that if we allow this to pass when it’s spoken or sung, televised or tweeted, that if we sit silently, laugh along or high five in agreement, we are playing our part of creating a culture in which words can become actions. Intimidating, harassing, abusive, devastating actions.

And so we get to be disgusted, offended, and outraged by that tape. I know I am. But if on 9 November all we have to show for it is a sigh of relief and a “thank goodness for that” status update, we may have missed a huge opportunity. An opportunity to say: “No more.”

To take it on ourselves to create a culture that expects more from our boys and men. That raises the bar on how they speak, act and engage. People who take part in or create mentoring programmes and resources, to find ways to get these things talked about openly and honestly. Who create cross-generational spaces where men get together and share life.

A culture that corrects false ideas, dangerous opinions, and a warped sense of normal. That empowers people to take a stand and speak up. People who say: “Stop” when the conversation turns, that aren’t afraid of being labelled a prude, that are willing to be a lone voice in the moment – although it’s often a less lonely place than first appears.

A culture that reminds us that we are all equal. That we have a responsibility for each other and to each other. People who find ways to speak life with and over each other, who refuse to rate or judge, who actively seek out equality and fight against injustice.

That all sounds a bit idealistic, right? A pipe dream? A utopian fantasy?

Maybe, but in a year when the first black American president could make way for the first female American president, all while Donald Trump from The Apprentice is a viable alternative candidate, it feels like stranger things have happened.

We might not have a vote, but we definitely have a choice.

Current Events, Politics

Brexit: We did this

My dad is very wise man. My 34 years on this planet has been guided and directed by much of this so far. But the particular nugget that perhaps sticks most in my mind is this: “Every action has a reaction.”

Growing up, this was frequently reminded to my brothers and I. Often in celebration, occasionally in sadness, and from time to time, as a gentle warning about the path we were about to embark on. Perhaps it’s frequency is why I remember it, but I think there may be more to it than that.

It’s one of those annoyingly simple truths that we can become complacent about if we’re not careful. We can know it, and yet still act in certain ways and then be seemingly surprised when the reaction comes.

This morning I, like everyone else in the UK and beyond, has woken to news that changes things. For some it brings hope and cheers, for others despair and tears. But however you feel today, there is an undeniable truth that we have to face.

We. Did. This.

I’m not just talking about the mechanics of democracy. More people putting their cross in one box than another. It goes way beyond that.

Our actions of not just the last 24 hours have led us to this point. And if we don’t get to grips with that, then we can’t be surprised when it happens next time, or the next time, or the next time…

And as I take a long, hard, look at myself in that light this morning, some things are uncomfortably staring right back; if I choose to denigrate our politicians, labelling them all “dishonest” or “self-serving”, then I can’t be surprised when people don’t trust what is being said by them. Or refuse to take part in the process at all.

If I disengage from politics from election to election, headline to headline, only diving in a few hours before or after the next big thing, I’m not adding or shaping the discourse. I’m just clanging at the last minute in the hope my pithy tweet or couple of paragraphs on Facebook will really make a difference.

If I make villains out of those who stand up for what they believe in – even if I don’t share their belief – I push others away. Afraid to appear in agreement with those I so clearly find laughable. Making them too nervous to ask why, or start conversations that might help bring clarity to us both.

If I rush to caricature those in my communities who hold different opinions, I stop seeing them as my neighbours. I write them off with broad brushstrokes, and make it clear that my walls will always be built and my borders firmly in place.

And so today I, and we, get another choice. Not leave or remain. Not in or out – that ship has sailed.

Today I get the choice to act. To love our politicians, not just in the face of tragedy, but in recognition of their service and duty. To engage in the reality of politics, local, regional and national. No matter how tedious, frustrating, or seemingly pointless it might appear. To resist the temptation to paint those who lean in opposite directions as “ugly” or “racist”, “traitorous” or “naive”.

I can choose to widen my networks, and find ways not just to engage with people who think differently to me, but to build relationships, make room for conversations and allow space for us both. I have much to learn and I won’t do it with mere self-congratulation or singing to the choir.

The truth is, we did this, all of us. And while that might be hard to read – it’s not easy to type – this presents itself as an incredible opportunity.

You see, what happens next, the shape of our country, the future of our relationships, the hope of our communities, we get to act all over again.

And how we act now could, sorry dad, WILL have a tremendous reaction.

Uncategorized

Barely Human

My son is 18 months old. It’s a great age, primarily because it means that it’s only a short while before we start measuring in years, which are much easier to remember. It’s also a great age because he’s starting to make his own choices: what he wants to eat and do, or as is more often the case, not eat and not do.

One of the ways he’s exercising his choices is his bedtime reading ritual. He loves picking the books to be read to him. For the poor soul who offers no choice or starts to read a book he’s rejected, comes the indignity of him climbing off your lap and carrying his preferred book to his newly-preferred reader.

One of the current favourites, by which I mean he picked it more than two nights in a row, is called Ten little fingers and ten little toes. It starts:

“There was one little baby who was born far away And another who was born on the very next day And both of these babies as everyone knows Had ten little fingers and ten little toes.”

Beneath the simple rhymes and beautiful drawings lie a profound truth, that we’re all human beings no matter where we’re from or what we look like.

But perhaps the most human part of all come at the end of the book, the narrator switches tack: “But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.” This child doesn’t just have “ten little fingers and ten little toes” but also has “three little kisses on the end of their nose.”

We have lot of books like this on our shelves. Books designed to let our son know how much we love him, how special he is, how much more than anyone else he means to us. It’s what all parents are meant to feel, isn’t it?

And yet this week, I’ve found myself struggling to read the last couple of pages.

The unfolding events around the world have changed something.

And I don’t just mean the mass response on social media.

Sadness and anger, questions of: “What can I do?” being met with links or lists, practical suggestions, email templates to send to our MP, promises of prayer and A4 pages reading “Refugees welcome” held in front of us.

The sight of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying on that beach, and the testimony of his heartbroken father have caused us all to rally around our common humanity. And for a few moments, days, maybe even weeks we’ll be talking, tweeting, sharing and forwarding anything that backs that up or reminds us of the fact.

And then something will change.

It might be next Spring when we question the influx of non-British acts on Britain’s Got Talent, or next Summer when England underperform at Euro 2016 and we’ll ask whether now is the time for a limit on “foreigners” in the Premier League.

It might be the next time we hear about someone we’re not able to deport because of their human rights, or the headline grabbing story of the British family forced to sleep rough while we give mansions, cars and massive payouts to people not born here.

Or it might be when someone with a different accent bumps into us on the bus, or someone with a foreign number plate takes the parking space we were waiting on.

But at some point in the future, we’ll forget our common humanity and will return to what we know best – ourselves.

And while we stamp our feet and condemn a government who aren’t doing enough to welcome strangers, we’ll keep our spare rooms made up in case our parents need to come visit or one of our friends ever needs it.

And while we profess all the things we share as human beings, we’ll continue to gather with others just like ourselves, grateful that we’ve found “like-minded” people who really “get us.”

And while Abdullah Kurdi continues to mourn, and tries to rebuild his life without his beloved family, I will go back to reading the end of the book and hearing my son giggle when I give him three little kisses on the end of his nose.

Church, Faith

Having My Roots Done

I left Northern Ireland in 2003.

I’d spent the entirety of my life there, and having finished university in Belfast, it was time to move away and start a new life in Essex. I had a job working for my denomination and within a few years had got married and bought a house.

One evening, I was chatting with my mum on the phone – Northern Irish mothers are unique in many ways – too many to explain here – but hopefully this story will help. We were just catching up on life, work, family and all the other usual stuff when she shared that she had been to the dentist that day. I was interested to know more about why and to find out if everything was OK, but Mum was more interested in telling me about the real horror of the afternoon – trying to find somewhere to park within the one-way system of our hometown. I listened intently trying my best to keep up, but I was soon aware that I had no idea where this story was taking place. All the street names and junctions my mum was referring to were registering blanks in my memory. After a few moments my mum said: “And then I got to the nightmare road. You know which one I mean?”

Looking back, and knowing what I now know, I should have said: “Yes, what a nightmare.”

But instead I confessed that I had no idea where my mum was talking about, where the dentist was, or where would have been best to park.

I felt good; confession has that effect. It didn’t last long. Mum’s silence turned to a question. And her tone had shifted from enthusiasm in telling the sorry to what sounded like sadness. She asked: “Do you know why you don’t know where the dentist is?” I went to answer, but was beaten to it… “Because you’ve forgotten your roots.”

The words stung. It might be a particular quirk of growing up in such a small country, or the guilt that moving hundreds of miles away from home always leaves you with, but the one thing I never wanted to be accused of was forgetting my roots.

I’d seen it loads growing up, people who’d arrive back home from their first term at an English university with a bizarre new accent and a sudden desire to drink espresso. Others who would laugh patronisingly at what ‘quaint lives’ we’d been living while they’d been ‘expanding their worldview’ on a two-month placement in Hull, and I didn’t want to be one of those people.

But my mum’s words had hurt because the truth has a habit of doing that. I’d become the very thing I hadn’t wanted to.

My accent had softened quite naturally, but I deliberately lost and found it as the situation warranted in my eyes, choosing to return to Northern Ireland with a heightened English hybrid, that in my head sounded well-versed and well-travelled.

My tastes had developed as I’d tried more things and I found myself suddenly turning up my nose at the tastes of home that had for so long nourished and pleased me.

And I had found myself patronising those closest to me because I had now seen the world – or Essex, at least.

It was like I’d seemingly become embarrassed by where I’d come from.

I wish the story ended with some grand gesture of how I made it up to her or displayed my new found respect of my roots. It would be a great way to finish.

As it turned out, after we’d got off the phone I Googled it and discovered the dentist in question had only been open for a couple of years, so not only had I never been there, I couldn’t have remembered it even if I’d wanted to – told you they’re a unique bunch. But she was still right.

By moving away I’d somehow convinced myself I’d moved on, and what was now somehow surpassed what had been with no understanding of how one had shaped the other.

We closed our house church a few weeks ago, and that means my wife and I have been looking for a new church for a while now.

We’ve found somewhere we love, somewhere we’re not only really excited about, but that raises lots of questions for us and challenges us. Somewhere completely unexpected and quite possibly the last place we thought we’d end up.

It’s meant we’re leaving the denomination we were both born into and raised in, that our parents are part of or work for, and that our siblings and many of our wider family still attend. A movement that over the past 33 years has taught us loads, taken us across the world, and introduced us to some incredible people. And above all, the place in which our faith and discipleship have been nurtured.

For me, it’s almost like leaving home again. A sense of sadness, a tinge of guilt, and in the midst of it all a deep hope that I won’t make the same mistake of forgetting my roots.

It happens all the time and for many of us, I guess. The belief that everything from the past is somehow of less value than what is now of what’s ahead. “The best is yet to come” has become a mantra for many and it holds a certain truth, but if we’re not careful it also conceals an equally pertinent one. That not everything in the past is the worst. That where we’re from, who we’ve been, our foundations, our roots can have tremendous value and should be not only remembered but respected and rejoiced in.

That in the midst of newness, development, change, whatever you want to call it, not everything we leave behind stays behind. We bring all those values, relationships, lessons and more with us.

That leaving well, means not only taking the best bits with us, but recognising where they’ve come from.