Faith in the workplace: four pointers

Our worklife is another area that we can think of as something to do with Kingdom of God. (As I blogged here.) So:

  1. It’s about devotion to Christ. Work, like the rest of life, is something in the end that we do in front of an audience of One. That leads to the extra-mile contributions.
  2. It’s now and not yet. Some stuff at work will never be put right until the end of everything. But we can make a difference today.
  3. It’s internal and external. Our heart has to be right, not just our conduct. (The heart always spills over anyway.) It was said of the great reforming MP William Wilberforce that he kept on friendly terms even with his political enemies.  The Christian faith calls us to love our neighbours, enemies, brothers, even, therefore, the awkward so-and-sos at work. We can’t just politely hate them. That’s awkward, but ultimately productive.
  4. We come in weakness. Which implies patience, willingness to admit being wrong, persistence, gentleness. Not a doormat, but not a door-slammer either.

Storytelling 101: 6 marks of a beautiful book

Yesterday I finished the first draft of The Sump of Lost Dreams, the third book in my comic novel trilogy. A fantastic feeling after several years’ gestation.

The three books are about, in turn, the presence, the power, and the persistence of grace. These themes are stripped of all Christian language, deeply buried under layers of comedy and fantasy and nothing is brought to a conclusion. skinny latteThe books are supposed to be like the smell of coffee or fresh bread: fun in itself, and setting you off hunting for the source.

They’re part of ‘slow mission’ because (a) they’re  my ‘thing’ and  everybody’s ‘thing’ has to fit somewhere and (b) because we can’t live on bread alone; we need stories like we need protein.

Re-writing: a checklist

reading waterHere (for my reference mostly and because I’ve got to put it somewhere) is my checklist for when I come to re-write the first draft. It’s my best thoughts on what makes a fine novel.

  1. Premise. Does it drive the book? Are any parts of the book extraneous? Does the premise resonate though the book, even if is not stated explicitly? Is it moving? Does it move me?
  2. Background. Is it consistent? Accurate enough?  Does the chronology work? Do seasons pass? Special occasions happen?
  3. Plot. Is it believable? Organic? (one thing develops naturally from another)? Is it taut, pulling the reader along or does it go slack in places? Is it satisfyingly tied up or are there loose ends or dead ends? Does the tension in each scene rise and fall away like a wave?
  4. Characters. How well do I know them? Do they have distinctive voices? Do they change? What would strike the observer about them? Are they operating at full capacity? Are they struggling? Do they get somewhere?
  5. Texture. Is the dialogue funny, terse, unexpected? Is the writing unobtrusive? Do descriptions drag? Do the eyes skip over parts?
  6. Overall. Does it delight? Move the heart? Grip? Make people late for appointments? Force them buy it for others? Compete with Netflix and Sky Sports?

 

Slow mission: How to be complete and incomplete at the same time

Seed Blog

They are familiar words, ringing across at funeral services:

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

The seed is the perfect picture for the now-but-not-yet, complete-but-incomplete, slow-mission Kingdom in which we live.

Some seeds look wizened. Y0u bury them in the soil. They are inconsequential. But a plant has spent a whole summer and all its strength manufacturing them. And they are packed with life: as the old saying has it, you can count the seeds in the apple, but you can’t  begin to count the apples in the seed.

Seeds are complete but incomplete, fulfilled and unfulfilled, finished yet hardly started, old in one age, new in the next.

In Christian-world and Christian-speak I think that’s what we aspire to be. Wizened, inconsequential, easily forgotten; and at the same time, seasoned and refined by grace, fulfilled, and ready to carry all the good we’ve known into an unfolding future. We aren’t there yet, and we don’t get there except through death,  but even through death we don’t lose anything of importance; we carry it all. Everything sown here–every hope, every partial work, every tear–find a harvest there.

Nice thought.

[Jesus] also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4:26-29)

 

Slow mission: January

January,  the month of hope: the hope being that the rest of the year isn’t January. But perhaps we can add meaning to our trudging through the cold and snow.

Slow mission starts with where we’re going – that in the fullness of time (lovely phrase) everything will be headed up or summed up or brought together in Christ.

When time has filled its cup to the rim, as it were, Christ will be in and over everything.

We can’t actually make that happen. But in the interim we do what can, where we can, with whatever we have. We try to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, and try to extend his influence into whatever we touch. So all of life matters. This puts meaning into every day.

Why God keeps you waiting

I am reading a series of devotional books by F B Meyer (1847 – 1929), one page on each chapter of the Bible.

From an entry on Psalm 62:

‘[Abraham] was left waiting till nature was spent… till all that knew him pitied him for clinging to an impossible dream. But as this great silence fell on him, the evidence of utter helplessness and despair, there arose within his soul an ever-accumulating faith in the power of God…

‘This is why God keeps you waiting.’

Finding our place: ‘Going’ v ‘Staying’

(From My Place in God’s World)

Jesus lived good news as much as he preached it.

Though Jesus gave teaching a very high priority, it wasn’t all he did. Among other things, he healed, he averted a natural disaster or two, he enforced justice and he cooked fish for a men’s breakfast.

Nor was his time on earth an action-packed frenzy of spiritual activity, praying, healing and teaching.  He first lived a good life, thirty years in a single village.

He set the pattern. That leads to two forces pulling on us: the urge to slip our moorings and head to do great things on some wide horizon; or the urge to stay where we are and live well. For each of us, the blend will be original.

Home and hearth; or follow your dream. I think for those of us lucky enough, life has enough seasons to do both. Happy Christmas.

Slow Mission and the Old Testament

(From Your place in God’s world)

‘The time has come.’

These were Jesus’ first recorded words–as we have seen–as he started work on his Messiah start-up project.

He was capping the well of history: everything before was now ‘Old’ testament; from now on it was new.

How to summarize what he so neatly ended? Old Testament history can be read as picking out shapes in a stormy landscape.

The storms are the squalls of judgement and mercy, of alienation and return that sweep across history. The shapes underneath are the outlines of God’s coming kingdom: a King, a Shepherd, a healing of waywardness, a heart transplant, the flow of ‘living water’, peace being made,  a people flourishing, a spreading multitude of followers.

Then the storm clears, and Christ, the Kingdom embodied, steps into the waiting sunshine.

 

 

The world is getting less violent (and why it matters)

‘Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end’. And so it proves….

Having got my eyesight back after two years of drug-induced cataracts, I am enjoying some heavy-duty reading again. Steven Pinker’s book is getting me very excited. His thesis is that violence in the human species is continuing a dramatic fall, stretching over millenia, dating indeed from the agricultural revolution. Because this is so counter-cultural, he needs the book’s 900 pages to prove it and hypothesise about it.  Bill Gates’ cover blurb (‘one of the most important books I’ve read — not just this year, but ever’) is for once more than the polite puffing of friends.

The book is so counter-cultural because those  of us who read the news in the 60s, 70s and 80s saw a world going to pot1; Pinker shows this was just a counter-cultural eddy against a much longer flow, and the fall in crime in the 1990s and beyond is merely a resumption of that old norm. Totally fascinating.

So much to think about! (This is me speculating, not Steven Pinker)

1. So history has a direction after all and ‘human progress’ means something? The twentieth century rather left that 19th-century view bleeding in the street.

2.  Here is evidence-for me–though certainly not for the convinced non-Christian Steven Pinker–that Christ is King and ‘of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.’ It is not the case that the world was going bad until Jesus came and fixed it. But it can surely be argued that here we have the ‘left hand of God’ and the ‘right hand of God’ working together. God guides human history generally into a more fruitful and less violent place; and at the epicentre, accelerating this trend and filling it out with revelation, is the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the peace-making activity of his people. I don’t think Prof Pinker would enjoy this conclusion (I would like to write another blog about his so-called humanism and measured disapproval of the Christian faith) but I find it a bit stunning– a large body of unsuspected social-science evidence that beautifully complements natural theology, not completely unlike the body of physical evidence that leads physicists to conclude the Universe began in a moment of creation at the Big Bang.

You gotta read the book.

 

 

 

Slow mission: ‘The time has come’

(From My Place in God’s World)

Jesus began his ministry on a beach.

Four words that changed everything: ‘the time has come.’

No moment was like that moment. It was like a plane at the beginning of the runway, or two armies gathered for battle, or a bride stepping into the aisle. It was the moment of silence; the indrawn breath; the kiss for luck before stepping onto the stage.

The long preparations are all done, Jesus was saying. Creation of the universe. Creation of the Earth. The shaping of homo sapiens after many earlier drafts. Abraham and his descendants meeting with God over two thousand years, a stormy relationship, wave after wave of revelation, judgement, return, of questions and answers and more questions.

Now the fulfilment has come, on the beach.

History is happening: feel it.

Poor in spirit: ‘breaking out of a prison of your own making’

Recently heard a talk by the chaplain of the Robben Island prison during Nelson Mandela’s time there. Apparently Mandela said to himself, when he finally regained his freedom, that unless he left the hate and bitterness behind, he would remain in prison, but this time in one of his own making.