Yes, when you’re white, hetero, middle-aged, English-speaking, Anglican and look like a slab of gammon, as I do, the rainbow flag might be perceived as a challenge or even a threat.
I’ve decided it isn’t.
If we’re going to embrace diversity, and we should, because mongrels are healthier than pedigree pups and ecosystems are more resilient than single species, then I want my piece of it.
We Christians, like Jews, Muslims,vegans, carnivores and Liberal Democrats, each have our funny ways of doing things, each our odd beliefs, we’re each equally a part of a diverse society and we’re at liberty to work for the common good. So we can each celebrate the rainbow flag.
It’s a bit uphill, admitting it at parties. Pulses probably don’t thrill when you whisper shyly, ‘I’m an administrator.’ Once I had to park at a small airport and my designated spot was next to the spot marked, ‘Chief Test Pilot’. I didn’t notice a parking space for ‘Chief Administrator’ and I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it anyway.
My project for 2021, and I’ve started early, is to read the Book of Acts in Greek, looking up all the interesting words as I go along. It’s a slow job (I don’t know Greek), which is good, because normally words fall on us like ticker tape in a parade, blizzards every day, and we are not good at processing them slowly.
The early Church was a kind of Ponzi scheme, it seems to me. New entrants were selling property and the proceeds were feeding a bunch of widows. I don’t wish to criticize, but it looks a bit unsustainable. Elsewhere in the New Testament we see Paul trying to regularize the Church benefits system, so perhaps he would agree.
Yet we Christians rave over the early church. Thousands were flocking in. Signs and wonders are done at the hand of the apostles. Even Peter’s shadow falling on people did the business. Many of the priests were becoming believers.
But because there were arguments over allocating funds between Hebrew-speaking (local?) widows and Greek-speaking (?diaspora) widows, the Twelve appointed seven (Greek-sounding to me) administrators. Middle-managers. In the midst of all the miracles and crowds. It was so cool for all these reasons:
They let the people choose the administrators. The apostles picked the best for the job, rather than cronies.
They didn’t say, ‘Bring the hard cases to us’ (like Moses did in a similar situation). They delegated completely to the administrators (or managers or in church usage, ‘deacons’). This is fascinating. Any accountant will tell you to follow the money if you want to see where the power is. And the apostles let someone else do the money.
The apostles were gutsy enough to stick to teaching and prayer. Remember they served a Jesus who had said, ‘You should wash each other’s feet.’ But they quit serving at tables. Did they ignore what Jesus had said? I think not. They rather figured things out about roles and giftings and went with where that led.
Admin was necessary even in the middle of miracles and rapid growth. There were so many miracles going on you would have thought that a couple of waves of Peter’s hand and you could’ve fed the lot, no admin problems and no Ponzi scheme. But that the wrong tree to be barking up, as they presumably quickly discovered. This new Kingdom, this thing to supplant the old arrangement, this taste of a new world, needed sound administration and proper management very soon after its start. The new church needed the power of the Holy Spirit and a pragmatic look at cashflow.
The regular readers of this blog, both of you, will know I’ve been exerpting chapters from my new book over the past weeks. Well, it’s finally finished and I’m really pleased with it. Here is the cover art:
It is, I hope, a fun refresher on some of the big themes of discipleship. A refreshing refresher, perhaps. If you click on this link here you can help yourself to a free copy that you can read on your phone, laptop, tablet, or Kindle.
(This is what publishers call an Advance Review Copy and it’s intended to generate reviews and whatnot, which are very welcome, but mostly it’s nice to have something to give away after what has been a stressful 12 months for many of us.)
It will be available for sale in all formats after publication day on Feb 19th 2021. Do share this free link in the meantime with anyone if you think they’d like it; it stops working on publication day. After that the title will be available in its various formats at Amazon, Eden and the like and orderable from any other bookshop worthy of the name.
Consuming two outstanding bits of media got me thinking about kindness. The first was the film Marvellous, a true story about a man with learning difficulties who served as a kit-man for a professional soccer team and was eventually awarded an honorary degree. The other was the first series of the terrifying and brilliant Line of Duty, once on the BBC, then on Netflix, then, suddenly, just on the BBC again. Both lingered in the mind long after we disconnected our video projector. (If we watch TV, we like to take up a whole wall.)
Without giving too many spoilers, Line of Duty, a police procedural, had some scenes where a person with learning difficulties was horribly abused by a drug gang. In the trade this is called ‘cuckooing’, using a vulnerable person’s flat as a drug-distribution centre.
The big difference between the uplifting Marvellous and the horrifying Line of Duty was not the vulnerability of the people with learning difficulties. It was that one encountered kindness, and the other didn’t.
Which did get me thinking.
Kindness is such a potent, invisible power. I find it helpful to think about people whom I disagree with and remember when they were kind. It helps me defuse personal animosity. Kindness, if you’ve ever shown any, is what people will speak about at your funeral. It will moderate you and moderate what people think of you. Kindness is remembered and treasured. Such a small thing–weightless, odourless, like God–but secretly infiltrating our minds, and changing us.
This appears as the introduction to my blog and is about fruitfulness: personal, social, in every season, and tracing a pattern established before we were born and which will still apply after we are dust.
‘Slow mission’ is about huge ambition–all things united under Christ–and tiny steps.
I contrast it with much talk and planning about ‘goals’ and ‘strategies’ which happens in the parts of church I inhabit, and which have an appearance of spirituality, but make me sometimes feel like I am in the Christian meat-processing industry.
Here’s a summary of slow mission values, as currently figured out by me:
Devoted. Centred on Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do we say to Christ, ‘Everything I do, I do it for you.’ Do we hear Christ saying the same thing back to us?
Belonging. We sign up, take part, dive in, identify, work with others, live with the compromises. Not for us a proud independence.
Respecting vocation. Where do ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger’ meet?1. Vocation is where God’s strokes of genius happen. That’s where we should focus our energies.
To do with goodness. Goodness in the world is like a tolling bell that can’t be silenced and that itself silences all arguments.
Observing seasons. ‘There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’2.The world will be OK even if we check out for a while. (Note: our families, however, won’t be.)
Into everything. We are multi-ethnic and interdependent. We like the handcrafted. We are interested in all humanity and in all that humanity is interested in. Wherever there’s truth, beauty, creativity, compassion, integrity, service, we want to be there too, investing and inventing. We don’t take to being shut out. Faith and everything mix.
Quite keen on common sense. We like to follow the evidence and stick to the facts. We like to critique opinions and prejudices. We don’t, however, argue with maths. Against our human nature, we try to listen to those we disagree with us. We’re not afraid of truth regardless of who brings it. We want to be learners rather than debaters.
Happy to write an unfinished symphony. Nothing gets completed this side of death and eternity. What we do gets undone. That’s OK. Completeness is coming in God’s sweet time. ‘Now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’3.
Comfortable with the broken and the provisional. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for right, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the laughed-at. This also implies a discomfort with the pat, the glib, the primped, the simplistic, the triumphalistic and the schlocky.
Refusing to be miserable. The Universe continues because of God’s zest for life, despite everything, and his insouciance that it will all probably work out somehow. In sorrows, wounds and in the inexplicable, we join God in his childlike faith.