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plumsSlow food is about seasonal ingredients, patiently nurtured, carefully prepared, lovingly cooked.

The ingredients of ‘slow mission’ are people and the Christian gospel; and also, seasons, brokenness, diversity, giftedness and time — things we need to keep reminding ourselves of.

Slow mission is about trying to make the world better by applying the whole gospel of Christ to the whole of life. It’s about using what gifts we have for the common good. It moves at the pace of nature. It respects seasons. It is happy with small steps but has a grand vision. It knows of only one Lord and one Church. Making disciples of ourselves is as important as making disciples of others. Diversity is embraced. Playfulness is recommended.

A fresh entry comes out about twice a week. The idea is to learn together and encourage each other. Comments and guest blogs are welcome. Each entry is bite-sized, 500 words or less. Please do subscribe, join in, enjoy.

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Slow mission values

Marwa_Morgan-It's_still_early_for_the_moon_to_rise
Marwa Morgan ‘It’s still early for the moon to rise’ @Flickr

‘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.

Wonderful immigration (with working link this time -sorry)

Crowd
The Church around the country is leading the fight against mean and small-minded immigration policy.

I am relying on anecdote here. It’s just that so many of my Christian friends, when they aren’t staffing the food bank rota, are helping Iranians and Syrians and Afghans fill out forms, make appeals and try to start a new life in the UK. They also inviting them to their homes, teaching them English and being their friends.

Where are the politicians? Crowding into the cellar. Where are the newspapers? Foaming at the mouth for the most part. I don’t see too many opinion-formers  telling us that the inward flow of young, keen, hardworking people is a great gift to us, a resource better than discovering a reservoir of shale oil under the entire North of England.

These good people are going to pay my pension and keep the health service running for me.  Of course we have to observe the lifeboat principle – if you try too much, too fast, you sink.

But that can’t be that hard given the fact we are entirely surrounded by an impassable watery border, we have coped even with 300,000 new people a year, and our population would be shrinking and ageing if we didn’t open our doors. We have a big lifeboat and it isn’t full. In the year 2000 the foreign-born population of the UK was 4%. By 2010 it was 8%.Well done us.

China rising

A prophecy comes true

China
Around 1985, when I was a young missions researcher, an old missions researcher named Leslie Brierley, born 1911, was helping me write a book.

I had described how the opportunities for Christian missions in China had closed down around 1949 with the communist takeover.

1985 was less than ten years after the death of Mao, and less than 20 years after the peak of the cultural revolution in 1969 when not a single Christian church met publicly in the whole country. Few glimmers of news had emerged since.

My 23-year-old apprentice self ventured some pessimism about the gospel in China. My 74-year-old  mentor begged to differ:

“I feel that we are in for some surprises with regard to the Church in China, for in the 21st century (I shan’t live to see it but you can tell me when you arrive in Glory) the Chinese will be one of the greatest waves of missionary outreach in the world.”

Estimates of 100m Christians in China are contested but mainstream today.

I look forward to telling Leslie.

How to shorten your life

Slow healing (part 9)

If you really want to cut short your time with the rest of us here on earth, here’s how — borrowing from two sources, just as we did for the blog on how to live longer.

The statistician

David Speigenhalter has some research-led findings on what to do if you really want to lop some years off your span. Here’s how different behaviours can get you into the world of the below-average.

  • Smoke 14-24 ciggies per day: take off seven years from your expected lifespan.1
  • Be obese: take off 2.5 years
  • Eat one portion of red meat per day: take off one year
  • Every alcoholic drink after the first each day: take off 0.7 years.
  • Watch TV for two hours per day: take off 0.7 years.2
Jewish wisdom

The Bible too has a some surprising views on unhealthy lifestyle–though not all of them are things you can do much about:

  • Having a wife of dubious character (Proverbs 12:4) (fortunately I’m OK on that score)
  • Hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12)
  • Envy (Proverbs 14:30)
  • A crushed spirit (17:22 and 18:14)

The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about danger

by Michael Blastland David Spiegelhalter [Profile Books]
Price: £8.99 EUR 10,91 EUR 8,99 EUR 10,68

The beautiful joy of criticism

It separates wheat from dross, and cuts rough diamonds

Ufology sign
By ‘criticism’, I don’t mean saying bad things about people, of which I think we do way too much.

I mean holding something up, looking at it in a fresh light, considering an alternative view, listening to the opposite argument, assessing and weighing the evidence. 

Sceptical skills do not come naturally to us and I think we should practice them. Argue with yourself against some deeply-held opinions for a few minutes each day, perhaps. 1

I think we should cultivate the friendship of the smart, good people who despite being smart and good, believe all the wrong things.

We should celebrate when we change our mind or arrive at a fresh perspective. These are moments that don’t come round so often. It’s much more common, apparently, only to really latch on to the fresh information that digs us deeper into the rut we have already chosen.

And finally we should train our sceptical gunsights on those who who are on our side, who are bravely fighting our corner. It isn’t wrong. It’s breathing clean air.

Ways to live longer

Slow healing (part 8)

Two different sources suggest ways to lengthen your life. My ‘theology’ embraces both.

The statistician

David Speigenhalter, a statistician here in Cambridge, has calculated what fitness tips can do to your expected lifespan. Here are some of them:

  • Five fruit and veg every day: add four years
  • Twenty minutes light/moderate exercise per day: add two years
  • Two cups of coffee: add one year
  • One small alcoholic drink: add one year.

Or

  • smoke 14-24 ciggies: take off seven years
  • be obese: take off 2.5 years
  • eat one portion of red meat: take off one year
  • every daily alcoholic drink after the first: take off 0.7 years.
  • watch TV for two hours: take off 0.7 years.1
Jewish wisdom

The Bible has a few tips too, time honoured if not actually peer-reviewed:

  • Fearing God (Deuteronomy 6:2)
  • A longing fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12)
  • Wise living (Proverbs 9:11, 13:14, 16:22)
  • A heart at peace (Proverbs 14:30)
  • Gracious speech or the ‘soothing tongue’ (Proverbs 15:4, 16:24)
  • Good news (Proverbs 15:30)
  • Walking in the way of justice (Proverbs 16:31)
  • A cheerful heart (Proverbs 17:22)
  • Pursuing righteousness and love (Proverbs 21:21)

Unhealthy ones:

  • Having a wife of non-noble character (Proverbs 12:4) (I’m not making this up)
  • Hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12)
  • Envy (Proverbs 14:30)
  • A crushed spirit (17:22 and 18:14)

 

The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about danger

by Michael Blastland David Spiegelhalter [Profile Books]
Price: £8.99 EUR 10,91 EUR 8,99 EUR 10,68

Is evangelism biblical?

Only evangelicals believe this.

Breaking bread, juice, dinner party, Broadview townhouse, Seattle, Washington, USAHere’s a question.

Is evangelism something you should ‘do’? Is this how we should think?

  1. I am a Christian
  2. The world needs to know the gospel
  3. Led by God, I must go and tell it/them.

I’ve believed this is the right thing to do for decades but never much liked the idea, and not been too good at it either.

There’s an alternative:

  1. The Kingdom is coming
  2. Turn to the King and follow him

I like this much better. Why are these two ideas different?

The first seems to be fatally flawed in that it casts me as the good guy and the expert and the world as the needy thing to which I am sent like a spiritual paramedic. I am broken, as truly broken as the world is, we all know this, I want to communicate this. We evangelicals like to talk about ‘one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread’: good so far. But having the wrong starting point really doesn’t help this communication effort. When I climb into the spiritual ambulance, put the blue lights on, and race helpfully towards you I am obscuring the message of our mutual need.

The second approach starts with broken me and sets as my duty ‘following Jesus’ rather than ‘evangelizing’. Go where he leads; do what he wants me to do; become what he wants me to become; and strive to form disciples en route.

The first feels like a marketing campaign, the second feels more like a pilgrimage – and also more natural, normal and slow.

There’s some Biblical heft behind the second idea (as well as personal preference). It’s what Jesus himself said and did, right from the start on the Galilee lakeside: the Kingdom is coming: embrace it.

It’s what he sent out his apostles to preach and demonstrate.

Even the Great Commission in Matthew, the final peak of Christ’s teaching, is not (as is often taught and I myself have taught) ‘go and make disciples’. It is best translated, ‘in your going’; ‘as you go’; or (I paraphrase) ‘on your way through life’, ‘make disciples of all the nations.’

I don’t think all the evidence is in my favour and I am deliberately overstating things. Just a few days ago I heard of more than 50 students making a profession of faith after what looked a lot like an evangelistic campaign in their university. Paul and other apostles clearly strategized, preached, believed they had the answers and set out to teach the world. They behaved like good evangelicals. But they were gifted evangelists. And they were only a part of the Church’s response to Christ; they had their limitations too. And perhaps campus evangelistic missions are more like the exception in church growth, not the rule.

We are not all evangelists. Teaching us all to behave like evangelists is an evangelical weakness, a weakness that’s obvious to everyone (except ourselves). We thereby seem to love to instruct people in the right way to live–not an attractive quality–rather than admitting the truth, which is that we are all hippos together in the glorious mud–but Christ has come among us.

When the clouds return after the rain

Slow healing – 7

Injured Teddy Bear
A couple who struggle to have children conceive a baby. A person suffering flashbacks of a traffic accident is bothered by them no more. The latest scan reveals no sign of cancer. Some things submit to the quick, instant fix.

I’d love to hear from a GP on this but I have the feeling that many, perhaps most, medical conditions don’t fit this model. Perhaps some people are just wearing out. Others keep seeking appointments really because they are lonely and sad. (Just the other day I heard of a survey at one GP practice that found its most frequent frequent-flyers were not the eighty-year-olds but women in early middle age.)

Lots of people have multiple things wrong with them, so if instant healing was being offered, they’d have to keep rejoining the queue. This is in fact quite a good picture of how the NHS is currently structures.

Yet in the gospels people meet Jesus and all who even touch the edge of his cloak are healed.

What does that mean for those with multiple, long-term chronic conditions or who are sad and lonely or who are just wearing out? I guess doctors struggle with this stuff all the time.

Surely it means that healing is finding a way to thrive in any and every circumstance. This may be lit up on the way by some wonderful moments of physical or mental deliverance, thanks to doctors or prayer or both or more, but true healing is a wide, deep, slow turning over of the soil of our lives so that it produces a good harvest of joy and peace. It’s a transforming encounter, and an ongoing discipline and experience.

The neat thing is, I suspect such an inner transformation will itself be an ally in our fight against everything else. ‘All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast’ (Proverbs 15:15). We start to see ourselves as givers, not takers, receivers of grace not unfortunate victims, our lives defined by the goodness of God, not by our ailments. This isn’t easy or inevitable; but it isn’t impossible either.

Inconvenient data

It just really gets in the way of sloppy thinking.

Fulbe herders, W Africa, 1984, taken from just outside my front door — a missionary memory of my own.

Our new vicar showed us a film of his early life as a child of missionaries in West Papua (the other half of Papua New Guinea).

A compilation of home movies, and from the 1970s, it was almost a splicing together of Victorian missionary cliches: small dark-skinned people carry suitcases on their heads through the jungle. White missionary in shorts and pith helmet preaches to seated crowds who are clad in shells and penis-gourds. Female white missionary gives injections while dark-skinned people wait patiently for their turn; local children run to greet the aeroplane.

I’ve spent a lot of my career writing positively about missions in a world where ‘everybody knows’ the whole endeavour is an exercise in cultural imperialism and thinly-veiled racism. These images confirm everything ‘everyone knows’ and they don’t help.

Except they did help. As the film unfolded, we saw the happiness on the people’s faces when they destroyed their weapons in a fire. We saw the road that two villages built to connect them because they wanted to give up war forever.  Primitive peoples? They were advanced enough to disarm and to build bridges with their neighbours and rivals. Conspicuously more advanced, then, than my country; and the gospel did that. The gospel the pith-helmeted missionaries in their t00-short 1970s shorts brought.

How often is the truth more complicated, and more unfashionable, than the lazy assumption? I think probably always.

Healing and technology

Slow healing — part 6

Injured Teddy Bear
Half of all the blindness in the world is caused by cataracts 1

This means presumably that half of the all the blindness Jesus cured was due to cataracts. Some of the rest was due to extreme short or long-sightedness.

These things can now be fixed by technology. Every person who is blind through cataracts or lensing issues can see again: only poverty or waiting lists stand in their way.

Do you have the feeling that having cataracts healed by surgery is somehow not as good as having them healed by direct divine intervention? I do. But I think my feelings are wrong.

The accumulated good deeds of previous generations (in this case, researchers and technologists) ripen the Kingdom of God in the earth. Thanks to those efforts, every leprous person can now be healed by antibiotics, every person blind through cataracts or myopia or presbyopia can be healed by surgery or opticians. I remember sitting in the post-surgery place in our local hospital, after my own cataract op, hearing people around me saying ‘I couldn’t drive– now  I  can!’ ‘I can’t believe how good this is!’

I was seeing the Kingdom come, in the slow, wide way rather than than the instant, limited-issue, demonstration-version way.

I worship the God who stirs the techies to build solutions to improve our lives. Is the gospel foolishness to the geeks? It shouldn’t be.

Do you agree? Is it so simple? What am I missing?

Keep a pencil handy

Because eternity’s at your shoulder

lined paper

Today someone, armed just with a pencil and paper could make something that will last forever.

It might be a pencil sketch, or a melody, or a novel, or a theorem.

As long as there are people, that picture or song or story or insight will live on. Even if humans are out-evolved by (let us say) intelligent machines, they may be wise enough still to treasure these divine relics.

And our art may add to the furniture in an eternal age to come. The Bible’s Book of Revelation says ‘The glory and honour of the nations’ will be carried into City of God (Rev 21:26).

Once there was a time when Picasso had not sketched a dove, when Handel had not written the Hallelujah chorus, when no-one knew the magical relation between e, i, pi, 1 and zero, when no-one had ever written a gospel or a sonnet.

Today or tomorrow some art will be created that will loved for a thousand or ten thousand years.

Two thoughts

Two obvious thoughts flow:

  1. How can anyone believe we are not made in the image of God? That we are not his sketches, melodies, novels, theorems? That he didn’t create us to create this stuff to celebrate his glory of which he contained too much to keep to himself?
  2. Buy a pencil-sharpener.