Slow 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.
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‘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.
‘I’m getting old,’ I complained to my wife. Old enough to see some much hyped Christian things crumble and fall. So sad. Today I was reminded of two.
Years ago I’d visited my publishers for a day of interviews and publicity shots. They’d shown me an exciting book they were hyping: Taming the Tiger. A few years on, large parts of it were revealed as sham- after its author scooped prestigious awards, spoke widely, and distributed 1.5m copies.
After the original publisher withdrew it (and also went into administration, though that was probably from publishing me rather than publishing Taming the Tiger) another took it on, reluctant to waste a good bestseller.
Second, in a few days time from today, a pastor called Kong Hee, whom I spent an hour interviewing back in the 1990s in Singapore when he was pastor of ‘City Harvest Church’, starts a three-year prison sentence. He is guilty of misdirecting some $35m of church funds, largely in an attempt to launch his wife as a crossover Christian-maintream singer. I liked him when I met him.
Yesterday I read in my beloved Psalm 45 the prayer to the Messiah-King: ‘ride out on behalf of truth, humility and justice.’
When Jesus came to earth, he proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. The language of kingdoms can sound strange to us, in that it seems to signify territoriality. In the context of work, it may therefore be helpful to see the kingdom of God as “the sphere of God’s goodness” in the world. We are called to advance God’s kingdom, sharing the “sphere of goodness” and extending it as we operate with God’s values. Our actions at work have the potential to advance the kingdom of God and his “sphere of goodness,” or to hinder it–on both a macro and a micro level. Each time we tell the truth, make decisions fairly and with respect for others, or act with integrity, we are advancing this sphere, albeit in small ways.
Take a completely healthy person. Put them in a humiliating hospital gown. Insert a cannula in each wrist, a blood-pressure cuff to their arm and a blood-oxygen monitor on their finger,
Every few hours, send someone round to hurt them, perhaps by sticking a needle in them, putting stickers on them and then ripping them off or (for maximum fun) inserting and then removing a catheter into their urinary tract.
Move them to a new bed at random times, even midnight.
Keep them near the nurses’ station so they don’t sleep.
Make sure they are in a ward with other stressed people, some who are calling out constantly, some who fight the nurses, some who are deaf, some who don’t speak English, and some who soil their bedclothes. Arrange for one or two to die if possible.
Only answer the call bell sometimes.
Give them food they don’t like at times they aren’t hungry.
Hold them for an indefinite time.
Have a consultant visit once per day for five minutes and issue contradictory messages about when they will be allowed to go home.
I suggest that after a week of this treatment, even a healthy person would be demoralized, perhaps really ill, and would need days to recover.
At the moment I have some close relatives and friends in hospital and I am reminded of the awfulness of it. Despite the best efforts of dedicated staff and family and friends. Just like anyone who has spent some weeks in hospital, I have seen all of the above.
You have to learn to survive. Anyone who has managed some months in a hospital ward will be an expert in this. My tips — linked to Christian notions of healing — are these.
See Christ beyond all of this. Trust him. Lean into him. Thank him. Believe in him and never let him go. He is good, really good, and his power and purposes will prevail in my life. Say that over and over. Work it out in your mind. Never give up on it. Never.
Give him your pain, and the pain you see in your loved one’s faces. It’s too hard to hold it yourself.
Make up your mind to keep your humanity in this place. Thank the people who injure you. Smile. Ask them their name. Give them yours. Be courteous and kind. They are under pressure too. You will find other patients and medical staff who, in all the inhumanity, are trying to be human like you. Spark off each other. When your loved ones visit, thank them, appreciate them, serve them: make their visit as happy as you can. Give them your best. You may fail in all of this, often, badly, but at least try.
Understand this is a season of suffering and you need to endure it. Endure it rather than rage against it.
Find ways of being happy: a nice meal, a good film, a kind friend.
Through the night, thank God for everything you can think of and pray his blessing on everyone you can think of.
I’ve collected some blog posts specially for all the people who enjoyed my book More than Bananas – How the Christian faith works for me and the whole Universe. This title — a free download on Kindle– has been in the Kindle theology bestseller list for the past 9 months or so.
You probably know the old joke about a person who fell off a cliff but managed to grab hold of a branch halfway down. As he swung, he called into the mists below him, ‘Is there anybody there? Can you help me?’
A voice came from the mist. ‘Trust me, and let go the branch.’
The person thought about it and then said, ‘Noted. Is there anybody else down there?’
Involving God in our healing exposes us to the risk that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.
We may come to him with the hope of a quick fix to a medical problem. But in coming, we open ourselves to the fact that God may have a view on what is really wrong with us and what needs to be put right.
We may point out the mote in God’s eye (he let me suffer toothache!), he points out the plank in ours. We bring our agenda to him; he brings his agenda to us. It is like when you have to speak to your wife about something. It’s unpredictable. You don’t know what avalanche will be unleashed as you remove the first boulder.
Unfortunately I know of no way round this. Once we bring our problems to God we are in the same position as the king with an army of 10,000 discovering that the opposing king has an army of 20,000. By the end of the day there will only be one king left standing. One agenda will survive the meetup. And it won’t be ours.
Our options at this point are limited. We could take the ‘Henry V’ option (‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…’) Or, since it is God we are now facing, God and his agenda for us, we could take our army to one side and say, ‘Lads, it’s like this. We either face certain death in battle or we surrender and hope for the best.’ We come to him: we submit to him. We want his touch; the only thing offered is his outstretched arms, his deep embrace. It’s all or nothing, all of him or nothing.
Our only way out of this dilemma is to take our medicine as soon as possible. We want healing if possible please; if so, we first need to surrender ourselves, body, mind and schedule, heart and soul and hopes, to the Healer.
‘… It was if my life had shares and God wanted 100 percent control of it. A divine tug-of-war ensued. Why would God want all of me? Could there be a joint venture? Could I carve out a special deal to suit me? What about a partnership? Was 50/50 not a good arrangement. It became clear that true freedom was to be found in full surrender to the love of God. It did not come to me easily, nor at once. I got there in stages. I recall praying that God would take 51 percent of my life–control but not whole ownership. I remember the churning an d the heated deliberation within myself as this plan did not seem to achieve the desired objective. I saw then, and recognize now more fully, the arrogance of negotiating with God and the foolishness in believing I had anything to offer God. I recall praying: “Lord have all of me. Only don’t abandon me.” In that moment, I realized that the God who loved the entire world also loved mean and would stay faithful to me, even when I was not faithful to him, as has sadly often been the case.
‘What struck me at once was the immediate change in every area of my life…’
Ken Costa, banker, in his helpful book God at Work.
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.
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.