Thursday, 25 July 2013

Confession, Grace, Forgiveness

When I was in Corrymeela in Northern Ireland about fifteen months ago, one of our speakers was Harold Good, a retired Methodist minister, one of the two clergy who had overseen the decommissioning of weapons in that community.  Harold was talking about how we deal with conflict and asking the question as to what Christians can bring to the table when we are seeking to address issues of significant conflict.  He suggested that there are three things we can and should bring.

The first is confession.  We live in a world of blame culture, but we are always trying to shift the blame.  How we prefer to avoid folk instead of confessing our part in getting things wrong.  He suggested, and I agree, that we all have some confessing to do.  He also made the point that confession isn’t just about what we have done.  It can be about what we haven’t done.  O, and if confession sounds too religious, too much of church, perhaps an alternative word is honest.  We need to be honest.  We need to be honest before God.

The second thing we can bring is grace.  We tend to get to a point where we want to stand up for justice.  There are times when we need to do that.  There are issues which demand that we seek justice.  Justice is not to be ignored, and is often desperately needed.  But we simply cannot ignore the fact that grace is ultimately more needed and more important.  One of the great things we discover as we follow God’s way is just how great God’s love is and what that means in terms of things being as they should be.  That is grace.  God’s love is immense.  As Desmond Tutu has it in his book ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’ – “Someone has said there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, for God loves me perfectly already.  And wonderfully, there is nothing I can do to make God love me less.  God loves me as I am.”[1]  As my kids might say to me – how good is that?  I am not going to pretend that things never get messed up.  That is patently untrue.  We live in a chaotic world and we often find ourselves having to cope with some of the struggles and problems which that produces.  But somewhere in there, always, is God’s love.  Somewhere, always, too, is the call to be God’s people.  O, and if grace is too religious or two churchy a word, try ‘generosity’.  God is so generous to us.  How generously do we respond?

The third thing that Harold Good suggests we bring is forgiveness.  We have already said that we are always looking for somebody whose fault it is and what we can get out of them by way of compensation.  Forgiveness is counter-cultural, but at the heart of our faith.  David Stevens, a former leader of the Corrymeela Community, has said this: “The gospel offers us an alternative reality to fearful, frozen and defensive living.  It invites us to imagine ourselves and our world differently.  Reconciliation in Christ takes us to a new place – the house of Christ – where we think, speak and act in his way, where fear becomes trust and hurt permits healing.  Christ breaks down the middle wall of partition and invites us all into a space created by him to find people who were previously our enemies.”[2]

I think that forgiveness is the thing that the world most needs, that the world most lacks.  I am currently reading a book called ‘Forgiving is Healing’ by a guy called Russ Parker.  He says this: "By definition forgiveness is confrontational.  It exposes and challenges the 'be-attitudes' of both the forgiver and the forgiven.  It uncovers what is going on in both the giver and the receiver when forgiveness is on offer.  We must not imagine that it is easy for us to forgive even with the help of God's grace.  This is often because in the very act of forgiving we must also let go of our hurt or sense of outrage at what the other has done to us.  To forgive another is to enter into a commitment to love them."

He goes on to say: "Jesus expected his disciples to be forgivers.  What is also important is that he did not regard this as an option but a commitment."  And then again, "Prominent among the routes to wholeness is the need to be set free from the old, crippling agenda of the past, and the prime resource for this is to forgive and be forgiven."

[1] ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’, p. 75.
[2] ‘The Land of Unlikeness’, p. 51.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

To Do or Not To Do

One of the problems in being church is that we think we need to be all-embracing.  Of course, the church is for everyone - that is one of the wonderful things about it.  However, if every congregation tries to do everything, most of us will end up in unsustainable situations.  For most congregations a bit of targeting is a good idea.

At last week's Church Growth Conference, John Daniel suggested three things that might provide us with a good approach. 

In the first place, 'do something different'.  Secondly, 'do something you enjoy'.  And thirdly, 'don't try to do everything'.  All three pointers are well worth considering.

Monday, 8 July 2013


I have been reading John Polkinghorne's Encountering Scripture: a scientist explores the Bible.  In the book Polkinghorne takes a quick run through Scripture commenting on how it works for him and on the fact that the Bible contains loads of relevant thinking.

The Bible is a challenging book.  It's not an easy guide as to how to live, but enables us to consider how we should respond to the wide range of situations in which we may find ourselves.  Many folk, it seems, would like a clear line with "right" on one side of the line and "wrong" on the other - but that is just not how it is.

As Polkinghorne comments: "The tapestry of life is not coloured in simple black and white, representing an unambiguous choice between the unequivocally bad and the unequivocally good.  The ambiguity of human deeds and desires means that life includes many shades of grey.  Whar is true of life in general is true of the Bible in particular.  An honest reading of Scripture will acknowledge the presence in its pages of various kinds of ambiguity."

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Vision - Passion - Dissatisfaction

The keynote speaker at the Church Growth Conference from which I have just returned was the Revd, John Daniel of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.  (I met John when I was in NZ in 2009.)  John said lots of interesting things, but one that particularly struck me was his definition of what is needed for change - and growth will bring change!

He identified three things.  First, we need vision.  Vision provides a snapshot of the desired future.  Second, we need passion.  Passion provides the energy.  Third, we need dissatisfaction.  Dissatisfaction provides the momentum - if we are not dissatisfied with the status quo, we won't change it.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Inflatable Church

I have just got back from a United Reformed Church conference on church growth with lots of very interesting ideas, both principles to work on and specific examples and case studies.

One that intrigued me was Ian Hayter's description of the inflatable church that his church (Wade Street URC/Baptist in Lichfield) have taken to the local carnival.  It is a case of going where the people are, but a very visible and recognisable indicator of the message they want to offer - and the opportunity for folk to go into something that approximates to what they understand as the real thing, and say a prayer or whatever. 

It is certainly one fascinating idea for engaging with people in places where they will be.