I have just read a great article in The Times (on Saturday 1 October) about army chaplains. (I’d like to be able to point you to it online, but The Times is subscription only.) It is based around an interview with the Chaplain General (top chaplain), Rev Jonathan Woodhouse, who happens to be the first Baptist Chaplain General. He was asked what the role of army chaplains is today:
To continue to be trusted in bringing the hope of God… My job as a padre is not to oil the wheels of war, but to help the humanity caught up in it.
That’s profound! We may have questions about the right or wrong of a particular circumstance, but our task as free samples of Jesus is always to help the humanity that is caught up in those circumstances and be trusted in bringing the hope of God. A while ago I had a conversation with someone who is exploring the possibility of chaplaincy to the local ‘Gentleman’s Club’. I had no reservations about supporting her in this, but did not have the words to articulate why until I read Jonathan Woodhouse’s words.
There is a fine line to tread in this. By being involved we can be seen to be affirming things that we would not endorse. But this is exactly the sort of thing Jesus was doing. He spent time with people who were regarded as ‘unclean’ and told his critics that it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. But can polite (predominantly middle-class) churches cope with that attitude today? If (as I reckon he might) Jesus said he wanted to be a chaplain to a Gentleman’s Club wouldn’t we try to dissuade him. Wouldn’t we warn him of the risk to his reputation? Wouldn’t we ask him about the reputation of the church? Wouldn’t we ask about whether he was compromising himself?
And wouldn’t he smile gently and say, “But I love them.” And then he might go back to drawing in the sand while looking pointedly at the stones we are carrying.
You may not formally be a chaplain, but you can be the same to those around you. Not judging, not condemning, not condoning, but loving and being the presence of Jesus where our paths cross with theirs.
Be blessed. Be a blessing.
On Mothering Sunday last year I held a ‘dandling’ competition in our church. We asked some parents to dandle their children on their knees. It was linked to God’s description of how he will comfort his people in Isaiah 66:12 of dandling them. Dandling, for the unititiated, is bouncing up and down on your knees (when our children were little it was usually linked to saying a rhyme about horses). At this time there was a big poster on the route away from our church advertising the Gentleman’s Club mentioned above, explaining that lap-dancing was available there. A young child from our church read this on their way home and asked his dad what lap-dancing was. In a moment of swift-thinking and (imho) genius his dad replied, “It’s dandling for grown-ups!”