lamentation

teardropWhat do you do when you hear tragic news?

This morning we have heard of the apparent shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger aircraft, and while the perpetrator is not yet known, we can neglect to remember that there are many other victims of the on-going conflict in Ukraine; and Israel and the Palestinian territories have been in conflict for over a week – hundreds have died there already through the air attacks and now Israel has mounted a ground offensive.

So what do you do?

Do you give the situations a good tutting and devour the news stories for more details?

Do you speculate about what is happening and decide who is in the right and who is the pantomime villain that everyone ought to boo?

Do you offer up prayers for those who are victims, the families of those who have died, and pray for peace?

Do you rend your garments and sit in a pile of ashes? That is one of the biblical responses to tragedy – to enact your grief in such a way that it is obvious so that others can join you.

Do you lament? Lamenting is also a biblical response to tragedy and inhumanity (isn’t ‘inhumanity’ an interesting word – suggesting that we are innately good and not to be makes us ‘inhumane’? There could be a bloggage there, but I digress…). Where was I?

Oh yes, lament. Lamenting is a way of crying out to God – reaching out with raw emotion and screaming against the events. It is an expression of our inadequacy and impotence in the face of evil and horrendous happenings. It is a guttural screech of pain that articulates the inarticulate emotions within.

And we offer all that to God and say, “This is wrong and I don’t know what to do but I know it’s wrong and I am angry, distraught and bewildered.”

So here goes: a lament for 18th July 2014

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

ahem [clears throat] I need to tell you something

essex

Something has happened. I want to share it with you, my bloggist friends. It is something I shared with our church this morning. I’ll start with the news and then try to explain the background.

I have been asked to become the Eastern Baptist Association’s third Regional Minister, covering the Southern Sector (most of Essex). The call has come loud and clear and Sally and I feel that it is right to accept it.

In the Baptist Union of Great Britain we don’t have Bishops we have Regional Ministers. In case you are wondering about this role, mission is the key priority that shapes and influences the work and activity. I will be working with about 60 churches in the sector: helping churches and Ministers to share their resources and work together for mutual benefit and the building up of the kingdom, strengthening local churches for growth and assist and supporting churches and Ministers in difficult and/or crisis situations. I will work alongside the other Regional Ministers in the Association to support all of the churches in the Association. There is a considerable amount more involved in the role, but it’s not possible to put it all here…

The EBA has advertised this post three times and on the previous two occasions did not appoint anyone for this post. On the previous two occasions I ignored the advertisements as I was sure it was not for me. This third time a number of different people whom I trust and whose spiritual perceptiveness I value told me that I should consider whether God was calling me to the role. Initially I laughed it off, but as more people independently said the same thing to me I started to wonder whether God might be speaking to me through them.

I don’t want to leave the church in Colchester. I love these people and the calling God placed on my life to be one of their Ministers so I pushed the idea away. And every time the idea came back I had a list of very good reasons about why it was wrong. As I prayed, however, God gave answers to the reasons and eventually I realised that I might be behaving like Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3) – making excuses because of my own personal preferences when in fact God might be calling me.

Reluctantly I put my name forward for the post. I even wrote on my application that I was applying reluctantly. I have carried on in Colchester as if it was not going to happen – hoping that I would not be leaving. All the time I was praying that God would say: “Thank you for being willing to apply but I really want you to stay in Colchester.” Until it became certain I did not mention it because it would have unnecessarily unsettled people. Just to make sure of this (and as a measure of my own reticence) I told God that my application for this role was a ‘one shot deal’ – if, as I hoped, this was not what he wanted me to do I was not planning to move anywhere else.

I was surprised to be invited to an interview and on Friday 30th May, with another candidate, I spent the day with the interview panel. It was a rigorous day. During the day it dawned on me that God might well be calling me to take on this role. He confirmed that it was a role I could do in his strength and by the end of the day I felt that if he was calling me I could not say what Moses said at the burning bush: ‘O Lord, please send someone else’ but should accept.

That Friday evening I received a phone call from the EBA Moderator and was told that the panel unanimously felt I was the right person for the role and invited me to take the post. This has subsequently been confirmed by the EBA Council. So it’s a bittersweet moment: I have a deep sense of eager anticipation and excitement about Gods’ call for the future and at the same time deep sadness about leaving the church in Colchester.

I accepted the invitation and since I have done that I have felt an immense sense of God’s affirmation and peace about the decision, although telling the church today was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my ministry. The previous week I told our Deacons and Officers and my colleague, Lynsey, and they have been very encouraging about it.

I appreciate that this has probably come as quite a surprise to you. It has to me. I was not able to tell the church last weekend as it would have distracted people on a day when we celebrated Simon’s baptism (see ‘plugging away’ bloggage). Today was the first opportunity to tell the church. Last weekend the EBA Assembly was told this that an appointment has been made, but not who. My name was embargoed until after our morning service today so the church could know first. (I’ve not been embargoed before!)

There are a lot of practical issues to be sorted out. I am envisaging taking up the EBA role at the start of November this year. However as a family we will need to remain in Colchester until after our daughter has finished her A Levels next summer. We hope to rent the manse from our church until then. I will be able to ‘commute’ in the role from here for that time as the Southern Sector starts almost as soon as you hit the A12 and head towards London.

As a family and as a church we would appreciate your prayers over the coming weeks and months.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Pontificating

Pope John Paul II monumentSo, that one caught us all by surprise didn’t it? I did not hear of anyone who was claiming credit for predicting that the Pope would be resigning yesterday, nor that he would announce his resignation in Latin! I don’t want to get too side-tracked by this, but I wondered what the Latin word for ‘resign’ is… Google Translate tells me it is ‘abdicare’, which makes sense. It certainly sounds better than ‘concludicus’, which was my guess.

As a non-Catholic I watched yesterday’s news reporting about Pope Benedict’s resignation with a certain amount of detachment. When we are told that our country is increasingly a secular society, the resignation of the Pope might be expected to be lower down the running order in the news. According to the BBC website there are apparently about 5 million Catholics in this country, although less than 1 million of them seem to attend Mass regularly – about 1.5% of the population. There are apparently over 1 billion Catholics on the planet, which makes them a much higher percentage of the world population (15% or so) so I guess in terms of the impact of the news on a significant number of people it is newsworthy*.

I first came across the news on social media and I wondered initially whether it was a joke. Then I wondered if the Pope had been tweeting and the predictive text on his phone had sent the wrong message. But it soon became clear that this is indeed happening. In two weeks’ time he will be an Ex-Benedict.

Because this has not happened for hundreds of years there are many questions: will we have to come up with new language to describe him –  will he be ‘expontificus’? Will he be like US Presidents and still keep the title even though he is no longer in office? Will he retain the name ‘Benedict’ or revert to Razinger?Where will he be living? What are his plans for retirement (I can’t imagine him playing golf)? And how will his successor cope as pope knowing that it is possible that people will go and ask the former pope what he thinks of any controversial plans?

But I think the thing that was most significant for me was when a reporter told a Catholic woman in the street outside a Catholic Cathedral and she was visibly shocked. It is the ordinary people in the street and the pews who have looked to the Pope for vision and leadership who will perhaps be most affected by this. On a much smaller scale, I imagine it is a bit like when a minister or vicar announces to their church that they are leaving to go to a new church, or retiring unexpectedly. The people in the pew are affected by a change in leadership, but need to be reassured that God’s plan and purpose does not depend on any particular leader.

In our evening services at the moment we are exploring the early chapters of Acts: the beginning of the Church (used in it’s correct sense here); the moments when Peter started to fulfil the commission Jesus gave him (and which Popes claim to receive in direct succession from him as Bishop of Rome). The book title is often ‘The Acts of the Apostles’, which puts a lot of focus on these fallible people who seemed at times to be making it up as they went along. I think that it should be called ‘The Acts of God’, which then reassures us that God had a plan and we can be amused, delighted, impressed and inspired at how God helped the Apostles to work out what he wanted them to do.

The Acts of God are still being written today. Leaders will come and leaders will go, but Jesus remains the same and the Church that bears his name will remain. God’s plan will still be fulfilled through it. Our task as leaders is, with God’s help, to try to help the individual people on the street and in the pew to fulfil their part in God’s mission calling – so that we can all be good free samples of Jesus wherever we are – Colchester, Daventry (not sure where that came from in my subconscious!), Croatia, Vatican City… we all have the same mission calling regardless of what we do and who we are, regardless of whether we are active in employment or have announced that we are abdicandae.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*and yes there was still some sloppy reporting of what was happening to ‘the Church’, assuming that it was all Christians, rather than ‘Roman Catholic Church’. This is something that is commonplace and will probably continue to happen, but I am making a small Reformation-style protest about it here [sfx: sound of hammering a nail into a door].

Breaking news

I woke this morning to the news that American forces have killed Osama Bin Laden. “Justice” is a word that has been on the lips of President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and other national leaders.

But is it justice? There is no doubt that Bin Laden has been responsible for atrocities and the deaths of thousands. But this is not justice.

Justice (in democracies) surely involves an arrest, a trial and a verdict and a sentence. Okay it seems he was resisting arrest, but his death in those circumstances is still not justice. At worst it could be seen as an execution. It could be seen by his supporters as a martyr’s death. It could be portrayed as ‘might is right’.

And am I alone at feeling distaste at the images of crowds of people in America waving flags and hollering, “USA! USA!” Change the flags and the chants and it looks like many of the anti-Western crowds we have been shown in countries that are supposedly our enemies.

How does this fit with ‘love your enemies’? Where is the humility? Where’s the grace?

Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media