Sunday, 30 August 2020

The Road Home

Can we agree that “love your neighbour as yourself” is not a programme for genocide? When John’s letter says “Where charity and love are, there is God”, genocide would not be part of that picture? Yet, in our time we are watching, by slow and incremental steps, the greatest genocide imaginable; and it is being perpetuated by you and me. Let me explain.

Until 1970, the rate at which the human race devoured the Earth’s resources was within the capacity of our planet to replace. But since that time, the richer nations of the world — including ours — have demanded more than the Earth has to give. We are depleting Earth’s resources too fast for her to regenerate, generating a greater toxic burden than she can process — asking for more while leaving her less to meet our demands. The luxury Baltic cruise I treated myself to, the cheap factory-farmed meat wrapped in plastic I got from the supermarket, the green beans flown in from Kenya, the teak garden furniture I put in the garden I covered with concrete paving — I paid for these with the lives of my grandchildren; that was the trade. There is only one Earth. We are living as though there were and Earth and a half. Every year we do so, we need more while leaving her less to give. We are eating the Earth alive and poisoning her at the same time. We are killing her; and we are part of the Earth, which makes this also a genocide and, eventually, a suicide. We shall have killed not only ourselves but our friends, our children, our grandchildren — the ones who looked to us to protect and defend them; the ones who trusted us.

In the decades between 1970 and now, what has been called Earth Overshoot Day — the day in the year when we used up what the Earth can replenish — has got gradually earlier and earlier. By 1995 it was on 10th October, then in 2005 we reached overshoot by 3rd September, and in 2015 we reached it on 13th August. Last year Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29th. Simply by over-consumption, we are destroying our home. We have all seen the news. We know what war and starvation look like, what it is to walk for miles in search of water. We know what raging floods and dustbowls look like. This is what we are doing — to each other, to all the animals and plants, and to ourselves.

If we were to follow past trends, Earth Overshoot Day this year would probably been around the 18th of July; but 2020 is not a normal year! Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the date for Earth Overshoot Day has moved back in the right direction by more than 3 weeks, to August 22nd. By staying at home, stopping the traffic, ceasing to fly, shutting things down, we have demonstrated that it would be possible to heal our world, to stop the genocide and the terror that otherwise await us. We have shown that there would be a chance. But we do have to take it.

I look at the place we are in — at the cruelty and corruption of our government, at the  spectre of desertification and melting ice, the terrifying rate at which the Earth’s creatures are dying; I look at the war and torture, the violence and greed, and hope fails within me. But I know this, and no other, was the time I was called to live; and you and I were called to do this journey together; we were born for this time.

I have the feeling that the days of innocence are over for us; that my soul will never stand down from high alert from here on out; never go off duty again. It’s what Jesus said to us, isn’t it — “What I say, I say to you all: keep watch.”

When I ask myself, “What do I want from this life?”, I know that I want to be able to look at the Earth as I leave it, and say, “We did it”, and feel proud to have been part of this season’s people. I want not only to survive, to escape the worst of what befalls my children and grandchildren, but actually to heal the world.

I expect that you, like me, when you contemplate this task, feel it is beyond you. But there are certain things we can definitely do, and that’s what I’d like us to focus on now.

The most effective things, as the pandemic has shown, are not doing *more* of this or that — complicated technology, programmes, and intergovernmental co-operation (though some of that would be helpful) — but doing *less*. 

To express it most straightforwardly, we have to STOP. Right now. There’s no time left. Right now. We have to learn to do without. If you can possibly manage without a car and take the bus, do so. If there is any way you can avoid air flights (and the pandemic has shown you can), do so. Look for ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Reduce your purchases, your packaging, your consumption altogether. From today. Do it.

The watchwords for healing our world are SHARING — SIMPLIFYING — SLOWING.

Sharing is the best way of making resources go further, and is immediately accessible to all of us. Sharing is vital to healing the Earth. Share your home, share car journeys, share your money, your food. Swap and lend and borrow, participate in community gardens, buy second-hand. De-monetise your life as much as you can, to escape the grip of Mammon. Own as little as possible; give stuff away. Sharing will make you happy, make you free, and heal the Earth. 

SIMPLIFYING is a non-negotiable necessity if we are to act in our time for love and hope and healing. Each of us will have a unique template of what simplicity looks like, but in every case it will include a radical reduction in travel, purchasing, pollution, consumption and waste. Reduce, re-use, re-cycle. Own as little as possible. And de-complicate your life so that you have time and space to engage mindfully and responsibly with your commitments, relationships and decisions. 

Much of our over-consumption is driven by being rushed and overwhelmed, harassed and tired. This is why SLOWING our lives is essential to healing the Earth — and healing ourselves, for we are part of the Earth. Take time to grow your own food — you don’t need a garden; have you got a windowsill? Take time to walk instead of going by car. Take time to plan meals and prepare, thinking ahead to make wise purchases that reduce food miles and packaging and food waste.

This week, consider ways you can SHARE, SIMPLIFY and SLOW your life. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything. Begin. Just begin. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

One of the most important things you can do is harness the power of your imagination. A friend of mine, a sailor, when he took his boat out of Rye harbour (on the Sussex coast) always used to imagine he’d be sailing all the way to France. He said it kind of projected his imagination ahead of him like a spear, and that gave him the power he needed to cross the bar and get out of the harbour at all. It’s like when you chop wood — if you bring the axe down onto the top of the log it’ll just bounce off. In your intention, in your imagination, you have to bring the axe down onto the ground *under* the log —then the log just parts as the axe passes through.

Here are the five steps of making change in your life.

1)  You identify the condition you want to move into. Don’t focus on what you want to get away from, focus on where you want to get to. It’s like Jesus said — no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. If you look over your shoulder your furrow will go all wonky. Don’t look back. Look at where you’re going; focus on that. Focus on the freedom and peace, on the healing and hope. Focus on the Earth renewed and humanity living in harmony with each other and all the other species. Focus on compassion and sharing and simplicity and slowness, on clean waters and healthy coral reefs and every farm with its hedgerows. Get it into your sights.

2) Then you use your imagination to go ahead of you into the condition you want to reach — like my friend in his boat leaving the harbour by imagining going to France. Think about what you want to create, to be. Imagine it. Read about it. Look for likeminded companions on the journey. Immerse yourself imaginatively into the condition you want to reach. Pray about it. Make an altar. Look at pictures. Summon it into your imagination.

3) Next, you have to lock it in so it doesn’t waver, so you don’t get bored or discouraged. Keep your focus on it. Saturate yourself in stimuli and information, in stories and videos. Stick reminders on your fridge. Find groups to join online who will encourage and inspire you and help you to persevere. 

4) Next you take action. As you focus on sharing, give something away, put something in the food-bank basket. As you focus on simplifying, eliminate one thing from your schedule today, make one less car journey this week, look for one item on your grocery list you can get unpackaged instead of in a plastic bag; before you commit to a purchase, make a game of seeing what you can use instead that you already have. As you focus on slowing, do one creative and playful thing — look up a video on how to crochet, or how to propagate a plant from a twig, or how to make apple crumble — and do it. Be looking all the time for ways to make life happy without hurting the Earth. Think globally and act locally.

5) Persevere. Build on your beginning. Make this your passion, your obsession, your prayer, your life, your determined and unwavering intent. 

If what we want to see is not yet here, we have to create it imaginatively, immerse ourselves in that new environment, then hold it in place; it will gradually then come into material being. Change is effected first in the imagination — it has to be, because it isn’t here yet.

From now on for the rest of our lives, this has to be our great work of love. We are this season’s people. We were sent here to heal the world. Every time we stumble and mess up, we are to get right back up and keep going. We are to encourage one another. We are here to make a difference, whatever happens. If someone tells you it’s too late, don’t listen to them; it’s never too late. If your mother is dying, you don’t say, “Oh dear, too late to make a difference,” and walk away and leave her — you watch over her and do everything you can, for as long as you can, because you love her. It’s never too late to love. Same with Mother Earth. We are her children, and the children of Father God. There is no scenario imaginable where we can stop praying, stop loving, stop doing whatever we can. 

We are this season’s people, and the time has come for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work. This year we pushed Earth Overshoot Day back by three weeks. Let’s see if we can’t keep shunting it back until we reach regeneration.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

The Campfire Church ministry of the word from today ~ NOT JUST A JOB (Tony Collins)

Not Just a Job – sermon for The Campfire Church, 23rd August 2020 (Tony Collins)
I wonder, have you ever been out of work?
I have had a brief experience of being on the dole. In 1983 my wife Jane and I finished our two year course at All Nations Christian College, near Ware, in Hertfordshire.
We were intending to go to Brazil as missionaries, and an organisation there was waiting for us to join them. However, the development of one of our daughters was giving cause for concern, and at the age of four she had not yet learned to speak. After many tests we were advised that if we went ahead with our plans she might never gain a command of English, and we simply couldn’t make that sacrifice.
We found ourselves stranded in Ware, a town we barely knew, with two small children, one of whom was giving us cause for anxiety, no work, no purpose, far from our families, and with rapidly dwindling funds. All the friends we had made over the previous two years had left the college, mostly for positions overseas. Our vision of becoming missionaries was in shreds.
So I signed on at the Job Centre, and every week went down to collect unemployment benefit. I started making phone calls to past contacts, and scouring the ‘positions vacant’ sections. By this point I had worked for seven years as a publisher. I had enjoyed selling books, but I hated selling myself. To hold yourself up for inspection, at the mercy of someone’s opinion, requires a toughness of spirit and a willingness to make yourself vulnerable. You start wondering whether you are aiming too high; you grow frustrated; you wonder whether God is really looking after you. I remember, at the end of one humiliating afternoon, on my knees, pounding the carpet in despair and shouting ‘I am worth something!’ My wife had a lot to put up with.
During this tough time a note arrived from my former boss, a good Christian man, who delivered to me what amounted to a prophetic word: ‘Always remember,’ he wrote: ‘The Lord is no man’s debtor.’ His comment boosted my spirits.
To my intense relief I found a job after just six weeks. But I vividly remember the sense of humiliation engendered by the process of job-seeking, and the knocks to my confidence.
At present a lot of workers in the UK are protected by a furlough scheme, which comes to an end in October. It is estimated that about 7.5 million jobs, and a million businesses, are protected by this scheme. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who devised the furlough arrangement, has become probably the most popular politician in the country, with the hashtag Dishy Rishi. His popularity is likely to fall sharply, however, as the furlough scheme comes to an end and winter sets in, with some economists predicting levels of unemployment not seen in Britain since the 1930s. We are in for a rough ride. As many as one million jobs may be lost permanently, and you will have seen the headlines this week as Marks & Spencer announced 7000 job cuts. If you work in retail, or the hospitality industry, this is the moment for a change in career.
Other governments have sustained their furlough schemes: in Germany the Kurzarbeit or ‘short work’ programme may be extended from 12 to 24 months. Borrowing by governments is going to rise to sky-high levels.
The situation prompts the question: why is a job so important? Apart from the obvious value of sustaining your eating habit, to have work is to boost your sense of identity, your dignity, your sense of purpose, your status.
However, as the expression ‘wage slave’ implies, not any job will do. No one wants to do repetitive unsatisfying work, and the revolution in automation has removed many of these tasks from the market anyway. With these tasks, many worthwhile jobs also disappear.
Furthermore, this revolution is far from over, as artificial intelligence becomes ever more – well, intelligent. Some economists think we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution, with billions of jobs likely to disappear around the world – not just menial tasks, but the roles currently filled by prestigious people such as bankers and doctors and lawyers.
With the need for work shrinking, and jobs becoming scarcer, how do we pay our way? One answer is universal basic income.
Universal basic income already exists, in some places. For example, since 1982 all Alaskans have had a significant annual payment, of around $1500, called ‘Permanent Fund Dividend’. This payment is based on oil profits, though the figure is likely to fall as we move away from oil. Another example: On 18 May 2020, Spain announced its intention to bring in a 'Guaranteed Minimum Income' to ease the pressure of coronavirus on poorer families. Many believe this is a step towards full Universal Basic Income, and think it is likely to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic and become permanent. Germany has just announced that it will start trials for UBI. In the UK the Green Party and the Scottish National Party are both in favour.
However, even if the idea takes hold, it is going to be introduced very patchily across the world, and there is going to be a great deal of international social unrest as the jobs market changes and shrinks.
Quite apart from the imbalances ahead, losing employment will mean that many of us are going to be casting around to restore our sense of self-worth. If the measure of a person is not the power of your car or the rank at your bank, how do you measure worth?
I suggest there are two basic categories of worth. First there is ascribed worth – based on exams, reputation, status, possessions. The row this week in the UK over A level and GCSE grades falls into this category: a grade, by definition, is about ascribing worth to a candidate.
Second, there is intrinsic worth, the worth generated by the simple fact of your being. Part of this is bound up with the work of Christ, because you have value as someone for whom Christ died; with whom the Spirit communicates; whom the Father loves. This value, this intrinsic worth, has lots of practical implications for the way we behave: one of the big ones is that you should not treat anyone as rubbish. If you catch a plane without thought to climate change, you are treating people as rubbish.
There’s another aspect to intrinsic worth. Intrinsic worth comes in part from our status as creations of the Most High, but it also comes from the content of our character. Again, our faith has a fair amount to say about this. Paul prays about this in the passage from Ephesians that Grace read for us this morning: ‘I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man.’ The inner man, or inner woman, is ours to own and develop, and in this task the Spirit lends his resources. Every time you pray your inner being is strengthened and made whole, brought into alignment with the Almighty, brought into sharper focus.
Ascribed worth is not to be dismissed: we are social animals, and our status within the tribe represents security. In addition, there will always be those impressed by titles and bling. But the truth is that ascribed worth is assigned by others, and can be withdrawn or dismissed. So it is not a very reliable source of security.
Intrinsic worth, however, is like a fire on a cold night. It’s there in our simple existence, because God created us; it’s there in the assurance that Jesus loves us, died for us, lives in us. Intrinsic worth is also developed from our own soul work, our prayer life, our thought life, our habits and disciplines, our choices to love and receive love, our choices not to hate or to receive hatred, our decisions about the matters to which we pay attention.
Intrinsic worth cannot be kept secret. You cannot fool all of the people all of the time. A village reputation is usually based on fact. Intrinsic worth flows out in your unguarded reactions. It is apparent in the work you do when no one is looking.
Foster your intrinsic worth, because that will bless those around you. Here are some lines from an old Celtic meditation:
If there is beauty in the character,
there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home,
there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.
Intrinsic worth can and should be part of the world of work. Here’s an example.
I married Pen after the death of her husband Bernard, who was a master builder. Pen told me a story about Bernard, from the days when he was still learning his trade. He and another older man were repairing the roof of a medieval property, and Bernard commented to his companion, ‘It’s remarkable how much attention they paid to getting things just right, even up here where no one would notice.’ His co-worker simply responded, ‘The Lord sees.’
The Lord sees. That’s the thing that keeps us straight and true. To stay with medieval buildings for a moment, one thing you will notice about them is that there is no façade: they are what they are.
To keep your focus on your intrinsic worth is to look past the façade, the face you present to the world, and to become aware of what is holy in your life. It makes you aware of the value of your time, your energy, your compassion, your bandwidth. It makes you alert not to waste what is precious. As Jesus said, in Matthew chapter 7: ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.’ This fits in with his instructions to the disciples in Matthew chapter 10, where he sends out the twelve disciples on their first independent field trip, instructing them to take nothing which might denote authority or status, to heal the sick and raise the dead, and to walk away from any community which does not recognise them, wiping the dust from their feet. They are to rely upon their intrinsic worth as servants of the Most High, speaking with his authority, and should not crave the approval of others.
Do not dismiss what you have to offer, even if others ignore it. Don’t undervalue who you are, or the price that was paid for you. Use the time that remains to you wisely. Enjoy the sun and the rain and the companionship of your friends and family. Care for the world, but be aware that you cannot redeem the world: that is not your burden.
Look around you and you will see people doing ugly and disgraceful things. The wellbeing of the natural world, the created order, matters greatly to me. So I am profoundly distressed by the destruction wrought upon our planet by thoughtless and greedy people, who fail to perceive its intrinsic worth; but that is not the whole picture. To give one example, I am cheered and heartened by the fact that the very handsome large blue butterfly, declared extinct in the UK in 1979, has been reintroduced and cared for by dedicated and meticulous people, and is once again established at a number of sites. The scientists and volunteers who have made this possible are aware of the value even of a butterfly.
In the name of Christ,


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Drought, water and toilet paper

 We don't all have the same weather at the same time, I know, but we do all experience hot and sunny weather at some point — so if just now it is your winter or pouring with rain where you are, perhaps to bear in mind that this will not always be so.

Here in England we are going through an abnormally fierce heatwave. Some of our urban settlements are finding it hard to conserve enough water to support normal domestic consumption.

A few months ago in the Spring, we had plenty of rain but as the coronavirus pandemic took off, people began to stockpile toilet paper, leaving insufficient supplies in the shops to support normal domestic consumption.

With a degree of reluctance, because some things are best kept private, I feel it may be time to talk about toilet habits.

There are two pathways to consider; one for those who have a garden, another for those who do not.

Garden people first.

If you have a garden, it is helpful to know that human pee is one of the best nutrients for plants. At one point (I don't know if they still do this) in Oxfordshire they were collecting tankers of it to put on the land. If you put your (diluted) pee on the garden, your plants will flourish magnificently, need no expenditure on plant food, and grow crops appropriate to your health profile. Plant food comes in plastic bottles and we are encouraged to reduce our generation of plastic waste. Using human pee instead avoids that problem. So if you have a garden, you do well to collect your pee.

Humanure (human excrement) is also great for the garden, provided you prepare it first. To do this, you need a receptacle that keeps out all flies and animals, and bokashi bran (which neutralises pathogens in a fortnight, rendering it almost odourless and fit to add to your ageing compost). For human excrement, we have a bucket toilet with bokashi bran in the bottom, on top of which we put a piece of paper to catch the dropping, then parcel it up and add it to the curing bin, adding a good handful of bokashi bran on top. So no need to touch the excrement at any point, and the paper parcel adds carbon material (necessary for composting) to the humanure. What paper to use? As simple and natural as possible, whatever you have for recycling. 

Our home is in a densely populated urban area, and it is important to us to live responsibly, spreading no smells or diseases. This system works perfectly in that context.

For the pee, we each have a bucket in our own rooms.

My room is just under 7ft x 9ft. Here's my system.

My wardrobe. See that blue thing peeping out at the bottom?

That's my toilet.

To use it I just pull it forward.

It's easy and convenient to use.

Toilet paper manufacture consumes massive amounts of wood every year.

Yes, hemp sounds like a good idea — but doesn't it just shift the problem? Cash crops, mono-culture — these are hard on the Earth and tend towards social injustice, degradation of the land, deforestation and species loss. Why not just use no toilet paper? 

Using no toilet paper, is much cleaner. Here's something you may wish you'd never read. At the end of the day, if I always wipe my bottom with toilet paper, my underwear smells slightly of urine (yours will too). If I use a wet cloth instead, my underwear smells entirely fresh at the end of the day.

There are three options.

1) Use a new cloth every time, dropping the cloth you used into a bucket to go out with the laundry. I don't do this, because I see no point in it.

2) Use the same cloth each time. Have some water in a bowl, wet the cloth, wipe yourself, then wash the cloth off in the water, then add the water to the pee to dilute it ready to add to the garden. Wash the cloth properly with soap in the water you use to wash in at the beginning and end of the day (and that water should be in a bowl, to add to the pee, to throw on the garden; don't waste it).

3) Use a squirty bottle of water for a bidet effect. Old vinegar bottles have good tops for this. Then the wipe with a damp cloth gathers no pee, so the cloth stays entirely fresh, but you still rinse it. 

System 3 is what Muslims do, and has the advantage that you can take the bottle with you when travelling or out for the day. I would do it for that, but I get on better with system 2.

Then you're all done —

— and the bucket slides back under.

At the end of the day (and at the end of the night) just take the bucket with its dilute pee and use it to put on the roots of your plants. Swill out the bucket with a little further water, again onto the roots of the plants.

You will save a lot of water (laundry of whiffy underwear, flushing toilets, washing self, watering plants) because you are washing your actual self and your underwear will do a couple of days instead of one, you aren't flushing the loo and you have watered the plants. You have also fed the plants (bonus plant food from menstruating women) and spared the Earth the chemical burden of water treatment.

The other pathway, for people who have no garden, is all the same except at the end of the morning and the end of the night you empty the bucket loo into the toilet, and use your washing water to flush.

People with no garden can't really use the bokashi system for humanure either, unless you have a wormery on your property, which would allow you to incorporate it.

All of this has no odour (I have the keenest sense of smell imaginable), no mess, nothing nasty on your hands. It just require you to re-think and gently push back at tribal taboos.

It saves water + +

It feeds the garden

It lifts the burden of chemical treatment from the Earth

It helps stop deforestation

It helps stop the social injustice of cash crops

It helps preserve wilderness and species diversity

It keeps your nether regions a lot cleaner than toilet paper does

It is considerate to your neighbours in times of drought

Suddenly every bedroom in your home has a private ensuite bathroom

To my mind, this is how we build the kingdom and serve the Creator — this is what love is. I am getting less and less interested in religion, which seems to be all words and tribal barriers, and finding more and more satisfaction in these simple, direct ways of practicing faith. Love God, love your neighbour, think outside the box.

x x

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Campfire Church ministry of the word from today ~ PEACE IN ME

[Buzzfloyd speaking to us.]

This week I caught myself doing something that made me laugh. I had been reading something that got me thinking about how some people who are on the other side of the political fence from me are apparently motivated by fear. In present times I often find myself feeling angry with those who vote and think differently from me (not that uncommon, I think), so in a way it was a welcome change when I momentarily felt compassion instead. And I thought – I kid you not – “I’m glad I’m not like them – driven by fear and ignorance!” Then, immediately, I thought of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector that we just heard from Tony – and I had to laugh at myself. “Oh, God, isn’t it marvellous that I’M so wise and benevolent – not like THEM!” Oh dear!
I read an interesting article the other day about how white people who want to be allies in the fight against racism can often make matters worse by being too angry and divisive in the stance they take, when they are best placed to speak to other white people about race. The writer, Dr David Campt, says it’s important to be able to let go of our own anger and to centre ourselves before having conversations in which we listen, find points of common experience and humanity, and practice humility in how we offer alternative views. I’ll post a link to the article during coffee at the end of the service for anyone who wants to read it later.
Without that relinquishing of our own anger, without mindfully centring ourselves in our intentions, we risk driving a wedge between ourselves and those we would seek to reach out to, born of our own contempt and anger. Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, ““You have very little morally persuasive power with people who can feel your underlying contempt.”
This idea – that our ability to bring goodness to those around us, and to be a positive influence in the lives of others, rests upon the strength of our inner discipleship – is what Jesus is talking about in this story of the Pharisee and tax collector. Goodness is not achieved by trying to follow the rules. Goodness is the outcome of centring God in your life. In the gospels, people often note that Jesus spoke with authority. He told his disciples that that authority was his because he is one with the Father. Jesus can do his saving and healing work because connection with God is central to everything he does – the miracles and the wisdom are the fruits of this.
There’s a sort of joke in this story too. We hear about that stuck-up Pharisee, smirking at the tax collector, glad that he’s not the same, glad that he’s getting things right. And we, as the listeners, are in a position to laugh at the Pharisee, and think, “Haha, I’m glad I’m not like that Pharisee – I don’t look down on people like that!” And yet, in that moment of judging the Pharisee, we ARE the Pharisee. ‘You see?’ Jesus asks us. When we focus on how people are behaving, it is so easy to be judgemental, so easy to create a divide between us; not just for some stuck-up Pharisee, but for you and me too. Our focus then is on the wrong thing.
I’m in a Facebook group for Progressive Methodists. I joined it imagining it would be more progressive than it is. The other day someone posted a link from an evangelical source debating whether tattoos are acceptable according to the Bible. What, I had to wonder, is the point of that? On what planet is legalism about individuals’ physical presentation remotely the concern of a Christian? We, who follow the teachings of Jesus – who told us our one job is to love; who told us to stop judging people and get the plank out of our own eye before thinking about a speck in someone else’s; who befriended and loved people who were serious rule-breakers – we should surely have greater things on our mind. And yet, am I not partaking in the judging by judging them? Where, then, should my focus be?
Perhaps this was a perfect moment for the Ho’oponopono prayer we looked at a few weeks ago, taking responsibility and centring on my choices and my treatment of others instead of on their behaviour. My evangelical friends, I love you; I’m sorry; please forgive me; thank you.
When I was a teenager, the Methodist Church in Britain held a wide-reaching consultation over the treatment of gay people by the church and their standing within the church. The result was, ultimately, a statement of inclusion and affirmation of gay and lesbian Christians. A secondary result was the exodus of people from our churches who believed this to be wrong. Through all of the debate and the fallout, I never heard my grandfather (a lifelong Methodist, local preacher, leader of the Boys’ Brigade and pillar of the church community) give an opinion on homosexuality. Instead, he continued in his lifelong practice of humbly cleaving as close to Christ as he was able. His opinion on the sinfulness or not of other people’s behaviour was irrelevant to his own practice. He made space for outsiders, he showed love in the ways he could, he reserved his judgement most of the time, and he maintained his own habits of prayer and study. Personal holiness, we call it in the Methodist tradition.
I think of my grandfather when considering this topic, and of the prayerful humility and focus on Christ that was at the centre of his life. The fruit of that discipleship was as Jesus said it would be; “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” Grandad wasn’t a perfect man, by any stretch – who is? But he sought to make peace between himself and God every day, and when things went wrong, he’d try again to do better; and that is what enabled him to bring peace to so many of the people who his life touched.
I titled today’s service “Peace in me” because this is what I ultimately wanted to leave you with. If we want peace in the world, we must focus on peace within ourselves. We cannot put things right with others until we have put things right within us. We are not responsible for, and nor can we control, the behaviour of others. But managing ourselves is within our remit. “Peace be with you” was Christ’s message to people of faith. Let our prayer today be for ourselves, then, that we might turn our eyes to our own paths instead of to others’, and seek God first in our lives: that we might be people of faith, receiving Christ’s word of peace; and that peace within us may spread out and become peace within our communities, peace within our nations, peace within the whole world. May we graciously embrace the action of the Spirit in our hearts, learn from him, and become more and more every day the embodiment of Christ in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Ministry of the word from The Campfire Church today

[from Tony Collins]
If you had to give yourself a mark for Christian discipleship, I wonder what it would be? Daily prayer: check. Bible reading: check. Feeding the poor and hungry: check. Attendance at online church: check. Number of oxen coveted: none. Number of neighbours’ wives coveted: I’m afraid this answer was illegible. How holy did you keep the Lord’s Day, on a scale of one to ten? Number of sins repented: check. Number of sins repeated: let me get back to you on that one.
Today we are considering what it means to follow Christ. If you have been a believer for any length of time, it is likely that you will have heroes of the faith, men and women you esteem, people whose Christian discipleship inspires you. One of my heroes is William Wilberforce, whose feast day was last Wednesday: he died on 29th July 1833. As a young man Wilberforce was a popular socialite and wit, a man of independent means who first became an MP at the age of 21. A few years later he underwent an evangelical conversion, and his revitalised faith endured right through his life. As part of his new commitment he agreed to lead the parliamentary campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, which would become a primary focus of his life and work for the next 50 years. The slave trade in the British empire would be abolished in 1833, three days before Wilberforce’s death. 
Wilberforce is best known for his unflagging determination to see slavery stamped out, but he backed many other causes, including the establishment of the country of Sierra Leone and the creation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the reform of prisons and the better treatment of chimney sweeps. He was one of the founders of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
I honour Wilberforce because of his determination, his generosity with his money and time, and his profound spiritual convictions. His personal life was exemplary: he married late but happily, was an affectionate father, and had many friends. His faith informed every decision he made; for half a century he was a shining Christian presence in British politics.
When I compare my life to Wilberforce’s, I find the exercise unsettling. He was more diligent than I, more generous, more faithful, more influential. Such comparisons are usually unprofitable, of course, but it puts into sharp relief the question: how am I doing? It’s very easy to be cast down by a sense of unworthiness, and always hard to avoid comparisons.
Others conspire to put you down, of course. Most of us are vulnerable to social pressure, and it is one of the hazards of public life. I am sure you will find it easy to name a world leader whose sensitivity to criticism is such that he will link any event to his public standing. Social pressure is common to us all, and is an acute challenge for those who are called to Christian leadership. One of the most constant traps for any minister is the need to bolster their public image.
Part of the problem is that it is hard to assess with any accuracy how well we are doing. We may well have a blind spot about ourselves. 
There is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the two psychologists who first studied the phenomenon. The Dunning-Kruger effect causes people to overestimate their knowledge or ability, particularly in areas with which they have little to no experience. The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that when we don’t know something, we aren’t aware of our own lack of knowledge. In other words, we don’t know what we don’t know. Dunning and Kruger take these ideas one step further, suggesting that the less competent we are in a given area, the more likely we are to unknowingly exaggerate our own competence. If you habitually underestimate the time it will take you to perform a task; if you tend to meddle with things you don’t really understand; if you give the impression that you know more than you do: you may well be a victim of Dunning-Kruger. The way to combat this is to take your time over decisions; learn to accept criticism; be sceptical about your own claims and your long-held opinions about yourself. Be suspicious of your own publicity.
However, we are also vulnerable to absorbing the opinions of others. 
In this morning’s reading we heard the story of a dinner party at the house of Simon the Pharisee. To visualise the event, you need to appreciate that guests reclined on a series of couches arranged in a circle, the heads of the couches facing inwards like the spokes of a wheel. The guests would rest on these couches, their feet behind them. Luke describes how a local woman gate-crashed the event, and stood outside the circle, behind Jesus, at his feet, washing them with her tears, wiping them with her hair and pouring perfume over them.
Luke records how Simon the Pharisee thought to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who was touching him and what kind of woman she is.’ We are not told how Luke knew what Simon was thinking, but the expression on his face probably spoke volumes.
In this incident three sets of reputations are at stake. The first is Simon, who had probably invited Jesus because of his fame, but who evidently holds his distinguished guest in low esteem and mocks him in his heart. The second is Jesus, who is well aware that his status as a ‘prophet’ is being called into question; the third is the woman, who knows all about her position at the bottom of the heap: Luke describes her as someone who has lived a sinful life.
I suspect this lady has reached the end of her tether. She intrudes on a private gathering where she knows she is unwelcome; she weeps over Jesus’s feet and wipes them with her hair, demonstrating utter disregard for her own dignity; she anoints his feet with perfume, which she could probably not afford. She is, I suspect, quite a pitiful creature, someone who has known many rejections and much scorn.
Jesus’s reaction is interesting. If you or I had been in his position we would probably have been embarrassed, horrified, reaching out to lift the woman up. Jesus is not worried what others think: instead, he sees past the act and the setting to the person. Where we might have been mortified, he accepts her tribute and in doing so restores her battered self-esteem, contrasting her actions favourably with those of his rude and dismissive host. Critically, he perceives what is within: he sees the lady’s vulnerability, and her yearning for acceptance. He knows what she has experienced.
All of us have a story. It forms our identity, it focuses our outlook and provides our skill set. Our story is responsible for much of our social status, and determines our bandwidth for coping with the demands of life. All of us come with baggage. We are never free of our shadow.
Yet God is Lord of time, and this means he is Lord of second chances. More precisely, the grace of Christ who loves us extends both forward and backward: Jesus is simultaneously at our beginning and our end. Jesus offers us not so much a second chance as an eternal invitation. Jesus sees who we have been, who we are, and who we can be. Jesus is Lord of unrecognised potential. In the Kingdom of Heaven it is never too late.
This means that we meet Jesus now, in the present tense. The Lord’s Prayer is written in the present tense: our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. At the start of his ministry, in the local synagogue, he rolled up the scroll of Isaiah, sat down and said to those gathered: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. In the Book of Revelation Jesus says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
The God of the present tense means that you are not trapped by your story. Jesus frees people from the narrative they have been given, remaking fishermen as disciples, and releasing the woman at the well and the woman taken in adultery – as well as the woman whom we heard about today – from the reputations that set boundaries around them and limited who they could be. Jesus releases us from social and religious conventions – ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’
There is a film featuring Gene Hackman, called The French Connection. Hackman plays the part of narcotics officer Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle, who is sent by his superior to Marseille to take down a drug ring. In the course of an abrasive conversation with incompetent local law enforcement officers, he rasps, ‘Try not to live up to my expectations.’ 
In the Kingdom of Heaven you are limited not by the expectations and opinions of others, but by your own character and your own openness to the power of the Spirit. Jesus is in the transformation business – look at the unpromising group he recruited to help him change the world. It is wonderful to be taken seriously. That woman at Simon’s party left the room walking taller than when she arrived. She had met someone who was on her side.
The Kingdom is here, and now. Your story has left you with scars and habits and fears, but these do not determine what happens next. God has the power to redeem those who have stumbled. He is the God of the present tense.
In the name of Christ, Amen.