Is Britain a Christian country?

20130329-103543.jpg

Is Britain a Christian country?

David Cameron thinks so, and the British Humanist Association think not. The latter part of that surprises exactly no one.

Following the Prime Minister’s Easter reception, video message and article in last week’s Church Times the argument has rolled on and on. I came to his defence, but then suggested he was suffering from a little religious illiteracy. One thing I have not wanted to do is question his motives.

I read his remarks about the experience of pastoral care from his local vicar and I read of a man grateful for the support of the church. I see a man witnessing the work done by churches in villages, towns and cities after other services leave and amazed at the effectiveness of it.

I don’t think all that this government has done is good, and I don’t want my appreciation for his words spoken to cancel out criticism of his actions. Nor do I want to be blind to political reality, that a government criticised by churches for not doing enough about food poverty and criticised for introducing same sex marriage, is keen to find words to restore relationships and appeal to an important sector of society.

I believe the Prime Minister is sincere in his words, and real in his appreciation, and restoring relationships that have been fractured should not be ignored. I can also overlook the inevitable political environment and clumsiness of his phrasing to be grateful for a government committed to supporting Christians at home and overseas – especially in those places where their faith costs them the most.

But is he right to say that Britain is a Christian country?

Constitutionally yes, theologically no, and demographically maybe.

The Queen is the head of the Church of England and is defender of the faith, the hierarchy of the Church of England are part of our legislature and their church’s laws are made by parliament. That history and constitutional arrangement may not be liked but cannot be denied: in some legal sense at least, we are a Christian county.

The demographics of Britain are changing, there are less people identifying as Christians than before, lower attendance and more people of other faiths and none. The 2011 census shows a majority still identifying as Christian but other surveys show lower levels of fidelity, as Nick Baines, bishop of the newly created diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, comments, you can pick your own statistics. What cannot be argued with is that church attendance is a minority pursuit – and has been for quite a while, but it is not a dwindling activity. Despite doom mongers and pessimistic projections there is life in the church yet, and resilience where irrelevance was expected. If your definition of whether Britain is a Christian country is based on the faith of the people in it, then different people will answer differently, some will look at all those who hold the label – regardless what it means to them – and say yes. Others will counter that many, if not most, of those claiming the label haven’t experienced personal salvation and therefore are not Christians, and therefore as a country we are not Christian.

All of this deliberation happens without any consideration of what makes something Christian, and whether a country can be Christian. In days gone by the king, queen, emperor, or whatever guise the absolute ruler came in, declared the religion of the country and the people, and those were two and the same. The religion of a country was also something not easy to change – a landmark for religious liberty was the idea that a king could choose the religion of his country.

But salvation does not come through regal fiat.

And it is not in the power of an earthly king, however absolute his rule, to make a people children of God. God took a people and called them his own, he gave them a land, when they asked he gave them a king, he gave them commandments – a way to live by – and they took off their jewels, melted them down and turned the gold into a god they crafted in the form of a calf, which they could feel and touch and which had no power.

The God who has power now calls us to be his children. His family is not defined by race or nationality by constitutional settlement or political sentiment. It is defined by whether we place our trust in the saviour who hung and died and called us his own. And the King who triumphed over the death we have no power over.

The kings of this world will perish. They will fade and be replaced. People will come and go, statistics will change and be interpreted this way and that. Activists will lay claim to what they want and speak for many they do not. Politicians will court politically important groups, they will divide and rule, they will strategise and stigmatise, they will call some in and others out. They will want faith for what it can give and push it away for what it challenges.

And I hope more politicians will come to know Christ as their saviour. As the King who loves them. As the risen Lord. I hope they will encounter the work of the church, I hope it will reflect the love of God and I hope it will change them. And I want this country, as well as all others, to be places that honour and glorify God and are witnesses to the lives and faith of the resurrection people who find their home there.

Countries cannot be Christian, that misses the point of salvation. I want many more people to know Jesus, know they are loved, know that they can be made whole through him. But no matter how many people experience that, no matter how closely laws honour God and his creation, that will not make Britain a Christian country. And just because it makes the secularists annoyed that’s not a good enough reason to pretend it is so.

About these ads

Does David Cameron really want the church to be more evangelical?

Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

David Cameron calls on British Christians to be more evangelical. Why am I not jumping up and down on the rooftops whooping and hollering, and generally celebrating?

Because I’m not convinced.

The Prime Minister doesn’t know what an evangelical is, and I suppose I should have some sympathy with him there.

He uses the word as a verb, a synonym for passion or zeal, only with a religious fervour. Likewise he called for more evangelism, but evangelism for the role of the church in society, rather than sharing the good news that Jesus came to save.

On this weekend when we remember Jesus died to take the weight of all we do to reject God, when we know that he went beyond the grave and rose on the Sunday to triumph over the death that was all too real but could not hold him. On this weekend we should have a clearer view than ever what it means to share the good news. What that good news is and what it does.

The good news is that Jesus saves, not that churches run foodbanks.

David Cameron’s words are a nice way of using language in a way it is almost meant, it is designed to resonate with those for whom they have particular affinity but it doesn’t mean very much. The Prime Minister wants the church to be nice, to provide the endless services it does to communities, to stay when others go, to build resilience, to be the glue that holds things together.

But it is not a coincidence Christians provide the vast amount of support which they do.

It’s not just they have lots of volunteers and are able to mobilise activity.

It’s not a guilt thing, making recompense for the poor record religious institutions might have.

Or a decontamination thing, acting in certain ways so that others will think better. It didn’t work with huskies and it wouldn’t with food banks.

It’s a good news thing. That good news we want to share. What we are evangelical about.

David Cameron wants our good works but despite his talk of evangelism that seems the totality of his good news.

Churches offer incredible services to their community, they remain when others do not, they serve when others walk away, they live while others leave.

And it’s quite nice when this contribution is recognised. When the local council want to partner with you in providing a service, when businesses support you, when the Prime Minister lauds you.

Yet have we sacrificed something along the way? Have we been too quick to keep our calling card in our pocket, has our identity been obscured?

Have we opted for favour over faithfulness?

They are many examples of churches holding true to their beliefs, their motivation and their passion and serving their community.

Look at Street Pastors, you’d have to be pretty dim to miss the church connection.

We have to be the same people whether we’re preaching from the pulpit or sweeping the streets. Whether we’re expounding theology or handing our food parcels. We do not have a Christian button which we flip on when we are in church and off when we serve the public. That’s what being evangelical is all about.

It doesn’t mean we act the same in every context, the words we use from the pulpit won’t be appropriate on the playing field when we’re coaching football.

We don’t do good just to earn the adulation of the authorities. We do good because we believe that the gospel which changes our lives will one day banish every trace of pain and suffering. When good will triumph.

We do good because we get to be partners in bringing this good into our world today while we hope for tomorrow.

We do good because we are called to be good news. We are called to be carriers of the gospel.

When we step into our community, when we serve with passion, when we lead with conviction we are ambassadors for Christ.

It’s not a choice between good works or good news. It’s about both. Always about both.

Being evangelical means speaking truth, it means serving others, it means loving without limits, above all it means know that Jesus saves. This weekend as we remember Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection let that be centre stage.

7 things I learnt yesterday

Yesterday I wrote about whether we should mock David Cameron, and whether the response to his Easter reception and message was what it should be.

I got a lot of feedback, some fair, some angry, some both of those at the same time. Here are 7 things I realised:

1. More sure than ever that regardless of disagreements we should treat each other with civility and that includes our political leaders.

2. The healthy critique of leaders should not restricted out of an undue sense of propriety

3. Finding the balance between those two points is crucial to the church having a prophetic voice to society.

4. Jesus was creatively subversive in his dealings with authority, we should do likewise.

5. Jesus acknowledged that the earthly rulers had authority, but only because of the initiating authority of the Father.

6. Knowing when to accept authority and when to challenge it, knowing when to live peaceably and when to uproot unjust regimes is hard. Should dictators be challenged? Yes. When does a dictator become a dictator? That’s harder.

7. There is a place for humour. In criticising the #CameronJesus meme yesterday I felt I was giving humour a hard time. Humour is a vital part of subversion but I think there is a line between that and mocking, and that’s a line we have to work hard to find.

Should we mock David Cameron on twitter?

13754911013_fba133f58e_b

Crown Copyright

David Cameron has done it again.

He’s tried to be nice to Christians and it went a bit wrong.

But this time my annoyance is not with him.

From time to time the Prime Minister makes comments in statements or interviews about his faith and the role of Christianity. He might compare his belief to being like listening to the radio in the Chilterns, fading in and out. He might suggest that the Bible is not a bad moral guide.

And we might pick holes in what he says, criticise the understanding of the Christian faith. I did.

On Wednesday various Christian leaders went to Number 10 for the Prime Minister’s Easter reception. There were church leaders, evangelists, anti-poverty campaigners, those working with the persecuted church and victims of trafficking.

Normally such events are little more than a PR exercise, they’re press released and managed to present the Prime Minister in as good a light as possible. This one feels a little different. There was no press release, no prepared speech, and only belatedly a transcript of the Prime Minister’s remarks.

Those there swiftly reported what David Cameron had said. A single news story led to many others and by the evening the Prime Minister was being mocked on twitter.

When I read the full version of what he said I squirmed slightly at how evangelism was expressed (as little more than doing good). And yet the words I read were an encouragement to the church across the world frequently persecuted for their beliefs, and to the church in the UK to be dynamic in bringing life to communities across the country. A boost for parish priests who canoed through villages during the storms earlier this year.

The words were warm, and Cranmer notes: “clearly coming from the heart, it reveals rather more about the Prime Minister’s spirituality and appreciation of the Church of England’s ministry than anything he has previously disclosed”.

Unfortunately David Cameron doesn’t make it hard to be mocked, comparing himself to Dyno-rod was an unusual analogy. But it was the Big Society (yes, with capitals) that got the ball rolling. Perhaps appropriately for an Easter message, the Big Society is a concept that refuses to die. As Christian Guy tweeted:

This is where my sympathy for David Cameron goes into overdrive. He was trying to give the church credit for their work and respond, as he has repeatedly done, that all his packaging did was take what the church has been doing for centuries, millennia, and get more people involved.

As reported in the Times, a No 10 spokesperson commented: “The Prime Minister has long made the point that he may have coined the catchphrase but he didn’t invent the concept. All sorts of organisations from different faith backgrounds have made a positive contribution to society, including schools and charities.”

When the Big Society was first announced, churches jumped up and down yelling that they’d be at it for ages. Now he agrees the response is: stop thinking you’re doing God’s work. He can’t win.

You might consider the Big Society to be a cover for cuts, you might think it is painfully hard electoral message to sell on the door steps.

But I think there is a challenge to us all in how we respond to politicians, how we engage with them, and how we judge their beliefs and actions. I am certain we should not sycophantically praise politicians to get an invite through the famous black door. I don’t think anyone there got there by doing that. I think there is a vital prophetic role for the church to speak truth to power, to tell when the least are forgotten, when the abandoned are cast away, when the stomachs of the hungry groan, when the shelter for the weak is not there.

There are many things we can criticise the government for. We can say their welfare changes are pernicious, we can say their changes to marriage undermine the family. We can criticise governments for taking us to war, for favouring business over caring for the environment.

The bible tells us in Psalm 146 to put critical distance between us and our leaders, to be reluctant to place too much trust in what they can do: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”

And we should remember that politicians are fallible, they are like you and me, they make mistakes, they have mixed motives, they put priorities in an order that fails to reconcile heaven and earth.

But maybe because of that, criticism should not be our only posture, in fact, I don’t think it should be our primary posture. It is useful, it is vital, we must critique what is unjust, but we shouldn’t start there.

Political leaders, like all other leaders, are taking responsibility, they are exercising authority, and as such, in a way that is always limited, never absolute, they are exercising God’s authority.

Jesus, before Pilate, asks where his authority comes from.

Jesus tells the challenger seeking to trap him, to give to Caesar what is his, knowing that the image of Caesar on a coin demanding fealty is itself an image reflecting Caesar’s creation in the image of God.

Paul writes to the Romans reminding them that the governing authorities only have authority because God has given it, and that those in authority are God’s servants.

In 1 Peter we are challenged to do good and honour our rulers: if that is a challenge today what must it have felt like to those under Roman oppression?

And in 1 Timothy asked to pray for those in authority – that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

This is not a weak prayer, a surrender, it is a challenge. It is a hard task.

There is a responsibility given to leaders that should provoke respect but not blind loyalty. There is an authority to rulers which we should live under but also challenge.

And when we turn to twitter (admittedly there were some funny tweets) to mock leaders who express gratitude to the church for the work they do, and stand with Christians persecuted for their beliefs across the world, I got annoyed. But more than that, I was also saddened because I think it undermines the prophetic voice we should have. A voice that respects, but is not cowed, by authority.

Watch the Prime Minister’s Easter message:

I got addicted… to 2048

2048-Game1
To 2048.

On Friday I saw someone playing it on the tube.

On Saturday I was introduced to the game and shown how it worked.

On Sunday I downloaded it and started playing.

On Monday I got 2048 and won.

On Tuesday I deleted the game from my phone.

In five day I went from never having heard of the latest craze game to removing it from my phone to cut off the addiction that had developed.

Addiction is a strong word. And the one the best fits.

I thought about the DSM screen for problem gambling, and reckoned I would answer positively to enough questions to be classified as a problem gambler. The lack of money traded and lost, and therefore the questions about getting money to play being inapplicable, only making the impact more marked in other areas.

From Sunday evening until Monday evening I played in virtually every spare moment. On Sunday evening I played for several hours straight. I went to bed with my head buzzing, unable to sleep. I woke and calculated how long I could play before I needed to catch the train to work. And of course I played on the train.

What’s crazier is that after work on Monday I hit the jackpot, I arranged the numbers to reach the elixir of 2048. And yet I went on. I wanted 4096.

Each time I lost I thought I could easily have not made the mistake that led my downfall.

Each time I thought the next time would be better. That if I got to the next milestone I would be satisfied.

On Monday evening I had watched Rev, but realised when reading the discussion the next day I had paid scant attention. Because I was playing 2048.

Sunday night when I want to relax I got more wound up as the numbers stacked up in unhelpful patterns.

A game, that thing intended as leisure, had become a point of stress.

I didn’t want to play for hours on end. And yet I was.

So I took drastic action. I deleted the game.

Sometimes that’s the only way to deal with something.

2048 is a brilliant game. I love it. And I also hate it. It is good, and yet it was damaging me. It had to stop.

Behind the blog title: explaining broken cameras & gustav klimt

Upper_Belvedere,_Vienna

 

For more than two and a half years I’ve been writing in this space with the label Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt above my posts. And I’ve probably not done enough to explain it. I’ve roamed around the topics inspired by it, and thought one day I would offer an eloquent explanation. This is not that day, but perhaps an explanation of any sort is overdue.

The questions often come, enquiring what it’s about, what informed it. Whether there’s a reason behind the cryptic title.

The truth is a combination of the spontaneous and the profound.

The spontaneous is that on an early August evening in 2011 I decided to start a blog. I was annoyed about something someone had written on the internet – a trait that has become far too common in my blogging experience. And I wanted to write something in response. I had no platform, no place to put my words, my concerns, my disagreement. So I set up a blog and the following morning posted for the first time.

The title was what immediately came to mind. I put it in the wordpress title field and have stuck with it.

But the reason I plucked for this obscure combination of words has a longer history. To a week and a half spent in Alpine Europe a few years before.

I went away, I took some time out, I travelled, visiting 5 cities in 10 days. And I wrote. I wrote a lot, from the first evening I arrived under a lamp while sat on a park bench in Salzburg, to coffee shops and McDonalds and a hostel in Geneva while watching Million Dollar Baby.

I got home with pages scribbled, then put onto a computer and the word count clocked in at something a little over 12 000. And the title I gave to that compilation was Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt.

I’ve played with those words since, toyed with whether there might be something more to them, or if they were potentially part of something bigger. But mostly they were a wrestling of faith. Of finding words to explore what I was thinking and feeling and experiencing. Words to give voice to my hope and my dreams and my fears and my hesitations.

And two motifs came to the fore to describe the way I experience my faith coming to life and bringing life. A broken camera and the work of Gustav Klimt.

On only the second day of my trip I broke my camera. In fact it wasn’t even mine, it was my parents, borrowed for the trip, to take photos of the places I was visiting, the architecture, the cathedrals, the castles, the beautiful rivers winding through ancient cities. But I broke it.

I spent that afternoon in a melancholy mood in Vienna. I was disappointed, that something could go wrong so quickly. I had put so much hope in having a great trip and my way of recording it and giving witness to it to other people, was dealt a brutal blow. I walked through a grand park to the north of the city centre and I reflected on things going wrong.

I have sometimes had this arrogance that I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I could be who I wanted, achieve what I wanted. And then things began to go wrong. I didn’t get the job I wanted, I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was doing. And I broke a camera.

Sounds ridiculous. It was.

But if God can speak to Balaam through a donkey he can speak to me through a broken camera.

Things go wrong, that is part of life. And as much as our faith is about following Jesus and growing in likeness, it is also doing this in a context where things go wrong. Living out faith in a broken world.

The last day I was in Vienna Gustav Klimt got me thinking about beauty. Before I went away I had been chastised for never having visited an art gallery. I was not particularly bothered about this, I had never been very interested in art. But as I sat in the garden of the Belvedere Palace, quietly miffed it was an art gallery and not a museum, I realised I would be in for even more of a scolding if I only did not go somewhere because it was an art gallery. So I walked through the doors.

From the little I know of art, I knew I liked Gustav Klimt’s paintings. As I looked at ‘The Kiss’ I tried to work out why this was such a magnificent piece. It is one of his most famous, and from the case it was housed in, most expensive paintings. But it shouldn’t be any good. It does not provide a likeness, the colours are all wrong; I couldn’t even find any deep symbolic value. Yet somehow this chaotic collage of gold leaf, silver and oil creates something quite incredible.

Some time ago Portsmouth University advertised its courses with the slogan: “What comes after the Internet?” unfortunately the answer does not lie in any of their courses, or those of any other university. Innovation cannot be taught only inspired and encouraged. Likewise, beauty is not located on a map, there is no guidebook, no x marks the spot. Beauty may be captured but it cannot be controlled. Something truly brilliant and beautiful, existing on the very brink of chaos, is so finely tuned the faintest shift can lead to disruption and failure.

Beauty exists on the edge of chaos, in places that don’t make sense.

Faith is worked out in a broken world.

Hence Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt.

On remaining evangelical, even when I’m not sure what it means

open-bible

I

On Tuesday evening I staggered home from the tube station, zombie like from nearly a full 24 hours travelling, from the rising of the sun on one side of the world to its setting back home in London. I’d been in Cambodia for just a little over a week, but the time I was gone failed to do justice to the intensity of the experience. Seeing communities overcoming poverty, and churches working for the good of their neighbours. Hearing about a regime in living memory that saw the deaths of a quarter of the population, many tortured and executed, many more dying from starvation and disease. Experiencing hospitality from a church of a dozen people.

I thought perhaps I would have a lot to process and a long post of reflection to scribe. In fact, it was rather simple, the good was great, the opportunity brilliant, the place beautiful and the food wonderful (mostly). The things that were hard, were not really that hard. It was tiring, exhausting, and has taken me almost as long as I was there to begin to feel human again. The burden I felt we carried through the trip was the attempt to encourage new supporters to back Tearfund and help communities such as those we were meeting in Cambodia become self-reliant and shrug off the anvil of poverty weighing them down. It was awkward, and it was tough, and we failed to achieve what we had set out to do. I found that very hard, and Rich has also written about this.

More than anything I was overcome by the beauty of the place I had spent a few precious days. And the chance to move beyond the sights and sounds of the capital and share meals with people in their houses, and hear the hopes and dreams they shared, and the problems that together they were going to overcome.

As I barely crawled along the footpath outside Bermondsey tube station with a rucksack on each shoulder I bumped into a friend and uttered some incoherent words. She offered to carry my bags, I turned down the help and staggered on, regretting my refusal to inconvenience her a few streets later. I had spent a week seeing and writing about the virtue about helping one another, and yet I carried on alone.

II

The week has seen a lot written about evangelicalism, did it write its own death warrant, was it the timely reassertion of biblical beliefs, does it mean anything anymore; who are these people anyway, and how do I know if I’m one of them?

This weekend has not brought the floods some thought could be attributed to the introduction of gay marriage but the sunshine of early spring.

Amid the complexity of a social order with mixed beliefs and contradictory worldviews, this is only the beginning of navigating our fluid modernity. A modernity which is not fully past, as absolutes still abound, but they shift frequently, changing colour and changing favour, in a way that it is never quite certain which way is forward and which is back. And if it is forward, what the forward is towards.

World Vision in the USA announced on Monday their decision to employ people in same sex marriages, which was welcomed by some and heavily derided by others. Thousands withdrew their sponsorship and further blows to the organisation appeared imminent when the board and president rescinded the decision. This provoked fury and sorrow from those who had welcomed the shift two days earlier and a glee I’m not sure totally appropriate from those who earlier called them traitors to the biblical cause.

For many in the States who were elated and then disappointed and hoped this was a sign that the church was coming to accept what it had previously rejected, this felt like a decisive moment. For some who wanted to call themselves evangelical this felt like a notice of eviction.

I wish this was simple. I wish it was as easy as saying they were wrong and now right, or right and now wrong. I wish I could applaud or lament but do either with clarity. Instead it feels like a mess. My instinctive response is they did it for the money, not once, but twice. Or perhaps they did what they thought was right but got scared by the cost to the balance sheet and then thought again. Or maybe they felt pressurised into taking their first change of position, and once the response became apparent regretted it, apologised and returned to where they were before.

The sorrow expressed through all of this was that the children being sponsored in parts of the world where they need it most, were being left behind on the back of ideological positions for and against. The cry went out, disagree by all means, but remember the children! And those who said just that swallowed their words and did remember the children when the wind switched against them.

Some of those who had walked away returned and asked ‘for their child back’. They had thrown their toys out of the pram and now they wanted them back. Except they weren’t toys, but children.

III

In ceremonies at midnight, as Friday turned to Saturday, the first same sex marriages took place in England and Wales. Many Christians, as well as others, campaigned against the change to the law. Most of whom did so with respect and integrity, refusing to be drawn into abuse or vilification. Not resorting to insults, even if that was how their opposition was characterised.

Just today I noticed on the Telegraph website an article about a senior executive in America whose employees were calling for his resignation because he opposed gay marriage in California. And in the side bar of most read articles this opposition was contracted to his homophobia. We cannot see disagreement and read into it something that is not there. We cannot take disagreement with gay marriage, or a belief that sexual activity finds its best place within a marriage between man and wife, and transmute onto that disagreement something else, something more easy to dismiss, discard and not tolerate.

I read Gillan Scott write profoundly about the landscape and his experience of blogging about it over the past two years.

I read a post by a vicar who would describe himself as inclusive explaining the tension he felt at whether to attend celebrations of the first nuptials.

I wondered at what defines inclusion. It is certainly welcoming those who are different to you. It is certainly welcoming those who disagree with you.

I believe the gospel is radically inclusive. I believe it is good news for everyone. I believe the church should be the most inclusive place in society. I believe everyone should be welcome.

And yet. You knew it was coming. And yet I don’t think that’s all inclusion requires. If that is what an inclusive church looks like I believe it is gagging itself. It may not want to challenge views about homosexuality. But I am sure there are some views and practices it would wish to challenge. And when views are challenged I do not think that undermines the inclusivity of the church.

The church should welcome and it should challenge. It should provide and it should provoke. It should be steadfast and it should show mercy.

On top of one ‘and yet’, comes another. And yet I don’t always think the words the church says should bring disagreement to the front and centre. I believe the world knows what Christians think about homosexuality and same sex marriage, and I believe that regardless of the care and attention and nuance we give to the words we apportion to speak about it, what is heard is opposition and not to an idea but to identity and personhood.

IV

This thing called evangelical. For some it is a burden to carry, for others a fortress to flee, or to defend; for others still an enemy to throw rocks at.

It’s what I am, and it’s who I work for, so that makes this kind of awkward.

I don’t always understand what it is.

I listen to theologians spend seven hours discussing it.

I hear journalists throw it about without a care for its meaning. Sometimes they mean evangelists.

I know people who are precious about it.

And people who avoid it like the plague.

Myself, I’m ambivalent. I get it, when I look at its historical depiction I recognise a Christianity I am inspired by and passionate to be a part of. When I look at its doctrine I agree with it.

But I hear the critiques and I wonder why the extra word is needed. I’m a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus. What need for anything more.

Is evangelicalism a circle drawn to exclude, or a passion that lies at the core?

You hear it all the time. When people are evangelical about something or another. Their passion, their zeal, it spills over. Often said about many things nothing to do with Christianity. That’s the kind of evangelical I want to be. I want to have that passion. I want people to know what I know, and meet the Jesus I love and who loves me.

And yes, meeting Jesus is not always easy, it rarely is. To hear what he says, to understand what he did, and to accept what that means is not easy. And we should not make it so. It is a challenge, it is a cost, it is a cross on Calvary.

It’s exclusive, in a kind of way, but the kind of way where everyone should have the choice whether to be a part of it. But exclusive in that not everyone will be a part of it. The cost might be too much.

Evangelicalism isn’t a political platform, and it’s not a cultural formation programme as hard as many may have tried. For me being evangelical is not so about what I believe – that’s being a Christian – but more what I do with what I believe. And the complication is manifold because what I do with what I believe is an outworking of what I believe. It’s not easy to separate.

V

The church is at its most vibrant when it cares about the lost and the least. But not when it panders to them. The church should want to see the lost saved and the least served.

There’s a reason the church in Cambodia is who Tearfund work through, and why they work through churches across the globe. Because churches stay when charities go; because churches care for people, while charities have donors to satisfy.

The passion I heard from the church in Cambodia was for the lost to be saved and the least to be served.

I want my faith to be active, it isn’t always, but I want it to be, I want it to make a difference. I want it to be grounded in the Bible, and I want to never give up on learning more about it. I want others to come to know Jesus and be changed through that relationship – you could say converted. And I want to trust in the death of Jesus on the cross to deal with what I cannot.

Funny how that last part’s often the hardest. I can nod along to the creeds and sign the statements and affirm in theory the atoning work of Christ.

And I can go on and live like an atheist. I can walk out the door as though Jesus was nothing to me. As though knowing him did not change me and does not change me. I can forget too easily what the cross achieved and I can live as though I do not need God.

VI

When I sat on the upstairs balcony about an hour out of Phnom Penh after the sky had gone dark and prayed together with the church pastor and a few others I felt the Holy Spirit.

We can know things. We can even know a person. But until we feel.

Our doctrinal statements must lead to being known by a person who is God, and that must lead to feeling loved. Feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit that overlays the knowledge and the relationship and turns the good into very good. The thing that makes a difference.

Without the Holy Spirit we would be left on our own. We might have a knowledge of Jesus and what he did but we wouldn’t be able to know him. And we wouldn’t be able to feel part of the family.

It’s being part of the family that gives me confidence to go out, to be active, to let others know the joy I have and want to share.

And the feeling of being loved is also the feeling of knowing I need to grow. That there are old ways I should change. Paths I should not walk down.

The reason I couldn’t share the glee of those celebrating World Vision’s reversal was because I had read first of those hurt by it. And actions that cause hurt, even when important, even when necessary, are not occasions for rejoicing.

I read about leaving evangelicalism, and others opening their arms to welcome those who had recently departed.

And I grieved. Not that I want people to stay in a camp against their will, or affiliate to a tribe they no longer agree with. But I grieved that perhaps the place I call home is a hard bed to lie in. Maybe more of a circle than a passionate core.

And I hoped. That there is a future, for a faith that is alive, a faith passionate about Jesus, and passionate about changing the world as well as changing lives. And confident, that as the church in Cambodia and the church in the UK, and the church across the globe, commits to that mission, the kingdom of God is at hand.

PS. I linked to Sarah Bessey’s post above about welcoming those leaving evangelicalism. She’s also written a post to those who choose to stay which is also well worth reading.

12 things you learn on a bloggers trip

 1. Instagramming your lunch is obligatory

13266096984_9980c9ed36_b

2. The first question in any cafe/restaurant/hotel/airport: is there wifi?

Copyright Rich Wells

Copyright Rich Wells

3. 4 way extension leads are a vital packing requirement. (And that doesn’t make for an interesting photo, so have a shot of two cows.)

13310882063_7423646a3d_b (1)
4. Mosquitos make a satisfied squelch when squashed on a screen. But leave a bit of a smear.

tumblr_n2y2t0LyIa1tvx3cao1_1280 (2)

Copyright Rich Wells

5. Waiting for Buffer to schedule your tweets is a legitimate excuse for being late for breakfast.

013

6. That meme about wifi being added to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t a joke. It really is that important. Or at least on this trip.

modern-maslow-hierarchy

7. Last minute charging of all devices before a 20 hour journey home.

IMG_3942

8. Realising how much of what you want to do is dependent on tech hard to access in the very place you’re visiting to blog about.

13311136164_03a91364fb_b
9. Realising that if the tech doesn’t work, that’s okay. A blog can wait a few hours, or a day. There’s also such a thing as paper and pencil.

13355393754_ef8c0b73be_b
10. Sometimes photos make things look better than the reality (it was still spectacular).

IMG_4346 - Copy (2)

11. Travelling to a part of the world to see the work of a brilliant charity is a privilege and an honour. I have loved it.

13285322164_b0c5ba8519_b

12. And seeing Buddhist monks on the back of motorbikes stops being quite so surprising.

13265893233_6fc24c9a29_b

If you’ve enjoyed following our trip to Cambodia and want to keep up with how the church in Tonle Bati continues to transform lives, why don’t you give to Tearfund? Donate at www.tearfund.org/bloggers  and you’ll get regular updates on what your money is doing.

 

 

In which I ask you to donate to Tearfund

tumblr_n2sdsa2XUE1rr6vpvo1_1280 (2)

Over the past week I’ve written a lot about my time in Cambodia with Tearfund. This is my sixteenth post, with half of them being here and half in various places across the internet.

And in most of them I’ve ended with a line letting you know how you can keep up with what we’ve been doing, and how you can give money to support Tearfund’s work.

That was always an explicit part of this trip: to visit one of the communities featured in Tearfund’s See For Yourself initiative and tell the stories to help bring them our reader’s attention and encourage them to be part of an initiative where each month they get a prayer update from the village, and every few months a video update.

It’s also been the only part of the trip I’ve found even slightly stressful. The rest has been busy, new, unusual, unexpected, warming, and hot. But the target of getting people to sign up to give money is not something I’m used to or something I find particularly easy.

13310882063_7423646a3d_b

I’ve felt uncomfortable writing lines asking people to give, I’ve felt worse when I’ve added them to posts on other people’s blogs.

And yet I am fully convinced of the value of the work supported in Cambodia. I haven’t got the least bit of hesitation in saying that. Perhaps it’s just me being a bit English but I want to preface it by saying: “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, but if you wouldn’t mind, and if you do, don’t worry, but if perhaps you might be able to, could you possibly give Tearfund some money?”

13354971775_15ed75af35_bWhile I have been here I have seen the people trained, and the projects that have come out of the training. There is often scope for material donations, for wells, for toilets, for classrooms. But the commitment of this programme to people and investing in them, and doing so through the church which will remain, rather than a charity which might move on after a few years, is both obvious and exciting.

Tearfund are supporting work that makes a difference, and doing so in a way that is sustainable, and centred on the role of the local church engaging and changing its community. And your money can make a difference to communities who struggle to feed their families, who are placed in crisis when their chickens die, or the market pays a poor rate for the pig they’d banked on supporting them. It can prompt churches to lead the way providing education, raising awareness about healthcare and improving savings for the whole community.

As I prepare to return to the UK tomorrow, please support Tearfund. If you give as part of this initiative you’ll be able to keep up with the people we met this week, and hear about the impact your support is having.

To give online go to www.tearfund.org/bloggers and hit the button in the banner image.

To give by text just text HOPE TODAY to 70444 – the first 60 to sign up to give will also receive a print from my talented fellow blogger Rich Wells. This will subscribe you to give £3 a month to See For Yourself, Tearfund.  It will be added to your mobile phone bill and Tearfund receives 100% of the money. This subscription service will cost £3.00 per month until you send STOP to 70080.

13355324714_fac514a7c6_b

Reflections on a week in Cambodia

13355152664_0f3a71f75f_b

I began yesterday on the top floor balcony of the pastor’s house in Tonle Bati. I woke to the dawn chorus that arrived before the sun. In the day I took in two church services, almost all of which were in Khmer and untranslated. I had rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner – five meals on the trot in all, and realised fairly late that it was the first day in a long time I had gone without tea or coffee. It ended with the first spot of souvenir hunting in Phnom Penh’s night market, cramped between tourists and locals, browsing stalls and trying to avoid being ripped off, and when the power cut, definitely trying to avoid being mugged.

It was a day of difference even in a country already so different. Seeing the rural poverty and the scratch existence of families working multiple jobs and raising chickens and ducks to reduce their dependence on the buying from the market. Seeing the neon signs above the market, and seeing the different rates we got on the tuk tuks when we had a Khmer speaker aboard.

Back from a night under a mosquito net, almost under the stars, and into a hotel that’s certainly not grand but comfortable and with warm water. My arms, never quite fully sweat free even under the fans in the late evening, stick to the leather seats as I make the most of the best wifi in the building by working late in the hotel lobby.

When presented with the itinerary for the final three days of the presidential campaign in the final season of the West Wing, Matt Santos grimaces with horror at the demands placed on him but stoically replies that you can hang from your toe nails for three days.

That’s been a bit of my attitude this week. It’s been tiring, we’ve been up and out early each day, spending fairly full days in villages, meeting with pastors and umoja facilitators, hearing from members of the community, those who participate in the projects and those who might like to. We’ve got back into the city ready for a rest, but with photos to sort, edit and upload, and blogs to write, edit and post. I made the situation a little on the ridiculous by deciding to write a guest post each day. I wrote a post for work, one for church, another for Tearfund’s Rhythms’ site (and another is on its way), one for the God & Politics blog, and one for Anna Robinson, one for Claire Musters, and there’ll probably be a couple more in the next day or two.

Each day when I’ve been tired I’ve looked at the incredible place I am and the chance to see and do things I rarely receive and determine to make the most of it. Sleep is for the weak, I can survive on very little for a few days. When I woke at 4.30am on the pastor’s balcony and the cockerels were only the start of the cacophony of sound surrounding me, I lay on the mattress and gazed through the mosquito net towards the slowly brightening sky and took about the only time I had had so far to think and reflect. I had said before I went that I thought it might provide such a chance, an opportunity to do what I have so little time for, the chance in a very different place to think thoughts that are crowded out of my mind most days. And then the only time for thinking comes when all sane people are asleep.

I thought deeply, too deeply for that time in the morning. I thought about the value I place one people and things, and what I do about that. Over the past week I have seen poverty and I have seen community resilience. I have seen the way that Tearfund works in Cambodia and how it works.

I realised that as much as we make a virtue of difference and use it as leverage to encourage donations to causes overseas, that much we keep people at arm’s length. When we seek to show poverty in contrast to opulence; when we show illiteracy compared to education, hunger to feasting, thirst to quenched mouths. When we do this we use difference as a lever to cajole.

And as I thought in the early hours yesterday as I asked questions I rarely do. As I appreciated things I skip over. As I wondered what future turns my life would take, I thought afresh about the value we put on other people, and the value we undermine when we hard sell in simplistic ways to reduce complex situations to tweetable lengths.

There’s something about the simple that is attractive, and there are times when it is vital to remove complexity and communicate with clarity is a virtue worth retaining. But there are also times it is reductionist and it insults the reader and the donor.

Every time a photo of a small child, preferably in shabby clothes, is used to solicit donations. I’ve done it, I’ve done it this week. Every time we reinforce the idea that certain things matter more than others.

Yesterday afternoon before the second church service the umoja group in Tonle Bati met. It was possibly even less photogenic that the earthworm raising project we visited on Thursday. Yet that’s the heart of what we’re witnessing in Cambodia, and at the heart are people who are valued more than gifts of resources.

13355368834_8d5b42e68e_b (1)

We often hear that when people are in old age it is not that they wish they spent more time at the office, or accumulating possessions, but spending time with people, their friends and their family.

When we think about development do we think about this? Do we think about people in far off places as partners in what we want to see happen, or consumers of goods we decide we are kind enough to offer?

And when I think of my relationships, do I value them highly enough, and if I do, if it is the relationships with people who I love and care for that matters the most, then what am I doing to reflect this affection?