what if….number 32

 encountered this a few days ago which helped me crystallise a few things that I had been thinking:-


http://thisfragiletent.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/1878/ It is a long article, so my quotes are sparing. It is worth reading in full.

The guy relates a conversation with a friend:

‘He was talking about the need to get into the basics of Christianity, and how many of the young people (and some of the older ones) had very little basic knowledge of the tenets of our faith.

I thought about this for a while, and genuinely wondered about what these tenets were- and what I would teach young people if I was in [ his] shoes.


“I think we modern Christians made two particular mistakes in our attempts to engage with God.

  1. We overvalued the Bible- wanting it to provide for us a textbook that creates a Christian, in the same way that a blueprint could make a balsa wood model plane.
  2. We overvalued the need to get our doctrine sorted- the finding and adopting of correct positions in relation to all aspects of faith.

That is not to say that these things are not both wonderful and important- but simply that we over-emphasised them- making them perhaps the only way that Christians could discover God. In order to make this stick, we had to pretend that there was only one way to read and understand the words, and to suppress all less tangible and less ‘objective’ spirituality- rendering it untrustworthy and dangerous.


So I am convinced that rightness of doctrine is not the precursor to being acceptable to God. It may be a consequence of this, but as far as I can see, God seems to tolerate a fairly wide spectrum.

As the guy says- this statement is shot through with faultlines (but isn’t any statement, apart from the most bloodless?), but it made me think. I’m looking round at my community all the time right now and thinking ‘what if’ and thinking God’s Spirit is active here- how do I plug in? I’m thinking about some of Mike Riddell’s words that go along the lines of the Bible is the result of God’s passionate love affair with humanity……….and I’m thinking ‘what passion’…I don’t see much in the way that we read it, live it and talk about it (and I have to do something about it in a week or 2 to a bunch of 7-9 year olds)….

Just disjointed ideas at the moment, but that blog entry is really getting me thinking about passion, lifestyle, ‘authentic living’……..

Another quote from no one in particular…

‘I was born
I was born to sing for you 

I didn’t have a choice
But to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry
It was a joyful noise’

what if…number 33

‘Make some noise’

That was one of the background shouts from the last Dan Le Sac v Scroobius Pip Cd. It was almost spat out. And then I get to Psalm 100 yesterday……

It has been my practice for a number of years to read the Psalms- a Psalm a day, most days to bring a kind of rhythm to life. Psalm 100 echoes Scroobius Pip- although I’m guessing SP did not have Psalm 100 in mind:-

‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord’

Noise is just that…noise. I get (just about) rehearsed choirs, well put together worship, innovative stuff and I’m a dab hand with tea lights, but there is something spontaneous in noise. Taken in with the rest of Psalm 100 which speaks of security and care, its kind of liberating. Focussing too much on care and comfort can tend to make faith like a lovey blanket (see this post   -http://bishopalan.blogspot.com/2009/04/god-is-greater-than-our-faith.html –scroll down to the bit on Flannery O’connor for more erudition than I have) but this guy is saying make some noise- be spontaneous, outrageous, go to the edge, be socially embarrasing even. I’m not like that- I observe, calculate, pick up cues, attempt empathy. There is great value in that…… but ‘what if’…just once in a while…. I made some unplanned……noise?

what if….. number 34

After yesterday’s post, I wrote a ‘thank you’ to Q magazine. I rarely do this. What if Christians became known as the people who said ‘thank you’? You know- a good programme appears on TV- and we write in en masse and say ‘thanks’? Someone does something good in the community and we say ‘thanks’. The Government do something good and we say ‘thanks’…… you get the picture. Yes- there are good reasons to protest- if we don’t stand up for those who have no voice, then what are we doing? But if we never say ‘thanks’, maybe we always come across as the people who like to always suck lemons and say ‘No’.

Some time ago after I had preached, a man came up to me and spoke about some road workers who were working on his street on Sunday. He asked me ‘Should I do something about it and say I don’t like it as I am a Christian?’ Normally I think of a good answer several days later (being a preacher, when I retell the story, I shorten the time between the 2…) –but this time I said straight away: ‘Why don’t you make them a pot of tea and take some biscuits out. And while you are there, tell them that you have been to church and had a good time and you want them to share in how you are feeling?’


Don’t know if he did. Don’t know if I would have the courage. But just a thought- what if we became known as the people who say ‘thanks’ or the people who bless?

what if….number 35

What if…..all faith/not sure of faith/non faith dialogue was carried out like this passage (easy tiger- it will be cited soon). I’ve cited Billy Bragg before and in my 43 and a bit years on this planet I’ve seen him 3 times (once with ‘Red Wedge’- happy days- with special suprise guests ‘The Smiths’. Even as I write those words, it was if I have died and gone to heaven). I always have liked his music and increasingly I find him really insightful in how to grow old and maintain a radical perspective. I don’t know where he stands on faith- agnostic/athiest I suspect.

I read this, this week, in noted theological periodical ‘Q’:-

‘You don’t need to be a practicing Christian to take exception to Dawkins’s outspoken attacks on religious belief, particularly his suggestion that people of faith are ‘stupid’. He should come into the prisions I visit as part of my Jail Guitar Doors project and tell the men benefitting from the pastoral care of the chapel team that their helpers are ‘stupid’.

……Twenty-five years’ experience in politics has left me with a conviction that people who harbour no doubts about the self-evident correctness of their own viewpoint are downright dangerous.’

And the article continues, taking us through quantum physics, cosmology and faith. And I’m amazed- in a rock magazine? From a guy who earns his living through singing and recording? Truth can be found in unlikely places if you look hard enough….

I’m also thinking- can Christians defend their seeming opponents with such Grace?

…what if…. number 36

Picked this up a few weeks ago. The language isn’t mine. The person is wisely contextual. But what if we stopped saying in smaller churches ‘…well of course we need a preacher, someone to preside….if we haven’t we can’t have worship‘? I wonder if ‘providing someone’ all the time infantilises congregations who as a result see worship as an event to come to and not something to share and to be?

(ok- I couldn’t think of an image, but the person is called http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz/)

Here, then, is a dream of ‘what if’?:-

‘chopping down the Sunday tree

Say your church is dying. You have good buildings and some community ministry, but Sunday service is dwindling. It consumes a lot of your energy, both from your pastoral leader and your volunteers – to run sound and play music.

Change proposal: chopping down the Sunday tree.

Keep meeting at 10:30 am Sunday. Keep the doors open. Keep the coffee fresh. Keep the muffins warm. But stop the sermons and stop the singing. Take all that energy and reclaim the time for mission. Read a creed. Dwell in Luke 10:1-12. Initiate some listening experiments. Share stories. Foray into the community for simple acts of service. Return to share stories. Re-read a creed. Re-dwell in Luke 10:1-12. Initiate some more listening experiments. Share stories. Foray into the community for further acts of service.

You get the idea.

If it fails, you were dying anyway.

If visitors do come, they are not meeting a shut door, nor are they finding a stressed group of people. Instead they are finding a warm community who like coffee and muffins. Who knows, they might just be attracted by a group of people taking mission and church and leadership seriously. In the meantime, you are reclaiming an existing resource – your time and your pastoral time – and you’re investing that in mission. And you are redefining your stretched life around mission and community.

Do this for 3 months and see what shoots begin to emerge. Who knows. Some shoots will need another prune. But some might be worth persevering with. Some might even need a new name’.


what if……number 37

What If……. we realised that God can begin right where we are, right now and not (some pet hate phrases coming up…) when we have

-acheived our ‘destiny’.

-grown in grace

-become like Mother Teresa/Martin Luther King/Bono….

-acheived certain spiritual giftings.

– done the most ‘holy’ thing ie taken up full time Christian work.

-..or if we’ve not quite managed that, gone into one of the ‘caring’ professions.

– put ourselves ‘right’ with God …and gone through all sorts of spiritual gymnastics to get there…

I know most believe that, we just seem to often imply/do the opposite….

A cartoon that provoked me from the always excellent asbojesus:-


what if….number 38

In the next 3 days (maybe more) I will be featuring some things from sites I like that have made me think ‘what if’.

Ok- maybe this is blowing my own trumpet, but I was watching a DVD with others a few days ago that talked about being honest about your own strengths, without being arrogant…..

…anyway, at the funeral that I referred to yesterday, someone came up to me and said ‘thank you’ , commenting that he found my style helpful in that it was like normal speaking and it was warm. This person was an occasional (very!) church attender. Underneath was the tacit/less tacit implication as to why people (mainly the ordained) don’t speak normally in church and seem to ‘hector’/speak above.

I was thinking about that and then I read this and I thought ‘what if?….’


This ‘….was inspired by something I read years ago that I’ve tried to apply ever since, and that is that I should only speak or teach what I actually believe or know to be true. If there was always such a visible warning displayed to our listeners that we could be talking bull, I think we would be a lot more thoughtful and careful. Give it a shot this Sunday or whenever. I remember my first time, and it was a frightening experience. There were many times I completely stalled. It’s still a challenge for me. So, here’s a ten point challenge I’m putting out to all of you public speakers out there:

  1. If it doesn’t stir your own heart or mind, dump it or work on it until it does.
  2. Talk like you talk at home.
  3. Avoid clichés.
  4. Don’t raise your voice, use gestures, or move around just for effect.
  5. Speak as if you are handling mysteries and don’t know the whole truth.
  6. Avoid insider language, like “Christianese”.
  7. Don’t succumb to the pressure to speak what is expected of you.
  8. Share a serious doubt or struggle you yourself are experiencing.
  9. Speak across, not down.
  10. Teach only what you actually know to be true’.



If you are so inclined- track back to  http://diggingalot.org/diggingalot/?p=1172 and there is a really good picture on there. I managed to use it without the artist’s permission- but she has graciously given it. For some reason, in wordpress I can’t edit the picture, so this is my acknowledgement- thanks!

Go over to www.juliasteinmeyer.deviantart.com or to www.take-photos.de to check out more of her excellent images- look, think, marvel and wonder….

Thanks Julia!

What If…. number 39

I’m sure I once commented on something I’d read recently in a Bible. It went something like ‘freely you have received; freely give’ (note how post-modern I am- I don’t even say what part....). If I didn’t, I should have as it really hit me.

Yesterday at a huge and very tragic funeral I came close to blows with someone. I can’t go into detail as I don’t want to be too specific. But the conversation went something like- ‘these people’ who are ‘using’ this church should be giving more to it (by which that person meant a large proportion of the donations at the end should go to that church). I thought about the fee already going to that church (plus my fee, donated back) and got unreasonably angry……in our pressure to maintain aging buildings where did the idea that we have been given much and therefore can bless much go to?

So my ‘what if’-, my dreaming dreams for the future -would be that we live the idea all the time that we have been blessed so much…so go and bless….freely. And when we (and I mean I as well) get the ‘warm fuzzies’ from that idea….. but then look at ‘practical’ issues and start to make the shift of ‘well, we do live in the real world as well’, that we look again at that text and say ‘isn’t that referring to the ‘real world’?

Grrrr Grrrrr. But hang on, the way I read most of the New Testament letters is that the early Christians couldn’t get the hang of this either. Which probably means that even I can’t on a day to day basis (my ordination therefore must have failed as I still remain human...)

Still……what if?

what if?….number 40

I do ‘do’ Pentecost, but at the same time I don’t ‘do’ Pentecost. If you think I am confused- I am! Sometimes confusion can be a virtue and at other times it can be just confusing….


I ‘do’ it as it is part of the Christian year- all this stuff about ‘waiting for the power from on high’ and then the explosion of the Church on Pentecost is the whole point of this season. I don’t ‘do’ it as I was once part of a church that was, at least at times, very ‘charismatic’. I don’t want to say that I have ‘grown beyond it’ as that phrase, or versions of it, really naffs me off. I find that phrase patronising as underneath it seem to be tones of ‘You lot may still do that, but I have matured and I look down on you in bemused contempt or pity‘. So I haven’t ‘grown beyond it’…..this period of waiting seems to be about preparing to be suprised, unsettled, blown apart and being open to suprising new direction. Strikes me if that just becomes theoretical then ……….we are just wasting our time….

I was looking at Acts 2:17 with a meeting a day or so ago and asking for reactions (when was the last time in a business meeting that you spent some time with the Bible, creatively, and not just the professional godbotherer spouting at the front…it’s meant to be a communal document……. or did you think ‘This is a business meeting…we haven’t got time for that’. Hmmm….why do we (ie I) co-operate in this artificial scared/secular split) and we got sidetracked into speaking in tongues. That seems to happen a lot- or it has in my 25 years or so of Christian experience. My limited analogy comes from the theological college that is the Riverside football stadium…..


….we are all roaring Middlesbrough on (it don’t often work!) and that is why we are there- to roar our ‘what ifs’ out and urge Middlesbrough on in their mission. I don’t think Middlesbrough care if we do that in Latin, Greek or ‘Anglo Saxon Teesside’….the important thing is they are encouraged and stay up. It would be a poor football report that argued over which chants were the best and which supporters the best supporters depending on what song they sung. And in the Church……. well you make the connections….

Phew….back to the mainline….. I’m posting as I want to wait eagerly for the power- I want to be part of a movement that is ready to dream God’s ‘what if’ and not just settle for ‘keeping on keeping on’ and ‘keeping the show on the road’ without being open. Will I manage it? I don’t know. Hope so though….