Where have the radicals gone?

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Where have the radicals gone

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Tonight I am helping with the Soup Run

Tonight I am helping out with the Birmingham Soup Run. Faith groups around the city are organised in a rota to provide meals and hot drinks to the homeless in the city centre at 8pm every night of the week.

Our group does the 4th Friday of every month. We meet up to make crates of sandwiches, flasks of soup and tea and catch up with one another before piling into a couple of cars and giving out free food on the pavement, opposite a multi-story car park.

In some way, I feel it gives me a bit more authenticity or integrity to talk and write about community and social justice. Perhaps I am doing “my bit” for the poor and downtrodden, but I don’t feel a sense of triumph at the end of the night, or feel like patting myself on the back…

I just feel sad. Really sad. The brief exchanges I have with our friends who receive the food make me realise how human, how broken, how real these people are. For a short time, I get a glimpse and a whiff of their lives and it makes me feel that a few hours once a month is not what a first Century rabbi had in mind when he spoke about separating the sheep from the goats and giving away my shirt and coat to those who need them.

Far from feeling happy that I might have done a good thing by taking part in the soup run, I feel frustrated that I am constrained by the norms of society and my own fear from getting involved in the lives of these broken people. I don’t want to pay of my conscience with a couple of hours of good deeds, but desire a heart that is big enough to care for them all dearly.

They are all someone’s brother, father, grandfather, daughter. All I can do is silently pray for them, knowing and secretly hoping that I won’t be called to be the answer to my own prayers.

If Judea had been in Yorkshire

1: Ahh.. Very passable, this, very passable.
2: Nothing like a good feast, ay Barnabas?
3: You’re right there Paul.
4: Who’d a thought 2000 years ago we’d all be sittin’ here in heaven drinking and feasting together?
1: Aye. In them days, we’d a’ been glad to have the price of a couple o’ pigeons.
2: A couple o’ cold pigeons.
4: Without salt or pepper.
3: Or pigeon!
1: Off a filthy, cracked plate.
4: We never used to have a plate. We used to have to eat out of a rolled up rag.
2: The best we could manage was to suck the juices off the rag.
3: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.
1: Aye. Because we were poor. Paul you used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.”
4: You were right. I was happier then and I had nothing’. We used to all go to church together in this tiny old temple, with great big holes in the roof.
2: Temple? You were lucky to have a temple! When I was in Ephesus we used to meet in one house, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of falling!
3: You were lucky to have a house church! In Damascus we used to have church in a corridor!
1: Ohhhh we used to dream of having fellowship in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to meet out in a hut by the river in Philippi. We got splashed every morning by people being baptised!
4: Well when I say “temple” it was only really a tent, but it was a temple to us.
2: We were evicted from our tent; we had to go meet in a cafe!
3: You were lucky to have a cafe! There were a hundred and sixty of us doing church together under an aqueduct in the open air.
1: Roman aqueduct?
3: Aye.
1: You were lucky. We did church for three months on a rubbish tip. We used to have to get there at six o’clock in the morning, clean a space in the tip, beg for some bread for communion, which we shared with the down-and-outs at the tip, go to work down brickworks for fourteen hours a day week in-week out to raise money for the wine. When we got home, our neighbours would persecute us for consorting with Gentiles!
2: Luxury. We used to have to get to our cafe at three o’clock in the morning, clean the cafe, feed the beggars in the square outside, go to work tent-making every day for tuppence a month, come back to the café, take out a loan for the communion bread and wine and preach the gospel until we fell asleep, if we were lucky!
3: Well we had it tough. We used to get to our aqueduct at twelve o’clock at night, and brush and landscape the patch of land. We would pray for healing for a handful of lepers, commune with the Holy Spirit for 5 hours and then work nineteen hours building the first hospital for sick children for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, the Pharisees would slice us in two with a bread knife.
4: Right. I had to sleep at our tent so I could get there, half an hour before I went to bed. I preached the gospel in my sleep, I would feed everyone in the city, whether they liked it or not, worked twenty-two hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when I came home, I would run all around the town so that my shadow would pass over anyone sick so they were healed by God, all whilst dancing and singing “Hallelujah.”
1: But you try and tell the young Christians today that… and they won’t believe you.
ALL: Nope, nope..

If I am to be judged…

If I am to be judged
When I die
Even though
I am justified
Will my lack
Of attendance
At church
Count against
Me?

I doubt it
Somehow
A rebel rabbi
That railed against
The religious
Looks deeper

But is it enough
To avoid judgement
By answering the need
Of those around
Me
Or should I seek out
The hungry?
The thirsty?
The stranger outside my door?
The sick prisoner?

Is it enough
To seek blessings
Without seeking those
Who are blessed
Already
The poor in spirit
Those who mourn
The timid and hungry (again)
The peacemakers
And the persecuted
The pure in heart
Those that thirst not just for water
But righteousness
Like a never ending stream

Jesus Curses a Tree and Clears the Town

The next day Jesus saw in the distance a Christmas tree all lit up, he went to find out if it had any meaning. When he reached it, he found nothing but meaningless trinkets, because it was not the season for righteousness and justice. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever enjoy you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Jesus entered the town and began driving out those who were buying and selling Christmas presents there. He overturned the counters in the banks and the window displays of those selling Christmas cards, and would not allow anyone to carry wrapped presents through the church. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of greed.’”
The vicars and shopkeepers heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the town.
 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the Christmas tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The Christmas tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this materialism, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Caring and the community

Two of my heroes are Shane Claiborne and Anthony Watt. The first is famous in a Christian celebrity kind of way, the second probably only known by a few thousand Christians outside of his native New Zealand. The thing they have in common is the formation of intentional communities. That is, clusters of open households that share a daily and weekly rhythm of prayer and worship, as well as involvement is social projects.

They have both extended their families by allowing both needy strangers and friends to come live with them, share their houses, their space, their meals and their lives. They speak and write of the love that is fostered between people as they struggle to love God, each other, the world and themselves. They move me with accounts of the suffering that they can’t help but hold close to their heart as they give up more of their lives to express their love as God tangibly as love for those around them.

But where does that leave me as a father and husband who has re-discovered God in the last 3 years? Once my family and household had already been established.

Much as I would love to be able to be part of such a community, perhaps start a community like the ones that Shane and Ants are part of, I have a strong suspicion that this will not happen for a variety of reasons. Some of these are under my control, others are not. Simple inertia, comfortable living, possessiveness, children issues and the perhaps less need in a country where there is still social welfare to sustain the most needy at least at a financial level.

So I am slowly and reluctantly accepting that I won’t be a part of an intentional community in the next 20 years at least. I’ve almost gone through the frustration stage; every now and then it flares. And I’m working through the childish strops of “well if I can’t do this, then I just won’t bother at all and live my life like everyone else I know…” But that doesn’t quite sit right with me either.

I want so much more and so much less than how everyone at my workplace, on my street at my church lives with. I want so much more of God, his love and his suffering and I want so much less attachment to my worldly possessions and ambitions. I want to take seriously the commandment to love my neighbour and in that learn to love myself, through the experience of loving God and knowing I’m loved.

So, I’ve reached the point of resigning myself to “normal” family living, but carefully seeking and searching the principles of intentional living to see what aspects of it are helpful applications of the expression of God’s love that can be put in to practice in my family. After all, my family is an intentional community of sorts. I have chosen to share my life with a woman and two small people who daily expose my capacity to love, my inability to have patience, my weaknesses and strengths. And I grow closer to God as  I share their joys, wonders and sufferings. It’s just intentional living in a slightly smaller package.

I’m left asking myself if my family community is simply a place where I unwind after a day’s work or a place that I seek to love others, love the world and love God and through that learn to appreciate that I am needed and loved. Although we don’t have the space (at the moment) to invite anyone to share in that, I have the hope that wherever we are a small bit of what we grow here rubs off onto those we meet and those who enter our house.

Perhaps I need to accept that this is not a “watered down” intentional community, just one that looks and feels slightly different to the ones that my heroes so eloquently communicate. Not lesser, simply different. Not lesser, simply different. Repeat as required until my mind understands this and my heart believes.

A template parable

A man was going down from Manchester to London, when he was afflicted by mental illness. It stripped him of his dignity and destroyed him, leaving him homeless and hanging around churches. A vicar happened to be coming to church, and when he saw the man, he walked down the side of the church to use another door. So too, a church elder, when he came near to the man and saw him, he also passed by the other side of the church.

But a Muslim, walked up to the man; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and listened to his worries, with grace and patience. Then he put the man in his own car, brought him to private hospital and helped to take care of him. The next day he took out his wallet and gave its contents to the Priory. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’