I had to resort to poetry to respond to the video produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) of the Beautiful Story. This is a film designed “to encourage and enable evangelicals to engage and contend in discussions about human sexuality”. It left me cold, horrified by the voices that have gone unheard.
Beautiful stories are
well spoken. But with respect, Sirs your Beautiful Story so well told is lop-sided, a one-sided story lacking the beauty of the round.
Your voice sounds beautiful. It is, as I said, well spoken. But, big but, there is a violence to the voices which go unsaid.
Voices of ones you corrected with your prescriptive text drown the muffled sounds from the closets you locked.
From basement cellar, closet and the chimney stacked chamber their voices died, but scratched on the wall, blood red, their words
I hesitate to give the link to CEEC’s Beautiful Storybecause it is not as beautiful as it is cracked up to be and becauseit is not for anyone of a sensitive disposition. The Church of England has published resources for Living Faithfully in Love..
“See what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings. You shall be for me a priestly kingdom.” (from Exodus 19).
A “kingdom” is a proper collective noun for priests. God’s call of priests is for the whole people, the whole nation – for the many, not just the few. It is for all those who have been borne on eagles’ wings through the harshest circumstances imaginable – in the case of these people hearing God’s call in Exodus, it is people who have suffered slavery and all kinds of oppression. There are no priests who don’t belong to the kingdom, and outside of the kingdom there is no call for priests.
This priestly kingdom is more than the “priesthood of all believers” – this is a priesthood of all those who have been liberated. Their liberation defines their identity and identifies their function of being a blessing for the whole world, for all the nations. (It defines “blessing” as nothing less than liberative, nothing less than redemptive even from the worst evil imaginable.)
How have we got our understanding of priesthood so spectacularly wrong? In common parlance priests are those who are ordained. Peter writes to those who were “nobodies” – “aliens and strangers in the world”: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).
The Ordination Service takes up the call: “God calls his people to follow Christ and forms us into a royal priesthood”. This is the vocation of the whole church, not just a few of its members, “to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light”. The liturgy of the Ordination of Priests continues: “To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries” – ordained priests being among them.
What distinguishes those who are ordained priests is that they can be trusted with the power of ordering the life of this kingdom, co-ordinating its energy for the purposes of peace, making its wonder ordinary in the community’s DNA. The discernment and formation processes are supposed to see to that. The charge they accept is to do those things which serve this royal priesthood, the whole people of God, borne on eagles’ wings through times of trial and trouble in order that this kingdom of priests will be blessing for the whole world.
For that they will share with their Bishop as messengers and stewards, watching for the signs of God’s new creation. They will teach and encourage. They will guide people through temptation and confusion and they will declare in Christ’s name the forgiveness of sins.
With all God’s people they will baptise new disciples, preach faithfully in and out of season. They will preside at the Lord’s table and lead the kingdom of priests in worship. They will bless people in God’s name. They will resist evil, supporting the weak, defending the poor and interceding for those in need.
These things and others they are trusted to take on in order to serve the work of the kingdom of priests (aka “church” and “Israel”) – always for the purposes of the kingdom of priests: for the blessing and praise of all of God’s creation.
When it comes to power and leadership in the church are we confused by worldly perceptions of power and success?
Recently I have heard about arguments amongst leaders about who sits in the “best seats” in the chancel, and there’s real power politics at play in ecclesiastical processions!
If we are entitled (Rev, Reader etc) what are we entitled to? Cases of abuse show how wrong some of us so entitled have been.
What are the qualifications for leadership? And what is our unconscious bias about those qualifications – and how much potential is wasted by those biases?
Justin Lewis-Anthony makes the case that our understandings of leadership are qualified and conditioned by Hollywood and the leadership of those on the “wild frontier” as portrayed by decades of “westerns”. (Donald Trump fits that well.) Lewis-Anthony talks about “the myth of leadership” and describes the way the myth is told.
Someone comes from the outside, into our failing community. He is a man of mystery, with a barely suppressed air of danger about him. At first he refuses to use his skills to save our community, until there is no alternative, and then righteous violence rains down. The community is rescued from peril, but in doing so the stranger is mortally wounded. He leaves, his sacrifice unnoticed by all.
This is the plot of Shane, Triumph of the Will, Saving Private Ryan and practically every western every made. It is the founding myth of our politics and our society. It tells us that violence works, and that leadership only comes from the imposition of a superman’s will upon the masses, and preferably those masses “out there”, not us.
The Bible is very critical of worldly systems of power and leadership. Walter Brueggemann (in Truth Speaks to Power) makes the point that the pharoah is never named in Exodus, but that he is a metaphor representing “raw, absolute, worldly power”. He is never named “because he could have been any one of a number of candidates, or all of them. Because if you have seen one pharoah, you’ve seen them all. They all act in the same way in their greed, uncaring violent self-sufficiency.” Samuel is scathing about the Israelites’ insistence that they be led like the other nations. He knew (1 Samuel 8:11-17) that those sort of leaders are always on the take (sons, daughters, chariots, horses, fields and livestock – everything).
The ways of God are very different to the ways of preferment and career advancement. Paul is amazed when he surveys his fellow disciples. He wrote to the church of Corinth: “Consider your calling. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Similarly Jesus praised God that she had hidden the things of heaven from the seemingly well qualified. “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Luke 10:21).
What difference would it make to our CVs if we focused on our foolishness and our weakness? Would it prompt us to realise that power and leadership is found in some very strange places and surprising people? What difference does it make when we recognise that leadership qualifications are the gift of God and that the leadership qualities are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) by which measures pharoahs look hopelessly unqualified.
I have recently had the privilege of reading The Bible and Disabilityedited by Sarah Melcher, Michael C Parsons and Amos Yong. I quickly realised how pervasive disability is and how important a lens it is to view Christian leadership. Under their prompt it is easy to see how “disabled” the people featured in scripture are. Moses was chosen in spite of his speech impediment. Jacob bore his limp with pride that he wrestled with God (and Israel takes its identity and name from that fight). Jesus’ crucifixion was the ultimate disability.
I asked the question on Twitter, “would it make a difference in leadership if we focused on disabilities and vulnerabilities rather than just abilities?” Friend Mark Bennett replied: “In Matthew’s gospel Jesus uses parables so that people hear, “see”, understand anew, overcoming disabilities of preconception, prejudice and fear.” Friend Jenny Bridgman replied: “”What are my blind spots?” is a tough but necessary #leadership question. Some more are: What can someone else do better that I can? How can I free them to do that well? Or even – how do my/our disabilities and vulnerabilities make my/our leadership more effective?”
I suspect that as long as we ignore these questions there will always be “us” and “them” – a few privileged by the powers-that-be working “for” (or even “against” as some sort of pharoah) rather than working and living “with” and in love with others.
PS. I didn’t include the title of Justin Lewis-Anthony’s book because it is so flippin’ long – It is You are the Messiah and I should know: Why Leadership is a Myth(and probably a Heresy) .
John Lees has written a truly practical guide to self-supporting ministry and here I am reviewing it as someone who sees himself far more clearly as a self-supporting minister after reading John’s challenging chapters. John Lees is Bishop’s Officer for Self-Supporting Ministry for the Diocese of Exeter. He has served as an SSM for fourteen years. He is a career coach well known for his books including How to Get a Job You Love and Secrets of Resilient People.
There is considerable lament in this guide for the ways in
which the energies and expectations of self-supporting ministers are
increasingly focused on the support that they give to local churches. Lees
explores what has happened in the twenty years since the publication of Tentmaking in 1998. The authors then,
Francis and Francis, focused on worker priests, MSEs (ministers in secular
employment) and bridge ministry. Lees traces these preoccupations of ministry
further back and leaves us with a sense that we have lost missional
opportunities as energy has focused on local churches rather than ministry
which is more liminal. He reminds us that self-supporting ministry is the New
Testament model, with Paul being the first self-supporting minister.
Lees reports on the findings of Teresa Morgan’s research (2011). Part of her
summary states “few respondents [her sample of self-supporting ministers] saw
themselves as having much, if any ministry outside the formal structures of the
church”, (Lees, p39), yet “most SSMs spend much of the time outside formal
church structures. They are, together with lay people, the natural missionaries
to our society.” (p40). The case studies with which John concludes each chapter
are testimony to the enormous range of contexts of ministry, but also, there is
a unanimity that there is very little done to prepare or encourage SSMs and lay
people for this ministry.
Lees is particularly strong when he talks about ministry in
the world. His confidence in the world is borne from his ministry in the
secular. He writes: “We seem to have lost some of the eagerness of past
generations to find God in contemporary life, and we may have lost sight of the
way Church and society learn from one another.” (p59). We have become a
“frightened church”, an institution under stress, and institutions under stress
“respond like human beings, becoming more self-protecting”. (p59).
I was left wondering what the influence of Tentmaking was on John Lees’s call, theology and ministry and what the effect on vocations would be if we were to support, encourage and celebrate the ministries that so many tentmakers, teachers, hairdressers, bankers and waiters have. I was left feeling affirmed in my understanding of my own ministry as being “self-supporting” (albeit with many freedoms and privileges).
And I was left with a strong sense that the most common model of ministry is that of self-supporting ministry, and the context of that ministry being secular. Just a small proportion of those self-supporting ministers are licensed. An even smaller proportion of them are ordained. They represent 29% of licensed parochial clergy in the Church of England (2016). It seems a shame if ministry training, formation and deployment is seen to be organised around stipendiary clergy – a small part of the ministry of the church of God which by and large has to be “self-supporting”.
Arguably Lees should have had a wider focus on other forms of self-supporting ministry than those who are ordained, but John writes from the heart, from his experience as a coach and a priest, and his heart has gone out to his fellow priests who are often left unsupported. There is challenge, care and common sense suggestions that merit a reading for the sake of all those who are self-supporting ministers (often unrecognised) and particularly those who are ordained self-supporting ministers.
Is is 70 or 72, that is the question? I’m quite fascinated by numbers. Chapter’ 10 in Luke’s Gospel recounts the number Jesus sent out “like lambs in the midst of wolves” with “no purse, bag or sandals” with the greeting “peace to this house”.
Were there 70 or 72? I am just asking for a friend.
Of course, the answer begins with 7. Anything beginning with 7 is the right answer because 7 marks all our time. We have 7 days in a week – as God took 7 days for creation, 6 days work, then a day’s rest. 7 carries with it the meaning of perfection and completion.
According to some texts the answer is 70 – and there is good reason that there should be 70 because there were thought to be 70 nations – the descendants of Noah’s children who settled the earth after the flood. Is then the sending of the 70 the Godsend to all people who on earth do dwell? (And Jesus did send out the “70” two by two, didn’t he?)
According to other ancient texts the answer is 72. And there seems to be good reason for that as well. If there were 72 Luke 10 would read “after this the Lord appointed 72 others”. What is the “after this” referring to, andwho are the others? The previous chapter (Luke 9:1-6) recounts Jesus calling “the twelve” together and sending them out with no staff, bag, bread, money. I am putting 2 and 2 together here and thinking that Luke might have intended “72”, because 72 plus the others (12 of them) makes 84.
84=7×12. There is the 7 again, that number signifying completion and satisfaction. But there is also 12, the number of the apostles, the number of the tribes of Israel (because of the number of Jacob’s sons). 84 is mentioned elsewhere by Luke – as the age of Anna the prophetess, who prayed in the temple night and day and who spoke about the child Jesus “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”. (Luke 2:36-40). Anna’s age adds further significance to the number 84. It becomes a number of wisdom and proclamation.
If 72+12 = all the people of God, this becomes a passage not just about the sending out of 72, but the sending out of the whole people of God, you and me, sent out two by two.
If the answer is 70 then this become a passage about the destiny of peace’s greeting. “Peace to this house” then becomes a greeting for the whole world.
Is it 70 or 72? I’m just asking for a friend (to whom it matters).
Or do we treasure the happy ambiguity presuming that Jesus and Luke meant both: that the good news of the coming of peace should and would be carried to all nations, and that all God’s people are commissioned to be bearers of peace, even as lambs amongst wolves, even eschewing all the usual self defences?
I have just been reading The Book of Negroes by Canadian author Lawrence Hill. It gets its controversial title from a historic document from the 18th century which is kept at the National Archives at Kew. It is a ledger of over 3,000 names of enslaved African, the “Black Loyalists” who escaped to Britain’s lines in the American Revolution. It was the first time in history that thousands of black people were formally recorded by a historical body, in this case, the British Navy.
The book describes the journeys of Aminata Diallo who was grabbed from her village in west Africa in 1750 by slave traders. She was just 11 when she had to walk “three moons”, shackled in irons in a coffle from her village of Bayo to the ship which would take her into slavery in the American colonies.
She makes the most of her very limited opportunities. She learns to read and write (in secret), and she longs to return to her homeland. Occasionally she is able to look at maps of Africa, but there were no places marked on them except for a few ports. Inland was shown with drawings of elephants – as if that was all there was.
I wonder if that is where we are sometimes. We can map thresholds and the ports. We can say so and so lives there. We can recognise faces but sometimes can’t get past face value. It is only when we care to listen, to let people speak, to allow them to show us around their lives that we begin to build up a better map of where they have come from, and where they might be journeying to. (The more diverse the maps, the better – geographical, historical, political, psychological dimensions all add to our understanding.) Then we begin to understand the hinterland. Then we can better understand each other.
This is what Aminata writes at the end of her story:
I would like to draw a map of the places where I have lived. I would put Bayo on the map, and trace in red my long path to the sea. Blue lines would show the ocean voyages. Cartouches would decorate the margins. There would be no elephants or want of towns, but rather paintings of guineas made from gold mines of Africa, a woman balancing fruit on her head, another with blue pouches for medicine, a child reading, and the green hills of Sierra Leone, land of my arrivals and embarkations.
PS. When I say that Lawrence Hill is a “Canadian author” I am guilty oversimplifying the map of his life – drawing elephants, if you like. He was born in Newmarket, Ontario – the son of a black father and a white mother who moved to Ontario from Washington DC. These are details to add to the map of Lawrence Hill’s life. Reading another of his books, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canadamight add psychological and sociological dimensions to that map. I’d like to find out by reading more.
Every morning I, David, pray with Jews,
my brothers, my sisters. Their scripture
fallen into my hands, fills my mind,
names me. I take their prayers,
the longing of their psalms,
I hear their pain, share their dreams,
my amen I join to theirs.
And I regret every morning
I can’t pray with more distant relatives,
my brothers, my sisters, children of Hagar.
A step too far. What are their longings,
what are their dreams?
I pray, that as I pray, they pray,
with me, for me, amen.
The photo is by mrehan, found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrehan00/3455167464
Sometimes what comes out in conversation takes our breath away doesn’t it? Conversations are wonderful ways of learning and realising stuff deep within our experience.
At a recent workshop on power leaders in ministry were sharing empowering stories and exploring ways of empowering others. What emerged was a radical question, very simply expressed: don’t we want everyone to be as powerful as they can be?
There is, of course:
a huge “as long as”,
and a qualification who the “we” is who so want us all to be powerful as can be
as well as a health warning.
The health warning is that power can be so dangerous and all of our perceptions of power are coloured by our experiences and the extent to which we have been overpowered or empowered.
The “we”, of course, is not everyone. There are those who want to protect their “superpower” status and they depend on belittling and demeaning behaviours to manipulate dependence and fear in others. They have a vested interest – and they often are vested, dressed up in uniform – in a status quo in which they are favoured. To be part of the band of “we” we need to ask the question about how we can be disarming – to unilaterally disarm as an initial step to deescalate unhealthy power dynamics.
The “as long as” of the question “don’t we want everyone to be as powerful as they can be?” is as long as it is the right sort of power. We know what the wrong sort of power looks and feels like. It either makes us feel big (aka arrogant) or small – either way it is dehumanising. Our workshop conversation had begun with a consideration of a typology of power developed by French and Raven back in 1959. They identified five (later expanded to six) bases of power. Those bases are of two sorts. The first sort is the power that is handed on with authority, hierarchically and is based on position. The second sort is the power that is given by “followers”. Followers turn to people who they believe are competent (“experts”) and to people they like or respect (“referent”). Those we turn to may have positional power, or they may not.
What we wish for when we want everyone to be as powerful as they can be is:
for them to be freed from oppressive power, and
for us to help one another into habits (not vests!) and disciplines in which virtues grow to the extent that we inspire confidence in one another
This is a tall order. We are all broken power brokers and we all come to the conversation with temptations to, such as, protect our position, make ourselves look big/clever, win. We can only help one another. This is a community endeavour in which we can help one another uncover our abuses of power and re-member those excluded by our executive powers.
NB Spoken by a white middle class university educated priest with well reinforced positional power but convinced that the communities I care for should be as powerful as they can be and eternally grateful for those communities which have been empowering and made this life worth more that it otherwise would have been.
I love that tweet @la_vagabondeuse and know the feeling of opening up a box of treasures. There are so many jewels out there. Of course, this has more to do with la_vagabondeuse’s willingness to open her ears and heart to others. Twitter is just the means to that end – one of many social media and other means.
I spent an hour and a half reading through my Twitter feed this morning. Call it a birthday indulgence if you like, but I know it is something I should be doing more of (listening, that is). There are whole boxes of treasure and so many jewels. Here’s some of what dazzled me this morning:
I do realise that Twitter is a preserve of the chattering classes, but it is one way of listening to others. We can choose our newsfeed and who we listen to. I choose the twitterati who have their ear to the ground, the ones who are sensitive to the rumblings of down to earth living (over, for example, the Daily Mail and its presumption of daily fail). And I discover, through that listening, the huge amount of treasure in the community chest – treasure graphically portrayed in another tweet from Paul Wright @LeanLeft_Wright this morning.
This shows the energy bubbling under the surface of community making the point that community develops through the appreciation of its members. You have to live there to know that. It is about opening our ears to hear the voices of others, and opening our hearts to the passion of others and celebrating the community bounty – the treasures and jewels of the community chest, just like la vagabondeuse is trying to do. This is loving the voice of our neighbour and discovering our commonwealth. Put technically this is “asset based community development”. But for those who live there, it is simply the love that makes the rock on which community builds (to paraphrase @radicalhoneybee).
Advent is a time for praying for the coming of Emmanuel, that God may be with us, and for each of the evenings of the week before Christmas there is an “O” antiphon. Each of the seven antiphons is prefaced by “O” and addressed to the Messiah according to the names for him found in Isaiah. The “O” expresses our longing. The seven antiphons are addressed to Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King and Emmanuel.
Doors are very much a theme of Advent. Doors are both barriers and openings. We open a “door” a day on our Advent calendar to signify our willingness to open our hearts to the coming of Christ. Many decorate their front doors in a way that invites the stranger, in a way that begs to be opened (as in the door of one of our neighbours pictured above). Some doors are hard to shift and many are locked behind them.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Even in the darkness where I sit And huddle in the midst of misery I can remember freedom, but forget That every lock must answer to a key, That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate, Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard, Particular, exact and intimate, The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward. I cry out for the key I threw away That turned and over turned with certain touch And with the lovely lifting of a latch Opened my darkness to the light of day. O come again, come quickly, set me free Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.
The poem senses despair but also senses freedom, if only we could find “the key I threw away”, that “turned and over turned with certain touch and … opened my darkness to the light of day”. I love the sense of freedom because “every lock must answer to its key” and “each dark clasp … must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard”.
There are so many locks to spring. Back in the 14th century, Hafiz wrote about the sort of people who lock others up, and the sort of people who work in the darkness to set people free. They “drop keys all night long”:
The small person builds cages for everyone he sees.
Instead, the sage, who needs to duck his head, when the moon is low can be found dropping keys, all night long for the beautiful rowdy, prisoners.
What are the cages, catches, vices, locks and blocks that bind us? What needs to be undone for peace to be declared on earth?
You may be interested in the Jesus Doors by Cheshire artist Ali Hutchison and the Advent Haikus Jim Bridgman has written for every day of Advent as part of his blog which is Really Nothing but which is in fact, quite something. You might also be interested in The Advent Door by Jan Richardson.