Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Nomad's Blog is moving!

For those of you out there who read my occasional musings on Nomad's blog, note that the blog will be moving over to Nomad's new shiny site www.nomadpodcast.co.uk

See you there!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Same-Sex Relationship (and How to Lovingly Disagree)

I really found our recent interview with Wendy VanderWal Gritter helpful. Wendy is passionate about creating ‘generous spaces’ in Church, where people with different views on sexuality can meet together without judgment to share their stories, experiences and seek Jesus together.

With the current polarized and adversarial nature of the debate over same-sex relationships, this does sound rather unrealistic, with both sides passionately advocating their of truth. But what we embraced the idea that truth isn’t the most important thing?

Jesus taught that love is the greatest command, and similarly Paul said that love is ‘above all’ other commands (Col 3:14), and that we need to clothe ourselves with love and live in love, and that love is more important than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13). Love must shape every action and every word.

So if you’re interested in truth, love should be your primary concern.

It’s because we’ve put truth (or rather, our version of the truth) ahead of love, that so much pain and suffering has been caused in the name of Jesus.

If we, the Church, could really embrace the truth of love, all our disagreements over sexuality, or any issue, would be radically transformed. Church would be the most loving, accepting, and transformative place on earth.


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Adventures in Going Nowhere and Doing Nothing

I’ve never been a huge believer in New Years resolutions. I’m naturally quite analytical, and am rarely satisfied, so I really resonate with Anaïs Nin when she said, ‘I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, criticizing, sanctioning and moulding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.’

Having said that, I keep coming across the idea of ‘stillness’, and I’m sensing it might be something God wants me to build into my life, and the start of the year seems like a good time to begin.

I suspect the spiritual practices that are of most benefit to us are the ones that are least like our natural personality types. I never feel more at peace with myself than after a ‘productive’ day. So I’m pretty good at the spiritual practices that involve doing things, like studying the Bible or journaling. But I’m not so good at things like silence, fasting and stillness.

In fact I’ve spent most of my life trying to justify my existence in the world and gaining a sense of identity, by doing things. Whether it was sport, travel, study or religion, there has always been an activity I’ve strived to do well in.

Needless to say, stillness is never something I’ve felt naturally drawn to, or seen much value in.

I also struggle to commit to things that I don’t understand. And while I’d love to have entitled this article ‘5 reasons why stillness will transform your life’, I’m still not actually sure why regular periods of stillness is good for us.

I do know though that many of the great women and men of God over the centuries have committed themselves to regular periods of stillness. They’ve deliberately slowed and deepened their breathing, and perhaps quietly prayed under their breathe the Jesus prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner', or something similar. 

And of course we know that before and after periods of activity, Jesus withdrew and spent time in quiet contemplation.

So I’m not sure what the benefit of committing to this practice will be. Perhaps it will help me accept myself for who I am, not what I do. Perhaps it will help me physically unwind and de-stress. Perhaps it will help me get a better perspective on our performance driven culture. Most likely it’ll have a benefit that I’ve not considered. Who knows? But that is the adventure of following Jesus, we do what we think he’s prompting us to do, and see where it leads us.

Head over to the podcast for some help in entering stillness from poet, author and priest, Ian Adams.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The Coming of Jesus and the End of Traditional Family

For Joseph and Mary the coming of Jesus meant the beginning of their family. But for Jesus’s later followers it meant the radical redefinition of family.

From the age of 12 Jesus began to loosen the ties with his biological family, and by the time of his ministry he began to view his disciples as much as his family as his mother and siblings. Jesus cemented this new understanding of family at the cross when he looked to John and said of Mary ‘this is your mother’ and looked at Mary and said of John, ‘this is your son’. The spiritual family was born.

This idea of ‘spiritual family’ was at the very heart of the early church’s identity and hence this group of Jesus followers saw each other as spiritual mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Like traditional families they shared their lives, regularly meeting together in their homes to eat and to support each other spiritually, financially and practically.

But the counter-cultural nature of this new family was even more profound than this. Not only did the idea of family transcend the traditional boundaries, it did so in a radically inclusive way. Unlike the Church today that is perceived as a religious institution for ‘holy’ people, the early church embraced those whom society had pushed to the margins. Consequently, early church gatherings would include the likes of pagans, gay men and women, sex workers, terrorists and officials of the occupying empire.

This was a family the likes of which the world had never seen before.

Our world is increasing torn apart by tribal identities, and the West in particular is increasingly blighted by the effects of individualism and the breakdown of local community. Surely one of the most powerful ways we can demonstrate the reality of the incarnation of the Son of God is by demonstrating a truly loving and inclusive spiritual family.

The question then is how seriously do we take this idea of spiritual family? This is a question that has been on my mind since the birth of my son Elliot at the end of September. We’re thrilled to finally be starting our own family, but I’m also conscious that our call to be a part of a radically inclusive spiritual family will now be even more of a challenge. Already I can feel an increasing pull towards an even more comfortable, insular middle class lifestyle!

But what sort of man do I want Elliot to be? And what sort of world do I want him to grow up in? My hope and prayer is that he’ll want to follow Jesus and commit himself to the idea that the Church is not an institution for holy people, but a glimpse of what the world could be, a spiritual family where everyone is welcomed and valued. 

So that’s what I’ll be reflecting on this Christmas, the radically inclusive spiritual family that Jesus came to model to us, and the type of family I need to model to my son.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Apologising for the Faith? Reflections on a Conversation with Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath clearly loves apologetics (check out the interview here), and so did I. The cut-and-thrust of defending the faith, the hours spent wrestling with life’s mysteries and condensing them down into easily memorisable sound bites (I found it helped if they could be reduced to no more than three points, which preferably started with the same letter, or rhymed).

I slowly began to realise though, that you can’t argue someone into a relationship with Jesus. Even if you convince them of the plausibility of the resurrection or the reliability of the gospels, their lives rarely seem to be transformed. Strange that.

So over the last few years I thought I’d try a different tack. It occurred to me that Jesus allowed people to experience his love (through healings, deliverance, miraculous feeding, showing them love, acceptance, etc.) and then invited them to join him on the discipleship journey.

So rather than trying to persuade our friends that it made intellectual sense to explore the Christian faith, we began to invite them to join us in experiencing Jesus.

Around this time we were beginning to explore Christian contemplative practices, so we simply began to invite friends to explore this with us. Together we imaginatively entered gospel stories, tried to listen to God through nature, and experimented with creative forms of prayer and meditation. As we grew in confidence we took small groups away on retreat days, and ran sessions in a local community centre and at a local community festival.

The results? Well, we have seen a handful of people come to faith, but just as significantly, almost everyone had a positive experience. Although from our viewpoint these experiences didn’t obviously move many people closer to Jesus, it did give them a rare positive experience of Christianity, and you can’t put a price on that!

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for apologetics. If friends have genuine questions about the faith then of course we need to be willing to share our understanding. But I’ve found that in our spiritually curious culture, a better place to start is by creating informal, creative spaces for people to experience something of Jesus. Experiencing Jesus is, after all, the very essence of our faith, so what better place is there to start?!

What’s been your experience of sharing your faith?


Friday, 24 October 2014

Whose Table is it, Anyway? Reflections on a Conversation with Sara Miles

If haven’t already, check out our interview with Sara Miles.

Sara was a hardened, skeptical atheist. Then one day out of idle curiosity she wandered into a Church, had a bite of bread and a sip of wine and God came crashing into her life. Her response was to take the principles of communion and set up a food distribution centre around the altar of her Church for anyone and everyone to enjoy.

Christianity is blessed with so many profoundly rich and deep symbols. Communion, for example says so much about God’s grace. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, you are welcome to eat at God’s table. Sara’s Food Pantry beautifully realises this vision in a very real, everyday way.

The problem I have with communion, however, is not the ritual itself, but those who administer it.

Surely by only allowing a minister/priest to administer this sacrament we are restricting who can eat at God’s table? To me this feel more like the High Priestly role in the Tabernacle/Temple of the Old Testament than the early church gathered around the dining table in someone’s home. The good news is surely that there are no longer any barriers between humanity and God, so why has the Church rebuilt some of them?

Sara disagreed with me on this point, which is strange as one of my favourite quotes of hers is ‘The Church doesn’t own communion. It’s God’s meal.’ Yet she is part of a church that believes that their community can only receive communion if they come to their priest.

As a Methodist pioneer this is a live issue. In one breath the church is telling lay workers like me to plant church’s, but in the other breath they’re saying we can’t administer communion.

With 80% of Fresh Expressions of church being lay led, the Church is going to have to decide pretty soon whose meal they think communion is.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Back to our roots? Reflections on a conversation with Richard Rohr

When Nomad podcast started out we were definitely reacting against the institutional Church. We largely defined ourselves by what weren’t. That’s not a bad place to start, but it’s a really bad place to remain. As Richard Rohr said in our interview with him ‘You don’t go very deep or very far when you keep rejecting your past’, or as he later put it in even more emotive terms ‘You can’t keep hating your mother, you’ll never be a positive and mature person.’ True, literally and metaphorically.

There needs to come a time when rather than being defined by what you’re not, you become defined by what you are. My angst towards the institutional Church began to mellow when I began to form a Fresh Expression of church. As this new Christian community began to take shape I began to see the importance of staying rooted and drawing from my Church tradition (Up: towards God, Out: towards other, In: towards ourselves, and Down: towards the wider Church).

Being part of a wider community and tradition is vital when starting something new. It’s foolhardy to think that what we’re forming can’t benefit from what’s gone before, and doesn’t need the accountability of those who’ve been in the game considerably longer than we have.

Every teenager needs to move on from their grumpy, angsty rebellion, and learn to value their parents wisdom and experience as they head out into the world. And at 41 I’m just starting to realise the importance of this in my spiritual journey!