Being blessed through fear

Know what you fear by the choices you make.

We know from experience that fear drives our choices and behaviour. Phobias make this plain to see. A fear of spiders makes some people scream and run away. A fear of the dark causes us to choose to walk down well lit streets.

We all have other fears which influence behaviour in less obvious ways. If I fear a lack of control, I will try to control everything around me. If I fear failure, I will strive for success in my exams, sport, music, work. If I fear missing out, I will try to enjoy what everybody else is enjoying. If I fear sickness and death, I will do all I can to avoid it.

I have all these individual fears, and more. We all do. Individual fears can also become collective, national fears.  Fear of Covid has taken such a grip that it now influences nearly every choice and decision we make about leaving home, which kind of transport to take, how we shop and who we visit. There is also a deep fear of shame, of being that person who catches and spreads the disease. The fear that my choice might lead to the death of someone else.

This kind of collective fear has increased anxiety, loneliness and redundancy. These fears have led to curse not a blessing.

Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
    who walk in obedience to him. (Psalm 128:1)

The psalm claims that when the fear of the Lord influences our behaviour, then blessings follow. How is this so?

Learn the fear of the LORD by knowing Jesus.

There are different ways that knowing Jesus gives a right fear of the LORD.

First, it is right to fear the LORD because he is just and will punish evil on the last day. Those who fear him will shun evil.

Second, it is right to fear the LORD because he has satisfied justice at the cross for all who turn to him. Those who trust in him will never be put to shame.

Third, it is right to fear the LORD because fearing anything or anyone above Him, leads to bad choices and away from blessing. Those who fear him will walk in his ways.

There are several ways that knowing Jesus takes away our fears.

First, our natural fear of being out of control is overcome because Christ surrendered control at the cross and still secured the outcome he had planned beforehand. Those who fear him will trust that what looks like chaos will fulfill the plans of the LORD.

Second, our natural fear of failure is overcome because the cross looks like failure but Christ was successful in achieving salvation for many. Those who fear him will gladly pick up their crosses, bear their responsibilities, endure the pain, because, without adding to what Christ achieved, it is the way of salvation.

Third, our natural fear of missing out is overcome because although the cross looks like Jesus was missing out on life, as he died a young man, He secured an eternity of love, joy and praise. Those who fear him know that the transient and short lived life is nothing in comparison to eternal glory.

Forth, our natural fear of death is overcome because Christ defeated the grave for us. Those who fear him will be fearful of the process of death, just as Christ feared the agony of the cross, but they won’t fear death itself.

The way these fears of the LORD combine changes behaviour and brings blessing. There is the blessing of reduced anxiety, loneliness and redundancy. Those who fear the LORD can always be active in his kingdom through prayer, devotion, study and fellowship.

Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
    who walk in obedience to him. (Psalm 128:1)

Blessed are ALL. This is a collective blessing. As each person is blessed by knowing Jesus and walking in his ways, the blessing becomes shared and spreads.

We can’t make this happen on our own. We need the help of the LORD to grow in knowledge and fear and so, the psalm ends with a prayer of blessing.

May the Lord bless you from Zion;
    may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
    all the days of your life.
May you live to see your children’s children –
    peace be on Israel.

Posted in The Cross, The nature of grace, The nature of the giver | Leave a comment

Jehovah Tsidkenu – 20schemes music

There are not many men who die before their 30th birthday yet go on to influence people for generations.

Robert Murray M’Chenyne was born in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1813. Gifted by God as a man of words, his essays and memoirs are still in print today. This song, Jehovah Tsidkenu, has been set to a modern Scottish tune and has made a welcome return, thanks to 20schemes music.

This is M’Chenye’s testimony in seven moving verses. Three on his pre-conversion life, when he was unconcerned about Christ. One verse on his conversion to Christ and three on what Christ came to mean to him.

You can read about his life on the Desiring God website. He Died Early in the Smile of God.

His last verse was written after a number of his friends, many in Christian ministry, died in their twenties died during the 1832 Cholera epidemic.

M’Chenye survived only to succumb to tuberculosis two years after the hymn was written, aged 29.

I once was a stranger
to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger,
and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke
in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu
was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure,
to sooth or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure
and John’s simple page;
But e’en when they pictured
the blood sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu
seemed nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters
of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters
went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins
had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu—
’twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me,
by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me,
I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see—
Jehovah Tsidkenu
my Saviour must be.

My terrors all vanished
before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished,
with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain,
life giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu
is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu!
my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu!
I ne’er can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,
My cable, my anchor,
my breast-plate and shield!

Even treading the valley,
the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally
my faltering breath;
For while from life’s fever
my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu,
my death song shall be.

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It’s okay NOT to be okay. Rico Villaneuva.

It’s okay not to be okay

Rico Villaneuva

It’s Sunday morning. You have just experienced a horrific natural disaster, or the death of a loved one, institutionalised corruption or personal failure. The opening words of the church gathering are a liturgical “open our mouths and our lips shall proclaim your praise.” Or an informal reminder from the Psalms “Praise him with the tambourine and lyre.” The songs continue to focus on praise of God with joyful songs. The music jars against your feelings.

This book reminds us why church meetings can be extra difficult for people facing these kinds of difficulty.

It is also a roadmap through the Psalms offering ways to make church meetings real and accessible to everyone.

Rico Villaneuva has wonderfully opened a door on the Psalms of lament to give permission for us not to be okay.

Villaneuva combines a deep knowledge of the Psalms with pastoral insight and painful experience. The result is a series of reflections on a whole range of real life situations which break us and how God has given us Psalms to allow us to speak to him and each other from that brokenness.

This book is a big red warning triangle to pastors to guard us against a relentless optimism. We don’t need to seek a positive angle in every situation. There’s no need to always pray for blessing or to seek to praise God through gritted teeth.

The Psalms of lament give us the ability to pray in difficult situations through feelings of sadness, darkness, anger, failure, fear, tears and struggle. If you are in difficulty, then this book will guide you to a view of God and the means to speak with God in an honest, biblical and transformative way.

I particularly enjoyed Rico’s use of Tagalog (Philipino) words and phrases to add layers of meaning to biblical interpretation both in this book and also in the seminar he gave at the recent Virtual Keswick Convention.

I commend this book to anyone who is seeking the richness of biblical language to avoid a lopsided prayer life in a culture which tends toward an unrealistic positivity.

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The Good Immigrant and my love/hate relationship with it (Pt 2)

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla.

In part 1, I wrote about my empathy with The Good Immigrant. I get that is hard, being different, not being understood and assumed to be from afar.

Now my frustrations with what the authors have to say.

I need to adopt the ideas of host and guest cultures (Musa Okwonga uses the term “guest” to express a way he feels about living in the UK). The terms host and guest are inadequate for all sorts of reasons, but are useful.

The idea of guest/host is inadequate because, although people talk about their home country, no one owns the land. A nation is not a possession but the concept of nationhood creates host and guest identities.

My current home is in West Bromwich but, as lots of people, though not all nationalities do this, I talk about going “home” to Scotland to see my family. Am I a guest in West Bromwich or a host? I still feel like a guest after 11 years, but less than I did after 1 year.

Each year makes me feel more at home. Singing spirituals at gravesides, followed by Rice ‘n’ Peas, with mutton curry and fried chicken at the wake (salt fish is not my favourite), only scratches the surface. When you love the grieving family because you’ve shared 11 years together, layers of living together and understanding unfold.

Or the times we stand in the street at the beginning of a wedding party, excitement and joy rising with heart pumping dhol rhyths, we dip a toe in the culture. When you laugh with the married couple, share their struggles and joys, week after week, through the seasons of life, those shared highs and lows create intimacy and friendship which endures.

Guest/host is also inadequate because hosts normally choose to invite a guest into their home. But the local settled British host communities in to which guest communities continue to arrive don’t have an invitational voice. Governments negotiate trade and migration deals and the UN defines asylum and how host nations are to treat seekers.

Host communities are, however, expected to be able to accommodate guests without ever being asked. People are expected to move over, make space, be polite yet without any lessons on how to be hospitable across language and culture barriers. Where is the guide to manners and etiquette for visitors, staring with shoes off at the door?

Guests are also expected to behave themselves without knowing the host language or rules, like how to queue properly. Where is the published copy of “Queuing, a guide for beginners.”?

Next, the guest/host dynamic becomes complex after the first generation of guest. At what point does a guest become host? Are the authors of “The Good Immigrant” guests or hosts?

There is a struggle within each essay (most beautifully expressed by Vinay Patel) about not belonging in either the culture of their parents nor the dominant host culture. How can you be a host if you are not sure about still being a guest? How many new guest cultures need to move in before the first guests feel like hosts? At what point does a sense of ownership of the house take place? These are tough, personal questions which guests and hosts need to be aware of.

It is also very clear that some communities are better hosts than others.

West Bromwich is one of several Black Country towns. This relatively small area is a patchwork quilt of hospitable and resistant local communities. Different parts of this patch, linked by an industrial past, where 19th century migration from agricultural areas formed common bonds through toil, have different reputations among guest communities. There are some homogeneous communities and some multi-ethnic areas within West Bromwich itself, which is a universally deprived town. The patchwork is not related to wealth, but is attitudinal.

Like all host/guest relationships, there are also some communities which are better guests than others.

Homogeneous communities in the UK are not all old English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. Ghettoisation is real. Once a guest community establishes enough local food and clothes shops, travel agents, barber shops, places of worship, local FM radio and imported TV, it is possible to live almost exclusively within the ghetto, speaking only the language of the guest culture. This does not enrich the land, but creates an exclusivity, which can’t be blamed solely on the host.

The experiences of the various guest cultures represented in the book are different but the same.

The host culture doesn’t know or understand the guest cultures, especially as there are now so many to learn about. The pace of migration since the 90s as been both enriching and confusing for hosts.

There are socially awkward hosts, resistant hosts, hospitable hosts, good guests and bad guests. It’s a glorious and sometimes undignified mess.

Some hosts and guests are negligent.

Some hosts and guests are ignorant, in either or both the uneducated sense or by being plain rude.

Other hosts and guests are deliberately cruel, taunting, murderous even.

I can understand the struggle of second and third generation “guests” who experience a different relationship with the host culture than the first generation but this does not excuse venting frustration at the hosts.

The first generation need to remember that their children had no choice. In a sense, kids are forced to grow up between two homes. My own children know this feeling of never really fitting in. Is their home in Scotland, London, SE Asia or West Bromwich? They know that they are ethically mixed, Scot and English. My daughter has the race of her parents on her birth certificate. I had to argue for Scot and English, rather than Caucasian, with the south Indian registrar. She only understood my point when I asked how she would feel being called south Asian along with Pakistani and Bengali people.

After several years here, after London and Wolverhampton, my kids spoke about coming to West Bromwich being like moving country.

My major frustration is with The Good Immigrant is the lack of empathy shown by most of the authors toward hosts (Salena Godden’s essay is an exceptional piece, packed with empathy, realism and longing). The essays are mostly packed with bags of empathy for guests.

Most people in the UK only know the culture they grew up in. Two weeks in Spain or Greece with thousands of other British people does not develop an understanding of other cultures.

Good guests don’t criticise their hosts or call them names. They eat together. Wash up together. Talk. Laugh. Argue. Work things out. Bust up. Make up. Love each other.

Living together is difficult. Empathy for hosts should be a large part of the mix of emotions.

The bruising experience of sharing the same living space we all all “home” means we need to drop our guards, be willing to admit failure, move toward one another, be allowed to make cultural faux pas, including unintentional racial slurs, forgive and love across boundaries, get to know each other as neighbours, share our lives and stories.

Writing a book, blog or newspaper article about our experience doesn’t create that sort of community. It might just erect more boundaries than it knocks down. By writing about frustrations as guests, the authors risk creating more division and suspicion, or at least some extra awkwardness. We need to get on and live together in the same space.

I’ve been a guest in SE-Asia. I choose to live to there. I always felt like an outsider despite choosing NOT to isolate in expat Western cliques. My wife and I joined a local church in each country we lived in. We where in an ethnic minority of just the two of us.

There, we loved and were loved by groups of people who were great hosts. It wasn’t always easy. We were sometimes clumsy guests, who broke the best family crockery and forgot to wash up after dinner. We caused cultural clashes when we introduced some of our cultural practices, especially Scottish dancing. We were forgiven because we shared a rich biblical language, love and understanding of God. We saw the world and each other, from different cultural angles, through the same lens of faith. Each human being made by the same creator God, in the image, and so value and dignity, of God. Each one inherently self-centred, culturally conditioned and flawed. But loved, redeemed and united by the death and resurrection of Christ for us.

We’re now trying to break down barriers here in West Bromwich in the ways set out by God, in Christ, who, by his love in us, breaks down all kinds of walls of hostility. It’s not easy to love across boundaries, but I can see no other way this is working, anywhere in the world.

The Good Immigrant raises many issues of race, points out current and historic problems, but offers no realistic solution. Some of the essays create division, sometimes othering the hosts.

Our little church gathering last Sunday, with restrictions under lock down, involved a section of our church family. Even there, we gathered as old West Bromwich families, with Punjabi, Jamaican, Iranian, Irish, Scottish and English migrants to West Bromwich. As we met, we mixed, loved and worked together. Before the days that meeting in places of worship was banned because of Covid19, we would eat together, clear up and relax, sing, play games, with food lovingly prepared from all our home kitchens. This is still only scratching the surface but it sets us up for years of shared experiences.

This is heterogeneous church. I’ve written lots about the heterogeneous church community on this blog. Do click the tag below for a link to other pieces.

The local church should be a home for all the members of the local space we call home.

Who are the guests and the hosts? When Jesus (Yeshua, Yesu, Isa) stepped onto the scene, he shifted the host/guest dynamic.

Jesus owns the house. He designed and built it. He is the perfect host. We are all his imperfect guests. We all have treated him with contempt in different ways.

And yet, he invites us all to come to him as our host, to learn to live in his house, to seek his forgiveness when we break his rules and so to join together with him in the mess, knowing one day his true guests will be perfect and his home will be at peace.

Posted in Heterogenous Church, Holy Trinity | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Good Immigrant and my love/hate relationship with it. (Pt 1)

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla.

I loved this book and hated it, in about equal measure.

The various authors deal quite beautifully, sometimes wittily, with deeply painful experiences of immigrant life in Britain without, in most part, expressing any bitterness.

Boundaries appear to be broken between members of minority communities by the act of sharing stories of growing up as outsiders in a majority culture, when folk in that culture largely don’t get you or don’t want to get you.

The book creates understanding between communities because readers are left knowing “isn’t just me and people of my culture” who are feeling left out or hurt. The stories also partly educate the majority culture, for anyone who wants to learn by listening.

The reader is left hoping that cringe-worthy attempts to “welcome” or “accommodate” folk who grew up in the UK vanish. You can only feel slight pity for the white yoga lady who clasps prayerful hands together as she greets a complete, British born, stranger with an inappropriate “namaste”, or the white cafe owner who serves “pants chicken”. Who wants to avoid being like them?

The authors pick away at the stitches of racial (media) stereotypes. Individuality shines through, albeit in a liberal chattering class kind of way.

Erudite complaints are mixed with honesty and self-deprecating humour. This affords the authors deeply critical comment which doesn’t really offend but expects some nodding engagement, acceptance or coffee shop debate. The content and perspective of the essays are a sign, to me, of some serious cultural integration with dominant British media culture.

The stories in “The Good Immigrant” stir both empathy and frustration.

First, empathy.

I am a 6’6″ red haired Scotsman who has lived in two SE-Asian countries and now live in multi-ethnic West Bromwich.

My Anglicised Scottish accent and family culture still doesn’t fit in England, twenty six years after migrating.

The day I wrote this review I bumped into a fellow Church of England vicar on a campsite. I said to one of our campsite neighbours “what did you do to deserve having two clergy next door on holiday?” The vicar said “Are you Church of Scotland?” “No, I’m an Anglican.” I replied. “Are you a Scottish Episcopalian?”. “No, I am a Church of England vicar, like you”. “Sorry” he said “Your accent made me think you are from Scotland.” “I am AND I live in West Bromwich’.

Last week, up the market, an Asian market trader and I were chatting away about his business. We spoke bout helping the homeless, he said “You’re from somewhere far away, right?” I replied “No, I am a local. I live just up the high street”. “But you’re not from here. You’re from way up north, right? Your accent is not local like mine!”

True, but I am I not from West Bromwich?

Today, another Asian passer-by, who stopped to talk about my dog, said “You’re not local, are you?” “No I said, but you are.” “Yes, I grew up in Birmingham.” He replied.

West Bromwich is gloriously multi-ethinic. Yet I exist in an ethnic minority of only two Scots, as far as I know. The other Scot is second generation. So, no one gets my heritage.

Many folk will share fond stories of going to Edinburgh or the Isle of Skye on holiday, being stunned by the beauty of the mountains and surprised, contra stereotypes, by the hospitality and generosity of their hosts. The passer-by today had lived in Paisley, and enjoyed it.

But going on holiday doesn’t make anyone an expert on the history, narrative and culture which shapes the people in a nation. Being Scottish, like any other nationality, is caught not taught.

Like some of the contributors to “A Good Immigrant”, I was bullied for being different. Only 2-6% of northern Europeans are red heads. Add to that, I was skinny, gangly, tall, malco-ordinated, clumbsy. John Gordon Sinclair, Gregory’s Girl, was me, except I was ginger.

I was bullied at school, had footballs kicked in my face, was treated unkindly for being ginger and for blushing furiously.

I can’t imagine the added layers of trauma which stem from being different in a culture which your parents chose to live in but is not their own.

My parents lived in Scotland because their parents and their parents parents, as far back as we can know, lived there (although my maternal grandparents migrated to England for work and retired to Scotland). I get being singled out and abused for hair and skin colour, for being different.

It is really hard being different in a world where there are cruel or insecure people who get a rise by picking on people who don’t quite fit. I also know the experience of keeping quiet in front of my patents because of shame after being bullied.

I chose, as an adult, to migrate. First to England then overseas and back again.

Being 6’6″ I get really sick of the question “how tall are you?” or “what’s the weather like up there?”

I remember, with an alloy of sadness and amusement, the various times that complete strangers in the countries I lived in overseas remarked in public on my skin colour, hair colour and height. “Orang Putih/Mat Salleh tinggi, lah” Gyo lo/Ang mo… Gorah…

I am secure in my identity as an adult, but being red head carries childhood insecurity and memories with it.

It’s clear that people like to code and sort each other. To place origins and distinguish on appearance and accent. That, it seems, is just the way we humans operate. How we handle difference, it seems, is the key.

It’s tough being different, when growing up or living in a country where you look different.

I’ve been coded/sorted and bullied for being different. I empathise. So I love the book for the wit and pain.

The next post will reflect why I hate the book.

Hate is too strong, but love and frustrate don’t grab anyone’s attention. I am frustrated by “The Good Immigrant”.

Posted in Heterogenous Church, Holy Trinity | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Dealing with disagreement, finding purpose in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

You might want to disagree with me, you might be right, but it seems Paul’s letter to the Philippians deals throughout with the difficult reality of disagreement between gospel partners.   I believe the pastoral purpose is found in its closing chapter.  Paul’s aim is to bring peace between Euodia and Syntyche following their disagreement.  His pastoral approach is to change the heart and focus on gospel priorities.  The more I have read the letter, the more I have come to appreciate Paul’s purpose is to get our hearts right when disagreement arises and to keep gospel partners working together.  I wonder if he learned these lessons after his bust up with Barnabas.

I now read the letter with this question in mind:  How does what Paul is saying here change my heart when I find myself in disagreement with a gospel partner?

Paul names two women in the church who have had a bust up, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2).  Paul’s purpose in writing is to bring peace between those who have disagreed.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:9)

My heart, when I disagree with another Christian, can be filled with self pity, fear, discouragement, a sense of injustice, anger, sadness about the situation, legalism, negative thoughts about the other person and a tendency to dig up the past. I can forget gospel priorities and make these issue about my being heard, understood and treated fairly. Paul addresses all of these heart issues in his letter.

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Learning to protect against abuse

One of my favourite songs of all time is 10,000 Maniacs’ “What’s the matter here?”

The song tells the story of a woman who witnesses the domestic abuse of a child who lives on her street and the woman cries “What’s the matter here?”

It is a deeply painful song.

Seen him run outside looking for a place to hide from his father,
the kid half naked and said to myself “O, what’s the matter here?”

As the story weaves along, day after day, there are screams, cussing and threats, including a leather belt, the woman muses “What’s the matter here?”

The song ends with these sobering words:

And I want to say “What’s the Matter here?”
But I don’t dare say.

I DON’T DARE SAY!

I don’t dare say that a vulnerable child is being threatened, beaten and screamed at, running naked from his home….and I DON’T DARE SAY!

Why not?  Why not say something? Anything? Why not speak out, get help, give the child a voice?

In the song, the reason the neighbours give is simple. He’s not your kid. He does not belong to you.  He’s not your responsibility.

There are, of course, all sorts of other reasons we don’t dare say:

“Don’t dare say, you’ll just get hurt yourself” (self protection).

“Don’t dare say because anyone with the authority to change things (police, social workers, judges, probation officers) won’t believe you, the parents will put on an act, the system will fail.  It’s pointless getting involved.” (defeatism and powerlessness).

“Don’t dare say, the kid will survive. It’s pretty bad but not that bad.” (minimising the horror of abuse and it’s long term effects).

“Don’t dare say, it’s better the family stays together (relativising).

None of these is good reasons to dare say nothing.  Abuse is wrong.  It needs to be stopped.  Better the dad suffers for the wrong being done, day after day, than the vulnerable child suffers.  Justice and  peace come first.

Rachael Denhollander uses a quote in her book about the abuse she suffered, the years of pain, the struggle for justice and her determination TO DARE SAY “What is a girl worth?”

She writes:

It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a village to enable an abuser.

The tension in “What’s the matter here?” is exactly that dreadful dynamic.  The neighbours, the village, witness the abuse but do not own the problem and the kid is abandoned to pain.

I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses, he’s their kid I stay out of it… he’s your kid do as you see fit…Oh these cold and lowly things that you do I suppose you do because he belongs to you…

This idea, that someone is the possession of another, or under the authority of someone else, excuses us, in our own minds, that it’s not our place to get involved.

But the truth is, that child is an image bearer of the living God.  The child belongs to God before he belongs to his dad.  God hates the abuse of his precious, dearly loved, image bearers.  God is justly indignant with abusers and will, on the last day, exercise perfect justice.  As image bearers of God ourselves, abuse should horrify us and move us to seek justice for the child.

It is not only kids who need justice. Replace the father’s kids with anyone under another’s authority or possession; the doctor’s patient, the coach’s athlete, the trainer’s gymnast, the boss’s secretary, the teacher’s pupil, the policeman’s charge, the pastor’s church member, the pimp’s prostitute.  The list goes on. And abuse can work in the opposite direction. The teenager to the parent is classic, but other relationships can reverse the power dynamic.

When power is being exerted to extort, wound, hurt, control, manipulate or damage and we find ourselves asking “What’s the matter here? But another voice in our head says “I DON’T DARE SAY.” It is then that we know it is time to ask questions, together, as a village.

It takes a village to enable an abuser.

It takes a village to protect the vulnerable against abuse.

What lessons need to be learned together when we ask “What’s the matter here?”

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Learning what it is like to live without control

One of my favourite songs of all time is Pulp’s Common People.

In the song, if you don’t know it, singer, Jarvis Cocker’s character is frustrated and angry with his new, wealthy Greek girlfriend. She wants to experience life with common people, but doesn’t get it.  When she finds the life of the poor funny, his anger becomes focused on her ability to escape poverty at any time.

If you called your dad, he could stop it all.

He becomes exasperated with his girlfriend’s attitude toward the poor. She’s like a tourist on safari.

So he brandishes a verbal dagger toward his wealthy, educated, middle class girlfriend…

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.

I am middle class, from a mixed class background. Brought up in an idyllic rural Scottish village. I purchased shares when I was sixteen, Thatcher’s dream boy.  In my twenties, I stopped buying alcohol from the offie on the same day I was going to drink it.  I have two university degrees and chose to work overseas for six years. I reckon that makes me middle class. But more than that, I learned the attitude of self sufficiency and self dependency from a very young age.

When you have resources, it means that in every difficult situation in life, you believe you have been given the mentality, training and skill to analyse a problem, read about it, solve it, fix it.

I was trained to believe I could get myself out of any jam. And I did believe it.  I didn’t need God when he’d already given me skills and resources I needed to sort anything.

That was until 15 months ago.

A series of events beyond my control have beaten me. I can’t fix them this time. God has given me a taste what is like to live your life without control.

And so, I am only just beginning to get a personal sense of the real life issues behind poverty.

If you are in poverty, you can’t get out, without some help. When the justice system and economic policy favours those with resources, then there’s no control, no escape, just a miserable, fearful existence.

My experience has been unbelievably painful but very fruitful.

I live amongst loads of people I love, in one of Britain’s poorest communities.  I am not here on safari.  I have had that middle class mentality battered out of me. Now I am more like some of my beloved neighbours. Busted, beaten and without control.

Now I have had a taste of what it’s like a when your broken private-rented home is not fixed by a greedy landlord, who had just increased the rent to cover his loss on mortgage interest tax relief and the housing team at the council are too stretched and powerless to make the landlord fix your home.

When middle-class folk have problem with their home, they just call a joiner to come and fix it.

The list of powerless domestic situations include violence, universal credit rules, addiction and tit-for-tat reports to the police.

When people with resources don’t help, and you have none of your own, you are powerless.

The situations I have faced have been tough enough to make me think I have two ways out.

The first is death, but not suicide. I have had a strong but unhealthy desire to be with Christ.

The second, less morbid, is to leave this place. Start afresh. Live someone rural.  Bail out.  Move somewhere easier. Take control back.  Flee.  I have the resources to it, to leave, so why stay?

Why? Why stay?

This is all I have just now; I follow the king of the universe, who left the comfort and riches of glory to live with us.  To die in pain for the sins of his people and rise triumphant in eternal love.

He surrendered control, but never lost it.

I can’t control storms, disease, economies or unjust rule.  He can.

And I can stay here, as long as he is in the boat with me, healing diseases and ruling in my heart.

One day, he’ll judge us all with complete fairness.  He’ll take many humbled, trusting brothers and sisters to be with him in glory.  The wicked, unrepentant, godless and unbelieving will spend eternity without him.

He has promised that the lack of justice, legal and social, won’t last long.

See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Isaiah 32:1‭-‬2

He is the shelter from the storm and the stream of water in a dry land. He will do it. He is faithful. I can stay with him as my king. I can live with him and face my all my powerful enemies and help my powerless friends to trust and follow him.

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Broken (an advent lament) updated

Our A&E groans like a gangrenous laugh,
satisfaction now far from both patients and staff.

An NHS ward makes up the next bed,
as suffering souls become targets instead.

Consultants are drawn by satisfaction and pay, 
and the mind stretching challenge of curing Miss Hay.

Our nurses demob and chase agency stash,
a fraction of trouble for double the cash.

The budget expands with nowhere to turn,
As government cuts continue to burn.

The system is broken, the money is tight,
people are stressed, just turn off the light.



Our schools are no better, it has to be said,
results are what count if you want to stay Head.

The government calls for results to improve,
our children need grades if the country’s to move.

So Ofsted investigates every small crack,
and anyone lagging will soon face the sack.

The teachers are stressed and seek to implore,
our children to progress, just a few stages more.

Our children are pawns in political chess,
their results are required to keep voters impressed.

But the voters have children who need to see CAMHS,
They are under the pressure of endless exams.

So which will break first? The schools or the kids?
Something must change as our lives hit the skids.



Our debt grows each day by millions of pounds,
It’s 1.8 trillion and we’re still losing ground.

Our economy falters and refuses to grow,
we’re told to work harder with nothing to show.

The deficit shrinks, but not by enough,
and one more recession will finish it off.

The state will default or something much worse,
the banks will foreclose on our poor public purse.

Then what shall we do, with no money to pay,
for our schools and our hospitals on that very dark day?



Our lawmakers tinker with national policy,
unfettered by norms not matching their honesty.

The economy’s god, and has to be served,
adopt monetary law or face hardship deserved.

Competition is fierce and all must comply,
from banker to bin man to sly private eye.

And cameras stare into all open space,
There’s nowhere to hide from their all seeing gaze.

The state becomes nanny, policeman and judge,
with laws to control all those who won’t budge.

Dare anyone protest about all of this pain?
Any who differ face Twitter campaigns.

It’s an animal farm behind this ol’ barn door,
how did we all drift to Orwellian ‘4?



Our housing costs spiral up out of control,
As landlords benefit from those on the dole.

The rich quickly swoon at the value of property,
as the gap in our wealth lands millions in poverty.

It’s location, location, location, they say,
undesirable places soon urban decay.

The rich separate and the poor must then cluster,
As the sad urban landscape loses its lustre.

The people who gather in middle class cliques,
have no real idea about life on our streets.

Grandparents swim in the wealth they have gained,
Whilst grandchildren muse about their future sustained.



The cool Western nations suppose order’s a given,
human nature, they say, is the root of true livin’.

We pity poor countries where corruption is rife,
we can’t fathom out their bent way of life.

“British values” are best and they need to be taught,
or the nations which move here will bring us to naught.

Society believes that we Brits know what’s best,
Rule of law and good justice will make you all blessed.

But to live by which laws? And who did create,
the sad way of life which now we all hate?

These laws did not grow, as if from the soil,
But we must live in Great Britain, in a way not to spoil.



The threat from abroad is now threat from within,
an evil idea gains a following thin.

But then in our streets, and across many lands,
this trickle of followers slowly expands.

Their message is clear, their methods intense,
submit to our way or lose your defence.

We rely on our spies and then on the Met,
as GCHQ trawls the vast internet.

But these systems are creaking, there’s barely a plan,
our intelligence systems are dependent on man.

Our confidence wanes as we wake from the dream,
this world is in melt down, or so it would seem.

 

The United Kingdom has been rent asunder
By a Brexit debate which continues to thunder

In corridors powerful still held in check
By democratically fierce public debate

Our proud sovereign nation gave up the goose
As EU structures tightened the noose

The historical voice of the once great Great Britain
Now left like a sad and whimpering kitten

We beg and we plead as deal breakers rise
And the threat of collapse reaches the skies

So what will result from the daft referendum
A poor vassal state or complete isolation?

We just need to wait as the future unravels
And poor UK folk find new directions of travel

 


And where is the church in all of this mess,
The body of Christ, who came down to bless.

Her life is now hidden, tucked safely away,
by media moguls on vast corporate pay.

But the church has gone quiet, embarrassed to speak
the words of our Saviour, who honours the meek.

The voice of the prophets becomes a mere mumble,
as the servants of Christ continue to stumble.

Through internal wars, designed to divide,
the house of Jehovah, the Lord’s precious bride.

And so as predicted, the branch of Christ withers
The faithless are blown like snow in a blizzard.

The church has lost heart and sight of her Lord,
Congregations now age whilst the young are dead bored.

There needs to be change, a new way and direction,
The work of the Spirit, complete reformation.



The system is broken, and so then are we,
we collectively groan whilst longing to flee.

But to what shall we run and to where shall we go?
We can’t close Great Britain and move the whole show.

There’s one thing to alter, our god we must change.
Out with the targets and cold stock exchange.

We must usher in God, three persons in one,
Eternally loving, the bright morning Sun.

Creation gives value and true dignity,
To each human being, made by bless’d Trinity.

Our fall is complete, as we each went astray,
vast temples of Mammon trade on our Lord’s day.

What we desp’ratly need is a dose of real grace,
our sins washed away as to God we must face.

His laws they do bless and by wisdom he guides,
our burdens he carries, he heals our divides.



God refused to stay distant but came down instead,
to be born with his creatures in a poor cattle shed.

His words bring us life and his light he does shine,
in pits of our darkness, he says “you are mine.”

From the pain of the cross he calls “it is done!”
As God our great Father gave us his Son.

Christ’s life and his death were true sacrifice,
and he turns on it’s head, our fools’ paradise.

As our life finds meaning in the love of the Lord,
our reason for living now strikes a new chord.

God’s kingdom of love is a kingdom of peace,
our rest is then found and our battles will cease.



And so goals need to change from the bank to the Lord,
our desire is to please him, no longer to hoard.

The Lord is not stupid, he’s no crazy fool,
he let’s us chase others, till we go through his school.

His lessons are hard, his love can be tough,
we go our own way till we cry “that’s enough!”

“Have mercy on us, please turn the way back,
we were fools to chase targets, as one thing we lack.”

“We lack a real sense of what life is for,
the stress and the chaos shout, there has to be more!”

So when we will turn from the cruel god “economy”,
who drives us like slaves through lies of autonomy?

Let’s abandon this god, and his ways which bring strife,
and collectively turn to the God who brings life.

To lose our life now, in the King’s saving grace,
is to find our real self in the Lord’s resting place.



by Neil Robbie

(First published December 2015. Updated to include comment on Brexit and the state of the Western church)

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The Secular Lord’s Prayer

The Secular Lord’s Prayer

There’s no Father in heaven
No heavenly place
No king to respect
Just the vast human race.
What I own I deserve
I’ve no need for redress
But blame other people
When they make a mess.
I yield to temptation
I’m uncertain of evil
For mine is the kingdom
The power and the glory
Until I die.
Amen

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