Beware of manipulative sloganeering when using “Living in Love and Faith”

After attending the LLF training day last week, I’ve been left deeply troubled by what I believe is sloganeering.  Members of the Church of England have shown a remarkable adeptnessover the years for latching onto slogans, misusing them and exercising the power of slogans to elicit a response.

What are slogans and how to they work?

In 2020, two slogans changed the way British society both thought about itself and behaved.

Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

Black Lives Matter.

People stayed at home and society talked more openly about the way white people treat black people.

There are different kinds of slogans which have different kinds of power

Not all slogans elicit the same response, just think of these

  • The Best a Man Can Get
  • Just do it
  • I’m Lovin’ It
  • Never knowingly undersold

These slogans are designed to make connections in our minds with certain products or retailers

But these are not the same kind of slogan as

  • The axis of evil
  • Abortion on demand
  • A transwoman is a woman

Some slogans moralise and have the power to change moral attitudes

Why am I concerned about slogans?

At our diocesan Living in Love and Faith training day, I was very uncomfortable with the way that “Living in Love and Faith” was being used in different ways at different times. I believe it is important for us to be aware and think it through.

I would like us to ask two questions.

First, has “Living in Love and Faith” been sloganised 

And, second , if so, what kind of slogan is it and so what responses are elicited by its use?  

Has “living in Love and Faith” been sloganised?  

In one way, it is simply the title of a book and the name of a course.  

Living in Love and Faith is a label.  It doesn’t say everything.  I can’t say everything about the content of the book or course.  Living in Love and Faith is being used in this way as an advertising slogan. It engages the hearer to read the book, do the course, and investigate the material behind the title.

It is also being used in a very different way at the end of the highly emotive video testimonies.

Each one of the LLF testimony videos ends with the line 

“I am Joe Bloggs and I am living in love and faith.”  

Or 

“We are Joe and Jim Bloggs and we are Living in Love and Faith.”

I believe that in this way “living in love and faith” is a moral slogan.

As a slogan, what response does it elicit?

I believe that the slogan has the effect of normalising the diversity of the relationships in the videos.  It claims that each kind of relationship, whether celibate, opposite sex marrried, same sex marrried or same sex but transgendered is a way of “Living in Love and Faith.”

If “Living and Love and Faith” is allowed to become a moral slogan in this way, then no matter how much thinking deeply, reflecting biblically or teaching from scripture is done, it won’t be heard.

I reflected on the LLF training day and was left with three insights:

1.  The slogan at the end of the emotive videos does what a slogan is designed to do.  It has a powerful effect on memory and thinking, it normalises all sexual identities, like all slogans, repeated enough times, it becomes a form of brainwashing.

2.  I can’t remember any of the theological points made in the other videos.  That might just be me, but in the volume of information, the detail got lost.

3.  Slogans trump deep theological insight in group think.

How should we respond to this?

What follows is just the start of my thinking and it goes no deeper than the bible reading I was doing with someone last Thursday, just after the LLF training session.  

There is a strong contrast between the way “Living in love and faith” has been sloganised and what Jesus said as recorded in John 14:15-24.

Jesus uses a phrase which could be described as a slogan. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.

Yet, the slogan alone is not enough. Jesus then unpacks and expands what love and obedience are and from where they flow.

In this passage, Jesus repeatedly links the love of the Father and the love of the Son to the obedience of people to the commands of Christ.

The context is the announcement that Jesus will go to a place where his disciples can’t come yet.  They will love him and obey him and Jesus will ask His Father to send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to counsel the disciples.

Three marvelous truths

  • Adoption as children, v18, or as Mark Stibbe put it, from orphans to heirs
  • Sight of the invisible Christ, v19, sight is a major theme of John’s gospel, as we see the light of Christ in the spiritual darkness
  • Knowledge of the indwelling reality of God the Father and the Son by the Spirit, who make their home in the disciples.

Adoption, sight of Christ and the presence of God are the only source and foundation of love and obedience.  Without them, no one can love God or obey Him.

Then three times in these 11 verses Jesus links love for him and obedience to him.

The first, the slogan, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (v15)

The next two unpack and expand on the slogan

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (v21)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (v23-24)

Three things of relevance to LLF

1.  Slogans on their own are not enough.  Jesus gives the slogan “If you love me, keep my commandments.”   ‘Living in love and faith’ is a slogan which reflects something of the reality of love for God and faith in God, but not all of it.  As a slogan it is open to interpretation and therefore to misuse.  ‘Living in Love and Faith’ needs to be expanded on with background teaching.

2. Jesus makes it clear to us that there is a radical change when the Father and the Son come to anyone. The experience of love can only result in obedience to Jesus. Living and Love and Faith does not establish this link.To reflect what Jesus said, the slogan needs to be something like 

“Living in Love and the Obedience of Faith.” 

or 

“Living in loving obedience by faith” 

Or even 

“living in love and the willingness to obey by faith.”

3. Jesus uses both the positive and negative, the affirming and disqualifying, the exhortation and admonition in his slogans and further teaching.  

‘Living in love and faith’ is only positive, affirming and an exhortation to love and faith.

The words of Jesus in John 14, “if you love me, keep my commandments” elicit a very different response in us when compared to “living in love and faith”

There’s another conversation to be had about the slogan “radical inclusion” which is also open to interpretation and misuse. I am aware that there are people here who are engaging with the sloganeering in different ways.  So, over to you.  I have two questions which I don’t know the answers to:

As we prepare to engage in LLF, how should we respond personally to the sloganising of half truths?  

How can we best help others when the slogans elicit all kinds of wrong responses?

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Living in Love and the Obedience of Faith

Living in Love and the Obedience of Faith

‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) is the title of a book and course produced by the Church of England covering matters of human identity, sexuality and marriage.

Book titles are notoriously difficult to get right. Titles should set out the theme but can’t say everything about a book. ‘Living in Love and Faith’ does not say everything about the book and this should be obvious.

I attended an LLF training day in the Diocese of Lichfield on the same day I read John 14:15-25 with someone and the experience left me questioning the sufficiency of the title of the book.

Jesus repeatedly links the love the Father and the Son have for people with a personal and corporate love which produces obedience to the commands of Christ.

Jesus said “If you love me, keep my commands.” (v15)

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (v21)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (v23-24)

I have three questions as we participate in LLF.

  1. What does it mean for God the Father and the Son to love people?
  2. In what ways can people live together in this love?
  3. What are the commands of Jesus his people are to obey?

One suggestion. The Book could be called “Living in Love and the Obedience of Faith.”

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Working out your salvation with fear and trembling is not a private matter.

In Philippians 2:12 Paul writes, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

As we read the English translation, which confuses “you” singular and “you” plural, in our individualistic culture, we can turn this instruction into a private and personal development goal. “I need to do better. I should be a better Christian. I must try harder.” But this way of thinking always induces either pride or guilt and this cannot be Paul’s intention.

The instruction is not addressed to “you” singular, but to all the church members in Philippi. It is not a private and personal matter but a plural and corporate one.

Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church, had fallen out. Paul was directing them, and the whole church, to reconcile and get on with gospel ministry together. In their relationships or attitude towards others, they were to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5) and then work out their salvation, together.

“μετὰ (with) φόβου (fear) καὶ (and) τρόμου (trembling) τὴν (-) ἑαυτῶν (your own)

σωτηρίαν (salvation) κατεργάζεσθε (work out).”

Paul addresses this instruction to each of you plural (ἑαυτῶν), the ἀγαπητοί (beloved (plural) It is a collective instruction, addressed to individuals who are in relationship with one another.

“Fear and trembling” is an attitude between people in relationship. Paul uses the same phrase in 2 Corinthians 7 to describe the manner in which the Corinthians welcomed Titus:

ὡς (how) μετὰ (with) φόβου (fear) καὶ (and) τρόμου (trembling) 

ἐδέξασθε (you received) αὐτόν (him – that is, Titus). (2 Cor 2:15).

In light of conflict and disagreement in church, to work out your salvation with fear and trembling is to be committed to relating to one another within the church family with the same attitude as Christ; with reverence or respect, humility, compassion and tenderness as you work toward being of one mind (Phil 2:2). The opposite of fear and trembling would be to destain, ignore or take for granted the other person.

The verb κατεργάζεσθε (work out) literally means “to work down to” or “to work to the bottom” which could be translated “to work it through”. It has the sense of “work out what needs to be done to bring to effect your salvation and do it.” Sort out your disagreement with the attitude of Christ.

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Does God expect a victim of abuse to forgive their abuser?

I’ve just watched Mez McConnell talk with Andy Constable, Graham Thompson, and Ian Williamson about the difficult topic of abuse and forgiveness. I want to share it on my blog for some important reasons. If you have suffered abuse of any kind, or are/have been abusive, or if you have had a bust up, and are struggling to know what God expects you to do, this conversation will help you understand the difficulty of that walk.

It’s worth listening to four men who love Jesus and love each other speak about God and a something which has a huge personal impact on at least one of them. The conversation is not detached from the reality of the lives of these men. It is about God and about them. Does God expect ME to forgive MY abuser?

This conversation is realistic about the difficulty of forgiveness. These men have spent years studying the bible, thinking, applying the word of the life to their own lives whilst pastoring others. At least one is an abuse survivor and one was an angry man. They continue to wrestle with what it means to forgive and say some really helpful stuff here. This is one of the deepest and most difficult issues of the human heart.

This conversation is realistic about the long path to forgiveness. The memories, thoughts and feelings are deep and complex. The conversation makes that clear but it also gives some signposts and wise advice for us to head in the right direction.

Forgiveness is something I have been wrestling with personally and with people close to me. It is a great help to listen to others who are on that path, to learn from and to weep with the abused. You might not want to watch this video if you are experiencing the trauma of abuse. If that’s you, and you are local, come and speak with me.

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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”.

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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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