Celtic Christianity

For me, the draw of our Celtic forefathers is that they seem to understand that becoming a Christian is a journey and that it needed to be a journey people would be willing to take. To make it accessible to Pagan religions they adopted and adapted imagery that would be familiar. They made them part of the iconography of the church. By doing so they made the church welcoming to all. If you followed a nature deity or a sky deity or a sea deity, there was something about Christianity you could relate to. There was a gateway you could enter by. Your gateway may be closer to Danu, the Celtic river goddess, or it might be closer to Jesus calming the storm. Either way you could be part of the church on a journey to knowing Jesus. The early church did not set unreachable bars that people had to reach before they could be of it.
If there is one thing to take from the early Celtic Church it is that desire to offer a way in to everyone and sadly that seems to be something that many iterations of the modern church have lost. Looking at the arguments going on as the church seeks to decide how it will respond to western culture it is clear something has changed since the time of the early church. When I became a Christian the input I received from others in the church was minimal. My core understanding was that God would take me as I was and refine me into what He knew I could be. The primary call was to listen to God. As I have got to know more people within the wider church I am constantly astonished at the sureness many had at what God wanted. I always felt that the sheer enormity of being God put him beyond my understanding.
On-line people espouse extreme views of God’s nature as if they are God’s personal spokesman. Both sides in each argument are more than happy to quote scripture after scripture and denigrate the opposition’s opinions and use of scripture. “Only I know what God means” is the mantra for both sides. And both sides have a disrespectful view of the others position. Conservative Christians claim that the liberal ones believe God is ok with everyone’s sins and doesn’t require them to change. The liberal Christians claim the conservatives promote an unloving and judgmental God who is unattainable to all but the most perfect. Neither side is right I hope but it seems neither side will see the truth of the other’s position either.
The draw of Celtic Christianity is that it seeks to see God in everything around us and to accept and celebrate the mystery of a God that is too big for us to ever understand completely. The draw of Celtic Christianity is that it welcomes all who choose to be there, wherever they are beginning their journey. That seems look a good place to be to me.

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How we share our story, and why.

One of the key points to being a Christian is sharing our story and how our story intersects with God’s story. This is the text of a sermon I gave recently on that very subject.

When I started secondary school I had an RE Teacher called Miss Rosemary. She was tall and middle aged and gentle and prepared to talk through the cliched and repetitive arguments against God that many teenagers come up with as they hit those difficult years. She met every “God can’t be real because… “, “how can you believe in a cruel God who….” argument with love and understanding and what I realise now was a clear understanding of apologetics. She never convinced me to become a Christian but with hindsight I can see she planted the seed.

When I hit college I took sociology as an extra. No exam, just some great conversations. It opened my eyes to philosophy and world religions. It lead me to read Sartre and Neitszhe and the core texts of most of the major world religions and a lot of the ancient ones. I remember to this day a heated debate about the value of story for a way to show truth that ended when another student turned over his table and stormed out. Looking back I can see I was searching for something to make sense of it all.

That was the nearest I came to a road to Damascus, a burning bush.

I was not the most sociable of people in my youth. When I say youth I mean ever, I loved things you could do on your own, art, reading, walks in the woods, visits to galleries and the cinema. I became obsessed with storytelling in all its forms. I had a job, a home, a cat and almost a handful of friends, who I saw occasionally. I thought I was content but God had plans to fill a void with something real.

What I want to talk about tonight is story. Or more precisely, how our story is part of the greatest love story of all time.

I could go on listing the various points where God spoke into my life and seeds planted were watered but most of them are irrelevant to all but me.

If you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, in order you will see two things. One is that you have incredible stamina, but two, and most important is that it is a love story. Living in Paradise with a personal relationship, a friendship with God then one wrong moment destroys it all. The rest of the Bible is essentially about God rebuilding that relationship with the people who let him down. But because they have fallen so far the journey back is a long one, setting boundaries, facing setbacks and finally, sending his son to show us the reality of the relationship we are meant to have with him and tasking us to introduce the world to that possibility of a personal relationship, a friendship with God, through his son Jesus Christ. A love story stretching over thousands of years.

The great commission is Jesus going “you get it, now share it.” Or as it says in

Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version (NIV)  16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God has set us the job of sharing his Good News. Now traditionally the response to that is “Say What? Are you sure you’ve picked the right person lord?”

But as the reading from Moses shows, we all question God’s sanity when he lets us in on His plan, the reading could easily have been about Gideon and his questioning God’s choice. God has space for us to doubt him, which is interesting. Because He knows, he can allow for us to doubt Him.

How do we share his word though? There are many ways depending on the gifts God has blessed you with but the one thing available to all of us is our testimony. Our story of how God’s story has changed our life.

God (although I didn’t know it was him at the time) lead me to marry a Christian woman, which in turn lead me to know Christians as people, which lead me to Christ which, over a long and winding road, lead me to be standing hear before you.

Our testimony, our story of how we came to Christ is one of our most powerful weapons in making Christians and disciples. Our testimony is that link between the material world and the spiritual world. Applied with discernment it can be a link for others as well.

Now all that background at the start of this was partly to make the point that most people’s testimony is a lifelong story filled with seeds being planted and watered up to the point where the decision is made. No one was born a Christian. You may have been born into a Christian family, You may have been born to be a Christian but for everyone of us, if we look hard enough, there is a turning point.

When I share my testimony with people I decide what bits to use and what not to use. I try to use discernment to figure out what the person I’m talking to will be able to relate to. When you look at the reading from Acts, Paul puts a lot of emphasis on his Jewish, Pharasaical start in life. He’s emphasising the parts of his starting place that will be most familiar to King Agrippa, who is “well acquainted with all the Jewish Customs and controversies.”

Having established his Jewish credentials he then moves on to the road to Damascus. The nature of the world is such that people need to connect to you first. They need some point of commonality. If they don’t know where you came from then your defining experience of accepting Christ as your saviour means nothing to them.

Back in the 1990s a man named Rodney Stark, who specialized in the sociology of modern religion, examined Christianity’s remarkable growth during its first three centuries. He found that Christianity spread at the unremarkable rate of 40 percent per decade. Like compound interest, that rate grows a lot more impressive when it holds steady for 30 decades. With that rate of increase 1000 becomes nearly 29,000 in 10 years. Stark also found that people entered the church through relationships, through the daily practices by which Christians cared for one another, looked out for the sick and the vulnerable, valued women, and so forth. I mention this because it is important to have context. People came to Christ because they KNEW people and KNEW their story. This is what the birth of Christianity looked like and this is revival is going to need to look like.

It is important that, when looking to share your testimony, you lay out your credentials as part of the human race. I have a friend who is amazing at sharing his faith with people. He’s 77 and most of his conversations start “When I was a rent collector for the Council…” there is nothing he hasn’t seen and nothing he can’t relate to in some way. Put him in the House of Lords and he’d struggle but he listens to his audience and has a story that connects to them before he introduces God into the conversation

I have another friend who feels he is called to share the Gospel by stopping people in the streets and talking about God immediately. I admire his persistence and his willingness but he has hardly any fruitful conversations. . The difference between the two is in expectation. My rent collector friend does not expect to see immediate fruit, he sees himself as a sower and expects that someone else will reap the benefit of his work.

In John 4 36-38 it says

36Already the reaper draws his wages and gathers a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together. 37For in this case the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the hard work, and now you have taken up their labor.”

When we share our faith, most times we are just sowing or watering a seed. This is important because we expect and desperately desire to see results from our work and it is very easy to give up. I have not been with someone at that point when they have given their life to Christ but I have sown into hundreds and know that some have made that decision months and years later after further watering.

When you meet people for the first time on of the things you do is you ask questions. Meet them through a mutual friend and you ask how they know that friend. You ask where they are from, what they do for work, if they have kids. It’s a natural thing, searching for common ground, a connection. When I want to talk to people about God I listen to them talk about themselves, looking for God to give me an in-road to turning the conversation to Him. We are all human beings and we all have shared life experiences so it’s possible with most people.to find a common point.

Why is this important?

Most of us have a fairly long story, particularly those who were born into the church and have remained a part of it all their lives. But even if you haven’t you’ll still have a long story. I came to Christ later in life but my story doesn’t start from the moment that I made that decision to accept Christ as my saviour. It starts from the moment I had my first encounter with Christianity. My Children’s bible when I was 7, Singing onward Christian soldiers and all things bright and beautiful at school, my excellent RE teacher who took me all the way through to an O Level, a brief obsession with Cain and Able when I was in my early teens, Boris Karloff in Frankenstein and the sad ending of a man who tried to be God, my parents decision to start a charity to preserve a local historic church building, working with a very conservative evangelical Christian, getting married to a Christian woman and meeting her church, discovering that not all Christians were fire and brimstone, the list goes on but to tell it properly would take nearly as long as I’ve been alive and you’d be hard pressed to find someone to listen to me for that long. The question I have ask myself is what’s relevant is this to the person I’m talking to? If I’m talking to someone my age or older then assemblies at school could be a great connection point but more likely we’ll find something along the way. One of the best faith conversations I ever had grew out of talking about blues music with a stranger on a coach to London. He insisted on repeating many of the old legends around it about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil to be able to play and a whole variety of similar stories. I insisted it was the music of poor Christians calling out to God in lamentation. It had more in common with Gospel music than anything satanic and was just labelled like that by people who were scared of it. It was a great conversation and covered the fact I worked for the church, was heading to London on a chaplaincy course and whole variety of other gospel connections. All from a shared appreciation of Blues music. Connections.

You’re going to hear a lot more about testimony over the next connexional year as 2019/20 has been designated “The year of Testimony”. I don’t know what is planned for it but hopefully there’ll be not only things about how to share your testimony but hopefully move to record testimonies as part of an oral history.

So at this point I’m supposed to summarise my three points and send you away with something to consider by way of a challenge.

So your testimony is important. It’s one of your best tools in connecting with others and building a relationship where you can share your faith. Your testimony extends in both directions from that point where you make a conscious decision. There are seeds that were planted and watered before you got to that point.

You don’t have to share your whole story. Listen to people first and you’ll be able to work out which bits will connect with them.

And remember, this is about planting and watering seeds. You may never get that “Halleluhah I have seen the light” moment and lead someone to the Lord, or you may be one of those who reap and get that constantly.

I hope this has given you all as much to think about as it gave me and that you will gain something useful from it.

A badly made video about the prophetic

I’m trying to figure out the whys,wherefores and how to’s of video blogging on a budget. This is the raw video footage taken using the webcam on my laptop. The sound quality is poor but now I know the next area to look at. I’m also thinking that often there is no visual interest to what I have to say and wondering if podcast/audio supported by photos or drawings might be better.

The Elemental Experience – Taking Church Outside

The church is in an interesting position in the UK at the moment. People are spiritually seeking, they are beginning to understand there has to be more to things then we live, we die, we are dust, but they have no connections in many cases to any existing spiritual belief. On one hand it means they are unlikely to wander into church but on the other it means they are going to be willing to listen to the Good News.

There is a lot of talk in Christian circles about making God more relevant. Making the Gospel easier to swallow by removing crosses and offering good coffee and other silly phrases get bandied around. I think we are getting it wrong on that front. To paraphrase one of my favourite books and films, The Princess Bride, “Relevant! ” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Gospels are always relevant, a God of love who sacrifices himself for us is a story that will always be relevant because don’t we all want to be loved like that. I think, I hope, that we are confusing relevant with accessible. We need to take the Gospel where people will hear it and share it in a form that can be understood. Think of it in terms of translating the Bible from Latin to English. That may mean through bite size messages in Messy Church, through holding a service in a pub, making key services at Christmas and Easter, (when people are more likely to enter a church) more accessible or discipling a couple of people by meeting with them regularly and “doing” life with them. This all makes the Bible accessible and is a stepping stone to all the things that support growth as a Christian.

The other thing we have to do is behave in a way that won’t scare people off before they’ve heard the good news. Lead with love.

And that’s our choice, take the Word to the people or fade away.

One of the key things about Elemental is the use of hooks. We use crafts, tea, coffee and cake and sofas. Do not under estimate the power of a sofa in a Festival setting. It is not wrong to use tools to get people to a place where they can hear. Feed them, entertain their kids, give them coffee. They’re hooks and we are fishers of men. Choose the right hooks and they can make the perfect introduction to conversations about faith. One of our congregation makes nets for rabbiting with ferrets. The nets are made by hand by a method that hasn’t changed in several thousand years. Simon Peter would have made nets by the same method. Powerful conversations followed as he showed people how to make nets.

Training is important. It is one of the keys to the success of Elemental Tent. Many people find talking about their faith difficult. Mission is pointless if God isn’t part of the conversation. Ideally it will be something everyone in the team involved can do, with encouragement and training. So training is important. Simple pointers on how to start conversations, how to work with someone who is a spiritual seeker, offer an honest view of Christianity that grows from love. Look at the items for sale at any festival and it becomes clear that many people are spiritual and interested to find a deeper meaning to life which, in many ways, makes a festival one of the safest locations for mission. A great place to find your feet in sharing your faith.

So what is Elemental Tent?

Elemental Tent is intended to be an Oasis of Calm and creativity, somewhere away from the commercial elements of a festival. Somewhere where the world is open enough and heaven is close enough that conversations about faith can take place.

My son Harry walking the labyrinth at Wickham Festival.

The intangibles

This Christmas may be a Christmas of change. I was listening to “You and Yours”, Radio 4’s consumer programme and they were discussing, as consumer programmes do, spending on line and on the high street in the run up to Christmas. Consumer spending was down fairly dramatically on previous years, clothes retailers particularly were feeling the pinch and offering huge discounts that still weren’t inspiring people to buy. This was quite a news item in and of itself but there was something more interesting. The Vox Pop interviews on the street were filled with people who had one message, they were fed up with buying and owning and giving “stuff” and wanted this Christmas to be about time with family and friends just enjoying each other.   

Any adult will tell you, Christmas can be a very stressful time of year. There is a lot of expectation built into Christmas around the meal being “right” and the gifts being “right” and a whole load of other pressures that we put on ourselves. Even if you are a Christian you are not immune to this.

This Christmas may be a Christmas of change. If those street interviews are representative of the nation as a whole (and of course there is no reason they should be, they are just a snapshot) then I cannot help but feel this is a good thing.  As Christians we are called to make disciples. Making disciples isn’t the same as leading someone to Christ, although sometimes the two are conflated. Discipleship requires a commitment, to community, to friendship, to journey with someone in their life. If this is becoming a world where people are seeking something more meaningful than a life of consumerism then our job as Christians has become easier in some ways. We have Good News, all we have to do is learn to tell it in a way that leads with love. In Christmas we have the vision of a God who loves us so much He is willing to be born into the potential for hardship, suffering and death of human life. In Easter we see a God who loves us so much He was willing to die for us. Just because He wants to be with us. That’s the world we are looking to introduce people to. That’s what every Christian agrees on. That’s the core of our world. That’s what we’re offering the world.

This Christmas may be a Christmas of change, a change we can be part of. All we have to do is recognise the opportunity and whether it’s a family member, a friend, a work colleague or a complete stranger who’s looking to find something more this Christmas, something intangible, take that opportunity to talk and share the good news. Because if people are looking, they will be willing to listen and we can offer something that stands head and shoulders above everything else, a God who loves us all.

Wishing you all a blessed and happy New Year.

I love this Cartoon by the late Johnny Hart

Why we Remember

My son is 10. My father, the only person in our immediate family who fought in the war and lived through it died the April after my son was born. What my son knows of war comes from media and history lessons.

As we lose the generations who fought in the two world wars, the truth of the horror of war risks being lost. If we lose that truth we risk making the mistake of thinking war is acceptable. We start talking about the statistics of acceptable loss and human suffering stops factoring in our decisions. It is important, so very important, that we don’t lose sight of the human cost.

I have told my son about his grandad’s war about what he saw and what he lost and how he hoped no one would ever go through that again.

We remember to keep the memory alive of how they suffered so we could live and in doing so, hopefully avoid further pain on that scale.

Remembering remembrance

I somehow doubt that there is anyone in Britain whose life was not touched by  the First or Second World War in some way. It may be directly, or through relatives or a myriad other ways.

There are 53 identified Thankful Villages in the UK. 53 parishes where all the men who signed up for the services in World War 1 returned safe out of some 12,000 Anglican parishes.

Everyone knows the origin of the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance and a large part of the population will be wearing a poppy, particularly for Sunday.

War affects many more than just the soldiers fighting in it though. It affects civilians whose lives are destroyed but also it affects the families of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

My Father was in the Navy and was piloting landing craft on D-Day. at 19 he saw his best friend shot in the head and killed while standing next to him and, in his words, he delivered whole Canadians to Juno Beach and brought back bits of ones. I can’t say for sure how this affected my father. He never spoke of his experiences in combat until shortly before he died, but I believe it affected how he lived his life from that point on. From post war stories he told me I believe he tried to cram so much in to travel and life because he knew any day it could all end. He stood against injustice any time he saw it. He loved and worked hard to build and support community. He hated to talk about feelings and was physically reckless on many an occasion. Today he would probably have been diagnosed with PTSD. I can’t speak for my sisters but this affected how I lived my life. He probably came out of it fairly well compared to many. Emotional and mental damage was relatively minimal.  DSCF2494

There was a mention on Radio 4 recently of a poll that showed the majority of British people valued and supported their armed forces but didn’t like the idea of them dying for them. That seems eminently sane to me. I value the fact that there are people committed to laying down their lives in defence of me but I don’t ever want there to be a situation where they need to.

I believe it is important to look after all the victims of war, Civilian and armed forces, which is why I was pleased to find out about the existence of the Armed Forces Covenant, a commitment by the nation to support our armed forces and their families. It’s not perfect and too much it should do falls to charities instead.

As a Christian my life is built around someone who was willing to die for me. On Sunday I will be remembering Him as well as the soldiers, sailors, RAF and WAF and Wrens who fought and died and fought and survived.