Monday, 21 December 2015

When do we get to do the stuff?

This is one of the most famous quotes from John Wimber. He had read parts of the Bible, what was done in the early church, and went to a church expecting to see the same sort of thing. He was, of course, disappointed, and he asked them "When do we get to do the stuff?".

I have recently finished reading Sara Miles "Take this Bread", and she experienced something of the same struggle, but from a very different perspective. For her, she read the Bible, saw that Jesus fed people, welcomed people, accepted people. She found the church that she arrived in was generally very welcoming of others, open to different liturgy and worship, but was still struggling to be as accepting as she saw the New Testament church was.

And it raised the question for me, as for Wimber, of when the church starts doing the stuff. Unlike Wimber "the stuff" is not the miraculous, the amazing - the stuff is the core of the New Testament church. The Stuff is the care, concern, acceptance and love that the church was known for. John 13:35 is a core promise of what the New Testament church was showing - that Christians should be known for their love.

What I see today is that Christians are known for all sorts of things, but "love" is not high on the list. We are known for being reactionary, for hating homosexuals, for being cliquey, for rejecting others and being legalistic.

And I know that whenever I say that, there are many people who say that "we are not like that. We know churches who are but not us" to which I would argue that yes you are - to those outside the church you are known for something other than being loving. Almost certainly (there is always a possibility that you are an exception, and I have not heard of you). And even if you are, in your area, the Christian Church as a whole - and that reflects on each one of us - does not have a positive perception.

Sara Miles church was far more open and accepting than many. She became involved in it because it was prepared to accept her, coming from a very antagonistic position. It was considered by many other churches as being rather tolerant and unconventional. So in terms of churches, it was very much on the forefront of what I am looking for - and yet still struggling to accept, to tolerate and welcome the broken, the damaged, the sick and the disruptive. If they were seen as struggling - from an insider - how much further from a New Testament ideal are most churches?

A long way.

I think so many churches like to focus on "outreach" and "programmes" (including Alpha and suchlike), and fail to do the basics about being a fellowship, a group who are caring for each other, working with each other. I don't think a church should focus on itself until it is perfect before looking out. I do think that churches should consider very critically what they are inviting people to join. I think they should ask why people would want to join them, and what it would mean if they did.

In truth, I don't think that the New Testament church is a model that we should build everything on. I think that is dangerous, because they were working to their own situation. But the church was supposed to be living out the principle of loving others, and that is something that we today need to also demonstrate.

So come on, when do we get to do the stuff?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015


Trigger Warning : Suicide

OK, this is a neologism, a word I have devised from Greek roots, that seems to reflect something of what suicidal feelings are like. Sorry if such a lovely word means something so bleak, but that is the way it goes sometimes. Let me explain how I got there, and why it seems to be an appropriate word.

The starting point was actually the phobia side - suicidal thoughts are not rational, they are more phobic than anything. I will explore this more later. I started by using the phrase Zoephobia, from the Greek Zoe meaning life, but I realised that this was not quite what I was meaning.

Zao comes from the same root, but is more of an active phrase, meaning living, not just life. Zoephobia would be a fear of life, whereas Zaophobia is more a fear of living, a problem with the process and the effort of continuing to live.

Phobia is not really a fear in the traditional sense. It is an anxiety disorder where the dread of the thing is disproportional to the thing itself. Zaophobia is therefore an irrational dread of continuing to live.

Why is it so important that it is seen as irrational? The prime reason is that an irrational fear cannot be calmed by rational ideas and discussion. I don't like spiders, and I know that my fear of them is not rational. I know that "they are more afraid of me than I am of them" - something that has never been scientifically tested as far as I know. I am aware that they are not out to do me any harm. But this rational, logical argument does nothing for my feelings, my emotive response. What is more, this lack of a rational basis for my emotional response does not make it "all in the mind" or "imaginary". It is very real, but the means of dealing with it is through working with the fears and emotional responses, not by explaining why it is not logical to fear spiders. In truth, I am much better than I was.

Someone who is suicidal does not need logical, rational explanations of why their choice doesn't make sense. To them, it makes perfect sense (which is partly a result of post-rationalisation), so explaining why they are wrong can sound like explaining that they are stupid. Whereas dealing with it in terms of a phobia, an irrational response, means that you are accepting their conclusions, their thought processes, and deal with it according to an emotive response, not a rational one. Rather than an argument of "no, that is not how it is really", this is a response of "yes, it sucks big time".

I look at Jesus' responses to people, and sometimes, he comes back with rational, logical, law-based arguments - when people challenge him with rational, law-based arguments. But for people who are hurting, he doesn't - he sits by them and engages with their emotions. The woman caught in adultery, for example: those who wanted to stone her because The Law said so, he responded with a logical reply - none of them conformed to the law completely. But to the woman (who, it would seem, he had stayed by this whole time), he simply told her than nobody was condemning her. As one example among many.

The healing at the start of John 9 always intrigues me. The disciples wanted a logical, rational explanation for why a particular man was born blind. Jesus response was not a logical or rational response - he didn't give the disciples the reasoning for babies being born blind, he didn't offer then a codified answer to the effects of sin (and bear in mind that the action of sin on people was part of their rational understanding). His response was unbelievably unsatisfactory in so many ways. He explained that this man was born blind so that Jesus could heal him. Which might not make up for the 20 years he had spent blind, or for the unpleasant response he had from the Pharisees. But the man's enthusiasm towards the Pharisees suggests to me that Jesus had engaged him emotionally, even though the rational arguments didn't seem to add up.

The first part of this word is also important in terms of understanding the suicidal mentality. It tends to be (and I am aware that there are always cases and situations that do not match this) that the struggle of living is where the problem lies. It is the difficulty and the day-to-day effort that is required to continue living that is so hard. The thoughts of having to do that again and again and again is too much. It is hard work living, but for most people, it is something that we can cope with, because that is what we have to do. For many people, spiders are just part of nature, and they are not a problem. But for some, zao is really difficult. The decision to take ones own life is not an easy one, and not a rational, logical one normally. But for many, it comes from this incredible burden of zao, of having to live. It is not rational, but emotive, which is how it should be engaged with, but it is very real, very significant.

It is also important in terms of understanding how a depressed person acts and behaves.Imaging having a fear of heights, and waking up every day in a bed slung on the side of a cliff. Actually, that is rather extreme, because most people with a sense of perspective would find that a frightening prospect. Imagine always waking up somewhere high up, near a precipice. Or being forced to work as a tower crane operator. You wouldn't do it, of course, it would be a living nightmare, you would have to find an alternative.

So imagine if your fear was of living.

I should point out, I am not suggesting that depression is the same pathology as phobias, just that seeing suicidal thoughts in this way might help those who do not suffer from them understand a little more what it means, what it actually feels like to be inside these brains.

So zaophobia - a new word for suicidal responses, trying to reflect the emotive nature of these feelings, and the importance of responding in the appropriate way.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Why trident is a waste

I read on facebook recently a post by Alan Storkey (sorry I can't link because I can't find it any more!) on reasons why replacing trident is a bad idea. They were great thoughts, but one resonated with something I have thought for a while, and for me is the main reason that Trident is a bad idea.
The problem is that Trident - and all nuclear weapons capability - belongs to a different age of warfare. I am not saying that 40 years ago it was valid and acceptable, just that then there were different reasons to challenge it. But the world today is different.

The major threats on the world stage today are terrorist groups like IS. The majority of the conflicts across the world are not nation-on-nation, as they were for much of the last century, they are faction on faction, organisations like IS who are fighting for recognition and a cause. Groups like Boko Haram in Africa and the drug barons in Mexico are involved in much more typical conflicts today than was the case.

And, of course, Trident - any nuclear weapon - is of no use against them. How could we use any of them against IS? They do not have a geographical claim, so the use of such weapons - which are indiscriminate across a geographical area - is pointless and dangerous.

"But we have to have them, to protect ourselves against other nuclear nations". This has been the argument for decades, and yet it is flawed. As noted above, conflicts today are not against other nations. The likelihood of, say, Iran attacking us with a nuclear weapon is extremely remote - they may not like us, but that tactic would be so abhorrent that they would never utilise it. Because they are a geographical nation, they would be destroyed in a range of ways that would not require a nuclear strike back.

"They are a deterrent against anyone using nuclear weapons against us". The thing is, let us suppose that IS had nuclear capability. Let us suppose, horror of horrors, that the Paris attacks had been nuclear. Would we then use our nuclear weapons against them? Of course not, because they are not a geographically located group. It is groups like IS with nuclear capability that is the biggest danger, but even if they did achieve that, out deterrence would not stop them and out defence would not be appropriate to use. So what is the point?

I hope against hope that we never see another nuclear weapon deployed. But if it is, it will not be a nation using it against another nation. The response will not be more such weapons. Nations arming themselves with nuclear capability in the 21st century is an anachronism. We would all be safer if we had none of them around.