Leaders and leading

This week I’ve completed a leadership course which got me thinking about what kind of leaders are needed nowadays. I know as soon as I say “nowadays” I betray the fact I am officially middle aged. However it’s disappointing how simplistic our expectations seem to be of our political leaders in particular. I am not suggesting all our political leaders are one dimensional but more how little we seem to care about the 3D side of them.

It seems the most obvious explanation for how we have hung out to dry a morally courageous man like Tim Farron. who explicitly shared both his discomfort at having to pronounce his views about “sin” on news programmes but also his passion for equality for the LGBT community.

To me he’s been a great leader in trying to live out his faith in politics and quite human in not wanting to denounce the doctrine of the church who support and pray for him.

There are so many people who dodge issues of faith altogether when it doesn’t fit their political ones, and I think this is actually the wider path to take. I admire particularly gay christians who struggle daily with the contradictions and hypocrisy of the church and continue to form part of our church communities because god comes first for them above cultural norms which might say “ditch it.”

Gay marriage is a hot topic and I respect everyone’s choice to hold alternative views to myself. It also seems to act as a lightning rod for other differences.

I heard Rev Richard Coles speak this week powerfully into a non Christian academic, liberal audience this week about his journey into faith and was amazed at how referently people listened to his stories which were of course beautifully crafted. It was clear to me that God had been at work in his life and that Gods love is not just restricted to those of us who are “straight”.

 

 

 

How should we vote as Christians?

So it’s general election time again, and in less than a month we will have a prime minister who has been democratically appointed by the United Kingdom, along with MP’s representing each constituency. As a christian sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, when you begin thinking about all the different policies and impacts of your decision. The bbc has a helpful overview here of what the parties are pledging in their manifesto, but you can also visit individual party websites to find out more. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39844115

I’m a Lib Dem supporter but I think if I lived in the centre of York I’d vote for Labour as the current MP Rachael Maskell came to a local event recently and I was really impressed with her humility, and gentle approach to talking to people with dementia from Minds and Voices, a local charity. She has also campaigned to try and keep a mental health hospital on the political agenda for York and has been widely respected for her views.

In my area, York Outer, the MP Julian Sturdy voted to leave the EU and I would fundamentally disagree with this, and the way the Conservatives will lead us in this process. If you want to find out how your MP voted head to Theyworkforyou at https://www.mysociety.org/wehelpyou/find-out-how-your-mp-voted/

Ultimately the EU question is the defining one in this election, but there will be many others to consider. Only the Lib Dems and Green party are keen to see a second referendum on the final outcome of the negotiations, so we can see if the UK is still fully behind us leaving the EU when the final deal is on the table.

So this passage from the bible I think is helpful in trying to determine our decision about who will be the most “fruitful” in their work for our communities and our country. Whether someone claims to be a christian or not, is actually not that helpful I don’t think. There are many people like Donald Trump who say they are a christian, but their actions may not support this, such as him bragging about sexually assaulting women.  It’s better to look at who they are, what kind of politician they are, and what they stand for, both at a local and a national level.

Matthew 7:15-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Concerning Self-Deception

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Hearers and Doers

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

First they came for the #christianwomen

It’s been a tough time for Canadian Christian Blogger Sarah Bessey after she started a post on Twitter called #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. For more information go to her website at http://sarahbessey.com Some of the responses have been pretty shocking. A second more positive hashtag has started #thingschristianwomenshouldhear- which I think has had slightly less impact!

I feel very blessed at the moment to be working with a largely female leadership team in a church which at one point would not have welcomed women at all in these roles. Times change and our attitudes sometimes take a bit longer to move along than we’d like. While it’s easy to point the finger at men, we ladies can be just as resistant to change.

Sometimes it’s hard for women who’ve been denied opportunities themselves to see your role positively and sometimes women who’ve spent a lifetime serving others, cannot see a way forward to putting themselves in the spotlight and can’t understand others stepping forward. Others just like hearing a male voice, or can’t imagine it being any different.

Since I’ve been working in the church recently though it’s been those women who’ve had leadership experience and success in other walks of life that have been the ones to step out and meet me on my journey. One of my informal life-coaches at the moment, herself in her 70’s and battling cancer, Mrs Marj has been a senior lecturer and run her own business and is now in charge of the church hall. She’s constantly telling me off for not believing in myself!

I think that we all have a responsibility to be good sisters to one another and be kind if someone in authority is reacting angrily, or allowing their buttons to be pressed, because really that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Changing attitudes and prejudices takes generations to achieve. We can have confidence that God himself is a feminist, as he created men and women in his image:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1 v27

That’s why I think when Donald Trump’s travel ban came into force, people united across religions, and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender waving banners that quoted Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor in the second world war. They united in fear that decades of progress in building a tolerant equal society would be rolled back if Trump is allowed to play the race card against his own citizens.

Niemoller himself anti-Communist, was grudgingly in support of the Nazis when they first took office, however he quickly became a vocal opponent and survived incarceration in a concentration camp to carry on as a prominent member of the church in the 1950’s. His words were part of a speech challenging the church into political resistance, but are now used as a poem more generally. Let’s hope the parallel with the church and Donald Trump is not the same..

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So let’s take this learning from the atrocities of the 1940’s and apply it today- how can we support and enable women to lead in our churches? Well one way might be to start praying- we know as Christians this can move mountains. Certainly blaming women themselves for being angry is not particularly constructive, more of a “calm down dear” sort of reaction!

So here’s my prayer for working women everywhere

God Our father help us as a church to support women who have responsibilities outside the home

When we care for others, we ask you make it known that you care for us deeply

Whey we can’t juggle everything to the high standards we’d like to achieve, we ask you would gently confirm that you know us better than we know ourselves

When we need to rely on others for help and support, we ask for your protection on relationships that hold everything together.

We thank you for all the people who champion our families.

Help us realise we are not alone, and can accept help gracefully. 

Show us how important the work is you’ve asked us to do, especially when it seems to get in the way of family life

When we get it wrong, help us to remain in your love, to acknowledge our sin, and to seek your forgiveness.

When others oppose or persecute us, help us to rest in your love and gain your peace and not to bear grudges or keep secrets.

When things go well, help us to celebrate and live life abundantly

We ask this in your name, for us and all our sisters 

AMEN

 

Living on the edge

So life in the UK is currently fairly bonkers. Our esteemed politicians are fortunately not in charge of anything major right now; we have a fantastic civil service to do that for us! That leaves them free to worry exclusively about what other people think of them and how current events might make them look in the long term. 

When I say all our politicians, I’m being unfair as I’m sure there are some like the late Jo Cox and indeed Yorks Rachael Maskill who seem able to remember why they are paid by the British people; that is to serve us not their own political purpose. 

I think the lesson for me as a Christian is that old joke “if you want to make God laugh -tell him your plans!”

I’m really struggling with this myself right now – I had imagined once the church agreed to take me on as a trainee priest that a clear way forward would emerge. Over two months later I’m still waiting for some answers.

Waiting with God has been a key part of my journey and I’ve found it really tricky – I think what I’ve learnt though is doing the right thing for the right reasons is not only hard but basically essential for survival in this world. Why? Well otherwise you can be blown around like a leaf in the wind. 

Communicating what you think God has in store for you and others around you,  isn’t arrogant, it also helps others do the same.

Putting down foundations whether in a marriage, career or as a parent takes time, energy, commitment, sometimes standing up for yourself and often completing lots of boring tasks!

I’m optimistic that God can guide us as a country but I think we need to do the work too – refusing to tolerate racism, working for unity and accepting different perspectives, and putting the things that matter first. We need politicians who will show up for us and inspire us, especially when we are divided and the stakes are so high 

As the apostles had to when building the early church we need to challenge tradition as “We believe we are all saved the same way” Acts 15 v11

Easter

In our house Easter is a welcome break from school and work, and family time. This year we are going to see alot of family as there is a reunion happening for my Granny Buster’s 100th birthday on Easter Monday.Granny is in the pretty advanced stages of dementia, so it’s unlikely she will come, or if she does will recognise any of us. It seems fitting though that as we are celebrating her 100 year life, and probably the end of her life in the next few years,  the church is celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of a new religion, social movement and new understanding of how God works.

The idea of life after death I think is tricky to accept, but as a Christian I’ve had some glimpses of this, which make me believe it does exist. I pray that Granny will be at peace when she dies, and is released from her current ill-health.  I think when the disciples met with Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, they would have really believed in life after death for the first time. The only difference is they didn’t realise it was him to start with, so he must have appeared either different looking or in a way that didn’t instantly mark him out to them. It was through his actions, his words and his manner with them that they knew who it was. If you have lost someone, it’s their touch, their presence and their words that you miss.

As a child I really couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, why the world would hate something so positive. In his brief 3 years teaching, people were cured from ill-health, demons driven out, hope restored. It has to be a political issue I think, that the establishment were threatened by his message of peace and hope, and that it was almost too good to be true.

Another event taking place this Easter..  My cousin Hamish’s daughter Mia has Batten Disease, which is a terminal illness, and rather than just trying to get by, they are campaigning to raise awareness. This year on March 31 they are asking people to bounce for batten and repost their photos on twitter with #bounce4batten (for more information go to www.bounce4batten.com) I like the campaign, as it’s a celebration of life, rather than focusing on death, and I think this is part of the message of Easter. While it’s hard to understand why God allows bad things to happen, why children have to die, it’s also possible to focus on the hope of a life lived, and the essence of that person living on in heaven.

Ascension

We’ve been watching this programme that’s out at the moment, its about a social experiment, where a group of people are under the impression they are on a space ship going out into the universe, seeking a new planet and new place to live. The people selected to be part of this experiment left in the 60’s, so haven’t seen the social changes that have happened since then, and the social structure is strictly managed. It’s quite a good concept, and quite disturbing to think that the people who’s lives have been radically altered by this experience are essentially living a lie.

At work we’ve been thinking about systems, and how as humans its often easier to subscribe to a culture or system than to act as an individual. Like the people in the phony space shuttle, it doesn’t actually matter if the the culture is based on truth or not, as long as everyone pulls together and works as a team to maintain the working environment. Too much radical change and rebellion is unsettling for any society, and we’ve been considering what small changes we can effect that will improve our effectiveness as individuals and cumulatively move to a new way of working as a team that has more positive effects. To start with this feels really unsettling, but I am really interested to see if we can move from how it’s always been to how it should be.

This morning another Becky was preaching at St Paul’s and she described the idea of someone being called, named by God and requested to fulfill a specific challenge. She described how we are all called to serve God in many ways and how this is a blessing that makes us equal as Christians together, even though some status and hierarchy often exists within church communities. The thing that makes us stand out though I think, is that God not only has a plan for each of us, sometimes it’s a radically different one to the culture, status and practice of the society that you live in. We are not like in the film Ascension, pre-programmed to live specific lives to enable the whole culture to survive, it’s more random and more wonderful in God’s world. People that used to be tax collectors like Levi, that Becky was preaching about, can go on to serve to achieve God’s plans. People who used to be homeless can be statesmen, and mums who are breastfeeding or weaning their babies can also be inspirational leaders. Waterfalls and rainforests, moors, beaches and deserts are all beautiful in different ways. The real galaxies of stars are changing day by day and the infinite nature of the universe is totally awe inspiring.

While the way we live on this planet is not great, and we are probably doing huge damage as the human race, we  can also be fascinating and wonderful people.  The stories of a grandma, raising thousands for a homeless man in the UK has been inspirational recently, and the small acts of random kindness that so many people do every day is not predictable or expected. The difference that parents see in children with special needs can be awe inspiring, and the contribution of people with mental illness to creative writing, art and theatre is immense.

We shouldn’t therefore be scared as Christians to break the mould, or if we feel uncomfortable within the social order, this shouldn’t be a surprise, as God’s ways are wonderful and also quite unfathomable, and that’s what makes it so exciting to walk in faith.

Acts 17 v24-25 “The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in shrines made by humans, 25 and he isn’t served by humans as if he needed anything. He gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have.”

Walking together to the Lord’s mountain

My friends and I were meeting last night to review a book called “The Help” set in 1960’s America, and we discussed the fact that although slavery is long gone, and the civil rights movement has achieved “equality”, being black in the US doesn’t always feel like being free. We all loved the book, as it depicts women’s ordinary lives and how black women and white women were living together in such different circumstances, obeying different rules and behaving so differently whilst still in the same town, at the same point in history, and all being mothers or grandmothers together. We found it disturbing, and shocking as well as heart-warming and educational.

The news of Tamir Rice’s death today is difficult to comprehend. It seems to us in the UK almost unheard of, that a young boy would be shot at close range by a police officer, or that school children would be carrying guns. The grand jury’s decision not to indite a police officer for the killing of an unarmed man (Michael Brown) is also difficult to understand and the two together is a national tragedy. To be “young, gifted and black, that’s where it’s at” according to Nina Simone, but for Michael and Tamir they are not going to be able to unravel their talents and gifts in this life and their brothers and sisters are in mourning.

I don’t think there are any easy words to provide comfort when someone’s life is taken “before their time”, but I do think as Christians we should be praying in solidarity with African Americans right now. Violence is not the answer, but there is a scene in “the help” when a young man comes into a prayer meeting and says “we need more than just prayer right now”. It doesn’t seem that different 50 years later.

I get a weekly verse sent through to me by the Salvation Army, and this week it was “Coming together is a beginning-keeping together is progress- working together is success” and “for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”, so even though you and I are not together right now, I think God will be amongst us somehow if we share this moment of reflection.

The passage we studied on Sunday at church, was Isaiah 2, verses 1-5, which describes a vision of what it would like if all nations came together. I know black and white Americans are from the same country, but they have such different histories, heritage and cultural legacies, that it seems like they live in different places. So maybe we can think about these words as we read the news and watch the TV about these terrible times.

2 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lordto the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

You take the high road, a new Jerusalem?

Well tonight could be the last night we are all in the UK together. The complacency that everyone’s been complaining about is well and truly over, the debate is on, more people will turn up to vote than most national elections I should imagine! Definitely a lot more than voted in the referendum on Proportional representation that the Lib Dems campaigned hard to get! I wish it was a simple clear choice between two options, but I’m afraid like most people I am pretty baffled by the opposing arguments. I am certainly aware of a lot of prominent Scots who’ve run Whitehall in the last few years. When I studied in Aberdeen though, the folk from Shetland and Inverness would have probably had a shorter flight to Norway than London, and I can see it’s difficult to understand the politics of Westminster and the South East, when you live so far away from all of this.

All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have to decide!

Who gets to run the country is of some significance to me now I am working for the NHS, as the politics is more national than local. I’m really enjoying my new job, and get to focus on the needs of vulnerable adults, children and those with long-term disabilities, which is why I went into social care in the first place.

I’m not sure where God would stand in the debate, as in Yorkshire we like to think we have the natural advantage of living in God’s own back-yard, but I do know his “united kingdom” would be pretty amazing, and that there would be no debate about who is in power. The vulnerable and those with disabilities would be top of the agenda, and those who suffer with ill-health would be blessed.

Revlations 21 v 1-5

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”