One night in my late teens I found myself having a long, deep, 3am conversation with a friend of a friend I hadn’t met before. This young woman was in her mid-twenties and initially couldn’t get over the fact that I went to church (‘you’re religious?! re-huh-eeeallly?!’). For me, I had recently heard someone making the neat distinction between being ‘religious’ (bad, apparently) and ‘a follower of Jesus’ (good). So the poor other girl got more and more confused when, throughout our conversation, I kept repeating ‘oh no I’m not religious though … I just go to church and read the Bible and try to live how Jesus taught us to.’ You won’t be surprised to hear she and I never hung out again. Continue reading “Dodging the non-religion dogma”
Sitting in the dirty police cell we discussed what we would say. “Don’t admit anything,” the team leader said. “They can’t prove anything.” Three of us had been making our way north from Guangzhou to Xi’an distributing bible tracts that connected readers with the underground church. We would go out at night dressed in dark clothes and leave them all around rural villages and towns before moving on the next day. If travelling by bus, we would also drop the occasional tract out of the rear window since many people travelled on foot along the roads. This was how we were caught. Continue reading “Many doubts and scattered stones”
Last Thursday, we gathered for All Saints’ Day. We ate, sang and spoke of people in our ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ – those who have passed on and who have inspired us and our faith. Their names were added to the blackboard that stands over us year round, and those of us who wished to told a story about the soul whose name they had added. I had not attended this service before, and had not really understood what Alison had meant when she said it was a way for us to be reminded of and acquainted with death, and brought in community with our cloud of witnesses (that’s how I remember her explaining it anyway). I had thought that meant it was a kind of memorial, anniversary-like, and was okay with that. But sitting there, saying the prayers, singing the names, reading the people on the board and hearing the stories about them – it created an awareness for me that those who have died and we who are living are not ‘us’ and ‘them’: we are collectively the Body of Christ, and His Spirit is with us. Continue reading “A Revolutionary Abolitionist and our Cloud of Witnesses”
The Ethiopian eunuch is cut off in every way. A precious part of him has been sliced off, and this loss defines him: for we do not know his name. Instead, we just know that he is a eunuch. And as a eunuch, he has been cut off from having children, and from establishing a family line. He is an Ethiopian, a Gentile. Even so, something in Judaism has attracted him: perhaps from the Isaiah scroll which he studies so carefully in his chariot. Perhaps it is the promise from Isaiah 56, that God’s heart extends to the eunuch and the foreigner; that they, too, may become members of the covenant. And perhaps with this promise ringing in his ears, the Ethiopian eunuch travels to Jerusalem to worship. Continue reading “Cut to the Heart”
Why do we listen to stories of old? Not just the Jesus stories, but the stories before his time. What do we do with them? Well, Jesus didn’t come out of nowhere. The older stories lie behind the Jesus stories; and they greatly enrich our understanding of his life and ministry. And so when we hear these older stories, we do well to use our imaginations: to listen to the story, yes, but also to wonder how it relates to or echoes or emphasises or reinterprets other stories that we know. And because we are Christians gathered as a worshipping community, our lens will always be Christ: we will always be seeking pointers to Christ, with whom and in whom we are gathered. With this in mind, let’s turn to tonight’s story. Continue reading “Hope, Love, and Laughter: The gifts that strangers bring”
Make yourself comfortable, and give yourself time to ponder the images and questions here. A meditation on Matthew 21:1-11 for Palm Sunday, 2017. You can also listen here.
One day, he will come. He will enter the city in triumph, and free the people from the occupying forces. Maybe he’ll be wearing a thick leather jerkin, and riding a battle horse. Maybe he’ll have a sword at his side. Maybe he’ll bring an army of rebels, ready to raise hell and throw out the oppressors: self-serving politicians, rapacious business owners, corrupt bureaucrats, mercenary soldiers, powerful predators, those who place profits before people, those who stay silent in the face of violence. Continue reading “Waiting for the liberator: A meditation”
She has three strikes against her. One, she is female. No religiously correct man would let himself be caught alone with a strange woman; he certainly wouldn’t be chatting with her. Two, she is a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans don’t mix; and they certainly don’t eat or drink together. Three, she’s had five husbands, and now she’s with a man she is not even married to. She’s hot stuff; her reputation is shot. Other women go to the well at dawn and at dusk. They go in groups, to stay safe; and as they walk and draw water, they share the news of the day. She goes at noon. She avoids the other women: the stares and the gossip, the snippy comments and the icy silences. She goes alone. Continue reading “The King of Hearts meets the Queen of Tarts”