End of a Streetwork Era

Since the middle of my first year at university I’ve been involved in a ministry of the campus Christian Union called Streetwork (not to be confused with a charity in the city that goes by the same name). Almost every Friday night a team of students would go out with hot chocolate and biscuits to meet with those begging on the streets and show them the love of God through a simple conversation and listening ear.

It’s been a pretty major part of my life ever since and for the past two years I’ve been one of those responsible for its week to week running. However, after some careful consideration, the decision was made a couple of weeks ago that we would not continue with Streetwork in the new academic year and last night we ventured out one last time.

It’s been an odd ministry to run. It doesn’t really fit with the CU’s vision or come under their remit so we’ve pretty much had free reign at their expense. While this does have some advantages it means that there’s little driving force behind the whole thing. We’ve been fortunate to have a small group of very committed volunteers but outwith that small circle there’s been little vocal enthusiasm. Also, it has been difficult at times to discern our purpose or motivation. Our hope is to share something of God with those in need by meeting a relational and spiritual need often not met in soup kitchens or food lines but it sometimes feels that we as volunteers may be getting more from it that those we are supposed to be serving. Maybe that’s okay? Maybe it’s not? There is also little to no way to build on what we do: we can’t plug them in to other more practical programs and there’s only so much of a relationship you can build on a chance meeting every couple of weeks.

A friend once told me that if you’re going to finish something, you’ve got to finish it well. So, rather than just let streetwork peter out as the semester came to an end as we tried to scrape by, we gathered as much of the team as possible last night and went out in style. It was surreal but wonderful to gather for orientation, to go out together, to debrief and pray together one last time. There is pain in it but also joy because God has been so faithful throughout it all and done such work in and through us all.

There are so many nights I won’t forget quickly. Like meeting L, she was thin and pale, couldn’t have been more than 21. She was very quiet and conversation wasn’t easy but someone else on my team ended up doing press-ups on the pavement beside her and when we joked with her her smile could have lit up any room. Or one night when we were on North Bridge speaking to G and his huge boxer dog. All was peaceful and we were having great chat when next thing we know we’re surrounded by about six guys, all looking for hot chocolate and some attention. Some people were praying, some were talking, all in this big guddle on one of Edinburgh’s busiest roads. Or J, sat outside a store one night, so high and out of it, telling us his plans to move to Barbados. I saw him a few months later, selling the Big Issue and getting his life sorted. Only last semester I was able to get to know T over a few months and the last night I saw him, the day before his court date, we discussed issues of God and faith and he shared his real name with us. Or my friends S and S who’s attitude towards us has transformed completely in 6 months so that now we can sit with them for thirty minutes each while they pour out their hearts.

We have been in positions of incredible privilege these past few years. I know that our hearts have been transformed, that God has not once let us go home unchallenged or without revealing more of Himself to us. And, as I look to careers in housing and homelessness, my life has been irrevocably changed by all of it.

Praise be to God!

Advertisements

Do you mean what you say?

I should be more careful about what I say.

This is a means to an end.

Grades aren’t important.

Really, Rachael? Do you mean that?

God has a plan, He’ll make it work out.

Are you willing to live like that?

I got some grades back last week that I was pretty disappointed with.

It’s easy to say that you’re not bothered by grades when you’re getting a steady 2:1 but it turns out a 2:2 is one of my biggest fears. And now I’m having to look it straight in the eye. My mum will tell me to work harder. My lecturers have told me I’m more than capable. But I’m not a machine and there are times when you’ve worked to capacity. I don’t function in isolation and there are more important things than deadlines sometimes.

I’m never going to be an academic. I don’t have a mind that can tear the theories of others to pieces. I can’t be concise: I will always write the same way I talk. I am always going to take courses that are interesting over ones that guarantee good grades.

I know that God absolutely has a plan. I know that my being in Edinburgh and studying theology as I do is a part of that. But He never said anything about grades. This is a period of trust, of walking the walk that I’ve talked (and maybe working just a little bit harder).

Change

My theology has changed a lot in the two and a half years since I came to university. Some of it has changed a lot in the last six months. You may once have been able to fit me into a nice little labeled box but nowadays the “conservatives” could call me liberal and the “liberals” would call me conservative.

It hasn’t been an easy journey and it isn’t over yet but I am glad to have taken it. If there’s one thing this degree does, it’s to make me question what I’ve been told and figure out what I really believe. But the majority of my theology changing has taken place outside of the classroom, as I follow Jesus and experience God, meeting with Him in unexpected places and unexpected ways. I love that the Holy Spirit is inspiring me to seek Truth and I feel like I understand God better than ever before, whilst also comprehending just how much more there is that I will never fully know.

There’s been some discussion among my friends recently about a lack of objective fact being proclaimed in our church. Less “this is what you should believe” and more “this is what I think it says, go see for yourself”. But it’s precisely that “this is what you should believe” of my past that trips me up whenever I face a new understanding of the complexities of God. Every time I edge towards a change of opinion, I feel guilty. I fear being labelled as “unbiblical”. I expect accusations of “unGodliness”. And then I begin to believe those labels and accusations. This propositional model has lead to more crises of faith than it has prevented and I’ve waded through a lot of doctrine to find a simple faith in a living God.

When you have built a relationship with someone, have known them for a time, when you love them and care for them, when you understand their very character: a revelation about their actions or a change in one aspect of their being does not shatter the foundation that you have already. A change in your friends belief system doesn’t change how much you care about them. A change in you wife’s mental health doesn’t change how devoted you are to her. A revelation about your child’s sexual orientation doesn’t change how much you love them.

The Church should be a place for theological exploration. We should be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that the majority of the ones we do have are probably wrong. And then we should search for them some more. Discovering the vast mysteries of God can be a  joy and not something which is feared.

I secretly love being un-label-able and certain that God is holding me in His, I’m able to hold my theology in a more open hand.

Covenant

Quote

the new covenant is eternal. God’s self-giving on the cross is a consequence of the fact that the convenant is everlasting. And the covenant is everlasting because God is unable to give up the partner who has broken it . . . God’s commitment is irrevocable and God’s covenant indestructible . . . It can be broken, but it cannot be undone. Every breach of such a covenant still takes place within its ongoing life . . .

– Miroslav Volf, “A Theology of Embrace for a World of Exclusion”, in Explorations in Reconciliation, ed. Tombs and Leichty, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), p29

Walk of Witness

I did something I’d never done before this morning.

On Monday evening the members of the Christian Union small group which I lead came to me and said they wanted to do a walk of witness. They weren’t sure how to conduct it or how they would get enough people together to do it. Once I had figured out what a walk of witness was, we made plans: utilise our church, CU and facebook contacts and keep it all as simple as possible.

This morning we gathered outside the refectory of Pollock Halls of Residence – where 2000 first year students live – and read out from the Scripture the truth of Christ nailed to a cross. We declared before them all that God, through Christ, has reconciled us to himself, that our trespasses may no longer be held against us. We awoke them from their beds with singing, “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down”.

Then, carrying a cross – about 5ft tall – we walked from Pollock, down Nicolson Street, past buses of people, early shoppers, students and workers, to the central university area and around to the meadows in front of the library. I carried the cross for less than five minutes but the pain in my shoulder has lasted the day. How much heavier was the burden which my Saviour carried?

And then, before a library full of students studying for impending exams, we sang and prayed and read and shared in bread and wine.

11 of us.

11 faithful disciples walking for their crucified King.

We got messages later from people who had been in the library and heard us singing “Till on the cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”. And that cross was seen by many more.

An act of faithfulness, an act of worship, an act of witness.

For a God who is already well pleased. And uses the meek and meagre to do mighty things.

“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
(Isaiah 55:12 ESV)

Exclusion

As part of my practical theology class this semester, we looked at the work of Miroslav Volf on Exclusion and Embrace.

It’s a fascinating topic because it is so easy to apply to our personal situations.

His model for reconciliation as embrace is very clever. It is a means of thinking of reconciliation as being much like a hug. With open arms we invite the other party into communication, we do so of our own accord and show that we are willing to reach for the other. Then we wait. We wait for the other party to return the embrace, not invading their space but inviting them too to open their arms. Then both parties close their arms, conveying the need for reciprocity but not assimilation: boundaries are maintained. Finally, we open our arms again: the two do not become one, we must let the other be other and ourselves be ourselves.

Of course, if you know a particularly violent hugger or you’re someone who doesn’t really appreciate hugs, the weight of the model might be a little lost on you but I’m sure you get the idea. And Volf says that when we look to the open arms of Jesus on the cross we can see the reconciliation of God and humanity at work through embrace.

I’m sure we can all think of a time, probably many, when we have felt excluded. An element of exclusion is inevitable within any gathering of people because as each inclusion takes place, an exclusion must also occur. It’s becoming ever more apparent that to create an “inclusive” society, you must exclude as well. Volf calls this the modern “barbarity”. Sometimes this exclusion is obvious: we eliminate those whom we don’t want to have to include. At other times it can be more subtle: assimilation (you must become like us), abandonment (we keep you at a safe distance) or symbolic exclusion (through language, media etc).

An very interesting exercise that we as the church should regularly be doing is considering how our meetings might exclude people. Think about your church’s entrance. What in that foyer/ doorway/noticeboard could someone interpret as exclusive? Is it open and inviting or does it suggest already that you have to be “one of us” to belong here? And when someone sits in your sanctuary/auditorium, are they invited in to all that is happening or do they only see many backs turned to them? What about the way the service is presented: the use of language, media, technology, even how people are dressed and the gadgets that they are using give an impression of who is welcome in our congregations and who is not.

I’m not suggesting we go to the length of removing the crosses from our churches, as some have done to make their buildings “seeker sensitive”, or that we make everything as bland and basic as possible. We should still be open about who we are and what we stand for and how we do what we do. But we have to mindful that Christian circles are hard ones to crack. That not everyone can see or read the projection screens. That someone struggling to pay the bills might not appreciate being surrounded by iPods/iPads or having the offering basket stuffed under their nose. What provision do we make for families, or, perhaps more pressing, for single people? What are we doing to welcome those with disabilities? How are we welcoming people from every class and background?

When you walk in to church on Sunday look at it as though for the first time, as someone who has never been to church before, and look for the points of exclusion. Then find someone you’ve never spoken to or maybe even seen before and ensure that they are included.

SF2011: The Walk (3)

We did it!!

It was a beautiful day. Mainly sunny, a light breeze, not too warm and far better than the snow we had last weekend.

We set out at about 10am and those of us walking the 10miles made it in about three and a half hours (including a quick pit stop in Marks and Spencers and a wee break outside the parliament and then in the middle of Marchmont) which we were pretty pleased with.

I think we’re all pretty shattered. There are a few blisters and one toe nail falling off but other than aches and pains (mainly on my part, to be honest) we all seem to be holding up extremely well! Praise God!

So a HUGE shout out to Amy, Amy, Anna, Alasdair, David, Katrina, Nicola, Nicole, Jane, Rachel and mum and dad. You guys are AMAZING.

And here are some of them before we set off:

Huge thank you to all walkers and sponsors – wouldn’t be going to San Francisco without you and I think you’re wonderful 🙂

Tradition in Worship

So I mentioned in the Tempestuous Worship post the other day that I think there is a role for tradition within contemporary worship.

First of all, lets blow some preconceptions out of the water.

The majority of people think that the “younger” generations want an all new, hyped up, super modern form of worship. WRONG. The majority of people also think us charismatic Christians want nothing to do with traditional forms of worship. WRONG. People also like to think that those of us with any interest in the alternative worship/emergent church movements are a bunch of hippies who’ll run a mile if you show us traditional texts/vestments/structures. WRONG.

And I can say that it is wrong because, as one of all of the above (young, charismatic and fascinated by alternative worhsip), I can tell you that I place a great deal of worth on tradition.

In my practical theolgoy lecture this morning, my lecturer shared this quote from Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, which I think about sums up what I want to say:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living

The Vindication of Tradition, 1984

I am not advocating doing things the way they have always been done because that’s the way we’ve always done them. But I do believe that the worship heritage of our forefathers and mothers has a lot to offer us; and we have the responsibility of keeping our history alive, of breathing new life into it, so it will not be forgotten.

No matter how contemporary/cool/informal your way of practising church is, you will be engaging with some form of tradition. The simple act of gathering together is, in itself, an ancient practice. If you partake of the eucharist, you’re using a two thousand year old tradition. If you’re singing songs together, reciting creeds, standing as the Bible is carried in/out, listening to someone preach . . . the list goes on.

There’s something wonderful about using the prayers of people who lived long before you and which you know have been said by possibly thousands of other believers. Re-interpreting an ancient practice is exciting and inspiring. And using the practices of a tradition/denomination other than your own can be revealing and unifying.

After years of the church thinking its not what people wanted of them, there’s something of a liturgical retrieval and revival going on. People want church that looks like church because the thing they value most is authenticity – they want you to be what you say you are and not try to be something you’re not. Church needs to stop trying to be cool, or new, or different and just be faithful to God.

Tempestuous Worship

I fear I may have mislead you somewhat with the title of this post. I’m afraid it’s not really about worship which is itself tempestuous (love that word by the way) but more about how worship can create tempestuous situations/people.

I’m doing a practical theology course this semester which I am absolutely loving. Highlight of my day, without a doubt. It’s fascinating, and totally what I feel like I came here to learn. What could possibly be more fascinating than how people put into practice and use all this theology stuff?! It’s certainly easier to grasp than 2000 years of discussion about how much human and how much God Jesus was and how the divine and human co-exist. Suffice to say, that’s not going to be a favourite topic of mine.

The unit that we are working through at the minute is Liturgy, but not just written liturgy as you might think when you hear that. Really, it’s about all of worship being liturgical (no matter how “high” or “low” your church might be), and how worship influences theology (or vice versa) and how worship is done in community.

Our tutorial question for today was: “Is there a role for tradition in contemporary Christian worship?”

Answer: YES

But that’s a post for another day.

Tutorial this morning was . . . interesting.

Tempers appear to run high when we discuss worship.

This is apparent even from the times when we’ve considered worship here on the blog. People get very passionate about how they think it should be done and are very unwilling to think there could be any other way.

I presume it’s because worship is something quite personal and we feel that we should own our worship. But what if “I” isn’t the point of worship? What if “we” is the point of worship? Surely, then we should be a lot more accommodating and a lot less tempestuous . . .

I don’t know I took too much away from today’s tutorial, other than how to keep my mouth shut and not throw things across the room, and maybe that conversations about worship should only be had when everyone is in a good mood . . .

Year 2 Semester 1

Now that I’ve returned home to Aberdeen, semester 1 of 2nd year is officially over. Crazy times. It’s flown by so fast and so much has happened. Here is the almost obligatory list of things I did/learned in the past three months.

First major thing from this semester was living in a flat, like a “grown-up”. This involved all kinds of learning curves. For example, setting up electricity/gas/internet/telephone suppliers; “how to act like you know what you’re talking about in front of tradesmen”; cooking (my standard meals list has increased from 3 to 10 . . . not bad I think); and “how many layers it takes to fend off hypothermia inside a freezing flat” (the answer is no less than 8).

The biggest thing I had to learn in the flat this semester was how to be a flatmate, and this one, I know, I still haven’t quite mastered. It turns out that I’m a complete neat freak. And I’m very stubborn. And I like everything to be done my way. These things are not conducive to a happy living environment when you’re living with two people who are really quite different to you. However, we have all made it to the end alive and, as far as I’m aware, our friendships are intact (I know they read this sometimes, so I’ll soon be corrected if I’m wrong). I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut; to just get on and do it; to let others get on and do things their way – I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t be tricky!

I’ve learned some pretty great things at uni too. I now know all kinds of things about the 2nd and 3rd century church (martyrdom, worship, interaction with Roman society, heretics, apologists – it’s been good) and a little about philosophy in the last two thousand years (a significant amount about Descartes in particular). With Old Testament, well it’s maybe better that we just don’t go there . . . There have been many discussions about women in ministry, about the nature of scripture, the nature of the church and how to live “radically” for Jesus. You know, you’re usual light lunch time conversation. Perhaps the most useful thing I learned, and my mum will not be impressed when she reads this, is that I can write an essay (2000 words) in 3 hours, the day before it is due, and still get a very decent grade. That’s a very useful stroke of luck to have in a moment of desperation skill to know you have up your sleeve.

The thing I’ve learned about God this semester is that his love for me and my commitment to following him are not determined or altered by my emotions on any given day. He is bigger than that and my covenant with him is bigger than that. There have been some amazing highs this semester, “mountain-top moments” Christians like to call them, such as the 24-7 Prayer International gathering, my baptism, the student weekend away. There have also been some really crappy, painful lows. But neither changes the awesomeness of God, how deserving he is of worship, or that I should be listening and obeying him.

That’s a lot to learn in 3 months. Definitely time for 3 weeks holiday and a lot of sleeping!

I’m a growed up now

Last Monday was a big day: moving day!

You’ll remember the drama of us trying to find a flat and the joy when we did, well, it was finally time to move in.

Having only viewed the flat once (and rather quickly) there were some nerves about whether or not it was as good as I remembered. Rocked up at the estate agent’s (late, thanks to my mother) and spent an hour and half (!) reading tenancy agreements, asking questions (such as, can we nail things to the wall? and what happens if the landlord’s mortgage falls through?) before finally being handed the keys.

It is BEATIFUL!!!

So, I’ve spent the week pretending to be a grown up. Cooking, cleaning, paying bills, shopping for things for the flat and generally getting organised. It’s a bit weird. I keep expecting a real adult to walk through the door and tell me I’m doing it wrong. Does it ever feel real?

It is fun though. Turn’s out I’m very houseproud and, when there’s no TV to distract me, I’m quite happy to get on with houseworky stuff. The best bit is having the space to have people over for dinner or even just coffee. Cooked cottage pie and baked a cake for five people last night!! The mountain of dishes afterwards wasn’t quite so appealing, but, again, you just get on with it , don’t you.

I’m learning a lot about controlling my control freakishness as well. I think my obsession with tidiness and cleanliness is somewhat scaring my flat mate. And it’s tricky for me to keep my mouth shut when something isn’t being done as I think it should, but I’m learning already. It’s also tough being sociable all the time: I’m quite used to escaping to my own space and now there’s someone in it most of the time. I guess we’ll all adjust with time.

So, if you’re ever in the vicinity, do just pop in. There’s bound to be a cake or fine piece waiting.

Skye 2010

I think after four years of going I can definitely say that my wee trips to the Isle of Skye are an annual thing!

This time I went with four friends from uni for three nights staying in a couple of hostels.

It was AMAZING!!!

I drove lots, we walked lots, we changed the car tyre, removed a tic, cooked, saw sheep, slept, drank good Skye brewed ale, saw sheep, visited the distillery and the fairies, ate ice cream, saw sheep, visited castle ruins and museum, stood in awe of the scenery and the amount of sheep.

The beauty of this island never fails to amaze me. It never gets old, in fact, it gets better every time.

Looking forward to next year already

Tension

As I’ve studied theology over the past few months, it has become more and more apparent to me that one of the key aspects of theology is the need for tension.

In almost every issue or topic we cover I’m struck by the two seemingly opposite extremes of resolution which seem equally necessary.

Something as supposedly simple as the nature of Jesus, for example: his divinity and humanity must be held in tension. We cannot claim him to merely be a man, for then his death would have been in vane and his resurrection a figment of the disciple’s imaginations. Neither can we say he was entirely God and was never afflicted with suffering or temptation, as then there would have been no death and, therefore, atonement or salvation. The church argued over this question for centuries and, at times, still has minor disputes or disagreements about it. However, I think most would agree that we now must accept that the divinity and humanity of Jesus must be held in tension.

Similarly we must also see that God’s compassion and anger, love and justice can co-exist.

In the church we have to acknowledge that if it becomes too word focussed, it forgets to be missional and if it becomes too focussed on social issues, it forgets to proclaim the gospel. If it is too outward looking, it becomes indistinguishable from the world and if it becomes too insular, the world forgets that it is there.

The trinity is another example of this: Father, Son and Holy Spirti, three-in-one, all equally real and present, held in tension.

It is also present when we discuss the freedom which God has given us and take in to consideration our insistance that he is omnipotent and in control of all things. As human beings we are given the gift of free will and the ability to use that as we wish, however, we must also acknowledge that Scripture tells us that God has a plan which he will ensure is fulfilled. Freedom vs. being under God’s control, held in tension.

I use the phrase “held in tension” and not “balance” purposely. “Balance” suggests that we stand at a distance as we add weight to one argument or another, until we get it spot on and can step back, satisfied with our answer. “Tension”, however, suggests to me that we are in there wrestling with these issues, as though taking part is some heavenly tug of war, and that if we’re to find an answer we must continue to fight both corners. Both sides of an argument are correct but to lean to far to one side or another will end in a spectacular fall in the mud. Both must, therefore, be considered at every juncture.

Something in me loves that this means there is never a final answer. Instead we can argue/discuss/consider the intricacies of these things until the rapture. Maybe its just the theology geek in me who likes that there is always more to study!