Strong, yet gentle Jesuit

Jesuits contine to challenge the accepted norms within Christianity which, when held up in the light of the irresistible simplicity and humility of Christ which they, themselves, seek to mirror mean that all we have built up seems tawdry and vain.

The words and actions of the new pope are both a huge encouragement and a continued reminder of the beauty of a life given over to the service of Christ in the other. Reminding us that “authentic power is service” and urging the Church, as the Body of Christ, to: “enter more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the cross”  he is an inspirational shot in the arm for those who follow the call to the life  incarnational.

 

Ash Wednesday

In a setting where the external display of one’s faith in dress, in facial appearance and food are visible markers of a strong statement of faith identity there is something very profound about going up to receive the sign of the cross on one’s forehead.

A sign of deep humility, of a personal commitment to turn from evil and turn to Christ
and an indication of a private inward grace;
and yet it, in leaving a mark for all to see and note, it’s a public declaration of faith.

The thought occurs to me:
How much more responsibly would we live out our faith day to day if marked by a visible sign of the cross?

The going rate?

The imitation of Christ which embraces even the sacrificial
is both my observation and experience which never fails to inspire hope.

A leap into the unknown, throwing caution to the wind yet buoyed up by the anchor of an enduring faith which will prove stronger than the fiercest storm.

But listen, hear it in the boardroom, read it in the articles, and note it on the lips of those starting out on a career in the church as the framework insidiously shifts:
as the notion of sacrifice fast loses its currency in exchange for talk
of assessing the cost, raising the capital and calculating the going rate.

The worker deserves his wages.

So tell me:

What compensation for the death of a child through food-poisoning
at an Indian wedding feast?

Or the loss of a parent in an accident on Sri Lankan roads?

Is there a figure for reverse culture shock and its collateral damage –
the sense of displacement, the yearning, the never feeling at home?

How does one reimburse families for the 9 months in every year
when children are sent away to be educated? How is the loss of family life adjusted?

And what’s the going rate for those living in sub-standard accommodation,
having chosen part-time employment in order to free up space to share time
and share Jesus with others?

The worker deserves his wages.
Indeed, it’s true and those who have wages to give must heed their own call.

But wait,
look again at the context in which these words about working and wages were spoken –   a sending out, a leaving behind and a going forward into uncertainty,
where even safety, food and shelter were not a given.
Like lambs among wolves – risky living indeed.

Let us never forget that the One who sends, the One we follow is the very same I AM
who called Abraham out of all he knew well and whose promise is enough:

‘I am your shield and your very great reward.’

Access Denied?

I’ve been thinking on the theme of access recently and how access to all sorts of services and opportunities is blocked either through the circumstances one finds oneself in, lack of imagination by providers, incompetence of staff or unpreparedness of representatives.
A single parent, reaching the language proficiency for an advanced English course cannot the take advantage of the only courses on offer as they are held in the evening when she has sole responsibility for her child. Her personal circumstances, along with the lack of flexible delivery by the provider have resulted in access to further education being denied her.
A friend, very able and desperately keen to develop new professional skills so that she can get a job and contribute to society is barred from enrolling on the course most suitable for her because a bureaucrat both gave her the wrong information and then forgot to register my friend so that her name doesn’t appear on the system. Thus, through the carelessness of another she is faced with denial of access to the opportunity she needs which would be a first and very positive step in lifting her out of poverty.
Parents at a local community school are offered the opportunity of English language support but they cannot access it as the link worker – who shares their background – has been too tardy in making the necessary room and childcare arrangements and the deadline for acceptance of the offer passes. The community of non-native English speakers misses out as a result of the lack of interest and proper representation by one of their own.
Somebody asks me ‘Who is Issa?’ I hesitate and stumble over words which I have practised saying before but now seem to come out in a jumble. How easy has my muddled response made it for my hearer to access Truth? Have I been careless in preparation? Am I making what is essentially a relationship of love too complicated, boundaried and inflexible? Is there a danger that I get in the way by poorly representing Him?
Thank God that although He graciously chooses to use us to speak of Him it is not through our efforts that there is access for all to the Father but rather, through the Son and by the Spirit. ‘Having been reconciled to God we now have access to the Father….’ Ephes. 2:18

Reverse missionary?

Visiting with a friend a couple of weeks ago, we chatted about neighbours as we ate blackforest gateaux and drank Turkish tea. “You know, my neighbours on the right are English and they don’t know anything about Issa (Jesus)” says our Turkish friend.

“It’s so sad. I’m the one who has had to tell them about Him.”

There are those who wonder whether part of God’s plan in bringing Muslim people to this country is to bring those who are indigenous to this land back to an awareness of the spiritual and of God, Himself.

 

Seeing through a glass darkly

Mediating communication between a couple experiencing the challenges a cross-cultural marriage can bring I am struck with wonder that they are able to operate at all.
Always having to communicate in a third language – one neither can call their own – must result in numerous opportunities for misunderstandings, sometimes humorous, sometimes frustrating and at others, very painful.

Talking at cross-purposes is never satisfactory.
One can never express the depth and breadth of meaning one longs to convey.
Words are just not enough.
But are they ever enough?

An elderly Nepali neighbour, recently moved into the area, stops me in the street.
Do I speak Hindi? I reply that I can try.  So she, a Nepali speaker and I, one who speaks Urdu, find a way of communicating in a third language neither of us are fully comfortable with. A tale of woe ensues. One of a husband unexpectedly taken ill, his wife afraid, lost without him and uncertain how to navigate the buses in order to visit him in hospital in this strange city.

The essentials are communicated – enough for helpful action to be initiated but what is the hidden history that remains unspoken? What anxieties and fear have been left unsaid?

I’m reminded that here we have no continuing city. And that insufficient ‘knowingness’ is what it means to live this life estranged, in exile from our eternal home.
We read God’s word given to us –
the revelation, over the ages, of His character and purposes.
Parables, proverbs, the metaphor and the nuance – at once enriching and enigmatic.

We listen for the voice of our Father.
We think we hear Him right but at times we’re not sure.
We guess at understanding.
We make links that perhaps were never there in the first place
and miss those clues which are obvious.
The picture we get is hazy; we move hesitantly through the mist.
We move forward in faith rather than in certainty.

Now we see through a glass darkly, but then, (we are promised) we’ll see face to face.
There will be no more confusion. All will be clear.
To fully know and be fully known – a most wonderful gift.

‘Why is not a good question’

Heard in my class last week.

I teach refugee women English as they make the transition from their own countries to Britain.

 We talk about the question words and what they mean and when they are used.           The women are keen to demonstrate the use of who, what, where, when and how but they stumble at why.

Language learning is a challenge they work hard to meet head on.

 New ways of thinking and new ways of being will perhaps be the greater challenge.

Host and Guest

A group of dedicated individuals living in the area, committed to creating a postive and sustainable future, met last week to litter pick and prepare roadside pieces of scrub to receive sunflower plants which local people have been encouraged to nurture and grow from seed. It will give a lift to our very urban environment.

An iraqi family look out of their window and spot the group. Before long the man has come out bearing gifts – a tray with refreshing glasses of juice and biscuits . Hospitality offered to the ‘hosts’ by the ‘guest.’

Very welcome, indeed.  

 

 

Transition initiatives across the world are raising awareness of peak oil and climate change. In my city the local branch seeks to create a positive and sustainable future.

Smokescreen

“I wonder what would it take for Christians in this country to stand up for their faith?”  says the bishop’s wife to me as we share the washing up.

We are God’s gift to eachother at a course we are attending.

Both seeking to to hone our skills in dialogue as we bring women of different faith traditions together, we find ourselves constrained by the suffocating smokescreen of political correctness.

“You know, where I come from Christians are dying for their faith.” Her words hangs heavy in the air as we turn to tackle the dishes.

 

Light and Salvation النور والخلاص

My Arabic lessons are paying off!

It was great to able to read aloud the first 3 verses of Psalm 27 in my friend’s Arabic Bible yesterday, as we shared together. She continued with the rest of the Psalm, unable to wait for the slow pace with which I was tackling the still unfamiliar script.

‘What beautiful words’ she said and marks the page so that she can read it again at night in the privacy of her room.