Thursday, 30 June 2011

3 Strikes & You're Out!

In solidarity with our colleagues who are exercising their democratic right to strike for their working conditions today, I thought I would post my top 3 strikes in living memory.
These are what we would call old school, proper strikes. No questions of these conflicts being voted through by a minority of members, or protesting over pensions - this was the hard stuff, these disputes matter in the here & now to millions of workers who were living hand to mouth. And these were no knee jerk, down tools reactions which our Gallic cousins are famous for - these strikes were entered into with a heavy hearted foreknowledge that it would hurt the strikers & their families even as they sought to change the direction of the government. In descending order:

Strike 3: The General Strike 1926
Amidst the changing social landscape of the post world war & flu pandemic turmoil, the Baldwin Government took on the Miners. As a million men were locked out from the pits, the TUC took 2 million other working men out in support, stirring a revolution which threatened to bring down the Government.
Even King George V was initially supportive, telling those who criticised the workers to 'try living on their wages!'
But as a large proportion of Britain's working men downed tools from John O Groats to Lands End, the tide of sympathy quickly turned. Workers were accused of making war on the people & fermenting anarchy.
By the time the weakened TUC went cap in hand to Downing Street on May 12th to call off the strike, they didn't even have the guts to insist on an agreement that employers must take back every man who had been on strike.

Strike 2: Miners Strike 1984-85
The strike which dominated our TV news in the mid 80's & thrust fame on the unlikely scrape over hair hero that was Arthur Scargill.
The NUM had helped to bring down the Heath Government in 1974, but now was broken over the rock of Thatcher - humbled & reduced, political power in the Unions permanently diluted to this day.
From March 1984 to March 1985, the nation was split with divided loyalties. Extreme poverty after a year without wages broke the back of the strike, & long standing bitterness towards Tory power & the Police remains undiminished a generation on. Just as significantly, the social history of working class England which had developed since the Industrial Revolution now lay transformed. Trained, skilled men now out of work for years, or taking jobs in faceless retail parks. Proud communities of workers, living near their work now seeing the town & the street degenerate. We have yet to see the full consequence of this change in value for the working man in the UK.

Strike 1: Gdansk Shipyard. 1980
As Ship workers went on strike over high food prices in the Summer of 1980 in Communist Poland, the world expected their rebellion to be ruthlessly crushed by the state machine. Instead, the Government backed down & the first non communist controlled Trade Union emerged under the charismatic leadership of an electrician called Lech Walesa. At their height, over 9.5 million workers were members, over a third of Poland's working men.
Their sheer size & the post Gadansk momentum lifted Solidarity above a mere trade union to become a kind of reformation movement. It is no hyperbole to say that Solidarity changed the destiny of Poland, was a major part of the domino effect which brought down the Communist regime, eventually leading to Walesa the Union Leader becoming Walesa the President of Poland - & all this whilst sporting one of the finest moustaches in modern history!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A new Nicene for 21st Century Pagan Britain

Father’s Day was well celebrated last Sunday. What slipped by unnoticed, unless you conform to a more traditional denomination, was the fact that it was also Trinity Sunday.

The language we use to describe who God is & how He works in the world is up for grabs again. During the first 400 years of Christianity, believers went to great lengths to load their language with rich theological meaning that would resonate with their culture, & most importantly, be understood by the ordinary man on the street. Creeds like the Nicene which now most Christians find dusty & dry were bright with colourful revelation about the God of the bible to a world which thought & spoke from a different cultural language. These mighty creeds crossed the bridge into pagan cultures & allowed the gospel to take root.

In the 1600 years or so since the Nicene Creed, we have come full circle. What commentators call post-christendom is really nothing new. It is simply a return to a challenging age of opportunity for Christian thought & language in a multi cultural, pagan 21st Century.

Our culture contaminated 21st Century Christian has even lost contact with some of the deep truths which previous generations treasured. And whilst the churches have moved away from creeds & systematic bible teaching, pagan cultures have flooded in & filled the thinking gap.

When the average Christian hears or reads the word ‘God’ on Trinity Sunday, they are not generally thinking of the Triune being, Father, Son & Spirit. Not many of us preachers eagerly look forward to this teaching opportunity of Trinity Sunday in the church calendar!
Leslie Newbigin put it this way in his old classic, ‘The Open Secret’:’The working concept of most ordinary Christians is – if one may venture a bold guess – shaped more by the combination of Greek Philosophy & Islamic theology, than by the thought of the fathers of the first four centuries.’
If even the church is confused about who God really is, is it any surprise that the rest of our unchurched society has a mixed message?

Quite simply, we need a new creed for today’s crowd. One which sounds a clear note again, to teach & encourage believers, as well as challenge the best guess views about God of post moderns which fall so far short of reality. New language to describe ancient ideas from our forefathers. New ways of communicating truth to those who will not otherwise hear & understand. New words to affirm the age old truths that God has revealed Himself as Father, Son & Spirit for our sakes, for our generation!

The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Ed Miliband, Terry Virgo & Ernest Shackleton - a new kind of leadership.

It’s the time of year for football managers to play musical chairs, scrambling for the nearest vacant seat that offers more money or security. In politics, Ed Miliband looks increasingly likely to be stabbed in the back by a Labour party who gambled on the wrong brother & lost. In Libya, Syria & that other corrupt world power, FIFA, leadership is in question. The pace of leadership change is huge – the patience of the paying public shorter than ever. Like never before, the world needs more leaders, but what kind of weak, people pleasing leaders emerge from the bad soil of this kind of distorted culture?

Reading Terry Virgo’s new book, ‘The Spirit Filled Church’ , a high bar is set for leadership. Read this passage & get your idea of leadership redefined by some glorious truth rather than the demands of a self centred world:
‘If the church is perceived as simply a gathering of people who attend religious services, little leadership is required. Leading the meetings & preaching sermons are all that must be mastered. If however, the church is seen in a different light, namely as the focal point of God’s purposes for world evangelisation & the key centre for discipleship, training, envisioning & releasing ministry, then leadership takes on a totally new meaning.’

‘Leaders are needed who will genuinely inspire a following by their godly character & charismatic gifting. Good leaders are worth their weight in gold. Christians count it a privilege to follow them. The ascended Christ is determined to have a mature & well functioning church, & to accomplish this He has made anointed leadership a top priority. He has ascended on high & has given some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists & some pastors & teachers.’

If Terry is right, then it is the unlikely academy of the local church that becomes the melting pot for all those who aspire to leadership, to be shaped & formed into men & women of conviction. Those who themselves will shape & transform our society so often devoid of true, bold leadership. The church, that old battle scarred institution, with all her faults & failings – still the hope of all the earth!

Where are such men & women? Are they queuing at the door to get on the programme? Are they thrilled & inspired by what they observe in the lives of those of us who already lead? Maybe they are bored, caught up with the minutiae of life? Maybe they lack courage to see themselves standing above the parapet? Perhaps we have failed to lead them into passionate & dangerous lives? The spirit of Shackleton’s old call should be heard again by those who are looking for such a leader to follow. Writing in the press in 1907 before his expedition to the Antarctic:

'Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.'

Shackleton’s haunting words don’t sound that different from how Paul viewed his apostleship. The scum of the earth, ship wrecked, beaten, misunderstood. Words describing leadership which put fear into the hearts of many who draw back, but draw dreams & greatness from the few who step forward. Now doesn’t that make you yearn for some adventures in leadership which change the world?

Friday, 3 June 2011

Fredrick Alliston & the life of a dangerous Hindu radical

Fredrick Alliston (Great Grandad) left on a boat for India around 1897 where he lived for 25 years. His story is one of huge decisions made at great cost with both eyes fully fixed on a greater hope to come.
Serving as a Salvation Army Officer, working as an Evangelist to the Hindi speaking natives, Fredrick operated out of the British compound. His desire to see locals impacted by the gospel, frustrated by the colonial British culture into which he brought converts & their desire to simply assimilate Christianity as Britishness.

Here is where Fredrick made the call that all heroes of the faith have made at some point down through the centuries. He decided that his need to genuinely reach Hindus with the gospel was greater than his need to live in safety & comfort amongst the 'little England' crowd in the compound.

This was no easy turning point for any man, particularly one with a wife, Louisa, & by now a growing family of small children. How quickly we make choices today based on the perceived risk to our family - Fredrick deemed it a greater risk to remain settled, valued a greater prize than comfort would bring, thought it better to lose it all for something he could never lose.

With Louisa & the children in tow, they moved quickly out of the compound. Ignoring warnings from the British that they would be out from under their protection, recklessly blocking their ears to threats that they would be cut off from safety & their own kind, they came out. Abandoning themselves to the only hope they had left. That some might be reached.

Just moving out was not enough. Fredrick knew he had to gain acceptance amongst the suspicious Hindus. In leaving the compound he buried even his own identity as an Englishman & a Salvation Army Officer. His western clothing left behind; His name changed to a name understood by Hindi speakers : 'Bringer of Light'. This is who he was now, this was all there was to him.

As a family they absorbed Hindi customs & food, they lived in their squalid housing, they caught their diseases. They even died weakly, needlessly like the impoverished locals. Fredrick & Louisa had ten children whilst out in India. Three were buried there. Given up for the sake of the gospel through the kind of accident, fire & disease that they would never have been exposed to in the security of the expat community. After one such death, Fredrick cycled for 3 days & nights with his child's body in a box upon his back, searching for a burial place that would be safe from digging animals.

What a cost, some might say too great a cost. What is it that drives a man to live so radically, so dangerously? What is this glimpse of future hope & glory which enables a man to value the spread of the gospel over settled, safe living? What is this madness that brings a man to his knees beside the graves of his children, only to get up again & press on further, deeper?
Friends, the world desperately needs more of this kind of madness. The certainty of future grace to come which releases incredible hope & joy through suffering for millions down through the ages, & still today. We don't long for Fredrick's trials, but we are awakened with a raging thirst for his authentic hope in God that might just change our lost generation!