It’s Been a While.

When did life become even more hectic than usual? There are changes afoot and God is on the move.  The Rothbury vision is closer than we thought and our house is up for sale. But that is a whole different blog post.

My pioneer study is taking a lot of time – in a good way – and I am learning so much. But between those two tensions there seems no time to blog.

This is the transcript I wrote for an article for CMS (Church Mission Society).

I was born into a non-Christian family which was very dysfunctional. I became a Christian in my late teens, and for the first time, knew that I was loved.

I actually mattered enough for someone to not only notice my existence but to die for me. God cared for every part of my life and his heart broke for the rejection I carried deep inside me

When I fell in love with Jesus, I pledged to let my heart break for what broke his.

As I matured over the years in my Christian journey, that promise has matured also. I have always been an activist for the marginalised and longed to act as God wanted me to respond.

I grew up without the experience of proper family love and was determined that my own children would always know how much they were loved and wanted. This led me to set up a Christian youth homelessness charity in the early 2000s.

Since then, I have worked for Frontier Youth Trust on a project for young adult offenders and also managed a foodbank which was founded to respond to the needs caused by the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures.

I guess that seeing the world through God’s lens is part of my DNA. I love being part of a church family but am constantly aware of those who feel they don’t belong inside a church.

My vicar searched for four years to find something that would ‘scratch the itch’ of my thirst for deepening my theological understanding, while promoting the call to activism that God placed on my heart.

I went to a Church Mission Society/Chelmsford Diocese pioneer ministry conversations and taster day, and found the way I am wired has a name: Pioneer!

Becoming a student at the St Cedd Centre for Pioneer Mission has enabled me to grow in theological understanding while continuing to practise in the mission field of my local community. More than anything, it has helped me to understand that God is already at work there and I am blessed to be able to join in with what he is doing.

Pioneering is often a lonely journey, so meeting regularly with likeminded people is a huge encouragement.

The Turquoise Table

The St Cedd’s course coincided with my latest venture. I live on a relatively deprived housing estate and we have placed a picnic table in our open plan front garden which we have painted bright turquoise. It has a sign on it, which says: “The Turquoise Table. You are welcome here. A community gathering place.”

Two women have coffee and biscuits sat opposite each other on a turquoise picnic table by the roadside

It is around the Turquoise Table, that we do ‘church’ in a variety of different ways. There are large community events such as Halloween, Christmas carol service, summer street party and storytime week for the children. But it is also a place for peace and gentleness, where one-to-one conversations take place over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. It is where the Turquoise Table team meet to pray for our community and to fellowship. It is where those who would not go to church get the opportunity to meet with the Jesus who sat at the Samaritan well and met the needs of a marginalised woman who in turn introduced her community to Jesus.

The Turquoise Table is the meeting hub for the whole community. It is a place of reconciliation where two feuding neighbours came together to sing Christmas carols along with 40+ others and where I can look out of my window and see a bunch of children spending an afternoon doing craft activities organised by their mothers. The community taking ownership.

 

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Jesus and Shame? Does He Really Get It?

My Pioneer Journey

Last week I went on a Quiet Day Retreat at Hammonds Farm near Fordham, Essex. It is a beautiful working farm owned by Emma, a lovely Christian Pioneer. We looked at the temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness. It was facilitated by a Christian speaker called Sheila.

I arrived with my head still very full of this concept of shame and how it connects with Jesus. He was sinless and was never ashamed of his own behaviour. What about the shame that was heaped upon Him? After all, as we have already explored in the previous posts, what we feel in hearts is very similar, whether it is caused by us or by someone else. I had already considered that even from conception, He was immersed in shame.

His mother, Mary, was young, unmarried and pregnant. In her culture that would have been an extremely shameful situation to be in. Joseph, her fiancé, would have felt very hurt, presuming that she had been unfaithful. Many men in his shoes would have felt a deep-seated shame that perhaps, he was not good enough for her. God sends an angel to reassure Joseph, but it would not have stopped the community whispering and pointing the finger.  (Matthew 1v18-25)

After the Magi had visited, God warns Joseph in a dream take his family and flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15) Depending on which theologian you read, this could have been for weeks or months or even years but it doesn’t alter the stigma they endured as fleeing refugees.

The World-Health Organisation states:

“Early child development (ECD) encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between 0–8 years of age.” 

Although as a small child Jesus would not have understood the shame of being a refugee, it is likely to have had an influence on his fully human child development.

I also considered the shame of the crucifixion. They beat Jesus, they stripped Him, they humiliated Him by dressing Him up like a mannequin in pretend royal robes, complete with a crown of thorns. They exploited His physical weakness when He could no longer carry His own execution instrument by calling a bystander to take it. They executed Him on a midden heap (Golgotha) outside the walls of the city. From the cross, He was made to watch His mother kneeling in the filth and dirt, weeping. Shame was heaped upon shame. None of His own making.

But at the retreat, Sheila really made me think about His whole public ministry. She asked us how we thought that Satan had come to Jesus in the wilderness? Most sermons we hear talk about the content of what Satan had to say and Jesus verbal response. Now I am thinking more about the how: that small, persistent voice in Jesus’ head, undermining him, taunting him, heaping shame on Him…..”If”,“Surely?”

Jesus withstood the temptations in the wilderness and Satan withdrew but it did not stop there. It continued throughout His public ministry. Temptation and the resulting shame was a massive, prolonged, never-ending and painful battle for Jesus up to the ultimate moment of death on the cross.

Consider just three examples. In Matthew 16:13-23. Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah. He recognises that he is in the presence of the Son of God. Yet, as soon as Jesus talks of His suffering, death and resurrection, there is Peter, rebuking Jesus for talking in that way, in effect being the mouthpiece of the whispering, sneering Satan…..”If you are the Son of God…..”    

Again, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wrestled with the temptation of the devil whispering in His ear, “Surely, you don’t have to do this? God could take it away.”  (Matthew 26:36-50) Not only was He struggling with the shameful arrows being fired at Him when He was at His most vulnerable, His friends were not there just when He needed them most.

When He was on the cross, again so alone and vulnerable, humiliated and already having shame upon shame heaped on Him, there were the mockers, and Satan uses them to, once more. tempt Jesus,  If you are really the Son of God, save yourself.”

When Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished.” He was not just talking about overcoming sin and death, He was talking about temptation. He was talking about the permanent effects of shame.

Because” is really the flipside to If or “Surely?for us today.

For example, BECAUSE, I have faith, I can cope with suffering or bereavement. I can cope well. So, when I am totally grief stricken, the devil whispers in my ear, “If  you had real faith you would be praising God…Are you a real Christian?”

Or BECAUSE  I am a Christian I am filled with joy and peace so, I never get depressed; I couldn’t possibly have a nervous breakdown. So when I do break down, the devil whispers in my ear, “If  you are a true Christian you should have faith and not get depressed…….Are you a real Christian?

Scripture tell us that Jesus walks alongside us. He empathises. He know exactly what it’s like to feel the effects of shame. He has walked in our shoes. He battles with us and through his defeat of sin and death, temptation and shame. He is able to bring us to a place of forgiveness for the shame we cause ourselves and healing for the shame that others cause us.

And that is what I can share with those who come to the Turquoise Table.

Amen

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The Bible and Shame

My Pioneer Journey

I am continuing to think about this concept of shame, there seems to be different facets to be investigated. In this blog post I am exploring shame that is caused by ourselves, usually as a result of our own sin and shame that is heaped on another person, also as a result of sin. What examples are in the Bible? How does God deal with shame and does He even use shame?

There are several biblical examples. From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, they were aware of their nakedness and felt ashamed. Peter wept bitterly in shame, when he denied Jesus. David not only caused his own shame by plotting the death of Uriah, so that he could sleep with his wife, but he also was the victim of Saul’s sin causing him to cry out to God to save protect him from shame.

I love Psalm 25.  In verses 1–3, and again in 20-21, David says,

In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust

.I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies’ triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.

Yet, in verses 6 -7, 11 & 18 David also acknowledges that he has caused his own shame through his sinful behaviour.

Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.

It is clear that David deeply feels both aspects of shame, yet interspersed between the verses that I have quoted, David shows his vulnerability and total trust in God to remove all shame from him and he praises God in faith.

There are many other verses in Scripture that also show how God deals with shame: Isaiah 61 v 7, Romans 10 v 11, for example. Whether it is self-caused shame or shame inflicted by others, it is clear only God can take the emotional turmoil away.

The questions: Did Jesus experience shame, and how did He respond are probably the ponderings of another post. I have just scraped the surface and already there is so much to think about.

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Sin Has Left The Room

My Pioneer Journey

I have been thinking a lot recently about some of the conversations that I have had around the Turquoise Table.

 How can I reconcile the emphasis that the church has on sin and forgiveness when in today’s society, many people do not get the concept of sin. We live in an ‘anything goes’ world. We are individuals, we have rights and we can do what we like, as long as it is not hurting anyone.

Why would people feel the need for forgiveness, if they don’t believe they have done anything wrong? Most things that people get angry about, they feel justified in doing so. Of course, you don’t love your neighbour, the chances are you don’t even know them. Why would you need forgiveness from a God who appears to be absent, inactive and probably about as real as a unicorn? Many people are so busy struggling to get by that they do not have time for myths and legends. The Incarnate Saviour who became man and was born in a stable is about as real as Father Christmas coming down the chimney or the Easter Bunny hiding Easter eggs in the garden. Who needs the Holy Spirit when they have an Elf on the Shelf to keep them in line.

We all feel guilty about things we have done, but in today’s society we can just ‘google’ a good excuse. And if we really feel we were out of order, we can change our behaviour a do something about it.  Who needs Jesus to take it away? In our self-sufficiency, we deal with it ourselves.

In a recent lecture on Theological Reflection, Andrea spoke about shame. My goodness, it rang a million bells in me.

That’s what I hear around the Turquoise Table. That’s what I hear when mentoring students at the university, that’s what I hear when sitting with the homeless man on the High Street, thats what I hear when having coffee with my friends, thats what I hear from the vulnerable young girl who is self-harming, thats what I hear from the mum in church when her toddler throws a tantrum. That is exactly what I experienced in my own life.

There is a big difference between sin and shame. Shame is something we direct on ourselves. It is the self-loathing that says I am worthless in the eyes of the world, I am insignificant in this life. I am unlovable. I cannot provide properly for my family. It says I will never be good enough. We are very good at developing a mask of self-sufficiency to present to the world,  but that very  mask emphasises the shame we are trying to hide.

In recognising that this is the connection point between my faith and my ministry, I am going to spend some time over the next few days exploring on what the Bible has to say about shame. How does this fit with the people I am encountering? Where is God already working in this?

Hmm! I think this is Theological Reflection. It’s good to know that I am beginning to grasp the concept.😀

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It’s Ok to Dehydrate.

Creating, In His Image

I am mindful that we need to take care of God’s creation and to use it wisely. I love the way that the Message bible put it in Genesis 1:

“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
Over recent months, we have been challenged to ‘be responsible’ for all the plastic that we use. Recycling is good but it is better to not use it in the first place, if it is possible to use something that is more sustainable and kinder to the environment. We have replaced plastic bottles in the bathroom with shampoo bars and I have been making a variety of beauty products such as body butter and soap and we are all converted to dent tabs instead of toothpaste. In the kitchen, we are now using homemade cleaners and washing detergents. We still have a way to go but we are making progress and everyone is involved in cutting up non recycled plastic and stuffing our ecobricks. You can find out more here.
Now I have turned my attention to food. It’s partly about how much is wrapped in unnecessary plastic. We are shopping locally at a farm shop for our veggies. I can take my own reusable containers. But it also set me thinking about how much food gets wasted in our house. I set out to make some changes and started by using the slow cooker a lot more – who knew that you can make cakes, or do a whole full English breakfast overnight in a slow cooker? I progressed to using veggie peelings to make stock which then went into containers into the freezer. I now have bases for so many dishes from soups to shepherds pie. I guess I find it easier as we eat a mainly vegetarian diet.
My favourite new thing was a considered purchase but I am loving it. I am the proud owner of a DEHYDRATOR. I confess I was worried at first about how to use it but there is so much information out there. YouTube video’s, Pinterest, Blogs etc. I have even joined a group on Facebook.
My goodness, I never knew that there was so much that can be done with a dehydrator. The family have healthy snacks which they are loving. Elodie can’t get enough of the dried apples and pears. The strawberries and raspberries are scrumptious sprinkled on cereals.  Even my fussy husband is in heaven with the cucumber crisps that I made him.
My kitchen shelves are an array of gorgeous colour with jars of veg and fruit powders. And it is so simple to do. Slice, dry (for hours and hours) grind and store in glass jars. The icing on the cake is that the whole process maintains the vitamins and minerals.
If you want to know more, do check out The Purposeful Pantry.  There is so much advice and help there.
Dehydrators range in price. We brought ours on Amazon and went for an economical one to start with.  And who knows, with all the talk about food shortages post Brexit, it may have been a very wise move.
dehydrator
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How Did It Go? and What Next?

Our Turqoise Table

Christmas seems so long ago. There was so much prayer and preparation that went into our first Community Carols around the Turquoise Table. We painted our angel friendship stones and hid them around the local streets. We were delighted when people were posting pictures in our Facebook group of their little ones proudly clutching their stones.

On the night of the event, we decorated the garden. It had rained for several days before and it rained the day after but God was good. It was immensely cold, dry and the stars were shining. Elodie had hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows at the ready, Ruth had Christmas colouring under the gezebo for restless children, Kevin had prepared the carols. And we waited. At half past six, nearly forty people from the community, turned up to sing carols and hear the Christmas story. The children brought their angel stones to place around our nativity scene. And a lovely time was had by all.

In the week leading up to Christmas, we placed the various characters on the Turquoise Table and re-told the Christmas story, adding new characters and further narrative day by day. We posted the daily events in our Facebook group.

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And now we consider how we can serve our community and share the amazing grace and love of Jesus with all who come to The Turquoise Table in 2019.

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A New Year Begins.

We are only 9 days into the New Year and I am thinking about the end of it. I have been thinking about how much I have learnt so far on my course. And yet, for everything I am learning, I am realising how much I don’t know. In December, I will be finishing this stage of the journey but 12 months does not seem long enough to build sufficient knowledge for the next stage.

When I began I thought that I would complete my lay pioneer training and that would be it. My intention was to deepen my theological knowledge, to learn techniques to effectively share my faith and to poodle around doing whatever God wanted. At 60 years old, planning retirement in Rothbury, God was never going to ask me to do anything to arduous.

Big mistake! I wonder if Noah, or Abram, or so many others had the same mindset. I can imagine Adam thinking, ‘Well, I am 130 years old, time to settle down and think about retirement’ and God saying, ‘ In your dreams, Adam, you are about to start child rearing again’. (Gen 5 V 3)

Noah, poor guy, didn’t even start a family until he was getting on bit. Fancy having to run around after not one but three kids when you get to 500 years old. (Gen 5 v 32). And if that was not physical enough God tells him to start a building project of gigantic proportions (Gen 6 v 14-16), become a zoo keeper, (Gen 7 v 2-3) and a warehouse operative (v 21).

Phew! At least Noah got to go on a long cruise when he was 600 (Gen 7 v 6). And finally, he gets to have a nice little retirement project as a Vigeron. (V20) for the next 350 years (v28.)

Maybe, I need to be praying for strength and resources for whatever God has planned for me post pioneer training. I hope He remembers. that Northumberland doesn’t have great weather for planting a vineyard. And anyway, the Lindisfarne Mead is already hit. No point in trying to compete.

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