on a tangent…

I spent last weekend at The Mill retreat centre with a pretty special bunch of people. It was Fusion’s National Conference. Right now we are in a period of unprecedented transition as we mark the end of the first 10 years of our journey in the UK, release key members of our leadership team into full time secular work and embark on the next 10 years of our ministry.

In such times of upheaval it’s so easy to get caught up in the tasks that need to be done or worry about what the future holds. Its not easy to remain present and open to what God is doing in each moment.

A few weeks ago I realised that I was carrying a significant amount of stress. I had stopped sleeping and was feeling quite anxious most of the time. One morning at about 3am I decided to journal to see if I could get a handle on what was going on for me. It didn’t take me long to realise that all the things I was stressing about were questions regarding the future. There are some anxieties about the future that a bit of planning and preparation will put to rest. There are other anxieties around questions to do with the future that are simply impossible to answer until we get there. It was this second group that I was fretting over.

But what do you about that? Well, here is what I have been trying and even my botched attempts are working better for me than fretting and stressing! Firstly I wrote the questions and anxieties down on pieces of paper and placed them under the cross in my prayer room; a symbol of my desire and attempt to keep surrendering and entrusting these things to my loving Father and saviour. Secondly as I attempt to live from a place of trusting God with my future, I am trying to be more present in today. I suspect that as I am present today and engaging with what God is doing and saying in this moment, that prepares and positions me to take each step into tomorrow. I realise that the very act of preoccupying over the future prevents me from being ready for the future. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but I think it’s true.

Having said all that I realise that I haven’t told you about last week’s conference. I guess that will have to wait till next week, but for now let’s enjoy the present!

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I have a dream

Who am I? My name is Claire and I am part of an organisation called Fusion. Ah yes, you work with university students!! No, not that Fusion, we are Fusion Youth and Community, we’ve been going for about 50 years…..

We are a registered charity working with disadvantaged children and young people to see them increasingly realise their potential for a positive, hope filled life. We are holistic in our approach and to this end we intentionally work with their networks – families, schools, the whole neighbourhood and society at large – facilitating a commitment to and expressions of healthy community based on the values of justice, mercy and compassion. We network with local councils, churches, the police, businesses and other stakeholders who share our goals.  Our Christian faith is our motivation and we believe that the core values of our faith (many of which are shared by a number of other faiths) hold the key to a healthy, purposeful life as individuals, communities and a whole society.

Through our nations chequered history there has often risen a voice for justice for the oppressed, care and provision for the poor and a challenge to ‘do the right thing’. Each time the nation has responded and society has changed, some of those changes have been written deep into our psyche. (consider for a moment that there was a time in our history when a small group of people had to engage in a long and dirty political battle to increase the minimum age at which a child was permitted to work in the coal mines from 4 to 10; today the care and protection of our children is one of our highest values as a nation.) Though at times it sleeps, deep within us is a formidable giant that lives for justice with mercy and is motivated by compassion. When this part awakens, we realise that we were born to change the world and not just to take up space; hope comes to life and the reason for our existence is renewed.

Our dream, my dream, is that the giant will re-awaken and every child, young person and adult we work with, indeed every community, and even our nation discovers their place in changing the world.

Looking back to Look forward

Last year i was part of the team who helped coordinate the Annual British Pilgrimage of Hope. It was an incredible 18 days. if you are ready for a little more than the usual diet of Christian summer festivals and bible weeks, this could be for you. Did you enjoy Manchester 2000 or the soul in the city events of past years? there was something about being together in mission that was so much more purposeful! The Annual British Pilgrimage of Hope goes a bit further than even those events.

We really just wanted to create something that was worthy of a generation of Brits who wanted to learn how to change the world. So we put together some training in mission – practical skills but also looking at biblical frameworks of values that express God’s glory and inform every day of our lives. We added an inspirational look at those in our past who put their lives and reputations on the line because they knew that Christ was asking no less of them; they changed the world and life as we know it now would not exist had it not been for their choices. They show us a courageous face of mission that doesnt shrink back but brings justice, mercy and compassion to the streets and homes of our land. But what is the use of inspiration, new skills and understanding if you dont have a chance to try it out? So we added a mission placement, in teams heading off to support local churches in their on going local mission. And still it wasnt time to go home, we journeyed way back in time and headed up to Iona where we drew further inspiration as we saw how God used Patrick, Columba and Aiden to bring the first light of the gospel to our land. And so as we said good bye to oneanother we each embarked on the pilgrimage of the rest of our lives, with no excuses but a desire to live for God.

this year we beging our journey on the 15th of July at 9am and complete on the 26th. Come and join us if you are game!

http://www.fusionyac.org/pilgrimage

 

when the shadows come

Its been a while since I posted on my blog. The last couple of months have been challenging but the shadows seem to be dispersing a little, which is encouraging. We are about two thirds of the way through the Foundations course we are running in Balham. Over recent weeks I have had the privilege of facilitating the group we engage with the truth of Jesus our kinsman redeemer and ransom, and in a couple of days we will continue the journey through eternal life.

I have appreciated once again trying to get into the shoes of the disciples during those last weeks and days of their time with Jesus. This morning I realised that I currently identify strongly with Cleopas and his mate walking to Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus death. They were bewildered. They had expected to see Jesus’ messiahship expressed in specific and tangible, temporal ways – for them it was a revolution and the toppling of Roman oppression of the Jews. But it hadn’t worked out that way. And to make matters worse, events were still unfolding that made no sense at all being completely outside of their frame of reference – the women, and Peter and John all coming back from the tomb with stories of angels, stones rolled away, visions of Jesus himself…. it was all a bit ‘out there’. And, anyway, none of it made up for the fact that their hopes of freedom from oppression had been dashed.

I too from my temporal perspective look to see God’s kindness and grace expressed in life-living every day ways. Often times it is but very often it isn’t and I can find it tricky. In most of these cases all that’s needed is a quick double take and readjustment and I am off and away again, but sometimes my belief can be shaken to the core, or that’s what it feels like, and that’s not so comfortable to live with.

Jesus responds to his disciples with two things, he helps them see reality from God’s eternal perspective. This isn’t simply an intellectual excercise but a process of the heart and mind where revelation leads to understanding. The second thing he does is to breathe on them, imparting his very Spirit and nature into them. Now that he has paid the ransom, the process of redemption unfolds as God himself presences himself in them saying ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’. Here is the eternal grace and kindness of God entering our temporal existence, ready to reveal the myriad expressions of his life and love, his unfolding redemption, his action in the waiting times. Walking with us and transforming our bewilderment into understanding, belief and hope.

In January I posted my reflections on Capital ‘H’ Hope and I think this is what its all about. Relief comes and their are nice feelings when God’s grace and kindness find expression in ways that I can see and experience as goodness; but when those two things dont line up I need to cling to him and trust him to help me see him again.

Capital ‘H’

I recently visited a friend’s church and heard a sermon about hope. It was helpful, not because I agreed with everything I heard but it put me to work to better understand and articulate for myself what Hope is about. I realise that once again our English language and western idiom may have cast shadows on a beautiful jewel of our faith. For us the words ‘hope’ and ‘dream’ can be interchangeable, they carry profound, positive, emotive meaning. They are what can lift us up and get us through dark or simply, dull moments in life. They can motivate us to action, for the simple reason that they depend on us in order to become reality; this is where some of their potency lies. We need hopes and dreams to work towards, to aspire to, to rally around. They can be good, healthy things to have but their very nature is that they are never guaranteed.

In the scriptures however we hear of another Hope, I now refer to it with a capital ‘H’. This Hope, in complete contrast to ‘hope’, is a certainty, guaranteed and totally independent of us or any action we would take or not take. It is like the hope that tomorrow follows today (until Christ returns that is!); and there is nothing I can do to change that. As we explore further we see that this Hope is in fact God himself, Christ, our Saviour, our absolute certainty. This is Christian Hope. Not that everything will happen tomorrow the way we ‘hope’, but that regardless of what happens He is there to meet us tomorrow – that, HE is our Hope. So this Hope is the Hope that brings life and meaning on the mountain top as well as in the valley.

So when we ask each other what we have put our hope in, the meaning we carry is often not of Hope but that of comfortable, purposeful, positive, dare I say  happy ‘hopes and dreams’. Even when I have put my hope in God’s action I get into trouble, I seek after his work in my life and put my hope in that. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, but what if he chooses to use this difficult suffering to bring me closer to him rather than take it away as he is perfectly able to do? Is God not to be relied on? No, that’s not it at all. But that is why he calls me to put my Hope in him and I can then trust his action, his purposes, his will – even if (especially when) I do not understand them.

So, when I speak of ‘hope’ but give it the weight of ‘Hope’. I do you, my brothers and sisters a disservice, because the only thing we were made to rightly Hope for is God himself. He is the Hope that will never disappoint.

As we head into 2013, let us fix our eyes on Jesus our living Hope, walking out to meet him knowing he will never leave us, fail us or forsake us, whether we have to walk the mountain tops or the darkest valleys.

Why I really do dislike tinsel…

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christmas Angel - a little less intimidating than Gabriel thank goodness!!

Christmas Angel – a little less intimidating than Gabriel thank goodness!!

Over the last couple of months I’ve been given to pondering the events that we have been celebrating through advent. To be honest Christmas is not something  I always enjoy. The last few years I have been on a journey to understand what I dislike about it – other than tinsel, and why; what, in my heart of hearts, I wish it would be. This latest bout of pondering has been a continuation of that journey.

At work we have been watching the BBC production ‘The Nativity’, a beautiful, gritty portrayal of the journeys of both Mary and Joseph in the lead up to the birth of Mary’s first child. The turmoil that Joseph went through, believing his sweetheart had betrayed him, and the impact of his mistrust on Mary. Years as a Paediatrician, years mentoring young people and my own personal journey all tell me something of the impact of these dynamics on the home.

Mary was an outcast, separated from her family, homeless and at the mercy of strangers as she waited the birth of her first child. Joseph likewise, alone in the world caring for his wife and her illegitimate child – or so it looked to others. Then as with refugees the world over, leaving the country with a moment’s notice, travelling by night in fear for the life and safety of the child and mother. When, after the king had died, they came back to Israel returning home didn’t feel like a safe option so they went north to Galilee, isolated and familyless, they began the process of building a life together from nothing.

As if all that wasn’t bewildering enough there were the diplomats from the East, the often terrifying Archangel Gabriel and absolutely awesome army of angels in full military gear (singing mind you!).  There was the old priest Simeon who praised God whilst in the same breath prophesying sorrow and pain; and the lovely widow Anna. How did all the pieces fit together? We are told that Mary stored all these things in her heart and pondered them.

Later on in his life Jesus would admonish the disciples and the crowds warning them that their religious and spiritual performance wouldn’t amount to much, but what he cared about was how well they knew him. As he shared his life and heart with us, it became clear he wanted us to know him so well that we would recognise his voice and many guises… “when you did so to the least of these you did it to me”… the stranger, the outcast, the hungry, the naked, the broken and homeless. For me the connection seems stronger this year than ever before, was Jesus remembering his own experience when he said those words?

Be that as it may, I am challenged to honour these requests that Jesus made; especially at Christmas when we remember the circumstances around his own birth and childhood. Who is the stranger, the outcast, the lonely? Who around me is broken, hungry or homeless? What can I do to honour them? I am not very good at this stuff. It even challenges my desire to have a ‘meaningful’ Christmas, because that would feel more ‘righteous’ than simply and humbly serving another. As I spend Christmas with my mum this year, what does it mean to serve her for her sake, helping her feel she belongs, giving her a cup of water … and so honouring my Saviour?

the family try, complete with tinsel!

the family tree, complete with tinsel!

Oh and I almost forgot, why do I really dislike tinsel? I am not sure what the answer to that question is, but I know I don’t yet ‘get’ tinsel. You may say ‘why not tinsel’ I would say emphatically ‘why?’!!

three days alive

The task was to locate and articulate the dream that would take us through the next 2 decades. After a pilgrimage of training, mission and reflection in the summer, followed a couple of months later by a week of ‘Foundations for life and mission’, we had three days together. We weren’t harnessing just any dream, not only was it be ‘ours’ but it was to be a dream for an entire nation.

working on the dream...

working on the dream…

Those three days with the Brazilianteam were the most exciting I have spent for a few years. We were so alive as we went on the journey together. They drilled down to find the gems, the finger prints of God in the history and people of Brazil, getting greater clarity as they shared with me and each other. ‘I’m not usually patriotic’ exclaimed one after a few hours of this work ‘but I LOVE my country!’ . We looked at the areas where God’s glory and presence was most absent in the nation today, and the conviction and call to mission between them took root. It wasn’t long before they came up with a vision for their work and lives in Brazil to take them into the next 20 years.

I felt so alive during those three days. To be part of a gr

oup of people who became friends… brothers and sisters on a mission, was like basking in the healing sun and letting the sea breeze blow away the staleness of ill health. As I look back on my life I have been incredibly blessed at several points to be part of a group like this; in Leicester, at Trinity in Poatina, in South Africa during 2009 and again in 2011.

Last week I visited a school in Cambridge with a friend who’s great, great, great grandfather was the founder. We went to the whole school chapel service and as the place filled up with junior and high school kids, I remembered the excitement of working and walking with teenagers who were on the frontier of discovery of life (and sometimes knowledge!).  Although there is something deeper for me about working with young adults and teenagers, there was this similar theme of being with friends on a mission, sharing life as we move into the future together. it is something I aspire to and for which my heart longs.

The Brazilians went away with a plan and strategy for the next few months, and they continue to meet and pray over skype, I am looking forward to catching up with them and sharing life with them again. One  thing is for sure, although they are separated by many miles from each other, they are alive and moving forward together.

team Brazil..

team Brazil..