Well, I'm back to blogging but who knows for how long!
There are two reasons I'm back.
Firstly, I went back home to Northern Ireland last weekend. I love Wales and am very settled here but there really is nowhere like the place you grew up in.
It's quite a powerful thing to visit your old church, your family and friends when you don't see them very often. I miss them. The hardest thing for Andrea and I living in Wales continues to be being far from family and friends. Just to have your dad scoot over to help you put a shelf up or your relatives calling in to say hi or heading over to your parent's house for Sunday lunch.
The normal stuff.
God's blessed us with surrogate family here and we're so grateful for that but it can still be a bit difficult at times.
We stayed with my lovely sis and bro-in-law, Mel and Dave, in Lurgan and had a great time with them (town and county!). They just celebrated their 1st wedding anniversary and are a real inspiration.
Yesterday we went out for lunch.....Oh yeah, and I really miss the food!! We were joined by Dave's mum Iris. Iris is one of those great godly women who's love for Jesus is infectious. Her and her husband Andrew run a charity called HOPE which helps people all over the globe and supports poorer churches in Eastern Europe.
She is a great storyteller as well. We were listening to some great insights and stories over homemade soup and wheaten bread (I REALLY miss the food!) when we got to talking about people's blogs. Iris is also a typical 'norn irish' mum who loves finding out what the young 'uns are getting up to on their blogs! She was able to tell me that I hadn't blogged since April 10th precisely!!!
So Iris, this blog is for you! :-)
Secondly, I've been reading a book recently called Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. Great, great book. It's a very simple read but quite a big revelation. It takes you through the various practices and traditions of mainline Christendom and challenges their position, their relevance and even their biblical basis in churches today.
A lot of my own musings were confirmed. That is, that much of the practices and traditions we THINK are 'by the book' actually originate from Roman pagan culture and have NO biblical basis.
Why is the Church often perceived as irrelevant, boring, out of touch, hierarchal, even un-spiritual?
Firstly, because in so many places IT JUST IS! Fact!
Secondly, I think it has to do with many practices and traditions which are seen as non-negotiable but, as the author of this book points out, actually have little biblical weight and stifle the very life of the church.
Have you ever asked any of the following questions?
1) Why are clergy often elevated as holier than the laity?
2) Why is everyone so solomn and depressed looking when they CELEBRATE the Lord's supper?
3) Why do people in many churches wear their best clothes (or even military uniforms!) to church?
4) What's with all the singing?
5) What's with one person leading a service and the other hundred sitting like sardines listening then leaving?
6) Why do we sit in rows at all?
7) Why does it feel that you need a degree to go to most churches and be able to comprehend what's going on and being said?
This book delves into these and many more questions about why we do what we do.
It's got me thinking a lot about my own denomination, The Salvation Army. There are some real heroes of the faith in this movement doing some fantastic things. However it seems of late, (or maybe it's just me) that there is a different vibe in the movement these days than a few years ago.
Like it's settling down again.
This concerns me. There are few forums in our denomination for healthy debate and discussion about the relevance of practices and traditions that we hold dear.
Other than a few advisory councils and officer-led committees at the top, who's asking the tough questions about why we do what we do? Is renewal taking place? It just seems like it's a 'keep your head down, get on with it and don't ask questions' period.
In fact institutional denominations like the Church of England and the Methodists seem much more open and secure about challenging each other and having healthy debate about their own sacred cows at every level than we do at the moment.
I can think of nothing worse if we are to engage with a deeply complex world than to keep our head down and just go with the flow. Perhaps I'm just not hearing this stuff or moving in the right circles.
I'm concerned that we are going into self-preservation mode in many places, shying away from the hard questions and difficult challenges that any mainline denomination has to face in 2008. Many corps (churches) up and down the country are closing down or are very close to sutting their doors for good.
Where are the leaders with vision, creativity, and inspiration?
Where are those who are taking risks and not just doing business as usual? And I don't just mean the leaders.
Where are the prophets who are challenging the status quo?
Where is our 'first love' for the last, the lost and the least. The ones that The Shepherd came to save.
Are we really ready for a 21st Century world?
I love this movement and its rich history. I love it TOO much to not speak out when I feel it isn't very well health-wise.
I've decided to have a go at writing some of my own thoughts on my blog in the weeks to come. It would be great if it stirs a little bit of healthy debate amongst a few bloggers. I don't care if people disagree with my views.
It would just be good to see some passion out there!