Tag Archives: books

Total Church (ii) – authentic community

I started taking God seriously whilst at university. There were plenty of questions about faith that were going around in my head at the time, such as how do we relate to God, etc. But the thing that made a difference in my faith was finding a community (in the form of a student group) in which I could ask these questions. Since then, I have been drawn to churches where there has been this sense of community in some way, be it in the whole congregation or in small groups.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis address this issue of community in the second chapter of Total Church. They claim that community was at the heart of God’s covenantal dealings with us and his mission in the world – from the law that governed the community given by Moses at Mount Sinai, the nation that was to be a kingdom of priests to the surrounding world, to the small community that Jesus drew around himself to redirect  the mission of God.. This community was centred around Jerusalem to draw people in, now it is centred around Jesus a goes out. But community is still key. As the early apostles went out they planted communities in each city, not just a place where individuals could come and perform acts of worship. The church (that is, the community of believers) is still at the heart of God’s dealing with the world

Chester and Timmis also claim that too often church has been seen as just that place to come to deal with an individual’s worship needs. It is seen as one more thing to juggle in a busy life, alongside work, family, social activities and the like., So, when something else, say, a new born baby comes along to make life even more busier, church is often the thing that gets dropped.

What is the alternative? Well, in a truly supportive loving Christian community, the Jesus-centred community is the focus, not the individual. So when one person suddenly has more responsibility or less time, the rest of the community gather round to support. Similarly, when more time is gained, it can be offered to the community. So when, say, church members Bob and Mary have twins:

When babies are born [or anything else] it is an issue for the whole church. The congregation takes on some of the responsibility because their identity and life is that of persons-in-community. So, perhaps a couple of people go round early each morning to bath the babies so Bob and Mary can have time together over breakfast. Or someone offers to take Bob to work for  a few months so that on the way he can sleep… Bob and Mary may not be as involved in the church meetings, but they are more involves than ever in the life of the community.

That sounds like an attractive vision to me.

On Chesil Beach – a book review

On Chesil BeachI have just finished reading British author, Ian McEwan’s latest novel, On Chesil Beach. I have read two of his novels before –  Atonement, which I enjoyed mostly (the middle section languished a little), and Saturday, which I loved.  In Saturday, McEwan writes about one family during one event packed day in London. In On Chesil Beach, McEwan bring the focus in even further, concentrating on just one evening and one couple. He doesn’t miss a detail. As McEwan’s writing focusses on a more closely defined moment, his writing seems to get better. There are spoilers in this post.

The setting, Chesil Beach in Dorest, England, is a spit created by the action of the tide over many centuries –  long expanse of sand and stones which stretches for 18 miles along the Dorset coastline. It creates numerous lagoons behind the strip of sand and pebbles and it is considered a World Heritage site.

So, a lovely backdrop for a novel. On Chesil Beach is about a young couple, Edward and Florence, on their wedding night, in 1962, who take their honeymoon in a (fictional) guest house near Chesil Beach. 1962 was a time before the sexual revolution and societal freedoms that came at the end of the 1960s. McEwan artfully describes their thoughts and actions that come out of an English stuffiness, some would say, repression. As the couple eat their evening meal on the day of their wedding in the dining room of their private suite in the guest house, their attention is drawn to the bed in the adjoining room. Interspersed with flashbacks from their childhood and courtship, McEwan gives the background that leads to the events to come, fleshing out the characters of the two honeymooners. But it all goes terribly wrong. As expectations are dashed, sexual disappointment is confounded by blame, and the way they react.

There are many ideas in the book, some to do with the sexual freedoms of another age, which McEwan implies lies behind the difficulties. But these could have been overcome had the characters reacted in different ways. Edward chooses to be offended with Florence near the end of the book after she runs out on him. He could be seen as rightly offended, but he chooses not to forgive, but to allow his anger and hurt build up inside him. At the end of the book as Edward looks back on his life, the reader can’t help but wonder if he regretted it. Florence likewise – it could be argued that she was at fault, but then she chooses to run away from her problems. Again, as we hear about her later years. there is that lingering regret.

Granted, the characters are young – dealing with such events like these takes a certain maturity and is always easier in the cold light of day, when emotions are more detached. But both characters, moreso Edward than Florence, had to try and save face in front of each other and we unable to show the humility that would have led to them being reconciled.

I guess, like Atonement, McEwan has described an event which requires forgiveness, but which, within his worldview, is not possible. On finishing the book, I was left with a cold disappointment for what became of the characters. Somehow, It all seemed so avoidable.  A wonderfully written book.

BTW: If you want to know what the hissing and clattering of the waves on the stones sound like at Chesil Beach, which McEwan describes well, watch this video:

Total Church (i) – Whole life discipleship

I’m currently reading Tim Chester and Steve Timmis book, Total Church, so I thought I’d blog my way through it.

The first chapter mentions the role of the Word and the Spirit in the church. They quite rightly point out that not all that is remarkable is from the Spirit, but that the Spirit convicts through the Word. God has acted through Word and Spirit together  all throughout the Bible, from Genesis, to Jesus (the Word), on through Acts and the early church – the word continues to spread through the power of the Spirit. Even today, Christians are convicted through the words of Jesus brought to them by the Spirit through the Bible. One required the other. (Perhaps there is stuff here to say about Todd Bentley and Lakeland – is it word centred or is it entirely amazing spirit based show. – That is another topic)

At the end of the chapter, Chester and Timmis question the role of churches in enabling regular congregants to be a part of the mission of God. Oftenw e think of mission as an add on, only for the super keen. This, he claims, comes from a tendency for churches to convert and retain new members, rather than train and release. He cites the example of overseas missionaries. When they are sent, sometimes to be full time, but often to do secular jobs in other countries so that they can engage in mission in that place (this is often called tentmaking after Paul the apostle’s example), the church (rightly) makes a big deal of it. We test their vocation, pray and commission them before they go, expect regular updates so the prayer can continue. Sometimes groups from the church visit and encourage them in their new setting.

But what about the Christian teacher who is the sole Christian member of staff responsible for 40 mostly non-Christian children? What about the Christian electrician of plumber who spend every day in other peoples houses, fixing essential services and making conversation? What about the Christian lawyer who ends up counselling or defending victims or perpetrators of crime? Don’t they deserve prayer and attention from the church?

This is one of the big problems of western Christianity, Chester and Timmis say. We don’t train and equip people to live as Christians in their whole lives. We have a two tier heriarchy of what ‘Christian mission’ means – namely, those people in other countries or in full time paid Christian work. We are all Christian missionaries and the church must take ‘whole life’ discipleship seriously.

Douglas Coupland on the inner voice

A great quote from a novel I’m reading:

I’m sitting here and my inner voice won’t shut up. Do you ever get that? All you crave is silence, but instead you sit there and , against your wishes, nag yourself at full volume? Money! Loneliness! Failure! Sex! Body! Enemies! Regrets!

And everyone’s doing the same thing – friends, family, that lady at the gas station till, your favourite movie star – everyone’s skull is buzzing with me, me, me, me, me, and nobody knows how to shut it off. We’re a planet of selfish me-robots. I hate it. I try to turn it off.

From The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland.

Do you ever feel like that?