Monthly Archives: May 2012

Church sign of the week 2

Church sign of the week no. 2

“Bigotry wrapped in prayer is still bigotry.”

The Church does bigotry really well! Be it stopping women bishops, ‘discouraging’ poor people or banning gays from worship – the Church does bigotry really well.

There are plenty of examples of bigotry in action in the Church and unfortunately we don’t have to look back in history to see it. We just need to open our newspapers or watch our televisions. It is happening every day.

In some of the Southern States of the U.S. people are trying to make ‘whites only’ churches legal. What they seem to forget is Jesus was ‘of ethnic origin’. He wouldn’t be welcome in their Churches, I would argue he wouldn’t want to go there anyway.

It is not unknown for a church to ask people with disabilities to leave. What happened to the greatest commandment – “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.”

All these things are done in the mane of God, all wrapped up in prayer and lovely words – it’s still bigotry….

We want to be a church that changes all that. We want to show the love that Jesus showed, that love that encompasses everyone.

So whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever your circumstances – you are welcome in our church.

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Church sign of the week 1

Church Sign of the week!

It has been decided by great minds (well mine and one of my minions, so one great mind then) that every week we will put up a new sign outside the Church. Up until now we have displayed the service times and who is preaching. Let’s be brutally honest, who walking up and down LaTrobe Street is bothered who is preaching and at what time at a church they have no intention of going to? So we will put up little gems of wisdom. Then on Fridays it will be changed to show the service times for the weekend just in case anyone is interested.

Every week I will show you the sign and explain it. Some of them will need some explanation, they are a bit obscure.

I am always looking for new signs to go up, if you find any let me know in the comments below or email sion@melbournewelshchurch.org.

This week our sign said…..

“If you are looking for a sign from God…this is it!”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard something like, “If only God would send me a sign.” I really can’t tell you. It’s not because I don’t like you or anything like that, it’s not even that it’s a big secret, I have never counted so that is why I can’t tell you, I really don’t know, but it’s a lot of times.

I have heard from grieving families, I have listened to it from young people torn apart by the whole growing up thing. Successful people wondering what life is all about ask, as do street people sitting on bits of cardboard.

“God just give me a sign.”

So just in case anyone is asking for God for a sign. We put it up.

I hope it helps someone.

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I want to be a clone …pt 4 Its harder to believe than not to

It’s harder to believe than not to.

I have total respect for those who stand up for their faith under almost constant attack.

There is a young lady I know who gets bombarded with insults by her Facebook “friends” any time she mentions church and in this digital age there is no getting away from it, with tweets, Facebook posts, email and SMS coming straight to your phone, where ever you are. Yet time and time again she calmly responds in a respectful and sincere way. I would just tell them to “go away” using less than Biblical language, the sort that rhymes with “Cough” and “Truck”, but hey, that’s me. For her, and people like her, who go to school and uni and face abuse, it’s far harder to believe than not to.

I work in an environment where faith in Jesus is accepted, if not expected. I don’t go to work everyday and get called “Jesus Freak” or “Bible Basher” but I know plenty who do. Who dread Monday mornings because of the questions they will get about their weekend, and the ridicule they will receive from the answers. For them it is definitely harder to believe than not to.

I played a sport where, if someone didn’t like my Christianity it was very easy to ‘remind’ them of the love God has for them during training. I can honestly say I never did anything I am ashamed of but I may have put in a few harder tackles after people ‘questioned’ (and I use that word in its broadest possible sense) my faith. After a few weeks my views where tolerated and the my nickname, ‘Padre’  was used out of friendship and not as a joke.

I am one of the lucky ones, taught by my father to stand up and fight for what I believed, many find it more difficult. Religious tolerance usually came quite quickly to any team I played for, others are not so lucky.  Many people do not have understanding team mates, and find camaraderie lacking when it comes to Christian faith. They are ones who find it harder to believe than not to.

If you will allow me a quick digression (actually I don’t care if you will allow me to or not, I’m going to digress I’m writing this Blog). One of the first teams I played for in Australia was made up mainly of Samoans. Lovely people, great team mates, brilliant friends. Now if you know any Samoans I’m sure you’ll agree when I say they are not known for being small. Anoké, the second smallest man on the team, after me, was 6ft 1inch. They are BIG boys. Samoa is a very Christian country, 95% of people go to church. The boys found out that I was a minister and asked if I would lead a prayer group before each game. I didn’t feel like saying no and it was not because of the nine 6ft plus mountains of Islander muscle towering over me when the question was asked. So that’s what we did.

Before every game the ten of us would go off to one side of the ground and have a little prayer. Occasionally, if they knew the other team, some other Samoans would join us. We never prayed for victory  (God doesn’t take sides in rugby games) only for a safe game and for anyone one we knew who needed our prayers. It was a lovely little ritual that drew us closer together and made us greater friends. I miss it.

Anyway, being a mouthy little scrum half, I used to get into a few scuffles on the pitch. One of the worst times was a fight, (it was a real, fists up fight) with a scrum half from another team (which shall remain nameless). It was me who started it, I admit, with just reason though, he was cheating. Just to be clear, it was me who turned round and smacked him, rather squarely, in the jaw. (I was testing his Christianity, I wanted to see if he would turn the other cheek, he didn’t.) He hit me back, we went to ground and a few other blows were struck, on both sides. We stood up about to go at it again when he dropped his hands and stopped. Wondering why I went in for another go but was pulled back by a big arm on my shoulder. I turned to see 10 big, muscle bound, man mountains called Samoans behind me, backing me up, ready to step in and ‘save’ the Padre! (One of them was from the other team!) I was touched – it was a really nice gesture from my team-mates and their friend. I got sent off for my troubles but it was nice to know that I was not going to be fighting the good fight alone!

I am not one who finds it harder to believe than not to. I am one of the fortunate ones. Most Christians face the truth of their faith day by day because they get questioned about it, and even though I do it comes with my job. For most other people, those who aren’t ministers or bishops, their living of the faith is a daily calling to take up the cross and face their tormentors, in school, in Uni, in work even at play.

This song is for them. Here is what Steve Taylor says about this song –

“A personal favorite. I travelled to London for the chamber orchestra session conducted by very legendary orchestral arranger Del Newman (think Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” among a myriad of others). The classical setting seemed appropriate, especially since the haunting melody in the introduction was lifted from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s now-public domain.

The song takes its title from a line found in the collected letters of Flannery O’Connor, acclaimed short-story writer and novelist from Georgia. Her literary friends in New York had a hard time believing that a writer of her caliber could profess to be something as common and unfashionable as a Christian. She reacts in her letter to the criticism that Christianity’s primary function is as a crutch for the weak-spirited, writing how they don’t understand the cost involved in following Jesus, that “it’s much harder to believe than not to believe.”

The quote stuck. The cost of discipleship–the ideal of taking up your cross everyday and following Jesus–makes it hard to believe, because Christianity demands things from us that we don’t naturally want to give. In the words of playwrite Dennis Potter, “There is, in the end, no such thing as a simple faith.””

Here are the lyrics and the song itself…

Nothing is colder than the winds of change

Where the chill numbs the dreamer till a shadow remains

Among the ruins lies your tortured soul

Was it lost there

Or did your will surrender control?

Shivering with doubts that were left unattended

So you toss away the cloak that you should have mended

Don’t you know by now why the chosen are few?

It’s harder to believe than not to

Harder to believe than not to

It was a confidence that got you by

When you know you believed it, but you didn’t know why

No one imagines it will come to this

But it gets so hard when people don’t want to listen

Shivering with doubts that you left unattended

So you toss away the cloak that you should have mended

Don’t you know by now why the chosen are few?

It’s harder to believe than not to

Some stay paralyzed until they succumb

Others do what they feel, but their senses are numb

Some get trampled by the pious throng

Still they limp along

Are you sturdy enough to move to the front?

Is it nods of approval or the truth that you want?

And if they call it a crutch, then you walk with pride

Your accusers have always been afraid to go outside

They shiver with doubts that were left unattended

Then they toss away the cloak that they should have mended

You know by now why the chosen are few

It’s harder to believe than not to

I believe.

It IS harder to believe than not to. I know it can be hard to carry our cross.

Are you ready to believe?


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I want to be a clone pt3 …Hero

When the house fell asleep

There was always a light

And it fell from the page to the eyes

Of an American boy

 

In a storybook land

I could dream what I read

When it went to my head I’d see

I wanna be a hero

 

But the practical side

Said the question was still

When you grow up what will you be?

I wanna be a hero

 

Hero

It’s a nice-boy notion that the real world’s gonna destroy

You know

It’s a Marvel comic book Saturday matinee fairytale, boy

 

Growing older you’ll find

That illusions are bought

And the idol you thought you’d be

Was just another zero

 

I wanna be a hero

 

Heroes died when the squealers bought ’em off

Died when the dealers got ’em off

Welcome to the “in it for the money as an idol” show

 

When they ain’t as big as life

When they ditch their second wife

Where’s the boy to go?

 

Gotta be a hero

 

Hero

It’s a nice-boy notion that the real world’s gonna destroy

You know

It’s a Marvel comic book Saturday matinee fairytale, boy

 

When the house fell asleep

From a book I was led

To a light that I never knew

I wanna be your hero

 

And he spoke to my heart

From the moment I prayed

Here’s a pattern I made for you

I wanna be your hero

 

 

Here is another Steve Taylor song that resonated with me as soon as I heard it. Musically, I’ll be honest, it is not one of my favourites, but lyrically I love it. It mirrors my up bringing and my feelings. I read a quote from Steve Taylor about this song,

 

“And sometimes, by the grace of God, we get it right. My eyes went bad at an early age from all the books I read late at night using the streetlamp outside my bedroom window (this wouldn’t have happened if I’d watched more television…). Biographies were a favorite, but the accounts I’d read at age nine didn’t necessarily tell the whole unvarnished story. The more I’d read, the more my heroes (except for maybe Abraham Lincoln) tended to shrink in stature, eventually causing my adolescent psyche no small amount of post- Watergate disillusionment (“Dad, what does ‘expletive deleted’ mean?”).”

Role models may vary in quality and consistency, but all are ultimately born to disappoint. Jesus is the only hero worth having.

 

Steve Taylor, August 1994

Growing up in Wales you cannot fail to have a few sporting heroes. My mother was a history teacher and I reached back in time and found other people to admire. Coming from a military family I had many military role models as well.

 

But as I grew older and learnt more about these heroes of mine. I found that some of my rugby heroes beat their wives, some others were alcoholics, those figures from history were more mythology than fact, and brave as those military men they were ordinary men that did extraordinary things.

 

I had looked for heroes in people like Alexander the Great. He failed me, I liked the recent quote I read where the author described Alexander the Great as, “…a short, ugly, left-handed, bi-sexual dwarf.” I don’t have a problem with short people, I’m no giant myself. Ugly is not an unusual trait in society (I have a mirror you know), some of the nicest people I know are left handed, my father, father-in-law, brother and wife among them. Bi-sexuality is not as widespread as some websites would have us believe, you know the ones, some of them are in your “Internet History”. I also know some really nice dwarfs (seven of them actually, no really I know seven dwarfs, that is not a joke, I really do, stop saying, “I’m sure you do Snow White”, I do, I can name them if you want and none of them is called Grumpy.)

 

None of the above characteristics, independently or as a collective group, lead me to want to call anyone “The Great”. One of my friends, who happens to be a dwarf, is called Dave. He is not the most handsome chap, he is left handed, I don’t think he’s bisexual (I don’t know though) but nobody calls him Dave The Great. Maybe it’s because he isn’t a warrior king who ruled the known lands of earth before he was thirty. Nobody wrote of him, “…and Dave wept because there were no more worlds to conquer.” Poor old Dave.

 

All the other heroes of mine had similar, if not as spectacularly ironic, failings. They were just men and women with all the good and bad that entails or else they simply just didn’t exist, take Robin Hood as one example. Before you start going on about Robert of Locksley etc etc please remember the romanticised figure we call Robin Hood, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, is about as real Mickey Mouse. You can read about him everywhere but he is not real. Mickey the Mouse and Robin in the Hood are both, unfortunately, just made up. The man our Robin Hood is based on did exist. Hedid steal from the rich, but he gave his ill gotten gains, not to the poor, but to himself. Is that typical heroic behaviour? I don’t think so.

 

Then I read more about this Jesus guy, you know the one from Nazareth. The carpenter’s son who made it good. (John 6 v 42) “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother and Father we know?”

 

Here is a hero that doesn’t disappoint. Like all the other would be heroes he is a role model, a man to be emulated. Like so many other, so called, heroic figures his aim is world domination – “Go to all the world and make them my disciples.” Like any good leader he will reward those who stay true to him, “I have come that they might have joy in abundance.” Like a lot of great people, though not all of them by any means, he comes from a good family, “…and a voice came from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved son.””

 

Unlike all the other would be heroes we can look at EVERY aspect of his life and try to be like him. There are dark corners to his life, no bits that we must over look in order to call him a hero.

 

We can look at all of Jesus’ life and see the perfect hero. In his attitude towards God, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength…” in his attitude towards others, “…and love your neighbour as yourself.” We see perfection in the way he shows us how we should judge others, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus shows us how to live a life full of love, but his was not a life without anger.

 

He shows that love to all, maybe especially to those that society values the least but his anger he reserves for the bigots of his time. Those who feel themselves above others, the Pharisees and Sadducees of that and every age. These are the ones Jesus shows his anger to. Heroically he stands up to the oppressors, the powerful, the corrupt and eventually it cost him his life and even at the time of his death we see the hero. Forgiveness and acceptance even to the end; for his executioners “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and to the believing thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

Loving, forgiving, merciful; unjustly condemned, viciously executed, miraculous resurrected – here is someone worthy of the title “The Great.” This is Jesus. He wants to be your hero.

 

Will you let him?

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I want to be a clone…pt 2. We don’t need no colour code!

“Well I think you guys know what this next song is about, it just makes the point that it doesn’t matter if it is a so called Christian college in the United States or segregated churches in down in South Africa Racism in the name of Christianity can never be tolerated.

Steve Taylor.

I am many things – selfish (yes), impatient (definately), short tempered (sometimes), but racist (no).

A few years ago I was accused of being racist by someone who didn’t even know me and thought they could gain an advantage over me by saying I was treating them differently because of the colour of their skin. Now as I have said I am many things but a racist is not one of them. It is something I cannot understand and cannot abide – I don’t see how anyone is different from anyone else because their skin has different pigmentation. I went to school with Indian and Chinese guys and a very beautiful Somalian girl  in the same class as me and we were all friends. I went to Uni with loads of different nationalities, and was best friends with a guy from Ghana who is, in his own words, “Very black.” (Columbus if you are reading this my email address has not changed – have you forgotten how to write?) I have worked with people from all over the world and that is just what they are – people – who cares what pigmentation their skin has?

Apparently lots of people.

When I heard the song “We don’t need no colour code” I had, of course, heard of Apartheid and the slave trade and the civil rights movement in America but I was an innocent as to how prevelent racism was (and unfortunately still is). I was a white boy from a small town in North Wales, sheltered and innocent, untouched by the festering claws of racism. I heard this song and it made me think about things in a different way. Before I say anymore let’s hear the song…

Here are the lyrics…

Down Carolina way
Lived a man name o’ Big B.J.
B.J. went and got a school
Founded on caucasian rule
Bumper sticker on his Ford
Says “Honkies If You Love The Lord”

We don’t need no colour code
Take your rules and hit the road
Judgment Day is goin’ down
Better burn your cap and gown

White man speak with forked tongue
White supremists eat their young
Bigotry is on the loose
Ignorance is no excuse
I know Jesus loves that man
Even with a Greenville tan

We don’t need no colour code
Take your rules and hit the road
Judgment Day is goin’ down
Better burn your cap and gown

Marching to Pretoria
Colour codes in churches, huh?
Following a fascist creed
Whose translation do you read?
True believers won’t be snowed
We don’t need no colour code

We don’t need no colour code
Take your rules and hit the road
Judgment Day is goin’ down

We don’t need no colour code
We don’t need no colour code
Take your rules and hit the road

We don’t need no colour code
We ain’t playing dead this time
This is where we draw the line

By 2012 some parts of this song are, thank God, outdated but its overall message is still frighteningly relevant. But why? I looked around our church last Sunday morning and  half of the people there were not from Australia – I was one of them as was my Godson. I only took notice because I was thinking about this blog. Most weeks they are just God’s people.

When I was in Uni we went on a trip to play soccer in Birmingham. We, somehow, made it through the first game on the Saturday (we weren’t expected to) and so we stayed for the final game on the Sunday afternoon ( we lost, in case you are interested, 8-0). The Sunday morning two of us went to the church closest to our hotel. We only had our sports kit, tracksuit and trainers and we found a little Methodist church. We sat at the back and maybe three or four other people were there. Just before the service was about to start an old man cam up to us and whispered that we would have to leave as we, “Were not dressed for church.” They had two young people in their church and four others over 70 by the looks of things, and they asked us to leave. We were a little upset, was this how people should be treated in church?

Just down the road was a small baptist church, we crept in the back as the service had already started. It was packed, mainly with Africans, all dressed in their colourful clothes, who were singing and clapping and praising God. We weren’t the only white faces there but there weren’t many others. We tried to sit quietly but the pastor saw us and announced to the entire congregation that they had visitors. He asked us if we would be happy to come up to the front and tell everyone about ourselves. Well two trainee ministers never pass up a chance to talk about themselves! They made us so welcome. It didn’t matter that we were in tracksuits, they didn’t care that we were youngsters or that we were white. We were just more of God’s people. (One of our Professors wrote to the Methodist church, on Theological College headed paper, and told them why they only had four people in their congregation.)

Racism has NO place in Christianity. God does not care what colour your skin is or what gender you are, or where you come from, or how much money you have in the bank. He does not care if you wear your best suit to church or if you wear the only clothes you have, if you’re married or not and he does not care to whom.

If he doesn’t, why should we?

Here’s a good website for a bit more reading.

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I want to be a clone…pt 1 Reflections on a few of the songs of Steve Taylor

Before I begin my aimless ramblings I should clear a few points up and tell you why I am writing this blog, who Steve Taylor is and why I want to be a clone! If you don’t want to know all these important facts you can skip a few paragraphs………..if you are still here then I’ll begin.

Who is this Steve Taylor guy? Steve Taylor is a Christian musician, who during the 80’s and 90’s released records (yes, real vinyl  records) and I liked them. He was a major influence on the Christian I am and the way I live and act. To me, and he may may not thank me for this, Steve Taylor is a lot like Larry Norman – unconventional, motivating, satirical and very thought provoking. His song ‘Lifeboat’ is one of the reasons I read ethics at Uni. Here’s a link to a wikipedia page on Steve Taylor.

If Mr. Taylor has a google search set up on his name and he reads this blog I would just like to say ‘thank you’ to him for many years of enjoyment listening to his music. You strenghtened my faith, showed me that I didn’t have to be the stereotypical ‘boring’ Christian, given me many hours of thought and even inspired a few sermons. I met you at Greenbelt in ’94, you signed a CD for me, I still have it, on it you wrote “Keep praying Siôn, Steve Taylor.” I have ,I do, thanks. S.

I should also thank Bryn Thomas for introducing me to the music of Steve Taylor and Some Band. I don’t remember when it was but I am fairly sure of where it was. It was in Bryn’s music room where we spent hours listening to records and talking. We listened to everything from AC / DC to Gilbert and Sullivan, Judas Priest to Andrew Lloyd Weber. It would have been there that I first heard a new album by this Steve Taylor guy. It was an EP called, “I want to be a clone”. It is still available on iTunes and I still have songs off it on my iPod. My favourite track was, and still is, I want to be a clone.

Before I go on you should probably hear the song. Here it is on youtube and I still want that suit. (If we every re-write that bit in Exodus it should read, “Thou shalt not covert Steve Taylor’s suit”) 

And here are the lyrics…

I’d gone through so much other stuff
That walking down the aisle was tough
But now I know it’s not enough
I want to be a clone

I asked the Lord into my heart
They said that was the way to start
But now you’ve got to play the part
I want to be a clone

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

They told me that I’d fall away
Unless I followed what they say
Who needs the Bible anyway?
I want to be a clone

Their language it was new to me
But Christianese got through to me
Now I can speak it fluently
I want to be a clone

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

Send in the clones

Ah, I kind of wanted to tell my friends and people about it, you know?

What?
You’re still a babe
You have to grow
Give it twenty years or so
‘Cause if you want to be one of his
Got to act like one of us

Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
Cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I’m grateful that they show the way
‘Cause I could never know the way
To serve him on my own
I want to be a clone

So now I see the whole design
My church is an assembly line
The parts are there, I’m feeling fine
I want to be a clone

I’ve learned enough to stay afloat
But not so much I rock the boat
I’m glad they shoved it down my throat
I want to be a clone

Everybody must get cloned.

This song was a huge revelation to me – it made a young man aware that I didn’t have to be like everyone else in my church. I went to church and everybody acted in a certain way and dressed in a certain manner and said all the right things to all the right people (don’t get me wrong I loved the church and the people but they were quite gray). The youth group was the same, we all sang the dull Graham Kendrick choruses, held our prayer groups and did safe, Christian things, (again I have so much to be thankful for, they helped me so much but we were very vanilla).  Our Christian Union at school was fun but oh, so bland. We were safe, nice, boring Christians, living safe, nice, boring lives. We didn’t rock any boats, we stayed out of trouble and did what we were expected to do. Then I heard “I want to be a clone.”

This whole song said I could be different, I could be me! I didn’t have to be the same as everybody else in my church, my youth group, my school. Hey, I could be how God made me. And that idea has stayed with me throughout my life and my ministry. I wore jeans to church, I sat on tables in the youth group and made the comments the everyone else was too polite to make, I asked why and didn’t take their Christianese at face value. I took part in school assemblies and shocked the teachers and the students by being me and not the ‘run of the mill’ Christian Unionist they were used too. I started having a prayer circle before our rugby games – and people joined in and no one made fun of me, in fact week by week more of the players came.

Many times I have been told that I don’t act like other Christians, and I really thank God for that. I have tried, and I think succeeded, in not being a clone. I hope and pray that my attitude has shown Christ in places that he isn’t always seen. At the base of a rugby scrum with 15 bodies on top of him, in a aircraft with the doors open, about to jump out into the blue yonder, at an AC / DC concert with 19,998 others. I have been to all these places and more with him – all because of “I want to be a clone.”

As I grow older though I realise that actually I want to be a clone – but a unique one. I really want to be a unique clone…

A Christlike clone doing Christlike things in Christlike ways. And why not – he was as radical and unusual as it was possible to be – he didn’t sit in church and do the ‘right’ thing,  – he went to dinner with ‘publicans and sinners’, spent time with lepers and street walkers – the very people that we don’t want in our churches were the very people that Christ spent time with. I want to be radical, I want to be unusual, I want to be a clone.

Jesus was not scared to go where ‘nice’ people didn’t go, he was the first one to help those who were helpless, to be with those in need, if there wasn’t a party happening he made one, ask Zacchaeus. He sat and talked of God with anyone and everyone.

So after all these years of trying not to be a clone I have finally decided I want to be one – I want to be a Jesus clone!!!

Don’t you?

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