Monday, 29 August 2011

Children as Disciples of Jesus

This video is very clever, witty and well made. Kudos to those who created it. But hey, the message is really much more crucial and vital. This topic has been on my mind of late due to the observations I have made about my own children in their new setting. My eldest in particular.

Ben on becoming a 'Junior Soldier' in The Salvation Army

Ben is 9, fairly bright and is interested in the things of God - thats how we've brought him up. In our days at Pill, he would often pray in a meeting, answer my rhetorical questions in sermons and ask questions in public worship.

We then moved up to Wick and he would continue to do that, for a little while. But by this time, when he came to the Army he would sit under the table at the back. The context didn't engage him. Occassionally you'd hear a prayer from under that table cloth at prayer time but he was disengaging with the Body of the church and to be honest, the congregation were deaf to him.  I remember once when he started to pray, someone began to pray and drowned him out.  Not intentionally perhaps, and maybe they didn't hear him.  But I remember feeling sorry for him that evening, that he wasn't being heard and was being disengaged. 

That all changed fantastically at Torry, where our gatherings we much less formal, more conversational and indeed where our main mode of meeting was face to face in peoples homes. Our meetings were multi-voiced and open participatory, which meant that everyone was expected to contribute something God had given them as the norm.  Ben participated fully and openly.  He was looking forward to the opportunity to lead us through our meeting as a whole in time, but never had the opportunity before we left.  Yet, he'd often read the bible, offer his understanding of what was happening in the text and ask questions if he had them.  He matured in his understanding significantly, and as soon as he was old enough and grasped the implications of the gospel, we enrolled him as a Junior Soldier, basically a 'junior member' of the corps we were leading.

In our current context, public worship has little opportunity for him to engage.  Occassionally there is the opportunity to go up on the stage for the kids talk and no doubt makes witty contribution, but I do notice that not only are the opportunities rare, they are also at that unusual 'kids talk' level, at which the answer to any question is normally 'Jesus.'  Our children are not performers to be 'Awww-ed' at.  They want to follow Jesus.  You know what I mean, don't you?

We're told that Ben actively contributes in his Sunday School class and thats great, but at home, he often asks when we can meet like we did before because he liked taking part.

What culture do we want in church for our children?  Surely one that instills in them from an early age that they can follow Jesus.   One that inspires them to do so, equips them to do so.  Maybe one that takes more seriously the potential of children to teach us things about God, the bible.  An appreciation that they, too, pray, engage the bible, think about the big questions and actively share their faith.

Contrast my daughter Ceitidh, who is just 5 and hasn't got the memory of those contexts at all.  Are we creating a passive pew-filler?  Maybe in the church context, yes, but praise God she is a more avid bible reader than her father an mother put together!  No joke!  You see, I think do we have to ask the questions of church, the gathered faith community in all this.  However, as parents we must never underestimate the importance of faith at home, worship at home and the responsibility that is ours to pass faith on to our children.

Deuteronomy 6

 1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.  4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Made in heaven...

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary.  Here we are (left) very young and in love (which we still are) covenanting our lives to one another under the flag of the Army wearing my high collar like a good soldier.

A few days ago, we celebrated another anniversary - the 15th anniversary of us being together in a relationship which has quite literally been made in heaven.  I don't just say that out of some sense of romance, I say it sincerely because God ordained that we be together in our life's journey.  I believe this.  God brought us together in the way that he did, at the age that he did for his purposes.  Our whole life belongs to him and we want to serve Him alone all our days.

From the very beginning of our relationship, quite aside from all romance and youthful infatuation, was a very spiritually mature foundation for our age.  You see, Tracy and I only continued our relationship on the understanding that we would both serve in ministry together as Salvation Army officers.  Even in those days, you had to be married to an officer if you felt called to officership!  So, unusually for some, marriage and officership was the topic of conversation in the first few months of letter writing (we lived quite a distance apart).  We were 15 and 16 years old at the time!  Yet, our promise stood true.

What else can be said?  Tracy is now 31, I will be 31 very soon.  Thus far, we have had so many varied, great (but challenging) experiences, two beautiful and intelligent children and I hope so many more to come (experiences that is, not necessarily children!!)  But we are in a transition time as a family.  Our original vision was disrupted and we're currently waiting on God to open the next volume of the story.  Pray for us, will you?  Its so important to us that we do what God would have us do with the rest of our lives.  We don't want to miss what he has for us and our children.

In the mean time, I pledge again all my love to Tracy and renew every vow and promise I ever made her before the Lord.  And I pray that God will seal again those things for his Glory and his Name.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Book Review: "One for All" by Knaggs and Court

"One for All" by Commissioner Jim Knaggs and Major Stephen Court is a publication of three books in one:  two previously published 'One Day - A dream for The Salvation Army', 'One Thing - Win the World for Jesus ' and the new publication 'One Army.'  The books explore and expound upon a vision for the Army that Commissioner Knaggs shared at an Aggressive Christianity Conference in Australia in 2007.

These men speak about an Army which, in essence, is still to be.  They speak to the very heart and identity of the Army.  Its something that Salvationists love to do and I've indulged in a fair amount of that in my time.  Yet the writers aren't just 'all words on a page.'  They are men who 'do the stuff.'  Indeed, the book seeks to help the reader translate the vision into reality.  They are two men that I have engaged with over several years and who have shown the true spirit of Salvationism towards us, especially in our last months of officer service in the Army and beyond.  When I hear their individual voices shining through the joint text, I smile and thank God for them both.

The three component parts are fascinating in themselves, but combined provide a compelling vision for the Army.  In the first book, the elements of Knaggs vision are expounded by a variety of Salvationist essayists across the Army world, officer and soldier alike.  The second books combines the various strands and focusses like a laser on the one major purpose of the Army, to win the world for Jesus.  The final book is a plea for unity around the core salvo principles of the vision, whilst allowing for creative versatility and diversity.

It is the first 'Army book' that I've read this side of officership.  As I've said above, Knaggs and Court pin down everything about the Army that inspired me so much.  The Army is, indeed, a tremendous chapter in the history of God's engagement with the world.  So as I read, my heart rings out 'Amen's and 'Hallelujah's' and evokes a few 'Blood and Fire!'s   Its edgy, radical, fiesty, incendiary and I'd imagine it will be pretty annoying (if not entirely alien) to those Salvationists who don't belong the the kind of Army out to win the world for Jesus. 

This is a book that every corps officer, HQ officer, local officer and soldier will want to have on their shelves.  Every vision needs to be fleshed out.  It needs bones, muscle, sinews and blood pumping round it for a reality.  Knaggs and Court need to keep this vision alive.  It is all to easy to assign great books and inspiring visions to the bookshelves and the worst thing that can happen to this book is that it is read and put on the shelf.

Having said all that, I must confess that one of the things that led to me leaving the Army was that I actually bought into the vision espoused in this book, and did so sincerely.  That sounds like a weird thing to say but most folks who read my blog and know my writing from Army days will know the truth of that.  One of the conclusions I have made about my Army life was that I was living in an Army that few around me could see.  The Army in my mind wasn't the Army that existed around me.  Easy to say now that I should have had more vision or wisdom, should have persevered, but its difficult to hold to a vision in isolation and in the end, isolated was what we became until we felt we could fight no more.

So whilst for me I struggle to see either my part in it or to what degree it can actually become a reality, I don't say this as a criticism of the book, not at all.   I celebrate the publication of this volume.  My hope is that this book will bring comradeship to many a Salvationist struggling out there.  Sadly it happens and, thankfully, there is reference to this reality in the pages of the book. It brings the vision of the radical Army into the mainstream in a real way.  It gives any visionary leader the opportunity to share this vision with those he/she leads, not just from his or her own convictions, but with the 'big name' backing that things tend to need in the Army for people on the ground to take note.  Knaggs, Bond, Burrows, Noland, Court, Strickland, Rader - all the names are there.

But as for Clark, I'd love to think that there would be 'one day' where I might be welcomed back into the ranks open-armed and take my place 'on the field'.  Maybe if General Bond has an amesty, I might hand myself in....

Sell your bed and buy the book.  Available on Amazon and on Kindle.  Probably available from your local trade department.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


"Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed."
— Jean Vanier

Astounding.  I was introduced to the existence of Jean Vanier through the Crucible Course I've been doing, but haven't really read a lot of his stuff in detail.  My reading list is too long as it is.  Yet he is one of these quotable guys, always saying something entirely amazing.

I won't bore you with the reasons why, but I had cause to spend 7 hours in the Accident and Emergency department of our local hospital in the middle of the night, early Thursday.  Waiting for a considerable time, you have the opportunity to watch people.  And is there such a more vivid place to see weakeness than in the waiting room of A&E?

As I sat there wondering what was wrong with them all, you can see that some of their weaknesses were visible....hobbling, cuts, bruises.   However, for many, the biggest wounds they carried were no doubt things of the heart. 

And then I think about myself and realise that I'm there as a 'casualty' too.  Yet, I'm one who has known in many ways what it is to be celebrated and seen as a source of joy, especially in this last year, and subsequently to see much healing come.  And honestly, I have truly received much more than I could ever have given to the good folks I serve day by day and week by week.

What a wonderful act of grace to welcome and embrace the weakness of others.  I'm still a spring chicken in lots of ways, but 'the older I get' the more beauty I see behind the facades of so many.  The more people we can accept in weakness, the more healing we bring.  The more we ourselves are open about our own condition, the more we find that we are not alone and that we find our life and identity in the community that bears the name of Jesus.

"Look at your own poverty
welcome it
cherish it
don't be afraid
share your death
because thus you will share your love and your life"

Jean Vanier