Tuesday, 29 January 2013

In Group, Out Group

I blogged a little while ago on Nicola Writes about a course I had taken in Conflict Resolution. This was mostly in an effort to not go crazy within my first couple of years as a church minister by showdowns over the coffee rota or end up in a 'secateurs at dawn' scenario with the flower ladies (God bless you church, I love you all but you know it's true!) But little did I know that this week of thinking about Conflict would literally blow my mind and world view right open.

In many ways I think these kind of ideas were floating about my head anyway. How can they not be when you are part of a church that has as many factions as there are days in the year? We all know it's a naff example to be setting to the world but we can't help ourselves. I'm in, you're out. It's the story of the centuries, of humanity itself and definitely of the church.

The week on conflict taught me that, in some ways, this is all quite natural. We are categorizing creatures. When we see something, including another human being, we want to make sense of it, put it in safely in a box with a recognizable label on it so we know what to do with that person and how to take them. But the problem is these labels are artificial and limiting for the person we stick them on and mind shrinking for ourselves. All the many possibilities that person presents to us are shut down. They are categorized. We have nothing to learn from them. How divisive. How dull!

Jesus was no stranger to in group/out group dynamics. Sometimes I think we can look back on his day with rosy specs on and think he had it so much easier than we do in our multi-faith, media laden culture where opinions are as ubiquitous as air. But I just don't think that's true. About forty years after Jesus died Jerusalem was tragically ransacked by the Romans because of the level of internal revolt. When Jesus was alive there were no shortage of parties pushing one agenda and others the exact opposite. There was the elite temple leaders and a whole bunch of people who thought they shouldn't be there. There were the Samaritans who thought they worshipped the same God as they did in Jerusalem but man, oh man, down at the Temple they did not agree.

And Jesus had his fair share of heated debates. He was hardly a head in the sand man, those kind of people don't tend to get executed. But he was resolute when it came to mixing with all kinds of people. Of resisting pigeon holing. He hung out with women, with Samaritans, with Romans, with temple workers, with revolutionaries and this mantle was taken on after his death by the Apostle Paul whose letters we have so many of in the New Testament. Paul says 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male or Female'. So basically whteher your British or African, work in Tesco or at Canary Wharf, a man or a woman, we are equally valuable in the eyes of God and God wants us to try and see each other as he does.

This doesn't mean sacking off your opinions or compromising what you believe. It just means looking to the other and hearing what they have to say before you put them into that box. It means avoiding like hell that desire to ridicule, to stereotype and assume. It means looking for shared values with others, seeking relationship, respecting their right to a voice as much as you respect your own. It means being a peacemaker. It is pretty hard work. I too am a natural pigeon holer. But it also blows your mind right open to new possibilities, new views, new ways of seeing things.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


What are your expectations this year? Have you made some resolutions? Vowed to stay off the cakes and get on the celery? To sort the paperwork mountain that has been threatening to overwhelm you since June? To finally run that marathon you promised to sign up for in 2008? All noble goals indeed but as we stare down another year, no doubt packed with busyness and demands from all angles, it seems like a good time to ask God about his agenda for us this year.

This week we celebrate the story of the Magi, or wise men, who came to visit Jesus on his birth. I wonder what they thought as they approached the place where this new King lay. What were there expectations as they clutched their gifts? Did what they found surprise them? God's upside down agenda: God made man, vulnerable as a new born, born into poverty, friend to the outcast, suffering servant.

And so I finish with this poem by Elizabeth Jennings and the hint at the possibility that God might just show up where, and in the way, we least expect him to this year.

Words for the Magi

'Shall I bring you wisdom, shall I bring you power?'
The first great stranger said to the child.
Then he noticed something he'd never felt before -
A wish in himself to be innocent and mild.

'Shall I bring you glory, shall I bring you peace?'
The second stranger said when he saw
The star shine down on entire helplessness.
The gift that he offered was his sense of awe.

'Shall I show you riches' the third one began
Then stopped in terror because he has seen
A God grown up and a tired tempted man.
'Suffering's my gift' he said
'That is what I mean.'

This reflection was first given on Friday 4th January as part of Morning Prayer at Ripon College Cuddesdon.


Welcome, welcome. So glad you have found yourself over here and I hope that what you find here gives you food for thought, comfort to the heart or perhaps a bit of both. I've been writting my main blog Nicola Writes for several years now and I've loved the friends and new contacts I've made from it. I've always loved writing (hence Nicola Writes!) and blogging has always been a great outlet for this as well as a place to showcase some of what I've been working on recently and to get some feedback.

Then things took a turn for the stranger and I embarked on a three year trainng course to become a Vicar in the Church of England. This means the bulk of my writing is now essays but I'm still find the creative urge buzzing. I find myself looking for a place to catalogue my writings of a more spiritual nature that are popping up in my new line of work, basically my God Chat!

And so this little part of the internet now exists and I will post here any reflections or sermons I give as well as any other interesting things in the God Chat arena that I think you might be interested in. It will probably be more sporadic that Nicola Writes where I faithfully blog weekly but do stick your email in the little pop out 'Subscribe' box on the left if you'd like an email to ping into your inbox when I add something new.

Thanks for popping by!