Peace Pagoda

The PointRecently I’ve been challenged about the use of an inappropriate image for a Christian project. What follows are my reflections on whether or not using the image was wise or appropriate.

When setting up a new project recently (Hope MK) and putting together the website, I selected a number of images which unmistakeably represented Milton Keynes. These each featured iconic scenes or landmarks from across the city: Xscape building, the Point, the central railway station, road signs, inside the shopping centre, the Stadium:MK (home to MK Dons).

However, one of the images caused a bit of a stir: the Peace Pagoda at Willen. I had selected this as the main image which was to feature on our earliest promotional material.

When our first ‘teaser’ cards were handed out at one youth group they asked why we were using a Buddhist Temple to promote a Christian event. An interesting question. We had a brief discussion within the core planning team and didn’t see a huge problem with it. Then a few weeks later we received an email in relation to the project which, whilst otherwise supportive, made it clear that they didn’t agree with the use of the Peace Pagoda image as it ‘portrays the wrong image for a Christian event’. At a later meeting we discovered that another individual had reservations about the image, and had initially dismissed being involved in the project as they assumed (based on the image) that it was an ‘inter-faith’ project.

All this led to lots of discussion and a great deal of reflection.

Initially the ‘problem’ image was chosen without much thought to the fact that the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument. It was selected because it is one of the most iconic MK landmarks, with a beautiful sunrise which I felt inspires awe towards the Creator God & signifies the coming Hope (light of the world). It was that simple. A little naive perhaps – but as a lifelong resident of MK, to me the Peace Pagoda is simply a landmark and has no strong religious connection.

I had almost dismissed the earliest comments on the basis that the pagoda is not a Buddhist Temple (as had been stated) but just a monument. As I thought about the issue further, I also did a little research and realised that the pagoda is symbolically significant in relation to the Hope MK initiative too: being the first Peace Pagoda in the Western world, it was ground-breaking and a powerful unifying symbol (both things we aspire to for Hope MK). Of further significance is the fact that behind the pagoda is the ‘one world tree’ which is covered in prayers and messages of hope – a symbol of people’s faith and hope for a better world.

Xscape MK Central

After plenty of reflection & discussion, I decided that personally I don’t have an issue with the use of the image. The fact that it’s a Buddhist monument doesn’t cause me any alarm. A Peace Pagoda is a monument designed to inspire all races, colours & creeds towards peace – that seems to me to be something that Jesus, Prince of Peace, encouraged and indeed prayed for (John 17).

The creator of the pagoda was committed to non-violence & reconciliation – a man of peace. He campaigns against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sounds to me like the kind of man who is working towards Kingdom goals without even knowing the King. In Mark 9 Jesus said ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (v38-41). Admittedly Jesus wasn’t specifically referring to a Buddhist monument – but I think it is applicable in this situation. We’re hoping to work in partnership with some non-Christian organisations in order to serve the city. On other projects, I’m happy to be associated with people & organisations who don’t share my faith, but believe we can work together towards a common goal.

There’s one final Biblical precedent which came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on this issue, and which more directly relates. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul uses a secular statue to communicate the Gospel. Paul refers to a statue which has been dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. He had no fear of affording the statue power or credibility by using it/referring to it. He seems absolutely convinced of the sovereignty of God, and instead uses the statue to point the ‘locals’ to the God that he knows instead.

But whilst I didn’t have a problem with the use of the image, we still had to discuss and resolve the issue of the misunderstandings the image had caused about Hope MK. As a result we decided to stop using the image (once pre-printed materials had been used).

Stadium MKOn a slightly flippant note, I suggested that if we rule out the peace pagoda on the grounds that it doesn’t give the right impression to use a non-Christian religious symbol to represent/promote a Christian event, we should probably also stop using the Stadium:MK image (on the grounds that football is practised as a religion by many), the Xscape image as it is a shrine to Capitalism , and the image of The Point as it is home to a bingo hall.

What do you think?

Reflections on an Adventure with the Holy Spirit

A few weeks ago I went on an adventure with the Holy Spirit. It still excites me to think about it… [read about it before you go on…] Since the adventure, I’ve been reflecting on and processing a number of aspects of it. In fact, for the first few days I could do little else! Here are some of those reflections…

Imago Dei

I like to engage in a little informal ethnography from time to time. By which I mean I’m a people-watcher. Not in a creepy way you understand. I like to observe people as they go about their business. Whether I’m enjoying a coffee and watching people outside, or at the next table, I’m fascinated by people. As I observe I try to build up ‘their story’ from what I see: sometimes their interactions with others, sometimes their appearance. I find it fascinating.

Big HeartedOne thing we were reminded of during the the Big Hearted event was that every individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei). As we were sent out into the town to seek people we were reminded of truth. It is amazing how that one fact changes the way you see people, and the way you respond to them. It shouldn’t – but it absolutely does. I need to remember that not just as I’m walking down the street, or sitting in a coffee shop, but also when I’m in difficult situations with ‘difficult’ people. It can change your perspective and your attitude – if you’ll let it.

Conservative Charismatic

I said previously that I stepped way outside my comfort zone on that Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t really explain why.  As you may have gathered from my ‘people watching’ habit mentioned above, I’m an introvert rather than an extrovert. I’m much happier in my own company or that of friends, than I am trying to engage with people I don’t know (however ‘nice’ they might be). Small talk is not a spiritual gift I possess, which makes things even harder. So to head out onto the streets to deliberately engage with people I don’t know (especially with such a ‘strange’ motive & message) was a huge challenge for me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my team members I’d probably have bottled it and not engaged with anyone.

But the greater challenge & discomfort came from the necessary reliance on the voice & guidance of the Holy Spirit. My background is in fairly conservative churches, where the Holy Spirit’s presence is understood but rarely exhibited (I think that’s a fair comment – if not, I’m sure I’ll be corrected). Don’t misunderstand me though, I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to me & guides. I very clearly feel His leading as I work, as I minister, as I study and even as I do various bits of administration. But it is very much according to His timing and not mine. But with this exercise we had just 5 minutes to pray and hear from the Spirit. I felt a huge weight of pressure from that.

But my main reflection on this aspect of the day is to note that none of the clues which led to our ‘treasure’ were from my list. I’ll admit that I wasn’t hugely confident when I wrote my clues down (not least ‘Top Hat’) but they were all I felt I’d received, so had to go with it. I absolutely believe that the Spirit was at work that afternoon, and in the way it was described He would be by Chris Duffett. But I need to be more in tune with and attentive to the Spirit’s voice. I’ve learned over time, and through painful mistakes, to recognise and be obedient to His leading, but I pray He’ll open my ears to hear His voice too.

Greater Things

I was secretly pleased with myself that afternoon; pleased that I signed up for what (for me at least) was the most difficult & uncomfortable workshop option, and pleased that I didn’t bottle it. However nervous I felt, I still went, trusting in God all the way. Well, doubting just a little at times, but broadly stepping out in faith. As I’ve reflected on this and the previous point, I’ve come to the conclusion that greater confidence leads to greater courage. A greater confidence that the Spirit is at work, is interested in *everyone*, and is willing to speak and direct us to them for ‘divine appointments’, leads to a greater courage to step out beyond our comfort zone. And as that courage is rewarded with story after story of God at work, so the confidence and courage increase.

Scripture

As I’ve thought back to what happened with our group that afternoon, one piece of Scripture keeps coming to mind. It’s the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Towards the end of a conversation during which He treats her with the kind of love & respect she deserves but doesn’t often receive, He reveals knowledge of this woman that no stranger could possibly know. She runs away saying to anyone who will listen ‘come and see a man who told me everything I ever did – could He be the Messiah?‘.

This phrase came to me as we were talking to Den. We’d approached him with this strange story of looking for treasure, guided by the Holy Spirit, and as we shared the clues one by one, his face changed. Suddenly he realised that God was interested in him, and knew all about him.

As far as I’m aware Den & David still haven’t made it to church, which is a little disappointing. But it doesn’t cause me to doubt the power of what happened. I’m confident that the Holy Spirit was at work that afternoon, through the obedience of three men walking around town feeling slightly awkward, and in the life of a man called Den. Even though he’s not come through on his promise to go to church*, he will always have the knowledge that God knows him (and knows more about him than he’d care to admit), loves him, and sought him out. [*let’s not pretend that we can only ‘do business’ with God in church – that’s for another day!]

And Finally…

Chris DuffettI’ll close with one further reflection on that passage which I hope will be encouraging to Chris as he  continues the Big Hearted tour & his year as Baptist Union President. The woman goes away changed from her experience with Jesus. He revealed to her in word & deed that He was the long-promised Messiah. She ran away and told others about Him (the first female evangelist!), and they believed because of what she told them. And others came to see Him for themselves, and put their faith in Him too.

I pray that today, tomorrow or in a years time, something about Den’s experience will cause him to share it with others, and that through him, others will come to put their faith in Jesus.

Chris started the day by saying that it was about ‘looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit‘. It’s probably too early to say ‘mission accomplished‘ – but it’s a step along the way.

 

 

 

Treasure Hunting…

Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone? Today I felt like I’d jumped out of a plane without a parachute. It wasn’t the talk of ‘moobs’ and ‘pretty pants’ which was uncomfortable…

Big HeartedI attended the Big Hearted Tour event hosted by Stony Stratford Community Church. This year’s Baptist Union President, Chris Duffett, is travelling the country with the aim of encouraging and equipping Christians to get outside the church and share God’s love with those who don’t know Him. Today’s event was a day to train & equip people, but more importantly, a hands-on challenge to get on and do it – to get outside the church and get stuck in.

He declared the aim of the day as ‘looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit’, with the focus on the Spirit absolutely central. The day was packed with encouraging stories (Chris’ own and those of others who work with him) of the way God has met with individuals through seemingly simple & sometimes ridiculous means. But Chris was honest enough to point out that often ‘nothing’ significant happens and that there is a need to persist.

The teaching was biblical and yet simple, not an academic approach, but just the practical application of some key texts. Even the coffee break included some practical application. We were told to go and grab a coffee from any local coffee shop, and whilst there to ask two questions and to respond however we felt appropriate:

  • Jesus, where are you already at work?
  • Is there anyone hurting here?

But the real adventure started in the afternoon when we met for different seminars/workshops. I had signed up for ‘Treasure Hunting’ «gulp». It doesn’t immediately sound like an adventure does it. So let me explain what it is, before sharing what happened.

Treasure hunting is, as the name suggests, about following clues and seeking ‘treasure’. But the clues are supplied by the Holy Spirit, and the ‘treasure’ is people with whom God wants you to meet (Chris uses the phrase ‘keeping Divine appointments’). After a brief introduction to the practice and some helpful dos and don’ts we each grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. We spent just five minutes praying and asking God to give us ‘clues’ under five headings: location, names, appearance, prayer needs & extra clues. Then we were on our way in teams of three out onto the streets to attempt to keep these Divine appointments. As we went we discussed our clues with the others in our group, as we were working as a team and not doing this alone.

I’ll be honest and say that I was massively sceptical – not of Chris, or of God’s sovereignty. But sceptical that the Spirit would speak to me in this way, and that the Spirit would use this method to reach people. Chris had prepared us well for disappointment, stating that the first 20 or so times he’d done it there had been little ‘success’. If I was sceptical before, I was even more so when I felt the Spirit giving me the clue ‘top hat’ for appearance!

My scepticism diminished slightly when the first charity shop we passed appeared to have a top hat box in the window. So we ventured inside, but there was no sign of a top hat (phew!). There was, however, a sign for a ‘vintage’ pop-up shop upstairs. I headed up the stairs into a room which contained lots of vintage clothes, and hats – but no top hat (double phew!). But I have to admit that I started to get excited at this point – it felt like we were so close and that God might actually have a hand in this madness.

We continued, and before long came across a fancy dress shop. Outside there was a poster of a man wearing a top hat, and a blue coat (which was one of my colleague’s clues). The poster was on a gate at the entrance to a yard (one of my clues) with some car parking spaces within (car park being another of my clues). We went inside and after a brief, good-natured conversation with a young assistant and then the owner (who both looked utterly bemused), we made no further connections and they weren’t keen to share anything for prayer, so we shook hands and went on our way.

After much wandering around the town (high street, side streets and back alleys) we were becoming a little aimless and naturally heading back to the church. One of my colleagues (Chris P.) saw someone he recognised but hadn’t seen in years and stopped for a chat. The young man, David, was stood with his older friend, Den, at the door of a pub. David and Chris started chatting and Den asked how they knew each other. David replied that he used to attend the church which Chris attends. Den asked if Chris is a preacher, but before Chris could answer, Den said ‘…because I need to get to know Jesus – I’ve got sins in my life I need to sort out’. Wow – forget the treasure hunting – this seemed like a Divinely orchestrated opportunity.

Chris explained what we were doing, but said that neither David nor Den really seemed to fit with any of the clues. Den asked to see them, and saw that one of the names on the list was John and said ‘that’s my name’. He produced his NHS card which revealed his name to be ‘John Dennis’. Chris pointed out that another clue was ‘hotel’ and that they were standing in the door of an Inn – a pub/hotel – and that it was white, another of our clues was ‘white house’. At this point Den was a little surprised.

Another clue on the list under prayer needs was ‘hands’ and David told us how he’d sliced his fingers open the day before and showed us the dressings. Another clue under physical appearance was ‘little finger, right hand’. When we showed this to Den he almost fell over – but instead showed us the little finger on his right hand which had been severed in an accident years before and successfully reattached. We were all shocked & surprised. Those of us treasure hunting were also delighted – Den was absolutely astounded! But it didn’t end there.

Chris said one of his clues was ‘Salvation Army’ but that didn’t seem to fit either, but Den said he’d been in the Salvation Army for 10 years earlier in his life. Then the final, and in some ways for Den, most convincing element was the word ‘holiday’ under extra clues. Den revealed that he and David has just booked a holiday one hour earlier (exactly at the time we were praying and seeking clues). Den was incredibly emotional & hardly able to speak. David took over and we said that we’d also got the name ‘Sarah’ and asked if that meant anything to them. Den confidently shook his head (I think secretly relieved) but David roared with incredulous laughter before rebuking Den and reminding him that Den’s ex-wife is called Sarah.

What followed were two separate amazing conversations with the two guys. David discussed how he has a faith but not a strong one, but recognises that he needs to get back to church in order to sort a few issues out in his life. Den was honestly just gob-smacked, but he commented about how Chris hadn’t preached at him but had simply listened. He said that we had an energy around us which he could feel and it was incredibly reassuring, peaceful & warm (we pointed out that it was the Holy Spirit, and not from us). Chris told him that God had wanted us to meet with him this afternoon and made sure we did;  that God knows not only his name, but his every need, and loves him more than he can know.

Both men are excited to be going to church tomorrow morning and intend to carry on the conversation.

As we left the two guys in the pub doorway there was, by then, a woman standing next to us who was listening to the conversations and giggling to herself. She had waved at a friend of Chris, so he asked how she knew the friend and she replied proudly ‘I am her treasure!’. That’s just awesome!

I’m still processing the enormity of what happened this afternoon. My scepticism has gone and my excitement level has soared. Praise God!

I’m praying for Den & David as they go to church tomorrow – would you join me?

 

Legend of the Forest

As dawn awoke within the Forest glade,
The rising sun broke through the leafy shade;
The song of bird with rapture filled the air,
And wild-life stirred from hidden, secret lair;
The Forest knew, – and thought the day looked fair.

A woodman came, three trees to seek and fell,
The supple ash, a sturdy oak as well;
And from the heights, a strong, tall pine to take.
From each, a Cradle, Bench, and Cross to make;
The Forest knew, – and felt its heart would break.

As darkness fell, where once three trees had stood,
A Stranger knelt. His hands once nailed to wood.
And by those hands, three saplings, small and white
were planted there, throughout that quiet night.
The forest knew, – and waited for the light.

Trude Bedford – 1912-2000

Thirty Years

Thirty years ago today my world almost fell apart.

A few days earlier I’d woken to find my Dad writhing in agony in his bed; Mum was beside herself calling an ambulance and the Doctor, then waiting what seemed like a lifetime for them to arrive. During that time I went to my bed, buried my head deep into my pillow and prayed. I had no idea what to pray, or how to pray. But I prayed the most heart-felt prayer I’ve ever prayed. From the very depth of my soul I asked God to ‘take the pain away’.

Dad was taken into hospital and I (9 yrs old) was taken to be looked after by a neighbour, along with my 11 yr old sister and six yr old brother. I really didn’t understand what was happening, and I don’t remember much about what we did that day. The next memory I have is of Mum getting a call from the hospital a few days later and her dashing off at speed.

Then we learned the news that Dad had died. I have absolutely no memory of how the news was broken to us. But I can still remember the feeling. It was like the world simply stopped. Everything around me stopped and nothing mattered. I remember looking at my Mum & my sister and expecting some kind of prompt from them about what to do next. But nothing came. Then we all hugged – and they cried. But I didn’t cry – I was still too numb to cry.

The next thing I remember is the day of Dad’s funeral; being dropped of at the house of a family friend and waving goodbye to Mum. I knew that she was going to say ‘good bye’ to Dad, but I really didn’t understand what that meant.

Then life started again. Or at least it was supposed to. It certainly wasn’t ‘normal’ life. But something pretending to be life started again. With it came the never-ending list of ‘firsts’. The first day back at school, the first time someone expressed their sympathy at my loss, the first Christmas, and so on, and so on. Gradually life took on a new kind of ‘normal’.

I said my world almost fell apart; almost, but not quite. I may have lost my Dad that day, but I still had the most amazing family, and together we managed to get through the worst of it.

Mum was (and is) the strongest & most amazing person. Supported by my Nan & Granddad (and countless friends!), she held the family together; working incredibly hard to provide for three young children & to bring us up well. We all had our wobbles along the way; dark days, lonely days & days when we could have happily thrown things at each other. But we all came out the other end of it and have always been a close family.

I don’t really remember ever talking to my brother or sister about how we were coping. But I’m convinced that simply knowing that they were going through the same as me, and surviving, spurred me on. I remember that we’d talk about Dad together though. And once we all realised that it was OK to talk about him without always feeling sad, then the laughter properly returned.

Honestly, I don’t have too many distinct memories of Dad. But what I do remember of him has left its mark & had a lasting impact on me. I remember him as a loving husband, a doting Dad, a thoroughly decent man who would go out of his way to help people; he had a wicked sense of humour and a riotous sense of mischief.

He has missed out on so much in our lives over the last thirty years. Most recently, and most significantly, the weddings of his children and the birth of his five gorgeous grandchildren. But he lives on in us and in them. We share many of his characteristics, and he remains part of our conversations with our children. Of course we wish he was here to enjoy their company (and they his) just was we wish he was here so we could share a pint or two together (thankfully, as kids we used to taste his home-brew with him, so we haven’t dipped out on that completely).

Thirty years can seem like an age – but it can disappear in the blink of an eye.

But thirty years on, we still love and miss you Dad…
x

BBC Newsnight Debacle

I’m confused.

The BBC Newsnight programme broadcast a film in which an individual claimed they had been sexually abused by a prominent Tory MP of the time, but no names were mentioned. Speculation elsewhere, mostly online but not exclusively, led to an individual being named. Newsnight & the BBC have been hauled over the coals for ‘shoddy journalism’ & the Director General has done the ‘honourable thing’ and resigned. But if Newsnight didn’t name anyone, what did they do wrong? Surely they just reported the allegations which had been made by an individual.

This morning the BBC reported via Twitter:

Then this afternoon they updated this to include the name of an individual. [I’m not posting the name of the individual or a link to the story for legal reasons]

If the BBC were wrong to broadcast allegations of sexual abuse by a prominent Tory (even though they didn’t name him), how is it right that they can broadcast an individual’s name, whose arrest alleges that they are involved in a similar scandal?

A current headline on the BBC News website has inverted commas around part of the story: Savile police ‘arrest [individual]’. Surely that can’t be enough save themselves from further legal problems? If so, will it also work for Newsnight reporters on-screen to use ‘air quotes’ around slightly dodgy journalism?

The big issue in the former case has been the damage to the individual’s reputation caused by the allegations. Does the same not also apply to reporting the arrest of another individual for similar ‘offences’ (see what I did there). Are we not innocent until proven guilty?

I’m pretty sure I must have missed an obvious point somewhere. Can anyone shed any light for me?

Looking Forward & Backward

Over and over again in life, we stand in the shoes of the disciples in this passage [feeding 5000]: surrounded by human need, faced with a challenge, knowing we do not have the resources, in our own wisdom, wealth, and strength, to meet the need, to stand up to the challenge. This story motivates us to get up out of our comfortable chairs and throw ourselves into offering our resources on behalf of a needy world. It calls us to remember and to anticipate. We are to stand in the story, looking back and looking forward. We are to stand, looking back, re-experiencing who God has been in the past. We are to stand looking ahead with faith in who God will be and what God will do in the future. God’s provision is not a relic of the past, but a reality that under-girds our future.‘ – Alyce McKenzie