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Daring Greatly... the final blog

Jenni Entrican writes:

What a year this has been!  Exciting, exhausting, heart-warming, challenging, nourishing, humbling… the list could go on.  There are so many things that have delighted me during this year as President, so many people with whom I have enjoyed conversation, sharing, and walking alongside - to, one would hope, our mutual benefit.  A real spark of God at work in our lives, an opportunity to be taken to a new place because of that meeting.  

And none more so, than what has been a virtual meeting up - this blog.  What a kaleidoscope of stimulation, joy, challenge… an opening of minds and hearts to engage with the theme of Daring Greatly, through the courage to be real, to step outside the box, to follow Jesus.  Each month, two good friends have faithfully, and creatively, committed themselves to accede to my request to write on one aspect of the theme as it relates to mission, spirituality or women.

And what a rich and varied journey it has been.  Really life-enhancing.  My very, very grateful thanks to these people.

This week I have spent time reading all eighteen pieces.  I can recommend it!
Here are a handful of the nuggets ~

Each starts with ‘Daring Greatly through… the courage to be real… step outside the box… follow Jesus.

Stepping outside the box…

… refers to the development of unconventional, new, and creative ideas.  Some contexts welcome such creativity.  In others, however, it can require courage to challenge the established conventions.  Such to be sure involves vulnerability and can incur the risk of rejection and expulsion.  This vulnerability may be heightened by an inner yet very real self-questioning of that which you are proposing.  That which you are proposing and verbalising may indeed be unconventional to you.

… may require the courage to physically step outside the box.  That is, the courage required may be the courage to place one’s body for the sake of one’s established or developing convictions in new and perhaps unconventional locations and settings.  “Hope is where your body is”. [Stuart]

… Daring Greatly involves challenging the powers; going against the flow; standing up for what we believe in; giving sacrificially… commences with the conviction that ‘something is not right’, whether that be in me, my neighbour or within the wider world.  This is coupled with the conviction that ‘another world is possible’.

I am called to make difference because ultimately daring greatly is (in the words of Tom Sine) 'to respond to the invitation to join in with God, to be co-conspirators with him, and get involved in subverting the craziness, the dysfunction, the sinfulness of the world, with acts of compassion and love.  These gestures may seem small, insignificant and at times foolish but they add up and go a long way towards revealing the Kingdom in our midst.'  [Carmel]

Many of the young people who didn’t fit our big youthwork were from broken families, failing in the education system and living with a depth of suffering that many church volunteers were not trained for.  They did not need to hear a message which highlighted their brokenness, they were already well aware of that, and a conversion to a middle class gospel and church was irrelevant to them.  
Stepping outside the box for me… has been stepping out of the big numbers game and deliberately and intentionally working with a few.  Walking alongside a young person as they struggle with significance, as they consider their sexuality, as they navigate our ridiculous 'one size fits all' education system, is a huge challenge and is often heart-breaking and emotionally draining…  My heart is to encourage a community of faith; a group of people of all ages and abilities, on a journey of searching, learning, discovering, and owning faith. [Sandra]

If we want to make the gospel known to our generation, we will need to dare something new in faith.  We will need to experiment and find new, creative, counter-cultural, inspiring and innovative ways to advance the Kingdom of God.  We can no longer be satisfied with the kind of narrow, individualistic, world-rejecting spirituality, which perpetuates the 'me-and-Jesus' dogma that has left many of our churches so ill-equipped for mission and ministry in our emerging society.

Looking to the future my hope is that the British Baptist community can pioneer a renewed spiritual vision of a ‘church without walls’ in which the Christian values of honesty, integrity, dignity, freedom, justice and compassion are expressed not only in explicit church activities, but also in the ordinary, mundane realities of everyday life.  [Joshua]

in 2 Tim1:6-7 we read 'I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you .... for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline'.

… recapture the truth of who God has declared us to be.  God has called us to himself, he has invested of himself in us and his Spirit merges with our spirit making us a new creation.  God through his Spirit has given us gifts that we may carry out our assignment as Christians to be a blessing to all people – it is entirely possible to be so much more than we currently are when we truly embrace the truth of who God has made us to be and declared us to be. [Rupert]

What is the box?
Is it big enough to hold the earth of tradition and discipline and practice?
Will my roots go deep enough to find nourishment and stability?
Will I stretch wide enough to allow my foliage to tumble over the edges?

Sixteen of us gather in a little wooden building…  All but one tell stories of belonging to main stream churches; Sunday school, choir, confirmation, or joining as young adults for some years. Then disillusionment.  One woman speaks of the 'gap' that grew between her and what went on at the front of church as getting bigger and bigger until she dropped off the edge.

… I spread a cloth on the floor in front of me; place home made bread and a cup of wine on it.  I use words from a simple contemporary liturgy.  This action, blessing, breaking, sharing, is so powerful it hardly needs words.

Holiness fills the space around us and within us… God does not need defending. The things of God cannot belong in any box.  All our boxes belong in God. [Judy]

… be real

Six years ago I moved from Solihull to Stoke, from an affluent area to a poor one and there’s a very strong desire to authenticate myself by how poor our area is.  But maybe the first bit of courage needed to be real about mission is to stop playing the ‘My-ward’s-worse-than-yours’ game.  Let’s be honest, mission is difficult everywhere!

Of course we have all the stuff you’d expect: drugs, unemployment, crime, litter and mental illness.  Broken-down houses, children who don’t know what a vegetable is, and the general air of being unseen and unheard that makes young people so open to radicalisation.  They’re here – of course they’re here … these things are very real!   But they are not the only reality.  Beauty is real too.  So are love, joy, hope and friendship.  In fact these things are more real because they come from the heart of God.

After years of working, relating, praying, setting up projects and events, to our joy a little church has evolved.  Real change often seems so elusive…  They can be so lovely one week and then turn on you and yell abuse down the phone the next.

I think the courage to be real about mission means knowing both how much and how little you are needed, and learning to be content with that. [Howard]

… Somehow we have lost this ability to be broken in front of each other.  It does us no favours when it comes to sharing our faith.

Genuine community is rapidly becoming a rare commodity…  The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman suggests that community is now a ghost that we resurrect at festivals, only to return to our isolated lives when the weekend is over.  Sometimes I feel that the church can be that too – a couple of hours with God and God’s family, then back to our privatised lives.  If our churches can be 'places of availability and vulnerability', we can offer people a place where they can experience genuine transforming love in the community of God’s people. [Simon]

… Perhaps too we need the courage to be real in living as spiritual people.  To truly dare to let our spirituality inform our day to day living; to not dress our faith up in jargon and live it out in a holy clique, but to get real in the mess of our lives and the lives of those with whom we journey.

… one of the things I need to be real about when I reflect on my own spirituality is the fact that it changes… what once fed and nurtured is maybe not what feeds now.  What does need to stay the same is the commitment to spend regular time God, with no agenda but his; but it’s how that time is facilitated that varies… it matters that we dare to have the courage to be real about our spirituality… for then the transforming power of God’s Spirit is released, not just in our own lives, but also into the life of the world. [Barbara]

… Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10).  Cornelius would have been no stranger to courage… but his devotion to God required an altogether different kind of courage.  Peter needed courage to move beyond the safe and familiar and venture into territory that all of his traditional instincts would have told him to avoid.  This simple encounter was to have monumental consequences… we have been challenged to have the courage to be real – which in part is an invitation to embrace and be honest about our own weakness and vulnerability; to reach out to our world with a faith that is grounded in the realities of human experience and not confined to the safe havens of religious institutions.

… busyness can be a great way of drowning out the call to be real.  So long as I am engrossed in a catalogue of activities on God’s behalf, I can avoid those penetrating encounters in which I lay myself open to God’s scrutiny and purpose.  I can forever be engaged in a pattern of discipleship that involves doing more things rather than growing more like Christ.  I find it interesting that the source of this profound episode is two men’s commitment to simply spend time in God’s presence. What ensued might have had massive consequences, but it began by simply being real. [Phil]

… we hold simultaneously the beliefs that reality exists in its own right and outside of ourselves, and that reality is created by us in our minds, through our perceptions.  Absolutism and relativism held in tension.  I would like to share with you the ways in which this tension is played out in the lives of some women…

  • Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of seven demons.  This changed her life, set her free and gave her the courage to follow Jesus
  • Clara in Cyprus, keeping it real means visiting night clubs every evening, befriending women who have been sold into the sex trade
  • in London, young women campaign to change laws that penalise women who are trafficked
  • Mary of Bethany had a deep personal commitment to Jesus.  She sat at his feet hungry to hear his words
  • Portia suffers from a range of complex mental health and personality disorders.  Her encounter with Jesus did not cure her, but it changed her life.  When times are really bad, and Portia finds herself locked in darkness, terror, despair and doubt, when she is confused and does not know what to believe or trust, she turns to Jesus and finds him there in the centre of her internal maelstrom.

Reality is found in Jesus – the one who has always existed, exists now and will exist forever.  The courage to dare greatly, the courage to be real, flows from an encounter with Jesus. [Charmaine]

… occasionally I am asked if I have any idea what my daughter might do when she grows up.  She is only three, so there is plenty of time.  At the moment a firefighter is top of the list…  Sometimes I reply, in jest, that the plan is for her to become the first female Archbishop of Canterbury in a dis-established Church of England.  I suspect it far more likely she will be a firefighter, but as things have progressed for our Anglican sisters and brothers in recent years it feels like it is a little bit more possible that there might be a female occupant of the See of Canterbury.

Our own journey as a Union has not been one of a consistent trajectory.  Indeed, there are times when, having made significant progress in embracing the ministry of women, we have seen the forces of patriarchy reassert themselves in a variety of ways.  Since I began my theological training just over ten years ago I have heard too many stories of pain and marginalisation from my sisters in Christ…

… there would be something profoundly troubling if on hearing their stories we are not compelled to ask serious questions of our life together, of ourselves, and seek to work with them to bring change.  It is my contention that, on the whole, men have not done enough to publicly take a stand alongside our female colleagues.  I think that we run the risk of thinking that this is an issue that we have already dealt with.  The experiences of too many excluded and patronised friends would suggest otherwise.

I wonder what it might take for my children to not see women in ministry as ‘other’ but something totally normal… I am hopeful, but we still have a lot of work to do. [David]

… follow Jesus

… our way of working for change is as important as the change we want to create…  The Jesus way. The narrow road.  The method being as crucial as the message.  The resistance of alternative routes to power offered so potently over forty days of weakness and isolation in the desert, and beyond.  The articulator of unfamiliar and unexpected messages.  The voice of the margins.  The prophet.  The most inspiring person in town.  The social outcast… the way we follow Jesus, as individuals and as church in these days is going to communicate as much about what we believe and hold most precious, as anything we advocate, accomplish or fail at.

I’m left daring to follow Jesus in a world which needs a new approach to power and a workable model of non-coercive leadership, decision-making and resource allocation.  Increasingly I find the rigor and support of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process provides a framework for me to live out a courageous intention. It supports me to transcend and transform fear and judgement, and grasp the beauty of human needs as the frame which will provide me with the clearest and most life-giving understanding of why people (me/you) do what we do.  All of which opens the door to connection, which, in an age of fear and separation, brings hope. [Laura]

… In the past week I’ve both heard a woman preach the best sermon I’ve heard this year, and happened to talk with several female friends who each spoke of the ways - often brutal - in which people have tried to prevent them from preaching.  My friends’ stories about being mocked and silenced when they sought to preach put me in mind of ‘Jeremiah’s Complaint’.  I tried to imagine how Huldah [the (female) prophet whom King Josiah consulted when he rediscovered the Book of the Law (2Ki 22:3-20)] might have described her own ‘daring greatly’, her struggles to find the courage to follow God.

Huldah’s Complaint (after Jer 20:7-18)
Blood boiling.
Bones roasting.
How can unsaid words be so
You fooled me God.
Seduced me and subdued me when
I saw your splendour
Blazing bright. When
An ember from your altar
Blistered my lips. When
You kindled a spark
Within me. When
You said "Speak!"
Were you laughing then, God?
They are now.
Barbs fly; fists too.
Vitriol and violence drive me to

… I see your promise, God
Blazing tongues poured out
All flesh flame-baptised
Slaves, men and maids,
Fire-filled indifferently.
When the fire comes
And the daughters and sons
Will prophesy there
Will they then hear from her?
Or must she wait till fire falls once more?

… what does ‘spirituality’ mean to those who seek to follow Jesus?  And more specifically ‘courageous spirituality’, which in the contemporary usage of the word seems like a contradiction?
… it will be substantial
… it will be authentic
… it will be intentional
… it will be creative
… it will be passionate
and here’s the crunch - it will be courageous, or vulnerable.

‘Seeing we have a cross at the heart of our faith, it is stupid to ignore the reality of suffering, or pretend there is some escape from it.  We need a faith that will stand strong in the presence of pain, and not run from it.’  [Geoff]

… it was with some surprise that I discovered, from the writings of one of our younger ministers that I am not a historian, I am also history.  She has been writing a dissertation for her degree examining women in ministry and attitudes to this in Baptist life.

… and she talks in her work about me and several others of my cohort in ministry, of some of the things we did, some of the arguments we had, some of the changes we inaugurated and some of the possibilities we opened up.  We did not think of ourselves as doing anything particularly important or special.  We were doing what was in front of us; responding, with as much faith and integrity as we could, as much wisdom as we could summon, and sometimes with tears and laughter, to the situations that we were in.

And now, somebody else telling the story is telling a story of people who dared greatly and changed things, whose great daring made a difference… I have thought of myself as somebody who hasn’t really dared much; who has been greatly attracted by this theme, but also deeply rebuked by it, in comparison with the people who really did things, went out on a limb and made a difference.

Maybe daring greatly is to do with faithfully and with integrity and hope, living who we are, and letting God do whatever it is that God wants to do through it – without being too anxious about what that might be. [Ruth]

… I believe God was calling me into ministry many, many years ago but I did not recognise this and ignored it.  Me?  A minister?  I’m Deaf!  About ten years ago for the first time, I visited a 'deaf church' led by deaf, where services were in British Sign Language (BSL).  What an impact that made on me… I allowed myself to open the door a tiny crack, that was my calling into ministry.

I trusted God to give me the strength and courage needed to follow his path, and with wonderful support from the students and tutors, I finally graduated from Northern Baptist College with a theology degree.

I have learnt so much from both hearing and deaf.  I feel God is calling me to minister both to the hearing and deaf communities and to work to bring the two groups together in mutual respect.  My ministry has given me the opportunity to explore the riches of both worlds and to bring them together.  It is rare that God leads us down to easy paths but he does give us his strength and courage to persevere.  [Susan]

… Violent extremism is now arguably the greatest threat to people across the world.  It includes terrorism and violent acts, which could seemingly be committed anywhere and anytime… what does it mean to follow Jesus in this context?  
Some thoughts:

  • be incarnational in our discipleship
  • reject and challenge violent extremism from any quarter
  • assert the equality of all human life as ‘made in the image of God’.  To destroy human life is always wrong.
  • advocate the centrality of the love of God for all, expressed in Christ
  • build relationships with people of all faiths and none, loving our neighbours    
  • use language and promote the use of language that clearly distinguishes between faith/religion and violent extremism
  • opt for relating positively to the young, creating and supporting opportunities for inter faith encounters and relationships

In a world that seems to be more complex and dangerous, will we resist retreating into our churches and follow Jesus in the complexity and messiness of the world?  Courage is needed to dare greatly, to follow Jesus by working to transform violent extremism through inter faith relating. [Andy]

Many thanks to Howard Jones, Simon Hall, Judy Howard, Rupert Lazar, Laura Gill, Steve Holmes, Joshua Searle, Sandra Crawford, Geoff Colmer, Ruth Gouldbourne, Barbara Carpenter, Phil Jump, Stuart Blythe, Carmel Murphy, Susan Myatt, Andy Williams, Charmaine Howard and David Mayne.

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