May 7th…..Remember the poor

Where will you put your X on May 7th?  How are you going to decide?

If you have a secure job and want what is best economically for you then without doubt you should be voting Conservative.  You won’t go wrong with Labour or Lib Dem either.  If you are comfortable now then stick with the political establishment and nothing is going to change much – the colour flying over Downing Street might be different but our social landscape will remain the same.

However, if your desire is to see the poorest and most vulnerable in our society protected and empowered then maybe think of an alternative to the political establishment – and I’m not talking about the purple migrant bashers.  I would suggest that if you have a care and hope for those excluded from society then consideration should be given to a Green or Independent vote or maybe a spoiled ballot.

As a follower of Jesus I cannot bring myself to vote for my own needs and comforts.  “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)  If you love Jesus, if you love your fellow human – then don’t waste your vote selfishly.  Maybe you will come to a different political conclusion to me but do vote with your conscience.

West Bromwich vicar, Neil Robbie, has written a great and succinct post commenting on political thought processes with a different twist on who the poor could be.  Definitely worth a read for just 1 minute of your time.

If you have an hour then do invest it in listening to the late Simon Pettit’s biblical mandate for the poor.  This was recorded in 1998 and was a real watershed moment for the Newfrontiers famly of churches that I belong to – it provides a great introductory foundation on Christian teaching regarding the poor.

Election and Poor

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YMCA Black Country Staff Awards 2014

Last week saw the announcement and presentation of the 2014 YMCA Black Country staff awards.  I was really proud to have two of the YMCA Open Door Team shortlisted for individual categories and to have the team shortlisted for Team of the Year.

We didn’t win Team of the Year, that deservedly went to the Walsall Housing Team who have worked so hard together to overcome some very challenging circumstances this year.  Nevertheless, it was great to be shortlisted and receive a bit of recognition – the team work incredibly hard and with great ability and compassion to deliver a fantastic service that enables 50 young people to stay in safe accommodation each night.

YMCA Open Door – Team of the Year Runners Up

Unfortunately, despite a tremendous record of recruiting Host families, fundraising and all round non-stop dedication, Rachael Taylor was only runner up in the Personal Achievement category.  But again deserved recognition to be shortlisted nonetheless and it was difficult to argue with Wolverhampton Nursery Manager, Charlie, being announced as winner.

Rachael Taylor – Personal Achievement Runner Up

However, despite these slight disappointments the rock of our Wolverhampton Supported Lodgings provision, Stanley Ifamene, was crowned Inspirational Colleague of the Year.  I was utterly delighted with this.  Stanley really is one of the most inspirational and exemplary humans I have ever met.  He works hard, cares with great attention and tenderness for the young people he is responsible for and, most importantly, he lives out every part and every moment of his life through his faith in Jesus.  He encourages me every time I see him, inspires me to greater performance and approaches every situation with a desire to give honour to God.  He is a true hero.

Stanley Ifamene – Inspirational Colleague of the Year Winner

It was a great fun evening.  The company was top quality and it was good to be reminded of the effective and wide reaching work that YMCA Black Country Group is responsible for.  The positive impact and influence of the organisation seems to be growing and building on the firm foundations of past generations.  The other award winners were James and Hashan who both work with great effort and enthusiasm in Aleksa’s nursery, and Tony who has worked persistently and tirelessly for years making sure the place doesn’t fall apart.  The final award was a Lifetime Achievement award for Board Members Eric and Brenda Moore who have given about 60 and 40 years voluntary service respectively to the YMCA.  That really was an inspiring and fitting end to the awards.  Looking forward to next year!

The Shock of the Fall

I’m missing our YMCA book club meeting again today.  This month we’ve been reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.  It’s a first person story about a young man who is mentally ill.  It is as beautiful as it is sad.  Here are a couple of things I am taking away from the book:

  1. It hit me hard when he is observing the attitudes of those who work with those with mental health.  A few examples are the condescending way the staff talk down to him, the language they use (i.e. calling him a ‘service user’ – who wants to be called a ‘service user’?!) and that when the Day Centre was closing down the staff were clearly more moved by the fact they’d lose their jobs than by the loss of the service for those that needed it.  In fact that was pretty much the most emotion the staff gave out in the whole book.  I was challenged with relation to how we work at the YMCA.  As much as you come in with your ideals, they quickly get squished by other pressures and before you know it you’ve forgotten that you’re there to serve other human beings.
  2. I’ll not spoil the detail, but the tragedy involving his brother is gut wrenching.  It is referred to from the start and more information about what happened is revealed throughout the narrative.  And the information given is the finest detail, the acutest memory, the hurtful consequences, and it brings home pain and loss in the most devastating way.  How can anybody know what somebody else is experiencing?  I think life can sometimes become one long trail of judgment on others and yet we haven’t got a clue what is going on in another person’s head.

These lessons for me are summed up in Jesus’ famous saying, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’  This quote is often reduced simplistically – i.e. don’t hit someone if you don’t want to be hit etc.  However, if we are to really reflect on the essence of this saying then it is that we need to treat one another with respect and with humanity in as much detail as is observed and described in The Shock of the Fall‘.  When we fail to do this, ironically, it is ourselves who lose our humanity as much as, if not more than, those we are disrespecting.

Worship at the YMCA

I love working for the YMCA and I love worshipping God.  To be honest the reason I love working for the YMCA is probably that it gives me countless opportunities to worship God through my everyday work life.  What a privilege to be able to serve young people in need on a daily basis.

Last night my YMCA experience was taken to another level.  I’m at Unify 2013 which is exploring the Christian identity of the YMCA movement and at the first session yesterday evening we spent a long time worshipping God together through discussion, teaching and singing.  I have grown to love the YMCA and it was powerful to see that so many leaders within the movement passionately love Jesus.

My prayer is that God continues to use the YMCA and helps us to enable the mission of God to be at the core of everything that the YMCA does.

Jesus is dead

Easter Saturday is often overlooked by Christians during Easter celebrations.  Good Friday is painful, sad, hopeful.  Easter Day is full of joy and celebration.   But what do you do on the Saturday?

In the story of Easter it was a day when nothing happened.  Jesus was dead, and his disciples were bereft.  I think for the Christian in the 21st century it is a day to remember that sometimes life can feel like God is absent and that prayer can seem unanswered.  The disciples felt no hope, they were not expecting the miracle and sometimes we find ourselves with similar feelings.

Feeling the absence of God is not a good place to be but it is a real feeling that I think is dangerous to shun and dismiss.  Faith in Jesus is a journey and it is important to embrace all the extremes of the journey.  I think we all feel hopeless at times – maybe because of serious illness, debt, addiction,  loneliness, purposelessness, or even death.  It is at these lowest points in life that we have to learn to grapple with pain and God – like when Jacob wrestled with God.

There will come a time when the reality of Easter morning breaks in but you can’t just be told that.  You have to experience the low, struggle with faith, and discover the goodness, mercy and love of God for yourself.  This Easter, if you’re feel down and trapped by life, it is important to know that the resurrection is just round the corner, and look forward with hope and faith – but don’t feel that if prayer seems unanswered or if God seems absent that your faith is worthless.  The disciples felt no hope after Jesus’ death yet they went on to experience the life and fullness that comes with faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

Narnia obsession and entertainment culture

Anya is obsessed with Narnia.  Whilst there are definitely much worse things to be obsessed with I think it might be going a bit too far – every spare moment goes into listening, watching, reading, theologically reflecting or drawing Narnia or asking questions about it.

I was a bit worried because every time she goes to her bedroom she switches on the audio book.  Even if it’s just to get dressed, brush her hair and put some shoes on – she’ll be listening to Narnia at the same time.  When I challenged her she said it was because she was bored and I realised, just like me, she has become a victim of our entertainment culture.  That is, we cannot bare to have even a few moments with something to entertain us or something to do.

Anya is uncomfortable in her room with silence so it is filled with Narnia.  I am uncomfortable with nothing going on so will turn on the TV, check my emails/facebook, listen to the radio, read a book.  I know that none of these things are bad but much more often I’d like to take advantage of a bit of peace and stillness.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Mark 1:35

City Kids as Signs of the Kingdom

I read an enlightening article over the weekend all about working with inner city children in Birmingham.  The author was exploring the biblical concept of receiving the Kingdom of God like a child.

One of her points was that when we truly accept children unconditionally then it is really us who will find salvation as much as the child:

“One educated Church Member, finding the behaviour of the children in the Fun Club unacceptable, had been critical of the work.  Out one day collecting for Christian Aid, she called at one of the many flats.  The door opened and she was surprised to see a familiar little face (a Fun Club child) looking up at hers.  With joy, the little girl rushed off and was heard to shout to her Mum, ‘It’s my friend at the door’!  The woman was moved to tears that the child should call her friend…and she changed.  In so many ways the children showed us how to be, open, powerless and free in the truth of Christ.” (Jane Grinonneau – City Kids as Signs of the Kingdom)