Monday, 21 May 2012

What’s the big idea?

Guest blog by Tim Childs

I grew up in relative poverty, in an inner city district that was quite poor and rundown, but so have many people; I’m nothing remarkable.

I’m a Christian, and have been for more than 30 years now; on and off, I suppose.  Now, in this phase of my life I first of all just want to serve the Lord with a whole heart and with all of my being. Whatever He wants me to do and however He wants me to live, that’s what I want to do, quite simply.

I’ve had years of unemployment and years of depression, again on and off; perhaps one reality fed off the other. Now I find myself in a better place both health and spirit wise, and in where I’m going in life. Curiously enough, now that I find myself restored to a better relationship with God, I also find myself wanting to achieve my longstanding dream, which is to be a writer. My ambition to serve the Lord also fully coincides with my desire to succeed as a writer; I don’t know why.

For some reason, I come up with idea after idea, for stories, quiz shows, TV programmes and all kinds of Christian-themed articles and books. Getting ideas for me is not a problem; it’s sitting down and working on these ideas that can be problematic. What If I work hard on a number of ideas, present them well, and none of them ever see the light of day? Who wants to labour in vain, after all?

Of course, as a Christian I pray about all of this and ask God to guide me towards both ambitions; to serve Him and to work towards my goal of being a published author. But the nagging thoughts I have can sometimes leave me feeling that I don’t have the right to success. Why me, after all? And, like most creative people, I am plagued with all kinds of doubts. But, the ideas still come and come, they never stop and I never run out of things to write about. Whether I am good writer or not… well only you, dear reader, can really answer that question.

My question is: can we serve God with a whole heart and totally, while at the same time pursuing a goal or ambition that may see us become successful? Aren’t these two things at odds with each other? The answer that comes to me is that as long as we are honest about our ambitions, and we do serve God in all we say and do and in the way we treat other people, then so long as our ambitions are in line with God’s Word, we can pursue our dreams like everyone else.

Don’t we all want to get on? I know I do, and I think I am like many, many other people in this. We all have dreams that give our lives meaning and focus.  I think it’s the dreams of little people – the myriad ordinary and everyday people – that make the world go round.

And, after all’s said and done, I’m just one of those ordinary people with a big dream that keeps me going and gets me out of bed in the mornings. Most of the time, anyway!

Read more from Tim on his personal blog.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

God bless this bunch as they munch their Big Lunch

We all know it’s the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and that we get a day off to officially mark it (June 5), but in a society that doesn’t really rate the royals, are we really ‘bovvered’?

Well, I spoke to HOPE Together’s executive director Roy Crowne and he seemed to have some pretty good arguments in favour of a big celebration.

“This is a once in a lifetime moment; 60 years of serving our country,” he says. “This is a community festival and will become a significant date in the calendar, and Christians need to be right at the heart of it.”

HOPE’s aim is to bring people and churches together; to serve God and the local community at the same time. Each year it supports the ‘Big Lunch’ initiative, which will be extra special this year (June 3) as it coincides with the Jubilee weekend.

The Big Jubilee Lunch is part of the main programme of events over the central weekend of Jubilee celebrations. These lunches will take place across the UK, wherever there is enough space to have one. According to Roy, the key ingredients are food and people.

“The Big Lunch idea came from a project called Eden and they’ve been running these Big Lunches for the last three years but they’ve always been seeking to partner with the church,” he explains.  

“HOPE provided that partnership with the church and our dream would be six million people having lunch together; to move the church out of its building onto the street, to meet friends and neighbours, be shown to be salt and light and show that the Kingdom of God is a party!”

HOPE is all about taking Christianity beyond the four walls of church buildings; of meeting people of other faiths and no faith; of supporting people who are in need; and of breaking down barriers within communities.

“Christianity and community: that link is key,” Roy continues. “It has been shown that any church that grows is integrated with the community. So, we should be communities; but not communities that exclude, let’s create communities that include others.

“It’s clear that any effective outreach that happens starts with building relationship. This is a great outreach opportunity as after the grace is said you can discuss across the table; with friends and neighbours: ‘why do we say grace, what do we think about grace and how important is that?’ We have the opportunity to have a faith conversation.”

So how does the Queen’s faith and her social outlook fit with this? Well Roy thinks they’re a good match: “I think the Queen’s faith journey over 60 years makes her a great, great role model.  She’s lived with all the challenges and all the issues. 

“I am convinced this occasion, not building off the Queen, but recognising Christ and Christianity, makes this a great moment for us to acknowledge what happened at the Coronation as an anointing for service for the whole Commonwealth.

“In exactly the same way we need to be able to serve and represent Christ.  The Queen does it in one way and we need to do it where we are, in our way.”

HOPE Together has put together a range of resources including quizzes, games and information for schools. And if that’s not enough, it has produced a special Diamond Jubilee New Testament that people can buy to give away. I heard from Roy a week or so ago that half a million copies have already been sold!

So how will he be celebrating the Jubilee himself? “I certainly will be having lunch with a group of people and we’ll see what happens on this amazing occasion,” he says. “I want the whole country to party and I want Christianity and the Christian faith to be right at the heart of it.”

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The curse of the 'nice' church

Guest blog with Tim Childs

I have a confession to make… Although I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years, I’ve never been to church as a believing Christian!

Some people might ask how I can be a Christian then, while others I’ve met (largely online) in the past have shared the view that you can be a Christian without going to church. 

Yes, I have a relationship with God; but I feel that I am missing out somewhat. The problem?  I’m a bloke – quite a private and shy bloke in some respects – and the idea of singing hymns and listening to someone waffle off a sermon about such and such a thing doesn’t appeal to me greatly. 
You could ask how I know until I’ve tried; that would be a good question. My answer is quite simply that organised churches do not seem to be reaching out to ordinary people, and they don’t seem to be reaching out to toughened streetwise city boys like me. It’s all a bit, dare-I-say-it, middle class. It’s rather nice people going to rather nice suburban churches being nice, usually on a Sunday; and I hate Sundays!

How do we solve the problem of so many Christians not going to church, especially men? Do we change the churches to make them more relevant (whatever that means), or do we ask Christian men what sort of church and what sort of worship they want?

That might be a start. I believe that, like the big established political parties, the big established denominations like the Catholic Church and the Church of England have a veneer of grassroots participation as long as those people do as they’re told and don’t rock the boat; and for me, as an outsider but very much a working-class Christian, this just isn’t good enough anymore.

Societies and nations progress when people challenge dominantly held views. They progress when ordinary people demand a bigger say in how their lives are run, how governments are run, how business is conducted and how different groups relate to each other and work together. In short, I believe we all thrive when there is a concerted effort to introduce fair play and equality into all of modern societies’ many institutions. That includes established churches.

For the first time in centuries, organised denominations such as Catholicism, the Church of England and maybe many others have the chance to be more relevant to ordinary people and to come kicking and screaming into the 21st century. At the time of writing this, the Association of Catholic Priests is backing a call for the end of compulsory celibacy as a prerequisite for becoming a Catholic Priest. I personally think this idea is not before its time, quite frankly.

The guys on the frontline, so to speak; those who deal with largely ordinary people out in the world, surely know what they are talking about and I have no doubt that this is not a knee-jerk reaction against Catholicism and the Vatican, but a considered and well-thought-out answer to the problem of celibacy.

You only have to witness the sex scandals involving supposedly celibate priests throughout the world in the last twenty years or so, and those that have come to light years after, to know celibacy is a problem. Unfortunately, it appears that the Vatican are going to fight this appeal to modernity and commonsense tooth and claw, which I think is a shame.

What is religion about; what is Christianity about, after all? Is it really about huge, wealthy and powerful churches dominating people from one end of the world to the other, or is it about love, concern and compassion; true brotherly and sisterly love where we regard other people as important and as valuable as we are? 

I believe the latter. It seems that love and the best of ideals can get lost in vast impersonal organisations, and the best of issues can get sidelined in the clamour for the important business of religion. Aren’t we missing something, aren’t we missing something vital: the personal touch, the smaller picture, the love and mercy of simple people believing in hope, faith, peace, joy and happiness? Is the business of religion, just like every other established power, the controlling of people, making them do as they are told for no real good reason other than to exercise power? 

Sadly, I believe it is. We need to ask ourselves what sort of Christianity Jesus wants us to have, and just what sort of message Jesus preached and lived. It was a radical message, and often He was in conflict with the very people that represented religion; it was the religious authorities in part who condemned Jesus and had Him put to death! We should all remember that from time to time.

Check out Tim's blog here and discover more hot topics for Christians in the upcoming edition of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 4 May 2012

It don’t matter if you’re black or white...

Looking back at some of the world’s greatest Olympians-of-old, I was surprised at how obstacles many have had to navigate on top of the pressures of the sport: injury, drug abuse, gender issues, religious persecution and racism, to name but a few.

Take Jesse Owens, for example. One of the most memorable figures in Olympic history, Jesse was snubbed, bullied and intimidated because of the colour of his skin...

When coach Charlie Riley saw Jesse run for the first time, he immediately recognised the raw natural talent of the young man and invited him to run for the track team. At Cleveland East Technical High School Jesse became a track star, tying the world record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.4 seconds.

But while he was at The Ohio State University, he experienced shocking racism. He was forced to live off-campus with the other African-American athletes and when he travelled with the team, he could either order takeaway or eat at “blacks only” restaurants. He slept in “blacks only” hotels.

This didn’t stop him from achieving the highest sporting accolades, though. In 1935, Jesse set three World Records and tied a fourth, all in about 70 minutes. Ironically, earlier in the week he had fallen down a flight of stairs, injuring his back. Imagine what he could have done if he’d been totally fit that day!

At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Jesse was triumphant in the 100-metre dash, the 200-metre dash and the broad jump in Berlin. He was also a key member of the 400-metre relay team that won gold. In all but one of these events, Jesse set Olympic records. He was the first American in the history of Olympic track and field to win four gold medals in a single Games.

He did experience racism again at the event, which Adolf Hitler had hoped to use to demonstrate superiority of the ‘master race’. This was somewhat undermined by Jesse’s success, and by the end even the German crowds were cheering him to victory.

But even after achieving such greatness, he returned home to more racism. “After I came home from the 1936 Olympics with my four medals, it became increasingly apparent that everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job,” he said. 

He added that although he felt Hitler had tried to snub him by refusing to shake hands with him, it was Roosevelt that really let him down. The US president didn’t even send him a telegram to congratulate him on his success.

Seventy-five years on, Jesse is remembered as one of the greatest Olympians of all time, but unfortunately he didn’t succeed in ending racism in sport. Headlines were made earlier in the year by footballers accused of aiming racist slurs at black players, and plenty of footballers have complained of racism at overseas games.

It baffles me that people can be so prejudiced and ignorant. I just hope the London Games succeeds in bringing people together whatever the colour of their skin! 

Read more Games-related articles in the next issue of Sorted - it's an Olympics special and is not to be missed!