A Letter to God

Dear God, the life I want most for myself is…

Hang on, doesn’t that seem a little selfish
I thought this faith was about earning credit being selfless
Not a wish-list to the Lord like he’s Santa sitting at Selfridges
I thought you want everything to be meek and mild
the wisdom of the sages with the innocence of a child
So I don’t quite get what this exercise is
A description of my dream life and its accompanying Prime list?

I want peace and goodwill for all mankind
That’s the kind of thing that I’m supposed to say right
To act all pious, turning darkness into daylight
Shiny happy Jimmy in my soul’s darkest night
Cos actually there are people I don’t want to have a nice ride
I want your frightening lightning bolts and to be there when you smite right!
But I get it, that’s not very Christ-like
Let’s start again; what is my vision for the ‘Good Life’

Here’s an honest take on a life that would be cool
I want a world where a kid can go to school
and not worry about someone busting in the room
with an automatic weapon and indiscriminately start shooting
But wait, that’s politics; it’s not religion
So it’s an area just outside your jurisdiction.
Separation of Church and State; we just send our thoughts and prayers
and leave the lawmakers to legislate
…or not
In case they offend the fat cats whose power plumps the money pots
turning loopholes into nooses for those kids they deem the ‘have-nots’
Surely a Shalom life shuts down this kind of sh… Stop!
There’s got to be a better way for us to get along
More than whose rights are right and whose voices don’t belong
Maybe that’s a part of this thing we call Shalom
Where everyone is valued…
yeah that’s what I want

Men alongside women; equally respected
Genuine equality not politically corrected
Shouting from the glass rooftops irreversibly shattered
“We’re made in God’s image, that’s the only thing that matters!”
Working together for better or for worse
And you can bet your bottom dollar that our blessing far outweighs their curse
That’s the kind of life I want
And that’s not just for me
That’s good news for everyone
That’s the way it should be!

Everything I’ve written so far is feeling pretty abstract
Yeah gun laws and equality are good and for sure they’d make an impact
but there’s a safety in the distance between me and these issues
A comfortable resistance “these are good things someone ought to do”
And the results would be great for our sons and daughters too
Who when they grow up won’t even have a clue
That I just sat back and watched the revolution happen on the news
Tweeting some insightful armchair point of view
There’s an unhealthy disconnect
We gotta get involved
An incarnation activation of mind, body and soul
This Shalom cannot only be a theory
It’s a mission with a message to be mediated clearly
And it’s not like we can forget it, we’re reminded of it yearly
The incarnation of Christ, with songs we sing sincerely
Then as he grows he calls “hey if you can hear me grab your cross and follow me
I’ll show you how to love more dearly”

Dearly loving I like, but can’t I leave the cross?
Is there a way to have the ‘good life’ and eliminate the loss?
I guess we’ve all seen greed and profits driving down the costs
And exploitation leads to sweatshops building the bank balance of the boss
All I really want is for my family to be ok
To have their needs met and the opportunity to play
Keep them safe and well and Lord that’s quite enough
Surround them with your grace and protect them with your love

Love; it’s the essence at the heart of it
the lifeblood of a story transplant infusing every part of it
Life in all its fullness has Jesus at the start of it,
and at the end, and through every step imparting it
And everything I want is simply rooted in his word
The world can flog me all it wants, his is the best offer I’ve heard
Acceptance just the way I am? who doesn’t want to hear that!
You can ask around the town, but seriously, I don’t need a meerkat
to tell me Jesus calling is unique and let me tell you
it’s more than just a choice between a heaven and hell (yeah?)
It’s security and safety, overflowing joy for real
A wholeness and completeness, and all-inclusive healing
That deals with corruption; “O death where is thy sting?”
The curse of sin can’t hold us when we serve a different King
And that’s the ‘good life’ there! Before a good, good God, I bow
And the most amazing part of grace is we can live Shalom right now… Wow.

Lyrics ©2018 Jimmy Orr

Inspired by the ‘soul training’ exercise in The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith.

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A letter to America

Dear Friends,

Once again we find ourselves in a world reeling from the news of another shooting in America. And once again the media coverage, emotional responses and political spin form their familiar dances around the issue.

President Trump has been quick to label the tragedy as a mental health issue and ‘not a guns situation’ (not that he has any intention of addressing either!). The perpetrator was a young, white, American veteran and is therefore deemed by the media outlets not as a terrorist but as a man with a ‘difficult’ background; a ‘lone wolf’.

And once again the gun lobbyists and enthusiasts have been quick to jump on their 2nd Amendment bandwagon; proclaiming with ‘patriot’ passion their ‘right to bear arms!’

I am not an American citizen. But I struggle with the 2nd Amendment argument from those quick to fall back on their Constitutional prooftext.

I am a Christian. I am a pastor of a local church. I teach from the Bible. I have received academic theological training, part of which was the art of critically reading ancient texts – a skill largely lacking in many 2nd Amendment arguments. I know all too well the dangers of proof-texting and am often challenged on how I can possibly allow my 21st Century life to be so influenced by ancient manuscripts; manuscripts written in other languages, in other cultures, thousands of years ago. And my answer is this:

  • I study the text – what it says in and of itself.
  • I study the culture in which it was written – what principles were the authors trying to convey.
  • How can I learn from and embody those principles in my own life?

There are many complicated verses and passages in the Bible. There are chapters and books that appear to contradict one another. It is difficult, to say the least, to take the entirety of the Bible literally and embody each and every teaching accurately.

Perhaps the same can be said of the American Constitution. Whilst a relatively young document, the Constitution was written in a time and culture not our own. It would be dangerous to take 18th Century principles and slam them into 21st Century America. How can we critically read, for sake of this argument, the 2nd Amendment?

What does the text say?

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

What of the culture in which in was written? A fledgling country finding its feet and establishing independence from, in their view, a tyrannical regime. Wanting to secure for themselves a new country based on liberty, they installed within their constitution the right to collectively defend their cause by military means if necessary.

What principles can we bring into our contemporary lives?

Firstly, a ‘lone wolf’ is not a ‘well regulated militia’. The definition of militia is ‘a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.’ Individuals carrying guns for ‘personal protection’ is not a ‘well regulated militia’.

Secondly, shooting the general public – including children – in schools, churches, shopping malls or concerts are not the actions of a well regulated militia defending and ensuring the security of the state against a tyrannical or oppressive force.

Thirdly, as I understand it, the 2nd Amendment is about defending the country you love from powers who would seek to destroy it from within or without; so defend it. Protect it, not by shooting one another but by forging a society that is fair, benevolent, equitable and peaceful. Forge a country your forefathers would be proud of. Forge a nation so renowned for its respect for the life of each of its citizens that the thought of using a gun against any of them for any reason is repugnant. Those struggling with their mental health need access to health care not assault rifles.

The Government has a responsibility to act. Millions of prayers have been offered up over the years for the victims of mass shootings in the U.S. Thousands more for those affected by smaller gun crimes across that country. I believe in prayer. I believe it provides a comfort for those who mourn and a peace that surpasses understanding for those who grieve. But I also believe that we can so often be the answer to people’s prayers. And those in power in the U.S. Government have the power and responsibility to answer the prayers of its own citizens, and citizens of the global community of which the United States of America is a part.

President Trump swore an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the constitution. It is well within his job description to prevent U.S. citizens from misusing the Constitution for their own selfish end.

Gun control is constitutional.

Yours,

A concerned British Friend who shares your pain.

Here and now

A young family enter the park; well dressed mum and sophisticated dad and their blonde, energetic toddler son. Immediately the boy begins to explore every piece of apparatus – he tries the swings, the roundabout, the seesaw and that weird wobbly bridge thing. Each move to a new activity is accompanied by a quick glance over the shoulder to see when mum and dad will be joining him on this great Tuesday afternoon adventure.

But mum and dad don’t join him.

Mum meanders in the boy’s general direction while dad strolls around the perimeter of the play park. Both parents have one hand to their ear, deep in conversation.

Dad needs this part of the project signed, sealed and delivered before the close of play or else the deal is more than likely going to collapse. Mum is counseling her friend on yet another relationship crisis with a boyfriend she should have been rid of ages ago!

The boy continues running, spinning, swinging and wobbling in his own little world. He’s having a fair amount of fun…

And then mum ends the call. She comes alongside her son as he moves precariously across the balance beams. His eyes grow massive as the sudden realisation dawns that mum is playing too now!

Dad hangs up too and, with utter disregard for the ‘apparatus is for ages 4-11 only‘ sign, he joins his son on the wobbly bridge. And as he does so the whole atmosphere changes. There were always three people in the park, but only one was ever truly present. Now there were three people fully engaged in the fun and games.

Soon they were chasing each other around the playground not even using the apparatus for anything other than cover to hide behind. Fully engaged, fully present, fully enjoying each others company in this precious family moment.

I’m not a parent so I can’t comment on this couple’s parenting style. But I can reflect on a choice each one of us can make. We each have the option to go through the motions or to be fully present in whatever we do.

The mum and dad were always physically at the park, but all the time they were on the phone they were actually elsewhere. It was only when they put the phones away and fully engaged in the moment with their boy that they were fully present.

So in the early stages of this new year, when most resolutions are crumbling if they haven’t already failed (as mine has!) my challenge to us all is this: be present in the moment. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Give the people you’re with the attention they deserve.

Happy new year.