Showing posts with label Community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Community. Show all posts

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Sermon on Colossians 4:2-18 - Why do Christians spread their Faith?

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a
door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” 

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you."

Earlier in Colossians Paul expressed his thankfulness for the faith and love of the people of Colossae. He expressed in clear, dramatic language who Jesus is, "the Son of the Invisible God, the firstborn over all Creation. For in him all things were created". And he speaks of Christ's great mission, "to reconcile to himself all things".  For we received Christ, so we must live on him.  Because he is the "Fullness of God", he has the power to redeem us, to transform us.  And since we have that power let us "put to death" what is evil in us, "greed, rage, lies, bitterness, jealousy". Instead, we clothe ourselves with "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience", all of which spring from Love.

That is a brief summary of the last three chapters, and today we look at St Paul's final words in this letter.  His last instruction to Colossae is brief, but important, and it’s about prayer and evangelism. Paul reminds church in Colossae to "remain faithful in prayer, being watchful and thankful". Thankful for what? Well, for the gifts of peace, reconciliation and belonging with God, that he has described again in the previous chapters. And watchful, for what? For opportunities to share these gifts with others.

People often wonder why Christians are so determined to spread their faith to others. Why do we put so much emphasis on conversion, on mission, on evangelism? What we have heard in this letter of Colossians answers that question.  We have the most amazing gift of the Kingdom of God. Through the Holy Spirit we are united with the one through whom "all things were created", who shall "reconcile all things", and all "thrones, powers, rulers and authorities" fall under him. We have so much. Even when in this life we face suffering. Paul wrote those words of Colossians in chains, in prison, regarding Christ who was crucified. Never let anyone think Paul's words were cheap. When he said in another letter, "we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed", he spoke from experience, of the power he had received, through Christ, and in Christ. And that power is ours as well, through the Holy Spirit. 

And the fruit of those gifts is "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience", gifts we all need. We have so much, and it is in that awareness that we go out to share our faith with others. Jesus commanded us to be salt and light. Now, salt adds flavour to food, but before refrigerators its more important use was for preserving food. You don't keep salt in a box, you take it and rub it all over your joint of meat or fish, and that means it keeps good and nourishing, it preserves life. Jesus called us light, and light cannot help but shine out, unless we deliberately hide it. And so our evangelism, our Good News, that we have been blessed, should just spill out of us in every way. 

There is no division either between work of charity and love, and evangelism. You bring someone food, you feed their body; you bring them faith in Christ, you feed their soul. The Bible never divides the two. Jesus heals people's bodies, and forgives their sins; he feeds thousands, and he dies for the salvation of all. St Paul doesn't know any division between the two either. He preaches Christ, and he gathers a collection for the starving. Now some people will feel more called to preach, and others to works of charity, and that's fine; as long as between us we are covering both. For both ways are the Light within us spilling out to others, both are inspired in us by the same source, the gift of Christ. Our Mission is to feed and support bodies and souls, the whole person, inspired by the Love Christ showed us.

If our prayer and evangelism and charity is an attempt to fill an emptiness in ourselves it will deserve to fail, but if it means the richness we have spilling out and being shared with other people, it will deserve to succeed. That, I believe, is why Paul has this instruction at the end of his letter, after he's described again the riches we have in Christ. Because we have this gift, in "jars of clay", we have something worth sharing with others. And the richness of Christ is not just what we share, it defines how we share. We have no need of defensiveness or fear. We don't need to trick people or browbeat them. We need to be honest about the gifts we receive through faith. Gifts of community, of patience, of hope and purpose in our lives, all grounded and made certain by being rooted in Christ, "the Son of the Invisible God, Firstborn over all Creation", "the Fullness of God".

The rest of this chapter, the final section of Colossians, emphasises one important gift in particular that is so important, and that is Community. St Paul knows the importance of community, he knows that his ministry, his mission, could never have succeeded without the community around him. And he never forgets to remember and thank each person who has been important in helping him. The people Paul thanks at the end of his letters give us a fascinating cross-section of the early Christian community: Men and Women, Jews and Gentiles. We also spot some famous names, Mark, and Luke, who wrote two of the Gospels we have today. 

Now, community is one of the things that is declining across our modern world: and by that I mean the institutions of closely connected family and life that support and encourage us. And this last year of Lockdown has accelerated that decline. We are not meant to live life alone, and while seeing people through screens is better than nothing, it's not the same. There's an old saying, "it takes a village to raise a child", but not just a child, it takes a village to live a life. But often these days, because people move so much for work, as fewer people get married, as fewer have children, as fewer join clubs and community groups, we become more isolated. And that can be fine, when life is good, when you're young. But when you face challenges, it's so much harder on your own. We're just not meant for it. A recent survey in America found that 30% of young adults said they did not have a single friend: Zero, not even one. And the proportion was far higher among young adults than older ones. And that kind of statistic has an inevitable impact on mental and physical health and wellbeing down the line.   

One of the things Church has always been is community, and that is valuable. Don't get me wrong, when community goes wrong it can be controlling and oppressive, but when it's right, when it's based on those Gospel principles of "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience", it gives life. And Churches endure as communities as well, in a way that's special, in the face of persecution and change, because they are not randomly thrown together. Our community is based on a shared faith, a shared love, a shared joy. That is important, because community also requires people to put in a lot of work. Our faith and experience that we are one family in God, motivates us to put in the commitment: in time and money and care, that makes our community work.

We live in a world of constant change, uncertainty and confusion about our lives: where we're going as individuals and a society, how we should guide ourselves in politics, and to face huge challenges like Climate Change, or the Covid Pandemic. Through the Gospel, the teachings of Christ, and the Apostles, we have truth from God that has endured for 2000 years, because it speaks to what is most fundamental about our human nature, our spiritual nature. And that does not change. Jesus said living by his teaching is to build our lives on solid rock, not shifting sands. That is the basis that makes for a strong community, one we can all benefit from.

The thing about that teaching as well, is that it too comes to us through a community, the community of the Church. The Bible itself is a reflection of the experience of the earliest Christian community that Christ had risen from the dead, and he had empowered his followers with the Holy Spirit. And our community, and all the communities of Christians around the world are a direct descendant of that first community. The word theology just means the 'knowledge of God', and true and good knowledge of God can only exist where the texts of theology like the Bible are understood in the Spirit of faith, hope and love.

A Church community should be special, because it should be open and welcoming to everyone. And while no community is perfect, here at Wolston my family and I certainly felt welcomed from the start. If we are true to Christ, then anyone must be welcome to come in and join us. We are not united by race, or age, or sex, or nationality, by where we went to school, or whether we went to University, we are united by faith in Christ. And that means any man or woman or child can be my brother or sister. In fact, you don't even need to have faith yet, if your mind is open and searching, you're welcome. I talked earlier about evangelism and as Christians we often think of that as going out and spreading the Word. But equally it has to be about how you treat people when they come in. There's no point going out and telling people about Christ, if when they come into Church they are not welcomed and supported.

Let our love be plain and obvious to see, let our "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" be clear and unmistakeable, and people will appreciate the reality we know, that the "Fullness of God" is in Christ, and Christ lives and moves in us.


Saturday 15 February 2020

The Critic - Towards a Social Neo-Conservatism

I have another article published online with The Critic Magazine, arguing that a Modern Social Neo-Conservatism is a coherent idea, and doesn't mean going back to the 1950s.
Relative political positions (Lib vs Con) change all the time. A modern Social Conservatism should mean policies that encourage and support commitment to families and communities, within the liberal freedoms that exist in law.

I'm hoping to get a number of further articles published exploring what a modern Socially Conservative platform would look like on issues ranging from Immigration, to Architecture, to Family Policy. So watch this space.

The current article is below:

Friday 6 January 2012

Christmas & Family

Merry Christmas! (I know this is a bit late.  But my excuse is it is still within the 12 days of Christmas. Just.  And hence still technically Christmas. Oh, and happy Epiphany as well.)

Christmas is the great stereotypical time to spend time with your family. I am lucky that my family have always got on well together without much stress. I've always enjoyed Christmas get togethers, as much now I'm an adult as when I was little. For some people Christmas and other family occasions are not relaxing, to say the least, and that is very sad.  It is a rupturing of what family means at a time dedicated to a uniquely unique family.

Thanks to the good works of a friend whenever I think about what family means I will always think of a line from a certain Disney Film. "Ohana" in Hawaiian, "means family, and family means no-one gets left behind". Family means a commitment to one another -to care, to sacrifice, to have patience and compassion- to not give up on one another because there is a responsibility that cannot be put aside. The difference between Family and other relationships is that Family is a bond you're not allowed to give up on. Family may annoy you, they may irritate you, there certainly may be times you don't like them, but if they're family you're stuck with them. And so you do whatever you can to get along, to mend relationships and get to a situation where you can enjoy your time together because you are stuck together. This is a type of Love. Love always means commitment, of a type. A commitment you can't walk away from.  It  also means a whole lot more. It's true that you don't always even like the ones you love, sometimes you can even hate them too.

Family is a commitment. A commitment that we don't necessarily choose.  That usually means blood. The most common basis for that commitment and relation is a blood relation. The saying is "you choose your friends but your family you're stuck with". The nuclear and extended family are the historical basis of human society, the glue that holds society together, that cares for children, cares for people in their old age, and makes sure that almost everyone has someone who is obliged to care about what happens to them. It is the environment in which we are formed, and the original and most essential human social bond and organisation. It is not surprising our wider social, moral and religious ideas are widely constructed by expanding analogy to it.  Blood family bears the advantage that we share experiences and genetics, meaning we have a good chance of being quite like each other and having some sympathy for one another. Sadly it doesn't always work, but it is at least a start.

Family isn't just blood. The rituals by which we add to blood family have always been the most serious in human society. Marriage has always been considered so important because it means two people committing to becoming family to one another, and the traditional language surrounding marriage borrows overwhelmingly from our understanding of what family means. Adoption is another traditional means of grafting onto family, and the issues about the blood family, adopted family and identity of the person are so deep because family bond is crucial to our identity.

In the modern day nuclear families have become more complicated. In addition to the traditional archetype of husband, wife, children some families have single parents, unmarried parents, divorced parents, sometimes with new partners and step-children. A lady I know spends Christmas with her mother, step-dad, step-dad's ex-wife and step-dad's ex-wife's new partner and various respective children. Now these families may be as happy or unhappy as traditional family arrangements, but certainly they introduce complications that must be overcome because of their differences from the standard archetype introduces difficulty in defining who family is, and who bears the responsibility that brings.

Family does not just mean blood family, not even with all its various grafting and extensions through rituals like marriage and adoption.  There is also the family of choice. The families we make. The people we informally adopt as family throughout our lives. Often, and especially in the hectic modern world, we may find ourselves away from our blood family and unable to draw directly on the network of love, support and familiarity they offer. We may not even have a family that offers that. But people have the most wonderful capacity to build entirely new families for ourselves by adopting people as family and extending that bond of support and commitment. Unlike blood family these families carry no legal sanction or recognition, and are often not even explicitly stated, though those involved generally understand.  They are voluntary, but all the more wonderful for that, being a responsibility we choose and build for ourselves, rather than one merely given at birth. They may come about through an individual act of generosity, through some shared extreme experience, shared ideological or social association or just the enduring commitment of deep friendship. In their best moments they may be as permanent as blood family.  But even when they are more temporary they are defined by a depth of commitment and responsibility, which goes beyond whether you find a person useful in this or that particular moment. They provide support, rest,  belonging, understanding, and home. They give us people who will always care, always listen, always try to help, always be available (if at all possible), always say yes (unless there is a damn good reason to say otherwise).  And they are crucial to surviving in a difficult and complicated world cut off from the families we grow up in, and without them we will struggle, sometimes not even knowing the reason why.

These families we choose for ourselves often mirror blood family in many ways.  Someone is like a brother or sister, or even Mum or Dad to us. These families are still often based around people living together, through the way this throws people so closely together. These families of adoption are often more alike our blood family than we are prepared to admit. They are not entirely random or free. We are thrown together with certain people, with whom we may choose to build that bond or not. But generally who we come across is dictated by circumstances we do not control. On the other hand, really, all family is the family we choose.  Blood provides a strong motivation, and a social expectation, that we will treat certain people as family, but really nothing can force us to hold and to honour that commitment of compassion and respect, of Love and devotion, that defines people as family.  In the end that is a choice and a decision we make and hold to, whether consciously or not.  Our society is sadly littered with examples where people have not honoured that commitment, even to those who do share close relation, and the damage and hurt this causes can extend over entire lives.

Family being a choice we make brings me back to Christmas, where we traditionally gather as families, and hopefully remember that most special family of the Nativity. Because the Nativity very much was a Family of choice, of adoption, with more in common, in many ways, with the messy, modern arrangements of so many families today, than the neatness of the traditional archetype.  There was no blood between Mary and Joseph, only a previous commitment he did not have to honour, given the circumstances, and a duty of kindness and compassion. There was no blood between Joseph and the baby he adopted as family and raised as his own, only a choice that was thrust upon him to make that commitment for the rest of his life. There was blood between Jesus and Mary, but not the assurance the baby was shared and accepted by a human father, only the choice to accept a responsibility, and bear the distance of knowing the baby she bore was not just her son, but had a destiny and responsibility that would take him beyond her and from her as well. This was a family that was barely formed before it was forced into the life of political and religious refugees, forced to flee to a alien country, having given birth in difficult conditions far from family and home.

Nativity means a family that only existed thanks to the choice Mary and Joseph made in the strangest of circumstances, as they said Yes to the chance God had sent them, and the Love and commitment they put into making that family a reality from then on. The amazing things about the Nativity are not just the miracle of God become Man, but also that in placing himself physically in the hands of a young peasant girl and her uncertain fiance in a dirty, poor stable, God took on our aching vulnerability. Putting himself utterly in the hands of human weakness and fragility and relying on the choices they made. The fact the family of the Nativity was this uncertain, this mixed family of choice and adoption just increases the vulnerability and contingency around the coming of God into the world in flesh.  God took on not only the weakness of human flesh, and the danger of sinister human political machinations, but also the fragility of human emotions and the decision taken to build a family outside usual expectations. That God would show that trust in human nature and rely so utterly on the choices individual humans made, that is a miraculous affirmation of the human emotion & spirit, in the same way that God growing in human flesh is miraculous affirmation of the physical world we dwell in.

The most emotional illustration of this vulnerability of the Nativity in that distant stable that I have ever experienced came in an email I received on November 25th a few years ago. At the time I was a volunteer at a Night-shelter for homeless refugees in north Coventry. Refugees and asylum seekers generally can't access homeless shelters because these are funded by government welfare and refugees and asylum seekers can't access welfare. Usually without family or connections in the places they end up in, struggling with physical or emotional trauma, and without the legal right to seek work or access welfare, they often end up homeless. A lady called Penny ran a shelter in a previously abandoned North Coventry terrace house, providing a safe, dry, warm place to sleep and a free dinner and breakfast each day for homeless refugees and asylum seekers. The place ran on a shoestring and donations of food, and the support of volunteers from the local community and the University, where I got involved.  Volunteers were responsible for looking after the place over the evening, sleeping there overnight, making sure nothing went wrong, getting people up, serving breakfast and getting people out at the right time. It was pretty unpleasant throwing people out at 8 am, when it was cold and raining and you knew they had nowhere to go all day but wander round outside, but it was sadly necessary to keep the place running. The refugees were from Eritrea, Congo, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo and various countries across Africa.  They were mostly Male with the occasional woman, a woman usually from somewhere in Africa, and usually the most quiet, usually the most scarred by what they had experienced. In the many dirty conflicts across the world women are generally most vulnerable. Penny sent out a few emails every month to ask for volunteers and arrange a rota. One year in November in the email to prepare the next rota Penny left a note.

"Hi everyone,
I hope you are all have a happy festive season, Christmas, new year, winter solstice. Here is the rota for January. Please can you arrange a swap if there is a problem with the date. PLEASE LET ME KNOW YOU HAVE RECEIVED THIS ROTA, it saves me making lots of phone calls. If you know anyone else who would like to volunteer, I am doing some training for new people on Wednesday 17th Jan at 6.30pm. Please ask them to let me know they are coming.
And to finish on a Christmas note, we currently have a woman who has just arrived from Nigeria staying the week-end before she goes to
claim asylum in Croydon on Monday. Her name is Mary and she is 8 months pregnant. That's true.
best wishes to you all,

What world was that baby born into? And what opportunity did the world offer that baby and its mother: Single, far from home, refugee, homeless, destitute? How similar to that world Jesus was born into in a stable far from home. But there is one crucial way that it it is a different world, and that is the fact that Jesus was born into our world two thousand years ago. Because that Nativity wasn't just the birth of one family of adoption of a teenage peasant girl, her fiance and the unique baby that God had given to them. Nativity also means that we all, all humanity, become family to God by adoption in its deepest sense. Through his birth and then life, death and resurrection that came from it he covered us over with his Holiness, washed away our Sins and folded us in with his Holy Spirit.  We became children by adoption, with God as our Father, and a relationship of the enduring Love and consistent commitment that defines family. We become family to one another, us to God & God to us, and brothers and sisters in Christ with the duty and responsibility to one another that comes with that.

The story of the world has been the gradual moral expansion of Love from family to clan, tribe, nation eventually to theoretically encompass all mankind, and even our duty to other species and the environment. Moral commands like 'Do not murder' have been present across all forms of human society. But they have always historically been limited within certain communities, while those outside, whether of a different nation or race or religion, could be killed without moral sanction. Most originally hunter-gatherer communities would have lived in separated extended families, each with their own hunting and gathering lands. Slowly those standards were applied more widely, as human society expanded from family to clan to tribe to people (the words for tribe and clan themselves are literally derived from words for family) and even more expanded human societies: nations, countries, Empires have historically been scattered with symbolic references to family.

The expansion of moral prescriptions (like do not kill), the commitment of Love, and the idea of family, from blood family to clan, tribe, nation and then the whole world, have gone hand in hand.  The development of the great Universal Empires of the ancient world, Hellenistic, Roman, Chinese, Indian brought the first idea of the whole world as one universal community. But although these communities expanded the idea of  'Do not Murder' they were only shadows of the true fulfilment of what family should mean. They had negative moral boundaries on behaviour, like forbidding killing or stealing, but without an idea of filling in the positive commitment of family.

But it was the Good News of Jesus Christ that for the first time transformed the idea of a global community based on law and order into that of a Family based on love and commitment. The Gospel tells us to love our neighbour, and tells us our neighbour must be whoever is in need; it tells us to love our enemies, as well as those who do us good.  It tells us to give, to lend, go the extra mile and turn the other cheek, without boundary or restriction and practice radical forgiveness, forgiving the seventy times seven times that any family will tell you is necessary when imperfect people are glued inseparably together and know they have to make things work. We are called to love one another as God has loved us, as a father to a child, and to love one another as Brother and sister and spread that message and community to the whole world, with the simple practical acts of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving thirsty people a drink; that go with that radical message, as they must do for any family to be real. We are called to build a worldwide community, Church, that should be a well of support in the same manner as those families we choose. This is nothing less than the expansion of our notion of Family, in its true meaning of a choice of Love and continuous commitment, to the whole world, to all of creation, to reflect the Love God has for us all and the duty we all have for each other. It is building a complete world where nobody gets left behind, and all are looked out for and cared for, because we each take it as our positive commitment to do so. So that child born in north Coventry in Winter to a refugee mother would also have a family.

And this is not just an ideal; it is a promise through God's Spirit and power.  Sometimes it may seem distant and unimaginable, but through the power of God's spirit, the birth of God as man as Jesus Christ, the family of adoption of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Good News of radical Love that Jesus lived and taught it becomes not just a possibility but an eventual certainty.  God's Holy Spirit gives us the power to extend Love to all humanity, despite our deep personal fallibility; the instruction of what that means in our individual lives and choices; and a vision of what that could achieve if we  make the choice and commitment to join that family the same way Mary and Joseph did in Nazareth a long time ago.  

And that is what, for me, family means and Christmas means.  Through gathering together and sharing gifts and hospitality, the tokens of the love, commitment and patience, the fundamental meaning of family; we celebrate the bonds that give meaning to our lives, through the choices we make whether due to blood or experiences we have shared. We remember the unique family of the Nativity, forged in the choice of Mary and Joseph, and the wonderful birth of the Christ-child; and we remember how that birth  means we are all adopted as family of God, children of God and brother and sister to Christ and one another, if we choose to make that commitment. And through God's power we have the chance and duty to make that bond real for all mankind, building a complete family of all mankind where no-one is forgotten or left behind.

Something worth remembering.

Thursday 22 July 2010

The Philosophy of Christian Focus

First, a quick disclaimer. This is just some of my thoughts about Christian Focus.  You'll have to excuse me if it is a bit idealistic and theoretical.  I'm not saying we actually manage do all these things.  But they are, rather what I feel we try to do, could do, and perhaps should be trying to do.  And, what we have to offer, as a society, as a community and as part of God's Church.  I'm not trying to tell anyone how to do their job (note to the current exec).  This is just some of my thoughts, I hope it will help people think about what we do and why and how we try to do it.

I feel that Christian Focus, as a society, has something unique to offer, to individuals, to campus, and to the Church in our area.  For me the philosophy of Christian Focus can be summed by saying that we aim to be a Welcoming and loving community to everyone who may want one.  We have two main meetings a week, which, conveniently for this schema, match up with these two ideas, of building a community of people and of seeking to learn from and about one another and the wider world. We are fundamentally open to the world.

For me, these are all the same.  I believe God created all things and loves all things and because of this the Gospel, God's witness to us all, speaks to the whole of our lives, the whole way we conduct ourselves, the way we organise ourselves, both personally, socially and worldwide.  The things we have to offer the community of Christians are similar to those we have to offer our entire human community.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that the worst poverty in the world is not that there are people who have no money, but that there are people who are totally alone, who feel that no-one cares that they are alive.  One of the greatest features of Christian Focus is that it offers a welcome with no conditions attached.  With most societies you have to be able to, or want to, do some activity or be interest in some particular thing, whether rugby, singing, french culture, beer or whatever.  With Focus, though, we have always tried to make it a place where anyone can come, regardless of what they do, or what they are like or who they are, and they will be welcomed and included in the group and accepted for what they are at that moment, without any requirement (you don't even have to eat).  Most basically, to make somewhere where anyone can come and someone will show an interest in the fact that they are alive, regardless of how they're feeling or acting.  And for me one of the ways I have tried to do this, for example, is to just, occasionally, look around at Socials and check that there is no-one sitting on their own with no-one talking to them, especially any new person who may have come in.

More than this though, is to try to build a community of people who know each other and support each other and have fun together and to offer hospitality and rest to whoever comes in.  To make a place that is as nonthreatening as possible so people feel able to come in and take part and get to know people.  The Bible tells us to give to the person who asks of you, lend to a person who asks to borrow from you, and in all things that the person who serves others, God considers master over all, and so we try to attempt to make a space where people can come in to be what they want, not considering it ours, rather than asserting ourselves to get other people to conform to our way of doing things.  Jesus also said "Come to me if you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take the weight I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble, and with me you will find rest.  For the weight I give you is easy to bear, and my burden is light."  So we try to make a place which does this so, as much as possible, people may always leave more at peace and happy than when they arrive.      

To be honest, this is just a posh way of saying making friends and having fun together.  'Making friends' is a simple phrase that means a lot.  Getting to know people, getting relaxed around people,  appreciating people for who they are and what they bring into your life, people who know what's going on with your life, who know how you react, who you trust, without having to explain everything each time you meet.  Enjoying people's company and having fun.  It is such a commonplace thing, but it is also, almost, the most important thing of life.  These are the building blocks of any community, and especially God's Church.  We can solve all the big problems of the world: war, poverty, prejudice; but if we do not build a society where every person is remembered and appreciated and has somewhere to turn in times of trouble then we still do not have much, because there will still be people who are afraid and alone in times of trouble.  Also, part of being welcoming and including without conditions comes a commitment to respecting and appreciating diversity, to all the different possible people that we may meet. You can only offer a welcome to anyone who comes in if you are also willing to respect everyone's difference.  To make a community out of people who are very similar is easy, it is a harder and, hence, a better thing to try to bring together equally people who are different in all sorts of ways.  For me, this is building the Kingdom of God, where the lion will lie down in peace with the lamb, and people from every nation will live together without fear or violence, caring for one another as Lord Jesus cared and cares for us all.

Another part of community is the fact that everything we have as a society, everything we do, we try to share between us and do together.  We eat the same food, we try to make sure everyone can do the activities we do.  We don't try to make a profit from anything we do, we do everything at cost and try to keep the price as low as possible.  We are, as much as we can be, a good socialist community, as the first disciples were in the first days of Christianity, and as religious orders around the world are.  This is all part of standing together and being a loving community that supports one another, whose first aim is to do things together and to help one another, without entry requirements, so that a diverse range of people can be part of it, and in which each person has a place.  St Paul spoke about the Church being like a body, with each cell linked with every other, each organ having a role and a place as part of a larger whole along with every other.  John Donne said that "no man is an island, rather each a part of the mainland", and we try to do this by attempting to bring people from all different groups together, and also appreciating and integrating what every different person brings and the perspective they have and what they like to do, whether music, mathematics, frisbee, photography, football, webcomics or whatever.  

Jesus called his disciples to make disciples of all the nations, and at Pentecost the disciples received the gift of languages to speak to people in their own tongue.  Christianity, for me, is not only a religion for all people, in whatever time and place, but also can never be a religion that attempts to force people to speak with one voice, but rather embraces them in their diversity, as it is that diversity which adds up to give the richness that God created and loves. For me, it is important that Christian focus is a community made up of people from different groups and backgrounds.  This gives us a chance to learn from different people, whom we might not naturally spend much time with, and we strengthen, and compliment each other through our difference, more than we could if we were all the same.  All individuals are precious to God, all are his children, whether Christian or not and Christian Focus would be a weaker place if we were dominated by liberal Christians or evangelical Christians, religious or non-religious people, catholics or protestants, Christians or people of other faiths.  Together, though, we have more to offer one another and more ways to learn about and experience the depth and width of all that God has made.

This idea also motivates our talks, the desire to learn and understand more about the width and richness of the world we are part of and the issues it raises.  They give an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the many different sorts of issues we meet in the wider world, inspired by a Christian perspective.  University is a time to learn and to widen horizons and a wide range of talks gives us a chance to be challenged in many different ways, whether faced with a different religion and way of being spiritual, or the realities of complex moral issues, or the possibilities of new spiritual disciplines and perspectives we hadn't thought of before.  For me, this is about just appreciating and showing an interest in all the world contains.  God made us, and the gospels speaks to us, as creatures of body, mind, heart and soul and at my time at Christian focus we have had talks that have spoken to each one of these parts of our being.  It is dangerous to risk neglecting any one of these areas, as too often happens in our wider society and culture.  

To this end we have talks on many issues, whether intellectual or emotional, or theological.  We also make an atmosphere to discuss issues like these informally between people and, on the intellectual side, we create a chance for people to talk to those at University in other years and get help and advice with work, at times.  Or just reassurance that it is possible to get through your course without going nuts before coming out the other side.  On the side of the soul, We also have Time2Focus, prayer times and various reflections and meditative things.  we try to look at new and different ways to consider faith and spirituality.  We also have food on a weekly basis, though, and we come together to hang-out, to share each other's company, to relax and to end the week in calm.  This just about covers body, mind, heart and soul.  Feeding people is just as important as being able to learn through the talks, or experience community with the people, or take part in new forms of meditation and spirituality or prayer.  Showing hospitality, as simple, as it is, is such a gift and a useful thing in the world, and it is our commitment to this world, as well as the next.

The last thing about Christian Focus, for me, and in line with its diversity and its welcome, is that it is complementary, not exclusive.  Being a part of Christian Focus is entirely compatible with pretty much anything else, and, especially in the life of our Christian members.  We do not try to do everything good or useful for a Christian life, so that we can do the things we do do, better.  For example, Evangelism, spreading the Gospel, telling people about the things God did, and God revealed, in Jesus Christ, is such an important part of the Christian faith.  But we don't do it, at least not explicitly or as a group, because it would appear threatening to some people and reduce our ability to be unconditionally open and welcoming, so we deliberately give up this part of our nature so we are more able to be open.  But it is good that people can then be part of groups, as well, that do do those things we don't.  Different groups and activities and approaches can complement each other and we do not regard that as a problem, but an opportunity to, between us, do more and better than just one group on its own, doing things one way, could.  And, for me, personally, I really like doing different things in different groups, giving me a chance to do things different ways and with different people, rather than doing everything related to my faith through a single church, say, or other group.  This is also all part of the diversity of the thing as well.  We can all do and want to do different things, as Christians and in the ordinary sense, that is fine, because we can agree and come together on certain important things, the importance of pasta bake on a Sunday being one of them.

Excuse me, again, if this all sounds very theoretical.  What it all boils down to, though, is people.  Appreciating, showing an interest in and caring about people.  Beings so precious that God, who is so far above all things, and against whom stars and galaxies and space and time are mere trifles, gave himself over to humiliation and abuse and death to try to save them, in all their messiness and fallibility and complications.  It is, after all, the people who make any community, and whether they care, or are willing to help out, that will make somewhere great or just a pain, far more than any principles or ideas they may be trying to carry out.  
And, as this seems as good time as any to say this, at Christian Focus, over the last three years, I have met the most interesting, diverse, talented and friendly group of people that I have ever met anywhere.  I have to say, that my favourite part of each academic year is the start, because of the excitement about what unique, funny, kind, talented people the new academic year will bring.  It is a source of constant amazement to me that there can be so many people in the world but that each one can be so individual, so different to every single other one, though I guess this doesn't necessarily reveal anything more than my poor imagination.

On a personal note: I have immensely enjoyed my time at Christian Focus, even the year and 2/3 that I spent on the exec, and both the chance to work, relax and live alongside such amazing people.  Over the years the chaplaincy has become a home, and you have become like a family: numerous, argumentative and difficult at times, but always around.  And this has been more and more true the longer I have known you, and we've been around for good times, bad times, exams, holidays, relationships, journeys, illnesses, arguments, and God alone knows how many speakers and how much over cooked rice.  With any luck Christian Focus will continue to thrive for many years to come and have something unique to offer the world, the University, the Christian community, and all its members.