I have a new sign-off when the Writers’ Club Skype together; As we prepare to end the call, all caught-up, edit done, etc, one of them will say “And how’s the play coming a-” Their screen and mine goes blank. I have instantly and brutally cut them off mid-word. They never quite manage to say ‘And how’s the play coming along?’
It makes us grin and it saves me having to bleat out an excuse, or refuse to answer, to prevaricate or to shrug. And they’re writers. They know all about deflecting.
So. Anyway. My radio play. For Christmas. How’s it coming along? Well… today I have made 6 trays of shortbread, and listened to Philippians three times as I baked (David Suchet, on Bible Gateway. Fab) and my hands were floury and I couldn’t rewind to the beginning, so I also listened to Colossians a few times when David ran over, and then I wrapped up two tea sets, loaded my car with stuff for a tea party, went 8 miles up the coast to collect another tea set… and I’ve just made a shopping list for tomorrow and I’ve tarted up some pots of primroses for the tables. That’s how my radio play is coming along
But, it will get done. One day. It’s all a matter of priorities. At the moment my priority seems to be (who ever would have predicted these words from me?) putting on an old fashioned tea-party. And Philippians.
This blog is not about drama or baking. It’s about something God has taught me over the last little while. In Philippians and in prayer.
I must have read this shortish epistle to the people in Philippi maybe, I dunno, twenty times over the years. But you know what hits me now, so forcibly? It’s Paul’s authority. His directness. Jesus never compromised and the Gospel is not a compromise and in this very personal and loving letter, there is not a trace of compromise. Paul wears his authority lightly, but he wears it well. And as I listened today, and found the verses in the Bible so I could break down some of the sentences into clauses and phrases… to get to the nitty gritty… I just kept coming back to the realisation that this writer is absolutely and unshakeably confident of his authority to guide, exhort and rebuke this distant church. Confident. He talks of ‘boasting in Christ’ and when we do that, we have authority, (NB the words are ‘in Christ’ so with love and gentleness and humility) because we’re elevating Him, not ourselves.
I’m watching The Sopranos again, and enjoying the Machiavellian skulduggery, the manipulation and deceit of all the fabulously written and portrayed characters. It’s magic. Anthony Soprano rules his mob with cunning, favour and rage. That’s all he has. Animal cunning, egotistical and capricious favour, brutal rage. We see the heart of the man only fleetingly, but when we do, oh, it’s poignant. His small moments of humanity, his warped and self-serving love for his family, his vulnerability and his self-awareness give us a glimpse of who he could have been. But no one could say he lacked authority. He carried it like a caveman’s club, exercising it by instilling terror, terror because this man would stop at nothing, would crush his enemy, indeed would crush anyone who had slighted him. His authority was a destructive parasite that ended in the best and most startling end of any series ever devised! Oh, yesssss!
Forget the mob. I could yammer on about Tony Soprano for ever. What gave Paul his sense of authority? The voice of God at his conversion? Yes. The Spirit leading him? Yes. But I’ve realised something recently, thinking a lot about the word ‘authority’: authority is reciprocal. Over and over again Paul lists the people who love him and are guided by him, the recipients of the letters but also those he’s taught in the past, and those who have supported him and done Kingdom work. These people, like us, like me reading his words today (and writing this) obviously accepted his authority. They recognised that it had come from God. And they were led by Him.
I have a natural inclination not to join groups, so becoming a church member 3 years ago was a BIG thing and still is. I have joined only two things in my life – the Army and my local church. My other natural inclination is to step away when the going gets tough, find another, smoother path, less of an uphill struggle. Man, it’s so tempting. We have a members’ meeting next month… I could bow out before that… Just kidding.
But church and me are not easy companions. Why? Well, my church is so damn democratic! And I am slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. I was brought up in a military family. “Orders is orders” not “vote for this and vote for that and discuss things endlessly, over and over again.” If opinions are sought and listened to and weighed up, then that’s great. “Hurrah” ses I! So far, so good. Move on. But if the same old objection is raised again and again, regardless of the answer and past the point when the decision has been made, that’s just plain destructive. If it’s said in secret, softly, behind the hand, in the shadows, it takes on a prurient life of its own, turning into a criticism and grumble, ladened with accusation and huffy indignation. It seethes and grows.
We are all wise to the ways of the world. We all see sub-text, we recognise the rolled eyes quickly stilled, we understand the ‘innocent question’ that seeks to accuse and hurt. We get it. Faux surprise at some minor delay or indignation about some tiny alteration in church organisation, however innocently voiced, is toxic. It creates an atmosphere of destructive criticism. Why would any non-church person, observing this sort of behaviour want to be a part of the church? I love the church but it makes me want to leave. Not exactly a beacon of Christ’s love, a conversation peppered with innuendo and veiled ill-will.
I believe that the leaders in our small community are placed in their positions because of their, and our, prayerfulness. I believe that they carry authority and weight. Not that that they are superior, super-Christians, or that they are infallible, or flawless, but that they have a responsibility and with that comes authority, from God. They don’t need violence, fear, ego on their side, because they have a gentle and loving God. And we, their people, we have that same gentle and loving God.
This is where reciprocity comes in; our leaders cannot lead unless we allow them to. Unless we unite behind them. That’s our job, all of us, to show the love of Christ and to submit to others. My job is to pray for and love and trust our leaders. Not to demand a vote for every decision because I want my voice to be heard, my preference to be honoured, my self to be acknowledged, not to rail about every tiny change in the comfortable tradition of the church, I don’t need to be ‘in’ on every decision taken, have a finger in every ministry pie. There are some decisions that have to be made without me, because I am not competent to vote on them… some ministries that I won’t be a part of, some things I don’t understand. And in the resulting decisions and direction of the church, there are some things that might not have been my first choice. That’s ok. What’s the big deal? I don’t think I’m right and they’re wrong. That’s why we have leaders, so the rest of us can bake shortbread, drive up the coast, and read Philippians.
I am so very grateful for our leaders. They’re prayerful people. When I have something that I think might support them or help them, I’ll speak out, of course I will. And if ever I think that I’ve given something more consideration than they have, or have more knowledge than this whole group, then I may even voice a disagreement with a decision already made (to them and no one else). But so far that hasn’t happened. I doubt it ever will. The guidance they bring to the church, the decisions they recommend, have been reached after prayer and thought, and after consultation with any expertise they can tap into. Am I so clever that I can top all that? It’s very doubtful.
Confidence. Paul had confidence in God. He had been told to do this job and he did it, trusting God to give those who heard him teachable hearts. He was a very unlikely leader of the Jesus mob, and it was a right motley crew he wrote to – Romans and Pharisees, heathens and sinners, why should they accept his authority? But they too were in Christ, and so they did. And if we are in Christ, surely, surely, that’s what we should do? And if we don’t, are we really in Christ?
“Hey Luce – how’s the play coming a- ”
Cut to black.