Message to Pilgrim Church, Refugee Sunday

Pilgrim Church 9.30 Congregation
Refugee Sunday, August 26,2016

Faith, Hope and Love abide, and the greatest of these is Hospitality!

I wonder whether it is time we dropped the word ‘love’ from our vocabulary, particularly when talking in the public sphere. Any check of the dictionary will show that the most common meaning of ‘love’ is reduced to a feeling!

Even among Christians the practice of agape is often twisted. ‘I love Muslims’ a Christian colleague once said to me, but I could see no evidence of it.

I think he ‘loved’ them because he was supposed to love them, perhaps in the sense that one should ‘love one’s enemies’! But equally likely, I suspect he ‘loved them’ only so he could try to convert them – a carry over from the so-called ‘love-bombing’ by Christian sects in the 70’s – a massive display of generosity in order to attract others to join them.  ‘Love’ with hidden agendas!

The word ‘love’ has accumulated so much baggage as to mean almost anything. ‘Love’ has become so ambiguous it can even justify violence if it makes you feel good.

I bet, in conservative Christian circles, George W Bush Jr could say that he loved Suddam Hussein! Suddam needed George’s ‘love’ for Saddam’s own good!

In our materialist age, agape is the casualty when translating the three Greek words, eros, filios and agape with the one English word, ‘love’.

We need a new word that embraces agape.

I am suggesting that, particularly in the public domain, that word is hospitality.

I know we have the same kind of linguistic problem, that ancient practice having been appropriated by the Hospitality Industry and reduced to being a polite, comfortable transaction – for a price.

The great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen defines hospitality as the creating of space. 

This is such an appropriate concept for our age, when space is being squashed out of so many areas of our lives by higher and higher expectations and tighter and tighter deadlines. Time, after all, is money! And efficiency – doing more with less – is the name of the game. It’s the condition for your next pay rise!

This ‘Radical’ hospitality of Nouwen is a practice so desperately needed in the world.  At the same time I find an openness among those I meet in my public life to consider and embrace it. Whereas ‘agape’ seems to have passed its used by date.

This is what Nouwen is talking about:

Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.
It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.
It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way.
The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own. 

Just like agape, it turns the whole world upside down: No longer my interest first, but together with yours.

I visited my dear friend and colleague, Raimund Blanke in Germany again this year. I first met him in 2004 at a conference when he was the Catholic Chaplain at Cologne University. But, squashed out by his Bishop who wanted a conservative influence in the university, over the last eight years he and his colleague Peter have built a wonderful parish in Bonn in which hospitality is the key feature. No wonder so many families want to belong to it!

Raimund once told me about one of his congregation, a recently retired medical professor at the University of Bonn. He is a European authority on pain management.

About eight years ago this professor, in the prime of his career, decided to become a Catholic on the strength of what he saw in the life of Pastor Peter and the life of his congregation.

Modelling on those values he has initiated his own ministry – to the poorest and most disadvantaged in the parish.

He started by taking all of twenty plus of them on a cruise up the Rhine – a fantastic party to brighten their lives. 

Visiting Raimund again this year, he told me that the professor has opened his holiday house on the coast of Spain to the parish and gives these disadvantaged people a holiday there every year – every expense paid.

Raimund showed me a photo of the Professor with a disabled lady. He was hosting an outing in the country for people with disabilities. It was time for a walk together and the lady said she could not walk. Come with me he said, taking her arm, and they went on and completed the 4 kilometre walk!

His is not a ‘church program’ as such. He just comes up with these ideas to bring life to others. And he has the resources to do it without impacting the church budget.

No wonder, when the time came to help the wave of refugees, Raimund and Peter’s parish put their names forward to care for 1,000!

Being German, they are super-organised, a team of fourteen from the parish headed by a psychiatrist and supported by lawyers, social workers and health professionals. I’ve met them. Even the elderly in the parish, at first feeling frightened by these strangers, fell in love with them after they had met some of them. Now their ministry includes knitting for them.

This year they are caring for 1,300!

Hospitality is agape-love in action. Creating unconditional, friendly space for the other to sing their own songs, dance their own dances and tell their own stories.

Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is hospitality!

Self-Publishing

How to avoid putting up capital to have your book published by a recognised publishing house?
How not to have a stack of your books sitting in the garage unsold?
How to easily have your book available through all major on-line book sellers?

I use Lulu.com

Here’s one of their knowledge videos aimed at not-for-profits that might be a helpful introduction, if you want to get your ideas or stories out there.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/271742917″>Self-Publishing for Non-profits</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/luludotcom”>Lulu Press, Inc.</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Check out the Lulu website to get inspired!

The Agape Dilemma #1

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(One of a series of quotations in many languages, displayed in frames, in the porch of St Hedwig’s Cathedral, near Alexanderplatz in Eastern Berlin)

I have been arguing that Christians need to retire the word ‘love’. It has passed its used-by-date.  A quick check of any dictionary will attest that ‘love’ has been reduced to a feeling.

Eros we know. Filia we know. But agape, the selfless, unconditional care of the other, …?

I have argued in my book that the ‘second commandment’, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, has contributed to this degradation of meaning.

When you think about it, the ‘second commandment’ or ‘Golden Rule’, as it is widely known, is actually self-interested. To recover the Biblical intention of agape-love requires Christians to love their neighbour as they (the neighbour) would want to be loved.

This turns everything on its head.

Such ‘love’ is impossible without knowing one’s neighbour and, in the broadest sense, their culture. That means adopting a disposition of habitually wanting to understand the  other.

That is what ‘radical hospitality’ is all about – putting on hold one’s own agendas to allow the other the space for theirs.

Radical hospitality is the opposite of ‘telling’ – imposing oneself on the other, so in-ground in Christian consciousness – evangelisation and preaching.

Radical hospitality is unlikely from a ‘needy’ person, who inevitably seeks self-affirmation through every human encounter. It requires a certain confidence in one’s own value as a person, a deep understanding that their value is intrinsic, ultimately not determined by external circumstances or threatened by strangeness.

From a Christian perspective, that is the essence of the ‘Good News’ – that we are already, without pre-conditions, accepted and loved. That was what Jesus demonstrated. Practising this, moment by moment, frees us from the tyranny of fear, to be ourselves; we don’t have to prove anything. It is a discipline. It is a practice. It has to be learnt. It becomes a lifestyle.

I am in Berlin. Yesterday I wandered around the centre. There is no end to the monuments of self-giving that are honoured by the German people.

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I paused at the Neue Wache, the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship”. It is a large, severely grey, circular room covered by an open dome. There is only one permanent object in the centre of the space –  Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother with her Dead Son. 

Kollwitz was married to a doctor who cared for the poor in Berlin. She came to admire them, and found beauty in them; so they became the subjects of her art. During the Nazi period, her work was condemned, not supporting the images of the myth of the superiority of the Aryan (German) race.

In and around the ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ museum many moving stories are recounted of spontaneous acts of self-sacrifice, on both sides of the Wall, acts of bravery and conscience that portray radical hospitality enacted in the face of grave danger. Many without second thought for oneself. Enough stories to restore one’s confidence, that in the face of human hubris, ignorance and greed, there is still a voice of hope.

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(In front of the Berlin Cathedral (Dom))

What’s Happening #3

  1. Going electric.

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2. Buy On-line

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(Placed in a Shopping Centre!)

3. Donate/buy/travel from your phone. (no need for all those cards in your bulging wallet when they can all be on your iPhone or Apple Watch!)

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(On a shop window: Tap your bank card and it will take two quid.)

4. Empty the garbage.

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(Vacuuming the bins on Hampstead Heath.)

5. Hire, rather than own.

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(iPhone for an Uber (cab), iPhone for a bike, iPhone for a car you pick up in your vicinity to drive where you want,….)

6. iPhone your order and pick up from the Organic store, local church… all local produce!

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What’s Happening #2, WeWork

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Life is not all sunshine and light for younger creative people who have chosen not to take the seemingly easier path of employment – ‘getting a job’ in an established organisation – often choosing a trade-off between becoming cogs in a larger machine, with its seeming security of work and pay, and a risky freedom to pursue their own dreams. Not to say many don’t find satisfaction in being part of a larger enterprise, understanding they are contributing their own part to a bigger vision. But change is afoot.

Education and a higher standard of living have created frustration with the industrial paradigm, where those with the capital have been able to call the shots and utilise the working masses for their own profit-making ends. Many educated younger people are wanting to follow their own aspirations. They want to make their own contribution, not someone else’s. They are  choosing a path that values quality over quantity, creativity over the mundane, responsibility over obligation, and trust over micro-management.

If Celine is representative of many individual younger creatives who are done with big companies, WeWork might be representative of how she finds community.

All over London old buildings are being refurbished to create collaborative workspaces for this new generation. But not just bland office space. To buy into a space one buys into a lifestyle and a cultural aesthetic. Hundreds of autonomous individuals or project groups live synergistically in a setting that maximises networking and collaboration. It’s an exciting place to get on with ‘doing your dreams’. No wonder the saying, ‘Thank God it’s Monday!’

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Our son, Nick, has just gone into business on his own. He rents a desk at WeWork London Fields for 300 pounds a month.

This is a large multi-story old building. On the ground floor there is Reception – the receptionist sits inside a renovated old Renault van. Book yourself in at the iPad nearby and the person you want gets a text message to say you are downstairs.

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The rest of the ground floor, separated from the WeWork reception, is a cavernous restaurant.

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It leads to outside seating. But also in the same space there are some ‘pop up’ stores, a wine shop (presumably to wine and dine clients) and a Podcast studio.

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The upper floors contain a number of different kinds of spaces for people to work and meet, and even soundproof booths for important phone calls. There is an open kitchen anyone can use. Free craft beer and good coffee are provided. Everything a Creative needs is provided – including super fast internet!

                                                                                                      

24/7 Building Access.               Global Network.                                Craft on Draft

                                                                                                    

Business-Class Printers.          Micro-Roasted Coffee.                      Office Supplies

                                                                                                     

Bike Storage                               Private Phone Booths.                      Mail & Package Handling

There are three full-time cleaners in the building and the management are always providing inspirational seminars, workshops and support.

Buying into WeWork puts Nick in touch with the WeWork network, whether he needs a logo designed, graphic work done, a film made or collaborators on a project. It also means he runs into other creatives as he goes about his work – sources of inspiration and possibilities.

I am told that WeWork are now the second largest property holders, after the government, in London. This represents a huge shift in the way work is being undertaken. It seems to confirm Frederic Laloux’s proposition that a new organisational paradigm – soulful organisation – is emerging.

What’s Happening #1

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Celine is having a mid-morning breakfast, a boiled egg and coffee, sitting at a narrow table outside a little coffee shop in North-East London. She is catching up on a few phone calls before heading off to work.

It is a beautiful day. I ask if she would mind me joining her, while son Nick and Sandy go inside to order coffees.

We get chatting. I can’t pick her accent, but discover later that she is French. She is a shoe designer for an Italian niche fashion shoe company. She is wearing one of her designs, Primury, white leather, crossing boundaries of formal and informal, typifying the aesthetic of this generation of younger entrepreneurs.

She has worked for one of the bigger shoe brands but her tone of voice tells me that she has disdain for them.  I suspect that, like many of this generation, her expectations of creativity and work have not been satisfied in that environment. Here she is, mid-morning and free to determine her own work schedule, while enjoying the aesthetic lifestyle that feeds her inner life.

She asks me about myself. She doesn’t understand the concept of chaplaincy. I explain that while chaplaincy has religious roots, for me it is about nurturing those inner qualities that are life-giving.

Our conversation turns to the topic of trust. Clearly she has experienced a breach of trust  from the shoe company she used to work for. She tells me that she was brought up Catholic, but has rejected the Church with its instillment of guilt and fear.

I think she typifies the movement of younger generations, not only away from the church but from the world of institutional work. I am excited to find this move toward spiritual freedom.  There is a spontaneous valuing of the spiritual for its own sake, but without conscious calculation, free from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that institutions are good at instilling, yet responsible and seemingly open to others.

She is interested in the themes of my new book and makes a note of its title. I am interested in looking at her work. It’s the kind of interchange that also seems to characterise this dynamic new paradigm.