The time has come…
We move to Bristol this week, and what follows are the life lessons from my seven years at All Saints Peckham. It’s been quite a journey so far – in many ways a ‘coming of age’ as well as a journey of transformation. The following three words capture the key lessons I’ve learnt from being a part of our wonderful church: ‘Grace’, ‘Both-and’ and ‘Help’.
The late Brennan Manning and his ‘Ragamuffin Gospel’ have touched me over the last year. Manning’s life could be viewed as a lesson in how to get it wrong but be held by Jesus. He really was a Ragamuffin, which is ‘a child in ragged, dirty clothes. His story reminds us that God’s grace and love for us isn’t conditional upon our performance and his mantra was: ‘God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because NO ONE is as they should be.’
This has been a revelation. God’s grace gives us the courage the face up to our ragamuffin within, and find a way to see ourselves through God’s eyes. At All Saints I’ve come to terms with the reality that I am both a sinner and (through Jesus) a saint; both good and bad; sinful yet fully accepted in Christ. This reality is crystallised in tax collector who stood at a distance and wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ God’s mercy in Jesus makes us… enough. Thank you, All Saints Peckham, for teaching me the meaning of grace.
The phrase ‘both-and’ is something that Jonathan reminds us of regularly. We see the world in ‘either-or’ categories. Was Jesus divine, or was he human? (He was both divine and human.) Is God One, or Three? (He is both One and Three.) The one that I often find really difficult is: Is God’s love free, or does it come at a cost? (Both free, and very costly!) So a huge amount of our reality is ‘both-and’ but we fight to squeeze it into ‘either/or’ categories, and can miss the depth of what God has for us. We can easily see ourselves as either good or bad people, or oscillate between the two. Either extreme can make it difficult to say ‘yes’ to God’s grace. The ‘good’ person is self-sufficient and in no need of God’s forgiveness, while the ‘bad’ person sees themselves as not worthy of any kind of favour.
So the ‘both-and’ world is messy and complex. In the last seven years at All Saints, I have begun to learn how to live in that world. Thank you, All Saints Peckham, for teaching me the meaning of ‘both-and’.
This is counter-cultural. We understand help as something to give, but not receive. Young boys are taught that to be a man is to be ‘tough’ and ‘strong’: those who cannot do it alone, or who need help are ‘weak’. I can remember countless times in the classroom that I chose to fail rather than put my hand up to ask for help.
Every day we find ourselves in situations where we are unable to cope unless someone steps in to support us. Peckham Rye Station has no lift, and I have lost count of the times some kind Londoner has grabbed the front of Amayah’s buggy to help me up. I can count on the fingers of one finger how many times I have asked. We need to learn to ask for help, perhaps even more so for us men.
Often, we only ask for help when we are at the end of our own resources. We see this as a bad thing, but that’s not the case in the Bible, where we see that we were created to be intimately connected with God and each other. Helping and being helped is a part of who we are. It really is that simple. Asking for help does not make a person weak, it makes a person human! Jesus set the example, assembling disciples and knowing he needed his Father’s help.
I am in debt to Men’s Support Group and my accountability partners, because I accept now that I am useless trying to do this alone. I no longer feel guilty when I just can’t cope, and I have on speed dial the numbers of a few All Sainters who I know will be there to help me in my hour of need (you know who you are!). Thank you, All Saints Peckham for teaching me how to ask for help.
May you always keep God’s grace and the gospel of Jesus at the forefront of everything you are and do. May you learn the life of ‘both-and’ and open your hearts to mystery, paradox and grey areas of this world. May you learn how to help, and how to ask for help, especially from God himself. It has been an honour to be part of All Saints – an amazing time, in an amazing place, with amazing people!