Speaking Generally

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I’m grateful to my friend Stephen Poxon (author and writer) for contributing this guest post about William Booth. You can find his books here.

William Booth: Founder of The Salvation Army, Christian evangelist, reformer, friend of royalty, champion of the marginalised, wit, entrepreneur, and master of the soundbite.

So far, so good, but we must remember that Booth was preaching his message and espousing his spiritual and moral philosophy before any of the advantages of modern communications technology could be exploited. His was an era of voice projection and oratory that went largely unaided except by, maybe, primitive devices for amplification.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that so many of William Booth’s quotations have survived into the present age. Granted, many were recorded by stenographers and biographers, but General Booth’s feat is still special, especially as much of his (prophetic?) wisdom retains a fresh touch.

Such as, for example, his utterance that there might come a time when the fires of scorching faith that burned within his bones would somehow become

“Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell”.

Forgive the pun, but this is hot stuff; not for the faint-hearted (but then, faint-heartedness was a concept Booth never understood).

Was the old man right, though?

Take a look around. See for yourself a market-place swarming with pseudo-Christian philosophies (touchy-feely-feel-good mantras of consolation paraded in the name of some churches) and you might concede, he made a reasonable point! Denominations, I mean, that sometimes appear not to know their convictions from their desperate strivings to be ultra-relevant, and which, consequently (inevitably) dilute their ancient mandate to the point of it being nothing in particular and of little use to anyone.

And as for the penultimate utterance in Booth’s list of concerns, who can forget Alastair Campbell’s famous interruption of Tony Blair, reminding the then Prime Minister that “We don’t do God”?

How about this absolute corker:

“Don’t instil, or allow anybody else to instil into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

He wasn’t holding back, was he! Anyone voicing such opinions nowadays would be faced with any number of charges before they could say political correctness. Yet, allowing the dust to settle, we might just find ourselves agreeing with the outspoken warrior, albeit only grudgingly, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Is it even possible we might only, eventually, accuse him of speaking downright common sense?

Try this one: “The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

Notwithstanding the gender bias of the statement, how much does a contemporary age rail against notions of surrender, obedience, deference or conformity; in civil and legal matters, relationships, education, religion, societal structures, international political diplomacy, and the workplace (and so on)? Are we, can we honestly claim, the better for such prevailing tendencies and the tacit approval of creeping anarchy in the name of entitlement?

Read. Ponder. Agree. Disagree.

Jumping from 10,000 ft at 94

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Commissioner Harry Read is a retired Salvation Army Officer who was my Training Principal while I was at the William Booth College in London between 1978-1980. Harry is also a D-Day veteran who parachuted into Normandy in 1944. At the age of 94, he made another parachute jump to raise funds for Salvation Army work to combat modern slavery and human trafficking. Amongst his many gifts, this fine Christian leader is also a poet, and I often use his insightful poetry while leading worship. Well done Harry!

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Note: I’m grateful to Margaret Ord for the photo of Harry preparing for his jump.

Carville Primary School

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This morning I had the joy of taking part in an assembly at Carville Primary School, which is right next to The Salvation Army worship and community centre in Wallsend (in the background of the photo between the gates). We already have links with another nearby school, but as this one is so close it makes sense to explore how we can work together.

I already know some of the children as they attend or have attended our Friday evening JAM Club (Jesus And Me). I first met the headteacher before the summer holidays, and today we had another useful chat over a cuppa after the assembly.

I’ve been very impressed with the school on both my visits, and I look forward to working together in the future.

Salvation Army Big Collection

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This evening I’ve been out with a group of volunteers delivering envelopes for the Big Collection of The Salvation Army held each year in September. It’s an Annual Appeal, indeed it was previously called that, and even further back referred to as the Self-Denial Appeal. The term ‘Self-Denial’ is now reserved for an offering in March where Salvationists give sacrificially to help the work of The Salvation Army around the world, with the tagline ‘Partners in Mission’.

I’m old enough to remember collecting door-to-door in February. Yes, in February, with its dark nights and bad weather; and we went out every day – rain, snow or shine. Tell that to the youngsters today and they won’t believe you! Sorry, lapsed into Monty Python mode for a moment there (one of their sketches took inverted snobbery to the extreme).

Seriously though, the Big Collection supports vulnerable people and communities throughout the UK. Your kindness will help people all over the UK and your generosity will become a meal for someone who is hungry, enable someone to support an older person living on their own, or provide a helping hand for a young family.

You can donate here, thank you in anticipation.

Christmas Thought Revisited

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After his baptism, Jesus was tempted in the desert. This might seem a strange way to start a Christmas thought, in fact it’s not as strange as at first sight. The story concerns power, it’s about Jesus being tempted to exercise power over people; ultimately he chose the power of love over the love of power. I’m reminded of the words of Jimi Hendrix: When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.

The simple message of Christmas is that God has chosen the way of love and vulnerability over power. A baby born in humble and vulnerable circumstances can’t exercise power, yet that was how Jesus came and lived.

The cover of the Christmas Salvation Army War Cry 2014 illustrates this beautifully; it’s a picture of vulnerability that sums up the incarnation in today’s world. Take a few moments to reflect on it.

The traditional story tells us how Jesus was placed in a feeding trough (manger from the French verb to eat), but in this modern nativity he’s placed in a familiar manger – a supermarket trolley! I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it caught my attention.

Finally, here’s something I read recently in the context of the feeling that Christ is being squeezed out of Christmas: The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up – not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble.

As we welcome Jesus this Christmas, we’re reminded that he entered our world as vulnerable as us; ultimately he nailed that vulnerability to a cross for us – all our fears, insecurities and sins. We can only marvel that he came in this way, reaching out to a world in need.

Getting SAASY

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My vocation as a Salvation Army Corps Officer centres on being a pastor and preacher, but (inevitably) there are other duties and roles I have to undertake and fulfil as a Minister of Religion responsible for a worship and community centre in Wallsend. One that doesn’t sit comfortably with me is that of administration and particularly accounting, but it’s a role I have to fulfil in the absence of a treasurer (although I have an excellent Corps Secretary who works with me as a volunteer).

The finance system the Salvation Army uses goes by the wonderful name of Agresso, and is soon to have an upgrade to SAASY (Salvation Army Accounting SYstem) at the start of the new financial year. Today I attended a training day for the new web-based system, with an excellent buffet lunch provided by my Divisional Headquarters. By the end of the excellent training day my eyes had well and truly glazed over, but only because I can only deal with finance in small doses.

So, what’s my initial verdict? Well, it’s a lot for everyone to get their heads around, but I think (ultimately) it will be an improvement all round. I just feel sorry for those who prefer to do their accounting in a ledger with a pen! What are the thoughts of my colleagues?