Monday, April 21, 2008

Laugh



‘Learning to laugh at my mistakes’
Yet another prize blunder, and there have been many, happened when I was a first year Cadet. (I think I was about 12 at the time!) It was the day with the General at Westminster Central Hall in London. During the afternoon meeting delegates from the ICO took part and I heard the name of someone I recognised as having been a Corps Officer in Liverpool when my Mum was a youngster and had, had a positive influence on her. I decided after the meeting to go and introduce myself to Major Iris Port and so I made my way to the back of the platform to find the ICO delegates. By the time I got there the platform was almost bare apart from one very friendly, elderly gentleman, in what to me looked like an old uniform with faded trimmings. He told me the ICO had already left and gone for tea … but at the same time drew me into conversation. He was a lovely man, warm, friendly, caring, gentle, interested to name just a few of the qualities I recall from that brief meeting. He enquired as to how I was enjoying my first few weeks at the Training College … was I settling … where was home etc, etc. When he had finished with his questions I asked him where he was stationed … to which he replied (you’ve guessed!) ‘I’m the General’ … I nearly died a death and apologised profusely … General Jarl Walstrom was suitably amused and very graciously assured me there was no need to apologise.

When I recall this incident I am reminded that ministry depends less on titles than it does on influence. On my brief encounter with the General I sensed that I had met with a gracious, humble man of God. That had nothing to do with his title … his rank … his position … but had everything to do with who he was.

In Joshua 6 we find the story of Rahab which I think proves this point to us. God will use anybody if we allow ourselves to be used. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Because of her wisdom, her character and clever plan, she not only saved her own life but helped the spies and in turn worked towards accomplishing God’s purpose in Jericho at that time.

However, our life’s ministry is worked out, through teaching, nursing, working in a shop, officership or whatever, it is important that we remember God sees our human hearts. Many a person would not have trusted a woman like Rahab with such personal history … but God did. God selected her … chose her … used her. God has selected … chosen and uses you and me too. When we get to Heaven I don’t think for one moment He is going to ask us what colour our epaulets were … what rank or position we held … what church we went to. But I do think He will ask: ‘Were you faithful to Me?’ and ‘Did you allow yourself to be used by Me?’

My prayer for all of us, however our lives are worked through is found in the lines of one of General Albert Osborn’s songs:

‘O that He may count me faithful
In the day that tries by fire'

Major Glad Thompson
Active Officer
Exeter Temple Corps
UKT

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Working with Angels...



Many, many years ago as a first year Cadet I was sent to Scotland for Annual Appeal Collecting as part of my training. I found myself staying with two Officer families in their homes and working closely with them during that two week period. As I was about to return to the Training College one of the Officers gave me a plaque in memory of our time together. It read:

‘Learn to laugh at your mistakes,
Everyone else does.’

He went on to say that it was one of those important life lessons that he had learned and would encourage me, as a then young person to do the same.

As you can no doubt imagine, since that time there has been many an occasion when I have had to learn to laugh at my mistakes … and not all of them a lifetime ago!

One such occasion was when a number of what seemed like huge changes were happening to me. I so wanted to be the very best I could be for the next phase of my life, and so I did everything I could to try and prepare myself physically, mentally and spiritually.

For sometime now one of my favourite writers has been Eugene Peterson, writer of the Message paraphrase Bible. I love that Bible because for me it helps make Scripture more intimate, personal, relational. However, I had also come across a few books that Eugene Peterson had written and thought I could gain much insight from his life and ministry.

One book that particularly drew my attention was: ‘Working with Angels’. At that time I thought it was a wonderful, positive title that could perhaps help me to look at people in a whole new light. Maybe even more so in the way Christ would want me to look at people. And so I ordered the book and eagerly awaited its arrival.

Much to my amusement when I opened the package and saw the title, I read: ‘Working the Angles’ … it was absolutely nothing to do with angels … the very precious, beautiful people that God has given to us … in whatever shape or form He has given them to us, as I had assumed. ‘Working the Angles’ put a whole new perspective on what I was expecting and yet as I thought about it, I recognised that the reality of life and ministry, however that is worked out, is much more about ‘working the angles’ than working with angels.

Someone once said: ‘One of the kindest things God has given to us, is that of not knowing the future.’ I think I am inclined to agree. I guess most of us would never believe that we would get through what we have got through in our lives, had we known the issues we were going to have to face before we faced them. I mean some of those painful, difficult times that maybe now in hindsight we know we only got through, or are getting through because of the grace of God with us.

Some of the ‘angles’ in our lives are things that I imagine we would never have dreamed we would ever have had to face or work through. Angles, that maybe at the time have been devastating, destructive, demoralising to name but a few emotions. And yet at the very same time, angles that have helped shape and formed us into the very people we are today.

As I think of some of those ‘angles’ in my own life I am encouraged, enabled and enthused by the words of Scripture in Isaiah 43. The Message Paraphrase reads:

‘When you’re in over your head,
I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters,
you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
It won’t be a dead end.’

Scripture doesn’t say to us: ‘If’ you go through hard times … ‘If’ you have to work with the angles … but it says: ‘when’ and God constantly goes on to say: ‘I will be with you’.

‘Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Saviour.
I paid a huge price for you …
That’s how much you mean to Me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.

So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.’


The experience of the years has shown me … proved to me that when I have needed God most He has come … and when He hasn’t He has sent someone … maybe an ‘angel’ to help me with the ‘angles’.

Major Glad Thompson
Commanding Officer
Exeter Temple Corps
UK

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Rank & File

When reading the various Blog items, and some on the Canadian SA Website, I noticed a few things that I thought were peculiar to the UKT, but now I see they were part of the USA setup too.

Sides.
A lady on the Canadian website said how amazed she was to arrive a the Training College and find that in “Chapel” to you, they sat in 3 distinct Sections – men one side, women the other, & marrieds in the middle. It was the same in our Assembly Hall. We also had one Dining Hall for marrieds, and one for Singles, in our 1st. Year. In 2nd. Year (1979-80) we modernised, and the concept of “sides” was abolished. We still continued to live in Sides though. The main Quad at Denmark Hill naturally separates the College campus, and it was still men on one quad, women on the other, and the marrieds split across the houses on both Sides.

Caps.
A recent contributor said how someone would ring the DC with a Report if he didn’t wear his cap. When we were in training, someone in the houses behind the College used to watch as we drove out of the back gate on our various Training Assignments, and if the men weren’t wearing their caps, he used to ring the Training Principal. The TP told the men “for goodness’ sake keep your caps on in the car until you get to the end of the road!” because he was tired of all the phone calls!

Rank Order round the meal table.
In an earlier item, a former Officer said how, in the Social Services Centre, they sat round the table in Rank order, from the Major in charge downwards. When I was a Candidate, I spent 2 weeks at a Community Home for girls. (It’s now a centre where Missionary Officers on furlough stay, if they have nowhere to stay in the UK when they come home.) Major was at the head, Captains on either side, Lieutenants lower down, then part-time staff, then the Gardener, then me, as I was just “Miss”, and temporary.

As a coincidence, the Gardener was in our Training Session, though neither of us knew then whether or when we would be going into Training. Also, when we moved to our present hometown, that person, who is also a “Former”, had been working here until just before we came here – I saw his name, & address as the YMCA, in a book in a 2nd. hand bookshop. We contacted the YMCA & explained he was a friend of ours, to ask if they could tell us where he went, but sadly – understandably I suppose – they said they couldn’t. He’s one of the few members of our Session for whom nobody has any contact details. If he reads this, it would be great if he’d get in touch with someone in the Session. In those days, we lived alphabetically in our houses too, and he had the room in between John and Bo. (“Singles” still had just one single room in those days, plus one for a Study if there were enough.)

On another subject, I saw Jesus as I arrived at work today! Our Office is next door to an old Church which has lovely stained glass windows. As the sun rises over the Church, and moves round it, it shines through the windows and clearly emphasises different Saints, Biblical figures, etc., at certain times. As I walked through the door this morning, it was shining right through just the one part of one window which is a depiction of Jesus. It was really beautiful. When I came through the door again a bit later, the sun had moved on.

I’m sure we can all spiritualise on that, in whatever way fits our current situation!

Margaret Day
“Proclaimer of Salvation”
UK

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Am I Really In ? (2)


I quote from that Officer article I wrote some years ago: Now this is not just true of The Salvation Army. Jim Peterson, writing in Church Without Walls, considers the question: We are accustomed to defining the church within a certain circle. We work at clarifying who is in, who is out; what the leadership structure is to be and not to be; what we believe and do not believe; which activities belong, which do not; and what behavior is appropriate and what is not. So the line between insiders and outsiders is clearly drawn.

This is defined by Paul Hiebert as “bounded-set thinking.” There is a boundary that sets the standard. As long as you fit within the boundaries, you are in. And often the boundaries tend to be behavioral, rather than of the heart.

But a second way of looking at church is what Hiebert calls a “centered-set,” one that is defined by how the members are moving in relation to the center. Belonging, Peterson tells us, then is not “a matter of performing according to an agreed-upon profile, it is a matter of living and acting out of commitment to a common center”. The centered set is one of both direction and motion. There is no one measuring stick that allows one person in or keeps another out.

And here’s our dilemma. We have both kinds of sets, both structurally and theologically, and there is a tension between them. We invite people in with a “come, just as you are” summons, which indeed is the call of Christ, and yet when they enter the path towards Christ, they run into the walls of the bounded set that say – “you can’t really get in – you’re in, but you have to do A, B and C in order to belong”. We are a holiness movement, and holy people don’t do ___________ (fill in the blank).

At its best, the Salvation Army is a picture of the words of Ephesians 2 from The Message: The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish [non-Salvationist] outsiders and Jewish [Salvationist] insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped . . . The cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility.

But we are not always at our best. We have developed our own law code, we hang onto the old ways because we love them, or we demand to sing only praise and worship choruses because we can’t stand that old fogey music. We are less than kind to each other. At times our attitude is “us four and no more”. We invite people in, but put up barriers to their membership. In too many cases, we don’t want “those people” to join. We are content with a bounded set as long as we are on the inside (end quote).

If this concept fits congregationally, it also is applicable to the ranks of officership. As long as you fit within the boundaries, you are in. Once you step outside, apparently regardless of the reasons, you’re out. You no longer have the right to wear red on your shoulders. Now does anyone outside the organization really care about that? No. But I’ve listened as a friend described her anxiety the first time she entered a corps in soldiers’ trim. There is a bounded set, and she didn’t belong anymore.

It is what it is, and we don’t have the power to change how others perceive. What has helped me as I’ve made peace with those days of uncertainty is my determination to live as a centered set woman. As I focus on living and acting out of commitment to a common center, that being Christ, I become less and less mindful of what are really the peripheral ways of belonging. In fact, I kind of like life on the edges. A post-it on my office computer reminds me daily of Father Andrew Greeley’s words: “I understand that to be on the margins of the academic world and on the margins of the Church is a grace, a blessing, great good fortune. The “stranger” who is not constrained by rigid structures may be a wonderful inkblot for the sick or the troubled. He is also blessed with freedom.”

In or out? Perhaps, like the post-modernist, I ended up chosing the both/and rather than the either/or. It’s been a hard won determination, but here it is: I can be both in – and out – and healthy, holy, content. When the set feels closed against me, I can re-model in a new, centered set that brings two or three people together whose sole purpose is to move together towards Christ. It may start with a prayer fellowship, or a discipleship group, but it is a set that understands Richard Rolheiser’s description of ecclesiology: “walking to God within a community.”

So, my precious reader. You bring a fellow struggler, and I will too. It may be that we’ll meet William and Catherine (themselves ex-New Connectionites), and maybe a Martin or two as we go. And as we walk together towards Jesus, we will sing a song and tell a story, and others will join us as well.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Hymn – St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Major JoAnn Shade
USA ET

Am I Really In ? (1)

This year’s high school musical in Ashland, Ohio was a poignant one, as the marvelous youth of our community performed Oliver!, the story of a young orphan whose banishment from the workhouse led him into a variety of adventures, beginning as an undertaker’s boy, and leading to the discovery of a grandfather he’d never known. In between, he learned to pick a pocket or two (never showing much prowess at that task).

Oliver knew emptiness, both in his starving belly, and in his own longing to be loved by another. At each stop along his journey, his desire to belong was painfully obvious, particularly as he was urged to “consider yourself at home, part of the family.”

There is an Oliver inside each of us, a child who wants more, hungry for the kind of companionship the Artful Dodger cunningly promised. We sense our own desire to belong, to be “part of the family,” and the price we pay to belong can be staggering.

As I reflected on the strong emotions the musical awakened in me, I wondered about the similar emotions that are found on the FSAOF blog, and in conversations I’ve had over the years with officers who have stepped aside from active service in the Salvation Army. Sometimes it’s described as, “It gets in your blood,” or, “all of a sudden, I don’t belong anymore.” I have a number of friends who formerly pastored in a variety of denominations, and I don’t sense the same kind of angst. So what’s up?

For all intents and purposes, I belong. I became a soldier at age nineteen, and have been an officer for thirty years. That should count for something, right? But I wonder from time to time, am I really “in”? Or, as I seemingly perch on the margins all too often, am I still not quite part of “us”?

My answer to that question is complicated by the fact that for about three weeks, I was definitely on my way out. It’s a long story, but we were prepared to take an early retirement from officership due to family reasons. We received some fascinating phone calls and e-mails when someone else was appointed to our corps, and our names didn’t appear on THE LIST. In God’s providential way, with more than his fair share of irony, an alternate appointment was made available, and, while not ideal, we were able to remain as officers until our current assignment opened its arms to us. If I had questions about whether I belonged before those weeks in limbo, they were magnified as those days unfolded, and I got a taste of what it felt like to be “leaving the work”.

Writing in the Officer a number of years ago, I wrestled with this question of belonging. What do we as an organization, a mission, believe about belonging? Our songbook theology suggests a desire to be inclusive in our invitation. Whosoever will may come (SASB 279), and Come, join our Army, to battle we go (SASB 681) speak of a welcome to all. Yet between the initial invitation to join, and the actual sign-up (enrollment as soldier), there are a number of behavioral commitments that must be made, as expressed in the Articles of War. To the casual observer, whosoever will may come, but once you come, you’d better clean up your act so that you can truly belong.

Major JoAnn Shade D.Min.
USA ET
Part One of Two