Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A few lines about not waking up in the night

I woke up screaming
She said
And only afterwards we found
It was the very moment 
That his plane went down
That her car went off the bridge
That the bomb exploded killing ‘many’
I knew the moment she had died
Though I was miles away
She said
Recounting how she felt 
Of tele-empathy
There is no explanation
You just feel it in your heart
She said. 

It was Boxing Day ten years ago
And I just couldn't get to sleep
He said
God knows I’d had enough
To drink
That day
That’s all there is to do
And telly
But I could not get off
Next day I heard it
A quarter of a million died 
No wonder I was troubled in my bed. 

The real surprise to me
Is feeling nothing
My daughter’s crash
My uncle’s death
A killer quake
I need the the News
The breath-stop phone call in the night
Isis beheadings
A plane gone down
A church burnt out
Its people raped and dead
The layered bodies 
Crushed and broken in the hajj 
I feel no great disturbance in the force
I don’t wake screaming
There is no involuntary shudder
I sleep

In all this bulging
screaming planet
Occasional synchronicity 
Is to be expected
One coin flips heads 
a thousand times
One mother wakes
At just the hour
Her boy’s head hits the wall
It is
The law of averages 
After all
But most of us
Most of us
Most of the time
Feel nothing
At all


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A visit to inspire...

Old Street roundabout from the air
My stepson, Ben, was baptised on Sunday. His church meets in a hotel in the Old Street area of London. The style is contemporary, with two young  church leaders, a band with a lot of kit (the church owns no property, but an impressive trailer!) and a cosmopolitan, professional and mainly early-twenties congregation. This is as you might expect in that neighbourhood - students and Silicon Roundabout Techies are dominant. It is happy, though not especially clappy, but hands are raised, the vibe is laid-back, the coffee is good, and the expectation is that time spent lingering over it and cup cakes later will last at least as long as the service itself. 

Westminster Abbey
The surprise for some may be that the church is Anglican. Its ministers are both ordained in the CofE. Some leadership team members are even called "wardens". One of the pastors splits his time, with part time work with Christians in Sport.  The other is a house husband every Monday while his wife fulfils a role as Director of Counselling at a big parish church up the road. This job-splitting explains the strength in depth - two ordained ministers, and there are other part-time workers too. A small church seems amazingly well-served through the use of part-timers - which I'm sure means sacrificial living, actually. 

Can the church speak
to the modern city?
And the service is CoE. It is contemporary, but the overall shape of it, the liturgy surrounding baptism and the Lord's Supper - all of it is actually faithful to a great river of tradition going back through the centuries. It is in the stream of Anglicanism's perpetually persistent Puritan wing - shorn of the outward symbols like vestments or candles, true to the classic theology of a Stott, a Moule, a Ryle or even a Cranmer for that matter - this is actually reformation faith re-formed for post-modern twenty-somethings. 

If all of that sounds potentially bumptious and cloying, or pressuring and naggy, or triumphalist and ecclesiastically snobbish, please think again. Evangelicalism has a specific subculture which can be cringeworthy. Remember the ghastly evangelical with his smile and his sofa and his gaggle of lovelies who wanted to take over and "bless" the church in the BBC's excellent Rev? There is none of that here. Everything comes across as sane, non-manipulative, not artificial, not fake, straightforward, honest, real. The preaching doesn't shy away from big issues - we were in Ephesians 1, of all places! - but deals with them in a way which is winsome and kind. What is impressive is the quiet respect for people and their complicated stories in the whole service, and in the manner the sermon comes over especially. 

And the stories are complicated and diverse. Here was the surprise for me. I knew the place was Anglican - but I confess to slightly dreading a sense of cloned testimonies, and everyone being bright young things from the tech industry. 

Three men are baptised. My stepson is an art student from a Christian home, who had a patch a while ago of saying he definitely wasn't a Christian, and then more recently that he very definitely is. One baptisee is a little older than me, converted recently from a background in Chinese Buddhism. The third man is in his twenties, with, by his own account, a deeply troubled past which had involved beating people up and a fair number of police stations. I am not sure I have ever seen three more different men, all confessing Christ as Lord and Saviour at the same time. 

The Word that Lasts:
Door at St Helen's, Bishopsgate
A short while ago I wrote a piece about the need for Conmen in the Salvation Army.  What we saw on Sunday is precisely the kind of thing I had in mind. Our crying need is not to move from the theology of our founders. The constant cry that the doctrines are a hindrance to people in this day and age is simply wrong. Our contemporaries need the old doctrines put in a contemporary way - just that. That may mean, in some contexts, planting churches which are not about bands and uniforms, still less about cartridges and specialing and other bits of awful in-house jargon. It means going back to our roots in gospel-driven cultural relevance. 

The great pragmatists, William and Catherine, would, I think, have been pretty impressed by what we saw on Sunday. Here was gospel work being done. One of those baptised comes from exactly what they would have seen as the prime harvest field for their Christian Mission. In an area like Old Street, and given the general demographic of the church, he was perhaps exception rather than rule. So that leaves me with the challenge - how are we to do that "conservative but contemporary" thing among those who the Army has traditionally seen as "our people"?

Inspire London is by no means unique. As it happens, my youngest stepson Sam also attends a new Anglican church - planted this month, in fact, the second plant of a church which is itself less than a decade old. The young Anglican evangelicals have the ball at their feet. I knew these guys, or their spiritual predecessors, back in the nineties. They were talking about large-scale church planting then. And they have done it and are doing it.  It can be done - by God's help it will be done. The Salvation Army in the UK is doing some planting, for which we should be thankful and prayerful - but we are closing corps faster than we are opening. How can that tide be turned? 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   

For more information about Inspire Church see here.


For my previous blog about Conmen in TSA see here.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The hideous beauty of good theology

We are reading Job in the mornings. So far, we have got as far as Zophar the Naamathite's first speech in chapter 11, and feel that we are at the stage where the gloves are coming off. Job has suffered a terrible loss - wealth, family, health - and the friends' readiness to come and simply be with him in his misery was so impressive at first. But now, their determination to say, in effect, "You brought all this on yourself" "You deserved it!" is coming through loud and clear. 

The thing is, the vast bulk of what they say is truth. Their theology is good, and beautifully expressed. Some passages are sublime, in fact. There are sections which are close parallels to the very things God himself says about himself towards the end of the book.

Here is Zophar:
11:7-9  “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? 
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? 
Their measure is longer than the earth and 
wider than the sea. 

And here is the Lord:

38:4-7  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand. 
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it? 
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together 
and all the angels shouted for joy? 

Just occasionally the three friends give themselves away with some questionable theology:

11:6b God has even forgotten some of your sin. 

Really, Zophar? 

But the way they really give themselves away is in attitude. They purport to know the mind of the Almighty, and to some extent they really do, but they err when they speak on His behalf, not knowing the full picture or purpose. Their theology is good, but incomplete, mistimed and insensitive in delivery. 

Zophar again:

11:2-6a “Are all these words to go unanswered?
Is this talker to be vindicated? 
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
Will no one rebuke you when you mock? 
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless 
and I am pure in your sight.’ 
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you 
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.

Job's friends appear to have adopted the tone of a debate on social media long before the dawn of the Internet. Their theology is broadly good, but the spirit in which they say it is ugly and gets uglier. All that is missing is for them to compare Job's "arrogance" to that of Hitler...!

I am taking several things away from this book already. 
- Theology which is 98% good can still be very bad theology. The yeast works through the whole lump of dough; the curate's egg - "good in parts" - is not a good egg. 
- Theology which is all good, but partial, applying to situations that are not the one facing us, can be very bad theology. Where we don't know, far better to say so and keep our traps shut. 

- Theology which is all good but spoken with a desire to score points, to bring down, to win an argument rather than a soul, is bad theology. Job's friends cease being friends during the conversation. They have an agenda - and it isn't God's. 

The book of Job stands as a great warning to those who say too much. Even good stuff said at the wrong time or in the wrong way can do great damage. The rest of the Bible is more concerned with rebuking bad theology; Job rebukes the good. It makes you stop and think. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Joyful Intercessors

In the training colleges of the Salvation Army across the globe, group support and cohesion both in training and after is catalysed by giving each year's intake of cadets a "sessional name". I
have been knocking around the fringe of William Booth College long enough to have seen the 
 Disciples of the Cross (the high-flying DoCs), the Heralds of Grace (or rather more lowly HoGs), the Messengers of Light (a term surely only in use biblically for Satanic beings), and now the Joyful Intercessors. 

At WBC, London, my wife has already photographed them all; Facebook has already suggested I befriend most of them, and I have even met some of them. We have Hammonds (new and improved?). We have the Annual Callum. We have a lovely influx of continentals - I've met France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic - and the nation-state of Yorkshire is, as ever, solidly represented. They seem bright and eager, keen and friendly and slightly nervous. All normal then. 

Beyond the cadets of the Salvation Army colleges around the world, a far larger number of other students are also beginning theological studies. Few denominational setups have quite such a focussed programme as TSA, where, if you complete the course and make your covenant, you will be ordained as a minister and will have a guaranteed job, but nevertheless, many new students have their hearts and minds focussed on future ministry in church and mission. 

What can be said to these new students? 

1) Enjoy your time at college. 

You will feel busy. You will feel pressured. Deadlines will loom. If you have been years out of full-time education, essay writing will feel like climbing Everest with advanced arthritis. Some of you will also have your brain stretched horribly by working all the time in a second (or third!) language. 

However bad this feels, remember that college is an oasis of peace and tranquility and time compared to the demands of your future ministry. Sorry to say it, but it is true. Not only are time pressures lighter now, but you are surrounded by people who will become your friends, and some of those friendships will last for ever. The future will probably be tougher and lonelier. Don't complain: enjoy! 

2) Recognise that this really is foundational 

You have time now to think through issues that you have never had the time to tackle properly before. And you will never again have such a chance to explore theological and practical thought-contours. Well-chosen essay titles given over the next years will stretch you, will make you think, and will stay with you, if you work hard at them. Essays I tackled at college on John 1, on the witness of the Spirit in assurance, on Rastafarianism, on the Prophets as Covenant Policemen - all have stuck with me through nearly 30 years now, becoming part of my substructure of thought. Ditto for practical ministry stuff. Make the most of it!

3) Remember that this is not "normal"

I'm not a fan of theological training that takes people away from the normal rhythm of church life. But colleges are with us, for good or ill, and we need to learn to live with them. There are ways of minimising the abnormality though!

As far as is possible during your time at college, be a normal part of a normal corps/church. Get to the meetings. Hear the word. Pray.  Take part in social events. Play a genuine and unassuming role in church life as much as you can. 

Above all, do not regard your "status" as a cadet/student as putting you a cut above the "ordinary" members. We are called together to live for Christ. So let's show that. Remember, the greatest Christian leaders you know and have ever known have been the most humble. Isn't that so? 

4) Guard your heart and mind

Many people go into ministerial training with a relatively simple faith - even simplistic. You've believed that the Bible is "true", that Moses led a vast company of Israelites out of Egypt, that the miracles of Jesus really happened, that Paul's letters come from God, that the doctrines of the church are to be signed up to without great thought as to other "options", that there is a heaven to seek and a hell to flee. You may well feel over the next few weeks that suddenly all of that is in meltdown, that nothing is certain any more, that the simple light of your faith is all but being blacked out by what feels like a tide of cynicism and even direct unbelief. Amongst the loudest voices in that will be some of your fellow students who seem keen to vie with one another as to who can seem most knowledgable, most critical, most radical.  

Just remember: when you seem to be presented with just two roads, there may be a third way. When simple faith is mocked, and a critical, liberal, unbelieving, progressive path is placed before you as the attractive option, there is a way out. The best transformation of an unthinking fundamentalist is not into an intellectual liberal but into a thinking believer. Someone who has read widely, tested their thinking, recognised strengths and weaknesses in their upbringing, and who has held fast to a profound biblical faith even in a highly critical climate. 

5) Maintain your personal spiritual priorities 

If the intellectual foundation of your faith may feel under attack, so can your personal walk with God. Theological training is a bit of a hothouse environment, and unfortunately a hothouse can grow weeds as well as the desirable plants. If you have any tendency to become professionalised, handling the Bible and Christ's gospel as if they were a commodity at your disposal, as if the delivery of a sermon was just a job to do, then that tendency will probably start to rear its ugly head here. If the approval of teachers and session colleagues matters more than Jesus' approval, if looking good in front of fellow professionals counts more than actually caring for the person in front of you who doesn't know you from Adam, then college will start to show it. 

I dropped out of Christian ministry because professionalism did for me, from the inside. I ended up committing adultery - but I'd slipped a long way first. And I think that issue went all the way back to the start of my ministry. What matters ultimately is not essay marks or accolades. What matters is a life of love - walking in love to God and neighbour. Whatever else you get from college, don't let it rob you of that. 

God bless you, keep you, teach you and use you! 

Photo credit: Sarah King

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Some curious thoughts about Kim Davis

If fame is only supposed to last fifteen minutes, Kim Davis seems to have stayed slightly longer in the limelight than is necessary. The Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing marriage licenses to gay couples has now been with us for that number of days and the media interest is only just beginning to wane. 

I have found her case interesting for a number of reasons. She is not a neat poster girl for her cause. Married four times, a life-long and highly committed Democrat, she may not be the religious right's ideal standard bearer in their fight. 

But one issue particularly strikes me, in terms of "Christian culture." Davis is a fairly recent convert to her church - about four years - and it is the nature of that church which fascinates. 

She is a member of Solid Rock Apostolic Church. Splitting from other Pentecostal groupings back near the beginnings of the movement, this particular "apostolic church" does not believe in the Trinity and regards speaking in tongues as necessary to salvation. On both those grounds it is clearly not a Christian church - although, as with other confused and heretical groups, it is not our place to assess the possibility or probability of personal faith among its members. 

What intrigues me is the speed with which some Christians have identified with this "Christian" lady. Would support have been as swift if she had been a denier of the trinity who went to the Kingdom Hall and thought that evangelistic door knocking was essential for salvation? Would the evangelical right have been as warm if she had denied the trinity, worn a burkha and just come back from the hajj? 

And the support from like-minded Christians has been uniform in taking Kim Davis to be one of them. In an era of instant reactions, of shallow knee-jerking, of single-issue blinkeredness, of lack of theological awareness, haven't we been reduced to the point where doctrinal definition is irrelevant? If a woman is white and doesn't like gay marriage, she must be sound, right? 

I'm not commenting on Kim Davis' conscience. Nor the rights and wrongs of her specific concern - not to have her name on those certificates. Nor the fact that she (inadvertently, and because of media spin, perhaps) seems to have done more to spur on public acceptance of SSM in the U.S. than any other single individual. I'm just saying that her case highlights the low point we have reached in understanding our own faith. When the choice is between bright and loving but fuzzy liberals, and unattractive evangelicals who have lost touch with the basic contours of their own faith, no wonder it is the atheists and the Moslems who are laughing. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

On this day... the Birmingham Church Bombing, 1963

On this day in 1963 the children were arriving into their classrooms for Sunday School at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The lesson set was, "The Love that Forgives," based on the Sermon on the Mount in Mat 5:43, 44. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy' but I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

At around twenty past ten a bomb made up from a dozen or so sticks of dynamite planted near the back porch of the church building exploded. Glass windows blew out, roofing timbers fell into the sanctuary, pews were splintered and the rooms nearest the blast were devastated.

Back in those days of segregation it was an all-white police force that arrived on the scene to restore order, but black church members who sifted through the rubble and immediately tended the
wounded. Four young girls had been killed - Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley. The broken body of one was found and lifted from the rubble by her own grandfather. Seventeen other people were more or less severely injured. Given that there were 400 people in the building at the time, this was actually a remarkable low toll, but utterly dreadful, nonetheless.

Birmingham had suffered many bomb attacks over the preceding decade or more. In fact, local residents had given the place the nickname “Bombingham”. But this was the first against a church, and targeted just when the children would be occupying the worst-hit part of the building. It took 14 years to bring the Ku Klux Klan member responsible to justice, and not till 2001 was anyone else convicted of taking part in the atrocity.

I am too young to remember this event. I am convinced that many people younger than me, in the UK at least, and especially whites, have very little consciousness of that period. When people moan about “political correctness gone mad” etc., they may be forgetting that “political correctness” is at root treating other people as human beings, and not blowing up little girls in Sunday School.

The damage at the church
As the refugee crisis causes feelings to rise, I have been disturbed by the element of racism that is around us. I have heard talk of an influx of “non-white” refugees. Someone with whom I work regularly talks freely of Poles being thieves, their women being sluts, of foreigners being unwelcome, of shuddering at the thought of black men because they all smell. Another friend posted thoughts on the refugee crisis from an overtly white-supremacist site. In the year that I visited Auschwitz, it sends shivers to see a sentence like, “Jewish Supremacists... are using the “holocaust fable” to promote and justify the current Third World invasion of Europe.”

We need to remember that a pause in inter-racial hate and violence is more exception than rule in human societies. That the relative peace and common humanity we have been enjoying is a lovely oasis in a tragic and sorrowful world. We need to remember our shock back in the Bosnian war – “these people who were ethnically cleansed had washing machines!” We need to keep it real.

A fundamental Christian doctrine is that of the unity of the human race as creatures made in God’s image. The Salvation Army doctrines don’t hammer that out as explicitly as they might; a statement of faith that I used to have to sign kicks off its third article with “All men and women, being created in the image of God, have inherent and equal dignity and worth.” I know of no one in the SA who would have troubles with that article. On the one hand it outlaws racism; on the other, it promotes a high view of the glory, honour and dignity of every human being, at every stage of life, whatever their colour, culture or creed, poverty or riches, success or failure, moral excellence or disaster; whether intelligent or with difficulties understanding things; whether beautiful or ugly, tall or short, male or female, young or old. It makes us stand against the rising tide of new hate. It calls us to care, to be concerned, to welcome and help and serve our neighbour – first because God made us to honour him and honour his image in each other, and second because our Lord Jesus came to serve and calls us to serve too.

Members of the public watch the funeral for one of the girls.
I am a grandfather. I have three little granddaughters. My feelings of protectiveness and care for them are, if anything, even greater than my feelings were towards my children at the same age. (Perhaps the relative distance and powerlessness of grandparents makes us more nervous!) I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to find your grandchild’s body, limp and lifeless. Bad enough after an illness or accident – but for someone to take her life like that?!

On this anniversary, let’s remember how ugly racism really can get. And then let’s do all we can, as salt and light, to stop our society going there.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

To be alone with you

I’d swim across Lake Michigan
I’d sell my shoes
I’d give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room

To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your ghost

To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

To be alone with me you went up on the tree
I’ve never known a man who loved me
My son took me to see Sufjan Stevens at the Royal Festival Hall last week. I am a somewhat reluctant convert, having vaguely liked the artist for a long time, but never quite getting the passion. I now get it. The musical style isn't always immediately my scene, but the lyrics are extraordinarily freighted and perfectly carried by the painfully delicate singing. 
Sufjan’s following is (so far as I can tell) a broadly hipster, post-modern swathe of humanity aged from 20s to 40s. It isn’t obviously loaded with Christians, which is kind of odd, because his songs are heavy with faith. Here is good music by a Christian, as opposed to Christian Music. No comment on the latter!
I have never felt so much like I’d been to church without actually going to church. I cried a lot. Perhaps I was predisposed – many songs dealt with death, and we were laying my Uncle David to rest the next day – but I think I would have cried anyway, touched by words that convey such a weight of God's love and grace.   

The lyric above is one of Sufjan's best-known songs. It seems to be thought of by many as a human love song. And I suppose it is, though the identity of the man who wants to be alone with me is pretty plain. I knew the song, but heard live, I really got it, and was overwhelmed. 
Yes, it could be criticised for being over-individualistic. Jesus did not die to be alone with me; he died to gather his congregation around him, the eternal, global, international qahal of his people. But the song stripped things back to the heart of the matter for me, and I am lost again in amazement (even as I write, on the platform at East Croydon) when I contemplate the weight of love. 
You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your ghost

To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

My own Christianity fell apart ten or more years ago because I replaced “to be alone with me” with “so that I could serve you”. I changed the content - from being to doing - and I changed the direction - from his desire to my action. From my receiving to my giving, in fact. 

And still that tendency is there. Saved by grace, how quick I am to swap out grace for law, receiving for giving, being for doing. We hardly stop to enjoy his coming close to us before we are “pouring out our lives” and talking about the “debt we owe”. When our reaction to received grace is a reflex response of trying to give back, it throws into question whether it is really grace we have received, or whether we have really grasped the graciousness of grace.

And when we talk about debts and pouring our lives out, we generally mean service “out there", in activity. Serving. Being useful. Being busy. Being driven, even. That is what did for me, in Christian ministry. That is what I allowed to steal away my enjoyment of God. And I’m still a bit of an activity addict. (Is writing this blog a symptom???) 

I am not denying the rightness of grateful service to our gracious God. I’m just saying that if to be alone with me he went up on a tree doesn’t resonate deeply any more, if his love at his cross doesn’t move us more than anything else, we are in trouble. And I think many of us may be. Indeed, many are wounded, scalded, damaged, broken, repelled, excluded, by churches where the ethic of driven activism has usurped the enjoyment of a God who comes close in amazing grace and self-offering. 

The church where I now find myself is perhaps the quintessentially activist church. The Salvation Army is gloriously hands-on. For love of Jesus the love of Jesus has been carried in word and action to millions around the world who are often the most unloved and unwanted by anyone. I feel humbled and honoured and utterly insufficient to be accidentally grafted into this tradition. 

But any movement this busy does run a risk. I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me “we don't think much about theology, we just get our hands dirty”. There is a certain pride abroad that we are the church that does what other churches don’t do. We disagree with Billy Bragg – we certainly do want to change the world. And I sometimes even wonder if our activism is actually the very glue which, for better or worse, holds this old boat together – we have liberals, we have evangelicals, we have fundamentalists, but we have no time to talk, let alone split, because we are too busy. We stay together because we work together. And we have band practice.

It may be that we need to re-centre. To find the place of just us and our God again.  I am not arguing for an inactive pietism, but for a recovery of a constant still place at the centre of our perhaps inevitably busy lives, where the only thing that matters is our God, what he has done for us in Christ, what he has shown us by his Spirit and simply revelling in the company of this blessed Trinity.  That joy, not debt, is to be at the heart of our activity, or work and rest, our lives as a whole. To borrow from another tradition, it is the Westminster Shorter Catechism that expresses the chief purpose of life as to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."  Calvin's catechism is more succinct - it is to "know God". To be alone with you. As Vernon Higham put it “our God is the end of the journey”.  

I never want to lose this again. I don't want to go back to Egypt; I want to live in the promised land. Not a child of the slave woman but of the free. Serving, yes, but out of a constant, conscious gladness that I am his and he is mine. And that we are close. And that HE paid for that.

We laid my Uncle David to rest on Friday the day after the Sufjan gig. His serving days were long past, but not his alone-with-you days. Many times throughout his life and especially in his final months he was overwhelmed by God’s love for him in Jesus. And now he is fully home. That is how I want to go too. 
This is an “if the cap fits” blog. If activity has not robbed you of the simple enjoyment of Christ, then I am so glad for you – you are way ahead of me and I want to learn from you! But if you are busy in the work, so busy, so engaged in serving, that you have lost touch with the simple joy of being loved and accepted by God, you need to come home too. Whatever your theology, evangelical or liberal, a service-driven Christianity will ultimately be barren, unless you recover the centre. 

To be alone with me
He went up on a tree