Gender, Gelato & Life in all its Fullness
‘Cramming it in’ is often how I feel about life and the last few days certainly have not been an exception. In fact, the long weekend just gone could be a dictionary definition. Amid the craziness and the excitement there was one moment that gave poignance, clarity and vision to all the other moments, experiences, flavours and encounters that could otherwise have become lost in time which we often allow to slip into manotony. The main event of the past few days has been a church weekend away for a growing congregation based in Milan. The KKi England team were asked to model what intergenerational church can look like and how that translates to the idea of kingdom coming in all its fullness. This, of course, is right up our street.
We had a great time and navigated our way through a gruelling schedule (with a few hours to visit a quintessential Italian village - architecture, coffee, gelato… bliss), some oddly long meetings, short nights and a body of people who - to begin with - were not really on the same page or perhaps even in the same book with each other when it came to anything intergenerational or missional.
The short of the long is that we had about 70% of the church join us to #RaiseTheJoyLevel in a town square and on a Lake Garda beach front which led to lives being touched and some significant encounters for young adults on the beach and a cafe owner in the square who insisted on kissing me lots… I did not mind. It was pure joy to see a church congregation reaffirm their heart for each other and the imperative of unity amid difference.
(N.B. - I also learned an important lesson that afternoon. The casual European beach dress-code is perhaps not the best partner for a song where the main instruction is “Shake your Booty in the name of Jesus”). Booking the cheapest flights for our time away landed us with 2 days to spend in Milan and we didn't mess about with making the most of it. We got to spend a day over the border in Switzerland in the beautiful town of Lugano guided by a new friend we made at the weekend away - I love the new friends you can make doing these things. We explored the picturesque town, paddled in the lake and, of course, ate some gelato. Top tourist tip: Cinnamon Gelato from Margherita is a must! That evening we got to catch a glimpse of EXPO 2015 which is a celebration of cultural diversity and also an exploration into what each nation is doing in terms of investment and research into the future of food and particularly sustainability and accessibility for developing nations, as well as new innovations in taste and aesthetic experience. Unfortunately, due to lack of time, we barely scratched the surface of EXPO; but even the architecture of the nations’ pavilions were breathtaking. EXPO is on until 31st October and I hope to get back in order to really appreciate it, to learn about the current developments (could be very useful in the Philippines/Africa) and to eat some good food! Want to come on an adventure with me? Let me know! Food, culture, celebration, learning… its the perfect day out!
Yesterday ahead of flying back we visited to famous Naviglio canal district. Again, great food, great sights and and quintessential Italian atmosphere all mixed in with innovative artwork and sobering history. Now, as I mentioned at the outset, all these things were brilliant but there was once instance that enriched the densely packed long weekend. For want of a better expression, it ‘revealed the colour’ in what was an already stunning black and white canvas. I had been staying at the YWAM Milano base for the two days after the conference. There also happened to be there a German guy who was having some time out in the city. On the morning before heading out to Naviglio we were alone together in the apartment which allowed us the time and space to share our stories of life with each other, talk about the love of God and dream about the kingdom together. At the end of the conversation my new friend left to pack his bag before heading to get a train home. After thirty seconds or so he reappeared and gave me a massive hug. The conversation we had shared over the half an hour previous was beautiful and life giving in and of its self, what he was about to say cemented it all together. “Thank you for loving the gay community, just being with them and sharing your life with them. I used to live that lifestyle and it means so much that you loved them, cared about them and shared yourself with them. I want to say thank you on behalf of the gay community”. Speechless. It was not the words, the context or the affirmation of my three years hanging out in gay bars. It was the connection. The rawness. The reality. The humanity. My new friend and I had spent half an hour simply being; reflecting on our paths, dreaming of what will one day be and being human together. We can, in fact, not be human any other way. We are designed for community, for loving each other and starting to understand that we ourselves are loved. That’s the reason that God stepped down into the word in the form of Jesus. To restore that which was lost. The freedom of man to walk with God and with others in the enjoyment of life, in all that he has given us. In work, in play, in eating, drinking and being merry with each other. Life in all its fullness isn’t some ‘religious’ thing and yet it cannot be anything but religious (in the full sense of the word).
To re-ligament. To reconnect with God, our source of life, the one who first loved us. With ourselves, knowing that we’re “very good”. With each other, treating others as they should be, as people who look like God, made in his image and called to co-create with him, to take part in the divine action. It goes beyond religious cliche and begins to transform the whole word; life its self becomes sacred. My new friend and dear brother hadn’t thanked me for a political stance, a belief structure or even for what I did, he thanked me for who I am and the fact that I had shared myself. I shared my humanity with other humans and the love of God naturally splashed out of that. Often we live sub-humanly, lost in our own base compulsion, selfishness and conditioning - our own perception of our image becomes distored. But in connection with God and his Holy Spirit living within us we very naturally become connected to the reality of who we are; that identity which often gets buried beneath the half truths, the accusations and the failures. We also begin to connect with other people in a way that allows them to see God within themselves… Namaste - I see God in you, what a beautiful word, what a beautiful way to live.
When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn, the 'Holy of Holies' was exposed. Exposed for just what it was… nothing. The religious nonsense which was going on had blinded people to fact that the whole of life and creation is sacred and can be reconnected to us and even through us to all that it was originally intended to be. How freeing?! All of life, when using our freedom to bring out the latent potential in ourselves, in other people and in the situations around us, becomes an act of worship. We give worth to our maker by honouring his image carried by humanity and by his wider creation. Every instance can become a connection to God and a connection to another human, every instance can be an instance of us being fully human. Eating gelato and thanking God for his creativity, expressed and entered into by the good people of the Gelateria, connecting us to God and to them; we’re connecting, we’re fully human. Enjoying the company of a friend as we look back on the people who washed their clothes in the dirty canal water that now plays host to floating art installations; we’re connecting, we’re fully human. Modelling to a church congregation how and indeed why the generations need to be spending time together; we’re connecting, we’re fully human. Representing God’s compassion and how he enters into our suffering by holding the shaking child who thinks the typhoon will hit again because it has started to rain; we’re connecting, we’re fully human.
Choosing to see the image of God in Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner and treat her with the same dignity, love, compassion and service as we would Jesus in the flesh; we’re connecting, we’re fully human.
Today, know that you are very good - today know that those around you are very good - today, know that it is because the God, who’s image you (and they) carry is very good. Today, connect. Today, be fully human.
Start a reLOVEution