Sunday, December 24, 2006
who is God and Lord of all
May God bless you this Christmas, and may the presence of Jesus fill your hearts and lives.
"Leave me alone with God
as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters
close in upon the shore,
make me an island, set apart,
alone with You, God,
holy to You.
Then with the turning of the tide,
prepare me to carry Your presence
to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me,
till the waters come again
and fold me back to you."
(Aidan Prayer, from the Northumbria Community)
The next new posting will be in early January, if I can think of anything worth saying. In the meantime, happy new year too!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
A Guardian online leader about religion and society, arguing for a more secular approach. Unfortunately, one might add, secular doesn't mean value free. It's because secular government and society have cut across deeply held religious convictions that Christians and other faith groups are campaigning (e.g. Jerry Springer the opera, the Sexual Orientation regulations, Debt relief for the developing world). In response, governments are now looking at partnership with faith communities.
We should also resist the secular tendency to put faith in a box: 'private morality and prayer are your own personal business, leave everything else to us.' No. World poverty, global warming, city bonuses, community regeneration, housing policy, reproductive science, health, education, war and peace, these are all issues for Christians. Because Jesus is Lord of all there is no sacred/secular divide, everything is sacred. Trouble is, because we only get quoted when we talk about sex, people think that's all the church is bothered about, and the sacred/secular divide is reinforced. I just look at the social programmes of local churches in Yeovil (food provision, pregnancy counselling, youth centre, provision for families, night shelter) to know that we're a long way towards breaking that down. However, (here's a challenge) we're good at engaging with poverty and need, how about engaging with riches and success?
And a very sobering story from Australia about 2 Pakistani Christians who fled persecution in their own country only to be persecuted again. This time, it was under the auspices of a secular law aimed at preventing religious antagonism. The effect seems to have been the opposite. We avoided having laws like this by 1 vote earlier this year.
Jesus would have been on trial much earlier if calling a Pharisee a whitewashed tomb, or telling religious people 'you are wrong because you do not know the scriptures', had sent his adversaries bawling to the law courts. If a Muslim and I cannot say to one another 'I think you are wrong and here's why', without the fear that one or other of us will take offence and go to the police, then religious debate is dead, religious tolerance is dead, and God help us.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Warne has retired because Australia have won back the Ashes - he admitted in interview that if they'd lost again, he would have carried on playing until the next series. Warne seems to have recognised that without the Ashes to win back, his zeal for the game would have waned, so now is the right time to stop. Harmison has recognised that it's better to be very good at 1 thing than ok at 2.
Robert Warren, writing about healthy churches, says that a healthy church is something that 'does a few things well', and Harmison seems to be following that kind of path.
Knowing when to stop, or when to prune back our activities so that we can do what we do well, rather than skimping on it, or losing focus because we have so much else do to, is quite an art. Jesus knew when to stop preaching in villages by going off to pray. In conversation with his Father, he reminds himself that success is not the only goal, and that he cannot be a slave to it. The biggest factor for Jesus was a clear sense of what he was here for. As one writer (I think it was Bill Hybels) put it: what enables us to say no is that we have a bigger 'yes' burning inside of us. In other words, we're able to stop things, prune back, or resist the urge to take on more, by being clear in our own hearts and minds about what is important and what isn't.
This is a challenge at a personal and a corporate level. There are lots of things running in churches which were once very good, and are still very good. There are other things which were once very good, and are now struggling on in the vain hope that God will wave a magic wand and former glories will be restored. The days when the Sunday school was bursting at the seams, or when we had a great choir, or when the worship was really inspiring etc. etc. So the Sunday school ploughs on with 2 members, the choir dotted around the choirstalls are drowned out by the congregation, and the music group sings the same songs in the same way as they did 10 years ago because that was what worked then.
The church, in one respect, is still living in fairy land. Somewhere in our psyche is the belief that if we just do what we normally do in church, but do it really well, or with a bit more prayer, or with a bit more commitment, that that will push a magic button and people will flock from all over.
There are 2 fundamental problems with this
a) Many people, even if we were the best church ever at everything, still wouldn't come. 7m are working on a Sunday, others are having their access times to their children, others are in bed after the night shift. Loads more just don't like the music, or find church buildings scary, or aren't interested in what we have to do and say.
b) This goes completely against the grain of the way Jesus and the apostles operated. Jesus went from place to place preaching. It was because he had gone out of his way to be with people where they are, that they then went out of their way to be with him. Fishing is a good illustration: you catch fish by bringing the fish into the boat with the net, but before you bring the fish in, you have to go to where the fish are. Some churches are like fishing boats on a hillside, throwing their nets onto the grass and praying 'bring them in Lord'.
Yes, people do come to us, and Christmas is the main time of year that this happens. Lets admit it, we rely on the season to do some recruiting for us: we're running an Alpha course in the New Year and have got invitations to give out to folk who come to our Christmas services. But once the nativity set is back in its box, we will go back to doing on a Sunday the same things we were doing in November, and 95% of the population will not come.
Back to Shane Warne. Do we know why we are doing what we are doing? Is the fire still burning? Is there a 'yes' burning inside us, a passion to worship, witness, comfort and heal? Or are we repeatedly photocopying an ancient glory, hoping that by magic it will come out in 3D colour instead of the usual black and white? Do we need a New Year resolution as churches to stop things, and do less? Like Harmison, do we need to divert our resources into what we're good at, and stop using them on what we're average at?
Jesus stopped residing in heaven to be born on earth. He stopped being a carpenter to preach the good news. He stopped preaching and healing in Carpernaum to minister somewhere else. The disciples stopped fishing to follow Jesus. Jesus stopped preaching and teaching in order to give himself to death on the cross for us. Maybe the starting point of mission and ministry is to stop.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
1. Pirates of the Caribbean 2
2. Casino Royale
3. Da Vinci Code
4. Ice Age 2
1 is much deserved, fantastic movie, and a feature length meditation on the words of Jesus 'what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?' The whole plot is driven by what Capt Jack is prepared to do to save his soul from a fate of slavery to the foul Davy Jones, and Sparrow finally redeems himself through self-sacrifice rather than self-preservation.
2 - posted my own 'review' here a couple of weeks ago,
3 - about Jesus (sort of: it's only because it's about Jesus that people bought the book/watched the film.), but a huge pile of nonsense, and the presentation of the catholic church is simply laughable.
4 - not seen it, but if it's anything like the 1st one theres lots of snow, a wooly mammoth, a sabre toothed tiger, a sloth and an ancient relative of the squirrel which drowned in the gene pool.
5 - thought about seeing it, but decided I'd probably find it too difficult to watch, despite some bits being either v funny or v perceptive. It seems to be an uncomfortable mirror to US identity & prejudice in parts, combined with a large dose of crude humour.
So plenty of starters for 10 on spiritual issues at the office party, whether you want to start from whether we have a soul and what's it worth, what does the ideal man look like (Bond vs Jesus), Jesus and what we know about him, national identity and prejudice, or with Ice Age talk about evolution and global warming. By now you're thinking I must be the least fun person to go to the movies with, as I spend more time analysing them than enjoying them...
In our youth group in Darlington a couple of years ago, we planned over 2 evenings to watch a DVD (night 1) then talk about it (night 2). I had Bruce Almighty up my sleeve, but everyone in the group wanted to watch Pirates of the Carribbean 1 (on telly this Christmas). I groaned inwardly, but we actually spent 2 hours debating the spiritual and moral questions raised by the movie. I kid you not. e.g. the need for the spilling of blood to break the curse (hmm, where have I come across that before?); whether moral codes are rules or just guidelines; the vivid description of a living hell given by Capt Barbarossa ('we drank but never quenched our thirst, we ate the best food but it tasted like dust in our mouths') etc. We loved the sword fights too.
The bullet's quit the gun
The heat that’s in the sun
Will keep us when there’s none
The rule has been disproved
The stone it has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed, ooh
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
Oh can’t you see what our love has done
What it’s doing to me
and a very clever video on YouTube . Should be released around March/April rather than Christmas, but it's good to be reminded that Easter and Christmas are connected!
a few weeks ago I predicted
If the full Australian side stay fit:Australia 3 - England 1
If McGrath or Warne gets injuredAustralia 2-England 2
Top run scorer for England: Andrew Strauss
Top wicket taker for England: Freddie Flintoff
Top run scorer for Australia: Justin Langer
Top wicket taker for Australia: Shane Warne (easy one that)
I look forward to being proved wrong and England whitewashing the Aussies with Pietersen and Panesar taking the honours. Anything would be better than the last tour.
Well, we can dream. The 3-1 outcome is still possible - Australia often lose the final test to England once they've beaten them, and having won the ashes they may ease up a bit. The individual predictions are all wrong - Langer may still overtake Ponting, and Pietersen and Panesar were our best players in the last test, but otherwise it shows why I'm not a cricket pundit.
Monday, December 18, 2006
1. I've lived at 17 addresses in the last 19 years:
- Sheffield (childhood home)
- Spitalifields E London (year out working at Spitalfields Crypt, a rehab centre for homeless alcoholic men)
- 3 addresses at university, 2 in halls then a shared house in Cowley, E Oxford, mostly with lawyers (one of whom was allergic to washing up, cause of some friction!!! I still have the microwave from then, it's done well to last 15 years)
- 5 working for Clarks Shoes in Somerset: Street, Ashcott, Peasedown St. John, Radstock, finally Shepton Mallett, at the other end of the street from the Babysham/Gaymers old English cider factory.
- 3 addresses at theological college in Nottingham. A matter of weeks after moving into our marital home, Becky and I were informed that 'The Grange', where we lived, was to be turned into offices for the Extension Studies part of the college, so we moved to Inham Nook estate in Nott'm, great local church.
- since ordination in 1998 things have settled down, only 3 addresses (Yeovil, Darlington, and now Yeovil again). I think that's enough cardboard boxes now....
2. The only vicar in the family tree was Great Uncle Frank, who died a couple of years ago. He was vicar in Sacriston, a tough mining community in the Durham coalfield, then moved to an industrial parish in the Black Country. When I was 16-17 and starting to get daft ideas about being a vicar, my parents sent me down to Warley to stay with him, in a draughty Victorian rectory surrounded by blocks of flats and factory rooves. Frank was a deeply prayerful man, but tough as old boots, and I found him quite intimidating! I'd probably have spent a lot more time with him had I not been so scared of him asking me awkward questions about my prayer life.
3. My favourite view is Dalehead in the Lake District. I've been into hillwalking since being a teenager, and there's nothing quite like looking down the Newlands Valley after that last punishing climb, on a sunny day with clouds scudding overhead. And to think that God sees that view all the time, it must be great being God.
4. My brother Adam is the creative one of the 2 of us - I used to swot for tests, Adam would fiddle about with electronics, or working out how to make explosives with ingredients available to a schoolboy from the local chemists. He's just won an award for technical creativity, a kind of teccie Oscars, at an international ceremony. I admire his creativity as a father too: one day he went out and bought a vanful of hay bales and made a fort for his 2 boys in the back garden. Puts me to shame really, I rarely have enough energy to be creative with my kids.
5. At the start of 2006 I nearly got myself signed off with depression. The previous year had been very demanding, for all sorts of reasons, then came the news that my post in Darlington may not be renewed, but that there would be a lenghty consultation process first (as there were a number of other local candidates for post reductions). With a year to go on my contract, I became a caretaker minister overnight, and my energy for everything I was doing just seemed to ooze away. I've spent a lot of time with people with depression, but always thought I was too much of an optimist and positive thinker to succumb.
5 things you now do know about me, now have to think of 5 people to 'meme'. I'll try:
Steve Tilley, Stacey Hollanby, Nigel Coke-Woods, Richard Frank, and isitgodsway. As at least 1 of these either won't know or won't remember me, 3 out of 5 will be a success.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Cartoon Church (Dave Walker, Church Times cartoonist)
Mustard Seed Shavings (Steve Tilley, missioner in Nailsea area)
Thinking Anglicans (Simon Sarmiento, a liberal perspective, mainly on the politicking over sexuality and who's in communion with who in the international CofE, but also provides a helpful summary of links to good religious stories in the online press every weekend)
Thoughts from the Wonderwall, run by Nigel Coke-Woods of Yeovil Methodists
More occasionally, though all useful, I've found:
http://jonnybaker.blogs.com/ Jonny Baker, alternative worship pioneer, the site is a great resource for creative worship ideas, visuals, and stimulating thoughts. Also shows you what a good blog looks like!
http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/ Ruth Gledhills online column for the Times, useful for stories about the Bishop of Southwark, etc.
http://u2sermons.blogspot.com/ if like me you're a U2 fan, and fascinated by deep but very subtle Christian message in their songs, this website is a great resource, including attempts by churches to base sermon series on U2 songs. I personally hope U2 are the worship leaders in heaven, and if the angels are even better, then count me in...
There are lots of blogs in the area of 'emerging church'/fresh expressions, whatever you want to call it - as an area where thinking is being tested out all the time, blogs are a great way to throw ideas around and see where they land. Rather than list some, if you're interested just do a search.
One of the main benefits I get from blogs is that they expose me to debates and points of view from outside my comfort zone. It's very easy to only have in-depth discussions with people of a similar point of view, and keep a polite silence in places (e.g. clergy chapters?) where we don't know each other well enough, or know enough to guess that others see things very differently from ourselves.
There aren't the same inhibitions on the internet, with the result that it can get quite heated (you can't read facial expressions in cyberspace, so it's harder to communicate well, and easy to read the wrong thing into a posting if you're in the wrong mood), but you can also pitch straight into the middle of an argument, and then jump straight out again. The Monty Python character who wanted to buy an argument would be in paradise.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
'Sing about Jesus and you'll lose your grant'
By Graeme Wilson, Political Correspondent
A toddlers' group has been warned it will lose its funding unless children stop singing songs about Jesus and it removes the word "Christian" from its title.
A senior official at Haringey council issued the warning in a letter to the group, which was set up four years ago by the Polish community in the north London borough.
The council intervened after the group contacted officials to say they had decided to change its name from the Polish Drop-in Centre to the Polish and Eastern European Christian Family Centre.
Officials immediately protested about the decision to include the word "Christian" in its title and said the name-change could jeopardise the £7,000 it receives from the council.
Following further investigations, they also ordered Gosia Shannon, the centre's organiser, to stop singing songs about Jesus with the children and accused her of making "negative" comments about gay people.
The Labour-run council's concerns were spelt out in a letter sent to a local community leader by Debbie Biss, the head of Haringey's Noel Park Children's Centre, which funded the family centre.
She voiced unease about the decision to use the word "Christian" in the family centre's title and warned that this would affect "your ability to retain the funding we provide… and to raise funding for your activities in general."
Miss Biss went on to criticise the way children were encouraged to sing about Jesus.
"We expect all our services to be inclusive and without religious content, so I was concerned to learn that Gosia leads the singing of a song about loving Jesus in every session," she said. "I asked Gosia to leave this song out in future but she has refused to do so." Miss Biss added that: "Gosia's attitudes towards gay parents worry me," and highlighted a letter she had sent to councillors "which included negative comments about homosexuality." She warned that funding would be withdrawn from the family centre unless it agreed that all its activities "will in future be strictly of a non-religious nature."
She added that the centre must rewrite its constitution to say that it will provide activities regardless of a person's "race, gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, disability or means".
Mrs Shannon, a 37-year-old mother of one, said she was stunned when she received the letter.
"We could not understand why our funding was going to be cut. This is part of our Roman Catholic tradition in Poland . We sing songs about Jesus and we try to raise our children in a Christian way," she said.
"I have always said that we will welcome people who are gay but we will not promote gay values in the group. But we are not negative towards gay people."
Mrs Shannon said that around nine out of 10 families who used the centre were from Poland , with the remainder being drawn from other Eastern European countries.
Haringey council later moved to defuse the row by saying it had withdrawn the threat to cut the funding.
A spokeswoman said: "The letter has been withdrawn immediately. It was not appropriate for this officer to be writing such a letter linking funding with the issues mentioned in the letter.
"We have contacted this group asking them to disregard the letter and invited them to meet a senior officer to discuss the funding."
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
- very warm welcome at the Brimsmore Garden centre (lovely chocolate cake in the cafe) to do a Christingle service last night. 70 or so people, most seemed to have fun making a Christingle, including one chap who put a propellor on the front of his (don't ask, but a gold star for inventiveness). There was something very right about celebrating the gift of the earth in a garden centre, and Yeovil Town Band were there to play for the carols, which was lovely.
- The lunch club at St. Peters church hall, 5 days into the alterations to make it a Youth Cafe venue - after saying grace God helped me to say that the Youth Cafe and lunch club were basically about the same thing: providing a place to meet, eat, drink and make friends with people of your own generation. And to think it was once a chicken shed....
And if you're stuck for a Christmas present, Dave Walker's cartoon church website is offering free downloads of a calendar for 2007, complete with 1 cartoon a month. This isn't on it, but is a fair represntation of my study at the moment:
Coldplay's 'Fix You' over breakfast, including the line 'when you get what you want but not what you need' - is he talking about Christmas......?
Monday, December 11, 2006
- an adults only environment would have been better for actually thinking and discussing angels and the spiritual world a bit more. The service was, hopefully, a conversation starter, but there was too much going on for the conversation to get anywhere
- with so much other stuff going on at Christmas, should we just concentrate on doing good Christingles and carol services, as they'll be just as effective in sharing the message of Jesus?
- the community centre is an ideal neutral venue for families with young children, as many groups for kids meet there. However, once you have a sizeable number of children in the building, the background noise level is too high for anything reflective, or even to hear a normal amplified speaking voice. There's an element of self-defeatingness (is that a word?) - the more families with children come along, the lower the quality of the gathering. The place needs a nice carpet, new sound system and a couple of meeting rooms.
- I was torn between using the quiz answers as a framework for retelling the gospel story, or just using the questions themselves to get people thinking. The former would probably have been a bit arteficial, and maybe it would have been a relief to come to church and not get preached at. That's the trouble, I've been trained to preach, so different ways of communicating don't always come naturally.
- There's also the question of how much mileage there is in crossover events like the angel service. It's still a 'come to us' event, rather than going to people where they are. It'll be interesting to see how tomorrow evenings Christingle at the garden centre goes. That will be Christian content on neutral territory, as opposed to semi-Christian content on semi-neutral territory (a service on a Sunday morning is still Christian territory, even if you are in a public building).
- there's also the question of how far you can push people's expectations. Part of the challenge of Christmas outreach is how far you can go beyond what people expect. Carols by candelight, Christingles, carol singing etc. all have a familiarity to them. That makes them 'safe' for people to come to, and if you get too radical with them, it's self-defeating, and folk go away feeling cheated or that they've had a number done on them. Too much challenge within the familiar format is jarring, no challenge within the familiar format is a wasted opportunity.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Dave Walker, who does the cartoons which occasionally appear on this site, has a book out, which (today at least) is in the bestseller lists for Christmas. Find 'The Dave Walker Guide to the Church' here
On todays Guardian online site, there's a story about the Conservative party and their attitude to social issues and family breakdown. What it says about Iain Duncan Smiths report into family breakdown is very interesting, at last politicians are starting to wake up to the toll that absent fathers and family breakdown is taking on the health of our communities and citizens. The report notes that Duncan Smiths report comes out just after 2 Tory MP's have split from their wives, so well done to IDS for having the courage to tell the truth, even if its an inconvenient truth.
However, this isn't new information. A study of the effect of absent fathers, 'Experiments in Living, the Fatherless Family' was published by the thinktank 'Civitas' 4 years ago. If you have the time to read it, it's sobering stuff.
Another tricky pastoral line to walk: compassion for people whose marriages and key relationships have broken down, whilst at the same time being able to say that there are better and worse ways of structuring adult relationships, and that God's way is better.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Outside my door is the sound of gaffa tape being applied as we try to design an 'Angel of the North' outfit for Christopher, age 20 months. To be strictly accurate, we would have to tape his legs and feet together and concrete him to a grassy mound, but I'm not sure he'd be too keen on that.
Have finally decided on a film clip to show during the service - partly down to what films I have available ('Dogma' is quite thought provoking but full of rude words, 'It's a Wonderful Life' not available in any local charity shop), so I've settled on 'City of Angels' (bizarrely, the official website has a picture of a beach full of angels, and then a massive picture of a bottle of Listerine. 'go figure', as someone younger than me might say). One really interesting thing is that Hollywood consistently shows angels as strong male figures, despite a cultural preference for angels as either cute children or long-haired females dressed in white. I still haven't worked out why.
Discovered a card shop in town, on the Quedam (naming no names, partly because they all look the same to me and I can't remember!) with a stand full of angel key rings. Resisted the urge to buy one. I wonder what the real angels think of our earthly efforts to represent them?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
The other way of knowing whether anyone reads this would be if people sent comments, which at the moment doesn't happen. It took me a while to have the confidence to post my thoughts on someone elses blog, so maybe that's not surprising, but I would love to know what people think. Especially if you want to disagree!
So, feedback please: should I have a counter? If you read this, how often? What's most interesting - stuff about culture, about church, about me, about what we're doing in Abbey Manor, or recipes for things containing lots of chocolate? It's time for the silent majority to speak.......
Monday, December 04, 2006
Someone observed today that they quite liked washing up, as it gave them time to think. Loading a dishwasher doesn't give you that. Thinking back to my mum, who spent the best part of a day doing 'washing day' (loading the twin tub, putting things on the line, ironing etc.) and often the best part of another day baking and cooking, one of the things we've lost in labour saving gadgets is time to reflect, because doing things used to take time, and that was ok. Now everything has to be done as quickly as possible. We have watches, but we don't have time, as an African sage once put it.
Made me wonder when I reflect, if at all. With a commute which consists of 10 steps with a mug of coffee from the kitchen to the study, there's not much reflection time there. But do I see myself volunteering to wash up? I doubt it.............. being busy is easier than being thoughtful.
Maybe that's the wisdom of attending the daily offices (strange churchy phrase for daily
prayers at set times), since it's impossible to spend all that time saying the same words without getting bored rigid, perhaps it's time secretly used by clergy to daydream and reflect, and let their souls catch up with their bodies.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Reflections on the latest Bond film: there is a strong subplot running all the way through it about identity and manhood. At the beginning, Bond wins his double-0 identity by killing 2 people, and for the rest of the film we see his character struggling with what kind of person he is to be. Is it the 'half monk, half killing machine' that M wants him to be, or is it a true man, stripped of his 'armour', which he seems to be becoming as he falls in love with the glamourous Vesper? It is at his most vulnerable that Bond seems to be most of a man: emotionally naked he becomes capable of loving, physically naked under torture he shows extreme bravery.
However, by the end of the film Bond has decided to trust no-one ('you've learnt one thing then', remarks M on the 500th mobile phone conversation of the film), and the invulnerable, armour-plated Bond is back. The making of 007 is completed with the final line, which is the first time we hear him utter the lines normally heard at the start of every Bond film 'the name's Bond, James Bond'. The film presents us not just with the usual multinational Bond locations, rich villains, chases, love interests and gripping drama, it also presents us with the question 'what does it mean to be a real man?' and the way that Bond comes to terms with that. Is manhood about love and bravery? Or is it about invulnerability?
Great to have a Bond film at last that makes you think. And some real acting. 8 out of 10, if you edit out the saggy bit 2/3 of the way through where nothing happens, and what does happen doesn't seem to make any sense.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
It was great to get prayed for too. Inspired by the previous speaker (after a day at an 'Archdeaconry Retreat' with clergy on average 20 years older than me, it was great to see a proper young church leader), who'd quoted a couple of bible passages, I spoke about Luke 10 and the way it had played a part in us coming to Yeovil. Jesus speaks about staying in the places where you get a welcome, and it's been interesting to find several places where there's not been just polite tolerance of the church, but genuine welcome. The local school (Preston Primary) was one of those this morning. Jesus says that what will happen - go in my name and look for people who welcome you (the 'person of peace'), and lo and behold it happens.
The church is in the role of host as well as guest. It's so like God that one of the smallest and more elderly congregations in the town (St. Peters) will soon be hosting the Urban Warriors youth cafe. Understandably, there's a bit of the 'what have we let ourselves in for' mixed in with the faith, but those who host missionaries get blessed too - peace rests upon them (Luke 10) and we may find out that we were hosting Jesus in person (Matthew 25)
One other thing I'm currently wrestling with: how do you deal with problems? Do you pray and let God deal with them, or come up with a plan for tackling them yourself? As a pragmatist I tend towards option 2, but am I wasting a lot of energy, and being faithless? I guess Jethro is my patron saint: Moses has a problem (overwhelmed with demand for his adjudication in disputes) and Jethro comes up with an organisational solution (delegate).
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Archbishop of Canterbury comments on British Airways
24 November 2006
At a press conference in Rome today, November 24, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gave the following comments in response to questions about British Airways and the wearing of the cross by its uniformed staff.
On his own position, the Archbishop said:
“ … I said some weeks ago that I regarded it as absolutely basic that people of any faith should have the right to display the signs of their faith commitment in public; that’s the point from which I start. What I find deeply confusing about the present situation is the response of BA, which doesn’t seem to make it clear whether they’re simply talking about regulations, concerning a piece of jewellery or whether they are in some sense claiming that the cross is a source of offence.
“Now if BA is really saying or implying that the wearing of a cross in public is a source of offence, then I regard that as deeply offensive and, in a society where religious liberty and the expression of religious commitment is free, I regard it as something really quite serious. If they’re saying that it’s to do with matters of health and safety, I would question whether that is a sensible kind of regulation, whether in fact there really is a problem here, and I would ask them to look very seriously at this, given the enormous reaction of dismay that’s been caused in the Christian community.”
On flying to Rome with British Airways, Dr Williams said:
“All of this came up last weekend in its present form; I have a responsibility for proper use of the resources of staff and money and reorganising at short notice expensively and complicatedly doesn’t seem to me a responsible use given the time scale. I’ll have to be consulting with others in the Church of England about our whole attitude to BA in which, as you know, we have some financial investment; that’s a question that’s already been raised for discussion with the Church Commissioners in London.
“It’s just perhaps worth noting with some irony that amongst the duty-free jewellery items for sale are some crosses.”
My main problem over public displays of Christian faith is living up to them. Sometimes I wonder about taking the fish off my car if I'm going to be late for a meeting, but then decide it would just make me even later.....
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
'Celebration of Angels'
After an eye-opening day hearing about the disconnection between the church and people with spiritual awareness, an angel-themed service at the Abbey Manor Community Centre, exploring the role of angels in the Christmas story, people's beliefs about angels, and a best-dressed angel competition for the tinies. (and maybe even the grown-ups, we might get someone dressed as the Angel of the North).
Marketing it to the preschool and school groups in the area, since they'll all be making angel costumes anyway.
Will it work? Who knows. December 10th 10.30am, and if you've got a vid or DVD if 'It's a Wonderful Life', that might come in handy.....
Monday, November 20, 2006
Australia v England for the Ashes.
If the full Australian side stay fit:
Australia 3 - England 1
If McGrath or Warne gets injured
Australia 2-England 2
Top run scorer for England: Andrew Strauss
Top wicket taker for England: Freddie Flintoff
Top run scorer for Australia: Justin Langer
Top wicket taker for Australia: Shane Warne (easy one that)
I look forward to being proved wrong and England whitewashing the Aussies with Pietersen and Panesar taking the honours. Anything would be better than the last tour.
If anyone in Yeovil area wants to plant a fresh expression of church based around staying up all night watching the live matches from Oz, count me in.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Just a few of the adjectives used about the church by people 'outside' it. One interviewee in a research project ('Beyond the Fringe', interviewing 60 agnostics about faith and spiritual issues) said “I think the established church could be tried in a court of justice and could be found guilty of killing off spirituality”
This is scary stuff for a servant of the institution like yours truly. The upside of the research is that people are more open to the spiritual than ever: over 70% of people report having had some kind of spiritual experience. So what's going on? Are most of them deluded? Or is God active outside the boundaries of the church in a way we haven't begun to imagine?
Yvonne Richmond, missioner at Coventry Cathedral, tells of how she felt God telling her to give up all her church involvement. She handed everything over (to the dismay of the church!), and over the course of the next 10 weeks saw 10 people come to faith in Jesus through the course of normal conversation. Most of these were into spiritual stuff: spiritualists, astrology, etc., and the starting point was to affirm their spiritual quest, and spiritual experiences. Most of Richmonds work since then has come out of that experience: how does the church connect with spiritual seekers? Especially when the same seekers describe it in the ways listed above. Answers on a blogcard please.....
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
would Jesus be at the car boot rather than church?
Just arranged a Christingle service at Brimsmore Garden Centre on 12th December (7pm) as part of their late evening opening. Should be fun. I'd love to have a Christmas where we had more carol services and celebrations of Jesus outside the church buildings than inside them. The great thing is that folk in the community are asking for it - we've been invited to sing at a local pub too.
More stuff from 'The Shaping of things to Come' by Hirsch and Frost
"When we speak of our virtues we are competitors, when we confess our sins we become brothers" (Karl Barth)
"In contrast with today, when so much of our Christianity is about being with the right people in the right places at the right time, Jesus was always in the wrong places, with the wrong people, at the wrong times. "
"None of the creeds get tot talk at all on right living, the very topic the Bible itself cannot seem to talk enough about."
"Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Chrisitan home is good actions of faith in Christ...it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary. A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw in the towel. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of the Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come. " (CS Lewis)
And in a great section on reconciling the activist and the reflective prayerful type:
"A life of action, movement, energy and striving is the best place for the reflective practices of meditation, prayer and reflection."
"We shape our tools and then our tools shape us (an insight from Marshall McCluhan). We invented the sermon (actually we borrowed the technique from the Greek and Roman philosophers) and then it reinvented us. We have become totally reliant on it. See what happens if you decide not to preach in church next Sunday. "
And you can apply the same to buildings , (we shape our bulidings, then our buildings shape us), worship songs, theological training, parishes, liturgy, etc.
"One of our friends says that if he could be the same person in three places, he would have acieved holiness. The challenge is to be the same person at church, at work, and at home."
cartoon from the man at cartoon church . It has nothing to do with the quotes (or does it?) but I like it.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Maybe the era of the polite agnostic is a myth, but people seem to be coming down more firmly on one side of the God thing or another. Richard Dawkins 'The God Delusion', is the most public face of it, but it's interesting to see it carried through in TV drama. In a recent issue of the Times, there was an article on the Dawkins book, an interview with comedian Jimmy Carr who is became a resolute atheist following a Catholic upbringing, and an article by Richard Morrison on the weakness of atheism. The interesting thing is that Morrison admits that he's recluctant to write about his faith, but he feels impelled to write about it in the present context.
Even CofE bishops are getting in on the act, with both Archbishops speaking out this week against 'public atheism' - manifested in 'seasons greetings' on Christmas cards and Santa on Christmas stamps, rather than anything about the birth of Jesus. Anyone for 'Winterval'?
So perhaps, in the wake of the veil controversies, we are starting to have a real public debate about God in public life, rather than a polite tolerance of a smattering of religion scattered like icing sugar over our Englishness. The danger for the church is that public life may conclude that it doesn't want God. But at least that will then free the church from the need to be the chaplian to people's agnosticism, on hand when people want a veil of religiousity but ignored the rest of the time.
Trouble is, the veil of religiousity can be quite an asset in mission: ask any church preparing for Christmas and the opportunities it gives for sharing the message of Jesus. Tricky one.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Maybe I'm in the wrong generation, but my image of red poppies is of a field in Europe full of poppies growing where thousands of soldiers died in the needless slaughter of WW1. There's nothing redemptive about that. I'm fine with having a debate about what exactly we are remembering on Remembrance Day, and I often wonder if we need to have a Christian counterpart, for the millions of martyrs who have died in the spiritual war in order for people to find freedom through Jesus.
Remembrance Day is about the only day in the year where we're told 'don't take your freedom and prosperity for granted, it came at a price.' I think that's a good message. I don't really care what colour poppy we wear, and I think it has become a politically correct thing - everyone MP has their poppy on show at PMQ's, just as it's now an almost daily occasion in Parliament for people to outdo each other in offering condolences to anyone who's had a media-reported bereavement. Trouble is, that also makes me wonder whether I ostentatiously wear my poppy, showing how much I care, or just make my donation to the Legion and say a quiet prayer of thanks.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Sometimes, in order to see ourselves better, we need to look at situations outside of ourselves. Few of us will have been unaffected by the recent massacre of school children in the Amish community in Pennsylvania. A gun man massacred several primary aged school girls, and then killed himself. Little was said in the media of the events that followed this tragedy. Media understanding about the Amish tends to be at best ignorant, and at worst, prurient.
During the week after the murders four significant, but largely unreported events happened. First, members of the Amish eldership visited Marie Roberts, the widow of the murderer, offering forgiveness. Later, the bereaved families of the little girls invited the widow to their children’s funerals. Subsequently, those same families requested that all money sent in for the welfare of the victims should be shared with Marie Roberts and her children. Finally, more than thirty members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer.
more reflections here from Bishop Peter Price
1. Talking with a group of people about possibly putting a funding bid together from the Big Lottery fund for community buildlings, and someone else (who shall remain anonymous, just in case he gets inundated with calls from folk with building projects) revealed that someone has just started working for him and is giving 3 days a week to making funding applications. Has potential....
2. On the way out of the cafe after the meeting, met a couple who I knew from my previous life in Yeovil, and started talking about what we hoped to do on Westfield at the St. Peters church hall, and how it would be great to get the Christians on that estate, who mostly go off the estate to worship, to meet together to pray and look at how we can engage with the local community. Turns out they'd moved onto Westfield last year and were wondering if God had something to do with that, and offered their home as a place to pray.
All good stuff, and hopefully God stuff too. Now all it needs is another Christian on Westfield who reads this blog and emails to say 'I was only praying about this the other day....'
Monday, November 06, 2006
I was there, and on Sunday morning had the voice to prove it, struggling to get through 4 hymns, a sermon and a communion prayer after shouting myself hoarse on the terrace.
What would Jesus do at a football match? Apart from being thrilled that Yeovil won, the other strong feeling I came away with was that I'd never take my children to see a Yeovil match. Some of the fans chants were quite funny, but there were some fairly choice words flying around, and I don't really want my kids saying 'Daddy, what's a w*****?' To be honest, I struggle enough with 'who made God?' and the other theological enquiries of a 3 year old.
Consumed with envy towards a neighbour who is in Australia for the next 3 weeks and hopes to get to the first Test at Brisbane. To make matters worse, the TV signal on Channel 5 has decided to go haywire, so if they're showing the highlights I won't see any of the series at all. It's almost enough to make me subscribe to Sky. On second thoughts, no it isn't.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Standing on the doorstep watching the fireworks over Huish Park, and being suitably impressed
News footage of the Bridgewater carnival, tens of thousands of lightbulbs on 160 decorated floats, on a perfect frosty November night.
Global warming and the Stern report, do I admire the lights and fireworks or calculate the carbon emissions?
Do we have to be stern to be good, or can we have fun and save the planet at the same time?
1. It'll be the last thing he does before he dies, and hands over leadership to the next generation.
2. As part of the battle, they take some of the holy items from the tabernacle out with the army (v6).
In other words, Moses puts obedience before self-preservation, and part of going into battle is to take risks even with the things that are holiest to the community - there is always the chance of losing, and therefore the sacred things being carried off as plunder by the enemy.
Moses could have disobeyed God, thinking 'If I'm going to die after fighting the Midianites, I shall put off the battle as long as possible'. The self-preservation instinct means we will always put off the battle as long as possible, but the Cross may call for us to do something more radical, to give up our life in order to find it again. Christians, and churches, may need to do something which looks like death, maybe something which is death, because it's about God's purposes, not our self-preservation.
Which links to the risk thing. Can churches, and Christians, risk their 'holy things' because that's the only way we do God's will? Can you do mission without taking risks? And if mission shapes the church (buildings, ministry, finance, priorities etc.) then shouldn't risk-taking be something which comes naturally to us?
A simple exercise: list 3 things which are most precious about your church building. Are you prepared to risk them for the sake of mission, and seeing people come to know Jesus?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
It's amazing to think that Jesus came to save the world, and did it by preaching and healing in a few small villages around a fishing lake. God knows everything about focusing on the small things in order to achieve the big things.
Again it comes back to prayer, taking time out to reflect, to listen to God. I'm already getting into a working pattern that makes that difficult to carve out. Maybe I also need the divine gift of trancing out so that I don't end up trying to remember everything I've been told. On Monday, whilst a fellow minister/blogger was meditating on socks at a training day, I was taking copious notes about obscure bits of government legislation affecting church buildings. Why?
And if anyone knows of a good chinese buffet within reach of Yeovil, let me know.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Finally got round to booking a quiet day today. Had a phone conversation with a friend in Darlington last night who encouraged me to do less and reflect more. That doesn't come naturally, and in my head I know that busyness doesn't equal effectiveness, but 'look busy' is one of my default settings, and it takes a lot of effort to snap out of that.
O Lord, give me the wisdom of Ronald Reagan. (The sign on his desk read 'hard work never killed anyone but I figure, why take the risk?)
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
“The kind of thinking that will solve the worlds problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place.” (Einstein)
“Jesus said go into all the world. He didn’t say sit in your church and wait for people to come to you.”
“Christology determines missiology, and missiology determines ecclesiology. It is absolutely vital that the church gets the order right.” (i.e. the form of the church is a result of our understanding of mission, and the form of mission is a result of our understanding of Jesus, because Jesus is the way we understand and encounter God)
“If you are digging a hole in one place, and you realise you need to dig it elsewhere, you don’t get there by digging gin the same place, only deeper. And yet churches, whden they realise that the old 'attractional' mode isn’t working, seem to believe that if they just do attractional church better, it will work. And… many of the church growth seminars and conferences are simply repackaging the traditional mode and promoting it to struggling churches as the only way to grow.” ('attractional' = church meeting in a set time and building, mission consists in recruiting people out of the surrounding community to 'come to church')
“Any church that cannot get by without buildings, finances and paid experts is not fully being church.”
“If we could start church all over again from scratch, would we do it the way it’s currently being done?”
"When we speak of our virtues, we are competitors. When we confess our sins, we become brothers" (Karl Barth)
Monday, October 23, 2006
for the next 12 months. Some are already doing the rounds of parish newsletters in the Yeovil area. At least, I hope that's the way it works, otherwise the cartoonchurch lawyers will be onto me.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The emphasis in government policy seems to be to recycle young parents back into the workforce as quickly as possible - provision of lucrative tax credits for people working and paying for childcare, the policy of free nursery time for children 3 and over, the aim of providing 'wraparound care' at schools so that parents can work a full working day and leave their children at school from 8am to 6pm, the consistent resistance to EC laws which limit the working week, etc. One one level, you could say this is all good enabling stuff, making it easier for parents to rejoin the workforce. The flipside is a rising sense of expecation on mothers to go back to work, and a culture of having children and then outsourcing their care to other people. Witness Madonna sending her nanny to fetch her new adopted child, rather than going herself - what's that all about?
The same paper has a story about 'Gymkids', who have developed fitness machines aimed at children - rowing machines, exercise bikes etc., all with calorie counters. Another example of exporting adult culture into the childrens world?
Better stop before I get into an ill-informed rant about all the other things that bother me as a parent of 2 pre-school kids.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
- our daughter has lost her 'monkey' stuffed toy - we bought two, so she still has one left - and having searched everywhere there's still no sign. Oddly, the thought of monkey lying by the street in last nights wind and rain upsets me. Or it seems odd that it should upset me, but perhaps it isn't.......
- I've been 2 weeks in this job, but it's still not been officially announced that I've got it, despite being appointed in June. Even though I've got a nice piece of paper with the Bishops seal and lots of legal language on it, the fact that there's no announcement bothers me.
Urban caricature 1: in housing developments of a certain sort, normally those built by a council sometime in the middle of the 20th century, no matter what time of day you walk round it there will always be someone tinkering with a car engine in front of their house.
Too early to work out the urban caricature for Abbey Manor yet..........
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
e.g. General Dannatt's comments on Iraq: had he made them earlier in the campaign, would he have been sacked? From the people I know in the armed forces, there is widespread agreement on the ground with what he says, and the government knows it. The army is no longer sure why it's there, nor whether it's really achieved much, so as a leader he is speaking for his followers in a way which has maximum influence. You can't get much better than the PM agreeing with every word you say....
Different sort of leadership: an evening last night led by our Diocesan finance people. I've been to these before, and finished most evenings hunting around for my will to live. Someone described last night as 'almost inspiring', which is about the best that a Board of Finance will ever get! It was basically about mission, and how to resource mission both within the parish and from the Diocese. To me it communicated 2 things a) we've got a vision for the church and b) we're on you're side. Those are 2 good things to hear from your leaders.
There was one fly in the ointment: 1 speaker told us several times that the church is growing, then flashed up figures which showed that the opposite is true, at least in Bath and Wells Diocese. Ooops.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Secular society can't understand faith, or how it's expressed, which is why anyone at all committed is labelled a 'fundamentalist', because once someone is the f-word, we no longer need to listen to what they are saying, as it must be nonsense.
Another great link discovered today to YouTube, - having already seen too much spoof reality TV, my first reaction was 'how much of this is for real', but once my cynical half had been duly reprimanded, I just sat and watched with a smile on my face. If even someone offering 'free hugs' gets banned by the police, then it makes it easier to understand why Jesus was crucified
Saturday, October 14, 2006
- Cross rhythms radio online: ok, but every now and again some rap song will come along which I can't listen to. Thebandwithnoname may tick someone elses boxes, but sadly not mine.
- switched to radio 6, then some unlistenable indie song came on
- new wine worship CD (one of mine) - good, but sounds a bit tinny on the laptop, and somehow I find it hard to listen to the worship leaders extemporising between songs. It was probably great if you were there, but on a CD, again, I can't quite get into it.
- finally settle on 5 live, football stuff. Nothing world-shattering, but leaves enough space in my brain to think about what I'm doing, plus the ability to tune in if anything interesting happens.
but what do I need the noise for in the first place? Why is stacking shelves to background noise better than stacking shelves in silence? What is it about silence I'm uncomfortable with. Ok, there's a practical reason - it drowns out the kids if they're too noisy about the house - but I'm not sure if that's a reason or an excuse.
What is the difference between a reason and an excuse?
Thursday, October 12, 2006
1. is reincarnation compatible with Christian faith? (someone else's question, not mine!)
2. does 'new forms of church' work any better than old forms at reaching the unchurched, given that people with no church background are becoming Christians through 'normal' churches?
3. does the fact that there are fewer lists in the New Testament than the Old (2 genealogies in Matthew and Luke compared to Chronicles, Numbers etc.) mean that lists still have a small place in God's plan of salvation, or are we supposed to fulfil the hope of the Bible by not having them at all?
4. do we need formal structures in order to work together as churches, or do we, in having formal structures, spend so much time getting the structures right (e.g. ecumenical covenants) that we'd be better off not bothering with them and just getting on with mission and ministry together on an informal and relational basis? Or is that a false opposition and can you have the best of both?
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Wacky thought of the day:
The church finances Voluntary Aided schools, giving 10% of the capital funding, which are then built by the education authority and run by the church. Could this model be extended to building community centres: redeveloping a church building as a multipurpose community/worship centre, with the church owning and running the premises in line with council guidelines, but getting significant council funding to do the redevelopment? there's probably no money available, even if it was legally workable, but that's todays kite up in the sky.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Coming back to a place where we lived before, I'm still working out whether I prefer to see what's changed or what's remained the same. I drove past a Clarks factory where I used to work (Shepton Mallet) which has been flattened (probably for housing), and heard of another which has been taken over by a new business. That feels like a bit of history being erased. Going back to St. Andrews Yeovil last night was a comforting middle way: familiar faces, but some new, familiar building, but some change.
And that's the challenge of mission I guess, how do we 'stay the same' on God's love, worship, discipleship, the message of the Cross, but change in how we present and live it out so that the gospel is shown rather than hidden. And maybe in the process of change, we rediscover Jesus, and know the power of the gospel for the first time.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Managing expecations is 1 thing, encouraging and leading change is another. I've been trying to work out the equation for change, I'm sure someone else has done this before. The variables might be:
f = frustration
h = hope
c = change
f x h = c
you need f for people to want c, but if there is no h, people's frustration can turn to depression or violence (e.g. terrorism). E.g. Berlin wall and the collapse of communism. F had been high for decades, but once one regime loosened up (I think it was Hungary), h rose that other regimes would do the same, and the combination of f and h led to c.
In some churches the challenge will be to raise f (where people are content with the status quo), in others to raise f, in others to think about the possibility of c ("how many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb - what do you mean 'change'?").
I wonder if there are other variables?
and where does celebrating the present come in? Does celebrating what is good now inhibit change, or energise people for it?
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Great licensing service last night in Abbey Manor Community Centre, including a rather daunting list of 30 or so churches who I'm commissioned to help with mission and developing new forms of church. Some will be more up for it than others. Great food, I need to find out who made the chocolate tiffin, though tinged with disappointment as Yeovil lost 1-0 to Cheltenham whilst we were doing our thing.
Having the service in the community centre was seen by some as a radical move. Walking past the Arrow pub on the way home made me wonder if we should have the next major service there - no need to set out seating, everything could be relayed on the TV if people had trouble seeing, and plenty of opportunity to chat over a pint or 3 afterwards. One day.
Great to have friends from near and far at the service. A sense of coming full circle, having produced the report which recommended an associate minister for this parish 5 years ago, I get to come back to Yeovil and fill the job I lobbied for. Having said that, the way this post is set up is much more exciting than anything I'd thought of.
Talking of posts, there were a couple of stories in the press about off-colour jokes using racial stereotypes. I wonder if I'm all0wed this one: If a man from Prague gets a new job, can we say that the Czech is in the post?