Thursday, June 21, 2007
In the meantime, I went to the doctor this morning, he took one look at my trousers, cut the end off one of the legs and sent it to the library. I said 'there's a turn-up for the books'.
Bude here we come.
The hike in prices is due, I gather, to the expiry of a Department of Transport grant. There seems to be no funding available to plug the hole.
If you're in the Yeovil area and see this before Friday, contact David Laws office (423284), as a group is going to see him on Friday about this issue, and the more stories he is aware of the more he may be inclined to do something. Also speak to your local councillor, and pray.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
It struck me this morning, and I was surprised it hadn't struck me before, that the paper isn't radical enough. There seems to be no questioning of the ministries that the church should offer - preaching, leading the eucharist, leading worship, etc. as if everything that we're doing at the moment is fine, we just need to recruit more people to do it.
But what if the problem, or part of the problem, is not failure to involve lay people (don't really like that term, but it'll do for now), but in what we are doing in the first place? What if we need to radically critique the ministry we offer, before we try to recruit people to it?
For example: every church has a Sunday school, or would like to have a Sunday school. It's taken for granted that a church firing on all cylinders would have one. But why? My sketchy understanding is that Sunday schools were first set up to educate children in the community, and were part of the outreach of the church. Yet now they are predominantly for the children of church families, and an expected part of church life. But what if the best context for children learning about their faith is the home, rather than hiving them off into their own little groups on a Sunday morning? If that's so, then more of our energy should go into helping parents become disciplers of their children, rather than encouraging the client/provider mentality of Sunday school - that the church will do this for us and our children and do it to a certain quality.
Another example: communion. At it's simplest it is 3 instructions and 6 words: eat bread, drink wine, remember Jesus. How did it get so complex?
All of this may be complete cobblers, but it strikes me that we have built an edifice that we can't sustain without massive effort and financial sacrifice, not just our buildings, but our ways of doing worship, teaching, fellowship, the ordering of church life etc. If mission is the reason for the church's existence, it can't be right that mission comes in at no 8 on the agenda after we've fixed the building, paid the bills, put up the no smoking signs, agreed the rotas, etc. etc. Could it be that we have got it massively wrong? Could it be that we shouldn't recruit lay people into ministry before we've critiqued what that ministry is and should be - which in turn requires a critique of the church and how we operate, and what exactly we think we're doing.
In 3 new housing estates around Yeovil we're thinking together as local churches about the possibility of a missionary Christian presence on each estate. Part of preparation for that will be 'detoxing' the folk who join the mission teams, so they don't go in thinking that their job is to duplicate the church they've just come from. Rather, any structural stuff (meetings, sermons, childrens work, finance and resources management, buildings) should emerge as a byproduct of mission, and only if it's really necessary. It would be interesting to see what kind of church emerges if that is the basis on which it is started. That itself might help the rest of us in more established churches to critique what we're doing, and how much of it is necessary.
In the days when I didn't know how to make curry, I'd buy some mince or some sort of meat, put it in a frying pan, and start to add spoonfuls of whatever powder was to hand, perhaps with a bit of tomato ketchup, in the vain hope that if enough flavours were added and fried at a high enough temperature, what resulted might end up tasting like a curry. It never did.
The 'Changing Lives' strategy strikes me as similar - there are a number of different elements: dealing with the drop in clergy numbers, trying to promote and enable the ministry of the whole church, mission, engaging with changes in culture, a philosophy of ministy in teams rather than as individuals, restructuring of parishes, and Bishop Peters vision of a 'Jesus society' which is expounded by a recently released 'Changing Lives' DVD. Changing Lives comes across as an attempt to flavour the chewy meat of clergy reductions with a mixture of spices, in order to create something spicey and edible.
There is a spectrum of opinion within the diocese, which at one extreme sees Changing Lives as window dressing on the unpalatable facts of clergy reductions, and at the other extreme..... well, to be honest I've not come across anyone yet at the other extreme, of seeing it as an exciting re-orientation of the Diocese towards mission and the gospel. There is certainly the potential to do that, but it's not going to happen overnight. The conversation morning was a good event, some vision and values material from the Bishops, some good conversations around tables, and an interesting array of post-itted comments at the end of the morning. Most striking was the number which pleaded for a more mission-focused DAC.
The DAC is the planning authority for the diocese, which decides which plans for church alterations should be approved. I discovered recently that, despite mission being the 'driving force of this diocese' to use the Bishops words from this morning, and despite that fact that for many parishes the church building is their primary resource for mission, there isn't a single mission specialist on this body. There is a strong grassroots voice for this to change, it remains to be seen if that will happen. Speaking as a missioner, I would hope that we have mission specialists involved in every part of the church's ministry - buildings, finance, training, vocations, youth and childrens work, the Cathedral, and so on. One good thing about this morning was the sense that the mission perspective is heard and taken seriously, rather than brushed off as the preserve of a few enthusiasts.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Preaching this evening on Galatians 2, where Peter has compromised with the 'Judaisers' and stopped eating with non-Jewish people, implying that the route to Jesus takes you through Jewish purity laws and circumcision. Paul is stridently against this, as you'd expect, insisting that the gospel is all about what God has done for us in Jesus, which means that the Jewish law itself is neither here nor there when it comes to right status with God.
But the fact still remains that for Peter (who had had a vision from God telling him to accept Gentiles, and had seen them come to faith at his preaching), fell back into his old ways under pressure from a group in the church. If he found it difficult, then it will probably be difficult in our day for the established church to accept and recognise new forms of Christian community as being authentically 'church', and will insist that they prove themselves by adopting some of the outward forms of religion and churchmanship that the rest of us will recognise. This will afflict our leaders too - people who started out as pioneers will become less adventurous, under pressure from vested interests and from people who are nervous of change.
I wonder how much of it we will come across as we try to start up missionary Christian presences on the new estates in this area as they are built in the next few years. How long will it be before the 'sending' churches demand something which looks more like the church they are used to, rather than letting these initiatives take their own form? How much 'detoxing' will we need to do with the people who take part in these things, to wean them off the way they have been used to corporate Christian life being done, to embrace something more radical? Will some of the pioneers and key thinkers (myself included), be tempted back to doing things which we find safer and more comfortable?
The pioneer missinoary Vincent Donovan talks of mission as going to a place where neither you (the missionary) or they (the people the missionary is sent to) have been before. The 'mixed economy' church of traditional and innovative forms of church needs the courage of Paul in the face of Peter, the ability to identify the key principles of the gospel and not be swayed from them.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
No sooner had I heard Blairs description than a series of images and stories flashed into my head:
- the pack of photographers chasing Princess Diana's car to it's death in a subway
- the outpouring of bile upon Jade Goody after her racism spat in the 'Celebrity Big Brother' house, by newspapers which at other times thought nothing of playing the race card to win the circulation game
- the reporting of the Bob Woolmer story, in which everyone (myself included) was only too willing to believe it was murder rather than something less sensational like natural causes. It was interesting to hear the BBC correspondent on the story on last nights news admitting the media had got it wrong - an early (if muted) response to Blair?
- the reporting of the Madeleine story, the way 'suspects' were seized on and every drop of scandal about their past, alleged or otherwise, dredged up and paraded before the public.
Blair is right, completely, no question. Our media, with a few noble exceptions, no longer serves a sense of vocation, it serves Mammon. The vocation of the journalist - to discover truth, tell people's stories, narrate events - has been undermined and all but destroyed by the pursuit of profit and circulation figures at the expense of all else. The broadsheets are just as captive - the self-congratulatory graphs of circulation figures are a commonplace on pages 1 and 2 of the 'quality' papers.
Blair is also 100% right on the use of pundits on the broadcast news, that there is often more commentary than there is news itself. Maybe I'm the only one, but I would rather hear what Blair, Brown etc. are actually saying than what Nick Robinson of the Beeb actually thinks about it. The pundits present themselves as the media priesthood, they alone give us access to truth and insight, but like the priesthood they become an obstacle to the very thing they profess to offer.
Anyway, if the gloves are now off, and Blair can now say what he really thinks and feels, it could be an interesting couple of weeks.....
The trouble is that with 99.9% of products, if you describe them truthfully then nobody will want to buy them. Marketing, as Douglas Coupland memorably described it, is the art of feeding people **** in such a way that they don't realise it's not real food. That's the trouble with marketing - if the truth on its own is good enough, you don't need marketing anyway, and if the truth isn't good enough, then it's morally wrong to use marketing because it's lying by another name. I guess the marketers would say that what they are doing is about presentation, rather than truth, but sometimes it's hard to tell them apart.
And it's hard to resist musing on 'church marketing'. Informing people of where we are, what we do, what the gospel can do for them is one thing, but there's nothing worse than being oversold a product. This has been the problem for some Alpha course participants - church hasn't then matched up to the reality of a people filled with the Holy Spirit, folk being healed, lives radically changed etc. Unfortunately we've become very used to talking about the reality of the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it, whilst living with a watered down version of it in the hope that a) revival will come, and then the talk will match the reality b) If a doesn't happen, then at least there'll be heaven.
And because we know there's a gap between what we say and what we experience, there's a search for a magic formula: a way of being church, a particular gift of the Spirit, a brand new Bible insight, liturgical purity, great music, a zippy Mission Statement etc. which will catapult us across the gap. In this we are just copying our culture - the gap between the life we want and the life we live is enormous, so we quest for transforming experiences in more and more exotic ways in order to bridge it. But the problem is not that we are missing some key external ingredient to our lives, it is that we are missing a key internal ingredient, it is a spiritual problem.
This post has already gone a long way away from where it started, so the train of thought is pulling into the station and I'd better get on with what I was supposed to be doing.....
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Well you could use it to fill an evening with the youth group.
Or post pictures of church members you took on the last parish weekend and see what happens.
Or think about what percentage of my character looks like Jesus, and who do we model ourselves on and try to become like. And would I rather be like Jesus or George Clooney? And which of the two would my wife prefer?
Saturday, June 09, 2007
The critics haven't been too kind to Pirates 3, but apart from mistiming my drinks intake so that I needed the loo for most of the film, over 2 and a half hours of piracy and special effects zipped past - nothing like as funny as Pirates 2, but still a pretty good film.
Critics who had complained of being unable to follow the plot just weren't really concentrating - if you need a summary then there's a decent one on
Wikipedia, it's almost like a James Bond card game played out on water, as everyone tries to trick and double-cross everyone else. The main protagonists are the East India Trading Company - the baddies - and the pirates, who are the goodies. To be honest, there isn't a great deal to choose between them morally. The EITC ( 'it's good for business'), driven by economics, is violent, merciless and uses the law for its own ends. The pirates are violent, merciless, and don't bother with the law full stop. There are examples of good people on both sides, though the pirates probably shade it, especially in the films conclusion where one of them sacrifices the chance to become immortal for the sake of a fellow pirate. In the end the 3 main pirate characters are revealed by their actions to be motivated by something better than self interest.
It's quite nice not to have to struggle with accents, as the only American actor with a major part (Johnny Depp) speaks with a mangled cockney accent. It's slightly satisfying to see the English moving into the Hollywood fast lane, especially as in this film Depps character, which carried the first 2 films, is starting to get a bit tired. Apart from one or two sharp bits of comedy, the actors who carry this film are Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa and Keira Knightly, who completes her transformation from period dress English rose to fully fledged pirate captain during the movie.
Like the first two films, the spiritual issues are all related to death. In Pirates 1, the crew of the Black Pearl found themselves under a curse because of their theft of some ancient gold. The curse, effectively hell ('we drank but never quenched our thirst, we ate but the food turned to dust in our mouths'), can only be broken by the shedding of the blood of someone implicated in the theft. Pirates 2 centres on the question 'what is the price of a mans soul', and how far are people prepared to go in order to save their own, or the souls of others.
The question at the heart of Pirates 3, asked several times by the character Davy Jones (= Death), is 'are you afraid of death?' One of the most haunting scenes in the film has the dead, each in a solitary boat lit by a lantern, across a dark sea to their final resting place, Davy Jones Locker (ancient mariners slang for 'death'). What is worse, Davy Jones responsibility is to guide them safely across that final journey, but instead he has abandoned his post to visit death upon the high seas. The film ends with Jones destroyed and replaced by a benevolent new Captain for that final voyage. There's no sense that the destination is any different, but the taming of Death is part of the Cross: rather than being a door which shuts us off from the face of God for ever, death for those who believe is benevolent, it is a gateway to paradise.
There are a number of jarring notes in the film. The character Will Turner betrays pretty much everyone, and kills quite a lot of people, in his quest to free his own father from servitude to Davy Jones. One can't help but admire his single-mindedness, but it turns what could be a heroic quest into something a bit more blinded and self-indulgent. The (thankfully) brief turn by an incoherent Keith Richards as Capt Jack's father is a waste of screen time, and it seems pretty ironic that in a Disney film the capitalists are the baddies. Hello? self-awareness anyone?
The film still leaves you with some good questions: are you afraid of death? What are you prepared to give up, however precious, for the sake of the people you care about? And as the alleged 'pirate sympathisers' break into song on their trek to the gallows at the start of the film, what song do we sing in the face of death? Is it of fear, defiance, or faith?
And finally: one character embraces at the end of the film a life where he can only spend 1 day ashore in 10 years, with the woman he loves, and must spend the rest of the time sailing the seas and shepherding the dead. Yet he does it - echoes here of Jacobs serving 7 years to win the hand of Rachel. Those 1 days in 10 years are so precious that everything else is worth it. What kind of people would we be if we lived each day with the same attitude? Every day is a gift, time with those we love is a gift, gifts worth waiting for and gifts worth treasuring. Love is better than gold.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I guess comments will be fed through other local vicars, but if you're in the Yeovil Deanery, it would be really interesting to hear from you along the following lines:
a) what you think Changing Lives is about
b) what's good about it
c) what isn't so good about it
d) to what extent it's seen as an optional extra in the life of your church.
Either post a comment here or email me. There aren't any right answers to these, especially question 1. I've yet to meet anyone who can give me a clear answer to a. Even Diocesan staff will tell you it's evolving.
The place to look is the arts. In the absence of moral teachers we process moral issues through telling ourselves stories: the soap operas are nothing if not bloated morality plays about the consequences of sin. We allow pop stars to speak as our prophets (see the post below on Bono), and films to give us an experience of transcendence.
And then there's pictures. The new exhibition at the Royal Academy, which opens this weekend, features a picture of Tony and Cherie Blair as Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise (also known as No. 10). The 2 side panels feature vicious scenes of war, and it is a comment on Blairs own reflection that God would be his judge for going to war over Iraq. The picture has a clear view of what this judgement should be. You can see it at this link:
The show has several other exhibits with a religious theme, or which play on spiritual issues. One exhibit compares Superman and Christ (not surprisingly, as the Superman story is based on the Christian story in many overt ways), there are references to the Beatitudes, and Tracey Emin (also an exhibitor) was on the radio earlier this week talking about expressing spirituality through her art.
Lots of half-formed questions swim around my head, like how the church can embrace art without domesticating it, about why we're nervous about shocking prophetic art when there's plenty of shocking and visceral prophecy in the Old Testament, about what a community of disciples within the artistic fray would look like, and about whether there's a form of spiritual direction which can chart the footsteps of Jesus for artists.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
China may ban Christians from 2008 Olympics
China's Ministry of Public Security has issued a directive listing 43 categories of 'unwanteds' who are to be investigated and may be barred from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Falun Dafa Information Centre reports.
The banned groups will include members of religious groups not sanctioned by the state, including the underground Catholic and other Christian churches; "key individuals in ideological fields," "counter-revolutionary" figures, the Dalai Lama and all affiliates, "individuals who instigate discontentment toward the Chinese Communist Party through the Internet," and certain types of "handicapped" persons.
Members of the indigenous religious group Falun Gong would be barred, as would "family members of deceased persons" killed in "riots" -- a euphemism for events such as the Tiananmen Massacre -- and Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, which the regime brands "national separatists."
Foreign athletes, members of the media, Olympic staff members, referees, sponsors, dignitaries, and the International Olympic Committee itself, will all be investigated, to determine whether they fall into any of the 43 categories.
Pray for China.
Monday, June 04, 2007
The second half of this clip is very powerful. It's ruined by the crass voicever in the last few seconds, which almost destroys the message - and reminds me that what we do after sermons in worship is almost as important as the sermon itself in helping people to recieve and act on God's word. Mind you, I'd love to have an congregation so well grounded in black Pentecostalism that they stood and applauded when a sermon hit the spot. But..... the crucial question is, what did they do afterwards? And now I've heard the message, what will I do?
"True religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom. 'love thy neighbour' is not a piece of advice, it's a command. That means that in the global village we're going to have to start loving a whole lot more people. Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die." (Bono)
thanks to the christian enquiry agency blog for spotting this first...
Sunday, June 03, 2007
There will always be people having a go, there just seem to be a few more of them at the moment. And of course, they get a stack more airtime than people like Alister McGrath or Tom Wright, who put the case for faith. There are various reviews and comments on Dawkins elsehwere on the web, so if anyone is interested I can post a few links. Theologian Alister McGrath seems to have given most time and attention to debating with Dawkins.
Me? As a deep thinking academic I'm waiting for the final Harry Potter book.....
"My working definition goes something like this -
Local Church is:
A community of disciples embodying Jesus
Or more fully: A group of disciples, committed to following Jesus together, who locally form:
-A dwelling for the Holy Spirit
- An expression of God's new community
- An agent for Kingdom transformation
I think these 3 aspects should be complementary and held in creative balance, but in practice one or two often tend to dominate in any given local church.
Very broadly interpreted those groups that see themselves primarily as 'a dwelling for the Spirit' will tend to give major emphasis to worship/prayer; those that see themselves primarily as 'an expression of God's new community' will focus heavily on fellowship/pastoral aspects; and those that view the church as 'an agent for Kingdom transformation' will be very activist in the community (locally and wider)."
Which all sets me thinking about mission or purpose statements - does a one-line mission statement build in the kind of biases mentioned here? A church not far from where I currently serve had a 'mission statement' which went to the opposite extreme and contained about 15 descriptions of what the church was like and the way it did things. Needless to say it never got further than being words on a bit of paper and was completely useless in framing the corporate life of the church!
Having a definition of the church that's brief enough to be memorable but comprehensive enough to be healthy is quite a challenge.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Newsboys - He Reigns
There are also various attempts to do creative videos with well known songs: I did a search for 'In Christ Alone' by Stuart Townend, which is a fantastic modern hymn, and there are all sorts of video interpretations of it, some better than others!
The only problem with this technique for learning new songs is that, if a song is new to you, you won't know what it's called, and if you don't know what its called you won't be able to search for it on the site. Drat. Plan B......
It turns out that the Dutch BB Big Donor show which used the Big Brother format to choose which of 3 people would get a donated kidney was a hoax, used to highlight the problems around organ donation in Holland. By being deliberately scandalous, it has made a strong political and humanitarian point. This is the kind of thing people like Ezekiel used to do - the old prophet's 'visual aids', like cooking food on dung in a public place, were prophetic ways of raising public awareness.
It probably helped that Holland has a reputation for moral laxity, so here was (it seemed) yet another example of European depravity. The programme has not only shone a light on organ donation in Holland, but on the low level of moral expectancy we have from our society and public institutions. Yes it was a scandalous concept, but how many people were geniunely surprised that this was where reality TV had ended up?
On the UK BB house (no I'm not going to link to it!), I'm reminded of someone saying that character is like a full mug of coffee - it's what slops out when people bump into you. As an experience of community, though an arteficial and deliberately unsettling one, it can have the same effect as entering a monastery, convent or other enclosed community - issues of character come to the surface and slop out. The trouble is that BB is not a community where those issues are prayed through, talked about in spiritual direction, brough before God in worship, or resolved in the community group. It would drive me mental: the lack of personal space, no books, no Su Doku, no way of finding out the cricket scores, maybe they should put a chapel and a library into the house for 2008.
"When an organisation is in trouble, the answer is not to wring hands or employ the latest gimmicks, but to go back to the foundation documents." In other words, to go back to the original purpose it was founded for.
What is the purpose of the church? Or, to put the question a different way, what defines the church? Centuries of being the official church of the land means that an Anglican church is often defined as building+priest+parish boundary+public worship. But what if none of these things make you a church? Is it possible to have them all, but not to be truly a church?
There are all sorts of debates going on at the moment, as 'fresh expressions of church' or 'emerging churches' are established, about what makes a church a church. As a recent episode of House (medical drama on Channel 5) observed, 'just because you call something a dwarf doesn't mean it is a dwarf', and just because you call something a church doesn't mean it is a church.
There are a whole set of different models for defining an authentic 'church', here are the ones I can think of off the top of my head:
- One, holy, catholic and apostolic
- Where God's word is preached and the sacraments properly celebrated (Luther, I think)
- Community, Worship, Mission and Spirituality (Robert Warren)
I guess all these, and all the other models on the market, are attempts to tease out what the 'foundation documents' say. To me, the following things seem to be the essentials of a new testament church:
- mission: declaring the good news and making disciples of Jesus
- meeting together for worship, teaching and community
- the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit at work
- shared life: shared time, resources, gifts
- the right quality of leadership (which is a whole new posting!)
If I was trying to put all of this into a single statement, it would be something like 'A community of disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus'. Caught up in discipleship is worship, mission, community, the work of the Spirit, and both the right attitude towards those who lead you, and to your own leadership of others. I note in passing that none of the above presupposes a priest, building, parish boundary or public worship on a Sunday.
What are the essentials of a church?
Is this the right question to be asking?