Friday, February 29, 2008

BBC The Passion website has gone live

The new website for the BBC drama The Passion is here:

It looks very good - lots of video clips, articles with background to the story, brief episode guides etc. The Passion is due to air in Holy Week and looks like the Beebs flagship offering during that time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More TV to discuss down the pub

Finally caught up with last weeks Ashes to Ashes, which seems to have got over a disjointed first episode and become rather good - not quite up to Life on Mars but close enough. After all, we know (don't we?) that she's in a coma this time... Intriguing to have a central character with a strong Sunday school background - her Bible memory verses from childhood prove crucial to solving a murder. Gene Hunt has his own rejoinder: "Anything you say will be taken down as evidence then ripped up and stuffed down your scrawny throat. Gene Hunt, Chapter 1 verse 2". Alongside all the Hunt-isms, the series has had some fascinating moments already: a brief snapshot of the birth of the yuppie Thatcherite dream in episode 2, and in the week that a man was jailed for murdering 5 prostitutes, a poignant reminder of how difficult it was, and still is, for rape victims to get justice.

Meanwhile The Last Enemy on Sunday night is perfect wind-down material after slaving away over a hot communion table. And it has Robert Carlyle. It's also trying to make a serious point about the surveillance society - the host page (see link) has various facts and figures about ID cards, CCTV and fingerprinting.

On PMQs today there was a question about extending the DNA database. Yes it's helped with criminal convictions, but there is a trade-off between quality of life and quantity of personal information held by the state, and the freedoms we are prepared to deny ourselves in pursuit of security. The suggestion in The Last Enemy is that the state can't be trusted with this information and power. Matt Wardman has a good post on the issue today. The 'surveillance society' debate is a distant cousin of the sharia debate, as both are linked in people's minds with militant Islam, and the need to be protected from it.

It would be good to see civil liberties/surveillance society issues addressed by some of the better minds in the church. However, I couldn't find anything on Rowan Williams or Tom Wrights website. The only thing on Ekklesia was 3 years old and was about a group representing the non-Christian faith groups in the UK. There is one, fairly brief, article on Theos, and a couple of their debate topics touch on the issue without addressing it directly. The Christians who do campaign on civil liberties issues seem to be mostly concerned with a few narrow issues around sexuality and reproduction - e.g. whether parents who don't think homosexuality is ok can be allowed to foster by their local councils.

There is a torrent of legislation at the moment affecting personal freedoms and identity: 42 day detention, DNA database, ID cards, ASBO's and youth justice; why are we all so quiet about it?

30 minutes later.... I take it all back. Well, most of it. There was a weighty report passed 235 votes to 2 at the Church of England General Synod a couple of weeks ago, arguing against the extension of detention without charge, and with substantial sections on law and liberty. It concludes:

In reflecting on these topics, Christian faith has no privileged insight which circumvents the hard work of analysis and moral deliberation. What it has is an understanding of human nature before God as embracing the best and the worst. On the one hand, it is aware of men and women created in the image of God, carrying a claim to just and respectful treatment which no so-called political necessity or security crisis can abolish. On the other, it is aware – supremely through the event of the crucifixion of the Lord of glory – of the destructive acts of which people are capable when driven by hatred, fear, self-righteousness and self-deception.

How Good is Too Good?

There is the old saying 'if you find a perfect church, don't join it, or you'll spoil it'. I'm not actually convinced most people are looking for a perfect church (and of course, most people aren't looking for a church at all). There is a dilemma at the heart of being a local Christian community which goes something like this:

1. When people visit on a Sunday, we want them to get a good impression, so that people who are attending just to check us out think 'that was good, I might go back'.

2. The church by its nature is a fellowship of sinners. Jesus came not for the healthy, but for the sick. So any church worth it's salt will have people at a variety of stages on their journey to wholeness. All loved by God and forgiven, but with a whole variety of character faults, persistent sins, stubborn bits of selfishness, pride, rudeness, status-seeking, insensitivity, oversensitivity, etc. If you exclude people like this, you have nobody left. A church engaging in mission, and drawing new people in, will be full of broken and partially redeemed people. Work in progress.

Spinning the Church?
1 and 2 are clearly in conflict with each other. Politicians have people like Alastair Campbell to help them hide their '2' bits from the general public to present an unremitting facade of '1', but after a while it all looks too fakey and unreal. I wonder if people coming to our churches are looking for things like relevance, decent seats, welcome, friendliness and good coffee, but also looking for somewhere where they can be a forgiven sinner like everyone else. A church that's too neat and tidy is probably a) faking it and b) one that people can't really belong to without having to put on an act.

Stick or twist. Can we embrace authentic brokenness, and a high quality for our 'shop front' Sunday morning worship? Are the two mutually exclusive, or are they one and the same?

What are we doing anyway?
I guess it depends where you start.
- If you see Sunday morning as an 'act of worship', which people attend, then you might lean towards wanting to buff things up to look good.
- If you see Sunday morning as the gathering of a community which people are already part of, then authenticity and relationships take centre stage.
- If Sunday morning is primarily about mission: those who have been given the good news getting together to be equipped to share it with the world, to pray for that world, and to encourage each other, then maybe it's about both.

Of course, the church all three of these: worship, community and mission. Our problems come when we take one in isolation from the others.

So welcome to the beautiful, broken, body of Christ, blessed and offered to the world by God for its healing and renewal. And to paraphrase Gladiator, if you find yourself walking into the perfect church, do not be troubled, you're in Heaven and you're already dead.

Passion story on the BBC

The Beeb has added various sections to its background on The Passion, a drama produced for Holy Week this year, including interviews with the director, consultants, and actors with key roles. Here's a snippet:

David Oyelowo admits his deeply-held, personal faith made him wary of accepting the pivotal role of Joseph of Arimathea in The Passion.

"Of all the projects I've ever done it was the one I had to think hardest about as a Christian," says the actor.

David's biggest concern was that the production would present a sanitised or safe version of the story of Jesus's final days on earth.

"When I heard it was the BBC and HBO I wondered – is it going to be the PC, watered down, keep everyone happy version or are we going to genuinely tell the story as in the Bible which is more interesting to me?" he says.

His fears were allayed the moment he read the script.

"I read the script with a slightly sceptical eye and to my delight I recognised it as the story and events that have shaped my life for the last 15 years," he says.

"I was also elated that the BBC has the balls in this day and age, in this climate of religious sensitivity, to put on what may be deemed a controversial drama like this. For me it is one of if not the greatest stories of all time."

A dedicated website goes live tomorrow at
HT Evangelism UK

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Somerset Post Office Closures: - Updated 26th Feb

The decision on Post Office closures in the Bristol and Somerset area is due to be announced tomorrow (26th February). The initial plan will be published here, followed by a 6 week consultation period, then an announcement of the final plan for the area.

The consultation process is pretty short, so any local churches or other organisations need to be ready to respond to proposed closures with practical proposals for a local 'outreach' service, if that's going to be feasible in your village or neighbourhood.

The plan has now been published, you can see it here in full and there are links to 2 supporting documents on this page.

A reduction from 389 to 324 post offices, all to comply with 'minimum access' requirements.
77 branches supported which are the only local retailer, 100 are the only local access to cash.
93 out of 100 people whose local branch will close have another PO within a mile

7 branches to be replaced by outreach services:
Brompton Regis
Charlton Horethorne
Lydeard St. Lawrence
North Cadbury
Wheddon Cross

Branches earmarked for closure are on p22-4 of the report.

Local closures near Yeovil
Keinton Mandeville
RNAS Yeovilton

and 5 in Yeovil constituency
East Coker
Haselbury Plucknett

Update 2: reaction from local politicians:
David Laws MP
Kevin Davis (Conservative)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hope for Planet Earth

'Hope for Planet Earth' is a tour of Christian speakers on the ecological crisis, looking at the science behind climate change from a Christian perspective. The website is here, with full tour dates for the 20 venues. If you're in the Yeovil area, there are dates at Taunton and Castle Cary in early March. There are various well-respected agencies backing it, and it looks worth a visit if this is an issue that bothers you.

It's even more worth a visit if this isn't an issue that bothers you!!

Who Speaks for Islam?

Forget the Daily Mail or President Ahmedinajad, Gallup has actually done some legwork to get a real picture of what the 'Muslim world' actually thinks.

The survey: 'Who Speaks for Islam?' covers 50,000 people from 35 nations, and is published in a week or so. It has a website, and here's an excerpt:

What the data reveal and the authors illuminate may surprise you:

Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.

Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution AND they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.

Muslims around the world say that what they LEAST admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values -- the same answers that Americans themselves give when asked this question.

When asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence.

Muslims say the most important thing Westerners can do to improve relations with their societies is to change their negative views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

The authors refute the 'clash of civilisations' thesis, which itself maybe serves a media instinct to seek out areas of conflict, rather than agreement, in any story. Matt Wardman, where I found the link, notes that very few people are reporting on the survey, and also has a clip from the weekend radio where one of the reports authors is interviewed. There is more coverage from the Muslim world - for example this article from Islamica Magazine, which is worth a read if you want a slightly more detailed summary of the report.

As part of the survey, over 1000 UK Muslims were interviewed, and Gallup released their results last year - this article on the BBC website summarises the findings, which paint a positive picture of the integration and sense of belonging felt by the Muslim community. I was going to say 'surprisingly positive', but didn't, because it shouldn't be surprising, should it?

Monday links

Various things going on in blogland worth linking to:

Dave Walker has some new cartoons, including this one:

Cranmer links to a weekend story about Derby county council banning a Christian couple from being foster carers because of their beliefs.

Maggi Dawn wants to know what questions she should ask the AB of C and the AB of Y when she sees them this week. It sounds like an ongoing process, and there are lots of interesting questions already up there.

Naked Pastor has blogged a powerful series of cartoons, this is an incredible blog for the honesty and transparency of the blogger. Pray him through it.

Free Christian Resources has posted on his 'best free Chrisitan sites of 2007', sorry this is a bit of an old link (i.e. a month ago), but I guess it's still valid!

Sunday Papers is worth a look, if you've not visited before. He blogs on emerging church, mission, youth work and various other things. Good series running at the moment on 'questions to hold', as well as reflections on how the church can stay in mission mode, and whether what we're calling 'emerging church' or 'fresh expressions' is just like traditional church but with better PR.

Ruth Gledhill asked 'why do we believe in God' and has got a great range of responses, if you're into reading through lots of comments. She's also blogged on the application of Sharia law in Iran and what it means for people there.

The Britblog roundup, which is hosted on a different site each week, and is a weird and wonderful compendium of blogland, is worth a look this week. The host, Redemption Blues, uses the roundup as a peg for a lengthy essay on religion and society, before blasting off into the surveillance society, immigration, teenage sterilisation, and public toilets. There are extensive quotes from Jeremy Paxman and Kate Fox's excellent 'Watching the English' on the English attitude to faith and religion. I'm guessing, by the length of the post, that this blogger either has insomnia or a very very part-time job.

Finally the Beebs Oscar night report is here, and since Yeovil's cinema is finally showing There Will Be Blood, I might get round to seeing and reviewing it in the next week or two.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Telegraph has published a new interview with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, a few weeks after his well-publicised statements on 'no-go' areas in Muslim communities. It doesn't say anything massively controversial, but the article points out that he's had death threats since he made the statements. The irony is that here is a man who fled to England from Pakistan because of death threats there.

An extract: read the full text here.

"There are extremist movements in this country whose agenda is far from integration, we must be aware of this," he says. "It is not only a threat to security but to integration. They are significant enough to influence sections of young people."

Just over a year ago Abu Izzadeen, an Islamic radical, heckled John Reid, the former home secretary, as he tried to deliver a speech on targeting potential extremists. "How dare you come to a Muslim area," Izzadeen screamed.

There was widespread dismay at the outburst, but nobody had dared to try to suggest that these views were entrenched across the country until the bishop spoke last month.

In warning of attempts to impose an Islamic character on certain areas, for example by amplifying the call to prayer from mosques, he seems to have tapped into the fears of a large section of society.

To many, he has become a champion of traditional Christianity and its importance to Britain at the same time as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has been attacked for suggesting the adoption of aspects of sharia law is "unavoidable" in this country.

While the archbishop received widespread support from within the Church, Dr Nazir-Ali found himself isolated from his colleagues.

"I don't court popularity. If I say something it's because I think it's important enough to say it. What I said was based on evidence, and that has been strengthened as a result of overwhelming correspondence."

It's interesting to read the comments, they are almost 100% supportive of Bp Michael.

The Choir: Boys Don't Sing - Finale

In the middle of a trip up to Darlington to see old (and not so old) friends, we managed to catch the last episode of this excellent series. The BBC site has been upgraded with various clips from episodes and can be found here. The links on the side of that page might explain why I came back from a few days away and discovered 700 people had visited in 2 days. 'Part time TV critic' can now go on my CV........

Anyway, back to the programme. It was a fittingly triumphant ending - teacher Gareth Malone managed to coach the choir to it's performance at the Royal Albert Hall, integrate the beatbox crew with the regular choir, and get the school governors agreement 'in principle' to funding a post to support singing at the school in the future after he leaves.

Again, all sorts of things jumped out:

1. Mentoring: there's been lots of this in the series. This time round there was the amazing sight of the Lancaster school choir (est 6 months ago) singing next to the Kings College Choir (est some time before Bruce Forsyth was born), effectively in pairs, each Lancaster boy being mentored by a Kings chorister. They came out suitably inspired and encouraged. Gareth himself taught the music teacher the basics of conducting, though I'm not sure I'd want to make my conducting debut at the Albert Hall!! There was lots of 1-to-1 teaching going on, which is something that is gradually being rediscovered in business and youth work, but which the church is still a bit shy of.

The bit in the Kings chapel put me in mind of the title Jesus gives to the Holy Spirit: the 'Advocate' - which literally means 'one who stands alongside'. As we sing our faltering song to God, the Spirit stands beside us, holding the same music, holding the tune and the note and the rhythm to help us to get in tune.

2. Inspiration and Perspiration: alongside the occasional high of the visit to Kings was the relentless slog of practicing the 2 pieces for the Albert Hall. I guess we all need the mixture - discipleship, life, learning to sing, any project needs something which gives us a vision, but without falling into the trap of thinking that vision, inspiration and a 'high' will deliver quality.

There's a myth in Christian circles that all you need is enough of the Holy Spirit and you will magically be capable of stuff you've never done before, like sharing your faith, resisting temptation etc. In a way that's true, but it's also extremely lazy. The path to holiness is the path of the spiritual disciplines - prayer, chewing on the Bible, dealing with sin, loving people - and there aren't short cuts to being like Jesus. Yes we need the vision of God and the fire of the Spirit burning in our guts to keep us going on this path, but it's not easy.

3. Leaving a Legacy. Gareth did various things to make sure singing didn't finish the moment he left. This is a key challenge for all leaders, to make sure that those after you don't live in your shadow, but are equipped to go forward. I liked the way he involved the music staff all the way along, and got the head involved in as much as possible - get key leaders and stakeholders involved, and on your side, and it makes things so much easier. Through getting the boys themselves to speak to the governors about the effect of the choir on their own lives, he won the governing body over to fund a singing tutor for the future.

I find investing in other leaders, and in legacy stuff, very hard to do. It needs time - one thing that came out of the trip to Darlington was that, with the church now more stretched for resources (my post was discontinued), those in leadership have less time available to develop other leaders. Unless you really carve it out, it's very hard to make this a priority, and to work out the best way to do it.

4. Return of the Prodigal. One of the delights was seeing Imran, one of the most gifted singers in the school, take the mic at the Albert Hall for a solo. Having been a promising student who'd gone off the rails and quit singing, this was redemption time. Gareth Malone had left an open door, worked on Imran through his peer group rather than going at him direct, and won him round, and now we saw Imran freely admitting that he handled it badly and was the cause of his own problems.

It was an interesting bit of tribal evangelism: in our individualistic culture, we often forget how key the 'tribe' is to peoples identity, and Gareth worked out that to win Imran round, he had to win his 'beatbox crew' friends round. Shades there of Christianity Rediscovered (good article here), a book on mission to the Masai tribe by missionary Vincent Donovan, who discovered that individualistic Western models of mission failed completely when applied to a tribal culture.

And now?

My main concern would be that having got to the Albert Hall, what is there left to achieve? How to get the boys excited about a lesser challenge when they've performed at the top venue, in the top show (The Proms) in the country? I guess that's a pertinent challenge too. Christian life will always have high points and low points. I know lots of people for whom Spring Harvest, or Soul Survivor, is the high point of their year, and the challenge for the rest of the year is to take the encouragement, teaching and energy of those festivals into day to day working and church life.

I guess that's the post-Transfiguration moment: Jesus bringing the disciples back down the mountain into a situation of mess and failure. We all have to come back down the mountain at some stage, there can be no building of shelters and prolonging the moment. It's there, it passes, and life goes on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Here Comes Another Domino

The Economist has called for disestablishment, in another bit of fallout from the sharia controversy. This has been enthusiastically picked up by Ekklesia, who think it's a good idea, and Thinking Anglicans, who also link to a BBC radio item, and have a good discussion going. This one will run and run, especially if the global Anglican communion breaks up and the Church of England becomes separated from more liberal churches on one side (ECUSA) and more conservative ones on the other (Nigeria, Uganda).

This is a debate I've consciously avoided so far. My main question is 'what will it mean locally?'

Monday, February 18, 2008

Easter Linebacker, to get you in the mood...

May go quiet here for a few days, with school half term and all that. In the meantime, it's nearly time for this again: Easter Bunny? That ain't funny....

Easter Linebacker

Add to My Profile More Videos

...if you want your own copy, you can download it for $20 from the Sermonspice website. Booyah!

...and if you want to entertain yourselves, how about a comments thread on the 3 things essential to a good church. Is
1. underfloor heating,
2. a working microphone and
3. chocolate biscuits, preferably Hobnobs

Over to you.

No Brainer

A massive piece of research, studying over 20,000 people over 20 years, has reached this astonishing conclusion:

Children who have an active father figure have fewer problems.

Hmmm. I think we've known that every since Isaac abdicated responsibility for Jacob and his kids nearly killed one another. Thinktank Civitas reached the same conclusion a few years back. This comes into sharper focus for us as our marriage prep course starts next week, and last Saturday we had a renewal of marriage vows service, with couples who'd been married everything from 10 to 55 years.

HT Cranmer

Mission Shaped Questions

The latest in the very good 'Mission Shaped' series from Church House is based on a national speakers tour in 2007, and adds some theological meat to the quite pragmatic other books in the series.

Here's some blurb from Start the Week

Mission-shaped Questions tackles some of the common queries and myths about fresh expressions of church head-on and argues that embracing a mixed-economy church is not the preserve of a certain type of churchmanship or something that should be seen as a ‘bolt-on’ to ‘normal church’.
Edited by Dr Steven Croft, the Archbishops’ Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions, Mission-shaped Questions explores some of the key issues facing churches as they seek to develop new ways of ‘being and doing church’ for the twenty-first century, in a society that is becoming increasingly mobile, less socially cohesive, and has a weaker understanding of the Christian faith than older generations.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has welcomed the book’s insights, commenting: “If we are to grow and mature as a mixed economy Church, there are hard questions to be asked and answered. We need first-class thinking to back up and support all that is happening at local level. I hope this collection will get the attention it richly deserves.”

The collection of essays by respected thinkers in the field addresses some of the big theological and practical issues that church leaders have grappled with as they have implemented ideas from the Mission-shaped Church report. It follows a series of day conferences held during 2007 across the country, sponsored by Fresh Expressions, called ‘Hard Questions’. These events featured theologians discussing key subjects, followed by questions to the speakers and a panel discussion with practitioners and church leaders. The book includes contributions on issues such as the definition of church, sacramental ministry in fresh expressions, the evidence for the existence of fresh expressions in the New Testament, and how a mixed-economy Church can connect with contemporary spirituality.

You can order the book from here , and the 15 chapter contents list is here.

For information, the other books in the series are
Mission Shaped Church (the original report, link takes you to the full text)
Mission Shaped Children Margaret Withers
Mission Shaped Parish Paul Bayes
Mission Shaped and Rural Sally Gaze
Mission Shaped Youth Various authors
Mission Shaped Spirituality Susan Hope.
Church Army papers and presentations on Mission Shaped Church

Other related books (this is turning into a 21st Century mission reading list...)
Hope for the Church & The Road to Growth Bob Jackson (this link gives you places to buy the book, and a presentation applying his findings to the local church, in this case Solihull Deanery. If it can work there......)
The Future of the Parish System Steve Croft (ed)
Evangelism in a Spiritual Age various authors.

Or if you're in the Yeovil area and are good at returning books, you're welcome to borrow them from me...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Matthew Fox research paper

A few years ago I did a research degree on theologian Matthew Fox. That's this one:

as distinct from this one, who stars in the serial Lost:

For those of you with long memories, Matthew Fox 1 published a book back in the 80's called Original Blessing, and the 9 o Clock Service in Sheffield (NOS) got heavily into his thinking. NOS was a pioneer church, which nowadays would be called a 'fresh expression', embedded in youth and urban club culture, and completely unlike anything else in the CofE. It fell apart after revelations of abusive leadership started to come out. There's no connection between the abuse and Fox himself, but the adoption of Fox's theology was part of the way NOS distanced itself from mainstream worship and theology. There was very much a sense of 'you don't understand what we're doing so you can't criticise us' which the NOS leadership hid behind, and Fox's 'Creation Spirituality' was part of this. The first few minutes of the BBC's Everyman report on NOS is on YouTube at .

Fox was thrown out of the RC church for various misdemeanours, but then recieved into the Episcopal church in the early 90's. So he's a fellow Anglican, but that's one of the few points of agreement I probably have with him!

At the time there weren't any substantial critiques of Fox's work, so I spent 2 years ploughing through his many books and analysing it all. I dug out the floppy disks the other day, and have managed to translate most of the content into a Word file format, and the next step is to get it onto the web somehow. I won't publish large chunks of it here, as this blog has already become much more wide-ranging than I'd intended (!) but if you're interested in a copy, email me via our church website.

New Touching Base

Over at the Wardman Wire, my weeky offering in the political bear pit. Bit of a cheat this week, as its a reworking of what I posted a few days ago on apologies, but with a few extra thoughts. It's worth a look over there, if you've not already done so, for a good perspective on the recent ABC/sharia issue.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lightening Conductor

This is worth a look, and it's briefer than some of his sentences. HT Richard Frank.

"the media know what the story is before you do... and their story about the church is 2 things, conflict and decline.... if those are the grids through which everything is read, it's very hard to break through it. We try."

The Choir: Boys Don't Sing 3

I've started blogging episode by episode, so may as well see it through! The Choir: Boys Don't Sing traces the efforts of singing teacher Gareth Malone to get an all-boys school in Leicester singing. They seem to prefer rugby and fighting, but he gradually wins them over.

The first 2 episodes saw Gareth calling the choir together (1) and developing them into a singing unit (2). Week 3 had a different challenge. Gareth wanted the choir to sing at the Royal Albert Hall - nothing like aiming high - within 6 months of first coming together. That not only demonstrated incredible confidence in them, but also in himself as a leader and trainer. One of the things I love is his refusal to give up. Ok it's a bit easier when you're only in a school for a year, but despite repeated setbacks, Gareth refused to be deflected from his vision. Key thing for a leader.

Various aspects of part 3 which struck me:

- Setting the bar high. A challenge brings the best out of people, it makes them stretch themselves. In our discipleship training, do we do this? If a schoolteacher can expect kids with no singing training to progress to national standard within a year, are we too low in our expectations of how people can grow as Chrisitans? Gareth refused to leave development to chance - choir practice, individual singing lessons, bringing in inspirational people, pushing them out of their comfort zones. How many of our churches are schools of spiritual growth, and how many are just an easy chair? How many of our members would be shocked if growth in grace were expected as the norm, rather than tolerated as a random side effect?

- Mixed economy. In this episode, Gareth finally got the 'MCs' singing - a group of playground rappers with a good sense of rhythm and tune, but who'd decided the choir wasn't cool enough for them. Part of this was about helping a key member of this group to let go of his fear and start singing, part of it was to find a mode of singing they could relate to. By the end of the episode, there were effectively 2 choirs - the main group training for the Albert Hall, and the MC's developing a beatbox/acapella style. How (if?) he brings them together will be interesting. Made me think of the concept of a 'mixed economy' church - that there is no monolithic model of how the church should be, and if we allow the church to express people's culture, rather than swamp it, that we might end up with more life and variety rather than less.

- Team and individual. As well as developing the main choir, Gareth spent a lot of time with individuals, helping them to push pass pain barriers and conquer fears. Again, a great model. If you neglect the individual, the team won't work, and vice versa. Jesus spends lots of time with individuals, as well as with his 'team' of disciples.

- Demanding commitment. Gareth wasn't afraid to ask for commitment. He rang all the absentee choir members, one by one, to ask them to sign up or drop out. A good response followed, numbers at rehearsals virtually trebled. This made me think about a recent Premier TV interview with Carl Beech, of Christian Viewpoint for Men, who says that men need to rise to a challenge, and often the church doesn't ask enough of men to keep them interested.

Tom Wright on Church and State

I was mulling on a post about church and state and how 'Establishment' works in a secular postmodern society, but Bishop Tom Wright has, thankfully, beaten me to it. Ruth Gledhill links to his lecture this week on 'God in Public?'. Full text of the lecture here. Here's an interesting excerpt:
‘Establishment’ is a way of recognising that we are still essentially a
Christian country, both in the sense that our history and culture have been
decisively shaped by the Christian faith and life and in the sense that at the
last census over 70% called themselves ‘Christian’. As the Archbishop said last
Monday, this means that the ‘established’ church has a special responsibility to
take thought for, and speak up for, the small minorities, and to ensure that
they are not squashed between an unthinking church and an uncaring secular
state. Hence his perfectly proper concern for the particular sensitivities of
Muslims, as indeed of Jews and others. And most Church of England leaders would
insist today that if some way could be found to share our ‘Established’ status
with our great sister churches, we would be delighted. But let’s not fool
ourselves. To give up ‘Establishment’ now would be to collude with that
secularism which postmodernity has cheerfully and rightly deconstructed. Rather,
the challenge ought to be to make it work for the benefit of the whole society.
To aim at that would be to work with the grain both of the Christian gospel
itself and of the deep roots of our own society and traditions

Emphasis mine - this is a key challenge. Establishment, and the role of the church, is no longer a given in a secular society. In all sorts of ways the church is being asked to demonstrate competence, to compete for its place, and to demonstrate 'added value' (excuse me whilst I wash my keyboard out). In the education system, chaplaincies (NHS, prison, supermarkets), etc. the church is one provider among many, and the historical legacy of a privileged status is nearly spent up.

Another important factor is this: the New Testament is a document for people living out their faith in a society where other people hold the levers of power. Islam from the outset was a faith to run a country by (e.g. monotheism - gets rid of competing deities in a pagan society for the sake of national unity). In Judaism, the commandments and laws are an attempt to give some shape to the new Exodus community and turn them into a functioning society. Christianity has the ambivalent situation of inheriting the Old Testament (with a system of law, the Ten Commandments etc.), but being founded as an outsider group on the fringes of society. Where NT writings address church/state issues, it's normally to explore how Chrisitans should behave under persecution. The idea that they might one day hold the levers of power just doesn't seem to be entertained.

So on one level the church doesn't want to lose power and influence, because we hope to use that power and influence for good. But on another level we know that the church doesn't belong on the throne, and that our primary calling is not to run countries but to love God, love one another, and share Jesus. For some Christians and Christian organisations, that calling may express itself in politics, but for the church as a whole the relationship is more ambivalent.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ignatian Meditation as you've never seen it before

Just come across this amazing visual meditation on the story of the woman caught in adultery, on the Crafty Curate's blog - there are other pix on the blog, which are from different 'camera angles' in the scene. It challenges us to think of where we are in the picture, and how we'd react. Really creative bit of work. HT to Maggie Dawn for the link.

For non-egg-sucking grandmothers: Ignatian meditation is where you imagine yourself into a Bible story, get into the sights, sounds, smells of it, and through that let God speak to you. I've never been very good at it because it takes time, and I'm too impatient.

All of a Flutter

“We expect industries to clean up their pollution,” he said. “The gambling industry is profoundly costly, its human pollution in terms of promoting addiction, destroying family life and so forth, is manifest. The gambling industry needs to take responsibility.”

Rowan Williams at the Synod debate earlier this week on gambling. Some frightening stats on how much we gamble - £40 bn a year - make it all the more welcome that the Manchester supercasino idea has been dropped. Well done Gordon Brown for putting it under review in the first place, and lets hear no more rubbish about 'regeneration'. A bizarre story in the news today, provoking a sparky phone in on 5 live, about a man who is suing his bookie for the fact he lost over £2m quid whilst gambling. He had asked them to close his account - I guess this is the gamblers equivalent of chopping up your credit cards - something they failed to do, making it easier for him to gamble on later occasions.

For what it's worth

Now the dust is settling, my own take on RW's points about sharia law:

1. It again comes down to what sort of society we are. ++ Rowan is among those in the church who has accepted the end of Christendom in the UK, and that we now have to live in a new secular pluralist reality. Other bishops, like Michael Nazir-Ali, argue for Christendom laws and customs to stay in place. Some of the debate within the church is between two different views of what point in history we have reached, and whether it's possible to do a Canute in reverse and stop the tide going out.

2. I almost completely agree with those who say that people who come to this country to live should be prepared to abide by its laws and legal system. No legal system is perfect, but there is a danger of creating ghettoes and untouchable areas if you have separate jurisdictions.

3. Muslims beware. If you really want sharia marriage law to come into the state system, talk to any Anglican who has had to deal with planning law. The Anglican church has it's own system for planning permission, called the faculty system, which allows all planning decisions around churches to be dealt with internally. It is possibly the biggest source of gripes within the CofE after those horrible green cups you still find in some churches. There are several historical interest groups, all more bothered about preserving stuff from previous centuries than in the worship and mission of the church, and a pervading sense that we have to run a tight ship in order to stop the state taking planning permission back again. This makes the faculty process long, tortuous, and frequently unsatisfactory. The faculty system in our diocese has representatives from the Victorian society, but no mission specialists, in the main advisory group. That says pretty much all you need to know about how it works!

It very much depends how it would work, whether it's an attempt to regulate internal islamic 'justice' by the state, or just an attempt to legalise it. The former might benefit those in the Muslim community who are currently victims of their own 'legal system'.

4. Rowan Williams comments would have been much better said by someone else. The trouble is that he's leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. His words therefore reflect on Anglicans in Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda, whose churches are being firebombed by gangs of Muslims, whose leaders and their families are being attacked and murdered. Patrick Sookhedeo of the Barnabas Fund is pretty trenchant:

Furthermore for the many Anglicans and other Christians living in contexts
where shari`a is being applied and causing untold misery and suffering, for
example in parts of Nigeria and parts of Sudan, the Archbishop of Canterbury`s
suggestions are not just unwise, but insensitive to the point of callousness.

In many parts of the Muslim world, England is (mistakenly) seen as a 'Christian' country, so for the leader of global Anglicanism to suggest that Muslim law could possibly replace 'Christian' laws looks like a massive admission of defeat by Christians. The Ugandan church's decision today to disassociate from the Lambeth conference may, in part, be a damage limitation exercise. There is a cost to the mission and ministry of the church in Uganda of being associated with a global church which looks like it's lost confidence in the Christian faith. We haven't lost that confidence, it's just that a debate about culture, law and society within the UK looks very different when you're looking from Uganda. That's why, if this needed to be said (and the issue certainly needed to be raised, though maybe not this way), it would have been better said by a local, English bishop rather than AB of C. Symbolism is so important.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Did the BBC Set Rowan Williams Up?

Matt Wardman has done some digging around and discovered that the BBC were trailing the 'Archbishop wants Sharia in Britain' headlines before anyone had the chance to hear the interview. Since the BBC had the interview and broke the story, most people took their cue from the Beeb, who have been desperately pumping the 'should the ABC resign?' story every since. A decent debate has since started, but most of the damage to the ABC can be traced back to the headlines which broke across the web on the first day of the story, from which the press and coverage took their cue.

Investigative blogging at it's best.

When is an apology not an apology?

When it's made by the Australian PM, in a public event, but there aren't yet appropriate actions to back it up? It's a fairly new government, so they probably need more time:

After years of calling for an official recognition of the wrongs done to
them by settlers, many Aboriginal leaders and communities (“the first
Australians”) were today rejoicing at the gesture. But they point out that
concrete resources are needed to address the legacy of historical injustices.

When it's made by the Archbishop of Canterbury

I must of course take responsibility for any unclarity in either that text
or in the radio interview, and for any misleading choice of words that has
helped to cause distress or misunderstanding among the public at large and
especially among my fellow Christians . It's Lent, and one of the great
penitential phrases of the Psalms will be in all our minds – 'Who can tell how
oft he offendeth? Cleanse thou me from my secret faults'.

...but heavily qualified, since there are major questions over whether he has anything to apologise for, or whether it is wilful misinterpretation by the media which has done more damage. The most pathetic sight of the last few days has been the BBC news trying to find somebody, anybody, in the CofE who wants Rowan Williams to resign, in a desperate attempt to keep the story running, covering up the fact that they don't currently employ anyone sufficiently knowledgeable about Islam and Christianity to really deal with the story properly.

When it's made by Dwain Chambers, who apologises, pays the penalty, changes his behaviour, and then is too good on his return to the sport. There's the question about whether he's sorry he did drugs, or sorry he got caught, but he's certainly got guts.

Tis the season to be sorry, being Lent, and maybe Gary Chapmans 'The 5 languages of apology' can help us here. There are, he says, 5 broad ways in which we apologise. Different ones come naturally to different people, and resonate with different people:
Express Regret
Accept Responsibility
Make Restitution
Geniunely Repent
Request Forgiveness

This suggests that, unless we do most of them all in one go, there will always be people who feel we haven't properly apologised. Drat.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What does New Labour think of Sharia Law?

Cranmer thinks he knows.

Points 8 and 9 show that the government has already been looking for ways to accomodate sharia law on finance and marriage. That they let Rowan Williams get roasted alive without a murmer, but do all this on the quiet, is hypocrisy of a staggering order.

General Synod: The Revolution Starts Here

What a cunning body the Church of England is. Under the smokescreen of the Rowan Williams rumpus, General Synod has passed the Dioceses Pastoral and Mission measure (full text here - now that it's passed I can no longer get away with not reading it in full. Drat.). This provides for 'Bishops Mission Orders', which are a temporary arrangement covering church plants and fresh expressions of church, which allows them to exist outside of parish structures for a renewable 5 year term.

It therefore allows for network churches, cross-boundary church plants, new ecumenical mission initiatives, under appropriate oversight, without everything having to be accomodated within ancient parish boundaries. Considering that most people know less about their neighbours than pretty much anyone else in their world (work colleagues, sports team members, fellow bloggers, drinking buddies etc.), a parish system based on the local neighbourhood as the sole locus of belonging and identity is no longer a 1 size that fits all. Not for nothing did Bishop David Pytches once call parish boundaries 'the condom of the Church of England' - in places where the local church is not set on mission, they simply become a line drawn around people to prevent them from hearing the gospel. Mission Orders have a consultation process, and plenty of safeguards to prevent it going off the rails, so it's not inviting a free for all.

I'll probably blog a bit more on this once I've digested it in full. Meanwhile if you're interested in what Synod has been up to, the official site is here, and Simon Sarmiento's ever-useful updates and commentary can be found at Thinking Anglicans.

In tandem with the passing of this measure, there's a new book, Mission Shaped Questions, which explores some of the issues facing the CofE as it explores new forms of church. Launch blurb here.

On 'Mission Shaped' stuff, a group of us have just started doing the Taunton Mission Shaped Ministry course run by Fresh Expressions. Early days, but so far it's very good, seems to get everyone talking and thinking, very well presented, and plenty to chew on.


Steve Tilley has tagged me with the following challenge:

I don't go in for this sort of thing big time but this one captured my imagination. The task:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other people.

The nearest book on my desk is 'The Marriage Preparation Course Leaders and Support Couples Guide', because we're just about to start one at church. Unfortunately it doesn't run to 123 pages. The next nearest is the Daily Prayer volume of the Church of Englands Common Worship, and most of page 123 is taken up with Psalm 8. Next nearest is the Bath and Wells Diocesan Directory, but I doubt the PCC treasurer in Farrington Gurney wants his home phone number published here.

But - I've a small desktop bookshelf, found in a 2nd hand shop in Barnard Castle a couple of years ago, and all 15 books on it are roughly the same distance away. I choose....... 'The Shaping of Things to Come' by Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost. It's chapter 7, and they're discussing the problems that the sheer humannness of Jesus presents to Greek thinkkers, and to many modern Christians...

"One of us recently had a conversation with a minister whose predominant theological paradigm was that of liberation theology. He was impressed by its central emphasis on the liberation of slaves from Egypt in the exodus. When we engaged him in the topic, he could not affirm that the exodus actually took place in history, because that would have involved God in actually killing countless Egyptians and in being part of the conquest and colonization of Canaan."

They go on to observe that if we make every historical event in the Bible into a metaphor, we wind up with a God who isn't involved in history at all, which is the same result as Marcion, the Docetists, and sundry other early heretics who made necessary the early Creeds.

I tag:
The Big Bulky Anglican
Richard Frank
And a couple of recent commenters:
Endlessly Restless

Monday, February 11, 2008

Simpsons Service

We had the first of our 'The Gospel According to the Simpsons' services at the Cafe Service yesterday. Comments have been good, and it seemed to attract a decent crowd. The clip we used was from 'Bart Gets an F' (series 2 episode 1), roughly the last 5 minutes, from Bart praying for the school to be closed so that he's got more time to revise, through to him pinning his D- graded test on the fridge and saying 'part of this D minus belongs to God.'

Other elements were a Simpsons quiz, devised by a Year 6 lad in the church, a couple of brief stories of answered prayer, a 3-4 minute talk, and a 10-15 minute prayer station slot where people were free to wander around to several prayer stations, or make 'Lent Prayer Chains' at their tables (40 paper strips, colour coded for the different days of Lent, Sundays, Mothers day, Good Friday etc. - can make it up so that it works like an Advent calendar, and tear a link off for each day, or start with the ingredients and make the chain 1 day at a time, writing prayers onto each link). All bookmarked by a time of worship at the start and finish, and with lots of prayer helps and resources to take home (prayer cards, and some of the rejesus resources)
Very encouraging, next month is Homer vs Lisa & the 8th Commandment (series 4), on the 10 commandements, morality, and how to please God. You've got to love a job where the main preparation is watching a DVD of cartoons.

'Christian' News Sites

On one level, there's no such thing as a 'Christian' news site, all news belongs to God, and happens in the world which Jesus loved and died for. On the other hand, there is a space in the market for reporting with a specifically Christian slant, and stuff that's likely to be more of interest to a Christian audience.

So here's a few links:

Christianity Today: a pretty good site, well laid out, mix of news and comment, and 'normal' news headlines as well as those of more interest to a Christian audience.

Religion News: American based blog with specifically religious stories. Far too many adverts. They have a real downer on Scientology at the moment, which is a good thing.

Premier News: from the Christian radio stations. Plenty here, but the presentation is a mess. There's an overall news link page which tells you virtually nothing about what's happened, then you click through to a page with about 100 stories, none of which are dated, in a mixture of audio and text formats.

At the other end of the scale is Ekklesia: If you only want a couple of 'comment' pieces per day, this is a good place to go, though you may not agree with them!!!

BBC Religion and Ethics News, which, obviously, doesn't have a faith standpoint, and has some useful filters on the site so you can sort for the stories you're interested in.

If you don't like any sort of religion at all, there's the National Secular Society, but watch out for the truth gap between their headlines and what the stories actually say. It's been a pretty easy week for them, though it's interesting that most of their stories today are about Islam. Clever, if you think about it.

And of course there's always The Sun if you want well informed comment on current events.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Messy Church hits Yeovil

Top marks to St. Marks Methodist church in Yeovil, who are launching our first Messy Church, starting Saturday Feb 23rd, and also on 29th March, 19th April, 24th May, 10.30am - 12.30am. contact Anna Baker for more details. Starts with 'creative activities', then a short celebration service, then food. I'm a bit reluctant to put this up, for fear it will be swamped with Fresh Expressions tourists from the area, but they did send me some publicity for it.........

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Choir: Boys Don't Sing

If last weeks episode of this fascinating series was about calling, this week was about how you train and develop a team to multiply your own ministry and influence. The boys choir at the Lancaster school, Leicester (confused already?) had a healthy number of recruits, but getting them to sing was a further challenge.

I liked the way that Gareth, the singing teacher, not only kept looking for individual talent, but he also kept putting a vision in front of them, a challenge to rise to - of singing at the end of term show, with solo parts for those who came forward. Again, through setting the bar high, he actually got more out of the lads than if he'd been woolly and accepted less.

We also had a great example of the boys themselves becoming the evangelists. Gareth had identified Mr Foreman, the head of year 9 & 10, as the gatekeeper in the school, the 'alpha male'. Maybe Jesus might have called him the 'man of peace' - the one who's welcome gives you a base for ministry and outreach. In a breathtakingly bold move, (and we're left unclear about whose idea this was), some of the boys go into Foremans class and sing a song about him being a hypocrite unless he joins the choir. After months of resistance, he gives in, goes to Gareth for singing lessons, and takes his place in the staff choir. The boys prove more effective at evangelism than Gareth is, and that's a great secret in leadership. Most of the stuff that needs doing will be done better by other people than by you. The trick is to motivate and mobilise them.

The end of the episode was a brilliant bit of symbolism. Sport is the spiritual heart of the school, so Gareth got together a staff choir, browbeat the (all male) PE staff into being part of it, and had them sing as part of the sports day. This reminded me of Christian missionaries building churches over the pagan sites in ancient Britain. Find where the energy is and go there with the message, rather than set up somewhere else and try to call people over to you. It made a great statement on 2 levels: 1 that the staff were prepared to sing and 2 that singing is as much at the heart of what it is to in this school as sport.

I would imagine that the boys in the school see Christianity on pretty much of a par with singing - limp, girly, not something they'd want to be seen doing. There is so much to learn from seeing how 1 teacher, bravely and successfully, changes the whole culture of a school. It was also interesting to see that at the end, after the boys had performed succesfully at the school show, that amongst Gareths congratulations was more exhortation - you can still get better, do better, raise the bar. Again, that's discipleship. It's not a few weeks practice for one performance, it's continual growth in grace, and rising to the challenges that Jesus sets. I just see so much in common between this series and the way Jesus calls, trains, equips and releases disciples.

Inspiration for Lent

Struggling with that diet? Have a look here, brilliant clip from possibly the only funny comedian on the BBC at the moment, Peter Serafinowicz.

Lay off my Archbishop

Pray for Rowan Williams. Whether you like him or not, agree with him or not, nobody deserves the public flogging he's getting from the media for suggesting we might discuss a limited and specific idea on how Muslims might be better integrated into British society. Unfortunately he has become the story, and in an attempt to spin it out there is now the follow up wave of 'should he resign' stories.

No he shouldn't resign. That's a job for whoever was responsible for the Two Minutes Hate that was yesterdays Sun.

If this is what happens whenever someone tries to start a debate on a serious subject, it's no wonder we get politicians who are more concerned with lining their pockets than thinking through the issues our society faces. After this, who will dare to open up a debate on the place of Islam in modern Britain? Knowing how contentious the subject is, RW should, in hindsight, have run his ideas past a few people first. But hey, that's what mistakes are for - learning from. We also have a culture which doesn't allow people to make mistakes in public. It's the culture of the gladiator - as soon as you put yourself on the floor of the arena, its you vs the wild animals, and the population bays for blood from the stands. When Tony Blair described the media as a 'pack of feral beasts', he wasn't far off the mark. Unfortunately, it's not far off the mark for the rest of us either.

Cyberspace is bursting with stuff on this story, only one link here, to someone who is prepared to be sensible about it: Obsolete . It's a long piece, but here's my rule of thumb for anyone debating Rowan Williams - unless you're prepared to read at length, think at length, and work out what you'd be prepared to say to his face, then just don't even bother, what you have to say isn't worth hearing.
Here's the official CofE media page on the ABC's lecture and interview, with links to full transcripts.
Update: new statement from the ABC on his website, reported here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rowan Williams on Sharia Law

I'm getting a bit tired of reading through the latest words of Rowan Williams, trying to explain that the newspaper headlines about what he's said aren't actually true. The latest one, if you've heard today's news, is that he thinks accepting some aspects of sharia law into the UK legal system might be 'inevitable', and might be a good thing.

BBC report here
Matt Wardman has the full transcript of the interview and a plea for reasoned debate
Ruth Gledhill is scandalised, as are most of her commenters.

What frustrates me more than anything else is that, time after time, ++Rowan has the chance to articulate a Christian view of law, state, society etc., but just ends up talking about Muslims and non-Christian stuff. This is not a distinctively Christian voice, and it's a bit disappointing. I don't agree with what he's said (which is unusual) and I've commented over on the Warman Wire about this. Don't know if I'll blog more in a day or two. We'll see where this story goes....

Damaris and Culturewatch resources

A couple of links from Damaris - a UK based Christian organisation who study and reflect on popular culture: and

Here's the blurb:
These are new free websites from Damaris providing short downloadable videos that explore the issues raised by the latest films. They are fully integrated with which means that the downloadable videos are ideal for use in talks, discussion groups, school assemblies or lessons. They are also part of Youtube (see and so they can easily be republished on websites or blogs. Damaris is also providing a free monthly email service which will remind you of what videos they have produced and what films they plan to cover in the next month - so you can plan ahead for specific talks or discussion events (click here for details).

Whilst we're on links to video sites, here's another one: Wingclips, who offer free downloads from a number of top movies. They haven't got a massive library yet, but it looks like a developing site which it's worth checking in on.

Hilary Clinton to be next US President

Our eldest (5) correctly predicted that England would win both last nights football and this mornings cricket. On the basis of that 100% record, I'll go with her prediction (in fact, a unanimous vote amongst our kids) that Hilary Clinton would win the US election. Or maybe it's because they found 'Huckabee' too tricky to say.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sacred Space at Work

This is absolutely brilliant. 'Life coach' Bruce Stanley, who has written some great stuff on prayer for the re:jesus website, has put together this pack on creating a sacred space at work. In 12 high quality pages it has everything - lots of bitesized ideas for prayer, exercises to help you focus on thankfulness, values, where to find a quiet space etc., and even a 'make your own' altar, which you can cut out and put on your workspace to help you think about Jesus. It's incredibly creative, and well worth a look.

The rejesus Spirituality section is a real goldmine of things either to explore yourself, or to print out and give away. We're doing our first 'Gospel According to the Simpsons' at the Cafe service on Sunday, on 'what happens when Bart prays', and will be giving some of the rejesus stuff away to resource folk who aren't yet Christians in their spiritual journey.

Depression at work

Quite a big piece in todays Times about depression at work, with several related articles. If you do a search for 'depression' on their site there have been quite a few articles recently, hopefully this is a straw in the wind for public acceptance of mental illness as a 'normal' illness. One striking section in the article says:

Workplace “stress” is now the second-biggest occupational health problem in the UK after musculoskeletal conditions and, according to a World Health Organisation report, “depression” is the fourth most significant cause of suffering and disability after heart disease, cancer and traffic accidents. By 2020 it will rank second, behind heart disease. It’s no surprise that calculations vary as to what this might cost British business in lost productivity. Different reports have put the annual cost at £3 billion, £9 billion and a massive £32 billion. But the extent of the problem is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in 2006, BT admitted that it had about 500 people off sick with psychiatric problems every single day.

It's worth a read. It raises the 'tipping point' question. At what point do we get to a level of stress and dis-ease as a society that we start asking radical questions about the kind of society we have, and want to live in? At the moment we are still in treatment mode, rather than prevention mode. We'd rather manage the symtoms than tackle the disease. In fact, we don't even know what the disease is.

Libby Purves, in the same paper, may be on to something in her commending of Lenten abstinence, reigning in our appetites and 'putting the waiting back into wanting'. If you take it for granted that you can have everything you want, now, and with minimal effort, it becomes very hard to be really thankful for any of it. In Bono's words "I gave you everything you ever wanted/it wasn't what you wanted".

Some joker from Wales sent me this.....

Never mind, at least we can still beat New Zealand at cricket. Though I'll probably be eating those words in a couple of weeks time....

Monday, February 04, 2008


A church member quizzed me about fasting yesterday, so with a couple of days to Lent, a few thoughts on the subject.

Fasting is something that Jesus did, and that he expected of his followers - 'when you fast' (Matthew 6:16). It was something which was part of normal spiritual life in Jesus day, and though he questioned the way in which some people fasted, he never queried the practice itself. It's therefore part of the normal Christian life.

Why Fast?
There seem to be a cluster of different reasons for fasting in the Scriptures:
1. Obedience - Jesus expects it, so we do it. There are some things it's good to just do because we're being obedient, rather than because we expect any benefit. Self-centredness needs to be fasted from too!
2. Intensity in prayer: Nehemiah fasts and prays before going to see the king about rebuilding Jerusalem. The Ninevites fast when repenting at Jonah's preaching. Fasting adds sincerity and weight to prayer, it's both a sign (to God and to ourselves) that we're serious about it, and it can make prayer itself more powerful and intense.
3. Spiritual battle: Jesus major fast - the 40 days in the wilderness - brings him into close quarters with the devil and his temptations. Sometimes fasting is an intense assault on evil, either within ourselves or within society.
4. Training: fasting trains our body to do without food, by exercising willpower and self-denial, we increase the strength our will, and our capacity to deny ourselves. It is a spiritual discipline, which makes us spiritually fitter
5. Physical well being: Daniel and his friends abstained from meat and rich food, and were physically better for it. This isn't a prime reason for fasting, but during the fasting process (especially longer fasts) toxins and other nasty stuff in the body is broken down and got rid of. In the short run, fasting from addictive substances like caffeine will give us a headache, but will help to break physical dependence.

Note: There are various medical reasons not to fast, so make sure you check these out before you think about it, and it's sensible to take some tips either from the books, or other people who've done it, before you start. Health and Safety announcement over!
How to Fast
If you're serious about fasting, then the best place to start is Richard Fosters classic 'Celebration of Discipline' chapter 4. There are also various online resources, (e.g. here, here, and an article from the Renovare website which puts spiritual disciplines in a wider context). Start small, drink lots of water, try to use the time freed up from preparing food/eating to pray, and be aware when you're with others that you might get stinky breath!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Love Life Live Lent

Love Life Live Lent 08 was launched a few days ago by various people. Here's the website, and here's Dave Walkers post on it, which explains a lot more so that I don't have to.
The basic idea seems to be a daily action every day for 50 days (Lent seems to have got longer since last year) which you can get via various bits of technology, or buy the booklet from the website. To be honest, you'll have to crack on with getting the booklet if you want it in time for Ash Wednesday, but if you're desperate to do something for lent then have a look here for some ideas.

Research link

Thanks for Christian Research for this link to the National Statistics office stats on religion and related subjects.

Here's the Christian Research blurb on the site:

From the Office for National Statistics overview series Focus On, this particular edition looks at many aspects of Britain’s religious populations. Here you will find out that: Jews are the most likely to be self-employed, with Jewish men more likely to be working in banking, finance or insurance than men from other religions; a Hindu man is ten times more likely to be a medical practitioner than a Christian man and that Muslims are the most likely to have no educational qualifications. Young Muslims the most likely to be married, with those of no religion the least. Hindus and Sikhs are the least likely to be divorced, separated or re-married, with the most likely group being those of no religion followed by Christians. Muslims reported have the poorest health and the highest rate of disabilities, while Jews, Christians and the non-religious had the least. Sikhs are the most likely to own their own home, Buddhists the most likely to be renting privately, and Muslims the most likely to be living rent-free.

So now you know.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Choir, the Cops and the Coptics

Managed to catch 'The Choir: Boys Don't Sing' on BBC2 last night. Very interesting. Back in vicar school, they once showeds us an Eastenders omnibus (in the days when they were only 1 hour long) in the Ethics module, and asked us to list the moral issues the programme dealt with - we ended up with well over 20. If you happen to be a mission tutor, download last nights The Choir from IPlayer and show it to your students.

The episode showed a keen singer and singing teacher given 2 terms at an all-boys comprehensive school in Leicester. His task: to recruit and train a choir to perform at the Royal Albert Hall at the end of the 8 months. The school didn't sing: assemblies were notices, pep talks and tellings off, the boys were very much 'singing is for girls' 'singing is gay' etc., and I must admit I wasn't too sure about his methods, but by the end he'd recruited 170 of the boys to start a choir, which was pretty incredible.

I was reminded at several points of Jesus. The teacher identified kids with talent, and recruited them one by one for singing lessons. One especially talented kid let him down, after showing a lot of promise, so we saw how tough and frustrating that was, but for others it was a big opportunity. The teacher also sang a solo in front of the whole school at his first assembly, which could have been horrendous, but actually seemed to earn him a lot of respect. 3 lessons in with the music GCSE group, he got them performing a song (they'd not done any singing before he arrived) to 2 othe classes. Terrifying, but they were thrilled when it went well. Reminiscent of Jesus calling the disciples, showing them how its done, then pushing them out to do it themselves.

And he was (at this stage anyway - 3 more programmes to go) succesful. It made us wonder whether as a church we are far too limp and gentle about discpleship. Jesus wasn't afraid to put tough challenges in front of people, and it was facing those challenges that brought growth and confidence. They'd also seen him do it, so Jesus wasn't asking the disciples to do anything he'd not already done. I don't know if this guy modelled himself on Jesus at all, but it was an excellent contemporary example of calling and discipleship in a modern context.

Whilst on the subject of TV, those of you who've not touched your remotes since the end of Extreme Pilgrim can twitch that finger again. Not only is there a raft of excellent films coming up this week (Calender Girls, Million Dollar Baby, Matrix (again), Last of the Mohicans), Ashes to Ashes starts on Thursday 9pm, and Channel 4's Unreported World on Friday 7.35pm focuses on the Coptic Christian community found on Egypts rubbish dumps.