Tuesday, May 29, 2007

For goodness sake stop it

It's probably a Jewish joke, but here's the vicars version:

an Anglican is stranded on a desert island, and after 5 years he's discovered and rescued. To their surprise, the rescuers find that he's built 2 churches on the island. When they ask why, the man replies "That's the one I go to every Sunday, and that's the one you wouldn't see me dead in."

I'm reminded of that by a number of spats going on in the evangelical world at the moment. They have 2 implications for mission: one is that people see Christians fighting each other, which, unless you're an aspiring member of Fight Club, isn't really that attractive. The other is that the nature of the fights relates directly to the nature of the church's mission.

Round 1: a month or so ago, Spring Harvest (we like it, our kids like it) split from 'Word Alive'. Word Alive was a joint initiative between Spring Harvest and the more theologically conservative UCCF and Keswick Convention organisations. A dispute over the teaching of one speaker, and whether he should be allowed to teach from the main platform, led to Word Alive setting up on its own for next year. In a bid to out-Spring Harvest Spring Harvest, it's gone for an even more remote location than Skegness or Minehead, and will be held in Wales. There was some debate via blogs and websites over how the split had happened, and whose fault it was.

Round 2: Wycliffe Hall theological college has been in the news following an anonymous document circulating a couple of weeks ago. The dispute is, again, put down to a division between those who want to be more theologically conservative, and those who have a broader conception of Christian doctrine, and how we go about the process of thinking about God and His world.

These debates are echoed in the wider Anglican communion - an international dispute over what the Anglican church believes about sexuality, which itself is indicative of how the Bible and Christian tradition are viewed - and within the Church of England.

Temperamentally, I don't like conflict. Upsetting people and being the cause of disagreement or upset is one of my internal no-go areas, though I still manage it quite regularly (!). Maybe that's why all this stuff makes me feel uncomfortable. In a few weeks time church leaders from 5 denominations and various Christian traditions are getting together here in Yeovil to pray and agree together on how we go about Christian mission to a number of new housing estates planned in the town. We will have to agree on what we think mission is, and we may start getting into some of the areas in the disputes above. So you can't avoid debates about truth, about what we believe, about how we handle the Bible and what the church is all about. But somehow the desire for common mission seems to be more important than ticking every doctrinal box.

At the same time, we do need to know what the doctrinal boxes are. It's clear that the first couple of generations of Christians were in constant danger of trading in their faith for a plausible sounding pack of lies, peddled by convincing charlatans. Without keeping one eye on truth, we can lose track of who God is, who we are, and how we should live, because plausible lies will always seem more comfortable to live with than the challenge of the gospel. Anyone who is entirely comfortable with their Christian faith clearly doesn't understand Christian faith. It stretches us; it challenges sin, ignorance, selfishness, pride, laziness, fear, injustice, indiscipline, and everything else that is wrong with us or with the world. Taken seriously, following Jesus is more demanding than training to win gold in an Olympic Decathlon. It requires the mastery (or at least the best attempts at mastery) of a variety of disciplines, and the bending of every desire and appetite and habit to a single goal, that of pleasing Jesus. So Christian faith is never comfortable, and it needs the sharpness of truth as opposed to falsehood to keep prodding us with this fact.

However, truth is not everything. This picture of the Christian life is as much about living right, as it is about believing right. I'm preparing a sermon for Sunday and am already niggled by the thought that our usual 'declaration of faith' won't be an adequate response to the message of the scriptures about healing and the Kingdom of God. Ticking the doctrinal boxes won't be enough.

It's very easy, in the hothouse that is a theological college, or the cliques and in-crowds which (sadly) mark out the different theological groupings in the church, to lose perspective. It's easy to lose perspective in local church life too - when you see things from the same viewpoint for long enough, it's easy to forget that there are other places to stand and look. Where does Jesus stand? What does Jesus see? What is he looking for from his people, and is he smiling right now or beating on the golden pavements of paradise in frustration?

Persecution of Christians

There was an in-depth article on the persecution of Christians worldwide in the latest Sunday Times, it begins like this:

Praying for a miracle
It’s not just Muslims and Jews who have faced persecution in recent years. An estimated 200m Christians in 60 countries are now suffering increasing victimisation. So why isn’t the West doing anything to protect them?

and you can find it here.

The countries named in the article where there is overt persecution of Christians are
North Korea
Saudi Arabia

In many of these places it is state policy, with Saudi Arabia and China among the worst offenders, though the West is timid in condemning them because of their oil and economic power. And there are plenty of other countries that could be added to this list: Malaysia, Laos, Algeria, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and so on. Open Doors publishes a 'World Watch List' with an analysis of how bad it is for Christians in various countries.

On Sunday we celebrated Pentecost in Yeovil with several churches getting together, and remembering the day when all the people of the known world heard the gospel in their own languages. Today there are languages where the gospel is rarely spoken, the Christian voice is being suppressed or driven out.

So do something: pray, write to your MP or to Gordon Brown citing the Sunday Times article or the Open Doors research. Speak up for your brothers and sisters.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

u2charist video

here's the BBC report into the U2charist held in Lincoln yesterday. See if you can guess which of the 2 folk interviewed are members of my family. And no, it wasn't this lady on the right, though she was clearly enjoying herself......
(PS if the link doesn't work then do a search on the BBC site for U2charist and click the video link in the top right hand corner of the search results. )

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Image and Reality

Thinking about the 'Spirit of Life' item on tomorrows Songs of Praise, I was struck by the contrast between the presenter you see on screen, and the way people are when they aren't in the public eye. Diane Louise Jordan always comes across as smiley, warm, enthusiastic and full of life. Seeing her getting ready for filming in the Cathedral she seemed quite serious, obviously getting mentally ready for the shoot, rehearsing lines, or whatever presenters do when they aren't presenting. But the contrast between the public and non-public person was quite marked.

This came across a couple of days later with an item on the news about Gordon Brown. The camera followed him as he waited outside the door of a press conference for his entry to be announced. Prior to entry he was serious, unsmiling, focused. Once his name was announced he strode in smiling, head up, confident, energetic.

With the omnipresence of the media, I guess our politicians know that if they don't manage their public image, the media will do it for them. How much is this necessary, or even right, for ministers, worship leaders and preachers? There's all sorts of conflicting motivations at work here:

- The call to be ourselves: God doesn't churn out robot church leaders, the people he calls he calls for a reason, because their combination of personality, gifts, experience and passions is something He can work with in church leadership. Just as the personality of the prophets comes through in their writings, so the personality of the 'public figures' in church shouldn't be suppressed either.

- But: there's also a need to rein yourself in. A preacher probably shouldn't be airing every doubt they have to the congregation, and there are bits of our personality which get in the way when leading worship. The aim of a worship leader is that people focus on God, not on themselves, so projecting your personality too strongly isn't a great idea. Also, leading worship, preaching etc. requires injections of energy: if you're trying to encourage people to offer thanks to God and celebrate his love, it's probably not going to work if you do it in a dull monotone with a solemn face.

- Part of being a leader is servanthood, which involves putting yourself last and others first. That must include personality: though I want to talk, the needs of others require that I listen; though I want to have a particular type of music, the needs of others require that we have something different, and so on. That requires, again, reining in your personal preferences in order to minister better to others.

- There is a danger that in all of this we get lost. We spend so long leading others in worship, reading the Bible for what we can teach others, etc., that our own walk with God gets lost. If our regular practice of worship is one which involves, to some degree, not being ourselves, then what does that do to us spiritually in the long term?
And that's to say nothing of folk who gather to worship week by week. I think the idea of 'Sunday best' is on the way out, and together with getting dressed up in your best clothes goes the idea of putting on your best appearance for the sake of others. But if we come before God with a fake self, again, what does that do to us?
A few months ago I was really struck by a quote in a book: a person saying he would have achieved holiness if he could be the same person in every setting. There's great wisdom in that - how to be truly ourselves, with God and others. To be a person where image and reality are one. Just like Jesus, the icon (image) of the invisible God (reality).

Spirit of Life on Songs of Praise

The Spirit of Life event at Coventry Cathedral (see previous posts) is featured on Songs of Praise this week. For the factsheet on the programme see here. It's on at 5.10pm on Sunday, so provided the Yeovil-Blackpool playoff doesn't go into extra time.....

Thursday, May 24, 2007

U2 leading worship

In anticipation of the U2charist this Sunday, I know the band themselves aren't going to be there, but here's a clip of Bono as worship leader. Worth watching to the end for what he says in the last minute or so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

mission conferences

It must be that time of year, lots of mission conferences coming up:

11th National Anglican Church Planting Conference, 4th Oct in London or 10th Oct in Sheffield, click here for details and a link to a booking leaflet (warning - will take ages to download on dialup)

'A New Vision for Catholic Mission' at Westcott College, Cambridge, 17-19th September. Click here for details

A couple of conferences on Urban mission, one hosted by the Eden Project in Manchester, which has been one of the major mission projects in the UK in the last 10 years. Link here.

I've also got a flier about a Rural Fresh Expressions conference near Leicester on September 13-14th, the website referred to on the flier is http://www.ruralmissions.org.uk/ but I can't find any reference to the conference on the website.... I've emailed them to ask about this and will post an update here when I get it. Meanwhile their resources section has some interesting looking stuff.

Monday, May 21, 2007

All the goals from Yeovils win against Forest

The picture quality is not great, but who cares? Come on Glovers! Prayers before the play off final at 8pm on Friday at Huish Park, led by my good friend Rev. Jim Pearce.

Anthony Gormley sculptures

Jonny Baker has posted some photos of Anthony Gormley's (Angel of the North guy) latest project, which is a whole load of figures dotted around London. I love the question he poses - beyond the figures you can see, how many figures are there that we can't see? Reminds me of the story of Elisha and the armies of Aram a couple of weeks ago, where Elisha can see the armies of angels surrounding the hostile armies which in turn surround him.

church notice boards

A friend sent me these: enjoy

Excellent. Sorry, can't resist one serious point: all these can be read by a passing motorist easily, in the time it takes them to drive past the church. That's how most people pass our churches, even in many rural settings. Many of our noticeboards still use a size of font and level of detail more suited to passing pedestrians who can stop and look closely. Unless your church happens to be next to a supermarket checkout, or right in a busy shopping area, more people will drive past than walk past, and even the walkers won't want to look conspicuous by stopping to read.

Back to the amusing stuff: the BBC reports a school which kept a 'confidential' report on its students, with comments like 'away with the fairies' and 'a bit of a wally', which was found lying in the street and has scandalised parents, one of whom was described in the report as 'quite rough'. Considering what teachers often have to put up with from parents and students alike, I'm just amazed at how restrained the language is.
Update: Tuesday 22nd: if you sympathise with the teachers in the BBC report, you'll probably enjoy this site.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Biscuit Tin extract

Extract from May's 'Biscuit Tin', a mission newsletter for the Yeovil area, with links to some good mission resources online:

Mission Resources

a) Work with the Elderly – 2 resources from the Sheffield Centre.
A treasure hunt: go to http://starttheweek.typepad.com/stw/2007/week19/index.html , click the ‘Church for the Saga Generation' link, and you’ll find a 27 page analysis of mission to the the SAGA generation. When you realise that Jagger, McCartney, Daltrey & co are all over 60, it changes the way we think about the over-60’s and how they see the world. Really good stuff. You can also get it by ringing the Sheffield Centre on 0114 2727451.

The Church Army also produces a regular Information Bulletin on the ‘Spiritual Needs of Older People’: they are online at http://www.encountersontheedge.org.uk/ follow the link to ‘Older People’, or ring the Sheffield Centre.

b) Back to Church Sunday, September 30th. This has spread across several Dioceses in the last 3 years, and involves inviting people ‘back to church’ on a specific Sunday, along with publicity materials, invitation and prayer cards etc. The evidence suggest it is quite effective in bring back people who’d dropped out of attending, and they report an average increase of 10 people per church. Bath & Wells Diocese has signed up for this, so speak to Helen Hickman at the Old Deanery (01749 670777)if you want to know more, or visit the webisite at http://www.backtochurch.co.uk/ . The deadline for ordering resources is the end of May, so you will need to act fast if you want to take part this year.

Mission Training Events:
Fresh Expressions of Church: A Rural Perspective – 24 hour conference at Hothorpe Hall, Leicestershire on 13-14th September. See http://www.ruralmissions.org.uk/ for a linked rural mission website, though various parts are still under construction.

A New Vision for Catholic Mission, Westcott House, Cambridge 17-19th September. Booking form downloadable from the Start the Week blog.

The May 'Biscuit Tin' also has the following items:
- Mission news from Yeovil
- Mission Insights: the 'Mixed Economy' church, with discussion questions.
- book reviews and summaries: Bob Jackson 'The Road to Growth', Rona Orme 'Rural Children, Rural Church', extract from 'Mission Shaped Parish'.
- Enquirers courses at a glance - brief summary of the most popular ones on the market at the moment.
...if you're local to Yeovil and want electronic or paper copies of it, send me a comment or an email.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Nottingham Forest 2 Yeovil 5

Fantastic. After losing the first leg 0-2, this is an incredible result for Yeovil. I put on ceefax at the end of Have I Got News for You, saw it had gone into extra time at 1-3 to Yeovil, arrived at the Arrow to see it was 2-4, then Arron Davies slotted in the winner and the place erupted.

Someone said we've been allocated 20,000 tickets for the play-off final at Wembley, which is half the population of the town. Interestingly, this is more than Man U or Chelsea have been given for todays game, because so many tickets for the FA cup final have gone to corporate sponsors. No point complaining folks - the only reason you can sign and pay for people like Ronaldo and Shevchenko is the big money, and you don't want to bit the hand that feeds do you?

Even if Yeovil don't get through, this is a massive achievement for a small club, and for the manager Russell Slade. The club still has a real local feel to it too - I've only lived in Yeovil a few years, but played cricket with one of last nights team and another player had their baby baptised at our church last year. If we get through it will be really weird going to home games against the 2 Sheffield teams, both now in the championship, having been to see both as a kid with crowds of 30,000 or so.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


My brother works for Radio Lincoln and is involved in what might be the first ever 'U2charist' in the UK.

follow this link to find out more.

"where you live should not decide/ whether you live or whether you die." (Bono)

Church Action Plan

We're meeting with our Cell group leaders this evening for a pre-launch of our church Action Plan, if you're interested, here's the process we've been through:

January 07 - Church council away day, identifying key areas for developing the life and mission of the church, and ideas for how we can make progress in these areas. We ended up with 5 key areas:
- Improving our Space (various issues in the church building)
- Growing Cells (helping our cell groups to grow as centres of mission and ministry)
- Children and Families (putting more resources into links with the local school, parent/toddler groups, and families in the local area)
- Making Worship Work for All (exploring new styles of worship, making better use of the gifts people offer, making the experience of worship more welcoming for newcomers)
- Outreach (more support for baptisms, weddings and funerals, making more of the seasons and festivals of the year, etc.)

Feb-March: working through the ideas from the away day and developing a plan for progressing them.

April: Easter!

May: put together main report, financial report, response forms (time & skills, finance) into Action Packs, which everyone in church will get on Sunday. All cell members will get them through cell group leaders, the idea is that they discuss and pray through the reports together, and the cells look at whether there are particular things they want to do as a group (e.g. run marriage preparation, host an Alpha course etc.) Everyone who doesn't pick one up on Sunday will get them hand delivered over the next couple of days.

June: deadline for returning response forms 3 weeks after giving them out - this will be June 10th. On the 17th we'll have a thanksgiving for the responses people have made.

June - July: the church Council have been put into 5 Task Groups, one for each of the 5 key areas: task group members will follow up the offers of help people have given, so that by September we're ready to get started with some of the new things we want to do.

There'll probably be a Phase 2 in early 2008 - various bits of work are going to take time, e.g. a feasibility study on whether we could employ a full time worker with families, putting together plans for the development of the church building, and by then we'll have a good idea of what fruit there's been from the Action Plan.

If the process works, it'll probably be something I develop for other local churches to use in putting together their own Mission Action Plans.

And finally a disclaimer: we've not worked out this process ourselves, a lot of it is cribbed from something that John Roberts, the Durham Diocese stewardship adviser, does with parish churches in his Diocese.

Monday, May 14, 2007

more depression!

Big headline today in some papers and on the radio about the number of prescriptions last year for anti-depressants (over 30 million).

One small snapshot of why society is toxic to mental health - our local Tesco Express: (stop me if you've heard this rant before) - over half the till space is now given over to automated self-service tills which hector you in a computerised voice to do this and do that. For some people, their trip for the milk is the only conversation they have all day, and on the other side of the counter it's a job for a human being. But for Tesco profit is more important than people, and a few more lose their jobs, and a few more feel a little bit lonelier and sadder for the loss of human contact, and another bit of social thread unravels.

I feel an internet campaign to stop automated tills at Tesco coming on, if I knew where to launch it......


Numbness as a core quality of our culture: don't know why I've been thinking about it this morning, a number of strands possibly:
- reading 'If nobody speaks of remarkable things' by Jon McGregor, a book my brother gave me for my birthday a few months back. Its beautifully written, and finds words for ordinary things which make them vibrant.

- which made me think of the film 'American Beauty', centred on a family who are materially prosperous but spiritually dead, and the attempts of the family to avoid this numbness by burying it, or fleeing into sexual fantasy. The only person in the film who might have an answer is the geeky boy next door who videoes everything, and can sit watching a film of leaves swirling in a breeze for 20 minutes because he can see the beauty in it.

- American Beauty is coupled in my mind with the film Fight Club, which also has a central male character trying to escape numbness. The man in 'Beauty' tries to do it through sex, the man in Fight Club through violence, but for both of them the central issue is the same - life is dull, void of life and energy, and the need to find something to bring ourselves to life.

- 'Bring Me To Life' is also a track by the rock band Evanescence, of which singer Amy Lee says: "One day someone said something that made my heart race for a second and I realized that for months I'd been numb, just going through the motions of life." The song made no 1 in the US, UK and lots of other countries a few years back. Some Christian bands have covered it, tweaking the lyrics so that it becomes a prayer to Jesus to 'bring me to life'.

- Which all links to the 'don't take illegal video copies of this film' thing that they showed us before Spiderman 3. There were 2 main reasons given: one that it's illegal, but secondly, and the main reason that the clip actually gave, was that it diminishes the experience of cinema. Everything is an experience - the shopping experience, the eating experience, the Scotland experience, the cinema experience, (the worship experience?). This is both the problem and the solution. We seek an experience - either the adrenaline rush of a great movie or the beauty and poetry of something small and ordinary - we seek it to break the numbness, to infuse grey life with colour. But experience itself is numbing. We get so used to living on a high that we become dulled to it. Any sense, if overexposed, becomes dulled - try whispering to a roadie from a rock band. So we pursue experience to ovecome numbness and discover, in the words of U2 that 'too much is not enough' (from their song 'Numb'), that we can't break out.

Final link in the chain, Isaiah 30: 'in returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.' Isaiah contrasts the skittishness of Israel - 'we will flee on horses!' - with God's call to quietness and depth, and notes that Israels dependence on speed is actually a sign of their own vulnerability. (I note in passing that a recent study has discovered that we now walk significantly faster than we did a few years ago. Israel is not the only culture with a speed obsession.) With no depth in God, the slightest threat throws them into turmoil ('a thousand shall flee at the threat of one, at the threat of five you shall flee'). Numbness and skittishness are 2 sides of the same coin, they are both symptoms of boredom and the lack of a still centre, where we know that God is God.

So at the same time as I strive to make our worship of God as good an 'experience' as possible for those present, I also wonder whether that's part of the solution or part of the problem.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


The BBC's Panorama is doing an investigation of Scientology on Monday, 8.30pm. The main reporter involved isn't happy about what he found, as he reports here. One of many internet summaries of Scientology here, if you're interested.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spiderman 3

After failing dismally to find any spiritual subtext to Hot Fuzz, it was fantastic to see Spiderman 3 yesterday, which more than makes up for it. Look away now if you don't want key bits of the plot given away.

Plot: Spiderman has 4 enemies in this one - 'Sandman', an escaped convict who accidentally gets caught in an experimental chamber and turned into sand. He's also the person who (we discover) killed Spiderman's uncle in film 1, and Spiderman (Peter Parker in real life) discovers this. Another enemy is 'the New Goblin', once Parkers best friend, who is also the son of the Green Goblin - he knows that Spiderman is Peter Parker, and believes he's responsible for his own fathers' death in film 1. See the revenge motif starting to emerge here? Thirdly there is Venom, who I'll come back to in a mo'. Finally, Spiderman himself - during the film a strange black goo from outer space attaches itself to our hero, and brings out his dark side. These are weaknesses that are already clear in Spiderman/Parkers character - vanity, taking people for granted, arrogance, desire for revenge, violence - but they are amplified massively by the parasitic black stuff.

So Spidey has to conquer 3 foes, and rid himself of the black goo, not to mention try to repair his faltering relationship with Mary Jane, who he fails to listen to or support, and basically she is better off dumping him than trying to make things work. Whilst she tries to talk to him, Parker has the police radio on in the background so he can go and fight baddies, and he cuts the conversation short to go and play the hero.

Great Big Fat Spiritual Subtext 1: Sin. The black goo which attaches itself to Spiderman brings out the worst in his character. It even takes good things, and turns them bad. Parker becomes vindictive, cruel, and so up himself that he's in danger of coming out the top of his own head. On top of this instead of fighting crime, he pursues a revenge vendetta against Sandman. During the film PArker takes a specimen of the goo to a scientist friend, who tells him that it's a parasite, and relies on finding a host to thrive. Sin doesn't have a life of its own, but if we give it room it can take over our lives instead. It becomes harder and harder for Parker/Spiderman to get rid of the goo as the film goes on, and it comes to a point where he makes the decision to get rid of it once and for all. The trouble is that he can't, he has spent so long being host to the goo that he no longer has the power to pull it off and get unstuck.

The pivotal scene where all this happens takes place, significantly, under a cross on a church tower. From the cross we pan down to Spiderman meditating on what to do, then he goes into the belfry to try to pull the goo off. He can't under his own power, but as he stumbles against the bell and it starts chiming, the vibrations from the bell loosen the goo and enable Spiderman to yank it off. As in film, so in life - we can't be free from sin under our own effort, no matter how hard we try, but we need another power to help us get free. We still need to make the decision ourselves, God isn't going to do it for us, but if we put ourselves under the cross then sin can be got rid of. The 'old me' can die and the new one be born.

The film in fact suggests all this. The moment before he tries to pull the goo off, Parkers work rival - who Parker managed to get sacked from his job - is in the church below praying for Parker to die. In one sense he does - the black Spiderman dies, and in the following scene we see Parker in the shower (steady on ladies, just his head and shoulders), under a stream of cleansing water. Baptism? you decide.....

The new Parker is able to ask for help, seek forgiveness, grant forgiveness, and having been rescued from the goo himself, tries to rescue others. In the church, the goo falls on Parkers work rival and turns him into Venom, a very nasty Spiderman look-alike. Towards the end of the film Spiderman manages to free Venom from the goo, and lobs an explosive into the goo to finish it off. The trouble is that the Venom character enjoys the feelings of power and revenge so much that he can't bear to be separated from the goo, and dives back in at the moment the explosive goes off. Attachment to goo/sin costs him his life. I think St. Paul put it another way, but with the same sentiment.

Big Fat Spiritual Subtext 2: forgiveness. Here is a clash of Hollywood heavyweights, Spiderman vs Clint Eastwood. Clint was the icon of the revenge Western, where redemption came through shooting up the baddies who had done you wrong in the first half of the film. In Spiderman, redemption comes through forgiveness. At the end New Goblin forgives Parker/Spiderman for the death of his father, and actually comes to his aid. There's redemption of a sort for him in doing this. Meanwhile Parker also forgives Sandman - and the moment of release that this gives is beautifully portrayed on film. The forgiveness not only frees Sandman but it frees Parker as well. Parker then seeks forgiveness from his wronged girlfriend Mary Jane - there is a sort of reconciliation, but a suggestion that he still has work to do to make it up to you. And that's real life - forgiveness is one thing, earning back trust that you've destroyed is something else.

Spiritual Subtext 3: Mission. As Parker tries to set Venom free from the goo, we see one person rescued from 'sin' now tries to rescue another. In fact, he is trying to rescue his enemy, because he can see past the surface to see someone inside who needs to be set free. I'm not sure this would be the best film clip to show in mission training, but hey, give it a go.

As a film - I'd probably give it 6 or 7 out of 10. At times it seems to be trying to do too much. The film swings from drama to love story to tragedy to punch up to comedy to sci fi and back again. Maybe it's trying to copy the Pirates of the Caribbean formula, but it does seem a bit contrived. There are lots of daft coincidences, but then it is based on a comic, so plot inconsistency is part of the fun. The special effects are incredible, though sometimes the camerawork is so fast it really is hard to tell what's going on.

And the lesson for all the teenagers watching - if you want a gorgeous girlfriend, or you want to hang on to the one you've got, learn to be a good listener.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How Tony Blair made his mind up



See this cartoon which for copyright reasons can't be blogged here.

You heard it here first

This blog doesn't usually get into the murky world of political personalities - not because I agree with the ranting secularists (and even some Christians) who say that Christian faith and politics don't mix, but because so much of it is gossip and second hand news from political pundits. It's so annoying to get a political story on the news and then spend 10 minutes listening to the 'political correspondent' or someone else tell you what's going on, or what the Chancellor said in his budget, or what the PM said at x or y speech, rather than hearing the politicians say it in their own words.

But today is the day that Tony Blair is confidently predicted to be stepping down, and one 'heavyweight' has not yet ruled himself out of the leadership contest. Clarke, Reid, Straw, Milliband and so on have all stepped back, and Michael Meacher seems to be the only candidate to take on Gordon Brown. But wait, what about Charles Clarkes' partner in crime in launching the '2020 vision' website a couple of months ago to debate the future of the Labour party, TB's neighbour in the North East, frequently tipped as a future leader of the Labour party, conveniently out of the front line of politics for almost the whole of the Iraq war, and who hasn't yet ruled himself out of standing for the leadership?

Step forward, Alan Milburn MP.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spirit of Life

Spent Monday in Coventry, stewarding at 'Spirit of Life', a spirituality fair organised and hosted by the Cathedral, which for my money is one of the best buildings in the UK. The idea was to offer something like 'Mind Body and Spirit' fair, using the language that would appeal to spiritual seekers who normally wouldn't go near a church. However, everything at the event was done by Christians, and it was fantastic to see all sorts of creative things going on.

The area I was stewarding included the 'Jesus Deck' - a pack of cards with 1 suit for each gospel, each card with a picture of a gospel story, with various bits of symbolism within the picture. Pick a card at random, and the card is explained, the story told, and opens up a conversation about connections between the story of Jesus and your own life. On one level it's a 'reading' - a format for spiritual conversation which a lot of people can relate to. On another level it's a form of Bible study, or even counselling.

Quite a few other stalls nearby were about opening up a conversation through some means or other - cards with a variety of words written on them ('Words of Destiny'), pictures and photos etc., though in each case the folk on the stalls would be praying for the Holy Spirit to show them what was going on in the persons life and to help them in what to say. There were clearly some deep conversations going on, and people getting God's guidance and wisdom.

The challenge was in how to explain what was going on to the folk walking by. I tried to use really neutral language, free from churchy jargon, but ended up having to have 1 explanation for Christians (to reassure them that what was happening was ok) and 1 for everyone else. Folk who stopped to have a 'reading' included a long-lapsed Catholic and a Reiki 'healer'. I wonder where else those people are going to stop to talk about the Bible with a Christian and be prayed for? These were things which would probably be more at home at fairs, car boot sales, shopping centres etc. than in a church. The 'Words of Destiny' folk go to Camden market on a regular basis, and local shopping centres in London, and get to talk to and pray with folk from all sorts of backgrounds, including people of other faiths.

In the brief chance I got to wander round, there were all sorts of other things: massage, healing prayer, baby blessings, icon making, sculpture, seminars on angels, and some really creative 'prayer stations' - one which particularly captivated me was called 'water of life', a river of material across the floor of the cathedral starting with a 'waterfall' and ending up at a lighthouse, with all sorts of objects (fish, boats, shells) and words/Bible verses scattered across it, a really rich source of meditation on imagery of the Holy Spirit as water from Ezekiel and Jesus.

There was also some lovely music through the day - gospel singing, and some Latin chant which would sound dreadful in our little parish church but echoing round the Cathedral it was perfect. Oh yes, and some bloke went round all day swinging incense. Like you do.

Came away with a number of questions. One was how much of this could be integrated into the life of the church as it is. Which led me on to wondering whether church 'culture' is so well defined that these kinds of expressions of faith would flourish better outside it than inside it. Many of them have been developed as forms of mission, though they also function as ways of doing prayer ministry, spiritual direction and Bible study and meditation. Also, what happens to people who become Christians through this sort of ministry? I did an excercise with a group a couple of weeks ago by asking them to eat a chocolate mini-roll but saying that they had to chew through the wrapper first. That is many people's experience of church - they want spiritual life, the love of God, forgiveness and grace, but the 'wrapper' of church forms is inedible.

Historically the church has said 'here we are, what you see is what you get, we're not going to take the wrapper off for you, the wrapper is part of the deal'. Mission says (doesn't it?) 'we'll take the wrapper off for you, because it's our responsibility to go to you, not yours to come to us.' The thing is that us who are part of the church are so used to the wrapping that we don't even notice it, nor can we conceive that it might be a problem for anyone else. I was trying to get into a carton of Tesco fresh orange juice the other day, and the effort require to pull the tab off was so much that in the end I gave up and broke in with a pair of scissors. In my head I thought 'a lot of people will just give up with this and never buy it again.' Wonder how many folk have that thought about Jesus because we've made him too hard to get at?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

press release from Bath and Wells Diocese

A new press release related to the priest found guilty of child abuse was put on the Diocesan website on Tuesday 8th May


I had originally put the whole press release here, as it wasn't on the Diocesan website, but have now deleted it as you can now see the full statement by following the link.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

spiritual warfare

Very very good posting here on spiritual attack.

Here's an excerpt
I think the thing that annoys me most is that (talking of minor setbacks as the work of the devil) completely overlooks the human responsibility of things. I’ve been involved in countless church services where the “technology” has failed because the person setting up the projector only left 20 minutes before the service started to get it working (normally only achieving this just as the service starts), and didn’t bother rehearsing thoroughly beforehand. Is that Satan? Well, only in so much as it’s normal human behaviour. To blame the hoofed-one for our lack of planning is hardly sporting though, is it?

Bad News People

It was gut-churningly horrible to sit on Thursday night and watch the news headlines, where the local elections had been knocked off the top of the programme by a vicar in my Diocese being found guilty of sexual abuse, despite his denials. Here is the press statement from the Bishop:

Statement by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Reverend Peter Price on 3 May 2007

The Revd David Smith has been found Guilty of a number of very serious charges. We are shocked and horrified that he has fallen so far short of the very high standards expected of Priests in the Church of England.

We apologise sincerely to David Smith’s victims, their families, the parishes and all involved in this case. We are very sorry that these offences were committed by a man in a position of trust.

We have ensured that proper pastoral care is being offered to all in this case who need it and we will do all within our power to mitigate the harmful effects of these offences. We are also offering appropriate pastoral care to David Smith.

We have taken all necessary steps to do everything in our power to ensure there is no repetition of this situation.

Press enquiries should be made to Prebendary John Andrews, Bath & Wells Diocesan Press Officer, 07971 484061.

It's very hard to know what to say. It also makes me wonder what the effect will be - the BBC was trying to call it the 'tip of the iceberg' and scaremongering the suggestion that there may be lots of similar cases. I very much doubt it - the CofE takes child protection pretty seriously, we were all summoned to Wells on a three-line whip a couple of months ago for some fairily rigorous child protection training. But the media will be scouting for more stories, looking for a re-run of the Catholic sex abuse scandals in the Anglican church.

The trouble is that all vicars are human, and whatever weaknesses we have they don't go away once you put a dog collar on. If anything, the pressure on those areas intensifies, because of having a vocation which requires you to be at your best so much of the time, where you can deal with birth, death, tears, laughter, boring committees, architecture, administration, team-building, finance, vision, worship, research and 20 other things all in the same day. Most clergy go beyond the levels of stress needed to function well, into the zone beyond that. If we're not careful to find healthy ways of dealing with this, then there are plenty of unhealthy ones available - drink, sexual temptation, anger, laziness, abuse of power, neglect of key relationships, money, and so on.

The thing which bothered me at the time, and which still bothers me now, is how little time in my training was given to issues of character. College wasn't an easy place to admit to weakness, and it certainly wasn't a place where the formation of character and dealing with sin (lets call it what it is) was given priority. Study and worship were the main priorities, which is fine as far as it goes, but issues of character and lifestyle just didn't seem to get confronted and dealt with. In a selection system shared between parish, Diocese (at several levels), national church selection panels, training instutions and back to Diocese again, it's easy to pass the responsibility buck to someone else, and let them deal with the difficult stuff. The danger is that nobody deals with it.

I don't know whether, this coming week, parents will look at me more warily than they did last week. Whether the church's reassurances that all our childrens workers have CRB clearance will carry a bit less weight, and it will be that bit harder to reach children and young people with the good news of Jesus. We became bad news on Thursday.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Green things

The BBC website has a story about how the gunge from the production of Fosters lager (I don't think they're talking about the lager itself...) is being used to power a battery. At the same time there is the incredible new solar power station in Spain, if you saw the 10 o clock news last night, and the story is on the BBC site here (the most-read story on the site as I'm writing this).
Even the little picture here is quite awesome, never mind seeing the site itself. Makes me think again about solar roofing for our house, never mind all those south-facing slopes on church rooves up and down the country.

New Cartoon

Couldn't sleep - possibly the excitement of finding out I'll be in Tintinhull cricket team for Saturday's match, my 1st game for 3 years. Sad I know. So here's a cartoon fresh from the pen of Dave Walker. Church leaders I know can feel free to give names to the people in the picture......

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My apologies

Repenting on behalf of nations etc. has a good precedent in the Bible, so having extolled the virtues of cricket on this blog I have to apologise to anyone who, foolishly, might have thought 'Cricket World Cup? well thats bound to be good, I'll watch some.'

It's been one-sided, poorly organised, fun-crushing (instruments banned from grounds), strung out, pointless and ended in virtual darkness a couple of days ago because the umpires couldn't agree on whether a rain-affected game could be completed the following day. Australia demolished everyone in sight, and would have won blindfolded, but the end of the competition in a sense was quite fitting - it was a farce. So as a cricketer, and a fan of cricket, I apologise on behalf of my favourite sport.

Thinking of former prime ministers, as we nearly are, I wonder if ex-PM and cricket fan John Major should be asked to organise the next one.

Westfield Youth Cafe up and running

'Cafe Izaya', the youth cafe on Westfield estate in Yeovil, was officially launched last week, and we had a great commissioning service on Saturday night. There was a small army of volunteers - my guesstimate was about 25, and church leaders from quite a few different places who came to support it. Fantastic to see little St. Peters church full to bursting, and as of yesterday the Cafe went live and opened its doors to local youth for the first time. Great stuff, and lots of credit to the folk at St. Peters church who've watched their hall being taken apart and put back together, and the people from Urban Warriors, especially Adam, Stacey and Jeff, who've made it happen.

Though as I said on Saturday evening, the real heroes are the people who prayed.

(Follow the 'Youth Cafe, Westfield' link in the sidebar to see pictures of what it looked like before. As you can see, one or two last minute adjustments still being made to the building, very nice bit of wooden floor going in at the moment)