Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A question

Was the first December 25-31st in AD 1 or BC1?

If Anno Domini is the Year of our Lord, marking the years of history by the coming of Jesus into the world, then why don't we celebrate his birth on January 1st, rather than December 25th?

And if Jesus earthly life began at conception, then the year should actually begin around March 25th.

There, now you really have got a headache.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fresh Expressions in Bristol Diocese

the CPAS Leadership blog has an interview with Bishop Mike Hill, Bishop of Bristol, about fresh expressions and the 'mixed economy' church (one which combines the best of traditional church life with innovative outreach, mission, and new forms of church).

The interview links to this great little page on the Bristol Diocese website, which has 6 videos of different fresh expressions (definition: forms of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church) within the diocese. The Diocese of Bristol - this is an Anglican diocese, by the way, for folk from other churches who are rubbing their eyes at this point and wondering what was in the mulled wine last night - has it's own church planting policy. I wonder if our folks in Bath and Wells ever talk to them....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning about evangelism from an Atheist

a quote from the clip: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, and you think, ‘Well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward’… How much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?”

Ht Backyard missionary, via Digging a Lot.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Soul Hygiene

Extract from Finding Happiness, a new book by Christopher Jamieson, abbot of Worth, ht Ruth Gledhill:

'A parallel can be drawn from the world of medecine. Before the discovery of germs, hygiene was not considered essential so that many deaths were caused by infections that nobody could see. Once the existence of germs had been identified, physical hygiene became rigorous and lives were saved.

Similarly, the cause of much unhappiness lies hidden from view but is truly present. Our demons are unseen thoughts that make us unhappy and spiritual hygiene is as necessary as medical hygience if these diseases of the soul are to be healed. While we know that we must find time to brush our teeth, to visit the doctor and to take exercise, we have no such shared conviction about the need for spiritual exercises.'

Ruth's full review of the book is here. Prodigal Kiwis link to some other reviews and excerpts. The book is due out on 15th January.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I believe in Father Christmas

Mark Meynell dissects Bono's version of 'I believe in Father Christmas', complete with video and source criticism of the lyrics. Bono turns it from a song of disappointment and disillusionment to a song of faith:

Friday, December 26, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

Amid all the tinsel, baubles, half-eaten turkeys and re-runs of the Muppet Christmas Carol, lets get back to the true meaning of Christmas for a moment. And it’s this:

Game Over.

In the New Testament, there are 2 accounts of the birth of Jesus. Luke’s version tells us that Augustus Caesar rules the world, and proves it by ordering a census which sends poor Jewish families like Joseph & Mary trekking 100 miles on foot to sign a register. No wonder censuses caused riots and uprisings. This isn’t background information, it’s a potent reminder of the harsh reality of the ancient world, and the superpower which ruled it.

Into this Luke drops the fact that Joseph is a direct descendent of David, the great Israelite king. They go to David’s town (Bethlehem), and the miracle baby is born. In the Bible a miracle baby usually means God is about to do something amazing (Isaac, Moses, Samuel). Then the angels (= ‘messengers’) announce that this baby is the Christ, or Messiah. In other words, this is the king God was going to send, who would rule not only God’s people, but the whole world, in God’s way. Stand aside Caesar, there is a new dynasty.

Matthew’s gospel is even more blatant. The first few paragraphs spell out Jesus’ direct descent from king David, right back to Abraham. There is no question that this is the rightful king. It’s therefore quite a surprise to find that Herod is in fact king of Israel. By the time Herod is mentioned (at the start of chapter 2), it’s clear that he’s a usurper, and his job is to stand aside. It’s only the visit of the wise men, come to worship and honour the new king, which puts Herod on red alert.

Of course Herod doesn’t stand aside, and neither does Caesar. Human government - whether the local tyrant (Herod) or the impersonal international system (Caesar) doesn’t take kindly to being challenged. Look at the feverish efforts of the West to maintain military supremacy, and the mind-boggling levels of resources poured into keeping the economic system on its feet in recent months. This system is not about to say ‘ok, game over, somebody else have a go’.

But this is the true meaning of Christmas. Game over: God wants to have a go. A go at ruling with justice, and without cruelty. A new system which, born among the poor, rules for them rather than against them. The birth of Jesus, and the way the gospels portray it, is intensely political. No wonder many early Christians were martyred and persecuted - the powers of the time grasped very clearly what the Christian faith was claiming: there is a new leader, and we are going to follow him, not you.

Sadly the church has messed up in two ways. Firstly, when we’ve had power and influence we’ve not used it well. Crusades. Enough said. Secondly, we’ve allowed the Christmas story to turn in modern times into a twee bit of escapism, and lost the revolutionary political edge which it originally carried.

So have yourself a subversive, political Christmas. It’s what Jesus would want.

This is a cross-post from the Wardman Wire on Christmas Day. And in case you think 'hang on, he's said this before', yes it's an abbreviated version of some of the 'Three Kings' sermon from earlier this week.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

not so silent night

yet another carol deconstructed.

Thanks to Jon Birch.

And a happy Christmas to all my readers*.

ok, both my readers*.

Ok, a very Happy Christmas to you.

Having lost 9 lbs since taking up 5-a-side football in September, there's a bit of spare capacity there for tot of something and some of the Mrs' yummy cooking. Chocolate bread and butter pudding awaits.

May God bless you and the joy and peace of Jesus fill your hearts and homes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

3 Kings: 2 Impostors

Christmas sermon preached at our Carols by Candlelight on Sunday night, with major nods to this sermon by Tom Wright for some of the inspiration.

The two narratives of Jesus birth present radically different points of view. Apart from the birth of Jesus himself, there's scarcely a detail in common. Matthew tells the story from Josephs point of view, and brings in Herod and the Magi, Luke tells it through Mary's eyes and brings in the census and the shepherds.

Both gospel writers mention a king: for Luke it's Augustus Caesar, ruling from Rome, for Matthew it's Herod, the local tyrant. Let's start with Luke.

Imagine an empire which controls the known world. It runs a global financial system, which everyone has to buy into. It is at the heart of a war machine which takes credit for bringing peace to all men, but only brings peace through the threat of armed force. It styles itself as the saviour of the world, the bringer of good news, and the favour of this empire rests on those who will dance to its tune.

What are we describing? The world in 2008, or the world in year Zero? This is the empire run by the Caesars, and all of its imitators right down to the present day. It’s an empire which raises a finger, and whole groups of people are thrown into turmoil.

You see this clearly in Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus, which we heard a moment ago. Tom Wright puts it this way: Luke takes the trouble to tell us about the Roman emperor Augustus, and his desire to take a census of more or less the whole known world. This isn’t just background information, or local colour to spice up the story. Empires, censuses and taxes were hot topics in the Middle East in the first century. When we have a census, we just fill in a boring form and send it off. They’re going to tax us anyway. Every time they had a census there were riots and people got killed: censuses then raised the sharp and dangerous questions of who runs the world, how it’s run, who profits by it all, who gets crushed in the process, and, perhaps above all, when is it all going to change? And what should we be doing about it?

So this Caesar orders a census, and thousands of miles away a young couple are forced from their home to travel 100 miles on foot, resulting in the birth of a baby. Not just a baby, but a new king, announced by God’s messengers the angels. And Luke puts the question to us: which is the true king? Who is really in charge? Are you a subject of Caesar, playing by his rules: the rules of finance and war, and bureaucracy and control, or are you a subject of king Jesus and his rules?

Well, you may say, I didn’t expect to be told about empires and money and wars when I came to church tonight. I expected to hear lovely things that would make me feel good inside. But that’s the trouble with how we’ve treated Christmas these many years.

It’s time we gave Christmas its baubles back. This story is not an invitation to an escapist spirituality, which gets lost in dreamland and snow whilst the world goes to hell in a handbasket. This story is a story of a God who infiltrates the sad, unjust, corrupt, painful mess of the world to change it.

We are insulated from so much of the mess, though with the credit crunch that’s started to change for many of us. But something is deeply wrong. For example, it would cost just $40bn to provide clean drinking water for the hundreds of millions who currently lack it, yet somehow we can’t find that but we can find 20x that amount to bail out our banks and 15x that amount to fight a war over oil. At what stage did this maths begin to add up?

Just across the road in ASDA you can walk through the door and buy fruit, from South Africa. Just think where that’s come from. It has flown over the starving of Zimbabwe, the refugees of the Congo, the militia zones of Sudan, over the heads of millions of people who have no food, no clean water, no hope and no future, it has flown over their heads so that we can buy it. At what stage did this start to make sense? This is the world of Caesar, of the system which doesn't care for the little people, where money and power and celebrity talks and everyone else has to lump it. And God is born into this system, like a virus, to change it from the inside out.

King Caesar: the global system, the rule of power and money which we see starting to disintegrate on an almost daily basis. The world which makes us feel so small – an American crook steals $50bn over here, and thousands of people lose their jobs at MFI and Woolworths. A bunch of overpaid city types get the frights on the stock market, and our pensions vanish overnight. And we feel powerless. Yet Luke himself focuses on the powerless: Jesus born to a homeless couple in a stable, the angels coming to the shepherds: security guards on a nightshift, a pretty low status job. Here is where the action is. Here is a new king, with the poor and weak, the small, the normal people. God with us.

But there is an alternative to Caesar, and to Jesus, and Matthew introduces us to him. The third king is Herod: a more local, petty power than Caesar, but just as brutal. Herod murdered family members whom he thought to be a threat. Yet he surrounded his brutality with a religious veneer: building a great temple in Jerusalem and trying to pass himself off as a rightful Jewish King. (A temple, incidentally, that God was so unimpressed by that, despite it's size and quality, he had the Roman army knock it down within 70 years of its construction. He had a different kind of Temple in mind.)

Maybe it’s not the system that’s our problem, but something closer to home. I met someone the other day who is off work with depression because of bullying. Or its within our families, our streets, our community, where we feel vulnerable to those who throw their weight about. Some of them even use religion to support their power games. Those people we make an extra effort to keep happy, because we all know what happens when they get unhappy. Many people are afraid: afraid to be out on the streets after dark, afraid of their boss, afraid of the threat to them, or to their children.

The local tyrant. By the time we meet him in Matthew, we already know Herod is an imposter - Matthew sets out the genealogy of Jesus, which puts him in direct descent from King David. He gives Jesus the title 'Christ' - the Messiah, the promised king. And then the shock: "during the time of King Herod" (2:1) - who on earth is Herod? Jesus is clearly the rightful king, so what's this impostor doing on the throne in his place?

Which of the three kings do we want be ruled by? Which is the true king? Caesar: the system. Herod: the tyrant. Or Jesus. Not a king who rules by rules and forms and a faceless system, not one who rules by violence and threat. The true king is different.

what happens where Jesus is king?
- Wilberforce: fought for decades to abolish slave trade
- St. Peters: built a chicken shed into a church hall, now full to bursting with groups for all ages. It seems quite fitting that an animal shed should be a centre of hope for a community, just as it was once, and still is, the centre of hope for the whole world.
- Street Pastors; over 2000 people now, aged 18 to 80, on the streets on Friday and Saturday night, looking after the drunk and the depressed and the lost and the lonely.

Can I say to you, we need you. If God has blessed you with life, health,
and prosperity, then we need you.
There is so much to do, there is so much that still needs to change. Christmas is not the time when we escape from all this, it’s the time when we see that God himself has put his shoulder to the wheel of world history, and we say ‘yes’ to Christ, our king and 'no' to these impostors and pretenders. Jesus doesn’t want your vote in a phone poll, he doesn’t want you to buy his merchandise and branded items, he wants you and me to get up and work alongside him in the new world that God wants to build. The shepherds left their work, the wise men left their homes, Mary and Joseph took the risk of saying ‘yes’ to God’s call. Because there is a new king.

This is the surprising news of Christmas: you have a choice. You can live by the old rules, under the old ruler, or you can live a new life under a new king, a life under God’s favour, a life worth living.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fresh Expressions of Christmas

...on the Church of England website today, a list of some of the creative things churches are doing around the country to celebrate Christmas. St. James & St. Peters Yeovil even made the list, so we must be doing something right....

Guardian on church decline: Better Late than Never?

The Guardian is reporting a story on forecasts of church decline which, strangely, uses exactly the same figures reported by the Times, Telegraph and various bloggers back in May (see here for some links, and here for Ruth Gledhills report back in May).

I know how they feel: I'm currently clearing my desk of all sorts of things which have been sitting there, waiting to be dealt with, so I'm guessing this is one of those.

Bizarrely, the opening paragraph is factually accurate: In one of the most holy weeks in the Christian calendar, a report says that in just over a generation the number of people attending Church of England Sunday services will fall to less than a tenth of what they are now, it's just that the report has been saying it for several months now.

Do you think they were saving this one up for maximum seasonal impact, perchance? I think it's gone a bit stale in the meantime. However, this hasn't stopped it being picked up by the popular Religion News 'blog', (which isn't a blog as you can't post comments.)

Christian Research's latest Religious Trends (2007-8) is available here.

And just to be completely even-handed, ask yourself how this excellent article from Rowan Williams can be the source of this bizarre Telegraph headline.

Tom Wright: Christmas sermon extract

The NT Wright page (maintained by a fan, I think) has served up some great background reading for Christmas sermons. In amongst it all, is this searing passage, preached 2 years ago:

Because it really is dark out there, and alas sometimes in here too. The great revolution of thought which happened in Europe over three centuries ago, associated with Descartes in particular, was the attempt to grasp truth as it were from scratch: by doubting everything, we would see what we could be sure of and build out from there.

We would know the facts, and the facts would set us free – free from God, free from any responsibility except to our own self-interest. There’s a straight line from Descartes to Dawkins: we can doubt God, but we can’t doubt the facts, the empirical evidence.

And the results of that arrogant attempt to possess truth are all around us, etched in the horrors of the twentieth century and now already the multiple follies of the twenty-first, as we in the West blunder blindly on, believing firmly that because we know the facts and have the technology we can do what we like with other people’s countries, other people’s stem cells, other people’s crops, other people’s money, other people’s lives.

And meanwhile the worm in the apple has hollowed it out more or less completely: the ‘truth’ which we thought we knew has been eaten away not just in theology and philosophy but in its heartland of physics, by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and in its deeper heartland of the human being, where Descartes began.

We have become a society paranoid about truth: so we make each other fill in more and more forms, and set up more cameras to spy on each other, to check up on one another because we want the truth, we want an audit trail, we want more and more Enquiries and Judicial Reviews and Investigations, but we can’t get at truth because Descartes’ experiment has itself made it impossible, has generated a world of suspicion and smear and spin.

and it's not just society...

But if the world has tried to have truth without grace, the church has often been tempted towards grace without truth – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, ‘cheap grace’.

God has become a benevolent old softie, ready to tolerate everything, to include everyone, to throw away all those unpleasant old moral standards and say it’s all right, do your own thing, if it feels good it must be OK.

And once again the results are all around – both in the anti-moralism of the arch-liberals and the anti-authoritarianism of today’s new conservatives, who don’t realise that they are simply producing an ecclesiological parody of the do-it-yourself morality they so detest.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Podcasts on Depression and mental health

Just stumbled across Holy Trinity Cheltenhams sermon podcasts, and fascinating to see that they've been doing a series on 'Singing the Blues', covering depression and mental health. Podcasts of the last 3 talks in the series were up when I visited, don't know if they drop off the bottom when more recent ones become available.

Worth a look, and torpedoes the stereotype of New Wine churches as happy clappy bless-ups with no time for reality and the tough side of life.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Charity Commission: Mission is consistent with charity status

The Charity Commission published new guidance this week on religious charities, with a clear statement that mission activity is consistent with charity status. (Church Times report here, also reported at Religious Intelligence). New charity legislation has, since 2006, required charities to prove 'public benefit', and the guidance spells out how the 'advancement of religion' can qualify for this.

Here is the key section, in Annex B 'Examples of ways in which charities can advance religion'

Seeking new followers or adherents
Proselytising (seeking to convert someone to a faith or religion) is used by many charities advancing religion as an established and accepted means of attracting new followers or adherents. In some religions proselytising is seen as an essential part of the outworking of the religion.

For example, Christians regard evangelising as a central part of their religion.

In the majority of cases, proselytising is carried out sensitively and without coercion and does not present any public benefit difficulties.

However, there are circumstances in which the way in which proselytising is carried out, or the effects of proselytising, can affect public benefit, such as where it involves:
  • exerting improper pressure on people in distress or need; or
  • activities that entail the use of violence or brainwashing; or
  • activities offering material or social advantages with a view to gaining new members of the religion.
Which all seems very sensible, and recognises that mission is part of the character of Christian faith, rather than trying to chop off the missionary arms and legs of Christian groups to turn them into social charities. However, the guidance also provides a fairly broad-brush definition of what 'public benefit' might look like:

the following are examples of the ways in which advancing religion has the potential to be for the public benefit:
  • the provision of sacred spaces, churches and worship services;
  • the provision of public rituals and ceremonies;
  • contributing to the spiritual and moral education of children;
  • contributing towards a better society for example by promoting social cohesion and social capital;
  • carrying out, as a practical expression of religious beliefs, other activities (such as advancing education or conflict resolution, or relieving poverty), which may also be charitable;
  • contributing to followers’ or adherents’ good mental and physical health; aiding the prevention of ill health, speeding recovery and fostering composure in the face of ill health;
  • providing comfort to the bereaved;
  • healthcare and social care.

It is not necessary for a charity advancing religion to have to demonstrate all of the types of benefit listed above. It may be sufficient to demonstrate just one benefit.

It also puts the ball squarely in the court of those who don't think religious groups should have charitable status, to produce the evidence.

The need for evidence: as with other charities, in the same way that public benefit must be capable of being demonstrated, so must detriment or harm where this is an issue. In assessing the public benefit of charities whose aims include advancing religion we will consider any evidence of significant detrimental or harmful effects of that organisation carrying out its aims in its particular circumstances.

General disagreement with the beliefs, activities or practices of a particular religion does not constitute evidence of the existence of detriment or harm.

It'll be interesting to see what the likes of the National Secular Society do with that one. They're clearly a bit cheesed off that the CC didn't accept their arguments. It really is fascinating to play 'spot the narrative' on their website: with one cluster of stories (e.g. abolition of the blasphemy law) it's a 'woohoo, Britain is becoming a secular society and we're leading the charge', but with unfavourable stories it's all about special pleading and collusion between church and state. And (as usual), no attempt whatsoever to be balanced and accept that faith groups do generate public benefits.

On a lighter note, I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

However, not all charities whose aims include advancing religion have a governing document which sets out its aims in this way.

For example, in the Church of England, Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) are governed by an ecclesiastical measure which sets out some of the ‘functions’ of a PCC which form the basis of the aims.

In other words, the CofE doesn't define itself as a missionary church in its governing documents. Oops. But it looks like the CC will let us share our faith anyway, so that's ok.


A few highlights from the last year on St. Aidan to Abbey Manor:

Wannabe TV Critic: A couple of BBC programmes earlier in the year caught my eye, and we actually managed to watch all of them. Extreme Pilgrim featured a Sussex vicar trying a variety of spiritual practices, and it was interesting that most people hooked onto his experience in the Egyptian desert, on a solo retreat guided by monk Father Lazarus.

Closer to home, The Choir: Boys Don't Sing followed singing teacher Gareth Malone as he tried to introduce choral singing to a tough boys school in Leicester. The series finished with a triumphant piece in the Royal Albert Hall, and I was struck throughout by Gareths ability to motivate and inspire the boys. There were lots of lessons on discipleship and team building. Somehow my thoughts got picked up by BBC2, and a small torrent of visitors popped in from the series homepage.

The BBC's The Passion got a blow-by-blow account, a really interesting, and mostly faithful, take on the events of Holy Week, and the DVD is out in time for, erm, Christmas.

Wannabe Statistician: When the CofE attendance stats for 2006 were published in early 2008, I tried to compare them to Bob Jacksons work on Diocesan attendance changes in the 1980s and 1990s. So there are posts on change in adult weekly attendance, midweek attendanc & adult Sunday attendance, and some statistically questionable stuff comparing this decade with those gone by and asking if we're turning the corner or not.

Wannabe Activist: A couple of campaigns, one to mobilise the local church to get involved in our local District Council consultation on the future of South Somerset.

On a wider scale was the fiasco that is the Dave Walker Affair, and all the nonsense with the former SPCK bookshops which has followed it. That's been the dominant part of my blogging since July 22nd, and no doubt will continue as the whole sad business continues to unravel. Until Mark Brewer tried to shut down blogging about the former SPCK bookshops, I must admit I wasn't really following things, and hadn't got remotely involved. It took censorship threats to a blogger I respect and admire to galvanise me, and dozens of others, into action.

Wannabe Pundit: it's been a demanding, though very helpful discipline to have to write a weekly piece for the Wardman Wire. Touching Base (the name of the column) forces me to engage with politics and culture, and argue for a spiritual/Christian viewpoint in the language of the political and social marketplace. It's a blog that reaches a much bigger audience than this one, though it's slightly dispiriting that only my film reviews there have attracted much comment! It's also made me read a lot more reports - by church and government - than I would otherwise have done: having to engage with Moral But No Compass, Welfare reform, as well as the moral subtexts of party conference speeches has been fun.

Traffic: it's not about the numbers*, but having a bit of traffic has been useful for publicity about the blogger censorship issue. This time last year, after just over 12 months of blogging, there'd been about 8,000 visitors, and daily traffic was about 20 or so. That's quadrupled, with the main sources being SPCK-related searches/links, and 'The Choir:Boys Don't Sing'. It's also really nice to get linked from other blogs, feels like there's at least something vaguely worthwhile here, and that's taken off a bit this year too.

*ok, it is a bit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

this years samtsirhc eert

Last year Dave Walker alerted us to the John Lewis upside-down Christmas Tree. Well it's back. In 2 colours. And one has already sold out.

Or have they both sold out?

I guess it makes floor space available in your compact and bijou city residence, but it must be a bit worrying having a tree which points to the Other Place. and where do you put the star?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fresh Expressions of Hospital Chaplaincy

Last week I did a hospital chaplaincy study day for the team at our local hospital in Yeovil. They had questions around prayer, worship patterns, children, and how to respond to patients who are on a spiritual journey but don't come to chapel services.

So here's what we did:

Mapping current work: asked everyone there (paid chaplain plus team of volunteers) to write on post-it's all the things they did, one post it for each item. We then stuck them on the wall in groups around common themes. The two biggest clusters were the chapel service and ward visits, with other smaller groups for training, hospital leadership, visitors, etc.

a few primer questions: where is the shoe pinching, what would they like to develop.

Change - in the NHS. We brainstormed how the health sector had changed in the last 20 years, then using material from the Tomorrow Project, looked at some of the key factors in change for the next 20.

coffee break

Change - in society. Presentation on the transition from Christendom to post-Christendom, and what this means for the way the church does mission. Powerpoints put together from a variety of sources: stats in Bob Jacksons 'Hope for the Church' on Anglican decline, graphics from George Lings (e.g. here, warning: big file), plus the TEAR Fund research on churchgoing (chart here). The final ingredient was the recent research into the 'spiritual age', with both the rise in interest and spiritual experiences across the general population, and the life issues which 'spiritual' people relate to.


Mapping the hospital: brainstorm of the different groups within the hospital - quite a diversity, as it turned out, from volunteers at the trolley shop to visitors to patients with a wide range of profiles. We then compared where the current effort goes with where people are, and looked at some possible connections (e.g. giving prayer cards to the trolley shop, so that they can sell them, rather than everything having to come through the chaplaincy team)

That turned into a general discussion about how the work could be developed, and how far we'd got from the primer questions at the start of the day.

What next: asked people to describe the kind of chaplaincy they'd like to see in 3 years time, then what would need to happen in the next 6 months to bring that about.

It seemed to go very well, a very fruitful time, with lots of good ideas. Though other hospitals I know have stopped putting lots of resources into a chapel service in favour of ward-based ministry, the mood seemed to be more for a mixed economy, as it was still local Christians who made the most direct demands on chaplaincy services. There was a deeper question there of 'who is this chaplaincy for?' which could be explored a bit more!!

If you're interested in the powerpoints and other material for the day, drop me a line/email/Facebook message and I'll happily pass them on. I've not yet worked out if I can upload files through Blogger, so if you're a techie and can tell me how to do it then I might even add them here.

Ideas which might have some life in them included:
- hosting seminars on ethical issues for hospital staff/wider community

- exploring how technology could be used to make worship available to patients during the week: e.g. CD player or ipod based service. May be beyond the resources of a single chaplaincy, but if several clubbed together and tapped into a Diocesan mission fund....

- involving other people in spiritual ministry: e.g. letting nurses and shops have prayer cards, 'footprints' or 23rd psalm are accessible to most people.

- decentralising the chapel, having some kind of prayer station on each ward for prayer requests, contemplation etc. We looked at one example of a church in Weston super-mare which is open throughout the day, as part of a larger Healthy Living Centre, and has a little 'shrine' with votive candles, a water feature, cards for prayer requests etc., which sits in the corner and is a lovely contemplative space for people.

- Things to give people: Bibles are often too heavy going for people who are ill, but a holding cross, or something tangible, can actually enable people to express things in other ways.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SPCK Bookshops Update

Nearly 5 months ago now, the new owners of SPCK books, the Society of St. Stephen the Great (in the person of head honcho Mark Brewer) started sending libel threats to various bloggers who were reporting their activities. To say it backfired is an understatement of, if not Biblical, then perhaps Shakespearean proportions. If you're averse to the sound of unpleasant things hitting an electrically powered rotating air circulation device, then look away now.

the current charge list against SSG and its various manfestations is...
- Charity Commission investigation
- Trading Standards investigation
- Failed attempt to get company declared bankrupt in US (thus avoiding having to pay over 100 suppliers and former staff in the UK)
- Industrial tribunals on behalf of over 30 staff, which after a case conference last week have started paying out (see the comments on the link), but we don't yet know how much everyone will get. £7,000 is a start.
- Questions about VAT
- Contributions paid by employees to pension funds gone AWOL - they have come out of wage packets, but not gone into the pension fund, so where are they?
- NI contributions gone AWOL, in pretty much the same way.
- Some very strange movements of funds in the weeks before Mark Brewer tried to get SSG declared bankrupt in the USA. According to court paperwork, 6 figure sums moved out of the bookshops into other organisations owned by the Brewers whilst suppliers and staff remained unpaid.

SSG relaunched itself as 'ENC management company' a few months ago, with 2 other organisations running the shops in Durham (the flagship store, in the precincts of the ancient cathedral) and Chichester. The petition to save the store from the Brewers has been picked up by the local press. If you want to read or sign the petition, or see the comments made on it go here. 338 people have signed at time of writing, and each new block of 50 is forwarded to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. Cathedral staff have responded to the petition, and it looks like work is going on in the background, but judging by how quiet it's being kept, it probably involves lawyers.

A new petition to save the Chichester shop, launched in the last week, which has already reached the attention of the Diocesan hierarchy, though they may be a little distracted at the moment. Approaching 100 signatories at time of writing, one of whom comments:

As a former SPCK Bookshop manager, I have first-hand experience of the suffering the Brewers put their employees through and the contempt with which they treat customers, landlords and suppliers. Their business ethics are deplorable and the Church of England should play no part in allowing them to make divisive, anti-ecumenical mischief on church property. Get them out and provide the backing (as for Norwich) for the current manager and former staff to provide a valuable, Christ-centred and well-run ecumenical resource centre.

A sad final chapter for a great bookshop chain.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Garden Centre Christingle

Had our 2nd of 3 Christingles this evening at Brimsmore Garden Centre, on the outskirts of Yeovil, which went very well.

The Garden centre staff pitched in by prepping all the oranges for us, Yeovil Town Band did the music, and there was even mulled wine and mince pies afterwards. 60-70 people there by the end (attendance tends to rise as the service progresses, as people wandering through the store hear the singing and stop by to join in).

11 down, 7 to go.

Alternative Carol Singing

Ht Madpriest, and I'll leave you to guess which of these I've got... apparently this was put together by a group of psychiatric patients as a contribution to the ward magazine. Slightly different version here.
For the mathematical, Smaller than Life has a wonderful collection of Christmas carols as Venn diagrams, which you can even order as Christmas cards. HT Steve Tilley.
And for the outraged of Milton Keynes, Ship of Fools is hosting a vote on the most annoying word changes to Christmas carols, with anything non-inclusive sacrificed on the altar of, well, what exactly? (HT Dave Walker) I have to admit that my all-time pet horror is the decimation of 'Onward Christian Soldiers', but as that's not a Christmas carol I'll have to wait until another time of year to moan about it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sacramental Fresh Expressions

links to some good stuff on fresh expressions in the sacramental tradition:

A pilgrimage to Coventry Cathedral last week has it's own page on the main Fresh Expressions site, with links to several sacramental & contemplative fresh expressions projects

Jennie Hogan wrote for the Church Times a few weeks ago on why Anglo-Catholics need to engage with fresh expressions. The link should be viewable, even if you're not a subscriber.

Ian Mobsby has created a social network site Fresh Expressions of the Sacramental Traditions, which pulls together blogs, talks, links, events, discussion forums etc. He's also uploaded a few vids of the Moot fresh expression onto Youtube.

Simon Rundall, who is part of the Blessed worship community, has a selection of interesting stuff from YouTube, including some of the material used at the Coventry pilgrimage.

and here's some of a recent Songs of Praise which focussed on fresh expressions. It picks up on the story of Moot at about 3:20 in:

update: see also Prodigal Kiwi's, who blogged on this today, and flag up a book due out in spring '09 on the topic.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


This years Christmas no.1 will once again not mention Jesus. But in a good way - it goes back a further 1000 years in the Bible to King David. I had my doubts - the idea of X factor popsters murdering a classic song was giving me sleepless nights, but it was good, very good.

Dave Bish has posted all the lyrics, though the X Factor version only uses 3 of the verses, and makes the point that very few people will understand the song because they don't know the stories behind it. Especially as Leonard Cohen (who wrote it) himself deliberately mixes up the Bible stories (David and Samson) and uses them all as a metaphor for his own angst.

I wonder what it says about us that we keep choosing bittersweet melodies for our Christmas no.1's - anyone remember Gary Jules' Mad World from a couple of years back?

And the final verse is amazing:

I did my best, it wasn't much,
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you,
And even though. It all went wrong,
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Update: also commenting: Ruth Gledhill, Way out West congratulates Leona Lewis for winning for the 2nd year running ;-], Bryan Appleyard thinks that the misery of Hallelujah was a good antidote to the screaming crowd (echoing the words of, I think, Ecclesiastes: 'sorrow is better than laughter because a sad face is good for the heart'), Virtual Methodist has mixed feelings, and the Jesus Blog says 'Chrisitans please don't get sucked in'.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Welfare Reform: Injustice Alert

I've posted a critique of the Governments welfare reform proposals, announced during the week, at the Wardman Wire. You can read the full article there, but here's some of it.

Lone Parents and Families.
The proposals for lone parents are that they will be on conditional benefits by the time their children are 7+, and whilst their children are 3-7 they’ll be taking steps back to work. The legislation “will enable advisers to require lone parents with a youngest child aged 3 or over to undertake work-related activity, a skills health check and training…” (para 6.68, my emphasis). If they don't comply, benefits can be stopped.

Why is this? Because the paper has “an emphasis on tackling the underlying causes of poverty rather than just treating the symptoms” (para 7.9), and if lone parents are working, their children are less likely to be in poverty.

But that’s not the only cause of child poverty. The governments own figures (see tables in chapter 4) show that children are twice as likely to be in either absolute or relative poverty if they are in lone parent households, compared to households with 2 parents. One underlying cause of poverty is family structure, yet this is an issue the government consistently refuses to address. The best thing you can do for your kids is wait until you’ve got a faithful partner to have them with. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a start.

There are two other injustices here:

1. Parenthood is work. Even with a 7 year old, you are on call 24/7, and if you put together the work involved in looking after them, creating a good home environment, and doing all the mundane things which need going when you’ve got kids, then that is a full time job. Yet the implicit message here is that it’s not, we would rather you stick your kids in ‘wraparound childcare’ (which may well be substandard in the first place) so that you can do paid work.

Good, attentive parenting can do more for your kids than a few hours on the checkout at ASDA, or whatever other McJob you’re forced to accept by your personal job trainer. What stuns me is that parents of 3-6 year olds will get coaching and training offered in work skills, but nothing whatsoever in parenting skills. Once again, there is no value or support given to their primary occupation. An investment in the parenting and relational skills of parents of under-7’s will do a lot more for their children’s wellbeing than forcing them to return to work once their child hits 7.

2. It singles out the poor. There may be a small army of lone parents desperate to get back to work, and they’ll get more support to do that through these proposals. But there is also a small army of non-working parents who will escape government coercion. These are the partners of working people who don’t qualify for benefit, so the government can’t wave a big stick at them to get them back into the labour market. Actually it can, it’s called Child Tax Credit, but there is nothing here about stopping CTC (or Child Benefit) for middle class mums. Why pick on lone parents? Because they are easier to coerce through the benefits system, and, if you’re cynical, it might just be about the votes too.

Let me be clear: I don’t think that any full-time parent of children under 16 should be coerced into the labour market, and it is unjust and unfair that only the poorest and most vulnerable parents are going to be coerced in this way.

Work and Mental Health
The White Paper notes, almost in passing, that “Mental health conditions are now the single biggest cause of absence from work and of claims for incapacity benefits” (para 5.83). Yet in a 210 page document there are only 6 paragraphs on mental health, which basically say “we’re not sure we know enough about this.”

Despite that, those with mental health problems will also come under the regime of ‘job consultants’ to help them back into work. How on earth the government plans to train up thousands of Job Centre employees to do this isn’t explored. There is a bewildering range of mental illnesses, and understanding everything from anxiety disorders to seasonal depression, OCD and anorexia will require a big input of training.

My worry is that the training just won’t happen, so decisions about benefits will be taken by people who simply don’t know what they’re talking about. The very process of seeing your benefits at risk will heighten stress and anxiety for some, and what safeguards are there? “We would not put in place sanctions against anyone without first contacting them, their carer or their health professional” (para 5.85). Well that's reassuring. Not. It's a commitment to inform, nothing more. How is placing the mentally ill under more pressure going to help them?

Again, this is symptoms and not cause. There are a nest of cultural, economic and social reasons for the epidemic of mental illness, but there is nothing here that proposes to tackle any of them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Atheist daughter, Reverend mother

Story from the (ahem) Mail about an atheist daughter whose mum has just been ordained here in Somerset, and how she feels about it all. It's a very honest piece, and fascinating to read about her reactions, and how they deal with having their children at a church school, after moving back to the UK from France:

In September, they started at a Church of England school in Cornwall. I had initially liked the fact that French state schools are completely secular, but, as the years went by, I found myself rather jealous of friends whose children were in Nativity plays.

Religion was never mentioned at school, to the point where I began to notice the children taking their cue from us, their atheist parents, and declaring that 'God doesn't exist'. Following my gentle reminders that, 'You can believe whatever you like. Lots of people believe in him', they'd exclaim, 'but they're wrong, aren't they, Mum?'

St Francis, the primary school the children go to now, has made me question all my previous assumptions. I ticked the 'no religion' box on every form we were given, but they let us in anyway. And the school felt like the right environment from the moment we walked through the door.

At school, the children have absorbed the fact that they can believe whatever they want to believe. Seb, my second son, currently has a 'God' who has a lot in common with Superman, but with the added power of invisibility.

Gabe, the eldest, is not interested, but is more tolerant than he used to be. Now that I am older and less trenchant, and now that we have a vicar in the family, I can see a grounding in religion as a positive thing.

Apart from anything else, they will know the Bible stories that will help them appreciate their literary and artistic heritage. How do you read Milton (or even Dan Brown), or understand the Sistine Chapel, unless you have an idea of what is behind it? Seb is going to be in a Nativity play this year, and I have the camera ready.

Ht Madpriest, of all people. The piece is also encouraging in that here are two people in the same family, with opposite religious viewpoints, who haven't let it come between them.

I'm also wondering whether to copy this from his blog, as it's very funny and was written by the patients themselves, but was a tad controversial at the time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Kids on the Blogroll

Several new blogs added to my bookmarks recently, so for your delight and delectation (or derisive cries of 'how come he's not noticed that one before?')...

Two Church Mice: new blog by John and Olive Drane. John Drane wrote The McDonaldisation of the Church, in case you're trying to place the name, and also passed my Mphil dissertation, which was nice of him. They say: this blog will be about dreaming dreams, imagining visions, and speculating on what might be if the Christian message is to be authentically contextualized in the culture we know best - which, of course, is not narrowly Scottish, or British, or even western, because we also all live in a global village.

The Blue Fish Project blog on mission, preaching, and a bit of a Clapham Junction of links to wider Christian blogland. None of the kind of frivolous nonsense you get here, and consistently thoughtful.

J R Woodward - linked there a couple of weeks ago for his awesome online mission primer, but he has plenty of other stuff to say too. Covers mission, culture, quotes, book reviews, theology etc.

Dave Male has also recently started blogging, he's a Fresh Expressions leader and practitioner, and blogs some of his own talks and presentations, and issues around leadership, new forms of church, mission and community.

Castle of Nutshells is subtitled 'evolving theology and creeping faith', and covers a fascinating variety of topics. Love the title.

Meanwhile Bishop Alan has awarded me an, um, award: here it is -

I guess this is like a meme, but with virtual sweeties as an extra incentive. The award was invented by the Scholastic Scribe, and basically invites you to choose your 5 'most deserving' blogs, and bless them with the award too, who then in turn.... you get the picture. Here are the 'rules':

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.

4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

So (drumroll), I'd like to award the Superior Scribbler Award to....

Phil Groom: for his courage in calling Mark Brewers bluff on his legal threats, and dedication in continuing to blog about the increasingly sad saga of the former SPCK bookshops. The potential charge list against the new owners seems to grow by the week, and Phil has led the line in keeping this issue in the public domain.

Archdruid Eileen at The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. Mad, bad or tongue-in-cheek? You decide. The cyber-coenobitic community for the 21st century - and now with added tealights! More traditional than Celtic Christianity (like that's hard...); more Arran Sweaters than the Highlands and Islands; more facial hair than a convention of Dubliners fans (and that's just the Archdruid). With the exception of Ship of Fools, there hasn't been any decent Christian satire in the UK since the sad demise of the Winebibber, but now there is a tealight at the end of the tunnel.

Steve Tilley. Whilst people like me tend to wander blogland looking for other people's stuff to comment on/repost/argue with, Steve is very much his own man, and I love his originality and honesty. It was reading his blog which first gave me the idea of starting this one.

Sunday Papers a co-operative youth/mission blog which never ceases to be original and questioning.

And Dave Walker because it's all his fault that I got into this SPCK stuff in the first place. He took a big hit on behalf of a lot of people back in July, when Mark Brewer threatened him with court action for reporting the truth about the new regime at the former SPCK bookshops, and 507 of us (last count) have signed up on Facebook to support him. So I'm giving the award to him because without the profile and consistent probing which he gave to this issue, people like me and dozens of others wouldn't be on the case now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tribal Generation gathering, Yeovil 13th December

one of the most bizarre and exciting gatherings I have ever been to where 5000 people from across South America gathered to worship God and learn more about how to reach their generation and their cultural group.I encountered men and women of God reaching out to Goths, hell’s angels, heavy metal, emos, transsexuals, prostitutes, homeless and drug addicts. It was truly inspiring and humbling to hear the stories of transformation and hope, and it was exciting to see how churches were being planted in these cultures.

The Tribal Generation is a movement to equip the planting of new churches, which focus on reaching the emerging generation. We are arranging a Tribal Generation meeting in the UK and we are inviting you to join with us and share your visions for this generation

More information here, Tall Skinny Kiwi is going. And it's free. Yeovil, centre of the universe!

Rebecca Adlington and following Jesus

Fascinating article in the Times earlier this week about how Rebecca Adlington was coached to her gold medal, and the various elements which went into that amazing swim in Beijing.

The article picked up on a number of things:
- a defeat earlier in the year, which led the coaching staff to focus on particular weaknesses
- dealing with stress, in the forms both of public pressure (hence the decision to hire a private pool in Beijing, away from the public gaze) and illness
- working on transitions, the turn at the end of each length which saved valuable time over the course of the race
- training and recovery practices which enabled Adlington to be at her best in the final.

As an Olympic swimmer, it's fairly simple to focus on just 1 thing, and to direct all your energies towards that. I initially started relating this to preaching and leading worship, but then realised that there are loads of points in a working week when I need to hit top form - not just the up front stuff, but listening, leading meetings, asking questions, thinking through issues and stuff that people are saying to me, not to mention being a husband and a dad.

So how far is Adlington's excellence a model for Christians? Ultimately we're about 1 thing only - loving God with all of our powers. And if we are seeking first God's kingdom - his rule in our lives and in the world, then every other part of our lives orbits around this centre, whether it's work, family, rest, ministry or blogging.

1. Defeat: Anglican liturgy has the confession of sin hard-wired into it, but though at one level we spend lots of time focusing on our defeats and failures (and the Book of Common Prayer is even more trenchant about it), at another level we never take sin seriously enough. Say what you like about the Catholic practice of confession, at least it forces you to be specific. Adlington won because she, with her coaches (of which more later) was able to identify and focus on specific weaknesses, and correct them. Leadership guru John Maxwell contends that it takes 60 days of persevering effort to change a habit. Merely declaring each week that the habit is a bad one won't do the trick.

Confession 'works' at one level in that it gives us the chance to admit our guilt to God and recieve forgiveness. But it doesn't work at the level of discipleship, because it doesn't help us form character and grow in grace. If we want to change a habit, we need to focus on it, pay attention to it, be accountable for change, and monitor progress.

2. Stress: life is stressful, it's now a standard condition of life. So the question is, which stresses will we voluntarily go through, and which will we strategically avoid? There's loads to say about this, but 2 thoughts here:

One stress which afflicts loads of Christians is the need to 'witness' - for which read 'keep up a good public face because if we don't then Jesus won't be honoured'.

Actually I think we do God more harm than good with this; the word hypocrite was coined for an actor who presented a public face to the audience, behind which s/he hid their real one. Jesus doesn't seem to be too bothered about either his own reputation, or that of God. If the public face of his followers is, according to Jesus, a condemned criminal staggering under the weight of a cross, then Christians have no business being shiny happy people. If we really are happy, great, praise God, but if not don't make it harder for yourself by being 2 people instead of one.

We are not called to lose our integrity for the sake of the gospel, and neither are we called to lose our health, be it mental or physical. Burnout, nervous breakdowns, exhaustion - all quite regular occurences among church leaders - should alert us to the fact that something is wrong in the way we do church. It's worst in December, as my 18-item list of Christmas services shows, but the whole year we seem to spend most of our efforts and resources a) maintaining a building and b) laying on events in that building. Is that what it's really all about?

Someone has compared the church to a football match: hundreds of people desperately in need of exercise watching 22 people desperately in need of a rest. We're currently discussing clergy deployment in our Deanery, but what we're not discussing is the model of working we expect of our church leaders. Are we just going to keep cranking the handle until the cranker keels over, or is there another way to be the community of Jesus? At one level we are caught: the residue of Christendom demands that we be one sort of church (building, events, carol services) and post-Christendom requires that we be another (listening, creative, relational, community based 'go to them' rather than event-based 'come to us'). Trying to be both at the same time is hard.

3. Transitions: when I've been in music groups, it's often been the transitions - introductions, changes between songs - which have needed more rehearsal than the songs themselves. I'm aware that I don't do very well here: my sermon introductions and endings need far more work than I actually give them, and acts of worship that need to be crafted to flow well are often simply stitched together from a few component parts.

For visitors, there's the transition to the interior of the church - is it a good one which raises their spirits, or a threatening and dark, unfamiliar building, full of wary glances? For Adlington, one of the points she had to work on was how to get the most energy from pushing off at the beginning of a new length. When we begin our worship, our meetings, our anything, do we do so with an energy and a fresh sense of momentum, or just float into the next thing? I'm frequently conscious of my own energy levels in worship, and those of others, and how we can lose that energy in the way we lead, the words we use, and so on.

4. Training and recovery. I don't ever recall being taught how to recover from a sermon, but this is a season when I'll be recovering from adrenaline highs several times over a very short space of time. In retrospect, I'm doing too much, and have agreed to too many requests to take services, but at the time each one looks like a great opportunity.

It also makes me conscious that I've not been filling my tanks when I had the opportunity. At quieter times of the year there's been the chance to train, read, go on retreat, pray with people, plan ahead, rest, do things which renew me and give me energy. December is not the time to realise that you've nearly run out of steam, yet for 2 Sundays on the trot I've spent the afternoon in bed, exhausted. Some of that is illness, some of it isn't.

The common thread throughout Adlingtons story is not only her own talent, but having coaching staff who were able to spot things and help her through them. Adlington had such trust in her coaches that she changed training routines, followed instructions, and through disciplining herself to be led by others, achieved what she wanted. It's a challenge yet again to accountability: if we want to grow in grace, or to grow in the skills and abilities God has given us, we have to make ourselves accountable to others. We may even need to surrender some of our freedom and power to choose, in order to submit ourselves to a spiritual discipline (fasting, giving, silence) or to a programme of training. And the thing which motivates us is the goal: gold medal for Rebecca Adlington, a crown of glory for followers of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Services

For the record, here are the 18 Christmas services I'm involved with this month. If you're in the habit of praying (and even if you're not) then prayers would be appreciated - for stamina, clarity, energy and being able to remember exactly which one I'm doing! I'll probably need to prepare several talks, as well as sorting out orders of service, and liasing with readers, musicians, Christingle makers, minced pie chefs and hopefully God too.

Thurs 4th 11.30am Parent and Toddlers, St. Peters (songs & story in church) - wohoo! one down!

Weds 10th Yeovil College, 12.30pm
Thurs 11th 11-12noon, preschool nativity, St James'
Fri 12th 9.30am, 11am, 2pm Preston Primary school carols (in 3 shifts because our church is too small to hold them all at once)

Sun 14th 10.30am Cafe Service Advent celebration, Abbey Community Centre
3.30pm Christingle, St. James
Mon 15th 11am Reception service, Preston primary school
Tues 16th 11am Tots & Toys Christmas service, St. James
6pm Christingle, Brimsmore Garden Centre
Weds 17th 11.30am SSDC nursery, St. James
6.20pm St. James Scout Group carols, Abbey Manor Community Centre
Sat 20th 4pm Christingle, St. Peters

Sun 21 6.30 pm Carols by Candlelight, St. James
Mon 22nd 10-12 stay and play nativity, St Peters
Christmas Eve 3pm Nativity
11pm Holy Communion, St. James

so if blogging is a bit thin for the next couple of weeks, blame the Archangel Gabriel.....

If you like GodTV, my apologies

By Jon Birch, who else? I laughed so hard I had to mop my keyboard. Here's another in the same series.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Linebacker

No apologies for posting this for the 2nd, or possibly 3rd year running. Check the inflatable Santa...

also available for Easter. Now all we need is one for booksellers in the North East.

Faith and Recession

Following the success of Back to Church Sunday, the Sunday papers speculated about whether the credit crunch is forcing people to reassess their values, bringing some of them back to church. (Ht Start the Week). Meanwhile comment is Free at the Guardian is hosted a series of articles last week on 'Can Religion Help Us Through the Slump?' Here's the line-up

Monday's response - Julia Neuberger: Whether you're religious or not, what matters is the desire to make a difference to other people's lives

Tuesday's response - Francis Davis: Across the country it will be priests and imams who stand with local people in their moments of need . Davis is one of the authors of Moral but No Compass, which surveyed the charitable work of the church, and pointed out the inadequacy of the Governments dealings with Chrisitan charities.

snippet: While Gordon Brown's response (to the recession) has been to lead us into even more borrowing, there will be thousands for whom a hug will be just as crucial as their gas meter is ripped out in front of their eyes or as they find themselves locked out of their houses by insistent lenders and landlords.

In neighbourhoods across the country it will be priests and imams who stand with local people in such moments of terror. They are, after all, often the only "professionals" to have the courage to actually live among the people with whom they work.

Wednesday's response - Ishtiaq Hussain: Like other people of faith, Muslims are enjoined to be charitable; crucial during times like these

Thursday's response - Graham Kings: When belts tighten, do they have to tighten around the necks of the poor?

Friday's response Nick Spencer: Some varieties of religion prey on the poor, others offer them help. Both kinds will flourish during the recession

Ht Thinking Anglicans.

... with a whole host of carol services coming up, I'm challenged by all of these about the message I'll be preaching. Often I try to tie Christmas in to something in the news, or something topical, and this year the challenge is to relate it to the recession and the implosion in global capitalism. First main one on Weds (Yeovil College), I'll probably post a full list later this week.

30 second nativity

Here's the winner of the Churches Advertising Network 30-second Christmas competition.

the winner, Frankie Hipwell-Larkin, has even been on the Today programme to talk about it. Well done him. Any chance of a whole Bible version? The 3 runners up (all 30s audio clips) are also on the CAN site for your enjoyment. I have to say their campaign this year is top notch.

The nativity story is beautiful, it has captured people's imaginations for years and years and years because of its innocence and sweetness and romance; it's heart-warming, it's pathetic (in the true sense of the word) - it's a gem, really: by far the most appealing bit of the bible. Enhanced with enough candles and Christmas carols (not to mention Remy Martin and mince pies), it can bring a tear even to this cynical atheist's eye! And this exercise has stripped it of all that and degraded it to something utterly crass and charmless. They really don't have a clue, do they? They can't be trusted even with their own most valuable assets. from this thread.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

IDS on Social Breakdown

Very sobering article from Ian Duncan Smith in Saturday's Telegraph, reflecting on the Matthews kidnap case, social services, and social breakdown. Here's a snippet.

All the evidence from neuroscientists now shows that the most critical time for the development of a child's brain is in the first three years. To develop properly the child needs strong empathetic care and nurture as well as reading and conversation.

If the child does not experience these things, or worse, witnesses continuous anger and abuse, their brain will not develop at the proper rate and they will spend the rest of their childhood in and out of trouble. To turn this around will require more than one parliament, which is why all parties need to agree to act now.

A glance at the figures should show how we are already paying for this growing social breakdown. Over the past ten years the cost of policing has risen by 40 per cent, prisons and the courts by 46 per cent, youth justice by 45 per cent and working-age benefits by 25 per cent.

Too important to dismiss as Tory moralising, even if that's your instinct.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Moral Duty to Spend Money?

Woolly Thinking
Woolworths was heaving with bargain hunters yesterday, duped by the news stories of a big sale, and the sign in the window of 50% OFF EVERYTHING. If your eyesight was poor, you might miss the 'up to' hidden in the corner, and then wonder why there were virtually no half-price items in the store. In fact, the standard discount was 10%, some of which was the VAT cut.

Our appetite for deception hasn't been dulled by the debt crunch. If anything it's become even more acute. One seller in the market yesterday called out 'you'll never see these prices again' and I wanted to stop and ask him if he was telling the truth.

The Answer to Debt Is..... More Debt
But this pales into insignificance compared to the rabbit hole that is our economic policy. Here we are in a debt crunch (yes I know it's called the 'credit crunch' but the word 'credit' is marketing sophistry. It's debt) brought on by irresponsible lending, unsustainable levels of consumer debt, a house price bubble, and reckless borrowing at levels never seen before in the UK. So what shall we do? I know:

  • The government should borrow at levels never seen before in the UK.
  • Reduce interest rates, making it less painful to get into debt, whilst penalising those who've been responsible and saved money.
  • As businesses struggle for cash, plough billions into the banks, the same banks who got us into this mess and last year gave bonus awards the size of an African country.
  • Pass legislation on sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint, and at the same time yank every economic lever possible to raise levels of resource consumption by the general population

These are the kind of solutions that makes homoeopathy look scientific. Okay, within one story they make economic sense, but is the story the Wealth of Nations or Alice in Wonderland? Is there any society in history which has made it the moral responsibility of its citizens to spend money? There is such a desparation to re-clothe the naked Emperor which is our consumer debt society, and quickly, that surely we should be a tad suspicious. Where are the people asking fundamental questions about the system itself?

2 examples:

- after the short-term pain, a fall in house prices will once again enable a family to own a property without both parents having to work full time and shove their kids into (government sponsored) childcare to make it possible. At least, it will until you get clobbered with university fees. Families are suffering now because owning a home puts you at the limit of your financial resources, so if anything gives then there is no slack. But we have waited for the bubble to burst messily, rather than questioning how big it was allowed to grow in the first place.

- Where too are the voices which, when total consumer debt overtook annual GDP, reminded us that debt is money that doesn't really exist, that isn't really yours, and that one day you have to pay it back?

Soul Destroying
A story is told of a Himalayan mountaineering expedition, where the Western climbers wanted to make quick progress. For three days they walked quickly, though the sherpas seemed reluctant. On day 4 the sherpas sat down and couldn't be moved. One climber asked the sherpa translator what was happening, and he replied: "after walking so fast for 3 days, they are now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies."

Maybe this recession, painful though it is for impatient Westerners, is the same thing happening on a national level. We have been rushing ahead of capacity - of our personal capacity, and that of the economy and the planet. It's time to stop and let everything catch up. Maybe as we stop we'll get the time to think, reflect, and adjust.

The danger of the pre-Budget report, the interest rate cut, and the Christmas sales, is that they perpetuate the headlong rush for debt-and-spend that is the UK consumer lifestyle. We rush past the shivering, naked Emperor, and are too busy shopping to wonder why we ache, and feel distant from ourselves.

Spend or Save?
Meanwhile we plaster a terrorist attack on a rich hotel in India across our front pages, but when twice the number fall in Nigeria, nobody hears, whilst 5,000 infants a day die from preventable water-borne diseases. One estimate puts the cost per head of clean water & sanitation at £15. That's under $40billion for all 2,500,000,000 people in the world who lack either clean water or proper sanitation, which is the same as the rise in government borrowing from 2008-9. At what point did this kind of maths start adding up?

In blog threads about faith, it's not long before people like me are taunted for believing in sky fairies and the like. But which Christmas makes more sense, the one where we spend, or the one where we, and others, are saved?

this is a cross post from Touching Base, a column hosted by the Wardman Wire.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent Calendars: from the novel to the nova

If you've not yet visited the Beyond blog to see/read about the Beach Hut Advent calendar currently happening on Brighton seafront, then go visit now, fantastic.

Equally fantastic is the Hubble Advent Calendar (ht Metacatholic, via Steve Tilley). The heavens declare the glory of God....

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Faith Schools & Bigotry

A thread on Liberal Conspiracy is currently discussing faith schools, in advance of a report due today from the Runnymede Trust on whether faith schools promote that New Labour crock of gold, community cohesion. The full report will be downloadable from the Runnymede Trust site later this morning.

The comments themselves are fairly sensible, with quite a few people noting that they went to faith schools but didn't become bigoted fundies. On bigotry, here's a very thoughtful post from a NZ blog Why am I a Bigot? which argues that the accusation of bigotry gets thrown at Christians who hold strong moral views (in his case on abortion and sexuality), as a way of short-circuiting the argument. If we can label people 'bigots', then we no longer need to listen to their point of view. But is the label true?

One would think that it would be fairly obvious to people that you don’t refute a position by calling the person who holds it a bigot and it is tempting to dismiss this response as simply ... (confused)..; the problem is that people do not appear to find this obvious. In my experience, many people even educated people, recoil from considering any argument against feticide or homosexual conduct or listening to theological concerns on these matters because they perceive such positions to be bigoted.

worth a read (but skim-reading is probably not a viable option!), even if you don't agree with him.

Update: brief summary of the press release:

Faith schools should be open to all
Runnymede's latest report 'Right to Divide?' examines how faith schools have responded to the statutory duty to promote community cohesion. It recommends:
1. End selection on the basis of faith
2. Children should have a greater say in how they are educated
3. RE should be part of the core national curriculum
4. Faith schools should also serve the most disadvantaged
5. Faith schools must value all young people
6. If these recommendations are acted upon, faith should continue to play an important role in our education system

Rob Berkeley, Deputy Director of Runnymede, said:
"Faith schools make up a third of our education system. Schools should be central to their communities and neighbourhoods for all who live there not just those who share their religious world view. If we are serious about the importance of equality and cohesion, faith schools too need to play their part by welcoming all in society to the benefits of their approaches. "

Full report as a pdf here (76 pages), executive summary here (12 pages).

Update: good discussion happening on a new Liberal Conspiracy thread here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

December Wikio blog rankings

After the deep joy of becoming, according to Wikio, the 120th most influential blog in the UK (stop laughing at the back there) in October, November (just published) saw this blog hit 104, which I'm slightly chuffed about.

In highest slots, political blogs dominate (see previous post), technology blogs seem to be sliding (nobody can afford a Wii anymore), and here are the religious blogs in the top 200:

26 Cranmer (new entry)

104 St. Aidan to Abbey Manor

118 The Cartoon Blog (Dave Walker rises 11 places by doing absolutely nothing!!!! Now that's style)

160 Metacatholic

164 Tall Skinny Kiwi (which proves what a pile of cobblers this list is. Dave Bish contends that he's the top UK Christian blogger, based on technorati links - you'll find the list in his sidebar.)

173 SPCK/SSG News Notes and Info (up 57, well done Phil, I predict top 100 for December on the basis of what I've seen in the last few days)

177 Of Course I Could Be Wrong (will Jonathan be able to string a sentence together now he's been told to quit swearing?)

180 Anglican Mainstream (it's not a blog! It's a news service! But Madpriest will be chuffed to be 3 places ahead of them)

200 Holy Smoke (down 87, Popery just isn't what it used to be...)

I'm guessing they only list sites which they know about, which explains Cranmers sudden appearance. So if someone wants to submit Jon Birch, Jonny Baker, Bishop Alan, Paul Bayes, Tim Chester, even the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, then maybe some reality will set in. As long as I can stay ahead of Holy Smoke, I really don't care!

If you have been influenced by this blog, then please seek prayer as a matter of urgency.

Top 10 Bloggers

It's nearly the end of 2008, so here's a round up of the top 10 bloggers, according to various 'authorities'.

1. The Huffington Post
2. Gizmodo, the Gadget Guide
3. TechCrunch
4. Engadget
5. Ars Technica
6. Boing Boing
7. Lifehacker, tips and downloads for getting things done
8. Official Google Blog
9. Daily Kos: State of the Nation
10. Smashing Magazine

These are based on 'authority' - how many other Technorati registered sites link to yours over a certain period. If you're linked by a non-Technorati site, that doesn't count. Politics/news and technology dominate here, with a bit of internet weirdness thrown in (Boing Boing). Visiting the Huffington Post reminded me of the Times - similar look, and with many newspapers now having comments on the online versions of their articles, the line between blogs and newspaper sites is becoming very blurred. Is HuffPo one of us, or one of them?

Wikio: November top 10 (December top 10 leaked to Matt Wardman)
1 Iain Dale's Diary
2 Guy Fawkes' blog
3 Liberal Conspiracy
4 Blah! Blah! Technology
5 xlab
6 ConservativeHome's ToryDiary
7 The Devil's Kitchen
8 Liberal Democrat Voice
10 Labourhome

all very UK, and dominated by politics and technology to the exclusion of all else. And prone to vary wildly depending on which way the wind is blowing, though Hazel Blears has clearly read the top 2 lines, if nothing else.

Technoranki is truly diverse (politics, cartoons, weirdness, swearing, food, online games etc.), though the 'history' is suspiciously flat, doesn't seem to move about too much. Very UK based.
1. lazylaces ::: home
2. A Welsh View
3. Girl with a one-track mind
4. petite anglaise
5. The Devil's Kitchen
6. Becks & Posh
7. NHS Blog Doctor
8. The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker
9. Iain Dale's Diary
10. .: ShaolinTiger - Kung-Fu Geekery

Blogflux: pretty random at the moment, as they seem to keep losing data, but covers a much wider spectrum of blogs. Not sure I like the look of some of the top 10 sites, so if you're really interested you'll have to look them up yourself! For a sense of perspective, the top religion and politics blogs are, at present, 60 and 55 in their overall list. It starts from 0 every Sunday, so is more of a snapshot than the others. With loads of subcategories, it's easier to kid yourself that your blog is somehow significant: St. A is currently in the top 50 religious blogs, but is 1689 overall, just after a rather questionable Japanese site.

Or for something completely different, try the top 10 New Zealand Christian blogs on public discourse. But a post on the top 10 Christian blogs is probably a separate item.

And NT Wrong has posted the top 50 Bible scholarship blogs (at least I think that's what they are) for November, based on number of visits.

As for my personal top 10, I'm still working on it. Watch this space.