Monday, March 31, 2008

Fresh Expressions of Worship

Stumbled across this on YouTube, nice little collage of fresh expressions churches in worship, showing some of the diversity that's out there, but also showing that a lot of it isn't reinvention of the wheel, it's stuff that the church has always done - sing songs, light candles, say prayers etc.

Or for a different take on fresh expressions of worship, ASBO Jesus.

Paying for the Pastor

Chatting this morning with another local church leader, we got to talking about how church leadership is expected to work.

The normal pattern is: full time paid leader, paid for by the church. Sometimes these are shared between churches (Anglicans, Methodists etc.), but that's our default setting for leadership. It's linked to a whole host of other expectations too: that these full-timers will do the work in initiating and laying on church events, they'll do most of the teaching and/or leading of worship, and take on the bulk of the pastoral work too.

But why? What happens if we pull at this loose thread? What if the church leadership, like everyone else in the church, is self-supporting?

what might happen........

- church finances change. Instead of an institution, fundraising to support major outlay on staff, the ethos could move more towards a Christian community who give to one another and to the community. If you took staff and buildings out of the accounts of most churches, the remainder would be just a few £1000s per year. Instead of financing the inherited institution, (which in turn institutionalises church membership - formal belonging through membership, giving, electoral roll etc., rather than finding common identity through being part of a community), the Christian community is freed up to use money more creatively. This seems to be what happens in Acts 2, though there are already signs there of organisation of resources.

- church leadership changes. Without a paid professional elite to lay on weekly events, either you keep those events going, with lower and lower quality, or stop meeting like this. Is there a form of church community life which doesn't find it's centre of gravity in a Sunday morning song 'n' sermon time? If church leaders are doing another paid job for most of the time, then a whole host of other activities will have to be abandoned, for their 'leadership time' to be best used. With limited time and energy, what is the best use of that time and energy? And is a professinoalised elite leadership caste the right model anyway?

- church life changes, away from attendance at events and keeping the show on the road, to......?? Can a church cope if we don't have programmes and structures? Ok these things are inevitable to some degree - there are things which are much better achieved by formal organisation than by informal arrangements, but is the formal inevitable? Does it have to cover everything?

Is there another way of doing it?

(and, scarily, can people like me who've been institutionalised into the full-time leader model, and are paid by it, cope with another way of doing it? )

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cricket, Saviour of the World? the title of the latest Touching Base, my other bit of blogging, over at the Wardman Wire. Before you start misquoting me, read the thing in full....

a snippet:
(cricketers) Tait, Harmison and Trescothick have all asked themselves an important question. A few years ago, months after the birth of our first child, I stood in a field somewhere near Darlington and thought ‘what am I doing here, playing cricket, when my family needs me at home?’ Maybe its a contagious disease of the North East, or maybe it’s about priorities. There comes a point when you find yourself standing in the corner of a field (or sitting at a desk, or about to board a plane on another trip), and the question ‘what am I doing this for?’ arrives, bags in hand, ready for a long stay in your psyche.


Heard this week that the Parish Development Fund at the Diocese of Bath and Wells have said 'yes' to our application for £18,000 to help fund a Children and Families Worker in the parish. They are officially my favourite people of the moment.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

WordLive: New Online Prayer and Bible resource

Scripture Union have just launched WordLive, the latest in a slew of online Bible and spirituality resources to come out. It looks quite interesting - there is a daily Bible passage, then a pick and mix selection of about 15 ways into the passage - prayers, poems, exercises, background to the Bible passage etc.

Strangely, the way they've tried to grab headlines with the launch of the site is by releasing results of a survey which shows that we've 'lost our moral compass'. Headline-grabbing stats like '3.4 million people are currently having an affair', startling though they are, don't really link in to what the WordLive site does, which is offer an online of daily Bible study notes for Christians. It's not obvious how the Bible study notes will make relationships healthier, or have an impact on the 40% of us who admit to having stolen stuff at one stage or another.

(If you do want something to help strengthen relationships, then try the Marriage Preparation Course by Nicky and Sila Lee - we're running it with a group of couples at the moment, and it is being well recieved and helping them to spend time focusing on the health and depth of their relationships.)

The SU survey is quite interesting in its own right, though, frustratingly, they don't publish the survey questions or breakdown, and some of the press release is quite frustrating: it's not clear whether some percentages are of the full population, or of the fraction of the population who admit to having an affair. Without knowing a bit more about it, I'm reluctant to give much credibility to the findings.

How People Become Christians

New link today from Evangelism UK to an interesting piece of research. It's based on a detailed questionnaire to 380-odd people who became Christians. An outline of the research can be found here, and Dave Bennett, the researcher, reaches this conclusion:

The most effective way of reaching people is through relationships, particularly through friendship. Training the individual in evangelism must start much further back than how to use gospel outlines or answer common asked questions. We need to start with matters such as relational skills, the art of conversation and the ability to listen.

Reminds me of a story of a well known evangelical church who were about to have a mission, then discovered that none of their members had any non-Christian friends to invite as they were all too involved in the church, so they cancelled it.

Unfortunately there is a theology of not listening, based on passages like the one in Isaiah about God's word going forth and achieving God's purposes. Somehow if you 'preach the gospel', whether people are interested or not, that's the only important thing, and the gospel itself works like magic to save people. That seems to be a very push-button caricature of what actually happens in the Bible, as real people encounter other real people and the gospel is constantly reworked on the basis of listening to people and their culture. Pauls speech in Athens is a prime example.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Embryo Research

Gordon Brown has now announced a partial free vote on the Chimera, sorry, animal-human hybrid legislation. I'm no expert in this field, but here are a couple of links:

Peter Saunders blog at the Christian Medical Fellowship. Here's an extract from his post on embryonic research:

It is now nine years since the publication of the 1999 Donaldson Report, on which the government based its current policy on stem cells. Embryonic stem cells were apparently going to provide miracle cures for people with degenerative diseases like Parkinsons, Diabetes and Alzheimers. Immunologically compatible stem cells were going to be produced by therapeutic cloning, the same technology that produced Dolly the sheep.

Nine years is a long time in science. What has happened since? Human embryonic stem cells are yet to provide a single therapy for any human disease. Scientists are yet to produce a single stem cell line from a cloned human embryo.

Wikepedia has a section on 'stem cell controversy', which seems to have some good background.

Here's what The White House is prepared to fund. No discussion of hybrids, they draw the line at cloning and creating embryos specifically for research purposes.

There is a CofE policy paper here from a couple of years ago. 20 pages, so give yourself time to read it.

Helpful Q&A section at the Guardian, which outlines the main areas of research that the legislation is aimed at.

And Bishop Alan asks 5 critical questions.

Lots of other good links on this at Thinking Anglicans

South Somerset 2026 consultation

Only 5 online responses so far to the SSDC 'Issues and Options' consultation. Maybe the fact that your response can be viewed online by anyone else who registers is putting people off....!!

4 weeks left to make your voice heard if you live or work in South Somerset. I'll be posting later this week with some quotes and evidence on the role of faith communities, and some material which could be used in response to the consultation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bookmark this for tomorrow

Day 3 Short Highlights 3rd Test England Vs New Zealand at Napier 2008 Video Clip

Crideos is a relatively new site which uploads 10-11 minute highlights of cricket internationals pretty promptly after the end of the days play. It's been a good way of keeping up with England vs New Zealand. This one is day 3 of the latest test, including Bells excellent century and Strauss's career best knock. The resolution is also exceptionally good, which means it takes a bit longer than Youtube to load, but can be watched full screen without getting a headache.

Click on the link and then look down the sidebar for recently uploaded videos.

BBC Passion - Episode 4

If the mark of a good TV drama is that you carry on talking about it long after it's finished, then the BBC's Passion was a good TV drama. Several other people have reviewed the final episode, broadcast on Sunday evening, here are a few thoughts:

The initial thought was of the weirdness of it. Mary, and then the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus (interestingly shown as bottling it and making up a good story for why they're running away), meet with a strange man with a beard. He doesn't look any more like Jesus than any of the other disicples, but talks and acts like him. Suddenly, as he passes round the bread, he's turned into Joseph Mawle, and it is Jesus. It's a clever way of doing the 'disciples didn't recognise him' thing, but also incredibly confusing. We never see the wounds of Jesus, and with the different actors you're initially led to think that the programme is going to bottle out of a geniunely resurrected Christ. But then there he is. It takes you through some of the confusion and bewilderment the disciples must have felt, which is quite clever. Or weird. Or both.

Other pluses were the rounding out of Joseph of Arimethea, who comes into his own in this episode, and the sense of life carrying on as normal even as the amazing things were happening just outside Jerusalem. I don't know if the soldiers popping off for their breakfast butties and missing the resurrection was an intentional comic touch, but it just made me think of Chris and Ray in Ashes to Ashes.... The disciples remained believable, bickering and slowly starting to melt away, with a very different Peter to the bluff loudmouth he's usually made out to be.

Slightly less satisfactory was the shoehorning of various resurrection appearances into strange places. Peter at the pool of Bethesda has the encounter that the Gospels say happened with Thomas, and then the words spoken to him by Jesus on the beach at Galilee at the end of Johns gospel. Words and phrases keep happening in places where they didn't happen. If you don't know the gospel stories, it probably all makes perfect sense, but if you do know them then there's a lot of mental sorting out to do! I also wondered why the programme needed to do that, and why we couldn't have, for example, the encounter with Thomas as the gospels tell it.

The other thing it lacks, as the first episode did, is power. The disciples aren't sad anymore, but there's no explosion of dynamism or excitement at having Jesus back. The fact that Jesus himself is pretty chilled about the whole business probably affects this, but you're still left wondering how this random rabble turned into the powerhouse that was the early church.

One or two other things didn't sit right: the crucifixion of Jesus in the middle of nowhere, rather than on a main road (the gospels talk about passers by, and a bit of a crowd at the site rather than a small detail of soldiers and 2 women), and why Mary would have thought Jesus was the gardener if the burial site was in the side of a desert cliff, as it was shown here.

The comments bit of the BBC site is very positive about the whole thing, a lot of people saying their faith has been encouraged and strengthened by it. Brilliant, I think on the whole it's been a good telling of the story. Provocative without being predicatable, and yes there are plenty of bones to pick, but you can't argue with the core of what was broadcast, and the fact we get a resurrected Jesus at the end of it.

Bible Sports

In the middle of preparing for a 'Bible Overview' session this evening, so there won't be any profound posts today, even though I'd love to do a survey of Bishops Easter messages. Instead, some complete nonsense: earliest mentions of sports in the Bible -

Football tactics: "with two wings they were flying" (Isaiah 6:2)
Football vandalism: "he saw Simon and Andrew casting a net into the lake" (Mark 1)
Football coaching: " 'shoot!' Elisha said, and he shot." (2 Kings 13:17)

Cricket: "Peter stood up with the eleven and boldly declared" (Acts 2)
Cain was "driven from the ground" (Genesis 4:11)

Tennis: "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength that God provides" (1 Peter 4:11)

Golf: "The rod will drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15)

there must be more.....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christ is Risen!

From ASBO Jesus.

Just about to watch the final bit of the Passion on IPlayer - so far everything I've watched this week has had someone coming back from the dead: Shaz on Ashes to Ashes, and Twister on Lark Rise to Candleford, so I'm hopeful.

Eastenders, being Eastenders, has only had a burial. Creative scripting: not - see Heroes series 2. Walford seems to exist in a perpetual Good Friday of despair and grimness.

Happy Easter, enjoy your chocolate.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What's Going to Happen Tomorrow?

Research from Theos this week found, according to a sample of 1000 or so, that:

30% of Britons believe Jesus existed, was crucified, buried, and rose bodily from the dead.
27% believe that he existed, was crucified, buried, and rose 'spiritually' from the dead.
17% he was crucified and stayed dead
10% believe he was either not crucified, or was crucified and didn't die (the latter is the view taught by Islam)

Though belief in the physical resurrection of the dead is core Christian orthodoxy, it's now a belief held by only 9% of the population. Far more believe in some kind of disembodied, spiritual afterlife, or in reincarnation, and 1/3 of people believe in some kind of final judgement.

There's a summary of the stats here.

What impact does this have on the way we communicate the easter message?

Continuity? What Continuity?

By the time Joseph Mawle's Jesus had breathed his last, there was nowhere else to go. It was a desolate death, in the wilderness, perfunctory, bloody, horrible. The screen went black. The credits rolled in respectful silence.

Then the continuity announcer cut in.

Why? Why? WHY?

Within a minute there had been a trailer for another programme, then Ben Bradshaw was giving us the news headlines. We switched off, and for 10 minutes just sat there in silence. Nothing else seemed right.

Why do we have to fill our lives with noise? The bookies opening on Good Friday is a straw in the wind - we just don't know how to stop, to quiet ourselves, to face pain and suffering. Easter Saturday is the day we live in, every day. Between death and resurrection. The bloody now and the hoped-for not-yet. The disciples, tellingly, are portrayed as itching to get back to Galilee, to give up, run away, and not face things. But they stay. They get their heads down and stick it out.

The way the BBC is telling the story makes us wait 48 hours for the resurrection. The question is, what do we do in the waiting?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Apparently the bookies will be open today, for the first time on a Good Friday. I guess if soldiers can gamble for his clothes whilst Jesus is dying on the cross a few yards away, we shouldn't be surprised. Gambling is, after all, addictive. Jesus came to set us free from things like that, but sometimes slavery seems more appealing. Or perhaps it has such a grip on us that only a power strong enough to raise the dead could break it.

Almighty Father
look with mercy on this your world
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of wicked men
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Church Makes You Happy

Dave Walkers new blog has this story, here's a quote from the Beeb report

A belief in God could lead to a more contented life, research suggests.
Religious people are better able to cope with shocks such as losing a job or divorce, claims the study presented to a Royal Economic Society conference.

The abstract of the paper given to the conference by Prof Andrew Clark says:

This paper focusses on the insurance role of religion in buffering the well‐being impact of stressful life events, and the ensuing economic and social implications. Using two large‐scale European data sets, we show that the religious enjoy higher levels of life satisfaction, and that religion does insure against some adverse life events. All denominations suffer less psychological harm from unemployment than do the non‐religious; equally both Catholics and Protestants are less hurt by marital separation.

However, while Protestants are protected against divorce, Catholics are punished for it. These results do not seem to come about from the endogeneity of religion. These patterns in subjective well‐being correspond to data on both attitudes (the religious are both anti‐divorce and antijob creation for the unemployed) and behaviour (the religious unemployed are less likely to be actively looking for work). The full text will be available from the RES conference website some time soon.

or just look at this cartoon:

Bish Buffs Boots

I guess it's a bit cold for footwashing, so the Maunday Thursday Shoeshine in various Midlands dioceses is the nearest you'll get this year.

Bishop Urquhart will be polishing the shoes of passers-by outside Birmingham cathedral before and after morning service.

He said: "The shoeshine is just a small demonstration that people who follow Jesus are prepared to roll up their sleeves and serve their communities.

I know it's meant to be symbolic, and symbolism is good - it's certainly worked here because the shoeshining has got noticed whilst the work with the homeless, poor, refugees, alcoholics, ex-offenders, etc. etc. hasn't. I'm slightly cautious because I know too many stories of churches coming up with a bright idea for raising their profile in the community, but it was something that had no relevance to their community at all. Mike Breen tells of his church in Brixton surveying the local community and finding, to their surprise, that the most frequently mentioned gripe was litter. So the church went litter picking.

Service has to relate to need, and then symbolic service like the shoe-shining works by giving a picture to the community which accurately interprets all the other things the church is doing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Forgive or Gloat?

Great to hear that the Express and Star have published front page apologies today to Gerry & Kate McCann for a series of scandalous and malicious articles over the last year. The public crucifixion of the McCanns by sections of the media is hopefully over.
The temptation is to gloat, that they had it coming, that this humiliation is a suitable punishment for a couple of the nastier feral beasts. I would love to.
But Jesus prays for those who crucify him that God would forgive them. The Romans offered no front page apology, but Jesus wanted them forgiven anyway, and given the chance to repent and find new life. Whether the Express and Star are sincere or not, Jesus would not gloat over their climbdown, he would forgive. Hard though it is, I have to try to be like him.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From Surviving to Thriving 3: Spiritual Disciplines

2 months later than planned, after parts 1 and 2 (on time out and accountability respectively), part 3 on moving from a Christian life that treads water to one that is developing and growing.

Spiritual Disciplines

Several of the best Christian writers of modern times have tackled this subject, so if you're really serious about spiritual disciplines you should have a look at:
Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline
Dallas Willard Spirit of the Disciplines
John Ortberg The Life You've Always Wanted.

Reflecting on Ortberg a few weeks ago, I quoted his analogy of 'training versus trying harder'. No athlete, footballer, cricketer etc. just relies on turning up and being inspired. The Olympic athletes are already well into their training routines for events that are still months away. If you are planning on turning in a peak performance, then you discipline yourself: sleep, diet, habits, exercise. Everything has a goal in mind: to make your body ready for that moment when the greatest demands are upon it, so that you perform at your best.

Bible authors talk about training. Paul talks about disciplining his body, becoming it's master, so that he can be subject to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9 he uses training for the Greek games as a metaphor for the spiritual life. Timothy is instructed to 'train yourself to be godly'. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of training to distinguish good from evil: bringing the discernment muscle up to full strength.

2 alternatives to training

Unfortunately, we've missed out on this language, and the wisdom behind it, in favour of two other models:
1. The teaching/learning model. A common myth in evangelical circles used to be that if you got a correct grasp of the truth in your mind, your behaviour would automatically change. Favourite texts were 2 Timothy 3:16, on the use of scripture to 'correct' behaviour and train in righteousness. The way to train disciples was to train them in the scriptures, and to teach. Discipleship (this is a bit of a caricature, by the way) consisted of grasping the right truths from the right texts.

The danger of this model is that it produces people who know plenty, and believe that this is the main thing that God requires of them. The prophets wouldn't agree, and neither would Jesus, who had plenty to say to people who knew their Bibles backwards but whose lives dishonoured God.

2. The exhortation model. This is more of a 'sugar boost' model of disciple making. The basic idea is that if you hit people with an inspirational message, or better still they get zapped with the Holy Spirit, then that will tip them over into being more like Jesus. Preaching starts to overlap into motivational speeches, and the danger is that Chrisitans become lazy, and start to rely on getting pumped up by their preacher/zapped by the Spirit/going to Spring Harvest or New Wine to get the spiritual sugar rush that will at least keep them going for a couple of months.

Now there is plenty of 'striving' language in the Bible, pretty much every New Testament letter has some sort of exhortation in it. So exhorting and encouraging and motivating people is a good thing. But it's not the only thing.

A red letter life

Willard, Ortberg and the rest tell us to look at Jesus. If we want to live a life like Jesus, we must do 2 things a) do what he says b) do what he does. Unfrotunately those red letter bibles which put Jesus words in a different colour to his actions perpetuate the Gnostic myth that the main thing we need is Jesus teaching, and we can pretty much ignore what he does and how he does it. Anything which separates Jesus words from his life makes them a timeless body of truths, detached from history and the fact of the incarnation, and makes salvation dependent on grasping the right truths, rather than on trusting the right person. This is not salvation. And I mean salvation in it's fullest sense: wholeness, healing, full restoration of all that we are to the image of God in which we were made.

So what does Jesus do?
a) He prays regularly, in solitude
b) He goes to quiet places, like the desert
c) He fasts: the 40 day fast at the start of his ministry is unlikely to be a one-off. Jesus probably wouldn't have managed it if he'd not been fasting already, and maybe done other extended fasts before.
d) He knew the Bible: not just in an 'I can quote Isaiah 28:3' kind of way (I have no idea what Isaiah 28:3 even says......!!), but he knew what it meant and how to apply it and think it through
e) He practiced servanthood: washing feet and so on.
f) He renounced possessions - all the evidence suggests that Jesus lived rough, or on other people's hospitality, for his time of public ministry. When the disciples are sent out they are told to take nothing. There is no argument, as there might have been if they'd seen Jesus not playing by his own rules.

The Bible, and Jesus, regularly point us to things like this which are the God-ordained means of spiritual training. If you want to train for a marathon, there are certain practices you'll need to get stuck into in order to get your body in condition. If you want to run the spiritual race, here are the practices which make you fit enough to stay the course, and to run the race to the finish line, rather than stagger to the floor out of breath part way round.

How spiritual disciplines work.

Spiritual disciplines work on two levels. On one level, it's fairly obvious. If we practice saying 'no' to food, even when we're hungry (fasting), or keeping our mouths shut even when we're tempted to speak, or craving for noise (silence), then we are training our wills. So when the big challenges to willpower come, we will be more able to meet them, because we've trained our wills to be stronger. There is a clear logic of cause and effect.

At another level, there is a divine logic. We don't know how fasting, solitude and scripture meditation work to open ourselves up to God, but many who have done these things testify to an increase in spiritual sharpness. Rees Howells, a great Welsh prayer warrior of the 20th century, devoted himself to prayer and fasting, and was massively used by God in mission and in intercession. Early accounts of St. Anthony, father of the monastic movement, speak of a depth of holiness and wisdom acquired from solitude and prayer in the desert. Though there is probably some legend in Athanasius' account of his life, there must have been something pretty compelling about this one man to launch one of the most significant, and long-lasting, moves in global Christianity.

The best place to start is probably Fosters book, which has a chapter on each of the classical spiritual disciplines. And for a time framework, a good place to start is the church year. One of the great things about Anglican worship is that we regularly have 'seasons' - 40 days in Lent, 4 weeks in Advent, 40 days after Easter (to ascension day) 10 days from Ascension to Pentecost etc. All of these are great 'trial periods', to start on a particular spiritual discipline. You give yourself a get-out clause after a few weeks, so to start with it doesn't look like you're taking up (say) fasting forever, but hopefully by the end of the 40 days (or whatever), the new spiritual habit is already well on the way to becoming ingrained.

There are links to parts 1 & 2 as well. Accountability is a great thing for helping us to get started and keep going, with other people supplying what's lacking in our own willpower or self-discipline. Doing things together with others can be very powerful - there are plenty of corporate fasts and prayer times in the Bible. At a personal level, regular time out gives us the chance to see how we're getting on, to pick ourselves up if we've fallen over, and to hear what it is God would like us to do. And both of these are spiritual disciplines in and of themselves.

What's wrong with the new atheism

Great analysis of Dawkins, Hitchins et al a couple of days ago in the Guardian by John Gray. It's quite long, but worth a read. Here's a snippet:

The problem with the secular narrative is not that it assumes progress is inevitable (in many versions, it does not). It is the belief that the sort of advance that has been achieved in science can be reproduced in ethics and politics. In fact, while scientific knowledge increases cumulatively, nothing of the kind happens in society. Slavery was abolished in much of the world during the 19th century, but it returned on a vast scale in nazism and communism, and still exists today. Torture was prohibited in international conventions after the second world war, only to be adopted as an instrument of policy by the world's pre-eminent liberal regime at the beginning of the 21st century. Wealth has increased, but it has been repeatedly destroyed in wars and revolutions. People live longer and kill one another in larger numbers. Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same.

HT Jonny Baker

What are you looking for?

Did you see it? Very very clever. Ht Mark Meynell. Makes me think about the way we view The Passion, and pretty much everything else. If our minds are made up about what we want to see, or what we're looking for (word for word Bible texts, miracles, etc.) then we miss the amazing stuff. If Easter doesn't teach us to keep our eyes and ears open for the unexpected and strange, then nothing will.

Cartoon: 'Subtitled Life'

part of an excellent little series over at ASBO Jesus. Sorry about the quality, I can't seem to get his cartoons to upload as sharply as others.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Passion episode 2


Everything is slotting into place, and 30m where (seemingly) not a lot happens all builds an incredible sense of anticipation and foreboding. Some brilliant scriptwriting too:

Caiaphas: "I would rather sacrifice one man and save Judea"

and a fantastic scene by the river where Jesus spells out that he's going to die, and then be raised again. We're so used to hearing those words, that we don't clock how cloud-cuckoo they might have sounded to the disciples. It's clear, in a very understated way, that they think he's starting to lose it, and that he'll just die and that will be it. Their fear comes across powerfully, and Johns anger at having given up family, business and a life in Galilee only for Jesus to go and get himself killed is scorchingly real. Lots of familiar words of Jesus get brought to new life in this exchange: 'those who give up their life will find it.' Great stuff. A similar job is done on a series of teachings in the temple, linking together the rich, the righteous, the last being first etc., but all taught as though Jesus is doing it off the cuff, in response to what he's seeing and hearing.

Even the 2 mugger/murderers from episode 1 slot into place: sentenced to crucifixion by Pilate, we'll be seeing them again next to Jesus on Friday. There's also something starting to go on with Mrs Pilate - just a glance exchanged at a distance with Jesus, but the economy of this production is such that that's all you need. Simmering nicely, I'm really looking forward to the next bit.

The BBC comments section is positively brimming with praise. As long as Jesus gets more praise in the end than the Beeb......!!

The Broken Society?

Very interesting, and troubling, article by Melanie Reid on the culture behind the current child abduction case in Dewsbury. It rings bells after a meeting this morning where we discussed the key issues in a difficult local area. The top 5 issues, identified by someone who works full time with people in the area, was:
- breakdown of the family
- poor parenting
- poor nutrition - lack of basic cooking & food skills
- drugs
- decline of respect and sense of society/community

this is not just a problem of child poverty, it is an entire culture which was there in Darlington, is here in Yeovil, and doesn't sound a million miles away from Dewsbury either. You can't solve moral, spiritual and relational anarchy with money and government initiatives.

Update: a different view here. Valid points: But if, in the rush to apply blame or make easy conclusions, we are to attribute her abduction to the complex and sometimes dysfunctional relationships among working class communities, we must also acknowledge that their unordered affairs also contributed to her being saved.

2nd update: I've changed the title of this post, didn't feel comfortable using individual names when they can probably do without it. DM Andy has posted on this topic too, worth a read.

SSDC Consultation - short article

A Yeovil church wanted a condensed low-down on the SSDC 'Issues and Options' consultation, suitable for a newsletter or parish magazine. The only editing here is the removal of my email address, for anti-spam purposes! Here it is, feel free to borrow:

Shaping Yeovil For the Next 20 Years

- Should Yeovil have congestion charging?
- How many new houses should be built in our area?
- Should the Council preserve village life, or concentrate facilities in Yeovil?
- Do new housing areas need a local place of worship?

The District Council has just launched a consultation covering these, and dozens of other topics. The result will be a set of policies which will shape the way Yeovil, and the South Somerset District, develops until 2026. Once these policies are set, it is very hard to challenge them. The consultation, which expires on April 25th, is therefore very important to the future shape of our town.

How Does It Work?
At the centre of the process is a 104 page 'Issues and Options' document, which spells out the issues facing the region in terms of Housing, Economy, Tranport, Health and Environment. There is a 21 page questionnaire through which people can respond, either replying to every question, or just picking out one or two questions.

The papers can be found at the Council Offices, Brympton Way, in Yeovil Library, or online at .

How Does This Affect the Church?
A key question in the consultation covers what community facilities should be built in new housing areas. There is an option to tick 'Place of Worship', and to state the number of houses for which each new Place of Worship should be built. This is a superb opportunity to make sure that our new neighbourhoods have a Christian presence right at the heart of them.

There are also many other places where we can make our voice heard - provision for youth and the underprivileged, care for the environment, a just share of wealth, and protection for vulnerable urban and rural communities. Please do take some time to respond to the consultation.

If You're Pressed for Time
David Keen, the Deanery Missioner, has put together a 3 page summary of the 104-page Issues and Options report, and is co-ordinating the churches response to the consultation. He can be contacted on 01935 422286 or by email via this page . David is also posting information about the consultation on his 'blog' at

Remember, the consultation closes on 25th April. If lots of Christians respond, and do so in a reasoned and persuasive way, we can make our voice heard.

It worked

After dropping Hoggard and Harmison for the rookie/erratic combo of Broad and Anderson, England have won the 2nd test with New Zealand and levelled the series. Well done boys.

Dropping their no.1 bowler was a risk. Reminds me of something I heard recently applied to the church:

"At the moment, we daren't take a risk, in case we fail.
How about taking risks, just in case we succeed?"

The Passion, Episode 1

Richard Frank has already posted a good review of this, nearly all of which was stuff I was going to write. The comments section on the Passion website is up and running on last nights episode, and Mark Goodacres blog links to the media reviews which are coming in, all of which look pretty positive. The main fly in the ointment is the Telegraph/Mail axis trying to stoke a 'row' story which is basically non-existent, but it must be hard getting used to a TV portrayal of Jesus which doesn't play it for controversy.

I must admit I found last nights episode hard to get into. There was certainly a great feel and look to the production, but with every disciple looking dishevelled and bearded, it was hard to tell who any of the main characters were, let alone the various extras introduced into the story from the side, like the 2 men murdering someone in a bazaar and dumping him in a vat of red dye.

Once the characters had been introduced, it started to settle down nicely. There aren't any hysterics here, all the characters are pretty believable. The story is told around the axis of Jesus-Caiaphas-Pilate. Pilate wants the festival season to go quietly to keep him in Tiberias' good books, Caiaphas resents Pilates power in Jerusalem, and wants to show that he can manage his own people, and Jesus is one of several flies in their mutual ointment.

The portrayal of Jesus by Joseph Mawle is excellent - he teaches as he walks, engages with people, and has a combination of depth, mischief and wisdom. I'm slightly less sure about the hand this Jesus is dealt by the script: there is a lot of stuff about everyone being brothers together - a gospel of inclusion that could have come straight of out of the New Labour Bible - and about the Kingdom of God being in people's hearts. At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus and the disciples busy themselves mopping the brows of the sick and crippled. But where's the power? Where is the message of God doing something new? There was more to Jesus message than teaching universal brotherhood to a culture blinded by prejudice and social stratification.

The series plausibly recreates the rising anxiety of the Temple authorities at the actions and words of Jesus, and it's precisely because Jesus doesn't show his hand that they get worried. If he was clear about his aims, everyone would know where they stood, but this interpretation makes a plausible case for the authorities getting edgy based on Jesus ambiguity, rather than his direct Messianic claims and powerful and crowd-pulling miracles.

The disciples, Judas excepted, are background figures, a forest of beards in a bearded world. I think I could pick out John (or was it James?) from his face, and Matthew from his Welsh accent, but can't recall a single reference to Peter, which is a bit odd. More is made of the 2 Mary's, and of a repentant female prostitute, in order to add some female voices to the mix.

So I wasn't blown away by it, but not massively put off by it either. Regional accents aside, it's trying to do justice to the historical setting, the political balance of power, and how Jesus teaching and actions would have played against that setting. The fact that it feels like an alien world is maybe a good thing - it is an alien world, 2000 years and several cultures away. Trying to make it too much like culture we know makes the gospels tell our story, rather than their own.

Finally, the other striking thing was the sheer ordinariness of it all. Jesus teaching comes across as real stuff said to real people, rather than holy writ. The crowds around him aren't massive, and his entry on a donkey is a journey of a couple of hundred yards before he gives the donkey away (a nice touch) and the crowd dissolves. You don't get the sense that these are events that made history, which is what makes them so much more plausible. Barabbas aside, nobody is black and white: perhaps the least appealing is the disciple who keeps whipping his dagger out at every available interval, but these are all people with recognisable human responses and characters. Trouble is, they also have recognisable faces from other TV dramas! We had several 'oh it's so and so from, um, what were they in?' moments.

Episode 2 this evening.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More BBC Passion Links

Good summary of resource links over at Evangelism UK, who have a good poster, and a reminder to get involved in the message boards debating the events and meaning of easter. Roughly the same list of links is also at Dave Walkers new blog.

Full showtimes are now on the BBC site. Episode 4, the final one, will be shown at 7.30pm on Easter Sunday. The other 3 will be repeated in an omnibus from 2.15pm on the Sunday. When I know the number of the omnibus, and where it's going, I'll let you know.

Finally Mark Goodacre, who acted as theological consultant on the series, also has a blog where he reflects on his involvement, and the way the series is being recieved by the media. If you're looking for a blog where the person writing actually knows what they're talking about (as opposed to mine!) then it's worth keeping up with Mark's during the next 8 days.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Bit More Sin

An excerpt from my Touching Base column, going out on the Wardman Wire later today:

The language of sin, at it's best, is diagnosis of dis-ease. The original '7 deadly sins' tried to diagnose the most common motivations for wrong behaviour, and the classical list of pride, lust, greed, laziness, envy, gluttony and anger does cover a multitude of sins. Fr Girottis interview was an attempt to apply these to specific situations, and to social sins in particular.

Unfortunately, when you talk about sin people get all defensive. We don't like being accused of stuff. We don't like being in the wrong.

But unless we discover that we are in the wrong, and deal with it, sin will never go away, and other people will suffer. A leader with no sense of sin, and his own fallibility, is a curse upon his people (ask a Zimbabwean). A parent with no sense of sin and fallibility is a curse upon their family. We may not like the language - maybe it's our cultural aversion to guilt - but we can't escape the reality.

John Ortberg writes (with a bit of paraphrasing):

"Some time ago I became painfully aware that I had lied to a good friend. This had several consequences:

- I walked around under a cloud of guilt

- a silent breach opened up in our relationship because I had placed a barrier of untruth between us

- I was a bit more inclined to tell a lie next time

- I found myself avoiding God.

When I recognised all this, I knew I had to confess to my friend. Even then it took me some time to face my embarrassment. However, when I'd looked at the results of my actions as honestly as I could, a wonderful thing happened: I found myself not wanting to lie again. Unravelling the knots of the motives and consequences of our sin requires a patient, quiet spirit. But what price wouldn't we pay to be free?"

As Easter week starts, we're reminded again of how desperately God wants to forgive sins, to the extent of his own suffering and death. The journey to the Cross is not a guilt trip. It is both a mirror on the human soul - that the best man who ever lived is condemned by his peers and executed by his own rulers - and a mirror on the soul of God. When Jesus is tortured and killed and still prays 'Father forgive them', that shows us a God who is always, relentlessly, looking for a way to inject grace. Sin is not about feeling guilty, it is about getting better, and opening ourselves up to God's help to do so.

I'm told that the rug makers of North Africa deliberately put a mistake into every item they make. It's a spiritual act, to remind them that 'only God is perfect'. It's ok to be a sinner. God knows you are already, and can cope with it. Can you?

And a more pressing question: does putting this as a post on my own blog, when I've written it for another, count as sloth? All these moral dilemmas make me glad to be a Protestant...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

South Somerset District Council: Issues & Options Consultation 1

South Somerset District Council has just launched its public consultation on the shape of the region by 2026. With the challenge of 20,000 extra houses, struggling villages, congested towns and an ageing population, there are lots of issues that SSDC is trying to address.

The consultation runs to April 25th, so you have 5 weeks to make your voice heard. The main 'Issues and Options' document is online at
and there are 21 pages of questions related to it. You can respond to 1, all, or some, depending on how long you've got free.

I'm going to be posting quite a lot about this in the next week or two. What follows is a summary (it fitted onto 3 pages of A4) of the 104 page 'Issues and Options' document.

South Somerset District Council ‘Issues and Options Consultation’
3rd March - 25th April 2008

Summary of the ‘Issues and Options’ document

South Somerset District Council has launched the first stage of planning for the period 2011-2026 in the area. This stage involves identifying the ‘Core Strategy’ for planning and development decisions. Once this is finalised, it becomes the criteria against which everything else is measured.

To help prepare the Core Strategy, the council has published an ‘Issues and Options’ document, which identifies the issues facing the region in the next 20 years, and the options for tackling them. This can be seen at Brympton Way, in the local library, or online at .

Alongside the Issues and Options Document is a 21 page questionnaire, again available at these sites, or online at the link above. Public responses are invited to the Issues and Options document. Church members who live or work in South Somerset can therefore be part of the consultation. See my other paper ‘An Opportunity for the Church?’ for some guidance on this.

What follows is a summary of the main points of the Issues and Options document. It runs to 104 pages, and some of it is quite interesting, but by no means all of it!

Issues and Options Summary (numbers correspond to sections in the original document)

1. The goal
of the Core Strategy is : “an enjoyable and prosperous South Somerset.”

2. A Pen Portrait of South Somerset
Ø Population is 156,000. 41,000 of these live in Yeovil, 2 in 5 people live in settlements of less thatn 2500.
Ø The region has 48 villages, 7 small towns, and 5 large towns. Yeovil has been identified as one of 21 strategic towns in the South West by the regional government strategy.
Ø Population growth is twice the national average, projections suggest an extra 25,000 residents in South Somerset by 2028. 90% of this population growth will be among over-50s.
Ø Nearly 7 out of 10 of the additional households will be single person households.

Ø Manufacturing is shrinking, construction and transport will grow
Ø Dominant local sectgors are low wage/low skill (retail, tourism, hotels, distribution,leisure)
Ø South Somerset had over 1/2m visitors in 2003, the majority were over 55.
Ø Traffic and HGV traffic is increasing
Ø Finance, IT and telecoms are growing. There are also 12,000 self-employed people, and a high proportion of people working from home.

Ø Growing migrant population, especially from Portugal and Poland
Ø Unemployment is low, but wages and educational standards are below the national average.
Ø Several deprived wards in Yeovil and Chard.
Ø House prices are higher relative to income (7.7:1)than the national average (6.25:1). In some rural areas they are more than twice the average (14:1)
Ø The number of very elderly in the region will grow by 88% in the next 25 years.
Ø Deaths from cancer and heart disease are falling, instances of stroke, falls, diabetes and stress are rising.

Environment & Travel
Ø Energy and water use, and waste generation, will continue to rise
Ø Flood and storm damage will increase, and rising fuel prices
Ø Congestion and car numbers will increase. Road casualties a problem.

3. Vision and Objectives for South Somerset

The brief ‘vision’ : "A thriving South Somerset which makes the most of its natural assets, heritage,enterprise and community spirit in order to conserve natural resources, plan and build a better quality of life for everyone, now and in the future."

The document tries to translate this into what it means for planning and strategy. The more detailed vision statement talks about a thriving area, affordable, high quality facilities, protecting the environment, with Yeovil as a strong driver of the local economy. Increasing hi-tech and educational opportunities, with the East of Yeovil regenerated. It speaks of a thriving region, with several local hubs, better tourism facilities and a viable agricultural sector.

This is followed by 13 ‘Strategic Objectives’. These give a pretty good idea of where the Council is coming from, and several of them relate directly to what we do as churches (1, 2, 3, 12)

SO 1 Safe and strong communities with strong social networks.
SO 2 Everyone able to choose healthy lifestyles and access support to improve their health.
SO 3 Services and facilities (including education, health, advice and information, leisure and
cultural) that have all been designed around the needs of the community enabling
everyone to have fair and equitable access.
SO 4 People of all ages and backgrounds across the district to have access to ICT and
transport options.
SO 5 A competitive, high performing economy that is diverse and adaptable.
SO 6 Infrastructure in place for businesses to thrive.
SO 7 An educated and skilled workforce with less economic disadvantage and a good match
with the needs of the business sector.
SO 8 A thriving Yeovil, market town and rural economy/environment able to attract and retain
visitors, consumers and high quality, sustainable businesses.
SO 9 High quality homes, buildings and public spaces where people can live and work in an
environmentally friendly way.
SO10 A balanced housing market with a range of affordable housing and flexibility to meet the
changing needs of the population.
SO11 Effective use and stewardship of natural resources and biodiversity.
SO12 High levels of environmental awareness, pride in and satisfaction with the local
SO13 Move towards a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

Chapters 4-10

The rest of the document explores 6 key themes. Under each theme, key issues are identified, and options for tackling them are identified, with several questions in each section for people to respond to.

The 6 themes are:
a) Strategy
- how to keep sustainable development as a core principle
- balancing sustainability with employment, justice, wellbeing, environment etc.
- meeting the challenge of higher housing demand, and need for more business land.
- Percentages of brownfield or Greenfield land, and housing density.
- Estimates for housing required in South Somerset vary, the latest is 19,700, of which 11,400 should be in Yeovil.
- The paper sets out a ‘settlement hierarchy’ of towns (Yeovil, Chard, Wincanton etc.), Rural Centre (Bruton, Langport, Martock etc.) and Village. There are questions about how much development should be concentrated in each type of centre.
Note: not all local villages are mentioned here, it’s worth checking to see if yours is on!

b) Housing
Issues: - lack of affordable housing
- homelessness
- traveler provision
- more demand for 1 and 2 bed properties
- houses in Yeovil are unaffordable to 1st time buyers.
- Provision for affordable housing in new developments.
- Adaptable homes for increasing numbers of elderly.

c) Economy
- over 10,000 new jobs required for the area
- minimizing commuting, finding land for new businesses
- diversifying, so that we’re not over-reliant on Westlands and manufacturing
- increasing training levels.
- How much effort do you put in to retaining business premises (e.g. the village shop)
- Retaining rural services
- Move from dairy to arable farming. Helping farmers to diversify
- Enhancing tourism

d) Transport
- public transport
- parking
- encouraging cycling and walking
- disabled access
- tackling congestion – charging? Park and Ride? Parking charges?

e) Health and Well Being
- retaining local services (halls, surgeries, places of worship)
- young people’s facilities in remote areas
- increasing obesity
- recreation space in new developments
- community facilities in new developments
- mental health services, larger care and elderly sector
- public transport to facilities
- tackling crime and criminal damage, safety issues
- big rise in over-60’s forecast. Needs increased health provision.
- Loss of rural schools, provision for preschool children in rural areas

f) Environmental Quality.
- how to lower CO2 in line with government targets
- coping with rising energy demand, and demand for development land
- air quality (Yeovil is a blackspot)
- protecting heritage
- increasing use of renewable energy

The final section (section 10) deals with ‘Development Management Policies’ – i.e. what policies the council will adopt, in line with their vision and strategy, to guide future developments. These cover traffic, funding for new facilities, business land, health, housing density etc. There seemed to be a lot of overlap here with previous chapters, probably intentional!

and finally, the official blurb.
This consultation closes on Friday 25th April 2008. There are three ways to submit your comments:
1. On-line via ., or
2. Visit the website and fill out the electronic copy of the comment form and email to
3. Fill out a paper copy of the form (available at Council and Community Offices and Libraries) and post to the address below.

If you have any queries regarding the consultation please contact:
Planning Policy Team, Council Offices, Brympton Way, Yeovil, Somerset BA20 2HT
Telephone: 01935 462462 (8am to 6pm Monday to Friday) Email:

Future posts will cover how the church can respond, and the evidence for the benefits of faith communities on the local community.

These People are Hosting the Olympics: 2

A few weeks ago, Open Doors published its list of the 10 worst places to live as a Christian in 2008. Here it is

2008 World Watch List
1. North Korea
2. Saudi Arabia
3. Iran
4. Maldives
5. Bhutan
6. Yemen
7. Afghanistan
8. Laos
9. Uzbekistan
10. China.

The Open Doors USA site has a full article covering the offending countries, including this paragraph on China:

China is a large country with many contradictions. There are Christians who are restricted in their freedom to worship, but there are also areas where the situation is not as tight. Sometimes the government crackdowns against Christians were motivated by preparations for the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008 and not by anti-Christian grounds. The government wants to make sure that there is no risk for any instability during 2008. The way they want to achieve this differs per area and situation. Sometimes unprecedented politeness is used, but there are also reports of house church raids and arrests.

And the raids and arrests, false imprisonments torture and beatings all continue.

News report here, HT ars gratia.

The New 7 Deadly Sins: A Chart

The marvellous Indexed has produced an updated chart following this weeks (non) announcement by the Vatican of 7 new deadly sins. Just to get this straight: When a second-tier Vatican official gives a newspaper interview, he is not proclaiming new Church doctrines. (from the link), but hey, who needs truth when you've got the blogosphere?

Is that finger pointing at me......?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Putting a Price Tag on Faith Communities

A report has just come out on the economic impact of faith communities in Wales. You can read a summary headline page of Counting for Communities here, or see the homepage for the report here. The report estimates that faith communities in Wales contribute £102m to the economy each year, a figure which would equate to over £2bn if projected up to the whole UK.

There's an article at Christianity Today, and a similar survey on the North West from a 5 years ago also online. This estimated the contribution of faith communities in the region at just over £90m. Welsh churchgoing is significantly higher than in the UK, which might explain why, with half the population of the NW, faith groups make roughly the same economic contribution.

Blogging with the Archbishops

Maggi Dawn has spent a week with the Archbishops, and asked them lots of questions, which you can read on her blog. Worth a look.

Here's a snippet, from the AB of Y
“My hope for the Church in twenty years’ time,” said Archbishop Sentamu, “is that that there will be more of a sense that the Church of England is something that people will positively celebrate, rather than just being their default position. You know at the moment, how people turn to the Church in a crisis, or when they get married, but ignore it the rest of the time. I’m looking for many more disciples who are serving God with their whole life, and who will rejoice that they are part of the Church.

A handy set of labels?

Some interesting thoughts on the make-up of church congregations, and how this affects the dynamics of growth in the church, from Scott Anderson. Here's a snippet.

Think for a moment about how different types of people make up your congregation. I don't mean young and middle-aged and old, or black and white and Asian, but rather the way in which groups of people behave. Four types are represented in most congregations.

The four types
- 'Missioners' are people who have grasped the call of Jesus Christ to his Church. They have a vision for where they want the Church to be, and are personally committed to it. They commend it to other people, and take their own initiative in getting it to work.

- 'Helpers' are people who understand the mission and want to see things happen. They are loyal and supportive, but they do not have the confidence or the experience to take initiatives of their own, although they will help whenever they are asked to.
- 'Looked Afters' are people who like coming to church from time to time, and may belong to one of the Church organizations. They see the Church as providing comfort and support for them.
- 'Resisters' are people who oppose the agreed mission of the Church to which nonetheless they declare that they belong.

Understanding the proportion and influence of each group in your congregation is one of the most important keys to growth or decline.

Ht Titusonenine, via Elizaphanian.

Hoggard and Harmison out for 2nd Test

Surprise news this morning that England have dropped both Hoggard and Harmison for tonights 2nd Test in New Zealand. Harmison everyone expected, but Hoggard has been the consistent backbone to Englands attack for 5 years, whilst other bowlers form has been erratic (Harmison, Panesar), or they've dropped out through injury (Flintoff, Jones, Giles).

The Wisden site calls the decision 'desperate'. 'Brave' might be a fairer term. The replacements are young but inexperienced (Broad) and inconsistent (Anderson), but that's the whole point of having a squad system. Football managers have been experimenting with a rotation system for a few years now, given the demands of the Premiership. With several recent high-profile implosions of Test players (Englands Marcus Trescothick, more recently Shaun Tait of Australia) maybe it's time for cricket to do the same. When the Aussies start taking time out for 'physical and emotional exhaustion', you know things are getting out of hand.

Cricket, of course, goes back at least to the 1st century AD. Evidence can be found in chapter 2 of the book of Acts when "Peter stood up with the 11 and boldly declared" (verse 14, paraphrase). The early church had a squad system too - in the previous chapter they choose from 2 potential subs to take the place of Judas Iscariot. Everything was a team game: church leadership, mission, food distribution (a team of 'deacons' is chosen in Acts 6), and it made sense to have reserves to draft in when people weren't at the top of their game, or if they went off the rails.

One problem endemic in the church at the moment is that we try so hard to keep going things which worked in the past. Any local church can end up at full stretch, with no spare people to allow a squad rotation system. Very often, when folk get the chance for a rest, they drop out for good. I know some people locally who were up to their eyes in their village church, but since moving away from their village they're having a 'well earned rest'. We're trying to develop a system of deputy leaders for our cell groups/home groups, so that the group leaders don't have to do it all on their own. However we're a long way from doing that for other key leaders - youth work, childrens work etc.

Jesus was regularly getting the disciples away from the demands of ministry to rest. It's very hard to perform at your peak consistently for any stretch of time. England are hoping that Hoggard and Harmison will have their fire re-ignited by being dropped from the side. It's a massive gamble, because it might not work for Broad and Anderson, and it might not work for the 2 H's either. Maybe Harmison just wants to be with his wife and new kid - and why not? Some things (and I can't believe I'm saying this) are more important than cricket.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yeovil and South Somerset in 2026

South Somerset District Council has launched a consultation on how the district will develop over the next 18 years, including a projected 25,000 rise in population.

I'll be blogging at length about this in a couple of days. There's a 104 page document setting out the issues facing the region, and the options for tackling them, and a questionnaire for responding, all through this site. The deadline for a response is 25th April, either online or by post. Lots of issues to engage with, including places of worship, the future of villages, and making sure that the less well off don't miss out. Watch this space.

The original 7 deadly sins: a chart

via Blogger Buzz. Great crib sheet if you're taking confession this week. Love BG

Monday, March 10, 2008

7 New Deadly Sins

The Roman Catholic church has issued an updated list of the 7 deadly sins. For those of you who weren't listening to Sister Agnes in Sunday school, the original list is:
  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Envy
  • Sloth
  • Greed
(interesting to note that 5 of these 7 are a form of covetousness - wanting more of what you've already got enough of, or wanting stuff that belongs to other people)

The new list is:
  • genetic modification,
  • carrying out experiments on humans,
  • polluting the environment,
  • causing social injustice,
  • causing poverty,
  • becoming obscenely wealthy
  • taking drugs.

All this is according to a key chappy at the Vatican, who has been leading a week of training for priests on how to do a good confession. I think the idea is to put more of a focus onto corporate and social sins, alongside just individual stuff.

The Telegraph has an interesting set of comments on this, offering alternative sins such as not looking where you're going whilst texting, and Morris Dancing. Fair enough. Some of the commenters point out that the Catholic church itself is guilty of several of the items on its own list.

Why do we need to identify sin anyway? To me it comes down to whether sin is crime or diagnosis. If it's simply a crime against God, then identifying lists of sins is a way of controlling or modifying behaviour, and holding a big stick over people (provided they're afraid of going to Hell, or of the disapproval of their priest). Seeing sin as diagnosis seems to be more fruitful: a diagnosis identifies disease so that something can be done about it. God's goal is that we should be healed, whole, fully human, not just good little boys and girls. It's a lot easier to point the finger than it is to change, but Jesus came not to point the finger but to change people.

The Vatican list is good in 1 way, in that it's more explicit about what gluttony and greed look like. But it's also too shallow - by naming sin as specific actions, rather than the motivations, social currents and character traits driving them, it doesn't actually diagnose at any depth. It focuses on the symptoms rather than the disease. Surely that sells the Gospel short?

Update: I spent, ooh, 5 minutes trying to find the original source for this and eventually gave up. Damian Thomson has found a comment from the RC church, explaining that this wasn't really what they meant at all. Too late chaps. If Rowan Williams can be misquoted online before he's even spoken, that might have been a learning experience for other communications bods in the church.

There Will Be Blood in Compton Bishop

in my inbox this morning:

Could you put out a warning on the churchwatch circuit. Last week we had a theft of heating oil from Compton Bishop Church. It seems that they cut through the pipe and syphoned off about £300 worth of oil. I suspect with the rocketing cost of fuel we are likely to see more of this.

wonder what inspired that particular stunt? If you see a man with a large moustache, pickaxe and atonal string section in your neighbourhood, please report him.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

BBC Passion video clips

This clip from the BBC passion is on Youtube, and the trailer is at the top of the series website. Looks good. Might be worth showing one of these, if you've got the facilities, next Sunday morning at your church to alert people to the series.

Update: the video above has been pulled from Youtube, but the Passion trailer is now on it:

Video Resources for Easter

If you're concerned that the Easter Linebacker doesn't quite send the right Easter message, a few other places to go:

Proost have some new Easter movies, short creative visual meditations, some excellent stuff, you can see snippets of them and buy online for a very reasonable price. Much less than Sermonspice, home of the Linebacker.

Wingclips allow you to download free movie clips with a relevant message - some excellent ones for Easter from X-Men, To End All Wars, and Ice Age. For a subscription fee you can get higher resolution clips, but the quality is ok even on the free ones, and they have an excellent, and evolving, index of themes and clips. Ht Jonny Baker for reminders about these 2.

ReelWorship have some excellent video clips for background, meditation, pre- and post-service. Hoping to use some of these for Good Friday. The picture here is from one of their videos.

If you just want stills, there are some high quality images of crosses from around the world at the Barnabas/BRF site, and a resource book you can get to go with them.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

They Will Be Bored

The critical consensus on There Will Be Blood is that it's a very good film. Rotten Tomatoes, which logs film reviews in the English-speaking press, reports that 91% of reviews of the film were positive.

However, read a selection of reviews by normal people and you find a slightly different story. This is one of those reviews. Plot spoilers follow, so if you don't want to know them, look away now.

The film opens with what sounds like 100 violins being violently ill all at the same time, and takes us underground to where Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day Lewis) is digging for silver. The film traces his rise as an oil prospector, as he buys up tracts of land in competition with the big oil producers and makes his fortune as an oil man. We also witness his psychological unravelling from determined and driven to hate-filled and psychopathic.

Along the way Plainview moves to New Boston, a small poor community with a railway station and little else. The local preacher, Eli Sunday, tries to use Plainviews presence to consolidate his power and influence in the community, and they soon come into conflict. This is a bare knuckle fight between capitalism and religion - neither painted in affectionate colours - for the soul of the community. Neither deserves to win: the preacher is manipulative and devious, the oil man is increasingly driven by greed and hate, and along the way abandons his son and murders the only friend he has.

The film ends with Plainview rich, reclusive and lonely, driving his son away, and then murdering Pastor Sunday, who has called round to wheedle some money out of him. It's a desolate ending to 158 minutes of desolate film.
Lets start with the good bits. There are some good performances, though they become increasingly melodramatic as the film goes on. The scenery is spectacular, and the set pieces - like the explosion and fire at the oil well - are superbly done. You get a real sense of how tough life was even 100 years ago, and how the riches of oil or the favour of God seemed to offer people a way out, an escape route.

In a way it is a snapshot to set alongside 'Gangs of New York', Scorseses brutal but powerful epic set in the mid-1800's several state away. Both show some of the birth pangs of the modern USA. The other connection to Gangs of New York is Day-Lewis, who plays the leading role in that film and this. Trouble is, whenever I looked at 'There Will Be Blood's Plainview, I saw Bill the Butcher from 'Gangs' - big moustache, same mannerisms, same volcanic sense of menace and threat. There seemed to be a lot of overlap between the two performances, too much in fact.

The trouble is that aside from Day-Lewis, there is hardly anyone else in the film. Son HW Plainview spends most of the film mute and silent, Pastor Sunday is absent for large tracts of it, and Plainviews right hand man (played by Ciaran Hinds) is just a solid right hand man, and never changes. Plainviews (imposter) long-lost brother is the only other character given space to breathe. There is hardly any dialogue voiced by women. Ok this is a mans world: oil, mines, railroads, big business, but most of the characters seem to be there as scenery rather than as people.

The film grinds slowly on, the 2 fleeting chances of redemption (friendship through a brother who turns out to be a fake, repentance through a pastor who is also a fake - a repentance which Plainview is blackmailed into) are spurned, and Plainview just gets nastier and nastier. This truly is a thankless experience, and what could have been a powerful study into money and religion ends up sour-tasting and vaguely unbelievable. The trouble with films which show the process of someone becoming a murderer is that they have to make the crossing of that particular line very convincing, and for me There Will Be Blood doesn't do it.

As for the spiritual side of the film, there seems to be no geniune faith in this film apart from the 'simple village folk' faith which is completely taken in by their showman preacher. God is a tool used by Pastor Sunday to manipulate people, and the subtext is that pentecostal religion and charismatic leaders (and there's plenty of that in the US at the moment) may just be after the same things as the capitalists - power and money. I guess this will resonate more with a US audience than it did with me. At present several leading US televangelists are under investigation for tax liability, so that part of the story is certainly bang up to date. However I remain to be convinced how any Hollywood studio marketing a 'money makes you miserable' film can possibly be sincere.

"I look at people and I see nothing worth liking" - that's a bit of dialogue obviously meant to reflect on Plainviews character, but for me it came dangerously close to summing up the film too.