Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Evangelism, Discipleship and Faith Sharing Resources

An excellent booklet from Southwell diocese, available online here, which summarises all the main stuff on the market for:
- Christian basics courses (Alpha, START, Christianity Explored etc.)
- Discipleship courses (Foundations 21, Discipleship Explored, Lifeshapes etc.)
- Faith sharing training (J. Johns 'Breaking News', Lost for Words, Contagious Christian etc.)

Each one has a brief summary, price details, contact and web details, and its a great place to start if you're thinking about running something in these areas but aren't sure what's out there. Well done to Mark Brown, the diocesan missioner, for putting it together. Now, the sensible thing would be for every other diocese to make this available on their website, rather than all copying each other.

What Everyone Else is Saying

Occasionally I run through all the blogs on my favourites list, and here's what some of them are on about:

Bishop Gene Robinson - Madpriest breaks the news that he won't be allowed to speak or do communions during the Lambeth conference, so he's getting in early by doing a tour promoting his new book. Why is it only Bishops who have the time to do books and international speaking tours? Don't they have anything else to do? Dave Walker is blogging about this too: I quit my Church Times subscription because all they ever printed was stories about bishops, however Dave has just posted 3 in a row, his blog seems to have become a bit more serious since it moved there.

Ruth Gledhill has been been posting about persecution of Christians. Ruths series of 6 reminds me of Amos, who lists the nations around Israel one by one, itemising their sins, before rounding on the Israelites themselves. Having picked out Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, the final entry is on the UK. A Christian Solidarity Worldwide report 'No place to call home' was launched yesterday, on the persecution faced by people who convert to Christ from Islam. Meanwhile Start the Week links to an upcoming conference on 'ethical evanglism' of people from other faiths.

Steve Tilley muses on what people's t-shirts say about them. Howard Jamieson has an interesting post applying the signs of life to church (does your church excrete?), reflects on how having the Bible to hand as an object, rather than in our ears as part of a body of common stories, affects the way we treat it.

Mark Meynell has posted this, on the folk employed by the Japanese subway to get people on board:

remind you of any church you know? And then we wonder why people want to get off at the next stop...

Bishop Alan's excellent blog has again come back to the topic of bullying in the church. My experience hasn't always been that the church hierarchy dealt with reports of bullying very well, so here's at least 1 bishop who admits it exists and wants to address it. A friend who went for an interview to be curate in a particular parish decided it wasn't for him, and the vicar shouted at him for having the temerity to 'refuse' him, and effectively tried to bully him into accepting. As far as I know, that parish/vicar is still getting curates.

Finally David Couchman has some stuff on emerging church pioneer Mike Frost, who is touring the UK in October, and will be well worth getting to see. Frost, author of 'The Shaping of Things to Come' with Alan Hirsch, is one of the top thinkers on change in society and the church, and mission in the post-Christian West.

Scholes goal

Sorry, this site is no longer a football-free zone

it was a cracker though. And don't you love the commentary? It's probably what Alan Green sounds like to a Turk.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Coldplay Single

In case, like me, you're struggling to download 'Violet Hill' from they've also put it on their myspace site. On first listen it sounds like something from Pink Floyds 'The Wall', grungier sound than X&Y. Hmmm, not sure yet. In the meantime, try to work out what Chris Martin means when he sings:

Was a long and dark December/When the banks became cathedrals
And the fog/Became God
Priests clutched onto bibles/Hollowed out to fit their rifles
And the cross/was held aloft

Monday, April 28, 2008

Downsizing our Pop idols

Justin Thacker at CommentisFree has some good things to say about the recent Joseph Rowntree foundation report on social evils. The JRF concluded, from a survey of 3500 people, that the greatest social evil was individualism and consumerism.

Feeding this worship of the self were the twin gods of consumerism and celebrity culture. Consumerism feeds it because every act of consumption reinforces the idea that I exist purely for my own sake. The celebrity culture fuels it because as soon as we start worshipping people for no other reason than their ability to attract such worship then our locus of admiration has shifted from an aptitude, such as artistic ability, to the individual as an individual.

In the report, the responsibility for this plague of self-indulgence was laid squarely at the doors of politicians, financial institutions and in particular the media (understood broadly to include advertising).

Thacker goes on to ask:
What if instead we pursued the logic of satisfaction whereby our goal is not the endless pursuit of desire itself, but rather contentment with what we already have? Indeed, what if contentment was found not in satisfying new desires, but in the deliberate relinquishment for the sake of others of what we already possess? What if personal downsizing became not just the mantra, but the practice, of our age?

It is more blessed to give than to recieve.(Acts 20:36)
Godliness with contenment is great gain. (1 Tim 6:6)

A Good Diocesan Website, Mission Action Plans, and Diocesan Growth (or not)

Stumbled across the Norwich Diocese website today, including an excellent & simple links page to resources on worship and discipleship. The links on Bible study and leadership need developing, but the discipleship one was excellent - offering a breakdown of most of the discipleship/Christian basics courses on the market, what they're about and what the sessions cover. A different section of the website has links to all sorts of church growth resources.

Norwich says it's "Committed to Growth", and is one of an increasing number of Dioceses who are encouraging their parishes to develop mission action plans - though they don't all call them that. Unfortunately there isn't really enough research in the public domain to know how well MAP's work - there seems to have been positive experience in York, Blackburn and Lichfield dioceses, but most have only recently started to use them. London have been using MAP's for 15 years, though Bob Jackson isn't sure how much of a factor they've played in the growth of that diocese.

There isn't any doubt that London is growing though. Despite the complex and serpentine presentation of the CofE national stats, here are the top 5 dioceses for 2001-6, in terms of growth in total weekly attendance (adults and children)

London 12.9%
Gloucester 2.2%
Canterbury 2.1%
Southwark 1.6%
Winchester 1.4%

5 other dioceses have grown on this measure during the 01-06 period (Newcastle, Hereford, York, Manchester, St. Albans), which means that 33 have shrunk. The bottom 4 are all Northern - Liverpool, Sheffield, Durham and Blackburn.

Taking childrens attendance on its own, the picture is better: 7 dioceses have held steady, and 16 have grown. Worcester, Salisbury, Coventy and Canterbury have all seen growth of over 20%, another 5 have seen growth of 10% or more (Southwell, London, St. Albans, Southwark and Winchester).

By the law of averages, if the picture among children is better, that for adult attendance is worse, with only 7 dioceses growing, and only London growing by more than 3% (11.7%). The Northern dioceses do a bit better here, with York, Manchester and Newcastle growing, and Wakefield holding steady.

As I've said, its frustrating to have to work with figures which are 2 years out of date. Bob Jacksons work (see link above) does a far better job than I could of explaining why London has bucked the trend. The main factor he identifies is Diocesan leadership, with a 15-year long commitment to mission which has included MAP's, but covers appointment strategy, money, resources, encouraging church planting, and a host of other things.

Being an online dummy, I can't post the Excel file with the 2001-6 comparisons in, but if you want a copy let me know.

Diocesan Mission Fund spending

Start the Week has a fascinating document listing all the things that CofE 'mission fund' money has been spent on in 2007. Examples include
- hiring a tent
- converting a former rectory into a drop in centre
- youth and communty workers galore
- developing a goth eucharist
- pub outreach
- shopping centre chaplain
- internet cafe manager
- 'mobile church' in Hackenthorpe - I'd love to know what that is.

There are over 500 separate mission initiatives on the list, so plenty of good ideas. What I want to know is, if we can get financial figures nationwide for 2007 so quickly, how come the Cofe only has provisional attendance data for 2006? And the link doesn't even work?

SSDC Consultation Deadline Extended

For no obvious reason, the deadline for the response to the South Somerset Core Strategy consultation has now been extended to 30th May. This means if you've not got round to responding, there's still time, and if you want to go back and add to your response, ditto.

I have no idea why this has happened: 6 weeks seems to be the national standard for consultations (e.g. on the Post Office closures), so maybe the person who processes all the forms is on holiday for a bit. There are now getting on for 70 responses, keep 'em coming. If you're arguing the case for places of worship, it's good to put a few reasons down - Michael Hayes response is a good example (you can view this on the site). I'm going to revisit my own response, now there's a bit more time, and see if I can express it any better.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring Harvest 2008

Dave Walker has already blogged extensively about his experience at Spring Harvest in Skegness, painting a rather mixed picture (!), other bloggers enjoyed it a bit more, like AndyG and the remarkable blog that is Simons Journal (straight into my bookmarks). Meanwhile Adrian Warnock has virtually a moment by moment account of 'New Word Alive', which went separate ways from Spring Harvest for this year, with various interviews with key speakers, MP3's etc.

We went to Minehead for the final week of Spring Harvest 2008, and I had a much better time than I'd expected to. Speaking personally, I have more and more of a struggle with modern worship songs, as I find I'd much prefer to listen to Evanescence and Coldplay than Matt Redman. They are just more my taste in music. So I've struggled a bit with the 'Big Top' worship at Spring Harvest, but as a worship leader Andy Flannagan was superb, creative in an understated way, and led things very well.

The speakers were more of a mixture: SH always has to tread the line between familiar, tried and tested speakers who consistently turn up with the goods (Jeff Lucas, Steve Chalke, Ian Coffey, Gerard Kelly), and bringing in new faces to keep a sense of progress and innovation. All credit to them for giving 2 emerging church pioneers the main speaking slot on 2 different nights - Philip Jinadu (evangelist in Bristol) and Danielle Strickland (Salvation Army church planter from Canada) were refreshing, clear and challenging. Their morning 'zone' was excellent too: I guess having heard more teaching than is good for me, what communicates more and more is real life stories of people putting into practice the stuff they are speaking about. I want to hear about people who pray and get answers, who plant churches and see growth, who uproot to move into needy neighbourhoods, who use their skills and vocations creatively to serve others.

Another good innovation was the open plan cafe in the central 'Skyline' area, which was used for Q&A sessions with the key speaker (Malcolm Duncan of Faithworks) after the morning Bible teaching. A real plus in the programme, giving the chance for real debate to take place, and geniune questions to be wrestled with.

Lots of big questions this year: the theme was 'One Hope', looking at how the bible sees the future, including the future of the planet. There was lots of wrestling with Tom Wrights work on resurrection and 'heaven' (or not) and how we should think about all of that. Lots of good input and resources on the environment and green issues.

Finally, my personal highlight (depite getting picked on one night) was Tim Vine and John Archers late show. Looks like they are now on a national tour, judging by TV's website. Vine holds the world record for most jokes told in an hour (499), and made the perfect end to the day. "So I went outside, and this cup fell from the sky and hit me on the head. Then another one hit the ground beside me. I went back inside and my wife asked 'hows the weather' I said 'Muggy'... Friends of the Earth rang me yesterday and told me to eat less pasta. Apparently we all need to reduce our Carbonara footprint...." and so on.

Going back for more next year, hopefully with a bigger group from our church. Oh yes, and the kids loved it, though they were completely pooped by the end of the week.

Touching Base: Confession and the AA 12 Steps

The latest 'touching base' column is now online at the Wardman Wire (link should work now!). Here's a snippet:

As a spotty youth I worked in East London with alcoholics, and realised that the (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12 steps were more than a recovery programme. They made a great rule of life. If you lived by these principles, then there wasn’t a much better path to personal maturity and character.

It’s a tough path, with no short cuts, and requires a level of honesty and stickability that might look frighteningly high. But most alcoholics are desperate enough to have a go, and the 12 steps have yet to be bettered as a recovery programme.

And here’s the sticking point: though we’d all become better people if we followed the 12 Steps, most of us wouldn’t even think about it unless we became desperate. As with climate change, so with personal change - we need to be right on the brink before we’re motivated enough to do anything.

and for the rest go here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

In praise of the CofE

3 little snapshots from today:

90 minutes this morning with my mentor, a CofE mission advisor, talking through issues around church planting, fresh expressions, bishops mission orders, and whether I'm motivated by God or a desire to get a good reputation. Good conversation.

The librarian in Wells who, despite my repeated offending on the library fines system at the Diocese, only billed me £3 for 4 books each of which was a month overdue. Bless her.

Our Diocesan childrens advisor - we're about to advertise for a children and families worker. Within an hour of a phone conversation she'd emailed me an example application form which we can use as a basis for developing our own.

My job would be so much harder without people like this. God bless them every one.

South Somerset Consultation

It's not too late to have your say in the SSDC consultation on the District in 2026, go to this link and use the online questionnaire form.

The consultation closes at 5pm on April 25th. That's tomorrow (Friday). The good news is that more people have responded - now over 50 respondents on the site. Even Morrisons have had their say. So if you've not had your two penn'orth, have them now.

Saint Swap: St. Aidan for St. George

Theologian Ian Bradley is calling for St. Aidan to be made the new patron saint of England. Not just England, but the entire UK:

He said: "St George had nothing to do with Britain and his legend was brought back here with the Crusades. St Andrew similarly had no links with Scotland and St Patrick was born in Scotland or England and put into slavery by the Irish. On the other hand, St Aidan unites three of the countries by having lived there and is, I believe, a better symbol for Britishness.

"It's like Billy Bragg says in his song 'Take Down the Union Jack' about Britain; 'It's not a proper country, it doesn't have a patron saint'. Aidan was the sort of hybrid Briton that sums up the overlapping spiritual identities of Britain.

"He also makes a good patron saint of Britain because of his character. He was particularly humble and believed in talking directly to people. When he was given a horse by King Oswald of Northumbria, he immediately gave it away because he was worried that he would not be able to communicate properly.

"He was also not shy of reprimanding the mighty and powerful about their failings. He saw it as part of his job to remind secular rulers not to get above themselves. At a time when we are thinking about what makes Britishness, he had a sense of openness and diversity for his time that I think makes him a good candidate as the patron saint of Britain."

Ht Libby Purves. Of course you know what I think already. What better patron saint for a country than a missionary monk and a Northerner?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best Headline of the Day

Comes from Madpriest:

is this the way the world will be saved; not with a bang but a wimple?


Debt Resources

Care for the Family have published a new debt resource, 'Money, Debt and Family Life' available at this link. It's one of a whole series of pdfs, available here, which cover things like adoption, eating disorders, miscarriage, step-parenting, postnatal depression, caring for elderly relatives etc. They are very well set out, and are great resources for a support group, or for any church or individual looking for a good starting point for advice and help.

Other debt links, mentioned on the document, include:
National Debtline:
Offers a helpline, information pack and fact sheets.
Freephone: 0808 808 4000

Consumer Credit Counselling Service: Offers a help pack and advice
Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds LS2 8NG
Freephone helpline: 0800 13 8 1111
(open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday).

Christians Against Poverty (CAP):
A national debt counselling charity working through a network of 64 centres based in local churches.
Jubilee Mill, North Street, Bradford, BD1 4EW
Tel: 012 74 760720 Email:

With the credit crunch, fuel and food prices starting to bite, never mind the 10p tax abolition, problem debt is an increasing problem, and if churches are asking 'what can we do to help our communities?' then this is part of the answer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Church Vital Signs

A completely unscientific questionnaire which we put out at our Cafe Service a few weeks ago, asking people what they thought was vital, helpful or unhelpful to the church. With about 25 options to choose from, including pews, laughter, coffee and biscuits and Bishops, here are the results:

Vital Vital: over 90% agreed on People (it'd be a funny church without them!), baptising new believers, praying together, Jesus, welcome to all ages, people exploring and growing in their faith, and laughter.

Almost Vital: over half also thought that meeting at least once a week, communion, Bible teaching, singing and music, and service of the commmunity and the needy were vital.

Unvital: the only things which made it into the 'unhelpful' column were hymn books (1), a building, having a church name, an organ, committees, and pews. This possibly reflects the congregation and the setting, given that none of these things were anywhere in sight (the music group doesn't even have a keyboard).

Arguments from silence: whilst a lot of stuff was put as 'helpful', things which might have been 'vital' but weren't included meeting on a Sunday, Sunday school, any form of eating together, and money. A minority of people thought they were vital to the church, with the same score as 'vicar or other appointed leader'.

Steve Croft argues that only 3 things are vital to being the church, with a further 3 essentials for sustaining the life of the church. Follow the link for the list we based our exercise on. It's another way of exploring the question of what in our churches is Gospel, and what is Culture.

Compton Durville Open Afternoon

Compton Durville - a Franciscan Convent in South Somerset, is holding an open day on Saturday 24th May, 2-4.15 pm including a tour of the house and gardens, followed by Evensong at 4.3opm. If you've not been to Compton Durville (just off the A303 near South Petherton) it's well worth a visit. Good place for quiet days, PCC/leadership away days etc.

Contact details: 01460 240473

St Francis Convent, ComptonDurville,
SouthPetherton, Somerset TA13 5ES

website for Compton Durville.

Monday, April 21, 2008

2 Brave Men

1. John Prescott, going public with his struggle with bulimia. Well done him, if it helps even one person ask for help or get support it will have been worth it.

2. Jon Birch, for posting this cartoon after agonising about it.
Along with another cartoon on Jons blog it's already attracted a torrent of comments, several from people who seem relieved at the chance to break the silence on what they do. "I'd buried it but not dealt with it until today."

Post Office Closures Fightback

This was in my Inbox on return:

‘A group of communities fighting plans to close their Post Office branches has launched a national organisation, Communities Against Post Office Closures (CAPOC) and hope that their experiences of dealing with the nationwide plan to shut 2500 branches will help other communities who may not yet know they're being targeted. The website,, contains a wealth of hard-learnt lessons, advice on how to fight PO Ltd proposals, contacts in the media, politics, community affairs and other protest groups, briefings, copies of reports, documents and links to other useful websites, a forum in which to share views and opinions and much more.’

Time to consignia the closure programme to the recycling bin. This is not just about money, somehow Gordon £rown and the government doesn't understand that.

Doctor Who, The Ood, and the Exodus.

Back to the blogosphere after a week at Spring Harvest, of which more later this week.

Intrigued by the fact that the last 2 episodes of Doctor Who have ended with him being installed as a minor deity by first a family from Pompeii, then a race of squid-faced slaves whom he helped to free. Having watched a cartoon Moses in 'The Prince of Egypt' in the afternoon with my kids, it was rather weird to then see the Exodus story retold on iPlayer 2000 years in the future on another planet. Russell T. Davies has clearly been reading his Bible. Again.

I didn't realise that Saturday was the Jewish Passover festival until Cranmer reminded me. Doctor Who broadcast at just about the time - sunset on Saturday 19th April - that the Passover festival began, and retelling the story for a sci fi audience. Very clever. As far as I can see nobody else in the blogosphere has picked this up, but it's an incredibly subtle bit of scripting.

Add to that the 'rapture' at the end of episode 1 (and there probably are 1m Londoners who want their surplus body fat to just lift off into space), and the strong religious current in Doctor Who is picking up where it left off at the end of the last series. Add to that the Satan Pit - the previous Ood outing where the Doctor comes face to face with the Devil - and it's almost worth scrapping your weekly bible studies and sitting down to watch Dr. Who instead.

To quote the Times reviewer at the weekend: It's curious, in this supposedly godless age, how much religious imagery and supernatural longing finds its way into mainstream entertainment.

Monday, April 14, 2008

11 Days to Go

...until the April 25th deadline for the South Somerset District Council consultation. Responses can be submitted online here, or through a paper questionnaire available at libraries, the council offices, or at the back of St. James Church Yeovil (spotted some there yesterday). Don't bother with the 'download this questionnaire' option on the website, unless you're planning to print it out and fill it in, it's useless and will just annoy you.

Looking at the list of respondents to the Sedgemoor consultation, just up the road, which happened last year, there were 126 responses. The SSDC online tally is currently 21, though I know of other folk who are filling in questionnaires, and I doubt that the various commercial respondents would put their responses in the public domain.

Roughly half the Sedgemoor responses are from businesses, including national and multinationals such as Tesco (profit 2.5bn last year, and who as of last month have a store in every UK postcode except Harrogate), BAE (who employ 111,000 people in the UK) Bloor homes (turnover £629m), and David Wilson homes (operating profit 2005: £203m). Some of these have a better track record on community issues than others, and answer first and foremost to shareholders rather than God or local residents. It's frustrating that you can't open the files at the Sedgemoor website to view their specific responses there. The next largest group of respondents is local charities, public sector bodies and parish councils.

I've had it said to me 'what's the point, nobody will listen'. Just imagine for a moment Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Jesus, Columbus, Churchill, saying 'what's the point'..... you get the point. Have your say, and don't wait until April 26th.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

These People are Hosting the Olympics, 3

Remarkably, Damian Thomson has written something I agree with. It was posted a few days ago, about the persecution of Catholics in China. The human rights issue is more than just Tibet. The danger is that the momentum will die away after the torch procession, and everything will go back to normal.

Bishop John Han had spent years doing forced labour before being ordained priest in 1986 and bishop three years later. He was imprisoned on 11 separate occasions and spent about 35 years of his life in prison, labour camp or house arrest.
I wonder what he would have made of Sunday's events. I like to think he would have been cheering on the protestors

Matt Wardman is also doing his bit to keep the fire stoked, including how to get your blog banned in China, and then how to get round the ban. Nothing like creating work for yourself...

Blogging Vicars - a Good Thing?

Mark Meynell thinks so, citing a piece by Abraham Piper which gives 6 reasons:

… to write
… to teach
… to recommend
… to interact
… to develop an eye for what is meaningful
… to be known

I particularly related to this bit from Piper:
Here is where a pastor has an outlet for whatever he didn’t get to say on Sunday. Your blog is where you can pass on that perfect analogy you only just thought of; that hilarious yet meaningful story you couldn’t connect to your text no matter how hard you tried; that last point you skipped over even though you needed it to complete your 8-point acrostic sermon that almost spelled HUMILITY.

I might add a 7th: creating a resource library, though it depends on why you're blogging. I use several blogs as online resource banks: for cartoons, for worship ideas, for news about the church, etc. One of the things I try to link to regularly is research and opinion surveys, as well as worship and mission resources, so that for myself (and hopefully for others) there is a one-stop site for the stuff which interests me, and perhaps others. Blogs which (unlike mine) stick to one subject, are great for this: if you want to mug up on emerging church, then Forgotten Ways and TallskinnyKiwi are great hubs for this. Not so much a library but all the signposts to places you want to go, together in one place.

On interacting, a blog means you get to interact with a much bigger 'parish', which I've found a good challenge. It makes me think a lot more about what I want to say, and has made me much more conscious of how minor some of our church debates are in the global context. It's for the church leader to decide how far that 'parish' goes - there are a billion debates on the web at any one time, and it's easy to divert yourself into these, instead of getting on with yet another sermon, doing that visit you've been putting off, or fixing your kids bike. Speaking of which.......

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Symbolism and Protest

The latest Touching Base is now online at the Wardman Wire, on the place of symbolism in prophecy, politics and protest (ooh, that was good!). A snippet:

a good prophet is a master of symbolism. Many times, Old Testament weirdos like Ezekiel did peculiar things like cook over their own excrement, or build scale models of a beseiged Jerusalem. The people might forget their words, but not the images of Ezekiels pessimistic political punditry. Especially when it came true. Jesus, when looking for a way of helping his followers to remember his life and its meaning, left the symbols of wine and broken bread.

Some prophets themselves become symbols, without speaking we already know what they stand for: Tutu, The Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King.

At some level this works for all of us. We all have a public image, we are seen in a certain way, and we put varying degrees of effort into buffing it up and making sure it’s the one we want to project. We know that there is a gap between perception and reality, and we also know how much we stand to lose if and when that gap is exposed.

New Statesman: 'Belief is Back'

'Belief is Back' declares the front of the latest New Statesman, which has:

- a lengthy interview with Tom Wright summarised as a declaration of war on 'militant atheists and liberals'. Thanks for letting us read it with an open mind. Wright also restates his much-cited take on the resurrection: "We are talking about a good physical world which is to be remade, not a bad physical world which is going to be trashed in favour of a purely spiritual sphere."

- an article by Stephen Bates on the rise of the Bogeyman, sorry, evangelical Christians - These range from the charismatics (the happy-clappies) to the open movement, placed pretty well in the centre of Church life, to the conservatives, whose more militant fringes are now consciously mirroring some of the highly politicised techniques of the religious right in the US (they get some funding from there, too). The conservatives' tactics are also quite similar to those of the old Militant Tendency in the 1980s Labour Party.

You think I'm joking? Here is one article in the magazine of the conservative Church Society about how to take over a parish: "The rural Church is likely to be dominated by the 'old guard' who are suspicious of innovation . . . do they actually understand about the issues or even care about them sufficiently to make in telligent dialogue worthwhile?" The answer, he says, is to recruit small groups of the like-minded to infiltrate congregations "to help others see the need to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus". The conservative evangelicals are the ones who do not hesitate to tell that nice, Guardian-reading, self-designated hairy lefty, Rowan Wil liams, Archbishop of Canterbury, that he's a false teacher and a heretic. They noisily assert that they wouldn't allow him in their churches to preach because he would only confuse their congregations with wrong doctrine.

I'm sure there's an informal rota amongst journalists, so that roughly every 6 months since 1975 someone publishes a 'conservative Christians are coming to get you' article. Some of the categorising is pretty sloppy - I speak as one of his 'happy clappy' types - but the conclusion is spot on: the ultimate irony is that the more urgently they profess the need to win the nation for Christ, the more they repel those they say they most wish to save.

Finally Mary Warnock argues that God shouldn't be a trump card in law-making, arguing that an MP's religion should have no influence over how they vote. This is nonsense. If you have a religion, it is bound to affect how you vote, otherwise you are a hypocrite. Everyone votes and thinks on the basis of a value system, so to rule out theistic value systems discriminates against Christians, Muslims and other believers. You can't pretend this is even-handed, even though Warnock makes it sound ever so reasonable. Her litmus test question "Will society benefit from it in the empirical world?" is hardly a neutral one - your notion of society and what benefits it depends on your value system.

Plenty to chew on for a spring Saturday. Plenty to spit out too!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another Good Reason Not To Eat MacDonalds

If you've ever watched Super Size Me, or paid attention during the McLibel campaigns a few years ago (the McSpotlight website seems to have ground to a halt sometime in 2005), and were running out of reasons not to take your kids to MacDonalds, help is at hand.

They are one of the sponsors of the Beijing Olympics, a fact noted by Madpriest, who is now drinking the undrinkable and has switched to Pepsi. So if you wanted to sell your VW, cut up your visa card, throw away that old Kodak camera, stop jogging to Staples office supplies in your Adidas trainers whilst checking your Omega watch, then you can now do all of that and claim that it's on moral grounds.

The Olympic torch relay already seems to have become an unoffical competition over which country can put on a better protest than the one before. There are now real questions about who will be at the opening ceremony, and whether there will be some sort of boycott. Macavity already has a diary clash.

Whilst most of us won't get an invite to Beijing, and the chance to wrestle a policeman in London has gone, so what else can we do? I don't know how far the Olympic sponsors are using their financial muscle to lean on the Chinese authorities. I expect not much, as they'll be keen to keep their market share, rather than have it handed over to someone who makes less noise. As the MacDonalds experience shows, companies will change if they are put under pressure by their customers. A consumer boycott is on the agenda, but there are big questions about whether it will do any good, or whether it will sour relations with China at a time when we need them onside for negotiations over climate change etc. But as Thabo Mbeki's craven attitude towards Zimbabwe has shown, appeasement doesn't work. Also, if it is international companies who are modelling change through their working practices, acceptance of free speech, allowing Chrisitans and other religious groups to gather freely on their premises etc., then maybe that's more likely to make progress.

So far, not very encouraging. When a coalition of human rights groups took on the relatively soft target of China's support for the Sudanese government (rather than their internal record), here was the response from the Olympic sponsor companies:

Coca-Cola: "Not our role to give suggestions"
Lenovo: "Not Lenovo's place to comment on politics"
Adidas: "Governments have responsibility"
McDonalds: "United Nations should drive solution"
Panasonic: "Support for the Olympics is independent of local contingencies"
BHP Billiton: Failed to respond
Staples: Failed to respond
Snickers: Failed to respond
PricewaterhouseCoopers: "No comment"
Volkswagen: "I'll get German office to call you"
Visa: Failed to respond
Microsoft: Failed to respond
Samsung: Failed to respond
Eastman Kodak: Failed to respond
General Electric: Failed to respond
Omega/Swatch: Failed to respond
Manulife: Failed to respond


(PS. For reasons of balance, McD's have a corporate responsibility website. Wonder why they felt the need to do that?)

Update: this is clearly blogging issue of the day - the Huffington Post (premier league US blog) has blogged on the topic today. "The only way to clearly denounce the corrupt behavior of the Chinese government is to withdraw corporate sponsorship from the Olympics"

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Social Trends - latest research

The latest British Social Trends has just been published, available for £50 or so from the office of national statistics, or free from this website. Among the various findings is that we are richer, but no happier, live longer, have more children outside marriage, and spend 8 times more on leisure and overseas holidays than we did 30 years ago. Press release with a summary of the report here.

The very last section deals with 'Religion'. According to the survey 46% say they have 'no religion', a figure slowly catching up on the 48% who claim to be Christians, of which 22% are CofE. The report states "overall the largest percentage rise was for people who stated that htey were Christian with no denomination, which has doubled to 1/5 of all 'Christians' since 1996.

55% of people never go to church, men are more likely to be in this group than women, though for both the figure is over 50% Religious meetings or services are attended once a week or more by 13% of men and 15% of women.

The UK is relatively low for spiritual beliefs compared to the rest of Europe, though some of this might just be that we're vaguer. 38% belive in God, a further 40% belive in 'some sort of spirit or life force', whilst 20% don't believe in either.

This seems to bear out other pieces of research which suggest a 40% and rising 'unchurched' figure - Social Trends puts this at 55% - and an increasing number of church leavers and 'post-church' Christians, who maintain their faith but not their membership of a Christian fellowship.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

In the Beginning Was the Higgs Field

The Independent reports today on the quest for the 'God particle'. The new Large Hadron Collider - a massive circular tunnel designed for the sole purpose of ramming atoms into each other at almost the speed of light - is about to come onstream, and scientists are hoping it will open up the world of sub-atomic particles in a new way.

The article says:

(the experiment) will also solve one of the most pressing problems in science because the Higgs boson lies at the heart of matter itself. In particular it is supposed to explain why objects have mass and while some phenomena – such as light – do not.

Professor Higgs was the first to propose the theory that the reason why objects have mass is because they interact with an invisible field, now called the Higgs field. Heavier particles interact more strongly, whereas photons (light particles) do not interact at all. Without this Higgs field, everything – from proton to planet – would be as insubstantial as a light beam.

Ancient Greek thinking has the concept of the Logos, the power of reason behind the cosmos, which seeds itself into every piece of matter (the 'logos spermatikos'). Thus the Logos is a field, and something which interacts with all matter to keep it in existence and give it substance.

When the apostle John was looking for a way to explain to Greek thinkers who Jesus was, this is the concept he picks up. The Logos, who is God, the source of all that is, this Logos has become a human being.

The 'Higgs field' was dismissed on its first airing 40 years ago, and I must admit, it doesn't sound quite as good as Logos. It's quite awe-inspiring to read what conditions might be needed: the tunnels cooled to the point of being the coldest place in the known universe, microscopes the size of cathedrals etc. Finding God in a Cathedral, or in extreme weather, there's a novel thought....

Limp it or Lump it?

Just came across something so perceptive I had to post it:

It's not easy not to be put off the truth by the very persons seeking to bring it about — and the churches have no monopoly on compromise and double standards here.

What's the answer? If every concrete enfleshment of church, morality, truth, justice, politics, family and aesthetics is flawed by inadequacy, dysfunction, infidelity, self-interest, ignorance and abuse, does this give us the right to absent ourselves from commitment?

We have a choice. However, that choice is not between what's perfect (a pure church, social justice that's completely non-compromised, art without ego or arrogance, family life without dysfunction, politics without bias, morality without narrowness, feminism without imbalance, religion without flaw or bad history) and what's bad.

The choice is rather between involvement with the limping, stained and compromised or no involvement at all. (Ron Rolheiser, Ht Bishop Alan)

And of course our choices themselves are just as vulnerable to the effects of sin as the things we are making choices about.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lovely Links - Politics, Religion & Mission

A couple of good politics sites this morning. HT Wardman Wire (now back online) for the brand new Politics Home Blog, which sets a very high benchmark for political/news blog sites. It's easier for you to go and look than for me to describe it. They also link to some of Tony Blairs speech last week on religion, globalisation and society which is now on Youtube.

The latest Britblog Roundup links to several posts on the relationship of religion and society, scroll down to paragraph 4. It's very easy to confine your blog reading world to people you either a) agree with completely or b) make you laugh or c) blogs that I've safely pigeon-holed. Engaging with reasoned argument from people who think very differently, takes time and energy, but without it we end up in an intellectual ghetto, talking to ourselves.

Start the Week links to the latest Sheffield Centre bulletin on work among the elderly, which has a great story about a new 'fresh expression' church for the elderly housbound. If you thought fresh expressions was all about church for hoodies at 3am on a park bench, go have a read.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Care for the Family are running 2 conferences for toddler group leaders, one in Weston super Mare, the other in Durham. A report says: "The conferences will focus on teaching group leaders how to deal with tricky issues, the best methods to engage with the surrounding community, and real-life, practical plans that have been road-tested by other group leaders."

Finally a superb thought for the day, or perhaps longer, HT Madpriest.

If This Is Not a Place

If this is not a place where tears are understood
Where can I go to cry?

If this is not a place where my spirit can take wing
Where do I go to fly?

If this is not a place where my questions can be asked
Where do I go to seek?

If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard
Where do I go to speak?

If this is not a place where you will accept me as I am
Where can I go to be?

If this is not a place where I can try to learn and grow
Where do I just be me?
(Attributed to William J Crockett)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

SSDC Consultation

Looking at the Responses section of the issues and Options consultation website this evening, and there have been 15 online responses so far. 2 of them (3 if you count mine) are on behalf of local organisations and interest groups. Unless lots of people have been filling in the questionnaire by hand, this is a miniscule level of public response to questions which will shape Yeovil and South Somerset for the next 20 years, and beyond. WAKE UP EVERYONE, THEY WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

Send in the Clowns

(The latest Touching Base column, also available at the Wardman Wire, once it's back online after some nasty hacker got after it last week.)

Laurel and Hardy.
Eric and Ernie.
Ken and Boris?

The instantly recognisable comedy pairings of a straight man and a fool, where the fool constantly reveals the foolishness of the 'sensible' one. It's a theme which goes back to the classic clown pairings of whiteface and auguste, the sensible superior one, and the put-upon dimwit. However its the dimwit who usually ends up with the sympathy of the audience, and who has much more freedom to tell the unadorned truth than their uptight partner.

Sometimes the fool turns out to be the savant, with a wisdom not available to the sensible. From Peter Sellers simple gardener in Being There to Forrest Gump, (and possibly Jack Sparrow) we tell ourselves stories about simpletons who have a better grasp on the important stuff than anyone with a suit and a plaque on the door. In medieval times the Jester was given a place in the royal court, and often had license to say things as the Fool which the sensible courtiers would have been beheaded for. As the Joker he was a wild card, with no fixed place in the hierarchy, protected by the fact he spoke as a fool. Now we have, erm, Jeremy Clarkson.

Maybe this is why comedians are given the time of day as social commentators.

Send in the Clowns
In the week following April Fools Day, Ben Elton has found himself in the media over comments in a magazine interview, as his new book explores contemporary attitudes to faith in society. Fellow comic Rowan Atkinson has been at the forefront of campaigning on laws surrounding blasphemy, free speech and religious hatred, and for several years Rory Bremner was a more effective opposition to New Labour than the Conservative Party.

Camerons main triumph as a political leader was a single stand-up routine (a bit short on laughs, admittedly) which headed off the prospect of an election last autumn, and bought the Tories precious time to completely turn the tables on Newish Labour. Scripted jokes for PMQ's have now become standard, thanks to William Hague, as the political establishment tries to annex the comedians territory in the vain hope that we'll not spot the difference between Peter Hain and Peter Kay.

Every Ruler Needs a Custard Pie
Not being a Londoner, I've not been privy to the delights of the congestion charge, the latest whiff of corruption around Kens team, or Boris coming up with a cogent policy. KL's attempt to do an April Fool - if that's what it was - hasn't left many of his colleagues rolling in the aisles. For a smashed machine New Labour seems to have spluttered on remarkably well until the last few months. But who is best for mayor? Most of us would prefer Boris to Ken as host of Have I Got News For You, but there's a difference between being an entertaining game show host and being the most powerful administrator in a city of 7.5 million.

At least that's better than being ruled by Robert Mugabe. What most dictatorships lack are the truth-tellers, those given the public space to criticise those in power and make fun of them, who in turn give permission to everyone else to critique the powerful. From China to Zimbabwe via Saudi Arabia, the court Jester is sadly absent, either beheaded, locked up or exiled. One strength of the Old Testament monarchy, when it was working properly, was the partnership of prophets and kings. The kings ruled, but the prophets had permission to speak on God's behalf to the absolute ruler. So King David, after bedding a local beauty and having her husband killed, is skillfully nailed to the wall by the prophet Nathan, and repents. He can't undo it, but neither does he get away with it.

God deliver us from leaders who can't hear the truth. And may He send us a plentiful supply of fools to keep us wise.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A Creative Challenge

MadPriest has picked up on a comment I made on his blog before I had time to turn it into a post here. It follows on from Ben Eltons comments earlier in the week about jokes on the Beeb. The competition is to come up with titles of new TV series the BBC could commission which take a humourous look at Islam. Go to this link to take part, or if you're a BBC commissioning editor, to nick some ideas.

The Ostrich Position Demonstrated

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Families and Schools said: "We do not agree that there has been a breakdown in the family - 70% of families are headed by a married couple...
"And a recent BBC poll suggests that three-quarters of people in Britain are optimistic about the future of their families, 24% higher than when the same question was asked in 1964."

That's in response to this story about a family law judge making the, not wholly original, argument that breakdown in family life is at the root of many of our most serious social problems.

So there's an opinion poll that's higher than it was 44 years ago - that must mean everything is alright then. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! How about extracting your heads from whichever orifice they are inserted in and engaging with reality ?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tony Blair on 'Faith and Globalisation'

Some extracts from Tony Blairs lecture today at Westminster Cathedral. BBC report here, but its much more productive to actually read the lecture: full text here. Lots of good and interesting stuff, from someone who's clearly done a lot of thinking. I hope people engage with the substance of the lecture, rather than focusing on a few soundbites.

religious faith is a good thing in itself, that so far from being a reactionary force, it has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress. But it has to be rescued on the one hand from the extremist and exclusionary tendency within religion today; and on the other from the danger that religious faith is seen as an interesting part of history and tradition but with nothing to say about the contemporary human condition.

....Today, precisely because all the fixed points of reference seem unfixed and constantly in flux; today is more than ever, when we need to discover and re-discover our essential humility before God, our dignity as found in our lives being placed at the service of the Source and Goal of everything. I can’t prove that religious faith offers something more than humanism. But I believe profoundly that it does. And since religious faith has such a strong historical and cultural influence on both East and West, it can help unify around common values what otherwise might be a battle for domination.

....For religion to be a positive force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism –faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance - an interesting part of our history but not of our future. Too many people see religious faith as represented in stark dogmatism and empty ritualism. Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life. It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target. It mocks certain of the practices and traditions of organised religion which they define as ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ is to be found in the cassocks and the gowns and the rituals.

Reading the Dawkins book – The God Delusion – I am struck by how much the militant secularist and the religious extremist need each other. The God Delusion is a brilliant polemic but rests entirely – as does the more reasonable The Blind Watchmaker - on the view that those who believe in God believe in Him as a means of exclusion, as a frightening, irrational piece of superstition and mumbo-jumbo which then justifies the unjustifiable.

...Faith is not something separate from our reason, still less from society around us, but integral to it, giving the use of reason a purpose and society a soul, and human beings a sense of the divine.This is the life purpose that cannot be found in constitutions, speeches, stirring art or rhetoric. It is a purpose uniquely centred around kneeling before God.

Actually, looking at the line-up of speakers and topics, every single lecture will be worth a look. Maybe it is worth living in London after all.

(Update: a few blog links: Cranmer is not convinced, Theos today links to some of the media response, Stephen Bubb was there but it sounds like he spent most of his time picking up the names he carelessly dropped ;-), New Humanist also posts on the story and links to various media stories. Ruth Gledhill , who seems to get younger with every new picture of herself, picks out Blairs reasons for not 'doing God' as PM, something he now seems to be liberated from. )

South Somerset District Council Consultation - Update. And Government attitudes to Faith Groups - some quotes.

Have just uploaded my responses to the South Somerset Issues and Options Consultation. Having tried the 'download and fill in a questionnaire' option, and wrestled for 2 hours with trying to get the thing to format properly, it's just so much easier to fill it in online. There is blue text in each section of the online consultation document. Click on that, and you get the feedback forms and buttons.

It's not brilliantly designed, but its less painful than global warming, traffic pollution and youth crime, which will be the results if we don't get this right.

Some quotes I've used:

“Third sector organisations provide much needed services to people throughout society. They help strengthen communities and bind them together. They provide opportunities for voluntary activity and civic commitment. They articulate needs and provide a voice to those who might otherwise not be heard. They express values and motivations which help create the kind of society people wish to live in.” (Gordon Brown, from the Foreword of ‘Guide to Government Assistance to the Third Sector’ Treasury/Cabinet Office/Charity and Third Sector Finance Unit. June 2006)

“Faith community organisations are gateways to access the tremendous reserves of energy and commitment of their members, which can be of great importance to the development of civil society….Moreover, faith communities have a long tradition of working with their members and others to foster community development.” (Home Office Faith Communities Unit ‘Working Together’, 2004 pages 7-8)

and Reports such as
Defra ‘Faith in Rural Communities’;

The Council for the Christian Voluntary Sector in Wales ‘Faith in Wales’;

North West Regional Development Agency ‘Faith in England’s Northwest: Economic Impact Assessment’

'Daily Service: How Faith Communities Contribute to Neighbourhood Renewal and Regeneration in the South West of England ' publised by SW Council of Faiths/Government Office South West, September 2004. See also 'Faith in Action' from the same source.

all demonstrate the positive economic and social impact of faith communities on their locality.

quotes and citations not used, but free to a good home:
“I want to see a greater role for faith based groups in UK welfare delivery. If we are to successfully tackle problems like poverty, long-term unemployment and benefit dependency then we need to ensure that people have access to the services and support that the welfare state offers.I believe that faith based groups offer an invaluable link into communities and individuals who may at first be reluctant or unsure of how to engage with the state and the programmes that are there to help them. What I want to do now, is see how we can take this further." (Jim Murphy, Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, January 2007)

Jim Murphy said elsewhere: "Put simply, I believe that there is not an entirely secular solution to achieve social cohesion in our communities. It can not be done without the partnership of all faith-based groups"

“the vast majority who are involved in the church keep this a throbbing, thriving community – and if they weren’t here, it would be dire. They are the ones with teh motivation to do things in the village, becasuse they want people involved. They are the ones who push and drive and build the community. Without it the village would be dead really.” (village resident, cited in Faith in Rural Communities p3)

Hazel Blears MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: "the increasing role of faith–based organisations in delivering community support and local services, for example housing associations. I welcome this phenomenon. I've read and enjoyed Steve Chalke's book 1000 Ways to Transform Your Community, which highlights the Christian contribution to community regeneration and renewal, and I know there are comparable examples from the Muslim and Jewish communities."

Rt Hon David Hanson, Minister of State for Justice "The Government recognises and values the experience and resources that faith communities and organisations bring to building strong, active and safer communities. Faith-based organisations have a long and impressive history of working with some of the most challenging and socially excluded young people and adults in our society to help them turn away from crime. Faith can be a great source of support and a motivator for personal change, and can also motivate people from a wide range of backgrounds to help and care for others. " from the foreword of 'Believing We Can', a Government consultation paper on the role of faith communities in justice and work with offenders.

"The Government recognises the vital contribution faith communities makes to society. Faith communities can make a difference in ways governments cannot; in the ways they reach out to excluded communities, build the confidence and abilities of those who volunteer, and provide innovative solutions to the new problems that society faces. The Government wants to address the barriers faith communities experience to participation in civic life, including in accessing sources of funding, and wants to increase and improve the wide range of services that they provide to members of their own faith and to the wider community." From Office of the Third Sector – “The future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration - Interim Report" Box 2.2, p 13

Basically Government ministers are queueing up to partner with faith groups, and slowly we're cottoning on to the fact that resources and partnership is available. Government does not have all the answers, and government departments are looking to faith groups and the 'Third Sector' to help in areas like crime, cohesion, welfare, poverty, community building etc.

Ben Elton on Faith and Fear

Ben Elton has done an interview with Third Way, which has been extensively reported, links at Dave Walker, and Ruth Gledhill posts some extracts from the interview. Elton's latest book is called 'Blind Faith'. If the comedians join the secularism-faith debate then we might get some sense talked at last.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

2 Good Reasons Not To Live in London

Arnie's comment is, I think, "he's all over the place".

HT Matt Wardman, and pretty much every other political blogger (well, some of them anyway)in the UK.

Happiness & Sadness

Someone's lent me Richard Layards book 'Happiness', which is fascinating. He's a statistician and economist, and identifies the major factors in happiness across different countries as:
- divorce rate
- unemployment rate
- level of trust
- membership in non-religious organisations
- quality of government
- fraction believing in God. (p71)

and goes on to say: “the previous table reports one of the most robust findings of happiness research: that people who believe in God are happier. At the individual level one cannot be sure whether belief causes happiness or happiness causes belief. But since the relation also exists at the national level, we can be sure that to some extent belief causes happiness” (p72)

There's a lot in the book about all the other factors, and Layard has also authored this paper on the web, which has various bits of the research in. If you skip to page 27, there's a strongly argued report on the levels of mental illness/depression in the UK, and how we should put many more resources into supporting people who suffer with this. Well worth a look.

Some of the book can be seen in lecture form here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bishops Mission Order

What is a Bishops Mission Order?

1. This is a new Anglican mission resource, which has been put together following the rise of new forms of church within the CofE. More and more mission initiatives don’t fit within the parish system: they cross parish boundaries, or don’t relate to parishes at all (e.g. church for skaters, workplace church, church for a particular network, new housing estates, partnerships with non-Anglican churches)

2. The Bishops Mission Order (BMO) is a structure for the oversight and development of new mission initiatives in the CofE, or jointly between the Anglicans and other churches.

3. The purpose of a BMO is
“to affirm, enable, encourage and support a new mission initiative within the overall ordering of the life of the Church.” (p1). It does this by
- legal recognition of new Christian community.
- Appropriate oversight
- Develop partnerships with parishes and deaneries
- Proper provision for ministry, sacraments etc.
- Enabling all this to be lawful
- Compliance with best practice and legal guidelines (e.g. child protection)

How does it work?

4. A BMO can be sought by anyone involved in the project, and there is a consultation process for setting it up. This looks quite involved! See the flowchart on page 13 of the BMO guidelines.

5. Part of the BMO is the appointment of a ‘Visitor’ who exercises oversight on behalf of the Bishop. So instead of a vicar in a parish answering to the bishop, you have a mission project in a mission setting reporting to a Visitor. Their job is to be a ‘mission accompanier’, resourcing and helping, rather than controlling.

What does it cover?

6. The BMO covers things like:
- the nature of the mission initiative, and its objectives
- area where it’s happening
- leadership and lines of responsibility
- role of leaders.
- Provision for sacraments (i.e. baptism, weddings, communion)
- Designate Visitor
- Duration of Order. (can be for 5 years, renewable for another 5)
- Can authorise worship in a building
- Finances, insurance, etc. are also covered.

7. The project is reviewed every 18 months, and a full review is done at the end of 5 years, whether to close down or extend the project.

8. The idea is to create space for a new mission project to grow to maturity as a church, without shoehorning it into parish structures from the outset.

BMO’s are brand new – they were only passed into Anglican ‘law’ in February. So they are almost completely untested at the moment, but offer an exciting opportunity for mission in the Anglican setting.

For more information.
- an article by Steve Hollinghurst

- a good introduction to what BMO’s are and how they work. The Share website is a great resource for mission and new church initiatives.

- The full code of practice for BMO’s is at

Jonny Baker blogs about it here. I didn't realise he'd blogged about it today till I Googled 'Bishops Mission Orders', so that's a happy God-incidence.

Good article here from an 'on the ground' church planting perspective.

Here in Yeovil it's a possible resource for church planting in new housing estates, though the fact that it's heavily Anglican, and we're a partnership of several denominations, is something we need to look at quite closely.

Kevin Spacey vs the BBC

After Kevin Spacey's barb at the Beeb for running 13-week adverts for West End musicals poorly disguised as primetime TV shows, it's payback time.

The new Doctor Who trailer nicks Spacey's most memorable cinema moment - the closing line of The Usual Suspects (this is the only clip I could find, but all you need is the first 5 seconds) -

and puts it into the mouth of their most succesful TV character. First they steal his customers, then they steal his lines. Or maybe they've got Spacey lined up to play the next incarnation of the Master. He's probably the only actor on the planet who could better John Simm.

Ashes to Ashes

"Do you remember a guy that's been
In such an early song
I've heard a rumour from Ground Control
Oh no, don't say it's true
They got a message from the Action Man
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too
I've loved all I've needed to love
Sordid details following"
(David Bowie 'Ashes to Ashes')

Great news that Ashes to Ashes is to get a 2nd series. After a slightly uneven opening - ropey Miami Vice pastiche versus 80's soundtrack overdrive - it's settled down into compulsive viewing, as Life on Mars was before. The central mystery of Life on Mars - mad, coma or back in time - has been replaced by the will-they-wont-they of Alex Drake and Gene Hunt. We know she's in a coma, trying to find the trigger event in her subconscious that will get her out of it and back to real life in 2008. We also know now that the car bomb that killed her parents wasn't that trigger event.

The whole series has been buildling up to this, and there were some great twists. In between Alex driving a pink tank over a parked car, and Lord Scarman getting locked in a cell with dozens of Gay Pride marchers, were Alex's desperate attempts to stop the bombing taking place - take out the car, take out the murderer, take out her parents, yet in the end it still happened. The scene where her dad suddenly became The Clown, the Death figure of the series, as the bomb went off, was superb. Watching the credits, we wondered why we'd not spotted that the same actor played both characters....

One big question is whether the things Alex is 'discovering' in 1981 are all in her imagination. Did her mother really have an affair with the family's best friend? Did her dad blow himself and her mother up in a car bomb? Was mum about to quite work to spend more time with her daughter because she loved her so much? Or is this all cobblers, the fevered wishful thinking of a dying mind? At least we'll be spared all those embarassing Alex & Mum emoting sessions now....

Questions for the next series:

- the obvious one, about Alex & Gene
- what will happen with the secret file which Gene stole from the security bunker and locked in his desk?
- will Alex pray? Given the Sunday school background that the first half of series one sketched in, will we get any more of this?
- what happens with David Threlfalls creepy villain?
- do we get more of Lord 'I'll be keeping an eye on you DCI Hunt' Scarman? Hope so.

Can Alex be Saved?
In terms of spiritual parallels, I couldn't help watching Alex Drake and thinking of lots of Christians I've come across. Not for the outfits, but for her attitude. Here is someone who only cares about the world she's in so far as it helps her to escape it, and be 'saved' to somewhere else. She speaks a foreign language to the people around her, spouting psychobabble at every opportunity, and making little effort to explain her language or behaviour. Is Gene's thuggery, or Alex's selfishness, the worse sin? Had she been ugly as well as obnoxious, she wouldn't have got very far. Part of her journey is learning to care about the world she finds herself in, rather than despising it, and the people in it. By the end of the series she faces a challenge - do I continue to live for the future, or do I live in the present?

As Christians it's very easy to spend so long in another world - the Christian cultural bubble - that we find it hard to talk about faith with people who don't live in the bubble with us. I think the church is miles better now at being positive about the world around it, and brings an approach of care and engagement rather than condemnation and superiority.

In the end the greatest commandments are to love God, and to love others. It's not about 'my' salvation, or about other people being a means to our ends, it's when we truly love and care about others more than we care about our own salvation, that's when we're ready to go home. And that's when we realise why we're here.

Women, church and communication

Some interesting thoughts from Jenny Baker via Jonny Bakers blog:

a post from the archive, 'what women want', on how men and women relate in church, and the effects of our nervousness about friendships between men and women:

Because there has been such an unspoken fear of inappropriate relationships between men and women developing, most opportunities for strong healthy relationships have been squashed as well. Women are safe to converse with in larger groups but not one to one. It's OK to encourage them but not to mentor them. You can chat over coffee at the dinner table but not go down the pub and have a beer together. Single women are, of course, especially dangerous. And so the conversations and networking tend to happen in separate gender groups and are all the poorer for it.

and more recently, a review of 'the myth of Mars and Venus', a book examining the evidence or otherwise behind John Grays bestselling franchise on how men and women relate and communicate. A snippet:

The belief that women talk more than men, for example, was boosted by a book called The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine which claimed that women utter 20,000 words a day while men utter 7,000. The claim got huge publicity because it made great soundbite science, but was not based on any actual research. When the author was challenged to reveal her sources, she admitted that there was no evidence for the claim and withdrew the statistic from subsequent editions of the book. But in terms of perpetuating myths, the damage has been done and the ‘fact’ of women’s talkativeness has entered our common mythology.

I wonder what proportion of accepted 'facts' are false? There are now various websites devoted to exploding urban legends, including Snopes, truthorfiction, and a recent example from Urban Legends. They're normally my first point of call when I get one of those 'this is such a scandal you must forward to all your friends immediately' emails. 99% are hoaxes.