Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is the Crunch a Catholic? The Seven Deadly Sins and the Credit Crunch

Though the Catholic church seems to have recently mislaid its moral compass, it was not always so. Long before they were linked to the churches own financial scandal, the Seven Deadly Sins were commended as a medieval precursor of PSHE. Since nothing else seems to be working, gimme some old time religion....

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.

Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situation.

Hang on, I thought these were drafted in the 4th century? It all sounds strangely familiar. All you need to do is add 'marketing' to link Envy to the other two, and you have consumer capitalism. You could draw other lines from Gluttony to the obesity problem, or global warming, and one from Greed to Thatcherism.

Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body. where were we? Oh yes. That makes 4 sins which are about having stuff we don't currently possess, which is the engine room of consumerism. When this instinct spills over into relationships you get affairs, rape, and a whole load of stuff which stems from seeing people no longer as people, but as means to satisfy our own desires. Meanwhile the tabloids print pictures of naked women opposite a story on a sex offender and never do the maths.

Pride is excessive belief in one's own abilities, that interferes with the individual's recognition of
the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.

I don't know if phrases like "we have abolished boom and bust" would count, or a consistent habit of blaming our economic woes on the USA (whatever happened to the special relationship?). One of the many troubles with pride is that, because you never admit to any mistakes, you never learn from them. So much energy is put into maintaining a public facade of competence that we tie ourselves, and others, in knots.

And before we point the finger (oops, too late), it's not just politicians who do this. When did you last read a blog post where, after the comments, the author writes "sorry everyone, I'm obviously talking complete nonsense, you are right and I was wrong."

Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.

Seeing the protests around Europe in the last few days, I wonder if we could do with a bit more anger. We've probably got enough going around, but we misdirect it - the middle classes at Jonathan Ross, the young at each other. Anger is a great agent for change if it's directed at the right things, but much of ours is blind fury, a catharsis of our own feelings rather than moved by compassion and a sense of justice.

Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

At last! A sin recognised by the government. Unfortunately this is one we're going to have to get used to. The recession is good news for the slothful, as it's much easier to blend in with the rest of us. Not the best time to launch a welfare-to-work push, though I guess if it fails nobody will notice (see Pride).

The avoidance of spiritual work is perhaps the more serious. Who we are - as individuals and as a society - is to a large extent what we have decided to be, or what we have let ourselves become. We can be proud, greedy and angry, or we can be humble, generous and kind. We have a choice, daily, over which way to go. The path of least resistance leads to all of the above, the road less travelled goes to that old place of myth and legend, Virtue.

And here are the 7 virtues: Faith, Hope, Love/Charity, Courage, Restraint, Justice, and, um, Prudence. It would be interesting to sit down with this list and Obama's inauguration speech and tick them off, one by one, but that's another post. (Meanwhile if you'd rather just have a giggle, go here.) Plenty of money is currently being thrown around to fix our sputtering economies, but we also need to address the questionable morality which got us here. If the debt crunch is at root a moral problem, then how do we fix that?

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

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Bible For Busy People

Saw 'the complete word of God, abridged' by the Reduced Shakespeare Company last week at the start of their national tour. Good fun, though a bit close to the bone in one or two parts. Interesting that a lot of the programme notes related to censorship and the blasphemy law.

Then, in one of those coincidences which happen when you don't pray, I came across this, which is possibly even more abridged:

HT LaVrai, who laments how we try to cram everything into shorter and shorter chunks of time. There are 'one minute Bible's which try to condense scripture, reflection and prayer into... you got there before me. Were you skim reading there?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Labour Minister "Faith communities offer a rich resource"

It appears that Labour is now prepared to 'do God', following the departure of devout Mr Blair to sort out the Middle East (that went well). As Ruth Gledhill reports, Stephen Timms (financial secretary to the Treasury) has given a major speech on how the government can work with faith groups. Here's a bit of it

What I want to argue today is that the faith communities offer a rich resource of hopefulness which, in progressive politics, we need to tap into and draw upon. The faith communities have not always been seen as the natural allies of progressive politics. Indeed, in the United States, there has been a powerful alliance between Christian organisations and conservatism. We saw that alliance loosening with the election of Barack Obama.

Faith communities have a great deal to offer us, not least in their resource of hopefulness, as we build a new politics based on hope to respond effectively to the challenges we face. They can form the basis for a broad coalition of hope.

There is a twofold challenge here. A challenge to progressive politicians to show they recognise faith-based perspectives and contributions as valid and mainstream, rather than irrelevant and marginal. That means recognising that faith cannot be relegated to the private sphere – and as IPPR has already argued – addressing faith literacy in central and local government, so that officials can deal intelligently with input from faith communities. And it means thinking hard about identity, recognising the part faith plays, and getting beyond ‘We don’t do God’.

And a challenge to faith communities and their members. To recognise that, in democracy, people are entitled to hold strongly divergent views. It is right to work with people you disagree strongly with on very important subjects, in order to make real in a community the hope which faith instils.

full speech here. The whole thing is worth a read, and not just because he gives a free plug to Street Pastors. Of course, 'he would say that wouldn't he', being a Christian, but the point is that Labour ministers haven't been saying this sort of thing until quite recently.

The timing is interesting: with Dubya leaving the White House, Timms talks about faith groups working with the progressive agenda rather than against it, and Obama becomes Exhibit A in this regard. He also cites Desmond Tutu, Tom Wright and Pope Benedict, as well as several examples of faith communities making a practical difference on the ground.

There are also some headlines, on page 2 of the report, from a Tearfund survey suggesting a strong rise in church attendance last year - no sign of it on their main website as yet.
Wow, stunning. The piece is called "Her Morning Elegance" by Oren Lavie

And there was me beginning to think that the song video was a dead art form, between this and Coldplay my hope has been restored.

Ht Mark Meynell,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'Most Godless Town in Britain' (or not) Radio 4 today

11am today on Radio 4, there's a 30m programme following the work of a pioneer missioner to Telford, allegedly 'the most godless town in Britain'. Mark Berry, has taken issue with the title of the programme, as has the local bishop. Very good article about it on the BBC website, which covers wider fresh expressions/church planting work, and sets the programme in context.

Mr Berry said he had taken issue with the title of the documentary because he believed church attendance did not accurately reflect the number of Christians in Telford
“It’s absolute nonsense,” he said.
“The number of people attending church does not make a place more or less Godless. God doesn’t live in churches.
“Hopefully the documentary will reflect the work we are doing. My role is not to get more people into church, but to engage with people in the 20s and 30s and serve the community.”

The programme is the 'choice of the day' for Radio 4, so you'll be able to listen again to it via the link above for the rest of the week, or catch up with it on IPlayer.

after hearing it: hmm, not very encouraging!! All sorts of questions in my head as a result, probably for blogging another time as various deadlines to hit today. Sympathetically presented, but raises the serious issue of how missional fresh expressions really are, or whether those which are more 'alternative worship' based are more like safe houses for folk who are already Christian but just a bit bored with what they currently do.

Update: Mark Berry, who was featured in the programme, blogs at Way Out West, and has an interesting take on the way the BBC handled his work in Telford.

Red Bull Economics

An upbeat letter from Barclays earlier this week, forecasting £8bn profit for 2008 (in any other age we'd have been scandalised by this kind of figure, now we're just relieved), shows that even the banking sector isn't a complete catalogue of woe. Royal Bank of Scotland, turning in a humungous loss, isn't the whole story.

Yet the government is spinning us a different line: this is a global recession, every country is suffering, there's nothing we could have done about it. Call me naive but if a bank can manage its affairs well enough to post a 10-figure profit in a year like 2008, then it takes quite some credulity to believe our government and economy is entirely powerless in the face of global market forces.

It's also a handy get-out clause: if it's not our fault, then we don't have to admit to being wrong about anything. It's good politics, but the one who fails to learn from the mistakes of history is doomed to repeat them. Meanwhile Gordon Brown can export the blame across the Atlantic, whilst taking the credit for putting together a rescue package.

But isn't credit the problem? Would we have a less severe housing crash if steps had been taken to dampen down prices a few years ago, and to restrict irresponsible lending by banks? Is it sustainable to continue build an economy on debt. Consumer debt is a bet on future income, we are spend money which doesn't yet exist. Our economy has been running like a nightclubber on Red Bull - propping itself up on the artificial stimulant of credit, and only now the effects have worn off are we realising that the body economic is completely knackered*.

The economic slowdown is now starting to hit really hard - Corus, Barratts, Woolworths, etc. It seems like a harsh time to be asking difficult questions, but they've got to be asked at some stage or we'll end up here again. Robert Peston talks of needing to 'reconfigure' our economies, but so far all we've seen is scaffolding to prop up the old structure. Here are a few questions I have, which may all have perfectly sensible answers. Not being an economist, or an expert in global trade, all I can do is ask the questions. Some may be dumb, unrealistic, naive etc. And if that's the only reason others aren't asking them, then I'll shut up:

- Is consumption the only way out of recession, or is it just a short term fix?

- We've been living beyond the means of the planet for some time now, is it time for some creative thinking about how our national economies can be smaller, how we can function with less consumption of resources rather than a constant increase?

- Can work be shared out more evenly across a population (why are some working 50-60 hour weeks and some 0?), or across a lifespan?

- Is it possible to sustain a modern economy without mind-boggling levels of debt? Can capitalism reinvent itself, or does market capitalism, with its constant reliance on the creation of new demands through advertising for the market then to 'satisfy', always end up consuming itself?

- Is modern capitalism compatible with the constraints of a finite planet, or does it need a major overhaul? Is this a one-off blip, or the first of a series of recurring shocks which show that our global economic and environmental RPM's are in the red zone?

The old chestnut about crisis and opportunity being 2 sides of the same reality has probably been overdone, but it's often only when everything falls apart that we ask questions about what we had to begin with. Most alcoholics only start on the path to recovery once they hit rock bottom, and recovery involves a very different set of principles and practices to what got them into trouble in the first place.

*In 2008 personal debt overtook GDP. We now owe more than the economy produces in a year. To put it another way, we are trying to run a year ahead of our capacity. The only way for the burden of debt to fall is for spending to reduce below income, so that we can use the remainder to pay off debt. So the choice is: reduce debt (= recession, because spending will fall), or try to maintain debt at current levels, or higher (which is what the govermnent seems to be aiming at).

For a different angle, try 'the good recession' (ht Tim Chester)
If you are familiar with sumo wrestlers, they gain hundreds of pounds. These men are huge. And they do this by eating tons of food and literally train their bodies not to feel full. They literally stretch their stomachs, massaging their intestines to make room for food. Isn’t that gross? And they do this to reset their definition of a normal meal so they can gain hundreds of pounds. In a similar way, our definition of need, when it comes to possessions, is completely out of proportion. We’re like those sumo wresters that have redefined their needs so that we can take in more and more.

Useful help sites

Credit Action

Matter of Life and Debt (CofE resource page)

Care for the Family resources on money and debt.

Christians against Poverty list of local debt counselling centres and details of what they do.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wisdom of the Pub Landlord

It was time to rub your eyes. A Christian campaigner for cleaning up the media, being interviewed by a mainstream 'alternative' comedian (if that's not a contradiction in terms!), without being portrayed as a complete wacko.

In 'Have I Got Bad Language for You', Frank Skinner's Panorama programme last night on language on TV, MediaWatch seemed to be completely in tune with the majority of viewers: that there was too much swearing on TV, that it had got worse, and that TV companies didn't pay enough attention to viewers opinions.

Other surprises too: Michael Grade and ITV as the vanguard for taste and decency (lets not get on to TV violence just yet...), and the overall tone of the programme was that things have got a bit out of hand.

Main worry: that Ofcom have no objective standards when it comes to language on TV. Everything they said seemed to start with 'it depends' - on 'context', which channel you're on (if an f-word falls on channel 5, does anybody hear?), what issue you're covering etc. That seemed very limp to me. Their only standard seemed to be public opinion, which changes all the time.

Stand out standup: Al Murray, the Pub Landlord, who made a point I've never heard from anyone before. If you're on TV, you are a guest in someone's home, and you should behave like a guest. You watch your language, and behavior, because if you just turn up in someone's house and swear your head off then you're not showing them respect. If everyone on TV just remembered that, we'd get somewhere.

whilst we're on the subject
Dave Walker asks if Gordon Ramsay is a Christian role model
yesterdays post on bad language and whether it's ok for Christians to swear.
Jonathan Ross is in trouble again.

update: A few more folks who saw Frank Skinner
the Bournemouth Echo.
Inspire magazine has some of the polling details, and quotes from last night. That was quick off the mark.
And Another Thing "In real life swearing is, by its very nature, hard to justify" (though he goes on to quote swearwords freely in the blog post!!)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Swearing on the Bible

No, this is not a Barack Obama post. 'Have I Got Bad Language For You' airs on the Beeb tonight, following on from the Brandon Ross affair, with comedian Frank Skinner looking at the place of bad language on TV. Skinner has himself toned down his live act, trying to do without swearwords, and since the infamous phone call the BBC has dusted down it's bleeper and got to work on Have I Got New For You, QI etc.

There's no question that the line has moved: language which used to be censored, or simply not used, is now commonplace. Films which use the F word can now pass with a 12 certificate, when they used to be 15s. Bad language in music is much more commonplace: the Parental Advisory sticker is almost a badge of honour in some genres.

So how bothered should we be? Someone on 5 Live this morning (go to 2hrs 26m in) was protesting that there's no such thing as 'bad' language, just some that's stronger than others. He should have been at our local tip the other day, as one punter let fly a string of foul language at a council worker, right in front of my small children. Thankfully they didn't repeat any of it later, but no civilised person would think its ok for a 3 year old to hear, let alone use, that kind of language.

I remember as a 17 year old, my folks packed me off to see Uncle Frank. I was starting to have ideas about being a vicar, so they probably thought that a couple of days in Dudley in the Black Country would give me a reality check. Frank, God rest his soul, was an amazing man, but not averse to the odd swear word, which shocked me. Christians weren't supposed to swear. It was one of the first things I'd tried to deal with as a new Christian, having been a fairly foul-mouthed teenager before that point. The Bible was quite clear "out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers this shoudld not be: can both fresh and salt water flow from the same spring?" (James 3:10-11)

That in turn was fuzzied up by some of the strong language used in the Bible - Paul himself refers to his old life as something stronger than 'dung'. Reformer Martin Luther was pretty earthy too, breaking wind to send the devil packing. But is that just looking for excuses? As a vicar the occasional mild swearword can 'humanise' me (oh, he really is a normal person after all), but at the same time it can also send the message that there really isn't much different about Christianity, it's just what everyone else does but with church added on.

The more bad language we listen to, the more we're desensitised to it. I always feel uncomfortable when people use the names of God and Jesus as casual swearwords in conversation, but less uncomfortable than I used to feel. It's frustrating that, tuning in to most decent drama and comedy after 9pm means that you're going to have to put up with a lot of bad language. And bad language itself shows that the users have failed. If we need to swear to make your point, then we clearly aren't making it well enough with the other words at our disposal.

On the radio this morning someone made the point that swearing in live comedy is good for cheap laughs, but it's lazy, and it's poor comedy. Barack Obama (drat, I wasn't going to mention him) doesn't need to swear, and he had a bigger live audience for his stand-up last week than a thousand Frank Skinners. It'll be interesting to see which way Panorama goes. With the BBC generally pushing back boundaries of taste (Jerry Springer, the Opera) and moral boundaries (has it ever done a programme which wasn't sympathetic to euthanasia?), it will be a major surprise to see a Beeb programme which argues the other way.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review Questions 4: Preachers special

Shamelessly reposted from Unashamed Workmen, some questions for Christian preachers to ask as they look back, and look forward. If you don't agree with the list, because you approach preaching in a different way, then the challenge is to come up with a better question!!

1) Did I grow in my own walk with God through my preaching and preparation? Was I personally impacted by what I preached? Am I therefore a more godly man entering 2009 than 2008 because of the texts I exposited? In what specific ways? If I have not grown: what sins have hindered my progress and require confession?

2) Did I provide my congregation with a balanced diet and at least some measure of ‘the whole counsel of God?’ Did I cover something from both Testaments? Were believers comforted and unbelievers challenged? Were the weak and strong, the immature and mature, given their share of milk and solid food? Was justification taught and sanctification?

3) Did I take the glory or give God the glory? Did I seek the limelight in any way this year? If so, in what specific ways did a desire to glorify ‘Self’ rear its ugly head during this year’s sermons? How can I best repent of this?

4) Did I preach the text, only the text, and nothing but the text? How often did I preach in general Scriptural terms yet not in terms of the specific Scripture I was expositing? Even if I preached numerous topical sermons, were these exposing the meanings of particular texts. Did I impose my agenda, rather than expose the meaning of God’s Word?

5) Did I constantly preach Christ and him crucified? Did I persistently preach the gospel, or lapse into talking in terms of religous self-effort and moralism? No matter what my passage, did I highlight its redemptive components? Even if the passage was wholly negative, did I trace the redemption of its sin and the bearing of its judgement to the Redeemer and Propitiator, Jesus Christ?

6) Humanly speaking, what one aspect of my sermons in general was the weakest component? Are my introductions invariably weak, my applications typically fuzzy or my conclusions often an anticlimax? How will I work on improving this area in 2009 for the glory of God and the good of His people?

7) Did I pray enough and depend on God for the results?

Looking forward to 2009…
Will I grow in my own walk with God through my preaching?

Will I provide my congregation with a balanced diet?’
Will I take the glory or give God the glory?
Will I preach the text, only the text, and nothing but the text?
Will I constantly preach Christ and him crucified?
Will I prayerfully depend on God during every stage of my preaching?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life in Technicolour ii

This is quality. Great song, great vid. Especially for all you 'bored and tired' Brits out there.

Todays Little Choices

It's been quite a week for democracy and people power.

Barack Obama's first inaguration was the media event of the week, with everyone from 5Live to the Daily Mail queuing up to kiss the ring. Obama recognised in his speech that leading the USA also involves leading the world. Even though the rest of us have no say in it, the choice of President made by the USA will affect our politics, economy and society.

And how many in the US actually made that choice? Obama won with 52.9% of the popular vote, which with a high turnout translated into 1 in 3 of the total adult population. His early decisions - on Guantanamo and international funding for abortion - affect people who had no say in that election. It's a reminder that when we vote we vote on behalf of others, not just ourselves.

They get a President, We get a Presenter
Back in the Messiah-free UK Jonathan Ross has returned, after his 3 month suspension. Many have put the BBC's response down to a campaign against Ross which resulted in nearly 40,000 complaints being sent to the BBC. I wonder if any of those against that campaign were involved in this one, which helped torpedo government moves to keep MP's expenses secret. With hundreds of people using the internet to raise the issue with MP's, there was a sudden change in the Westminster wind, and a Tory-Labour deal came rapidly unstitched. Was this what Hazel Blears had in mind when she explored how the internet could enhance democracy?

Less succesful were the 300+ complaints against the Agnostibus - the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the slogan "There is Probably No God, now stop worrying and enjoy life" didn't breach the advertising code, being "an expression of the advertisers opinion" and that "the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation." Would they have got a different result with 40,000 protesters? Or do some things stay true no matter what public opinion thinks? The weird thing is the ASA have ruled that atheism, and the claim that belief in God causes you to worry and stop enjoying life, can't be substantiated. So who won?

Meanwhile, though total figures don't seem to be public yet, I imagine that Ulkrika Johnsson's vote on Celebrity Big Brother knocks all of the above (except Obama) into a very small cocked hat. It would be dispiriting to think too much about it, but far more of us will take the time to vote on a reality TV show (or complain if John Sargeant is booted off), than to lobby our MP over a matter of justice and truth. This leaves the democratic process in the hands of the few, not the many - it is only those who are committed who can locate and pull the levers of power.

A funny thing has happened to choice. 100 years ago, women were fighting for the right to vote, to choose their political leaders. In an age when few economic or social choices were available, the right to exercise power through the ballot box was a unique opportunity to influence things. Since then there has been a massive change, as the power to choose has extended from politics, to economics, family structure, personal identity, gender roles and religious preferences. Choice is now a fundamental right for 3 years olds - chatting to a teacher at our local pre-school yesterday, they have to offer every activity as a 'choice' to the children, despite having dozens of 'learning outcomes' to deliver.

Weve got used to exercising many of these choices through consumption: what we buy, wear and do is part of our identity. At the same time, the Big Brother effect has created a parody of choice. Douglas Coupland once defined marketing as the art of feeding people's waste back to them in such a way that they don't realise it's not real food. The mobile phone and TV production companies one day woke up and realised that they could sell 'choice' back to us in a form which made them money.

And the more Gordon Brown tells us that the credit crunch is the result of global factors beyond his control, rather than our economy's quiet divorce from Prudence, the more text voting looks like a fun diversion and lobbying Parliament a waste of time. Even some prominent bloggers have taken to trying to stitch up public votes. Or was it campaigning?

So now to my choice: in my inbox is a newsletter from No2ID, warning of a key Commons vote next week on data protection, and an amusing circular email from a friend. Which one I choose to read might affect the country I end up living in. It should be a no-brainer, but......

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

Friday, January 23, 2009

New Sheffield Centre homepage

The Church Army's Sheffield Centre, a research and training unit on mission and church planting, has a very good new website.

It's much easier to navigate than before, and has lots of great material on Mission Shaped Church, church planting, work with the elderly, work with spiritual seekers, and their excellent Research Bulletins. If you've never paid a visit, now might be the time.

It's also a lot easier to browse the back issues of Encounters on the Edge, the Church Army series on church planting and fresh expressions, which is now nearing 40 issues. But if you want to order back issues then be quick - they are clearing out older issues because of lack of storage space, so if you want anything published before 2006 you'll need to get a wiggle on. They are already out of 4 issues

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SPCKing up: 6 months of supporting Dave Walker

On 22nd July, blogger and cartoonist Dave Walker was threatened with legal action by the new owners of SPCK bookshops, unless he immediately stopped reporting on their actions. Since he was packing for Lambeth at the time, Dave removed all 80-odd posts about the Society of St. Stephen the Great and their later incarnations.

At the same time, blogger Phil Groom also recieved a legal threat, but being on holiday at the time, he returned to find that dozens of bloggers had reposted Dave's material, (one of whom, Sam Norton, also got a libel threat for his pains) and a Facebook group set up to support Dave already had over 100 members. So Phil continued to blog the story at his SPCK/SSG blog.

The reasons for the attempted censorship were pretty clear. Allegations of mismanagement and staff bullying were already circulating, legal action was in process by several former staff members against SSG (the first case to be heard has been awarded in favour of the shop worker), and Mark Brewer, the chairman of SSG, was trying to get the company declared bankrupt in the USA. This would enable them to avoid paying £100,000s in debt to a range of suppliers, never mind outstanding wages and pension contributions for staff.

The bankruptcy attempt failed, and since then various other misdemeanours have come to light. The company is now subject to a Charity Commissioners investigation, and there are serious questions on a range of other issues - there's a list here.

So far, none of Brewers legal threats have been followed up. I'm sure that's down in part to the hundreds of people who have shown their support for Dave, Phil and the SPCK staff. Now that court decisions are going against SSG, there is a chance that justice will be done, but the Brewers have been conspicuously absent from public comment since they tried to censor the blogosphere back in July.

So we're still here, and we're not going away. And by the way, Mr Brewer, if you're reading this there's still the small matter of a letter that 500 of us sent you which you've still not got round to replying to.

Dave Walkers posts on SPCK bookshops are all viewable here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Agnostibus legal, but 'opinion' rather than proveable fact?

Despite over 300 complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority has, sensibly, decided that the agnostibus (probably) doesn't breach the advertising code. They concluded that the ad was “an expression of the advertiser’s opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation.”

I'm pleased the ad hasn't been censored. But does this mean that the ASA thinks that you can't objectively show that a) there is probably no God and b) belief in God causes you to worry and not enjoy life? If so, then, strangely, that seems to be a victory for theists, rather than atheists.....

Obama Inauguration Prayers

Who'd have thought that the US has formal separation of church and state? Can anyone imagine these in the UK?

Gene Robinson

'god of our many understandings'.... no mention of Jesus, the Father or the Holy Spirit, so I guess he was aiming to pray a prayer everyone could join in with. Well, not quite everyone.

Rick Warren

does the inclusivity thing by using the names of Jesus given by other faiths. Clever without bottling it.

Joseph Lowery's blessing


Living with Questions

struck by these powerful words from David Hayward

It takes incredible resolve to allow questions to hover indefinitely.

I have no patience for the Answer Men. I have no time for the Sirs of Solutions. I can’t tolerate the Dampers of Doubt, the Question Quenchers. It’s all show. It’s all marketing. It’s all profit. It’s all sham. I’m no longer interested in answers. They’re a dime a dozen. Certitude now wreaks of fraud. And I am not ashamed that the people I will gather with tonight are just as confused as I am… on the cross before God wailing our unrequited questions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TV - Christianity, A History; Around the World in 80 Faiths pt 3

Channel 4 doesn't do straight religious documentaries, so it's probably not fair to expect 'Christianity, A History' to be objective. It clearly isn't meant to be: Howard Jacobsen's polemic on the Jewishness of Jesus and how Christians have obscured it, and Michael Portillo's meditation on Constantine the politician, each presenter so far brings such a strong lens of their own to the subject. It's hard to know whether you're being presented with history, or a sermon.

In fact, though historically rooted, both programmes have been highly selective in the historical events they highlight, and the significance given to them. For instance, Jacobsen paints Paul as a lone voice for the Jesus movement embracing Gentiles, when several of the other apostles (Peter, Philip, John) are involved in evangelism of Gentiles too. Portillo claims that the final version of the New Testament was put together by Eusebius, Constantine's spin-doctor, which is a claim you're unlikely to find in any history book. Even more peculiar was one scholar arguing that there couldn't have been a Roman census at the time of Jesus birth because Judea wasn't in the Roman empire. Hello?

Notable by their absence in either programme was anyone who took issue with the presenters point of view. So what we got was a selective and partial presentation of the facts (or 'facts') as though they were the whole truth. Meanwhile, for events from the life of Jesus, the Jacobsen programme gave us some kitsch images from old black and white movies on the life of Jesus - deliberately chosen for how silly they looked? Surely not.

There was plenty to learn from watching both programmes, but there was also such a clear agenda from the presenters that it became a major job sorting out fact from interpretation, which spoils the programmes.

Other views: Ekklesia in conversation with Jeremy Dear, producer of the series

Ruth Gledhill has some sizeable quotes from the Jacobsen programme. The comments are well worth a read, with several people surprised that Jacobsen was presenting Jesus Jewishness as some kind of new revelation to Christians.

Kings Evangelical Divinity School blog The overall effect of the programme was to leave the general viewer with the impression that the blame for the treatment of the Jewish people over the past 2000 years should be laid squarely on the shoulders of Christians.

the Independent has 2 reviews, this one thought it was 'great TV', and Tom Sutcliffe recognises that the series isn't quite what the title suggests. This isn't a part-work history, through-composed by someone with a seat in divinity. It's a collection of pointedly personal essays, loosely arranged around the evolving chronology of the Church.

Meanwhile over on BBC2, Peter Owen Jones made it to Africa (he looks increasingly knackered with each programme) on part 3 of Around the World in 80 Faiths. Avoiding the frontlines of religious life in places like Nigeria and Sudan, he took in 3 variants of voodoo, an ancient tribal hunting dance in Botswana, witch doctors in Africa, and finally Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. You learn a bit more about the faiths because POJ is willing to throw himself into the project, walking out only when the voodoo gathering started to dismember animals. (Worth remembering, though, that this is basic to Old Testament religion too).

He was clearly most moved by the Ethiopians, though whilst they had their 18 hour prayer vigil up the mountain, Jones retired to his camp to get a full nights sleep!

It's still all very much about people's personal connections to 'the divine' or 'the spirits' - no faith yet has been shown in practical action (apart from his comments about the hospitality of the Ethiopians in the midst of dire poverty), and there's been nothing much about faiths active in mission: they are all pretty self-contained, set within their culture. The Middle East is the next one, which will be fascinating.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Army Chaplains

A friend sent me this link on the work of an army chaplain in Afghanistan. Sobering stuff.

MP's expenses: one rule for the governors, another for the governed

Update: Result! Probably due to the campaign below, Gordon Brown has backed down on plans to exempt MP's expenses from the Freedom of Information Act tomorrow (Thurs). A campaign effectively co-ordinated by one man, but with a well-oiled use of the internet, Facebook, and email contact with MPs, has resulted in a government climbdown. So never say 'what can one person do' - the answer is 'plenty'.

original post:
Matt Wardman, among others, has noted that on the day of the Heathrow runway report, the hard-fought gains on transparency of MP's expenses were, quietly, jettisoned. One report quoted by Matt says: The move next week will allow parliament to nullify all the long-fought victories by campaigners and journalists to force MPs to publish details of all their individual receipts for their second homes, including details of what they spent on furnishings, maintenance, rent, mortgage payments, staffing, travel, office staffing and equipment.

Having slaved away over our tax returns, I don't imagine the average taxpayer will be too impressed that our MP's can claim for sound systems, second home furnishings, office expenses etc. without scrutiny or having to publish details. And some of us are no longer taxpayers because our jobs got axed, so giving protection to MP's who want to exploit the expenses system is not just sleazy, it's unfair. (Remember fairness? Gordon Browns mantra). I don't usually support political campaigns. But I'm supporting this one.

Here's a summary of what's going on:
On the 16th of May 2008 the High Court ruled that MPs’ expenses must be published under the Freedom of Information Act.

This Thursday, MPs are voting to change the law to keep their expenses secret after all, just before publication was due and after spending nearly a million of your pounds and seven months compiling the data.m Your MP may not even know about this proposal (it was sneaked out under the Heathrow runway announcement). Please take a few minutes to alert them to this attack on Parliamentary transparency and ask them to vote against the measure.

Summary of what we're fighting about:

1. Please write to your MP about this through - ask them to lobby against this concealment, and tell them that will be permanently and prominently noting those MPs who took the opportunity to fight against this regressive move. The millions of constituents who will check this site before the next election will doutbtless be interested.

2. Join this facebook group and invite all your least political friends (plus your most political too). Send them personal mails, phone or text them. Encourage them to write to their politicians too.

3. Go to any online community that you are part of that is not connected to mySociety, and (politely) tell them why it matters. Could be fishing, knitting, student groups, am dram, residents association, whatever. It's super important to get the message into non-usual quarters.We can win this. BUT WE NEED YOU TO ACT. It's exactly the sort of issue that isn't worth senior politicians losing that much political capital over. Please help!

More background:
RSS feed of news on this story

Street Pastors

It’s not everyone’s idea of the perfect night out. Why would any sensible person pay £300 up front to walk the streets in the small hours of Saturday morning, cleaning up drunks and handing out blankets?

This weekend we’re interviewing 30 people who want to be Street Pastors in Yeovil. The local police have been on at us for a while to get started, so training begins in a fortnight, with patrols starting in early April. The aim is to be out from 10pm to 3 or 4am every week, if we have enough suitable volunteers.

Concerned about crime, drugs and guns amongst local youth in London, inner city pastor Les Isaac set up the first Street Pastor unit in 2003. The idea was to be a listening, serving presence on the streets at the most dangerous time of the week. Six years later there are now well over 2000 Street Pastors in the UK, a number which increased by 45% in 2008.

This is neither a bunch of naive Christian do-gooders, nor is it anything spectacular. The Pastors give out flip-flops as a safe alternative to broken stilletoes, talk to revellers who’ve been separated from their friends and get them back together, chat with gangs who might otherwise spark something off, pick broken glass off the pavement (potential weapon, or potential hospital trip if you step on ot barefoot), and simply sit and listen.

One man was hauled out of the path of a bus, another had collapsed unconscious in a dark alley on a winters night and was found a blanket and taxi home, a better end to the night than hypothermia or mugging.

Volunteers range from 18 to 80, with grannies being especially popular, and in 6 years none has ever been injured. Where police intervention might escalate a situation, the Pastors are seen as friends.

Does it Work?

Street Pastors are up and running in over 60 centres in the UK, from Peckham to Plymouth, Aberdeen to Melton Mowbray, plus the majority of London boroughs (”extraordinary and inspiring” Boris Johnson).

Local reports from police suggest that, in place after place, crime has fallen where Street Pastors are working. In one London study:

data provided by the Police show that in two different crime hotspot areas of London (Peckham and Camberwell) the work of Street Pastors have brought remarkable reductions in the number of crimes. A nine-month police evaluation included comparing the rates for two consecutive annual 13-week periods, that saw a 95% fall in one area and a 74% fall in the other.

When I agreed to do some reporting in the early hours of ‘nasty Friday’, the last Friday before Christmas on which drunken revellers cause havoc in city centres, I thought I might see some vomit, one or two twisted ankles - at worst, a bloody nose from a drunken punch.

Little did I know that, by one o’clock, I would be on my knees in the middle of a busy North London road, attending to a man who was critically ill after somebody stamped on his head stamped during a violent brawl.

the perspective of one police officer in the Midlands:
“On the Saturday night there were two men talking to each other, calming down after an argument, and a third man talking to a street pastor. By speaking to the street pastor that man didn’t get involved with the others and didn’t aggravate the situation. His view was that if he hadn’t engaged with the street pastor he would have got involved. That’s one less violent crime to deal with.

And a few comments from the folk they talk to:
I’m happy to know they’re on the street. They’re like a little boost.”
“What a brilliant idea… they are the peaceful people on the streets.”
They gave me a pair of flip-flops and saved me a lot of pain.”

What’s the Catch?
Why do they do it? There’s no pay, little sleep, and a big sacrifice of time and money. The short answer is ‘compassion’.

A slightly longer answer may be in this piece by Roy Hattersley, not himself a Christian, which notes that Christian faith motivates people to compassion in a way which nothing else does. He writes:

Civilised people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags and - probably most difficult of all - argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment. Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists.

The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand.

No matter what the adverts say, there are people out on a Saturday night who are worrying less and enjoying life more because of people who do believe in God. From the earliest years of Christianity, when believers would stay behind in plague cities to bury the dead and tend the sick long after everyone else had fled, Christian faith has had unrivalled power to motivate acts of service and love. Sure, you don’t need to be a Christian to care sacrificially, but it certainly helps.

St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying “preach the gospel, use words if necessary”. Maybe the best answer to Richard Dawkins is not complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, but just normal people showing an abnormal amount of concern for others.

this post originally appeared on Touching Base, a regular column hosted by the Wardman Wire

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'm now a Twit

It's official. I think it's set up to update from this blog as well, but you never know with technology. Bishop Alan has a better explanation of Twitter than I could ever give, so blame him. As yet I have no idea whether it's a good thing, or just a colossal waste of time.

And yes, I may have already been a twit for some time now, as no doubt some of you will wish to point out.

Review Questions 3 - RPM's

Another resource from Arrow is the idea of watching personal RPM's in 4 key areas, the idea being to make sure you don't get into the 'red zone', or at least if you do, it's possible to take stock and get out of it again. Being in the red zone in 1 of the 4 areas is tricky, being there in 2, 3, or 4 is dangerous.

For each area there's a simple list of symptoms, what the 'red zone' might look like, to which you can add a few of your own: everyone has their own symptoms for what happens when they get overtired, or shut off emotionally.


- stress targets a particular part of your body (migraines, back etc.)
- you become ill at the start of your holiday
- you take little exercise
- irregular sleep

- you don't have time to pay attention to feelings.
- more vulnerable to escapist sin (this is a way of subduing emotional needs by distracting yourself - pornography, alcohol, addictive behaviour etc.)
- you become dispassionate about the plight of suffering people

- relationships become superficial
- you don't have time for friendships
- You spend more time with other people than with your partner
- you are always apologising to your children for not being there.
- you say to yourself it will get better in a few months, but it never does.

- prayer is reduced to cries for help
- worship is reduced to thanksgiving
- you begin to rationalise misbehaviour and sin

I use this roughly every 6-8 weeks, and its a good check on energy levels. There have been times when 3-4 of these were in the red zone, and guess what? I ended up with depression.

The list is deliberately simple, and doesn't spell out what you need to do to recover spiritual, mental, relational or emotional energy and health. After all, all the best warning signs are simple ones.

For more in this series, follow the 'review questions' label below.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Resources on Debt, Families, Relationships

Resources from Care for the Family:

a good leaflet on debt and families, available free to download here.

Events listing, including national tours of
Teenagers! What Every Parent Has To Know
Motherhood - a Roller Coaster Ride
The 1-2-1 Challenge (activity weekends for 1 parent & 1 child)
Breaks for single parent famlies
Living With Loss (for bereaved parents)
A Different Journey (for those who have lost a partner at a young age)

facilitator training days
How to Drug Proof your Kids
Quidz In - raising financially confident children

The CFF website also has sections for bereaved families, stepfamilies, sigle parents, dads, marriage, parent and toddler group leaders and several other family-focused areas.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's Wrong with the Church of England? God Shaped Misson revisited

Following on from yesterday, in God Shaped Mission, Alan Smith has a useful section outlining the various diagnoses of the ills of the CofE, and what should be done to put them right. He identifies 4 broad medical schools: (sorry this is in pseudo-note form!)

a) Truth: Communication is key to renewal, the apologetic task of showing that faith is credible and relevant, and the teaching task of equipping the saints and teaching the gospel. E.g. Alister McGrath, Proclamation Trust etc. – preaching is the answer. Also liberal apologists who try to put faith in modern terms (Jenkins, Cupitt). They share a conviction that truth is vital to renewal.

b) Spirituality: concern with peoples religious experience, or lack of it. Using courses to bring people to faith (Alpha, Emmaus) belonging before believing, retreats and spiritual exercises, charismatic renewal – experience of God vital to conversion. Spiritual renewal is key.

c) Organisation – e.g. Bob Jackson: advocates of strategic change. Also the church planting movement, and moves to reform church structures. For some the organisational problem is exclusion: women, gays, blacks, etc. Or its ecumenical division, or the need for clergy to do things differently – e.g. more pastoral work ‘a housegoing parson makes a churchgoing people’ etc. This would probably include Mission Action Planning too.

d) Culture: Mission Shaped Church argues that churches express worship and mission in cultural forms. Common Worship is an attempt to respond to cultural change. Liturgical renewal, lively music, prayer book society etc. are all dealing with cultural questions, some arguing for change and relevance, others for the preservation of a supposedly pure/ideal culture from a previous age.

Smith argues that the truth is probably in the intersection of all 4. But you might disagree....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Around the World in 80 Faiths, Part 2

Already falling behind with this religious travelogue - episode 3 (Africa) is tomorrow and I've only just watched no.2 on Iplayer (where you can still watch it for another 43 days from today). Rev. 'Indiana' Peter Owen Jones tours the Far East in search of exotic religion, taking in Taoism, Confucianism, Korean Pentecostalism, and a very strange 'all in one' Vietnamese religion which seems to centre around a giant bauble with a single eye in the middle of it.

It's still a fascinating programme, Jones contrasting the orderliness of some Far Eastern societies with the chaos of some of the rituals - one which involves lots of men dressing up in white, getting hopelessly drunk, lighting hand-held firebrands, and then racing one another down a flight of stone steps in the dark. Health and Safety it was not.

It hardly seems to have set the BBC message board buzzing: perhaps that's because there isn't very long spent with each faith, and there isn't the time to really see a practitioner in action. There was a lot of interest in Father Lazarus, the monk featured in the final episode of Extreme Pilgrim last year, but we got to see and hear him at length. With 6 minutes per religion, it's hard to get that kind of acquaintance here. It's also quite hard to see the distinctives, though POJ does his best to sketch out the core beliefs of Taoism, Confucianism etc.

The other frustration I have is that most of the appraisal is aesthetic: apart from applauding the inclusivity of the Vietnamese eye religion (CaoDao I think it was called, they have statues of the prophets of every major religion in their main temple), most of Owens comments were about how beautiful, peaceful etc. something was. At prayer mountain, standing in front of hundreds of prayer cells built by Paul Yonggi Cho's church in Seoul, he remarked on how beautiful it was to hear people praying, and about how you could get yourself sorted out with God in one of the prayer cells. My understanding of Prayer Mountain was that the focus was more on intercession, asking God to move in Korea, North and South.

That avenue doesn't seem to be one which the programme explores: instead it's the direct mystical experience of God, and the meaningfulness or otherwise of rituals. It's quite privatised, and in a sense quite touristy - to evaluate things on how much they appeal to us, whether we enjoy them, and whether they give us that sense of the exotic that a far-flung foreign trip is supposed to impart.

Alan Smith 'God Shaped Mission'

On Tuesday Alan Smith, Bishop of Shrewsbury, was appointed Bishop of St. Albans. There's even a Youtube video (1170 views as of Weds morning, but shame about the corny background music).

It just so happens that last week I finished reading 'God Shaped Mission: Theological and Practical Perspectives from the Rural Church.'
It's partly written in response to Mission Shaped Church (MSC), and the lack of material in that report on rural mission and fresh expressions. MSC was 'important and timely', but raises plenty of new questions - is it change or rebranding? Are 'fresh expressions of church' sustainable? Would the gifted leaders required by fresh expressions produce just as much growth in a normal church setting anyway?

The book argues that the countryside is changing, and that many of the views we hold about it are myths. The romantic picture of peaceful village life is a long way from the 'usually hard, occasionally brutal' reality. As farms close or diversify, incomers change the nature of village communities, and facilities close, there are plenty of challenges for rural communities.

Smith identifies 7 myths which rural churches have to tackle (chapter 2):
1. There was a golden era when rural churches were full.
2. Each village had its own resident parson
3. Rural churches are facing unprecedented change
4. Most rural congregations are made up of people from the village (as opposed to urban congregations, who are eclectic)
5. Rural churches are so resilient they will always survive
6. The best solution is to close some rural churches, sell the buildings and unite the congregations.
7. The CofE is rich because it owns so many buildings.

The book looks at churchgoing and spirituality in rural areas, which reflects the national picture of decline, but finds the typical rural dweller associating with their church without actually attending it. He also challenges the view of some missioners that 'spirituality' is on the rise, and replacing religion, noting that interest in new age, ghosts, and other pseudo-spiritual things is concentrated only among certain social groups (chapter 3)

Chapter 4 explores theology, arguing that mission arises out of worship: "before we can be a mission-shaped church, we must be a God-shaped people". Mission is the overflow of our encounter with God. This in turn frees us from activism - the gospel is not good news if it's just a summons to work harder for God's kingdom. Smith notes that Jesus says both 'come and see' (this Sundays lectionary reading, from John 1:43-end), and 'go and make disciples', and challenges a sharp distinction between 'attractional' and 'missional' churches. (i.e churches which try to get people to 'come to us', and churches which go out and engage with their communities)

There is a sizeable section looking at how the thinking and practice of fresh expressions can be applied to rural areas, with a host of good examples drawn from his experience in Shropshire. Smith also notes the positive effect that Mission Action Planning has had in helping churches to focus energy and resources. He also surveyed the rural fresh expressions currently held on the national database, and notes that several things which carry the name 'fresh expressions' aren't what it says on the tin.

There are particular challenges in rural areas: subcultures tend to be smaller, (e.g. youth, parenting classes etc.) which means that a viable group for them is going to be Deanery-wide, or involve co-operation between several villages, which presents its own problems. Many rural 'fresh expressions' tend to be tweaks on a standard service of worship, but in a different venue, at a more convenient time, or in a different style (e.g. Sunday 4:6 in Devon)

Chapters 6-8 cover children and youth, worship, and social action/pastoral care, exporing both the issues and some ways in which rural churches have tackled them.

'Passing on the faith in the Family' (chapter 9) is probably worth publishing separately in its own right: Smith notes that from ages 5 to 15 children will spend 15,000 hours at school, 125,000 hours at or around home, and 500 hours in Sunday school. Yet we focus most of our efforts on Christian nurture of children around the church context, rather than the home. Smith argues for much more energy to be put into supporting Christian parents, and resourcing families to raise their children in the Christian faith. Lots of food for thought in this chapter, and worth reading on its own if you've not got time to read the whole book.

His section on Apologetics has suddenly become very relevant, with the agnostibus campaign, calling for the church to recover the ministry of giving reasons for our faith, persuading and reasoning with people for the truth of Christianity, and facing up to the questions asked by the world.

The final section sets out some 'principles for mission in the rural church':
- Listening (to God the community, the rural culture, your past, one another)
- Learning - there is a fascinating section here on 'what's wrong with the church', which I'll cover in a separate post.
- Acting (he goes through the Mission Action Planning process, and how it's worked in Lichfield diocese, and notes that 4 main areas have emerged for attention in local churches - welcoming people: welcome, worship, creative use of the building, and using economies of scale by teaming up with other churches)
- Refocusing for mission: with ideas about how the role of bishops, synods and church leaders need to change in order to engage with mission challenges.

A few quotes and stories from the final section:

- a day on evangelism which began with "a prolonged period of corporate silent prayer. This proved to be extraordinarily disarming. No one was able to set any personal agendas through their choice of language, prayers or hymns. We were all equal before God in the silence. The result was a great deal of real listening to one another."

- There is a big difference between Greeting and Welcoming. Greeting is what happens when you say 'hello'. Welcoming has happened when someone knows they belong and have a role to play. Note how, when you ask for something in a supermarket, they'll escort you personally to the right shelf. When did we last escort someone to a seat/coffee/etc. in church?

- A story of a young couple with a child on their first visit to church, who ended up sitting on their own in the church hall whilst the regulars chatted to one another. Only the vicar and the visiting bishop spoke to them, and they left, unnoticed. "I am sure the congregation would have been horrified if anyone had said they were unfriendly, but they were."

All in all an excellent book, well worth engaging with, though it will be a demanding engagement. Bishop Alan Smith is serious about mission, and about how the church needs to change, and I pray that his energy, vision and practical experience will be a great blessing to his new Diocese.

See also: Mission Shaped and Rural by Sally Gaze

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Agnostibus Comments Roundup 2: Bishops, Lords, Humanist and Apathists

Update: a government minister has been slammed for insensitivity for seeing "a few green shoots but it's a little bit too early to say exactly how they'd grow." At least she didn't take out 800 bus ads to tell people to stop worrying.

Following on from the first set, (which also features in this Wikio collection of links) a whole host of new agnostibus links for folk with nothing better to do:

The Bishop of Bath and Wells criticised the campaign in a sermon in Bath Abbey at the weekend: "In terms of the present economic downturn, the loss of jobs, particularly to the most vulnerable of people; together with the world situation in which major conflicts daily take the lives of friend and foe alike; the threat of billions starving, and the seemingly unstoppable Aids pandemic, such advice (to stop worrying and enjoy life) seems to lack both judgment and a sense of reality." (anyone would think he'd been reading this blog. Full sermon text here. )

Lord Toby Harris saw three agnostibuses in 10 minutes. Who would have believed it? "I remain convinced that the Atheist Buses, encouraging people to think for themselves, are a rationalist beacon that we should cherish rather than rubbish."

New Humanist asks why the BBC take Christian Voice seriously. Probably for the same reason they give airtime to the National Secular Society, they're good for arguments.

Mark Vernon draws some lessons from the Victorians

Apathy Sketchpad I like it because the reaction to it has been comical and served to make religious people look foolish (which is pretty easy) and that always makes me smile.

Nathalie Rosthchild, very interesting piece on Spiked the secularists believe they must take it upon themselves to shine a guiding light and steer the easily-duped masses away from the darkness of unreason. The atheist campaigners, rather than trying to engage with the public, are simply preaching at us

Six Things and The English Blog, from a different angle, look at how to use the adverts in teaching English, and other bits of the curriculum.

Finally, got to love this quote from Richard Dawkins.
I would call it consciousness raising. Just think for yourself, that’s all. Don’t listen to what a priest tells you, don’t listen to what a mullah tells you, don’t listen to what a rabbi tells you—think for yourself.

....that would mean I shouldn't listen to what comediennes, and advertisers tell me either.....? (sorry for repeating this from yesterday, but you've got to admit it's a cracker)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ignore Adverts and Think for Yourself: Dawkins

got to love this quote from Richard Dawkins.

I would call it consciousness raising. Just think for yourself, that’s all. Don’t listen to what a priest tells you, don’t listen to what a mullah tells you, don’t listen to what a rabbi tells you—think for yourself.

Anyone spot the logical flaw in this argument, given that it was in support of an advertising campaign?

another agnostibus comments roundup coming tomorrow morning.

And whilst we're here, a bit more research on how religion does you good. But make sure you think about it. Whoops - did I just tell you what to do? You don't want to listen to me.....


Various bloggers, the Ugley Vicar is the most recent example I've stumbled across, have used Typealizer to guess the Myers-Briggs personality of their blog. Here's mine:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Comment: in many ways the description fits, but anyone who knows me personally would laugh until it endangered their health to find me described as a 'mechanic'. The last time I did Myers-Briggs it had me down as ENTJ, so that either means I've got a split personality, or something else.

The site even shows which bits of your brain are active whilst writing, showing that the quadrant to do with feelings was virtually dormant. So there you are, I'm an unfeeling machine....

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Royal Conundrum

Who would you rather have fighting alongside you against the Taleban?

Someone who called you a 'Paki',

or someone who trained with you, knew you personally, got hold of one of your home videos and sold it to a tabloid?

or a tabloid editor who's never been on the frontline in his life (or a blogger like me, for that matter) but does a good line in character assasination (today's firing squad targets: Kerry Katona and Heather McCartney)?

None of them are commendable, but who is the biggest sinner?

Nurture Courses

Start the Week have a fascinating bit of research on the use of nurture and enquirers courses around the CofE.

43% of parishes/churches responsed 'yes' to the question "In 2006 did your parish/church provide an enquirers course or group for those seeking to know more about the Christian faith?" Among these nearly 6,000 parishes, Alpha was the favourite (over 1/3 using it), closely followed by home-grown materials, 'other published material' (it would have been interesting to see how well used were Christianity Explored and Journeys), just under 20% used Emmaus, and 6% used START.

I would guess the high number of home-grown things may be that they are confirmation courses, which would just about qualify as a 'yes' to the question.

The figures are broken down by Diocese, so in my own (Bath and Wells) 174 parishes/churches (out of a total of 570 churches in 490 parishes), so about 1 in 3. That still means that 2/3 of our churches have no provision for people exploring the Christian faith: is this because there are no new people joining them, for lack of resources, or some other reason?

It's hard to know how to interpret the figures without knowing the total number of churches in each Diocese. If only 42 churches are using these courses in Bradford, is that a decent proportion? One of Bob Jacksons findings was that regular use of a Christian basics/nurture course seemed to correlate with a growing church, though I wonder which came first - any church worth it's salt which gets new members would probably set a course up in response.

Another thought on the Diocesan figures: there is a bit of a Robin Gamble effect with the START course, in that 3 dioceses (Liverpool, Manchester and Lichfield) make up over 1/3 of the users, with it nearly outstripping Alpha in Manchester Diocese. Personally I think it's a great course, 6 weeks, very interactive and down to earth, and works well if you use Alpha or Emmaus to follow it up. Funnily enough, I've had 2 local enquiries about it in the last fortnight.

If you find the brand names all a bit confusing, then help is at hand. Tucked away on Southwell Diocese website is a real gem: On Course: Resources to Encourage Mission is a 20-page summary of courses in Christian nurture, faith sharing, and discipleship, with a brief description of each one, what's involved in running them, and who they'd be suitable for. It's free to download, and the kind of thing that makes me think there should be a central bank of CofE resources like this, shared by all Dioceses, to prevent them all reinventing the wheel and duplicating one another's work.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review Questions 2

a set of questions for the start of a New Year (thanks to James Lawrence for inspiration)

  • What am I grateful for from last year?
  • What are the 3 or 4 key things that I've learnt from the year that I don't want to forget?
  • What will help my love for Jesus grow stronger this year?
  • What am I fearful or anxious about How ill I face these things this year?
  • Which spiritual discipline am I gong to major on as a means of God's grace being more at work in my life?
  • Which fruit of the Spirit is God longing to produce in my life? What steps will I take to work with the Spirit?
  • Whaich leadership principle/aspect of leadership am I going to grow in?
  • Who do I long to see come to faith in Christ? What am I going to do to make that more likely?
  • What are the next steps in the growth of those I most care for (god-children, family members, friends) that I could facilitate/encourage?
  • When am I going to have my regular quiet/prayer days through thisyear? (put them in the diary!)
  • Where do I sense God's call on my life developing/changing, and how will this be reflected in my priorities for the year?
They're designed for folk in Christian leadership, but could apply to most disciples. I remembered last week that I'd not got round to arranging any quiet days for 2009, so first up I need to book a day in to tackle this stuf.......

follow the review questions bookmark for others in this series.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Agnostibus Comments Roundup

Pretty much everyone has had their say on this, and whether Christians should be welcoming the ads or trying to get them banned, so here are a few links:

Update: more passengers on the bus:
Dave Bish is doing a talk on the campaign, and would like some ideas.

Nick Baines finds the whole thing rather cheering. Good follow up post on language, tactics, and what kind of stuff we should get offended by in the first place.

Tim Norwood sees it as a gift to preachers everywhere.

Jonathan Bartley at Ekklesia wonders if Christians should be advertising in the first place, or whether the medium distorts the message.

...and the original list....

Kouya Chronicle, "I thought that the posters on the buses were great: they got the question of faith and religion out into the public arena, which is extremely difficult to achieve in the UK"

Doug Chaplin "Stephen Green really is a pillock"

Ruth Gledhill "there will be an inquiry. What fun!"

Bishop Alan notes the similarity between the ads and a certain brand of doughnut.

The Richard Dawkins fansite is, shall we say, unimpressed with Christian Voice. To be honest, so are a lot of Christians, but more politely.

Greensboring makes a fair point: "Are these people so fragile in their faith that they can't bear the thought of even seeing the existence of other points of view?"

Vegas Cohort (ht Friendly Atheist) posts with 'how I wish more Christians would respond' "Well, what made these people feel it was necessary to put these ads on buses in the first place? Maybe its them who are striking back, at us, not starting a fight or anything. Maybe we started it... We should feel sad that we make Atheists feel like they need to defend themselves, sad that they are getting aggressive and pushy, because we caused it. We caused it because we made them our enemy ". Cracking post, Gromit.

Marketing Fundi looks at how the atheist bus campaign got off the ground, and became such a success.

Very funny photo at Sacred Sandwich.

and the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley have, surprisingly, done the maths:
according to the Sherine Principle, there's a 60% chance of God existing in England, a 100% chance in Saudi Arabia, and a 5% chance in Islington.... in order for not believing in God to be (on a risk/reward basis) worthwhile:

dH * L * (1-p(G)) must be greater than H(h) * E * p(G)
where dH is the difference in happiness if you don't believe in God

L = the average human lifespan
p(G) = the probability of God existing
H(h) = the happiness of heaven compared to those in a state of hell/oblivion (again, taking into account the Church of England)
E = the length of Eternity.

which pretty much sews it up.